Following Jesus #4 - In the Way of Power
Dr. Kurt Bjorklund looks at the power that comes across in Jesus's words, even within these 3 verses we look at today and how we can have bold requests in our words with God.
Good morning. It's great to be together. Let's take a moment and pray. Father, I thank you for each person who's gathered in Wexford, in the auditorium, in the chapel, in the Strip District, in Butler County, those watching online, those who will maybe listen later. Father, I pray that in these next few moments, that your word would be obvious to us, that we would be able to respond to it. Father, I pray that my words would reflect your word in content, and in tone, and an emphasis. And we pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.
This fall we are working through John 13 through 17. We're calling the series Following Jesus, which is really taking a look at Jesus' words. And our hope is this, and that is if you're somebody who's been around church a long time, been around the faith a long time, that Jesus' words would challenge you, push you maybe to consider some areas of your life where you could take another step.
And if you're a person who says, "I'm not really convinced or certain how my spiritual journey is unfolding," our hope is that this series will take the cultural ideas and strip them away, and you'll see Jesus' words about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
So we've talked about following Jesus in the way of humility, and today we're going to talk about following Jesus in the way of power. And here's my guess. For those of you who have come to a point of faith, there are probably a variety of reasons that you initially came to faith. Probably for some of us, it was an understanding that we came to believe that it was the truest explanation for the way things were. In other words, our worldview came to assimilate these ideas and we said this is truth, therefore I must believe.
For some of us, maybe it was more about community and family. We grew up maybe around it, or we had some friends who believed it, and we liked the people, so we wanted to be part of a community. And then in time it became something that we saw as true as well, but there was at least a part of our original formation that was saying, "I like the space that this provides."
And then for some, there was probably the draw of power. And the reason I say the draw of power, not power as in I'm large and in charge, but power as in there's a God who cares about my life, who can intervene in the things that matter to me. And maybe this was something that was really conscious or something that wasn't, but when you heard about a God who created the universe, who loves you, who is in charge of everything, who wants your best, you started to say, "I would like to have that God as one that I can call out to, rather than not have that God be part of my life."
You've maybe heard the saying that there are no atheists in foxholes. There's no foxes there either. But I don't know that that's a true statement, but here's what is behind that often, and that is a lot of times, even if somebody says, "I don't believe," when they find their life in difficult times, they'll say, "God, if you're there, God, if you exist, would you work in this way? God, if you really care, would you?" And that's a natural thing to do, to call out to God in some of those hard moments of our life and say, "God, would you work in this way?"
And here's what happens when it comes to praying and asking God for something, and that is, if you pray and ask God for something and it doesn't happen, what naturally happens is you become disappointed, I become disappointed, and sometimes maybe even to the point of saying, "I don't need a God who doesn't answer, who doesn't work." This is a little bit like the kid who first learns about prayer, so he prays to God and he says, "God, I really would like it not to rain today because we're having this party and I want the party, and it rains, and it pours." And he's like, "Where is God? God doesn't care. God doesn't answer a prayer."
Or on the other side, if you pray and you feel like God answers your prayer, then there's joy, there's elation. Again, like a kid who didn't study for an exam and prays that the exam gets canceled and it gets canceled and they're like, "There's a God. He cares." You know, that kind of a thing.
So we come to John 14, and we read these incredible statements. John 14 verse 12 says this. It says, "Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I've been doing, and will do even greater works that these, because I'm going to the Father." I'll come back to that in just a few moments. Verse 13, "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."
This is where we get the idea that we can come to God and say, "Would you do something? Would you act? Would you intervene?" And the text says, "You ask anything in my name and I will do it." So it raises some questions right away, regardless of where you are in your faith journey. The question, are these promises real? Are they for all people, for all believers? Are they for all time? How are we to understand this?
Let me take a few moments to explain how people have thought about this over time. And there will be no stick figures today, so I'm just going to simply draw a little continuum here. And what I'm thinking of is a continuum that's kind of like the old teeter-totter seesaw. You've seen this thing, where if you're sitting on one side and somebody sits in the other side, you can go up and down. I think they're off all playgrounds now because too many kids jumped off one side and the other kid got hurt, and we don't want that so they're gone.
But on the one side, if you kind of lean into the whatever word that's on this text, or we could say, "The greater works," what you have is you have a mindset that says, "I like to, when I read this, say I can ask whatever and Jesus says he'll do it. So I'm going to ask for lots of things with boldness, with clarity, and see what God can do. I'm going to have great faith that God's power can be shown in my world, in my life, in my time."
Maybe you've been one of those people, maybe you know some people like that. Maybe you have prayed that way and been met with disappointment. Maybe you prayed for somebody to be healed, maybe you prayed for somebody to turn toward Jesus, maybe you prayed for a relationship to be healed or fixed that was broken. Or maybe you've prayed and you've had some great joys. But you know that that on this side, and we'll come back to the greater works piece in a little bit, is emphasizing the whatever.
And on the side, where you kind of get beyond this, I would say is where you make your request without any qualifications, and I'll just put, "Qual" there because I'm kind of out of space. But this is where you say whatever I ask, and there's absolutely no qualifications. So if I ask and I believe, then God will do it. This is also known in some circles as word-faith kind of theology.
So there are people who will tell you that they'll say, "I'm a word-faith person," and what they mean is that if you believe it and you speak it, that God will have to do it. Now, there are variations of that. Not everyone goes all the way out here. There's just strength kind of on this side.
Now on the other side is where we start to say, "In my name," is the point that we need to emphasize in this text. So yes, Jesus says, "Whatever you ask," but he also says, "In my name," and "In my name" is a qualification, because what he's saying is you can't just ask for anything. You have to ask for something that's in accordance with my name, because my name refers to my will, it refers to my character. So if you ask things that aren't in my name, or in my character, and in my will, then you aren't going to receive those things.
So some of us will naturally lean more toward this side, so when we pray, what we might do is we might say, "Well, you know, God, if it be your will, God, I'm going to pray this, but God, I really don't know which way this is going to go, so God, it's your thing."
Now also here you could say that there's another qualification, "For my glory," I would say. And I see this because in this text it says this, verse 13, "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son." So there's at least two things that are part of what you might call some kind of qualification of the whatever, "In my name, for my glory."
And on this side, again, if you go a little over on this side too far, what happens is you let the qualifications, and again, I'll just put, "Qual" here, kind of neuter any promise on the other side, because you'll become so caught up in the idea that there's a qualification, that you'll never ask in a sense with absolute boldness.
Now, in a sense, you could say that this might be part of our larger predisposition toward faith in general, or toward life in some ways. On this side, I would say tend to be people who are more experiential. In other words, on this side it's people who say, "I want to relate to God. I want to see God's power. I want to experience God. I want to know and sense God in my midst." And on this side, you tend to get people who are more logical, or more theoretical in their way of thinking.
And then if you, again, take it to the outside, on this side you get people who are circumstantial in their faith. "-stantial," something like that. And on this side you get people who are very stoic in their faith. And here's what I mean. If you say that how you relate to prayer has some correlation to how you relate to God on a whole, on one side there will be those who are much more likely to say, "I want to pray, and declare, and claim that God's going to do something." And what will happen is then your faith will become circumstantial, so in a sense, your vitality will be kind of based on the circumstances.
In other words, one of the problems with this equation and emphasizing the whatever I ask, is that if God doesn't work in the way that you want him to work, then you will have heartache because you'll say, "God hasn't come through. God hasn't done what I thought God would do." In fact, when you go through something hard, what will happen is you'll end up with twice the hurt.
And what I mean is you'll be hurt because somebody you love is sick, or a marriage isn't being healed, or your kid is going down a bad path, and you'll be devastated, but then you'll also be devastated because when you pray about it, you'll say, "And God has an answer. God didn't do what I thought God should do." Or you'll say, "I didn't have enough faith to bring it about." You see, in the word-faith movement, the idea is if you believe something, it is guaranteed to happen, so if it doesn't happen, the reason it didn't happen is because you didn't believe.
And I've been a pastor long enough that I can tell you the pain that that can cause somebody, because I've heard it, was people have come to Orchard Hill from other places and said, "I was at another church and I couldn't have a baby, and the medical community told me that I couldn't have a baby. And then I went to my pastor, and the pastor told me that if I had just had enough faith, I could have had a baby." And I want to say that's spiritual malpractice at that point, because what you're doing is now you're saying not only do you have to deal with the hurt of maybe not being able to get what it is you hoped for, but now you have to also deal with the hurt that somehow it's your fault, that you didn't believe.
And you see, on this side of the equation, the other thing that will happen is sometimes we'll presume upon God. And what I mean by that is we'll start to assume or presume that we know how God should work and what is best, so we assume that whatever we pray it is absolutely for our good, and therefore we know best.
I was talking to a lady recently, and she had been diagnosed with cancer. And she had noted this without ever saying that she had been diagnosed with cancer, and I in the course of the conversation said something about her cancer, and she said, "Shh, don't say that word. I don't want it to have any power over my life." Without being disparaging, can I just say, saying the word cancer brings no more power for cancer in your life than not saying the word cancer.
There's not like a magic formula that if you say certain things or don't say certain things, that all of a sudden you get God to do certain things. Prayer matters, prayer is important, but in this side of the equation, we can presume that if we get the formula right, then God will answer the way that we want, and if we get it wrong, then God won't.
Now, on the other side, the more stoic or rational side, logical side of faith, and I'm not saying that this side is not logical by the way, by saying that this side is more logical, and I'm not saying this side isn't experiential, I'm just saying we have a tendency, and if you're more rational, the danger side is that your faith starts to become more of a guiding principle than an experience with a living God.
And what I mean by this is that you'll start to say, "Okay, since there are qualifications and this has to be in Jesus' name that I ask something," then we don't come to God with expectation or hope. But instead what we do is we simply say, "I have principles that I live my life by, and if God chooses to work, great, and if God doesn't work, then that's all fine too. I just live my life the way I need to live my life, according to the principles."
This would be a little bit like getting married and saying, "Well, I have a marriage license, and the marriage license tells me that I'm legally married, and legally married means these couple things, but I don't really want to relate to you. I'll just do these couple of things, but I don't want to relate to you." That's what can happen if you overemphasize this idea of the in Jesus' name without the whatever in terms of faith.
Now, sometimes God will answer prayers with a no, or a way that might be his answer that we don't even understand, but the challenge is to say, "How do I continue to have faith?" Now you might look at this and say, "Well, then the answer is to move to the middle. It's to stand close to the fulcrum," and I actually think the answer is not that. I think the answer is to say, "I want to stand kind of squarely on the outside of both, because that is where then I will see this little phrase", and, "I will do it" is what it says.
And here's what I mean when I say this. Obviously there's a side you can go too far, where you can say, "I can ask whatever and anything I ask, if I believe, then God has to do it." So for example, some of us might say, "Hey, when I leave here today, since I can ask whatever, then I'm going to ask that God put a million dollars in my car." Now you know, without me even talking about it, that that's not really what this verse means, right? So there are qualifications.
And then on the other side, if we, again, have qualifications that are so strong that we never ask, then we never get here, so the idea is to say I want to be both experiential and rational. I want to be somebody who says whatever, and at the same time says, "But it's going to be in your name and for your glory." Now, "In your name, for your glory" means ultimately that you say, "God, what is it that you want? What's in accordance with your will, with your character? That's what I'm going to ask for."
You see, you know, if you had parents, one day, you know that if you went to your parents and you asked them for something that wasn't in accordance with their will and character, that generally they would say no, and it was good that they said no, because what they were doing is they were saying, "We want something that's better for you." And what coming to God in prayer means ultimately is not saying, "I get exactly what I want," but it says, "You are good and you will give me what is best, even if I can't see it today."
Now, I mentioned that I'd come back to this idea of greater works, and here's why I want to come back to this phrase. Greater works is communal. And sometimes when you hear this and you say that Jesus said, "You'll do even greater works than me," you might think, "Does that mean more grandiose, more spectacular?" And I don't think that's what it means. I think what it means is that you, as followers of Jesus, will do greater works numerically than Jesus did. In other words, that his followers all through time would have an opportunity to reach more people, to do more of what Jesus did, in greater numbers, not necessarily in greater effect or extent.
But here's what that's pointing to, and this really ties into the, "In my name, for my glory," and that is, what did Jesus come to do? Because that tells you something about his priorities, about his character, about his will, and something about what kind of prayer elicits the power of God.
And here's what we see. Let me just give you a few verses. Mark chapter 10 verse 45 says this, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." See, Jesus came not just so that he could build his renown, although he certainly did that, but Jesus came to give his life a ransom for many. And what that means is that Jesus said, "Here's what I came to do. I came so that my life would be exchanged for other people's lives who are in peril. In other words, my life for theirs."
That's what Jesus does. He comes and he says, "I live a perfect life that you couldn't live. I died a death that you deserved, and I was resurrected so that you can have eternal life." That's part of his mission, but do you know that's not his only mission?
Here's what we read in Mark chapter one verse 14 and 15. It says, "After John was put in prison, Jesus went to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God." Good news, the word gospel, so sometimes you hear people reference the phrase, "Gospel." It just simply means good news, the proclamation of good news, of victory.
So he says, "Here's what Jesus' mission was. He was going around proclaiming the good news or the gospel of God, the the victory of God." Then he says this, "The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news." See, Jesus didn't just come to say, "Believe in me, endure your life, and then one day you get to go to a new kingdom where everything will be okay." He said, "I came not just for that. There is that element, but I came so that my kingdom could be seen here and now. I'm bringing part of the kingdom here."
Dallas Willard paraphrased this years ago. He said this, "All the preliminaries have been taken care of, and the kingdom is now accessible to everyone. Revive your plans for living and base your life on this remarkable opportunity." Then he went on to define what a kingdom is and he said, "A kingdom is the range of your effective will." In other words, a kingdom, and we all have them, is a place where what you say goes.
Now, I live in my house with my wife and three boys at this point, young men, boys, whatever you want to call them, and my kingdom in our house is my study. That's it. I used to have the garage, and my wife got excited about the garage a few years ago and said, "We need to clean up the garage," and the garage is not my kingdom anymore. My study is my kingdom, because I can put stuff wherever I want it, I can leave it out, I can do what I want in the study, and it is my kingdom. Thank you. And some of us have kingdoms, so you understand this. So a kingdom, when Jesus, "Repent, the kingdom of God is near," what he's saying is, "Arrange your life because the range of my effective will is coming."
Kids get this, by the way. You get this if you've driven in a car with kids. Your kid's in the back seat of a car, especially on a long trip, what happens before long? "This is my side. That's your side. Don't cross the line because this is my kingdom, that's your kingdom." By the way, if as a parent you ever want to teach your kids a lesson, just hit the break and their kingdom will come and be like, "Whoa, okay." That's not a real suggestion by the way.
But here's what happens, is that Jesus is saying, "My mission is to bring a taste of heaven to earth, to bring a taste of my kingdom to this kingdom, a taste of what I'm about to what this world is about." So when he talks about greater works in John 14, he's saying, "Yes, I've given my life as a ransom for many. I came to seek and to save the loss, but I also came so that those who our world considers as the least would experience value and dignity, so that the blind would receive sight, and the lame would be healed, and the prisoners would be set free."
Here's a few more references to kingdom. In Luke chapter 17 we see very clearly that this kingdom is not just a future kingdom. Verse 20 and 21, "Once on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, 'The coming of the kingdom is not something that can be observed, nor will people say here it is or there it is because the kingdom of God is in your midst.'" What does Jesus say say? He says the kingdom isn't just future, it's present. It's in your midst. You can experience the kingdom of God here and now.
In Matthew chapter 18 we see the phrase used again. And by the way, this phrase is used repeatedly in the New Testament and by Jesus. I'm just giving you a couple of highlights. Here's Matthew chapter 18 verses one through three. It says, "At the time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?'" What they wanted was they wanted Jesus to say, "Well, you're better than him, and you're one of the greatest. The 12 of you, you're the greatest."
"He called a little child to him and he placed the child among them and he said, 'Truly, I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'" So Jesus, when asked about who was great said, "I'm not going to give into how our world sees status, and how our world sees significance. Instead, what I'm going to do is I'm going to say that if you want to understand the kingdom, it's a place where there isn't pretense, there isn't favoritism, where status isn't achieved in the same way that it is in our world."
Then in Matthew 22 verse two, which is just a very quick reference to this again, says this, "The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son." And the picture, if you read through the following verses in the text is of his servants going out and compelling people who wouldn't naturally be invited to this banquet to be there. And what Jesus is doing in this example of saying this is the kingdom of heaven is he's saying that the kingdom of heaven is for the people that our world considers to be the least, the lonely, the disenfranchised, the lowly, the the people who aren't regarded well in our world.
I don't think I need to tell you that the Jesus of the New Testament is one who does not operate by the same standards that you and I are naturally drawn to in the world in which we live, and what he is doing when he says, "I want you to ask whatever you want in my name for my glory," in essence is he is saying, "I want you to ask for these greater works that my kingdom would be seen here and now, that more people would be drawn into it, more people would come to believe in the Jesus who takes away their sin, because it changes everything."
One more reference. Matthew chapter six, well known verses, but maybe you'll hear it differently with this talk of kingdom. Verse 32 and following. This is in what's known as Jesus' sermon on the mount where he's talking about don't worry about your life and where you'll get what it is that you think you'll need. He says this, "For the pagans run after all these things and your heavenly Father knows that you need them, but seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
What does Jesus say? He says, "You spend so much time worrying about your own world, your own kingdom, the range of your effective will instead of my effective will. If you'd spend more time worrying about the range of my effective will then, I will take care of all the other stuff."
See, my tendency, maybe your tendency, is to come to God and say, "God, here are all the things that are concerning to me today. Would you work in these things?" And I think that's good. I think God cares about those things, but I think it's a danger sometimes that then we say, "Well, if God doesn't act in the way that I think he should act, then maybe God isn't acting" when what God says is, "Seek first my kingdom, and you'll see my greater works."
And here's what this means. This means that if you have come to a point of saying, "I'm a follower of Jesus," that's your primary concern, when you come to God in prayer, should not be, "God, would you take care of this or that, that will help my life?" but the God's kingdom would become even bigger, and you can participate in that, I can participate in that. Because every time that you're in a conflict, and you choose to resolve it with humility and grace rather than with pride and anger, you bring a little bit of the kingdom. It's a bear.
Every time you step out of some kind of an addiction cycle and into the light, what you're doing is you're saying, "I'm letting the kingdom shine here." Every time that you go to work and you thrive in your place of work, and help the world thrive in whatever it is that you do, you're bringing some of the kingdom of God here. Every time that you gather with a group of people, and you get real about what's going on, you're bringing a little bit of the kingdom here.
Every time you serve, especially people who don't have exactly what you have, whether it means spiritually because they're lost, or economically because they're what our world considers the least, you're bringing a little bit of the kingdom here. And every time that you include people who have been marginalized, who have been swept aside, you're bringing a little bit of the kingdom here. So you can ask God for anything and he says, "Whatever you ask in my name for my glory, I will do." There's incredible power, but his power is to bring about his greater works through his people.
So let me say this. I know, because I've been around enough with many of you to know that for some of you, that the challenge when you hear this, is you say, "Okay, I get it conceptually, but the thing is I've been praying for something for a long time that I am confident would bring glory to God, and God hasn't done it." And you're confident that this thing would bring glory to God because everything indicates that it would, a healing, or a restored marriage, or maybe just some peace in a family situation or dynamic, or whatever it is that you say, "This is the thing." And I wish that I could stand here and tell you I can perfectly answer that concern. I can't.
But here's what I do know, and that is if you can see who God really is, and see his goodness, and his beauty in sending his son to die on the cross for you, you can say, "I can trust that he's for me, not against me. And because of that, even when I pray and something doesn't happen my way, I will trust that his sovereign good hand is still at work in my life for my best."
I mentioned earlier, just as a kid coming to your parent and asking for something and them saying no. If you have kids, you especially know this because your kids will come to you boldly and ask for things that you'll say no to. And it isn't that you don't love them. It's precisely because you love them that you say no to some of their requests. "Can I go play in the street?" "No." "Can I have ice cream for breakfast?" "No." "You don't love me." "Yes, I do. I just don't want you to have rotten teeth and habits and get hit by a car."
Now, I realize that if you are praying for something, hoping for something, pleading with God for something, and it doesn't seem like it's happening, that it can be frustrating, even to the point of saying, "I don't know if I can believe in this God anymore." But what real faith is, is being able to say, "Even if God doesn't do exactly what I hope, then I can still believe because I know that he's good."
There's a section in the book of Daniel. It's an Old Testament book, where Daniel and his friends are told that they must bow down to this idol, and anyone who doesn't bow down will be thrown into the fiery furnace. It's Daniel chapter three. And they do refuse to bow down because they say, "To bow down would be a compromise of our values," and they're thrown into the furnace.
But before they're thrown into the furnace, in Daniel chapter three verse 16, 17 and 18, you hear this prayer. They say, "We know, O King, that our God is able to deliver us." And then this phrase, "But even if he doesn't, we're not going to bow down because we have chosen to worship and follow our God. So you can throw us into the furnace. We're going to pray and hope that God delivers us, but for his glory, something else may happen." And do you know what happened? In the account of Daniel, they went into the furnace, the three of them, and then they looked in and they saw four walking around, and God's glory was made better by throwing them into the furnace.
Now, I know, again, if you say, "Well, wait a second. Are you saying God's glory is made bigger in me going through this hardship, or somebody I love going through this hardship?" If God in his sovereign good pleasure chooses to answer no, the healthiest thing that I can do, that you can do, is say, "God, I will bend my knee to your no, but I'm going to keep asking you to do what I think would be best, but I'm going to trust that you know something here that I don't."
See, there's power available, and the power is for God to bring his kingdom here. Sometimes what he does is he brings the best displays of his kingdom to the places where we suffer. And if our real heart is to say, "God, I want your kingdom, I want your will, your name to be made much of," then that will be something that we will say, "Okay, God, even if this is hard right now, I'm going to glorify you even in this, and somehow that'll bring about your greater works."
If that's where you find yourself today, I just want to tell you, I'm sorry for where you are. I hope that you'll share that in a life group, or a study, or something that you're part of through Orchard Hill, and let people walk with you, because no one needs to walk through that alone. But I also hope that as a community of faith, what we'll be able to do is be able to say we're going to trust God to work, while at the same time trusting God to work in the way that he deems best.
Father, we pray today that you would help each one of us who's here, just as we grapple from time to time, wherever we are in our own spiritual journey with God, "Why can't you do what I want you to do?" to just come to terms with the fact that you are good and you are God. You are for us, not against us, and to trust you even in those hard times. And we pray this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. Thanks for being here. Have a great day.