What comes to mind when we read the story of the disciples in this passage is that they are desperate and in a high degree of panic. We can understand why: they are in a life-threatening situation beyond their capabilities. It is a storm they cannot handle. I’m sure all the physical symptoms are there – the sweaty palms, the tension headaches, the clenched jaws, the rapid breathing. Have you ever been in a desperate situation like that? Most of us have had a few of those.
There are three things that intensified the fear factor for the disciples in this situation. First, the storm itself, described as a great storm. Matthew, in his gospel, describes it as a sea quake. It is a killer storm, somewhat common on this sea, situated so that wind came down across the lake in a funnel. Often this sea became a watery grave for sailors. The disciples are caught right in the middle, unable to get off the sea. Second, Jesus is sleeping, seemingly indifferent. The disciples even accuse him, “Don’t you care?” Third, the timing would have added to the fear factor. This is at the front end of Jesus’ ministry. The disciples are young in their faith, growing in their knowledge of Jesus. They don’t know Jesus all that well yet. At the back end they can say, “You are the Christ” but at this time they were still ignorant in their knowledge.
This storm helps the disciples, however, in two revelatory ways. The storm reveals two great things. First, who Jesus is. This is the greatest revelation. At the end of the story they are taken over by another fear, the fear of God. This is the fear they needed. Verse 41, “And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?’” So, they begin to see just how great Jesus is. Another revelation takes place. They see themselves, how shallow and weak their faith is. Jesus says, “Why are you so afraid?” (Verse 40). He doesn’t rebuke them for being afraid, that’s quite natural. But rather why are you excessively afraid? They weren’t exercising faith.
So, the storm was revelatory. This is true for all of us. Whenever we go through trials we often ask why? Perhaps many reasons but two great ones: God will bring us to trials to show us Himself and show us ourselves. Trials help us see how great God is and how weak we are and how little faith we have. Trials help us develop a greater fear of God and see how much more we need to grow. We always continue to grow, so we will always need trials. We need to depend more upon God, His grace and wisdom.
1 Corinthians 7:35 “Undivided Devotion”
The Puritan Richard Steele wrote a whole book on this one text addressing the subject of prayer. He spoke of the undivided devotion of prayer. We all agree that prayer can be a difficult spiritual discipline, but what would you say is the hardest aspect of prayer? Perhaps perseverance or maybe distractions. It has been said that if anything marks this generation it is our inability to focus. So, difficulties could be constancy, fervency but also difficulty focusing our thoughts.
If we are going to fight distracting thoughts during prayer what are some biblical principles that can help us? Richard Steele gives three ‘P’ words and I’ve added a fourth. The first is Precepts – be watchful unto prayer.” In Colossians 4:2 God gives a precept, a command that can help us fight distractions. He tells us to be watchful, focused, give attention to the Lord when we pray.
Second, the Power of Christ. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 Prayer is one of the all things, right? Third, the Promises of God. The Scriptures promise that God will give us help when we pray, that we have the Spirit of God to aid us. So, making use of the promises is another antidote to help us avoid distracted praying. Fourth, and finally, the Presence of God – we need to remember when we pray that we are coming into the presence of God. When we talk to a person our minds might wander but they don’t know it. We look them in the eye but aren’t listening. God sees everything, however. Jesus reminds us that when we go into our prayer closets God sees. Remembering we are in the presence of a holy God is a good deterrent to distracted praying.
When we go to prayer, we need to remain focused. We can discipline our minds. Let’s remember these four ‘P’ words to focus our attention as we pray: Precepts, Power, Promises, and Presence.
1 Corinthians 9: 24-27
Thinking about the New Year, I thought this an appropriate passage for our meditation. Here Paul puts the Christian under the metaphor of a runner and the Christian life under the metaphor of a race. Everyone of us is running; we are in a race. It isn’t a hundred-yard dash, but a marathon. The big questions we ought to ask ourselves is: Will I finish well?
The imagery of the runner is one of the apostle’s favorite pictures. It is used ten times in Scripture. He reminds us here that we are in a long-distance race. In earthly races, we compete against other runners. In the spiritual race talked about here we don’t compete against other Christians. Our race involves fighting against strong forces, the world, the devil and our own flesh.
Paul uses this imagery writing to the Corinthians, perhaps because Corinth was one of the main centers for the Greco-Roman games. Every two years the best competitors from around the world would compete in the Isthmian Games, which were more demanding than our Olympic games today. There were no consolation prizes – no silver, no bronze. Only one person received the prize. Paul stresses this here.
Every Christian running his or her race will receive the prize if they run it to the end, but the race must be run 100%, all the way. The prize was a wreath, or a crown of dried celery leaves. The Romans added a crown of pine. Imagine training thousands of hours then running a race for a crown of twigs. These were perishable crowns. How long does that last? It turns to dust within five to ten years or so.
Paul makes this comparison. We have a reward that is imperishable, immeasurable. The crown is a figure used to describe the reward. It is a crown of righteousness, a crown of glory. Paul lets us know, in verse 26, that he is not running this race, aimlessly, without purpose.
He says, Let me tell you how I am running the race. I am running with self-discipline, self-control. I’m not running in a half-hearted way. I am going to give myself to a self-disciplined life. Does that include physical discipline? We can’t separate soul from body, can we? We are stewards of our bodies. If we are to run this race well, we need to care for our bodies and our minds. There is often a connection between a healthy body and a healthy soul.
To run this race, we need a healthy soul. We will need to discipline ourselves devotionally. One of the most important keys to running this marathon is maintaining our relationship with God. How do we do that? Wayne Mack is right in suggesting that the two great pillars of the Christian life are reading our Bibles, meditating on the core doctrines of our faith, and prayer.
There are four clarion calls to prayer in our Bibles. 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing”. Romans 12:12, “be constant in prayer”. Colossians 4:2, “continue steadfastly in prayer”. Ephesians 6:18, “praying at all times in the Spirit”. If you are going to run this race, run it well and run it to the end you have to be a person of prayer; it isn’t optional. This is where you get your strength and help to run your race.
There are always so many things to pray about because we are needy creatures. Even if we never sinned, we would still need to pray. Our greatest needs are soul needs. In prayer, therefore, we place emphasis on our soul needs.
Proof of the Incarnation
We often thank God for his death and resurrection, but perhaps not as much for his birth, for the incarnation. That word incarnation comes from the Latin. It means “in flesh”. It is a staggering miracle. Dr. Packer argues it is the most astounding miracle in all of Scripture. God became man. To what passages would we go in order to prove the incarnation? Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1: 26-28; John 1: 14 (read all three passages).
What three ways could we say that Jesus’ birth was different from every other birth? First, it was miraculous. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit. Second, it was a fulfillment of prophesy. Isaiah gives us two prophesies years before Christ was born regarding the incarnation. Third, it was redemptive. He came to save His people from their sins; He came to die. We should always remember to thank God for Jesus’ birth. If He had never come into the world He could not have gone to the cross. We needed a God-man Savior. We can give thanks for this unspeakable gift, the birth of Jesus.
We are going to focus tonight on Jesus’ prayer in John 17 to help us learn better how we should pray. First, we see that Jesus’ prayer is focused, not so much on Himself, but on how He may glorify God in doing the work God has given Him. In verse 1 Jesus says, “Father, the hour has come, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you”. As He prays for Himself, He prays that what He does would reflect back and bring glory to God. During Jesus’ time on earth, in all that He did, His purpose was to bring glory to God. We see this in verse 4, “I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave Me to do”. So, I think one thing we can learn from this is that when we pray for ourselves, thinking of all we have to do, that we pray that God will help us to do everything in such a way as glorifies Him. The chief end of man is to glorify God so should this not be a part of our prayers? We pray for help to do the job; we should pray that our work will bring glory to Him.
Second, in Jesus’ prayer, we see that He prays for His disciples – for the church, for God’s people. In verse 15 Jesus asks, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one”. In praying for God’s people, Jesus’ concern was for their spiritual well-being, specifically that they would be kept from the evil one, from Satan who goes around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he can destroy. Further on, in verse 17, He prays, “Sanctify them in the truth, Your word is truth”. So, not only does He ask that God protect them, but to sanctify them, to set them apart. What is one of the means that God uses to set us apart from the world? God’s Word, which gives us direction and insight how we can interact with others around us without compromising and conforming to the world. When we pray we should ask that God protect us from evil, and keep us from temptation to sin. Also, we can ask God to sanctify us by His Word, which we are hopefully reading every day. We can ask Him to apply the Word preached each Sunday to our lives.
It is important to note that Jesus prays, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world” (verse 15). We are here for a reason; He has placed us here to do His will. Jesus could have taken His children with Him when He returned to Heaven. He left us here. We need wisdom how to live in this world, bringing good to those around us and glory to God. We should pray for a proper balance: we are not to be isolated from the world, yet set apart from it. I like the way the hymn puts it: “I ask thee for the daily strength, to none that ask denied.” Also, we pray for “a mind to blend with outward life while keeping at thy side. Content to fill a little space if thou be glorified.” Our goal in everything we do is to bring glory to God.
Third, in verse 20 Jesus prays, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word”. He is praying for the lost; that should be a part of our prayers as well. One of the reasons why God’s people remain in the world is