Saturday, March 29, 2008

Keeping the Faith, Walking Worthy is Worth the Sacrifice

Today I received a prayer request that referred to a tragic situation in a church, that a pastor had disqualified himself from ministry. How far that reaches in impact among all those who are affected by his wasted testimony, we will never know this side of heaven, but we know that there's nothing on earth that was worth doing so. You can see that Satan had a hand in this, no doubt seeing the far reaches of the man's ministry potential more than we in the human realm could know. Imagine what this man lost in the careless and foolish moment of weakness: Eternity, first and foremost. Well, we can't say for sure that he lost it entirely, but what a better eternity we know he would have experienced, if he had stayed faithful to his calling! Second, God's confidence in the man's work, that he might impact so many more souls in the remaining days that are allotted to him. Third, his relationship with his wife--her trust in him damaged beyond entire repair. Fourth, his relationship with his children and relatives--who see him close-up and know they can't depend on him to point them in the direction of truth, and who know too well what harm he did in all his relationships. Fifth, his church--no small consideration, that every member of the congregation and all their families will be disheartened, affected, weakened by this travesty. Sixth, the community around him--he will never have what he had before in terms of respect, testimony, and ministry potential among those who are watching. People who never would have considered his ministry before will see what he did and ponder it, all from a negative point of view, and Christ will in no way be glorified in it.
There are a number of spiritual aspects that the man had to disregard when he stumbled as well, a few of which include: The love that we should have in response to our God for the many ways that He intervenes in our lives; the greatness of the sacrifice that Jesus made for our sins; the provision of His word and His Holy Spirit who would enable us to stand firm if we avail ourselves; the privilege of belonging to Him and having a ministry that might glorify Him; and the unimagined splendor of our future reward. These things when listed are eternally significant and would seem unforgettable, but I expect that it would be the first work of Satan to short-circuit our remembrance of them.
It could happen to so many seemingly faithful men, as Satan seeks to attack and discredit their ministry. There are so many verses that address holding to one's testimony, to living a faithful life. The first that comes to my mind is that we should "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). That surely sums it up, but in case it didn't, there are enough more that they should overcome any temptation.

Back when I was new to the faith, we became involved in a Bible study that involved memorizing a number of basic but equipping Bible verses. The woman who helped with the study had put them to music, which helps me to remember the one they call "Assurance of Victory," referring to victory over temptation: "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man, and God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." I Corinthians 10:13, Assurance of Victory (the reference and the tag name were part of the song, it's hard to leave it without that nifty little tag). I still remember her voice singing the song when I recall the verse. I've had occasion to apply it, and believe me, the application of it can have amazing and even rewarding results. The victory in itself is a reward, and in eternity is a reward, and I have seen that in our lives here on earth, God at times sovereignly chooses to reward His elect for the sacrifices they make in obedience to Him.

In our study of Ephesians at church, we discussed Satan's temptation of Christ in Matthew 4:1-11, and there were so many applications regarding how Satan works against the Kingdom of God by doing what he can to trip us up! It is a great passage to ponder in any times that we are tempted. Psalm 19 is entirely helpful, especially vv. 8-14:

The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors?
Acquit me of hidden faults.
Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins;
Let them not rule over me;
Then I will be blameless,
And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.

We need to strengthen our spiritual leaders in prayer, encourage them and shelter them from the storms of temptation that would seize them; God's workers are foremost in the battle, and we can follow Paul's example as He prayed for the Thessalonians: "To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12. The seeming poetry of these words can lull us into thinking it's almost just a benediction, but I trust that Paul prayed every word of this prayer with passion, with a vivid awareness of the spiritual need of these people in fighting the good fight, and so should we. It would seem an easy battle on our part, just getting on our knees, folding our hands, opening the Scriptures and praying. The only things that make it difficult are the distractions that Satan sends our way and our weakness in falling for them. How weak we are when we fail to pray! And how can we expect strength and victory in our spiritual realm if we neglect so simple a calling as just to pray? How great it is that God has chosen to involve us in His Kingdom work in such an easy way, and to have its impact be so potentially great.

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