Publication: Pastoral Letter, February 2004
Dear Friend in Christ:
Preparation is vital to success. Whether in business, profession, adventure, or any other pursuit, success is not a matter of luck. We have all been “wished” a Happy New Year, or “wished” good health or have been the subject of other good wishes. But a joyful and productive 2004 will require preparation – serious preparation.
Isaiah and the apostle Paul are two of the most acclaimed prophetic figures in all of history; they spoke for God. I want to look at their council concerning how to prepare for an adventure with God that could take us “beyond our wildest dreams.”
ISAIAH 64:1-5 – “SEEKING GOD”
Isaiah began with a prayer that God would rend the heavens and come down, that He would make His name known to His adversaries. This is an appropriate prayer with amazing possibilities for us in 2004.
Isaiah goes on to address the issues that prevent God’s coming and how we can deal with these issues. True prophets not only give God’s promises; they address God’s issues with us, so that we can receive His promises.
There are two main issues: First, we live by physical perception – yes, ears, and feelings. We will not find God this way. We must address our own sensuality. Secondly, Isaiah says that we have sinned. Sensual pursuits, or the gratification of our senses and appetites, cause us to disobey God and destroy ourselves. We cannot live on “eye candy” or “ear candy” and see God. “If it feels good, do it,” is devilish advice.
Isaiah also addresses the kind of person to whom God will come. Let me briefly summarize His points:
- Stop living by physical perception of reality.
- Repent of our transgressing His good will for us.
- Wait on God – let Him take the initiative.
- Rejoice in righteousness – delight in what is good.
- Remember His ways.
Most of us have been taught well, but we forget. We need to remember our salvation, how the Holy Spirit comes to us, and the times that He delivered us from destruction. We can learn from the past – good and bad.
There are two things that I want to point out here: Only we can prepare our hearts, and only God can prepare the future. If we make our preparations, we will see His.
PAUL – 1 CORINTHIANS 2:7-12 – “HIDDEN WISDOM”
Finding God is not a casual pursuit – it is for seekers. The apostle Paul reminds us that God’s wisdom is hidden. It was there before the world began, and when discovered, it is for our glory. Proverbs tells us that God’s wisdom is the principle thing above all else (see Proverbs 4:7 and 8:11).
When I was 17 years old (a very difficult year for me) my parents gave me a new Bible and marked passages in Proverbs concerning wisdom. They knew this would be vital to me, as it is for us all. The apostle Paul confirms their counsel.
First Corinthians 2:8 points out that the rulers of Paul’s day (and many since) did not have wisdom from God. The tragic and horrendous proof of their foolishness was that they crucified “The Lord of Glory” – Jesus Christ. How dumb can people be? Even religious people? They let a criminal go free and instead crucified the only innately righteous man Who ever lived!
People can do extremely dumb things when they lack the wisdom of God. Why did those rulers do such a stupid thing? Yes, they were sinners. But the apostle Paul quotes Isaiah 64:4, reminding us that we cannot know God by the eyes and ears, even should He stand right in front of us. Neither can we know the things that God has prepared for those who love Him – by our natural senses.
In another place Paul said, “From now on we regard no man after the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16 NKJ). Even Christ? Yes. Especially Christ. The religious leaders saw Him in the flesh, but knew Him not as God. The wisdom of God – all of it – was hidden in Him but they failed to see it (see Colossians 2:3). They had unprepared hearts.
The human problem is that we are looking at what appears. Isaiah said of Jesus that He would have no form or beauty that we should desire Him (see Isaiah 53:2). The apostle Paul echoes that truth about Jesus. Yet Jesus contained the wisdom and glory of God Almighty.
We might wish that we had lived on earth in His day so that we could have seen Him. Yet seeing Him with our own eyes would have been no advantage. We must see Him in the Holy Spirit.
GOD HAS PREPARED
I am struck by the fact that if I prepare my heart, I can see what God has already prepared for me. Do you want to know what God has prepared for you? Those who love and seek Him can discover the reason that they were born. In explicable treasures which have been hidden from us are there for us, if we change how we view God and reality.
In John 14, Jesus told His disciples; “I go to prepare a place for you. In my Father’s house are many mansions” (dwelling places). Christians have historically understood that as a reference to mansions in heaven. While it may indeed refer to our eternal home and “mansions in glory,” I believe that it means that He has prepared a place for us in His house. He has created a “room for you.”
When our children were young, we moved a few times, and whenever we would look for a house, our children would go through the house asking, “Can this be my room?” We would not want a house where our children did not have a room. God’s house has a room for you. Have you found it?
FINDING THE PLACE
How can we find the place that God has prepared for us – a room full of treasures? How can we find the eternal wisdom of God? You can’t judge the room by the door. The external view may deceive us. The external view of the door may indeed seem repulsive.
The Jesus Who ate with sinners and rode a donkey, the One born in a stable and who grew up in the belittled town of Nazareth, could not have been the door, could He? But He was.
The slums of Calcutta, India, could not be the door to “sainthood” for a nun, could it? But it was.
I remember when I knew that God had called me to the ministry; it was a narrow, ugly door for me. But it led to a beautiful room full of opportunity. When our daughter went to Costa Rica to work with poor and abused children, it didn’t look like much of a door. But a few weeks ago, when I heard her oldest adopted daughter share her testimony, I knew that our daughter had found a treasure. It didn’t seem right for a “homecoming queen” and student at one of America’s leading fashion schools to go to Costa Rica to work with needy children; but it was right. She didn’t see it through natural eyes_but by the Holy Spirit.
What God is calling you to do this year may not look promising, but don’t ignore the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul, prior to conversion, saw Jesus the same way that Jesus’ crucifiers did. But on the Damascus Road, he saw Jesus differently; He saw Him in the Holy Spirit. After that, Paul blessed much of the world with true riches. Next to Jesus, He has probably been the greatest influence upon civilization. God had a place_an important place for Paul. And He has a place for you.
THE HOLY SPIRIT
Prepare your heart for what the Holy Spirit has prepared for you. Most of you who read this letter have received the Holy Spirit through the new birth. Most of you have been filled with the Holy Spirit at one time or another. You know the Holy Spirit – so why was He given to us? Paul tells us why, “that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (see 1 Corinthians 2:12).
Receiving the Holy Spirit is not an end in itself. He has come to guide us into all truth (see John. 14:16-17; John 16:12-15). Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would take the things of Jesus and show them to us. What a promise and possibility!
I have watched as some “Charismatic” Christians have drifted away from things that God showed them years ago. They have forgotten the value of the Holy Spirit. In so doing, they have returned to trusting their own judgment. Some then, have lost their spouse or watched their children fall into foolish ways.
I have watched Charismatic churches fail to correct gift abuse and instead neglect the precious work of the Holy Spirit, in order to “be like other churches.” These churches are more concerned with their appearance to the world than their hunger for God. Human wisdom may look appealing for a while, but in the end it is revealed as foolish.
I join Isaiah in praying, “Oh that God would rend the heavens and come down.” This generation has become so sensual, and desperately needs their own visitation from God. In order to see it and the resulting riches of God, we must prepare our hearts so that we will not miss what He has prepared for us.
The Holy Spirit knows the things of God (see 2 Corinthians 2:11). He knows it all. We know the Holy Spirit. If we seek Him, He will show us all that we can bear. It is not by our might or power, however, but by His spirit (see Zechariah 4:6).
We have work to do; this will be a critical year in our history – personally, corporately, and nationally. In the United States, we will select a president this year. Children will be born this year. Lives will be permanently and eternally affected this year. We dare not miss what God has before us and for us this year.
I am thinking that I have work to do: to humble myself, to fast and pray, to reach out to the needy, to stop looking at appearances, to wait on God, to rejoice in righteousness, to remember His ways, and to seek the mind of the Holy Spirit. I covet your prayers and I pray for you to find the place that He has prepared for you.
Last year was, in many ways, a good year, but it is in the bank of heaven. This year, 2004, is yet a mystery – hidden, to be unlocked by the Holy Spirit. I ask you to join me in Isaiah’s prayer, that God would rend the heavens and come down. We need Him now; our children and our nation need Him_now!
Scripture References: Isaiah 64:1-5; 1 Corinthians 2:7-12; Proverbs 4:7,8:11; John 14-16-17; Zechariah 4:6; 2 Chronicles 2:11; 2 Corinthians 5:16; Colossians 2:3; Isaiah 53:2; Isaiah 53:2; John 14