The older I get, the faster time flies; the older I get, the more I find myself crying to God, 'Let me end well'. I have been stunned to discover how many esteemed leaders in church history did not end well. Even some of my Puritan heroes went to their graves with a lack of assurance of their own salvation, and many today - for various reasons - may find themselves in this situation. Oh Lord, let it not be so with me!
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I share with you some of my own greatest fears.
First, that God would take his hand off me - and leave me alone. Billy Graham expressed that this has been his greatest fear. It is what actually happened to King Saul (as I said in this column before) - a man who was chosen of God (1 Sam.9:15-16), who had a brilliant beginning (1 Samuel 10:9-10), who lost his anointing (1 Sam.16;1, 18:12), yet whose prophetic gift flourished on his way to kill his enemy, young David (1 Sam.19:19-24). When I ponder the thought that if the Holy Spirit were completely withdrawn from the church today, ninety percent of the work of the church would go on as if nothing happened, I fear that could happen to you or me. It is so easy to let either a natural or spiritual gift camouflage our true, secret relationship with God.
Second, that I would teach what is not exactly true. I cannot bear the thought that I would pass on any measure of theological error. Some people do not worry too much about sound theology. But I do. I want to get it right in my thinking before I stand in a pulpit or take pen in hand. I will have to give an account of every word I have uttered, including every 'careless' word (Matt.12:36). What is my assurance that I will not accept or teach heresy? One thing - but not my training, reading or level of intelligence; it is unconditional obedience to the Holy Spirit. I put all my eggs in this basket, Jesus' words: 'If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself' (John 7:17 - KJV). I conclude from this that if my relationship with God is right, I will be kept from any serious error.
Third, that I could be out of the will of God and not know it. If this could happen to Joseph and Mary, it could happen to you or me. They went an entire day without Jesus but assumed the whole time 'he was in their company' (Luke 2:44). I based my book Sensitivity of the Spirit (Charisma House) largely on this. I am sobered to recall that God is no respecter of persons, that he will not bend the rules for any of us. If we proceed without him, we too are on our own. The only prevention that I know of is to develop such an intimate knowledge of the ways of the Holy Spirit that I instantly sense his absence when I move ahead without him. To be fair, I don't think anyone can get seriously out of God's will for very long whose heart does not long for his Presence. But I do not want to go a day, not even an hour, knowingly, without his conscious Presence.
Fourth, that I might discover that I could have had much more of God and be used in a greater manner but for my stubbornness to recognize his warnings. I have just finished writing a book called How to Forgive Ourselves - Totally. I have made so many mistakes, would give anything to have a second chance in certain areas (especially with my family). I know I am a forgiven man. I have forgiven myself - totally. Furthermore, I hang on to Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good to them who love God and are the called according to his purpose. I believe this promise with all my heart. But at the same time I cannot help but wonder how much better it might have been had I listened to clear cautions from the Lord over the years. This is why I am so keen not to brush aside any loving word from a friend or stranger - lest I miss all that God would do with me. The older you get, the more you want to avoid any past mistakes.
Fifth, that I might not hear God say to me, 'Well done'. You may say that all Christians get that very same commendation when they get to Heaven. I don't agree. A 'rich welcome' is promised on certain conditions (2 Pet.1:11). I hold that not all who go to Heaven also get a reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor.5:10). Some will be saved by fire - their works burned - and lose their reward (1 Cor.3:15). I have heard people say, 'I don't care about a reward, I just want to make it to Heaven'. I reply: you won't feel that way then! You should know that a reward (also called 'crown', 'prize' or 'inheritance') was very important to the Apostle Paul (1 Cor.9:27). Martin Luther once said that when he gets to Heaven he expects three surprises: (1) there will be people there he did not expect to see; (2) there will be people missing he expected would be there; (3) that he is there himself! If I could paraphrase that, I expect three surprises: (1) there will be those who receive a reward at the Judgment I did not think deserved it; (2) there will be those saved by fire I thought would receive a reward; (3) that I get to hear from the lips of Jesus himself, 'Well done RT' at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
In a word: I want to end well. Like you, I want to live a long time. We all want to end well. In a day when there are more and more shocking revelations of those we esteemed so highly, I urge every reader to fall to his or her knees and cry out, 'Oh Lord, let it not be me'. This means following Paul's example: 'I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize' (1 Cor.9:27). One of the reason we are told about the Judgment Seat of Christ is that it would make a difference in the way we live.