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We've Never Been This Way Before: Trusting God in Unprecedented Times
by R Kendall
Learn More | Meet R Kendall
Where We Have Been Before
He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds.
Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake to guide the future as He has the past.
—KATHARINA VON SCHLEGEL (B.1697), TRANSLATED BY JANE BORTHWICK (1813–1897)
God knows where we have come from. He knows perfectly our past—our sins, our failures, our successes, our weaknesses, all influences on us, our spiritual pilgrimage, our limits. He knows everything. Things we have forgotten, God remembers. According to Paul, God chose the time and place of our birth. This means He chose our parents.
He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place (Acts 17:26).
Have you ever wondered why you were born in the twentieth century and not in 500 BC? Have you wondered why you were not born in Mongolia or Ecuador?
This much I know: “The LORD has made everything for its purpose” (Prov. 16:4). “The LORD has made everything for his own purposes” (NLT). “The LORD has made all for Himself” (NKJV).
I don’t know why I was born in Kentucky. I have heard my parents tell how they met and how they prayed for a son. My parents were godly Christians. They were not perfect. I lost my temper at the age of six when I burnt my tongue on hot oatmeal, accusing my mother of making things too hot. She said to me, “When you get sanctified, God will take that temper out of you.” This was not helpful; it made me angrier.
My first school teacher had some weird teaching methods. I believe that she was responsible for my inability to read well or enjoy reading. She would stand behind me as I read from a book in front of the class and immediately shake my shoulders when I mispronounced a word, making me cry in front of everybody. She scared me to death. I am sure that is mainly why I still have to fight to concentrate to keep my eyes on a sentence—whether I am reading a secular book or the Bible.
David son of Jesse not only became king of Israel but was Israel’s greatest king. David was also a poet, a musician, a warrior—indeed a military genius and the writer of many psalms. Not only was he chosen from the sheep pens but his father vastly underrated him. The great prophet Samuel had come for dinner to anoint the next king. Jesse had eight sons and introduced Samuel to seven of the them. He did not even let young David know that the legendary Samuel was on the premises. It did not cross Jesse’s mind that David was the man God had chosen to be the next king of Israel. But as God said to Samuel, “The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
That should encourage many of us. You may not be well bred, highly cultured, or educated; you may be underestimated by your employer, school teacher, or parents. You may feel sure that there is little chance that God would use someone as insignificant and unqualified as you. I reply: you are the very person God deems as qualified to do the next thing He needs. You may be the last person that those who know you would expect to be tomorrow’s man or woman. Your friends and siblings may underestimate you. Indeed, they may be jealous of you. David’s brothers were jealous of him (1 Sam. 17:28).
David was a man after God’s “own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22). That means having a heart that yearns to please God: to obey Him. It does not mean you are perfect. David was not perfect. (See 2 Samuel 11.) God does not use perfect men and women (there aren’t any!); He uses forgiven men and women. A good example: Peter who preached the inaugural sermon on the day of Pentecost. Six weeks before Peter proved to be a coward and denied even knowing Jesus. That made Peter the most unlikely candidate to be used of God. But, after he repented, he proved to be powerful and faithful, even writing two books in the New Testament.
Your unhappy past might convince you that God can never use you. You fear that any plan God may have had for you has now been set aside. After all, you have spent time in prison. You had an abortion. You married “the wrong man” or “the wrong woman.” You were unfaithful to your spouse. You mishandled money, even stole money. You ruined another life by what you said about them—which was even untrue. You were not kind to your parents. Or you have been even a worse parent than they. God knows where you have been. He knows what you have been.
You have decided that you do not have a brilliant future because of your lack of education. You aren’t sure you have a worthwhile gift. As for being well connected? No chance. You are a nobody.
The God of the Bible enjoys taking a nobody and turning him or her into a somebody.
Reuben Robinson was born January 27, 1860, in White County, Tennessee. He was tongue-tied, quit school at the age of nine, and could neither read nor write. At the age of twenty a stranger took an interest in Reuben and invited him to a tent meeting where there was preaching every night. Reuben allegedly replied, “I don’t know where it is or what it is, but because you have expressed such a love for me [or words to that effect], I will go.”
He went and listened to a sermon. At the end of the sermon an altar call was given, inviting people to come and kneel and confess their sins. His friend suggested that Reuben go forward to kneel and pray. He replied, “I don’t know where it is or what it is, but I will go.” He prayed and asked God to save him. He was converted. Reuben shortly felt called to preach even though he was tongue-tied and largely uneducated.
He became known as “Uncle Buddy Robinson” and not only became a legend in my old denomination, the Church of the Nazarene, but reportedly led over two hundred fifty thousand souls to Christ. My parents loved to boast that they hosted Uncle Buddy in their home shortly after they were married.
God looks at the heart. I find that encouraging to this day. Surprising as this may seem to some readers, I don’t feel I have accomplished at all that I want to do. I will tell you why. When I was seventeen years old, I was befriended by my US Senator from Kentucky, John Sherman Cooper (1901–1991). I was allowed not only to watch the Senate debate but also to go into the office of the Senate president (who is also the vice president of the United States). While in his office, someone said, “Why don’t you sit in the president’s chair?” I did. Then someone said, “Everyone who sits in that chair makes a wish, so make a wish!” I have no idea why I did this, but I quietly bowed my head and said, “Make me a great soul-winner.”
That prayer is unanswered. I have written a few books, preached in a lot of places, and have led a few people to Christ. But not many. There was a time when I aspired to be a great theologian. For a while I wanted to prove certain points of view. That is, until I had a vision on the steps of Westminster Chapel, having followed Arthur Blessitt to the streets to speak to passers-by. I had a vision of a pilot light—a light that stays lit day and night, as in a cooker or an oven. I knew in my heart of hearts that God was calling me to be a one-to-one evangelist. Until then I rationalized that I did my duty as an evangelist by preaching the gospel from the pulpit every Sunday. It’s easier to preach to hundreds than it is to speak to one person, especially a stranger. I died a thousand deaths. My desire (it was a vain desire, to be honest) to be a great theologian was upgraded. I became willing to be a personal soul-winner. Having the aforementioned vision, our Pilot Light ministry was born. In the words from one of the verses of the hymn “When I saw the cleansing fountain” (“I will praise Him”),
Tho’ the way seems straight and narrow,
All I claimed was swept away;
My ambitions, plans and wishes,
At my feet in ashes lay.
—MARGARET J. HARRIS (1865–1919)
Ever since that life-changing evening in Buckingham Gate I have aspired preeminently to be an evangelist—a winner of souls—who preaches the historic gospel with power and authority. Until I go to heaven, I will hope with all my heart to see that prayer I offered at the age of seventeen to be answered.
God can say to any of us, “You have never been this way before” because He knows exactly and totally where we have been before, what we have done, what we have not done, and where we are at the moment.
Are you ashamed of your past? Do you worry about past sins? Maybe you believe you have failed people and let them down. Perhaps you think you have failed God. Do you know whether yours sins have been forgiven? Do you know whether—if you were to die today—you would go to heaven? You may say that you don’t believe the Bible, but I will quote one verse from it that you will totally agree with: “It is appointed for man to die” (Heb. 9:27). We are all going to die. You may not like the second part of that verse which says: after you die you face “judgment.” This means you will stand before God. So will I. Like it or not, you and I will have to give an account of ourselves. It will not be fun. It will be the scariest day of our lives. And yet you may know in advance how your case will be tried on that Judgment Day. You could call it “settling out of court.”
You need to know two things. First, that God sent His Son—Jesus Christ—into the world to live a perfect life in your behalf and then die for you. He called it fulfilling the law (Matt. 5:17), meaning living out the Ten Commandments in thought, word, and deed sixty seconds a minute, sixty minutes an hour, twenty-four hours a day, every day of His life. He did this for you, that is, as your substitute since you cannot live like that.
We are sinners, but Jesus never sinned (Heb. 4:15). At the age of thirty-three He was crucified. He hung on the cross for approximately six hours, enduring the worst kind of pain ever known to humankind. While He was on the cross, all our sins were imputed to Him as though He had committed them Himself. He took the blame for our sins. That is actually why He came to this world. That was the purpose. Not only that; God punished Jesus that day for what we did. The blood He shed satisfied the wrath and justice of God. He was the propitiation for our sins (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2). That word means that Jesus turned the Father’s wrath away from us.
The second thing you need to know is that you must acknowledge that you are a sinner, be sorry for your sins, and then transfer the trust you have had in yourself to what Jesus did for you by His sinless life and sacrificial death. This is called saving faith. It is what gets you to heaven. It means you must abandon any hope in your good works to save you—no matter how great these works might have been.
If indeed you believe this way in your heart, congratulations. Only the Holy Spirit could cause you to feel this way. Here is a prayer I suggest you say to God to bring this home and give you assurance that you are truly saved.
Lord Jesus Christ, I need You. I want You. I know I am a sinner. I am sorry for my sins. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. Wash my sins away by Your blood. I believe You are God in the flesh and that You were raised from the dead. I welcome Your Holy Spirit into my heart. As best as I know how, I give You my life. Amen.
Perhaps you are merely a nominal Christian. This means you accept certain Christian truths in your head but not your heart. You are possibly trusting in your baptism, your church membership, or your being born into a Christian home. If the truth be told, your honest confidence is in your good works. This means you have never been converted; you are not saved. I would urge you to read again what I wrote above. Ask God to enable you to feel sorry for your sins. Either you feel this way or you don’t.
Perhaps you are a sleepy Christian. This means you have been genuinely saved but have grown cold. You have not been faithful in living the Christian life. You have accepted social practices you once rejected. You have lost a sense of outrage of practices that go right against Holy Scripture. You have swept these things under the carpet and have refused to think about them. The Bible does not thrill you as it once did. Time alone with God in prayer has been almost non-existent. When someone lovingly approaches you about these things you become defensive and annoyed. These things said, recent crises have sobered you. God is beginning to get your attention. I would therefore urge you to go back to reading your Bible. Go back to praying as you once did and seek God with all your heart. I suggest this prayer.
Heavenly Father, I am sorry I have wandered from You. I am sorry for my indifference and failure to pray and read Your Word as I once did. Thank You for Your wake-up call. Thank You for getting my attention at last. I am sorry for the way I have lived, for thoughts I have embraced, and for accepting things that grieve Your heart. Please forgive me. Wash my sins away by Your blood. Thank You for 1 John 1:9, that says if we confess our sins, You are faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleans us from all unrighteousness. Thank You that You have not utterly left me. I welcome the Holy Spirit in the measure I once enjoyed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
God has had His hand on you all along. He knows where you have been. He knows where you are going, and that you have never been this way before.
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