More Than Conquerers!

[This post is an adaptation of a similar post that I wrote a while back. I found it in my drafts this morning and I felt in my spirit that I should re-post it]

 

8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;

9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;

10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. 2 Cor. 4:8-10

One time, not too long ago, I was in a jam – financially, spiritually and virtually in every area of my life. Spiritually, I was hanging on by a thread, literally. I couldn’t pray and I couldn’t read my Bible. I would spend all of my devotion time looking into space. The worst time was when it came to ministering in church. I preached while looking at the clock, willing the time to pass quickly.

As my condition worsened, I soon found myself blaming myself for each one of the problems I was facing. As far as I knew I hadn’t done any express sin that warranted this downward spiral in my life. But I couldn’t put my finger on the exact reason nothing seemed to be working in my life. Since I could not find no one to blame for my predicament, I blamed myself.

It was then that the Lord, out of mercy for me, came to my rescue in the most unexpected manner.

Early one morning, a brother 600 miles away called me at 6 o’clock in the morning. For the last three hours, I had been lying on my back worrying about all the problems I was going through. At the exact moment that the brother called me, I was just beginning to doze off in fatigue. You can therefore imagine that I was none too happy as I answered his call.

The brother had never called me that early in the morning, so I thought he had something important to tell me. But, as it turned out, he had absolutely nothing of any importance to tell me. After greeting me (which was the only thing he had called to do), he told me that he was rushing off to his job. He works as a casual construction laborer. Work was hard to find lately, he intimated to me, and life had become extremely hard.

“But”, he concluded brightly, “we are troubled on every side, yet not distressed!” Then he hung up.

It took me a split second to realize that the words this brother had waved me off with were direct scripture. Suddenly, I knew I had just spoken with God; or, rather, God had just spoken to me.

I shot out of bed like a bullet and hit all the lights in the house as I began making a frantic search for my Bible, which since the last Sunday service I had thrown into no-man’s land. When I finally located it, I almost tore out the pages as I feverishly scrambled to find the scripture. Deep in my heart, I knew it was exactly as I had heard it on the phone, but I just had to make double sure!

When I finally found the scripture, I sighed with relief – and unbounded joy! The scripture lay there before me, exactly as the brother had spoken it. I was literally trembling as I read the words.

“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed” (2 Cor. 4:8).

I knew, without a doubt, that the Lord was speaking to me. I read the phrase over and over again:

“… troubled on every side”.

“… on every side”.

The joy that Lazarus felt after resurrecting from the dead wouldn’t have lighted a candle to the exhilaration I felt as those words rolled over and over in my heart. On that particular morning, the biggest cloud ever lifted from my shoulders. I felt indescribably free and relieved! I realized the devil had been trying to show me that it was my fault that I was undergoing all these negative situations in my life. But the Lord came to my rescue by showing me through His Word that what I was going through was the perfectly normal Christian life! Trouble on every side!

“… troubled on every side”.

That talks of the many enemies that we have in the spirit world.

As I read on further, I realized this suffering was for a purpose.

“9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; 10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.”

It is for a purpose that we undergo these low times in our lives. God wants to deal with our flesh, to the end that the spiritual life of Christ might be manifested in us.

But, as you might imagine, the flesh is totally against this state of affairs occurring in our lives. Much of the time, it is like we want to have a ‘hedge fund’ in our spiritual lives. It is like we want to have the rights to lots and lots of breathing space. Somehow, it has been psyched into our minds that the Christian life ought to be a trouble-free life and that, at the very worst, God allows us to encounter only a few teeny weeny problems which we can easily brush aside while sucking on our chocolate bars.

But the Bible doesn’t say that. On the contrary, it says that we shall be “troubled on every side”!

Jesus Himself said,

“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33)

That is the greatest promise that we can hinge our hope on. He has overcome the world; and He lives in us. What a combination! No wonder the Apostle Paul, after listing many of the enemies that we shall encounter, concludes:

“Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” (Rom. 8:37).

Yes, in the face of much spiritual opposition, we are more than conquerers. What an incredible realization!

[Memories…]

A Spiritual Relationship – Part 2

I know there was a time I did not care the least bit about my relationship with my wife. I would fight with her and seconds later I would kneel down and begin claiming God’s promises for my life! One Sunday morning, after our normal fight I hurriedly left home and headed straight for church, where I lay in wait for her at the pulpit. From my position at the pulpit I could see anyone coming in all the way from the gate. Half an hour after I had arrived I saw her turning in at the gate and I prepared to strike. The minute she entered the church door, I shot one well-aimed poison barb that I knew would cripple her right there and then. Of course, I was not so stupid as to mention anyone by name, but I could see I had hit the bull’s-eye because she faltered in her step. It was a miracle that she sat through that service!

It is not easy to love. That is something I have come to discover. The words “I love you” fill the air but much of the time we do not realize that true love can only come out of a mature Christian. It can only come out of a heart that has been tested and tried by God Himself. And we can be assured that when God tries a man’s heart, it is no lullaby. He grabs you by the neck and gives you a bear-shake. The Bible puts it this way: “… but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain” (Heb 12:26,27).

I have a responsibility to “publish” the Good News first in my family – to my wife and children – before I can step out that door. It is neither an easy undertaking, nor is it one that I can take lightly. But I must. I need to depend on the grace of God daily to accomplish this.

This is the reason I am obsessed with my wife. God is working in both of us to bring us to a place where we can relate to one another spiritually. A place where “iron sharpens iron”. A place where God’s truth reigns supreme between us. A place where one can tell the other, “No, don’t take that road!” A place where we are willing to lay down our lives (read rights) for one another.

God is not interested in a conventional husband/wife relationship. He expects something more, something infinitely much deeper, something spiritual.

Can anyone deny that Ananias and Sapphira, of whom we read in Acts chapter 5, ‘loved’ each other. Oh, yes, they did – to the extent that they could gang up to do evil together! Theirs was not a spiritual relationship. But God wants us in the Church to have a spiritual relationship. If the revelation of the Cross of Christ is there in a relationship, that is the right, spiritual relationship. If that revelation is not there in a couple’s lives and they are not carrying the death of Christ, theirs cannot be considered a spiritual relationship. It will be a relationship all right, but it is not spiritual.

Lastly, I can confess that allowing my flesh to be dealt with is the most difficult thing in my life. But, on the other hand, it is also the sweetest of victories when I find myself winning even a tiny bit of the many battles that the Spirit wages against the flesh in me. My greatest consolation is that I can see the narrow road ahead. I cannot say I see the end of it now, but I am sure if I keep walking it one day I shall lay hold of the crown of Life that awaits me at the end of this road. What a relief – and a joy – that will be!

A Definition of Grace

For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. 2Cor. 2:15,16

Has it ever struck you as being odd that when Paul and Silas sang praises to God and the foundations of the prison they were in shook and the prison doors sprang open and every one of the prisoners found the shackles that bound them falling away from their hands and feet and necks (Acts 16)… has it ever occurred to you as strange that none of the prisoners thought of taking their chances and escaping from the prison? When the prison guard came and saw the prison doors wide open he knew for a certainty that all the prisoners had escaped, and he drew his sword to kill himself, to die honorably. Paul jumped up and told him, “Do not harm yourself, Sir, we are all here.”

There is no belittling the fact that the earthquake was an impressive occurrence and there is no doubting the fact that it shook many things in that prison. It would therefore be the most natural thing to assume that the reason the apostles’ fellow prisoners did not run away immediately was because they were too shell-shocked to do anything. There was no other reason to prevent them from taking advantage of this great miracle and running for their freedom.

But I can assure you that something of even grander proportions happened in the hearts of all the men who were with Paul and Silas that night. There is a more profound reason as to why matters did not follow a natural course and why there was neither a stampede nor a mass prison break. I am sure the prisoners did not feel scared or threatened by the events that took place in that prison that night. What I believe happened is that the grace that was upon Paul and Silas so revealed the glory of God in that prison room to the extent that no one had the desire to leave. The prisoners did not want to, or were unable to leave the place where Paul and Silas were. Maybe, even, they wanted to hear more of those songs that Paul and Silas sang. They must have been the sweetest melodies any of them had ever heard in their lifetime!

It could well be that on that day many prisoners accepted the Lord Jesus into their lives and happily chose to serve out their prison terms with joy, in the full assurance that they would be serving God even in prison. Many scenarios arise as to what might have actually occurred in this account, but all point to the power of grace. These men – Paul and Silas – had grace and that grace manifested itself in the way it affected their fellow prisoners. That, I dare say, was of more importance than the physical shaking that the earthquake caused.

I would not want to believe that the prison guard and his entire family decided to get saved because they felt threatened by Paul’s God! Oh, no! On the contrary, the grace of God that was upon Paul and Silas’s lives reached out to them and touched their hungry hearts.

Paul would have explained it this way: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1Cor. 1:18).

What is grace? Grace is not an explanation of the virtues of God. Grace is something that goes from us to impact other people’s lives. It is something that makes people say, “Thank you, Lord, for this man!” Grace can only be found where a life is given. That is why the scripture says “…It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Act 20:35). When someone’s life is given, lost, cast upon the waters through a revelation of the Cross in their lives, the life of Christ will be found in that person and people will be touched by it. The two – our life and Christ’s life – cannot co-exist. One is natural, the other is spiritual. One is life-giving; the other (ours) brings death. One of them must give way to the other.

But again, grace is not something that can materialize in our lives overnight, or even simply because we know scripture. It is the result of a work. It is a result of the working of the Cross in a man’s life. This work strips us of our lives, our carnality. Our natural, carnal lives can only die and give way to the life of Christ when we grasp the revelation of the Cross in our hearts and allow it to work fully in our lives. Only when this work has started in our hearts will we carry the Life of Christ in us and impact people’s lives.

The early Church did not explain grace. They defined grace through the lives they lived. They gave a face to grace. That is the same challenge facing today’s Church.

“Death to the Flesh!”

I am currently on furlough in Musoma. At the same time there is a brother from the church in Dar es Salaam who is on leave and, having visited us here, he is keeping me company in my house. We share many stories with Director (that is his real name) particularly in the evenings when we are alone together. Recently, he told me an incident concerning an anthill that he witnessed when he was a small child. He says there was an anthill on their farm and his father thought that it was drying up the crops. He therefore ordered his elder sons to flatten it. They did so but within a week it was back again, big as ever. They flattened it again, but within no time the ants had built it up again exactly as it was before.

One day their grandmother saw them digging up the anthill. She had seen them dig up the anthill again and again without success. On that particular day she called out to the young men: “That anthill will never go away until you dig up and kill their queen!”

The boys seemed to understand her meaning and the next day they attacked the anthill in earnest. It took them two days to excavate the entire anthill. They dug until they reached far down where they found the ant ‘queen’ whom they brought up and laid out in the sun to dry. All the young children, Director included, came to watch the big, fat, shiny object as it lay writhing on the bare ground.

“It was the ugliest thing I ever saw”, concluded Director.

Which brings us to the subject of the flesh. The flesh may appear beautiful and desirable to the natural eye, but in the spirit it is the ugliest thing. Not only so, but it is a silent killer. The flesh will have you hollering “Hallelujah!”, but you are an empty shell on the inside, full of every kind of wickedness. And, as with the ant ‘queen’ it is hidden far deep within us. Comfortably wrapped up in a cloak of religious ‘holiness’ we are hardly likely to realize it when we are walking in the flesh. It requires a revelation from God and a deep work of some sort to uproot it from our system. The bottom line is that there is no way to arrive at true spiritual victory without dealing permanently with the flesh.

That is why we need a spiritual understanding of the Cross of Jesus. Let us see what the Apostle Peter has to say in 1 Peter:

Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” 1:11

“But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” 4:13

“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed” 5:1

Peter talks a lot about suffering in these verses. Suffering is a word we would rather not hear. And yet, a revelation of the Church is a revelation of the Cross of Christ, which in turn points to the sufferings of Christ – and His death. All the men and women whom the Lord used throughout history to bring out His purpose in the Spirit were men and women who saw and experienced the sufferings of Christ in one way or another. Our father, Abraham, obtained his son Isaac when he was “as good as dead” Heb. 11:12. God went beyond there and demanded that Abraham sacrifice Isaac on the altar.

Many of the apostles died in martyrdom. They should have retired with great honor and better ‘benefits’, but they expired in ignominy.

The Bible, however, states that these men experienced a far greater glory in the eternal Kingdom by going through these experiences.

These are things that the Church today ought to consider very carefully. The Church should consider the role of the Cross in their lives. Logically speaking, if there is no revelation of the Cross in our lives, then we might as well forget the life of Christ springing forth from us. Yes, we will still be Christians, but carnal ones.

Nowadays you hear self-styled prophets ‘prophesying’ about this and that successful venture over hapless Christians. These are false apostles, men who answer to the call of the flesh. That is why there are so many manifestations of the flesh – and even demonic ones – in the Church today!

The true ministries of Christ will confront and uproot completely the flesh and all its works in the Church. We need to arrive at the place where we have truly died with Christ (Col.2:20); a place where, since we are still living in this sinful world, of necessity death is daily working in us (1 Cor. 15:31) to bring out that Christ-like character (Php 3:11) that caused the early saints to be called Christians by the Antiochians.

True Spiritual Victory -Pt 2

“… I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Php 3:14)

The Apostle Paul’s eyes were on the finishing line. He could see the mark! What an incredible grace that was! What a glorious revelation! And I can tell you now what it was that Paul saw. He saw suffering and death. He knew he had to die; and the ‘pressing towards the mark’ he is talking about is his determination to put away the old self with its worldly aspirations, desires, and lusts, that he might gain the life of Christ.

The Apostle Paul came to understand in an incredible way that he had to pass through death to enter into life. He tells the Corinthians: “Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die.” 1Co 15:36

There was a time in my Christian life when I could not claim Paul’s victorious words for myself; and even now I still cannot do so with any amount of confidence. The difference between then and now, however, is that now I understand what the mark that Paul was pressing towards was. Back then I did not understand it. I did not have that revelation. I floated along in my Christian life and ministry, blissfully unaware of that aspect of suffering and dying with Christ. I would hold wrong attitudes and desires in my heart and not think a thing about it. As long as on the outside I appeared and acted and felt all right that was okay with me. And let me tell you that I have the capacity to appear more than perfect on the outside; in fact, so much so that even I myself am often deceived. (In the 1990s I was in a church where if you spoke anything against me the entire congregation would have stoned you because I was considered the perfect Christian. But, unknown to them, there were dragons safely locked away in my heart, real dragons breathing real fire; and ultimately it was the wife I married who would come to set them loose).

What I am saying is that there was a time in my Christian life when I ran the race blindly. But one day God, in His great mercy and grace, granted me to hear and understand the gospel of the Cross that was preached to me by Brother Miki Hardy – the same gospel that the Apostle Paul preached – and from that time I understood that the man I was had to die. No halfway marks. The finishing line for my race was revealed: it was the total death to who I was.

The scales fell from my eyes, as it were – and death stared me in the face. Death to my human pride. Death to the world and its lusts. Death to the sinful nature. Death to Zakaria Mwita. I needed a new name! And when I realized that I fell to my knees and cried to God for His grace. Grace to die to self.

For me today the challenge is more about walking daily in that revelation, and dying daily to myself. That means guarding my heart as perfectly as I can. Of course, I cannot do that. I need the Holy Spirit to help me to do that.

If there is one thing I can say with all the strength that I have in me it is that the Church today needs revelation. A revelation of the Cross of Christ. The Apostle Paul makes it abundantly clear in Ephesians 3:1-12 and in Galatians 1:11-17 that the gospel he received and preached and lived – the gospel of Christ and Him crucified – he says he received this gospel by revelation. Only through that gospel was he able to die to self. Only the revealed gospel of the Cross of Christ has the power to crucify the flesh in a man or woman.

The relevant question we need to ask ourselves today is: is Paul’s gospel the same gospel the Church today should be carrying, or should we expect a different one? If the gospel that the Church should be carrying is the same that the Apostle Paul carried, then we should fall on our knees and pray for the same revelation that Paul had.

Mind you, we can reject the Pauline doctrine of revelation and continue preaching (there is so much stuff to preach about!) but we will never arrive at the mark, the finishing line. As long as we do not put that body of the flesh to death, we shall remain spiritual babes, subject to worldly elements and wanting in spiritual maturity – and the life of Christ.

Today’s Church preaches the ‘abundant life’. The Apostle Paul preached Christ, and Him crucified. The latter requires a revelation to understand it; the other does not.