A pastor’s wife asked, “When one witnesses a work he has poured his life into ‘go up in flames’ (especially if he is not culpable), is it the work of Satan or the hand of God?”
Often it is the former, always it is under the control of the latter. In the biographies of the Bible we find men whose work for God seemed to be a flop at the time — Moses’ repeated efforts to persuade Pharaoh, Jeremiah’s pleas for repentance, the good king Josiah’s reforms, rewarded in the end by his being slain by a pagan king. Sin had plenty to do with the seeming failures, but God was then, as He is now, the “Blessed Controller of All Things” (I Tim 6:15, J.B. Phillips). He has granted to us human beings responsibility to make choices and to live with the consequences. This means that everybody suffers — sometimes for his own sins, sometimes for those of others.
There are paradoxes here which we cannot plumb. But we can always look at the experiences of our own lives in the light of the life of our Lord Jesus. How shall we learn to “abide” (live our lives) in Christ, enter into the fellowship of His sufferings, let Him transform our own? There is only one way. It is by living each event, including having things “go up in flames,” as Christ lived: in the peace of the Father’s will. Did His earthly work appear to be a thundering success? He met with argument, unbelief, scorn in Pharisees and others. Crowds followed Him not because they wanted His Truth, but because they liked handouts such as bread and fish and physical healing. His own disciples were “fools and slow of heart to believe.” (Why didn’t Jesus make them believe? For the reason given above.) These men who had lived intimately with Him, heard His teaching for three years, watched His life and miracles, still had little idea what He was talking about on the evening before His death. Judas betrayed Him. The rest of them went to sleep when He asked them to stay awake. In the end they all forsook Him and fled. Peter repented with tears, and later saw clearly what had taken place. In his sermon to the Jews of Jerusalem (Acts 2:23, JBP) he said, “This man, who was put into your power by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed up and murdered … But God would not allow the bitter pains of death to touch him. He raised him to life again — and there was nothing by which death could hold such a man.”
There is nothing by which death can hold any of His faithful servants, either. Settle it, once for all — YOU CAN NEVER LOSE WHAT YOU HAVE OFFERED TO CHRIST. It’s the man who tries to save himself (or his reputation or his work or his dreams of success or fulfillment) who loses. Jesus gave us His word that if we’d lose our lives for His sake, we’d find them.
*Excerpt originally published in the July/August 1987 Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter.