CHANGING OUR STRENGTH
CHANGING OUR STRENGTH Copyright Š 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright Š 973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
The greatest need of the hour is for God's people to abandon their own abilities, even spiritual abilities, and to depend on Christ in all matters great and small. Many of us have been as far as Pentecost, in God's dealings. Now the issue is raised: do we go forth to save the world or do we come before God with no ability whatever to do or think anything and look to the Lord Jesus Christ for every thought we think, every word we speak, and every step we take?
CHANGING OUR STRENGTH
"Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband," says the LORD. (Isaiah 54:1—NIV)
There is pressure on us, expectations that we are to go out and save the world, empty the hospitals and prisons, and so forth. Are we willing to resist such pressure and wait until we know for certain what Jesus would have us do? Are we willing to have God treat us as He did Abraham and Sarah? Elkanah and Hannah? When everyone else is being "successful"?
Whenever God intervenes in the normal course of things there is a good reason. Whenever righteous people are frustrated, when their prayers and hopes are delayed far beyond that which normally should occur, then God is planning something special for them.
The new Jerusalem, the Presence of God among people, is being formed from those who have suffered at the hand of God until their strength has changed from Adam to Christ.
Isaiah uses the idea of a barren woman to portray a truth that applies to many areas of our life—the idea of God bringing us down to weakness that His strength and wisdom may prevail in place of ours.
Today the barrenness that afflicted Sarah, the mother of Samson, Hannah, and Elizabeth would not appear so grievous. But in those days in that culture barrenness was a dreadful curse. The woman was supposed to present her husband with an heir, with happy boys and girls to insure the strength and delight of the household and the continuation of the family line. To not be able to bless her husband with children brought upon the barren wife a sorrowful reproach.
But when the time came for Isaac, Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist to play their role of Kingdom importance in the Divine plan, it was necessary for God to intervene and cause barrenness so that when the child did appear, the birth was unusually significant and miraculous.
So it is with all who are to serve in the new Jerusalem, the rebuilders and maintainers of a world wherein dwells righteousness, where Satan and his ways will have vanished from even the memory of mankind.
The world will never be a decent place for righteous people until the spiritual adversary has been destroyed.
Today I fear we are too rich in our own ways. We speak of God's men of faith and power instead of the faithful and powerful God. We are far too man-centered and must return to the adoration of the Holy One of Israel.
God blesses those who are meekly dependent on Him but turns away those who come filled with their own abilities.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:53—NIV)
How about you? Are you ready to do big things for God or are you ready to worship the big God?
Of all the people in the world who had a remarkable testimony, who knew God and was blessed with the Spirit of power and revelation, none exceeded the Apostle Paul. But God dealt severely with Paul in order to break down his natural wisdom and strength, which probably were outstanding.
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (II Corinthians 1:8,9—NIV)
Notice that Paul does not blame the devil or people for his pain. He states that the things that happened to him were for the purpose of changing his reliance on his own considerable abilities to God who raises those who are dead to their own ways.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. (II Corinthians 4:8-10—NIV)
Paul was "hard pressed on every side" so it would not be his adamic nature that was exhibited but the very Life of Jesus.
We must be made barren before the eternal Life of God can be brought into view. The new Jerusalem comprises people whose natural strength has been exchanged for God's strength. It is these who will rebuild the places destroyed by Antichrist, the great tribulation, and the invasion of the army of the Lord.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. (Isaiah 61:4—NIV)
Paul had had an extraordinary revelation of Paradise. Lest he be exalted in his own glory, God permitted Satan to attack Paul's body.
Paul prayed repeatedly that God would lift the affliction.
Finally the Lord spoke: "My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in weakness."
We do not enjoy being made weak. But Paul decided to rejoice in his infirmities because it became obvious to him that the Lord's Presence was much more with him when he was totally dependent on the Lord for his daily strength.
God dealt strictly with Israel, bringing His people through an inhospitable desert before He would allow them to enjoy the bounty of Canaan. God deprived them of many comforts in order to teach them how to behave in the land of promise.
God deprives us of many comforts as He teaches us how we are to behave in the new age to which He is bringing us. Once we have immortality in our body we will be capable of causing great harm to God's creation. We must be taught, tested, taught, tested, taught, tested in the present world until God is positive that we will keep all of His commandments when we are released into glory.
One of the great errors of today's Christian teaching is the emphasis on making the believer happy and prosperous in the present world. The Gospel of the Kingdom is our hope for a future world, a world of righteousness. In order to be found worthy of that world we must prove ourselves in today's furnace of affliction. If we are not found to be people of faithfulness and integrity we have little hope of being entrusted with the powers of the age to come. Mercy and grace have nothing to do with this, it is our moral transformation that is critical.
Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers. Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:1-3—NIV)
God leads us through the wilderness of this world to humble us. Theologians tell us God knows everything; but apparently (from the above passage) He does not know what is in our heart until He tests us. God wants to know if we are going to keep His commandments when He releases us in the day of resurrection. It is extremely important that we keep our heart with diligence and always choose to do God's will as we understand it.
But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, (Luke 20:35—NIV)
We are not considered worthy of taking part in the new age of righteousness and the resurrection from the dead by taking "the four steps of salvation," or believing in Christ, or by grace or mercy or any other device. We Christians are counted worthy of the new age of righteousness only by doing God's will as we understand it. As we pray to Jesus He helps us do God's will.
I understand this is not what is being taught today but it is the truth of the Scriptures.
God humbles us. He makes us barren so to speak, depriving us of the good things of life, and then feeds us with manna. This means He gives us strength each day to do His will, to overcome the evil assigned to us that day. The Israelites did not enjoy being reduced to eating manna, but they could count on it being on the ground in the morning. You may not enjoy being deprived of what you want in the present life, but you can count on God's grace and faithfulness being renewed to you each morning.
God teaches us that man does not live by material resources alone. Man is utterly dependent on the words continually flowing from the mouth of God on behalf of each individual. Our barrenness, and then the fulfillment of the promises made to us, cause us to understand what actually is true of every human being on earth and in the heavenlies—that we are living by the Words of God and not just by what the world provides.
Sometimes, as was true of Abraham and Sarah, we become impatient and take matters into our own hands. We feel we have waited on God long enough. Maybe there actually is a verse in the Bible, we think, that says "God helps those who help themselves." (There isn't, of course!)
Abraham and Sarah helped themselves and the result was Ishmael. Sarah soon came to grief over her decision as she felt the scorn of the pregnant Hagar. Abraham came to grief when he had to send Hagar and Ishmael off to die in the wilderness. The descendants of Ishmael have been a source of pain to the Jews to the present day.
You want to bring forth a "wild man"? Act before God's time. Try to overcome your barrenness in your own strength and wisdom. Observe the result!
Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment. (Isaiah 50:10,11—NIV)
When we are walking in the dark, when we have no light, let us trust in the name of the Lord and rely on our God. Let us remember Job, Abraham and Sarah, Joseph, the mother of Samson, Hannah, and Elizabeth. Let us see what will come forth when God finally acts!
We understand from the above passage that those who go forth in their own strength and wisdom, even their own strength and wisdom in the work of the Gospel, displease the Lord greatly . "You will lie down in torment"!
Let us wait on the Lord and not move until we know what we are doing. I am speaking of major decisions, not of faithfully performing the daily tasks that have been entrusted to us. It often is better, for example, for young people to go to trade school or college rather than to shut themselves in a closet and fast and pray in the hope of forcing God to answer. I will tell you this: God does not like to be forced to answer.
Proverbs advises us to not depend on our own understanding but to acknowledge God in all our ways—in all our ways! When we acknowledge God in all our ways He seldom answers us by speaking to us but He always directs our paths.
God always helps those who place their trust in Him.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:29-31—NIV)
Has God brought you to a place of weakness as He did the Apostle Paul? Then wait on the Lord. Hope in the Lord. He will renew (change) your strength. You will fly with God. You will be as a burning bush that never is consumed.
In place of your natural strength and wisdom (that of the youth, that fails) you will have the eternal, incorruptible resurrection Life of Jesus Christ in you.
You will change from Adam to a life-giving spirit.
What does Isaiah tell us to do when God intervenes in our life and we are denied that which ordinarily would be earned by us or given to us?
"Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; . . . ." (Isaiah 54:1—NIV)
Why do we burst into song and shout for joy?
". . . Because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband," says the LORD. (Isaiah 54:1—NIV)
We who are deprived of that which ordinarily would be ours are to rejoice exceedingly because our barrenness indicates that great things are afoot.
We are to "enlarge the place of our tent." This means we are to get ready in our heart for wonderful, surprising things that the Lord always does for those who patiently wait for Him.
If we, as faithful Abraham, patiently wait for God to fulfill His promise, then our "descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities." We will bring great blessing to the world. We will experience marvelous fruitfulness that never, never could have been ours had we saved our life instead of losing it in God.
Every true Christian has a desire to do something to help our poor world. This is a worthy motive and sometimes God does lead us to perform helpful work of some sort. We should always be zealous of good works, according to the Scriptures.
But we must keep in mind that God has a marvelous plan for solving the problem of Satan and sin. The new Jerusalem is the holy city that will govern the new world. Those who compose the holy city must go through long periods of denial that they may give their strength in exchange for God's strength; their life in exchange for God's Life.
There may be a reproach resting on us now, but in the day that God deems us ready to govern the new world of righteousness we will no longer remember the disgrace of our "widowhood." Once "the child is born" the pain of the travail will be forgotten.
Before any saint is fully reconciled to God there must come a period during which God's anger toward the sin and rebellion in his personality is demonstrated. Thus we of today who are looking to the Lord for all things are going through the spiritual fulfillment of the Old Testament Day of Atonement, of Reconciliation.
"For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you," says the LORD your Redeemer. (Isaiah 54:7,8—NIV)
The Christian's sins were forgiven by the blood of the cross. We have been reconciled to God in this legal sense. The actual reconciliation of our personality to God takes place after we have been forgiven and filled with God's Spirit.
In each of us there is worldliness, various bodily lusts, and self-will. These three areas must be dealt with thoroughly before we are totally reconciled to God in personality; before we are living in untroubled rest in the center of God's will.
We go through much tribulation and numerous tests before every facet of our personality is brought through death and resurrection. All that is in us that cannot stand the Fire of God's holy Presence must be removed from us. Only that which has been raised in Jesus Christ is permitted to enter the Kingdom of God.
It is this very aspect of salvation, that of the sufferings we experience because of our sinful nature, that is missing from today's preaching. Until it is restored Christians will lash out at the tools God is using, or abandon their integrity and flee from the furnace, betraying those who trust in them.
We are found worthy of the Kingdom of God only as we work through, as cheerfully and as patiently as we can, the many afflictions we experience.
If you are going through such a period of frustration, bewilderment, pain, dread, deprivation, at the present time, do not quit. Just do not quit! Stay with God. You are not in a grave but in a tunnel.
Think about the three Hebrew men in Nebuchadnezzar's furnace. A fourth Man was there, the Lord Jesus Christ. That same Man is with you through all your afflictions.
God has not forsaken you although at times it may seem that He has.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walked from the furnace without the smell of the fire on them. Only their bondages were burned. So it will be with you if you do not lose your integrity but stay faithful.
The higher your building is destined to be the deeper the foundation will be dug. Those who are to be on the left and right hand of Christ must be baptized with His baptism and drink from His cup. They must share His sufferings.
After you have suffered for a while God will restore you splendidly.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (I Peter 5:10—NIV)
Until God wounds you and binds you up again you are still living in your adamic nature. Your adamic nature is not suitable for God's Kingdom; neither is it of much use for a world cursed with the presence of Satan.
God does not want you to be exalted. God desires to be exalted. For you to be exalted would lead only to your destruction. It actually is God's wisdom and goodness that is insisting you be crucified with Christ and live by His Life. Only then are you safe. Only then can you realistically look forward to fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.
Once God is satisfied that you are ready for His Kingdom you never again will be subjected to His anger and chastening.
"To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:9,10—NIV)
Sometime people are under the impression as soon as we die and go to Heaven our troubles are over. I am not so sure this is true. There is no Scripture to the effect that death will save us from our troubles. In fact, it may be true that to die and pass into the spirit world will prove to be out of the frying pan and into the fire for many of today's lukewarm believers.
Actually the promises of the Scriptures that have to do with our emergence from tribulation and fear are given to those whom God has brought through the fire, not with every professor of Christ who has died. Our safety and deliverance are in Christ and are effective independently of whether we are on earth or in Heaven. There is no Scripture that tells us we will be safe in Heaven. If anything the opposite may be true. Heaven is where sin began.
Our only safety is in the everlasting arms of Jesus.
If you want to be sure of a happy future, get right with Jesus; don't count on dying to bring you to peace and joy. How do you feel about this?
Isaiah proceeds to tell about the adornments of the new Jerusalem, the adornments that will be ours after our barrenness has accomplished its eternal work in us.
O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise your foundations with sapphires. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones. (Isaiah 54:11,12NIV)
I think the new Jerusalem is both literal and symbolic. Precious stones are created by heat and pressure. Pearls, from which the gates are formed, are constructed as an oyster responds to an irritation under its shell.
So it is true that during our "barrenness" we are subjected to heat and pressure. We respond, sometimes over many years, to a constant irritation by building a pearl of prayer, faith, and trust in God. The precious stones and pearls reveal to us the refinement of personality of those who compose the new Jerusalem.
Precious stones are beautiful and hard. Today's Christians are too soft. Many have complained that the Gospel we preach is "too hard." They are not sure whether it is scriptural, it is just "too hard."
Let me respond by saying the barrenness to which we are subjected for long periods of time is not a "soft" way. It can be very hard at times, almost unbearable. In order to survive we must have a hardness in us that is determined to stay with God. There can be no compromise whatever. We obey God faithfully to our dying breath and we do so without complaining.
If you find this to be too hard it is because you are a soft American believer. The Scripture advises you to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, to arm yourself with a mind to suffer.
If you do not adopt such a determined resolute stance, I can tell you with assurance that you will have no part in the first resurrection or in the army that will follow the Lord Jesus Christ in the attack of Armageddon. You are unwilling to submit to discipline now and you will be unwilling to submit to discipline in the Day of the Lord.
You are unprepared for the age of moral horrors we are entering and may very well turn away from Christ. Many of us have not been prepared for what is ahead and it is time for our pastors and teachers to start preaching the Bible instead of our unexamined traditions!
There is a wonderful promise to the faithful believer who is a parent.
All your sons will be taught by the LORD, and great will be your children’s peace. (Isaiah 54:13—NIV)
If you have wayward children take this verse and hold onto it. God will hear you. It is His Word.
Other promises follow, addressed to those whom God brings through the waters and fires of chastening.
In righteousness you will be established: tyranny will be far from you; you will have nothing to fear. Terror will be far removed; it will not come near you. (Isaiah 54:14—NIV)
It appears certain persecution is ahead for the fervent saints, for those who are submitted to God and not following the popular crowd. They will be persecuted both by the world and by believers who do not know the Lord, I think.
God has promised to assist those who have changed their strength for His. He will help them against their enemies, particularly against those "Christians" who would seek to destroy them with accusations and slander.
If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing; whoever attacks you will surrender to you. "See, it is I who created the blacksmith who fans the coals into flame and forges a weapon fit for its work. And it is I who have created the destroyer to work havoc; no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me," declares the LORD. (Isaiah 54:16,17—NIV)
It is God who creates the destroyer and it is God who controls the destroyer. We are to submit ourselves to God, not avenging ourselves. God has promised to avenge us.
Sometimes believers slander other believers. This is the work of the great dragon, the accuser of the brothers. The Book of Romans classifies those who gossip and slander with the worst kind of sinners, saying they are worthy of death. Their mouths are set on fire by Hell. There is no end to the destruction they cause. I am speaking of gossiping Christians!
When they or anyone else attacks us we are to look to the Lord to remove the flaming arrows. We then will be able to refute the tongue that accuses us. God will vindicate us if we do not attempt to fight the devil's fire with fire of our own making.
In some circumstances we are to go to the offending believer and confront him with what he is doing. If he will repent we have gained a brother or sister. It seems however that in many instances it is best to keep our mouth shut and wait for God to bring forth our righteousness as the light and our judgment as the noonday.
Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. (Psalms 37:5,6—NIV)
I have been saying for years that the Charismatic move will finally be split over the issue of suffering. A minority of the believers will accept the role of suffering in our redemption and be willing to allow God to baptize them with the fire of Divine judgment. They will give everything to God and wait patiently for His power and wisdom to come forth through them. They will express the Divine Nature in the earth and possibly in the heavens. A massive work is yet to be performed for God has promised to shake both Heaven and earth. All that is not of Jesus Christ will be shaken out of the Kingdom.
The majority of believers, it appears, will become the False Prophet. They will learn how to work miracles, even using the name of Jesus, and will go forth in their self-will to do what they think is God's work. They will be deceived by Antichrist and will join with him in the endeavor to make a better world.
But it will be a world governed by the mind of man, not by the Spirit of God.
Eventually Satan will reveal himself in Antichrist and then the disillusioned Christians will discover they were not truly serving God.
Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name. "They will be mine," says the LORD Almighty, "in the day when I make up my treasured possession I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him." And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not. (Malachi 3:16-18—NIV)
Paul tells us to judge nothing before the time God has appointed for all things to be revealed, and so we must be careful not to be criticizing and judging people.
There are fervent disciples in America. We must join ourselves with them as we wait for the power of Christ to direct and empower us in the last-day witness, the promised latter-rain outpouring of the spirit of God. In the present hour there are those who are being brought low so that their natural strength and wisdom may be exchanged for God's strength and wisdom. Now they may be viewed with disdain, but we know from the Word of God that their day will come.
Just when Antichrist thinks he has the world under control, the living God will roar from His true people. The efforts of flesh and blood will be nothing in that day. The power of God and His Christ shall fill the Church. Then the saved nations of the earth will come to the Light of God they see in the saints.
Let us do what we can today, being diligent in our service to God. But if God sees fit to "keep us on the shelf," as we say, let us recognize we are being privileged to share the suffering of the heroes and heroines of the Scriptures who also have been required to wait many years for the Holy One of Israel to fulfill His promises.
But He that has promised shall come, right on time, and then our adversaries will be ashamed.
For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay." (Hebrews 10:37—NIV)
And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation. (Isaiah 25:9—NIV)