It was 4 AM when Fyodor Mikailovich was awakened by soldiers banging on his door. Fyodor had been reading forbidden books about socialism. He had been talking up socialism. His socialist friends were enemies of the czar. Many of his friends were arrested that day too. So was he.
For the next many months, Fyodor and his comrades were in prison. There were no charges at first. Finally, there was a quick trial for conspiracy, but he never heard what the verdict was. He remained in prison. And the prison was a terrible place.
Then, just before dawn, on December 23, Fyodor and 14 of his socialist friends were hurried out of their cells. They were taken to a parade ground near the prison. Fyodor was surprised to see thousands of people there in the bitter cold and snow at that early hour. He and the other prisoners were ordered to take off their clothes. They made the men put on white linen burial shrouds with hoods on them. Then they were made to stand in front of a wall. A friend of Fyodor's in the crowd pointed to coffins that were lined up.
At first, the whole thing was surreal to Fyodor. But then as a firing squad stood 20 paces in front of him, it was now very real to Fyodor. As the clock moved toward 8 AM, he thought: "I am going to die in a matter of minutes." Then, the military commander began to slowly bark out the words: "ready .... aim ...." to the first group of prisoners. Fyodor would be in the next group. Just as before the word "fire" was about to be shouted, a courier from the czar galloped in with important papers that stopped the executions. When the dust settled, the czar had commuted Fyodor's sentence to four years of hard labor in Siberia.
Year later, Fyodor told of this day in 1849 when his life was spared
. He said it has given new life - a sort of resurrection.
He left socialism and nihilism that day. He spoke about that day to his
brother Mikhail this way: "Now, in changing my life, I am reborn in a new form."
Fyodor's full name was Fyodor Mikailovich Dostoevsky. Years later, Dostoyevsky said his time in Siberia were as though he was "shut up in a coffin." The summers were insufferably hot and humid. The wisnters were unbearably frigid with temperatures that were sometimes minus 40 degrees centigrade.
In his book, The House of the Dead, he wrote: "All the floors were rotten. Filth on the floors an inch thick...We were packed like herrings in a barrel...There was no room to turn around. From dusk to dawn it was impossible not to behave like pigs...Fleas, lice, and black beetles by the bushel..."
The only books Dostoevsky was permitted to have in prison were The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And through the life of Christ and the teachings of Jesus,
Dostoevsky claimed a measure of the Christian faith.
From these horrific experiences, Dostoevsky went on to write books like Crime and Punishment, The Possessed, The Diary of a Writer, The Brothers Karamazov, and others. As a result of what he went through,
Dostoevsky wrote about the redemptive and regenerative power of suffering in many of his novels.
For the rest of his life, Dostoyevsky had to deal with hard things. His wife died. His brother died and left Fyodor with all his debts.
Unfortunately, Dostoevsky didn't practice what he preached or what he had learned. H
e was penniless due to his own compulsive gambling. He had affairs with various women.
Dostoevsky suffered from great bouts of depression. He didn't use the renewing power that hard times can bring.
While suffering in prison, he made some promises to God. But when the suffering was over, he never followed through on what He told God he'd do after he was released.
Although Dostoyevsky intellectually learned the lessons of a Christ-centered life, he never yielded to the Lordship of Christ. He never put Christ in charge of his commitments, his emotions, his will, or his life. He changed for a while but the change never permeated his practice, his behavior, or his life priorities. When life got hard again, Dostoyevsky still used his same old coping skills of compulsive behavior and despair. One writer said he "never seemed to grow as a Christian."
When we talk about suffering and trials, we Christians usually quote James 1:2-4 says:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything".
I like the way the New Living Translation renders James 1:2-6, 12:
" ... whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything. If you need wisdom-if you want to know what God wants you to do-ask Him, and He will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking. But when you ask Him, be sure that you really expect Him to answer, for a doubtful mind is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind ... God blesses the people who patiently endure testing. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him."
We forget that verse 22 is in the same chapter and the New Living puts it this way:
"And remember, it is a message to obey, not just to listen to. If you don't obey, you are only fooling yourself."
Many of us are like Dostoyevsky, we do a great job of talking about having joy in the middle of the circumstances and the benefits of testing. But talk is not enough! It is not enough to go through hard times. God want us to grow through hard times. He wants us to be different as a result of them. He does not want just to listen to Him but to obey Him! He wants suffering to "finish its work" so that you are "mature and complete" in Christ.
Dear friend, have been going through some rough times? It may be this coronavirus thing or it may be the ramifications of it. It may be money, health, the loss of job, a failing business, a rocky marriage, a wayward child, or something else that has been very painful. Well, I am certain that God is talking to all of us. We wants us to let the hard times improve our character, refine our walk with Him, change our priorities, and force us to our knees in submission to His will.
Perhaps God's University of Hard Knocks has been giving you quite an education lately. Now is the time to finish your education with God and get His diploma! Graduate magna cum laude with a double major in perseverance and faith!! Let God permeate your life. Live in submission to His will. Move on to the deeper things of not simply knowing the Gospel but living it!
The Christian musical group from Australia, Hillsong, has a song called "I Will Never Be the Same." This song has been an important word in my life as I have promised God to learn, mature, and to never go back from what God has taught me in hard times. The lyrics are:
I will never be the same again,
I can never return, I've closed the door.
I will walk the path, I'll run the race
And I will never be the same again.
Fall like fire, soak like rain,
Flow like mighty waters, again and again.
Sweep away the darkness, burn away the chaff,
And let the flame burn to glorify Your name.
There are higher heights, there are deeper seas,
Whatever you need to do, Lord do in me.
The Glory of God fills my life,
And I will never be the same again.
Promise God that you will never be the same after the hard time you might have gone through. And then keep your promise! I know from personal experience that God will bless your life from this kind of promise. Suffering is hard, sometimes excruciating. But, to grow through hard times, you need to covenant with God now to never be the same and keep your promise! Never be the same!
By the way, Dostoevsky is buried in a monastery cemetery in Saint Petersburg, Russia. On his tombstone is a quote from the King James translation of John 12:24 into Russian. It says:
"Verily, Verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."
The quoting of this verse gives me hope that maybe Fyodor finally died to self and was born to new life in Christ. The day before Dostoevsky died, he asked for his old prison copy of The Gospels. He asked his family to read the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. We can only hope that just before his death, for real this time, this prodigal man finally applied the lessons he learned so long ago.
Maybe Fyodor finally got his life right with God? I pray he did. Can you and I do the same after this time of Covid-19 is over? Will you and I emerge from this time, stronger, wiser, and more spiritually mature? The results begin when we do!
I love being your pastor!