Sunday: God’s strength
How Do I Claim the Promises of God?
If a young man wants to ask his father for something, he will pattern his request on the nature and the temperament of his father. If the father is ill-tempered and stingy, the young man will ask for little. He will take care to present his need in the most winsome and unobjectionable manner. If the father is good-natured and generous, the child will present his need openly and with great confidence.
Similarly, our Father in heaven is not harsh, revengeful, or stingy. On the contrary, He is loving, gracious, and merciful; and He is anxious to give the very best gifts to His children. Jesus told His disciples: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you." (Matt. 7:7)
But for what shall we ask? How do we know what is God's will for us?
There is only one answer: We may know the will of God by coming to know the Word of God, and we know the Word of God only as we study it and the Holy Spirit throws His divine light upon its pages.
In his excellent study on prayer, Andrew Murray writes: “The great mistake here is that God's children do not really believe that it is possible to know God's will. Or if they believe this, they do not take the time and trouble to find it out. What we need is to see clearly in what way it is that the Father leads His waiting, teachable child to know that His petition is according to His will. It is through God's holy word, taken up and kept in the heart....”
Any Christian can accept as an unchangeable principle the truth that anything that contributes to his growth in holiness and the surrender or renewal of his mind is an aspect of God's will for him and that anything that hinders his growth in holiness is not.
A Christian also may claim any of God's promises, for they are certainly God's will for his life and the lives of all others. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.” So if you go to God as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and ask for wisdom, you can be absolutely certain that you are praying in God's will and that your prayer will be answered. Here is another, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7). In other words, God wills that you have peace even in the midst of life's calamities, and he promises to impart it to you if you will lay your request before Him.
Are you saying, "But, none of these verses covers the little things in life, the things with which I am wrestling"? Well, let me give you a verse for those. In Philippians 4:8 we read, "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true.... Whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." The verse means quite simply that you are to pursue the best things that life has to offer. If they are the best things for you, then do them. If not, do something else. Just be sure that you get your understanding of the will of God from Scripture.
If will do that, then you will be able to pray to God with absolute confidence, and you can know and rejoice in the fact that your will is being increasingly conformed to His. John the evangelist wrote to the believers of his day: "And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us; and if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him" (1 John 5:14-15).
God delights to give good gifts to His children. Hence, if we do not receive them, the fault does not lie in God. It lies in our failure to ask things of Him.
I believe that these texts contain the explanation of the weakness and irrelevance of much Christian living and of much contemporary Christianity. Every now and then a minister is asked by some Christian, "Why is it that I cannot seem to find victory in the Christian life? Why does the Bible seem difficult to understand? Why do I still seem in bondage to some besetting sin? Why am I such a poor witness? Why do the high principles of Christian conduct have such little effect on my job and on the affairs of my family?" The answer is that you do not ask God for these blessings. You do not have because you do not ask.
What do we lack in our own lives and in the Church generally? Is it wisdom to deal with this sophisticated and godly world, to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong, to present the claims of Christ intelligibly and with success? If it is, then we should ask wisdom of God. Jesus says, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him" (James 1:5).
Torrey writes, "Prayer can do everything that God can do, and as God can do anything, prayer is omnipotent. No one can stand against the man who knows how to pray and who meets all the conditions of prevailing prayer and who really prays." He adds that this is true because "the Lord God Omnipotent works for him and works through him." As we do this we know that God sees our needs more than we do and is actually far ahead of us in fulfilling them. In fact, this is one ministry, perhaps one of the greatest ministries, of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes, "Likewise, the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God" (Romans 8:26-27).
Do you see what this means? It means that God the Holy Spirit not only dwells within us, hearing what we say and then responding to it. He also takes an initiative in prayer, probing our hearts to see our greatest needs, and then interpreting our prayers in that light to God our heavenly Father. God loves us. He wants to help us. Thus, He searches us out to see what He can do for us.
When my sisters and I were very young I remember what great difficulty we had in our home to discover before Christmas or before my father's birthday what we could do for him. I am sure he had obvious needs, but to us at the time it seemed as if he were the only man in the world who had everything. He liked to fish, but he seemed to have all the equipment he needed for fishing. He liked to hunt, but we could not help him there. We were always at great pains to discover some need that we could fulfill for him. If he would ever drop a hint of some need, we were then quite delighted if we could respond to the need and give him the thing he desired.
In exactly this way we are told that our gracious God and heavenly Father searches our hearts to see what we need, and then He delights to answer the need out of His inexhaustible storehouse of blessings.
Second Week of Promises
How Am I Comforted by the Promises of God?
If you often have opportunity to comfort a child who has hurt himself while playing, you will readily understand the motives of the Lord Jesus Christ in this passage. Imagine that a child has injured himself and that he has come to you for comfort. The act that he has come to you means much. Your presence is important. But beyond that there are also several practical things you can do. You can show love. That is, you can kiss the child and hold him in your arms. You can provide information, saying, "There, there, now. It is not really too bad. Look, it is not bleeding. It is only bruised." Or if it is serious, you can get him to the hospital. Finally, you can promise that things will be better. You can say, "Let's put some cold water on it. After that it will stop hurting. Tomorrow it will be as good as new." Anyone who has ever comforted a child knows that in its proper place each of these three things is valuable and that, at least in many cases, the promises seem to be the most valuable of all.
In some sense this is what the Lord has been doing with His disciples in the fourteenth chapter of John. He had announced that He was departing from them in order to return to the Father, and this had upset them greatly, for He was everything to them. They were downcast, troubled, yes, even afraid. So He began to comfort them; first, by reassuring them of His love; second, by providing information; and finally, by giving them some blessed promises. Probably it is the promises more than anything else that make this chapter such a favorite with Christian people.
What are these promises? There has been the promise that Jesus would prepare a place for is own in heaven and that, having prepared it, He would return again for them. He promised that His departure from them would not mean an end to Christian work. For if they truly believe on Him, they will be able to carry on His works and, in fact, do even greater works than Jesus has done. He promised that He would answer prayer. And then, perhaps greatest of all, He told of the Holy Spirit whom He would send and who will abide with us forever. In the verses that follow, the verses which are our text, Jesus gives four more promises, all of which relate to His future relationship to the disciples.
The first of these promises is a promise of the coming Resurrection. Jesus says, "Yet a little while, and the world seeth Me no more; but ye see Me. Because I live, ye shall live also" (John 14:19).
It is not only the resurrection of Jesus that is spoken of, however, for the last phrase, "ye shall live also," clearly speaks of their resurrection.
"Death is not the end," He says, "not for Me, not for you. Moreover, you do not even have to wait until the next life for the promise, for you will begin to enter into the reality of that life now." Have you had the experience about which Christ was speaking? Do you know that you will live, even as He lives? Do you know that you have been made alive spiritually even now?
The second promise is the promise of certain knowledge of Christ based upon that double resurrection. It is because Jesus has been raised and because we have been given new life that we know Him as being who He is. This is what He means when He says, "At that day ye shall know that I am in My Father" (John 14:20).
The content of this knowledge is that Jesus of Nazareth was God incarnate, that is, that He was fully divine — everything else flows from this. And the basis of this knowledge, without which we do not and cannot know, is this double resurrection. On the one hand, it is based upon Christ's own resurrection. Without this there would have been no faith and no knowledge that He was indeed who He claimed to be.
On the other hand, apart from a corresponding resurrection of spiritually dead men to spiritual life, even this great miracle is insufficient for bringing us to know who Christ is. It is only when God plants His own life within us, thereby enabling us to understand His truth and respond to Christ, that we truly know Christ and embrace Him joyfully as the ground of our salvation.
The third promise is a particularly important one, for it concerns Christ's continuing revelation of Himself to those who have believed on Him. He says, "He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, He it is that loveth Me; and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love Him, and will manifest myself to Him" (John 14:21).
This is a step beyond the promise of sure knowledge of who He is. In this case, the knowledge will be not so much a knowledge about Him, leading to faith, but rather a deep knowledge of Him in which the disciple comes to experience the Lord in the fullest and most personal way.
"But I am a Christian, and yet Jesus is not that real to me," someone says. Yes, that may be true. But notice that, in the same verse in which Jesus gives the promise of a further revelation of Himself, the Lord also gives the conditions upon which that continuing revelation will be given. The conditions are: 1) the keeping of His commandments, and 2) love.
Christ's final promise is the promise of His own personal presence in the Christian through the Holy Spirit. He says, "If a man loves Me, he will keep My words; and My Father will love Him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him" (John 14:23).
This was something entirely new at the time Christ promised it. The idea that the Spirit of God would be with God's people was not new. The Holy Spirit was with Noah in his day. The Spirit was with each of the Hebrew patriarchs. He was with the people of Israel during the days of their wandering in the wilderness. David prayed, "Take not thy Holy Spirit from me." In each of these cases the Spirit of God was with His people. But now Jesus declares that the One who had been with them in the past was, in a much better way, to be in them in the future. Moreover, since He would be in them it is proper to say that the Father and Son would be in them also.
The presence of the Lord within His people is the glorious distinctive of the present time. Therefore, in this age we do not need to go to God and ask that the Spirit be given. He has been given to each of Christ's followers. Rather, it is for us to recognize His indwelling and then allow Him to have His way with our lives.
Third Week of Promises
Have you ever noticed how many things in your life depend on someone's promise? You enter into business, get married, take a job, buy a piece of property, do thousands of other things because of someone's promise. If you are a Christian, you act on the promises of God. Because of His promises you believe that your sins are forgiven, that you possess eternal life, that God hears and answers prayer, that God is providing for you now and that He will also provide for you fully in the life to come. These promises are found in many verses:
1 John 1:9 — "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness";
John 11:26 — "Whoever lives and believes in Me will never die";
John 14:14 — "You may ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it";
John 14:1-3 — "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am."
These promises touch on every aspect of our lives and are of great importance.
God’s Promise to Abram
Abram was a man who lived by God's promises. His promises were not exactly the same as those we have been given to live by today, but the God who gave them is the same and the reason for them is the same. God gives them in order that we might live by trusting Him.
When we go back to the beginning of Abram's story, we find that Abram was living by God's promises even then. God came to him with a command, and the command was that Abram was to leave his country, his people and his father's household, and go into a new land that God was going to show him. The most noteworthy characteristic of those early verses of Genesis 12 is the number of times God says "I will." He says, "I will show you [a land]." That is a promise. Abram was not going to be turned out into the desert to wander and have God forget about him. God was leading him out of one land but was going to show him another land. God said, "I will make you into a great nation." God was taking Abram out of one nation (of which he was already a part) and was going to make him into another, greater nation. God said, "I will bless you." Abram could not be blessed in the ungodly environment in which he had been born and brought up, but God was going to create a new environment for him and was going to lead him into a new and blessed way of life. God said, "I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing." God said, "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse." God obviously was going to do a great deal with and for Abram, and Abram began his life with God by believing and stepping out on God's promises.
Another promise occurs several verses farther on. Here Abram has reached the land God was sending him to, and God is making a new promise that concerns the land itself. God had said, "I will show you [a land]." Now God says, "I will give [you] this land." This means that in addition to the early, general promise of blessing, God is now adding a tangible, earthly pledge of what He is going to do. "This land to which I've brought you and which I'm showing you is going to be yours," God promises. Once again Abram said, "Yes, Sir!" He did not say, "Why this land? Why not another land?" Or "I want more land than You're giving me." Abram accepted what God promised, and he dwelt in the land, living by faith in God's promises.
But Abram had no children. God had told him that he was going to have a numerous posterity. They were going to be as numerous as "the dust of the earth" (Genesis 13:16). Abram believed that. He expected God to do it. But the years were beginning to go by now, and Abram and his wife were still childless.
Abram laid this matter before God. He said, "Lord, why is this happening? What are you doing? I don't have any children, and I don't see how Your promises can be fulfilled without them." God answered that question and gave Abram a promise he lived on for many years.
God’s Answer to Abram
He took him outside and said, “Look at the heavens and count the stars — if indeed you can count them.” Then He said to him, “So shall your offspring be" (Genesis 15:4-5). God deals with Abram in a very gracious way at this point. It is in a like gracious manner that He deals with us.
Think what God did as He gave this further revelation of His will and ways to Abram. First, He repeated His promise. Abram had heard God's promise once. If we are harsh, we might say, "Abram should have been able to live by what God told him the first time. After all, God should not have had to tell him again. How many times does the God of all truth have to speak before we believe Him? Once, right? So if God said, "I'm going to make you a great nation. I'm going to give you posterity as numerous as the dust of the earth," Abram should have replied, "I'll live by that. I'm not going to ask any questions. God said it, I believe it; that settles it." But Abram still had this problem. He was puzzled. So God, who is gracious, does not say, "I'm not going to add another word, because I've already told you what you need to know." No, God says it all over again. He said, "No, no, Abram. What is it I told you? I told you that you're going to have a large family. You're going to be the father of a great nation."
Has God ever repeated a promise to you? I'm sure He has. He taught you something in the past; but you got into a muddle, and God came and taught this lesson again. You were reading the Bible, and you came upon a certain verse and God said, "Don't you remember? Don't you remember what I promised? This is what I promised. I'm the same God. I haven't changed My mind." God repeated His promise so you would grow by the repetition.
God did something else in His answer to Abram. He not only repeated the promise; He clarified it. In Abram's case, that was even more important than God's repeating it, because Abram was actually puzzled over how the promise might be fulfilled.
Have you ever had God stoop to explain things to you? At the time you may not have realized what He was doing. You were struggling to understand. But afterward you looked back and said, "How gracious God was to explain something like that! Any fool should have been able to understand what was happening. Yet I didn't understand, and God came down to my level and told me exactly what I needed to know." God did a third thing. He not only repeated and clarified the promise, He expanded it. He did it by adding the sign of the stars.
Stars do not mean a whole lot to us because we do not look at them very often. In many of our smoggy cities today we cannot even see them if we want to. But in ancient times, and even in the Near East today, the sky is very, very clear. In the daytime it is so clear that it is almost blinding. At night the stars just seem to hang luminously in the sky. You feel you can almost reach up and touch them. This is what God showed Abram. God took him out into the clear air under the stars and said, 'Look at those stars." Abram looked up. There they were, glorious, pointing to the beauty and wisdom of their Creator. God said, "Can you number those stars? Abram could not, of course. Then God said, "Well, that is what your posterity is going to be like. So if the time ever comes over the years that you begin to think, 'I wonder if God is going to fulfill His promises,' just wait until night comes and then go out and stand in the field and look up and let these stars be a reminder of how great I am and what My promise to you is. Because that is what your posterity is going to be. Your descendants are going to be as numerous as these stars of heaven."
God pointed Abram up rather than down. Earlier, when He had talked about the number of his descendants, God had said, "They are going to be as numerous as the dust of the earth." That probably had bearing upon the promise God made of the land. God said, "I'm going to give you this land. Everywhere you walk — east, north, south, west — that land is going to be yours, and your descendants are going to be like the dust of the land." That made sense. But now there is a greater promise and a far greater way of proceeding with Abram. God says, "Look up! Look at the stars! Don't look down!"
One of our problems is that we are always looking down. Essentially, we are looking at ourselves, and that leads to doubt. We look at ourselves and say, "I don't see how I can do that. I don't see how I can believe what God is promising." If we were in Abram's shoes we would say, "I don't see how I am ever going to have any children at my age." But the problem is that we are looking at ourselves. We are not the one who gives the promises, God is. So what we need to do is stop looking down and start looking up. We need to have our minds stretched by the greatness of God.
God contrasts Himself with Abram when He asks, "Can you count all those stars?" Abram could not count them, but God could. God could also have asked, "Can you name all those stars?" Abram could not name them, but God has. So when we look up, we see the greatness of our God; and, if you will, we see beyond the stars to God Himself who is the one who makes the promise.
Fourth Week of Promises
All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, is taken from the King James Version.
The Gospel of John, says Dr. Boice, is "a powerful source of instruction and comfort to many millions of God's people down through the ages of church history." This message on the Gospel of John is an insightful study and devotional guide. Dr. Boice explores the coming of Jesus Christ and discusses the initial reaction some people had toward him.