Last year in one28 we were Starting at the Beginning. This year it’s time to move ahead. It’s time to make progress.
But making progress is difficult, especially in the Christian life. The world is against us. The evil one is against us. Our own flesh is against us. We travel a hard road. The path is narrow, often steep and slippery. The way is lined with naysayers hurling insults and discouragements toward us. We are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and perhaps even struck down and dying.
And yet, the difficult Christian journey demonstrates God’s perfections more than if there was no journey (meaning if God took us to heaven immediately) or if the journey was always triumphant (meaning if crowds applauded and praised us all along the way).
One compelling witness to the demanding and God-exalting Christian journey was John Bunyan. In his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Bunyan wrote about preparing for life in the Bedford Prison (pictured above) for his unwillingness to give up preaching the gospel.
Before I came to prison, I saw what was a-coming, and had especially two considerations warm upon my heart; the first was how to be able to endure, should my imprisonment be long and tedious; the second was how to be able to encounter death, should that be here my portion….[T]hat saying in 2 Co. 1:9 was of great use to me, “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but God which raiseth the dead.” By this scripture I was made to see, that if I would ever suffer rightly, I must pass a sentence of death upon everything that can properly be called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyments, and all, as dead to me, and myself as dead to them.
The second was, to live upon God that is invisible.
His imprisonment lasted 12 years. In effect, his wife was a ministry widow like few others; his children–the oldest blind–were pastoral orphans. How did he endure? The key paragraph of Scripture that informed his resolve was 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Integrating Paul’s call to look to the things that are unseen, and Bunyan’s commitment to live on God that is invisible, we get our 2009-10 theme: Living on Unseen Things.
To live on means to survive solely by consuming a certain thing. Unseen things are the “not” seen, things hidden from sight. In the spiritual realm, the unseen things include gospel promises, gospel principles, and God Himself, all of which are eternal.
- Gospel promises include: eternal life, eternal inheritance, and final transformation.
- Gospel principles include: death shows life, weakness shows power, pain increases pleasure, suffering increases capacity for glory.
- God Himself: understood as the righteous Judge, understood as the merciful and preserving Savior.
We will not work and pray and suffer and sojourn and die to the glory of God unless we live on unseen things. The theme will weave throughout our ministry year as follows.
Living on Unseen Things
The 2010 Snow Retreat will take the same name as our year’s theme: Living on Unseen Things—The Key to John Bunyan’s Christian Journey. Bunyan’s life and teaching are of great profit for our own pilgrimage.
In preparation for the 10SR, and because it’s devotionally good for the soul anyway, we’ll be reading The Pilgrim’s Progress as a ministry. The link above provides a schedule for finishing the book the week before the retreat begins. Small groups are encouraged to talk about the reading at their bi-monthly meetings.
Sunday mornings we’ll continue our trek through the Book of Beginnings. Though he’d never seen rain before, Noah lived on God’s word that a flood was coming. And assuming we get to chapter 12 sometime this year, we’ll see that Abram (and family) left their country and kindred for a land unseen as the LORD directed.
On corporate one28 Wednesday nights, Jonathan Sarr will preach through 1 Peter, an epistle written to elect exiles (pilgrims), about an yet-to-be-fully-revealed salvation and an eternal inheritance (in a Celestial City). Though we have not seen Christ, we love Him (1 Peter 1:8-9) and follow His example as He entrusted Himself to the (unseen) One who judges justly (2:23; 4:19).
Devoted to Prayer
Our GBC Saturday seminar this year is titled, Devoted to Prayer–Wearing Knee-Holes in Hardwood Floors. Apart from rightly dividing God’s Word, I can’t think of any more pivotal exercise for living on unseen things than prayer.
Within a short month of announcing the theme to the one28 staff, the challenge to live on unseen things has been furious for me. I’m going to need this theme like the diseased need a doctor. My guess is, so will you.
Though there’s a year-full of meditation and application ahead, the following quote from Bunyan’s autobiography paves a clear path.
I had also this consideration, that if I should now venture all for God, I engaged God to take care of my concernments.
Let us make progress and venture every step this year for God.