Back in Oct of 2009, a missionary to India and Nepal spoke at a prayer service at our church. At that time, I had been doing some long range planning to take my wife on some exotic vacation for our 15th anniversary coming up in 2010. But the missionary announced he was organizing a missions trip in 2010. That announcement grabbed my attention and I spent the next two months mulling it over. Because of the nature of the trip, I wanted to make this decision with my wife- which meant foregoing any surprise- so I gave her a choice: we can either go on a vacation just for us, or we can go on this missions trip. She didn’t hesitate: it was the missions trip all the way!
It didn’t seem fitting to me, though, that we would just “decide” we would go on a trip. I have been on numerous trips of this nature before and always clearly saw God directing me in them. The clearest direction I ever had with this was in 1991 when the still, small voice of God told me “You’re going to Kenya.” My immediate reaction, as a broke, nineteen year old college student with really no interest in going anywhere was “Ha! I’m not going to Kenya- that’s ridiculous!” Six months later, I was on my first trans-Atlantic flight. God had directed and provided. Knowing that God is “in” something gives a person unparalleled confidence no matter what circumstances arise. So in Dec, we began praying that the Lord would confirm to us that this was Him.
In January, I went ahead and signed up for the trip, thinking “If God shows us otherwise, we’ll just back out.” About a week or two later, they announced that the trip was now full and on a waiting list. By the middle of Feb, we had all the money saved up to pay for the entire trip. We already had our passports as well, so everything was coming together. The door was wide open, but I was still waiting to hear that still, small voice once more. But nothing.
The weeks turned into months and still no clear-cut word. My wife began struggling through the process and God kept telling her “abide”. So she did. At another point she began to worry about the money but eventually she realized that God would provide if He’s in it. In short, she was growing through this process. Of course I was growing too; mostly frustrated. We soldiered on in prayer.
Then a deadline of April 1st was announced. Deposits, passports and applications had to be turned in for the trip. To me, this was D-Day. Either I hear from God or we don’t go. As we got closer to that date, God was showing me things in His Word but I wasn’t getting the binary “yes/no” that I was looking for. Over the course of the last couple of weeks, He showed me much that led me to see that we need to go. I didn’t get the “yes/no” answer I was looking for, what I got was more “if you want it, go and take it”. That sounds a bit Machiavellian… let me explain!
There is a scene in Full Metal Jacket when the inept Pvt. “Pyle” gets his gut stuck on an obstacle. The drill sergeant approaches him and shouts: “Oh that’s right Pvt. Pyle, don’t make any *** effort to get up to the top of the obstacle! If God wanted you up there, he would’ve miracled your ass up there by now, would’nt he?!” I think a lot of times Christians put too much on God and don’t realize what He has actually put on us. In everything the Lord showed me, God gave His people an imperative. They had a choice to make.
In Rev 2:5, Christ counsels the angel of the church at Ephesus: “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen and repent, and do the first works;” Remember, Repent, Revive. That’s what I got from this time. Here are the highlights:
Remember: “remember from whence thou art fallen”
Rev 2:4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
Ezekiel 16:22 …thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, when thou wast naked and bare, and wast polluted in thy blood.
16:43: Because thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, but hast fretted me in all these things…
Ezekiel 16 is what directed me to Rev 2, where the church is chided for leaving its first love. Israel had forgotten. They forgot the bondage they came from and they forgot the work of God in their lives. So they drifted off into sin. The first challenge from Rev 2 is to remember where Christ brought them from, how he brought them out and to serve Him with that same sense of joy and excitement they had in the early days. This was a command: they had to decide to remember.
Ezekiel 18:31 Cast away from you all your transgressions whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit…
Psalms 78:8 And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright; and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.
“Make” a new heart and a new spirit?! I thought that was God’s job! But once again, God’s people had a decision to make. Repentance is simply a ‘change of mind’. God tasked them with changing their hearts by changing their minds. The church at Ephesus was tasked with repenting from their loveless service. The key to that was to begin by remembering.
Revive: “do the first works”
Hab 3:2 O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.
Israel was being slack in rebuilding when Habakkuk came to them. Here, he asks for a revival… of the work! “Get back to work” was the message he had for them. God had already started a work, but “they” needed to get busy finishing it. Hence the “re” in revival. The church in Ephesus needed to get back to their first love. They, too, needed a revival. Not a revival of building but of love.
So after seeing all that, I was thinking “This is exactly where I’m at.” I, as a middle aged dude, have a lot in common with those Ephesians. I’m busy- there’s a lot to do. I’m generally consistent and disciplined. I go where I’m supposed to go to do what I’m supposed to do and I know the “right” things to do and, after a while, it doesn’t really take any thought. Life’s “autopilot” kicks in. But then you realize, you’re just sort of drifting. Nothing’s really wrong but then, nothing’s really quite right either. I’d like to get back to that “first love” I had about half-my-life-ago but I have to make a choice: God will not just “miracle” my ass back up there! So I choose to empty our savings and drag my wife halfway across the world for two weeks, on the day after Christmas no less, because I desire to serve the Lord from my heart and I believe that He will use this in my life to accomplish that. I am purposefully turning off the autopilot and trusting God to help me “make” a new heart and spirit.