Monday, August 29, 2011

A Word Of Encouragement To Stay The Course

I want to give you a word of encouragement this morning to stay the course. We need to be a determined people, not to fulfill a self-proclaimed destiny but to complete the will of our Father. Part of the problem is that many of us are on a course that we cannot be absolutely sure is directed by the Lord. So that is the first step, determining whether this is the correct course. This will take time as you surround yourself in the Word, spend hours in prayer and seek godly council from the spiritual leadership God has placed in your life. Usually God's will is revealed in our heart and is confirmed by what is said to us. It is seldom that God's will is revealed from the outside, trying to persuade our heart. We never have to persuade our heart as much as our will.

Jesus is an example of God's will revealed to the heart. When he went to pray in the garden he knew what his Father's will was. He knew that he had to face arrest, suffering and then the torturous death on the cross. This may come as a shock to you but Jesus would have preferred an option here. As he prayed he asked his Father if this could be avoided. His flesh was struggling with this whole thing. Not every calling from the Lord is a pleasant thing to everyone and sometimes we have to wrestle with our flesh to submit. Jesus submitted his will to the Father, he stayed the course, paid the price for us and set us free from our bondage to sin, making forgiveness possible.

Doing what is right is not always an easy thing and sometimes comes at great personal cost. Sometimes, when the Lord sets our feet on a certain course, we can actually see what awaits us on the path ahead. Consider the Apostle Paul. He had just come away from a very fruitful season of ministry in Asia Minor, his most successful ministry to date. Now the Spirit was telling him to return to Jerusalem but it wasn't going to be a pleasant thing. He was going to be arrested and jailed for many years. He knew this and still he went.

Some of us may look at this and say that he had a death wish or perhaps a martyr's complex; maybe he was tired and wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. The thing is, there was no blaze of glory, just a long drawn out arrest where he was separated from most of his friends. From a great and fruitful ministry to a prisoner with little contact with people. I wonder how much Paul doubted the purpose of God in this? But there were "road markers" that he could look back on and encourage himself that this was the Father's will.

First, it was placed on his heart. He knew he had to go to Jerusalem and then after Jerusalem to Rome, he just didn't know yet how he was getting to Rome:

After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. “After I have been there,” he said, “I must visit Rome also.” (Acts 19:21)   

What we often discover is that after we have started on the course marked out for us the Spirit encourages in it, often revealing more details. This was Paul's experience as he explained to the elders of Ephesus why he would never see them again:

And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:22-24)

Paul now knew what awaited him but he didn't care about the personal cost, he just wanted to stay faithful, completing the task that had been given to him. For most of us prison would not seem to be a great success but to a Christian the only true success is faithfulness. We do not measure our success by numbers, size or riches. Success is always measured by our faithfulness in completing the task given to us, of staying the course, of going to the end.

It is interesting that once we have responded to the course that has been laid on our heart how much opposition can arise from those closest to us. We so often measure things according to our flesh instead of the Spirit. We always want to save people from things that would cause them physical harm. We are too much focused on our physical condition to raise the priority to the spiritual level. As Paul went along people tried to dissuade him from this course. First in Tyre:

Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. (Acts 21:4)

And then just on the doorstep to Jerusalem, in Caesarea, where a prophet met with Paul. Look at the reaction of his closest friends:

Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”
When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. (Acts 21:11-12)

Paul was one of the most determined leaders of the early Church. Today we would have called him stubborn, perhaps lacking judgement. After all, with all this foreknowledge, who in their right mind would stay this course? Ummmmm, Jesus? Why is it that we insist that our Father would not call us to such times as this to further his purpose in the lives of people who need to hear about Jesus? Through his suffering Paul gained access to governors, judges and kings. He went all the way to the court of Caesar. What's a little discomfort for the sake of those who need Jesus?

I want to give you this word of encouragement to stay the course that the Spirit has laid on your heart, even if it entails some discomfort. Perhaps you can see that it will include some great personal cost. Well rejoice then, just as the early apostles did, that you have been considered worthy to suffer for the Name. Don't run away from it just because it hurts but stay the course and see what is produced. To this day we taste the fruit of Paul's imprisonment. It did not come as a result of some king receiving Jesus but instead from letters Paul had time to write while in prison. Some of those letters are found in our New Testament and we learn a great deal from them every day. I doubt Paul saw this as the fruit that was being produced but our God has a much larger purpose for the course he has set before us.

Rejoice my friends and stay the course. Do not look to your suffering and hardships but instead to God's glory. Is that not our prayer, that he would glorify himself through us? So stop dictating the terms and allow the joy of the Lord to permeate your heart so that no complaint is found upon your lips but only the praises of our King. Remember:

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. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

The emphasis here is not the suffering but what was being achieved through it. Paul does not say fix your eyes on your troubles but instead on Jesus Christ. To God be the glory!

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