The movie poster was stirring and has always stuck with me. “He fought for freedom and settled for power.” The movie was telling the story of Castro, but the tag line seems to apply to so many in places of influence and leadership.
It is dangerous. When we succeed or move to the next level, the temptation to worship self runs deep. I wonder if a solution is to pray that the Lord would keep us “small,” dependent on him and content in little things.
Uzziah missed that type of prayer. Made king at 16 he did what was right and followed the law of the Lord. God made him to prosper because of it. Things were looking up. Then, he settled.
“But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction…” 2 Chronicles 26:16 (ESV)
The more he had military and economic success the more reckless he became. He turned from devotion to God to devotion to himself. To his destruction.
God will make those that are faithful to prosper. He will even elevate men and women to prominent places. But we must always labor to keep pride at bay or destruction is bound to come.
May we have the wisdom, and community, to keep us humble for the glory of Christ.
As I read Scripture this morning I came across a passage in Revelation 12 that at once made me nostalgic. In the apocalyptic narrative of the dragon’s defeat and Satan being thrown down, the people belonging to Christ overcome by the blood and the word of their testimony.
The description, written to encourage believers facing first century persecution, is meant to stir rejoicing in the heavens, and among those in Christ. New Life Worship added the refrain to their mid-2000s song Overcome. That was my jam for a bit. That is the place of our victory, by the blood of Jesus we have forgiveness, a new covenant of grace. And the word of our testimony echos back the glory of our Savior as we stand firm in his righteousness and mission.
But as I read this text again this morning it was something else about these conquerors that stirred a different part of my soul.
“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Revelation 12:11 (ESV)
Did you notice it? “For they loved not their lives even unto death.” You see if I worship only from the first half of the verse it can be my life that I cherish, a settled comfort in my faith when things are going right. After all we are overcomers. But I am struck that the conquering, the overcoming in Revelation 12 has an longer lens than my present experience. After all, there are plenty of moments that don’t feel like conquering. Especially when the standard by which I make such judgments is my life.
These conquerors though, who I think we are numbered among, don’t use their life as the gauge of overcoming. They gave their lives away. The did not love their lives, even dying for it. They answered the call of the Kingdom to come and die, not for self, but because the self had found something better.
In a year where many of us have made more than one statement prioritizing our “rights” and have aggressively tried to maintain our “lives” as they were before the pandemic, I wonder if this opportunity is exactly what we needed to steel the conquering spirit in us. All of this is for Jesus, his glory, his message, his Kingdom come. When we embrace sacrifice, surrender and giving away of our own lives, that is where this truth is owned. And where the Lord bolsters us for the battles ahead.
I know how hard this is and I am convinced that is why Scripture puts it before us so often. I also know there is never enough when the flesh lives for self. The only way I have experienced satisfaction is finding it in Jesus regardless of what life looks like. You still overcome by the blood and the word of your testimony – of God’s faithful, of his grace. And it is that blood and testimony that prime you to surrender your life for the only thing that is better.
As you ponder this today I pray that Jesus meets you and frees you of your life.
The little letters of John the Apostle are so helpful in giving a glimpse into the pastoral heart. Care for those you lead and teach. He uses the first two to establish the church in love, the vital ingredient of a life in Christ. Then in the third letter he leans on truth.
Of course it is the truth of the gospel, of the kingdom of Christ and his reign. But I think it also pertains to all truth. Having character enough to wade through what is heard or seen and landing our perspective on the truth. Not our preference, not our opinion, but truth. John even calls out someone by name for putting the self before truth… dangerous territory.
But it is John’s expression of joy that got me today as I read it. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” 3 John 4 (ESV)
His greatest joy is being told how his children (those that he has fathered in ministry) walk in the truth. They don’t frequent in conspiracy or opinion or as he calls it “wicked nonsense” (v. 10), they are firmly planted in truth. They cast off the cultural version of “your truth” and understand there can only be one truth.
I understand this joy first hand. In a year where everything seems to be turned upside down and the prevalence of false narratives abound, there is something encouraging and joy-inducing when those you shepherd cling to truth, champion it, and share it with others. And because I am learning to recognize this of the pastoral heart, I am committed all the more to pursuing truth as an example. After all, that is the biblical call.
So whoever your pastor or shepherd is, think of them as John the Apostle, walk in truth. With clear eyes, and an open heart, be confident in the good news of Jesus and search out of real truth wherever it may be found.