Tom: As you know, Dave, last week we discussed some material from chapter 9 of your book An Urgent Call to a Serious Faith, and that book, I believe, is one of your best. What I particularly like about it is its exhortation to believers to search the Scriptures in order to grow in the faith “once and for all delivered unto the saints.” We’ve covered some very positive aspects of the Christian life, including the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians:5:22-23: that’s love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. However, there’s another aspect of the Christian life which you don’t find heavily promoted today, and, Dave, I want to quote from your book, because this underscores it. You say, “The Christian life is too glorious to be easy, it must”—and that’s italicized—“it must involve trials and testings.” Now, why is that?
Dave: Well, I suppose you don’t send a soldier off to battle until you’ve checked him out. You have to go through basic training and some obstacle courses, some conditioning, make sure that he is fit for the battle, and I think we’re in a battle.
Tom: What battle? Now, that’s a tough idea today. We certainly tend to move away from things that are militant in any way, especially Christianity.
Dave: Paul says to Timothy that he’s supposed to be a good soldier to Jesus Christ—in fact, he says, “Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” We are to fight. He tells Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith.” There is a battle. I see it with young people today in particular. When they get in school, high school, college, there’s a battle to remain faithful to the Lord. They’re tempted all around them not only by immorality, but by criticism for their so-called “life style”—you know, “Why don’t you be part of the gang?” Or for even believing in Jesus—“the Bible isn’t true,” and so forth.
So there are trials that come in our lives. Paul said to Timothy again—2 Timothy 3: “All they that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” We talked a little bit about that—you know, why don’t we suffer some persecution? When difficulties come, I don’t think it’s realistic to imagine that I am supposed to float to heaven on a pink cloud of glory singing, “Praise the Lord!” We’re to praise the Lord, but we lost—a year-and-a-half ago—our youngest grandson. Why does it happen? I just talked with a woman yesterday—no, this is Tuesday—the day before. Not only was she raped, her daughter was raped. I talked with another person who came up for some counsel, and the man was going into the hospital yesterday for an operation. Another man, his daughter, 29 years old, two little children—dying of cancer. When these trials come…somebody else came up to ask me, “Why is there evil in this world? Why does God allow all this suffering?” and so forth. So there are trials that we face, and how am I going to face these?
Tom: Dave, let me back up just a little bit. So when you started out talking about “fight the good fight,” and battles here and there, we’re really not talking about the Crusades, okay, or pushing Christianity on anybody for their own particular reason.
Dave: No, no.
Tom: But it really has to do…it’s the battle to please the Lord, to do things that He would have us do, and the opposition to that, either personally in our own lives, or in the lives or situations….
In addition, and I think where you’re taking this here is, sin has affected the entire universe—not just people, but circumstances. We have floods, natural disasters, and so on that have been created. God is going to be with us through these things, and we’re still to please Him. In a way, that’s the battle we’re talking about, isn’t it?
Dave: Yes, Peter writes, and he says, “Your adversary the devil goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” We have a real enemy. We are to be representatives of God, of Jesus Christ. We’re to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called,” Paul writes again to the Ephesians. And Christ says, “Follow Me,” and “Don’t hide your light under a bushel,” you know. And we are to represent Him; we are to reflect the life of Christ within us.
Now, there will be much opposition to this from our own flesh, from friends, neighbors (let alone enemies), from the world all about us, from Satan himself to try to destroy our testimony.
You know, an awful lot of people say, “Yeah sure, I know these Christians. I mean, they go to church on Sunday, and they sing these holy hymns and pray these holy prayers, but you try to do business with them on Monday, they’re such hypocrites!”
I was talking to a man yesterday on the airplane concerned about hypocrisy. Well, am I going to be a hypocrite? Am I going to succumb to the temptation to take the easy way out? Or am I going to stand true to the Lord? So, this is the Christian life, and as we said (I think) on our last program, we can’t do it. I can’t live the Christian life; only Christ can live the Christian life. So I am supposed to reflect Christ.
I remember the old hymn we used to sing many years ago: “Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me, All His wondrous compassion and purity. Oh, my Savior divine….” I guess if I sang it, I could remember the words, but it’s been years. But, you know, “let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.” And that’s not easy for husbands and wives, with one another, to let the beauty of Jesus be seen in them; for parents to their children, and children to their parents, and brothers and sisters to one another.
But we are new creatures, new creations in Christ. Christ has become our life. So…it doesn’t happen automatically. I’m not a robot now, and we talked about that in our last program: “the just live by faith.” I’m going to have to trust the Lord to do this, and the Christian life is going to be miraculous; it has to be miraculous.
Tom: Dave, I want to go over some of the scriptures, because, again, this is a difficult thing even for some Christians. They say, “Well, why am I suffering? Why has God abandoned me? Or “Has He abandoned me? Why am I going through this?” We ask those questions all the time, but let’s look at some of the scriptures. In John:16:33, it says: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” This is Jesus speaking to us, and He’s telling us that, yes, we are going to go through some things, but good cheer! How can we have good cheer when we’re in the swamp with alligators all around, and so on?
Dave: Well, the Bible is all about that. Paul, again, wrote in 2 Corinthians 4, he said, “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things that are seen: for the things that are seen are temporal; but we look at the things that are not seen, because they are eternal.”
Or you could go to Hebrews 12—it says of Christ: “Who for the joy set before him endured the cross.”
After pain…they even say in the athletic world, “No pain, no gain.” If you’re going to strengthen yourselves, you’re going to have some muscles that are going to be sore, and so forth. Well, how much more true would that be of the battle of faith: “fight the good fight of faith”?
So we’re looking forward—in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” If that’s it, forget it! Eat, drink, and be merry. Just push everybody out of your way, get all you can, and assert yourself. But if what matters—in fact, all that matters—is what God has to say about you in the final analysis, and He’s going to say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of thy Lord.”
And we keep in mind what even the psalmist said: “In thy presence is fullness of joy, and at thy right hand are pleasures forevermore.” We’re looking forward to an eternal reward with our Lord. I mean, you can suffer a lot for that, I would think.
Tom: Yeah. The wonderful thing about Christianity: Jesus is with us in the midst of our circumstances, no matter what they are. So we can have, in a sense, a taste of heaven right there in that situation and circumstance, and that’s a great encouragement to our faith.
Dave: Amen! I remember a dear brother who was in prison being tortured, who said sometimes the presence of Christ was so wonderful that he just sang for joy, shouted for joy, that, beyond the pain of the torture that he had endured. Now, we have to be careful also when it comes to suffering, because sometimes we can suffer for our bad nature…
Tom: Yeah, we can bring it on ourselves.
Dave: …bring it on ourselves. We’re just hard to get along with, or we’re self-willed or whatever, or we don’t do a good job at the job. And Peter writes about that—1 Peter 4, he says, “If you suffer as an evil doer, you can’t take credit for that. You’ve brought that upon yourself and you deserve that suffering!” But he says, “If any man suffer as a Christian, let him rejoice.”
And Jesus said, “Blessed art thou (or ‘blessed are ye’) when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all manner of evil against you for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” So I have to be certain that I’m really suffering for the Lord. I’m not giving the Lord a bad name and suffering because I’m just a disagreeable character, or I’m pushing my religion on people on the job when I ought to be doing the job that I’m being paid for. I have to be very careful that it’s the gentleness and kindness and love of Christ that is being seen in me, and then, if I am true to Him and they hate me, or I face difficulties because of that, then I can rejoice because the Lord is with me in this.
Tom: Dave, let me take you to another kind of suffering. There are many saints—and I’m not talking about the Catholic saints, I’m talking about brothers and sisters in Christ who really know Christ.
Dave: We need to quickly explain: “Catholic saints are in heaven; they get voted in,” which is not biblical…
Tom: By the whole process of canonization.
Dave: Right, the Bible is written to saints, the saints at Ephesus, and so forth, but we’re called to be saints; we’re supposed to be saints.
Tom: There are suffering saints, in a sense, who have…
Dave: …on this earth…
Tom: …who have diseases—maybe Parkinson’s, or bone diseases, or whatever it might be.
Dave: Or paraplegics.
Tom: How is that different? How do you suffer through something like that for Christ?
Dave: I have a dear friend who has been a wheelchair for the last 40 years, and he’s a preacher. He was supposed to have died long ago from the disease he has, and yet he’s, I think, about 80 now. The Lord has kept him preaching in a wheelchair; lot of trials for his wife, taking care of him in this situation. And yet she has had Bible studies, and children’s work, and people in their home—entertaining them, feeding them, sleeping them, and blessing them. And these people are just joyful and cheerful in the Lord because the Lord has given them the opportunity to serve Him and be a testimony for Him, even in this situation! So that’s how we rejoice, because Christ is with us.
Paul says, “In everything rejoice.” Now, I don’t think he ever says, “for everything rejoice.” I don’t… “Give thanks in everything.” For everything give thanks? I don’t think so—maybe I’m wrong, but at least in every circumstance, I can thank the Lord that He has allowed this. I must be in His will. And I think that in chapter 9, we quote William Law, something to the effect that if you complain…and let’s say you’re a real Christian, and you’re complaining about your circumstances: you are either saying that God who allowed it isn’t loving, or you are acknowledging that you’re out of God’s will, one or the other. Now, if I am in God’s will, and He has allowed this, no matter what it is, then I can trust Him. And it goes so far—the Bible asks us to go so far as Job went. Job said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”
That’s not easy to do, and I think that the Bible would indicate that Job came out of his trials a better person. (That’s the wrong terminology; the world uses that.) What do we mean by a “better person?” He came out of it as one…well, he said it—he said, “I have heard of thee with the hearing of the ear; now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
So a better person is a person who realizes he is nothing. God is so great, and when I glorify Him—and, Tom, even as I say these words, I know that the Lord can call upon me to prove it in my life. What circumstances lie ahead for me? And am I going to thank the Lord and praise Him, no matter what it is? And Job said, “Through the trial,” he said, “God, I have come to know You. I have come to see You in a way I never did before, and trust in You.” This is really what we want.
Tom: This is the heart of—not just Christianity, this is the heart of life. This is why we have been created, to know Him, and to know Him better. But, Dave, the battle here is [that] in many parts of the church, people are being taught the opposite…
Tom: …that if you go through trials and tribulations, it’s not just because of sin, but it’s because of a lack of faith. Here’s a battle, and even if we didn’t have those teachings, our flesh would cry out along that line.
Dave: We have so many therapists out there. This is the big thing: “You’re not supposed to suffer.” And when I think of…I read Hebrews 11, I read of the suffering of these people—they were torn asunder; they were sawn asunder with the sword; they were thrown to lions, you know; they wandered in sheep skins and goat skins and they were desolate, tormented, afflicted, and dwelt in dens and caves of the earth, and they triumphed through faith.
And when we get some little—somebody crosses us, or we don’t feel enough self-esteem (which we shouldn’t have any anyway; we are to esteem others better than ourselves)…but anyway, such petty little problems that we run to—I say “we”; I don’t, but the church does, many of them—and they’re taught to run to the therapist. The therapist will massage your ego, massage you around, and help you feel good about yourself, let you know that it wasn’t your fault, it was your parent’s fault, or something that happened to you in your childhood, and you’re not really responsible for this. The whole idea is to bring you through without any pain and help you to think positively. That’s not faith, that’s not trust in the Lord—“think positively about it.” No! If you bring someone through without enduring the pain that the Lord wants us to endure, well, that…does that sound like heresy? No, for our good; it was for Job’s good. It wasn’t because God didn’t love Job, it was for his good, and Job could say that he now knew the Lord in a way that he never would have otherwise. To trust God in difficult circumstances, and then to see Him bring you through…
See, David didn’t say—I think we deal with that a little bit in the chapter, as well—David didn’t say that, “You will lead me around the valley of the shadow of death. You will give me a detour, Lord, and help me to escape it.” David said in Psalm 23, “Yea, though I walk through—through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me.” Wow, that’s wonderful!
Tom: Dave, let me take that a little bit further: “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” Wait a minute, a rod and a staff bring comfort? Wow!
Dave: Tom, I don’t know whether we’re comforting anyone out there, and some of them probably turned this off. “We want to get a positive channel, or a positive station.”
Tom: Dave, you know this, and I know you’re kind of leading us on here, but this is God’s comfort. When God says He’s going to do anything, particularly—well, you just quoted Job: “Though He slay me…!” If God had a purpose for that, it would bring glory to Him and it would be to our blessing and our benefit, even though it’s hard to recognize sometimes. But what about this: “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me”?
Dave: Well, the rod and staff—I’m not a shepherd, I never was, and I haven’t seen many shepherds in action. They usually use dogs now; I mean, I’ve seen a lot of them in New Zealand, for example. But the old-time shepherds had a crook. They would pull the sheep this way, and I think it’s saying that God has to maybe change the direction that we’re heading. He has to maybe give us a little whack; it’s going to be a gentle one, of love, but it may seem hard to us.
I sometimes illustrate it like this, Tom: You’ve got a little baby, say a year old, in its crib, and somehow someone left a double-edged razor blade sitting there on a table nearby. It reaches out and it grabs it, and it’s just about to put it in his mouth when Mommy grabs its wrist, takes its hand and takes it away! And the baby is now screaming! It thinks it’s lost the greatest possession, the greatest toy that you could have.
No, Father God knows best. It may seem painful to me; it may seem He’s depriving me. But when I can trust myself in His hands and get to know Him… Now, this is not fatalism. Paul says it well in Romans 8: “All things work together for good.” Oops, that’s not what it says! But some people quote it that way, fatalistically: “All things work together for good.” No, he says, “All things work together for good to those who love God…” Do you still love God in these circumstances? “…to those who love God, who are the called according to his purpose.” So if we really know Him, if we have believed in Christ as our Savior, the One who died for our sins, He’s living His life in us, and we love the Lord, even in the circumstance, then He will make it work altogether for our good, and you can praise the Lord for that.