Maintaining doctrinal purity is good but it is not the whole picture for a New Testament church. The apostles wanted to do much more than simply “hold the fort,” as the old gospel song says. They asked God to empower them to move out and impact an entire culture.
In too many places where the Bible is being thumped and doctrine is being argued until three in the morning, the Spirit of that doctrine is missing. William Law, an English devotional writer of the early 1700s, wrote, “Read whatever chapter of Scripture you will, and be ever so delighted with it—yet it will leave you as poor, as empty and unchanged as it found you unless it has turned you wholly and solely to the Spirit of God, and brought you into full union with and dependence upon Him.”
One way to recognize whether we suffer from this disconnection is to look at our concern for people who are dirt . . . people who are “other” . . . people who don’t fit the core group’s image. The idea that a church could be called to serve just one designated class is not found in the New Testament. The ravages of sin are not pleasant—but they are what Jesus came to forgive and heal. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). The Spirit of God is a Spirit of mercy, of compassion, of reaching out.
Yet Christians often hesitate to reach out to those who are different. They want God to clean the fish before they catch them. If someone’s gold ring is attached to an unusual body part, if the person doesn’t smell the best, or if the skin color is not the same, Christians tend to hesitate. But think for a moment about God reaching out to us. If ever there was a “reach” that was it: the holy, pure Deity extending Himself to us who were soiled, evil-hearted, unholy. God could have said, “You’re so different from Me, so distasteful, I would really rather not get too close to you.” But He didn’t say that. It was our very differentness that drew His hand of love.
Jesus didn’t just speak the healing word to lepers from a distance . . . He touched them. “And He put forth His hand and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him” (Luke 5:13).
Jim Cymbala began Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn and longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson, Cymbala is a frequent speaker at the Expect Church Leadership Conferences sponsored by World Challenge throughout the world.
“It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). “It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (4:7). “For it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (4:10). When Jesus was confronted with the devil’s schemes, He overcame them with God’s Word.
Today we have yet another, “It is written”—“I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” (Luke 22:32). You can tell the devil, “You may try to tear down my faith, but you need to know this: my Jesus is praying for me!”
Peter’s faith was tested, shaken, and because of his pride he stumbled. But in answer to the Master’s prayer, the roots of his faith had not been destroyed. Just when Satan was shouting with glee and it looked as if the Lord has lost an anointed friend, Peter looked into the eyes of Jesus and melted! “And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. . . . And Peter went out, and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61-62).
“Wept bitterly” in Greek means “a piercing, violent cry.” “And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice” (22:61). I picture this man walking toward the Judean hills, falling on his face with hands outstretched, crying, “Oh, Father, He was so right! I did not listen. He warned me that Satan would attempt to destroy my faith. Die for Jesus? Why, I couldn’t even stand up to a maid! Forgive me! I love Him! To whom shall I go?”
I believe Peter’s faith took hold of something else Jesus had said: “And when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32). How many times did Peter play this over in his mind and heart, pondering to himself, “Didn’t Jesus say converted? Didn’t He say I still had a ministry? After what I did, I’m supposed to help others?”
God answered His Son’s prayer. I can see Peter standing up with the Spirit of God flowing through him, hands raised to the sky, saying, “Satan, be gone! I failed Him, but I still love Him. He promised—in fact, He prophesied—that I would come back and be a strength to others, a rock. I’m going back to my brothers and sisters!”
The Lord said to Peter, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” (Luke 22:32). I look at this wonderful example of Christ’s love and realize I know almost nothing about how to love those who fall. Surely Jesus is the “friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).
Jesus sees both the good and the bad in Peter and concludes, “This man is worth saving! Satan desires him, but I desire him all the more.” Peter truly loved the Lord and the Lord truly loved Peter even though He knew his personality traits.
Jesus said, “I have prayed for you!” not, “I will pray!” Jesus probably had spent many hours with His Father talking about Peter—how He loved him, how needed he was in the Kingdom, how He valued him as a friend.
Lord, give all of us that kind of love! That way, when we see someone compromising or heading for trouble or disaster, we will love them enough to warn them as firmly as Jesus did Peter. Then we will be able to say, “I’m praying for you!” We need to say it in love, not in an accusing way.
Take those people to God’s throne; plead for them to come through their trials with their faith intact. Jesus did not lecture Peter. Rather, Jesus said simply, “I’ve prayed for you.”
“I have prayed for you.” In the Greek, you is plural, meaning “all of you.” Jesus was speaking not only to Peter but to all the disciples—and to us today. “I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. . . . Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me. . . . I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:9, 11, 15).
No matter what you’re going through, no matter what lies ahead of you, if you have a heart full of love for Jesus, He is praying for you.
There is only one way to cheer up your heart and stay in gladness. “My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God. . . . My tears have been my meat day and night. . . . I pour out my soul in me. . . . Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted in me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance” (Psalm 42:2-5). This is God’s message to all who are “cast down”—all those who are sad, defeated, low, blue, discouraged and joyless.
Why am I depressed? Why am I gloomy and sad? Why am I overwhelmed? Why do I mourn? David does not even try to answer these questions in this psalm. All he can say is, “Hope in God! He is the help of my countenance.”
To those who patiently, expectantly wait on God, “the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me” (42:8).
God has given clear warning that it is a most serious matter to Him when we do not serve Him with gladness. In Deuteronomy 28, we learn of all the curses and diseases that overtake the unbelieving: “All these curses shall come upon thee. . . . Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things” (28:45-47).
God says, “You have focused on some little hurt, some wrongful thing, and in doing so you have forgotten all the blessings and wonderful things I have done for you!”
Christ will turn your hopelessness into rejoicing and clothe you with gladness—if you will release your faith to Him. “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness” (Psalm 30:11). Saints, rejoice in the God of hope—and live!
“There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early” (Psalms 46:4-5).
Yes, the river is Jesus—His very presence. The moment you cast down all doubt and fear, and cry out, “Lord, I believe, and in You I have hope, abounding hope,” you will be transplanted to the banks of this river by the power of the Holy Ghost.
The reason it is so important to get your roots down deep in God is because the worst is yet to come!
“If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? And if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?”(Jeremiah 12:5).
These are supposed to be good times. We live in a mild shower compared to the coming storm. This is child’s play compared to the troubles ahead. You may think you are going through something pretty awful, but it is peaceful in light of the distress that is soon coming upon the earth!
We are going to have to get our roots down deep! If you are not drawing strength from Him today, you will not endure when gross darkness covers the earth. You and I are now being tested by “light afflictions” (2 Corinthians 4:17) to drive us to the Lord, to make us dig deep to get into the secret reservoir of life.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord. . . . He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8, ESV).