“Make Your Hearts Firm”
“You have need of endurance, in order that, after you have done the will of God, you may receive the fulfillment of the promise.”—HEBREWS 10:36.
1, 2. (a) What happened to a number of Christians in the first century? (b) Why is it easy for faith to weaken?
OF ALL Bible writers, no one mentioned faith more often than the apostle Paul. And frequently, he spoke of those whose faith had weakened or died. For example, Hymenaeus and Alexander “experienced shipwreck concerning their faith.” (1 Timothy 1:19, 20) Demas abandoned Paul because “he loved the present system of things.” (2 Timothy 4:10) Some, by their unchristian, irresponsible actions “disowned the faith.” Others were deceived by false wisdom and “deviated from the faith.”—1 Timothy 5:8; 6:20, 21.
2 Why did those anointed Christians lose out in these ways? Well, “faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.” (Hebrews 11:1) We exercise faith in what we cannot see. We do not need it for things that are beheld. It is easier to work for visible wealth than for unseen spiritual riches. (Matthew 19:21, 22) Many visible things—such as “the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes”—strongly appeal to our imperfect flesh and can weaken our faith.—1 John 2:16.
3. What kind of faith should a Christian cultivate?
3 Yet, says Paul, “he that approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” Moses had faith like that. He “looked intently toward the payment of the reward” and “continued steadfast as seeing the One who is invisible.” (Hebrews 11:6, 24, 26, 27) A Christian needs this kind of faith. As noted in the preceding article, Abraham was a fine example in this respect.
Abraham’s Example of Faith
4. How was the course of Abraham’s life affected by his faith?
4 Abraham was in Ur when he received God’s promise that he would father a seed that would be a blessing to people of all nations. (Genesis 12:1-3; Acts 7:2, 3) On the basis of that promise, Abraham obeyed Jehovah, moving first to Haran and then to Canaan. There, Jehovah promised to give the land to Abraham’s seed. (Genesis 12:7; Nehemiah 9:7, 8) However, much of what Jehovah promised was to be fulfilled after Abraham’s death. For instance, Abraham himself never owned any part of Canaan—except for the cave of Machpelah, which he purchased as a burial place. (Genesis 23:1-20) Still, he had faith in Jehovah’s word. Above all, he had faith in a future “city having real foundations, the builder and maker of which city is God.” (Hebrews 11:10) Such faith sustained him throughout his life.
5, 6. In what way was Abraham’s faith tested as to Jehovah’s promise?
5 This is seen especially with regards to the promise that Abraham’s seed would become a great nation. In order for this to happen, Abraham needed a son, and he waited a long time to be blessed with one. We do not know how old he was when he first heard God’s promise, but when he made the long trip to Haran, Jehovah had not yet given him a child. (Genesis 11:30) He was in Haran long enough to ‘accumulate goods and acquire souls,’ and when he moved to Canaan, he was 75 years old and Sarah was 65. Still, there was no son. (Genesis 12:4, 5) When Sarah reached her mid-70’s, she concluded that she was now too old to give Abraham a child. Hence, following a custom of the time, she gave her slave girl Hagar to Abraham, and he had a son by her. But this was not the promised child. Hagar and her child, Ishmael, were eventually sent away. Still, when Abraham pleaded in their behalf, Jehovah promised to bless Ishmael.—Genesis 16:1-4, 10; 17:15, 16, 18-20; 21:8-21.
6 In God’s own due time—a long, long time after they first heard the promise—the 100-year-old Abraham and the 90-year-old Sarah had a baby boy, Isaac. How wonderful it must have been! For this aged couple, it was almost like a resurrection when their “deadened” bodies brought forth new life. (Romans 4:19-21) The wait was long, but when the promise was finally fulfilled, the wait was worth it.
7. How is faith linked to endurance?
7 Abraham’s example reminds us that faith should not be just for a short term. Paul linked faith to endurance when he wrote: “You have need of endurance, in order that, after you have done the will of God, you may receive the fulfillment of the promise. . . . We are not the sort that shrink back to destruction, but the sort that have faith to the preserving alive of the soul.” (Hebrews 10:36-39) Many have waited a long time for the fulfillment of the promise. Some have waited a whole lifetime. Their strong faith has sustained them. And, like Abraham, they will receive the reward in Jehovah’s due time.—Habakkuk 2:3.
Listening to God
8. How do we listen to God today, and why will that strengthen our faith?
8 At least four things strengthened Abraham’s faith, and the same things can help us. First, he demonstrated his ‘belief that God is’ by paying heed when Jehovah spoke. Thus, he was different from the Jews of Jeremiah’s day, who believed in Jehovah but had no faith in his words. (Jeremiah 44:15-19) Today, Jehovah speaks to us through the pages of the Bible, his inspired Word, which Peter said is like “a lamp shining in a dark place . . . in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19) When we read the Bible attentively, we are being “nourished with the words of the faith.” (1 Timothy 4:6; Romans 10:17) Further, in these last days, “the faithful and discreet slave” is providing spiritual “food at the proper time,” guidance in applying Bible principles and understanding Bible prophecy. (Matthew 24:45-47) Listening to Jehovah through these means is indispensable to having strong faith.
9. What will result if we truly believe the Christian hope?
9 Abraham’s faith was closely related to his hope. “Based on hope he had faith, that he might become the father of many nations.” (Romans 4:18) This is a second thing that can help us. We should never forget that Jehovah is “the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” The apostle Paul said: “We are working hard and exerting ourselves, because we have rested our hope on a living God.” (1 Timothy 4:10) If we truly believe the Christian hope, our whole life course will be a demonstration of our faith, as was the case with Abraham.
Speaking With God
10. What kind of prayer will strengthen our faith?
10 Abraham spoke with God, and this was a third thing that strengthened his faith. Today, we too can speak with Jehovah, using the gift of prayer through Jesus Christ. (John 14:6; Ephesians 6:18) It was after telling a parable emphasizing the need for constant prayer that Jesus asked the question: “When the Son of man arrives, will he really find the faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) Faith-building prayer is not unthinking or automatic. It is deeply meaningful. For example, heartfelt prayer is vital when we have important decisions to make or when we are under great stress.—Luke 6:12, 13; 22:41-44.
11. (a) How was Abraham strengthened when he opened his heart to God? (b) What can we learn from Abraham’s experience?
11 When Abraham was getting old and Jehovah still had not given him the promised seed, he spoke with God about his concern. Jehovah reassured him. The result? Abraham “put faith in Jehovah; and he proceeded to count it to him as righteousness.” Then, Jehovah provided a sign to confirm his reassuring words. (Genesis 15:1-18) If we open our hearts to Jehovah in prayer, accept Jehovah’s assurances in his Word, the Bible, and obey him in full faith, then Jehovah will also strengthen our faith.—Matthew 21:22; Jude 20, 21.
12, 13. (a) How was Abraham blessed when he followed Jehovah’s guidance? (b) What kind of experiences will strengthen our faith?
12 A fourth thing that strengthened Abraham’s faith was the support that Jehovah gave him when he followed God’s guidance. When Abraham went to rescue Lot from the invading kings, Jehovah gave him the victory. (Genesis 14:16, 20) While Abraham lived like a temporary resident in the land his seed would inherit, Jehovah blessed him materially. (Compare Genesis 14:21-23.) Jehovah guided the efforts of his steward to find a fitting wife for Isaac. (Genesis 24:10-27) Yes, Jehovah “blessed Abraham in everything.” (Genesis 24:1) So strong was his faith as a result and so close his relationship with Jehovah God that Jehovah called him “my friend.”—Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23.
13 Can we today have such a strong faith? Yes. If we, like Abraham, put Jehovah to the test by obeying his commands, he will bless us too, and that will strengthen our faith. For example, a glance at the 1998 Service Year Report shows that many were blessed in a wonderful way when they obeyed his command to preach the good news.—Mark 13:10.
A Record of Faith Today
14. How did Jehovah bless the campaign with Kingdom News No. 35?
14 Back in October 1997, the worldwide campaign with Kingdom News No. 35 was an outstanding success, thanks to the zeal and enthusiasm of millions of individual Witnesses. Typical is what happened in Ghana. Almost 2.5 million copies were distributed in four languages, and nearly 2,000 Bible studies were requested as a result. In Cyprus two Witnesses distributing Kingdom News noticed a priest following them. After a while, they offered him a copy of Kingdom News. He had already received a copy and said: “I was so impressed by its message that I wanted to congratulate the people who prepared it.” In Denmark, 1.5 million copies of Kingdom News were distributed with fine results. A lady who works in public relations there said: “The tract has a message for everyone. It is easy to understand, and it moves you, gives you a desire to know more. It really hits the bull’s-eye!”
15. What experiences show that Jehovah blessed the effort to reach people everywhere?
15 In 1998 an effort was made to preach to people not only in their homes but everywhere. In Côte d’Ivoire a missionary couple visited 322 ships at the docks. They placed 247 books, 2,284 magazines, 500 brochures, and hundreds of tracts, as well as videos for the sailors to watch while at sea. In Canada a Witness went to an automobile body shop. The owner was interested, and the brother stayed four and a half hours, although the time spent witnessing totaled only an hour or so between customers. Eventually, a study was arranged for 10:00 p.m. Sometimes, though, it did not get started until midnight and lasted until two o’clock in the morning. The schedule was likely a challenge, but good results were obtained. The man decided to close his shop on Sundays so as to attend meetings. He and his family were soon making fine progress.
16. What experiences show that the Require brochure and the Knowledge book are powerful tools in the preaching and teaching work?
16 The brochure What Does God Require of Us? and the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life continue to be powerful instruments in the preaching and teaching work. In Italy a nun waiting for a bus accepted a copy of Kingdom News. The next day, she was approached again and accepted the Require brochure. Each day after that, she had a 10- to 15-minute Bible study at the bus stop. After a month and a half, she decided to leave the convent and go home to Guatemala to continue her study. In Malawi an ardent churchgoer named Lobina was displeased when her daughters began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Still, the girls shared Bible truth with their mother when they could. In June 1997, Lobina saw the Knowledge book and was intrigued by the expression “Knowledge That Leads.” In July she agreed to a Bible study. In August she attended the district convention and listened carefully to the whole program. By the end of that month, she had left her church and had qualified as an unbaptized publisher. She was baptized in November 1997.
17, 18. How have the Society’s videos proved useful in helping individuals to “see” spiritual things?
17 The Society’s videos have helped many to “see” spiritual things. In Mauritius a man left his church because of disunity there. A missionary showed him the unity of Jehovah’s Witnesses, using the video United by Divine Teaching. Impressed, the man said: “You Jehovah’s Witnesses are already in Paradise!” He agreed to a Bible study. A sister in Japan showed her unbelieving husband the video Jehovah’s Witnesses—The Organization Behind the Name, and he was moved to have a regular Bible study. After watching United by Divine Teaching, he wanted to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The three-part series entitled The Bible—A Book of Fact and Prophecy helped him to apply Bible principles in his life. Finally, Jehovah’s Witnesses Stand Firm Against Nazi Assault showed him that Jehovah strengthens His people against Satan’s attacks. The man was baptized in October 1997.
18 These are just a few of the many, many experiences enjoyed during the past service year. They show that Jehovah’s Witnesses have an active faith and that Jehovah is strengthening that faith by blessing their activity.—James 2:17.
Cultivate Faith Today
19. (a) How are we in a better position than Abraham? (b) How many gathered last year to commemorate Jesus’ sacrificial death? (c) What countries had outstanding Memorial attendances last year? (See chart on pages 12 to 15.)
19 In many ways we today are in a better position than Abraham was. We know that Jehovah fulfilled all his promises to Abraham. Abraham’s offspring did inherit Canaan, and they did become a great nation. (1 Kings 4:20; Hebrews 11:12) Moreover, some 1,971 years after Abraham left Haran, a descendant of his, Jesus, was baptized in water by John the Baptizer and then in holy spirit by Jehovah himself to become the Messiah, Abraham’s Seed in the complete, spiritual sense. (Matthew 3:16, 17; Galatians 3:16) On Nisan 14, 33 C.E., Jesus offered up his life as a ransom for those who would exercise faith in him. (Matthew 20:28; John 3:16) Millions could now bless themselves by means of him. Last year, 13,896,312 gathered on Nisan 14 to commemorate this wonderful act of love. What a vindication of Jehovah, the Great Keeper of promises!
20, 21. How did people from all nations bless themselves through Abraham’s Seed in the first century, and how are they blessing themselves today?
20 In the first century, many from all nations—starting with fleshly Israel—exercised faith in this Seed of Abraham and became anointed sons of God, members of a new, spiritual “Israel of God.” (Galatians 3:26-29; 6:16; Acts 3:25, 26) They had an assured expectation of immortal spirit life in the heavens as corulers in God’s Kingdom. Only 144,000 would be blessed in this way, and few of them remain. (Revelation 5:9, 10; 7:4) Last year, 8,756 testified to their belief that they were of this number by partaking of the emblems during the Memorial celebration.
21 Almost all of Jehovah’s Witnesses today are of the “great crowd” prophesied at Revelation 7:9-17. Because they bless themselves through Jesus, they have the hope of eternal life on a paradise earth. (Revelation 21:3-5) The 5,888,650 who shared in the preaching work in 1998 are evidence that this crowd is truly “great.” It was especially thrilling to see both Russia and Ukraine report more than 100,000 publishers for the first time. Outstanding, too, was the report from the United States—1,040,283 publishers in August! These were just three of the 19 countries that reported more than 100,000 publishers last year.
Hope Soon to Be Fulfilled
22, 23. (a) Why should we make our hearts firm today? (b) How can we prove to be like Abraham, not like the faithless ones mentioned by Paul?
22 Memorial attenders were reminded how far along we are in the fulfillment of Jehovah’s promises. In 1914, Jesus was enthroned as King of God’s heavenly Kingdom, beginning his presence in Kingdom power. (Matthew 24:3; Revelation 11:15) Yes, the Seed of Abraham now reigns in heaven! James said to Christians of his day: “Exercise patience; make your hearts firm, because the presence of the Lord has drawn close.” (James 5:8) Well, that presence is now a reality! How much more reason to make our hearts firm!
23 May our confidence in God’s promises be constantly renewed by regular Bible study and meaningful prayer. May we never cease to experience Jehovah’s blessing as we obey his Word. Then we will be like Abraham, not like those whose faith weakened and died, as mentioned by Paul. Nothing will separate us from our most holy faith. (Jude 20) We pray that this will be true of all of Jehovah’s servants during the 1999 service year and on into an eternal future.
Do You Know?
□ How can we listen to God today?
□ What benefits come from meaningful prayers to God?
□ If we obediently follow Jehovah’s guidance, how will our faith be strengthened?
□ What aspects of the annual report (pages 12 to 15) did you find especially interesting?
[Chart on page 12-15]
1998 SERVICE YEAR REPORT OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES WORLDWIDE
(See bound volume)
[Picture on page 16]
If we listen to Jehovah’s Word, our confidence in his promises will be renewed
[Picture on page 18]
Our faith is strengthened when we share in the ministry