“How God Will Use Time and Trials to Accomplish His Purpose for You”, by Ray Ortlund, introduction by Randy Alcon

By Ray Ortlund March 16, 2020

This article by Ray Ortlund is thought-provoking and on target. Though his advice focuses on young men in ministry, his message is applicable for every believer of every age and vocation.

Ray writes, “Only men with scars can preach a Savior with scars to sinners with scars. So, in addition to the many insights and skills God will impart to you, he also will wound you. …At some point in your life, God will injure you so extremely that the self-reliance you aren’t even aware of, the self-reliance you’ve been navigating so consistently by that it feels natural and innocent, will collapse under the loss and anguish. You will start realizing, ‘Oh, so this is what it means to trust the Lord.’”

After forty-five years in ministry, I completely agree. I’ve learned we can’t become humble and fully useful to God’s work without experiencing tears and trials. It just doesn’t happen. Notice Paul ties these together when he talks to church leaders: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials” (Acts 20:18-19).

As Nanci and I navigate life with her ongoing battle with cancer, we are not fighting God, but are trusting Him daily and seeing Him at work. Through this trial, as with others, over the course of time, God is accomplishing something very precious. He is making us into deeper and more Christlike people, marked forever by Jesus’ grace, so that He can use us in greater, unexpected ways to impact His kingdom. God tells us, “Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised” (Hebrews 10:36, NLT). I hope you find this article as helpful and ultimately encouraging as I did. —Randy Alcorn

Your Ministry Will Take a Lifetime: My Counsel for Younger Men

By Ray Ortlund

Some of us can read a text like “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day” (Proverbs 4:18) and wonder why our light still feels so dim.

The verse teaches that if you are walking with the Lord, your life is dawning more and more with “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). The passing years of his care are making you more compelling, more relevant, more fruitful — not less. And someday soon your glory will blaze like the noonday sun, never to fade.

This article is for every young man who feels that his glory is taking too long to become obvious. This is for every young man in ministry who feels restless and eager and ambitious (with godly ambition) for more opportunities to make his mark for Christ. Yes, you have mixed motives. Who doesn’t? But your desire to cut a wide swath of gospel harvest is of God.

He did not create you to be a zero. He created you in his image, as royalty, to advance his purposes in this world (Genesis 1:26). You are a man of destiny, and you feel it. So let’s think about your life trajectory — what to expect, how to navigate it well. I offer my thoughts as an older man, who respects how you feel. Let me offer you three words of counsel, prompted by Scripture, for when your ministry seems to be growing too slowly.

Give Yourself Time

First, “Let them also be tested first” (1 Timothy 3:10). The apostle Paul required that of prospective deacons. But a young man being tested, giving him time to prove his readiness for leadership, is implicit in the requirements of an elder too. A future elder must be faithful in marriage, able to teach, manage his own household well, not a recent convert, and well thought of by outsiders (1 Timothy 3:1–7). No one gets there quickly or easily.

You might feel more ready than you really are. Maybe you’ve looked at an older Christian leader in action and thought, “I could do what he’s doing — and maybe better.” But what that man is doing is harder than it looks. When a senior leader is performing well and people are responding and the ministry is flourishing, the reality is this: Hidden deep within that man, nuanced understandings and finely-honed skills and mature disciplines are converging, moment by moment, to make him compelling.

All those inner strengths and assets of his were hard won over many years — and through some failures too. When a pastor, for example, makes the ministry look easy, you can be sure of one thing: it isn’t. He was tested first. He is being tested now. Even in a man’s mature years, ministry is always extremely demanding. Joyful and satisfying, but demanding.

I am not exalting him or diminishing you. I am only saying that a man in his sixties, if he has walked humbly with God and striven to keep growing and growing, is a more profound man than he himself was in his thirties. How could it be otherwise? So, give yourself time. God is faithfully investing in you, more than you can see. He values you. He is preparing you for the final, climactic mission of your life and your death. Don’t resent his maturing process along the way.

His plan, his timing, his methods are well suited to get you ready for the greatest moments of your life still out ahead. But if your pride can’t stoop to being tested first, you are blocking the very future you long for. Humble yourself, be patient, go deep. And don’t forget to enjoy it along the way. The Lord is with you and for you. Obviously, he isn’t in any hurry. Why should you be?

Embrace His Power in Weakness

Second, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Here is why this familiar verse is in the Bible. In our foolishness, we all want to be formidable, impressive, noteworthy, with super-powers to “wow” the world. But how can men like that preach Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1–5)? Only men with scars can preach a Savior with scars to sinners with scars. So, in addition to the many insights and skills God will impart to you, he also will wound you. A.W. Tozer wisely said, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.”

At some point in your life, God will injure you so extremely that the self-reliance you aren’t even aware of, the self-reliance you’ve been navigating so consistently by that it feels natural and innocent, will collapse under the loss and anguish. You will start realizing, “Oh, so this is what it means to trust the Lord. I need him now with an urgency, a desperation, a seriousness of purpose deeper than ever before.”

And then God will come through for you. And you will emerge from that suffering a deeper saint. You will be a better preacher and pastor and leader and counselor and teacher and friend, because you will be a better man — more like the wounded Christ himself.

But if you “succeed” early, and crowds of people are flocking to you, and the undiscerned cockiness you grew up with isn’t broken, you may be in danger. I have seen highly gifted young men crash and burn and lose years of fruitful ministry, or even leave the ministry altogether, because their platform exceeded their character.

Don’t envy that “rising star.” He might be more precarious than he appears. You just stay low before the Lord. Humbly receive the buffetings, disappointments, and insults coming your way. Receive them “for the sake of Christ” (2 Corinthians 12:10). They are how his power will come to rest upon you (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Don’t Grope at Your Destiny

Third, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me” (Psalm 138:8). You never have to get pushy, because the Lord has a purpose for you, and that purpose belongs to him. John Burroughs, the poet, was not a Christian. But his poem “Waiting” says a very Christian thing:

Asleep, awake, by night or day,
     The friends I seek are seeking me,
No wind can drive my bark astray
     Nor change the tide of destiny.

Because the Lord is committed to his purpose for you, the friends and the opportunities you seek are seeking you. They are on their way toward you this very moment. Believe it, and rejoice as God tells the story you were born for. The best way to get ready for your future is to walk humbly, fruitfully, and cheerfully with Christ right where you are. Through the years, he will give you a front-row seat for watching him fulfill his purpose for you.

Seek the Lowest Place

Francis Schaeffer, in his prophetic sermon “No Little People, No Little Places,” warned us all,

Jesus commands Christians to seek consciously the lowest room. All of us — pastors, teachers, professional religious workers and non-professional included — are tempted to say, “I will take the larger place, because it will give me more influence for Jesus Christ.” Both individual Christians and Christian organizations fall prey to the temptation of rationalizing this way as we build bigger and bigger empires. But according to the Scripture this is backwards: We should consciously take the lowest place, unless the Lord himself extrudes us into a greater one.

Schaeffer went on to explain that, in a lower, less intense place of ministry, we face fewer distractions away from our own intimacy with God. And it is only in personal quietness before God that we can do anything that is truly spiritual in power. It is only as we remain quiet before him that we contribute to the real battle being fought in our generation.

Settle into the place where you are. Deeply accept your present moment. It is where Jesus is nearest to you. It is where his endless resources open up to you, moment by moment: “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you!” (Psalm 31:19).

This article originally appeared on Desiring God and is used with permission of the author.

Source: Eternal Perspective Ministries

“Christian Courage”, by John Piper (Faithful to Truth, Trusting God, Bold Prayer)

Christian courage is the willingness to say and do the right thing regardless of the earthly cost, because God promises to help you and save you on account of Christ. An act takes courage if it will likely be painful. The pain may be physical, as in war and rescue operations. Or the pain may be mental as in confrontation and controversy.

Courage is indispensable for both spreading and preserving the truth of Christ. Jesus promised that spreading the gospel would meet resistance: “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name” (Matthew 24:9).

And Paul warned that, even in the church, faithfulness to the truth would be embattled: “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30; see also 2 Timothy 4:3-4).

Therefore, true evangelism and true teaching will take courage. Running from resistance in evangelism or teaching dishonors Christ. There is a kind of cowardice that tells only the truths that are safe to tell. Martin Luther put it like this:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point. (Quoted in Parker T. Williamson, Standing Firm: Reclaiming Christian Faith in Times of Controversy [Springfield, PA: PLC Publications, 1996], p. 5)

Where then shall we get this courage? Consider these pointers.

FROM BEING FORGIVEN AND BEING RIGHTEOUS – “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1). “Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, ‘Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven'” (Matthew 9:2).

FROM TRUSTING GOD AND HOPING IN HIM – “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the LORD” (Psalm 31:24; see also 2 Corinthians 3:12).

FROM BEING FILLED WITH SPIRIT – “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).

FROM GOD’S PROMISE TO BE WITH YOU – “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

FROM KNOWING THAT THE ONE WITH YOU IS GREATER THAN THE ADVERSARY: -“Be strong and courageous . . . for the one with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles” (2 Chronicles 32:7–8).

FROM BEING SURE THAT GOD IS SOVEREIGN OVER THE BATTLES – “Be strong, and let us show ourselves courageous for the sake of our people and for the cities of our God; and may the LORD do what is good in His sight” (2 Samuel 10:12).

THROUGH PRAYER – “On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul” (Psalm 138:3; see also Ephesians 6:19-20).

FROM THE EXAMPLE OF OTHERS – “Most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear” (Philippians 1:14).

 (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Source: Desiring God.org

“Faith; Rejoicing in Grace”, from Martin Lloyd Jones (Overcome, Trusting God, True Courage)

Martin Lloyd-Jones on Faith, Rejoicing in Grace

In the Christian life, we must “desire nothing but His glory!” nothing but to “please Him!”  The truth is, there is nothing so gracious as God’s method of accountancy.

Be prepared for surprises in this Kingdom.

The truth is, you never know what is going to happen!  The last shall be first!  What a complete reversal of our materialistic outlook – everything in God’s kingdom is upside down!

When Jesus separates the “sheep” from the “goats” on judgment day   (Mt 25:31-40), He will say to us His sheep, “To the extent that you served one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you served Me – come inherit the Kingdom prepared for you!”  We will be totally surprised by many of our acts of kindness and service. 

This life is all of grace!  “By the grace of God we are what we are!”

The secret of a happy Christian life is not only to realize that it is all of grace, but to “rejoice in that fact!” 

Jesus asked His disciples, “Where is your faith?”  The whole issue here is the problem and question of the nature of faith.  Many believers are often troubled because they have never clearly understood the nature of faith.

Remember all believers have been given the “gift of faith,” that enables us to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, but that does not mean that they fully understand the nature of faith.

Though faith is given as a “gift,” from there on we have to do certain things about it – there is a vital difference between the gift of faith and the walk of faith or the life of faith. 

“We walk by faith, not by sight!”

God starts us off in this Christian life and then we have to walk in it – “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).  When Jesus rebuked the disciples during the storm that raged on the sea of Galilee, He did not rebuke them because of their alarm or their terror, but for their “lack of faith.”  Jesus marveled at their “unbelief.”  The disciples had done everything they could in the storm, but it did not seem to be of any avail.

Here is a critical point: Jesus rebuked them for being in that state of agitation and terror while He was with them in the boat!   A Christian should never, like the worldly person, be depressed, agitated, alarmed, frantic, not knowing what to do. 

Paul said, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I’m in” (Phil 4:11). That is what the Christian is meant to be like.  The Christian is never meant to be carried away by his feelings, and “lack self-control” – whatever his circumstances.  That is why the disciples were so alarmed, agitated, miserable and unhappy.  

The disciple’s condition also implied a “lack of trust and confidence in God”

 – Jesus said in effect: “Do you feel like this in spite of the fact that I am with you?  Do you not trust Me?”  Remember the words of the disciples:  “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” (Mk 4:38). 

Such a response shows a lack of faith in Christ’s concern and care for us – as such, we become agitated and disturbed.  It is the same response as the unbeliever.

The issue is this: We must never allow ourselves to be agitated and disturbed whatever the circumstances, because to do so implies a “lack of faith and confidence in Christ” – at this point we simply do not believe God. 

A Trial by Faith

One might call this kind of situation “the trial of faith.”  Take the eleventh chapter of Hebrews – every one of those men was “tried.”  They had been given the gift of faith and great promises, and then their faith was tried.  Peter says the same thing: “Though you are distressed by various trials, the reason for the trials is that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, though it be tested with fire, might be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:6-7). 

That is the theme of all Scripture. 

Storms and trials are a vital part of life for the believer – they are allowed by God for a reason. . . our faith is being tried – proven – tested – purified.  James says, “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials” (Jam 1:2).  Paul writes, “Unto you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil 1:29).  Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation; but take courage, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).

Likewise Paul also says, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  When everything seems to be against us; when the Lord Himself appears to be utterly unconcerned; when we are fearful and desperate; when we may even be in danger of our lives – that is where the real trial of faith comes in. 

In just such circumstances, follow the words of the Christian poet –

                   When all things seem against us          
                        To drive us to despair,                           
                     We know one gate is open                              
                   One ear will hear our prayer.

What is the nature of “your faith”?

Observe our Lord’s response when dealing with His disciples in the midst of the storm – He knows perfectly well that “they have faith.”  The question He asks them is this: “You have faith – but where is it at the moment?” 

That gives us the “key” to understanding the nature of faith.  First, faith is not merely a matter of “feeling” – it can’t be, because our feelings change from one minute to the next; as such, our faith would be there one minute, and gone the next.  Faith involves the “mind,” the understanding – it is a “response to truth” (truth implies intelligibilia).  Faith is not something that acts automatically or magically.  Faith has to be exercised.  Faith does not come into operation by itself, you have to put it into operation.

So, how does one put faith into operation?  The first thing you must do when you find yourself in a difficult position is to refuse to allow yourself to be controlled by the situation – that was the disciple’s problem; they allowed the situation to control them.  Faith is a refusal to panic.

That is the very nature of faith – it is a refusal to panic, come what may.  Faith has been described thus: “Faith is perpetual unbelief kept quiet” – faith does not allow unbelief to surface.  Genuine faith does not entertain the temptation – it immediately rejects the temptation – by considering temptation, you allow it to “take root” in your heart. 

“Faith is perpetual unbelief kept quiet”

Believers do not have the capacity to fully consider temptation and then turn away from it, because it “engages the flesh!”  Satan isn’t stupid!  He knows if you will just “listen” to him and consider what he has to say – he’s got you!!!

Faith immediately responds to difficult situations with these words: “I am not going to entertain these thoughts!  And I am not going to be controlled by these circumstances!” Right out of the shoot, you take charge of yourself!  and pull yourself up!  and control yourself!  You do not let your thoughts wander into Satan’s territory!  You assert yourself!  Now is the time to control your thinking!  You need to remind yourself immediately of what you believe and what you know! 

Faith holds on to reason, to the foundations Truth – God’s Word.

That is faith – it holds on to truth and reasons from what it knows to be fact.  That is the way faith reasons.  The foundation stone of faith is Truth – God’s Word – Scripture.  Faith reasons, “All right, I see the waves and the billows. . . BUT (and then you remind yourself of ultimate reality – “truth” – God is God, and He is in charge).

To reiterate, one of the most critical steps you can take when faced with a difficult situation, is to “immediately reject the temptation and refuse to consider it,” and then “affirm what you know to be the truth,” including the acknowledgment of your own weakness.  Faith agrees with everything God says about reality – and that includes the need for you to be utterly dependent upon Him. 

Here is an example of what to say –

God, all things seem to be against me to “drive me to despair.”
I don’t understand what is happening, but this I know – I know
that You so loved me that You sent Your only begotten Son into
this world for me.  You did that for me while I was an enemy,
a rebellious alien.  I know that Jesus loves me and gave Himself
for me.  I know that at the cost of His life’s blood I have salvation
and that I am now Your child and an heir to everlasting joy and peace. I know that.

Faith logically argues “the exceedingly great and precious promises”.

Faith argues like that – it amounts to “logically thinking through what we know to be true.”  Faith reminds itself of what the Scripture calls “the exceeding great and precious promises.”  Faith says, “I cannot believe that He who has brought me so far is going to let me down at this point.  It is impossible, because it would be inconsistent with the character of God.

So faith, having refused to be controlled by circumstances, reminds itself of what it believes and what it knows to be true.  Jesus in effect said to His disciples, “Where is your faith?  You have it!  Why don’t you apply it?”  Bring all you know to be true of your relationship to God to bear upon it – then you will know full well that He will never allow anything to happen to you that is harmful. 

Remember the words of Paul: “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God.”  Not a hair of your head shall be harmed.  He loves you with an everlasting love. 

You may not have a full understanding of your predicament, but this you know for certain – “God is not unconcerned.”  God permits everything that happens to you because it is ultimately for your good.  That is the way faith works – but you have to exercise it.  You refuse to be moved.  You stand on your faith. 

“This is the victory that overcomes the world – your faith!” (1 Jn 5:4).

Martin Lloyd-Jones

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (20 December 1899 – 1 March 1981) was a Welsh Protestant minister, preacher and medical doctor who was influential in the Reformed wing of the British evangelical movement in the 20th century. For almost 30 years, he was the minister of Westminster Chapel in London.

source: Spiritual Depression by Martin Lloyd-Jones (Chapter One)