This is the second post in a series of blog posts from Nelson Roberts. (Read Part One here) Nelson is a member at Brookstone Church and has recently sensed a calling into full-time vocational ministry. We are encouraged by how God is at work in his life and see clear evidence of this calling. Be encouraged that God has a calling on everyone's life. First He calls us into relationship with Jesus, and beyond that He calls us to a specific purpose in life. All vocations whether it be full-time ministry, working in the business world, or stay at home mom's, are valuable and loaded with purpose in God's design. May these blog posts be an encouragement to you as you read. - Pastor Scott
God has confirmed my calling to pursue ministry with Hebrews 12:12-13. I would like to break these verses down line by line over a series of blog posts to gain deeper meaning and insight into my calling. Again, all of Scripture is God breathed and is good for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Let’s look at these verses in context and let’s also take a look at their origin.
Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
This is a reference to Isaiah 35:3, “Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees.” Isaiah was urging God’s people to repent and turn from their wicked ways and once again to look to God for their salvation and worship only Him. Isaiah was a prophet in a time when God’s people need to be reminded that no matter how ominous or uncertain their circumstances seemed, their God had not forsaken them. Hard times were coming but so was their salvation. The message is this: Do not focus on the hardship at hand, but look to God’s promise of what is to come.
The book of Isaiah is laden with very specific prophecies about Jesus. This message holds more for us than a promise of salvation to come in what may be a very distant future. These promises have been satisfied. What was foretold has come to pass. Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of His first coming and we wait only for His return. All of God’s promises are available to us through the death of Jesus Christ His Son. Salvation is available to all those who are called and believe. Jesus has conquered death and we can have life in Him now through the Holy Spirit and when we pass from this life we can live with Him for eternity.
Now back to Hebrews. The book of Hebrews was written to the early church to encourage believers who were in a time of trial. By the time we get to chapter 12 our author has built a firm foundation of encouragement and we are learning about endurance.
It seems that many of us in the church start the race of life in Christ strong, but we do not know how to endure to the end. Many of us stop running and begin to walk when the race is growing long and we are growing weary. We look at our circumstances instead of at the finish line. We stop moving forward and begin to grow stagnant. The prolonged break never leads to any further movement. This, in time becomes a fruitless life that neglects the fact that there ever was a race. This is a wasted life.
Chapter 12 also exhorts us to, “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” How do we do this? Being an active part of a growing body of believers is essential to running the race well and enduring to the end. We do this through our Life Groups and various opportunities to study the Bible with fellow believers. As we grow close to each other, confession and repentance become a part of this special fellowship.
The early church suffered severe persecution and many of Christ’s followers died horrible yet glorious deaths. What can make a horrible death glorious? Essentially, knowing for Whom you are dying and where you will be spending eternity is how this is possible. When your life is threatened, what you believe will save you becomes apparent. It is difficult, if not impossible for us “First World” Christians to imagine this kind of persecution and martyrdom. This letter was sent to a group of people who needed to be reminded to press on, to do so together, and that Jesus, their Messiah was alive.
We are exhorted to remember Jesus’ example in enduring suffering on our behalf, even to the point of death. We are called to endure for discipline in verse 7. If our earthly fathers disciplined us and we respected them then, “shall we not much more be subject to the father of spirits and live?” Verse 10 states, “But God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.”
Jesus endured the cross. He is our great example. He has done what we could not do for ourselves and He now empowers us to endure. Hebrews 12:2 says, “… who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” As we share in Jesus’ life we must also share in His death and also in His suffering. And we are to do it with joy.
Whhhaat? Seriously? Is this possible? The joy is not in the pain and pain is not to be sought after for its own sake. Joy comes from the reward of the suffering, looking past the present circumstances or afflictions and looking to the reward of God’s promises. For Jesus this was acting on our behalf in obedience to God the Father, to redeem and restore us, and to pay for our sin. Jesus could see the end, but His joy was not without pain and suffering.
James 1:2 states, “Count it all joy my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” What is this faith? Hebrews 11:1 tells us, ”Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This faith is a soul transforming belief in God, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit. A belief that God has the power to save your soul, has given you life, and it is His to take. This faith is not a mystical hope for things to get better if you become a better person or try harder.
Faith helps us understand that no matter what circumstances may come, God doesn’t change nor does His love for us. Our hope rests in God. So when trials come—not if, but when— these trials will test your faith. The testing of your faith grows and strengthens your faith. So we need to believe that trials are actually an opportunity for spiritual growth. We do not needlessly suffer, but should joyously accept an opportunity to have our faith tested so we can seek God’s wisdom in His word, pray to Him in the Spirit, and be steadfast in our faith, running this race of life with endurance and looking to Jesus in all things.
Hebrews 12:11 asserts, “For a time all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” I would like to point out a strong point made in this verse. I believe it is a matter of perspective based on our focus. “ For a time all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant.” If you take your focus off the One for whom all things were created, by whom all things were created, and in whom all things find their true purpose and instead focus on the temporary pain caused by the trials, you will not endure well. You will not endure with joy and you will not see the fruit of righteousness that comes from the discipline of the Father.
God is not surprised by the situations we face in life. God has ordained or allowed our circumstances to come. We may be dealing with the result of our own sin. We may feel we are blindsided by destruction and the loss of life. These trials are from God. But take heart, God’s purpose in these trials is to test our faith that we can endure and grow more and more into the likeness of the One who lived the life we could not live. In these trials we can turn to our great High Priest, our King, Jesus, because He knows the pain of our suffering. Remember what faith is. It is not a mystical hope for things to get better and that the road will smooth out soon. What if it doesn’t? Did things smooth out for Jesus? Do we need a quick recap of the last 24 hours of His life? Wrongfully accused, wrongfully sentenced to death by crucifixion, mocked, beaten, stripped naked, and hung on a cross as a spectacle. As Jesus took His first step as a toddler you better believe He was already moving toward the cross, to suffer to the point of death on our behalf. Do not think that it was a small thing for Jesus to suffer the cross and die for you.
This process of having our faith tested and growing spiritually from trials is called sanctification. What seems harmful to us may in some situations actually be for our good. This is joyous news. If we look to our own anatomy and physiology, we see that by testing our muscles and forcing them to endure hardship we increase our strength. Temporary pain and discomfort give way to increased strength and endurance. It is as though believing Christians have a spiritual gym membership: while enduring the consequences of the Fall, living through the consequences of our own sin, and enduring faith-testing trials, God reveals Himself, His worth, and His truth to make us more like Jesus, thus sanctifying us for Himself.
Let’s get practical. When your life is threatened, what you really believe will save you becomes apparent.
When you are in a time of trial do you ask God for help? Do you realize God knows what you are going through?
How are you responding to your circumstances? Do you ask God to change your circumstances or do you look to grow spiritually in adverse circumstances? Do you ask, “God change me?”
What is your focus? Do you keep your eyes on your goal, to be utterly and totally reliant on Jesus, His strength and His finished work on the cross? Do you focus on your momentary problems or do you stay focused on the only One who can help?
Let’s seek God in prayer and in His Word (the Bible) for wisdom to endure and grow into spiritual maturity and to be sanctified for His purposes! Next time we will begin to move through our verse with purpose toward endurance.
Please stay tuned for Part 3 of this series on calling.