Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain: Adverse Circumstances

Revelation 1:9-10

I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet. – Revelation 1:9-10

John had his isle off Patmos. Paul had his Mamertine Prison. John Milton had his blindness. Another John, Bunyan, had his Bedford Jail for 12 years. Commander Ralph Gaither, author of With God in a POW Camp, had the notorious “Hanoi Hilton” for seven years and eight months of North Vietnamese abuse.

And you have your handicaps, your jails — real or imagined — your infirmities, your adversities. None of them are appealing and pleasant.

It seems all of us who studied high school English lit were exposed to Longfellow’s “The Rainy Day,” which closes with:

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining:
Thy fate is the common fate of all;
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

But many of us have asked, “If it has to rain, why does it have to pour? Why does it have to storm?” Only if it rains can you trace the rainbow through the rain! Pardon my use of a cliché, but we can’t have roses without thorns! Yes, it often appears that troubles come in bunches, and we ask all kinds of penetrating questions of our preachers — most of all, we ask them of God.

Living in certain places and under particular circumstances is easy. Living in other places under other circumstances can be adverse — and at times even downright difficult and oppressive.

When our daughters were still young, our family enjoyed several days of vacation at Maggie Valley, North Carolina, a quaint little hamlet in the Smoky Mountains. For the Hawkins four it was like stepping into another world. The scenario was vastly different from the hectic metropolis of Fort Lauderdale. At Maggie Valley we could easily concentrate on the twitter of birds, the scampering of the deer, the sigh of the breeze in the trees, and the babble of the brooks.

Fort Lauderdale is gorgeous, but it is also bustling and hustling. It is teeming with pedestrians and traffic; hurry and scurry are prevalent. In Maggie Valley, folks wave and smile to each other on the roads and the few streets. Folks still hung their wash out on the line in the backyard. Trout swim lazily through the mountain streams, and the deer seem to run in slow motion along the mountainsides.

In that little village the townspeople’s idea of a traffic jam was when two cars reach an intersection simultaneously. All are around are dirt roads, cattle guards (they called them gaps), and picket fences. We ate several meals at Mrs. Sutton’s Café. Sometimes we would be the only diners. That sweet mountain lady would emerge from the kitchen, sit down at our table and visit with us. Over Mrs. Sutton’s vegetable soup and apple pie we talked about what could solve all the world’s problems. Down in the valley was the little Baptist church pastored by the man whom God had called to that place in the mountains. On the Lord’s Day, the believers gather to worship there and to enjoy all the pleasantries of their mountain home.

On Saturday we flew back to Fort Lauderdale and to our own reality. Carrying our luggage out of the airport we were confronted by taxi drivers cursing and fighting over fares. Climbing into our taxicab, our eyes and noses were accosted as our driver headed down Federal Highway, warding off the irritable and thoughtless drivers who, in bumper-to-bumper traffic, continued to keep their horns honking.

Sitting beside our two precious girls, we had not gone two blocks until we passed the local prostitutes standing on street corners in their bikinis and high heels, waving people over the to the sidewalk. Row after row of adult movie houses and porno shops assaulted our eyes. Blatant pictures of unclad women were in the front windows.

A few blocks down the street we passed adult motels with suggestive slogans on their marquees, advertising waterbeds and mirrored ceilings. The driver then turned down Broward Boulevard, and we saw so many people who slept nightly on the streets of our city. The cab then drove west toward our home, passing by still more topless-bottomless night clubs and homosexual bars.

After unpacking and climbing into bed, I opened the evening paper to read of multiple murders and robberies that are daily occurrences in too many parts of the world. TO be quite honest, all that kept me on Broward Boulevard that evening was the calling of God to our city.

Why is it so oppressive in certain places? I returned home to an area of illicit sex, drugs, murders and secret sins that Mrs. Sutton and the other inhabitants of Maggie Valley seldom, if ever, had to talk about.

Then I began to mull over the servants of God who serve in forbidding and unsavory circumstances. Southern Baptist missionary William Wallace lost his life in a Chinese Communist prison. Who can forget Mother Teresa and her ministry to lepers? Jonah was compelled to make the trip to Nineveh. Too long Abraham and his nephew, “just” Lot, lived in the environs of Sodom and Gomorrah. Paul influenced the vast Roman Empire from a jail cell, or either from a house which he had to rent. My mind rolled on, and then I came to a resounding conclusion: It’s not where we are. It’s what we are! And my heart sang amid my chagrin, disgust and pain over the hellish sins of our city and countless cities around the world.

The aged apostle John expressed it in these words, “I John… was in the isle that is called Patmos… I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” John originally did not want to be there. The fact is: the old preacher was exiled there by the government. Even though he had freedom within certain limitations, he was removed from his mainland brothers and sisters in Christ.

When dealing with unsavory circumstances, many want to run away, to pull up stakes. Of course, John couldn’t do that. He was there, and the Lord God made the most of John’s circumstances. According to some conservative scholars, John wrote not only the Revelation while he was exiled to Patmos, but perhaps one of his other books as well. Isn’t that amazing?

Servant of the Lord, right now you may be smarting under your circumstances. Day by day you ask yourself and God, “Why do I have to stay here? Why can’t I find another place?” Maybe you are crying for a new business position, but you are rooted. You have filled out a hundred resumes for work with other firms, but nothing happens. Most of the companies do not even dignify your application by writing you a letter of rejection.

And Brother Pastor, you have stormed the gates of heaven praying for another church, another town or city, another opportunity — a fresh start. And even if the committees come to hear you, they may turn away. They may or may not talk with you, but maybe you have that sinking feeling as the committee piles into their car(s) or van and drives off into the distance.

It’s not easy to stay put. Many pastors, seemingly unappreciated and often disappointed, toy with the alien idea of “leaving the ministry.” So many of them could salvage their ministries if they would latch onto the resources of God available through prayer and the Holy Spirit. Dear brother, maybe God wants you to hang in there and trace the rainbow through the rain as the Lord stands with you in those heartbreaking moments of despondency. I still believe if God brought you to that place of service, He is resourceful enough to open a place for you when His time comes.

Paul had his “thorn in the flesh,” and we are going to have ours. Adverse circumstances and situations are incredible places to count for the Lord Jesus.

James Chalmers, the incomparable missionary to the headhunters of New Guinea, testified while on furlough to Scotland:

I have had 21 years’ experience among the South Sea Islanders, and for at least nine years of my life I have lived with the savages of New Guinea. I have the semi civilized and the uncivilized. I have lived with the Christian native, and I have lived, dined and slept with the cannibal. But I have not yet met a single man or woman, or a single people, that your civilization without Christianity has civilized. Wherever there has been the slightest spark of civilized life in the Southern Seas, it has been because the Gospel has been preached there; and wherever you find in the island of New Guinea a friendly people that will welcome you, there the missionaries of the cross have been preaching Christ.

It’s not where you are — it’s what you are that really matters. Even though you may be on your personal Patmos, you can be in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.

And I continued thinking and musing: if I think Fort Lauderdale can be adverse, what about Patmos? Patmos is a barren, rugged chunk of land to this day. Ten miles long and six miles wide, it is located a few miles off the Asia Minor coast of the Mediterranean. It is desolate, uninhabited and mountainous. You could call it a Mediterranean Alcatraz.

The Romans used it as sort of a penal colony — a place to exile hard-core convicts, revolutionaries, mental cases and the elderly. It had become a zoo housing many wild human beings.

The Caesar considered himself a god, constructing statues of himself and having them placed in worship areas throughout the Empire. By imperial edict the people were supposed to worship the images or statues and cry out loud, “Caesar is lord.” If people refused, they met a terrible fate. Polycarp, the pastor of the church at Smyrna, was burned at the stake. Ignatius, the pastor at Antioch, was torn apart by wild beasts. With the exception of devout Christians, the majority of Roman subjects bowed down and worshiped Caesar. Innumerable followers of the Christ were brutally tortured and murdered merely because they would not repeat the phrase, “Caesar is lord.” Their rebuttal, “Jesus Christ is Lord.”

John, often called “The Beloved,” was the brother of James. They were the sons of Zebedee (see Matt. 4:21-22; Mark 1:19-20). It is interesting that Jesus nicknamed James and John “Boanerges,” meaning “the sons of thunder.” “Thunder could have referred to their father Zebedee, who might have had a violent, explosive temper. Or the term might have indicated that James and John themselves, like their friend Simon Peter, were given to outbursts of temper and roughness.

Regardless of the meaning, John became the premier proponent of love. In his own Gospel, John refers to himself as “one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). At the Last Supper, Peter had especially become paranoid when the Master prophesied, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me” (John 13:21).

The disciples began looking at one another, at a loss to know of which one He was speaking.  There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.So Simon Peter *gestured to him, and *said to him, “Tell us who it is of whom He is speaking.”  He, leaning back thus on Jesus’ bosom, *said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” (John 13:22-25 NASB).

John actually asked the question for Peter.

According to the Biblical account, John was the only apostle who stuck with Jesus until the end.

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. (John 19:25-27)

Jesus left his dear mother under the watchcare of none other than John. No wonder John felt an extraordinary bond of love with the Savior and delighted in calling himself the one “whom Jesus loved.”

Christian tradition has it that John cared for Mary, as he would his own mother, until her death. He was the bishop or pastor at Ephesus for many years. The people loved him and he loved them, all because of the Lord Jesus’ agape love.

Many think that John was finally released from Patmos when he was almost 100 years old and that he returned to Ephesus. He was so feeble that men would carry him into the services, and he would repeat again and again, “Little children, love one another, love one another!”

As he was moved by the Holy Spirit to write the Revelation, there he was — banished to a barren rock island to live out his “golden years” among the criminals and insane on Patmos. Why was John there at the age of 90 or more? The answer is obvious: “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.”

He had refused to compromise. Read the text once again: “I John, who also am your brother and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet.” Through the Spirit, John knew that it’s not where you are — it’s what you are that counts.

Right now many of us are experiencing our own personal Patmoses. Years ago there was a Spike Jones ditty that ended, “I’m feeling mighty low.” That’s how many of us feel in our exile. We pray for relief from these adverse circumstances. At times we are caught in situations totally beyond our control. True, sometimes we erect our own Patmoses, our own Alcatrazes — sometimes. If only we could remember that John was on — of all places — Patmos, but he was “in the Spirit.” That makes the difference, for the sense of God’s presence can transform Patmos into paradise.

On Patmos, we view:

Liabilities

People might well ask, “What could a 90-year-old man accomplish isolated on a desolate rock, away from friends and kinfolk, and in a state of veritable solitary confinement?” A good answer: commune personally with the Lord Jesus Christ and write at least one book of the New Testament! Oh, John could have worried about his liabilities, his handicaps. There was no office of Social Security for old-age assistance. There is no mention of how he lived — what he wore, what he ate, what he drank, what he transcribed this marvelous message on. He was there, all the better to receive revelation from the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

His surroundings were adverse, his situation was adverse, his setup was adverse. Surrounding Patmos was the vast sea. “Water, water everywhere.” It reminds you of those lines from “The Ancient Mariner.” Perhaps he had no particular place to sleep, like his Lord who testified that foxes had holes and the birds of the air had nests, but the Son of man had no place to lay His head. Maybe John had to scrounge for food. You can be sure that he didn’t have fare fit for an emperor. Our personal Patmoses also seem full of liabilities. The adverse seas beat and surge.

The truth is: Some have eyes only for Patmos. Amid bad situations, it is easy to fall into the trap of “I-was-on-the-isle-of-Patmos Syndrome,” and see only liabilities.

But wait a minute. That’s one side of the story. Yes, he was on Patmos, but he was in the Spirit. Notice how many biblical heroes were in prison at one time or another. If they were living today, they would be considered jailbirds. IN the eyes of the world, they would have “criminal records.” Joseph, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Peter, this very John, Paul, Silas, Stephen (before the Sanhedrin), James the brother of Jesus, and many more.

Through Christ the liabilities were turned into Lordship. John reveled in the purpose of God, in the Lordship of Christ, in the sovereignty of God. God was in control. God neither slumbered nor slept but kept watch over him. God is a very present help in the time of trouble. At least 60 years before, Jesus had spoken these prophetic words to his followers, and John was among them:

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matt. 5:10-12).

John was also there when Jesus foretold: “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake” (Matt. 24:9). On another occasion he had heard these words escape Jesus’ lips: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). John was intent on his purpose for being on Patmos, and the purpose unfolded in the writing of this apocalypse. God opened up heaven, giving John a revelation to share with all posterity.

“I was on the isle of Patmos… and I was in the Spirit.” Some think of Patmos, while others think of the Spirit. It is attitude, not atmosphere, that really matters. Many a spiritual giant has risen from the ghettos, the slums, and abject poverty. Those people focused on the Spirit rather than adverse circumstances. They fought the rats and roaches as best they could, but they did not use their adverse circumstances as an alibi for defeatism and failure.

Many a person behind jail bars has testified, “God put me here behind these walls so I could hear the Gospel and be saved.” If the late and great Billy Sunday had not gone slumming one night in Chicago, he might not have dropped into the Pacific Garden Mission, where he was saved. Listen to me. Look past the liabilities to the Lord. O.S. Hawkins is privileged to be in Dallas. It is God’s spot for me. Did it ever occur to you that your adverse circumstances might be God’s will for you? Perhaps this is what the moved the songwriter to ask:

Am I a soldier of the cross, a follower of the lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause, or blush to speak His name?
Must I be carried to the skies on flow’ry beds of ease
While others fought to win the prize, and sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me on to God?
Sure I would fight if I would reign; increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy Word.

The true followers of the Lamb will trace the rainbow through the rain of liabilities. Your liabilities can be lose in Lordship. You do not need to bemoan your liabilities. Leave them at the pierced feet of our triumphant Lord. On Patmos there are also:

Limitations

Talk about limitations! Patmos was overstocked with them. For many of us, looking at the Mediterranean would be a delight, especially if we could choose our land mass — maybe the French Riviera, the Isle of Capri, or another exotic spot. Looking at the expanse of the Mediterranean would be marvelous for a while, but suppose you were living on a rock and had to look at it endlessly? Every morning John awoke, and there was the sea, and it was not like the glassy sea in heaven. Unless the government provided lodging for him (and there is no indication it did), at night he had to search for a place to lay his tired, old head. Many nights he looked out at the moonlight reflected across that sea.

He was cut off, isolated. Out of control. He could not visit his friends; he could not attend his church; he could not take a leisurely stroll through the marketplace. He was limited in his resources for study. His parchments and books were far away in Ephesus or destroyed by now. More than likely he seldom ever heard from home.

Are you living on Patmos? Do you feel limited? Isolated and cut off? I beg of you not to fall into a Patmos fixation. God is on the throne, even on your Patmos. With all of the limitations, it is easy for us to forget that Jesus is Lord. In your liabilities and limitations, God can perform His mighty miracles through you. Yes, you!

I fully believe that when John spoke the words, “I was in the Spirit,” the limitations gave way to liberty. In the truest sense, he was no longer a prisoner. He was free! Madame Guyon, whose Spirit-filled writings still bless untold thousands — perhaps even millions — wrote “A Prisoner’s Song” while in the notorious Bastille during the French Revolution. The fourth and fifth stanzas express the thought of liabilities giving way to liberty:

My cage confines me round; Abroad I cannot fly;
But though my wing is closely bound, My heart’s at liberty;
My prison walls cannot control
The flight, the freedom of my soul.

Oh, it is good to soar These bolts and bars above,
To Him whose purpose I adore, Whose providence I love;
And in thy mighty will to finds
The joy, the freedom of the mind.

John was not really a prisoner. He was free. His predecessor at the Ephesian Church was the apostle Paul. Paul was imprisoned in Rome as he wrote the Prison Epistles — Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. It is thought he was chained to a guard 24-hours a day. Still, he was free in the Spirit. Earlier had had written the Galatians this message: “Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has set you free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). John had the deep realization that there is liberty wherever the Spirit of the Lord is.

While on Patmos, the majority looks at the liabilities. The faith-filled, daring few, look at liberty. Finally, on Patmos, we see:

Loneliness

There is no proof of the claim that loneness is the number one cause of suicide. Many think it is. It is almost redundant for me to state that Patmos was lonely, but it was. John probably had few companions. He was surrounded by human jackals, hard-hearted men who probably left John to himself. John must have longed for his family and friends and for his brothers and sisters in the church at Ephesus. When the Lord’s Day rolled around, he must have longed to fellowship with the saints and to deliver God’s Word to them.

Pastor friend. Yes, you on Patmos. Sometimes do you remember that sweet, little church of years gone by? When the Lord’s day comes, do you smell that fresh country air? DO you hear the old untrained song leader making a joyful noise? Do you hear Miss Clara or Miss Minnie playing at the ancient upright? Amid all the programming, all of the committee meetings, all the hubbub of your present situation, do you ever yearn for that little country church tucked in the hollow? I imagine you do.

And bless your heart, preacher without a church. When God called you, He meant you to do exactly your calling — preaching the glorious Word of God. And you will never be happy until you are doing it. Even if a church does not open up, there are clinics, old folks homes, jails, prisons and reform schools. If you are called, God will give you a place to preach. In fact, He will help you make a place!

Sometime ago a man was saved in our services. In conversation with him afterwards, eh explained how he previously frequented bars every night of the week. Since he had mentioned that he didn’t drink, I asked him why he would spend his time in bars. He replied, “I was so lonely, I just wanted to hear other people’s voices. I used to go and sit in night clubs just to listen to other people talk to each other.” People all around us are living on that kind of Patmos.

Some have eyes only for Patmos. They never look beyond the rocks and the sea. Their eyes are riveted on their problems and not their possibilities. Loneliness looms large. But John’s loneliness gave way to love. He was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.

Paul had written, “And now abideth faith, hope and love, these three but the greatest of these is charity [love].” In his letter to the Romans, he had asked the rhetorical question: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:35-39).

The love of Christ was with John on the isle, and loneliness had stepped aside for the indwelling love of God. Love is the key. “God commended [demonstrated] his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Leave your loneliness for the love of God.

John learned the truth. You are learning it, I hope. I am moving in that direction. It’s not where you are that matters the most. It’s who you are that matters. You are a follower of the Lord Jesus. You have His liberty, His lordship, His love. TO be quite honest, I’m a long distance from the Maggie Valleys of this world, but I’m honored that the Master has counted me worthy serve here in Dallas.

So many discover themselves on an island of liabilities, limitations and loneliness, but that personal Patmos, when turned over to the Spirit of God, can be lost in lordship, liberty and love. Sometimes it seems that Patmos will do us in. Liabilities, limitations and loneliness are doing their dastardly work.

But wait. What about asking God to let you be in the Spirit on the Lord’s day?

When we are in the Spirit, God assumes His Lordship and gives us meaning and purpose for life. He presents us liberty and sets the captive free. He envelops us in agape love, unconditional love.

Hear me. Are you in the Spirit? It’s not where we are that matters. It’s what we are. And that truth helps us to trace the rainbow through the rain!6

 

Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain

ON A PERSONAL NOTE:

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