Patmos

Place of Exile - Part Two

 

 

Meditations based on the first chapter of Revelation
that reveal the glory of the Lord Jesus
and use the image of Patmos as a metaphor
for tight and narrow times in our life.

 

The links below lead to our soundcloud playlists.

 

 

 

Patmos Part Two - Soundcloud Playlist
Photo by Neil Bates on Unsplash

Below you will find each individual track.
Click the button above to listen to all the tracks on a SoundCloud playlist.

The fallout from loss and change

Because Patmos experiences mark an extreme change in our circumstances, we’re going to spend some more time exploring this theme, using a tiny fraction of the material that I’ve written in my book Vale of Tears.

This section may have some immediate relevance for what you’re going through at the moment, or it may simply be a resource of things to look out for as you seek to care for others who are suffering.

There’s an old saying that three house moves is equivalent to a fire in your house, which is another way of reminding us to make allowances for the effect that serious changes have on people.

There are hospitals where nursing standards are high, medically speaking, but that are all but totally lacking in the most important quality of all. Tender loving care, TLC, compassion. And that’s what every vulnerable person really needs and appreciates. And it’s so important for us to go out of our way to care for people during their varied Patmos experiences.

Now the first thing that would have happened to John on Patmos is that he ceased to be, effectively, the great apostle to the churches in Asia Minor. John on Patmos was just another number in the Roman Gulag system – a nobody as far as the penal administration was concerned.

Most of us find that our sense of self -esteem and our identity seriously goes out of sync after a serious loss has come our way.
We’re no longer the husband or wife or the holder of a particular title or description or particular position. It’s been taken away and everything feels unsettled and uncomfortable.

Those who lose their partners lose their lover, friend and confidant all rolled into one. No wonder they feel disorientated and find it hard to adapt to new situations.

The entire structure of their life has altered. As C .S. Lewis put it after the death of his wife, her absence is like the sky spread over everything.

All relationships are loaned to us. When their season is complete, we must be willing to release them and trust God to fill the hole their absence leaves behind.

Otherwise parents whose lives have revolved around meeting their children’s needs can easily plunge into considerable distress when their children leave and the empty nest syndrome sets in as they are suddenly left face to face with each other and in need of rediscovering the chemistry that they perhaps once shared.

If we’ve attached ourselves to something or someone in ways that never were within the perfect will of God, then we need the humility to really let go. Our flesh will complain, and the ever -quick -to -spot -an -opportunity powers of darkness will insist that we can’t live without this thing, whatever it is. But that’s a bluff that needs to be called.

So long as we rely only on our emotions at that point, rather than on the solid ground of God’s wisdom through his word, we will remain trapped and dominated by those same emotions.

It’s worth sounding the warning that because Patmos times are often becalmed times, there’s a real danger of starting to make our own plans, and to go in search of something outwardly more exciting. You may have witnessed occasions when those desires proved so strong that they led not only young and impressionable people astray, but also propelled the apparently mature into the most outlandish escapade. Beware midlife crises start early these days.

A worship leader whom we’ll call Michael was finding married life dull and restrictive and he gravitated towards someone he’d met outside church who appeared to offer all the attractions that he’d been deprived of. He very quickly fell passionately in love with that person and within weeks was ready to leave his family for the sake of the flame that he had lit and that had fired up his heart.

It was at this point that the Lord gave me a specific word of knowledge about what was going on and to his credit he heeded it. It cost Michael many tears and much heartache to turn the clock back and make the break with someone he had done much better not to have become involved with.

But he did the right thing and by God’s grace has recovered and all because he humbled himself. Many others have allowed their strong emotions to triumph at this point and have placed themselves outside the place of safety.

Patmos flushes hidden things to the surface

If the Lord asks us to give something or someone back to Him, may we do so willingly, so that nothing gains too strong a hold over us, and we can have confidence that the Lord really has given that person or project to us.

If you’ve reached your goals in life, you may need special humility, not only to cope with the outward success, but also with the fact that you may not be able to repeat that success.

Just as those who’ve been unable to fulfill their goals need special grace to readjust their sights and perhaps to reflect on why things have worked out as they have done.

Part of what may be happening in these Patmos times is that the Lord is flushing out deeply buried things in our life and bringing them to the surface.

When we are struggling to cope with change, it’s sometimes because we are reacting to things that have happened further back in our lives, even in our family history, as spiritual and genetic forces operate at deeper levels, and judgments that have been set in motion continue to wreak their havoc until they’re brought to the stopping place of the cross.

Developing our trust

Some who were brought up in Christian homes, where their parents were too busy helping others, can end up more aware of God’s absence than His presence.

And this can leave them feeling very insecure about their own identity, as well as doubting the genuine love that their parents may well have had for them.

As surely as introversion is unhelpful, identifying these things is all important, but don’t be surprised if you find your moods going up and down during these adjustment periods. It’s almost inevitable.

There’s a process going on. God will fill our flower borders again with hand -selected plants from His beautiful cottage garden.

But we mustn’t fall into the trap of looking directly at all our problems, they can feel overwhelming. And we can’t find solutions by looking inside at ourselves.

It’s only as we seek the Lord with all our heart that we find security.

Let’s spend a few minutes now tracking down areas where you know that you are struggling and allow the Lord to highlight areas where you could be trusting Him more.

As the Psalmist says, trust in Him at all times. Pour out your hearts to Him. for the Lord is our refuge and our strength.

The Lord comes in surprising ways!

We are so grateful, Lord, that you so often come in surprising ways, ways that we could never have imagined. For your word is upright and all your work is done in faithfulness.

We trust in you and we’re not afraid because you’re our strength and our song and you’ve become our salvation.

When we feel as the prophet Isaiah did, and complain that our work feels useless, and that we’ve spent our strength for nothing for no good purpose, well, we can also leave it all in your hands, Lord, and trust you for our reward. Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in the darkness who has no light, trust in the name of his Lord, and rely on his God. For the Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and he knows those who take refuge in him.

So commit your way to him, trust in him and he will act. Don’t throw away your confidence. Remember the great reward it brings you.

And the angel said to John, “Everything you’ve heard and seen is trustworthy and true. The Lord God who inspires his prophet has sent his angel to tell his servants what must happen soon.”

Things that cause grief to go underground

Patmos times test the direction of our hearts, there’s no point trying to dodge them just because they’re hard. Paul knew he had to go to Jerusalem even though the spirit was warning him that there would be great hardships ahead, and so he refused to yield to the pleas of his friends not to go.

It’s not only major things like bereavement that can cause a sense of loss and disorientation.

In my book The Vale of Tears, I’ve written sections about things such as retirement and redundancy and broken relationships and many other such grief triggers.

It goes without saying that the better we handle the smaller changes in life now, the more easily we’ll cope with more serious ones later.

None of us enjoys the taste of bile that grief leaves in our hearts, but you might find it helpful either for yourself or for someone else you are coming alongside, to encourage them to deliberately let out their distress, as often as they need to.

Doing this can help to prevent people from being overwhelmed at other, less appropriate times. It’s certainly a great deal better than pretending that all is fine, and burying their real hurts, which are sure to come out again another way.

I’ve looked at that in Vale of Tears in the section I’ve called When grief takes convoluted turns.

There are times when we have to set our faces like flint. But always, humility helps. As Graham Cook put it, “When God puts his finger on a part of our life that’s not working properly, he’s joyfully pointing at the sight of our next miracle.”

God is not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should change his mind.

Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and then not fulfill?

Try not to make major decisions at times when major changes have knocked you off balance.
When the axis of your life has shifted it can be very easy to make rash choices that you’ll regret when balance has been restored again. Challenge disappointment before it degenerates into full -blown discouragement. Root it out in the name of Jesus before bitterness and self -pity come marching in, let alone before you fall into the pits of despair and cynicism.

Don’t doubt in the darkness what you heard in the light. If you’re going through changes that are causing you pain, the gap between promise and fulfilment can seem very large, and we need people who will help us make it through.

Shakespeare wrote in Titus Adronicus,

“Sorrow concealed, like an oven stopped, burns the heart to cinders.”

He warned in Hamlet, “You do surely bar the door upon your own liberty if you deny your griefs to your friend.”

Let me ask you, who are you sharing these big issues with? If you’ve been the victim of a serious loss or been violated, you may well have been plunged into such profound trauma that it’s affected your trust and willingness to share in this way, especially if certain people have prayed well meant prayers which somehow don’t seem to touch the shock of trauma at all.

Whilst grief is a process that people need to go through, trauma is an imposition on the spirit that needs to be prayed right off. And this is where we need words of faith and authority. And if that means repeating certain prayers over and over again, then this is the one time when we’re in no danger of heaping up empty words.

No. What we’re doing is allowing God’s reassurance to reach right down as deep as it needs to in order to touch our shaken hearts.

Coming alongside people going through Patmos times

There’s nothing that people who are going through the mill need more in the isolation of their Patmos experience than the reassurance that they’re not alone. If people have been out of circulation through ill health, or unemployment, or child rearing, it’s entirely normal for them to wonder if they’re going to be able to cope again. They benefit enormously from having someone who believes in them, and who’s prepared to walk alongside them. Don’t let the fear of not having the right words stop you from getting in touch with these people, even if the extreme pressure that they’re under is making them brusque and unpredictable.

Check with them whether they want to be on their own, or whether they really value your companionship enormously. But don’t become resentful if they’re unable to give themselves to you in the way that perhaps you’re used to.

Make the adjustments and the allowance. Let your strengths cover for their weakness at that time. And then let them come close when it’s you who are in need of such companionship.

Be proactive about getting in touch and finding ways to help.

It’s so important to relate to people as people in their own right. Rather than just as problems to be labelled and put into categories. They’re not just cancer sufferers, unemployed, or those who have been jilted, abandoned and so on. They’re people to respect and to respond to.

May they feel able to share with us what is really troubling them, precisely because we are not trying to brandish solutions for situations that can’t be solved overnight, but are simply bearing the gift of the Lord’s presence just by being there for them and allowing Him to work through us.

In times of extreme pressure

There’s a long -standing tradition that John was not on his own on the island of Patmos, but that a man named Procurus voluntarily chose to accompany him, and that he was the man who wrote down the experiences that John had as he dictated them to him, and then later after John’s release passed them around the island. churches.

Procurus is mentioned in Acts as one of the deacons who was full of the Spirit and Wisdom. Now it’s only recently that I’ve discovered that there were two separate classes of prisoners on Patmos.

Firstly, there were the common criminals who were very badly treated. They were shackled. and closely watched and forced to do hard labor. But there were also political prisoners who’d fallen foul of the authorities and who were sent there to get them out of harm’s way. And within limits, these people had a good deal of freedom around the island. That’s how John came not to be working down the salt or granite mines that people have spoken of through the centuries, but of which archaeological evidence in fact has no evidence. Instead John chose a small cave as his dwelling place.

It’s a place that’s venerated on the island of this day and it enjoys beautiful views over the sea and that for something like 18 months was his home.

Who says you can’t have any influence when you’re tucked away out of sight? Just look what God did.

But there was real suffering for him. We’ve seen that he said that he was our companion in suffering. Now, Jesus said in John 16:33 that we would have trouble and tribulation in this world and the word he used in Greek is ‘thlipsis’. It describes the extreme pressure that afflicts Christians in this world and it derives from the idea of a crushing weight that’s permanently over someone, trapping and pinning them down, threatening to crush the life out of them. The sheer number of times that this word occurs in the New Testament is a pointer to the fact that it’s considered normal in Christianity.

The wonder is how the early church continued to grow despite wave after wave of intense ‘thlipsis’ persecution and how it continues to do the same in places like Iran today.

If you’re experiencing this ‘thlipsis’ level of pressure it’s so important not to forget the wonderful times that you’ve had with the Lord. All those special times when His presence has been close and His Spirit has been leading so beautifully.

Taking authority against giants!

Even in the midst of our particular Patmos experiences, opportunities will still continue to come our way, and we can’t afford to ignore them and put everything off to a mythical, magical, perfect moment.

Don’t put things off. Welcome and work with what God does give you. you to do. Do the hardest thing first, get it done, you’ll feel so much better. The more you plan ahead, the less you’ll end up at the mercy of changes that have forced upon you.

Don’t be like the bankers and politicians who only reform their privileges when they’re absolutely forced to do so.

Lord, if we’re putting off important and strategic things in favour of the less strategic but seemingly easier, help us to overcome the excuses. And when you thwart our desires and intentions so that we can reach the place that you really have in mind for us, thank you. And thank you that we’ll be grateful one day that you acted as you did.

We want to praise you now that you know what you’re doing, and it’s a blessing for you when we can trust you with it.

Thank you that you take us through different seasons, and when, for whatever reason, you take particular gifts and seem to leave them on the shelf, you’ve got good reasons for doing so. And we pray that you’ll help us to adjust to new realities, and to prioritize according to your leading, and that we won’t resent you for taking these things from us, or be insecure in case they’ve been taken away forever.

And when our hopes and emotions and inner dreams go up and down, Father, keep our expectations from being hyped into believing things that you’ve not promised. Prick the bubble and adjust the balance, because otherwise we’re sure to end up in disappointment.

And Father, if some of us aim too high and end up like Icarus flying too close to the sun and having our wings clipped.

Too many of us set our expectations too low, with its second nature for the devil to spin a good yarn, and to distort the truth.

Here are a few typical examples of how he does it.

He starts out by saying that it, whatever it represents, can’t be done. And if we ignore that and believe the opposite, he’ll try this for another attack. Well, if it can be done and he loves that word if, you’re not the right person to do it. And that’s the promising line of attack from his point of view, and it makes many people think twice and hold back. But if even that doesn’t work, he’ll try to land this sucker punch. And anyway, it’s the wrong time to do it. After all, timing is such a crucial thing to get right, but the devil’s always trying to relegate it to the never, never time.

All these strategies have to be overcome if we’re actually to get anything done. And there’s only you who can initiate the fight against these particular giants.

Father, help us to take authority against all the tricks and traps and lies of the enemy when he tries to pin us up against the ropes and tell us that everything is finished and that we are outsiders to grace.

Thank You that Paul reminds us that we have been qualified in Jesus to share in the inheritance of the saints of light in a kingdom that does not come to an end.

If you stepped out in all sincerity on some particular project and it didn’t work out as you had hoped, you can’t afford to allow yourselves to come to a juddering halt.

I want to suggest this. It’s an exercise that’s helped a lot of people to recover from serious sense of defeat and above all trauma. Write down what happened, the event that caused you grief, and to feel the sense of loss. Be careful not to leave anything out. Later, perhaps on the following day, write down how you felt at that time. Later again, perhaps on another day, but do it soon, write down how you feel about it now.

You’ll often find something absolutely amazing happening at that time, helping you to see the good things that the Lord has brought to pass through it. Far more than you were able to appreciate at the time.

Don’t let the memory of things that didn’t appear to work out open the way to doom and gloom. For the Lord says, “No good thing does He withhold from those who are seeking to lead a Godly life.”

The Sovereignty of God

One of the questions that John’s stay on Patmos throws up for us is whether the Sovereignty of God is just a head doctrine, or whether it’s the sure foundation for our times.

The unexpected challenges of Patmos experiences test whether we trust him with the big things of life and the little ones. It is interesting that neither John on Patmos, nor Paul during his times of imprisonment ever described themselves as being prisoners of the Roman army.

They saw themselves first and last as being the Lord’s prisoners. And God found ways to bring that rocky island alive when he appeared in glory to his beloved disciple.

We can’t be naive and draw wrong assumptions about the sovereignty of God. He wills many things for our lives, not least that we experience abundant life in Jesus, but our own responses determine the extent to which we live in the good of this. There’s nothing passive about the doctrine of the sovereignty of God.

If there were, there may be. then people would and unfortunately do end up believing things that actually need to be resisted and overcome because they come from the one who came to kill and destroy, the one who is a thief and a robber.

Choices that lead to richer insight

In a very real sense, God limits his power over his children, and he gives us freedom to choose. God allowed many of his children to go into exile or worse, and John, like many other believers, chose not to say ‘Caesar is Lord’, but to remain faithful to Jesus and to accept the consequences.

May we likewise make good choices.

Do you remember how Jesus saw the disciples on the Lake of Galilee straining at the oars in the moonlight? The word in Greek literally means to be tortured. It’s a very strong word. But Jesus makes as if to pass his disciples by. Surely he must have been moved by their plight? Or was he testing their faith as he did when he asked Philip how he was going to provide for the five thousand?

Or was he himself simply wanting to spend more time alone with his father?

Either way he answered their cry and came alongside them saying, “Take courage. I’m here.” And the disciples pricked up their ears, and in one person’s case at least had the courage to step out of the boat. And in doing so, came to a deeper realisation of who Jesus really was.

Jesus was echoing the words of Exodus 3:14, where Yahweh reveals himself in the words, “I am who I am.” The full significance of those words dawned on Peter later, once he’d had time to process the implications. It was just after this episode that Peter first recognized Jesus as being the long -awaited Messiah.

So perhaps the real miracle of this episode is not that Peter managed to take a few steps on the water or that the winds died down the moment he got into the boat with them, but rather that Peter’s eyes were opened to see who Jesus really was.

What fragrance do we exude through our trials

Patmos times are all about turning head knowledge into heart understanding, and deploying our faith accurately and vigorously. Yes, there are floods and fires to pass through, and even loss and desolation in the valleys of Baca which we drench with our tears, but these aren’t our final destination. We’re passing through these veils of tears.

Feelings and circumstances do go up and down, but the word of the Lord stands firm forever. God is not unjust. He will not forget your work and the love that you show him as you help his people and continue to do so.

But may we show this diligence to the very end, so that what we hope for may be fully realised as we imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

This is the attitude that will keep us from exuding an odour of staleness. as we pass through these Patmos times and even of grudgingness which comes as the result of the hurts and disappointments that we’ve sustained along the way.

May we remember to look up to Jesus when strong temptations come so that we don’t lash out or give up but say your perseverance, Lord, your help now, your love, your forgiveness Lord or whatever it is that we are most in need of at the time.

In the midst of all our challenges and troubles he’s still a very present help and that will keep us from that sense of striving and indispensability that characterizes certain types of rather self -righteous believers.

Anything is better than spoiling the sweetness of his presence. May we continue to exude the fragrance of Mary of Bethany because it revitalizes others rather than rather than indulging the veiled resentment of Martha as we go about our daily business.

People around us may be carrying far more sorrow than they show on their faces, and be far more in need of his grace than either they or we realise.

I love it when the Lord tells me in so many words on a given day who to visit, what to pray, what to do. This isn’t servile childish dependency, it’s the fruit of union with Him.

But the Lord is equally sovereign in Patmos times. And when we can’t hear Him speak and simply need to commit our way to Him and step out and make things happen, trusting Him to sustain us, and to enter into Him. as we go along.

The Sovereign Lord at work

Many years ago, when we lived near Church Stretton, I’d been invited on a ministry trip to Holland. Now, at our railway station, we don’t have a ticket office. And so you get on board and buy your ticket from the Ticketman. He didn’t turn up. And when I got to Crewe, I dashed into the office and tried to buy myself a ticket from Church Stretton to Liverpool Airport, but as I put my hand into my pocket, I realised with a sinking feeling that my wallet wasn’t there. It was the wrong pair of trousers.

I muttered an explanation and the man in the queue next door to me overheard me and said, “No problem, you can use my credit card and go anywhere you like with it.” Wow, that was so timely. I don’t think he was an angel because he had an address that I was able to send the money to later, but it certainly was a divine appointment.

Something rather similar happened a couple of years later when I was going to Finland. My train had been delayed and when I got to Heathrow Airport, the airport was had been badly battered by storms and there was a huge backlog of passengers.

There were so many people milling around that it was quite clear they were never going to get through in anything like the time that I had available to catch the flight. But suddenly the presence of the Lord came very close and he said to me, “I want you to go to Finland.”

Moments later a woman in British Airways uniform headed towards the huge throng of people singled me out and led me to a separate ticket post which she opened for me.

And the moment she’d checked my documents she closed it again. I really do wonder if that one wasn’t an angel in disguise.

From simple episodes like these we can derive great encouragement.

When God has a purpose in mind, he’s prepared to go to enormous lengths to bring it about. And even though John’s stay on the bleak and bare island of Patmos may have looked very lacking in either purpose or fruit initially, in God’s sight it was golden. And as the Lord instructed the Laodicean Church, buy gold from me refined in the fire. These trials, Peter reminds us, have come so that your faith, which is of greater worth than gold, may be proved genuine and may result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.

These Patmos times are not so far removed from what’s often known as the dark night of the soul, when the ability to sense the Lord’s presence shines. decreases, and with it, opportunities for outward service.

If the Lord doesn’t immediately open up some new sphere of service, it may be because he’s changing the season that we’re in, or he’s wanting to draw our attention to something completely different. Sooner or later the Lord will find ways to show us these things, faster than we can get our warp shields up to dodge them.

Recognising the Lord’s dealings with you

The discipline we read of in Hebrews 12 is a crucial part of our relationship with Him, and it’s a handcrafted affair. Whenever the Lord highlights a matter, we have a choice, and the quicker we face it, the easier it is for the Lord to lead us on. But if we insist on covering up and pretending it isn’t there, we’re more or less sentencing ourselves to live with more of the same.

If we’ve got something wrong, we can’t afford to let pride or stubbornness cause us to hold back from backtracking to the place where we first went wrong. Anything’s better than straying further down the long road to nowhere.

There’s a fine line between adopting a profoundly unbiblical ‘ke sera sera’ attitude, almost a Buddhist-like fatalism, and a deeper acceptance of the way the Lord is leading us. But that is the fruit of relationship and union.

The sovereignty of God is a profoundly reassuring theme, but it’s about so much more than theology or even about God delivering us from our problems, though that’s certainly important. It’s about going deeper with himself.

May we encourage you to spend some time with him now, letting him bring to mind at least five episodes in your life, and let him interpret to you what he was doing through them.

How did you respond? Did they work out well because you picked up on what the Lord was doing? Or less well because you missed his leadings and explanations.

What can you learn from the times when things did not work out so well?

Speak to him now about these things. He will meet with you.

God at work in out of the way places

Throughout church history, God often chooses to set certain of His servants aside to meet with Him in a way that couldn’t have happened in a busier place. It’s the Angel of the Lord wrestling with Jacob, or God meeting Moses in the wilderness, as Cuthbert in Columba on remote Northern islands, from which unlikely places, they take the Gospel right across the nation.

It’s Wycliffe being rejected by the Church Authorities and being forced to leave Oxford, but so that he can get on translating the Bible into English as a result. It’s John Bunyan in prison, refusing the poison -tipped offer of his captors to be granted his freedom, if only he would promise not to preach the Gospel. It’s Luther at Wartburg Castle, translating the Bible into German, which became the medium by which so many Germans learnt to read. And it’s so many others who’ve reached a place of deeper anointing and spheres of greater influence as a result of their time alone with God.

You may well have noticed in your own life how God sometimes has to get us on our own in order to do his deepest work, rather as Jesus himself ultimately accomplished more in terms of saving the world when he died on the cross than when he was out and about ministering to the sick and needy.

This is so entirely counterintuitive both to the ethos of modern society, and to standard Christian expectations and theology, that it’s worth unpacking in a little more detail.

John’s time on Patmos appears to the outward eye to be essentially passive, with things being done to him rather than him being able to initiate things for himself.

But it ended up in powerful revelation rather than in emptiness.

There’s heavenly maths that work here. One yielded heart plus God can sometimes accomplish more than God plus a bustling heart.

And to put that another way, effective doing often comes out of determined being with the Lord. Even when something precious like John’s ministry to the churches around Ephesus comes to a full stop or even a seeming death, we must be prepared to hand it all back to the Lord and trust that he knows what he’s doing so that his new purposes can flow freely.

At-one-ness with the Lord

Listen again to what Jesus declared at the beginning of the book of Revelation. “I was dead, but behold I’m alive forevermore.”

For death itself is but the passing point to the glory beyond. Heaven isn’t far away, it’s just another dimension.

And the stronger our longing for heaven, the more it is. in tune we will be with his heart, and the better able to appreciate our at -oneness with the Lord, which is the original meaning of atonement, onement being the Old English word for unity.

Expressing our concern for others

When we see people making choices that, in our opinion, look likely to cramp and restrict the work of the Holy Spirit, it’s often tricky to know whether to point these things out, or just to lift the situation to the Lord and leave Him to sort it out. Given that our perspective is by no means bound to be right, it can often be a kindness even, to let people find things out for themselves.

But the scripture always reminds us that open rebuke is better than hidden love, and that whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain more favour than the one who has a flattering tongue.

I often prefer to give prophetic hints rather than having to spell matters out, because the spiritually sensitive will cotton on and act accordingly. But some people are so lacking in empathy that they simply cannot read between the lines and take a hint, and they need to have matters spelled out for them.

There’s no automatic right and wrong, we have to seek the Lord what to do each time, but if we’re concerned for each other’s eternal well -being, why be fluffy? Think what a disaster it would have been for the future of the church if Paul had not confronted Peter in the way that he did in Galatians?

What if John on Patmos had received God’s warnings for the seven churches but then kept them to himself? These were perspectives that needed to be shared.

Concerning these concerns that you have for people, would the Lord have you take them privately to Him in prayer? Or are they warnings that He needs you to pass on to people?

Stepping out in the face of outright hostility

On Patmos, John would have experienced a barrage of at best indifference from the authorities who were over him, and at worst outright hostility, which is exactly what Jesus experienced throughout his public ministry. It’s impossible to describe how sapping this can be.

Almost all his miracles were done against a backdrop of prying eyes, hostile Pharisees, sceptical Sadducees, Roman informants, just as millions of government spies in the former East Germany, spied on the whole nation. Or as is currently happening today in countries like North Korea, makes life so wearing and so dangerous for believers.

The wonderful thing is that Jesus didn’t allow the pressure to hold him back, or to push him into something outwardly safer, but which would actually have been completely lacking in cutting edge.

So many of us are only prepared to step out if we feel like it, or if the circumstances appear favourable, and the Lord’s presence is strong. Let’s face it, most of the missionaries whom God has really used, did not see 3000 people come to Christ the first time they preached the Gospel. No, they had to persevere through years of intense hostility and discouragement, until the seed of the Gospel took root in these new regions.

Gospel Seeds

The first Protestant missionary to China saw just one convert in the first decade of his ministry, and I rather think he backslid, and only one more in the next ten years.

Who could have guessed then that this incredibly small -scale work in a formidably hostile country would one day expand to bring millions of Christians seeking the Lord with the fervour we know all too little of in the Rational West?

It’s reckoned that by 2050 China will have more Christians in than any other country in the world.

But there’s no room for complacency, for that still leaves an awful lot who have yet to meet the High King of Heaven. Just think of all that would have been missed if those early missionaries had concluded that the ground was too hard.

People paid a high price to sow the seed of the gospel in Chinese soil and in so many other places too.

Praise God for today’s pioneers too, whether the soil that they are sowing in is primarily stony or fertile, may they be faithful and creative.

Let’s take the time to lift them to the Lord now.

Love is spelt RISK

John was on Patmos because he refused to be a hidden Christian and he was paying the cost for his openness. In our post -Christian society may we know when to step out boldly and when wisdom lies in adopting some other approach.

John Wimber reminds us that love is always spelt R -I -S -K. Again and again we may need to set out by night, not knowing what will happen or where our efforts will lead, but trusting that if we’re responding to the leading of the Lord, then He will turn night into day and bring fruit from what we sow.

And rule number one for budding tightrope walkers is simple. Don’t look down. Look ahead. Fix your eye on something further ahead and you’ll get across to where the Lord is waiting.

I love that verse in Hebrews 12, looking away unto Jesus, fixing our eyes on Him and turning from things that could distract or obsess us.

Because these reflections are meditative rather than just teaching, let’s take the time now to think about some of the things that incline us to look down or to give up or to look inside our self for resources and find that we just haven’t got them.

May the Lord show us what it means to look away unto Him. May He alert us when we’re doing the opposite, because it grieves Him and hurts others too.

I don’t know about you but I find that one of the routes by which the pressure often builds up is along the fault lines of misunderstanding, or even envy.

If you look closely, you’ll see that at the heart of almost every relationship split or trouble, there’s a root of envy at work.

Prayer that overcomes the power of Envy

When envious comparisonitis strikes in our own heart, have you noticed that it often does so in relation to those skills or areas that are closest to our own heart?

These emotions are so toxic that if only we could see them for what they really are, we’d flee them as quickly as we would run from a rattlesnake. Ask the Lord to set us free from every trace of those bites so that we can bless others as they go about their daily work and ministry.

It’s impossible to resent someone you’re really praying for. So who would the Lord have you pray for in such ways?

An example I’ve often shared concerns F. B. Meyer, who was one of the most popular conference speakers of his time. The time came when his followers flocked to listen to a new young preacher.

And any minister feels the loss of being superseded. But instead of succumbing to disappointment and even resentment, Meyer resolved to spend as much of his spare time as he could, praying for the success of the other man’s ministry.

I can think of no better way to overcome the power of envy or to respond to changing roles and situations which Patmos invariably brings with it.

And that man’s name was Campbell Morgan and I believe that we can perhaps attribute a lot of his success in the Lord to the fact that Meyer was so gracious in passing on the baton to him.

The acid test of relationships (1)

One of the things that happens during Patmos times is that you find out who your real friends are as opposed to those who are only interested in you because of what you can offer them.

Living in the Spirit is all about weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice.

There are people who take a slightly perverse pleasure in you being weak so that they can, as it were, feel one up on you and minister to you. But their idea of service amounts to exercising a measure of control over you. It feeds their need to be needed, and it often means that they can’t rejoice when you’re doing well because your success and your joy is a challenge to them. And others, well they only feel comfortable if you’re strong and on top form. They feed off your strength, but really they’re only interested in drawing on it for themselves. They don’t want to know if you’re in trouble because that would mean they had to give more of themselves. And they have neither the heart, the desire, nor perhaps even the emotional resources to do that.

The acid test of relationships (2) Weeping with those who weep

We never really know how strong a relationship is until we have had a clash of wills and seen how we both handle this. One of the tests of true fellowship is how we relate to each other when one of us is feeling low and vulnerable.

The acid test is – can we rejoice when they are rejoicing, and weep when they are weeping?

It is a great joy when we discover during these Patmos times that someone cares for us much more than we had realised.

May we be proactive in coming alongside the people the Lord directs us to, to show how much we care for them. Don’t hold back from getting involved with people who are going through the mill, thinking you’ve got nothing to offer. As we saw before, it’s our presence that they need, not our ability to provide solutions.

Anything we can do to put heart and courage back into people is worth its weight in gold.

Give the matter some thought now Is there anyone the Lord would have you go out to encourage today?

Don’t hold back from reaching out to these people. Stir yourselves into action and follow them up. Reassure them that they’re not where they are by accident, and that even if they’re seemingly sidelined at the moment, the Lord may have a very clear purpose for them being there.

The Heart of the warfare

We’ve seen that Patmos, which is a place of great grief and loss and exile, can also be a place of extraordinary courage, devotion and revelation.

The 17th century Spanish writer Cervantes warned, “He who loses wealth loses much. He who loses a friend loses more.” but he that loses his courage loses all.

That’s what the enemy has really been angling for during Patmos times. He knows full well that loss of courage paralyzes faith and initiative.

Now nothing of eternal worth is accomplished without courage, and people who are on the front line for the Lord really do need it because they experience serious hostility. Wicked angels, demonic powers in other words, are constantly on the lookout to stir up trouble against them. And though these entities may not have physical bodies, they’re by no means lacking in intelligence.

You must have seen those Second World War movies in which courageous airmen fly straight into the flack that’s pouring up towards them. It took enormous courage to keep going.

And it takes courage for us when the enemy tries to lure us into subliminal, subconscious pacts. Something along the lines of “you stop troubling me” and I’ll stop troubling you, just hold back a bit, do a bit less, bit less prayer, bit less willingness to reach out to people, less, less, that’s his intention’. He doesn’t spell it out quite as crudely as that of course because we’d realise what he was up to and oppose it, but that’s what he’s angling for, and that’s what’s going on at a subliminal level, which after all is the level that fuels most of our actions.

Remember the Lord is the one who redeems all our lives, including our subconscious, which is a vast repository of every experience we’ve ever had and which records every emotional reaction we’ve had to those experiences.

May the Lord fill the depths of our subconscious hearts, that it be a well spring of inspiration rather than a sink of faith -sapping suffering.

It’s right to ask the Lord to come into these depths, lest the devil press certain buttons to goad us into responding in ways that are not the ways of faith and love. It’s all about being friends with Jesus, and friends to people in need.

The Power of gratitude and the Ministry of Heaven

There are more people around than you might imagine who have been granted visions and experiences of the world to come, just as John was on Patmos, and who therefore have a special authority to share with us, as it were at first hand, the realities of heaven and hell.

There was a Buddhist monk who was pronounced clinically dead, but who received the clearest out-of-the -body experience possible, which made the reality of both heaven and hell overwhelmingly clear to him.

And the Lord instructed him about those things, and then sent him back to this world where, surprise, surprise, he didn’t go on being a Buddhist monk, he became an utterly single -minded and dedicated evangelist to Burma.

People who have such experiences typically carry a heavenly fragrance with them that keeps their hearts questing for their homeland, their eternal homeland, and focus day by day away from trivia on the things that really do matter.

May our study of the whole Patmos experience teach us to cultivate such an attitude. When I reached Holland, courtesy of the man with the credit card whom I mentioned earlier when I was standing in the queue to buy my ticket, thank you so much Lord, I stayed with the Dutch pastor who, when he’d been a young man, had been an impoverished missionary in Indonesia. One day when he didn’t even have enough money to buy food to put on the table for himself and his family, he let himself have a really good moan, almost for the first time, I think. He said, “Look, Lord, I’ve given up a really good job at Shell to come here, to be a missionary for you. And see where I am, see where it’s got me. Is this how you’re rewarding me?” He stomped off down to the post office to get his letters for the day, hungry and seriously upset. And he found a letter waiting for him with a check for over a thousand pounds in it.

Remember, this was many, many years ago. And there and then in front of everyone in the post office he got down on his knees and said, “I’m sorry Lord.” And more than that he said, “From now on I’m always going to praise you.” And Hans has kept that promise, with a result that his congregation reflects that same spirit of gratitude.

As a missionary in Livingston’s days said when he was going through incredibly difficult circumstances, “I’m learning not to be disappointed, but to be grateful.” What an inspiration and a challenge.

People will be much less inclined to leave our churches if the flow of praise and gratitude is ever -fresh, and it will continue to grow. a note of laughter and joy, for as Mary Poole beautifully put it, “He who laughs, lasts.” I like that.

When we enter the Ministry of Intercession, we are embarking on the Ministry of Heaven itself, where Jesus is ever at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. It makes all the difference in the world when someone is praying for us.

Prayer can cross any bridge and span any distance quicker than a text or an email. As Mark Twain put it, “It’s the only product that enters our country without being taxed.”

“My house will be a house of prayer for all nations,” the Lord declared.

But we need to know who’s suffering and what the Lord wants to bring about, and reach out to the Father for them.

Testimony to the Power of Prayer from a Soviet Labour Camp

Listen to this poem that Irina Ratuszyńska wrote from a Soviet labour camp in 1986 when she was enduring conditions that were every bit as bad as anything that John would have been facing.

Let her testimony of how the power of prayer helped her throughout her ordeal encourage you to pray from the heart for others.

“Believe me, it was often thus in solitary cells, in winter nights, a sudden sense of joy and warmth and a resounding note of love, and then, unsleeping, huddled by an icy wall, I would know that someone is thinking of me now, petitioning the Lord for me.

My dear ones, thank you all who did not falter, who believed in me. In the most fearful prison hour, I probably would not have passed through everything from end to end.

My head held high, unbowed, without your valiant hearts to light my path.”

Yes, as we seek him, he sends his answers, but we have to accept that they come in the form that he chooses, not necessarily as we had hoped that they would come.

He doesn’t always explain his workings to us, but he does trust us not to get into a strop and be offended.

I love the phrase that John uses, “I was in the Spirit.” Let’s draw this series to a close now along the lines of prayer and praise that keeps us in the flow of God’s Spirit.

As we’ve hinted before, the early church historian Eusebius tells us that John was released from Patmos later on under the Emperor Nerva, and God will find ways to release us from every wilderness that we’re pushed into or that we stumble into.

He is who He is, the first and the last, and He can rescue from the dullness and the grayness of every Patmos time, but He’s trusting us to keep going.

Anointing for Prayer

We’ve covered a vast amount of ground in this extended meditation on the theme of Patmos Times, and we’d like to end by praying that each one of us can live more fully in the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

You see, every time Christians get together, we share matters that are prayer worthy.

Someone’s sick, someone’s looking for a job, someone is something, and something’s in need of prayer.

May the Lord help us to harness the information that we hear and turn it into prayer and take actions in faith that bring about His purposes.

Don’t be afraid of the cost. Don’t let it sway you. Your Heavenly Father wants to lead and bless you. However much He’s done through you already, He’s got more in mind.

Where unbelief has robbed you of the fruit and joy of walking in his spirit, rebuke the unbelief. Where gratitude has shrunk, and it should rather be a glorious shield, may the Lord restore it. And where we’ve allowed giants to loom too large in our thinking, may the Lord forgive us. Now let’s just ask and receive for a moment.

I pray Father that you’ll entrust us now with a greater measure of authority and prayer.

Nothing that we hype up, but simply that as we pray for the sick and those in need, more will be healed and more fully.

When we petition for loved ones nearby or far away, may they receive more from you and may our spirit hear their cry for help. Release that flow in our lives both corporately and individually so that we can lift thousands of people and topics to you as the years go by and may we live to see many Patmos times open up into something wonderful for you, Lord.

Anoint every part of our life, let there be no no -go areas in any part of them.

For you are King, and we yield every part of our lives to you. We love you. Thank you so much that your goodness never fades, it never fails, it goes on forever and by your mercy, Father, we’ll be with you forever and we look forward to that day. May we bring many, many people with us and sheaves for your glory.