Don't be surprised at trouble along the way

Many years ago a man blithely said to the famous preacher Charles Finney that he didn’t believe in the existence of a devil. The old preacher wisely commented “Well resist him and his works for a while and then you certainly will!” Scripture teaches that at the moment there is a massive spiritual battle going on for the heart and soul of every individual on this planet.  Is an individual going to follow the path of evil and selfishness, or are they going to follow the path of righteousness and Godliness? This is a question which confronts us all day by day and hour by hour.  Every time we have to choose what we are going to do or think or say we are involved in this spiritual conflict to some degree. Are we going to obey the Lord’s will concerning our conduct, or are we going to reject it?

In John Ch10v10 Jesus said “I have come so that people may have life, and that they may have it in full abundance.”  He further added in Ch14v6 “I Am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”  Following the Lord and the path of Godliness is the way to experience full life along with the promise of eternal life in the age to come. A person following this path receives complete pardon for all their sins and begins to develop a new and Godly character. They will begin to experience an inner peace and joy which they never had before and they will sense that they have the Lord’s Companionship with them moment by moment.

Finney’s wise reply is based on the Biblical warning that there is an entity which doesn’t want individuals to have this new life and who makes things difficult for them when they choose it. Scripture calls this entity, the devil, Satan or The Deceiver. In Revelation Ch12v12 we are told that Satan or the devil has come down to this earth “having great wrath, because he knows that he has but a short time left.” Satan’s rebellion against all that is good and pure and lovely is running out of time and this has made him even more frantic to turn people away from choosing the path of life.

In 1st Peter Ch5v7 it warns “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” When an individual chooses to accept life by starting to obey the Lord, at some point they will inevitably meet resistance from the powers of darkness to try and turn them away from this new life. Scripture urges individuals not to be surprised at this resistance but to take courage that it is actually a sign that they really are following the right path. As it says in 1st Peter Ch4v12 “Beloved do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing has happened to you, but rejoice to the extent that you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings.”

Scripture further adds that if they faithfully stay on the path of life in spite of these specific troubles, then after
a time these particular troubles will lessen and finally vanish away.  In James Ch4v7 it says “Resist the devil and then he will flee from you.”  Followers of Christ still have to endure the normal day to day problems which arise from living in a Fallen World but if they have remained faithful to the Lord through particular troubles aimed at turning them from Him, then Satan will eventually give up and flee from them. The result is that these particular problems will ultimately disappear as quickly and mysteriously as they arose in the first place. This pattern of events is something all true Christians will have experienced to some degree and the following story is a perfect example.

This moving account concerns the call of Karl Johanson to the mission field and the problems he faced immediately after he accepted that call. Karl was born in Sweden in February 1868 and as a young lad found work on a farm.  One day, during a time of religious revival in Sweden, this devout Christian lad was out in the fields ploughing with oxen. The oxen were moving steadily before him when he suddenly felt himself surrounded by a heavenly Presence. He wrote “I thought of stopping the oxen but I couldn’t utter a word.” An unseen Hand seemed to touch him and he then heard a clear Voice ask “Will you go as My messenger to Africa?” “My whole being trembled and I longed to run home to my employer who was a Christian. I knew however, that a personal reply was required of me. I then answered with fear and trembling; ‘Yes, if You Yourself will go with me.’ At once the Voice replied; ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ With that the Heavenly Presence withdrew as suddenly as it had appeared.”

His account continues; “It is impossible to describe the situation I found myself in and the turmoil in my heart. My life’s plans crashed around me now that I had a call to go to Africa. Severe temptations from the evil one then beset me and I thought at times my mind would give way. Doubts about the existence of God and doubts about the truth of the Bible suddenly overwhelmed me like a flood. All that I had learned, heard and read was scattered like straw before the wind. Moreover, I knew of no organisation through which I could go.” Karl’s family didn’t really understand or support him either and because the call was so sacred he was unable to share it with more than a few chosen people.

Throughout all of these problems and temptations Karl remained faithful and steadfast to the Lord. After a period of time, all these difficulties mysteriously disappeared, he found an organisation to support him and eventually he went out as a missionary to South Africa with the Swedish Holiness Union in 1893.  Ultimately he became director of the entire Swedish Zulu Mission. In South Africa he met and married a Norwegian Christian and the two of them and their family served the Lord faithfully until his death in October 1945. He was loved and respected by all. The message of the Gospel he was sent to proclaim changed the lives and destinies of countless individuals and families, all because he remained faithful through those initial difficulties.

In Ephesians Ch6 v12 St Paul describes this sort of spiritual conflict in the following manner; “We do not wrestle against mere flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age and against spiritual hosts of wickedness in high places.”  In verses 13-17 he then goes on to explain how to handle such conflict. “Take up the whole armour of God that you may be able to stand in the evil day…and above all else take the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.”  Karl maintained his obedience most especially by taking up what St Paul refers to as “the shield of faith”.  What this means in practise is very simple. When Karl was tempted to feel he wasn’t called, he accepted by faith that he was. When he was tempted to feel that God didn’t exist, he continued to accept by faith that He did and when he was tempted to feel that the Bible was untrue, he held fast by faith that it was true. Each time he overcame his feelings by relying upon “the shield of faith”, faith and feeling being two totally different things.

Depending on what form temptation comes in, sometimes it is described as being similar to experiencing a mirage in the desert. Over the centuries numerous travellers through desert regions have witnessed this phenomena and have written about what they felt. Depending on their physical state, the feelings the mirage generated could be overwhelming; they could almost taste the water, see the trees, and feel the coolness of the lake around their feet. Their feelings and senses cried out to them to go in that direction; but they knew by faith in their map and compass it was simply an illusion.

For the Christian, their map or compass is the Bible. No matter what they may be tempted to feel to the contrary, they have the sure Word of God to rely on and if they remain faithful as Karl did, then in time these false feelings will pass. Temptation may also come in the form of opposition from family, health problems, undue busyness, materialism, money worries or whatever, but provided they remain faithful to the Lord, the new life they have chosen in Him can never be stolen or taken from them by the powers of darkness. As we are promised in 1st Corinthians Ch10v13 “God is faithful, Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able to bear…” and in Psalm 55v22 it adds “Cast your burden on the Lord and then He will sustain you because He will never permit the righteous to be moved.”

These were some of the precious promises that kept missionary Fay Goddard going after she contracted polio. Fay was a missionary in the Philippines but at the age of only 29 she came down with polio. One week she was hiking through mountains preaching the Gospel, the next she was unable to hold a full glass of water. Back in Seattle she was fitted for a wheelchair and told she would be handicapped for the rest of her life. How did she cope spiritually?

Looking back, she wrote that the first thing which really helped was by reaffirming the Saviour’s Lordship over her life and that she was willing to be used by Him no matter what happened to her. She said that the next thing which significantly helped her, were all the promises of God in Holy Scripture. She consciously acknowledged that His promises hadn’t changed and His grace and strength was still there for the taking.

Finally what helped was when she realised that God could still use her where she was. “During my nine months in rehabilitation I became aware that God had simply changed my mission field. Instead of barefoot Buhid, I was right in the middle of a group of people whose lives had been shattered by accidents or crippling disease…. I was with teenagers paralysed from the neck down in falls on ski slopes or car accidents.”

After being released from her extended stay in hospital she went to work for the missionary society at their head office. This work simply involved stuffing envelopes, licking stamps and trying to find enough to do to fill the day.  After a few weeks she felt Satan tempting her to feel useless and a burden to the organisation. As the temptation grew she began to feel really depressed and downcast in spirit, something that she hadn’t really experienced before. One day as she was praying about the situation she sensed the Lord say “If I need you to do this kind of work, what is that to you? Just follow Me.” Fay was determined to remain faithful so she consciously made up her mind to remain obedient even if the work seemed unchallenging and boring.

A few days later after having made this decision in the face of strong temptation her whole role dramatically changed. She was invited to become editor and producer of the mission’s magazine “East Asia Millions”.  Twenty years later she wrote “I am still putting the magazine together; editing material, doing the layout, and preparing it for printing. The joy is still there.” She had remained faithful through fierce temptation and by overcoming it, the Lord was then able to use her in a brand new way.

In Acts Ch14v22 it warns, “We must through many tribulations enter the Kingdom of God.” Those who follow the Lord Jesus are at war with evil. The powers of darkness from time to time, will try to take away their new life in Christ; they will try to take away their reward in Him and all that that reward means. They will try to take away their pardon for sin, their peace and their joy and their sense of Companionship with Him. However, provided a Christian holds fast no matter what, God will help and sustain them through it. As Jesus reassures us in John Ch10v28 “I have given them eternal life and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”