Identity and Authority

You are the light of the world.

I know, I know.  That’s a difficult concept to wrap our heads around.  Even knowing it to be true, it still sometimes sounds at the very least egotistical, at the very worst blasphemous.

But it’s true.  It’s what Jesus said about us.

Understanding that you are the light of the world and that I am the light of the world – not just knowing the concept in our heads, but understanding that it is true, and believing that with all of our hearts – will dramatically change the way we pray.

Why?

It raises the issue of our authority.

Let me add one more piece to the puzzle – one more aspect of our identity – and then I’ll come back to that issue of authority.

You are the light of the world.  But more than that, you are united with Jesus.  You are one with Him.  He is in you, and you are in Him.

Jesus said this in John 14:20:  “On that day you (according to the context, “that day” is after Jesus’ resurrection, when the Holy Spirit has been given – Pentecost) will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”

So here’s what Jesus is saying:  “I am in my Father.”  Jesus is one with the Father.  They are two, separate, distinct persons; but they are also one – one God existing as Father and Son (and of course, as Holy Spirit also).  So Jesus and our Father are one.

Then Jesus says, “…you are in me, and I am in you.”  In other words, just as the Father and Son are one, so too (hold onto your hats!) you and Jesus are one.

What does that even mean?

It means that you and Jesus are two separate, distinct persons, just as Jesus and the Father are two separate, distinct persons.  But it also means that you and Jesus are also one, in complete union, just as the Father and Son are one, in complete union.

I know, it SOUNDS wrong.  It sounds prideful, arrogant, New-Age-y; it sounds like false teaching.

But it’s all through the New Testament.  Here are a few other examples:

  • You are united with Christ, one with him in spirit – 1 Corinthians 6:17
  • You are complete in Jesus – Colossians 2:10
  • Your old life is now spiritually dead; you are now hidden with Christ in God – Colossians 3:3
  • Your position is that you are actually seated with Jesus in the heavenly places – Ephesians 2:6
  • You are the actual temple of God on this earth – 1 Corinthians 3:16

Now, none of those incredible statements are platforms to claim we are gods, or to walk in arrogance.  All of these things are true of you and of me because of Jesus, and only because of Jesus.  They are completely dependent upon His grace and His work on the cross.  But they are absolutely true of every one of us who have repented of our sins, believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, and chosen to follow Him.

These truths are a gateway to absolute humility (because they are only true of us because of what Jesus did for us) as well as to incredible authority (because we are one with Jesus, and so our words, actions, and prayers carry behind them the incredible weight of the power of Jesus)!

When you understand that you are one with Jesus, your concept and practice of prayer becomes transformed.  It shifts from a practice of begging God for help, for intervention, for action, for provision, for healing, for whatever, to instead being a platform for authoritative declaration.

Jesus-Calms-Storm

Calming the Storm

Jesus prayed with authority because He knew He was one with the Father.  He prayed powerful prayers like:  “Lazarus, come out”; “Pick up your bed and walk”; “Peace, be still”; and “Be opened.”  He heard the Father’s voice, understood the Father’s will, and then spoke that will through declarative prayer.

You, a person who is in union with Jesus, have the ability, capacity, and authority to learn to pray the same way, with the same effectiveness.  You have the authority to speak healing, to command mountains to move, to speak peace into turbulent situations, to declare forgiveness, to rebuke and stop the work of the enemy.

We’ll dive deeper into this in our next devotional, and in our service on Sunday.

In the meantime, let me close with this quote from author Ted Dekker.  Think on this throughout the day:

“Remember:  it’s never what you believe about yourself that defines you; it’s your Father’s opinion of you that defines you.  Your opinion of yourself only defines the experience you have in this life.  Indeed, to believe in Yeshua (Jesus) is to believe like Yeshua.  To believe like Yeshua is to believe…you were raised with and in Him.”

You are the Light of the World

You are the light of the world.

Until you believe that, I can’t really teach you much that will help you in your prayer life.

At least, not that will help you pray like Jesus prayed.

Yesterday in our service, we looked at the simple truth from James 5 that Elijah was a man just like us, and that God did powerful things because Elijah prayed.

Although most of us have no problem believing that God can do powerful things in response to prayer (even though our prayers don’t always seem to be answered), it’s a more difficult thing to believe that Elijah was a man just like us, and that our prayers can have the same kind of results that his had.  But God’s Word says that YOUR prayers can be powerful and effective.

Well, it’s time to step beyond even that.

You are the light of the world.

I know, I know.

That sounds blasphemous.  New Age-y.  Egotistical.  The power of positive thinking gone overboard.

After all, we’re sinners saved by grace.  We’re totally depraved.  We were born in sin and we have a sin nature.  It’s all true.

But there is a deeper truth.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”  And then later, he looked at his disciples and said, “you are the light of the world.”

You’re a sinner saved by graced.  You were born with a sinful nature that was totally depraved.  But, you see, there’s this thing called the gospel – the good news.  And the good news is that if you place your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior, not only are your sins forgiven, not only are you promised heaven, but you are also transformed.  You become a new creation.  (See 2 Corinthians 5:17, for example.)  You who were born in darkness are no longer darkness – you are light, the light of the world, because the Spirit of Jesus (we call Him the Holy Spirit) is now in you.  You are no longer the person you used to be.

identity

I cannot over-stress, over-emphasize, or over-teach the importance of understanding who you now are in understanding how to pray.  Knowing God – His loving nature as Father, His kind heart, His grace and mercy – that’s the most important thing you need to know about prayer.  But I think the next most important thing you need to know is who you are – what your identity is.  Because it influences your approach to God, and in so doing, influences how you actually pray.

So let’s begin today with this – your identity in Christ.  Here are a few things that God says about who you are, once you are a follower of Jesus:

  • You are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).
  • You are a saint (Ephesians 1:1).  (Yes, I know.  There are no statues of you anywhere.  But that’s not what makes a saint.  God says you are a saint, even if you don’t feel like one or always act like one.  What makes you a saint is what Jesus did for you, not what you do for God.)
  • You are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27).
  • You are the son/daughter of God (John 1:12).
  • You are complete in Jesus (Colossians 2:10).

That’s a lot.  But that’s enough for today.  In my next post, I’ll start to explore what all of that means, and why it matters as far as our attitude in prayer.

In the meantime, here’s your homework for each day.  Stand in front of the mirror each morning and read the five statements above.  Declare them over yourself.  Do this every day until you truly believe it.

Why?  Because that’s what God says is true about you.  And He is smarter than you and me.  He knows things that we don’t know.  And the One who created us in His image knows more about us than we know about ourselves, including who we are.

Remember – the prodigal son was ALWAYS the father’s son, even when he was living in a pig-sty and felt like becoming his father’s slave would be a step up.

Your feelings don’t determine your identity.  What God says is true about you determines your identity.

And you are the light of the world.

Breakfast for 107

As the sun began to peek over the horizon, George’s stomach growled.  He frowned at the distraction and looked up for a moment from his Bible.  Ignoring the obvious would not cause the problem to disappear.

The cupboards were bare.  There was nothing left.  Dinner last night had been meager, but at least there was a little for each plate.  But he and his family could no more feed on the memories of last night’s meal than they could on the empty plates that would soon be set out for breakfast.  And on top of that, there was no money left – no way to purchase food.

Sighing, he looked down at his Bible one more time and re-read the familiar words:  “In everything give thanks:  for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”  In everything – that felt like an overwhelming challenge at the moment, considering the lack of food and the great need that faced him.

George wasn’t just facing his own hunger.  It wasn’t only his plate that needed to be filled.  He and his wife Mary, who had been married for almost ten years now, had over one hundred children to feed everyday.  Over the past several years, convinced that they were doing what God wanted them to do by caring for the poor and the destitute, they had simply started bringing home orphans as they encountered them, providing a loving home for them.  George and Mary’s growing reputation for loving provision for orphans resulted in them occasionally finding abandoned newborns on their front porch.  While some neighbors were angry and protested over what they saw as an affront to their quiet Bristol, England neighborhood, others responded with donations of food, toys, and even money.  Two more houses had been added to accommodate all the children.

Through all of this, God had always provided.  But today was a new day, and with it came new challenges.  The challenge today, of course, was breakfast.  How to feed over one hundred hungry children before sending them all off to school, when there was no food to be found, and no money in George’s pocket?

George was concerned – but at the same time, he wasn’t worried.  He had learned over the past few years that somehow, God always provided.  George and Mary had made a decision to never ask for help – and up to this morning, they never had.  George had simply prayed every time there was a need – and in one way or another, God had provided every time.  From friends, neighbors, family members, even complete strangers – somehow, as George trusted and prayed, God provided.  Every time.

Today should be no different, thought George.  He bowed his head and spent some time in prayer, laying out before his Father what He already knew – that His children needed their daily bread.  Finally, after sensing the Father’s peace, George raised his head, stood up, and headed off to help Mary with the Herculean task of getting over one hundred children ready for school.

About an hour and a half later, the moment of truth had arrived.  George and Mary and all one-hundred-plus children were seated at several long tables.  On the tables in front of them were empty pitchers, glasses, serving dishes, and plates.

What would George do?

He breathed deeply, recalling the words he had read earlier that morning:  “In everything give thanks…”  Putting a smile on his face that more confident than his heart felt, he spoke to the children.  “Children, you know we must be in time for school.  Let us pray.”  Taking the hands of those next to time, he bowed his head and prayed, “Dear Father, we thank Thee for what Thou art going to give us to eat.  In Jesus’ name I pray…”  His “Amen” was drowned out by a loud knocking at the door.

Jumping to his feet, he rushed to open the door, Mary right behind him. Who could be at the door at such an early hour?

It was Jonathan, the town baker.  With a huge grin on his face, he said, “Mr Müller, I couldn’t sleep last night.  Somehow I felt you didn’t have bread for breakfast, and the Lord wanted me to send you some.  So I got up at 2 a.m. and baked some fresh bread, and I have brought it to you!”

Gratefully, George and several of the boys helped Johann carry in the bread and distribute it to everyone.  George thanked Johann and sat down with his large family to share the gift of daily bread that God had provided.

George Muller Orphanage

A Group of the Müller’s Children

The children began talking among themselves as the meal began.  But only a moment had passed before a loud knock again sounded at the door.  Who could it be this time?  George jumped up again and raced to the door, flung it open, and found William, the neighborhood milkman, standing there with a scowl on his face.  Perplexed, George asked William, “What is wrong?”

“My milk cart has broken down right out here in front of your orphanage, George.  I cannot take my milk to market, and it will spoil and go to waste if I leave it.  I have to empty my cart to lighten the load so I can take it to be repaired.  I have to do something with all this milk – and since it’s right out front, well, I thought I might as well donate it to you for breakfast.  Could you possibly use it this morning?”

George responded with a smile, grateful for God’s creative provision.  “Can we ever!”

*                              *                             *

The above is just one of hundreds of instances of God’s provision in the life of George Müller, as recorded in his personal journals.  George and Mary Müller established 117 schools and cared for over 10,000 orphans in their lifetime – all through the power of prayer.

Each week during our series on prayer, I will include one true-life story as part of our devotionals as a way of illustrating a simple truth about prayer.  I hope you enjoy them and find them helpful.

The Possibilities of Prayer

One of the reasons that unanswered prayers can be so very frustrating is that the Scriptures are filled with such grand promises about what becomes available to us when we pray.

One of my favorite such passages is in Jeremiah 33:1-3:

While Jeremiah was still confined in the courtyard of the guard, the word of the LORD came to him a second time:  “This is what the LORD says, he who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it—the LORD is his name:  ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’” 

That’s an amazing promise!  Jeremiah is imprisoned because he has been proclaiming the prophetic words that God has given him – words of warning about the idolatry that the people of Israel were committing, and words about the impending judgment that was to occur to them.  Jeremiah’s message was refused time and time again, and he suffered greatly because of his faithfulness to the Lord and his willingness to proclaim the word of the Lord as it was revealed to him.  Against that backdrop, the Lord urges Jeremiah to call on Him, and promises not only to answer him, but to bless him with great revelations.

I know, I know.  That was a promise to Jeremiah in a specific historical context, not a general promise about prayer for everyone.

However, the New Testament makes it clear that all God’s promises are ours in Christ Jesus (see 2 Corinthians 1:18-22, for example) – so I have no problem claiming promises like that for myself, or for you.  After all, Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament requirements for us, and purchased all the blessings and benefits of that covenant for us.  We are now living under a better covenant, with better promises.  That’s good news!

So what exactly are the possibilities of prayer for you and for me?  If one promise from Jeremiah is for great and unsearchable revelatory riches, what other kinds of promises are there for us?  If ALL God’s promises are “yes” for you and I through Christ Jesus…well, what doesn’t ALL include???

Here’s another way to look at it:  if prayer is conversation with God, and God is infinite and unlimited in what He can do – then the possibilities of prayer are also infinite and unlimited.  In other words, if God can do anything, then He can do anything in response to prayer.  So the possibilities of prayer are endless!

The Apostle Paul expressed it this way – God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” – that’s in Ephesians 3:20 (NIV)!  I particularly like the way that The Message conveys this idea:  “God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!”

When you and I understand the possibilities of prayer, it begins to build our faith to ask God for greater and greater things.  And to be honest, we need greater and greater things – we live in a world that every day becomes more complex and challenging, in a nation that is more and more hostile towards any kind of morality or moral standards, and in a time that is more stressful and busy than any other time in history.  We are bombarded moment by moment with notifications, media, tweets, posts, causes, challenges, opportunities, (and even, God help us, YouTube videos of cats!)  As all of these things bear down on us and we try to deal with them, we need wisdom.  We need discernment.  We need provision.  We need protection.  Our children need wisdom, discernment, provision, and protection.  We need Jesus.  We need God’s Presence.

And through prayer, the possibilities available to us are infinite.

I don’t know about you, but with the issues that I’m dealing with in my life right now, that’s good news!  Prayer affords us an opportunity to access, through Jesus, far more than we could ever imagine or guess or request in our wildest dreams!  The possibilities are endless.  And in our next devotional, we will dive deeper into that truth – and into why, with such unlimited possibilities, prayers are still sometimes unanswered.

The Problem With Prayer

The Problem With Prayer This week, we will begin a series of messages on Powerful Prayer that will take us through the remainder of May plus June. Prayer is one of those spiritual activities that no follower of Jesus could even envision being against – after all, Jesus Himself both prayed often and commanded us to pray, and if He needed prayer, how much more do we! That in and of itself should demonstrate the importance of prayer, without even considering the multiple other passages describing and demonstrating prayer, the various examples and models of prayer found throughout the entire Bible, and Paul’s command in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 that we pray “continually” or “without ceasing”, depending on the translation that you prefer.


 But there’s a huge problem with prayer.

 It doesn’t always work.

 At least not in the way that we understand that things should work.

 When you consider that prayer is simply talking to God – sharing our concerns, our problems, our needs, and our requests with God – then it follows that, based on God’s character as a loving Father, our requests would be answered.  

 Our expectation of prayer is often this – we share with God our list of concerns and needs, and then trust Him to come through and fix the problems that are causing our concerns, and trust Him to meet our needs.

 The problem is that it doesn’t always work.

 There’s not a single person reading this sentence right now who hasn’t experienced the frustration of a prayer gone unanswered. Or even worse, having the exact opposite of what we’ve asked for come about.

 So there’s a problem with prayer.

The “Facebook Formula for Answered Prayer”:  Number of Likes x Number of Shares x Number of Prayer Chains Praying = Greatest Chance for Answered Prayer.

 Or maybe the problem isn’t with prayer – maybe the problem is with how we understand prayer.

 Although most of us wouldn’t admit it, the reality is that many of us American followers of Jesus think of prayer as the equivalent of a WalMart gum ball machine: you pop in quarter (pray), twist the knob (wait on God), and voila! Out pops the prize (answered prayer)!

 Sounds good, doesn’t it? And thinking of prayer in those terms leads us to other assumptions about prayer. For example, a simple equation like this: (My Prayer + Your Prayers) x Our Faith = Great Potential for Answered Prayer. Or how about this one (you could call this the “Facebook Formula for Answered Prayer): Number of Likes x Number of Shares x Number of Prayer Chains Praying = Greatest Chance for Answered Prayer.

 Yes, there is a problem with prayer. But the problem with prayer is not that it doesn’t work. I think that, perhaps, the problem with prayer is that we don’t truly understand the purpose of prayer, the way to pray, and even how prayer works. Instead, we’ve made some general assumptions about prayer (“the more people that pray for this situation, the better the chances that God will answer my prayer”) that, while they may sound logical or even good, are actually wrong, set us up for disappointment and “failure” in our prayer lives, and can even damage our relationship with God by portraying our Father in ways that are just not true.

 The problem with prayer isn’t God – He is a good and loving Father. 

 The problem with prayer isn’t prayer itself – prayer is communication with God. Prayer is a gift from God.

 The problem with prayer is us.

 The problem with prayer is our misunderstanding of prayer, and the wrong practices and expectations of prayer that result.

 This week, we’ll start by examining the incredible potential that God has placed within the practice of prayer.  

 May God reveal to us through His Word the truth about prayer. And may His Holy Spirit teach us to pray like Jesus prayed: with authority, confidence, and assurance of answered prayers.