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Good News for the Weakest Ministers

Jun 17, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

Like the apostle Paul, it is every minister’s business to glory in his infirmities. The world says, “Pshaw! upon your oratory; it is rough, and rude, and eccentric.” Yet, ’tis even so, but we are content, for God blesses it. Then so much the better that it has infirmities in it; for now shall it be plainly seen that it is not of man or by man, but the work of God, and of God alone.

It is said that once upon a time a man exceedingly curious desired to see the sword with which a mighty hero had fought some desperate battles; casting his eye along the blade, he said, “Well, I don’t see much in this sword.” “Nay,” said the hero, “but you have not examined the arm that wields it.”

And so when men come to hear a successful minister, they are apt to say, “I do not see any thing in him.” No, but you have not examined the eternal arm that reaps its harvest with this sword of the Spirit. If ye had looked at the jaw-bone of the ass in Samson’s hand, you would have said, “What! heaps on heaps with this!” No; bring out some polished blade; bring forth the Damascus steel! NO; but God would have all the glory, and, therefore, not with the polished steel, but with the jaw-bone must Samson get the victory. So with ministers; God has usually blessed the weakest to do the most good.

– Charles Spurgeon, “The Necessity of the Spirit’s Work,” Revival Year Sermons Preached in the Surrey Gardens Music Hall 1859 (Banner of Truth, 2002), 55.

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When the Pursuit of Justice Isn’t

Jun 17, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.
- Genesis 18:19

We keep hearing from confessing Christians the appeal to biblical justice in the question of marriage equality and the like. I think beneath the fundamental redefinition of marriage to something both foreign to and against the Scriptures is the fundamental redefinition of justice, as well.

Justice in the Bible is not some nebulous fairness or sense of altruistic equality. It is the spreading dominion of the righteousness of God. (Note how often justice is paired with righteousness in the Bible.) When God calls us to “do justice,” he is calling us to reflect the life-giving, culture-flourishing, gracious abundance that is in keeping with his glory. Justice includes care for the poor and hungry and sick, for instance, because it is a reflection of God’s righteousness to address the effects of the fall on individuals and systems with gracious provision. In a sense, justice is taking the prelapsarian mandate (Gen. 1:28) into the postlapsarian world. Justice is grounded in the harmonic Eden and aims at the shalom of the new Jerusalem (2 Chron. 9:8, Isaiah 33:5). Justice is sourced in the righteousness of God (Job 37:23), the holiness of God (Deut. 32:4). Therefore, biblical justice is only superficially fairness but more deeply the express manifestation of the righteousness of God.

In that sense, it is not justice for the state to sanction same-sex marriage. It is in fact injustice, because it sanctions as “righteous” what God has called unrighteous. The Bible calls the failure to do justice a “perversion of justice.” Even in seeking to do justice, then, when Christians disconnect biblical justice from the concept of the kingdom of God, they are perverting justice. We are told multiple times in the Scriptures who will not inherit the kingdom of God. It is a rejection of the righteousness of God, therefore, to say those very same excluded will be included.

Christian culture has adopted the imbecile habit of thinking conceptually as the world does. Thus love becomes primarily a romantic feeling disconnected from the holy God who is love and the “definition” we see in 1 Corinthians 13. Peace becomes merely the absence of conflict or judgment or disapproval, functionally disconnected from the holy Lord who is himself peace (Eph. 2:14). Joy is not found in the Lord but instead following your bliss, doing what fulfills you, finding what makes you happy, etc. And justice? Well, justice becomes giving people what they want, because, after all, it’s only fair.

But the Scriptures do not lend us these virtues as merely ideas, amorphous concepts to be shaped by the prevailing cultural Jello mold. No, all of the biblical virtues are embodied in Christ. They have the shape of the risen Lord, are defined by his righteousness. So it is not “keeping the way of the Lord” to call evil good (Mal. 2:17), nor is it just.

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Success is Dangerous

Jun 11, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong.
– 2 Chronicles 26:15

Not a single one of us wishes, really, for failure. Oh, sure, there are certainly some spiritual masochists out there, Christians who take great pride in the ministry of Isaiah — “I’m losing 90 per cent? I must be doing something right!” — but there’s a reason God provoked Isaiah’s commitment to the mission before giving him his depressing orders. None of us would want to sign up for that.

When we find ourselves in difficult ministries, where the word seems out of season and the soil inordinately hard, despite our sincere and faithful efforts to share the gospel in contextualized ways and love and serve our neighbors with gladness and kindness, many of us battle discouragement, but we at least theologically understand that sometimes God gives and sometimes he takes away.

There is something biblically beautiful, actually, about such littleness. It appears to be the primary mode of thinking of the apostles about themselves. Paul boasts, but he boasts in his weakness. He considers his successes garbage compared to Christ’s glory. It is God’s bigness he is concerned ultimately with, not his own or that of the churches.

So when we are made little, we can find ourselves in the heart of John the Baptist’s prayer, that Jesus would increase and we would decrease. It’s not the ideal place to be in terms of our dreams and ambitions, but relying totally on God’s sovereignty is right where God wants us. It’s not a call to passivity or to excuse-making. But even the most diligent of workers can say that God has called him to be faithful, not successful.

And then God grants many much visible success. Sometimes God’s people succeed greatly at things he hasn’t actually called them to do, but sometimes in his strange wisdom he grants extraordinary, legitimate successes to his children. But with such glories should come many cautions. We all prefer success to failure but, really, success is more dangerous. In failure, we know we rely totally on God’s approval and sustaining arm. In success, it is easy to begin looking around, surveying all the territories claimed, all the peoples gathered, all the ministry renown redounding, and we think, “Well, lookee here. Look what has been built with my talents, my gifts, my skills, my strategies, my visions, my sweat, my sacrifice.”

It is perfectly normal for humans to prefer success to failure. You’d be a weirdo if you didn’t.
And yet it is perfectly normal for humans to taint all their successes with the swelling of their big fat heads. You’d be a weirdo if you didn’t.

And so we remember the Holy Spirit, the sovereign breath of God Himself in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), without whom we could not receive one single stinking thing (John 3:27). It is the Spirit who directs our paths while we’re making our big plans (Proverbs 16:9) and hijacks our mission statements (James 4:13-15). Oh, we can produce some very exciting enterprises, we can get a lot of stuff done if we’ll just have that can-do attitude and take-charge spirit and gung-ho personality and yada yada yada. That Babel tower was pretty tall too.

Don’t run ahead of the Lord God. You may find yourself in the midst of a great, booming success and therefore very, very vulnerable.

And the dirty little secret is that you don’t really need it. If God wants you to have it, that’s great. But you don’t need “more” to be satisfied in God, to be fully justified by Christ, to be fully filled by the Spirit. God does not measure success the way we do. So whether you are struggling or succeeding, the best position to take is always that of prayer so that you know how to have little and how to have a lot, how to do “all things” through Christ — not know-how. Only Christ is inexhaustible.

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
– 1 Corinthians 10:12

Related:
Too Big Not to Fail

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On Leadership and Revival

Jun 11, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

It is not a miracle, or dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means—as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means. There may be a miracle among its antecedent causes, or there may not. The apostles employed miracles, simply as a means by which they arrested attention to their message, and established its Divine authority. But the miracle was not the revival. The miracle was one thing; the revival that followed it was quite another thing. The revivals in the apostles’ days were connected with miracles, but they were not miracles.

I said that a revival is the result of the right use of the appropriate means.

Those are the words of Charles Finney from his Lectures on Revivals of Religion.

I say that Finney is dead wrong. Dangerously wrong.

But Finney’s words here serve as the philosophical precursor to countless church growth strategies today and the prevailing church growth framework in general. As a sort of churched version of “If you build it, they will come,” this approach to the expectation of revival renders the supernatural natural and the providential pragmatic. Finney and his many modern spin-offs conflate the work of the preacher with the work of the word. They confuse the minister’s required work with the Lord’s free prerogative. It is God who says, “I will cause breath to enter you” (Ezek. 37:5), and that, when he does, “You shall know that I am the Lord” (v. 6). When the result is worship of God, the credit does not go to the leader but to God. The entire leadership enterprise, the entire purpose of revival, is the knowing of God and the enjoying of his sovereign lordship.

By way of contrast to Finney, enter the wisdom of Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

A revival is a miracle. It is a miraculous, exceptional phenomenon. It is the hand of the Lord, and it is mighty. A revival, in other words, is something that can only be explained as the direct action and intervention of God. It was God alone who could divide the Red Sea. It was God alone who could divide the waters of the river of Jordan. These were miracles. Hence the reminder of God’s unique action of the mighty acts of God. And revivals belong to that category. . . . These events belong to the order of things that men cannot produce. Men can produce evangelistic campaigns, but they cannot and never have produced a revival. (Revival, 1987)

This knowledge ought both to humble us and to embolden us.

(Adapted from The Storytelling God, pp.137-138)

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Remembering the God Who Remembers You

Jun 10, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

noah-620x420But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.
– Genesis 8:1

The chapter and verse numbers in the Scriptures are not inspired, of course, but there is something about Genesis 8:1 — specifically in the phrase “But God remembered Noah” — which is a nice correlation to Romans 8:1. In all of the apparent chaos, in the torrent, the danger, the death and destruction, there is therefore now no condemnation for those whom God is pleased to remember.

But Noah was remembering God too. How could he not? All other supports were gone, literally wiped away and overwhelmed by the earth-consuming deluge from heaven. Noah and his family weren’t steering that boat, far as we know. And as big as it was, it was nevertheless compared to the sea-covered planet a mere speck in the vast expanse of the raging torrent, like a cork bobbing about in the Pacific Ocean. God certainly becomes the believer’s only hope precisely when he has become the believer’s only hope.

When the storms are rising in your life, aren’t you closest to God then? Or do you fail to remember God even then and give in to despair and hopelessness and joylessness?

But we see in Genesis 8 that Noah remembered the God that remembered him. He remembered God primarily in 3 ways.

1. Noah remembered God’s timing.

It took him probably 98 years or so to build the ark. All along he had to be trusting in God’s timing, no? The temptation had to have arrived within hour one — “Did God really say…?” Certainly it did not abate hour after hour, day after day, year after year, decade after decade. But Noah walked each step with God, trusting in his timing. And after the thing was built, they went into the ark and were in there 7 days before the floods came! Those 7 days might’ve felt longer than 7 years.

But we also see in the flood’s aftermath, how closely Noah paid attention to God’s perfect timing. Notice this pattern seen by the keen eye over the text:

7 days of waiting for flood (Gen. 7:4)
7 days of waiting for the flood repeated (Gen. 7:10)
40 days of the flood (Gen. 7:17)
150 days of the waters prevailing (Gen. 7:24)
150 days of the waters receding (Gen. 8:3)
40 days of waiting (Gen. 8:6)
7 days of waiting (Gen. 8:10) – after the first dove
7 days of waiting (Gen. 8:12) – after the 2nd sending of the dove

There are patterns like this all over Scripture. But here in this precious palindrome, Noah’s echo and completing of the pattern shows how tuned-in he is to God’s timing.

Now, you may not be following days and hours that closely. Most of us don’t. I don’t. But as we pray and hope and struggle and fear, we have to remember that God’s timing is not our timing, that his timing is perfect. That when he says “No” to something or “Wait”, he has reasons based in his love for us, even if we don’t understand them.

The first deep acquaintance with grief came for my wife and I upon the miscarriage of our second baby. It was the Fourth of July weekend of 2002. We had both lost loved ones before then, but until then we had never been so personally affected, Becky especially.

I remember the first signs that something was wrong, causes enough to head to the doctor for answers. I remember most vividly sitting in a dim ultrasound room, while the technician ran the sonogram probe over my wife’s belly. The technician had an assistant with her, and they talked in very hush tones. They said nothing to us that I recall. They discussed what they were seeing. And what they weren’t seeing. They were keeping us in the dark until the doctor could speak to us, and that is exactly how we felt — like a darkness was overcoming us.

Of course when they finally told us the news. Miscarriage.

We named our baby Angel and we mourned for a long time. A year later we were pregnant again and due on — get this — July 4, 2003. The pregnancy had been difficult. Stress and other factors complicated our baby’s growth and caused Becky lots of discomfort and anxiety. After the miscarriage, we were pretty scared about how things might turn out, but our second daughter was carried all the way to term. I remember her birth, however, and while she came much more quickly than our first child, there was a complication. The doctor was concerned about her position, about the position of the umbilical cord. When our baby was delivered, she did not cry. The silence was unnerving.

I remember the nurse bringing our little baby over to the bassinet. The nurse looked concerned. I had been videotaping the event, but I put the camera down. I could tell something was wrong. Our baby was having trouble breathing. The more frantic the nurse looked, the more frightened I got. After multiple attempts to clear her throat and lungs, however, finally, climatically, our daughter let out the most beautiful wail I’ve ever heard.

We named her Grace. She was born on July 5th, one year plus one day from the day we first mourned Angel.

We don’t know why God decided to take Angel from us. And if we had our preference, we would have all 3 of our children here with us, alive and healthy. But God did a special thing with the timing for his own reasons, that we would come to trust him more deeply, to be refined by his Spirit in our grief. See if we were writing the story, we would have had Grace born exactly a year later, on July 4. That due date seemed just perfect. But God said, “No. One year and one day.” And so we learn that Grace has her own timing. And God’s grace has its own timing.

Secondly:

2. Noah remembered God’s priorities.

A curious thing here. Why did he send out a raven first, then a dove?
“At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made 7 and sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth” (Gen. 8:6-7).

A raven, first of all, is less particular than a dove. It went to and fro over the earth even while the place was still wet. A dove on the other hand will only nest where it is dry and clean. A raven is, well, more of a slob I guess.

But commentator Kent Hughes reminds us that a raven is not a bird considered ritually clean by God. Hughes writes, “Noah released the raven first because as an unclean bird it was expendable, since it was good for neither food nor sacrifice.” (We learn this in Leviticus 11:15 and Deuteronomy 14:15.) We learn a valuable lesson in Noah’s ordering of release of the birds for testing. The first thing he was willing to give up was something God considered unclean and unsuitable.

Is there not a valuable lesson for us in that? So often we protect things in our lives that God has actually called us to let go of. They may not even be things at all — our pride, our comfort, our schedules, our dreams — anything that gets in the way of trusting God and doing what he has called us to do.

Maybe you’re caught in a habit or in a relationship that you know doesn’t honor God, and it’s a huge area of compromise for you in your spiritual life. But you’re not willing to give it up. Why? Because you’ve come to treasure this habit or this pattern of behavior or this inappropriate relationship more than you treasure God. You’ve placed your priorities over God’s.

And you only do that when you don’t trust that God wants what’s best for you. We only do that when we think, “No, God doesn’t know what will satisfy and fulfill me. I know better than he.” But Noah was ready to lose first what was lose-able in God’s eyes.

Thirdly:

3. Noah remembered God’s creative purpose.

One thing Noah had to be trusting was that God wasn’t saving him and his family for some postapocalyptic wasteland. Why would he preserve him and the animals simply to float around on the ark forever? I mean, if that’s what God called him to do, we have good reason to believe Noah would be willing to do that, but he was trusting and counting on God having a plan for restoration. He trusted that as high as the waters got, as dangerous as they seemed, as angry as God was about the sin that provoked him to such subsuming wrath, in the end, God did plan to bring him and his out unscathed, ready to resume the mandate given to his children to be fruitful and multiply.

If Genesis 8:1 predicts Romans 8;1, the subsiding of the waters in Genesis 8 also cast the shadow thrown by the great light of Romans 8:19-23:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

God’s plan for his beloved and his beloved creation is not annihilation but restoration.

Genesis 8:1, then, is a promise that as things get worse, God does not get further away, but actually more near. Brevard Childs says, “God’s remembering always implies his movement toward the object . . . The essence of God’s remembering lies in his acting toward someone because of a previous commitment.” If he takes much away, it is only because he wants us to treasure him only, and if we will treasure him only, how will he not also in the end give us all things besides? (Romans 8:32!)

When Noah was in the ark tossed to and fro on waves of destruction, God remembered him.
When Joseph was in prison, languishing away from crimes he didn’t commit, God remembered him.
When David was crying out in repentance of his horrific sins, God remembered him.
When Daniel was thrown into a den of lions to be torn to pieces, God remembered him.
When Daniel’s friends were thrown into the furnace b/c they refused to bow their knees to idols, God remembered them.
When the disciples were in the boat tossing to and fro from waves of destruction, crying out, “Remember us, lest we die!”, God remembered them.

And Christian, when you were at your moment of deepest danger — sinful and deserving of hell and eternal death — God remembered you (Rom. 5:6).

Look to the cross. It is the proof you need that God has remembered you and given you all that you need. His timing, his priorities, and his purposes are all revealed in Christ’s death and resurrection. He has not forgotten you. Remember that.

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The Heart of the True Father

Jun 05, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

There is this really magical thing that happens in homes all over the world. When you first have a child, you want your child to crawl. And then you want your kid to walk. My first child, Audrey, pulled herself to the coffee table. When she got to the coffee table, she began to bounce on her knees, and then she began to coast along. From there she started letting go and just being wobbly. At that point, we began to get really, really excited about the fact that Audrey is about to walk. Eventually she took her hands off of the coffee table, and we watched physics in motion.

God has created children, specifically young children, with gargantuan heads and tiny little bodies. So when Audrey let go of the coffee table, her gigantic head fell forward, and suddenly she has a decision to make. She can stick that foot out to catch herself or she can die. So she sticks her foot out, and now we’ve got momentum. It’s step, step, step, fall. And do you know what we did? We exploded in celebration.

We picked her up, spun her around, kissed her face, we sat her down and pleaded with her to walk towards us again. And then we were e-mailing, Facebooking, taking pictures, tweeting and all sorts of other things to get the word out that Audrey was walking. We did that with our son Reid, and we’ve done that with our daughter Norah.

What I have learned as I watched all of our friends have children is that there is always this epic celebration around the kid walking. This is news to be declared. “This kid is walking!”
For all the people I have watched go through that process, I’ve never seen anybody watch their kid go step, step, step, fall and say out loud, “Man, this kid is an idiot. Are you serious? Just three steps? Man, I can get the dog to walk two or three steps. Honey, this must be from your side of the family, because my side of the family is full of walkers. This must be some sort of genetic, shallow gene pool on your side of things.”

No father does that. Every father rejoices in the steps of his child. The father celebrates the steps of his child. I think what we have here is a picture of God celebrating us walking. So we step, step, step, fall, and heaven applauds. At what? The obedience to take those three steps. The Father in heaven is crying, “He’s walking!” “She’s doing it!” And maybe the accuser’s saying, “No, he only took a couple of steps. That’s nothing.”

But the celebration is in the steps, even if there are still falls. Because here’s what I know about all of my children: they start to walk farther and farther and farther, and they begin to skip, they begin to run, they begin to jump, they begin to climb and they begin to tear the house up. It’s beautiful. And I knew even when they were step, step, step, falling that that process was the beginning of what would result in climbing trees, dancing, and sprinting. Knowing in my mind what’s to come, the two steps and the stumble was a celebration.

The moralist sees the fall and believes that the Father is ashamed and thinks they’re foolish. So more often than not, they stop trying to walk because they can’t see the Father rejoicing in and celebrating his child.

Church of Jesus, let us please be men and women who understand the difference between moralism and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s be careful to preach the do’s and don’t’s of Scripture in the shadow of the cross’s “Done!” Resolve to know nothing but Jesus Christ crucified. We are not looking to conform people to a pattern of religion but pleading with the Holy Spirit to transform people’s lives. Let us move forward according to that upward call, holding firmly to the explicit gospel.

What we see in the Father’s heart in the Bible is its immensity, its bottomless depths. God’s heart is as complex and unfathomable as he is. Shouldn’t the gospel we believe stand firm in, and proclaim reflect the bigness of God’s heart for a fallen world? The cross of Christ and his resurrection are cataclysms of the unsearchable judgments and affections of God. It is this immense gospel that spurs Paul to pray:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

– from Matt Chandler, The Explicit Gospel

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What They Need on Sundays

Jun 04, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

A word to my brother-pastors, who every week labor in preparing to teach the Bible in the weekend gathering while the dark cloud of the new cultural downgrade hangs over them:

Brothers, let’s not go about our weekly sermon preparation and personal discipleship in sackcloth and ashes. Let’s get into the vineyard of God’s word, get some holy sweat worked up, whistling while we work, lifting our hearts in worship. Let’s get into the kitchen of study and prep and start putting together the banquet. And come Sunday let’s spread the feast out rich and sumptuous, beckoning our people to taste and see that the Lord is good. They don’t need our doomsdaying or dimbulbing. Still less do they need our shallow pick-me-ups and spitpolished legalism. Like our brother Wesley, let us set ourselves on fire with gospel truth that our church families might come watch us burn.

And when we gather Sunday with the saints, let us shepherd them to repentance and sincerity, reminding them of the holy God who welcomes them with sin-forgetting forgiveness. When we enter the worship gathering, let us not look back to the ruins lest we all become the wrong kind of salt. Let us look forward to the new Jerusalem, where our citizenship is secured even today and evermore. Let’s get our wits about us and take heart together, for our Lord has overcome the world. Yesterday, today, Sunday, and forever. Let us frighten the kings of the world and shake the kingdom of the devil with how resolute we are in abandoning ourselves to the mighty God.

Our churches don’t need our hand-wringing but our hand-raising. They need our deep, abiding, all-conquering, sin-despairing gospel joy. This and this alone is the hope of the world.

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Commenting Note on Old Posts

Jun 04, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

Because I’ve been getting hammered with spam lately, I’ve decided to set the blog to automatically close comments on posts 14 days and older. I hope this won’t be too much of an inconvenience to you. I don’t get many authentic comments on older posts anyway, and most of the lively discussion on newer posts tends to dwindle after a week or so.

If you’d like to weigh in on something from the archives, or just want another way to reach me besides the blog comments, you can always holler at me on Twitter (@jaredcwilson) or message me at jared AT gospeldrivenchurch DOT com.

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The Bird with a Leaf in Her Mouth

Jun 03, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

dove_olive-960x350And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth.
– Genesis 8:11

Here is one of the simpler but more beautiful pictures we receive in the account of Noah and the great flood. It is the first sign of the re-starting of God’s creative process. The land emerges out of the waters in an echo of the creation event, where God separated the land from the water. It is a “reboot,” if you will. And a foreshadow. It is a foreshadow of the day still to come – future from us – when Christ will return and he will judge the living and the dead, and the wicked will be condemned (Luke 17:25-27). But God will remember his children who have trusted in his Son and who have been declared righteous by their trust. And his plan isn’t simply to evacuate them off of the cursed earth into heaven but to bring a flood of heaven, a flood of glory, to the earth and restore it. He will vanquish the curse. The flood of sin will be dried up and peace and justice will reign. And so will we. In a restored creation.

We very much need to remember this gospel hope of a restored body and a restored creation through the work of Christ. We need to remember it every day because life is not easy. And God keeps calling us into difficult circumstances, into times of suffering and hardship.

When we go through something difficult, that is typically when we begin to question whether God is actually good, whether he’s actually remembered us, whether he even cares, if we’re even saved!
But we have to remember his character and his designs – that he is love and that he is gracious and that his plan for us is to deliver us from evil and death – we have to remember this especially when we are most tempted to doubt it!

Sometimes, like Noah in those latter stages, we look around and see only the raging torrent. No horizon. Simply the gray seas meeting the gray skies. And we feel lost, adrift, hopelessly tossed about on the endless current of murky chaos. We are looking for a big sign, perhaps, a big deliverance. In the meantime, however, we get a glimpse. Something to look at that doesn’t at first strike us as much to look at.

The dove with the leaf in her mouth is a very pretty image, but as it flies over the flooded earth with just this tiny shred of evidence of something new bursting forth, we have also a reminder of God’s holiness, of his power. The image of the dove is one of hope but also a reminder of curse. We see in the entirety of the story of Noah’s flood, in fact, that — as CS Lewis says of Aslan in the Narnia stories — “he is not safe but he is good.”

Like God did Noah, he may call us into a long obedience in a dark direction. He calls us to give up our lives and abandon ourselves to his sovereignty. But to run from the fearful God is to run into a terrible disaster of eternal proportions. I am always moved by this from The Silver Chair:

Anyway, [Jill] had seen its lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.

“Are you not thirsty?” said the lion.

“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the lion.

“May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. “Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

The image of the dove with the olive leaf in her mouth is a now iconic religious image. It reminds us of God’s holiness and his power and his purity. But in doing so, it also becomes a picture of salvation. Of hope. Of restoration. Noah saw it and he knew the waters were subsiding.

When the flood waters come up around us, then, whatever they might be, we ought to be remembering God’s creative purpose. See, so often we have our eyes set on the wrong things – or at least, the lesser things. We suffer and we want simply to feel better, which is not a bad thing to want! But do we want more than that to be sanctified? Do we say to God, “Nevertheless, not my will be done, but yours”? Fearing the flood God calls us to, do we seek other streams that don’t even exist?

When we think of the things we hope for, that we even trust God for, we are typically setting our sights pretty low even when we think we are waiting on a miracle. A financial break. The right job. Success. Comfort. When all along God is calling us to remember not his material blessings but his creative purpose – specifically in his Son.

The dove with the leaf in her mouth, like the ark itself, is a shadow cast by the cross of Christ, where we see definitively that God is not safe but he is good! That the judgment and wrath he must pour out for guilty sinners can make sinners clean, make them righteous, make them forgiven and justified and eternally free. That’s what we look to in times of terror, in times of hardship, in all times! If you think God has forgotten you, look to the cross. As Augustine says, “”If you are ever tempted to hold yourself cheap, value yourself by the price which was paid for you.”

The cross stands as eternal proof that God loves sinners. It stands as eternal proof that no matter how deep the waters get, even if they drown us – our condemnation has been taken by Christ and removed forever.

In 2 Chronicles 20, the great armies of the Moabites and the Ammonites are marching in battle toward the children of Israel, quickly descending to lay waste to God’s people and destroy them and all they hold dear. And it says King Jehosophat was afraid. And the people of God all gathered together to figure out what they were going to do. Because their enemies were quickly rising against them, like a flood they could not escape from. And King Jehosophat stands in the middle of the assembled cities and offers this desperate, faithful prayer:

“O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. 7 Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 8 And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name, saying, 9 ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.’ 10 And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy— 11 behold, they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession, which you have given us to inherit. 12 O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. . . . (vv.6-12)

And then he adds at the end:

“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (v.12)

We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you. I’m thinking that is a prayer Noah could have Amen‘d heartily. Maybe you could too.

If overwhelmed, look to the cross. The vision comes back to you like the dove with an olive leaf in her mouth. The waters that threaten you have subsided, conquered by their Master. You see the wrath is over and the blessings have begun.

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Whenever God Does a Mighty Work, It Has Been By Some Very Insignifcant Instrument

Jun 02, 2014 | Jared C. Wilson

What kind of “stuff” does God use for his extraordinary work?

I relished this bit from Charles Spurgeon’s revival sermon, “The Story of God’s Mighty Acts”:

A friend who called to see me yesterday, tells me that the lowest and vilest men, the most depraved females in Belfast, have been visited with this extraordinary epilepsy, as the world calls it; but with this strange rushing of the spirit, as we have it. Men who have been drunkards have suddenly felt an impulse compelling them to pray. They have resisted; they have sought to their cups in order to put it out; but when they have been swearing, seeking to quench the Spirit by their blasphemy, God has at last brought them on their knees, and they have been compelled to cry for mercy with piercing shrieks, and to agonize in prayer; and then after a time, the Evil one seems to have been cast out of them, and in a quiet, holy, happy frame of mind, they have made a profession of their faith in Christ, and have walked in his fear and love. Roman Catholics have been converted. I thought that an extraordinary thing; but they have been converted very frequently indeed in Ballymena and in Belfast. In fact, I am told the priests are now selling small bottles of holy water for people to take, in order that they may be preserved from this desperate contagion of the Holy Spirit. This holy water is said to have such efficacy, that those who do not attend any of the meetings are not likely to be meddled with by the Holy Spirit—so the priests tell them. But if they go to the meetings, even this holy water cannot preserve them—they are as liable to fall prey to the Divine influence. I think they are just as likely to do so without as with it.

All this has been brought about suddenly, and although we may expect to find some portion of natural excitement, yet I am persuaded it is in the main a real, spiritual, and abiding work. There is a little froth on the surface, but there is a deep running current that is not to be resisted, sweeping underneath, and carrying everything before it. At least there is something to awaken our interest, when we understand that in the small town of Ballymena on market day, the publicans have always taken one hundred pounds for whiskey, and now they cannot take a sovereign all day long in all the public houses. Men who were once drunkards now meet for prayer, and people after hearing one sermon will not go until the minister has preached another, and sometimes a third; and at last he is obliged to say: “You must go, I am exhausted.” Then they will break up into groups in their streets and in their houses, crying out to God to let this mighty work spread, that sinners may be converted unto him. “Well,” says one, “we cannot believe it.” Very likely you cannot, but some of us can, for we have heard it with our ears, and our fathers have told us the mighty works that God did in their days, and we are prepared to believe that God can do the same works now.

I must here remark again, in all these old stories there is one very plain feature. Whenever God has done a mighty work it has been by some very insignificant instrument. When he slew Goliath it was by little David, who was but a ruddy youth. Lay not up the sword of Goliath—I always thought that a mistake of David—lay up, not Goliath’s sword, but lay up the stone, and treasure up the sling in God’s armory for ever. When God would slay Sisera, it was a woman that must do it with a hammer and a nail. God has done his mightiest works by the meanest instruments: that is a fact most true of all God’s works—Peter the fisherman at Pentecost, Luther the humble monk at the Reformation, Whitefield the potboy of the Old Bell Inn at Gloucester in the time of the last century’s revival; and so it must be to the end. God works not by Pharaoh’s horses or chariot, but he works by Moses’ rod; he doth not his wonders with the whirlwind and the storm; he doth them by the still small voice, that the glory may be his and the honour all his own.

Doth not this open a field of encouragement to you and to me?

Yes sir, it does.

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