Let's start off today with this quote from Jesus:
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. (Matthew 11:12)
It's amazing how this gets interpreted by people. I can assure you it does not give us liberty to become rude and arrogant or to start kicking doors down. What it does tell us is that we must be bold in our faith. It was something Jesus said about John the Baptist who never knowingly ever performed a miracle but whom Jesus said was the greatest man to ever be born. What was his greatness? He turned his back on everything, trusted God and fearlessly preached to the blind.Yet, Jesus said that the one who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John.
Following Jesus is all about bold faith that allows for bold action. It is saying "I believe" in the face of great odds. It is saying "I trust" when things look disastrously impossible. It is taking actions that reflect what we are saying. It is about being forceful, bold in our faith, in our trust, in our acceptance of God's promises and our belief that those promises apply to us.
Sometimes we find ourselves on a path that requires this forceful faith in order to go the distance. Sometimes there are many courses that we could choose from but we decide to trust God and stick to the course he set before us. Other times we find ourselves on a path that we cannot avoid, we are stuck, there is nothing we can do about it. It requires a different kind of forceful faith. This time we don't get to make the decision to stay the course but instead we must make the decision to trust and to do it in style. We find a good example of this in the book of Acts.
Apostle Paul was being transported to Rome as a prisoner, to appear before Caesar. As a prisoner he had no control over what was happening to him. The captain of the ship had decided to try to make it to the next port even though it was the stormy season. Paul tried to warn them that it would end in disaster, but why would they listen to him, he was only a prisoner. Needless to say they ended up in a storm that looked like would destroy the ship and kill everyone on board. Paul was in the same situation as everyone else, facing apparent death.
This is where we need to understand what Jesus was saying. We are not ordinary people. We are people of faith, and that means something. It means we do not interpret things in the same way as others. It means that we look for God in everything. It means that we are attuned to what the Lord is saying and how he is directing us. It should not surprise us then that this prisoner, as a follower of Jesus, became a leader and encourager in the face of this disaster. He told his fellow sojourners:
Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island. (Acts 27:23-26)
Paul was forceful in his faith, encouraging everyone by it. He boldly stated that they must be courageous because he had faith in God. Do you hear that? They should be encouraged because Paul had faith. Can you imagine saying that to a bunch of people facing certain death? But this faith did not mean that the disaster would be averted but instead that God would see them through it and not one life would be lost. By his faith we see this prisoner become more powerful than the captain. As the sailors tried to abandon ship Paul gave instructions:
“Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 27:31)
Paul was so bold in his faith, so sure of what God was doing that the soldiers on board placed their trust in Paul's words and showed it by throwing away the last symbol of hope on board that doomed ship:
So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall away. (Acts 27:32)
Could you imagine being so forceful in your faith that people would turn away from any other options and put their full trust in what God was saying through you? This is the faith that sees the Kingdom advancing. Not a weak pathetic faith that says "maybe" but an emblazoned faith that provides hope in a hopeless life. Paul's faith became something the others held on to, a beacon, and Paul showed his faith in his words and actions:
"Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. (Acts 27:34-36)
Paul was facing the same disaster as all the rest on board but he knew God's plan and he trusted that God would do what he said. As a result no one lost their life in this situation. They still had to go through the disaster of the shipwreck but not one life was lost, and God received the glory.
So often we interpret life as if we are the center of the universe, as if we are the ones that matter in every situation. But there are times when God allows us to be involved in certain situations and face certain circumstances for the sake of other people. Our faith is not always about us but about the people who are affected by it. Even as a prisoner Paul was an effective servant of the Lord Jesus Christ according to the forceful faith he possessed. A forceful faith draws everyone who is around us into a place of hope. It doesn't matter who we are, what our position in life is, young or old; a forceful faith causes the Kingdom of God to advance in the hearts of people.
There is something that Jesus said that affects me almost every day as it keeps me humble and focused on Jesus instead of my circumstances:
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:44-45)
This reminds me that our Father loves everyone the same, the save and the unsaved. Terrible things happen to the righteous and the unrighteous because we live in a fallen world. Hurricanes will destroy the homes of both. People will lose their babies. Children will die. The difference should be in our response to these situations. We should respond according to our unshakable, forceful faith. We should become a conduit of hope for those who face these things in the darkness of hopelessness. Paul could have panicked like the rest. He could have thrown his hands up in despair but he didn't. He listened for God and he believed. He acted on that faith and everyone was saved.
Go the distance with Jesus no matter what you are facing right now. Go the distance and don't look back. You have trusted him this far, so go all the way and see what he is going to do with it. Trust that you are not the focus here but everyone around you is. Don't act like the victim but instead be the servant. Stop worrying about yourself and become the encourager that people need. Allow God to use your forceful faith to bring others into the Kingdom. Rise up oh warrior and serve your King.