Thursday, February 21, 2008

Far More Abundantly Beyond

Ephesians 3:20-21- "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen." (NASB)

Over the last month, the Lord has been reviving my heart after a particularly dry season. You know-- those dry seasons where you half-heartedly try to go through the motions of prayer and Bible reading, and you feel your love for Christ and His Church burn low? Not to mention the apathy that arises when you start thinking "God's not going to save my lost family, and, after all, He's sovereign, so why pray?" Sure, we can all answer this question theologically but...sometimes that which should be our lifeblood can seem so routine!

Well, blessed be God, for a broken spirit and a contrite heart He will not despise (Psalm 51:17)! And the Spirit helps in our weakness, interceding for us when we do not know how to pray (Romans 8:26-27)! There were some issues that I had to deal with between myself and God, and, to put it simply, He is blessing the decisions I have made in that regard.

One major area of meditation is the topic of this blog entry: what God has given us in Christ. How much time have you spent doing this? We may have sung "count your blessings, name them one by one" in VBS, but have we done it in earnest? I know that it is something I could do a lot more! After all, Ephesians 1:3 says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ."

We can spend so much time talking and thinking about what we don't have. We can also spend lots of time talking and thinking about what God hasn't promised us. And there is room for that. There are people out there who are making millions off of telling us God will give us 10-bedroom houses and red Ferraris, with lifetime supplies of Colgate Total tossed in, if only we had just enough faith. There are also those out there who would tell us they love Jesus or that they believe in salvation by grace, but they mean something totally false and totally different than we do. We must take that into account and give them a Biblical answer.

But what I am saying is this: I don't want the default position of my mind set on who Christ is NOT and what He has NOT promised; I want the default to be about who Christ IS and what He HAS promised!

With that in mind... I will address just several of the major areas in which God has been teaching me.

1. The Word of God

In every historic corporate reviving of the people of God, the Word has been central. And it is no different in personal revival.

It is the sword of the Spirit, is it not (Eph 6:17)? Hebrews 4:12 says, "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."

Jesus, after praying to the Father for us to be sanctified in the truth, declared "Your Word is truth" (John 17:17). The world tries to make us believe that the answers lie in culture, academia, self-help, psychology, and a myriad of other things. But the people of God are shaped and grown by the Word of God!

King David sang about this Word in Psalm 19:7-11
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.
10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.

We should pray that God would make us love His Word more than any other book, any commentator, any Puritan. Not that commentaries and the Puritans are all bad. But we should desire to be reading our Bibles, praying while we read, asking God to make our hearts obedient and submissive to the truth, seeking the Spirit of wisdom and understanding. And then supplementing our Bible reading with solid authors and commentaries.

2. Prayer

I have already mentioned this in the paragraph on the Word of God. That's because we need God's help to understand and apply His Word. In fact, we are to pray in everything (Phil 4:6) and without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17). Beyond this, we are to devote ourselves to prayer (Romans 12:12; Col. 4:2).

Here are just some of the things that we are to pray for:

Ephesians 6:18-19- "With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel"

Jude 1:-21- "But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life."

Matthew 26:41- "'Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.'"

Psalm 122:6- "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: 'May they prosper who love you.'"

I Timothy 2:1- "First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men"

Matthew 5:44- "'But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you'"

Luke 6:28- "'Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you'"

After all, God hears, and even delights in, the prayers of His people!:

Proverbs 15:29- "The LORD is far from the wicked, But He hears the prayer of the righteous."

Proverbs 15:8- "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is His delight."

Isaiah 56:7- "Even those I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples."

Revelation 5:8- "When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints."

Revelation 8:3-4- "Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel's hand.

In praying, we help fulfill the Great Commission!

2 Corinthians 1:11- "you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many."

It was the first thing the disciples did after the Lord ascended into Heaven:

Acts 1:14- "These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers"

My pastor just preached on this text in his exposition of Acts. He explained that "with one mind" can also be translated as "with one passion" or "one soul." The Greek term used is homothumadon, which denotes a burning, red-hot desire. May the Lord grant to us a unity in our churches that goes beyond our intellectual assent to truth! May we be united in our love and zeal for the exaltation of Christ and the furtherance of His Kingdom!

3. The Holy Spirit

I've been realizing that I need to rely on the help and aid of the Holy Spirit more. It is so easy to try to live out the Christian life on our own strength. And yet when we try, we end up failing and at best settling into a life of mere routine and half-hearted service. Why is it that we as Reformed people can neglect this aspect of our Christian walk? Perhaps we need to hear Paul's rebuke: "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Galatians 3:3).

I think a large part of this is pride. I know by experience. "I know the Doctrines of Grace. I read the Puritans. I'm even a presuppositionalist! Oh yeah, and a cessationist, so people like me just don't pray for the filling of the Holy Spirit. It's pretty much intellectual, the Spirit already indwells us, so why ask for more of Him? And being filled with the Spirit is something *I* do, right, by simply living out my Christian life?"

I don't know how I got around this verse before:

"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" (Luke 11:13)

Or this one:

"'For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure'" (John 3:34)

Seems to me that we are to ask for more of the Spirit in our lives, not that we don't have Him already indwelling us, but that we need to be filled more and more with Him.

What has God given to us in the Holy Spirit?

-We were born again of the Spirit (John 3:8)
-We were baptized by Him and made to drink of Him (I Cor 12:13)
-The Spirit indwells us from the time of our conversion (Romans 8:9)
-We were sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise for the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30)
-He was given into our hearts as a pledge (2 Cor 1:22)

But my main problem was realizing what the Spirit does now in the life of the believer. Here is His ongoing work:

Romans 8:26-27- "In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."

John 14:16- "'I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever'"

John 14:26- "'But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.'"

John 16:7= "'But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.'"

Galatians 5:22-23- "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."

Romans 8:15- "For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!'"

Acts 4:31- "And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness."

(Some continuationist may say, "Doesn't Acts 2:4 say. 'And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.'" I believe that this particular manifestation of the Spirit was needed just in the Apostolic era. For more on this, see Sam Waldron's book To Be Continued?). Boldness to preach the Gospel, of course, is still very much needed!

And this last verse is well-needed for balance and a proper understanding, for the Spirit testifies to and exalts Christ.

"'When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me'" (John 15:26)

Rolling around on the floor and laughing hysterically is not testifying to Christ. Hearing God's Word with power, the Spirit's intercession on our behalf, His comfort, the assurance we have that we are adopted, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and the bold proclamation of the Gospel are Christ glorifying!

"And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 13:52)

"And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18)

Oh, that God would show us our weakness and need of the Spirit to empower us daily! And may God grant to us truly Spirit-filled men, women, and churches who love the Lord Jesus and seek to live lives marked by a dependence on Him and glad-hearted obedience to His will!

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