Following a disaster or critical incident, medical and mental health professionals typically do triage by making observations and asking questions referred to as a Mental Status Exam. The usual questions are: (1) Identity: What is your name? (2) Time: What is the date or time? Or Who is the president? (3) Place: Where are you? (4) Situation: What just happened? While simple, these questions can be difficult for someone who just experienced a traumatic event. How one answers indicates if you are alert and oriented in terms of identity, time, place, and situation or in need of assistance.
Pastor Alan Hlavka of Good Shepherd Community Church, once observed that many of us Christians are awake but not alert and oriented in the spiritual realm. He suggested that our identity in Christ is often vague, undefined, or rote. Given all the fear, upheaval and confusion following the COVID 19 outbreak, as well as the conflict sweeping our land this election year, it seems especially important to be alert and oriented in the spiritual realm just now. May I propose that we give ourselves a Spiritual Status Exam? I am suggesting we ask ourselves these same questions but with a more biblical orientation to renew our hope.
PLACE: WHERE AM I? Israel’s exodus from Egypt illustrates the important connection between obedience and location. When the Israelites obeyed God’s instructions as given by Moses, they witnessed amazing favor and provision. Sadly, those who rebelled or panicked in fear never reached their destination, the Promised Land. John Bunyan’s classic tale, Pilgrim’s Progress, illustrates the same connection between
our location and tenacity in obedience. As long as Christian follows the Good Shepherd’s instructions, he makes progress toward the Celestial City. It is not an easy journey, and there are many temptations. When Pilgrim gets distracted and sidetracked, he finds himself being crushed by a mountain of legalism or led astray by the flatterer. Obedience has everything to do with where we are spiritually.
Biblically, this location question is sometimes worded—are you lost or found (Luke 15)? Lost has many disguises, but God knows them all. The scholarly agnostic may pursue a very different lifestyle than the wild child, but both are lost. If found, you are under the Shepherd’s care (John 10). He is providing protection, guidance and sustenance whether the terrain be lush or difficult. When visiting a lambing operation outside Boise, ID, I learned sheep are so foolish and stupid as to be self-destructive. For us humans, this is not a flattering analogy. Rather, Jesus was explaining how very much we need His care and guidance. Obedience, however unattractive it may appear to us rebellious humans, is a very good idea (Psalm 119:105, Isaiah 30:21)!
The location question causes us to examine our hearts. Are we listening for and following the Shepherd’s voice? Perhaps, we have become so focused on the goals themselves, like Pilgrim and the Celestial City, we are ignoring His instructions and warnings? Worse, are we in rebellion against God’s authority and hiding from Him? God asks in the Garden, Adam, where are you? If this question began with your name, how would you answer Him today? Where are you?
SITUATION: WHAT JUST HAPPENED? When bad things happen, I want to yell, Incoming! No, I am not a combat veteran, but planet Earth is a spiritual war zone. We do have an enemy beyond our own sin natures and this world system. The Father of Lies is introduced in Genesis as a devious tempter, but we are assured of victory over him, the Accuser of the Brethren, in Revelation 12:11. In between, we can observe his tactics, discover our own spiritual armor in Ephesians 6, and receive the victorious power of prayer in Jesus’ name in John 15:7&16. For those of us in the western world, it is very difficult to accept an unseen enemy. When we forget, ignore, or deny the spiritual realm, we are also abandoning the HOPE of eternity, our returning, victorious king as well as our own sense of mission. I suspect this is the reason many of us seem to live our earthly lives as if this is all there is. The things of earth are not strangely dim (the song, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus), but far too important. We are unprepared, shocked, angry, and often defeated when bad things happen.
Forgetting we have an enemy is quite problematic, because we also forget we are spiritual soldiers under authority. I think I am safe to say that many of us do not have that mind-set. Are we are disciplined, obedient, ready for deployment, and listening for instruction? Are we are skilled in using the weapons we have been given? Too few of us have a combat unit or support team. We operate as lone rangers and wonder why we are so easily taken out? Thankfully, we can learn much from Jesus’ words to the Centurion in Luke 7:1-17. The Centurion applied his understanding of military authority to that of Jesus, and Jesus praised him for it! Jesus then demonstrated the power of His authority with long distance healing just as the Centurion had expected in faith. How would your life change if you renewed your faith in the authority of Jesus Christ, perceived yourself as His soldier, reported for duty daily, and organized your affairs and relationships accordingly?*
Victory is sure, but hardship is a part of war. Bad things do happen on planet Earth. Let’s not forget the value of and universality of suffering. Biblically, trials are to be expected, welcomed (James 1:2-4), and prepared for—the storms of life (Matthew 7:24-27). Whether our suffering is likened to the Refiner’s fire that burns away the dross (Malachi 3:2), or the Vinedresser who prunes us (John 15), or the Potter who fixes our marred places (Jeremiah 20), the attacks of our enemy, or the storms of life—our problems actually accomplish good things in our lives if we build on the Rock (Genesis 50:20). Pray we adopt this attitude as we ready ourselves to resist our enemy as instructed in Ephesians 6 and 2 Timothy 2:4. May our ears be listening for instruction from our commanding officer (Joshua 5:13-15).
To the surprise of many, our Messiah did not overturn the Roman empire which was oppressing Israel at the time and would soon obliterate Jerusalem and its beautiful, God-designed temple. Jesus did foretell Jerusalem’s coming destruction, but His solution was a blood-soaked invitation to become citizens and soldiers of another kind of kingdom, His eternal kingdom. Since His first disciples were initially disappointed that Jesus’ kingdom would not solve their immediate problems, perhaps our own confusion is somewhat understandable. Let’s stop being confused, however, and become alert and oriented—spiritually. Let’s learn all we can about the glorious future being prepared for us (John 14) as well as the victory available to us right now (Romans 8:37) as more than conquerors. Remember Jesus’ prayer request—Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Deliver us from evil . . . Incoming!
ARE YOU ALERT AND ORIENTED IN THE SPIRITUAL REALM? If you embrace who you are in Jesus’ family, adopt an eternal perspective, pursue the path of obedience, and endeavor to adopt a soldier’s readiness to respond, I believe you will be alert and oriented in the spiritual realm. Amen.
* Use Heritage of Hope as a means of preparing yourselves for deployment in the King’s service.