We’ve only lived here for five years, but I love my hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas, the home of the University of Arkansas.
I also love the Jersey Shore, where I grew up, about sixty miles south of New York City. I wish I could get back there more often than I do.
My dad grew up in Mifflintown, Pennsylvania. When we’d go there to visit, he always called it “going up home.” It had been many years since he’d lived there, but he still thought of it as home.
As Dorothy said, there’s no place like it.
I think Jesus would agree…just not for the same reasons. He had a busy couple of days. He spoke to a storm and made it stop. He cast demons out of two men. He healed a woman who’d been suffering for twelve years. And He raised a 12-year-old girl from the dead. Then He decides to go to his hometown. The account of what happens when He arrives is found in Mark 6.
On the Sabbath, Jesus went to the synagogue and began to teach and the people asked, “Where did this man get these things? What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?
Mark records that “many who heard Him were amazed.” The Greek word for amazed is a strong one. It’s the same word that means “to strike out, expel by a blow, drive out or away.” The meaning in this case is “to be struck with amazement, astonished, amazed.” They were blown away by Jesus’ teaching.
Then something happens. They start to grumble. “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
They’d grown up with Jesus. He was the carpenter. They knew His family. Jesus is no big deal, they thought. Amazement turned to offense. And offense led to doubt.
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.
The Greek word for “amazed” here is different than the one used earlier. This word means “to wonder or marvel.” Jesus is filled with wonder. He marvels at their extraordinary lack of faith. And their lack of faith meant He could not do any miracles there.
Think about that for a minute. Jesus could not do any miracles there except heal some people. Now healing people sounds like a big deal to me, but it sure sounds like Jesus could have and would have done even more if they’d believed. But they didn’t. And they missed out.
I wonder how much more might God want to do in our lives if only we’d believe? How much might we be missing out on?
Maybe a good prayer for us would be, “Jesus, help me be amazed by You…so You won’t be amazed by me.”
I’m intentionally using the word “wants” as opposed to “needs.” God does not need anything. If He did, then He wouldn’t be complete. He doesn’t need anything at all. Not from you. Not from me. But God does want things. Let’s look at three of them. Take a moment to read Mark 5:1-20.
We see Jesus getting out of the boat after crossing the Sea of Galilee with His disciples. It was rough. They’d encountered a bad storm out on the lake. It got so bad that these experienced fishermen were fearing for their lives. Of course Jesus calmed the storm and then looked at them and said, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
So as Jesus steps out of the boat, a man possessed by a demon runs to meet him. Matthew’s gospel tells us there were actually two men, but Mark focuses his account on just one of them. You’ll see why.
Jesus tells the demon to come out of the man, which causes the man to fall to his knees in front of Jesus and scream, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!”
I find several interesting things about their initial encounter. First, when the man sees Jesus from a distance, he runs to meet Him. We don’t really know how far the man was from the lake shore, but “from a distance” sounds like at least a hundred yards or so, doesn’t it? Somehow though, this man recognizes someone “from a distance” that he’s never met before and then runs toward Him.
It sounds to me like he knew Jesus was coming and he immediately wants to find out what Jesus wants with him. It’s obvious though the man isn’t recognizing or questioning Jesus, it’s the demon inside him. So Jesus asks, “What is your name?” To which the demon replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”
It’s important to know that a Roman legion consisted of over 6,000 men. Now we don’t know if the man was possessed by 6,000 demons or just a large number, but either way there’s a lot of them. Mark’s account tells us the man was living among the tombs and had become so strong that no one could bind him any longer. He was powerful enough to break the chains and leg irons they used on him.
Night and day among the tombs and in the hills, this man would cry out and cut himself with stones. Imagine looking up on the hill everyday and seeing him roaming around, screaming and cutting himself. Based on the fact they’d tried to bind him, I think it’s safe to say this guy was terrorizing the region.
Legion proceeds to beg Jesus to not send them out of the area. Think about that for a minute. It’s 6,000 against 1, but the demons know they are outmatched. They’re begging Jesus to not torture them or send them away. They’re terrified of Him.
We don’t really know why the demons wanted to stay there. Maybe demons are assigned to certain areas and so they didn’t want to leave their post. I don’t know. For whatever the reason, Jesus gives the demons permission to go into a herd of pigs when they come out of the man. When they do, the herd immediately rushes off a cliff into the lake and drowns.
The pig herders run off to town and the nearby countryside and tell people what has happened. Now if you’ve read the passage, you know what happens next. If you haven’t read it–wouldn’t you assume the people rush out to thank Jesus for saving them from Legion?
That’s not what happens though. The people come out, they see the man who’d been possessed by the demon now dressed and in his right mind and they are afraid. Yup, they’re afraid. Not grateful. Not relieved. Just afraid.
And because they’re afraid, “…the people plead with Jesus to leave their region.” So Jesus gets into a boat…and leaves.
So what can we learn?
The first thing we see God wants takes place before Jesus and His disciples even meet Legion–God wants to be trusted. The disciples were afraid they were going to die out on the lake, but what was the truth of their circumstances? The Truth (John 14:6) was asleep on a cushion at the back of the boat. There was no reason to fear and every reason to have faith. Hebrews 11:6 begins: “And without faith it is impossible to please God…” Simply put: God likes to be believed.
The second thing God wants is for us to be free from the influence of evil. This man was actually possessed by demons. That’s not the case with most of us, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t influenced by demons. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” When we listen to wrong ideas and teachings, we are being deceived and may well abandon the faith. Be careful who you listen to and what you allow into your mind.
Finally, God wants us to want Him. Could it be that Jesus had planned to drive the demons out and then spend time in that region teaching and healing people? Wherever Jesus went, He would teach, drive out demons and heal people. Here in the region of the Gerasenes, He drives out demons…and is then asked to leave. And so He does.
Jesus wants to be wanted…and He won’t force Himself on us. Hebrews 11:6 ends with: “…He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” The Greek word for “earnestly” carries with it the idea of searching, scrutinizing, craving and begging. God rewards those who search for and crave Him.
If you’ve been feeling disconnected from God, check yourself…
Are you trusting Him? When trouble comes, do you panic? Are you taking steps of faith because you know He’s faithful? Or do you play it safe?
Are you free from evil influences? How much time do you spend consuming various forms of media versus consuming His Word?
Do you want Him? Do you crave Him? You’re probably craving something…what is it if it’s not Jesus?
Would you say you’re following Jesus or you’re kind of hoping Jesus will follow you?
In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
In Jesus, we find our way. We find the truth. We find life. But if you’re like me, sometimes you’re looking elsewhere. Rather than wholeheartedly following Jesus, it’s like we’re trying to take him along with us.
I think His disciples tried that too. Mark 4:35-36 says: That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.
Jesus and His disciples are on one side of the lake and Jesus wants to cross over to the other side. But do you notice anything strange in those two verses?
I’ve always thought it was interesting Jesus is the one who has the idea to go to the other side of the lake, but it says the disciples “took him along.” Maybe it’s because some of them were experienced fishermen and Jesus was just a carpenter. Sure, they thought, Jesus might be able to build a boat, but He doesn’t know anything about sailing one. So as they all climb into the boat, they think they’re taking him along with them. Not the other way around.
I wonder how often I live like that. Do I simply go about life and expect Jesus to tag along?
Well, it doesn’t take very long for things to go wrong. Verses 37 and 38 say: A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
Isn’t it interesting the fishermen are now freaking out? And the one they were taking along is now taking a nap.
In a panic, they wake Jesus up and ask the question we’ve probably asked ourselves, “Don’t you care?” When we find ourselves in the midst of a storm, isn’t that what we want to know? “God, do you care about me?” I’ve wondered. I’ve asked.
We find our answer in the next two verses:
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
Can you picture it? One moment there’s a furious storm. Dark clouds. High winds. Waves are breaking over the boat. Death seems certain.
And then in the next instant everything is calm. No wind. No waves. Just the disciples…and Jesus…floating on a calm sea. Can you see Him looking out across the water from the stern of the boat and then turning to the twelve men with Him and asking, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
What storm are you facing? Maybe it’s a financial storm. Or a health storm. Or a marriage storm. Or something else. Are you wondering if God cares? If He’s able or willing to help?
Do you think maybe we’re most afraid when we think we’re the ones taking Jesus along with us? Would we be less afraid, less panicky if we were the ones doing the following?
To follow Jesus, I have to believe Him. I have to trust that He has my best in mind. I have to be confident in His love and care and concern for me. But if I don’t really know Him, then I can’t really trust Him and what I’ll do is live my life as if He’s tagging along with me.
The religious people used to ask Jesus questions to try and test Him or trick Him. One of those times is found in Matthew 22:23:33.
Jesus gives them an answer, which He doesn’t always do, but first He tells them, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”
I wonder how many times we’re in error for the same reason. How many times are we trying to solve our problems in the wrong ways? How many times are we working on the wrong problems to begin with? All because we don’t know the truth of God’s word or His power.
What difficulties are you facing? What problems seem insurmountable? Is there an issue you can’t resolve and won’t go away?
Are you investing time in God’s word in order to know Him better? Are you searching His word to discover His purposes and ways?
It’s very easy to buy into the world’s system of doing life. It’s easy to go with the flow and believe happiness and fulfillment and security are found in a job or money or a person. When that’s our mindset, we end up building our lives on error. And that will always lead to frustration, discouragement, anxiety, worry or other negative emotions.
Jesus is the author of life. He knows how it should be lived. In John 14:6, He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
In Colossians 2:2-4, Paul writes:
My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.
Do you need understanding? Or wisdom? Or knowledge? They’re found in Jesus. But like any treasure–you have to search and dig. The most valuable treasures aren’t buried near the surface.
The alternative is a life of error because we don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God.
Every once in awhile I like to re-post this short story I wrote a number of years ago. It’s about legalism, grace and healing.
Phil entered the restaurant, sat down in a booth and waited for his eyes to adjust to the dim light. The lone waitress approached and took his order. Water. No ice.
Phil watched her walk away—a little too closely—then quickly chastised himself. She was somebody’s daughter after all.
This had always been one of his favorite restaurants, although recently, he was having second thoughts. The surrounding neighborhood had declined and the resulting clientele reflected it. The rough looking guy at the bar was a perfect example. He watched him take a bite of his burger and drip ketchup on an already dirty t-shirt. Then he wiped his mouth with a hairy, muscular arm. Phil wondered why someone would order a hamburger in a Mexican restaurant.
The clock behind the bar said 5:01 p.m. He checked his watch just to be sure. His watch said 5:00, which he knew was correct. He was right on time. That was important. It was important to be faithful in little things, he reminded himself.
He glanced at the TV. He couldn’t hear, but could see a CNN reporter on the beach covering the latest hurricane. This one was bearing down on New Orleans. Phil couldn’t help thinking it was God’s judgment on an immoral city. He prayed this would be their wake-up call.
The sloppy guy at the bar took a swallow of his drink. He was wearing a red, rolled up bandanna around his head, which brought little control to his long, unwashed hair. His threadbare t-shirt and faded jeans with holes in the knees completed the look. If he even had a job, he was probably a day laborer at a construction site.
When the waitress brought his water, Phil noticed her eyes were red and puffy. He also couldn’t help noticing how low her shirt was cut. Entirely inappropriate, he thought. He probably ought to say something to the manager. He thought of his eight-year-old daughter, Emily, and how he and his wife, Jennifer, had stressed the importance of modesty to her. He knew she’d never wear a shirt like that.
“Can I get you anything besides water?” the waitress asked. “A glass of wine, maybe?”
“No,” Phil said. “I’m fine with water.” Phil didn’t drink. His wife, Jennifer, didn’t share his conviction though, which often concerned him.
Phil checked his watch again. 5:03 p.m. Jennifer was late. Why she couldn’t be on time escaped him. This was their standing date each month. Las Palmas, 5:00 p.m., first Friday of every month. It meant leaving work ten minutes early, but he was willing to make that sacrifice. He said a brief prayer asking the Lord to help Jennifer grow in the area of time management and consideration for other people’s time.
Phil picked up a menu out of habit, but he already knew what he wanted. The #5 dinner special was what he always ordered. A few months ago, he’d tried the #4, but he’d been disappointed. He decided it was better to go with the safe choice than try something different and not like it. “Better safe than sorry.” That’s what his mother always said.
Jennifer was always ordering new things. Half the time she didn’t like what she got. He often cautioned her on her selections, but she didn’t listen. It wasn’t that he cared about what she ordered—it just bothered him when she started picking off his plate because she didn’t like her meal. He said a quick prayer that she’d make a wise selection for dinner tonight.
Phil glanced at the guy at the bar and saw he was looking over at him. He turned back to his menu and decided it was time to find a better place for their monthly dates. This place had gone downhill.
Out of the corner of his eye, Phil saw the guy get up and start walking toward him. He hoped the guy was leaving, but he wasn’t—he was headed right for Phil.
He approached the table and asked if he could sit down. Phil tried to explain about the regular date night and how his wife was on her way and how he really didn’t think it was a good idea, but the guy only smiled and sat down anyway.
“Do you mind if we talk?” the stranger asked.
“Do I know you?” Phil replied.
“Not really,” the guy replied and then just sat there looking at Phil.
“Is there something I can do for you?” Phil asked. “Like I said, my wife is on her way to meet me for dinner.”
“I know. I heard what you said. I just want to talk for a few minutes.”
“About what?” Phil asked.
“Well, not to be unkind or anything, but I don’t know you and I’m sure we wouldn’t have much to talk about.” It crossed his mind to just get up and wait for Jennifer outside, but he decided to stay. “So what’s on your mind?” Phil said with just a hint of superiority in his voice.
“Did you notice your waitress was crying?” the stranger asked.
“Well, I noticed her eyes were a little red.”
“Did it occur to you to ask her why she was crying?”
“No, it didn’t. It’s none of my business. If she wanted me to know, she would have told me,” Phil said.
“Would you like to know why she was crying?”
“Like I said, I really don’t think it’s any of my business, but if you feel the need—go ahead and tell me.”
“Before I tell you—let me ask you a question. Why do you think that her crying is not any of your business?”
“What do you mean? Of course it’s not any of my business. It’s not any of yours either.”
“Hmmm. So you see a young woman who’s obviously been crying and you assume it’s not any of your business.” The stranger looked past Phil for a moment and then continued. “Okay, let me tell you why she was crying. Brandy was upset because she received a phone call from the health clinic about an hour ago. The biopsy was positive. She has cancer. She also has a three-year-old daughter and she’s afraid of what will happen to her daughter if she dies.” After a moment he added, “And she doesn’t have medical insurance.”
Phil wasn’t sure what to say. He took a sip of his water and glanced at the door, hoping to see Jennifer walk in, but she didn’t.
“That’s a sad story, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do about it,” Phil said. “I guess her husband will take care of their daughter.”
The stranger just stared. Phil hoped he would leave or Jennifer would come quickly.
“She doesn’t have a husband. She’s never been married.”
Phil didn’t say it, but he couldn’t help thinking that you reap what you sow. If she hadn’t gotten herself pregnant then she wouldn’t be facing such a mess.
“She was raped one night after leaving work. Never told anyone. A few weeks later, she discovered she was pregnant. Now she works two jobs to support herself and her daughter.”
Phil felt bad for her, but still didn’t see how this was his problem. He had enough of his own problems to worry about. He’d just gotten the notice that Emily’s private school tuition was going up 15% next year. How was he supposed to pay for that?
The stranger interrupted Phil’s thoughts. “Would you like to pray?” he asked.
Phil was surprised by the question and for a moment said nothing. “Ah, no thanks. I’m good,” Phil said.
There was another moment of silence. Phil noticed how sad the stranger looked—almost like he was going to cry.
“Don’t you pray?” he asked.
Phil was starting to get annoyed. He’d come here for a nice meal with his wife—who was late again—and now he had to deal with some nut who wanted to pray. If there was a manager around, he’d complain. That reminded him that he was going to mention the inappropriate way the waitress was dressed. Of course, considering her situation, he decided to let it slide this time.
“Actually, I do believe in praying. I pray every morning. I’m also an elder at my church. Do you even go to church?” Phil asked.
“But you don’t want me to pray for you?” he asked, ignoring Phil’s question.
“No, like I said, I’m doing fine.”
“Yes, you did say that, didn’t you? May I ask you how you know you’re doing fine?”
Phil was surprised by the question and didn’t know quite what to say. He usually had a good, correct answer for most questions, but this one caught him off guard. The guy must have seen the puzzled look on Phil’s face because he asked the question again.
“What I mean is—how do you know how you’re doing? To whom are you comparing yourself?”
“Well, that’s really not what I meant,” Phil said. “I didn’t necessarily mean I was doing fine compared to other people.” Of course, he felt quite confident he was actually doing very well compared to others. “I just meant that my life is going well.”
“And what I’m wondering,” the stranger continued undeterred by Phil’s explanation, “is how you know. How do you know your life is going well? On what are you basing your assessment?”
Phil had never thought about it before. He was just—doing well. Life wasn’t perfect, but things were good. His job was good. His marriage was good. There was money in the bank. He, Jennifer, and Emily had their health. Things were good. The tuition bill was a concern, but not worth mentioning to a stranger.
“Well, like I told you—I’m an elder in my church, I’ve been married for 15 years, I’m doing well at work. Things are just…good.” Phil was now getting more irritated—at the stranger’s interrogation and Jennifer for being late. If she had been on time for once, he wouldn’t be stuck in this pointless conversation.
“It bothers you that your wife is late, doesn’t it?”
“What?” Phil asked. He must have had a startled look on his face, which he tried to hide by taking a long drink of water.
“Your wife. She’s late. That annoys you. If you’re honest, it makes you angry, doesn’t it?”
“Well, I don’t know that I’d go so far as saying I’m angry. Frustrated maybe. Look, it’s inconsiderate. If I’m on time, I expect others to be on time. I sacrifice by leaving work early, which means I need to go in early to make up for it.”
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” the stranger said softly to himself.
“What? Phil asked, unsure of what he’d heard.
“Phil, do you love your wife?”
“Of course I love my wife. What kind of a question is that?” Phil said.
“What does that mean, Phil? How do you love your wife?”
“What? How do I love my wife?” Phil replied. “Well, I just love her. She’s important to me and I care about her.”
“Do you put her needs before your own? Does she receive grace from you or does she feel like she must live up to your standards? Do you love her as your own body?”
“Do I love her as my own body? What’s that supposed to mean?”
Phil wanted to get up and leave, but he couldn’t. He thought about what to say, but had nothing. A minute passed. The stranger was content to just sit there in silence, looking at Phil.
“Phil, what if you’ve been using the wrong standard by which to measure your goodness? What if following your rules isn’t as important as loving your neighbor? What if the way someone looks, or dresses, isn’t as important as what’s in their heart? What if there’s nothing wrong with drinking a glass of wine, but there is with judging someone for doing it?”
Phil wished he could hide. It felt like his heart was being examined and it wasn’t going well.
“Who are you?” Phil said. “And by the way, how do you know my name?”
At that moment, the door opened, drenching the restaurant with the bright afternoon sun. Phil saw Jennifer enter and wave to him. He turned back to the stranger, but he was gone.
“Honey, I’m so sorry I’m late! Just as I was getting ready to leave, Emily spilled her juice and I…”
“Hey, slow down. It’s okay.”
“But I know how important it is to you for me to be on time and it’s almost 5:15.”
“Really, it’s okay. I’m just glad you’re here. Relax.”
Jennifer sat down and caught her breath. Phil looked over to see Brandy approaching the table. Her eyes were still red and swollen.
Before Brandy could ask for Jennifer’s drink order, Phil said, “I couldn’t help noticing you’ve been crying. Please sit down. Our order can wait.” Phil caught the look of surprise on Jennifer’s face.
Jennifer slid over and made room for her to sit. Brandy began to cry again.
Phil and Jennifer listened as Brandy shared her story. After she finished, Jennifer put her arm around Brandy and Phil took Brandy’s hands in his. His heart went out to her and he began to pray for her through his own tears.
On the first Friday of the next month, Phil and Jennifer walked in together, precisely at 5:47 p.m. Phil had gone home early that day and had lost track of time playing with Emily. Jennifer finally had to pull him away so they could eat.
Brandy ran to the door to meet them. She’d just gotten off the phone—the follow-up tests revealed the cancer was gone. The doctors had no explanation. Phil, Jennifer and Brandy hugged each other and cried tears of joy.
Here’s the thing with Brady…he’s the real deal. The public Brady matches up with the private one. When he leads worship, he’s doing it out of the genuine overflow of his heart. You can’t be around him for long before you begin to hear God’s word flowing into the conversation. He’s not forcing it or showing off. It’s just overflow.
Do you remember what opportunity cost is from your economics class? Opportunity cost is what you gave up when you chose one thing over another. It’s what you could have had. If you spend $3,000 on a Hawaiian vacation, then your opportunity cost may be the new deck or hot tub you wanted. When you choose one thing, you’re likely giving up another thing…and that other thing is the opportunity cost.
A number of years ago, I felt like God let me down. (To be honest, I still feel that way sometimes.) I felt like I’d trusted Him and prayed for things and He didn’t come through for me. Maybe you’ve felt that way. You’ve prayed and prayed, but nothing seems to happen. God doesn’t answer…at least how you wanted Him to.
Then you read a passage like the following and feel angry or cynical rather than excited or hopeful:
12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:12-14)
For a while now, I’ve tended to skim over those words, which is a nice way of saying I haven’t believed them. I’ve been like the person whose heart was broken by a lover and chooses to never fall in love again. If I don’t get my hopes up, if I don’t expect too much, then I can’t be disappointed again.
And that type of thinking carries a very high opportunity cost with it. In other words, what prayers might God have answered had only I asked?
As I read those verses again today, I was struck by several things…
The Greek word that gets translated “very truly” is identical to the Hebrew word, which is also identical to the English word. The word is “Amen.” In fact, Jesus uses the same word twice at the beginning of the sentence. “Amen Amen…” When used at the beginning of a sentence, it’s translated as we see it here, “Very truly.” When used at the end of a sentence, it means, “so be it” or “may it be fulfilled.” Jesus makes it clear that what He’s about to say is the truth, something we can count on.
Jesus then says “whoever.” Whoever. That means me. That means you. It’s not a select group of special people, it’s whoever believes in Jesus. They will do even greater things than He did. How could that be? Jesus says it’s because He’s going to the Father. So how does that help us? Jesus will intercede for us (Romans 8:34) and He will send the Holy Spirit to live in us (John 14:16), to help us and empower us.
Then Jesus gives us the reason He’ll give us what we ask for…so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. It’s not to make us rich. Or more comfortable. Or to give us lives free of difficulties and pain. It’s so that God is glorified. One definition of glorify is “to cause the dignity and worth of some person or thing to become manifest and acknowledged.” When our prayers are answered, God’s worth is made known.
Twice Jesus says we can ask for anything in His Name and He will do it. So what does that mean? In His Name. It’s to pray for what Jesus would pray for. It’s to pray for His will. Not ours. And that’s the hard part, isn’t it? To pray for what Jesus wants, not what we want. Sometimes (or is it most of the time?) it’s hard to know the difference. It’s easy to confuse our own desires with what we think Jesus desires.
If our prayers go unanswered and cause more frustration and disappointment than joy and hope, then it’s a good sign we’re not praying in the name of Jesus…we’re praying in our own name, for what we want. The answer isn’t to quit praying, it’s to seek God with serious effort (Hebrews 11:6) so we know Him better and have a better sense of His will and His ways. So we’ll know how to pray in His Name.
So let me ask you a question. Are you willing to believe Jesus is telling the truth when He says He will give you whatever you ask for in His Name? I fear the opportunity cost is far too high to not believe.
Our sun is 93 million miles from earth and contains 99.99% of the mass of our solar system. To try and give some perspective–one million earths could fit inside our sun. Huge, right? But there’s a star named Betelgeuse that is anywhere between five and thirty times larger than our sun. It’s hard to begin to even comprehend something that large.
We’re not done though. The largest identified star in our galaxy is named VY Canis Majoris. It is 1,800 to 2,100 times larger than our sun. How do we even begin to think about something that large? Fortunately, someone has done a little math for us to try and bring things into perspective.
If you were to fly non-stop in a Boeing 747 at 550 mph, it would take two days to fly all the way around the earth.
It would take 206 days to fly all the way around the sun.
And to fly all the way around VY Canis Majoris, it would take 452,965 days. That’s 1,241 years.
Now consider this…
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)
The same Jesus who spoke VY Canis Majoris into existence, along with hundreds of billions of other stars, says to you today:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Jesus created the universe and is sustaining all things by His powerful word. He is holding all things together. You can trust Him to sustain you and hold you together as well.
Yesterday, we talked about taking a spiritual fitness test. If we’re honest, most of us would say we’re not doing as well as we’d like to do. At least that’s what I’d say. I’d always like to be further along. I’d like to bear more fruit. I’d like to be less tempted by the same old sins. I’d like to know God better than I do.
Can you relate?
Today, let’s look at the only way we’ll ever truly make progress in the Christian life. The “secret” is found in John 15. You can read the whole chapter here. We’re just going to look at one verse though. Verse 5 says:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
It’s really that simple. Remaining in Jesus results in a life that bears much fruit.
The secret isn’t working harder or longer. It’s not trying harder. It’s not following a list of rules.
The secret is to remain in Jesus. So how do we do that?
Let’s take a look at a few passages that might help…
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness… (Matthew 6:33)
When asked which commandment was the most important, Jesus said:
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Let’s not ever lose sight of this very simple truth: God is a person who wants to be loved and sought after.
He doesn’t need our love or attention. He doesn’t need us for anything. But He does want us. He wants us to love Him and seek Him and make Him our top priority. He wants us to surrender total control of our lives to Him. That’s what it means to remain in Him–surrendering to Him and loving and seeking Him.
Then as we remain in Him, we bear much fruit as He produces His life in us and through us and we become more like Him.
Apart from Him, we can do nothing.
It’s a very simple concept. It’s just not easy to practice. Naturally, we don’t want to surrender. We want to maintain control over our lives. We think we know what’s best for us. We’re not always convinced God is looking out for us. And so we assume control and go our own way…which always results in less fruit, less of the life we really want.
If you’re not happy with where you are, if you’re continuing to struggle with sin, if life seems void of joy and peace and purpose…then it’s time to get reattached to the vine. And then remain there by seeking Him. Remain there by making your love relationship with Christ more important than anything else.
The branch just remains and bears whatever fruit the vine produces.
Yesterday, my 17-year-old son and I took a fitness test. It’s the first step in the 60-day Insanity workout program. We’ll repeat the test every two weeks so we can chart our progress.
I thought the test was hard! My son outscored me on every exercise. My wife and daughter also took the test and I’m not sure I want to know how I compared to them. I’m okay coming in second, but I don’t want to be fourth! Of course the object of the test isn’t to compare myself to others. It’s to set a benchmark so I can see my own progress.
So this test got me thinking about spiritual fitness. What would it be like to take a spiritual fitness test? Not to compare myself to others, but to simply chart my own progress. Is their such a test? Does God give tests?
Yes, God does give tests. Here are a few examples…
Genesis 22:1-2 says:
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
Deuteronomy 8:2 says:
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.
John 6:5-6 says:
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
I Thessalonians 2:3-4 says:
For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.
Clearly, God tests us. And 2 Corinthians 13:5-6 says we’re also to test ourselves:
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.
So if our goal is to become more and more like Christ, it shouldn’t be too hard to measure our progress, right? Let’s take a look at Philippians 2:3-8…
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
When it comes to your relationships–how are you doing compared to a year ago? If you’re married, are you becoming less selfish? Are you valuing your spouse above yourself more than you used to? Do your interests come first or do your spouse’s interests more often come first? Do you look out for your own advantage or do you serve your spouse by meeting his or her needs?
When it comes to your character and your emotions–how are you doing? In Galatians 5, we see:
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Which are more evident in you–the acts of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit? Would your spouse agree? Would your children? Your roommate? Your friends or co-workers?
If you test yourself and aren’t happy with your grade–hold on until tomorrow. There’s a very simple way to start improving your “score.”
Gregg Stutts - Gregg is a pastor at The Church at Arkansas in Fayetteville. He is married to Robyn, the Young Life director in Northwest Arkansas. They have four children: Rachel, Erica, Amy and Rob. Gregg has authored two books and often teaches on marriage.