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In Adversity

We are thinking about how we become aware of God in our lives. He is present. He is with us. He doesn’t leave us or forsake us. But it’s hard to always hold this. This world doesn’t always lend itself to an awareness of God’s nearness. It can look quite the opposite.

One of the hardest times to be aware of God is when we are facing adversity. When life just seems to be against us, when circumstances are hard, when we are under attack, extreme stress, or being opposed.

In times like these we see the grind but not the grace. We see the opposition but not the Lord. We see how bad things are but not necessarily the hope we have.

The king of Aram was at war with the king of Israel. Aram was part of what we know as modern-day Syria. The king camped his armies along the border in hopes of trapping Israel. Josephus, who was a Jewish historian and whose writings provide us with some of our best information about ancient times, records that Ben-Hadad, the king of Aram, wanted to capture king Joram, the king of Israel, and kill him. So even sources outside the Bible speak of this conflict.

But the man of God sent word to the king of Israel telling him to beware of that area because the Aramean army was there. The man of God was the prophet Elisha. Elisha was the successor to the great prophet Elijah.

The king of Israel would get intel from Elisha and sure enough Israel’s army stayed away from where the army of Aram was. The king of Aram became frustrated that he couldn’t nail down the army of Israel, and he asked his people who of them was on the side of the king of Israel. One of his advisors said that none of them were on the side of Israel. But…Elisha, a prophet of Israel, tells the king of Israel “the very words you speak in your bedroom.” In other words, Elisha knows what you are doing, where you are going, and what you are thinking. The implication is that God is feeding knowledge to his prophet. Elisha knows through divine leading. Then Elisha tells the king of Israel and they are able to stay clear.

Well, as you can imagine, this really ruins Ben-hadad’s day and he wants to know where Elisha is so that he can capture him. He is told that Elisha is in a place called Dothan. So the king orders horses and chariots to go and surround the city by night.

The next morning, Elisha’s servant wakes up and see that horses and chariots are surrounding the city. And he knows they are of the enemy. Terrified, he asks the man of God what they are to do. And this is what Elisha says, “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

Elisha has vision that his servant does not have. Elisha has an awareness of God that his servant is yet to have.

Then Elisha prays, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” And it says, “Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” Elisha’s servant sees the armies of the Lord.

Indeed, those who are with Elisha and his servant are more than those who are with the Aramean army.

Elisha asks God to strike their enemy blind. Elisha then leads them right into the presence of the King of Israel. Their eyes are opened and they are now surrounded by the enemy. But a note about this event: Elisha does not take advantage of army of Aram though they are struck blind. And when the king of Israel asks Elisha if he should kill them Elisha says no. Instead, he says to give them food and water and then allow them to go back to their king. What kind of warfare is this? Elisha leads Israel to show compassion and no violence.

And it says the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.

A word about God’s deliverance. The Lord powerfully delivers Elisha and his servant and all of Israel here. That is not always the case in the Bible. Sometimes, even often times, God’s people are taken or even killed.

In the book of Acts, Peter is miraculously freed from jail by an angel. Yet, James, the apostle is arrested and killed. Why one and not the other? The Bible does not give an answer. Sometimes God miraculously delivers. Other times he doesn’t.

Why weren’t people in churches and synagogues saved from shootings? But then maybe there have been times God protected and no one knew.

But there are times when God has intervened and saved. We find this in the Bible. But there are other stories through history of God’s deliverance. One such story comes from contemporary history.

On Sunday, May 5, 1963, in the city of Birmingham, Alabama, Reverend Charles Billups and other ministers led more than 3,000 young people on a prayer pilgrimage to the jail where some leaders were being held, singing as they went through the streets. They sang the black spiritual, “I Want Jesus To Walk With Me.”

Police Chief Bull Connor set up a police barricade with dogs, fire hoses and armored cars.

When the young people met the barricade they knelt in prayer. All the while Connor shouted through his horn for them to turn back, threatening to turn on the hoses and release the dogs.

But the people “continued their prayer, calling up to God in rising exaltation, then singing, then praying again.”

Reverend Billups stood up and said to the police, “We’re not turning back. We haven’t done anything wrong. All we want is our freedom…How do you feel doing these things?...Bring on your dogs. Beat us up. Turn on your hoses. We’re not going to retreat.”

Then he moved forward along with the ministers and youth.

So, Connor yelled for his men to turn on the hoses. But they just stood there.

Connor cursed and demanded again for them to turn on the hoses. But as the black people marched through their ranks, the firemen and police just fell back as though they were hypnotized. Some of the firemen were crying.

The marchers continued their journey without hindrance, made it to the jail, prayed for their friends in the cell, and headed back to their part of town singing, “I Got Freedom Over My Head.”[1] There was a presence in Birmingham, Alabama that day that was stronger than Bull Conner and his forces.

Our God is the God of the Exodus who brought Israel through the Red Sea. Our God is the God who saved Daniel and his friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Our God is the God who raised the Lord Jesus from the ultimate enemy which is death. There are stories of healing, deliverance and rescue in other times as well. Whenever he brings us out of something we are living in God’s deliverance.

Even in times when God’s people were not rescued we hear of their faith that God was with them.

Oswald Chambers, in his classic daily devotional “My Utmost For His Highest”, which I recommend to anyone, writes that the Christian life does not mean being delivered from all adversity. But it does mean being delivered in adversity. That is something different. If you put your life in Jesus’ hands you will still encounter adversities. Belonging to Jesus does not mean no harm can come to us. In fact, Jesus said you should not be surprised when troubles come. Our Lord said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”[2]

“We will always seem disadvantaged in this world; our detractors will always appear to outnumber us. Many may rise up against us; many may gather in opposition.” Yet, as it says in Psalms 27:

The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.

We can be confident that the Lord will hold us through whatever adversity we face. His angels, his Holy Spirit surround us in the trouble.

Yes, God delivered Elisha and his servant. But it’s the opening of the servant’s eyes to which I want to pay attention. God allowed him to see into the unseen world. There was more going on than he knew. There were forces around them he could not see. None of us see things as they actually are.

There are days we feel outnumbered. We may be in a family where we are the only one with faith. Or we are in a workplace or school where our morals and values are seen as out of touch. Or the circles in which we live don’t give place for God.

But we have to remember that this world is not all there is. There is the unseen world. It assures us that we are never alone. Around us are angel armies. God’s hand is with us. “We may feel small and inconsequential in the face of our enemies – they may be strong and numerous – but there are more on our side than on theirs.

“God’s enemies…may darken the horizon with innumerable hosts. Like Elisha’s servant, we cry out in alarm and complain to God. But He gives us insight…” as he gave to Elisha and his servant “of greater armies still, of the armies of the Lord in bright shining armor surrounding the dark and dangerous hosts of evil. We are not alone. God and innumerable angels are encircling us. Though we cannot see them with our natural eyes, they are there!”[3]

In Ephesians Paul writes to those Christians in Ephesus about how he is praying for them. And he says that he prays that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” Of course, our hearts don’t have eyes. It is a metaphor, a comparison, a word picture. What Paul was saying is that we can have vision inside of us that sees God in our lives, in our circumstances, and in our world.

Paul says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you…” The hope we are called to is the power that is in those who have faith in Christ. Christ has been raised from the dead. He is seated at the Father’s right hand in the heavenly realms far above all rulers and authorities of this world.

That is what Paul wanted them, and us, to see. We have a hope that the world cannot take away. It will challenge it. It will try to put it out. It will find ways to silence it. But it cannot take our hope away.

Isn’t this what Christians proclaim every time we gather for a funeral for someone who has died in Christ? We see something beyond death. We come together and say again, “Yes, in this world there is death but it is not the final reality. There is more. We have a hope that is more than this world can account for. And greater is he who is with us than death itself.”

I have been at the bedside of many a saint who went peacefully out of this world into life with God because they had eyes of faith to see. Literally, I have been with people who could see the Lord, or at least the beauty of life eternal as their heart took it final beats. There is so much more than we can see.

Do you feel surrounded by the darkness? As love grows cold, and mass shootings continue, and wars in Europe rages on, and the world groans with pain, it is easy to be afraid.

The Antichrist is a figure we find in the Bible, although it isn’t mentioned that much which you wouldn’t know from listening to those Bible interpreters who obsess over the end times. There have been too many guessing games about who the Antichrist is, was, or will be. But the Bible does speak of an antichrist. Antichrist is not just a figure but a spirit, a spirit that is against whatever is of Christ Jesus.

John wrote to a community of Christians who were struggling with the spirit of antichrist. They experienced hard adversity as they tried to live their faith. But he assures them by saying, “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

The one who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world. It takes the eyes of our hearts enlightened and a vision of faith to see that. God’s presence is in his people. Yes, there is one who is in the world, who stirs chaos and evil. But the Lord Jesus Christ is greater. His love is greater. His peace is greater. The life he gives is greater. His power is greater. And when we surrender our lives to him he lives in us.

I said that those praying pilgrims in the streets of Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 sang the old spiritual, “I Want Jesus To Walk With Me” as they walked and prayed.

The song goes like this:

I want Jesus to walk with me I want Jesus to walk with me All along my pilgrim journey I want Jesus to walk with me

In my trial, Lord, walk with me In my trials, Lord, walk with me When the shades of life are falling Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me

In my sorrow, Lord walk with me In my sorrows, Lord walk with me When my heart is aching Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me

In my troubles, Lord walk with me In my troubles, Lord walk with me When my life becomes a burden, Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me

And he does. The Lord Jesus does walk with us. He will walk with you today. He will walk with you tomorrow. He will walk with you in whatever comes next in your life, surrounding you with his presence.

With the eyes of our hearts enlightened, be aware of that, knowing that those who are with us are more than those who are with them. And the one who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world.

Prayer: Open our eyes Lord to see you around us.Give us faith to see beyond touch and sight that you are near.Help us to live in the confidence of your presence.Thank you that you surround us with your love, your angel armies, and your mighty power

[1] This is from Let The Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr., by Stephen Coates, p.229 [2] John 16:33 [3] David Roper, Seasoned with Salt: Lessons from Elisha, p. 105

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