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Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Improper Self-image
And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? (Ex. 3:11).
For at least two decades, counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists across the world have emphasized self-image. How does a person feel about himself/herself? How does this influence attitudes, behavior, and life-style. And quite frankly, knowledgeable Americans have often become tired of hearing “self-image, self-image, self-image.”
Especially was this self-image craze intensified by books like I’m OK – You’re OK by Thomas A. Harris, with assistance from his wife, Amy. The “renewal” movement in Christian circles placed considerable importance on self-image.
Really, now? How vital is the role of self-image in a person’s life? Thirty and forty years ago, Americans did not think in terms of self-image.
Why bandy it about? Why not plunge directly into the subject as it relates to none other than the premier lawgiver, Moses?
It was “business as usual” on the backside of the desert. Moses led the nomadic life of a shepherd. This day was no different from any other day, so Moses thought. Little did this roving shepherd realize all that was in store for him. It almost reminds me of Walter Cronkite’s intoning, “And this has been a day like any other day, except You Were There!”
Imagine Moses’ absolute amazement as he beheld a bush that continued to burn, yet was not consumed. From the bush came the voice of God Almighty, Jehovah.
It is understandable that human beings, freighted with guilt and sin, tend to cringe before God. What would you do if He spoke to you out of a bush in your back yard? You might scratch your head and begin babbling to yourself.
God spoke, as He had spoken before and as He would speak again. He delivered the command, “Moses, you will go to Pharaoh, and you will say, ‘Let my people go.’” Moses’ initial response was most revealing: “Who am I that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?”
Who am I? That is an appropriate question for all of us to ask. Moses epitomizes a person who suffers from a poor self-image. Call it what you will—self-image, feelings about oneself, attitude, perspective about life, you name it.
Moses had known rejection. When God called him to a specific mission, Moses’ impulse was to ask, in self-deprecation, “Who me? Who am I?” I do not believe, either, that it was a false modesty. Moses was petrified with a sense of unworthiness. Think, for instance, of Isaiah when he was in the Temple, and he saw “the Lord high and lifted up.” What was his response to that encounter with the God of glory? “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips. And I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isa. 6:5, NASB)
Even though awe, wonder, and maybe even fright were normal responses from people like Abraham, Moses, and Isaiah, all of them grappled with a common human condition. They felt inferior, not only to God but also to man.
Moses’ inferiority complex was understandable. He was a Hebrew and had undergone persecution and ostracism because of his lineage. In Exodus 1, the Hebrews had multiplied thick and fast, and the midwives were doing a “land-office business.” The new Pharaoh was deathly afraid of the Hebrews’ becoming predominant. He appointed taskmasters over them to place them under hard labor. Pharaoh’s plan was genocide—to enslave the Hebrews until they broke and finally died under the strain.
But listen to Exodus 1:12: “But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread out, so that they were in dread of the sons of Israel” (NASB). The more they were put down, the more they prospered. When you come down to it – because of his background and his lineage—there was no reason for Moses to have an inferiority complex. The Hebrews were winners. No matter what happened to them, they snapped back. They were resilient.
Pharaoh had commanded the Hebrew midwives to let male babies die in childbirth, but they did not abide by his macabre orders. Exodus 1:20-21 states: “And it came about because the midwives feared God, that He established households for them. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, ‘Every son who is born you are to cast into the Nile, and every daughter you are to keep alive.’” (NASB).
Into that situation of doom, Moses was born. Fearing for his life, his mother put him in a wicker basket and set the basket afloat in the reeds (we used to call them “bullrushes”) along the banks of the Nile. Every faithful Sunday School child is familiar with the story of Moses as a baby—found by Pharaoh’s daughter, reared by her in the court of Pharaoh. She actually named him Moses which means “drawn out of the water.”
When Moses grew up he became painfully aware of the plight of his people. One day he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. Moses made sure the coast was clear and then struck down his Egyptian taskmaster, killing him. Moses buried the Egyptian’s body in the sand. His was not a premeditated act of murder—he was only trying to rescue one of his brethren. He saw two of his Hebrew brethren fighting the following day and tried to break it up. To Moses’ chagrin he became aware that his murder of the Egyptian must have been found out, for the “offender” in the fight answered: “Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me, as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and mused, “Surely the matter has become known” (Ex. 2:14).
So, when Pharaoh heard of the killing, he sought to have Moses killed. Moses became a fugitive and settled in the barren desert land of Midian, now called Jordan. There Moses was offered hospitality by Reuel (Jethro) and was given one of Reuel’s seven daughters, Zipporah, in marriage. They had a son and named him Gershom.
Then the stage is set in the Scriptures.
Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them (Ex. 2:23-25, NASB).
So, Moses had no concrete reason to feel inferior. God had intervened for him repeatedly. And now God had spoken miraculously through the burning bush—burning yet not being consumed! Moses would overcome, but he had to grapple with his identity and had to answer the question: “Who am I?”
Many people, even professing Christians, spend their whole lifetimes posturing from a low self-image. I am not so idealistic as to think that: in the reading of this brief chapter, a lifetime of building a low self-image can be translated into a positive, proper self-image—the image God wants us to have. But I am emboldened with enough faith to believe that, from this chapter, one can find direction in developing new thought patters that can literally transform one’s own self-image.
Proverbs 23:7 succinctly states the case: “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” I do not necessarily agree with every positive-thinking kick which comes along—unless, of course, it is rooted and grounded in the Word of God. But there is power in positive thinking, provided that positive thinking is linked with the possibilities in the Lord Jesus Christ.
First, Moses had to ascertain who he was—not merely a Midianite shepherd, not simply a tongue-tied, timid Hebrew. Moses had to recognize that the power of the Almighty was upon him, that Jehovah God had called him to a special commission, and that God would stand with him in carrying out that monumental task of leading the children of Israel out of bondage in the land of Egypt.
Today there is considerable emphasis on “imaging.” How do you perceive yourself? Who are you? What are you doing? It’s OK to sing “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal,” if you add, “I’m gonna be a diamond someday.” There is nothing wrong with being a chunk of coal if you trust God to make and mold you into that classy diamond. To use that hackneyed, but true, expression: “God ain’t through with me yet.” He is at work in our lives, pressuring these chunks until they are transformed. Moses and you and I are diamonds in the rough.
In order to work on a proper self-image, we must observe the real self. How do we image ourselves? Many of us image ourselves physically. Others, emotionally. A few of us image ourselves spiritually. Most people never realize their value. It is heartbreaking to hear a child of the King moan, “Oh, I’m nothing. I’m no count. I’ll never amount to a hill of beans.” That’s tragic.
Many view themselves primarily from a physical standpoint. Why? Because they are prone to think in physical terms instead of spiritual. Too few of us see ourselves for who we really are—that is, from a spiritual standpoint. The pathway to proper self-image is begun when we realize who we are in actuality.
Paul wrote: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23). We are made up of three parts (and I realize there is debate on this matter): spirit, soul, and body. We generally reverse the order in conversation. Most of us say “body, soul and spirit.” This is because subconsciously we are more body-conscious, and this is a portion of our problem with self-image. The natural, earthly matters mean more to many of us than the spiritual aspects of life.
Think about it. Many of us are obsessed with our bodies. Each day we spend immeasurably more time preparing our bodies than our spirits. Would you believe it? I have heard of men who will spend forty-five minutes every morning washing, drying, styling, combing, and spraying their hair—and expend no energy in the spirit life. Many women will spend far longer selecting a jogging outfit than they do praying and reading the Bible. We shower and shave. We exercise and energize. We prepare physically but not spiritually. As a pastor I have noticed through the years that many people weep over bodies but not over the spirits of those persons who have gone on. Why? Because we do not have the proper images of ourselves.
Still others of us are more mind- or emotion-conscious than we are spirit-conscious. Moses asked a thought-provoking question, “Who am I?” Let’s pause at this juncture and think on that question fraught with eternal meaning. We are spirit-beings. When the Bible declares that God made man in His image, it means that God is a spirit and “they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (see Gen. 1:26-27; John 4:24).
Who am I? I am a spirit. I have a soul. I live in a body. If we fed our spirits half as much as our bodies, we would begin to recognize how indescribably valuable we are to God, and consequently a proper self-image would emerge. We lavish ourselves with food, with pleasure, with entertainment, with music, television, and reading. We neglect the spirit. All that can truly feed the spirit is the Word of God and the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
The market is surfeited with books and tapes on self-image. Many of these deal basically with the physical side—how to dress for success, how to obtain power, how to lose weight, even how to slim your tummy. Dress in stylish clothes, even if those “stylish” clothes make you look like a scarecrow or a clown! Make up correctly. Drive an “in” car. Live in a ritzy condo or town house. Those externals will last for a little while, but they do nothing to build a permanent self-image.
Ho hum. Many other books endeavor to deal with self-image only from the soulish realm. We hear all kinds of advice. “Get hold of your emotions, and don’t cry in public.” “Learn to laugh and influence others.” Ad infinitum. But the truth is we will never have a permanent, positive self-image until we recognize that all of this only touches the outer self. A proper self-image comes from within, and within is the spirit. “Who am I?” I am a spirit. Therefore, I find my real self in the spiritual realm.
Consequently, we are confronted in century twenty with the same question which hounded Moses on the desert: “Who am I?” Let’s note first:
Now I recognize that Christians through the centuries have wrestled with the composition of man. Certain thinkers claim that man is soul alone, an indivisible entity, a monad. But the Bible speaks about man being a trichotomy. He is in three parts—spirit, soul, and body. Now I recognize that theologians can discuss and debate the nature of man until the Second Coming. I fully believe from my study of God’s Word that we are made up of the outer court (body), the holy place (soul), and the holy of holies (spirit).
We are all too aware of the body. It is visible. We pet and pamper it. Many abuse it with alcohol, drugs, and other immortality. We paint it . . . and tan it. We tone it . . . and attempt to firm it up. We measure it and weigh it. I well remember Stuart Hamblin’s hit song, “This Old House.” The body is the house God has given us to live in while we sojourn here on planet earth. This aspect of our being deteriorates and disintegrates. It is in the process of decay. One day this body will return to dust.
The soul, I believe, is the seat of our emotions. The soul is not the innermost being. Rather, it is the realm of our emotions.
I repeat: the spirit—the holy of holies—is the innermost being. I equate the spirit with the heart throughout the Bible. “For with the heart man believeth . . .” (see Rom. 10:10). The spirit is that part of us which is going to live as long as God lives—which means your spirit will never die!
Today there are many advocates of the evolutionary process. In other words, man evolved from lower forms. These evolutionists state that man is another animal—more highly developed and more rational, but nonetheless an animal. If such were true, however, there wouldn’t be any more wrong with killing a man and eating him than there would be in killing a cow and eating it! What makes a man different is his spirit. It is that part of him which can communicate with God. Animals do not have spirits. There is not a God-like quality in them.
In order to foster the right self-image I need to see that the real me is my spirit. Remember, I am a spirit. I have a soul—I live in my body. With the spirit we contact the spiritual realm. With the soul we contact the emotional realm. With the body we contact the physical realm. The problem is that many are miserable because they look for happiness and peace in the physical realm, in the area of the body. Others seek it in the area of the emotions—the soulish realm. But it is found only in the spirit.
People feel that they can discover happiness through sex or food or even such endeavors a body building, along with aerobics and “pumping iron.” Others are miserable in the soulish realm because they look for happiness through aesthetics—music, poetry, prose, intellectual pursuits. But the deepest happiness comes in the spiritual realm. We must ask, “Who am I?” We discover the answer from the Word of God. The real me is a spirit, and the spirit is the only realm where I can find permanent peace and divine direction.
What must we do, then? We must learn to let the new man on the inside of us dominate. When we receive the Lord Jesus Christ and are converted, we turn from a life that has been governed by the physical and/or the mental. Part of us has been dead. Now, in Christ, we are alive spiritually and we need to let the spirit within, activated by the Holy Spirit, dominate. Then and only then can we have the correct self-image. “Who am I?” I am a spirit. I have a soul, and I live in a body. There is not only an explanation, but there is:
In Luke 16 Jesus presents a vivid illustration of man being spirit, soul, and body. Jesus declares:
And there was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores. And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass that the beggar died and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried: And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torment and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things; but now he is comforted, and thou are tormented (vv. 19-25).
The beggar died, but he was carried into Abraham’s bosom. His body was laid in the grave, but he was in the bosom of Abraham, the Hebrew representation of heaven. How? He was a spirit!
And we study the plight of the rich man—he was in hades, hell. His spirit and soul were still intact after death. He could still remember; he still had emotion; he was tormented in the flames. He was concerned for his five brothers. When a person dies, he awaits the resurrection of the body. The unsaved like the rich man will be resurrected to corruption. The saved like Lazarus will be resurrected to glorification. In that state prior to the resurrection, the spirit and soul of a person are intact.
Our only means of knowing God is through the spirit. We cannot have a spiritual relationship with Him through human knowledge. To remind you of Jesus’ words to the woman at the well, “God is a spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit, and in truth.” Naturally, without a relationship of the spirit, man cannot have an intimate knowledge of God. “For the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can they know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Only through man’s spirit, aided by the Holy Spirit of God, can he have a saving standing with God.
“Who am I?” I am a spirit. I have a soul. I live in a body. Finally, I want you to note:
If all this is true, then one must be in touch with God through one’s spirit—as one is energized by the Holy Spirit. I cannot depend on the physical or the emotional aspects in order to have a proper self-image. To have a truly correct image of myself, I must be led and motivated by the Holy Spirit. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom 8:14).
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But it’s true. A person must first be converted to the Lord Jesus Christ. Until then a person is only half alive, and there is no possibility of having the highest self-image of oneself without being in the spiritual realm. You see, a person is not OK until he is OK with Christ. Regardless of what others think, that person is A-OK, because he is OK with God. Then, the self-image, worked upon by the Holy Spirit, begins to shape up to the expectancy of God. So many feel low-down, no count, dirty, filthy, and miserable because of guilt. That guilt is the result of unforgiven, unforsaken, unconfessed sin within the life.
Preston Bailey wrote: “To banish fear you must look within your mind, find the cause of your fear and worry and lack of self-confidence. Then you must train your mental habits to a new point of view. This means substituting faith for fear, a courageous outlook for a lack of self-assurance, a positive attitude toward life for a negative. Fear becomes ingrown only when the fear-bringing situation is not examined and penetrated.
We must be sure of who we are in order to overcome the onslaught of the evil one, the devil. There are three areas of temptation outlined in the Bible. “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). The appeals of this wicked world system entice through the temptations of the soul and the body. The body can become boss, and then preoccupation with sex or weight or pastimes dominates us. And the devil is not satisfied to tempt our bodies and souls. He loves to work on one’s spirit.
“The devil made me do it.” No, he didn’t really. You and I cooperated with him. We are prone to blame the devil for what actually belongs to our flesh. We simply let the body rule us. Many of us do not want to accept the responsibility if we can blame it on demons.
How are we to overcome? How are we to build a proper self-image? If the temptation comes from the world, it attacks the soul. Consequently we have to overcome through faith. First John 5:4 states it plainly: “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” Ah, there’s the key. Faith.
How appropriate are the inspiring words of John Greenleaf Whittier:
Nothing before, nothing behind;
The steps of faith
Fall on the seeming void, and find
The Rock beneath.
If the temptation comes from the flesh, it is against the body. We overcome here through fleeing. First Corinthians 6:18, for instance, admonishes: “Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.” We are not to fight this temptation—we are to flee it! Run for cover beneath the shadow of the Almighty.
If the temptation comes from the devil, it is certainly against the spirit. Here we are not to faith it or to flee it—we are to fight it. Paul aptly wrote: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph. 6:12).
And James gave this command: “Submit yourselves to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (4:7). You are not supposed to run from the devil—he is supposed to run from you! The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s exalted son, has already conquered the devil!
Now how are we to move forward? One must be tuned to his spirit and not to the body or even his soul. We must not make decisions in life on the basis of the physical or the soulish. We should never decide because “we feel like it.” We should make our decisions from the spirit through the Holy Spirit. How are we to be led by the Spirit?
It is so rudimentary, so elementary—and we have heard it again and again. Withdraw with the Word. Feast on it. Meditate on it. Drink it in. Remember the prayer of the psalmist to God: “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Ps. 119:11). “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:105). Cherish the Word. Let it speak. Pray as though everything depended on it. Hear Paul as he wrote to his beloved brethren at Philippi:
Be careful [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil.4:6).
And it wouldn’t hurt most of us to fast for a period—a day, two, three. Remember that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Search deep inside and ask the Holy Spirit to purge your spirit—and your body and your soul—from every sin and negative influence of the devil. After all, the devil wants you to have a bad self-image, Christian. He can render your testimony ineffective if you spend a goodly portion of your time feeling bad about yourself and lamenting, “I’m no good. I’m so dirty and filthy. I’ve always hated myself.” That’s the devil’s lie. He wants you, Christian, to live as though you had never been converted, never been saved—as though you have never had an encounter with the beautiful Lord Jesus Christ. Remember this: the devil—Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub—wants you to have an abysmally low view of yourself.
Spend more time with the spirit than you do with the body. Budget your time. All of us should devote more energy and time to the spirit than to the body. Spiritual exercise is necessary, or you will lose “tone” in the spirit life. You will become flabby and weak.
“Who am I?” I am a spirit. I have a soul. I live in a body. How do I image myself? I am indescribably valuable to God. You and I are worth more than a king’s ransom to God. Only when you realize your worth to God can you begin to build a positive self-image. Hear me. Through Christ, you can begin to become the beautiful you God intends.
Many will never develop a decent self-image until they come alive spiritually. If you have never received Christ, your self-image will always be faulty and tarnished. You will be in the pits in this life—and in “the pit” in eternity! Come to Jesus for “His cleansing power.” Turn over your negative life to His positive, saving grace. Let Him transform you and translate you into “the kingdom of his dear Son.” See yourself as one for whom Christ came and died to redeem, and self-image will begin to develop.
After an interlude, back to Moses. It is hardly essential for me to mention that backward, timid Moses became the leader of a mighty nation, guiding them out of Egyptian bondage and then to the Promised Land, even though he himself “saw it afar.” Moses realized that God had a mission for him. This was the same man who stammered and stumbled, mumbled and moped. The same man who asked, “Who am I?” And he meant, “Who, little old me?” Who was on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus (besides Peter, James, and John, of course)? Moses and Elijah, and they were transfigured along with our glorious Lord Jesus.
Moses finally began to realize he was the servant and emancipator of God. Only he could do exactly what God wanted. And he didn’t have to do it all by himself. God gave him Aaron who was fluent and could help serve as Moses’ occasional spokesman.
Do you feel worthless? Pitiful? Of no account? Many do. But you must determine right now who you are. Many Christian psychologists will follow this line of thinking with clients who are ambivalent. They will ask, “Now, what do you want to be? Better still, who do you want to be? Do you want to be the flirtatious ‘dirty ole man’ or ‘the servant of God’?” Or “do you want to be ‘the social climber’ or ‘the soul-winner’?” In other words, who are you?
You will never move toward a proper self-image as long as you trust in the physical realm. In the final analysis, neither money nor status are the determining factors in self-image. The quality and worth of the person are. You must move to the core of the matter—the spirit deep within, the holy of holies in your life. You will never have a permanent, positive self-image until you move past the outer realm and plunge into the real you—the spiritual part.
All of this is bound up in becoming “the express image” of the Master. Only then will you have a winning self-image. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
We have come once again to the end of a volume. It could be the beginning of a whole new way of life . . . tracing the rainbow through the rain.
Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Improper Self-image
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Depression
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Worry
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Impulsive Behavior
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Loneliness
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Adverse Circumstances
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain
Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Depression
I Kings 19: 1- 18
I Kings 19: 1- 18
And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baked on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God. And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And the Lord said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: and Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay; and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.
A strange fiction abounds today – that only failures become depressed. In fact, the opposite is often the case. Winston Churchill, virtually a unanimous choice for the greatest world leader of 1900-1950, often fell into brooding periods of depression. For days on end his blue mood continued.
Toward his death, he became obsessed with the condition of the world. He often expressed his anxiety over the possibility of a nuclear holocaust. Even though a professing Christian, Sir Winston felt there was not hope for civilization.
William Cowper, who wrote hundreds of hymn lyrics and Christian poems, including “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” was dogged by depression until his death. As a result of his depression, he became an opium smoker and prayed for deliverance. At times he would fall back on the drug, then tearfully repent. He not only suffered physically but also mentally and spiritually.
Even though he was convinced that Jesus Christ could “save to the uttermost,” he struggled with the assurance of his salvation, seldom ever feeling confident. He often begged and pled for assurance that he was truly “bound for the promised land.”
In distress over his backslidings, he penned these incredibly touching lines:
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains;
Lose all their guilty stains,
Lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away:
Wash all my sins away;
Wash all my sins away;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.
His was a tortured, pain-wracked life, but somehow I believe we will meet William Cowper in heaven.
Depression is no respecter of persons. The fact is, however, that depression is more likely to oppress those who are creative, intelligent, and sensitive to the contradictions and sins of the human condition. If you claim to have no depression, check your pulse. Chances are you’re dead and don’t even know it!
Depression is common in a society which “pressure cooks” its inhabitants with anxiety and stress. One noted psychiatrist has written: “Today we can sum up depression as the result of certain biologic and social forces that, in a complex setting, act detrimentally on the person’s nervous system function. The depressed activity in turn adversely changes the person’s behavior, feeling tones, and thoughts. This totality of abnormal function constitutes a depressive illness.”
Ralph Speas observed in his book, How to Deal with How You Feel, that “depression is a general feeling of unhappiness.” There are many and various causes of the emotional states we label with the word depression. Depression is related to other emotions...
“Depression is sometimes related to physical causes. A hormone imbalance, wrong diet, lack of sleep, or physical trauma such as surgery can trigger depression...
“I always ask depressed persons to see a physician for a physical examination if there are no obvious spiritual or emotional causes for their depression.
God’s Word is laden with cases of depressed persons. Nelson L. Price calls depression “fermented fear.” He further points out the fact that eight million Americans (if not more) have depression deep enough to send them to the doctor or to cause them to miss work. In almost a litany, Price asks: “Can you imagine Moses depressed? . . . Can you imagine Jeremiah depressed? . . . Can you imagine Jonah depressed? . . . Can you imagine John the Baptist depressed? . . . Abraham in Canaan when the famine came, Moses at Meribah when there was no water, Job scraping his skin ulcers, and Peter locked in an upper room attest to the generality of depression.”
And there was Elijah. We can wear out adjectives on that mighty prophet, one of only two men in history who were translated straight into heaven. The other was Enoch who “walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” (Gen. 5:24). Few men in history have risen to the achievements or successes of Elijah. Recall that Elijah and Moses appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus was transfigured (see Matt. 17:1-8). Think of it. God Almighty chose Elijah, of all His servants, to represent the prophets of the Old Testament at the Transfiguration!
Elijah was, to use the old cliché, “sitting on top of the world.” In the name of Jehovah, Elijah could pronounce a drought, and the land would dry up. He could call forth the dead unto life, as in the case of the widow’s son in Zarephath. And he called down fire in opposition to the false prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. He had marched from conquest to conquest and triumph to triumph. And then it happened.
He fell into a deep depression. If you are an adult, you have heard it called that a thousand times, haven’t you? I wonder if there is any such thing as a shallow depression? When depression surrounds you, it always feels deep. Winston Churchill called it “a black dog” which followed him around, nipping at his heels.
In spite of Elijah’s extraordinary power with God, James in the New Testament wrote:
Elias [Elijah] was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit (James 5:17-18).
How can we defeat the dark cloud of depression? Yes, it is true that a number of people are depressed by biochemical changes in their bodies resulting in a physical cause of depression, and not merely an emotional or spiritual impetus. Yet, innumerable sufferers of depression have a kinship with Elijah in his virtually suicidal depression.
In order to deal with and defeat depression, we must begin by noting its sources and its symptoms – and then, most importantly, its solutions.
Sources of Depression
One of the primary sources of depression is forgetfulness. The Word of God records:
And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there.
We must recall that Elijah had just come down from the mountain top of miraculous victory. God had answered with fire! And then Elijah had confronted wicked King Ahab. The preceding verses of Chapter 18 state:
And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain. So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees, And said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea. And he went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he said, Go again seven times. And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not.
The key to Elijah’s victory was that he had believed God, in spite of what appeared to be. As Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant Reformation, expressed it: “Miracles take place, not because they are performed, but because they are believed.” Like other powerful heroes and heroines of the faith, Elijah had believed God explicitly and implicitly.
But within the span of a few verses, Elijah seems to do a complete flip-flop. Once triumphant, he soon is cowed down, panicky and fearing for his life. What does his descent into depression imply for us? That the most dangerous time in the life of a believer is immediately after a victory, a triumph.
Elijah may have thought that yesterday’s victories would suffice for today’s commitments. He may have forgotten that we must have a day-by-day experience with the Lord. To me, this is often the primary source of depression in the life of a Christian – forgetfulness, failing to remember the power and promises of the God who “hath brought us safe thus far.” It is as though we are smitten with spiritual amnesia. On the mountain top one minute – down in the valley, “The Slough of Despond,” the next. How many of us Christians have a chills-and-fever experience! Flying high one day, shot down the following day.
Elijah heard that Jezebel, that venomous priestess of Baal, wanted him dead. Elijah changed almost instantly from a roaring lion to a pussycat afraid of a mouse! This was the same stalwart of God who, only hours before, had supervised the slaying of the false prophets of Baal. Elijah turned and “hightailed” it! He turned his eyes away from the God of glory and fixed them on an evil empress. He simply forgot that God was on the scene, that God had not changed, that God was still making His omnipotent power available.
Face it. Many of us fall into moods of depression – even manic-depressive mood swings – for this exact reason. We have a tendency to forget. Forgetfulness. Every believer has seen God come through on a mountain top. A loved one was miraculously healed through prayers of intercession. A job was found when it seemed none were in the offing. You were snatched from the jaws of death by manifest divine intervention. You were about to lose your mortgage, and an unexpected sum of money arrived. You were terrified because a business appointment, and God gave you an unusual ability to communicate and cope. If you have been a Christian for any length of time, the Lord has escorted you to the mountain top. As it were, you have seen Him transfigured – and your life has also been transformed.
Yet, let a crisis come along – when a “Jezebel” threatens you – you run like Elijah. What a tragedy! How did you forget that God was with you? How could you possibly forget? It does not make sense. And that is the case. Such forgetfulness is senseless, foolish, and smacks of unbelief.
Poet Laureate of Great Britain during the reign of Victoria, Rudyard Kipling, penned these dramatic lines:
The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart –
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!
Another source of depression is fear. Why did Elijah run? He beat a hasty path for safety because of fear which overcame him. Let’s face it. He became afraid of Jezebel. Only hours before, Elijah had virtually sneered in her painted face. Remember that fear is not an action – it is a reaction. The prophet had won a resounding victory. How? By faith as he had “reacted” to God’s commands and Word.
“Fear causes us to lose our perspective,” comments Nelson Price. “Of course, the God of the universe is bigger than the cause of our fear. But when we focus on our fear and forget Him, the relativity is lost. An inordinate preoccupation with fear distorts reality. It is smart to back off and evaluate what is happening as unemotionally as possible. Feed your mind on fear-defensive facts. Let your mind bask in the magnificence and might of God. Readjust your perspective.”
But now fear had set in. It had stupefied the prophet of God. Fear is a reaction – not an action – to the threat of danger and pain, whether real or imagined. Faith is a reaction to the Word of God. When the crisis comes, when Jezebel cackles and threatens our doom, if our lives are governed by situations and circumstances, our reaction will be fear – gnawing, numbing, bone-chilling fear. Fear that causes the pulse to race, the palms to sweat, the eyes to dilate, and the stomach to knot. Fear that sweeps over you and makes you nauseous.
On the contrary, if our lives are governed by Scripture, our reaction will be faith rather than fear.
In many respects, we are related to Elijah, many times more for our fear than our faith. Elijah reacted from fear rather than faith because he forgot. He forgot the source of his strength and sustenance, and so he feared. It was a gut-wrenching fear for his physical life.
Yet, there is another source of depression discovered in this text. It is fatigue. Overt sin is not always involved in the development of depression. Have you ever worked overtime on the job or perhaps at home on a special project, and you have labored 24, 48 or more hours virtually without sleep. Most of us have. Remember how you felt, I believe I’m gonna die. I don’t believe I can make it another moment. Or you “crammed for exams” without cramming your stomach. You existed almost totally on caffeine in coffee or in those tablets called “No-Doz.” Or have you ever driven a semi cross-country, pushing yourself to deliver that load of produce before it reached the spoiling point? Nearly all of us are familiar with the feeling of fatigue and tiredness – not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually. There you have a case for what they used to call “nervous exhaustion.”
Sheer fatigue. The Scriptures declare: “He arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah.” Elijah had spent innumerable hours atop Carmel. The emotional stress is almost impossible for us to comprehend.
Then, to add insult to injury, Elijah ran from Jezreel to Beersheba, a distance of 200 miles! Marathons and 10-K runs are in vogue today, but Elijah’s Marathon retreat from Jezebel must have set the record. He was totally exhausted (and there was no Gatorade!). No wonder he collapsed into a shriveled heap!
In this connection Brooks Faulkner makes a timely statement about Elijah’s exhausted condition:
Most of us know how Elijah must have felt. We can come close to the same panic that is prevalent in his speech to the Eternal the God of hosts. If he is “the only one left,” he doesn’t feel like sharing his frustration with the world. Especially is this true if he feels he has given his ministry his best shot . . . his best effort . . . his all. Is it any wonder that burnout is the closet sin of the minister? We don’t want people feeling sorry for us. It is enough that we feel sorry for ourselves.
Exhausted, physically fatigued, drained of energy, Elijah was a ministerial burnout for a time. And this is the source of depression for many of us, preachers and laypersons. Pressing schedules, burdensome responsibilities, lack of sleep, constant problem-solving, living in a fishbowl, as it were, keep us from thinking right and making proper decisions. Fatigue, then, is a leading source of depression.
And failure is another source of depression. Elijah had reached the pinnacle of popularity. Why, he was the mouthpiece of the true and living God, Jehovah. All he did was pray sixty-seven words, and the fire of God fell! But now, Elijah felt he was a failure and that he was ready for death. In fact, he asked God to snuff him out. He was too cowardly and too exhausted to attempt suicide himself, but he had become propelled by a suicidal death wish.
All of these sources working together – forgetfulness, fear, fatigue and failure – led him to frustration and a “give-up” attitude. Those factors collaborated, plunging him into depression and into the juniper-tree syndrome. All around us are modern-day Elijahs who are depressed for a combination of reasons. They forget the God who loves them with an everlasting love. They fail to remember even recent blessings and victories. Astounding, isn’t it? Yet, they seem to forget totally the presence of God on the scene. If only they could remember the truth of the poet’s words:
I, God, enfold thee like an atmosphere:
Thou to myself wert never yet more near;
Think not to shun Me; whither would’st thou fly?
Nor go not hence to seek Me: I am here.
Others often react to situations in fear instead of faith. They seem to bypass the stabilizing influence of God’s steadfast promises:
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7).
What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. In God will I praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me (Ps. 56:3-4).
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people (Luke 2:10).
Fear should have no place in our lives if we are following in faith. John Donne (1573–1631), best known by “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” was a Christian poet of remarkable insight. If only we would pray as he did:
I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
Swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as He shines now; and heretofore;
And, having done that, Thou hast done,
I fear no more.
Still others have wallowed in failure to the point of rock-bottom depression – even to impulses or suicide itself. It sounds too simplistic, but it is absolutely true: if you have Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are not a failure. Maybe you are a failure in your own eyes or from the standpoint of the world, but you yourself are not a failure. Let me quote a perceptive writer:
First, understand that there is a difference between failing in some activity and being a failure. To fail doesn’t mean you are a failure. What you are as a person is always more than what is involved in one activity or endeavor . . . Thomas Edison was unsuccessful in the first ninety-six experiments in his attempt to invent the light bulb. An assistant commented to the inventor about this abundance of failure. Mr. Edison answered, “The work is not wasted. We know ninety-six ways not to do it.”
You are a failure in your own mind. God does not regard you as a failure if you are found in Him. Write this down. Inscribe it on the tables of your heart – none of us can learn to defeat depression until we recognize the sources of depression. Once he has done that, he can then realize the
Symptoms of Depression
And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers (19:3-4).
There is a clear distinction between a source of a problem and a symptom of a problem. Our profoundest difficulty is that we try to treat symptoms instead of sources. A friend of mine lived in a housing project as a child. They had water tanks in the apartments but no means of heating the water. My friend’s dad has an ingenious idea – except that it backfired. He would put an electric hotplate right underneath the tank, and they had plenty of hot water until . . . one night the tank overheated and the pop-off valve blew, letting loose a steady stream of water.
My friend, thirteen then, woke up to the spectacle of the apartment filling up with water and his dad trying to catch the torrent of water with a bucket. Can you picture that? Here was an inexhaustible supply of water pouring all over the apartment and a distraught dad frantically trying to cope with the symptoms rather than the source.
My friend rushed in and yelled, “Dad, Dad, that’s not gonna work. I’ll go get the building superintendent, and he’ll turn the water off outside.” Within a short time my friend had summoned the super, and the water was turned off at its source.
The lesson is apparent. Treat the source instead of the mere symptoms. Go to the root, the heart of the situation. Once these sources have plunged us into depression, certainly there are symptoms which demonstrate that we are depressed. Let me suggest a few quite obvious symptoms of this debilitating state.
The first symptom often is detachment, flight, withdrawal. Elijah left his servant and traveled a day’s journey into the wilderness. There he sat down under a juniper tree. Isolation. Capitulation. Detachment. Elijah left those who loved and supported him. How often I have heard a spouse seeking to orchestrate a divorce by explaining, “I’ve just got to get away to myself. I gotta think.” That sounds good . . . or does it? Sometimes that person is getting away actually to be with a paramour. Many times the person thinks it will help to withdraw. It might and it might not; it could lead to the breakup of a marriage that ought to stay intact. Many depressed persons want to stay in bed and do nothing, to withdraw from those who really know them and love them.
Remember that this is a symptom and not a source! It is not enough for us to tell the depressed person, “Just get up out of bed, and go on.” Let me ask: “Do we get depressed because we are isolated or are we isolated because we are depressed?” My definite feeling is that detachment is a symptom.
Withdrawal for the right reasons is beneficial, unless it is overdone. Jesus withdrew with his disciples and at times by himself. But withdrawal in order to pity oneself or to make our family or friends feel bad or to express anger or to cop out of serving the Lord is downright sinful. Part of Elijah’s motives were on target, but others were off the mark.
Another symptom of depression is despondency. The account further indicated that Elijah “requested for himself that he might die.” In other words, he had a death wish, but he himself was not willing to carry it out. He asked the Lord to kill him: “O Lord, take away my life.” Nearly every seasoned Christian has prayed like that at least once. “Lord, this is more than I can bear. No one understands. No one seems to care for me. No one appreciates my ministry. Lord, I’d be better off to leave this life. I’m so tired and worn out. Jesus, I can’t carry on any longer.” Confess. If you’ve been a Christian anytime, you have more than likely had those same pitiful sentiments.
Elijah was characterized by pessimism and an utter sense of hopelessness. Elijah, at least momentarily, had lost his will to live. He was almost as bad off as the fellow who commented, “I’d shoot myself to death, but I’d hate to waste a bullet.” He was thinking in the wrong channels because of forgetfulness, fear, fatigue, and failure (he thought). His despondent mood was merely a symptom of a deeper problem. Are we despondent because we are depressed or depressed because we are despondent? Thinking positive thoughts, however good that is, will not overcome despondency and depression. Many untrained (and even the trained) people try to force positive thinking on those who are not able to act upon it. Positive thinking is not enough. After the source is identified, a Christian application of positive thinking will motivate the believer.
Another symptom of depression is defeat. “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” A stifling defeatist attitude had set in. “I’m no good,” was the defeatist cry of poor Elijah. In essence, he was making the point to the Lord, “I’ve tried so hard, Lord, but I’m so inferior. I can’t be compared with Moses or Abraham – or even any of my forefathers.” Once again you must deal with the source. We are not depressed because we are defeated. We are defeated because we are depressed.
Yet another symptom is deception. Elijah, now detached and despondent and defeated, moans: “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (v. 10).
There is a prime example of faulty thinking. Poor, pitiful Elijah. He was the only one left, so he thought. God emphatically answered that Elijah was deceived and dead wrong.
In verse 18 God reminds Elijah: “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.” Most of us are modern-day Elijahs, not in our power but in our paranoia. We have a persecution complex. Nothing’s right. Everything’s wrong. People are plotting against us. “Lord, I’m the only one who loves you in my church and in my community. I’m the only one who cares. Oh, boo hoo!!!” And then we add, “Even at that, I’m no good.” Isn’t that contradictory and plain stupid? If you’re the only one who’s living for the Lord, that ought to mean you’re plenty good. You’re spiritual. You’re making a mark for Jesus. It doesn’t make sense, does it? You’re so dedicated and so consecrated and so committed, but at the same time you’re a no-good, lousy wretch! His reasoning, like ours can be, was faulty and defective.
Remember that deception is not a source. It’s a symptom. We do not become depressed because we are deceived. We are deceived because we are depressed. It is simply the symptom of the genuine sources of forgetfulness, fear, fatigue, and failure.
Still another symptom of depression is defensiveness. Listen to Elijah’s pitiful cry: “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” Now he becomes defensive – “I alone am left.” Here is total preoccupation with self. His eyes are only on his own problem. This is a bona fide symptom of depression. That is, the depressed person is only interested in the little world that is bounded on the north, east, south, and west by the perpendicular pronoun. That is the depressed person’s obsession. Self. Ego. I.
The depressed person becomes defensive, edgy, and wrapped up in his feelings. He repeats, “Nothing matters anymore.” In claiming he wants to be left alone, he is actually begging egotistically for attention. He has a psychological chip on his shoulder.
Let me recap the sources of depression. Forgetfulness. We forget who bought us on the cross; we forget our roots in Christ; we forget His past blessings; we forget the good and focus on the bad. We live as though God did not exit.
Fear. Why should we fear if God is with us? John wrote in his first Epistle: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not made perfect in love” (I John 4:18, NASB).
Fatigue. When we are worn out and exhausted, we must lean heavily on the Holy Spirit’s strength. When fatigued we become vulnerable to the “slings and arrows” of the devil.
Failure. When we seem to fail, let us ask the question, “By whose standard of failure?” If you are endeavoring to serve the Lord, no matter the adverse conditions, you have not failed. Does God consider you a failure? The world considers the backwoods preacher a failure. If that pastor is faithfully ministering and holding forth the word of life, he is a resounding success. Failure in whose eyes? That is the question one must ask.
For the sake of the kingdom, do not try to treat the symptoms of depression – detachment, despondency, defeat, deception, and defensiveness. You will stay depressed for long periods of time unless you return to the sources of depression. Finally, and most importantly, let us note some
Solutions of Depression
Ironically, the first solution is physical. The Bible account continues:
And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baked on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee.
On the road to recovery from his depression, Elijah first slept and then ate and drank. This is tremendous biblical advice. Rest. Learn to relax. Lean on the everlasting arms. Eat enough to gain strength. We ought to have a balanced diet and sleep enough. Sleep needs, of course, vary from person to person. Edison, the genius inventor, slept no more than four hours a night, but he learned the wisdom of “cat naps” during the day. Eight hours seems right for most adults. Nine or ten, unless you have lost sleep for a couple of days, is probably too much. Heart specialists are now claiming that too much sleep can be just as bad as too little. Too much sleep does not properly make the heart work and the blood pump.
This part of the solution is physical. Many physically fatigued people may doubt their salvation because they so often think of salvation in terms of “feeling good.” Fatigued people also put themselves in a vulnerable position before the devil and His cohorts. It may be that we have a biochemical need, and perhaps there is a chemical imbalance in our systems. Fatigue is one of the sources. Good health is certainly one of the solutions.
While the solution is physical, it is also personal. The account also states:
And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
In order to overcome depression, we must personally look at ourselves. We must personally look at ourselves. We must ascertain where we are – and then assume responsibility. Instead of alibiing, “I alone am left,” we need to admit, “I alone am responsible.” This is a giant step toward defeating depression.
In verse 9 God asked an intriguing question. “Elijah, what are you doing here?” When I arrive in heaven, I would love to find out where God put the inflection in many of His questions recorded in His Word. I have always wondered where the inflection in God’s voice was in this particular question. Maybe he asked, “What are YOU doing here?” “Elijah, of all people in the world, what are YOU doing here? You had such courage on Mount Carmel. You had such faith at the widow’s home at Zarephath. I would have expected this retreat of anyone but you, so what are YOU doing here?”
Maybe the inflection was in another place. “What are you doing HERE?” “Of all the places on earth, Elijah, what are you doing HERE underneath this juniper tree? Out here in the middle of nowhere? What are you doing HERE?” Have you ever been in a place where you knew God didn’t want you to be, and you heard that still small voice deep down inside asking, “What are you doing HERE?”
But perhaps God put His inflection on still another word: “What are you DOING here?” Elijah, in that case, would have been compelled to reply, “I’m not DOING anything, Lord. I’m just feeling sorry for myself, wishing I were dead.” Many of us lose our joy by DOING nothing!
What is the prevailing lesson? You cannot run from God. You cannot get away from “the hound of heaven.” Francis Thompson, in his epic “The Hound of Heaven,” wrote concerning his flight from God:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him down the arches of the years;
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I fled from Him, and under running laughter,
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Down titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat – and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet –
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”
The danger of today’s tranquilizer is that it simply puts off the day when we will have to face the foe. If you find yourself in depression, God is speaking to you: “What are you doing here?”
Do you hear that still small voice? The solution is personal. God speaks to you and me as He did Elijah:
And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
We are living in a day when people lust for the spectacular. They want to be struck with “an experience.” They want to feel the cyclonic wind, hear and behold the earthquake, and view the fire. They long for spiritual pyrotechnics. They want a chills-up-and-down-the-spine experience. But God still speaks in that still small voice and says, “I’m not through with you yet.”
Yes, we sometimes have to crawl under that juniper tree before we can hear God speak. The truth is: the most profound lessons are not learned on the mountain tops. They are taught us in the valleys – down under our very own juniper trees. There, by practical experience, we hammer out a life of victory. I personally never seem to learn a spiritual truth in the eagle’s aerie, but always in the cardinal’s nest down close to the ground. Not on the mountain top but in the valley, “valley so low.” Longfellow must have had similar thoughts when he wrote: “The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.” An unnamed sage opined, “There has never been a sunset that wasn’t followed by a sunrise.”
The solution to depression is physical and personal, but it is also practical. God continued:
And the Lord said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room.
God gave Elijah an assignment. Elijah arose from his pallet of depression. He accepted the assignment and became busy for God. God gave him a job which involved other people. Here was a practical solution to depression. Elijah left his depression and moved on to the most marvelous days of his ministry. His depression was not a dead end. Neither is yours. Your blue mood may become the vantage point to the road that winds ever upward.
Many have remarked to me, “Why, I never thought of that.” Simple, isn’t it? Elementary, dear Watson – but so often ignored. Become involved. Accept an assignment from the Lord. The number-one deterrent to depression is soul-winning. Lead another person to Jesus and help rid him of his depression. The most glorious joy in all the world is to see a person saved and transformed by the Lord Jesus. We still reap what we sow. If you sow the seeds of joy in Christ, they will blossom into beauty. Cast your bread upon the waters, and it will return to you one hundred times over (Eccl. 11:1).
Consequently, we note that the solution to depression is three-fold. Physical, personal, and practical. You will never overcome depression until you personally trust God, until you are physically sustained, and until you become busy for God.
If the sources of depression are fear, fatigue, and forgetfulness, and failure, how do we treat them? We treat fear with faith. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17). There is the personal solution. Treat fatigue with rest. There is the physical solution. We treat forgetfulness by training ourselves to remember what God has done for us – and then plunging ourselves into His service. We treat failure by realizing there is success in Christ. Here is the practical solution.
Are you prone to moods of depression? Then God inquiries, “What are you doing here?”
The last time we see Elijah in the Word is on the Mount of Transfiguration, gloriously being transfigured with the Lord Jesus Christ and Moses. He is no longer running from the Jezebels of this world.
Today perhaps you are running and finally find yourself under your own juniper tree. There you are moaning the blues. If you will only listen to that still small voice, God will speak to your heart. Stop looking for the wind, the earthquake, and the fire – the experience. I repeat: simply listen to the still small voice and begin to trust totally in Jesus.
First Kings 19:11 makes this observation: “Behold, the Lord is passing by.” He is passing by at this moment, and He is the only solution to your depression. When we are under the juniper tree, he takes us by the hand and walks by our side, helping us in the process of tracing the rainbow through the rain.
 Leonard Cammer, M.D., Up from Depression (New York: Pocket Books, 1974), pp. 4-5.
 Ralph Speas, How to Deal with How You Feel (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1980), p. 23.
 Nelson L. Price, Farewell to Fear (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1983), pp. 112-113.
 Ibid., p. 17.
 Brooks R. Faulkner, Burnout in Ministry (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1981), p. 11.
 Hardy R. Denham, Jr., Freedom from Frustration (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1981), pp. 33, 37.
Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Improper Self-image
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Depression
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Worry
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Impulsive Behavior
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Loneliness
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Adverse Circumstances
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain
Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Adverse Circumstances
I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet. – Revelation 1:9-10
John had his isle off Patmos. Paul had his Mamertine Prison. John Milton had his blindness. Another John, Bunyan, had his Bedford Jail for 12 years. Commander Ralph Gaither, author of With God in a POW Camp, had the notorious “Hanoi Hilton” for seven years and eight months of North Vietnamese abuse.
And you have your handicaps, your jails — real or imagined — your infirmities, your adversities. None of them are appealing and pleasant.
It seems all of us who studied high school English lit were exposed to Longfellow’s “The Rainy Day,” which closes with:
Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining:
Thy fate is the common fate of all;
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.
But many of us have asked, “If it has to rain, why does it have to pour? Why does it have to storm?” Only if it rains can you trace the rainbow through the rain! Pardon my use of a cliché, but we can’t have roses without thorns! Yes, it often appears that troubles come in bunches, and we ask all kinds of penetrating questions of our preachers — most of all, we ask them of God.
Living in certain places and under particular circumstances is easy. Living in other places under other circumstances can be adverse — and at times even downright difficult and oppressive.
When our daughters were still young, our family enjoyed several days of vacation at Maggie Valley, North Carolina, a quaint little hamlet in the Smoky Mountains. For the Hawkins four it was like stepping into another world. The scenario was vastly different from the hectic metropolis of Fort Lauderdale. At Maggie Valley we could easily concentrate on the twitter of birds, the scampering of the deer, the sigh of the breeze in the trees, and the babble of the brooks.
Fort Lauderdale is gorgeous, but it is also bustling and hustling. It is teeming with pedestrians and traffic; hurry and scurry are prevalent. In Maggie Valley, folks wave and smile to each other on the roads and the few streets. Folks still hung their wash out on the line in the backyard. Trout swim lazily through the mountain streams, and the deer seem to run in slow motion along the mountainsides.
In that little village the townspeople’s idea of a traffic jam was when two cars reach an intersection simultaneously. All are around are dirt roads, cattle guards (they called them gaps), and picket fences. We ate several meals at Mrs. Sutton’s Café. Sometimes we would be the only diners. That sweet mountain lady would emerge from the kitchen, sit down at our table and visit with us. Over Mrs. Sutton’s vegetable soup and apple pie we talked about what could solve all the world’s problems. Down in the valley was the little Baptist church pastored by the man whom God had called to that place in the mountains. On the Lord’s Day, the believers gather to worship there and to enjoy all the pleasantries of their mountain home.
On Saturday we flew back to Fort Lauderdale and to our own reality. Carrying our luggage out of the airport we were confronted by taxi drivers cursing and fighting over fares. Climbing into our taxicab, our eyes and noses were accosted as our driver headed down Federal Highway, warding off the irritable and thoughtless drivers who, in bumper-to-bumper traffic, continued to keep their horns honking.
Sitting beside our two precious girls, we had not gone two blocks until we passed the local prostitutes standing on street corners in their bikinis and high heels, waving people over the to the sidewalk. Row after row of adult movie houses and porno shops assaulted our eyes. Blatant pictures of unclad women were in the front windows.
A few blocks down the street we passed adult motels with suggestive slogans on their marquees, advertising waterbeds and mirrored ceilings. The driver then turned down Broward Boulevard, and we saw so many people who slept nightly on the streets of our city. The cab then drove west toward our home, passing by still more topless-bottomless night clubs and homosexual bars.
After unpacking and climbing into bed, I opened the evening paper to read of multiple murders and robberies that are daily occurrences in too many parts of the world. TO be quite honest, all that kept me on Broward Boulevard that evening was the calling of God to our city.
Why is it so oppressive in certain places? I returned home to an area of illicit sex, drugs, murders and secret sins that Mrs. Sutton and the other inhabitants of Maggie Valley seldom, if ever, had to talk about.
Then I began to mull over the servants of God who serve in forbidding and unsavory circumstances. Southern Baptist missionary William Wallace lost his life in a Chinese Communist prison. Who can forget Mother Teresa and her ministry to lepers? Jonah was compelled to make the trip to Nineveh. Too long Abraham and his nephew, “just” Lot, lived in the environs of Sodom and Gomorrah. Paul influenced the vast Roman Empire from a jail cell, or either from a house which he had to rent. My mind rolled on, and then I came to a resounding conclusion: It’s not where we are. It’s what we are! And my heart sang amid my chagrin, disgust and pain over the hellish sins of our city and countless cities around the world.
The aged apostle John expressed it in these words, “I John… was in the isle that is called Patmos… I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” John originally did not want to be there. The fact is: the old preacher was exiled there by the government. Even though he had freedom within certain limitations, he was removed from his mainland brothers and sisters in Christ.
When dealing with unsavory circumstances, many want to run away, to pull up stakes. Of course, John couldn’t do that. He was there, and the Lord God made the most of John’s circumstances. According to some conservative scholars, John wrote not only the Revelation while he was exiled to Patmos, but perhaps one of his other books as well. Isn’t that amazing?
Servant of the Lord, right now you may be smarting under your circumstances. Day by day you ask yourself and God, “Why do I have to stay here? Why can’t I find another place?” Maybe you are crying for a new business position, but you are rooted. You have filled out a hundred resumes for work with other firms, but nothing happens. Most of the companies do not even dignify your application by writing you a letter of rejection.
And Brother Pastor, you have stormed the gates of heaven praying for another church, another town or city, another opportunity — a fresh start. And even if the committees come to hear you, they may turn away. They may or may not talk with you, but maybe you have that sinking feeling as the committee piles into their car(s) or van and drives off into the distance.
It’s not easy to stay put. Many pastors, seemingly unappreciated and often disappointed, toy with the alien idea of “leaving the ministry.” So many of them could salvage their ministries if they would latch onto the resources of God available through prayer and the Holy Spirit. Dear brother, maybe God wants you to hang in there and trace the rainbow through the rain as the Lord stands with you in those heartbreaking moments of despondency. I still believe if God brought you to that place of service, He is resourceful enough to open a place for you when His time comes.
Paul had his “thorn in the flesh,” and we are going to have ours. Adverse circumstances and situations are incredible places to count for the Lord Jesus.
James Chalmers, the incomparable missionary to the headhunters of New Guinea, testified while on furlough to Scotland:
I have had 21 years’ experience among the South Sea Islanders, and for at least nine years of my life I have lived with the savages of New Guinea. I have the semi civilized and the uncivilized. I have lived with the Christian native, and I have lived, dined and slept with the cannibal. But I have not yet met a single man or woman, or a single people, that your civilization without Christianity has civilized. Wherever there has been the slightest spark of civilized life in the Southern Seas, it has been because the Gospel has been preached there; and wherever you find in the island of New Guinea a friendly people that will welcome you, there the missionaries of the cross have been preaching Christ.
It’s not where you are — it’s what you are that really matters. Even though you may be on your personal Patmos, you can be in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.
And I continued thinking and musing: if I think Fort Lauderdale can be adverse, what about Patmos? Patmos is a barren, rugged chunk of land to this day. Ten miles long and six miles wide, it is located a few miles off the Asia Minor coast of the Mediterranean. It is desolate, uninhabited and mountainous. You could call it a Mediterranean Alcatraz.
The Romans used it as sort of a penal colony — a place to exile hard-core convicts, revolutionaries, mental cases and the elderly. It had become a zoo housing many wild human beings.
The Caesar considered himself a god, constructing statues of himself and having them placed in worship areas throughout the Empire. By imperial edict the people were supposed to worship the images or statues and cry out loud, “Caesar is lord.” If people refused, they met a terrible fate. Polycarp, the pastor of the church at Smyrna, was burned at the stake. Ignatius, the pastor at Antioch, was torn apart by wild beasts. With the exception of devout Christians, the majority of Roman subjects bowed down and worshiped Caesar. Innumerable followers of the Christ were brutally tortured and murdered merely because they would not repeat the phrase, “Caesar is lord.” Their rebuttal, “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
John, often called “The Beloved,” was the brother of James. They were the sons of Zebedee (see Matt. 4:21-22; Mark 1:19-20). It is interesting that Jesus nicknamed James and John “Boanerges,” meaning “the sons of thunder.” “Thunder could have referred to their father Zebedee, who might have had a violent, explosive temper. Or the term might have indicated that James and John themselves, like their friend Simon Peter, were given to outbursts of temper and roughness.
Regardless of the meaning, John became the premier proponent of love. In his own Gospel, John refers to himself as “one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). At the Last Supper, Peter had especially become paranoid when the Master prophesied, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me” (John 13:21).
The disciples began looking at one another, at a loss to know of which one He was speaking. There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.So Simon Peter *gestured to him, and *said to him, “Tell us who it is of whom He is speaking.” He, leaning back thus on Jesus’ bosom, *said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” (John 13:22-25 NASB).
John actually asked the question for Peter.
According to the Biblical account, John was the only apostle who stuck with Jesus until the end.
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. (John 19:25-27)
Jesus left his dear mother under the watchcare of none other than John. No wonder John felt an extraordinary bond of love with the Savior and delighted in calling himself the one “whom Jesus loved.”
Christian tradition has it that John cared for Mary, as he would his own mother, until her death. He was the bishop or pastor at Ephesus for many years. The people loved him and he loved them, all because of the Lord Jesus’ agape love.
Many think that John was finally released from Patmos when he was almost 100 years old and that he returned to Ephesus. He was so feeble that men would carry him into the services, and he would repeat again and again, “Little children, love one another, love one another!”
As he was moved by the Holy Spirit to write the Revelation, there he was — banished to a barren rock island to live out his “golden years” among the criminals and insane on Patmos. Why was John there at the age of 90 or more? The answer is obvious: “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
He had refused to compromise. Read the text once again: “I John, who also am your brother and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet.” Through the Spirit, John knew that it’s not where you are — it’s what you are that counts.
Right now many of us are experiencing our own personal Patmoses. Years ago there was a Spike Jones ditty that ended, “I’m feeling mighty low.” That’s how many of us feel in our exile. We pray for relief from these adverse circumstances. At times we are caught in situations totally beyond our control. True, sometimes we erect our own Patmoses, our own Alcatrazes — sometimes. If only we could remember that John was on — of all places — Patmos, but he was “in the Spirit.” That makes the difference, for the sense of God’s presence can transform Patmos into paradise.
On Patmos, we view:
People might well ask, “What could a 90-year-old man accomplish isolated on a desolate rock, away from friends and kinfolk, and in a state of veritable solitary confinement?” A good answer: commune personally with the Lord Jesus Christ and write at least one book of the New Testament! Oh, John could have worried about his liabilities, his handicaps. There was no office of Social Security for old-age assistance. There is no mention of how he lived — what he wore, what he ate, what he drank, what he transcribed this marvelous message on. He was there, all the better to receive revelation from the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
His surroundings were adverse, his situation was adverse, his setup was adverse. Surrounding Patmos was the vast sea. “Water, water everywhere.” It reminds you of those lines from “The Ancient Mariner.” Perhaps he had no particular place to sleep, like his Lord who testified that foxes had holes and the birds of the air had nests, but the Son of man had no place to lay His head. Maybe John had to scrounge for food. You can be sure that he didn’t have fare fit for an emperor. Our personal Patmoses also seem full of liabilities. The adverse seas beat and surge.
The truth is: Some have eyes only for Patmos. Amid bad situations, it is easy to fall into the trap of “I-was-on-the-isle-of-Patmos Syndrome,” and see only liabilities.
But wait a minute. That’s one side of the story. Yes, he was on Patmos, but he was in the Spirit. Notice how many biblical heroes were in prison at one time or another. If they were living today, they would be considered jailbirds. IN the eyes of the world, they would have “criminal records.” Joseph, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Peter, this very John, Paul, Silas, Stephen (before the Sanhedrin), James the brother of Jesus, and many more.
Through Christ the liabilities were turned into Lordship. John reveled in the purpose of God, in the Lordship of Christ, in the sovereignty of God. God was in control. God neither slumbered nor slept but kept watch over him. God is a very present help in the time of trouble. At least 60 years before, Jesus had spoken these prophetic words to his followers, and John was among them:
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matt. 5:10-12).
John was also there when Jesus foretold: “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake” (Matt. 24:9). On another occasion he had heard these words escape Jesus’ lips: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). John was intent on his purpose for being on Patmos, and the purpose unfolded in the writing of this apocalypse. God opened up heaven, giving John a revelation to share with all posterity.
“I was on the isle of Patmos… and I was in the Spirit.” Some think of Patmos, while others think of the Spirit. It is attitude, not atmosphere, that really matters. Many a spiritual giant has risen from the ghettos, the slums, and abject poverty. Those people focused on the Spirit rather than adverse circumstances. They fought the rats and roaches as best they could, but they did not use their adverse circumstances as an alibi for defeatism and failure.
Many a person behind jail bars has testified, “God put me here behind these walls so I could hear the Gospel and be saved.” If the late and great Billy Sunday had not gone slumming one night in Chicago, he might not have dropped into the Pacific Garden Mission, where he was saved. Listen to me. Look past the liabilities to the Lord. O.S. Hawkins is privileged to be in Dallas. It is God’s spot for me. Did it ever occur to you that your adverse circumstances might be God’s will for you? Perhaps this is what the moved the songwriter to ask:
Am I a soldier of the cross, a follower of the lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause, or blush to speak His name?
Must I be carried to the skies on flow’ry beds of ease
While others fought to win the prize, and sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me on to God?
Sure I would fight if I would reign; increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy Word.
The true followers of the Lamb will trace the rainbow through the rain of liabilities. Your liabilities can be lose in Lordship. You do not need to bemoan your liabilities. Leave them at the pierced feet of our triumphant Lord. On Patmos there are also:
Talk about limitations! Patmos was overstocked with them. For many of us, looking at the Mediterranean would be a delight, especially if we could choose our land mass — maybe the French Riviera, the Isle of Capri, or another exotic spot. Looking at the expanse of the Mediterranean would be marvelous for a while, but suppose you were living on a rock and had to look at it endlessly? Every morning John awoke, and there was the sea, and it was not like the glassy sea in heaven. Unless the government provided lodging for him (and there is no indication it did), at night he had to search for a place to lay his tired, old head. Many nights he looked out at the moonlight reflected across that sea.
He was cut off, isolated. Out of control. He could not visit his friends; he could not attend his church; he could not take a leisurely stroll through the marketplace. He was limited in his resources for study. His parchments and books were far away in Ephesus or destroyed by now. More than likely he seldom ever heard from home.
Are you living on Patmos? Do you feel limited? Isolated and cut off? I beg of you not to fall into a Patmos fixation. God is on the throne, even on your Patmos. With all of the limitations, it is easy for us to forget that Jesus is Lord. In your liabilities and limitations, God can perform His mighty miracles through you. Yes, you!
I fully believe that when John spoke the words, “I was in the Spirit,” the limitations gave way to liberty. In the truest sense, he was no longer a prisoner. He was free! Madame Guyon, whose Spirit-filled writings still bless untold thousands — perhaps even millions — wrote “A Prisoner’s Song” while in the notorious Bastille during the French Revolution. The fourth and fifth stanzas express the thought of liabilities giving way to liberty:
My cage confines me round; Abroad I cannot fly;
But though my wing is closely bound, My heart’s at liberty;
My prison walls cannot control
The flight, the freedom of my soul.
Oh, it is good to soar These bolts and bars above,
To Him whose purpose I adore, Whose providence I love;
And in thy mighty will to finds
The joy, the freedom of the mind.
John was not really a prisoner. He was free. His predecessor at the Ephesian Church was the apostle Paul. Paul was imprisoned in Rome as he wrote the Prison Epistles — Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. It is thought he was chained to a guard 24-hours a day. Still, he was free in the Spirit. Earlier had had written the Galatians this message: “Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has set you free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). John had the deep realization that there is liberty wherever the Spirit of the Lord is.
While on Patmos, the majority looks at the liabilities. The faith-filled, daring few, look at liberty. Finally, on Patmos, we see:
There is no proof of the claim that loneness is the number one cause of suicide. Many think it is. It is almost redundant for me to state that Patmos was lonely, but it was. John probably had few companions. He was surrounded by human jackals, hard-hearted men who probably left John to himself. John must have longed for his family and friends and for his brothers and sisters in the church at Ephesus. When the Lord’s Day rolled around, he must have longed to fellowship with the saints and to deliver God’s Word to them.
Pastor friend. Yes, you on Patmos. Sometimes do you remember that sweet, little church of years gone by? When the Lord’s day comes, do you smell that fresh country air? DO you hear the old untrained song leader making a joyful noise? Do you hear Miss Clara or Miss Minnie playing at the ancient upright? Amid all the programming, all of the committee meetings, all the hubbub of your present situation, do you ever yearn for that little country church tucked in the hollow? I imagine you do.
And bless your heart, preacher without a church. When God called you, He meant you to do exactly your calling — preaching the glorious Word of God. And you will never be happy until you are doing it. Even if a church does not open up, there are clinics, old folks homes, jails, prisons and reform schools. If you are called, God will give you a place to preach. In fact, He will help you make a place!
Sometime ago a man was saved in our services. In conversation with him afterwards, eh explained how he previously frequented bars every night of the week. Since he had mentioned that he didn’t drink, I asked him why he would spend his time in bars. He replied, “I was so lonely, I just wanted to hear other people’s voices. I used to go and sit in night clubs just to listen to other people talk to each other.” People all around us are living on that kind of Patmos.
Some have eyes only for Patmos. They never look beyond the rocks and the sea. Their eyes are riveted on their problems and not their possibilities. Loneliness looms large. But John’s loneliness gave way to love. He was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.
Paul had written, “And now abideth faith, hope and love, these three but the greatest of these is charity [love].” In his letter to the Romans, he had asked the rhetorical question: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:35-39).
The love of Christ was with John on the isle, and loneliness had stepped aside for the indwelling love of God. Love is the key. “God commended [demonstrated] his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Leave your loneliness for the love of God.
John learned the truth. You are learning it, I hope. I am moving in that direction. It’s not where you are that matters the most. It’s who you are that matters. You are a follower of the Lord Jesus. You have His liberty, His lordship, His love. TO be quite honest, I’m a long distance from the Maggie Valleys of this world, but I’m honored that the Master has counted me worthy serve here in Dallas.
So many discover themselves on an island of liabilities, limitations and loneliness, but that personal Patmos, when turned over to the Spirit of God, can be lost in lordship, liberty and love. Sometimes it seems that Patmos will do us in. Liabilities, limitations and loneliness are doing their dastardly work.
But wait. What about asking God to let you be in the Spirit on the Lord’s day?
When we are in the Spirit, God assumes His Lordship and gives us meaning and purpose for life. He presents us liberty and sets the captive free. He envelops us in agape love, unconditional love.
Hear me. Are you in the Spirit? It’s not where we are that matters. It’s what we are. And that truth helps us to trace the rainbow through the rain!6
Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Improper Self-image
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Depression
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Worry
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Impulsive Behavior
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Loneliness
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Adverse Circumstances
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain
Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain
In nineteenth-century Scotland there lived a man with an amazing amount of promise and potential. He was destined for greatness, and all was going wonderfully well for him. While engaged to be married he was suddenly hospitalized. He found he had a degenerative eye disease that would eventually blind him. Consequently, his fiancée broke off their engagement and left him with a broken heart. George Matheson, in blindness and brokenness, within a period of five minutes, peened these hymn lyrics we believers have cherished:
O love that will not let me go
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
O joy that sleekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.
“I trace the rainbow through the rain.” From the depths of despair, Matheson traced a rainbow through his personal rainstorm.
Storms of life rain on all of us. None of us are immune to these tempests of life. While writing these words, we were involved in a tremendous storm here in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The sky grew dark, the thunder rolled, the lightning flashed, and the rain fell like lumps of lead from the sky. The palm trees bent and swayed from the gale-force winds. A few minutes later, as I looked out of my office window toward the Atlantic Ocena, I beheld a gorgeous rainbow that arched across the horizon. When we spiritually keep our eyes open and gaze through the storm, we can often trace a rainbow through the rain.
As we look around our world, we view one that is freighted with violence, starvation, suffering and disease. Wars are raging and babies are continuing to be born with deformities. We are prone to ask, “Where is God? Why doesn’t He do something? Is God really in control?”
This was the burden of the prophet Habakkuk. In fact, he begins his little Old Testament book by saying, “The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.” In the three brief chapters making up the book of Habakkuk, there is a marvelous progression leading us to the secret of tracing our rainbow through the rain.
In the first chapter the prophet is filled with the question “Why?” “Why doesn’t God intervene? Why does God wait so long to answer prayer?”
Continuing in the second chapter, the prophet’s eyes begin to perceive some marvelous answers as we hear him affirming, “The just shall live by his faithfulness.” The concluding chapter finishes with a mighty crescendo of praise: “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:17-18). Habakkuk had learned to trace his own rainbow through the rain.
There are three ways you and I can look at the storms of life. Some people look at the storm, and the result is confusion. Others have learned to look through the storms. That issues in confidence. But those who genuinely trace their rainbow through terrain have learned to look beyond the storm to find comfort. Maybe a storm is beating upon your right now — perhaps a lost job, a sickness in the family, or a lost loved one. All that many of us seem to see in the storms of life is the wind, the rain, the thunder and the lightning. But we can trace a rainbow through the rain. How? We begin by noting that:
Looking at the Storm Brings Confusion
This is what Habakkuk did. He looked at the storm and confusion set in. Listen to him as he introduces his book:
The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see. O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence and thou wilt not save! Why dost thou show me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? For spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention. (Hab. 1:1-3)
He bombarded heaven with his perplexing problems. How long? Why is all this evil and suffering happening?
Habakkuk lived in a day of moral and political decay and decline. Lawlessness was rampant. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? He asked some penetrating questions, questions we all ask like “Why?” and “How long?” In chapter 1 of Habakkuk’s book, God answers him: “I am sending the godless Chaldeans to destroy your city and take you captive.” The truth of Scripture is: There are times when God answers us by along the situation to become worse before it gets better. There is a new wave of preaching today that promises all honey and no bees, no work and all ease. Some tell us if any suffering or evil befalls us it is because of sin in our lives or a lack of faith. We seldom hear these “Sweetness and light” preachers preaching from a book like Habakkuk or Job. Friend, if you have a gospel which will not preach in Bangladesh, it will not preach here or anywhere else.
Habakkuk was extremely perplexed by the horrible happenings in the world. He was having considerable difficulty reconciling what he saw with eyes and what he believed in his heart. He was caught up in “How long?” “Why?” “It isn’t fair,” “It is not right” “It is not just!” The genuine problem was that Habakkuk could not understand why God was allowing all the evil and suffering to continue. “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!”
Habakkuk was asking what many are asking today: “If there really is a God out there Who is good and al-powerful, why doesn’t’ He do something? Why does He allow suffering and evil? Why are there wars? Starvation? Murders? Why are babies born with deformities?”
Here is the age-old skeptical unbeliever’s argument: “Either God is all-powerful but not all good (Therefore He does not stop evil) or He is all-good, but not all powerful and cannot stop evil because evil and suffering obviously continue. It all sounds so logical doesn’t it? If an all-powerful God exists, he could annihilate all evil, pain and suffering. A God who had the power to do such would be cruel and unjust not to annihilate evil and suffering. At least, we hear that from the skeptics. As believers we afford this omnipotent, all=powerful God. But (they tell us) He must be cruel and unjust because He doesn’t stop the evils of the world.
Now, it is true that God could eradicate all evil fi he wanted to do so, but think about that for a moment. Suppose that God were to decree that at midnight he was going to stamp out all evil. Many would exclaim, “Oh that would be wonderful!” Would it? The truth is: Not one of us would be here at 12:05 a.m. How thankful we should be that “He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10).
Mankind’s general tendency is to blame God for evil and suffering. Habakkuk was doing that. How long are you going to wait? Why are you letting this happen? But the truth is God did not create evil. He created Lucifer, an angel of light in charge of praise around the thon roe heaven. Lucifer made himself Satan when he decided to say “My will” instead of “Thy will” be done.
People still ask, “Well, why doesn’t God do something?” God has done something about the problem of evil. In fact, he has done the most dramatic, costly and loving thing possible by giving his only Son to die for evil humanity! While we affirm the doctrine of divine election, which is all through the Word of God, it is also a fact that God has made us people and not puppets. The love we can voluntarily return to Him is indescribably valuable to Him. We could speculate on the origin of evil from now on, but what we must deal with is the fact of evil. And the only solution to the fact of evil is God’s solution, which is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We can be certain that God cannot look on evil without detesting it. Habakkuk prayed to God, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity (Hab. 1:13). We must learn to do what Habakkuk finally did. He carried his problem to God and left it with Him. Incidentally, this is exactly what Jesus did. As he prayed in Gethsemane’s Garden, and great sweat drops of blood oozed from His skin, he cried, “Oh my Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39). Until we take our burdens to the Lord and leave them there, we spend all of our time merely looking at the storm, which only confuses us.
If we are not careful, we will fall into this easy trap. The storm comes. Instead of looking through it or beyond it, we look at it. No wonder we become confused. Like Habakkuk, we feel trapped by our circumstances and begin to ask, “God, why don’t you do something?”
As a pastor I have stood with many members (and non-members) when the storm came. I was with the Daltons when their precious baby was born with such unbelievable complications that living more than a few hours was a total impossibility. Mark and Debbie and I stood in the pediatric ICU and watched that little bundle of love breathe its last breath. Many would have looked only at the storm and known nothing but confusion, asking “Why… It’s just not fair!” But Mark and Debbie looked through the storm and found confidence. They looked beyond the storm and found comfort. They traced a rainbow through the rain!
Butch Redford was a good friend in high school He was with me the morning I was saved. He was quite a guy, six feet six, a basketball star, and a boxing chaplain. When we graduated, most of our group attended college while Butch fulfilled a boyhood dream of becoming a United States Marine. One dark night in a rice paddy somewhere in South Vietnam, a sniper put a bullet through his heart. Butch’s blood spilled out on that faraway land. There in the darkness alone he gave up the ghost.
When we brought his body back for the funeral, one of our friends, “O Jesus, if I die upon a foreign field someday, t’would be no more than love demands nor less I could repay. And if by death to living the morning I shall see, I’ll take my cross and follow close to thee.” Many would have seen only confusion. Many would have asked, “Why? It’s so useless! War doesn’t make sense. How long are we going to pray and ask for God and not get an answer? Why Butch was only 19 years of age.” But I watched his lovely family and friends look through the storm to find confidence, beyond the storm to comfort.
One of my most heartbreaking moments was when I received that call from Tom Elliff, then my missionary friend in Zimbabwe. He and his family had left the pastorate of one of the fastest-growing churches in America to bury their lives in a distant land in the service of the Lord Jesus. He called to report that Jeannie and the children had been involved in a dreadful automobile accident on a road out in the bush. Beth, their beautiful teenage daughter, had left her friends and school where she was a cheerleader. Why? Because of the love she and her family had for the African people. Now she was in critical condition, and at best would face several years of plastic surgeries. Many would have looked at the storm. “Why? It’s just not fair. How long is this going to go on? Lord, we’ve given our lives to come here and serve you.” But that night on the telephone, Tom Elliff looked through the storm and found confidence, beyond the storm and found comfort. He traced a rainbow through the rain.
We as believer shave never been promised lives free of difficulty and trial. “The rain falls on the just and the unjust.” We all have to grapple with these questions and, like it or not, the storms come. True victory is ours when we learn to look through the storm and beyond it to trace a rainbow through the rain. Rainbows begin to appear when we realize that:
Looking through the storm brings confidence
How do we look through a storm? The first step is to have proper perspective. Habakkuk wrote, “I will stand upon my watch and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved” (Hab. 2:1). In modern-day Israel, it is not uncommon to pass through the countryside and see a watchtower. It is a stone structure where one could ascend to the top and see if the enemy was coming, where one could see the layout of the whole land. God instructed Habakkuk to go to the watchtower that he might begin to look from God’s perspective and this issue of evil and suffering, and not only from his own. When we merely look from our perspective, our vision is often limited. The watchtower is an apropos place to be when asking hard questions. Habakkuk was bewildered because it appeared God wasn’t’ doing anything in his life.
When we begin to look from God’s perspective, life assumes a different dimension. Perspective is exceedingly important. The Hawkins family took a trip to Colorado many years ago. We visited the famous Seven Falls. A natural rock formation at the top of the falls looked as if it were a covered wagon. Upon arriving there I strained to see it. Only when I had climbed 200 steps to an observation platform across the canyon could I see the rock formation on the top of the mountain. It’s impossible to see it from below, but you have a good view of it from above. It was there all the time. It’s all in the perspective.
As a boy I used to play in the woods not far from our home. When we lost our way we would climb a tree in order to recover our sense of direction. This is what Habakkuk was doing. Often we are so close to the moment that we look only from our personal perspective. When we climb into the watchtower we begin to see from God’s perspective.
God has a plan and we must look at it from His perspective. We view this practically in our own daily experience. Before we take a trip, we plan our route. Before we build a house we have our blueprints of the architect’s plan. We then progress through the various stages of development. So it is with God. He is never surprised by any unforeseen circumstances. All of human history is just the turning of the pages of the unfolding of God’s eternal purpose and plan. He is the one “who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11).
Although we do not always recognize it, God does have a plan and purpose for us. Joseph certainly found this out. Most of us know the story backwards and forwards. His brothers were so filled with hateful jealousy toward him that they sold him as a slave to the Ishmaelites who carried him away to Egypt. The brothers then lied to their father, Jacob, and told him a wild animal had slain his favorite son Joseph. Meanwhile back in Egypt, Joseph was thrown in prison because he was falsely accused, but by the time he was 30 years old he had become the prime minister of Egypt. Consequently, he was later able to protect his family from a drastic famine.
From the human perspective, what happened to Joseph was bad. Jealousy and hatred are bad. Being separated from your father is bad; being falsely accused is bad. From the human perspective, everything looked confusing. And yet when Joseph revealed himself to his brother during the famine (and when he began to trace his rainbow through the rain) he testified: “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: For God did send me before you to preserve life” (Gen 45:5). And then later he added, “You thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good” (Gen. 50:20). Yes, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). From up in the watchtower, we begin to see from God’s point of view, and we realize that some of the things seemingly meant for evil had been meant for good by God.
Habakkuk declared, “watch and see what He will say to me.” Often when the storm comes we cease to watch and wait. So we seldom hear the Lord say anything to our hearts. We’re often more interested in what we say to Him or what we say to each other about Him, but the key in tracing our rainbow is to “see what He will say to me.” As soon as Habakkuk carried his problem to God, he ceased to be concerned with it. If you can learn the lesson of doing that, you are almost there. The secret is to leave it there.
Perspective! The secret to the Christian life is perspective. Even bad news can sound like good news when we hear it from God’s perspective. Since we seldom look from His perspective, we see Him in the blessings but not in the afflictions where He is also present.
This is a practical lesson for us. Instead of going to everybody else and saying, “I’ve got a problem and don’t know what to do,” we need to get into the watchtower and look through the storm. “Watch and see what he will say to us.” We often fail because we pray and then forget about it. After all, didn’t Jesus say, “Watch and pray”? But many of us are not looking from the right perspective.
The second step in looking through the storm is patience. Habakkuk continued:
And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision and make it plain upon your tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie; though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. (Hab. 2:2-3)
He now realizes the primacy of waiting on God. The person who doesn’t’ learn patience will have trouble learning anything else. Look at Job. He lost his family, his wealth, and his health. Satan challenged God, “You’ve got a hedge around Job, and if he didn’t have all your blessings, he wouldn’t serve you.” So God removed it for a purpose. When Job had lost it all, all he had left was his faith in God. Even that he wasn’t sure where God was or what He was doing! Here is the acid test of discipleship — how we respond when lose some of our blessings. Perhaps it’s the loss of a job, our loved ones, or our health. Job received all kinds of unsolicited advice. In fact, his friends suggested he ought to bargain with God. His wife said, “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). But how did Job answer? Listen to him as he looked through his storm to find confidence, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither; the Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
How enervating it must be to wait without any seeming reason. Talk about patience — Job was filled with it. Hear him as he asserts, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: But I will maintain mine own ways before him” (Job 13:15). He continues: “For I know that my Redeemer liveteh and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me” Job 19:25-27).
When Job begins to trace his rainbow through the rain, his testimony of faith is marvelous. It leads him to say, “He knoweth the way that I take when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as god” (Job 23:10). And later, at the end of his trial, the Bible records that “The Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:12).
How many times have I heard the phrase, “It’s just not fair”? and to be perfectly honest, that’s a natural response for most of us. In reality, it’s dangerous ground when we move off the ground of grace and onto the ground of what we think we deserve. If God did what was fair, I wonder where any of us would be? Listen to this man Habakkuk who came down from the watchtower: “I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved. And the Lord answered me, and said, write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie; though it tarry, wait for it; because4 it will surely come, it will not tarry” (Hab. 2:1-3. Habakkuk was affirming, “I’ve learned something and that is patience. I am going to wait for the vision; it is certain; It cannot fail.”
Friend, don’t give up because the vision tarries. Don’t simply look at the storm. Look through the storm, and you’ll see God’s perspective. You’ll learn the lesson of patience, and then you’ll be able to trace your rainbow through the rain.
The third step in looking through the storm is promise. The Bible says, “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak and not lie; though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry” (Hab. 2:3). What promising words — “It will surely come!” This lesson is invaluable. What God has promised he will most assuredly perform!
If Joseph is our example of perspective and Job is our example of patience, then Joshua must be our example of promise. Those walls of Jericho were totally insurmountable. They could not be tunneled under or skirted around or climbed over! Joshua was at a loss about what to do. But then he went alone with God, started looking from God’s perspective, patiently waited upon the Lord, and God gave him the promise.
And the Lord said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valor. And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days. And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams' horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets. And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him.(Joshua 6:2-5).
In the kingdom of God, we live by promises — not by explanations! There is no explanation for those walls of Jericho falling down flat. Yet there was the promise from God that it would happen. And though the promise tarried, it surely came to pass. None of us can fully answer all the questions of life. There must be room for faith because what we believe always determines our behavior.
God didn’t give Naaman an explanation, but he did give him a promise. He charged him to go and dip seven times in that muddy Jordan River and his leprosy would be cleansed. Naaman almost missed his cure because he was looking for an explanation. He was only looking at his storm and confusion had set in. Far more important than explanation is a personal relationship with a living God. When we are deeply hurt, what we really need is not an explanation, but a revelation! A promise from God.
Cling to God’s promises. Don’t look at the storm. Look through the storm, and you will find confidence by looking from God’s perspective and patiently waiting for his promise which will surely arrive. Then you can begin to trace your rainbow through the rain.
A fourth step in looking through the storm is participation. Habakkuk goes on, “Behold his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4). Many commentators point out this verse is more properly translated, “The just shall live by his faithfulness.” This is one of the most misquoted versed in the Bible. Many quote it as though it goes, “The just shall live by faith.” But note carefully the words, “The just shall live by his faithfulness.” The words are so simple and yet so profound.
This verse is also one of the most-quoted verses in the New Testament (Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11, Heb. 10:38). God declares that there are only two possible attitudes in this world — faith and misguided reason (unbelief). This is the watershed. I either live my life by faith, or I live it by unbelief. Faith means living by God’s word.
Note the verse carefully. I am talking about participation with Christ here. The just shall live how? But his faithfulness. When we begin to look through the storm we find this confidence in our participation with Him and in Him. Dr. R.T. Kendall, pastor of the world-famous Westminster Chapel in London, England, tells of taking his son T.R. to a new school upon their move to England. Living in a foreign country and in the massive city of London, the small boy sat in fear as he rode in the car next to his father to his new school. Upon arriving at the school, T.R. would not leave the car. He simply sat there crying. Dr. Kendall lovingly said, “T.R., you can go on to school and anytime during the day that you are afraid just remember that daddy will be praying for you. I am going to go home and start praying for you, and I’m going to pray for you all the day long. So anytime you are afraid, remember that your father is praying for you.” T.R. climbed out of the car and never looked back. During the course of day, when he was frightened, he remembered those words, and he lived that day on the strength of his father’s prayers, and by his father’s faithfulness. This is God’s message here. This is how we are to live. “The just shall live by his faithfulness.”
This participation with Christ, living by His faithfulness, is what enabled those first-century Christians like Polycarp and Ignatius to face their deaths in victory. They were living by Christ’s faithfulness. This was what enabled so many others when commanded to say Caesar was lord to declare there is no Lord but Christ. “The just shall live by His faithfulness.” Participation with Christ. Those words transformed Martin Luther’s life and ushered in the Protestant Reformation. As a Catholic monk, he was crawling on his knees up the Scala Sancta of St. Peter’s at Rome in a futile attempt to be righteous through the works of penance. This verse, “The just shall live by His faithfulness,” began to burn in his heart, and he ran down those steps. And all of Europe began to resound with those words, “The just shall live by His faith!”
God has promised that there will come a moment in time when nor further waiting will be necessary. What a day that will be! But what do we do in the meantime? Like Habakkuk we wait patiently on the promise. Why? Because we believe God. We believe that God is faithful! So in the meantime, and that’s where we are right now, we live by his faithfulness. That is what prompted the songwriter to exult:
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not
As thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.
Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness
Lord unto me!
Habakkuk received no answers, but he was instructed how to live — “The just shall live by His faithfulness.” And the wonderful outcome was Habakkuk did what God said! We can live by His faithfulness today. Stop looking at the storm, start looking through the storm, and though the vision tarries, in the meantime participate with Christ, live by His faithfulness, and you can trace your rainbow through the rain.
The fifth step in looking through the storm is perception. Habakkuk continued in chapter 2: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Hab. 2:20). All of the above — perspective, patience, promise, participation — led him to exclaim, “The Lord is in his holy temple.” God is on the throne. He is in control. Evil may appear to triumph for a while, but that is not going to last! Its doom is sealed! God still reins. What a perception!
This man who began in confusion, filled with questions, has now learned to look through the storm for confidence, and all this has led him to observe, “The Lord is in his holy temple.” God is in control God is yet on the throne. God is reigning, and He knows what he is doing. He will fulfill his purpose. Have you gone this far in your personal pilgrimage, or are you still looking at the storm and wallowing in your confusion? Come to the proper perception of life and see that above it all God is still in charge.
We gaze around our world, and it appears that the evil and worldly seem to be on top most of the time. But we need to remember that God has not abdicated his throne. He is still in His holy temple. “The way of the transgressor is hard,” and everyone is going to live as long as God lives somewhere. Why does God allow it? Why does God permit all this evil and suffering? He allows it for His own purposes.
We need to remember tha the Bible still says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). The Bible says, “and we know.” Who knows? “We know,” those of us who make up this family of faith. This verse is a family secret meant only for the children of God. The world certainly does not recognize the truth of Romans 8:28. The apostle says we know that “all things work together for good.” That little word all is most inclusive. It entails any problem we might have. There is a crucial clause sometimes omitted from this oft-repeated verse. These things work together for good to those who are “the called according to His purpose.” Do you realize that God has a purpose for each of us? Are you being called to His purpose?
Habakkuk started to perceive that all of this was the Lord’s doing. The enemy could do nothing unless God allowed it. And if God allowed it, there must be a purpose. Habakkuk even came to perceive that as evil as the Chaldeans were, they were merely instruments in the hand of a loving Father to work His plan and His purpose in His own people. This is good medicine for us: that is, to realize that God is still on the throne. Looking from God’s perspective, patiently waiting on His promise, participating with Him by living in His faithfulness, and perceiving that He is in control is how we can look through our storms.
Storms of life are inevitable; it is all in how we view them. The message of Habakkuk challenges us to cease complaining and asking how long and why. Find your watchtower, climb into it, and look from God’s perspective in order to live by His faith. God may not play to save you from your circumstances, but He will save you through them. Looking through the storm brings confidence, but the best means of viewing a storm is not by looking at it, or even through it, but to realize that:
Looking beyond the storm brings comfort
After looking through the storm in chapter 2, Habakkuk begins to look beyond the storm in chapter 3 and prays: “O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid; O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of years make known; in wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2). He recalls God’s faithfulness of bygone days and rays, “Lord, do it again!”
Habakkuk reminded God of what He had done in the past: “Was the Lord displeased against the rivers? Was thing anger against the rivers? Was thy wrath against the sea, that thou didst ride upon thine horses and thy chariots of salvation?” (Hab. 3:8). He remembers that just when it looked as if the Israelites were trapped at the Red Sea, Moses traced the rainbow through the rain and knew that God was on the throne. He held up the rod of God and the waters parted! “The sun and the moon stood still in their habitation; at the light of thine arrows they went, and at the shining of thy glittering spear” (Hab. 3:11). He remembered that just when it looked as if the people of God were headed for defeat, Joshua traced the rainbow through the rain, and the sun stood still until Israel won their victory. God controlled the elements. Our God can and does act! Habakkuk is reminding himself of God has actually done. The Christian faith is solidly based on fact, not simply ideas. If the facts of the Bible are not true I have no faith or comfort. But they are true! Therefore, the prophet was looking beyond the storm and found his comfort.
Habakkuk remembered what God had done in the past and he began to cry out: “O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid; O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of years, in the midst of years make known; in wrath remember mercy.” Lord, revive Thy work. Lord, do it again!
The last verses of Habakkuk are among the richest in all the Bible. Listen to him as he reaches the crescendo of personal praise:
Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. (Hab. 3:17-19).
Only the Christian can truly know what it is to rejoice in tribulation.
Habakkuk came to the point where he affirmed, “I am not going to serve God for ‘what’s in it for me.” But I will serve my God no matter what come of it!” “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat, and the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls.” Looking beyond the storm and finding comfort he says, “God is my strength.” Where is your strength? In your personality? In your friends? In your natural, native abilities? In your reputation? Habakkuk found his secret in knowing tha this strength was in the Lord.
Note the two “I wills” of verse 18. “I will rejoice.” “I will joy.” Rejoicing and joy are only possible because of the two “He wills” in the following verse. “He will make my feet like hinds’ feet. He will make me walk upon mine high places.”
Habakkuk said, “He will make my feet like hinds’ feet.” Like a deer’s feet, swift and sure and stable he will cause me to be. Have you ever watched a deer run? He clears every obstacle so gracefully. What a contrast to the lifestyles of so many Christians. Instead of running like a deer on their graceful feet, many believers plod and plod and stumble and stumble.
Not only will He make me walk on hinds’ feet, but He will make me walk up in the “high places.” Once, while ascending Pike’s Peak in a railroad car, we spotted several deer on the mountain range. They tossed their antlers in the air and swiftly sped off to the safety of high places. There the ari was pure. The hunters could not reach there. Do you know these high places? Thank God for the high places in our experience of walking with Him. “I will rejoice and I will joy in the God of my salvation.” And we can do this only because “He will make me to walk on the high places.” What a wonderful Savior is Jesus our Lord!
Habakkuk looked to the past, rejoicing in the victories of Joseph, Job and Joshua. But looking from our side of Calvary, we rejoice in the fact of the resurrection. If ever there was a hopeless situation, when someone should have asked “How long?” “Why?” it was when our Lord was crucified and buried in the granite-cold dampness of Joseph’s tomb. The dejected disciples went on their way. Peter said, “I am going back to the fishing business.” The Emmaus disciples lamented, “We had hoped he had been the one.” How long? Why? But God acted! Jesus arose! And today, He is still on the throne! That’s why we sing:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name
When darkness seems to hide his face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
When He shall come with trumpet sound
O may I then in Him be found
Dressed in his righteousness alone
Faultless to stand before the throne
On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand.
- Edward Mote
But until that day God never commands us to understand. We can only trust Him and live by His faithfulness. Then when all is said and done, and we have looked beyond the storm to funds comfort, we can affirm with Habakkuk, “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:17-18).
Looking beyond the storm brings comfort. A day is coming when evil and suffering will end. John describes that glorious day so beautifully: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:1-4).
Yes, there are three ways to look at our storms. Looking at the storm only brings confusion. Looking through the storm brings confidence. Looking beyond the storm brings comfort.
When the storms come (and they most surely will) do not just look at the storm, but look through the storm and beyond the storm to trace your rainbow in the rain. Then you can sing with George Matheson:
O love that will not let me go
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
O joy that sleekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee;
I TRACE THE RAINBOW THROUGH THE RAIN,
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.
 Words by Thomas O. Chisholm, 1923. Copyright 1923. Renewal 1951. Hope Publishing Co., owner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Improper Self-image
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Depression
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Worry
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Impulsive Behavior
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Loneliness
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Adverse Circumstances
- Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain
Three Verses for Youth…and the Rest of Us!
1 Thes 5:18; Col 3:17; 1 Cor 10:31
From time to time in our individual life journeys, we all come to "temptation's corner." That is, the place where we are called to make a decision as to which way we should turn. The Tempter is always standing there in the intersection seeking to entice us to make a wrong turn. There are three verses that reveal three important imperative questions we should ask ourselves as we anticipate which way to turn at one of these inevitable intersections of life.
Can I Thank God for It?
"In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:18). At "temptation corner" we should ask ourselves, "If I go this way, say this thing, or do this deed: when all is said and done, can I thank God for it?" If there is some attitude or action on our part for which we could not give God thanks in the aftermath, then it should be avoided at all costs. Interestingly, we are not called upon to thank Him "for" everything but "in"everything.
Can I Do It in Jesus' Name?
"And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Colossians 3:17). We are not only to give thanks in all things, we are to do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus. If we gave serious thought to this issue it would make a huge difference in what we said with our mouths, did with our hands or watched with our eyes.
Can I Do It for God's Glory?
"Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). The true believer is motivated by the desire to bring God glory in every facet of life. There are many things which are done and said which would not be said or done if this important question were asked more often.
None of us are immune to "temptation's corner." In fact, all of us arrive there every single day in one way or another. Stop. Don't just rush through the intersection or make a hasty wrong turn. Ask yourself three important questions. Can I thank God for it? Can I do it in Jesus' name? Can I do it for God's glory?
The wonderful walk of victory
I. Problems that hinder (vv. 19-21)
A. Desires that are misdirected.
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality; (v. 19).
B. Devotions that are misguided.
idolatry, sorcery… (v. 20a).
C. Dispositions that are mismanaged.
enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envyings (vv. 20b-21a).
II. Proofs that highlight (vv. 22-23)
A. A countenance that is obvious.
love, joy, peace;
B. A conduct that is orderly.
patience, kindness, goodness;
C. A character that is obedient.
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (v.22-23).
III. Procedures that help (vv. 24-26)
A. An appropriation to experience.
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (v. 24).
B. An action to exhibit.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit (v. 25).
C. An attitude to escape.
Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another (v. 26).
The second mile
The phase “going the second mile” has found its way into our modern jargon. It has its roots in first-century Palestine. The Romans had conquered much of the known world. One of the marvels of their conquest was a vast system of super highways which they had built to and from their conquered territories. There were over 50,000 miles of these Roman roads throughout the empire. At each mile was a stone marker. The New Oxford English Dictionary calls them “guide stones.” These guide stones pointed direction, determined distance, warned of dangers and each one of them had the miles to Rome etched upon them. Hence the phrase, “all roads lead to Rome.”
By Roman law a Roman citizen could compel a subject from one of the conquered lands to carry his backpack, or load, for him for one mile, but one mile only. As Jesus was preaching His Sermon on the Mount, I have often wondered if He inserted the reference about the second mile when He saw an object lesson in the distance unfolding. He said, If anyone compels you to go with him one mile go with him two. Can you imagine the bombshell this must have been as it was dropped on these followers who were being oppressed by Roman occupation? Let’s note these two guide stones.
I. GuideStone #1 – the mandated mile – motivated by law
I have heard many sermons on the second mile but not many on the first mile. The first mile is always the hardest. Ask the distance runner for example. But if it were not for the first mile, there would be no possibility of the second mile.
The first mile is that which is required of us. It is the mile that is mandated for us. We live in a world where many do not even make it to the first mile marker. That is, they do not even do what is required of them at the office, at home, at church or wherever. The first mile is vitally important. It is what makes us function. It is that which is required of us.
II. GuideStone #2 – the miracle mile – motivated by love
Jesus calls upon us in this verse to do what is required of us and then some, to go above and beyond the call of duty and to do it cheerfully. This mile is motivated by love for Christ and is what should distinguish the believer from others. What is it that separates some from others in the world of athletics? The second mile, doing what is required and then some. What separates some from others in the arts or in education or wherever? It is this principal of the second mile.
The Lord Jesus walked this second mile. Oh, He went the first mile. He did what was required of Him. He left heaven, clothed Himself in human flesh, walked among us and yet was not contaminated by our sin. He was obedient to the Father. But He then went the second mile, all the way to the cross to be our sin bearer. He could have called legions of angels to set Him free, but He went the second mile and died for you and me.
The question for our time: Who do YOU say that I am?
It seems that every epoch of Christian church history has a timely question from the lips of our Lord. Those of the first generational church were faced with the question, “Will you lay down your life for my sake?” And many of them went to their martyr’s death with that question in their minds. Then came the Nicene fathers and another question emerged. “What do you think of the Christ, whose son is He?” It was this question that brought them to Nicea in 325 A.D. As the church entered its dark period held in the clutches of the Roman popes, the Reformers broke through into the dawn of a new day when they were confronted with the question — “Did I not say if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” The great missionary movement advanced with this question on their hearts and minds — “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” And so Carey and Taylor and Livingstone left the confines and comforts of their homes for places like India and China and Africa. Then came the 20th century and prosperity filled the western church. Liberalism with its twin children of pluralism and inclusivism infiltrated the church and from the lips of our Lord came another question — “Will you also go away?” And, unfortunately many denominations and churches that once had evangelism and missions at their forefront left the doctrinal truth of their forefathers.
And now, we find ourselves ministering in the 21st century with the question of our time — “Who do you say that I am?” The issue of the exclusivity of the gospel is the single most important issue which Southern Baptists will face in the next decade.
I. A question of public consensus (Matthew 16:13)
Here is a classic case of public consensus. The disciples were asked the question — “Who do men say that I am?” They were aware that public consensus was divided into four different opinions. They said, “Some say” you are John the Baptist. “Some say” you are Elijah. “Some say” you are Jeremiah. “Some say” you are one of the prophets.
The question of public consensus speaks of pluralistic compromise — pluralism. It also speaks of political correctness — inclusivism. Pluralism affects our doctrine as believers. That is, what we believe, our message. Inclusivism affects our duty as believers. That is, how we behave, our mission. Doctrine always affects our duty.
II. A question of personal conviction (Matthew 16:15)
There is an alternative to pluralism and its belief that God reveals Himself in all religious traditions and that many paths lead to the same place. There is an alternative to inclusivism and its belief that salvation is through Jesus Christ but it is not necessary to have explicit knowledge or even faith in Him to obtain it. The alternative is exclusivism which says the central claims of our faith are absolute truth and truth claims to the contrary are to be rejected as false. What is really important to the Lord Jesus is this question — “Who do YOU say that I am?”
It is important to note that the “you” is emphatic. It is also important to note the definite article in front of “Christ.” Simon Peter answered that evening at Caesarea Philippi, “You and You alone are the one and only Messiah — Anointed One — Saviour — Christ!”
This is the question for Southern Baptists — “Who do you say that I am?” If He is “the Christ,” then we need to take the cross off our steeples and put it back in our Sunday School; we need to take the cross off the communion table and put it back in the middle of the sermon; we need to take the cross off our necklaces and put it in the middle of our social ministries; we need to take the cross off our lapel pins and put it back in our music.
If it is true that Christ is the only Saviour and the only way to heaven, then all other alternatives are false. Universalism is false. Pluralism is false. Inclusivism is false. Non-Christian religions are false. If this is all true, then we must join the songwriter of old in singing, I must need go home by the way of the cross, there’s no other way but this; I shall ne’re get sight of the gates of light, if the way of the cross I miss. The way of the cross leads home, it is sweet to know as I onward go, the way of the cross leads home. This is the question for our time. It is not a question of public consensus, but it is a question of personal conviction — “Who do you say that I am?”
The question for our time: Who do you say that I am?
It seems that every epoch of Christian church history has a question from the lips of our Lord for which it could be particularly intended. For example, of the scores of questions asked in the gospels by our Lord, the first generational church was faced with the question of John 13:38 — “Will you lay down your life for my sake?” How many of our spiritual forefathers went to their martyr’s deaths after facing that question from Christ? The apostolic fathers dealt personally with this…James, Peter, Paul…these were followed by the likes of Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna. Then came the Nicene fathers and another question emerged. For them it was the question of Matthew 22:42 — “What do you think of the Christ, whose son is He?” It was this question that brought them to Nicea in 325 A.D. Arius of Alexandria was preaching that the Son was not eternal with the Father but was created by the Father. Out of this Council of Nicea came the Nicene Creed which settled and affirmed for the church that the Son was of the same nature as the Father. In those days with this question on his heart Athanasius stood tall as a defender of the faith.
As the church entered its dark period held in the clutches of the Roman popes, the Reformers broke through into the dawn of a new day when they were confronted with the question of John 11:40 — “Did I not say if you believe you would see the glory of God?” And so, armed with the truth of Romans, Martin Luther nailed his thesis to the door of the church at Wittenburg and the glory of God filled Europe working through the likes of Calvin, Zwingli, Hubmaier, Manz, Knox, and all the others. As the years of church history continued to unfold and the great missionary movement advanced, they did so with the question of Luke 18:8 on their hearts and minds — “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” And so, William Carey and Hudson Taylor and David Livingstone and so many others left the confines and comforts of their homes for places like India and China and Africa with the question of their time — “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” — burning in their hearts. Then came the 20th century and prosperity filled the western church. The church gained influence and buildings and very subtly the emphasis of godly power changed to worldly influence. And consequently, there came the question of John 21:15 — “Do you love me more than these?” Next, liberalism with its twin children of pluralism and inclusivism infiltrated the church and from the lips of our Lord came the question of John 6:67 — “Will you also go away?” And unfortunately, many denominations and churches that once had evangelism and missions at their forefront and held to a high view of Scripture went away from the doctrinal truth their forefathers had held for generations.
And now, we find ourselves ministering in the 21st century. These are days of unbelievable challenge and opportunity. But Christ has a question for His church today. I believe it is the issue Southern Baptists and all true evangelicals must face for the next generation. It is the question of our time. It is the question of Matthew 16:15 — “Who do you say that I am?” This is the question for us! When so many other denominations have gone the way of pluralism and inclusivism, God is asking Southern Baptists — “Who do you say that I am?”
It is becoming more apparent that God is raising up Southern Baptists in the 21st century as a voice for righteousness in a culture that is filled with anti-Christian bigotry. While the American President and people are presently engaged in a war on terrorism, our pastors and pews are engaged in a war on truth. There are those among us in our culture today, just as in the Book of Jude, who seem to be bent on bringing down our twin towers of the truth and trustworthiness of the gospel. Perhaps no other single topic will be under attack during our remaining days of ministry as much as the issue of the exclusivity of the gospel. The next generation of Southern Baptist pastors must be prepared to answer the question of our time — “Who do you say that I am?”
There are two distinct styles of leadership prevalent today. There are those who lead by public consensus and there are those who lead by personal conviction. This is particularly true in American political culture and unfortunately it has spilled into our church culture as well. We have seen professional politicians who lead by public consensus. It seems a stand is not taken on any issue until a poll is taken to see what the consensus of the people is on a particular subject and then action is taken in accordance with public consensus. And then there are those politicians who lead by personal conviction. These individuals strive to make their decisions on the conviction of what is right and wrong and then stand upon that personal conviction. Look at many of the major denominations today. They once made decisions on the basis of personal conviction. But now, in our sophisticated 21st century world, many find it more expedient to make decisions on the basis of public consensus. Is it any wonder that such things as political correctness and pluralistic compromise are the result? Those who lead by public consensus lead people where they “want” to go. Those who lead by personal conviction lead people where they “need” to go.
This is exactly the point the Lord Jesus was seeking to make when He took the disciples away from the Galilean crowds and moved them 25 miles to the north, to the headwaters of the Jordan River, near to the city Philip built in honor of the Caesar which became known as Caesarea Philippi. Our Lord knew the tendency we have to leave personal conviction for public consensus and thus he framed two very important questions for our consideration. First, the question of public consensus…“Who do men say that I am?” (Matt. 16:13). Then, the question of personal conviction…“who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15). This is the question of our time. Southern Baptists, who do you say that He is? The next generation of Southern Baptists must be prepared to answer the question of our time. Who do you say that I am? The issue of the exclusivity of the gospel will be the single most important issue we will face in the next decade! And, if Southern Baptists do not give a certain sound — who will?
A question of public consensus
Note what happened around the fire at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asked, “Who do men say that I am?” The disciples answered, “Some say you are John the Baptist. Some say you are Elijah. Some say you are Jeremiah. Some say you are one of the prophets.” Here is a classic case of public consensus. They were giving their own polling results. They were aware that popular opinion, public consensus, was divided among four different opinions. Things have not changed much. There is still a lot of divided opinion today, and the words “some say,” are present in our own modern vernacular.
“Some say you are John the Baptist.” John the Baptist came preaching a message of repentance. These people sensed Jesus was a man of righteousness and perhaps they thought of John the Baptist because of his preaching of repentance.
“Some say you are Elijah.” These people must have sensed His greatness. To the Jew, Elijah was one of the greatest of the prophets and teachers of all times. To this day at the Seder meal, Elijah’s chair is left vacant. Elijah was a man of prayer. The people of Palestine had watched our Lord Jesus calm storms with a prayer, multiply the loaves and fishes with a prayer. No wonder, “Some say” He is Elijah.
“Some say you are Jeremiah.” These were obviously those who were aware of His tears, His passion, His burden for His people. They had seen the heart of Jesus. They had watched Him as He wept over the city of Jerusalem and as He wept at the grave of Lazarus. No wonder, “Some say” He is Jeremiah.
“Some say you are one of the prophets.” Here is the very essence of public consensus. He was one of the prophets. These were those who did not know what to believe but could not discount His miracles and godly life. Some still say today that He is one of the prophets. Ask our Islamic friends. They will tell you that He is a prophet, but not as great as Muhammad. They will tell you He did not rise from the dead. Ask our Jewish friends and they will tell you He was a godly man and a prophet. Ask the “scholars” of the Jesus Seminar and they will have their own opinion as they seek to strip away His deity. Ask those who are advocates of the fad theology of “openness” today and they will tell you He had His own shortcomings on the side of omniscience. The question of public consensus still reveals that most think
He was a great teacher or a prophet but not God come in the flesh. The question of public consensus speaks of two things — it speaks of pluralistic compromise and political correctness.
The question of public consensus speaks of pluralistic compromise. We have a word for this — pluralism! Those who hold to this view believe that there are many paths to salvation and the Lord Jesus is only one of them. They tell us that non-Christian religions are equally legitimate vehicles for salvation. Just like at
Caesarea Philippi “some say” that the Lord Jesus is “just one of the prophets.” Thus the pluralist believes there is not just one way but a plurality of ways of salvation.
Some mainline denominations have taken their theological remote controls and pushed the mute button when it comes to topics such as the wrath and judgment of God, the sole authority of Scripture, and the insistence upon salvation through Christ alone. There are a lot of prominent liberal theologians who have crossed the theological Rubicon and embraced religious pluralism. We were seeing the beginning of this infiltration in the Southern Baptist Convention before the conservative resurgence. One former professor at one of our seminaries is in print as suggesting that there are other ways of salvation than belief in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. A former professor at another of our seminaries once castigated a former editor of a state Baptist paper for saying that those on the mission field who had never come to faith in Christ were “lost” and in danger of hell. When church leaders begin to question the validity of the exclusivity of the gospel and begin to believe that religious truth is not all important, it is only a matter of time until long held religious confessions and doctrines lose their relevance resulting in a theological wandering. There is nothing that gives rise to pluralistic compromise any more than biblical illiteracy.
There is something that should amaze us all about these individuals who wave their flags of tolerance and pluralism. One seldom finds them criticizing other faiths for their own exclusivity. Have you ever heard of one of these liberal pluralists coming against Islam for its claims of exclusivity? Talk about exclusivity.
I don’t think anyone has been put to death in Phoenix or Dallas for converting to Christianity or converting to Judaism or Islam for that matter. Some seem to be more anti- Christian than anti-exclusivist. I’m amazed at how some Baptists have been characterized as purveyors of hate for their insistence upon the exclusivity of the gospel. And yet, in the name of their god, a Muslim extremist can fly an airplane into American buildings and murder thousands of innocent men, women, and children and we are the purveyors of hate?
Theological liberals have a creed today. No, it is not the Baptist Faith and Message statement. It is the creed of pluralism. There is a concentrated effort to seek to ensure that the next generations in America will be ignorant of the most elementary references to the foundations of our Judeo-Christian heritage. All one has to do is see how many elementary school textbooks are a part of the revisionist agenda. All one must do is see how many elementary schools no longer sing Christmas carols heralding and hailing the “Incarnate Deity” as we did at D. McRae Elementary School in East Fort Worth when I was a boy.
Yes, there is the question of public consensus. It speaks of pluralistic compromise. Southern
Baptists must avoid the temptation to deal with public consensus and the pluralism that results.
The question of public consensus — “Who do men say that I am?” also speaks of political correctness. We have a word for political correctness — inclusivism! Those holding to this view are the people who believe that the scope and span of God’s salvation is wide enough to encompass men and women who have not explicitly believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is, general revelation is adequate to bring all men to salvation even in the total absence of information about the gospel. While inclusivism differs from pluralism in believing that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven, they both differ from exclusivity in the fact that they give no sense of necessity of the new birth. They say it is not necessary to know about the Lord Jesus or even believe in Him to receive salvation. For them the requirement for salvation is simply to trust God under whatever form God is known to them and perhaps some will receive knowledge of the Lord Jesus only after their death.
The most pointed question in the Bible is found in Acts 16 with the story of the Philippian jailer. He falls upon his knees before the Apostle Paul and asks, “What must I do to be saved?” Had Paul shown inclusivity he would have replied, “Just calm down, you’re already saved.” But believing in an exclusive gospel as he did, and for which he would later give his life, Paul answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved!”
Perhaps you say, “Well, all Baptists believe in the exclusivity of the gospel. Baptists do not adhere to pluralistic compromise or political correction.” Really? I came across an interesting book which I purchased from a bookstore of a Baptist divinity school on a campus of a Baptist university (formerly Southern Baptist) on the East Coast written by a gentleman who was formerly a professor at a Baptist university in the South. The book has a fascinating title — Ten Things I Learned Wrong from a Conservative Church. Chapter 3 is entitled, “Third Wrong Teaching: Jesus is the Only Way to God.” The following is a direct quote from this chapter; “Baptists and other dyed-in-the-wool conservatives have this thing about Jesus, that since the incarnation 2000 years ago He is the only way to God.” He does not put much stock in John’s gospel. In fact, he insinuates that the Jesus of the fourth gospel is “arrogant” by stating that He was “The Way, The Truth, and The Life.” He implies Jesus was simply speaking metaphorically here. That is, since Jesus was not really “bread,” as He says He was, that neither was He “The Way” as He says He was. This former professor goes on to say, “I don’t think it is necessary for people to have an experience with Christ in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Does anyone really wonder about the necessity of a conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention and the need of a confessional faith statement relating to who we are and what we believe?
Why should we as Southern Baptists be concerned about pluralistic compromise and political correctness? It is because they dramatically alter the very nature of our faith. There are two things at play here. The debate Southern Baptists have had over the last two decades is momentous. The future of world missions is at stake. Why? Pluralism affects our doctrine as believers, that is, what we believe, our message. When a man holds to pluralism, he is then forced to abandon virtually every core doctrine of the historic Christian faith. This involves such things as the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the incarnation, the virgin birth, the sinless life, the atonement, the resurrection, the glorious return. To be a pluralist is impossible without a dedicated repudiation of the heart of the gospel of historic Christianity. The pluralism that has invaded many churches has been watering down the gospel message in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for some time.
While pluralism affects our doctrine, inclusivism affects our duty as believers. That is, how we behave, our mission. When a man holds to inclusivism , then he must abandon the duty of such Christian activities as evangelism and missions. He loses any sense of urgency and passion. This is why liberal churches and denominations have little if any emphasis on evangelism and missions. Doctrine affects duty...always!
Note what has happened to Southern Baptist missions in the past few years. Record numbers are going to the foreign fields: A thousand last year and a thousand the year before. Why? There is a renewed emphasis on the doctrine of the exclusivity of the gospel which brings a renewed sense of passion and urgency to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. The conservative resurgence is all-encompassing. Those early architects knew that doctrine always determines duty. Yes, “There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
As we hear continuing reports of deep declines in the mainline denominations in sending missionaries to the foreign fields, we see just the opposite with Southern Baptists. Why? We have thrown off the shabby coats of pluralism and inclusivism, of political correctness and pluralistic compromise. We have made
a strong stand on the solid ground that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to heaven! This is not a theology that has “made in America” stamped on it. It is a theology made in heaven and delivered to a Palestinian world 2,000 years ago. It has not changed. It got to us across the centuries by the personal sacrifice of millions of believers. It came to us through their courage, commitment, and conviction, their faith, fearlessness and fortitude. And now, we are stewards of this glorious gospel. This very fact moves us from the question of public consensus to the most important question — the question of personal conviction.
A question of personal conviction
There is an alternative to pluralism and its belief that God reveals Himself in all religious traditions that many paths lead to the same place. There is also an alternative to inclusivism and its belief that salvation is through Jesus Christ but is not necessary to have an explicit knowledge or even faith in Him in order to obtain it. The alternative is exclusivity which says the central claims of our faith are absolute truth and thus claims to the contrary are to be rejected as false. It was this that brought about the question of personal conviction at Caesarea Philippi. What is really important to the Lord Jesus Christ is the question of personal conviction — “Who do you say that I am?” By the way, we’re not the only exclusivists in the religious world. Do you think Orthodox Judaism is not exclusive? A reformed rabbi cannot even perform a wedding or bar mitzvah in Israel. Do you think Orthodox Islam is not exclusive? In some Islamic countries it is not a crime if you are a Christian, but it certainly is if you become one!
Our historic Christian faith is characterized by the exclusivity of the gospel. Jesus said, “I am The Way, the Truth, and The Life and no one comes to the Father but by me!” (John 14:6). These are not our words, but His. If they were ours, it would be nothing less than arrogant bigotry. These are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He doesn’t simply say that He shows us the way; He says He is the way. He does not say it’s hard to come by another way, He says no one comes to the Father but through Him. The definite article is emphatic and repeated — “I am THE Way, THE Truth, And THE Life.” It is no wonder that Jesus asks us the question of our time, the question of personal conviction — “Southern Baptists — Who do you say that I am?”
To say in our pluralistic culture that Christ is the only way to Heaven is like waving a red cape in front of a raging bull. We saw this illustrated in the aftermath of the Iraqi war. Southern Baptists were a major part in the follow-up efforts of sending in food and relief supplies to the people of Iraq. Liberals screamed for fear that we might put a gospel tract in a box of food. These same people remained silent when the regime of Saddam Hussein was cutting out the tongues of multitudes of civilians who dared to speak against the atrocities of this cruel dictator. They never raised their voice as the ears of many were cut off for listening to any negative talk about their dictator. Liberals looked the other way when the regime fed dissidents into plastic shredders alive and feet first to accentuate the pain and agony. But now, they are on their soapboxes against any evangelistic witness in Iraq. I suppose they are convinced that the Iraqis who withstood 30 years of Saddam Hussein’s tyranny could not stand a godly, spirit-filled Southern Baptist missionary with his or her message of hope and love. The 21st century has opened the door to a new world of opposition for those of us who hold to the exclusivity of the gospel. Yes, it is the question of our time — “Who do you say that I am?”
Now back to Caesarea Philippi. Having asked the question of public consensus, the Lord Jesus now looks at His disciples, and us, and asks the question of personal conviction, “Who do you say that I am?” When we read this question in our Greek New Testaments we immediately see that the “you” is emphatic. That is, it is placed in the sentence first for strong emphasis. “You, who do you say that I am? What about you?” It is interesting to know the opinions of others but what really is important to our Lord is, “Who do YOU say that I am?” This is the question of our time, the question of personal conviction. The deity of Christ is still the foundation of Christian doctrine.
Not only is the language of the New Testament emphatic, it is plural. It was addressed to the disciples as a group and it is addressed to Southern Baptists today. Who do you say that I am? Note the Lord Jesus is not asking what they thought or what they believed but what they “said.” That is, He wanted to know if they were ready to verbally confess to His unique deity. The world is not interested in our opinion, but there is power in our confession. Southern Baptists, if no one else says to our world what Simon Peter said across the fire, may we be that still “certain sound.”
Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Again, the “you” is emphatic but it is singular here. In other words, Peter said, “You and You alone are the (definite article) Christ, the anointed one, the Messiah!” There is no one else and no other way home. Just as the emphatic “You” describes one person and one only, the definite article describes one and only one Messiah and His sweet name is the Lord Jesus. Peter was saying that night, “Lord, You and You alone are the one the Bible reveals. You are the ram at Abraham’s altar — you are the Passover Lamb, you are the blood of the everlasting covenant. You and You alone are the one and only Savior.”
Christianity was birthed in a religiously pluralistic world. There are today the remains of a building in Rome called the Pantheon. It was the temple to all the gods. It was there that conquered people of the Roman Empire could go and worship the god they served whether he be Jupiter or Juno or whomever. However, throughout history the church has insisted that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only Savior and there is salvation in no one else. Our western culture is becoming more and more like the culture of the first century world where political correctness is the order of the day and where religious beliefs amount to little more than our personal taste as if we were journeying down a cafeteria line choosing our personal food preferences. We have our own Pantheons in every city in America today. And, like those first generation followers of Christ, we are now faced with the question for our time — “Who do you say that I am?”
In a world where public consensus, with its pluralism and inclusivism, is the call of the day, Southern Baptists are making a bold statement that we are unashamedly exclusivists. We join Simon Peter in telling our world, “You and You alone are the Christ.” What moved and motivated Simon Peter, as tradition tells us, to be crucified upside down? Did he give his life for pluralistic thought? Did Simon Peter believe in political correctness and pluralistic compromise? Call him to the witness stand and hear him say, “Neither is there salvation in any other for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby you must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Put Paul on the witness stand to give testimony of the exclusivity of the gospel. Hear him say, “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8). What moved and motivated Paul to meet his martyr’s death? It was his firm belief that Christ was the only way to heaven. Call John to the stand and listen to his testimony about the exclusivity of the gospel. Hear him say, “He who has the Son has life, he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (I John 5:12).
Call to the stand Stephen or Polycarp or Ignatius or Perpetua, who met her martyr’s death as a young woman on the floor of the coliseum in Carthage, or any of these others who met their martyrs’ deaths looking unto Jesus with a question of personal conviction upon their hearts. All those martyrs believed in the exclusivity of the gospel.
What motivated William Carey or our own Rebekah Naylor to go to India? What motivated Hudson Taylor or our own Lottie Moon to go to China? What motivated David Livingstone to go to Africa or Bill Wallace or Bertha Smith to Shantung Province or Bill Koehn to Yemen? Was it pluralism with its many roads to the same place? Was it inclusivism? No. It was the exclusivity of the gospel. It was the fact that there is “none other name under heaven given among men whereby you must be saved.”
Southern Baptists, who do YOU say that He is? In a world of pluralistic compromise and political correctness, who do YOU say that He is? If He is “ho Cristos,” (“the Christ”) then we need to take the cross off the steeple and put it back in the heart of the Sunday School. Sunday Schools in many churches have turned into nothing more than social hours and discussion groups for felt needs accompanied by coffee and doughnuts. If He is “ho Cristos,” we need to take the cross off the communion table and put it back in the middle of the sermon. Many modern sermons are void of the gospel and void of the cross. If He is “ho Cristos,” we need to take the crosses off our necklaces that are around our necks and put them back in the middle of the social ministries. If He is “ho Cristos,” we need to take the cross off our lapels and put it back in our music.
Jude warned about the day when the church would “go the way of Cain.” What did he mean? Cain brought the offering of the best his human hands could bring. He had toiled in his field. He had worked hard and brought the best of human efforts as an offering to the Lord. But God did not accept it. He accepted Abel’s offering, the lamb, the sacrifice. Cain had set aside the substitutionary sacrifice and the blood atonement. We are living in a day when many are “going the way of Cain.” The question of our time, Southern Baptists, is the one of Matthew 16:15 — “Who do you say that I am?” It is a question of personal conviction, not a question of public consensus.
Southern Baptists, who do you SAY that He is? This speaks of our verbal witness. In all the discussions related to the changes in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, the conversation seems to have been centered on the addition of words related to either the Word or to women. However, it might be that the most significant change was the addition of two words we’ve seldom talked about that are related to our witness. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 says, “it is the duty of every child of God to win the lost by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle.” We added those words, “verbal witness.” That is an important addition. Who do you SAY I am? He was not asking who do you think He is or who do we feel He is. What is important is — who we SAY He is to a lost world.
We once had a country which shared our personal convictions. There are a lot of liberal legislators who might find it interesting to read the charters of their respective states and colonies. I wonder if the good Senator from Massachusetts has read the Charter of 1620 which says that Massachusetts was formed “to advance the enlargement of the Christian religion.” I wonder if the Senator from Rhode Island knows that in 1683 his state was founded with these charter words, “We submit ourselves, our lives, our estates unto the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and to all those perfect and most absolute laws written in His holy Word.” That is not too pluralistic nor does it exude inclusivism! Perhaps the Senator from Connecticut would be surprised that the charter of his state says that Connecticut was founded “to preserve the purity of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.” And what about the great state of Maryland, next door to our nation’s capital? Her charter says that she was “formed by a pious zeal to extend the Christian gospel.” The Senator from Delaware who is so interested in church/state issues might be surprised that his charter reads that Delaware was “formed for the further propagation of the holy gospel.” When I was in the pastorate, I received a letter from the head of the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. This letter was bemoaning the fact that there were church leaders in America who were trying to “Christianize America.” I am unapologetically trying to Christianize America…and the world for that matter! This is the commission and calling of every follower of Christ.
There has been so much assault on Baptist beliefs today. Some of us are accused of being arrogant by holding to absolute truth. Are we surprised that we who are stewards of the gospel and hold to the truth of the gospel are called narrow? Truth is always narrow. Mathematical truth is narrow — two plus two equals four. There is no other option. That’s pretty narrow. Scientific truth is narrow. Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. It does not freeze at 33 or 34 degrees. That’s pretty narrow. Historical truth is narrow. John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln at the Ford Theater in Washington, D.C. He did not stab him in the Bowery in New York City. Geographical truth is narrow. Oklahoma and Texas are bordered by the Red River, not the Mississippi River. And, theological truth is narrow. The Lord Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate.” (Luke 13:24). Yes, “there is none other name under heaven whereby we must be saved.”
Southern Baptists are leading the evangelical world today and not by public consensus but by personal conviction. This is the question for our time — “Who do you say that I am?” And we are answering with a certain sound. Thank God our missionaries are focused on winning men and women to Christ and planting churches. Thank God our seminaries are so structured today that all of them are teaching our young men and women to rightly divide the Word of Truth. While others are hung up with the question of public consensus, debating among themselves what “some say,” we are facing the question of our time. And our answer? “You and You alone are the Christ!” There is no other way.
If it is true that Christ is the only Savior and the only way to heaven, then all other alternatives are false. Universalism is false. Pluralism is false. Inclusivism is false. Non-Christian religions are false as they relate to eternal salvation. If this is all true, then we must join the songwriter of old in singing, I must go home by the way of the cross, there’s no other way but this; I shall ne’re get sight of the gates of light if the way of the cross I miss. The way of the cross leads home, it is sweet to know as I onwa rd go; the way of the cross leads home.
Yes, every epoch of church history has been faced with a question from the lips of our Lord. For us it is the question of our time — it is not the question of public consensus. Let others talk about what “some say”. The question for us from the lips of our Lord Himself is this one — “Who do you say that I am?”
The last time I took W.A. Criswell to Israel, he wanted to drive all the way north to Caesarea Philippi. He knew this would most likely be his last visit to the Holy Land which he loved so passionately. I sought to talk him out of it because of the difficulty of the journey driving all that way from Jerusalem. But he was undeterred. Thus we drove north, up beyond the Galilee, all the way to the foothills of Mt. Hermon, to the very headwaters of the Jordan, to the spot where the Lord Jesus took His own disciples in Matthew 16 and where He asked the question of our time.
Upon arriving, we walked over and sat together on a rock under a tree. In a moment that old white-haired pulpit warrior stood up. Without saying a word, he reached down and picked up a small stone. He studied it carefully in his hand and said, “You are petros,” a small pebble. Then, he turned and looked across the river and pointed to the big rock ledge and said, “And upon this petra (large solid rock), I will build my church.” He proclaimed the message, “You are the Christ!” Allow me to take the liberty to paraphrase the way Dr. Criswell once put it. I think of that ultimate day when God says it is enough and calls me to appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Where is my hope? The speculation of modern theology and secularism, the speculation of pluralism with its pluralistic compromise and inclusivism with its political correctness will not do. Let me hear again the old text, “Neither is there salvation in any other for there is none other name under Heaven given among men whereby you must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Let me sing again the old song, the lyric and melody are from God. What can wash away my sin — nothing but the blood of Jesus.
And when that day comes and we enter into His presence, the trumpet sounds and there go the patriarchs of the Old Testament. I see Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. But I’m not one of them. There are the prophets of the Old Testament, Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel. But I’m not one of them. There are the sweet Psalmists of Israel, David and Asaph and the sons of Korah. But I’m not one of them. And there go the glorious apostles of the New Testament, Peter, James and John, but I’m not one of them. And there, there are the martyrs of the church. There is Stephen and James and Polycarp and Ignatius and Savonarola and Tyndale and Huss and Koehn. But I’m not one of them.
And then, a great multitude which no one can number. And who are these? These are they who washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb. They are before the throne and worship and serve Him day and night. I belong to that glorious throng of the redeemed. Who are these? The pluralists who live by pluralistic compromise would have you believe these are they who are devout men and women of religions around the world. These are Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus. These are they who just came a different path than we. Who are these? Followers of inclusivism, those who live by political correctness would have you believe since Christ died for all men these are they who are covered no matter what they believed or did not believe. These are they who are agnostics and even some who are atheists but for whom Christ died.
Who are these? Southern Baptists choose to answer with the Revelator of the Apocalypse. These are they whose robes have been washed white in the blood of the Lamb. These are they who have put their trust in Christ who said, “I am The Way, The Truth, and The Life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” These are they who say along with Peter, “There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.”
Are these the ones who answer the question of public consensus with some vague reply, “Some say”? No, a thousand times no. These are they who answer the question of personal conviction with the words — “You and you alone are the one and only Christ, the Son of the living God!” Wash and be clean. Look and live. There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” Southern Baptists, here is the question of our time — “Who do you say that I am?” God has raised us up to answer boldly, “You and You alone are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Dear dying lamb thy precious blood shall never lose its power, till all the ransomed church of God be saved to sin no more.
The proof is in the pudding
“The proof is in the pudding” is a familiar phrase in our modern vernacular. It is actually an abbreviation of the phrase, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” It simply means that the true value or quality of something can only be judged when it is actually put to use. That is, it is the result that counts.
We have a command in scripture to…be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). How can we know that we are being filled with the Holy Spirit? Some would tell us it is in the reception and use of certain “gifts of the Spirit.” Scripture teaches quite the opposite in the very context of this command. There is an inward evidence, an upward evidence and an outward evidence. Yes, the proof is in the pudding!
II. An inward evidence (v. 19)
What is the inward evidence? Singing…making melody…in your heart…to the Lord. Do you want to know if you are being filled with the Holy Spirit? You will have a song in your heart. Buddhists may have their impressive temples, but they do not have a song in their hearts. Hindus may have their mantras, but there is no song in their hearts. Islam might pride herself in her morality, but where is her song?
Notice that we are not making rhythm in our hearts. That appeals to the flesh. Nor do we make harmony which has its primary appeal toward our soulish realm of emotions. But we make melody which appeals to our spirit. And the song is in our heart. Like Paul and Silas in a Philippian jail, we may be in difficult straits, but there can still be a song in our heart even at midnight.
III. An upward evidence (v. 20)
What is this upward evidence? Giving thanks for all things unto God…. The one who is being filled with God’s Spirit is one who is thankful for all things. He or she has an attitude of gratitude. We cannot stay filled with the Holy Spirit without being in a spirit of thankfulness to God for ALL things.
IV. An outward evidence (v. 21)
There is finally an outward evidence in how we relate to one another. Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. What is the outward evidence? Submission, each of us esteeming others as better than ourselves. This was never more evidenced than in the upper room when our Lord, Himself, became the servant of all and washed the others’ feet.
Therefore, what is the proof that one is genuinely being filled with God’s Spirit? Our command is to be filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 18). In the Greek text there is no period after this verse. It flows right into the next three verses which pose to us that the proof is in an inward evidence (v. 19). We will have a song in our heart. It is in an upward evidence (v. 20). We will be living in a spirit of thanksgiving to God. And, it is an outward evidence (v. 21). We will live in mutual submission. Yes, the proof is in the pudding!
(For a more complete exposition, see O. S. Hawkins’s book, Getting Down to Brass Tacks, page 126, which includes Greek word studies and illustrative materials.)