Publication: Pastoral Letter, November 2007
Dear Friend in Christ:
You may or may not need this letter today, but keep it handy! All of us will be tested at some point in life, and how you view the test will make all the difference. Perspective may cause you to react and destroy your best possibilities.
Many accidents are caused by drivers over-reacting to a situation. A friend was killed when she over-reacted to running off onto the shoulder of the road. A quick turn in the opposite direction sent the car out of control and into a collision.
How do you keep your perspective when faced with sudden adversity? That is a serious issue for all of us. This letter, like most I write, comes out of my own experience and the Word of God.
CHAMPIONS KEEP PERSPECTIVE
I enjoy sports because they are so much like life in general. Sports require fitness, skill, mental toughness, and endurance, and some sports drive participants to prayer! And then there are “contact sports” – life can be like that too.
I recently watched an NFL football fame where the quarterback threw five interceptions, fumbled the ball, and still won the game by one point as the clock ran out. In spite of his obvious poor play, his team won; they never lost perspective amid all of the discouragement. Champions are like that, they do not lose focus because of mistakes.
Champions have learned to deal with adversity and they keep coming back. If we are to overcome we must hold perspective in crisis.
A crisis is when bad news comes from every direction and escape is not apparent. Sometimes, we create our own crisis and at other times, someone else creates it for us. Sometimes there is no obvious explanation .But whatever the cause, the issue is survival, not explanations. We have to take responsibility, regain perspective, and act redemptively and practically.
The apostle Peter warns us that trials will come and that we should not be shocked (see 1 Peter 4:12). I have been in ministry since 1955 and a pastor since 1957; part of my calling has been to walk with people through trials. Sometimes, the trial is illness, financial, relational, or even death.
My father gave excellent advice to me as I began the ministry, “Your job is not to explain everything; it is to be there, walk with them, and comfort by your presence.
The first funeral that I presided over as a minister was the result of a suicide. I heard “explanations,” but they were not helpful; being there was. Sometimes the Lord Himself does not explain, but He is always there giving grace.
Of course I have had my own crisis. Carolyn and I walk together through her battle – our battle – with cancer. We have heard “explanations,” but the best comfort has come from the Lord, our family, and our friends who are there walking with us. Perspective, faith, and hope have been our priority.
We often go to the Scriptures for strength and hope. Lately, the Lord has called my attention to Genesis 15, where Abraham is presenting his frustration to God. His crisis is that his name means “father.” Yet he has no heir for which to leave his resources. Abraham is in his tent praying. Then the Lord directs him to go outside.
“Look now toward the heaven and count the stars if you are able to number them, so shall your descendants be.”
I am struck by several elements of this story:
To gain perspective we need to get outside of the immediate situation and see it from a different perspective. The Lord can help us do that. He may use a friend, a pastor, or a counselor. We need to spiritually, mentally, or physically step away. We call vacations “getting away.” When things got very difficult for my parents, they would “get away” for a few days to gain perspective. Dad remained a pastor in one church for 35 years; he kept perspective.
To gain perspective we need to “look toward the heavens.” Looking down will not help. The Lord always calls us to look up to Jesus “the Author and Finisher of our Faith” (see Hebrews 12:1-3). Abraham was praying inside his tent when the Lord called him out to look at the stars. As He stepped out into the clear desert night, He could see millions of stars from horizon to horizon. There was no limit to the view. The Lord removed the ceiling from his eyes to look into infinity.
What we see makes a vast difference. What an astronaut sees is indescribably different from what a child sees on a playground. And what God sees is a whole other matter. The closer we get to His view, the more likely our victory. Heaven changes our view of earth; we can move from earthly trauma to heavenly peace.
We gain perspective from a long-range view. The Lord promised Abraham that his descendants would be as the stars in number. It would not happen immediately, but it would happen, and it did. Abraham gained a new long range perspective that brought faith, hope, and endurance. The short term or short-sighted view may be grim, but the long-range view is different when viewed through the lens of faith. Jesus told the disciples to be patient and possess their souls (see Luke 21:19). He spoke these words to them in the context of difficult times – crisis.
We gain perspective by believing what God said. Abraham believed God and God counted him righteous (see Romans 4:3). We all need a promise that we have received from God. Usually, it is one that He showed us in the Holy Scriptures. Such promises need to become personal and substantive in our own hearts, as it was with me when I received Jesus as my Savior, or later when I entered the ministry, and many times after when I faced a challenge. Some of those promises are found in John 3, Philippians 4:19, Isaiah 40:28-31, Psalm 27, and other wonderful passages.
The key to perspective is entering into the promise by faith. We must “lay hold” and seize the Word with an unyielding grip. Then we become “prisoners of hope” (see Zechariah 9:12). Our point of view becomes stable and secure in His covenant Word. We are no longer “tossed about.”
My best friend in high school was also named Charles. We were co-captains in our final football fame for the county championship. Before we walked onto the field we shook hands and with hands clasped we said to each other, “The game is ours.” The other team was larger, undefeated, and it was their home field. They ran up and down the field but never scored. In the final moments we held them at their goal line. We won by playing with an unyielding perspective. The entire team held perspective.
We can gain perspective through giving it all to God. As God had promised, Abraham did receive his son, Isaac. But one day God called on Him to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah. The Lord tested Abraham. It is a difficulty story to read, let alone live. But Abraham obeyed. He took his son to the mountain and left his servants at the base.
Together Abraham and his young son started up the mountain. As they went up the mountain, Isaac said, “You have the fire and the wood but where is the lamb? Abraham answered, “The Lord will provide.” Abraham actually believed that if he took his son’s life, the Lord would raise him up (see Hebrews 11:17-19). But as Abraham bound his son to the altar and raised the knife, the Lord prevented him, and showed him a ram caught on the thicket which he sacrificed instead.
Abraham was so sure of the promise that Isaac would produce descendants that he was willing to give him up. Amazing. At that very place he called God, “Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord will provide.” Perspective comes when we say, “No matter what is required of me, the Lord will provide.” Believing brings a perspective in our most trying hours.
There are over 30,000 promises in the Bible. The Holy Spirit will lead us to those that pertain to our situation if we listen carefully to Him. Such promises hold us in every “high and stormy gale.” they are an anchor, and Christ Himself is our Anchor, who has gone behind the heavenly veil to intercede for us (see Hebrews 6:19).
Those who would diminish the Holy Word in any way would rob us of our fiaht and our blessed hope – the faith and hope that bring us to ultimate victory. People such as that remind me of “Job’s friends” who would “reason” us to despair. But if we, like David, can walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil because He is with us, we will finally come to His beautiful table by His goodness and mercy.
The Lord is saying these things to me: step outside, look at the long view, receive the promise, believe His Word, lay it all down in faith, and keep walking. I pray that we can all hear these things and come to an abundant place. “Faithful is He who calls who will also do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
PERSONAL AND MINISTRY NEWS
We appreciate your prayers and financial support as we continue walking. CSM needs your continued support as we publish. We are reaching more than 70 nations with Kingdom resources for courageous and fruitful believers, and you are a major part of this effort.
Also, we deeply appreciate your prayers for Carolyn during these days. Thank you for your enduring love.
Scripture Reference: 1 Peter, Genesis, Hebrews, Luke, Romans, John, Philippians, Isaiah, Psalms, Zechariah