As I mentioned at TALKING POINT just recently, for many and various reasons, the past few weeks have not been particularly easy ones for me. But then, one morning, as I was feeling a little sorry for myself, I came upon Revelation 4:1 as I was reading my bible.
This was a verse I had read SO MANY times over many years, but it spoke to me in a way that it had never spoken to me before. And that of course is the wonder of God’s Word. It doesn’t matter how many times we read it, there is always something fresh to learn from it. And as I read, “after this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven,” I remembered that John wrote these words, while he was on the Mediterranean island of Patmos. Why was John on this island? Was he taking a break away from everything? Was he on vacation? Had he gone off on a spiritual retreat? Well it seems not, because Revelation 1:9 tells us that he was there “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” In other words, John had been sent to this Roman penal colony located twenty miles off the western coast of modern Turkey, because of his personal faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. He had been faithful to the gospel, and he had paid the price of losing his personal freedom as a result.
And life was tough on this inhospitable volcanic and barren and rugged island. The Romans put people here they did not want to escape, and John would have spent his days in the mines and in the quarries, breaking up rocks as part of a chain labour gang. He would of course have been separated from his family and his friends too. He would have been separated from fellow believers, and there would have been no church services on Sunday for this man of God to attend. No doubt he would have been deprived of nutritious food, and his rations would have been meagre. He most certainly too, would not have had a decent bed to sleep in after his hard day’s physical work, or a warm bath to relax in. In fact, he probably slept in a dark cave, on the bare ground, surrounded only by his fellow prisoners. And all this when he was around ninety years old. Conditions were harsh for this aged apostle!
And YET, it was under these extremely difficult circumstances, that he saw a door standing open in heaven. Can you believe that? And it is often in the times of our greatest sufferings, when our circumstances seem at their darkest, and our backs seem to be most firmly against the wall, that we see God most brightly! Who would have thought that John would have seen an open heaven on this island of exile, and who would have thought that despite all the restrictions, John’s most fruitful ministry lay ahead of him?
YES, these past weeks have been challenging for all of us in one way or another. But my personal prayer is that I will not just see this as a time I have to get through as quickly as possible, but I will see it as a springboard to further spiritual discovery. I don’t want to squander this time, but I want to use it to learn and grow. I want to come out of it, having encountered God in a new way, and having learned to walk in His promises like never before, because no matter how dark the path, there is a reason for it, and we can be sure that when we are down to nothing as John was, God is up to something!