Friday, March 24, 2017

Hope in the Midst of Discouragement

The following was written as a devotional for AFLC World Missions.

"But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.""
(Act 9:15 ESV)

As we’ve heard reports from our mission fields this past year, it’s clear that things have been turbulent.  Some of of our missionaries have faced the possibility, and even the reality, of being forced out of their field.  And we don’t know what this next year will hold.  All we know is that we are often called to suffer for the name of Christ.

The words above were spoken to Ananias, as he was called to go and to lay his hands on a man named Saul.  He was reluctant to do so, knowing Saul’s reputation.  But God told him to go, because Saul was a chosen vessel.

Even though it’s clear that Saul would be used by God to do great things, there’s a challenging word attached to it.  He would carry the Lord’s name before the Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.  However, he would also be shown how much he must suffer for the sake of the Lord’s name.

As we read through the book of Acts, we see how all of this played out.  God did use Saul, whose name was changed to Paul, to carry the gospel to Jew and Gentile alike.  God used him to bring the gospel to kings.  Souls were saved and churches were planted as he carried out his calling.

However, in the midst of this work, he experienced great hardship.  He often lacked the resources he needed.  He was slandered by those who rejected his message, as well as by those who received it.  He also suffered physical abuse by those who wished to silence him.  And he was arrested for nothing more than carrying out his ministry.

The same will often be true in the work of missions today.  Although our missionaries will be used by God to accomplish great things on his behalf, they will also suffer.  They will face opposition as they bring the message of salvation to those who are perishing.

This is true not only of missions, but also of ministry here in the United States.  Pastors and congregation members minister, today, in a culture that is increasingly hostile to our message.  We too will face opposition as we carry out our calling.

This can be discouraging.  It’s discouraging to us as we hear reports from the mission field, of the challenges our missionaries are facing.  It’s discouraging to see doors closing to ministry.  It’s discouraging to hear about and to experience opposition here at home.  But, in the face of this, we must bear in mind what the Lord is doing.

This opposition is being experienced because the gospel is being carried into dark places.  It’s being experienced because of our faithfulness to God’s call.  If we were remaining idle, if we were forsaking the call of God, there would be no opposition.

And we know that, as the Word of the Lord goes forth, he is at work in the hearts of men.  As his Word goes forth, he is calling to repentance those who were bound.  He is providing the promise of salvation to those who were without hope.

Recognizing this, we are not discouraged.  We continue to press on in spite of the opposition we face.  We carry out our call trusting that the Lord who sent us is working in ways that we can see, as well is in ways we could never fathom.

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