As I teach the Bible, I am perpetually amazed by its relevance to our family challenges in the 21st century. After all, the Bible is the only ancient book where the author is still alive. My faith and my confidence is fortified through the fights and trials that we traverse in the family of God because “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1, ESV), and “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways!” (Psalms 128:1).
The psalmist taught many promises and blessings that come to those who build with God. I have these experiences in my house, and I can assure you that they are real.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that our families will be perfect. Even the parents of Jesus weren’t perfect. Remember that time with the family’s trip to Jerusalem? Jesus wasn’t more than 12 years old, and his parents simply forgot him in the temple.
Imagine the discussion between Papa and Mama in the family caravan returning to the house. Despite being accidentally left behind, Jesus still grew up in wisdom, in stature and in favor of the Lord and of all men (see Luke 2:52). Having Jesus growing up in wisdom, the family grew emotionally, in their relationships and in spirituality.
Although the parents of Jesus weren’t perfect, the Bible shows us the model of an extraordinary family, and it has this one, powerful reminder and encouragement for all of us: a strong family is not a perfect family. Rather, it’s a family that grows.
Claude Houde is the lead pastor of Eglise Nouvelle Vie (New Life Church) in Montreal, Canada. Under his leadership New Life Church has grown from a handful of people to more than 3500 in a part of Canada with few successful Protestant churches.
Jesus knew the disciples needed the kind of peace that would see them through any and all situations. He told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you” (John 14:27). This word had to amaze the disciples. In their eyes, it was almost an unbelievable promise: Christ’s peace was to become their peace.
These twelve men had marveled at the peace they had witnessed in Jesus for the past three years. Their Master was never afraid. He was always calm, never ruffled by any circumstance.
We know that Christ was capable of spiritual anger. At times he was stirred, and he knew how to weep. But he led his life on earth as a man at peace. He had peace with the Father, peace in the face of temptation, peace in times of rejection and mockery. He even had peace during storms at sea, sleeping on the deck of the boat while others trembled with terror.
Now Jesus was promising these men the very same peace. When they heard this, the disciples must have looked at each other in wonder: “You mean, we’re going to have the same peace that he has? This is incredible.”
Jesus added, “not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). This wasn’t going to be the so-called peace of a numb, zoned-out society. Nor would it be the temporary peace of the rich and famous, who try to purchase peace of mind with material things. No, this was the very peace of Christ himself, a peace that surpasses all human understanding.
When Christ promised the disciples his peace, it was as if he was saying to them and to us today: “I know you don’t understand the times you face. You don’t comprehend the Cross and the suffering I am about to face. But I want to bring your heart into a place of peace. You won’t be able to face what is coming without having my enduring peace in you. You must have my peace.”
Contentment was a huge test in Paul’s life. After all, God said he would use him mightily: “He is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). When Paul first received this commission, “straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God” (9:20).
Paul was in no hurry to see everything fulfilled in his lifetime. He knew he had an ironclad promise from God, and he clung to it. For the present moment, he was content to minister wherever he was: witnessing to a jailer, to a sailor, to a few women on a riverbank. This man had a worldwide commission, yet he was faithful to testify one-on-one.
Nor was Paul jealous of younger men who seemed to pass him by. While they traveled the world winning Jews and Gentiles to Christ, Paul sat in prison. He had to listen to reports of great crowds being converted by men he’d battled with over the gospel of grace. Yet Paul didn’t envy those men. He knew that a Christ-surrendered man knows how to abase as well as abound: “Godliness with contentment is great gain…and having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:6, 8).
The world today might say to Paul, “You are at the end of your life now. Yet you have no savings, no investments. All you have is a change of clothes.” I know what Paul’s answer would be: “Oh, but I’ve won Christ. I tell you, I’m the winner. I’ve found the pearl of great price. Jesus granted me the power to lay down everything. Well, I laid it all down, and now a crown awaits me. I have only one goal in this life: to see my Jesus, face to face.”
All the sufferings of this present time can’t be compared with the joy that awaits you.
Christ described the last days as a troubling and frightful time. What did he give us to prepare us for these calamities? What was his antidote to the fear that was going to come?
He gave us the illustration of our Father watching the sparrow, of God numbering the very hairs on our heads. These illustrations become even more meaningful when we consider the context in which Jesus gave them.
He told these illustrations to his twelve disciples, as he sent them out to evangelize the cities and towns of Israel. He had just endowed them with power to cast out demons and heal all manner of sickness and disease. Think of what an exciting moment that had to be for the disciples. They were given power to work miracles and wonders! But then came these fearful warnings from their Master:
“You won’t have any money in your pocket. And you won’t have a home, not even a roof to sleep under. Instead, you’ll be called heretics and devils. You’ll be beaten in synagogues, dragged before judges, thrown into prison. You’ll be hated and despised, betrayed and persecuted. You’ll have to flee from city to city to avoid being stoned.”
Yet, in this very same scene, Jesus told these beloved friends three times: “Fear not!” (Matthew 10:26, 28, 31). And he gave them the antidote to all fear: “The Father’s eye is always on the sparrow. How much more will it always be on you, his beloved ones?”
Jesus is saying, “When doubts flood in— when you’re at your wits’ end and you think no one sees what you’re going through—here is how to find rest and assurance. Look at the little birds outside your window. And run your fingers through your hair. Then remember what I told you, that these small creatures are of immense value to your Father. And your hairs are to remind you that you’re of much greater value to him. His eye is always on you. And he who sees and hears your every move is near.”
That is how our Father cares for us in hard times.
As Paul faced his court trial in Rome, he was held under horrible conditions (see Philippians 1:13-14). He was guarded around the clock by soldiers of the Praetorian guard, his feet chained to a soldier on either side. These men were crude, hardened, cursing frequently. They’d seen it all, and to them in their line of work, every jailed man was a guilty criminal, including Paul.
Think about it: Here was a man who had been very active, loving to travel the open road and high seas to meet and fellowship with God’s people. Paul drew his greatest joy from visiting the churches he had established throughout that region of the world. But now he was chained down, literally bound to the hardest, most profane men alive.
Paul had two options in his situation. He could spin out into a morbid, sour mood, asking the same self-centered question over and over: “Why me?” He could crawl into a pit of despair, reasoning himself into a hopeless depression, completely consumed with the thought, “Here I am bound up, with my ministry shut down, while others out there enjoy a harvest of souls. Why?”
Instead, Paul chose to ask, “How is my present situation going to bring glory to Christ? How can great good come out of my trial?” This servant of God made up his mind: “Now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20).
Paul’s attitude demonstrates the only way we can be emancipated from our dark pit of unhappiness and worry. You see, it’s possible to waste all our tomorrows anxiously waiting to be delivered out of our suffering. If that becomes our focus, we’ll totally miss the miracle and joy of being emancipated in our trial.
Consider Paul’s statement: “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). Paul is saying, “Don’t pity me or think I’m discouraged over my future. And please don’t say my work is finished. Yes, I’m in chains and suffering, but the gospel is being preached through it all.”