The past few days have brought tension and fear to many people as we followed the news reports about the Charlie Hebdo shootings in France and today’s hostage situations as well. While we are safe here in the United States, we know only too well what can happen as we remember the events of 9-11. Even discounting terrorism, we hear daily of shootings and attacks, many by family members, and we wonder, God, how can we live with these possibilities?
The situations today, with the possibility of harm, either by terror groups or by gang members or random individuals, is not that much different from the early days of the church. Only then the terror that was being inflicted was often from the state—whether the Romans or the Jews’ own leaders. There were no assurances of safety in the days of Jesus and the apostles. Each day could bring danger or death.
So how do we face the news reports each day? Do we just ignore them and pretend there are no dangers in our world today? Do we hide in our homes to be safe? How can we live with the possibilities that face us?
The Apostle Paul knew about danger. He had been beaten, stoned, and imprisoned. His own people sought to kill him, so that he had to be let down outside the walls of the city so he could escape. He knew that wherever he went there was the possibility of success in spreading the gospel of Jesus, alongside the specter of persecution, injury, or death.
Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth:
“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-26).
So why did he continue on? How did he have the courage and the strength to persevere in the task given to him?
First of all, Paul viewed this life, his earthly existence, as only a portion of his life overall. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
No matter how much we love our earthly existence, the truth is that, outside of new discoveries in science, each of us will die one day. We will leave our family members and our friends, our possessions and our problems, to join Him. Therefore, Paul held loosely to the things of this world. Corrie ten Boom once said to Charles Swindoll, “I’ve learned that we must hold everything loosely, because when I grip it tightly, it hurts when the Father pries my fingers loose and takes it from me!” (Charles Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, p.114).
Second, Paul lived each day fully, serving His Lord with anticipation, commitment, and contentment. “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Paul learned the secret of facing challenges and dangers, of celebrating successes and achievements: Whatever the situation, God was with him and would carry him through.
Finally, Paul had the assurance that God’s love would always be with him:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-29).
Paul knew that the main thing in his life was his relationship with Christ. Whatever happened to his body was only a passing thing. Did he suffer? Of course. Was he at times frustrated? Most definitely! But he had faith, faith that this situation would pass and that, one day, he would be found whole and complete in His Savior’s presence. Until that time Paul dedicated himself to living for Christ and preaching the Word of God, fulfilling the Great Commission to preach, teach, and disciple.
What about you today? Are you suffering? Are you living in fear of what might happen—whether danger, illness, or some other catastrophe? Take some time today to consider your life, its meaning and its purpose. To what are you holding on tightly? Do you know the love of God as shown in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus? Have you found meaning in the gift of grace given by God? A song I learned many years ago says:
Give them all, give them all, give them all to Jesus:
Shattered dreams, wounded hearts, and broken toys.
Give them all, give them all, give them all to Jesus,
and He will turn your sorrow into joy! (© 1975 Justin Time Music)
The night of His last meal with His disciples, knowing he was going to be crucified soon, Jesus told them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). The peace that the world gives is transient and based on this life, but the peace that comes from God supersedes this existence, as it is based in our relationship with a God who is above all things and more powerful than anything this world can present.
We don’t know what the future holds, or even what the next minute will hold, but we do know this, that if our lives belong to God, God will hold on to us and will deliver us from fear, carrying us through every situation. We need only to trust Him to bring us through this life to the one where we will live with Him forever. Be ready each day for whatever comes by being strong in the Lord. This is where we find victory in the midst of stress, joy in the midst of challenge—our faith!