Stay Strong in the Lord
Don't live a backwards life, live a courageous life.
I think the older I get the more intense I get about this, because I feel like we do things backwards in the Christian church. A lot of times we do these radical, amazing things for Jesus when we're eighteen to twenty-five, and then we start to mellow out. We get more and more comfortable and there are fewer and fewer things we do by faith. I look at that and I think that's so backwards, because I'm turning forty-seven this year and I think, You know, I'm getting closer. I'm getting closer to that moment when I'm going to see him, I'm going to stand in his presence and there's nothing left. If you know you're getting closer and closer to the end, wouldn't you get more urgent and think, You know what, I don't even care anymore.
That's the way I've been trying to live my life because let me take the number sixty, for example. I started looking at my life and thinking as if I only have thirteen years left. Then I started looking at my schedule and with thirteen years left on this earth before I stand before God, is this a good use of my time? Is this a good use of my time? I'll even pray about this morning, God, I don't want to waste this time. If I've got thirteen years I don't know if I'll come back here. This could be the last time. I know this will be the last time I see some of your faces. So what is the most loving thing I could say to you in this brief time, because I don't want to waste a minute.
My wife described it perfectly. We were speaking together at a marriage retreat, and she came up with this analogy. "Being married to Francis, you ever watch that TV show The Amazing Race? It's this competition where you pair up with someone. Sometimes it's brother and sister or husband and wife and you're racing all throughout the world. That's what it's been like. That's the way I view my marriage. That Francis and I are on this race together. Every once in a while we'll come to a checkpoint and maybe we won. Maybe we came in first for that leg of the race, but we don't have time to just sit there and celebrate and enjoy it, because the race goes on. Then we go to the next station, and we don't have time to fight because we see what happens when couples fight, when brothers and sisters fight. It takes them out of the whole race. They're arguing the whole time." So she says, "That's the way I look at our life. It's like, gosh, even the good times, yes, we celebrate but briefly because there's a race to be run. One day there will be plenty of time to celebrate. When we cross that finish line we're going to celebrate like crazy. But right now we're in this race. There's not a lot of time to rest. There's not a lot of time to celebrate. And there's absolutely no time to fight." I thought Wow! That is such a great picture of the way I want to live my life.
I get it. I get why we live life backwards. When you're eighteen what have you got to lose. Right? You don't have a lot of money. You don't have anyone that depends on you. You're on your own and you think, Man, I'm going to do something radical for the Lord. You're only dealing with your own life. Then you get married and now you have a wife to take care of. You get a job and then after a while you got some kids, and soon you realize you've got a lot to lose now. I've been in this mindset, where I say, "God, I don't want to live my life that way. I don't want to get more comfortable every year." I am trying to take a bigger and bigger step of faith every year because I'm thinking I'm getting closer and closer to the finish. If I've got thirteen years and if that's what the Lord has for me, then I want to go a hundred percent because I want to end well.
God is actively looking for courageous people
Happily ever after, to me, is if one day I can stand before God with my wife and kids. I believe I will see them and know them and I want to be able to see them in the presence of God and look at each of my kids and tell them, "I told you it would be worth it. Didn't I tell you? When we were there on earth and we were living through life I told you it would be worth it, that whatever you had to sacrifice that this God he always comes through. And he promised me that it's going to get even better, a hundred times better than what we had on earth. I told you it would be worth it. This is why we sacrificed." That's what I live for. Too often the world paints a different picture that makes it sound like you want your best life now and figure out how you can be sixty years old and retired, driving around in a trailer visiting your grandkids and taking them to Disneyland. Like that is the ultimate goal. I'm going, no, no, no, no. That's not what I read in this Book. There is something that no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived; and we live for that, and we eagerly await our Savior. So for now, yeah, I'm a little intense. I'm going to be intense until I cross that finish line, because I'm going to win this race. I'm going to finish it. I'm going to finish it strong. I don't want to be like those who petered out at the end.
I want to be like Joshua and Caleb. Isn't that one of the most motivational speeches, for those of you who are further along in life? When Caleb says,
Hey, I was forty years old. I remember going to the Promised Land. And I was one of the two people who said, "We can do this thing. Those other ten spies, they're all whining and got everyone scared. Not me. I knew we could do it. Now it's forty-five years later. I'm an eighty-five year old man. And you know what? I'm ready to go up that hill and take this land. My God is still with me. I'm as strong as I was when I was forty, and I'm eighty-five now. So let's go.
That's who I want to be. That is the model we have in Scripture.
There's a verse I want to share with you, a verse you're very familiar with. We had it painted on the wall in our living room in one of our homes. It was 2 Chronicles 16:9 where it says, "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him." I love that verse. The eyes of the Lord are roaming throughout the earth. Do you believe this? Do you take Scripture literally like I do? Do you know what, right now God on his throne is literally looking around the earth and he's observing what's going on here? That right now God knows what's in my heart, what's in my mind, my thoughts, whether or not I'm here to just lift myself up or to lift him up and tell you what a holy God he is. He knows what's going on in here. He's roaming throughout the earth and looking. He knows what's going on in your mind right now as you're listening to the Word of God, whether or not you believe he's watching right now. He already knows this. But it says his eyes roam to and fro throughout the earth, and he's actively looking to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. Isn't that wonderful that God's actually looking for someone to support?
Sometimes when we pray we say, "God, please, please, come on, support me; give me some strength" as if he doesn't want to do that. God's saying, "No, no, I'm the One that's pursuing. Are you really seeking my kingdom? When you pray 'Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,' do you really want my will, or are you building your own kingdom and you're just wanting me to fit into your plan?" God looks and he sees that, and he asks who really wants his kingdom? Who really wants Jesus to be lifted and not themselves? God's looking, and asking, "Who is it? Who is it in that room? Who in there is for real? Whose heart is blameless? Because I'm looking for someone to strongly support." When I read that I think, Hey, God, I want to be that guy. I hope you read that and decide, "No, I want to be that person. I want to be that person in this room where God stops and says, 'Okay, right there. I'm going to strongly support her. I'm going to strongly support him. I'm going to strongly support that guy back there, because I can see their hearts. They want me lifted up. They still believe in my Word. They're like the Calebs. They're like the Joshuas where they believe. Watch what I do through them." That's what God's actively doing.
An example of courageous living
But what I love about this verse more than just the verse itself is the context. This is a verse we'll put on walls, we'll put on plaques and everything else. I have found that so few people know the story about this verse. These words were spoken to a king named Asa. If you turn back one chapter, 2 Chronicles fifteen, you'll see that King Asa was an amazing king. If you know anything about the history of Judah and of Israel you know when there was a good king good things happened. But that was rare. Usually there were bad kings, and the bad kings took them into horrible, horrible places. Very early in King Asa's reign a prophet comes to him and says, "Listen. You know there have been times in Israel's history when they didn't worship the true God and they turned away from him." But he warned him and he says in verse seven, "But you take courage. You take courage. Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded." I love what it says next. "As soon as Asa heard these words, he took courage." I was even thinking about that phrase "take courage." You know he said, "Take courage." It's something you've got to grab. I think most of us, like me, I'm not naturally courageous. I'm not naturally fearless, and I need someone to tell me to take the bull by the horns. Come on. Take that courage into you. He says don't be like these other kings that just did what everyone wanted them to do or what they felt like doing. You be one of those who stands up and takes courage. He says, no, we're going to follow God. I trust this God. When he heard these words, it says he took courage.
If you read in chapter fifteen it's amazing what this king does. He starts implementing the sacrifices again. He says, okay, here's what we're going to do. We're going to rebuild the altar. We have not been worshiping God. We have not been offering sacrifices. Then he looks around him and he sees idols everywhere. He starts chopping down all of the idols. He gathers all the people together and decides they are going to make a covenant. We're going to love the Lord. Look at what it says in verse twelve. "They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart, with all their soul, but that whoever would not seek the Lord the God of Israel should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman." He looks at this group of people, and says, "Listen, I'm the new king. Get rid of all those idols right now. Someone start building the altar because we're going to start sacrificing to the Lord again, and right now we're going to make a covenant to the Lord. Okay? We're the people of God. We are going to seek him with all our heart, all our mind. And if you're not with me, I'm going to kill you." That takes a little bit of courage, doesn't it?
I love stories like this because, don't you dream of being a man of God like that or a woman of God like that? The kind that says I don't care the way that it's always been done. I just heard from the Lord, and I'm going to take courage and I'm going to do things the way he wants me to do them. My favorite part of all of that is in verse sixteen it says, "Even Maakah, his mother, King Asa removed from being queen mother because she had made a detestable image for Asherah. Asa cut down her image, crushed it, and burned it at the brook." So he looks at his mom and he goes "What is that? You seriously made an image? You thought you could get away because you're my mom? Someone cut that things down; grind it to pieces; burn it. And, Mom, you're not longer the queen."
Do you see this devotion when he decides I don't care what anyone else thinks; I'm preaching for one person? I'm leading this nation for one person. I'm going to do things his way. And if you don't want to go, then leave, or I will kill you, because this is the way we do things now. I don't care that you're my mother. There's a much higher authority in my life right now, and I'm taking courage and I'm going after it. I love this story. So it says, "For thirty-five years, there was no more war." For thirty-five years God blesses this king.
Relying on self rather than God
But then in chapter sixteen, in the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Asa, the king of Israel comes over and starts fighting with them. So Asa thinks What do I do? I've got this army. They're coming towards me. What he does is he grabs another king. He goes to the king of Syria and he says, "Hey, let's make a covenant. Okay? This army is coming to me." He reminds the king of Syria, "My dad had a covenant with your dad. Let's make a covenant together. Leave that army. Join mine, and let's defeat them together."
Now when we hear that story most of us think that's a good idea. He's being a good steward of his resources. God's given him some resources after thirty-five years of being a king. He's built up a good reputation, and now that an army's coming, why not recruit another, fellow army, fellow king and go after these guys? But that's the context in which we get that verse that we put on our wall. Look at verse seven of 2 Chronicles sixteen:
At that time, Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him: "Because you relied on the king of Syria and did not on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, he gave them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars."
That's the context of that verse. It's a man who changed his ways because he got a little success. It's not like in the early days when he would just cry out to God. This prophet was reminding him, "Don't you remember when you were a kid? Don't you remember when you first started? Remember when that giant Ethiopian army came? What did you do? You cried out to God. And guess what? You won. Remember the Libyans when they showed up? Remember all the chariots? And what did you do? You cried out to God, and you won. Because why? Because God's looking for people like that, who still believe in him years later. But now what do you do? Oh, you've been a king for thirty-five years. You've got these other king buddies now. Now you've got resources. Now you've got money. Now you're sending them your gold so that they'll join you?" He says, "You've done such a stupid thing, such a foolish thing. God was so good to you and now you're going to take over on your own." And he tells him, "Because of that you're going to be at war from now on."
The sad part about it is after he hears these words you would think he would say to himself, Oh my gosh, you're right. What happened to me. What happened to me. Where's the old me that used to trust in God? I had that childlike faith. I would do these radical things. But you would hope, you would think, oh, he probably just broke down, repented. But no, that's not what he does. Instead, he gets angry at the prophet and says, "Who are you to tell me this?" And he locks him up in prison. He starts torturing people. Then it says, in the thirty-ninth year, in verse twelve, that "God gave him a disease in his feet." I read that and I think, Okay, that's good. That's good. Maybe God's getting his attention now. Thirty-ninth year of his reign suddenly he has this crippling disease in his feet. So I'm thinking, Come on. Come on, King Asa, now's the time you cry out to the Lord. But if you read on, it says he refused to pray to God. Instead, he grabbed the best physicians. See that? I mean is that just the stupidest thing? Give me the greatest physicians in the land because I can do this. Bring the best surgeons and fix my feet. And then he died. And I think that's how he ends his life?
I guess this story appeals to me because I've seen it happen in my life. I've seen these tendencies. I used to rely on the Lord because I had nothing, but then suddenly he starts giving me resources, giving me abilities. He did it all, but at some point I kind of try to take over. It's like, "Man, I've written a few bestsellers now. I know how to get an income. I know how to do this. I have friends. I have resources. I have church growth experts. I have this. I have that. Come on, you guys, help me out. I can't lose." And God's saying, "You take that attitude, I guarantee you, you will lose. Get back to the old Francis. Remember that kid that just had no hope? Remember that kid that was just ready to kill himself, ready to just end it all, and you cried out to me and you just sought me? And what did I do? I started doing this. And look where you are today." I don't want to stop now and decide I'm comfortable. Now I've got a good income. Now I'm going to do this. Let me just shore up stuff for myself and relax, because God's saying, "No, no, no. Let me show you what happens to people who do those things. Because I want you to be like Caleb. You keep fighting. You go after it. Come on. Where is that old faith you used to have? Bring it back."
Becoming Calebs not Asas
I speak to so many young adults, and they are dying, longing for an elderly mentor whose life makes sense to them in light of the gospel. To say to them, "Wait, why are you this old and still buying stuff for yourself? Aren't you thinking now is the time to start getting rid of things and preparing to come before your Savior? There are people who are starving. There are these needs out here." I want to build into the next generation. I want to release and empower them and bless them. You see that in Scripture where the elderly lay their hands on that younger generation, not trying to take the power away from them and squash their leadership abilities, but to pour into them and say, "Man, I remember. Don't lose this faith. Look. I'm doing crazy things right now. I'm still doing insane things. I just emptied my whole account because God will take care of me like he did when I was eighteen." They're longing for people like that. That's why my wife and I are trying to live the way that we do because these young people they're just assuming, well, once you get married then faith goes out the door. I'm trying to say, "No." I'm going to show my kids something different. They're going to see a mom and dad that do insane things, take some risks in life, and you're going to see how God comes through. If God takes my life in the middle of it, then you've got a great legacy. You've got a great memory of a dad who says, you know what, I was willing to give it all for the gospel. Now follow my example, because happily ever after comes later. I want to see you there. I want you to have the same intensity that you see in dad.
I have an eighteen-year-old. I have a two-year-old. I got everything in between right now. I'm thinking, You know what, I don't want my two-year-old to see a weakened version of dad. I want to see my two-year-old thinking, You guys missed out because dad got insane. He just became so obsessed with the end that he was giving everything to Jesus. He was giving it all. That's what I want to leave behind for my kids, not an example of, hey, look what I did. I got safer and safer every year. I don't want to leave that example for them. I want to show them I'm darting for that finish line, and follow my example. I want my grandkids thinking, Look at Grandpa. That's the example. Look at Grandpa Caleb. He's eighty-five and he's ready to fight a war. That is a God thing. Don't you want to be that?
I've never seen a church where the elderly literally led the younger people in faith. I've seen a lot of churches where the elderly get annoyed by the young people. I've seen a lot of that. It's usually more like, "Oh, they're ruining our chairs!" I'm thinking, Man, what if this is it. What if God's saying, "Francis, I took you to that church. You only had a short period of time, but I wanted an example somewhere, and I want you to give that message to some of these people who might be at the end, and maybe they need to take a step of faith and because you love them, you wanted them to look at you in eternity one day and say, 'Thank you for that message. I was getting comfortable. I was living for myself. I wasn't doing anything out of faith. You showed us from the Word of God that we need to finish this race strong. For you to look at me fifty years from now, a hundred years from now, and say thank you. That's what I needed, because I changed right then. You know they talk about how the elderly can't change, but we did. You should have seen what happened there. We started taking the young people along going, no, trust in him. Trust in him all the way till the end.'" That's my prayer.
A couple of weeks ago I was speaking at a conference. You know that movie Son of God? The actor who played Jesus was in the crowd. After the message he came up to me and hugged me and said, "Man, great job." I know he's an actor and I know it's dumb, but when he was hugging me and saying, "Well done" I'm thinking, Oh yeah. Yeah! I caught myself afterwards. I thought Why am I so excited? I don't even know if he's a Christian. It was just one of those moments. But you know, I don't know what it's going to be like in the end. But that is what I live for. That is what I'm obsessed with.
Obviously Jesus is not going to be a human coming up to me hugging me. He is a holy, holy, holy God, on his throne, with a hundred million angels worshiping him. If I could hear the words "Well done" out of his mouth … wow. If my wife could hear that, if my kids could hear that one day, I think, Man, that's all I want, God. What do I want from this? I want that for you. I want you to imagine at that moment when you're standing before Yahweh, God. Is there anything you're going to care about other than whether or not he says, "Well done." You set an example. Yeah, you got comfortable there for a while. But when you heard the Word of God you were just like King Asa. You said, no, no, no, no. I'm going to take courage. I'm going to turn things around now. I'm going to be an example. Watch what I do with the rest of my life. Then to have God look at you when you come before his throne and say, "Well done. Well done. You're like those other people in that Book. You were thinking so differently, because you knew I had something better for you. So come in. Enter. Enjoy the riches of the kingdom that I prepared for you before the foundation of the earth, and let's live happily ever after."
Francis Chan is former pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California, and author of Crazy Love and Forgotten God.