2 Corinthians 12: 7-10
A few weeks ago, we talked about what distinguishes Christianity from every other religion – the fact that we worship a Triune God. The god of Islam, Allah, is not a three-person god, and Hindus worship 3 million gods. We worship one God, who has revealed Himself in three persons. This is a distinguishing trait of the Christian religion.
Another distinguishing trait, perhaps the second biggest difference from other religions, is grace. This is a key word to understand God’s Word, the Scripture. John Newton wrote, “Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.” We owe everything to grace. Our salvation starts with grace and ends with grace. It is never dependent on us. We have some involvement, obligations and responsibility but our salvation is all of grace. We are elected in grace, justified in grace, sanctified in grace, we persevere in grace, and will be glorified in grace.
It is grace from beginning to end. We need strengthening grace, enlightening grace – on and on. The good news is that God’s grace is infinite and sufficient. Think of how much grace God has poured into your life every day. We don’t have to worry that we are going to exhaust God’s grace. Think of the millions of Christians over centuries of time to whom God has shown grace. Has God every been exhausted? Has He ever said, “I don’t have enough grace for you”? No, He has infinite grace and sufficient grace.
We need grace to face our trials and difficulties. When Paul talks about grace in 2 Corinthians 12, it is against the backdrop of a severe trial. He describes it figuratively as a “thorn in the flesh”. There are may images of suffering in the Bible: fire, the valley, and a thorn. Perhaps he uses the thorn because of the trial’s longevity. Fire might refer to a quick, intense trial. This trial of Paul’s is obviously very severe. He says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me” (v 8). It doesn’t seem the Lord removed it, at least not in the short term. Paul could have gone to his grave with this thorn in his flesh.
We don’t know what exactly this thorn was, but God did not remove it. He tells us why in verse 7. It wasn’t because he was proud, but to keep him from becoming proud. We can all struggle with pride, self-sufficiency, self-reliance. We think we can handle situations on our own; we think we have all the answers. God will put thorns into our lives, perhaps quite regularly, to remind us we don’t have all the answers and keep us from arrogance. They keep us humble, depending on Him.
God doesn’t want us to go through life thinking we are strong. He wants us to realize how weak we are, how much we need Him. The trials of life are used to teach us how weak we are, to deliver us from the delusion of strength. Paul even celebrated his weakness; he gloried in it. Have you ever celebrated your weakness on a resume? We focus on how good and strong and wise we are.
Paul tells us why he boasted in his weakness. Verse 9, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” He boasted in his weakness because it gave him the opportunity to glorify his Savior. Trials give us the opportunity to put Christ on display – His grace, His goodness, His wisdom, His power. Newton said, “Grace has brought us safe this far and grace will lead us home.”
We can certainly say that Christianity is like no other religion. To prove this, we can start with God Himself. Any of His attributes show that our God is incomparable. If someone from another religious background were to visit our church, what difference would stand out to them more than anything else? Perhaps the doctrine of the Trinity. We worship a Triune God: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.
When we pray, we pray to all three Persons. Dr. John Stott, each morning would begin his day by worshiping the Triune God. He would begin, “Heavenly Father, I worship you as the creator and sustainer of the universe. Lord Jesus, I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world. Holy Spirit, I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God. Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more. Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you. Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me. Amen.”
Can we justify biblically praying to each Person of the Godhead individually? Arguing that we pray to the Father is easy. We can go to the Sermon on the Mount, to the Lord’s Prayer. Matthew 6: 9, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name.” What about the Son? We could go to Hebrews 4: 14- 15, “Since then we have a great high priest, Jesus the Son of God”. He is our Mediator, able to sympathize with our weakness. Also, in John 14:13, “Whatever you ask in My Name, this I will do.”
Even if we do not pray to the Son directly, our prayers are to be marked by Trinitarian flavoring. We pray in Christ’s Name. This is a blood-bought privilege. What about the Holy Spirit? Does the Bible ever speak of talking directly to the Holy Spirit? John Piper says, “If I grieve the Holy Spirit, I should probably talk to Him and find out how I grieved Him.” We could use Ephesians 6:18 to speak of praying to the Holy Spirit. “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” We can’t ignore the Spirit when praying. Also, Romans 8: 15 & 26-27, Paul makes it obvious that we need the help of the Holy Spirit. “But you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by Whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” As well, Jude 1: 20, “But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit.” We certainly cannot pray without the Holy Spirit.
So, our prayers should be flavored with the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. This is what separates our prayers from the prayers of the Hindu or Muslim or other false religions.
As we read this psalm, we sense that David is facing distress. In verse 1, he recalls his past distresses, and he seeks relief. Looking over this entire psalm, it appears this distress is very intense. It is causing him to even deal with anger. Verse 4, “Be angry, and do not sin”. Starting this psalm, David is in an emotional state of distress and anger.
But look at how he ends it. David is able to turn from distress and anger to joy and peace. He says, “You have put more joy in my heart,” (v 7) and “in peace I will both lie down and sleep” (v 8). I am sure many of us have experienced this kind of distress. At times it is so troubling we cannot sleep at night, we are anguished over something that is on our heart or mind. It may cause us to even be angry, asking ‘why is this happening?’ This is what David is facing.
At times like this, what do we do? Who do we turn to for help, for comfort? Where do we go to find peace and security? In the world, people face this all the time. They may ask the question David raises in verse 6, “Who will show us some good?”
Thankfully, David knows Who to focus upon. David turns his focus to the Lord. He says, “Lift up the light of Your face upon us, O Lord!” (v 6) David knows to look to God during these distressing times. Back in verse 1, we see that as David looks to the Lord, he prays. He says, “Answer me when I call… Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!”
What gives David the confidence to pray to God? We see in verse 1 that it is because of God’s past mercy: “You have given me relief when I was in distress.” He is confident that God is faithful. He has given him relief in the past. Because of that, he knows that he can come to God in prayer and God will give him relief now.
David also recognizes that God is gracious. Verse 1, “Be gracious to me”. It isn’t because of something good in David that God will answer his prayer, but because God is a gracious God. He shows His grace by hearing and answering David’s prayers. These are some of the reasons David has confidence that he can come to God.
We also see in this psalm that David does not let his emotions rule him. So often when we are in distress emotions grip us, beginning to rule over us, and we stop thinking. David says in verse 3, “But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for Himself.” He’s thinking; he’s bringing to mind God’s truth. He knows God is sovereign, that God has elected him. He know she is one of God’s children. Knowing this, he knows God will hear him when he calls to Him.
We see that in battling these emotions David focuses his mind on truth. In verse 4 he says, “ponder in your own hearts” - stop and think - “and be silent.” As we lie awake, we wait on God. We can think to ourselves, ‘God has brought this into my life. Why? What is He trying to teach me? Is there perhaps some sin in my heart that needs to be dealt with?’ Perhaps self-reliance and pride. Perhaps I am relying on myself to solve my problems.
This self-evaluation brings David to the main point in verse 5. “Offer right sacrifices and put your trust in the Lord.” He needs to turn his focus from his own situation. He needs to offer right sacrifices, to worship God with a contrite and humble heart. Then what? “Put your trust in the Lord.” This applies to us. Don’t be looking to man for help, to yourself or your own resources – whatever power or wealth you might have. Instead, look to the Lord and put your trust in Him.
The result will be that God puts more joy in your heart (v 7). The circumstances may not change, but you will be able to shift from focusing on the distress, from the emotion of anger to a feeling of joy because of your standing with God. More joy given than when grain and wine abound (v 7). The wealthy may have more means, more stuff. But the righteous have more joy, because of who we are in Christ, because we trust God to hear and answer our prayers.
So, David can end his psalm, “in peace I will both lie down and sleep (v 8).” During those distressing times, cry out to the Lord and put your trust in Him. Rely on Him and He will give us peace. We see that “You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety (v 8).”
Mark 10: 46-52
Dr. Stott has suggested that perhaps the most neglected ingredient in Christian discipleship is the cultivation of hearing, or the listening ear. He says, “Bad listeners do not make good disciples.” The Lord used to say, “He who has ears, let him hear.” He even had a parable about listening, the parable of the sower. Really there is only one person who hears. At the back end of the parable, we meet the good-ground hearer.
If you and I are going to be good disciples, to grow, we will need to make good use of our ears. To a large degree our sanctification depends on how well we hear. Our usefulness and fruitfulness depend on how well we hear. This is the difference between Mary of Bethany, who anoints the Lord’s body, and the other disciples who didn’t have a clue. So, we need to remind ourselves of the duty to listen and cultivate those graces that help us to listen. For example, how attentive are we to the sermon?
When we come to a prayer meeting, we don’t focus on our ears, but on God’s ears. God doesn’t have literal, physical ears. Remember the children’s catechism answer: “God is a spirit and doesn’t have a body like men.” We understand “he hears” to be an anthropomorphic reference. There are over a hundred references in the Bible to God’s ears. The Psalms are full of these. Psalm 5: 1, “Give ear to my words, O Lord.” Psalm 17: 1, “Attend to my cry. Give ear to my prayer.” Psalm 31:2, “Incline Your ear to me.” If you compared your listening habits and skills to God’s, how would you compare. From 1 to 10, what rating would you give yourself? A 3 or 4, maybe? What about God? He gets a 10. He’s a perfect listener. He has the best ears in the world. He never misses a sigh, a groan or a cry. He sees everything and He hears everything.
Jesus displays not only His omniscience here in Mark 10 with blind Bartimaeus, but also His ability to hear. You can imagine the cacophony of noise as they go up to Jerusalem for the Passover. It would have been like sitting in a football stadium with fifty thousand fans cheering. The noise is deafening. In the midst of all this, there is a blind beggar, Bartimaeus, crying out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” You really have to wonder how anyone could hear him amidst the crowd. Remember Jesus is heading towards the cross. If there was ever a time in Jesus’ life when He was so absorbed with what was on His mind and heart that He couldn’t focus on anything else, this is it. We could also ask the question of Bartimaeus, who does he think he is? He’s a blind beggar.
What is so amazing is that Jesus hears his cry. One man’s cry stops Jesus in His tracks; the cry of a beggar. Why would Jesus listen to this beggar? What motivates Him? Compassion. This is what makes Jesus such a keen listener, hearing those who cry to Him in need. His senses were on red alert all the time. Here is a comfort for us. We are beggars – the first Beatitude says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” These are beggarly words. This is a good way to think of ourselves when we come to pray. I am a poor, needy beggar. It is part of our identity. Even more important, giving us encouragement, is that we are His children. From Romans 8, “Abba Father.” We are poor beggars, needy sinners but also His children.
Matthew 6: 25-34
When we think of the greatest dangers to prayer, we may think of the Devil or the world, which is no friend to grace, but the greatest challenge is our own sin. What are some sins that keep us from praying? Certainly, laziness could be on the list. Taking our cue from the Sermon on the Mount, what two sins does Jesus focus on when it comes to spiritual exercises such as fasting, praying and giving? Hypocrisy and worry. How are those two alike? Both sins are very self-focused.
When Jesus deals with hypocrisy, what does he point out? That the hypocrite loves the eyes of men, he loves attention. The hypocrite wants applause. This is why Jesus focuses on closet prayer as opposed to public prayer. People can often pray publicly, but they don’t pray privately because they want the attention. In private prayer you don’t have the eyes of men, only the eyes of God.
The second sin Jesus focuses on is worry. The two sins are not exactly alike, but they do have this in common: they focus on self. Worry pulls our thoughts away from God. Worry is often an attempt to solve our own problems. We often worry over things we cannot control. “Martha, Martha you are worried about many things.” Instead of sitting at the feet of Jesus, she was in the kitchen chewed up with worry.
How do we fight these two sins? We could come up with many answers how to mortify our flesh, but we are going to use the Sermon on the Mount as our guide. What is the one word Jesus gives us to deal with the sin of hypocrisy and anxiety? The word Father; the Fatherhood of God. Regarding anxiety (v25-34), Jesus reminds us of the Father’s providential care and love. He makes a comparison arguing from the lesser to the greater. If God takes care of the lilies and the birds, then, surely, He will take care of you. Aren’t you more precious than the lilies of the field? You are a child of God. He’s arguing from the Fatherhood of God.
Then Jesus goes on in chapter 7: 7-11 describing how a father loves to give good gifts to his children. Here’s another comparison. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” So, when dealing with anxiety and worry, the key is your relationship with God your Father.
When dealing with hypocrisy, Jesus again brings up the Father. Your Father sees in secret, He knows, and He will reward you. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones underscores the importance of praying to our Father. He says, “Strange as it might seem to start praying begins by saying nothing. If you want any contact with God, if you want to feel His everlasting arms around you, put your hand upon your mouth for a moment. Be still and know that I am God. Be still and think of your Father. Remind yourself of who He is and what He has done for you.” The very word father points to intimacy; He is our Father.
Someone has said, “The elephant in the church today is that most Christians worry.” But no one wants to admit he worries. Most of us struggle with worry, in one form or another. It shows itself in our lives. Someone once said, “The hardest instruction in the world is: Do not worry.” So, how do we fight worry? Perhaps the best strategy is to contemplate the Fatherhood of God. When we are tempted to worry, we need to remind ourselves who God is. He is our Father, committed to our care.