The storm is a gift. This was the thought that was running through my mind as wave after wave crashed upon me. In part because I knew it was true and partly because I hoped it was true. When the skies turned dark they caught me off guard. I found myself lost in confusion as every bit of my weakness was exposed, but that was only a portion of the battle.
As the tempest raged against me from the outside, something else started happening on the inside. My flesh began to rebel. It had been active for years, as I now realize, but it started to let me know that it was upset. As I entered one of the darkest times of my life, my sinfulness began to rear its head in ways I could have never imagined. It was showing me its power.
I never really saw myself as someone who longed for or loved the things of the world, but the minute the pleasures were no longer available, a passion for them stirred in my soul. The fact that they were no longer at my disposal caused a despondency in my spirit that made me feel ill. I thought, “What if all those days of pleasure are gone? I can’t live without them, they are part of what makes me who I am.” The notion that they were no longer mine was more than I could handle.
It was here that I realized the conflict between flesh and Spirit was clashing within me in a battle more fierce than I could ever remember. The problem is, when you already feel you are spinning out of control because of the circumstances in which you find yourself, this type of inner conflict brings your sinfulness to the surface compounding the trial. Once once my sinfulness was added to the mix, I was devastated. I had nothing left: everything I thought I was standing on was systematically dislodged from beneath me. I don’t think I could have plummeted any lower.
This, however, was exactly were I needed to be. When the conflict between flesh and Spirit heightens within us, it is more often a sign of spiritual progress than decline. When the Lord sends us troubles that are designed to mold us to His image, the first thing we tend to notice is how far we fall short. In other words, sanctified affliction seldom seems sanctified because the Lord is drawing the dross to the surface, but never forget, He is drawing it to the surface to wipe it away.
A.W. Tozer once said, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” This may not sit well with many in the church today, but it is important to remember that God is more concerned with our spiritual growth than our worldly prosperity, and often He will sacrifice the latter to promote the former.
Even the disciples, who had seen Christ perform many miracles, didn’t marvel until it was their own boat that was at stake. We tend see Christ’s power to calm the storm as interesting until it is our life that is on is on the line, then it becomes imperative. Our Savior is not looking for people who admire His power from a distance, His children are the ones who know their very lives depend upon Him. Though everything I thought could support me crumbled beneath me, when it had all been destroyed, I found myself standing on the Rock of Christ Jesus. In an act of God’s grace, the storm killed my idols.
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts. – Proverbs 17:3
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. – Galatians 6:9
Growing weary is something we will all face in the Christian life, especially as we get into our middle years. Martyn Lloyd Jones, in his book, Spiritual Depression, suggests that the middle period of life is the most difficult because there are compensations in youth and compensations in old age that do not exist in the middle years.
When we were young and entered the Christian life and work, there was an excitement, a freshness, that permeated all we did, but as we age, we become accustomed to the Christian life. We also grow accustomed to the work and fall into a routine of doing the same thing day after day. As we do this, the earlier excitements that brought us up to this level of work and energy begin to fade away, and we are simply left with the work. Lloyd Jones goes on to say, “There we are on that level, and the difficulty is to keep going on that level while lacking the stimulus that took us there.”
This leads us to a point where we are not “so much tired of the work as tired in it.” If we find yourself in this situation, Lloyd Jones lays out three distinct temptations that we must resist when we grow weary.
The Temptation to Give Up
When you find yourself growing weary, you will hear the cry coming up from within that this is too much much for you. These voices will tell you it is time for you to give up. They will come to you telling you that perhaps it is now time for you to rest from well-doing and let others take the reins.
Though a sabbatical or a vacation may be appropriate if you have not had one in a while, this is not the time to give up laboring for the Lord. You must resist this temptation to give up. You will reap in due season, so do not let the temptation to quit take that blessing away from you.
The Temptation to Resign Yourself to the Weariness
The second temptation is even more sinister. That is the temptation to press on while assuming that weariness is what is to be expected going forward. Do not resign yourself to the exhaustion.
Lloyd Jones puts it this way, ” The danger at this point is to say something like this: Well, I have lost that something which I had, and obviously I shall not get it back again. But I am going on, and out of loyalty I will go on, as a sheer duty. I have lost the enjoyment I once had, that is gone and undoubtedly gone forever.” People who do this, go on in a “dragging condition.”
Do not give into the spirit of resignation. This is a temptation to sinfulness. Joyless Christian service is not what the Lord has called us to. There is hope, and the Lord can provide the strength we need just like he did for Caleb (Joshua 14:10-11).
The Temptation to Resort to Artificial Stimulants
The third temptation that comes to us is to try to help God along in supplying us the needed energy and relief. We see this regularly in the working world when alcohol and drugs are used to provide strength and to relieve the weight of the burden that is being carried.
This happens spiritually as well. If we are weary in the work of the church or in our Christian life, what we often think we need is some new program or attraction to liven things up. The thought goes like this, “Let’s bring in new entertainment. If our worship is worn and routine, we can add lights and a fog machine or a whole host of other amusements.” All of this is artificial hype. It is a substitution for what we really need; the strength and joy of the Lord.
Among other things, many weary Christians will begin to seek rest by spending hours watching Netflix, others make social media their default retreat whenever the burden of work seems too much. Since none of these substitutes can provide what is truly needed, much like alcohol and drugs, all we are doing is exhausting ourselves further. Lloyd Jones puts it this way, ” As he becomes more exhausted, so he will need to have still more drink and still more drugs; and so the process goes on in a cumulative manner. And it is exactly the same in the spiritual realm.” Do not give in to this temptation, it is a cistern that cannot hold water, and it will only make conditions worse.
How to Fight
Provided that we are not over-working ourselves and we are taking care of our bodies by giving them the needed sabbath rests, to fight all three of these temptations we must do what we are called to do with any temptation. We must resist the devil, and he will flee. The way we do that is by preaching the gospel to ourselves once again, and by remembering what we were saved from and to what we have been called. That is the first gust of wind we need in our sails. “You are set in the midst of the most glorious campaign into which man could ever enter, and you are on the noblest road that the world has ever known.” Do not let that truth slip from your mind.
The second blast of wind we need to move our ships forward is to remember that this life is not our place of rest. Our rest is coming, and it will be glorious. Set your eye on the prize promised by the gospel. Jesus is coming again and his reward is with him. He will give to each person according to what he has done (Rev. 22:12). Cheer your heart with thoughts of the return of your Savior, and let that joy drive you heavenward.
Finally, the third and most consistent wind we need in our sails is the presence of God. God is the gospel, and he is our ultimate reward. Since you have been justified in Christ, he is with you and available to you now. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.
Anxiety is fear looking for a cause. Depression is sorrow looking for a source. Once they lock on to a molehill, they make it a mountain while turning a blind eye to Jesus. Oh, and it can be debilitating.
Most people do not know this about me, but I have struggled with a chronic illness for the past 20 years. My condition has a way of effecting my nervous system in several ways. For the first several years, one of the most devastating symptoms I dealt with was anxiety. Of all the physical pain, all the dietary restrictions, and the inability to do many of the things I loved, nothing was as destructive as the fear I faced when the anxiety would strike.
These were certainly my darkest years. I remember the day I figured out how it worked. I would start to feel anxious and then my mind would search for something to cling to as its cause. It would go something like this. I would be driving home from work and the anxiety would be raging. Though nothing was wrong, I would feel like I was in danger. I remember thinking, “with my health and limited diet, it is a good thing I live in a free and prosperous country where I am can choose to eat when and what I want.” Then the thought would come, “What if the situation changes? What if you get sent to jail or something.” This would cause a spike in panic. I would immediately calm my nerves by reminding myself of the fact that I have never done anything criminal that would require jail time, and then the anxiety would do what it does so well. It would reminded me that that I could be falsely imprisoned. That was just one scenario, and there where many others. Loss of life, loss of loved ones, loss of job, loss of reputation, all of these were free game for my anxiety.
Reading this, you might chuckle like I do now, but at the time the threat felt real. My nervous system would tell me I was in serious danger. That is the power of an anxiety disorder, and depression often works the same way with feelings of sorrow and despair. It cannot be laughed off. Even when you understand how it works, the emotional pain is real.
The area it affected me the most was in how I perceived my relationship to Christ. I remember thinking, when the anxiety was in full swing, that I was hopeless. This was during the time when Mercy Me’s song, I Can Only Imagine, was topping the charts. There is a lyric in there that says,
Will I stand in your presence Or to my knees will I fall
I would instead say.
Will I stand in your presence Or will I even be there at all
I cannot tell you how terrifying those times were. I repented of every sin I could think of, and then, like Luther, I began repenting of things that probably weren’t sins at all. During this time, I realized I am not the master of my fate. I am not the captain of my ship. It was here I began to turn my eyes away from myself and back to Jesus. Two truths gave me footing. Was God powerful enough to stop this? Yes. And did He know what I was going through? Again the answer was, “Yes.”
With these two truths, the sovereignty of God began take root. Regardless of how I felt, the word of God said I was His child. This meant He loved me. So if He knew this was happening, and He was powerful enough to stop it, it must be His decision that I face this: a decision He made because He loved me.
I would cry out to the Lord and say, “If you want me to draw close to you, why would you allow me to face something that literally makes you seem unapproachable?” Even though my anxiety turned a blind eye to Jesus, and every emotion in my body said He was not there for me, I had something more secure and more trustworthy than my feelings. I had the word of God.
My anxiety forced me to trust His word regardless of my fears. He is greater than our feelings. Nowhere in the scripture does it tell me to trust my emotions, but it continually tells me to trust His word.
The Lord began to give me a firm scriptural footing. The anxiety still raged, and I was still miserable, but I had a foundation. I remember attending a get together at a friend’s house. It was one of those beautiful summer evenings when everything was just right, and my soul was in anguish. I remember looking at the beautiful setting sun and saying to myself. “I may never have never have another pleasant moment in this life, but I have Jesus and He is everything” I began to see that this life is not the place we are called to rest. Our rest comes later.
This life is where we are to reflect the light of Jesus, and often, the light shines brightest in dark places. I would regularly find comfort from His word that I would have never known existed had I not been chained up in the prison of anxiety. I also began to notice that he would put someone else in my path that needed the same comfort I had been given. Had I not experienced a similar darkness, I would not have been able to comfort them in the Lord.
There are many other things I learned during this time. For example, I began to realize just how many worship songs focused on me, the singer, and how I was feeling. What I needed most during this time was not music that pointed me to my feelings, what I needed was praise that pointed me to my God. This and many other things I will need to elaborate on at another time, but let me close with the fact that the Lord did eventually move me out of that period of my life.
I still struggle with chronic illness, but the symptoms are different now. They can still be devastating, but the anxiety is not what it used to be. Now, my feelings often do line up with the truth of His word, but I still know where my foundation lies. I am not anchored to the sinking sand of my emotions, I stand on the solid rock of the word of God.
If you are reading this and you are facing a similar struggle, I hate to tell you this, but there is nothing I can do to make it end. There are paths to improvement you should be seeking like counseling, medication, and relaxation, but most importantly, trust His word, not your feelings. As His child, even when the Lord seems to be pushing you away, He is doing it in love, and you are about to learn things you would never know otherwise.
Charles Spurgeon used to suffer with depression, and when it would hit, he would hate it, fight against it, and get excited to see what God was about to do because God always ended up using it for good. It was one of the ways God taught Spurgeon how to speak the word deep into our hearts.
Why did Jesus have to die? Many object to the fact that Christ had to be put to death and that blood had to be shed for the remission of sins (Matt 26:28). They believe this is unbecoming of God. Others believe that if we as humans can forgive each other without punishment and God cannot, then humans are more kind and forgiving than God.*
We hear these arguments coming from people who think they need to protect God from the doctrine of penal substitution. Besides their lack of understanding scripture, these arguments escape reason. They escape reason because the same people who make these arguments then go on to make distinctions between good and evil and preach moral living.
Why should man be moral? Why is it wrong to be immoral? These are the questions Anselm raised when dealing with the necessity of Christ’s death. He then went on to lay out the following argument:
To remit sin without satisfaction or adjustment is not to punish it.
And if sin needs no adjustment or punishment, then the one who sins is no different before God than the one who does not sin.
And if there is no adjustment that needs to be made before God, then what needs to be forgiven?
Following this logic there is no reason for forgiveness at all because to be unrighteous or righteous makes no difference before God.
Therefore, it is unbecoming of God not to punish sin because it would make evil and good equal in His sight.
Since this cannot be the case, then God must punish sin.
The idea that God can forgive sin without requiring its just punishment leads us to another conundrum. If it is true that God does not need to justly punish sin, then anyone He sends to hell would be sent there arbitrarily and not out of necessity. Of course, that would be reprehensible which is why many who reject penal substitution eventually become universalists (the idea, contrary to scripture, that no one will go to hell).
The wages of sin is death according to scripture (Rom. 6:23). For God to offer forgiveness, the satisfaction of these wages must be met. This is what the cross is all about. Christ bore upon Himself the sins of all those who come to Him through faith. It necessarily had to happen in order for God to be both just and the justifier of those who believe in Him (Rom. 3:26).
Every sin will receive its just recompense. Either we will pay for it ourselves, or, through faith, we will accept His payment upon the cross on our behalf.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. – Isaiah 53:4
*Even we cannot forgive each other without a cost being paid. If you break my lamp on purpose, and I say, “I forgive you,” some one has to pay for the new lamp. If I slander your good name, and you say, “I forgive you,” there is still a cost. Either you will bear the damage I have done to your reputation, or, if I go to all your friends and tell them I slandered, I will bear a loss of my own reputation. More importantly, even those sins against each other are sins against God for which either we will pay or Christ will bear in our place. Even among each other, sin always has a cost.
His eyes looked at me with such compassion I was sure I had found someone who understood, but that was not entirely the case. As I mentioned before, the skies have turned dark, and that darkness has begun to stir something deep within me
When I first saw him coming, I knew he cared and was going out of his way to minister to me. At first, he just sat with me, not saying anything, and that spoke such profound peace and compassion because it made me feel like I was not the only one feeling the weight of the storm. Then he began to speak, and my heart welled up with anticipation because if he was such a comfort when he was silent, how much more would he be a blessing when he started to talk.
At first, he reminded me that suffering exists in this life because of sin. Adam’s transgression opened up the world to all kinds of sickness, hardship, and even death. If it were not for sin in this world, there would be no suffering, but we have a Savior who has dealt with sin on the cross. In rising again, he defeated death and showed that all of our transgressions for which he had to pay, were atoned. He then proceeded to say that Christ would set all things right. My mind began to settle in on this truth. It reminded me that any of the sufferings I was facing, had nothing to do with God’s wrath because that had been satisfied in Christ on the cross. Then he began to tell me that we are saved by faith, and with this, I certainly agreed. In fact, I have said that this fight I am in is a fight of faith.
He then continued to instruct me by quoting our Savior saying that if our faith is strong enough, we can begin to move mountains. “We must trust that God has the power to clear these dark skies, and if we would claim that truth, then God would do it.” In essence, God would see our faith and move on our behalf. He explained that we have the Spirit of God living in us, and since he could speak things into existence, so could we.
He advised me always to speak positive words and think positive thoughts. I should not even acknowledge the dark skies existed. I should call things as I want them to be instead of as they are. This new thought would show God my faith, and he would perform the miracle I needed.
My heart wanted this to be true. As I’ve mentioned before I have a natural desire to be in control, and if there’s something I can do, then I feel it is something I can control. His discourse hit me in many ways that both stirred me to action and emptied me of my resolve. I could not figure out why his words troubled me so much.
Then it hit me. His statements came with a corollary thought that he was not saying out loud. If mustering up enough mental determination, which he called faith, could deliver me from this darkness and give me all I desired, then the very reason I am facing this now was my fault. If I control the Sovereign One through my faith, then any darkness in my life was a result of my lack of faith.
My mind immediately went to all the great saints in scripture: Moses, Abraham, David, Matthew, Joseph, John, and Paul. These were men of great faith who faced darker skies than I can even imagine, and scripture nowhere paints a picture that it was because of a lack of faith on their part. It was often just the opposite. God allowed the dark skies to reveal his glory and strength in their lives. God often paints bright hope across a dark and ominous canvas.
I realized at that point that my friend was Job’s friend. For the first time, his real name was revealed to me. Some have called him Half-truth. I remember reading through Job with the understanding that nowhere in the book was God sovereignty over Job suffering ever questioned, and it was not due to a lack of faith on Job’s part.
When I would read through Job, I would see the God-ordained trials he faced, and then, on top of it all, I would see Job’s friends piling on. Then something clicked, Job’s poor comforters were not some add-on that only happened by chance. They were part of God’s sovereign plan as well.
In the end, it was the suffering inflicted by his friends that God used as the dark canvas to paint hope for the rest of us to see. Just think, how many of us has God helped by Job’s response to his friends? Those speakers of half-truths that condemned Job for his situation are still around today. If you don’t find them surrounding you, you will often find them living within you.
You may be facing accusing voices in your life as well, and we must correct their errors with the Word of God. Never forget that these speakers of half-truth are also part of Gods’ plan for you. Often what God is showing us when they arrive and begin to tell us that God would fix everything in this life if we truly trusted him, is that we are not supposed to place our ultimate hope in our friends or ourselves. We must fully trust in him and his plan. The other thing that begins to be corrected is our false expectations. It is not as if God has failed to do what he was supposed to do; we were simply expecting things from him that he never promised. It is much like when some of Jesus’ followers stopped following him because he was crucified. They expected Christ to reign without a cross. Instead, Jesus reigns through his suffering, and that plan is still in effect today.
God is still using unresolved difficulty in our lives to show his glory, and part of the dark canvas he is using as the backdrop to bring hope to a fallen world may include accusing voices. All things are under his sovereign plan.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith-more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 1:6-7
Wandering again! And has He not left me to perish? Stumbling and straying on the dark mountains, away from the Shepherd’s eye and the Shepherd’s fold, shall He not leave the erring wanderer to the fruit of his own ways, and his truant heart to go hopelessly onward in its career of guilty estrangement? “My thoughts,” says God, “are not as your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways.” Man would say, “Go, perish! ungrateful apostate!” God says, “Return, O backsliding children!” The Shepherd will not, cannot allow those sheep to perish which He has purchased with His own blood! How wondrous His forbearance towards it!—tracking its guilty steps, and ceasing not the pursuit until He lays the wanderer on His shoulders, and returns with it to His fold rejoicing! My soul! why increase by farther departures your own distance from the fold?—why lengthen the dreary road your gracious Shepherd has to traverse in bringing you back? Do not delay your return! Do not provoke His patience any longer! Do not venture farther on forbidden ground! He waits with outstretched arms to welcome you once more to His bosom. Be humble for the past, trust Him for the future. Think of your former backslidings, and tremble—think of His patience, and be filled with holy gratitude; think of His promised grace, “and take courage.”
Their snarls penetrated my ears with every evading stride. Every breath I took was weighted by the awareness that they were close behind. I had entered at the narrow gate, but somehow they had managed to follow me onto the path. I could hear their taunts, and every one of their footsteps were like the sound of a war drum. There are days when they are far away. During those times, I feel the warm breeze of the Celestial City beckoning me homeward, but even then I know they are lying in wait. Their pursuit often leaves me anxious and exhausted.
I didn’t think they would be able to follow me onto the narrow path, but somehow they made their way onto the road. When I entered the narrow way, under the shadow of the cross, my sins were forgiven. He had delivered me from the slavery of sin that held me captive. Since He had open the way and called me in, I thought, at that point, I would be out of the reach of my enemies, yet they pursue me daily.
Every time I fall, the enemy shouts from behind, “You do not belong on this path! You belong to us, and we will catch and destroy you!” I have learned the names of some of them, but others I am still trying to figure out. There are two who give chase named Shame and Regret. They often disguise themselves as messengers of the king. They tell me that, since my heart is prone to wander, the King prefers that I stay out of sight. That is Shame’s greatest strategy. He convinces us that we need to hide. He does this to keep us from finding the assistance that is available in the congregation of the saints, and he works closely with regret to keep us from approaching the Throne of Grace.
Many other enemies desire to sink their teeth into me as well, like sickness and sorrow, sin and sadness, and the final enemy death who boasts of his many conquests. However, in those moments when I am running scared, I have learned that there is a song being sung. It is a song of the past as well as a song of the future, and I must tune my heart into its melody.
The first time I heard it was at a time when I thought all was lost. The enemy had convinced me that I was a trespasser on the narrow way, and their presence was the proof. They told me that Lord had allowed them access to remove me from His sacred passage. I heard them chanting as they chased, “Our desire will have its fill. Our sword is in our hand. We will destroy (Exodus 15:9).”
Their tune, however, was soon drowned out by the song of the saints. The great cloud of witnesses sang, “The Lord is a man of war. Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy (Exodus 15:3,6).” This refrain gave me immediate comfort. Then another line stood out and gave me the perspective I needed. It recounted, “Pharoah’s chariots and his host He cast into the sea.” It continued, “The floods covered them: they went down into the depths like a stone (Exodus 14:4-5).”
The song I was hearing was the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:1-18). At that point, it all fell into place. God had set the people free from their slavery in Egypt, and He had made a way of salvation by parting the Red Sea. He then allowed their enemies to pursue them into the way of escape for the very purpose of destroying them.
You and I have entered the narrow path. At the entrance of that gate, we found salvation where there is no accusation or separation, but there is a path we must walk between the door of salvation and the gates of the Celestial City. Do not be dismayed by the fact that there are enemies still pursuing you. Regret and shame, fear and anxiety, the troubles of a fallen world, and even death itself, will never make it to the other side, but you will.
One day shame and regret will be no more. Even now they have lost their power. To believe that a life of self-punishment and shame is required for us to be right with God is to believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was insufficient. That is a lie of the enemy. There is complete freedom in Jesus. The reason they are unable to hurt us now is that He has disarmed them and put them to open shame (Colossians 2:15). Our sin is what gave them their power, but He has canceled our debt (Colossians 2:14). Even death has lost its sting in His resurrection.
Though these enemies may get the best of us from time to time, they will all fail because our Lord is triumphant. Their pursuit of us into the King’s domain will be their destruction. As I mentioned earlier, this is a song of the past as well as a song of the future. This song will be sung again when the Lord returns to set all things right (Revelation 15:3). Listen to the song and keep marching heavenward. “The Lord will lead us with His steadfast love, the people whom He has redeemed. He will guide us by His strength into His holy abode” (Exodus 15: 13).
Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea. – Exodus 15:21
Both men had a fire in their eyes with Jesus at the center, but their flames were different. Have you ever noticed that you can listen to someone talk about Jesus, but as they are saying all of the right things, there still seems to be a disconnect? While others you run into always seem to be able to focus you like a laser beam on what truly matters.
When I see it in churches, I sometimes call it the programmatic versus the spiritual, but I doubt that is the best way to describe it. It is hard to put a fine point on it because the programmatic is not wrong in itself. Even spiritual churches have programmatic elements. I think I use the word programmatic because it sometimes feels that way. The leaders appear to be doing what they know they should be doing, but they do not seem to be doing it in a way that tells me that they believe their very lives depend upon the Gospel they are preaching. So what makes the difference? I suppose it all comes down to the hearts of those involved.
The first man, a church leader, had a fire in his eyes and Christ was at the center, but Jesus seemed to be a means to an end. Everything surrounding the ministry where he labored was orthodox. People came, heard the word, and were often even blessed by his preaching, but in his heart, he was building his own kingdom. A place where the people would revere his name; a place where he could leave his legacy. His faith was real, but he still seemed to have one foot planted in the world, and it showed. Well, not to everyone. There were many in the congregation with hearts split between heaven and earth as well, and they did not seem to notice.
They did not notice, at least, until they got a chance to hear the second man begin to speak because the fire in his eyes was pure. Where the first man had the tendency to view knowing Jesus as a means to building his ministry, the second man saw knowing Jesus as the goal. He had found the Pearl of Great Price and was willing to sell all he had to have it (Matt. 13:45-46). Christ was beautiful to him so that is what he pursued. His ministry was something he did to show the world the beauty of Christ so others could know Him too. There was a love for his Lord in his eyes that made believers want to know their Savior the way he did.
Two things seemed to separate these men and their ministries. The first had to do with their reliance. The first one worked with a high degree of self-reliance, where the second one knew his weakness so well that he dared only to rely on Christ. The second aspect had to do with their focus. The first, to some degree, still had his mind set on the things of the world. Even when he preached on setting your mind on things above, he did it with a heart that hoped he was establishing his own glory. The second man had been broken. His heart had been set free from this world. He knew it could no longer satisfy, so he had given up pursuing its glory a long time ago. One seemed to be walking home and calling others to go with him while the other appeared to be fairly content in this strange land.
Here is what I noticed in their preaching, to take a thought from Jayber Crow, one of them was troubled enough to have something worthwhile to say. The first one was unable to show us the emptiness of even the glorious things of this life in comparison to Christ because he had yet to see their vanity. The second one felt a shuddering within him, that knew that the things of this world were trembling all around us. No matter what the topic, his words, and actions shone like a spotlight on our glorious Savior and our true homeland.
So what about you? Where is your heart? Is Jesus the end you seek, or a means to an end? Are you awake enough to feel the frailty of this world convulse beneath you to such a degree that you dare not place your hope in it? We aspire to be like what we find beautiful. May your love for Jesus compel you to grow into His likeness, because if we have no desire to be conformed to His image or make his name known, we may not truly find Him beautiful like we say we do. We may still have our hearts set on this world. May God show us its vanity compared to Himself and turn our eyes heavenward. May we be troubled enough by this world to have something worth saying, and if we are too comfortable, may the Lord shake us from our slumber. May we be able to acknowledge that we are strangers and exiles on the earth.
For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. – Hebrews 11:14
The lights glow softly, the Christmas music plays, and wondrous thoughts of the birth of our Savior fill our minds. What a blessing it is for the believer who still finds childlike joy at this time of year. Being “grown-up” is a bit over-rated, because being “grown-up,” according to the world, usually entails a constant stiff upper lip and a cynical heart. Now there are times to be stout, to conceal your emotion, and be a bit guarded, but too often these virtues can be turned into vices. Just as there is a time to be immovable, there is also a time to be moved. There are events that should stir our hearts and move us to childlike wonder, and the birth of Jesus is one of those things. Especially when we consider it in light of the curse and the resulting pain of childbirth.
Sin is our greatest enemy, and it has been ever since the fall. In our natural condition, with hard hearts, we are the makers of our own demise. We despise what is good, and we love that which will hurt us; we are prone to our own destruction. What is worse, is that we are continually heaping upon ourselves the wrath of a holy and just God who will not let any sin go unpunished. The thought of such things should cause us to tremble.
If this was where the story ended, there would be no hope for any of us, but as we know, in the garden after the fall, God promised that He was going to provide a seed who would be the remedy for our sin (Gen 3:15). What is often missed is the fact that right after this promise, He also pronounced a curse upon mankind for their sinful act of rebellion. One aspect of that curse was that God Himself was going to cause children to be brought forth in sorrow (Gen. 3:16). Why would God do such a thing after such an incredible promise? Of all the female creatures upon this earth, it seems that humans have the greatest sorrow during childbirth, but this sorrow is not without hope. Every time a woman grieves during the pain of childbirth, it is to be a reminder of the curse and the seriousness of sin. The same applies when we experience the pain in our work (Gen. 3:17). It is a proclamation of our depraved condition, but that is not all it is. It is also a gesture of God’s love for His people because He does not want us to evade the knowledge of our sinful condition and neglect the promised seed.
As Mary gave birth that night in a dusty stable, she undoubtedly lamented in pain. Any of us who have spent time pondering that night and have thought of the cold ground upon which she lay, without comforts of home, have heard her proclamation of the tyranny of sin. In sorrow she gave birth, but the Child was to be the death of her sorrow, and even the death of death itself. Like Rachel giving birth to Benjamin, she may have had the desire to call Him Benoni, the son of her sorrow, but the Father, God Himself, had already declared Him to be the Son of His Right Hand. His name was to be Jesus, for He was to save His people from their sins.
Christ, God incarnate, had entered our sin-riddled world. From his first breath, He was to be known as the Man of Sorrows, and He would endure it all because of His great love for us. All we like sheep have gone astray, but as Christ suffered the sorrows of this fallen world, He never faltered in His righteousness. He then, like a lamb, went willingly to the slaughter, never once opening His mouth in protest. Without fail, He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by His stripes, we are healed.
If this Christmas season is passing you by, and the thoughts of our Savior have not yet moved your heart to adoration through the Spirit’s work, may the meditation of our great God and His gospel invigorate our sin embattled hearts and produce once again the childlike wonder of the Christmas season. Through faith, He is the joy of our salvation. Though sorrow may still be a part of living in this fallen world, you can have joy in the knowledge that any sins over which you mourn, and any sorrows you face, have been conquered by the child who was born in the manger: Jesus Christ the Lord.