Prayer can often be just a nice religious duty, that makes us feel warm and fuzzy. But such prayer does not suit a disciple who is tired of religion and is seeking authenticity. There are few models who can be our guides.
That is one of the reasons why we need elders in our fellowships; they have been through so much, they can anchor us to all that is real. As elders, they probably had lessons in prayer.
We often will theologically play on the periphery, and cleverly deceive others and ourselves. My own heart gets pretty creative as I display self-righteousness. (I should win an Academy Award as ‘best actor.’) But Jesus insists on us becoming real. You might say that really is the prayer that touches his heart.
When you talk with Jesus, do you truly talk to Him?
Do you have a real awareness that you are really talking with Him?
Is it the real you that fellowships with the ‘real’ God?
The following is an excerpt from A Diary of Private Prayer, by the Scottish theologian, John Baillie, 1886-1960:
Eternal Father of my soul, let my first thought today be of You, let my first impulse be to worship You, let my first speech be Your name, let my first action be to kneel before You in prayer.
For Your perfect wisdom and perfect goodness:
For the love with which You love mankind:
For the love with which You love me:
For the great and mysterious opportunity of my life:
For the indwelling of your Spirit in my heart:
For the sevenfold gifts of your Spirit:
I praise and worship You, O Lord.
Yet let me not, when this morning prayer is said, think my worship ended and spend the day in forgetfulness of You. Rather from these moments of quietness let light go forth, and joy, and power, that will remain with me through all the hours of the day;
Keeping me chaste in thought:
Keeping me temperate and truthful in speech:
Keeping me faithful and diligent in my work:
Keeping me humble in my estimation of myself:
Keeping me honorable and generous in my dealings with others:
Keeping me loyal to every hallowed memory of the past:
Keeping me mindful of my eternal destiny as a child of Yours.
“My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.”
John 7:16 (context, Vv. 14-24)
Spiritually, Jesus is superior to everything and everyone. All that he did in the Gospels revealed that salient fact–whether he was healing the sick, walking on water, or teaching the Sermon on the Mount, he had total command. An authority soaked all that he did, just like water saturates a sponge. (See Matthew 28:18.)
The Greek word most often translated as “authority” (exousia) in the New Testament basically means: “right, permission, freedom.” Jesus was completely free to do whatever he knew was the Father’s will–he had full and total authorization to do whatever he wanted. (That seems to be what his baptism was all about. See Luke 3:21-22.)
Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament
The Greek word “teach” (didaskō) in the NT means “give instruction, impart doctrine, to explain.” Jesus’ teaching was a marvel, he explained God’s kingdom to us crisply, succinctly, and precisely. All we need to understand was freely given to us in red letters. Everything necessary to us was taught with confidence and freedom. (See Matthew 7:29.)
Since Jesus perfectly combined the two words, both teaching, and authority, He could dictate to us everything we need, everything we must have, in straightforward terms. This can’t be stressed enough, the scripture we read–when ignited with the Holy Spirit, seems to be the only thing that can change the human heart.
The preceding verses in this passage reveal the setting for this statement.
Jesus stays out of Jerusalem because of the murderous hatred of the Pharisees.
There was a deep concern in his family who doubted Jesus’ timing and direction.
The origin of his teaching was questioned. He was speaking with the authority of the Messiah. Jesus completely understood the trustworthy source of his teaching.
There was a general consensus among the people of Jesus’ authority. Many were finally arriving at a decision in favor of him. Many would reject him.
We have never seen anyone of his impressive caliber, and we can only imagine the impact he was having on everyone he met. Under the Spirit’s direction, his disciples would retain all that Jesus did and taught. (The author of this passage was the Apostle John, and when you read his letters to us, we see that his memories were quite vivid.)
The Lord’s authority soaked all that he did, just like water saturates a sponge.
So what do we do now? What kind of “lordship” does he have over us? First of all, we learn (slowly) that we MUST teach ourselves to submit to our lord, constantly. He carries the authority we need, the authority human beings require. The Holy Spirit knows exactly how to pierce our pride and independence. Our teacher, comforter (and coach) understands us perfectly.
“His authority on earth allows us to dare to go to all the nations. His authority in heaven gives us our only hope of success. And His presence with us leaves us no other choice.”
4 “You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling, as lovely as Jerusalem, as majestic as troops with banners. 5 Turn your eyes from me; they overwhelm me. Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Gilead. 6 Your teeth are like a flock of sheep coming up from the washing. Each has its twin, not one of them is missing.
Song of Solomon 6:4-6. NIV
Her beauty stuns him.
He’s completely overwhelmed and totally undone, he’s looking for words to describe her. He chooses metaphors that we really don’t get and descriptions that seem a little odd. But the emotions of the human heart haven’t changed.
Love is still love, and beauty is still beautiful.Even if our words have changed.
He chooses concepts that we understand–words like beautiful, darling, lovely and majestic. But we really don’t understand the nouns–Tirzah, Jerusalem, and troops carrying banners (and that’s just verse 4!) And yet that’s how he communicates his love to her.
But we do get verse 5, at least in the first half.
“Turn your eyes on me; they overwhelm me.” Love still does funny things to each one of us–but “eyes” still convey love. When we’re really in love we obviously see the outward, but true love sees the inward too.
I think that love can pierce the heart like nothing else.
Again, the descriptions are funny, and believe me–they get stranger–goats, smelly sheep, and having a mouthful of teeth!? And yet he carefully weaves these ideas that still have concepts that are vaguely relatable, but still, I have to admit, they are hysterical. If I tell my wife that her hair is like a “flock of goats” she is liable to punch me.
The metaphors may be outdated, but the ideas behind them are not. We still understand real-life concepts like beauty, love, and true sight. These are concrete–they still ring true today. Time has not diminished them. They are bedrock solid.
But notice, it’s the eyes that get him.
He sees her eyes, and that’s all it takes–they overwhelm him. A person’s eyes can often reveal the person that’s really inside, which is something we can’t really hide.
Can Jesus see your loving gaze?
The Song of Solomon lover sees her love, and I really believe that Jesus does see the love that a believer has for him. Often we make love a one-way deal. God loves me (John 3:16). That is true–I know that God loves me, that is indisputable. But, do we really ever return his love?! maybe, he’s overcome by my gaze at him? Is that heretical?
His descriptions are funny, and believe me–they do get stranger–goats, sheep, and a mouthful of teeth!? And yet he carefully weaves these ideas that still have concepts that are vaguely relatable, but still, I have to admit, they are hysterical. (If I tell my wife that her hair is like a “flock of goats” she is liable to punch me).
But notice, it’s the eyes that get him.
He sees her eyes, and that’s all it takes–they overwhelm him. A person’s eyes still reveal love and kindness, they can reveal the person that’s really inside, which is something we can’t really hide.
Can Jesus see your loving gaze?
(I want to change. Help me Lord Jesus!)
He sees her love, and I really believe that Jesus does see the love that a believer has for him. Often preachers make love a one-way deal. God loves me (John 3:16). That is true–I know that God loves me, that is indisputable. But, do we really ever return his love? Just maybe, he’s overcome by my gaze at him? Is that heretical?
1-5 “Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you, know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice.”
“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it.”
6 “Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about.“
What joy can be found in our Shepherd’s care, and to hear his voice. Nothing really can match this wonder. We follow as he leads. The voice is an integral part of this passage and the foundation of authentic discipleship. You really can’t walk with him unless you hear him. We belong to him. We’re his flock that he keeps and provides for.
He knows our name! That’s the intimacy found in these verses. We’re never forgotten and he will never overlook us. To think otherwise is slander and an attack on his present-day ministry. Jesus is our good shepherd. He always will be.
“Intimacy with God comes in whispers, not shouts.”
He sometimes whispers, and this world can’t hear him. To be perfectly honest, my ‘busyness’ silences him. I suppose that the real issue isn’t with him, but with myself.
“And after the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, there was the sound of a gentle whisper.”
1 Kings 19:12
The gentle whisper to a man afraid. This fits the Father’s m.o. He doesn’t speak through a windstorm, earthquake, or fire. He chooses to speak very quietly, and that’s a problem for me. In the original Hebrew, the word for “whisper” can be translated as calm, silence, or something gentle. He speaks this way if only we shut up for a little while.
If we are to recognize God’s voice, we must belong to Him. We hear His voice when we spend time in Bible study and quiet contemplation of His Word. The more time we spend intimately with God and His Word, the easier it is to recognize His voice and His leadership in our lives(.
The flock hears the shepherd, and it’s that voice that breaks through our cluttered-up life. We can hear, and it’s that communication that encourages us to walk through life—one day at a time. Just today. That’s all you must do.
There are so many other voices. You must ignore them.
So many are speaking, and so many want us to hear and follow them. But in reality, they want us to leave the Shepherd and his flock behind.
But we can’t allow this, we must learn to listen to him alone.
“Suddenly Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”And he went away, weeping bitterly.”
Matthew 26:75, NLT
Three denials are followed by three reaffirmations.
“A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”
The apostle Peter was a fervent disciple. He knew who Jesus was before most. He was always included in special times (e.g. the transfiguration, Gethsemane). He was favored by Jesus throughout times of ministry. I also believe that he was Jesus’ friend.
Peter is known for:
being called on the shores of Galilee, Matt 4:18-19
‘almost’ walking on water, Matt 14:29-30
finding the tax money in a fish’s mouth, Matt 17:24-27
having his feet washed, John 13:6-7
in Gethsemane– cutting off an ear, John 18:10-11
his remorse at denying Jesus, Matt 26:75
at the empty tomb with John, John 20:3-8
Peter’s own denials were of a serious nature affecting who he was, and who he was to become. Jesus astutely intervenes as they ‘breakfasted’ on the seashore. There would be three affirmations; one for each denial. Peter needed to meet the resurrected Jesus and speak with him about what he had done. Peter needed this.
A denial has different intensities and can be used in many different ways.
Out of our own confusion, we realize that we can also deny Jesus. Perhaps frequently. And none of us have immunity as of yet. We deny the Lord when we refuse to speak of him to others. We deny the Lord when we fail to do what is right. Sometimes we deny him flagrantly, other times it is a more subtle attitude. At best, we’re still inconsistent, and at worst, we’re apostate.
We’re not punished or abandoned for this behavior.
Human logic would suggest that we should be. But instead, we are gently restored. Given the opportunity, Peter the fisherman would eventually become a wise shepherd to the young Church. I would also suggest that Peter’s personal weakness would serve him well as a gentle, and caring pastor.
Peter, near the end of his life, goes full circle and uses a very precise Greek word foundin only two places in the New Testament. It is the specific form of the word “shepherd.” It is only used in John 21:16-17 in Peter’s restoration, and in 1 Peter 5:2. Peter encourages the Church with the exact words Jesus himself spoke to him on the beach so long ago! Peter wrote:
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing.”
38 “Why are you troubled?” he asked them. “And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself! Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” 40 Having said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 But while they still were amazed and in disbelief because of their joy, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?”
He isn’t a ghost, a hallucination, or some sort of fabrication of hopeful desires. He’s real! As real as you or I–solid, flesh and blood, and real bones. That may seem like a small thing, but it reveals to the disciples (and us) so much. When his resurrection happened, it didn’t alter Him or change his physical attributes. The disciples were floored when the solid Jesus showed up to be with them.
It was a late Sunday evening.
The doors were shut tight, and the eleven were hiding out there–scared and wallowing in doubt. That’s a lousy mixture. Jesus doesn’t knock on the door, he just pops right into their gathering. That must of been a bit of a shake-up in itself. I know I would have freaked. (And I would’ve taken a serious look at that door.)
At the core, they couldn’t believe that he was real. Maybe a ghost, His spirit, or something else? I’m fairly certain that even if this “man” was really Jesus, it would, maybe be something mystical or ethereal. He wouldn’t be flesh anyway. That was a real stretch for them–and me too.
If it was really true, it meant that physical things are really spiritual.
What I mean by that earth was now combined with heaven. Jesus, the King of the known universe–the One who sits on the throne–is solidly human. Concrete and quite tangible. He’s not a vague kind of spirit, but he’s just like like us. Finally, something physical!
Let’s not get confused about this; I think it’s a critical point. Eternity will not be a vague and misty reality–nebulous and celestial. It’s now quite relatable. When Jesus walks with you on the golden paths of his heaven, you’ll not be walking with a ghost. He’ll be as you and I are right now. He’ll be real. You’ll be real.
You’ll be able to touch him. And if you really want to you can stick your finger into his wounds (verse 40.) I love what this solid Jesus told Thomas in John 20:27:
“Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Don’t be faithless, but believe.
This should shatter any misconceptions you might have. Thomas had real doubts, and instead of getting rebuked, Jesus invites Thomas to discover His reality of himself. This is really quite profound when you think of it. I’m so glad that this happened, I needed to hear it for myself.
I may be a very silly preacher and writer, but that’s the way I see it.
A light shining in this heart of darkness A new beginning and a miracle Day by day the integration Of the concrete and the spiritual
“Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses: ‘Why is this bush not burned up?’ (Exodus 3:2-3)
“The strength and stability of these believers can be explained only by the miracle of God’s sustaining grace. The God who sustains Christians in unceasing pain is the same God — with the same grace — who sustains me in my smaller sufferings. We marvel at God’s persevering grace and grow in our confidence in Him as He governs our lives.”
— John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace
We all know a brother or sister who seems to be a target of an undue amount of suffering. It looks like they’re always in the furnace. All we can do really is to shake our heads and then give them double honor for their faith in God’s grace and providence.
Ministering to these sufferers can be a challenge.
What can we say to those who seem to be on “God’s anvil?” How can we bless those who are in pain?
Perhaps a simple word of calm encouragement is the most effective. In the midst of some awful difficulties, I once had a dear brother who gently and carefully quoted Philippians 1:6 to me over and over whenever we met and whenever we parted:
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”
It was a precious thing that he did. I didn’t mind it all, as a matter of fact, I grew to like it. At first, I’ll admit it was strange, but my faith began to ‘mix’ with the Word and I began to believe it. It’s now my favorite verse in the Bible.
He refused to preach (or counsel) at me.
He had the maturity to see what God was doing and to make himself available to God on my behalf. Perhaps that patience he showed should be for us the method of choice? I look forward to seeing him someday, someway.
“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.”
A keyword in this verse is “rejoice.”
It is a good reminder that the pain we feel is not the end. These trials have a limited duration (although it seems far away). There is coming a day when we can navigate through these issues and come out on the other side. “We will shine like the stars” (Daniel 12:3).
Much wisdom is needed in our ministry to disproportionate sufferers. We should have a fear of intruding on the work the Lord is doing. We must be patient and humble in this matter. There is no rushing God, after all, it’s His work. Most importantly we must be very much ‘present’ for our friend.
“But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance”
A “word” spoken out of place can cause even more ‘heartache’ for the sufferer. Let us be careful. At times it’s better not to say anything, and that’s alright. Job’s friends were best sitting in the ash heap, saying no word.
“The Lord God gives me the right words to encourage the weary. Each morning he awakens me eager to learn his teaching.”
Isaiah 50:4, CEB
Trust Jesus to show you how to love, and serve those who seem to struggle so. Ask the Father to give you the right words–He will if you only ask.
“Those who accepted his message were baptized.” (Acts 2:41)
“Repent and be baptized.” (Acts 2:38)
“Having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God.” (Col. 2:12)
Perhaps one of the most significant decisions we’ll make is to follow Jesus Christ into the waters of baptism. This is just obedience to the Lord’s command to be baptized. It’s one of the ways that our discipleship becomes public, but it’s intensely private as well. Ideally, it will forever alter your life. At least that is the Father’s intention.
Baptism becomes a public pronouncement or declaration to the physically seen world and to the invisibly unseen world of the Spirit.
It takes faith to be authentically prepared for baptism. You will be taking a stand. By faith, you’re making public your allegiance to Christ. It is a step of something living.
“Baptism was to put a line of demarcation between your past sins when you are buried with Him by Baptism–you are burying your past sins–eradicating them–putting a line in the sand saying that old man is dead and he is no longer alive anymore and I rise up to walk in the newness of life.”
I suggest that you prayerfully attend to the steps listed below. You will find there is a big difference between truly being baptized, and just getting wet!
The interrogative process can be used to solidify the faith before man and in front of His people. In a sense, it’s much like the vows made by a husband and wife in the vows of marriage.
I. A series of questions are asked, to which the reply is always, “I renounce them.”
Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
Do you renounce the evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
II. The second half also must be asked, to which the reply is always, “I do.”
Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
III. The Apostle’s Creed can be recited publicly (or privately in prayer).
This is our faith boiled down to its core essence. This declaration helps set us apart from the World, the flesh, and the devil:
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, who was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell. and on the third day, He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”
This needs to be understood and accepted. I suppose we will develop these into living discipleship; you’ll that water baptism is analogous to a master key that opens the door to a special joy. Obeying the command to be baptized pleases Jesus. And that is what we long to do.
“Indeed, baptism is a vow, a sacred vow of the believer to follow Christ. Just as a wedding celebrates the fusion of two hearts, baptism celebrates the union of sinner with Savior.”
Baptism is an outward expression of inward faith.
Baptism separates the tire kickers from the car buyers.
A special word to “older” believers: There may come a time when you feel that you would want to be baptized again. I believe that this is not only allowable but commendable. You may have not had a good understanding of the baptismal process, but now it makes sense. I would encourage you to follow your heart. God will honor your rededication. Ask your pastor or elder what they think.
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“The girl asked Peter, “Aren’t you one of Jesus’ disciples?”
“No,” he said, “I am not!”
“The police and the household servants were standing around a fire they had made, for it was cold. And Peter stood there with them, warming himself.”
John 18:17-18, Living Bible
The Galileans had a distinct accent. Just as we easily identify someone from Boston just by the tone and cadence of their speech, Peter had that distinct drawl that told everyone that he came from that same province as Jesus. It was something he couldn’t conceal.
Peter was a very different man in his three years of being with Jesus. And you might say that had transformed him–you might even say that he was now a marked man, the enemy was now quite aware of him. He was no longer a captain of a small fishing boat looking for a catch. He was now the leader of Jesus’ disciples.
The entire text (18:15-18) reveals a confrontation that Peter had with a servant girl, and we hear him making a bold-faced lie. At this very moment Peter was fulfilling the “promise” that Jesus had predicted (Matthew 26:31-32).
What was going through Peter’s head at that moment?
She was a simple servant girl, perhaps one who ministered at the gate of the high priest’s home. It’s interesting that she is the first one to question Peter’s duplicity. Most likely she was just doing her job, watching and listening. She was probably quite alert.
It’s easy to point our finger at Peter. He was a coward, and when he was put on the spot he bailed. People hate cowards–we extol those who take a definite stand against evil. But he was frightened, scared of being connected with Jesus–the man on trial. There was much at stake here.
We also speak with an accent. I know it might be a stretch–but being with Jesus has fundamentally changed us. Our lives now have a specific dialect that others hear, we’re not the same people that we once were.
We open our mouths and others can hear the Kingdom of God. We can’t hide that dialect.
Sometimes I try to pretend that I haven’t been with Jesus, and I’m very ashamed of that. Like Peter, I stand with the others and choose to warm myself by their fire, and I try very hard to make myself inconspicuous. But all I have to do is open my mouth, and I betray who I really am.
It’s really funny, but even servant girls know that I belong to him. He has fundamentally touched me.
“To stand before the Holy One of eternity is to change.”
“The strength and stability of these believers can be explained only by the miracle of God’s sustaining grace. The God who sustains Christians in unceasing pain is the same God — with the same grace — who sustains me in my smaller sufferings. We marvel at God’s persevering grace and grow in our confidence in Him as He governs our lives.“
— John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace”
All of us know a brother or sister who seems to be a target of an undue amount of suffering. It seems like they’re always in the furnace. Perhaps we should give them double honor for their faith in God’s grace and providence. Their hurt is typically inside, and most carry this pain apart from others’ knowledge. They cry when they think no one is looking.
What can we say to those who seem to be in a white-hot furnace? How can we bless those who are in so much pain? They hurt deeply, and honestly, at times we have no idea what they’re having to endure. They’re being challenged in ways we never imagined. We should realize that their burden would probably destroy us.
Ministering to these sufferers can be a real challenge. Even if God is directing you!
Sometimes just a word of simple encouragement is all that is needed. A phone call or an email is good, and it’s the work of a believer to actively lift each other up like this. This is how the Church is meant to be. We watch out for each other, we care for each brother and sister, and it’s a joy to serve each other like this.
But sometimes it might be necessary to speak directly into their awful storm.
In the midst of some awful difficulties in my early walk, I had a dear brother who was so kind. He gently (and carefully) quoted Philippians 1:6 to me over and over. It was wonderful and so encouraging–he blessed me with that promise and it’s now my “life verse” fifty years later!
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Philippians 1:6, ESV
A good reminder for us is that the pain we feel right now is not the end. Our trials have a finite duration (although it seems far away). There’s coming a day when the difficulty will suddenly cease and we’ll come out on the other side. “We’ll shine like the stars,” scripture promises us. (Daniel 12:3). I really believe we’ll see that.
Much wisdom is needed in our ministry to disproportionate sufferers. We should have a fear of intruding on the work the Lord is doing in their spiritual heart. We must be patient and humble in this matter. There is no rushing God, after all, it’s His work. Most importantly we must be very much ‘present’ for our friend.
“But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance.”
But please understand. A “word” spoken out of place can cause even more ‘heartache’ for the sufferer. Let’s be careful. At times it’s better not to say anything, and to be honest, that’s okay. Job’s friends were best sitting in the ash heap saying not a word. Please dear one, be aware, alert, and very wise about these things.
Just wait on God—-be sensitive, discerning, and pray a whole lot. It’s no small thing to speak to those who are hurting so deeply.
“The Lord God gives me the right words to encourage the weary. Each morning he awakens me eager to learn his teaching.”