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The importance of going in order, with first things first.
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CONSIDER THIS

Most people like to feel safe and many of us outgrow any interest in taking risks we might have had when young.  We grow somewhat complacent and want to live in safe ‘comfort zones’ where we can exist without experiencing unfamiliar anxiety.  We insure everything possible, seek written guarantees for employment and housing and then count on the government to step in if something falls through the cracks.  Who doesn’t want that kind of security, right? That is just normal.

Normal, yes; but is it Biblical?  Are we supposed to live in such a way that faith is not required; where we can readily answer all the questions on our own and don’t have to rely on God?  Are Christians supposed to be ‘normal’?  The Bible calls it walking by sight and it is the default setting for the natural human, the ‘flesh’ setting. (2 Corinthians 5:7) But God understands, He knows we are ‘earthen vessels,’ right?

Jesus tells three parables back-to-back in Matthew 25 that progressively explain the believer’s faith-walk journey.  The virgins (believers) have a given amount of oil (Holy Spirit) for their lamps; the foolish virgins are content with the initial allotment but the wise virgins seek and obtain more and are welcomed into the wedding feast.  The content virgins are shut out.  The faithful servant recognizes that the Master has given him resources according to his ability, so he acts in faith to use those resources to produce a harvest; the wicked servant is fearful, complacent and plays it safe.  Jesus called him wicked and slothful and ordered him to be cast out into darkness where there will be great agony!  The ‘sheep’ in the third parable are actively ministering to the people they encounter; like Peter, they are feeding Jesus’ sheep and ministering to the church body in their everyday lives out of love for the brethren.  The goats are cast out into eternal punishment.  This is the harshest of treatment for perfectly ‘normal’ behavior.  Is God really like that? Surely Jesus was exaggerating, just trying to make a point.  

Yes, Jesus was making a point but He wasn’t exaggerating.  This is a difficult principle that many believers prefer to skim over, choosing to rest in the belief that spiritual complacency will not affect their heavenly access. We like to think that through an initial confession and/or baptism we have obtained the ‘golden ticket’ to the kingdom and need not proceed further.  But the consequences of complacency and ignoring Jesus’ point here appear to be eternally unpleasant.  Jesus often shared this re-occurring point:  each person is given specific resources, expected to use and grow those resources and held accountable for their progress.  Neglect of these mandates results in exclusion from the presence of the Lord, an eternity spent in darkness and horror.  Jesus was very serious about personal stewardship of resources.

Stewardship is often connected to money, but the concept of stewardship isn’t restricted to money.  There are parables and verses that apply the stewardship mandate to faith, the Holy Spirit, physical bodies, spiritual gifts, time and the testimony that every believer should exhibit.  Stewardship can also be about prayer. The parable of the talents can be viewed as money or ability, but the chapter begins with a parable that deals with time management and the Holy Spirit (oil) that fuels the lamp, which is the believer’s witness.  The wise believers will seek the unending supply first, knowing that they cannot endure without it.  (See Luke 11:9-13, John 7:38-39, John 4:14) This is a critical step, for without the indwelling activity of the Holy Spirit, we cannot move to the second parable and receive the gifts which the Spirit produces and in turn enable us to do the good works of ministry prepared for us. (1 Corinthians 12:1-11 Ephesians 2:10)  It is only when we exercise the gifts or ‘talents’ produced by the Spirit in the second step that we can minister in our full capacity to others.  Good stewardship is an act of trust and faith, and it is required from start to finish in the believer’s life, including prayer.

The virgins that didn’t get filled with oil were told to go and buy more, using the “credit” obtained through faith. (Isaiah 55:1-11) These represent believers that have not been good stewards of their time and faith. This is a hard step we often think we can skip.  But the fate of the foolish virgins should inspire us to get filled with an enduring supply of oil —this is not membership in a church or water baptism.  The foolish virgins had oil, their lamps were lit but the flame was going out.  We see this with so many people leaving the church because their lamp dimmed, a shallow faith without powerful Holy Spirit gifts that minister to the believer or body.  Jesus is telling His followers to manage their time and faith, to do whatever it takes (Matthew 13:46) to get the full supply of oil. 

The way to obtain the unifying, powerful presence of God’s Spirit hasn’t changed.  It is the same way the patriarchs of the Old Testament practiced and the same way Jesus practiced: time spent with God in prayer.   Jesus was so popular and in-demand that He had to skip sleeping in order to find prayer time.  In doing this He demonstrated good stewardship over His time and made prayer a priority. We may have to lose sleep like Jesus did.  We may have to inconvenience our schedules and set aside other activities to find that rare pearl of great value.  Romans 12:12 tells us to be “faithful in prayer.”  Faithful as in diligent; faithful as in believing that prayer is an interactive activity that edifies the believer and produces a harvest; faithful as in trusting the integrity of God’s word. 

Let’s determine to be wise in seeking to be filled with the oil, faithful in stewardship of time and resources, and blessed in ministering to the family of God. In the end, that missed sleep won’t even be a memory!

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