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The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).

In his prayer for the Ephesian Christians, Paul insists that the same power on display when the Father raised the Son to life is the same power on the inside of believers now (Eph. 1:15-23). Furthermore, the same apostle insists that God is always leading believers in victory (2 Cor. 2:14).

These two grand statements lead to some heart-searching questions: Why don’t believers feel victorious? Why do so many believers feel like they’re barely hanging on to life? Why all the tears, frustration, heartache, and heartbreak? Why do we continue to struggle with sin? Why can’t we seem to get a handle on our anger, lust, and vengefulness? Why are so many Christians’ lives characterized by the “three Ds”: desperation, desolation, and disconsolation.[1]

In his classic work The Bruised Reed, Puritan pastor and author Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) gives Christians four truths they should keep in mind as they make their way to the Celestial City.

  1. Remember that you conquer through suffering. Death precedes life. Resurrection comes after death, not before. Just as Christ conquered the cross through death and was afterward raised to life, so likewise believers conquer through suffering. In God’s economy “lambs overcome lions, and doves eagles, by suffering, that herein they may be conformable to Christ, who conquered most when he suffered most,” wrote Sibbes.
  2. Remember that victory is by degrees. While it is true that some people experience instantaneous healing and deliverance, many do not. The great majority of people must overcome their entrenched sinful patterns through daily repentance and prayerful dependence on God. We must learn to put off the old man and put on the new man (Eph. 4:22-24). Why doesn’t God deliver all of his adopted children immediately at their conversion? Sibbes wrote, “God would not have us quickly forget what cruel enemies Christ has overcome for us . . . so that, by the experience of that annoyance we have by them, we might be kept in fear to come under their power.”
  3. Remember that God works by contraries. “A Christian conquers,” wrote Sibbes, “even when he is conquered.” God works sub contrario (“under the opposite”) Luther said. This point is similar to the first lesson. Here’s what it means: God humbles us in order to exalt us (1 Pet. 5:6; cf. Phil. 2:11-12); the first are last; the greatest among us is the servant, not the one who is served. Calling this truth to mind daily centers us and reminds us that we are never without hope and that in our walk with Christ “even our defeats acquire profound significance.”[2]
  4. Remember that we often go backward before we move forward. Sibbes made a great point: “weakness is the keeper of virtue. . . . Weakness with watchfulness will stand, when strength with too much confidence fails. Weakness, with acknowledgement of it, is the fittest seat and subject for God to perfect his strength in; for consciousness of our infirmities drives us out of ourselves to him in whom strength lies.” So there it is again: We’re strongest at those moments when we’re most conscious of our weaknesses and inadequacies! Isn’t this amazing? Enlightening? Those moments when we feel like we can’t continue, like we want to throw in the towel, when we want to faint and fall to the ground—even then, even at the greatest moment of weakness, we’re strong. God is bringing us to the place where we value him more than anything or anyone else.


[1] David K. Naugle, Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), xiii.

[2] Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), Everyday Saints and Other Stories (trans. Julian Henry Lowenfeld; Russia: Pokrov, 2012), 3.