Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. -- Philippians 4: 11-13 (ESV)
Let me start today with a little story of a man who served the Lord with everything he had. Once he considered Jesus his enemy as the world does but on a train to an anti-Christian event one day he received a divine visitation from Christ Himself. He felt as if his life was radically transformed that very day as one would expect. He became burdened for more remote areas in the world that did not know Jesus as Savior and had no places to worship. Leaving behind a comfortable life he became a missionary to such areas, preaching Christ and planting churches. As one might imagine, not all of these areas took kindly to the message of Christ since it grated against the false gods they liked to serve. In one area he was taken before a tribunal that sentenced him to be tied to pillar and scourged forty times. This would happen to him in four other countries as well. Other times the beatings were less formal, using rods or whatever weapons the locals could find to use against him. In one country an entire village picked up stones to kill him and yet he survived.
Instead of despairing, he pressed on. On three different occasions the ship he was traveling on collapsed, one time setting him adrift and exposed to the elements for days. A foreigner with a foreign message, he found himself the victim of muggings, robberies and even betrayal by those who claimed they were his brothers in Christ. He went without food, proper clothing, and shelter too many times to remember. Eventually he would become a political prisoner for Christ and would be sentenced to death; martyred for his Lord and Savior. Yet through all of the hardships he held onto the teachings of Christ and firmly believed the key verses today. How can we be sure of this? Because he wrote them. The story above is the story of the Apostle Paul, modernized a little to disguise the obviousness. Don't believe me?
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one--I am talking like a madman--with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? -- 2Corinthians 11: 23-29 (ESV)
When first called God said that Paul had no idea how much he would suffer for His name. That was the divine purpose God had for the life of Paul. For Peter, his divine purpose was to be crucified upside down. Fast forward to today and somewhere in the underground church in China is a pastor whose divine purpose is to lead a small band of believers against the totalitarian wishes of his government under the constant threat of death. In the Middle East there is a mother who follows Christ who must decide to face beheading rather than denying Jesus. Right here in the United States there is an elderly man living in abject poverty due solely to reasons beyond his control yet he does so serving the Lord and raising his children and grandchildren under His admonition.
I say this all as a backdrop to discussing one of the most abused concepts in modern churchianity in this country -- purpose. I have written before about how Jeremiah 29:11 is actually not written to believers despite always being preached as if it is. The problem is not with "I know the plans" because God certainly knows what will happen to us because He is above our concept of time. It is the assertion that this plan is always puppies and pancakes where the problem emerges. Jeremiah 29:11 was written to the exiles in Babylon so God was assuring them that He still had a future for their good. God would deliver them and return them to their land. Wait a minute preacher! Are you saying that God does not have a plan to prosper me? No, God never said that beloved. Ask Paul if his purpose prospered him. Ask that pastor in China or the brother next to you suffering from cancer. Jesus has promised us tribulation in this world. He has promised that His Gospel will divide us against our own families. He has challenged us to take up our own cross daily. He has promised us persecution and for some even death for His namesake. Just ask our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. I recently read an article claiming to be prophetic that said if you are in a season of waiting, to remember the following:
- God wants you to accomplish what He's put you on the earth to do more than you do (see Jer. 29:11). He created you, so trust that.
- God has good plans for your life.
- God's ways may not be our ways, He timing may not be yours, but He doesn't dangle destiny in front of your face just to move it again. You must trust Him.
- God looks into your future and sees your end on the earth to where you are now, so even though you don't understand the timing. He does.
- Wrestling with God will just tire you out. Be still and know He is God.
- Be at peace. Stop trying so hard to prove you're ready for that thing He has called you to. Be at peace that your journey is not a sprint but a marathon. Be consistent, persevere and keep moving forward.
This is not prophetic beloved it is nonsense. It sets up unrealistic expectations from God for promises He never made. The church has forgotten the core of the faith and that is it is not about our purpose -- it is about His. It is about the Gospel so people can overcome this world and the misery it often brings into all of our lives. Can Christians prosper materially? Of course but that does not mean we all will. In fact, most will not in all likelihood. Our hope is eternal, not temporal. We store up treasures in heaven, not here on earth. What do we see today instead? Half the church wants to take over the world and force Christ down the throats of the unsaved and the other half wants to cozy up to it to find relevance. All driven by a false sense of divine purpose.
Beloved, God does not need our help with anything. We are not called to some grand plan other than the small role we play in His grand plan. When we are saved His purpose becomes our purpose. It does not matter of we are beaten, whipped or shipwrecked -- we are to take refuge in His peace. The peace that transcends all understanding. Not for our benefit but so we can press on to grab a hold of why he grabbed a hold of us -- the Gospel. We plant seeds or water seeds and God gives the increase. We do not seek our personal gain on this temporal coil. We are now citizens of heaven and we hold the keys to the gates. It is the Gospel. The only thing that has the power of God unto the salvation of man. What will we do with it? Shall we pursue our own glorifying purpose? Shall we wait patiently for God to let us hit the lottery? Shall we turn a blind eye to our brothers and sisters in other countries dying for a faith we take for granted? Or shall we accomplish our good works within the life that God has given us, representing Him and telling everyone the Good News. Unto us a Savior has been born. Forget worldly pursuits and purpose. Give me one soul in heaven because of something I did or said. Just give me one.