Get Ready | John Wimber
By John Wimber
Only those who practice justice and
righteousness are fit
for the wedding feast with the Lamb
I’ve always lived as though Christians have plenty of time before Christ’s return. Lately, though, I’ve reconsidered how much time we have.
Now, I don’t say this with certainty, but there appears to be an urgency about the times in which we live. Could the days be drawing near to the coming of the fullness of the kingdom of God?
And, significantly, if the time of the Lord’s return is close, doesn’t he expect us to prepare ourselves with righteous acts, so that we might be a bride fit for the wedding with the Lamb of God (Rev. 19:79)? If his return inaugurates our being in his presence forever, shouldn’t our highest priority today be seeking God’s face?
Perhaps this is why I have sensed God saying, “Get ready; Get ready; Get ready. Call the people to account. Prepare them! They must be clean. They must be holy.” I’ve never known such urgent leading from the Lord.
I’m particularly sensitive to the call to righteousness, because for years I have been aware that few people in the Vineyard are truly holy. Very few lives are set apart-set apart from sin and impurity, and set apart to God.
When the Holy Spirit first came on the Vineyard I shook my head and said, “Wait a minute. I’ve been taught all my Christian life that God doesn’t use an unclean vessel, yet look at this thing: it’s unclean.” I knew our church was unclean, because I was pastoring it. I couldn’t understand how the favor of the Lord could be on a people like us.
In the early years of the Vineyard people asked me, “Do you and your people have a strong prayer ministry in your church?” “No,” I’d say, “only a few people pray. Very few.” Then they’d ask, “Surely your people endeavor to be holy, don’t they?” “Well, only a few are. Many of them could care less. They’re more interested in the cares of the world than in God’s affairs.”
Oh, we responded to the Lord and had some great meetings. But there was very little consecration on the part of the people. During this time a brother in the church prophesied, “We’re riding on someone else’s credit card.” Looking back, I believe that’s accurate; I assume someone else prayed for us (my wife did for a time). And we received the blessings.
But, thank God, those days are over. No more free passes. For months now I’ve sensed the Lord saying, “That’s enough. The behavior that I put up with in you a few years ago will get you killed where I am about to take you.” He has been showing me in passage after passage of Scripture how important holiness is. First Peter probably says it best: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy”‘(1:1516).
Through all this I’ve learned that God is sovereign. He can empower an unclean people if he wants to, and then he can come back later and hand them a bill for the credit card (Matt. 5:4548).
That day has arrived; the Lord has handed the bill of holiness to me; and he’s instructed me to hand it to you too.
There are Christians running around today who are saying, “Oh, great. Jesus is coming!” But many of them don’t realize that they aren’t ready for his return. They don’t understand that they will be standing before a holy Father, a righteous Judge. Their hearts aren’t ready; their lives aren’t ready; they’ve made no preparations; they haven’t kept their vows. They have no fear of God.
The nation of Israel was in a situation similar to ours when Amos prophesied back in the mideighth century B.C. During this time Israel was enjoying great prosperity, military victories, and political success. They were secure and smug, confident that God was pleased with them. They thought of themselves as the people of God, the chosen ones.
But they were deceived, for they also practiced idolatry, immorality, oppression of the poor, corruption, and materialism. Because of Israel’s sin, God sent Amos to warn them of his impending judgment; he would unleash the full fury of the Assyrians from the North-crushing, capturing, and scattering Israel.
Amos came saying, “Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light” (Amos 5:18). They weren’t prepared, so they will be surprised and disappointed. In Scripture light symbolizes grace; darkness judgment. Israel, so confident of being blessed, would be judged severely and harshly. Their minds were dulled, because they had never sought God, submitted to his word, or allowed him to deal with them.
They failed to recognize that God was sovereignly blessing them. Instead, they were lulled into spiritual passivity by their success and prosperity. They were so blind that they welcomed the day of the Lord, not recognizing how terrible his judgment for their sin would be.
Like Israel, much of the Western church today is secure and smug, not recognizing our desperate condition and the impending judgment of God on our sin. Confident of our riches and gifts, we act like the Laodicean church that the Lord rebuked in John’s revelation: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” (Rev. 3:1718)
The Laodiceans took great pride in their financial wealth, textile industry, and a famous eye salve. God said they were in need of “gold” refined by the fires of testing and endurance, “white clothes” of purity, and “salve” to restore their eyesight.
The Laodiceans forgot God, and he rebuked them severely for it: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent” (Rev. 3:19). I shudder each time I read this passage, receiving comfort only when I realize his rebuke and discipline come because he loves us.
An experience back in 1985 illustrated how, like the Laodiceans, the Anaheim Vineyard had drifted from the Lord and become “lukewarm” spiritually (Rev. 3:16). During the year I preached over 100 messages on prayer, but the church never received them. A few individuals did, and had they not, we wouldn’t be here today. But most never even heard the word.
Sunday after Sunday I threw out the “seed” of personal prayer; the ground didn’t take it. Nothing sprang up. I kept waiting for fruit. Then I sensed the Lord saying, “It’s over.” I said, “But I don’t see anything.” He said, “I don’t either. But wait. It’ll grow.”
In our success we became smug and lost our passion for God. Our spiritual senses were so dulled that we couldn’t hear him calling us to a higher plane of communion with him. But as he did with the Laodiceans, the Lord said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). God has given us another chance to turn to him, because he is merciful and forgives our sins (Ps. 78:3839).
A characteristic of pharisaic unrighteousness is an emphasis on the outward signs of religion-church attendance and public displays of “religion.” Of course, usually this is nothing more than an attempt to assuage guilty consciences, to make us feel better about our sin.
This was precisely Israel’s situation when Amos came to them. He said, “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies” (Amos 5:21). God had no regard for their “choice offerings” and worship songs. He isn’t satisfied with our inconsistent tithes and Sunday morning church attendance. He wants our hearts, bodies, and minds; our time, priorities, and material possessions.
Paul captured this sentiment when he wrote, “I urge you…to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-which is your spiritual worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:12). There are two aspects to offering our lives to God. First, we please God when we confess our sin and receive forgiveness through the blood of Christ. But living acceptable lives involves more than living free from sin, it also involves voluntary acts of worship and service, intercession, praying for the sick, caring for the poor, winning the lost to Christ.
Our voluntary service is akin to the grain offering of the Old Testament. Amos told Israel that God would not accept their grain offerings (Amos 5:22). According to Leviticus 2:11 the grain offering “must be made without yeast…or honey.” Yeast symbolizes pride, and honey here represents the flesh. In other words, we cannot add pride and sin to good works and expect God to receive them. Your area of service isn’t as important as your attitude toward it. God hates mixed offerings.
This was exactly the situation in the early days of the Vineyard. We had people attending worship meetings who were hardly converted-they barely knew the Bible and were immature-yet God gave them marvelous spiritual gifts so they could heal the sick and cast out demons. I remember praying, “Why are you giving such precious gifts to such immature people?” “They’re mine to give,” I sensed him saying. “I give them to whom I want to give them.”
I didn’t understand that God was for a time letting these other issues slip by, much as he did with Israel for many years before the Assyrians crushed them.
Of course, God saw our immaturity and sin better than I did, and he was going to bring us to a day of account for it. That day has come. A prophet recently told me that there can be no more mixed offerings; we can no longer mix the Spirit and flesh, grace and sin, and expect blessing. In the early days we learned that spiritual gifts are freely given; today we are learning that the fruit of the Spirit is grown in faithful men and women who actively submit and cooperate with God’s leading toward maturity.
God’s dealing with our mixed offerings begins with mercy, but ends with judgment. At first he disciplines firmly and with grace. Then firmly with less grace. Then firmly. If our motivation to serve God is ambition, to attain prominence, to gain gifts and ministry in order to be somebody, then we must repent, for we are guilty of offering mixed sacrifices.
Leviticus 2:13 says we should “Season all…grain offerings with salt.” Salt represents the righteousness of God imputed to us at conversion and which makes it possible for us to be holy.
As we serve God, we must examine our motivation to ensure that we are meeting God’s standards of holiness and purity of heart. God is calling us to account for the way we serve him. If we want God to receive, use, and consume our sacrifice of service, we must make sure that it is pure, that it is salty.
Amos called upon Israel to add salt to their offerings, to make acceptable sacrifice to God. He said, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a neverfailing stream!” (Amos 5:24). God wants justice and righteousness to prevail in every aspect of life.
Righteousness and justice are two sides of one truth. Together they express the idea that there is no division between social justice and private morality. If we live righteously, we will care for the poor and pray for the sick.
My hope is that the day will soon come in which the Vineyard is more like the church in Philadelphia than the Laodicean church. “I know your deeds,” the Lord said to the Philadelphians, “…I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. …Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth….Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God” (Rev. 3:8,10).
How should we prepare for the return of our Lord? By liberally salting our sacrifices with righteousness and justice, with private purity and public equity. Then by his grace we will reign with him at the Father’s side, never again to leave God’s presence (Rev. 3:12,21).
AS I SEE IT: GET READY!
Source: Equipping The Saints, Vol. 3, No. 2/Spring 1989
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