Principles For Difficult Times
Character, Help, Promise
There are times when the task of Pastoring this church is overwhelming. At times I feel like I am failing in the goal of bringing people to a mature and active faith in Jesus Christ. I feel at times that this church needs someone who’s skills are different from my own. There are times when I wonder what God wants this church to be . . . . and wonder if I’m the one to lead the church there. There are times that I am so confused about which way to go that I am almost paralyzed.
I share these things with you for a reason. I want you to know that I know some of the frustration that many of you feel. There are times in our lives when we feel lost, drifting, and we don’t know which way to turn. There are times we are not at all confident that we are able to handle what lies ahead. Consider these examples:
- The single mother wondering how to be a good parent and provider
- The newly divorced person facing life with one income and twice the obligation and a lot of loneliness and rejection
- The student standing on the horizon of the future wondering what direction to go
- The parents who are saying goodbye to that last child facing a monumental change in their daily life.
- The person who is overwhelmed by their financial obligations
- The one considering a lifelong commitment of marriage
- The business person seeking to read the trends of the future in order to survive
- The farmer who sees increasing costs and risks wondering whether to “get out” or “stay in”
- The teacher facing a new class of students and an enormous body of material to teach
- The one who is facing the facts of a body that is being attacked by disease of some kind and having to weigh the myriad of options for treatment.
In each of these cases there is confusion, concern, a feeling of being overwhelmed by the magnitude of everything.
I believe this is how the disciples of Jesus felt when we meet them in our text. The Master has told them that He was going away and they couldn’t go with Him. He told them that He would come back for them someday and that they knew the one way to the Father. But they weren’t so sure. As Jesus spoke of leaving them I suspect they felt like they were standing before a great mountain of confusion.
- What will become of them?
- What are they supposed to do with what they have learned?
- Why is He going away? Did they do something wrong?
- How will they make it without Him?
- Have they wasted their time these last three years . . . what’s going on?
What Jesus tells the disciples in the verses that follow are principles that will help us just as they were words that helped the disciples.
REMEMBER THE CHARACTER OF GOD
Now here’s the problem: at this very time when the disciples feel like God is deserting them Jesus tells them to trust Him. Yet they are so confused they don’t even know where God IS. Have you ever felt that way?
Philip asks, Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us. “Lord, if we could just see God….if we could know what He wants from us and how He feels toward us we would be alright.”
Jesus responds, ” Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” In other words, “You already know what God is like, what He wants, and how He feels about you. You know that because you know me. The Father and I are one.”
Jesus tells the disciples the same thing you and I have to hear: “Look at Jesus and understand what God is like.”
We See the Father in His Words
Jesus has taught us what God desires. If we want to know what God’s goal and plan are we just need to read what He has told us. Through Jesus we know what God’s values are:
- Build Character rather than Monuments
- Seek God’s honor rather than your own . . . . and you will find honor
- Practice Forgiveness and let go of bitterness
- Cultivate Compassion and turn away from indifference
- Develop a Servant Heart and fight the desire for Indulgence
- Trust Him rather than yourselves
Through the words of Jesus we know the Way of Salvation (through Christ alone); we know what our priorities are to be; we know that He loves us.
We See the Father in His Deeds
Through the miracles of Jesus we can learn God cares about the hurting. We see Jesus as He tends to the wounds of a cripple, shares a tear with the grieving, touches the untouchable, fights for the demon possessed, listens to an outcast, and welcomes a child.
Do you ever wonder if God has stopped caring about you? The hurt is so bad that you wonder if He cares? He does my friend. How do I know? I learned it from Jesus. The Lord understands your pain and is concerned about your trial.
Through the miracles of Jesus we also learn God has the power to change desperate situations. We see the lame walk, the blind see, the dead come back to life, the storms calmed. Our God has power over nature and the forces within nature. He is more than capable of meeting the deepest needs of our life. He is sufficient.
Yes, We know God. And what we know about God should give us strength in the times of confusion and pain.
We Should Never Underestimate What God Can Do Through Us
Jesus tells His disciples,
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even great things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (14:12-14)
Before we can understand what the Lord IS saying we must understand what He is not saying:
He is not saying we are superior to Him. The greater deeds we do will be possible because He is working in and through us. It is still Christ who is at work . . . .but now He is working through us.
He is not saying that He will give us whatever we want. There are conditions on this incredible promise. FIRST, We must have faith in him. We must be trusting Him – not ourselves or the thing asked for. We must never view the Lord as a means to the end . . . . He is THE end. If we are truly trusting and following Him there are many things we would not ask for because we know it is wrong. SECOND, we must ask in His name. This means we must ask in a manner consistent with His character. Jesus is not promising to give us BMW’s to drive or indulgent lifestyles. He is promising to help us reach God’s goal for our life. THIRD, we must realize that the goal is to glorify the Father’s Name not ours. The reason Jesus makes this promise is not because He wants us to be in the spotlight but for God to receive the credit He deserves. We should not be surprised or feel that God has been unfaithful when our prayers for fame, increased indulgence, or ease are not answered. There are times when God’s answers are delayed because the process of going through the trial brings as much glory to His name as the victory over the situation. The goal is His glory not our comfort.
The greater works promised are greater in scope not in nature. By this I mean Jesus has done the greatest deeds there are: raised the dead, brought healing to the blind, walked on the water, calmed the storms. What makes the things he does in and through us “greater” is the scope of those works. On the day of Pentecost Peter preached and 3000 were converted! That’s more people that Jesus reached in three years! In the years to come the gospel would be preached in every nation while Jesus only preached in a small confined area. In our own day the gospel in beamed via satellite all around the world. And even the Internet (this web page) is an example of a greater work . . . who would have thought that people around the world could minister in this way?
But in all our clarifying it is important that we do not miss what the Lord DOES promise.
HE PROMISES TO WORK THROUGH US We spend too much time focusing on what we cannot do, when we should focus on what He can do through us. We see the obstacles, He sees the possibilities. God can take a Shepherd boy and make Him King. He can take a fisherman and make him a fisher of men. He can take a teenager and make her the Mother of the Messiah. He can take you and use you in ways you never dreamt possible. . . . if you will trust Him.
HE PROMISES TO DO DEEDS LIKE HE DID THROUGH US. Now I admit that the idea that God could use me to administer healing to a blind man or demon possessed person is staggering. But that’s what it says. If we ask ANYTHING in his name and HE WILL DO IT.
Do you know why I find it hard to believe that God could do that kind of thing through me? It’s because my view of God is too small. I talk about His power and might but don’t really believe it. It is time to trust Him. God is not promising miracles on demand. He is not telling us to command Him to do things. These things are the height of arrogance. But He is telling us to believe that He can use us in the most impossible situation. He promises He will use us to:
- change lives
- bring relief and healing to the hurting
- show love to the outcasts
- provide for needs in a spectacular way
Dwight L. Moody related the following true story: “At the World’s Fair in 1894, I was holding an evangelistic campaign. A large sum of money was required, so I knelt by my desk and cried out to God for help. ‘Lord, You know I need $3000 today,’ I said, ‘I must have it, and I’m too busy with Your work to go out and get it myself. Please send it to me. Thank You, Lord, I know You will!’ I then went on to complete the day’s schedule. That evening as the audience was gathering for the first session, a young woman came to an usher, saying she wished to speak to me. She was told that the meeting was about to begin and I wouldn’t have time to see her until later, but she insisted on coming to the platform anyway. Reaching up, she handed me an envelope. I hastily put it in my pocket and started the service. That night at dinner I remembered the incident, opened the letter, and found it contained a check for $3000! It was the answer to my simple, earnest prayer.”
A few days later Moody learned that the lady originally planned to give only $1000 but had reconsidered and changed it to $2000. Just before leaving for the meeting, however, she was deeply impressed with the thought that the amount was still not sufficient. So, tearing up the second check, she wrote another for $3000–the exact sum that Moody needed.
In order to see God work in this way we must:
Stop Having Discussions about Him and Start Trusting Him
Stop Moaning and Start Praying
Have you taken your mountain to God? Have you already concluded that your situation is impossible? Don’t limit what God can do, my friend. It’s possible that some of the most obscene words for the believe to speak are: “There is Nothing God Can Do”.
WE ARE NOT FACING THE MOUNTAIN ALONE
A prisoner of war can face his imprisonment much easier if he faces it with a fellow prisoner. Isolation, that feeling of being alone, is deadly. Don’t we often feel all alone as we face the difficult times of life? Our spouse is sympathetic but doesn’t really understand. Our friends say they care but they are impatient with our struggle. The church gives good advice but it sounds hollow in the depth of our pain.
This is why this next promise is so important,
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with your forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (14:16-18)
Jesus promises that we will never be alone as a child of God. One of the reasons He left this earth was to send the Holy Spirit who would live in each of those who believe. The Holy Spirit, the Counselor, the Paraclete is the one who:
- will be with us forever
- will guide us to the truth
- will open the Scriptures to us
- will sharpen our prayers
- will hold us in the faith
- will give us strength to endure
- will grant us wisdom
We will talk much more about the Holy Spirit in weeks to come. The point you need to understand now is this: You are not alone! As the old saying goes: God and I make a majority. I know the task seems impossible . . . . but God isn’t asking you to face it in your own strength, He is asking you to face it in His strength. I know you may be weary and feel you have nothing left to give . . . . but His strength will carry you.
The famous piece about Footprints in the Sand is a wonderful example of the lesson. In case you are one of the few who haven’t read the piece, it is a story that tells of Jesus and I walking through life together in the sand. As I look back I wonder about the times I see only one set of footprints. I wonder how God could have deserted me in those times. He responds: You misunderstand . . . those were not the times I left you, those were the times I carried you!
When you have been injured or had surgery in the hospital you are often weak. The nurse comes in and tells you that you have to be able to walk the hallways before you can be released. But they don’t tell you to get up and start walking . . . . they walk with you. Why? Because you may not be able to make the whole trip at the start . . . you may need someone to stabilize you or to help you get back to your room . . . or catch you if you start to fall. Knowing that they are by your side gives you the courage to get out of bed and start rebuilding your strength.
You may be tired and feel you cannot go on . . . but the Holy Spirit walks with you. When you can’t go on He will carry you. When you regain your strength He will walk with you. When you face the opposition He will stand at your side and fight for you. One thing is certain . . . He will get you home.
It may be that you are facing a severe time of testing in your life. Maybe you feel deserted, alone, afraid. Our text this morning contains some encouraging words. But it also implies a serious question: Do you know this Jesus? Are you trusting the one who made these promises or are you still holding Him at arms length? Is it possible that the greatest thing that could come from your present crisis would be to awaken you to your need for Him?
The first thing God asks of you is that you trust Him. Are you willing to do that today? Are you willing to trust that Christ’s death was to provide payment for your sin? Are you willing to stop talking ABOUT Christ and start placing your confidence in Him? The first step to dealing with the mountains in life is to join hands with the Lord of the universe. Make that important first step today.
For those who are already children of the King let me remind you again of Jesus’ words to His disciples . . . and to you.
- Remember Who You Belong to . . . . He loves you
- Don’t Underestimate What God Can Do . . . Dare to ask in prayer and believe in the “Impossible”
- When you feel alone, remember to depend on the promise, not the feelings. You are not alone . . .His Spirit walks with you.
Do you know what God told me this week when I felt overwhelmed by the mountains? He said, “Bruce, stopping looking at the mountains and start looking at the Mountain Mover.” Good advice. The Lord reminded me that I may not have the knowledge or the skills for the job He has called me to . . . . but He does.
I needed that reminder this week. Maybe you do too.