Part Two of a Four Part Series
Pretty attractive, huh?
That’s me at my lowest a couple weeks ago, just admitted to ICU with severe COVID symptoms. (For a recap, please check Part I of this post.) I’m home now, feeling 90 % better and, for the sake of my wife and English Bulldog, hopefully looking better, too.
My doctor had just given me a bleak prognosis, the only hope being an aggressive steroid approach. Other options were futile. Of course, we each have a final appointment (Hebrews 9:27) which is beyond our choice, so we can’t just “decide to live” if the Schedule says otherwise.
But I decided to fight. So this is me, muttering “Let’s crunch some COVID.”
“What Now, Doc?”
After I’d been hooked up and IV’d to the Nines, my doctor came to educate me on the process. I needed him to know I was all in.
“So what’s my part? I’ll do anything.”
“Your part,” he said, “is to lie prone on your stomach a minimum of 16 hours a day so your lungs can heal without being crushed. Sleep that way at night, too. Let the drugs do their job. Listen to the tv for distraction. That’s your part.”
I was more than taken aback. “THAT’S my part? Lie on my gut listening to re-runs of Law and Order?“
“There’s a process to go through. Lie prone, stay out of the way. and let it happen. Down you go.”
Something needed to be done in me. There was also something I wanted to be done in me. Hoping they were both the same, down I went for the next six days.
In Praise of Prone
In what has to have been a time of dazed wonder and zeal for all of them (“He is risen indeed!”) I can only imagine them raring to go, knowing something needed to happen; wanting something to happen; hoping both were the same.
Can you blame them? The Good News was to be preached, of course. But what about the end of Roman rule? A restoration of the Kingdom? If not now, when? Their question of verse 6, “Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” makes sense.
Jesus gave an interesting response: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Now this is where it gets interesting. At a critical juncture, Jesus is saying, “Here’s a Kingdom Principle: You’ll know what you need to know when you need to know it. You’ll not know what you don’t need to know, and your Father will decide which is which. I have eternal purposes in mind, and you need to be ready. So down you go. Tarry.”
Of course, He wasn’t consigning them to the passivity of lying still. Tarrying in the Upper Room involved gathering, seeking, and a seriously prayerful decision to be made about Judas’ replacement. It was hardly Law and
But it was Prone. They were to listen, wait, and submit to whatever the Spirit of God wished to do in this formative time. We can’t know all the inner refining they experienced, but clearly things had reached a point when God’s work had to be done in His people and then, with a matchless roar, through them.
So What’s On Your Mind?
When you’re prone in a hospital bed, after resenting it for maybe the first twelve hours, you finally hunker down and start some serious thinking about what brought you there, where you’ve been headed lately, and most revealing (for me, at least) what’s really troubling you. Despairing Elijah got a question from God along those lines in a time of stillness, as did sunburned Jonah.
But queries like that aren’t just for the great. You and I get them as needed, and by Day Two my as-needed time for assessment had come.
The past decade had been a whirlwind of projects and movement, exciting and pretty wonderful. But also convenient if there’s some deep thinking you need to do, but might just as soon avoid.
Why was I really troubled? It wasn’t the COVID, oddly enough, nor the inconvenience. At a much broader level, I’ve been experiencing the worst discouragement I have ever known as an adult. Face down, miserably uncomfortable laying on wires, I finally put it to words and poured it out:
“Have the past 30 years of ministry been a waste, all coming to what we see today? Everything looks corrupted, decayed, unredeemable. I don’t recognize my own country. Voices in the Church sound confused at times, hesitant at other times, and occasionally heretical. People who once stood for truth can’t seem to trash it enough now, and virtually every position of life, holiness and justice that we as citizens or Christians or both once held sacred, are now seen as contemptible.”
Whether through self-pity or more clarity, I took it a step further: I am a social heretic. I cling to positions, and they’ve been (almost) officially declared abominable. There’s no place for me, or the positions I hold, any longer. I am obsolete.
OK, I’m with you. That was truly dumb and melodramatic. Millions of other social heretics are standing fast, millions more are unmoved by the rejection of truth or truth tellers. But this went to the core of what’s been wearing my soul down long and hard, not because I am a stellar champion of truth, but because never did I really believe positions of truth would come under such unreasonable, even obsessive fire.
For me, going Prone forced a realization that I was going soft, even fainthearted, an admission leading to the still small voice now pivoting my thoughts in a whole new direction:
But I never called you to just take positions. I called you to send invitations.
And there it was.
An Argument or a Meal?
Imagine the stupidity of preparing a feast for anyone who hungers, then focusing your efforts only on proving the meal exists! Through reason and debate, you can make your point. But even if people admit you’re right – “OK, there is a feast” – who cares? If you don’t invite them to share it, they’re still hungry.
I was worn down not from godly effort, but from a misguided attitude. In a time of widespread error, I had slipped into the trap of wanting people to acknowledge the truth while losing my concern for those same people to benefit from it. When I began my work in 1987, my heart-cry was “Come and dine.” Now it had become something cynical and dour, less of a dinner invitation and more of a war-whoop.
Of course, we can’t invite people to truths we refuse to stand for, and I have little patience with critics of Christian leaders who are valiantly outspoken. I say, along with Tiny Tim, “God bless them, every one!”
We’re in the throes of a cancerous evil, manifest in the natural but sprung from the spiritual, an evil committed to the dismantling of virtually everything we now call good. It cannot be ignored. It needs to be called out and called for what it is, just as truth needs to be declared come hell or high water, else there’s no place to guide those who want it.
But it seems clearer than ever to me this is not an “either/or” proposition; no choice between grace and truth needs to be made. We declare truth for its own sake, and to feed and to win souls, not arguments. There’s the difference between the clanging of a Pharisee and the heart of Wisdom crying in the street saying, “Please, there’s a better way! Hear me and take it, I have, and it works!”
All of which takes me back to the Lord’s command to tarry in Jerusalem, wait and receive, and then move as ordered.
Please consider this. These early, tarrying Christians faced a plethora of unknowns under Roman control and traditional Hebrew influence. So the church ready to be launched at Pentecost was also the church skyrocketing into a whole new way of being.
The Kingdom Way, under which the King had said “Your first order of business is not the reform of your civilization, but the rebirth of souls. Preach. Make disciples. Justice will come; let mercy and salvation come first.”
Are we really so different? Like them, we’re commissioned during uncertain times to proclaim and invite, knowing some will attack and some will respond, and choosing, by God’s grace, a passion for the response which quells the fear of the attacks. Because this we know and should ever remind ourselves: as long as the Word of God and the Spirit of God are alive and powerful, then that Word, by that Spirit, will perform the unstoppable and the eternal.
For me, this is what came together that bleak afternoon on my gut. Because as I now see it, the Church Prone really is the Church Triumphant, as it was the day it all began with rushing winds and lots of noise. Purified and baptized in fire, it’s armed with a call to sow the truth, make disciples, build the Body, follow Him.
Here is where former Christ-denier Simon now becomes the Rock megaphone ushering thousands into repentance and life. Here the Word gets spread by a runaway train, so a Thyatira businesswoman quietly opens her heart to it, an Ethiopian Eunuch gets it explained it by a vanishing evangelist who baptizes then relocates, a husband and wife team train up a doctrinal giant in it, its virulent opponent morphs into its sold-out champion, a new people come into it as two nationalities learn that in Him they are One, a King hardly known for self-control now considers it, the miraculous now confirms it through healing and deliverance, and two of its spokesmen threatened by violence and commanded to shut up offer the refusal we gladly reiterate in 2021: “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
What troubled me going Prone now thrills me, reminding me afresh of something I shouldn’t have neglected:
“For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? ” (II Corinthians 2:15-16)
We are called to joyful faithfulness. The Commission is in our hands; the results are in His. And as for Paul’s rhetorical, “Who is sufficient?”
No one in his own strength; look no further than the grizzled face at the top of the post for proof.
But in Him, and ever prone to Him, we are. Blessed, astonishing truth. We really are.
Tomorrow let’s look at Lesson Two: From Prone to Partnering