Be strong and courageous!

“You must endure hardship as a faithful soldier of Jesus Christ.” (2nd Timothy Ch2v3)

The following are genuine responses from comment cards handed into staff at a Forest Park in America;
The trails need to be wider so that people can walk holding hands.
The trails need to be reconstructed.
Avoid building paths that go uphill.
Please spray the vegetation near the paths as there are too many insects.
Please put in chair lifts so we can get to the wonderful views without having to hike to them.  
Please get rid of the coyotes. They made too much noise last night and kept me awake.
A deer came into our camp last night and stole some food. Can I be reimbursed?    
Reflectors need to be placed on trees every fifty feet so people can walk at night by torch light. 
Escalators would help on steep uphill sections.
The places where paths do not exist are not well marked.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that today many people have become real “softies”. Whether we are thinking of “the compensation culture” which is now so common or how often counselling is offered for the least hardship, it is difficult to believe that only 70 years ago a previous generation endured the horrors of the Second World War and went on to liberate Occupied Europe.

It seems that (with a few notable exceptions) many of today’s generation are unwilling to endure hardship or make any real sacrifice for the good of others. The result is that the whole of society has become increasingly selfish. There is very much “a me first attitude” with even the British Army complaining that it often has difficulty getting recruits who are willing to endure the rigors of basic training.

Sadly this lack of willingness to endure can also be seen amongst some Christians, especially in the West. They treat their faith and their obedience in a half hearted manner, failing to exert any real effort to keep the first Commandment; “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.” (Luke Ch10v27). They are unwilling to devote an hour a week to worshipping God in Church and are unwilling to set aside even a few minutes a day to read their Bible and pray. They are reluctant to endure any hardship or sacrifice if called upon to do so by their conscience and often take the path of least resistance. Then they wonder why their spiritual life seems so dull and dead! They want to experience God, but on their terms, not His.

I often hear individual Christians saying that they want “a deeper experience of God” and that they want closer encounters with the Divine. They want God to reveal Himself more fully and question why He doesn’t do so. The answer to their question however, is given in Scripture; we are clearly told in Hebrews Ch11v6 that “God rewards those who diligently seek for Him” and in Jeremiah Ch29v13 it says “You will find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” It is clear that to experience Christ an individual must wholeheartedly search for Him and be prepared, if necessary, to endure real hardship in order to remain obedient to His Commandments. Having the Lord in our lives and keeping Him first in our hearts must be our number one priority because it is clear that God will only be close to those who really and sincerely want Him.

This explains why faithful Christians, who are willing to endure persecution from dictatorships, experience the Lord in dramatic ways. They experience Him because they are not half hearted about following Him but regard their faith as so precious and their Lord so wonderful that they are prepared to endure hardship in order to remain obedient.

In Matthew Ch13v45, Jesus is described as being “The Pearl of Great Price” for which the merchant sold everything he had in order to obtain. Nothing half-hearted about that! And in Matthew Ch10 vs37-39 Jesus explained that “Anyone who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me…..” The reason for this statement, is that the Suffering and Agony of the Cross was so great and the love expressed so profound and undeserved, He is worthy of nothing less than our whole hearts. Out of love He paid the penalty of our sins so that we could be forgiven and this gives us cause to “rejoice with joy inexpressible” (1st Peter Ch1v8). However, since He did all this for us, Scripture states that we must be prepared to follow Him no matter what the cost and no matter what must be endured to remain faithful. Some day every one of us will stand before the Saviour and hear Him ask “I did all this for you out of love, what were you willing to sacrifice and endure for Me?”

Christians must never forget that the forgiveness and spiritual joy they now experience is all as a direct result of what happened on that first Good Friday. They must remember that they are “living in the context of the Cross” and that the Cross was no small thing. It was no minor thing for God the Father to send His Son and it was no small thing for Jesus to be willing to endure crucifixion on our behalf. It was and is the central and defining event of all creation and the pivotal point around which all the Universe revolves. As St Paul was moved to write in 2nd Corinthians Ch9v15 “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.”

Some years ago a pastor came up with a clever way of reminding his youth group that all the blessings they were enjoying had come about as a direct the result of the Cross. They were going on a church trip to Florida and as they prepared to board the coach he got them to fashion a huge cross from two pieces of timber. He explained that in order to teach them that they were now living off the blessings and benefits won at Calvary, this cross would go with them wherever they went.

Members of the youth group looked at one another a little unsure of his plan but they agreed to go along with it. They dragged the huge cross on to the coach and there it banged back and forth in the aisle all the way to Florida. It went with them into restaurants, it stayed overnight where they stayed and it stood on the beach as they enjoyed the sand and surf.

At first lugging the cross around embarrassed them, but gradually it came to be a point of identification. That cross became a silent reminder of who they were and what had been done for them. Eventually they regarded carrying the cross as an honour and privilege.

The night before they returned home their pastor handed out two nails to each of them. He told them that if they wanted to commit themselves to what the cross stood for, they could hammer one nail into it and keep the other with them. One by one the group drove their nails into the cross.

About fifteen years later, one member of the youth group, who was now a successful stockbroker contacted this pastor and told him that he still kept his nail with him in his desk drawer. He stated that whenever he was in danger of forgetting what was really important in life he would look at the nail to remind him of what should be at the core of his life; his commitment to Jesus Christ, no matter what the cost.

Someone once dreamt that they had died and gone to heaven. He found himself in the midst of a great multitude. “Who are you?” he asked someone standing near to him. The man replied “I am a Roman Christian. I was put to death during Nero’s reign.” “How awful” said the dreamer. “No I was willing to give my life for Jesus because He gave His life for me,” was the reply. “And who are you?” the dreamer asked someone else. “I am from a South Sea Island. The missionary John Williams came there and told me about the love of Jesus. I became a follower and I was killed for my faith.” Just then the dreamer awoke. “How little I have been willing to endure for Jesus” he sobbed. “Forgive me Lord. I will now take up my cross and follow You no matter what hardship I must endure to remain faithful.”

To truly experience the Lord and walk with Him day by day we must remain faithful and obedient no matter what hardships we may have to endure. “I went to the Cross for you; what are you willing to do for Me?”