Most Christians, I think, open the Book of Revelation hoping to catch a glimpse of tomorrow; they want to look forward to the future. God’s purpose for the book is both more immediate and more eternal. His intended purpose is to help us see through the present, to see what’s really there, behind the facade. James K.A. Smith in his book, “You are What You love: The Spiritual Power of Habit” captures this idea well,
Apocalyptic literature— the sort you find in the strange pages of Daniel and the book of Revelation— is a genre of Scripture that tries to get us to see (or see through) the empires that constitute our environment, in order to see them for what they really are. Unfortunately, we associate apocalyptic literature with “end-times” literature, as if its goal were a matter of prediction. But this is a misunderstanding of the biblical genre. The point of apocalyptic literature is not prediction but unmasking— unveiling the realities around us for what they really are. While the Roman Empire pretends to be a gift to civilization and the zenith of human accomplishment, John’s apocalyptic perspective from a heavenly angle shows us the reality: Rome is a monster.
It’s a little bit like, he says, vertical blinds—you know the kind that used to be ubiquitous throughout office buildings. Looking at the blinds head on, even when they are canted at a 45-degree angle, they form a visual wall, blocking out the real world behind them. But if you stand to the side, you can see through the slits, as if the blinds were invisible, and what lies behind comes clearly into focus.
So it is with the Christian and this present, evil world. Look at it head on, without the lens of Scripture, and you will only see the façade, what the devil wants you to see. How impressive it looks. You see the glitz and the glam of Hollywood. You see men and you see women living for themselves. You see a realm where sin looks normal and where holiness looks weird, where seconds matter more than eternity.
But then comes the voice of Scripture. It beckons over to the side, away from the crowded center, to see the world from a different angle. How different everything looks now. Now we see through the cracks. Now we see reality from the vantage point of eternity, before the face of God. We see the not yet; when all the devil wants us to see is the now.
This is one of the reasons we need constant exposure to the Scripture: we don’t like standing off to the side. We like being in the center, where all the transparent people look beautiful, where money can buy you anything in the world. We like this status quo, we want the mirage to be real. But Scripture won’t leave us alone. It approaches us with the kindly and appropriate patronizing tone of the grandfather,
“No, young man, this simply won’t do. Come over here to the side, you’ll see everything much better over here. You must see through to see anything!” “Tell me, now, look at these beautiful worldlings. Don’t they look so alive? Is that what you see?” No, I see dead people everywhere. They don’t even know they are dead. They only see what they want to see. “Yes, yes, very good. Now look over here at this poor, little saint. Yes, the dweeby one, poor from giving, bowed from serving, sad from weeping, and parched from thirsting.” What do you see there? I see the richest man in all the world in whom is all my delight (Psalm 16:3).
“That is why I am a pastor. To introduce people to the real world and train them to live in it.” (Eugene Peterson). To do this I must learn to kick the trends of the world. Pray for me. To be effective, the world says, you must be busy, a veritable whirr of activity. But the busy soul never stops long enough to watch, to listen, to contemplate what’s really going. It is much easier to speak to people than to listen to them, harder still to listen to God. Such a busy soul tends to answer all the questions nobody is asking.
Worse still, the busy pastor rarely prays real prayers. He may prayer perfunctory, professional prayers. But not the kind of prayer that’s really needed—the kind of prayer that connects to the heart of God, the mind of Christ, and the movement of the Spirit. Such prayer takes time, unhurried time in the presence of God. To the world such prayer looks like nothing but a splendid waste of time. Very often, it feels that way as well. Listen to Peterson’s devastating assessment of such a ministry,
Most pastoral work actually erodes prayer. The reason is obvious: people are not comfortable with God in their lives. They prefer something less awesome and more informal. Something, in fact, like the pastor. Reassuring, accessible, easygoing. People would rather talk to the pastor than to God. And so it happens that without anyone actually intending it, prayer is pushed to the sidelines. And so pastors, instead of practicing prayer, which brings people into the presence of God, enter into the practice of messiah: we will do the work of God for God, fix people up, tell them what to do, conspire in finding the shortcuts by which the long journey to the Cross can be bypassed since we all have such crowded schedules right now People love us when we do this. It is flattering to be put in the place of God. It feels wonderful to be treated in this godlike way. And it is work that we are generally quite good at. Eugene H. Peterson. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Kindle Locations 385-390). Kindle Edition.
Pray for a holy subversive as a pastor, one who up ends the shrunken kingdom of self, who helps you see through every earthbound dream that’s ever captured your attention, the mind who helps you see through reality to see Reality, the face of God.
Who is sufficient for such a ministry? Certainly, not I! Please pray for me as I pray for you. The Lord’s Day fast approaches.