Do you ever feel as though you haven’t accomplished much in life, and many promises are unfulfilled? If so, you’re in good company; in fact, you are standing among spiritual giants.
Many great servants of God throughout history ended up feeling that they failed in their calling. The prophet Elijah looked at his life and cried, “Lord, take me home! I’m no better than my fathers, and all of them failed you. Please, take my life! Everything has been in vain” (see 1 Kings 19:4).
David Livingstone, one of the world’s most useful missionaries, opened up the African continent to the gospel, sowing much seed and being used by God to awaken England for missions. Yet, during his twenty-third year on the mission field, Livingstone expressed the same awful doubts as other great servants. His biographer quotes him in his despondency: “All my work seems to be in vain.”
George Bowen’s book, Love Revealed, is one of the greatest books on Christ ever written. A single man, Bowen turned away from wealth and fame to become a missionary in Bombay, India, in the mid-1800s. He chose to live among the very poorest, preaching on the streets in sweltering weather, distributing gospel literature and weeping over the lost.
This amazingly devoted man had gone to India with high hopes for the ministry of the gospel. Yet, in his forty-plus years of ministry, Bowen had not one convert. It was only after his death that mission societies discovered he was one of the most beloved missionaries in the nation.
Like so many before him, Bowen endured a terrible sense of failure. He wrote, “I am the most useless being in the church … I would like to sit with Job, and I sympathize with Elijah. My labor has all been in vain.”
It is no sin to endure such thoughts, or to be cast down with a sense of failure. But it is dangerous to allow these hellish lies to fester and enflame your soul. Jesus showed us the way out of such despondency with this statement: “I have labored in vain … yet surely my just reward is with the Lord, and my work with my God” (Isaiah 49:4). Christ is saying, in effect, “The Father alone passes judgment on all that we’ve done and how effective we’ve been.”
The Lord wants you to leave all that “failure thinking” behind and get back to work. Nothing has been in vain! He is going to do abundantly more than you could think or ask!
“The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle” (Psalm 78:9).
In Psalm 78, we read about Ephraim, the largest tribe in Israel. It was the most favored tribe of all: numerous and powerful, skilled in the use of weapons, and well equipped for battle. Yet, we read that when this mighty tribe saw the opposition, they gave up and retreated even though they were better armed and more powerful than their enemy. They had resolved to fight and win, but once they came face-to-face with their crisis, they lost heart.
In this passage, Ephraim represents the numerous believers who have been blessed and favored by the Lord. They are well taught, equipped with a testimony of faith, and armed for battle against whatever may come. But when mounting trials and troubles seem too big, too much to handle, they turn back and quit, casting aside their faith.
Scripture says Ephraim questioned God’s faithfulness: “Yes, they spoke against God: they said, ‘Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? Behold, He struck the rock, so that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed. Can He give bread also? Can He provide meat for His people’” (78:19-20).
“[They] did not believe in His wondrous works … Nor were they faithful in His covenant” (78:32, 37). Finally, here was the result: “[They] limited the Holy One of Israel” (78:41).
Ephraim’s lack of faith and cowardice shook up the other tribes in Israel. Imagine the damaging effect when the others saw what had happened. “This highly favored people weren’t able to stand. What hope do we have?”
Beloved, we dare not condemn Ephraim, because we may be more guilty than they were. Think about it: we have the Holy Spirit abiding in us. Also, we have the Bible, the fully revealed Word of God, full of promises to guide us.
“Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Whenever we hold our faith position through hard times, we have the same affirmation from the Holy Spirit: “Well done. You are God’s testimony.”
As calamities increase, and the world falls into greater distress, the believer’s response must be a testimony of unwavering faith. There is hope for those who trust in God.
Jesus came to earth as a man, God in flesh, so he could feel our pain, be tempted and tried as we are, and show us the Father. Scripture calls Jesus the express image (meaning, the exact likeness) of God. He is the same essence and substance of God the Father (“being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person” [Hebrews 1:3]). In short, he is “the same as” the Father in all ways.
To this very day, Jesus Christ is the face of God on earth. And because of him, we have uninterrupted fellowship with the Father. Through the cross, we have the privilege of “seeing his face,” of touching him. We can even live as he did, testifying, “I don’t do anything except as I see and hear it from the Lord.”
“When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ my heart said to you, ‘Your face, Lord, I will seek’” (Psalm 27:8). God gave that answer to David when that godly man was surrounded by a host of idolators. Today, when God says, “Seek my face,” his words have more implications than at any other time in history.
As lovers of the blood-stained Christ of Calvary, seeking him must become our single, all-consuming desire in life. Our one mission is to be in continual, uninterrupted communion with the Christ of glory — to seek and inquire in his Word of the beauty of Jesus, until we know him, and he becomes our full satisfaction.
We do all this for one purpose: that we may be like him! That we may become his express image so that those who seek the true Christ will see him in us. All evangelism, all soul-winning, all missions outreaches are in vain unless we behold Jesus’ face and are continually changed into his image. No soul can be touched except by such Christians. And Jesus has called us to reflect his face to a lost world that is confused about who he is.
As we see things around us becoming more and more chaotic, the Holy Spirit whispers, “Don’t despair! You know how all of this is going to end. The heavens are going to open, and the King of kings and Lord of lords will appear.”
Every knee shall bow on that day when we behold his face!
“When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).
We know Jesus was utterly dependent on the Father, and he is our example of yielding and trusting. Indeed, he makes clear that such a life is possible for us. If we actually lived this, God should be the captain of our souls by now. But is he? Too often, as soon as our next crisis arises, we question God’s faithfulness and give in to doubt and fear, relying on our wits to find an escape.
Many Christians read the Bible regularly, believing it is God’s living, revealed Word for their lives. They read accounts of God speaking to his people again and again in past generations. Yet, these same Christians live as though God doesn’t speak to his people today.
An entire generation of believers has come to make decisions completely on their own, without praying or consulting God’s Word. Many simply decide what they want to do and then ask God to validate their actions. They move ahead forcefully, their only prayer being, “Lord, if this is not your will, then stop me.”
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a best-selling book titled: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. The theory presented is, “Trust your instincts. Blink-of-the-eye decisions prove to be best.” Think of all the hurried-up “blink language” we hear every day: “This is the offer of the century! You can make a bundle overnight! But you only have a short window of opportunity, so get in on it — now!” The driving spirit behind it all is, “Blink, blink, blink!”
The question we should be asking ourselves is, “Have I prayed about it? Have I sought the wisdom of the Lord concerning the matter? Have I received godly counsel?”
What is your practice? How many important decisions have you made where you honestly took the matter to God and prayed sincerely? The reason God wants full control of our decision-making is to save us from disaster — which is exactly where most of our “blink decisions” end up.
God has promised to make his will clear to all who seek him. When you give him full control, you’ll hear his voice, saying, “This is the way, beloved. Now, walk in it with confidence because I have everything under control.” How wonderful to have such a loving Father!
The power of the Holy Spirit comes to us in various ways. First, as Jesus says, no one comes to know him unless they are born again in the Spirit. Therefore, in a sense, God’s Spirit dwells in every Christian.
Second, we are called to abide in the Spirit, to remain intimate with him in prayer. Third, we are to be continually filled with the Spirit, to constantly drink from his well of living water. None of this means the Spirit leaves us, but rather that we have a part in our relationship with him.
Finally, there is an outpouring of the Spirit that fills us with power, something that is beyond our ability to generate. You may wonder, “If I’m born of the Spirit, and the Spirit abides in me, and I continually drink of the Spirit, why would I need the Spirit poured out on me?” We need him because he helps us understand our need for God. We could never do the works of his kingdom in our own passion or zeal. It has to come from him.
We may think God chooses the fiery person, the one who will get everyone zealous for God. But the Lord is looking for a hungry heart — one he can fill with his very own mind, heart and Spirit. That means even the meekest among us qualifies.
Jesus said when describing the outpouring of the Spirit: “Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). This suggests an external move of the Spirit in our lives, something that comes from outside us. All other moves of the Spirit in us are internal — being born again, abiding, drinking our fill.
There comes a time in every believer’s life when the Spirit has to move in a way that’s external from us. We need him to do the work: to speak, touch, deliver. That’s exactly what happened when the disciples couldn’t cast out a demon. Jesus told them, “This kind comes out only by prayer and fasting” (see Mark 9:29). In other words, it required utter dependence on God. We must say, “I can’t do this in my own power. It requires God’s strength.”
The disciples needed prayer and fasting just to cast out one demon. We are facing an entire culture that can be transformed only by prayer and fasting!