Staying Awake

This week you have the privilege of enjoying another blog from my favorite editor, Larry Libby. Larry is a free lance editor and has edited books for several well known Christian authors. He is a personal friend and an avid follower of Jesus. Enjoy.

I first got my hands on the J. B. Phillips translation of the New Testament when I was 17, at a Baptist men’s conference with my dad. I’d found it at the book table and parted with my meager high school cash-on-hand to make the purchase.

            It made no sense to Dad. After all, I already had a black, imitation-leather, red-letter, Scofield King James Bible just like his. Why on earth did I need another?

            But it was a wonderful purchase, that still touches my life half a century later. It wasn’t long before I had discovered Romans 12, and soon had it memorized. The opening words of the chapter are as familiar to me as my address and phone number.

            “With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him….”

            That may not be a literal word-for-word translation, but it’s a concept that runs right through the New Testament. Be alert. Be awake. Be aware. Stay on your toes. Keep your eyes open. Don’t get sleepy. Armor-up.

            Shortly before He went to the cross, Jesus reminded His men that no one knows the day or hour when He will come again. He told them, “Be on your guard! Be alert!” (Mark 13:33). Then, at one of the most critical moments of the Lord’s earthly life, when He needed His friends and prayer partners the most, He found them sleeping. He said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Luke 22:46).

            In 1 Thessalonians 5:6 Paul wrote: “So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.” In my well-thumbed Phillips translation, it reads: “Let us then never fall into the sleep that stupefies the rest of the world: let us keep awake, with our wits about us.”

            Peter seized on the same theme, telling his scattered readers, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

            This whole emphasis of being alert, however, really started for me in the Old Testament, rather than the New. In my daily Bible reading, I found myself in the first chapter of Ezra. But on that day, I never made it past verse 5.

            The prophet tells us that “God moved the heart of Cyrus King of Persia to make a proclamation” concerning the rebuilding of the charred and ruined temple in Jerusalem. This, of course, was a direct fulfillment of what the Lord had spoken to the prophet Jeremiah, decades before.

            What a curious thing. God moved a pagan king’s heart. After all those years of captivity, a supernatural wind was stirring the leaves, and beginning to bend the trees.

            God MOVED. And then He MOVED again. In verse 5 it says, “Then…everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.”

            Suddenly, God moved, and in a way few people expected. He moved in the heart of a Persian emperor, ruling over a huge swath of the known world. And then after that, God moved in the hearts of His people. And everyone who had been moved, started packing. I can imagine some of them saying to one another, “This is crazy, isn’t it? I have no idea what this will be like or how we’ll pull this off. It’s kind of scary to pull up roots and head out to a place most of us have never seen, but God is moving. So let’s have an estate sale, pack a bag or two and get going.”

            Ezra says that God moved in the hearts of His people.

But not all of them. Why not?

            Here was the prospect of a great adventure and a mighty move of God’s Spirit that no one had experienced in living memory. This was something so profound that people in a far-distant land over 2,500 years later would be reading about and discussing that very event. (That’s you and me.)

            Even so, the great move of God, that unprecedented opportunity, sailed right over the heads of most of the Jewish exiles; they simply weren’t going to be a part of it. Things had become comfortable in Babylon. Life was easy, and maybe everyone was just a little bit sleepy.

            After encountering the word “moved” in Ezra 1:1 and 1:5, I was curious about its Hebrew roots. What I discovered gave me a real surprise. The word literally means “to open the eyes, to awaken.” God opened the eyes of Cyrus, sitting on his throne. And then He began opening the eyes of His people.

            A silent, insistent alarm was ringing, but not everyone woke up. Not everyone pulled back the covers and opened the curtains to a most extraordinary new day. Most people hit the snooze button. Most people shrugged their shoulders, played it safe and stayed in Babylon.

            So I can’t help but ask myself a few questions. What if God moves in my day? What if—right now—He is doing something unpredictable, unexpected, even way out of left field? What if He is moving right now—in my family, in my neighborhood, in my church, in my city, in my country? Will He move me, too? Or will I miss it? Will I be hoeing my potatoes in Babylon while He is re-writing history?

            But how could that happen to me? What would keep me from sensing a supernatural groundswell?

            The answer isn’t all that complicated. If I do miss it, it will be because I am preoccupied with other things. Everyday life things. Maybe my work. Maybe my worries. Maybe my hobbies. Maybe Fox News. Maybe a health concern. Maybe all the fiction books I love to read. Maybe laziness. Maybe certain sins that I really don’t want to let go of.

            Will I be aware of a move of God under my own roof? (I could tell you about a time when it went right around me.) Will I sense a stirring in my church? Will I finally open my eyes? Or will I be on the sidelines, a sleepy, self-satisfied nonparticipant, while He shakes foundations and pierces walls all around me?

These are questions that, for me, are worth asking right now. The words I encountered back in 1968 in my Phillips New Testament keep saying the same thing.

“With eyes wide open….”

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