It has been said that God loves the sinner but hates the sin. I love airplanes, but I hate flying. However, unlike God, who hates sin and never sins, though I hate flying, I fly a great deal. I fly because I love God and want to serve him, and in order to do that most efficiently I often must travel. I’m not afraid of flying. It’s just that the crowding is so bad and the air is so poor that sometimes crashing would seem almost a welcome relief. It would mean that all of my work on earth was finished, because I know that God will not call me home one minute before I’m done with the task he has given me.
In the meantime, for the sake of expediency I just keep on flying. I have learned that serving God often involves some measure of discomfort. It’s not always physical discomfort, like sitting in a crowded plane and breathing bad air for hours at a time. Sometimes it’s emotional discomfort. Nevertheless there’s always a price to pay − something to endure.
Somehow many believers have the notion that if something is from God it never involves difficulty. While at times God allows us to accomplish good things with ease, that is not the norm. When God wanted to accomplish our redemption he had no easy way for his Messiah. Jesus was no masochist. He did not enjoy deprivation or suffering. Though he often lacked comfort, he knew how to accept it when it was appropriate. He didn’t turn down Mary’s expensive ointment. He knew how to rejoice, as when he attended the wedding at Cana . Many of his teachings contain jokes, and somehow I see him smiling a great deal and even laughing.
But in one area Jesus differed. Whereas he could enjoy the comforts of life, the companionship of friends and gestures of affection, and whereas he had patience for children and probably enjoyed their company, he was self-wielding. He managed to endure what he had to endure. Besides the ultimate pain of Calvary , throughout his ministry on earth Jesus had to endure the misunderstanding and contempt of those who did not want to believe in him.
How difficult it must have been for the almighty, all-seeing, eternal, all-knowing God to set upon himself the limitations of being human − to crawl in his infancy, and to need a mother’s care. How much self-control Yeshua must have exercised not to make a mighty display of his power and show those scribes and Pharisees who he really was. He could have called on 12 legions of angels (Matthew 26:53) when he was on the cross. Why didn’t he? Could he not have counted himself crucified, just as God had counted Isaac as having been offered to the benefit of Abraham? But no, Yeshua did not seek the easy way. Part of his divine nature was his ability to endure what needed to be endured.
Enduring builds character. We do not grow strong by saying yes” to ourselves, but by saying “no” when necessary. If we avoid giving in to that which might cause us to fail, we may win that which God wants us to gain for him. Enduring is the hardest work required by faith.
Enduring is anchored in the past, where we have taken our stand. It is practiced in the present, one step at a time. It is oriented to the future, where we have God’s promise of relief from all pain and a glorious fulfillment of all human longing. Enduring is our part of what God has enabled us to do because of what he accomplished at Calvary . It is our human counterpart to the divine work of sanctification.
Sanctification is not a dour process of denying all of life’s enjoyments. Rather, it is the selection and appropriation of healthy enjoyments and the rejection of all that distracts us from serving God. Holiness is anything but somber! It is a mind-expanding, consciousness-raising, soul-magnifying state of existence. The endurance which is so necessary if we would gain the best of life involves several stages. Sometimes they are simultaneous. They include wanting , waiting , walking , and working .
Christians fail, not because they want to avoid doing what is right, but because they do not exercise the necessary will to stand firm where they have positioned themselves in Christ. Wanting or exercising the will is a matter of motivation. Nobody ever became holy or did the right thing unconsciously. It takes a conscious commitment to want what is right.
Motivation is difficult to marshal when we take our gaze from God. King Solomon wrote, “Where there is no vision, the people perish….” (Proverbs 29:18) When we see God, his splendid majesty, goodness and love for us, all focused through the atoning death of the Messiah at Calvary , we are moved to want what is right. Our power to be motivated to care and to want the right thing must be that vision of God’s love at Calvary .
Once we are moved to want the right thing, we often find that we must wait on the Lord. Think of the apostles. Dynamically charged up by the presence of the risen Christ, they wanted to get on with the work of the Kingdom, but the King told them to wait at Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Only then would they begin the task of the Great Commission. It is axiomatic of the life of faith that when we go to God in prayer ready to do his will, he answers our prayer proposals in one of three ways. Sometimes he says “Yes” and sometimes “No.” But even more often he says “Wait!”
When God does say “Yes” he usually asks us to walk with him. He sets off in a certain direction and promises only to show us our role bit by bit as we follow. We set off to walk with the Lord as did Abram. As we go, God usually informs us on a “need to know” basis. This usually causes chagrin to the new or untrusting believer who wants to know every detail of the task. But the experienced believer does not need to know all the particulars of what lies in store, nor how to deal with each problem or situation that will arise. All that believer needs to know is that God is there to direct whenever action is needed.
When God’s work must be done, he shows us what to do and how to proceed. The Hebrew word for work is avodah , which means labor, but it also means worship and service. It is said that Ruth Bell Graham has a sign over the kitchen sink where she washes dishes that says: “Divine service performed here three times daily.” There is a God-honoring way of washing dishes or shoveling coal or working at an assembly line by which a person can honor the Lord as much as by doing the work of an evangelist.
What makes our waiting, wanting, walking or working holy and part of our sanctification process is our decision to endure it for the glory of God. As believers, our hearts have been wakened and sensitized by our vision of Calvary . It’s all summed up in a song I wish we all sang more often:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.