Place of Exile



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.


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Let me take you to a small and barren island fifty miles southwest of the Aegean Sea – an island that was a remote Roman penal colony – Patmos. Not Patmos of the Thompson holiday cruise to the dream Greek holiday islands, but a place where people were sent, often permanently, that the Roman authorities wanted out of their way.

And this was where John, no doubt to his great surprise, found himself. John, the Beloved Disciple, who had walked the shores of Lake Galilee with Jesus, and who had long exercised a crucial apostolic ministry to the churches around Ephesus.

Similar things had happened to so many of the Christians to whom he had ministered – and now it had happened to him.

This is part one of two – of fifty 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.

It had happened to him!

Tonight you are going to speak as though you’re being carried on the wings of a wave or an eagle and you are just going to find the anointing is here in such a remarkable way.

And he is going to flow tonight in the Holy Spirit. I thank You for that anointing that teaches us all things. I thank you for the anointing that breaks the yoke of bondage. I thank you for the anointing that sets the prisoner free. And Lord I pray right now as this man brings your word, he shall flow under that anointing.

We invite you Holy Spirit just to come and to fill him and we pray Lord that he will speak as thus and thus says the Lord. There shall be that flow of the Holy Spirit.

Lord in Jesus’ name, I take authority right now over everything that would hinder Your word coming tonight. We bind every force of darkness, every evil power, and we release your word tonight, and we release your servant to speak with your authority and your anointing.

In Jesus’ mighty name. Amen.

Let me take you to a small and barren island, 50 miles south west off the Aegean Sea, off modern-day Turkey. An island that is not far away from the Aegean Sea that was a remote Roman penal colony, Patmos. Not Patmos of the Thompson’s holiday cruise to the dream Greek holiday islands, but a place where people were sent, often permanently, that the Roman authorities wanted out of their way.

And this was where John, no doubt to his great surprise, found himself – John, the beloved disciple, who’d walked the shores of Galilee with Jesus and who’d long exercised a crucial apostolic ministry to the churches around Ephesus.

Similar things had been happening to so many of the Christians he pastored, and now it had happened to him.

When it says that John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, people usually assume this must mean the Sabbath. But the Greek actually refers to the Lordy Day. That is, the day when everyone had to affirm publicly that Caesar is Lord, which caused enormous problems for the Christians, but also for the authorities.

And many of them felt they had no option but to punish severely any who refused to take the oath.

And this is a timely message for our own times when in so many countries, to speak against a prevailing religion incurs the heaviest penalty.

God has allowed many of His finest children to spend time in prisons in order to minister the Gospel. All over the world there have been revivals where prisoners have come to know the Lord Jesus.

But we have no record that John was ministering to anyone, whether prisoners or guards. He was simply there. It would have been so easy to give way to plaguing thoughts,
like John the Baptist did when he was imprisoned by Herod in a gloomy dungeon. What was he doing there in the middle of nowhere, cut off by the sea from all he knew and loved?

He could so easily have become forlorn and allowed his spirit to droop at being trapped in such a place.

How do you cope with such times in your life?

The answers are going to be vital for getting the most out of these Patmos experiences.

Loneliness or Solitude

Most of us depend much of our time on outward forms of stimulation, whether it’s the worship group in church who are the wind under our sails, or good preaching on the internet or the Olympics on TV, or just the support of friends and colleagues and social networking.

We respond because we’re in relationship with others. We do well because there are others to prompt and push us on, prodding, supporting, challenging us. They’re the wind that we rely on.

But on Patmos, there’s only you, God and the Devil. Two of us are eternal, and the Devil’s there just for an extended season.

There’s a long -standing tradition that John was actually not on his own on the island, that a faithful deacon had accompanied him. But the point I want to emphasise here is that loneliness is an agonisingly difficult thing to handle.

And many of us have had enough experience of it to know just how hard it can be. But solitude is the glory of being alone with the Lord who loves us.

Outwardly, loneliness and solitude can look exactly the same, but inwardly there’s all the difference in the world. May the Lord tilt the balance for each one of us from loneliness to solitude, the ability to be at home in the Lord’s company.

He’s not hard to live with. he’s closer than our closest companion, but we need special grace to cope when the Lord allows something that’s very difficult to take us by surprise, something that makes us wonder what on earth going on.

Of course we must press in and make our requests known to the Lord. He loves to grant our deepest desires, but we must always leave room for his sovereign overruling. He sees on so many more dimensions than we do.

I don’t know what a Patmos experience might represent for you, or what it could represent in the future, but it’s a type or a condition that all of us will experience maybe repeatedly in life, whether through illness or the result of a move or retirement or redundancy, or maybe as the fruit of some wrong choice that we’ve made, which has excluded us from positions that were dear to us.

Whichever condition best suits your circumstances, and it may well be some mixture of all those that we’re speaking of here, the crucial need is to keep our trust levels high.

That’s why I’ve called this talk, Patmos, Place of Exile, Place of Revelation, and I dedicate it to everyone who is or will be going through such a time.

If God had answered John’s no doubt instinctive first cry, “Get me out of here, Lord!” – and we can well imagine that the churches he was responsible for back home would have been praying fervently for his return – then a certain Revelation would never have been entrusted to him that’s blessed countless millions ever since. God knew John had to stay in that place long enough to receive all He had to show Him.

I wonder how you would have started your letter from Patmos to your friends back home. Wish you were here. Pray for me. The Roman guards are awful. Food’s terrible. Nowhere near enough of it. Oh, it’s so easy to sentimentalize a Christian in prison. Wow, God’s going be so close to him. We’ve read the paperbacks. We know He often is by grace.

But it’s easy to over romanticize the process and to forget our own need to pray for them.

Who am I?

Right at the end of the Second World War, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German theologian was put to death by the direct order of Adolf Hitler. Listen to his outpouring of agony as he shares his heart from his cell’s confinement.

Who am I? They often tell me that I would step from my cell’s confinement calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me that I would talk to my warders freely and friendly and clearly as though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me that I would bear the days of misfortune equably smiling profoundly like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of? Or am I only what I know myself to be? Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds, thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness, tossing in expectation of great events, powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, faint and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I, this – or the other? Am I one person today and tomorrow another? Am I both at once, a hypocrite before others, and before myself a contemptibly woe -begone weakling? Or is something within me still like a beaten army fleeing in disorder from victory already achieve?

Who am I? They mock me these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.

Touchiness: The Tripwire of Satan

When people cross us and things don’t work out as we’d hoped, it’s so easy to feel thwarted and offended. It’s well worth reading John Bevere’s books The Bait of Satan, because it’s an excellent book on how not to take offence. You might not be inclined to look on touchiness as a serious sin, but if you’ve ever had to live or work with a touch with a touchy person, you will know how horrible it can be. At the first hint of a setback they bristle and bridle, because they think you’re undermining them and pulling them down.

And some people seem to instinctively tut and frown whenever you make a suggestion. You say, “Let’s do such and such, only to be met by a sharp “Tut.” “How would it be if…” only to break off as we see a big frown on their face. It’s the verbal equivalent of playing head-ball, not with another person who nods it back to you, but with a brick wall.

We may have something to learn about finding the right time and way to make our suggestions, but folks, they’ve got an attitude problem.

The good news is that God is not a tut and frown father. He’s our coach, he’s for us. He wants to fulfil our potential. And here’s a quote to take to heart from Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys, who reminds us that the job of a coach is to make men do what they don’t want to do in order to be what they’ve always wanted to be.

A Letter from Heaven

The Lord speaks to us, as he says at the start of the book of Revelation, “Grace and peace to you.” This is a letter that’s coming from him who was and who is, and who is to come, from Jesus who was risen from an undeserved death and is now the undisputed ruler of the nations, who’s made us kings and priests to serve his father, and who’s coming again riding on the clouds, Jesus the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last.

Grace and peace to you.

There’s never been an introduction to a letter like this before. And if the credentials of the Lord Jesus from a heavenly point of view are of the highest possible level, they’re pretty impressive on the human level too, because this revelation is being entrusted to one who is described as our brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and the patient endurance that are ours in Christ Jesus.

John gives wonderful references to the kingdom and the power of God. But if you’ve been overly influenced by the so -called prosperity gospel, you probably wouldn’t leap to embrace the second part of what he promises, suffering and the need for patient endurance. Because these things don’t appear that much in the promise boxes, but they’re said to be ours in the beloved, and as it was for the master, so it will be for us his children.

A Voice came from Heaven like the sound of many Waters

This letter was not being written from a comfortable office in some mega church. We’re on the rocky island of Patmos and whichever way you look, shrinking vistas, endless seas, no way to get in touch with all the people that John had loved so much. Oh, I’d always meant to tell Trophimus too, but it’s too late. There’s no chance of firing off a text or email to him. It’s too late. But John could still pray and that. releases the greatest power of all.

And a major reason for sharing this message is because the Lord wants to enhance and increase our ability to intercede, the scope of our prayers, the fervency of our prayer, to pray the prayers that are on his heart that will shape the future for so many people and situations.

This was a great encounter and it showed John what Jesus was really like now.

And when we read that a voice came from heaven like the sound of many waters, perhaps John was remembering the crash of waves against the shores, which he would have been able to hear from any part of that small island when the seas were rough.

Wouldn’t it be boring if God didn’t speak and prayer was just a one -way monologue and not a dialogue.

I love it when God speaks and when he moves whether it’s in just simple gentle nudges or whether it’s really something life -changing and course-setting. God loves to communicate with his people and there’s always something profoundly surprising when he does speak whether it’s to teenage Mary that she’s going to have a baby, or to the young Jeremiah that he’s going to be a prophet to build up and to bring down, or to an old man Moses that the time has come to advance towards the promised land. Oh how ridiculous God’s choices are from a human point of view. Claw such wisdom in his foolishness.

And God sometimes seems to wait until people like Moses are humanly past it before he comes.

Ros and I knew a man who was called in his late 70’s to embark on a ministry of Bible smuggling. He and his equally aged wife made numerous journeys in their battered old van into the Iron Curtain countries of East Europe.

They took bananas and Bibles into those fruit and word -starved countries. And they were able to minister to many sick people and see them healed.

They were thrilled at the power of God’s moving, but grieved that back home people seemed so complacent and so much more reluctant to embrace this dimension of God’s moving.

When God calls you, you have to be prepared to obey even if it proves very costly. Do you remember when God called Brother Andrew and the Open Doors team to the massive challenge of taking one million Bibles to China?

Quite apart from all the finances involved just think of all the logistics. They codenamed the operation ‘Project Pearl’ and they’d reached the stage where all the Bibles had been loaded onto a huge barge in Hong Kong and thousands of Chinese believers had been detailed to converge on a particular beach at a particular time when Brother Andrew had a dream that it would be too difficult to go ahead.

Just think of all the complications of putting such a vision on hold, with no way of getting in touch with people to tip them off what had happened. Turmoil. And then many of the crew left, the chief strategist, the first mate. It was chaos. I couldn’t God have spoken earlier. I’ve no idea, I’m not God. But the important thing is that Brother Andrew heard and was prepared to obey, to put the brakes on and change course. He might have risked a loss of face, but anything is better than calamity. When they did set off again later, he must have read the story, the mission proceeded under the unseeing eyes of a patrol boat, and the great majority of that huge consignment of Bibles reached the Chinese church.

Praise God.

Write what you see

When God speaks, he usually confirms his guidance by more than one means. Just a warning, beware of leaping into action just because circumstances appear to be gaping wide and attractively open, or you’ve had a specific dream or vision. Don’t rely too heavily on one strand alone. Give things time to line up. Wait for God to confirm things. He will.

Here was John on Patmos being told to write specific messages to the churches that he knew so well in the region around Ephesus.

These churches had been around for something like 30 years. They were regarded as key fellowships. Jesus knew exactly what was going on in them and he wanted to let them know that he knew.

John was told to write about what he had seen, about what would happen in the future, and in the process to provide the most explicit pointers anywhere in Scripture concerning end -time matters.

There were vital and valuable insights not only for the churches who were specifically mentioned, but as we shall be seeing, material that would be applicable for the churches in every generation.

Patmos times are times of Transition!

In terms of childbirth, the transition time between labour and birth can often feel overwhelming. Mercifully, it doesn’t usually last very long, but it’s often the time when women cry, “Get the baby out! I can’t do this anymore!”

Patmos times can likewise be intense times of transition, and they can last a great deal longer than they do on the labour ward. And whilst there are often times to push, that is to pray until something happens, there are other occasions when the only thing we can do is to set our wills and to endure until the release comes.

Just as Christians had to do in places like Smyrna and Sardis, where intense persecution was raging against so many of them, as it is in so many places and professions today.

Pray for the Christians of Pakistan, North Korea, China, Iran, the ‘Stan countries of the former USSR and so many more. That the Lord will give them, and you, all they need to endure. The grace not to throw away their confidence, for it will be richly rewarded. And the prize that awaits them at the end of their days will owe a very great deal to the fact that they were willing to persevere.

The Greek word for “to endure” (shipponame) is one of the really great New Testament words. It speaks not just of passively bearing difficult things, but of a spirit which conquers and turns them into something positive. Rather like George Madison, when he lost his sight and was disappointed in love, but refused to give in and he prayed that he might accept God’s will – not with dumb resignation, but with holy joy, not only with the absence of murmur, but with a song of praise.

The power of praise in narrow times

Don’t forget, the will of God isn’t a thing or a theory, it’s the person of the Lord himself, the Lord who gives us the grace to respond.

Think of people you know, or have read about, who bear the seemingly unbearable, not only with fortitude, but even for the most part with joy.

What a testimony that is to grace. Think of the narrow and the seemingly fallow times that the Lord has allowed to come your way and which have caused you to cry out more vigorously and which in the long run have proven to be his way of opening vital new doors.

Only the Lord knows what lies beyond the Patmos period.

May the Lord quiet us with His love, and keep our hearts in peace during these insecure transition times. And may He help us to take down the powerful two-edged sword that we so often leave hanging on the wall. It’s not meant to be an ornament, it’s an integral part of our spiritual armour.

So if you are finding circumstances looming oppressively, take up the sword of the spirit and let his praise be in your mouths and the two -edged sword in your hands because praise affirms that God knows what he is doing.

It releases his power.

Let’s draw close to him now.

Moving beyond the survival mentality

When we’re stuck in the middle of a Patmos experience, the most natural thing is to develop a survival mentality. To begin thinking and acting defensively, more concerned to hang on to what we’ve got than to explore the new avenues that the Lord may be wanting to show us. We’re never too old to learn new things. things. God drew Moses’ attention to the burning bush, and he went across to have a look at the strange sight. And it’s so important for us to be willing to go across and have a look, to leave no stone unturned in case God is showing us something.

When God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush and called him to his great life work, after a bit of initial argy -bargy and arguing, Moses got stuck into the new call.

Moses didn’t fall into the trap of making a doctrine out of an experience, insisting that no one could be part of his leadership team unless they’d had an experience of meeting God in a burning bush. It’s so easy to major on minors. Let the Lord shine His torch into our lives, and see if we need to give ourselves more to this person or project or less to another.

John turned round and saw the Lord

There are so many things that we take for granted, and which we forget to thank God for… until we find ourselves without them. Rather as a power outage can remind us of the blessing that a regular power supply to our home is.

When you’re going through a Patmos experience, it’s good to recall past experiences of God’s faithfulness, and to use them as a springboard for faith for the future.

It’s not that we look back so nostalgically that we start assuming that we’ve had all we’re going to get of ‘God’s Quota of Blessing’. No, we can never exhaust His willingness to give. If John had allowed himself to feel that all his future was in the past, well, that was soon put to right because he turned round and saw seven gold lampstands which represent the seven churches and he knew that there was far more to look forward to.

There always is. The seven lampstands remind us that God is so concerned for his church to be open to his spirit and here in the midst of them is the Son of Man himself, the head of the church. In the Lord’s sight the church is a great deal more than just an arbitrary collection of human beings who happen to come together for a season to coexist as pewfillers and worshipers.

Each church is the Lord’s handiwork and has its own corporate and heavenly identity, as well as its earthly characteristics. That’s why it grieves the Lord so much when he’s not allowed to be at his head.

At all costs, we must recognize his headship and resign our own.

So often his spirit comes to us during meetings as it were on tiptoe wanting us to follow his leading somewhere but we’ve got every slot and minute pre -accounted for and there’s no room for his spirit to move and very sadly he has to back away and leave us to our own devices. That’s really sad. But if we worship him in the beauty of reverence and give him time and space in which to touch our hearts, he loves to lead, his spirit prompting now one person and now another into action, like a well -timed firework display. It’s so good to go out of our way to encourage people to step out, to spot potential in people before it becomes apparent to others, to push them forward, to rein them back if need be, and always stand alongside them and give them our support, to make opportunities for them.

John’s seeking to describe the indescribable here because if ever was a man who was used to hearing the voice of the Lord it was him, but the nature of this revelation was so utterly different from anything he’d known before, that even he had to turn around to see who it was who was speaking to him. The one whom John saw was utterly different from the one he’d shared his life with, and yet so entirely recognisable when he spoke.

Moving in the dimension of His Glory

Jesus, risen and glorified, no longer a humble carpenter amongst the artisans of Galilee, but clothed in glory, and full of wisdom, power and might, light and brilliance, and glory everlasting. The Lord wants us to know more about this dimension of glory. I remember when Phil Bueckler first went to a place where he lived in Indonesia where the Lord was working in such power, he actually prayed Lord turn your presence down a bit, I can’t cope with it. He doesn’t say that now, that was years ago.

But let’s pray for the Lord to expand our hearts to be able to contain and to reflect more of his presence and his power and to be able to share it with others.

The risen Glorified Lord has absolute authority to say what he wants to say and to do what he wants to do. His purposes cannot be thwarted.

But at the same time there’s a warning. His brightness tolerates no darkness, and this passion does not sit well with half -heartedness. The Lord’s message to the churches in Asia, as it is to us today, is that if we lose our first love, it’s entirely possible to lose our lampstand, too. We are light bearers only in respect to how close we are to the source of the light, the light of the world. And I pray for each one of us and the fellowships that we represent, that we can be light bringers for the kingdom.

There’s an emphasis here on Jesus’s eyes which are said to be like blazing fire. Is that how you think of them? They’re the eyes of an overcoming warrior, unassailably victorious in warfare, but utterly impartial in judgment. If you expect them to be indifferent to you, condemning even, I pray that you will see their wonderful tenderness and compassion. But if you’re just a little bit too far down the lovey -dovey trail, perhaps you’ll do well to remember that these are all seeing eyes of blazing fire that really do pierce and scrutinise our motives and our actions.

Let’s spend a minute looking into them now.

The Sword of the Lord

The Book of Revelation urges us to embrace this picture of Jesus as he really is, one whose voice is like the sound of many waters, not a quietly trickling beck, but a mighty rushing waterfall, or as we considered before, the crashing waves upon the shore.

This is the time to rid ourselves once and for all of the soppy image of gentle Jesus meek and mild of Victoriana Sunday schools.

But what’s this coming out of Christ’s mouth? It’s a sword, and not one that’s safe within its scabbard. It’s one that represents the word of God by which the stars were made and cripples walked.

It’s a double -edged sword which divides between flesh and spirit, and which speaks of the judgment that will catch up with the Nicolation’s and the Jezebel’s and all who lead people astray, but who have no real desire to honour Jesus in their inmost being, because they’re too busy following their own agenda.

This sword is a reminder that we shall reap as we sow, for good or ill, and that nothing escapes his all -seeing eye. He may not send in his bills at the end of each month, but that doesn’t mean that we get away with a thing.

For, unbelievers, this judgment is terrible; there’s no appeal against it unless or until sins are brought to the stopping place of the cross.

All we do is seen by these eyes that see everything. but which are so compassionate and so full of love. But for us, the sword has entirely different connotations.

It’s a work of refining and not of destruction, in which faithfulness is noted and love does not go unrewarded.

Grace and Peace to you!

There’s nothing cruel or vindictive about the Lord, so if he has to use a dazzlingly sharp sword to accomplish his purposes, we can be sure that he’ll use it with far greater skill than any surgeon could wield his sharpest scalpel.

The wounds he makes will be incisive but anything but random slashes, which might turn septic. And he uses the sword because it’s often the only way to deal with certain issues that need removing. But he does it in such a way that we can be restored and not destroyed by the procedure.

That’s why it’s so important to remember the starting point of this great revelation. Jesus is speaking grace and peace to his people. And John looks upon the face of the risen Lord, bright shining as the sun. because the sun in all its brilliance is the best picture he can find to describe Christ’s preeminence and glory.

And the effect it had on him? He fell before the Lord as though dead. This is awesome. This is the beginning of real worship in spirit and in truth.

And this is where the Lord Jesus introduces himself again to John. John. Did he say, “Oh, hi John, nice to see you again. I’m sorry you haven’t seen much of me while you’ve been on Patmos. I’ve been a bit caught up sorting out the Corinthian church, you know. I hope you still recognise me.” Not a bit of it. This is a strong greeting of the highest prophetic kind.

This is the reality of encounter with the King of Heaven. I am the Living One. I was dead, and behold, I am alive forever and ever. And I hold the keys of Death and Hades.

This wasn’t the time for having a chit chat with the Lord about how wonderful it was in the good old days when they trekked off together around Lake Galilee.

This was a time to bow low and to worship. We can never lose out by yielding ourselves like that to the Lord. It’s the one place in the world where we win by giving in.

A Meditation on yielding to the Lord

Take a moment now to let the Lord highlight some area where you’re finding it really easy and comfortable to yield to the Lord, and conversely, where you may be really struggling to do so.

Just imagine that you are at the Last Supper.

You’ve got your head leaning against Jesus’ breast just as John the Beloved did. In that place of intimacy, you can say what you like to him and listen to hear what he has to say to you.

John was experiencing this time of intimacy with the Lord at the very moment when Judas was about to betray his master.

It’s a reminder that we shouldn’t be too quick to say, “It doesn’t feel like a good moment now.” Whatever’s going on in your life, may we encourage you to enjoy a time of seeking the Lord now.

What Patmos experiences represent to you

We’re continuing to look at what Patmos represents for you. When the familiar comfort of the Lord’s presence feels far removed and difficult circumstances are pressing in from every angle.

What does it mean to you? Having a non -Christian husband or wife? Having no job? Or too busy a job?

God knows what he’s doing. He knows the way into this place, and he knows the way out again for you. And he intends to bring blessing.

Many years ago a missionary came to a school and he singled out one particular boy because he felt the spirit stirring in him and he made the resolution “I’m going to pray every day for that boy” and he did for 19 years when by God’s wonderful leading they were able to meet up.

That boy was Michael Ross Watson, who the Lord has used right around the world to bring so many to himself.

Who knows what God will do next in our lives?

Who knows all the things that He’ll cause to spring up from all the seeds that we’ve already sown? It doesn’t matter if it all feels quite small, almost pointless sometimes, but it does matter that we’re actively seeking him, and seeking to make the most of every opportunity, because visions aren’t fulfilled by wish fulfilment, they’re fulfilled by prayer and action.

Trade with the gifts God has given you

Listen to what the Abbess Hilda preached back in the 7th century to her nuns at Whitby Abbey just before she died.

Trade with the gifts that God has given you, bend your minds to holy learning that you may escape the fretting moth of littleness of mind that would wear your souls out.

Brace your wills to action that they may not be the spoils of weak desires. Train your heart and lips to song, which gives courage to the soul. Being buffeted by trials, learn to laugh. Being reproved, give thanks.

Those are powerful words that span the centuries.

Worth hearing again.

Trade with the gifts that God has given you. I love that expression we’d probably say today. Use what you’ve got.

Bend your minds to holy learning. That means giving the freebies that flop through the door a miss and reading stuff that’s spiritually worthwhile. So that you may escape the fretting moth of littleness of mind which would wear your souls out.

Now we don’t hear much about the will these days but it’s central to our discipleship. Our will can take us where our feelings would hold us back and Hilda says, “Brace your wills to action, that they may not be the spoils of weak desires.”

Train your hearts and lips to song, for that gives courage to the soul. And nothing of lasting worth is achieved without courage, and it so often praise and worship which re -releases it.

Now the next bit doesn’t come naturally. Being buffeted by trials, learn to laugh, being reproved, give thanks. Having failed, determine to succeed.

Now you might be asking whether all these things that we’ve been thinking about in relation to Patmos still apply to you if you find yourself in a Patmos type of place not primarily as a result of outward persecution but as the result of your own silly fault.

After all, so many of our sufferings are the result of our sinfulness or our recklessness.

David found himself in a Patmos experience when he relaxed at a time when he should have stayed alert and gone to war with the rest of his army.

He fell into such a temptation that it led to quite extraordinary complications.

Leisure times reveal what’s in our hearts, in equal but opposite ways that times of great pressure also do. The good news is that yes, everything does still apply.

Whatever you’ve done, God hears the repentant heart. He still knows your address. He can still find you, still help you, still rescue you, and still use you. But you’ve got to be diligent in choosing his way and seeking him.

Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore, I have set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. It is the sovereign Lord who helps me.
Who is it then who will condemn me?

Remembering that the Lord declared, “I am the Living One, the First and the Last, the Ruler of the nations.” Therefore, by definition, he can always intervene to establish his purposes and to pick us up one more time than we can ever fail or fall.

Thank you, Father.

Coping with change (1)

What about perseverance. It’s true that more people fail in their objectives through a lack of willingness to persevere than through lack of talent.

It’s much easier to keep going through something if we know that we only have to survive until a certain date.

It’s much harder when issues are open -ended, and we simply don’t know if something is ever going to change or open up.

John had no idea how long he was going to be on Patmos. And it’s by no means always obvious where the certain difficulties that we experience prove to be permanent losses. It’s only too easy to convince ourselves that all is lost when everything in reality may not be.

The mind plays tricks.

You wouldn’t expect to give up driving because of a road accident, and neither should we give up when definitive changes really have happened.

Breakdown of trust in a relationship, for example, for which there is no easy resolution.

The quicker we are to embrace the reality of the new situation, the less profound the grieving process is likely to be, and the more rapid our recovery. No wonder the writers of the Hebrews spells it out. You need to persevere, so that when you’ve done the will of God, you will receive all that he has promised.
In these next sections I want to look in more detail at the effect on our emotions that the changes we go through during Patmos times may have on us.

We can take heart from the fact that the Lord who rescued Elijah when the Cherith brook dried up and who ultimately brought John off Patmos has not changed his mind about us just because we happen to find ourselves in a wilderness situation.

The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind. You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. And the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy and be changed into a different person.

The tricks the mind plays during Patmos times

If you find yourself tempted to feel, “I deserve better than this. I don’t deserve this.” Just remember, Andrew Murray’s words, that all the steps of God lead downwards.

Patmos experiences don’t usually feel much like promotion at the time, and this can hit our sense of self -esteem and identity hard. But the Lord only narrows our lives down, just as he did for John, on Patmos and Jesus on the cross, in order to broaden everything out again, much wider.

And just as there’s a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, so we need grace to adjust to the change of pace that Patmos involves. But all that can be shaken is being shaken.

I’m talking about Patmos in this context primarily in terms of loss. Depending on our personality type and our faith levels, when we go through really difficult changes it can take us longer to adjust to the new realities than we think it ought to. And certainly far longer than other people think it ought to.

Shakespeare was so right when he said that everyone can master a grief except the one who’s suffering from it. We can’t afford to start taking on other people’s misconceptions as well as our own pain.

Coping with change (2)

Young David faced the turmoil of a huge Patmos experience. His erstwhile employer King Saul had become so jealous of him that he chased him out of town at the end of a spear point.

And David lost his wife, his position at court, and with it his whole role in life. Now we today don’t automatically fully appreciate the intensity of that situation because we know how the story ended. But David was having to live it right in the midst of it and he had to escape to an emergency base in the wilderness at Adullam’s cave.

And the Lord used his being there to gather around him a group of people through whom he could do amazing things. Just ponder David cooped up in that cave at Adullam. In many ways he fared much better there than he did many years later when his own son Absalom chased him out of Jerusalem in a desperate attempt to oust him from the throne.

David was so fixated on the loss of his own son, that he came perilously close to being unable to function at all and Joab had to recall him urgently to his duty.

Praise God for people who stand alongside us as such goads.

Think of Daniel and his young friends when they were deported to Babylon. In effect, their Patmos experience. The huge upheaval that involved, and how Daniel could so easily have become an angry and bitter young man, despising the culture he found himself in and feeling that their life was ruined, and deep down, blaming God for it all.

Overcoming the if only’s and taking thoughts captive

If we handle it wrongly, Patmos can be a time when we endlessly berate ourselves. If only I hadn’t done this. If only the other thing hadn’t happened, then this would never have happened. And we get locked into the past.

Just imagine if you’re walking along, looking over your shoulder, the whole time. At the very best it’ll slow you down and give you a stiff neck. At worst you’ll end up bumping into lampposts.

Now it isn’t always easy to know when something is a genuine distraction that needs to be resisted as opposed to one of God’s significant interruptions.

When Jesus set out to respond to Jairus’s impassioned appeal to come and heal his dying daughter, a woman who had suffered bleeding for 12 years thrust herself forward and touched the edge of his cloak. If Jesus was anything like us, he might have been inclined to think, “Well, she’s had that condition for 12 years. Can’t it wait a few hours? I’m on an important mission.” But he dealt with the interruption with compassion and as we all know healed the woman and then raised the little girl from the dead.

May the Lord help us to know whether we are in a Patmos situation that we need to pray ourselves out of or whether this is actually good coming in disguise.

Don’t dwell too long on questions that you just simply can’t get answers for. Don’t allow house room for the but what ifs and the if onlys. Because those dreary refrains can just take over the depths of our heart.

It’s a matter of taking every thought captive.

Father, as a deliberate act of the will, help us to turn away from pointless inner dialogues that You and we both know from much experience will lead us nowhere. Help us to catch ourselves whenever we find ourselves rehearsing conversations in our heads with the people who’ve been the cause of our grief. Or with people who we really want to influence for that matter either. Lead us on from where we are, re -weaving threads so skillfully that when we look back on them we can say that truly is no second best in your kingdom you’ve done all things well.

Thank you that 99 % of our life and far more still lies ahead of us in eternity. That one plus you is still a majority and that you’re still planning and shaping the future for us.

When things aren’t working out as we’d hoped for, it’s vital not to twist events and manipulate people to get our own way.

Real evil is done and havoc is caused when we do this. And it’s as foolish and as wrong as when car thieves weld bits of two busted cars together. Apart from being illegal, there are always marks left at the join which weaken the whole structure. But when the Lord joins two broken but humble people together for his own purposes, now that’s powerful.

In all this, what the enemy is doing is trying to target our trust levels and make us reluctant to go forward. Whereas the Lord is wanting to strengthen us in the darkness, to help us throw off the dark thoughts that assail us and to trust him at the very deepest level.

God has got a box of tools

God has put the most amazing and life -giving properties into unlikely Patmos experiences, just as he has into so many improbable looking substances.

Think of lumps of clay that can be shaped and refined and fired into a beautiful teapot for example, the dispenser’s endless cups of tea. Or chunks of coal that under extreme pressure turn into glittering diamonds.

It’s amazing. And so too is the way the Lord can bring beauty, power and purpose out of the most seemingly unpromising situations.

You know the old saying, you can’t steer a parked car. It’s so important to be willing to step out again and the message from Patmos is very clear. “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations.”

So long as we don’t actively resist his intentions or give up under the pressure, we will reach the place he has in mind. And we’ll be eternally grateful that he gave us the grace to be persistent.

The other day we had a lovely group come and visit us for a retreat in our sanctuary shed.

And at the end I suddenly found myself rather daringly saying, “God has a box of tools.” He’s going to take one of those tools and place it in your hands and you’ll feel it.” And people did.

And perhaps the anointing may extend to you for this. See if the Lord would say something to you through this exercise or to someone you love. Let’s give him the chance to speak now.
He has many tools and gifts to give us, even while we’re still on Patmos.

Shaping worries into Prayer and turning disappointments into appointments

I love the message version of the well -known passage of Philippians 4. Don’t fret or worry, instead, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life.

If all things work together for good in the Lord, then perhaps it will help to look on our difficulties more as stepping stones rather than as boulders that threaten to overwhelm us.

It may sound harsh to say that worry is a sin, so let’s try it the other way round and say it’s not a sin, not to worry. Because worrying is like driving with one foot on the brake.

But faith is crying out for God to turn our disappointments into His ‘appointments’. And the memory of past encouragements can strengthen us through our times on Patmos, in Adullam’s cave, in Babylon, or like Moses out in the desert with the grazing sheep.
Hope is such a psychological and emotional necessity that it’s important to maintain a healthy view of the future. Most mental illnesses and most listlessness for that matter have at their root, the fear of what may happen in the future.

Now if you’re in the middle of a Patmos situation. or you know others who are, lift them to the Lord now and declare with St Paul, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body whether by life or by death.”

People need encouragement. They thrive on it. Let’s go out of our way to give them the comfort of our presence and to be extravagant in our praise. It often turns out that nobody has really noticed them before and what they do.

It encourages them so much. And when compliments come our own way, way, let’s savor them to the full and use them to spur us on to do more good as the Lord gives opportunity.