If My Words Abide in You
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If My Words Abide in You
April 30, 2006
If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will and it shall be done for you.
What is the most urgent need in the church of the Western world today? That's the question that Don Carson poses at the beginning of his new book, A Call to Spiritual Reformation. It's a good question to pose. Spiritual self-examination should be going on in our church continually, not just when the Scripture asks us to examine ourselves before taking communion. Let’s examine some Scripture which use the word “examine”. So get out your Bibles and we will do a little sword drill. Hold them up. Ready. There are only four verses. First one to find the Scripture stand up.
Number 1 – Psalm 26:2 (first person to find it stand up and read the verse). The New King James version puts it this way: “Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; Try my mind and heart.” This verse in the book of Psalms has David pleading with God to examine his heart and try his mind. He wanted to be proven worthy to stand before God’s people and proclaim His wondrous works (v. 7). In verse 11 he says he wanted to walk in integrity before the congregation.
Number 2 – Lamentations 3:40. (first person to find it stand up and read it) “Let us search out and examine our ways and turn back to the LORD” Jeremiah wrote Lamentations shortly after Judah’s conflict with Babylon and its takeover by Nebuchadnezzar. With this memory vivid in the prophet’s mind, he states that self-examination is for the purpose of turning back to God. In Revelation 2:5, Jesus exhorts the loveless church at Ephesus to turn back to godly living or else.
Ready for number three? The first one to find 1 Corinthians 11:28-29, stand up and read them. This is the passage often read at communion. We examine ourselves so we do not “drink” judgment on ourselves. Verse 31 reminds us that if we judge ourselves, we will not be judged by God.
Okay, last one. Galatians 6:4 – stand up and read it as soon as you find it. “But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing ….” I began this little diversion with the question, “what is the most urgent need of the church in the western world today? The four sword drill passages will help us examine this topic as well as our key verse from John 15:7 – abide in me. Ask yourself these four questions -
Question 1. Is the most urgent need in the church today need for purity in sexual matters in a culture obsessed with sex at almost every turn? I
Number 2 - Is it integrity and generosity in the financial arena where the "raw worship of Mammon has become so bold, so outrageous, so pervasive in the Western world during the last ten years that many of us are willing to do almost anything--including sacrificing our children--provided we can buy more"?
Number 3 - Is the most urgent need more evangelism and church growth? Careful studies show that perhaps 4% of those who make decisions at major crusades are persevering with Christ five years later, and the increase of church attendance is accompanied by no increase in holiness. A startling statistic!
Or, Number 4, is the most urgent need disciplined, biblical thinking and strong biblical scholarship, when many students and faculty in seminaries and colleges and universities have an extraordinarily shallow knowledge of God, in spite of all their academic work?
Carson, in “A Call to Spiritual Reformation”, does not belittle any of these needs, but says, "There is a sense in which these urgent needs are merely symptomatic of a far more serious lack. The one thing we most urgently need in Western Christendom is a deeper knowledge of God. We need to know God better". Prayer is one of the foundational steps in knowing God--"spiritual, persistent, biblically-minded prayer."
Turn to Isaiah 43:10 with me. No, it’s not another sword drill, but I will ask someone to read when you have it. (pick someone and have them read the passage. After it’s been read) What are we chosen for? “You have been chosen to know me, believe in me, and understand that I alone am He” We are plucked out of this world by God to know God. Do you know Him? Really know Him? Not just believe in Him. As I’ve said before, even the demons believe in Him, so mere belief doesn’t get us very far. Jesus said “if you know me, you know the Father. No one knew the Father better than Jesus. Jesus told us to “follow Him” – to know God as He knew God
Don Carson thinks that we have become so good at other things that we have forgotten how to pray. .
Several years ago at a North American seminary, fifty students planning to go into ministry were interviewed for their suitability. Only three of the fifty could testify to regular quiet times of reading the Bible and devoting themselves to prayer. We assume that our pastors and missionaries are the models--we would be shocked, I am afraid.
J.I. Packer wrote about his own pilgrimage in his book entitled “My Path of Prayer” and commented, "I believe that prayer is the measure of the man, spiritually, in a way that nothing else is, so that how we pray is as important a question as we can ever face" .
Carson's aim in his book is to see our prayer life transformed and, through that, our knowledge of God deepened. He realizes that the main reforming power is the Word of God, and so he designs his book as a meditation on the prayers of Paul.
There is good Biblical reason for praying as Paul prayed. It's the same Biblical reason that I have chosen this sermon on prayer to be based on John 15:7. Jesus said to his disciples,
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.
The text has two halves, one for this Sunday and one for next Sunday. The first half is, "If you abide in me and my words abide in you." And the second half is, "ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you." The first half is the condition for the second half. There is an "if - then" connection. This “if – then” principle is seen throughout Scripture. Let’s do another sword drill. We are going to be looking at three verses this time, all of which have the IF – THEN conditionality.
OK Swords up! First one to find it read 2 Chronicles 7:14. I love this “if-then” scripture. I love being called “My people who are called by my name”. And I love the affirmation that if I clean up my act, God will bless me. Mind you, I also believe God is God and He will bless whom He will bless.
Next! Swords up. This “if-then” is the first mentioned of the “if-then” principle in the Bible. Ready:
Genesis 18:26 “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous ….then I will spare all”
This is followed by the first mention of negotiations as Abraham bargains with God for the perverse cities of Sodom and Gommorah. If I find 45? What about 30? How about 20? 10?
Let’s look at one more example of the if-then principle. This one is in the New Testament. Revelation 22:18-19. First person to find it, stand up and read it!
Although the word “then” may not appear in your version, it is still a powerful warning. (And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the prophetic words of this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book.
And if anyone removes any of the words of this prophetic book, God will remove that person's share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book.)
I once sat in a Sunday School class when the “it-then” principle was being discussed. The people were divided on the issue of whether “grace” abolished this principle. Half the room said it was only an Old Testament rule, not found in the New Testament. But as we have heard already in this sword drill, this is not the case. Actually, there are many New Testament verses, most of which you’ll recognize. Here are a few: “You are the salt of the earth; if the salt loses its flavor then __________ it is good for nothing.” (Matthew 5:13) In Matthew 6:14 we find “if you forgive men their trespasses then _______________ your heavenly Father will forgive you. The woman with chronic bleeding said, “if I touch the hem of His garment then __________I will be healed. I will rattle off some more. You fill in the end part. Call it out if you know it:
1. If you do not ask then ____________
2. I you do not knock then ___________
3. If you do not seek then ___________
4. If your eye causes you to do evil then __________
5. If you build your house on the sand then __________
6. If you build your house on the rock then ___________
You get my drift. What I am trying to get across is that this “if-then” principle is one of God’s immutable laws of our universe. You reap what you sow. Right? Galatians 6:7 says “ If you sow destruction> If You sow blessing? It does not take a degree in rocket science to realize there are consequences to our actions. God said it first, therefore I believe it! If you abide in me and my words abide in you . . . THEN ask and it will be done." The condition for powerful praying is that we abide in Jesus and his words abide in us.
So this week I want to talk about the condition, the IF clause--especially the words of Jesus abiding in us--and next week about the result, the THEN clause--praying with powerful effect.
I think Don Carson is right that the great need of the hour is to know God more deeply and personally and more biblically. And I agree that study and thinking is crucial, but that without personal communion with God in prayer we will not really know him, but only know about him.
And so I want us to be utterly devoted to prayer--private prayer, small group prayer, congregational prayer, extraordinary times of prayer, prayer and fasting, adoring prayer, repenting prayer, requesting prayer, prevailing prayer, healing prayer, authentic prayer. If this is the soil in which Biblical truth is continually preached and taught, then we will know God--not just know about God.
And this is not just my desire for us. It is God's desire for us as well. I felt this afresh a couple weeks ago when read these words of God in Isaiah 56:
[The foreigners] I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
God means for the house of His dwelling to be a house of prayer for all peoples. We are the house of His dwelling – His temple. And he means to make his people--including foreigners who trust him--joyful in his house of prayer. He means for prayer to be mainly a joyful business.
So on top of everything else that comes with a deeper life of prayer, you can add joy--"I will make them joyful in my house of prayer." Joy! The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, etc.
According to our text, John 15:7, if we are to become what God wants us to be in our praying, we must let the words of Jesus abide in us. "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you."
The words of Jesus must abide in us if our prayers are to be effective. What then does this mean, and how are we do it? What should your plan for 2006 include if you want your prayers to be what Jesus describes in John 15:7?
The best way to see what it means for the words of Jesus to abide in us is to look at verses 4 and 5 in John 15. In verse 4 Jesus says, "Abide in me, and I in you." The result will be that you bear fruit. In verse 5 Jesus says, "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me, and I in him, he bears much fruit." Again we see the pair: Abide in me and I in you. We abide in Jesus and he abides in us. Both are connected to fruit-bearing.
Then in verse 7 instead of using the pair, "If you abide in me and I in you," Jesus says, "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you." I think the point of this change is to let us see practically how we let Jesus abide in us, namely, by letting his words abide in us. His words abide in us as we abide in His words.
What does it mean for the words of Jesus to abide in us? Letting the words of Jesus abide in us means letting Jesus speak into our lives. It means that we welcome Jesus into our lives and make room for him to live, not as a silent guest with no opinions or commands, but as an authoritative guest whose opinions matter more to us than anyone else's and whose commands are the law of our life.
Christ abiding in us is interchangeable with his words abiding in us because Christ never comes without his authoritative views on things. To have him abiding is to have all his views abiding in us. I He abides his views abide, his priorities abide, his principles abide, his promises abide, his commandments abide. In short, if Christ abides in us, He lives in us and through us.
We do not just read the Bible, and do not just memorize and meditate on the Bible, and do not just listen to preaching and teaching from the Bible. It means that we seek the words of Jesus as living words--words that come not in the abstract but come from His heart and His lips, the lips of a living Person whom we love more than any other person in the world. John 1:1 says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
Who is John referring to? Jesus is the Word – the Living Word!
Letting the words of Jesus abide in us is not like memorizing axioms and theorems in geometry. It's not even like mulling over wise saying from ancient teachers. It is not like that because Jesus is alive today, and he does not mean for thinking about his words to replace fellowship with him. He means for musing on his words to BE fellowship with him.
And so letting the words of Jesus abide in you means taking whatever steps are necessary to keep the living voice of the Word - Jesus speaking with you through His words found in Scripture. It is a spiritually intentional act of relating to a living person when you take his words into your mind. It is meditating on a saying like, "I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly," and thanking Jesus for coming and praising him as a life giver, and believing that his intention for you is abundant life, and asking him to fulfill his good will in you.
When the words of Jesus abide in us we respond to them as living words from the mouth of a living God to whom we must respond in faith or unbelief, in obedience or disobedience. When Jesus says, "If my words abide in you," he means, "If I abide in you speaking all my will." In other words, "If my words are received and remembered and believed and pondered as the living words of a living and present Lord in your life."
How then do you do this? What practical steps can you take to let the word of Jesus abide in you? Let me suggest eight ways.
First, Remind yourself repeatedly that meditating on the Scriptures is good for you.
Jesus said in John 15:11, "These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy might be full." Letting the words of Jesus abide in you will make your joy full.
Second, Plan a place and a time when you will read your Bible each day. Put it on the calendar as an appointment. It is a meeting with a Person just as much as any other appointment you might make. It is a meeting with God. A time to communicate with your Maker!
Don Carson says "Much praying is not done because we do not plan to pray. We do not drift into spiritual life . . . We will not grow in prayer unless we plan to pray. That means intentionally setting aside time to do nothing but pray.
Third, decide ahead of time how you will read your Bible and pray.
Coming to the appointed time and having no idea where to dip into the word often makes us feel weak and unfocused and certainly unfulfilled. Take up a plan like one of the two that are on the side table and decide to use it or to use something else. The church library has lots of material you could use. Ask me if you need help getting material.
Then, fourth, memorize verses. Memorizing is hard work. But it gives the greatest satisfaction and the greatest power and the greatest comfort. It also will have the greatest effect on your prayers, helping you pray according to the will and Spirit of God. Pick a life verse to start with – a verse which means a lot to you. A verse that speaks into your life such as “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” 1John 4:14is a powerful verse to quote to Satan when you are under attack. My own life verse is Romans 5:8 : “God demonstrates His love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Perhaps the first verse most people memorize is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world” Another favorite of mine came after watching “Chariots of Fire” – Isaiah 40:31. “But those who wait on the Lord, shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.”
Another way to make Scripture “stick” is to personalize it. “If I confess my sin, He is faithful and just to forgive me my sin and cleanse me of all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:19)
After memorizing a few isolated, but important verses then try memorizing whole meaningful passages. John Vandergrind in his “Love to Pray” book suggests we memorize Colossians 1:9-12 and use it when we pray for friends and family. Let’s look at it together now ……Who has it? Can you read it please …..(”So we have continued praying for you ever since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you a complete understanding of what he wants to do in your lives, and we ask him to make you wise with spiritual wisdom.
Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and you will continually do good, kind things for others. All the while, you will learn to know God better and better.
We also pray that you will be strengthened with his glorious power so that you will have all the patience and endurance you need. May you be filled with joy,
always thanking the Father, who has enabled you to share the inheritance that belongs to God's holy people, who live in the light. “)
I memorizing verbatim is too difficult, the memorize the essence of the passage. What are we praying for in this passage in Colossians we just read
1. knowledge of God’s will
2. walking worthy of the Lord
3. pleasing Him
5. increasing in knowledge of God
6. strength from Him
These are things we all need to pray for ourselves, not only for friends and family.
We are moving on to the 5th point, but before we do, let’s quickly review 1 through 4 of the practical steps to improve your devotional life and, therefore, your knowledge of God.
1. remind yourself of the good in it
2. plan a time and place
3. find material to guide you
4. memorize pertinent verses
When you memorize, the word of God is not just there in the crisis when you need it, it is there again and again shaping your thinking and your will transforming your mind. Ask yourself, of all the spiritually minded people who seem to walk most consistently with God and be in tune with God's Spirit, are they not oozing scripture? This is no coincidence. Memorizing scripture is one of the surest routes to going deep with God and having power in prayer.
(5) Let’s move on. Keep a journal and write out your thoughts as you meditate on the scripture. I journal in a book. I pick a passage of Scripture. I meditate on it and write down how I would apply it in my daily life. I work my way through a whole book of the Bible like that. If have no preference, I would suggest beginning with the book of James.
Writing is a way of seeing that is deeper and sharper than most other ways of learning. We understand more when we write than when we just read.
“I know not how the light is shed,
nor understand this lens.
I only know that there are eyes
In pencils and in pens.”
You don't have to use the journal every time or every day. But do it sometimes and you will soon see the fruit, so that I won't need to convince you
(6) Another devotional tool which can be used during your quiet time is to read great Christian writers who know God deeply. A lot of major Christian writers have devotional books with daily readings. Some are Henry Blackaby, Oswald Chambers, Andrew Murray, John McArthur, Neil Anderson, Bill Bright, A. W. Tozer, and John Stott. I use most of these as well as a program called the 9:59 plan. I have used this plan for close to twenty years now. It will take you through the New Testament in two years and will take you about ten minutes a day (that’s where the name comes from) You write down a verse or part of a verse or something meaningful you got from the text, then meditate on that and write down your own thoughts about your reading
They are like reading the Bible through the mind and heart of great lovers of God. Don't let long books daunt you. Finishing the book does not matter. Growing by it matters. But finishing is not as hard as you might think. Look at it this way.
Suppose you read slowly -- about the same speed as you speak--200 words a minute. If you read 15 minutes a day for one year (just 15 minutes, say just before supper, or just before bed), you will read 5,475 minutes in the year. Multiply that by 200 words a minute and you get 1,095,000 words that you would read in a year. Now the average book has about 360 words per page. So, at this rate, you would have read 3,041 pages in one year. That's 13 books. All that in 15 minutes a day.
The point is: the words of Jesus will abide in you more deeply and more powerfully if you give yourself to some serious reading of great books that are saturated with Scripture.
7) Another practical step to getting closer to God is to take periodic retreats and saturate yourself with the Bible until you feel that you are lifted into the presence of the Lord in a remarkable way so that your prayers are uncluttered by worldly thinking. Psalm 46:10 says “Be still and know that I am God.” What better way to be still than to devote a day to the Lord.
Pastor Wesley Duewel says that sometimes he takes retreats and seeks to quiet his heart completely until he senses only the presence and will of God. To do that he says, "I have at times read as many as fifty chapters from God's Word before I was completely alone with God. But on some of those occasions I received such unexpected guidance that my life has been greatly benefited" .
(8) Finally, keep the living Person of Jesus before you as you read the Bible. Consciously remind yourself over and over that these are the words of the living Christ, who is as near as your own breathing and who is infinitely powerful and who loves you more than you can ask or imagine.
Remember the words of Jesus: "If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will and it shall be done for you."
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