Monday, June 30, 2014

Pastoral Pings (Plus) ~ The Complete Works of the First and the Last

The Complete Works of the First and the Last
          One of my favorite words associated with the book of Revelation is the word, “complete”. While the word itself is only used a couple of times, the essence of the book is to tell us of God’s promised work to complete what he has started. As Paul wrote, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”[1] The Revelation gives us ample pictures of how God will do this.
          At the beginning of the book of Revelation God reveals himself as, “’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’”[2] At the end of the book of Revelation God declares himself as, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end,”[3] and, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”[4]
          Woven through the rest of Scripture is a whole library full of numbers that add up to this consistent message: God will complete what he has started. The work God began in us is good, it is the work of the first and the last, the beginning and the end, so it will end as certainly as it has begun.
          In fact, the gift we have in the first coming of Christ is a gracious evidence of how God begins and ends something. He began everything with creation as recorded in the beautiful account of Genesis 1, and brings it to its grand end in the amazing pictures of the closing chapters of the Revelation. In between, to give us hope and faith along the way to this fulfillment, we have the prophecies and fulfillments surrounding the first coming of Jesus Christ. What God promised he fulfilled, simple as that.
          In a sense, I see God starting something he intended to finish. However, because his work would need to deal with sin, death, hell, and the grave, things would get messy. God’s children would face too many obstacles to faith for God to leave us on our own. He had to do things in space, time, and matter that would affirm the things he was doing in the spiritual realm, things that would guarantee our eternal joy in his presence.
          At the same time, in order to begin a work of creation that would result in God having a people in his own image and likeness in the end, there would need to be a grand scheme of redemption to get us out of sin, and back into the likeness of God’s Son. This work would need to have a beginning and end that fit into the larger beginning and end of God’s creative work.
          So God, in his inestimable wisdom and knowledge, began telling his people that he would fully deal with sin in such a way that he would have this people that belonged to him, who would, in the end, be like his Son. This began by telling the serpent that the offspring of the woman “shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”[5] It moved into the imagery of Noah’s ark, Moses leading Israel into God’s deliverance, all the way through the prophetic descriptions of a Messiah who would come and save the people of God. In essence, God repeatedly spoke of what he had started, and how he would bring it to completion.
          When we consider the intricate records of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have an enduring message of hope to the Church that is waiting for the return of our Savior. The point of Jesus’ return is to execute his judgment on the earth that had refused him, and fulfill everything promised to his brothers.
          While we wait for the day of Jesus’ appearing, we have this wonderful revelation that is affirmed and proven so many times that faith and hope should be the easy fruit of all that God has revealed. Jesus is both Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. [6] We must see him this way in order to wait in hope that the things he began in us he will finish.
          In other words, we do not only think of Jesus as there in the beginning and there in the end. We do not limit our beliefs to his eternal nature. Rather, we receive this wonderful picture that Jesus is the beginning, and so he started everything we see in creation, and he is the end, purposefully bringing all things to the grand conclusion he has promised.
          And, to help us along in our faith, he has promised, kept, fulfilled, and recorded everything to do with his coming in redemption so that we would know that he will equally fulfill everything to do with completing the work he has started. Even the beautiful imagery of the 144,000 of Revelation 7 says this very thing. Jesus will not fail to bring home all the Father has given him.

© 2014 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] Philippians 1:6
[2] Revelation 1:8
[3] Revelation 21:6
[4] Revelation 22:13
[5] Genesis 3:15
[6] Revelation 22:12-13

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pastoral Pings ~ Baby Steps Towards “Like a Child”

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”[1]
“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”[2]
          Every once in a while I find myself entering into a fresh understanding of what it means to be the little child who enters the kingdom of heaven. With a focus on adults in my church ministry and children in our daycare, I have had many personal experiences of the differences between the way adults and children handle life. Today one of those differences stood out as the obvious work of God to bring me to rest like a child in his everlasting love.
          My time with God began with the awareness of another "like a child" lesson. In this case, it was the way children do not spend time trying to figure out what I am doing to complete a project. They only care that I am doing it, and wish they could have it yesterday.
          Not only do children give little thought to how a plan is completed, but they do not have the capacity to comprehend all the things that a parent or caregiver has to think about in order to pull off an event, an outing, or a project. It’s not just that they don’t want to think about it, but that they simply don’t.
          In our present case, the children left our daycare on Friday knowing that we were in the middle of putting down paving stones in one of their play areas, and wondering when they could regain access to their little playhouse. They had no idea what steps we were following to complete the project, and smile in anticipation of the children coming back to discover the changes. Neither did they need to know any of these things in order to make their daily visits to our backyard and enjoy what we had done. After all, they are the children in this story. It’s not their job.
          The children also left on Friday knowing that we were preparing a place under our big Maple tree where they could safely play in an area that would feel very much like a forest oasis. However, they had no idea how long we had thought of doing this, how long we had waited because of the necessity of doing other projects first, and what we hoped to get done during the few days they were away. When we told them this would soon be their new play-space, they had only one question: “Tomorrow?”
          The lesson for me was that, if I was more childlike in my faith, I would quickly follow God where he was leading, rather than wasting time trying to figure out how he could possibly do what he says he will do. He has God-sized thoughts about the big stuff, particularly how he will accomplish all he has promised. I don’t need to know how he will do something to know that he will do something.
          Childlike faith should be able to skip along behind Jesus in joyful anticipation that this great big wonderful God of ours will have no problem doing what he said. Not only can we not imagine how, but childlike faith wouldn't actually care to know. Somehow, we would be too busy enjoying the moment, listening to God's joyful singing, filling up our cups with his joy, delighting in the waterfall of his love splashing all over our hearts, and anticipating tomorrow's portion of mercies that are new every morning.
          After all, if he is God, and I am not, then I might as well let him concern himself with the big stuff that is far beyond my capacity to even imagine, and set my heart to the child-duty of delighting myself in the Lord Jesus so that I can experience the desires of my heart at the moment,[3] while knowing my Father is setting the stage for more of the same tomorrow.
© 2014 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] Matthew 18:3
[2] Mark 10:15
[3] Psalm 37:4

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Revelation Video - Study 53 ~ "Saving and Sealing the Servants of God"

One of the big lessons in our journey through the book of Revelation is, "Get to know the rest of your Bible!" I do not mean in the dissecting of prophetic words and promises. I mean in the devotion of getting to know God.

By the time we get to Revelation 7, and find ourselves trying to understand the sealing of the 144,000, we need to know God, and know what he is like. This fascinating section of the Revelation Museum fills us with reminders of things God has done, said, and revealed throughout the pages of his word. Above all, it reminds us of what he is like, the kind of Father he is to his children.

Such a small way into this journey, it is already so apparent that the deliberate lack of concrete information in the Apocalypse is aimed at moving our hearts, souls, and minds to consider God himself. Treading into the realm of the times and seasons he has set by his own authority (Acts 1:7) not only misses the point, not only distracts us from the pictures, but steals our wonder at the things God is looking after without any help required from his little boys.

In this study we look at a passage from the prophet Malachi that reveals the heart of the God who seals, or sets apart, his servants for the day of ultimate blessing. The last book of the Old Testament gives us a very good indication of how we are to think about God and ourselves in the last book of the New Testament. At the very least, it was a wonderful journey to consider these two passages of Scripture together. Join us, and let the word of God bless you with its God-woven tapestry of God-written threads.

Even while the word of God may leave your head spinning because it overflows with far too many wonderful expressions at any given time, we always leave the word of God marvelling at the way God has spoken to each of us, as needed.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Pastoral Pings ~ When the God of Hope Moves His People of Faith to Abound in Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”[1]
          For starters, the twice stated “you” is plural, referring to the church as a unit, rather than members of the body as individuals. God has a gift of joy, peace, and hope for his church, his body, and we experience it best when we walk together the most.
          There is a way that God fulfills his promises through people so that, though we see someone do something for us, it is as a part of the body of Christ, moved by our head, doing Jesus’ will in fellowship with the Savior even as Jesus himself did all things in fellowship with his Father.[2]
          This is why Jesus would say, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.[3]The Church is only the light of the world as a branch filled with the life and light of the vine, extending the light of Christ into the world. When people see the good works that arise from our abiding in Christ, they give glory to our Father in heaven for accomplishing such wonderful things through creatures of dirt.
          Paul showed this amazing fellowship between God and his people when he expressed, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.”[4] Paul asked the church to pray to God on his behalf, looking for the glory that God would receive in the answers to their prayers. He wanted the experience of many people giving thanks to God for the blessing given to Paul and his fellow servants through the prayers that many believers offered to God.
          This morning I received a very blessed example of how the joy, peace, and hope God gives to his people sometimes comes only through the fellowship of his people. My day began with feelings that were hopeless, joyless, and peaceless (if there is such a word). I have learned to express these feelings to God just as freely as their opposites. I am convinced that he wants me to know him in the bad as well as the good, and am thankful for the ways I have got to know God in the valleys as well as the mountain peaks.
          However, the primary way that God responded to my cry for help this morning was through a couple of encouraging emails from my children, both expressing what God was doing in their lives, and the encouragement of my wife in facing some of the things that were “getting me down”.
          I smile as I think of this, because it is not the first time the Lord has confronted me with this lesson. Sometimes he has to withhold the thing promised until we will accept the relationships through which he will express his grace. We often want God to do his work in us in private to spare us the embarrassment of people knowing the truth about our walk with God. In such tunnel-vision experiences we don’t realize what we are missing by cutting ourselves off from sharing with the body of Christ.
          And yet, there is God’s grace and mercy giving us gifts through his body, involving his people in something they can share together, so that the body is built up, prayers are answered, God is glorified, and we grow up in love.[5]
          Not only am I thankful that the “you” is plural, and that I saw the “you” working together to experience the work of God this morning, but tonight is prayer meeting. It is one more opportunity for the body to unite to know the joy, peace, and hope God is so able and willing to give to his children. When we come together in Jesus’ name, that is.

© 2014 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] Romans 15:13
[2] John 5:19
[3] Matthew 5:16
[4] II Corinthians 1:11
[5] Ephesians 4:15-16. I spoke of this in my last blog post:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Pastoral Ponderings ~ Body-building the Loving Way

          There are many schemes and systems for building up the health of our physical bodies. Some work; some don’t. Failure is often a result of waning motivation meeting hyped up advertising. Success is often for the simple reason that we are doing something active and won’t quit.
          When trying to settle on an exercise and healthy-eating routine, we look for some sign that the promoters know what they are talking about. Have they done their research? Do they have any kind of verifiable track record that indicates the success of their program? Does it work?
          The health of the Church, the body of Christ, is not at the mercy of money-grubbing health gurus. We are Jesus’ body; Jesus himself is our head, our leader, our Shepherd, our Lord. He does not need to prove himself. The cross has put to rest any questions regarding his sincerity. The resurrection has put to rest any questions regarding his ability. Our faith-response to the gospel has put to rest any questions regarding our participation.
          While many of us have experienced the destructive effect of people working behind the scenes to divide the church, here is encouragement to consider the unifying, uplifting, encouraging, edifying blessings that come when we band together “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”[1]
          When you think of addressing problems in the church, holes that need to be filled, if you will, things where it appears that we are failing to minister to people as we ought, do you think primarily in terms of which individuals have holes in their ministries because they aren’t doing enough, or do you think in terms of how the body of Christ has holes in its ministry because not enough people are doing?
          What I mean is that, the congregation sometimes criticizes its leadership for not doing “enough”, treating unmet needs as failures on the part of the leaders to help people, when it is really that someone in the congregation should be doing what the leaders are not supposed to do.[2]
          What I mean is that, instead of thinking that any one person has a hole in his or her ministry, or a blind-spot they need to fix, or a weakness that must be overcome (while it may be true that such things must be addressed as well), perhaps we are really dealing with not enough members of the body contributing their place for the building up of the church. What if the lack we see is not lack in the person doing ministry, but the lack of persons doing ministry?
          Take sport’s teams as an example. Teams are designed with players taking on certain positions, and playing those positions the way they are designed, so that they rest of the team can count on them always being in that place, doing their part, the way their position demands. As each player plays his position, the whole team works together as a unit that accomplishes the aim of scoring more goals than the opponent scores.
          When there is a team that plays really well, but the goal keeper is lazy, doesn’t take care of his body, doesn’t get proper sleep or nutrition, keeps talking to fans during games, and so is not able to operate at highest ability, the team may lose games as a direct result of the goalie’s lack of contribution. The forwards may be scoring goals fully in keeping with their place on the team, and their level of skill, but the team still loses because too many goals are scored against.
          In North American football, a quarterback may be living up to the highest experience of his ability, and his place on the team, but his receivers will not play their positions, or they get into arguments with other players, or they get distracted by their fans, and so they are simply not where they should be when the quarterback throws the ball. The rest of the team can be playing their positions, blocking the other team’s efforts, and yet still fail to score touchdowns because the receivers are never where they should be. This is not a lack in the quarterback, or a hole in his ability, but something missing in the team because certain players are not doing their part. The whole team suffers holes in their team, so to speak.
          I remember in the early years of our home church ministry that we learned a lesson about this in a very practical way. Our initial group was experiencing a lot of interest from people in their community, and would have new people check us out almost every Sunday. There was a joyful enthusiasm in the group because we were all feeling very thankful for our experience of this work of God. Many were enjoying the change from showing up on a Sunday morning to run programs and carry out organizational duties, to learning to focus on fellowship as the body of Christ.
          In the midst of our growing pangs, I received an email from one of the group members indicating a complaint about our group. This person had noticed that, on the previous Sunday, while everyone was fellowshipping before or after the worship time, that all the regulars were “ignoring” a newcomer, and talking among themselves instead. The result was that this person writing the letter had to go and talk to the newcomer herself because no one else would do it. As the pastor, I was expected to correct the group so that everyone would respond to newcomers the way this group member saw the situation.
          While I do not remember the details of how we communicated about this, I do remember the way it sounded to me, and what I sought to teach at the time. Instead of considering this situation as an indication of the failure of the group as a whole to respond to newcomers, I saw it as a lesson for the person writing the complaint. What she saw was not a “hole” in the other members, or their failure to see what she saw. Rather, she was being confronted with the awareness of a need that was staring her in the face, and drawing her attention, because she was the part of the body that was to go and talk to the newcomer. When she went and talked to the newcomer, the whole body was involved. No more holes.
          I know we had to work this same lesson out in different scenarios, but it became a very important part of our church life. It taught people that, if any of us see a need staring us in the face, it may not be a fault with other members of the body, but the thing the Spirit is moving our part of the body to respond to by joining God in his work. If each of us would respond to the need that we see, we would discover that the hole we saw was our assignment, and our experience of joining God in his work in relation to that need filled the hole.
          I do not believe that any church will get these things perfectly. I just know that there is as much a pattern of every person playing their part in the church as there is in a sport’s team. As a pastor, I do see when there is a hole in our ministry because specific other people are not doing their part. This does need to be addressed as much as anything else.
          However, there are also times when the hole we see in our church’s ministry is standing out to us because we are the ones to fill it. And, while it may feel better to point out someone else’s failure to do their part than look in the mirror at our contribution, God has a way of confronting each of us first and foremost with how we ourselves are doing in the life of his body. If he can get each of us abiding in the vine, abiding in the Son of God in that real and personal way that is ours through the grace of God, he will have each of us where he wants us, doing what he has given us to do, and the whole body working together in a fruit-bearing kind of way simply because each person is right where the Lord wants us.
          It is like a symphony orchestra in which each person needs to play their part in time with the conductor. They do not need to think about whether anyone else has their instrument in tune, or will play their appointed notes at the appointed time. If the conductor can get every musician to tune to his fork, follow his lead, and do only what their part requires, they will create the most beautiful sounds of melody and harmony for the blessing of those who hear their music.
          So it is in the body of Christ. Everyone has a place. Every member of the body of Christ has a particular work of God going on in their hearts and lives today. If each part fully joins God in his work, responds to his divine appointments, prays according to his will, we will find the head of the body coordinating things that none of us could even think of.
          For my church family I present this assignment (perhaps you would like to try it as well): Throughout the course of today (or tomorrow if you are reading this late), write down each thing you feel “someone” in the church should do to make our church better than we are. Then, prayerfully ask God to show you your place in meeting these needs, or filling these holes. Let’s see what happens if we can get the majority of our body parts doing what our head directs each of us to do in ministry to one another. Let’s see if, when each of us fully does whatever we feel led by the Spirit to do, we get the feeling of vibrant joy and satisfaction in growing up in love, as each of us does our work.[3]
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.[4]
© 2014 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] Ephesians 4:3
[2] Acts 6:1-7 shows the apostles setting this example when they said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables” (vs 2). If “serving tables” was the hole, it was not the leaders who were to fill it. Instead, the congregation chose men to do this ministry so the leaders could devote themselves to leading.
[3] As an added challenge, think of this in terms of the body of Christ that is all believers in your community rather than only those who gather with you on a Sunday morning, or in your small group during the week.
[4] Ephesians 4:11-16.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Pastoral Pings ~ The Shepherd of Our Eternal Joy

          The book of Revelation says there are “four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree” until the 144,000 are sealed.[1]
          Jesus had already told us that, at his return, he would send out his angels to “the four winds”, to “gather his elect”, and this would be so complete as to encompass “one end of heaven to the other”.[2]
          This is a beautiful picture of God giving us a perfect number, 122 x 103, to tell us that he has his elect covered. Remember, child of God, this perfect, beautiful number of completeness, that the elect are sealed unto God, and not even the red dragon can do anything to stop God’s work of making a people in his own image and likeness.[3]
          The sealing of the 144,000 is an easy to remember picture of this truth: But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his’”.[4] Revelation shows that, not only does he know those who are his, but he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”[5]
          The Lord Jesus Christ has known who are his from before the foundation of the world.[6] He will not fail to gather those who are his to be with him forever, fully restored to his own image and likeness.[7] While we may not understand all the nuances of the prophetic timetable,[8] we can live by faith in this promise of God that his beloved are sealed before the great day of their wrath has come,”[9] so we are never to interpret world events or life-experiences in a contrary way.
          God’s word says that every believer in Jesus Christ has been “sealed for the day of redemption” by the Holy Spirit.[10] The number, 144,000 is one more way for God to remind his children that Jesus is preparing a home for those who are his,[11] and nothing in this world will keep him from bringing us home.
          The more we meditate on God’s word, storing up the words of God in our hearts,[12] living “by every word that comes from the mouth of God”,[13] the more we see layer-upon-layer of divine revelation assuring us of this, that the same Good Shepherd who took David safely through the Valley of the Shadow of Death,[14] and went out looking for that one lost sheep that had strayed from the other ninety-nine,[15] will shepherd us all the way home to his eternal presence. He cannot fail to do what he has chosen to do.[16]
          One reason for all these pictures of God gathering to himself all those who belong to him is that the world is constantly confronting us with discouraging circumstances. Life is hard. Satan will try to use our distressing life-experiences to dissuade us from enduring until the end. If he cannot stop Jesus from claiming us as his own, he will do everything he can to destroy our witness in this world, all to minimize the glory that Jesus Christ receives.
          What we must keep in mind is the contrast between this world and the next. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world”.[17]When do we see this with our eyes? When Jesus returns. We have seen it in the cross; we know it by faith; and we will one day see it fulfilled.
          God’s word also says that, in his “presence there is fullness of joy;” and at his “right hand are pleasures forevermore”.[18] The two together, along with many other Scriptures, assure the believer that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us”.[19]
          In such a simple and symbolic number as 144,000, God had given his church on earth the most easy to remember emblem of hope: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.”[20]
          “Sealed unto the day of redemption”! As the song-writer declared, “What a day, glorious day, that will be!”[21]

© 2014 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] Revelation 7:1-8
[2] Matthew 24:31
[3] Revelation 12 brings this out in more of this book’s beautiful pictures. The plan of God to make a people in his own image and likeness is revealed in the first book of the Bible (Genesis 1:26-27). The last book of the Bible assures us that he will do what he set out to do.
[4] II Timothy 2:19
[5] Hebrews 7:25
[6] Ephesians 1:3-4
[7] I John 3:1-2; Jude 1:24-25
[8] Acts 1:7 ~ Only the Father knows the times and seasons he has set by his own authority.
[9] Revelation 6:17
[10] Ephesians 4:30
[11] John 14:1-3
[12] Psalm 119:11
[13] Matthew 4:4
[14] Psalm 23
[15] Luke 15:4
[16] Joshua 21:45, 23:14; I Kings 8:56; Hebrews 10:23, 11:11
[17] John 16:33
[18] Psalm 16:11
[19] Romans 8:18
[20] John 10:28-29
[21] “What a Day That Will Be” © 1955. Renewed 1983 Ben Speer Music (Admin. by ClearBox Rights, LLC)/Jim Hill composer

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Revelation Videos - Study 51 ~ "Opening the Fifth Seal"

The fifth seal of Revelation 6 shows the martyrs of the church crying out from beneath the altar of God, wondering when God will keep his promise of vengeance on their persecutors. God reveals that there is a day when the number of martyrs will be complete, and justice will be carried out. The souls of the martyrs are to rest in the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ as they wait for that day.

Revelation Video - Study 52 ~ "Opening the Sixth Seal"

The sixth seal in Revelation 6 describes the horror the nations will feel at the return of Jesus Christ. While his first coming was to seek and to save the lost, his second coming will be to separate the saved from the lost. Believers in Jesus Christ clearly look forward to the blessings described in the book of Revelation. However, our present earthly life must feel the weight of concern to save as many as possible before the day of God's wrath appears. Here is encouragement to receive the message of the sixth seal as one more motivation to go out conquering and to conquer. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Pastoral Pings (Plus) ~ The Pleasure that Fights the Pain that Fights Our Prayers

          There is a stumbling block to prayer that surrounds our fear of pain. There are things we believe we need so desperately that the thought of failing to get those things is so painful we cannot bear to pray about them. The thought that God might say no, or prayer might not work, or people might not cooperate with the divine plan (as we understand it), creates such anticipation of pain, and such pain in the anticipation of a negative experience, that praying for the thing we want most is already too painful.
          I have watched people lose relationships with someone they love, and experience such pain in the experience, that they simply cannot bring themselves to ask God for something better. They cannot pray that the person would come back, because it already hurts too much that they left. The loss, the rejection, the empty space in their hearts, contains so much pain, that letting their hearts ask for the thing they most long for is simply impossible. Or, so it seems.
          The problem is pain. Losing people hurts. It is likely the most intense pain we know. When we have already lost them, either by choice or circumstance, the ache in our hearts seems to be the biggest thing we know, or feel. We see such finality to the situation, and no hope of change, so every prayer is as one more rejection, one more loss, one more negative experience to break our hearts.
          It would be like phoning up a best-friend-turned-worst-enemy every day and asking them to come back, only to get the same answer every time: NO! Or, maybe it would be the heart wrenching experience of phoning that beloved friend who had to move away due to some unavoidable situation, and hearing the heartache in his or her voice as every day he or she says, “I can’t”.
          Pain is a far too powerful agent in our decision-making. It is a Goliath that can keep a whole army cowering in fear. Solve the pain, solve the problem, so to speak. How so? The simple-but-not-easy answer is, overcome pain with pleasure.
          No, I do not mean that we should convince ourselves that we no longer need that beloved friend because we have found someone better. I do not mean that we should console ourselves in a loss by replacing people we have lost with people we have gained. I do not have in mind the childish pretense of acting as though we didn’t really like that person so much after all, or that person wasn’t so important as we had portrayed.
          What I mean is that we see the pleasure that is ours in prayer as a greater experience than the pain we feel in our praying. When we allow pain to stop us from praying about a lost or broken relationship, it is because the person we have lost has been more important to us than the One who remains. Pain keeps us from praying to God because our pleasure-experience was associated with the person we are praying about, not the person to whom we pray.
          When we realize that the reality of, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore,”[1] can only be said of the One who hears our prayers, we will run to him in prayer no matter how much pain comes to the surface for doing so. The pain will no longer be the stumbling block to prayer, but the motivation to pray.
          When our pleasure in God is greater than our fear of pain, we run to God in prayer and experience his comfort.[2] Even when we do not get the answer we ask for, or the result we imagine, we are never losing the one who gives us the greatest joy, who satisfies us with the highest pleasures. The joy and pleasure in God are supreme because of who God is, so we seek him in our pain, desiring from him what we experience in prayer in greater ways than we experience in answers to prayer.
          Don’t know God like that? Be encouraged that this is one relationship that will never be denied the one who asks. There is never a situation where someone sincerely asks for relationship with the Triune God and is told that it is not best, or not time. Never are we told that God will not relate to us because he has changed his address, or has a new best friend, or doesn’t want to be our Father, or any too common experiences of loss and rejection.
          God’s promise is, “But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.”[3] “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”[4] “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”[5]
          God is the only one who can “be there” for all his children, all the time, no matter what they are going through. The presence of his Holy Spirit is with everyone who receives Jesus Christ.[6] There is greater joy and pleasure in knowing Jesus Christ in our pain, than the lesser happiness from people with no experience of the supremacy of God.
          Not only that, but we have no way to know what God may do through the unrelenting prayers of those who find their greatest joy in him. There is no doubt that answers to prayer cannot come when prayer is not expressed. It seems to be time to pray in that love relationship with God that surpasses any other love relationship we could know. Not only do we get the experience of Jesus’ joy in us, and our joy raised to the full,[7] but we also get those times when God leads us into the experience of answered prayer that restores relationships that were broken.
          I write this as one who still has far more broken relationships and lost friends than those who have returned and reconciled. However, my relationship with God has truly grown through my pain; and the few times people have come back has been so satisfying that I know they have been worth waiting for, and praying for. Perhaps this would happen more often if I found more pleasure in praying to my Father, than in protecting myself from pain.
          Here is an interesting thought: my self-protection has failed me more often than I could ever say of prayer, so why is self-protection so easy, and prayer so difficult? Methinks my sark (flesh) is not very smart! Self-protection cannot protect me, but prayer brings me to God my fortress and deliverer.[8]
          Now, who do we need to pray for in the knowledge that every prayer, no matter how it is answered, brings us to the One who fills us with his joy now, and promises us the eternal experience of his eternal pleasures when we go home? As pain comes to the surface just to think of people who have left us, let us bring the pain to the One who will never leave us or forsake us,[9] and discover how his constant love is better by far.
Listen to my words, Lord,  consider my lament.
Hear my cry for help,
 my King and my God,
    for to you I pray.
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
    in the morning I lay my requests before you
    and wait expectantly.[10]

© 2014 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] Psalm 16:11
[2] II Corinthians 1:3-11
[3] Deuteronomy 4:29
[4] Jeremiah 29:13
[5] Matthew 7:7-8
[6] John 1:12-13; Matthew 28:20; John 14:16-17
[7] John 15:11
[8] Psalm 18:2
[9] Hebrews 13:5
[10] Psalm 5:1-3 (NIV)