Articles from July 2019

Greater Works through Prayer – NOT Pragmatism

Jesus promised His disciples and all who would believe in Him through the corridor of time, that they would do greater works that He did (Jn 14:12). These greater works are certainly not miracles. Jesus did so many miracles that the Apostle John said there wouldn’t be enough books to contain them all (Jn 21:25). A simple survey through the book of Acts should provide enough evidence that the miracles of the Apostle were miniscule compared to the miracles that Jesus performed.

Greater Works
The greater works Jesus refers to are simply the conversion of sinners & the advancement of the Gospel & Kingdom of God. Jesus told us that we should expect to see a greater influence of the Gospel than He did. The ministry of Jesus was limited to 150 mile stretch of land known as Palestine. At the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth He had only 11 followers and they were weak at best. At the resurrection there were 120 followers. In summary the ministry of Jesus on the earth was not as extensive as one would have thought.

But everything changed when Jesus left to go to His Father. “Greater works” are inextricably linked to Jesus’ departure. When Jesus left, He promised that He would send the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that when the Holy Spirit came His disciples would have power (Acts 1:8), and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the world is what guarantees “greater works.” The Holy Spirit’s role in coming into this world was to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn 16:8). The Holy Spirit, who can be everywhere at one time, infiltrated the hearts of thousands of people when He came. It began on the day of Pentecost when Peter preached His first sermon and 3000 souls were pierced in their hearts & were saved. Looking over the last two millennia, it is easy to see that the Gospel has spread to every corner of the earth. The Gospel has infiltrated every ethnic group. Truly “greater works” have been accomplished through the Church in the world.

Promise of Power
How these greater works will be accomplished is a major question that Jesus explains to His disciples. The disciples were weak and without power. But when the Holy Spirit filled them, they had access to a heavenly power. Jesus tells them that to tap into this power they must simply pray “in my name.” Prayer, then, is the channel of power for the Church. Jesus said, “whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (Jn 14:13-14). This is not an open-ended promise that God’s people can ask for anything that their flesh desires (new car, new home, etc.). This promise that Jesus made is linked to the previous verse concerning greater works. The work of Jesus was to make followers of Christ and see the Kingdom of God advanced. To pray in His name means to pray in accordance with His mission and His character. It is similar to the Lord’s prayer that we pray – that our Father be “hallowed” and that his “Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:9-10). So, power to do good works comes through a dependence on God in prayer!

The Danger of Pragmatism
It is a good thing to desire to see “greater works.” As God’s people we should expect to see conversions. We should expect to see sinners coming to Christ and having their lives transformed. But in our zeal for church growth, we must not be tempted to lay down the greatest weapons that God has given the church, namely the Word of God and prayer.

The Church began to adopt a pragmatic approach to ministry over the last 50-100 years. When the church began to drop in numbers, particularly the western Church primarily began to use worldly methods in their Church growth strategy. They adopted a more pragmatic approach to ministry. Pragmatism is simply the idea that the end justifies the means. In other words, truth is determined by consequences. Whether something is right or wrong is determined primarily by the end results. When the Church did not see the results that they wanted to see, they began changing the methods in order to produce the needed results. Rick Warren, in his book Purpose Driven Church, even stated it this way, “Never criticize any method that God is blessing.” Pragmatism is typically interested in one thing, numbers and results. And the method to get those results must be good if the Church is growing.

In order to get numbers where they should be, many pastors began changing their ministry philosophy so as to make the message of the Gospel more palatable for the world. They began taking away the offense of the cross and refused to talk about sin anymore. Sermons were no longer authoritative expositions but became self-help discussions. It is obvious that this philosophy of ministry is bankrupt. It undermines sound doctrine, and faithful adherence to the mandates of Scripture. This methodology is more concerned about results than faithfulness to God. Its practice will definitely draw a crowd, but the crowd may be filled with more goats than sheep! Rather than worrying about success, pastor and churches should be concerned about faithfulness to God!

 

Faithfulness to God
John MacArthur has said to pastors many times, “You worry about the depth of your ministry and allow the Lord to take care of the breadth of your ministry.” In other words, be faithful to the mandates of Scripture, the character of God, and the pure unadulterated Gospel message. Don’t resort to gimmicks and manipulative methods to reach people! But rather trust in the sovereign Savior who said “I will build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). This is even true in your family life and your job. You worry about being faithful to God and He will take care of the rest.

Not Pragmatism but Prayer
So, will we take Christ’s promises to heart? Christ promised that we would see greater works and the link to the power is not gimmicks or pragmatism, but prayer! If we want to see the power of the Holy Spirit unleashed in our midst we must pick up our greatest weapons once again. We must plug into the power of prayer! Prayer is the key to seeing power in our homes, in our families, in our church and in our community. We must be dependent on God.

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled

Understandably the disciples were overwhelmed when Jesus told them that He was going away and they could not go with Him (John 13:31-14:3). The disciples had given up their careers & devoted their lives to follow Jesus for over three years and now it appeared that Jesus was abandoning them. As a result, they were troubled, distressed, and confused. Their dreams were unraveling before their eyes.

The Cure for Anxiety: Trust in Christ!
We have all experienced trouble in our lives to the point where we have been overwhelmed and even in despair. The Christian life is not a life void of trouble. In fact, Jesus guaranteed that life would have tribulation and trouble (Jn 16:33). But in the midst of despair, Jesus commands His disciples not to let their hearts be troubled! He tells His disciples, “You trust in God, trust also in me” (Jn 14:1). Here is the cure for anxiety in our lives. Just as we trust God whom we cannot see, we must also trust in Christ! We must trust Him with our future. We must trust Him with every detail of our lives. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5). This is not a guarantee of health, wealth and prosperity. But it is a promise that He will preserve us, particularly our faith and raise us up on the last day (Jn 6:39)! Trusting in Jesus in our trouble means that we wholeheartedly believe that God is working out all of the details of our life for our good and for His glory (Rom 8:28)!

So many Christians use the world’s methods to cope with their anxiety. There are a number of options to choose from: medication, alcohol, drugs, intense counseling, etc. Some of these options are clearly bad while others can be good if used in the right manner. But first the Christian should cope with their anxiety by shoring up their minds and allowing their hearts to simply trust in Christ and His work in their lives. Christians should not be so quick to run to all other resources rather than learning first to rest in and trust their lives with the sovereign Christ! This will require much time in prayer and meditation on God’s Word. Instead of focusing so heavily on our problems, we must refocus our minds toward our Savior who says to us, “Trust me, I’ve got you in my hand. You are right where I want you!”

Opportunity to Exercise Faith
It is in trouble that Christians are given the opportunity to exercise faith. It is easy to exercise faith in the good times. But faith is proven in the bad times (James 1:2-4). Recently, one of our church members told me a story of a church which was raided in China by governmental officials. Several members including the Pastor and his wife were arrested and put into prison for over 7 months. While in the prison, the guards commented how some who were there were overwhelmed and distressed continually. But the guards also noticed how the Pastor and his wife were calm, and prison did not seem to bother them. The guard noticed that the pastor and his wife were at ease. How is it that Christians can be so calm in the midst of storms in their lives? The answer is certainly trusting in God and trusting in Christ. Christians must able to put into practice the command of Jesus, “Don’t let your heart be troubled….trust in me.” The world is watching us to see if our faith is real not only in the triumphs but also in our trouble.

Hold on to the Promises
In addition to commanding His disciples to trust in Him, Jesus gave them precious promises to believe about their future. While this earth is fleeting (James 4:14), and trouble is sure, heaven is being reserved for those who are true disciples of Christ. Jesus quickly comforted His troubling disciples by telling them that He was going away to heaven to His “Father’s house” in order to “prepare a place for [them]” (Jn 14:2). Heaven is a real place where the Father dwells. Jesus went there after His resurrection and secured a place for ALL of His disciples and He is waiting there to receive us to Himself. These promises are for us and should be the antidote for anxiety in our hearts when trouble comes.

Meditate on Heaven
Christians ought to think and meditate on heaven on a regular basis. We are too attached to this world and the material possessions that we own. Sometimes Christians even begrudge the idea of leaving this earth and going to heaven. But this should not be. Heaven has been prepared for us and has enough room for all of us. Its beauty is described in Revelation 21 by the Apostle John. It is a beautiful place where the streets are made of gold and every beautiful crystal is used in decoration. It is a place where there is no more pain, sadness, sorrow, tears or trouble! It is a real place where we will be reunited with our loved ones. It is a place where the inhabitants will have “fullness of joy, and pleasures forevermore” (Ps 16:11). But the best thing about Heaven is that Jesus is there. We will see Him face to face and always be with the Lord. Martin Luther said, “I had rather be in hell with Christ, than be in heaven without him.” Heaven is heaven because Jesus is there.

Heaven is a guarantee for true believers. Meditating on heaven is one of the means God has given us to persevere in this life. When all the troubles come, our hearts should remember the promises of Jesus and long for heaven even more. The trouble and suffering on this earth are minuscule compared to the glory that awaits us in heaven (Romans 8:18). We find comfort for our weary souls when we remember that Jesus is waiting in heaven for us, praying for us to run with perseverance the race set before us (Heb 7:25).

Learn to Rest & NOT be Stirred Up
Learning to rest in the Lord is a lifelong journey. When we are young in the faith, trouble quickly overtakes us. But as we grow in the Lord along life’s journey, we begin to see the hand of God in our lives and learn to rest in Him. This is the grace of God that helps mature us all. Trouble is that sandpaper that rubs all the rough edges off of us and is used by God to conform us into the image of Jesus. Resting in the Lord means “Casting all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Instead of holding on to all your troubles, we must cast them before our Savior who loves us and cares for us.