How can we face challenges with courage? Part 1

“In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you.” John 16:26

Do you know what Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Robespierre, George Washington, Napoleon, Queen Victoria, Golda Meir, Hitler, Stalin, Fidel Castro, and Barack Obama all have in common? The answer is quite simple: They are all orphans. This is the conclusion of a study done by Dr. Pierre Rentchnick in a book entitled, “Do Orphans Lead the World?” 1

After surveying the lives of three hundred leaders who have had a great impact on world history, he discovered that all these leaders had grown up as orphans – either actually, through the death or separation from parents, or emotionally, as a result of severe childhood deprivation. “He concluded that what many would consider emotional deprivation may arouse an exceptional willpower which can be turned to either good or evil.” 2

Today psychologists are giving lectures on how important it is for a child’s development to have a father and a mother performing harmoniously together their respective roles towards their child, and we find this study which shows that some of the most influential people in world history never had healthy relations with their parents.

Paul Tournier, the Swiss physician and counselor, who was also an orphan, was intrigued by Rentchnick’s study, and so he took up the study and realized that many of the most influential religious leaders were also virtual orphans. 3  In his book, Creative Suffering, Tournier states that circumstances are morally neutral, whether fortunate or unfortunate. They simply are what they are; what matters is how we respond to them. 4

Good and evil, in the moral sense, do not reside in things, but they always reside in persons. Rarely are we in control of events which cause suffering. But we can control how we respond to suffering. By God’s grace, we can respond positively, creatively, and see suffering as an opportunity to learn and grow. Or we can respond negatively and stunt our growth.

When we face challenges or difficulties in life, how will we respond? Will we respond with faith or with fear? The circumstances do not determine how we respond. How we view those circumstances determines how we respond. This is the lesson that Jesus wants to teach us in John 16:25-33.

In John 16:16-24, Jesus used the analogy of a woman in the labor of childbirth to teach how He could transform the disciples’ grief over His death into gladness at His resurrection (John 16:16-24). In John 16:25-33, Jesus wants to teach us how to face challenges with courage.

First, we are to RESOLVE TO GO DIRECTLY TO THE FATHER IN PRAYER (16:25-26). Jesus said to His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father.” (John 16:25). The phrase “these things” refers back to what Jesus just said about a woman being in labor (John 16:16-24). When Christ says He spoke to His disciples in “figurative language,” He is referring to dark sayings which conceal some truth. He admits that He has not given direct answers to His disciples’ questions. But He assures them that “the time is coming” after His resurrection when He will no longer speak to them in figurative language. For forty days after His resurrection (cf. Acts 1:3), Christ would speak “plainly about the Father” and that would be reflected in the apostles’ teaching.

Evans writes, “There is a principle at work here for believers in Christ: God only explains what you are ready and able to handle. You may not understand the circumstances that you’re experiencing, but God loves you and is taking you through a growth process. He calls for your trust and obedience now. Further understanding will come later, when you’re prepared to receive it.” 5

Next Jesus said, “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you.” (John 16:26). “In that day” after His resurrection and ascension to heaven, the disciples would be able to approach the Father directly in Jesus’ name. It would not be necessary for Jesus to “pray the Father for” the disciples as He had done during His earthly ministry, because now they would be able to ask the Father for themselves.

This does not mean Jesus would never intercede in heaven for His disciples because the Bible tells us that Christ intercedes for all believers (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 9:24). What He probably means is that they are not to look to Jesus only to meet their needs, but to the Father also. 6 The verb “ask” (aitēsesthe) is in the middle voice and means to ask for one’s self a favor from God. It is not wrong to ask God to meet your own needs. The disciples could pray directly to the Father because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross which provided direct access into the presence of God in heaven (cf. Hebrews 10:19-22).

All believers can pray directly to God the Father. This is not a privilege limited to pastors or other church leaders. It is a privilege for all Christians. The Bible tells us, “For through Him we both [Jews and Gentiles] have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18).

In Acts 4, the believers of the Jerusalem Church were experiencing opposition to the gospel, so they prayed the Scriptures found in Psalm 2:1-2 (Acts 4:25-26) which describe a future day of rebellion when the nations will gather against Christ under the World Ruler or Beast of Revelation (cf. Revelation 16:13-16; 19:11-21). Do you know how the Lord will respond to their opposition? Psalm 2:4 says, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh.”

This is like the laughter of a father whose three-year old boasts that he can outrun him or beat him in a wrestling match. The father knows the boundaries of power possessed by his son. Likewise, God knows the boundaries of power among the nations and He is amused by their attempts to overthrow Him. That, my friends, is courage. If God laughs at this spirit of rebellion among all the nations, it would be inappropriate for you and me to be afraid among those who oppose the gospel. God has an abundant supply of courage to give us.

Among those who served in the court of Alexander the Great was a famous philosopher who had outstanding ability but little money. He asked Alexander for financial help and was told he could draw whatever cash he needed from the imperial treasury. When he submitted to the treasurer a request for an amount equal to $50,000, he was promptly refused. The treasurer had to verify that such a large sum was indeed authorized. But when he asked Alexander, the ruler replied, “Pay the money at once. The philosopher has done me a singular honor. By the largeness of his request, he shows that he has understood both my wealth and generosity.”

Believers who exercise great faith by asking God to provide for their needs demonstrate a similar understanding of His vast wealth and generosity. That kind of asking honors God the Father. If we are going to have courage when facing challenges in life, we must learn to go directly to the Father in prayer, knowing that He has an infinite supply of courage and He is eager to give it to those who ask.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I am so grateful to have direct access into Your throne room in heaven because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I can talk to You about anything at any time, knowing that You understand and want to bless me as Your child. I honor You when I ask You to meet my needs abundantly because it reflects that You are a good and generous Father Who delights in blessing His children. Lord God, I ask that You supply Your children with an abundance of boldness to proclaim Christ crucified to a lost and dying world. The world may mock or oppose those of us who proclaim Your gospel message, but we are so thankful to have the honor of serving You as Your ambassadors here on earth. Please use us as You deem best to magnify Your Son. In the powerful name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. David M. Atkinson, Leadership – By the Book, (Dyer, IN: Grace and Glory Publishers, 2007), pg. 84.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid, pp. 84-85.

4. Philip Yancey, Where is God When It Hurts? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), pp. 143-144.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1811.

6. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentar, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 456.

How can I trust the Lord Jesus as the True Shepherd? Part 3

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” John 10:3c-4

David Johnson writes, “Both Old and New Testaments warn of false prophets and spiritual systems that add the performance of religious behaviors to the performance of Jesus on the cross as a means to find God’s approval. All of us, as Christians, are told to be on our spiritual guard. Are the spiritual relationships you have bringing the rest Jesus promised, or do you find just more toil and weariness?” 1

If your spiritual relationships have brought more toil and weariness than the rest Jesus promised, then you can probably relate to the fact that much of Israel’s history has been tainted by false shepherds who only cared about themselves and neglected to care for the people God had placed in their care (Ezekiel 34:2-6). In view of Israel’s false shepherds, the Lord promised a True Shepherd who would care for His flock. That Shepherd would be God Himself (Ezekiel 34:11-16).

We are learning that Jesus Christ is that True Shepherd Whom God’s people can trust to care for them in a way that the false shepherds never could. Jesus promises rest and nourishment for His sheep, not more toil and weariness. So far we have learned that we can trust Jesus as our True Shepherd because…

– He has prophetic credentials (John 10:1-2)

– He has the doorkeeper’s (John the Baptist’s) confirmation (John 10:3a)

– He has personal concern for each of us (John 10:3b)

Today we discover that we can trust Jesus as our True Shepherd because HE PROVIDES COMPETENT LEADERSHIP (John 10:3c-6). Jesus said concerning the True Shepherd,3c He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” (John 10:3c-4). The Pharisees cast the healed beggar out of the synagogue, but Jesus led him out of Judaism into His fold.Jesus calls His own sheep by name to “lead them out” of the fold from the other flocks. His sheep follow that familiar voice. They trust that voice.

Christ did not come to work within the Pharisee’s or Sadducee’s religious systems, but rather to separate those who heard His word from those systems because there was no life in them. As He gathered His flock together, “He goes before them”to show them the way in which they ought to go. The shepherd did not drive his sheep from behind with dogs like many shepherds in the Western world do today. Instead, he leads them from the front. The Pharisees tried to drive the people from behind using fear. But Jesus lovingly leads the people to pasture away from danger. Christ did not point people to a way in which He Himself was not walking but rather led His own sheep in the way He intended them to go. Jesus led by example, not by force. Such is the way of the True Shepherd.

You may be facing important decisions and Jesus loves you so much He wants to guide you. Some of you may be saying, “Great! Just what I need! Someone else to push me around or guide me!” Christ enjoys guiding you. He really does. He knows that life is too difficult to be lived on its own and He wants to guide us in our decisions and direction so we can experience His rest and enjoyment, not more toil and weariness. Jesus promised believers, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30).

The words “yoke” and “learn” suggest a discipleship relationship. What does it mean to take Jesus’ yoke? A yoke is a wooden beam  that attaches two farm animals together. By sharing the load, they lighten the load. They can carry more because they are working together. Who has a stronger back – you or Jesus? Jesus is saying to join up with Him, connect with Him in a discipleship relationship and He will carry the load with you. 

But the yoke is also a symbol of control. Farmers used a yoke to control their animals. Oxen yoked together are controlled by their master; when you and I are yoked to Christ we are controlled by Him. When you are yoked together with Christ you move together in the same direction and at the same pace. If you move at the same pace as Christ and in the same direction as Christ, will you have less stress? Absolutely! Who is setting the pace in your life at this time? You? Your boss? Your church? Your pastor? Your culture? That’s why you are overloaded with stress. When we yoke up with Jesus, He determines the pace and direction we are to go and then we will enjoy His promised rest of discipleship.

If you are a Christian, Jesus wants to guide you. He wants to direct you. You can count on His leadings to move you more into His likeness (Romans 8:28-29). He has good plans for you. Plans to prosper you, not to harm you. Hope-filled plans, as the Scripture says: “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11 – NIV).  Christ is always seeking to lead us. The question that faces us is are we listening?   

Jesus then says, “Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:5). While it is the nature of sheep to follow the voice of their shepherd, they will not follow the voice of a stranger even if he dresses alike or uses the same words because his voice is unfamiliar to them. Instead, the sheep flee to safety. In this context, oppressed people under the legalism of the Pharisees were fleeing to Jesus for safety and rest.

Do we run from unfamiliar voices or to them? When you hear teaching that is contrary to Jesus’ teachings, do you run from it or to it? For example, if you hear teaching that says you must bear fruit or produce good works to get to heaven (see John 3:15-16; 4:10-14; Romans 4:5; 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9), do you embrace it or reject it? If someone says that Jesus is just a good moral teacher or a prophet, but not God (see John 1:1-3, 14-17; Titus 2:13; I John 5:20), do you believe it or dismiss it? When you hear an instructor say that the Bible is full of errors and cannot be trusted (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21), do you accept it as true or call it false? How do we discern Jesus’ voice from so many others that fight for our attention? We must know God’s Word so well that false teaching will be obvious to us in contrast to the truth.

“Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.” (John 10:6). Many of the unbelieving Jews who heard these words“did not understand” what Jesus was talking about. They did not respond to the Shepherd’s voice because they did not belong to the Shepherd. Their rejection of Jesus’ word did not mean His word was false, rather it meant that they were not His sheep. They could hardly have failed to understand the relationship between shepherds and sheep, which was so common in their culture.

Nevertheless, they did not grasp Jesus’ analogy of Himself as Israel’s true Shepherd because they were spiritually blind. They were more familiar with the lies of their father, the Devil (John 8:44), and his followers who sought “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” the flock rather than give them life (John 10:10a). The Devil had lied to these Jews about the identity of Jesus and they believed his lies which kept them from believing in Christ as their True Shepherd. This is at the heart of all who reject Jesus Christ. They have been deceived by the father of lies – Satan himself and his followers (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4; 11:3-4).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You so much for leading me out of performance-based religion which focused more on external rules and behaviors than on the heart. Under such systems, I experienced much toil and weariness instead of the rest You promised to Your followers. Instead of trying to drive me or pressure me from behind using fear, You have provided leadership for me to follow through Your humble and loving example. Please help me to be so familiar with Your voice and teachings that false teachings will be obvious to me in contrast to the truth.Thank You for loving me enough to offer Your guidance and direction to me daily. I am very grateful that I do not have to make decisions in isolation, but I can make decisions based on Your counsel from Your Word and the Holy Spirit’s teaching in my life and in the lives of other brothers and sisters in the family of God. Life is so much better with You, my True Shepherd, guiding me every step of the way. In Your precious name I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTE:  

1. David Johnson, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, (Baker Publishing Group: Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 28.