[From ws17/8 p. 8 – October 2-8]
“The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts.”—Phil 4:7
(Occurrences: Jehovah=39; Jesus=2)
Every so often, a Watchtower study article comes along that beautifully applies to those of us who have awakened to the love of the Christ and been set free by the truth he conveys to us.
This week’s study is such an article. There is little to find fault with here, as long as one understands that the writer—whether he intended this or not—is speaking to the Children of God. It reminds us of what the high priest did when he unwittingly prophesied truthfully about the Son of Man. (John 11:49-52)
First of all, this study demonstrates the true source of the instruction we receive while also showing that there was no first century governing body directing the preaching work—a fact that removes much of the basis for believing there must also be a modern-day counterpart. From paragraph 3 of the study, we have this:
Perhaps Paul is also thinking about the events of the past few months. He was on the other side of the Aegean Sea, in Asia Minor. While Paul was there, the holy spirit repeatedly stopped him from preaching in certain areas. It was as if the holy spirit were pushing him to go somewhere else. (Acts 16:6, 7) But where? The answer came in a vision while he was in Troas. Paul was told: “Step over into Macedonia.” With such a clear indication of Jehovah’s will, Paul immediately accepted the invitation. – par. 3
First of all, it was a “clear indication” of Christ’s will, since Jehovah has handed all authority over to Christ to direct, among other things, the preaching of the Good News. (Mt 28:18, 19) Acts 16:7 indicates that it was “the spirit of Jesus” which did not permit them to preach in those areas. So it was Jesus, not some group of men in far off Jerusalem, who directed the preaching work. This gives us confidence in our day that the spirit leads us to do the will of the Lord, and that we do not need men to tell us how, what and where to preach. In fact, obeying men rather than the Christ puts us in opposition to the Lord.
The Leading of the Spirit of Jesus
Have you ever felt as paragraph 4 describes?
Perhaps there have been times in your life when you felt that you, like Paul, were following the leadings of God’s holy spirit, but then things did not turn out the way you expected. You came face-to-face with challenges, or you found yourself in new circumstances that required massive changes in your life. (Eccl. 9:11) As you look back, maybe you are left wondering why [Jesus] allowed certain things to happen. If so, what can help you to continue to endure with full confidence in [the Lord]? To find the answer, let us return to the account of Paul and Silas. – par. 4 (“Jehovah” replaced for the sake of accuracy.)
Things don’t always work out the way we want—“want” being the operative word. We have to remember that Jesus, like his Father and ours, wants what is best for us in the long term, which is often not what we want at any given moment in time. He accomplishes what is best for us by using the Holy Spirit, but we have to bear in mind that the Spirit is not a fire hose. It operates in Christians more like a gentle mountain stream. It trickles down from above, but can be blocked by a hard heart and a willful disposition. We must be careful that our personal “wants” don’t get in the way of the leading of the spirit.
The experience of Paul and Silas described in Acts 16:19-40 shows that sometimes we must suffer to accomplish the will of the Lord for us, but the end is always worth the means. These facts are rarely evident to us at the time, however.
It “Surpasses All Understanding”
The information under this subtitle is worthy of our consideration. For example, many of us are where we are after apparently wasting many years, even a lifetime, in what would seem to be vain pursuits, all in the service of an organization run by men.
To cite my own case—hardly unique—I’ve spent my whole life following the direction of the leadership of the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, believing that Jehovah was at the top directing all things. I look back at years spent pioneering in foreign fields. I look back on decades of laboring as an appointed servant of the Organization. In my lifetime I’ve spent approximately 20,000 hours attending (and often conducting) meetings at the Kingdom hall, or at assemblies and conventions. This doesn’t include the time spent in meeting preparation and organizational tasks like maintaining the congregation accounts and making up meeting schedules. I don’t even want to think about all the long hours spent in elders meetings. I’ve also spent thousands of hours working for the branch offices in two countries, and worked on various construction projects. Oh, and let’s not forget the time spent in the field ministry preaching the truth according to the Organization.
Was it all a waste? Was it the will of the Lord that I should spend my youth and vitality supporting an organization run by men teaching a false good news?
As I’ve said, my case is hardly unique nor extraordinary. However, as a case study, it might prove beneficial.
A wise farmer doesn’t plant seed until it is the right season for it. Then he waits for favorable weather, but not before he first prepares the soil—tilling, plowing, and fertilizing. He may even allow a field to lie fallow until it is ready to produce.
Father knows us better than we know ourselves. He does the choosing, but when does he choose us?
Jacob was chosen before he was born, as was Jeremiah. (Ge 25:23; Jer 1:4, 5) When was Saul of Tarsus chosen? We can only guess.
Jesus planted wheat, but wheat when first planted is just a seed. It takes time to grow into a full stalk, time to produce its fruitage. (Mt 13:37) Nevertheless, that is just an illustration. It doesn’t paint the complete picture. Humans have free will, so even though chosen by God, we must develop over time and depending on how we develop, Jesus will reward us or reject us. (Luke 19:11-27)
Speaking for myself, if I had awakened to the real truth of God’s word years ago, I very likely would have chosen selfish pursuits. This doesn’t mean I would have been lost for all time, because there is going to be a resurrection of the unrighteous, but what an opportunity I would have missed out on. Again, speaking for myself, this awakening I’ve been granted doesn’t ensure anything either. ‘He that endures to the end is the one who will be saved.’ (Mt 10:22)
Nevertheless, the fact that God has chosen us is a source of great encouragement, though not a reason to boast.
“Brothers, consider the time of your calling: Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were powerful; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28He chose the lowly and despised things of the world, and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast in His presence.
30It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God: our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1Co 1:26-31)
So let us not wallow in regret, thinking, “If only I had known then what I know now…” The fact is, Jehovah’s wisdom surpasses understanding. He knows what is best for us. In my case, I had to spend all that time in seemingly fruitless pursuits to get where I am now, and I glorify God for it. I only hope now that I can stay the course, but I realize it was not a waste. Indeed, since my hope is to live forever, what do a few decades amount to? How tiny a slice of the eternity pie does 70 years constitute?
Paul, perhaps more than any one of us, had much to regret, but he told the Philippians that he considered all that he had lost as just so much garbage to be discarded. (Phil 3:8) One does not lament the loss of garbage. Then he went on to tell them the following:
“Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.” (Php 4:6, 7)
We cannot imagine what God has in store for us. It “surpasses all understanding”. We can only perceive a glimmer of the glory that awaits, but it is enough to give us peace in all our sufferings. (Ro 8:30)
And suffer we do!
“Do Not Be Anxious Over Anything”
I recall being accused by a long-time friend and fellow elder of following a prideful course. Other elders have accused me in writing of being self-willed, which they likewise viewed as evidence of pride. My experience is mirrored by many of yours based on the e-mails I’ve received personally and the comments I’ve read on the site.
It is hard to endure such condemnation, especially when it comes from loved ones. But we know they speak in ignorance, parroting dogma they’ve been force-fed for years. They fail to see that a proud man, having achieved a status of esteem and authority within the community of Jehovah’s Witnesses, is hardly going to throw that away for a principle. He’ll hold on to it tenaciously. I’ve seen it happen time and again. He will compromise his principles—assuming he had then to begin with—to maintain the prominence and prestige he so dearly covets.
What we have done in swimming against the tide of JW opinion doesn’t spring from pride, but from love. We endure the reproach of the Christ who was rejected by all his people and even abandoned for a time by his closest friends. (He 11:26; Lu 9:23-26) We do this because we love the Father and we love the Son and yes, we even love those who reproach us and lying say every sort of wicked thing against us. We are not cowardly, nor do we love the lie. (Re 21:8; 22:15) Instead, we dwell in the joy of the Christ. (James 1:2-4)
Many ex-JWs go into depression. They seek out support groups to deal with their pain. We are accused by friends and family of being apostates. Apostates don’t need support groups. Nevertheless, self-doubt can cause us to second guess our course of action. Again, Paul’s words at Philippians 4:6, 7 resonate. We have free access to the throne of God, so let us use it and through ‘prayer and supplication and yes, thankgiving, make known to God all our worries.’ Then we will receive the peace of God that comes via the spirit and surpasses all thought.
As the final subtitle of the study brings out, that peace of God will guard our hearts (our deepest emotions) and our mental powers (our sound reasoning ability) “by means of Christ Jesus”.
Jehovah’s Witnesses marginalize Christ Jesus, so they have left their hearts and minds open to propaganda from men, to be seduced by winsome words that appeal to the desperate spirit—words like: Don’t Give Up! You’re almost there. We’re in the final seconds of this old system. Listen [to the Governing Body], obey and be blessed.
The pull of those words can be very hard to resist and millions have invested their faith in men because of them. Yes, it is hard to be the single strand of wheat, standing out in the middle of the field as different. Yet if we look at the examples set forth under the subtitle “Examples of Jehovah Doing the Unexpected”, we will notice a common thread: It was always upon individuals that the spirit of God acted.
It is my firm conviction that whatever time we may feel we have wasted was permitted by the Lord as part of the refining process. Just as he permitted Saul of Tarsus to go on a course of persecuting the holy ones to “an excessive degree”, so that when the time came, he would become a chosen vessel to the nations, likewise he has done for us. (1 Co 15:9; Acts 9:15)
Instead of looking back on our past as time wasted, let us realize that if it gets us to glory, to serving with our Lord Jesus in the kingdom of the heavens for the salvation of all Mankind, then it was really a manifestation of the Lord’s patience. Something for which to be eternally thankful.
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some understand slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 Berean Study Bible)