“Rest and Receive” – part of Colouring with Jesus 2. This was drawn at CapeGate Oncology, Brackenfell, Western Cape, South Africa.
Tony and I are Canadian missionaries in South Africa. We have learned through our African friends in different countries how to slow down and be relational. This is something all of us in fast-paced countries need to learn. So come along with me and we’ll learn together on the adventures of Growing in God.
My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA. I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.
During my last article, we journeyed through growing in God’s peace. We learned about the importance of peace keeping and diffusing difficult situations and conflict resolution for God’s glory. We also learned that peace isn’t just the cessation of hostilities. It’s something supernatural that comes from God himself. Deep peace is something you would have in a storm of life, and yet you are grounded in well-being that can’t be easily explained. It’s like Jesus is carrying you and you know it will be okay. Just as Holy Spirit strengthens us with courage, he also fills us with deep peace. This helps us to be still, and listen to his voice. After all, we aren’t the ones in control; God is. We can choose to be at peace and trust God.
Overcoming is connected with courage and the deep peace we have been discovering. My Canadian Iris supervisor Janis has been encouraging us in our missionary journey since August 2017. So far that’s almost four years. Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I battled nasty Hidradenitis Superitiva. It’s an inflammatory disease that involves skin, infected hair follicles and sweat glands. It is painful and ugly. It reminded me of Job’s boils. And it’s something that the inflammatory breast cancer hid under for weeks. Both are sneaky diseases. One of my oncologists believes the two are connected. Yet through the HS journey, and then cancer, Janis told me, “you are one remarkable overcomer L-A! I’m praying with you.” She became my cheerleader through persevering through a difficult week. Each season of our lives has different lessons. Through our mission work, I learned to just love, trust and be fearless. Through the HS, I learned perseverance. Through the cancer, I’ve learned courage, trust and overcoming. So we’ll journey through what overcoming means. Pastor Shawn Shoemaker says that, “An Overcomer is someone who prevails.” [Shawn Shoemaker https://www.apostoliclife.org/4-characteristics-of-an-overcomer/]. We’ll discover later exactly what he means. But I believe that an overcomer also runs the race of whatever life brings – difficulties, challenges AND joys – with perseverance. The Apostle Paul told his spiritual son Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” We are encouraged by Paul’s journey through suffering massive adversity in the mission field, Joseph in an Egyptian prison, and even Job, who endured direct and indirect suffering, and yet he praised God, trusted God, and never cursed him. How did they manage to persevere?
There are overcoming promises in the Bible, especially in the Book of Revelation. The other overcomer scriptures to the seven churches in Revelation involve perseverance as well. Revelation 2:10 showed the Smyrnan overcomers were to win the crown of life if they were faithful until death. Revelation 2:17 shares about the promise to the Pergamum church: “To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.” To the Thyatiran church, there was much honour and authority given to those who withstood awful teachings and manipulation. It’s too heavy to share here but I certainly couldn’t have endured that. To Sardis, the dead church, Jesus commanded them to wake up in Revelation 3:5: “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” To the Philadelphia church, who endured testing with perseverance, Jesus promised in Revelation 3:12 something special. He said, “They who overcome, I will make them a pillar in the temple of My God, and they will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on them the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.” This is an amazing reward if we do not give up. Here is the last of the seven churches, Laodicea. This is the church that became so lukewarm that they didn’t realize their spiritual condition was dire. But after repenting, and being restored to deep intimacy with Jesus, here is the promise in Revelation 3:21. “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” This requires not only perseverance but deep humility.
[Forerunner Commentary, https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/1411/Overcoming.htm] Revelation 2:7 gives the promise that “to him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, with is in the midst of the paradise of God.” In other Bible versions, overcomer is translated as winner, one who has victory, and the like. Yet overcomer seems a stronger word that depicts a long, difficult but worthy journey. The Christian life is not an easy one. While some preach prosperity, that is incomplete. They forget the suffering. They forget the maturing, and growing deeper, so the storms of life won’t shake us. We may lose everything, but we still have Jesus. This promise was written to the Ephesian church but it still speaks to us. Have we lost our first love? For many in the persecuted church, Jesus is enough. They still overcome without all the fancy luxuries. They have kept their first love vibrantly alive. Revelation 22:4 also shares that “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into [New Jerusalem].” Forerunner Commentary notes that the “The Tree of Life is associated with a way of life — one that requires overcoming. This growth is against a standard of righteousness. It includes keeping (doing) God’s commandments. The only ones who are allowed to partake of the Tree of Life are those who have changed themselves (with God’s help, by His Spirit) to begin living in the same manner as He does. To those who submit to His standard of righteousness, then, He grants life that is both endless and of the same quality that He enjoys.”
[Forerunner Commentary, https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/1411/Overcoming.htm]
Let’s hear how we can overcome our old sin nature, so we can clothe ourselves in that humility, and new nature. Vinita Hampton shares that “we like to identify God with a day that goes well, and speak of God’s presence in terms of blessings… There is some truth to this, but such perceptions of God greatly limit our capacity to recognize God’s holy presence every day.” [God Is in the Overcoming by Vinita Hampton Wright, https://www.loyolapress.com/our-catholic-faith/ignatian-spirituality/finding-god-in-all-things/god-is-in-the-overcoming]
More often than not, God is in the overcoming, the action we take in order to navigate the constant difficulties of life. When we solve a problem, face the truth, wrestle with a decision, suffer through illness, wait for help, learn to pray, lend a hand, or admit our doubt—these are the situations in which holy energy is powerfully at work. God’s love is not static; it moves and acts within our real circumstances. Holy life is not some pretty scene to admire; God is in the doing, in the living, and the growing.” Know that God’s love pulses through your struggle. Think on this. The grace of God walks right along with you.
Overcoming also is part of our journey to spiritual maturity. Some of this is in growing wiser, and setting aside harmful things. This includes many of our old ways of thinking and doing things before we came to faith in Jesus. Our coping styles in life are often formed in difficult situations. We did the best we could, but now we can have better. Instead of imperfect and sinful ways, we can have healthy, life-giving ways. It’s a divine exchange that’s part of salvation. We are being made better and better as part of our journey.
I looked through some extensive writing in the United Church of God manual on spiritual maturity. It interpreted overcoming as coming into maturity, or some would say perfection. It said, “God expects His true followers to grow, mature and bear fruit. What kind of fruit does God expect? How do we produce it? This goes beyond the basics of our faith. Hebrews 6:1 states, “Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection.”
Correctly understanding the scriptural truth that the Holy Spirit is God’s power that can transform our lives and helps us better understand His purpose and will for us.” [Growing in Spiritual Maturity, https://www.ucg.org/bible-study-tools/booklets/transforming-your-life-the-process-of-conversion/growing-to-spiritual]
This manual goes on to say, in many different ways, that we need to grow in our understanding of the Bible, and yet, we also need the transformation of the Holy Spirit. Thankfully, we are not alone in this. Vinita Hampton Wright shared that God is with us in the overcoming. That is a promise. He does not leave us and he gives us the grace to keep going. We do need to stir up the gift of the Holy Spirit in us. 2 Timothy 1:6 encourages us to do this. Then we can be renewed and empowered for the successful fight against sin in our lives. We cannot fight it in our own strength. Even Paul acknowledged that at times, he did what he hated. We need not only to put off our old self, and our old way of thinking. We must build into our character the positive traits that are the opposite of our flaws. We must as Ephesians 4:24 says, put on our new self, the godly behaviour we now desire to practice. Paul shares with us that he never attained perfection in his efforts to eliminate sin from his life. But he gives us this perspective in Philippians 3:13-14: “I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” So, we fill ourselves with more grace to overcome. “The simplest way to remove the air from a cup is by filling it with water. Likewise God can overcome our human nature by filling our minds with His nature and its many wonderful attributes.” [Growing – UCB] 2 Peter 1:5-8 tells us: “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. If you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” So this is about overcoming our old ways of seeing, acting and living. That’s important for holiness and living right.
What about challenges that come that aren’t from us?
I’ve found quite a few takes on this. One of them is to look at the adversity that’s been allowed in our lives. It may be difficult for us, but God can still use it for his purposes.
The Apostle James shared in James 1:2-4: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. Paul expressed a similar perspective in Romans 5. He gloried in tribulations and saw the fruit of it, since he kept his eyes on Jesus and lived by the power of the Holy Spirit. “These men understood that in light of what Christ did for us by providing salvation, the difficulties we experience in this life take on new meaning. They are a means through which God works to accomplish His will in our lives: to shape us so that we reflect the character of Christ. On the basis of this purpose, all adversity “works together” for our good and God’s glory. Just read Romans 8:28, and you’ll see what I mean. Adversity also gets our attention. When it comes, we are forced to face problems and pressures that are too big for us to resolve. In this way, God gets our attention. We can’t continue to pursue our goals, tasks, and relationships in the same way. We have to stop and evaluate our situation. We need to ask God for wisdom, obey His Word, and trust Him to bring the help we need. Troubles point out our weaknesses. They prompt us to rely on God in ways that we wouldn’t unless we had significant needs. Christ’s invitation to those who are weary becomes very attractive in the midst of trials. Listen to Jesus words in Matthew 11:28-30. “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Therefore, adversity is a classroom in which we can learn more of Christ and become more like Him.
Adversity also reminds us of our weaknesses. The Apostle Paul dealt with this in his thorn in the flesh problem. That’s when Holy Spirit brings even more grace, despite the affliction. Paul depended on sufficient grace. Then he was able to say in 2 Corinthians 12:10: “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Adversity motivates us to cry out to God. The Psalms give many examples of crying out to God in prayer. Psalm 34 verse 7 shares that “The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles.” Adversity also aids us to become mature. Adversity motivates us to fear the Lord, and even strengthens our hatred for sin (as in realizing what we reap, we sow). Adversity is evidence of spiritual warfare against us – just read Ephesians 6:10-17. And finally, adversity is God’s method of purifying our faith. While our own mistakes work against us, other forces have been allowed to buffet us. The cancer in my breast is not from God. Still, the circumstances are purifying Tony and me as we navigate the cancer journey together with Jesus. We aren’t alone. We have Jesus, and the many dear people praying for us, and helping us with cancer treatment costs. Adversity strengthens our faith as we trust in God. The apostle Peter shared in 1 Peter 1:6-7: “Be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” And there are even more examples of how adversity can shape us. But I’ve given enough to give you the idea. Each aspect of adversity allows us to trust God just a little more to purify us as we trust him in difficult circumstances. Thank God for his deep peace in the process.
Next time, we will explore further on overcoming obstacles, and characteristics of becoming an overcomer. While this is difficult, it keeps getting better, even when facing bad days (through covid or any other obstacles). Let’s trust Jesus as he sends Holy Spirit to give us the grace we need to overcome anything that comes against us. Let us overcome as well as Job, Paul, Joseph and others in the Bible. We aren’t alone. Thank you Lord for your grace, and give us the perseverance to run the race no matter the time of year or season we are in. Help us to keep our eyes on you, rather than our circumstances. You are still Lord, despite the covid-19 pandemic. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on the coppleswesterncape.ca website (under the “Listen” drop-down menu). Click here: (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html) and scroll down to #66! If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know!Updates: For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I’m now declared chemically cancer free as of February 2021, but still in post-cancer treatments (lymphedema massage, physio, medications, scans and bloodwork). I still owe credit card debt for some of the medical work and we are working towards that with art commissions and donations.
God’s peace is something that I’m clinging to as we plan our way back to Canada. At the moment, our passports are in the hands of Home Affairs, so that we have an extension on our medical visas. We would like to return in September 2021, after preparations to return with the help of a very capable Cape Town travel agent. Gone are the days when we would plan our own travel online (apart from booking self-catering places). After quarantine, we plan to stay with and care for my frail 92 year old dad. Part of us longs for Canada, but we still greatly love South Africa. We are glad that Jesus is carrying us, since we are frail. Both of us have continuing health issues, including prostate cancer, eye issues (following Tony’s retina re-attachment surgery). We are seeing if these can in fact wait until our return to Canada, or if Tony’s eye surgery will have to be done in Cape Town. It would be R90,000 (or $8,000). Thanks for coming alongside us on our journey. Being an overcomer is truly a process. We still need help. Tony has significant medical bills as well for TB, eye surgery, the urologist (who is monitoring the prostate cancer), and I have debt as well. Please click here for the medical campaign page to get more info: https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/medical-campaign.html. We are still crowdfunding to cover the post cancer treatments and Tony’s eye operations. If you feel led to contribute, please do so via our PayPal: https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod If you do, please introduce yourself and say that you read “Ways to Grow in God.” It would really bless us! If you’re led to pray instead, we welcome your prayers and please do contact us.
L-A’s colouring book: If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, they are available at OliveTree Bookshop in Mountain Mill Shopping Centre (near Pick n Pay), Worcester, Western Cape. You can also buy them at LeRoux and Fourie Wineshop on R60 beside Cape Lime (between Nuy and Robertson). Or you can order one (or more) printed for you through Takealot.com through this link:
The Colouring with Jesus 2 is in the works. We are waiting on a teacher who is familiar with both Afrikaans and English. She is proofreading the written section before it goes to print. After we return to Canada, we plan to republish the devotional colouring books into English-French. Bless you and thank you for your support!