“…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” –Acts 1:8, ESV
When I hear the word “witness,” my mind conjures up a picture of someone sitting in court, giving testimony to whatever he saw, heard, or experienced that the court proceeding finds relevant. In truth, my mind isn’t too far off of the actual definition of being a witness, which means to serve by testimony. I just need to break it out of the narrowed venue. Being a witness for Christ is something that all believers are called to do everywhere, at all times, and with everyone.
If we take a look at the actual Greek of Jesus’ words, I think we get an even better picture of what this calling really entails. The Greek word translated to “witness” is martys. It is the same word from which we get the word “martyr.” Bible translators translate martys into both witness and martyr. It amazes me that the same word is used to produce two words which are vastly different in our American minds. Giving your testimony is merely stating words of truth when called into account. Being a martyr means standing by that testimony to the point of death.
When Jesus calls us to be His witnesses, He is wanting more than for us to stand up in a court of law and tell the truth about Him. He wants us to go everywhere and tell everyone the truth about Him, even if it results in suffering or death. This understanding is much more in line with what Jesus taught about being His disciple. In Luke 14:26 Jesus says that anyone who doesn’t despise his own life cannot be His disciple. Later in verse 33, He says, “Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”
If you are not willing to meet the conditions of being a disciple, then you cannot call yourself one. And if you aren’t a disciple of Christ, then can you call yourself a Christian? Can you consider yourself saved? I think it is something for us all to consider.
In the July 2nd entry of My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote, “There is a difference between devotion to a Person and devotion to principles or to a cause. Our Lord never proclaimed a cause; He proclaimed personal devotion to Himself. To be a disciple is to be a devoted love-slave of the Lord Jesus. Many of us who call ourselves Christians are not devoted to Jesus Christ.”
A disciple of Christ is devoted to Jesus Christ, not to the cause of Christianity or Christian principles. We are not to be devoted to a concept, but to the Person of Jesus. When we find ourselves more devoted to the Church or to a ministry or to a role or to a value, we have made an idol (replaced Christ and His proper position in our lives) with things that should be evidence of our devotion to Christ. It’s like being in love with the idea of love rather than the actual person. You can be devoted to the idea of Christ and Christ-likeness without being devoted to the actual person.
Jesus said that we should count the cost before undertaking something of enormous magnitude (Luke 14:28-32). There is nothing of greater magnitude or importance than being a disciple of Christ, and the cost to undertake it is everything.
Are you willing to surrender everything out of devotion to Jesus? Are you willing to be His witness to the point of suffering or death? Are you willing to surrender control and follow? Being a disciple isn’t just about getting into Heaven. It is about answering a call to a lifestyle of learning, obeying, and being transformed.
I live in Arizona in what is affectionately called the Valley of the Sun. In the middle of August, it actually does seem like the sun itself has come to sit right down inside our little valley. Sometimes it can be too hot to even go swimming because the sun has warmed up the water in the pool to an uncomfortable degree. When it hits 118˚, you run from your car to inside your house as fast as possible for fear of the soles of your shoes melting to the pavement. Well, maybe it’s not that bad, but I do still make a mad dash for the air conditioned house because the heat is so oppressive, so exhausting, so debilitating.
No one likes to be sitting in the middle of the Valley of the Sun in August…
…but sometimes, that is exactly where God meets you. In the dead center of the oppressive heat.
Heat is an interesting thing. It warms us when we are cold. It cooks our food. It sterilizes our water. Those are all good things. But, heat can also make you hot – unbearably hot. It can burn your food and dry up your water.
The right amount of heat seems like a blessing. Too much heat seems like a curse. Perhaps that is true when we are talking about the physical body. But, don’t be so quick to judge when God turns up the heat on your spirit. There are times when God allows us to get unbearably hot emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. There are times when God allows our metaphorical food and water to be dried up. He wants us sitting in the middle of the Valley of the Sun in August.
Because sometimes things need to be burned down to ash before a new thing can spring up. Forestry people know that small forest fires are necessary to maintain the health of the overall forest. The trees that have been growing for a long time develop a canopy of branches and leaves that block the sun from reaching the forest floor. With little sun light, not many plants can survive there, leaving hardly any new growth. There are even some plants with seeds that will only germinate after a hot fire and will then use nutrients from the fire to begin to grow.
If you find yourself in the midst of unbearable spiritual heat, look around and find those things that have been growing for so long that they are preventing any new growth. Allow God to clear out the old things to create something new, perhaps even something that needs this heat to take root and to grow.
Jesus began His ministry by reading a passage of Scripture from Isaiah 61 and declaring it fulfilled by His presence and the work that He had come to do. One of the things that He proclaimed is that He had come to give His people beauty for their ashes. But first there needs to be ashes from which the beauty can come. What is it in your life that needs to face the oppressive heat of August?
“Those who marry will face many troubles in this life…” – 1 Corinthians 7:28, NIV
Nobody ever reads those words in a wedding ceremony yet they are the reality of married life. We will face many troubles in life and in marriage. Things will go wrong. Times will get hard. The heat of passion will, at times, become a heat of oppression. Heat is inevitable because your spouse is married to a sinner. And you must have some empathy for that because you are married to one too.
Bring two sinners together for a lifetime and things are bound to heat up. And when things heat up, tempers usually flare. In those times, it is essential that you take a look at what is fueling your temper. Did you set up expectations somewhere along the way that have yet to be fulfilled and have now turned into something your spouse owes you? Do you sense some sort of injustice taking place in your relationship? Have you experienced some sort of loss, whether it is real or perceived (e.g. respect, power, identity, security, affection, trust)? Maybe you haven’t lost it yet, but it is being threatened or endangered.
Anger is always fueled by an unpaid emotional debt, injustice, some sort of loss, or fear of a loss. Always. One or more of those things. Without fail. Meaning, take another look at that list instead of blowing off this part of what I’m saying to you.
You cannot solve anger in anger because the problem lies behind it. You have to solve the problem at the problem. When the heat rises and becomes unbearable, look for what lies behind your contribution to this potentially combustible situation.
If Paul thought that those who marry will face many troubles in this life, then he had no clue how compounded that statement would be for those who have children. Take a situation that already has two sinners in it and add more to it. It’s like adding fresh kindling to already glowing embers. Little fires pop up all the time. There isn’t a day that goes by without my two little boys getting into some sort of a roe with each other. And there are plenty of days where parenting my children creates some heat under my collar.
What I have come to realize is that it never does any good for me to lose my cool with my kids. My agitation makes my kids more agitated. They bicker even more and are in worse moods when I project negative emotions. Not only does my anger distract them away from the real issue, but it’s like I am adding lighter fluid to their already heated exchange. Everyone remains in a bad mood and the negative energy just seems to simmer before boiling over again.
So, how do we parents remain cool in the midst of the oppressive family heat? Step 1 is to take deep breaths. They are calming. They add oxygen to our brains which will help us remain clear-headed.
Step 2 is to talk to yourself. I recommend doing this part quietly in your head, but it’s up to you. What should you say to yourself? Whatever you find calming, centering, or encouraging. I like to say things like, “Smother the fire,” “Give them a good example,” “Be the adult,” or “Lord Jesus, please calm me down before I go and take this child that I brought into the world out of it.”
Step 3 is to assess yourself and the situation and do the best thing possible at that moment. If you are calm enough to address the issue, then go ahead and do it. If your children are too worked up to hear you, separate them until they calm down. If you are too worked up to do anything other than contribute to the heat, separate your children as a temporary reprieve while you go and calm down. If this is a recurring issue that you have already talked about with your children, then separate your children until you have had time to decide upon a course of action (aka think of something better than what you have already tried with them).
Step 4 is to plan a time, preferably in the very near future, when everyone involved in this negative exchange can enjoy each other. You have to replace the debit that this negativity had upon the family’s overall atmosphere. Maybe you make cookies together after dinner or go rent a movie that everyone can watch or head to the park for a bit of outdoor fun.
That’s it. Breathe. Talk to yourself. Do the best thing you can in the moment. Plan some fun.
I think I can get an “Amen” when I say that nobody likes going through the Refiner’s fire. It is uncomfortable. It is oppressive. It downright sucks. But we are always better for it. We appreciate its effect. We revel in the closeness that we feel with God that only comes on the other side of the fire.
I may be literally sitting in the Valley of the Sun in August as I type this letter to you, but we all find ourselves there emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and relationally at one time or another. Perhaps you find yourself there now. Find comfort in the knowledge that God has not forsaken you. God is not punishing you. God is using this time to refine you, to purify you, to make you holy because He is holy.
Zechariah 13:9 says, “I will put [them] into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’”
When silver is refined, the Refiner places the silver into the center of the fire where it is the hottest in order to burn away all impurities. He has to sit in front of the fire with His eyes on the silver the entire time because if the silver is left in the fire for even a moment too long, it would be destroyed. He watches the silver because He knows that it has been refined only when He can see His image reflected in it.
In ancient times, in order to test for the purity of gold, it had to be heated. If it retains its color when heated, then it is pure. If it pales, roughens and hardens, or softens and blackens, then it contains impurities.
We will face many troubles in this life, whether married or not, whether parents or not. And it is in these heated troubles, that God refines us like silver and tests us like gold. He burns away the impurities and looks for His reflection. He heats us up and looks for our reaction to see how pure we have become.
May the heat that you next face be a revolutionary heat that purifies you and draws you closer to Jesus.