The disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). They would not have asked if they had not wanted to learn. I believe most Christians would love to be faithful in prayer but they lack understanding of how to pray. There has been no shortage of instruction by well-intentioned teachers sharing formulas and strategies for effective prayer, and while I am not condemning any of this, I believe the kind of prayer that most pleases God is very simple.
Many Christians pray out of a sense of obligation; others pray only when tragedy strikes or a crisis befalls them. But we need to grasp the foundational truth that prayer is not just for our own welfare or relief but for the delight of the Lord.
Two basic elements must go together: our benefit and God’s delight. We are not to merely intercede for things we need, but we must ask for the things he desires. Of course, we need to unburden our hearts and seek a supply of his strength, but Christians can be very self-centered when it comes to prayer. He has told us to cast all our cares upon him but our praying is not complete if we do not understand God’s need, as well — his desire for fellowship with us — intimacy and communion.
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25). And back in 6:8, Jesus says, “For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.”
God is saying to us, “When you come into my presence, focus your attention on fellowship with me, on getting to know me. I already know your needs; you don’t have to ask over and over. I’ll take care of them all! Just seek me and let’s enjoy sweet fellowship.”
The heart of the true message of grace is not a permissive gospel but one that teaches holiness!
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13).
According to Paul, we are not walking in grace until we have broken from worldly corruptions. Unless we are endeavoring through the power of the Holy Spirit to lead godly and righteous lives, looking for the Lord’s coming in our every waking moment, then we do not know God’s grace.
Too many Christians want forgiveness — but that’s all. They do not want to be delivered from this present world because they love it. They are attached to their sins and do not want to give up the pleasures of this world. So they cling to a doctrine that says, “I can live as I please — as long as I say that I believe.” Sadly, these Christians do not want to hear about obedience, repentance or self-denial. They would rather live in this world without restraint.
Paul writes, “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” (Romans 12:2). We are to break from this world completely and be conformed to Christ alone!
Jesus justifies us through faith for a purpose — to embolden and empower us to resist the devil and overcome the world, in the power of God’s Spirit. Yes, Jesus died for us so that we could have eternal life but he also died so that we could enjoy deliverance in and from this present evil world.
“[Jesus Christ] gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father’ (Galatians 1:4).
“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).
I believe that justification by faith is the foundational truth of Christianity. You cannot know true rest and peace until you are convinced that you can never be made right in God’s eyes by your own works.
If you do not understand the perfect righteousness of Christ that is yours by faith, you will lead a life of toil and sweat, trying to please God through a legalistic, hopeless attempt to establish your own righteousness. But the truth is, you will never have any righteousness to bring to the Lord.
A familiar passage in Isaiah says that all our righteousness is as filthy rags in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6). This does not mean that God despises our good works — not at all. God does want our righteous deeds and we should do all the good works that we can. But if you think they merit your salvation then they are no more than filthy rags.
Of course, you may feel good because of the good works you do. For instance, you will probably enjoy a moment of victory and satisfaction whenever you resist temptation. But the next day you fall back into a sin and you quickly lose your joy. You think the Lord is angry with you and you think, “I’ll never make it.”
Such a roller-coaster ride of emotional highs and lows can result in a life of misery. Why? Because you are trying to please God in your flesh!
Beloved, no righteousness of the flesh will ever stand before God. Even the best people among us — the most moral, godly saints — have all failed miserably and fallen short of God’s glory. Not one of us can ever be accepted in the Father’s eyes by our own works. But the good news is that we are totally accepted by him through Christ.
When Joshua was commissioned as leader of the Israelite nation, God spoke great encouragement to him. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
God was telling Joshua, “Be encouraged and don’t be afraid. Be strong for I am leading you into something great.” Now that Joshua was ready to take leadership in God’s great plan, things were going to happen that had never happened before. But Joshua was going to have to stand up and enter into the promises of God.
Joshua had been working alongside Moses, fighting many battles and prevailing because God was with him. He was faithful and obedient to God’s call and His rock-solid faith enabled him to become a great leader.
When Moses died, God said, “Joshua, it’s time!” How exciting to hear God say that it’s time. Joshua had been waiting and after forty years of wandering through the wilderness, he had the joy, the privilege, the opportunity to say to his people, “We’re crossing over!”
Picture yourself walking into the Promised Land along with the children of Israel. Such rejoicing! Dancing and singing before the Lord, “We made it — finally. We’re here! Hallelujah! After all these years of waiting and wandering, we are finally experiencing the promise.”
Have you been waiting for the fulfillment of a promise of God? Your battle has not been just external, but also in your heart. I encourage you to believe that greater things are yet to come for you. God is going to intervene in your circumstances and you are going to walk into your promises.
The same encouragement that God gave to Joshua can be applied to you, as well. “Be strong and courageous. The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” As you are faithful to God, he will be faithful to you.
When we spend time with God, we should want to do more than just present a list of requests — we need to listen for his voice! Someone once said, “What’s more important, us telling God our requests, which he already knows before we tell him, or us listening for his voice, to hear what is on his heart?”
I know some people don’t believe we can still hear God’s voice. “He has already said what he is going to say in the Bible.” They would argue that hearing from God is religious fanaticism or a form of scary emotionalism. But the history of the Christian church totally negates that belief. How else would people like British missionary Hudson Taylor — who, while spending time with the Lord, felt God put a call on his heart to go to China — have brought the gospel to unreached people in Asia? In fact, how would any missionary who has ever done something great for God have known to do it unless God had first communicated it to them? There is no verse in the Bible that says, “Go to Bangladesh!”
Although we all know that the Bible is complete and God does not speak to replace doctrine or communicate on the same level of Scripture, he does still speak. He might offer vital words of warning or convicting messages that have personal application. Sometimes it is a word of guidance — a direction we should move in. That kind of direction is heard only by a listening ear or a hearing heart.
One of my favorite passages is found in Isaiah. “The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed” (Isaiah 50:4, emphasis added).
Jim Cymbala began the Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn, he is a longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson.