“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7
Whenever I am planning to be out of the office, I begin days ahead of time making sure everyone knows what needs to be done in my absence and passing on any information they may need while I’m gone. This process goes on for a few days, but immediately before I leave I will once again go over the critical, most important things. The people in my office probably find this very irritating, but I have to know that they’ve got it.
This verse is among the final things that Jesus said to his disciples before His crucifixion. He has spoken on prayer many times previously, but He stresses it once again. He really wants them to get this. He really wants us to get it as well.
For those of us who have been Christians for a while, we may tend to pass over this verse quickly. But stop and read it as though you’ve never seen it before. Now read it like Jesus really means exactly what this verse says.
Whatever? Did He say whatever you wish? That seems so incredibly dangerous, people being the way they are. And it would be, except He has installed a safety net – if you abide in Me and My words abide in you.
Jesus knows that the abiding Word of God in our heart makes this a very safe verse. His Word so sweetly turns our hearts away from fleshly, carnal things so that our only real wish is that God be glorified. And when this is the deepest desire at the heart of every request, Jesus can say “Yes, it will be done for you.”
I am a notorious to-do list maker. This is one of the ways I try to keep life under control. If I can put it on paper, I can control it. I like lists. I like them a lot.
I am particularly fond of lists in the Bible. For example, the 10 commandments. This works well for me because the expectations are clearly defined and success is measurable. It says don’t do it, I don’t do it, so I can put a check mark next to that one for the day. Reviewing my progress at the end of the day, I can either congratulate myself on a job well done, or resolve to try harder the next day.
However, I have found that this approach to a relationship with God has a tendency to lead to either a self-righteousness that disregards the true condition of the heart, or an overwhelming despair brought about by the realization that I can never successfully follow the list. Colossians 2:23 says that these regulations are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. No value? None at all? Well then, what is a Type A personality to do?
A genuine faith requires dependence upon the Spirit of God to lead me in my obedience if it is to be a complete, whole hearted obedience. No lists which aid me in gauging my progress. I cannot be trusted to gauge my own progress for I cannot know my own heart. I am too prone to deceive myself in order to soothe my conscience and please my flesh. But the Holy Spirit relentlessly leads me into a depth of obedience beyond what I could ever find by way of a list.
Living by the Spirit many times seems harder. Instead of striking off with my list to get the job done (which is easy for me), I must now begin by waiting and listening. But the rewards of a Spirit led obedience, the depth of transformation it produces, is beyond compare.
So I will sacrifice the list and follow the still, small voice that leads me into a life that produces a harvest of fruitful obedience.
Several years ago during a very difficult time in my life a friend shared this story with me:
When French impressionist painter Auguste Renoir was confined to his home during the last decade of his life, Henri Matisse was nearly 28 years younger than him. The two great artists were dear friends and frequent companions. Matisse visited him daily. Renoir, almost paralyzed by arthritis, continued to paint in spite of his infirmities. One day as Matisse watched the elder painter work in his studio, fighting torturous pain with each brush stroke, he blurted out: “Auguste, why do you continue to paint when you are in such agony?”
Renoir said: “The pain passes but the beauty remains.”
Those words touched my heart in a profound way as I realized that my pain, in the hands of my God, was producing a beautiful brokenness. I have never viewed suffering in the same light since then.
“The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.” Psalm 34:18
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart – these O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:17
If brokenness brings the nearness of God, why do we fight against it so much? This pain is not a master sent to rule over us, but our servant, sent to work in us that wonderful work of conforming us to Christ.
How insignificant our pain will be when we see it as the hand of the Potter, gently sculpting, meticulously crafting a vessel of honor fit for the Master’s use. Those scarred and broken places in my soul, they are covered with His fingerprints.
After the death of King Solomon as Rehoboam, his son, began to reign, Jeroboam rose up to oppose him and take the kingdom. Rehoboam was rightful heir to the throne of all Israel, so naturally he assembled an army to defend his throne and squelch this uprising.
But God sent a prophet to Rehoboam with these words, “Thus says the Lord, “You shall not go up nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel. Let every man return to his house, for this thing is from me.” How altogether amazing for God to send Rehoboam home without his kingdom. And equally amazing is Rehoboam’s response – “Therefore they obeyed the word of the Lord, and turned back, according to the word of the Lord.”
This seems so totally contrary to human nature. We all feel entitled to certain things. How much more would Rehoboam have felt entitled to this kingdom that was promised to the descendants of David? To refuse to even try to regain the kingdom seems an even greater appearance of weakness than to have tried and failed. Yet as soon as he knew this turn of events was from the Lord, he obeyed the Lord. I wonder how humiliating this event must have been for him.
Obedience is not always easy. Sometimes it’s downright painful. God will at times require you to turn loose of something you desperately want to keep, or to remain silent when everything within you is screaming to vindicate yourself, or let your “rights” get trampled in the dust leaving you to appear humiliated to those around you.
Are we willing to do the hard things that He requires? Can we die to our own desires when we are presented with a hard thing that is from the Lord? If we are not willing (and are not willing to be made willing) then we are really not His disciples. We are only fooling ourselves. A few moments of reflection on the awesome power and majesty of this God will convince us that we are the most pitiful of fools who do not obey Him. A few moments of reflection on Calvary will break our hearts for every time we have not obeyed Him. And one look into the face of Jesus will make us willing to give up everything we possess to obey Him.
Almighty God, I adore Your infinite patience, which has not cut me off in the midst of my follies; I magnify Your wonderful goodness, which has spared me thus long. Let me no longer abuse that precious treasure–time, which you have allotted me as a proper season to work out my own salvation, and secure that happiness which is great in itself, and infinite in its duration.
Let me bid adieu to all those vain amusements, those trifling entertainments and sinful diversions, which have robbed me of many valuable hours, and endangered the loss of my immortal soul. Let me no longer waste my time in ease and pleasure, in unprofitable studies, and more unprofitable conversation; but grant, that, by diligence and honesty in my calling, by constancy and fervor in my devotions, by moderation and temperance in my enjoyments, by justice and charity in all my words and actions, and by keeping a conscience void of offence to God and man–I may be able to give a good account in the day of judgment, and be accepted in and through the merits of Jesus Christ, my only mediator and advocate.
It is a fact of life that trouble comes to all. To the rich and poor, the proud and humble, the young and old. No one is exempt.
“Yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” Job 5:7
With each new difficulty we are given the opportunity to choose our response to it. What will we do in the day of trouble? This is a question of great importance. I love this quote by Hannah Whitall Smith:
We may make out of each event in our lives either a Juggernaut car to crush us, or a chariot in which to ride to heights of victory. It all depends upon how we take them; whether we lie down under our trials and let them roll over and crush us, or whether we climb up into them as into a chariot, and make them carry us triumphantly onward and upward.
2 Corinthians 4:17 tells us that “our light affliction which is but for a moment is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
Each difficulty presented, each sorrow to be endured, each gut-wrenching choice of obedience that must be made, they are invitations to glory. In each new challenge, an opportunity to die a little bit more to ourselves and to become more alive to who He is. Suddenly, our own comfort, even our own personal desires and happiness are no longer as important as they once seemed to be.
A dear friend, who has faced much difficulty in life, recently sent me this encouragement in an email:
“We can smile, and be at peace in our souls, and why not, because the worst it ever gets here is as bad as it can get, because to be absent from the body is to be present with Christ at whose right hand are pleasures evermore… The only thing that mars our joy is the voluntary sorrow and grief that we suffer because of the love for dear precious souls that we love as we see them in their lost condition; foolishly unwilling to surrender their miserable and futile lives to the Only One who can save them and give them purpose and hope. What else is there to sorrow over? Our lives are in His hands, and whatever temporary suffering, loss, or lacking is inconsequential compared to eternity.”
There are wonderful days when all things that concern us are as we had always hoped they would be. And then there are days when tears are abundant and pain and loneliness reside as constant companions. But in just a few moments this vapor that is our life, with all its difficulties, temptations and sorrows, will be over. We will step over the threshold into our eternal dwelling where sorrow can never touch us again….ever.
A few moments of sorrow, even should they stretch into years or decades, cannot compare to the heavenly comforts that await us and the joy of gazing upon the face of Jesus.
Even if my worst fears on this earth are realized, they only serve as an instrument to draw me nearer to Jesus. Not only has death lost its sting, so has life.
“Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful.” Philippians 2:28
As I read through Philippians 2:25-30, at first glance there didn’t seem to be much to discover in this passage. But as I reread it a few times, a familiar theme in Philippians began to surface – connectedness.
Epaphroditus has been sent by the Philippians to minister to Paul. Their love for him is so great that they send one of their own to bring aid and comfort to him during his imprisonment. Yet, while he is gone, Epaphroditus becomes sick, almost dying. The Philippians hear this news and they are so sorrowful, so concerned for their brother. And Epaphroditus himself is longing for his brothers and sisters at Philippi because he knows they are worried about him. Paul cannot bear to leave the Philippians sorrowing any longer and sends Epaphroditus back to them.
These people really love each other. Their lives are bound up together, their hearts joined to one another because of the love of Christ.
My heart aches sometimes because I do not consistently see this kind of love and connectedness in the Church today. And I don’t see it in myself either. There are reasons…..our culture is different, our society is more fast paced, etc…..
Reasons, but not excuses.
Jesus commanded us to love one another. And we have not obeyed. We may say that we love each other, but where’s the fruit? We are not involved in one another’s lives. We do not mourn with those who mourn. We do not rejoice to ‘spend and be spent’ for other believers. We disobey Jesus in this and justify it with our excuses.