At the Core of Hardship

Carter Conlon

Contrary to much of modern-day theology, God never promised us a life without trials and suffering, but rather one in which we would be refined and carefully molded into His image. He never intended for us to settle for the narrow life of living solely for ourselves with affections set on the things of this world, but rather to live with hands outstretched and hearts touched by the infirmities of others.

There are some people who have such an aversion to the idea of hardship that they immediately shut down at the mere mention of it. If they don’t hear a message that makes them happy and assures them that everything is going to be fine, they quickly leave in search of a place where they will hear some good news.

What this displays is an inherent lack of understanding of the ways of God. People ultimately do themselves a great disservice when they pursue God in this way because, in reality, this is good news.

At the core of hardship is the mercy of God.

God is always faithful to strengthen and strategically prepare his people for whatever they will have to face. However, this means that we must be careful to incline our ears to what he is saying. The people who constantly search for a more palatable message will ultimately be excluded from partaking in God’s strength in the days ahead. The Lord imparts this divine strength to believers who are not afraid to listen to what the Holy Spirit is speaking and are therefore able to discern the times.

In this context, I urge you to open your heart, to recognize the fleeting nature of our lives, and to understand that the Lord is issuing a great mercy call to his people, if only they will listen. Only then will we be able to live in a manner that glorifies God and is merciful to others, regardless of the hardships we may face.

Carter Conlon joined the pastoral staff of Times Square Church in 1994 and was appointed Senior Pastor in 2001. In May of 2020 he transitioned into a continuing role as General Overseer of Times Square Church, Inc.

A Testimony of Total Trust

David Wilkerson (1931-2011)

By the close of the book of Genesis, God had chosen a small, insignificant people to lead. He wanted to raise up a people who would be living examples of his goodness to the heathen world. To bring about such a testimony, God took his people into places that were beyond their control. He isolated Israel in a wilderness where he alone would be their source of life, caring for their every need.

Israel had no power over their survival in that desolate place. They couldn’t control the availability of food or water. They couldn’t control their destination since they had no compasses or maps. How would they eat and drink? Which direction would they go? Where would they end up?

God would do it all for them. He would guide them each day with a miracle cloud, one that glowed at night and dispelled the darkness before them. He would feed them with food from heaven and provide them with water from a rock. Yes, every single need would be supplied by the Lord, and no enemy would be able to defeat them.

“Out of heaven he let you [Israel] hear his voice, that he might instruct you; on earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire” (Deuteronomy 4:36, NKJV).

The nations surrounding ancient Israel were filled with “other gods,” idols made of wood, silver and gold. These gods were unable to love, guide or protect the people who worshipped them. Any one of the nations could look to Israel, though, and see a special people whom God carried through a terrible wilderness. They would see a God who spoke to his people, who loved and felt, who answered prayers and provided miracles. Here was a living God, one who guided his people in every detail of their lives.

God raised up a people who would be trained by him. There had to be a people who lived under his authority, who would trust him completely, giving him full control of every aspect of their lives. That people would become his testimony to the world.

An Extraordinary ‘Ordinary’ Life

David Wilkerson (1931-2011)

Let me tell you how God brings people into his house, how he speaks to them and how he saves them. The Lord builds his church through the testimonies of light shining forth from those who love him. He’s able to do this not because these servants use the right methods but because they live the right life.

Christ’s life produces light in homes, neighborhoods, cities and workplaces. How is this life obtained? It comes down to every saint living right, beyond reproach, as examples of God’s mercy. Such servants deal with others honestly and selflessly, with no dark part in them. They lead lives wholly devoted to Jesus and are ready to serve others at all times.

This is the kind of life that Paul exhorted the Ephesian church to have. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2, ESV). He says a little later, “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).

Let me give you an example of such light. Once, the CEO of a company in New York called our church. Pastor Neil took the call. The CEO told Pastor Neil about two women from our church who worked for him. He said they weren’t like the others in his office. These two women were always courteous, helpful to others and never complained or gossiped. “There’s something different about them,” he said. “I would like to meet with you to find out what the difference is.”

That CEO was Jewish. Do you think he would have responded to an invitation to a revival meeting? Would he have read a packet of materials produced by a church? No, he would have tossed it all into “File 13” and never looked at it again. This man responded to a light born of lives hid in Christ and being worked out daily by two humble women.

We are only able to bring light to our communities when we are full of Christ’s life ourselves. We have to live out the message we bring if we want to preach it with any power. God help us to remember that the light shines through in the little things of life.

Welcomed Home by the Father’s Love

David Wilkerson (1931-2011)

I believe the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 came home because of his history with his father. This young man knew his father’s character, and he must have received great love from him. Why would he return to a man who might have been angry and vengeful, who might have beat him and made him pay back every cent he’d squandered?

The prodigal surely knew that he wouldn’t be condemned for his sins. He probably thought, “I know my father loves me. He won’t throw my sin in my face. He’ll take me back.” When you have that kind of history, you can always go back home.

Now, the young man was intent on offering a heartfelt confession to his dad because he rehearsed it all the way home. When he faced his father, though, he didn’t even get a chance to fully confess. “When he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (Luke 15:20, NKJV). The father was so happy his son was back that he covered him with kisses, essentially saying, “I love you, son. Come home and be restored.”

The father did all of this before his son could complete his confession. The young man was able to blurt out the beginning of his speech, but his father didn’t wait for him to finish. To him, the young man’s sin had already been settled.

Notice how the prodigal’s father “prevented” him from punishing himself or lowering himself with the blessing of goodness. The father’s response was to order his servants, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:22-24). Sin wasn’t the issue to this father. The only issue on his mind was love. He wanted his boy to know he was accepted before he could even utter a confession.

That is the point God wants to make to us all. “Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). God’s love welcomes us home.

An Intercessor for the Nations

David Wilkerson (1931-2011)

I often think of Abraham’s example as he prayed over the wicked city of Sodom. The Lord answered him, saying, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes” (Genesis 18:26, NKJV).

When Abraham heard this, he began to negotiate with the Lord. “Suppose there were five less than the fifty righteous; would You destroy all of the city for lack of five?” (Genesis 18:28). Abraham whittled the number down until he finally asked what God would do if there were only ten upright people who sought him. Would he spare the city? God answered Abraham, “I will not destroy it for the sake of ten” (Genesis 18:32).

This passage tells us something about the Lord. He is willing to save entire societies if he can find even a small band of righteous people who seek his face for the sake of their nation.

God goes even further on this issue than he did with Abraham. In Ezekiel, God speaks of searching for one praying believer who will stand in the gap. “I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30).

At the time of Ezekiel’s prophecy, Israel was polluted spiritually. The prophets were profane, violating God’s law left and right. The people were oppressed, vexed on all sides, full of lust, robbing one another. Not one person among them cried out to the Lord. Nobody stood in the gap to intercede. God would have saved the entire nation for the sake of just one intercessor.

When Paul writes of his journeys, he mentions not only Timothy and Titus as his helpers but also Lydia and the other precious women who aided him. These were all devoted servants whose assistance helped touch entire nations with the gospel. We are to assist those who have given themselves to go to the nations. If you cannot be a missionary, you can be part of the support body of intercessors.

You can go “in the Spirit” to any nation on earth. You can touch an unreached people while on your knees. Indeed, your secret closet may become the headquarters for a movement of God’s Spirit over an entire nation.