In the world you will have tribulation;
but be of good cheer,
I have overcome the world.
I hope I don’t shock you too much when I say that the Bible is not a particularly comforting book. I know the hope it gives is comforting. I know the relationship with God it offers is comforting. But one night, I was paging through the Bible looking for some comfort and I wasn’t finding much. I wanted to read something to make me feel better, and I wasn’t finding it.
It was a moment of revelation, in a way. Don’t get me wrong, there are places in the Bible where I find great comfort, But the Bible is not a “feel good” book. It was after that, when I was doing some study in the prophets that something else dawned on me. As far as I can tell, God never sent a prophet to people to tell them how well they were doing. So when a prophet showed up on the scene, it was generally bad news.
When King Ahab, for example, saw Elijah walking his way, he said, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” Ahab knew the score, and it was confirmed by Elijah’s response: "I have found you," he answered, "because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD. 'I am going to bring disaster on you. I will consume your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel--slave or free (1 Kings 21:20-21 NIV).
Now that is not especially comforting, even if you aren’t Ahab. But Elijah was not your smooth, slick, preacher. He was a hairy man, wore leather, and if he appeared today, he would probably ride up on a Harley Davidson motorcycle.
Now where do you find the comfort in this passage? Well, Ahab repented, at least after a fashion. He tore his garments, fasted, wore sackcloth and went softly around the palace. And God relented, somewhat. He said he would defer the terrible things prophesied to the next generation. That is cold comfort, I suppose, but maybe better than none.
On the other hand, there is a prophet who speaks of comfort. Isaiah penned this song, adapted so beautifully into Handel’s Messiah:
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins (Isaiah 40:1-2 KJV) .
But this comes at the end of a long period of chastisement and correction. A people who have been battered and bruised are at last being comforted, but only after having received of God’s hand double for her sins.
So when you pick up your Bible to read, you aren’t picking up a short term comfort. What comfort you find in the Bible, and you do find it, is long term. As Paul cautioned the Corinthians, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19 KJV) .
I am stepping gingerly around the edge of something very important here, one of the questions that dogs us throughout our lives. I am considering why it is that we have so many trials, so much pain in this life, even after we have turned our lives over to God. It has slowly dawned on me that God is not very concerned with my comfort.
C. S. Lewis said something interesting in this regard. He said that when a man calls on God, it is usually just to clear up a few issues, to relieve this pain, that ache, solve this weakness. But when we call upon God, he moves into the house with ladders, saws, hammers, and starts knocking down walls and rebuilding the whole house. And that process is often very painful.
Some of us were reared by parents who had it very hard. In some cases, your dad came home from war and swore he never wanted you to have to go through what he went through. And it is an old saw that parents who had a hard life, want to spare their children all that. And so they will, if they are able, give them the moon. Where I went to high school, we had a relatively small parking lot, because the only people with cars were teachers. When I drive by the high school here in Tyler, there is a huge parking lot full of The cars of students.
It is the perfect metaphor for what is wrong with the present generation. Now here is something you need to get hold of and never forget. God is not like those parents. God does not want us to have it easy. He expects us to get a job and pay our way as soon as we are able. Oh, sure, salvation is free and you can’t earn it. Then why is it that, having been saved, we have so much trouble?
God is after much more than merely saving our miserable hides. He is going to make us into sons he can be proud of. And in order for that to happen, we have to learn the meaning of a very important word. In the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation, we have seven letters to seven churches. There is not a single one of these churches that is faultless, any more than there is a single one us who is without flaw. After the evaluation they each receive, and after the correction offered, the Spirit says this to each of the churches in turn:
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7 NIV).
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death (v. 11).
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it (v. 17).
To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations – He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery' -- just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star (vv. 26-28).
He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels (Revelation 3:5 NIV).
Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name (v. 12).
To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne (v. 21).
Over the years, I have heard endless speculation about the meaning of these seven letters. Most of that speculation has been fruitless, and often misleading. But there is one thing that is perfectly clear if you can hear it. Every single one of us, and every single church, has something to overcome. What God wants us to do is to struggle, to improvise, adapt, overcome, and to become stronger in the process.
Why should we think that our road should not be hard? Why should we think that our load should not be heavy? Jesus words to his disciples at the last supper are instructive. “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” he said. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:15-16 KJV).
I don’t know why the King James translators chose the word they did. The word is not “comforter,” it is Counselor. The road ahead is not comforting. It is challenging. We have much to overcome, many battles to win. We will need a counselor.
Later, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (v. 27). Okay, then why did Paul and his companion end up beaten and thrown in the slammer? If Jesus intended to give us peace, why do we hurt so much. Well, the answer lies in Jesus qualifying statement: “I am not giving you the peace the world gives.” The peace Paul and Silas had was the kind of peace that allowed them to sing hymns in the middle of the night and that finally led to the conversion of their jailor.
Jesus had more to say on that last Passover: "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2 NKJV).
If you don’t produce, you are cut out of the vine. If you do produce, a lot of the baggage you carry around with you is going to have to be jettisoned. Pruning, for a man, is bound to hurt. It doesn’t stop there.
If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me (John 15:18-21 NKJV).
No smooth road here. I don’t know what I thought I was looking for that night when I wanted comfort, but it wasn’t this. I didn’t want people mad at me. I didn’t want people persecuting me. But when I think about it, the way not to be hated is to just keep my mouth shut. If I do what Paul did, and go out and take the world by the throat, someone is going to cause me some pain. I have no promise of God that I won’t get hurt. Short term, of course. How bad can it get?
These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you (John 16:1-4 NKJV).
It can get so bad that you lose all your old associations. You can even lose your life. Perhaps you can see what I mean when I say that the Bible is not a feel good book. But Jesus is still not finished.
Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you (John 16:20-22 NKJV).
Living through the process of the betrayal and suffering of Jesus, being a witness, however distant, of his death on the tree, seeing him abused and watching him die must have been the hardest days of his disciple’s lives. But before it happened, he offered them comfort of a sort.
Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:32-33 NKJV).
There is that word again. I have overcome the world. He said this before his hours of suffering came. Then comes Jesus’ prayer for his disciples before he began that long night. There is comfort in these words of Jesus, but they aren’t easy words. They speak of help through periods of grief and suffering. One of Jesus’ parables is instructive here:
And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and sit down to eat'? But will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink'? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do’(Luke 17:7-10 NKJV).’
This is something that we fail to understand about the law of God. Obedience is your duty, not your merit. So you can’t earn salvation by the law. The law defines the bare minimum standard of conduct in the world.
I watched a television program a few nights ago titled: A Johnny Cash Anthology. It was no doubt prompted by the movie, Walk the Line, just out on DVD. It was composed of films and videos of his performances, interspersed with commentary from performers and others who knew him. It was an enjoyable show, but what struck me most was how much better the old, faded, wrinkled Johnny Cash was than the young, callow, Johnny early in his career.
He was somewhat beat up and scarred, inside and out. But his work was by far and away better, and even as his voice faded, it carried more conviction than it ever had.
We don’t all get better as we age. Some of us give up the fight. Some are embittered by the struggle. Some of us tend to whine a lot. Some feel sorry for themselves. Some read the Bible in vain hope it will make them feel better. Problem is, the Bible is about making you better, and that may have little to do with your feelings. This is what Solomon was driving at when he said this:
Better to go to the house of mourning Than to go to the house of feasting, For that is the end of all men; And the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, For by a sad countenance the heart is made better (Ecclesiastes 7:2-3 NKJV).
Some time ago I had the startling thought that I will likely depart this life at the very time when I have the very most to contribute. And I take great hope, and even comfort, in knowing that God, even at that moment, will not be finished with me.
Contact us Copyright 2009 Ronald L Dart, all rights reserved.