Wineskins and Wine

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Matthew 9:16-17

Sometimes, when we begin to pray for new wine, the Lord begins a process that will allow Him to answer that prayer. But He doesn’t start with the new wine.

First, the Lord will begin to remove old wineskins. Then, He will begin to create new wineskins in your life. This takes time. New wineskins take time to craft. Then, when they are ready, He will pour out the new wine.

Most of us struggle to stay in the process long enough to experience the new wine. But the Lord takes us through this process because He wants to preserve both the wine and the wineskin. Without this process, He could do damage to both.

We sometimes think that the answer to the prayer is the new wine. That is what we are asking for after all. But the answer to the prayer for new wine has been the whole process–the removal of the old wineskin, the creation of the new skins, and the pouring out of new wine. If we can see that all of it constitutes God’s answer to our prayer for new wine, we’ll be able to hang in there. We’ll be able to “not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31

Steadfast Love

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 

Revelation 1:9

John was on the island of Patmos, exiled for his faith in Jesus. He was an old man. He witnessed most of the other early disciples be executed for their faith. Surely he saw many abandon their faith under the pressure of persecution. But not John. As he wrote to other believers about the vision that he saw, he called himself a “companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.

What does it take to have that kind of patient endurance? What does it take to stick to your commitments? Surely there is a bit of struggle along the way whether one is committing to their spouse, their church, or to Jesus. Surely John had opportunities to give up, yet he remained true to the end.

As I get older, I am less and less impressed with the flash of starting something new. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve started new things a few different times and starting new things is hard work. But I am just more and more impressed with perseverance these days. Eugene Peterson called it “a long obedience in the same direction.” This is what it takes to finish a marathon and finish well in life. It’s the ability to stay with something through thick and thin. There is a richness there that can’t be acquired in any other way.

Today is our 15th wedding anniversary. My wife and I are going to celebrate as 15 years married is no small thing! My parents and my in-laws have been married for nearly 50 years. As I get older I am more and more impressed with that kind of commitment. The commitment it takes to stick through hard things and not quit, not bail out. It seems more and more rare in our culture these days.

John’s reward for his patient endurance, his faithfulness to the end, was that the glorified presence of Jesus stood in his midst and spoke to him directly. John said:

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feetand with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

Revelation 1:12-16

This was such a gift. The glorified presence of Jesus standing right next to John. This was just the beginning of his reward for his steadfast faithfulness and patient endurance. Jesus himself was the one who said:

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Matthew 24:9-14

The one who stands firm to the end is the one who didn’t let their love grow cold. This applies to marriage. This applies to being an active part of the church. This applies most of all to our relationship with Jesus. Keeping the fire of our love burning bright, tending the fire, keeping fuel on the fire, these are key to longstanding commitments. It is love that is our most powerful weapon, and it will be love that keeps us faithful to the end.

Every Promise

So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.

Joshua 21:43-45

This is a daunting statement. Not one promised failed! Every promise was fulfilled! Oh, how we long for those statements to be true in our own life. God is the Faithful One who will complete what He started. Philippians 1:6 says, “…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

It may be helpful for us to remember that the ones to whom God made these promises weren’t even alive at this point. He started these promises with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who had been dead for more than 400 years. He continued these promises through Moses and a whole generation of Israelites who were not longer living. And it took Joshua’s entire life to reach this point.

In our same-day delivery culture, we often expect God’s promises to happen overnight. Or, if we’re mature Christians, we expect them within a few years. But God’s timing is different than ours. God is a Promise Keeper. He is faithful. We need to become people of patience and perseverance.

Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up“(Luke 18:1). The name of this story became The Parable of the Persistent Widow. Jesus told his disciples this parable in order to illustrate endurance, persistence, and unyielding determination.

At the conclusion of the parable Jesus assures His hearers that God will hold up His end of the deal but then asks, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?“(Luke 18:8). Jesus was saying that one way we display our faith is through relentless persistence. Faith often looks like unyielding determination. Faith is when we have every reason to give up on a promise from God and instead we press in even more.

What promise are you waiting to be fulfilled?

Don’t give up! Keep going! Keep believing! Keep trusting! Keep praying! Keep pursuing it! God will keep His word.

Faith Testing

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1: 2-4

There is something that happens to us when we face trials. If we don’t give up, we get stronger. It is a testing of our faith to pray for something or someone over and over and not see the answer we want. Our faith is being tested. We know that this testing will build in us a perseverance–an endurance–that will make us mature and complete. When we feel like nothing is happening visibly, we can be sure something is happening in us. God is giving us gifts that we can’t see yet, but they are there.

It’s like training for a marathon. Someone could come back from run after run and be discouraged because they feel so badly. Their legs are sore and their body feels weak. If they didn’t realize that this is the natural process of a body getting stronger, if they didn’t realize this is how runners build endurance, then it could be discouraging.

But if they don’t give up, they will find that they’re able to run longer and longer distances. The thing that feels painful and discouraging actually becomes the source of strength. It is the training runs, day after day, that are the foundation of running a complete race on race day. The painful training runs are what ensures that a person lacks nothing on race day.

The testing of our faith does the same thing. But the testing can’t do its work–it can’t accomplish its intended goal–if we give up. If after a few runs a person stops running, the pain never accomplishes the goal of giving them endurance. If we quit after a little testing of our faith, we don’t allow the testing to give us the gift of persevering faith. We don’t allow it to increase our maturity.

Scripture says of Jesus, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross…”(Hebrews 12:2). And so when we find joy in our trials, we are imitating Jesus. We are identifying with His suffering. And the apostle Paul talks about our participation in the sufferings of Christ. He said:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:10-11

When we face trials of many kinds it is a way we participate in the sufferings of Jesus. And when we participate in His sufferings, we make available to us the opportunity to know Christ and the power of His resurrection.

Faith-Hope-Love

We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 1:3

Paul praised the Thessalonians for essentially three things: 1) their work, 2) their labor, and 3) their endurance. But what is so interesting is what produced each of these: faith, hope and love. It’s not the only time Paul would write about how these three fit together (1 Corinthians 13:13).

In Christ, we will work hard for the gospel. Work is from the Lord and is a good thing. But our work doesn’t come from a place of striving. It comes from faith. James wrote about how work and faith go together when he said, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds”(James 2:18). In other words, real faith produces action. Real faith will work.

Then Paul mentions that the Thessalonians’ labor was prompted by love. The word translated “labor” in the Greek is the word kopos. It means “laborious toil involving weariness and fatigue.” We have here the image of a woman in labor, fatigued by the process of delivery. Ultimately, it is the unconditional love the mother has for her baby that gives her the strength to labor. Love is capable of doing what seems impossible. Love will labor through just about anything.

Finally, Paul mentions their endurance inspired by hope. When a marathon runner hits the wall in the middle of the race, it is the hope of the finish line that gives them the endurance to keep going. Hopelessness saps all our energy and steals our ability to press through hardship. But hope is energizing. Hope keeps a person going long after they should have given up. Hope sustains us and gives us endurance.

Faith, hope, and love: the essential trinity of character formation–the superfood fruits of the Spirit. Faith, hope, and love produce people who can work hard, labor through difficulty, and have endurance for the long haul.