Jesus is the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE-not merely the way-shower, the truth-giver and the life-imparter. In other words, He doesn't just tell us what to do, explain to us what He means, and give to us a portion of His own life. We must become ONE with Him in all three areas. We must be fully identified with Him. Then as we begin to identify with Him we discover areas of Truth and Life that we could never discover through much study and effort. The people of the New Testament Church in their early beginnings used to refer to themselves as the people of the Way. I used to ponder this a lot. Saul persecuted "this Way," and after his conversion he testifies that he worshipped God after the "Way" that men called heresy. God's people are a people of the WAY. They are going somewhere... not after they die, but NOW. They have purpose, vision, enlightenment; and are but pilgrims and strangers in the earth. Like Abraham of old God's people know that they are in the land that God promised them, but it is still not "home." All the promises of God in Christ Jesus are meaningful to us and very real, but if we are truly a people of the Way, as Abraham was, we have that feeling that we are not really at home... there just must be something more to Life than we have yet experienced. Take note of this: Abraham was in the land that God had promised him and his Seed forever... but he just knew in his heart that there must be much more to the "land" than what he had seen as he walked through the length and breadth of it. He confessed that he was but a "pilgrim and a stranger"--and the Holy Spirit reminds us that such a testimony as this indicated that he and his Seed were "looking for a City which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10). (And don't forget the true Seed of Abraham is "Christ" and those who are in Him--See Galatians 3:13-29.) All the blessed assurances of the New Testament concerning our position in Christ and our blessedness in Him were never intended of the Lord to cause us to relax in the joy and contentment of that blessedness--but to create within us a hunger to attain to that high calling which as yet reaches far beyond our grasp. Happy is that man or woman who comes to that place in his walk with God when--in spite of all the knowledge and understanding he may have concerning his inheritance in Christ Jesus, he still finds it within his heart to say: "Yes, I thank thee, O Lord, for thy Truth, and for all you have given... but I am not fully satisfied... there is something lacking... what is it Lord?" For then the Lord who is ever pleased with that individual who delights in Him more than he delights in his knowledge of the Bible... the Lord Himself is pleased to reveal His Way more clearly. Then that hungry one comes to understand that the reason he cannot be satisfied in his present state is because in walking with God, God will not let him be satisfied. And God will not let him be satisfied because there is more, much more that God desires to lead him into.
There is a difference between being "dissatisfied" and "unsatisfied." We must always be thankful for everything God has done for us and brought us into; yet ever desirous of going on with God into the fulness of His intention. Always satisfied with the fresh manna that He gives daily for our every need, but even as we partake of it there remains that unsatisfied hunger to partake of the Old Corn of the land of our inheritance. There is more, much more. There are still heights in God to attain; there are still oceans and depths in God to explore, that we never thought were within the realm of possibility in this life.
ABRAHAM, A FOREIGNER IN HIS OWN LAND
As we begin to walk a little in God's Way, so do we begin to identify with the people of the Way in the Bible. Now we can understand Abraham a little more. He had entered into the land that God had given him. He had walked through the length of it and through the breadth of it. But still something within cried out, "This is good, but I am not satisfied..." And why could he not be satisfied? Because God would not let him be satisfied... because God would enlarge his vision. In the seed and in the promise of blessedness that he had received from God there lay dormant a germ of something far, far greater that God desired to unfold to him. And therefore all this weary wandering through the land of promise was necessary in order that this germ of promise might blossom forth into something vastly different and vastly more glorious than a nice piece of real estate. As Abraham fretted over unfulfilled promises it is evident he saw little of what God really had in mind. Nevertheless God was faithfully leading him in pathways of obedience that would elevate his vision and cause this man of faith to look beyond the little land in which he walked. If we walk in God's ways this invariably happens. The prize of His promises soon gives way to higher things, better things, more heavenly things. Abraham soon discovered that he didn't really belong there... even in beautiful Canaan. He was but "a stranger and a sojourner" (Genesis 23:4). Hebron must have been very wonderful ...but still Abraham was not at home. He was a foreigner in his own land! He began to look for a better City, a "better country, that is, a heavenly." The real City for which he looked had "foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God." (See Hebrews 11:10, 16.) The nations God promised went far beyond the ones that would spring from Ishmael and Isaac. "The WORLD" would become his inheritance, as the true "Seed" was implanted in the hearts of men all over the earth. (See Romans 4:13; Galatians 3:16, 28, 29.) The "City" that he looked for would one day descend upon the earth. And one day Abraham will stand at the head of the line and will look upon his Seed which has sprung forth out of every tribe, and kindred, and tongue, and nation, and people. There will be the red, and the yellow, and the black, and the white. And Abraham will be able to say, "These are my children, for they have my faith." Then Abraham will step to one side and take his place with the rest, and Jesus will include his father Abraham in the company of His own sons (for "instead of thy fathers shall be thy children," Psalms 45:16). And Jesus will say, "Behold, I and the children whom Thou hast given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel," (Isaiah 8:18)... a people who are the Seed of Abraham, because "That Seed is Christ" --whether they be from the various countries of Europe, Russia, India, or the little remnant from the land of Israel and the Arabic nations surrounding them, or the people of China, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, or North and South America.., but the list is getting too numerous to mention. Let us just put it this way: "For Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy Blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation," (Revelation 5:9). Peoples from the far north and the far south... from the far east and the far west. If they truly believe in Christ, then are they "the Seed of Abraham, and heirs according to promise" (Galatians 3:29).
As citizens of this country or that, we all recognize the natural barriers that exist between men of different cultures and different racial backgrounds. But God, looking upon mankind with His own standard of righteousness and glory, and with the judgments of the Cross in view, declares: "THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:22, 23). As Christians let us stop wasting our efforts trying to rebuild the walls of partition that God tore down at the awful expense of the Cross. For God is totally committed to the judgments of the Cross whether nationalistic segments of mankind are or not.
FROM ALTAR TO ALTAR
What we began to say was that it took this wandering through the land in a walk of obedience... it took periods of famine... it required the moving of his altar from one place to another... in order that Abraham might acquaint himself with God's ways. First he pitches his tent at Shechem; then on to Bethel; then a journey to the South; and then, because of the famine in the land a little excursion into Egypt. Some hard lessons were to be learned there; and though we cannot blame God for our own mistakes as we seek to follow Him, we do have this confidence that if the heart is right God will cause even these to tie in with His purposes. Returning from Egypt he finds himself back in Bethel again, where he had pitched his tent at the beginning. Then the time came for a separation from Lot, and a walking through the length and breadth of the land of his inheritance. He seemed to be wandering--and many have felt the same way as they look back upon their lives, and wonder why such apparent disorder in all that they did. But Abraham had to go that way. God was leading him; for God had promised He would show him a "land." Now he is at Hebron, certainly the choicest part of the land of Canaan. Why not settle down right here, Abraham, and enjoy the inheritance and the home that God had promised you? Are you going to be a visionary all your life, and at the end discover that you have really gone nowhere? And Hebron did become his home for awhile. Isaac and Jacob also lived there. And when it became time for Israel to enter into their inheritance some 500 years later, it became the inheritance of Caleb; for God had sworn to give it to him because of his faithfulness. Later on, David reigned as king over Judah in Hebron, And so it must have been a highly desirable prize for anyone to receive.
But Abraham continued to be a stranger and a foreigner in his own inheritance. Because Abraham was a man of the "Way." He could be thankful for it, enjoy it, get his daily sustenance from the fruitfulness of the land; but he must move on. Back to the Negeb. Then dwelling in the midst of the Philistines, and learning some more hard lessons. Finally the true son Isaac is born. Surely the time is at hand when he can settle down and be content with God's promises, which he has faithfully fulfilled. But God would not let him settle down, because the experiences through which God was leading him were designed to enlarge his vision, so that he might come to know God and yearn for the Holy City. This would become his true inheritance. Once again he must become "unsettled." For God said to him, "Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell of" (Genesis 22:2). Still a little indefinite... which mountain? But he did not need to know the exact spot... not yet. He would know the second step only after he had taken the first. This is the principle by which the people of the Way must walk. And it is designed this way that the people of the Way might become the people of the Truth and of the Life. And there on Mount Moriah, having given back to God everything that God had given him, Abraham received the highest prize of all: a revelation of the Day of Christ and of the Lamb that Jehovah-Jireh had provided.
SETTING OUR GOALS
Being a finite people we would like to seek out for ourselves a way of life that is fulfilling, and which in the end will bring us into a sense of finality; because the finite mind cannot comprehend unceasing progression. We would like to come to that place where our goals have been achieved and we have arrived. But in the spiritual realm we must learn that goals once attained only open up before us new horizons to seek, new territory in God to explore, new ways of the Lord to understand, new heights to attain unto, and new depths in which to be lost. It is like climbing some rugged mountain peak only to discover when we have reached the top that there are new valleys of testing and humiliation into which we must descend, and new mountain peaks that we did not know existed. It is unsettling to us by God's own design; for there is a certain restlessness that prevails in His own heart to have a people in whom He can dwell in all His fulness, and through whom He may exhibit the majesty and glory of His Being throughout all realms, the earthly and the physical as well as the heavenly and celestial. (See Ephesians 3:9, 10). His plan, therefore, is to identify us with Himself; and to do this He will consistently, yet with great patience and mercy, frustrate all our attempts to achieve goals and to pursue purposes which may not only fall short of His own, but which in themselves are so often extremely selfish and self-centered.
The prevailing thought in the Church is: God is doing big things. So we must think big... talk big... preach big... get into the action... see great things accomplished for God. The only problem, of course, is that usually those who are planning to do big things do not understand that the greater the work that God will perform, the weaker... and the smaller... and the more humble will be the instruments that God will use. And while religious people were building synagogues throughout the land, and sending missionaries far and wide to make proselytes among the Gentiles, God was preparing a "Body" in which He would reveal Himself, and forever do away with temple sacrifice and offering. And this One would come on the scene, not with trumpet blast from the temple, but in an atmosphere prepared of the Lord and so designed that only the humble would be able to breathe the fresh air of God's revelation. Humble shepherds would hear from heaven, and would come and worship the Messiah in a stable. He would be born into a humble peasant family of no particular esteem in the religious world. Simeon, a strange old man who walked with God, and who cherished God's promise that he would live to see the Lord's Christ--because he walked with God he came into the temple one day at God's appointed time and saw the Christ that others about him saw but did not recognize--and then went out, content that his purpose in life was accomplished. (And we cannot help but hear the reports of his friends and neighbors as they conversed with one another, and lamented over the delusion of this old man who talked all his life about living to see the Messiah... and now he's gone.) Then there were Zacharias and Elisabeth --both "stricken in years." He was a faithful priest in the temple--but he would be retiring shortly, or pass off the scene in death. But God uses them to bring forth the prophet that would turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers--and prepare the ground for the revelation of the Messiah. And John spent his days in isolation in the wilderness, recognized by the people as a prophet of God, but held in very low esteem by the leaders of the religious system of that day. Nor did he go about organizing crusades to reach the masses, but they came to him... drawn by the magnetism of the prophetic word that was in his mouth... He gave them some very simple instructions which if they followed would prepare their hearts for the Christ that was about to be revealed.
O how God Most High must lament over His people today as He did over that first generation of redeemed Israelites, "THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN MY WAYS!" And how He longs for that people who will take everything that they have ever received from God, yes everything: their doctrines, their fellowships, their churches--large or small; their gifts and ministries; their plans and schemes for enlargement; their programs for world evangelism and world outreach; and lay them all like Isaac on the Altar of Burnt Offering, on one of the mountains that God would show them.
But God hasn't shown me any such mountain, I hear someone say. Nor will He do so, until you walk with God from altar to altar... until you fervently desire to do God's will... until you learn His way and earnestly desire to walk in His way... until the will of God becomes to you your highest prize and your daily bread... and until you are prepared to recognize that as the heavens are high above the earth, so are God's ways higher than your ways, and God's thoughts higher than your thoughts. Perhaps we will not find too much conflict in our own hearts or with others, as we talk about "goals" and "unceasing progression"... as long as this means bigger and bigger... and more and more of God's blessing and enlargement. But when God begins to reveal that the enlarging of our goals may well mean the forsaking and laying down of what we have already attained to, there could be cause for a little wonderment in our own hearts and in the eyes of those about us. And we will discover that in measure as we are walking with God, in like measure shall we become as strangers and foreigners in the eyes of those who see an end in gift and ministry and the blessing of God.
You mean God told me to start this big church and get involved in this extensive outreach, and now I am supposed to drop it all? You mean God called me into the ministry, and now asks me to lay it down and go to work in a factory or sawmill, or get involved in some monotonous routine job on an assembly line? God called me to higher things than that. You mean God called the apostle Paul to the high and holy calling of apostleship to the Gentiles, and then shut him up in prison to waste away his days in a prison cell?
And so the call of God to higher heights in Him is not heard because we have not identified with His Ways, and therefore we do not really appreciate the thoughts and the intents of His heart. We do not understand the prayer of Hannah, how God is the One who kills and makes alive; who brings down to the grave and brings up again. We do not understand that it is only in dying that we shall truly live; and it is only in going down to the grave that we shall know the power of His resurrection life. Nor shall we ever know this by taking a course in Theology. The actual knowing of it can only come in that life that has earnestly sought identification with the Lord who is the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE.
IDENTIFYING WITH HIS WAY
As we begin to identify with God's Way, then it is that the Word of God and the Truth of God begin to take on reality to those who seek to know Him. True we identify with the Lord when we receive Him, and Christian "baptism" is a mark of that identification. But that is just the beginning. From then on and throughout life there must be a continual identifying with Him if we hope to attain to the highest prize of all, of "knowing Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings." And as little by little we learn to walk with Him, so does the Word of God become more and more meaningful to us. Once the story of Joseph was just that, a beautiful story. But now it means more, because in small measure at least we have been able to identify. He had a vision... and we have a vision. He would like to see it fulfilled, but he soon learned that only God Himself can fulfill the vision that He has given. He does not give us the vision as an incentive to work on, but as a seed of truth to embrace and allow it to fulfill God's purpose in our lives. We find with the prophet that in eating of the Book, it is like honey in the mouth, but bitterness in the belly; and we wonder how a Word so sweet can become an experience so bitter. But as Joseph cherished the vision, the fulfillment of it became more and more distant and more and more impossible. Finally he discovers himself in a foreign land, completely cut off from the family that he saw in the vision--a prisoner and a slave rather than a king and a ruler. To try and figure out what might have gone wrong would only lead to further frustration, so he simply tries to forget it all. (Eventually when his first son is born he will call him, "God has caused me to forget.") He cannot deny what God showed him, but he will just lay it aside or put it in a bottle, seal it, and cast it upon the waters. And yet in and through it all God was consistently and without any intermission working out all the intricate details in Joseph's life that would eventuate in the vision being gloriously fulfilled, only on a much higher and loftier plane than Joseph ever imagined as a young lad who dreamed the dream. Gone were the thoughts of greatness. Gone the thought that some day I'm going to be somebody great, and all you boys are going to have to recognize it. Here was a man of the Way who in walking with God became a stranger in his own home, a byword among his own brothers, a dreamer whose dreams soon vanished when he was sold to the Ishmaelites and became a stranger in a foreign land. And so the vision of greatness was fulfilled in the perfection of God's order; but it was only fulfilled as Joseph found grace to identify with God's Way; and in so doing the dream itself was utterly transformed until it became a transforming experience in Joseph's own heart; and a vision of mercy, of deliverance, and of compassion for those who had mistreated him. The man of the Way, whose feet were hurt in fetters of brass, and whose soul was laid in iron, was recognized for what he was: the elect of God, marked with the mark of God and destined to become Zaphnathpaaneah, ...a name which signified to Pharaoh and the Egyptians: "A Saviour, or Sustainer of Life."
AS THE RAIN AND AS THE SNOW
What we are saying is that Truth begins to take on form and harmony and true meaning within us as we begin to walk in His Way, and not merely as we study the Bible. And as His ways begin to unfold we soon recognize that "as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9). Then we understand that we can only appreciate His ways as we allow our minds to be "renewed." We are aware that God made the majestic "Cedar that is in Lebanon." But now we are amazed that God takes note even of "the hyssop that springeth out of the wall." No longer is it alarming that people, even God's people, should resist the Truth. And no longer is there any purpose in arguing about it. Now we know that one must walk in God's Way if he is going to understand and know the Truth.
Nevertheless, we must be faithful to minister the Truth. For it will serve its purpose. God goes on to explain that His Word is like the rain that comes down from heaven, It will water the earth and flow back into the rivers and oceans from which it came in the first place. It is not really lost. If there has been a good planting of the Lord the rain will fulfill its purpose. But it takes time... and God's watchcare and faithfulness. And as the heart responds in faithfulness, with every going forth of the Word there is a certain work of grace wrought in the life. Truth becomes experience as we identify with it... I should say, with Him.
Then God says, "And as the snow from heaven..." Of course there is always evidence of life after a rain. But snow? Snow, and ice... these speak of hardness, coldness, and death. But as you begin to walk in His Way, you discover that there are "treasures" even in the snow. It, too, is to water the earth. God said so. But this can only happen at the right season... only in the hour of Spring! So that explains it! Here we were, wondering why we seemed to be so cold and lifeless, just cumbering the ground. Everything seems useless, futile, cold, barren. And yet I believe in Predestination. Sometimes I would like to forget it... but I know it is good doctrine: that God marked out my pathway before I was born, even from the foundation of the world. It seems to give you a feeling of importance and of greatness. But, like Joseph, the times come when you just have to lay it aside. I can hardly deny the doctrine... but at least I feel no urgency to argue about it anymore. I can hardly look at my life, very ordinary and futile as most of it seems to have been--and get excited about a doctrine that says God planned it all that way. But then I remember when I was a child, and my mother was doing needlework. She had two hoops that fitted together, one inside the other--and across the hoops was stretched a cloth, tightly drawn together by the hoops. The needlework looked real nice:, perhaps some pretty flowers, of different colors, all worked into the cloth according to a pattern that was stamped on the cloth ahead of time. Sometimes when she would lay it down I would take it and turn it over, and look at the underside. Then I would turn it back and forth and try to reconcile the beautiful flowers I saw on the top side, with the maze of colored thread underneath: loose ends, mixed-up threads, knots... anything but beautiful.
It must be something like that. There is a pattern. And because I believe God, I must believe that "all things work together for good to them that love God; to them who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He also did..." I can't quite see it that way now, because I am looking at the underside. The Master Workman is looking down from the top and I have to believe that He knows what He is doing. This gives me confidence and assurance in what I cannot see. But then He said it was supposed to be that way, to believe without seeing.
And so, "As the rain cometh down, AND AS THE SNOW..." Then I must wait. Wait for God. Wait for the right season. People have told me so often that God was waiting for me, and I have tried to accept that, because those who are teaching it seem to be more fruitful in His Kingdom than I am. But somehow I remain as the snow.
Now I can identify a little more with the Truth. There are "treasures in the snow." But these treasures can only be released in the hour of Spring. God does have a time and a season... and a day and an hour reserved for His people. But I can't choose that day and that hour. All I can do is to remain cold and lifeless until His time comes. Then it becomes "My hour." Sons of God must learn through experience that their time is not always ready, but it is being prepared. Can you identify?
Let us go a little further. The purpose of both the rain and the snow is to water the earth that it "may bring forth and bud." How precious it is in the hour of spring and early summer when this begins to happen. And how we anticipate the releasing of the blessing of God upon His people in that hour that they might truly become a fruitful field that the Lord hath blessed, that they in turn might become a blessing to others. Can we identify with God's Way?
Well, we can see buds and leaves of hope and blessing in the midst of God's people, and so we take courage. But let us go a little further. "That it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater..." Now that's what we want! We want to become the bread of life to those who are famishing about us, and water to the thirsty soul. Lord, make us to be that bread of life to the starving masses of humanity. And we have hope and confidence that God is preparing this kind of "bread." The Church of Christ is depicted as "one bread" as well as "one body." But let us never forget: in the formation of the Bread of God there is a process: and after the harvesting of the grain; after the grinding in the mills of God's dealings; after the anointing with the fresh oil of His Spirit, and the mingling together of the fine flour with the fresh oil.., and after the baking of the bread in the ovens of God's fiery trials... then and then only does the "dough" become "bread to the eater."
WHENCE SHALL WE BUY BREAD?
We would like to content ourselves with the thought that the Bible is the bread of life, and therefore we will do what we can to distribute Bibles. Or maybe our much activity in the Church might produce this bread. (And don't misunderstand me; we appreciate the printed Word, and every effort inspired by the Spirit of God to send forth that Word.) But let us just recognize plain facts. You want to be very practical, as you consider the needs of men? Then let us be practical. And let us just acknowledge that with every increase of our efforts to meet the needs of the people, so do those needs increase, And the "practical" in our midst, like Philip of old, have a very practical answer to the ever-present question that the Lord has posed: "Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat" (John 6:5). Now let us as God's people understand that because the Lord raises a matter of concern for His people, this is not God's authority for you and I to devise ways and means to fulfill the thoughts of God's heart. Jesus said this to "prove" Philip, not to authorize him to start a campaign for funds. Philip of course was very practical. Jesus is concerned about the hungry... so I will be concerned. Let us see: Two hundred dollars would perhaps help to solve the matter: everyone at least will have a little taste. Sound familiar? Perhaps if we could raise a thousand dollars, or twenty thousand dollars, we could get the job done.
But there are also a few Andrews around, and he has a little more faith... but still quite cautious. "There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes..." But he doesn't want to go out too far on the limb, so he mentions that it's really only a suggestion. The Lord knew all along what He would do, but very gently He was seeking to lead the disciples into His Way. Now having recognized their desire to help the people, and having received the suggestion from at least one in the group that there were a few loaves in their midst, little though it was, Jesus came forth with the answer. And it was very simple: Bring them to Me!
BRING THEM TO ME!
When, O when, Church of the living God, are we going to learn this lesson? That it is not in the raising of more money, and the enlarging of our churches, and the furtherance of our programs, that we are going to feed the multitudes. But it is in the five loaves and the two fishes surrendered entirely into the hands of the Master! That it is in the ministry with which God has enriched His people--not standing apart behind a pulpit, but broken and mingled together with the fish that have been taken in the net, that God shall meet the needs of humanity, That it is only as they are taken together in His hands, and become one in His hands, and broken in His hands, and mingled together in His hands, that they shall become that life-giving Bread that God has prepared for human need. Another billion dollars in the coffers of the Church will not accomplish what God wants accomplished in the earth. Selling your church edifices and building greater ones so that you can store more people will not do it, But a true Body (represented in the two fishes --"two" being the number of a corporate relationship); and a true ministry (represented in the five loaves); yet not two distinct entities as they exist today in the Church, but ONE in His hands, broken and mingled together, is God's total answer to human need.
Can we identify? Or at least, do we wish to identify? Do we have the courage to say with Philip, How are we going to meet the needs of humanity with so little? And further courage to say with Andrew, We have so little to offer? Or are we going to continue to canvas the believers for more and more and more only to end up with two hundred pennyworth and still barely enough to give a very small handful a very small taste?
JUST A BARLEY LOAF!
If God's people could only recognize that God can only multiply the very little we have when placed unreservedly in His hands! And that it is in the "breaking" of the loaf that the Word of God is multiplied, not in the printing of more Bibles! That it was just a "barley loaf" that tumbled down the slopes and smote the armies of Midian that were in number as "the sand that is upon the seashore for multitude." Just a barley loaf! But in the hands of Gideon it became the Sword of the Lord and of Gideon! There are not to be two swords: one out of the mouth of the Lord, and the other out of the mouths of His apostles and prophets and teachers. There is one sword, and it is His. Our quotation of Scripture and our knowledge of the Bible and our understanding of Truth is not the Sword of the Lord. The Sword of the Lord is that Word which proceedeth only out of His mouth... and out of ours as we lend it to Him. It was not in mobilizing the armies of Israel that the enslaved nation would find victory, but it would be in "demobilizing." First, twenty-two thousand had to be demobilized and sent home. The rest were brave and anxious for battle... but they did not know God's ways; and Gideon was admonished to demobilize still further. Another nine thousand seven hundred had to lay down their armor and uniform and go home. God would accomplish this victory by His own Sword--and the Sword would be in the hands of Gideon and three hundred men--likened in their insignificance and weakness to a mere "barley loaf." Can we identify? Or at least, do we wish to identify? Or will we continue on into the darkness of the night to feverishly mobilize the forces of the Church to wage a losing battle against the enemies of God with the very "practical" but very futile resources of our own human endeavour?
"SEED FOR THE SOWER"
"That it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater..." saith the Lord. What about the seed for sowing? Now "bread-corn is bruised," the Bible says. Otherwise there can be no bread for the hungry. Now the seed for sowing is not crushed, because it must be planted. There is life in the seed which only the crushing, and the milling, and the mingling with the oil, and the baking in the oven... can make into the true Bread of Life for the hungry. But there is also a germ of life in the seed which God would plant in the earth for the purposes of reproduction. He alone can choose which it shall be. But in either case there is suffering. None of us are to be exempted from that, if we are to reign with Him. But the measure and the nature of the suffering differs according to God's specific purpose for the seed. Many of God's people have not known the crushing and the bruising that others have known; and we may wonder at God's ways. But doing God's will is what counts in His eyes. And there are many who have suffered in their fruitlessness and barrenness, feeling within themselves that they are accomplishing little or nothing of eternal value in the earth. They look about and see others bringing forth fruit. Yet they too sincerely desire to do God's will. Many of these, unknown to themselves, have planted seeds of Truth in the lives of others that have borne much fruit for the Kingdom of God.
"Unknown to themselves," we say; because God planned it this way for their own refinement of character, and for His own glory, And the reason they have not partaken of the joy of this fruit is because God ordained that they would become identified with the seed that they have sown. Let us remember this, for it is an important principle in God. We must become identified with the Truth that we teach... with the ministry that we hold forth unto others... with the seed that we bear. Our present joy, then, is not as the world giveth... not a manufactured joy that soon withers on the vine; but "we rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:2). It is a joy in the midst of weeping, in anticipation of the true joy that is to be revealed:
"They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, Bearing precious seed, Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, Bringing his sheaves with him." (Psalm 126:5, 6)
Or, as the song-writer says:
"The tears of the sower And the song of the reaper, Shall mingle together, in joy bye and bye"
They not only sowed the good seed of the Word of God, but they became identified with the seed that they had sown. All they were aware of was the isolation, the darkness, the loneliness. Is it not true that the reaper stands out in the eyes of the Church as the only ministry that really matters? And yet apart from the sower there could not have come forth in others the fruit that God so desired. Why would God not allow them to partake of the blessing of that fruit themselves? Because the seed they are sowing is "precious"... and so are they "precious" in His sight, and He will not allow them to receive glory from men. He has reserved them for the Day of His own glory. John the Baptist must decrease, that Christ might increase. Moses must die and be buried in a vale in the land of Moab, while the people of God (who were much more rebellious and disobedient than he) would march into the land and possess it. Stephen is stoned to death, and Saul who helped stone him becomes the fruit of Stephen's martyrdom, and preaches the Gospel far and wide. Stephen is simply taken away by the believers and buried. Paul, who once ministered in great fruitfulness and blessing is taken off to prison, while others with a lesser ministry have freedom to move about ministering the Gospel. But Paul had made a great discovery: that as death worked in him, so would life work in others.
Let believers everywhere count the cost. And let God's ministers count the cost. If we are prepared to be what God wants us to be, and to plant the good seed of the Word of God in the hearts of men, then by His grace let us prepare our hearts for the day and hour when God would send us into isolation and death... Not necessarily a physical death, but a spiritual one. A death that will bring isolation from brethren, discouragement, ostracism, and a sense of futility to yourself... but fruitfulness and blessing unto others.
Can you identify? Or do you wish to identify with the ways of the Lord? Or do you wish to save your life, hoping thereby to find it? Hoping to find true blessing, true fulfillment, true satisfaction in what you are doing rather than in going God's way?