Encountering God When He Is Near
The following is edited from a message given at the Midwest Prayer Conference of Harvest Prayer Ministries, in October 2006 at Maryland Community Church in Terre Haute, Indiana.
When God speaks to you and you know you have been encountered with truth, it is important that you implement that truth into your life, that there be a life change. The Bible says that the truth sets you free (John 8:32). How do you let the truth set you free? It is needful that you take time to process an encounter with God and truth.
Let us look at an illustration of the way Jesus processed an encounter with God in contrast to the way the disciples failed to process it. Jesus and the disciples had just experienced one of Godís greatest miracles. Immediately afterward, Jesus went into the mountains to pray. The disciples got into a boat and hit a storm. Mark 6:44-45 says, "Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men. ImmediatelyÖ."
When the Father did something through the life of the Lord Jesus, Jesus always went alone to process it. Notice it says, "ImmediatelyÖ." How soon should you process an encounter with God? There ought not to be anything more important to come between you and the processing, when you ask God the significance of what He did. God anticipates there will be changes in your life because of what He did. Or perhaps God introduces you to some caution by what He did or said.
According to Jesus, the miracles were all done by the Father; it was the Father living out His life in Him (John 14:10). So when the Father chose to do this incredible miracle, I think the Father then summoned His Son. Using my sanctified imagination, I think the Father said, "Son, I did this miracle so they would know who You are, but remember one of the temptations that Satan gave You. It was that if You could feed the multitudes You would get a crowd. ĎCommand that these stones become breadí (Matt. 4:3), and they will want to follow You." And I think the Father said, "Son, because of this miracle, they will want to make You king, not because You are king, but because You fed them." I think the Father was helping Him process as to how He ought to prepare Himself for the consequences of that miracle.
As you read on in the Gospels, thatís what happened. In Johnís Gospel we read that when He went across the sea, the multitude found Him and followed Him and wanted to make Him king. And it says it was not because He was king, but because He fed them (John 6:26). Then Jesus gave His strong message to those people that He was the bread that had come down from the Father. When He finished telling them, many forsook Him and walked with Him no more (John 6:66).
The disciples should also have processed the great miracle which they had witnessed with Jesus. They knew the Lord, and it didnít matter what happened next, they ought to have been processing it and integrating what they had just experienced of the magnitude of the One they were now following. But they didnít. They ran into a storm. Some of you may run into a storm. You intended to process what you heard and to integrate into your life major changes as you let God tell you why He said what He did, why you heard what you did, why you responded the way you did. He wants to tell you what He has in mind. This was on the way to the next thing. If you donít process this one, you may miss the next encounter with God.
Jesus saw them struggling with the storm, and He walked on the water to them, the first time He had ever done that. He would have gone by them, but instead He got into their boat. Then comes what happens when you donít process an encounter with God: you may miss the next major encounter with God. The disciples were absolutely astonished to see Jesus walking on the water and stilling the storm, and Scripture uses terminology meaning "astonished way beyond measure, way beyond what had ever happened." They were missing the significance of this next miracle. Why were they so surprised? They had just experienced with Him a great miracle.
"And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, ĎBe of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.í Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled." Then comes this incredible verse: "For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened" (Mark 6:49-52).
Danger of Hardening the Heart
Could I suggest that if you have an encounter with God and do not let God tell you what it means and move you to make changes in your life, your heart will harden? You cannot have an encounter with God and ignore it without it affecting your heart. A hardened heart has a great deal of difficulty with the next encounter with God. Could He not say to you: "Why are you asking Me to come and make Myself real to you? I am always with you. It is just that you do not recognize that it is Me. It is not that you have to ask Me to come and do something; you need to ask Me to open your eyes to see what I am doing."
It is amazing that much of our prayer is based on unbelief, because we are always asking God to do something He has already done. "O Lord, be with us today."
"Why are you asking Me to do something I have already done? I told you I would always be with you."
"O Lord, would You bless us?" I say, "Lord, I thank You that You are in the midst of blessing me. Help me to appropriate it. Help me to see it and help me receive what I know You are doing." Thank God that He is here and ask Him to help you to respond to His presence. Our prayer needs to be mostly focused on God enabling us to do something rather than trying to beg God to do something He has already done. There is no question in my mind as we have been together in this conference, that God has visited His people. The presence of the Lord has been among us, opening our minds, and touching our hearts and guiding us to make our way to the altar and there to settle some things with God. Each session God has been powerfully working among us.
There may be one or two of you who have not seen that or responded to that as you ought to. For you and for all of us, my life included, I share a verse from Isaiah 55, a very powerful verse: "Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near" (v. 6). If there was ever a time when you ought to call on Him, it is while He can be found. The implication is that He may not always be found just because you are seeking Him. He may not always be near though you want Him to be. It is a choice God makes. When He does, how you respond will reveal the intensity of your relationship to God. Did you know it was God? How did you respond?
It would be helpful for me to read on, for He then talks about His Word. He says in summary: You need to know that My thoughts and My ways are not like yours. If My thoughts and ways were like yours, you would have been making changes long before this. But in this moment My thoughts and ways were suddenly made known to you and it wasnít anything like what you had thought. As high as the heaven is above the earth, so far removed are My thoughts and My ways to yours.
Donít try to bring the Word down to your experience. Donít tell God what you are willing to do. Donít instruct God and limit God as to what He has the right to do. His ways are not your ways; His thoughts are not your thoughts. But then He has an incredible word of encouragement. He says in effect, you need to know that wherever His word goes out, it always produces that for which He sent it. He says that when we receive His word, then we can go out with joy, with singing. A word from Him can radically affect the way you respond. So He said:
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
"For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off" (vv. 8-13).
Whenever God speaks He is announcing what He is about to do in your life. It is like the vine and the branch. The branch doesnít have to make an effort to produce fruit. The branch has to abide in the vine, and it will produce fruit. And you have to abide in the Word of God and He will do what His Word has said. Some of you have commented about a phrase I have used about prayer in my life. When I pray, I then get up off my knees expecting to see God do what He said He would do. When I finish praying, I look to see what happens next in the activity of God. It never crosses my mind that He will postpone it or that He will delay it or that He will cancel it. Whatever God has said, He will do. Isaiah 55:11 says that whatever word goes forth from God will not return empty. It will produce that for which He sent it. It is critically important that you allow the activity of God to come to completion in your life and begin to set in motion some things that God said.
Christís Place in Your Life
Let us look at the activity of Christ in your life in the area of prayer. Turn first to Colossians 1:27-29: "To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect [complete, mature] in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily."
God said He chose to make people understand the exceeding riches involved in this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. In the Bible the term "hope" is never wishful thinking. It is always confident expectation. So He said in effect that Christ in you automatically brings a confident expectation. The term "glory" in the Bible in the simplest form is the present, real activity of God working in and through and around you. What I think Paul is saying is: Here is the mystery God wanted the Gentiles to understand. He is putting Christ in you which brings to you a confident expectation for the full, mighty activity of God working through you. When God put His Son in you He said that His Son would live out His life in you.
Because that is so significant in the mind of God He uses a number of figures of speech to help you understand it. Christ in you, living out His life in you is like God planting you securely in a relationship with the Son of God but to do it in such a way as a vine and a branch. The life of Christ is now actively flowing in you and through you and everyone will recognize that you are in union with Him because of what begins to happen in your life. The Christlikeness of His character begins to show in you.
Or God will use the picture of a shepherd and a sheep. Jesus said that He wanted you to know that He is the good shepherd and you are His sheep. God has created in the sheep the capacity to know His voice, and has given you a heart to know that He is your shepherd so when He leads you out, you go with Him (John 10:14-16). He knows where the green pastures and the still waters are and will lead you where they are. He knows where the paths of righteousness are. As your shepherd, He leads you there, and because you are connected to Him, you will experience all that He has and all that He possesses and all to which He can lead you (Psalm 23). So our relationship to Him brings immediately a confident expectation for experiencing all the mighty power of God.
The Prayer Life of Jesus
Let us see what the prayer life of Jesus is like. There is nothing more characteristic of Jesus than His prayer life. When God puts Christ in us, He will be living out His prayer life in us. Your prayer life will take on the characteristics of Christ and the fruit of that. When Jesus prayed, it adjusted His life to the activities and purposes of the Father. Paul puts it this way: "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Cor. 5:19). Christ was the instrument through which God brought redemption to the whole world.
You need to be very conscious of the prayer life of Jesus because as He lives out His life in you, He is going to shape your prayer life to be more and more like Him. Now the bottom line of the prayer life of Jesus and, therefore, of your prayer life also, is going to be, "Not My will, but Thine be done" (Luke 22:42). When all the praying is over and all the mind and heart of the Father have been laid over your life, there will come a spontaneous cry from the heart of the Lord Jesus in you, "Not my will, but Yours be done."
But you need to understand the depth of the experience that Jesus went through in His prayer life. I do not know of any few verses in the entire Bible that describe the prayer life of Jesus more thoroughly and more completely than these verses in Hebrews 5:7-9: "Öwho, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard...." Did that mean He was saved from death? He was heard. This gives you a new understanding of what it means for God to hear you when you pray. God did hear Jesus, and the answer was something like this: "No, Son. I cannot save You and the world at the same time." There have been moments in my life when I have cried unto God for Him to remove certain things, and the answer has come back, "No, I cannot remove those things from you and do My will through you at the same time."
He "was heard because of His godly fear" (v. 7). One of the other translations says, "Öbecause of His reverent submission." Why was He heard? Because of His heart that was submitting to the Fatherís will regardless of what it would look like. So the Father heard Him and then it says, "Öthough He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered" (v. 8).
Do you have problems with obedience? Let me suggest that the Christ who is living out His life in you and seeking to conform your obedience to His obedience, may take you through some times where you cry unto Him with strong crying and tears and those strong crying and tears come after a prolonged attempt to get God to do what you feel would be best. And the answer comes back, "No, I cannot do what you are asking and do My will at the same time. I cannot spare your life and the life of others."
Many have been the missionaries who wrestled through that. And there have been many parents of missionaries who have cried out night and day to God not to send their child and their grandchildren across the world. They have cried out to God with agony and tears, "O, Lord, donít let my children take my grandchildren across the world from me!" and the answer comes back, "No, I cannot spare your child and save a people for whom Christ died at the same time. I cannot have your child stay home and the people over there hear the Gospel. Iíve got to take your child and thrust him or her into a people group that have never yet heard, and that is My purpose. Iíve got to deny your request, because there is a whole people group who would never hear if I granted your request." Christ is trying to conform His people to His image as they pray.
If you look at this prayer moment in the life of Jesus, it says, "in the days of His flesh" Ė that is, while He was living out His everyday life (v. 7). It is in the middle of your everyday life that Christ will begin to fashion your prayer life to be like His. Verse 7 also says that He offered up strong prayers and supplications, and the word "supplications" means that not only did He pray but He profoundly entreated God, earnestly pled with God, and He did so with strong crying and tears to the One He knew could answer Him.
Has He been developing that kind of prayer life in you? Have you found there are some things on your heart that you wished God would deal with? It may be the salvation of your grandchild. It may be that you want God to take one of your children out of the setting in which he or she is now in. It may be the companions that one is with, or it may be that you suddenly realize one of your children is dating a non-believer or a profane person and may want to marry that person. You have spoken but nothing has happened, so with strong crying and tears you are pleading with God to remove this situation. Has the Lord Jesus brought you into that kind of praying?
I am convinced there will never be a mighty move of God until somehow the prayer life of Jesus gets ahold of some of us, and that it would be written of our life in this time, with "prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears," weíre finding ourselves united with Christ in beseeching the Father to do a work in our generation, in our nation and in our city. Since Godís provision is to put His Son in you, you can count on it.
Prayer was the most outstanding characteristic of Jesusí life, and we have here in Hebrews one of the most beautiful pictures of His prayer life, but it is an agonizing one. Most of us would sense that it is describing Gethsemane, that ultimate moment when Jesus pled with the Father. We have an insight into what Jesus prayed in Gethsemane in three different Gospels, and they have put it differently. Paraphrasing it, one says, "Father, if it is possible, remove this cup from MeÖ" (Matt. 26:39). In Luke 22:42 Jesus says, "Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me." But in Markís Gospel is that agonizing cry from the heart of Jesus where He uses that intimate term, "Abba" Ė the tenderest expression of a child to his father. "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me" (Mark 14:36).
I often try to put myself in that moment to say, I wonder how long the silence was, and I wonder what the voice of Jesus sounded like. Maybe it was a broken voice when He cried out:" ...nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will." The bottom line for all the prayer life of Jesus was "Önot My will, but Thine, be done" (Luke 22:42). At that moment the Father read His heart and said something like this: "Now, My will shall be done. And You will learn obedience in the days to come, obedience to My will by what You suffer." Then comes the arrest in Gethsemane, the beating, and then the cross. And the Lord Jesus, out of the depths of His heart could look up into the face of the Father and say, "Father, I have finished the work which You have given Me to doÖ. It is finished!" and He died (John 17:4; 19:30). Godís great plan to redeem a world was set in motion. The death of Christ to deal with sin was complete.
Then there had to be a resurrection, for if there were no resurrection, sin had won a victory, and we would still be in our sin. In Ephesians chapter 1 it is written that all the power of the universe and all the power of God reached into the grave and not only raised Jesus from the dead, but raised Him over all principality and power, and might and dominion and every name that can be named Ė and put them all under the feet of Jesus and sat Him at His own right hand! And then gave Him to be head over everything for every local church.
Conformed to Christís Life
That is the process which God is undertaking in your life and mine. God has been building in our life toward His eternal purpose. What does He want to accomplish? What is it that in the process of obedience youíre suffering? The longer you choose to obey, the deeper the suffering. When suffering has come through acts of obedience, the Father says something like this: "Iím trying to conform you to the image of My Son. Do you know how He learned obedience? By what He suffered." When that word comes and you wish He had chosen some other verse, you then say, "Father, the ultimate is for Jesus in me to say, ĎNot My will but Thine be done.í There is an eternal purpose which You have. Then not what I want but what You have chosen. Thank You, Father, that You are shaping my life to be like Your Son in His prayer life."
That may be where you are. When it does come to that moment, it will look more like a Gethsemane than you ever thought it would. You will know the agony of it. Let these verses be an anticipation of what Christ may do when He forms His prayer life in you. Be grateful if God has chosen for you a significant assignment, even though it will bring with it a much deeper wrestling with what the cost may be to do the will of God. Thank Him that He has not entrusted to you some trivial thing. Somehow God has a mighty purpose through you, and He knows that youíre going to be pressed in on every side like His Son was. Then recognize that the word God sent to His Son on your behalf, He will bring about, and you will have the joy of seeing Godís eternal purposes work through you.
It may begin in your own home or in your church family or in your business where God has strategically placed you. It may begin in a friendship which God uniquely gave to you which will put your life in a dimension nationally that nobody else could fill quite like you. God has prepared you for this hour. Donít say, "Father, remove that burden from me." Recognize that the Lord Jesus is going to shape your prayer life to be like His Ė which is, "Father, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not what I will but what You will."
I do not know of any other way to adequately bring a response to what God may have been saying to us than to gather up all that we have heard, bring it to the altar and then say with this in mind, "O Lord, not my will, but Thine be done." It will affect your prayer life; it will affect everything that God will do through you. It will help you to implement and to process what God has said because you have already released your life completely to Him. "Lord, nothing will I withhold. I release everything that is in me to everything that is in Your will. And I do that now."
may be a small measure of our Gethsemane. Clarify one more time what Your will
is for our life, and then give us the enabling grace and love to respond as Your
Son lives out His life with freshness in us. We find ourselves trembling because
You, the God of the universe have spoken to us. You have an eternal purpose that
will affect eternity for many. It will affect churches that You have
established. It will affect Your people. Give us an obedient heart like unto the
Lord Jesus. Thank You for placing Him within us so that we do not have to work
up obedience; we have to respond to His life of obedience in us. Thank You for
the enabling that You have provided for us which is Christ living out His life
in us. We enter into a confident expectation of Your mighty working through us
in the days to come. We will go out from here with joy and with thanksgiving,
finding we are in the center of Your will. We ask in Jesusí Name. Amen.