There is a dilemma that every living human being must wrestle with continually. I am wrestling with this dilemma in a fresh way personally. It can be summarized simply: no one likes things the way that they are; yet everyone hates change.
I’ve tried to take some time during both the corporate fast that we have been engaging in here at the International House of Prayer over the past few weeks and the global crisis that has been unfolding around us to quiet my soul, watch, and see where I can reflect, repent, learn, and grow. I’ve been looking to “redeem the time” in light of the “evil day,” as Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:16. As often happens when you set your cold, dull heart before the jealous flame of the love of Jesus, things rise to the surface that we don’t often take the time to give attention to in those beautifully difficult, honest conversations that a kind God desires to have with us about the true condition of our hearts. The Holy Spirit has “turned the global crisis to my advantage” (Romans 8:28) by using this season to reveal some truths about my heart that I’m not entirely comfortable with.
The dilemma that I summarized in the opening paragraph has deep roots in my soul. I preach, write, and teach, and I imagined that I sincerely believed that I longed to see the world change. I thought I was laying hold of the beatitude of Jesus about “hungering and thirsting for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). I was convinced that I had an interior ache to see the righteousness of God invade and transform every sphere of society. I wrote a book about the return of Jesus and the age to come. I assumed that I meant it when I wrote it.
The global pandemic that is affecting and isolating (to various degrees) almost every man, woman, and child on earth right now has exposed something hidden within me. The disruption of my life has led to a longing for normalcy, or a return to the way things were before. Suddenly, I found a kinship and a new empathy for the Israelites that followed Moses into the wilderness all those centuries ago. They were oppressed. They were bound in slavery. Yet in the midst of what the book of Exodus called their “bitter lives” and the rigor of their bondage and service (Exodus 1:14), it still took a few generations for the Israelites to begin “groaning” in intercession to be delivered from their bondage (Exodus 2:23). Then, once delivered, the rebellion and the complaining began not long after. At the mountain where the Lord descended to meet with Moses and all of Israel, the people turned to idolatry (Exodus 32); by Numbers 11 the people began to complain bitterly about the divine provision, yielding to “intense craving” and longing for “the fish which [they] ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic” (Numbers 11:4–6).
I am finding that, in the midst of the discomfort of global disruption, I am not so different. I am coming face-to-face with my own divided heart. There is a sincere, powerful, and beautiful part of my heart that longs for Eden—to press on into the promised land of a world transformed by the glory and righteousness of God, subject to the leadership of Jesus, a paradise of millennial rest and peace after the King returns in majesty and humility. It sounds glorious. I was made to enter into His rest.
Yet here I am, along with everyone I know, being forced to engage in a kind of “mandatory rest” brought on by circumstances beyond my control. I am, in a sense, being handed by life and circumstance a preview of the post-second coming “Sabbath rest” known as the millennial kingdom. There is nothing more disruptive than the “ultimate” rest of His kingdom in its fullness on the earth. This is why the writer of Hebrews commands us to labor to enter into His rest (Hebrews 4:11). This verse is another way of informing us of the paradox we experience every day as Christians. We want to change the world. Also, we hate change and crave normalcy.
The writer of Hebrews understood that the Israelites needed to labor to enter into the rest of the promised land that awaited them. The writer of Hebrews understood that I must labor to enter into the rest of the fullness of the kingdom that is at the end of my race. Because eternity is written on my heart, I have a deep God-given ache and longing for Eden, etched upon my heart by fire, inscribed by the very fingerprint of my Maker upon my innermost being. Yet, because I am being transformed by grace as one who is immature in love, still a work in progress, I am no different than the Israelites that traveled this same road, long before I did. I long for Eden, and I long for Egypt. The labor that the writer of Hebrews had in mind is the ongoing, glorious work of repentance. It is the manner in which I confront the areas of my own soul that are surprisingly content with the way things are when they contribute to my personal comfort and sense of well-being and routine.
Now that I see it in myself, I see it all around me. I see wonderful, amazing brothers and sisters in Christ that are longing for things to “get back to normal.” The entire Body of Christ is being confronted with the same forces of change that John the Beloved witnessed two millennia ago. He saw firsthand the price of change and the potential toll that it would take on the Church and the world around him. He saw what an aged prophet Daniel saw centuries before him—visions of dramatic change that made Daniel physically ill when confronted by them. Daniel, John, and many other prophets saw what we sometimes refuse to look at: the high cost of genuinely changing the world. We are on the mere threshold, the very small beginnings and hints of a world that is inexorably and powerfully changing all around us. If we are honest, we do not like it. We would very much like to see things go back to the way things were. We like our “cucumbers,” our “leeks,” the flavor of this age that enables us to cope with the massive corruption and wickedness of this evil age. Sometimes it just seems more appealing to live with the “delicacies” of Egypt, even if it means putting up with a little bondage, a little bitterness, and a lot of devilish rigor.
I am forcing myself to confront what it actually means to love and serve a King who never wants things to be the same again, who is jealous with a vehement flame of desire for things to never ever be normal as the world defines normal.
I want to find the grace for repentance and transformation in order to go the way that John the Beloved went. This is the labor of my soul to enter into the glorious rest of God. I want to want Him here on earth more than I want things to go back to normal. I want to want His righteousness more than I want my own comfort. I want to love Jesus more than I love my own life. Therefore, I want to confront yet again what it really means to “change the world”—particularly when the world does not at all want to change in the ways that Jesus desires—coming through to the other side of my wrestling match declaring what John declared, all those millennia ago: “Even so Lord, come.” Maranatha!
Where are you wrestling to embrace change?