Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. (James 5:7-8)
How often do we feel that we must take charge of life, rationalizing that God must be expecting us to make the next move since He seems to be waiting so long to intervene in our situation. We convince ourselves that God helps those who help themselves, so we feel guilty if we are not doing enough to fix our problems. After all, God disapproves of indolence and laziness, so that must translate into our need for doing everything possible to fix our problems before expecting God to step in and finish up for us.
While there are kernels of truth among scattered about in these assumptions, there are also compelling deceptions that blind us to the ways of the Lamb. Following this line of reasoning causes us to sanctify methods of the enemy, believing that at times God is forced to resort to using methods out of harmony with His usual preferences based solely on love. Sometimes we throw around the term, “His strange act” to excuse what we believe are God's exceptions to His normal mode of dealing purely in love. But is this actually true, or is it a subtle insinuation about God that has long been promoted and taught by religion and we have failed to discern its sinister implications?
What is love and how does it act? Very likely our misapprehensions and prejudices seriously distort how we perceive love in many ways. It is easy to try to bend and twist the Word of God to fit what feels right to us and this is true at both ends of the spectrum. What is important is for us to humble ourselves and adopt a teachable spirit to be open to the challenges God has for our favorite assumptions and preferences.
I believe that God gave us a brain that He wants us to use and not feel we must simply be puppets or pre-programmed robots mindlessly obeying God with no freedom for making creative decisions. We were designed to reflect God, the greatest creative force in the universe. But freedom to think and choose must never be confused with our need to live in close synchronization with the heart of God in every situation and in every moment. This is not to destroy our freedom but to enhance it. God is not asking for blind dependence or mindless obedience but rather an intelligent appreciation of His character and willing cooperation with His methods so that we can be fulfilled as we become more mature and ever increase our capacity to love and be loved.
Our penchant to take things into our own hands shows up distinctly when it comes to dealing with threats we face. These may be physical threats or emotional threats; but anything that disturbs our peace and sense of security and threatens to bring us pain usually causes us to wonder whether dependence on God is such a good idea anymore. It is during these times of fear that our minds are often clouded with unbelief and doubt about how much we are supposed to stand up for ourselves or defend ourselves compared to the strange option of resting in God's care for us. For as anyone who has faced these situations can attest to, trust in God's ways will always challenge us at our deepest core because most of the time it appears that God is in the habit of coming through for us too late to satisfy our preferences.
Throughout the entire history of sin it has often appeared that God is at least a few steps behind schedule from the perspective of many of His friends. It is this very apparent weakness that Satan has exploited to entice so many to turn to his methods rather than trusting God. To reinforce taking things into our own hands while feeling we are staying on God's side, Satan is ready to provide all sorts of pious-sounding explanations why God wants us to do so. But when we use these explanations and rationale, we are left exposed to the schemes of Satan and find ourselves experiencing the debilitating effects of living outside of God's full presence in our lives. We may be able to avoid some anticipated suffering in life this way, but God did not call us to avoid suffering but to follow His Lamb.
It is interesting to review many of the stories found in the Bible to compare them based on this factor. There were those who chose to depend fully on God without taking things into their own hands no matter how desperate their situation appeared, contrasted with the many times when God's people did take things into their own hands when things seemed too desperate to wait. We would do well to remember the outcome of each of those choices. Some of these stories are obvious in the contrast of their outcomes, but others are less evident about who made the right choice. Yet when we use the light of the Lamb of Revelation to examine these stories, it becomes clearer which ones made the choices that pleased God as they trusted fully in Him as opposed to those who felt compelled to help Him deliver them.
This issue comes much closer to home than simply times when we are faced with enemies physically surrounding us threatening to kill us. The temptation to take charge, to help God out, to rationalize dependence on our own resources or skills based on fear that God's ways will not be sufficient to deliver us the way we want deliverance is something we face every day in small ways as well as large.
Because the ways of the Lamb of Revelation feel so unnatural, we may not even notice how often we face this temptation. As a result we simply walk into the enemy's traps over and over and wonder why our lives seem to go nowhere when it comes to spiritual growth. I am starting to see that much of our problem is that we are loath to 'wash our robes in the blood of the Lamb' to prepare ourselves to marry the Bridegroom of heaven. When it comes right down to it, we often prefer attempting to jump through many difficult hoops of popular religious demands rather than to surrender our problems and solutions to One who's ways appear so weak and useless to defend us against overwhelming threats.
This is precisely where the teachings of the Lamb clash head-on with our natural way of living and reasoning. Living life following the Lamb is almost never intuitive and therefore it is too easy to reason that He must not really be asking us to take such extreme positions. After all, we don't want to become fanatics do we? God would be dishonored if we took such radical measures that would make us vulnerable targets for vicious attacks by those ready to exploit us. Surely God expects us to be sensible, to defend ourselves or at least be ready to defend our loved ones from enemies who are not under His control and threaten to hurt us in serious ways.
Again, there is always enough truth in these rationalizations and scenarios to make them seem compelling. But truth mixed with subtle deceptive assertions only make such reasoning all the more dangerous in the long run, for to follow the Lamb completely (which is what is necessary if we wish to follow Him all the way to His home) often involves making ourselves vulnerable for being exploited. This does not mean that we should go looking for exploitive people to take advantage of us. But when we are faced with situations where evil people are bent on taking advantage of us, the question is raised, should we be willing to fully embrace the example of how Jesus related to people eager to exploit Him, or do we think God's methods are too weak to win the battle between light and darkness?
Let me go back and revisit the passage quoted at the beginning. James uses the example of a farmer needing to be patient as he waits for seeds to germinate, sprout, mature and finally bear fruit far after he exerted all the work to get it into the ground. It is obvious that a farmer can do nothing to force seeds to grow; all he can do is provide encouragement along the way to help the surrounding environment be conducive for growth such as weeding and fertilizing. But there is not a farmer on earth who can force his seeds to spring up faster or produce healthy fruit sooner by pulling on the plants or prying open buds. All such attempts would only result in damage or death for the plants. The farmer must wait in trust that the miracle of life will somehow accomplish its work in the mystery of growth until the plant is fully developed. Then he can gather in the harvest and enjoy the blessings of its fruitfulness.
Take a closer look at the context in which this is found and see how it applies to much more than simply growing seeds in dirt.
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.
You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you. Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. (James 5:1, 5-9)
To be very honest, I am no different than most other people when it comes to feeling uneasy about this non-resistance approach. I don't like doing it, and everything about my nature reacts when pushed around and I feel like lashing out in violent resistance to defend myself, my rights or my friends and loved ones. Like so many around me, I can easily come up with all sorts of plausible reasons why we should stand up to defend ourselves when persecuted. So when I read the teachings of Jesus, I too find them deeply troubling, even frightening, for they appear to be quite nice until it comes time to live them in real life; then all of a sudden I am looking for excuses to 'fight fire with fire.' Following the Lamb is not near so easy as it may first seem, at least until one is willing to die to self.
You have heard that it was said, 'an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42)
Are these really the ways that God intends to stick with all the way to the end? Is it at all possible to win against the forceful ways of the dragon? How can such apparently weak responses overcome force, intimidation, violence and serious aggression by relying only on the wimpy ways of love and complete dependence on a God who too often seems to wait too long to rescue those in distress? What if God does not intervene and our enemies get their way with us? What if our daughters do end up getting raped in front of us, our sons are abused and beaten and we lose do our lives because we refused to resort to violence to defend our families or ourselves? How many times I have heard these kinds of scenarios raised as strong objections to following the ways of the Lamb.
But what is the real issue here? Can God's ways actually be effective to win against overwhelming force by letting the enemy get his way? Or, as so many insist, will God suspend love temporarily to indulge in some of His enemy's tactics to overpower evil until evildoers are exterminated and then return to governing by love?
Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who carries out wicked schemes. (Psalms 37:7)
The gospel sounds really good to many of us at the beginning. We assume that we are in big trouble with God and are in line for severe punishment for breaking His rules. We like the idea that a substitute was provided to take the hit of wrath from an offended superpower to shield us from all that suffering. But is that really our problem? Or is God different than what we have always been told and the problem of sin far deeper than simply the breaking of rules?
As we come to learn more of how God intends to overcome evil through means based solely on love alone, we begin to feel nervous and wonder if God really knows that He is doing. Maybe the extreme teachings of Jesus are partly hyperbole; maybe Jesus was stretching it too far when He talked about loving enemies all the time and doing good to those who persecute us and turning the other cheek instead of striking back. The closer we examine the radical teachings of Jesus the more impractical they appear when facing all the powers of force arrayed against us. It is tempting to settle for religion that offers a 'balanced' mixture of love with some reliance on force mixed in to strengthen and reinforce it when love become ineffective. But does religion truly reflect the ways of God or have we been duped by a counterfeit appealing to our selfishness but in the end leaves us wondering where we went wrong?
There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death. (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25)
What if we let this come even closer than simply situations that threaten us physically? What about times when we face financial pressure, when the bills out-flank our ability to pay? When we can't find work or our lifestyle is threatened to be restricted, how are we to relate to the words of Jesus about providing for our needs? How do we react when it seems clear that nothing is coming together even though we have prayed earnestly and have looked hard for more sources of income? How are we to live in peace and joy and trust when it seems evident that God is not answering our prayers and it appears we must resort to more desperate measures to provide for ourselves and our family?
Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33) That sounds nice and pious until the things we need in our lives are not being added in time. It is during these times that it is easier to be controlled by fear instead of trust, to urgently look for work, alternative sources of income or government assistance or anything else we can imagine to address our crisis. In no way am I implying we should not be willing to work or accept legitimate assistance from others. But what I am addressing here is what is taking place in our heart; what is propelling us and driving us from deep inside, our core motivations.
What did Jesus really mean anyway with these words, seek first His kingdom? The very concept of kings is such a thing of the past that we have a hard time wrapping our minds around what that is supposed to mean in our day. Did He mean we are to work for a church? Is a denomination the kingdom of God, or are we confused as to where the real kingdom exists? Does it mean we aggressively preach that Jesus is King and everyone must obey Him or else? Is that what Jesus had in mind or do our distorted ideas of how God operates keep us blinded to what Jesus was trying to say?
What about the other part, seeking first His righteousness? That word righteousness can be a very nebulous word that can easily be used for all sorts of implications that don't necessarily fit what we see in the life and teachings of Jesus. What does it really mean in practical terms to seek God's righteousness? Does it mean we are supposed to work hard at being righteous so we will be like God and finally earn His approval? Or does it mean something far more profound and life-changing that we have failed to appreciate because it sounded too good to be true?
As I have pondered the implications inherent in the hero of the book of Revelation, I am challenged and disturbed. I find a Lamb who willingly allows Himself to be violently slaughtered, and then I find a similar theme all through the book contrasted sharply with opposite principles. Much of this sounds good but also deeply troubling. If I am truly honest about what is emerging from my studies, I have to say that I feel amazed that God is takes such enormous risks to win against overwhelming odds relying on apparently weak methods that appear to have little hope of winning against the fierce violence of a vicious dragon.
I can feel frightened as I begin to discern the implications in my own life. I see more clearly how the Lamb intends to win without ever resorting to violence or coercion of any kind, and that might might work fine for Him. But when it comes to being asked to follow the Lamb wherever He goes and to join the Lamb in relying only on His methods in my own life, frankly I can see why the opinions of the majority is so appealing. It makes more sense to agree with those who simply reject the idea that love alone could really be effective enough to win, that is if common sense is my highest priority. The widely accepted belief that God at some point will be forced to indulge in resorting to using at least some of the tactics of the enemy in order to win is very appealing. Yet that teaching is foreign to what I am now seeing emerge, not only from Revelation but all throughout Scripture. As I allow the Lamb to define truth instead of common sense, His light makes everything suddenly look very different.
For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, "In repentance and rest you will be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength." But you were not willing, and you said, "No, for we will flee on horses," Therefore you shall flee! "And we will ride on swift horses," Therefore those who pursue you shall be swift. One thousand will flee at the threat of one man; you will flee at the threat of five, until you are left as a flag on a mountain top and as a signal on a hill. Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; how blessed are all those who long for Him. O people in Zion, inhabitant in Jerusalem, you will weep no longer. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears it, He will answer you. Although the Lord has given you bread of privation and water of oppression, He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher. Your ears will hear a word behind you, "This is the way, walk in it," whenever you turn to the right or to the left. (Isaiah 30:15-21)
It is starting to become clear that God's ways are certainly not our ways and God's thoughts are foreign to our way of reasoning. No one could have ever imagined a God who would choose to win over evil by making Himself vulnerable to it instead of fighting it using superior force. Never in history has anyone invented a god who would be humble, allow Himself to be shamed, tortured, slandered and finally killed by vicious enemies and yet claim to have won over his enemies. Everything about the life and death of Jesus is counterintuitive to how we are programmed to reason. This is why it appears either foolishness or scandalous, depending on what direction we come from. To view the death of Christ apart from the distortions that religion has blanketed that story with over the intervening centuries is to find one's self in total shock at its apparent weakness to destroy the power of evil.
Yet if we do not feel a strong reaction to this revelation, it is not because we are already in line with God's ways but more likely because we have not allowed ourselves to see the disturbing truth that has been revealed only in Jesus. We have become so conditioned by distortions of the gospel that we fail to grasp the scandalous nature of how God plans to win this war. Until we start to feel incensed and even insecure about how God offers to overcome the power of sin in our lives, we have not really broken through into an awareness of the extreme contrast between God's ways and the ways of this world.
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:17-25 NRSV)
Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God's Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14 NRSV)
If we didn't already know the outcome of the story of Jehoshaphat's non-battle against overwhelming forces arrayed against him, we would most likely have viewed him as being very foolish by waiting on God instead of scrambling to do everything possible to raise defensive forces to meet the enemy. Likewise we would consider Gideon out of his mind to rely on such a pitifully small number of men to meet overwhelming opposition if we did not know the rest of the story.
Sadly we often view these stories as exceptions while eagerly pointing to the many times that God seemed to encourage Israel to employ violence against their enemies and sometimes even commit genocide. We struggle to reconcile the God presented by Jesus with the frequent violence so prevalent in the Old Testament. In our predisposition to cling to at least some of the ways of ancient Israel using force against their enemies, we blind ourselves to the real truth that Jesus came to show us, that God really can be trusted in every situation no matter how desperate things may appear to be.
It is starting to become clear that all along God's original intentions were to lead the Children of Israel into the promised land involving no violence at all. He promised them early on that He would arrange natural events to gradually displace those living there so that His chosen people could possess the land without ever dishonoring His reputation. But instead of trusting in God's promises, the Israelites eagerly seized the weapons lying all over the beach after the Egyptians were drowned, and from there on the history of wars with regulating instructions by God became the dominant story throughout history instead of the way God originally wanted to take them.
In reality, when we begin to allow God to be viewed through the lens of Jesus instead of Old Testament rebels, we can begin to find that what looks like exceptions to the violence committed by His followers, the occasional stories like Gideon and Jehoshaphat show us that God can win quite easily by simply allowing enemies to vent their rage and violence on each other without God even having to lift a finger against them. Are we willing to admit this? Jesus is the only perfect revelation of God found anywhere in the Bible or history, and the sooner we embrace the truth of the slaughtered Lamb, the sooner we can discover the stunning revelation of how God will win without using any of the counterfeit ways of the enemy.
God will certainly win in this war and He will win without ever compromising His nature of pure love and love alone. The question then turns from whether love can win or not to whether we will be willing to trust this Lamb who uses such strange ways to win. To follow this Lamb means laying down our lives in love for our enemies just as He did, instead of defending ourselves motivated by fear. This approach can then permeate every area of our life down to the times when we are tempted to worry about even the little things that come up daily. Either God can be fully trusted all the time or the enemies assertions that we must take things into our own hands when love fails is true. There is no compromise between the two.
This new way of winning through apparently losing is not just practice when our lives are in danger but must permeate every aspect of everyday life for those who wish to follow the Lamb wherever He goes. It must become the dominate principle that lies behind every decision, every reaction, every relationship if we are to become faithful witnesses to defend and restore God's slandered reputation. This is the kind of life that will be seen in all those who choose to stand with the Lamb on Mt. Zion.