If you’ve ever wanted to be used by God as His instrument, vessel, tool, etc., etc., read on.
I’ve had two experiences in the Lord’s work. One of them is slow grind—that is, sowing with a very long growing season—lots of labor with lots of waiting. The other is that of sudden harvest—lots of activity, unanticipated explosion of interest, and responses too overwhelming for easy stewardship.
And yet even in the midst of the latter, spiritual fuel may begin to dwindle. Everything we do in the Lord’s service requires reserves of grace, something we don’t have in our native, fleshly life. We can do all things in Him who empowers us, but if our point of reference subtly shifts to our own resources, we’ll find simple works of service unbearably heavy. Gigantic blessings will feel like gigantic headaches. Short of “Not I, but Christ,” we’ll always hunt for something doable defined by our own personalities, strength areas, and sweet spots.
This is not to say we should ignore the basic gifting of the Spirit in our lives and pursue things God never intended for us. No, instead, we want to beware of shrinking from the very missions we ought to be carrying out–the ones we’ve decided are too intense, that require what we have and more besides, that call for going farther than we have ever gone, or higher than we’ve ever reached. Easier roads lead to short term comfort, without fulfillment.
And there is more at stake here than one’s own personal Christian happiness.
You see, God has chosen to work together with us in the biggest endeavor of all–the completion of His redemptive timetable.
The first 7 verses of Revelation chapter 10 portray a scene of both cosmic majesty and certainty that God will no longer delay this schedule:
1 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. 2 He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land,
The placement of the feet seems especially important here. In the Book of Joshua, wherever the sole of a foot would tread, it caused the ownership of the land. The fact that the angel comes down from heaven, and places feet on land and sea, tells us that heaven has come to reclaim the earth.
3 and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. 4 And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.”5 And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven 6 and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, 7 but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.
The angel swears an oath by Him who has created all things. This title reminds us of the One who created the earth and graciously placed us here. But sinners have misused that blessing, and as long as we have lived here, we have co-opted, even hijacked this world for our often nefarious purposes. God has for a while been like a landlord who must endure the abuses of destructive, hateful tenants. They, through careless sinful living, have slowly ruined the order of things. Some even refuse to believe in the existence of a landlord at all, assuming ownership status and legislative powers independent of anything above them. The angel demonstrates that it is now time for the rightful owner to reclaim the earth.
In fact, verses 6 through 7 promise no further delay, no more gracious allowances of the kind Peter alluded to: The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9).
The angel swears that now the mystery of God is to be fulfilled. I’m calling this the redemptive timetable, because in Romans chapter 16 verses 25-26, the mystery is actually the New Testament gospel. In large part it was hidden during the Old Testament, although we can see fragments of it in the prophets, promising the arrival of a champion and deliverer, a Savior. And concealed within a great many cryptic types and shadows of that Old Covenant we can see glimmers of something to come. “Mystery” is the best descriptor of it all.
Yet, as Paul pointed out, this mystery was revealed and disclosed at the start of the New Testament, of the exact nature of Christ and His New Covenant, His indwelling of His saints, their ongoing sanctification, transformation, conformation, and ultimate glorification, and the eventual wholesale transformation of creation itself. Though this activity never receives newspaper headlines, it is the greatest work in the world, and everything revolves around it.
If it is invisible and can only be detected by faith, the angel promises that all will soon be resolved and in the open. The mystery promised to the prophets of the past, and revealed to His saints now, will be fulfilled without fail.
At that point, everyone will know that nothing else ever really counted for much.
Over the last fifteen years whenever people heard I travel to Africa, they often said, “Oh, I’d love to go there!” I know what they mean. They’d love to see some lions (from the safety of a safari bus), eat interesting foods, shop at craft malls, and take selfies with the locals. It doesn’t do any good to explain that I’m mostly preoccupied with mission work during those trips. Missions is a word that has come to mean everything and nothing. It might mean distributing a suitcase full of shoes or digging water wells, or handing out antibiotics, all fine of course, but I’d like to infuse the word mission with a higher meaning–to stand with Christ so He can fulfill the mystery of His gospel, end this current age, judge evil, and bring the New Jerusalem down to earth.
Meanwhile, back in this country, I’m also hoping that when people ask us about our Sunday morning services, or small group taco night, we’d think firstly of an angel vowing that the particular work of God would be fulfilled. Even the tiniest things can be meaningful, if the overarching purpose is grand.
This kind of work bears the mark of apocalyptic grandeur and seems completely independent of any human being. Yet, John, who would have been considered over-the-hill by a generation like ours, had been recruited to participate in the scene. Nearly halfway through the book of Revelation, God calls on this old saint to continue his ministry, but not based upon anything John has. God instead gives him something to ensure he can continue to participate. We might say John experiences a sort of recommission and recharge in ministry work.
8 Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” 9 So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it…”
Feeding on God’s word is not a new thing, nor is it in any sense advanced. John could have thought he knew all about being nourished up in the words of faith–He himself had written that the word was God, that the word became flesh, and he had faithfully recorded Jesus as having said, “the words I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” His first epistle was dominated with “the word of life.”
But that was then. This is now, in the middle of a prophetic mission that moves toward the fulfillment of the mystery of God. It is now time for John to once again feed upon the word in this moment, otherwise, he will only have the word that was life. God summons him back to the basics, where he is to eat a scroll inscribed with God-breathed writing.
At the same time, the angel reminds him of the experience that always accompanies feeding on the word: “…it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” 10 And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter.”
The initial entrance of the word is always sweet, yet as it settles into our system, the reaction is not unlike that of indigestion. I’m a lasagna lover, but I always worry about what it will do to me because I have acid reflux. I’m on meds, yet sometimes the food can overpower even the meds. Why do I risk it? Because the taste of good lasagna keeps me coming back. Once inside, the food often creates trouble for me. My taste buds might have agreed with it, but my stomach rebels.
Our natural constitutions are somewhat this way toward the word. When the word enters us, it enters hostile, alien territory. There is much inside of us that disagrees with it, and much of it disagrees with us. And thus an internal conflict begins. The command of God, plus the sweetness and soaring inspiration of the word of God keeps us coming back to it lifelong. But in our hearts, wars large and small always break out. First it is a conflict between us and the Bible, and then often a conflict between us and others, because the message will not always be palatable to them. Yet this process must always continue.
11 And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”
No true speaking of God through us can occur without taking and eating the scroll. We do not prepare speeches and deliver them. We do not memorize things to say and then recite them. No, we eat, and thus utterly identify ourselves with the message of the scroll. We experience internal conviction, correction, rebuke, and are then internal training to open our mouths and prophesy to others. We bring a digested word, which first of all has had an effect upon us, and then we trust, will have an effect upon the world.
Nineteenth century German theologian, Johann Peter Lange wrote, “Every word of God, as heavenly food from the tree of life, is sweet when we first receive it in faith. But afterwards, while the sweetness does not cease, it becomes bitter also as a judge of the thoughts and intents of the heart, when the old Adam must sink in death under the sharpness of the two edged sword. Again this word is doubly sweet when it proclaims the final triumph of Christ over the kingdom of darkness, and yet at the same time it is bitter, for with this proclamation it conjoins lamentation and mourning.”
The next time you say, “Lord, use me,” expect God to hand you your Bible.