This is the final installment of our Gospel Series. The last couple weeks we’ve looked at some of the foundational beliefs about what it means to follow Jesus and what one actually believes if they should choose to follow Him. We’ve looked at truths like the fullness of God dwelling in bodily form (that’s Jesus). We saw that the reason God came to Earth was because of His love for us and He was going to show us what the Father was like. Last week we saw that Jesus had to die. It’s only through the death of Jesus that you and I can be saved.
Today, we come to the biggest stumbling block of all… The Resurrection.
I’m from a small town called Mooresville, Indiana. It’s a nice little town and it’s not known for much. However, the town has one major claim to fame. The infamous outlaw John Dillinger grew up there.
Here’s how one writer summed up the end of Dillinger’s life:
Outside Chicago’s Biograph Theatre, notorious criminal John Dillinger–America’s “Public Enemy No. 1″–is killed in a hail of bullets fired by federal agents. In a fiery bank-robbing career that lasted just over a year, Dillinger and his associates robbed 11 banks for more than $300,000, broke jail and narrowly escaped capture multiple times, and killed seven police officers and three federal agents.
Dillinger is known as one of the greatest criminals in America and the government poured lots of money and resources to capturing him. His story is one of the greatest manhunts in our history that has taken over books, papers, and even Hollywood. Some believe that he was never killed, but escaped and the manhunt for Dillinger never truly ended.
The Dillinger manhunt was a big deal… The Jesus manhunt is a bigger deal. In fact, for the last 2000 years, people have been dying to know, “What happened to the body.” Because there is no refuting that Jesus went into the tomb for three days, but three days later his body was gone. There’s TONS OF HISTORICAL EVIDENCE that supports this claim.
The body was for sure gone. The manhunt was and is underway… I guess the question for you is, do you believe the evidence or do you believe the skeptics?
Because if the resurrection is true, then Jesus has made His claim on you. There is no indifference to Him. If Jesus resurrected from the grave, then He truly has all authority on Heaven and Earth.
Through the resurrection Jesus shows His power over sin, death, and the grave. Through the resurrection Jesus was announcing His cosmic dominion over every created thing both in Heaven and on Earth. Through the resurrection Jesus shows us that He is King. And we had better obey the King.
Philip Yancey writes,
"In many respects I find an un-resurrected Jesus easier to accept. Resurrection makes him dangerous. Because of the empty tomb, I have to listen to his extravagant claims and can no longer pick and choose from his sayings. Moreover, Resurrection means he must be loose out there somewhere."
So the idea of resurrection does not allow us to be indifferent to Jesus… If He did in fact rise from the dead, He lays claim on our lives. He must be listened to and He must be obeyed. However, it’s about more than our allegiance to Him.
If Jesus has resurrected from the grave, then that means there is hope for you and I. Paul would call Jesus the first born of the dead and the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. If Jesus is first, that must mean there is more to come! For the Biblical writers, the resurrection of Jesus was that which they hung their hat on… It was the reason they did what they did! Because the resurrection of Jesus means that there is life after living!
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15,
51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
If you want to find Jesus, it starts by trusting in the Resurrection. It starts by following Him with your life and trusting that He has in fact risen from the grave. And when You realize that He has truly defeated the grave, it no longer becomes a manhunt. Because you will feel that peace and love that comes over you reminding you that He’s with you. You realize that His wisdom and commands are good because He’s been where you are. And you’ll soon realize that He’s been sitting at the right hand of the Father telling God how much He loves you the entire time.
Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
I try hard to be a disciplined and healthy individual… But I often fall short of even my own goals.
I try to work out at least 2x a week. But even then, I look for every excuse to skip the gym (especially leg day, you know what I’m saying?). I like waking up at 5am so that I can have a few hours to myself before everyone wakes up. But I often find myself snoozing till 6:30a. I try to observe a low carb, low sugar diet, but last night I had a Nerds Rope, 3 miniature Baby Ruth bars, and a handful of tortilla chips. I’ve set goals to limit my coffee intake and increase my water intake. But on average I drink 3-5 cups of coffee and maybe 2 cups of water… If I’m lucky.
I have in my mind that I’m not the kind of person that drives my gas tank until it’s on “E”, but I rolled into the station on “E” this morning. My wife and I say all the time, “We are only gonna eat at home this week…" And then lunch time rolls around and we find ourselves sitting at the local Chinese restaurant once again enjoying a buffet with mounds of Lo-Mein and Spicy pork (not really a low carb meal!).
I can try really, really hard to be healthy and disciplined. But I admit, I fail more often than not
In much the same way, I try hard to be a holy follower of Jesus. I want to be someone who has their life together and doesn’t fall into to sin. But as hard as I try, I know that the anger still creeps in when my patience is wearing thin. I know that when I’m scrolling through Instagram or Facebook that inappropriate images or posts will grab my attention or entice me to linger longer than I should. I know that I shouldn’t be envious or jealous of other people’s success, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look at other people and say “I wish I had that talent, money, or success.”
The reality is, as good as we might try to be, we will still fall short of perfection. I can barely reach my own personal and professional goals, let alone my spiritual goals. And if I can’t live my diet, routine, and overall health lifestyle to perfection, why in the world would I ever think that I could be perfect spiritually?
Yet, so many of us, knowing that we can’t even reach a simple goal like waking up at 5am every morning, look at our lives as followers of Jesus and say, “I got this. I’m doing okay. I don’t need to change. There are no areas of sin that I need to cut out.”
That mindset, however, is immediately confronted when the Apostle Paul writes, “ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” In other words, everyone has sin in their lives. Even the best of us. And the devil’s greatest lie is, “You’re not that bad. You’re doing great.” Because, if Satan can convince us that we are “doing okay,” then that means the death of Jesus on the cross won’t impact us the way it should.
However, if we can recognize our sin... If we can name our sin and acknowledge that we aren’t perfect… If we can admit that we need a savior who can actually remove the stain of sin from our lives, then the power of the cross becomes paramount in our lives. We realize that it is only through the sacrifice of Jesus that we can experience freedom from our sin. It’s only by His blood that we are washed and we are cleansed from failure.
But we have to admit our sin first. Because if we aren’t sinful, then Jesus died for nothing. So you have a decision to make: Will you believe Satan when he whispers, “You’re okay. Keep doing you. Be happy.” OR will you believe the God who says, “All have sinned… But I’m giving you a way out in Jesus.”
The essence of the Gospel is that Jesus came to defeat evil and rescue sinners… So, if you’re not a sinner, then His sacrifice on the cross was kind of pointless. But if you are a sinner, then your life has changed forever. Because the greatest news in all of history is that on the cross your sin was forgiven and you are now found to be whole and good before God.
Admit it... You're a sinner. But God loves you anyway and shows His love for us because while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you.
We don’t like being told what to do. In fact, we despise it. We spend our lives being told, “Just do whatever makes you happy. Find your truth and make sure you live your truth. If we just stay true to ourselves, we will find peace and happiness. Nobody can tell you something different than what you know to be true about yourself. You do you.”
How’s that working for you? Are you happy?
My guess is probably not. We are more depressed and more unhappy than we’ve ever been. I’ve read multiple articles that show how our wealth has increased over the years but our happiness has dropped. How can that be? Isn’t the chase for wealth and the American Dream supposed to solve all our problems? Isn’t chasing my dreams, my comfort, and my well-being supposed to give me peace in life?
Again... How’s that working for you? Are you happy?
Here’s the problem: we worship at the altar of self. We’ve bought into the lie that if we live our truth and do what makes us happy then we will be happy and at peace. Yet so many of us find that we are still restless.
You may have all the money in the world yet still feel poor.
You may be a sexual icon that everyone loves and adores yet still feel ugly.
You may be successful and powerful yet still feel weak.
Why? Because living for yourself has never worked and never will.
When Jesus stepped onto the scene though, He gave us a better way. However, with this better way He made some very exclusive claims that gets in the face of our “You do you” mentality. Things like, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life... Nobody comes to the Father except through Me.”
Let me translate that for you... Sorry god of self. Sorry Allah. Sorry Buddha. Sorry to all you 100s of Hindu gods out there. Sorry god of comfort and god of wealth. Your ways won’t cut it. The only way to see God and be with God is through Jesus. Simply put, Jesus doesn’t leave much room for “All roads lead to God” theology.
It’s a pretty bold claim and it’s a pretty exclusive claim. One that doesn’t sit well with our modern sensibilities because we just want everyone to be happy living their truth. We don’t like thinking that God might punish someone who is a good person but refuses to believe in and follow Jesus. We don’t like thinking that the devout man or woman following another religion will be separated from God. But Jesus is clear — You only come to the Father through me. Not your happiness. Not your wealth. Not your Buddha. Not Mohammed. Only Jesus.
But please recognize, this exclusive claim follows the most inclusive invitation in history. We’ve talked about it a lot in this blog series, but here it is again:
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
We don’t like the exclusive nature of Jesus saying “Nobody comes to the Father except through me.” But we don’t like it because we fail to attach it to this beautiful call for THE WORLD to follow Jesus.
Jesus can make such an EXCLUSIVE STATEMENT because He’s already made an INCLUSIVE INVITATION to the world. Christianity is the most inclusive-exclusive religion. It’s for everyone... Jesus is for everyone. He came to seek and save the lost. Not just the wealthy. Not just the elite. Not just Americans. Not just white people. Not just black people. Jesus came to save everyone!
Jesus offers the most inclusive invitation that offers a life of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment (notice I didn’t say happiness or comfort). But with this invitation comes the exclusive requirement that we believe in and trust that His power and work on the cross is enough to save us.
The god of (FILL IN THE BLANK) must die in your life... And who has the power to overthrow it?
This is part 2 of our blog series that is looking at the simple truth of the Gospel. If you missed part 1, Starting Point, be sure to check it out!
We began this series by noting that Jesus was God in human flesh. In Jesus, the Divine has come to Earth. And we noted that if this is true, then everything in your life must change. But why?
Let’s let Jesus answer this one for us. John 3:16-17 says,
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16-17).
Notice that Jesus’s coming has a direct connection with God’s love for you. In other words, Jesus left Heaven and came to Earth because of you (See Philippians 2). He didn’t come to judge the world, but to save the world. The coming of Jesus (God in a Bod) to Earth was because He loves You.
In my opinion, something as profound as the love of God deserves a response from the one receiving that love. When you experience the love of God, the One who is Supreme over all (see Colossians 1), your life must change. This is not just about God coming to Earth in Jesus (see part 1), but this is about realizing that God came to Earth in Jesus FOR YOU! His love for us was so deep and so vast, that He couldn’t stand to let us face eternal punishment for the sins we are all guilty of.
Which takes us into a deeper conversation that we will talk more about it Part 4. But here’s a preview: If God is just, how can He not punish sin? When someone commits a crime, somebody has to pay. At the same time, God claims to be love… If God is loving, how could He punish someone eternally because of sin? You see the dilemma?
Only in the coming and sacrifice of Jesus is this dilemma satisfied. Jesus took the punishment we deserved for our sin (thus paying for the crime), and at the same time, shows His love and mercy for us by being the substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf. On the cross, the justice and the love of God are BOTH displayed. And because of that, Jesus now says,
“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed.
So where am I going with this?
Through the coming of Jesus into the world we see the love of God for humanity. Through Jesus (and only Jesus) we are given the free gift of eternal relationship with Him. If we believe in Him, judgment is done away with. However, when we choose to neglect Him, to not believe Him, to not re-order our lives and our loves around Him, we are choosing to love the darkness more than the light. And we place judgment on ourselves. Understand, it’s not Jesus or God condemning us — we condemn ourselves by refusing to love Him back. Jesus has already gone to great lengths to love us and welcome us into His Kingdom… .The question is, what will our response be?
In fact, that’s how Jesus finishes His speech. He concludes,
But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.”
In other words, when we believe in and place our trust, our hope, and our lives in the hands of Jesus, our lives change. We begin doing what is right by showcasing and living into that same type of self-sacrificial love that Jesus has shown us.
Jesus would later say that the greatest commandment (if you’re really living in the light) is to love God and love people. When we choose to believe Jesus is God, our lives change to be more like Him. And we begin to love others the way He has loved us. If you’re not working to imitate that love, have you truly believed in Him?
The bottom line this:
Jesus has gone to great lengths to love us and save us… You must to decide if you believe the story and if you are willing to trust Him fully.
What is the Gospel? Why did Jesus come to Earth? What did Jesus do while living? Why did Jesus have to die? Is the resurrection true? These are some of the most foundational questions that must be answered to get a clear understanding of what exactly the Gospel is. Over the next five weeks, let’s dive into the simple beliefs and principles of what we actually believe when we choose to follow Jesus.
Before we get too far, however, we need make sure our starting point is clear. My professors always taught me that how you start is just as important as how you get to a conclusion and the conclusion itself. If you have a weak foundation, the whole building will be compromised. So where do we begin?
Our starting point can be somewhat controversial. In fact, you can’t avoid this topic. It comes after each of us and there’s no indifference or half-hearted answers. Sooner or later, you must answer the question, “Who was Jesus?”
For centuries this question has been tossed around. It’s caused division and church splits. It’s broken friendships and turned family members against one another (Check out Matthew 10:34-39 if you don’t believe this is possible). We like to think of Jesus as this calm, gentle fellow that welcomes everyone into his home, but the truth of the matter is, Jesus is a polarizing figure and often times His claims and His teachings can divide.
So who do you believe that He is? Was a He just a great teacher? Was He a psychotic genius who figured out how to fool everyone? Was He just a legend that His closest followers made up to give people hope? Or, do we believe Him at His word and say, “He’s God in the flesh?”
C.S. Lewis writes about the famous “Trilemma.” He believes that Jesus was either a Liar (convincing millions to follow Him), a Lunatic (He really believed He was divine, but wasn’t) or He’s Lord (everything He claimed was true).
No matter how we want to look at it, Jesus was either the Son of God, or He wasn’t. You have to choose for yourself.
John the apostle was pretty clear on what He thought about Jesus. He writes,
In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.
If you keep reading, we see in verse 17 that the Word refers of Jesus. So, based on what John writes, who was Jesus?
- Jesus existed from the beginning
- Jesus was with God
- Jesus was God
- Jesus existed in the beginning with God
- Jesus is the being through which EVERYTHING was created
- Jesus gives life and light to everyone
John certainly wasn’t afraid to make a choice about who He believed Jesus was. John unashamedly wrote and preached that Jesus was the Son of God. That He was God come to Earth. No lunatic. No liar. No legend. Jesus is Lord. Let’s add an extra layer of intensity to John’s claim.
John was living in a Roman society that worshiped its government leaders. These leaders were often often referred to as the "Son of God." So for John to make such a claim is blasphemous against the state. But John couldn’t shut up about what he knew to be true. He had seen Jesus. He witnessed His miracles. He heard His teachings. He saw Him die. And then he saw Him walking around after that death. After everything he had seen, John knew that Jesus, the Son of God, had come to Earth in human form.
And if, like John, you decide this to be true then everything changes for you. Because you now believe that The Immaterial has become Material. The Divine has become Human. The Spiritual has become Flesh. There’s no ambivalence on this subject... Either Jesus was God coming into the world in bodily form, or He wasn’t. If it’s not true, then go about your business.
But if it is true... Then your life must change. Your loves must be reorganized. Your life must be restructured. Your world must be reordered. Because it’s no longer about you, but it’s about the true and core belief that God has come to Earth as a human to rescue humanity from a debt that we could never repay.
When you believe that Jesus, God in a Bod (I didn’t come up with that), has come to Earth, your mission in life shifts to letting your world know that God has come to Earth. And this is the starting point of the Gospel. It's the foundation upon which everything else stands. It’s the central tenant that claims the Creator of the Universe, the Almighty God of the Cosmos has come to Earth in the person of Jesus. And the world has never been the same since.
Make sure to check back next week as we continue looking at the foundational beliefs of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
By Shan Wood
Have you ever been overwhelmed? Have you ever been exhausted? Have you ever looked around and asked, “God, where are you?”
In 1 Kings 19, the Prophet Elijah has been faithful and unrelenting in his service to God, proclaiming God’s message and doing what God had asked him to do. His reward for his effort?
He's running for his life from a wicked King and Queen -- Ahab and Jezebel (Give them a google search and see how bad they were!).
Discouraged, alone, and on the run, Elijah tells God, “I’ve done what You’ve asked, but the people have not only ignored me, now they have also torn down the places of worship and killed Your messengers. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.”
Elijah was overwhelmed. He had nothing left to give and believed nothing good would come of God’s plan. God sent him to a cave in the side of a mountain and told him to wait because He, the Lord, was going to pass by. Listen to what happens next…
“A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind there was an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake came a fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire came a gentle and quiet whisper. When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, ‘So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?’” 1 Kings 19:12-14 MSG
People tend to think that everything about God is big and powerful and loud and over-the-top. But God shows up when He isn’t expected and in ways people never expect. He also speaks through the most unlikely people in places that some might think are questionable.
It’s in those small, unexpected ways that God helps us to be closer to Him and re-energizes us for what lies ahead. If He were always showing Himself to be powerful and wonderful, we who are normal, and not wonderful, would feel like we don’t “measure up” and God would never want to have anything to do with us. But here is the good news... Not only does God want everything to do with us, He’s also always acting on our behalf in the most powerful ways.
He cares about the little things. He cares about the things we care about and understands the things that wear us out, worry us, and discourage us. Like the caring Father He is, He reminds us we’re not alone in the most unexpected ways. He’s in control and He’s never surprised by evil.
This past Sunday Trey said that people who know God need to “wear out the worn-out in prayer”. That means when we’re so tired and have nothing left, we can still pray. And while it may not seem like much, in those quiet moments of prayer is often where we hear from God. And it’s in prayer that our strength is restored and we find reasons to be grateful; even reasons to sing.
Psalm 42:1-5; 43:3-5
“As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him? Day and night I have only tears for food, while my enemies continually taunt me, saying, ‘Where is this God of yours?’
My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be: I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God; singing for joy and giving thanks amid the sound of a great celebration!
Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again, my Savior and my God!
Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me. Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy.
I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God! Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again, my Savior and my God!”
by Trey Faull
I’m not a very patient person. When I want something I usually find a way to get it as soon as possible so I don’t have to wait. When there is an event or a trip planned, I will often waste the time leading up to that event because all I can think about is how much fun it will be. I’ve wasted much time not being productive in my waiting because my impatience drives me to obsess over whatever is on the horizon.
It’s ironic though, because I’m obsessed with my time. I’m never late and always early. I love watches and have a clock in every room. One of my greatest professional skills is time management - I always get my work done. Yet, I still get impatient and waste time when there is something I want waiting for me in the future. The thought of a future reward often distracts me from working and getting things done in the waiting.
I think we often approach God in a similar fashion. We pray for God to move in our lives and do a miracle, but then we fail to make the most of our time while we are waiting on Him to move. It’s easy to pray, “God please relieve my financial stress,” wait a few days, and then get mad and quit when we don’t have a big increase in income.
But that’s not God’s fault… That’s our fault for not knowing how to wait.
What if, instead of sitting idly by and wasting our waiting time, we actually set out to grow and improve so that we are ready when God does answer us. Let’s go back to the finance example.
You want an increase of income, but do you have a budget that says, “I can manage money?” Have you worked to pay off your debts so that you’re not slave to the lender (Proverbs 22:7)? Have you taken the money you do have and been generous with it by tithing or helping others?
You see how the attitude is different in the waiting when you commit to working on yourself in the process? By the way, this is a principle that Jesus taught in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. Except in this situation you’re investing in yourself and in the time God has given you.
What if instead of throwing a hissy fit when God doesn’t give us what we want, when we want it, we inclined ourselves to wait and grow through the time we spend waiting?
Maybe you are waiting on a job, so while you hustle with Uber Eats to make ends meet, you should spend extra time learning software, a trade, adding new skills to your arsenal, and getting yourself ready to accept that job that you have prayed for.
Maybe you’re waiting on the relationship to heal. Have you gone to counseling? Have you taken inventory of your life and apologized for the wrongs you may be guilty of? Are you working through the pain (s)he caused so that you can forgive him/her when (s)he asks?
You see, when we decide to grow while we wait, we end up placing ourselves in a better position to receive the answer to our prayer. Your growth in the waiting will often indicate that you are ready to receive whatever God has in store for you.
So be patient. Trust God’s timing… But use that time to grow. Grow by pursuing God. Grow by becoming a better you. And maximize the time God has given you while you wait on Him.
Is there power in prayer? Depending on your background you might have a different answer to that question than the person sitting next to you. However, there is no denying that prayer is pervasive throughout our culture (We talked about that HERE).
Lots of people want to know if prayer works… Is it worth journaling or getting up early to spend time with God? It’s a valid question. But it might be the wrong question. Maybe a better question to ask is, “Do you work?”
Last week I saw a tweet from Christian artist Lecrae that said,
Most people say, ‘I’ll pray for you…’ and that’s it. That’s the prayer… Don’t be that kind of person.
While this made me chuckle, it’s true. So often we say or comment, “I’ll pray for you,” but then we never take the time to actually pray for that person. We end up using prayer as an excuse to actually get out of walking with that person through their pain (See James 2:15-16 for some excellent sarcasm on this topic).
I think a better way to be with people in their pain is to say, “I’ll pray for you,” and then actually go home and pray for them. But then, those words should immediately be followed with, “How can I help?”
I’ll pray for you… How can I help?
Here’s why this is incredible: You end up being the very answer to the prayer you’re praying for them.
Example: Joe is having marital problems and he lets you in on the drama. You say to Joe, “I’m going to pray for you right now… God, restore their marriage and give them the willingness to work through the uncertainty.”
As soon as you say “Amen,” Joe looks at you for more help and this is the moment. This is not when you say, “Welp… See ya later.” Rather, this is when you say, “Would it be helpful if I babysat your kids for the evening so you and your wife can have some time together and work on your marriage?”
Boom Sauce. You’ve prayed for him and asked God to heal their marriage… And then, holy smokes! You’re able to immediately help Joe take a step in seeing that prayer come to life. You are the answer to your prayer!
Saint Augustine once wrote,
“Pray as though everything depended on God… But work as though everything depended on you.”
I believe prayer works (God’s already proven Himself), but I’m hesitant to say, “We work.” Prayer is important, but God almost always calls us to move.
And understand, our work does not take away from the power of God, rather it taps into the power of God as we allow ourselves to be used by God see His kingdom become a reality on Earth as it is in Heaven.
I’ll pray for you… How can I help?
If I asked you to describe a situation where you were “desperate”, what comes to mind? Are you recalling about nine months ago when half the country was “desperate” for toilet paper? Or maybe it’s that time when your car broke down and you realized your cell phone only had 4% left?
Maybe it’s not desperate like having to go to the bathroom, or your car breaking down. Maybe it’s you. Maybe you are desperate. Maybe you are desperate because your world is slowly sinking and you aren’t sure what you can do. You are desperate for help, for direction... You’re desperate for God.
We talked about praying and fasting this past week. These are two spiritual activities that were often combined by the people of God when they were desperate. Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah are just a few of the people in the Bible who had times of prayer and fasting during a season of personal or national desperation. When God’s people were desperate, they went to God. And they did so with prayer and fasting.
But what if I told you God is desperate for YOU? What if told you that God, in all His glory and power, is more desperate for you than we are for him?
In Matthew 18, there’s an account of a lost sheep that shows how desperate God is for us:
“If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” Matthew 18:12-14
Jesus tells this story to illustrate how much He loves us. He talks about a sheep, like a person, that wanders away and gets lost. When this happens, a shepherd will actually leave all the other sheep to look for the one that is lost. Jesus says that “Your Father in Heaven” is happier about finding you “in the same way” that the shepherd was about finding his lost sheep.
God is desperate to be close to you. I want you to think about that as you go through these 21 days of praying and fasting. As you grow closer to God, know that long before you started praying and fasting, God was already coming for you. Sometimes we don’t realize where we’ve wandered to. We can get so busy doing life that we can forget to live life and lose site of the life that God has for us when we “wander."
Sometimes, when we dedicate ourselves to a time of prayer and fasting, we can suddenly realize that we have been farther away from God than we realized. We’ve wandered. And when God shows up, it’s almost as if He says, “There you are! I’ve been looking for you. I was wondering where you had gone.”
God is desperately wanting to be close to you. Keep praying. Keep seeking. He'll find you.
“Come near to God and he will come near to you.” James 4:8 NIV
I’m not sure what your personal thoughts or experiences with prayer are. But prayer is unavoidable.
In all cultures, through all eras of time, prayer has been a fundamental part of life. Prayer is a global phenomenon. Whether you are Islam, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, or even an atheist, prayer is one of the most common practices in all walks of life.
Muslims pray five times a day to Allah. Jews have traditionally prayed 3 times a day, Christian prayer varies based on your tradition, Buddhists use prayer wheels, and Hindus pray for ultimate union with the Supreme Being. For those who claim no religion… Well I’ll send some good vibes your way. Tim Keller says, Prayer is one of the most common phenomena of human life. Karl Barth calls prayer our incurable God-sickness.
Prayer seeps into our cultures because deep down all of us long to believe that there is something greater. We want to believe that there is something beyond ourselves that we are able to connect with.
In fact, that’s what we see time and time again in the book of Psalms. We see God connecting with His people. The Psalms are ancient prayers from God’s people. And you can learn a lot about prayer just by spending a few minutes each day in the Psalms. For example, read Psalm 25 today. And as you read it, watch for these two truths.
Prayer is the ultimate path to self-discovery
In verses 1-7 look at how many times David cries out to God and trusts in God. He says things like, I give my life to you, I trust in you, you are the God who saves me, Remember your compassion and unfailing love, and do not remember the sins of my youth. Why does he say those things? Because anytime David approaches God, he’s confronted with the evil and sin that exists within his heart.
David realizes how helpless he is and that the only way to live and experience salvation is to trust in God. Modern meditation practices would tell you to go off and be alone and work through those thoughts. But prayer in the name of Jesus invites us to sort those thoughts out in the presence of a Holy God that we can trust.
So get rid of the Enneagram, the Meyer’s Briggs, and any other personality profile… Instead, spend some time in prayer before God and you’ll quickly learn who you are. But it’s more than just learning about who you are.
Prayer is the ultimate path to knowing God
When we pray, we are demonstrating and taking advantage of the access to God that we have been given. We are literally talking to the Creator of all that we see and experience everyday. And as we spend time with Him, we inevitably learn more about Him. Read verses 8-10 and see how much David recognizes about God.
As the Psalm progresses, we see David go through some intense spiritual battles. And every single time he cries out to God for salvation. Why? Because He knew that God was good, that God guides, that He does what is right, that God teaches, that He loves, and that He is faithful (see v. 8-10).
So why should you pray? Because in prayer you learn more about yourself and you learn more about God. And those just might be the two biggest questions that every human being asks… Who am I? And who is God?
The answer is waiting for you in prayer.