Comfort & Counsel

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by Jacob Ninan

We live in a world full of turmoil and tension. As a result we experience many needs in the physical, financial and emotional areas, and our relationships also suffer because of these tensions. For a large number of people life becomes a battle for survival, and for others who seem to have everything they need, from the way they pursue after more and more, even they do not appear to have enough. We Christians are not exempt from this struggle. Many of those who have come to Christ on the premise that they would not have any problems anymore because Jesus would take care of everything get disappointed with God when things do not happen as they had hoped. They find it difficult to reconcile, on one side, the concept of God who is almighty and full of love and wisdom, with on the other side, the reality that they have to regularly deal with problems that are inexplicable in the context of their relationship with God. They expected more from their Heavenly Father because they knew He was almighty and full of love. They are perplexed and frustrated because God does not appear to bother to resolve their problems even after many long prayers with intercession by many others, fasting and vows.

Some Christians are taught, in essence, only that they should continue in prayer till they get what they ask for. Their favourite verses say that whatever things they ask in Jesus’ name He will do for them (Jn.14:13,14), and that God will supply all their needs according to His riches (Php.4:19). As a result, when they ask for something and do not receive it, some of them give up their faith, and some others regress to a low level ritualistic Christianity as a matter of form before others. Isn’t there more to God and His dealings with us than just a few verses like these?

A lot of preaching moves around God’s ability to meet our earthly needs beyond our asking or thinking, quoting, e.g., Ephesians 3:20. Our Heavenly Father who sends the sun and rain graciously on the righteous as well as the wicked meets these needs sometimes with miracles. Naturally there are many who crowd around such meetings expecting miracles, just as in the days of Jesus’ ministry on earth. But Jesus knows that not all of them are after Him out of love for Him but only for the benefits they want from Him (Jn.6:26,27). It is also true that despite all the teaching about what God can do and the exhortation to just believe, He does miracles comparatively rarely.

Jesus did not come down to earth primarily to meet our earthly needs but to proclaim the kingdom of God (Mk.1:15) and to save us from our sins (Matt.1:21). When He left the earth He said that He was going to prepare a place for us and take us there (Jn.14:2,3). He warned us not to expect a life here without problems saying clearly that we would face trouble and opposition while on this earth (Jn.16:33). The apostles have laboured to teach us that many times it is through trouble that we will acquire heavenly values and qualities (Jas.1:2-4;1Pet.1:6,7). They point us to the life in eternity where there will be no more tears, pain or sorrow (Rev.21:3,4). Paul exhorts us to comfort one another looking forward to the time when we will be with our Lord (1Thess.4:17,18). Preachers who focus on this are comparatively rare and less popular.

So we struggle here on earth with real problems which cannot be ignored while we look to take courage from the hope of a trouble free eternity to come. We go through fire and waters knowing that our Heavenly Father is with us carrying us through, and we take to heart the hope that there is going to be a tomorrow when the clouds will clear up and the sun will be up. Those who have gone through severe tests know how tough this can be, to balance both sides and to keep ourselves from going down in our faith. Those who have had a comparatively easy time sit in armchairs and give out messages that do not connect with others who are struggling. But the fact remains, we ought to reckon with both living in this world and preparing ourselves for the world to come. If we neglect one of them, we will cause ourselves damage.

C. S. Lewis said, “A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.” He also said, “If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.” There is a balance that must come in our living and preaching. We should not be so heavenly-minded that we are of no earthly use. Neither should we be so earthly-minded that we miss out on heaven.

If we forget our preparation for the world to come, we would be mostly asking God for removal of our earthly problems rather than for transforming us into His image. If we face a financial crisis we look for a miraculous supply from God rather than learning from our mistakes that led us to the crisis in the first place. If we have a relationship problem we ask God for a healing rather than understanding how to set things right and to relate better in future. If we are caught in the crossroads of life we want a ‘prophetic word’ that would guide us rather than going through the trouble of learning God’s wisdom.

If we are those who ‘set our minds on things above’ in an imbalanced way, we may find ourselves unprepared to deal with the crises of life we face here. Then we tend to attribute spiritual reasons for everything that happens and neglect to take practical steps.

Jesus had this balance between this world and the next to perfection. He really understood what it meant to live on this earth and what people went through. He was moved with compassion whenever He came across earthly needs, whether it was trouble from sickness, sorrow over death or oppression from evil spirits, and He even did miracles to deal with them and relieve suffering. At the same time He did not lose His main focus on delivering people from sin, and He returned to this again and again in the course of His ministry. After talking about the lists of things people are usually bothered about, He assures us that our Heavenly Father already knows we have need of them (Matt.6:31,32). But He emphasised His tilt of balance saying, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,” promising at the same time, “All these things will be added to you” (v.33). C. S. Lewis said, “Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”

When preachers focus only on one of these two worlds, hearers remain imbalanced. This imbalance leads to much confusion of mind, heart and subsequent behaviour. While we are in this world we must not forget we are not of this world. While we seek not to love this world but to set our mind on things above, we must not imagine we are already out of this world. There is a great need for maturity in our life and also in our ministry.

-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, February 2015

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