It’s not enough to tell someone who is going through the worst experience of their lives to hang in there and not quit.
They need a reason for staying, and a good one at that.
The best reason I know for followers of the Lord Jesus Christ who are finding obedience to Him to be hard, costly, lonely, risky, dangerous, and/or illegal is this: Obeying Jesus in difficult circumstances, your faith is the purest, your Lord the most pleased, and your testimony most visible.
At the very time we are most tempted to hang it up and walk away, that’s the moment we are in a position to do our best work. At that moment, the battle line between Heaven and earth has found us. We are in place to do the finest, most Christ-honoring soul-satisfying devil-defeating work of our life.
You were doing well. You loved the Lord, you were worshiping Him, obeying Him, giving to His church and to others, you were praying and reading your Bible and life was good.
Then the bottom fell out.
Perhaps your beautiful family disintegrated. Or, maybe your income ended suddenly and you lost all your savings. Your friends scattered and your health deteriorated.
Or perhaps, like Job, all of the above happened to you at one time.
That, as you surely know, is when a lot of people check out of church. “What’s the use?” they ask. “My heart isn’t in it any more.” “Where is God when I need Him most?” “He didn’t answer any of my prayers.”
What a shame. The quarterback has the ball on the opponent’s one-yard line with a first-down and decides to punt.
You came so close to winning. But then you bailed out.
What were you thinking?
Answer: You weren’t thinking. Because you didn’t know.
We never know in this life how close we are to winning. Not until the game has ended and the Coach is playing the game films back to the team do we see the whole story.
This is the story of the entire Bible.
It is not just one or two great sagas in Holy Scripture. It’s the story of Israel–in Egypt, in the wilderness, in Canaan. It is the story of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob and the tribes. It is the theme of Joseph’s life as well as David’s. And the story of Moses, which takes up more of the Old Testament than anyone’s else’s bio, is all about this: You get right up to the moment of decision–the time when it is the toughest to obey the Lord and everything inside you wants to jump ship–this is when you are about to do your best work.
At one such moment, Moses cried to God, “What shall I do with this people? They’re ready to stone me!” (Exodus 17:4) Every pastor knows the feeling. God told Moses what action to take, and the result was a great miracle–water pouring from a rock! Had Moses wavered, that would not have happened.
At a time of unbelievable stress when the person nearest him urged him to curse God and die, Job said, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:20 and 2:9)
Later, as the heat was turned up by oppressively bad counsel from his friends, Job said, “Even though (God) slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15). Scripture says, “In all these things, Job did not sin,” leaving us a story for the ages, one that has ministered to millions of disciples going through difficult times.
When the three Hebrew lads were threatened with death by fire unless they retracted their confession of faith in the living God, they answered the Babylonian king, “Our God is able to deliver us. But even if He doesn’t, we will not serve your gods nor the idol you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18). We have the story of these men surviving the fiery furnace because they held firm in that moment of testing.
We have the story of Daniel in the lion’s den not because this servant of the Lord prayed, but he prayed after it was made illegal. (Daniel 6)
We have the story of the widow who gave the last two coins to her name, not because she gave them, but because they were all she had. Giving to Jesus cost her. (Mark 12:41-44)
We know the story of Blind Bartimaeus not simply because this beggar of Jericho called on Jesus for healing, but because he kept calling for Jesus after everyone around him tried to shut him up. (Luke 18:35-43)
This is the story of every person listed in the roll call of the faithful, Hebrews 11.
What do we have in this chapter, but accounts of people who obeyed the Lord when doing so was very hard, considered unwise, unpopular, and lonely!
Noah builds a massive ship far from the water, taking decades to finish it, and then fills it with animals from every species. Abraham leaves his ancestral home and his extended family for a place completely unknown to him. His wife gives birth far beyond child-bearing time. Abraham then offered up that very son, Isaac, to God without the hint of a promise as to what would happen then.
Moses walked out on the Pharaoh’s court and all the privileges of being the king’s step-son. Later, he takes a million ex-slaves from Egypt across a wilderness.
These and all the others who received honorable mentions in the chapter–Gideon and Barak and Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel, the various prophets, and so many others–are found in this golden listing for one thing and one thing only: They were faithful when it was hardest and counted most.
When obedience is the hardest, that is your moment.
When doing the will of God–worshiping Him, confessing Him, giving or praying or serving Him–becomes the hardest thing you have ever done, that is your golden moment.
This is when the story of your discipleship is about to be written.
You will fail miserably or succeed in ways that shake Heaven and earth. One or the other.
But here is the kicker: You may not know it until later.
Sometimes, it’s a year later when we see the result of our faithfulness in that trying time. But then again, sometimes, it’s a long time later.
Only when the full story is complete and the record finished, only when the whistle is blown and “time shall be no more” (Revelation 10:6), only then will we know everything that was accomplished by your faithfulness.
Can you handle that? Can you keep on laboring through the difficulties–pain, discouragement, loneliness, poverty, sickness, barrenness–with the assurance that “your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58)?
Can you stay in the most difficult field of the Lord with the promise that “in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart (and quit)” (Galatians 6:9)?
If you can, then you can understand and glory in the testimony of the great Apostle himself:
We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed.
We are perplexed, but not in despair.
Persecuted, but not forsaken.
Struck down, but not destroyed.
–II Corinthians 4:8-9
And how are we able to do this? Paul gives three answers:
We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. (4:7) This is how people know God is real!
We are always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. (4:10) This is how people see Jesus!
We are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (4:11) This is how people may experience Jesus for themselves!
So, going through a hard time, Christian?
Then, get excited. It’s about to get good.
But you have to stay faithful, in your place, doing your job, no matter how you feel or what others do.
Once you understand this–that when the believer’s life gets really rough, that’s when we do our best work and the Lord is most glorified–it all begins to make sense.
Take a look at this tiny vignette from the early disciples’ journal:
“When they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and released them. So, they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” (Acts 5:40-41)
Only those who persevere through hard times have a clue what that means.