“Do you want to heal it or just numb the pain?” That’s what the Pharmacist asked a 12- year-old John Estorge in response to complaints of burning mouth ulcers. Not being a fan of pain, I contemplated the question for a moment thinking, “Who cares about healing, I just want it to stop hurting… I’ll take the topical anesthetic please!”
I’ve discovered this same principle working in my children who don’t care for healing treatments for their skinned knees, or to endure the necessary pain associated with the extraction of a splinter, they just want band-aids. Sadly, this is often our typical response to the difficulties in our lives even as we pray. We don’t typically think that our real problem is the principle of sin living within us. Instead we blame circumstances or find fault with others as the real problem. We pray, “God, please change these circumstances, give me relief to my pain, and please change the way this other person acts.” While we anticipate that the remedy will come by a relief of our pain, a change in circumstances or the repentance of others, we fail to identify the real issue: our own personal sin and miss the real cure: forgiveness of our sins and getting closer to Jesus.
We are often like children who just want the punishment to end, rather than seeking forgiveness for the offense. Or we’re like the paralyzed man and his friends who sought the healing of a physical limitation instead of the greater need, the forgiveness of His sins and drawing closer to Christ (Cf. Mark 2:1-12). The paralyzed man was surprised by what His encounter with the Savior delivered to him. Jesus went beyond everyone’s expectations to give more than what was requested to get to the root of the problem: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.'”
Jesus bestows health to the body, beginning with not only the removal of the cause and origin of disease, but in meeting his and our REAL NEED. We all need this ongoing inner healing of our hearts so we can experience the forgiveness of our sin, the resolving of our guilt and shame, the mitigation of our our anger, and the settling of our minds in the midst of fears. This only happens as we get closer to the Lord who through His Son, has healed you of the only disease that can really kill you, your sin. He is the Only One who has the authority and power to provide the only real cure, forgiveness. What we need so much more than a numbing of the pain or a change in circumstances is getting our hearts closer to a God who has declared us Right with Him through the work of His Son.
Perseverance is the key virtue in the Christian Life because without it, one has no guarantee of a future inheritance with God in heaven. The Scriptures give us guarantees like, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Php 1:6) and at the same time they give us strong exhortations like, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Php. 2:12-13). In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus teaches us that only one of the categories of hearers bears fruit and perseveres. All the others are eventually swallowed up and destroyed by malignant influences which militate against Christian perseverance. There are also many warnings in the New Testament about falling away (Cf. Hebrews 6:1-12, etc.). Does a person have a carte blanche (blank check) once he professes faith in Christ? Can he do anything he wants while maintaining blessed assurance in a secure salvation? In his book, The Christian Life, Sinclair Ferguson puts this in perspective,
“Perseverance and faith, therefore, or perseverance and the Christian’s duty to battle on in the fight of faith are never separated and polarized in the Bible. It is never a case of ‘either/or’ always one of ‘both/and.’ In fact we persevere through faith and never apart from it. The picture is one of a dynamic, living trust in a God who actively holds on to us so that we may persevere. There is no blanket guarantee of perseverance. There is no mere doctrine of ‘the security’ of the believer, as though God’s keeping of us took place irrespective of the lives we live. Indeed there is not such thing in the New Testament as a believer whose perseverance is so guaranteed that he can afford to ignore the warning notes which are sounded so frequently.”
While we remain in the fight of faith to persevere the Christian can take great comfort and courage from his Good Shepherd who says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)
If I make the claim that my wife is prominent in my earthly affections, that’s not saying very much. All I would be saying is that within my heart’s desires, she is noticeable and easy to see among all of the other competing passions in my life. In my earthly affections, my wife should reign as preeminent, surpassing all others and without peer or rival. As Christ should be preeminent over all in my heart! Jesus comes to us passionately and jealously because His Father’s Preeminence consumed Him (Cf. Psalm 69:9, 119:139; John 2:17) Christ was so zealous that His Father would have First Place in our hearts that during at least one scene He became an Army of One driving the idolaters from His Father’s house. He was so jealous for the honor of His Heavenly Father and His Temple that it ate Him up. Paul reminds us of the Majestic Supremacy of Christ who is entitled to have First Place in our hearts,
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:17-20)
So just as a newly married bride is given a new name and an accompanying identity, the new identity is the only incentive she needs to live a life which her affections are set exclusively on her husband. Before she may have felt some affection for others but now her husband is the preeminent affection of her heart so that anything which would distort or destroy that affection must be insistently refused. So with us who are united to Christ.
Do you find it easy for your heart to lose its focus on Christ and doing His Will? I think there is natural drift in all of our hearts especially when our little worlds feel chaotic and our eyes attend to circumstances rather than remembering the generosity and grace of our Lord. And sometimes we forget that Christ’s design in coming into the world was to reform the world and in doing so, He expects that His followers would be radically identified with Him. As we identify with Him and follow Him, we seek to cooperate with the work of His Spirit in the reforming of our hearts and lives. Thankfully even as we make a mess of things, He still remembers His gratuitous covenant which He has made with us through His Son.
The prophet Malachi writes, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness.” Take a moment with the following prayer:
Grant, Almighty God, that as Satan strives to draw me away from my full attention in serving You through the circumstances of disorder and confusion in my world; — O grant, that I may know that You still have a tender affection for me; and if I perceive that you don’t by what I find in my world, may I rely on Your Word, and not doubt that You always watch over my safety; and being supported by this confidence, may I always continue in the path of my calling: and as You have designed to make me a partaker of the greatest evidence of Your favor in being reconciled to You through Your only-begotten Son; and being made one with Him, may I never hesitate to cheerfully offer my services to You, however defective they may be, since You have once promised to be a generous Father to us, so as not to rigidly test what I offer to You, but so graciously to accept it, that we may know that not only my sins, which justly deserve condemnation, are forgiven and laid aside, but that You also bear with my infirmities and my defects in my imperfect works, that I shall at length receive the reward which You have promised, and which I cannot attain through personal merits, but through the sanctification of Your Spirit, and through the sprinkling of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. — Amen.
(paraphrased from Calvin’s prayer at the end of his commentary on Malachi)
Remember all the patterns of grace that are in heaven. You think, oh, what a monument of grace you would like to be! There are many thousands as rich monuments as you can be. The greatest sinner did never pass the grace of Christ. Do not despair. Hope still. When the clouds are blackest, even then look towards Christ, the standing pillar of the Father’s love and grace, set up in heaven for all sinners to gaze upon continually. Whatever Satan or conscience say, do not conclude against yourself, Christ shall have the last word.
by Thomas Wilcox (1621-1687)
“But I would feed you with the best of foods.
I would satisfy you with honey from the rock.”
The gospel tastes so much better than Chicken Soup, it is actually Wine for the Soul. For his first miracle, Moses turned water into blood, the curse of the law turning common comforts into bitterness and terror (Exodus 7:14-25). But Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into the most delicious wine , the blessing of the gospel bringing delight, comfort and happiness to those who believe (John 2:1-11). The gospel of Jesus Christ is wine for the soul that lifts the countenance and brings good cheer to the heart. The gospel call has always been, “Come, all you who are thirsty, …Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost… Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” (Isaiah 55:1-2) The Goodness of God is poured out on us abundantly in Christ, who holds all the treasures of the grace of God (Col. 2:3) and from His fullness we have received, grace upon grace (John 1:16). And in Him our souls can feast on the the milk, wine and bread of the gospel.
- Jesus Makes the Best Wine (johnestorge.com)
I have always been impressed that the coming out party of the Son of God was during a wedding reception where He transformed water into the best tasting wine imaginable. The narrative of the wedding miracle is recorded in John 2:1-11 where Jesus Christ showed Himself publicly to be the God of all Creation who makes the earth to bring forth wine. Psalm 104:14-15 reminds us that “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.” He is the God who made vegetables to farm for food, wine to make your heart happy, oil to give you a glowing complexion and bread to give you strength for work. And His presence at a wedding reception and His provision of wine bearing the Master’s seal of approval shows that we have a Savior who wants to make our hearts happy.
To bring the miracle into perspective, I did some research regarding how to plan a wedding reception and found a website which ironically stated Rule #1 in planning your Wedding Reception as, “Make sure you always have enough drinks on-hand for your guests.” The recommendation went on to inform that “The majority of parties and receptions run from 2 to 4 hours and you will need to plan on an average of 3 drinks per person for the first 2 hours.”
200 guests will drink 600 drinks in 2 hours = 120 bottles of wine
But Jesus goes overboard with his provision toward the end of the reception in Cana taking six water pots holding thirty gallons each and filling them to the brim with water before perfecting His wine.
6 waterpots x 30 gallons =180 gallons = over 908 bottles of wine
When it comes to meeting this need, Jesus gives more than enough which reminds me of the immortal words of Matthew Henry, “His Supply is often better than His Word, but never worse.” Christ wonderfully supplies an abundance of the very best wine at the party’s end while the common practice would have been to bring out the good wine at the beginning of a feast, when the guests have their heads clear and their appetites fresh, and can enjoy it, and will commend it; but after they have had much to drink, when their heads are confused, and their stomachs are full, they don’t notice if it is good wine or cheap wine. With wine and with other substances there is a law of diminishing returns so that the first glass tastes wonderful but after a while you can hardly taste it. Certainly this is one of the reasons why Jesus models for us a moderate partaking of his gifts because He wants us to enjoy them as He designed them to be enjoyed. For when we drink a glass or two of wine we enjoy an unparalleled taste sensation which is accompanied by a happy heart but when we drink a lot of wine we only get drunk.
And certainly it was His intention that there would be some wine left over at the end of the banquet to attest to the miracle so that others would believe. I can imagine people coming for weeks on end to the reception hall to see and perhaps tasted the miraculous 180 gallons of wine which was perfectly balanced, crafted with a pleasing bouquet, rich tannins and a delightful finish. Moreover, if you had just witnessed the abundant and delightful miracle, you wouldn’t desire to drink to excess, you would anxiously taste and spend the remainder of your time praising the One who crafted it. Jesus saved the best for last, as He will when He brings the fullness of his Best Provision at the Final Wedding Feast where His betrothed bride, the church will be fully united to Him in the consummation of his Kingdom. For it is a trustworthy saying that, Those that follow Christ will feast with Him!
What are we to think about our Lord Jesus Christ attending a wedding reception, an event where excesses are common and at different times in history, clergy had even been forbidden to attend? Some are uncomfortable with such a scene and salve their consciences by fabricating a history of an early weakened fermentation. Even if there were grains of truth in the claims, drunkenness still existed and Christians were exhorted not to be drunk with wine and qualified elders were not to be drunkards (Cf. Eph. 5:18; 1 Tim. 3:1:3). It was later said of Jesus, “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!‘ (Luke 7:33-34). At least during his public ministry as an adult, Jesus lived like the average person and did things according to the customs of his day. The custom of his day was that people commonly drank wine, so He drank wine and ate the foods he was offered. John the Baptist by contrast confined himself to a peculiar diet, and even abstained from ordinary food.
Calvin comments, “Those who think that the highest perfection consists in outward austerity (strictness) of life, and who pronounce it to be an angelical life …when a person will drink no wine ought to attend to this passage.” He argues that if the highest level of holiness is wrapped up in abstaining from wine, then principally, John the Baptist would have to rank higher than the Son of God. Of course, Jesus by His example gives us no license to indulge in luxuries nor does He grant permission to those who have been under the dominion of strong drink. While Christ accommodated himself to the usages of ordinary life, he always maintained a sobriety truly divine and He did not encourage excesses or unlawful behavior.
Christ was never interested in an outward form of spirituality and was insistent that it’s not what a person takes into his mouth that defiles him but what comes out of his heart (Cf. Matt. 15:11). The Apostle Paul exclaimed that his boast was the testimony of his conscience in that he behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity by the grace of God and that he was concerned that the some were being led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ (Cf. 2 Cor. 1:12 ; 11:2-4). In other words, neither Christ nor the Apostle Paul gave us any room to create a Christian spirituality that was defined by what we ate or drank but instead modeled a spirituality of love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith (1Tim. 1:5). Abstaining from one practice or another is not what counts, but instead what counts is faith working itself out through love (Cf. Gal. 5:6). When it came to drinking, Jesus encouraged a moderate and contextual use of his created gifts.
We may call it a crisis, but the Lord calls it an opportunity. From His perspective it is an opportunity to bring a deeper consolation to our souls so that we can find ourselves more satisfied in Him; so we can experience the God who is Enough for us! But we are only transformed to this deeper place of Christ as our sole satisfier if our false rests and pseudo-saviors breakdown. This is at the heart of the disorientation of midlife. Through our 20s and 30s our souls find temporary satisfaction in relationships, roles and results. But as we approach our 40s all the way through to almost our mid- 50s, those relationships, roles and results begin to disintegrate or drain of their power to fulfill. This becomes a catalyst to expose our exaggerated needs for security, control and affirmation creating anxiety, disorientation and anger. And though we search to resolve our new undefined feelings in many places sometimes creating even greater problems, the solution is a spiritual one.
Midlife reveals to many of us that we have not allowed our initial introduction to Jesus to deepen into a deep intimate knowing. We talk about having a personal relationship with God, but the reality is that many of us have less knowledge of God than we have of our casual acquaintances. J.I. Packer says, “a little knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about Him.” Too easily we have settled for knowing about God which is not a substitute for deep personal knowing. So midlife becomes the opportunity to step out into vulnerability and uncertainty and be met by the Lord who wants to satisfy your deepest needs and answer your most personal queries. So….
When We Ask: Who am I? “What’s wrong with me?” “Why am I feeling this way?” and “Why am I talking to myself?”
He Answers: “You’re my Child. You belong to me. I have taken away your shame and given you a new identity filled with eternal value and dignity! Talk to me.”
When We ask: “Where am I?” “Will I have to face the future alone?” “Will everyone abandon me?”
He Answers: “I have a plan for you, and I will go with you into a certain future to provide comfort and courage to you. You will never be alone! Just hang onto me and trust me.”
When We ask: How am I doing? Why aren’t my strategies to control working? Why do I feel so angry and resentful?
He Answers: Because I have conquered death and hell, life is no longer a struggle to be won. The battle has been won and the enemy has been defeated! So, do you really have any right to be angry? I’m in control, I’ve got this! Nothing in your life is wasted and all will be redeemed for your benefit.
Why is it that the middle of everything is the most difficult? The beginning is usually filled with excitement, anticipation and expectation and the adrenaline usually carries you for a while. While the end has its own celebration of patience, endurance and perseverance and the satisfaction of a job well done! It is the middle where all of the battles are fought, all of the decisions are made and challenges, obstacles and hurdles are faced. And some of these take us off guard, surprising even the most prepared among us.
The middle presents us with questions we were never forced to entertain before. Questions like “Now what?” and “What does all of this mean?” In the beginning we entered with certainty and confidence, but the middle throws us for a loop and we experience uncertainty, fear, frustration, disappointment anger, shame, and doubt. From the initial perspective in the beginning, the future was always bright, but the middle is ruled by the dankness of the mundane and ordinary. This sometimes produces disorientation in identity and direction and we wonder internally, “Is this all there is?” or “Has my life been a waste?” In the middle, we interact with our own thoughts asking deeper questions about ourselves and our lives while rarely admitting them aloud:
Who am I?
In the beginning, I thought I knew who I was. I was able to define myself based on the job I performed, the important role I played, or the special relationship I had. But in the middle, I don’t feel as valuable and worthwhile as I once did by defining myself as I did. Things have changed. Now I wonder, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why am I feeling this way?” and “Why am I talking to myself?”
Where am I?
In the beginning, the future seemed clear, secure and filled with exciting probabilities. But in the middle, the support system that once provided security hasn’t proven reliable. Now I’m left to find a safe way forward to a uncertain future. As I try to figure things out in my head thinking up strategies to be safe, I’m filled with anxiety and dread. Now I wonder, “Will I have to face the future alone?” “Will everyone abandon me?”
How am I doing?
In the beginning, life felt like a struggle to be won and my efforts to control relationships and circumstances through my own strategies helped me to stay on top. Fixating on my assessment and judgment of things has helped me to prevent being dominated, tainted or upset. But in the middle I’ve exhausted my abilities to be able to control everything and everyone in my life and now I’m just resentful or angry. At who? At everybody!
The Middle is part of a Divine Conspiracy
In the middle, all of our exaggerated needs are exposed, the sinful passions that have always ruled our lives fail us and our shallow heart commitment to the Lord is exposed. But the middle sets us up for a deeper encounter with Christ to have our deeper personal questions of identity, significance and direction answered and to experience God’s goodness and favor at a level never before grasped. The middle is the opportunity for the Lord to impart hope to our souls as we learn to be satisfied in Him. In the middle we learn that God is Enough!