My Midlife Crisis

II Peter 1:1-11

Christian leaders are the prime targets of a satanic trap which robs us of our “joy in serving Jesus” which we sing about. What I call "fear-pressure" is fueled by our own high expectations, but it is misconceived as striving to meet God’s standards. Self-inflicted and unmerciful, the fear of not meeting God’s expectations plagues many well-meaning individuals. I am no exception.

In the summer of 1994, nothing seemed to be going right for me, and I experienced what people call a “mid-life-crisis.” I was 56 at the time, but I doubt if I will live to be 112!

Before I continue, I want to share a part of my life which is not very nice to contemplate. I started out okay, with a wonderful childhood, a physically fit body and above average gifts. I learned to work at an early age and could soon accomplish just about any task that presented itself.

At nineteen years of age, however, I cared nothing about God and church. I was only interested in cars.

It was my obsession with cars that frequently got me into trouble. Twelve points worth of traffic violations were sufficient for the revocation of a driver’s license, but I harvested 22 points faster than the police could count. Before I lost my license, I was taken to court for another incident in which I had broken a long list of laws, not the least of which was outrunning the police. The officer chasing me didn’t get my license number, so I might have gotten off the hook had I been able to prove that there was another pink Ford convertible with flames painted across the hood and down the sides. I wound up not only losing my driver’s license, but my car and every penny of savings.

I was devastated, but God mercifully reached down and spoke to me in that situation - at first gently and then with more firmness. Fortunately, he opened my eyes to my rebellion and sinful ways, and I asked God to forgive me and make whatever he could out of my messed up life.

I enrolled in college, obtained a degree in Bible and found a wonderful wife. God gave us an interest in Europe and after joining a mission, we departed for Austria with our six-month-old son. A little brother and a sister were added in Austria. My wife and I worked well as a missionary team for nearly four decades. We prayerfully set goals for our ministry and strove to fulfill the “Great Commission” to the best of our abilities. We had every reason to believe that God would bless our ministry, and for many years, he did.

Now let’s come back to 1994 and my mid-life crises. As Field Director for our mission, I felt that I should be setting a precedent for our missionaries, yet our co-workers were enjoying fruitful ministries while everything I was involved in was producing little or no fruit. Enrollment in the Bible Institute which we had founded ten years earlier was at an all-time low. There were myriad problems in the church we served, and we had to close our printing and publishing operation after a dozen great years. I was very discouraged!

During this difficult time, I prayed every morning that the Lord would give me some promise or encouragement from his Word, but no matter what I read, it seemed to mock me. One morning, I read in Matthew 7, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

I became angry and threw my Bible onto the coffee table, verbalizing pent up frustrations in angry accusations against God: “No earthly father would treat his son like you treat me! Here I am trying my best to accomplish YOUR work, but you don’t seem the least bit interested!”

I was shocked at my own words. Did I have no fear of God whatsoever? I wondered why God didn’t strike me dead! That incident brought me to my knees and I asked God to forgive me for my foolishness, but the problems remained. In fact, a new problem now plagued me. How could I consider myself to be a child of God if I dared to accuse the eternal, almighty, ever-present, all-knowing, holy and righteous God of being unfair?

While preparing a sermon, I came across Psalm 111:10 which says, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have they that do his commandments. his praise endureth forever! I was a missionary, devoted to doing His commandments, yet I not only lacked the fear of the Lord, but wisdom to boot! Nor was I in any mood to praise God! And here I was, attempting to prepare a sermon! I continued reading in the next chapter, and the first verse was an instant replay of the same message - only in reverse order! Praise ye the Lord. Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, that delighteth greatly in his commandments. I could find no enlightenment for my miserable condition. Could anyone have delighted more than I in God’s commandments? Had I not gladly left family, friends and homeland in order to fulfill the great commission? Certainly that was not my problem!

At a conference of Christian workers, I confided my feelings of failure and frustration to a missionary friend from another mission. I was shocked when he told me, “I have been going through a crisis myself and even asked God why He didn’t allow me to have a fruitful ministry like yours!”

It Got Worse! While these thoughts plagued me from within, I was dealt several more painful blows from without.

The exchange rate for the dollar had been falling, and we were receiving 30% less than ten years previously. Inflation made it even worse. We had promised $180 per month to support various ministries, and this added burden strained our budget to the limits. A church in America promised to sponsor an Albanian student in our Bible Institute to the tune of $100 per month, but when we received nothing after several months, I wrote the church a tactfully formulated letter asking about the money. The treasurer replied that we could use our annual Christmas gift from the church for that purpose. That money lasted one and a half months. We continued support payments from our personal resources, but I was definitely not a joyful giver!

In order to pay bills, we grudgingly gave up our planned camping vacation and placed a classified ad in the paper for items that we thought we could do without. Only one item sold, and we got just enough money to pay for the newspaper ad!

Our landlord then informed us that he was going to raise our rent by 25%. Soon after that came the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. I received word that my mother was in the hospital ICU and not expected to live. I disintegrated! Bitterly accusing God of letting me down, I sold the car we had purchased only six months earlier in order to pay our debts and purchased airline tickets with what was left. After our son Richard’s wedding and the annual Bible Institute Board Meeting, we flew to America.

I had no intention of returning.

Fearing God Without Being Afraid
I had been asked to speak in one of the sessions of our mission’s Leadership Training Conference and there seemed no way to back out at this late date, so I went. The Bible passage designated for my session was II Peter 1:1-11 and this text proved to be a major factor in bringing me out of my crisis.

The first four verses name seven gifts, and verses 5-7 list seven things that we are told to add to these seven gifts.

Seven Gifts: Faith, Peace, Total Sustenance, Promises, Partnership and Deliverance

Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (II Peter 1:1-4)

1. Faith: The word “obtained” in verse one could be misleading, for faith is a gift and cannot be earned. A better rendering would be “received” or “imparted.” Other usages of this word in the New Testament have to do with casting lots. Winning a lottery involves no special effort or skill, although some seem to think their lucky charm helps.

2. Grace: Grace is not merely the remission of sin, but more importantly, it is a great opportunity for fellowship with Christ and sharing in his work. The word “multiplied” could better be translated, “given abundantly.”

3. Peace: Peace is not just assurance of God’s forgiveness, but an abiding assurance that He is with us and will not forsake us in time of trouble. This gift, like Grace, is given generously - “multiplied unto us!”

4. Total sustenance: We are given everything pertaining to life and godliness. Our total sustenance is assured us through Christ.

5. Promises: When God makes promises, they are “exceeding great and precious” (not like politicians!) Why then don’t we get excited about His promises? Why don’t we claim them? After all, they are free gifts!

6. Partnership: Have you ever considered what that means? We are “partakers in His divine nature;” branches on the vine, His workmanship, His body, His ambassadors, His light and salt and we shall reign with Him eternally!

7. Deliverance: “Having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” The world can offer nothing good that was not from God in the first place. Satan tempts us with that which has been corrupted (Psalm 81:11-16).

All of these seven gifts come from Jesus and God, but gifts 2, 3 and 4 are come to us “through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” Peter doesn’t mention “knowledge” in relationship to faith because man’s knowledge of God cannot produce faith. Only God’s righteousness does that. Knowing God and Christ (verse 2) is equivalent to the “like precious faith” mentioned in verse one. Jesus said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” Faith is a gift of God, and everything else is received through knowing God and Jesus Christ. Faith doesn’t guarantee material blessings, comfortable surroundings or success in our undertakings. Nor is the fulfillment of certain rituals or obeying God’s commandments a prerequisite for faith.

Verses 5 through 7 are strikingly different. Peter gives us another list of seven things, but they are NOT gifts! These must be diligently sought after and acquired. He starts out with the words, “beside this,” referring to that which is given us in the previous verses. He then tells us that we must “diligently add” these items to what we have been given.

Seven “Add-Ons”: Virtue, Knowledge, Temperance, Patience, Godliness, Kindness and Love.

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
(II Peter 1: 5-7)

Faith in God is an absolute prerequisite for the attributes mentioned here. But we dare not be content with simply knowing him; we need to add to what we have been given. We must have something before we can add to it, but that which is added is our responsibility and not God’s.

It is a command and not an option. We are not to be content with simply having faith. Peter assures us that this is not an easy job. Winston Churchill coined the term “blood, sweat and tears,” which would be a fitting definition of what God requires of us. Like those colorful plastic boxes which children play with or the carved wood figurines made in Russia, that fit neatly inside of each other, these seven attributes are inter-related and given in a specific order.

1. Virtue: (moral excellence or purity) In II Timothy 2:20- 21, Timothy speaks of many kinds of vessels in a household. There are vessels of gold and silver, but also of clay. All are useful to the master of the house, but it is imperative that they be kept clean or “purged.” Your garbage can may not be the first thing you show guests who enter your home, but you wouldn’t want to do without one - provided it is frequently cleaned. Religion is poisonous venom without purity. It is important to recognize that virtue must be “diligently obtained.”

2. Knowledge: This is not the saving knowledge of God mentioned in the first four verses, but rather the knowledge of truth. The knowledge of truth comes as the result of intensive study of God’s Word. Virtue must have precedence over knowledge, for knowledge without virtue is the makings of a check forger!

3. Temperance: Not just abstinence from intoxicating drinks, but in ALL things! Gluttony is sin as is overindulgence in the comforts of life, television, computers or anything else. Temperance is hard work and demands much self-discipline, especially in our affluent society.

4. Patience: How often do we wish for more patience! But patience is not a gift and it doesn’t come easy. It requires great effort and if anyone had to learn that, it was the Apostle Peter!

5. Godliness: Five minutes of quiet time and five hours of TV will never produce godliness. Note that godliness is packaged in patience! Instant gratification of selfish desires does not produce godliness! It comes from “waiting upon the Lord.”

6. Kindness: Friendliness, generosity and hospitality are held in high esteem in the Bible. Our standard wedding gift to young couples is a nice gold-edged guest book. We imprint the scriptural admonishments to be hospitable in the front. Kindness does not come naturally but takes effort.

7. Charity: (Agape-love - Giving of self) No one can do this for us. It is completely voluntary, yet God commands us to love one another! We often misunderstand the meaning of “voluntary.” The word comes from “will” and refers to control over our bodies. The biblical idea of love (charity) is different from ours today. Love and hate are emotions to us, but the Bible idea is a stance, position or attitude of determination. He or she who determines to love, automatically “hates” (in Greek, this is positional; we disregard all that could detract from our love). Jesus said that in order to love God with all our hearts, we must be willing to disregard or “hate” others, even our own parents.

The thought occurred to me as I studied this passage, “Isn’t Peter missing something?” My missionary work (witnessing, preaching, giving, serving and counseling) is not even mentioned here!

As I examined my own life, searching for these seven qualities, I couldn’t find much to brag about. At first I thought I could claim to have knowledge, but it is knowledge of Christ that Peter is talking about. And I didn’t have much of that!

Verse eight hit me like a ton of bricks! “If these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful.” Wow! My life was certainly barren and unfruitful, but I had only been thinking in terms of ministry success and not virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, kindness and love! My dedication to ministry left me concerned about statistics, results and the number of souls won to Christ, but I had been missing out on the greatest joy: that of knowing Jesus!

In John 15, we are depicted as branches on the vine, whose sole concern should be clinging to the vine, allowing God’s life-giving spirit to flow through us and produce fruit! It is Christ who is building HIS church, not we missionaries! If his Holy Spirit is flowing through us, “we will not be barren or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ!” This knowledge of him (verse 8) comes as the result of acquiring those seven qualities. It is not the prerequisite for seeking after them.

Slowly, the truth of this text began to unfold in my understanding. We must first KNOW GOD (have faith), and in knowing Him, we will diligently seek to add to our faith; virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, kindness and love. This enriches our knowledge of Christ and the cycle is complete!

The next verse was a perfect description of my own situation! “But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.” The cause of my mid-life crisis was short-sightedness. I had lost sight of the ultimate goal in life: “knowing God and my Lord Jesus Christ.” Instead of seeking diligently to obtain these seven Christian attributes, I was reverting to the age-old sin of Adam, complaining that God wasn’t treating me right. I believed that he was withholding something good.

The words, “these things” in verses 8, 9, 10, 12 and 15 all refer to the same seven qualities of Christian life which we are to strive for.

Many sects and false religious groups make faith a product of works. They claim that one must work hard to gain faith and rewards. Certain sacraments, duties and obligations are necessary for salvation. They speak of different levels of faith, ranging from the faith of lay persons to the somewhat higher elevation of clergy and climaxing with hierarchical positions of prestige and honor. This aptly describes the Pharisees, but it is not God's way. In studying the life and work of Gamaliel, I can not help wondering if Peter might have had Gamaliel in mind when he penned these verses. I am privileged to have the teachings of Jesus and the apostles in printed form. Gamaliel was not blessed in this way, but he had many opportunities to hear these things from the mouths of Jesus and the apostles!

Peter says that we are all equal, “of like precious faith.” Jesus said that he who would be greatest, must become a servant of all. Paul wrote in Romans 3:22, Even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe; for there is no difference. Ephesians 2:8-9 reads: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast. In I Corinthians 4:7 we read, For who maketh thee to differ from another? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why doest thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it? I knew that man can’t earn his way to heaven by his good works, yet I was working myself nearly to death, trying to gain God’s recognition, favor and attention. God’s work had become my work and eventually, my work became my god.

When we apply ourselves to the acquisition of these seven “add-ons,” serving the Lord becomes a privilege instead of a duty. The fruit which God produces gives reason for praise and thanksgiving to him instead of being considered a product of our efforts.

As a missionary, I had been picking apples for God, but he wanted me to be a tree. His desire is for orchards full of trees! Our final years of ministry in Austria turned out to be fruitful years in many ways. First and foremost, I learned to “add to my faith” virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, kindness and love.

Fear is NOT a Gift of God!

There is no reason for us to be enslaved by fear. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (II Timothy 1:7). God created us for fellowship and to be dependent on him. When we have problems, questions or fears, we can always bring them to our Father in heaven. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:26-28). Jesus is right now in heaven interceding for us. If we attempt to do what is pleasing to God, we may still make mistakes, but God will not be harsh with us. He is loving and forgiving.

Fear Not, for I am With Thee!

A majority of Christians hold blindly to religious traditions that have no rhyme, reason or biblical origin. Not a few of them were adopted from heathen cultures and rituals. One of the reasons people prefer tradition to truth is fear-pressure. By going with the flow, they believe that everything will be all right!

Few Christians fear eternal torment in hell because they have been taught that this dismal prospect was eliminated when they filled out a decision card or raised their hand in a revival meeting. They do good things and refrain from bad things in order to gain or maintain recognition of their Christian peers and think that this also pleases God. But God desires a personal faith and resulting obedience to him. He wants us to produce fruit, but only HIS fruit, not ours. He is the vine and we are merely the branches through whom his Spirit flows to produce fruit.

Ralph V. Harvey (excerpt from Chapter 10 in my book, Rabban Gamaliel)