The Primacy of the Soul (4)
“We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14.22
“In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16.33
No easy road
These days it’s easy to get the impression that being a Christian should be just one blessing after another. This is so for at least two reasons.
First, in this country at least, we have become accustomed to life getting better and better. For the most part, we live safely and securely in comfortable homes. We enjoy abundant food and other material benefits. We have churches, friends, work, and ample time for a variety of diversions. Life is good, and so we tend to expect that life in Jesus Christ will only get better.
Then, second, we are often subjected to teaching from Christian leaders encouraging us to believe that God wants us to enjoy all the best of life without the hassles and worries that drive other folks to distraction. Our sins have been forgiven, so we don’t need to live in guilt or shame; and our Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills, so we can go to Him for whatever we need or want.
Now that’s painting with a broad brush, to be sure. Nevertheless, “tribulation” is not something with which our generation of Kingdom-seekers is all that familiar. Not in this country, at least.
But the plain teaching of both Jesus and Paul is that tribulation comes with the turf when you’re seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Without strong souls – minds set on the things that are above, hearts devoted entirely to the Lord, consciences steeped in God’s Word and Kingdom – we won’t be able to enter more deeply into the Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
The disciples of Jesus Christ must expect tribulation and prepare their souls to endure through it. And the book of Acts, in which we see the Kingdom advancing with such power and scope, bears ample witness to the truth of this.
Evidence of tribulation
Consider the situation of the first Christians. They were hounded and harassed by local religious leaders. At times that harassment turned violent, making it necessary for people to flee their homes and occupations to find safety in other places. Some Christians lost their lives and others were imprisoned for what they believed.
As if that weren’t enough, false teachers appeared in many of the early Christian communities, making unjust demands on the believers, pitting church members against one another, and sowing a good bit of confusion, trouble, and uncertainty into the congregations of the Lord.
And then there were the tribulations that believers shared in common with their unsaved neighbors: poverty, drought, famine, military occupation, taxation, sickness, broken relationships, deprivation, loss of loved ones, and death. Add to these the daily temptations that confronted those early disciples, and it’s easy enough to see that the first Christians were no strangers to tribulation. They had been told to expect it, and they were not disappointed.
Nevertheless, tribulation in all its forms did not hinder the progress of the Gospel. Indeed, the first Christians seemed to grow stronger in their souls through the various tribulations that beset them, and this is in no small part so because the apostles, like the Lord Jesus, forewarned them of tribulation and prepared them to overcome through it.
No amount of trial or tribulation can thwart the faith of those who souls are forewarned and strengthened to endure whatever comes their way.
Tribulation and the soul
Tribulation can have one of two effects on our soul. First, it can cause our soul to fall into despair. Mind, heart, and conscience can sink under the weight of tribulation. Dreams and visions evaporate; doubt, discouragement and disappointment undermine hope and joy; pragmatic self-preservation replaces holding fast to the will of the Lord. As our souls bend under the weight of tribulation, the progress of the Kingdom goes on the back burner, and we collapse into ourselves, looking only for some light at the end of the tunnel, rather than to live as the light of the world.
Tribulation, like the storm-tossed sea that caused Peter to panic, can cause us to take our eyes off Jesus and become distracted from the very source of all our strength as disciples.
But tribulation doesn’t have to sink us. If we understand that tribulation is inevitable, that God intends to use trials of all sorts to strengthen our souls, and if we prepare well and know how to deal with tribulation when it comes, then we can experience the overcoming power of our Lord Jesus, expanding within our soul and causing His Kingdom to go forward through and despite tribulations, however harsh they may be.
Set your mind on Christ, exalted in glory. Love Him and desire His Presence above all things. Make no compromises that cause you to drift from the anchor of God’s Word. In short, be strong in your soul in the face of tribulation, and you will grow to become more like Jesus through it.
Are you ready for tribulation? Do you know how to deal with temptation? To find joy in the midst of trials? To give thanks when sickness descends or deprivation and loss threaten to overwhelm? Strong souls don’t fear tribulation; they persevere through it, because they expect it and are prepared to deal with it.
1. What would be some examples of the kind of trials and tribulations we as Christians should expect to endure? How do our daily trials serve to fit us for any larger trials that might arise?
2. How would you counsel a new believer to prepare each day for the trials or tribulations that might come?
3. How can believers help one another to grow through, rather than be sunk by, our trials and tribulations?
T. M. Moore
Next steps – Preparation: Jesus said, “Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof” (Matt. 6.34). How should you prepare for each day’s trials and tribulations? How should you engage them when they arise?
Your soul in the Kingdom of God
Jesus has conveyed us into the Kingdom of God. It is in the context of seeking the Kingdom that we can grow strong souls. Our book, The Kingdom Turn, can help you understand and begin making yourself more at home in the Kingdom of God. Order your free copy by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.