Thinking Thursday: The Revealed Order of Reality

This is a long one, but I promise it’s worth it. And my thanks to Latayne Scott for the original Bible Study that started my train of thought.

Reading: Hebrews 11:1-16

When King Saul began to go his own way and not keep to God’s commands, the prophet Samuel was sent by God to anoint a new king over Israel. As he looked at Jesse’s sons he thought that one of the older sons would make a good king. But God said, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b)

We don’t see things the way God sees them, which is why we are sometimes puzzled about our lives. If we ask God to help us look at situations from God’s point of view, we can get a whole new perspective on things.

Simeon in the temple saw what others couldn’t see. Here was a poor carpenter and his wife bringing their new baby. There was nothing remarkable about that. But Simeon was close to God, and it was revealed to him what a remarkable baby it was. His story is found in Luke 2:25-32:

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.

Others saw just a new baby being brought to the temple but Simeon’s heart could see the truth. He could see a reality outside the normal. He was in touch with the Holy Spirit.

There are many people in the Bible who could see a reality beyond what was in front of their eyes. The people in Hebrews 11 considered that what was real, important, and powerful was beyond what they and others could see. The scope of reality was actually larger for them than the visible.

If you base your faith only on what you see, what you experience, your surroundings, what others say, and what comes from within you, it will be so limited. God’s knowledge of your situation is eternal, with infinite foreknowledge and view of the future, in place for eternity. Everyone has faith in something, even if it’s just that the sun will rise tomorrow, but in Hebrews 11 we learn that ‘without faith it is impossible to please God,’ and that is a specific kind of faith. It is the evidence of things unseen and that which is hoped for, and it is what others learned and how they gained the approval of God. We need to learn the lesson from these people and look at things through God’s eyes.

When life is difficult, what all Christians must do is acknowledge the existence of a difficult situation, but speak of it in “contradiction language,” where they must elevate the promise above its contradiction. A Christian puts his or her situation, his or her contradiction into a revealed order of reality – where greater weight is always placed on the unseen rather than the seen.

Cain and Abel both brought offerings to God, but God knew Cain’s heart, which is why his offering was not acceptable. As a faithful servant of God, Abel had a bright future ahead of him, yet he died so soon. Thousands of years later we can see that because of his death, Abel’s example has instructed millions of people, far beyond his reach when he was alive. Here’s someone else – Matthew 26:6-13:

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Who was this woman? What do we know about her? Nothing. Only that she valued Jesus above all things. Her view of reality was larger than the disciples’ view. And Jesus said that she would be remembered, as we are doing now. This unknown woman is spoken of two thousand years later, and everywhere in the world that there are Christians. You may think of yourself as an insignificant woman, but who is to say that you might not do one thing that will be remembered for generations?

I once told a wonderful old lady that I was frustrated that I couldn’t serve the Lord because all my time was taken in looking after my four young children. She said to me, “What if God’s purpose for your life is to be a good mother to those children?” Do you see the revealed order of reality there?

Noah built an ark when it wasn’t even raining. Abraham left wealth, comfort and prestige to travel to an unknown destination, and believed that God could give him a multitude of descendants even if he sacrificed Isaac. As Hebrews 11 tells us, many people have lived and died apparently pointless lives, but having the faith that God had a larger purpose beyond what they could see.

We can sometimes feel that people in the Bible were somehow special. That they had more access to God, or more obvious guidance. That they are an example to us, but one that we cannot hope to match. So I want to bring this down to today, and show you how it has worked in my life since I had my stroke. When I discovered a Bible study on Hebrews 11 about the revealed order of reality, it gave me a frame of reference to put my experiences into, but they still astonish me.

I’m no super-Christian, far from it. I have struggled to spend more time in Bible study and prayer, and used to be frustrated about what God wanted to do with my life. For example, He gave me the ability to speak in public, but then my health and the need to work meant I was unable to travel far or speak too often. And then I had my stroke. It was like a bereavement. I watched my future, all my hopes and plans, crumble to dust, and my horizons shrank to the walls of my hospital room, and the hope that one day I might be able to go home.

At first I couldn’t even turn over in bed, but with physiotherapy and other help, I gradually learned to walk and talk again. But I found that more than my physical condition had changed. I found I had a new determination and persistence that I didn’t have before, and my character has changed in other ways. My daughter told me recently that before I had my stroke I used to be down in the dumps quite often and very negative about my health, but now I am very positive all the time. I have also realised that some of the things I can no longer do were a source of misplaced pride, and I am thus brought to an uncomfortable, but valid humility. A blessing in retrospect only!

But there have been other blessings too. I had been praying for my job to be less stressful, and asking God for more time to write – well, I certainly got it! Many of you already know about the flood of poems I wrote in hospital, which I printed as a booklet. I have been able to sell them in aid of the Disabled Christian Fellowship. I have also written a local history book about the lady who built the chapel on Oystermouth Castle, which will be published at Easter. I have involved local groups and art students, and am currently planning my marketing campaign. Another unexpected blessing was that I was offered early retirement with an enhanced pension, making us financially more secure than if I had stayed in work.

On the anniversary of my stroke I had a party. Not to celebrate my stroke, but all the blessings and progress since. So you see, outwardly I am disabled and unable to work, but the revealed order of reality shows much to praise God for. Romans 5:2b-5 says:

We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

It would be great if God could get our attention and change our character without great trauma. There are many things in scripture that tell us things are not as they seem. We should make every effort to remember them, so that we can maintain a positive outlook through the stresses of everyday life. Remember that it says in Lamentations 3:21-23: “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” I remember saying to a friend about this scripture, “I don’t think I’ve had any mercies today, it’s been a horrible day.” My friend said, “But you did wake up this morning, didn’t you? God gave you another day of living.” That really changed my perspective.

Paul wrote to encourage the Corinthians in their suffering, in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

Some years ago, after reading that passage, I wrote a song about things not being as they seem. I remembered it when I was preparing this talk. It gives us a view of a different reality. I’m not going to sing, don’t worry, but here are the words:
                                               Large Amounts

We may be down, but we’re not downhearted.
We’ve not got far, but we just got started.
We may be poor, but where it counts,
We’ve got riches in large amounts.

‘Cause we’ve got Jesus and salvation,
And a hope of which we’re sure.
We’ve got the Father and the Spirit,
And we don’t need anything more.

We may be weak, but our strength’s not needed.
We may be slow, but we still succeeded.
We may not know much, but where it counts.
We’ve got wisdom in large amounts.

‘Cause we’ve got Jesus and salvation,
And a hope of which we’re sure.
We’ve got the Father and the Spirit,
And we don’t need anything more.

We may know sorrow, but our joy’s unbounded,
And when we’re tempted, Satan’s confounded.
We may be no-one, but where it counts
We’ve got glory in large amounts.

‘Cause we’ve got Jesus and salvation,
And a hope of which we’re sure.
We’ve got the Father and the Spirit,
And we don’t need anything more.

So remember when things get hard or confusing, that there is a greater reality which may put things into perspective. I’d like to finish with Ephesians 3:16-19:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

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About Ann Marie Thomas

Married since 1974, Christian since 1986, 4 children, 4 grand children, disabled with fibromyalgia but was working almost full time until a stroke in May 2010 changed my life completely. Writing poetry and making up stories since I was a child, I only started to write seriously when my children were grown. My main ambition is to write science fiction, but along the way I got distracted by local history and poetry about my stroke. Taking early retirement gave me the chance to concentrate on my writing. My book, Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth, was published in print and ebook at Easter 2012. The success of Alina led to the publication of Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John in September 2013, and The Magna Carta Story at Easter 2015. I am still writing science fiction - a series of novels called Flight of the Kestrel. For all my author news, see me author blog at www.annmariethomas.me.uk
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