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.

How can we endure difficult times? Part 2

“When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered.” John 18:1

We are learning in John 18:1-12 how we can endure difficult times. Last time we discovered the first way is to learn about the love of Christ (John 18:1a). The second way to endure difficult times is in the last half of verse 1. “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered.” (John 18:1b). Christ crossed over the Brook Kidron to go to “a garden.” This is not necessarily a reference to a place where flowers or vegetables are grown, but to an orchard where olive trees are growing on the side of the Mount of Olives. 1 

John is referring to the Garden of Gethsemane (cf. Matthew 26:36; Mark 14:32). The word “Gethsemane” (Gethsēmani) means an “oil press” 2  or a place where the olives are pressed and pressured so that the oil would come out. Jesus was pressured spiritually like never before in the garden that night. John leaves out the agony of Gethsemane where Jesus fervently prayed to the Father concerning the cross (cf. Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-43). His sweat became like blood (cf. Luke 22:44). Why does John leave this out? Because his purpose is to show Jesus in complete control over the situation. Christ is presented as the Victor in John’s account, not the Victim.

This garden was probably something some wealthy citizen of Jerusalem owned. They didn’t just have free land outside of Jerusalem in those days. All the gardens that were around Jerusalem were owned by wealthy citizens in Jerusalem. They didn’t have big gardens in Jerusalem for two reasons: there wasn’t enough land and the law forbid them from putting manure or fertilizer on the ground in Jerusalem. So even if you did have a garden in Jerusalem, it would not grow anything. So all the wealthy citizens would buy these gardens outside of town and they would go out there to relax. 3  We don’t know the name of the person who owned this garden. But whoever he or she was, they lent this garden to Jesus during the hour of His greatest need. I find it intriguing that God does not tell us the name of this significant person who ministered to our Lord at this time. Perhaps the Lord Jesus will reveal this person to us in heaven.

Nonetheless, the main observation here is that Jesus went to Gethsemane to prepare for Calvary. He prepared for His suffering (arrest, trials, and crucifixion) by spending time in prayer with His heavenly Father. So the second way to endure difficult times is to LOOK TO THE LORD IN PRAYER (John 18:1b; cf. Luke 22:39-42).

Do you have a quiet place where you can get alone with the Lord to pray? Dr. Tony Evans said, “Pain is always an invitation to pray.” God allows pain in our lives to cause us to depend more on Him in prayer. Where do you go when you are in pain? Do you go to the internet? To a bottle of booze? To drugs? To a boyfriend or girlfriend? To the Lotto (lottery)? To your job or ministry? Where do you go? Jesus turned to His heavenly Father in prayer.

John tells us that “Jesus often met there with His disciples” (18:2b). Christ went there often with His disciples to pray. This is where He got His endurance. If we are going to endure trials in a way that honors Jesus Christ, we must make it a habit to talk to Him in prayer.

The Bible tells us when we face tough times, to “Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8). When God allows pain in our lives, He invites us to trust Him and pour out our hearts before Him. Why? Because “God is a refuge for us.” He is a safe Person to share our hurts and struggles with because He understands and sympathizes, having gone through similar struggles (Hebrews 4:15). He will not tell others what we share with Him. He will not mock us or betray us. He has our best interests in mind. Go to Him in prayer because He loves you and cares for you more than any other person in the universe. As we give Him our burdens, He will give us renewed strength to endure the trials we are facing.

Prayer: Father God, there is no better way to face Calvary (suffering) than to spend time in Gethsemane talking to You in prayer. Thank Youthat we can talk to You anytime, anywhere, about anything. And You are always available to listen and understand. Lord Jesus, no one understands our hurts and struggles better than You. You know what it feels like to be abandoned, alone, misunderstood, rejected, unfairly accused, and unloved. You are our Refuge. Our secrets and struggles are safe with You. Thank You for reminding us that You also know what it is like to endure suffering victoriously. Please lead us to face our difficulties victoriously with Your strength as we lean into You through prayer. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 316.

2. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pg. 153.

3. William Barclay, William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible, Commentary on John, 1956-1959, vs. 18:1-14. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/john-18.html.

4. Tony Evans, March 10, 2019 post on Facebook.

How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 7

“And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:26

In John 17, we are learning to pray like Jesus prays. So far we have discovered that like Jesus, we are to pray…

– For God to be glorified when we face trials (John 17:1-5)

– For those we disciple (John 17:6-19) which includes…

    ~ Praying for their receptivity to God’s Word (John 17:6-8).

    ~ Praying for their protection from the world and the evil one (John 17:9-15).

    ~ Praying for their purification through God’s Word (John 17:16-19).

– For future believers in Christ (John 17:20-26) which includes…

    ~ Praying for their unity, so the world can believe in Jesus (John 17:20-23).

   ~ Praying for their presence with Him in His coming kingdom where they will see His glory displayed before them (John 17:24-25).

The third thing Jesus prayed for future believers is for them TO EXPERIENCE THE FATHER’S ETERNAL LOVE FOR JESUS (17:26). Finally, Jesus prayed, “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26). Jesus “declared to” the disciples His Father’s character (“name”). When Jesus said He “will declare” the Father’s name, He is referring to doing this “through the Word of God, and especially through the Fourth Gospel.” 1 Christ then prayed that the same “love” with which the Father “loved” Jesus “may be in” future believers and Christ “in them.”

“The essence of God is love (1 John 4:8). Jesus made the Father and His love known to the world by His death. And the Father made known His love for the Son by raising Him to glory. Jesus’ purpose in revealing the Father was that Christians would continue to grow in that love (that the Father’s love for the Son may be in them) and to enjoy the personal presence of Jesus in their lives (that I Myself may be in them).” 2

Christ longs for believers to experience the Father’s love for Him through fellowship. We have two eternal Persons who are loving us and wanting the best for us. The more we spend time with God the Father and God the Son, the more we will experience their outrageous love for us which will cast out our fears and deepen our love for one another (I John 4:7-21).

What an incredible prayer in John 17! Christ prays for Himself (John 17:1-5), His believing disciples (John 17:6-19), and then for future believers, including us (John 17:20-26). Not by name of course, but He asked that all “who believe in Me” would “be one.” This final request for all believers shows the importance of widening the circle of our prayer concerns. Not only are we to pray for ourselves, and our close friends, but we also need to remember to pray for those who will believe in Christ in the future. Remember, prayer moves the Hand that moves the world. 3

Take time today to thank Jesus for praying for us. Both then and now. When we get to heaven we will praise Christ for all of eternity as we discover the prayers He prayed for us that we did not hear. Prayers that changed our lives and the lives of others every day. 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we pray that You would cause our lives and our churches to be an answer to this prayer that You prayed. Lord, the rest of this week whether we see it or know it or not, would You use us to bring You glory? Would You help us to pray like You prayed? We pray that very humbly. But we pray it because we know that is what You want to do. We pray, Lord, that our lives would show the world what You are like as we live out Your purpose for us. Help us, Jesus, to live in Your security and not in fear. Jesus, we pray for a real sense of growth and maturity in our lives to be happening as we keep abiding in Your Word. Help us to see some ways that we are growing. And Lord, would You bring about true unity in our lives with other believers? As that happens, I pray that the world would see that because of the way that we love one another they will see that it is the way that You love us. We pray that Your love would make the difference in our relationships with others. Jesus, thank You for praying for us. Both then and now. When we get to heaven we will praise You all the more because we will have eternity to look at the prayers that You prayed for us that we did not hear, that are not written down, but that changed our lives and the lives of others every day. We thank You for this. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. 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. 549.

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg. 680.

3. See John Wallace’s Poem, “Prayer Moves the Hand that Moves the World,” at https://www.poetrynook.com/poem/prayer-moves-hand-moves-world.

How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 6

“Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” John 17:24

In John 17, we are learning to pray like Jesus prays. So far we have discovered that like Jesus, we are to pray…

– For God to be glorified when we face trials (John 17:1-5)

– For those we disciple (John 17:6-19) which includes…

  ~ Praying for their receptivity to God’s Word (John 17:6-8).

  ~ Praying for their protection from the world and the evil one (John 17:9-15).

  ~ Praying for their purification through God’s Word (John 17:16-19).

– For future believers in Christ (John 17:20-26) which includes…

  ~ Praying for their unity, so the world can believe in Jesus (John 17:20-23).

The second thing Jesus prayed for future believers is THEIR PRESENCE WITH HIM IN HIS COMING KINGDOM WHERE THEY WILL SEE HIS GLORY DISPLAYED BEFORE THEM (John 17:24-25). Christ prayed, “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24). When Jesus prays for these believers to “be with Me where I am,” He may be referring to His Millennial Kingdom on earth where they will “behold His glory” as He reigns over all the earth from Jerusalem as King of kings and Lord of lords (cf. Psalm 72:19; 102:15-16; Zechariah 14:1-21; Matthew 6:13; I Timothy 6:14-16; Revelation 17:14; 19:16-20:6). 1

Prior to the reign of Christ on earth, the church will be caught up to heaven to live with Jesus (John 14:2-3; I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11), while those left behind will go through the seven-years Tribulation period on earth (Daniel 9:27; Revelation 6-18). At the end of the Tribulation period, King Jesus will return to earth with His church to defeat all His enemies who were gathered together to make war with Him (Revelation 19:7-21). Then Christ will set up His kingdom and reign from Jerusalem for a thousand years (Zachariah 14:1-21; Revelation 20:1-10).

Do you ever buy something new that you are very proud of? Or an accomplishment occurred in your life that was one of the top things in your life? When that happens there is always somebody that you want to share it with. Somebody that you want to show it to. Jesus is saying, “Here is My family. All who have believed in Me. They know about the cross and they know how I was born in a manger in Bethlehem. But there are some things they don’t know about Me. They don’t know some of the best parts of Me. They don’t know what it is like for Me to be glorified, sitting on My throne in glory as King of kings and Lord of lords. I want them to be there. I want them to see that. When I am sitting on My throne in My eternal kingdom, I want them to see My glory.”

Christ’s prayer for His followers to be “with” Him in His coming kingdom on earth to see His “glory” will come to pass because the Father always hears and answers His Son’s requests (John 17:24; cf. 11:41-42). This underscores the eternal security of every believer in Jesus. Our arrival in Christ’s kingdom is not based on our prayers or faithfulness, but upon the prayers and faithfulness of Jesus Christ.  

The Father gave Jesus this great glory because of His eternal love (“for You loved Me before the foundation of the world”). There has never been a time when the Father has not loved Jesus. Think about that! Together, the Father and Son have been working side by side for all of eternity past. And you know what is also amazing? It is the Father’s love for us which is also constant. Nothing we can do or not do causes the Father to stop loving us. We are secure in His unending love for us forever!

Next Christ prayed, “O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me.” (John 17:25). By addressing God as His “righteous Father,” Jesus was expressing His confidence that His Father would do what was right and grant what He just asked for in prayer. “The world” did not know the Father because they did not believe that Jesus came from the Father. So we see that the Father is right (“righteous”) and the world is wrong (“the world has not known You”). 2  But Christ’s disciples knew the Father and believed He “sent” Jesus.

What about us? Do we also know the Father and believe that He sent Jesus into this lost world to save sinners? If we do, we are guaranteed to be taken to heaven by the Lord Jesus where we will be able to behold the unveiled glory of King Jesus and bathe in the love He shared with His Father before the foundation of the world. What could be better that that!?!

Prayer: Father God, thank You so much for Your Son, Jesus Christ, Whom You sent into this world to pay the price for the sins of the world when He died in our place on a cross and rose from the dead. Thank You for the gift of everlasting life and for the future home in heaven we will have with You where we can behold the glory of King Jesus both there and when He comes back to earth to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords over all the earth. Please keep this vision of His glorious reign in the front of our minds and in front of those we disciple so all of us can live for that special day when we will see His glory and bathe in the love that You shared before the foundation of the world. In Jesus’ glorious name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 461.

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg. 680.

How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 5

20 I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” John 17:20-21

This past year has been filled with many challenges, one of which is the increasing division in the USA. Animosity has been on the rise between people of differing political persuasions, worldviews, and skin color. As one of my mentors said to me recently, we know who is responsible for this. He was referring to the devil or “evil one” as Jesus refers to him in John 17:15. Satan is an expert at dividing people, especially God’s people. His primary targets are Christian marriages and Christian churches because both of these institutions reflect the image of God more than any other institution on the planet. If he can divide the people in these institutions, he can greatly reduce the impact of God’s power and presence in society today. And right now I would say Satan is quite successful in doing this. But God is still at work despite the devil’s advances.  

With that said, we are going to resume looking at Jesus’ prayer to His Father in heaven in John 17 which teaches us to pray like Christ prays. So far we have discovered that like Jesus, we are to pray…

– For God to be glorified when we face trials (John 17:1-5)

– For those we disciple (John 17:6-19) which includes…

  ~ Praying fortheir receptivity to God’s Word (John 17:6-8).

  ~ Praying for their protection from the world and the evil one (John 17:9-15).

  ~ Praying their purification through God’s Word (john 17:16-19).

Jesus now widens His prayer circle to include all future believers. From this we see that LIKE JESUS, WE ARE TO BROADEN OUR PRAYERS TO INCLUDE ALL FUTURE BELIEVERS IN CHRIST (John 17:20-26). Christ prays for three things for these future believers. From Jesus’ example, we learn first to pray for THEIR UNITY, SO THE WORLD CAN BELIEVE IN JESUS (John 17:20-23). Jesus prayed, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” (John 17:20). Christ did “not pray for these [Eleven disciples] alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.”

It is about two thousand years later, and Jesus says, “My prayer is for you.” You and I are some of those future generations who have believed in Him because of the disciples’ message. “The disciples / apostles with him that night would proclaim the gospel through their preaching and through their Holy-Spirit-inspired writings, which would become the New Testament.” 1

We still read the apostles’ message today. We are reading the gospel of John, the message of one of those He was praying for earlier (John 17:6-19). It is mind boggling to think that Jesus prayed for us at that time. Think of the millions of lives and circumstances that this one sentence spans from the first century to the twenty-first century!?! Think of the numbers of people, the numbers of situations and circumstances this includes. Think of your own life. Jesus is praying for you. That is how much He cares about you!

Jesus “prayed” for us and Jesus “prays” for us. Not only did He pray for us two thousand years ago, but He still prays for us today. His prayer for us today is not written down, but it is promised. Jesus Christ Who died and was raised to life, is at the right hand of God and He is interceding for us today (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). Christ is praying for you and me right now. That’s incredible! Jesus did not have to pray for us. God the Father will hear us without Jesus carrying a message. But that doesn’t mean that Christ doesn’t pray for us. God loves us enough to hear our voice. The Father hears us directly. Jesus is saying, by the way, I’m praying for you. I’m talking to God for you.

Romans 8 tells us that not only is the Father listening to us (Romans 8:15-16), and the Spirit is praying within us with words that we don’t even understand (Romans 8:26-27); but the Son is also praying for us (Romans 8:34). So we have the Father and Son and Holy Spirit involved in our prayer life. We have a better prayer life than we may have first thought! The Holy Spirit has been praying and Jesus has been praying. When we add our prayers to their prayers that’s a pretty good chance of getting an answer. Somebody may ask, “Does that mean I don’t have to pray again. Can I cut that out of my life?” No. God says we are to add that to our prayers. That’s an incredible prayer life that we have, isn’t it?!

As Jesus prays for all who will believe in Him from the first century to the twenty-first century, He prays: “That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:21).  Christ prayed for these future believers to “be one” and experience the same unity as He and the Father have in their relationship. This is a fundamental unity of purpose, love, and doctrine. 2

“The Father and the Son were one and shared the same eternal life. Christ saw believers as one because they shared the same eternal life.” With the addition of new believers there is an increase in diversity – personalities, backgrounds, interests, talents – and a greater potential for disunity. This oneness that Jesus prays for is found in knowing God through faith alone in Christ alone, not in the doctrines created by people.

This unity Jesus prays for has two purposes: “that they also may be one in Us.” The first purpose for this unity is to promote the believers’ fellowship with the Triune God. When believers are experiencing unity with one another, it also enables them to share a unity with the Father and the Son.

The second purpose for this unity is “that the world may believe that You sent Me.” When believers are united in purpose, love and doctrine, this persuades “the world [to] believe that [the Father] sent” Jesus. When non-Christians observe Christians fighting with one another, they are not going to want to have anything to do with Christianity. Too often bitterness and unforgiveness among Christians keep non-believers from believing in Christ for His gift of eternal life.

Some people think this verse means that unity should be sought at the expense of truth. They fail to realize that the basis of this unity that Jesus prayed for is “the truth” (John 17:17-19) which says people must “believe” in Christ to have “eternal life” (John 17:3, 8, 20-21; cf. 1:12; 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-39; 10:25-29; 11:25-26; 20:31) and be rightly related to God.

When Christian leaders say that believing in Jesus is not enough to be saved, they are undermining the basis of Christian unity that Jesus gave to His followers. Until believers can agree with what Jesus taught about the means of salvation and the basis of Christian unity (“believe in Christ”), they are not going to experience this oneness that Jesus prayed for in John 17. Let’s not yield to the lie that emphasizes unity at the expense of truth. Satan wants to remove God’s truth from the focus of Christians because he knows that God’s truth is what unifies believers. Those who refuse to accept Jesus’ truth about the means of salvation are being divisive, not those who stand on His truth as the basis of our unity.

Tony Evans shares a helpful illustration: “A football team consists of different players filling different positions with different roles. But the entire team has one purpose: reaching the goal line. Their unity consists of pursuing that one goal according to the rules of the game. The church of Jesus Christ is composed of people from every race, ethnicity, gender, and walk of life. But we have the common purpose of proclaiming the gospel and pursuing God’s kingdom agenda. Our effectiveness is determined by our unity. That’s why Satan works so hard at causing division among Christians and within churches. Unity in truth is critical to experiencing the presence and power of God (see Acts 2:1-2, 43-44; 4:24-31). Illegitimate disunity disconnects us from God and causes us to be ineffective in our lives and in our prayers (see 1 Pet 3:7).” 5

Next Jesus prayed, “And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one.” (John 17:22). In what sense do all believers share God’s “glory”? This probably refers to “the glory” Christ would display on the cross and in the resurrection (cf. 17:1-5). This glory they received from the Lord would have a unifying influence on their relations with one another – “that they may be one just as We are one.” The risen Christ in me is not going to fight with the risen Christ in you. As we grow closer to Christ, we will grow closer to one another.

Then Jesus prayed, “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one.” (John 17:23a). Christ saw oneness between believers as possible because it is Christ and the Father in them that unites them with one another. This oneness shows the world that God loved His people, so they could love one another.

Christ adds, “And that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (John 17:23b). As Jesus prayed for those who will believe in Him through the word of His disciples, He asked that “the world may know that” the Father “loved them as” He “loved” Jesus. The word “as” is fascinating here. Jesus is saying that the Father loves us “as” to the same degree or equally as He does His Son, Jesus Christ. This means there is no one and nothing, including Jesus Christ, that God the Father loves more than those of us who believe in Jesus! God loves all believers the same with a beyond what we can ask or imagine kind of love (cf. Ephesians 3:17-20). What is the Father’s love toward His only Son like?

IT IS FOREVER – “for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24b). There has never been a time when the Father has not loved Jesus. Think about that! Together, the Father and Son have been working side by side for all of eternity past. After spending billions of years working together in perfect harmony, Jesus tells us that His Father loves us exactly as much as He loves Him! People may stop loving us and may even abandon us, but God the Father will never stop loving us. He loves us the same as His only begotten Son.

IT IS INTIMATE – “that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (17:26b). The Father’s love for His Son goes deep and is very intimate. He continues to work with us to make us more like His Son. He develops in us the skills to relate peacefully with one another, so we can experience the same oneness that characterizes His relationship with His Son (John 17:11, 21-23). All of us long to be loved and to love. Only God’s love can meet our deepest needs. 

“Our involvement in the church is not trivial, then. We are caught up in something much bigger than us. We are called to serve the Lord in unity so that the love and glory of our Trinitarian God is visibly and powerfully manifested to a watching world.” 6

Do we have the same vision for future believers that Jesus had when He prayed? Do we see ourselves sharing the gospel with people who do not have Christ in their lives? Are we praying for those future believers to come to faith in Christ alone so they can experience the same oneness that our Trinitarian God experiences? Do our prayers also concentrate on future believers serving the Lord in unity so the love and glory of our magnificent Trinitarian God is powerfully displayed to a watching world? Are we teaching the people we disciple to pray in this way? If not, we can begin praying like this today.

Prayer: Father God, thank You so much for preserving Jesus’ prayer for all of us who believed in Him after He ascended to You! Only heaven will disclose the billions of lives and circumstances impacted by this one prayer back in the first century. We are so touched by the fact that this prayer is also for us. Jesus prayed for His apostles’ gospel message to bring us to faith in Him! Hallelujah! What an amazing prayer this was and is!!! Please teach us and those we disciple to pray this way for those who have not yet believed in Jesus for eternal life. We pray that billions more will come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can unite the world with His life-changing grace and love!!! And Father God, would You bring about true unity in our lives with other believers? As that happens, I pray that this divided world would see that because of the way that we love one another they will see that it is the way that You love us. Lord, we cannot forgive each other or live with each other or put up with each other without Your love inside of us. I pray that Your love would make the difference. 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. 1815.

2. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 460.

3. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 450.

4. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 309.

5. Tony Evans, pg. 1816.

6. Ibid.