It was the sixth anniversary of New Life Evangelistic Center and instead of excitement and enthusiasm it seemed that discouragement, disillusionment and despair had overwhelmed a majority of the staff. Many of the staff members were in their late teens or early twenties. I myself was in my late twenties but still had a lot to learn when it came to directing an ever growing ministry like NLEC.
New Life as a total faith ministry meant that we had to make many personal sacrifices as we trusted God for the daily donations required to operate the ministry. At the same time we were taking the financial needs to the Lord daily in prayer. I was also seeing the staff leaving one by one. I would pray and pray and even declared on at one point that it seemed that the more I prayed the worse the situation became. Things appeared to be going downhill quickly, but I knew in the depths of my soul I had to keep on believing.
At the beginning of the year there had been fifty staff members actively at work. Then the pruning spoken of in John 15 began to take place. On July 27 Penny looked around 1411 Locust and wrote in her diary, “I was upset this morning with the empty dirty building. Got mad at everybody. I know God is putting the ministry to death before the resurrection. Right now it’s like ‘Ichabod’ is written across the door.”
There were some days that year when I felt that trouble was coming from every direction. At times I was almost overwhelmed. Life started looking totally negative and hopeless. But I knew I had to keep on believing and could not let anger, negativism or a critical attitude take over.
Giving up wasn’t an option. I had a wife and three small children. We had invested our savings and six years of our life in this ministry and besides I knew this is where God called me. In order to survive each day, I had to continue in spite of my feelings to call on the Lord in prayer. I would let passages like Psalm 50:15 come to life within me. There God told me to call upon Him, “in the day of trouble” and then He promised, “I will deliver you, and you will glorify me.”
People that Penny and I had grown to love and trust were turning against us. It would have been so easy for us to be overwhelmed as troubling times were destroying our joy until we had a crying need for encouragement. Peter gave us that encouragement in verses 6, 7 of this first chapter of 1 Peter. There we saw we had joy and hope not only now in times of trouble but, because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we had been given this living hope of eternal life.
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proven genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter1:6, 7).
God was using this time of trails and suffering to teach me patience. He also was showing me how outbursts of anger were self destructive and that fear only contributed to the problem by producing further distrust.
I knew I had a choice. I could let fear and unbelief take over or I could strive to accept the fact that “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins” (II Peter 1:3-9).
I tried to remind the rest of the staff that in the season of troubles and trials we are told to, “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). I knew that in the season of trouble, we would become bitter, not better, if we didn’t consider it pure joy knowing that these troubles which tested our faith would, if we remained steadfast, develop within us perseverance. We had to keep on believing.
Yet this was hard for some to receive as they reflected, “The thought of my pain, my homelessness, is bitter poison. I think of it constantly, and my spirit is depressed” (Lam. 3:19,20 Good News Bible). Yet a small group stood steadfast as they would meditate on Lam. 3:21-24, “Yet hope returns when I remember this one thing; The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise. The Lord is all I have, and so in Him I put my hope.”
It was scriptures like that which helped us to keep on going. Then in I Peter 1:8 we read “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” The practical advice for living a victorious life goes on in I Peter 1:13-16, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: Be holy, because I am holy.”
To “be holy” meant to abide in the presence of the Living God. At this time of intense trials and tribulations I knew I had to surrender my life, my hope, and my dreams to the One who loved me and gave His life for me. I couldn’t waddle in hopelessness and sin. Instead I had to set my “hope fully on the grace to be given when Jesus Christ returns”. As more and more people left I fell on my knees in the lobby of Locust and cried out, “Dear Jesus, I don’t know what’s going on but I want you and only you on the throne of my life.”
The staff that remained would pray, fast and stayed in the scriptures daily. They were such an encouragement. They would share with the new believers in our midst the importance of remaining steadfast.
Yet the financial needs continued and people kept leaving. Some were not only leaving the ministry but were encouraging others to do the same. Yet those of us who remained were told, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev.2:10).
This prison took many different forms. For some it was fear. For others it was temptation, frustration and disappointment. But there was the promise of the crown of life. We had to keep on believing. As Satan attacked, we had to resist him steadfastly in the faith, “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything” (James 1:3, 4).
We had to use the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith to quench every fiery dart of the evil one (See Eph. 6: 16, 17). We had to remember that Satan had been defeated through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Col. 2:13-15 told us that “God made us” alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
We had to keep on believing that, “They overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb (Jesus Christ) and the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Rev. 12:11). We were promised that, “He (or she) who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death” (Rev.2:11). “So, fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Tim.6:12).
Promise after promise is given to the overcomer in Rev. 2 and 3. In spite of these words of promise, it was so easy to get tired out, worn out and burned out as I battled the devil, the world, and my sinful flesh day after day. I had to keep on believing. That is why it was so critical that I kept my daily appointments with God. In those daily appointments I talked to God in prayer, I read and meditated on the Scriptures under the anointing and power of the Holy Spirit and beheld the wonders of His creation.
As time passed the reality of John 15:1-5 became a living reality at New Life Evangelistic Center. It was becoming clear that Jesus is the true vine and His Father is the gardener and that the “fruiting branch He prunes clean, to make it more fruitful still.”
This pruning had involved a majority of the young middle class Jesus people who had come to the New Life Evangelistic Center during its first five years of ministry. Now God was doing a new work. As I sought the Lord, along with the remaining leadership at NLEC, Jesus showed us that we were to welcome everyone including the homeless not only into the center for shelter but also to join the staff.
With the passing of time not only did our Lord rebuild the New Life staff but he did it by equipping many of those who were previously homeless for service unto Him. As Romans 8:28 says, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. Catherine of Siena is quoted as saying, “All the way to heaven is heaven because Jesus said, ‘I am the Way’”.
Knowing Jesus is the way and we have been called according to His purpose, we kept on believing as we were assured that God is true to His word. “So is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Is. 55:11).
Sometimes that purpose is difficult to understand. Just ask Job, who, although trying to live a God-fearing life, found himself going through unbelievable suffering. The book of Job clearly illustrates that as believers we must, when going through the fiery trial of suffering, remain steadfast in faith, entrusting ourselves to God who judges justly, just as Jesus did when He suffered (See 1 Peter 2:23-25).
In Rev. 3:12 we are told, “Him who overcomes, I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.” Then in verse 21 we read, “To him (and her) who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne.”
Why do we see ourselves all too frequently as defeated victims who think about giving up when through Jesus Christ we are declared victors and over comers? (See Ephesians 1:4-14) The fact is we can either choose to be over comers of sin, the world and Satan through Christ or we can be overcome by them. Those who refuse Christ and His overcoming power will ultimately be cast into hell itself. (See Rev. 2:11; 3:5; 20:15; 21:8) There is no in-between, for you are either an over comer through Christ or overcome by sin, the devil and the world’s system. “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he (and she) who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:4, 5).
Those who keep on believing in God are doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22). They are on the front lines reaching out to the poor, the fatherless, widowed, hurting and homeless. Believers are those who are able to declare, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”(2 Cor.4:16-18)
Whatever the circumstances may be, don’t give up, my brothers and sisters. Hang on, trusting God as He declares, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Now be an overcomer, for Christ has declared, “It is done. I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be My son” (Rev. 21:6, 7). That is His promise to those who keep on believing. To those who are overcome by sin, the devil and the world’s system Christ goes on and says, “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Rev.21:8).
Thank God for the grace, love and forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ. By His power we can be overcomers. This victory each day is not as a result of our own efforts and righteousness, but by continuing to believe in Jesus who declares, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Now you must determine in your heart this day that no matter what you are going through you will not give up. Stand on the promises of God’s word and continue to believe as you remain faithful, trusting in Him through the power of Jesus our Risen Lord and Savior.