Where Opportunity Begins

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“I know your works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but you are rich)…” Revelation 2:9a

Lord, Your economy is so different than the world’s.  You truly turn everything upside down, at least by our standards.  Only, by Your standards, that makes things right-side-up finally.  I mean, where else is poverty the road to riches?  Where else is tribulation and struggles and hardship a good thing and even a blessing?  And we’re always looking forward to “over-the-hump day” because it’s bringing us one day closer to Friday so we can stop working.  But not so here.  In Your economy, even work is valued differently.  It’s more than a paycheck.

So, maybe I’ll start with that idea of works.  Because in Revelation 2:11 Your Angel says that if I have an ear, which I do, I need to hear what You’re saying.  And hearing is all about really listening and understanding and doing.  It has to do with obeying Your words and not just letting them pass between my ears and settle in my head.  It has to do with me “working” them out in my life and agreeing with them.  It’s all about making them my life story as much as they are Your life story.

The word for works here is “ergon”.  Now the Greeks had a very work based culture.  Their work defined them.  But their work was generated by their own power and strength and skill.  They got all the credit.  And though this is a Greek word, that wasn’t the idea of work for the Jew.  And it’s important for me to realize and accept that You chose to reveal Yourself through the Jewish nation and through particular Jewish people, and that includes the Jewish language.  And if I look at work through the eyes of their language, there is a whole different emphasis on the word and meaning of work.  For the Hebrew, work is all about You, God.  From the beginning, it’s about Your creative ability.  And You didn’t just do the work of creation and stop and let things go.  From the Hebrew standpoint You are always working.  Your working is holding everything together and guiding everything.  There is never a time when You are not working.

So what does it mean when You say You know our works?  What are my works?  Am I defined by what I do like the Greeks?  Isn’t that what our culture thinks? ” So, what do you do?  Where did you go to college?  What job do you have?”  Is that who I am?  Is that what is important to You?  Absolutely not!

You ask another question.  “What are You doing with Me?  What are You doing with My power?  Where am I in Your life? ”   It’s not even about what I can do.  It’s all about that creative power of Yours.  It’s all about what You are doing in me.  It’s all about Your working through me.  Yes, this is serious stuff.  You know my works because they are Your works and You are more familiar with them.  Well, at least that is what You want, that my works are the works flowing straight from You.  Skip Moen put it this way, “Your work is God’s calling to you to demonstrate His sovereignty in your life, His character in your actions, His holiness in Your choices.  So, work it out carefully.  There is a lot more at stake than a paycheck.”

So, since God is a supernatural God, what is coming from me?  Are You familiar with my works because they are Your works or am I just doing things that flow from me?  I not only want my works to be Your works, for them to flow from You, but I want You to look and say, “Yep, that’s exactly what I’m doing!”   I want other people to be able to see what You are doing in me and through me.  Because I want them to know that You are God and You do God things because it’s Who You Are.

But even as I’m letting You work through me, it won’t exempt me from tribulation.  Actually, being Your workmanship in the middle of this fallen world will bring and cause pressure.  The Greek word for “tribulation” is even hard to say, “thlipsis.”  And thlipsis isn’t just pressure.  It’s “crushing, back breaking, heart stopping affliction.”  It’s the devil dragging Job over the coals kind of stuff.  It’s evil, distress, and calamity.  It’s the reason I need Your work flowing in me.  It’s not just spiritual; it’s physical.  And it’s powerful and difficult and it raises it’s head up against more than me.  This tribulation is raising it’s head up against You, God.  It’s evil and it is Your enemy.  And the moment I identify with You, I become it’s enemy.  And it’s the world I once knew.  And it becomes my enemy and I have only one way of standing strong against it.  You and Your work in me.  How?  Because ,You, Jesus, overcame the world!  And in You, I am made an overcomer.  I may be bloodied and battle weary, but I will be victoriously gathered to You.  Because this world is not my goal, but You are.

It’s not about finding peace in this world.  It’s all about peace in You.  That’s totally different than what we’re taught by the world.  But I have to face the fact that the world is at war with You, Jesus.  That makes me an enemy combatant.  I can expect to be treated like an enemy in a battle.  I’m going to be shot at, bombed, snipered, ambushed, wounded, and you name it.  I’ve crossed enemy lines.  In the enemy’s world, I will have troubles.  My Commander warned me.  You’re never wrong, are You?

I’m like Gideon.  Wasn’t he trying to keep peace in enemy territory?  And even while hiding in the wine vat doing his own work, trying to stay out of trouble’s way, You called him.  You called him out of the world’s idea of safety, and into Your safety.  But Your safety is a dangerous thing in this world.  “The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valour.”  Valour is from the Hebrew word “chayil.”  In Psalm108:13  it connotes bravery.   “Through God we shall do ‘chayil’: for He it is that shall tread down our enemies.”  It certainly wasn’t Gideon that defeated the enemies.  It certainly wasn’t the torches and jars that defeated the enemies.  Let’ s be real here.  It was the work of You, Lord, in Gideon.  And it is Your work in me that makes me valiant in You, that does mighty things and “impossible” things.

“Chayil” connotes capability.  Proverbs 12:4  speaks of the “chayil” woman who is a crown to her husband.  She has the ability, the power to do all that she must do and to do it exceedingly well.    It connotes triumph in Psalm 118:15, “…the right hand of the Lord does ‘chayil.'”  Doesn’t the Lord’s right hand always triumph?  Psalm 84:7  says that the man who trusts in You goes from “chayil to chayil”, from rampart to rampart, or strength to strength.  Well, what does that mean?  According to Webster’s dictionary, the rampart is “a broad embankment of earth around a place as a defensive fortification… It forms the substratum of every permanent fortification.”  It’s the solid defense dug in and piled up around the base.  It’s the stuff that fortifies and defends from assaults.  It secures safety.  It surrounds and protects. And maybe, just maybe this phrase means that You, Lord, offer chayil completely.  Maybe, this double wording here emphasizes that Your defense over us and in us is unbreachable.

Sometimes chayil connotes wealth.  Only in this case, our Wealth is You, Lord, and everything that is of You.  It’s in the power of Your name because Your name tells us Who You are.  You are EL.  You are Strength, Might, Power.  You are the only One who can “fill the bill.”  As Skip Moen shared, “God designed you for deliberate holy restlessness…And if you thought that His intention was to give you heaven on earth, you never understood what heaven really is.”  See, my life here was designed to tell Your story, not my own.  My story was designed to be part of Your bigger story.  My life is supposed to be an expression of Your Strength, Your Might, and Your Power.  I’m supposed to be living out Your story, not the world’s story.  They are two different stories.

And this story is not finished yet, because it’s not just filled with dynamic works of God, and a constant battle, but poverty.  Is my soul crying out, “Sign me up!”?   Well, it may seem wierd, but my soul is.  “Sign me up for God’s poverty,  please.  I want to be a beggar in God’s army. “  Because it’s not until I become a beggar in Your army that I can ever receive Your riches.   I need to understand what Paul came to understand in You.  Jesus, Your grace is sufficient for me.  Your strength, Your dunamis, Your mighty working, Your power, Your beautiful character is made complete, is accomplished, is perfected to the utmost extent, to the utmost greatness in me, because I am ready to admit my absolute weakness and inability and surrender to and in You.  I am sick and weak and unable, but You, You are Ability Itself.

Why would I glory in my infirmities, in my weaknesses, and frailnesses?  Because my obvious weakness makes it absolutely apparent that it’s Your power and not mine that is providing, that is doing the work, that is acting and not me.  It gives me the opportunity to rest, to abide in You, and to let You be God and do Your God thing.  See, my bad circumstances are opportunities.  They are opportunities for me to allow You to be glorified, to show Yourself God in my life.  So when I’m sick or weak, when I’m ridiculed or harmed, when I’m in need and without, or persecuted, or in any kind of distress or pressure because I am living and abiding in You and taking Your stand and sharing You and obeying You, I can have peace because I know that You can use every situation to show Yourself to be the Strong One and the One in control and the One with the power.

Paul reminds us of the grace of God given through the church at Macedonia.  See, Your grace enabled them to act in a way that was “abnormal.”  Here they were, in the midst of a “severe test of affliction,” in the midst of really tough stuff, yet they abounded in joy and their extreme lack, their extreme poverty and inneficiency actually “overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part”!  See, here are believers who were in want, in need themselves.  But they heard of the need of other believers.  And they begged, these beggars themselves begged earnestly to be given the opportunity to give and bless their fellow saints who were in need.  These beggars who needed relief saw others who needed greater relief.  And what they had, they begged to give.  But first, they gave themselves to Your trust.  You would provide for them and what You had provided already, they would use to provide for others as You provided for them.  It’s only after I trust myself to You wholly, as a total beggar, that I can entrust all I have to give generously like You to the needs of others when I too am in need.

See, that’s what happens.  First I must entrust my whole self to You and all I have.  I must become a proud, dependant beggar before You.   I trust You totally to do Your work in and for me.  I can’t live without it.  But it’s not just for me.  Any and every work You do in me is to be shared as generously with others as You shared it in the first place with me.  Hardships ought to help me to understand and empathize and cry out for the needs of others.  I ought to understand so well that I can cry out not only with them, but for them, on their behalf.  But crying isn’t enough.  Believers take action because we are moved by a God of action, by a God of love, by a God of provision, by a God of working power.

You know, I saw this happen at a mission conference this past weekend.  Before the Sunday service even started, I was sitting looking at the offering plates and knowing that in my things was an envelope that I was to pray about whether You, Lord, wanted me to give and if so, how much, and who to.  And my husband and I are some of those people in a pretty beggarly condition.  I wanted so badly to give but we live paycheck by paycheck meeting our bills just to maintain our house.  The only other thing we have is the money that You, Lord, provide for our mission trip to the Philippines and to send things there.  And at this point that was a little over a thousand dollars.  But that was Your money for the mission trip, right?

Well, that morning I was thinking how I wished I could give and I was thinking about how to reach muslims.  And a Brother comes forward to share his ministry as the last missionary speaker.  He shares of wells and the Water of Life and muslims coming to believe because of them.  And he shares of probably having 300 workers amongst their church plants but only 4 motorcycles.  And he shares about a need for 20 church buildings.  And people are volunteering to pay for a half a well, and another half a well.  And then people are being led by You, Lord, to pay for motorcycles.  And people are paying for half a church and another for the other half, or someone for a whole church of $2000.  And the whole time I’m thinking, “God, it only costs $2000 to build a church.  And I can’t even participate in that?”  And my heart is crying out and begging like the hearts of the Macedonians.  Only I didn’t get it yet.

And then, one of the other native missionaries who had shared his testimony, stands up.  “I will donate half a church.”    “How can you donate half a church?  You are asking for needs yourself?  You borrowed just to come here.”  “It is better to give than to receive.  I will give half a church.”  So the missionary from China planted half a church in Kenya.  Because he understood.  His heart cried out like the Macedonian’s also.  And because he obeyed the heart of the Lord, I got it.  I heard the message.  I knew how to respond.

What God had provided for missions, was for missions.  He had already provided for half a church.  I can’t express the abundant joy at being able to give the little we had and know that God is going to do much with it.  Yes, we had an opportunity in our extreme poverty to overflow in the wealth of God’s generosity.  We wouldn’t have had it at that moment without Him having given it.  Like the woman with the mite, we gave according to our means, but it really was beyond our means, but it was of our own accord.  We wanted to.  Because it’s what You wanted.  So even when we needed relief, Lord, You gave us this glorious opportunity to take our eyes off of our own needs and give relief to others.

And where does that lead me and my husband?  Well, we get to keep on experiencing and knowing the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  See, though He was rich, yet for our sake He became poor, so that we by His poverty might become rich.  We just got to experience that and I want to keep experiencing that.  I want to live my life not only saying that I trust You to provide our needs but living like I believe it.  And I want to live being a part of You and You always look to the needs of those around You.  Lord, You know why I want You to provide my needs?  Because it’s the only way I can meet the needs of those around me.  Yes, Lord, I am what You call a desperate beggar.  But that’s where my opportunity begins.  I am more wealthy than I ever knew.

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