Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Practice listening

I really liked this morning's sermon. The Pastor is doing a series on prayer and today's topic was about spending time building intimacy with Jesus by listening to Him through the written word. One point that he raised was that we typically tend to listen to Him more in the hard times than in times of ease. This prompted a thought that I want to explore a bit here: It's much easier to hear his voice in the hard times if we've practiced listening to it during the easy times.

To start, I want to look the following parable:

Matthew 25: 1-13 Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.

Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those virgins rose, and trimmed their lamps.

And the foolish said to the prudent, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the prudent answered, saying, 'No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.'

And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. And later the other virgins also came, saying, 'Lord, lord, open up for us.'

But he answered and said, 'Truly I say to you, I do not know you.' Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.
Within context, Jesus is talking about the big trouble that's coming just before His next advent. This parable is of course applicable to that time, but I think it's equally applicable to any troublesome times that come into our lives.

First, I want to notice that this is about wise and foolish believers, not about saved and unsaved people. All these individuals had lamps, symbolizing ministries. All had oil, symbolizing Holy Spirit anointing. They were all doing anointed ministry.

Secondly, I want to notice that some had just enough oil for the ministry they were involved with whereas others had an abundance of oil. I believe the foolish were spending time in prayer, bible study and fasting in order to be prepared for the ministry they were pursuing. Conversely, the wise were spending time in these same disciplines in order to have an intimate relationship with Jesus and ministering out the overflow of the resulting anointing. Both were doing the stuff, but the motivations were different. Up to this point, there is no noticeable difference between the wise and foolish virgins.

Thirdly, I want to notice that sometimes God introduces a strategic delay. He doesn't operate on our time table. Sometimes the heavens are as brass because of our disobedience and God is waiting for us to repent. Other times it's because, for His own purposes, He chooses to delay. It's at the end of this delay that we see the difference between the wise and foolish.

Fourthly, I want to notice that we can't live off another's relationship of intimacy. When the foolish realized they were in trouble, they went to the wise and asked to borrow some of their anointing. Their response, while at first sounding harsh, is actually just a reflection of the reality that their individual histories in God were their own. While others can be told of them as encouragement to pursue the same, the existential lessons can't be acquired second hand, only experienced first hand. I love music and am taking guitar lessons. I would love to be able to play like my instructor, but all he can do is teach me principles and ways of learning. If I want to be able to play like him, I need to invest time doing the practice, day-in, day-out, over an extended period, to gain the experience. Just like my instructor, the wise can communicate what they do, but they can't transfer the actual experience.

Finally, I want to notice that those with a surplus were ready to minister. I don't interpret the end of this parable to be a statement of the virgins' status regarding salvation. I understand it to be a statement as to their preparedness to minister during the time of trouble. I think of Paul's statement in 1st Corinthians 3:14,15 which says 'If any man's work which he has built on [the foundation of Christ] remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.' Whether it's the big trouble at the end of the age or the little troubles that come into our lives, trouble will come. When it does, the wise will have a history in God that allows them to minister to the Lord and others through that time and receive a reward. The foolish will come through that time being saved but suffering loss, not being able to participate in the glory of what God's doing in that time.