Written in May 2010
I would like to tell you about John. John, a Christian in good standing in his local congregation, nevertheless knew that there was a problem. He didn’t have Jesus in His heart; at least not in the fullest sense. He had gotten to the place that his Christian experience was very carnal at best, and at worst a dead thing.
John reached the end of his rope a few weeks ago. Over time there had been a gradual re-awakening; a knowledge that something wasn’t right. John knew that he wasn’t reading God’s Word. John knew that largely he was living life in his own strength. While he had a certain level of appreciation for God and for Bible preaching, he didn’t yearn for God, and he certainly wasn’t willing to be radical for God.
On Thursday, April 15, God sent a dear friend into John’s office. When that friend walked out of the office a little while later, he likely didn’t realize the big impression he had left on John. This friend so gently and humbly testified of how 8-9 years ago he had started reading the Bible completely through in 4 months. This meant that he had read the Bible through approximately 3 times a year every year since then. His testimony was that it had changed his life. John had a huge respect for his friend. John always knew that his friend had something that he wanted. And John knew that his friend had shared with him a very important key to an abundant Christian experience. John began to feel after God, if haply he might find him.
On Saturday, April 17, John hit rock bottom. John knew he had to teach youth class the next day. And John felt completely spiritually bankrupt. He had nothing to share with the youth. He went back the hall to his bedroom and began weeping seemingly bucketfuls of tears. And John started to pray a very simple prayer, “God, I’ve been trying to act right. But I want to be! I want to be! I want to be!”
John’s wife found him there. John told his wife it was hopeless. Outside of the friend from another church fellowship who had walked into his office, there didn’t seem to be any radical Christians in his local congregation. And he wept bitterly. But his dear wife told him that even though that may be true, there was no reason that he couldn’t have the experience that he was seeking. “Just read the Word,” she said.
And so in desperation that is what he did. That afternoon he read his Bible. He read these words in Ezekiel. “None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, to the lothing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born.And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.” John could identify with that polluted and abandoned newborn baby. But God looked upon him that afternoon in His great kindness, and God said, “Live!”
John knew that the Sunday School lesson was looming ahead of him for the next day. And normally, John would have spent at a minimum 4 hours typing out his youth lesson plan in great detail. In the past there were times when he would almost panic if he didn’t have it all ready before he went to sleep Saturday night. But John went to bed that night totally exhausted and completely at peace with his lesson basically untouched. He slept well, not fitfully as he normally would have in that situation. John woke up at 5 AM when his alarm went off. He sat down and started to prepare for youth class.
God blessed his study. Various thoughts had come to mind in his previous days’ reading. When it was time to leave for church he was ready; very vulnerable feeling, but ready. “If it is going to happen Lord, you are going to have to make it happen,” he prayed as he walked out the door. This sense of complete trust in God was a first for him.
He started the youth class by saying that he had two concerns at the beginning of this class. One was himself, and one was them. His first fear, he told them, was that he himself would say things that he really didn’t mean. That he was going to fall into the old trap of just saying things because they sounded right; and then going to live his life just like normal in a way that didn’t back up what he had just said. And John committed to his class that he would not do that. His second fear he told them was that the students in his class would allow their fears to prevent them from sharing; that the class would be less beneficial that it would otherwise be because they would refuse to participate. And then he prayed with his class a prayer to God that He would intervene and assist on both of these points.
God worked in that class. He gave John the strength to make steady eye contact throughout the class – another first. The students participated very well. Three students put their hands up at once one time. John called on them all. And another young man raised his hand in the waning minutes of the class just to share an inspirational thought. John smiled within himself and blessed the Lord.
John’s life since that noteworthy weekend has taken a few unexpected turns. He’s had to make some things right. One real basic thing that John discovered is so basic that he is ashamed it took him so long to find it – the bond that unifies brothers who are intent on seeking God’s approval above all else.
There was a brother in John’s church that was part of a “movement” that John deeply distrusted. So John built a wall, and he and the brother operated on two different sides of that wall. Although they shared a “Christian” greeting, they did so in a bit of a strained way; because this brother knew that John had been spreading his views and his opposition, while never really speaking to the brother himself about it. When God changed John’s heart, he began to seek for brothers who were radical in a good way; that of being radical in seeking God’s approval. Once John dropped his own agenda, he discovered that there were a few brothers and sisters that were actually serious about following God and they were even a bit radical about it. In the past he himself had viewed them a bit suspiciously because of that. Coincidentally, the brother he had previously opposed was one of them.
So John invited this brother out to lunch, and they both shared openly. John confessed to him his carnal spirit and apologized for opposing him. And when John told him that he wanted to be a true friend and brother, tears came to his brother’s eyes. John felt so torn up inside to know how he must have wounded him. And yet the brother freely forgave (as John knew he would). Later as John went back to work, he literally shouted (inside the car as he drove) for joy! God had given him a new friend!
John knows that he and his brother may still differ a bit on the issue that divided them, but probably not significantly in all reality. John doesn’t feel a need to explore it. If it comes up, he will simply openly discuss it. John doesn’t believe that they necessarily have to agree, because the basic premise is in place – the mutual desire to follow God. John realizes that his opposition to his brother was carnal; when he took a good hard look at his own life, John discovered that the intensity of his disagreement on this issue was in almost direct proportion to how much he wished to avoid introspection.
Acceptance with God is so very important to John now. Even those who hate him (and with whom he doesn’t share a mutual desire to please God) are unable to spoil his peace for very long because he is truly accepted by God and he now flees to the Word to find stability. John realizes now that the world is full of people huddled in a fetal position because of the darts that are hurled their way. And he knows that he was one of them. But John believes that God would have that person walk forth with the joy of the Lord as his strength. John had almost left his local congregation because he was weary of grappling with the weaknesses and slights of humanity. (John had even thought that he might like to be involved in foreign missions just to get away from it all! How does a wounded, scared, discouraged person who is running away from home have anything to give to anyone else?) But for now anyway John is where he is. John feels that if God will condescend to fill him with His Spirit so that out of his life can flow rivers of living waters, he will be so humbled and grateful.
John has come to realize that anything other than God that he clings to in an effort to find security and acceptance is an idol. God is the only One who can provide that for him. Even the approval of his brother can be an idol to him if he uses it as a substitute for God’s approval. Brothers can be a huge blessing, but they shouldn’t take the place of God.
John expects that it will take a lifetime of intense prayer, faithful Bible reading, and brokenness of spirit to learn this lesson. The key for him is to absorb the Word and to allow the Spirit to move him to a devotion that brings forth truth and obedience in his life. And still it seems that so quickly he gets discouraged with life’s pressures! But John is finding that the only way to re-train his thinking is to go back to the Word!
This is what God has done for John since he started reading and obeying the Word.
1) Led him to confess his transgressions against others – three people already, and maybe more to come.
2) Given him a love for brothers he previously disliked and distrusted. He now anticipates meeting them after church because he knows that in his handshake and smile, the unadulterated love of the Lord can flow from him to them.
3) Increased his love for the Word – he can hardly wait to get back to it. He loves all of it, even the minor prophets.
4) Made him realize how vulnerable he is without God and without Bible reading.
5) Made him realize that instead of just praying a prayer and it is done, that he has a long way to go to become a fit vessel for God to use.
6) Made him deeply distrustful of his own heart. Only God’s Word – pure unmitigated truth – helps him to see clearly.
7) Enabled him to look the world in the eyes – he had grown shifty eyed and scared of what others might see.
8) Given him an assurance that he is saved. He is now guiltless before God!
John doesn’t know where God will lead him, but he wants to grow in faith and in the knowledge of His Word so that he is ready to go to any land or any culture. John will not be satisified until he feels within himself such a passion for the kingdom that he will fearlessly share that message. And that mission starts right at home.
You might ask me who is this John? And how do you know his story so well? That’s a good question. And there is a simple answer.
I am John.