The Four Visitors

My nerves were shot. I could feel the stress coursing through my body, and I knew what was pulling the strings. All of the tension straining my soul was connected to the things of this world. I had been seeking my meaning in them, and their uncertain nature made everything I was standing upon precarious, which had caused me to collapse in fear. Though I did not know it at the time, those ties to the world needed to be severed, or I was going break.

It was then that I saw a man walking toward me. He was a smallish man with a stern face that made me question his intentions, but as he drew near, I saw kindness in his eyes that provided me with some relief. He looked at me, and he immediately saw my distress. The windows of my soul were open to him, and he could see that the treasure of my heart was man’s applause. He saw that earthly pleasures had my rapt attention and would not let me go.

He immediately showed me a picture of a man arrayed in full splendor. Never had I seen such an image. The portrait reached deep down into my soul. My lust grabbed a hold and refused to let go because I wanted to be that man. Then something happened. I saw that the man of splendor was disillusioned. He had everything for which I longed, but he was still unsatisfied. He cried, “Vanities of vanities. All is vanity.”

How could this be? The man in the picture had everything I knew would make me happy, and he was still unfulfilled. I felt myself take in a deep breath. Something that had been putting pressure on my chest broke free, and I felt my lungs begin to relax. With that, the small man was gone.

As I lay there pondering what had happened, I saw a man of great evil approach me, and he had, in his hands, all the treasures of the world. He, too, had everything that I desired and had been investing my life and soul to attain, but he was hideous. I could not tell if he reminded me more of Nero or Hitler. As I look upon the monster in front of me, a searing thought shot across my mind. “If the Lord of heaven and earth allows the greatest portion of the world’s treasure to be held by the vilest of men, his avowed enemies, then they must not be the greatest treasures man can possess.” If earthly riches were part of God’s greatest gifts, the wicked would have no part in them. As he was walking away, I noticed the tension running up and down the back of my neck start to relax, and the years of chronic pain in my head began to fade.

As I sat there beginning to wonder if I had been directing all my life pursuits toward the wrong things; another man came into view. This one was the exact opposite of the last man. He was godly. I saw 11 more standing at a distance behind him, and all of them wore the clothes of poverty. I saw them being mistreated. They had no desires for earthly power, riches, or fame. In fact, they had given up what they did have to possess something greater. As the man in front stood there looking at me, I saw joy in his eyes. He said, to me, “I count all things as dung compared to knowing Christ.” He smiled and walked away, and the others went with him.

I knew at that moment that these were the men used by God to lay the foundation of the Church. The Holy Spirit had used them to write down the very words of God for all subsequent generations, and the man in front had just called all that I was pursuing “dung.” At that moment, most of the strained nerves in my body that had been tethered to the false treasures began to snap, and, contrary to what I would have thought, as they snapped, they did not hurt. Instead, they loosened and began to regain their intended use. Feeling the life returning to my body, I stood to my feet, and then something even greater happened.

I saw a man approaching riding a white horse, and he was beautiful. I knew right away that he had sent the first three visitors. As I looked upon him, my joints felt loose, my muscles began to give way, and I went down to my knees. Everything about me began to come undone. His voice shook my soul with comfort, and he showed me his hands, his feet, and his side. Up until this point, I had been pursuing the world’s crown, and he showed me what that crown truly looked like by showing me the scars on his head.

He is the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords, and he was despised and rejected by men. Foxes have dens, the birds of the air have nests, but he did not have a place to lay his head. If the treasures and esteem of this world were of eternal value, he would have had them. His beauty and worth emanated from his holiness, and the world’s riches had nothing to do with it. Compared to him, they were revolting and unnecessary.

At the sight of him, I felt something within me die. It was a former and perverse love for the things of the world. I knew in that moment that it was not wrong to possess them or use them; it was wrong to see them as valuable. The glorious cross of Jesus now stood between me and the world, and I could no longer love it, for the Pearl of Great Price overshadowed it. He then lifted me to stand in a strength not my own.

I had always known his scars provided the forgiveness of my sin, but I never realized how much they were calling me away from the things of the world. Seeing them, I felt everything within me begin to rest. My former pursuits are coming to an end. They are vain, and I now realize that my ambition for the things of the world made me my own tormentor. Through these visitors, Jesus poured contempt on the things of the world in comparison to him. He continues to lead me further out of the darkness into his marvelous light.

Now I am here to visit you. You, who have been striving after riches, power, fame, and sexual appeal. You, who are striving to increase them. You, who place your hope in keeping them. You, who fear to lose them. You, who find your delight in them. You, whose thoughts are continually upon them. You, whose conversation is always about them. Remember, they are unstable and cannot offer you the security and lasting pleasure you seek. Never forget that the Lord often allows his enemies to have the greatest portion of them. Keep in mind that his greatest servants rarely had any of the world’s goods, and they had everything in our Savior. Most importantly, look to Jesus and His cross to see how contemptuous they are compared to knowing him.

-D. Eaton

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. – 1 John 2:15

Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. – Proverbs 23:4

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. -1 Timothy 6:10

Christian, You Need to Slow Down

If you want to grow in godliness you need to slow down. What is it about being forced to slow down that makes us want to run faster than we were before? I think it is because, when sickness or some other obstacle hits us, we want to have the will to power through. Whatever it is, slowing down is something we resist, and when we are forced to do it, it is often uncomfortable.

When we have no choice but to slow down, however, we realize we had been taking our time and abilities for granted. On top of that, we realize that though we were running fast, much of it was spent on directionless pursuits. It is amazing how we can feel pressured to check social media, or check a gaming app on our phone. There have been times I have felt like my evening was pressured because I needed to write a blog post, but no one is sitting at their computer waiting for me to post. My mom doesn’t even do that. Still, something inside me says you better get something written soon.

These are small examples, but we fill our days with these types of anxieties. Many of the things that have us running so fast could be eliminated without hurting anyone. Often, the only real negative impact we feel is the effect it has on our pride. We tend to think, “if I am busy, then I am important. People need me to fulfill all of my so-called responsibilities, because if I do not, things will fall apart,” but it is not true. Much of what we feel pressured to do is noise.

We rarely realize this until something hits our life that forces us to start reevaluating. There comes a time when your body or emotional state says, it is time to change pace. At first, we usually think we can work through it, but, in the end, we find that providence is serious about making us slow down. It is at this point that we will hopefully start to gain perspective.

The process is painfully pleasant. A few years ago I found myself in a similar situation. First, I wanted to power through as if my will-power could right all the wrongs with my health. Once I resigned to the fact that I could not do it, I settled in to make some changes. The first thing that I needed to do was to get rid of all the needless distractions that had been adding stress but did nothing to help me be productive with important things.

I started by reevaluating what truly mattered. The key to this was making sure my mind was set on things above, or in other words, making sure I was seeking first the Kingdom of God. I will not talk about this much here because most of my posts deal with this in one way or another, but if we fail to seek Him first, even slowing down cannot help us.

Upon reflection, I found I had filled my life with needless interruptions, and they were not benefiting me in any way. I also began to realize that I did not know I was being distracted because I was not even aware of what I was being distracted from. I believe this is the case for many people.

Then began the process of slowing down and removing needless stress. This process involved deleting apps on my phone, limiting social media time to once a day, and I even began to schedule time on my calendar to check email only three times a day at work, instead of checking it constantly. This reduction was the part that felt painful at first. I felt like I was going to miss out. If much of my productivity happens with email, how could I accomplish all that I needed to get done?

I noticed myself repeatedly looking to my phone for notifications that were no longer available. My brain’s habitual response needed to be retrained and it did not like it. The result of this was that I was not less productive, I was more productive. I had hours in the morning, afternoon, and evening, which were email and social media free. These uninterrupted hours forced me to become more strategic with my time at work and home, instead of wasting it always checking to see if I had new messages and diverting my train of thought. This also gave me more time to do something I enjoy, writing.

Regarding social media and time online, I realized I was not missing out on much. I also noticed that my executive attention, the ability to focus on something for an extended period of time, began to grow stronger. Before I was forced to slow down, I had already realized that the internet had started shrinking my thoughts. I began blogging 2005, that was eventually reduced to Facebook posts, and then I was down to 140 characters on Twitter. Though all of these can be powerful tools if used correctly, sustained thought is not something online platforms encourage. The big takeaway was that my mind was spending much less time flitting from one unimportant thing to another.

I also began to choose my television time much more carefully, and I would always keep my Kindle or a book with me. If I was going to spend time doing something during my free moments, I could at least make it something mindful. I could continue to tell you about more of these little changes, such as how the boredom created by the absence of so much entertainment and social media actually sparked creativity, but I think you are getting the picture. Let me conclude with a few thoughts on the importance of slowing down.

Slowing down is not something we have to be forced to do. It is something we can do even when our health is strong. Jonathan Edwards once said this about a man he honored deeply, David Brainerd.

“[One] imperfection in Mr. Brainerd, which may be observed in the following account of his life, was his being excessive in his labours; not taking due care to proportion his fatigues to his strength.”

Much of what I have written about to this points is removing the unnecessary and unproductive activity from our lives, but sometimes we even need to slow down on that which is worthwhile and godly. Our Lord has put His treasure in jars of clay, and though the outward man is wasting away, the inward man is being renewed day by day. This truth should teach us two things. First, our bodies cannot do it all, and these jars of clay will eventually fade. If we do not slow down, we will soon be forced to. Second, when our bodies force us to slow down, even in our service to God, we are not necessarily reducing our pace in being renewed spiritually, which is the ultimate goal.

It seems our Christian culture has come to believe that overworking and godliness are inextricably bound. If you are not running fast, then you are not redeeming the time. Sometimes, the best path to being spiritually renewed is through slowing down. Maybe it is time to take due care to proportion our fatigues with our strength. In doing this, we find we are redeeming the time more effectively than when we were before.

It is important to remember that doing less does not mean we stop doing difficult work. Much of our most important undertakings are challenging. This is why we often prefer busyness over slowing down. If we are using our frantic pace as a form of procrastination in regard to the things that matter, that type of busyness is actually a form of laziness. In the end, I found during my time of slowing down that I was actually accomplishing more.

A divided mind, one caught between heaven and earth, will never find peace because it is chasing things in two different directions. A heart that is united in the fear of the Lord will be able to slow down and cover more ground because it has only one direction to go. This need to slow down and regain focus, like all battles with the sinful nature, is a daily struggle. Part of what prompted me to write this post is the fact that I have allowed many of these things to begin crowding my life again. We must continually guard our hearts against being pulled away from the Lord and his service by things of little or no importance.

Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. – Psalm 86:11

D. Eaton