I think the call of God on my life means I am in constant distress. This is not an uncommon condition in the Bible. Moses and Elijah became so disturbed by the spiritual state of Israel that they asked God to kill them (Numbers chapter 11, verses 14-15; 1 Kings chapter 19, verse 4). Or, who can forget Jesus weeping at the tomb of Lazarus and pouring out grief over the coming destruction of Jerusalem (John chapter 11, verse 35; Luke chapter 19, verses 41-44).
Such struggles have not been removed by the death and resurrection of Jesus; we have the graphic portrait of the souls of the slain martyrs under the altar crying out to God, “how long” (Revelation chapter 6, verses 9-11). Scriptural examples could be multiplied (Galatians chapter 4, verse19), and extra-biblical illustrations spring to mind.
The great English preacher George Whitefield always cried when he spoke of hell and judgement. Beyond Christianity, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) has become a fashion of the day, it embraces the need for mourning. And just a few hours ago a friend sent me a video clip of Jordan Peterson weeping in meetings. Lament, grief, sadness, depression, woe etc. are all part of life, but not so much in public church life.
Does knowing Jesus abolish stress? When our tour guide in Myanmar said, “Buddha saves us from our suffering.”, should I have replied, “Jesus takes away our suffering, not in Nirvana, but now?”
Where have all the tears gone?
Some of these reflections began when I was reading an article in Eternity magazine. It’s writer proclaimed that contemporary Pentecostals have left behind the obsessions with the end-times (eschatology) of an earlier generation. This is true, and to an extreme that came across when the Planet Shakers band performed at the Franklin Graham event in Perth recently.
Their tone was exclusively positive, upbeat and triumphalist. So different from my experiences in Pentecostal prayer meetings in the 70’s where the full spectrum of emotions was on display. If Christ showed the complete array of emotions, shouldn’t we?
Don’t think I’m picking on Pentecostals only. The whole Western Church seems to have lost a “gut moving” functional eschatology (Matthew chapter 20, verse 34). It’s hard to find any Christian congregation that takes seriously Paul’s words about distress being a condition of life.
This present distress
“in view of the present distress…. let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” (1 Corinthians chapter 7, verses 26, 29-31).
According to the whole New Testament, a follower of Jesus must not become attached to material-temporal things. If we think our health and houses are really important, we are idolaters living as if Jesus isn’t coming back soon. A major paradigm shift is needed.
Beyond this world
The early Christians did have spouses and houses, but they still stood out as light and salt in a perishing society (Matthew chapter 5, verses 13-16). Their eschatology didn’t move them to escape the world, but to live with a set of values reflecting the coming new creation. Tragically, most contemporary Christians are not “seeing” things through the lens of eternity.
Two eyes are better than one
All Christians are called to share in prophetic vision (Revelation chapter 19, verse 10). Semi-technically this is a matter of “bisociation”, seeing two realities at the same time. We are called to be those who by natural sight see the broken world as it is before us and by spiritual sight see the world as it will become when Jesus returns.
In such a two-eyed state it is impossible to be other than distressed by the dreadful state of things and full of confidence for the ultimate future. The spiritually two-eyed are neither depressive nor escapist because Jesus is far bigger than all than all. It is his Spirit (Isaiah chapter 63, verse 9) that stirs up godly distress in us moving us to prayer that God might act with power to bring healing to this world. Prayers like that are surely answered. “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation chapter 22, verse 20)
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 7 grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.
John Yates’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-yates.html
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 7 grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.John Yates’s previous articles may be viewed athttp://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-yates.html