Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Pressing Through

breakthrough

by Dennis Pollock

Those who belong to Christ have an entirely different approach to life than those who do not. For one thing, Christians believe in a definitive “will of God” for their lives. They believe that as long as they stay in that “will of God” all is well, and they are on track. But should they move outside of that will, they open themselves up to all kinds of problems, as well as the possible chastening hand of God. Some things are obvious. Should I enter into a relationship with a married woman? No, the Bible speaks loudly about the sin of adultery. Should I take a job that will frequently require me to lie and deceive? No, liars will not inherit the kingdom of God. Should I consider marrying that pretty Buddhist lady I work with? No – the Bible says we are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers.

But not all decisions are so black and white. The Bible cannot tell us whether we are to sell all we have and become missionaries to Africa. Or whether we should continue to live in Tulsa or take that job offer in Los Angeles. There is nothing in the Scriptures instructing me about whether I should continue working at the factory, or risk everything by starting a computer repair business.

We expect that, as children of God, we should be able to discern the will of our Heavenly Father. Jesus tells us, “My sheep hear My voice.” But it is not always easy, and often we face confusion and uncertainty. In some ways, we could almost envy the secular folks who simply do as they please and don’t have to worry about such things. Still, we know that we could never live like that. We must seek the will of our Father. We just wish He would speak a little louder and plainer!

Is This God?

One particular issue we face has to do with struggle and setbacks. Sometimes we suppose that if God is truly leading us in a certain direction, then as we move forward in that direction, the going should be easy and the blessings of heaven evident. And when we run into major problems and significant setbacks we become nervous. Is God really in this? Or have I been deceived and God is allowing these problems to stop me in my tracks? Is this God throwing up roadblocks to keep me from going astray or is it the devil trying to stop me from fulfilling the will and purpose of God?

The first thing that needs to be said is that problems, difficulties, disappointments, and setbacks are by no means a sure sign that God is trying to stop you. In order to see this, all we need to do is look at the life and ministry of Paul. If the great apostle had lived with this attitude – that difficulties automatically mean that God is trying to turn us back – Paul would have quickly ended his apostolic ministry, almost from the get-go. Paul’s life and ministry were continually bombarded with difficulties. He was frequently beaten, whipped, and chased out of town. He had friends that deserted him and experienced constant criticism.

One of the secrets to the phenomenal success of Paul’s ministry was the man’s iron will and the fire in his belly that kept him moving forward – preaching, teaching, healing, establishing churches, and encouraging believers despite opposition at every turn. Suppose Paul had said to himself at the start of it all: “Well, I’ll try this preaching thing, but only as long as God keeps me from all pain and persecution, and I live in a continual state of prosperity and popularity, loved and appreciated by all.” He would never have lasted and today, nobody would know his name.

We all fall way short of the ministry of Paul, but the principle holds true for every child of God. Challenges, problems, and disappointments not only do not indicate the displeasure of God, but in fact are so much a normal part of Christian living and ministry, that if they are entirely absent, it should make one a bit nervous.

Attacking the Tribe of Benjamin

The will of God does not automatically guarantee immediate success. One case in point is found in the strange story of the time when the tribes of Israel joined together to fight the tribe of Benjamin. There had been a terrible incident of rape and murder in one of the towns of Benjamin, and the other tribes demanded that the offenders be punished. The Benjamites foolishly protected these wicked men and refused to turn them over. As a result, men from all the other tribes came together to fight against Benjamin. The Israelites sought the Lord about this matter, and were told not only to attack their brother tribe, but given precise battle instructions as to which tribe should lead the charge. God had told them: “Send Judah first.”

The day did not go well. The Benjamites were mighty warriors and had highly skilled fighters who used deadly slings. At the end of the day, the Israelites were routed and lost 22,000 men. It must have been a shock to Israel. When God tells you to go into battle, you are supposed to win. The Israelites “wept before the Lord” and asked Him, (just to make absolutely sure that they had heard Him correctly) “Shall I again draw near for battle against the children of my brother Benjamin?” And the LORD said, “Go up against him.”

Surely now success was inevitable. As morning came Israel attacked the people of Benjamin for a second day. Things didn’t get any better. Once again the superior army of Benjamin overcame the Israelite coalition, and by the end of the day 18,000 more Israelites lay dead on the field of battle. The second day of battle had been as disastrous as the first! This situation was inexplicable to the soldiers of Israel. Similar cases of failure, even when we are “sure” God has spoken to us, are just as inexplicable and unacceptable to us today. If God tells us to move forward, we assume that success and victory should be immediate and overwhelming. There should never be any reason for second or third attempts at accomplishing objectives that came directly from the mouth of our God. Something must be wrong. Perhaps we did not hear Him correctly. Perhaps He meant for someone else to do this. Perhaps we need to reevaluate our lives. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

The men of Israel went back to the house of God, asking God once again, “Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of my brother Benjamin, or shall I cease?” The request could be humorous if it weren’t so desperate: “God, do You really want us to fight against Benjamin? I mean, do You really, really, really want us to do this?” We are not told exactly how God answered these men, but we are told that He did answer them, and His answer was, “Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand” (Judges 20:28). This must have been a more satisfying reply. Not only did God say, “Go and fight,” but the exhortation came with a promise, “Tomorrow you shall have victory.” And it proved just that way.

On the next day the Israelites went against Benjamin, but with a slightly different (and improved) strategy. They divided into two groups. One group attacked the city directly as before, but another group waited behind the city. The first group drew the Benjamites out, away from their city, and the second group then entered the city and burned it to the ground. The Benjamite soldiers, looking behind them and seeing their city going up in flames, lost all heart to fight and were quickly routed by the Israelites. By the end of this third day, nearly the entire fighting force and most of the male population of Benjamin were killed, over 25,000 men. Israel had prevailed after all!

But why had it taken three days, with the first two days being a complete debacle for the men of Israel? Why not give victory the first time out? The short answer is, we don’t know. We can speculate that perhaps Israel needed to seek God more carefully about strategy, and then they could have succeeded on Day 1. Or perhaps God wanted to test their resolve. Or maybe the first two days of defeat put them in a place of humility so that when success finally came, they would give God the glory. But we cannot prove any of this by Scripture. In our own lives, we are often just as clueless.

Need for Determination

Sweaty guyIf we expect to see total victory from Day 1 every time we move forward in a new venture, a new ministry, a new direction, or a change of location, we will surely be disappointed. And we will lack that gritty perseverance and determination that separates the ultimate winners from the losers. Peter warns us not to count it as a strange thing when fiery trials come upon us. Apparently this is part of the “job description” of a believer: righteousness, peace, joy – and fiery trials. If we embrace the righteousness, peace, and joy but refuse to tolerate the fiery trials we have missed what it means to be a follower of Christ. And a part of those fiery trials are the setbacks, disappointments, and initial difficulties that will surely come our way when we attempt to make a major move toward the will of God for our lives.

After David’s many struggles, life-threatening situations, and constant fleeing for his life, King Saul finally died. A short civil war ensued between David’s men and those loyal to Saul’s family. At last David prevailed and was anointed king over all Israel. One might suppose this would now be a time to rejoice, take it easy, and enjoy the fruits of his many difficult and terrible years leading a band of ruffians in the wilderness and fighting for his life. But the Bible tells us: “Now when the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to search for David” (2 Samuel 5:17). David had barely consolidated power over Israel, and now he had a major fight with Israel’s arch-enemy, the Philistines.

Challenges

We, too, will face our own personal Philistines who will come looking for us the moment we enter into a new spiritual phase, a new ministry, a new marriage, or any other new direction the Lord has for us. And those who are faint of heart may suppose that these challenges and conflicts signal that they must have missed God, and they are out of His will. Worse still, they may pack up their toys and go home – and miss out on some of the greatest blessings of their lives. I know that heaven will be a place where there is no sadness or tears, but I suspect that the closest thing to sadness some will face in heaven will be when the Lord reveals to them blessings and breakthroughs that they might have had – had they not turned back in disappointment and fear.

Throughout our lives we will frequently face the absolute need to “press through,” to keep on moving forward despite stiff opposition, to carry on in the face of rejection, failure, ridicule, and confusion. Of course there are times when God is trying to stop us from moving outside of His perfect plan, but in such cases, the primary means He uses seems not to be problems or obstacles, but rather His “still, small voice” warning us of error and gently leading us to the right path. Jesus told Saul of Tarsus that it was hard for him to “kick against the goads.” These were not the goads of problems and conflicts that Jesus was using to stop Saul in his tracks, but rather the goads of a conscience that was screaming at him, “You are going the wrong way!” And that will generally be the case for us as well, when God is trying to bring our erroneous labors to a screeching halt.

But in cases where we are on the right track, and our conscience is not reproaching us, we must determine to move forward in our lives. Abiding in Jesus, forgiven and justified by the power of His cross and resurrection, we can trust Him as our Good Shepherd. And if victory does not come on Day 1 or Week 1 or Month 1, we will keep on keeping on. Our Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, will find a way to get us to those green pastures and still waters.


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