Jeremy Wray, Senior Cross-Cultural Service Major
I recently spoke to a couple thousand college students about the hope we have in Jesus. I emphasized that the hope we have is one that is alive, and its life is found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. I also encouraged the oft forgotten reality of our inheritance as saints. To those who are alive in Christ, there is an inheritance kept for us that can't fade, refuses to decay, and does not perish—its eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The sermon I preached was based off the first chapter of Peter's first letter to the exiles of the Dispersion. It is in this section that Peter reminds these believers to remember their hope and their inheritance, and to join him in exuberant praise to God. Truly, the entire passage echoes back to the third verse: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Peter suggests that it is God's mercy, full and powerful, that has caused us to be born again to a living hope and to an eternal inheritance. He says that it is in these we rejoice (v. 6), even though we are being grieved by various, tenacious, and ferocious trials. Peter, like many other writers of Scripture, says that we are to rejoice even when life gets hard. He says that our faith is not yet complete, or genuine. The purpose of these trials, struggles, and pressures in our lives is to make us nothing less than praising, glorifying, and honoring to Jesus.
He does not shy away from the struggles of our lives with pithy words of endearment. He does not tell these exiles that they must toughen out their Christian lives and be stronger than the persecution of their day. Peter insisted, rather, that they must rejoice! I insist today that we as God's people must rejoice. We must see the mercy of God in Jesus, we must enjoy the hope of life we hold, and anticipate the joys of eternal life we will have. And we must rejoice in the tough stuff. It is the same God that is sovereign over our salvation that is sovereign over suffering.
By this I mean that the trials in our lives are designed to make us genuine, and that God is sovereign over trials that stretch and transform us to be more like Christ. This sunk into my heart deeply when I contracted strep throat the week after preaching. I had tonsils the size of golf balls and blisters to boot. My entire week was described by attempting to swallow air, food, drink, and meds without excruciating pain accompanying it.
It was last week (and not two weeks ago when I was preaching) when I realized what it actually means to thank God for all things. I had to take to heart the truths I had expounded for many others to hear. I realized at heart level that we truly do have every reason to give thanks in Christ Jesus.
There are many aspects to prayer. It is when we sin and are convicted, we know we must confess. It is when we see the struggle and hurt of others, we choose to intercede. When the Word dwells in us richly and we understand the presence of God through faith, we commune with Him. The aspect of prayer that I am attempting to highlight with this post is adoration and thanksgiving towards God.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thes. 5:16-18)
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col. 3: 17)
Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord in your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 5:19-20)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places! (Eph 1:3)
These verses are not mere Christian literature designed to give us proper distinction as a religion and add to our tenets of religious practice. These verses are aimed and charged directly at the people of God, so they might rejoice, thank, and praise God for all their spiritual blessings! This is the God of all our words and deeds. The God of all our circumstances. The God of our songs and melodies. The God of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The God of heaven and blessing.
You cannot truly teach someone to be thankful. You cannot tell them to say "thank you" and it be adequate gratitude. Words are not enough to show reality, for they are temporary and often masqueraded. True thankfulness arises from a heart that has tasted and seen that the Lord is good. It is the heart that has been washed with the blood of Calvary that sings to the Savior. It is the heart that has seen the glory of God that is transformed and overflowed.
It is also only in thanksgiving and adoration that that the heart realizes how great God is. Have you ever gone up to a speaker, performer, chef, or teacher and thanked them for what they had done? It is in the act of showing gratitude that you truly realize how overwhelmed your heart is. It’s when you go out of your way to thank someone that heart has gone full circle on the roundabout of gratitude. It is the same with God.
This is why Peter would invite the exiles to rejoice in the God whose mercy has given salvation. Paul knows that for the heart to be fully blessed, it must bless the One who has blessed it! Thanksgiving is the natural response of someone who has been touched by the grace of God. The sad part is that many have become too accustomed to grace and its flavors, colors, and marvel. Many forget the depths of Jesus' service to us. Many cloud the grace of God with classes, meetings, agendas, and people.
May we be the people of God that are truly and exuberantly thankful to our God, because such is the joy of living. We taste the joy of eternity when we rejoice in God and his gifts today. I find 1 Peter 1:8-9 a tremendous chorus and conclusion to the song of praise we started with at the beginning of the chapter.
Though you have not seen Jesus, you love him. Though you do not now see Jesus, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Dr. Steve Hankins, Seminary Professor
Christ, Our Great Model Intercessor
Our Lord Jesus Christ is always our first example in all things. He is the Great Intercessor for us through prayer, as evidenced by His climactic prayer to the Father recorded in John 17 at the end of the His Upper Room Discourse just before His arrest and crucifixion. He prayed for His disciples then, and in so doing prays for us now. In that prayer, He prayed that we would abide in love and unity as believers. He prayed that we would remain in the world, but not be crushed into its mold or be overcome by its darkness. He prayed that we would provide the light of the gospel for the lost world, just as He had done during His incarnate ministry.
Now, Christ’s never ceasing ministry for us is one of intercessory prayer, as He sits at the right hand of God the Father. He defeated death and sin, rose from the grave, and ascended to the throne of God for His present ministry. As the writer to the Hebrews stated it, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” When we fail and commit sin, He is our advocate, the One through whose blood we have daily forgiveness as we confess our sins. John wrote, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2). Christ intercedes for us moment by moment that we may have daily mercy for our sins.
Christ also intercedes for us that we may have the grace we need for all of our physical and spiritual weaknesses, for our spiritual growth, and for our service for Him. Paul assures us that through Christ’s intercession for us at the throne of grace God will impart all we need, just as II Corinthians 9:8 says, “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things may abound to every good work.”
Christ’s never stops thinking of us. He never stops praying for us. What great confidence we derive from this reality and what a compelling example He has set for us. We, like Him, are to pray for others, constantly, that they may “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18). That men be restored in His image was His great redemptive purpose and is His daily ministry ambition at the right hand of the Father. It should be our ambition for others as we come to the throne of grace.
The Importance of Intercession
The frequency with which Paul mentioned his intercessory prayers for the believers he served underscores the importance of this spiritual ministry. He wrote concerning the Roman believers in Romans 1:8, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all.” To the Corinthian saints he penned, “I thank my God always concerning you by Christ Jesus” (I Corinthians 1:4). He said concerning his heart for the Philippians, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and in all judgement” (Philippians 1:9). The wide-ranging intercessory nature of his prayers for the Ephesians and all other believers is revealed in his words in Ephesians 3:14-15, “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Encouraged by the spiritual reputation of the Colossians, he said to them, “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Colossians 1:9). The spiritual well-being and progress of fellow believers was always on Paul’s mind when he prayed.
Paul taught that the ministry of intercession was an essential part of prayer. When praying, believers are to offer praise and thanksgiving to God in worship. They are to pray for the advancement of the Christ’s kingdom and the fulfillment of His will in the world through their obedience and His sovereign actions. They are expected to pray for their physical and material needs. They are to confess and repent of their sins, seeking forgiveness for them. They are to pray to escape temptation and sin in the both near and far future. All of these emphases are presented in the Lord’s pattern prayer recorded in Matthew 6:9-13. As believer’s we are taught by the Lord Jesus himself that the second great commandment is to love others as ourselves. Implicit in this great commandment is an additional element of prayer, not explicitly mentioned in the Lord’s pattern prayer but certainly a part of His will being done on earth as it is in Heaven. As Paul wrote in I Timothy 2:1, “Therefore, I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men” (italics added).
Transformation of Heart is the Heart of Intercession
Christian compassion makes concern for the physical well-being of our brothers and sisters in Christ natural and an appropriate subject of our prayers for them. As John wrote to Gaius in III John 2, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” John hoped that Gaius would experience physical health that equaled his spiritual health.
Christ’s great concern for the physical health of men, women, and children during His ministry sets a great example for our appropriate concern for believers. The bodies of believers are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Men serve through their bodies by presenting them as living sacrifices, according to Romans 12:1 in order to glorify God through their bodies, just as Paul taught in I Corinthians 6:19-20. So, a part of our praying for others should be for their physical health.
But what dominates in the descriptions of prayers in the New Testament for other believers is for their spiritual growth and prosperity. When Paul described his prayers for the Ephesians in 1:16-19 of his letter to them, he prayed that their spiritual understanding would grow (vv. 17-18) so that they would comprehend the richness of the benefits of being in Christ (v. 18), and they would grasp the great spiritual power made available to them as believers through Christ (v. 19). Later in chapter 3:14-21, he prays for them to be strengthened in the inner man by the Holy Spirit (v. 16), that Christ would dwell in their hearts by faith (v. 17a), that being rooted and grounded in love they would understand the incomprehensible love of Christ (vv. 17b-19a), and that they would be filled with all the fullness of God. To this he added a promise that the power of the Holy Spirit in them would make this all possible for the glory of God in the Church through Christ (vv. 20-21).
When Paul describes his prayer for the Philippian believers in 1:9-11 of his letter to them, his focus in on their hearts. He prayed that their love would abound more and more in all knowledge and discernment (v. 9), that they would approve always what was best spiritually (v. 10), in order that they would be sincere and without offense until the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness (vv. 10-11).
The Apostles prayers for the Colossian saints described in 1:9-12 of his epistle to them are similar to those for the Philippians and the Ephesians. He prayed that their spiritual understanding and wisdom would abound (v. 9), that they would live in a manner pleasing to God in every way, increasing in the knowledge of God (v. 10), and that they would be filled with His glorious power (v. 11a). This power would be manifested as they lived lives full of endurance, longsuffering with others, joyfulness in all circumstances, and thanksgiving while serving for His glory (vv. 11b-12).
The Colossians also had the great benefit of a pastor, Epaphras, who faithfully prayed for them just as the Apostle Paul did. His biography is brief in the New Testament, but dominated by a description of his fervent, agonizing prayers for the Christians in Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis. He prayed for their spiritual stability, maturity, and ongoing obedience as believers (Colossians 4:12-13).
Like Christ we must be intercessors for grace and mercy for others. We are compelled by His example and we are compelled by His commands. Our purpose in intercessory prayer, above all else is to pray that men and women will be transformed into the likeness of Christ by the power of the Spirit of Living God. This is praying for their sanctification which is the will of God for every believer, according to I Thessalonians 4:3. Paul offered his classic prayer for the sanctification of others in I Thessalonians 5:23-24. This should always be ours for our brothers and sisters in Christ as we intercede for them: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.”
I will now call to mind my past foulness, and the carnal corruptions of my soul, not because I love them, but that I may love Thee, O my God. For love of Thy love do I it, recalling, in the very bitterness of my remembrance, my most vicious ways, that Thou mayest grow sweet to me,—Thou sweetness without deception! -Augustine, Confessions (20)
I confess to you my sins—my lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and boastful pride of life (1 Jn. 2:15-16)—not because my salvation depends on it, but to enjoy a sweeter relationship with You. Why would I try to nullify Your grace by putting myself under the law (Gal. 2:21)? By my daily confession I seek to exalt my Savior all the more and to rely on the same grace to live for You.
Even though You have sought me as a Good Shepherd (Lk. 5:4-7), my love for the world often surpasses my love for You. O Lord, You have searched me and known me and have shown me the wickedness of my heart (Ps. 139:1). I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me (Ps. 51:3). They are sin because they are against the Perfect and Righteous God (Ps. 51:4). I attempt to add to Your unchanging truth through my deeds and out of my pride I seek to counsel the Sovereign Lord (Pr. 30:6). As Your sheep I hear Your voice (Jn. 10:27), but so often I turn around to seek after my own interests, not those of Christ Jesus (Php. 2:21).
Almighty God, who could stand before You if You were to mark all the iniquities (Ps. 130:3)? What would I do if I were judged by my own righteousness? It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31) who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt. 10:28)!
But Father, I see Your promises in the Bible and I do believe them. I hear the sweetest sound that saved a wretch like me. I am saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9), so I will only boast in Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14). You have removed the heart of stone from my flesh (Ezek. 36:26) and opened my eyes so that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law (Ps. 119:18). I know that Your wrath will not come upon me (Eph. 5:6), for I am Your child (Jn. 1:12) and Your slave bought with price (1 Cor. 6:20). Why would I seek to continue in my sin and re-submit myself to the yoke of sin from which Christ has freed me (Rom. 6:1-2; 1 Jn. 2:1)?
Gracious God, You said that You are opposed to the proud, but give grace to the humble. So I humble myself in Your presence—my laughter turns into mourning and my joy to gloom before my sins (Jas. 4:6-10). I am hungry for the Bread of Life (Jn. 6:35) and thirsty for the Fountain of Living Water (Jn. 4:14). I come to You, O Christ, to eat and drink without money and without cost, for I desire to spend all You have given me to delight myself in You (Isa. 55:1-2).
Search me and know my heart, O God; try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way (Ps. 139:23-24). As You search my heart, do not give me over to my lustful and depraved mind (Jer. 17:10; Rom. 1:24, 28), but make me more like my Savior as I behold His glory (2 Cor. 3:18). Keep deception and lies far from me—not only from outward lies of the world, but also from my own deceitful heart (Pr. 30:8; Jer. 17:9).
I come to You to find rest for my soul, for I am weary and heavy-laden (Matt. 11:28-30). I come to You because I know that I have peace with You through my Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1-2). I come to You to behold the beauty of my Lord and to meditate on who You are (Ps. 27:4). I desire to walk with the Spirit as I live by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25), so that I may live a life pleasing to You (Eph. 5:10). I am not capable of doing anything apart from You (Jn. 15:5). But I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Gal. 2:20).
God, I love You, because You have first loved me (1 Jn. 4:19); and I want to love You more. Help me to love You with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind (Lk. 10:27).
In Christ’s Precious Name I pray—amen.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.