Monday, June 11, 2007

Making it Through Hard Times

"...The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire."
Nehemiah 1: 3
"...Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish—stones that are burned?"
Nehemiah 4: 2
The drama of the church is often reminiscent of those scenes from war movies in which excited new recruits march toward the front lines while being met by weary veterans limping along bandaged and bloody, carrying their wounded, and still in shock from the trauma of battle. The new recruits move forward ready to conquer the world, while battle-weary veterans groan in the pain of failure and disillusionment. Multitudes start out in the Christian walk, everybody expects testing, they just don't expect it to be so intense and real. They expect victory without battle (naiveté and untested faith) or battle without victory (skepticism and unbelief). Untested faith and motives must inevitably face the refiners fire; and the disillusionments of time and testing can take a heavy toll on the lightheartedness of youthful innocence and inexperience. As a result many Christians tend to move over time and experience from the naiveté of the inexperienced novice unto the skeptical or bitter cynicism of the disillusioned veteran.
How many Christians do you know who sit on the back row hovering at the fringes of the Christian life? How many do you know whose lives have fallen apart? It's the spouse who has become spiritually defeated because of marriage conflicts. It is the pastor who feels he has beeen crucified by a rebellious flock. It is the Christian who has been abused or hurt by the church or by its leaders. It's the person who has been disillusioned and disappointed by his own failures and that of others and by the unexpected complications of life. Hopes held high in the beginning eventually dissipated in the midst of hard times, mistreatment, distresses, and sin. The experienced "veteran" is often the most depressed.
It is easy to find new Christians who rejoice in their new life in Christ, but how many seasoned and experienced Christians, after so many years and "miles," still retain that sparkle in their eyes, and still sing with the lightness and joy of a clear spirit and a pure heart unencumbered by the weight and baggage brought on by pain, conflict, and disappointment? They are out there, those seasoned veterans who know the joy of the Lord and who actually found it during the most difficult and trying circumstances. The Bible has many examples.
We marvel at the faith exercised by David as he killed the lion, the bear, and Goliath; but we should also marvel at the faith he demonstrated in facing mistreatment, conflict, failure, and God's discipline. We marvel at his faith in "slaying his ten thousands", but we should also stand in great awe at the faith which enabled him to patiently endure as he fled from Saul in the desert and which enabled him to wait in godly obedience until God placed him upon the throne of Israel. Rarely are our Christian brothers actually eaten by the lion or slain by Goliath, but they frequently fall in the wilderness while fleeing the "Sauls" of life, fall into bitterness facing "Shemei," or succumb to temptation beholding "Bathsheba." Many who stood during the glory of victory over Goliath have fallen during their walk through the dark valleys of adversity, hardship, and God's discipline.
Notwithstanding a few stumbles, David managed to stand through it all. He began his career as a youth filled with faith, courage, and a song. He endured, even wrote Psalms, during the dark days, and served the purpose of God in his generation. He ended his career with an abiding faith tested and refined in the fire, an enduring courage seasoned in the struggles of life, and a praise song tempered and enriched by both mountain peak and valley pit. The apostle Paul is a similar example. He exhorts us to attest to our servanthood by standing faithful to our Lord and Master as we pass through the wide spectrum of contrasting experiences—by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report, in victories and in what appears to be failures (2 Corinthians 6: 4-10).
Many people never make it through these alternating changes and fluctuations in life. They are made desolate by the tests that sneak in the back door while they are guarding the front door. Below are six problems that cause people to stumble.
(1) Mistreatment leaves them grieving, wounded and in pain.
(1) Conflict leaves them hurt and angry.
(3) God's discipline (which is meant for good) can leave people "black and blue" and spiritually disabled when they stiffen their necks refusing to break.
(4) Failure brings shame and disgrace.
(5) The evil day causes them to discard faith and to feel forsaken.
(6) Disillusionment brings despair to those disappointed by people or some hope in which they trusted.
These circumstantial and relational trials have left many Christians desolate and spiritually disabled, "burnt stones" lying in the rubble of what they once thought could never be moved or shaken.
Burnt stones lie as a broken-down monument to some past tragedy and testify to a loss of vision and lack of hope for the future. Nehemiah described the ruined city of Jerusalem as being in great distress and reproach, with its walls broken down and its gates burned with fire. Glorious dreams and great expectations of its prophetic destiny had seemed to go up in smoke and scatter to the wind. Although the temple had been rebuilt by Zerubbabel and Ezra, the walls and gates of the city were still nothing more than shattered ruins and heaps of rubble with stones burned, torn down, broken, and scattered. This picture of desolation is a fitting description of those who have been derailed and sidelined from the mainstream of God's plan for their lives. Like the city Nehemiah came to rebuild, the temple is there, but the walls are down. Spiritually disabled and without vision, so many "burnt stones" lying in rubble, out of place, and dysfunctional.
In future entries I would like to share thoughts that will encourage and strengthen those who find themselves in this difficult place. We need to be reminded that His faithfulness is great, and His mercy and stedfast love endure forever.

“…You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end (final outcome) of the Lord, that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” James 5: 11.

“…May the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” 1 Peter 5: 10.

“You are my servant. I have chosen you and have not cast you away: Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you. I will uphyold you with My righteous right hand.” Iaaiah 41: 9-10.