As I’ve been preaching through John’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit has been convicting my heart regarding this matter of prayer. I certainly want God to use me for the furtherance of the gospel, but I confess that my knees are not worn out yet. In this season of spiritual growth, the Holy Spirit graciously continues to expose my self-dependency, arrogance, and pride — for thinking that I can function without daily appropriating His power through prayer. And He’s been revealing the truth of Scripture to me, truths that are really all about Him, God-centered, if you will. Quite frankly, I’m tired of hearing about the power of prayer. We need, rather, to speak of the power of God, which can be appropriated by a believer through prayer.
In John 14, Jesus tells the disciples that they will do greater works than He has done. Pause and let that sink in for a moment. Greater works than Jesus? Certainly, in some sense Jesus masked His own majesty during His earthly ministry, but yet the works that He did do are astounding still (i.e. feeding the multitude, turning water into wine, raising Lazarus, etc.). Our greater works are greater only with respect to the worker. In other words, in His earthly ministry Jesus did less than He was actually able to do, while in our time to work for the Lord, through His divine enablement, we will do more than we should be able to do! Haddon Robinson illustrates this idea really well (not word for word),
Aboard a US submarine in enemy waters of the Pacific, a sailor was stricken with acute appendicitis. The nearest surgeon was 1,000’s of miles away. Pharmacist Mate, Wheller Lipes, watched the seaman’s temperature rise to 106 degrees. His only hope was an operation. Said Lipes, “I have watched doctors do it. I think I could. What do you say?” The sailor consented. In the wardroom, about the size of a drawing-room, the patient stretched out on a table beneath a floodlight. The mate and assisting officers, dressed in reversed pajama tops, masked their faces with gauze. The crew stood by the diving places to keep the ship steady; the cook boiled water for sterilizing. A tea strainer served as an antiseptic cone. A broken-handled scalpel was the operating instrument. Alcohol drained from the torpedoes was the antiseptic. Bent tablespoons served to keep the muscles open. After cutting through the layers of muscle, the mate took twenty minutes to find the appendix. Two and a half hours later, the last stitch was sewed, just as the last drop of ether gave out. 13 days later the patient was back at work. Admittedly, this was a much more magnificent feat than if it had been performed by trained surgeons in a fully equipped operating room of a modern hospital.
Thus, when God uses mere humans to preach the gospel of life to a dark world, dead in their sins, it is a greater work! One for which only He can receive the glory. And these greater works can only be accomplished in and through the Church as we continue in prayer, thus appropriating the power of God. Jesus said,
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I yam going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
In chapter 15, then, Jesus reminds the disciples of the importance of abiding in Him, saying, “Without me, you can do nothing” and “If you abide in Me and if my words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it will be unto you.” The more we abide in Jesus and His word abides in us, the more our heart (still riddled with sinful desires) will be aligned to His will, the more we will pray according to His will (in His name) and then ultimately the more prayer we will see answered as Jesus brings forth spiritual fruit in our lives (Christian character, conduct, and converts) as He does greater works through us, His Church.
If God’s leading me to John 14-15 weren’t enough (and the fact that I know John 17 is coming!), I read this a couple days ago in Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening (actually given to me for Christmas by a friend whom God saved through the ministry of our church, himself one of God’s “greater works”),
It is interesting to notice how large a portion of Sacred Writ is occupied with the subject of prayer, either in furnishing examples, enforcing precepts, or pronouncing promises. We scarcely open the Bible before we read, ‘Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord’; and just as we are about to close the volume, the ‘Amen’ of an earnest supplication meets our ear. Instances are plentiful. Here we find a wrestling Jacob — there a Daniel who prayed three times a day — and a David who with all his heart called upon his God. On the mountain we see Elijah; in the dungeon Paul and Silas. We have multitudes of commands, and myriads of promises. What does this teach us but the sacred importance and necessity of prayer? We may be certain that whatever God has made prominent in his Word, he intended to be conspicuous in our lives. If he has said much about prayer, it is because he knows we have much need of it. So deep are our necessities that until we are in heaven we must not cease to pray. Do you not need anything? Then, I fear you do not know your poverty. Have no mercy to ask from God? Then, may the Lord’s mercy show you your misery! A prayerless soul is a Christless soul. Prayer is the lisping of the believing infant, the shout of the fighting believer, the requiem of the dying saint falling asleep in Jesus. It is the breath, the watchword, the comfort, the strength, and the honour of a Christian. If you are a child of God, you will seek your Father’s face, and live in your Father’s love. Pray that this year you may be holy, humble, zealous, and patient; have closer communion with Christ, and enter more often into the banqueting house of his love. Pray that you may be an example and a blessing to others, and that you may live more for the glory of your Master. The motto for this year must be, ‘Continue in prayer.’
What would you think of a guy who says, “I am a really big Packers fan,” but doesn’t have a sweatshirt, has never been to Lambeau Field — not even for a free tour, has never worn styrofoam cheese on his head, cannot name even three present players, and hasn’t watched one of their games all season? You would say, “He’s no fan at all!”
I consider myself an excellent football fan. When my team says, “We have a game on Sunday night,” I’m there. Thursday night? I’m there. Name any time, and chances are, I’m there. And I’m not just there in presence. I’m all there. I’m usually wearing my team shirt and annoyingly spouting what I think is well-thought-out, in-depth, and incredibly accurate game analysis.
All across the country today we are obeying our football teams. They say, “But $125 tickets to our games,” and we do. “Pay $25 to park in our parking lots,” and we do. “Give us 3 and a half hours of your day,” and I will. “Purchase and wear our clothing,” and I will. “Visit websites throughout the week that provide you a taste of what will happen Sunday,” and I do on many occasions. Our football teams have basically asked us to orient our lives around them and we have.
The question hit me, though, this week: “Do I obey my Savior like I obey my football team?”
What would you think of a person who says, “I’m a serious Christian” but then only touches his Bible on the Sundays he attends church, rarely prays, knows only the five verses in the “Romans Road” by memory, and spends most of his free time watching programming on television that really doesn’t reflect anything that Jesus values?
Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
Our love for Jesus should result in passionate obedience to Jesus. Sadly, though, we often obey our respective football teams more than we obey our Savior. Quite frankly, this reveals where our heart-affections are placed; it means that at times we probably love our football team more than we love our Savior.
What’s wrong with this picture? Everything. Your football team doesn’t love you. As much as you may have an infatuation with your team, the fact is that they fleece you for cash and time every year. But the Savior, on the other hand, bled and died, facing God’s wrath that we deserved so that we could be reconciled to God, enjoying His fellowship now and for all eternity.
If Jesus is the greatest love in our lives, we will read His Word more than the latest analysis on our team. We will orient our lives around the meetings of His people. We will spend our resources on the furtherance of His gospel. Our thoughts will consumed with Him. Our greatest passion will be loving Him and obey His every word.
Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
As I was preparing for a Bible study addressing the meaning of “…for we are not under law but under grace,” I stumbled across my class notes from Exegesis of Romans from back in graduate school. While illustrating the limitations (and even irritation) of the Law, Dr. David Saxon shares the following quote from James Brookes (a 19th century presbyterian pastor and notable dispensationalist):
If you tell a slave to pick 150 pounds of cotton during the day, or at its close you will lay 150 lashes on his back, it will be a hard yoke, and he will be sure not to do any more than the allotted task. But if you pay a great sum for his freedom, and suffer in his behalf nigh unto death, and adopt him as a son into your family, and succeed in implanting within him something of your own generous love, and then tell him that your interests and your honor are involved in securing a large crop of cotton, you have put upon him an easy yoke, and he will strain every muscle, and your kindness will be his song in all the hours of toil.
Recently our young church marked her one year anniversary. We magnify God for His mercy and grace in using us, mere clay pots, in His amazing gospel-work. I recently told our people, “I can honestly say that being allowed of God to shepherd Lakewood is one of the deepest facets of God’s goodness to me, planned before the foundation of the world to resound to His glory and praise!”
Here’s some lessons learned and reaffirmed after year one:
- My primary responsibilities to my people are to further cultivate my relationship with God as well as my relationship with my wife.
- The Gospel gives hope to every human sin problem.
- Jesus is the builder of the Church; Jesus is the builder of local churches (Matt. 16:18).
- Pride is the root problem in my self-sufficiency as well as the root problem in my feelings of insufficiency. As the great builder of the Church, Jesus is able! While I am certainly not able in my own strength, He has made me an able minister of the New Covenant! A perpetual Christ-focusedness prevents both problems (2 Cor. 3).
- God wants me to work hard, but He does not need my schemes.
- God will work powerfully through His Word! It is a hammer that breaks things, a fire that consumes things, and a sword that cuts things. Like our innards (Jer. 23 & Heb. 4).
- God did not intend for churches operate like big-business-corporations and pastors like executives of said corporations. Whatever the NT means by “overseer,” it certainly does not mean that we pastors ever are to stop being pastors, i.e. shepherds. In my grad school years, I read a book that taught us to try to become “ranchers,” not “shepherds.” Hogwash.
- Waiting to confront problems in the church almost always makes things worse.
- The ones overly eager to publicly teach or preach are probably not the ones that should be doing either.
- It’s hard to stop providing pre-service doughnuts for the entire church after doing so for 6 months.
- There are people who think dance choreography is a ministry for the local church. And other strange people too. These sort of people will call you on the telephone. They are sort of like leeches, only they suck time instead of blood. But in church-planting, the two are almost equal. Hindsight is 20/20, but it probably would have taken less of my time to simply let them coach/choreograph my walking up and down from the pulpit.
Over the last past two years, I’ve read three books on the third parable in Luke 15, often called the “Prodigal Son.” While the works I list below have been helpful to my understanding, my interest in this parable was actually awakened my sophomore year in college as Dr. Preston Mayes was teaching through the Luke’s Gospel. While I am sure that I heard it preached this way before, for the first time in my life it came through my thick skull that the parable is more directed toward the older brother and people like him than it was toward with the younger brother at all (see Luke 15:1-3; 25-31, noting the abrupt and seemingly unresolved conclusion).
Sunday, I paused our church’s paragraph by paragraph journey through John’s Gospel in order to look at The Lost Sons from Luke 15. If you are interested, you can listen or download here.
I’d recommend reading these three books* with discernment; they each present some very helpful content.
- The Tale of Two Sons, by John MacArthur
- The Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes by Kenneth Bailey
- Prodigal God by Tim Keller
*Please understand that in pointing the reader to these resources, I am simply pointing out that there is valuable information to be gleaned. This is obviously not an endorsement of the entire corpus or theology of these men.
I’m on vacation this week and just finished Atonement, which is a compilation of sermons and lectures on the topic. Overall, the book is quite good, but the first chapter by JI Packer and the last chapter by Alistair Begg are both outstanding. I just wanted to share a quote from Begg’s chapter:
What is the ground of our confidence when the evil one comes to us and suddenly fires a fiery dart from out of left field? It happens constantly to us. It is some heinous thought; it may be a thought of jealousy. It may be a thought of deep animosity. It may be an impure thought. Whatever it might be, in it comes, and it’s there. And it is no sooner in your mind when, ‘old smutty face,’ as CS Lewis called him, comes to the front door of your mind and says, ‘hey, I thought you were a Christian. How could you possibly be a Christian and be thinking things like that?’ What we normally say at this moment is, ‘well, I know I was thinking that, but you know, I read 17 verses in my Bible this morning. Also, I was thinking about witnessing this afternoon.’ My friend, if you think like that, you are Islamic. You are trying to outweigh the bad with the good! Instead, you get to say, ‘go back to hell where you belong.’ Beloved, in wearing the helmet of salvation, there is an awareness of the cross of Jesus Christ. We must find all of our confidence there.
I am preaching the beginning of John 10 this week. In this portion of Scripture, Jesus claims to be the good Shepherd, over against thieves, robbers, and hirelings. At the end of vs. 10, Jesus says, I came that they might have life and have it abundantly. This quote from D.A. Carson’s commentary was especially thought-provoking in regard to the phrase above:
This is a proverbial way of insisting that there is only one means of receiving eternal life, only one source of knowledge of God, only one fount of spiritual nourishment, only one basis for spiritual security — Jesus alone. The world still seeks its humanistic, political saviors — its Hitlers, its Stalins, its Maos, its Pol Pots — and only too late does it learn that they blatantly confiscate personal property (they come ‘only to steal’), ruthlessly trample human life under foot (they come ‘only…to kill’), and contemptuously savage all that is valuable (they come ‘only…to destroy’). Jesus is right. It is not the Christian doctrine of heaven that is the myth, but the humanist dream of utopia.