— Brother Phil Enlow: You know, it’s awful easy…a lot of people look at the world and they’re try to make sense out of it. And if you’re trying to make sense out of it with your human, your limited intellect and your limited viewpoint, it’s gonna be a mess, because this world is full of suffering. It’s full of terrible things that are happening. There are things that happen to us when we think we’re doing good.
You know, we need to come to a place where we can see beyond what this puny brain thinks it knows. I’ll tell you, real faith, real persevering faith, is able to come to the place where we simply are able to rest questions that we don’t have answers for in God’s hands.
And, you know, one thing that I notice about all these things that he says in that particular paragraph, 16, 17 and 18: everyone has a choice. We think of joy as an emotion, and it is. But to us emotions are simply our reactions to things that happen to us. And so, if something happens that is pleasant, that, oh boy, I’m happy about it. I’m enjoying that. If something happens that’s bad, oh…
( groaning ).
Oh me. And we go and have a pity party. But I’ll tell you, God wants us to have a faith that is practical, that is able to deal with the realities of this world that we live in because it’s not a nice place.
And God knows what He’s doing. I’ll tell you, if you don’t know it now, you walk with the Lord awhile and you’ll find out. There are things you and I don’t know about ourselves. There’s a lot you and I don’t know.
And we’re serving a God…even as He revealed himself to Job, He didn’t just say, I’m doing this, I’m doing that. He said, were you there in the beginning? Do you really know what this is all about? I’ve got purposes that stretch from eternity to eternity. You’re in a little tiny…you just got here. And you think you know, and you’re trying to reason out to the point where you’re almost ready to accuse me.
Folks, we get in the same spot. When something happens to us and we get…and we let questions settle in our minds. Is God really fair? What did I do? A thousand and one things that come that are negative and they provoke emotions of self-pity and depression and all those kinds of things. I’ll tell you, we’ve got a God that doesn’t want His people to live in that. Praise God! Praise God!
And it’s gonna take a consistency of faith. I don’t want to present this as a simplistic thing where you just, oh yeah, I’m supposed to be happy…and we paste this smile on. There are gonna be times when it’s gonna be a real, real battle. We need to be realistic. God knows!
It was for Jesus! How many times have we pointed out in scripture where He cried out in prayer, “…with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him…” (KJV). He needed help. But yet he says in the midst of that, there was a joy that was the dominating principle of His life so that he was able to be a Man of Sorrow, acquainted with grief. He could feel all the emotions that you and I’ve felt and yet not allow them to get him off track or to weigh him down or any of those kinds of things. He was always able to see past that.
Isn’t that he says in Hebrews, chapter 12, where we are exhorted to be patient and to run with perseverance and all of that. But, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy….” Now where was this joy? In his circumstances? No, there was a joy set before him! He endured the cross! He despised its shame...there was one thing that absolutely dominated His being…His constant looking to God and knowing that, knowing where this was gonna end.
That’s the hope that God wants to plant in every one of His children, starting with me, where we can look at the circumstances of life and see a God who…and know what the end of the story is, and know that He is doing what He knows is best for us.
My God, we are not the Potter. We are the clay. Oh, how we reason, how we look at others and say, well, this was the way it was with them, why isn’t it that way with me? Every one of you is not…we are not cookie cutters, cookie-cutter Christians…the result of being…you know what I’m talking about. He doesn’t manufacture us as clones. Every single one of His children is a special work of divine art.
That’s why sometimes people will look in the scriptures and say, well, I see what happened here. They did this and this was the result, so if I do that, that will…you know, I thought about a…this may sound crazy coming in here, but I’ll say it anyway.
Every once in a while, I’ll pull out the Narnia Chronicles and read them. Some of you have. Aslan is the Christ figure in that very interesting series. But one of the lines that really stands out, in one of the books in particular…I won’t go into where it is. But, Lucy, one of the main characters, is talking to Aslan and she remembers what he did in a certain time before that. And, why don’t you do that? And he says, dear child, or dear heart, nothing ever happens the same way twice.
You know, that’s a simple lesson. Isn’t that profound? But we need to realize that God wants us to learn to walk with Him and to let Him do what He needs to do in us, the way He wants to do it, in the time frame He wants to do it and realize He is the Potter. We are the clay.
And where He’s going with this is gonna be amazing. One day He’s gonna take the cover off and put us on display…not as, look at them and look at what they did. It’s, look what I did! They came to me just as they were, as the song we sang this morning, broken, having nothing to offer Me, but they offered Me themselves. And so, I went to work and I changed them.
It’s not just a superficial change, where they learn how to behave and go to church, and say the right words. You notice that scripture we read about what God does. Paul said, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.” (NIV). That goes all the way to the depth of our being!
So many times, we’ll reach a point in our Christian life where we think, okay, I’ve got it down now. I’m on cruise control. We’ve reached a nice plateau, I’m just gonna put one foot in front of another and everything’s gonna be great. And God is seeing all kinds of stuff that’s way down here, hidden things we don’t even know about…maybe we do, but maybe we don’t want to know. But I’ll tell you, God is gonna keep on working, isn’t He? God loves us too much to leave us in the shape that He found us in.
( congregational response )
Thank God! But oh, does this call for a kind of…something that goes beyond mere perseverance as we think of it. God wants us to be able to go through this with such a vision of what is going on, what’s really happening, that we don’t sit there and get mired in the moment, mired in the emotions that naturally flow out of difficult experiences.
God wants us to say, thank God, I know! I’ve got a joy in my heart You have planted there. And I know where this is headed and so I’m rejoicing that God loves me enough to take me through this. And I know that I’m gonna learn something about Him…I’m gonna experience Him in a way that I have never experienced Him before. And I’m gonna come through this richer.
Didn’t Job come through it richer? Yeah, he had twice as much as he had before. And there’s a testimony in scripture of a God who is able to take somebody beyond their ability to comprehend what in the world was happening? What could possibly be the reason for this? Oh, how we need to stop asking those questions and say, God, if there’s something I need to know, help me to know it. But Lord, I trust You.
( congregational response )
Is this not faith? I mean, isn’t this perseverance in action? Is not mere…
( groaning ).
We don’t go through life grudgingly, and sort of a little bit angry at God because of the way He does things. Think about what we do when we give into negative emotions. Are we not exhibiting them against God? Are we not saying, God, where are You at? I don’t understand. This doesn’t make sense.
We’re doing the same thing Job did, where he said…basically the conclusion that he came to, when you boil it all down, was, I’m righteous. There must be something wrong with God.
Think about that. When we act and react. And again, I don’t want to say this in a way that comes across as condemning, God knows. We go through times when we experience genuine emotions that are really difficult to deal with. And God knows that. But I’ll tell you, there comes a bottom-line moment when God wants us to be able to rise above that and just commit things to God and say, God, I’m trusting You, with this moment, this day, this time. I’m not gonna sit here and yield to that.
All you have to do is go through the Psalms, and you see David pouring out his heart. The scripture, one of my favorite psalms that Brother Danny read the other night, was “How long, O LORD…” Psalm 13. And I don’t see God condemning David for even expressing that.
You know, we can come to God that way, can’t we? Can’t we be honest about how we’re feeling? But yet, I don’t want to come to God with a spirit that’s condemning Him and saying, there’s something wrong with You because this is happening. I want to come to God with that sense of, help…I need help with this, Lord, because I want to see beyond it.
I want to be able to do what Paul said when he was…though the outward man was perishing, what was he looking at? Was he looking at the things that were temporary or was he looking at the things that were permanent?
That’s the only thing that’s gonna carry us through, folks. God wants us to have such a sense, such a genuine heart conviction, not second-hand information. God wants you to have a first-hand knowledge that there is a God who loves you, who has a purpose for your life that extends way beyond the circumstances of this one. And He is gonna take us to the other side and it’s gonna be awesome when we get there, not because we’re special, but because He is…everything! To Him will be the glory forever and ever.
But I’ll tell you, there’s a whole bunch packed into that, “Be joyful always….” And you know, coming from Paul, they knew this was not something that he learned in theology class, because, remember what happened right before he came to Thessalonica, he had just come from Philippi…I don’t doubt that he still had the marks and the wounds that they had suffered because they were stripped and beaten and put in the stocks…praised God at midnight.
And here’s the other thing. You know, it’s awful easy, like I say, to look at a situation like that and say, oh, I know how to get out of this. Let’s just sing and praise God, and the circumstance will be done away with! And so, you do that and…wait a minute, this isn’t working. Oh God, we need to have a faith that just simply says, I’m gonna do what’s right. I’m gonna leave the details to God.
( congregational amens ).
I don’t know what His plan is, because you remember in Hebrews 11, how God moved mightily to bring great deliverances to some and other people, He let them die! And yet, every one of them was a hero of faith. Praise God!
But here’s Paul writing…I mean, they knew that this was somebody who had been in a terrible circumstance and been serving God and this was their reward, to be cast in prison and yet there was a spirit that enabled them to sing and praise God!
And God just had a particular purpose that He manifested Himself the way that He did. And so, they knew, this guy knew what he was talking about. This was not theory to Paul.
And so…but think about this, in all that we’re talking about is his exhortations to the Thessalonians. These guys weren’t people that had been sitting in church for 40 years. This was a three-week church, quite likely. And then a short time later, he goes through Berea. He goes to Athens. He sends Timothy back. Timothy comes back with the report and he writes the letter. So, you’re talking weeks maybe…certainly not more than months. You’re talking about some very young believers.
I’ll tell you, if God is at work, we don’t have to wait until we’ve been in church 40 years to grow up. There’s a God who can do stuff right now if we’ll let Him, and can teach us the deep things of the faith. This is real Christianity right here. Anything short of this is just a lot of theory.
You know, we sing some songs that aren’t exactly realistic here and there, praise God! I’m serving Him. I’m on the mountain. All my problems are gone. Well…no, they aren’t. But I’ll tell you, we can still have a joy in here.
( congregational response ).
And most of the time, it comes down to a choice to surrender and to believe God. That’s what He honors. If you let your emotions dictate your state, you will be all over the map and a lot of times you’ll spend your time down here in the valley. And the Devil will make sure that you feel all kinds of things, when God wants us to lift up our eyes and look to Him and be joyful always, always.
I’ll tell you, is this not a pretty good description of what faith really is in action? It is not just gritting your teeth and hanging on and saying, oh God, I know You’re gonna get me through and I don’t like it much but here we go, I’m gonna hang on. This is where we get past that and we can see…we can share Jesus’ joy. That’s what He longs to share.
Is that not His heart for you this morning? Does He not want you to have His joy this morning? You see, the problem is, we’re not quite willing to let go and just really embrace this and say, yeah, that applies to me. This is mine. I have every right to lay hold of what God…what Christ has paid such a high price to give me.
Oh, His heart and His purpose are so infinite. Just like Job who stood there and philosophized and tried to come up with an answer, and all of a sudden God just said, were you there when I formed the earth? Did you help me measure it out, and the skies and the stars and all those things? Do you know enough to be actually talking about all of this?
Folks, you and I don’t know. We just got here. But we serve a God who knew about you. That’s how great He is. He’s outside of time. He knew about you, He knew everything about you, the good, the bad, the ugly. The truth is, by His standard there is no good anyway, but you know what I’m saying. He knows everything. He knew everything about you and me before the world ever was created.
And He planned something that you and I have stepped into because He has reached us. We didn’t go looking for Him. He came looking for us. Oh, don’t we need to open our hearts and say, oh God, I don’t want to live a life of mere endurance. I want to live a life of joy. I want to live a life of conscious dependence upon You, where I know that I need You every single day, every single moment of every day. I can’t make it. But I want to get beyond those things. I want to get to the point where I’m thankful.
Isn’t that what he said in Philippians? You pray about everything, with thanksgiving. Do you see how all these things dovetail together, they’re all pieces of the same faith, expressions of the same faith in a God who knows what He’s doing.
I’m in the same battles you are. And there are times we get weary. There are times we’re prone to yield to those emotions of things, based on how we feel. I certainly fight the same thing you do. But I believe with all my heart, God is calling us to something that’s deeper. But, we’re gonna have to be willing.
The awesome side of this coin is, that God’s promised to do it. He is the One who is doing something. The other side of the coin is, we have choices to make. And the degree to which we enjoy this in a practical sense, is very much dependent on our willingness to make the choices to do what Paul exhorts these brand-new Christians to do.
My God, if he can exhort them and expect that this was a message they would understand and benefit from, what about us who have served the Lord for years? This is pretty much basic Christianity, isn’t it? Don’t we have an awesome God?
Let’s go back down to 23, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you…” Set you apart. “…Through and through…” Right down to the center of your soul, all the things that you don’t even know about and don’t want to know about. “…May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”
Oh, praise God! Do you see where there’s a foundation for what Jesus said about coming to a place of rest? Where we’re not sitting there serving God fearfully like Job did. We’re not struggling with the things and trying desperately to explain them or else we’re not gonna believe God.
We’re saying, oh God, I know who You are. I commit myself into Your hands. I believe in Your salvation and my need for it. And so, I’m just willing to rest in Your faithfulness. Lord, if there’s something I need to know, You can tell me. But if You want me just to walk in blind trust…if you want to put it that way…where I don’t have the answer to the specific situation but I’m gonna trust You anyway, then I’m willing to do that.
I’ll tell you, that cuts across a lot of what’s wrong with us, if we’re willing to come to that place. How many of you are candidates for more rest today?
( congregation inaudible ).
Yeah. Put up both hands. This is central. This is central to walking as Jesus walked. How in the world? He knew everything that needed to be known, and yet there was a joy, because He saw past what happened to Him as a man. He saw past all of that, to the heart of a loving God who was planning something that He could share with everybody.
He wants that same joy, that was in Him, even on the cross, to be in us in our day-to-day walk with Him. Praise God! I want that too, don’t you? Praise God!