This morning I read through Luke 5 and was immediately struck by verses 12-16, describing Jesus’ ministry:
While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
Did you see that? Jesus’ fame had spread to the point that great crowds gathered to hear him and be healed by him…BUT he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
I dare say that the majority of pastors would love to have the “problem” of great crowds gathering at their church. In fact, most of us spend our entire ministries trying to get great crowds to come and hear us preach. After all, that is the American version of “success” in church life. We celebrate and come dangerously close to worshipping pastors of large churches with large buildings and large budgets. And in the deep dark corners of our souls we desperately want to be that pastor that is celebrated/worshipped.
But, Jesus left the crowds, retreated to a desolate place and prayed. In the very moments when Jesus could have capitalized on his “success” he walked away from it often to spend time with his heavenly Father. The reason is clear…intimacy with our heavenly Father is success. There is absolutely nothing more important, in the life of a pastor, than stepping away from the busyness of ministry so that we can spend intimate time with our heavenly Father.
This was a great reminder for me on this Monday morning: An empty well is of no value to people longing for a drink. We are emptied in the busyness of ministry but filled in times of intimacy with our heavenly Father. Our people need us to step away so that ministry does not kill our intimacy!
John Piper offers this helpful advice to pastors about reading:
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean we should limit our reading to quick shots one or two time a day. But if you will use severe discipline to make regular short appointments with a given book, you can live in another great mind more than you thought you could – beyond the more extended times you set aside for study and sermon preparation.
Nor do I want to give the impression that I think there is virtue in reading many books. In fact one of my greatest complaints in seminary was that professors trained students in bad habits of superficial reading because they assigned too many books. I agree with Spurgeon: “A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books which he has merely skimmed, lapping at them.” God save us from the allurement of “keeping up with Pastor Jones” by superficial skimming. Forget about “keeping up.” It only feeds pride and breeds spiritual barrenness. Instead devote yourself to boring in and going deep. There is so much soul-refreshing, heart-deepening, mind-enlarging truth to be had from great books! Your people will know if you are walking with the giants (as Warren Wiersbe says) or watching television. (John Piper in Brothers, We Are Not Professionals)
“We do participate in our own sanctification. But the Scriptures make it clear that our good works are the results of God’s good work. If we ground our hopes for sanctification in our own obedience, we will rush headlong into despair because we are constantly falling back into sin, unable to obey perfectly, and we are constantly discovering new areas of our heart that need cleaning. We break covenant daily. But the covenant holds because God is faithful. Let us fear him and obey him, and let us do so grounded in the wonderful truth that he will persevere his saints. This make gospel centrality so important. The longer we take our eyes off the gospel, the more we will think our sanctification is powered by our own good efforts, and that is just a short skip and jump to self-righteousness. The gospel is the beating heart of sanctified obedience.” (Jared Wilson in Gospel Wakefulness)
“The gospel content is this: Christ saves sinners. The implications of the gospel include changed lives, lives lived in holiness unto God. The great news is that the gospel content powers what it implies! Grace is the power in which we stand and by which we are being saved (1 Cor. 15:1-2). Yes, we are to work out our own salvation, but the Spiritual reality is that it is God who is in us doing the work (Phil. 2:12-13). The gospel is not just power for regeneration; it is power for sanctification, and for glorification. It is eternal power; it is power enough for life that is eternal.” (Jared Wilson in Gospel Wakefulness)
Worship is the glorifying of God, the making much of him, the magnifying of him so that he increases in coordination with our decrease.
Jesus tells his disciples that their good works should be lights shined on God (Matt. 5:16), meant to illuminate him for the benefit of those in the darkness, showing them the way out. The only way our good works will work this way – to repeat, the only way – is if our good works are acts of worship. This means our good works must be our response to the finished good work of Christ. If our good works are viewed as currency to exchange for the good work of Christ, they will be seen by the lost not as illuminating God’s goodness but illuminating ours.
Good works as worship are acts of thankfulness and joy. Good works as merit are acts of leverage and bribery. They do not magnify the God of free grace but make him appear like a loan officer. And God is not accepting applications for service; he is redeeming captives who then gratefully serve him of their own free(d) will. We invite the Spirit’s filling with our good works as we “sow to the Spirit” (Gal. 6:8), but we do not earn him with them. (Jared Wilson in Gospel Wakefulness)
And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Jesus uttered this prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his crucifixion. The stakes could not have been higher. In fact, Luke tells us that Jesus was sweating drops of blood as he prayed this prayer. The cross loomed large in his mind. He would soon bear the weight of sin. But, his prayer was simple.
1. He acknowledged that his Heavenly Father was all powerful.
2. He requested that the cup be removed.
3. He submitted to his Father’s will.
Eugene Peterson summed it up this way in the Message: “Papa, Father, you can – can’t you? – get me out of this. Take this cup away from me. But please, not what I want – what do you want?”
Jesus prayed in intimate relationship with his Heavenly Father. He acknowledged the Father’s power to do “all things.” The thing, in this moment, he requested was that the cup of suffering would be taken away. Yet, he finished his prayer asking his Father to fulfill his plan. William Lane, in his commentary on Mark, wrote that Jesus demonstrated “obedient surrender and unconditional faith” in this prayer.
Are we willing to pray like this?
Do we really believe that God can do all things? Will we lay out our requests before him believing he wants to hear from us? Are we willing to submit to his plan?
The focus of prayer is not to get something we want from God. Prayer is primarily about spiritual formation. We pray in faith believing God can do all things. We pray transparently knowing God wants to hear our cares and concerns. We pray submitting to what God wants. Praying like this forms us and makes us useful in the hands of a good and sovereign Heavenly Father.
“The gospel must be central to our Christian lives; it is not the ABC’s of spiritual growth, but the A to Z. The problem prior to gospel wakefulness is that we do not see how the gospel can sustain such energies, such longevity. We see it as an entry fee, an insurance certificate. But the gospel is daily bread. It is robust and resilient enough to sustain not just for all of life, but for all eternity. The gospel is the antidote for the human predicament, for all of humanity itself.” (Jared Wilson in Gospel Wakefulness)