Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” – Revelation 10:8-9 (ESV)
Fear and a false sense of humility often keep us from loving our Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength – and it keeps us from following His commands. We read about the saints, heroes, and heroines of the faith and tell ourselves that we could never be like them. In truth though, we have far more in common with these legendary servants of God than we have setting us apart.
We know what it is to be human: to be breakable, corruptible, frail and failing… sometimes when we can see the right and good, yet are unable to do it. We know the brokenness of the world in which we live: filled to the brim with sin – an invisible disease that pulls apart everything it touches, leaving us desperate, wounded, and dying. Perhaps we know the pain of trying to stand against the tide in a flailing attempt to do what is right. Most importantly though, we know Jesus: God in the flesh, our savior and redeemer, our hope in desperation, our light in the darkness… and it is sweet indeed.
It is sweet to know Jesus and to have His grace in our lives. It can be sweet to share that grace with others. Yet sometimes we find ourselves standing back against the tide, sowing the seeds of God’s love for sinners upon hard hearts, in vain, and what was once sweet seems bitter. It seems bitter when our attempts to save souls are thrown back in our faces, humiliating us. It seems bitter when others take advantage of our mercy upon them and seek to use our generosity for their own gain. It seems bitter when those whom we hold dearest refuse to admit, refuse even to see their need of God’s grace in their lives and through this all, we find there is nothing we can do to change them, or the world.
The difference between a prophet and a witness lies only in the audience. It is like the subtle difference between a king and a parent – both have authority over the lives of others, and responsibilities for their nurture and protection. While you may not be called to tell seven churches in Asia Minor about God, you are called to testify on His behalf with those whom God has placed in your life… and to do so not in your own strength, but in Gods. We do well to remember that the prophets almost always faced rejection trying to give life and soul-saving wisdom to those to whom God brought them. All of them, from Noah to John knew the bitterness of seeing their words fall on deaf ears and hard hearts. However, we do well to remember that Jesus taught that only God can send the rains to make seeds grow, and only God can open the eyes of the blind and soften the hearts of sinners (Mark 4:26-29). The bitter truth is, you may never see the fruit of your labors as a witness to Christ in this life. However, we continue to bear witness because in doing so we show our love of Christ, and sometimes, not always, but sometimes, God turns our struggles and pains in loving sinners who reject us, and pours it upon their hearts like rain – which softens them, and causes those formerly dead seeds to sprout to new life, that others may come along and harvest later. Imagine how Jesus felt, being rejected by all… pouring out his lifeblood literally, and forgiving them with his final breaths – only to have his disciples be the ones to welcome those sinners into the kingdom afterwards. Jesus, the source of all this sweet grace, baptized no one, but humbly faced rejection throughout his whole life, so that those following after Him might reap the fruit of His labors.
So, let us not get so lost in the sweetness of God’s grace that we forget to take up our cross and share it with others. Nor let us despair in the bitterness of labors that seem to bear no fruit. Rather, let us press on and persevere, for God is with us. Let us live as more than conquerors because God goes before us. Let us remember that the bitterness will not last because God is still working and sending His harvesters in the fields we no longer tend.
He’s got the whole world in His hands.