Looking back on 2015, one persistent feeling that plagued me all year. Frustration. I found myself repeatedly hit with problems that culminated into a surge of disheartening discontent. From the news of ISIS terrorizing the Middle East to home-front problems of families in financial struggle, catastrophes crashed on me like one wave after another. I’ve resorted to take it like the underdog in a fight. I’ve tried to roll with the punches. After a few tragedies, however, its hard to refocus and keep going. At times, with a heavy-heart, I’ve looked heavenward and sighed with emotional exhaustion asking, “When will this end?” I know the quick catch phrases to tout. But they seem like an inadequate bandage to deep-felt wounds. I’ve been looking for something more to engage my heart with a sense of hope.
I started my usual morning ritual of preparing for the first Sunday of this year. With these thoughts of fatigue weighing on my heart, I grabbed a mug of coffee on the way to church and arrived early to a partially empty parking lot. The cold weather confirmed an unspoken feeling of depression. I pushed through the thought, as most of us do, and shook the hands of many loving friends and greeted them with a “Happy New Year!”
As the morning service began I mumbled a prayer in hopes of getting a word from Jesus. I needed a clear voice of direction. I felt Holy Spirit reply to me saying, “he shall wear out the saints…” I knew the passage He prompted in my thoughts. It was from Daniel 7:25-26. I quickly read over the text. The passage reads,
“And he (the Antichrist) will speak words against the Most High, and he will wear out the saints of the Most High… Then the saints shall be given into his hand… But the court shall be seated, and they (the saints) shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it forever.”
Although this passage speaks of the last days and the spirit of Antichrist, it offered me a profound hope in its description of those who will be oppressed. They are called saints. Saints in this text are defined as, “faithful and devout ones” or “holy ones, those set apart to God.” The passage doesn’t indicate that these saints acquired sainthood as a result of their persecution. No, it attributes this description to those in the midst of the struggle.
As a follower of Jesus, our identity in Christ isn’t attained in hardship. It is given to us prior to the battles that we will endure. What every follower of Jesus should be glad to discover in the middle of difficulty is the character of God fused that has been fused with their own. Even if hardship is a consequence of poor decisions, it doesn’t negate the identity that Holy Spirit has deposited into us as “new creatures in Christ Jesus.” (2 Cor. 5:17). God placed Himself in us and suffering awakens us to the opportunity we have to demonstrate His power in us. This truth is reflected in the letter of James. It reads,
“Consider it all joy, my brothers, whenever you encounter various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”- James 1:2
Notice that testing doesn’t produce faith. Testing of faith produces endurance. The word for endurance literally means “a courageous active resistance to a hostile attack.” It’s important to note that James’ letter is the first epistle circulated to the early church. James takes up his pen to write to Hebrew Christians who were facing many devastations against their faith. In this era disciples were violently tortured by a Roman government. In addition to this they faced personal rejection from their own families and communities. Christians were also assaulted with the heresies of Greek gnosticism which threatened to undermine the fundamentals of the apostles’ teachings.
In the middle of these three pandemic hardships, James optimistically writes saying, “count it all joy.” What did he know that we need to discover? What was the hope that anchored James’ faith? I believe his hope was anchored in the transforming power of Holy Spirit. With urgency he pushed believers to rest in this simple truth. Suffering, if we will allow it, will make manifest the perfect character of Jesus in us
Even when we cause negative consequences in our lives, we can pull on the indwelling Holy Spirit who resides within us. God is counting on us to yield to His nature within us. He’s betting all of eternity on this. He is counting on the presence of His Spirit in us to be the winning play against the work of evil in the world. He is so confident that all of Heaven is seated, according to Daniel 7:26, with confidence that we will overcome and utterly destroy wickedness.
In the Old Testament account of Job’s life, we see God making this same eternally consequential wager. It’s not a game, it’s a transformation in us that all of Heaven looks to see manifest. Angels curiously consider the miracle of salvation. (1 Peter 1:12) When the Divine nature is infused with the human nature, it provokes all of hell and humanity against it. The battle proves God’s perfect work of salvation to be a definitive end to evil in the hearts of those who love Him.
The Apostle Peter, in the reference above, encourages the church to soberly consider the hope we posses. Our understanding or revelation of who Jesus is directly points to who we are in Him. Jesus is, as Paul later tells us, the first of many. (Romans 8:29) The identity that He possessed in conquering the grave, as the Son of God, is extended to us through the new birth that we enter by faith. Just as Jesus is, so we are in this world. (1 John 4:17).
Are you facing a heart-breaking disappointment, a complicated crisis? As a follower of Jesus you are a saint. Because of who Christ has made you to be, your default setting is to be an overcomer. (Romans 8:37). When the heat of life is turned up, you can fully pull on the nature of Holy Spirit that is already in you. He has already placed in you the ability to steadfastly resist evil and the ability to endure. You are not only going to make it, but you will gracefully endure because you are a saint. You can be confident that God has placed Himself in you. His presence in you is enough to sustain you. Our only response in the midst of the battle is to fully rely on Him, yield to His guidance and you will come out victorious. When the heat of difficulty increases, remember out of you is being forged the image Jesus. Let it happen.
 Myers, A. C. (1987). In The Eerdmans Bible dictionary (p. 902). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.