Over the last two years, I’ve done some growing up in that I’ve moved to a new stage of life – marriage, full time work and a new church. For some time now, I’ve had a niggling feeling of sorts that there’s something I’m not quite getting. In the past, I’ve had clear vision of the seasons God is bringing me through, his plans for the season and my focus for that time. This time, I’ve had a vague idea, slowly evolving, yet not quite there. It seems as if I am at the beginning of a planting/growing season, with the vision of harvest hazy but clearly there. Despite this, I’ve continued to do as I’ve always done, and God has continued to be faithful. Yet, this feeling has persisted. Well, the other day, as I went about some household chores and thought about these things, I received the words “new wineskin”. I remembered someone speaking these words over me almost two years ago. The meaning wasn’t entirely clear then, but all of a sudden, the “new wineskin” was a revelation. I’ve looked at this verse many times before but I suddenly felt as if I didn’t really fully comprehend what Jesus meant.
[Mark 2:22] – “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.”
Before I say anymore, I want to give some context to this passage. This image is described by Jesus in the midst of the time when the Pharisees are asking many questions. Just before the passage, they ask why Jesus’ disciples do not fast when everyone else does. Just after this passage is mentioned, the Pharisees ask another question – why were Jesus’ disciples plucking grain from the fields on the Sabbath, when no work was to be done? Jesus’ answer in both cases is to re-affirm the principle, but re-invent the method. He was bring “new wine”, and “new covenant” the revelation of the Kingdom of God that would supersede the old thinking of the kingdom of Israel.
1. Fasting helps us draw closer to God, but there is feasting and celebration when He is here with us. We fast as we eagerly await His coming, but we remember there is a wedding feast for the Lamb. God is not a God of deprivation, but a God who gives abundantly of such goodness that nothing else can compare to Him.
“Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days are coming when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” [Mark 2:19-20]
2. The Sabbath was made so man could focus on God, not so man could scrutinise the Sabbath. It was instituted so man could be blessed with a day of rest, to remember God and find rest in Him. It was not made for man to police the rule.
“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” [Mark 2:28]
The message of the new wineskin has a few aspects:
- Do we know what God really desires? (what is the wineskin?)
- Do we appreciate what God has given us to enjoy? (what is the wine?)
- Are we willing to change? (can we put the old wineskin away?)
I have had the same question posed to me in various ways, by various people, since starting full time work – “With a busier schedule, how do you keep practicing intimacy with God?” My answer has been quite simple – God always provides the time. I’m been used to being busy but I’ve always found time to do what God wants me to do, and to spend time alone with Him. I’ve never tired out and for the first part of the year, this remained true. Fast forward to mid-year, and I began to get more tired. I had a busier rotation and I realised I no longer had two hour lunch breaks to walk around the Torrens River and talk to the Lord. I sometimes had work on Saturday, Sunday or both days, so my “Sabbath Sunday” and “Saturday Morning Devotion” no longer fit into an undisturbed timeslot. I needed to organize paperwork, study, manage the house, but I also wanted time with family, my husband, friends and time to bless any people the Lord brought across my path. I missed those regular undisturbed timeslots at first, and it got me thinking about how, with new schedules and new responsibilities, how I can still maintain my precious moments alone with God. Did I need more focus? More discipline? More fasting? Well, I trialed all three, and while they were useful, I didn’t feel they were the answer. What then, was the answer? “New wineskin” – these were the words I heard. What does it mean to have a new wineskin? What is the wine? And what do we do with the old wineskin?
King David is an example of someone who created a “new wineskin” for “new wine”. Let me explain why. David’s life story, his failures and triumphs, are extensively recorded. This was the shepherd boy, who took his pebbles and defeated a giant, who then soothed the king’s sufferings with the music of his harp, who hid amongst caves in the mountain, who then emerged to become a great King in Judah, who committed adultery and was rebuked for it, who showed he trusted God in the darkest of times, and who was ultimately named, a man after God’s own heart. David was not a shepherd boy forever, but he did not start out as a king. He killed a giant with stones, but he also learnt to wield a sword, and command an army. David knew the seasons, trusted God and allowed himself to be led by God. He accepted God’s blessings and God’s discipline. The psalms are filled with his thoughts, reflections and praises to God. David had to change the way he thought, and the way he did things as he moved through different seasons in his life. Yet, some things in his life never changed. His heart was always for God, but the way in which he demonstrated his faith changed.
Another example is found in the way “ministry” has evolved throughout the years. There were crusaders, martyrs, people in the streets with tracks, revivals lead by the Holy Spirit and the evidence of lives lived for Christ. The message of Christ was preached in word, pamphets, and actions. When my parents were ministering with Campus Crusade 20 years ago, people mostly stood in the universities and cities with pamphlets and tracks. Nowadays, this is rarely seen, though if particular countries such as China and North Korea, it is still widely used to spread the Good News. Nowadays, the world knows about Jesus, and it is saturated with entertainment. People need to see the evidence of a life filled with the Spirit, and this is something that has never changed, something that is the most effective ministry, and something that can only truly come from knowing God. Some time ago, a friend gave me a book about the life of Kathryn Kuhlman, a well-known evangelist who led a very successful ministry. Unfortunately, despite her close relationship with the Lord, Kathryn did not recognise when the time and season for her to minister in this way ended. This led to much grief for both her and her friends, who wanted to support her, and she suffered many losses.
So, as I think about the meaning of the new wineskin, I realise a few things.
- There is a time for everything.
- Seasons change, both in our physical and spiritual journey through life, and we need to move with these changes.
- As we journey through seasons, we must be continuously seeking God’s will.
- We must be willing to let go of some things, in order to walk in the fullness of all God has prepared for us.
A well-known passage from Ecclesiastes reflects this:
“To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to plant,
And a time to plant what is planted;
A time to kill, And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
And a time to build up;
A time to weep,
And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
And a time to dance;
A time to cast stones,
And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain,
And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
And a time to throw away;
A time to tear,
And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
And a time to speak;
A time to love,
And a time to hate,
A time of war,
And a time of peace.”
With this is mind, let’s look at the message of the new wineskin again.
What is the wineskin?
Do we know what God really desires? How does God need us to be positioned in order to fill us with new wine? Here is a suggestion from Matthew 5:3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” A new wineskin starts off empty, and is stretched by the production of gas from new wine which is poured into it. In the same way, if we are to receive new wine or new revelation from God, we need to come before Him as empty vessels – no presumption, no distraction, no time limits. We empty ourselves out so that God can fill us with wine of His choice.
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is My throne, And earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? And where is the place of My rest? For all those things My hand has made, And all those things exist,’ says the Lord. ‘But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word.’” [Isaiah 66:1-2]
We also return to our first love, and we love Him with all our heart, mind, and soul. This is the first commandment, but in the excitement of reaping a harvest, or organising ministries, this first commandment can fall into the background. Remember Mary and Martha, both of whom loved the Lord and sought to serve Him. Yet, while Martha busied herself in the kitchen, something that was useful and needed, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. Jesus said to Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are worries and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” The message here was not that Martha’s work was unimportant, but it spoke of the priorities in her heart. The word of God, intimacy with Him, comes first, and ministry is second to this.
What is the wine?
Do we appreciate what God has given us to enjoy? In this lies the answer to finding God in the midst of busyness and any change of season. In Philippians 4:11-12, Paul says, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” That is the answer to recognising and adapting to new wine. The NIV version phrases it like this: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” In any situation, we can draw near to God and rejoice in Him.
At the same time, we have the Spirit of God who directs us in God’s ways, and this gives us help in practically walking out His commandments. The Holy Spirit gives us wisdom in our speech, and in our ministry. He shows us what God desires and teaches us how to love. Practically for me, appreciating the new wine, means recognising this new season of life I have entered.
- A priority of marriage
- While I love my catch-ups with friends, catching up with hubby and also allowing him adequate rest time, is an important consideration. It highlights to me the importance of ministering to the “two and tens”, and we are also learning what it means to serve each other.
- Different opportunities
- The message is the same, but where I am placed provides me with different opportunities. Part of this involves the way I reflect God at work. While I can always pray, and always listen to people, work also carries a responsibility to competence. This is a responsibility the Lord has been trying to teach me about – how I worship Him in developing as a doctor, as well as in my relationship with patients, families and staff. Also, being married and a little older now, I’ve found people struggling with different things in life. I myself, have been journeying though different things and have been able to bless others in ways I could not have done before – eg. Finance, and having our own home.
- Learning to serve, and learning to lead
- I am learning service and leadership in different roles, and this is helping me better understand how Jesus was a “Servant-King”. I am learning the heart and mindset behind this.
- Learning to grow my gifts
- This takes hard work, but it also requires input from others, trust and vulnerability. The way I approach serving with my voice, instruments and writing is the same at heart, but I am also learning what it means to lay them on the table. This also applies to my work, and I remember to thanks God for all He has provided. I want to steward His gifts well!
Those are just a few differences I have noticed. While I am still figuring out the practical aspect of this new wineskin, I recognise that in this season, I will be learning to see yet another mindset. I will mature in my understanding of God and grow in my love and service towards both God and towards others.
Putting the old wineskin away?
Are we willing to change? Many times, Abraham, Jacob, and the Israelites made altars to the Lord. Sometimes, this was a rock, sometimes a well, sometimes an actual altar was built. These were reminders of what God had done for them or shown them in that place, but they did not remain in that place forever. They built the altar, worshipped God, and moved on. As they continued to journey with the Lord, they built more altars, or places of thanksgiving. In the same way, we do not cast away our testimonies. No, they are precious and powerful. Revelation 12:11 describes how the saints will overcome Satan by “the word of their testimony”, and Matthew 7:8 gives warning not to “give what is holy to the dogs [and] not cast your pearls before swine.” Protecting our testimony is important. Mine cannot be taken away from me, and I will always know that Jesus has saved me, that He loves me, He protects and He blesses me. I know this because of the testimonies Christ has given to me in my life. There are times when I receive such a revelation that I feel I have not known him before. Then, I come across an old journal of mine, and I smile to see how I have journeyed and grown in my relationship with God through many years and many seasons.
These testimonies (old wine) are precious and to be remembered, but not dwelt on. As Luke 9:62 says, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” New wine burst old wineskins because new wine produces gas. A new wineskin will stretch and expand as the gas is produced, but an old wineskin is already stretched and the gas from new wine would burst it.
Lord, your love is better than wine. I want to be filled to fullness with all that you are. I want to know you wholly. Lord, I empty myself out before you. I declare that you are my identity, that you are my life, and that you are my God. Holy Spirit, instruct me in the ways of God. Teach me wisdom and understanding. Let my heart discern your desires, and let my soul cry out continually for you. Lord, let me walk in step with your Spirit, and let me have a humble and contrite heart. Show me your seasons, show me your plans, show me your ways that I might walk in obedience. Wherever you go Lord, let me go too.