Where does his strength come from? We might wonder this about Jesus as we study His encounters with the Pharisees in chapters five and six of the Gospel of Luke. In these chapters, the Pharisees try to pin down Jesus with argument after argument. First they challenge Jesus for eating with sinners and tax collectors (Luke 5:30). Then they question Him about what they perceive to be His and His disciples’ lack of spiritual discipline (5:33). Next they criticize Him for working on the Sabbath, first by plucking grains (6:2) and then by healing a sick man (6:11). It’s one battle after another. Even though Jesus wins these battles, we are left wondering, “What is He going to do the next time? How long can He keep going?”

How long can He keep it up? Just as Jesus was fully God, He was “fully human in every way” (Hebrews 2:17). Jesus “suffered when He was tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). And so if Jesus suffered in the experience of temptation, as He was tempted by the devil on the mountaintop (Luke 4:1-13), then He also must have felt beaten down and fatigued at times by the relentless opposition He received from the Pharisees and others who opposed God’s message. “You unbelieving and perverse generation. How long shall I stay with you?” (Matthew 17:17). Jesus spoke these words as yet again someone didn’t believe in the power of God. Jesus did get tired and weary in His labor for God. 

How did He do it? How did He keep going? Where did His strength come from? After the repeated jabs and punches from the Pharisees as outlined above, we read this:  “And it came to pass, in those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12). Yes, He may have been weary, but Jesus did not give up hope. To get the strength He needed — to be replenished — He turned to His Father in prayer. It had been several rounds in the ring with the Pharisees, and so to get His strength back, Jesus spent several rounds in prayer with the Lord. After His time in prayer, Jesus came back refreshed and refilled to serve God. He started by naming the twelve disciples (6:12-16) and then by preaching a sermon in which, among other things, He encouraged the disciples to take heart when they are being persecuted, because great is their reward in heaven (6:23). 

We see how not just here but in other instances, prayer is Jesus’ go-to for a recharge. He spends an evening healing a village of people; the next morning where is He? — in prayer (Mark 1:35). After feeding the five thousand, Jesus dismisses the crowd, and what happens next? He goes “on a mountainside by Himself to pray” (Matt. 14:23). Just before He goes to the cross, where does He go? He goes out “as usual to the Mount of Olives.” To do what? To pray (Luke 22:39). 

It’s at the Mount of Olives that Jesus reveals a secret about prayer. He says to the disciples:  “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). There are very real pressures of fatigue and weariness that will come and that will tempt us to give-in and give-up. But those things are a signal to us that we need prayer more than ever. Prayer is the antidote. 

It is during Jesus’ prayer that an angel comes to give Him strength (Luke 22:43). God ministers to us through the time we spend with Him in prayer, giving us answers, strength, direction, help, and deliverance. 

Sometimes we get to the end of the day or the end of the week and say, “I just need to decompress.” “I need to lie down.” “I need to watch some TV.” All of that is OK. We need to stop sometimes and separate from our stress. But to really make it through, to really keep on going, to truly be restored, we need something more:  we need time with God. We need time in prayer. 

This month, do not forsake Jesus’ invitation to you come away with Him and pray. In prayer, He will restore you, help you, and give you the strength you need. Amen. 



Lord Teach Us How To Pray

In Luke 11:1-13 the word of God says, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:” “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses; as we forgive those who have trespassed against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil…” For Thine is the kingdom and power and glory forever and ever amen. 

Notice, the disciples didn’t say, “Lord teach us to preach.” The also didn’t say, “Lord teach us to lead.” Nor did the disciple say to Jesus, “Lord, teach to heal.” Rather, of all that that they could have asked Jesus to teach them, they ask Him to teach them how to pray. They must have noticed that there is power in praying. Jesus, whom they witness exhibiting the power of God to heal, cast out demons, bring the dead to life, is the same Jesus they witness spending quality time in prayer to the Father. 

Notice also that they mentioned John The Baptist as having taught his disciples how to pray. They would have known and believed that John the Baptist was a prophet send from God, equipped by God, and in the model of one of Israel’s greatest prophets, Elijah. So here they are witnessing two people who are filled with the power of God, and they notice that their power came through prayer. “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” 

When we pray, our Heavenly Father changes our perspectives, our attitude, our resolve, our vision, our heart, and our hearing. Every one of our senses are altered. Hence the reason why, when we commit things to prayer we are able to better discern what we are to do, we are able to love even the person who slaps us on one cheek, we are equipped with wisdom to know when to be still and silent versus when to move and speak. Prayer also releases us from the burden of sin and the weight of the various trials in life that we are experiencing. 

It’s not that the disciples didn’t know how to pray. In fact they grew up in a praying society. Jewish worship and rituals consist of a lavish prayer life. They were constantly praying. Even today, if you travel to New York City and have have the privilege of being on the subway with an Orthodox Jew, you will see his or her torah (bible) open and in hand and see him or her moving in forward and backward, praying through the Psalms. 

However, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray because they recognize that they did not know how to pray with the kind of authority with which Jesus and John the Baptist prayed. When Jesus and John the Baptist prayed, everything changed and that’s how the disciples wanted pray. They wanted to pray by the authority of God the Father in Jesus Christ, and NOT by the authority of their flesh and earthly wisdom. Notice the difference? 
Ask the Lord to teach you how to pray and what to pray about concerning anything that you are going through. Don’t just pray, but pray according to the authority of our Heavenly Father, whose name is Holy (Hallowed). Amen.



Pray Before You Act

What am I going to do? How am I going to afford this? What if I don’t say something soon? Will there be anything left? Why does he always do this to me? I wish she would feel the way I feel.

Questions and thoughts like these often plague us, and they function as symptoms of the emotions of anxiety or anger that we feel from time to time. In the heat of the moment, we often end up feeding into these emotions and acting in ways God does not intend for us to act. Driven by the emotion of fear, we act too quickly or in a way that may feel good for the moment but in the end will make the situation worse. Driven by the emotion of anger, we lash out at another person with condemning words rather than constructive words. These are the real life consequences of acting out of the flesh and not the Spirit of God.

While sometimes God might use His Holy Spirit to move us to give an immediate response in a situation — which is different than our flesh-driven responses mentioned above — more often than not, God instructs us to first bring our flesh under submission to Him before we take any action. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 we read this instruction: “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” What does this mean? It means that whenever we are thinking something, before we hang our hat on it, we ask God, “Is this true?” Perhaps a friend or a spouse hurts our feelings, and in our mind we start to think, “He never hears me” or “She always does this.” Before we write off on this conclusion, God wants us to invite Him into our mind and ask— “Is that true? Does he really never, or are there instances when he has been thoughtful or considerate or kind?” Often, what our feelings want us to think is not true. The person acting inconsiderately may be doing so for the moment, but this behavior is not indicative of his or her character as a whole.

Or maybe it’s a decision as to whether or not to act in a given situation. Abraham and Sarah faced this dilemma. God had promised them a child, but as time wore on and the child didn’t come, they began to wonder if they should do something. With no success in bearing the child on her own, Sarah is at the end of her rope, and so she suggests to Abraham to have a child with her slave, Hagar. “Perhaps I can build a family through her,” Sarah says (Genesis 16:2). Abraham does as his wife suggests. Hagar does have a child by Abraham, but this child leads to jealousy between Sarah and her slave and a whole host of problems and pain that follow. God had a plan for Abraham and Sarah, and He eventually fulfilled it, but the couple struggled to wait and pray for God to unfold the plan in His ideal way.

When we’re pressured, when we’re afraid, when we’re angry, often we want to act, but God means to draw us into conversation with Him in prayer. This can feel incredibly inefficient.

Incredibly counter-intuitive. Incredibly distressing to us, we who are without patience. But did we ever think that through prayer, God might give us patience? That through prayer God might give us strength or wisdom or peace? We can be assured that the result of prayer is in fact peace, as we’re told: “Donotbeanxiousaboutanything,butineverysituation,byprayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace that transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7).

We can also be assured that through prayer God can in fact give us strength. Jesus prayed in deep anguish in Gethsemane, distressed to the point of sweating blood, but God, His helper, came to meet Him: “An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him” (Luke 22:43).

It is through prayer that we are given direction, that we are given hope, strength, patience, goodness, gentleness, self control. Prayer is how we are able to have fellowship with God and receive the gifts His Spirit imparts to us. Let us not forsake it! Let us wait upon the Lord in prayer and renew our strength.



Christian Fasting – What Does The Bible Say?

The Bible presents fasting as something that is good, profitable, and beneficial. The book of Acts records believers fasting before they made important decisions. In Acts 13:2 and 14:23, the Apostle Paul prayed and fasted with fellow believers.  It was through this period of fasting that the Apostle Paul knew with certainty what the will of the Lord was concerning his call and where he was to go next to spread the gospel. In fact, in verse four of Acts 13, the Scripture was clear in saying, “so, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went …” They knew the certain will of God, in this circumstance, only through prayer and fasting, so much so that the Scripture didn’t say they went where they wanted. Rather, they were sent by the Holy Spirit. 

In today’s age, we are often told that we cannot know the will of God, we cannot truly know what God says of things. This is absolutely false. While this is whole other subject matter, it goes without saying that fasting is one means by which the Bible is clear we can come to know exactly what the Lord’s will is for our call and direction. 

Fasting and prayer are often linked together as found in Luke 2:37 and Luke 5:33. Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. While this is a component of the spiritual discipline of fasting, fasting looses its vital significance when we place it in the context of the following statement, “what are you giving up for Lent?” 

Fasting, is not a spiritual discipline when one simple gives up something or a particular food if is not accompanied by a heart desire to want to draw near to God. Furthermore fasting must also be accompanied by intentional prayer and reading of the word of God during the time allotted for any fast. Throughout Scripture, in every context where fasting is mentioned, it is always followed up with deliberate mention of prayer or a visual description of the act of prayer the person or persons are engaged in. They didn’t just give something up for selfish reasons and went on a head with their daily routine without even given Christ a second thought throughout the day. 

Brothers and Sisters, the purpose of fasting should be to take your eyes off the things of this world to focus completely on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God, and to ourselves, that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Fasting helps us gain a new perspective and a renewed reliance upon God. When taken together, the Scripture points to fasting as meaning, “to bring our flesh under the authority and discipline of God.” 

Although fasting in Scripture is almost always a fasting from food, there are other ways to fast. Anything given up temporarily in order to focus all our attention on God can be considered a fast as found in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5. You may fast from the food or things which you feel are a hindrance to your intimacy with Christ. In other words, maybe you have been using television as a way to feel better, pass the time, or feel motivated. In this scenario, you are using television to do for you temporarily what God can do for you permanently when you bring your needs, thoughts, and desires under His authority through prayer. Fasting from television for a period of time will help you shift your dependency on television to dependency on Jesus Christ. 

Fasting from something doesn’t necessarily mean that that thing is bad, this is not the case at all. Rather, fasting from something, food or otherwise, is to develop spiritual disciplines that will deepen our relationship with Christ, God said, “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Fasting from food, helps us to draw closer to God and be reminded that the true sustenance for our souls isn’t from earthly food but heavenly food, the word of God. This passage also reminds us that fasting from food or things or activities isn’t the Biblical understanding of fasting if we don’t spend quality time in prayer and the study of the Word which comes forth from the mouth of God.

Also, it is important to know that whether in the Bible or in a secular dictionary, fasting isn’t choosing to do more “good deeds,” or “doing charitable work,” or “taking on something extra.” No matter how wonderful and well meaning a gesture, extra good deeds will not achieve the same spiritual goals, discipline, and intimacy with God. Fasting is requires the refraining from, or giving up the pleasure of, a food or thing. 

In summation, fasting should be limited to a set time, especially when fasting from food. Extended periods of time without eating can be harmful to the body. Fasting is not intended to punish the flesh, but to redirect attention to God. Fasting should not be considered a “dieting method” either. The purpose of a Biblical fast is not to lose weight, but rather to gain deeper fellowship with God. Anyone can fast, but some may not be able to fast from food (diabetics, for example). Everyone can temporarily give up something in order to draw closer to God. 

By taking our eyes off the things of this world, we can more successfully turn our attention to Christ. Fasting is not a way to get God to do what we want. Fasting changes us, not God. Fasting is not a way to appear more spiritual than others. Fasting is to be done in a spirit of humility and a joyful attitude.

Matthew 6:16-18 declares, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”



Journeying With Jesus Into the Wilderness

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1)

The Gospel accounts according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke all contain some form of the verse above that describes a period of Jesus life just before He began His public ministry when He   spent a time in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. Jesus went through this time alone, and so unlike other parts of the Gospels which could have been recorded via first hand observation by the disciples, the only way for the Gospel writers to have known about Jesus’ experience in the wilderness was for Jesus to have told them about it. The fact that three of the four Gospels all include this story means it must have made an impact on the writers of these Gospels, and I imagine the experience also left an impact on Jesus, the one telling the story. 

“The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness.” Not many of us walk willingly into a difficult situation in life. We don’t willingly ask God to make us struggle financially, or to take away our comforts, or to take away our friends. For some reason, however, the Spirit propelled Jesus into this experience of being alone, of not having all those things. We might wonder why.

As Jesus spent at least 40 days in this barren place, the devil assaulted Him with temptations. Realizing Jesus was hungry, the devil tempted Jesus to give up His reliance on God and provide food for Himself. But Jesus countered:  “It is written:  ‘Man shall not live on bread alone’” (Luke 4:4). Even if Jesus were to make food for Himself, that wouldn’t be enough. Jesus knew He needed God.

Then the devil tempts Jesus with the rewards of this world, perhaps as a way to shortcut the path of suffering the Lord was planning for Him. But again, Jesus counters by leaning on God’s command that says we are to serve God only. The devil says in a sense, “Why suffer?” But Jesus’ determination is to hold true to God by believing, “Because God said so, and so I’m going to obey Him.”

Last, the devil tempts Jesus to doubt the care of God. “If you are really the Son of God, then throw yourself down from here” (Luke 4:9). By asking the question, the devil is really begging another question:  “If you do this, do you really think that God will catch you?” But Jesus didn’t give in to doubting God. He didn’t feel a need to test God in order to see if God’s promises to provide would come true. Jesus instead trusted God at His word. 

Why did the Spirit propel Jesus into the wilderness? We can’t be sure; only God truly knows. But we can observe that this experience provided a means for Jesus to grow closer to His Father in the way He might not have otherwise if Jesus were left to His own. Taking everything away gave the devil the tools he needed — hunger, desire, longing — but it also gave God the opportunity to satisfy each of those needs as well. Each time the devil tempted Jesus, Jesus was given a choice:  to choose God or to choose the devil. And each time Jesus chose God, God was given the chance to build on His relationship with His Son and to show Himself faithful. In the end of it all, we read that Jesus wasn’t left alone to continue hungering and thirsting, but that he was tended to by angels (Matthew 4:11). God didn’t leave Jesus alone, but gave Him everything He needed. 

Sometimes it is through the hard times that we learn to develop a real relationship with the Lord, that we learn how to trust Him, that we learn to talk to Him, and we learn to love and lean on Him as we would a real person in our lives.

If you are in the wilderness right now, we encourage you to press in closer to the Lord and not give up. God may not be the reason you are going through your experience, but He sure won’t waste the experience. As we seek Him, the Lord will see to it that we lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10).

Join us Wednesday nights this Lent season as we further explore the theme of the “Wilderness Experience” during our midweek Lenten worship series at Schoeneck (dinner at 6:00 p.m., worship at 7:00 p.m.)

God bless you,

Pastors Garritt and Sanette