The title of this article is "Feed My Sheep".
As you may know, in Luke 21 the Lord Jesus told Peter several times: "Feed My Sheep".
Of course Jesus did not have those wooly animals in view. Jesus used the word sheep as a picture of the people of God. The sheep represented people for whom the Lord Jesus suffered and died on the cross. Peter had to feed these people spiritual food. But before the disciples were sent out to feed the sheep of Christ, Jesus first fed them. This is a general principle that God applies to all of us: "We get fed first, before we can give others the spiritual food they need". Jesus said to them:
"Come and Dine" (John 21:9-14)
Let me backup to the beginning of this story. The disciples were back in Galilee some time after Jesus' resurrection. Then Peter decided to go fishing. Six other disciples joined him. They fished all night and caught nothing. In the morning Jesus stood on the shore, and Jesus said to them: "Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find". Then they cast the net on the right side of the ship, and miraculously there were so many fish in the net that they could not haul the net into the ship. So they knew that the one on the shore was Jesus. Peter could not wait. He dove in the water and swam to shore to be with Jesus. Then the other disciples came, dragging the net with fishes to the shore.
Now we read in John 21, beginning at verse 9,
As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.
Where did those fish and bread come from?
Obviously, Jesus brought them.
Jesus saith unto them, "Bring of the fish which ye have now caught."
Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.
Jesus saith unto them, "Come and dine". And none of the disciples durst ask him, "Who art thou?" knowing that it was the Lord.
Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.
This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.
Jesus fed them the bread and fish that were on the coals of fire. On a previous occasion when Jesus fed the 5000, He fed them bread and fish. Sometime later when He fed the 4000, Jesus fed them bread and fish. And now in John 21, Jesus fed the disciples bread and fish.
Do you think that bread and fish is always a nutritious meal?
Spiritually it is. The bread is spiritually representing the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Bread of Life that is broken for us. When we read or hear the Word of God, spiritually we partake of the Lord Jesus. But the fish is spiritually representing people. Remember, Jesus said: "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men".
Why does the bread come in combination with the fish?
It is God's pleasure to work through people to carry the Gospel message. God's rule of operation is that "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God". When people bring us messages from the Word of God, we are being fed first, and then we can give others the spiritual food they need.
Then after they had dined, Jesus singled out Peter and He asked him:
"Simon, Lovest Thou Me?" (John 21:15-17)
So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
Why did Jesus address Peter as "Simon, son of Jonas"?
The name Jonas is the same as Jonah, which means "dove". A dove is frequently pointing to God the Holy Spirit. Notice that the word "son" is in italics, which means it is a suggestion from the translators. Jesus could have addressed Peter as Simon Barjona, which means Simon son of Jonah, but Jesus did not use that surname. Jesus said "Simon, of Jonah". Peter was not in actuality a son of the Holy Spirit, but Jesus indicated hereby that Peter was made alive spiritually by God the Holy Spirit. Like any other true believer, Peter was born again; Peter had received a new soul from God the Holy Spirit, which means he was a son of God.
And then Jesus asked the crucial question: "Simon, lovest thou Me more than these?"
Do you love Me more than these other disciples love Me?
Simon, is it really true that you love Me?
Let us not forget that Jesus is God. Jesus knew the heart of Simon Peter better than Peter could know himself. The Lord Jesus was not curious about the answer to this question; He knew the answer before Peter could give it because He knew Peter's heart.
Then why did Jesus ask the question?
It was not for His benefit, but for our benefit. The Lord Jesus is asking each one of us: "Lovest thou Me? Is it really true that you love Me? Did you examine yourself how much you love Me? It is very important and necessary that you love Me. Does it show in your actions? Don't trust your hollow promises that you will lay down your life for Me, like Peter said it the night before his betrayal. Can you show that you love Me by simply keeping My commandments day in and day out? Can you show that you love Me by loving your fellow man for My sake?" This is what Jesus is asking us.
And then Jesus said to Simon Peter:
"Feed My Lambs" (John 21:15, Matthew 19:13-14)
So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
Jesus said: Feed My little ones. They are not your lambs; they are mine. You have them only for a few years and then they have grown up and do their own thing. But now, while they are young, they depend on you completely. They trust that you are feeding them the right stuff. Now, in these early years, they are so pliable and so vulnerable. Feed My little ones the Word of God, and don't feed them garbage. Feed them slowly and systematically so that they do not choke on their food.
Perhaps you remember that children were brought to Jesus. Let me read to you from Matthew 19:13,
Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them.
But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
When Jesus said: "for of such is the kingdom of heaven", Jesus indicated thereby that all believers are spiritually represented by little children. Therefore, when Jesus said to Peter: "Feed my lambs", Jesus was not only referring to children under the age of 10, but Jesus referred to new believers as "lambs". Adults who are new in the faith are also "lambs". Jesus commissioned Peter as the elder of His flock first of all to feed the lambs of Jesus, to feed them gently, to feed them the Word of God, to bind up the broken ones, to care for their hurts and to defend them against wolves.
When we project into the future, and when we look at our children, we see that they are going to be worse off than any of us adults. They are stepping into a world that has drifted further and further away from the Lord Jesus Christ. They are stepping into a world that has become much more dangerous for their spiritual well being than when we were young. This world has many worldly enticements. That is nothing new; those have always been around us. But today there are so many more false gospels around. We must train our children well, that they be solidly entrenched in the Word of God. And every week we must pray: "I hope to have another week to teach them".
Then Jesus said to Peter:
"Feed My Sheep" (John 21:16-17, 1 Corinthians 11:26)
He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed (Lit: Shepherd) my sheep.
He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
In verse 16 Jesus said: "Shepherd My sheep". Then in verse 17 Jesus said: "Feed My sheep". "Peter, tend the flock of God". Jesus is clearly commissioning Peter as the elder of His flock, as the Undershepherd of His flock, as the overseer of His flock, to take care of the spiritual needs of the flock of Jesus. "Peter, if you love Me, shepherd My sheep and feed My sheep at all cost, even if it costs you your life". Jesus changed Peter's profession from fishing to shepherding. Jesus appointed Peter to be a Pastor and teacher. But after a few decades Peter died.
Who would then shepherd the flock of Jesus?
Well, it is obvious that the Lord Jesus not only commissioned Peter to this task of shepherding His flock, but this assignment was also given to all those elders and Pastors and teachers who have been given this task after Peter. The Lord Jesus was about to leave this world, so now He appoints others to minister to His people.
For how long is this assignment to the elders to feed the flock of God?
Do we find anywhere in the Scriptures a verse that terminates the task of the elders to give the Word of God?
No! On the contrary. When Christ finalized the command to celebrate the Lord's Supper He said in 1 Corinthians 11:26,
1 Corinthians 11:26
For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.
How long do we continue to celebrate the Lord's Supper?
Till He come!
And the task of the elders to show the congregation the meaning of the Lord's Supper must continue till Christ comes again.
Three times did Jesus ask Peter: "Simon, of Jonas, lovest thou Me?"
Peter was not grieved because he was insulted that Jesus questioned his love three times. Peter was grieved because he was reminded of that terrible night when he denied his Lord three times in the courtyard of the high priest. But now three times Jesus reinstated Peter as the Undershepherd of His flock.
Why did Jesus single out Simon Peter in John 21?
It is because Peter was at that time the spokesman for that group of disciples. Peter was the leading elder of that group. Jesus singled out Peter, because Peter would later speak about this same command from Jesus in an address to the elders of the churches. We find in 1 Peter 5:1,
An Instruction to the Elders (1 Peter 5:1-3)
1 Peter 5:1
The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:
1 Peter 5:2
Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
1 Peter 5:3
Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.
Peter is not speaking to the elders in age, but to men who have been elected, and appointed, and ordained to teach and preach the Word of God. Peter says that he too is such an elder, and that he is a witness of the sufferings of Christ. He has seen the sufferings of Christ. Not only Peter, but also all of us who have become saved are witnesses of the sufferings of Christ. We have seen it, not with our physical eyes, but with the eyes of faith. We too, like Peter are partakers of the glorious New Heaven & New Earth.
Then Peter recalled the commission that Jesus gave him and to the elders: "Feed the flock of God" and be overseers of the congregation. Make sure that in all spiritual matters the congregation is being fed. Explain to them what the pure Word of God says. Mingle with them. Get to know them personally. Take time out to help them wherever you can. You elders have not been assigned this task by constraint, but you have accepted it willingly. Likewise, if you need something done, don't twist their arm, but let them do it willingly. Serve this congregation, but not for filthy lucre, not for making money out of it. "Freely ye have received, freely give". You are not serving a worldly corporation, but you are serving the Church of God, which Christ also loved, and gave Himself for it. The Church of God is operated by totally different rules than a secular corporation.
Therefore, be not lords over God's heritage. You as elders are to be servants to the congregation, and you are servants to Christ. Therefore you must be examples to the flock. Be examples to them in word and in deed. Be available to them every Sunday and be patient with them, like God is patient with you. I am saying that, but I still need to learn patience myself. And I am sure that all of us need to learn a great deal from God's exhortation here in 1 Peter 5.
You might say: "This is addressed to the elders. I am not an elder". But God's instruction to the elders in these first three verses is not only for the benefit of the elders. God gave us here the rules under which the Church must operate. The Lord Jesus commissioned Peter to "Feed the flock of God", and Peter commissioned others to "Feed the flock of God, and taking the oversight thereof".
How long should this practice last?
Well, the next verse indicates: "When the chief Shepherd shall appear". But first I want to speak about verses 5 through 7, which speak about:
Submit Yourselves Unto the Elders (1 Peter 5:5-7, Hebrews 13:7,17,24)
1 Peter 5:5
Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.
1 Peter 5:6-7
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.
God is not saying here that the younger people must always submit themselves to the older people. The word "elder" in verse 5 is the same word as "elders" in verse 1, and the meaning is the same. But since Pastors and elders are usually men of years, the title elder usually refers to someone in the office of elder, who is not only experienced in the Scriptures, but also well in age. Therefore, verse 5 says that those younger in the faith should submit themselves to those who are older in the faith, especially submit to those who have been appointed to be the ruling elders in the congregation. God calls us to humble ourselves and be subject to the ruling elders. Moreover, all of us must be subject one to another, which means that we all are to care for one another and be willing to listen to spiritual counsel from one another. None of us should be so proud that we could not learn from one another.
God cares for us, so why could He not send someone in the congregation to help us?
We need to be clear on this matter of submitting to the elders, and we need to be clear on how long this condition should last in the Church. God says in Hebrews 13:7,
Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
God has more to say about our relationship to the ruling elders. God says in verse 17,
Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
God gave us here clear rules for the New Testament Church: The congregation must submit themselves to the elders that have the rule over them, because God has appointed the elders to this function and the elders watch for the spiritual health of the congregation. It is to your benefit that they do it with joy. God established these rules for our benefit, in order that all things are done decently and in good order. Since God has appointed these rules, nobody should claim that these rules have been abolished. We do not find anywhere a clear statement that the government of the church by the elders has come to an end. In fact verse 24 enforces again the position of the elders. We read in:
Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.
We shall now look at one more verse in I Peter 5. God says there:
"When the Chief Shepherd Shall Appear" (1 Peter 5:4)
In the first three verses of 1 Peter, chapter 5, God addresses the ruling elders. In verses 5, 6 and 7 God addresses those who are to submit themselves to the elders. The question has been raised by someone, "How long will this condition remain in the New Testament Church? Until when is the New Testament. Church to be ruled by elders and are we to submit ourselves to the elders?"
Is it not curious that God wedged in between those two paragraphs 1 Peters 5:4,
1 Peter 5:4
And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
This crown of glory is eternal life with God in the New Heaven & New Earth. This crown of glory is not given to the elders only, but also to those who are called to submit themselves to the elders. Every true believer receives the same crown of glory. The position of verse 4 strongly suggests that ruling elders will be in the church until Christ returns on the clouds of glory. That is when the job of elder shall end. Christ is the chief Shepherd. We are only Undershepherds. The elders are called ruling elders, but they have been elected by the congregation to serve, and they have been appointed by God to serve the congregation. Thus the elders are not lording it over the congregation, but they are servants of the congregation, just like the Pastor is a servant of the congregation.
What can be more glorious than the commendation of our Lord, when He says: "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord".
We will now turn to the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 20. We find here another:
Instruction to the Elders (Acts 20:26-28, 1 Timothy 6:13-14)
In Acts chapter 20 the Apostle Paul gave his farewell sermon to the elders of the church at Ephesus. In the middle of his sermon to the Ephesian elders the Apostle Paul said:
Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.
For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
Take heed, be on your toes, for yourselves and for all the flock over which God the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.
If God has put them in their job as overseers, would God then at some point in time take back from them this appointment to be overseers of the congregation?
No! Take heed elders, overseers; keep preaching the pure Word of God to your church, which He has purchased with His own precious blood. These days there are people who declare that the church is dead and that the elders are no longer elders.
Is God an Indian giver?
God forbid! Therefore, take heed. "Let God be true, but every man a liar". Fear not to declare all the counsel of God. Fear not to take away all the high places. And when the chief Shepherd appears let this commendation be said of you: "Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God."
In 1 Timothy the Apostle Paul instructs his spiritual son Timothy various things on the proper operation of a church. At the same time God gives these instructions to all the elders and Pastors of the New Testament church. In the second half of chapter 6 God tells Timothy and He tells us to fight the good fight, and God says:
1 Timothy 6:13
I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession;
1 Timothy 6:14
That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ:
A solemn charge is laid before Timothy, before all ministers of the Gospel and before all believers to fight the good fight of faith, to observe the doctrine and discipline of the church, and to preach the Gospel of the grace of Christ in sincerity, purity and without compromise. We seek not the praise, approval and honor which comes from men, but we preach, walk and live before God. We keep doing this without interruption until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ on the clouds of glory.
That is why we must take heed that we elders are faithful Undershepherds, rather than cowardly hirelings. Let us return now to Acts chapter 20. God warns us there about:
Grievous Wolves Among You (Acts 20:29-31, Jeremiah 17:5)
Speaking to the church at Ephesus, God warned that church, and He warned the New Testament church in:
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
God warned them that soon after the departing of the Apostle Paul grievous wolves would enter this congregation, and draw away many people with them into Hell.
Who would do such a dastardly thing?
The Apostle Paul looked the Ephesian elders straight in the eyes and he said: "Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them". Out of that highly privileged group of elders standing before him would arise some, who would be preaching a false gospel, and thereby lead many people astray.
If this could happen to the church at Ephesus, where the Apostle Paul labored for three years, then certainly it could happen to us also. Therefore, take heed, because the wolves are at the door. Be on your toes. Check everything out in your Bible. Never assume that it is right because so and so says it. In fact, if we depend on the wisdom of man to keep us straight, then we are certainly going to be disappointed. God says in the middle verse of the Bible, Jeremiah 17:5,
Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.
We cannot fully trust man. We can only trust God and the Word of God.
For example: Signs of the end of the world are events in creation, in history and in the church that show that the end of the world is near. Such an event in creation would be an earthquake; such an event in history would be war; such an event in the church would be worldwide apostasy. These signs are specified in the Scriptures, and they are events that take place out in the open, where they are obvious to everybody. They are not private, secret signs that are given to a few special individuals by special revelation. This has always been a characteristic of the cults. The secrecy of these revelations contradicts the very idea of the biblical signs of the end, for biblical signs are open and obvious. Do not listen to those who say: "I have some private, secret information about Christ's coming. Listen to me, and follow me." If we lend our ears to such silly talk then we are endangering ourselves to be sucked into a cult.
The Apostle Paul says: "Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears."
Watch and pray. Pray for your Pastor, that he may remain faithful. Pray that we will not be influenced by men to go in a direction, which is altogether an unbiblical direction. And in the end we must leave it all in the hands of God. Therefore Paul says:
"I Commend You to God" (Acts 20:32, Psalm 23:4-6)
We read in Acts 20:32,
And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.
The Apostle says: And now I leave you in the care of God, and I leave you with the Word of God, which he so beautifully titles "the Word of His grace". Indeed it is the Word of His grace. It is through the words of the Bible that the grace of God reaches the hearts of men. It is through the words of the Bible that the grace of God keeps us on the strait and narrow. It is through the words of the Bible that the grace of God teaches us to discern right from wrong. The Word of His grace is able to build you up and to make you spiritually grow in grace. The Word of His grace is able to keep your Pastor faithful. I don't know if you are aware of it, but these days it is very difficult to remain faithful to everything the Bible has to say, because every day we are bombarded with all kinds of deviations from the Truth. These days our church is bombarded with all kinds of nonsense, and our church is not equipped to face all those challenges. We are at the entrance of deep and dark days, because the churches that we thought were our allies are falling by the wayside. We find ourselves to be an independent church, which really stands alone, dependent on no one, and abandoned by everyone. Only by the grace of God can we remain faithful. Only by the grace of God shall we be preserved for an eternity with God, who will "give us an inheritance among all them which are sanctified."
So all I can say is: "I commend you to God". God will know what is best for us.
But we can always trust in the Word of His grace, where we can find these comforting words:
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Think of the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus Christ, that He was willing to endure Hell for us, in our place.
And would He now abandon us?
Even though we are at the entrance of deep and dark days and we feel abandoned by everyone, remember those words: "I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
When the Lord Jesus said: "Feed My sheep", the Apostle Peter found out how difficult this assignment was. When I received this commission, several years ago, little did I know how difficult this assignment was. But by the grace of God we will persevere to the end.
By Alfred Chompff
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Our message today is taken from the Word of God in Matthew 6:6: "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."
Prayer is both the greatest blessing that God has given to us and also the most difficult spiritual activity that God has called us to perform.
What is a greater blessing than to come before our Father in secret; to enter into the secret holy place of God; to express our dependence upon Him for all things; to expect that in Jesus Christ He will give us what we need; to join with the worshipers at His throne and to receive supplies of grace sufficient; to be given peace passing understanding.
What can compare to having stood in the presence of God in prayer?
But prayer, at the same time, is the most difficult spiritual activity to which God calls us. It seems that at no time does sin oppose and impede us as at the moment of prayer. Scripture refers to prayer as "wrestling": Jacob wrestled with God. The apostle Paul in Romans 15 uses a word for prayer which means "agonize": Pray for me, agonize before God for me. And how true to our experience! Sincere, regular, and heartfelt prayer to God is an intense struggle. We fall into vain repetition. Our minds drift away. And so often our hearts are cold and the words seem to choke in our mouth.
So we need instruction and we need encouragement in prayer.
We must not despair and quit praying because it is difficult and because we are weak. We must not feel unworthy of the secret place. Through Jesus Christ we must continue to come to the throne of grace in full assurance. And we must struggle on, receiving the reward of our Father which is strength and peace through prayer.
In our text, the Lord offers no easy fix for prayer. He does not provide us with a magical solution whereby all the struggle and difficulty simply falls away. In our text He calls us to an intense, spiritual prayer. He calls us to engage our heart, our mind, and our being. And He promises us that in this way we shall receive the blessing of God.
Matthew 6 is part of the Sermon on the Mount. In this part of this sermon Jesus is exposing the outward, sham religion of the Pharisees. He is exposing it for what it was-shot through with the rottenness of stinking hypocrisy. It was a religion which was motivated by one principle: to be seen of men; to have glory of men. They were driven by a preoccupation with the eye of man, not the eye of God. In all of their alms (that is, in giving for the poor), in their prayer, and in their fasting, they went no further than the eye of man. That was the essence of their religion. In stark contrast, our Lord teaches us that the essence of true religion must be that we are concerned with being seen of God in secret. Our Lord calls us to a personal, sincere, heartfelt prayer-life before God. Our Lord says that prayer is not simply the mouthing of words or the folding of hands or the outward appearance. But prayer is when we shut out the world, our own thoughts of ourselves, and our sins, and we focus upon God. We seek His presence in secret.
And He promises us that in this way we shall receive our reward.
"But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret." Let us not overlook the fact that Jesus is assuming here that His disciples will pray. "But thou, when thou prayest…." Prayer is taken for granted as a given in the life of the child of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is speaking these words to His disciples. In Matthew 5:1 we read that His disciples came unto Him, and He sat down and taught them. Not to pray is wicked. The life of Christ which is given to us seeks after God. As the plant in your house will always turn its leaves to the sun no matter where you position it, so prayer to the Christian. We must look unto God from whence cometh our help.
The word Jesus uses for prayer here is a general word which means "worship." Prayer is necessary as worship. When the heart knows God, the true God of the Bible, and when the heart understands one's dependence before this God and answerability to this God, then the result will be: prayer, speaking to God, going to Him, talking with Him.
Do you pray?
I am not asking you now if your prayer-life is what it should be. I am not asking you whether or not you are able to bring forth a fluent prayer. I am not even asking you right now if your prayer-life is regular. I ask you:
Do you pray?
Do you come before your Father in secret, in the place of prayer?
If not, you must repent now!
When we are prayerless we are not only weak and subject to temptations and to falling into sin. When we are prayerless, we are sinning. Jesus says, Pray!
But our Lord knows that it is in prayer that we are confronted by a great struggle because of our indwelling sin, our pride, our self-glorification. You understand, I trust, that the Lord is not emphasizing the mere outward manner or form of our prayer. He is not emphasizing where we pray. But He is emphasizing the motive. If you were to take out your Bible you would see that the Lord, in this verse, is drawing a contrast with the hypocrites, who stood in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets and who pray with themselves. The Lord says, in opposition to that, you find a secluded spot. There may be something to be said about finding a secluded place where you pray, away from distractions. That may be indeed true. But the Lord is emphasizing the motive. The hypocrite, says the Lord, prays to be seen of men. When he prays, man is on his mind. As he folds his hands in prayer, the hypocrite is concerned with this thought, "What are people thinking about me now?"
Before him are the eyes and the ears of men. And the Lord is emphasizing that it is the attitude of your mind, it is the direction of your heart, that is central in the life of prayer. You must come before your Father in secret. Do not be as a hypocrite.
That means that it is in our nature to carry our sin in the form of our pride right into the presence of God. I believe this is one of the most devastating effects of sin in our life. It defiles even the holy place of prayer. The Lord is saying, "Disciples, you had better beware. You must take heed. Your sin will follow you all the way into the presence of God." Sin is not something that is in a faraway land (when you are at work or at play or wherever you are) and now you leave that distant land when you come into prayer by folding of your hands and it stays away. No. Sin trails you right into the holy place. It will follow you right up to the gates of heaven and it will try to get in, right up to your prayer, because sin is the disposition of your heart. While we are praying to God, so often we are worshiping ourselves. We are thinking of ourselves, our own words before the ears of others.
The highest picture you will ever have of a Christian is when he is on his knees before God in prayer. Oh, the blessing. But right there sin seeks to intrude. You begin to be tempted to think about yourself.
Can you pray for two or three minutes without having your mind wander?
You become concerned that others see you pray. Your words are intended to receive the praise and acceptance of men. You are worshiping men and yourself rather than God.
And the child of God knows that. That is why he always sees his own sin as that which is the greatest. The child of God does not need to look to the drunkard in the gutter and say, There is the picture of sin. But the child of God finds a more horrible picture of sin in himself. He has to fight evil in his own heart as he comes to God in prayer.
So Jesus says, If you are truly to pray, enter into the holy place. The Lord speaks of a closet. "Enter into thy closet," that is, a chamber, a private, secret room. Close the door, says Jesus, and come to your Father in secret (that is, a hidden spot). Understand again that the Lord is not prohibiting public prayer. He is not prohibiting family prayer or group prayer. We know that such things are practiced in the book of Acts-the believers prayed together. Nor does He mean that we simply go into a closet thinking that if we go into a closet in the house we have locked out the world and sin. You do not lock out sin with a door. You have not closed your heart to sin by closing a door. Jesus means that you must earnestly lock out all that would draw your mind from God. Whether you are praying in public or in private, whether you are at your table or in church, whether you are in school or in a restaurant, whether you are in a hospital room with an afflicted saint or in a church meeting, or whether you are all by yourself-before you speak one word, go to your closet. Shut the door. And go to your Father in secret.
The Pharisees concentrated on themselves. When praying before men, they wanted to be known as holy men of prayer. Not you, says Jesus! You must shut out all intrusions. You must get rid of distractions.
Close the door!
Never do we need His grace so desperately as when we come to Him in prayer. Shut from your mind all thoughts of the creature and have respect to God alone. Do not be occupied with that which is around you, but with God who is invisible.
How many of our prayers go no higher than the roof of our mouth?
What a need we have of knowing that Christ is our Intercessor. There are so many ways of doing exactly what the Lord warns against.
Are our prayers (private or family) different when guests are present?
Would your child say to the visiting minister or elder, "Dad, you prayed longer because the minister is here."
Do we pray in secret in such a way that everybody knows we pray in private?
Children, do you ever do that when you are at MacDonald's?
Do you hold your head down longer in silent prayer than anyone else to be sure that everyone knows that you pray and you pray longer than everyone else?
If so, you are praying to be seen of men. Jesus forbids that.
Do you pray for the ears of men or women?
Does your mind quickly wander?
That happens to every one of us. That is why I think it is good that you, in your private prayer, pray out loud. That is why I think it is good that when we go to God in our private prayers we do not get too comfortable. At night when you pray before you go to sleep, do not lie down in your bed first. Do not get comfortable!
To whom are we praying?
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Jesus says concerning the hypocrites, they have their reward. The hypocrite is going to get what he wants.
He wants the applause and recognition of men?
He is going to get that.
But what of it?
When he's got it, what does he have?
He does not have the wonder of God's presence. He does not experience the light of God's face. And that is why the psalmist says in Psalm 86:11, "unite my heart to fear thy name." Lord, I do not want my heart like a delta with all kinds of streams flowing every direction. Make my heart like one mighty torrent, one river unto God. That is the essence of prayer. Come apart. Close the door. Enter into the secret chamber. And you will find that someone is waiting for you.
"Pray to your Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."
That is, focus your heart upon your Father.
Realize that God is there!
Think of that!
Think of who He is and what He is-Almighty and majestic, God over all, blinding in holiness and beauty, glorious in love and mercy. I am entering into the presence of the eternal and the blessed and the only God and my Father for the sake of Jesus Christ. He is the One who inhabits the secret chamber of prayer. He is the One who is there. Prayer brings you into a hidden spot untouched by sin. No turmoil of confusion there. A glorious place before which angels dare hardly to enter. Prayer puts you right before the throne of God and Him who sits upon the throne. The Father, says Jesus, sees you in secret. You cannot carry anything into His presence behind your back. He knows your heart and the secrets within.
But, Jesus says, the Father is in secret. That is where He is at. His presence is there. Oh, yes, He is with you as you walk by the way. He holds your hands as they are upon your computer keyboard. He holds your hands as you drive your car, as you change diapers, as you do your dishes, as you are at your desk. But there is a secret place where He is. And you may go there and have audience with Him alone. He will hear and will listen to every sigh that you breathe. He will answer you and will wrap His arms around you. Prayer is the place where we may shut out the world and be alone with God.
Do you not need that?
Can you hardly wait for the next moment when you may go into the secret place of God?
Is there any place that you know more precious?
Pray to your Father.
Can you think of anything more wonderful?
Jesus is saying that when you pray you must be aware of the relationship between God and you. The word "Father" overflows with all the truths of the richness of God's electing grace and mercy. It implies that we have been adopted in the blood of the Lamb. It implies to us that He is our perfect Father who knows all our needs, who possesses perfect wisdom, who is committed to our good, who cares for us and desires to bless us more than we desire to be blessed.
Come in childlike confidence. Come before the Father in the assurance that as the Father has purchased you in Christ He will bless you in the fullness of Christ. How we need to do this!
Prayer is not a luxury. Prayer is a necessity. Exactly because it is to come before our Father in secret it means that it is the source of our strength. Think of Christ.
How was Christ strengthened in His earthly life?
How was He replenished in order that He might do His task?
Prayer. We read, "and when it was even, He went into a mountain to pray." In the days of His flesh, He poured out His soul to God in secret. And His Father rewarded Him openly.
Do you pray?
Do you have the habit of personal prayer?
I am not asking you if your prayers are perfect. I am not asking if your prayers are the way you want them to be.
But, do you pray as a regular habit?
A habit of prayer-as you have a habit of getting dressed at a certain time, taking a shower at a certain time. As you have your regular routines.
I am not asking you, is prayer your good intention?
Is prayer your regular habit?
If it is not, why not?
If it is not, repent. Coming to God in prayer is the very heart of our life as His children. Take it away, be prayerless, and you shall suffer exceedingly. It will lead to apostasy. It will lead to carelessness. It will get worse and worse. Pray. Enter into the secret chamber. Wage an all-out war with anything that will keep you away from prayer, anything that will distract you. If need be, when you say, I don't have time, cancel the paper, unplug the TV, take the telephone off the hook. Generations have lived without papers, without TV, without telephones, and without computers. But no generation of people of God have lived without prayer.
"And your Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." He shall reward you openly in your life with His strength and presence. Your life will glow even as Moses' face shone with the glory of God. Your life will glow with confidence and trust in God. The reward of prayer will not be the praise of men. It will not be earthly and vanishing earthly things. But the reward will be things you experience in your soul. The peace of God, contentment, heavenly-mindedness, patience, and comfort. Oh, all the blessings that are found at God's right hand-even joy forevermore-are to be found in the secret chamber of prayer. Go there. The way is open through Jesus Christ.
Let us often, and with great joy, enter into the secret place of prayer.
By Carl Haak
God has given to us the Scriptures in their entirety to set before us our duty in all of its vast character. For this reason Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God." Yet, God has also given in the Scriptures some very brief, penetrating exhortations which sum our entire life and duty as believers; statements which bring together what is our entire duty so long as we traverse this earth.
Such a statement is found in Acts 11:23. There we read of Barnabas, who had come to the church of Antioch. We read, "Who (that is, Barnabas), when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord."
"With purpose of heart…cleave to the Lord." This is the heavenly Father's exhortation to you and to all who have received the grace of God and confessed the gospel of the risen Savior, Jesus Christ. With purpose of heart, cleave to the Lord.
We know, from the Scriptures, that when God gives us faith, God will also preserve that faith. We know that, in the Scriptures, we are called to continue in the life of faith. We are to strive after holiness, we are to flee temptation, we are to take the whole armor of God, we are to desire the company of those who call upon the name of the Lord in truth. Yet, all of those exhortations may be summed in this: with purpose of heart, cleave to the Lord.
Let us look at that exhortation for a few moments together at this time.
The setting in which this exhortation comes to us is the setting of the grace of God-the grace of God which had established the church in a place called Antioch, and the grace of God which had placed each member of that church in her. Barnabas had been sent from the church of Jerusalem to investigate the reports of the advance of the gospel in Antioch. In fact, chapter 11 relates to us how, through persecution, the church had spread and had been established in Antioch. Under persecution, which was the devil's attempt to stamp out the church, believers had gone everywhere preaching the Word. And they came to Antioch. There God, in His providence, gathered together a congregation of steadfast believers. Men who came to establish that church came preaching the Lord Jesus Christ. They did not come with political activism. They did not come with a message of "do-it-yourselfism." They did not emphasize emotionalism or "feel-goodism." But they preached the Lord Jesus Christ as the sovereign and almighty and only Savior. And a church had been formed, by the grace of God. Men and women had been turned unto the Lord and had been brought to faith. Now Barnabas, a man who was of mature spiritual vision, was chosen by the believers in Jerusalem to go up to Antioch and see what God's hand had done. And he discovers that, indeed, this is not a "flash-in-a-pan" type of church. This is a church which is genuine, steadfast in godliness and in faithfulness. It had been established by the grace of God. Let us mark that down.
The setting in which this exhortation comes (to cleave to the Lord) is the setting of the grace of God which brings us to faith in Jesus Christ. By grace, that is, by undeserved favor and compassion to sinners, by that grace are we saved. It is possible for you to cleave to the Lord only when first the grace of the Lord has come to you. It is possible by faith to press your hand hard into His hand and to say to Him, "Lord I am thine," only when first the hand of God graciously reaches down to you. Barnabas, we read, was glad.
Why was he glad?
Because he saw that it was God's grace which had formed the church in Antioch and had placed each of the members in it.
There can be, you know, an outward appearance of cleaving or union to Jesus Christ. Judas Iscariot also gave the appearance that he belonged to Jesus Christ. But there are many who go away. When Christ stands in the way of their pleasure or of gratifying their flesh, or when Christ calls them to renounce their pride and their own sinful ambitions and their pet ideas, then they walk away from the Lord. Barnabas did not see that. He saw in the members of Antioch a steadfast church. And he traced that to the only origin for a steadfast church (the only origin of steadfast believers), namely, the grace of God-the mighty grace of God which was the power whereby the believers in Antioch had received the Word and had been brought to faith and repentance.
Do you see the grace of God as the reason why you belong to the Lord?
There is no other reason found for the existence of the church, no other reason found for the existence of individual believers.
Now, where that grace of God has come, joining a soul to Jesus Christ, that grace also works the spiritual resolve to cleave to the Lord. The grace which leads us to Jesus Christ does not leave us complacent. It does not make us say, "Well, I'm saved. Now let's just go on with life." But the grace of God works in us love, trust, devotion, dependence, commitment to the Lord. The mighty grace of God which is the only source of salvation does not produce cold or lukewarm, lackadaisical Christians. The grace of God produces those who with purpose of heart desire to cleave to their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. That is because the grace of God shows me what I am: a sinner. And the grace of God shows me who Christ is: the only Savior. Now, for those who have received the grace of God, the most frightening thought would be to be without Christ. And the most blessed thought is to press closer to Him in faith and in obedience.
Barnabas, then, exhorted them to cleave to the Lord. The word "cleave" means to adhere, to persist, to hold on, even under great pressure to let go; to continue in communion and attachment. Literally, Barnabas was constantly urging them, repeatedly, time after time telling them: Cleave, adhere to the Lord. The Lord, the One to whom you belong, the One who owns you now by virtue of His death upon the cross, by virtue of His mighty power in saving you. Cleave to this Lord Jesus Christ. And do this, he said, with purpose of heart. That means: intelligently, sincerely, deliberately, persistently. The word purpose here is the same as is used in Romans 8:28. There we read that we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. God's purpose is His eternal commitment to save His children. The Lord hath purposed, we read in Scriptures, and who shall disannul it. There is a divine resolve that God will save His children whom He foreknew from eternity. There is a deep and abiding commitment to perform this act. Now, with purpose of heart, that is, with a deep and abiding commitment out of the heart, cleave to the Lord.
Barnabas exhorted them. He exhorted all of them: you who have received the abundance of grace in Christ Jesus, you who understand that it was by grace alone that you were brought to union with Christ and brought to be a member of His church; here is the exhortation, here are your marching orders, this must be your great resolve in life: cleave to the Lord. You must not do this with fits and starts. You must not do this with part of your life. You must not do this with part of your heart or commitment. But you must be resolved, by God's grace, to be wholly committed to the Lord.
Now, according to the Scriptures, that involves a number of things. It means, first of all, that we will hold to Christ alone as the ground of our acceptance with God. That is what it means: with purpose of heart to cleave to the Lord.
In the world we struggle to one degree or another with the concepts of self-worth and confidence. There is much that is said in the world about that. The Christian has this question:
How do I know that I can be accepted of God?
How do I have that confidence that I am accepted of God, that I may have peace and stability in my life?
The answer to that question is, not by looking at your accomplishments, your talents, your beauty, your self-worth, but by cleaving to the Lord. Cleave to His righteousness. Cleave to His obedience. Christ alone is the ground of the believer's acceptance with God. And to cleave to the Lord means that the believer holds to that truth steadfastly.
In Antioch, as in all of the spread of the gospel, that was crucial for their faith. The gospel had come to those who were at Antioch whom God had eternally chosen. The gospel had said, Christ crucified and risen. Salvation is not of works but it is founded in the work of Jesus Christ. And believers were brought to Christ, that is, were brought to understand and embrace that it was the work of Christ alone which gave them acceptance with God.
See, salvation is not: Christ has died for you and now you add something to it to make it complete. No! Christ is the ground of our acceptance with God. As you battle your sin, and as you walk lonely paths of trial, and as at times you feel that you are cast away and forgotten; with purpose of heart cleave to the Lord. That is, cleave to the Lord as the ground of your acceptance with God.
But to cleave to the Lord with all of our hearts also means that we will draw strength from the Lord so that we might perform the calling that is given to us. Let us think again of the believers at Antioch. God had tremendous intentions for that church. The church of Antioch would become, according to the book of Acts, the mission center from which the Word of God would be sounded out throughout the known world of that day. When Barnabas says to them, "Cleave to the Lord," then he is saying, "Now draw your courage, your strength, your wisdom, your moderation, your zeal from the Lord." Barnabas was calling them to a necessary and total dependency upon the Lord.
That is what we read in the well-known text of Philippians 4:13, where Paul says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me."
Did Paul say there that he thought that he could do anything?
No. He refers to the "all things" that God had placed on his path as a Christian. The duty that had come to him as an apostle. At that point (Philippians 4) he was learning how to be abased for Christ in a Roman jail, yet how to abound in that jail in confidence in the Lord. Paul says, I can do this; I can do all things that pertain to my Christian calling. I can fulfill every demand which is placed upon me by the Lord.
How can I do that?
With purpose of heart, cleave to the Lord. That exhortation means then that we must be constantly drawing our strength from the Lord.
Still more. Cleaving to the Lord with purpose of heart means to obey Christ's word. It means to trust in Christ for acceptance with God. It means to look to Christ for strength to do our duty as Christians. But when you cleave to the Lord with all of your heart, it means that you will obey the words of Christ.
How can you cleave to Him if you do not obey His commandments?
It is by His Word, that Word not only in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but in the entire Scriptures. It is by cleaving to His Word that we cleave to Him. Whoever it is who does not practice the words of the Lord in his life is not cleaving to the Lord. No matter how good a confession he may give; no matter how clearly he may be able to analyze the faults of others; no matter how much he may know of Christian doctrine-if he is not obeying the Word of the Lord in his life he is not cleaving to the Lord. Jesus said, Ye are My disciples, ye belong to Me, if ye do whatsoever I have commanded you.
Jesus said that there will be many who will say, Lord, Lord, did we not cleave to you?
And Jesus will say, I never knew you; depart from Me ye that work iniquity.
With purpose of heart, cleave to the Lord. That is, out of a heart of love obey His Word, submit to Him as He stands before you in the holy Scriptures.
What does it mean to cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart?
It means this:
1) Find in Christ the ground of your acceptance to God.
2) Do all in reliance upon Christ to strengthen you.
3) Obey the Word of God from your heart.
When that happens it will be very evident in your life. The church of Antioch was blessed. And God added to that church such as should be saved. We read in verse 24, "And much people were added unto the Lord."
Due to the grace of God, and due to this church's cleaving to the Lord, this church increased spiritually and numerically. The congregation cleaved to the Lord. The Holy Spirit used that as a witness to bring sinners to the Lord. The lives of the saints in Antioch became an open epistle to be seen and to be read of men. They spoke of their righteousness as in Christ. They confessed the fact that they received strength from Christ through prayer. Their lives evidenced an obedience to Jesus Christ, and God used that as an instrument in His hand to build the church and to gather others into that church who had been chosen to life eternal. And to keep others away! Others looked upon that cleaving to the Lord, and looked upon those Antioch Christians who were cleaving to the Lord, and said, What a bunch of fanatics! It is a cult! They are all brainwashed! And they withdrew. But God used it for others to bring them to the Lord.
Not only did the church grow spiritually and numerically. The church increased also in stability and in maturity. That they cleaved to the Lord means that the church of Antioch submitted and attended to the ministry of the holy gospel; the ministry which was, for a whole year, brought to them by Barnabas and by the apostle Paul. They did not leave their pews empty. They did not drift away from the church on Sunday for sports and other activities. They did not use the catch-phrase: Well, the church is full of hypocrites and cannot help you anyway.
Do you cleave to the Lord?
Then others will see that in your attendance and devotion to the church and, specifically, your devotion to the ministry of the church.
We read further, in verse 26 of Acts 11, that it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians. The world labeled them. The world saw that with purpose of heart they were cleaving to this one who was called Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, the Savior, the Son of God, the Shepherd, the Redeemer, the Lord of glory.
Then they would go up to them and would ask, Why do you do that?
The answer would come back, Because with purpose of heart we cleave to our Savior Jesus Christ. We cleave to Christ. And they called them Christians.
Is it plain to all the world around you that you are one who cleaves to the Lord with purpose of heart, with firm resolve, and with steadfast trust?
Oh, may it be more and more so. All who have received the grace of God, until Jesus comes, this is His word to you: With purpose of heart, cleave to the Lord.
May God grant it.
By Carl Haak
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Today I speak to you on the truth of Providence.
Providence is the biblical doctrine of God's care for the world He made, and God's directing the world and everything that is in it after His eternal plan to attain the end that He determined.
Providence is God's actual bringing about in the world what He has willed.
We read in Ephesians 1:9, "Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fullness of times.…"
Let me stop just for a moment. The word "dispensation" there refers to a select moment. The idea is this: at the select moment, which is the fullness of time or the end of the world. "… He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him." That verse, now, is teaching that, from eternity, God has an eternal purpose in Himself. That purpose is that at the appointed moment, at the end of the world, He brings together all things in Christ. So God's goal is Christ, the glory of Christ.
Then we read in verse 11, "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated (that means pre-determined) according to the purpose of him (now, note the words!) who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will." God works everything after the plan, after the expression, of His own eternal will. That is the Bible.
The truth of Providence is this: God actually brings about all things that He has willed, directing them to the glory of Jesus Christ revealed in the last day. That is the truth of Providence.
You can see that Evolution is not only an attack upon Creation and the question of how the world began. But Evolution is a denial of the truth of how the world runs right now. Evolution, says the world, is run by blind fate, by chance, by the roll of the dice, by natural selection. The Bible says God runs the world. The Bible says that the world was made by God's hands. And the world is held together by His hands. In fact, the Bible says that it is in the palm of His hands. The world, and all things in it, are moved and guided by God and led to the end that God has determined. As Christians we do not serve the idols of man, chance; we do not look up to the stars; we do not sing simply "what shall be, shall be - it is written somewhere in the stars." No, we have perfect knowledge of who controls and holds the world together. We know where the world is going. We have a perfect and only comfort. We serve the living God - the God of Providence.
The Bible, in numerous places, uses a figure of speech to refer to this truth of Providence. That figure of speech is "the hand of God." In passages which are too numerous now for me to list, the Scriptures speak of the hand of God holding the world in its being and directing the world according to God's own will and purpose. The saints of God confessed this in the Bible when they received good things and evil things; when they were in prosperous ways or ways of adversity; when they were chastened or were in ways of ease. They said: The hand of God is upon us.
In Ruth 1:13, when Naomi is returning from the land of Moab and trying to persuade her daughters-in-law to go back to the land of Moab, Naomi, who has lost in the land of Moab a husband and two sons, says, "The hand of the Lord is gone out against me." She was right in attributing everything that had happened to the hand of God. She was wrong in interpreting that hand. She interpreted it as we often interpret it, altogether wrong, as being against her, when, in reality, God in love was chastening her.
We read in Job 19:21 (chapter 19 in many ways is the very heart of that entire book) where Job says to his three friends: "Have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me." You see, the Old Testament saints and the believers never confessed that they were ruled by fate, that things just simply happened by accident. They believed in the hand of God who held all things and directed them.
In the Bible God speaks of His hand. He says, "My hand hath done these things." Speaking to nations like Assyria, in the Old Testament, a people who were swelled in pride over their military success and power, God says, "Shall any deliver out of My hand? Who shall stay or hold back My hand?"
We confess that our life, as children of God, and everything in that life, is not driven by fate. It is not simply the result of a train of events. We are in the hands of our God, from whose hands nothing can sever us, whose hands work all things together for good. We say with the psalmist in Psalm 139:10 that even if we should be removed to the most distant part of this earth, isolated in sorrow and trouble, "even there shall thy hand lead me and thy right hand shall hold me." Then we have peace. Otherwise everything is terrifying and frightening. We need today, and we need always, to confess by faith the hand of God.
What holds the world together?
Why do things happen the way they do?
Is there a rhyme or reason for things?
We believe the Providence of God.
Now how others who do not bow before the Scriptures would answer those questions is astonishing. There are many who think they are complimenting God when they think in terms of foresight. They say that God is able to see beforehand what will happen. He is the great clairvoyant. He makes His plans to react to what He sees is coming and He tries to steer around the rough spots.
That is not the Bible. God determines and brings to pass all things. He says in Isaiah 43:13, "Yea, before the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall let it?"
Isaiah 46:11, "Yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it."
There are others who speak in terms of a "higher power." Buddha, the will of Allah, fate, it is in the cards, Lady Luck, lotto, chance. The Bible calls that idolatry, foolish superstition. In Acts 17 the apostle Paul was speaking to the philosophers in Athens who had erected an altar to the unknown god. There were a group of men around that altar who said that they wanted to unravel the secrets of the universe. They want to answer the big question:
Is there a reason for the senseless stream of life?
And Paul preaches to them. He begins to preach and to declare God the Creator. Then he declares God the God of Providence. He says, "In God we live and move and have our being." You are in the hand of God, men.
There are many who are practical atheists. They say there is not rhyme or reason, there is nothing but yourself. You have to trust in yourself, in your wisdom, in your skill, to see what is coming down the road. And you have to be able to brace yourself for any eventuality of tomorrow. They refuse to take God into account. The Bible says in Psalm 50:22 that God speaks these words to such: "Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver." Providence is the almighty hand of God. It is my Father's hand. It is the hand of infinite strength. It is the hand of infinite tenderness. It is the hand in which He cares for me as His child. It is the hand which preserves and holds me. Psalm 73:23, "Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand."
God's hand means our utter dependency. That He upholds us with His hand means that we cannot stand on our own two legs, we cannot draw a breath, our heart does not beat, we cannot eat apart from a will of God. God does all these things. It means that it is God's gracious care which protects us. He will never let us fall from His hand. It means it is His mighty power to hold and rule the world.
God has a mighty hand which upholds the world in its being and leads the world according to His own purpose.
You see, the creation is not something that can help itself and run on its own. Yes, there are cycles in the creation because God is very regular and He is a God of order. But God holds the world in His hands. There are wise people who think they know better. They say, "I will do this … I will do that. Business and success is in my hand to attain. The world," they say, "goes according to these wonderful cycles. Oh, somehow, they got into place." The Bible says in Psalm 104 that all creatures wait on God for their food. "Thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good … thou takest away their breath, they die." Not natural law, not a food cycle; God's hand.
Who but the almighty God can see to it that the stars and the galaxies remain in their courses?
Who but God brings forth the seasons?
Who but God controls the heartbeat, the blood flow, the chemicals of your brain?
Without the power of God all would collapse. Each breath, each step, is in the every-present hand of God. The mightiest planet, the planet Jupiter with all of its weight, and a little worm digging its way through the ground, your steps, your life - all in the hand of God.
You see, everything really is a miracle. Men can become enamored with miracles. But everything is a miracle. Even after unbelief through science has investigated God's creation and God's hand as thoroughly as it can, it cannot answer the question,
Why does it do that?
Unbelief does not know. The answer is: the hand of God. Men often marvel at God's miracles: His drying up of the Red Sea, His causing the sun to stand still in the days of Joshua. But God gives the believer to see the miraculous in everything! The bloom of a flower, the budding of a tree. We read the Bible and we become astonished when we read that Elijah, at the brook, was fed by ravens. They brought him bread from their wings. We are astonished when we read that Israel was fed by manna.
But why are we not astonished to see the hand of God in giving us bread upon our table?
Where did that loaf of bread come from?
You say, the store?
You say, from wheat?
I'll tell you where it came from: God, by His own hand, forced bread out of the soil.
God not only maintains the world by His hand but He rules the world by His hand. Nothing escapes His hand. Psalm 31:15, "My times are in thy hand (my life is in thy hand)."
In Psalm 17:14 the psalmist says, deliver me "from men which are thy hand." That is, the wicked are in the hand of God to do God's will.
God's hand directs everything to attain His eternal purpose. And that eternal purpose, as we saw, is His glory in Jesus Christ. The world is not run by fate or by chance, but by God. God rules over all things. I believe in my Father's hand in which are all things, so controlled that they cannot so much as move without His will.
But, you see, we have to feel that hand of God and see it. If, by God's grace, you confess these biblical truths with me (and that is what they are: biblical truths and therefore truth), that does not necessarily mean that we are yet living in the light of those truths, living in joy and peace under the hand of God. If you are indifferent to this truth, if you are rebellious to the hand of God, if you live as a beast kicking against God, if pride reigns in your heart, then you have not bowed yourself before the mighty hand of God. 1 Peter, chapter 5: "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time."
Do you see the hand of God in your life?
It takes the exercise of faith to see it. Unbelief never sees it.
Sometimes we say that we see the hand of God in shocking things: floods and thunder.
But do you see it in ordinary things: in grass and in rain?
In our daily conversations are we cognizant of the hand of God?
"How are you?" we ask. "How's the wife and the kids?" "How are things?" "How is your job?"
Do you remember the hand of God?
Or, only on the 25th anniversary do you feel constrained to say something about God's hand over your life?
Do you see His hand?
Or do we kick and scream and say, "It upset my plans. It ruined my day. It complicated everything. It makes it difficult."
It … it?
Or do you see God's hand?
God's hand gives you children. And God's hand withholds children from you. God's hand gave you your wife. And God's hand has withheld from you a wife. God's hand gives you health. And God's hand, perhaps tomorrow, will take it away. God's hand caused the stocks in the last months and years to soar. And He sends a recession. God's hand gives you children to confess Jesus Christ and to be with you in the church. And God's hand rules when they do not but they go away. God's hand makes you successful, beautiful. And God puts you under financial stress, and makes you exactly the way you are. This is God's hand.
You must not cry out and cuss against the boss, against the government. You must not say, "My problem is my wife, the kids, the economy." God's hand hath done all these things.
Do you see the hand of God?
Do you feel the hand, the mighty hand, of God in the ups and in the downs?
You know, it does not cost us much to speak of the hand of God when light is strewn upon our pathway. But when shadows come: cancer, problems, worries - then to feel the warmth of our Father's hand and to hear Him say, "My child, I do not forget you. Accept this as My gift." God's hand is upon you. It is upon you when He gives the blessings of sunshine, health, and good times. And it is upon you when father and mother forsake you, when each morning appears to be too much, when you cannot see out. Your Father holds you in His hands.
Do not rob God of His hands.
Do you remember when the Philistines took the Ark of the Covenant into the temple of Dagon and the next morning Dagon had fallen over?
Do you remember what was broken from him?
His hands. He was an idol with stumps. He had no hands.
Do you try to do that to God?
By His hand He takes away a loved one, in order that you might grow up and give yourself totally unto Him. He takes things away from you in order that He may give you Himself. He touches you with the hand of adversity to drive your faith deeper into Him. And His hand consoles and gives you peace. A father will stroke the head of his sobbing little girl who has bruised her knee, who is sobbing so hard she can hardly get her breath. He will whisper, "All is well," while stroking her head with his hand. And the child is comforted by the hands of her father. Let it be enough that He holds you in His hand.
There is nothing that can sever you from them. That is a Christian's composure. That is our peace. The Lord my Shepherd holds me within His tender care. And with His flock he folds me; no want shall find me there.
Do you feel the hand of God?
Blessed are they who can confess this truth.
By Carl Haak
What is the mark of a genuine faith and conversion?
One of the most important marks of a genuine faith and conversion in Jesus Christ will be prayer, that you practice prayer in your life.
The Christian life is a life of prayer. Prayer is communion with God. Prayer stands at the core of a genuine Christian life. Prayer is the breath of a Christian life. It is not a luxury. It is not something additional. It is not optional or dispensable. It is a necessity.
Prayer arises out of the new life of Jesus Christ that God gives. God makes known to us our needs and our helplessness as His children. And we must arise and go to our Father.
Do you pray?
Do you pray privately?
Do you know your need of maintaining a life of prayer?
Do you call upon God with a true heart through Jesus Christ?
Do you know what it is to pour out your needs to Him?
To neglect to pray is to neglect to breathe spiritually. Prayer is the mark of a genuine faith and conversion.
One of the Scriptures which brings this truth out to us is found in Acts 9:11, where we read of Saul of Tarsus, the man who was persecuting the church of Jesus Christ but now was converted on the road to Damascus. Of him we read: "Behold, he prayeth." That is, God says: "Take note of this." The man who only days before was riding to Damascus on the devil's business, breathing out threats and slaughter to Christians, now has repented in dust and ashes.
He prays. Behold, he prayeth!
Not, behold, he sings … behold, he reads the Scriptures … behold, he preaches. Yes, all of those things will also be the sure mark of God's work in the life of the apostle Paul. But God calls our attention, first of all, to this: he prayeth. This is the mark of spiritual life in a man and woman, in a boy and girl, in a child: they pray.
I find those words "for, behold, he prayeth," very suggestive for you and for me, especially in the setting in which they are found. When we look a little more closely at this verse we see that it is given as the reason why Ananias should arise and go to Saul. Saul, when he was converted, was blinded. He came to Damascus and stayed in the house of Judas. Ananias, who was a prophet, was called of God to go and place his hands upon Saul's eyes and restore his sight. God says to Ananias, "Arise and go to Saul for, behold, he prayeth. Ananias, the time is ripe for you to go. Saul is now prepared for your visit. You may be sure that he is ready for you because he is praying. And he has seen in a vision that you are coming. Saul is now in a state of preparedness for your words which I will give you to speak to him. And the proof? Behold, he prayeth."
First of all, we find then in these words that the evidence of God's grace, the evidence that the saving grace of God has been worked in our hearts, is that we pray. Ananias, obviously, was very hesitant to go to the man who had done such evil to the saints. Before this, as I mentioned, Saul of Tarsus was the man who was persecuting the church out of devilish vengeance. And he had declared himself to be the enemy of Jesus Christ. He was blaspheming the name of Christ.
Ananias could well have responded: "I must go to him? What if it is all a trap? He is in the house of Judas on the street called Straight, which is the main street of Damascus. Surely he will take me in and then clamp me down in chains and bring me to Jerusalem the moment he has me."
But God says, "Ananias, arise and go. Inquire for him. Stand before the man who struck such fear in the hearts of the children of God. For, behold, he prayeth." If the Lord had said to Ananias, "Behold, you may go to him, for he preaches," Ananias might have responded and said, "Well, a man can do that; he can be a great preacher, but he can still be a deceiver." Or, if the Lord had said to Ananias, "Behold, Saul has gone to a meeting of the church," Ananias might have responded, "Yes, he goes to a meeting of the church all right, but perhaps he goes as a wolf in sheep's clothing." But God said, "He prayeth. He worships. He calls out unto Me in the secret places. He offers praise, he bows his knee before Me. He seeks My face humbly and sincerely, privately." Ah, there is the evidence of the grace of God in his life.
You see, there are aspects of a Christian life which a hypocrite can duplicate, including outward prayer. But one thing a hypocrite cannot duplicate, cannot copy, and that is personal communion with God alone in prayer. To be alone with God and actually to seek the face of God and to cry out, "Lord, have mercy on me. Heal Thou my soul," to delight oneself in God in secret - these the hypocrite cannot do.
Also, when you and I, as children of God, stray into sin and set our hearts upon evil and lust and harden ourselves in some way of impenitence and give ourselves over to the folly of our own sin, we can keep up a good front. We can continue to attend church; we can preach. We can visit, or stand before our family (parents, wife, and children). We can go through all of the motions. But we cannot come into private fellowship with God in prayer.
I do not want to leave the impression with you today that if prayer is difficult for you then there is something wrong, so you had better doubt. No. We never attain perfection in this life, and we must not think that true prayer is the ability to bring forth beautiful and expressive prayers. No. But this. Saul prayed. Saul sought God's face personally. Saul saw the need that he had to draw close to God. No hypocrite ever feels that need.
The verse also means that Saul had never prayed before. Oh, yes, as a Pharisee Saul had boasted of the regularity and the length of his prayers. At least twice a day he would go up to the temple to pray. And if you had gone with him, you would have heard him pouring out fine oration to God: "I thank Thee, Lord, that I am not as other men are. I tithe, I give of what I have. I am not like publicans and sinners, you know." You could see him at noonday on the street corner praying to be seen of men, spreading far his hands. According to human judgment, Saul had been much in prayer. Now the Lord says, "Behold, he prayeth." That is, this is the first time. All of those other prayers before his conversion were no prayers at all. This is something new to him. Up to that time, Jesus says, he prayed with himself. He prayed formal, proud prayers. His prayers never got beyond the chambers of a proud heart. All that which Saul previously called prayer was never heard of God. Now, as grace has worked in him humility and the sincere cry of confession of sin, sobbing out of his guilt and because of his crucifying of the Son of God afresh by his sins, now he prays.
How often God warns us that it is not the mere folding of our hands and the repetition of words and the outward bowing of our head which pleases Him. It is the broken and contrite spirit before God that is His delight. If anyone were to say to us today, "You never prayed today," perhaps we would deny it. We prayed at the breakfast table as we hurried up to clear the table so that we could get on our way! Of course we prayed.
But did you pray?
It could well be true of you and me that we haven't prayed at all today. Saul's first and real prayer was not something which he spoke in Latin or read out of a book or repeated ten times. Saul's first prayer was not simply orthodox words stuffed in his mind while his mind raced with a thousand details of what he needed to get done. Saul's true prayer was private. It was through Jesus Christ, the one who had opened the eyes of his heart. That was true prayer.
But these verses teach us more. These words "for, behold, he prayeth" also give to us the fact that now Saul is prepared to receive the word of God to be brought to him by Ananias. He prayeth. That is, "Ananias, he is not raging in fury against the Christians and against Christ. He is not plotting how to capture more saints. He is not stroking himself in pride at how zealous he has been. So long as his heart and mind were upon such things, all of the Old Testament prophets could line themselves up at the door of Saul and it would do him no good. He could hear all kinds of Scripture, but it would do him no good. Grace must first come to the heart before the Word of God can enter into that heart and turn a man unto God. And the evidence that a man is now prepared to receive that Word, an evidence that the grace of God is at work in his heart, is that he prayeth. Ananias, go to him. Tell him from Me that he is My chosen vessel. Inform him of his calling that he will be the apostle unto the Gentiles. Tell him of all the things that he is going to suffer for My sake. He is not going to grit his teeth. He is not going to laugh you to scorn. He is ready to receive your words, for he prayeth."
Prayer, then, softens the soul unto the Word of God. Prayer is a means of grace. The attitude assumed in prayer as we humble ourselves by God's grace before Him makes us also now receptive unto His Word. If you have prayed, then you will not arise from your prayer agitated. You will not arise from your prayer dissatisfied, fighting with God, unsubmissive. If you do, you have prayed wrong. But true prayer will tend to quiet your soul, break down your resistance, and fit you for a humble walk with God. Prayer prepares us. Receive that wonderful Word of God.
You see, prayer, by definition, is a confession of our own need and dependence. Prayer is not self-assertive. Prayer is not centered in this: "Give me what I want." Prayer is not "I claim, in the name of Jesus, health; I claim my will; I claim what I want from God. And because I have faith, I am going to get it. Amen."
That is not prayer.
Prayer is the realization, the knowledge, of your utter dependence before God. And prayer is the reaching of faith for something which is better, stronger, more trustworthy than ourselves: God. Psalm 61:2, when I am "overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I." And because prayer is that, the confession of our need and the seeking of that Rock which is higher than ourselves, prayer must always have an effect on us. Prayer does not necessarily change things. It changes us. He or she who truly prays might not be healed from cancer miraculously. He may not get a new mini-van. But prayer, you see, brings us into a humble and devout and restful attitude of soul whereby we cry out to God, "Have Thine own way. Thy will is good, O God. I do not want anything except Thy will!"
In a profound sense, it makes one different from what he would otherwise have been if he had not prayed. Prayer is an act of grace by which we renounce our own self, our own strength, our own way and throw ourselves at the feet of Him who is exalted on high. It puts our souls in the way of submission and humility and it gives us the disposition of heart to walk humbly with God.
You see, prayer brings us into the attitude that we must be in as we stand before God. We come before our Father in order that we might confess our helplessness and our need, and that He might strengthen us.
That is a wonder of grace, is it not?
What a wonder it was for the man who was called Saul, who was persecuting the church, now to be praying on his knees before God. For one who by nature hated God and whose skin crawled at the idea of communion with the Holy One. Now he is appearing before God in confession and in praise.
What a wonder!
But that is always true. To seek the face of God, to feel the need for prayer, to delight in prayer - what a wonder of God's grace in your life!
But that is especially true when one has been so long schooled in pride as was Saul, for one who had for so long prayed the false way, had prayed in self-righteousness, who was for so long content in his self-righteousness. For so long Saul had gone through the motions without ever experiencing the reality. He had gone through the motions of prayer, but he had never prayed!
He had never felt the reality of it!
For so long he had read the Bible. But he never really read it. For so long he prayed, but he never entered into the courts of God. For so long he repeated words which were simply echoing in an empty heart.
For a man who has worn the rags of self-righteousness and has now parted with those rages and come in true faith before God, oh, what a wonder of grace.
You see, it is easier for us, by our flesh, to go to church 100 times than to offer one sincere prayer. What grace it takes to take proud, self-satisfied sinners as ourselves and bring them on their knees before God in true dependence. What a wonder that God hears our prayers.
Do you notice what attention God paid to Saul now?
God says, "Behold, Saul prayeth." God knew where Saul was, He knew what he was doing, He noticed him - a brokenhearted sinner who sighs before God - is heard and understood before God as if all of heaven's attention is directed to one spot, toward the man, woman, child of God who is on his knees in true prayer. A man who sheds tears of remorse - God is there and God catches all of his tears in His bottle. What a wonder of God's grace.
He hears our prayers!
And He answers. "Saul, you are my chosen vessel. I am going to show you now how great things I am going to do through you. And I am going to show you how great things you are going to suffer for My sake."
Oh, let us pray!
Let us draw near to God with an open heart. He will hear us. "Behold, he prayeth."
Is that what is said in heaven about you?
The longing soul that turns to God, God will fully satisfy. When we truly pray we will actually come into communion with God, the God of our salvation. We will abide in His presence. Therefore, the Word of God to you and to me today is: Live steadily, in the midst of all of your life, in prayer. God grant that wherever we might be on this earth it may be described in heaven in these terms: Behold, he prayeth.
By Carl Haak