Ah, that convicting promise from James 1:3, “…the trying of your faith worketh patience.” Why is it so hard to realize that promise? Why does patience seem so elusive during the trial? How was Daniel able to stand true for God during a lifetime under heathen kings? How could Joseph keep his integrity through so many years of unfair treatment?
One obvious benefit Joseph and Daniel had was their respective visions. Daniel had direct messages from God to interpret dreams and foretell the future. Joseph had his own dreams of the sheaves of wheat. Still – you and I have the written revelation of God’s promises for us, and somehow we struggle anyway.
I think many times we expect that positive future to come too quickly.
Jim Collins, in his management classic Good to Great, tells of Admiral Jim Stockdale, tortured in a POW camp for more than eight years during the Vietnam War. Admiral Stockdale and his wife Sybil tell the story in their book, In Love and War. On the one hand, Stockdale explained “I never lost faith in the end of the story.” On the other hand, when asked who didn’t make it, he told Collins, “The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go.”
There is a balance here Collins calls the “Stockdale Paradox,” which the Admiral summed up this way:
“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Admiral Jim Stockdale
Daniel and Joseph didn’t just wait for the sweet by-and-by. Daniel recognized the very real possibility of defiling himself, and took regular positive action to confront that fact. Joseph applied himself diligently to the current reality of the work he had, even in unfair and brutal conditions.
Hebrews 10 applies the Israelites’ system of sacrifice to the promises made to the Church in the New Testament. Though the rituals had “a shadow of good things to come” (v. 1) when Christ would offer “one sacrifice for sins for ever” (v. 12), Old Testament Israel balanced that future vision with “a remembrance again made of sins every year” (v. 3).
In much the same way, we have a “blessed hope [in] the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). While we rest in that hope, we must also live out each day confronting the brutal facts of our current reality: You will be weak. You will get hurt. You will sin.
There are some pretty interesting ideas in Hebrews 10, and they seem glommed together at random. But let’s look at them a bit more closely. I think this passage can be very helpful.
- Talk to God about your trial. Have confidence in the power of His forgiveness. “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, … Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” (vv. 19, 22) You don’t have to wait for “someday” to come. Talk with Him about it now. I know, that’s easy advice to give, and just saying a prayer about a struggle sometimes just doesn’t feel like it helps. But you must start there. There is more in Hebrews 10, so let’s keep reading.
- Surround yourself with edifying believers. So many Christians feel guilty or isolated during a trial, and they abandon the church just at the point when they need it most. If that’s you, you’re probably sick of hearing verse 23. You may have even built up defenses against it. Maybe you have invented your own idea of what it means, but take a look at what it says. “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” There have been many times in my life that the encouraging or corrective word of a fellow church member has been just what I needed to get me moving forward again. Sometimes the medicine we need the most tastes the worst. Let others strengthen you during your trial.
- Help someone else. “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:” (verse 24). There’s quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that helping others helps you. Here, the writer of Hebrews encourages you to look outside the trial you’re facing and find a way to encourage someone else.
- Keep the faith. While confronting the brutal facts of your present reality, don’t lose that hope! “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.” (vv. 35-37)
How has another believer edified you through the most brutal facts of your current reality? Share the encouragement by leaving a reply in the comments.
- Title photo – Steve Dwire
- Admiral Stockdale – AdmiralStockdale.com
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