Has your faith ever come under fire? Have you wanted to quit because of the overwhelming pressure? Are you weighed down trying to lead others when you feel like you're all alone and on the brink of falling apart? Well, take heart weary one, for there is still reason to rejoice. In this brief article, I want to point out a few important truths related to pressure in our lives, how the Bible teaches us to respond, and what the Lord promises us through it all.
3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Romans 5:3-5, NAS
PRESSURE PRODUCES PERSEVERANCE
Everyone experiences tribulation or pressure, such as physical or emotional pain, financial lack, various fears, being mistreated, etc., but the good news is that our pain is never in vain. Pressure causes us to ask deep questions about the purpose of our life, the condition of our life and relationship to God, and why we should persevere in pursuing God without quitting. It causes us to rehearse the consequences of persevering in God as well as the consequences of giving up.
Much like resistance training that builds muscle, pressure causes us to work our “faith muscle.” A butterfly’s struggle in a cocoon is necessary to develop its wings. Pressure brings about the opportunity to trust God's leadership and to be transformed in our character as we say yes to Him time and time again in the face of trials---persecution, temptation or difficult circumstances.
2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience (perseverance) have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing (in faith and character).
James 1:2-4, NKJV
MAKING HARD CHOICES IN THE FIRE CHANGES US
But simply knowing that God wants to use the pressure in our lives to grow our faith and character is not enough. Transformation doesn't happen as an automatic result of trials. Transformation happens as we consistently choose to persevere and respond rightly to God in faith in the midst of the trial. This type of perseverance speaks of our fortified resolve to continually realign our heart to love, obey, believe, and pursue Jesus instead of giving up and giving in to sin and unbelief or drawing back from pursuing Jesus with all of our heart. When we make these hard choices despite the difficulty or delay in seeing promises fulfilled, we are inviting the Holy Spirit to produce real change in our heart.
During our Sunday 10am adult class here at Venture Church, we've been going through a series called Studies in the Life of David, and one of the defining characteristics about David was that he was a man after God's own heart. But what made him worthy of such a title? I believe it was very much connected with his inward ability to persevere in the fire. Even after his worst failures, when he had no encouragement from friends or family, when his life was being constantly threatened, when he was under great distress as a young leader, when the "game" was on the line, he knew how to "strengthen himself in the LORD his God" (1 Sam. 30:6). But how was he able to do this? He had dug a deep well of history with the Lord that he drew from in these seasons and moments. He had proven the Lord as One who delighted in him, who is a Merciful Father, a Righteous Judge, a Strong Deliverer, a Solid Rock, a Good Shepherd and a Faithful Refuge; therefore, he was motivated to run to Him instead of from Him (Psalm 18).
7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
James 4:7-8, NKJV
We are all like a lump of clay on the potters wheel, but unless we choose to submit to the pressure of the potter's hands, we will just keep spinning in circles, never coming to completion. The Lord allows "open book" tests, and He wants us to come to Him instead of wandering around in confusion. He wants us to lean into His Word, hear His voice, and learn from the testimonies of others (1 Cor. 10:11; Rev. 12:11). Like David, we must learn how to strengthen ourself in the Lord. We must learn to surrender to the hands that are holding us, molding us and shaping us into our Christ-like identity, working all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28-29; Gal. 4:19). We must learn how to make hard choices in the fire.
2 Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross...
Hebrews 12:2, NKJV
6 Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ...
Philippians 1:6, NKJV
RECEIVING GOLD FROM JESUS
At the end of the day, Jesus wants to give us the "gold" of genuinely knowing Him (Rev. 3:18). Through the intense heat of every trial, we are promised the opportunity to obtain the riches of an authentic faith and intimacy with Him that will be fully realized when He returns in glory (1 Pet. 1:7-9). We have the unique priviledge of sharing in His sufferings during these few days of life unlike any other moment in all of eternity, so that His glory and grace would be revealed in us both now and forevermore. One day, there will be no more suffering, no more pressure, no more fire, and oh what a glorious day that will be! But when that day comes, will He find real faith in me? Will He find someone who has been proven? Did I learn to persevere? Did I learn to love? Did I learn to be meek? Did I learn to be merciful, to be pure, to love righteousness?
We must overcome the lie of the victim mentality that always wants to deceive us into believing that we are alone in the fire. With this mindset, all things are happening to us and never for us. If you are always the victim, then you may be holding the keys to your own cage. The Apostle Paul explained to Timothy that he must endure just as an athlete who competes, who won't be crowned unless he competes by the rules (2 Tim. 2:5). There are no shortcuts to glory when it comes to following Christ, and no one is exempt from the narrow path (Matt. 7:13-14).
The victim mindset comes from false expectations and ideas that we are entitled to something from God that He never really promised us. Jesus never promised us perfect circumstances or a life without pressure, in fact, He said we should expect trouble in this world (Jn.16:31-33). But He has overcome the world, and He promises to be with us in the fire (Isa. 43:1-2; Matt. 28:20). He gives us the grace to go on, even in our weakness, that His power might rest upon us (2 Cor. 12:9-10). He invites us to get in the yoke with Him and learn from Him (Matt. 11:28-30). He promises to give us a gold that never perishes---the excellence and surpassing worth of knowing Him---which makes it all worth it (Phil. 3:7-21).
6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:6-9, NKJV
12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
James 1:12, NKJV
17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— 18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich...
Revelation 3:17-18, NKJV
1 But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you.
Isaiah 43:1-2, NKJV
How is the Lord teaching you to persevere right now?
What areas of your character has He been pressing on the most lately?
In what practical ways can you demonstrate your submission to Him?
What "gold" have you received from Jesus through past trials?
Nick Russo (@nickjorusso) is one of the associate pastors here at Venture Church. He is author of the book, Wage Good Warfare: A Solemn Charge to the Church in America, and he resides in Liberty Hill, TX with his wife Jennifer and their three kids.
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