If you had to name the pinnacle of Jesus’ teaching, what would you say it is? We gain some insight from His final night with His disciples before going to the cross. He had only a few hours left with His closest friends, so He concentrated all that He’d taught them into one word: love. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
When we talk about love in the Church—in fact, when we read this verse—our minds go in gentle directions. We think of kindness, generosity, being good to others, and, indeed, the New Testament says a lot about this kind of love. It uses the phrase “one another” about fifty times, with commands to treat each other with patience, encouragement, generosity. The book of Ephesians uses the word “together” often, emphasizing Christ’s great command to love in community.
The disciples would have no problem with this command; in fact, they probably thought they were already pretty good at it. They had just spent three years in full-time ministry with their Master, learning how to do what He taught them.
But in this scene, Jesus speaks of love in a very different context. It becomes clear in His next sentence: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Now that’s a serious kind of love. I picture the disciples looking at each other wondering, “Would I die for this guy next to me? Sometimes he really irritates me.” Maybe they didn’t love each other as well as they thought they did.
My point is that when Jesus commands us to love as He loves, it’s no light thing. It isn’t some romanticized idea based on feelings or ideals. What He commands of us is gospel love—powerful, unconditional, sacrificial love that has its roots in the cross of Christ. Jesus was about to demonstrate for His followers the most powerful act of love anyone could ever experience by going to the cross for our sins. In doing that, He would show how this love applies even to our enemies—because He gave His life for them, too.
Closet praying happens when we’re alone, in secret. “Thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:6).
But there is more to it. The Greek word for closet in this verse means “a private room, a secret place.” This was clear to Jesus’ listeners, because the homes in their culture had an inner room that served as a sort of storage closet. Jesus’ command was to go into that secret closet and shut the door behind you. And it’s a command to individuals, because this is not the kind of prayer that can happen in church or with a prayer partner.
Jesus set the example for this, as He went to private places to pray. Over and over Scripture tells us He “went aside” to spend time in prayer. No one had a busier life, as He was constantly pressed by the needs of those around Him and had so little time to Himself. Yet, we’re told, “In the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35). “When he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone” (Matthew 14:23).
Consider the command Saul was given in Acts. When Christ apprehended this persecutor of the church, Saul wasn’t sent to a corporate church meeting, or to Ananias, the great prayer warrior. No, Saul was to spend three days alone and apart, praying and getting to know Jesus.
We all have excuses for why we don’t pray in secret, in a special place alone. We say we have no such private place, or no time to do it. Thomas Manton, a godly Puritan writer, says this on the subject: “We say we have no time to pray secretly. We yet have time for all else: time to eat, to drink, for children, yet no time for what sustains all else. We say we have no private place, but Jesus found a mountain, Peter a rooftop, the prophets a wilderness. If you love someone, you will find a place to be alone.”
Our homes are to be places of prayer!
“If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 18:19). Some Christians call this “agreement praying.” You are deeply blessed if you have a devoted brother or sister to pray with. Indeed, the most powerful intercessors I’ve known have come in two’s and three’s. If God has blessed me at all in this life — if He has used me for His glory — I know it is because of a few mighty intercessors who pray daily for me.
The place where this kind of prayer takes place most powerfully is the home. My wife, Gwen, and I pray together daily, and I believe it holds our family together. We prayed for each of our children during their growing up years, that not one of them would be lost. We prayed about their friendships and relationships. We also prayed for their future mates, and now we’re doing the same with our grandchildren.
Sadly, very few Christian families take time for prayer in the home. I personally can testify that I’m in the ministry today because of the power of family prayer. Every day, no matter where my siblings and I were playing, in the front yard or down the street, my mother would call out the front door of our home, “David, Jerry, Juanita, Ruth, it’s prayer time!” (My baby brother Don wasn’t born yet.)
The whole neighborhood knew about our family prayer time. Sometimes I hated to hear that call, and I griped and groaned about it. But something clearly happened in those times of prayer, with the Spirit moving amid our family and touching our souls.
Maybe you can’t see yourself holding family prayer. Maybe you have a spouse who isn’t cooperative or a child who’s rebellious. Beloved, it doesn’t matter who chooses not to be involved. You can still come to the kitchen table and bow your head and pray. That will serve as your household’s prayer time, and every family member will know it.
What exactly are we to pray in times such as these?
Here was Joel’s prescription for Israel in that day of gloom and darkness: “Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children. . . . Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?” (Joel 2:15–17).
Here was the call to the church: “Don’t be discouraged or give in to despair. You are not to believe the devil’s lies that there is no hope for an awakening.” Instead, according to Joel, the people’s cry was to be, “Lord, stop this reproach on Your name. Don’t let Your church be mocked any longer. Stop the heathen from lording it over us, taunting and asking, ‘Where is your God?’”
You may think, “What God promises here is only a possibility. He says He might hold back His judgment. That’s nothing more than a ‘perhaps,’ a ‘maybe.’ Everything He calls for from His people could be in vain.”
I don’t believe God tantalizes His church. And He won’t send His people out on a fool’s mission. When Abraham prayed for God to spare Sodom (where his nephew Lot lived), the Lord’s heart was moved to save that city even if only ten righteous people lived there. And Abraham prayed this as destroying angels were walking into the city! I’m convinced God’s people today are to pray to the Lord in the same way.
Joel’s prophecy regarding an outpouring of the Holy Spirit is found in Joel 2:28-32 and is repeated by the apostle Peter in his sermon in Acts 2:17-21. The prophecy begins, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh.”
“Therefore . . . saith the Lord, Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (Joel 2:12–13).
As I read this passage, I am struck by the words, “Even to me.” As gross darkness fell over Israel, God appealed to His people: “Even to me — when you’ve pushed Me out of your society, when mercy seems impossible, when humankind has mocked My warnings, when fear and gloom are covering the land — I urge you to come back to Me. I am slow to anger, and I have been known to hold back My judgments for a season, as I did for Josiah.”
Do you see God’s message to us in this? As His people, we can plead in prayer, and He will hear us and answer the sincere, effectual, fervent prayers of His saints.
I have a word of warning to the church at this moment: Beware! Satan comes precisely at such a dark hour when disaster looms over the earth, when the heathen rage and terrorize nations. The devil knows we’re vulnerable, and he throws out this lie: “What good can you do? Why try to evangelize Islamists, when they want to kill you? You can’t change anything. You might as well give up on the sin-saturated world. There’s no use praying for an outpouring of the Spirit. All your repenting is futile.”
But God comes to us with this word from Joel: “There is hope and mercy, even now! I am of great kindness and slow to anger. And now is the time for you to turn to Me in prayer. I may hold back My judgments and even bring blessing to you.”
Even now — in a time of murderous Islamic extremism, of militant homosexuality, when our nation has lost its moral compass, when courts are driving God out of society, when fear grips the whole earth — it is time to turn to the Lord in prayer.
The skeptics said to Joshua, "If we cross over the Jordan River, we're going to face enemies as never before. You know the reports. There are thirty-one different kings in the land where we're going and every one of them wants to do us in. Do you know how many kings we've defeated in the last forty years? Exactly two. What on earth are you thinking? How could this be what God wants?"
Joshua knew it would be difficult — in fact, impossible. But he also knew there was only one way for Israel to go: forward. They were going to cross over, and they would do it in faith, trusting that God had their best interests at heart.
We all know that in the end, Joshua and Israel possessed the land and were blessed.
The priests carrying the Ark stepped into the rushing river, and as soon as they immersed their toes, God supernaturally parted the water. After that, every evil thing the skeptics predicted was turned into good for God's people.
The people came to a great fortified city occupied by their enemy. When they marched around it, the impenetrable walls came tumbling down. A handful of kings that Israel thought would be hostile instead joined them and doubled the size of their army.
Did all this make super-saints out of Joshua and Israel? Not at all. At one point Joshua failed to obey God, but because he repented quickly, the Lord used the experience to strengthen him.
Are you willing to step into the river? God may be saying, "If you'll just commit to putting your toe in, you will see me part waves for you. It doesn't matter how many enemies and fortresses you face, I will carry you across to the other side. I have already laid out my plans for you and I'll see them through to fulfillment, all to My glory."
I urge you: Trust God to lead you across your Jordan. Let Him silence the voice of every skeptic. His “Plan A” for you won't be defeated. He is faithful — and He will give you victory!
“The Lord said to Joshua . . . As I was with Moses, so I will be with you” (Joshua 3:7).
The beginning of David’s public ministry is this gigantic moment when he slays a giant named Goliath. David came from what today would probably be called a “dysfunctional family.” He was cruelly ignored and neglected. As a teenager he was left to tend to the flock in the mountains, a lonely and dangerous job.
When a man of God was looking for a candidate to replace Saul and become king, David’s father, Jesse, showed off all his sons, but ignored David. It was as if David didn’t exist. His brothers put him down, demeaned him and maliciously questioned and mocked even his noblest aspirations.
When David, in spite of them, slew the enemy and came out victorious in his fight against Goliath, he left his home, as King Saul took him under his wing.
Saul was a tormented and failing leader and he quickly became terribly jealous of David. Saul was threatened by God’s favor on David and by how much the people loved him. After having a father who seemed to ignore him, David suffered still further under an “adoptive father figure” who, irrational in his insecurities, finally tried to kill him.
It was in those days of his first and faltering steps of public ministry that David experienced his first victories. He was strong and filled with potential, and although supernaturally called, he was also terribly alone and extremely vulnerable. David said of himself during that period, “I am still weak though I have been anointed to be king” (see 2 Samuel 3:39).
God then sent Jonathan to David. Jonathan answered the call of faith with friendship, selfless support, and humility for a greater cause. This is a call that presses one to give and help someone else with no expectation or promise of anything in return. You cannot imagine the divine flow of blessing such a decision on your part can unleash in your life. This revelation can touch and change a marriage, a family, a church and even a nation. “And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt” (1 Samuel 18:3-4).
Claude Houde is the lead pastor of Eglise Nouvelle Vie (New Life Church) in Montreal, Canada. Under his leadership New Life Church has grown from a handful of people to more than 3500 in a part of Canada with few successful Protestant churches.
As told in John 11, Jesus’ going to Bethany wasn’t so much about Lazarus’ death as it was about His own death. Think about it: When the time came for Jesus to face the cross, how would His followers ever believe He could be raised up? There was only one way they would believe it. That was for Jesus—there in Bethany with His beloved friends—to enter the most hopeless situation and work His purposes in the face of the humanly impossible.
I’m convinced Jesus would not have entrusted this experience to anyone outside His inner circle. Such things were reserved for those who were intimate with Him, who didn’t think as the world thinks. You see, it is only in such friends—people who know Christ’s heart and trust Him fully—that He can produce a faith which can’t be shaken.
The fact is, Jesus knew all the future hardships that would take place in the lives of these dear ones. He knew every illness and tragedy they would face. And He wanted to see in them a faith that would believe in His care no matter what calamity they faced.
When Jesus finally arrived, Martha’s first words to Him were, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee” (John 11:21-22). These words may sound full of faith on Martha’s part, but when Jesus responded, “Thy brother shall rise again” (11:23), Martha’s answer was revealing: “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (11:24). In other words: “It’s all over for now, Jesus. You’re too late.”
Jesus replied, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (11:25–26).
Christ was telling her, in other words, “No, Martha, I am the resurrection and the life. Believe in Me and you’ll never die.” Again, He wasn’t just talking about Lazarus, but about His own death and resurrection. To Him, Lazarus’ raising was already a settled matter: “Martha, don’t you believe I can go even into the grave and do the impossible for you and Mary, all of your days?”
We’re told throughout the Psalms and other wisdom writings that we have a God who laughs, weeps, grieves, and can be stirred to anger. Likewise, the New Testament tells us we have a high priest in heaven who is touched by the feelings of our infirmities; the same flesh-and-blood Man who was God on earth is now a glorified Man in eternity.
Without question, our Lord is a God who feels. And I have to wonder: How can Jesus not be wounded by the great unbelief taking place throughout the world today?
How often does the Church today wound the Lord by unbelief?
Think of the unbelief of the disciples in the boat with Jesus, as it began to flood from the roiling waves. How wounded Jesus must have been as they aimed these accusing, unbelieving words at Him: “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38).
What about the times when Jesus miraculously fed crowds of people with only a few fish and bread loaves? Twice He wrought this miracle, feeding a total of 9,000, not including the women and children on those scenes. Yet, even after these incredible works, Jesus’ own disciples were still mired in unbelief. After one such miracle feeding, Christ spoke to them about the leaven of the Pharisees, and “they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread” (Mark 8:16).
Jesus must have been shocked at their words. He had just miraculously multiplied bread for the masses, before His disciples’ eyes. Clearly He was wounded as He replied to them, “Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? Perceive ye not yet, neither understand? Have ye your heart yet hardened? Having eyes, see ye not? And having ears, hear ye not? And do ye not remember? When I brake the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? . . . How is it that ye do not understand?” (Mark 8:17–19, 21).
Luke 19 gives us a powerful picture of Jesus making His final entry into Jerusalem. The image is of Christ approaching the city on a donkey with great throngs shouting His praises. He started at the Mount of Olives, and the closer He got to the city gate, the larger the crowds grew. Soon the people were casting down their garments before Him, waving palm branches, and crying, “He’s here! The hour has come for the King of Israel to arrive. Peace has come to Jerusalem. Finally, the kingdom is here!”
Why was there such loud rejoicing? “Because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear” (Luke 19:11). In the people’s minds, Jesus heralded the arrival of God’s promised “kingdom on earth.”
Yet this didn’t mean they trusted Him as their Messiah. Their only thought was that God’s reign had begun: “Goodbye, Roman rule! There will be no more wars, because our king will rise up with a sword and cut down every enemy. We’re going to see peace in Jerusalem and in Israel, with no more bondage, no more food shortages. God has finally sent His expected king.”
No one on the scene that day expected what would happen next. As Jesus came down the mount and the multitudes shouted His praises, He looked out over Jerusalem—and broke down weeping. “When he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it” (Luke 19:41). Here was God Himself in flesh, weeping!
The reason for His tears? It was the people’s blatant unbelief. You may think, “But these crowds were singing praises to Him, shouting hosannas. That doesn’t sound like unbelief to me.” Yet Scripture tells us Jesus knew what was in men’s hearts.
Jesus saw the payday of unbelief coming. And He prophesied to that crowd, “The days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of the thy visitation” (Luke 19:43–44, my italics).
There is a growing wrath in the hearts of wicked men against the very name of Jesus. All over the world, there is arising a red-hot hatred for God’s Word. The Bible is despised, mocked and cursed by ungodly men. I ask you: What is it about Jesus’ name that stirs up such anger by its mere mention? No name is so despised, yet there can be no salvation in any name but His. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
We know that Jesus’ name has always been hated by wicked men, but now that hatred has turned into a demonic rage. Christ’s name is slowly and subtly being erased from society, by legislative mandates in nations all over the globe.
I received word from a very reliable source about an astonishing development in the U.S. military. An attempt is being made to rule that no chaplain, Catholic or Protestant, can mention the name of Jesus Christ. The reasoning behind this is unbelievable: “We must have spiritual maturity in a pluralistic society.” What a deception! Think of it: first, forbidding any mention of the name of Jesus, and then saying it’s a matter of spiritual maturity. This is straight out of hell!
Why is there such rage against the Son of God? Why do wicked men shudder at the mention of His name? It is because of what Christ’s name represents—deliverance from sin. His name means freedom from the dominion of sin. It means death to the old, fallen, sinful nature, and entry into newness of life. It means power to forsake and deny all ungodly lusts and pleasures.
God’s Word tells us the destruction and blasphemy being brought about by man’s wrath won’t last much longer. “Surely the wrath of men shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (Psalm 76:10). How will this happen? Simply put, the more intense the wrath of men becomes, the more God will pour out His grace. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20).
Israel's crossing of the Jordan happened at harvest time. During that season, the banks of the river weren't just full, they were overflowing. Humanly speaking, it was the worst possible time to cross over.
The skeptics around Joshua surely would have scoffed, "You picked the wrong time, Joshua. We've got pregnant women, sick people, the elderly. This isn't of God."
Yet God does call us to things that are humanly and physically impossible. He looks at our situation and says, "The conditions are perfect for Me to move on behalf of My people. Now the world will see how I rejoice to supply all to My servants."
Right now you may be thinking, "God, I feel You leading me to make a tough decision. I know I don't have what it takes to pull this off." That's right where He wants you. In our weakness, God is made strong. And in our lack, our God is great. We say it is impossible, but with God at the center, nothing is impossible. “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” (Matthew 19:26, ESV).
Up to that point in their history, God had parted the water for Israel but this time He was asking them to step into the water first. Specifically, He commanded the priests to carry the Ark of the Covenant into the rushing river by faith.
Imagine the skeptics' voices! "God has never led us to do this before. He has always parted the water for us. This isn't obeying Him, it's tempting Him!"
Even Joshua may have had his doubts. "Lord, I've been down this road before with You and I know how it works. You always part the waters first. Why would You have us step into this rushing, muddy water? It doesn't make sense."
It never matters how risky or challenging the path is that God has put before us. If we step in with faith, He'll part the water. And we can move across on dry land.
“Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters” (Isaiah 43:16, ESV).
If there is one thing we have learned through our ministry—through facing the enemy on his own turf time and time again, day after day, week after week—it is that Satan is a coward. He picks on the most defenseless among us, the most hopeless and desperate. Like a playground bully who runs for cover as soon as a kid his size shows up, Satan retreats at the first sign of real power.
Do we truly understand the power we have at our fingertips? Do we grasp the significance of the message that we bring to a lost world? Do we comprehend how easily evil can be beaten and revoked by simply opening ourselves up to the moving of the Holy Spirit?
Do we know what God is capable of doing among us?
How I long to see a day when Christians stand shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, in this war with Satan and finally draw a line in the sand, right in the middle of his path. A line that stops him dead in his tracks. A line that says, “You’ve had your day! You’ve had your fun! But your day is over. In the name of Jesus, you can go no further.”
I long to see an army of soldiers rise up against him. A regiment of soul-obsessed believers, taking up arms in this fight against evil. An army of men and women with hearts that burn for God and lives that are dedicated to His will.
Isn’t that the kind of army you long to be a part of? Don’t you wish you could play even a small part in such a huge battle for God? Isn’t this what you’ve been waiting for, what you’ve been hoping for, what you’ve been praying and believing that God would bring your way?
If so, then God wants you to know that the army is already in place. The war is being waged. All you have to do is take up your sword and find your place in His ranks!
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
Nicky Cruz, internationally known evangelist and prolific author, turned to Jesus Christ from a life of violence and crime after meeting David Wilkerson in New York City in 1958. The story of his dramatic conversion was told first in The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson and then later in his own best-selling book Run, Baby, Run.
King David was overwhelmed by the anti-God spirit of his day. He cried out to the Lord, “Consider mine enemies; for they are many; and they hate me with cruel hatred” (Psalm 25:19). Likewise, Psalm 124:2-3 tells us: “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us: then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us.”
David expresses what many in the Church feel today. At times it seems that we’re helpless to stand against the evil forces amassing. I can hardly believe how, day after day, the morals of our country are being trampled into the dirt.
Will the Lord allow this wrath against Him and His Church to go on until our society becomes like Sodom, with every man a law unto himself? No, never! Right now, we are experiencing the Lord’s incredible patience. He is going to bring judgment, but all His judgments are meant to redeem. Isaiah gives us a wonderful picture of this:
“And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them. They shall be turned back, they shall be greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images, that say to the molten images, Ye are our gods. Hear, ye deaf; and look, ye blind, that ye may see” (Isaiah 42: 16-18).
Beloved, the divine grace Isaiah describes turned Saul the persecutor into Paul the apostle. It raised up a multimillion-member church in communist China. It’s sending refugees fleeing from terrorism and war into the loving arms of devoted servants of Christ. And right now, a Teen Challenge center in a country dominated by false religions has raised up five hundred converted drug addicts who are eager to preach Christ. God is indeed pouring out His redeeming grace in these last days.
We are not to fret over the battles that Satan seems to be winning. The battle we are in is an eternal one and the gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s Church. Our Father has declared it: Jesus already reigns as King!
Today, a radical, pagan religion is a kind of Babylon with mad leaders like King Nebuchadnezzar. This religion is threatening the whole world with its demand to worship its deity. Terrorist organizations with religious support are demanding: “Bow to our god, or we will blow up your airplanes. We’ll bomb your towns, trains, buses and tunnels. We’ll kidnap you, torture you and behead you. Our religion is going to prevail.”
As we consider such demonic forces, we should turn to the story of Nebuchadnezzar and those three faithful servants of God that is related in Daniel 3. It tells us that in a single hour, the Lord came down and delivered His servants—and that changed everything.
Everything looked different when the Lord manifested His power, causing the king to cry out: “Blessed be the God of [these three men], who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God” (Daniel 3:28). Immediately, Nebuchadnezzar issued a different decree. This one stated that the only God to be worshiped was that of the three young Jews: “Because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort” (Daniel 3:29).
Let’s turn now to the Psalmist, who asked why the heathen nations rage against the Lord. According to him, here is how God responds to such wrath: “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure” (Psalm 2:4-5).
The Lord Himself then declares: “[I have] set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. . . . Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee” (Psalm 2:6-7). Religiously supported terrorists and other heathen religions may hope to install their gods as king, ruling the globe. But Jehovah God says, “I have already installed My Son, Jesus Christ the Messiah, as king of the heavens and the earth. He is even now Lord of all.”