(In memory of Elder Tan Cheow Hock, who shared this devotion 3 months before his passing due to cancer. May we all have the same enduring faith regardless of our circumstances in life.)
A couple of years back, I came across a sermon that speaks about a faith that endures. I would like to share with you three observations that I have learned on this.
1. Sometimes faith changes our circumstances.
I reckon most of us have read the book of Hebrews and are familiar with the famous Faith Hall of Fame in chapter 11. Verses 32-34 reads:
“And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:”
“Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,”
“Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”
In other words, through faith, defeat was turned to victory, weakness to strength, cowardice to bravery, and tragedy to blessing and so forth…
We then come to another group of heroes – also listed in this chapter. They were not small heroes or second-class heroes. I think they are in similar standing as those in vv.32-34. I would like you to note the contrast, beginning from the midpoint of verse 35 to verse 38:
“…others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:”
“And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:”
“They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;”
“(Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
Can you see the point here? Earlier we read of triumph after triumph. But what is our sense here? No triumph but torture, mockings, scourgings, imprisonment, sawn asunder, slain by the sword, and so on.
2. Sometimes faith does not change our circumstances.
Two days ago, I received a call from a Christian brother. He said he felt prompted to share with me something from his heart. His whole point in sharing was to encourage me not to give up (in my battle with cancer) and to keep trusting God. I thanked this brother for his encouragement. Life for this brother was hard and it still is. He has a humble vocation and takes care of his wife who is unwell and his disabled daughter. They live from hand to mouth.
Despite the difficulties and hardships in life, he presses on and keeps his faith in God. I know this brother for several years and his circumstances have not changed in the years I have known him. I am sure he has prayed for his needs. But for him and his family, nothing has changed. He is still at the same job; his wife is still sickly and his daughter is still disabled. For this Christian brother, there is no change in his circumstances. Life’s hardships remain for him and his family. In his case, faith did not change his circumstances, but he remains faithful to the Lord.
Let me give you another illustration. It is found in Acts 12:1-10.
“Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.”
“And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.”
“And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)”
“And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.”
“Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.”
“And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.”
“And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.”
“And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.”
“And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision.”
“When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.”
The contrast here speaks of two apostles in captivity and two very different outcomes! And they both served the same God. Sometimes faith changes our circumstances as we see the Apostle Peter delivered from harm. Sometimes faith does not change our circumstances as in the case of the Apostle James when he died by the sword.
3. Faith does not judge God by the circumstances.
Acts 12:5 “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.”
James was killed before Peter was put behind bars. Did James’ death not discourage the church? No! It did not deter the church from coming together to pray. In fact, they gathered in John Mark’s house in prayer (verse 12). They did not give up on God. They persevered in prayer for Peter. Regardless of the adverse situation around them, the disciples’ faith remained unshakeable and tenacious. They had a faith that endured in the face of danger and possibly cruel death. They refused to judge God that since James was not spared, Peter would suffer the same fate.
We have a classic story in the book of Daniel. Three pious Jewish youths Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a “fiery furnace” by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon when they refused to bow down to the king’s image. Before they were thrown into the furnace, this was their reply to the King:
“Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego believed that God is able to deliver them but even if God did not deliver, they will not change their minds. Come what may they will not worship the golden image. They refused to judge God by circumstances. Their faith in God remains resolute.
We have made three observations:
• Sometimes faith changes our circumstances.
• Sometimes faith does not change our circumstances.
• Faith does not judge God by the circumstances.
We will not be able to comprehend why sometimes faith changes our circumstances and why sometimes it does not. The Scriptures help us to understand and accept our inability to understand God’s ways:
“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33)
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Therefore, our duty is not to judge God by our circumstances but to bring to maturity a faith that will endure the uncertainties of life till our journey’s end.