Friday, June 11, 2010

Taking Heart

I recently finished filming a four part series entitled ‘lessons from a storm’. The entire series dealt primarily with the twenty seventh chapter of Acts, and the detailed sea voyage that Paul, Luke, and two hundred and seventy four other souls undertook. It was a journey beset with storms, with hardships, with the abandonment of hope itself, and when things were at their worst, when the men had not eaten nor seen the sun nor the stars for many days, Paul stands up in their midst and tells them to take heart.

Storms are a reality for every man, woman, and child in this world, and the only difference between the children of God and those of the world is how we react to the storms. The following is the transcript of an excerpt from one of the teachings, dealing with taking heart in the midst of trials, of taking heart in the midst of the storm, and why we as children of God should do just that.

Seeing all that is transpiring in the world, from the threat of a double dip recession here in America, to the threat of a bloody war in the Middle East this summer, to the general discontent that is blanketing the entire earth ready to spark into full on revolution in many countries, I felt it appropriate to post this as an encouragement to the body of Christ, and a reminder that we are not of the world, and as such should not react as the world. As children of God we must take heart, we must steel ourselves, and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.

Acts 27:21-26, “But after long abstinence from food, then Paul stood in the midst of them and said, ‘Men you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss. And now I urge you to take heart for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying, 'do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar’ and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me. However, we must run aground on a certain island.”

Even though they had not listened to Paul’s previous warning, it would seem that the men on the ship were readily willing to lend their ear to him now. They had gone through a great storm, had thrown everything overboard to lighten their load, had not eaten for days on end, nor had they see the sun or the stars, all due to the fact that they dismissed the man of God, and here they were, having abandoned hope, and at this moment Paul stands up and encourages them to take heart. It is easy to encourage someone to take heart when things are going well, it is even easy to encourage someone to take heart when one clearly sees that the storm has passed, but to speak to these men who saw no end in sight to their circumstances and tell them to take heart was a truly remarkable thing as far as I am concerned. It could only have been done by the unction of the Holy Spirit, and as Paul continues to speak he even informs the men on the ship that an angel of the Lord had stood by him. These men were not believers, these men did not know the one true God, and in fact Paul even tells them that the God to whom he belonged and served had sent this angel, yet these men no longer mocked, no longer laughed, and no longer dismissed his words. Sometimes it takes a great storm to get our attention, it takes a great storm to get us to listen to God, and hear His voice, and obey His will.

For the first two programs of this series, we discussed the storms that come upon all men, and the damage that these storms cause, but today we will discuss our attitude as individuals in the midst of the storm. Seeing as all men go through storms, we can only know the difference between those who are of God, and those who are not by their attitude in the storm, and their mindset as they go through it. Here was Paul, a highly intelligent man, whom even the centurion in charge respected, standing up and telling the men to take heart. In the natural there was no reason to take heart. These men were scared out of their minds, they hadn’t eaten for days due to the fear that overwhelmed them, they no longer saw any hope that they would be saved, yet Paul tells them to take heart.

There are seasons in every individual’s life wherein the storms get so overwhelming that we become like the men on that ship. We grow fearful, we grow uncertain, we grow hopeless, we see no way out of our circumstances, yet as Paul said to them, the Word says to us, take heart.

‘But how can you take heart when everything seems to be going wrong? How can you take heart when you don’t even catch your breath from the first wave, and the second wave slams into your vessel?’

The short answer is by seeing with eyes of faith, and believing God at His Word. We take heart because of God’s promise never to leave us or forsake us, we take heart because of God’s promise to always be there for us, and we take heart because of God’s promise to walk with us even when others refuse to. With eyes of faith we see beyond today, we see beyond the now, we see beyond the present circumstance, and into tomorrow when the storm has passed, and calm seas are once more on the horizon.

We also take heart in the midst of the storm by knowing the God we belong to and serve. Paul knew his God, Paul knew the power of His God, and Paul knew that if God told him he would be brought before Caesar, even if God would have to bring him back from the dead, he would eventually stand before Caesar. In the midst of this storm everything failed these men; their rudder gave out, their sail gave out, their ship gave out, hope gave out, their gods gave out, and at the end of it all only one God remained, the God to whom Paul belonged and served. When fair weather abounds, when all is well, when the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the butterflies are sailing on the breeze, any old god, any old idol, any old philosophy will do. When the storm comes however, only One will stand, only One will remain, and only One will save.

We must have complete trust in our God’s power to make a way, even when there seems to be no way. When we trust completely, then there is no fear because the most basic definition of trust is absence of fear.

One can know of God in theory and still not take heart in the midst of the storm, because theory and practice are two very different things. Why was Paul so adamant about the fact that they would not die? Why was his faith so strong? Because Paul didn’t just know God in theory, Paul knew God in practice. He knew that he belonged to the living God who can calm the seas, he knew that he belonged to the living God who can speak to the storm, and he knew that he served this living God. When Paul spoke of the living God, he did so from a position of relationship and intimacy with Him. He knew his identity, he knew that he belonged to God; he knew that he was a child of the living God, and that more powerful than the storm, more powerful than the tempest was the God he served.

Throughout the word of God we see the pattern of the men who trusted God, who knew their identity in God, who had a relationship with God and knew that they served a living God, do great exploits in His name. We tend to forget that these were just men, they were ordinary people, but what made them extraordinary was God working through them. In and of ourselves, we are given to doubt, we are given to fear, we are given to hopelessness in the midst of the storm, but when our faith is anchored in God, when we know that our God lives, when our relationship with Him is such that He sends his angels to encourage us and speak to us, than no matter how great the storm, no matter how large the waves, we take heart, we are of good courage, because we know that God will make a way.

When we refuse to see the storms of this life as God ordained seasons, we also have the tendency to overlook the spiritual benefits that the storms might bring, and as such fail to take heart, and see the hand of God and the plan of God in the midst of our storm. God may allow storms in your life for a variety of reasons, but most often it is to bring us closer to Him, to cause us to see the futility of trusting in things, of putting our hope in possessions, and surrender our all to Him.

Too many believers today want victory without confrontation; they want to overcome without being in battle; they refuse the designation of warrior for Christ because of all it implies and are content with forever being babes in Christ. We are babes in Christ but for a season, then we must mature, and grow, be seasoned and trained to become warriors because that is what God requires of us. Once we become that soldier of God, that warrior for Christ, then confrontation is inevitable because the enemy has us at the top of his list. When we are on the frontlines of the spiritual battle that we see waging all around us, then we are in the enemy’s crosshairs. The enemy does not bother himself with cheerleaders, he does not bother himself with spectators, the enemy goes after the soldiers, the warriors, those who are standing in the gap, those who are preaching Christ, those who are preaching repentance, because such men are seen as a clear and present danger by the enemy’s standards. When you begin to shake the foundations of the enemy’s kingdom, be prepared to be at the top of his hit list.

Now rather than be fearful or concerned about being a target of the enemy, we must instead take heart, we must be joyous and at peace knowing that his attack will come, and that God will fight on our behalf.

The third reason we take heart in the midst of the storm, is due to our assurance in God. As believers, we have a blessed assurance, a promise of God that gives us confidence in Him. If God promised that He would be with us, then we are assured that He will be. If God promised that He will see us through the storm, then we are assured that He will do as He promised.

So what was Paul’s assurance? Why was he so confident? Why did he encourage his fellow shipmates to take heart when to the human eye they had no hope of being saved?

Acts 27:23-24, “For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul.”

Paul was able to take heart in the storm, because of the angel of God who told him not to be afraid.

‘But how can I not be afraid? The world seems to be spinning out of control; people are losing their jobs by the millions; uncertainty is growing every day; tensions are being fueled to the point of violence; how can I not be afraid? I’m not like Paul, I don’t see angels, they don’t visit me and tell me not to be afraid, they don’t visit me and encourage me in my time of distress. How can I not be afraid?’

Because you have something greater than angelic visitations to give you assurance, you have the word of God; Because the Bible is there to encourage anyone who picks it up and reads it and believes it; Because God told you not to be afraid; because God promised that though a thousand fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand, it shall not come near you. We are able to take heart in the midst of chaos because we have the assurance that God will do as He promised, that God will keep His word to His children and though in the physical it might seem impossible, nothing is impossible to our God.

Isaiah 43:2-3, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you; for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior!”

This is the promise of God to His children. This is the promise of God to all those who call on His name. But how can we walk through fire and not get scorched, how can we go through the rivers and not get overflowed? God will make a way. It is that simple. God will make a way!

God is consistently and perpetually a present help for us. In the final verse of the gospel according to Matthew after speaking the great commission to His disciples, and by relation to all who would follow after Him, Jesus said something profound that should give us courage and boldness in the storm.

Jesus did not say, ‘I will be with you at a certain point in your walk’, but rather Jesus said, ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Jesus is with you always, Jesus is with me always, Jesus is with all who follow after Him in perpetuity. What a great comfort those two words ‘I am’ bring to the heart of a believer. He is, presently, right now, in the midst of your trial, with you.

The fourth reason we are to take heart in the midst of the storm is because we have a sure and clear destination mapped out for us. Paul knew his destination he knew he would be brought before Caesar because the angel had confirmed it to him. If we are certain of our destination, then we will be certain that we will weather the storm. God does not establish a destination for us, only to cut our trip short, but He will make a way for us to reach our goal.

Our destination is not something made by the hands of men, it is not something orchestrated by denominations, our destination is the city which has foundations, and whose builder and maker is God. Knowing our destination, knowing that one day we will stand before the Master and maker of all, we go through the storms of this life with our heads held high, and our gaze firmly planted on the horizon before us. No matter how bad the storm might get, we have the certainty that we will make it through, because God promised us we would, and if He promised it, He will bring it to pass. When God gives His word, it is a certainty. God is not like men, who go back on their word as soon as keeping it becomes difficult or inconvenient. God is not like men, who sway to and fro in their convictions; He is forever faithful, forever true, a God who changes not from century to century and millennia to millennia.

There will come a day when we will forget the storms, there will come a day when we will forget the pain, and the sadness, the rejection and the mocking for the sake of Christ and the gospel. There will come a day when every tear will be wiped from our eye, and sadness will be no more. It is toward this day that we look afar off, and take courage in the storms of our lives.

Psalm 107:21-30, “Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare His works with rejoicing. Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters, they see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep. For He commands and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves of the sea. They mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths; their soul melts because of trouble. They reel to and from, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end. Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distress. He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; So He guides them to their desired haven.”

Give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, trust in the Lord with all your heart, and in the midst of the storm, when the waves mount up to the heavens and go down again to the depths, when the souls of men melt because of trouble, you will know the protection of God, and He will guide you to your desired haven. If your desired haven is in Him, you will know peace in the midst of chaos, you will know safety in the midst of war, you will know fullness in the midst of hunger, because He is able, willing and faithful to provide for His children wherever they might find themselves.

With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.

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