You’ve been going to church every week faithfully for years. You’ve put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and you’re assured of eternal life. You’ve even served as a Sunday School teacher and Deacon. But suddenly you’re exposed to preaching and teaching you’ve never heard before.
“God is good all the time! He can do great miracles for your physical health, for your marriage, for your business & finances, and much more. Nothing is impossible for Him. He can turn things around for you and deliver you when your situation is at its very worst. Just keep praising Him, thanking Him for what He’s about to do. Just keep confessing and claiming your victory in Jesus’ name.”
What an uplifting message!
Indeed such messages can be very edifying to believers who’ve sat in church for years and never heard anything so affirming and refreshing, who’ve rarely experienced the miraculous. (Or they might be fine for “pre-believers” or new believers.) Twenty-five years ago I preached such messages. I heard great messages like the one which related how the Lord restored everything (and more) to David and his 600 men after their enemies had taken their wives and possessions at Ziglag while they were away fighting battles for the Lord. I digested them and regurgitated them to the Lord’s people. And as far I could see at the time they were indeed encouraged.
One time we hosted at our church in New York City a preacher who demanded a large sum of money as his honorarium. In order to raise the amount he wanted, before taking the offering I delivered a powerful mini-message urging the people to “plant a generous seed” for the Lord—for “he who sows generously will reap generously” along with other irresistible exhortations from Scripture. It was so effective that not only did the people empty their wallets to give more than we needed, I was told that I preached better during the offering than our guest preacher during the service. In those days with God’s “anointing” I could run with the best of them.
But today I no longer preach such messages. They no longer resound in my spirit. Perhaps the times have changed. Or I have changed. Or both.
The time to teach God’s people how much He can do for them in the world may have come and gone. Certainly such messages energize discouraged believers and keep people coming back meeting after meeting, but it is now late on the Lord’s timetable. What message will better prepare God’s people for the end times—the great and terrible Day of the Lord? In light of what the Lord has already done for us through the death and resurrection of His Son, we should now love Him and please Him in all that we do, serving Him according to His holy commands. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Nearly all of the wonderfully uplifting sermons we hear about God delivering us miraculously, restoring us, and blessing us are based on events in the Old Testament. And the Old Testament is a shadow of the reality we now have as New Testament believers through Christ Jesus. Just like the law is only a shadow of the good things that are ours in Christ, the accounts in the Old Testament of miraculous deliverance are shadows of the spiritual deliverance we now have as believers in the Messiah.
Hebrews 10:1 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves.
The reality is that by the indescribable love of Jesus Christ we have been set free from the dominion of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God’s dear Son. Our victory is primarily over sin and death, and not simply over the various challenges we face in this life. That is the reality for New Testament believers. The physical victories we see in the Old Testament are primarily shadows of the spiritual victory we now have in Christ Jesus. The physical wealth given by God to Old Testament believers like Abraham, David and Solomon are but a shadow of the far more glorious and spiritual riches we now have in Christ Jesus which will last forever unto the ages.
Even the miraculous deliverances experienced by Peter & John in Acts 4 and Paul & Silas in Acts 16 were a direct result of their obedience to the Great Commission on account of which they suffered imprisonment. How often can believers in the West claim that they are suffering directly on account of such righteous obedience to God, and therefore can trust Him for the miracles we see in the New Testament? No, more often than not our trials and suffering are similar to those experienced by the lost souls around us who do not know the Lord. In such a case the Lord uses our trials to perfect us step-by-step as we trust Him through them.
May the Lord fill us with the Holy Spirit who gives us wisdom and revelation and enables us to understand that the greatest miracle the Lord does for us is in the realm of the spirit. When He does visible miracles for us, they will primarily be to further the interests of His glorious gospel and less so for our personal enjoyment.
It is not that God does not provide for our physical and earthly needs. He indeed provides for us according to His glorious riches in Christ as we seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness.
Perhaps this change in me has to do with my maturing both age-wise and spirit-wise. I’m putting childish things behind me. Children are of course very self-centered. It’s all about “me” and what I want. But I’ve come to realize as I get closer and closer to eternity that my reward at Christ’s Judgment Seat will not be determined by what God has done for me during my time on earth, but rather by what I have done for Him in obedience to His commands. (Salvation of course depends on what the Father has done for us through Jesus Christ. But it is quite different with eternal reward.)
Perhaps it’s time also for the Church to put childish things behind her. As we look around at the unsettling things taking place all around us today, we know that it is late. We need to be about our Father’s business while it is still day—preaching the gospel to all creation and making disciples of all nations. Night is fast approaching. Then the end will come, and each of us will stand before the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ.