FS Sunday Sermon Do Not Silence Your Mess Meeting God in Everyday Chaos By: Paul Tripp
The life of faith for a follower of Jesus Christ is messy. Have you noticed? We live in a fallen world. Sin has frustrated the cosmos, and creation is subjected to futility and in bondage to decay (Romans 8:20–21). This makes our daily existence difficult and complicated.
The frustration can be both mundane and extreme. Our stain-resistant carpet ends up not being so stain-resistant after all. The shiny new car with the fresh car smell is, well, just a car, with scratches and squeaks to prove it. Our daily schedule never seems to pan out the way we planned.
On the other end of the spectrum, you might receive a life-changing diagnosis. A friend could experience tremendous suffering. A loved one was here just yesterday but now is gone. Have you experienced some of the realities of life in a fallen world recently? How do you communicate with God in difficulty?
Where Do You Run?
Within the fallen world, we reside with broken people. In Genesis 3, man and woman engage in accusation and slander, and on its heels, a man murders his brother. David fled for his life from his son Absalom. Christ was betrayed and denied by those who were his closest followers. While many of us might not experience drama to this extent, all of our relationships are less than perfect and require significant daily effort if they are going to last, let alone thrive. Have you experienced the brokenness of relationships recently? Where do you run for relief?
To top it all off, we wrestle with internal sin and external temptation. Sin distorts our thoughts, desires, choices, actions, and words. The Bible requires each of us to accept that, at the most practical of levels, we have moral flaws within us that we can do absolutely nothing to solve on our own. Meanwhile, we fight against spiritual forces of evil as ferocious as a prowling lion, seeking to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). What internal struggles and external temptations are you facing right now? How are you fighting against them?
I think you get the point. The Christian life is messy and complicated. In some way, every day, you will face disappointment, grief, pain, confusion, and struggle. The question is, Where do you go and what do you do?
Transparent Hearts Before God
If you are a true follower of Jesus, you will be in constant communication with your Lord as you experience the frustration of life in a fallen world. Many of us tend to think that our prayer life — or our communication with God — is limited to our personal devotion time, before a family meal, during the prayer segment in a worship service, or within our small group or Bible study.
The reality is that we talk with God all day long. Sometimes those conversations are vocal; other times, they are silent in our hearts. Sometimes they are cries of pain; other times, they are hymns of profound joy and thankfulness.
That’s one reason why I love the Psalms so much — we get to eavesdrop as the writer talks with God all day long. In Spirit–inspired poetic form, the psalmists record their honest and transparent conversations with God. The angst, doubt, and weakness. The confusion, despair, and desire to give up. The self-reminders to find strength in Christ and follow God no matter what. The deep abiding joy as we remember the presence and grace of God.
I see myself in every Psalm. The story and struggle of my life of faith is splashed across every page, and so is yours. But, if all we did was discover us in the Psalms, we’d leave depressed and discouraged. Most significantly, we find Christ in the Psalms. We are confronted and comforted with the beauty of his faithfulness, patience, power, wisdom, and grace.
As a believer in Jesus, there is no healthier place to be than to remind yourself of who you are and who your Savior is. That’s what the Psalms do so well, and that’s what a healthy devotional life is meant to stimulate.
Your devotional life should serve as one big gospel reminder. It should remind you of the horrible disaster of sin. It should remind you of Jesus, who stood in your place. It should remind you of the righteousness that is his gift. It should remind you of the transforming power of the grace you and I couldn’t have earned. It should remind you of your future destiny that is guaranteed to all of God’s blood-purchased children.
Different Form of Reminder
If you’re anything like me, you forget. Not just your car keys or what time you were supposed to have that meeting — spiritual familiarity causes you to forget the gospel of Jesus Christ. As the themes of grace become more and more familiar, they don’t capture your attention, awe, and worship as they should.
I write to remind myself and others of the glorious grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some years ago, I even committed to writing 366 daily reminders. I also regularly remind myself of the gospel through a different form: poetry.
I do not retreat to a country cottage to write poems. No, I take out my phone during a flight to write down lines. I scribble a phrase on a napkin while waiting for Starbucks. I pull over on the side of a road to capture a thought that suddenly comes. I pen poems spontaneously as I interact and communicate with my Lord and Savior.
What you are about to read is one of these poems. My hope is that this piece, titled “My Heart Cries Out,” will help you see the Savior more clearly, understand his grace more deeply, confess your struggle more honestly, worship him more fully, and find the motivation to continue to follow the Savior even when he’s leading you into unexpected and hard places.
My heart cries out, but I am not afraid, discouraged, panicked, forgotten, alone, dismayed, or doubtful because in the din of a million voices from every place, in every situation, young and old crying day and night in weakness, in alienation, in fear, and in distress, you are not overwhelmed, you are not distracted, you are not disgusted, you are not discouraged, you are not exhausted. But you listen, you hear, you attend to my cry in tenderness of mercy, in patience of spirit, and with generosity of love. You listen to my plea and you never turn away. But with power and wisdom and the tender heart of a Savior, you do this amazing thing — you answer.
FS Sunday Sermon Staying In The Eye Of The Storm By: Doug Addison
We are in a time of preparation for some amazing times that are just ahead. Though it seems like things are uncertain, we must gain a heavenly perspective to overcome the attacks that are active all over the world.
You can be sure that the disasters and difficult times we are seeing are not from God. These things are from Satan and the forces of darkness that are trying to discourage you from the breakthrough that is about to happen.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. Hebrews 12:28 NIV
God is using these difficult times to prepare us. In order to receive greater levels of His power and calling we are in a time of testing and preparation
God is with you
The Lord is calling you to walk through the storms without being afraid. The Lord not only has you covered but He is speaking your name in the midst of it all.
But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. Isaiah 43:1 NIV
Watch for God to give you confirmations and speak in ways that you will know He is with you. The Lord knows your name and your needs and there are plans and strategies being released for you right now.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:2 NIV
The past few months have been some of the fiercest storms and trials for me, but the Lord showed me how to get through this time and be a victor, not a victim.
Staying in the eye of the storm
Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. Matthew 8:24 NIV
Jesus demonstrated for us the importance of staying at peace during stressful times.
He slept through a violent storm and later He commanded it to be still. In another example when the storm was coming against His disciples He walked on the water above the waves (Matthew 14:22-26).
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Matthew 14:27 NIV
This is a prophetic word from the Lord to you right now—do not be afraid for the Lord is with you.
The Lord has shown me how to pick and choose my battles. In the midst of the heaviest storms you can find the “eye of peace,” like the center of a hurricane. I have had to fight some battles each day but once I find that place of peace, I do my best to stay there all day.
Agreement is a key
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 1 Corinthians 1:10 NIV
There is power when we can come into agreement with the words of the Lord. Keep in mind that the promises to you in the Bible are all very real. As you come into agreement with the Word of God and the Bible you are in agreement with Heaven.
There is also power in agreeing with each other. You can change your situation right now by laying down disagreement and differences and replace them with prayers and love.
The enemy is kicking up the storms because the breakthrough to this new season is now here. Find the place of peace and stay in the eye of the storm. Be encouraged because the Lord is with you!
FS Sunday Sermon Don’t Face Unbelief Alone By: Jon Bloom
We all very much need other trusted Christians to help us fight for faith and against unbelief — and most of us know this. The problem is, the truth has a tendency to lose its obviousness to us when we most need to trust it. What we very much need, we often very much want to avoid.
Sinful desires, irrational or exaggerated fears, the discouraging and anxiety-producing pall of doubt, and the blanket-darkness of despair all have great power to distort our perceptions of reality. But when we are experiencing them, they appear and feel very real to us. Sin’s promise can look very alluring, the threats of fear and doubt can feel terrifying, and the temptation to despair can appear compellingly inevitable. When we’re in these states, we really need the help of trusted, wise brothers and sisters to discern what’s real and not real.
But when we’re in these states, that’s often when we least want to expose what’s going on inside. We know Scripture teaches us to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). But when our need for this is most acute, we often experience the most acute internal resistance to pursuing it or receiving it.
And so, we must take hold of another truth: trusting in the Lord with all our heart and not leaning on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5) is not something we merely do on our own; it has a communal dimension. We need our trusted brothers and sisters to help us trust in the Lord, even when we’d rather struggle alone.
Resistance from Within
Why can we feel such resistance to pursuing or receiving the help we really need? Three major contributors are typically pride (e.g. my perception of what’s true is more trustworthy than I believe yours will be), shame (e.g. I don’t want you to see my evil or weakness), and fear (e.g. you may reject me, or I may yield some control to you that I want to keep).
Whenever the sin of pride is present, its trajectory is destruction (Proverbs 16:18). But shame and fear are usually complex emotions, fueled partly by various sinful and/or weak tendencies in us and partly by external factors, such as damaging painful past experiences. The net effect is that these responses distort how we view those who might help us, undermining our trust in them and producing instead resistance toward them.
If we listen to the resistance, you can see the confusing, dangerous place this leads us. Sinful desires, misplaced fears, doubt, and despair undermine our trust in what God has spoken to us in his word, and pride, shame, and fear undermine our trust in our brothers and sisters. Unbelief can become a vicious cycle, leaving us isolated and increasingly vulnerable to more and more deception.
Distrust Your Inner Resistance
You can see how crucial it is, when it comes to unbelief and resisting the wisdom of other trusted Christians, that we really take seriously the biblical command to not lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). The Bible’s warnings about this could not be clearer.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)
Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. (Proverbs 3:7)
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. (Proverbs 12:15)
The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor. (Proverbs 15:31–33)
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Proverbs 18:1)
Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. (Proverbs 19:20)
Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered. (Proverbs 28:26)
Those who lived in the time these proverbs were written weren’t fundamentally different from us. They were subject to the same temptations to disbelieve God and felt the same kinds of resistance against seeking the sound counsel of others, whether out of pride, shame, or fear. And the proverb writer(s) calls giving in to those impulses foolish.
We are not made to lean on our own understanding. We are made to fear the Lord and listen to the counsel of those who have proven themselves trustworthy. Which means we must cultivate a healthy distrust in our resistance to trust wise brothers and sisters.
Trusting the Lord by Trusting Others
Eighty years ago, in the dangerous, disorienting, distrustful days of the Third Reich’s reign of terror, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his fraternal Christian community:
God has willed that we should seek him and find his living word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, a Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. (Life Together)
This is true. A Christian needs another Christian to speak God’s word to him. We need it more than we know, and we especially need it when we’ve become disoriented regarding what’s real and true and we feel strong internal resistance to sharing it with another Christian. Because trusting in the Lord with all our heart is not something we merely do on our own; we also do it with others, in the community the Lord provides for us.
When We Are Most Vulnerable
There are graces the Lord provides to us only through our brothers and sisters. As Paul wrote, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). And “as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:4–6).
Therefore, the Lord requires us to humble ourselves and confide our sinful desires, irrational or exaggerated fears, the soul-shaking doubts, and dark despairing thoughts in trusted members of our community of faith, distrusting the resistance we feel to doing this. Because he has ordained that we receive the Spirit’s help through them. For it’s when we’re on our own that we are most likely to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Fear has been a constant, albeit unbidden, companion of humanity since the fall. Concerns can range between the jitters from many-legged creatures to the debilitation of a doctor’s diagnosis, but consider for a moment the prevalent fear, even among Christians, of our own faithlessness.
A cursory glance at the words of our Lord alone should produce in us a deep desire to not be faithless. It’s a matter of joy. Believers, above all things, are not to be atheistic. Eternity is at stake, and crowns get snatched from those who do not hold fast (Revelation 3:11). Warning passages abound that pave the way for empowering grace as we fight for the eternal validation our hearts yearn for — “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
And yet, this fear of faithlessness is not the one that keeps us awake staring at the ceiling in the dark night of the soul, or when hopes are dashed or finances dry up, or relationships crumble, or persecution bites.
Will He Come Through?
If we allow ourselves a moment of honesty, in times of trials and suffering, there tends to be a voice that does not strive against our faithlessness but calls into question the faithfulness of God.
Will he come through? Will he do what he has promised? Will he provide? Will he heal? Will he save? Will he strengthen? He will hold me fast. Will he?
The soul-crippling fear of the Lord’s faithlessness is worthy of a heated battle. Indeed, we must strive against the fear of the Lord’s faithlessness. How shall we fight against it? Might I suggest a trip through Narnia?
One of the deep delights of spending time in Narnia is the sights we get of Aslan. One stands out to me. As Lucy utters the spell to make hidden things visible from the Magician’s Book, Aslan appears to her once again. Lucy is taken aback by his assertion that she had a part to play in making him visible. “It did,” said Aslan. “Do you think I wouldn’t obey my own rules?” This hit me as I was reminded that my obedience to God is an obedience that occurs second: God keeps his word. He always remains faithful.
We Do His Word
Our obedience is certainly required in Scripture. We are to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). In a real sense, a person’s soul hangs in the balance regarding his glad-hearted obedience or soul-deluding disobedience. As crucial as hearing God’s word is, the testimony of Scripture is that the end of proper hearing is action.
What James wrote propositionally, Jesus painted pictorially through the image of a constructed house.
Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great. (Luke 6:46–49).
When we are hearers only of God’s word, we become deceived and in as much danger as a beautiful home without a solid foundation. By grace, resolve to be like the owner who built his unshakable house on the firm foundation by being a doer of the word.
Because God Keeps His Word
But there is a more significant and fundamentally firmer foundation. All of reality rests on this foundation. Creation, redemption, sanctification, and glorification rests on this foundation. Our God is a doer of his word. Our God is faithful to keep what he has promised because he is righteous in his character. As Aslan asked Lucy, “Do you think I wouldn’t obey my own rules?” It is the testimony of Scripture from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 that our God will do what he said he would do. God is not a man, that he might lie, or a son of man, that he might change his mind. Does he speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill (Numbers 23:19)? Did he say it? Won’t he do it?
Woven into the very fabric of the nature of God is his faithfulness. In the proclamation of his name to Moses, loyalty is no minor trait. He abounds in faithfulness (Exodus 34:6). Poetic imagery in the song of Moses captures who the Lord is through the picture of a reliable rock. “The Rock, his way is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4).
Would there be any greater dismay in the entire universe than an unfaithful God who failed to keep his word?
Remember His Faithfulness
As Joshua prepared to exit stage left, his final charge to Israel included the reminder that not one word had failed of all the good things that the Lord promised — all had come to pass (Joshua 23:14). The Psalmist gives us good soul food for our hearts to feast upon every time we step outside and look up at the vastness of the sky. “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5).
A beam of hopeful light pierces through the dark exilic clouds of Lamentations. “This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21–23). Gladly we sing, “There is no shadow of turning with thee.” He is “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Mightily we fight against the fear of a faithless God.
Human unbelief has no bearing on the Lord’s faithfulness. “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, ‘That you may be justified in your words and prevail when you are judged’” (Romans 3:3–4). There is a good reason why. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
The supremely tremendous and right declaration from the witness of Scripture is that above all things our Triune God is faithful to himself.
He Will Not Fail You Now
There is profound encouragement in knowing that our God is faithful to his own. Spiritual fortitude in the face of fear finds its source in God’s deeper commitment to himself. His faithfulness to us is the fruit of his allegiance to himself. Here is where hope in the most challenging circumstances finds fertile soil to flourish. Here is the battleground where the fear of the Lord’s faithlessness is fought tooth and nail. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you who is deeply and rightly committed to the glory of your faithful name (Psalm 56:3).
The ground of our hope is our Lord’s faithfulness to his word. He has promised us great things. Won’t he do them? Do you think he wouldn’t heed his own rules? If we are to be doers of his word and not hearers only, it rests fundamentally on the fact that God is a doer of his word. The fear of God’s faithlessness is an irrational fear. By grace, like Job, make a covenant with the eyes of your faith to keep them locked on the facts of God’s faithfulness.
Let us, then, hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).
FS Sunday Sermon The Battle Is Mine By: Chuck Swindoll
The beautiful thing about this story is that it’s a perfect example of how God operates. He magnifies HIS name when we are weak. We don’t have to be eloquent or strong or beautiful or physically fit or handsome. We don’t have to be well-traveled or brilliant or have all the answers to be blessed of God. He honors our faith. All He asks is that we trust Him, that we stand before Him in integrity and faith, and He’ll win the battle. God is just waiting for His moment, waiting for us to trust Him so He can empower us to battle our giants.
Remember, Goliath is still a giant . . . still an imposing presence. David had all the odds against him. There wasn’t a guy in the Philistine camp—or probably the Israelite camp either—who would have bet on David. But David didn’t need their backing. He needed God—none other. After picking up the stones, he approached the gigantic Philistine warrior.
The shepherd boy made the giant smile. What a joke! Just imagine! David stood before this massive creature unintimidated!
Intimidation. That’s our MAJOR battle when we face giants. When they intimidate us, we get tongue-tied. Our thoughts get confused. We forget how to pray. We focus on the odds against us. We forget whom we represent, and we stand there with our knees knocking. I wonder what God must think, when all the while He has promised us, “My power is available. There’s no one on this earth greater. You trust Me.”
Be assured, David’s eyes weren’t on the giant. Intimidation played no part in his life. What a man! His eyes were fixed on God. With invincible confidence in his God, David responded, “that all this assembly may know that the LORD does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the LORD’s” (17:47). There it is. That’s the secret of David’s life. “The battle is the LORD’s.” Are you trying to do your own battle? Trying to do things your way? Trying to outsmart the enemy, outfox him? You can’t. But God can. And He’s saying to you, “You do it My way and I’ll honor you. You do it your way and you’re doomed to fail. The battle is Mine.
God never ignores his children. He is never too busy. Never lacking in resources. Never confused. Never ill-disposed. He is always attentive. Always gracious. Always eager. Always wise. Always loving. He hears every request from his humble, trusting children, and he answers with whatever is best. It always pays to pray. Always.
That does not mean a life of prayer is not perplexing. My aim is to encourage you in your prayers by answering three especially difficult questions: (1) what does it mean to ask God for things “according to his will” (1 John 5:14)? (2) Why are we not told to pray for the forgiveness of “sin that leads to death” (1 John 5:16)? (3) What does “whatever” mean in 1 John 3:22, when it says, “Whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him”? I think a text-based answer to each of these questions is a great encouragement to pray.
I focus on these three questions because, in trying to answer the first one, I realized that the context led to answers for the other two as well. Here is the text that raises, and answers, the first two questions:
This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life — to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. (1 John 5:14–18)
Two Wills in God
What does “according to his will” mean in verse 14? “If we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” There are two possible meanings for “God’s will” found in the Bible. On the one hand, God’s will is what he commands, or what he tells us is right to do. On the other hand, God’s will is whatever God decides will come to pass. We can call the first meaning God’s will of command. And the second we can call God’s will of decree.
For example, you can see God’s will of decree in Ephesians 1:11: “[God] works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Or in James 4:15: “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” In both of these texts, the will of God refers to God’s control over all that happens: “All things.” Staying alive and doing “this or that.” This is God’s will of decree. Everything that happens is God’s will in this sense. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3; cf. Psalm 135:6).
On the other hand, you can see God’s will of command, for example, in 1 John 2:17: “Whoever does the will of God abides forever.” Or Mark 3:35: “Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Or 1 Thessalonians 4:3: “This is the will of God, your sanctification.” We can see that “will of God,” in these verses, does not mean “all that happens.” It refers to what God commands as right for us to do.
The fact that there are two biblical ways to speak of “God’s will” means that a single act might be God’s will in one sense, but not in another. For example, it was clearly sinful and contrary to God’s will of command that innocent men would be crucified. God commanded, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). But men murdered Jesus, according to God’s plan of redemption. Isaiah 53:10 says, “It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.” And Acts 4:28 says that these murderers (Herod, Pilate, Gentiles, Jewish crowds) did “whatever [God’s] hand and [God’s] plan had predestined to take place.” So the killing of Jesus was God’s will in the sense of his will of decree, but not his will in the sense of his will of command.
Now, which of these is intended when John writes, “If we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14)?
Do Born-Again People Sin?
The answer is found as we keep reading in verse 16:
If anyone sees his brother committing . . . sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life — to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.
This concern with “sin that leads to death” and “sin not leading to death” is part of John’s larger concern in this letter. From beginning to end, John is concerned to guard against two opposite errors: (1) treating ongoing sin lightly and (2) despairing that if a believer sins he is lost. Both are errors.
Some of John’s community seem to think that you can continue sinning and still be born again. Others seem to think that, if you are born again, you don’t have any sin in your life. To the first group, John says, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning” (1 John 3:9). To the second group, he says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1 John 1:8). In other words, Christians sin, but Christians do not settle in with the practice of sin. Born-again people confess their sin as abhorrent (1 John 1:9), and make war on their temptations (Romans 8:13).
Sin That Leads to Death
So when we come to 1 John 5:16 and read about two kinds of sinning, we should not be surprised. One kind “leads to death.” And the other kind does “not lead to death.” John is not referring to a particular sin. What, then, is he referring to when he says, “there is sin [not a sin] that leads to death”?
Verse 18 gives the clue. Right after saying, “There is sin that leads to death” (v. 16) and “there is sin that does not lead to death” (v. 17), John says, We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God [Jesus] protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. (1 John 5:18)
So the sinning that does not lead to death is the sinning of those who are “born of God,” but whose sinning is restrained by Jesus. Jesus protects and keeps his own. He restrains their sinning. He does not make them perfect in this life. But neither does he leave them to the power of sin. He protects them. And the evil one does not touch them in the sense of bringing them to ruin.
This implies, then, that “sin that leads to death” is the sinning of those who are not born of God. Their sinning is not restrained by Jesus. In fact, they are not true believers. They may be part of the church for a time, but they give way to patterns of sin and fall away. John describes them in 1 John 2:19:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
The reason I say they are not true believers is that John says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (1 John 5:1). In other words, saving faith is a sign that one has been born of God, and we just saw in 5:18 that those who are born of God are kept by Jesus. He does not let them go on sinning — that is, he keeps them back from “sin that leads to death.”
So I am concluding from 1 John 5:18, and the wider context of 1 John, that “sin that leads to death” is not a particular sin, but a pattern of unrestrained sin that leads one away from Christ, and shows that one was never born again (1 John 2:19; 5:1, 18). It “leads to death,” therefore, in the sense that it leads to destruction. Final ruin. Hell.
‘I Do Not Say to Pray for That’
Now we are in a position to circle back and see how verse 16 (“There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that”) sheds light on the meaning of verse 14 (“If we ask anything according to his will he hears us”). Does verse 14 refer to God’s will of decree, or to his will of command?
To answer this, we should ask why John writes, “I do not say that one should pray for [the sin that leads to death].” The reason is that there is no point in it. The prayer would be for repentance and forgiveness and life (as in v. 16a). But John has made clear that this sinning leads to death. There will be no life. That’s the whole point of saying there is sin that leads to death. If one could pray successfully for life, the sin would not be sin that leads to death.
Now here’s the implication for the meaning of praying “according to [God’s] will.” It is clearly God’s will of command that we pray for sinners that they would repent and be saved. Paul said, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1) — including those who are “accursed and cut off from Christ” (Romans 9:3). And he prayed for believers, that they would be “kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
So, if it is “according to [God’s] will” that we pray for straying people, why does John say, “I do not say that one should pray for [the sin that leads to death]”? The answer is because God does not intend to save them. They have crossed a line. They are like Esau in Hebrews 12:17, who had sinned in such a way that he could not repent and find forgiveness.
In other words, it is not God’s will to save those who have sinned in a way that “leads to death.” He will not grant repentance. His will of decree is to let them go. No praying will change it.
According to God’s Will of Decree
But why does John not come right out and say, “Do not pray for that,” instead of saying, “I do not say that one should pray for that”? It’s because he does not assume we can always know who these people are. To command us not to pray for them would imply we can always recognize them. But we can’t. We can’t always tell when someone has sinned to the point of being beyond repentance. So John only says that praying for them would be ineffectual. God has willed to leave them alone. “I do not say that one should pray for that.” Which means that if you ask for their repentance and forgiveness, you will not get it.
But verses 14–15 say, “If we ask anything according to his will . . . we have the request.” Therefore, I do not take “according to his will” to mean “according to his will [of command],” because, as we’ve seen, it is according to his will of command that we should always pray for straying saints and unbelievers. Rather, I take “according to his will” in verse 14 to mean “according to his will [of decree],” because verse 16 shows that God has decreed not to save these people. So you need not pray for them, and if you do, you will not receive what you ask. It doesn’t accord with God’s will of decree.
So when John says, “If we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14), he means, “If we ask anything that accords with God’s all-wise plan — his all-wise decrees for the world — he hears us and grants our request.”
This Does Not Make Prayer Pointless
A common response to this conclusion is that it seems to make prayer pointless, because answered prayer happens only when God has decreed that something be done. Wouldn’t the decreed event happen anyway? So why pray?
But that kind of response does not come from careful biblical thinking. Careful thinking would see that God really does things in response to prayer. “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2). God wills that events be caused by prayer. And careful biblical thinking would also see that, just as God decrees effects, he also decrees the causes of those effects. As he decrees ends, so he decrees means. As he decrees that a straying saint repent and return, so he decrees the prayers that bring him back.
Prayer is a real cause of real events in this world. God has willed it to be so. And so it is.
‘Because We Do What Pleases Him’
Now what about our third question? What does “whatever” mean in 1 John 3:22 when it says, “Whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him”? The answer is connected to what we have seen.
A different condition is laid down for answered prayer here in 3:22 than was laid down in 5:14. There the condition was that the answer to prayer comes, if we pray according to God’s will — according to God’s all-wise plan, his will of decree. Here the condition is that the answer to prayer comes, if we “keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”
How do these two conditions go together?
What Pleases God Is Glad Submission to His Sovereignty
Here is my suggestion. The condition of 3:22 includes the condition of 5:14. That is, doing what pleases God includes consciously and gladly submitting to God’s will of decree. This decree will always be the wisest and most loving response to our prayers.
John says that whatever we ask we receive, if we “do what pleases [God].” What does please God? When it comes specifically to prayer, at least these three things: According to 1 Peter 5:6, it pleases God if we are humble before God: “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.” So it pleases God when we gladly admit we are not God. We are in no condition to run the world, or to take the reins of the universe out of God’s hands.
According to James 3:2, “We all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man.” It pleases God for us to admit this. And the words “what he says” include “what he says in prayer.” We don’t suddenly become perfect when we pray. We are finite and fallible. We make mistakes. God is pleased when his people admit this.
According to James 4:15, Christians “ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” We ought to say this. That is, it is pleasing to God, when we actually say (in prayer!), “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that!”
From these three biblical descriptions of what pleases God when we pray, it seems to me that the condition we must meet, according to 1 John 3:22, in order to receive what we pray for, includes the condition we must meet in 1 John 5:14. The condition there was this: “If we ask anything according to his will [of decree] he hears us.” I’m suggesting that implicit in this condition is the God-pleasing disposition to embrace God’s decreed responses with confidence that they are best. In other words, what pleases God is a humble mind that confesses our finiteness and fallibility, and says, “If the Lord wills, the people we pray for ‘will live and do this or that.’”
‘Whatever’ Is Best for Us
What then is the answer to our third question — the meaning of “whatever” in (1 John 3:22)? “Whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”
The meaning of “whatever” is shaped by the all-wise, all-encompassing, loving plan of God for the good of his children and the glory of his name. By “shaped” I mean limited or expanded, hastened or delayed, purified and completed, but never ignored. If we ask for bread, he will not give us a stone, but he may give us cake, or cornbread, or cod liver oil. If we ask for a fish, he will not give us a snake, but he may give us steak, or stew, or lutefisk (Matthew 7:9–11).
He is our Father. His resources are infinite. His love is perfect. His wisdom is unsearchable. He is never at a loss. Therefore, he will only give us whatever is good for us (Romans 8:28, 32; Matthew 6:33). That is what I think “whatever” in 1 John 3:22 means.
So, be encouraged to pray. Set yourself to please the Lord in all humility, admitting your fallibility, and submitting to his perfect plan and his all-wise decrees. He has decreed millions of things to do in answer to prayer. Our prayers are real causes of the events God planned — just as much as flipping a light switch is a real cause of light in the room, or turning a faucet handle is a real cause of water in the sink, or swinging a hammer is a real cause of a well-sunk nail. It is absolutely true that we “do not have, because [we] do not ask” (James 4:2). So, ask. Keep God’s word. Do what pleases him. And ask.
Of course there are things he will not do. That was the point of 1 John 5:16. He does not forbid us to pray for those, because we cannot always know what they are. But he does tell us that only his wise decrees will come to pass. And he calls us to please him by being humbly submissive to his sovereignty in what he brings to pass. Therefore, it always pays to pray. Always
If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you may have memorized the following verses without trying, simply because you’ve heard them quoted so often:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5–6)
This promise is so beloved because it is so freeing. We are finite and there is so much that exceeds our understanding, it can be overwhelming. But in this command to trust the omniscient one, we find a place of refuge that allows us to maintain our sanity. We find peace in the promise that if we are humble enough to obey this compassionate command, God will direct our course.
I wonder why, then, given how less I’ve heard them quoted over the years, we don’t seem to be as familiar with the next two verses:
Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:7–8)
I would think that the promise of God-given refreshment would be nearly as precious to us as God-given guidance.
Similar but Not the Same
It’s clear that the writer meant for his son (Proverbs 3:1) — and the rest of us — to read these eight lines (four verses) together. I doubt he intended them to be separated, because they form the kind of parallelism so common in Hebraic poetry and wisdom literature:
The command, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart”, corresponds with “Be not wise in your own eyes”;
“Do not lean on your own understanding” corresponds with “fear the Lord, and turn away from evil”;
And the promise in verse 6 (“he will make straight your paths”) corresponds to the promise in verse 8 (“It will be . . . refreshment to your bones”).
The genius of this kind of parallelism is that it allows the writer to make related statements that are not redundant. There’s a clear connection between what verses 5–6 say and what verses 7–8 say, but they don’t say identical things. Trusting in God with our whole heart is not the same thing as not being wise in our own eyes (though we can’t have the former without the latter).
What God Gives the Humble
What the proverb is doing is turning the diamond of a profound truth in the light of God’s wisdom so that we see a different refraction of that light. What is this profound truth? We learn more explicitly further down in the chapter: “toward the scorners [God] is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor” (Proverbs 3:34).
Proverbs 3:34 is one of the most quoted verses in the whole Bible. If you don’t recognize it, that’s probably because you are simply more familiar with the Greek translation of the verse (from the Septuagint), which both the apostles James and Peter famously quote: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).
That is the truth-diamond the writer holds up in this chapter: God gives grace, his favor, to the humble. When he turns it one way, the light of God’s wisdom refracts verses 5–6 (“Trust in the Lord with all your heart . . . and he will make straight your paths”). When he turns it another way, it refracts verses 7–8 (“Be not wise in your own eyes . . . [it will be] refreshment to your bones”). Guidance in life and soul-restoration are both graces God gives to the humble.
But since we are so familiar with verses 5–6, let’s linger over the refraction of God’s wisdom we see in verses 7–8 and the grace promised us if we heed it.
You Aren’t as Wise as You Assume
First, look at the command: “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:7).
To be told, “be not wise in your own eyes,” has a different effect on us than “trust in the Lord with all your heart.” It immediately heightens our awareness of and confronts the “pride of life” (1 John 2:16), the pride we all have as part of our sinful natures. This is the pride that assumes we can adequately understand the knowledge of good and evil, and judge rightly between the two. It is a perilous assumption.
The proverbial author knows how seductively deceptive this pride is and warns us against its folly throughout the chapter. What’s so seductively deceptive is how easily choosing evil can appear wise to us because of the benefits it seems to provide those who do. When we read his examples of evil behavior (Proverbs 3:28–34), we might be tempted to think we’re above such behavior. But the fact is, we notoriously underestimate how confusing things can appear in the pressure of real-life situations, when we are afraid or angry or suffering or threatened.
This command is a great mercy for the complex and difficult situations and decisions we all face. There are times when we need the soul-jolting, in-our-face, direct warning not to trust our own wisdom and to turn away from evil more than to be merely told to trust in God. We need to be reminded how untrustworthy our own wisdom is.
Humility’s Restoring Power
Lastly, look at the powerful promise to those who aren’t wise in their own eyes, but fear God and turn away from evil:
It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:8)
Note the words the writer chooses here: “healing” and “refreshment.” These are restorative terms. Why does he use them?
Because this experienced father knows the violence done to the soul by the doing of evil and the temptation to evil. He knows that “a tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot” (Proverbs 14:30). He knows what David meant when he wrote, “When I kept silent [about my sin], my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long” (Psalm 32:3). He knows how evil violates the conscience and creates terrible conflict with God and man. And he wants his son and all of his readers to experience peace (Proverbs 3:2), or to return to peace if he’s strayed into evil.
And the path to deep, refreshing peace from God is living humbly before God.
The apostle Peter was thinking of the truth-diamond in Proverbs 3 when he wrote,
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:5–7)
God gives grace to the humble. To those who humbly trust him with all their heart, he gives the grace of guidance. To those who humbly refuse to be wise in their own eyes, he gives the grace of refreshing peace. To those who humble themselves under his hand, he will give the grace of exaltation. And to those who humbly cast their cares on him, he gives the grace of carrying their cares.
It is good for us to be as familiar with verses 7–8 of Proverbs 3 as we are with verses 5–6. There are times we must remember to trust in the Lord with all our heart, and there are other times we must remember to not be wise in our own eyes. They are similar, related, complementary, yet different refractions of God’s wisdom. And both remind us that cultivating humility before God is among the healthiest things we can do for our souls.
Sometimes it is good to go back to the basics. When the disciples asked Yahshua how to pray and the gave them the what we call the Lord’s prayer in Matthew. I recently came across this teaching by Pastor Chris Hodges that really spoke to me and I trust it will be a blessing to you as well. If you have wondered how you are supposed to pray this is one example. God bless you ALL, Becca Card.
Pastor Chris Hodges
Church of the Highlands
In the Old Testament, the Tabernacle was the dwelling place of God, built to His specifications, where He would meet His people. As they entered the Tabernacle, they passed through seven stations, following Yahweh’s instructions, to experience His presence. Today, even though we no longer need the physical Tabernacle to meet with Yahweh, these same steps can help us connect with Him. This prayer model will take us through each station of the Tabernacle and use the purpose of each station to guide our prayers.
The Outer Court – Thanksgiving & Praise
The Israelites entered the Tabernacle with thanksgiving and praise, and we start our prayer time the same way.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. PSALM 100:4
Spend some time really thinking about all the blessings in your life for which you’re thankful. You can write down a list, sing your own song of praise, or just spend quiet moments reflecting on your gratitude and praise toward Yahweh.
Prayer:“Father God, You are good, and You deserve all my praise and more. Thank You for the many ways You have blessed me and for watching over me (tell Him specific things in your life that you’re grateful for. Thank Him for something new that you’ve never thanked Him for before). I want to experience Your presence and Your love in a fresh way today, Jesus. I thank you that Your mercies are new every day. I thank you for Who You are and all You have done for me.”
The Brazen Alter – The Cross of Jesus
In the Old Testament, everyone had to regularly bring animal sacrifices as payment for their sins. Today, we don’t have to do that because Yahshua paid for our sins once and for all with His blood on the cross.
Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all His benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. PSALM 103:2-5
Thank God for the gift of Yahshua. Thank Him for His sacrifice and love. Let the power of the cross and what it means for your life really settle in your spirit. In addition to expressing your gratitude, claim the power of transformation and healing that the cross of Jesus has in your life.
The cross provides us with five major benefits:
• Salvation – God forgives all my sin.
• Healing – God heals all my diseases.
• Redemption – God rescues me and restores me.
• Transformation – God changes me into His likeness.
• Blessing – God provides everything I need.
Prayer: “Thank You, God, for making a way for me through Your Son. Jesus, thank You for the sacrifice You made for me on the cross. You saved me, and You set me free. I praise You for being my Healer. You have power over all disease and harm in my life (list specific areas where you need to experience God’s healing power). Thank You for being my Redeemer. You rescue me and give my life purpose. Thank You for transforming my life with Your love, for making me new. I want to grow to be more like You (give Him access to every area of your life). Thank You for blessing me. I know You have good plans for me and all that I have comes from You (thank Him for specific blessings in your life).”
The Laver – Cleansing & Preparing
The next step in the Tabernacle was a bowl of water where people were reminded of their sinfulness and their need to be cleansed and forgiven by God. Checking our hearts and motives and surrendering our lives to God is an important part of daily prayer.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1
Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we can confess our sins to Him and receive complete forgiveness and a fresh start. In prayer, humbly and sincerely turn away from your sins and allow God to cleanse and renew you. Then, surrender your life and every part of yourself to Him.
Prayer: “God, I confess my sins to You and turn away from them (tell God any sin you know is in your life and confess it to Him with a sincere heart. Ask Him to show you any other areas that need His cleansing). Thank You, God, for freely forgiving me. As I turn away from my sin, I turn toward You, and I offer myself to You:
• I give You my tongue, to speak good and not evil.
• I give You my eyes, to focus on You and the needs of others.
• I give You my ears, to be sensitive to Your voice.
• I give You my hands, to do good for others.
• I give You my feet, to walk in Your ways and follow Your footsteps.
• I give You my mind, to be transformed and used by You I ask You, Lord, for the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23, so that I can grow closer to You and make a difference in the lives of others. I ask for: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
The Candlestick – The Spirit of Christ
The next piece of the Tabernacle was a seven-branched golden candlestick. The fire represents the Spirit of Christ and how we are called to be light in the world’s darkness.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD. Isaiah 11:2
When Jesus left the earth, Christians were given the gift of the Spirit. He calls the Spirit of Christ our “advocate.” We cannot do what God has called us to do without His supernatural power. It is through the Spirit of Christ that God comforts us, guides us, and empowers us.
Prayer – “Holy Spirit, I ask You to fill me up. I need Your presence in my life, guiding, directing, comforting, and counseling me. I know that You are God. You are the Spirit of Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Might, and Knowledge. Give me a holy fear of the Lord, helping me to be in awe of who God is and what God does. Work in me, Spirit of Christ. Teach and transform me (pray through any areas where you feel the need for transformation today). I honor You and ask You to empower me with Your spiritual gifts for the good of the church.”
The Table of the Shewbread – The Word of God
In the Tabernacle, a table with twelve loaves of bread represented the importance of reading God’s Word for daily sustenance.
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Joshua 1:8
God’s Word is an incredible gift and a powerful tool, and it has great relevance and impact in our prayer life. Here is how you can incorporate God’s Word into your prayer time:
• Take time to read and think about the Word\
• Claim God’s many great promises for your life and the world around you
• Ask Him for fresh revelation of His Word
• Ask Him for a Word to help you as you go throughout your day
“Thank You, God, for giving me Your Word. I commit to reading it, and I ask You to reveal Yourself to me through it. I want to know You more. Help me to grow more in love with Your Word and to be more dependent on it. I claim the promises You have for me, and I meditate on the truth of Your Word (pray any Scriptures that are on your heart or that God has given you in your current season). Give me fresh revelation from your Word today and every day! I am hungry to see You more clearly through Your Word.”
The Altar of Incense – Worship
A small altar of burning incense stood at the entrance to the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence dwelled. The people of God entered God’s presence as they worshipped His Names. This altar represents worship and the pleasure it gives God when we worship Him.
The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. Proverbs 18:10
Thank God for making His presence available to you. Praise His Names and worship Him personally and specifically for Who He is and how He has moved in your life.
Prayer – “Thank You, Yahweh, for Your presence. I know that You are here with me. I worship You and You alone. I know God, that You are:
My Righteousness – Jeremiah 23:6
My Sanctifier – Leviticus 20:7-8 My Healer – Exodus 15:26
My Provider – Genesis 22:14
My Banner of Victory – Exodus 17:15 My Peace – Judges 6:24
My Shepherd – Psalm 23:1
(As you pray through the different Names of God, focus on a few aspects of who He is that have been especially meaningful in your current season of life.) I know that You are always with me, God, and Your presence is life to me. You give me breath, joy, and purpose.I love you, God.”
The Ark of the Covenant – Intercession
The final place in the Tabernacle was the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence dwelled. There, the priest interceded by praying on behalf of the people of God. In the same way, we intercede on behalf of those around us.
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1 – 4
We can make a difference when we spend time praying for others. Pray for those with whom you interact and connect, including:
• Those in authority – leaders in church, government, family, and workplace
• Your family – both immediate and extended family members
• Your church – pastors, Small Group leaders, members, and missionaries
• Your community – people in your city, nation, and world
• Your relationships – friends, co-workers, acquaintances
Prayer – “Thank You, God, for creating a way through Jesus for me to have Your presence wherever I go. I want to specifically ask You to watch over those in authority over me – my spiritual leaders, the leaders of our government, the leaders in my family, and my employers (pray for these people by name). I ask that You give them wisdom and grace, watch over and protect them, help them to know and love You more. I ask You, God, to be present with my family. Bless them and keep them from harm (pray for any specific needs in your family right now). For those in my family who don’t know You, I ask that You meet them where they are and guide their hearts toward You. I ask You to watch over my church, God. Give my pastor wisdom and vision, bless the Small Groups and everyone who steps foot into our buildings. I pray that You will bring the lost into our church, and that they will have a positive experience and come to know You. Keep our vision rooted in who You are and moving toward Your goals.
I ask You to watch over my city, my nation, and our world. Bring peace and help us all take steps toward You (name areas where you feel a burden for your city, nation, and the world). I pray for anyone who comes across my path to see Your light in me. I lift up my friends, neighbors, and coworkers. I thank You for them and pray for Your blessing over them (pray for any specific needs of others). Lastly God, I ask You to provide for my needs. I know that You sustain me, and that You care for me. I lift up my physical, emotional, and spiritual needs to You (share the needs on your mind right now). I lay my cares at Your feet. Thank You for loving me, choosing me, and calling me Yours. Amen.”
What does Jesus want this Christmas? We can see the answer in his prayers. What does he ask God for? His longest prayer is John 17. Here is the climax of his desire:
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am (v. 24).
Among all the undeserving sinners in the world, there are those whom God has “given to Jesus.” These are those whom God has drawn to the Son (John 6:44, 65). These are Christians – people who have “received” Jesus as the crucified and risen Savior and Lord and Treasure of their lives (John 1:12; 10:11, 17-18; 20:28; 6:35; 3:17). Jesus says he wants them to be with him.
Sometimes we hear people say that God created man because he was lonely. So they say, “God created us so that we would be with him.” Does Jesus agree with this? Well, he does say that he really wants us to be with him! Yes, but why? Consider the rest of the verse. Why does Jesus want us to be with him?
. . . to see my glory that you [Father] have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
That would be a strange way of expressing his loneliness. “I want them with me so they can see my glory.” In fact it doesn’t express his loneliness. It expresses his concern for the satisfaction of our longing, not his loneliness. Jesus is not lonely. He and the Father and the Spirit are profoundly satisfied in the fellowship of the Trinity. We, not he, are starving for something. And what Jesus wants for Christmas is for us to experience what we were really made for – seeing and savoring his glory.
Oh, that God would make this sink in to our souls! Jesus made us (John 1:3) to see his glory. Just before he goes to the cross he pleads his deepest desires with the Father: “Father, I desire – I desire! – that they . . . may be with me where I am, to see my glory.”
But that is only half of what Jesus wants in these final, climactic verses of his prayer. I just said we were really made for seeing and savoring his glory. Is that what he wants – that we not only see his glory but savor it, relish it, delight in it, treasure it, love it? Consider verse 26, the very last verse:
I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.
That is the end of the prayer. What is Jesus’ final goal for us? Not that we simply see his glory, but that we love him with the same love that the Father has for him: “that the love with which you [Father] have loved me may be in them.” Jesus’ longing and goal is that we see his glory and then that we be able to love what we see with the same love that the Father has for the Son. And he doesn’t mean that we merely imitate the love of the Father for the Son. He means the Father’s very love becomes our love for the Son – that we love the Son with the love of the Father for the Son. This is what the Spirit becomes and bestows in our lives: Love for the Son by the Father through the Spirit.
What Jesus wants most for Christmas is that his elect be gathered in and then get what they want most – to see his glory and then savor it with the very savoring of the Father for the Son.
What I want most for Christmas this year is to join you (and many others) in seeing Christ in all his fullness and that we together be able to love what we see with a love far beyond our own half-hearted human capacities.
This is what Jesus prays for us this Christmas: “Father, show them my glory and give them the very delight in me that you have in me.” Oh, may we see Christ with the eyes of God and savor Christ with the heart of God. That is the essence of heaven. That is the gift Christ came to purchase for sinners at the cost of his death in our place.
Sometimes God’s people, with good intentions to promote piety, can undersell the heartache of suffering. Instead they look disapprovingly at any believer who would question the necessity of God’s difficult providences. To groan under the pains of life in a fallen world can be seen as the pitiable reflex of the spiritually immature. This view is difficult to square with our Savior’s own passionate, sweat-soaked, sleepless plea on the eve of his crucifixion, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39).
And the confounding difficulty of suffering is not an experience reserved solely for the Savior. In Romans 5:3–5, the apostle Paul writes of a sanctifying chain reaction whose catalyst is our suffering:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Endurance. Character. Hope. All through the real heartache of suffering.
Don’t Pretend It Doesn’t Hurt
Notice the word “endure.” It combats our well-meaning Christian impulse to minimize the struggle we (or others) face in the midst of suffering. Endurance assumes difficulty. One does not have to endure that which is not bitter. No one asks others how they are “enduring” their favorite bowl of ice cream. No one asks the radiant, newly engaged couple how they are “enduring” their betrothal. To endure a thing is to live in spite of its difficulty, not to live in denial of it.
Thankfully, Paul writes in such a way as to highlight the fact that the process of suffering which leads to hope is not instantaneous. Endurance denotes time. In order to endure a thing, one must make it through its entire duration. That means there will be seasons, no matter how long or short, where we cannot see or feel the hope which we have been promised. These are dark and difficult times. We grieve while we grope our way through the valley. It’s in the wrestling with it, while strengthening ourselves with the promises of God, that we build endurance. In those seasons, we not only pray for hope; we pray for endurance.
Living from Tree to Tree
I once watched a documentary about the toughest school in all the military (or so the film claimed). It was the winter session of the Army Mountain Warfare School which contained unbelievable trials — physical and emotional — that seemed to assail the students from the time they arrived. But the event with the highest dropout rate was a multi-day hike up a snow packed mountain. It required traversing the whole mountain, from bottom to top, through over ten feet of snow drifts with a large, heavy ruck sack slung to their back and no special equipment. They had their feet and sheer determination.
On the morning of the infamous march, a drill instructor spoke to the soldiers. I expected it to be something full of bombast and bluster, urging the group to complete the task at hand or face swift retribution! Instead, the wise soldier simply said, “If you want to quit, look at the top of the mountain.” He went on, “But if you want to make it through, then just find the closest tree and tell yourself, ‘I’m going to make it to that next tree and then reevaluate.’ And then when you get to that tree, do the same thing again, finding the next closest tree. If you’ll do that, tree by tree, soon enough you’ll find yourself at the top of the mountain.”
For those in the midst of terrible suffering, looking for hope can be like looking at the top of the mountain, staring at it from the bottom. The thought is nice, but the climb seems impossible. In those moments, the next tree is simply praying for endurance: “Lord, get me through this season, this day, this hour, even this prayer. Do not let me go, that I may not ever let you go.”
How Satan Uses Suffering
And yet, there is the promise. The promise that this storm of suffering will break into the peace of joy and hope. That is the barometer of how we weather the difficult providences of this fallen life. Suffering that is endured Christianly produces character which yields hope. Suffering that yields bitterness, cynicism, and alienation is suffering gone awry. Satan loves to use our suffering in this way. He wants to create resentment in your soul rather than the hope that was meant to reside there.
How does Satan use suffering to create cynics rather than resilient believers? First, he wants to isolate us. Scripture is clear that in order to make it through this fallen world, we need a community. This community is meant to help us grow in our faith, celebrate our successes, learn from our failures, grieve through our losses, and give us strength in our weaknesses. The number one scheme of Satan at times of suffering is to make us think that we need to cocoon rather than to lean into the care of Christian brothers and sisters. He wants you to think that you don’t need the help, that you don’t deserve help, that true Christians don’t ever need help — and that others don’t want to help. All of these are lies.
Second, he wants us to focus on ourselves. When we turn our attention primarily inward rather than upward, Satan can trick us into thinking that our suffering is unique, ubiquitous, and ultimate. Our suffering is never any of those things.
Third, Satan wants us to lose sight of our sovereign Savior. There is no moment or place outside the control of our God — even in the places where it hurts most. Satan would have you believe that God is inept or incapable — that your suffering somehow falls outside of his providential care. Because if your suffering can live outside of his sovereign will, then so can anything. Even your immortal soul.
How God Uses Suffering
Suffering isn’t easy. It’s not designed to be. It’s the crucible of Christian hope, beating out its imperfections and smelting it into something more beautiful and pure. A hope unassailable by the world and the devil because it is rooted in the eternal and sure love of a gracious and merciful God.
Just as sure as God loves his people, Satan is out to scuttle their security by making them feel alone, overwhelmed, and incompetent. Knowing Satan’s game plan to rob us of the heavenly fruit of our horrible suffering, though, helps us to persevere in the most difficult times into a hope that is eternal and cannot be put to shame.