Monday, June 24, 2013

Pastoral Ponderings ~ From the Slough of Despond to Excitement in Prayer

          For over a year, I have been carrying a painful story that I have not been able to share. It involves too many other people who also have their own side to the story, and I do not want to fall into the trap of trying a case in public that God intends the church to deal with “all in the family”, so to speak.[1]

          However, I am sure that other people have gone through similar things, and so I have wondered how to give a testimony of God’s work that would glorify God, that would encourage others who have experienced the same kind of heartache, and would leave a door of grace open to anyone who wanted reconciliation.

          Did the word, “God-sized” just pop into your head? It certainly feels that way to me. And, this morning, God moved in my heart to turn my thoughts from deep despondency about what has happened,[2] to growing excitement about what will happen. Perhaps my story will encourage you.

          As I continued praying about my situation, wondering how much to share with others, I knew I did not want this to turn into a sarky pity-party to indulge a childish need for attention. Instead, I remembered that the Bible already gave me a description of the situation. I can share this with you as something that really did happen in the first century church, that the apostle John said he would deal with, that God chose to include in his breathed-out words of Scripture,[3] and that feels very much like what happened to me.[4] Here it is:

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. 10 So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. (III John)

          Let me just say that my situation has felt like a Diotrephes has talked “wicked nonsense” against me, refused to meet with “the brothers” who are witnesses of what happened, and has “stopped those who want to” meet with the brothers from doing so. It has hurt a lot. If this sounds familiar to you, I trust you will find the Lord’s comfort. If it does not sound familiar, please accept that such things still happen, and God’s people need to know how to carry on, even when the pain of such a situation lasts so much longer than we would ever have dreamt possible.

          My testimony is not that I perfectly understand the situation, or that my side of the story is the only way of looking at what took place. My testimony is that, when we feel like this description of Diotrephes is God’s own commentary on what someone has done to us, God will lift up our hearts to him so that we can pray in ways that are fully in line with his will. He will lead us to wait on him in expectation for his most certain answers rather than wallowing in feelings of despondency and defeat. There is something we can pray that is so according to God’s will that there is no doubt that God will hear and answer our prayers to our hearts’ contentment.

          Recently, in our journey through the book of Revelation, God revealed Jesus to me as the one who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.”[5] My conclusion was that it would not be right to pray that God would open a door that Jesus had shut. My prayers had to aim at things I knew to be his will, not things that would pit my will against his. There had to be a way to pray about my life, my place in God’s work, and the fulfillment of all God’s plans and purposes for his children, that would give me complete freedom to ask for something, and fully expect God to give it to me according to his good, pleasing and perfect will.[6]

          With the consideration of what I could pray that would be fully according to God’s will, I remembered the impudent man who had a friend visit late at night and had nothing to feed him. He knew that his neighbor-friend had food in the house, and so, even though his buddy and his family were all in bed, he kept pounding on the door until his neighbor reluctantly got up and shared his food. Jesus said that if we ask, seek, and knock with the kind of persistent shown by the “impudent” man, we would receive, find, and open doors.[7]

          The conclusion to me was that there had to be a way I could pray about my life, and my place in God’s work, that would allow me to knock on the door of God’s will expecting that he absolutely had to say yes to me. This still could not include asking God to give me back what I once had (the door was closed until he said otherwise). However, there was a way that I could pray like the impudent man, pray without ceasing,[8] and know that my prayers would be answered; in fact, would be answered beyond what I could ask or think.[9]

          What came to mind was simple, and God-sized, at the same time. It was to take the words of Jesus Christ telling his church what he wanted us to do until he returned, and asking God to fulfill that mandate in my life however he pleased. This would mean that God would have to do something specific with me, and with people around me, but without me telling him how much work I would allow him to do in me, or how much work I demanded that he do in someone else.

          I could pray this prayer without telling God who had to be included in his answer to my prayers, how much it would cost me, or how much time it would require. And, I definitely could not tell God how much sorrow and heartache I was willing to feel as I let him work into my heart the same shepherdly longing to find lost sheep as would make me like Jesus, the man of sorrows.[10]

          What I realized I could focus on in prayer, with all the childish impudence that my freshly awakened faith could muster, was that Jesus’ commission to his church would be fulfilled in my life, in my family, in my church, in my community, in my world, in every way that the sovereign will of my heavenly Father would ever desire to perform. Jesus said,

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[11]

          Because Jesus has all authority in and over everything in heaven and on earth, and because he has commissioned the church to do his will, every child of God has every right to pray for the fulfillment of Jesus’ commission in our lives. We also have every right, and calling, to wait in honest, sincere, hope-filled expectation that he will answer this prayer without reservation. (Warning: this line of prayer is sure to smack a mirror right before our eyes so that we have to look at God’s work in ourselves before he will allow us to see any work he is doing in others, even though his work in others is taking place on the other side of the mirror as surely as it is in us.)

          Today marks the day that God has put my attention on his will so clearly that I can say this (feel free to hold me accountable):

          “Because God is working in me to ‘will’ to keep in step with the Spirit in the fulfillment of the Great Commission, and to ‘work’ the duties of the Great Commission in my life however he desires, I agree to work out my salvation with fear and trembling, praying that my whole body, soul and spirit would conform to the divine will in every way that God directs my paths.”[12]

          “With the Great Commission as my guide, I pray that God would make me a disciple-maker in whatever way he chooses, with whomever he chooses working with me, reaching out to anyone he desires, without any favoritism, partiality or prejudice hindering this work, so that I am a genuine expression of a branch so abiding in Jesus Christ my Lord that I am part of a church that bears much fruit to the glory of God my Father.”[13]

          “I pray that I would be part of a soul-winning[14] church that has as many new disciples ready to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through baptism as God himself has chosen, and that we would have the celebration of many baptisms glorifying the name of Jesus Christ as the name that is above every name,[15] the only name that God has given to men by which we must be saved.[16]

          “And, I pray that God would grant us an ever growing number of churches where newly baptized disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ would have mature elders teaching them to observe and obey and practice everything Jesus has commanded us, and that mature elders would have the wonderful joy of seeing new disciples longing to obey and follow our Lord Jesus Christ.”[17]

          No matter what any of us are going through, and no matter what you think of what I perceive that I have been going through, there is some way that you could join in this kind of praying, some way that God would direct your steps to join him in his work, and some way you could keep in step with his Holy Spirit’s application of all that the Father and the Son have spoken to him.[18]

          Hmmm… I just realized that this week’s assignment includes meditating on this Scripture: and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God.”[19] Let us band together in Jesus’ name to make sure we do not quench such a fire in the church,[20] and to encourage each other to be on Great Commission fire until our Savior returns in glory,[21] gathering all these disciples to be with him forever.[22]

          Stay tuned for God’s answers to our prayers![23]

          From my heart,



© 2013 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Some of the Scriptures telling the church how to resolve conflicts and sin-problems include: Matthew 18:15-20, Matthew 5:23-24, I Corinthians 5, Titus 3:10-11, I Timothy 5:17-21
[2] Akin to what John Bunyan refers to as “the Slough of Despond” in his classic, Pilgrim’s Progress
[3] II Timothy 3:16-17
[4] As can be affirmed by more than the required two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; Matthew 18:16; II Corinthians 13:1; I Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28)
[5] Revelation 3:7
[6] 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12)
[7] And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Luke 11)
[8] “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.” (I Samuel 12:23); “pray without ceasing,” (I Thessalonians 5:17)
[9] 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3)
[10] He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53)
[11] Matthew 28:18-20
[12] 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2); Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3)
[13] I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15)
[14] 30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.” (Proverbs 11)
[15] Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2)
[16] And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
[17] 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13)
[18] 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16)
[19] Revelation 4:5
[20] “Do not quench the Spirit;” (I Thessalonians 5:19)
[21] “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.” (Matthew 25:31)
[22] 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24)
[23] 24 Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full. (John 16)

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