Many thanks to those of you who took on buying groceries for families who could not. We’re all very thankful for you. “As you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” I suspect things are going to grow much worse for the poor, and what we are now doing through these few ministries will have to multiply into a great work. I believe the Church is about to enter into a period of care for the needy that she has not seen for a century. And I think we should begin to equip ourselves, spiritually and financially, for what’s to come. It’s time to “forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead” (Php 3:13) pressing on toward the heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. There’s no returning to “normal” any time soon—what’s waiting out there for us is a new calling in Christ.
I hope you are beginning to believe that this is our moment. The Christian faith is built for hardship, which is to say that you, as a new creation in Christ, have been shaped and prepared by his Spirit for trial and affliction. This is everywhere in Scripture, not just in the sense that life can be hard (“man is born to trouble, surely as the sparks fly upward,” Job 5:7), but in the sense of Christ appointing it for his servants (“in this world you will have tribulation,” Jn 16:33). And as “the servant is not above his master” (Jn 15:20), it’s no mistake that our lives are being patterned after his. We are two miles into a twenty-six mile marathon. It’s time to face and embrace this fight. In Christ, we have far more strength and endurance than we know.
In the short time that I farmed, it was obvious that certain pieces of heavy equipment functioned much better under a load than unburdened. A large diesel tractor operates much more smoothly in a rough field, under the strain of a massive harrow, than it does when driven at top speed down a smooth, paved highway. So it is with the people of God. After Paul had been stoned and left for dead outside the town of Lystra, the disciples gathered around him, presumably to say their goodbyes. Instead of dying, he got up and went back into town, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. It’s important to realize that past decades in the West, seen in the context of the history of the Church, have been an anomaly. What Paul said in Lystra we may not fully appreciate: tribulation and life in the Kingdom are a necessary pair. In Christ we are designed for this. Unburdened, we bounce down the highway erratically. But under the strain of sacrifice and tribulation, we find a groove and settle down to the redemptive work of lives that bear witness to Christ.
I have been a life-long lover of Abraham Lincoln, a man inured to hardship and difficulty, if not tragedy. Few people understood how prepared he was for the brutal demands of the Civil War. I doubt he understood himself. Wilfred McClay writes, “Lincoln’s own associates thought him ‘a simple Susan, a baboon, an aimless punster;’ he was, in the view of the abolitionist Wendell Phillips, a ‘huckster in politics, and ‘a first-rate second-rate man.’ When he delivered the Gettysburg Address, one of the great speeches of human history, he was completely overshadowed by the two-hour-long speech of famed orator Edward Everett that preceded his. There was little or no applause for him as he concluded his two-minute speech and sat down. We need to remember this. This is often how history happens. Background music does not swell at the crucial moment, trumpets do not sound, when the events of history are actually taking place. The orator or the soldier has to wonder whether he is acting in vain, whether the criticisms of others are in fact warranted, whether time will judge him harshly. Few great men have felt this burden more completely than Lincoln.”
Unlike Lincoln, we can know now that our labor is not in vain because the Lord has told us so himself: “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:57ff). The night is far gone; the day is at hand. This is our moment.