As a Melting Fire
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.(Ephesians 3:20)
Yes, let God’s people enlarge their hearts to wait on a God able to do exceedingly abundantly above what we can ask or think. Let us band ourselves together as His elect who cry day and night to Him for things men have not seen. He is able to arise and to make His people a name and a praise in the earth. “Therefore, will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you….blessed are all they that wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:18)
There is now- as there was in Isaiah’s day, as there has been at all times- a few who seek after God with their whole hearts. But if we look at Christendom as a whole, at the state of the church of Christ, there is infinite cause for beseeching God to rend the heavens and come down. Nothing but a special interposition of almighty power will avail. Unless God comes down “as a melting fire burneth….to make (his) name known to (his) adversaries” (Isaiah 64:2), our labors are comparatively fruitless.
Look at the ministry, how much it is in the wisdom of man and I’d literary culture; how little in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Think of the unity of the body: how little there is of the manifestation of a heavenly love binding God’s children into one. Think of holiness- the holiness of Christlike humility and crucifixion to the world. How little the world sees that they have men among them who live in Christ in heaven, in whom Christ and heaven live.
We must cry, with a cry that never rests, “Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens….[and] come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence.” (Isaiah 64:1) We must set our faith on a God of whom men do not know what He has prepared for them who wait for Him.
It’s easy to give up and settle for what is rather than what can be when we fully trust God. We can easily justify this by the assumption that things are the way they are because it’s God’s will. We do this with the erroneous thinking that if it wasn’t God’s will He would be doing something about it. Like Mary and Martha, who believed that if Jesus had intended Lazarus to be well, He would have come in time to make it so. How little did they know they were going to experience a greater manifestation of the power of Christ who reigns not only over sickness but over death. We as the people of God far too often settle for what we know or have seen or experienced. We often hear the phrase, “It’s always been done this way” as though it’s the only way. We find ourselves staring at the landslide on the journey of life as though there is no other way to reach our destiny. We may give a token prayer but if the answer doesn’t come quickly and in an accustomed manner we decide to build a shelter on this side of the landslide and just exist until the end.
Such was the case of the Israelites as they came into the land of Canaan. There were still places that the inhabitants of Canaan dwelled and from those strongholds would make war on the Israelites. Becoming tired of the struggle, the Israelites decided they could “just live with it.” Is that you and I? Are there things we used to try to overcome and after a while we “just learned to live with it”? In the camp of Israel lived a man by the name of Caleb. He and Joshua were the only two of the twelve spies that Moses sent into Canaan to spy out the land that came back with a positive report. Ten of the twelve said it was impossible. “The inhabitants are like giants and we are like grasshoppers,” they said. Joshua and Caleb reported that while that might be true:
“Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and take possession of it; for we will certainly conquer it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people [of Canaan], for they are too strong for us.” So they gave the Israelites a bad report about the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we went, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants. And all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the Nephilim ( the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim ); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”
Recognizing the challenges is certainly wisdom but allowing the challenge rather than God to determine our future is unbelief and foolish. We may not be able to predict the outcome and we may not be able to always guarantee total success but when we trust God for the future, we often find He does the “exceeding, abundant, above, all we are able to think of ask.”
When we think of the church in these days, we are aware that statistics say that pre-covid we were declining at a rate of 9%. Post-covid may be larger percentages assuming we continue our same strategies. Many when they hear these numbers begin to circle the wagons and to strategize how the church will survive at least through their generation. Something I learned working with hospice is that when the human body has accepted death as the end it begins a triage of oxygen and nutrient supply. It limits the flow to extremities and redirects them to the vital organs of heart, lungs and brain. The brain with its built-in survival directs the dwindling resources to keeping itself alive and little by little the body progresses inwardly. In our world of declining church, this is how we operate. We pull our resources inward to keep up surviving till the end. No, I don’t know all the answers to how we respond to the decline and especially the steep drop associated with the pandemic. I recognize that we most likely will never return to old ways and norms. But to give up, to turn inward and to resign ourselves to smaller ministries, smaller works, and smaller ideals for me is unacceptable when we serve a God who “is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above all we are able to think or ask.”
Yes, we are divided, yes there is conflict, yes there are challenges, yes everything has changed; but our mission remains the same, our true resource, God, remains the same. The deciding factor will not be the challenges nor available resources but what we believe. The Israelites believed the unbelief of the ten spies so they refused to move forward. Because of this they wondered and died in the wilderness, never seeing the promise of God coming to pass. Joshua and Caleb who saw the same things chose to believe that “with God all things are possible” and so we’re among those who entered into the land of promise. Once again faith and unbelief collided as the Israelites faced the hill country of Kadesh-barnea. Listen to Caleb’s words:
“Then the [tribe of the] sons of Judah approached Joshua in Gilgal, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know the word which the Lord said to Moses the man of God concerning me and you in Kadesh-barnea. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to scout the land [of Canaan], and I brought a report back to him as it was in my heart. My brothers (fellow spies) who went up with me made the heart of the people melt with fear; but I followed the Lord my God completely. So Moses swore [an oath to me] on that day, saying, ‘Be assured that the land on which your foot has walked will be an inheritance to you and to your children always, because you have followed the Lord my God completely.’ And now, look, the Lord has let me live, just as He said, these forty-five years since the Lord spoke this word to Moses, when Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, look at me, I am eighty-five years old today. I am still as strong today as I was the day Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so is my strength now, for war and for going out and coming in. So now, give me this hill country about which the Lord spoke that day, for you heard on that day that the [giant-like] Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; perhaps the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.”
Quickly let me point out a couple things that made Caleb’s view different. When the ten spies “melted the heart of the people with fear, I followed the Lord my God completely.” Step one: irregardless of what we may see or feel or what others may say, we follow and trust God for the future blessings.
Caleb received a promise forty-five years before and he hung on to the promise through the wilderness and through the conquering of Canaan and even as he aged. “Look at me, I am eighty-five years old today. I am still as strong now today as I was the day Moses sent me…” Now we know that forty-five years can decimate a lot of our physical strength. What I believe Caleb is saying is that his faith to receive the promise forty-five years ago is still as strong as it was. Step two: though our bodies grow weak, our faith can remain strong to believe the promises of God for us and His church.
Now Caleb says, “Give me this challenge…” perhaps the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord has said.” Caleb has not been given the full details of success. He recognizes that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not (yet) seen.” He reminds himself and others of the promise of God but does not take for granted that God will be with him, so he waits on God.
Step three: we must know the promise of God, we must recognize it can only come to pass through faith and that faith is in God and not in our plans and strategies.
Here is the promise of God for His church:
“so that He might sanctify the church, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word [of God], so that [in turn] He might present the church to Himself in glorious splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy [set apart for God] and blameless.”
Just as that moment in the wilderness was a defining moment for the Israelites and unfortunately they chose the way of unbelief and fear, so is it now a defining moment for the church. Will we, like they choose unbelief and wonder in the wilderness of fear and survival, or will we like Joshua and Caleb believe that our God has a more glorious future for His people. Will we like the Israelites long for the slavery of Egypt ( those old things we know and we’re comfortable with) or will we seek the place of blessing that God is bringing us to? Will we focus on survival or will we seek to thrive? Will we become more and more inward focuses, reserving our dwindling resources or will we seek to invigorate our extremities with new life flow and nourishment?
God has promised that the end of the church is one of “ glorious splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” Can we believe this and can we choose to press toward this prize? Yes there will always be giants and fear and unbelief. Can we choose to rise above all these things and believe that it is God and never circumstances that orders our future? I pray so.
Dr. John Thompson