“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13, ESV).
It was the apostle Paul who penned those words to exhort the believers in Ephesus. Another translation says it this way: “Then after the battle you will still be standing firm” (NLT). Of course, there would not be much weight to Paul’s words had he himself not gone through the fire and ultimately been able to stand.
From the very onset of his ministry, the apostle Paul was entrusted with great suffering and trials. Shortly after the Lord stopped Paul on the road to Damascus, our Savior appeared in a vision to a man named Ananias and told him to pray for Paul. “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16).
Paul clearly understood that he was appointed by God to be his witness, thus he embraced the suffering that accompanied this call. In fact, he even went so far as to regard suffering as “fellowship.” Notice what he said to the Philippian church: “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).
It is tragic that this truth about suffering in the Christian life is largely neglected in much of today’s theology. I find it appalling that there are even places where people completely discount Paul’s life and the things he had to go through. Instead, they use the words of Paul to somehow convince people that suffering and trials should not be part of the Christian experience. It is almost inconceivable, especially as we see in the scriptures that Paul certainly did not try to hide his trials from the early church. Paul was constantly delivered into places in which he could not have survived in his own strength. He experienced suffering and trials to such a degree that without the infusion of Christ’s life within, he could not have endured in his own human ability.
Paul possessed an inner core, however, that proves to us today that ordinary people are able to withstand all the adversity and opposition they encounter by the life of Christ within them.
Suffering is part of the Christian life, and our faith becomes deeper each time we are tested, thanks be to God!
Carter Conlon joined the pastoral staff of Times Square Church in 1994 and was appointed Senior Pastor in 2001. In May of 2020 he transitioned into a continuing role as General Overseer of Times Square Church, Inc.
The prophet Isaiah describes what happens when the Holy Spirit falls upon a people. Isaiah prophesies, “Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is counted as a forest” (Isaiah 32:15).
Isaiah adds, “Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field” (32:16). According to the prophet, the Holy Ghost also brings with him a message of judgment against sin. And that message produces righteousness in the people.
Isaiah isn’t speaking of a one-time outpouring of the Spirit, what some people think of as “revival.” Isaiah is describing something that lasts. Studies by Christian sociologists show that most present-day revivals last for an average of five years, and leave in their wake much confusion and dissension. I know of some churches where so-called revivals took place, but now, within just a few years, there is no trace of the Spirit left. Those churches are dead, dry, empty. Houses that once held 1,000 are now cavernous tombs, with only fifty people in attendance.
Isaiah continues: “The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever. My people will dwell in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places” (Isaiah 32:17-18).
The Holy Spirit is busy sweeping out all unrest, disturbances and condemnation. What follows is peace of mind, peace in the home, and peace in God’s house. And when God’s people have the peace of Christ, they aren’t easily moved from it: “Though hail comes down on the forest, and the city is brought low in humiliation. Blessed are you who sow beside all waters, who send out freely the feet of the ox and the donkey” (32:19-20).
Isaiah’s prophecy about the Holy Spirit was directed to Israel during Uzziah’s reign. Yet it also applies to God’s people today. It is known as a dual prophecy. The fact is, every generation needs an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And I believe the church today hasn’t seen anything compared to what the Holy Spirit wants to accomplish.
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek” (Matthew 6:31-32).
Jesus tells us that worry—about the future of our family, about jobs, about how we are to survive—is a heathen’s way of life. Jesus is talking here about those who have no heavenly Father. They do not know God as he wants to be known, as a caring, providing, loving Father in heaven.
“Do not worry about tomorrow” (v. 34). In these plain words, Jesus commands us, “Do not give a thought, do not give a worry, about what might or might not happen tomorrow. You can’t change anything. And you can’t help by worrying. When you do, you’re only doing as the heathen do.” Then Jesus says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (v. 33). In other words, you are to go on loving Jesus. You are to move on, casting all your cares on him. You are to go on resting in his faithfulness. Your heavenly Father will see to it that you are supplied with all the essential things of life.
I wonder if the angels are baffled by all the worrying and anxiousness of those who claim to trust in God. To them it must seem so degrading, so insulting to the Lord, that we worry as if we had no caring Father in heaven. What perplexing questions the angels must ask among themselves: “Have they no Father who is in heaven? Do they not believe he loves them? Did he not tell them he knows all about their needs? Do they not believe that he who feeds the birds and the whole animal kingdom will feed and clothe them? How can they fret and worry if they know he owns all power, all wealth, and can supply the needs of all creation? Would they accuse their heavenly Father of neglect, as if he was not true to his word?”
You have a heavenly Father. Trust him!
“The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me…and you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus” (2 Timothy 1:16-18).
Onesiphorus was one of Paul’s spiritual sons and he loved Paul so deeply and unconditionally that he sought him out in his sufferings. Once, when Paul was jailed, Onesiphorus went through the city looking for him until he found him. His motivation was simply, “My brother is hurting. He has suffered the terrors of shipwreck, and now he’s being buffeted by Satan. I have to encourage him.”
The ministry of refreshing clearly includes seeking out those who are hurting. We hear a lot of talk about power in the church these days: power to heal the sick, power to win the lost, power to overcome sin. But I say there is great, healing power that flows out of a refreshed and renewed person. Depression, mental anguish or a troubled spirit can cause all kinds of physical sickness, but a spirit that’s refreshed and encouraged—one that’s made to feel accepted, loved and needed—is the healing balm needed most.
We find this ministry of refreshing in the Old Testament as well. When David was being hunted down by King Saul, he was exhausted and hurting, forced to run day and night. During that time, he felt rejected by God’s leaders and God’s people. Then, at a crucial moment, David’s friend Jonathan came to him: “Then Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, ‘Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that’” (1 Samuel 23:16-17).
That was all David needed to hear and immediately his spirit was refreshed to go on. We see this example time after time in Scripture: God sends not an angel or a vision, but a fellow believer to refresh his beloved ones.
How did the Holy Ghost bring comfort to Paul during his downcast times? The apostle himself tells us: “Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus” (2 Corinthians 7:6). Titus arrived in Macedonia with a refreshing spirit, and suddenly Paul’s heart was lifted. As the two men fellowshipped, joy flooded through Paul’s body, mind and spirit, and the apostle wrote, “I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation” (7:4). Paul was declaring, “I still face problems, but the Lord has given me what I need for the battle. He has refreshed me through Titus.”
Throughout my years in the ministry I’ve seen men and women of God come to the end of their endurance, cast down low and utterly confused. I’ve anguished over these dear brothers and sisters in their pain, asking the Lord, “Father, how will these servants of yours ever get out of such a pit of suffering? Where is the power that will bring them out? What can I say or do to help them?”
I believe the answer is found right here, in Paul’s testimony. Here was a man so deeply weary that he was no longer himself. Paul was at the darkest time of his ministry, as cast down as he’d ever been. Yet within a few short hours, he was completely out of that dark pit and reveling in joy and gladness. Once again, the beloved apostle felt loved and needed.
How did this happen? First, let’s look at what happened in Corinth. When Titus arrived there to meet with the church leaders, he received his own glorious refreshing. An awakening was taking place in the church because they had heeded Paul’s instruction, and now God was blessing them mightily.
This refreshing word, brought by a dear brother in the Lord, immediately lifted Paul out of his pit. God uses people to refresh people. He didn’t send an angel to refresh Paul. The comfort this man received came through the refreshing of Titus’ spirit, who in turn refreshed Paul’s.