Do you ever feel like throwing in the towel? When, on 29th October, 1941, Sir Winston Churchill visited his old school at Harrow there were many in the country who feared defeat and some who actually advocated surrender to the enemy across the Channel. The war seemed interminable and victory beyond the nation's grasp. But Churchill's speech was as stirringly uncompromising as ever. Looking back over recent events he said, "Surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in" (http://www.winstonchurchill.org/resources/speeches/1941-1945-war-leader/never-give-in). Although not everyone may admit it, there are times in the believer's life when the pressures of the world, combined with the consciousness of inner wretchedness and the memory of past failures, become so intense that we want to give up. There are plenty of us in need of solid spiritual encouragement. A while ago I came across this letter of counsel to a Christian young man who, like all young men, was going through a period of self-disgust, despondency and loneliness. The advice may be of use to others.
"Thank you for speaking so honestly about some of the difficulties you are facing in the Christian life. Let me assure you that you are not alone – all God's people face obstacles, trials, and internal enemies which aim to damage our service for, and enjoyment of, the Lord, disturbing our daily walk with Him. If we learn to pray for one another it will strengthen our own resolve to seek, by God's grace, to live in a way that pleases the One who saved us. May I therefore make a few brief suggestions? Although there is no short-cut to spiritual victory, there are some clear guidelines in the Word for us to bear in mind. Here are a few.
FEED on God's Word day by day, as it is our spiritual food. 'It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God' (Mt 4.4). You'll notice that the Lord Jesus quotes from the Scriptures ('It is written') to prove the value of the Scriptures ('Man shall…live by…every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God'). God's Word has the unique power to nourish and toughen us up for the tests of life. Even if, like me, you sometimes feel that you are not always remembering what you read, the very fact that you are letting it enter your mind affords spiritual cleansing and refreshment. Remember the psalmist's question and answer: 'Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word' (Ps 119.9). It's still true.
WRITE down what you are learning from your Bible. One reliable way to retain in our memory what we are reading is to record it in a journal or notebook. Moses did something like that for Joshua in Exodus 17.14. A friend recently pointed out to me the value of sitting at a table or desk when we are doing our study. Lounging in an easy armchair or slouching on a sofa doesn't quite suit the serious, disciplined state of mind which is needed for real study. And if we are too comfortable there's the added temptation to drift off to sleep! It is far easier to stay alert and register our thoughts or queries if we are sitting up straight.
THINK on what is good. 'Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things' (Phil 4.8). One feature of the blessed man of the Psalms is that he meditated upon God's word day and night (Ps 1.1-3) – so if we store our mind with verses of Scripture we can then make the effort to ponder on them during those moments when we might otherwise allow our thoughts to run loose. The simplest way to get the air out of a glass is to fill it with water: the way to stop thinking bad thoughts is to fill the mind with good ones. Just sit down (for example) and list all the names and titles of the Lord Jesus Christ you can remember – that will profitably occupy you for a while, and provide lots of lines of worship for the next Breaking of Bread meeting.
FLEE from evil. 'Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart' (2 Tim 2.22). The first rule of self-defence (so my dour Scottish gym master taught me at school) is to run away. Joseph provides the great example in Genesis 39.10-12. In so doing he lost his coat but not his character. If we find ourselves in a situation where we are particularly vulnerable to temptation then it is best to get out fast. This may mean keeping away from certain places, altering our timetables, adjusting our habits so as to avoid danger.
MEET with the saints as often as possible, 'Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another' (Heb 10.25). Note the double instruction: 'not forsaking…but exhorting'. We don't fulfil this command simply by being at the meetings; we are to go with the intention of actively encouraging one another. Those who complain that they don't get anything out of assembly gatherings obviously haven't taken this text to heart. We come first of all not to get but to give. And then we discover that there is no better place of safety or cheer than the local assembly, because it is there that we are – or at least we should be – engaged fully with the things of God. To spend time with the spiritual is to avoid occasions of sin.
RAISE your voice in assembly gatherings. The fact that God has created you a male means He has entrusted you with the responsibility of public participation. Prayer has nothing to do with spiritual gift: it is the plain duty of all the menfolk. Listen: 'I will therefore that men [the males] pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting' (1 Tim 2.8). Paul's careful choice of words implicitly excludes the women from audible participation, but his emphasis is clearly on the men. Indeed, it is as wrong for a man to remain wilfully dumb at the Prayer Meeting as it is for a sister to stand up and take part. The same passage which assumes the silence of the one requires the exercise of the other.
CALL upon the Lord in every emergency. One of the great blessings of prayer is that it is not restricted to those formal occasions when we set aside regular time to speak to the Lord. He is always available to His people in their crisis moments, for we are instructed to 'come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need' (Heb 4.16). Peter discovered a special time of need on the Sea of Galilee (Mt 14.30-31), Nehemiah when he was just doing his job (Neh 2.4-5), Jonah while he was in a great fish's stomach (Jonah 2.2), David when in a situation of physical peril: 'In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears' (Ps 18.6). No matter the danger, the Lord is there for His people."
No short-cut, as I say, but wise habits can be developed while you are still young. May the Lord give us all (young and old) help to grow in grace and find in Him such satisfaction that we "never give in, never give in, never, never, never"!
To be continued.