Decisions We Make
12 Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray and continued all night in prayer to God. 13 And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles: 14 Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; 15 Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot; 16 Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor.
What do you do when you are facing a large decision? It may be a decision about your career. Do I pursue a promotion or not? Should I look for another Job? Should I get a job?
What about big decisions in relationships? Should I ask that person out - what if they say no? If you are asked out, the question is ... Should I go out with that person - Am I attracted to them? Then it’s, do I want to marry them or not? Then when the first argument comes along - Do I want to stay married to them? How do you make good decisions about relationships?
It may be that you have to face big decisions about money or finances ... What should I do with my savings - all $15 of it? Should I buy a new car or an old car? What sort of car should I get - a sports car or a family van? Should I buy a house or rent? How do you make good decisions about money?
At some point in your life everyone has some big decisions to make, You might be in the middle of a big decision right now. And you are wondering “How should I handle this? What’s the right answer? Where do I turn for help?” Tonight, I want to look at what Jesus did before he made a big decision because he made some good decisions.
In this passage, Jesus was faced with a decision that would shape the rest of history. Have you ever been faced with such a decision - probably not. Jesus at this time was selecting 12 men who would be trained and carry on his ministry when He died. But what if He made the wrong decision? This is just a “what if” scenario. We all know that Jesus makes all the right decisions. Again… “what if?”
Selecting the wrong men and everything He worked for while here on earth might just fizzle. Think about it for a while. Where would Christianity be today if the apostles had failed - just given it all up as a failed experiment and gone back to their old professions of fishing and tax collecting and the life after Jesus had died. We definitely wouldn’t have the NT as it is today.
We probably wouldn’t even know much about Jesus Christ at all. There would have been no Christian church. God’s plan of salvation would have been lost to all generations. Given that Christ was going to entrust the truth of His ministry and the health and well-being of the Christian church into the hands of these 12 men, this selection was critical - talk about pressure. I hope I never have a decision like that to make.
This was a big decision Jesus had to make and to make it worse, He was under immense pressure in other areas of His life. His enemies were breathing down His neck and plotting against Him. As we’ve looked through the book of Luke, we’ve seen again and again that Jesus seemed to step on toes everywhere He went. What He taught, His attitudes, behaviour and all that He stood for seemed to be offending the everyone.
He was a bit of a revolutionary and the Pharisees and the leaders of the Jewish Temple were upset. Actually they were so upset, that the verse before this passage says that they “began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus”. And don’t be fooled, they weren’t planning a surprise party - they were wanting to get rid of Jesus once and for all.
Do you ever feel the weight of decisions on you? Feel that the whole world - or maybe your whole future rests on this one decision? I think that Jesus felt that pressure ... So what did He do?
12 Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray and continued all night in prayer to God.
How often do you pray about the decisions of Life?
What did Jesus do when He was faced with a big decision? He Prayed. Simply that. He Prayed. I want to ask you tonight, How often do you pray about the decisions of Life?
God is the best Father you could ever imagine. He is not like some human dads who don’t care for their kids or even abuse them. He is the best Dad ever - He is interested in you and the things that are going on in your life. He wants to hear from you what you are thinking - what you are struggling with. He wants to help you - to be a comfort when you need a shoulder to lean on, to be an encourager when everything seems like it is going wrong.
To be a friend when you feel like everyone else has deserted you. God wants us to include Him in our decision making - and just like a perfect FATHER, God has all the time in the world to sit and listen to us and direct us in our decision making - whether it be a big or small issue. He wants to help.
Now, I don’t think that God will give a clear answer to us for every decision we need to make. I don’t think He will necessarily write in the clouds - wear the blue shirt today. I don’t think He will make you read a passage about burnt offerings to tell you to put roast lamb on your sandwiches for lunch. I don’t think that He will even show you necessarily what car to buy or where to put your money. But I do know that God will provide us with the resources to make those decisions in a godly and wise manner. What resources you ask? – WISDOM
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
Do you want to make good decisions? Seek wisdom. Where from - from God. Go to God in prayer and ask for wisdom. He won’t necessarily tell you which choice to make, but He’ll give you all the wisdom you need to make the best choice.
But to get this wisdom we need to include Him in our decision making. Have you got a decision to make? Well…have you prayed about it yet? You need to pray to get wisdom to make your decision making skills sharp.
How long do you spend praying about the decisions of life?
The second thing we see about Jesus’ method of decision making is that His prayer was not just a “Please help me Lord” prayer thrown up to God on the run ... No, He was serious about praying and waiting for God for the answer - for wisdom to make the decision. He actually spent all NIGHT praying.
How long do you spend praying about the decisions of your life? This is a challenge to me as much as it is probably to you. Have you ever stayed up all night praying about something? But this is the example Jesus sets for us. His was an important decision and He devoted time to praying it through with His heavenly father.
How much time do we spend in prayer? 5 mins per day? 10? 20? 30? Are you facing a big decision? How much time are you willing to spend talking to God about it? The amount of time you spend in prayer probably reflects how close you actually are walking with God.
Some of the famous Christians through-out history were great prayers. That is why I think they were so influential - because they learnt the power of prayer. You see, prayer is the deadliest weapon we have at our disposal but also the greatest source of sustenance for our daily lives.
Martin Luther said, "I am so busy now that if I did not spend three hours each day in prayer, I could not get through the day." Luther knew the effectiveness of prayer.
Billy Sunday, a famous preacher once said "If some people looked at their watches when they started praying and when they ceased praying, they would think their watches had stopped."
Does your watch seem to stop every time you pray? Maybe you develop your prayer life longer because without it, your life will not have any stability.
Have you ever wondered why a bird sleeping on its perch never falls off? Usually birds manage to sleep perfectly well without falling off. How do they manage to do this? The secret is the tendons of the bird’s legs. They are so constructed that when the leg is bent at the knee, the claws contract and grip like a steel trap. The claws refuse to let go until the knees are unbent again. The bended knee gives the bird the ability to hold on to his perch it gives it stability in its life.
Just like a bent knee in a bird helps that bird stay balanced and safe through the long hours of darkness, a knee bent in prayer enables us to get a firmer grip on life and the wisdom needed for decision making. It helps us when we make the big decisions and the small decisions. I want to challenge you as I have been challenged this week that maybe we need to spend more time in prayer.
How do we pray about the decisions of life?
The third thing I notice about Jesus’ prayer life is that He prayed in solitude. He went up to a hillside to a QUIET place away from the noise and the people who were desperate to benefit from His healing power. He went away from those who would seek to pressure Him more. He got away from the daily grind and the commitments and went to where He could focus on one thing - GOD. Praying through the busiest parts of the day is good - don’t get me wrong, but we need to set aside specific times for quiet meditation on God.
A man working in an ice factory lost a valuable watch. His fellow workmen searched with him for more than two hours through the sawdust on which the ice was stored…but were unable to find it. They left the plant for lunch and returned to find a little boy with the watch in his hand. "How ever did you find it?" They inquired. He replied, "I just lay down in the sawdust and heard it ticking."
Sometimes we try to find God in our business, our activity and our noise. But we can’t find God that way - we must "be still and quiet - then we can know that He is God."
How do you pray about the decisions of life. Do you take time out and find a place of solitude to spend time one on one with God or do you try to squeeze him into your schedule amidst the noise of the TV.
Jesus knew the importance of including His heavenly Father in the decisions He was making. It was the only way He could make good decisions. Keep in mind that by choosing the right 12 men, would have a big impact on the rest of the world. The future of all Christians rests on the choosing of the 12 Apostles. (MINUS 1)
Jesus prayed often to God. How OFTEN do you pray about the decisions of Life? Do we need to pray more often about the big things and the little things? Let’s keep our prayer life sharp and ask for the wisdom that God promises to give us. Wisdom to help us make good decisions.
Jesus prayed at length to His Father. How LONG do we spend praying about the decisions of life? If we don’t have power in our lives or clarity of thought, it is probably because we need to be praying more. Let’s be on our knees and develop our grip on life. It has been said that "Preaching affects men; prayer affects God.”
The pastor who is not a praying pastor is a playing pastor. The congregation which is not a praying congregation is a straying congregation. To be much for God we must be much with God. Do we pray enough?
Here is a short poem that I read from one of my devotions, that went well with this message.
I got up early one morning and rushed right into the day; I had so much to accomplish that
I didn’t have time to pray. Problems just tumbled about me, and heavier came each task.
"Why doesn’t God help me?" I wondered.
He answered, "You didn’t ask." I wanted to see joy and beauty, but the day toiled on, gray and bleak;
I wondered why God didn’t show me. He said, "But you didn’t seek."
This maybe just a short message, but it was straight to the point. You see…the Christian life is a life of prayer. Simply because that is the only connection, we have to get the help that we need from God. I have never heard of a Christian, who never prayed. Let this be challenge for all of us, to always keep the Lord in every decision that we make. No matter how big or how small, Jesus needs to be involved!
Let Us pray:
Longing For Heaven
2 Corinthians 5:1-9
5 For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. 4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.
Short article from a famous Pastor, evangelist, writer. D.L. Moody.
As he approached the end of his life, Dwight L. Moody viewed Heaven as something to anticipate. Moody wrote: “Someday you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of East Northfield, is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now; I shall have gone up higher, that is all, out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal — a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned like unto His glorious body. I was born of the flesh in 1837. I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die. That which is born of the Spirit will live forever.” Every Christian that has invested his life in eternity can share that attitude toward Heaven.
In his 1st Epistle, Peter says that those who are saved are “foreigners and exiles” in this world,
1 Peter 2:11
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.
And, again…the Apostle Paul reminds us that…
20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.
This reality causes us to become a bit homesick from time to time. Because when you really think about…although no one has ever seen what heaven looks like, or what it is like. Reading the Scriptures can make one excited to go there. Every born again Christian is “Longing for Heaven”. And why not? Jesus is there! We will be with our Savior forever!
As a Christian we don’t "fit in" in this world, and we shouldn't. Our society is completely out of control. Sin, wickedness, and immorality abounds like never before. The majority calls what's wrong right, and what's right wrong. Our nation has turned away from God, most of our leaders tolerate, legalize and even celebrate immorality. Every time I turn on the news it seems that things are getting worse. The people of God are mocked, ridiculed, oppressed and persecuted.
When you compare where we are to where we are going, it is only natural for us to be homesick for our Heavenly home. Knowing that we have many loved ones waiting for us, it is understandable that we would be homesick for Heaven. Even greater than these truths is the fact that Our Savior is there, seated at the right hand of the Father. Knowing that we will see Him face to face should make us exceedingly homesick.
Most of us would testify that we have a wonderful life here on earth. Because of salvation, we are blessed to live and abundant life in Christ. We also know that the reason we remain here is because the Lord has a work for us to accomplish, and it is important for us to serve fervently and faithfully until the Lord sees fit to take us home.
While there is no shortage of work for us to do down here, I think it is beneficial to look forward to what awaits us on the other side. So for just a little while today I want us to examine what is waiting for us when this life is over, and in doing so I want to preach on the thought Of “Longing for Heaven”.
This passage of scripture reveals several truths that will make any child of God homesick for their Heavenly home. One of the most common reasons we become homesick for Heaven is the difficulties that we face in this life. Let's look to verses 1-4 and consider…Our adversity!
2 Corinthians 5:1-4
5 For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. 4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.
Here Paul is comparing the temporary to the eternal. He speaks of the fact that in this life we face troubles. In describing this life, Paul uses the words... “groan and burdened”.
He says in v4 “For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened”. To "groan" means to sigh heavily within, and the word "burdened" means to be pressed down under a heavy weight. I'm sure we would all agree that this life is filled with troubles and trials. It has been this way since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. Job said…
“Man who is born of woman, Is of few days and full of trouble.”
And even our Lord Jesus had this to say…
33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you [a]will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
There are different types of adversity in this life. Let's take a moment and consider, a common adversity. Common adversity speaks of those troubles that everyone experiences. In Matthew 5:45 Jesus said that the Father…
45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Consider Calvary for a moment, there were 3 crosses and 3 different people. There was a saint, a sinner and a Savior crucified that day. All three of them suffered and died. None of them were exempt from suffering and death. We have a hard time understanding why bad things happen to "good" people. We may also question why good things happen to evil people. Though we may not understand it, these things are common.
All over the world people are dying from starvation. Droughts leave people thirsty and cause crops to fail. Hurricanes, Tsunamis & earthquakes ravage the land. Many people live in the middle of war zones. Terrorism is on high alert. Millions of people suffer from different diseases. Unemployment, lack of healthcare and rising costs of utilities & food are a problem for many. People face adversity all over the world... no one is exempt.
Not only is there "common adversity", there is also adversity that is specific to Christians. Let's consider, “CHRISTIAN ADVERSITY”.
There are many in this building who can testify that Christians face great adversity. We are not suddenly immune to trouble when we surrender to Christ. In fact, that may be the point in your life when troubles intensify.
There are many examples of Christ followers in the Bible who suffered greatly after their conversion. As you can recall, we went through a list of how the Apostles suffered and died in our Bible study. There was torture, prison, stabbing, beheading, crucifixion and so on…
Right now, all over the world, Christians are being persecuted for their faith. They are being arrested, beaten and killed for their devotion to Jesus Christ. We may not have experienced the physical persecution that some Christian martyrs have faced, but we do know about troubles, trials and tribulations. Many of us have experienced the reality of Christian Suffering. Christian people have to bury their babies.
Christian marriages sometimes fail. Christian husbands have to stand by the beside of their dying wives. Christian wives have to plan the funerals of their husbands. Christians lose their jobs, they have bills that they cannot pay, the repo-man may come and take their car, the bank may foreclose on their house. Christians are diagnosed with terminal diseases. Christians have rebellious children who are involved in sin and living in wickedness. Many of our brethren are hurting, suffering and devastated by the troubles of this life.
These "burdens" cause us to "groan". But this passage of scripture gives us great hope and encouragement. Paul tells us that the troubles, trials and tribulations of this life are ONLY temporary!
He uses the word "Tent" to describe the temporary nature of this life. He says, "For we that are in this tent do groan" (v4). The idea here is that our human bodies are mere temporary dwelling places for our souls. This “tent)” will be taken down when we leave this walk of life. One day our mortal bodies will fall away… and we will leave this temporary place for our eternal home! This is very encouraging, it means that even though we face adversity, we still possess great hope.
This leads us to another reality that leads us “Longing for Heaven”. We have our assurance!
Many people are living with in a “ I hope so religion”, they hope they are saved, they hope they possess eternal life, they hope that they have a home in Heaven. You don't have to have a
“I hope so religion”, you can have a “I know so salvation”. Paul had great confidence concerning eternity. Notice if you will what he said in v1.
1 Corinthians 5:1 & 5-6
5 For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.
He declared that when this earthly tent is taken down...That is, when we die and leave this earthly body, we have an eternal body waiting for us in Heaven. We have more than a "tent" waiting for us up there, we have a "house"(building) made by God Himself. A "tent" is a temporary dwelling place, a "house" (building) is a permanent abode.
There are several words that illustrate Paul's confidence concerning eternity. He said, "we know", not "we think", he said "we have", not "we hope", he said "we are always confident", not "we are fairly sure most of the time". Then in v8…he shares one of the greatest guarantees in the Word of God. He says…
1 Corinthians 5:8
8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
This verse gives us assurance concerning our loved ones who died in Christ and have already passed on. And it gives us great assurance that when we draw our last breath we will be immediately ushered into the presence of the Lord. Paul had confidence that when he took his last breath he would immediately go into the presence of the Lord. In these verses Paul is telling us that, when this earthly life draws to a close and we lay down these temporary bodies, we have a new body and a new life awaiting us in Heaven.
Paul covered this truth in…
1 Corinthians 15:53-57
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
A change must take place before we can enter our new home. This is a good thing, because it means that we get a new body! I don't know about you, but I am ready for mine!! Time certainly takes its toll on these old bodies. As we grow older, we take more and more medications. We have brittle bones, sore joints, and torn ligaments. We wear glasses, dentures and hearing aids. We have sores, bumps, bulges, sags, and wrinkles galore!
The tabernacles of our flesh are fading and we shall move out of them before long. But we are confident that when that time comes, we will be "clothed upon with our house which is from heaven". Knowing this causes us to be "Longing for Heaven" at times. I don't know about you but there are days when I eagerly anticipate going to my Heavenly home.
Let’s also consider the fact of our anticipation. There is much that we do not know about Heaven, but Jesus revealed a great deal to John in Revelation 21. Listen to what John said in - Revelation 21:10…
10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.
John says that Heaven is gloriously lit by the glory of God Himself. The city is surrounded by a high wall. There are twelve gates in this wall, each gate attended by an angel. These gates have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed on them.
In Revelation 21:18-20 John describes the materials used to construct that city.
18 The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.
If this is what heaven looks like…consider this great promise as well…
4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” 5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
The things that are not going to be in Heaven are just as exciting as the things that are going to be there. John says that there will be:
1. NO MORE SORROW…
This world is filled with trouble, there are disappointments on every hand, we face circumstances and situations that bring great sorrow into our lives, but in Heaven there will be no more sorrow. –
Jesus also showed John that there would be:
2. NO MORE SUFFERING:
This life is filled with suffering, but in Heaven we will never sit in a hospital room and watch our parents suffer. We will not have to watch people that we love fight for one more breath. Never again will we see our children hurt and struggle. We will not have to stand beside a casket and shed a tear at the loss of a spouse. There will be no more bad news from the doctor, and there will be no more hospitals, nursing homes or funeral homes. In Heaven we will never suffer again!
- Believe it or not it gets even better. We are told that in Heaven, there will be:
3. NO MORE SIN:
Revelation 21:27 (NIV)
27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
It is great to know that sin cannot follow us to that wonderful place. The reason for the problems and sorrow that we face in this life can be traced back to sin. But praise God in Heaven, there will be no more sin!
- Along with this exciting fact is the reality that in Heaven there will be: NO MORE SATAN!!!
When we get to the Promised Land, never again will we have to deal with Satan. We can have confidence in this fact because of what the Bible says in..
10 The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Lastly and most importantly. Our Savior will be there. We are assured that one say we will see our Savior face to face!
1 John 3:2
2 Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
When we die this, old broken-down body, this natural shell will remain here on earth. But our soul will go to be with the Lord. I can't imagine what it will be like to see Jesus face to face. But we must have the assurance that it will happen. One day our faith will become sight! Knowing that He is there makes us anticipate going to that wonderful land.
When we see Him, we will humbly bow before the throne and cry "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, Who, was and is and is to come! - We will cry "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created."
Man…I am ready! I am “Longing for Heaven”. What about you? Are you looking forward to that wonderful place? Do you know for sure that you are going there? If you are not, then let give you another scripture promise…
9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
“YOU WILL BE SAVED!!!”
“For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:2-10 (NIV)
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
As a young man, Paul trained under one of the greatest Jewish scholars of hid time. He understood the elements of the law and practiced them with great zeal. Yet, when he came face-to-face with Jesus Christ, his life changed forever. Paul no longer viewed the world through human eyes. God has given him spiritual insight that far surpassed anything he had known.
Still…Paul needed to be broken further so that he could be used in an even greater way. God allowed Paul to be buffeted by a severe trial in order to humble him and remove any potential for pride. Through this time of weakness, Paul learned a new and unexpected principle. “Strength in weakness”.
When God humbles us before Him, He sees the meekness of our hearts and sends His strength and blessings into our lives.
The story is told of a child who brought a cocoon into her bedroom. She had been told that in time a butterfly would emerge from the cocoon; so, in her eagerness to free the butterfly, she carefully snipped the silken threads so the butterfly could emerge without a struggle. The child didn’t understand that the struggle to emerge was necessary if the butterfly was ever to fulfil the destiny for which it had been created. Without the struggle to free itself from the cocoon, the butterfly would never be able to fly as it was created to do.
By “helping” the poor creature, she doomed it to a brief life of walking, rather than a full life of flying, even migrating great distances. The tiring struggle to free itself from the cocoon was necessary for the butterfly to be transformed into the beautiful creature God created it to be.
Just as this child thoughtlessly neglected the truth that the butterfly needed to struggle if it would fulfil the destiny for which it was created, we are prone to forget that it is precisely the struggle that confronts us day-by-day…the seemingly constant opposition, that makes us strong. If you will ever be the beautiful example of the believer God intends you to be, you will need to accustom yourself to times hardship. The trials you are facing today are designed to transform you into the gracious example of a redeemed individual that glorifies the Saviour.
I’m speaking to people who know something of disappointment, of heartache, of sorrow. If you are a follower of the Master, you rightfully anticipate that He will be gracious to His child. And, yet, at times you have been beaten and bruised. You know what it is to be betrayed by people you thought were your friends. You have tasted bitter tears at unexpected partings, some through death and some through misunderstandings that were not resolved.
You have at one time or another heard the frightening words that informed you of a dreadful medical condition. Or you know all too well what it is to be strapped, to be broke and unable to meet your obligations. You are well acquainted with the sorrow imposed by a child who has turned away from the Lord…disappointing your expectations. In short, you have been broken…you are now weak and in need of help.
At any given moment in the service of worship are people who are sitting at, or who have been seated at, the table of brokenness. Represented among us are people who have experienced marital breakup or family stress so severe that it has strained relationships. Broken, these dear souls lift their hearts to Heaven and cry out, “Why, Lord?”
My point is this… each of us has experienced the bitterness of being broken and feeling as if there is nowhere to turn but to the Lord. If we have not yet experienced this brokenness, in the secret places of our heart we know that the threat always hangs over us suspended by a thread.
There will times that we have the expectations of Gods blessings. Defending himself against vicious slander, the Apostle Paul wrote a second letter to the Corinthian Christians. He wrote of a most intimate experience in order to demonstrate familiarity with matters that could be used to exalt himself. Paul wrote…
2 Corinthians 12:2-6
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows--
4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say,
We who follow the Master expects, Him to be gracious…correct! Tragically, we often define the specifics of our expectations, filtering these expectations through visions of our own comfort. As a young Christian, I was discipled in a way that I could command God to do what I want Him to do. (Name it Claim it, teaching) Well…if that teaching is true, then that would make me the master, and not Jesus. And then, when the answer to my prayer is a definite NO, from the Lord, then my expectations are broken. Again, the question remains… Why Lord???
I do know this… every Christian, if she or he will permit themselves to think, has known the blessings of God. We expect that He will bless us because we are His children—and He does! We know we have an inheritance reserved in Heaven. We know that we can come before Him at any time, assured that He will receive us, confident that He will hear us. However, we struggle with what we expect of Him because we are in the flesh. We confuse our material desires with what is necessary for effective service. Almost without thinking of what we are doing, we seek ease of life rather than spiritual knowledge.
Followers of the Risen Son of God can expect His blessings, however, the blessings He will shower down are based upon grace, and not upon our own demands. We have no right to expect God to agree to our demand. We are taught to pray for “daily bread,” but nowhere are we promised a big bank account. We are encouraged to ask for immediate needs, but we are never promised wealth and comfort. We are promised peace and mercy, but we have never been promised ease and a life of fame. As with all divine gifts, man has perverted His promises.
There will always be Devine intervention…
2 Corinthians 12:7
or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
God’s harsh mercy can leave us confused at times. The Apostle was given what he referred to as “a thorn in the flesh.” Moreover, he identified this deficit, whatever it may have been, as “a messenger of Satan.” Though the account is shrouded in mystery, in some way the Lord used the devil to accomplish His goal of guiding His apostle.
We have no way of knowing what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” might have been. Whether it was an emotional condition, a physical deficit or even a situation that hindered him is unknown. Throughout the centuries since he wrote these words, people have speculated. We know that at other points in his writings he referred to physical constraints. You may recall one such place where the Apostle spoke…relating of his physical limitation. As mentioned in…
12 Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you. You have not injured me at all. 13 You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. 14 And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. 15 What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me.
So…It, may appear that Paul was referring to a deficit in his vision. Whatever his “condition,” those about him saw it as a trial. Early in his first message to the saints in Corinth, the Apostle spoke of his weakness, writing…
1 Corinthians 2:2-5
2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
It is not at all certain that the weakness to which he referred was mere timidity or hesitation; it is entirely possible that he was referring to a physical limitation. The point of this exercise is to confess that we don’t know what limitations Paul experienced. However, whether we feel trapped by a situation over which we have little control, whether we struggle against emotional limitations or whether we are passing through physical pain, we can relate to the Apostle Paul. If God was able to employ him to His glory despite severe limitation, then we can be confident that God is well able to use us as He pleases regardless of what we see as weakness.
At the time he was first afflicted, it is doubtful that Paul understood that his “thorn in the flesh, this messenger of Satan”, was actually accomplishing a divine purpose. Seldom are we able to recognize what God is doing when we are experiencing pain. However, in Paul’s case, God recognized that Paul was prone to be conceited. (To keep me from being conceited) God acted by permitting Satan to work so that in some way the Apostle was weakened. In his weakness, Paul would be driven to look to the Lord for strength. We’re left with the impression that he became utterly dependent on divine strength to accomplish even simple tasks each day.
We pass through seasons of life and our opportunities change and the challenges we face are changed. As followers of the Christ, we are responsible to adapt to these changing seasons, always serving the Son of God who redeemed us and appointed us to His holy service. I will not always be able to function in the capacity of a pastor, standing before the congregation and declaring the glories of the Living God. When that time comes that I can no longer serve, (It has happened once before) I pray that I will still be able to reveal the love of Christ through encouraging others and through gently providing guidance to those who struggle. I pray that I will never lose the ability to call on the Name of the Risen Savior, pleading for Him to strengthen the weak and pleading with Him to rebuke the wicked. You who know the Lord will face changing seasons of life, but you will never lose opportunity to serve Him.
There was a time when the Apostle Paul, pleaded for relief, but none came….
2 Corinthians 12:8
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
We will experience intense pain, physically or emotionally. Because we share in the human condition, we will be distressed; and we will plead with God to remove the pain. Because we are a follower of the Risen Son of God, we will experience opposition. And that opposition will not only be from people identified with this broken world, we will at times face spiritual opposition as spiritual powers oppose us through fellow Christians. Through the pain, however, God is always working. His perfect work is not often seen as His at the time. Pain is distracting, debilitating, devastating. Pain grips us by the throat and demands that we focus on what we are experiencing. We too…will plead for relief.
Please don’t get me wrong, it is not a sin to seek relief when we are broken. When the Apostle sought divine relief, God did not rebuke him for asking the Lord to deliver him. However, the Apostle was learning to say, as did the Son of God when He was about to face the cross…
39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
Let me say quite clearly…I do not know the immediate source of your pain, nor can I. For some, an illness or a physical condition may be nothing more than a part of the human condition. However, it is possible that you have a “thorn in the flesh,” a “messenger of Satan.” No doubt the evil one is quite capable of taking advantage of our weaknesses, of our trials, to traumatize us because we are a child of God.
Perhaps you have experienced a family breakup, a pressure that has either torn your family into pieces or now threatens to do so. Again, we must understand that ultimately the desolation that rips families to shreds is the result of sin and the sin may not be yours! It may be the sin of a spouse who exalts his or her own desires above the welfare of those who should be protected. Again, the truth is that the wicked one is able to take advantage of our being shoved off balance to discourage and devastate the follower of the Lord Christ.
How should we respond when we are struck by such painful experiences? Looking at Paul’s response, it is obvious that we should pray. Though we need no encouragement to pray when we hurt, it is fascinating to note that prayer is one of the last things we do in our pain. Prayer should be our first resort, unfortunately, prayer is often a last resort. We imagine that the pain we are experiencing in our body is normal, or that it is minor and will go away on its own; so, we don’t seek divine intervention.
We have often recited the Model Prayer, the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples. Tragically, we say the words, treating them as a talisman, without realizing that this is a model for prayer. Remember that one of the petitions Jesus taught us to present before the Father was…
And do not lead us into temptation But, deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
“Deliver us from evil.” To be certain, when we are in the storms, this is a prayer we should offer, however… ideally the prayer is to be presented before we are in the midst of the storm. We need to train ourselves to see the danger before it is on us, seeking divine deliverance before it strikes. However, when trouble strikes, we should definitely pray, asking for deliverance.
There is Devine provision to remember when are broken…
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I am certain of this…when I cry out to the Father, He hears me, and since He hears me, I am assured that He will answer according to His perfect will. The answer won’t always be dramatic, but it is certain. For the Apostle, the divine answer to his plea was divine assurance: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” That promise is hard for us to believe, but our struggle to accept what God says does not alter the reality of what is said. “God’s grace is sufficient for you.” God’s grace is enough!!!
The reason His grace is sufficient is that His power is made perfect in weakness. Here is a truth that is often times neglected, some of God’s choicest saints are some of the weakest of His children. Here is what’s surprising…those weakened saints are among God’s strongest representatives. Their strength lies in their utter reliance on God for strength, for hope, for anything that will ever be accomplished through them.
Here is a word of hope, rich encouragement. Writing from a prison cell, the Apostle testified…
19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Whether I live or die, I am in Christ. And that is by God’s grace alone!
“He Himself knew what He would do”
10 And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done. Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. 11 But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God and healed those who had need of healing. 12 When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.”13 But He said to them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people.” 14 For there were about five thousand men. Then He said to His disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of fifty.” 15 And they did so and made them all sit down. 16 Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude. 17 So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them.
When NASA began the launch of astronauts into space, they found out that the pens wouldn’t work at zero gravity (Ink won’t flow down to the writing surface). In order to solve this problem, they hired Andersen Consulting. It took them one decade and $12 million. They developed a pen that worked at zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on practically any surface including crystal and a temperature range from below freezing to over 300 degrees C.
And what did the Russians do? The Russians used a pencil!
Too often we focus on problems and fail to see opportunities right in front of us.
Winston Churchill once said: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; while an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Likewise, the Lord tells us to be very careful, then, how we live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish but understand what the Lord’s will is.
In other words, “If we want to understand the Lord’s will, let’s be wise by looking for the opportunities He sets before us, especially in difficult circumstances.”
Now for many of us this is a mind shift. If you’re like me… If a problem presents itself, the wheels in my head naturally start to spin and I immediately go into “fix it” mode, what do I need to do, who do I need to talk to and how do I go about fixing the problem. Sound familiar!
Now more often than not, my problem is not with the problem, but with how I go about finding the solution. I have a natural tendency to exhaust all of my resources, all of my strength and all of my ideas before I come to the Lord for His response.
However, the Lord has been teaching me to think supernaturally, instead of naturally. He’s been teaching me to see things from His Kingdom’s perspective rather than my worldly perspective. He’s teaching me to see the opportunities He is placing before me. Perhaps He’s leading you along that learning curve as well. And why not, He did that with His disciples.
Our passage today tells us that Jesus and His disciples withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but a crowd in excess of 5,000 learned about it and followed them. As it got late in the day, the disciples came to Jesus with a problem. There are too many people to feed. But rather than seeing this as an opportunity for the Lord to work, they saw it as a problem, that they needed to fix.
Notice how they approach this problem with doubt and worry. From the book of Mark….
37 But He answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?”
Same story here. But from our text, the disciples told Jesus to send them away. “the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.” But I both passages, Jesus told them the same thing, “You give them something to eat.” So, that was the plan of the disciples, “send them away”.
Now church, that’s a reasonable… logical… level-headed… natural approach to the problem. Identify it, assess it, weigh the options and then…act on it. It was a great plan! Except for the fact that they were not making the most of the opportunity… by first understanding what the Lord’s will was. As mentioned in (Eph. 5:15-17)
They dove right into “fix-it” mode and not once asked the Lord… who was standing right there, what His thoughts were about it. So, Jesus looked them right in the eye and said to them, Fella’s, "You give them something to eat." v.13
Now you can almost feel the tightening in their chest, that tingling sensation that creeps up your spine, grabs your neck and sends your brain into panic mode. “You want us to do what?”
However, the Lord wanted to teach them something. He wanted them to start thinking differently. He wanted them to get out of the “fix-it” mode and begin to think in an “opportunity” mode. He wanted them to change the way they think and the way they approached life with its joys and its dilemmas.
23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Jesus wanted His disciples to stop looking at problems from their natural perspective and start looking at solutions from His (Jesus) super-natural powers. Jesus is after all the creator of all things!
How can I say that so definitively? I can say it, because Jesus Himself said it. In John’s account, it says that Jesus asked (them this question) to test them, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. John 6:6 (Same story)
6 But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.
Now church, why in the world would Jesus ask the disciples a question that He already had the answer for? Why would He put them through this exercise when He had already predetermined the outcome? Well, the answer is not as difficult as you might think, so let’s look at it.
Jesus wants all of His disciples to be engaging in His ministry of bringing the Kingdom of God to earth. That’s why He sent out the 12 in Luke 9:1 and why he will send out 72 in Luke 10 to couple good deeds with the good news. The Lord invites us to join Him in His work and that is exactly what He wanted them to do and what he wants us to learn and do as well. Why?
Because once we come to believe in Christ as Savior, we can’t stay there, we need to move on in making Him Lord of our lives. It would be like being born and staying an infant our entire life. That’s not God’s plan! His plan is for us to join Him in His work, as we come under His direction, authority and leadership.
However, as disciples that come under the Lordship of Christ, we need to start looking at the world and the problems we face from His perspective. The disciples on the other hand were looking at this dilemma from their perspective. In fact, they left the Lord almost entirely out of the equation or in many of our cases we first exhaust all our resources before we come to Him.
How in the world we’re the disciple going to feed all these people? They needed to change their mindset of making the most of every opportunity by seeing that….
Remember, John says that Jesus asked this only to test them, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. John 6:6
Was Jesus testing them? You bet He was! He wanted them to engage in “hands-on” ministry, rather than to just sit by as spectators and watch Him. However, more importantly, He wanted to change the way they thought, the way they process information and the way they dealt with problems. He wanted them to start looking at the world from His perspective.
He wanted them to see the many dilemmas they were facing were really opportunities for Jesus to reveal Himself to people who know Him… and to the people who don’t yet know Him. Jesus wanted His disciples to use this problem as a blessing for people and there lies the problem.
The Lord was asking the disciples to do something they were incapable of doing. There was absolutely no way they could feed all these people without either buying them bread or sending them into town. Jesus was creating for His disciples what Henry Blackaby in His book "Experiencing God" calls: A Crisis of belief. (Just giving you a preview of our next study.)
Now there is no question that this was a God-sized assignment. This was way beyond their capability to accomplish and if the Lord did not intervene, they would fail and fall flat on their faces.
Please understand that this is the place where many followers bail out. The Lord lays a God-sized assignment before them and they say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t”, which leads to what Blackaby calls a “crisis of belief”. If you recall, the word “crisis” comes from a word that means “decision.”
The crisis of belief then is a turning point, a fork in the road that demands a decision. You must decide what you believe about God and how you respond to Him. How you respond when you reach this turning point will determine whether you go on to be involved with Him in something God-sized that only He can do or whether you will continue to go your own way and miss the opportunity He has placed before you.
This is crucial because when we aren’t looking for those opportunities God is placing before us, we don’t experience His presence and power in our life and circumstance. It is vitally important that…
I had to remind myself of this very clear lesson. When God invites, to join Him in His work, we have to trust Him… open the door and let Him lead. By only looking at the problem instead of God’s provision the disciples thought only about how to accomplish this assignment of feeding the 5,000 in their own power and with their own resources. What they said was, ‘how can we fix this, we have only five loaves of bread and two fish v.13.
13 But He said to them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people.”
You see…they saw the problem, and they came up with their own solution and not Gods.
They were thinking, “We can’t do this, it’s impossible! There is no way to feed that many people with what we have.” That’s true! Among themselves, this was impossible. But… this was an opportunity for them to see what Jesus can do!
Their problem was not with the dilemma, but with the way they were thinking. They had not yet grabbed onto the fact that Jesus was inviting them to join Him in His work. They thought they had to accomplish this task in their own power and with their current resources. They were thinking, “We can’t do this, it’s impossible!” But remember, Jesus already had in mind what HE was going to do. (John 6:6)
We often forget that when God speaks, He always reveals what He is going to do…not what He wants us to do. We join Him so He can work through us. That’s why Jesus said in…
27 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”
The disciples had already seen Jesus heal the lame man, the blind man and the man with leprosy. They had seen Him calm the storm, heal the woman who was hemorrhaging and raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead, all in super-natural ways. But now, when opportunity knocked, it didn’t even enter into their minds that maybe… just maybe God wanted to do something miraculously super-natural through them.
You see…the Lord isn’t interested in just feeding people’s bellies for a day, He wants to feed their souls and spirits for all eternity. The only way that those people knew that God was at work in and through the disciples was to solve this dilemma in a super-natural way that far exceeded the disciple’s power or resources.
Some people say, “God will never ask me to do something I can’t do.” But, we’re learning that God desires to give us tasks and assignments that are far beyond our abilities and power… in order to not only reveal Himself to us, but to demonstrate His nature, His strength, His kindness and His provision to a watching world. People today need to see the super-natural, visible hand of God working in and through His disciples, so that when something happens there is no question that God had done it.
God told Abraham to father a nation when he and Sarah were well beyond child-bearing years, why? To reveal Himself!
God told Moses to deliver the children of Israel through the Red Sea, why? To show Himself!
God had Gideon defeat the Midianite army of 120,000 with 300 men, why! To make Himself known!
A kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they were drawing. She walked around to look at the artwork. As she got to one little girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was. The girl replied, "I’m drawing God." The teacher paused and said, "But no one knows what God looks like. Without missing a beat, or looking up from her drawing the girl replied, "They will in a minute."
Jesus told the disciples to feed 5,000 and to make disciples of all nations. None of these things were or are humanly possible. But when God’s people and the world see something happen that only God can do, they come to know God.
Church…God wants people to come to know Him. That is why He chooses to work through us. People know us. They know what we can accomplish. But when they see things happen that can only be explained by God’s intervention, they will come to know Him.
Our passage tells us that Jesus had the disciples have the people sit in groups of 50 and then…
14 For there were about five thousand men. Then He said to His disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of fifty.” 15 And they did so and made them all sit down. 16 Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude. 17 So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them.
Amazingly, there was more left over than what they began with.
The Lord’s hand was all over this. He told them to do something and then He showed them how to do it. When God gives us a directive, we can count on the fact that God has already considered every factor that must be considered. Doesn’t Scripture say, “He already had in mind what He was going to do”. John 6:6
So, as we seek to know and to do God’s will, it is imperative that we clearly know His will and His directions for carrying it out. In Fact, He tells us…
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
Like the disciples, our wisdom and knowledge will not be enough to perform a God size task, but God’s wisdom and knowledge are always enough. Why, because He is always able to accomplish all He calls us to do. Ironically, it was Albert Einstein who said…
"when the solution is simple, God is answering."
( POWERPOINT )
So…Let us open our eyes to the opportunities the Lord sets before us. And never doubt the Great Creator!!!
Pastor Richard Santos
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