“The lesson is clear: the person of faith looks to the future, trusts God’s word about what is going to happen, and determines his or her values, priorities and lifestyle accordingly. The person of faith bases his or her present life on what God has said about the future.” (p. 72)
“The person of faith will shape his or her life according to the prospect of everything (except the kingdom of God) vanishing in a roar. So, among other things, the life of faith will therefore involve a personal determination to stay loyal to Jesus Christ, a desire to flee from sin and to excel in godliness and holiness, a passion for friends and family to know Jesus, and a striving first for the kingdom of God.” (p. 74)
Here’s a list of some of my favourite people in the Bible – Job, Joseph, Ruth, David, Jeremiah and Daniel. Some of them were flawed, some righteous, some of them privileged and some poor. But what they all have in common is a deep, heartfelt faith in God which endures through hardship and privation, persecution and personal failure, danger, terror and tragedy. They inspire me with their courage and perseverance, but most of all with their abiding trust in God.
Jeremiah is the one who most amazes me. Right from the start of his prophetic ministry he had an impossible task – to convince a stubborn hard-hearted people that if they did not repent and return to the LORD their God, he would surely send a terrible judgment upon them. They never listened to him, in fact for forty years they ignored him until finally the awful consequences of their sin caught up with them. Jeremiah witnessed the complete destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of God’s people. After decades of faithful service, he never got to see a happy ending. In God’s strength he had endured the humiliation and distress of persistent opposition and he just never gave up, but things went pear-shaped from start to finish. However, Jeremiah believed God and, in his great mercy, God gave Jeremiah a vision of a future day when he would write his law on human hearts: “they shall all know me … I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:33-34). That’s not to say Jeremiah never complained or protested to God – he did! He even wished he had never been born. But where else could he go but to God, the One he acknowledged in all things to be holy and sovereign? Maybe what amazes me about Jeremiah is his God!
A friend of ours from interstate trained for the ministry some years ago now. Passionate about the gospel, he couldn’t wait to be qualified for full-time ministry. However, he soon discovered that the theological college where he was training was full of students and staff who were hostile to God’s word and his message of salvation. Whenever our friend stood up for the gospel and protested about what was being taught in class, he was howled down and labelled a “charo” (charismatic). Ultimately he decided to work harder, get qualified and then go out and preach the gospel faithfully. With God’s help he did just that. But the persecution did not stop there. Our friend served as a minister in a large rural centre in another state where there were active witches’ covens. For a number of years his family became the focus of their direct, specific and satanic opposition. This man, his wife and his family, have endured suffering, persecution and attack for the sake of the gospel but because of their deep trust in the Lord Jesus, his saving work and the hope of heaven, they continue to serve in ministry. Their living faith continues to inspire me and I count it a privilege to call them friends.
When we first moved to Sydney I joined a women’s Bible study group at our church. The small group I was in included an older woman, and there was something about her I had not encountered in a Christian before. It caught my attention, and as I got to know her I discovered that this ‘something’ was a deep trust in the Lord Jesus which overflowed with true joy. “I want what she’s got!” I thought to myself. Over time I found out more about my new friend’s faith journey and discovered that she had been through many difficulties and hardships. These challenges have continued to dominate her life over the last eleven years that I have known her, but her joy is undimmed and her faith is vital and alive. Like many Christians who have endured great difficulty, my friend testifies to the way God has used the crucible of suffering to strengthen her faith in him, and how times of pain and sorrow have been eased by the sweetness of God’s provision for her.
When I was a less mature Christian, these sorts of stories used to make me feel vaguely uneasy – so much suffering! Subconsciously, I think I hoped God would find another way for me to grow in faith, something easier and less painful. The thing is, few things cement you more firmly in the Lord than the experience of being carried through suffering, by him. (Philippians 3:8-11)