When the Heat Comes, We Shall Not Fear

F.F. Chong—London, UK

Lengthy exposure to the sun causes heatstroke and sunburn. Worse, it damages the skin and may even lead to skin cancer. Yet many still choose to suffer the intense heat of the sun. Some do it out of vanity, e.g., regular tanning to look good, while others do it for survival, toiling laboriously under the sun to eke out a meager existence.

In the natural world, the heat during a drought is particularly destructive. Every green plant withers without water (cf. Gen 41:6, 23). Every life form is at the mercy of the scourging sun. Little can survive Nature’s fiery ordeal.

Today, the prevalence of famines due to prolonged summers and unpredictable heat waves in many parts of the world fulfills Jesus’ prophecy of the time of troubles ahead of His Second Advent (Mt 24:7; Mk 13:8; Lk 21:11). Apart from physical phenomena, these woes can also refer to problems within the community of God. The intensity of the problems will increase as the church becomes more susceptible to the powerful perversity and secularity of the world.

Nevertheless, the prophets of the Old Testament consistently reassure the children of God. We need not fear the coming heat because our God will provide the requisite shelter.  The God whom we worship is the Lord of Life; and so He has the power to lead us through the most difficult patches in life, and the unpredictability of the ever-changing world.  However, there are conditions we must fulfill in order to receive and remain in this blessed position. Fulfilling the conditions not only preserves our relationship with God, but more importantly, strengthens it.

REMAIN IN GOD’S SALVATION

There are many prophecies concerning God’s salvation for His chosen people. One of these is the acceptable time (Isa 49:8). Spiritually speaking, when this time comes, people who believe in God are set free from every chain. They will be given food wherever they are; even on desolate heights (Isa 49:9), i.e., places where nothing could ever grow. At these heights, they are completely exposed to the heat of the sun. But by God’s grace, the heat does not pose the slightest threat to them (Isa 49:10b). They enjoy the same protection as that provided by the pillar of cloud to the Exodus Generation (Ex 13:22).

Heat figuratively means trials, tests and temptation. As long as they remain under His protective wing, God’s elect will always be sheltered from the "heat" of every difficult circumstance. What Isaiah says is even more astounding: neither heat nor the sun shall strike them (Isa 49:10b). God will lead them by the springs of water (Isa 49:10c). When the elect function fully under the guardianship of the Lord, the abundant grace of God is sufficient for them to deal with any situation in life, be it in peace or adversity.

This prophecy was fulfilled when God established His church at the downpour of the Spirit. God’s grace was spread far and wide in the early church. Although Satan hotly pursued the church and tried to destroy her through the fiery opposition from the ruling authorities, the work of saving was not stifled. The Lord protected the church in the midst of fiery trials. Thus, in that time of persecution, Peter urged the church to focus on the salvation that would come (cf. 1 Pet 1:5–8). The grace of God would continue to abound in the church.

However, the frequency of trials will increase, particularly before the second coming of Christ (cf. 2 Tim 3:1). Not only will the church experience what the apostolic church went through, she will face even greater challenges. To find cover from the intense heat of trials, believers have to remain in the church of God. The prophet Joel warned of the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord (Joel 2:31), testifying to the reality of the coming perils. But in Zion (the church) there shall be deliverance, i.e., salvation for the elect (Joel 2:32b; Isa 46:13).

WASH OUR ROBES WHITE

The greatest peril that the church and her believers would encounter is the great tribulation (Rev 7:14).  After the opening of the sixth seal, the four angels standing by the four corners of the world are temporarily prevented from harming the earth, the sea and the trees (Rev 7:1–3). Their work of destruction is put on hold to make way for the work of sealing for God’s servants. The seal enables the latter to be victorious, and these elect then gather to acknowledge the salvation work of God (Rev 7:9–10). They are arrayed in white robes before the throne. The robe represents characters and behavior. They have washed their robes. This indicates that they have sanctified themselves by the washing of the blood of the Lamb (Rev 7:13–14, 12:11a). With their nature refined, they are able to gain access to the Lord. They serve the Lord day and night in His temple (Rev 7:15). Their entire existence revolves around God and their work for Him. In return, they experience the total presence of God in their midst. God consciously chooses to abide with them.

God accepts and honors us when we attain the required standard of cleanness and godliness. We would no longer again experience spiritual hunger and thirst (Rev 7:16a). In God’s presence, our soul is ever-satisfied and we will never have a sense of emptiness within us. Although there will be times when things are unbearable and daunting, God will always be there to quench our thirst by the power of the Spirit.

The absence of God from a person’s life is a huge and chronic problem. Although the person may try to repress it, the sense of dissatisfaction arising from alienation from God lingers. The difficulties in his or her life exacerbate this dissatisfaction. And when God’s protection is absent, a person is always exposed to the full and almost unbearable heat of a trial. 

Trials and tribulations are inevitable. In fact, this is the way for us to gain entry into the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Unlike non-believers, we have God. If we allow God to shepherd us, the outcome will be amazing – He will lead us to Himself, the living fountains of waters (Rev 7:17). God's leadership reflects not only His presence but also the intimate relationship we have with Him. In this relationship, there are no more tears. Sin results in death, but in our sin-free relationship, there is no more death.  We enjoy life eternal (Isa 25:8).

TRUST IN HIM

For God to lead us requires us to trust in Him. What does trusting God actually entail? Demonstration of this trust goes beyond our daily practice of reading the Bible and praying to God. In the time of Isaiah, there were some whose prayers and sacrifices were completely rejected by God (Isa 1:12–15). In fact, their offerings and religious practices were an abomination in God’s eyes. The more they performed these rituals the angrier God became towards them.

The prophet Jeremiah once said that the man who trusts in the Lord shall be blessed … And he will not fear when the heat comes (Jer 17:7–8).  A person is like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river. This is the life of a person who trusts in God—he stands strong in the scourging heat.

How can a person avoid being adversely affected by fiery trials and persecutions? The Psalmist (Ps 1) provides the steps to take to attain to the level of spirituality required to withstand the full force of any test that comes our way.

First, there must be a desire to separate ourselves from the wicked. God’s children must never share in wickedness, sin and scornfulness (Ps 1:1). This is to ensure we remain untainted by corruption. We cannot call Christ the Lord while in assembly with other children of God and, after the assembly has been dismissed, we behave no differently from those who do not know God. This is unacceptable. A life of double standards will surely incur the wrath of God; we cannot possibly then expect the Lord’s help in time of need.

Second, we are working towards being with God when we begin to develop a love for God’s word (Ps 1:2). We can attain such a love if we are determined to change ourselves from bad to good, allowing the Spirit to work on our sinful nature and corrupt character. This purging process is essential. Once it is accomplished, nothing will hinder us from drawing closer to God. When the old nature has been put to death, God abides with us always, and our love for God’s word grows stronger correspondingly.

Constant meditation on His word will help us further develop our love for His word. Once we taste the goodness of the word, we would want more. But this willingness does not come by easily. The psalmist wrote that he, "meditates the word day and night" (Ps 1:2b). The word ‘meditate’ means speaking to oneself the word of God. There is always a need for us to speak to ourselves the word of God. This is both a conscious choice and a way of teaching ourselves. At whatever level of spirituality we may be, it is absolutely essential for us to self-teach the word in this manner, aside from the teachings we learn from others and the church. Self-teaching is to be done with a sense of reminding ourselves to keep the word.

Such a procedure of self-teaching is a good practice. If we maintain noble hearts before God, the word will work within us (cf. Lk 8:15). When we are able to touch God in life, like the roots of a tree reaching out to the waters, the scorching heat in the summer will not harm us. God will be there to nourish and quench our thirst. There is a clear channel for us to continually draw on this divine resource to keep our spiritual lives healthy.  Our hearts are miraculously kept in the peace of God (cf. Phil. 4:6–7). The power of God will rest upon us.

We will never be short of fruits (Ps 1:3); we will be able to extend God’s grace to others even when we ourselves are still facing trials and tribulations. One notable example is Paul’s imprisonment. His incarceration turned out for the furtherance of the gospel—he preached the gospel to the palace guards. God’s power overflowed from Paul and became a force of motivation to the brethren in Philippi. The whole church was strengthened in faith and their zeal remained undiminished (Phil 1:13–14).

IN PREPARATION FOR CHRIST’S SECOND COMING

When trusting God is founded on the premise of pursuing godliness, the Spirit will empower the inner man with the inclination to do what is right. Such a person becomes very sensitive to sin, draws ever closer to God and is fully molded by God’s word. His life will not regress to the perversion of the world. The world may become more corrupt than ever before but his life is one that is increasingly filled with the righteousness of God. His life is a stark contrast to the secular around him.

Such a life should be every true believer’s pursuit before the Second Advent of Christ. Peter stressed the importance of having the correct attitude towards the impending melting away of the universe in intense heat. We must examine our hidden character. We must shine the light of God on the deepest and darkest recesses of our hearts, and honestly consider our manner of life (2 Pet 3:11). Doing this will help us keep the righteousness of God as our main focus in everything we do.

Such individual preparation will naturally turn into collective preparation for Christ’s coming once there is awareness and regular concerted prayer becomes the congregational norm. In this way, the apostolic church example will be realized in our churches instead of remaining a far-fetched theological ideal consigned to the pages of the Bible. The God-desired faith and love of the early church shall be found in us, the end-time true church—the perfect church of God where righteousness dwells (cf. 2 Pet 3:13).

CONCLUSION

Encountering the heat of the day is inevitable in this life. Peter tells us that it is no strange thing for a believer to meet with fiery trials (1 Pet 4:12). The Bible provides a way to survive it. First we must remain in God’s salvation at all costs. This implies that we must keep ourselves in the church of God since the church is where salvation is placed (Isa 46:13). Second, we are to wash our robes white, to put ourselves in a position for God to abide with us. This washing provides us with the capacity to keep God’s commandments.

Apart from personal diligence, trusting in God is foundational to helping us withstand the heat of life’s calamities. Trusting entails being freed from all unrighteousness. The power of God to draw us closer to Him when we frequently reflect on His word provides a pathway for us to reach God. With His power, nothing can stop us from walking righteously and uprightly regardless of situation. We will then be able to attain to righteousness, the ultimate goal. Life, its temporal pleasures or inevitable adversity, will not derail us from our walk toward our heavenly home.  From individual to congregation, we are prepared for the second coming of Christ.

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