Maranatha and Mission: Hearing the Gentle Whisper to Stay on Mission

This article originally appeared on The Exchange with Ed Stetzer. You can find it here.

Over the course of the last year, I have been training for triathlons. When I have a long training session or I’m in a race, there are two moments where I feel like giving up. First, I think about quitting when I experience a shortness of breath due to the physical activity. Second, there are times I want to throw in the towel when I feel the physical pain in my legs, calves, and shins.

In those moments, when my mind and body are telling me to stop, I hear this faint whisper: “Keep going; just put one foot in front of the other; you got this.” In other words, this faint whisper—in the sea of physical pain and emotional stress—exhorts me to stay on mission.

Maranatha moments, for me, are filled with the physical pain and emotional stress of life. All I want to do is cry out to Jesus…please come! And while he is more than likely not going to come back physically at that moment to make all things new and to right every wrong, I do believe he answers that cry and prayer in another way. He sends the Spirit to fill us as he lovingly whispers, “I’m here with you, I will never leave you nor forsake you; stay focused and stay on mission.”

It is the Spirit of God that brings comfort and peace in Maranatha moments. Not only does he bring peace and comfort, but he reminds, refocuses, and refreshes us to stay on mission.

What I’ve found in my own life, and what I suggest to you, is that Maranatha moments can serve as a catalyst for mission.

Here’s how.

First, Maranatha moments remind us that this world is not our home; we are sojourners between this broken and dark world and a world fully mended by the blood of Jesus and effusively lit by the glory of our King.

As John writes towards the very end of Revelation,

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more, grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away. Then the one seated on the throne said, Look, I am making everything new. (John 21:4–5)

While Maranatha moments might give us pause in this world, they do not paralyze us from courageously and boldly moving forward towards the next in the power of the Spirit.

Second, Maranatha moments refocus us, as believers, on the primary mission to share and show the good news of Jesus.

It seems that much of Christianity today—particularly in the West, and specifically in North America—revolves around squabbles of secondary and tertiary importance. My observation in contemporary evangelicalism is that we occupy our time by vehemently debating matters such as the role of the church in American politics and the role of the church in culture.

While these issues are important—and there is a time and place to have such discussions—the time, energy, and sometimes visceral, prideful, and declarative tone eclipse the primary issue of making Jesus known. It comes across as if we are trying to make our stance known.

Some believers reason that the role of the church in American politics is more critical and crucial than ever. Believing such, Christians will exert their energy calling out the other side in militaristic language. They’ll go after brothers and sisters who are on different sides of political policies. [Note that I said policies, not doctrine. For while one may hold a particular doctrine, that doesn’t mean he or she will necessarily hold to the same policy.] Some will even opine that a fight for conservatism is a fight for Christianity in America.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t engage in the political realm; what I am saying is that Maranatha moments should refocus us to engage in our primary calling of making Jesus known through both word and deed. As we beg and cry out for Jesus to come, we are reminded that it isn’t about an elephant or a donkey, but the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

Another issue that tends to eclipse the primary call of mission is engagement with and in culture. This is close to the previous point, but still unique by itself.

Here’s the million-dollar question: How are we called as Christians to engage a pluralistic, pagan land—even one that was founded in part by Judeo-Christian principles?

In reality, it’s only been in recent times where the church in America has had to wrestle with answering it. And because many Christians—both in leadership and followership—have not seriously wrestled with the theological and missiological understanding and application with such a question, we find ourselves reacting to the cultural typhoon we call secularism, pluralism, and rugged individualism.

As a result, we may find ourselves sounding like a clanging gong, expressing our position and point without doing so in love or humility.

Maranatha moments re-attune our hearts on the primary mission of making Jesus known instead of on transforming the world into our preference. We are reminded when we pray “Come, Lord Jesus” that he is bringing a new city adorned as a bride prepared for her husband.

Therefore, we don’t have the primary call and pressure of transforming this world. We can work, serve, and love the culture faithfully as we faithfully share and show Jesus’ love.

We can partner, in a spirit of common grace, with the culture working towards its flourishing. We can commit ourselves to a local faith community that seeks to embody and enact the coming Kingdom of God in our midst—thereby serving as a preview of the new city to come.

Third, Maranatha moments refresh our lives to give us the breath to breathe into others.

Maranatha moments arise when we are spent, exhausted, hurt, or in pain. Maranatha moments come when we are depleted and feel hopeless and helpless. The weight of life has become too much. However, while we are vociferously crying out “Maranatha!” because the struggle of life is too real, the Spirit is gently reminding us about mission because the need of the world is too great.

Here’s what we all know: Everyone has Maranatha moments. That doesn’t mean everyone is crying out for Jesus to come. Those who don’t know Jesus may be crying out for relief. They may be crying out, “Enough! Make it stop.”

They may be yelling curses to God. Maybe they are dealing with loss.

Maybe they are battling depression. Maybe they are struggling with an illness. Maybe they are in a crisis of identity.

Whatever it may be, our Maranatha moments can be leveraged to refresh our lives so that we can be aware of the needs around us that we might breath gospel life into their weary souls.

In closing, this is the tension we believers live with on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis. We are pelted constantly with the darkness and horrors of life in a fallen world. Such onslaughts leave us wailing, demanding, and even beating our chests, calling on Jesus to come quickly.

But on the other hand—amidst the train horn of brokenness, rawness, and vulnerability, Jesus sends his Spirit who speaks with a a still small voice, whispering, “Stay on mission.” Don’t lose sight of your planted purpose on planet earth—to demonstrate good news living and to declare the good news life.

As Peter quipped, “The Lord…is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Therefore, while we wait, we work. While we somberly mourn, we stay on mission.

Maranatha Moments in a World Filled with Tragedy

This article originally appeared on The Exchange with Ed Stetzer. You can find that original article here.

Years ago, I remember a Chris Rice song that resonated with my soul. It was called “Hallelujahs.” It described scenarios of life, like experiencing a purple sky to close the day, wading in the surf to see dolphins play, and tasting the salt while watching the dancing waves. At the end of the refrain, these words would echo throughout the song, “And my soul wells up with hallelujahs.”

Yes, there are certainly times throughout life where my soul wells up with hallelujahs—with “Praise the Lord!” However, I have also experienced my fair share of instances where my soul wells up with Maranathas!

Have you ever found yourself crying out, “Maranatha?” Maranatha is an Aramaic word used in 1 Corinthians 16:22 that can mean, “Our Lord, Come!” or “Come, Lord Jesus!” Interestingly, as Trevin Wax notes, this second interpretation wasn’t widely used until the last couple of centuries. In fact, as he notes, throughout the ages, Maranatha has been mainly used as a declaration, “Our Lord has come.”

Both are appropriate, but one version finds itself on the minds and lips of people when faced with life’s pains and sufferings. This week has been one of those weeks where “Maranatha” has been uttered from the lips of many, including myself.

I found myself crying out “Maranatha!” as I scrolled through the feeds that marked the 18th anniversary of 9/11—the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The devastation caused by those acts of terrorism almost 20 years ago will be forever stitched in our minds: planes flying into towers, people jumping from buildings, dust filling the city air, lifeless bodies under piled rubble, and grieving families and friends who in a twinkling of an eye lost husband, wife, parent, or child.

In addition to the anniversary of 9/11, the evangelical world experienced the loss of a prominent young church leader and mental health advocate who died by suicide—Jarrid Wilson, a man who loved Jesus and people, and who had dedicated his life to helping those in need. Jarrid preached messages, wrote books, and faithfully ministered to a broken world, only to find himself losing the battle (but not losing the war).

Having heard the news while driving, I had to wait until I stopped to see it for myself. As I sat and scrolled through the feeds, my heart was broken and grieving over what I read. There were so many comments that expressed heartbreak, grief, sadness, and lament.

The most jarring comment was a twitter post from Jarrid himself the day of his passing. As somewhat of a last, parting words of this life, he posted,

Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety. But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He ALWAYS does that.

My response is a resounding, AMEN!

But it is the irony of his words and parting action that wells up in my soul a Maranatha! I get how the weight of this world and the struggle with illness and disease can crush the drive to live. And therefore, I couldn’t help but cry out “Maranatha!” over and over. Lord Jesus, come! Lord Jesus, come!

Have you been there? Are you there? If so, it is perfectly acceptable for there to be dry moments and seasons where no Hallelujahs flow from our tongues. It is alright if we somberly sit and utter groanings of Maranatha. This makes me think of Romans 8:22–23, where Paul writes,

For we know that the whole of creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

We live in a world filled with compounding brokenness, hurt, pain, and suffering. It’s not like we face one experience of hurt and pain; Oh no, we face a life filled with such. Sexual brokenness, divorce, betrayal, abuse, violence, discrimination, racism, poverty, abandonment, addiction, illness, disease, and more—not to mention death. We are victims of multiple counts of pain and suffering.

In short, the fallen world, the opportunistic enemy, and the fleshly nature of sin lay claim to many a victim—everyone included; yes, even pastors.

As believers, we believe Jesus is in the process of making all things new. But there are times where our hopeful knowing gives way to our groanings of “Hurry up!” In those times, the struggle with life is just too real. We are simply too overwhelmed with the ugliness and darkness of life, and therefore we cry out—maybe with more of a tonal demand—”Maranatha!”

While we groan, we wait. Will Jesus answer our prayer? Will he, at that moment, physically come and make all things new? In all likelihood, possibly not. But one day he will.

In the meantime, what do we do?

When nothing but Maranatha comes from our lips, where should our minds and hearts go?

Let me share a couple of thoughts.

First, we can attune our minds to the empathetic yet finished work of Jesus. 

The eternal God made flesh entered into the fray of humanity, bore the cross for our sins as he absorbed the wrath of God on our behalf. In clothing himself in humanity, Jesus experienced life, and thus pain, in a fallen world. He experienced betrayal, disease, poverty, abuse, violence, hatred, and even deaths of loved ones.

By taking upon himself the sin of humanity, he entered and endured the greatest of all pains—the wrath of God—and thus, separation from the Father. So, when it comes to our Maranatha moments, we can rest assured that Jesus knows and understands where we are. His empathetic and yet finished work becomes the fuel for the courage to face another day.

Second, we can attune our hearts to focus on the hope of glory. 

One of my favorite passages on this is 2 Corinthians 4:17–18, where Paul writes, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.”

Regarding this passage, John Piper says,

Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there, but all of it is totally meaningful. . . . Every millisecond of your pain—from fallen nature or fallen man—every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that suffering.

In short, Jesus is in the process of making all things new, and somehow, in some way, even though we cannot see it, God is in the Maranatha moments preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

God is in the Maranatha moments preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

In closing, depravity casts a long and dark shadow. When that shadow hits our lives, Maranatha may be the only word welling up in our soul. And that is perfectly ok.

But as you sit in your Maranatha moments, let the Spirit speak hope and peace that Jesus is indeed in the process of making all things new. As a result, you can also whisper to your soul, as the old hymn writer Horatio Spafford quipped, “It is well with my soul.”