These past two months have been diametric opposites for me.
I began this year already riding a “high” of revelation and closeness with God that was incredible. I hungered for His presence. I spent time in my Bible nearly every day, just talking with Him about what I was reading and what He was showing me. In exchange, I began hearing His voice more clearly and more repeatedly than I ever have before. I began to realize that I’ve been viewing this whole “hearing God’s voice” thing too analytically. I don’t know why that should surprise me, as I’ve always had a tendency to do that…to try to discover the truths of God through logic and reason, even when I know full well that those truths only come through revelation. But I guess I never quite realized that learning to recognize God’s voice is no different. It’s merely many mini revelations, specifically sent for and to me. And, of course, there are plenty of places in the Bible that say that revelation comes when you seek the heart of God.
So anyway, January was a wonderful month for me. I experienced fellowship with God that was more intimate than anything I’ve ever had. I don’t know how else to describe the way in which it was different, but that. Intimate.
Then February came. I had a deadline which took much of my time. Then life “got in the way.” I think almost everyone knows what that means. The weeks went by, and my one-on-one time with God was quite limited. Of course, that intimate closeness I had in January was completely lost…or rather, back to 2008 levels. I no longer heard His voice any better (or more often) than I have during any other time in the last eight years.
But I didn’t quite realize the connection and just how different these two months have been until about a week ago. And boy has the devil been fighting me, as I fight to get back what I had!
But what I’d like to share relates to what God showed me two days ago.
I was thinking back over these two months when the parable of the ten virgins popped into my head. (Matthew 25) This is, of course, the story of ten virgins with oil lamps who were waiting for the bridegroom to come. Five of them were wise, brought extra oil, and were ready when he came. The other five, however, did not. They are called the foolish virgins because they ran out of oil. While they were away getting some, the bridegroom came, the wedding feast began, and the doors were shut. When the foolish virgins returned, they begged to be allowed to enter for the wedding feast, but the doors remained shut.
Now, I’ll be honest. This is one parable that I’ve never felt I really understood. Yes, I know that the bridegroom represents Jesus and the virgins represent the church, meaning those true believers who have dedicated themselves to Him. I know that the bridegroom’s coming represents the final coming of Jesus. And I know that the oil represents the Holy Spirit…but that’s part of what I never understood. How can you “bring extra” of the Spirit of God? And if the virgins are all people who are truly saved and actually do have the Holy Spirit, then how could they be barred from the wedding feast? You see, even though the Bridegroom told the virgins that He did not know them, I’ve had a hard time believing that this means they went to hell. After all…we are saved through grace, not through anything that we can “do.” Yes, living for Christ involves our actions and how we live our lives, but it’s the actions that follow salvation, not the salvation that follows the actions. Yet… the foolish versions are shut out because they failed to “do” something. At least, that’s what it looked like to me, which goes against numerous scriptures throughout the entire Bible.
Until Wednesday night. And the funny thing is, what God showed me isn’t really new.
As I said, I was thinking about what my life has been these last two months. We had an emergency in church, and a dear member was taken to the hospital in the middle of the service. Of course, the entire service stopped and became a prayer meeting for her…intercession literally erupted spontaneously on her behalf in the vast majority of us. Yet, at the same time, I realized that if something had been required of me on this woman’s behalf, I wasn’t ready. At least nowhere near as ready as I would have been a month ago.
Was I still saved? Yes. Did I still love God and want to live for Him? Definitely! But was I ready to be used by Him? Not as well as I could have been.
And that, I think, is what the parable is about. What if our lamps represent God’s calling on our lives, and the oil represents not necessarily the Holy Spirit, but rather how well He can flow through us…the ability and strength that follows the revelations He gives us…our willingness to submit to His leading…our ability to hear His leading?
I’ve made the mistake of thinking that all ten virgins had identical lamps and that it’s the amount of oil that was important. Now I see it wasn’t. Not remotely.
We are called to let our light shine to the world. We know that not each of us is called to minister to the same portion of the world. Billy Graham was obviously called to shine to the world. My mother was called to shine to her children, those she came in contact with in everyday life, and long-term cancer survivors like herself. Peter was called to shine to the Jews, and Paul was called to shine to the Gentiles.
So why did I think that all ten virgins had the same size and shape of lamp to shine with? Probably because I never thought about the significance of the lamps.
Perhaps one of the wise virgins had a large lamp that burned oil quickly, so she brought gallons of extra oil. Perhaps another only had the means to bring an extra quart, but that was okay because she’d only recently received her first tiny lamp.
Maybe it was the same with the foolish virgins…one had a large lamp and could have brought two gallons if she’d been wise enough to do so, while another had only a small lamp but left her extra cup of oil behind in the cupboard.
Each of us has a different lamp in a unique size and design. Just because my pastor’s lamp is designed to shine to a small church and my friend’s is designed to shine to a bunch of 8-to-12-year-olds doesn’t mean that my lamp will look anything like theirs or require the same oil theirs does. I also can’t assume that the oil that fed my lamp yesterday will be enough for tomorrow. It is also likely that many lamps grow as time goes by, requiring more and more oil.
This is why it’s not really the amount of oil that matters. And it’s not the exact spot in our walk with God where we stand today that really matters, for “God looks on the heart.” God will make the oil that our particular lamp needs available to us, and He’ll give us the revelation that we’ll need when we need it. That’s part of His provision.
What matters is whether we are wise in making the most of the oil that He makes available to us. Will we acknowledge that if God has made it available, our lamp is going to need it?
He won’t force us to spend time gathering oil for our lamps. He doesn’t force us to seek increased revelation of His word. He doesn’t force Himself on us, but rather invites us to seek Him, that we may know Him more and more. We are free to waste our time in pursuit of everything other than what He’s called us to do, if we choose.
But if we choose that, we risk that we’ll get caught sleeping when He comes. That’s what happened to the foolish virgins, and that’s what Jesus warned about in Mark 13:35-17.
The Bible says there will be a great falling away before Jesus returns, meaning that many of those who are Christians will forsake Christ. (2 Thess 2:1-4) I, personally, believe many Christians will fall away without even knowing it, like Jesus said would happen when people follow after false doctrines and prophets. (1 Timothy 4:1)
And this, I think, is why the bridegroom shut the door against the foolish virgins. Because when they ran out of oil, they fell prey to false doctrines. This is why the Bridegroom said He didn’t know them, and this is also why they thought that they knew Him and should be allowed in!
So what will I do now? Will I continue to allow life to get in the way of drawing nearer to God? That is a choice that I must make on a daily basis.
It is not my job to manufacture my own oil. Only God does that. Neither can I decide when I have enough oil, for only God knows how much my lamp will need. But it is up to me to gather what He will provide as I draw near to Him.
Will I be wise? James also says, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” This is a good thing, because holding onto my salvation just might depend upon it!