Preservation, Prosperity and Prayer 03/23/99
Sermon March 15
Having preached of the importance of leaving our dungeons, and also of the necessity of answering the objections to our faith and to God in our lives, I have a word of encouragement for the saints. Namely I would have you know that these things are the plan of God for our lives and that by walking in them we have assurance that we are saved.
We are preserved, as we walk the journey of this life, by the prayers of Jesus so that we might enjoy spiritual prosperity. That is what we learn from the text in John 17:12-19. This passage of scripture is particularly important for us because we are the primary objects of these prayers. The supreme form of spiritual prosperity is this: that we be brought safely to heaven, that is into eternal prosperity of soul. When I spoke last week of the importance of meditating on the word, this word on dwelling in prayer was sitting in the back of my mind. Letís clarify our terms. We meditate on something by fixing our whole attention on that matter, subjecting it to prolonged and serious thought. When we meditate, we are searching the center, or middle of something until we have plumbed its depths and plundered it of significance and meaning. This transcends reflection in depth, focus and intensity. Paul urges us to pray without ceasing. This exhortation combines the rigor of meditation with the practice of prayer. Some of our prayer is to express an intimate and knowledgeable relationship and some of it is to express the deeper work. Without the former we are no Christians and without the latter we will not grow in spirit and in truth. We can even lose the vision of our high calling, our spiritual priesthood, if we neglect our spiritual discipline. What the poorly disciplined experience is an ever decreasing sense of personhood. As persons, the lazy become less. However, we also pray because our Master and Friend is praying without ceasing in heaven, pleading our case before the Father. We are bathed in prayer, every moment of every hour, but most of us are unaware that we are sustained in that manner. That is why it is written that those who are in the Lordís care can sleep.
Consider that our Intercessor is completely aware of all our wants, our burdens, or needs, our dangers and our difficulties. And all of them are the subject of His prayer for us. He especially prays for dangers that we are not even aware of. Thank goodness! (Luke 22:32) However, a major focus of Jesusí prayer for us is our preservation. Preservation is a word to describe how the Lord "keeps" us. Jesus, in this passage, places us in the Fatherís custody out of His great love and concern for us. He wants us kept, but He has not chosen to keep us by granting us a speedy exit from this world. That is because we should conquer that which is in the world and overcome the world just as He did, by the Spirit. We should overcome those things which make us impatient of life and eager for death by cross-bearing. He has a reason for keeping us here as well. Yes, we have work to do in completing the mission for which He was sent. So, here we are, although the world is rally quite sick of us (Acts 22:22) and thereby not worthy of us (Hebrews 11:38). Out of continuing mercy, pity even, for this dark, lost world, the Lord is content for us to remain as lights in the otherwise total blackness. Surely, we are preserved because there are some who will believe through our word, our preaching and witness! We may be preserved here to die a martyrís death, but thereís security in knowing that we shall not die before that testimony is uttered for which we were made and saved. We are left "in the world, but not of the world" to remain, to do good and to glorify God as we are, so to speak, ripened for heaven!
Therefore we are preserved in a place of danger. And, there, by faith, we are to persist and in that Name conquer. Never are we, in the face of the world, to sound retreat. Jesus is aware that we face real pain, real persecution and deadly opposition down here. And as if the external dangers were not enough, there are also internal ones. So our dear Savior also prays for us to be preserved from the corruption of the world. A subtle and insidious influence of the world that comes against us covertly. We are opposed from without and from within.
We are kept then in the Fatherís custody, placed under Godís divine protection so that we cannot be run down by the malice of those who hate us. There are those who hate us, not because it is anything personal, but because they first hated Him. So Jesus asks the Father to preserve our lives until we complete our tasks, our work. No circumstance can therefore totally devastate. Our interest in the lost and perishing, the world Jesus came to save, will by the strengthening of our God continue unabated. The gospel ministry and the gospel church will prevail. Not even the treachery of our own hearts can prevent our success as God acts to keep us in our integrity, in our duty, in our state of grace. And act He does, or else our plight would be discouraging and hopeless. (1 Peter 1:5)
We find reassurance even in Jesusí form of address here, "Holy Father." It is Godís holiness that God swears by (Psalm 89:35). The foundations of the world are not a secure as is Godís commitment to His holiness. Furthermore, we are comforted by the term "father" in that through His son, we also have become Godís spiritual children. God acts for His Nameís sake. And we should find motivation there to steel us in adversity. Godís honor should rule over any merely human, or personal interest! We are kept in the knowledge, fear, profession and service of that Name above all names. No matter what it costs us. And we respond to this preservation of the Lord by keeping Godís commandments, truths and ordinances.
Jesus prays that we should be kept from the Evil One, from Satan as the tempter so that he shall have no leave, no legal right to sift us! Jesus prays this so that our faith may not fail us and puts Satan in bonds. We are preserved also from the destroyer that we may not despair. We are to be kept from every evil thing, from sin or even what looks like sin, or leads to sin. (2 Cor. 13.7. reads, in part: Do no evil.) So we are kept through all the afflictions common to this life.
There are at least five reasons that Jesus pleads for our preservation:
First, Jesus lifts us up as weak and unable to fend for ourselves. Because we are valuable to God and worthwhile, Jesus wants us to know that our salvation is by design. We were, during His earthly walk, His specific charge and He lost not one.
Second, Jesus moment of triumph and exaltation had arrived. He was to be reunited to the Father as planned. He knew that we would be left behind to plunge out into deep waters and that the world would either flatter to divert and seduce, or with naked power hate and persecute.
Third, Jesus wants to put joy in its proper perspective: He is our joy. He is our chief and everlasting delight, all others are passing away. Nothing, and no one is so excellently sweet. We know He is always there for us working for our joy.
Fourth, the full enmity of the whole world comes against the church and the followers of Jesus. The hostility of Jesusí day although horrendous to consider actually pales in scale to the rage that has been invoked against His body. The preachers and professors of Christ must be opposed because they are sufferers for Christ (Psalm 69:7). All that will receive of the word will in the love of it be weaned from the world. And this the world begrudges us.
Fifth, and finally, Jesus pleads our holy non-conformity as a cause for the Fatherís work of preservation. Jesus was not wealthy, not counted among the wise, His spirit was totally dead to this world. Insofar as we in His image, we are the same. Conformity is the code of this world, the law of getting along. Our journey is one of deliverance, out of bondage to materialism, greed, power and fame. We have been set free, and so we hold the things of this world to be nothing. How can someone who is dead to enticements be bribed?! Our duty and our character are to be dead to this world, and ever pleased to speak of things above and heaven.
I conclude by reflection on the process by which we become sanctified. It is by the Word. We have an elevated view of the revealed word because it is that word which sanctifies. We say that scripture is all thatís needful. It is pure without mixture. It is entire and without deficiency.
It is the Word that works this change in us. By that Word we are made good. Jesus asks the father to work this change in us, to let the Truth, which is thy Word, shine more and more. Jesus pleads with the Father to make that work complete. By Jesusí prayer we are pressed forward. Even though we are holy, we press on to be more holy still. The Word is then both the seed of the new birth (1 Peter 1:23) and the food of the new life ( 1Peter 2:1-2). It is one of the most precious forms of assurance known to the believer to experience this transforming work of the Word. When we see that a relationship has been bettered, a love deepened because of the working of the Word, we are confirmed in our confidence that we are indeed saved. Answered prayers also work in this manner, but the linkage of causality is much more difficult to establish. If you study the Word, and your life is changed, that is evidence that you are saved, that the Word is efficacious and that others could benefit from your example and testimony! The Word sanctifies us.
To be sanctified is to be set aside, to be separated unto our office as ministers of the gospel. It is to be entirely devoted to God. It is to testify of the life directing, soul-changing influence of the Word in our lives. This can only happen to those who so love the Word as to be immersed in the Word, immersed in the Word and submerged in prayeróboth Jesusí prayers and our own. It is, in a word, to be invested in genuine piety: a walk, a deliberately devoted, spiritual and different path. There is a powerful image for this "path" in articles that the High Priest carried in his vestments: the Urim and the Thummim. These articles were used to determine the will of God. But what they represent is more important. The Urim represents "light" and the Thummim represents "integrity." We are a priesthood, a holy nation. We are mediators, just as He was Mediator. Let us be sanctified to the work.
Preserved? Yes, by the sustaining work of our Intercessor in Heaven. Prosperity? Yes, we are kept in the right path ascending to the eternal rewards of heaven. Prayer? Yes, our prayers are like the paving stones on the highway to holiness. By prayer we stand, by prayer we progress!