In my sermon on Sunday, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” we considered the difficulty of living in the “Now but not yet” of Jesus’ Kingdom. In other words, the Kingdom has begun, but has not yet been completed. Jesus said as much to John the Baptist who was in prison at the time. John was expecting Jesus to release the captives, because well, in Jesus’ own words, he said he would (Luke 4). He said he was the man to get the job done, the man promised in Isaiah 61. Yet John still languished in prison. So John, like you and I, and any thinking person would have done, sent messengers to Jesus to ask him “What gives cuz? (Matthew 11)”
Jesus responds by saying, “You go tell cousin John, that I’ve healed people, given sight to the blind, cured lepers, preached good news to the poor…” Notice he left the part out about “releasing the captives” (Isaiah 61). He did enough that John could trust him with the rest.
In one of my first seminary classed called Introduction to Theological Studies, Richard Pratt Jr, explained this verse with such clarity that I remember it like it was yesterday. Jesus has given us a framework to help make a little more sense of the Christian life. We experience joy and at the same time we still experience frustration. We see in part, not in full now (I Corinthians 12). We have joy, but its not perfect joy this side of heaven. We can experience peace, but its not perfect peace (which is good news for someone with anxiety issues-I’m not as weird as I think). There have been times when I’ve experienced anxiety so great I was incapable of doing anything for a week. And there have been times when I lost my job, didn’t know where I would be heading, or what to do with my house, how I would support wife and child, and yet was at rest. Imperfect peace is still real peace; peace when my personality shouldn’t have allowed it.
We want more than we have now, and we should. Like a child pining for her mother to hold her, not just be in the same room with her, the presence of Jesus can make us cry. Not because he doesn’t love us, but because He does. We want more than this world has to offer, and I think that is why the Apostle Paul is not afraid to say “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” Dying is gain, not because it is absence of suffering (a la Brittany Maynard), but the presence of blessing. The very presence of Jesus.
Someone asked me after the sermon,”If we will never be fully satisfied this side of heaven, then how do we keep some sort of fire going?” Here are some ways to enjoy God this side of Heaven.
1.) Preached Word: I know some folks have hard times paying attention to sermons, but its worth it to try. I asked someone about her tears during one of my sermons, and she said, “I could sense God telling me how much He loved me.” That’s not Godspeak, that God speaking through His Word. Don’t neglect putting yourself under His preached Word.
2.) Daily Devotions: God speaks to us through His Word as we read it too. Don’t wait to hear God speak to you once a week.
3.) Prayer: I’m looking forward to Tim Keller’s new book on prayer. So I could have more here later, but there is great delight to be found in reading and reflecting through a Psalm. I lived on Psalm 91 for a season of my life. My prayer time was more enjoyable than fishing.
4.) Fellowship: Sometimes we can feel God’s presence with us when we are present with God’s people: His Church. I don’t know how many times my faith gets weak, doubting, faltering, and then all of a sudden I’m picked by the words of another in a community group. I know I’m not alone. But even one-on-one times with a friend, mentor, disciple, are an absolute necessity. Those who crafted the Westminster Confession of Faith (which is good) missed big on not including fellowship as an “official” means of growing in grace. It is.
5.) Baptism/Communion: I know its not the same as having a meal in Jesus physical presence, but its the next best thing we have while on Earth. Baptism points us to Jesus’ promise to save those who put their faith in Him. We forget, so it is always good to “see.”
6.) Music. Sometimes a truth communicated through song. Maybe a hymn, contemporary song on radio, or even a U2 song. Some of them really make me think about God’s nearness, when I’m scared, disillusioned, or just plain dry. Even Pink Floyd songs, some of which have such depth, leave me with an excited longing for Jesus to return.
Here are just some ways to keep the fire going this side of heaven so that we can experience imperfect but nevertheless life-changing joy and peace.