Tuesday, November 28, 2017

How to really build yourself up

Here are thoughts from my time with God today. To see how I approach this "quiet time," see here.
Look: “But you, my friends, keep on building yourselves up on your most sacred faith. Pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and keep yourselves in the love of God, as you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy to give you eternal life.” (Jude 20-21, Good News Translation)

It seems that Jude, the brother of James, had wanted to talk about the Gospel alone as he wrote to his correspondents. But false teachers had arisen among the Christians in the community where the recipients of this letter lived. Jude felt the need to warn them to stay away from their false and sinful teaching (v.3).

Here, Jude talks about what needs to happen as we wait to see Jesus. Jude had in mind the return of Jesus, seeming to assume that it would happen in his and his first readers’ lifetimes. But, of course, we all are going to meet Jesus when He returns to the world, whether we’ve been long dead or are still living on earth when it happens..

So, the question Jude answers is how are we supposed to live our lives until we meet Jesus?

Listen: First, Jude says, we need to build ourselves up in the faith.

This has several elements, I think. One is that we need to read and become conversant in God’s Word. From experience I know that there have been many times when I would have best avoided sin and saved myself a lot of heartaches if I had kept reading God’s Word, instead of following my own evil desires (v.16). A lot of times, we don’t even recognize our desires as evil; they seem so beautiful and unobjectionable. That makes us just like Eve when she wrestled with the serpent’s sales job (temptations) regarding the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom…” (Genesis 3:6)

Our brains get muddled by our evil desires, which is why we need to steep ourselves in God’s Word. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Another way we build up our faith is by living in vital, accountable connection with the Church. Our faith will die without a connection to the Church, Christ’s body. This is why the preacher in Hebrews says. “...let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Our faith is also built up when we regularly receive the body and blood of Jesus, the Word imparted in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion. In this sacrament, Jesus promises to meet us, to forgive us our sins, and to to give us His very good and perfect life. In it, we are “remembered” to Jesus in the company of the congregation in which we receive it and in company with all the saints of every time and every place, in eternity and on earth.

Second, Jude says, we need to “pray in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

I’m convinced that most of the “praying” I’ve done and, sadly, still do, is offered in the power of my spirit instead of the power of the Holy Spirit. By that I mean that I try to tell God exactly how He should answer my prayers. Or, I pray, all the while scheming out how I would or will answer the prayer. When I’ve done these things, I likely haven’t been praying at all.

To pray by the power of the Holy Spirit is to pray with complete submission, an acknowledgement my powerlessness and that God knows best how to address whatever it is that I bring to Him. You say, “Your will be done” and mean it.

Ole Hallesby teaches about prayer in his book, Prayer. Authentic prayer is composed of two elements: faith and helplessness.

If I’m not helpless when I pray, then I’m getting in the way of God working. I harbor the secret belief that I know what’s best and God is only a backup insurance policy.

But I must own my weakness and let God’s strength take over: “...when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Paul describes praying in the power of the Holy Spirit: “...the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)

These are the two ways we can prepare to meet Jesus identified by Jude: (1) Growing in our faith; (2) Praying in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Respond: Lord, I try to do too much, think too much, be too much in my own power. I try to think my way through, feel my way through. All of this is the wrong path to my meeting with Jesus. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12, English Standard Version). “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure...” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Help me to be ready to meet you each day (Matthew 25:31-36) and at the judgment by growing in faith and praying--humbly, openly, submissively--in the power of Your Holy Spirit and not in my own mortal, sinful power.

Today, help me to accept Your will.

In Jesus’ name. Amen
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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