“Love of the Word appears preeminently in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He read it publicly. He quoted it continually. He expounded it frequently. He advised the Jews to search it. He used it as His weapon to resist the devil. He repeatedly said, ‘The Scripture must be fulfilled.’ Almost the last thing He did was to ‘open their minds so they could understand the Scriptures’ (Luke 24:45). I am afraid that man cannot be a true servant of Christ, who has not something of his Master’s mind and feeling towards the Bible.” —J.C. Ryle, Bible Reading
“The character of our praying will determine the character of our preaching. Light praying will make light preaching. …The preacher must be preeminently a man of prayer. His heart must graduate in the school of prayer. In the school of prayer only can the heart learn to preach.” —E.M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer
“Some pastors and preachers are lazy and no good. They do not pray; they do not read; they do not search the Scripture. … The call is: watch, study, attend to reading. In truth you cannot read too much in Scripture; and what you read you cannot read too carefully, and what you read carefully you cannot understand too well, and what you understand well you cannot teach too well, and what you teach well you cannot live too well. … The devil … the world … and our flesh are raging and raving against us. Therefore, dear sirs and brothers, pastors and preachers, pray, read, study, be diligent.” —Martin Luther
God instructs Jeremiah to simply go to the potter’s house and watch. Jeremiah obeyed: “I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working” (v. 3). It was after taking in this scene that God could speak to Jeremiah a sermon illustration. Jeremiah says, “Then the word of the Lord came to me” (v. 5).
Not only did God help Jeremiah prepare his sermon with a visual illustration, but God also prepared Jeremiah for the follow up conversation. God knew how the people would respond to Jeremiah’s message, and He again gave him the words to speak ahead of time (vv. 12-17).
God knows His sheep better than we do. He knows what they need to hear, and how best to make His message stick. Jesus said,
“I have never spoken on My own authority or of My own accord or as self-appointed, but the Father Who sent Me has Himself given Me orders concerning what to say and what to tell. And I know that His commandment means eternal life. So whatever I speak, I am saying exactly what My Father has told Me to say and in accordance with His instructions.” (John 12:49-50 AMP)
We pastors and evangelists dare not try to prepare a message on our own!
Samuel Johnson prayed something that I pray every time I sit down to prepare a sermon: “Almighty God, my Heavenly Father, without Whose help labor is useless, without Whose light search is in vain, invigorate my studies.”
Seeking God’s help in our sermon preparation should be our very first action every single time.
I have a chapter dedicated to this called “Going Farther.” Here’s a short excerpt—
You will not only extend your leadership by having other servant-hearted shepherds around you, but you will also have a guard against the aloneness that led to such ugly warts on the biography of otherwise powerful leaders such as David, Elijah, and Peter.
Jesus told us to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send out more workers into the field (Luke 10:2). In a similar attitude, I believe we can pray to the Chief Shepherd to send out more under-shepherds into the pastures; specifically, we can pray for those under-shepherds to be sent into the pasture where we labor. The early church showed us the example of prayer being the priority when new shepherds were needed (Acts 1:21-26, 6:3-6, 13:1-3; 2 Timothy 1:3-6). We would do well to make it a priority to pray for God to send us godly leaders that can serve alongside us.
If you are a pastor, please pick up a copy of this book, as I truly believe it will encourage you. If you love your pastor, please give him or her a copy as a gift. I promise you that this book will bring such a fresh perspective to their ministry.
And whether you are a pastor or a lay leader in your church, please continue to pray for God to send more laborers into your harvest field.
Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or Audible.
Last week here in wintry Michigan we had a couple of snow days (for those of you in non-snow states, that means the roads were too dangerous even for us Michiganders, so the schools were closed). Students and teachers too “work” very hard for snow days. By that I mean they try a bunch of tactics that are supposed to increase the likelihood of school being called off—like flushing ice cubes down the toilet, wearing their PJs inside-out, or even sleeping with a spoon under their pillow.
But I’ve also noticed it’s not just praying for snow days where people employ some tactics they think will help things go their way. Like saying, “Pretty please with sugar on top” when trying to get special favor, or athletes not saying anything at all to a teammate who’s on the brink of something historic, or business people saying, “Wish me luck” before going into the big meeting. And even Christians who end their prayer with, “In Jesus’ name, Amen” to help make their prayer answerable.
In case you haven’t noticed, just saying that phrase is not some magical, abracadabra formula for success (for some very notable examples of this check out Matthew 7:21-23 and Acts 19:13-16).
But still, Jesus does specifically say, “And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it” (John 14:13-14).
This is where context is king. In John 13-16, Jesus is giving His final instructions to His disciples before His arrest and crucifixion. They are clearly anxious about His departure because chapter 14 opens with the words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
In this passage of John 14, Jesus is giving the disciples the basis for their confident hope in Him. He tells them that He is THE way to the Father (they don’t have to look for another path), and He is THE revelation of the Father (He will make the Father’s will crystal clear to them).
Jesus tells them that He has been doing His Father’s work, which is verified by the evidence of the miracles—or we could say the answers to His prayers (v. 10-11). Jesus wants His followers to pray this same way, live this same way, and see even greater things done in His name (v. 12).
So we can infer from this that praying in the name of Jesus essentially means two things:
We pray in harmony with the character of Jesus. That means that we pray prayers that Jesus Himself would pray. If you cannot imagine Jesus asking for what you’re asking for, then it’s not in alignment with His character.
We pray in faith in the supreme authority of Jesus to do what we ask. Jesus is Supreme over everything else. To pray in His name means we look for answers from no other source.
I think the key to understanding this is found in the small preposition Jesus uses 12 times in this passage: IN.
Jesus is IN the Father, the Father is IN Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is IN us. This means that we are also IN the Father with Jesus!
Which means we don’t have to try to be like Jesus or to merely imitate Him, but we let the Holy Spirit sanctify us into the character of Jesus.
When I talk to my Dad I don’t have to remind myself that I am his son—I just am his son. I don’t have to carefully calculate how I’m going to make requests of him. I know his heart, and I know my inseparable relationship with him, so I just talk to him.
Have you ever noticed in the Gospels that when Jesus does a miracle, He doesn’t pray the way that we typically pray? When the man with leprosy came to Jesus, He merely said, “Be clean.” I think we might have bowed our heads, closed our eyes, placed our hands on him and said something like, “Dear heavenly Father, if it’s Your will bring Your healing touch to our dear brother. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.” But Jesus knew the Father’s heart was to heal this suffering man, so Jesus simply spoke the words. His statement was a prayer that resonated with the heart of His Father, and that prayer was immediately answered.
The Holy Spirit is sanctifying you to pray this same way:
He wants to mold your heart to be passionate for the things of the Father—John 5:17
He wants to transform your mind to think the Father’s thoughts—John 16:13-14
He wants to soften your will to be yielded to the will of the Father—Matthew 26:36-44
He wants to settle your emotions to be at peace in the Father—John 14:1
He wants to even change your vocabulary to the very words Jesus would use—John 12:49
When your heart, mind, will, and emotions are being sanctified, the supremacy of Jesus will naturally be at the forefront of everything you feel, think, do, and say. Then you will be naturally praying in the name and character of Jesus for God’s glory to be seen.
Praying in the name of the Supreme Jesus means that we pray IN God’s will FOR God’s glory.
To see all of the messages in our series called Awesome: Learning to pray in the awesome name of Jesus, please click here.
Jesus told us that we could pray in His name and expect amazing things (see John 14:13-14, 15:16, 16:23-24). This does not mean that simply adding the phrase “in Jesus’ name, Amen” to the end of a prayer unlocks a secret code. Rather, it means that the more we understand just how awesome our Savior is, and that He is the Key to God’s storeroom, the more we will being to align our prayers with the will of God.
Jesus desires for His Father’s glory to be seen on earth through the answers to our prayers. The writer of Hebrews opens his letter by reminding us that Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3).
We will be working our way through the Book of Hebrews to learn just how awesome the name of Jesus truly is. As we do so, my prayer is that your prayer life will flourish into something far greater than it has ever been before!
Join us beginning this Sunday for our series on prayer called Awesome: Learning to pray in the awesome name of Jesus.
If you have missed any of the messages in this series, check them out here:
Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or Audible.
The Lord is angry with all nations… (Isaiah 34:2).
Perhaps that verse surprises you in light of the title of this post, “Everlasting, Unshakable Joy,” but stick with me.
These phrases from Isaiah 34 do sound like terrible news:
God is angry with all nations
His wrath is on all their armies
God will totally destroy them
Even all the starry host will fall
God Himself says, “My sword has drunk its fill”
All the world’s princes will vanish away
But please keep in mind that this is only bad news for those who don’t have their sins forgiven through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause” (v. 8). And, “He will come with vengeance; with divine retribution He will come to save you” (35:4).
So God’s anger is not at those whose sins have been forgiven, but at those who are not only unforgiven but hell-bent on attacking those who are forgiven.
These words are intended to “strengthen feeble hands, steady the knees that give away,” and to bring strength “to those with fearful hearts” (35:3-4).
The righteous have nothing to fear when the world is quaking in fear! “They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crowned their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (v. 10)!
This is why Jesus told us, “I tell you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more” (Luke 12:4 NIV), and, “Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in His hands” (Luke 12:5 MSG). And also the apostle Peter reminds us that we do not fear what the world fears (1 Peter 3:14).
If your sins are forgiven, if you are walking in God’s paths, if you are seeking to savor the glory of God, and desirous that His glory be seen on earth as it is in heaven, there is not only nothing to fear, but you will have an everlasting, unshakable joy!
Get your eyes off the world’s bad news, and keep your eyes firmly on the Good News that only Jesus has made a reality!
So here are all of the sermon series that I shared in 2021. Clicking on each series title will take you to a list of all of the sermons in that series.
Foundation Stones—Any architect will tell you: You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation. This is just as true in the spiritual realm, which is why John Calvin warned, “Those who are strong only in fervor and sharpness, but are not fortified with solid doctrine, weary themselves in their vigorous efforts, make a great noise…[and] make no headway because they build without foundation.” We have had on the Calvary website since Day 1 a link to “What we believe,” but more than just having them listed there, it is important to discuss them.
Be A First Responder—There is a line in an old hymn that convicts me every time I sing it: “Oh, what peace we often forfeit; Oh, what needless pain we bear all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” Why are we so slow to drop to our knees in prayer when trouble strikes? It seems we fool ourselves into thinking the problem is small enough to handle on our own, or we think God isn’t concerned with something that may seem trivial, or we’ve been-here-done-this before and know the way to go. But this isn’t what our Heavenly Father desires; instead, He wants us to come to Him before we try anything else. Instead of making prayer our last resort, why don’t we strive to make it our first response!
Confessions Of A Dying Man—In our justice system, rarely will a judge allow hearsay testimony to be introduced in court. But there is one notable exception: a dying declaration. A dying declaration is the statement of a mortally injured person who is aware he or she is about to die. This statement is admissible testimony in court on the theory that a dying person has no reason not to tell the truth. Jesus was nailed to a Cross. Mortally injured, unable to escape, He had no reason to lie. In His dying moments, struggling to get enough air in His lungs to be able to speak, Jesus choked out seven statements that still have a profound impact on us today.
We Are: Pentecostal—Pentecost for over 1500 years was a celebration in Jerusalem that brought in Jews from all over the world. But on the Day of Pentecost that came just ten days after Jesus ascended back into heaven, the meaning of Pentecost was forever changed! Followers of Jesus—now empowered by an infilling of the Holy Spirit—began to take the good news of Jesus all over the world. These Spirit-filled Christians preached the Gospel and won converts to Christ even among hostile crowds, performed miracles and wonders, stood up to pagan priests and persecuting governmental leaders, and established a whole new way of living as Christ-followers. We, too, can be Pentecostal followers of Jesus Christ today.
Selah—The word Selah appears nearly 70 times in the Bible, almost exclusively in the Psalms. Although it is primarily a musical term, it applies beautifully to our summer series. It means a pause. Throughout the Psalms, Selah appears at the end of a verse, at the end of the psalm, or sometimes even mid-sentence. But each one of them is perfectly placed by the Spirit-inspired authors to get us to take a breath and deeply contemplate what we just read or sang.
Major Lessons From Minor Prophets—Sometimes the naming of things gives us an inaccurate picture of the thing being named. For instance, many people think the “old” in Old Testament means outdated or perhaps updated by the “new” in the New Testament. When in fact, both Testaments are needed to give us the full picture of God’s love and glory. A similar thing happens with the headings “major prophets” and “minor prophets.” It makes it sound like the major prophets have something major to say to us, while we could take or leave the minor messages of the minor prophets. In reality, they were given these headings simply because of the volume of writing—the five major prophets consist of 182 chapters, whereas the 12 minor prophets only have 67 chapters. The volume of their writing may be minor, but their content carries major messages of meteoric power!
X-ing Out Anxiety—Two brothers—one a doctor and one a pastor—addressed the prevalence of anxiety in our culture. They wrote, “A recent survey of primary care physicians in the United States revealed that at least one-third of office visits were prompted by some form of anxiety.” Anxiety can negatively impact our relationships, our ability to think creatively, our physical health, and even our relationship with God. Thankfully, one of the titles given to Jesus is The Prince of Peace. Join us for this freeing series called X-ing Out Anxiety, where we will be learning what God’s Word says about getting free from the anxiety that is robbing us of life, and replacing that anxiety with His peace.
People Will Talk—Sometimes celebrities and other people in the public spotlight will hire a publicist to help promote their cause, build their brand, or present them in the best possible light. If you wanted to stretch the terms, you could say that some of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament disciples could have been viewed as the “publicists” for Jesus. At least, that’s what critics might point to. But despite the best efforts and high salaries of publicists—both ancient and modern—they cannot control the “word on the street.” What people are actually saying about the one in the spotlight is usually the best evidence of who that person truly is. As we celebrate this Advent season, we are going to look at what the people on the street were saying about Jesus at the time of His birth. Before He ever performed a miracle or presented a parable—before any of His “publicists” could try to make Him look good—people were already talking. And what they said about Him is truly enlightening.
We will be returning to a couple of these series in 2022, and we’ll be launching some brand new ones as well. In either case, if you don’t have a home church in the northern Kent County area, I would love to have you join us!
From this book I learned that Thomas Edison’s most-used notation in his journals documenting his experiments was “T.A.” That stood for “try again.” This requires a certain amount of perseverance, or what I like to call stick-to-it-iveness.
Let’s be honest: caring for sheep is frequently a thankless role. Just as soon as they are brought to a green pasture, some of them decide they don’t like this particular pasture, or the water is too cold, or they would rather be with another shepherd. The long hours that shepherds put in are only rarely recognized by the sheep, and often the sheep ask why the shepherd wasn’t available more.
This is the reason why shepherd leaders need to be secure in our simple statement: ‘God chose me.’ If God chose you for this role, He also equipped you for this role. And if He equipped you for this role, He also expects a return on His investment. This security of God’s calling and equipping and the weighty understanding of bringing to God a return on His investment should be our motivators to help us stick with our joyful responsibility. …
One of the things that is extremely helpful to the stick-to-it-iveness of shepherd leaders—especially in those times we may be battling a pity party—is to remember that we are under-shepherds who are accountable to the Good Shepherd. This means that we don’t have to figure out on our own how to care for the sheep, because the Good Shepherd knows them better than we do, and He will share His insight with us. Neither do we need to learn the shepherding ropes on our own, because both God the Father (the Shepherd of Israel) and Jesus the Son have already demonstrated for us all that we need to do, and the Holy Spirit will continually impart to us the ways we can apply those practices to our particular sheepfold.
I close this chapter with an attitude-correcting, security-building prayer that I wrote using Psalm 23 as my guide.
Leaders especially need to be T.A. people—try again, and try again, and try again. Stick with it, and with God’s help you will be successful.
I invite you to check out my book for yourself. You can read some reviews and additional excerpts by going to ShepherdLeadershipBook.com.
“Stunningly, the Good Shepherd has put the care of His foolish flock into the hands of under-shepherds who tend to be somewhat stupid ourselves. The grand gamble only works if under-shepherds studiously lead in the way that Jesus instructed us to—and therein is the rub, for none of us naturally agrees with His model. Our flesh, culture, ambitions, and propensities all fight Shepherd Leadership like the plague. We may kiss the concept theoretically, but we fundamentally flee from it functionally. …
“It is good to be a sheep; it is good to be an under-shepherd. Just remember you are stupid, chosen by the Wise One, and as long as you serve as a shepherd, you and your flock will be safe.
“The book you are about to read is a refreshing look at leading as a sheep, of serving like our Chief Shepherd. I trust you will benefit from it as much as I did.”