King David was overwhelmed by the anti-God spirit of his day. He cried out to the Lord, “Consider mine enemies; for they are many; and they hate me with cruel hatred” (Psalm 25:19). Likewise, Psalm 124:2-3 tells us: “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us: then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us.”
David expresses what many in the Church feel today. At times it seems that we’re helpless to stand against the evil forces amassing. I can hardly believe how, day after day, the morals of our country are being trampled into the dirt.
Will the Lord allow this wrath against Him and His Church to go on until our society becomes like Sodom, with every man a law unto himself? No, never! Right now, we are experiencing the Lord’s incredible patience. He is going to bring judgment, but all His judgments are meant to redeem. Isaiah gives us a wonderful picture of this:
“And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them. They shall be turned back, they shall be greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images, that say to the molten images, Ye are our gods. Hear, ye deaf; and look, ye blind, that ye may see” (Isaiah 42: 16-18).
Beloved, the divine grace Isaiah describes turned Saul the persecutor into Paul the apostle. It raised up a multimillion-member church in communist China. It’s sending refugees fleeing from terrorism and war into the loving arms of devoted servants of Christ. And right now, a Teen Challenge center in a country dominated by false religions has raised up five hundred converted drug addicts who are eager to preach Christ. God is indeed pouring out His redeeming grace in these last days.
We are not to fret over the battles that Satan seems to be winning. The battle we are in is an eternal one and the gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s Church. Our Father has declared it: Jesus already reigns as King!
Today, a radical, pagan religion is a kind of Babylon with mad leaders like King Nebuchadnezzar. This religion is threatening the whole world with its demand to worship its deity. Terrorist organizations with religious support are demanding: “Bow to our god, or we will blow up your airplanes. We’ll bomb your towns, trains, buses and tunnels. We’ll kidnap you, torture you and behead you. Our religion is going to prevail.”
As we consider such demonic forces, we should turn to the story of Nebuchadnezzar and those three faithful servants of God that is related in Daniel 3. It tells us that in a single hour, the Lord came down and delivered His servants—and that changed everything.
Everything looked different when the Lord manifested His power, causing the king to cry out: “Blessed be the God of [these three men], who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God” (Daniel 3:28). Immediately, Nebuchadnezzar issued a different decree. This one stated that the only God to be worshiped was that of the three young Jews: “Because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort” (Daniel 3:29).
Let’s turn now to the Psalmist, who asked why the heathen nations rage against the Lord. According to him, here is how God responds to such wrath: “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure” (Psalm 2:4-5).
The Lord Himself then declares: “[I have] set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. . . . Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee” (Psalm 2:6-7). Religiously supported terrorists and other heathen religions may hope to install their gods as king, ruling the globe. But Jehovah God says, “I have already installed My Son, Jesus Christ the Messiah, as king of the heavens and the earth. He is even now Lord of all.”
In Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden god in Babylon and demanded that it be worshiped. Every official, leader and citizen in over one hundred provinces in Babylon had to fall down before this god or face death. There were but two choices: bow or burn. If anyone refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s idol, they would be roasted alive in huge ovens.
After the decree was issued, three devout young Jews in the kingdom refused to bow. In a rage, Nebuchadnezzar had them dragged before him and demanded to know: “Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:15). Here was their answer: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).
The response of the demon-gripped king was predictable: “Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury . . . and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated” (Daniel 3:19). This was purely demonic hatred against Jehovah God. The truth is, all who stand for Christ can expect to encounter such rage. Their obedience always stirs up the rage of those who take directions from Satan.
So, what was the outcome? Whose God prevailed in Babylon? In the midst of this contest, Jesus Himself manifested His glory and power. When King Nebuchadnezzar peered into the red-hot oven, he was shocked at what he saw. He cried: “We threw three men into the furnace, but now I see four men. They’re walking around in the fire, and they’re not being burned. In fact, they act as if the roaring flames are nothing. And the fourth Man has the appearance of the Son of God!” (Daniel 3:25, my paraphrase).
When Jesus shows up, His enemies have to cower before Him.
Once, while taking a “prayer walk” and talking to God about my concerns over the health of several family members, a Scripture passage became very real to me: “But with whom was he grieved forty years? . . . And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?” (Hebrews 3:17-18). I found myself praying through tears: “Lord, those people made You cry! Have I also made You cry because of my unbelief? I’ve had precious times with You for over fifty years, Jesus. I love You and I know You love me, but lately I’ve harbored some doubts. I’ve wondered why some prayers have not yet been answered.”
Since then, I have heard His sweet, still voice, saying, “I will always love you, David. I will keep you from falling, and I will be faithful to present you faultless before the Father. But, yes, I am wounded by your times of unbelief and wavering faith.”
So, dear saint, are you in the middle of an overwhelming trial right now? Have you prayed, wept and pleaded for help, yet things look hopeless? Maybe your situation has gone beyond all human possibility, and you’re thinking, “It’s too late.”
I tell you, you have been entrusted with your crisis. God could have moved in at any time, but this is His opportunity to produce in you an unwavering faith that you need. He’s looking for trust in Him not just for what you’re facing now, but for every impossible problem from now until you go home to be with Him. Make no mistake: He rejoices over you. Yet He also loves you enough to build a faith in you that will see you through it all.
Pray with me: “Forgive me, Lord, for making You weep. Help my unbelief now.” Then make this verse your own: “Without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Think about the challenge Joshua faced by asking Israel to take a step of faith and cross the Jordan into the land God had promised them. There were well over one million Israelites, not including children and babies. Think of the effort that had to be expended, with planning, all the workloads, and the many responsibilities.
Here is where many Christians get hung up. They tell themselves, "If it's going to be that difficult, it can't be of the Lord. Can it?"
Following God's calling isn't always easy. But it is grace–filled. Peter tells us the finished work of the cross has accomplished everything we need in order to live for Him. "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness" (2 Peter 1:3, NIV).
You don't have to live by your own strength; the Holy Spirit lives in you with power. He will provide you with all the energy you need to do what God says. You'll never burn out if you live and walk in the Spirit, drawing your strength from Him.
Whenever you seek to cross over the Jordan, you will encounter people who don't agree with you; in fact, you may make some of them angry. And if their voices become overpowering, you may wonder whether you should risk going forward at all.
Think of the pressure Joshua faced. He had provided strong leadership to that point and had earned a great deal of trust from people. That was important for a leader whose nation was continually at risk from the surrounding dangers.
Maybe you can identify with Joshua's dilemma. If you're going to cross over your Jordan, be prepared for skeptical responses from your family, your friends, your coworkers:
"You want to start a business—in this economy?"
"You want that kind of ministry? Why?"
"You want to do what with your life? I can't support you. I don't think God is in this."
Now, let me add this: A bold move of faith won't just draw skeptics, it will also draw an army of God's people around you. You'll find prayer, support and energy from faithful sources you never expected.
The world is full of books about God the Father who created the universe, and more books are written about Jesus the Son of God than anyone who ever walked on this planet. But isn’t it interesting that far fewer books have been written about God the Holy Spirit?
When teaching on prayer, Jesus declared; “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13, emphasis added). You would think that promise would create a huge desire to know more about this promised Helper—who He is and what He does. And it would be even better if we were to experience Him as a living reality the way the early believers did.
The Holy Spirit is God’s only agent on earth. He is the only experience we can have of God Almighty, the only way we can have the work of Jesus Christ applied to our lives, and the only way we can understand God’s Word. Without the Holy Spirit, we are like the disciples before Pentecost—sincere but struggling with confusion and defeat.
More than a hundred years ago, Samuel Chadwick, a great Methodist preacher in England, said: “The Christian religion is hopeless without the Holy Ghost.”
The early church provides the perfect illustration of that hopelessness. It was made up of simple men and women. The leaders were former fishermen and tax collectors who fled in fear when Jesus was arrested and needed them most. They weren’t courageous and faithful. In fact, they lacked faith and courage. They were the least likely to be put in charge of any Christian enterprise.
Yet, after the events in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit was poured out, those same nobodies were suddenly transformed. With courage and faith, they turned their community, and eventually the world, upside down. That wasn’t due to their seminary training, because they didn’t have any training. But one thing they did possess was the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told them to rely on Him for everything. The early believers knew all too well that Christianity was hopeless without the Holy Spirit.
Jim Cymbala began the Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn, he is a longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson.
“We see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19). Only one sin kept Israel out of the Promised Land.
Canaan represents a place of rest, peace, fruitfulness, assurance, fullness, satisfaction, everything a true believer longs for. It is also a place where the Lord speaks clearly to His people, directing them, “This is the way, walk in it.” But Israel could not enter the Promised Land because of one sin.
That sin was not adultery (and Scripture calls these Israelites an adulterous generation). It wasn’t their rampant divorcing (Jesus said Moses granted divorces to that generation because they were so hardhearted). It wasn’t rage, jealousy, sloth or backbiting. It wasn’t even their secret idolatry.
The sin of unbelief prevented God’s people from entering Canaan. Therefore, Hebrews urges us today, “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief” (Hebrews 4:11).
I have known many Christians who decided to get serious about their walk with the Lord. They determined to become more studious in His Word, and they fasted and prayed with renewed conviction. They set their hearts to cling to God through every situation in life, and as I observed their lives, I thought, “Surely all their devotion will bring a glow of joy. They can’t help but reflect God’s peace and rest.”
But all too often, the opposite was true. Many never did enter into God’s promised rest. They were still unsure, restless, questioning God’s leading, worried about their future. Why? They had a habitual leaven of unbelief and all their devotion and activity had been rendered ineffective because of it.
The believing servant clings to God’s New Covenant promise: “I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 36:27). He also clings to this Word: “I will cause him to draw near, and he shall approach unto me. . . . I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble” (Jeremiah 30:21 and 31:9).
Luke 1 includes one of the most revealing cases of the seriousness of unbelief. You remember the story of godly Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. Zacharias was a devoted priest who suffered because of a single episode of unbelief. His story illustrates just how seriously God takes this sin.
Scripture says Zacharias was “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6). Here was a pious man who wore the robes of his respected position. He ministered before the altar of incense, which represented prayer and supplication, acts of pure worship. In short, Zacharias was faithful and obedient, a servant who longed for the Messiah’s coming.
One day as Zacharias was ministering, God sent the angel Gabriel to tell him his wife would have a son. Gabriel said the son’s birth would be a cause for rejoicing for many in Israel, and he gave Zacharias detailed instructions on how to raise the boy. Yet, as the angel spoke, Zacharias trembled in fear. Suddenly, this devout man’s mind was filled with doubt, and he gave in to terrible unbelief. He asked the angel, “How do I know you’re telling me the truth? After all, my wife and I are old” (see Luke 1:18).
God didn’t take kindly to Zacharias’ doubt, and he passed this sentence on the priest: “Behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words” (Luke 1:20, my italics).
What does this episode tell us? It says unbelief shuts our ears to God, even when He is speaking clearly to us. It shuts us off from fresh revelation and it keeps us from intimate communion with the Lord. Suddenly, because we no longer hear from God, we have nothing to preach or testify. It doesn’t matter how faithful or diligent we may be; like Zacharias, we bring on ourselves a paralysis of both our ears and tongue.
“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
What is our “time of need”? It is whenever we have failed our blessed Lord. The moment we sin, we are in need of grace and mercy, and God invites us to come boldly to His throne, with confidence, to receive everything we need. We’re not to come to Him only when we feel upright or holy; we are to come every time we are in need.
Moreover, we do not have to wait to get our souls cleansed. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). John says we are not to try to work at being cleansed, over hours, days or weeks. It happens instantaneously, as soon as we come to the Lord.
So, do you have the faith to believe in God’s instantaneous forgiveness? Can you accept instant, uninterrupted communion with the Father? That is exactly what Scripture urges us to do. You see, the same faith that saves us and forgives us is also the faith that keeps us. Peter says we “are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). What an incredible truth.
Yet, our unbelief prevents us from accessing God’s keeping power. And over time, as we face sin’s continual onslaught, we may start to despair. Beloved, this simply shouldn’t be. God has given us wonderful New Covenant promises, but they are of no use unless we believe and appropriate them. Our Lord has pledged to put His law in our hearts, be God to us, keep us from falling, implant His fear in us, give us power to obey, cause us to walk in His ways. But we have to fully believe this.
Sin makes us want to hide from God’s presence. Here is the essence of unbelief among Christians: when we sin, failing God, we tend to run from His presence. We think He is too angry to want to commune with us. How could He possibly share intimacy with us when we’ve sinned so grievously?
So we stop praying. In our shame, we think, “I can’t go to God in this condition.” And we begin trying to work our way back into His good graces. We’re convinced we just need time to get ourselves clean. If we can stay pure for a few weeks, avoiding our sinful habit, we think we’ll prove ourselves worthy to approach His throne again.
This is evil unbelief, and it’s a crime in God’s eyes. When we confess our sin, including our besetting habits, God doesn’t interrogate us. He doesn’t demand proof of repentance, asking, “Are you truly sorry? I don’t see any tears. Do you promise never to commit this sin again? Go now, fast for two days a week, and pray for an hour every day. If you make it that long without falling, we’ll commune again.”
When Jesus reconciled us to the Father at the cross, it was for all time. That means that if I sin, I don’t have to be reconciled to God all over again; I’m not cut off from the Lord, suddenly unreconciled. No, the veil of separation was rent permanently at the cross, and I forever have access to God’s throne, through Christ’s blood. The door is never closed to me: “In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him” (Ephesians 3:12).
The Bible states clearly that if one of us sins, we have an advocate with the Father in Jesus Christ. We may stand outside the door of His throne room, feeling rotten and unclean. But if we stay there, refusing to go in, we’re not being humble; we’re acting in unbelief. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Over the years, many sincere Christians begin to drift in their faith—perhaps because of deep disappointment in a previous experience. To step forward in faith, they must "cross over" that disappointment, trusting God in a new way.
Perhaps you're trusting God for a blessing to your family or children. Or you're believing Him for a certain ministry to be fulfilled in your life. Maybe you are seeking God for freedom from a habitual bondage or you want to break free from some inner struggle that holds you back from trusting Him.
Some of us need outright miracles, supernatural interventions in our lives or in the life of a loved one. In short, God has called all of us to cross over. When Israel came to the Jordan River, God desired that not one of His people be left behind.
Any experienced Christian will tell you that there is never a time when you're more subject to fear, anxiety, doubt and uncertainty than when you're poised to cross over your Jordan. Why? Because you're on the brink of possessing the land God has called you to inhabit. That's the time the enemy—and our flesh—put up resistance.
Life is always easier on this side of the Jordan because it's comfortable; nothing is being asked of us. But when God stirs us toward movement, suddenly the things that once made us comfortable become uncomfortable to us. They begin to feel static, decaying, even death-like. If we persist in staying in our comfortable place, we risk losing our vision and passion for life in God.
Joshua wasn't immune to this temptation. When God called him to action, here was the first instruction He gave: "Be strong and courageous" (Joshua 1:6). God spoke this to Joshua three times within four verses because He knew that Joshua needed to hear it.
To do what the Lord has called us to, we each must summon our strength to take it on. We have to stir up courage. For some, this could mean the courage to forsake things that have given a false sense of comfort. If you're stressed, disturbed or disrupted in your spirit, ask the Lord to show you why. If He is asking you to let go of something, that could be your first move in stepping forward with faith.
“Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you” (Matthew 17:27, NKJV).
Although Jesus had just explained that they were actually exempt from the temple tax, He tells Peter, “Lest we offend them.” In other words, lest our testimony be diminished in their eyes; lest they should be able to point to us on the street and say, “Thieves! They don’t pay the temple tax!”
The Apostle Paul said it this way: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (1 Corinthians 10:23, NKJV). Yes, there are things that may be permissible in our Christian walk, but we must still consider the potential impact on those around us.
Let me give you an example of this. The man who led me to the Lord began by coming to my door week after week, sharing the Gospel and telling me about how he used to be a drunk, a womanizer, and a gambler. Although I outwardly resisted his words, I could not deny that this man stood before me as a life completely transformed by the grace of God. It was something I had to reckon with. I even offered him a beer one time in order to test him. You see, if he had taken it, or if I had gone to his house and seen him with a glass of alcohol at his table, I might not be a Christian today. I would have assumed that he was a man just like me who had simply added religion to his life. Sure, he could have argued, “But it’s just a little thing!” However, in my opinion, things were black or white. If he were truly a new creation, as he explained Christians were, old things should have passed away. There was no middle ground as far as I was concerned.
And so to this day, I recognize the significance of Jesus’ words when He said, “Lest we offend them.”
Carter Conlon joined the pastoral staff of Times Square Church in 1994 at the invitation of the founding pastor, David Wilkerson, and was appointed Senior Pastor in 2001.
In Daniel 3 we are given a powerful example of the power of praise during a time of affliction in the story of the three Hebrew children, whom King Nebuchadnezzar threw into the fiery furnace. These men weren’t being tested to see if they had faith; the fact is, their faith was what put them there. Clearly the Lord was after something else. Think about it: The heathen Babylonians weren’t influenced by these men’s prayers or preaching. They weren’t impressed by their wisdom and knowledge or by their holy living. No, the impact on Babylon came when the people looked into the furnace and saw these three men rejoicing, praising God in their most trying hour (see Daniel 3:24-30).
Jesus appeared in that furnace, and I believe His first words to the Hebrew children were, “Brethren, rise up now, for your bonds are loosed. Let this heathen government and godless people see you rejoicing and praising your God in your hour of affliction.”
The men did just that, and Scripture says Nebuchadnezzar was “astonished” at the sight. He rose up in haste, crying, “What’s going on here? We cast three men into this furnace, but now there are four and all their bonds are gone! Look, they’re singing and praising that fourth Man” (see Daniel 3:24-25).
That is the impact our praises bring during our trials. So, how have you been reacting in your hour of affliction? Are you drinking from the cup of trembling, feeling weak, with no power to resist the enemy? It’s time to shake off the heavy bands and lift up holy hands in praise to your Redeemer. You are free, no matter what your trial. Rejoice and be glad, knowing that the fourth Man is in the furnace with you. Christ will reveal Himself in your trial, and the fire is going to burn off all the cords that bind you.
Most likely you are not being tested but trained!
“If so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:17–18).The apostle Paul is saying that in light of the glory that awaits him, what is his trial in comparison?
Likewise, he wants us to turn our eyes from our present sufferings and focus on what is coming, which will change everything. One minute into our new home in eternity, Paul says, we won’t remember what came before. His point is to start praising now, rejoicing over the joy that awaits us. “By him [Jesus] therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Hebrews 13:15).
God has chosen those “refined . . . not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10). The people to whom Isaiah offered this vision of a new world had just endured the fury of a raging enemy. Now they were reeling from their tribulation, bound by fear and weariness. They felt that God had forsaken them, and they were afraid of what the future held.
So what word did God send them? It’s the same word he gives his people today: “Wake up! You are not undone, as you think. The Lord, your strength, is still with you. So, get up out of the dust of discouragement, and sit down in the heavenly place I have promised you. You have not lost your righteousness, so put on your robe. Shake yourself, talk to yourself, give yourself a lecture. And tell the flesh and the devil, ‘I am more than a conqueror through him who saved me’” (Isaiah 52:1–3, paraphrased).
“And I will . . . refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God” (Zechariah 13:9).
How did God get the children of Israel out of Egypt? He had to put them in a furnace of suffering to bring them to the point that they cried, “Enough of this! I don’t want to be here anymore.” Then, when the time came for God to say, “Go,” they were ready to uproot and move into His Promised Land.
God help us to get disengaged from the materialistic spirit of this age, and to transfer our every affection to the New Jerusalem.
Isaiah prophesied that the world God was creating is a place of praise, where the inhabitants rejoice. “Be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy” (Isaiah 65:18). The Hebrew word for create in this verse means “to bring into being.” Do you see what Isaiah is saying? God is creating not only a new world, but also a special people. He’s bringing into existence a bride who hasn’t just been weaned from this world, but has learned to praise her way through trials.
The fact is, our present sufferings comprise a school of worship. And all the ways we’re learning to praise Jesus, especially in our trials, are training for that glorious day. What does this mean for Christians who live with constant fret and worry? How can those who live as if God were dead suddenly know how to praise their way through a trial?
How we react in our present trial is very important. When Israel was in their hour of great suffering, they gave up hope. They decided they couldn’t take any more, so they simply sat down in the dust. Here were God’s people, with rock-solid promises, yet they sat there with a chain around their necks.
Likewise today, some Christians give up at this point. They don’t abandon their faith, but they stop pursuing Jesus with their whole hearts, thinking, “I can’t live under this kind of intensity. It seems the closer I get to Christ, the more I suffer.” They wonder how Paul could say, “I . . . rejoice in my sufferings” (Colossians 1:23–24).
Here is exactly how Paul could make such a claim: he had been taken up into heaven, and he saw the glory that awaits us. Because of what he saw, Paul was able to embrace his trials and afflictions in this life, learning to praise God through every ordeal. He was determined to learn gladness of heart no matter what his situation, and he began practicing praise in preparation for the world to come.