by Dr. Harvey Brown, Energion Publications Author
I had occasion the other day to ride through a cemetery. The trip was neither business nor pleasure. Not the business many preachers know as conducting a funeral. Nor was there some unique pleasure of learning about forebears or history. I was taking a shortcut. Very few people take shortcuts through cemeteries. Most are there for the long haul… part of the residential program.
I live in one of the biggest tourist areas east of the Mississippi. Sevier County—which contains Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg, Tennessee—is within one day’s drive for 75% of our nation’s population. Our county is adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited National Park in the United States. This is significant because most of the Park’s 11-14 million annual visitors stay and play in Sevier County. And they drive on our roads.
Imagine, if you will, dropping an extra 70,000 or so people into your little town for the weekend. Or the month. Or the summer. Or the summer and the fall. Maybe now you can imagine why I would be willing to take a shortcut through a cemetery.
My local church meets in a building on Sugar Hollow Road in Pigeon Forge. If I stay off the main drag (the Parkway), I can cut through Shiloh Cemetery, get onto Sharp Hollow which leads to Goose Gap then Clear Fork and Hatcher Top Roads. Perhaps that’s bewildering to you. But it saves me about thirty-two minutes of a fifteen minute drive. That’s probably just a blink of God’s eye. But the older I get, the more aware I am of how much every blink counts. Which brings me back to the cemetery.
Tombstones tell very little about the persons whose remains occupy the graves. The text on the markers normally includes the name, year of birth and year of death. And of course, there’s the ever-present dash separating those years.
That dash is not really a straight line. It’s a series of moments meshed together, a continuum of time, events, experiences and relationships that form someone’s history—a history that only God knows.
You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. – Psalm 139:16 (NLT)
We often think of what happens to us as random, unrelated incidents. From time-to-time we seem to be able to connect the dots, but unless we are trusting in Father’s providence, we see our lives as scrambled, tangled messes. And we begin to label and define ourselves by our failures and our sins rather than our successes.
You, as well as I, have probably called yourself a “failure”—especially if you have found yourself stuck in a cycle of repetitive sin. All the while your heart’s desire was to be one of those “overcomers.” But no matter how hard you tried, every setback or moment of defeat moved you closer to hopelessness. Dejection latched onto you like a blood-starved leach sucking away hope and life by the bucket full. Once again you uttered a self-proclaimed epithet, “I am such a failure.”
If this scenario is replayed enough times, these moments begin to shape your identity. You lose sight of the fact that just because you have experienced failure, the experience does not mean that you are a failure.
After such a moment of failure, I often have felt like I was destined to live in defeat. I fought recurring battles with pornography since my early teens. After becoming a follower of Jesus as a young adult, many things changed in my life. But the episodic battles with porn continued. Each time I fell, I repeated the “I am a failure” phrase. Moment piled upon moment until I believed that my destiny would never change. I would live the rest of my life like a hamster on its treadmill—running like crazy but never making any progress distancing myself from the demons which plagued me.
Would I go to Heaven? I was convinced that God’s grace and forgiveness would still work… even for me. 1 John 1:8-9 were forever true. But the cycle of being stuck in repetitive sin was my destiny. I was just too broken, too uniquely flawed to ever be whole. Or holy.
But praise be to the King Almighty, Invisible, Immortal, the Only Wise God! All that changed in an encounter I had with the Holy Spirit during a conference in St. Louis twenty years ago. (You can read the story of my deliverance in the book, When God Strikes The Match.)
Three weeks ago, my good friend Tony Roberts made the following statement during a sermon: “The devil isn’t after a moment. He’s after your destiny.”
My memory immediately flashed through various moments—events of failure that, at the time, seemed to be the culmination of some demonic tactic to keep me living in defeat. But I now believe that the moments of defeat were not the objective. These moments were battles intended to demoralize me and cause me to forget my identity as a child of God. And if I forget or lose my identity, I move from being a victor to a victim.
As a Holy Spirit filled, born again believer in Jesus Christ, I am a child of a loving Father. The same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead lives within me! I am not just victorious, but I am more than a conqueror through him who loved me.
I am not a hopeless, hapless failure. I am holy through the cleansing of His blood. He is able to keep me from falling and present me faultless before his glorious presence…and with great joy (Jude 24-25). He is able to cause all things to work together for good because I love him and am called according to his purpose.
I know how easy it is to get stuck in those failure moments and lose sight of my identity. Been there. Done that.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. – Hebrews 12:1-3 ESV
Moments will pass. But my destiny is forever.
In other words, your race is a dash… the one between those dates that will be on your tombstone. Sure, there will be moments. But above all, there is a destiny that awaits you as a son or daughter of God.
(Editor’s Note: Dr. Harvey Brown is also the author of Energion Publications’s Forgiveness: Finding Freedom from Your Past.)