Most of you who have been here for the whole series knows that the book of Habakkuk is essentially a prayer conversation between God and one of his priests. Habakkuk’s country is going through some difficult times and as he’s bringing his concerns to God, the Lord inclines to answer him – in surprising ways.
The third and last chapter of Habakkuk is a little different than the first two in that though it is still a prayer, God doesn’t respond. What we see in chapter 3 is the prayer of a man of faith, who has chosen to trust God even though God’s answer to his prayer means that there will be more difficult times ahead.
My intention when I sat down to write the sermon this week was to go through this prayer together, but as I wrote, I realized that I needed back up the conversation a little. So instead of outlining this prayer together, I want to pull back and talk more generally about prayer itself. So, we’re going to take a little break from Habakkuk and do an extended introduction , by looking at a section of scripture in the New Testament where Jesus teaches about prayer.
Why Don’t We Pray More?
Prayer, though practiced around the world, and absolutely vital to the Christian life, doesn’t seem to come easily for people. If you ask any believer about their prayer life – and I would imagine this applies to any of us here today; me included – the most consistent evaluation would probably be “It could be better…”. Right?
It’s a bit of a strange thing though, isn’t it? Prayer seems to be something of a human reflex. When something either good or bad happens, whether it’s sickness and pain or a sudden piece of good news or uplifting experience, there’s something in the human spirit that wants to take that moment and connect it to something greater than ourselves, even if it is only a quick, “Thank God”, or “Oh my God”, or “Good, Lord”. These are often said in an almost instinctual way – not really prayers of the mind, heart or soul, but more of an unthinking impulse to raise the significance of that moment to God.
And yet, as instinctual as prayer seems to be, there’s also something incredibly difficult about fostering and developing what might be called a “deep prayer life”. Humans have been trying and failing at it for millennia!
Which is sort of ironic. The same people that will claim to be such ardent believers in God and the Bible, defending their faith and their right to worship, don’t actually dedicate time to talk to the Person they say they worship and obey. I’m not trying to guilt trip here – at least not yet. I’m lumped in here too. I’m merely stating that it’s a little surprising that we are a people who claim that God is the Source of all there is, the One who gave His Son to save us from eternity in Hell, is the great provider of all good things, performs miracles, knows us better than we know ourselves, and the One whom we are looking to spend eternity with… but most of us struggle to spend even 10 minutes, one-one-hundredth, of our waking hours talking to Him.
It’s not that we don’t need to. If we take a minute to think about it, there are lots of reasons we should be coming to God for help. We have struggles with our faith. We need direction and advice for how to make decisions. We are beset by temptations and keep falling into the same destructive patterns of sin. We lack resources and need help. We have physical sickness and pain. We have worries about the future, and baggage from our past.
Most people, when you get to know them – believers included – are lonely, afraid, confused, angry, bitter, depressed, and worried about a good many things. And if you to talk to them about their concerns for their spouse, parents, children, extended family, friends, church, work, neighbourhood, country and world, their list grows and grows and grows.
We Christians, though we know all of this – most of us pray very little. And worse – this is one of my pet peeves – when we finally do get together to pray and someone asks for prayer requests, a lot of people will say, “I’m good. You don’t need to pray for me.” That boggles my mind! Really? Nothing? Your physical body, spiritual life, finances, personal relationships are all exactly how you want them and there is nothing that you think the Saviour of your Soul, the God of the Universe, could do about any of them? Are you sure?
I know part of it is that people don’t like looking weak, admitting they have needs, or letting others in on their business. I get that. But why should that stop us from getting as many people to bang on the doors of heaven for our sake as we can? If prayer is as universal and important as we believe, or at least the Bible says it is, what is preventing us from doing it?
Reasons Not to Pray
There’s a few answers, I think.
First, some people think God doesn’t care about them. It’s not that God doesn’t carea bout anything – it’s just that they’re assumption is that God doesn’t really get involved in the minutia of their life because He’s only worries about big things like war and plagues, and helping widows, orphans and struggling missionaries. So, they conclude, why bother praying since if my prayers aren’t important enough?
Others think that God is like Mr. Scrooge; a penny-pinching, stingy, miser that doesn’t want to help anyone even though He could. They see God’s preferred method of dealing with His people as making them suffer, so if they want anything good out of life – any help, comfort or peace – then they have to go get it themselves. If they pray, God will just tell them to suck it up or make it worse. You’ve probably heard people say things like, “Don’t ask God not to send you to that country, because He definitely will!” “Don’t ask God for patience, or He’ll make your life worse!” So, they think, why pray if God’s just going to say no anyway?
Others think that getting answers to prayer is more akin to winning the lottery. Sure, some people get answers to prayer, but most people just pray and pray for their whole life and get nothing. So, why waste time praying if the chances of getting an answer are so infinitesimal?
Some believe that there’s no point in praying because they are too sinful to be listened to. They say things like “I don’t pray because I haven’t been much of a pray-er, and God only listens to people that pray, so I can’t pray because I don’t pray.” Or, “My life is too messed up for God to take me seriously. And every time I do pray, I just end up going out and messing up again and proving to God that I don’t deserve whatever I’m praying for. So I just quit because praying just made me feel guilty all the time.” They think, what’s the point in praying if He’s either not listening, or thinks you are a constant disappointment?
Others think that they do it wrong, so God’s not happy with their prayers. They’ve heard other people pray and it sounds so sincere, so intimate, so beautiful – and when they do it, it just sounds weird and fake. They’re not using the right words, they can’t quote the bible, they don’t even know whether to use “God”, or “Jesus”, or “Father”, or “Lord”, or “Sir”, or what! The whole concept of prayer is confusing and overwhelming to them. So, why bother praying if you don’t know how to do it and you just sound like an idiot, right?
I could go on, but you get my point, right? There are a lot of internally generated reasons why we don’t pray. That’s what those all are – internally generated reasons why we don’t pray. Things we’ve come up with to prevent us from praying. They don’t come from outside us. We are blessed to live in a country where we can pray anytime and almost anywhere. No one is stopping us from praying – most of the problem comes from within us. It’s all about the guilt or inadequacy we feel, or the false perception we have of God.
If any of those reasons resonated with you, what I want to do today is challenge you to consider that you are wrong about God and about what God thinks of you? I want you to consider one of the main ways that the Bible describes God: as a Good Father.
Talking to God, the Good Father
Turn with me to Luke 11:1-13 and I want to show you something about how Jesus talks about prayer. Let’s read it together, but we’ll take it apart on the way:
“Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’”
Two quick things here: First, notice that Jesus prayed. Our perfect model for life and faith is the Lord Jesus Christ. We want to pattern our lives after His. He prayed quite a lot. If for no other reason than to obey God and follow after our Lord Jesus, we ought to be a praying people.
Second, the disciples asked to learn how to pray because prayer is something that can be taught. The disciples were asking Jesus to teach them how He prays, so they could model it, and could be sure they were getting it right. They saw the power He had and knew it must be because of His close relationship with God, and they wanted a piece of it. That came through prayer.
And so, in response to their desire to learn, Jesus moves from modeling how to pray to teaching them how to pray, and does it in the form of “the Lord’s Prayer” and a couple of teaching stories. His lesson starts in verse 2:
“And he said to them, ‘When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’”
Now, this prayer isn’t necessarily meant to be the only way to pray, repeated verbatim, word for word – though it is absolutely fine to do that. It’s also not an incantation or magic spell that forces God to do whatever you want. What the Lord’s Prayer is meant to teach us is the pattern for all Christian prayer. It contains the pieces, or the categories, that make a complete prayer. And so, in the interests of learning how to pray, let’s look at them a piece at a time:
Our Hallowed Father
First you have the word “Father”. Notice that this prayer doesn’t start with a list of problems or requests, but with acknowledgment that this is a conversation between a Father and His child. This is hugely important for us to realize today. All of our prayers, indeed our whole experience as a Christian, needs to start here. We must ask ourselves, before we pray: Who is God? Who is God to me? What’s He like? Who does scripture reveal Him to be?
It is crucially important that when we pray, we pray to the right God! What do I mean by that? Remember last week when we talked about idolatry. It is entirely possible for us to be praying to a god of our own design. All those things I listed before that block our prayer life – that God is absent, greedy, random, hard to talk to –come from our understanding of who God is. But, do they line up with who God really is? Or, are those ideas things we’ve made up in our own minds? We have to ask ourselves, where we got those ideas, and whether they line up with reality? Am I praying to the God of the Bible, or a God I made up for myself?
The word that Jesus uses, “Father”, is the Greek word PATER, but would have been spoken as the Aramaic word ABBA. That’s a hugely important word, and is used in other parts of scripture that teach us how to pray (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), because even the early Greek believers used that Aramaic word to talk to God. The Jewish people would never have used that word– in fact, it was only the pagan nations that called their god’s “father”, so it was even less palatable for them. Yet Jesus introduces God not as YAHWEH, the One you cannot look upon and the Name you must not say, but as ABBA, a special, intimate term only used by family members.
Think of it as the way we use “Dad”. The only people in the world that call me “Dad” are my kids. No one else. That’s what Jesus invited us to call God. Not just “GOD” or “LORD”, but “Dad”. Keep that in mind because Jesus comes back to it.
In the next part of the prayer Jesus moves from our relationship with God to our first request of Him… and what is it? For food, safety, health? No: “Hallowed be Your Name”. Our first request, and the beginning of all Christian prayer, is not for God to meet our needs, but that we would partner with Him to bring Him glory.
We start by asking our Father in Heaven to cause His name to known as holy, special, unique and worshipped as the One, True God. In this request we acknowledging that the chief end of this world is not to fill our bellies or bring us comfort, but to bring glory to our Father.
This is the flip-side of addressing God. We call Him “Dad”, but we also call Him “God Almighty”. It’s sort of the ultimate “My Dad can beat up your Dad”. God Almighty is my Father. He’s perfect and sinless, but loves me anyway. He laid out the plan for the entire universe, and brought everything into existence with the power of His Word, but He also knows my heart and takes time to listen to me. He is in Heaven being worshipped by angels, but He also speaks to me with patience and love. We want everyone to know about this Father God we hallow!
Those thoughts naturally lead into the next part that says, “Your Kingdom Come.” In other words, “We can’t wait until we can be with You! Father, may your Kingdom Come to more people as you grow your Kingdom on earth! May our whole lives be lived sharing Your love and bringing You glory, until you establish your perfect kingdom forever!”
Asking For Our Daily Needs
The whole first section is about getting our hearts in the right place, realizing who God is, who we are, what He’s done, and what we’re here to do. It forces us to lift our eyes off of our problems and gaze upon the splendor of our Father the King. It changes our perspective of our problems and places God in charge of everything. It reorients our priorities. In short – these are words of worship and praise.
Next Jesus turns to teaching us to ask for our needs. Remember, Jesus isn’t teaching us an incantation that gets us whatever we want from God, but showing us the categories of prayer. And the two things we need to pray for most are our physical needs and our spiritual needs:
“Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins… and lead us not into temptation”.
This part of the prayer is an acknowledgement that we are utterly incapable of doing life ourselves. We are the receivers of God’s necessary care. We cannot fulfill our own physical or spiritual needs. We may think we can – which is why a lot of people don’t pray – but we can’t. The body you have, the time you get, every breath you take, your physical strength, your mental capacity, your emotional stability, your ability to talk and move – they are all gifts from God.
In this part of the prayer you are telling God that you believe He is the provider of your physical needs! You are alive because God kept you alive. He gave you what you needed yesterday, and you are coming to God to say “Thank you, Father. May I have what I need for today?” You pray in expectation that your Dad will certainly feed you.
When kids wake up every morning, it likely doesn’t occur to them that I might decide not to feed them that day. Why? Because when my kids are hungry, I am concerned. Their lack causes me to do something, and I want them to have what they need.
Secondarily, we are acknowledging our spiritual needs. We don’t just need “daily bread”, but daily forgiveness for our sins and protection from our spiritual enemies. Again, we are acknowledging that we cannot forgive ourselves or protect ourselves. We cannot excuse our own guilt and we are not strong enough to fight temptation. We cannot make peace with God by ourselves, but need Jesus for that, and we know that we are in a spiritual war and need His help. This part of the prayer is a form of surrender to Him. “God, ultimately, I can’t do anything without you and anything I do myself is pitiful in comparison to what You can do through me.”
Don’t miss this point! As we pray, “forgives us our sins”, we are telling God that we believe we are sinners, people who don’t deserve His grace! We’re not coming to “the big guy in the sky” as equals, marching up and demanding things, or arguing with Him and trying to prove a point. We are simply saying, “I’m wrong. I’ve made mistakes, hurt people, fallen for Satan’s deceptions, stolen Your glory, broken my promises, taken what isn’t mine, abused my body, and neglected to do the good things I was supposed to do. And I’m not worthy of your presence – but here I am anyway, Dad… because you said you’d forgive me and help me.” It’s an admission that we are fallen and need Someone greater than ourselves.
But, the question remains for many, will God give us what we need? The answer to that question is what keeps a lot of people from praying. They’re not sure if God will forgive or give them what they need. They don’t want to be disappointed by yet another person who says they will do something and then not follow through. They don’t want to come to God, ask Him to forgive them, ask Him for help, and then be told “No.” It would hurt too much to be rejected by God, too.
What Kind of Father is God?
Jesus knows that’s how a lot of people feel, and He addresses it right away. Look at verses 5-13. The unspoken questions are: “What kind of Father is God, because there are some really terrible fathers out there? Is he the stern kind? The stingy kind? The abusive kind? The angry kind? Is he the kind that lets people get away with anything and everything? Is He the absent kind? What kind of father is He?”
In answer to this, Jesus tells two stories that are meant teach us something about God. The first is from verses 5-9,
“And he said to them, ‘Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.”
What’s the point of this story? Simply this: God is a better friend than we are. In the story, you have a whole bunch of friends. One friend drops by unannounced and wants a midnight snack. Another friend runs out in the middle of the night to ask his friend for bread.
Everyone in the story is annoyed. The first friend is going hungry, the second friend is running around at midnight trying to get a snack together, and the third friend has been woken up by someone who won’t stop knocking on his door asking to eat what was going to be his breakfast.
And yet, what happens? The man gives up the bread and the host gets to feed his guest. The question is this: Do you believe God is a better friend than those guys? The reason that the third friend finally gave up the bread wasn’t even because they were friends, but he was impudent, or persistent, or bold enough, to bang on his door at midnight.
Now keep reading in verse 9:
“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
The implication of these stories is this: If that’s how it works here on earth, among sinful, selfish people – how do you think it works with God? God doesn’t just provide the basics, but is willing to go all out and even give the presence of His Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of everyone who asks! God Himself, living in each one of us, speaking to us, helping us, convicting us, guiding us – that’s the greatest gift God can give!
These story lessons from Jesus are meant to shake up our understanding of who we think God is and tell us that God loves it when His people are bold enough to come to Him and ask Him for what they need, because they know they are His children and they love their Father in Heaven.
- Moses and the nation of Israel are thirsty and God has him hit a rock with a stick, and BOOM! water.
- Samson completely ruins his life, and yet at the end he prays for strength and God answers it.
- Elijah is hungry and a widow is starving. He prays that the oil and flower never run out, and they don’t.
- Elijah asks God for a public miracle where God would bar-b-cue an entire bull by blasting it with fire from the sky. Before God answers, Elijah douses the whole thing with buckets of water. And God not only answers, but does so in such a fashion that the fire totally consumed the wood, the bull, the rocks and the water!
- Countless people came to Jesus and asked for help with disease, demons, and death and He stopped what He was doing to help them. More than once he saw that people were hungry and fed them before they even asked.
God’s answers to prayer aren’t just bound to scripture! There are lots and lots of accounts of God providing for people throughout history. One of my favourite stories is about a man named George Mueller. He died in 1898, but was a man of great influence during his time. For those who know the names, he worked with DL Moody, preached for Charles Spurgeon, and inspired Hudson Taylor to be a missionary! (source)
He spent most of his life in Bristol, England as a pastor, but this story comes from his time as the patron of a series of orphanages. He refused to go into debt by borrowing any money and truly believed that God would meet the needs of the children if they just prayed. The story goes like this:
One morning the children woke up and came downstairs for their morning meal, but the plates and cups and bowls were all empty. There was no food in the cupboards and no money to buy any. The children were standing and waiting for breakfast, wondering what to do, when Mueller said, “Children, you know that we must all be in time for school.” He then lifted his head and prayed, “Dear Father, we thank you for what you are going to give us to eat.”
As he sat the children down at the empty table there was a knock at the door. There stood the baker who said, “Mr. Mueller, I couldn’t sleep last night. Somehow I felt you didn’t have bread for breakfast and the Lord wanted me to send you some. So I got up at 2am and baked you some fresh bread.” Mueller thanked the man and no sooner had he closed the door than there was another knock. He opened the door and there stood the milk man who announced that his milk cart had broken down right in front of the orphanage and he would be happy to give the kids his fresh cans of milk so he could empty his wagon and repair it.
This was no isolated incident either. This type of thing happened over and over in his life. In his life he claims to have seen over 50,000 answers to His prayers for help. So much so that he became known as “the man who gets things from God!”
God still answers prayers today: I personally know what it’s like to have my prayers answered. I’ve been in ministry for almost 12 years now and I’ve never gotten a job by sending out a resume. He has always brought me to places through mysterious means. I’ve seen God literally provide my family with money out of nowhere when we only had ten cents in the bank and prayed for help. I’ve asked God for guidance on decisions that would alter the course of my family’s life, and then flipped open my Bible and received the exact answer. And I believe that every day, as I read His Word and talk to Him in prayer, that He not only listens to me, but also speaks, and meets my physical and spiritual needs.
Are You Praying About That?
I wish I could get into more scriptures about God and prayer, because I think this is an incredibly important topic, but I’ll close with this: There’s a reason, throughout all of the thousands of years that believers have been around, that there have been faithful men and women who have been repeating the same thing over and over and over to those who come to them with their struggles. Prophets, priests, elders, deacons, and pastors have been asking the same question and giving the same advice forever: “Are you praying about that?”
Why do mature Christians always go back to that question? Because we know that so many troubles come from messed up prayer lives. James 4:1-3 says this:
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
Your fighting and worrying and arguing and desire to sin has got you all messed up… why? Because you aren’t talking to God. Your passions are out of control because you won’t get on your knees and say “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” “Not my will, not my name, not my kingdom… Yours.”
You covet and quarrel to get things that you think you need, terrified you won’t have enough, worried to the point of hurting those around you to get it. Why? Because you’re not talking to God and saying “…give us our daily bread. Forgive us our sins. Lead us not into temptation.”
James says, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly…” In other words, your life is messed up because your prayer life is messed up. You have real needs – but your desires are all wrong. Your Father wants to help you, but you want all the wrong things! God offers forgiveness and daily help, but you won’t humble yourself enough to ask. “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly…”
Let me encourage you to take a very close look at your relationship with God by taking a very close look at your prayer life. Your beliefs about prayer will tell you a lot about your faith in God.
And after you’ve looked at your prayer life, make some changes. Commit that you will pray every day this week, that you will read the Bible, and get to know who God really is – not content to believe who you think He is. I promise you that He will speak to you, meet your needs, and draw you to Himself.
“You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly…”
This is the last sermon of our mini-series-within-a-series where we’re answering the question “What is a Good Church?”. This series is inside of the “Burning Questions” series which came about after I asked you all to submit some questions that you’ve had that I could answer. I hope that this series has been helpful to you, because it’s been enjoyable for me to write and deliver.
We’ve already talked about the danger of Christian Consumerism where we decide what a “good church” is by human standards and moved into discussion what God defines as a “good church” from the Bible. A lot of this discussion has come from Acts 2:42-47 which is the story of the birth of the first church. In that passage we read about the four important things that God expects from His church, that being: Discipleship, Fellowship, Worship and Evangelism. We’ve already covered the first three, and we’re coming into the last one today.
The Four Categories Everywhere
I hope, as you’ve been your Bible at home, that you’ve noticed these four categories blossomed out beyond Acts into the rest of the scriptures, because you see them everywhere. These four areas are very important for us to be able to identify the wins and losses of the people in the Bible. When we read of something going right, or something going wrong – and I hope I’m not overgeneralizing here – that I’m pretty sure it will be in one of those areas.
When there is a breakdown in one of those areas, it invariable leads to the loss of relationship with God, loss of blessing, and destruction of the people. And it’s not just in the New Testament church, this has been true throughout the history of God’s people.
Right from the beginning, even Adam and Eve had all four categories. They heard the voice of God telling them what to do and not do – that’s discipleship: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, have dominion over it… eat the food from the plans, but don’t eat of that one tree.” To me, that’s discipleship.
There was Fellowship in the Garden too as God looked and saw that “it was not good for man to be alone” and created a mate suitable for him.
There was, no doubt, Worship in the Garden, as we see God walking and talking with His people. Evangelism is a little more difficult to find, since there are only two people, but we can certainly imagine these two talking with one another about God, caring for each other, tending to the Garden and the animals… and subduing the earth in His Name.
And then it goes sideways, right? Where’s the breakdown? Genesis 3 at the Fall of Man. There is a Discipleship breakdown as the serpent starts to challenge Eve’s knowledge of God’s word and says “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?”
We see a breakdown in Fellowship and Evangelism (the sharing of God’s word) as Adam standing right there as Eve is about to fall – and says NOTHING, refusing to protect Eve and keep her accountable to God’s word. No warning of the coming wrath, no reminder of the good news of God’s presence. Nothing. Adam stood next to her totally silent. And then later we see a total breakdown as everyone blames everyone else for it all going wrong.
We see a breakdown in Worship as Eve chooses to place herself over God, wants to be as wise as God, and does the thing God forbid her to do. Then worship further breaks down as the man and woman now feel shame and try to flee from God, hiding in the bushes, not wanting to talk to God anymore.
That pattern, I believe, can be found throughout scripture. These four words are the model for our relationship with God personally – as in one-on-one with Him – corporately as a church, and, I would argue, the proper design for all human interaction. If we can get these four areas right – Biblical Discipleship, Loving Fellowship, Inspired Worship and Spirit-Led Evangelism, then we’re doing pretty good, and I believe God will be pleased.
The Great Commission
As I said, today we’re talking about the final of the four: Spirit-Led Evangelism. Please open up to Matthew 28:18-20, a section of scripture usually called “The Great Commission”. Here we see Jesus passing on the torch to his disciples before He ascends to Heaven to start the next phase of His ministry.
Some context here first:
Jesus has already been crucified and has risen from the dead. He has been seen by hundreds of people and the Roman Guards that were guarding His tomb have already been paid off to say that Jesus body was stolen as they slept.
Jesus has already met with some disciples on the Road to Emmaus and explained the meaning of His life and death to them, according to the scriptures. He has already appeared to the disciples, who were locked away in a room, bewildered at the death of their rabbi and friend, and terrified of the Jewish authorities. And He has looked into the eyes and spoken to Thomas who said, “Unless I see the imprint of the nails in His hands and press my finger into the mark of the nails and my hand into His side, I refuse to believe.” (John 20:25) Moments later that same man would see Jesus and call Him, “My Lord and My God!”.
Jesus has already held the first men’s breakfast, cooking for his disciples, and restoring Peter to the rest of the disciples, forgiving Him his betrayal, and telling Him to “Feed his sheep”. (John 21:1-24)
All of this was happening over a few weeks. Near the end of those weeks, Jesus told his remaining eleven disciples (minus Judas who killed himself instead of seeking God’s forgiveness) to go to a mountaintop in Galilee where He would meet them later. It is very likely that there were more than just the eleven with Jesus that day, and that perhaps even as many as 500 people were there, which is why it says “some doubted.” . (1 Cor 15:6)
Let’s read it together:
“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
The Four Categories in The Great Commission
Notice again, that we see all four of our categories in this passage. Jesus says to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to observe His commandments. That’s obviously discipleship.
We also see worship in there as it says that they “worshipped him”, but also implicitly as Jesus reminds them that “All authority in heaving and on earth” is HIS. Those words are meant to bring comfort, but also to remind them that He’s not just their friend, He’s their LORD.
We certainly see Fellowship there as Jesus has asked them all to come to that mountain together (He doesn’t meet with them one-on-one). He tells them to go make disciples of all nations, at least implying that this is mean to be done together, and with multiple people-groups in mind. And He reminds them “I am with you always.” They will also have fellowship with Jesus.
And, of course, we see evangelism as they are told to “go”, and “make”, and “baptize”, and “teach”, disciples throughout the world. All four are in there, all four are necessary, and all four are expected. And without the first three – Biblical Discipleship, Loving Fellowship, Inspired Worship – we have no hope of having Spirit-Led Evangelism that causes us to share God’s love with others and for the Lord to add to our number those who are being saved.
Three Makes Four
Let me explain what I mean by turning back to our key-text in Acts 2:42-47. Let’s read it again and I want you to notice something important on the way through – look how the evangelism, outreach, faith-sharing, happens.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
What you don’t see in this description is any sort of evangelistic endeavours. There is no missionary sending, no tent-meetings, no four spiritual laws, no wordless book, no formal evangelistic endeavours.
Does that mean that no one did missionary work? Of course not! Paul was the primary missionary to the Gentiles and Peter was the primary missionary to the Jews. And all of the disciples took their turns going out into the world, spreading the message of Jesus Christ to new places that had never heard of Him. All Christians and Christian churches must participate in local and global missions.
But my message today isn’t about the world’s need for more missionaries – which it has. It’s not about personal evangelism – which is important. Our question today is “What is a Good Church?”
This is where my descriptor of Spirit-Led Evangelism comes from. When we obey the commands of Jesus Christ in the areas of Discipleship, Fellowship and Worship, then Evangelism will occur. When we are listening to the Holy Spirit because we are filling our lives with His Word, His People and His Presence, then the natural outflow will be that we will grow His Kingdom. If we are being disciple by our church and are able to have an answer for the hope that is within us, are in loving fellowship with the people in our church; caring for one another’s needs and holding each other accountable to the word of God, and are inspired to Worship God every day, all day, in all things, in Spirit and in Truth — then how can we not “have favour” with people, and see “the Lord add daily those who are being saved.”
Being a “good church”, when it comes to Evangelism, doesn’t mean we have fun events and make excuses for people to come through our doors. What it means is that when we get the other three areas right –the message of the Gospel, our love for the lost, the words that come from the Holy Spirit, the changing of hearts, the miraculous timing – starts to happen. That’s where revival comes from.
How Does Revival Happen?
We can’t make revival happen in our community or in our church. I can’t preach us into a spiritual revival. Revival comes when the people in the church revaluate their spiritual conditions and start to get serious about Biblical Discipleship, Loving Fellowship, and Inspired Worship.
As long as we are avoiding discipleship by neglecting to read our bibles, avoiding prayer, not participating in the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, avoiding personal and corporate study, and making church attendance optional depending on how we feel, we will never see revival in our own hearts, or in our church or community.
As long as we are avoiding fellowship by ignoring people in our midst, not forgiving people in our church, allowing bitterness to fester in our hearts, refusing to meet each other’s needs – or even find out one another’s needs, and leaving care and visitation ministry to only a few people, gossiping behind people’s backs, accusing people of false things, and sowing division among the brothers in the church, we will never see revival. For as long as our hearts, our family’s hearts, our church’s hearts are full of anything other than love for God, His people, widows, orphans and strangers, we cannot see revival.
As long as we are avoiding Worship by refusing to sing, refusing to pray, refusing to kneel before God, refusing to acknowledge God as King, refusing to obey Him by giving of our time and talents, refusing to give sacrificially, refusing to call Him Lord, refusing to put down the sins that have entangled us, we will not see revival. As long as we are making our own paths, and telling God to get lost until Sunday, treating Him as a Santa Clause in the sky who only exists to bring you comfort and ease, we cannot see revival in this church.
I was very convicted by Psalm 50 this week as I examined my own heart.
The whole first part of the Psalm reminds us that God doesn’t need our worship. He desires it, but He doesn’t need it. He is almighty and perfect without requiring any help from us. In verse 12 He says,
“If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.”
And then in verse 14 God turns to His people and says what He desires:
“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
He doesn’t want our religious obedience. He says earlier, “I have no need…” of anything we can bring. What He wants from us is to acknowledge our dependence on Him by thanking Him in worship, living by our commitment to Him, and calling out to Him in prayer.
Now read in verse 16:
“But to the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips?”
That hit me hard this week. What right do I have to read His Bible, recite His word, or tell anyone of the promises of Salvation? What right do I have to ask for revival? What right do I have to stand up here and tell you anything?
I have no right, because I am wicked and fall utterly short in all these areas. You’ll see the four again here Discipleship, Worship, Fellowship and Evangelism. All are there, and I fall desperately short, which very well could be a big reason we aren’t seeing revival here in this community. I invite you to examine yourself using this scripture. Have you been wicked? Do you expect to have God’s blessing? What right do you have?
“For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you.”
How many times has God said the same thing to you over and over and over? How many times have you heard the Spirit of God convicting you of that sin, or prompting you to do something – but you cast His words behind you like they mean nothing.
Do you appreciate God’s discipline and thank Him for making you more like His Son, or do you hate His discipline and get angry when hard times come because you think you are owed an easy life? How often have you cast God’s word behind you, walked away, didn’t read it, left His Word sitting on the shelf for days and days and days, never giving it a second thought?
What RIGHT do we have to come before Him if, when we do, we dismiss whatever He has to say?
Next He says,
“If you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you keep company with adulterers.”
Do you admire those who steal, sneak and bend the rules, even in little ways? What have you stolen? Are you living completely within the boundaries of Canadian Law and God’s moral law? Have you used the words “everyone else is doing it” to justify yourself as a thief?
Keeping company with adulterers doesn’t require actually committing adultery – or being married for that matter. How is your thought life? Do you keep company with adulterers as you dwell on your own lustful thoughts? What do your browser history look like? What about your texts? Any posters on the walls, pictures on your phone, or on your hard drive of people you’re not married to? Do you get a sexual thrill from the books you read, or the movies and tv shows you watch? Any emotional connections to people you’re not married to? All of these things are examples of keeping company with adulterers.
What RIGHT do we have to come before Him if we continuously crush our own spirits, ignore our consciences and eat the garbage this world offers and call it good?
Next he says,
“You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son.”
What is your relationship like with others? Your own family? Your brothers and sisters in Christ? I know there are people sitting here today who have given their mouth free rein for evil this week, have framed deceit and lied about others, and spoke slander against their brother. And I know that there are those who have listened to that gossip and slander and ate it up like sugar-cubes.
What right do you have to ask God to fill this church with people, to use you as an agent of the Gospel, when you turn around and stab people in the back, show hatred for your own family and people within your own church? Why would He do that?
Look what God says next in verse 21:
“These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!”
Maybe for you there hasn’t been a sign from God telling you to repent and get right with Him. There has been no thunder and lighting, no writing on the wall, no curses of sickness and death that has forced you to re-evaluate your life, so you’re go along thinking that this is all ok. We haven’t been struck down, the church closed, and the building wiped out, so we think that it’s all ok. God’s just like us! He doesn’t care about these sins. God doesn’t care about what we say, what we do! We ought not think that God is like us.
If you have not repented of your sins, today is the day. Time is short. For us as a body of believers, I believe that if we are to have a time of revival here in this church, then we need to listen to the charges of God against the individuals in this church – starting with me and including every individual here. Let us not forget who God is and His hatred of sin.
We have been warned.
Hope in Repentance
But, thank God, the Psalm doesn’t end there. It ends like this:
“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”
This is a call to repentance. This is a call to get our priorities straight. This has very little to do with growing our church in numbers, and everything to do with deepening our church spiritually. If we want to see revival in our hearts, our homes, our church and our community, then we must repent of our sins, and fall on the sacrifice that has been given for us? And who is that? Jesus Christ.
We are the sinners, but Jesus is the sacrifice! I’ve been saying, “What gives you the right?” to come before God? Nothing. Nothing except the name Jesus Christ.
- Jesus says He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, No one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6)
- 1 John 2:2 says that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins” which means He’s the one who took God’s wrath.”
- 1 Timothy 2:5-6 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…”
The only thing that gives us the right to come before God is if we are willing to place all of our sin on Jesus shoulders and accept that He died for them on our behalf. Then, and only then, do we have the right to come before Him.
That’s what John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” When we receive forgiveness in His Name, and believe in Him, then we become children of God. The Bible tells us that in Christ we are adopted as sons and daughters, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Romans 8). That’s what gives us the right to come before Him.
Yes, we are wicked and sinful, but we have been given the opportunity to walk away from the Spirit of this World and Sin and live by the Spirit of God instead. This doesn’t just happen once and then we’re done – we must do this every day. We must continuously fall down before God in thanksgiving for our salvation, killing the sin within us, and living as His people.
Allow me to conclude with this: It is my deep desire to see this church grow – but not merely in number. I want us to be a good church by God’s standards. I want us to grow deeply as we make Biblical Disciples, have Loving Fellowship and Inspired Worship, and then see God add to our numbers as we Evangelize our community and this world.
But this isn’t a job for only me. Every single person who is listening to me right now has a responsibility to listen to the Spirit of God within them and repent of their sin. Let’s not be like all the other nominal, weak, powerless, fruitless, cowardly, sick, worldly, churches that surround us. Let us turn and follow God, and let us live together as a good, Godly, Christ honouring church. That starts with you and me – in our homes, by ourselves, on our knees before God – praying, repenting, reading and meditating on His word. That’s where we start.
The Kickstarter for my new book is coming along very well! I’m 80% of the way to my goal, praise God! The special prizes for backers are coming along well too. Check them out under “Updates”. I still need your help to push it over the top though. Please consider pledging and sending this link to your friends. Thank you so much for your prayer and support!
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me! For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
(Psalm 42-43 ESV)
That’s psalm, epitomizes what we’re talking about today. It’s the song of a man who is battling deep, dark depression – a popular and important subject that still resonates with people today. Another poet, this time a Spanish poet from the 19th century, St John of the Cross, called this kind of depression a “Dark Night of the Soul”. It’s a period of spiritual desolation, of isolation from God and a detachment from the world. Everything is dim or dark, there seems to be no more sun.
The psalmist is not David, but “the sons of Korah”. They were Levites, priests of God, employed to be worship leaders in the temple. Their task in life, for generations since Moses, was perform and produce music to be sung in worship to God.
But now this worship leader was far from Jerusalem and the temple worship on Mount Zion. He felt himself cut off from all he had known and everything he was meant to be. He felt cut off from God himself. It says he’s writing this psalm “from the land of Hermon, from Mount Mizar”, which is almost 200Km away from Jerusalem. It’s been theorized that he’s either a traveller far from home, a captive of an enemy nation leading him out of Israel, or one of the priests following David as he was fleeing Jerusalem during his son Absalom’s revolt. I prefer the theory that that he’s a captive of an enemy nation, likely the Babylonians, because as we read the psalm we see him being mocked his enemies.
Whatever the reason he’s had to leave, this priest is terribly homesick. He’s been walking away from the place he desperately wants to be – walking for 47 hours, according to Google maps – and has reached the range of Mountains known as Hermon. He climbs and climbs until he reaches the top of Mount Mizar and takes a look back toward his beloved Jerusalem, now a dot on the horizon.
Of Two Minds
What struck me the most about this psalm was how this Son of Korah almost seems to be arguing with himself. His heart and mind and soul are wrestling with what is happening to him. His feelings and thoughts are all over the place. He’s doing what we talked about last week – trying to take every thought captive.
It reminds me of the scenes from Lord of the Rings where the creature Gollom is arguing with his alter-ego Smeagol. His angry, bitter, evil self is having an argument with the small remnant of good that’s left in him. It’s an amazing scene and something that I think about often, especially when I’m having an argument with myself, or trying to take my out of control thoughts captive.
Psalm 42 starts with a declaration of desperate need: He’s been on a long journey, up a mountain, far from home – driven by his enemies to go faster than he’d like – but his greatest desire isn’t for something to quench his natural thirst. His greatest need is for something to quench his spiritual thirst. If I’m right about his context, then he’s dirty, thirsty, depressed, and surrounded by enemies mocking him by saying, “Where is your God?”, “He can’t deliver you! You’re ours now! And we’ll never let you go! He’s deserted you! Ha Ha Ha!”
In his mind, as they mock and taunt he’s thinking, “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.” Oh, how he longs for the days when he would sings songs of praise with the God’s people in God’s temple! But now he can’t – and he’s not sure he ever will again. Has God forsaken Him? These trials are too much for him to bear! Where is God now? Physical suffering, emotional suffering, spiritual suffering, relational suffering… he’s feeling it all at once, and his hope is failing him. He’s gasping inside. His spirit is desiccated. He’s desperate for anything to quench this drought.
And then another voice enters into his mind: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”
As we said last week, this world is desperately seeking a way to fix their problems without having to turn to God. They put their faith in technology, medicine, politics, and a dozen other places that they hope will finally bring them peace, hope and everlasting comfort. This world offers many, many false cures for our deepest spiritual problems – and at their source, all of our problems are spiritual, by the way.
The psalmist’s real issue wasn’t that he was far from home or surrounded by enemies. There are lots of people inside and outside of scripture that were far from home and under terrible circumstances – but still had faith, hope and peace – think of Paul and Peter worshipping in prison. What was this man’s problem? He was losing hope. He was spiritually weak and getting weaker. Dry and getting dryer.
We can face anything in this world if we are able to continue to remain spiritually strong and hold on to hope. It is when that hope fails us that the physical, emotional, relational, issues begin to crush us.
The world doesn’t get this. They want to solve our spiritual crises with physical treatment — medicine, exercise, diet, technology. And while that can sometimes help – it is not an ultimate solution. A broken spirit needs to be treated with spiritual medicine. We need the doctor of our souls.
And so, what does our Son of Korah do when he feels his spirit drying out to the point of breaking? He begins to apply spiritual medicine. He takes hold of his thinking, tells himself what he must do, and reminds himself of who God really is.
Three times over Psalms 42-43 he says these words, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”
Preaching to Ourselves
Over and over he puts the brakes on the depression train by repeating that phrase. He takes hold of himself: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” “Whoa brain! Hang on! Ok, the pity party has lasted long enough. Hang on. Let’s lift our heads up a minute and take stock of reality. Let’s stop being driven by our body, our emotions, our circumstance, and take stock of what’s really going on here.”
The great preacher, Marin Lloyd Jones, addressed this very thing in his book, “Spiritual Depression”. I’m going to read a large section because I believe it is so helpful:
“I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us. Do you realize what that means? I suggest that the main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self. Am I just trying to be deliberately paradoxical? Far from it. This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you.”
Then he quotes the section of Psalm 42 we just read and continues:
“Now this man’s treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. ‘Why are thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, ‘Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you.’ Do you know what I mean? If you do not, you have had but little experience….
The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: “[Why are you cast down, O my soul?] What business have you to be disquieted?” You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘[Hope in God]’ instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way.
And then you must go on to remind yourself of God: Who God is, and what God is, and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil, and the whole world, and say with this man: [‘I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God’]”
That is exactly what this Son of Korah is doing in this Psalm. He’s taking hold of himself. He is preaching to himself. He’s defying himself. He’s taking captive the thoughts in his mind, evaluating them for truth, and then dismissing the lies. God hasn’t left him! God isn’t against him! He can praise God wherever he is. God has proven that He will save – even if that means he must suffer on earth and then be delivered to heaven. God is still His God and that will never change! God is good! Good is good!
Steps to Battle Spiritual Discouragement / Depression
Last week we took a look at Psalm 37 which gave us five steps for battling discouragement – and I’ve spent a lot of time on step one, taking control of our thought life because if we don’t get step one right nothing else works. As long as we allow our thinking to get out of control and listen to our emotional pain, physical pain, and our spiritual enemies who place terrible thoughts in our minds, then none of the other steps matter.
Step one, from verse, one was: “Fret Not Yourselves”. Do you remember that?
Let’s turn to Psalm 37 and discuss the next four steps which all flow out of the first.
Step 2: Trust in the Lord
“Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (vs 3-4)
There’s a lot going on in these two verses, but let’s just do a fly-by and grab the big theme of “Trusting in the Lord.” Once you take control of your thought life, it is imperative that you fill your mind with truth. That’s what the Son of Korah did, right? He says to himself, “Hope in God!” It’s an action of faith and belief to stop oneself and simply say those words: “Hope in God”, “Trust in the Lord”.
Ask yourself some questions:
- Has God let me down?
- Does God love me?
- Does God know more than me?
- What has God promised me?
- What is the truth?
- Could my thoughts be deceiving me?
- Is there anyone better, stronger and holier for me to trust in? Where is the better place for me to put my trust than God? Myself? Other people? No way. I will “trust in the Lord.”
Get into Romans 8 and read it over and over again: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (vs 35, 37)
Step Three: Commit Your Way
“Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.” (vs 5-6)
After we put our hope in God and his Son Jesus Christ, after we’ve chosen to trust Him, place our faith in Him, the next, obvious step is commitment. Choose, come hell or high-water, that He will be your foundation, your strength and your shield.
The Hebrew in this section is really neat. It can be translated “Roll on Jehovah’ road.” Roll your heavy burden from yourself and place it on another. Like the story of Sisyphus we so often roll our burdens up a hill only to have them roll back down to where we started, because we didn’t have the wisdom to try to roll them anywhere helpful. We keep rolling the rock, rolling the rock, rolling the rock, up the hill, up the hill, up the hill… but we have no ultimate destination for it. We’re not taking the burden anywhere – we’re merely carrying it.
The Psalmist says, commit yourself to rolling your rock over to Jesus so He can take it. Part of trust and commitment is making the choice to allow Jesus to deal with your problems His way. “Trust in Him, and He will act” , the psalmist says. That’s always true. He will act. He may not do it the way you think is best – but He will act. He will give you healing, or patience, or comfort, or choose to build your character and faith through suffering so that you gain many rewards in heaven. He is always doing something. Will you commit your way to Him or will you try to roll your rock all by yourself?
In Proverbs 3:5-8 we read the wisdom:
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”
Let’s read that backwards, like we did last week: If you feel broken in your flesh and dry in your bones. Then turn from evil, fear the lord, stop being wise in your own eyes, get on God’s path, stop thinking yourself smart enough to fix your problems, and trust in the Lord.
Step 4: Be Still before the Lord
Step four is the hardest one, for a lot of people.
“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!”
You’ve taken control of your thought life. You’ve preached to yourself and decided to trust in the Lord. You’ve committed your life to Him and are choosing to give Him your burden. You’ve rolled your rock to the foot of the cross. Now what?
“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” Ouch, right? Christian Philosopher, Blaise Pascal, had a great quip where he said:
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
That’s funny, but there’s some truth in there, isn’t there?
That’s hard. It’s one thing to lay our burdens at the foot of the cross, it’s another thing to decide to sit there and patiently wait to see what He’s going to do with them.
Now, keep in mind, this isn’t simply sitting alone in a room. We are sitting “before the Lord”. We are not alone. We are able to have a calm resignation that we know that what is happening to us is in the hands of God. Our spirit is quiet, our temperament is settled on God.
This isn’t something that comes naturally to those of us who have been told that action is the answer, and being proactive is always the best. No, over and over in scripture we are told that it is best to put our trust in God and then to “be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.”
- “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:26)
- “But as for me, I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” (Micah 7:7)
Listen carefully to the words of Isaiah 30:15-18,
“For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. But you were unwilling, and you said, ‘No! We will flee upon horses; therefore you shall flee away; and, ‘We will ride upon swift steeds’; therefore your pursuers shall be swift. A thousand shall flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you shall flee, till you are left like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain, like a signal on a hill. Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.”
There is a great lesson for us in these verses. Israel, over and over, turned away from God and put their faith in treaties with other, larger nations – only to be destroyed. They put their faith in the size of their own army – and they were defeated. They put their faith in pagan gods –only to be left desolate.
“The LORD waits to be gracious to you”. Isn’t that an amazing verse?! He’s waiting for you, but you’re running around like a fool, panicked and fretting, putting your faith into everything but the One who can help you – and you end up left hurting and alone.
Over and over and over and over we make the mistake of going everywhere else but God first. When will we learn to fall upon the strength of God first, and then “be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.”?
Step Five: Refrain from Anger
Let’s close with step five where we almost come full-circle.
“Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.” (Psalm 37:8)
Why would the Psalmist put this in here? He’s trusted the Lord, committed his path, put his burden down, and is being still and patient before Him, waiting for God to act? Where does this anger come from? To whom is it directed at?
The answer is twofold: Anger at God and anger at the evil that is affecting him. He’s reminding Himself not to get angry at the situation – again. Why? Because he’s human and we are constantly going through cycles of testing and trusting, faith and failure, worship and anger. We are unstable, cyclical creatures that have to keep going through this process over and over. What an amazingly patient God we have!
He’s telling himself, again, to stop fretting – that’s step one again! And to not get mad at God for taking too long or not doing it his way – that’s steps two to four. He’s reminding himself that whenever he takes things into his own hands and acts out of a lack of faith, lack of trust and out of anger against God or against evil – he messes it up. He ends up doing something evil himself!
Matthew Henry says this,
“If thy heart begins to rise at it, stroke down thy folly… check the first stirrings of discontent and envy, and do not harbour any hard thoughts of God and his providence.”
That sounds a lot like, “Take every thought captive”, doesn’t it?
When we are angry at God, it’s usually because we think we know better than him, that we deserve something we’re not getting, or that He is being unfair.
Do you know better than Him? No. He is wiser than you.
What do you deserve? You deserve Hell, damnation and judgement – that’s it. Anything beyond that is grace – and His grace has been abundant. Your anger may stem from a lack of thankfulness for what you do have!
Is He unfair? See questions one and two! You don’t know what’s going on and you don’t deserve whatever good you have. If God was fair, He wouldn’t have sent His innocent Son to die on behalf of condemned sinners. He wouldn’t have accepted his death as payment for our sin. He wouldn’t have told us right from wrong and given us a hope and a future. No, if He was fair, we’d all be in hell.
I encourage you to meditate on the scriptures we’ve gone through over the past couple weeks, and have a few conversations with yourself – and with God. Pick up Psalm 37, Psalm 42-43, Romans 8, and read them again and talk to God about the ways that you need to grow in faith and patience. Ask Him how you have sinned in your anger against Him and evil, ask repentance, and then ask for grace. He will forgive you, and then He will grant you wisdom and peace, just as He has promised. (James 1:5; Phil 4:7)
“Before I was a Mom”
By Suzana Haertzen (Hart-zen)
Before I was a Mom…I made and ate hot meals. I had unstained clothing. I had quiet conversations on the phone.
Before I was a Mom… I slept as late as I wanted and never worried about how late I got into bed. I brushed my hair and my teeth every day.
Before I was a Mom… I cleaned my house each day. I never tripped over toys or forgot words to lullabies.
Before I was a Mom… I didn’t worry whether or not my plants were poisonous. I never thought about Immunizations.
Before I was a Mom… I had never been puked on, pooped on, spit on, chewed on, peed on or pinched by tiny fingers. I had complete control of my mind, my thoughts, and my body. I slept all night.
Before I was a Mom… I never held down a screaming child so that doctors could do tests or give shots. I never looked into teary eyes and cried. I never got gloriously happy over a simple grin. I never sat up late hours at night watching a baby sleep.
Before I was a Mom… I never held a sleeping baby just because I didn’t want to put it down. I never felt my heart break into a million pieces when I couldn’t stop the hurt. I never knew that something so small could affect my life so much. I never knew that I could love someone so much. I never knew I would love being a Mom.
Before I was a Mom… I didn’t know the feeling of having my heart outside my body. I didn’t know how special it could feel to feed a hungry baby. I didn’t know that bond between a mother and her child. I didn’t know that something so small could make me feel so important.
Before I was a Mom… I had never gotten up in the middle of the night every 10 minutes to make sure all was okay. I had never known the warmth, the joy, the love, the heartache, the wonderment, or the satisfaction of being a Mom. I didn’t know I was capable of feeling so much before I was a Mom
The Persistent Love of God
I think I like that poem because it reminds me of the persistence of mothers. There are many words that we can use to describe moms. Words like loving, patient, compassionate… but of all of the words I think the word persistent is one that works the best. Movies and books are replete with stories about good guys who credit their mothers for how they turned out and bad guys who could always count on their mother loving them. That’s why I think we can safely say that a good word to describe a good Mother is persistent.
But if a mother’s love is persistent, then how much more is God’s for us? That’s what I want to talk about today: God’s persistent love. I believe that the perpetual, persistent, stubborn love a mother has for their child is part of how God designed them – and is mean to reflect and teach us something about God’s love for us. In scripture, God is presented as the Creator and Sustainer of all things, the one in which “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:24-29; Psalm 104). He is persistently ensuring the existence of all things.
When Jesus was challenged about healing on the Sabbath, he looked at the Jews and said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17) meaning that even though God invented the Sabbath by resting on the seventh day, God was still upholding the universe – if He were to stop, everything would cease to exist.
God is the God who just won’t quit. Think of the nation of Israel who did everything they possibly could to offend and reject God, trying to thwart everything He was trying to do for them. They worshipped demons, killed the prophets, and turned their backs on His Word. At more than one point they were so far gone that they forgot about their miraculous deliverance from Egypt (Judges 2) and even lost the Book of the Law (2 Kings 22).
Yet, as much disrespect as God suffered, He continued to treat them with special care and persistent love. When one generation didn’t respond, He’d come back to the next generation and try again. When they went on their trip through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, they whined about everything . It was like the world’s worst car trip! God’s taking them to Disneyworld and they spend the entire time complaining about the food, water, directions, view, signs, and kicking the seat of the one driving the car.
Yet, God continuously and persistently provided what they asked for and needed. A prophet would ask for a sign and God would give them one. A king would go into a foolhardy, selfish battle, and God would allow him to succeed. When the nation of Israel couldn’t get over their worship of idols, God treated them as children and sent them to their room – a whole generation into Babylonian captivity as a discipline – and then rescued them so they could be with Him again. God showed persistent devotion to His people.
Our Lack of Persistence
Most of us are lousy at being persistent. The divorce rate, even among Christians, hovers around 40%, and many aren’t even getting married in the first place – and more and more couples are refusing to have children. That makes you mothers very special.
But people don’t just drop their marriages, they also drop out of high-school and college at alarming rates – especially young men.
Most people can’t even keep the same job for more than a few years. According to a Workopolis report, 51% of people stay in their role for under 2 years, and only 30% stay at one job for over four. The average Canadian will have roughly 15 careers in their lifetime. And another statistic is that the average new, small business will last less than five years. And it’s not because of the financial crisis. 75% of the time it’s because they end up with too many personal problems that get in the way, so they have to shut down their successful small business.
I could go on, but I think that most of know that we have a problem with persistence, and the problem is getting worse. Our lack of tenacity is causing us all sorts of problems.
The Persistence of Jesus
As in all things, we would do well to model Jesus, who was doggedly persistent. Consider His disciples! His own disciples denied Him, sold Him out, and fled the Garden of Gethsemane, cowering in the dark as He died on the cross, but He loved them, forgave all who asked, restored them to Him, and gave them a new mission in His name. They kept asking the same dumb questions, doing the same dumb things, and Jesus kept forgiving them, repeating Himself, teaching them and loving them.
Our salvation was brought by a man persistent in his desire to win us back to His Father. He marched to the cross of His own will, despite the clueless disciples and abusive religious authorities. He obeyed His Father in the face of great temptation, so He could finish the work of salvation. He stood firm on the promises and the power of God. When everything looked the bleakest, He was able to say, “I trust you God. I won’t quit, and I know you won’t quit on me.”
My hope today, as we consider the persistent love of God, in Jesus, and seen in our good mothers, is that we will be able to say the same thing – “I won’t quit on God and God won’t quit on me.”
God Makes Strange Selections
“But”, we say, “I’m not like Peter, or Paul, or John, or Moses, or Elijah, or any of the other heroes of the Bible! They had special powers and special faith. I could never be like them!” Actually, yes, yes you are – maybe more than you know. What is awesome about the love of God is that He shows it most often in the strangest places, and to the weirdest people. Most often He doesn’t go for the best and brightest, but for the small, weak, dumb, pitiable, faltering, failing, down and out people that no one would pick.
Did you ever play dodge-ball as a kid? By the way, did you know that many schools have outlawed dodge-ball? One expert said, “We take the position that [dodgeball] is not an appropriate instructional activity because it eliminates children and it does not respect the needs of less-skilled children.” That guy sure wasn’t around when I was growing up! I was definitely one of the “less-skilled” children and had absolutely none of my “needs respected” during dodge-ball!
I absolutely remember what it was like when the teacher would yell out “DODGEBALL!” Fear immediately gripped my tiny heart. Except for a few of the girls, I was easily the smallest kid in my class. And we would always line up against the walls, the teacher would pick two “Captains” and then they would pick teams. Anyone else go through this?
They would go through the whole class and take turns picking the big kids, fast kids, kids that threw hard, the popular kids… and there would be me, the fat kid, and the kid the kid that got asthma attacks, standing against the wall as the kids fight over who had to take us. I hated that feeling – but I knew why: I wasn’t big, or strong, or fast, or popular.
Here’s my point: If God was picking the dodgeball team, He would do it differently. He would have picked me, the little girls, the fat kid, and the kid with the asthma attacks first, and then shown how He could win the game with us. To God be the glory!
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 is something I read often and it says:
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Isn’t that awesome?! God shows His persistent love by loving those who need it most. He chooses the weak things of the world to show His glory and work His purposes. Why?
God’s Overwhelming Optimism
I think it’s because God has an overwhelming amount of optimism in His people – not because of what we can do for Him, but because He knows what He can do through us! He knows what we’re like. It’s not like we can fool Him into believing we are better than we are. We can’t pad our resume before God. God knows – but He still has an overwhelming optimism that when He chooses us to do something, that we can get it done.
When He picks us, introduces us to Jesus, saves us from Hell, gives us the gift of His Spirit, and then gives us a mission in this world, He actually believes we can do it! Is it a strange thought to believe that God has faith that you can overcome temptation, overcome your addiction, overcome bitterness, overcome fear, and grow into a better image of Jesus? God knows what He can do, and so He knows that when you are depending on Him, you can do anything!
In Philippians 4:13 Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” And in 2 Corinthians 12 Paul asks God to make him stronger by getting rid of a terrible malady he is facing, and God simply tells him “no”. Why? God says, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” And Paul’s response was, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10)
J Oswald Sanders once said:
“There is an optimism in God which discerns the hidden possibilities in the unpromising character. He has a keen eye for hidden elements of nobility and promise in an unprepossessing life. He is the God of the difficult temperament, the God if the warped personality, the God of the misfit.”
We look at ourselves and that’s what we see: “the difficult temperament… the warped personality… the misfit.” We don’t see a person God could use – let doggedly persue with His persistent love. We see our sin and addictions and feel defeated all the time. We see our hang-ups and fears, and all the hidden things in our lives and minds that we think prevent us from being loved and used by God. We see our lack of ability, lack of holiness, lack of understanding, lack of courage – we are too afraid, too young, too old, to uneducated, too different, not different enough.
What I want to tell you this morning is that the persistent love of God covers that. God believes in You because He believes in Himself – and when you feel weak, all He requires is that you lean harder into Him. A life turned over to God will be imbued, infused, permeated, saturated with His amazing power and love.
God’s Relentless Pursuit
God believes in you because it is God Himself that is working through us, even despite our weakness and flaws. Just as a mother can’t forget her love for her child, but continues to love them no matter what they have done, even more-so does God relentlessly, persistently pursue us and love us. He can’t forget His love for us.
We have a book at home called “I Love You Stinky Face” which is about a child trying to see how far his mother’s love will go, coming up with all manner of terrible ways he thinks that he could make his mother not love him.
“But Mama, but mama! What if I were a big, scary ape? Would you still love me then? But Mama, but Mama, what if I were a swamp creature with slimy, smelly seaweed hanging from my body, and I couldn’t ever leave the swamp or I would die? Will you still love me then? But Mama, But Mama, what if I were a super smelly skink, and I smelled so bad that my name was Stinky Face?”
And the mother always sweetly responds, assuring her child that she will love him no matter what:
“The I would give you a bath and sprinkle you with sweet-smelling powder. And if you still smelled bad, I wouldn’t mind, and I would hug you tight and whisper in your ear, ‘I love you Stinky Face’.”
Psalm 23 is like that. Who is the active person in this relationship?
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
That idea of God being the one that pursues us with relentless love is found all over scripture. He stubbornly, tenaciously pursues us, inviting us over and over to turn more and more of our life over to Him because He knows that if we give our life to Him fully that we will finally know true joy and purpose. God won’t quit on you.
“But God, But God, What if I continuously work myself into a frenzy, anxious about almost everything in my life? Will you still love me then?” (“Yes, and I will lie you down in green pastures, beside still waters.”)
“But God, but God, what if I destroy my soul with sin, harden my heart with bitterness, and corrupt my spirit with lusts of the eye and the flesh? (“Yes, and then I will restore your soul, and I will lead you down the paths of righteousness.”)
“But God, but God, what if I go through a depression so bad that it’s like walking through a valley of the shadow of death? One so dark that I can’t even see you? Will you still love me then? (“Yes, and I will walk with you, and comfort and protect you every step of the way.”)
It is the devil preaches the message of despair. He’s the one that whispers in your ear that God doesn’t care about you, that you are beyond His grace and forgiveness, that you’ve finally gone too far, that you’ve reached the end of His patience, that you should just quit praying because He’s not listening, that God gave up on you, that God’s punishing you. That’s the voice of Satan lying to you, not God.
God will never quit on you, and will always love you. So long as you are still taking breaths in this world, you will always be loved and given the chance to come to Him – because he’s not just waiting on you, He is constantly, and relentlessly pursuing you with His love.
Push-ups and Doughnuts
I’d like to close with a (likely fictional) story that illustrates the passion of God’s relentlessly persistent love for us.
There was once a Professor of Religion who taught at a small college. The course he taught was a required that every student needed to take during his or her freshman year, regardless of their major.
The Professor tried hard to communicate the essence of the gospel in his class, but he found that most of his students looked upon the course as nothing but required drudgery. Despite his best efforts, most students refused to take it seriously.
One year the Professor came across a special student named Steve. Steve was a freshman studying with the intent of going into ministry. Steve was popular, well liked, and was an imposing physical specimen who quickly became the starting center on the school football team. He also happened to be the best student in the professor’s class. One day, the Professor asked Steve to stay after class to talk about an idea he had. After the brief chat, Steve said he’d be happy to help.
Friday came and Steve got to class early and sat in the front row, and watched the professor pull out a huge box big, extra fancy doughnuts with cream centers and frosting swirls. Everyone who came in was pretty excited. The Professor announced that he had decided that today was going to be a class party! Everyone whooped and whistled, and when they calmed down, the Professor walked up to the girl in the first chair of the first row and asked, “Cynthia, do you want to have one of these donuts?”
Cynthia said, “Yes, of course!”
The Professor turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?”
“Sure.” Steve jumped down from his desk, did a quick ten, and sat back in his desk. The Professor put a donut on Cynthia’s desk.
The Professor then went to Joe, the next person, and asked, “Joe, do you want a donut?” Joe said, “Yes.” The Professor asked, “Steve would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?”
Steve did ten push-ups, Joe got a donut. And so it went, down the first aisle, Steve did ten pushups for every person before they got their donut.
Walking down the second aisle, The Professor came to Scott. Scott was on the basketball team, and in nearly as good of condition as Steve. When the professor asked, “Scott do you want a donut?” Scott’s reply was, “Sure, but can I do my own pushups?”
The Professor said, “No, Steve has to do them.”
Then Scott said, “Well, I don’t want one then.”
The Professor shrugged and then turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you do ten pushups so Scott can have a donut he doesn’t want?” With perfect obedience Steve hit the floor and started to do ten pushups.
Scott looked at the Professor and said, “HEY! I said I didn’t want one!”
The Professor said, “Look, this is my classroom, my class, my desks, and these are my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don’t want it.” And he put a donut on Scott’s desk.
By this time, Steve had begun to slow down a little. Instead of getting back in his desk, he just stayed on the floor between sets, and a little perspiration was starting to form on his brow.
As the Professor started down the third row the students were beginning to get a little upset. The Professor asked Jenny, “Jenny, do you want a donut?”
Crossing her arms, Jenny sternly said, “No.”
The Professor looked at Steve, “Steve, would you do ten more push-ups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn’t want?” Steve did ten and Jenny got a donut.
By now, a sense of uneasiness had started to fill the room. The students were beginning to say “No” and there were many uneaten donuts sitting on the desks. Steve was tiring. He had to put forth a lot of extra effort to get the pushups done for each donut. A small pool of sweat had formed on the floor beneath his face, his arms had started to shake, and his face was turning red because of the physical effort.
The Professor sent Robert, one of the most vocal members of the class, over to watch Steve to make sure he did the full ten pushups, saying he couldn’t bear watch Steve’s work so hard for all those uneaten donuts.
The Professor started down the fourth row, and when he looked toward the door, some students from other classes had wandered in and sat down on the steps that ran down the sides of the room. When the professor realized this, he did a quick count and saw that now there were now 34 students in the room. He started to worry if Steve would be able to make it.
The doughnuts continued to be placed on the desks in front of the students. Steve was now having really having a hard time, taking a lot more time between sets, but the Professor went on.
A few moments later, Jason, a recent transfer student, walked into the room and was about to sit down, when all the students yelled in one voice, “NO! Don’t come in! Stay out!” Jason didn’t know what was going on. Steve picked up his head and said through heavy breaths, “No, let him come.”
The Professor said, “You realize that if Jason comes in you will have to do ten pushups for him?”
Steve said, “Yes, let him come in. Give him a donut.”
The Professor said, “Okay, Steve, I’ll let you get Jason’s out of the way right now. Jason, do you want a donut?”
Jason had no idea what was going on. “Sure,” he said, “give me a donut.”
“Steve, will you do ten push-ups so that Jason can have a donut?” Steve did ten pushups very slowly and with great effort. Jason, bewildered, was handed a donut and sat down.
The Professor finished the last row, and then started on the visitors seated on the steps. Steve’s arms were now violently shaking with each push-up, struggling to lift himself off the ground. Sweat was pouring off his face, and there was no sound in the room except his groans of pain and heavy breathing; there was not a dry eye in the room.
The very last two students in the room were two young women, both cheerleaders, and very popular. The Professor came to Linda, the second to last, and asked quietly, “Linda, do you want a doughnut?” Linda said, very sadly, “No, thank you.”
The Professor sighed, and asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Linda can have a donut she doesn’t want?” Grunting from the effort, Steve did ten very slow pushups for Linda. He merely lay on the ground after he was done.
Finally, the Professor turned to the last girl and said, “Susan, do you want a donut?”
Susan, with tears flowing down her face, began to cry. “Professor, why can’t I help him?”
The Professor, with tears of his own, said, “Because Steve has to do it alone. I have given him this task and he is in charge of seeing that everyone has an opportunity for a donut whether they want it or not. When I decided to have a party today, I only wanted to give it to students who got a perfect score in my class. But looked my grade book and Steve here is the only student that achieved an A+ Grade. Everyone else has failed a test, skipped class, or offered me inferior work. Steve told me that in football practice, when a player messes up he has to do push-ups. I told Steve that none of you could come to my party, and he said that he would pay the price by doing your push ups. He and I made a deal for your sakes.”
“Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Susan can have a donut?” As Steve very slowly finished his last push up, he knew he had accomplished all that was required of him, and his arms buckled beneath him and he fell to the floor.
The Professor turned to the room and said. “And so it was, that our Savior, Jesus Christ, on the cross, plead to the Father, ‘into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ With the understanding that He had done everything that was required of Him, He yielded up His life. And like some of those in this room, many of us leave the gift on the desk, uneaten.” Two students helped Steve up off the floor and to a seat, physically exhausted, but wearing a thin smile.
“Well done, good and faithful servant,” said the professor, adding “Not all sermons are preached in words.”
Turning to his class, the professor said, “My wish is that you might understand and fully comprehend all the riches of the love, grace and mercy that have been given to you through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. God didn’t even spare His only Son, but gave Him up for all who would believe, now and forever. Nothing was going to stop Him from allowing you to be with Him. He would not, and will not, ever quit on you.”