Redefining Success: God Uses Adversity to Advance You
These notes from Paul Tothill are based a version of his message preached at Gateway Church on 22/3/20. Listen to the message on Apple Podcasts or any other podcast player (available the Wednesday after the sermon).
There is really no doubt we are now living in unparalleled and unprecedented times. Never before, and certainly not since the Second World War, has the world been restricted in the way we are today. Even then cities were not locked down and people confined to their homes or non-essential meetings limited to a particular number. We are facing a different kind of warfare.
Our normal way of life has changed. That change may be more significant than we realise. We are going to have to adapt, be flexible and be full of faith as a Spirit people because of the opportunities for pioneering and increase that are now at hand.
For years we have been saying and the prophets have been prophesying for the church to “get ready”, to come into a place of spiritual maturity and cause our faith to rest upon and in Christ alone. We have asked the question is Christ enough?
We have invited transformation from living by the pattern of the world, based primarily on our feelings and our external circumstances, to the pattern of God’s Kingdom and God’s word as truth and life: From living from the world around you to you living from the word within you: To be those who carry God’s word in our heart so those words become life as we manifest the new life of Christ to the world around us. To use Old Testament language to go from being the tail to being the head as Moses told God’s covenant people they we called to be. Now this transformation and the opportunities of increase is almost being thrust upon us by what is now happening in the world.
We also prophesied of a “shaking” the kind of which we have not seen before. “Once more I will shake the heavens and the earth”. Of course we knew there was an urgency to what God was establishing in us but we did not know what event or events would be the catalyst to the shaking we felt was coming. Nonetheless, because of the leading of the Holy Spirit, we have been encouraged to build our lives surrendered to the new life of Christ and put our faith in God not in the fallen systems of the world that will eventually pass away.
We are in the greatest moment for the Gospel to be lived and revealed to a world. It is a perfect storm. The world is right now suffering from a more potent virus than COVD-19. That is the spirit of fear. It has been an exercise in social conditioning to see how people respond to a threat and what they are willing to give up for the sake of perceived safety. People’s panic-driven behaviour of fear and scarcity reveals the underlying reality people live their lives by.
We were born again for this moment. These current events do not take God by surprise. And contrary to some testimonies we do not believe as elders that God is the cause of the COVID-19. Nonetheless God will use what humanity uses for harm and to frustrate God’s purposes and turn it around for His good. The Bible reveals that reality over and again.
God has been positioning you all to be overcomers in this hour, secure and built up in Him, our most sure foundation and protector. We build our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit on the rock of the teaching of Jesus and His truth, His word. We have taught you to be wise builders:
Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock.
As we have been speaking about our commission and true greatness over the past weeks, let me today build upon those messages to explain to you from Scripture how God uses adversity for His increase.
I will take you just to two examples from Scripture as a representative sample, if you will, of everywhere in Scripture that produces a similar teaching and pattern Psalm 23 and the book of Acts.
WE WERE BORN AGAIN FOR THIS TIME
Let’s face it we were born into a spiritual war, a spiritual battle that has been raging for the generations. Those spiritual wars have involved nations, kings and empires in the natural. The unseen spiritual war manifests in the realities of the seen world and governments. This is how the apostles understood things and it is important to see this is how the Bible explains things.
God will ensure His purposes are established on earth. This is why we must build upon God’s truth and not our feelings and fear in uncertain and changing times. There is a parallel to the Scriptures that we are now experiencing.
Interestingly, the Lord has been speaking to me for a number years about the spiritual reality of parts of the church building a new Tower of Babel as a counterfeit Eden. The Bible refers to the harlot Babylon as a spirit person but also as a system.
The Tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis is in fact a ziggaurat. Scholars say it was built as a counterfeit Eden as a temple to other gods. It was less an aspiration of gathered humanity under Nimrod to go up and be like gods as many tend to believe, but rather, an attempt by humanity to call down false gods and create a counterfeit temple in the same way God rested in the Garden of Eden as His first temple.
In Genesis 10 God developed a table of nations that we know He appointed elohim over to govern. See Psalm 82 for example. But the heart behind the nations’ construction of the ziggaurat that God saw is important to understand .
Come let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its tops in the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves. Otherwise we will be scattered across the face of the entire earth.
Two things happened. In the absence of relationship with God man wanted to construct a temple to make his name great. They gathered together. God saw their unity was powerful. But they did it apart from Him. They were building towards their own greatness. Secondly, in their pride to make their name great, they stayed. They gathered together to the point of denying their mandate into the world. In the end God called Abram out of the nations into His purposes. He re-started His Eden-Kingdom commission through Abram after he scattered them across the world.
Now restrictions compel us into our mission in a new way as well. God uses these restrictions and pressures to advance His purposes and the great commission He has given us.
GOD USES ORDINARY PEOPLE WHO KNOW THEIR GOD
The Bible is replete with stories of ordinary people placing their faith in an extraordinary God and then doing amazing exploits for His name. Hebrews 11 lists those people to remind us. The key word in each testimony is by faith.
Can I tell you right now there is an anointing of God for faith. Not just faith, but great faith, overcoming faith, if we are willing to yield to the Holy Spirit, moving beyond how we feel, beyond what is happening, and pick up the word of God in our life as a sure foundation and the sword of the Spirit in our hand as a weapon to destroy all the works of darkness.
As a redeemer and rescuer for the Hebrews, Samson took what was in his hand under the anointing of God and used the jawbone of a donkey to win a battle. You like Samson have been anointed by God and given a gift of faith to use what God has already put in your hand. You may not think it is ideal. You may not even recognise it. But God does. God says it is more than enough under the power of faith and His anointing on you to step into overcoming increase.
David anointed as a future king of Israel took the victories over the Lion and the bear in his private battles in the sheep paddocks and transferred those victories into lessons of faith in God to overcome Goliath. David took what seemed inadequate in a fearful situation and by faith in God he only needed to land one accurate blow to unlock the destiny of a nation and rebuild their faith in God.
By faith and under the anointing of God he took what was in his hand and used it with strategic accuracy. It wasn’t significant but it was more than enough. He knew the God that was with Him in the private place of isolation protecting his father’s sheep and with him when he fought the lion and the bear would we with him against Goliath. The battles you have been winning by yielding to Christ when no one has been watching is the same confidence you now have as an overcomer into the world around you, just like David.
Look at Hebrews 11 and recount the testimonies, the stories of the men and women of faith. They all faced a key moment in their life normally in adversity that required overcoming faith to step into the increase God had destined them to carry.
Having faith in God and what He spoke to them they never overcome in their own ability but in His grace and the power of believing His present word.
WHAT THE LORD TAUGHT ME
Many years ago through a very tough season for us, we lost Tracey’s mum to cancer. Just two weeks before Tracey had lost her Dad to cancer. It had been a long journey for all kinds of other reasons as well. All the while the Lord was telling me your “adversity is your advantage. My increase is in your adversary.” Of course it was not making too much sense. I was working through many issues that were confronting me by God’s grace. But in those darkest times, including the dark night of the soul, God led me and spoke to me in ways that did not make sense at the time. But when I came out of the “valley” I saw what He was actually presenting to me for my increase. He was teaching me to be an overcomer, not just a believer. Oddly enough, overcomers get an increase that only comes through overcoming.
In the emotion of all that was happening that seemed a long way away. It had been a prolonged season of skirmishes and battles both emotionally and spiritually. We were dealing with all kinds of things, so it wasn’t really the revelation I was exactly looking for but it was the revelation I needed.
Then in the afternoon before the Celebration Service for Marie that we were preparing for, our ground floor lounge and dining area were overtaken with bees. The bees had somehow also intruded into the wall cavity of our upstairs double brick wall. This had never happened in all the years we had been living in our home.
So between us Tracey and I “went to war”. Tracey sprayed the bees with fly spry and I rebuked the bees in the wall “in the name of Jesus”. We called someone out for the next morning anyway just in case. That’s where we were. But the bees left as mysteriously as they came. We had never had bees before and we have not had bees since. So it got to me. I started thinking- what is this really about.
Then the Lord spoke to me- There is honey in the carcass. Of course this related to the story of Samson and the lion that he overcame on the way to meet his future wife told in Judges 14. On the second journey he was heading on the path. What he overcame on the previous journey became his provision for his future journey and his family. Honey is a prophetic metaphor for revelation of the word of God. God was clearly speaking to me through this prophetic encounter and the bees. What you overcome on the path in one season becomes the revelation increase for the next as increase in authority and provision.
God uses adversity in your favour. It gets you out of your comfortable thinking and social distancing from Him and into connection with Him and His thinking and increase. It gets you out of building your purposes and establishing His purposes. This then led me to re-examining Psalm 23 and seeing the text in a new light.
In the same way that we all have to redefine greatness in the Kingdom we also need to redefine what success means in the Kingdom. Let me suggest redefining success means that success is not what you have in your hands but how you use what you have to overcome the present situation God has brought you into for your increase that you cannot get and will never get except in the battle. Success is not what drops in your lap but your ability to overcome what keeps you from your future.
There are times that God brings us into battles that He has set up for us to win and bring us into increase. An increase you can never acquire apart from the battle. And that battle is found in the valley, not on the mountain top.
Psalm 23 is a well-worn text at funerals. But for me it is a life verse. God has variously spoken to me out of the Psalms giving me core texts to build my life upon. This is one of them.
The Lord is my shepherd I lack nothing. He takes me to lush pastures, he leads me to refreshing water. He restores my strength. He leads me down the right paths for the sake of his reputation.
Now let’s pause here. We love the mountain top experiences of refreshing. We need them. But they take us somewhere else as well. We are never in lack of what is needed in Christ as our true Shepherd. He provides for me and refreshes me restoring my strength. Plainly He energises me. He leads me down right paths for the sake of His reputation. Notice that. He leads me down right paths for the sake of His reputation. Our name is linked to His name. Our reputation is found in His reputation. We are His representatives on earth. What does that mean?
It means that He can show He is faithful and that He is not limited in anyway by anything in this world only His covenant promises towards us. Our limitation is never on God’s part. It always a question of faith on our part. When we are weak God loves to show Himself loving and strong! He does not want us to just believe, or even barely believe. He wants us to be overcomers just like Jesus overcame the world.
But now in the next verse of Psalm 23 the scene shifts and most believers don’t understand the shift of scenery. I will tell you why. We don’t understand how God uses adversity for our advantage. We have the wrong idea of success. We think comfort is being successful. Not in God’s economy as we have tried to illustrate.
IN CHRIST WE ARE MADE AS LIGHT INTO DARKNESS
You were made for the darkness in the world, not just the mountain top. You see there is a seasonal and daily cycle here we need to understand. Why would I need refreshing?
Not from living on the mountain top, but being a co-labourer with Christ in the valley.
The bible tells us about mountain tops and valleys. The expression is everywhere in the Bible. They are both literal and prophetic metaphors. They work together and flow into each other. For example, in Exodus 17:12 when Moses was winning the battle on the mountain top in prayer Joshua was winning the battle in the valley.
The valley has a particular emphasis we need to understand. It is the place of the world, the place where worldly kings gather, where dry bones and lost destinies are restored, a place of conflict and battles, a place of decision- the place we are called to manifest our lives that are built up in the faith knowing we lack nothing, that God is leading us, we are refreshed, energised and consumed by Him even as He has consumed us.
Now let me continue on with Psalm 23:
Even when I must walk through the darkest valley I fear no danger, for you are with me; your rod and your staff reassure me. You prepare a feast before me in plain sight of my enemies. You refresh my head with oil; my cup is completely full.
What the Psalmist says is available in the Valley is different than what is available on the mountain top of refreshing. There is a provision I cannot get anywhere else. There is an anointing I can’t get anywhere else and only in the valley of darkness of the world affairs and its turmoil and darkness.
Brian Simmons translates these verse this way:
Lord when your path takes me through the valley of deepest darkness, fear will never conquer me, for you already have! You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way.
Your authority is my strength and my peace. The comfort of your love takes away my fear. I will never be lonely for you are near. You become my delicious feast even when my enemies dare to fight. You anoint me with the fragrance of your Holy Spirit, you give me all I can drink of you until my heart overflows. So why would I fear the future? For your goodness and love pursue me all the days of my life. Then afterward when my life is through, Ill return to your glorious presence to be forever with you!
The NET translates the last verses this way:
Surely your goodness and faithfulness will pursue me all my days and I will live in the Lord’s house for the rest of my life.
Friends there is an increase in adversity that you cannot get anywhere else in your life. And God in His righteousness leads you for the glory of His name into the valley- and it is there that He hides you in Himself, provides for you, anoints you and increases you so that when you come out of that valley you have overcome the enemy and what has come before you into a new level of authority, a fresh anointing and a provision of revelation and provision of promises you could never have attained by just pursuing the easy comfortable times. Fear tries to lock you out of what faith brings you into.
Too many believe that when they are led through the Valley that it is punishment. The Lord taught me it is promotion. Remember it is a path that glories His name! What you overcome on the way is your increase and provision- it is honey in the carcass to borrow another story and weave these things together for you to see.
Let’s turn now to the Book of Acts Chapter 8.
Now on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were forced to scatter throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.
Now those who had been forced to scatter went around proclaiming the good news of the world. Philip went down to the main city of Samaria and began proclaiming the Christ to them. The crowds were paying attention with one mind to what Philip said, as they heard and saw the miraculous signs he was performing. For unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks were coming out of many who were possessed and many paralysed and lame people were healed. So there was great joy in that city.
I want you to see this. There was a time when Jesus told the disciples, now His apostles, that they needed to wait to receive power from on high to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the farthest parts of the earth.
Leading up to that time, He had trained them and taught them how to carry God’s faith, God’s authority and power. He had taught them the Scriptures and he revealed the Kingdom to them. He had discipled them. Jesus then left suddenly after nearly three years.
They felt they were not ready. Friends we never feel ready. That is not the litmus test. Every present assignment God presents to you He is telling you He is ready and therefore you are ready by anointing and calling. Therefore in God’s economy they were ready because He would send the Holy Spirit to be as Jesus in their hearts and to transform them into a Christ life reality and led them into greatness and success in bringing forward God’s Kingdom.
The church was birthed in the power of the Holy Spirit. Both within every believer and upon every believer. The 120 who pressed in for the promise with faith expectation were filled.
Then we see radical salvations. Three thousand were added. The church came together, it was baptising people, they were devoted to the teaching of the apostles and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. These are all the things we have encouraged you in over many, many years.
The apostles were doing amazing signs and wonders and people were looking after each other. They provided for each other and were a genuine Jesus centred community. God added to their number. They grew and they grew. So about the time of the persecution whilst they were growing in number as a Spirit people they were also being discipled.
As they grew disputes arose as well.
Jesus told the apostles to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations teaching them what Jesus taught them and getting them to live fully immersed in the reality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Again discipleship was normal in that day. It was the model of how to grow people from being small in themselves into being big people in Christ, in short, bringing them to Kingdom greatness by learning to become the servant of all and success by being overcomers in the world. Jesus told the apostles to do that because that is the model He provided to them.
So this mega church at Jerusalem had grown some scholars suggest to anywhere to fifteen thousand people over many years. Then a moment came that took them from a community of people to a movement of people. That catalyst was persecution.
God did not cause the persecution but He most certainly used the persecution to establish His purposes, the commission of the church and increase. And it was in the time of persecution that God used the people who had sat under the teaching of the apostles and who had devoted themselves to the breaking of the bread, prayer and the fellowship. Those who had taken the opportunity to be discipled and equipped but possibly had become a little comfortable in the community rather than fulfilling their mandate into the world. The church was to be a gathering and going people. Not a gathering and staying people like the leaders developed by building the Tower of Babel.
PERSECUTION RELEASES THE ORDINARY BELIEVER TO DO EXTRAORDINARY THINGS
It was the ordinary believer that was now the source of the Gospel being spread and with signs and wonders, as in the case of Philip revealed in the Book of Acts ,following. God’s plan is for increase through His community and He will ensure that His purposes are fulfilled. What Satan uses for evil God uses for His good. God always has increase and success in mind to establish His purposes and His covenant promises and blessings. Success looks like overcoming this world.
So did the faith increase because of persecution? Yes. God used adversity as the impetus of opportunity. He used it as the impetus to fulfil His purposes and send out the people to open new borders and territories as the apostles stayed in Jerusalem. The people discipled and equipped by the apostles carried God’s increase.
PERSECUTION AND GROWTH
We see this everywhere in the world. Where the church comes under persecution and adversity and is driven underground in most cases it grows. The people become passionate followers of Jesus. The persecution means their faith costs them something. The greater the darkness so often the greater God moves with signs and wonders of the message we proclaim.
I have too many stories to tell you of a man in Iran, of people in China and friends in Russia. Muslims who have encountered Jesus in dreams and have radicalised underground churches in the middle east. Those in Russia are faith filled people who have historically had a life of drugs, some HIV and others prostitutes. They have suffered persecution from the orthodox church and the government. Those who have lost everything in the world have found everything in Christ. They have shifted their life from victims of the world to greatness and success in Christ. They realise that being saved into Christ also means being saved into a family, a people who together are charged with the responsibility of mission and a purpose to take others out of darkness and hopelessness and into the reality of the love life and truth of Jesus.
THE GREAT OPPORTUNITY THAT IS BEFORE US
You may not feel it just yet, but like David with Goliath, like Samson with the jawbone of a donkey, like every other faith hero we read about, you were made for this hour. You are better equipped than you realise to do the work of the ministry and reveal the gospel: To encourage people around you. Not with a lecture, but with a smile that carries the anointing of God and the peace of God. A quiet humble confidence that knows we will overcome and this is our opportunity in the midst of the darkness to be pioneers and build something new. There is opportunity everywhere in all kinds of situations if you will see things with an open mind and the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
It is now time to put your trust in God and ask yourself how you can be God’s solution to each other and the world in this hour. God is positioning you for greatness. He is positioning you for success. Let His words become your life. Meditate night and day on His word and let it become who you are. Let Christ consume you in everything.
Adjust your time, get your priorities in a God-first order, because He is about to set a table before you, provide for you, anoint you and increase you as He leads you into overcoming faith to reveal Him to the world around you.
We are going to need to be flexible and ready to adjust to changing circumstances quickly. It is no longer business as usual.
We are no longer in the class room, we are being seconded to the battle field. Some of you are called to prayer, some to worship, some to open up your home. Some of you are called to lead a small group that you have been putting off. Some of you are called to start discipling people with what has been invested in you.
But all of you are called through your anointing and the power of God’s truth to overcoming faith, and to be the light in the darkness, to set the captives and the prisoners free and to move in signs wonders and miracles. God moves in the valley of darkness towards an increase that you can’t get any other time and any other place.
We are in that time and we are in that place. We need to redefine success as the ability to overcome in every and all circumstances that Jesus receives the glory that is due to His name. We are on the move as a praise-led worshipping army of the Lord carrying our spiritual weapons to displace darkness where ever we go. And the Lord of Hosts is with us.
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