Staying True in Difficult Times

By John Thiel, mp3

Scripture reading: Mark 4:16 And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; 17 And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended.

We are living and dwelling in a grand and awful time in which wicked spirits gather around us, and we must fight a warfare. May God grant us an understanding to deal with these times in which we live. We want to explore the difficulties in our path as we are choosing to be Advent pilgrims in these last moments of earth’s history.

These pilgrims walk a narrow road, a road that leads higher and higher and which gets narrower and narrower; and to be able to continue to walk that path we need to be well versed in dealing with that experience. In her dream Sr. White saw people traveling that narrow path, and as they were traveling and the path was getting narrower and more difficult, she says:

We then thought of those who had not accustomed themselves to privations and hardships. Where were such now? They were not in the company. At every change some were left behind, and those only remained who had accustomed themselves to endure hardships. The privations of the way only made these more eager to press on to the end. {2T 595.2}

As these pilgrims were in this narrow pathway it became so narrow that the only way they could travel along in it was without their shoes:

Soon it was decided that we could travel more safely without our stockings; these were removed, and we journeyed on with bare feet. {2T 595.1}

Obviously this was a vision of privations along the way towards the final approach of Jesus, as they were getting ready to transfer into the heavenly kingdom.

Indeed we are living at this time on a doomed planet. We are living today at a time when the majority of people are doomed; they have no way of return. And everything we look at is difficulty for those who want to follow Jesus all the way. This is the woe that this planet is in:

Revelation 12:12 Therefore rejoice, [ye] heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.

God knows all this. This is the story for us today. Satan knows this, and in this time he makes war with the remnant of the woman’s seed.

In this time in which we live, we are to receive the guidance from God that He knows we need so badly. For all who decide that they will not drop out, but that they will follow on regardless on the path of pure truth and righteousness in these last days, a way of escape has been made and carefully planned by our Guide, and He Himself addresses us in the followings words of Matthew. He tells us what to expect as He guides us through this time. He knew what was going to happen to us, and as our guide He is here telling us what we have to meet with His help:

Matthew 7:13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide [is] the gate, and broad [is] the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait [is] the gate, and narrow [is] the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.  

How relevant that is for us today. We are living on a planet that is like a sinking ship, slowly doomed, in which the great majority are going to be drowned because they are not paying attention to the sinking ship. They are still happy. The ship is already tilting, but they are still feasting. They are ignorant and unperturbed by the sinking ship, this earth. They are complacent, at ease, ignorant of the great horror that is looming up ahead of them. They are struggling as hard as they can to keep on enjoying themselves on this planet.

There are thousands who are traveling the road of darkness and error, the broad road which leads to death, who flatter themselves that they are in the path to happiness and heaven; but they will never find the one nor reach the other. {3T 438.1}

People are traveling, thinking that they are on the road to heaven. Yet it is the road of darkness and error on a planet that is doomed to destruction. They think that everything is fine, that they are walking on the path to happiness and heaven, but they will never find the one nor reach the other. They will never find the path to heaven nor reach it.

When I stop and look at this reality in the world around us today, I shudder frequently. People think they are walking on the real path that leads to heaven, that they have the assurance to eternal life, and yet they are walking in darkness. And some of them are our friends, our relatives, and we shudder and think to ourselves, Is there any hope for them? How can there be hope when they think they are alright?

But the ship is sinking, so the Captain of the ship calls to discomfort and hard adventure to escape the horror. He says, Get ready, the ship is going down; get out and hop into the life boat. But the discomfort of that is what people don’t want. They want to continue in the seeming security.

What follows is the Captain’s call. Sr. White was here shown the two roads, the narrow path and the broad way:

These roads are distinct, separate, in opposite directions. One leads to eternal life, the other to eternal death. {1T 127.1} 

Those who travel in the narrow way are talking of the joy and happiness they will have at the end of the journey. Their countenances are often sad, yet often beam with holy, sacred joy. They do not dress like the company in the broad road, nor talk like them, nor act like them. A pattern has been given them. A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief opened that road for them, and travelled it Himself. {1T 127.2} 

This is the Captain’s call. He has walked this path – a path of sorrows and grief. He has opened that road to them.

His followers see His footsteps, and are comforted and cheered. He went through safely; so can they, if they follow in His footsteps. {Ibid.}

Jesus has walked this road beforehand, He is our guide. And while the rest of the world is heading to sure doom and destruction, as we live in these surroundings of seeming joy and peace everywhere around us, when we seem to be alright – especially here in Australia, and in countries of this nature where we can’t see that it’s really going to be bad – as we are surrounded by this, Jesus our Guide is saying, Walk the path that I am walking in this seeming smooth road around you.

He says, “Be prepared to have what I am having. I am acquainted with grief and sorrows. This is the path that you will have to walk – grief and sorrows – while the rest of the world is enjoying itself.”

As we come closer and closer to the very end of this path, we are experiencing what Sr. White saw in her vision: That path got narrower and narrower, and at the end there was no more path left, but only people hanging on the cords; and they eventually had to swing across the chasm onto the other side – nothing more to walk on but total dependence on the support from above. We are coming closer and closer to this – difficulties and privations, and the struggles becoming more and more severe.

At the end of the road we have something to enjoy, security and protection, but at the present time we have to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Sr. White here talks about the people who are walking this path that commenced in 1844:

They had a bright light set up behind them at the beginning of the path, which an angel told me was the midnight cry. This light shone all along the path and gave light for their feet so that they might not stumble. If they kept their eyes fixed on Jesus, who was just before them, leading them to the city, they were safe. {EW 14.1}

What would make them safe? Keeping their eyes fixed on Jesus who was just in front of them.

But soon some grew weary, and said the city was a great way off, and they expected to have entered it before. {Ibid.}

How true is that statement today. So many people are saying, “Well, Sr. White and the pioneers said that it would happen in their life time, but it hasn’t. We are now so many generations on from that; it’s still a way off yet.” This is what people are saying. And what happens to these people?

Then Jesus would encourage them by raising His glorious right arm, and from His arm came a light which waved over the Advent band, and they shouted, “Alleluia!” Others rashly denied the light behind them and said that it was not God that had led them out so far. The light behind them went out, leaving their feet in perfect darkness, and they stumbled and lost sight of the mark and of Jesus, and fell off the path down into the dark and wicked world below. {Ibid.}

Jesus would be the one who would encourage us; He would let the light shine upon people who are getting weary. But then people say, No… They start to cast off the precise messages that have carried them through to this point in time, and they start saying, Nah, it’s all wrong, I’ve got to start a new path. So the light goes out for them and they stumble down into the world.

Isn’t that what we often see when people who have once been in the light go out? They go back in the darkness and confusion of today. This is the picture that is painted before us – the difficulties and privations and struggle becoming more and more severe, to the point where people become weary.

Are you weary? Are you battling and having difficulties, and you sometimes feel like it’s just too much? Let the light of Jesus shine across your path, and we will again go forward with great courage.

Then comes a point in this journey in which we are nearly there:

Said the angel: “Look ye!” My attention was then turned to the company I had seen, who were mightily shaken. I was shown those whom I had before seen weeping and praying with agony of spirit. The company of guardian angels around them had been doubled, and they were clothed with an armour from their head to their feet. They moved in exact order, firmly, like a company of soldiers. Their countenances expressed the severe conflict which they had endured, the agonizing struggle they had passed through. {1T 181.3}

As they are getting close to the end of that whole road the agony and perplexity is marked on their faces. Yes, it is hard, hard work, but as their countenances expressed their severe conflict,

Yet their features, marked with severe internal anguish, now shone with the light and glory of heaven. They had obtained the victory, and it called forth from them the deepest gratitude, and holy, sacred joy. {Ibid.}

The numbers of this company had lessened. Some had been shaken out, and left by the way. {1T 182.1}

So there is a tiny little company left at the end, scattered in all parts of the world. And they are not going through easy times. Everything is difficult, and it shows up in their faces; but at the same time, as they get close to the end they can see, Ah, we’re nearly there; we can see it so clearly now!

As we are living at this time, we need to be reminded of these real issues. Why are we small in number? Why are we struggling the way we are? This is all part of what the Bible has foreshadowed is going to happen to us.

Take courage! We are fugitives escaping the doom. With all the prophecies and the truths and the standards of righteousness that have made us what we are, and us deciding to take these and join the company that is walking that narrow path, we are engaging with a people in a hurry to get out before the ship sinks, before the destruction takes place.

Remember Lot? He, his children and his wife were sort of lingering a bit, and the angels had to take them and hurry them out of Sodom and Gomorrah. This is the position we are in today.

Enduring Hardness

The company that is going to respond to the call and look to Jesus, is like an army of soldiers. What are soldiers equipped to handle? What are soldiers going to be like in an army situation?

2 Timothy 2:3 Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. 4 No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of [this] life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.

We are not to be entangled in the affairs of this life, but to endure hardness. This is what soldiers do – they endure hardness.

To join a church that stands on the true, pure doctrines and walks that narrow path to the very end, and to remain in such a church, we have to adjust our thinking. You know, the churches in general have this cushy thought, Ah, we are in God’s church; everything’s going to be wonderful. People go to a church, but then when it gets tough they go to a church where it’s not so tough.

In this company there is no cushy thinking. In this company we must brace ourselves and train like soldiers, and bear up under difficulties.

Many receive the gospel as a way of escape from suffering, rather than as a deliverance from sin. {COL 47.2}

Many join the church looking for avoidance of suffering.

They rejoice for a season, for they think that religion will free them from difficulty and trial. While life moves smoothly with them, they may appear to be consistent Christians. But they faint beneath the fiery test of temptation. They cannot bear reproach for Christ’s sake. When the word of God points out some cherished sin, or requires self-denial or sacrifice, they are offended. It would cost them too much effort to make a radical change in their life. {Ibid.}

As we travel along this road the changes have to continue. Radical changes need to take place. “But it cost too much!”

What was symbolised in the vision, having to give up the horses and carts, to walk, and then finally to take the shoes off, and even taking the stockings off – It’s just too much! This is, symbolically speaking, giving up all the things that are dear to us. So those people who fail to do that faint beneath the fiery tests.

They look at the present inconvenience and trial, and forget the eternal realities. Like the disciples who left Jesus, they are ready to say, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” John 6:60. {Ibid.}

We have seen, as pilgrims along this path, that this has already been happening. Many have left and gone for the easier road. We behold people who have once been faithful in the way they dressed, in the way they had their hair (for the women), in the way they ate; and they come to a point where they leave, and now all of a sudden they become more slack – “It’s much easier, much happier here” – because the difficulties along the way that leads to heaven where too much for them.

Following Hard After Jesus

To follow the Guide out of the doom at the very onset of this doom, is an endurance test that will continue to become more and more intense. Jesus who knew ahead of time what to expect has portrayed it for us:

Matthew 24:12 And because iniquity shall abound,

What will happen?

Matthew 24:12 …the love of many shall wax cold.

And because this is going to happen, who is going to be saved?

Matthew 24:13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.

The soldiers who will endure hardness to the very end will be the ones who will be saved.

In this perilous period, when we see universal contempt placed upon the law of God, when the world is choosing between the holy Sabbath of the fourth commandment and the spurious sabbath, shall we say one word that will detract from the words of the Lord of the Sabbath? The Lord God of heaven knew what a deadening influence the abounding iniquity would have upon the chosen believers, {RH, June 8, 1897 par. 11}

Can you feel it? It is a deadening influence that is surrounding us. It takes away our excitement and enthusiasm; it deadens us. Jesus knew

…what a paralyzing power it would be against piety and true loyalty to God. In giving us the statement of the occurrences which would mark the approach of the second advent of our Lord and Saviour, Christ says, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” We see this fulfilled to the letter. {Ibid.}

Isn’t it true? Sr. White saw it back there, but we can see it more clearly now. Iniquity abounds today even more now than in her time. Now homosexuality is released as open; no problems. You can go and marry someone of the same sex, they tell you, and all that sort of thing. Isn’t this the abounding iniquity, let alone the nakedness that is around us and all the disregard for anyone of God’s true ways? It is all shattered around us and we are influenced by all this promiscuity.

The experience of many is becoming dwarfed and sickly and wonderfully deformed. {Ibid.}

This is what we see.

Everything that surrounds us creates an atmosphere that is saturated with unrighteousness. Even under the most faithful surroundings, it is difficult to hold fast the Christian profession of faith unto the end, to stand decidedly and earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. But it is most difficult to keep true and loyal to God’s holy commandments, when there are few in number to help and encourage one another, and when many of these are sickly and ready to die because they do not honour God by keeping his commandments truly and loyally. {Ibid.}

Can you feel the deadening influence of this? How painful it has been for us to see brethren and sisters whom we used to love to fellowship together with walk away. They have walked away and they are now letting go. And we see others on the verge, doing the same, and we think, This is too much.

…it is most difficult to keep true and loyal to God’s holy commandments, when there are few in number to help and encourage one another, {Ibid.}

Don’t we need to help and encourage each other? But there are just so few! so we look to others and we think, Well, maybe we’re wrong.

This is our problem. But many of these people who are there to encourage one another are sickly and ready to die. Difficulties along the way at the very end – this is the description. And as these difficulties are crowding in upon us heavier than ever before, the Captain’s call comes to us:

Hebrews 3:6 But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.

We must follow in the footsteps of Jesus, as He did, firm unto the end, holding fast the assurance of the hope.

Hebrews 3:13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

We have to keep on encouraging each another. You feel like fainting, like falling of the path, but no; admonish one another, so that we don’t become hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

Hebrews 3:14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end;

If you and I decide that we will not be included among those who fall off the side of the road, we will be included among those that walk the narrow path. We must make sure to be part of that company.

We then thought of those who had not accustomed themselves to privations and hardships. Where were such now? They were not in the company. {2T 595.2}

As we hold firm to the Captain’s call and remain very committed to the suffering that He went through, we will not be among the company that had become weary of enduring hardships because they had not accustomed themselves to endure them.

Stony-Ground Hearers

How can we ensure to avoid dropping out of the company of the faithful?

Mark 4:16 And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness;

But what do they do?

Mark 4:17 And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended.

How can we ensure to avoid dropping out? We must have root deep.

It is by half-heartedness in the Christian life that men become feeble in purpose and changeable in desire. The effort to serve both self and Christ makes one a stony-ground hearer, and he will not endure when the test comes upon him. {COL 50.1}

What must we do to ensure that we will not drop out? The opposite to a person who does not become wholly and absolutely committed to the Lord. It is by half-heartedness in the Christian life that men become feeble in purpose and changeable in desire.

You had a desire to follow Jesus, but then you thought, Oh, I want a little change today, I’m bored with that. And then you sort of wake up and think, Oh, I better come back to that. And then a moment later you are changeable again. This is what will finally bring a person to drop off the path, because the trial will get too heavy and it will be too much. This is how it happens.

The effort to serve both self and Christ makes one a stony-ground hearer, and he will not endure when the test comes upon him. {Ibid.}

He will not endure. This is what Jesus expressed in His parable.

It is one thing to assent in a general way to the agency of the Holy Spirit, and another thing to accept His work as a reprover calling to repentance. {COL 48.2} 

In a general way we say, Yes, we love to follow the Lord; but when it comes down to the fine-tuned work of the Holy Spirit, to accept His work as a reprover calling to repentance,

Many feel a sense of estrangement from God, a realization of their bondage to self and sin; they make efforts for reform; but they do not crucify self. {Ibid.}

This is what has happened. Many times people make efforts to reform, but in their efforts to reform what is missing? They do not crucify self.

They do not give themselves entirely into the hands of Christ, seeking for divine power to do His will. They are not willing to be molded after the divine similitude. In a general way they acknowledge their imperfections, but they do not give up their particular sins. With each wrong act the old selfish nature is gaining strength. {Ibid.}

The only hope for these souls is to realize in themselves the truth of Christ’s words to Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again.” “Except a man be born from above, he can not see the kingdom of God.” John 3:7, 3, margin. {COL 48.3}

It is this partial opening of the heart to the powerful messages but not permitting them to dig deep and cleanse us from all things that are not perfectly in harmony with God’s will that is the problem. Self is still clinging a little bit. This half-hearted thing is what will prevent people from surviving through these terrible times.

Wholehearted for God

What is needed then? Wholehearted godliness. If I am wholehearted for God, I will see every difficulty in the way according to the revelation to Jesus.

All the difficulties, the backsets, the hardships, and the disappointments which God’s servants will meet in active labor will only strengthen them in the formation of correct characters. {3T 494.1}

What will all these difficulties do if we are wholehearted for the Lord? They will strengthen the formation of a correct character.

By putting their own energies of mind to use, the obstacles they meet will prove to them positive blessings. {Ibid.}

If I am all for God, then all those terrible things I meet will be a blessing to me.

They will gain mental and spiritual muscle to be used upon important occasions with the very best results. They will learn self-reliance and will gain confidence in their own experience that God is really leading and guiding them. And as they meet peril and have real anguish of spirit they are obliged to meditate and are made to feel the necessity of prayer in their effort to move understandingly and work to advantage in the cause of God; they find that conflict and perplexity call for the exercise of faith and trust in God, and for that firmness which develops power. Necessities are constantly arising for new ways and means to meet emergencies. Faculties are called into use that would lie dormant were it not for these pressing necessities in the work of God. This gives a varied experience so that there will be no use for men of one idea and those who are only half developed. {Ibid.}

So if we are wholehearted for God, all those difficulties won’t cause us to fall off the path but will strengthen us to persevere to the end. That is when we are wholehearted for God. The harder it gets, the more my character is strengthened.

Those who have borne the greatest sorrows are frequently the ones who carry the greatest comfort to others, bringing sunshine wherever they go. Such ones have been chastened and sweetened by their afflictions; {2SM 274.2}

We will be chastened and sweetened by our afflictions.

…they did not lose confidence in God when trouble assailed them, but clung closer to His protecting love. Such ones are a living proof of the tender care of God, who makes the darkness as well as the light, and chastens us for our good. Christ is the light of the world; in Him is no darkness. Precious light! Let us live in that light! Bid adieu to sadness and repining. Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice. {Ibid.}

Rejoice with the tribulations; rejoice with the problems, because they are strengthening you to survive right through to the end. And this is what I will do because my heart is entirely for God and nothing else.

Fellow pilgrims, few in number that we are, we are right now on the last leg of the journey, the last remnant of the way out of this crushing world. The way is more difficult as we get to the end, but our Guide is the one to keep us going. Study Him – Gethsemane and the cross – the end of His way of example.

As you come to your Gethsemane and your cross, let Him comfort and cheer you. May God embed it into our experience so that we will not anymore be among that company that falls off the track.

I love these following words of Hebrews because they sustain me through the most difficult circumstances:

Hebrews 12:2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. 4 Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

Jesus did. May God bless us to hold these things dear, so that as we meet these difficulties along the way we will stand firm to the very end and come through victorious, while the rest of the world as a sinking ship goes to destruction.

Amen.

Posted on April 5, 2017, in Divine Service Sermons, Sermons by John Thiel and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. James E. LeVos

    A lot of good principles in this sermon. What are examples of some practical applications?

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