The Faithful Footsteps

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, August 4, 2019 0 comments

by Logan Ames

When I was just seven years old, I had an experience that certainly shaped me going forward. My uncle was visiting us in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and our entire family decided to go to the local swimming pool and take him with us. My uncle was 48 years old at the time, which seems young to me now but back then I thought he was ancient. We were hanging around the deep end of the pool near the diving boards and my uncle decided to show off by going and doing a full front flip off the low dive. I remember being impressed, only to have my appreciation turn to fear when my dad and my uncle both challenged me to go and do the same thing off the high dive. I said, “No way," but they insisted that if my uncle could do a flip off the low dive at the age of 48, I should be able to do the same thing off the high dive at my age. Well, seven year-old Logan wasn’t about to take that from anyone, so he was going to show them that he isn’t a chicken and will step up and complete the challenge. I proceeded to climb the ladder, take the ill-fated leap, and land directly on my back when I hit the surface of the water. The sound of my back smacking the water reverberated across the swimming complex and was only drowned out by my screams as I came back above the surface.

When I think back to that moment in my life, I learned that pride, stubbornness, and even arrogance were within me. Those were the traits that led me to give in to the pressure, even though they were mostly joking. I’ll point out that they both encouraged me and my dad helped me from the water even as I was in pain. Even though it was prideful to assume I could do what they said even with never having tried it before, I realize that at least part of my reason for going for it was my knowledge that my uncle had completed a similar difficult task before me. I was comforted, whether I recognized it at the time or not, by witnessing the success of someone else who abandoned safety and overcame fear to accomplish the goal.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and obviously I shouldn’t have followed their challenge or given in to peer pressure. But there is something inspiring and motivating to us when we watch someone else go through what we are about to go through and come out alive and well on the other side. This is especially true in ministry and in the Christian life. I have other pastors that I meet with regularly and even some long distance friends that I communicate with who have been through difficult experiences that I now face.

James understood the importance of looking at the examples of others when we are trying to endure the difficulties we face. I’m calling the examples “the faithful footsteps," but another appropriate name would be “the patient footsteps." James urges his readers to consider the patient examples of the prophets who are written about in our Old Testament and to also consider the whole life of Job as they are dealing with intense suffering (James 5:10-11). The prophets of old all suffered in some way for speaking the word of the Lord as they were commanded to do, and perhaps none suffered more than Jeremiah, who was put into stocks, thrown in prison, and later dropped into a cistern with no water and only mud.

Jeremiah is the one who came to mind when I first read these verses. We should consider his patience and obedience when we face sufferings or persecutions. He even lamented his condition to the Lord when he said that he is mocked and ridiculed all day long and that God’s word has brought him nothing but “insult and reproach” (Jeremiah 20:7-8). But even in the midst of his complaining, he remembered that proclaiming the word of the Lord was what he was born to do and that even if he were to try not to do it, he couldn’t. He said, “But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name," his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9). Jeremiah faithfully spoke the word of the Lord even when he knew it would lead to suffering.

James writes that the early Christians “count as blessed those who have persevered” (James 5:11). This statement has nothing to do with earthly blessing. The world looks at people like Jeremiah and the other prophets and concludes that they suffered for nothing since they met their end by the sword or other methods of persecution. Church tradition suggests that the latter part of Jeremiah’s life was spent in the foreign land of Egypt after he was taken there as a captive by King Johanan. It’s easy for mockers to assume that Jeremiah was not blessed, but James reminds us that our end in this life is the beginning of our blessed eternity with God in heaven. Death is not the failure of their perseverance, but the success and completion of it. As the early Christians were facing persecution, James used the example of the prophets to remind them that their perseverance is not yet complete, but that if they continue to endure and hold on, they will soon receive their eternal reward as well.

After reminding his audience of the prophets, James also brings up the life of Job. You’d have to read the entire book of Job to understand the big picture, but here’s a summary. In Job 1-2, the man who is very wealthy yet righteous is attacked by Satan, but God wants to use it as a test. Job loses everything, including his health, his property, his servants, his home, and his children. He refuses to curse God, which was the entire goal of Satan’s attacks, but as time goes on and he continues to deal with his misery, he does begin to question why God would allow all of this to happen in his life. God deals with him at the end of the story by reminding Job that he was not around when God created the earth’s foundations, filled up the seas, and told the morning when to shine (Job 38). He never actually gives Job His reasoning for the suffering but simply reminds him that Job is not even close to being on His level of understanding. Job realizes his mistake in even thinking he has a right to know God’s reasons, acknowledges it before God, and repents in dust and ashes (Job 42:1-6). The very end of the story tells us that God blessed Job twice as much as the early part of his life, and the specifics are given in Job 42:10-15.

It would be easy to assume that Job received his full reward for perseverance while he was still alive on this earth, but ask yourself, would you ever get over the death of your child or children, even if the Lord blessed you with more? I can think of a half dozen believers who I personally know right off the top of my head who have experienced the death of a child, including one pastor I know who has had to experience it TWICE. Many of these individuals have other children, some of whom were born after the earlier loss. I can assure you that they never get over it, even as they remain faithful and experience other blessings.

Even for a wealthy man like Job who received double the earthly blessing that he had before, it’s not even in the same ballpark as the reward he would receive upon his death. Only in heaven with our Lord does one escape the pains of this life. Be encouraged by James’ words today, knowing that regardless of the suffering you are facing now, there is an eternal reward coming in a place with “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4). If you are having a hard time persevering through the suffering, consider these examples of old, and commit to following in their faithful footsteps.

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