Forgetfulness – Part 2: Missing the bus

Mention ‘The End Times’ to Christians and you will get one of two reactions: a low groan — ‘here we go again’ or a heated all-night debate. I believe this is a large part of our ‘forgetfulness’ problem with regard to the Return of Christ. To cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the end-times are everything; even to greatly-blessed ministers like John MacArthur the focus on his pre-millennialism theory can be OTT. Satan can cause the best of us to read far too much into the — mostly symbolic —numbers in Revelation to find out the date that Jesus clearly states ‘no man, no angel, not even I know’ (Matthew 24:36). Superstitious nonsense that people fall for – even the elect (Matthew 24:24). Revelation is an amazing and joyous book, more about Jesus than anything else; yet our obsession with these matters seems to kill it to the point where it becomes entirely unprofitable. Some people make it seem like the whole gospel itself is hinged on the thousand years or the number of the beast… Where is Jesus? Where is the cross?

Taking a leaf out of Paul’s book

Paul’s advice to both Titus and Timothy (young pastors) was to discourage talk over such matters, that we are never likely to resolve:

“Stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.” (Titus 3:9).

“Command certain people not […] to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk.” (1 Timothy 1:3-6).

That is not to say that we should not eagerly look into these things and work out our stance on these issues. Yet there is doctrine that is surely so much more important than these things — which can so often be divisive red-herrings and unprovable from Scripture. Instead we should look into what is profitable and honouring to the Lord — how about adoption, your privileges in Christ, the trinity, Jesus’ deity, etc.? — be a Berean (Acts 17:11) and check what your pastor says lines up with Scripture!

What should we do?

All the while we’re squabbling over the finer-points of the End Times in our hermit-holes, people are dropping into hell in their hundreds and thousands, every day. There’s a world dying out there!! For crying out loud brothers and sisters! Let’s get out there with the Gospel before it is too late and Jesus does return. God, in His infinite sovereign mercy has given us a role in the salvation of souls —as ambassadors of Christ  (2 Corinthians 5:20). I fear I, and perhaps others too, will have a lot to answer for on the day of judgement — ‘Why didn’t you warn people? I gave you friends, neighbours, colleagues and family to witness to, I gave you gifts to use for the work of My church; I told you to ask for more of My Spirit and I would give it you. Did I not tell you to go out into all the world and make disciples of all the nations?’

What will we say? What are our excuses now? ‘Oh I’m too busy with life’, ‘I don’t like talking to people’, ‘I’m not gifted in that way’, … There once was an atheist who said that one big reason he does not believe is because, if what the Bible says is true, Christians would be out warning everybody all the time and they’re not… — why believe a book about a man, if His followers don’t even seem to believe it?

The most selfish thing we can possibly do is not to share Jesus. The Casting Crowns song ‘Love you with the truth’ puts it brilliantly. Why has God let the world go on so long, considering His people were ready way back in the first century for His return? It’s because we know exactly when the world will end: when the last soul is saved, when the last of His flock is brought safely into the fold.

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

What love!

On the last day, we will be saved ourselves yes, but won’t we miss out on so much more? Daniel 12 (see Matthew 25:21 too), speaking of the End Times, says:

“At that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” [emphasis added] (Daniel 12:1b-3).

The last part is often termed, ‘the soul-winners’ promise.’ Are we soul-winners? When was the last time we pointed someone to Christ? Let’s all cut the lukewarm cold-hearted worldly two-faced ‘Sunday Christianity’ baloney that seems to define us and pray that He will give us a glimpse of Christ, draw us closer to Himself, fill us with His Spirit and give us opportunities to witness of the Messiah. Let’s truly ‘Love our neighbours as ourselves’. What is more important than doing the Good Lord’s work?

A hymn we sung on Sunday encapsulated this brilliantly. I was only going to quote the last verse – but reading it again, I couldn’t bring myself to cut any of it!

May the mind of Christ my Saviour
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and power controlling
All I do and say.

May the Word of Christ dwell richly
In my heart from hour to hour,
So that all may see I triumph
Only through His power.

May the peace of Christ my Saviour
Rule my life in everything,
That I may be calm to comfort
Sick and sorrowing.

May the love of Jesus fill me,
As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self abasing,
This is victory.

May I run the race before me,
Strong and brave to face the foe,
Looking only unto Jesus
As I onward go.

May His beauty rest upon me
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.

Forgetfulness – Part 1

‘Hiya Josh! Haven’t seen you in a while. How’re you doing?’ said a friendly voice, near at hand.

‘Hello!’ I returned enthusiastically, before turning to give the speaker my full attention to see who it was addressing me. Oh dear… It rang no bells; no names. Yikes, not again! I had not even a faintest idea of who it was. Of course, in the interest of politeness, I had to wing it; duly continuing a friendly conversation whilst trying to work out who on earth this person actually was. But by the end I was still none the wiser.

I’m sure we’ve all had something of this experience. Whilst amusing, it’s happened to me a scary amount of times… Forgetfulness seems to be intrinsic to human nature.

Are we forgetting something very important?

How about a spiritual spin on this though?

I was challenged recently by a passage I read…
I’m getting married this Summer and went through 1 Corinthians 7 (which is an excellent chapter on marriage, relationships and singleness), when something Paul wrote struck me pretty hard. The passage goes on for the first twenty-eight verses with Paul essentially replying to some key questions on these matters posed by the church at Corinth. In the twenty-ninth verse however, there is a sudden change — I’ll quote it with the preceding verse so you can get a flavour of the context:

“But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.

“What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:28-31).

There’s a real sense of urgency in Paul’s writing here — as if Jesus’ return is imminent. This is the real issue here, not marriage or singleness, as important topics as they are. If Paul, writing over 1900 years ago had that sense of urgency, how much more should we! Our attitude should be one of constantly looking to the skies awaiting the glorious return of our risen Lord, who is ‘coming back to take you to be with me’ (John 14:3b). I love how many of the older hymns invariably include this longing for His coming; which we so easily seem to pass over because we do not walk so closely with Him. I believe that we are in danger of forgetting the return of our Lord Jesus. When He comes calling for us, will we know who it is talking to us? or will we be clueless and forgetful like I was…? How well do we know Him? Will we know His call, like sheep their shepherd? Will we be ready to leave all and go with Him? ‘When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?’ (Luke 18:8).

In our modern Evangelical/Reformed circles we seem to have largely forgotten the Return of the King. Despite almost twice as many chapters of the Bible describing the Second Coming as the first — it’s hardly preached on, it’s not really studied; it barely gets a mention — yet the Second Coming is surely one of the most important things we need to know about Jesus Christ!

Looking to Home

Where should our focus be?

In John 14:1-4, Jesus says:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

Isn’t this the most glorious thing! ‘My Father’s house’. HOME. The home of Christ and His flock. Sweet rest, at last.

Paul writes:

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. […] Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

[…] For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due to us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:1-8).

Are we ready to leave at a moment’s notice, as the Israelites on the night of the Passover, staff in hand? Are we prepared to leave all and go with Him to our new home?

Or are our minds set on planning for earthly things? My fiancée and I are planning for a wedding and preparing for marriage; ultimately however, we are all planning and preparing to leave this world. This earnest eager urgent expectation is something I believe we are seriously missing today — where is the desire to go out and warn the dying world? I fear we are seriously lacking here. I love meeting new Christians, they have so much buzz and joy of the Lord about them, so much hunger for Him and a burning desire to see their friends saved. By contrast, us ‘old guard’, as it were, can be so dull and senseless at times. Lord Jesus, please help us! Heavenly Father, we are weak, hear us! Holy Spirit, work through us, revive us!

“The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:10-13).

Pray, Pray, Pray!

The word of God says to ‘pray continually’. Our Father in Heaven loves to hear us talk to Him. Our lives should be one long prayer to God, a running conversation with Him. What is sweeter than communion with the Lord of Hosts through our Lord Jesus Christ? What is more amazing than talking directly to our Creator, the one who holds the stars in the palm of His hands, in the awesome power of the Holy Spirit?

Prayer is essentially speaking to God. We address ourselves to God the Father in the name of God the Son through the power of God the Spirit. But in a sense, prayer is more than kneeling and saying a few words, because everything we do speaks to God, and actions speak louder than words…

One bloke once said, there are three things a Christian should do: the first is to pray; the second is to pray; and, you might have guessed it, the third is to pray! Prayer is one of the greatest gifts God has given us, yet one, I fear, is sadly neglected by many believers in our day and age. The poet William Cowper said, ‘Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees.’

Do we pray?

When was the last time you knelt before the King of Kings? When was the last time you sought the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength? When was the last time you poured out your heart to the Most High? When was the last time you lifted up your hands and your heart to our God in heaven? When was the last time you cried out unceasingly with tears in your eyes until the Lord looked down?

I’m not just talking about saying ‘thanks’ for your lunch, an ‘arrow-prayer’ because you can’t find your keys, or a long old shopping-list you rattle-off every now and then. It’s living like Epaphras, who ‘was always wrestling in prayer for the brethren [in Colosse],’ and having the attitude of Jacob, ‘I will not let you go until you bless me!’
We complain we live in days of small things, we say, ‘God does not seem to be working in my life, or in the church anymore’. Well — why is that? Because we don’t pray! ‘We don’t have because we don’t ask’. We don’t pray ‘continually’ or ‘without ceasing’, we breeze in and out of the Almighty’s presence like we would a train station, we hardly get inside before we’re off again in a hurry, ‘getting on with our lives’. If we want to be serious about revival; then we need to be serious about prayer.  A man once said, ‘God’s works of grace are always traced to a humble saint upon their knees’. Pray in power and in faith! God pleases to use our prayers; but at present, what is there to use?

Is this true of you? How sad is this, brothers and sisters! I feel it myself so bad. I don’t pray as I ought, I don’t seek the Lord as I ought. My prayer-life is far too poor.

We simply do not pray enough. It’s all about our heart in these matters. We should never leave the Lord’s presence, whether we’re directly speaking to God or in-directly speaking to Him with our lives. J.C. Ryle says the harder it is to pray, often the better it is for your soul. However feeble our prayers and our hearts, God will listen — that is His amazing promise. Wherever we are… whether we’re in the house of God with his people; in the belly of a big fish at a total loose-end; wasting away in the darkest dungeon of gloom and despair; atop the scary whirling heights of a particular trial; lost in the wilderness of life; or in bed with the flu (last four examples — Psalm 107). If we cry out to the Lord, He will save us, and ‘if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us’ and He will ‘draw near to us, as we draw near to Him’.

Paul says, ‘always keep on praying for all the saints’. Peter says, ‘Cast all your cares upon Him, for he cares for you’. Jude says, ‘Beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life’. What was the secret to success for these peoples’ lives, lived for the Lord, and so many Christians throughout history? Prayer. Simple prayer.

Jesus, Himself, spent many whole nights in prayer. And if He, God incarnate, needed to pray, how much more do we?

It does feel, in our days, that the devil seems to be winning — he has so stifled Christians prayer-lives, so they are as practically non-existent. We need to get back to the days of old, when men like John Welch developed serious knee problems from praying too much on their knees (he prayed all night — every night)! Or when Martin Luther had so much to do one day that it would take at least ‘three hours’ with the Lord! That should be our way of life!

So come on Christian soldiers, before you arise, fall down on your knees before your Heavenly Father, who loves to have His little children come to Him. Pray and then go on praying into your day and ‘live a life worthy of your calling’.

One of my favourite hymns as a youngster was ‘Will Your Anchor Hold in the Storms of Life?’, two lines of which say:

And the cables passed from His heart to mine,
Can defy the blast, through strength divine.

That’s powerful imagery. Our hearts connected to God’s heart with Christ. With Christ we can tackle anything. Was Christ’s work completed on the cross? No! Far from it; He now stands at the right hand of God, there making intercession for all His saints.

Hebrews 4:16 reads:

“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

What to pray?

There’s an acrostic, which is less than perfect, but besides being easy to remember can give us an idea of prayer and the order of it…

  • P – Praise! How should we get started in prayer? – ‘Enter into His gates with thanksgiving. And enter His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.’ This should be our over-running theme throughout our prayer-life and our kick-starter. Find something to praise Him for, it isn’t hard!
  • R – Repent! We’re sinners who can only come to God in prayer through Jesus Christ, our Righteousness. Remember God is completely holy; nothing impure can even get close. We come with repentant hearts to Him, recognising our sin and our need of Him.
  • A – Ask! With ‘praise and thanksgiving we present out petitions to the Lord.’ We should uphold each other and the whole world in prayer.
  • Y – Yield! We’re told to pray according to His sovereign will. Therefore we leave it all in His hands.

Pray the Bible, particularly the Psalms. There’s a psalm for every occasion, when we need His strength (27), when we are seeking His forgiveness (51), when we are struggling to come to terms with the wickedness in the world (73), whatever, wherever we are, pray the word and seek His will. And then ‘wait on the Lord’ and watch the results! As well as being reverent, we need to be bold in prayer.

Lamentations is another great book for prayer; harrowing and sober, but essentially a call to prayer; well worth prayerfully studying. There are tons of illustrations of prayers in the Bible, not least the Lord’s template for prayer.

We should pray for the faith to ‘move mountains’. Then go and live that prayer! Matthew Henry said, ‘Thanksgiving is good; thanksliving is so much better’, we ‘live according to his purpose, pray according to his will’.

Where to pray?

Pray ‘in your closet’ — just you and the Lord, no distractions; phone off, Bible open, heart ready. Take time. Don’t be short in prayer! Go for a ‘walk and talk’ with the Lord, His creation can be so inspiring. Worry about nothing, pray about everything.

Pray with the Lord’s people. It’s always so important and always so encouraging — coming to the Lord together and bringing praise, big requests, little worries, the lot, to His throne of Grace. C.H. Spurgeon declared that the prayer meeting is the ‘engine-room’ of ‘His Majesty’s Ship Church’. It is the most important meeting of the week! And some churches don’t even have one! The prayer meeting is more important than a Cabinet meeting in Ten Downing Street. Get over that one!

Prayer-partners/buddies, and meeting with one or two believers every now and then, is another great way of coming to the Lord. ‘Iron sharpens iron’, and I don’t know about you, but I can be so stirred by simply joining with a brother or sister in prayer. There’s absolutely nothing like it.

Family prayer-times are so important too. If you’re blessed with a God-fearing family, make the most of it!

Go forth and pray!

Now, go and pray in the Spirit, He is our guide and counsellor, He lays on our heart matters for prayer, He ‘intercedes with groans that words cannot express,’ He draws us so much nearer to God, He strengthens us, builds us up, helps us experience the amazing love of God, and glorifies God (‘man’s chief end’). And let’s persevere in prayer (Lamentations 5:19-22), especially as we kick-off this new year!

More holiness give me,
More sweetness within,
More patience in suff’ring,
More sorrow for sin,
More faith in my Saviour,
More sense of His care,
More joy in His service,
More freedom in prayer.

Come, my Saviour, and help me,
Comfort, strengthen and keep me;
Thou each moment wilt save me,
Thou art saving me now.

More gratitude give me,
More trust in the Lord,
More zeal for His glory,
More hope in His Word,
More tears for His sorrows,
More pain at His grief,
More meekness in trial,
More praise for relief.

More victory give me,
More strength to o’ercome,
More freedom from earth-stains,
More quest for the throne,
More fit for the kingdom,
More useful I’d be,
More blessed and holy,
More, Saviour, like Thee

(Philip Paul Bliss)