You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
David C. Cook (2009)
Steve Farrar is the founder and chairman of Men’s Leadership Ministries, an organization dedicated to equipping men for spiritual leadership. He is a frequent speaker at men’s events and conferences across the country and is the best-selling author of God Built and Point Man. Steve and his family reside in the Dallas, Texas area.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $14.99
Number of Pages: 256
Publisher: David C. Cook (2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
“I was born for a storm and a calm does not suit me.” --Andrew Jackson
These are the times that try men's souls.”
Thomas Paine penned those words in 1776 in a pamphlet he titled “Crisis.”
It was an appropriate title for his day. The young American colonies certainly faced a great crisis, feeling the oppressive weight of the English king and his invading army. Men who spoke out for freedom found themselves in serious danger.
Take Joseph Warren, for example. Gathering his courage, he dared to speak out about the situation his country was in. And for so doing, he was beheaded by British officers at Bunker Hill, who then presented his head to their commanding general.1
I am writing these words on December 1, 2008. Never in my fifty-nine years on this earth have I seen so many men so deeply troubled. It is accurate to say once again, “These are the times that try men's souls.”
Joshua and Caleb, two heroes from the pages of the Bible, will figure prominently in this book. But I'm not going to start with Joshua and Caleb. I'm going to begin with Samuel Adams and John Hancock.
Contrary to popular opinion, Samuel Adams did not run a brewery. And John Hancock did not sell life insurance.
These men were both friends of Joseph Warren, and like Warren, they were not afraid to speak out against tyranny. They knew very well that they could be beheaded just as Warren had been. But that fact did not curb their tongues or their pens. In fact, when the British general Thomas Gage attempted to quell the revolution and offered amnesty to every man in the colonies who would lay down his weapon, two men, and two men only, were excluded from the offer of amnesty and forgiveness. Those two men were Samuel Adams and John Hancock. These two bold leaders would not be forgiven under any circumstances--so great was their opposition to the king and their influence in the colonies.
Samuel Adams was the most popular columnist in all of New England, and John Hancock may have been the wealthiest man in all of Massachusetts. Though differing widely in personality and style, these men had something profound in common that formed the bedrock of their friendship: They were deeply committed to Jesus Christ and His inspired Word. That's what made them the Joshua and Caleb of their generation. They were absolutely fearless in the face of a giant invading army and the world's largest navy. But the foundation of their courage was their hope and trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was their Father, their Foundation, and their Hope.
Even as other men wilted under pressure and feared for their very lives, Adams and Hancock stood firm. Don't imagine it was an easy thing to do; it's never easy to hold the line when you live in soul-trying times.
In the course of my ministry, I have had the privilege of speaking to men all across the country. And it's very clear to me as I interact with men that once again “these are the times that try men's souls.”
If there is a verse that speaks to the condition of men in our day and time, I believe it is Psalm 42:5 (NASB):
Why are you in despair [sunk down], O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence [saving acts].
Everywhere across our land men are discouraged and depressed-- and some verging on outright despair. So let's answer the question of the psalmist. Notice that he is talking to himself instead of listening to himself. When we are panicked and fearful, we are listening to ourselves--listening to the killing worries and anxieties that fuel our negative imaginations like a windblown forest fire. The psalmist, however, attempting to fight off the fear that has become epidemic in his heart and mind, speaks to himself instead of listening to himself.
In the process, he asks himself a significant question:
“Why are you in despair, O my soul?”
If most men today were to answer that question, I believe their answer would center in a fearful giant named “Uncertainty.” This giant, of course, has been around since the beginning of time, sometimes more visible and sometimes less. In recent days, however, it has been stalking our land with a vengeance. Why? Because …
there is giant uncertainty over the meltdown of the economy; and
there is giant uncertainty over the breakdown of the nation.
The Meltdown of the Economy
It's difficult to pick up a newspaper or news magazine without getting hints about the possibility of another Great Depression. For nearly a decade, we had a remarkable run of prosperity and economic growth. Jobs have been plentiful, salaries rising, and people have had the time and leisure to travel and indulge in a delicious assortment of personal luxuries.
But then in a matter of months, everything began to fall apart.
Gigantic financial institutions and banks began to collapse, and people began to panic. The real-estate market across the nation began to nosedive, and once-staid-and-stable firms began to issue pinks slips like candy. One headline from the September 18, 2008, edition of the Wall Street Journal sums it all up: Worst Crisis Since 30's, With No End In Sight.2
The prosperity and financial growth had all seemed so certain. But we have come to realize that it was an illusion. Of course, we should have known that all along. Note the words of 1 Timothy 6:17 (NASB): “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.”
Did you catch that? Those who are rich in this present world (and that would be the vast majority of Americans compared to the rest of the world) are not to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches.
Quite frankly, most of us have been living as though the riches were certain--living as though the prosperity wouldn't end, as though real estate would keep going up forever, as though our jobs would always be secure. The average American felt like he was bulletproof when it came to his prosperity. And this is why so many are now depressed and in despair. Now, many who were close to retirement will never see retirement. They have simply lost too much in the market, and there's just not enough time to make it all back.
The Breakdown of the Nation
There is a sense in this country that things are spiraling out of control, not just economically but also politically and socially. You can feel the tremors, as the foundations of American law and government are being shaken to the core. This includes a raging current of anti-Christian bias flowing through our courts, universities, and media.
In the recent economic bailout, fundamental principles of democracy and commerce were thrown away in a matter of days. It was all done out of panic and fear. And once the government gets more power, it is not prone to give it back at a later date. What it takes--it keeps.
And that changes everything.
Back in the 1970s, I remember hearing the great Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer talk about the direction that America was headed. Schaeffer said he believed America would eventually wind up as a dictatorship, and he wasn't sure if it would come from the right or the left. It was Schaeffer's opinion that some great calamity and crisis would threaten the well-being of the average American. It would be of such a magnitude that people would willingly give up their rights if they could be promised just two things: personal peace and affluence. And if personal peace and affluence would be guaranteed, they would immediately accept an elite dictator who would sweep away their blood-bought freedoms without a second thought. Perhaps we are not too far from that scenario--or perhaps that scenario won't occur at all. No one on this side of heaven knows for sure.
But there is no question that we are in deep decline. You have heard of the rise and fall of great nations. We know in our hearts that we are not only falling--we are free-falling. And nobody seems to have a parachute.
In my previous book, God Built, I referred to the work of Sir John Glubb. In 1976, he wrote an essay titled “The Fate of Empires.” Glubb put forth his theory that great empires rarely survive more than 250 years.3
The Nation/Dates/Time in Years
Roman Republic/260-27 BC/233
Roman Empire/27 BC-AD 180 207
Arab Empire/AD 634-880/246
We are not so concerned for ourselves as we are for our children and grandchildren. They are living in an America that is a far cry from the one that previous generations knew.
So this is why so many men in America who look at life through the lens of Scripture and history are fighting off depression and despair. When one looks at the economic meltdown along with the national breakdown, one sees we are facing a future that is nothing short of a gigantic uncertainty.
Battle Ready_INT-P2.indd 16
Is there any hope?
Yes, there is.
And it's right in the text of Psalm 42:5 (NASB):
Why are you in despair [sunk down], O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence [saving acts].
Triple Shot of Hope
As the psalmist continues to talk himself out of depression, he reminds himself about God. Because God exists and because of His great attributes, the psalmist tells himself that he will again praise God for the help of His presence. And when God is present, He saves His people. All is not lost-- God is in absolute control.
The source of our depression these days is gigantic uncertainty about the economy and the future of the nation. But there are three certainties that form the (true) foundation of our hope:
The certainty of providence
The certainty of the promises
The certainty of the plan
In our times of giant uncertainty about the economy and our nation, those three certainties are nothing less than a triple shot--not of espresso, but of hope.
The Certainty of Providence
The providence of God simply means that God will provide; He will give you what you need when you need it. He will sustain you and keep you going. Ron Mehl used to say that God worked the night shift. What he meant by that was that grocery stores restock every twenty-four hours, and that restock takes place during the night shift. If you walk into a grocery store at two in the morning, it looks like mass chaos. Boxes litter the aisles, and employees run here and there, working feverishly to put product on the shelves. All of this goes on when 98 percent of the neighborhood is asleep. So even while you're sleeping, someone is working to restock the store so that whatever you need in the morning will be there. Maybe at 9:30 p.m. aisle 12 was out of raisins. But at 7:00 the next morning the shelves on aisle 12 will be loaded with raisin boxes, all in neat order and fully synchronized display. The raisins are ready and waiting before you ever need them.5
God works the night shift and the day shift. He never sleeps. His eye is constantly upon you. He knows everything about you. He knows your worries, your pressures, and how much money (to the penny) that you will need to survive until the moment you die. And He will provide that money at exactly the right time.
Let me give you a verse that will Advil your anxiety.
Psalm 103:19 (NASB) states that …
The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all.
Now who sits on a throne? A king sits on a throne. God is King over everything--no exceptions. This great God is King who sits in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all. What is sovereignty? Sovereignty is control. Control of what?
He's in control of everything--even evil. He's never the author of evil because His character is holy--absolutely pure and flawless. But He controls evil and uses evil for His purposes--for the good of His people and the glory of His name. I know that's a stretch to think about, but the Bible strongly declares that He is in control of all things--including evil. Solomon put it like this:
The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked for the day of evil. (Prov. 16:4 NASB)
How can God do that and still be good? I don't know, and I can't explain it. I can't begin to understand how that works, and neither can you. But that is what the Bible teaches. Psalm 119:68 says that the Lord is good and does good. So this good and great God is the King of the entire world and all of the universes. He spoke them all into existence. He created them, and He owns them. And catch this--He keeps them going. He sustains everything within His creation and keeps it all together. Hebrews 1:3 (NASB) states that the Lord Jesus continuously “upholds all things by the word of His power.” That means He keeps it all going--including you and your family, regardless of the strength of the economy.
He is your King and He is your Banker. His providence will keep you provisioned and sustained.
The Heidelberg Catechism was compiled in 1563. A catechism is simply a summary of the teaching of Scripture on a particular question. A catechism asks a question and then provides the biblical answer. And the section on providence is crystal clear:
Question 27. What dost thou mean by the providence of God?
Answer: The almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.
Question 28. What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by his providence does still uphold all things?
Answer: That we may be patient in adversity; thankful in prosperity; and that in all things, which may hereafter befall us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father, that nothing shall separate us from his love; since all creatures are so in his hand, that without his will they cannot so much as move.6
In a nutshell, that's what the Bible teaches about the providence of God.
He's in control of everything from the watermelon crop in south Texas to the price of gas in Omaha. Good economies and bad economies are under His control--along with everything else inside and outside the universe.
So let's go back to the giant uncertainties we face--the frightening meltdown of the economy and the ongoing breakdown of our beloved nation. Is our great God in control of all of these things? Yes. Will He take care of us and our families regardless of what occurs? Yes. And how do we know that? Because of His promises--and He is the God who cannot lie. Therefore, His promises are certain. And we have hope as we face the future.
The Certainty of the Promises
In Matthew 6:25, the Lord Jesus gave a staggering command: Don't worry about your life.
The problem is, most of us live as though He never said any such thing. We do worry about our lives; we worry all the time.
So what are we going to do with these words of the Lord Jesus? “Don't worry.” What does He mean by that? Does He mean we're never even to take note of and consider what's transpiring around us? Does He mean that thinking ahead and planning wisely don't really matter?
No. That's not what He means. What He does mean is that we shouldn't worry ourselves sick over what might happen. Why not? Because He has made some promises to us, and He wants us to take them seriously. He wants us to believe those promises so that we don't become overwhelmed.
The promises and the providence of God are the keys to mental health. Without them, you have no hope. But when we live off them, we are more than conquerors. My Father is watching over my life--that's why I don't have to worry about it. Now that's either true or it isn't--and if it isn't, you're in more trouble than you can comprehend. But it is true. He's your Father, and He's your Provider.
In the Koran, there are ninety-nine different names for Allah. But not one of them can be translated as Father.7 Matthew 6 contains thirty-four verses, and in those thirty-four verses the Lord Jesus refers to the Father twelve times.
You have a Father who is the sovereign God, in control of all things. And He has made some promises to you that His providence guarantees. Note the promise of Matthew 6:25-34 (NASB):
For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?
And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?
And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.
But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!
Do not worry then, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear for clothing?” For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Your Father knows that you need all of these things. And He has the power to provide all things to you at the moment you need them. This is the promise to those who seek Him first. And it is the reason that the Lord Jesus told us, “Don't worry about your life.” Grasp this truth and you will have massive hope instead of depression. But the moment you forget your Father is the moment you begin the downward spiral all over again.
The Certainty of the Plan
God has a plan for the ages. History is going somewhere. The world is under control even though it looks like things are out of control.
The last book of the Bible, Revelation, gives a fairly detailed overview of the events that will take place at the end of the age, ushering in the return of Jesus Christ. There will be a new heaven, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem. There will be a final battle at Armageddon. And there will be a charismatic leader who will unite the world and stand against the kingdom of God. Scripture calls this individual the “Antichrist.”
God has revealed His plan for the ages to His prophets. One of those men was Daniel. When God revealed to Daniel what He was going to do in the last days, it made Daniel deeply alarmed in his spirit (Dan. 7:13). And the more God revealed, the more alarmed Daniel became (v. 28). As God pulled back the curtain of time and showed His servant more and more of His plan for the ages, Daniel was so overwhelmed by what he saw that he became physically ill and exhausted (8:27). At a later time, after he was given still more insight into the plan of God, he went into mourning for three weeks (10:2).
This is why so many of us are troubled. We know that God has a plan for the ages, and we have studied the prophecies. And those of us who have looked carefully into that plan can't help noting that the United States cannot be found in the last days of biblical prophecy. Yes, we're the big boys on the block right now, but apparently something happens to us that removes us as a major player. What will happen? Nobody knows for sure, because Scripture doesn't give us the details. But it's safe to say that in the rise and fall of great nations, the United States will suffer some kind of major calamity or collapse that will drastically minimize our role on the world scene. Or maybe we just die a slow death as a result of suffocating socialism. No one on earth knows for sure what is going to happen to our nation. But we do know that something is going to happen to drastically minimize our influence.
And when we think about these future events--and the hard times that are ahead for our nation--it makes us sick, just as Daniel was sickened by what he saw. It makes us deeply troubled.
In John 14:1-3 (NASB), the Lord Jesus spoke directly to His troubled disciples. He said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
The Lord Jesus will one day come back to the earth and set up His kingdom forever. This is the culmination of God's certain plan. As believers, we have read the last chapter of the book and know how everything will come out.
Guess what? God wins. And those of us who are trusting in Him win too. It's a magnificent ending followed by an incomprehensible new beginning.
But what about all of the terrible things that will take place between now and the earthly return of the Lord? What shall we do about these things as we move closer and closer to difficult times?
This is where we take our cues from the prophet Jeremiah. God gave Jeremiah the job of declaring His judgment upon the nation of Judah. Right from the get-go, both God and Jeremiah knew the people weren't going to like the message--or the messenger. Hard times were on their way. It had to sicken Jeremiah as it would sicken Daniel. So what was he supposed to do?
Take early retirement?
Move to New Zealand?
God told him exactly what He wanted him to do in Jeremiah 1:17: “But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them.”
In a day of rapidly approaching hard times, God told Jeremiah to get up, get dressed, and go to work. And we are to do the same. We are not to sit around, paralyzed with fear. We are not to waste our time by letting our imaginations run riot over what might happen to us or our children as America moves further and further away from biblical Christianity. And we are not to spend our time doing detailed studies trying to figure out the identity of the Antichrist. What a waste of precious time and energy!
So what are we to do? Simply stay faithful at our assigned posts. We're to keep showing up, working hard, and trusting in the promises and timing of a God who loves us. We need to stay the course, control our thoughts and imaginations, think biblically, and realize that a good and wise God is working out His good and wise plan. And in the midst of that plan, He will provide exactly what we need at the moment we need it. In other words, we must discipline our minds to focus on what is certain and in concrete.
His providence is certain.
His promises are certain.
And His plan is certain.
Once again, this is why Jesus told us not to worry about our lives. Our Father has us covered.
“But wait a minute!” you may be saying to yourself. “I've been laid off, and I don't have a clue how I'll find another job. I've lost over 40 percent of my retirement savings. My business is barely making it--and I'm the only guy in America who isn't getting a bailout. What do you mean, don't worry about my life? I've already taken a huge financial hit. I have to worry about my life! How in the world am I going to make it? I can't keep taking these financial losses!”
If that's where your thoughts have been in recent days, I'd like to ask you to take a break from the anxiety and go for a little walk with an old friend of mine.
A Lesson from George Müller
One of my favorite books is The Autobiography of George Müller. The subtitle of the book is “A Million and a Half in Answer to Prayer.” Müller established an orphanage in England that took care of 120,000 orphans over a period of sixty-three years. The amazing thing about Müller was that he genuinely believed in the providence of God, the promises of God, and the plan of God.
He wanted people to know that God is the living God and that He can be trusted to fulfill His promises. So at the onset of starting his orphanage, Müller determined that he would never ask for money to support his work. Instead, he would simply go to his Father in prayer and tell Him about the needs.
Müller kept a meticulous diary that recorded the needs of the orphanage and the daily balances in the account. He trusted in God alone to meet the financial needs of the orphans, and then he kept careful track of the exact details of God's provisions and answers. As a result, he taught many believers all over the world that they, too, could trust the living God to meet their needs.
On one occasion Müller received a letter from a couple who had sustained a significant financial loss. The vast majority of their assets and cash was gone. They asked Müller for his wisdom on how they should respond to this great burden, which had really set them back on their heels financially.
Müller provided a very unusual diagnosis of their situation. But his “cure” was even more astonishing than his diagnosis. Müller commented that …
a heavy [financial] loss should lead us to pause and ponder, and consider what the Lord's voice to us is in it.
Perhaps the reason is, that we lived too much as owners and possessors, instead of stewards for the Lord, and that, therefore, He was obliged to take part of that, which we possess, from us. If so, let us be benefited by the loss. But suppose this is not the reason; suppose the Lord allowed the loss only to take place for the trial of our faith and patience, yet we should (while meekly bowing, under the hand of God) say to ourselves that the Lord might have taken all, instead of part, and that, therefore, we ought to make good use of our stewardship respecting the means which are still left to us.8
What, then, should this couple do as a result of their loss? How should they respond? George Müller answered that if it were he, he would give a thanks offering to the Lord because the Lord had not taken everything. God was very gracious in that He had only taken a part of their finances when He could have taken everything.
They considered his counsel and then decided to give a thanks offering to the Lord of one hundred pounds--not a small gift at all! Müller then commented on his advice to the couple and the outcome of their decision to give a generous thanks offering:
Well, dear reader, what do you think of this? You think, perhaps, this was very strange. Yes, it was strange, according to the principles of this world; but what will you think when I tell you, that these Christian friends have had that one hundred pounds repaid not merely tenfold, twentyfold, not a hundredfold, but far more than a thousandfold!9
In these days of an economic meltdown--days that try men's souls-- that is a testimony of God's provision that actually lifts your soul. That couple experienced the favor of God nearly 150 years ago, yet that story of God's providence and His promises still brings encouragement to families today. And consider this: What happened through that loss, the sacrificial gift, and the bounty that returned to them as a result were all part of God's plan in the life of this couple.
Did they sustain a major financial loss? Yes.
Do you think they worried about their economic future when they incurred the loss? Of course they did.
Did they follow the advice of a wise Christian man who knew the Lord's faithfulness firsthand? Yes, they did.
In giving a significant thanks offering in the midst of a major loss, did they trust the providence and promises of God? Absolutely.
Did they know what the outcome was going to be? Of course they didn't.
Did they have a clue that you would be reading their story today and finding encouragement for you to trust God in your own financial uncertainty? No, they had no clue you would be reading this 150 years later.
But God did--and it was part of His certain plan.
Are these the times that try men's souls? Absolutely. Is it possible to see the living God still work in a way that will thrill your soul? You know that it is.
I would not be surprised if this husband and wife had, throughout the years of their marriage, prayed and asked God to use them. They were people who obviously loved the Lord and were quick to obey godly counsel. And people like that tend to be people who have a deep-seated desire to be used by God.
That's just what happened. That couple was used by God; their story has given you hope that God will be faithful to you even as He was faithful to them. In the last several minutes, your anxiety level has dramatically decreased, hasn't it?
So the Lord definitely used that man and his wife even today in your own life. Their prayer to be used was answered. But it was part of God's plan that this would all begin with a major financial loss in their lives.
It was a brutally difficult time that tried their souls.
But God was simply setting something up in order to thrill their souls.
If He did it for them as they faced their giant uncertainty, why wouldn't He do it for you?
©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. Battle Ready by Steve Farrar. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.