As men In the Arena, our theme verses in this blog series this spring are:

“Be on your guard, Stand firm in the faith, Be men of courage, Be strong. Do everything in love.” I Cor. 16:13, 14

Our message this week focuses on the 2nd phrase in verse 13, “Stand firm in the faith.”

As you’ve noticed, we are living in an exceptional time of world history. Of course, in past history our nation has experienced many disasters before: global pandemic (1918), economic and employment collapse (1930’s), civil demonstration, strife and violence in our streets (1960’s and 90’s), disastrous hurricanes, wildfires and floods, even the US capitol under siege (1812).

These events have all happened before in our nation’s history. But never, ever before within a single year. In many ways it feels like everything we once assumed we could stand on is unstable if not collapsing.

Those who study human psychology tell us there are 4 typical reactions to calamity:

  1. Gut Emotional Response– shock, panic, dread, fear
  2. Creeping Powerlessness– feeling paralyzed because what we face is so huge
  3. Visceral Rage– anger against the system, rage at those who failed us, perhaps even, dare we say it, anger at God for failing us
  4. Pointless Floundering– trying one solution after another, jumping at anything

No doubt, most if not all of us, have experienced one or more of these. I want to assure us there’s one more possible response to calamity. It’s that phrase: “Stand firm in the faith.”

In January of 2009 we saw an amazing example of that, when Captain Sullenberger of US Air flight 1549 came face to face with unexpected calamity. Sullenberger’s co-pilot was at the controls when they hit the flock of birds. All he said was 5 words, “I’ll take it. My airplane.” And 155 lives were saved.

The captain could have chosen to respond with rage, powerlessness or pointless floundering. Thank goodness he didn’t! He chose faith. In his book, Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters, Sullenberger tells how his whole crew immediately fell back on what they knew they could trust.

He writes, “They shouted their commands, ‘Brace! Brace! Heads down! Stay down!’ Hearing their words comforted and encouraged me…I had faith in them.”

Everything in his and his crew’s training, his understanding of aerodynamics and his belief in how the plane would respond, led him to “stand firm” with amazing steadiness. Even in the deadliest of circumstances, the act of standing firm rests on faith in what we know and believe to be true.

How do we stand firm in times like this? I want to direct us to 2 verses that leads us to perspective:

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up…and stand firm.” Psalm 20:7, 8

Here’s what I think that verse says to us today: “Some trust in chariots, technology.” Chariots were the high technology of the day. They were a means of not only of transportation, but construction and a weapon of war. An army whose chariots outnumbered another’s had a significant advantage over their foe.

An equivalent of “trusting in chariots” today would be an over-dependence on technology. We in the US, the most technologically advanced nation on the planet have lost nearly ½ million citizens, however we might choose to count them, to a virus. The highest death toll in the world.

The UK, likely the second most technologically advanced nation in the world, has suffered the highest per capita death toll to the virus in the world. Now both countries encounter confusion and exasperation over vaccine distribution.

Human technology, “trusting in chariots,” in providing protection against the pandemic has fallen far short of our expectations.

Psalm 20:7 goes on to say, “Some trust in horses.” Horses were the most powerful animals of biblical times. Even today we measure the strength of our vehicles by horsepower. Your Mustang, Camaro, F150, and even the four modestly “powered” Honda Civics I’ve owned, rely on horsepower.

A parallel for today would be to put our trust in power, sheer effort, brute force of will. We have seen violent forces on both extreme ends of our ideologies trying to force their agenda on the rest of the nation. Honesty compels us to ask, “How well has that worked out for us?”

Far from bringing more understanding and stability, those who resort to power and violence have only left us more divided and longing for stable ground. Like technology in technology, “trusting in horses,” power and sheer force, has failed us.

Even in the case of Sullenberger’s plane, incredibly advanced technology had failed, to a flock of geese. Power and strength were not enough to save the plane. It was going down. The captain and his crew were left only with something they had faith in.

Similarly, for we men who find ourselves “in the arena,” when things look desperate, and we are tempted to panic, we need to stand firm in the faith. Those who sincerely trust in God will stand firm on our faith in the character and nature of God.

Here are 4 principles about God we can stand on in any calamity:

1. God is in charge. He is sovereign and He is paying attention.

Psalm 46: 1, 6, 7 assures us, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble…Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts…The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

God is sovereign; his eyes are on us; he is ultimately in charge. He is our refuge and strength; he is our fortress.

2. God is refining us. He allows us to experience hardship.

In Acts 14:22 Paul says, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Romans 5:3, 4 says, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Men, of all people we Christians can anticipate trials, even suffering, in life. Because we live in a fallen world that our transformed hearts were not made for and because God is purposely refining us into the image of his son.

3. God will deliver us.  He will guide those who trust him.

Psalm 34:17-19 says, “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all…”

This passage does not say God’s people will never have difficulty. It says the exact opposite! These people are already in hardship: we, like them, are crying, we are brokenhearted, we are crushed in spirit, and we have many troubles.

But the Lord delivers us; he guides us through and out of, usually not bypassing, our hardships. And in doing so he redeems us. Which leads us to the last principle we can stand on.

4. God will bless us. He honors those who persevere.

James 1:12: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

We can be assured of this, that as we go through hardship, God will not only refine us, and deliver us, he will one day reward us. He has promised the Crown of Life to those who love him and stand firm.

Men, we are being tested in an arena perhaps as never before in our lives. Will we trust in chariots, the technology of our world? Are you kidding?! That has pretty well failed us, and it will continue to do so.

Will we trust in horses, the sheer human effort or will power we summon? Seriously?! We know very well that often falls far short of our hopes.

In times of difficulty, our response reveals, and in fact proves, what we truly believe about God. Those who love and trust God stand firm on his character and nature. We can stand firm on these principles about God:

  1. God is in charge
  2. God is refining us
  3. God will deliver
  4. God will bless us

I want to close with the words from an old hymn, that some of us remember from childhood, written in 1787. How Firm a Foundation, John Keith:

“How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!

What more can he say than to you He hath said, To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed. For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;

  I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;

The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose, I will not, I will not desert to its foes;

That soul, thou all hell shall endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”