March 16, 2016

Finding Hope and Peace in the Struggle

Sometimes life is just hard! People disappoint us. Our leaders fail us. We may not understand why God allows something to happen in our lives. We disappoint ourselves- which may be the hardest to deal with of all!

As always, God provides insightful truth and encouragement for us in His Word. The Apostle Paul had to address a struggling church in Corinth, a city known for great trade, immense wealth, and one filled with all kinds of evil and debauchery. His encouragement to that church is just as valid today for those who seek to follow Jesus with their whole hearts.

Take a look at 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

Here, the Apostle Paul is speaking to believers who were living in a world much like ours. Any and every sin was becoming acceptable. Evil was called good and good evil. People were living for the moment and forgetting eternity existed. Believers were persecuted and were a minority. It often seemed as if the world was winning the war, and the church was dying. 

But remember, God will always be on the side of those who seek Him- even if we do not understand what He allows.

My friends and I have traveled quite a bit of the world, and we've seen real followers of Christ suffer for what they believe, enduring shame and scorn for being different than their people. Some of them are outcasts within their own families for belonging to Jesus. Many have husbands or wives who are not believers, and they suffer because of that. Some of them give up important and lucrative jobs in order to travel and share the Good News of Jesus, living on faith, trusting God to provide in ways we cannot even imagine. Enduring beatings or being placed in jail because of what they believe, they continue on because of the amazing gift of life through their Lord. It's like reading the book of Acts, how the followers of Jesus lived after He was ascended into Heaven before He one day returns to judge the earth and reward those who have given their lives to Him.

These people are the overlooked, the ignored, the forgotten… but they are not overlooked by God.

Wherever you live on this earth, if you are one who calls yourself Christian and have devoted your life to pleasing Him, be assured you are not forgotten! Let's read that again:

2 Corinthians 4:16-18:
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

It's easy to say "Don't lose heart", and it's even easy to read it, but the question remains, how do we practically live it out?

The answer is actually found in the next few verses that follow:

“Inwardly, we are being renewed day by day."  What does this really mean? The Bible tells is two very important truths about who we are, just two chapters apart. In the same letter to the same church in Corinth, Paul tells followers of Jesus that 

1- We are a new creation in Him. God has washed away the past, forgiven us for our sin against Him, and He made us brand new. (2 Corinthians 5:17). 

2- God places his own Holy Spirit within us, and we are being transformed into the image of Jesus. This means we are becoming more like him the longer we continue to follow Him. (2 Corinthians 3:18) These two truths take place simultaneously.

What does this look like? What is the evidence of this happening in our lives? Our priorities change. We begin to love us He loves. We serve others. We take risks as He leads. In other words, we serve Him as not  only our Savior but as one who gives us direction in how He wants us to live. All this is a result of His great love for us and the sacrifice He made, dying on the cross for our sin, paying a price we could not pay.

How else can we not lose heart as we endure the struggles in this life? We can keep focused on the riches we have in Jesus now!
  • Forgiveness for our sin and The Gift of Eternal Life
  • Freedom in Christ- which no man can take away!
  • Family in Christ   
  • Hope and comfort while we live in this world- and promise for our future!
We also have all the fruit of God's Holy Spirit because He lives inside of each believer in Jesus. This means we have  Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Not only do we have this fruit, we also have The Power of the Holy Spirit and the gifts He gives us to do the work He's called us to do! (I Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4). We don't just get his comforting presence (which we all need- 2 Corinthians 1:1-4) but His Power working through us.

We are rich in faith as we watch God work right in front of our eyes!

There's one more way we can endure hard times, and it may be the most difficult one of our advantages, but it is the most powerful: We must stay focused on the end of the story.

If you’re older, you will understand what I’m about to say. If you’re younger, evaluate my words in the context of Scripture.

Our time on earth goes by so fast- especially when compared to eternity!  So, here's what I recommend as a practical application:
  •    Be wise, and keep an eternal focus.
  •      Please God at all costs before pleasing men. He is the One you must answer to.
  •     Love deeply, and draw people to God. Continue to encourage one another.
  •     Know that you are loved by God, and He will not fail you!
What will we have in the future? We look at the end of time and discover that God wins- and so do we!

Look at the Bible's Book of Revelation 21:1-5:

There's a new Heaven and a new Earth: The Apostle John's Vision

"Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

No more tears, death, crying, mourning, or pain. He who overcomes the hardships of life will inherit all this.

We endure until the end- not just for our rewards but to please God!

Do you ever wonder if it's ok to ask God about your future? When reading Matthew 19:27-30, we discover that even Jesus' disciples, his future leaders, would question him about what would happen to them.
"Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first."

There you have it! Even though we face difficulties in this life, we don't have to lose heart. God is on our side! We are new in Christ Jesus- brand new! We are forgiven for our sin against God and each other. We have freedom and life. God's Spirit lives in us to bring comfort, joy, and power to live out life in victory in spite of what happens. And we have a hope for the future- an eternity with Jesus without tears, pain, or suffering. Isn't that alone worth considering His claims to be God in the flesh?

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