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Archive for suffering

Glimpses of Grace

October 19, 2011

At a meeting not too long ago, I overheard two fellow pastors questioning their call to the ministry. Think of this! They were wondering aloud why in the world they did not pursue a different educational path that would have given them a career to “fall back on.” This obviously caught my attention, and I settled in to listen more carefully. Both men were obviously discouraged about the ministries that God had placed them in. They were not sufficiently motivated to stay the course amidst all the obstacles they were facing.

In my mind, the call of God to preach His word to the world is the highest calling a human being can have. However, it is hard for some to stay the course amid all the possible pitfalls in ministry – the money that does not come in to pay the bills, church leaders that feel that it is their obligation to stand against everything the pastor suggests, disgruntled church members that think it necessary to keep something negative stirred up all the time, not to mention the personal family pressures. I wanted to say, “Fellows, don’t you remember how and why the living God called you to Himself in the first place?”

My mind went back to my own reasons for hanging tough through the years. How had I been motivated to stay the course through it all? That thought always draws me back to the amazing glimpse of grace that I received in 1989 during a morning walk. God used it to change the entire course of my ministry. I was going through a particularly rough time in the congregation that I was leading. I was looking to God for answers and pondering some passages that I had recently studied.

Centuries ago Paul was facing the same opposition for preaching the gospel. He found that he had to defend himself before the very people who should have trusted him totally. I identified with that! Some even accused him of using the gospel to serve his own selfish desires. Quitting was never an option. Paul said that 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.

What enabled Paul to persevere in the face of such suffering? He thought back to the day of His own dramatic Damascus Road conversion when he met Jesus Christ face to face. It has always been fascinating to me that God blinded Paul so that he could really “see” for the first time. From that day on, his ministry was to advance the cause of Jesus Christ, not his own. Then he gave one of his famous conclusions marked by the word “therefore.”

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

I am painfully aware that my outward man is perishing. My body is growing older and wearing out! I do not have all the time in the world to finish the purpose that God has set me apart to do.

Paul went further! We are not to lose heart because the spiritual man inside is being renewed day by day. This is a comforting thought! No matter what is going on around us, the Holy Spirit is constantly renewing our minds and is steadily conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ.

What an encouragement! But how is this possible? Paul made this amazing contrast. He said that our momentary light affliction is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. What exactly did Paul mean by a “momentary light affliction.” He tipped his hand in the same book. Read this recap of his life!

“In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:23b-27)

This is momentary light affliction? Up against that backdrop, my problem with the congregation didn’t appear so bad. Paul said that all that he was going through in this life paled in significance when compared to the eternal weight of glory that awaited him. Seeing Christ face to face far outweighed the effects of an aging body – the suffering, the defeats, all the heartaches in this life.

What Paul said next became the motivation for my life’s ministry. He said that I was to begin looking beyond the things that human eyes can see and begin to peer into God’s unseen world. The things that I see with my physical eyes are destined to pass into oblivion. They are just temporary passing things. The things that I cannot see with my human eyes are eternal things.

My mind raced on to a third passage that I had recently studied. Contrasting human wisdom with God’s wisdom, Paul wrote these incredible words that God etched forever into my mind.

“But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-13)

God’s wisdom is knowledge that cannot be seen with human eyes or heard with human ears. That sounded familiar! In fact, God’s wisdom is that which has never entered into a human mind before. Incredible! That would mean that this wisdom is not the rehashed human understanding coming from the mind of man.

Paul then wrote something that has become the motivation for the “Glimpses of Grace” ministry and the day by day church ministries that God has led me to. He said that God has revealed these hidden things to us through His Spirit. Hold it! Is this saying what I think it is saying? Is Paul saying that God’s Spirit opens to our human spirits the deep things of God, the hidden wisdom of God? Is he saying that we can know the things that human ears have never heard, nor eyes have ever seen! We can know the things that no human mind has ever thought. That is exactly what he is saying! This is fascinating!

How is this possible? The next line reads, “What man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him?” I alone know my own secret thoughts! Likewise, the Spirit of God alone knows the deep things of God. My mind began to race. “We have received, not the spirit of this world – but the Spirit who is from God!” Why? “In order that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” The Spirit of God lives in me. He has a purpose for being there. He can teach me the “deep things” of God. We can know the things that have been freely given to us by God.

The final words of the passage “comparing spiritual things with spiritual” actually sent me into another world. The Holy Spirit brings to the mind spiritual thoughts as the words are read. As I study the written words of the Bible, verse by verse and line upon line, God the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of my mind to see and understand the deep, fascinating wisdom of God behind the scene. That is absolutely incredible. I (we) can know the mind of God!

Here’s a catch! These glimpses into God’s unseen world cannot be found by searching for them. God opens them to us at His pleasure as we study the Bible word after word and line by line year after year. These “glimpses” are not unique to only a few special Christians. They are open to all. Since we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us, we meet the criteria to receive them. There are not different glimpses for different people. Every believer receives the very same truth.

God has not taught me everything that I have desired to know about His plan, but He has been pleased to give me small insights, small “glimpses.” These insights placed together began to etch a beautiful portrait in my mind. God has opened to me His incredible salvation plan, the true identity of Jesus Christ, the immense value of His death and resurrection, and the nature and purpose of the Holy Spirit, to name but a few.  These are truly God’s glimpses of grace.