Praying According to His Will

Praying According to His Will

 

“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” (1 John 5:14-15)

 

This promise is comprehensive and unlimited—a tremendous assurance of answered prayer. But there is one proviso—according to His will! There are a number of Christians who, with all good intentions, have argued that it evidences a lack of faith to add the qualification “if it be thy will” to one’s prayer. But this can hardly be true in light of the example of Christ Himself, when he “prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39).

 

The question is how to know whether or not we are praying according to God’s will. One key, of course, is to search the Scriptures. God’s will can never contradict His Word, and it is foolish to ask God to do something which the Scriptures themselves forbid. “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3).

 

When, however, we sincerely desire God’s will to be done, and so far as can be determined there is no biblical or personal barrier hindering our prayer, then we can pray in confidence even if we yet don’t know for certain God’s will in the matter. “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: But the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groaning which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:26-28). HMM

 
 
 

Forest or Trees?

Forest or Trees?

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 
Philippians 3:12

Recommended Reading
1 Timothy 4:15

An arborist is a scientist who studies trees and other woody plants, usually individual specimens. A forester is a scientist who studies large swaths of woody plants like a forest. The domain of foresters and arborists overlaps at times in the pursuit of health of both trees and forests.

The Christian life is made up of two similar domains — individual days and life as a whole. Unfortunately, we get so caught up in the pressures of each day that we sometimes fail to step back and look at our spiritual life as a whole. Questions need to be asked: Since coming to know Christ, how have I grown spiritually and emotionally? What differences can I see over my entire Christian life, and over the last few months or years? What areas of my life in Christ need attention? The apostle Paul talked about “pressing on” toward Christ in his own life and talked to Timothy about making “progress” in his life (1 Timothy 4:15).

Are you a spiritual arborist or forester? Are you focusing more on the trees or the forest? Ask God for His help in showing you how to measure your maturity.

There are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity. It takes time to be holy. 
Erwin W. Lutzer

In the Zone

                                                                   In the Zone
 
    Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. – Joshua 1:7


    In sports, there is a term known as “in the zone.” It is a description of a person executing his skills so well that total concentration is taking place, and the athlete is performing flawlessly. It is a wonderful feeling. Performance seems effortless because it comes so easily. For the tennis player, it is hitting every shot right where he wants. For the baseball pitcher, it is throwing to a strike zone that seems big as a house. For the golfer, the fairways are wide, and the hole is big. Everything is flowing just right
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    I grew up playing competitive golf. I turned pro out of college for a few years, but later God led me away from playing professionally. When I played competitively, I knew when I was in the zone and when I wasn’t. A few years ago, I played in my club championship. It was the opening round, and I was in the zone. I recall the difference was that my mental attitude was focused on executing the swing I wanted to make with little regard to the outcome. I could visualize the swing so well; it was like a movie picture in my mind. Very little thought was given to the outcome of the shot. I knew that if I could make the right swing, the outcome would take care of itself. That day I shot four under par 68. I went on to win the golf tournament. I have had few such days of being “in the zone.”


    Obedience in the Christian life is being in the zone. When we live a life of obedience, we begin to experience the reality of God like never before. Wisdom grows in our life. Meaning and purpose are accelerated. In the early Church, the Hebrews gained wisdom through obedience. Later, the Greeks were characterized as gaining wisdom through reason and analysis. Today, we live in a very Greek-influenced Church. Many Christians determine if they will obey based on whether the outcome will be beneficial to them. Imagine if the early Church had adopted this philosophy. No walls would have fallen down at Jericho. No Red Sea would have parted. No one would have been healed. No coins would have been found in the mouth of a fish. Reason and analysis would not have led to making the obedient decision. Trust and obey. Leave the outcome to God.
 

The Purpose of Crucibles

The Purpose of Crucibles
 
    The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart. – Proverbs 17:3


    This proverb describes one of God’s strangest mysteries. It is a description of God’s formula to refine the human heart in order to bring out its finest qualities. The significant leaders who make the greatest mark for the Kingdom had to experience their own crucible and fire. Without it, the dross can never be removed from the human heart. Without it, the encumbrances weigh us down. God understands the human heart. He understands that for us to become all that He hopes for us, there are seasons of fire. Joseph went through many tests. Succeeding in the test qualified him for greater responsibility. The greater the use in the Kingdom the greater the crucible to prepare the right foundation. Some of God’s greatest crucibles are found in the workplace where we live every day: the employee who betrays our trust, the client who refuses to pay, the vendor who falls short of our expectations
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    Each of these is a test from God to find out how we will respond. What tests are being brought your way today? His grace has been provided that we might pass the tests that He brings before us. Should we fail, we need not fear. His grace is sufficient for this as well. Ask God for the grace to walk with Him in whatever tests He has placed before you this day. He is able to accomplish what He wants for you.
 

Whatever?!

Whatever?!

Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God…. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
1 Corinthians 10:31; Philippians 4:13

Recommended Reading
1 Corinthians 10:31-33

We often read a verse and think: “That’s a command” or “That’s a promise.” While the Bible is filled with both promises and commands, the difference between the two isn’t as great as we think. Every command, for example, is a promise in reverse, for God never commands us to do anything without supplying the strength. The Scottish preacher Alexander Maclaren put it this way in his sermon on John 5: “All Christ’s commandments are gifts. When He says to you, ‘Do this!’ He pledges Himself to give you power to do it. Whatsoever He enjoins He strengthens for.”

Whenever there’s a command, whatever it is, He gives the strength to obey it. Whenever there’s a promise, whatever it is, He gives the faith to claim it. We’re to do all things for His glory, and we can do all things through Him who strengthens us.

Some people, when faced with a task, respond with a flippant: “Whatever!” When we read God’s promises and commands, we too say “Whatever” — whatever comes, it’s for God’s glory!

Whensoever we attempt to do what we know to be the Master’s will, because He has given Himself for us, our power will be equal to our desire, and enough for our duty. 
Alexander Maclaren

Seeing A Greater Purpose in Adversity

Seeing A Greater Purpose In Adversity

“But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” – Acts 16:28

    Paul and Silas had just been thrown into prison. An earthquake erupted and the jail cell was opened. It’s Paul and Silas’ opportunity. “Deliverance! Praise God!” might be the appropriate response. But this is not what Paul and Silas did. In fact, rather than leave, they sat quietly in their cell area. The guard, in fear of his life, knew that it would be automatic death if prisoners escaped. Paul and Silas did not leave because they saw a higher purpose for which they were in prison. They were not looking at their circumstance; they were much more concerned about the unsaved guard. The story goes on to explain how Paul and Silas went home with the guard and his family. Not only did the guard get saved, but his entire household as well.


    What a lesson this is for us. How often we are so busy looking for deliverance from our circumstance that we miss God completely. God is looking to do miracles in our circumstances if we will only look for them. Sometimes as workplace believers we become so obsessed with our goals we miss the process that God involves us in, which may be where the miracle lies. What if that bill collector who has been hounding you is unsaved and he is there for you to speak to? What if a problem account has arisen due to something God is doing beyond what you might see at this time? Our adverse situations can often be the door of spiritual opportunity for those who need it.


    I saw this personally when God allowed me to go through a number of adversities. It took some time, but I saw some great miracles as a result of those adversities. When God said that “all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purposes” (see Rom. 8:28), He meant all things. It is up to us to find the “work together for good” part by being faithful to the process. In the next adversity you face, tune your spiritual antennae and ask God for discernment to see the real purpose for the adversity.
 

The Gospel of Matthew: The Messiah of Promise 4:1-11

Temptation

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Martin Luther King

Intro

Years ago there was a movie entitled “Bruce Almighty!” It was about a man whom God gave some of His powers, and he used those powers for His own selfish means. It wasn’t until he realized how selfish he was, that his life turned for the good (After much turmoil in between).

If you had God’s powers, what would you do with them? Power and control is a powerful elixir. In our passage today, Jesus is promised the world, but at what cost?

Big Picture: Temptation is an inevitable reality, and a path to personal growth in the Kingdom of Man!

What? Temptation, or better yet “testing” is a way we see where we stand. Athletes do it when they spar, or scrimmage one another. Pilots do it on flight simulators. Standardized tests reflect where you stand amongst your peers.

In the Christian walk, life gives us many twists and turns, and how you handle those events in your life, mark who you ultimately are. It’s not that those decisions (Good or Bad) define you, but pieced together they reflect what is true about you.

Who are you? What is your chosen identity? How do you see yourself? Do you believe that you are truly a child of the king? Or do you see yourself as the sum total of your life’s decisions?

In our passage today, Jesus emulates the wilderness experience of the very people He has come to represent, and to ultimately save.

Israel wandered in the dessert for 40 years, and came through that experience wanting. Even their leader Moses failed the test, and trusted his own strength to deal with the whining of his people, and the stresses of his calling. What does our passage teach us about temptation, and resisting it for the glory of our Father? There are Four Truths that help us understand what temptation is, and how we are to go about resisting it.

From the Head…

Jesus Was Led Into the Wilderness (Matthew 4:1)

It is very interesting to note that it is God (The Holy Spirit) who leads Jesus into the wilderness. God put His Son into a situation that could have had cosmically negative results. Jesus was human, and according to Hebrews 4:15, Jesus “has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

What does that mean? Pretty much what it says; Christ was tempted as we are, and as Israel was in the wilderness, when they failed to trust God, but complained and tested Him. Temptation is not in of itself a sin; it’s a consequence of being human.

Numbers 20:8-12 relays the story of Moses being left out of entering the Promised Land for His sin of unbelief, and not honoring the Lord. The precursors to Christ were godly men, but they were flawed in every way, and eventually fell into temptation one way or another. Jesus was “Led” to this temptation to demonstrate His character, and show His worthiness to be worshipped.

We have many choices in our life, and those choices reflect what is ultimately true about us. Our character is revealed in stress. Martin Luther King said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

God doesn’t “Test” us to find out, who we are, He does so to show us who we are.

Jesus had just been baptized with a baptism of repentance, and now He was about ready to embark on His ministry. This is a vulnerable time, because of Satan can derail you, He will. It is in these tough times that we are able to withstand the attack of Satan, and demonstrate our true identity in Christ, readying us for the ministry that God has called us to.

Jesus Was Emptied of His Own Physical Strength (Matthew 4:2)

Verse 2 shows us that Jesus was depleted. He hadn’t eaten anything in 40 days, and “He was hungry.” He was weak and vulnerable, especially in regard to the first temptation that Satan attacked Him with. Satan often operates when we are weak. Most of the time when we fall, it is when we are already a bit depressed, tired, and stressed out. This most likely is true, because our Trust Immune System is down.

I don’t want to stay here and belabor the point, but neurology has pin pointed some neurological truths that supports the idea. It turns out, the human brain works in 2 systems; the first is a faster system that is working all the time, and generates feelings, emotions, and quicker actions needed for survival, while the second system is a slower deliberate, cognitive system used to solve problems, reach logical conclusions and give logical verification to beliefs reached through emotional means (System 1). It is when this aspect of the brain (System 2) is stressed and overworked (Tired) that our self-control is weakened, and temptation becomes more acute. One neurologist wrote, “People who are cognitively busy are more likely to make selfish choices, use sexist language and act inappropriately in social situation.

If Jesus were ever going to fall, this would have been the ripe time for such a disaster.

Jesus Was Tempted Like We Are (Matthew 4:3, 5-6, 8-9)

As we have seen, Jesus was tempted like we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). 1 John 2:15 tells us to “not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life is not from the Father but is from the world.”  This is often misused to justify separation from people, but what John is giving us, is the basic strategy of Satan, which we ought to be aware of, and stay away from. He blinds men’s eyes through these mechanisms. We see the same basic strategy in the garden in Genesis 3.

 How are we tempted?

Matthew 4 and Genesis 3 demonstrate the strategy, while James 1:13-15 and 1 John 2:15-16 define it. Temptation, and ultimately sin is a product of our own flesh, believing the lies of Satan, and being lured by the perceived “Beauty” of a fallen world.

What is that strategy?

Lust of the Flesh

Genesis 3:6a “The woman saw that the tree was good for food”

Matthew 4:3 Command these stones to become loaves of bread

The issue is not to trust God for your needs, but satisfy your flesh now. Get all that you can now. “If you’re the son of God” prove it, by meeting all of your own needs. A lot of temptations are like this one. What Satan asked Jesus to do was not inherently sinful. He was hungry, and later He does turn a few loaves into many, but what Satan was asking Jesus to do, is to satisfy normal needs outside of God’s own will.

Lust of the Eyes

Genesis 3:6b …and it was a delight to the eyes

Matthew 4:8showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory

You can have it all. Look at it, I know you really want it, and if you get it, you will be satisfied

Boastful Pride of Life

Genesis 3:6c …and that the tree was desirable to make one wise…

Matthew 4:6if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down

“Prove yourself!” Is the oft command of the accuser (Which is what “Devil” means). You really aren’t that good, make sure everyone knows. We consistently reflect a pride that can’t be outdone by someone else.

It is interesting that Satan attempted to use scripture against Jesus here. He quotes Psalm 91, but Jesus retorts from Deuteronomy 6:16 reminding Satan of the time when the Israelites rebelled in Massah, and failed to trust God, putting Him to the test that He would once again perform a miracle to “Save” them.

Jesus Resisted By Submitting to His Father’s Wisdom (Matthew 4: 4, 7, 10)

Author Oscar Wilde was quoted as saying, “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” A cute saying, but one that has destructive consequences. We are often told that resisting our “natural” urges are bad for you. But this appears to be a flipping of the truth. Not resisting all of our urges, ultimately enslaves us to those urges, sometimes resulting in addictions, and harsher consequences.

Jesus answered all three temptations with scripture. Psalms 119:11 says, “Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against thee.” Knowing God’s word, is a strong repellant to the schemes of Satan and the Lure of the world. Basically He answers Satan’s attacks with three truths from scripture:

a. Satisfaction comes from God alone (Matthew 4:4)

We are ultimately only going to be satisfied in Christ. He alone is the “Fountain of living water” (Jeremiah 2:13; John 7:37-38). We can try (And we will) and fill the desires of the flesh in other things, but they will ring empty. Hunger is a very natural thing to want to curb, but how we curb our hungers demonstrate what our first loves are.

b. Our Identity and trust is in the Lord (Matthew 4:7)

If we truly are children of the king, do we need to prove ourselves to anyone else? Jesus was called to “Prove” Himself through His suffering and subsequent resurrection. That was God’s plan. Putting God to the test reflects a heart that doesn’t really trust God. It has a “Prove It” mentality. God doesn’t owe us any proof, nor do we have to prove to anyone God’s grace in our life through the means of an unbelieving mind.

c. Our Joy is in Christ (Matthew 4:10)

We are created for worship. French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal once said, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” Satan promises what he cannot give, for a price you cannot afford to pay.

…to the Heart

James 4:7 indicates that we are to “Submit ourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” The problem is we like our sin. We are like those that handled the ring in Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring series. Our sin becomes our “Precious,” driving us to desire it more and more when we can’t have it. And before we know it, we are led to enslavement and destruction.

Christ was able to resist Satan’s devices, because he intimately knows His father! I don’t think the debates regarding whether Jesus could sin or not are helpful. The bible is not clear. But what we do know is, He, like us, are tempted in every way; and I do think that in order to re-right the sins of His people, the temptations had to be real.

The only way we will ultimately triumph over the flesh, the world and the Devil, is in the power of the resurrected Lord. This is why He was tempted “Yet without sin,” and why He went to the cross to pay for our sins, and demonstrate His justice and give us His righteousness (See Romans 3:23-25; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Our ability to then “Walk worthy” (Ephesians 4:1), is closely related to our understanding of Christ’s work, and our Father’s will, which is discovered progressively as we know His through His word!

We will never be worthy in our own power, but we have been made worthy through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Questions To Ponder

  1. What significance does Jesus being led by the Spirit into temptation have for your own walk with God?
  2. In what way does temptation/testing help us grow?
  3. Why would God “Test” anyone? Especially His own Son?
  4. How did Jesus overcome His temptation?
  5. What does this have to do with you?
  6. How does knowing Satan’s basic schemes help resist him?
  7. When do you feel most vulnerable to temptation/sin?

 

For Further Reading

A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Craig S. Keener

The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, Michael J. Wilkins

The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris

Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament 1A, ed. Manlio Simonetti