The Value Of Patience

It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. Ps. 119:71

A brother recently called me on the phone and he wanted me to lend him some money. He has a small business in a faraway village and the revenue people here in town had travelled there and given him and his fellow businessmen in the village a deadline to pay for and collect their tax identification licences. But the man did not have the money. He told me his fellows would be leaving the next day to come to town to pay for their licences and he alone would be left behind.

Unfortunately, I did not have the money he needed and I told him so. But I also told him, “Brother, it is not a sin not to have the money. I am sure God has a very good plan for you in the midst of all this.”

The brother did not sound reassured by my words, but still there was nothing either of us could do except to trust the Lord for His intervention. When I cut the call, though, I said, “Thank you, Lord, for those wonderful words that you have given me to give to this distraught brother.”

Very early the next morning my phone rang. It was my brother from the village calling, and he sounded very excited. He said, “Praise the Lord, brother! Brother, the Lord certainly knows how to deliver us from evil. Had I come to town yesterday I would have wasted a lot of money on bus fare, but the Lord delivered me. When my fellow businessmen arrived at the revenue offices yesterday, they were informed that the licences were not ready. They were told to go back at the end of the month, which is OK with me because by that time I will have acquired the money. Thank you so much for your words, they were true!”

I can recall any number of times that I have been afflicted; but I truly cannot say that at that particular moment that I considered the afflictions good for me. No, and in most cases I “kicked against the pricks”, as it were.

Yet King David saw in the Spirit and here he says that the afflictions he underwent were good for him!

We need spiritual eyes to see things as God sees them. Without spiritual eyesight we will forever be fighting God and His good ways.

It is in hindsight that I have come to appreciate and thank God for the valuable lessons that I have learned in the Spirit through the afflictions that I have undergone. I never would have admitted it before but I can now freely confess that there was – and there still is – a lot of folly, stupidity and downright hardheadedness in me that the cross of Jesus Christ needed to deal with. Moreover, I can sincerely thank God for these afflictions. I never would have thought to thank God for allowing things into my life that were so hurtful.

When we are walking with the Lord, we have absolutely no need to fear – or to feel resentful. David said in Psalms 23:4,

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

The reason for this lack of fear is because it is the Lord Himself who is in control of everything. All those circumstances that come our way, whether good or bad, have been programmed and passed by God Himself for a good purpose in our lives. And God is not like us: He is faithful and He will accomplish His good will in and for us.

The problem comes only when we do not allow God to accomplish His purpose in our lives through the afflictions He allows us to go through. The Apostle James says:

“2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” (Jam. 1:2-4)

We need patience in order to have God perfect us.

As for resenting those who do us evil, the Bible tells us to love them instead. Why?

Once again, David gives us the answer in Psalms 23:

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” (v.5)

It is a matter of time before those who cheered as you were being ‘roasted’realize that it was God who was at work and that He was working, not bad as they supposed, but good for you in all things.

In all cases that pertain to a child of God, evil is like manure. Manure may be distasteful in itself, but what it accomplishes to a plant is life itself. In the same manner, afflictions, tests and trials are the catalyst for our spiritual growth. We should therefore arrive at the place where we can with David in the Spirit:

“It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.”

Patience In Suffering

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.

20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:

23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. 1 Pet. 2:18-25

The Swahili version of verse 19 reads: “For this is true goodness, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.”

There it is, just in case you were wondering at the exact meaning of the word “thankworthy” in this verse. In other words, there is what we could call ordinary goodness; and there is true goodness. Ordinary goodness is the goodness that responds only to like goodness but cannot endure opposition to self. This goodness is of our carnal nature and it does not please God for it does not respond well to Christian suffering.

True goodness can only be of God. That means that the bar for true goodness is set very high. Remember the girl in Philippi who had a spirit of divination in her and who followed Paul and his team and proclaimed after them:

“These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17)?

Our God is the Most High God and his standards are equally high. True goodness cannot therefore be the feel-good stuff that our flesh craves. As a matter of fact, true goodness can only be something that the flesh detests, and which it desires to run away from.

In the world, our hearts automatically warm towards those who will us no ill. But when we meet people who would do us harm, we close our hearts. It is the easiest thing, even in church, to align ourselves with the people whose hearts are open to us. But we tend to close our hearts to those people who will not open their hearts to us, or to those who criticize and torment or persecute us. And if this is the case in the church, how much more so when this suffering comes from the world? The Apostle Peter here puts his finger on what is probably the most difficult thing for a believer to do: to suffer wrong patiently and to maintain a pure heart when in that situation.

Notice, again, “… but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.”

The word “acceptable” here again attests to the high standards of God. “Acceptable” means what is right with or pleasing to God. If it was me, what Peter describes here is not what would be acceptable with me. But this is what is acceptable with God.

On the flip side, it means that if we suffer when we do well and are unable to take that suffering “patiently”, this is not acceptable with God. We have a long way to go in pleasing God!

But the Apostle Peter gives us the example of Christ Himself. Christ endured suffering from sinners, although He Himself was sinless! In that way, Christ did that which was acceptable with God. But even more so, the Bible tells us, it was through this endurance that Christ became the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.

If we are selfish, we cannot take evil, and for that reason can never be of value to anyone from God’s perspective. Jesus said,

“24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. 25 He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” (Jn. 12:24-25)

Hence the need for the revelation of the cross in our lives, where “Christ crucified” becomes the foundation of our Christian lives. It is only through a crucified life that we can live this kind of life, the life that pleases God.

[In the midst of suffering may it be well, Lord, with my soul.]

Suffering For Our Faith

13 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?

14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.

15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?

16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

20 Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.

21 From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.

22 Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.

23 But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.

24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Mat. 16:13-25

In 1 Samuel chapter 22 verses 1 to 2 we read the following account of David:

1 David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam: and when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went down thither to him. 2 And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.

Four hundred men… what a small number! But the Kingdom of God is built upon weakness, not strength; in inadequacy, not competence; in insufficiency, not abundance. Four hundred men is a perfectly sufficient enough number for God to bring about a world-shaking phenomenon, for that was what the kingdom of Israel would soon become under King David.

As we noted in an earlier post, we must move on – move on to maturity. Leaving the basic doctrine of our Christian faith, we of necessity must grow, or move on, to perfection. But, in order to find ourselves on this road, we need spiritual perception.

The account about David is therefore an analogy: an analogy of Christ, the cross and us. Throughout scripture, the Bible talks of only one Christ – the Christ who was crucified. The cross signifies Godly suffering. Hence, in one scripture we see David suffering; and, in another, we see Christ suffering.

Interesting, isn’t it… that David escaped King Saul by hiding in a cave. The Bible, talking of the righteous men of old, says in Hebrews 11:38:

“… (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”

The saints of old suffered for their faith. Many of us know David for his role as king of Israel. Yet, the Bible counts David among the men of old who suffered for their faith.

Equally amazing, however, is the fact that we see people who, in spite of the suffering they witnessed in David, still went out and followed him. But who were these people who went out to David? The Bible does not say that the rich and the well-fed and those contented with life gathered themselves unto David. On the contrary, the people who went out to David were all desperate people. The Bible says they were people “in distress”, “in debt” and “discontented”.

“In distress” here simply means they were poor.

In other words, the people who went out were people who had nothing to lose. They had lost everything already. Today’s world would call them ‘losers’. The men and women who went out to David were losers.

In the same manner, we can only follow Christ when we have lost all and have nothing more to lose. As long as you have so much as a shoelace to your credit, you cannot follow Christ. The Biblical standard for becoming a disciple of Christ is losing all. And when the Bible says all, it means all. The Bible says of Jesus, that He “poured out his soul unto death” (Is. 53:12).

Jesus lost all, including His life. On the cross, He died.

“24 If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

If you have something precious, better lose it now. When you go to the Lord, you go as the song says: “Just as I am, without one plea!”

But why did these people go out to David in the first place? The man was living in a cave; were they mad? Or had they lost hope to the extent that they were willing to suffer for suffering’s sake?

Hardly. On the contrary, these people saw something in the Spirit. The flashback to the reason these people followed after David is found in the key scripture above in Matthew 16. Jesus told Peter that upon the revelation of who He was, He would build the church, against which the gates of hell would not prevail.

In spite of David’s apparent weak circumstances, God brought a revelation into these people’s hearts that David was the anointed one of Israel, that he it was who would deliver them from their oppression. In David’s sufferings, they saw the plan of God for the nation of Israel!

In the cross of Christ – which represents Christ’s sufferings – we see God’s plan for us. In weakness, we see strength. In defeat, we see victory!

Jesus said,

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (v.10)

Those who will receive the things of the Spirit are those who have received a revelation of the crucified Christ in their hearts and who are ready to deny themselves and to share in Christ’s sufferings, with the hope of the Spirit in them. The Bible says:

11 For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. 12 Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. 13 Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. 14 For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” (Heb. 13:11-14)

The Bible says: “Let us…” God here is beseeching us. But God’s “Let us…” can sometimes be a command. Just as these people went out to David, we must move out – move out from our comfort zones, and from self-preservation. We cannot be contented with the status quo. We must desire real change in us – the change to live a sacrificial life. Blessed, indeed, is he who hungers and thirsts in their spirit for the things of God. He will learn to deny himself, to take up his cross and follow Christ.

[Below: Tanzanians standing for their national anthem]

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The Recipe For Carrying God’s Grace

1 Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up.

2 After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.

3 Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth. Hos. 6:1-3

There are many good things which I can recount that God has blessed me with. First and foremost, of course, is the salvation of my soul. There is nothing to compare with this grace.

Secondly, there is my pastor, and my wife. I know I might sound stupid saying this, but I am yet to decide who between these two I should put first. For my wife is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones; yet my pastor is as God to me. He has shaped my life to become what I am today.

I could list blessing after blessing that God has bestowed upon me. And yet… among all of the blessings that God has bestowed upon me, there is none I cherish more than God’s hand upon my life. I count God’s chastisement of my self as the most important blessing in my life.

Do not for a minute think that this is something that I have always received with joy. There are times when, like the Apostle Paul when God first began dealing with him, I also have “kicked against the pricks” (Acts 9:5).

There is nothing joyous in the flesh when God begins dealing with us. We can be sure of that.

The Bible declares in Romans 8:7:

“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God…”

The mind of the flesh is enmity against God, and we are full of it. We are full of spiritual folly and every kind of sin. When God therefore begins dealing with our fleshly mind or lusts, He goes about it just as you, too, would go about dealing with an enemy: He pummels the flesh to the ground. Actually, He buries it six feet under. God wants the flesh dead and buried; and that’s the reason He brings the revelation of the cross to our hearts. In the Spirit, the cross is the instrument by which we can crucify our flesh every day.

“O happy day!” we sing. “When Jesus washed away my sins.”

When Jesus washes away our sins, we become spotless white. For that to happen, much needs to happen. There will be much confrontation and much flaying of the flesh.

I once read a self-defence manual that said when you shoot at a deadly enemy, you should shoot until the enemy is completely immobilised. “Don’t stop shooting until he stops moving”, it said. That’s when you can be sure that the enemy is absolutely dead.

That is what God does with the flesh. It took Jesus six hours to die. With us, it could take much longer. But God will not stop shooting until He makes sure the flesh is completely dead.

“O, happy day!”

The happiest day in my life was the day God placed His finger and touched my pride. It is the day that God tore me up, ripped me apart. I am forever grateful for that day, – and days – and I am forever grateful for the people God used to bring these situations upon me.

Yes, God uses people. We can see that all over the Book of Acts and in the Pauline epistles.

I had always read Paul’s words,

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10)

But I had never stopped to think what these things constituted in Paul’s life. But now I know they comprised of the most debasing, offensive and degrading things, things that were done to him by… men. All this was orchestrated by God to break Paul’s pride; to break the “I” in him.

God cannot work with us while we are carrying the flesh. We must die in order that Christ’s resurrection life may be found in us. You cannot possibly compare this miserable, earthly life that we carry (which is nothing but death) with the life that God wants to give to us – Christ’s resurrection life. The latter is full of faith, joy, love, peace, and hope.

Finally, let us look at Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:10:

“But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

Notice Paul is saying that he worked more than all the other apostles. But in saying so, Paul is not applauding himself; rather, he is exalting the grace of God that was in him. He says:

“… I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

In other words, Paul had more grace than the other apostles.

How did so much grace come to be upon Paul? Is God a respecter of persons? Of course not. But the reason Paul had so much grace upon him was because he allowed God to break him more. The reason for abundant grace being upon Paul are his words that we just read in 2 Cor. 12:10:

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

Paul rejoiced in these things!

The more we rejoice in these things also, the more grace we will have, just as Paul had, for God is no respecter of persons.

And, pray, what does the Bible mean when it says that Paul “laboured more abundantly than they all”? Is it that he preached more than they? It could well be that he did, but that is not what scripture is talking about here. On the contrary, here Paul is saying that he had more of the fruit of the Spirit in him than the rest of the apostles. He had more patience, more love, more faith, more of everything of the Spirit, for the grace of God was upon him.

It is for this reason that the Bible says Jesus had the Spirit without “measure” (Jn. 3:34).

I have heard some people preach that the Spirit has been given to us without measure. But it is important to qualify that statement. The Spirit was given to Jesus without measure because He

“… poured out his soul unto death” (Is. 53:12)

Have you poured out your soul unto death? The Spirit – and, by inference, God’s grace – can only be given to us without measure to the extent that we lay down our lives just as Jesus did.

And by God’s grace we are not talking about miracles or prophesying (cf. Mat. 7:22). Rather, we are talking of the grace to live the crucified life – the ability to forgive, to repent, to die to the lusts of the flesh, to die to our pride.

The central question is, How can the Lord heal, if He has not wounded us? It is impossible.

God must wound us first. We must spend two days in the belly of the whale, and on the third day God will raise us up with Christ.

[He is all I need]

To Carry God’s Grace

7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. 1 Cor. 12:7-10
Being a team leader is not easy. People will try to bludgeon you to death if they can because people naturally hate the top dog.
My wife works for a certain organisation and she is the head of the particular area that she works in. One time, for a considerably long period of time, she would come home and she would tell me the most harrowing tales of how some of her fellow teammates were treating her. It appeared as if my wife’s organisation had deliberately selected the most bellicose of its workers and put them on her watch.
The most indigestible of these assaults were a couple of workers who would always talk her down like she just got out of the crib. Worse, they tried to discredit her and prove how incompetent she was. This hurt her to the core.
They tried to hurt her as much as they could. They would ask her things like, “Are you really a pastor’s wife?”
Somehow, I knew these things were happening because, apart from what my wife told me, I noticed that whenever the company car dropped her at our house, no one else would get out, even to say ‘Hi’ to me, although they knew me. Immediately she got out, they would roll up the windows and drive off with the tyres squealing.
Naturally, this state of affairs hurt us both terribly. It was a real trial! Many times I would toy with the idea of allowing my wife to retire from her job. But then we needed the money. So we barricaded ourselves in prayer and in the encouragement we got from God’s Word. I would encourage her to forgive them – even as I myself struggled with the need to forgive! It did not seem as if the ordeal would ever end. How could it ever end? My wife’s fellow workers had bound themselves to engage us in a permanent state of war.
One day, a senior official from their organisation came from Dar es Salaam to do an ‘audit’ of my wife’s team’s performance. He stayed with them for a week. During the course of his stay, whenever he asked my wife about anything, she always had it at her fingertips. So much so that in one particularly compulsory and sensitive procedure, the official told her he would not be needing to go through it with her.
“I trust you”, he told her.
He told my wife a few other things also. He told her that she was the only team head who had everything that he needed at hand and who understood perfectly well what she was meant to do.
At the end of his audit he called the team together. He told them, “I have been observing all of you. Your team leader is the most competent person I have met since I began assessing our organisation’s teams. I therefore direct you to consult her whenever you do not know how to go about your responsibilities.”
Just before he left, he assembled them together again and let each one of them know exactly how they had performed. Their evaluation was determined on a percentage scale, and my wife’s had broken all bounds! Moreover, none of her teammates had come anywhere near hailing distance of her.
It requires a revelation from God to see the light at the end of the tunnel. On the day the official bid my wife’s team goodbye, I was home tending my chickens behind our house when the company car drove up to our house. The gate opened and I heard my wife excitedly inviting someone home. I straightened up to see the very guy who had been treating my wife like trash come walking in through the gate and towards the chicken coop. I had never seen the fellow get out of the car and he had never greeted me in his life. I thought something must be wrong for this guy to get into our compound. But he came straight up, greeted me warmly and allowed my wife to lead him on a tour of my chicken ‘farm’.
In the evening, after we had had our supper, I asked my wife what that was all about. She told me she did not know. She was as much surprised as I was, she told me. But, she said, immediately the assessor had given the team his report, she had noticed a very unexpected change in her colleagues’ attitudes. Instead of an increase in animosity, there was an air of acceptance and respect towards her.
I told her, “God has worked a miracle in their hearts.”
That state of affairs has continued to this day. One day, one of my wife’s tormentors left for a long furlough in a far-off region. We were surprised when she called my wife and asked us to check in on her children.
As I said, it requires a revelation from God to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Neither I nor my wife, not even in our wildest dreams, had ever thought things would end this way.
God said to the Apostle Paul,
“My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
In other words, God was telling Paul: “You cannot have my grace without that thorn in your flesh. Unless you allow your flesh to be mocked and destroyed, you cannot have my grace; you will be of no effect in my Kingdom!”
Beloved, what would you rather have? Is it a comfortable, trouble-free life that you desire? If that is the case, you can forget about being of any use in God’s Kingdom. Flesh and the Spirit cannot work together.
1 Peter 2:21 says:
“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps…”
Notice the Bible does not say that Christ did not suffer; on the contrary, the Bible says that the example that Christ left us is one of suffering – suffering in the flesh. It was the same thing that Paul suffered: thethorn in his flesh.
The best thing that can happen to anyone that aspires to the high calling of God to become a man or woman of the Spirit; the best thing that can happen to such a person is to have a thorn in their flesh. The thorn is one of the few things that we see this great man of God, the Apostle Paul, rejoicing in in the scriptures:
“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (1 Cor. 12:10)
Beloved, as a child of God, what is it that gives you pleasure? Meditate on this, and may God show you the road to true spiritual happiness, a thorn in your flesh.

Obedience in Hardship

8 And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying,

9 Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.

10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.

11 And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand.

12 And she said, As the LORD thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.

13 And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.

14 For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth.

15 And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days.

16 And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah. 1 Ki. 17:8-16

As with the Shunammite woman, this fair lady’s name is not mentioned. But she was equally great. Oh, to be great in God’s sight!

This widow woman was a Canaanite (Oba. 1:20). She was not an Israelite.

Notice it was the Lord who commanded her to sustain Elijah. A command is something that has to be obeyed. This Canaanite woman heard and obeyed God’s Word. This is what makes her so great. In other words, she heard the Word of the Lord in her spirit, and she obeyed it. By obeying God’s Word, this poor widow became a great woman of faith.

In Luke 4:26, Jesus also speaks of this woman:

“24 And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country. 25 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; 26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow.” (Lk. 4:24-26)

Notice the reason Jesus says that Elijah was sent to this Canaanite woman was because she would receive and obey Elijah’s word, which was God’s Word. Even though there were many widows in Israel during the famine, yet none would accept God’s Word to do what this Canaanite widow did – to serve the servant of God their last meal in the face of a deadly famine.

During the time of this great famine, we read that Israelite women were boiling and eating their own children in order to preserve themselves (2 Ki. 6:28-29)! That speaks of character. It would not have been easy for Elijah to convince such a person to let him eat any food that they had prepared first. These people were faithless and desperate.

But God knew the Canaanite widow would obey Him in spite of her grim situation. So He sent Elijah to her.

True faith is obeying God in the face of difficult times, including persecution. I cringe when I think of the many times that I have failed to obey God in the face of just such situations. When I consider this poor, primitive Canaanite woman’s faith, I deeply abhor myself. I realize I am the least in the Kingdom of God. I repent, even this morning. May God have mercy on me.

It does not matter to God who we are or what we do. God is God, and He has commanded us to obey Him. He uses hardships and difficult situations to test our faith. Great faith is not when we are raising the dead. Great faith is when we are obeying God in the face of hardship and trouble.

The Bible says:

“Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10)

“Be thou faithful unto death”. That is God’s commandment to us.

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A Pure Heart

“10 Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. 11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” (Jas. 5:10-11)

Now, you would think that this scripture is about Job. It is all right, but it is more about God than Job. This scripture tells us that God rewarded Job because of His great pity and tender mercy towards him. It does not say that God blessed Job because Job went banging at the doors of heaven demanding he be paid for his patience.

This teaches us that the fact that we have suffered patiently does not give us the right to demand anything from God. He has promised to, and He will. But, that notwithstanding, we should always bear in mind that whatever God does in vindicating us He does on account of His great pity and tender mercy towards us. He can choose not to reward or vindicate us here on the earth, although He will most certainly do so in the world to come. In the meantime, God requires you to maintain a pure heart.

Equally important is the fact that we should always maintain an attitude of humility towards God.

There are doctrines today that teach people to demand things from God. Many years ago I was taught to ‘force’ God into a corner, grab His throat somehow, and demand that He honor my prayers.

But such attitudes show how much we do not know God. God is not required to do anything for us. All that He does comes out of His good heart towards us. We have no right at all to demand anything from God. All our righteousness comes from our Lord Jesus Christ. If we demand things from God, it means we are spoilt children. The Bible calls such believers “bastards” (Heb. 12:8). In other words, they are people who have no discipline.

When Satan persecuted Job, Job kept a pure heart throughout, and this moved God to bless him.

I once heard of a band called “Pureheart”. When I heard it, I said, “What a lovely name!” For Christianity is all about keeping a pure heart. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Mat. 5:8)

To see God! I believe there is nothing more desirable – and certainly more important – for a believer than to see God. Of what use is it to have every other blessing and not see God’s glory? Such a scenario would hardly ring true.

That is why the devil’s most hunted treasure is our hearts. Once he darkens your heart, he has gotten you. It is the reason why we must keep our hearts pure at all costs.

What does it mean to guard your heart, anyway?

One of the things that I have learned about maintaining a pure heart is that it means keeping a blameless heart. That means not blaming people. I am not talking of not blaming good people (that’s hardly likely); I am talking of not blaming, complaining or judging people who do bad deeds to us.

The Bible says: “Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be CONDEMNED: behold, the judge standeth before the door.” (Jas. 5:9)

Now, that is a very specific warning. The Bible says that if we carry grudges we shall be condemned. “Condemned” here means suffering at the hands of God. That is not a place anyone would want to be. We should avoid that spot at all costs.

Much of the time, though, keeping our hearts pure seems to be the hardest of tasks. The flesh has a tendency to react and, if we have not the grace of God in us, we cannot prevent it from doing what it wants.

But the Apostle James, drawing from Biblical experiences, encourages us to maintain a pure heart in the midst of adversity or persecution. He says:

“10 Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. 11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” (Jas. 5:10-11)

The prophets of old were men who endured hardship, depravation and persecution. But they did not blame anyone. They neither blamed God, nor men, nor Satan. This means that these men guarded and kept their hearts pure while they suffered. Chief of these men, James tells us, was Job. And the Bible concludes:

“Behold, we count them happy which endure.”

Why happy?

For, in Job’s case, “Ye… have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.”

Now, if when we suffer patiently God rewards us out of His good heart, what do you think will happen when we suffer and are not able to maintain a pure heart?

It means, automatically, that God has no further recourse. He has not the wherewithal to reward us.

There are many believers today who are bitter at heart: some are bitter towards God for failing to answer their prayers, while others are bitter for perceived wrongdoing by men. They think, talk and plot things that are not pleasing to God.

I have often found myself in exactly this same situation. But I have discovered the perfect weapon for fighting such attacks. It is called repentance. Repentance is the perfect antidote for a blameful heart. When men have hurt me and I reacted, the Lord has taught me that I needed to repent of that attitude. Then I became free to serve God and my fellow man.

[Job was an incredibly patient man and he therefore endured affliction]

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