(This is the gist of what I preached yesterday 1/1/23 in our church. Here is the link if you want to watch it on our church youtube site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hOzbOhfQtw).
If God were to answer our prayers and graciously and powerfully bring revival to His church on the Central Coast, according to our vision statement, what would that look like?
Well it would look like a lot of things, but one thing for sure is we would find ourselves giving lots more time and attention and focus and energy to knowing and loving and walking with God.
When the church drags itself along in its unrevived state, we have an amazing ability to know things but do little about them. We have a sobering ability actually…. to give little attention to things we should be giving great attention to.
Thankfully, I believe there is increased grace in these days to correct some of these patterns. And if there is anything we need to give more attention to in 2023 it is that of knowing and walking with and seeking our great God.
Most of you know that out of a growing sense of desperation, I moved to San Jose, CA from Knoxville, TN 4-5 months before my 20th Birthday. I had grown up in my parents’ church from infancy, but in many ways spiritually I was still an infant. God used many things in that first year in San Jose to slowly but surely help me climb out of spiritual infancy. One of those things was actually an encounter I had with God in His word, where He showed me what He had been after with me for all those first 20 years of life. I was sitting at the kitchen table in my apartment. And for the first time in my life I was trying to read through the book of Jeremiah. Nothing earth shattering really until I came to 9:23,24, wherein God says, “Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for I delight in these things,: declares the Lord.” The reality that God’s highest call on my life was for me to know and love and walk with Him had never been clearer and more real than it was that day.
How can you attend church gatherings fairly consistently for almost 20 years and not see that? Well I managed to, but that day in the dining room of my apartment, my eyes began to be opened to the wonderful truth - that the living God of the Universe wants me to know Him intimately. He desires my fellowship; and He longs to reveal more of Himself to me.
Jesus Christ in His longest recorded prayer in John 17 basically said that the essence of eternal life is to know God. Here are His words in a prayer to the Father, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Vs. 3
The apostle Paul also later in life discovered this reality. And it marked him for the rest of his earthly life. This is how he spoke of it: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,…” Philippians 3:7,8 Paul’s greatest passion and greatest pursuit until his last dying breath was to know Christ.
J.I. Packer, surely one of the greatest and godliest scholars of the last century in the Western world once said this about the high call and great privilege we believers have to know and walk with God, “What makes life worth while is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance: and this the Christian has, in a way that no other man has. For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?”
Perhaps you are here this morning and you have never really seen this before. Perhaps you are here and you know this truth, but honestly have not made it the priority in your life it needs to be. Who of us can honestly say that we on a daily basis love God with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole strength and our whole mind as Jesus has commanded us to do? Hopefully all of us here today aspire to that.
Assuming that that is the case, I want to share with you for a few moments the role having a daily quiet time has in getting to know God better and in learning to love Him more.
By a daily quiet time we mean a daily time you set aside wherein you intentionally seek God in His word and prayer. Other spiritual disciplines like worship, journaling, reading and praying through devotionals, praying and singing in the Spirit, etc., can be included in a daily quiet time. But our elders especially want to make sure that all of us are making some effort to at least spend some time with God in His word and prayer on a daily basis.
There are many models for this in scripture. David and Daniel in the Old Testament are two that have probably impacted me the most. Daniel as you may remember covenanted before God to pray three times a day, and nothing - even the threat of death could stop him from doing that. One of the reasons we believe David was called a man after God’s own heart is because he so passionately sought after God even though he had all the responsibilities of presiding as King over a kingdom. “Oh God, You are my God, I shall seek You early; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,…” was his increasing passion - Psalm 63:1
Our greatest model of course is Jesus Himself. Many passages speak to this. But the first two I want to touch on are prophetic portraits of Him that we find in the Old Testament. The first one I would like to bring to your attention is in Isaiah 50:4,5, wherein Jesus Himself is speaking. And what He gives us in this passage is insight into how His relationship with the Father formed and operated while He lived as a human on earth. “The Lord God has given Me the tongue of disciples, That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple. The Lord God has opened My ear; And I was not disobedient Nor did I turn back.” Several things we learn about knowing and walking with God from Jesus’s example here: First, God initiated the relationship. Through that daily relationship God gave Jesus the supernatural ability or anointing to speak life giving words to everyone He encountered; Second, God awoke Him morning by morning physically and spiritually. The Father was Jesu’s alarm clock! Third, Jesus responded in obedience to everything God the Father or the Holy Spirit spoke to Him.
The second prophetic portrait of the coming Messiah that I would like to touch on is Psalm 40:7,8, wherein Jesus testified, “Then I said, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.” Much of what Father and Holy Spirit revealed to Jesus in His earthly life came through His spiritual discipline of daily meditating on the Scriptures – referred to in this passage as “the book” and as “Your Law”.
We believe one of the primary reasons the Holy Spirit led Luke to speak of Jesus’s experience as a child of being left in Jerusalem in the temple in Luke chapter 2 is so we can all see how early He developed a thirst for truth - - truth that primarily comes through and from the scriptures by the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Vs. 46 & 47 of that chapter explain what Jesus gave Himself to in those three days it took for His parents to find Him, “Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” Had my parents left me somewhere when I was 12 for three days I can promise you they would not have found me in a church. But Jesus learned to respond in obedience and faith from day one as a child. He never gave into temptation. He never responded to the pull of the world and the lusts of the flesh. And His daily meditation in the Scriptures were a big part of that.
We could go on and talk about how Jesus quoted scripture to the devil from His meditations in Deuteronomy in those 40 days in the wilderness; or how He quoted from all over the Old Testament in His teachings and conversations with people in His earthly ministry.
But I want to briefly speak to His prayer life and then we need to talk about some of the mechanics of a daily quiet time for us. One of the things we have been learning in our World Changers and Giant Slayers classes over the last two months is that Jesus prayed early and Jesus prayed often. Even one time when Jesus stayed up all night ministering to people as we are told He did in Mark 1:32-34, Jesus still got up early as was His daily practice and sought time alone with Father and Holy Spirit the next morning. Listen to vs. 35, “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” Frankly I don’t know if He ever slept at all that night. We know He did not minister into the wee hours of the morning every night. But that night He did, and yet it did not keep Him from His coveted undistracted time with His God the next morning. If you want to learn more about the amazing gift early mornings with God were meant to be you might check out, (https://www.kingdomstreams.net/post/mornings-a-gift-from-god).
As to frequency, Luke said of Jesus in Luke 5:16, “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” What is interesting about this statement is that in the verse before we are told that “….large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses.” But that growing popularity and thrill of being so used of God and sought by the crowds never kept Him from seeking time alone with His Father.
The apostle John, who developed over time a level of intimacy with God that few others in human history ever have, said this about those of us who claim to be Jesus’s disciples and followers, “the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” I John 2:6
We, the leadership of The Well, are therefore asking each of you whom God has called to worship and walk and serve with us in 2023 to make a daily quiet time with the living God a higher priority than it has ever been before.
But in asking that, we are not unaware of the obstacles and challenges each of us will face in this endeavor. So I want to share a few words to help us all overcome these obstacles and challenges.
Perhaps the first one that should be mentioned is - - Our flesh will not take kindly to this initiative or endeavor. It never does! I first heard of the concept of having a daily quiet time somewhere in my high school years. I rarely if ever had one. When I moved to San Jose I immediately got involved with the Navigator ministry there and one of the big drums they were known to beat back then was having a daily quiet time. Curious as to how I responded to that drum beat, this last Wednesday I found my journals of that pivotal year for me and discovered entry after entry of frustrated failure in pulling off this spiritual discipline. Here’s an example from December 14, 1975, “Am frustrated because so undisciplined. …Haven’t prayed much. Very little scripture memory and review. Little Bible time.” What I did not understand then, but certainly do 47 years later is Our flesh does not seek God!
Psalm 14:2,3 speaks to this as does Romans 3:10,11 among other passages. Paul asserts, “…THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;” Jesus said to His sleeping disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, “The Spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41). The last thing your flesh, your sinful nature that you were born with, and that still lingers within you - - the last thing it wants to do is seek God.
I tell you this so you will not beat yourself up like I did in my journals for at least that first year in San Jose. If this was easy everyone would be doing it! But the good news is “where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more!” (Romans 5:20). God is the faithful initiator and builder and sustainer of His relationship with you, and His faithfulness is our hope, not our perfect obedience and discipline.
A second obstacle the Holy Spirit intends to help you overcome is your tendency to get distracted with lesser things, specifically knowledge of other things than the knowledge of God. The evil one desperately does not want you to know and seek God, so He has cleverly devised a world system, now greatly enhanced by the internet and cable TV and your smart or iphone that will constantly entice you to pursue the latest on Biden’s gaffes, or Trump’s boasts and tweets, or the FBI’s lack of partiality and integrity, or China’s corruption and iron fist, or whatever the latest buzz is in the sports world or Hollywood or perhaps just whatever is going on in your own neighborhood or community. Thomas a Kempis addressed this problem centuries ago in his book, The Imitation of Christ. He exhorted, “Curb all desire for knowledge, for in it you will find many distractions and much delusion. Those who are learned strive to give the appearance of being wise and desire to be recognized as such; but there is much knowledge that is of little or no benefit to the soul.” Once I got in touch with how much I had allowed myself to get distracted by all of this, I wrote a blog article called, “Dying to know”, (https://www.kingdomstreams.net/post/dying-to-know) which addresses this destructive fleshly curiosity we all have - to know what we don’t really need to know. King Solomon put it this way, “in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.” Eccl. 1:18 So we want to encourage you to begin to fast in the early mornings from whatever sources and mediums of unnecessary knowledge you tend to consult so that you can pursue the knowledge and intimacy that really counts – that is the knowledge of God and intimacy with Him.
A third obstacle I’ve had to learn to overcome in the pursuit of God is other Christians. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had hopefully well meaning Christians try to talk me out of being zealous for time with God especially in the early mornings. Please… if someone ever has the courage to confess to you their desire to seek God more and overcome their sloth in doing so, do not try to comfort them with religious phrases like, “Oh don’t be so hard on yourself.” or “All of life is devotional. Don’t sweat so much about morning devotions.” or “We can pray all the time, any time, anywhere. Don’t sweat missing your quiet time in the morning.” or “Don’t be so religious! You just need to respond to the Holy Spirit.” or “Grace, grace. He understands. He knows you are busy.” John Wimber used to call such responses unsanctified mercy.
How we should respond is, “Hey Randy, I appreciate your sharing this with me. Sounds like the Holy Spirit is stirring a deep desire within you. I will certainly pray for you to be able to develop this much needed spiritual discipline in your life.”
Well these are a few obstacles to having daily meaningful times with God. Are there any benefits to fighting these battles? Ah….great question! Here is a sampling of some of the benefits I have experienced over the years as the Holy Spirit has helped me develop this habit:
- Security & a sense of well being - - “But he who listens to me shall live securely, And will be at ease from the dread of evil.” Proverbs 1:33
- Peace, “Those who love Your law have great peace, And nothing causes them to stumble.” Psalm 119:65
- Cleansing/Purity – “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” Psalm 119:9
- Faith – “So then faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17
- Direction/guidance – “Your word is a lamp unto my feet And a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105 “As the Body of Christ drinks deeply of the Word of God, revelation will flow to show the directions we need to take in our lives. A cursory knowledge of scripture, of the milk of the Word, will simply not be enough to release you into what God wants to show you.” Cindy Jacobs - - Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders - - Word of the Lord for 2023
- Victory over sin – “Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11
OK. Before I close I want to point you in the direction of the table before me/in the foyer.
Someone once said, “Most people don’t plan to fail. They just fail to plan.” Another said, “If you aim at nothing you are sure to hit it.” So we have provided some resources on this table for you to consider using in your daily Bible readings. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4). These plans will help you give more attention to each of God’s words over the next year. If you already have a plan, praise God! Finally if you get a chance you might check out “My journey with daily quiet times” on kingdomstreams.net