The Distracted Bride of Christ

Carter Conlon

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies… He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the children of Israel.” (Psalm 103:2-4,7, NKJV).

To understand God’s nature truly, we must often be led into a wilderness first. What do I mean when I speak of the wilderness? First of all, it is a place of dryness and incredible hardship, a place where familiar comforts are stripped away. More importantly, the wilderness is a place that brings us to a total dependence on God.

Not only will God bring us into a wilderness in order to put an end to wrong pursuits and human schemes, I believe he is also after something much deeper. At the core of it all, we will find God’s jealousy over his bride and his yearning for her return to him.

Jesus once cried over his own people, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37). Jesus referred to the inhabitants of the city of Jerusalem as if they were one person, like a bride who had once been brought into a place of worthiness so that she might honor him. Yet somehow this bride had fallen drastically from her calling in the earth.

We can hear the underlying longing in the Lord’s cry, much like a broken-hearted bridegroom who comes home to discover that his bride has not been faithful. “How I wanted you as my bride! I wanted you as my very own. I wanted to draw you into the closeness of my heart so that the two of us would walk together as one.”

The Lord is well aware that something else has captivated the heart of his bride, and he is determined to get it back, even if this means that he must draw her into the wilderness. There, distractions fall away. There, we may finally understand God’s ways and his heart.

Carter Conlon joined the pastoral staff of Times Square Church in 1994 and was appointed Senior Pastor in 2001. In May of 2020 he transitioned into a continuing role as General Overseer of Times Square Church, Inc.

The Blessing of Living with Afflictions

David Wilkerson (1931-2011)

I believe in healing. I believe in affliction. I believe in “healing afflictions.” Any affliction that keeps me from going astray, that drives me deeper into God’s Word, is healing. As Psalm 119:67 says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (NKJV). God’s most gracious healing force spiritually and physically can be afflictions.

To suggest that all pain and affliction are of the devil is to suggest that the Psalmist was driven by the devil to seek God’s Word. In my own life, I have suffered great pain. I have called on God for deliverance, and I believe him for complete healing. While I go on believing, though, I will continue to thank God for the present condition and let it serve to remind me how dependent I really am on him. With the Psalmist, I can say, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71).

Pain and affliction are not to be despised as coming from the devil. Such burdens have produced great men of faith and insight.

Paul spoke of the “cares” of the churches that were thrust upon him (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-28). Every newborn church was another “care” on his shoulders. Growth, expansion, lengthening of stakes always involve new cares. The man that God uses must have broad shoulders. He dare not shrink from the challenge of numerous cares and responsibilities.

Every new step of faith God leads me to take has brought with it numerous new cares and problems. God knows exactly how many cares he can trust us with. It is not that he seeks to break us in health or strength; it is only that willing laborers are few, and the harvest is so great. “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon him, for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

Cares are taken from those who refuse them and given as gifts to those who are not afraid of them. Every new blessing is related to a family of cares. They cannot be divorced. You cannot enjoy the blessings until you learn to live with the cares.

The Unrelenting Love of God

David Wilkerson (1931-2011)

I want to talk with you about the word ‘unrelenting.’ It means undiminished in intensity or effort, uncompromising. To be unrelenting is to stick to a determined course and to not be persuaded by arguments.

Our Lord’s love is absolutely unrelenting. Nothing can hinder or diminish his loving pursuit of both sinners and saints. The Psalmist expressed it as “You have hedged me behind and before, and laid your hand upon me…. Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend into heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, you are there” (Psalm 139:5,7–8, NKJV).

David is speaking of the great highs and lows we face in life. He’s saying, “There are times when I’m so blessed; I feel lifted with joy. At other times, I feel like I’m living in hell, condemned and unworthy. But no matter where I am, Lord—no matter how blessed I feel or how low my condition is—you’re there. I can’t get away from your unrelenting love. You never accept my arguments about how unworthy I am. Your love for me is relentless!”

We also need to consider the testimony of the apostle Paul. As we read about his life, we see a man bent on destroying God’s church. Paul was like a madman in his hatred for Christians. He sought the high priest’s authorization to hunt down believers so he could charge into their homes and drag them off to prison.

After he was converted, Paul testified that even during those hate-filled years—while he was full of prejudice, blindly slaughtering Christ’s disciples—God loved him. The apostle wrote, “God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Through the years, Paul became increasingly convinced that God would love him fervently to the end, through all his highs and lows. He stated, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Once we are God’s, nothing can separate his children from his love. No matter where we go, God knows our hiding place. Nothing can stop God from loving us.

When We Seem to Be Alone

David Wilkerson (1931-2011)

“Hezekiah prospered in all his works. However, regarding the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, whom they sent to him to inquire about the wonder that was done in the land, God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that he might know all that was in his heart” (2 Chronicles 32:30-31, NKJV).

Often, while in the righteous pursuit of God’s work, the steward of the Lord finds himself apparently forsaken, seemingly left all alone to battle the forces of hell. Every man God has ever blessed has been proved in the same manner. Consider Abraham’s situation. “Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him… ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…and offer him there as a burnt offering’” (Genesis 22:1–2). We know the end of the story, that a ram would be provided as Isaac’s substitute, but the patriarch did not know this on his journey up the mountain.

Do you find yourself in strange circumstances? Do you feel forsaken and alone? Do you fight a losing battle with an unpredictable enemy? These are signs pointing to the proving process.

Victory is always the desired result; but should you fail, remember that it is what remains in your heart that God is most interested in, your attitude after you have won or lost the lonely battle. Your devotion to him in spite of failure is his desire. Jesus has promised never to leave us or forsake us, but the record of scripture reveals there are seasons when the Father hides his presence to prove us. Even Christ experienced that lonely moment on the cross.

We have become so preoccupied in proving God that we have not prepared our hearts for the great tests of life whereby God proves man. Could it be that the great trial you are now facing, the burden you now carry, is actually God at work proving you?

Jesus says we are to take up our cross and follow him (see Matthew 16:24). What is that cross? It is the flesh with its frailness and sinfulness. Take it up, move on in faith, and his strength will be made perfect in you.

Christ Has Won the Battle

David Wilkerson (1931-2011)

Over the years, I have read many pitiful letters from believers who are still bound by sinful habits. Multitudes of struggling Christians write, “I can’t stop gambling… I’m in the grips of an alcohol addiction… I’m having an affair, and I can’t break it off… I’m a slave to pornography.” In letter after letter, these people say the same thing: “I love Jesus, and I’ve begged God to free me. I’ve prayed, wept and sought godly counsel. But I just can’t break free. What can I do?”

I’ve spent much time seeking the Lord for wisdom on how to answer these believers. I pray, “Lord, you know your children’s lives. Many are devoted, Spirit-filled saints, yet they don’t have your victory. What’s going on?”

At one point, I studied the biblical passages containing God’s promises to his people. I was reminded that the Lord pledges to keep us from falling, to present us faultless, to justify us by faith, sanctify us by faith and keep us holy by faith. He promises that our old man is crucified by faith and that we are translated into his kingdom by faith.

The one thing common to all of these promises is this phrase “by faith.” Indeed, all of these things are matters of faith, according to God’s Word.

Are you struggling to gain victory by your willpower? Are you fighting the battle in your old nature? Paul points out, “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5, NKJV).

Indeed, Paul says there is only one condition attached to God’s promises. “You, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now he has reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in his sight—if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard…” (Colossians 1:21-23, emphasis added).

Christ surrendered everything to his Father in order to be totally obedient, and we are to do likewise. We are to be totally dependent on the Father, just as Christ was.