I recently read the last several chapters of Acts, which tell the story of Paul’s imprisonment and eventual journey to Rome. Do you know how sometimes we heard a Bible story so many times before, but then we read it again and it’s still fresh? This time when I read it, I could relate so many things in Paul’s story to our experience in Brazil. The whole story spoke to me about God’s favor.
Like Joseph who was sold as a slave by his brothers and unfairly imprisoned, Paul went through many trials. Yet Paul was a man marked by God’s favor. Sometimes the reason we face trials is actually that God’s favor rests on us!
Did You Ever Wonder If God Was Really With You?
Jesus promised that he would be with us always. However, when circumstances are difficult, sometimes Christians wonder “Is God really with me?” Satan tries to plant doubts to make us lose our confidence in the Lord.
An ugly twist on this happens when those doubts are mixed with guilt and condemnation. Many of God’s people have been tormented by the thought “I must have done something wrong and lost God’s favor.” This is often exacerbated by performance-oriented and legalistic teachings which have deceived the church.
There seem to be two common areas where this bad teaching has made Christians vulnerable to being tormented with Satanic accusations. One is manipulative and legalistic teaching about money and giving.
I grew up with this kind of teaching. When I faced financial trials, I always felt like I hadn’t given enough in the offering. The church taught that you were not even giving at all until it surpassed your tithe. So I gave more, but when more financial difficulties came, I felt like it must not be working because I wasn’t cheerful enough about what I did give.
This led to horrible cycles of mental torment. I soon realized that such teaching undermined the very foundation of my faith. Scripture does teach about growing in the grace of giving, as well as sowing and reaping. But when that gets twisted into teaching that God’s favor on you hinges on how much you give, it becomes a horrible perversion of truth. (See the article Righteousness, Blessing, Salvation.)
The second common area is the teaching that there is a hierarchy of authority between you and God. I gave a thorough rebuttal to that teaching in my first book, I Am Persuaded. In this short post, it’s enough to say that many of the most effective Christians in history have found the religious establishment at odds with them.
For example, Bruce Olson, who led multiple unreached people groups to Christ, was told he was in rebellion against the church and against his leaders. He faced incredible trials, including long periods of time without food and nearly losing his life more than once. I’m sure Satan tried to accuse him, saying he was deceived, in rebellion, and God was no longer with him.
Millions of people’s lives have been changed forever when they heard the gospel at a Reinhard Bonnke crusade. Yet Bonnke often faced resistance from the religious establishment. His own father, a pastor, didn’t believe in his call. Bonnke had to have the peace to know that he was obeying the Lord and God was with him, even when circumstances were challenging.
God’s Favor On Jesus
God spoke from heaven about his favor on Jesus:
Matthew 3:17 (NIV) And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
What did God’s favor look like on Jesus? There were certainly a lot of miracles! People were healed and delivered everywhere he went. He paid his tax with a coin from a fish’s mouth. He multiplied bread and calmed storms.
Yet Jesus also grieved when his cousin John was beheaded. He was rejected by many of those who were closest to him. He got tired, and angels strengthened him. God’s favor eventually lead him to the cross. But God resurrected him and highly exalted him!
If you clothe yourself with Christ, you are also highly favored!
1 Corinthians 1:30 (NIV) It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
This gives me a fresh perspective on God’s favor. God’s favor puts us in places where things are difficult and people need help. We are the highly favored ambassadors of Christ, sent with the honor of representing him! If you’re in a difficult place, count it as your privilege to be sent to such a place as an ambassador of Christ! Remember that God’s favor on Jesus led him to leave heaven and come live in a human body in a broken world. God’s favor led him to humble himself and become unimpressive, as nothing. And what looked like defeat ended as the greatest victory of all history!
Find Encouragement In Other Christian’s Stories
I’ve faced challenges. Sometimes friends in the US have been amazed at the things my wife and I have faced in Brazil. It seems like one crazy thing after another. Kidnapping and death threats from a criminal who the police won’t lock up. Escaping multiple highway robberies. Seeing public buses set on fire by criminals. My wife escaping kidnapping at gunpoint by crashing the car into a trash truck. All the money being taken out of our bank account three separate times, due to government error. Wrecking the car on a dark, rainy night because another car was sitting still, with no lights on, in the middle of the highway after the driver was robbed.
We just had a strike over high gas prices. Grocery stores ran out of vegetables for a few days, food prices skyrocketed, and we had to search to buy water. None of the gas stations had gas. The situation is finally normalizing today, vegetables are back, and many gas stations have fuel again. It wasn’t really that terrible, since it ended fairly quickly, but the anger I feel over greed, corruption, and bureaucracy make me better able to relate to Paul’s story.
None of the difficulties have stopped God from doing miracles! We must never doubt that God’s favor is on us just because of tough circumstances! If we doubt, it will keep us from stepping out in faith so that favor is manifest in our lives. Of course, doubts will come, but refuse to accept them or act on them!
When we know that we have God’s favor, we will continue to step out in faith and take bold risks regardless of the trials or circumstances we have faced. When we do so, God’s favor manifests through miracles! This is exactly what Paul did, and it’s why his story is so encouraging to me.
Next week we’ll look at Paul’s story, and I’ll share some of the ways I can now relate to it in a fresh way.