By way of a preface
to today's sermon, I would like to tell you a story; its about a
man who was the only survivor of a shipwreck. The man was
fortunate enough to be washed up on an island in the ocean. After
a while, he managed to build himself a hut out of some of the
ship's wreckage. Some provisions had also been washed up with
him, not a great deal but probably, he believed, enough to keep
him going for about 3 months. So he knew that although he had
survived the shipwreck, he knew he could only hold out about 12
weeks, if he was not saved.
But a number of weeks went by and he began to grow concerned, since he had not seen a single ship pass the island.
A few more weeks went by and it got to the stage that he only had food for another 3 weeks. Now he became really desparate. So he prayed; not something he had ever done back in England, but he felt his position was now hopeless. He actually prayed for many hours that day, and he actually felt better afterwards. But the very next day, upon returning from a fruitless hunt for food on the island, he was horrified to discover that the hut which he had built for shelter had burned to the ground! He was inconsolable! Is this what happens when I pray? he thought.
He was now shattered in spirit, feeling that without even having a hut for shelter, his position was now hopeless. But the very next day he was rescued by a ship!! "We saw your signal" said the captain. "Signal? What signal?" asked our friend. "The signal from the fire which you lit; we knew at once that somebody was calling for deliverance!"
So you see, when the man was at his lowest ebb, and thats all he was aware of: how hopeless his position was, God was, even then, answering his prayer! It took the burning down of his hut for him to be delivered!
You know, there is a message for us all in that.
As Christians, we tend to have this rosy-coloured view of what the Christian life should be like in which it is always fair weather. People will listen to the gospel, our church lives will be constantly harmonious and the church which we become joined to at the time of our conversion will steadily grow in numbers. We have it all worked out for God don't we? We have it all mapped out for him, but the amazing thing is; He never consults us does He? And let's face it; it sometimes comes as a shock when we look back 5, 10 maybe 25 years after becoming a Christian and we see that God did not lead us down the road which we expected at all! There were - and are - tragedies, there were - and are - massive disappointments at times and, hey! that church did not steadily grow as we had anticipated - in fact of the 60 members when we were baptized, there are now only 12 left! And just maybe on our more cynical days we have wondered, Was God REALLY with me all of those years?
Well today lets consider the Christian life, our expectations of it, and also trials, and how God uses them for good! You know, we really do need to face up to what this book, the Holy Bible, teaches us about the Christian life and what we should expect from it!
1 PETER 4: 12-19
Elsewhere in the New Testament, in John 15 actually, we are told that when we start to bear fruit, God will prune us, cut us back hard!- in order that we should bear still more fruit. When you prune a plant in order for it to be more productive, you are afflicting it! You are causing it short-term pain! But temporary pain for a greater final outcome!
God is saying to us, YOU NEED THESE THINGS - IF I DON'T OCCASIONALLY CUT YOU BACK HARD, YOU WILL NOT BEAR SUFFICIENT FRUIT - TRUST ME!
You know, the apostle Paul complained to God about his 'thorn in the flesh', we don't know exactly what it was but it was almost certainly a recurring illness. Paul begged God three times for healing but God said, 'No, Paul I am not going to heal you. My grace is sufficient for you, and my strength is made perfect in weakness!' Wow! What a teaching! And as we read in the opening Reading in Hebrews, if we are WITHOUT trials it could actually be a very bad sign; that we are not children of God at all, that we are illegitimate (spiritually speaking), a truly terrible contemplation for us! After all, the Scripture says, 'For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives' I am sure that we will all notice that this is a million miles from the 'health, wealth & prosperity gospel'!
You will not very often see a true child of God without trials! Now, while we should use these things in order to correct ourselves, it does make one wonder about those people who appear to stroll though life with ease; they always seem to be in the right place at the right time, every thing which they do appears to keep 'coming up roses'. I have read about people like that, and I'm sure you have too. They are often the wealthy and famous of this world. If you have ever wondered about that, the Psalms to look up, which will give you the answer, are Psalms 37 & 73.
But a Scripture which I do want to turn to is in Philippians;
PHILIPPIANS 1: 29-30
Hey, we are appointed to a road of suffering! How about that? Again, its not what the prosperity teachers tell their people is it? But here is the real message!
So lets never think for one moment even, that if we are Christians our lives should be plain sailing. James actually said, 'Count it all joy when you fall into various trials', so there appears to be some expectation there, and Philippians here is very plain on this.
Now, of course, there are great joys in the Christian life, we cannot say otherwise, and we should all have that inner peace and assurance. But, lets be honest, its probably no 'bed of roses' for a lot of the time! You think that is too strong? But Paul went further; he said that if we only have hope of Christ in this life, we are of all men most miserable! Yes, Jesus will walk with us through our trial, but thats it: through our trial - not usually around it - there is a difference.
Now I know about those Scriptures which say things like 'Cast your bread upon the waters and after many days you will find it' Yes, but after 'many days' - not necessarily now!
So having established all of that, the next thing we must do is to establish how God uses all of our trials for our own good! Yes, a bit like that shipwrecked man, what he thought was his ultimate disaster, proving to be his salvation. There are countless biblical examples of this - it was hard to know which ones to leave out. We may think of the Israelites fleeing from Pharaoh who had only the Red Sea in front of them. Surely Moses had got it massively wrong, hadn't he? But no, he said, 'Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord!' And we all know about the miraculous event which unfolded. Thats God bringing triumph out of seeming disaster, God bringing good out of evil!
Another example; the king of Syria wanted to get rid of Elishah the Prophet, so he sent his army to surround Dothan. It should be a 'piece of cake' for the Syrian army to take one prophet should it not? But, no, God had other ideas;
2 KINGS 6: 14-23
So the actual situation is that Elishah was surrounded by an angelic army many times more powerful than the armies of Syria! I think this is one of the most inspiring Scriptures in the whole of the Bible! God brought great good out of this very unpromising situation.
Again, on another occasion Paul became ill when he was travelling around preaching the gospel - surely the last thing he would have wanted! In fact, though, this was the Lord's doing and was how the Galatians first heard the gospel. Galatians 4: 13 says,
'You are aware how it was through the infirmity of the flesh that I originally preached the gospel to you'
Again, God! - bringing good out of evil.
But what about Paul's imprisonment - what a disaster! How could he preach the gospel while in prison? And yet, when writing to the Philippians, he was able to say,
'I want you to understand, brethren, that that which has befallen me has actually benefited the spreading of the gospel' (Philippians 1: 12)
You see, in the very palace of Rome it became known that Paul was in prison for the sake of Jesus Christ and His message and this sort of thing can be inspiring, so, it is believed, even some of Caesar's household became believers!
And other Christians - seeing that Paul would rather go to prison than give up preaching, or tone down the message - found new strength to preach more boldly themselves. Paul did not think it more expedient to switch to a 'multi-faith' message! And neither should we in our day. So, the imprisonment was not the disaster it first appeared to be - God was at work in bringing great good out of apparent disaster - yet again.
Do we see what all of this is telling us? That fiery trial which any one of us could be experiencing right now, could be the spiritual making of us! You know, when disaster strikes, we should say; Is this really disaster? Or is God bringing His will to pass through this apparent disaster? Yes, it might be very painful at the time, but lets keep seeing God in the picture! In the lives of the faithful God is ALWAYS bringing good out of evil. You know the ultimate proof of this? What happened to our Saviour upon the cross. Satan conspired through some of the Jewish religious leaders to get Him there - He thought it would be his ultimate triumph!Yes, he wanted the very Son of God to be executed as a common criminal, But, as we we all know, this was prophesied to happen anyway! God knew that His Son would have to lay down His life! It was part of God's great plan of redemption. Without this, you and I would have no Saviour and we would never have been restored to God! Yes, God - yet again - bring good out of apparent disaster. Because 'All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose' as it says in Romans 8: 28.
You know, I believe that one day we will discover that all of our trials were individually tailored for us. They alone - in the way we experienced them - were probably necessary to equip us with what we need to inherit Eternal Life! All individually tailored for us by THE MASTER BUILDER and THE MASTER POTTER.
So, in closing, let us never doubt the eternal wisdom of God and His determination and, indeed, ability to bring good out of evil in our lives. Let us never doubt His awareness of what happens among people who call themselves by His name upon earth, and let us never doubt His willingness to listen to the prayers of the faithful - yes, including your prayers and mine!
So, the Christian life will produce trials, but let us all be determined to stay on course for God's kingdom and our place at the table at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb!
Sermon given by Robin Brace, Wales, UK. 2001.
(Our Copyright, but please freely use as long as you give credit to the source)
MUSELTOF COUNTERCULT AND APOLOGETICS