When the Going Gets Tough

What follows is the text of a message that I delivered a few months ago on a Wednesday night at my church:

Tonight we will be reading from 1 Peter 4. My Sunday School class spent the last three weeks on this chapter. So, when the pastor asked me to cover teaching for him tonight, this passage was naturally on my heart.

The next day, I was cutting my Mom’s grass and the Holy Spirit began to speak to me. 

He asked me, “You have been joining with others every Saturday night praying for revival to come to your church for quite a while, but are you ready for personal revival?” I responded “Yes” even though I thought I was doing pretty well for myself.

Then the Lord pressed these words on my heart and I sang them the whole time I cut the grass…

Set my soul afire Lord, for Thy Holy Word,
Burn it deep within me, let Thy voice be heard
Millions grope in darkness in this day and hour, I will be a witness, fill me with Thy pow’r

Set my soul afire Lord, set my soul afire.
Make my life a witness of Thy saving pow’r.
Millions grope in darkness, waiting for Thy Word.
Set my soul afire, Lord, set my soul afire!

Later that night, I was putting on my phone and headset to switch to FOX News and listen to the shows as I made my run for the evening. As I ran under a beautiful, clear, starlit night, mayhem was striking the streets of Dallas as a gunman struck police officers during a protest. You know the rest of that story.

What you do not know is what God was doing. All the way home I tried to pray for those officers and their families but I could not get past praying small shallow prayers. The Holy Spirit showed me why I struggled … I had totally lost my empathy for others.

This was the revival I needed.

I share the events of those twenty four hours with you to show you how this message was formed.

Let’s pray…

1 Peter is a letter written to Jewish believers who had been scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. One of the key themes in this letter is the theme of suffering. That is why I have taken the liberty of calling tonight’s message, “When the Going Gets Tough.”

1 Peter 4: 1-6
Therefore, since Christ has [a]suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose (as Bro. Wallace Curlee said, “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus), because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,

WHOA! That is an interesting clause … let’s read that again with verse 2.

because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,
2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.

As I’ve read this over and over, I can only come away with one conclusion.

The Amplified Version says that the word for sin in verse 1 actually means intentional sin. Verse 2 Tells me that the pursuit of righteousness leads to my condemnation by the world. It means I will suffer if I cast off intentional sin and pursue the path of Christ … the temptations and peer pressure will mount on me in an attempt to force me to cave in to the lusts of men.

By extrapolation, this tells me that bearing up under continual persecution is the mark of a disciplined, mature Christian and brings glory and honor to the Name of Christ … my reasonable form of worship.

3 For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, [c]having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and [d]abominable idolatries.

In verse 3, Peter is telling these Messianic Jewish believers that they should have had enough of sin already. Or, to put it another way … being Jews, you KNOW what sin is … you should NOT be pretending to be like them and falling in with Gentiles who have no clue what sin is.

These sins were the sins of the Jews in Asia at that time. They may not necessarily be OUR sins, but we should feel free to place our own besetting, intentional sins there as well … take a moment, think about your life and, more specifically, this past week and place your sins in that list silently.

Are there things that you consciously, intentionally do that displease the Father?

4 In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For the gospel has for this purpose been[e]preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.

As a runner, one of the hardest things for me to do is run with others. If they are running across my path, it is easy, but if they pass me, it is hard to keep my pace and avoid the temptation to catch up and run with them.

Have you ever tried to drive the speed limit on Airport Blvd (The busiest street here in Mobile, AL)? Try it for a few days and you will understand what I am talking about.

Peter says that “they are surprised that you do not run with them” … the world is shocked when a believer who is pursuing Christ does not adopt their pace, style, or course.

Peter is telling them and us that putting aside intentional sin gives the strength to put off temptation and the allure of the world.

I want to pause and plant a thought … So, think back with me … When was the last time that you were shamed, mocked, or rejected for your faith in Christ?

1 Peter 4:7-11
7 The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.

This is a cause and effect statement. The cause is “The end of all things is near” … but what does that mean?

The Holy Spirit inspired Peter to write this letter prophetically to instruct the dispersed Jewish believers on how they should act in the aftereffects of a meltdown that was on its way.

Ten years after this letter was written, Jerusalem and the Temple itself were destroyed. It was to be the end of the entire Levitical system of priests and blood sacrifices offered for the sins of the people. This would have rattled every Jew alive at that time as it was the destruction of some of the most key components of their culture and faith.

Let’s look at the “effect part of the statement:
“therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.”

The Amplified Version says “[staying balanced and focused on the things of god so that your communication will be clear, reasonable, specific and pleasing to him.]”

What does this mean?

My Daddy used to tell me, the most critical part of prayer is to always remember Who I am talking to and conduct myself accordingly.

In his book, Keys to the Deeper Life, A. W. Tozer wrote about one of the problems with this,

“The problem is self. Selfishness is never so exquisitely selfish as when it is on its knees. Self turns what would otherwise be a pure and powerful prayer into a weak and ineffective one. I may, for instance, pray earnestly for the glory of God to be manifested on this generation of men, and spoil the whole thing by my secret hope that I may be the one through whom He manifests the glory.

I may cry loudly to God that the church be restored to her New Testament splendor, and secretly dream that I may be the one to lead her in; thus I block the work of the Spirit by my impure motive. My hidden desire for a share of the glory prevents God from hearing me. So self, all bold and shameless, follows me to the altar, kneels with me in prayer and destroys my prayer before it is uttered…”

We are admonished to sound judgement and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer…

Do you have a purpose in prayer?

Let me give you an example of having a purpose in prayer by telling you a bit about a man named John Hyde:

John Nelson Hyde was born in Illinois in November 9, 1865 … the son of a Presbyterian minister who had prayed that God would raise up more missionaries. John Hyde passed college and became a member of the faculty. Strangely, he resigned and entered into McCormick Theological Seminary. His elder brother Edmund was also in the seminary. Edmund dreamed of being a preacher, so in pursuit of that dream he went to preach in Montana but suddenly died of a fever. John wondered if he would take his brother’s place. In his senior year, he asked a fellow student, Mr. Konkle, for his argument supporting missionary work. That night he decided to become a missionary at last.

He came to believe that God was calling him to India. He departed on a ship to India in 1892 to preach in the Punjab region. In his cabin, he read a letter from a pastor friend who said he would ask God to fill John with the Holy Spirit. Angry at the suggestion that he did not already have the Spirit, he wadded up the letter and threw it across the room and left to walk the decks. However, later that night, he humbled himself, returned to his cabin, picked up the crumpled letter, unfolded and read it again … then he wept and prayed to God for help.

John was partially deaf, he struggled to learn the native languages. So he focused more on studying Scripture than the native languages. His mission at first gained few converts and endured persecution, so he began to pray very intensely. From 1899 he began to spend entire nights in prayer to God … one of his most impassioned pleas in prayer was “Give me souls or I die.” In 1904, he began to attend a conference at Sialkot. He formed the Punjab Prayer Union, the members of which set aside half an hour a day to pray for spiritual revival. In 1908 he told the conference his that God had promised him there would be one conversion a day, and a year later over 400 more converts had been made. In 1909, he told that conference that God had promised him two souls per day … this pattern continued as Hyde continued to wrestle with God in prayer and results followed. He became known simply as “Praying Hyde” for his passionate prayers to reach lost souls.

In April 1911 he joined evangelist J. Wilbur Chapman in an evangelistic visit to three towns in England, including Shrewsbury and Shropshire. Immediately afterwards he stayed with friends in Wales, where he fell ill. He had been praying intensely when in Shrewsbury, explaining “The burden of Shrewsbury was very heavy, but my Saviour’s burden took him down to the grave”.[1] He visited a physician about his condition and the doctor told him the stress of his labors had shifted his heart from the left side of his chest to the right side … that whatever he had been doing had to be stopped. He went home to America where a malignant brain tumour was discovered, and died there, after an operation,[1] in February 1912, aged 46. His last words were “Shout the victory of Jesus Christ!” and at the time of his death, people were lined up around his home to talk to him about their need for the Lord. Through his missionary work in Sialkot, Pakistan, millions of people have accepted Jesus Christ, from the seeds of the Gospel which he planted.

What is the vision that guides your personal prayer life? What has God called you to do?

8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

[ampl] Above all, have[c]fervent and unfailing love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins [it overlooks unkindness and unselfishly seeks the best for others].

The Greek word fervent here is ektenes (ek-ten-ACE). It means that our love should be intentional, earnest, constant, intense, zealous, and strenuous … the idea is the image of a runner’s muscles being stretched out as he is running to win a race.

9 Be hospitable to one another without complaint.

We should consider each other as being more important than ourselves. We should give the needs of others precedent over our own just as we would guests in our home.

These last two verses are similar in theme to what the apostle Paul said in Romans 12, starting with verse 9:

“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent (burning) in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.”

The word for fervent in the Romans passage is the Greek word, Zeo (dze-oh)
“to boil with heat, be hot”

i. used of boiling anger, love, zeal, for what is good or bad etc.
ii. fervent in spirit, said of zeal for what is good

It is the same word used in Acts 12:1-5, another occasion where “the going got tough”
“Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread (Passover). When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four [c]squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people. 5 So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.”

The prayer was tdzeo … burning … and we know the results of that prayer!

Back to 1 Peter 4: verse 10
10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so [h]as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
What is the gift that God has given you?

How is He leading you by His Holy Spirit to deploy that gift in the Body of Christ at West Mobile?

Are you setting your mind toward intentionally deploying His gift with sincerity each time you arrive on this campus?

Back to the theme of persecution … Why do people shame, mock, or reject Christians because of their faith?

1 Peter 4: 8-19
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

Peter is echoing what Jesus said in John 15:18-21,
“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.

Back to 1 Peter
15 Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler;
In other words, keep your nose clean and do not heap shame on the Father or the Body.
Peter dealt with this at the beginning of the chapter … as Paul said, the old things are passed away … do not be a slave to sin and lawlessness but, instead, a slave to righteousness
16 but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.

Jesus said in Matthew 5: 10-12
10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Back to 1 Peter
17 For it is time for judgment to begin [l]with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, [m]WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER?
If we shut down when we are reviled, maligned, and persecuted, who will preach the Word and share a testimony with unbelievers so that they may be saved?
19 Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.
When we suffer for the sake of the gospel, we continue to bear up under the load and, in doing so, show a stronger, purer faith in the Father and His Son, the Messiah.

I read a cute article this week called “8 Ridiculous Things to Say to Runners.” The last question was “How many marathons have you done?”

The answer was “Maybe a dozen, maybe one, maybe none. Running a marathon does not make you a runner. Running makes you a runner.

I like that because even though my running looks like glorified walking, my activity defines me as a runner. It is not the Dri-Fit clothes, the tracking apps on the phone, or the shoes that make me a runner, it is what I do that defines me.

Once your life is surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus through repentance, you ARE a Christian. But, once you are born again, how do you continue to show the world you ARE a Christian? A WWJD bracelet? A fish on your car? Cool Christian shirts and listening to Christian music loudly? Regular church attendance?

Are we “stretched out” like a runner to show others that we are running? Paul, in Phillipians 3, gives us the testimony of an advanced runner…

“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of [d]knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.”

The last part of this passage reminds me of something that my Dad told me a while back. “Son, never be discouraged by other people. You will be shocked by those you thought would go on the journey with you but will not.”

“Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.”

We have to protect our fervor … our passion … from disappointing circumstances.
We each have a race to run, but we cannot afford to get distracted by other runners and their pace.

Hebrews 12: 1-3 says…
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

wheel weights … I used to always pick them up for Dad because he loved to melt them down to mold heads for the pistol bullets he would reload.

Even after he died a little over a year ago, I would still stop in the middle of a run if I saw a wheel weight … sometimes, turning around to go get it … just because I enjoyed the memory and it was what I did to remember Dad.

After a while, I began to think about how much time I was sacrificing … losing … on my runs to pick up those weights. Not to mention that I was putting lead in my pockets and continue running … HELLO!?! What kind of an idiot ADDS weight to himself as he runs? That is EXACTLY what the writer of Hebrews was talking about when he mentioned encumbrances and sins that so easily entangle us … things that seem OK and we rationalize but are not productive …

Now, as a runner, my endurance has increased through training, my speed is faster, and I don’t even slow down to look down or think about the wheel weights anymore. They profit me nothing. Like Paul said … all those things are behind me for the sake that I might run and finish well…

Think about the intentional sin we talked about earlier.

Think about things that block the flow of the Holy Spirit in your life.

Removing these “wheel weights” in our faith walk is vital in our race for the prize that Paul talked about and in walking through persecution that Peter talked about …

You know, if my Dad had not died, I would probably still be collecting wheel weights … I have learned that sometimes … things and people have to die before we can see how enchained we have become … Sometimes we have to let things die just so we can run.

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