There is a reason that the first month of the New Year is dubbed, “get organized month”. January is a time for clearing out, taking stock of things, and making plans. This is true both for physical realities like old sweaters and refrigerators, and also for non-physical realities like spiritual disciplines and personal holiness. We would be remiss if we had beautifully organized closets and disheveled hearts!
The apostle John did something similar in Revelation 2-3 when he wrote seven letters to seven churches in the province of Asia (modern day Turkey). He assessed what was happening in each church, both what was praiseworthy and what needed correction.
To the church at Pergamum, The Holy Spirit speaking through John recognized their trials: “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny [me] even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells (Revelation 2:13).” At a time where Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire, Christians were outcasts in the city. They were marginalized because of their faith, either actively persecuted or passively left out of things.
In their suffering, the promise is held up to them, “To the one who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it’ (Revelation 2:17). A name-etched stone in those days was utilized for invitations to exclusive celebrations. To receive one was a great honor. God in effect tells them that, what they have missed out on in their community for the sake of Jesus, He will replace and repay. They will ultimately lose nothing, though for a time they are outcasts because of their faith.
Each one of the seven letters bears similar irony. For these Christians to “overcome” in their day may come through their seeming defeat by dying for Jesus. Their faithful suffering would be their victory, as they refused to bow to the pressures of the world and its desire to conform them to its rebellion.
When we read these letters with this perspective, it becomes clear that the promises of resurrection and life in the new heavens and new earth are extremely practical. What we hope in impacts how we process our daily experiences and affects our ability to persevere. Watching a physician cut someone open may seem like torture, unless you know that it is to remove a cancer. Knowing that the present hardship is leading somewhere enables us to endure.
In the New Year, as we clean out, make plans, and take spiritual inventory, it will be important to reflect on the long range hope of the Christian. Each one of us will have a different 2018. Some may have achievements that are praised by all. Others will get their praise from God alone as they are unnoticed or suffer quietly. Our confidence must remain in the fact that the God who sees all is far more able to reward us.
At YBL, we are humbled and thankful for all of you who support this work in prayer and giving. As we all set the trajectory for this year, let’s fix it on the priorities which God reveals from His Word. If our hope is in Him, even when we seem to fail, we overcome.