9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day… .
John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and our Help in Suffering
John Bunyan (1628-1688; pictured left) was a Baptist preacher who wrote a very famous allegorical story — Pilgrim’s Progress. He outlined in its pages the Christian life and all its challenges. Prior to the 20th Century, three books were always in hand for Christians’ daily comfort — (1) the Bible, (2) a hymnbook, and (3) Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I have one favorite story from Pilgrim’s Progress about how we triumph in suffering.
“Then I saw in my dream, that the Interpreter took Christian by the hand, and led him into a place where a Fire was burning against a wall, and one standing by it, was always pouring water upon it, to put it out; yet the Fire burned higher and hotter.
Then said Christian, What does this mean?
The Interpreter answered, this Fire is the Work of Grace that is worked out in the heart; he that pours water upon it, to extinguish it, is the Devil; but in spite of the water poured on it you see the Fire burn higher and hotter; you will also see the reason for that.
So Interpreter led him to the backside of the wall, where he saw a Man with a pitcher of Oil in his hand, out of which, he poured continually (but secretly) onto the Fire.
Then said Christian, What does this mean?
The Interpreter answered, this is Christ, who continually with the Oil of His Grace maintains the work already begun in the heart; By the means of which, notwithstanding what the Devil can do, the souls of His people prove gracious still. And in that you saw, that the Man stood behind the wall to maintain the Fire; this is to teach you — That it is hard for the Tempted to see how this Work of Grace is maintained in the soul.” (language edited for modern meaning; see Pulse below.)
An old illustration of Bunyan’s Story of the fire against the wall.
This is an old story told in allegory, but it shows us that in our communion with the Lord, grace is poured into our hearts so we can stand against the temptations and persecution of the enemy. Prayer is offered both when we are alone and when we are with other Christians. Prayer gives us grace from God to thrive in our sufferings. We must avail ourselves of praying companions in our exile.
But you may ask, “How are we in the West exiled? Most of us feel at home.”
Exile for Christians in the West is More Subtle
I John 3:1 [Behold!] what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. (emphasis mine; See ESV below).
This does not mean that the world in its opposition to God doesn’t recognize who we are. Hardly! It means the world takes no notice of us as important when they meet us. Examples of modern exile are as follows:
A person is shunned by a neighbor who prefers non-Christians to Christians.
A worker is excluded by peers because he is “too fanatical in his religious views.”
A woman is deprived of a promotion at work because she is a Christian and does not “fit into” the corporate culture of the company.
A Christian writer’s manuscript is rejected by editors so no book is published in the mainstream publishing world from Christians.
An older Christian is denied adequate medical care because the administrator has friends who “need it more than Christians do.”
One thing is absolutely clear. Christians in the West are no longer considered as playing on the “home team.” We get the short end of things even if we are considered at all. Isolation can set in if one neglects regular assembly with fellow believers and secret prayer where we meet with Christ alone.
Prayer is our Vital Means of Grace
Matthew 6 states — 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (see ESV below; emphasis mine).
Let me say, the Father, with whom one meets in secret prayer, communicates his conscious presence to the one who prays. This is the reward — God’s conscious presence!
Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981; pictured left) was a medical doctor and a preacher. The Film, “Logic on Fire,” about his life revealed interesting facts about him not revealed in his biographies.
His daughter Ann (who lived in the upstairs rooms at their mutually owned home in Ealing after 1965) related that he would sit in his living room and pray. If his eyes were opened, the granddaughters would enjoy watching “Little House on the Prairie” with him or his grandson would watch “wrestling” with him. (Yes, Lloyd-Jones watched wrestling!) However, if the grandchildren came in and saw him sitting on the sofa, eyes closed, with his hands on his knees, they knew “he was talking to God” and left him alone. He took no notice of people moving around because he was conscious of being before the throne of God as he silently prayed.
Short selection from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones sermon
from Exodus 33 (6 min 16 seconds) Well worth the listen!
Here was a man who experienced the conscious prescience of God! It must be cultivated in secret prayer with God if we want it, but it is the possibility of every believer. It’s not just for a privileged few.
Jesus spoke of the Father’s search in John 3 —
23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
God is seeking our companionship! We should let that sink in for a moment. Then, let’s make of our exile here a retreat where we continuously meet with our God in prayer!
Application of Rev. 1:9-11
Revelation 1:12-20 next time.
ESV. Accessed January 2019 from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+1&version=ESV
Fee, Gordon D. Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Lawson, Steven. (2014). “The Preeminence of Scripture in George Whitefield’s Life.” Accessed January 17, 2019 from https://www.ligonier.org/blog/preeminence-scripture-george-whitefields-life/
Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn. (n.d.). “The Presence of God” (filmclip). Accessed January 19, 2019 from https://youtu.be/kRJ4BQsAgLw.
Meyer, Jason. (2018). “Dr. Lloyd-Jones on Praying in the Spirit.” Accessed January 18, 2019 from https://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/2018/dr-lloyd-jones-on-praying-in-the-spirit/
Orr, Charles Ebert. (1904). Accessed January 19, 2019 from https://biblehub.com/library/orr/food_for_the_lambs_or_helps_for_young_christians/consciousness_of_gods_presence.htm
Ovid and the Censured Voice. (2019). “History of Roman Exile.” Accessed January 17, 2019 from http://web.colby.edu/ovid-censorship/exile/history-of-roman-exile/
Pulse, K. (1993). Accessed March 23, 2019 from http://kenpulsmusic.com/pilgrimsprogress26.html
Thayer. (2011). Thayer’s Expanded Greek Definition, Electronic Database. Biblesoft, Inc. Accessed January 18, 2019 from https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/greek.html
Zylstra, Sarah Eekhoff. (2018). “The Top 50 Countries Where It’s Most Dangerous to Follow Jesus.” Accessed January 17, 2019 from https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/january/top-50-christian-persecution-open-doors-world-watch-list.html
© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved