Introduction Cultivating Christlike Character

Introduction – Cultivating Christlike Character

Cultivating Christlike Character

by

Ron Christian

Indepth Devotional Study of The Spirit Filled Life

Introduction

"Cultivating Christlike Character" is the most important pursuit of life! To know Christ in all of His fullness is the goal of life. The prayer of Paul for the Ephesian believers (Ephesians 3:14-21) serves as a great and guiding prayer in the believer's pursuit for Christlikeness. "For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." (NIV)

If the Church is to fulfill its mission in the world–the mission of love resulting in reconciling the world to God–then the Church (and each individual believer in the Church) must be strengthened and empowered! A powerless Church cannot win the battle against a powerful enemy!

The Church is only as strong corporately as each believer is strong individually! Paul's prayer is that each believer will be 'strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man'.

The Holy Spirit is God's Agent to strengthen the Christian. The mighty Spirit of the God of heaven and earth is the same Spirit who breathed upon the chaotic void in creation to bring form and life. The Spirit came upon the prophets of old and they spoke words which brought conviction. It was the Spirit of God which came upon timorous Gideon and made him a bold leader of Israel. It was the Spirit that gave boldness to the one-time fearful Peter. Peter was enabled to preach a powerful sermon to the very people who had crucified Jesus! The result? "Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: 'Bretheren, what shall we do?' And Peter said to them, 'Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. . So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls." (Acts 2:37 Acts 2:38, Acts 2:41)

What resources does the Father have available for the Church, when the Church is willing to bow its knees before the Father? Nothing less than the power of God's Spirit! "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses …" (Acts 1:8)

The Church needs nothing more, and God offers nothing less, than the mighty Holy Spirit!

God strengthens the Christian through his Spirit 'in the inner man'. The 'inner man' refers to man's reason, man's conscience, and man's will.

As believers, we need to be strengthened in our ability to know the difference between right and wrong. In a world of moral relativism, where the 'whites' and 'blacks' have been reduced to 'grays', where it is declared that there is nothing inherently right or wrong, the Christian needs to have a clear sense of moral distinctions. There are 'grays', but one can only discern the 'whites' and the 'blacks'–the areas of moral absolutes.

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Some things are still right and some things are still wrong, regardless of all the changes that have come about in our twentieth century! We must not live at the mercy of our passions and instincts. We must rather have the 'mind of Christ' in order to know what is pure and what is impure.

A man once came into my office, disillusioned and discouraged. He had observed so much moral confusion and chaos in the world of his employment that he declared, "Sometimes I wonder what is right and what is wrong in the world today"!

When the Spirit strengthens you in the 'inner man', you will have a clearer moral sense of right and wrong.

To be strengthened in the 'inner man' is to be strengthened also in our Conscience. It is one thing to have a sense of right and wrong in our reason. It is an even greater thing to have a sensitivity personally to right and wrong in our conscience. Knowing right and wrong in our mind must result in feeling the pangs of wrong and the pleasures of right in our conscience. It is important that we allow the Holy Spirit to give us a tough mind to discern right from wrong; it is also important to feel right and wrong in our conscience (heart).

The life of love is a life issuing from a good conscience. Paul writes that the "aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith". (1 Timothy 1:5)

Paul wrote also that "by rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith". (1 Timothy 1:19)

To be strengthened in the 'inner man' by the Holy Spirit, is to allow the Holy Spirit to strengthen the conscience, in order that the conscience may be a reliable guide to determine the rightness and wrongness of actions and attitudes.

The conscience, by itself, is not always a reliable guide to determine right or wrong actions and attitudes. The conscience simply stands guard over the values one puts into his moral nature.

Where does one find the right moral values to feed into his moral nature, over which the conscience merely stands guard? The Holy Scriptures, carefully applied to the believer's mind by the Holy Spirit!

"From thee that I no more may stray, 
No more thy goodness grieve, 
Grant me the filial awe I pray, 
The tender conscience give; 
Quick as the apple of an eye, 
O God, my conscience make! 
Awake my soul when sin is nigh, 
And keep it still awake." 

('I Want A Principle Within' by Charles Wesley)

To be strengthened in the 'inner man' is to be strengthened also in our will. It is one thing to have a sense of right and wrong in our minds. It is even a greater thing to have a sensitivity to right and wrong in our heart (conscience). It is greater yet to have power to deny the wrong and to do the right with our will.

It is not he who knows what is right, but he who does what is right that is approved by God. The mind (reason) needs to know right from wrong. The heart (conscience) needs to have moral sensitivity to feel right and wrong. But most important of all, the will needs empowerment to do the right and to shun the wrong.

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Paul described the dilemma between knowing the right and the inability to do the right! "It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love to do God's will so far as my new nature is concerned, but there is something else deep within me, in my lower nature, that is at war with my mind and wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. In my mind I want to be God's willing servant, but instead I find myself still enslaved to sin … Oh, what a terrible predicament I'm in! Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature? Thank God! It has been done by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free." (Romans 7:21-25, Living Bible)

"It is essential weakness of life that so often we know what is right, and we mean to do it, but our will is not strong enough to back our knowledge and to carry out our intentions. As John Drinkwater wrote:

"Grant us the will to fashion as we feel, 
Grant us the strength to labour as we know, 
Grant us the purpose, ribbed and edged with steel, 
To strike the blow. 
Knowledge we ask not, knowledge Thou hast lent, 
But, Lord, the will--there lies our deepest need, 
Grant us the power to build, above the high intent. 
The deed, the deed! 

(Daily Study Bible; Ephesians; Barclay, p. 154)

How can the Resource of the Father best be described? The greatest resource of the Father, available to humble Christians, is the Holy Spirit who strengthens us with might in the 'inner man', i.e., in the reason (mind), in the conscience (heart), and in the will.

How should believers who bow before the Father respond to the Father's offer of spiritual resources? Ephesians 3:17 describes our response to the Father in terms of allowing Christ to dwell in our hearts through faith.

To respond to the Father properly is to receive the Son fully! The resources of the Father are imparted to us through the mighty Holy Spirit. When we respond to the work of the Spirit in our lives (in our 'inner man'), then the result is the enjoyment of the indwelling Christ in our lives.

The Holy Spirit's work is never separate from, but always preparatory to, the work of Christ in our lives. To the extent that we respond to the work of the Holy Spirit (who is God's Agent to quicken the reason and to sensitize the conscience and to empower the will), to that same extent will we enjoy the presence of the indwelling Christ! The Holy Spirit is the Instrument of God's work in our lives ("strengthened with might through his Spirit" v. 16), but it is Christ who is the Substance of God's glory in our lives. The Holy Spirit came, not to glorify Himself, but to glorify Christ in our lives. Jesus spoke of the work of the Holy Spirit when he said, "He (the Holy Spirit) shall praise me and bring me great honor by showing you my glory". (John 16:14, Living Bible)

One cannot adequately respond to the Father without receiving the Son. No one comes to the Father except through the Son. To receive the resources of God, given through the Spirit, is to respond in faith to Christ. Only he, in whose heart Christ is abiding, is enjoying the benefits and blessings of the Father.

The resources of the father are great–strength in the 'inner man' (reason, conscience, will) through the mighty Holy Spirit!

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The only proper response to these divine resources is the response of faith, by which Christ dwells in our hearts (v. 17). "Without faith it is impossible to please him (God)." (Hebrews 11:6)

What is the outcome or realization when Christ dwells in our hearts by faith? Ephesians 3:19 tells us that, when Christ dwells in our hearts, we will know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.

Love present in our lives and increasing in our lives is the greatest evidence that we have received Christ into our hearts by faith. A faith response to the Father is best evidenced by a love increase in our lives!

This love surpasses knowledge (v. 19). 1 Corinthians 13:2 says, "If I have. . . all knowledge. . . but have not love, I am nothing".

This love is not theoretical, intellectual or abstract, but this love is practical, personal and concrete. It is possible to know about God's love, but never personally to experience God's love, just as it is possible for persons to know about marriage without ever experiencing marriage love.

This love of God is comprehended or experienced 'with all the saints' (v. 18). "Where is that love to be experienced? How are we to grasp it and find it and enter into it? We find it and we experience it with all God's consecrated people. That is to say, we find it in the fellowship of the Church. John Wesley's saying was true, 'God knows nothing of solitary religion' . 'No man,' he said, 'ever went to heaven alone.' The Church may have its faults; the Church members may be very far from being the people they ought to be; but in the fellowship of the Church we find the love of God." (Daily Study Bible; Ephesians; Barclay, p. 156)

This love, personally experienced by those who respond in faith to receive Christ, has infinite potential for growth. Note Ephesians 3:17-19 (Living Bible): "And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts, living within you as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God's marvelous love; and may you be able to feel and understand, as all God's children should, how long, how wide, how deep, and how high his love really is; and to experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it. And so at last you will be filled up with God himself".

The greatest realization in life is the realization of God's love in our lives. Life, as it was meant to be lived, is life that is indwelt by Christ, and Christ's indwelling presence is manifested through growth in love! Our little lives can be filled with love. When our lives are filled with love, we can be said to be filled with the fullness of God, for 'God is love'. (v. 19)

"Can we contain God's fullness? No. Can we receive it–up to the full measure of our always limited, yet ever enlarging capacity? Yes. " (Prayer and Life's Highest; Paul Rees, p. 26)

Are you tempted to doubt that God the Father can give you the kind of love that we have been describing? Then remember Ephesians 3:20: "He is able to do!" "He is able to do exceeding abundantly!" "He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us!" When we are loving, we are doing the very thing that can turn a hurting world into a healed world. that can turn a divided world into a united world, that can turn an alienated world into a reconciled world!

"There are three things that remain–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13:13, Living Bible)

This is a book on the Spirit-filled, Christ-centered, and love-saturated life. This book can be used in several ways. It can be used as a daily devotional guidebook, with the reader reading one page each day for approximately five months.

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Each page includes, along with the practical-oriented devotional reading, an appropriate Scriptural reference, a written Prayer For The Day, and a written Affirmation For The Day. Because the book is divided into thirteen chapters, the layout of the book is designed in such a way that it can easily be used for an adult Sunday School course. The individual chapters contain enough content, and yet are short enough in length, that they could also well serve as material for small midweek study groups within a local church. There are thought provoking questions listed at the end of each chapter, to provide class participants an opportunity to review and to discuss the main content of each chapter. Because there is a developing theme throughout the book it can also be used and read like any other 'regular' book.

It is my hope that, through the reading of this book, believers may better understand the person and the work of the precious Holy Spirit and may hunger and thirst for that deeper experience of 'perfect love' (or as it is sometimes referred to 'entire sanctification'). It matters not what term we use to describe the the 'deeper life'–whether it is termed 'sanctification', 'full surrender', 'Spirit baptism', 'the second blessing', 'perfect love', 'holiness of heart', 'the exchanged life', 'the crucified life', 'the fullness of the Holy Ghost' –the important thing is that we experience all that God expects us, as believers, to experience. But we are talking about more than an initial experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit. As important as the initial experience is, it is just as important to understand and to experience the reality of daily 'walking in the Spirit'. The fullness of the Holy Spirit is a gift from God for the believer. In fact, no greater gift could be given! But this precious gift is not given indiscriminately or unconditionally. The condition for receiving the gift of the Spirit in His fullness is total surrender and wholehearted faith. The believer obtains the fullness of the Spirit through faith, and further, the believer maintains the fullness of the Spirit through faith. The result of obtaining and maintaining the fullness of the Spirit is increase in Christlikeness. While it is true that only the Holy Spirit can create Christlike attitudes and actions within the life of the believer, it is also true that the Holy Spirit cannot accomplish this noble goal without the cooperation of the believer. Hence the title of this book is meant to 'throw some of the weight of the responsibility on the shoulders' of the sincere believer. 'Cultivating Christlike Character' is only possible through the ministry of the Holy Spirit–but not independent of the believer's initial faith response, and the believer's daily volitional surrender, and the believer's daily appropriation of God's grace resources. 'Cultivation' depends upon human effort!

One purpose of this book is to shed some 'light' on some rather 'deep' truths regarding the experience and the life of holiness. But, beyond gaining mere intellectual knowledge, it is my hope, as author, that this book will guide earnest believers in their daily cultivation of Christlike character. "Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love." (Romans 5:5, Living Bible)

Ronald G. Christian

Fort Collins, Colorado

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Introduction Surviving Life’s Hard Trials

Introduction to Surviving Life’s Hard Trials

Introduction To Book Twelve – Adversities

By

Ron Christian, Compiler

As a pastor of one local church for nearly 27 years, I officiated at the funeral services for many people – including several infants, young persons, and middle-aged adults, as well as numerous elderly folks. I have no problem in suggesting that it was God's "perfect will" to call home to Heaven many of the saints of God who had lived long and productive lives. But I do have difficulty in believing that the deaths of infants and children and young adults are an expression of God's "perfect will". Yes, it is true that all things which happen (including thousands of deaths which result because of earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, wars, car accidents, etc.) are 'allowed' by the God of Heaven, and thus these tragedies are subject to God's Sovereign Will. It is at this point that we must make a distinction between God's "perfect will" and God's "permissive will." Notes Robert Shank, "All that occurs in the universe is within the permissive will of God. Neither men nor angels nor devils can go beyond the limits of God's permissive will. But it is by no means true that all that occurs is in accord with the perfect will of God. One may argue that, since the world is filled with greed, lust, violence, debauchery, hatred, and impenitence, God evidently wishes it to be so and is well pleased. But the Scriptures declare otherwise. Although God allows these things to exist in the world, He has revealed His displeasure and wrath with respect to all such things and has commanded all men to repent. Thus it is evident that there are two aspects of the will of God with respect to sin: His permissive will allows it, but His perfect will forbids it and will bring all sin into judgment." (Life In The Son; pg. 348)

Some well-meaning Christians – Christians who believe they are honoring the "Sovereignty" of their living God – find themselves saying some very hurtful (and erroneous) things to broken-hearted parents of infants or young people who have died. Things like "Well, God wanted another 'angel' in heaven, so that is why God chose to take your baby." How horrible and how heretical! I held a double funeral service for a young couple whose car was hit head-on by a drunk driver, and this young father and mother left behind several children to grieve the tragic loss of their loving Christian parents. Was it God's "perfect will" for this couple to die on that sunny, Saturday afternoon, as they were enjoying a relaxing ride in the country, and who suddenly were killed as an oncoming vehicle (driven by a drunk driver) hit them head-on at the top of a hill on that country road? And what about the several children who died from one cause or another – from cancer or some other 'defect' – whose parents I, as their pastor, tried hard to comfort in their bereavement? Would it have helped those sorrowing parents for me to have told them that they should not grieve too much, for the death of their children was a manifestation of God's mysterious, sovereign, and "perfect will"? Was it God's "perfect will" (if not "pleasure") to take the life of my beloved, godly fifteen year old niece – who died in 1981 from a seizure as she was happily riding on a roller coaster in an Amusement Park? Was it God's "perfect will" for several of my dear dear dear

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friends (and parishioners) to die in their middle age from cancer – cancer that admittedly was caused by long-time smoking? Yes, these latter persons were believers when they died, and I know they are now in heaven, but was it "God's fault" that these believers succumbed to their "physical weaknesses" and failed to "give up" their destructive habit of smoking cigarettes? I have officiated at funeral services for young adults who chose to take their own lives (suicide). But are those who believe strongly in the sovereignty of God going to declare that such (suicidal) deaths are "God's will"?

Writes William Barclay, "I read of a minister who visited a mother who had lost a daughter in most tragic circumstances. When the accident was being investigated, a certain phrase was used by one of the chief investigators, a man with long experience in such matters. He said that the accident was so impossible of explanation that all he could say was that it was 'an act of God'." Barclay then notes, "It is difficult to imagine a more terrible and a more blasphemous phrase… It is NOT an act of God. When a child or a young couple dies too soon, when there is a fatal accident, maybe due to someone's mistake or misjudgment, that is NOT an act of God, neither is it the will of God. It is, in fact, the precise opposite. It is against the will of God, and God is just as grieved about it as we are… It is exactly and precisely what God did NOT will. It is due to some human failure or to some human selfishness. God gave men free will because there could neither be goodness nor love without free will, and exactly for that reason the action of…. men can run right counter to the will of God. I do not think that anyone can calculate the vast amount of damage that has been done by suggesting that terrible and tragic events in life are the will of God. Quite clearly, Jesus did NOT think sickness and illness and untimely death the will of God. Quite clearly, he thought them the reverse of the will of God. They were the very things that he had come to help and to overcome. What then can we say at a time like this? We can say that God is as grieved as we are, that he is sharing in our sorrow and our grief, that he is afflicted in all our afflictions, that his heart is going out to meet our hearts. We can say that he has it in his power to make it up to those who are taken too soon away, and to those to whom sorrow and suffering has tragically come. If God is justice, and if God is love, I am as certain as it is possible to be certain of anything, that there is a life to come. And in that life to come God is seeing to it that the life cut off too soon is getting its chance to blossom and flourish, and the life involved in tragedy is finding its compensation. The eternal world is redressing the balance of the world of time. We can say that Christianity has never pretended to explain sorrow and suffering. It may often be that in any tragedy there is traceable an element of human fault, human sin; in any disaster the reason may well lie in human error. Yet even when all such cases are taken into account, there remains much that is sheerly inexplicable. Christianity offers no cheap and facile explanation. In face of such things, we have often to say: 'I do not know why this happened.' But what Christianity does triumphantly offer is the power to face these things, to bear them, to come through them, and even to transform them so that the tragedy becomes a crown." (In The Hands of God; pgs. 126, 127)

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Notes William Sangster, "People talk at times of sickness and disease as being 'the will of God', but it does not prevent them waiting on the doctor for a cure. It is only 'the will of God' in the sense that God created the world order in which sin and disease were possible. But man has misused his freedom. So sin has come into the world, and sickness and disease with it. But God is not more opposed to sin than he is opposed to sickness. His will for men and women is perfect health of body and of soul. 'Why then', people ask, 'doesn't he banish sickness with one stroke of his almighty power?' If this question troubles you, ask yourself another one. 'Why doesn't he banish sin in the same way?' The answer is, 'Because our freedom is involved.' The moment God forced us to goodness, we should be robots and not men. At some level, our freedom is involved in sickness as well – not in precisely the same way, not in a fashion easily recognizable, but in the fact that we sometimes break God's laws of health through folly or ignorance and the penalties follow (even where we are in no way to blame, as with little children and many adults too). God is fighting disease as he is fighting sin. All who really heal are his colleagues. Medical research students receive his aid – whether they are aware of it or not. He does not write the answers on the heavens for us, because he treats us as persons and works with us in fellowship. But he is against disease.

"There are problems of pain and providence we cannot fully solve, but we have had enough evidence of God's love to trust. We (Christians) have seen God in Jesus Christ. We are putting our hand in his and going forward unafraid. If this is irrational, then every child in the world is irrational too. All children are perplexed at times by their parents. 'Why this? Why that?' They are old enough to ask the questions, though not yet old enough to understand the answers. But they trust their father's love. That is not what we (Christians) are doing." (Questions People Ask About Religion; pgs. 89,90, 94)

What is the Christian answer to the problem of suffering? It is NOT to explain suffering. That is the way of Philosophy, and this way leaves many unanswered questions and many embittered souls. It is NOT to explain away suffering. This is the way of Christian Science, and this produces minds which are 'disillusioned' and bodies which are suffering needlessly.

The Christian answer to suffering is not to explain it or to explain it away, but to allow God to redemptively use suffering. It is possible to take broken pieces of colored glass and to shape a beautiful colored cathedral window. It is possible for God to take the broken pieces of man's life – his broken dreams, disappointments, tragedies, losses – and to produce a beautiful life.

"Christianity teaches that suffering can be USED; that even while a full understanding of origins and purposes eludes our mind, the brave and the bold (by the help of God) can turn the disaster into triumph and force the loss to yield a gain… Tragedy is often fruitful of good. Lighthouses are built by drowned sailors. Roads are widened by mangled corpses. Frustration and testing have had a major part in the higher triumphs of our

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race. And if anybody inquires how Christians came to believe that tragedy can be USED, the short answer is that they learned it at Calvary. In Christ upon the cross they see God meeting sin with love; wresting earth's worst to heaven's best." (Daily Readings; William Sangster; pg. 87)

God is able to transform tragedy into triumph, to change a Dark Friday into a Good Friday, to make a Death produce Life, to turn a despised Cross into a cherished symbol. Through the fearful death of crucifixion, God cleansed away fear and brought life (Hebrews 2:14-15). The believer must train himself to ask, when facing problems: "What good does God intend for me to salvage out of this problem and trouble? How is this problem to be USED for the development of my character?" Susanna Wesley, who had nineteen children in a span of only twenty years, (two of whom were John and Charles Wesley), was no stranger to suffering. She lost nine of her children in infancy. But Susanna Wesley sought to make tragedy a cause for spiritual formation: "Help me O Lord, to make a true USE of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such wise that they may unite my heart more closely with Thee. Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigor in the pursuit of true happiness." The apostle Paul USED his prison experience in Rome for his good and for God's glory. "Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly." (Philippians 1:12-14) If Paul's prison experience resulted in Roman pagans being converted, in timid Christians being encouraged, and in the Gospel message being spread, what do you suppose your 'prison' experiences could result in?

Surrender your losses and disappointments and tragedies to Almighty God, and allow Him to USE them to glorify the Savior, to produce Christlikeness within your character, and to bless other persons. John Bunyan was imprisoned for several years because of his religious beliefs, but he patiently endured, that is, he USED his prison experience for the glory of God and for the good of men. He wrote 'Pilgrim's Progress' while he was in prison! This classic has been cherished more than any other book, second only to the Bible!

It is important that the Christian learns how to successfully cope with the various kinds of troubles and 'sufferings' which he/she will face in life. There are some sufferings which are 'unique' to Christians, i.e., they are sufferings which come to one because he/she is a Christian. Let us look at some of those kinds of 'sufferings'. First, there is the suffering of 'infirmities'. While it is true that both Christians and non-Christians experience this kind of suffering, the Christian is best prepared successfully to face this kind of suffering. When the apostle Paul asked God to deliver him from his physical affliction, God refused to deliver him. Instead, God answered Paul: "My grace is sufficient for thee for my strength is made perfect in weakness". Paul

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then responded to God (as only a surrendered and Spirit-filled believer is able): "Now I am glad to boast about how weak I am; I am glad to be a living demonstration of Christ's power, instead of showing off my own power and abilities. Since I know it is all for Christ's good, I am quite happy about 'the thorn,' and about insults and hardships, persecutions and difficulties; for when I am weak, then I am strong – the less I have, the more I depend on him." (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Living Bible)

Second, there is the suffering of chastisement. Wrote the writer to the Hebrew Christians: "And have you quite forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you his child? He said, 'My son, don't be angry when the Lord punishes you. Don't be discouraged when he has to show you where you are wrong. For when he punishes you, it proves that he loves you. When he whips you it proves you are really his child.' Let God train you, for he is doing what any loving father does for his children. Whoever heard of a son who was never corrected? If God doesn't punish you when you need it, as other fathers punish their sons, then it means that you aren't really God's son at all – that you don't really belong in his family. Since we respect our fathers here on earth, though they punish us, should we not all the more cheerfully submit to God's training so that we can begin really to live? Our earthly fathers trained us for a few brief years, doing the best for us that they knew how, but God's correction is always right and for our best good, that we may share his holiness. Being punished isn't enjoyable while it is happening – it hurts! But afterwards we can see the result, a quiet growth in grace and character." (Hebrews 12: 5-11, Living Bible)

The 'athlete of God' must undergo rigorous training, and necessary 'correction'. The 'coach' (God) has a right to expect submission from the trainees (Christians). "An athlete who runs in a race cannot win the prize unless he obeys the rules." (2 Timothy 2:5) "Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us." (Hebrews 12:1) Training and laying aside unnecessary 'weights' may be painful, but there is great joy in winning the 'crown' at the end of the race! The 'soldier of God' must be disciplined, and some of that discipline involves suffering. "Take your part in suffering, as a loyal soldier of Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 2:3) But there is joy amidst the suffering because of the anticipation of victory! The branches on the Vine must be pruned, if there is to be a fruitful harvest (John 15). The pruning process in the life of the believer is often 'painful', but there is joy because of the anticipation of a fruitful harvest! The potter must mold the clay if beautiful pottery is to be the finished product. Believers must be made moldable and soft in the hands of the Great Divine Potter, but there is usually some 'pain' involved in the molding process. One great Bishop once told me: "God has given me enough success to keep me encouraged, and enough failure to keep me humble."

Third, there is the suffering of persecution. The apostle Paul was cast into jail for his faith in Christ, whipped times without number, faced death again an Five different times the Jews gave Paul their terrible thirty-nine lashes. Three times he was

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beaten with rods. Once he was stoned. Three times he was shipwrecked. Once he was in the open sea all night and the whole next day. Paul further testified: "I have lived with weariness and pain and sleepless nights. Often I have been hungry and thirsty and have gone without food; often I have shivered with cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm." (2 Corinthians 11:27) Even though Paul suffered much for his faith in the living Christ, Paul spoke often of 'Christian Joy'. "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice." (Philippians 4:4) Notes E. Stanley Jones: "The New Testament does not teach us that if you are righteous, you will be exempt from suffering. Sometimes the righteous are in trouble because they are righteous. Society demands conformity. If you fall below its standards, it will punish you. If you rise above its standards, it will persecute you. Jesus said, 'Beware when all men think well of you."' (Divine Yes pg. 100) Wrote Paul, "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3: 12) Why is this so? Because the true believer's life is the 'conscience of society', and the evil in society will attempt to 'still' (destroy) that conscience! Jesus taught Christians to rejoice amidst the suffering of persecution: "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 exceedingly glad: for great is your reward I heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12)

Christians may rejoice amidst persecution, for whatever men may do to the believer, the believer remains 'free in Christ' and 'free in his spirit'. The external circumstances of life cannot remove the inner peace and joy in the believer's heart. Corrie Ten Boom (whose entire family was killed in concentration camps during the Second World War) once said: "There is no pit that is so deep but what God is deeper still!" Madame Guyon, in the midst of one of her periods of imprisonment for her faith, wrote:

A little bird I am, 
Shut from the field of air; 
Yet in my cage I sit and sing 
To Him who placed me there; 
Well pleased a prisoner to be, 
Because, my God, it pleases Thee.

Naught have I else to do; 
I sing the whole day long; 
And He whom most I love to please, 
Doth listen to my song; 
He caught and bound my wandering wing 
But still He bends to hear me sing.

My cage confines me round; 
Abroad I cannot fly; 
But though my wing is closely bound,

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My heart's at liberty. 
My prison walls cannot control the flight, 
The freedom of the 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 find the joy, 
The freedom of the mind.

The Christian may rejoice during times of persecution, for the persecution provides an opportunity to demonstrate one's loyalty to Christ, and an opportunity to share a witness to Christ's power. "A doctor in China had built up an efficient hospital through years of toil and self-sacrifice. When the Communist wing of the Nationalist army swept northward, they looted his hospital and left it the shell of what it had been. All the work of years went down in a crash. Not an easy thing to forgive! But, undaunted, he followed the army and attended to its sick and wounded. When General Chang Kai Shek, who was in charge of the army, saw this, he asked his wife, 'What makes this foreign doctor tend to the sick and wounded when these very men destroyed his hospital?' His wife, who was a Christian, replied, 'It is Christianity.' Said General Chang, very thoughtfully, 'Then I must be a Christian.' This was one of the three influences that made the General, then President of China, decide to become a Christian." (Christ and Human Suffering; E. Stanley Jones; pg. 99)

Fourth, there is the suffering of temptation. Says Hebrews 2:18, "Because he (Jesus) himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." (NIV) The Bible promises a 'way of escape'. "But remember this – the wrong desires that come into your life aren't anything new and different. Many others have faced exactly the same problems before you. And no temptation is irresistible. You can trust God to keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can't stand up against it, for he has promised this and will do what he says. He will show you how to escape temptation's power so that you can bear up patiently against it." (1 Corinthians 10:13, Living Bible) James wrote, "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him." (James 1:12) Donald Bastian reminds us: "God is getting you ready for a great day of triumph 'the day of Christ's appearing.' Everything He permits to come into your life has this day in view." Said one rugged and discerning believer: "I used to say the devil is tempting me; now I say the Lord is testing me." It is possible for the believer to experience joy amidst the suffering of temptations and trials. "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." (James 1:2, NIV)

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Fifth, there is the suffering from life's losses. Perhaps the hardest experience in the life of a Christian comes when he is called to experience a sorrow or a disappointment, the explanation to which defies reason. Jesus experienced such deep sorrow in the Garden of Gethsemane when He cried out, "Let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will but thine be done." Later on the cross Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." Notes Barclay, "There are times when a Christian has to learn the hardest lesson of all, the very lesson which Jesus Himself had to learn in Gethsemane; he has to learn how to accept what he cannot understand. There are times when things happen that he cannot understand, but he can still say, 'God, Thou art love; I build my faith on that.'" (Daily Study Bible; William Barclay; 1 Corinthians; pgs. 222,223)

A London minister tells of a father whose son was fighting with the forces in France. "At our prayer meetings," said the pastor, "he would earnestly pray that God would hide that soldier son beneath His wings. He once added with deep tenderness, 'The bullet was never made that can pierce Thy wings.' But the boy was killed all the same." (Prayer and life's Highest; Paul Rees, pg. 95) Said George Tyrell: "To believe that this terrible machine world is really from God, in God and unto God, and that through it and in spite of its blind fatality all works for good – that is faith in long trousers." Writes Eugenia Price, "The only direct statement of Jesus which is simple enough for me to comprehend when my heart is breaking or when I'm discouraged or scared, is: 'Follow' 'Follow me'." (No Pat Answers; pg. 14) David declared that God "bottled up his tears". The tears of God's children are never wasted! God never allows or causes His children needless tears! "All things work together for good to those who love the Lord." (Romans 8:28)

Writes E. Stanley Jones: "The universe is not 'a vale of tears'; rather, it is 'a vale of character-making' and character cannot be made except in the strain and stress and struggle. We cannot cry out and say, 'Why hast thou made me thus?' for he hasn't 'made' us yet, he is only in the process. If that process seems without purpose, let us remember that if the cross reveals God, there must be a glorious purpose behind it all, for he is willing to pay the supreme price to bring it to pass. I once saw some rug weavers of North India. They patiently sat week after week and month after month making one rug. As I stood and gazed at the rug I felt the futility of sitting there so long for the rug seemed to be full of blotches and blurs and knots. But I was looking at the wrong side of the rug. When I came around to the weaver's side, I saw the pattern that was unfolding and how beautiful it was! It was worth the patience. We now see the wrong side of God's purposes, and they seem without pattern as he weaves through the ages. But one day we shall stand and see things as he sees them, and then we will gasp at the wonder of the plan that unfolds. Now we see the blotches and the blurs and the knots, but we also see the cross. That holds us steady. God means well and he means to make us well." (Christ And Human Suffering; pgs. 197, 198)

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"Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side; 
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain; 
Leave to thy God to order and provide; 
In every change he faithful will remain. 
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly Friend 
Thro thorny ways leads to a joyful end."

When 'problems' (sufferings) come, it is very important for believers to look for the lessons which God desires to teach during (and as a result of) the 'problems'. Christians must learn to discern the 'benefits' of having problems and suffering.

First, suffering can cause one to see God more clearly. Great spiritual vision of God is often times the product of great sorrow. Someone said, "The vision of God can be seen more clearly through a tear."

Second, suffering can cause one to depend more on God's power instead of on human strength. God's strength is made perfect through human weakness. God's power is only available to the one who knows that he is weak and powerless and helpless and hopeless without the enabling presence of the indwelling Spirit.

Third, suffering can perfect ones character and bring about greater spiritual growth and maturity. The Greek work that is translated 'Character' is the word that is "used of metal which has been passed through the fire so that everything base has been purged out of it. It is used of coinage as we use the word 'sterling'. When affliction is met with fortitude, out of the battle a man emerges stronger, and purer, and better, and nearer God." (Daily Study Bible; Romans; William Barclay; pg. 74). Problems and suffering, successfully met, can perfect ones character. In the world of nature, pearls are the product of pain. A pearl "is a symbol of stress; it is a healed wound; it is the enduring token of a tiny creature's struggle to preserve its life… If there had been no wound there could have been no pearl." (Daily Readings; William Sangster; pg. 94). Beautiful character may be the product of suffering! A trial successfully met produces stronger character, and inspires greater hope for further progress towards the realization of final maturity in Christ.

"When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, 
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply. 
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design 
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine."

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Wrote James, "Dear brothers, is your life full of difficulties and temptations? Then be happy, for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow, and don't try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete." (James 1:2-4, Living Bible) God can use all things in life – the 'good', the 'bad', and the 'indifferent' – and can produce something 'excellent' out of them. He can take the 'raw materials' of life and do something good with them. Would you eat a cake if the heat of the oven was not first applied intensively to the cold liquid ingredients which were poured into the cake pan? Heat is important to produce a favorable cake. Is it not important for 'heat' (suffering and discipline and trials) to be applied to the life of a believer if he is to become a mature and 'tasteful' and 'attractive' Christian?

Fourth, suffering can enable a believer to develop a heart-felt ministry to other suffering persons. Many times, those who are most effective in ministry are those who minister in an area where they have suffered most. Notes William Sangster, "We see how rich a service the sufferers render to our poor tormented race. Sympathy is a shallow stream in the souls of those who have not suffered. There is something unheeding and harsh in a man who has known nothing of pain. And sympathy is far too precious in this needy world to begrudge the price at which it must be purchased. When Richard Baxter lost his wife, he declared, in his grief. 'I will not be judged by any that never felt the like.' It was only another way of saying that he could not be comforted except by those who had suffered. Suffering, in a disciple, can often be wrested to service. It is Christlike work to soothe and sympathize, and only those who have drunk the cup of sorrow are fully equipped to do it." (Daily Readings; pg. 48.)

Fifth, suffering can help develop a tender heart and a sympathetic nature. Wrote Paul, "What a wonderful God we have – he is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of every mercy, and the one who so wonderfully comforts and strengthens us in our hardships and trials. And why does he do this? So that when others are troubled, needing our sympathy and encouragement, we can pass on to them this same help and comfort God has given us. You can be sure that the more we undergo sufferings for Christ, the more he will shower us with his comfort and encouragement. We are in deep trouble for bringing you God's comfort and salvation. But in our trouble God has comforted us – and this, too, to help you: to show you from our personal experience how God will tenderly comfort you when you undergo these same sufferings. He will give you the strength to endure." (2 Corinthians 1:3-7, Living Bible) Think of the most beautiful and lovely and tender-hearted people you have known. Have they not usually been persons who have gone

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through difficult trials and tests and sorrows, and have emerged victoriously? Have they not been the persons who, as a result of life's trials, have become understanding, gentle, stable, caring? Someone said that when certain sorrowing people needed a comforter, they would go to a certain woman who was known for her gentle eyes. Those gentle eyes came from a gentle heart, made tender through much sorrow.

Sixth, suffering can result in making you strongest where you have long been the weakest. It is said that where a tape is spliced, it is stronger at the point of the splice than anywhere else. It is said that the place where the broken bone heals is much stronger than any other part of the bone. Someone might say that an eagle with a broken wing which has been healed can never fly as high again. Or, the 'fallen Christian' who has been restored to fellowship with God through repentance can never be really strong again (or 'effective' in Christian ministry). But, who can limit the power and the possibilities of grace which heals the broken and the backslidden Christian who had succumbed to temptation, but who had learned his 'lessons' (in humility) well from his 'spiritual reversal'? The story is told of a man who told the passenger in the back seat of his car to 'kick him forward' for 'greater comfort and position'. Will life's problems (and sufferings) 'kick' you forward during your journey of life?

Seventh, suffering can help turn your 'focus' away from the transitory and temporary concerns of earthly life, to more clearly 'focus' on the permanent and eternal verities of life. Susanna Wesley, whose soul was many times covered with the 'sea billows of sorrow', sought to make her sorrows serve a redemptive and beneficial purpose. She sought to turn her eyes toward God and heaven when she was immersed in earth's sorrows and griefs. She wrote, "Since I must expect to meet with many difficulties, much opposition, many disappointments and daily trials of faith and patience in my passage through this world, may it be my highest wisdom to disengage my affections as much as I lawfully may from all transitory, temporal enjoyments, and to fix them on those more rational and spiritual pleasures which we are to enjoy when we enter upon our state of immortality."

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THE ONLY SOLACE IN SORROW

Thou who driest the mourner's tear, 
How dark this world would be, 
If, when deceived and wounded here, 
We could not fly to thee.

The friends, who in our sunshine live, 
When winter comes, are flown; 
And he who has but tears to give, 
Must weep those tears alone.

But Christ can heal that broken heart, 
Which like the plants that throw 
Their fragrance from the wounded part, 
Breathes sweetness out of woe.

O who could bear life's stormy doom, 
Did not his wing of love 
Come brightly wafting through the gloom, 
Our peace-branch from above.

The sorrow, touched by him, grows bright, 
With more than rapture's ray; 
As darkness shows us worlds of light, 
We never saw by day.

By

T. Moore

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