“The Lord said to him, Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of Mine to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the descendants of Israel; for I will make clear to him how much he will be afflicted and must endure and suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16).
There is no man on the face of the earth who lives such an unusual life as the man God would see fit to use for His glory and praise. If he is to be God’s messenger, Christ’s shepherd, the Spirit’s vessel, then he of necessity must be an instrument prepared by the hand of God in any way needed to make it fit. The message he bears is a living message, for it is the life of Christ Himself. Since it is a living message he proclaims by the Spirit’s power, then he, of necessity, must be made to “live” this message within the confines of his own experience. He may soar to the heights of Mt. Zion’s glory today that he might proclaim that he has seen God’s King on the holy hill of Zion, and tomorrow he might find himself sinking in the depths of despair that he might learn and reveal to others the sweetest LILY that ever graced the valley of defeat: JESUS!
He may meet with Jesus and Moses on the mount of transfiguration today and tomorrow be laid bleeding and dead in the streets of Jerusalem and made a gazing stock to a Christ-rejecting world, He may wax bold one moment among the philosophers of this world as he eloquently tells the riches of God’s grace and in a moment’s time be found in weakness and in fear and trembling, having contemptible speech and looked upon by others as a false apostle. All this… that God might mold in his soul an unshakable determination to preach Christ and Him crucified.
God tunes his emotions like a fine harpist before each concert that he might pluck from them the music that thrills the soul and fills his hearers with joy. It may require a tightening on one, a loosening of others, but when all are under the skilled hand of the Master, each one brings forth its hidden message. He is lifted to some height of truth to be smashed on the rocks of unbelief a moment later that he might feel the hopelessness of his hearers and preach to them with a compassionate heart.
He is constantly on the forge, and ere the heat of one battle be passed, the hammer and the tongs begin to fashion a new tool for the glory of God. These experiences try the man of God and often make him a monster of unreasonable proportions. All these violent dealings and his business with God in deep waters tend to turn him without apparent cause to depression and almost unbearable seasons of despondency. His anchor in every storm is the solemn truth that the power of Christ’s resurrection can only be transfused through the fellowship of His sufferings.
“God Deals With His Servant”
That these “things” are the work and will of God cannot be denied in the words of Romans 8:28. It might do well to remind ourselves of dear old Elijah, who one day while walking with God, found himself nearer heaven’s home than earth’s and went on to glory. When he was at last missed by the “clergy” of his day, they wrote his obituary in the ironic words, “…peradventure the SPIRIT OF THE LORD hath taken him up, and cast him upon some MOUNTAIN, or into some VALLEY” (2 Kings 2:16). Thus had been his earthly portion, and in the end his home-going in the whirlwind brought him the answers to the unanswerable experiences of his soul, for they were found unto praise, glory and honor. Elijah is gone, but his mantle fluttered to earth, and Elisha wore it for a season and went on to glory.
But the rough garment of the wilderness prophet has been handed down from age to age, and yet it is the same. Let the man who would wear it lightly beware, for with the mantle goes the juniper tree experiences, the hatred of all earth’s Jezebels and Ahabs, the indifference of the Obadiahs, and also, bless God, the double portion of Elijah’s spirit! The chariots and horses of fire and the smiting of Jordan’s waters! But let all concerned remember that when the hoary head of the prophet hangs down in defeat, and he weeps under his juniper tree with a homesickness for Heaven, that none less than an angel of God can touch him.
Depression without reason is a monster that cannot be reckoned with. Were it not for the cakes and cruse of water in a needy time, these vessels of God would succumb in the death grip of that undefinable… intangible… unexplainable… unspeakable cloud of gloom and mist of darkness, called DEPRESSION. There are, as the angel said, times when the journey is too great for him, and he must sleep until God ministers to him and enables him to go on for 40 days and nights more in the strength of that ministry.
Our brother Peter warned that we should not think it “strange concerning the fiery trial which IS to try you, …as though some STRANGE thing happened unto you.” No, this is nothing strange to the many who have gone on to glory before us. This was the common lot of them all. We cannot take too lightly Paul’s solemn words that he had “trouble” in Asia… that he was “pressed out of measure”… far “above strength”, and that when this tempest had reached its zenith, the great heart of the man that shook Rome “despaired even of life!” We cannot soon forget this testimony that while in Macedonia, his flesh had no rest. He was troubled on every side, Without were fightings, and within were fears. Drink deeply from the cup of his sufferings drawn from the well of experience when he says that he was cast down and in desperate need of encouragement.
See Elijah after routing Baal’s prophets, weeping like a child and trembling like a leaf in the fall wind. See Moses in his tent, telling God that he can go no further with this stiff-necked people. Listen to the many witnesses that compass us about and see if every man God saw fit to use as a polished shaft in His quiver of arrows was not straightened in the press of circumstances too great to bear and tempered under the weight of despair. Luther often leaped from the mountain peaks of joy into the fathomless depths of discouragement and, I am told, sobbed himself into his last sleep like a frightened child. Some of the means employed in these trying times might give us some insight into the burden of them.
“He Lives a Lonely Life”
“At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me.” (2 Tim. 4:16). “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.” (2 Tim. 4:10). “Elijah wept… I, even I only, am left: and they seek my life to take it” (1 Kings 19:10).
The man God would see fit, by grace, to use for the blessing of others and the glory of Himself must be made to stand alone in the presence of God. Only a man, who has been ALONE in the wilderness for three and a half years, will ever have what it takes to face an Ahab and a Jezebel. The man God uses to call down fire from Heaven will have to submit himself to the discipline of loneliness. If a man would have the revelation of Jesus Christ shown to him, he must accept the loneliness of Patmos’ Isle.
The revelation of the grace of God is almost always and surely learned in the solitude of Arabia, when even the brethren withhold the fellowship of a handshake for 14 years. A man who would know God in the burning bush, must suffer rejection at the hands of the world and brethren alike and retire to the backside of the Midian desert to be ALONE with God. He is called upon to leave “all” to follow Jesus. This often requires that he be forced further outside the camp than others that he might challenge the saints to a higher walk. He learns to worship, leaning on his staff with a look of apprehension at all who would offer to “support” or strengthen him, lest it turn out to be only another broken reed and it pierce his often-pierced hand. This walk and schooling called “loneliness” brings two results in his life.
1. When he tries to explain the source of his sorrow in order to find sympathy or relief, he finds that the inner conflicts cannot be revealed to others, lest men count him mad and God be robbed of the glory of being ALL to him. He must suffer with it alone like a fire that burns in the bones that only God can know, understand and quench. This gives him a tendency to sense no human sympathy or understanding.
2. His burden becomes heavier when, like the Lord Jesus in Gethsemane, in His greatest agony, He looks in vain at sleeping brethren unaware of His dear soul’s fear and need. He is often shocked by the apparent indifference of the brethren and returns to unknown agony with a burden heavier than ever. This often leaves him exposed to the sin of a critical, fault finding heart.
“He Lives a Burdened Life”
He carries about in his heart, if he be the Lord’s vessel, a burden none can share but those who know it firsthand. The great weight of divine responsibility makes him cry, “Who is sufficient for these things?” He oftentimes would quit his post and flee to a lawful occupation for relief and rest but is bound by an inescapable, “Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel.” He groans in his earthly house, being burdened, and would forsake all and go fishing if it were not for the constant reminder that there will be a day when he must come dripping wet out of the sea of life to face a heavy-hearted Lord and hear Him say, “Lovest thou Me?”
This burden the man of God tries from time to time to carry for himself. He cries, “This people be too much for me.” He would sink beneath its load until he learns that the burden is the Lord’s and His burden is light and His yoke is easy. The constant burden to study the Word of God tends to make him weary as the Preacher said in Ecc. 12:12, “Much study is a weariness of the flesh.” The word wearied conveys to us the thought of exhaustion and fatigue. A Demas, who forsakes us… a brother, who must be withstood to the face… a professed brother, who lifts up his heel against us while eating the bread of love and fellowship with us can take from us in a few hours what ten years of honest toil with the hands could not.
“He Lives in Weakness”
Then consider that Romans teaches that we all have infirmities, else why would the Spirit of God help us with them? These weaknesses may be physical fountains of despondency. These bodily weaknesses may gnaw at our reservoir of strength until in our weakness we are driven to His strength. If we really knew the heat of the furnaces in which some men labor and walk, we would realize anew that GRACE still has her martyrs being burned daily as living sacrifices at stakes unseen to men. If we could see the inner conflict under which men often preach and labor, we would marvel at the Grace that sustains him and not at the spasmodic depression that overwhelms him. We would glorify God for His many victories instead of magnifying his few defeats. The saints sit at the feet of the man of God as he ministers, and they feast at the spring of living waters; and some never know that those refreshing waters were digged from the rock of his own soul.
He is engaged constantly with a hidden struggle that rages between two convictions, (1) That his body is a living sacrifice to God and as such is the temple of the Holy Spirit and must be cared for as such; (2) That as a living sacrifice, he must spend and be spent… poured out on the sacrifice and service of the faith of the saints. He is badgered by the thought that his Lord’s body was broken for him and that he can do no less. While conflict rages, and each passing day he is sure he will reconcile these two opposing thoughts, he drives himself at an unnatural pace. He is driven hour by hour with the incessant whiplash of a burden to know more of God’s Word, until sometimes the study becomes a prison and his books iron bands that shackle him to the pillars of responsibility. He forgets, or no one reminds him, that every beast of burden must eventually be turned out to rest and that every field must lie fallow or become fruitless. He forgets that every workman must have a time to sharpen his tools and refresh himself, and often the sweet reasonableness of caring for his body is swallowed by the zeal of the Lord’s house.
“He Suffers Frustration”
This is such a fountain of discouragement. Suddenly the man of God sees so much to do… so little time to do it in. He may be in sweet fellowship in and with the Word of God and suddenly blazing from its pages comes the message that “Just one life.. ’twill soon be past, just what’s done for Christ will last.” He looks upon so much yet undone and sees himself as a “grasshopper” in his own eyes. He falls prostrate in helplessness. He looks upon such a large field (the world) to be plowed and sees how dull his plow point is and how hot the sun and how rough the plow handle. His little efforts seem so futile and he judges himself unfit as he looks back in despair. He hears the Lord God say, “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet and show my people their transgressions, and the house of Jacob their sin.” (Isa. 58:1). And he puts feeble lips to the trumpet and too often the trumpet gives forth an uncertain sound. All this results in a seething torrent of frustration suddenly released upon his soul, and it requires the patience of Jesus and the balm in Gilead to restore him to his place of service.
“He is Attacked by Satan”
Like Paul at Philippi, as they went to prayer, a demon possessed girl disturbed them, and this satanic interruption had to be dealt with before there could be any prayer. Wherever there will be a Job, there will be a Satan to falsely accuse him and beg God for the chance to bring unusual trials into his life. The man of God daily wrestles with principalities and powers and learns early in his ministry to recognize that unseen struggle in every innocent appearing in his life. He sees it at work through his own children, other believers, enemies and friends. Good and bad things alike are scrutinized for the unseen attack and snare of the Devil. But many times, instead of watching and praying, he, like the disciples of old, sleeps, and is overcome and carried off captive. These attacks take their toll on the vessel God uses. He may stand before a murmuring multitude one moment and go to his tent to sob himself to sleep in loneliness. Just when he feels that God has blessed his ministry, and he finds himself preaching to multitudes, the thousands suddenly turn away and reveal that they did not really want the words of Eternal Life, and he turns in disappointment to the twelve that are left and realizes with sinking heart that one of them is a traitor, and sometimes it is more than he can bear for an instant.
He withstands a volley of arrows shot from the bow of an infidel only to fall mortally wounded by a dart from the mouth of a brother. He is constantly being accused of one thing or another and the steady drips of criticism and fault finding falls upon the great rock of his heart with apparently no success day after day, and then without warning a single drop sends it crashing in upon him.
“Why Does God Allow These Things?”
I find three unvarying principles at work in this matter.
1. God allows Defeat to Follow Victory: David slew his ten thousands, but the Word of God declares that he waxed faint in battle. Jacob wrestled all night but leaned on his staff the next morning. Elijah prayed fire from heaven and put Satan to flight, and the brook ran red with the false prophets’ blood. See him the next day. He is not bragging in his works… see him with his face to the ground… hear him as he sobs in humiliation and fear… hear him as he cries for deliverance. It is God’s balance, God’s way of bringing His servants low before Him, humbling them under His mighty hand that He might exalt them again in due season. There seems to be a season for victory and also a sanctified season for apparent defeat. I say “apparent,” for it is only so to the untrained eye of flesh. Flesh cannot see that the man of God is in the school of discipline and is in the furnace for perfecting… is on the wheel being made a new vessel. Only faith can lay hold of that. Read John 16:20-22 and see God’s unchanging rule. Sorrow before joy. He must hide Himself that the revelation of Himself will be even more glorious.
2. Victory is Oftentimes Preceded by a Crushing Defeat: He is many times made to stand at the borders of Canaan and see himself as a grasshopper in his own sight and made to tremble in fear, but another day comes and rightly and properly humbled, he marches on in victory, He looks upon a Nineveh and is ready to flee like Jonah, if only a convenient ship would come along and swiftly and quietly take him to some far away Tarshish. Then he pays the fare in defeat and discouragement and is brought back by the whale’s belly in shame and vomited out of his circumstances into the lap of the will of God to deliver a city into His hands.
“These Things Are Necessary”
So our brother Peter assures us. Fiery trials… manifold heaviness… great temptations… if NEED be. Yes, praise God, the man God uses must have a thorn from time to time to keep him from being exalted above measure. You, to whom he ministers, would have a tendency to exalt him above measure, if God from time to time did not allow you to see that he is also a man of like passions. You are driven to prayer by the frailties of him, whom you supposed to be strong. You feel keenly the need of watching in prayer for your own well being and you fear that if the shepherd falls, the sheep may also fall from their own steadfastness. These times are needed that we might bear one another’s burdens.
The man of God has the things of Christ revealed to him from time to time. Paul said the abundance of revelation secured for him a constant messenger of Satan to buffet him into humbleness. Oh, praise God for these messengers of mercy and gems of His grace! These, who speak the oracles of God, must be brought to the emptiness of their own devices. These, who would be vessels of glory, must be broken often on the wheel of the potter. If a man would be led by the Spirit, he must of necessity be tempted of the Devil as our Blessed Lord was. He who would be lifted into the third heavens of revelation, must of necessity be brought to the limitations of his own resources by a thorn in the flesh. He, who would share in any measure the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, must be brought to the death of the Cross in his own heart and life. He, who would watch the sheep of Christ, must share the love of the Shepherd, who said, “I lay down My life for the sheep.”
“More Than Conquerors”
Hear the conclusion to the whole matter as Paul freely speaks of his own ministry: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us. We are pressed closely on every side, but not cramped; we are unable to find a way out, but not in utter despair; pursued for the sake of vengeance, but not left in the lurch; smitten down, but not killed; 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. For we which live (live unto God, that is) are ALWAYS delivered unto death for JESUS’ sake that the life also of JESUS might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you…” (2 Cor. 4:7-12).
Even though there is suffering, it is not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us. Even though he shares for a moment the fellowship of Jesus’ suffering, it shall be followed by the power of His resurrection. Even if he, like Peter, is for a season in great heaviness and many temptations, it shall be followed by joy unspeakable and full of glory. Even though his world be engulfed in a flood of forty days and nights, there will be a rainbow in the cloud, and God will remember His covenant, and he shall come to rest on holier ground. He is more than conqueror through Him Who loved him. The sweet words of Jesus’ promise purge his sorrows in a holy flood of joy, “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4).
Published in “A Witness and A Testimony” magazine, March 1965.