Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Divine Tension

One of the things we know as a result of the primal fault (we wrote of this in one of our earlier blog entries) is that our world requires substantial ordering.  A house requires regular maintenance.  A garden must be tended. It must be watered and weeded.  Left to itself it quickly goes to grass.

Now, certain Scriptures are very beautiful with the idea that the Christian life is simply a matter of leaving it all to God.  We rest in God.  Our salvation is secure.  We are appointed, not to wrath, but to obtain salvation (1 Thes. 5.9).  We are chosen to salvation (2 Thes. 2.13).  We are predestined (Rom. 8.29).  God will work all things according to the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1.11).  We are born again.  We are free spirits.  Our lives are like the wind that “bloweth where it listeth,” that is, wherever it wants to blow in the great sky of God.

This is beautiful truth.  On the one hand the Christian life is to be nature to us—the beautiful nature of the new creation Man born of the Spirit and borne along in the Wind of God.  But there are other scriptures that show the Christian life requires diligent and continued discipline, which if we are not careful to maintain, leads to our ruin.  Like the garden, we must be continually cultivating, watering, and rooting out weeds.  Or we too go to grass.

We find these two opposites all over Scripture, and people are chronically arguing over which is the right view—God’s sovereignty or man’s responsibility.  In fact I believe that both are held in play by what I like to call the divine tension.  The string on a musical instrument is held between two fixed points; if it is slack, if it is not held in perfect tension, it is useless.  You can’t make music on strings that are not held in tension.

Great arguments rage over whether Calvinism is the right doctrine, or Ariminianism.  Are we unconditionally elect, and there’s nothing we can do about it one way or the other?  Or do we ourselves have a part to play in our salvation?  It’s wonderful truth that God “hath chosen us in Him (in Christ) before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him” (Eph.  1.4).  Or in another place: “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit…” (Jn. 15.16).  There are times when we need to lean heavily on this truth—in times of great trial and difficulty, or perhaps failure.  In a time of failure the Devil will be quick to assure us God is through with us now.  But we arm ourselves with this truth—that God in His own wisdom and grace has chosen us from before the foundation of the world—and we know that He that hath begun a good work in us will perfect it unto the day of Christ.

But then the divine tension comes into play.  When we get slack and presume in spite of our slackness that we are predestined and all is well with us, we are in deep trouble.  We must pay heed to what Peter says.  I may be called and chosen, but Peter says, “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure…” (1 Pt. 1.10).  There are times when not doing this could result in total shipwreck.

Paul says in one place, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2.16).  How wonderful—a mind filled with the very thoughts of God.  But then Peter calls us to “gird up the loins of your mind” (1 Pt. 1.13).  This is speaking of spiritual discipline in the thought life.  If we are not girding up the loins of our mind we will find our thoughts flowing all over the place and we will be in trouble.

In another place Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…”  Why would this be necessary if it is all up to God?  Obviously we have a critical part to play in our own salvation.  But Paul goes on, “…for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2.12,13).  Ah, you say, if it is God who is working in me both the willing and the doing, why do I have to work out my own salvation?  It’s because of this divine tension.  The Christian life is not a passive walk.  We have a vital part to play in the working out of our salvation.

But don’t forget that our working must be God’s own working.  Otherwise we quickly degenerate into striving.  Really, it’s no use trying to separate these two facets of truth.  It’s the divine tension.  Yes, we are to work out our own salvation.  But our work must be God’s own working.  Jesus says:

Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you, and learn of (from) Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Mt. 11.28-30).

Notice here the two kinds of burdens—those which are our own initiative, our own labour: “all ye that labour,” and those that are put upon us by outward circumstance or others: “and are heavy laden.”  (The first is active, the second passive.)  We are not to get our shoulder under either of these types of burdens.

But yes, we are to labour—but only in that which is the Lord’s own labour, only in the yoke of the Lord… in which Jesus says we will find rest.  We are not debtors to any other labour, and we must discipline ourselves not to get involved in any of it.  We must abide in the yoke of the Lord—working together with Him, and at the same time resting in the Lord.

It’s the divine tension.  Let us learn to accept it.  We’ll find ourselves playing beautiful music to the Lord on our instrument of ten strings.

Are You Still Saved?

Last time we talked about holding fast the title deed of our salvation—which is faith.  “Faith is the title deed of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”

Back in the old days when I lived in Calgary—yes I know, I am going back a long way—I used to know an old saint named Andy Svensen.  He was an amiable old man with a permanent twinkle in his eye—and a permanent question on his lips whenever he greeted me.

“Are you still saved?” he would smile, eyes twinkling, as he shook my hand.  I had no idea how long Andy had been saved—a long time.  I had only been saved a few months.

“Yes,” I would smile back confidently, “I’m still saved.”

I didn’t know it at the time, but I realize now that Andy was making a doctrinal statement by asking that question.  Once-saved-always-saved.

It’s good doctrine… as long as it’s held in tension with the many ifs in the Bible.

And you that were once alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled
In the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight:
IF ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel… (Col. 1.21-23).

For we are made partakers of Christ IF we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end (Heb. 3.14).

Today, IF ye will hear His Voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness, when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work forty years (Heb. 3.8).

The writer of Hebrews applies the whole story of Israel failing to enter their promised land to us in our day.  For we too have a promised heritage—and that’s what salvation is all about.  God’s purpose is to bring us into our inheritance, the fullness of the salvation Christ purchased for us on Calvary with His own blood.

The implication is that it is possible for us to fall short of this salvation as they of old fell short… if we do not continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel.  Instead of overcoming in the wilderness, they were overthrown in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10.5).  The same with us… if we believe not, as they believed not—that is, disobey as they disobeyed (Heb. Ch. 3).  It is possible to fall short of the Promise if we cast away our confidence, which hath great recompense of reward (Heb. 10.35).  It is possible to fall short in the trial of faith if we don’t continue to come to the Throne of grace for the provision we need in every trial.  The provision is there at the Throne of grace—no matter how great the trial.  The greater the trial the greater the grace, and the greater the provision.  But neglect or disobedience on our part—call it lack of faith—could sever us from our promised salvation.

It’s quite the thing to discover that God charged those in the wilderness of not believing in Him.  “…They believed not in God, and trusted not in His salvation” (Ps. 78.22).  That’s quite the statement, but that’s what God said.  Whatever they held doctrinally, He said, “they believed not in God.”  They had been saved from destruction in Egypt by the blood of the lamb, and rejoiced as they crossed the Red Sea.  “There did we rejoice in Him” (Ps. 66.6).  But now in the wilderness… where did their faith go?  God was in the process of unfolding this great salvation, but “they trusted not in His salvation.”  They lost the joy.  This did not look like salvation—this huge trial they were in.  “They believed not in God.”  The true test of whether or not we believe in God is what happens in the fiery trial.  It may be affliction, or difficult circumstances, or unjust treatment, or persecution… or the furnace of time when God’s promise seems nowhere in sight.  “Manifold trials,” Peter calls them.  It’s all the fiery trial where our faith is assayed—whether it is genuine or not.  Do we continue to believe in God… or not?  Do we continue to come to the Throne of Grace for the provision God has for us in this trial, or like Israel of old in the wilderness, do we draw back?  They drew back.  Drew back unto what?

For we are not of them who draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe unto the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10.19).

…So there are ifs in the Bible.  If we do not heed them there is no guarantee of salvation.

The beautiful thing about the New Covenant ifs is that they do not rest upon our own shoulders alone.  Yes, we have a part in it, we are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.  But this work is working with God.

For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil. 2.13).

What a wonder.  This is cause for great rejoicing and comfort.  We have an Advocate—the Holy Spirit—who is committed to securing our part in the New Covenant as much as God’s part.  If it were not so, the New Covenant could not rightly be called a better covenant (Heb. 8.6).  Why is it better?  Well, what was wrong with the old one?  It was the people.  God found fault with the Old Covenant because of the people.

For if the first had been faultless, then should no place have been found for the second.
For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come when I will make a New Covenant… (Heb. 8.8).

The New Covenant, then, is better because it contains provision for our complete success!  Jesus our great high priest is—not only on the Throne of Grace in Heaven, but also right here in our hearts by the Holy Spirit—“the surety of a better covenant” (Heb. 7.22).

So there is cause for much rejoicing.  We can have the joy of the Lord every step along the way as much as when we first crossed the Red Sea.  Yes, “there did we rejoice in Him.”  But let us “hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope steadfast unto the end” (Heb. 3.6).  We can do this step by step along the way—all along the way—as we continue to tap into the provision of the Throne of Grace.

Which brings me back to my old friend Andy Svenson.  He’s gone to his reward now.  But I recall once when I visited Andy in his little three-room house in Bowness—he was a bachelor, had never married.  He greeted me at the door with a handshake and a smile– and his favourite question– and invited me in.  I liked the little place: it was a bit cluttered, but clean.  The good, homey smell of coffee had long since percolated into everything in the house.  We visited for a bit—this old man with his wisps of white hair and this young man who had not yet parted ways with his hippy-style locks.  And then Andy asked me: “Do you like to sing?”

Without waiting for me to answer he got out a tattered old hymn book and started to, well, sing… holding the book so I could read the words too.

Sweeter as the years go by, sweeter as the years go by,
Richer, fuller, deeper, Jesus’ love is sweeter,
Sweeter as the years go by.

This is how it should be with us, beloved.  Yes, the ifs are there.   And we must heed them.  But as we heed them with the help of the Holy Spirit, this will be our song all along the way.

…Which, it just comes to me, is what A Mending Feast is all about.

Hold Fast Your Title Deed Of Faith

We have been talking about the day of recompense.  The day of vengeance.  But before we go any further we need to remember that this is God’s right alone.  We are not to take vengeance into our own hands.  We must leave it all to God.

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord (Rom. 12.19).

And He will.  The day comes when God recompenses all men according to their works.

Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with the him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings.
Woe unto the wicked!  It shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him (Isa. 3.10,11).

In other words, God repays them in kind—repays them out of their own pocket, actually.  For some this means trouble, and wrath.

But for the faithful Christian it means the recompense of salvation.

So above all things, beloved  Christian, in the fiery trial hold tightly the certificate of your faith.

Faith is the substance—the title deed—of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen (Heb. 11.1).

As long as we have this title deed in our hand we are the possessors of a very great salvation—a salvation so great that even the angels desire to look into it.  This is why the testing of our faith is so important.  It is tragic when in the fiery trial someone draws back or turns aside.  What loss… when God meant the whole thing to be for our great gain.  Whatever the Devil or wicked men have in mind, God’s intent is to purify our faith in the fire—not that we draw back unto perdition, but that we believe unto the saving of our souls (Heb. 10.39).

Our salvation is sure—as long as we maintain faith and hope.  Our salvation is in the sphere of faith and hope—and we are to arm ourselves accordingly lest this hope be robbed from us.  For the day comes when we obtain this great salvation.

But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for an helmet the hope of salvation.
For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who died for us, that whether we wake (Gk. watch) or sleep we should live together with Him (1 Thes. 5.8-10).

Notice this, it’s very beautiful.  If you and I are faithful on our watch, and then when the watch is over, fall asleep (in death)… our salvation is just as sure as for the one who is still awake and watching when Jesus comes with His salvation.  We don’t miss out on anything.  We shall live together with Him.

So let us be faithful on our watch!

And let us always remember how important our faith is, and the trial of that faith.  The trial of our faith is “more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire” (1 Pt. 1.7).  As we are faithful in that trial, and endure, it will be found “unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing (in the revelation) of Jesus Christ.”  My.  That is something.  Help us dear Lord not to be short sighted when we are in the midst of the trial of our faith!

Yes, we who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ—we are saved.  But our salvation is in the sphere of faith.  We are saved by grace—through faith.  That faith is the title deed to what we hope for.  And so we guard it, protect it, nurture it in one another against the day when that salvation is revealed.  We are saved—but we anticipate the day when this salvation is revealed.  We in this day are “kept by the power of faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pt. 1.5).  It is a “great salvation,” and we dare not neglect it (Heb. 2.3)—so great a salvation that “the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you; searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow…” (1 Pt. 1.10,11).

This theme is much on Peter’s mind as he writes his first epistle—that this day is the day of suffering, the day of the trial of our faith—which is followed by the day of glory.  (We don’t wonder that Peter would write so much along this line; he went through a very severe trial of faith himself.)  He exhorts us:

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:
But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy (1 Pt. 4.12,13).

And still further he says:

The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed… (1 Pt. 5.1).

There is a salvation ready to be revealed to us—in the day of Christ’s glory when we are glorified with Him.  If we suffer with Him, we shall be glorified together with Him.  And the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed to us.  Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory… as we come out of it all with tried, and tested, but unshaken faith.

The Christian’s portion in this world, this present evil age, is trouble—humiliation, suffering, alienation, rejection, misunderstanding, persecution… hatred from a world that hates God and His Christ.

But what is coming?  Another day.  The day of judgment.  The day of recompense.  The day of vengeance.  For some, this means wrath.  But for some it means salvation, as we are faithful to take up our Cross in this age, and wait for His Son from Heaven, who has delivered us from the wrath to come (1 Thes. 1.9,10).

We can sum it all up by saying that we who are saved anticipate salvation in the day of wrath which is at the door.  Our judgment will be salvation—not wrath.  And so we are not afraid of what is coming.  We anticipate it!  We anticipate the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ—our Salvation Himself.  Those in all ages who have suffered for His Name have cried out, “O Lord Jesus, how long, how long, till we shout the glad song:  Christ returneth, Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Amen!…”

He comes—His recompense with Him, and His work before Him—to the joy and rejoicing of our hearts.

God Will Get Even

Notice from last time that Paul encouraged the Thessalonians with the hope that the righteous God would recompense trouble to those that troubled them, “and to you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ… (2 Thes. 1.5-8).

Notice this also.  Paul does not say merely “them that know not God,” but “them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  He equates the two—knowing God, and the Gospel.  None of us start out with the knowledge of God.  It is only through the Gospel of Jesus Christ that any man comes to know God.  And He will deal justly with those who had opportunity to know Him through the Gospel, and rejected it.  He will also deal justly with those who received His Gospel.

…Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you;
And to you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven with His mighty angels
In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ… (2 Thes. 1.3-8).

It’s important to understand that word recompense.  Many there are who accuse God of being vindictive and just plain mean—coming in flaming fire to wreak vengeance on all those nice people that know not God and obey not the Gospel.  What they fail to realize is that God is merely recompensing them that which is their own.  They heaped trouble on His own, who did not deserve it.  Now their trouble comes back to them.  For God is just.  He renders to every man according to his own works (Rom. 2.6).  The Christians in  Thessalonica patiently endured the trouble that was being heaped on them, not rendering evil for evil, but trusting in their God.  And so now God recompenses them rest in the day of wrath.  He gives them what is their own.

And He repays in their own currency those who troubled the church.  He troubles them.

In other words—and this is a wonderful mystery—as they heaped trouble on the Christians they were actually building and stoking their own fire.

For God is the God of recompense.  The merciful obtain mercy.  Those who deal in wrath get wrath returned to them in the day of the righteous judgments of God.

God says He is coming in vengeance.  Here’s another word that gets the Christian’s God a lot of bad press.  But once again it is a matter of the just God merely giving others their own.

And so, yes, the day of vengeance is much to be dreaded by the wicked—for He gives them the fruit of their own wickedness.  But it is a day to be much longed for by those who accepted God’s kind offer of salvation in the day when He stretched forth His arms to receive any who would come to Him—the acceptable year of the Lord, as He calls it (Isa. 61.2).  There is a time when God proffers salvation with open arms to all men no matter how wicked they are.  “Seek ye the LORD while He may be found,” He cries, “call ye upon Him while He is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our  God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55.6,7).

It’s the acceptable year of the LORD; His arms are wide open to all; there is no excuse for any man to continue in his wickedness.

“I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored (helped) thee: behold now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6.2).

But if the wicked are not willing to receive what is God’s… what can He do but give them what is their own?

And those who turned from their wickedness and received God’s gracious offer of salvation… and subsequently endured “manifold temptations,” afflictions, persecutions… shall not God get even with them also?

For the time comes when that day of salvation, that acceptable year of the Lord, draws to a close, and the day of vengeance dawns.

Those who laughed… they cry now. (Lk. 6.25).

And those who wept now laugh (Lk. 6.21).

He comforts those who mourned.  He gives them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness (Isa. 61.2,3).

He comes with vengeance… and saves us!  The salvation He opened to us in the day of salvation, and which we embraced by faith and hoped in… and walked in patience, and trust, enduring hard things… now He delivers that salvation in full.

“Behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense…”  Sounds so frightening.  But keep reading.  “…He will come and save you” (Isa. 35.4).

His vengeance means He pays out in full the salvation His people believed Him for in the day when what they got for their faith in Him was nothing but trouble, affliction, suffering, ridicule, persecution.

Let us nurture this hope, then, fellow Christian.  It is not a strange thing when the fiery trial comes our way.  In the midst of the fire let us hold tight our certificate of faith—the title deed of what we hope for (Heb. 11.1).  That faith may be tried severely.  But it will mean great joy for us in the day when God gets even with all men.

The Day Of Seven Troubles

George Fox exhorted the early Friends to be valiant for the truth in this day of trial and persecution.  For if we are Christians, this is our portion in this day, as many in other lands have already discovered.  We Christians here in western lands need to arm ourselves with the same mind—and thus be prepared for the hardships and sufferings that are our portion in this evil day.

Here’s another thing Fox encouraged the early Friends with in one of his letters.

And the Lord hath promised to deliver His people in the six troubles, yea, in the seventh, the perfection of troubles… (Letter 377, To Friends that are Prisoners in York)

Fox had in mind Eliphaz’ words to Job.

He shall deliver thee in six troubles; yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee (Job 5.19).

Eliphaz was insinuating that the reason Job was in “seven troubles” was because there was something in his life that disqualified him from God’s deliverance—some hidden sin he was not being honest about.  The truth of the matter is that God was trying a vessel He loved very deeply, and when He had finished His work He brought him forth as gold.

This is what He was doing with those early Quakers as well.  This is what He is doing with Christians in Eritrea and Pakistan and Iran, and other places in the earth where persecution is severe in our day.  It’s what He has in mind for you and me also in the day of seven troubles that is dawning.

He promises deliverance, salvation.  But when the promised deliverance is delayed?  We must go through our troubles valiantly—trusting Him, believing He is a God of integrity, and will be true to His word.  We must be patient, trusting.  We must nourish faith and hope.  And love.  God’s people in many different ages have suffered much—with the promise of a coming deliverance and salvation nourishing them in their sufferings.  God would be true to His word—they knew this.  So they endured their sufferings patiently.

Here are Paul’s words to the Thessalonians in a time of great persecution.

We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet (or, fitting), because your faith growth exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth;
So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure…

Notice the atmosphere the Thessalonian church lived in—their growing faith toward God, and their love toward one another in the sufferings they were going through.  Like the early Quakers—the Friends, as they called themselves.  They were ready to lay down their lives for their friends.  They would often go to the prison and offer to take the place of a brother or a sister they knew was inside—a sacrifice that could well mean death for them.

Paul continues:

Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:
Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you;
And to you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven with His mighty angels
In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ… (2 Thes. 1.3-8).

There’s a lot packed in here; let’s see if we can unfold it a little.  Paul is saying that the endurance and faith of the Thessalonians in sufferings they did not deserve was a token, a proof, evidence, that God had judged rightly; He had made the right decision—giving such as these the Kingdom of God.  Their patience and faith in their troubles, their refusal to retaliate, demonstrated that they were worthy of the kingdom of God they were suffering for.  It showed that they had indeed become the kind of people God intended to give His kingdom to.

And God would continue to judge righteously.  The day would come when He would recompense trouble to those who had troubled them, “and to you who are troubled, rest with us…”

When does this rest come?  “…When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

God had not forgotten His salvation in the day the Thessalonians were in such hardship.  God’s promise to His people is salvation.  His salvation is certain.  His day of recompense will surely come.

Scripture is clear.  “God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…”  This is from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thes. 5.9).

But this also is clear.  In the same letter Paul wrote: “…That no man should be moved by these afflictions (Gk. tribulations): for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto” (1 Thes. 3.3).

We are not appointed to wrath.

But we are appointed to troubles, beloved.  So, let us arm our minds accordingly.  When we find ourselves in the midst of trial and trouble it does not mean God has reneged on His promise of salvation.

It means that His salvation will break upon us with greater honour and glory when it breaks.

Meanwhile, since we have to go through trouble, He who has overcome the world and is Lord over trouble promises that He will go through it with us.

I will be with him in trouble… (Ps. 91.15).

You mean, Jesus Himself with us in trouble?  Really, what more could one ask?

The Wind Is Shifting

Be valiant and faithful for God’s truth upon the earth in this day of trial and persecution.

This is from the letters of George Fox the Quaker apostle, which I have been reading.  Fox often encouraged his friends with words such as these.  The early Quakers suffered grievously at the hands of the apostate church of their day, and the government.  Many of them had their goods and houses confiscated because they refused to pay the mandatory tithe the established churches required.  They were thrown in jail for the same reason, or because they would not swear an oath or doff their hats to dignitaries.  They also reproved those in authority for their wicked ways, and paid the price for this as well.  So Fox—who himself spent much time behind bars—would encourage his fellow sufferers to take heart by recognizing that this kind of thing is the lot of those who follow Jesus Christ in “this day”—this present evil age.

How we in western lands need to recognize that we are still in this same day!  We are thankful for the liberty we have enjoyed; we in western lands can be Christians and still enjoy great security and safety and prosperity.  But wet your finger and hold it up to the wind.  You will discover the wind is shifting these days.  The warm west wind of prosperity is shifting—and is beginning to come out of the north.  The “world” is not going to be so amicable to us as it has been in the past.  Western nations don’t want to be recognized as “Christian” nations any more.  There is arising a “new king over Egypt,” who does not know “Joseph” (Ex. 1.8).

There is another factor that is going to provoke this coming persecution—a deeper manifestation of Christ in His people.  It’s heartbreaking to read of the things our brothers and sisters go through in other lands simply for being named a Christian.  Over here being identified as a Christian doesn’t seem to provoke the same reaction it does in many other places.  But the persecution is going to be just as severe here, if not more so, when the Spirit of Christ takes up His habitation in us in a more manifest way—something many are now seeking.

I recall many years ago reading one of the “Visions of Annie,” in which she said it seemed to her almost a deceitful thing when God gave His own that Spirit of His Presence they had so long been seeking.  For it provoked a severe reaction from those who hated Him—much suffering, pain, and persecution.

Some of us have been waiting a long time for this—not the trouble, but the Presence.  It is at the door, I believe.  Others bear the same witness.  And we long for this.  Nothing less than this will meet the need of this day.  But at the same time, this Presence is going to bring upon us here in western lands the measure of suffering many of our brothers and sisters in other lands are already enduring for merely being Christian in name.

Jesus told His disciples, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you” (Jn. 15.18).  It’s important to note the context in which Jesus said this.  He was speaking of the coming of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth.  In other words, a world that has already demonstrated it hates Jesus Christ is going to hate those in whom the Spirit of Jesus Christ has come to abide.

And so if we are seeking God and greatly longing for a deeper reality of His Spirit in our lives, let’s be sure we understand what the implications are.

And let us start preparing for this.

How?  Peter’s words come to mind.

Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind… (1 Pt. 4.1).

This is the key, I believe.  The servant is not greater than his lord, Jesus warned.  “If they have persecuted me they will also persecute you…” (Jn. 15.20).  If Christ suffered in the flesh, so shall we.  Let us arm ourselves with the same mind, then.   If we are armed beforehand with the realization that suffering and persecution is our portion in this day, and not some strange thing that has come upon us, we will not be undone when it comes upon us.

John exhorted, “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you” (1 Jn. 3.13).  We are inclined to “marvel” when the world hates us, and to think it a strange thing when the trial of fire comes our way.  And we go under because we were not prepared for this.  No, we must go into the day before us with our eyes open, our minds armed, our hearts prepared.  We are greatly longing for a manifestation of the Spirit of Christ that will enable us to have a Testimony that is greater than mere words—something that is able to deal effectively with the forces of darkness in our world, something that brings genuine conviction.  God is going to answer our cry.

Let us be ready for the consequences.

Feed God First

Our Lord has accomplished something very special when He sees us beginning to consider His own interests first in all we go through, and in all we seek from Him.  When this becomes our first consideration—when in every problem, every situation, every need, every petition, our foremost concern is our Lord’s own interests—we have come into something very beautiful in His sight.

This is not to say that our problems and needs are not God’s own interests.  They are.  He cares for us deeply.  But His primary goal in all the things we are going through is that we have fellowship with Him in the midst of it all—that we come to know Him, and be conformed to the image of His Son.

It was the Father’s interests that were His own interests.

Take the story of the widow of Zarephath in the time of her great need.  When she met Elijah she was out with her son gathering sticks for the fire so she could bake her last bit of flour, and then die, she told him.  Don’t be afraid, yes, do that, Elijah responded.  “But make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and thy son” (1 Ki. 17.13).  Kind of selfish of him, wasn’t it, taking a poor widow’s last meal?  But this was a man who stood before God.  God’s interests had become his own, God’s hunger His own.  And he wanted this woman to know that regardless how desperate her need was, she would come out the loser if she too did not make God’s need her own– her priority.

But when she did this, behold how wonderfully God met her need!

The same with you and me.  God is not being selfish when in the midst of our great anguish and deep need He says, “Feed Me first.”  It is our own great advantage He has in mind–that is, bringing us to the place where His advantage has become our own.

Yes, we seek Him for His help in all our dire circumstances and deep needs.  But getting Him to answer our need is not the first in importance.  First comes fellowship with Him, and getting knowing Him and His own heart’s longing.  First comes worshipping Him—which means giving Him our all on the altar of burnt sacrifice to satisfy His own great longing for you and me.

Otherwise God may become to us no more than a dispenser of help for our troubles, one who answers our prayers… but we still haven’t come to know Him, to walk with Him, and become like Him.

We may have a deep wound that some circumstance has brought into our life.  But to have been wounded with the wound of longing for God… this is a precious gift that can only be healed in finding Him in the midst of what we are going through.  It causes our first prayer in all things to be, Lord, I want to, I must… know You in this thing!  This is my first and great desire above and beyond Your answering my prayers and meeting my needs.  I must know You!  Bring me through the secret door in this situation, which, going through, I discover myself face to face with You in my great distress, and come to know You in a deeper way.  And in this way I become a kind of firstfruits that satisfies Your own deep hunger… for fellowship with one who is just like You.  For, the firstfruits are always Your own to enjoy first– and then when Your own hunger is satisfied others enjoy the bounty.

So… are you and I in the midst of a trial that is very difficult for us?  Let us be crying out like Job, then.  He cried out in the midst of his great trial, “Oh, that I knew where I might find HIM” (Job 23.3).  We must find GOD in our trial—as Job did.  So often our prayer is, “Deliver me from the trial, Lord!”  Job cried that too in his anguish.  But God answered Him in a way that was higher than Job could comprehend at the moment.  God’s objective was that Job come to know Him—actually see Him.

He has the same thing in mind for you and me.  That is His objective in what we are going through—that we find Him.  God Himself, that is.  The implication is becoming one with Him… as Elijah was.  “Make me a little cake first,” he had said.  It was God’s request, really. 

…And look how God answered Job after He had first brought him to know Him—know him oh so wonderfully—like never before.

“Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord, that the Lord is full of tender pity, and compassionate” (James 5.11).

I think of David in the midst of all his trials and afflictions—how he swore unto the LORD that his first priority would be to make a habitation for his God (Ps. 132.1-5).  See how God responded?  Once He has that habitation for Himself He says, “I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread.  I will clothe her priests with salvation, and her saints shall shout aloud for joy.”

God is not unmindful of our needs and great longings.  Far from it.  But our God is a God of great love, and great wisdom.  His love for us is, oh, so deep.  When what we long for seems so far away, is nowhere in sight, there is something near He is working to help us discover—something very special He has in mind for us to find right there in the midst of our trial and unanswered prayer—Himself.  This is His own great longing.  And this is why we find ourselves in this kind of trial—and needing to endure, like Job, and be patient.  Our God loves us deeply, and wants the very best for us.  The very best.  He wants us to find Him in our trial.  Once this happens, and patience has had its perfect work, like the widow of Zarephath we will find our desires and prayers answered far more fully than we were ever able to formulate.