FAITHFULNESS IS BETTER THAN PROSPERITY
by David Sisler
More than 2,000 times before he died, Dr. Robert G. Lee preached a sermon entitled, Pay Day, Someday, one of the masterpieces to come from the 20th century pulpit (or any other century pulpit, for that matter). Through the miracle of audio tape I heard Dr. Lee preach about the lives of the two most wicked people to ever influence the nation of Israel — Ahab, "the vile human toad who squatted on the throne of his nation," and Jezebel, "the beautiful and malicious adder coiled upon the throne."
Recounting their wickedness, which seemed to go on year after year, unchecked, Robert G. Lee thundered the question asked by most of us in difficult and trying times: "Where is God? Where is God?"
Mark Rich, Dave Mankins, and Rick Tenenoff are missionaries who went to Panama to plant a church among the Kuna people. More than five years ago, guerillas from Columbia entered their village, raided their homes and then left, taking the men with them.
The wives have appealed, without success, to the heads of several nations for intervention that might secure the release of their husbands.
There are seven children in the three families. When the men were kidnaped, the youngest was almost one year old, the oldest was 23 years. That baby is now six. The four youngest children can no longer remember their fathers. The oldest two have married, joyous celebrations except for the absence of their fathers. And in captivity, the fathers know nothing of the weddings.
Where is God?
Timothy A. McKeown is, himself, a missionary in Columbia, South America. He has frequently heard from his supporters, "The safest place to be is in the center of God's will." McKeown no doubt appreciates the sentiment, but disagrees with it. "The most fulfilling, joyful, and peaceful place to be," he says, "is in the center of God's will, but it is not necessarily the safest."
McKeown says, "It seems to me that the Bible is full of examples of God's people often — not occasionally — being placed in unsafe, uncomfortable, and dangerous situations."
He sites the life of the Apostle Paul, who by his own account was thrown into prison, flogged, and exposed to death on numerous occasions. Five times he was almost beaten to death. Three other times he was beaten less severely, and once he was stoned. Paul was shipwrecked three times, and following one of those shipwrecks, spent a night and a day in the open sea.
Paul said, "I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches."
Timothy McKeown often hears people pray for his safety and the safety of his family. He always asks them to pray not for their safety, but for their "faithfulness in whatever circumstances our Sovereign God might call us to minister." Most biblical prayers, he says, do not focus on the personal safety and benefit of believers, but on the power, majesty and victory of God over his — and our — enemies.
There is a movement in some Christian circles today which passes itself off as Gospel that is, once you get past the fluff, no gospel at all. The foundation of this movement is "If It Feels Good, It Must Be Gospel." This false gospel says that God wants everyone to be healthy and wealthy, and problem free. If you are hurting, if your bank account is empty, and if, Heaven forbid, you are not surrounded by comfort and luxury, you are outside of God's will.
Where does that place Mark Rich, Dave Mankins, and Rick Tenenoff? And Paul? And Jesus? And most of the rest of us?
And where is God?
He is always with His people, whether they are in a palace or in a prison, whether they are in health or in a hospital, whether they are in prosperity or in privation. To teach otherwise, is to teach a lie.
Timothy McKeown's prayer is the right prayer: God, I desire safety — I won't lie and pretend otherwise — but for your greater glory, give me faithfulness, so that always, and in all ways, I can honor your Son.
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 4/25/98
Copyright 1998 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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