A Time for Strong Resolve
I began this book by mentioning that I am a pastor. To some, that suggests a world that is sheltered, free from life's ugly side, and protected by the walls of a church. Whoever thinks that doesn't understand either the ministry in general or this minister in particular.
I know of few professions more in touch and I mean closely in touch with the raw realities of life. I could fill a book much larger than this with one
story after another of broken lives, fractured marriages, heartaches, terminal illnesses, calamities, confrontations, disappointments, demonic attacks, murders, abuse, assaults, addictions, and of course abortions. So it is with most who serve in ministry, I can assure you.
Early in 1990 Cynthia and I had the privilege of ministering to a large number of fellow ministers and their mates. While rubbing shoulders with them, we heard firsthand one incredible story after another, most of them related to the categories I have mentioned above. What a week! If we had ever been tempted to think we were alone in the things we were personally encountering, that idea was quickly shattered. Exhausted, we sat down on the plane to fly home following those eight days and I was suddenly overcome with tears. Though I'm not one who weeps easily, I felt overwhelmed with emotion and weighed down by the times in which we are living. I gave God thanks for my brothers and sisters in ministry who serve so faithfully amidst incredible pressures and against insuperable odds. I couldn't stop the tears for a couple of minutes, a most unusual reaction on my part. To be honest with you, I'm not completely over those feelings, though I have had time to get some perspective as time has passed.
On our way home I took out a pad of paper and began to record several thoughts that grew out of those days we had been together. I had no idea back then that they would ever find their way into a book, but here they are. Actually, these were the very
thoughts that stimulated me to address some of the things I've been writing about in these chapters.
Four Observations about Our Times
First, the enemy is hard at work. We may have turned the most significant corner of the twentieth century as we step into its final decade. In light of the things I am confronting and my colleagues in ministry are dealing with, this is no time to slacken our efforts. The enemy may have always been hard at it in the "secular cosmos," but I am more aware than ever that he has now made a frontal assault on the church at large. There is every reason to believe that he is alive and well in our midst!
He and his demons are directly involved in assaulting the assassinating the lives of men who were once strong in the pulpit. He is cutting the feet out from under once-respected and high-profile Christian individuals who were effective and full of zeal, courageous in songs and sermons. He isn't letting up, either. Religious leaders, counselors, media personalities, and educators are falling like ducks full of buckshot. If he has done anything in this final decade, he has rolled up his sleeves and intensified his efforts, especially against minister-types, hoping to discredit even those who have integrity. Whoever is not aware of overt enemy attacks in these days qualifies as a human ostrich.
Second, the pressure and the needs are enormous on people of all walks of life. Have you begun to notice that? More and more of those who are engaged
in some kind of leadership are finding themselves oppressed and depressed. You may be in evangelistic leadership or you may be in teaching leadership or you may be a leader in a mission outreach or in educational leadership. Chances are good if you are a Christian and you are influencing people for the cause of Christ, you are under pressure such as you've never known before. I cannot remember another time when so many feel so overwhelmed by pressure.
My Bible is open to a couple of verses of Scripture. First Peter 5:8-9 seems better able to say what I'm trying to express.
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (v.8).
Let me ask why are we to be on the alert? Why does he write that with such passion? The answer is clear: "your adversary." He isn't the adversary of some distant body of monks and missionaries, some small group of influential leaders who are doing top-secret work or strategic ministry. He is "your adversary," fellow Christian, fellow minister, fellow leader, fellow teacher, fellow elder, fellow broadcaster. He is "your adversary," Christian parents, Christian business man or woman. And who is this adversary of ours? He is identified as "the devil." And what is his method? He "prowls about." Now, that's pretty descriptive. There is no noise. He isn't marching to
some heavy cadence. He is much more subtle and sneaky than that. Invisibly, insidiously, cleverly, brilliantly, with stealth and strategy, "your adversary prowls about like a roaring lion." don't miss this: he is on a pursuit. And he is not hoping to munch on a midafternoon snack; he is deliberately "seeking someone to devour." Do you want to take this personally? If so, insert your name in place of "someone." If it will help you, I'll do it too: "Like a roaring lion, he is seeking to devour Chuck Swindoll, or the Swindoll family, or the Swindoll ministry, or the integrity of the Swindoll name." Frightening thought! He is deliberately prowling about to ruin, to discredit, to cast a cloud over, to weaken the impact of our influence. So? So "be of sober spirit, be on the alert."
Now what are we to do with an enemy like that? Run and hide? Hardly. This is no day for religious wimps. Verse 9 commands us to do something. "Resist him" is the biblical imperative. And be certain your resistance is "firm in faith." Not in the energy of your own strength, but "firm in faith," remembering that you are not alone. The verse concludes:
. . . knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world (v.9).
Because of Cynthia's and my involvement early in 1990, I have a whole new group of brothers and sisters I didn't know as recently as the year before people who are in the same world I am in, the same
world you are in, and they are going through the same stuff you and I are going through. We are all in this together, for the long haul.
Third, the temptation to overreact is great, perhaps greater than ever. By overreacting I mean, on the one hand, to cave in. The pressure mounts, greater and greater tests come, needs increase, and it is easy just to succumb, quietly surrender, and compromise the message. Soften the response and don't make waves. Just keep the peace at any price.
On the other hand, an overreaction would be to yield to the temptation to fight back, to scream, to burn the candle at both ends, and intensify all efforts to the breaking point. If you are being shouted at, shout back! If you are being accused, accuse in return! If you are being assaulted, then roll up your sleeves and find a way to return the assault.
The ultimate overreaction, of course, is to quit, just fold up the book and go into some other work, just get away from the pressure. It is a little disturbing for me to realize how many in ministry today live in confusion or feel whipped like stray dogs or intimidated by a few powerful people in their church. Equally disturbing is the realization of how many there are in ministry who are angry or have become disillusioned and bitter. If God ever wanted to do a significant work, it is now right now as we approach the next century. For some of us, it could be our last full decade. Actually, we have no promise of seeing the end of the decade. All of us by grace have been allowed to witness the beginning of it.
But the end of it? Maybe not. These may very well be our last few years. How important not to end them with a whimper.
Fourth, this is a time for strong resolve. We cannot, we dare not just sit back and calmly hope for the best. Those with small children cannot simply fold their hands and blandly shrug their shoulders and slip quietly into the workplace. The answer is not just earning more money to give them the best, hoping they turn out right. They need attention and training, your time and discipline and love. They need you. They need solid, confident, authentic models. They need your touch, your affirmation. Parents, this is a time for strong resolve.
It is also a time of strong resolve for people in education and counseling as well as in pulpits, for those who write music, as well as those who write books. For those in business as well as those in professions. These days require a strong resolve. We really don't have forever, fellow pilgrim.
Billy Graham's excellent book, released far back in the late sixties, entitled "World Aflame," strikes a similar chord.
In a declining culture, one of its characteristics is that the ordinary people are unaware of what is happening. Only those who know and can read the signs of decadence are posing the questions that as yet have no answers. Mr. Average Man is comfortable in his complacency and as unconcerned as a silverfish ensconced in a carton of discarded
magazines on world affairs. He is not asking any questions, because his social benefits from the government give him a false security. This is his trouble and his tragedy. Modern man has become a spectator of world events, observing on his television screen without becoming involved. He watches the ominous events of our times pass before his eyes, while he sips his beer in a comfortable chair. he does not seem to realize what is happening to him. He does not understand that his world is on fire and that he is about to be burned with it. 18
A Call for Balance
Now understand, as I conclude this book with a number of resolutions, that I am not advocating an out-of-balanced zeal. We don't need iron-fisted leadership or an absence of vulnerability among those who are God's spokesmen and women. I am not suggesting that there be influence by intimidation or by mind control or by verbal threats. You who know me well know that I stand against everything those things represent. Though times are tough, I am not calling for bullies in pulpits or for unaccountable, unteachable, and inaccessible leaders in places of importance. First and foremost, I want to promote the idea of modeling servanthood, discipline, truth, and unguarded authenticity. Our goal must continue toward patterning our lives after the One who came before us and has gone on beyond us, Jesus Christ, God's Son. He came, remember, full of grace and truth, the perfect balance.
Nevertheless, we do need strong resolve. Without it, I am convinced that Christians cannot victoriously handle the coming years, certainly as the troubling hints on the horizon begin to emerge into reality. Neither do I think it is God's will that we merely yawn our way along, taking our cues from the media. What strength of character we must have to make a difference!
While in prayer about so much of this, I was led ever so gently back into the great Book of Psalms. How unusual it seemed to me that God would lead me there. Like you, I have always thought of the Psalms as a book of magnificent praise and quiet devotion. But the more I pored over Psalm 102, the more it seemed to pulsate with exclamation points that were inherent in the biblical text.
Before concluding this book with five strong resolves, let me set the stage by sharing some observations from this and a couple other psalms. We are told that this particular song is "a prayer of the afflicted, when he is faint, and pours out his complaint before the Lord." We don't know who "he" is, not exactly. We know who wrote Psalm 101, because the superscription declares, "A Psalm of David." And the same for Psalm 103, "A Psalm of David." But there is no man, by name, connected with Psalm 102. Whoever he was, he was "afflicted." Maybe he was one of the lonely prophets, perhaps a priest. He could have been a troubled father who is never named in Scripture, but for some reason the
Spirit of God chose his song and included the stanzas of it in the sacred text. It is a moving account of a man in need. He is pleading:
Hear my prayer, O Lord! And let my cry for help come to Thee (v.1).
I can just see his hands lifted in a dark place. He pleads to be heard, to be rescued and given divine assistance. He then writes with urgency and vivid imagery:
Do not hide Thy face from me in the day of my distress; incline Thine ear to me; in the day when I call answer me quickly. For my days have been consumed in smoke, and my bones have been scorched like a hearth. My heart has been smitten like grass and has withered away . . . (vv.2-3).
Do you feel the emotion of the psalm? "My days, my bones, my heart, are consumed, scorched, smitten, like grass, and withered away." He is troubled over his loss of motivation and passion. He struggles because, by his own admission, "something is withering inside me." His lack of zeal is wearing on him.
Those in ministry understand. The person who speaks for God knows the Lord's mandate. In spite of this, he can't get excited. There is nothing quite so depressing as feeling that the power has gone out of one's voice, or the passion that was once there is now missing . . . that there is indifference and apathy
in place of motivation and direction. There are few sights more tragic than a leader who has lost the zest to lead. Maybe the psalmist was in that category.
Along with a loss of motivation and passion, he also confessed to a loss of appetite:
Indeed, I forget to eat my bread. Because of the loudness of my groaning my bones cling to my flesh (v.4-5).
Have you ever been so distressed, so discouraged, that fixing a meal seems a Herculean task? Or have you ever felt so low, the thought of stopping and eating seems a futile interruption to your grief and mourning? Involuntarily you lose weight. At such low times you think, "When will I ever get back on my feet?"
There is also a loss of self-respect. Look at how the psalmist refers to himself:
I resemble a pelican of the wilderness; I have become like an owl of the waste places. I lie awake, I have become like a lonely bird on a housetop (vv.6-7).
The man is near bottom. He reminds me of some I've met who were once strong and confident in ministry, but no longer. Surprisingly, many in ministry are like that. I don't know when my heart has been so moved over those who have God's message and have the gifts, the calling and the place of
authority to declare it . . . but they are not doing it because of distress.
Look at verse 11:
My days are like a lengthened shadow; and I wither away like grass.
Instead of feeling full of hope and direction, he suffers a severe loss of determination. He is being eaten alive by anxiety. He is no match for the days he faces.
Psalm 109 is a similar-sounding psalm. David begins with a passionate request:
O God of my praise, do not be silent! (v.1).
Have you ever begun a prayer like that? "Lord, listen up! Please, Lord, listen! Don't turn Your back on me. Don't ignore me, Lord." That is the plea of verse 1. "O God of my praise, don't be silent!" The implication is, "Speak, enter into my world." And here he realizes the causes of his discouragement. "They" [the ubiquitous "they"]. They are always there . . . always those people, those sources of pressure and anxiety. We all encounter them.
For they have opened the wicked and deceitful mouth against me; they have spoken against me with a lying tongue (v.2).
Remember his command, "Don't be silent, Lord. Listen to where I am."
They have also surrounded me with words of hatred, and fought against me without cause. In return for my love they act as my accusers; but I am in prayer. Thus they have repaid me evil for good, and hatred for my love (vv.3-5).
"Lord, don't be silent. I'm withering under the accusations and the evil, hateful attacks. Speak, Lord. Enter in. Act. Defend!" Like so many in our day, the man can't seem to get up for the challenge of his times. To him, the Lord seems like a distant Deity.
Quickly, one more psalm of a similar nature Psalm 120. Again, there's no author named, but it is yet another plea. The writer is in trouble and admits it. (One of the wonderful things about prayer is you can tell it all, and God won't tell anybody. You can unload your heart and He will hear, accept, understand, and renew.) Read the psalm slowly, with feeling:
In my trouble I cried to the Lord, and He answered me. Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue. What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue? Sharp arrows of the warrior, with the burning coals of the broom tree. Woe is me, for I sojourn in Meshech, for I dwell among the tents of Kedar! Too long has my soul had its dwelling with those who hate peace. I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war (Psalm 120:1-7).
He has quite a dilemma! He speaks for peace, but he is surrounded by those who want to hate and
want to fight back. He prefers to press on, but they want to hold back and complain.
I don't know what all of this is saying to you, but none can deny the scenery is stormy and the battle is raging. It reminds me so much of our times; ours is a time for keen resolve, but the edge is blunted by so many obstacles. As I wrote earlier, we can't just drift aimlessly and expect to do much that will make a difference. These are tough times. The enemy is at work. Pressure is mounting. I am convinced we need to be people of strong resolve if we hope to cope with and shape our world.
This idea of resolutions is not original or new. Jonathan Edwards, who lived between 1703 and 1758, was a brilliant philosopher-theologian, and a powerful preacher of grace. Listen to a few of his resolutions.
Resolved, That I will do whatsoever I think to be most to the glory of God, and my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration; without any consideration of the time, whether now, or ever so many myriads of ages hence.
Resolved, to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general.
Resolved, never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.
Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
Resolved, Never to do any thing, which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.
Resolved, Never to speak evil of any one, so that it shall tend to his dishonour, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.
Resolved, To study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive, myself to grow in the knowledge of the same. 19
Such resolutions help shake us free from the discouragement of our times. They give our "withering grass" new life. They help make us into people of character rather than guardians of our reputation.
John Wooden, former coach of the UCLA Bruins basketball team, including ten national championship years, writes:
Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are. 20
Strong Resolve for Tough Times
Borrowing from Wooden's words, I urge you to care more about your character than your reputation as you invest your energies. I think strong resolutions will help make that happen. If you and I hope to live above the moral drag of the culture, we will need to counteract strength with strength. Furthermore, if we plan to penetrate our times and be a positive influence for righteousness
in a world that is rapidly losing its way, we cannot afford to wander through these years without a compass of commitment.
I promise to make these my resolutions for the coming years. I challenge you to do the same.
RESOLVED to be alert to the presence of evil and the strategy of the adversary. Admittedly, I know some of what we face does not come directly from the devil. But I am confident that much of it does, if not directly at least indirectly. Our adversary wants nothing more than to demoralize, discourage, and discredit every one of us. He is the original murderer, the first deceiver. As we saw earlier, he is subtle. He is invisible. He masks and masquerades. He has insidious plans. His strategies are clever, smarter than you and I would ever imagine. We cannot afford the luxury of ignorance. We must know our enemy and be alert to his presence and to the ugly workings of evil. I so resolve.
RESOLVED to stay fervent in prayer. I want to be more a minister of prayer than I have been up to now. I resolve, and if you are with me, you, too, resolve to stay fervent in prayer, not hesitating to call down supernatural assistance or, when necessary, divine discipline.
All the way through the psalms I read courageous words, strong words. The psalmist pleads with his Lord in prayer, and challenges God to confuse the enemy, to silence the chronic complainer and critic,
to remove the cause of unrest, to make miserable the one who makes war. Those are strong prayers.
Let's commit ourselves to passionate petitioning and courageous interceding. Let's fight our best battles on our knees. Rather than becoming better at debate and more clever in our sarcasm, let's quickly drop to our knees and do our best work there. And if it's some great cause you are pursuing such as the pro-life movement, if it's some great vision you are entertaining, if it's some great concern you are wrestling with, whether it be worldwide or in your own tiny cubicle of life, take it first to God to stay fervent in prayer. I so resolve.
RESOLVED to refuse to retaliate in the energy of the flesh. Revenge is a dead-end street. But it comes so naturally! When we are swung at, the great tendency is to swing back. Most of us were taught how to do that. What a time-wasting effort, since it leads only to more skirmishes. Furthermore, there is no stopping point. And worst of all, the adversary of our souls loves it when we take him on in our own flesh. Every time we make that mistake, we lose.
Several years ago a radio listener called me. He was a new Christian, full of vim and vigor . . . lots of zeal but little knowledge. He blurted out, "I just wanna tell you, Chuck, I'm a new Christian . . . and I'm ready to take on the devil one-on-one!" O, boy, I thought. So I said, "Wait. Wait. Don't kid yourself." He didn't quite understand. He wondered about my reluctance. Interestingly, he called me
again just the other day. Rather sheepishly, he asked: "Chuck, remember me? I'm the one who called you and said . . . ." I remembered his voice and said, "I remember." He quickly responded, "I just want you to know I'm not ready any longer to take on the devil one-on-one." I said, "You've learned?" He said, "Man, have I!" The "arm of flesh" won't cut it when it comes to being overmatched.
That is like my taking on Larry Bird or Michael Jordan one-on-one in a game of hoops. In order for me to take on either one of them, I need a substitute. I need Magic Johnson! One-on-one he could handle those guys . . . but I wouldn't stand a chance. If I'm lucky, I would get two dribbles, then watch either one of them do a lay-up. I can't JUST DO IT, because they are better, stronger, taller, more capable, more gifted. And so is your adversary! If you attempt to retaliate in the energy of the flesh, you will experience defeat again and again. Refuse to retaliate!
Joseph wouldn't do it with his brothers. David wouldn't do it with Saul. Paul wouldn't do it with Alexander the coppersmith. His last lines in the dungeon were, "Lord, You take care of Alexander the coppersmith." This does not mean that you won't ever confront. And it doesn't mean that as a leader you don't have to make tough decisions or deal with wrong. But it means you are not, by nature, a fighter. And you will refuse to operate as a lone ranger.
Listen to The Living Bible's rendering of Psalm 5:8-10:
Lord, lead me as you promised me you would; otherwise my enemies will conquer me. Tell me clearly what to do, which way to turn. For they cannot speak one truthful word. Their hearts are filled to the brim with wickedness. Their suggestions are full of the stench of sin and death. Their tongues are filled with flatteries to gain their wicked ends. O God, hold them responsible. Catch them in their own traps; let them fall beneath the weight of their own transgressions, for they rebel against you.
What wise perspective. The enemies of righteousness are not your enemies, they are enemies of God. He can handle them. Let Him. Tell Him. Release them to Him. Whenever we retaliate in the flesh the devil is given an advantage. At those times, he comes in like a flood. In these pressurized days, we must refuse to retaliate in the flesh. I so resolve.
RESOLVED to refuse to slacken, surrender, or quit the path of obedience no matter how intense the pressure.
Ours has become a soft, just-back-off-and-quit generation. In many ways the 1980s represented a decade of greed, a generation of self-satisfaction. Somehow, that twisted emphasis has led to a strange conclusion. We are now more prone to give up or take a path of least resistance when we face challenges. Many of us, raised by work-ethic parents, picked up that mentality, but some of our kids have not. And the whole idea of standing tall at tough times and standing like a steer in a blizzard at barren times or standing alone at tempting times is foreign
to many of our younger adults. Chances are good your children are weaker than you are.
This is a time to embrace a strong resolve and to encourage all in our family to do the same. Let's stop the thinking that says if it's uncomfortable, then don't pursue; if it might offend someone, then don't make waves. Let's call to mind that obedience is a lonely path so we need to walk it together. I hope as you watch my life or as you hear my words or as you read what I write in the future, you can say, there is a man who has not slackened or surrendered or quit the path of obedience. I so resolve.
Finally, RESOLVED to seek to glorify the Lord God and to trust the Word of God, regardless. Read those words once again, please. The key is "regardless." How much do I mean that? I mean that more than pleasing people. I mean that more than promoting self. I mean that more than escaping affliction. The glory of God ultimately becomes the major filter of one's life. Whatever we do in word or deed, we are to do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, for the glory of God the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit. What a way to live! This need not mean we become killjoys, grim reapers in a day of joy. No. No one has a freer conscience than one whose conscience has been cleansed and whose heart has been washed by the blood of Christ. No one has a reason to laugh at life like the believer.
It is now essential that we have this dual objective if we hope to represent the cause of Christ: to seek to glorify the Lord God
and to trust the Word of God, regardless. I so resolve.
For the sake of emphasis, let me list these five resolutions:
Resolved first to be alert to the presence of evil and the strategy of the adversary.
Resolved second to stay fervent in prayer.
Resolved third to refuse to retaliate in the energy of the flesh.
Resolved fourth to refuse to slacken, surrender, or quit the path of obedience no matter how intense the pressure.
Resolved fifth to seek to glorify the Lord God and to trust the Word of God regardless.
A Personal Word
My hope and prayer is that you will join me in this personal crusade for character. I promise to give myself to these truths, no matter what the future holds. Will you do the same?
It was in a strong sermon preached in 1531 that Martin Luther said some of the same things I have been emphasizing in this book. Though well over 450 years old, these words give me fresh courage and determination to stand firm in a day of eroding values.
Christendom must have people who can beat down their adversaries and opponents and tear off the devil's equipment and armor, that he may be brought into disgrace. But for this work, powerful warriors are needed, who are thoroughly familiar with the Scriptures and can contradict all false teachers that is, those very verses which false teachers use and turn them round upon them so that they fall back defeated. But as not all Christians can be so capable in defending the Word and articles of their creed, they must have teachers and preachers who study the Scriptures and have daily fellowship with it, so that they can fight for all the others. Yet each Christian should be so armed that he himself is sure of his belief and of the doctrine and is so equipped with the sayings from the Word of God that he can stand up against the devil and defend himself, when men seek to lead him astray. 21
No question Luther was a man of enormous inner strength. Are you sure you have the power to stand as he once stood? Throughout this book I have thrown down repeated challenges. From sanctity to morality, on issues ranging from abortion to abstinence, I have called for doing what is right, what is best, what pleases God rather than what pleases you or someone else. It takes supernatural power, I realize.
It is possible that you may not know the source of that power or how to tap into it personally. Such power comes from the Person of Jesus Christ, who died that you might live. He also arose from the dead and lives to give hope and strength to all who
believe. He alone is able to provide the power and He is willing to do so for all who turn their lives over to Him. I would urge you to do that today, this very moment. As you turn to Him and trust Him with your whole heart, He will accept you into His family. The power you need will be yours to claim.
Without His presence in your life, there is no way you can expect to break the habits that control you or, for that matter, change the direction of your life. By taking care of first things first, however, you will be amazed at the hope and strength He will give, enabling you to become the kind of person you have wanted to be all your life a person of inner strength, deep character, and strong resolve.
Table of Contents of Sanctity of Life by Charles Swindoll
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