Often even when towns laid in ruin after a bombing raid from the Germans, the British in World War II drew great comfort from seeing Winston Churchill raise his two-finger symbol: the sign for victory. In a similar way, when things seem dark, Jesus Christ holds out His own victory sign to His people: the symbol of an abandoned cross and empty tomb.
It’s easy to feel impatient about the small part we play in God’s Providence. If we are students of the Great Commission, then we sense the immensity of our mission from God even as we realize our own frailty. It seems things are not progressing as fast as we would like.
Many Christians in America are right now feeling very discouraged about the next four years. Neither of the two presidential picks from the two major parties are anything to get terribly excited about. Laurence Vance of LewRockwell.com assessed a good bit of the problem fairly well recently when he wrote:
Prediction 1: If Romney wins, in four years we will have a higher national debt, and still have a drug war, a police state, troops in 150 countries, and a national security/warfare state.
Prediction 2: If Obama wins, in four years we will have a higher national debt, and still have a drug war, a police state, troops in 150 countries, and a national security/warfare state.1
I would add that regardless of who wins, it is very unlikely that either candidate would make any progress on eliminating the federal subsidization of abortion, the legalization of abortion, or the federal protections of sodomy.
It’s at moments like these when many Christians get depressed and are tempted to lose hope of advancing Christ’s Kingdom. We are tempted to run away or hide in the hills, to abandon the fight, to become mere spectators from a safe distance. If we stop caring about the setbacks, we reason, then maybe it won’t hurt as much when they come. We pick an eschatology to fit our surrendered outlook. Our attitude is summed up in a poem one of Teddy Roosevelt’s friends wrote while he was at Harvard, an Ode to Complacency:
We deem it narrow-minded to excel.
We call the man fanatic who applies
His life to one grand purpose till he dies.
Enthusiasm sees one side, one fact;
We try to see all sides, but do not act.
. . . We long to sit with newspapers unfurled,
Indifferent spectators of the world.2
We lose the gusto to excel in the work of the Lord because we have forgotten that it is the work of the Lord, not the work of us. If the advancement of the Kingdom depended on the heart and hands of such feeble ones as us, we would have good cause for depression. But it doesn’t. Having begun our walk with God by faith in the work of Christ, we somehow have thought that we would take it from here. Salvation was something Jesus did, but the Great Commission is something that we do, we have mistakenly assumed. The Apostle Paul rebuked this notion in Galatians 3:3. In a sense, it is true that we are performing the Great Commission, but we are not accomplishing the Great Commission. Jesus is accomplishing that because “all power is given unto [Him] in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18). We are vessels, 2 Timothy 2:21 tells us, but we are neither the oil that goes into the vessels nor the hands that carry the vessels.
“It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). So even our work, to whatever extent it is holy and effective to the advance of God’s Kingdom, is accomplished not by crafty politicking and scheming, but by the power of the work of God in the redeemed saint and through him.
After facing many setbacks in his life, Robert E. Lee observed in 1870:
“The truth is this: The march of Providence is so slow, and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.”3
This is why at American Vision so much of our ministry involves pointing Christians back to history to see the hand of God in the past so they have hope for the future. How often has it seemed that the people of God were nearly defeated, only to rebound to enjoy great victories?
I have sometimes wanted to ask the Lord, “God, don’t you know how I would be able to glorify you more if you just took away this impediment? Don’t you know that I would be able to advance your kingdom in greater ways if you would just remove this obstacle?” The Apostle Paul wrote of a similar struggle in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 when he told about his “thorn in the flesh” God had sent that led him to depend more on the grace of God. “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
God doesn’t need our feeble efforts to advance His Kingdom. He is gracious to use feeble instruments as He wisely chooses. He is far more interested in conforming us to the image of His Son.
“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
God is far more interested in glorifying His name as He blesses us than He is in having me help Him. He is not so impoverished that He would need to call on me to advance His Kingdom. God owns the cattle upon a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). He is so glorious that He can advance His Kingdom even through so impoverished a vessel as me. He will handle history.
Oh, for grace to have the perspective of Joseph! That servant of God was somehow able to grasp the essence about which General Lee wrote. He could see God’s over-riding purpose in his personal setbacks. “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:19-21).
So we observe that God controls the advance of history in spite of our setbacks and even through our setbacks. This providential power is amazing enough to consider, but then add to that the wonder that he works through feeble vessels such as us in His history. He does this not by pressing us into a monolithic organization (such as an institution like the Roman Catholic Church) nor by drafting us into a Holy Civil Empire because “there is power in numbers,” but by going inside our hearts, and transforming that heart so that we might “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
The wonder of God in history is that He will never allow the human race to ruin the advance of Christ’s Kingdom. America may pass like Rome but Christ’s Kingdom will increase. An evil man may stand in the White House, but Christ won’t leave His Great White Throne. He will indeed even work through His elect in things so simple as teaching our families the Word at home, loving our wives, honoring our parents, providing for our homes, witnessing to the lost, and discipling new saints. These things involve an on-going surrender to the Lordship and wisdom of God.
It is with the assurance we have that God governs in the affairs of men that we can boldly echo the resolute remarks of D.V. Cooke in his poem How did you die? Duty is ours. The outcome is God’s. He cannot be defeated.
Did you tackle the trouble that came your way
With resolute heart and cheerful?
Or hide your face from the light of day
With a craven soul and fearful?
Oh, a trouble’s a ton, or a trouble’s an ounce,
Or a trouble’s what you make it.
And it isn’t the fact that your hurt that counts,
But how did you take it?
You are beaten to earth? Well, well, what’s that?
Come up with a smiling face,
It’s nothing against you to fall down flat,
But to lie there—that’s disgrace!
The harder you’re thrown, why the higher you bounce;
Be proud of your blackened eye!
It isn’t the fact that you’re licked that counts,
It’s how did you fight—and why?
And though you be done to the death, what then?
If you battled the best you could;
If you played your part in the world of men,
Why, the Critic will call it good.
Death comes with a crawl, or it comes with a pounce,
And whether he’s slow or spry,
It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts,
But only, how did you die?