How do I defeat my worst fears? Part 2

“And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” Exodus 3:14

We are looking at the five major things we fear that keep us from doing God’s will. Each of these fears is demonstrated in the reaction Moses had when God told him to go back to Egypt to free the Israelites (Exodus 3-4). Last time we looked at Moses’ fear of inadequacy which expressed itself through the question, “Who am I?” (Exodus 3:11). God responded to Moses’ fear with the assurance of His presence (Exodus 3:12a).

Next, we see Moses’ fear of embarrassment when he says to God at the burning bush, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” This fear expresses itself by saying, I am afraid of looking stupid before all these people if they ask me a question I don’t know the answer to. I am going to feel foolish!” At least Moses was asking the right question.

When we are afraid and God says I have got something for you to do, we don’t ask “Who am I?” We ask, “Who are You?” It is not who we are, it is who God is. Moses says “Who are You God? What’s Your name?” 

God’s response is profound! 14 And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.” 15 Moreover God said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: “The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.” (Exodus 3:14-15).  

What does that mean “I AM WHO I AM”? If somebody came to your company’s office and said, “I need to see your CEO.” And you asked him, “Who sent you?” And he said, “I AM WHO I AM.” You would call security to take him away for psychological evaluation. “I AM WHO I AM?” 

We need to remember that in the Bible they named people for their character. When God says, “I AM WHO I AM,” what does He mean and how would that relieve my fears? It means four things: 

1. It means God EXISTS. God is real. He is not saying, “I was that I was.” Aren’t you glad God is not dead? That is a stress reliever to know that we are not living in a world without Somebody Who is ultimately in control. It is present tense. “I AM WHO I AM.” God is alive. He is not dead. This gives us security especially in a world that seems to be so out of control these days.

2. It means God is ETERNAL. He is timeless. “I AM WHO I AM.” God has been the same forever and He exists forever. God is outside of time. He can see the past and the present and the future all at once because God has created time. He is not surprised by tomorrow’s headlines.

3. It means God is TRUE. When God says, “I AM WHO I AM,” He is not saying, “I am what you want Me to be.” God is saying, “I am My own character.” The problem today is God made us in His image and today people try to make God in their image. On TV talk shows, people say “I like to think of God as…” So what? You are just guessing. What matters is not what you think God is. What matters is Who He really is. The Bible reveals the true character of God. We live in a world where the Devil deceives people into thinking God is made in our image instead of us being made in His image.

4. It means God DOESN’T CHANGE. When God says, “I AM WHO I AM,” He does not mean, “I am what I used to be” or “I am not what I am going to be.” He says, “I AM WHO I AM.” He is unchanging. In a world that is constantly changing, we need Someone in our lives who remains the same. And that Person is God Himself!

These four things about God are enormous fear relievers when you understand there is a God. He is eternal. He always tells the truth, and He never changes. God is the only thing in our lives that does not change which is the only foundation for a fear-free life. The world changes, we change, our relationships change. If we build our lives on anything else except God we are going to live in constant fear of the next change, the next tension, the next stress, the next loss. Only God is unchanging. The more we know God, the less we are going to be afraid because God is the antidote to fear.

Therefore God says, 10 Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand… 13 For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’” (Isaiah 41:10, 13). God’s unchanging presence in our lives is is foundational to defeating our worst fears. We were never meant to do life alone. Take time today to get to know the Self-Existing God Who said, “I AM WHO I AM.”

The best way to get to know “I AM WHO I AM,” is to get to know Jesus Christ. Jesus made several “I AM…” statements in the gospel of John to demonstrate that He is the same God Who spoke to Moses at the burning bush. Jesus said:

– “I am the bread of life.” John 6:35

– “I am the light of the world.” John 8:12

– “I am the door.” John 10:9

– “I am the Good Shepherd.” John 10:14

– “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” John 11:25

– “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” John 14:6

– “I am the true Vine.” John 15:1

When we look at Jesus Christ, we are looking at God in human flesh. To see Jesus, is to see God because Jesus is a perfect reflection of God the Father. This is why Jesus told Philip, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9). This also explains why Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me.’ ” (John 12:44-45). Christ is a perfect reflection of God the Father because He has the same divine nature as His Father.

To know God more intimately as the great “I AM WHO I AM,” we must begin a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us we must recognize our need for a Savior. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We all have disobeyed God with our thoughts, words, and actions. The penalty for our sin is “death”or separation from God (Romans 6:23). We all deserve to be separated from God forever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).

But God does not want us to die forever in hell, so He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ to earth to die for our all our sins and rise from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Only Jesus can save us because only Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins in full when He died and rose from the dead.

God now invites you to believe or trust in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36). Look at the eternal contrast here. The one who believes in Jesus “has”everlasting life. The one who does not believe in Jesus has God’s “wrath” that “abides” on him forever! The decision is yours: Believe or not believe in Jesus? Heaven or hell? The moment we believe in Jesus we are saved from hell forever (Acts 16:31) and we have eternal life which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). Christ guarantees that no one can snatch a believer out of His and the Father’s hands. We are secure forever the moment we believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life.

After you come to faith in Jesus, get to know Him by talking to Him through prayer (Philippians 4:6-7) and listening to Him as you read and apply the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17; James 1:22). Take time to love and be loved by hanging out with other Christians (Hebrews 10:24-25). And begin telling others who do not know Christ, how they can begin a personal relationship with Him (Matthew 4:19).

Prayer: Father God, thank You so much for Your response to Moses when his fear of embarrassment came out. When You said, “I AM WHO I AM,” You affirmed that You truly do exist, and You are eternal. Nothing takes You by surprise. You always tell the truth, and You never change. You are the only thing in our lives that does not change which gives us a solid foundation for a fear-free life. The world changes, we change, our relationships change, but You do not change. The more we know You through the Lord Jesus, the less we are going to be afraid because You are the antidote to fear. Thank You, Father, for revealing Yourself to us through Jesus. Please lead us into a more intimate relationship with You. In the loving name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

How do I defeat my worst fears? Part 1

11 But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ 12 So He said, ‘I will certainly be with you.’ ” Exodus 3:11-12a

In different religions, different words are important. In some faiths the important words are “strive” or “do” to earn God’s favor. In other religions the key word is “sit,” “wait,” “ponder,” or “think.”  They are more of a passive type of religion. 

In Christianity a key word is “done.” The only way you get to heaven is by what Jesus Christ has already done for you. There is nothing you can do yourself. Salvation is a free gift. Jesus did it all on the cross. He said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). He has finished paying our sin debt to God in full. The word “believe” is another key word in Christianity. It is the word that God uses most in evangelism. It is the way we receive heaven as a free gift (John 3:15-16, 36; 11:25-26). We simply believe in Jesus for eternal life. The word “love” is also a key word in Christianity. We know God loved us by sending Jesus to die in our place (John 3:16; I John 4:9-10).

Another key word in Christianity is the word “go.” The word “go” is used well over a thousand times in the Bible. Christianity is a “going” faith. It is a going relationship. If you are a Christian, you are on a journey of growing and going. God loves to use the word “go” in the Bible. He tells Abraham, “I want you to go to a land which I will show you.”He tells Noah, “I want you to go build an ark.” He tells Joshua, “Go possess the land of Canaan.” He tells David, “I want you to go fight a giant.”He tells Nehemiah, “I want you to go and rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.” He tells Jeremiah, “Go teach My word.” Jesus, the God-Man, told His followers to “Go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people.” (Mark 16:15 NLT).

All through the Bible we see God sending people out to accomplish His mission for them. The problem is most people never discover and do their life mission. Even people who are believers. Why is that? The number one reason is fear.

Lord willing, for the next few days we will discover the five major things we fear that keep us from doing God’s will. Each of these fears is demonstrated in the reaction Moses had when God told him to go to Egypt to free the Israelites (Exodus 3-4). The first forty years of Moses’ life he grew up in the palace of the Egyptian king getting the best military and educational training a guy could want (Exodus 2:1-10; Acts 7:20-22).When he turns forty, he learns the truth about his life (Acts 7:23). He is not Egyptian royalty. He is the son of Jewish slaves whose people are being beaten to a pulp building the pyramids. He says “I have got to do something about this. I am not Egyptian. I am Jewish.” 

So, Moses goes out and on his own, he tries to set the people free in his own cocky, self-willed way. He ends up killing a slave driver and must flee for his life on account of murder (Exodus 2:11-15; Acts 7:24). So, he runs across the desert and for the next forty years Moses is a nobody (Acts 7:29-30). While he is there, he becomes a shepherd tending goats and sheep. Moses marries a woman and has two sons (Exodus 2:21-22; Acts 7:29). He has made a new life, but in his own eyes, he is a nobody for forty years.

While Moses was in the desert, things had grown worse for his people in Egypt. The king of Egypt had died, and the Israelites’ bondage became unbearable (Exodus 2:23). Their cries were heard by God because He had made a covenant with Abraham to make his descendants a mighty nation and give them a great land (Exodus 2:24-25; cf. Genesis 12:3). Even while they were crying out, God was preparing a deliverer for them.

“Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian… he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God” (Exodus 3:1), which is another name for Mount Sinai (see Exod 3:12; 19:20; Deut 1:19)—the place where God would soon enter into a covenant with the nation of Israel.” 1  By this time Moses was now eighty years old (Acts 7: 23, 30). He had likely come to accept shepherding sheep for his father-in-law as his lot in life.

To get Moses’ attention, “the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush.” (Exodus 3:2a). Moses’ ordinary day was about to take a dramatic turn in pursuit of God’s plan. Moses decides to take a closer look at this burning bush which was not consumed (Exodus 3:3). When Moses responded to what God was doing, the Lord speaks to him.

“4 So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 5 Then He said, ‘Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.’” (Exodus 3:4-5). Moses needed to humble himself in the presence of a holy God, so his sandals had to come off. He also needed to be reminded of where he came from. Man was made ‘out of the dust from the ground’ (Gen 2:7). By removing his sandals, then, Moses meekly identified with his humble beginnings.” 2

6 Moreover He said, ‘I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.” (Exodus 3:4-6).  When Moses realizes Who is speaking to him, he took God seriously and “hid his face.”

7 And the Lord said: ‘I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows… 10 Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.’ ” (Exodus 3:7, 10). God is saying to Moses, “I have a mission for you, Moses. I want you to go back to Egypt and set my people free.” So, this is his mission.

How do you know when you have a mission from God, and not just some bad pizza you ate last night? There are three marks of a true mission from God. They are seen in these verses:

1. A true mission from God is passionate (Exodus 3:7). When you want to know God’s mission for your life it is based on God’s love. It is not motivated by more money… fame… or pleasure. A true mission from God is motivated by God’s love for other people. He says, “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.” If God gives you a mission it is going to involve caring about other people. It is passionate. 

2. A true mission from God is personal (Exodus 3:10a). God’s mission is specifically to you. God didn’t say “I hope somebody will go set them free.” He didn’t say “I am sending a group.” He said, “I will send you to Pharaoh …” God’s mission is personal.

3. A true mission from God is practical (Exodus 3:10b). He told Moses, “I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”   “Moses, you are going to go set them free. You are going to relieve somebody’s suffering.” A true mission from God benefits other people. That is what ourmission trips in the Philippines were all about. They were about being concerned about people not having a relationship with Jesus Christ. Hearing the needs of other people, and then saying, “Let’s do something about it.”  It is based on the love of God for others.

Perhaps some of us are reluctant to be involved in the lives of others. Maybe we are afraid. It is okay to be afraid. Moses was afraid about the mission God gave him. He said, “There are five things I am afraid of, Lord.” What are the fears that keep us from doing God’s will and going where God wants us to go? Let’s look at five fears Moses possessed.

1. The fear of inadequacy. This is a big one. Inadequacy expresses itself in various ways: “I don’t think I can measure up to what God wants me to do. I’m insecure. I don’t have what it takes. I don’t know enough. I don’t have the right background. How could God use me?” This is Moses first fear: “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ ” (Exodus 3:11). What is interesting is that forty years earlier Moses was full of confidence and tried on his own to set his people free from slavery and failed (Exodus 2:11-15; Acts 7:24). Sometimes after a big failure you lose your confidence. 

Figure this out. Moses is forty years old when he discovers he is not Egyptian. It is now forty years later, so he is eighty years old (Acts 7: 23, 30). Would you like to start on the adventure of your life at eighty? Moses is thinking, “I have got social security. I have got my wife, my kids, and grandkids. I have got my flocks. I sit in my lazy boy chair. That is all I want. I am comfortable. I am happy. No thanks, God. You have a mission for me? Thanks, but no thanks.” Moses is saying, “I am feeling very inadequate.”

Do you ever feel that way? Often when God says I have something for you to do, it seems much ­­bigger than you. You don’t feel adequate. Listen closely! It doesn’t matter whether you feel inadequate or not. What matters is God has chosen you. If God has chosen you, it is going to work whether you think you are qualified or not. Our life message is not about us. It is about what God chooses to do in our lives. 

What is God’s response to our fear of inadequacy? “So He said, ‘I will certainly be with you.’ ” (Exodus 3:12a). “God did not tell Moses, ‘Cheer up and believe in yourself.’ Instead, he promised him his divine presence. Moses’s greatest need (and ours too) was not self-confidence; he needed God-confidence.” 3

God’s presence is the answer to our inadequacy because one plus God equals a majority. If God is near, we will lose our fear. You and God can do anything He calls you to do! But the fear of inadequacy should not keep you from doing your life mission because God says, “I will certainly be with you.” God’s adequacy is the answer to our inadequacy and God’s presence is the answer to our panic. 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, all of us have fears. The question we need to ask is not, “Who am I?” Rather, the question to ask ourselves is, “Who is with me?” Your presence in my life eclipses my sense of inadequacy. Thank You for never leaving me nor forsaking me. People may abandon me or reject me, but You will never give up on me. This is what gives me hope every day of my life. Your grace is truly amazing. In Jesus’ powerful name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 195.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid., pg. 196.

How can we follow the risen Lord Jesus without reservation? Part 1

21 Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, ‘But Lord, what about this man?’” John 21:21

Last time in John 21, we finished focusing on the feeding stage of discipleship where Peter began to minister to others out of his own brokenness and love for Jesus (John 21:15-19). The risen Lord Jesus appeared to Peter after His death and resurrection to reaffirm Peter’s leadership position as one of His apostles. After Peter had publicly denied knowing Jesus three times, Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to confess his love for Jesus (John 21:15-17). After Peter did this, Jesus tells Peter how he is going to die, and then he tells Peter to follow Him (21:18-19). Peter knows now that following Jesus means he is going to have to die. Jesus knew Peter was affectionately drawn to Him, but now Jesus tells Peter to be totally committed to following Him without any reservations. According to church tradition, Peter would ask for crucifixion upside down because he felt unworthy to suffer as Jesus had. This is followed by the focusing stage found in John 20:20-22.

In the next scene Peter is walking along with Jesus away from the other disciples who had gathered for breakfast on the beach. “Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays You?’ ” (John 21:20). Not wanting to miss any of Jesus’ teachings, John, “The disciple whom Jesus loved,” was following a short distance behind Jesus and Peter. John was already doing what Jesus commanded Peter to do – he was following the Lord Jesus. The relationship between Peter, John and Jesus is a most interesting dynamic. Peter is the Lord’s obvious choice as leader of the disciples, but John is Christ’s closest friend. Surely the memory of the Last Supper is fresh in Peter’s mind. The future leader of the church had to depend upon John to find out who would betray their Lord (John 13:21-26). 

So, when Jesus solemnly predicts Peter’s future crucifixion on the cross (John 21:18-19), Peter’s immediate reaction is what John could expect. “Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, ‘But Lord, what about this man? ‘ ” (John 21:21). Peter had just learned from Jesus that following Christ would cost him his life. Now he wondered what John could expect. “What about John, Lord? You are asking me to follow You unto death… What about him? Aren’t you going to give him the same responsibilities and perils as I?” It seems like Peter is comparing his relationship with Jesus to John’s relationship with Jesus? “I always knew you liked John best, Lord, and he would have it better than me.”

Let me ask you this: Who is your John? Who is it that you present to the Lord and ask, “What about this person, Lord? Why does he or she have it so good when I have got it so bad? Their marriage is marvelous but mine is miserable. His ministry is soaring while mine is stalling. He gets all the attention, but nobody even notices me.” Or “It seems they never have any problems, but we are drowning in ours. It just isn’t fair!” we say. Do you struggle with this? You don’t like God’s will for your life, so you focus on His will for another’s life. If we cannot control God’s will for our own lives, we will try to control His will for another person’s life – and on and on it goes, the games we play with the Lord.

From this we learn that the first way to follow Jesus without reservation is to AVOID COMPARING OURSELVES WITH OTHER FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST (JOHN 21:20-21). When Jesus instructs us to do something we are uncomfortable with, it is easy to avoid it by focusing on His will for someone else. This is what Peter was doing when he asked Jesus what John could expect. When we start comparing God’s will for us with His will for another Christian, we can easily start to feel sorry for ourselves. Why me? Self-pity can quickly lead to failure to follow Jesus. Why? Because if we are using all our energy on self-pity, we will not have any energy left over to follow Christ. Self-pity takes all the energy that we have and more. It drains the energy right out of us. 

The great thing about Jesus is that He knows our future. He knew what Peter was going to face in his life as he followed the risen Lord Jesus. So, He told Peter about the difficulties he was going to face in advance (John 21:18-19). Although God has not told us specifically that we are going to be crucified in the future like He did with Peter, He has told us that we can expect “hatred” (John 15:18-19; 16:1-4) and “tribulation” (John 16:33) in the world. Following Christ includes pain and suffering. To think otherwise is unrealistic.

Therefore, the apostle Paul wrote when he was in prison for preaching Christ, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29). Suffering for Jesus’ sake is purposeful, not purposeless. God uses suffering in our lives for our good and for His glory. “As believers in Christ the Philippians could expect to suffer for Him as did Paul. Suffering for Christ matures a believer (James 1:2-4), and Christ will reward those who persevere through suffering (Matthew 5:10-12; Romans 8:17b).” 1

When Peter’s focus was directed toward Christ’s will for John, it reminds me of something significant about Peter. His problems always came when he got his eyes off Jesus. For example, when Peter and the other disciples were caught in a storm and Jesus walked on water to them, Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus (Matthew 14:22-29). But when he took his eyes off Jesus and onto the wind and waves, he began to sink in the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:30). After Jesus predicted His upcoming death and resurrection, Peter gets his eyes off Jesus and onto the success the disciples are having (Matthew 16:21-22), so Jesus chastises him, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”  (Matthew 16:23). When he takes his eyes off Jesus and onto his fears, he denies Jesus three times in the courtyard (John 18:15, 25, 27). And then when he takes his eyes off Jesus and focuses on another disciple, he is drawn away again (John 21:20-21). He is setting himself up for another failure.

Whenever we compare ourselves to another Christian, we are setting ourselves up for failure? Why? Because God doesn’t intend for us to be carbon copies. Just like no two snowflakes are alike, no two people are alike. We are not in competition with anybody else. It can be tough for us as Christians to believe we are unique because there are two competing pressures in the world: 

First, the pressure of conforming in everything – peer pressures, advertising, pressures to conform to be alike. We are pressured to do what others do; to look like others look.

Then there is the pressure of comparing. In America, we have made comparing a science.  In this competitive environment, we compare everything – how we look, our clothes, our cars, our homes, our intelligence, our background, social and economic status – as if it really matters. You are unique and nobody can be like you so why compare?

The Bible says that since we are all unique, we should not compare ourselves. “Each person should judge his own actions and not compare himself with others. Then he can be proud for what he himself has done.” (Galatians 6:4 NCV). Don’t compare yourself to others; just be proud of what you have done by the grace of God.

Also, when we compare ourselves to others, there will always be someone worse off -which can lead us to become prideful. Or there will be someone better off – which can lead to discouragement. Either way, we become more vulnerable to failure.

None of us are responsible for another’s commitment to Christ, only our own. When it comes to doing God’s will, God has not said we must answer for anyone else except ourselves. When we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ in the future to receive rewards from Jesus, each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10-12). We won’t stand before Christ to give an account of other Christians. We will only speak for ourselves when Jesus asks us to tell Him what we did with what He gave us.

If you have never been tempted to look at another believer and focus on somebody else, you probably have not been a Christian more than ninety seconds. The truth is it is a temptation in all our lives. Jesus is reminding us to keep our eyes on Him, not on someone else. When our eyes are locked onto Christ, we will find unspeakable joy, peace, and life.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we must confess that all of us can fall into the comparison trap just like Peter did, especially when Your will for our lives is difficult for us to accept. It is easier to focus on Your will for another’s life when Your will for our lives is not what we want. Forgive us our Lord and our God, for focusing on Your will for others instead of Your will for us. Lord Jesus, we want to follow You. It does not matter to us what other disciples do. It doesn’t matter to us what other Christian leaders do. We are not following them. We are following You. So, Jesus, tonight, we renew that simple commitment to follow You no matter what the cost. In Your matchless name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

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. 1081.

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 3

“And He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.” John 21:6

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, John records several post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. In John 21:1-14, he records the fourth appearance of the risen Christ involving seven of His disciples. These verses teach us several important lessons from the risen Lord Jesus. So far we have learned …

– Failure and discouragement are often connected to the risen Lord Jesus’ purpose for our lives (John 21:1-3).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes is not in trying harder (John 21:4-5).

We are now ready for our third lesson from Jesus. After Peter and the six other disciples went fishing all night without catching any fish, Jesus appeared to them on the shore in the early morning, but the disciples did not realize it was Christ (John 21:3-4). When Jesus asked them, “Children, have you any food?” they replied, “No.” (John 21:5). Jesus asked this question of the disciples to help them see their own inadequacy and to prepare them for what He was about to do next.

Christ now offers these unsuccessful fishermen some advice: “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” (John 21:6a). Peter and some of the other disciples were fisherman by profession. They were no doubt irritated at their lack of success during the night. And now a Stranger on the shore was telling them how to do their job better? It takes humility for a fisherman to accept advice from a non-fisherman. But Jesus, the Son of God and Creator, knew where the fish were. Maybe the disciples thought this Stranger on the shore could see a school of fish near the surface of the water. 1 After all, He promised them a catch if they obeyed His command.

“Their nets had been hanging over the left (port) side of the fishing boat. The unknown ‘authority’ on the shore now promised that if they would ‘cast the net on the right-hand [starboard] side,’ they would catch some fish… Such a suggestion must have seemed ludicrous to these seasoned fishermen. The idea that such an insignificant change would accomplish anything was laughable. Yet amazingly the disciples followed Jesus’ orders. Perhaps it was the authoritativeness of Jesus’ command that explains their readiness.” 2  

Maybe they obeyed Jesus’ command because it “might have reminded Peter, James, and John that after another night without a catch the Lord Jesus had told them something quite similar that resulted in a record catch (cf. Luke 5:4-10).” 3

When the disciples obeyed Jesus’ command they were richly rewarded. John tells us, “they were not able to draw it [the net] in because of the multitude of fish.” (John 21:6b). The net was so full of fish they could not haul it back into the boat. The imperfect tense (ischuon) of the verb ischuō portrays the disciples repeatedly tugging at the heavy net. 4

Jesus was teaching these disciples the importance of obeying His Word even though they did not realize yet that it was His Word. 5 We learn from this verse that SUCCESS IN OUR RISEN LORD’S EYES DEPENDS ON FOLLOWING HIS WILL (JOHN 21:6). Only when the disciples obeyed Jesus were they successful in catching fish. What would have happened if the disciples had argued with the Stranger on the shore? What if they had said, “We have been fishing all night and have already tried that! We are the fishermen here, who are You?!” This miracle may not have taken place if the disciples had not been quick to respond to the Lord’s command.

God wants to teach us to trust Him even in areas where we have been strong in the past. Our risen Lord is reminding us that the problem when we don’t have success in our lives as believers is not our location, but who we are listening to.

Often times when I go fishing, the right spot to catch fish is usually located just beyond my reach.  If I am on the shore , I think to myself, “If I could just get my lure out in the middle of the lake, that is where the big fish are.” If I am in a boat out in the middle of the lake, I say to myself, “If I get close to shore that is where I will catch a huge fish.”   

Jesus is teaching us that the disciples did not have to go somewhere else. They just needed to cast their net on the other side. It was listening to Christ that made the difference. It was trusting Jesus that made the difference. Sometimes when we are experiencing failure in our lives, we think it is because of our location. So we tell ourselves, “If I just moved, if I just changed locations it would make a difference.” There may be some wisdom in that at times. But before we start moving from place to place, try to find success by listening to Jesus first. He might want to give us success right where we are at. It is not where we are, it is who we are listening to that matters the most.

We are never very far from success when we permit Jesus to give the orders. That is what made the difference in these disciples’ lives. The difference between success and failure in the disciples’ lives was letting Jesus give them advice and then following that advice.

In conclusion, the better option for success in the risen Lord Jesus’ eyes has nothing to do with “trying harder” or “giving up.” It has to do with following Christ’s will. Peter and the other disciples were learning this valuable lesson. They tried on their own to catch fish all night with nothing to show for it. But when they heard Jesus’ command and obeyed it, they caught a net full of fish that was too big to haul into their boat.

Like the disciples, it takes humility for us to listen to the Lord in areas where we are strong. The most common way Christ gives us His advice is through the Bible. Let’s take time to listen to Him and do what He says.

Prayer: Risen Lord Jesus, I am tired because I have been casting my net out again and again and again without any success. Thank You for showing me that I have not been listening to You. Lord Jesus, would You show me on which side to cast out my net? Would You show me where to put my energy? Thank You, my Lord and my God. In Your powerful name I pray Lord Jesus. Amen.   

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 375.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 389.

3. 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. 567.

4. Laney, pg. 376.

5. Constable, pg. 390.

How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 1

“Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You.’ ” John 17:1

In 1952, a brilliant guest lecturer was asked, “What is there left in all the world that has not been done for a doctoral dissertation?” The lecturer replied, “Find out about prayer.”  The lecturer happened to be Albert Einstein.

It has been said that, “Prayer is conversation with God that arises out of communion with God.” The closer we grow to the Lord, the more intimate our prayer life will be with Him.

Do you believe in prayer? Honestly, do you believe God hears us when we talk to Him? Can He be trusted with our deepest longings and most troubling fears? I would like to think that the majority of people in the world today may consider praying to a Supreme Being more than ever before during this global pandemic. But there are probably some people who want nothing to do with a Higher Power because of the suffering that is taking place in the world today.  

Jesus Christ frequently turned to His heavenly Father in prayer (cf. Luke 5:16; 22:39). After warning His disciples of tribulation and comforting them with the promise of His victory (John 16:25-33), Jesus turned to His Father in prayer in John 17. In this prayer, we have one of the most intimate glimpses anywhere in Scripture of the heart and mind of the Lord Jesus. This is the longest of our Lord’s recorded prayers. It is the longest in length and it is also the longest in span of time. It includes the time of Jesus’ day and reaches all the way to our lives today.

John 17 is like the holy of holies of the book of John. Remember the holy of holies in the temple where once a year the high priest could go in and make the sacrifice for the people and pray for the people (cf. Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16:1-34; Hebrews 9:7)? It was such a holy place because it was God’s presence. John 17 is a chapter like that. Dr. David Anderson understands the outline of John’s gospel to be parallel to the temple (see diagram 1). 1

Diagram 1

The first twelve chapters are about evangelism whereby John presents seven miraculous signs so non-Christians might believe in the name of Jesus (John 20:31). When we come to the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-16), there is a shift from evangelism to intimacy or fellowship with God. This truth is not for unbelievers.

Anderson writes, “That is why in John 13:1-30, Judas must be sent out of the room as one of the two steps to prepare Jesus’ disciples for the intimate truth He wishes to share. The second step of preparation was to wash the feet of the remaining believers. Judas had no place in this setting because he was not a believer. Unbelievers had to come into the temple/ tabernacle through the blood, but believers could only go into the Holy Place through the laver of cleansing. The truth Jesus wished to share in the Upper Room was for the ears of believers only. But even these believers needed to be cleansed of their daily sins in order to be in fellowship with the Lord. If they were not in fellowship with Him, they would not be able to comprehend the truth He wished to share.” 2

“It is in the Holy Place that we find the table of shew-bread and the candelabra of light. Here is food and light for the believer who has been cleansed by the blood (relationship) and the water (fellowship). So if we have Preparation in John 13:1-30 (the unbeliever is sent out and the believers are cleansed with water), then we have Preaching in John 13:31-16:33. It is no coincidence that we find Prayer in John 17. Here the High Priest intercedes for those who are His own, His disciples and all who would believe through their ministry. The High Priest has entered the Holy of Holies to intercede for His people. But this High Priest does more than intercede in prayer. He actually became our mercy seat (Rom 3:25) as He loved His own to the uttermost (John 13:1). Thus in the Passion and Resurrection narrative of John 18-20, Jesus has become the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His sacrifice was accepted by the Father as fully sufficient, as proved by His resurrection. Then leads His own out of the tabernacle and into the world (John 21) to complete the mission.” 3

So John 17 is Jesus’ High Priestly prayer for us. As we study this chapter of John, I hope we will embrace the fact that we are with Jesus entering into God’s presence. It is an incredible privilege. Just like the high priest used to enter into the temple where God’s presence was, Jesus Himself entered into God’s presence and prayed for us. The sense of this prayer is we are in a very holy place where we listen to Jesus pray.

This prayer is commonly known as the High-Priestly prayer of Christ or the Prayer of Intercession. Intercession refers to praying to God on behalf of others. This prayer is a picture of Jesus’ current ministry of intercession in heaven as our High Priest (cf. Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). Jesus prays this prayer in front of His Eleven disciples to summarize His relationship with the Father and the relationship He wants them to have with Him and the Father. Repeatedly Jesus had connected His going to the Father with their new life of prayer (John 14:12-14; 15:16; 16:23-24, 26). The power of prayer in Jesus’ name would be connected to His intercession for us in heaven. This prayer will teach us what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. It will also show us Jesus’ love and concern for His disciples, including you and me.

From John 17,  we will answer the question, how can we pray more like Jesus prays? After Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse (John 13-16), He prepared for the cross by turning to His Father in prayer. Notice that He taught His disciples first, and then He prayed for them to internalize what He had just taught them. We would be wise to do the same. Peoples’ lives will not be transformed through the preaching of God’s Word alone. We must pray for those people to apply what they have heard from God’s Word.

Diagram 2

We see in this prayer that Christ first prays for Himself (John 17:1-5), then His followers (John 17:6-19), and finally for future believers (John 17:20-26). His prayer is like circles that grow wider and wider (see diagram 2).  He starts with Himself, then He widens the circle beyond Himself to pray for His Eleven believing disciples. Then He widens the circle a lot more by praying for all future believers that His disciples (and others) would reach. So He begins with His own need, then prays for the needs of the disciples, then He prays for the world that they would reach.

As Jesus prays this prayer, we will learn what is really important to Him – desperately important. Here Jesus is. He is about to die. He knows that these disciples are going to have tremendous needs in their lives. He loves them, so He prays for them. How can we pray more like Jesus prays?

LIKE JESUS, WE ARE TO PRAY FOR GOD TO BE GLORIFIED WHEN WE FACE TRIALS (John 17:1-5). We might think this is selfish to begin by praying for Himself, but when we look at the content of this part of His prayer, we will realize this is not selfish because Christ’s motivation was to glorify His Father. Jesus prays for two things in this first part of His prayer: His resurrection (John 17:1-3) and His glorification (John 17:4-5).

“Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said…” (John 17:1a). The word for “eyes” (ophthalmous) is where our English word ophthalmologist is derived from. 4  Christ does not bow His head or close His eyes as we are accustomed to doing in our western culture. There is more than one posture to take when we pray. You can pray while you are walking or driving( just make sure to keep your eyes open). You can pray when you are standing or kneeling with your hands raised, or you can pray sitting or laying down. There is no one way you have to pray. If you are in the habit of taking only one posture when you pray, you may want to change that up from time to time. It could revolutionize your prayer life.

Christ prayed aloud so His disciples could hear what He prayed to His Father. Likewise, as we disciple new believers in Jesus, it is important to pray aloud with them because God can use that to teach them how and what to pray. I am not exactly sure where Jesus prayed this prayer. It may have been in the Upper Room (cf. John 18:1) or on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane (John 14:31).

We are told that Jesus “lifted up His eyes to heaven.” He was not discouraged or downcast as He approached the cross, He was hopeful and expectant as He looked up to His Father in prayer. He had just announced that He had “overcome the world” (John 16:33), and now He engages in a prayer of victory!

The first thing Jesus prays is, Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You.” (John 17:1b). Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come…” By addressing God as “Father,” He expresses His childlike relationship to His Father and His submission to Him. His long-anticipated “hour has come” for His death, resurrection, and ascension to His Father in heaven (cf. John 2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20; 12:23, 27-28, 31-33; 13:1, 31).

Jesus is not being selfish here when He prays for the Father to “Glorify Your Son,” because it serves a higher purpose –  “that Your Son also may glorify You.” The word “glorify” (doxason) is derived from the word “glory” (doxa) which “refers to the estimation or opinion in which one is held. Here Jesus prays regarding His own reputation and attributes. His words ‘Glorify Your Son’ petition the Father to bring into full display Jesus’ divine character and attributes through His impending death and resurrection.” 5  Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension would also “glorify” the Father by enhancing His reputation and attributes through Jesus, since Jesus is a perfect reflection of the Father (John 12:44-45; 14:9-11) and was sent by Him (John 4:34; 7:16; 8:18; 14:24; 17:8, 18).

We see in this verse how much “the Father and Son love one another and desire to make much of one another before a watching world. Those who come to God through Jesus Christ are called to participate in this intra-Trinitarian love, bringing glory to God through our faith in and obedience to the Son.” 6

Jesus’ words remind us that suffering precedes glory (Matthew 16:21-27; 20:19; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-10; 12:2). 7  Through His suffering and death, Jesus brought glory to Himself and to His Father. Likewise, when we suffer for Christ’s sake, we bring glory to Him and He promises that God will give glory and honor to us in the form of eternal rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (John 12:26; cf. Matthew 16:21-27; Romans 8:17; I Corinthians 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; I Peter 1:3-11; 2:11-25; 4:12-5:4; Revelation 2:10, 25-29; 22:12).

We may ask, “How did the Father glorify Jesus?” Jesus prayed, “As You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.” (John 17:2). The Father glorified Christ by giving “Him authority over all flesh” so Jesus would “give eternal life” to those the Father had “given Him.” Only God can give life that never ends to people which means Jesus must be God! Notice Christ has authority to give eternal life to “all flesh”! There is no such thing in the Bible of only a select group of people that are savable. All people are savable because Christ is drawing all people to Himself (cf. John 12:32), He desires all people to be saved (I Timothy 2:3-4), and He died for all people (cf. I Timothy 2:3-6; I John 2:2).

Five times in this prayer, Christ refers to believers as those whom the Father had given Him (John 17:2, 6 [twice], 9, 24). Does this refer to the elect from the foundation of the world? Does it mean a person cannot believe in Christ if the Father has not given him or her to Jesus? No, this is a reference to the Father giving Old Testament believers in the Dispensation of Law over to Jesus at the beginning of the dispensation of Grace (see John 6:37 for discussion). 8  The Eleven disciples were believing Jews who belonged to the Father, but now the Father transfers them into the Son’s hands for His use and safe keeping at the beginning of the Church Age (cf. John 17:6-12). Now they belonged to Jesus. 9

Someone may ask, “What is eternal life?” Jesus explains. “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3). “Eternal life” is knowing “the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom” the Father “sent.” The word “know” (ginōskō) refers to an intimate knowledge of God, not just an awareness of certain facts. 9  Notice that the primary focus is on one’s relationship with God (“life”),not the duration (“eternal”).This is not just a future promise, it is a present reality for all believers in Jesus.  Eternal life is knowing the true God personally in one’s experience forever. Eternal life is not static or unchanging. It can be experienced at deeper and deeper levels as we grow closer to the Father and His Son.

In fact, when we examine the uses of “eternal life” in the New Testament, we discover that when eternal life is referred to as a present acquisition, it is received as a free gift by believing in Jesus (cf. John 3:15-16, 36; 4:10-14; Romans 6:23; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:13; Revelation 22:17), but when eternal is referred to as a future acquisition, it is received as a reward for sacrificial service to Christ (cf. Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:29-30; John 12:25-26; Galatians 6:8). 

Some have argued that John 17:3 shows Jesus is not God because Jesus distinguished God the Father as “the only true God” from “Jesus Christ whom” the Father sent. But Jesus did NOT say, “I am not God” in this verse. You will not find that anywhere in the Bible. Jesus was not denying He was the “only true God,” but was praising the Father as such. The very next words after this verse are: “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:4-5). Jesus said He shared the glory of God the Father before the world was.

But the Yahweh of the Old Testament says,  “I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 42:8). How can Jesus claim to have the glory of His Father before the world was if Yahweh says He will not give His glory to another? Because Jesus is the Yahweh of the Old Testament. He has the same divine nature as His Father in heaven. Jesus identifies Himself with the Father. Jesus is in the Father, and the Father is in Jesus (John 10:38). Jesus is one with the Father (John 10:30). They are not divided in essence. So, in one sense Jesus is in the Father; and if the Father is the only true God, then Jesus is also the True God. In John 17:3, Jesus was not creating a point of distinction between Himself and the Father in the expression, “only true God”, but between the Father and any other “so called god” like idols. Jesus had lived among the Romans with their many competing gods and Jesus was addressing the Father with these idols in mind.

This understanding is substantiated by the same writer of John 17:3 when he writes in his epistle, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” (I John 5:20). John clearly states that Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal life. He then writes, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” (I John 5:21). John affirms that Jesus “is the true God” and then immediately warns his readers to guard themselves “from idols” or false gods.

Also the Greek word for “only” (monos) in John 17:3 does not always refer to absolute exclusivity. For example, monos is used in Jude 1:4 of “the only” Lordship of Jesus Christ, “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only [monos] Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jude is not excluding God the Father when he refers to “the only” Lordship of Jesus Christ. Other verses in the Bible confirm the Lordship of God the Father (Psalm 2:7; 110:1; Isaiah 63:16; Mark 13:20; Luke 10:21-22) and God the Son, Jesus Christ (Psalm 110:2; Luke 6:5; 19:31; John 13:13; 20:28; Acts 2:36; 10:36; 16:31; Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:11; Revelation 17:14).

To say that Jesus denies He is God in John 17:3 would contradict the entire message of the gospel of John which begins (John 1:1-18) and ends (John 20:28-31) with the fact that Jesus is God. The burden of proof rests upon those who deny Jesus is God. John calls them “antichrists” in his first epistle who reject that “the Christ,” the Messiah-God,has come in human “flesh” (I John 2:18, 21-22; 4:1-3). They willingly reject the historical record of the Bible which clearly and consistently proclaims that Jesus is fully God (cf. Isaiah 9:6-7; 44:6; John 1:1, 14-18, 34, 49, 5:6-47; 6:69; 8:57-59; 9:35-38; 10:30-39; 11:27; 14:7-9; 17:5; 20:28, 31; Acts 16:31, 34; 20:28; Romans 1:3-4; 9:5; Philippians 2:6, 9-11; Colossians 1:15-20; I Timothy 3:16; 4:10; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; I John 4:2-3; 5:20; Revelation 1:17; 22:13; et al.) and fully Man (Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 9:6-7; 7:14; Daniel 7:13-14; Matthew 8:24; 9:11; Mark 6:3; John 1:14; 2:12; 4:6; 7:3, 5; 11:35; 12:27; 19:28; 21:12; Philippians 2:7-8; I Timothy 2:5; I John 4:2-3; et al.)!!!

Our privilege is to know God personally now and forever through Jesus Christ (John 17:3). If this is true, and it is, then the one thing that will last beyond this life and the one thing that deserves our utmost attention is our daily life and fellowship with God. Many of us have known the Lord for a long time, but has our knowledge of the Lord grown deeper as a result of spending time with Him and obeying Him (cf. John 14:21, 23)? What are we doing today to know God more intimately?

Next Jesus prayed, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” (John 17:4). As Jesus faces the cross, He has no sense of failure, but rather fullness of attainment. He had “glorified” His Father “on the earth” and “finished the work which” the Father had given Him to do – revealing the Father by His words and works (cf. John 1:18).

“And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5). Christ does not pray for new glory. He prays, “Glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” The words, “the glory which I had with You before the world was,” affirm the eternality of Jesus Christ and His preexistence as God before He became a human being on earth. Notice that Jesus clearly affirmed his pre-existence. “Before the incarnation, before Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, before the creation week even began, God the Son eternally existed in the glorious presence of God the Father. And to this glory He would soon return.” 10

These words also affirm Jesus’ equality with the Father, because in the Old Testament, God said He would not share His glory with anyone: “I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8; cf. 48:11). Since the Father and the Son share their glory, they must both be God.

Christ’s human flesh had veiled this glory He shared with the Father in eternity past during His earthly life (Philippians 2:6-8), and now He prays that that same glory may be restored in His Father’s presence. As Jesus had glorified the Father on earth (John 17:4), now He prayed to be restored to His heavenly glory with His Father (John 17:5).

Like Jesus, we are to pray for God to be glorified when we face trials. Christ faced His sufferings and death with the desire to glorify His Father in heaven. He submitted to His Father’s timetable and agenda. This takes humility. Jesus went through terrible pain and suffering to honor His Father. Are we willing to do that? Are we willing to submit to God’s timetable for us? If not, pray for that willingness. When we are struggling and in pain, it is easy to obsess on ourselves and it is especially difficult to focus on others and on what God wants. Through prayer, we can obtain the power to focus on God’s will for us and glorify Him even though we may be in pain. The best way to face calvary (suffering), is to spend time Gethsemane (prayer).

Keep in mind that Jesus is praying for us now in heaven (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). He is praying for us to glorify our Father in heaven as we face difficulties. Sometimes when we face difficult situations, we do not know how to pray, so the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and prays according to God’s will on our behalf. “26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). So we have both God the Son and God the Holy Spirit praying for us, especially when we face trials in life. What an encouragement this is for us as we seek to glorify the Father during these challenging times!

Prayer: Precious Father in heaven, thank You so much for Jesus’ prayer in front of His eleven believing disciples. We are given an incredible glimpse into the intimate relationship Jesus had with You during His earthly ministry. And just as He prayed for You to be glorified when He faced His hour of suffering and death, help us to yield ourselves to You in prayer so You are  glorified when we face difficult times. And like Christ Who submitted to Your timetable and agenda, may we humbly submit to Your timetable and will for our lives. Please make us willing when we are unwilling to do this. We can so easily focus on ourselves when we are hurting or in pain, instead of focusing on others and what You want to do in our lives. But praying to You gives us hope because as we talk to You, You can give us the power to focus on Your will for our lives and glorify You in the midst of our struggles. Thank You, my Lord and my God, that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are also praying for us in addition to You. Knowing this greatly encourages our hearts. In the beautiful name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy (Irving, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2005), pp. 16-17.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid., pp. 18-19.

4. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 300.

5. Ibid.

6.  Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1813.

7.  Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 457.

8. Anthony B. Badger, Confronting Calvinism: A Free Grace Refutation and Biblical Resolution of Radical Reformed Soteriology (Anthony Badger, 2013), pp. 185-186.

9. Ibid., pp. 116, 186.

10. Tony Evans, pg. 1814.

How can Jesus transform our grief into gladness? Part 4

“Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” John 16:24

We are learning from Jesus’ instructions to His disciples how He can transform our grief into gladness. Christ can do this when we…

– Ask Him to help us properly understand His word as it relates to our situation (John 16:16-19).

– Accept that pain and suffering are part of life (John 16:20a; cf. 16:33).

– Assess our circumstances with an eternal perspective (John 16:20b-22).       

The fourth way the Lord can transform our grief into gladness is to ALLOW OUR GRIEF TO DIRECT US TO THE FATHER IN PRAYER (John 16:23-24). Christ’s resurrection would change relations. Jesus said to His eleven believing disciples, “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” (John 16:23). “In that day” after His resurrection and ascension, Jesus would not be with His disciples physically and so they would not be able to ask Him questions. But the Holy Spirit would teach them and answer their questions (John 16:13-15).

We also see that Christ’s resurrection and ascension provided unlimited access to the Father in prayer. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, the disciples had often asked the Lord to meet their needs while they were with Him, but they had not asked the Father in heaven for anything in His name. Christ promises that after His ascension to heaven, the “Father …will give” them “whatever” they ask in Jesus’ name.

Praying in Jesus’ name is not a magical formula that we add at the end of our prayers. To pray in Jesus’ name means we pray what Jesus would pray to accomplish God’s will and bring Him maximum glory. When we pray according to God’s will, He will hear and answer our prayers to magnify the name of Jesus (cf. I John 5:14-15).

Next Christ says, “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24). “Now,” because of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the disciples would be able to approach the Father directly in Jesus’ name. The word “ask” (aiteite) is a present imperative verb and conveys the idea of asking God continually and persistently. Christ assures them that the Father would “give” them whatever they prayed in Jesus’ name to accomplish His will. The purpose of all of this was so that their “joy may be full” or complete. 

No matter what pain or sorrow we experience, it is essential that we stay connected to Jesus because God the Father is still in the prayer-answering business when we love and seek to honor His Son. 1 A disciple of Christ centers his or her life around Jesus (cf. Philippians 1:21), so when Jesus is glorified, his or her joy will “be full” or complete. Nothing is more enjoyable or satisfying for a follower of Christ than to see his or her Lord magnified.

When we go through painful times as did Jesus and His disciples, we have a choice to make. Will we turn away from the Father and pout or will we turn to the Father and pray? If we turn to the Father in prayer, He can fill our hearts with joy that the world cannot take from us. Our joy is connected to prayer. It cannot be made complete in any other way. Isn’t this exciting!?! God desires to make us glad by working in and through us as we pray to Him.

How do you respond to trials? Do you allow pain in your life to turn you to God or away from Him? Many of us want to take matters into our own hands when we experience pain. We may try to medicate our pain with different behaviors, feelings, people, or substances (e.g. alcohol, anger, anxiety, cell phones, depression, drugs, friends, gossip, lust, ministry, music, pornography, rage, romantic relationships, shopping, sports, TV, video games, work, or worry, et al.). But the Lord  wants us to turn to Him as we face painful times. He is waiting to hear from us, so He can fill our hearts with gladness.

What keeps believers from turning to the Lord in the midst of their pain? I believe much of it has to do with the lies we believe.  Let’s look at some common lies and the corresponding truth with which to overcome them:

Lie #1: God must not love me to allow all this pain in my life.

Truth #1: No one and nothing can separate me from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

Lie #2:  God is against me, not for me.

Truth #2: God is for me and He proved it when He gave His only Son for me (Romans 8:31-32).

Lie #3: God will not understand my feelings.

Truth #3: Christ experienced the same feelings as you, so He could understand your feelings and help you process them (Hebrews 4:15).

Let’s lean into the Lord especially during these uncertain times. He longs to fill us with His joy that cannot be taken from us.  

Prayer: Father God, I come to You now through the Lord Jesus Christ Who loved me and gave Himself to die in my place on a cross for all my sins and then rose from the dead. Please forgive me for embracing lies that lead me away from You instead of the truth that brings me closer to You. I am so thankful that I now have direct access into Your presence because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I can talk to You at any time about anything knowing that You understand and are listening. Right now my Lord and my God, I give everyone and everything to You. I surrender everyone and everything to You, Lord. You are a good, good Father Who wants to bless His children. Thank You for the safety and security that I find in Your everlasting arms of love and mercy. Hold me, Lord. Hold me…. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

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

Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 3

“Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.’ ” John 11:9

We are learning from the seventh miraculous sign of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John (John 11:1-44) why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. So far we have learned the Lord does this to display more of His glory (John 11:1-4) and to declare His love toward us (John 11:5-6). Today we learn the Lord also delays His answers to our prayers to DEEPEN OUR SENSITIVITY TO HIS WILL (John 11:7-10).

John tells us, after waiting two days, Jesus wanted to return to Bethany of Judea where His life would be in danger. “The disciples said to Him, ‘Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?’ ” (John 11:8). The disciples are saying, “Are you serious, Lord?! You were just there and they attempted to kill you! It would be suicide to go back there now!”

While we can understand their concern for the Lord, the disciples apparently had not noticed that a lot of people were having difficulty seizing Jesus (cf. John 7:30-32, 44-46; 8:20; 10:39). The Son of God – not the angry religious leaders—was in control over His ministry timetable. In all honesty, the disciples were not as concerned about Jesus’ safety as they were their own.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. We are no different than the disciples when the Lord’s way is not our way. Especially when He asks us to do something risky. We try to rationalize and avoid what He is asking us to do. How many of us have had God ask us to do something risky and immediately we complain or try to convince ourselves that we cannot do it? “It is not logical or realistic!” we tell ourselves. But God asks us to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

9 Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” (John 11:9-10). Jesus told His disciples that “the day” – the time of His public ministry on earth – was the opportunity for action. While Jesus, “the light of this world,” was with them, they could walk and “not stumble” (John 11:9). Later, they would have the light of the Holy Spirit’s presence (John 14:16-18, 26; 15:26; 16:13-15). But to function apart from Jesus is like walking around at night (John 11:10). Operating without His guidance and illumination will cause us to trip and fall on our face.

If you walk during the day while the sun is shining you won’t stumble because you can see the obstacles and avoid running into them. If you walk at night, you are more likely to stumble because you cannot see the obstacles. If you walk in the light of God’s will, you will not stumble. But if you walk in the darkness against God’s will, you will trip yourself up.

Jesus was saying He could safely return to Judea if He was walking in the light of His Father’s will. No harm would come to Him until the Father’s appointed hour. And if His disciples go with Him, who is the Light, they will not be in any danger either.

The Lord may delay His answers to our prayers to teach us to be more sensitive to His will. Jesus was teaching His fearful disciples a lesson about walking in the light of God’s will. When they follow Jesus, Who is the Light, they will be safe in the Father’s will and love. But to turn away from the Father’s will and love, invites all kinds of trouble. Likewise, when we walk in darkness and do things our way instead of God’s way, we get into all kinds of problems. But if we walk in the light of God’s Word and love, we will grow closer to Him and He will reveal His glory to us.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for allowing situations to get worse after I pray about them to nudge me closer to You and Your love. When I feel out of control, I often try to be in control to give myself a sense of feeling safe. I seek to do things my way as if that gives me a greater sense of control. Yet this often leads to isolation and more pain. Lord, I want to learn to yield to Your control when I feel out of control because it is then that I am most safe. Thank You for helping me to recognize this so I can turn this area of my life over to You. Walking in the light of Your love dispels the darkness that can so easily overwhelm me when I feel out of control. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

How do I follow God’s Plan? Part 3

“You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.” John 7:8

The third way to follow God’s plan is to ADJUST TO HIS TIMING AND WILL (John 7:6a, 8). Jesus understood the Scriptures. He knew that God had appointed the very time in which He would be crucified. Six months from now Jesus would make a triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The people will receive Him with shouts of Hosanna. But now is not God’s time for that to happen. It is the wrong feast. It is the Feast of Tabernacles not the Passover. So Jesus told His brothers, My time has not yet come… You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.” (John 7:6a, 8). Jesus was not only being sensitive to what God wants to do but WHEN He wants to do it as well. We use the phrase, “Timing is everything,” because by experience we have learned that to do the right thing at the wrong time does not work. 

A basketball player can throw the most beautiful pass down the court, but if it is not timed right for his teammate to receive it, it will either go out of bounds or be stolen by the other team. For Jesus, His obedience to the Father must be according to God’s timing – like a batter swinging the bat just as the ball crosses the plate. In my own life, some of my greatest regrets were the result of hasty decisions – because I got ahead of God. It is better to wait on the Lord’s timing than to get ahead of Him and experience disaster.

Jesus knew His Father’s will and did it. How do I discern God’s will today? Ask yourself these questions as you seek to discover God’s will before making any major decisions:

1. What does the Bible tell me to do?” If your choice of action violates God’s Word, you know God’s will in the situation: “Don’t do it!” For example, co-signing on a loan. “It is poor judgment to co-sign a friend’s note, to become responsible for a neighbor’s debts.” Proverbs 17:18 [NLT]. It is unwise to become entangled in someone else’s financial problems. So if someone asks you to co-sign on a loan, don’t do it. If you already have, Proverbs 6:1-5 says to get out of it. So yes, only if your tentative decision would not violate God’s Word are you free to proceed. The matter then becomes a matter of fine tuning, being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, who will bring more information to your mind, especially relevant principles and examples from the Bible.

2. What can God show me as I pray? After you are convinced that your tentative decision would not violate God’s Word, you will want further guidance through prayer. For example, you are looking at a possible job change and you need some direction. After searching God’s Word, you have discovered that such a change would not violate God’s Word, but now on the basis of James 1:5 – you commit yourself to praying for God’s leading every morning for several days. At the outset, you prepare a sheet on which two columns are drawn, one for listing all the reasons to change jobs, and the other column to list reasons not to change jobs. Each evening you cross off a reason on one side or the other, as a result of what God told you during your prayer time that day. At the end of several days, you should see a definite trend developing, especially if you have continued to study God’s Word and Scriptural aids.

3. What can knowledgeable counselors or advisors tell me? Look at the following verses:

“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” Proverbs 11:14

“Plans are established by counsel; by wise counsel wage war.” Proverbs 20:18

“For by wise counsel you will wage your own war, and in a multitude of counselors there is safety.” Proverbs 24:6

According to these verses, seeking godly advice can bring wisdom, safety, and a better chance of success. Do you have an older Christian in your life to whom you can turn for biblical counsel? If not, ask the Lord to guide you to such a person.

4. What do these circumstances tell me about God’s purposes and timing? Ask yourself whether the existence of this situation tells you something about God’s plan for you. For example, is He showing you some doors are now open? Are other doors being closed?

5. Is my heart filled with peace about my decision? This is a very subjective question, which is why it is last. According to Colossians 3:15, “the peace of Christ” is an important element in our fulfillment of God’s will in our lives. If your decision is right, you will have great confidence that you are in God’s will. If you don’t have peace, it may not mean God is saying “no,” but to wait, slow down and let God make His will clear to you.

Prayer: My precious Lord, please make me sensitive to Your will and timing, especially in these days of chaos and uncertainty.Some of my deepest regrets in life were the result of hasty decisions. Even making the right decision at the wrong time has produced disastrous results. This is such an area of weakness for me. And it does not help to live in a world that is making many fear-based decisions that ignore Your counsel. Christians are being pressured to do the same. Lord, one of my greatest needs right now is to slow down and wait upon You. Living with delayed gratification is one of the marks of Christian maturity. It is also seldom modeled in our society. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for showing me what it means to be sensitive to the Father’s will and timing. You have recorded Your wisdom in the Bible and given me the Holy Spirit to enable me to understand and apply it to my life. Thank You for giving me everything I need to make godly decisions that reflect Your will and timing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.