Revelation 22 – Part 10

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” Revelation 22:20

Chuck Swindoll writes, “The book of Revelation was written during a difficult time in Christian history. The emperor Domitian, having declared himself to be ‘lord and god,’ tried to force Rome’s traditional religious practices on everyone – especially the Christians. This involved persecuting the Christian ‘atheists,’ who worshiped a God who couldn’t be seen. How difficult it was for Christians to hang on to their faith, their hope, and their love in the midst of such persecution! How tempting it would be to succumb to fear, to deny the source of eternal life in exchange for temporal living. How encouraging the prophecies and promises of Revelation must have been to those first-century Christians whose faith was hanging by a thread!

“Today, in a world increasingly antagonistic toward biblical truth and the claims of Christ, Revelation’s vivid, striking images and dire predictions of doom offer a strangely satisfying form of comfort to us as well. In effect, the persecuted righteous still hear the righteous Judge say, ‘Don’t lost heart; remain faithful; I will vindicate your suffering soon.’” 1

Following Jesus’ previous testimony (22:12-19), Christ once again promises to come quickly: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20). Jesus is the One “who testifies to these things” previously mentioned about His soon coming to reward people, both saved and unsaved (22:12-15), the divine origin of the book of Revelation (22:16), the free offer of eternal life (22:17), and the warning not to alter the book of Revelation (22:18-19).

Even though many Christians avoid the book of Revelation because of its symbolism, there are certain truths of which they can be certain. The first is Jesus is coming soon. Christ promises, “Surely I am coming quickly.” The Greek word translated “quickly” (tachy) means “soon, in a short time.” 2 The words “quickly”and “soon” both convey God’s perspective about His return for His church. His coming is always “soon” from “the standpoint of the saints’ foreview of the future, and when it occurs, it will come suddenly or quickly.” 3 This is the third time in this chapter that Christ makes this promise (22:7, 12, 20; cf. 3:11; 16:15).

Jesus’ promise to come soon (22:20) is in response to the prayers of “the Spirit,” the church (“the bride”), and anyone who “hears,” to “come” (22:17). 4 The implication of these words of Jesus for first-century Christians was that His coming could take place at any day or hour or moment in their lifetime. 5 This is also true for us today. The next event on God’s prophetic calendar is the return of Christ for His church (Revelation 4:1-4; cf. John 14:1-3; I Corinthians 15:51-58; I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-5:11).  

We can understand that the Lord Jesus is coming soon even if the details of the Rapture, Tribulation, the Second Coming of Christ, the Millennium, and New Heaven and New Earth are not clear to us. 6 This is one reason why Christ repeats this promise three times in the last chapter of the Bible. He wants us to look for His coming at any moment.

The second truth Christians can be certain of from this verse (and the entire book of Revelation) is seen in the apostle John’s response: “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” The word “Amen” (Amēn) “comes from a Hebrew exclamation based on a verb that means ‘to confirm, support, uphold… to be certain.’” 7 Literally this word means, “So be it!” 8 John’s “Amen” expresses a worshipful affirmation of what Jesus just promised. John then prays, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” There is enough clear teaching in the book of Revelation for you and me to look forward to the soon coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. If reading this book makes you a better worshiper of Christ, then it has achieved its goal. 9

The soon return of Christ depicted in the book of Revelation is intended to motivate apathetic or indifferent people to wake up because their present choices will have eternal consequences connected to Jesus’ coming. For the Christian, they will have to stand before Jesus at His Judgment Seat to determine what, if any, eternal rewards they will receive for the way they lived their lives on earth since being saved (I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12). Since Christ could return at any moment or we could lose our lives today, we cannot afford to neglect our walk with Jesus for one moment. 10

For the non-Christian, the soon return of Christ at any moment is intended to encourage them to receive Jesus’ free offer of eternal life simply by believing in Him (22:17; cf. John 4:10-14; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26). God does not promise you tomorrow on the earth, so today could be your last opportunity to get right with Him. Jesus said to a religious leader who thought the way to heaven was by doing good works, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5). Entering God’s eternal kingdom on the new earth is not by your behavior, but by your births.

According to Jesus, you need two birthdays to enter His eternal kingdom. The first birthday is your physical birth (“born of water … that which is born of the flesh is flesh” – John 3:5a, 6a). Since you are reading this article, you already have this birth. But you also need a second birth which is spiritual (“born of… the Spirit… that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” – John 3:5b, 6b).

Jesus explains that the way to be born of the Spirit is to believe in Him for eternal life: “Even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14b-15). Christ was “lifted up” on the cross to pay the full penalty for all our sins (John 19:30) so “whoever believes in Him should not perish” in the lake of fire “but have eternal life” both now and forever in the world to come. At the moment of faith in Christ, God’s Spirit baptizes or places us into the family of God (I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:26-27). We are NOT born of the Spirit by being baptized with water, taking communion, speaking in tongues, casting out demons, or performing miracles. We are born of the Spirit by believing in Christ alone for His free gift of eternal life. 

If you have never understood and believed this before, but now you do, you can tell God this through prayer. But praying this prayer does not get you to heaven. Only believing in Jesus for His gift of eternal life gets you to heaven. This prayer is a way of telling God you are now believing in His Son.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, thank You so much for bringing to my attention that You could return for Your church today. I want to be part of that wonderful event. I am coming to You now as a sinner who cannot save him or herself from sin. I believe You died in my place for all my sins and rose from the dead, and You are alive today. As best as I know how, I am believing or trusting in You alone to give me the gift of eternal life. Thank You for the eternal life I just received and for my spiritual birth into Your family today. Thank You also for the future home I will have in Your eternal kingdom. Please help me learn how to follow You and share with others how they can enter Your eternal kingdom. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 405.

2. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 993.

3. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 6654.

4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 258.

5. Ibid., cites Joseph A. Seiss, The Apocalypse (Charles C. Cook, 1900; reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 523.

6. Tony Evans, CSB Bible by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2425.

7. Swindoll, pg. 404 cites R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), Vol. 1, pg. 51.

8. Swindoll, pg. 404.

9. Evans, pg. 2425.

10. Swindoll, pg. 405.

How Can I Overcome Loneliness (Video)

This is the fourth video in a series entitled, “Real Solutions to Real Problems.” In this presentation you will learn from the Bible several transforming principles for overcoming loneliness.

All Scriptures are from the New King James Version Bible unless otherwise noted. Digital images are used with permission from FreeBibleimages.org, Goodsalt.com, Good News Productions International and College Press Publishing, John Paul Stanley / YoPlace.com, Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org or they are creative common licenses.

First Things First

“Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land.” Leviticus 25:9

During my morning time with the Lord, I was impressed with God’s instructions to the nation of Israel concerning special years they were to observe in Leviticus 25. The Israelites were to give their land a Sabbath rest every seventh year as the Lord provided a Sabbath rest every seventh day (25:1-7). It may seem risky to those who are agriculturally dependent to cease from farming for a year, but God intended for this to deepen His people’s dependence upon Him to provide for them.

After seven Sabbatical years, the nation of Israel was to observe the fiftieth year called the Year of Jubilee (25:8). Interestingly, this observance began with “the Day of Atonement” (25:9). The Day of Atonement was observed once a year by the Israelites so they could get right with God through an atoning sacrifice involving the shedding of blood (cf. 16:1-34; 23:26-32). This animal sacrifice foreshadowed Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world (cf. John 1:29; Hebrews 10:1-18).

What this communicated to the nation of Israel was that before they could enjoy God’s involvement with their agricultural economy, society, and politics (Leviticus 25:10-55), they must first get right with the Lord spiritually by approaching Him on His terms to be forgiven of their sins. Failure to observe the Day of Atonement, would not enable the Israelites to receive God’s blessings for their families, neighbors, communities, economy, and government leaders.

The same is true for us in America. Before we the people of America can enjoy God’s blessings in our families, economy, society, and politics, we must first get right with the Lord spiritually through the Lord Jesus Christ. We may want God to do things for us without first coming to the Lord for atonement for our sins. Sadly, some of us may not even recognize our need to address our sin. We may cry out to God for justice, or ask Him to fix this or provide this, or avenge the wrongs done to us, while omitting the very thing that inaugurated God’s Jubilee for the people of Israel – addressing our personal and corporate sins through an atoning sacrifice. 1

We cannot enjoy the supernatural favor of God individually or corporately as a nation without first addressing our problem with sin. God is a holy and righteous God who hates sin and demands that sin must be punished (cf. Leviticus 10:1-3; 24:10-23; Psalm 5:5; 11:5; 45:7; Proverbs 6:16-19; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:23; 6:23; Hebrews 1:9). God’s wrath toward sin must be dealt with first before we can experience God’s blessings. This is only possible through Jesus Christ Whose perfect sacrificial death and resurrection paid the penalty for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18) so “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

If we want to experience the blessings of God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ, as individuals or even as a nation, we must first be rightly related to Him by grace through faith in Him alone for His gift of salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). If you are not in a relationship with Jesus Christ, would you like to begin that relationship right now? To do so, simply come to Jesus as you are – an underserving sinner who needs forgiveness and eternal life. Christ loved you and died in your place for you on the cross. He then rose from the dead three days later as He promised (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19), and He is alive today so He can give you complete forgiveness and everlasting life the moment you believe in Him (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14; John 3:16).

Will you take Jesus at His word when He said, “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)? If you do, Christ guarantees you will never “perish” in hell and you now “have everlasting life” which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). Jesus now lives inside you through His Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39; Galatians 2:20) and He wants to give you the power to live for Him now, and not for yourself (Romans 8:11; 2 Corinthian 5:15). You can get to know Jesus more intimately as you spend time with Him talking to Him through prayer (Philippians 4:6-7) and listening to Him as you read and apply the Bible to your life both individually and corporately with other like-minded Christians (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 10:24-25).

God also wants us to pray for our country and its leaders so the gospel of Jesus can spread unhindered throughout our land (I Timothy 2:1-8) and bring His blessings upon us as a nation. Would you join me in praying for our country now?

Prayer:  Gracious heavenly Father, the only way we can approach You is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Thank You for reminding us of this in Leviticus 25 today. Before the Israelites could enjoy Your involvement in their families, economy, society, and politics, they had to address their sin problem before You by offering an atoning sacrifice. Likewise, Lord, before we can approach You to bless our individual and corporate lives, we must get right with You spiritually through Jesus Christ. Lord God, You know how broken our country is because we have turned away from You and Your ways. Please, oh please, heavenly Father, bring us back to You. Bring to our awareness our need for You and Your forgiving grace. Use those of us who believe in Jesus to spread the good news of His grace with our lives and lips so people may get right with You holy Father through faith in Your only perfect Son. We need You gracious God. Our families, our neighbors, our economy, our society, our political leaders – all of us deeply need You to restore our relationship with You through Jesus. Thank You our Lord and our God for hearing our prayers. In the atoning name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 298.

Revelation 8 – Part 2

“And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.” Revelation 8:2

Following the opening of the seventh seal resulting in silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1), John describes what is happening around the throne of God (8:2-6), giving heaven’s perspective on the next series of judgments about to take place on the earth. In this introduction the prayers of the saints play a key role in the launch of the trumpet judgments. 1

And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.” (Revelation 8:2). The Lamb gives “seven trumpets” to “the seven angels who stand before God.” “The fact that these are angels’ trumpets distinguishes them from the trumpet of God (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16) and from other New Testament trumpets (Hebrews 12:19; Revelation 1:10; 4:1).” 2

The word “trumpets” (salpinges) “refers to an instrument of pronouncement, alarm, or call to arms. The New Testament never uses this term to identify a musical instrument. Instead, it refers to its military use, similar to a bugle used on a battlefield. In Revelation, as in several Old Testament passages (Isaiah 27:13; Joel 2:1), the trumpet announces the coming of the day of the Lord.” 3

In these verses, the “trumpets” are used to announce divine judgment(s) in the day of the Lord (cf. Zechariah 1:14-16). They declare war against rebellious mankind on the earth. 4 

To draw the eyes, ears, minds, and hearts of the world to God, heavenly angels will sound a series of trumpets—unmistakable signs of God’s power over the earth. For some the sounds serve as calls to redemption, but for most they will become terrifying reminders of wrath.” 5

“Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.” (Revelation 8:3). During these thirty minutes of reverent silence in heaven, “another angel” acting as priest approached the “altar” holding “a golden censer of incense.”  This saucer-shaped bowl was used in temple worship to hold burning incense, “an aromatic substance made of gums and spices.6

 “In the Old Testament tabernacle a censer made of copper, probably heavy to handle, was used to carry coals from the brazen altar outside the tabernacle to the altar of incense inside. Later, in the temple, Solomon used censers made of gold (1 Kings 7:50; 2 Chronicles 4:22).

“This offering in heaven corresponds to the custom of offering incense on the altar of incense in both the tabernacle and the temple. The censer would hold the coals, and a separate vessel would carry the incense which was to be poured on the coals once the altar was reached. The resulting smoke was typical of prayer ascending before God.” 7

This angel fills the role of priestly mediator like the Old Testament priest (cf. 2 Chronicles 26:18) and adds an element of sanctity and holiness that is pleasing to God (cf. Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). He reveals that the impending trumpet judgments arise from God’s holy justice and are sent in response to the numerous prayers of godly people in all ages who have prayed for judgment and justice to come on the earth (cf. Matthew 6:10). 8

The offering of incense may also symbolize the earlier impatient prayers of the martyred saints from the Tribulation who cried out to God, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10). Many of us have been taught that there are three possible answers from God in response to our prayers: “yes,” “no,” or “wait.” In this instance, we see that unanswered prayers are sometimes stored up until God chooses to answer them in His perfect timing and way. 9

“No saint’s prayer is forgotten, but has its effect in due season, in bringing in the Kingdom, that is, our Lord’s return!

“It is the answer at last to ‘Thy Kingdom come’ which the saints of all ages have prayed. No other answer could be given, inasmuch as earth has rejected the rightful King!” 10

Next John writes, “And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.” (Revelation 8:4). The fact that “the prayers of the saints” rise with sweet smelling “incense” suggests it is a pleasant experience for God to receive the prayers of His people. 11 Hence, God prepares to act on behalf of His peoples’ prayers for justice on the earth.

“Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.” (Revelation 8:5). The censer,” previously filled with prayer, is now “filled… with fire from the altar” and is cast to the earth. The ensuing “noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake” are reminiscent of how God manifested His power and presence at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16-19; Psalm 68:8) and are a forewarning of how God will reveal His power and presence through the trumpet judgments. 12

The time has finally come for God to answer the desperate pleas for justice from His people throughout all the ages. I am reminded of what the Lord said in Deuteronomy 32:35-36: “’35 Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; their foot shall slip in due time; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things to come hasten upon them.’ 36 For the Lord will judge His people and have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their power is gone, and there is no one remaining, bond or free.”

“What a potent force is prayer! The saints go into their bedrooms, close the doors, kneel down, and pray. They spread out before God their petitions, and God hears. The prayers are placed in the scales of judgment.” 13

“So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.” (Revelation 8:6). It is now time for God’s trumpet judgments to begin. “In the heavenly order of things the greatest honour is to be ever ready to be sent on the service of God; and that is the honour these angels possessed.” 14

All the trumpet judgments proceed out of the seventh seal judgment (Revelation 8:1ff). When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, John saw not just one judgment but a whole new series of judgments. There is every reason to conclude that these will follow chronologically. 15

Although some view the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls as parallel and simultaneous, the fact that the seventh seal contains the seven trumpets indicates that the seven trumpets follow the seven seals and that the seven bowls in turn follow the seven trumpets. Also, since the judgments in each series are different and intensify as the Tribulation progresses, the succession view is best.” 16

The trumpet and bowl judgments are the ones that the angel from the east held back until the 144,000 servants of God were sealed on their foreheads (7:3). Therefore, they are more severe than the first six seal judgments. The purpose of these subsequent judgments is to lead hostile unbelievers to repentance, and to announce punitive judgments against hardened unbelievers—but few will repent (cf. Revelation 9:20-21). 17

The coming catastrophic judgments of God during the second half of the Tribulation period are in response to the prayers of God’s people who have prayed for Him to avenge their sufferings (8:1-6). Rather than take vengeance into our own hands when we have been wronged by others, it is best to forgive those who have hurt us and let the Lord deal with them in His time and in His way.

All of us have been hurt and wounded by others, especially those we trusted. From beginning to end, the Bible emphasizes the importance of forgiveness. God even commands us to forgive: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32).

Jesus taught us to pray, 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors… 14 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15). Forgiveness is so important because it is connected to God’s forgiveness of us. I cannot enjoy fellowship or closeness with God the Father if I am not willing to forgive those who have hurt me. Being unforgiving connects us to our past hurts and makes it difficult to fully enjoy the blessings of our relationship with God and with other people in the present.

One of the ways we can know we have not forgiven someone is we keep rehearsing bitter and defensive thoughts toward those who have hurt us. We keep going “back to court” in our minds with all the things we wish we had said or want to say to them. 18 God invites us to release the hurt others have caused to us. Forgiveness requires the cancelling of a debt (cf. Matthew 18:21-35). Perhaps the person who has hurt us owes us an apology, justice, money, repentance, restoration, suffering, understanding, etc. God wants us to cancel the debt they owe us.

We may tell ourselves, “If I forgive them, they will get off the hook and there will never be any justice.” But the truth is, only God knows what is just. The Bible says, 17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:17-19). God wants us to do our part to get along with people and live at peace with them. But if they still hold on to a grudge or mistreat us, God says He will deal with them.

There have been many barbaric things done to believers in Jesus throughout the ages. Recently, “The Taliban has been going door to door looking for Christians to kill and unmarried women to take captive. Christians in Afghanistan fear the same genocidal persecution suffered by fellow Christians in Iraq and Syria.

“Christians are hiding in their homes in Afghanistan for fear of what the Taliban will do to them.” 19

Today’s verses remind us that the day is coming when God will respond to the pleas of His people for justice. The horrific trumpet judgments during the last half of the Tribulation will be God’s answer to His peoples’ cries.  

Prayer: Father God, what a privilege for us to see what is happening in Your throne room prior to the trumpet judgments on the earth. The fact that the prayers of the saints rise with sweet smelling incense tells us it is a pleasant experience for You to receive the prayers of Your people. Thank You for reminding us not to try to take vengeance into our own hands when we have been wronged by others. For You will respond one day to the accumulative pleas of Your people for justice. And You will repay those who have brought so much pain to Your people. It gives us peace to know that we can trust You to avenge the wrongs done to us. At the same time, Father, we are reminded that we need Your forgiveness because we have also wronged others. Please lead us to live balanced lives filled with Your grace and truth. Grace to forgive others and truth to remind us we also need forgiveness. In the name above all names, the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1528.

2. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

3. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 176.

4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 105.

5. Swindoll, pg. 176.

6. Ibid., pg. 177 cites J. D. Douglas and Merrill C. Tenney, eds., The New International Dictionary of the Bible, pictorial ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), pg. 465.

7. Walvoord, pg. 164

8. Vacendak, pg. 1528.

9. Swindoll, pg. 177.

10. Constable, pg. 105 cites William R. Newell, The Book of the Revelation (Chicago: Moody Press, 1935), pg. 121.

11. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2386.

12. Vacendak, pg. 1528.

13. Swindoll, pg. 178 cites John Phillips, Exploring Revelation, rev. id. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987), pg. 118.

14. Constable, pg. 106 cites William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible series, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 50.

15. Ibid., cites Merrill C. Tenny, Interpreting Revelation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959), pg. 71 and George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John, 1972 reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985), pg. 122.

16. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 285.

17. Constable, pg. 106.

18. Michael Dye, The Genesis Process: For Change Groups Books 1 and 2 Individual Workbook (Michael Dye/Double Eagle Industries, 2012), pp. 123-124. 19. Retrieved from a November 22, 2021, email from American Center for Law and Justice’s Executive Director, Jordan Sekulow.

How can l live above average? Part 2

“Oh, that You would… enlarge my territory.” I Chronicles 4:10ab

We are learning how to live about average by looking at four principles found in the prayer of a man named Jabez. The first principle we learned last time was to seek God’s blessing in our lives (I Chronicles 4:9-10a). As God increases the blessings in our lives, we will soon discover that He does not want us to keep them to ourselves.

This leads to our second principle for living above average: ASK GOD TO INCREASE YOUR INFLUENCE FOR HIM (I Chronicles 4:10b). After asking God to bless him a lot, Jabez prayed, “Oh, that You would… enlarge my territory.” (I Chronicles 4:10b).

In Jabez’s time part of Israel’s recent national history was Joshua’s conquest of Canaan and the partitioning of the Promised Land into chunks of real estate for each tribe. When Jabez cried out to God, ‘Enlarge my territory!’ he was looking at his present circumstances and concluding, ‘Surely I was born for more than this!’ As a farmer or herdsman, he looked over the spread his family had passed down to him, ran his eye down the fence lines, visited the boundary markers, calculated the potential—and made a decision: ‘Everything You’ve put under my care, O Lord—take it, and enlarge it.’ ” 1

The problem with too many of us is that we are too easily satisfied where we are. We have become complacent with our little plots of land in the kingdom when God wants to use us to expand the influence of his kingdom in history. People who are complacent aren’t motivated to ask God for anything, so they don’t receive anything from God. Jabez wanted his kingdom influence to grow, and he knew the Lord could deliver.” 2

What would it look like to ask God to enlarge your territory? If you own a business, you might pray for God to give you more business opportunities. Is that wrong? Not if you are running your business God’s way.Your business is the territory God has entrusted to you to touch more lives for His glory. 3

If you are a wife and mother, you might pray for your family to touch more lives for the Savior. Ask God to give you favor in key relationships and increase your family’s influence, so more people are changed for God’s glory.

As Christians, we would pray for God to enlarge our territory so we can impact more non-Christians with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul writes, “Pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about His… plan concerning Christ.” (Colossians 4:3 NLT). When was the last time you asked the Lord to give you an opportunity to share the gospel with someone? God loves to answer this prayer request. One of the reasons we may not be sharing the gospel with the unsaved is because we are not asking the Lord to give us more influence.

Do you want to see more lives transformed by our great God and Savior (Titus 2:13), Jesus Christ? If so, then pray for God to enlarge your territory. Make this a priority. Paul writes, “Pray first that the Lord’s message will spread rapidly and triumph wherever it goes, winning converts everywhere as it did when it came to you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1 LB). Notice the word “first” in this verse. Does it say to pray first for those who are sick or hurting? No. Does it say to pray first for political leaders? No. Does it say to pray first for a job or money? No. We are to pray first for God’s word, the gospel, to spread. Why? Because having a personal relationship with God through believing the gospel is the most important need in peoples’ lives.

I must warn you, if you start praying this way, you may start to have people showing up in your inbox or at your doorstep. And the strange thing is, they may not even know why they are reaching out to you. But God knows. He is the One Who set up this divine appointment.

To live above average, we must pray above average. Imagine what God will do as we plead with Him to enlarge our territory? Wouldn’t it be awesome to see our neighbors and the people in our communities come to faith in Jesus Christ? Remember, all things are possible with God (Jeremiah 32:17; Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27).

Prayer: Father God, thank You for the greatest blessing of all – knowing You through Jesus Christ. Thank You for reminding me not to keep that Blessing to myself, but to share Christ with others. Please enlarge my territory by granting me opportunities to share Jesus with those who do not know Him as their Savior. Increase my love for lost people and my boldness to share the gospel with them. Help me to be a good manager of the territory You have entrusted to me. I pray for greater influence to touch lives for Your glory. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life (Breakthrough Series Book 1, The Crown Publishing Group, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 31.

2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 710.

3. Wilkinson, pg. 31.

How can I live above average? Part 1

“And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that You would bless me indeed.’ ” I Chronicles 4:10a

Do you ever feel invisible and unimportant, like no one notices you or cares about you? Everybody wants to be recognized. Not only do we want to be recognized, we need recognition for the sake of our own mental health. When my daughters were much younger, they would say to me, “Watch me, Daddy, watch me!” before they would shoot a basketball or do a tumbling maneuver. They wanted to be recognized. They wanted to stand out from the crowd.

As adults, we do the same thing, except we are not as blatant about it. We do it by the kind of clothes we wear, by the kinds of cars we drive, by the way we fix up our houses, decorate our lawns, or by the way that we talk or style our hair. “Watch me!” we cry out. We have a deep need to be different, to be excellent, to stand out from everybody else.

God never meant for us to live a mediocre, average life. He designed us for excellence. He created us to live above average. To learn how to do this, I want to introduce you to four principles found in the life of a man named Jabez. There are only two verses in the Bible about this man, but they are two verses that can transform our mediocre lives into lives that bring honor to God. These two verses are found in I Chronicles 4. The first nine chapters of I Chronicles consist of genealogies listing over six hundred names. Forty-four names into chapter 4, God singles out one man for special recognition and his name is “Jabez.” Even though there are just two verses about this man, he is given honorable mention above six hundred other people.

“Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers…” (I Chronicles 4:9a). In other words, Jabez was special. But what did Jabez do that caused his name to be given more honor than his brothers? Why did God say this man lived above average?

Before we answer that question, it is important to look at the kind of start Jabez got in life. He had a very painful beginning. And his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.’ ” (I Chronicles 4:9b). In Hebrew, the name “Jabez” (יַעְבֵּ֔ץ) means “Pain.” 1 A literal rendering could read, “He causes (or will cause) pain.” 2

How would you like to go through childhood as “Pain”? “Here comes Pain.” “This is my friend, Pain.” No doubt Jabez received a lot of bullying and harassment because of his name. Why did his mother name him Jabez? Perhaps it was a difficult pregnancy or delivery. It could have been because of emotional pain in the mother’s life – the father left during the pregnancy or died. Maybe the family was going through a financial crunch during this time, and one more mouth to feed seemed unbearable to her. Whatever her reason – this was not a good start for this boy.

One of the things we learn from Jabez is we don’t have to let our past determine our present or even our future. Maybe your parents told you, “You would never amount to anything. You can’t do anything right. You are nothing but a pain.” Don’t listen to those lies. Jabez did not. He chose to live above average. He turned his pain into gain. How?

Jabez was not singled out because of some great feat he did for God or because he had overcome great obstacles. Rather, he was honored above his brothers because of his simple, powerful prayer of faith that moved God to respond. 3 He handled his problems by handing them over to God. He chose to live a life that was honorable to God despite his painful beginning. He prayed to the God of the universe. It is as if he was saying, “God, You know me. You know my mom called me a pain, and at times I have been. But now I want to break out of that rut, and I know the only way I can do that is if You will bless me. I want to live a life, God, that is more honorable to You.”

Do you want to live above average for the glory of God? Then you need to pray like Jabez. The first thing Jabez prayed was, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed.” (I Chronicles 4:10a).  What does the word “bless” mean? It does not mean “have a nice day.” Nor is it connected to sneezing. The Hebrew word for “bless” (בָרַךְ) means “to impart supernatural favor.” 4 To ask for God’s blessing means to ask for His supernatural favor and kindness to be poured out into our lives. “Oh, God pour out Your goodness into my life.” 

When Jabez asked God to bless him “indeed” (תְּבָרֲכֵ֜נִי),this was like adding five exclamation points! 5 “Bless me not just a little, but a whole lot! Pour it on, God!” While all his friends were content with being average and mediocre, Jabez said, “God, I want you to bless the sandals off me! I want you to do something big with my life!” Jabez did not want to be average or ordinary. He deeply wanted God’s blessing on his life. So, our first principle is to SEEK GOD’S BLESSING IN OUR LIVES (I Chronicle 4:9-10a).

Notice that Jabez did not specify how God should bless him. He did not pray, “Oh God, please bless me with a new BMW or a million-dollar salary.” No,Jabez trusted in the goodness and mercy of God to determine how he would be blessed. This is such a powerful reminder for us to want what God wants for us.

The beautiful thing about just throwing yourself on the mercy of God is that he decides what’s in your best interest. Jabez brought God an empty cup and asked him to fill it as he saw fit. That’s a prayer of faith. Let God decide what to fill your cup with and how high to fill it.” 6

Jesus taught, 7 Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8). God has decided that He will not do certain things for His children until they “ask.” So, we are to “ask… seek… and… knock” for what we need. How long are we to ask God? Until He answers. If He has not said, “Yes” or “No,” then we are to keep asking Him. Why?

Jesus explains, 9 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11). Children will often ask their parents persistently for things until they receive a reply. And like a loving father who would not give anything harmful to his kids when they ask, so God will not give harmful things to His children when they pray to Him.  Jesus’ point is if sinful dads know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will our perfect Father in heaven give what is “good” to us when we ask? 7 The more we believein the goodness and generosity of our heavenly Father, the more we will persist in asking Him to bless us.

On the other hand, if we don’t ask the Father for His blessing, we will miss out on His gifts that only come to those who ask Him. In the same way that a father is honored to have a child beg for his blessing, your Father is delighted to respond generously when His blessing is what you covet most.” 8

Christians can just drift through life today. They have no goals and no ambition. As a result, they never accomplish much for the Lord. They are merely existing. Everyone of us needs a dream from God. If we are not dreaming, we are drifting. When we stop dreaming, we start dying. When we stop setting goals, we stop growing. God made us for growth. He wants us to stretch and develop. God never created us to go through life with a half-hearted attitude, wondering what we are doing and where we are going. God wants us to have great ambition.

He invites us to ask for big requests. “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3). The apostle Paul says that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV). This means you cannot “out-ask” God. You cannot “out-dream” God. If you could stretch your imagination to the greatest limits of what you think could possibly happen, God can go far beyond even that. He can go beyond your imagination. God says, “Trust Me. Ask for things. Get a big dream.”

There are three misconceptions that keep us from seeking God’s blessing on our lives and dreaming big for Him:

1. We confuse humility with fear. We say, “Oh, I could never do that,” and we think we are being humble. But that is not true humility. That is fear; that is a lack of faith. A humble person would say, “With God’s help I can do that. With God’s blessing I will do it. I cannot do it on my own, but with God’s help I will do it.” That is true humility.

2. We confuse contentment with laziness. It is true that the apostle Paul said, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” (Philippians 4:11). But this does not mean he did not set any goals. Paul isn’t saying, “I have learned not to set any goals or have any ambition in life.” He was saying, “Even though my goals may not be reached yet, I have learned to enjoy today to the fullest because I am confident God will take care of me.” If contentment was used as an excuse for laziness, who would ever feed the poor or take the gospel to other nations? How would anyone ever get an education? A third grader would say, “I have learned to be content with the third grade,” and he would never go beyond that. We don’t want to confuse contentment with laziness.

3. We confuse small thinking with spirituality. Do you ever hear people say, “I serve God in my own little way”? My reply would be, “Why don’t you start serving God in a bigger way? Why not let God use you more?” Others may say, “Well that’s just the way I am. That’s the way God made me.” But it is wrong to blame God for your lack of growth. Don’t confuse small thinking with spirituality.

When Jesus said, “your Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:11), we are reminded of a very important truth. Before we can pray the way Jabez did, we must know God as our heavenly Father. It is not knowing about God. It is knowing Him personally. How? The Bible says, 21 If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. 22 But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin…” (Galatians 3:21-22a NLT]. We cannot become God’s child by obeying God’s laws. God’s laws reveal our sinfulness and that we are slaves of sin. No matter how much good we have done, we are still sinners. We all fall short of God’s standard of perfection and deserve to be punished (Romans 3:23; 6:23a). When we realize we cannot save ourselves from sin, then we will be more open to receiving the promise of eternal life through faith in Christ alone Who died for all our sins.

22b So we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ… 26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:22b, 26 NLT). To know God as our Father requires faith in Jesus Christ. Just as we trust a chair to hold us up through no effort of our own, so we must trust Christ through no effort of our own to give us everlasting life. Once we do, it does not matter when Jesus returns, we will have a home in heaven with Him. We won’t have to panic when some preacher or prophet starts predicting the end of the world, because we have the assurance we will live with Jesus forever because of our faith in His promise to give eternal life to whoever who believes in Him (John 3:16).

Child of God, if you are not asking God to give you good things, you are living below average! But when you ask God for more and more blessings, you are asking Him to engage in one of His favorite activities. After all, God loves to give and He has a store- house full of blessings to give you, but You must ask Him for them. When we ask God to bless us, we step forward into another life. And as God blesses us, He wants us to share those blessings with others, which leads to what Jabez prayed next.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for reminding us through Jabez, that pain does not have to be the last word in our lives. You created us to live above average. We can begin to do that by seeking Your blessing in our daily lives. Please help us believein Your goodness and generosity, Father. In the same way that a loving father is honored to have a child beg for his blessings, You are also eager to respond generously when Your blessing is what we seek the most. Please remove the misconceptions that keep us from seeking Your blessing on our lives and dreaming big for You, so we can honor You more by living above average. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen. 

ENDNOTES:

1.  Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 710.

2. Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life (Breakthrough Series Book 1, The Crown Publishing Group, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 20.

3. Evans, pg. 710.

4. Wilkinson, pg. 23.

5. Ibid., pg. 22.

6. Evans, pg. 710.

7. Ibid., pg. 1503.

8. Wilkinson, pg. 27.

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 6

And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ ” I Kings 19:9

After his incredible victory on Mt. Carmel the prophet Elijah descended into the pit of discouragement following a death threat from wicked Queen Jezebel (I Kings 18:20-19:2). In response to Jezebel, Elijah isolated himself in the wilderness and asked God to take his life (I Kings 19:3-4). Although Elijah had plunged into the depths of discouragement, God had not given up on him. The Lord was slowly bringing His prophet up out of this pit of discouragement by providing rest and food for him through an angel (I Kings 19:5-7a). But Elijah also needed to spend time in the Lord’s presence to get back up on his feet, so the Lord gave him a journey to take to Mt. Horeb about 200 miles away.

After traveling forty days and nights on foot, Elijah arrived at Mt. Horeb “and there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ ” (I Kings 19:9). What method of communication does the Lord use here? A question. Why does the Lord ask a question He already knows the answer to? To get Elijah to share his feelings.

And Elijah answered truthfully: “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” (I Kings 19:10). Elijah is saying, “Lord, I’m angry. I’m the only one serving You among Your people. The rest don’t care about You. I’m all alone and I’m afraid they’re going to kill me!” God was not shocked by Elijah’s feelings. He allows His prophet to let off steam. This is our next principle for climbing out of the pit of discouragement: GIVE YOUR FRUSTRATIONS TO THE LORD (I Kings 19:9-10). Verbalizing our feelings can clarify our thinking. Stuffing emotions can distort our spiritual perspective.

There are at least six emotions that Elijah has been feeling since Jezebel threatened his life:

– Fear: “And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life.” (I Kings 19:3a).

– Hopelessness: “And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life…’ ” (I Kings 19:4a).

– Guilt: “… for I am no better than my fathers!” (I Kings 19:4b).

– Anger/Resentment: “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword.” (I Kings 19:10a).

Loneliness: “I alone am left.” (I Kings 19:10b).

Worry: “and they seek to take my life.” (I Kings 19:10c).

When we combine fear, hopelessness, guilt, anger/resentment, loneliness and worry, and keep them all pent up inside us, we are asking for discouragement! So God draws these pent up emotions out of Elijah by asking a question. He says, “Elijah, what’s frustrating you? What’s eating you up?”

When we are discouraged, this is exactly what we need to do – give our frustrations to the Lord. Unfortunately, many Christians have been taught that feelings are wrong. “Good Christians do not feel afraid, angry, depressed, hopeless, lonely, resentful, or worried,” they are told. Or worse, they are taught that their feelings are actually demons. “You have a demon of fear… anger… depression… guilt… hopelessness… loneliness… resentment or worry.” Their feelings are spiritualized by well-intentioned, but misguided believers.

What these misconceptions have done is keep Christians from healing their wounds. God knows that we must feel to heal. This is why He recorded the writings of King David in the Psalms. Even though King David was an adulterer and a murderer, God still assessed his life “as a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22). What was it about this man that led God to speak so highly of him? I believe one reason God said this about David is because he was very honest and open before the Lord. And God was so impressed with David’s honesty and vulnerability in the Psalms that He refers to him as a man after His own heart.

How can we give our frustrations to the Lord? Like David, we need to talk to the Lord about them. If you are not sure how to verbalize your feelings to the Lord, pray some of the Psalms back to God that express…

– Anger/Resentment (Psalm 4, 5, 6, 10, 13, 17, 35, 37, 42, 52, 54, 58, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 137, 140)

– Fear (Psalm 3, 4, 9, 16, 23, 27, 31, 32, 34, 46, 56, 62, 91, 112, 118, 121)

– Grief/Sadness (Psalm 6, 23, 25, 30, 42, 59, 61, 86, 116, 118, 147)

– Guilt (Psalm 25, 32, 25, 40, 51, 85, 86, 103, 130

– Hopelessness (Psalm 5, 25, 27, 33, 34, 37, 39, 40, 42, 43, 46, 52, 57, 60, 62, 65, 71, 91, 94, 108)

– Loneliness (Psalm 17, 23, 25, 27, 39, 68, 73, 102, 142, 147)

– Worry (Psalm 4, 9, 16, 23, 25, 27, 31, 34, 40, 42, 46, 55, 56, 61, 62, 84, 91, 94, 103, 112, 116, 121, 139, 145)

You may want to write down your prayers to God which can help you release your emotions to Him. Carrying unprocessed feelings inside us can contribute to our discouragement and stress.

Early in life, our brains discerned if the world was safe or dangerous. If our brains determined that the world was dangerous, it created protective personalities to keep us from being hurt. So instead of learning to trust others and God, we concluded that we did not need God or others to avoid being hurt. Our tendency is to avoid taking risks and being vulnerable before God and other people. But this only leads to more discouragement and stress.

God understands this and He wants to set us free from these protective walls we have created for ourselves. We can learn from Elijah the importance of giving our frustrations to God. We do this by being vulnerable before Him. The Bible tells us, “Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:8). We can trust the Lord with our feelings because He is “a refuge for us.” He is safe to be transparent and vulnerable with. He is benevolent and understanding. He sympathizes with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15).

Prayer: Precious heavenly Father, thank You for asking Elijah what he was doing in that cave. Elijah’s response showed that he needed to release all the pent up emotions he had been carrying since Queen Jezebel threatened his life. Like Elijah, we can stuff our emotions down inside us and experience discouragement and distress as a result. Lord, please show us if there is anything in our lives that we need to release to You. You already know the feelings we have and You are eager to hear us talk to You about them. How we feel does not change Your love for us. Some of us have learned to avoid our feelings because it was not safe to identify them or share them with others when growing up. Help us see that we are safe in Your presence now. We can be vulnerable before You with our emotions just like Elijah was. In the gracious name of Jesus we pray. Amen.  

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 6

“Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.’ ” John 21:10

After Jesus miraculously enabled the disciples to catch a net full of fish, John recognized it was the Lord on the shore, so Peter dove into the sea to swim over to Jesus and the other disciples rode on their little boat to shore (John 21:6-8). When they arrived on shore, they saw Jesus cooking fish and bread over a fire of coals (John 21:9). John then informs us, “Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.’ ” (John 21:10). Even though there was already one “fish” 1 on the fire (John 21:9), Jesus instructed the disciples to “bring some of the fish” 2  that they had “caught” (John 21:10). Why doesn’t the Lord miraculously multiply the one fish to feed these disciples? Why does He invite them to bring some of their own fish?

There are several attempts to explain this invitation. Some suggest Jesus did this because He wanted His disciples “to feel they had contributed in some way to the meal. Most dinner guests like to contribute a dish to the meal, and Jesus may have simply been sensitive to this need.” 3  Others say “this was all symbolic of how Jesus would carry out His mission through His disciples in the future, compared with how He had done it during His pre-cross ministry.” 4 Another says, “I believe our Lord’s object was to show the disciples that the secret of success was to work at His command, and to act with implicit obedience to His word.” 5  The explanation I like the best is that Jesus simply wanted them to enjoy His company so He invites them to bring some of their fish and have a meal with Him. 6  

Some people think the resurrected Lord Jesus is a phantom or a figment of their imagination. But John is telling us in this last chapter of his gospel that the resurrected Lord Jesus is real. He has built a fire for His disciples who are tired and hungry. He is cooking some fish and bread and invites them to join Him. He is sitting around the fire with His close friends to enjoy a delicious meal while they fellowship with one another. I can just imagine them talking with Jesus about their all-night fishing expedition with nothing to show for it and then suddenly, after they cast their net on the other side of their boat, they catch so many fish they cannot even haul it into their boat. This is a real relationship with the resurrected Christ. And this is what Jesus invites us to enjoy. So our sixth lesson is this: ACCEPT JESUS’ INVITATION TO ENJOY HIS COMPANY (JOHN 21:10).

There are people who think their relationship with the resurrected Christ is so spiritual, it is not real. It does not fit into their everyday life. They can experience the resurrected Lord Jesus at church when they are singing with other believers, but it is extremely difficult for them to experience Him on Monday morning. But these verses in John 21 are telling us how we can have breakfast with Jesus on a beach in the real daily experiences of our lives. We can experience a personal relationship with the resurrected Lord Jesus.  

These seven disciples returned to fishing while they waited for Jesus to meet them in Galilee. But Jesus was there on the shore. He knew they had been fishing all night without catching anything. He knew where the fish were so He instructed them to cast their net on the other side of their boat and they caught so many fish they could not haul them all into their boat. When they arrived on the shore, He invites them to bring some of their fish to enjoy with Him.

What I believe God is saying to us is that through His Holy Spirit, Jesus is present with us no matter where we go or what we do (cf. John 14:16-18). And He wants to be part of our daily lives. He wants us to experience His presence whether we are up in the mountains or out on a lake. He wants us to experience His presence in the city or out on a farm. When we realize that Jesus’ presence is everywhere we don’t have to fit Him into certain places at certain times. He can be part of every moment of our lives.

Christ wants to hang out with His disciples. He wants to spend time with His best friends. He wanted to eat a meal with them and He had some things to share with them. And He wants to do the same with you and me.

When is the last time you hung out with the risen Lord Jesus just to hang out? Unfortunately for many of us, we are so focused on our growth and ministry for Christ and making an eternal difference for Him in the world, that we don’t just hang out with Him. Every time we relate to Him we talk about some big problem or some issue that is so huge that it tires us out spiritually.

But when is the last time we simply hung out with the risen Lord Jesus and said, “Lord, I am so glad You are here!” If you are like me, you don’t do that often enough. It feels so calming just to enjoy the company of the risen Lord Jesus. He delights in us. He celebrates us. We do not have to perform or try to be someone or something we are not.

Some of us may think that sounds really strange. After all, Jesus is up in heaven and we are down here on earth. What exactly are you talking about? But that is not completely true. Remember, since Jesus is God (John 1:1, 14; 20:28; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; I John 5:20), His presence is everywhere through God the Holy Spirit. Through His Holy Spirit, the risen Lord Jesus lives in each of us who believe in Him (cf. John 7:37-39; Acts 10:43-47; Romans 8:11; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 1:13-14). Jesus is here. He wants to say something to our hearts and minds. Have we learned to relax in the presence of our risen Lord Jesus Christ? If not, it is one of the key lessons of the Christian life – to relax in His presence. Have you learned to let Him “cook breakfast” for you? To provide for your needs?

All of us get invitations in our email inbox. With some of those invitations, when we open them up, we say, “No way am I going to that event! That is the last place in the world I want to be!” A second kind of email invitation is when we open it up, we think, “If nothing else is going on, maybe I will go to that. If I’m not too tired from work that day, I may go to that event.” Then there is a category three kind of email. When you open it up and look at it, you say, “There is no way I am going to miss that! I am going to be at that event for sure! I am really looking forward to this!”

Every invitation from the risen Lord Jesus needs to be in category three. “There is no way I am going to miss that! I am pumped to hang out with Jesus!”

We are not talking about an email invitation from Jesus or a Facebook invite. Jesus invited His disciples when He said, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.” How do we hear invitations from the risen Lord Jesus now? And if we have heard them, how will we recognize them as being from Him? How do we know if Christ is inviting us? He is not going to show up physically on a seashore and speak audibly to us so it must be an invitation that takes place in our hearts and minds. How do we know if the risen Lord Jesus Christ is saying something to our hearts and minds?

First of all, when Jesus speaks to us it is always consistent with His Word. God the Holy Spirit is referred to as “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17). Jesus identified Himself as “the truth” in John 14:6. Hence, the Holy Spirit communicates “truth” about Jesus. Jesus identifies the truth as the Father’s “word” in John 17:17. The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth about Jesus through God’s Word (John 15:26; 16:13). It is through the Word that the Holy Spirit tells us what to do. He does not speak audibly to us, He speaks through the truth of the Bible. He will always “testify of” Jesus (John 15:26) and teach us what He “hears” Jesus say (John 16:13-15). The Holy Spirit is not going to teach something contrary to what Jesus has already taught. He will give us the ability to do what the Word says as we depend upon Him. We need the Holy Spirit to empower us to keep Jesus’ commands (John 14:15).

Here are some ideas about how this works. Any time you have a desire to worship God, that is probably an invitation from the risen Lord Jesus. It is consistent with His Word (Psalm 22:27; 29:2; 95:1, 6, 9; John 4:23-24; Ephesians 5:18-20; Philippians 3:3; Revelation 4:2-5:14; 7:11; 14:7; 15:4; 22:9), so accept it.

Whenever you have a desire to pray about something, that is probably an invitation from the risen Lord Jesus (Matthew 5:44; 6:5-7, 9; 9:38; 26:41; Luke 11:1-2; 18:1; Colossians 4:2-3; I Thessalonians 5:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). Accept it.

When a thought pops in your mind and you want to do something good for another person, that may be an invitation from Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:16, 44; Galatians 6:9-10; Ephesians 2:10; 6:5-9; Philippians 2:12-13; Colossians 3:22-24). Accept it.

Or when your heart is burdened to share the gospel with someone, it is probably from the risen Lord Jesus (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8; 8:26-39; 2 Timothy 4:2). Accept it.

Maybe some of you are naturally good and you always think of prayer, worship, doing good things for others or sharing the gospel with them because you are such a “good” person. But I am not that way. The truth is, without the risen Lord Jesus Christ in my life, I would not do those things. It is only when Jesus says, “Why don’t you worship or pray, and why don’t you do something good or share the gospel with that person?” that I have learned to do those things. Those types of thoughts are not from my “good” human nature. I have learned when those thoughts come into my mind they are from the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Whenever we have these thoughts, accept them. Accept invitations from Jesus Christ any time they come. That will be the greatest thing you have ever done. It will be the greatest party that you have ever attended. Have a real relationship with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t settle for anything less.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for showing us that You are not some phantom or figment of the imagination. You are a real historical Person Who is alive today and wants to have a real personal relationship with each of us. Thank You for speaking to our hearts and minds through the Bible and Your Holy Spirit. Help us to recognize Your voice of truth and rely upon Your Spirit to accept Your invitations whenever they come to us. Saying, “Yes,” to You, Lord Jesus, is the greatest decision we could ever make! Thank You for this adventure with You called the Christian life. I look forward to hanging out with You today. Being in Your presence is so much better than life itself. I love You, my Lord and my God. In Your matchless name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. The Greek word for “fish” is opsarion which is singular.

2. The Greek word for “fish” is opsariōn which is plural.

3. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 376-377.

4. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 391.

5. Ibid., pg. 392 cites Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John Vol. 3 (Swengel, Pa.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 313.

6. The next several paragraphs are adapted from Tom Holladay’s September 4, 1996 message entitled, “Resurrected Purpose: John 21:1-24.”

Lesson 1 Part 4 – Three principles to guide discipleship training (Video)

This is the fourth video of our Lesson 1 discipleship training. It addresses important truths for growing in the Christians life. It also looks at three essential principles that will guide the remainder of this discipleship training.

God’s solution to anxiety

6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

As we begin 2021, we may be overwhelmed with anxiety. Perhaps we are anxious about the future especially with all the political and social unrest connected to the upcoming change in our government’s leadership in the USA. Many are anxious about the ongoing impact of the global pandemic. Our needs are greater than ever before. Due to social distancing and isolation, we cannot connect with one another as easily as we did before COVID-19. We may have greater physical needs due to the loss of our health, the loss of a job, and/or the loss of financial security. The additional stress caused by COVID increases the chance of conflict with one another. Emotional needs are much greater during this pandemic. There is more depression. More people feel hopeless and think of taking their own lives. All of these factors can increase our anxiety.

How does God want us to respond to these anxious times? The Lord gives us a solution to this struggle in Philippians 4:6-7, where the apostle Paul writes:

6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  

God says, “be anxious for nothing” (4:6a). What does God want us to worry about? Nothing. “How can I worry about nothing?” You might ask. God says “in everything by prayer” (4:6b). We can worry about nothing by praying about everything. The word “prayer” refers to talking to God. When we are “anxious” or worried about something, God instructs us to talk to Him about it through “prayer.” When was the last time you got alone with God and talked to Him about what you are worried about? Talking about it helps to diffuse the power of worry. But it does not stop there.

Then God says, “in everything by… supplication” (4:6c). The word “supplication” means to tell God what you need. Few people ever identify what they need because they are so busy worrying.

For example, some of us may be worried about our health. So we talk to the Lord about that. And as you do that, ask God to help you identify the underlying need. Perhaps we need protection from illness especially during COVID. Or perhaps we are afraid of death because we are not prepared for it. So we need assurance of life after death. Ask God to give you the assurance that there is everlasting life both now and after death through believing in Jesus (cf. John 11:25-26). So talk to the Lord about what you need from Him.

Next, God says, “with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (4:6d). Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” The word “delight” means to lean into God.Just as a house plant leans in toward the sunlight coming through a window to get nutrients from the sun, so we need to lean into God during these challenging times to nourish our souls, and He promises to give us the desires or dreams of our hearts. So talk to God about your desires or dreams. Ask God what He wants to do in your life.

Notice that God wants you to pray with “thanksgiving.” He wants us to have a thankful heart. Why? Because when you trust God to supply your needs and wants in advance during difficult times, you can accept those circumstances and respond more appropriately. Also, gratitude stimulates the release of dopamine (happy chemical) in our brain which decreases our stress and enhances sleep.

Keep in mind that gratitude is a skill or learned behavior that is independent of our circumstances. Many people are overwhelmed with all the bad news in the world today. But it’s important to understand that we can increase our gratitude without seeing improvement in our situations. Try taking time each day to be aware of moments you may be tempted to overlook and thank God for them – such as your beating heart, each breath you take, the taste of Talapia (fish), the sound of birds in the morning, or the smile of a colleague. Take time to thank people during the day because it will also stimulate more dopamine to be released in your brain. It will also create stronger neuropathways in your brain containing thoughts of gratitude, so it will become easier to be grateful the more you practice this skill. What would happen to your anxiety if you spent time each day thanking God for His goodness in your life? No doubt your anxiety would decrease significantly.

As we talk to God about our anxiety, needs, and desires with thanksgiving, He promises that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (4:7). The “peace of God” is like a deep calmness in the midst of life’s storms. For example, the water underneath the surface of the ocean remains calm during a storm (see above photo). We can experience a deep-seeded calmness in our souls when we surrender to God in prayer as we face these challenging times.

The phrase “will guard,” pictures an armed soldier walking back and forth in front of the city gate, protecting the occupants inside the city from intruders. God’s peace constantly protects those who choose to talk to Him about their worries, and ask Him for what they need and want.

Prayer: Lord God, thank You for the unchanging promises of Your Word. When I focus on what is happening around the world, my heart can easily be overwhelmed with anxiety. But when I get alone with You and talk to You about my worries, You help me to identify the need underneath those worries so I can ask You to meet that need. There is no need in my life that is too great for You to meet. Thank You for reminding me to lean into You during these challenging times so you can nourish my soul and grant me the desires or dreams of my heart. There is so much to be thankful for at all times because of Your constant goodness to us! What peace fills my soul as I talk to You with thanksgiving about my worries, my underlying needs, and desires or dreams. Thank You for giving me Your peace which surpasses all human understanding when I surrender everyone and everything to You in prayer. In the name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.