Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

The world is stranded in difficult times. Threats of war, fears of terrorism, job insecurities, and disillusionments resulting from the bleak economic climates, are all around us. Even the elites are not spared. While they dress their best for work, beneath their impeccable suits, many of them worry as to what the day in the office may bring. Budget deficits? Retrenchment letters? Whether rich or poor, man or woman, people struggle through each day in this austere time. Many efforts have been made to improve the global and business climates, but the world has not recovered and still looks like it can fall apart any time. Many have given up trying or even hoping. From day to day they just worry as to when the world will come crumbling down.

As Christians, we may perhaps be thankful that our riches are not of this world but in heaven above. Even then, we cannot turn a blind eye and a numb mind to all that is happening in the world. Not because we can make a difference to the economic or political conditions, but because we are called to be salt and light to the world even in times of darkness like these. Question is how do we do that? How do we start by helping ourselves recover from the global impact even before we stretch out our hand to the rest of the world around us? The answer is in God’s promise – it is in His rest that our hearts can find a permanent break from the troubles of this world and not be beaten by all that is happening to it. For Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Resting in God

The rest of God, if we recall, was first promised to the Israelites. God told them there was a rest reserved for them that they could go to. But they didn’t, because of their unbelief which led to various complaints, lusts, idolatrous practices, and rebellion, which provoked God to such anger that He declared they would not enter His rest. “So I swore in my wrath, ‘they shall not enter My rest’” (Heb 3:11). Since then, up to today, people are still missing that rest of God. Of course, we are no longer journeying towards a land called Canaan, but the rest of God remains, nevertheless, for us to inherit and dwell in. We are today in the third millennium – a time so far removed from the time of the Israelites that it would be ridiculous to draw a comparison there. We have pushed the limits of science and technology far beyond what could be imagined in the time of the Israelites. We have established economies and hierarchies far more complex than any kingdom or empire during those times. Yet, even where we now are, we are still confronted with the problems our forefathers knew: war, debt, poverty, unreasonable working conditions etc. We haven’t really progressed, in the true sense of the word. If anything, humanity is far more threatened by evil now than it previously was. Like what Jesus said “There shall be… distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heavens will be shaken” (Lk. 21:25-26). These are signs that precede the second coming of the Lord, according to Jesus. And indeed, He wants us to hold a spiritual perspective when these things happen, because to the wisdom of God, the true battle is in the heavenlies and not here! Jesus Himself tells us “... you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.” (Mt. 24:6)

Vision of the two Kingdoms

So, what will still the turbulence of the choppy economic waves? Perhaps no one can and nothing will; but God has a way out for His people. I recall a vision I had one day while my mind was on this issue. In that vision, I saw two worlds existing – the earthly world and the spiritual world. The people in the earthly world were going about their lives, but the shocking thing is that most of them seemed to be twins, walking about in pairs. Only some of them walked singly in the earthly world, with their other twin existing in the spiritual world. The Spirit guided my perception and I realized that the people walking in pairs were such because they live wholly in the earthly realm, though their hearts and minds should be on spiritual things and not on earthly things! They are both in the world and of the world. Physically and spiritually, they have not entered into the economy of God (the spiritual realm). That’s why they are still very troubled by world affairs. And that’s why they are downcast by the things that are happening in the world. But what is the Lord’s desire for us? Certainly not to live in the world and be of the world as such! Because He says “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:16) His desire is for us to live like the few people who walked singly in the earthly world while their spirit and soul live in the spiritual world where an entirely different economy is running. Thus, they exist both in the earthly world and in the spiritual kingdom. These are the ones who have truly entered into the rest of God. And they are the ones who live their days without fear – with a composed spirit and with a mind at peace. Because they know that God has overcome the world. Even all things that are yet to come, He has overcome them (John 16:23). Most of us don’t even live a fraction of our time that way. We drift in and out of our moments of peace, without entering and dwelling in God’s rest. It is high time to build that bridge that will take us from the turbulent earthly economy to the spiritual economy where there is peace and rest.

Building the Bridge

Can we really do that? Of course! The prescription is in God’s Word. If only we would read our Bibles and pray our prayers, we would be constantly moving ourselves towards the spiritual world and not always be subjugated by the traps of this earthly world. God did not provide a Bible full of past events and accounts just because He had all the time in eternity to do that. The scriptures were written for a purpose, unfortunately yet fulfilled in the lives of most Christians. Paul said “...whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). In the Scriptures, we saw how Jeremiah experienced joy and delight in his heart when he meditated on the Word of God: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart” (Jer. 15:16). In the Scriptures, God taught us how to live in difficult times. “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this, says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it” (Mal. 3:10). But many do not take God’s word seriously. When times are bad, they tend to reduce their tithes. Isn’t it strange that people want things to go well with them, yet are reluctant to follow God’s directions for that? If we live as the world, then we reap the consequences that come upon the world. If we live according to God’s word, we shall likewise reap the benefits of His promises.

When we rest in God, peace abounds in our hearts and we fear not though the turmoil of the world rumbles around us. “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isa. 26:3). Isaiah said this as a man who knew it to be true, as one who had tasted the peace of God in his life. He had walked in God’s rest. Similarly, Paul provided a counterpart in the New Testament when he said “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard you hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). How did Paul know that? He must have known it by experience.

If we wonder from our own limited experience whether in the rest of God we can find peace that is real, biblical testimonies should convince us, if we believe the Bible at all. Like what we found out earlier, everything in the Bible was written for our sakes. Whether from the heart of Isaiah or Paul, the peace of God is there in His rest and it is for us to receive.

Coming back to building that bridge across to the divine rest of God, how do we come to lean on God completely? It is not all that daunting as how some people make it out to seem like an impossible spiritual feat. The Lord's plan for us has always been simple. In His new covenant with us, God has said, "I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Heb. 8:10). Did you realize the import of that word from God? He was saying He was going to be the all-powerful defender for us. We only need to trust in His sworn promises, and cast ourselves into His care by faith. He will be almighty God to us and conquer whatever stands against us. He will make us a victorious people and like champions, we can live in constant joy and everlasting peace, without fear!

You may think little of the peace of God, but God places great value on it, because He knows what His children need. Before Christ left His disciples, He said to them "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you" (John 14:27). Jesus wants to give us His peace, a precious gift that can never be replaced by any other kind of peace the world promises. This peace is part of the Lord’s victory, won from dying on the cross. It is the triumph that will overcome all our enemies, because it is the fruit of the Lord’s work! Such peace cannot be beaten into retreat even in the face of the fiercest persecution. If it met the challenge of the cross, it can meet the challenge of the world. The world brings its turmoil to us, but Christ’s peace is a cushion against them. The peace of God is accompanied by such assurance that in the event of trouble we do not despair as those who have no hope. When Jesus said that no one could snatch us out of the Father's hand, did we understand that He was really saying that we are entirely in His hand? When Paul said, "the peace of God which surpasses understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”, did we realize he was telling us that God is our guardian who made it His fulltime occupation to watch over us?

This prescription of rest was not withheld from the Israelites. But because they did not “mix with faith” the message they heard, they did not benefit from the gospel of rest (Heb. 4:2). They either did not believe it or they failed to act upon what they heard. Isn’t that like what many of us are guilty of today? We hear God’s truth, but we don’t follow them. Let us not walk in this folly, but in the wisdom of God, because Isaiah has said, “Wisdom and knowledge will be the stability of your times, and the strength of salvation”(Isa. 33:6). Living now in the turbulence of our times, we have a responsibility as salt and light of the world, to speak words of life and truth. We are not to mirror the hopelessness of the world, but to let the glory of God’s kingdom shine through us. But beyond mere words, we are called to communicate the gospel of God’s rest with our lives, to prove the words that we speak by a consistent lifestyle in submission to God’s ways. It is not enough to rest your physical body but fret in your spirit and soul. We must soon realize that entering into God’s rest does not mean hanging on to God tightly (holding Him to make sure He delivers you out of your troubles). It means letting go and letting Him carry us, into His rest.

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