An Audacious Request

Luke 11:13 (NIV)

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

As you can see, the topic of prayer (communication with God) is being examined … and more specifically … the aspect of “asking” God for real needs in our lives.  I think it very important to examine this verse in the surrounding context because it follows Jesus’ teaching of a “model prayer” … followed by a parable … that leads to a teachable moment … and culminates with the life application of our verse … which should itself prompt us to seek and ask God for His incredible gift … His indwelling Holy Spirit!  Follow along with me:

Luke 11:1-13 (ESV)

The Lord’s Prayer

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And He said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins (debts), for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”

Parable of the Inopportune Friend

And Jesus said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves,for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence* (or persistence) he will rise and give him whatever he needs. (*The NIV Translation renders the expression “shameless audacity”.)

Teachable Moment

And so I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What fathers among you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone; or if he asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?

Application

13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

Now, given the background and foundation laid here, it is evident to me that the focal point of this passage is Verse 13.  Jesus begins with teaching that prayer is about connecting with God the Father.  Prayer acknowledges God is … His dominion … His power.  We are to show Him reverence – “hallowed be your name”.  “Your Kingdom come,” means God has authority and sovereignty over all HIS creation … including us.  Jesus encourages us through prayer to ask for our physical needs … to request forgiveness … and to avoid the temptation of evil.  But then, Jesus shares a parable to emphasize our need to be “persistent” in prayer.  It is as though we are urged to be bold and tenacious in the expression of our hearts before God.  But why the need for perseverance?  Perhaps our resolve and steadfastness in prayer reflects the sincerity of our hearts … that we have not come before God with just some vague hope laced with doubt or a general wish for something without deep expectancy to receive it.

I find confidence in that Jesus moves into an imperative concerning prayer at this point: “And so I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”  If prayer was futile or pointless, why would Jesus instruct us to ask, seek, and knock during prayer AND assure us the Father will favorably respond?  Jesus goes on to compare the responses of human fathers to their children when they “ask” for various physical needs.  He observes, “if sinful human fathers know how to respond to requests based upon their mortal capacities to give, then how much more will our perfect Heavenly Father know how to respond to His children when they ask for even greater needs … something so “audacious” or “outrageous” as to want the Holy Spirit?  Yet, Jesus indicates that the baptism or infilling of the Holy Spirit is exactly what we should be asking to receive!  I dare say, He is indeed our greatest need!

I know that I have quoted this passage quite often, but I believe it shares great insight into this issue:

2 Peter 1:3-4 (ESV)

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

  1. His divine power (the Holy Spirit) is a gift. (Cf. Acts 1:8; Acts 2:38; Acts 10:45)
  2. His divine power (the Holy Spirit) is promised. See Joel 2:28-29. (Cf. Acts 1:4-5; Acts 2:33, 39; Ephesians 1:13)
  3. His divine nature is effectuated in us through the promised gift of the Holy Spirit (Cf. Acts 10:38; Romans 15:13, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 2:4; Ephesians 3:16)

You might note that most of the cited cross-references above point to the power of the Holy Spirit to endue the ability to proclaim the Gospel … the Word of God … with boldness or with tongues (other languages) so that the message of Jesus Christ is spread to anyone and everyone who will hear or listen. I believe the reason this “power” is so prominent it because the Word of God induces genuine faith (Cf. Romans 10:17); and it is faith in Jesus Christ that effectuates the divine power we need for a transformed and Spirit-filled life as evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit. (Cf. Galatians 5:22-23) Indeed, His divine power is essential for the Kingdom of God to be realized in our lives; and I believe that is our greatest need to be sought through prayer. As Jesus shared, we should ask the Father for the Holy Spirit (His divine power) with “shameless audacity” and “persistence”!  And although I think such brash language was used in His parable to urge us to be fearless and courageous as we approach the Father, I cannot help but believe we should always be humble and reverent before Him … even when feeling zealous for His precious promise.  And this is His promise: Our Heavenly Father, who is perfect in all His ways, WILL give His Spirit to those who ask Him.

One final thought:

James 1:5-8 (NIV)

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

So when you ask God for anything … believe God! By His own glory and excellence, God has promised to grant us His Spirit, and He has promised to grant us eternal life through His Son, Christ Jesus. And so my prayer is that you and I will believe His great and precious promises in these latter days and ask for them with expectant boldness! Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The Narrow Minded….

Matthew 7:13-14

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Tucked in the middle of Matthew 7 (the concluding lessons from The Sermon on the Mount) is this short discourse on the “two ways” wherein Jesus challenges us to consider our personal path and examine our steps. Jesus begins with a present imperative: “Enter through the narrow gate.”  The fact that the gate appears first and then a way implies that this is referring to one’s coming to know God in a personal way through Jesus’ teachings and then following where He leads. This verse implies that salvation is not an easy decision which fits in with the mainstream of culture, but a decisive change of life which issues in obedience to the principles of God. The fact that one way leads to destruction shows the ultimate outcome of those whose lives are lived independent of God.  Jesus is inviting the people to come to Him – to enter the Kingdom of Heaven through Him – in order to find true life … abundant life … eternal life.  You can see this metaphor with similar connotation used in the Gospel of John:

John 10:1-10 (NIV)

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for Him, and the sheep listen to His voice. He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all His own, He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow Him because they know His voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what He was telling them. Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

So Jesus is the “small gate” that leads to a “narrow road” whose destination is “life”; as contrasted by a “wide gate” that leads to a “broad road” whose destination is “destruction”.  And the issue of great concern here is the number of people who travel down each path.  Many are those who remain in the deception of the world and its darkness; and few are those who embrace the light of the Gospel and follow Jesus and obeys His commands. There is something of grave importance for us to observe from this passage … and we need to examine the direction of our walk before God.  Have we truly entered the narrow road (lifestyle) that leads to life through Christ Jesus; or have we entered the superhighway of the world and the culture (lifestyle) as its speeds toward its own destruction?  Sometimes it is hard to distinguish professing Christians from those of the world; and I think this parable anticipates that phenomenon….

If you continue to read beyond Verses 13-14, you will find a series of “contrasts” related to “religious” people

1.         The two ways of approaching God (Matthew 7:13-14)

2.         The two types of religious leaders (Matthew 7:15-23)

3.         The two foundations of a religious life (Matthew 7:24-27)

The question is not so much which lifestyle or group of religious people Jesus referred to; rather, the focus is on how people respond to their understanding of God’s will. Some discard God and religion altogether.  Some use religion to gain immediate praise and rewards from other people … but in vain. (Cf. Isaiah. 29:13-15; Colossians 2:16-23). True disciples; however, order their lives in light of Jesus’ words about the present and coming Kingdom of God.  He knows the sincerity our hearts!  As Jesus said, the time is now when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth – for they are the kind of worshipers that the Father seeks. (Cf. John 4:23-24) Until you have Jesus, you do not have the indwelling Holy Spirit. And without the Holy Spirit, you cannot worship the Father in the Spirit or in truth….  So the small gate and the narrow road are significant in our response to the lavish grace and mercy of God for our salvation. Jesus made it quite clear, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Cf. John 14:6)

This parable from Matthew 7:13-14 is paralleled in Luke 13:23-27, and I would like to contrast the two so you can see the intent of the message:

Luke 13:23-27 (NIV)

23 Someone asked Jesus, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ 26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’

Note here the “many” who will try to enter and will not be able to do so – because “the owner of the house gets up and closes the door”.  Herein lies the pressing nature of the Great Commission … the evangelical mission to share the Gospel and to urge people to “enter” through the “narrow door” while there is still opportunity to do so.  It is appointed for people to die once, and after that to face judgment. (Cf. Hebrews 9:27) When the door is shut from a hardened or deceived heart, death, or the Second Coming of Christ, there does not appear to be any more opportunity to intentionally trust Jesus Christ for salvation.  Again, “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  Jesus bids all people to enter through Him.  It may seem “narrow-minded” to have this view (as Christians are often accused), but Jesus declared He is the only way!  And as each day passes, the door inches a little more towards the frame and latch. Oh, I pray we will be about the Father’s business, inviting people through the door that leads to light and life – to an authentic encounter with our Lord and Savior. Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Wonderfully Made

Psalm 139:13-14

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

When I read this verse this morning … well, I just had to smile and shed a tear.  I think about how gracious God has been to each of us … how He has given each of us the experience of life in all of its mystery, wonder, and fulfillment.  Who can truly understand the mind and wisdom of God to design for us “life” and “being” and “purpose” and “meaning” in the way He has ordained all of these experiences for us … for our spirits (inmost beings)?  I believe this is why the Psalmist declared: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  Oh, my friend, God is to be reverenced! He is worthy of the highest praise! Just look at the ultrasound of a newly conceived embryo….  It is the revelation of God to us – His works are indeed wonderful!

In the wombs of our mothers, God knit us together. Our bodies were formed and grew into a completed beings .  Within our mothers, God prepared us bodies to be the individual temples for our spirits to indwell. He fashioned each of us for His own purpose and for His glory.  This is why we honor our mothers … because through them each of us was brought to life! Even those yet to be born will join this gift of life each of us has graciously been given by our Creator.  And so it has been for millennia that our Father has ordained for those He created in His image to participate in His creative work to fill the earth with His children.  What an incredible thought!

So when we honor mothers for bringing us into this world … we honor our Father in heaven for His handiwork.  We acknowledge His great love, compassion, and provision.  The mystery of His wisdom is simply beyond our human comprehension … yet He has revealed to us Himself through His own Son … and demonstrated His deepest desire to fellowship with each of us personally and collectively.  Oh, I pray we will find in the conception of life … the very heart of God … His tender mercies … His lavish grace … His unfailing love!  And I pray that we the Church … the Body of Christ … will do everything within our power to protect every unborn child as well as every living child that God has given us to nurture and raise for His Name and for His Glory!  Let us unite in prayer for their protection, provision, and person-hood with all sacredness and human dignity possible. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Cf. Ephesians 2:10)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

God Hears Us

1 John 5:14-15

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him.

This passage has always intrigued me. For additional context, the passage is included in a list of “affirmations” that the Apostle John is sharing with his readers.  He is trying to build trust in God and His promises.  For example, Verse 13 reads: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”  Likewise in our passage, he encourages believers to pray (approach God) – asking according to HIS will.  John assures we can be confident that God hears us.

First of all, it should be amazing to us that God … the Creator of all that is seen and unseen – the entire universe … actually listens to our prayers.  Why would such a Being care about His creatures to even do so?  King David pondered the same question:

Psalm 8:3-4 (NIV)

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

Yet, David goes on to assert something quite incredible – God created us to have dominion over His works:

Psalm 8:5-6 (NIV)

You have made them (human beings) a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet:

It is clear from the whole of Scripture that God ordained for human beings to be an integral part of His creative order … for man to have dominion over the earth and everything in it … that man should rule (exercise our ordained authority) over creation with the same love and compassion for it as God Himself.  In other words, our unity and fellowship with God would be such that we as created beings would be “an extension” of God in His creation.  So it follows that God would desire us to communicate with Him and fellowship with Him in this relationship that He designed for us.  In the beginning, it was perfect communion … unity with God … until the first human beings allowed sin to desecrate and corrupt them.  Pride?  Exertion of self-will over the will of God? Disobedience?  Through all the above, we fell from the glory and honor God had bestowed upon us through the deceptive power and darkness of sin….  As Paul explained, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” (Cf. Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21) And as Paul affirmed, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Cf. Romans 3:23)

As we have previously noted in our studies, human beings MUST have a Savior.  We cannot save our selves.  We cannot redeem ourselves from our sin because we are incapable to offer a Holy God a perfect sacrifice to atone for our transgressions.  God did the only thing that could be done to reconcile and restore our fellowship with Him.  He offered a perfect Lamb … His Son, Jesus!  God did so because of His great love for us … not because we merited or deserved His kindness or mercy.  Paul makes this quite clear:

Ephesians 2:4-10 (NKJV)

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Father God would not allow His beloved creation … human beings … to continue in separation from Him.  No, His great love with which He loved us would not allow us to remain dead in our sin.  God sent His Son to redeem us … to restore us to true life and to accomplish the good works which God had already prepared for us to do.  He replaced a crown of thorns with a crown of glory and honor! “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ Jesus. And so through Him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:20) I believe this is why the Apostle John insists we can know that we have eternal life.  This is why John confirms that God hears our prayers.  And if God hears us … we know that we have what we asked of Him!

Jesus made an astonishing declaration right before He raised Lazarus from the dead:

John 11:38-42 (NIV)

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” He said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

Jesus knew that God heard Him … and knew that He would receive what He had asked in prayer.  What a confirmation to us that God hears prayer … and a demonstration to us about the power of prayer!  Yet, the reality we often experience is that we do not receive what we asked of God.  What is the difference?  Does God have selective hearing?  Why is John so confident that God hears our prayers and that we can know that we have what we asked of Him? We pray, and yet, loved ones die of cancer; couples remain childless; children leave the Church; chronic illness continues unabated….  Why does God not answer our prayers the way we want Him to … the way we think He should?

John said God hears us when we ask anything according to His will … not our will.  And that is the challenge for us!  That is the conundrum of prayer and the mystery of faith.  How do we ever truly know the will of God in a specific circumstance or situation?  To be honest, I’m not sure. In Isaiah 55:8-10 we read, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  So we have to understand that issue.  In Deuteronomy 29:29 we read, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

So maybe we should consider that in order to pray and ask according to the will of God the Father, we need to grow in the knowledge of His “revealed” will.  And we can do so through the study of His Word and the life of His Son, Christ Jesus.  Those are things we CAN do if we will take the time to do them….  To me, it follows, that increased wisdom will translate into prayers that resonate the will of God.  And ­when He hear us … we need to “receive” and embrace HIS answer to our prayers.  His answer will be in accordance with His will.  And I believe that we can fully trust that His will is always for our good.  His great love redeemed us.  His great love is for us! (Cf. Romans 8:31) And we have to consider that we may not always see how God works and orchestrates in another person’s life to “work” His will for their good.  In other words, God IS answering the prayers offered up in faith; but He is doing so in His way and on His timetable according to His own purpose and grace. (Cf. Romans 8:28; Philippians 2:13; 2 Timothy 1:9-10) I just think we have to realize, and ultimately trust, that God does hear us and does answer us according to His will.  We just need to be attuned to how His will is being revealed….

One last thought or observation on this subject.  And I share this as a challenge to all of us who pray fervently for something in our lives.  Hebrews 5:7 reads, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.  Notice that the Scripture here said Jesus was heard because of His reverent submission.  I believe there is a lesson for us here.  Being heard was predicated upon reverent submission.  If a person does not fear God … if a person does not believe Him … if a person does not submit themselves to the authority of the Creator over their life … I’m not inclined to think that their prayer is going to be heard.  God knows those who truly believe Him and reverence Him.  He knows those who love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Cf. Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37) You cannot fool God and think that He will hear or answer your prayers.

My point is that the key aspect of prayer is ultimately our relationship with God.  Ultimately, His will is for each of us to be in perfect fellowship with Him through our Lord Jesus Christ.  And that requires reverent submission! That requires humility … forsaking human pride and confessing our sins … and seeking reconciliation through Christ.  It reminds me of an often-quoted passage and I will end here:

2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV)

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 

If we want our prayers to be heard, we most certainly must ask according to His will.  And His will is for us is accomplished only through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ:

            Recognition of our sinful nature;

            Repentance for our transgressions;

            Redemption from the power of sin;

            Reconciliation to the Father;

            Relationship with the Father;

            Reverence for the Father

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!