Refreshment and Revival

“As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” Prov. 25:25

I will never forget the experience. It was a sizzling hot summer day when a group of men in our fellowship played another team in a softball game. When we started, we were all very energetic and ready to play. But as the game wore on, so did we. Halfway through the arduous event, with our arms and shoulders drooping (and our spirits as well), someone showed up with an ample supply of ice cold water and an array of soft drinks. What a surprise and what a blessing! It did not take long for that source of refreshment to be tapped into and enjoyed. And did we ever appreciate it! The effect it had on me as well as the rest of the team was astounding. There was a new supply of energy and a renewed vigor in my step as I related to one of my teammates at the time. We were all refreshed and revitalized as a team and we were able to complete the task we had set out to do from the very beginning – not just to play the game, but to finish it and win.

In many ways, this seemingly trivial incident in the grand scheme of things is remarkably similar to what can occur in our life with Christ and our service for Him. Periodically, we can succumb to the heat of the day and scorching cares of life. They can wither our resolve, sap our spiritual strength and slacken our pace from pressing on for Christ. Energetic and enthusiastic at first, we are determined to do well and finish strong. But in the battle, we falter under the strain and sag in our spirit. Unfortunately for some, it has been that way far too long. The words of Paul to the Galatians seem very fitting: “You did run well, who did hinder you that you should not obey the truth?” (Gal. 5:7). Resolve can quickly fade like the setting sun (Judges 5:15).

But God in His mercy and grace has a way of helping us out in these situations just at the time we need it most. Like it was on that summer day on the ballfield, “someone” shows up (most certainly under the Lord’s direction) with a refreshing supply of “cold water” for our weary souls. How it encourages our hearts and revives our spirits! It might be a simple verse that speaks to a need at the time or an account of answered prayer that lifts our hearts. Or it may be an outstanding report of God’s power and might at work in a distant land – good news from a far country – that recaptures for us the hope that God’s ways will yet prevail. It has a wonderful way of renewing our spirits and lengthening our spiritual stride and its effect is often immediate and undeniable. Thank God for His “someones” who show up in our lives in our time of need.

From another point of view however, we can also be looking to be that “someone” to others who are within our spiritual reach. Service for Christ and prayer for His servants (both abroad and home) are ways in which we can be a source of blessing and refreshment. The battle can be heated at times and constant targeted prayer is an absolute necessity (Acts 12:5). Just as Joshua prevailed against Amalek only as Moses hands were held up and steady until the going down of the sun, (Ex. 17:12-13); so too the battles of the Lord are fought and won as God’s people are steadfast in prayer (1 Thess. 5:17). We need the help of each other to continue in prayer and those on the front lines desperately need our prayers. They need it and appreciate it! Israel prevailed because Joshua used the sword while Moses prayed. It is a tremendous picture of the means of victory – prayer and the Word of God.

God has His ways of providing help and refreshment when our steps are faltering. Whether we are on the giving end or the receiving end, He is faithful to His people and His Word. He is the source of all blessing and as the psalmist attested, “All my springs are in Thee” (Psalms 87:7). May we learn even more the meaning of these words in our walk with Christ.

“For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.” Philemon 7

Fruit-Bearing

Every true believer has a responsibility to bear fruit for the Lord, a fact supported by the Scriptures, beginning to end. In Ex. 28, Aaron’s priestly robe was to be adorned on the hem with pomegranates and golden bells. The pomegranates speak of the visible aspect of our testimony—fruit-bearing—and the golden bells, the audible aspect in our testimony and service for Him. In Num. 17, Aaron’s rod that budded is a powerful picture of Christ as our Great High Priest in His resurrection ministry. But it is also a compelling example of the responsibility of the believer to walk in newness of life and to also bud and blossom and bear fruit. In the parable of the soils in Matt. 13, the only soil that the Lord spoke well about was the soil which brought forth fruit; some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold, some one hundredfold (v. 8). It represents the genuine believer whose fruitful life demonstrates the undeniable proof of properly receiving the Gospel seed. Likewise, in writing to the Colossian believers the apostle Paul commended them for the evidence of their true faith in Christ by the fact that the Gospel brought forth fruit in their lives from the very first day since they knew the grace of God in truth (Col. 1:6). The case is clear: every believer should bear fruit for the Lord.

But not only is there a clear case for bearing fruit, but there is also a clear command for bearing fruit. To those whose lives were impacted through the ministry of John the Baptist, the confirming word to them was: “Bring forth fruits, meet for repentance” (Matt. 3:8). Their repentance would be substantiated by the fruit that would be evident in their lives. Likewise, in Rom. 7:4 the command for fruit-bearing is also clearly stated: “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God”. The Lord said to His disciples in John 15:“Herein is my Father glorified that ye bear fruit, so shall ye be my disciples” (v. 8). It was not just a suggestion; it was a mandate from the Lord himself. Later, He stated: “You have not chosen Me but I have chosen you and ordained you that you should bring forth fruit and that your fruit should remain…” (John 15:16). He has called us to bring forth fruit and for that fruit to remain. This fruit comes from abiding in Him and results in the Father being glorified. The Lord Himself promised that the Holy Spirit will dwell in us forever (John 14:7, 16, 23), but for the Holy Spirit to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit requires that we are in communion with Him. We abide in Christ as we dwell close to Him. This was the essence of Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians when he wrote: “that Christ might dwell in your hearts by faith” (Eph. 3:17). This should be our prayer as well. But how “close” are we to the Lord and how much fruit is being displayed as a result of being near Him? True, positionally we are very near to God and nearer we cannot be, but practically, perhaps we could be a little bit nearer.

The NT identifies four different categories of fruit-bearing for the Christian. The first relates to the fruit of our character. These are the inward attitudes and qualities that shape our personality and make up our personal, private lives. Often it is easy to identify the more obvious sins of the flesh, both in ourselves and in others. But attitudes are far more difficult to detect and are also displeasing to the Lord, if contrary to the Word of God. Gal. 5:22-23 describes the multifaceted dimension of the fruit of the Spirit and the type of attitudes that God desires for the Christian. This fruit reflects Christ-likeness; something the law could never produce (v. 23). These are the virtues and graces manifested in the life of every born-again believer through the purifying work of the Holy Spirit, which we should be diligent in cultivating (2 Peter 1:3-7). Are we working on these qualities through the help of the Holy Spirit as we pray and read God’s Holy Word? If we are, this fruit will be reflected in our demeanor and then wonderfully displayed through our kind words and deeds in our lives for the sake of Christ and His kingdom.

These kind words and deeds are the actions that represent the second category of fruit-bearing in the NT, our conduct. Paul encouraged the Philippian believers to be sincere and without offense until the Day of Christ, “being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:11). He acknowledged that their public lives and actions evidenced the work of Christ within. One of the ways that this fruit was exhibited in their experience was by the financial gift they sent to him. Paul rejoiced that this sacrificial gift was fruit that abounded to their account (Phil. 4:17). Giving to the work of the Lord is a fine example of fruit-bearing and one in which there could be more displayed! But giving is not all there is in terms of the fruit of conduct. James 3:8 reminds us that the action of peacemaking also qualifies as fruit: “now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by them that make peace”. There could also be more of this fruit displayed as well! Fruit-bearing is not just a private, attitudinal matter; it is outward and action-oriented.

A third category of fruit-bearing relates to our conversation, namely our worship of the Lord and the frequency by which we render thanks to the Lord. Heb. 13:15 reminds us: “By Him therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually that is the fruit of our lips, giving thanks unto His Name”. We should thank the Lord continually for all He did for us in salvation and all He does for us in His present intercessory ministry on our behalf. The leper that was healed along with nine other lepers demonstrated this fruit when he came back and consciously thanked the Lord, who was surprised that the others did not do the same. We are exhorted in 1 Thess. 5:18: “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God concerning you.” Each one of us ought to continually give thanks to the Lord, no matter what the situation may be. As Psalm 107;2 states: “Let the redeemed of the Lord who He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy”.

The fourth category of fruit-bearing in the NT deals with those we win to the Lord, our converts. In writing to the Romans, Paul expressed his desire to win others for Christ when he said: “that I might have some fruit among you also, as also among the other Gentiles” (Romans 1:13). He also referred to the house of Stephanas as the firstfruits of Achaia. Certainly, this is fruit that will always remain since no true believer will ever perish. What a worthy endeavor! If the great apostle Paul humbly requested prayer to open his mouth and speak boldly for the Lord (Eph. 6:19-20), how much more should we ask for help in speaking for Christ? Certainly, Paul longed for this fruit in his life and we should too.

To have these four aspects of fruit-bearing displayed in our lives is challenging enough—it requires that we honestly and objectively be before the Lord in prayer, and not just give Him lip service, but that we understand our responsibility and act on those duties with His help. But what truly makes the concept of fruit-bearing even more challenging is its progressive aspect alluded to by the Lord in the Upper Room Discourse. In John 15, the Lord explained that our fruit should advance from the level of no fruit, some fruit and more fruit (v. 2), to much fruit (v. 5, 8) and much glory to our Father in Heaven. Through extrapolation, this means that our fruit for God which was non-existent at one time in our lives before Christ, should always be on the increase. In other words, our joy, our patience, our love for others, our actions, our thanksgiving, our worship, those we win for Christ – these aspects of fruit-bearing should always be growing as we journey toward Heaven. But is it? Has our commitment to this fruit remained or has it become stagnant and static? Is it increasing or is it waning? Is it at the level that it once was when our lives were characterized by first love, or has it slipped back through sin or spiritual neglect? These are challenging questions indeed for every child of God who thinks through the issue of bearing fruit for God. Paul stated his desire to the Philippians to upwardly progress in his walk with the Lord when he said: “I press toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”. (Phil. 3:14) May that be our desire also as we think through our responsibility to increase in our responsibility of bearing fruit for God.

Mixing the Ways of the World with the Things of God

The account in 2 Sam. 6 of David’s attempt to bring the ark of the Lord back to Jerusalem is one filled with many lessons for the Church today. For twenty years the ark had lain idle in the house of Abinadab, having been brought there by the men of Kirjath Jearim( 1 Sam. 7)Previously, the Philistines had captured it from the Israelites who had trusted more in the ark than they did in the Lord as they went into battle. As a result of their misplaced trust, Israel was routed by the enemy who now had in its possession the tangible representation of the power and suffering of Jehovah.

It was not long however before they realized the danger of trying to contain the God of Israel. Placing the ark in the house of their pagan deity Dagon, they awoke the next morning only to find that he had fallen flat on his face before the ark of the Lord. Setting him back in his place, they again found Dagon on the ground the next morning, this time with his head and hands broken off. Soon tumors broke out among the people as the hand of God came down upon the Philistines. Bewildered, the rulers asked the pagan priests what could be done to alleviate their affliction and suffering The answer –put the ark of the covenant on a cart and return it to Israel with a Philistine trespass offering. (1 Sam. 5-6) The ark was then returned to Israel via the men of Kirjath Jearim who brought it to Abinadab’s house where it stayed “for a long time.” Years afterward upon the demise of Saul and the installation of David as the King of Israel, a concerted effort was made to bring the ark of God up to Jerusalem. David’s plan was to establish his kingdom in glory. Selecting thirty thousand choice men for the task, the ark was set upon a new cart and the joyful procession to Jerusalem began. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab were chosen to drive the cart. A great musical celebration ensued as “progress” was begun to revitalize the power and prestige of Israel which had languished for years. But it did not go as smoothly as planned. When they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, something in the pathway caused the oxen to stumble and the ark to begin sliding off the cart. Reacting instinctively,Uzzah put out his hand to stop the ark, and was immediately struck dead by God “for his error” (2 Sam. 6:6-7) Understandably, David was confused and “afraid of the Lord that day.” Why did God act so harshly against Uzzah? Why did it seem that the Lord was opposed to David’s efforts? Hadn’t David good intentions in bringing the ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem to restore it to its proper place and prominence? So why then, did things go so terribly wrong?

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