Our Father would have us “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2Peter 3:18). He lovingly carries this out by having us die in death, and in the knowledge of the work of the Cross. The natural tendency of many Christians who are seeking to grow is to avoid the Cross in every way possible, but that is simply to avoid all possibility of true spiritual growth and maturity.
In order to grow we cannot by-pass that phase which is most unattractive, yet altogether essential to our coming into close fellowship with the Lord Jesus. It is a daily crucifixion of the old life, the Adam life. Our crucifixion death must always precede the glorious resurrection life even as the surgeon’s knife must precede physical well-being, as darkness must come before dawn. “For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.” (2Cor. 4:11).
Great is the reward to those who will trust the Holy Spirit to take them into that process of spiritual growth. It will increasingly result in a very intimate life and walk with the Lord Jesus, a glorious life of freedom from the power of sin and a life of abounding fruitfulness to the glory of God. Still, many are satisfied to exist as mediocre and carnal Christians.
Most believers see clearly that the Lord Jesus died on the Cross for us, that He actually bore the penalty for our sins; but few realize that He did not die alone, that each who would believe died unto sin with Him. God sees every believer as having died with Christ. Judicially, we were crucified with Him at Calvary. Actually, that fact must be worked in us through daily experience until it becomes a literal reality in our lives. ‘”That I may know him….being made conformable unto his death.” (Phil.3:10)
The Holy Spirit knows the most effective way of disciplining each life. Some believers suffer severe financial loss and the constant stringency that follows is used by Him to crucify that natural love of self-dependence. Some experience prolonged physical infirmity, and this the Holy Spirit uses to cause them to die to their self-will, self-dependence and self-pity. Others have social problems with friends and relatives that He uses in order to bring them to the place of crucifixion. Whether at home, at school, at work, or at church, He puts you in situations that sorely try you, or with persons–that are a thorn in the flesh. He places the refined with the coarse, the methodical with the slipshod, the fast with the slow, the bright with the dull, the spiritual with the carnal.
Inevitable they grate upon each other. However, the Lord will use such situations for great spiritual profit to both. If He does not deliberately bring us into such naturally undesirable situations for our training, then He will use just such trying places into which we have gotten ourselves through our self-will, self-preservation, self-confidence, self-pleasing and failure to follow Him.
Possibly some husbands and wives are now in such circumstances in your relationship to each other, or toward your children or your relatives or at work. Don’t seek to change your circumstances! Seek the Lord to change your source of life and in due time He will properly adjust your situation. Your present difficulties are the very means He would use to bring you down into death so that He can form the Lord Jesus’ own life in you. “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. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Rom.8:28, 29)
An abundant supply of herring may be found near one of England’s coasts. When brought to shore to be sold, the fishermen found that they became flabby and flavorless. By installing tanks on their fishing vessels and thus keeping the herring alive until sold, their problem was largely solved. But one ingenious fisherman devised a means of keeping them in perfect condition. Everyone rushed to buy his herring first. Finally, he let it out. In each of his numerous large tanks filled with herring, he put a catfish or two. Now, catfish chase the herring and eat them. They were welcome to a few for their service, for the herring kept fleeing for their lives and retained their vitality and flavor.
Has God put a spiritual catfish in your circumstances to keep you moving toward Him; a catfish that is wearing the life out of you, your natural life, so that you will know what it is to live His life, Christ’s own life lived in you? Oh, thank God for the catfish in your life! If you do, that will be the occasion for your becoming strong and usable and a glory to His name. “In everything give thanks; for this – is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thess. 5:18)
Paul recognized his catfish (a thorn in the flesh, let it serve its purpose) and profited greatly by it. Job had his in his wife and his comforters; Moses had his in his sister. Joseph had his in his brothers and at work in Potiphar’s home. David had his in Saul, the head of the government. But the Lord Jesus is our best example. He had no money, not even a penny to look at. He had no home, nowhere to lay His head. His relatives criticized Him. One of the Twelve denied Him. Another betrayed Him. Satan dogged His every step. His own people received Him not. At their demand, the authorities crucified Him. So, “consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” (Heb.12:3).
You, too will grow and be used of God as you willingly humble yourself under the mighty hand of God by submitting to the Spirit’s probing into the deep recesses of your inner life, and thereby bringing the sinful old nature out into the open and keeping it on the Cross where it belongs. Your are called to “reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus,” “so that death works in us, but life in others.”(Rom. 6:11; 2 Cor. 4:12).
Actually, the real catfish lives within each of us — there is “something fishy” all right – none other than the “old man.” As he is dealt with by the Cross, there will be freedom to grow in the midst of any and all circumstances.
“A weakness be it bodily or otherwise is sometimes allowed to continue in order that there maybe dependence, and when there is dependence, the weakness becomes a gain; the grit – the trying thing – is superseded by a pearl.” — J.B. Stoney