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Letters to My Children

Leaving an Inheritance in the Lord
83:  Salvation and the Deception of Non-Saving Faith

83: Salvation and the Deception of Non-Saving Faith

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“Faith or No Faith, That is the Question”

All throughout Scripture, we see examples of people who have faith, but it’s non-saving faith.  After all, every one of us has some type of faith, and we exercise faith every day.  We have faith a car will stop while we cross the street, we have faith our prescriptions will do what our doctor told us they would do, we have faith a chair will hold us up when we sit down in a crowded restaurant, and we have faith the sun will come up in the morning as we prepare to go to the job we have faith we still have.  We all have faith— but we have faith at different levels and in different things.  And not all faith is the same.

For example, we have a certain type of faith in our government, our economic system, or the media.  But that faith is not as strong, nor of the same substance, as the faith we have in the sanctity of our marriage, or the trustworthiness of our best friend, or in our ability to keep a promise to those we love.  Each of these kinds of faith is as varied as the objects of that faith.  And none of these reach the level of faith or trust or dependence we would expect to have in Christ.  Hence, we would call these examples non-saving faith.

But what happens when a seeking person, just like you or me, comes to Jesus for salvation with nothing more than non-saving faith?  Would that person be saved?  Or would they be deceived into thinking what faith they had, bordering on intellectual curiosity, was sufficient for salvation?


The Deception of Non-Saving Faith

The Scriptures repeatedly warn about the deception of non-saving faith.  In the Parable of the Sower, seventy-five percent of the seeds sown did not lead to salvation (Matt. 13:3-9).  Those who sowed in the shallow and thorny soil were deceived into thinking that mere growth, without corresponding fruit, equates to salvation.  Or, to put it another way, faith, without corresponding fruit, leads to salvation.  And the Scriptures clearly state they don’t.

The Scriptures also talk about having a “form of godliness but denying its power.  And from such people turn away!” (2 Tim. 3:5).  We see people like Hymenaeus and Alexander, both lost, serving as prominent members of the church (1 Tim. 1:20).  There are those who come to the wedding feast dressed in clothes of their own righteousness.  The result?  They were bound, hand and foot, and “cast into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:13).  We have the warning from the Lord about the wide road that leads to destruction and the narrow gate that leads to life (Matt. 7:13-14).  And, in the book of Hebrews, some were “once enlightened and have tasted the heavenly gift” but never fully drank of the living waters of salvation (Heb. 6:4).

Remember, Jesus said He “did not come to bring peace on the earth, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34) and “a man’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:36).  How?  Because our commitment to Christ must be greater than our love and devotion for those we hold most dear, even our own family. When asked, “Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?”— Jesus  said of His own family, “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:48-50).

The sad truth is many people come to Christ but never fully partake, or drink, of Him (John 7:37) and are deceived into believing they are truly saved.  Many people, most in fact, go part of the way towards Christ and end up short of true salvation.  They feel and recognize their need for Christ and acknowledge He is the only One that can satisfy their deepest longings, yet they fail to appropriate Him into their lives on His terms.  They thirst, they come— but they fail to drink.  They create their own gospel, their own way of salvation, and their own standards of righteousness, holiness, and sanctification.  Yet they are deceived— because a man-made Gospel does not lead to Christ.


Thirst, Come, and Drink

On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, approximately six months before Jesus was to celebrate His last Passover in Jerusalem and was later betrayed and crucified (John 13:1), He stood amid the crowd and gave the following invitation: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38).  Jesus gives His gospel presentation to a group of people who have very different views about who He is.  And whenever Jesus presents us with Himself— He always forces us to choose.  We are forced to either accept Him on His terms or reject Him outright.  There’s no middle ground, no gray area, and it’s not open to personal interpretation.  It happened to the crowd at the Feast of Tabernacles and it happens today every time we proclaim the Gospel of Christ.

The questions are always the same:  Who is Jesus?  What is truth? (John 18:38).  Is Jesus who He says He is?  And, if He is, what does that mean for me?  Is it possible to have my sins forgiven?  How can I be reconciled with God?  Tell me, what must I do to be saved? (Acts 2:37).

In this passage, three key words describe the path to true salvation:  thirst, come, and drink.  And the promise, of course, to those who thirst, come and drink is eternal life with God and the filling of the Holy Spirit, the living water Jesus talked about (John 7:39).

Thirst – Those who thirst recognize a deep longing, an intense craving, an unsatisfied need in their life.  It’s those who come to grips with the reality that their life has no eternal purpose or meaning and they are “dead in their trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).  They instinctively perceive there’s more to life than what they’re experiencing and, therefore, they try to fill the void they feel with all sorts of carnal sensations— sex, drugs, food, false religions and philosophies, immoral relationships, pride, selfishness, arrogance— until they finally admit only Jesus can bring light into their darkness.

Come – When the personal longings become unbearable, and the promise of redemption seems so alluring, captivating, and enticing, many come to Jesus for what He promises to offer.  These understand who Jesus claims to be, the exalted Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord— and they understand what He has done for them, redeeming them from the penalty and power of sin by dying for them on the cross.  What they know and understand about Jesus is true.  The problem, however, is what they do with that truth.

In other words, there’s more to salvation than simply coming to Jesus.  You can’t just come and receive Him on your terms as some sort of trade or barter transaction.  You must enter through the narrow gate (Matt. 7:13), on His terms, and His terms are not open to negotiation.  His terms are all or nothing, total commitment, His life for yours.  He doesn’t come to make us better or to enhance certain aspects of our lives.  No, He comes to put us to death and raise us to life again in His image, as His child, to do His will and not our own (Rom. 6:3; 1 Peter 3:18).  He is the Lord, the Sovereign One, God Almighty (Phil. 2:10-11), and we are now voluntary slaves, bondslaves, of His.  Remember the words from Romans 10:9: “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Note, it’s Jesus as Lord and nothing else.  You cannot come to Jesus as Savior only.  He is Savior, because He is Lord.

Most people never make it this far.  They never move past simply coming to Jesus, and they never progress to true salvation.  Most view Jesus as an enlightened master or great teacher or the supreme moral example for all mankind, but never as Lord.  They fail to take Him at His Word, or count the costs of salvation (Matt. 8:19-22), and give their lives to Him in abject submission and humility.  They want what He can do for them to make their life better, but they do not want Him as their Lord.  So they say a prayer and try to incorporate some behavior modification or moral changes into their life and maybe even experience a deceptive sense of salvation, like a sensation of peace or contentment, but they never yield or surrender their life to Him nor submit to His Lordship.  And, as sad as it may seem, they’re still lost.  Why?  Because their nature has not been changed (2 Cor. 5:17), redemption and regeneration have not taken place, and the Holy Spirit does not indwell them as their deposit, the guarantee of their future inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1:14).  And then Jesus will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matt. 7:23).

Drink – This is where true salvation takes place.  You have a thirst, and you come to Christ to quench and satisfy it.  Yet simply coming to where the Living Water flows does not, in itself, quench your thirst.  You must drink.  You must partake.  You must be engulfed, enveloped, saturated in Christ, the Living Water.  He must be everything to you if you are to receive anything from Him.  Salvation, being a joint heir with Christ (Rom. 8:17), requires more than reciting some prayer as a nine-year-old at VBS.  It’s a radical, unconditional, total and complete, without reservation and with reckless abandonment, pledge, vow, promise, commitment, and allegiance to Christ as Lord.  You are no longer your own to do what you wish with your life (1 Cor. 6:19).  You have been bought with a price, you now belong to Him, and you are to live to bring Him honor (1 Cor. 6:20).  You are now pilgrims and strangers on the earth (Heb. 11:13; 1 Pet. 2:11) because this world is not your home (Heb. 13:14).

This kind of all-or-nothing relationship marked the disciples, the early church, and every true believer from Pentecost until today.  And if you truly know Christ and are known by Him, it will mark your life as well.


Those Who Believed Jesus… Kinda

The Scriptures tell us when Jesus finished His invitation to the unbelieving crowd to come and drink of Him and those who would come and drink would receive, in themselves, the flowing rivers of eternal life in the person of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39), the crowd was divided.  Some believed His words, but only partially.  Some didn’t believe at all, and wanted to destroy Him (John 7:44).

Nothing much has changed.  As it was back then, so it is today.


“Truly, this is the Prophet”

John 7:40-41 states:  Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, “Truly this is the Prophet.”  Others said, “This is the Christ.”  Note, they said He was the Prophet, capitalized, and not just a prophet.  This first group asserted that Jesus was the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18:15, in which Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren.  Him you shall hear.”  For centuries, this passage had been interpreted to prophetically speak of the coming Messiah, the Christ.  However, by the time of Jesus, the Jewish scholars, from their understanding of Malachi 3, believed the passage spoke more of the forerunner of the Messiah (Mal. 4:5-6), and not the Messiah Himself.  Now the Prophet was someone who would show men their need for a Redeemer, for Christ, and then faithfully point them to the only One who could satisfy their need.  But the Prophet was not the Messiah and could not, in himself, satisfy their thirst, need, or longing.  He could just point the way or be a path or channel, but He had no power or authority to grant salvation.

Unfortunately, many people still believe this about Jesus.

They believed Jesus came to point men towards the truth, but they would fervently deny He was the Truth (John 14:6).  They would declare Jesus came to point men to someone or something coming to satisfy all their needs, but He was not that Someone and did not possess the something they were looking for.  The men who said, “Truly this is the Prophet” (John 7:40), recognized and affirmed the special status Jesus had as a one-of-a-kind religious leader who did things and taught things unlike any religious figure before (John 7:46).  He was in a class all by Himself.  They would even go so far as to say Jesus was sent by God and had a special relationship with God (John 3:2).  But they would not receive Him as God or serve Him as Lord.  They wanted Jesus and something else, anything else.  These were those who thirsted and came, but never drank.


“This is the Christ”

The second group said, “This is the Christ” (John 7:41).  This group recognized and believed Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of Israel, the One prophesied from the Old Testament (Luke 2:11).  Yes, they knew these facts about Him to be true, but they defiantly refused, like the first group, to bend their knee to Him as Lord (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10).  They refused to commit their lives and future to Him as the Sovereign One.  The Scriptures do not indicate this group followed Jesus as Lord.  They simply said, “Yes, I believe He is the Son of God and, yes, I believe He is the Messiah and the Christ.  So what?  What does that mean to me?  Now, pass me the butter and biscuits.  I’m hungry.”

This group confessed Jesus as something, but not as Lord (Rom. 10:9).  They had non-saving faith in Jesus as the Christ.


“This is the Christ… uh, but…”

Then there’s the group that fully confessed Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:16), but would rather argue and bicker and debate over trivial matters of their own theology and reject Jesus because, in their mind, He didn’t meet every jot or tittle they thought He should (Matt. 5:18).  These are the ones who argue, saying, “He can’t be the Christ because He came from Galilee and the Christ is supposed to come from Bethlehem.  Plus, the Scriptures teach the Messiah must come from the line of David, and I’m not sure where this guy comes from” (John 7:40-42).  So they compared what little they knew about Jesus with their own limited and incomplete knowledge of the prophetic Scriptures and concluded He could not possibly be the Messiah because He failed to meet all their sincerely held convictions of what the Messiah would be.  We have many in the church today who operate the same way.  They smugly elevate their own statement of beliefs or denominational creeds or preferences to the level of infallible Scripture and use them as a litmus test for fellowship or, sadly, salvation— and even truth.

But if this group had investigated further, they would’ve discovered Jesus was from the line of David (Matt. 22:42) and did come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah (John 5:39).  But they were more concerned with being right in the eyes of each other and promoting their own theological brand or position than in knowing the truth.  Because of their apathy and laziness, they failed to look for the truth because they arrogantly assumed they’d already found it.  And in their pride and hypocrisy, they missed their Messiah.

Again, just like the first two groups, they also missed out on eternal life.


Those Who Did Not Believe Jesus

The final group was those who hated the Lord Jesus and wanted to destroy Him.  These were the ones who wanted to take Him by force (John 7:44) but were prevented because, from God’s perspective, it was not yet His time and His hour had not come (John 7:30).  Needless to say, the people in this group did not understand Christ nor receive the gift of salvation He offered (John 7:37-39).


To What Group Do You Belong?

So where do you fit in?  What is your response to Christ?  Do you believe partially, somewhat, kinda, in Him?  Do you say, “Yes, He was a good man, and yes, He was sent from God, and yes, He’s a great moral teacher and example, and yes, He’s a path or a way of some sort to God?”  If so, that’s not enough.  Your confession of Him or your profession of faith is severely lacking.  Fatally lacking.  For Jesus, He is all or nothing.  There is no partial with Him.  There’s no halfway, no honorable mention, no consolation prize, and no kudos for trying.  He’s all or nothing, totally in or totally out, through the narrow gate only, and on His terms without negotiation or compromise.

Remember His words,

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed” (John 6:53-55).

In other words, Jesus gives eternal life to those who ingest Him into the core of their very being, as their strength, source of daily nourishment, and sustenance.  Jesus did not come to make us better or to enhance or improve our fallen lives.  No, He came to make us new, to put the old man to death, and to raise the new man to live with Him.  And what kind of life does He promise?  It’s beyond anything we can ask or think (Eph. 3:20-21).  He offers a peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7).  And He promises we will be children of God, and if children, then heirs, and if heirs, then joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).  Just think, all that Christ is and all He possesses becomes ours as a joint heir with Him— when, and here is the requirement, we give all that we are to Him.  This promise belongs to those who exercise real, genuine, saving faith in the completed work of Christ.

One final thought, the seeds that fell on the path, in shallow soil, and in the soil infested with weeds and thorns, did not produce fruit (Matt. 13:3-9).  They did not lead to eternal life.  Why?  Because Jesus never said you’ll know My disciples by their profession, church membership, civic good works, non-profit activities, or from the applause of men— you will know them by their fruits (Matt. 7:16-20).

Fruits.  And nothing else.

Do your fruits show you belong to Him?


The Higher Christian Life

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82:  The Dependent Relationship of Jesus With His Father

82: The Dependent Relationship of Jesus With His Father

To download the slides for this message, click – HERE

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Imitation is the Highest Form of Flattery

Jesus did something that seems so out of place for us today, living in a culture that exalts pride, ambition, and independence— He voluntarily lived in a dependent relationship with His Father and deferred all glory to Him.  But He didn’t have to live this way.  This was His voluntary choice between equals.  And remember, Jesus is God Himself, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.  He is the Second Person in the Trinity, and not some innately subservient, second-class God.

To set the scene, Jesus is in the midst of a brutal attack by the Jewish religious elites because He said, “My Father,” showing a family relationship with God Himself.  And the Jews responded with rage and death threats.  His statement about being God’s Son seriously enraged them.

So Jesus clarified His statement and His relationship with God the Father by stating this about His dependence on the Father.  You would do well to note the implications of what He is saying.

Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly (truly, truly), I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, (why) but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He (the Father) does, the Son also does in like manner” – John 5:19.

It appears the Son has chosen to live in a dependent relationship with His Father, much like a slave (doúlos) does to their Master.  Yet, being fully God, Jesus chose this posture to ensure, as an example to each of us, the importance of seeking the will of the Father and not our own will.  And if it was good enough for the Son of God to live that way, surely it is good enough for us.


Jesus Speaks His Father’s Words

Next, Jesus reveals the importance of seeking only the will of the Father and not His own will.  And again, you would do well to note the implications of this subservient posture of our Lord.

I can (dúnamai – to be able, to have power by virtue of one’s own ability and resources) of Myself do (to carry out or perform an action or course of action) nothing (no one, none at all, not even one, not in the least).  As I hear (from the Father who sent Him), I judge; and My judgment is righteous (just, correct, right), (why) because I do not (the voluntary choice of Jesus) seek (to strive for, wish, require, demand) My own will (desire, inclination, plan of action, purpose) but (in contrast) the will (desire, inclination, plan of action, purpose) of the Father who sent Me” – John 5:30.

This passage does not say Jesus was something less than the Father or had to appeal to a power or authority greater than Himself to perform miracles.  Quite the opposite. Jesus states He is choosing, as an equal with God, to put aside His personal desire and agenda and give glory to His Father by living in a dependent relationship with Him.  And His judgment is righteous because it came directly from the Father.  So, to His Jewish detractors, Jesus was saying, “If you’ve got a problem with Me or with what I am saying, take it up with the Father.  For I am only doing what the Father commands me to say and do.”

But it continues.


His Purpose Was to Do His Father’s Will

In the next chapter, Jesus teaches the troubled masses that He is the bread of life the Father sent from heaven for them, using the imagery of Moses and manna in the wilderness (the first of seven “I Am” statements in John).¹  And in revealing this aspect of His ministry and purpose to them (using a familiar Old Testament testimony), Jesus says:

For I have come down from heaven, (why) not to do My own will, but the will of Him (Father) who sent Me” – John 6:30.

Again, this is another explicit statement about the dependent relationship Jesus assumed and maintained with the Father while on earth to teach us, among other reasons, how to relate to the Father as His child and slave (doúlos), all at the same time.  Jesus was the perfect picture of a voluntary slave, or bond slave (doúlos), that Paul used to describe himself in many of his letters to the church. (See Exodus 21:5-6 for more about being a voluntary slave).


Jesus is God, Yet Remains Dependent

Note what Jesus said about the revelation they would receive when He was crucified for their sins and how He, even to the cross, remained faithful to the will of His Father.

Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know (ginṓskō) that I am He (I AM), and that I do nothing of Myself; but (contrast) as My Father taught Me, I speak these things” – John 8:28.

Besides showing His total dependence on the Father, Jesus states He is not something less than the Father, but also the God of the burning bush, the “I AM that I AM” (Exodus 3:14).  The italicized He in this verse shows our translators added it to make it flow smoother in our English translation.  But, in Greek, Jesus actually said, “then you will know that I AM,” indicating He was just as much God as the Father Himself.  And as co-equal with God, He nevertheless assumed a posture of dependence on the Father, His equal.

Jesus may have been living out for us this truth, so we could have an example to follow:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross – Philippians 2:5-8.


Authority and Miracles?  The Father Calls the Shots

Jesus also spoke about having His Father’s authority to speak, not His own, and that the Father “dwells in Me and does the works” that we see Jesus doing.

Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in MeThe words that I speak to you I do not speak on My authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works” – John 14:10.

So even with His profound teachings, like the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), or His indescribable miracles, like raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11), Jesus depends upon His Father for everything.  And again, if that posture of a dependent relationship with the Father worked for our Lord and was what He willingly assumed, then it should also work for us.

But does it?  Have you truly given it a try?


Final Few Questions

Are you ready to assume the role of a slave to the Lord?  Are you ready to quit striving to have things your own way and simply trust and abide in Him (John 15)?  And are you ready to have the Lord use you in ways you cannot even comprehend when you completely surrender your will to the One who gives you life?

If so, good.  Welcome to the Higher Christian Life.


Notes:

1.  The Seven “I AM” statements are:

•   “I am the bread of life” – John 6:35, 48.
•   “I am the light of the world” – John 8:12, 9:5.
•   “I am the door of the sheep” – John 10:7, 9.
•   “I am the good shepherd” – John 10:11, 14.
•   “I am the resurrection and the life” – John 11:25.
•   “I am the way, the truth, and the life” – John 14:6.
•   “I am the true vine” – John 15:1, 5.


The Higher Christian Life

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81:  D.L. Moody and the Higher Christian Life

81: D.L. Moody and the Higher Christian Life

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“What Am I Missing?”

As believers living in the Laodicean church age (Rev. 3:14-22), we often look back and marvel at the extraordinary lives of our Biblical heroes and spiritual giants who have gone before us.  We see them in Scripture, read their biographies, watch movies about their lives, study their teachings, and aspire to experience the intimacy and devotion they had with God that allowed them to do great things.  Yet, for many of us, there seems to be a sad disconnect between the vibrant, Spirit-filled experiences we admire in these heroes of the faith and the comparatively subdued, lackluster, and lukewarm reality of our own spiritual lives.  And try as we may, we can’t seem to put our finger on why.

We find ourselves wondering, “Why does my spiritual life feel so different from theirs?  Where is the promised power they exhibited that is so lacking in my own life?”  Or, in essence, “Is this what Jesus meant when He talked about the abundant life in Him?  I sure hope not.  And if so, is there something I’m missing?”  These questions are not uncommon, and they point to a deeper longing within our hearts— a desire to experience the fullness of life in Christ we see so graphically portrayed in the lives of these spiritual giants that is clearly missing in most of the church today.

This brings us to the encouraging part of our dilemma, which is finally recognizing this longing comes from Him.  It is a God-given desire to know Him more and to experience the closeness and intimacy with God that is our promised birthright as one of His children.  This unfilled longing is your invitation to pursue what has been referred to as the “Higher Christian life”— a life characterized by a profound, transformative relationship with Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  And the door to this “abundant life” (John 10:10) Jesus promised is opened by your surrender to Him.  It is really that simple.


Time For Self-Reflection

As you begin this journey of embracing the Higher Christian life, take a moment to ask yourself a few questions about your own spiritual experience:

   Have you ever felt a deep desire for more of God’s presence in your life?
   Do you long to experience the joy, peace, and power that seem to characterize the lives of the spiritual heroes you admire?
   And have you ever wondered what it would be like to live a life fully surrendered to and empowered by the Holy Spirit?

If you can relate to these questions, great— you’re in good company.  The desire for a deeper, more intimate relationship with God is a common thread woven throughout the lives of countless believers throughout the ages.


Glimpses of the Higher Christian Life

To better understand what the Higher Christian life entails, over the next few days, we will look at the lives of a few well-known spiritual giants who exemplified this way of living and their personal experiences with surrendering to the Holy Spirit that marked a dramatic change in their lives.  I think these should prove to be not only instructive, but also encouraging.

We shall begin with Dwight L. Moody, more commonly known as D.L. Moody.


D.L. Moody
(1837-1899)

For those of you who may not be familiar with D.L. Moody, he was an American evangelist who founded the Moody Church in Chicago, the Moody Bible Institute (which still functions today), and the Pacific Garden Mission (I listen to their radio broadcasts weekly, and have for over thirty years).  It is estimated that over a million people came to Christ under his powerful and passionate preaching in both the United Kingdom and across America.  And, on a personal note, he is also one of my spiritual heroes.

Moody’s life-altering encounter with the Holy Spirit came in 1871, years after his transition to full-time evangelism, and it marked a significant turning point in his ministry.  It seems in Chicago, there were two godly women, Mrs. Sara Cooke, and her friend Mrs. Hawxhurst, who attended Moody’s meetings and had a burden on their hearts for the Holy Spirit to fill D.L. Moody.  And so, faithfully, they prayed to that end.  The lesson for us is never to underestimate the truth found in James 5:16 about the power of prayer.  Read it for yourself.

In his own words, Moody described the impact these two women had on his life:

“I can myself go back almost twelve years and remember two holy women who used to come to my meetings.  It was delightful to see them there, for when I began to preach I could tell by the expression of their faces they were praying for me.  At the close of the Sabbath evening services they would say to me, ‘We have been praying for you.’  I said, ‘Why don’t you pray for the people?’  They answered, ‘You need power.’  ‘I need power,’ I said to myself, ‘Why, I thought I had power.’  I had a large Sabbath school, and the largest congregation in Chicago.

“There were some conversions at that time, and I was in a sense satisfied.  But right along these two godly women kept praying for me, and their earnest talk about ‘the anointing for special service’ set me thinking.  I asked them to come and talk with me, and we got down on our knees.  They poured out their hearts, that I might receive the anointing of the Holy Ghost.  And there came a great hunger in my soul.  I knew not what it was. I began to cry as never before.  The hunger increased.  I really felt that I did not want to live any longer if I could not have this power for service.  I kept on crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit.”1

Then, in 1871, came the Chicago fire, in which one-third of the city was destroyed, and over 100,000 were left homeless.  With his preaching hall in ruins and so much of the city in need, Moody traveled east to solicit funds.  It was in New York that God finally answered the prayer that changed Moody’s life— the same prayer that can change yours.

We’ll let Moody describe it in his own words:

“My heart was not in the work of begging. I could not appeal (for funds to help the hurting in Chicago) I was crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit.  Well, one day, in the city of New York— oh, what a day!— I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name.  Paul had an experience of which he never spoke for fourteen years.  I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand.

“I went to preaching again.  The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted.  I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world— it would be as the small dust of the balance.”2

This powerful encounter with God’s love and the infilling of the Holy Spirit completely transformed Moody’s ministry.  Instead of relying on natural charisma and a determined work ethic, Moody began to preach, yielding and surrendering to the Holy Spirit.  His ministry became characterized by a deep reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit, and he often emphasized the necessity of being filled with the Spirit when we spoke.  Here are just a few examples:

“I believe firmly that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and everything that is contrary to God’s law, the Holy Spirit will fill every corner of our hearts.  But if we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God.  We must be emptied before we can be filled.”3

And just how important was this experience with the Holy Spirit?  Moody is pretty clear:

“I would rather have the Spirit of God rest upon me for five minutes than to have the assurance that I would get to be with Him when I die.”4

Moody also spoke of the importance of surrender, but he did so in typical Moody fashion:

“I believe many a man is praying to God to fill him, when he is full already with something else.  Before we pray that God would fill us, I believe we ought to pray that He would empty us.”5

And finally, Moody revealed the desire and motivation that drove him to seek more than what the church of his day deemed satisfactory and to never settle for something less.  Moody was driven to love more, know more, experience more, be used more by Christ, leave nothing on the table, and make his life count.  And we would do well to emulate this same conviction in our own lives.  This is also one of my favorite quotes:

“The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in a man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him.  With God’s help, I aim to be that man.”6

This, in the words of D.L. Moody, is the essence of total surrender to Him.


“I Aim to be That Man”

As we consider Moody’s testimony, may we be encouraged to earnestly seek the fullness of the Holy Spirit in our own lives by trusting that God desires to reveal Himself to us and empower us for His service, just as He did for D.L. Moody and countless other spiritual giants throughout history.  When it comes to seeking the Higher Christian Life, let us “aim to be that man.”

If it is true there may be more to this life with Christ than what we are currently experiencing, then join me as we “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

He is calling and waiting.  How will you respond?


Next:  We will look at the life of Andrew Murray and how God has blessed untold thousands through a simple man surrendered to Him.

Notes:

1. Edman, V. Raymond. They Found the Secret: Twenty Lives That Reveal a Touch of Eternity (Clarion Classic) (p. 101). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

2. W.R. Moody, The Life of D.L. Moody (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1900), 149.

3. D.L. Moody, Secret Power, or the Secret of Success in Christian Life and Work (Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1881), 28.

4. D.L. Moody, quoted in A.T. Pierson, The Life and Labors of D.L. Moody (Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1900), 92.

5. D.L. Moody, quoted in R.A. Torrey, Why God Used D.L. Moody (Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1923), 44.

6. W.R. Moody, The Life of D.L. Moody, 441.


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80: How to Hear God’s Voice When He Speaks

80: How to Hear God’s Voice When He Speaks

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“Follow Me, and I Will Make You… Whatever I Want”

In the Gospels, we encounter a radical figure who issues a bold invitation to those He calls unto Himself: “Follow Me.”  These words, spoken by Jesus, are not merely a suggestion but a summons, a mandate to leave life as we have always known it and embark on a journey that has no end— at least on this side of heaven.  His invitation is to die to self, to follow Him wholeheartedly, and to imitate Him in all aspects of life.

Or, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die.”  But what does it really mean to follow Jesus, especially in the context of the 21st-century woke Christian culture we find ourselves in?  How can we be faithful disciples of our Lord?


What Does it Mean to Follow Jesus?

The essence of Jesus’ call to “Follow Me” is about more than just physically moving from where you are to where He is.  It’s an invitation to a new way of life.  It’s about leaving behind old priorities and identities (like nets or tax booths in the Gospels) and embracing a new identity rooted in faith and obedience to Christ.  And this call is marked by a willingness to let go of personal ambitions and possessions, or to take up one’s cross (Matt. 16:24), and to enter a life of service and mission with Him, by following Him.  It’s about embracing all that Christ offers: His teachings, His lifestyle, His ambition, His mission, His sacrifice, and the purpose of His life.

Ok, got that.

I’ve heard sermons about giving all to Christ for as long as I can remember.  But ‌every time I try to truly follow Him wholeheartedly, I seem to fail.  Sometimes miserably.  There has to be something I’m missing— maybe some key ingredient I have somehow overlooked.

And, to be honest, there is.


The Importance of Hearing His Voice When He Speaks

But there is also one vital aspect of following Jesus that is often neglected in our preaching and church practices— and that is being able, or acquiring the ability, to hear His voice when He speaks to you.  Otherwise, how can you follow Him?  For without His direction, you’re basically flying blind.  I mean, how can you know what He wants you to do?  How can He encourage you, instruct you, or even rebuke you?  And how can you have fellowship with Him or grow in the likeness of Him if you can’t hear Him when He speaks?

Remember, one vital and essential key to following Jesus is to speak to Him and have Him speak back to you.  This is the essence of a relationship with the Lord.  All relationships, with God or with someone else, are built on two-way communication and not a single monologue from only one partner.  And without a relationship… well, we’re just talking about religion.  And nobody wants religion.


Some FAQs About Hearing His Voice

So let me ask you, are you a follower of Jesus?  Do you hear His voice when He speaks to you?  And if you’re not sure, let me answer just a few questions you may have.

Q:  How do I know if it’s God speaking to me?
A:  God’s voice will never contradict Scripture.  Never.  And His voice brings peace and clarity in confusing situations, often challenges us to grow spiritually, and is always consistent with His character of love.  Plus, and I know this may sound mystical, but when God speaks, you will recognize His voice like His sheep do their Shepherd (John 10:3-4).  Or, to put it another way, there is no way you cannot hear His voice if you belong to Him as one of His sheep.  Read the chapter yourself.

Q:  What if I don’t hear anything?
A:  God can even speak in silence.  These times of silence may be opportunities for you to grow in trust and faith in Him, or in what He last spoke to you.  So keep listening, keep praying, and remain open.  Remember, God can speak to you any way He chooses.  He can even guide you with just the look in His eye (Psalm 32:8).  Sometimes, God’s silence is preparing you for what’s next— and that’s a good thing.  A really good thing.

Q:  Can God speak through other means, like circumstances or other people?
A:  Absolutely.  See above.  God can speak to you in any way He chooses.  It’s one of the prerogatives of being God.  He can communicate with us in any number of ways, including through other people, circumstances, dreams and visions, a bolt of lightning, a blinding light on the way to Damascus, while riding a donkey, and even through the quiet nudging of our spirits.  But it is essential that you discern these extra-Biblical messages of God in light of Scripture and prayer.

Q:  How can I be sure it’s really Jesus speaking to me and not just my own thoughts?
A:  Remember, learning to discern the voice of Jesus takes time and practice.  The more we immerse ourselves in Scripture and spend time with Him in prayer, the more familiar we become with how God speaks and what His voice sounds like.  Practice makes perfect, especially when discerning the difference between our thoughts and the voice of the Lord.  Jesus’ voice will always align with His Word and character.  So, if you’re unsure, seek the counsel of mature believers and wait until you know for certain it is the Lord speaking before acting on what you have heard.

Q:  Do I need to hear Jesus’ voice audibly to follow Him?
A:  Absolutely not.  Hearing Jesus speak audibly is not a requirement for following Him.  Throughout church history, countless believers have followed Christ faithfully without ever hearing His audible voice.  Jesus speaks in many ways, and how He chooses to communicate with you is sufficient.  Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in the heavens, and He does what He pleases”— including how He chooses to speak to you.  So don’t put Him in a box of your own expectations.

Q:  What should I do when following Jesus feels difficult or costly?
A:  Following Jesus is not always easy, but He promises to be with us every step of the way.  When the path is difficult (and it usually is), you simply must cling to His promises, lean on His strength, and keep your eyes fixed on the eternal joy set before you (Heb. 12:1-2).  And remember, the heroes in Hebrews 11 all faced trials and difficulties, far more difficult than we usually face, yet they remained steadfast, resolute, and unmovable.  How?  Because they understood “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).  So when following Jesus seems scary, just follow Him closer.  Believe me, it works every time.


Reflection

Wherever you are on the journey of learning how to hear His voice, remember that following Jesus is a lifelong process.  We will never arrive, at least not on this side of eternity.  But day by day, step by step, as we keep our eyes fixed on Him, He is faithful to lead us, to mold us, and to use us for His purposes and His glory.

May we continually hear and heed the Savior’s call: “Follow Me.”


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79:  Embracing the Call to Radical Christianity

79: Embracing the Call to Radical Christianity

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Challenging the Status Quo

We live in a world where the term “radical” often evokes images of extremism and division and has developed a rather nasty reputation in our culture since the ’60s.  Therefore, it may come as a surprise that at the very heart of Christian discipleship lies a call to a radically different way of life.  This radical lifestyle is not about taking up arms or shouting louder than the voices of opposition.  Instead, it’s about embracing a radical love, a radical commitment, radical obedience and sacrifice, and a radical transformation that only comes from fully embracing the life and teachings of Jesus Christ himself— who was the greatest radical who ever lived.

That’s right.  Let that thought sink in for a moment.


What is a Radical, and Why Should I Care?

But first, to set the stage, let’s define what the word “radical” means.  According to Webster, “radical” is ‌defined as “something (or someone) new and different in contrast to what is traditional or ordinary.”  In other words, being “radical” is a relative term based on a comparison with what society deems common or ordinary or what we refer to as the “status quo.”  This means it is the ordinary and traditional aspects of a society that determine, right or wrong, if something (teachings or ideas) or someone (individual or actions) is radical or revolutionary.  Consider that last statement carefully.  Note where the power to make the determination lies (mainstream opinion and not actual truth).  Do you see the problem?

When a culture refers to individuals or their beliefs and practices as radical, it means they are considered extreme, controversial, and even dangerous to the mainstream.  And since they could harm the status quo by threatening change or something even more frightening, accountability— those accused of being radical are often marginalized, excluded, punished, canceled, and eventually eliminated for the good of the whole, or at least for the good of the power elites who govern the whole.


But What About Jesus?

This compels us to address the question nobody wants to ask.  Namely, is it OK, maybe even expected, for the Christian life to be viewed as radical by our lost and dying culture that rejects the claims and teachings of Christ?  And if so, are our Christian ideas and actions supposed to challenge the status quo of our society (both secular and sacred) at this point in history?  Or do we just blend into the woodwork and hope the culture will leave us alone to do the religious things we want?  Which is it?  You can’t have it both ways.  But we all know that.

To answer this question, we need only look at Jesus’ teachings and how the mainstream reacted to His life.  Were He and His message considered radical and revolutionary by the Jewish establishment of His time?  Was He viewed as a threat, a danger to the profitable inner workings of their religious complex?  How did they view, for example, His cleaning out the corruption in the Temple by overturning the tables of the money changers (Matt. 21:12-13)?  How did they respond when He called them out as hypocrites and encouraged the people to follow God and not man-made traditions (Matt. 23)?  And what did they finally do to silence His voice?  Exactly.

It would appear, from any honest assessment, that the powers-to-be viewed Jesus as a radical and revolutionary and, as such, had Him put to death.  And we are called to follow in His footsteps, to be the light of the world (which exposes darkness, John 3:19) and the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13).  Remember?


We Follow a Risen Savior (Who Was a Radical)

Consider a brief overview of the radical life and teachings of our Lord.  Let’s begin with some of His radical actions:

•   Eating with Sinners and Tax Collectors – Mark 2
•   Touching and Healing Lepers – Matthew 8
•   Forgiving Sins – Mark 2
•   Challenging the Sabbath Traditions – Mark 2
•   Cleansing the Temple – Matthew 21
•   Teaching and Practicing Humility – Mark 10
•   Welcoming Children – Mark 10
•   Interacting with Samaritans – John 4
•   Affirming the Value of the Poor – Luke 6
•   Healing on the Sabbath – Luke 13
•   Associating with Women – Luke 8
•   Criticizing Religious Hypocrisy – Matthew 23
•   The First Shall Be Last – Matthew 20
•   Washing His Disciples’ Feet – John 13
•   Ministering to Gentiles – Matthew 8 and 15
•   Teaching in Parables – Matthew 13
•   Proclaiming Spirit Over Letter of the Law – Mark 2
•   Challenging Social Norms – Luke 15

And now, let’s look at His revolutionary teachings.  We’ll begin with the Sermon on the Mount.

•   The Definition of Being Blessed – Matthew 5:3-12
•   Higher Standard of Righteousness – Matthew 5:20
•   Deeper Meaning of Adultery – Matthew 5:27-28
•   The Permanence of Marriage – Matthew 5:31-32
•   Turn the Other Cheek – Matthew 5:38-39
•   Give to Everyone Who Asks – Matthew 5:42
•   Love Your Enemies – Matthew 5:43-48
•   How to Pray (Kingdom Come) – Matthew 6:9-13
•   Do Not Accumulate Treasures – Matthew 6:19-21
•   You Cannot Serve God and Money – Matthew 6:24
•   Seek First the Kingdom of God – Matthew 6:33
•   Do Not Worry, But Trust God – Matthew 6:25-34
•   Do Not Judge – Matthew 7:1-2
•   Love Others Like Yourself – Matthew 7:12
•   Wide Path and Narrow Gate – Matthew 7:13-14
•   Words and Fruits – Matthew 7:15-20
•   Saying and Doing – Matthew 7:21-23
•   Build on the Eternal, not Temporal – Matthew 7:24-27

And we’ll throw a few more in for good measure.

•   The Good Samaritan – Luke 10:25-37
•    The Prodigal Son – Luke 15:1-32
•    The Rich Man and Lazarus – Luke 16:19-31
•    The Greatest in the Kingdom – Matthew 18:1-4
•    Forgive Seventy Times Seven – Matthew 18:21-22
•    The Pharisee and the Tax Collector – Luke 18:9-14


What Does This Mean for His Church?

If our Lord was considered a radical by the culture in which He lived (because His teachings challenged the mainstream status quo), then should our life not also do the same?  Should we not commit to being just like Jesus— to live a life of radical obedience to Him and counterculture to the morals and customs of our society (John 6:38)?

After all, we are not of this world (Phil. 3:20; 1 Peter 2:11), and neither was Jesus—and that should show in every aspect of our lives.  So join with me and accept His life’s total consecration to the Father, which will most definitely be viewed as radical by your friends and family, maybe even your church.

But who cares?  After all, to “live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).


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78:  How to Prepare Yourself to Meet With God

78: How to Prepare Yourself to Meet With God

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Disclaimer: Let’s Define Some Terms

As we discovered in Part One of How to Experience God When You Pray— when we talk about experiencing God in prayer, we are specifically defining prayer as more than a monologue, but something even deeper.  It is a true, two-way conversation with God, where you speak, and He listens, and He speaks, and you hear His voice.  Then, as the abundant life revealed (John 10:10), we rinse and repeat, as often as we like, and grow in our relationship with Him through a true conversation in prayer.  Nothing is greater than having God personally speak into your life.  And your prayer life and intimacy with God will be completely revolutionized when you experience His presence when you pray.

In this post, we will examine some ways to prepare ourselves to experience God when we pray.


Our Preparation for Prayer

When you went on your first date with the person who later became your spouse, do you remember the preparation you made to meet with the person you wanted to build a relationship with?  I do.  I remember it was very important for me to make a good first impression.  Why?  Well, to do otherwise was failure— and nobody wants to fail on a first date.

So I dressed in some reasonably nice clothes, or at least what was clean and didn’t smell too bad.  Granted, it was not my Sunday Best, but it was the best I had for a first date.  I made sure I brushed my teeth, ran a comb through my hair, forcefully tamed any unruly eyebrow hairs, and tried to bring out the best of me when I was meeting Karen.  And why wouldn’t I?  After all, I was enamored with this woman, totally smitten, or as the owl said in Bambi, twitterpated.  I wanted to build a long-term relationship with her and hopefully, someday, maybe, if I got really lucky and won the lottery, make her my wife.

So preparation was important— really important.  Because you never get a second chance to make a first impression.


Preparing to Enter His Presence

And if this is true about a first date, how much more is it true about entering into the presence of God in prayer?  This means that when we pray, when we desire to have a direct, personal conversation with the Creator of the Universe— when we speak to the Almighty and expect to be heard and then expect Him to stoop to our level and respond, there must be some prior preparation that takes place.  After all, we take the time to update our resume and try to look our best and learn about the company before we sit down for a job interview, don’t we?  And we would never go to our childhood friend’s wedding in the same clothes we wore while mowing the yard, would we?  And most certainly, we brush our teeth, sometimes twice, before sitting in the dentist’s chair.  So if we make preparations before these events, how much more before we bow our heads in prayer?

Let me list three steps we need to do before boldly entering into His presence in prayer.  But be warned, each of these is vital for experiencing Him when you pray.


First, We Must Prepare Our Hearts to Meet With Him

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, (why) for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8), which is exactly what we are hoping to accomplish through prayer.  We want to experience His presence— and that begins with preparing our hearts before Him.  Since God is holy, we must make ourselves as holy as we can by confessing our sins and asking for His forgiveness (1 John 1:9).  This way, we can come to Him as He requires, with “clean hands and pure heart” (Psalm 24:4).  We must also search our heart and forgive those who have hurt us as He, in the same manner, has forgiven us who have sinned against Him (Matt. 6:14-15).  And we must surrender all self-will and independence to Him by freely and voluntarily presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice, one that He finds “holy and acceptable” (Rom. 12:1).  This allows the Spirit to renew our minds and align our desires more according to His will (1 John 5:14-15), which is vital to having your prayers answered.


Next, We Enter His Presence, His Way

The Scriptures give us clear instructions on how we are to enter into His presence, and we would be wise to follow what it commands.  Psalm 100:4 says, for example, as we come to God in prayer, we are to enter His presence with praise, worship and thanksgiving, focusing on His character, His mighty works, and His unmatched worthiness.  This is one way we “bless His name,” as the Psalm requires.  We must recognize who He is and who we are and then, once again, surrender control of our lives to Him as we strive to get our eyes off ourselves and onto Him.  We then wait in stillness before Him, opening our spiritual senses in eager expectation of His presence in a way that fills us with supernatural peace (Phil. 4:6-7), joy (Psalm 16:11), and spiritual strength (Isa 40:31).  There is truly nothing like it this side of heaven.


Finally, the Good Stuff— a Two-Way Conversation

If we prepare ourselves to meet with Him, prayer then becomes a two-way conversation and not a one-sided monologue.  We speak to Him, and we listen for His still, small voice to speak to us in return (1 Kings 19:11-13).  Or maybe He chooses to speak to us in something other than a still, small voice, which is sometimes frightening (Ex. 19).  No matter.  He can do what He wants, and we just marvel that He is willing, and we are able, to communicate with the Creator of All.  We make our requests known to Him as our loving Father (Matt. 6:8, 7:7-11), while having the freedom to express our thoughts and emotions honestly (Ps. 62:8), knowing there is no condemnation in Him (Rom. 8:1).  We can ask for insight into His Word and receive revelation by the Spirit (John 16:13-15), as we wait patiently for Him to speak to our inner being about the concerns on our hearts.  This is what prayer is all about, a two-way communion with God that fuels our love for Him and puts our faith on steroids.  And this is an experience you can have when you pray— personally hearing from God and then responding accordingly.


Some Final Thoughts

In closing, let me list just a few final points to help us experience God when we pray.


One, Learn to Make Jesus-Centered Petitions

After aligning our own hearts with the Father in worship and two-way conversation, we’re now ready to intercede for others.  As we lift up people and circumstances to Him by name, we base our petitions on the finished work of Jesus on the cross, which secures our relationship with the Father, and on the Father’s will, and not on what we think needs to happen.  We ask in faith according to His will (1 John 5:14-15), with confidence in His compassion and power to always do what is right, even when we can’t see it at the present time (Rom. 8:28).  We pray His Word, and we pray according to His Word, which always accomplishes His purposes (Isa. 55:11).  And this fact alone gives us profound trust to intercede to our Father for those we love, and then leave the results in His capable and loving hands.  If you learn to approach God this way, you will never be disappointed.  His timing is always perfect.


Two, Come to Him in Child-like Boldness

Jesus said He would answer prayers asked “in My name” (John 16:23-24).  To pray in the name of Jesus means to come before our Father with the full authority Jesus has given us as children of God.  Just as a child asks something of their loving father based on their loving relationship rather than merit, we can now boldly approach God’s throne of grace in full assurance of His love and acceptance (Heb. 4:16), no matter what.  So as we grow in intimacy with Him and in our understanding of His love and delight over us as His children, we will gain confidence to ask Him for anything and everything on our hearts.  And while God delights to give us the desires of our hearts (Ps. 37:4), He also lovingly gives us what He knows is best when our desires don’t align with His greater plans, which, unfortunately, often happens.  And so, as we trust Him fully in child-like dependence, He fills us with His peace and joy in the midst of every circumstance— no matter how unpleasant that circumstance may be at the time.


Three, Learn to Stay Connected

Finally, remember that God designed prayer for continual connection and communion with Him because He longs for a relationship with us.  As we learn to pray with a clean heart, enter His presence in worship, listen for His voice in a two-way conversation, intercede in Jesus’ name for others, and come to Him with child-like boldness, we will experience His presence in ways that transform our everyday lives.  It is a given. Our job is to simply stay connected to the Vine, which is Christ, and let Him take care of everything else (John 15).  And prayer is His designed way to keep us connected to our Father.

But don’t take my word for it, try it yourself.  Take some time to prepare yourself before you pray, and see if God doesn’t reward your diligence with a renewed infilling of His Spirit and the joy of His presence.  You will then begin to experience God when you pray, which is nothing short of heaven on earth.

Go on, give it a try.


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77:  How to Experience God When You Pray

77: How to Experience God When You Pray

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The Joy of Prayer

What if your times of prayer could become so much more than reciting words or listing random requests?  What if your prayers could transport you into a holy place to experience God’s presence in a very real and tangible way?  What if you began having personal, life-changing encounters with the Creator of the universe every time you prayed?  And what if you had the confidence to know, to truly know— that God hears your prayers and delights in answering them?  How would this change your prayer life?

All of this is not only possible, but readily available and expected every time we pray.  The problem for most, however, is that we either devalue what prayer truly is or do not fully understand who we are praying to.  And if we did, how the floodgates of heaven would open and pour on us an experience with God that would rock our world and change us forever.

Let’s explore prayer a little deeper.


What is Prayer?— In Just a Few Words

Simply put, prayer is talking with God.  Or, as the theologians would say, “Prayer is personal communication with God.”¹  Ok, got that. But what does “communication with God” really mean?  In essence, “communication” is the exchange of information between two entities or individuals, both the giving and receiving of the same.  And “with God” means He, the Sovereign Creator of All, the One that transcends all human thought, the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, and Immutable One, is on the other end of our two-way conversation.

Let that sink in for a moment.

When we pray, and as often as we pray, we are in the process of not only talking with God but having Him also talk with us.  Prayer, just like all communication between two individuals, is not saying what you want to say and then hanging up the phone.  It was never intended to be a monologue.  No, prayer is a two-way conversation, both giving and receiving, between you (ultimately dust and ashes) and God (revealed in resplendent glory), whereby information (praise, requests, supplication, petitions— and His answers, instructions, commands, and encouragement ) are mutually shared.  And the highest glory you can ever experience is to have the only Person worthy of praise actually speak to you personally, in direct conversation.  It is a life-altering and faith-building encounter that will change everything about you in an instant.

And this is available to each of us whenever we pray.  But we have to pray, and we have to understand exactly who we are in conversation with in order to have confidence when we pray.

Let me explain.


Sovereign, Ruler, King… and Father

In the Old Testament, God was often presented as unapproachable.  He only met with His people once a year, nestled between the outstretched wings of the Cherubim above the Bema seat of the Ark of the Covenant, hidden behind a thick veil.  Or when He revealed Himself to the masses, it was usually with fire and smoke and lightning, like on Mt. Sinai, which only reinforced His unapproachableness (Ex. 19).  And when Moses asked to see His glory and His face, God said, “No.”  His actual words were, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (Ex. 33:20).  And regarding seeing His glory, God also said, “No.”  But He did allow Moses to look at His receding glory as He passed by (Ex. 33:23).  Something like, “Not My face, Moses, but you can see My back as I walk away.”

So much for an intimate relationship with our Creator.

But in the New Testament (and hints in the Old), Jesus reveals another aspect of God’s nature and His relationship with us.  He is not a despot— a frightening, powerful King ready to abuse and punish His lowly servants for any slight infraction.  No, God is our Father, with all the implications that word conveys about our relationship with Him.  Jesus showed us, by His example, what it was like to live on earth with the confidence of knowing God is our Father and that we can come to Him with anything, at any time, and have His complete attention.  And Jesus teaches us how to pray in His Sermon on the Mount with these words, “In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name” (Matt. 6:9).   You see, it’s all about a family relationship.

God is our Father.  Maybe not like the flawed and imperfect father you may have had growing up.  But He is our Father, the perfect Father, who loves His children beyond description and only wants the best for them.  Remember, as much as you love your children and, if necessary, would gladly sacrifice your life for them— God loves you, His children, even more.  And He has already sacrificed the life of His Son because of His love for you.  That fact alone, if you have ears to hear, should take your breath away and fill you with joy.


He is Father… but Also Sovereign, Ruler, and King

Yes, God is love, and He loves us as His children (1 John 4:8).   But when we pray, we also must realize that God is all-powerful (without limit) and all-knowing (without limit) and always present (without limit) and never changes (no matter what).  There is nothing higher than our Father.  There is no court of appeals that can overturn His ruling, no other official He has to get permission from before speaking, and no one to whom He is accountable.  And there is nothing greater than our God— nothing (Isa. 40:25).  This means that when you pray to your Father, when you speak with Him about whatever is on your heart, there is no one greater than the One listening to your prayers.  No one, ever— nor will there ever be.

After all, He “spoke” the universe into existence (Gen. 1).  What do you think He can do for our simple requests?

But it gets better.

God, our Father, is the only One who can answer our prayers.  He alone has the power and wisdom and sovereignty to do what no one else can do.  So when we approach Him as His children, dearly loved by our Father, we have access to the only One who can grant our requests, take away our pain, heal our loved ones, restore a broken relationship, redeem a wayward child, heal a broken body or a crushed heart, or tell us what to do when the way forward seems dark and foreboding.

Our Father is the King of the Universe.  And (as our Father) He grants us bold access to (as Sovereign King) His throne of grace (Heb. 4:16), so we can experience the supernatural peace of knowing, in our present, uncertain situation, no matter how dark or hopeless it may seem, our Father is in control.  As Paul said to the church at Philippi:

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

Or, as Coach Grant Taylor asked his players after winning the State Championship in Facing the Giants, “You tell me what’s impossible with God?”  And they answered, “Nothing, coach.” That’s right, nothing is impossible with God (Matt. 19:26), and this is where our peace is found.

As our Father, we have direct access to Him and His complete attention.  And as Sovereign Lord and King, our Father is the only One who has the power to answer our prayers.  So rest in this truth, and put it into practice when you approach Him in prayer.

And once you tell Him what is on your heart or make a request of your loving Father, the King— leave it there.  He is quite capable of dealing with your problems and concerns.


But There is More

We have much more to say about prayer and how to experience God when we pray.  In future posts, we will talk about how to approach Him in prayer, how to prepare our hearts before we pray, how to pray with confidence and expectation, how to pray according to His will and in His name, how to cultivate a two-way relationship with Him that brings boldness and indescribable joy when we pray, how to stay connected to Him in prayer even amidst the chaos and noise that surrounds us, how to pray in childlike simplicity and faith, and so much more.

But for today, focus on your relationship with Him as His child (which makes Him approachable) and on His power and sovereignty in everything (which means He can do anything at any time, so why worry when we leave our troubles with Him), and rest on these two facts alone.

Pray with confidence, pray with expectation, pray with thankfulness, pray continuously, and then share with others what He has shown you in your conversations with Him.

And remember, the best is yet to come.


Notes

1. Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 376).  Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.



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76:  The God-Ordained Way to Increase Your Faith

76: The God-Ordained Way to Increase Your Faith

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Just Get Out of the Boat! 

In almost every area of life, when we commit to a plan of self-improvement, we expect to spend time, incur costs, and suffer strain during the process.  It just comes with the territory.  Whether we decide to get in shape and eat healthier, or go back to school and change careers— everyone seems to follow the same pattern of sacrifice that defines our struggle, and they seldom complain about it.  And when we have achieved our goal, we look back at the sacrifice as a badge of honor, something we are proud of.

Each of us embraces this journey of sacrificing our time, effort, costs, and strain in every area of life except the spiritual.  For some reason, when it comes to our relationship with God or our desire for more faith, we must think it comes by osmosis to passive observers because many of us refuse to put in the time required or count the costs to achieve the results.  Therefore, we really shouldn’t be surprised when nothing changes, and we’re the same as we were before.

Remember the words attributed to Albert Einstein:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

So, if you want your faith to grow, you will have to make some changes in your life to position it to grow.  Or, you will have to deliberately place yourself in situations where you can experience God’s faithfulness firsthand by voluntarily embracing the testing of your faith and the trials that inevitably follow.  And you do that when you choose to refuse to rely on your own resources and commit to only trusting in Him.

After all, this seems to be the Lord’s preferred way of increasing the faith of those who surrender to Him.  He seems to put them in situations where they either trust God… or die.


Trust God… Or, It’s Curtains

The  Scriptures are packed with accounts of God increasing the faith of His faithful in this manner.  Consider the following examples:

•    Abraham and Isaac – Genesis 22
•    Moses at the Red Sea – Exodus 14
•    Joshua and the Battle of Jericho – Joshua 6
•    Gideon and His Army – Judges 7
•    Daniel and the Lion’s Den – Daniel 6
•    Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath – 1 Kings 17

In each of these examples, the people made a choice to trust God, maybe more than they had before, or die.  The result was that they experienced greater faith in Him than they could possibly imagine.

So how about you?  Are you ready to get out of the boat and walk to Jesus?  Or are you content to remain in the supposed security of the boat and cheer others along in their faith journey?

For me, I want to get out of the boat.  And I hope you will join me.


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75: Be Encouraged by the Small Words in Scripture

75: Be Encouraged by the Small Words in Scripture

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Three Small Words from John 15

In John 15, Jesus lays out our position in Christ and the key or path to the Higher Christian Life in the story of a vine and its branches.  I mean, it really couldn’t be more clear.  This key is found in the simple word abide.   We are to abide in Him— which means “to rest, remain, dwell, to make our home.”  Or, literally, “to be united as one with Him in heart, mind, and will.”  It is the definition of a fully surrendered life.

Yet before we discover the concept of abiding in verse 5, we first must move through the first three verses of John 15, which often present a disturbing picture of God as our Father and is, more often than not, misinterpreted by well-meaning preachers and Bible scholars.  And by misunderstanding the definition of three key words— takes away, prunes, and clean— we can fail to find the amazing encouragement Jesus offers those who are not quite up to meeting His standard of faithfulness or righteousness.


Takes Away, Prunes, and Clean

So, let’s look at these three verses as they are found in our Bibles, compare them to what they say in Greek, and see if something is “lost in translation.”

“I am the true (real, genuine, one who cannot lie) vine, and My Father is the vinedresser (farmer, one who tills the earth or ground)” – John 15:1

This simply sets the stage and introduces the cast of characters:

God = Vinedresser
Jesus = Vine
We = Branches of the Vine (John 15:5)

He continues,

“Every (pás) branch (where) in Me (Christ, vine) that does not bear (to bring, carry, have) fruit He (Father, vinedresser) takes away (aírō – G142); and every (pás) branch (implied, in Me) that bears (to bring, carry, have) fruit He (Father, vinedresser) prunes (kathaírō G2508), (why) that it may bear (to bring, carry, have) more fruit” – John 15:2

We are now introduced to the first two of our three important words: aírō and kathaírō.  The third one, katharós, is found in verse 3.

“You are already clean (katharós – G2513) because of the word which I have spoken to you” – John 15:3


Three Key Words

We now have three Greek words that we need to define to see if our English translation does them justice.  And I think, after you see the definitions for yourself, you will see it does not.

From The New Testament Word Study Dictionary by Spiros Zodhaites:

“takes away” – (aírō – G142)

This word is translated as “takes away” in our English Bibles.  But that is not what it means.

prunes – (kathaírō G2508)

And this word is translated as “prunes” in our English Bibles.  And, yet again, that is not what it means in the Greek.

clean – (katharós – G2513)

Finally, this word is correctly translated as “clean.”   So now, what does this verse look like?


Vine and the Branches

The Vinedresser, our Father, no longer takes away unfruitful branches but lifts them up, supports them, and helps them once again become fruitful, just like a natural farmer would do to his crops.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch (where) in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away (takes up, lifts up, elevates, to rise);

In a phrase, he builds a trellis to support the fallen branches of His vine.

But it gets better.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch (where) in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away (takes up, lifts up, elevates, to rise); and every branch (implied, in Me) that bears fruit He prunes (to clean, make pure and unsoiled), that it may bear more fruit.  You are already clean (pure, clean, without stain or spot, to be cleansed from filth, to purify) because of the word which I have spoken to you.”

Now, verse three seems to make sense as the Vinedresser cleans the fruitful branches to make them more fruitful and then states His disciples do not need that form of cleaning since they are already clean by the words Christ has spoken to them.


Be Encouraged

There is so much more to these three words than we can reveal in this post.  To understand more fully, please listen to the podcast and follow along with the PowerPoint slides above.

And be encouraged, you who do not, nor have not, lived a perfect life.  God doesn’t take you away when you sin.  He lifts you up, strengthens you, and puts you in a better position not to sin and become fruitful once again.  I hope this has put a smile on your face, because I am still smiling… from ear to ear.

Isn’t this just like our Father?


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74: The Purpose of the Christian Life – Experiencing God

74: The Purpose of the Christian Life – Experiencing God

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The Problem: Dry Ritual Without Relationship

For many believers, Christianity has become a religion of rules devoid of a relationship.  We know we should have a quiet time, serve in church, avoid sin, and so on.  But all this outward conformity easily lacks the inward reality of actually connecting with God.  We act spiritual, without ever experiencing the presence of the Spirit.  And that is a sad, yet common experience for many today.

How did this happen?  Partly because we’ve made faith all about knowledge over an encounter with God.  We prize book learning, doctrinal precision, and intellectual comprehension of Scripture— forgetting you can memorize the Bible and miss the Lord of the Bible.  Information in our heads doesn’t necessarily lead to transformation in our hearts.  Why?  Because head knowledge alone breeds pride, heart encounters with Christ breed authentic life change.


The Pattern: Experiencing God Transforms Us

Yet Scripture shows us a better way.  When Moses saw the burning bush, he experienced God’s awe-inspiring presence (Exodus 3).  After Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord, he walked with a limp— an everyday reminder of his personal encounter with God (Gen. 32:22-32).  And when Isaiah had a powerful vision of God on his throne, he was utterly transformed forever (Isaiah 6).

For early followers of Jesus, faith wasn’t a dead tradition, but a living, vibrant relationship.  Acts 2:42 says the early church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”  These early disciplines led to a powerful encounter with the Lord: “Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (v. 43).  Even repentance is meant to be an encounter, as we turn from sin and into the forgiving arms of Christ.


The Invitation: Taste and See Jesus

This is God’s invitation to us: not just to know about Him, but to experience Him— to taste His goodness and to know that He is good (Psalm 34:8).  And as we behold the Lord’s glory, we are transformed into His image (2 Cor 3:18), which is the goal of the Christian life.  The more we experience His presence and power, the more we reflect Christ to the world.

So, what areas of your faith have become dry rituals rather than genuine encounters with the Living God?  Consider these aspects of the Christian life that are meant to connect us with God:

Experiencing God’s Presence in Worship

Worship isn’t just singing songs or listening to a praise band— it’s meeting with the Lord, captivated by His beauty.  Through worship in Spirit and truth (John 4:24), we experience God’s presence in a life-changing way.

Experiencing God’s Power in Trials

Even our trials can lead us into deeper encounters with God’s peace (Phil. 4:6-7), comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-4), and strength that carries us through.  As we turn to Him, we experience His sustaining grace.

Experiencing God’s Character Through the Spirit

The fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) are not just moral qualities.  No, as we walk in step with the Spirit, He produces His fruit in our lives, whereby we experience His patience, joy, and kindness from the inside out.


The Invitation: Draw Near to God

God promises if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us (Jam. 4:8).  So the ball is in our court.  Will you accept His invitation?  Will you ask the Lord for fresh encounters with Him, pray daily to behold His beauty, and let your head knowledge fuel your pursuit of heart change through experiencing Jesus?

Remember, God invites us into an intimate walk with Him, where we encounter His presence daily through prayer, worship, Scripture, and simply seeking Him.  As we taste and see His goodness, we are transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory.  So, let’s shed religious rule-keeping and wholeheartedly pursue a relationship with Him.  Let’s draw near to Jesus today, and every day, expecting divine encounters that change our hearts, fuel our worship, compel us to share about Him, and ultimately fulfill our deepest purpose— which is to know and experience God through Christ our Lord.

So what are you waiting for?


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