Staying Strong in the Lord
We were in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death. For over three years, our beloved pastor had been battling for his life due to cancer, and we –– his family, staff, and church –– had been right by his side. Now on his deathbed, he was rapidly slipping into eternity.
Each of us found ourselves in circumstances we’d never thought we’d face. His wife had to make difficult decisions and handle serious matters without him, the church leadership had to pastor the church without him, and I found myself at the helm of his evangelistic ministry without him.
While the family was advised to prepare for his funeral, fervent prayer went up on his behalf around the world. Then it happened. At the darkest hour when all hope seemed lost, instead of dying we witnessed a miracle! In a matter of hours, he went from incoherent to alert; from lifeless to hungry! Even more, many of the serious symptoms he’d suffered with had all but vanished. The doctors were stunned, saying that this type of turn around for someone in his condition was virtually impossible. We were praising God, beside ourselves with joy!
The next few days were amazing as we watched him virtually come back to life. Hours after he arose from his deathbed, he surprised us all by doing something he’d never done before. He charged the pastoral staff with an assignment to write a paper. This was no ordinary paper. Rather, like a father would instruct his sons or a general would command his officers, Steve Hill challenged his leadership team to write on the theme, “What it takes to be strong.”
We were amazed. Pastor Steve had just come back from death’s door. He had very serious health issues. But rather than focusing on himself, he was concerned about others. He wanted to make sure that if and when we ever found ourselves pressed beyond measure during one of life’s violent storms, we remained steadfast in the Lord. Realizing the significance of this, I sat down to write. My first sentence surprised me.
“I write this from a place of vulnerability where, due to current traumatic circumstances, I feel anything but strong…”
For months, I was so focused on supporting and strengthening others that I barely paid attention to strain that I, too, had been under. Although my faith remained steadfast and strong, there were days when my emotions swung up and down like on a wild roller roaster. At times I wrestled with fear, worry, depression, hurt, anger, being misunderstood, and feeling very, very alone. Not exactly super-spiritual, you might say. But thank God, that’s not the end of the story. I went on to write,
“…However, I have learned over the years that to be strong in the Lord, I cannot be ruled by my feelings.”
Even the most stalwart men and women of God in the Bible went through tremendous trials and faced dark seasons of the soul. How did they remain strong in the Lord in the midst of desperate, dire circumstances? In Daniel 11, the angel Gabriel appeared to Daniel, foretelling the dreadful fate of the Jews –– war, exile, and destruction. Then, in the middle of all the woes, Gabriel announces,“…the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.”
What an incredible promise! In the midst of calamity and mayhem, those who know their God will not only be strong – they’ll do exploits! This word ‘know’ means “to be acquainted with by experience.” This is key. I can’t rely upon my walk with God from ten years ago or even six months ago. My relationship with Him must be fresh.
Using an acrostic of the word, “KNOW” here are some principles we must live by to remain spiritually strong and fit.
K.N.O.W. – Four Principles For Staying Strong
1. Keep His Word
“Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye.” (Prov 7:2) It’s impossible to KEEP His Word if we don’t KNOW His Word. Throughout the years when I go through a difficult place, I always go back to my foundation, that is, the Word of God. His Words are ‘life to me and health to all my flesh’ (Prov 4:22), an anchor for my soul to steady my emotions, a lamp unto my feet so that I will not stumble, a light unto my path guiding me in the way I should go.
2. Not Doubt
To remain strong, it’s not just enough to know the Word. We must also believe His Word, regardless of our circumstances, our experience, or our feelings. God is who He said He is. He will do what He said He will do.
Obedience is often where the rubber meets the road. So often we think of obedience in the ‘big’ things. But what about the ‘little’ commandments in His Word? Am I anxious? “Be anxious for nothing but in everything let your requests be made known unto God…” Angry? “Be angry and sin not”? Tempted? “Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee” Offended or hurt? “Forgive even as I have forgiven you” Burdened down? “Come unto Me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest…” He has given us His Word and His Spirit to help us along life’s way. “In keeping His commands there is great reward. (Ps 19:11)
Nothing can take the place of spending time in His presence. As I fix my heart and my gaze upon Him, He fills me once again with His Spirit –– with His joy to strengthen me, His peace to guard my heart and mind, and His presence to comfort me, no matter what I’m going through.
Having shared these principles, I believe there are times when the battle may be so fierce that all you can seemingly do is to ‘hold on.’ It’s in these places of extreme weakness where we are so utterly dependent upon Him that He carries us. Here we find that we’re not holding onto Him; He’s holding onto us. He knows our frame, that we are as dust (Ps 103:14). In this place we discover that His grace is sufficient for us, that His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9).
Walking with our pastor and his precious family through this dark valley was one those experiences that will forever leave a mark upon me. Three years later, he went home to be with the Lord. In reality, Steve Hill gave us so much more than a writing assignment. Rather, his life spoke to us, ‘follow me as I follow Christ’ (1 Cor 11:1). In the midst of tremendous suffering and deep weakness, he showed us what it takes to be a strong man or woman of God. His example, his faith, and his courage in the face of adversity inspire me to press on to be more like Jesus and to do more for His Kingdom.
Thank you, Pastor Steve, for that life-changing assignment.