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The Practical Power of Jesus - Shepherd of Hope

And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

– Philippians 4:19

 

Where’s the power? Where’s the reality of changed lives? Does the gospel and the truths of God’s word really make a difference? Are the skeptics right? Do they have a valid accusation to bring against the Church, against “Christians”? Are Christians delusional? Is Christianity just another part of religion, an opiate for the masses? Are Christian truth claims valid or vaporous? Do Christians proclaim one thing and live another? Are they hypocrites? Does being a “Christian” make a difference or is Christianity just one other religion? Is there any real power in the gospel, in Christians? Is there any real, practical power in Christianity?

I recently watched a YouTube video entitled The Meanest Guy in Prison. [1] It was a short biographical piece on a man named Jimmy Cavanagh. He was a career criminal convicted of murder. He was described by fellow inmates and guards and prison officials alike as someone you didn’t want to mess with. Jimmy was a man who exuded hate. If you crossed Jimmy’s path, or got on his wrong side, you better be ready to fight for your life.

Jimmy Cavanagh grew up with a father who was an angry abusive drunk. His violent abusive homelife eventually drove him to the streets to vent his anger and hatred. He was put in foster care and other institutions where he suffered physical and sexual abuse. He lived a horrid life for sure. He was a hurting individual who hurt others. “He blamed society and hated police.” Eventually, he was put in prison with two fifteen-year concurrent sentences for attempted murder. He was placed in Canada’s first super maximum-security prison, Kingston Penitentiary. This was a facility for the most dangerous people in the system. It wasn’t likely he’d ever be released back into society.

Once in prison, things went from bad to worse. In a special handling unit for the most dangerous of the most dangerous, he killed a fellow inmate. This led to even further restrictions. Jimmy lived as a caged animal, a ticking time bomb. A now out of control convicted murderer, he saw himself as “an agent of Satan.” He seemed beyond redemption’s grasp. But then something happened to Jimmy, something undeniable, something powerful. Jimmy found Jesus, or more accurately, Jesus found Jimmy.

The Lord worked in Jimmy’s life through a fellow inmate who had experienced the power of the gospel. Ernie Hollands, a tough guy in his own right, had found Jesus. Hollands had been released and once on the outside, had experienced a life change through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus in Ernie brought Jimmy to mind. And so, Ernie sent Jimmy a card, a simple act of kindness. That was all the Lord needed to start the process of redemption in Jimmy’s heart. Jimmy, responded with a simple prayer. All alone in his cell, Jimmy prayed, “Lord forgive me of my sins and give me the strength, patience and wisdom to get through each day.” And when he prayed that prayer, he experienced a warmth that went through his entire body. Something happened to Jimmy, something powerful. He started to pray. He prayed for his friend Ernie. He prayed for his fellow inmates and for those he had harmed. He prayed for everybody. For the first time in his life he was moved to think of others. The gospel had taken hold of him and was making powerful changes in his heart and life.

Jimmy says it was the “inner strength the Lord gives me, and His peace,” that enabled him to change. The gospel gives people a second chance at life. The gospel is, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The “gospel of Christ,” is, “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). When Jimmy accepted Jesus as his Savior and Lord, everything changed. Those around him doubted his confession of Christ at first, but the powerful pervasive and persistent change, the real powerful change in his life, was undeniable. Even his staunchest doubters came to see that what Jimmy had experienced was the real deal.

The new weapons Jimmy carried were a Bible and a changed heart attitude. He had hope. And he began to share that hope with others. Jimmy testified that when he accepted Jesus as his Savior, he was “set free.” He used to look at the deer roaming outside the prison fence and envy their freedom. Now, even though he was still behind bars, he felt free. He was free from his anger and hatred. He was free from the domination of his sinful nature. He was free in God’s will for him.

But then Cavanagh suffered from an aneurism that damaged his spinal cord. He was paralyzed. This was a challenge to his faith. He was transferred to a wheelchair accessible facility. Doctors said he’d never walk again. But Jimmy trusted the Lord and defied the odds. He prayed and the Lord gave him faith to rise up and walk again. The miracle didn’t stop there. He was eventually released from prison.

Years later when he was finally released, he didn’t just put prison in his rearview mirror. No, he returned to prison, this time for holy reasons. He returned to prison to minister the hope of Christ to others. The undeniable powerful reality of his changed life and even a healed body, was mightily used by God to help others out of their despairing lives. There is practical and real power in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jimmy’s evidence of that.

There is power in the name of Jesus. There is power in the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is power in God’s word. God has provided us instruments of His power to bless us and bless others through us. But if all we do is speak about giving ourselves to Jesus and never do, it’s useless. If all we do is speak about living for Jesus and obeying His word, but never do, it’s weak and worthless. If we accumulate facts or knowledge about God and His word and never apply what is learned, it is useless. If you fill your car with three or four plus dollar a gallon gasoline, but never turn the ignition on and drive, what good is it? None. If you plug your power tool into the electrical socket or put the charged battery into it, yet never use it for your home improvements or work, what good is it? If you empty the dirty clothes into the washing machine, arrange all the right settings for the load, yet never push the start button, what good is it? And if all you do is read the word of God and accumulate facts, yet it has no life changing impact in your life, what good is it? At some point what we accumulate in terms of knowledge of God and His word has to be applied to our lives.

We read about the power of God in His word and see the great things for the glory of God people were able to do in His power, but what about us? Where is God’s power in us? Where’s the power of the outpoured Spirit in our lives? Where is the Spirit of Acts in us? Where’s that New Testament world changing people influencing power of God? I look around and I don’t see it. I look at me, and a lot of times, I don’t see it. I look at you, I don’t see it. Where is it? What’s worse, unbelievers look at us and too often they don’t see it either. That’s criminal. What’s the problem? Why the power outage?

Part of the problem is spiritual lethargy. Part of the problem is theory has replaced practice. We have too often settled for ivory tower isolation from the world. We remove ourselves from the world instead of ministering to it. Jesus calls us to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Salt purifies and preserves. Light dispels darkness. Jesus calls us not to isolation from the world but to infiltration of it. He calls us to go into the highways and hedges and seek out the lost (Luke 14:23). We are to infiltrate and influence this world for the glory of God! God has the power. He has given it to us in the gospel and His word. Our purpose in life is to be channels or agents of His power to save and life change. If we don’t do that, we are failing to fulfill one of God’s greatest purposes for us.

We have drifted too far into theoretical abstractions and not been grounded in practical concrete solutions. We have become so concerned and guarded against false experiences and overly emotional expressions of faith, that we’ve become emotionless unempathetic deenergized shells of what Jesus intended us to be. We have become more like tares than full and rich and powerful wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). Instead of applying the power of God we’ve lost it. And the sign of its loss in us and those around us is complaining, spiritual lethargy, and sinful living. God’s power is practical and we need to make the connection to it and turn on the ignition. Vance Havner once said, “We are not going to move this world by criticism of it, nor conformity to it, but only by the combustion within it of live ignited by the Spirit of God.” Light us up Lord!

On May 31st, 1792 William Carey preached a sermon on Isaiah 54:2-3. This pericope states, “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; do not spare; lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes. For you shall expand to the right and to the left, and your descendants will inherit the nations and make the desolate cities inhabited.” Those are powerful words of promise from the Lord. It was this Spirit empowered sermon that led to a world mission movement that continues to this day. In this sermon Carey spoke the famous words, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” That’s the heart of the practical power of God.

“Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” That’s a powerful directive. Those words preached in the Spirit years ago are words that can help us unleash the power of God. These are words that embodied and still embody the power of God. They express a powerful faithful attitude that was and still can be mightily used by God for His glory. We need that today and always. How do we get it? How do we experience the practical power of God?

There are ten practical outlets for God’s power in our lives. This isn’t meant to be exhaustive. As we prayerfully study God’s word we may come up with additional practical outlets of His power in our lives. But these ten are a start to applying God’s power. Practically speaking God’s power is seen in the following ways.

First, God’s power is provided through His word. The Bible states, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). God’s word is powerful. It is in His word that we learn about the other avenues or aspects of God’s power that He makes available to us. If you want to experience God’s power you have to experience the life changing gospel of Jesus Christ. And it is in the word of God that we learn the truth of the second birth, of being born again spiritually through faith in Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:12 and 3:1-36).

God’s word is not a text book. It isn’t something concocted by mere human beings. It isn’t myth. It isn’t fantasy. God’s word is real. God’s word is reliable. God’s word is just what it says it is, “God’s word.” It is literally God-breathed. God has revealed in His word that, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God’s word has what we need to experience God’s eternal life both here and in the hereafter.

God’s word is the “seed” that God plants in us that sprouts into fruitful eternal life. The Apostle Peter spoke of the powerful effect of God’s word on people when he was inspired by God to write, “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1 Peter 1:22-23). God uses His word to empower us to live holy lives according to His truth, and in the power of the Spirit, to love those around us, even our enemies. God’s word is our manual for experiencing His practical power in our lives and to share that practical empowerment with others.

It’s in God’s word that we learn about Jesus and how we can have an eternal saving relationship with Him (John 17:3-4). God’s word nourishes our spirit and keeps us spiritually strong. God’s word is God’s prime instrument to empowering us with His practical power. Have you experienced the power of God’s word, His practical power? Are you in His word? Is His word in you? God’s word is indispensable and vital to experiencing the practical power of Jesus in life.

Second, God’s power is a provision for every need (Phil. 4:19). In God’s word we see that the Apostle Paul writes the Philippians:

  • Philippians 4:19 – 19 And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

The context of this verse is material provision from God. But God is able to provide for us in all areas of need, e.g. ministry, finances, relationships, circumstantial needs, etc. There are various and numerous needs we have in life and God promises to powerfully provide for all our needs. The key is “by Christ Jesus.” It is in Jesus that our needs are met. In and through our relationship with Jesus, our needs will be met. Jesus is the Key to the practical power in our lives.

What about if we don’t get what we think we “need”? If God is not providing in an area, you must go to Him in prayer and ask, “Lord, is this a want or a need?” Sometimes we confuse wants with needs. God’s powerful promise is to provide for our needs, not our wants. Wants are desert. Needs are the nutritious meal. Wants are the candy. Needs are the meat. Wants are the frills. Needs are the substance.

Wants are the add-ons, the unnecessary, the complexities, the balls and chains. Wants keep us from being aerodynamic spiritually. Needs are the essentials, the necessities, the rudimentary, the freeing streamlined body of spiritual life. A rule of thumb is to seek His simplicity in life and His power will be released in you. Are you trusting and seeking Jesus for your needs?

Thirdly, God’s power is a pathway to avoid sin when tempted (1 Cor. 10:13). Sin does not have to dominate us. “For sin shall not have dominion over you” (Rom. 6:14a). And the way God helps us to win over sin is by providing an escape route. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians He is inspired to write them:

  • 1 Corinthians 10:13 –13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Everyone is tempted. Even Jesus was tempted (e.g. Mat. 4:1-11). Temptation is not sin. Our decisions in the face of temptation are what determines if we sin. If we choose to disobey God and step outside the parameters of His word when tempted, we sin. The power goes off. But God promises to give us an escape route that we can “bear it” or avoid sinning. That is part of the power of God. Living a holy life based on holy scriptural guided decision when tempted releases God’s power in and through us.

What you feed will live. What you starve will die. When we choose God’s holy escape route in times of temptation, and don’t give in to it, we starve sin in our life and it will die. But if we choose to sin, each sin makes the next sin that much more irresistible and influential in our life. When tempted, stop, pray, ask God for His escape route. He has promised to give you one, it’s there, if you really want to take it. And to those who follow His escape route, God’s promise is “that you may be able to bear it.” Are you choosing to take God’s way of escape when tempted?

Fourthly, God’s power is an incarcerating power to control our thoughts (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Scripture states:

  • 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 – 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,

The spiritual war that rages is to a great extent in our minds and thought life. God provides the capability to the believer to “take every thought into captivity to obedience of Christ.” This requires walking in the Spirit on our part. We need to prayerfully listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit in order to identify wrong or sinful thoughts and once identified lean on God to help us take the thoughts into captivity.

God helps us cast aside sinful or wrong thoughts and follow the truth of His word. A great part of this is using the word of God to discern truth from falsehood in our thought life (Ps. 119; Eph. 6:10-18; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17). Throw out the garbage thoughts of your mind and feed on Holy writ and God’s power will flow in and through you.

I suggest you go to Philippians 4:8-9 for a list of thoughts to cultivate. These will keep the power on in you. Focus on what is true (John 14:6 – Jesus), what is noble (Rev. 17:18 – Jesus the King of kings), what is pure (1 Cor. 1:30 – Jesus our holiness), what is lovely (1 John 4:8 – Jesus the embodiment of love), and what is admirable (Hebrews 3:3 – Jesus who alone is One worth admiring). Focus on Jesus. Focus on Jesus. Focus on Jesus. Focus on Jesus. Focus on Jesus. And focus on Jesus. Are you thinking in a power producing way?

Fifth, God’s power is a providential care (Proverbs 3:5-6). Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” As we trust in the Lord and acknowledge Him along our life journey, He promises to “direct our paths” (Prov. 3:5-6). Acknowledge God in your daily conversations. Bring Him up in your conversations. When you do, He will direct you by opened and closed doors of receptivity with the ones you speak to. In the New Testament we are told that God will direct us into His love and the patience of Christ (2 Thess. 3:5). God will direct us in life and when we follow His instructions we find His power unleashed in incredible ways. All we need to do to see His power unleashed is, acknowledge Him. Are you acknowledging Jesus and seeing His power unleashed?

Sixth, God’s power is protection from harm (Job 1-2). We might not think of Job as an example of God’s protection but he is. Satan had to get permission from God to afflict Job. God set limits on what the devil could do to him. God’s protection is contingent on His ultimate will and His ultimate plans. But He does protect us from our enemies and from harm in ways we are probably not even aware of. God defends us (Ps. 5:11). God is our hiding place (Ps. 32:7). He is our refuge and strength (Ps. 46:1-3). His right hand saves us (Ps. 138:7). He is always with us (Is. 43:1-2; Acts 18:9-11). He protects us from the evil one (John 17:15; 1 John 5:18-19). And we are kept by His power (1 Pet. 1:5).

Nothing happens in this world or to us without God’s permission. And God’s decision as to whether or not He allows certain things are all contingent on His Divine plans. His ways are not our ways and He knows what is best in the end (Is. 55:8-11). His purpose in life is that everyone be given ample opportunity to repent of their sins and experience His gift of eternal life. God desires that none perish (2 Peter 3:9). God’s priorities are eternal. If temporal pain is the cost of eternal gains, God will permit that. We may not understand what God allows to happen, but we do know He is holy, just and good and we need to trust Him and His decisions in faith. When we do, no matter what, His power is unleashed in us. Are you trusting God for power in your pain?

Seventh, God’s power is seen in Christ’s propitiation for sin (Rom.3:23-26). The cross of Christ stands at the center of history. The cross of Christ is God’s propitiation, or justice, His just wrathful penalty for all sins committed past, present and future. In Romans it states:

  • Romans 3:23-26 – 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Propitiation is the satisfying of God’s just sentence and penalty against sin. Jesus did this for us on the cross. When by His grace we in faith trust Jesus’ propitiating work, God’s powerful gospel effect is released in us (cf. Rom. 1:16). Forgiveness is a powerful thing. When the Spirit convicts us of sin so that we grasp a bit of its terribleness, and then He shows us God’s gracious provision for forgiveness, that’s powerful. The one who is forgiven much loves much. Love is the most powerful fuel for life. Have you experienced the power of forgiveness?

Eighth, God’s power is a dynamic enabling boldness to serve Him and share the gospel with the lost (Acts 1:8). Through the baptism with the Holy Spirit we are empowered with a holy boldness to serve the Lord and share the gospel. Jesus said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me” (Acts 1:8a). This is the fulfillment of God’s promise (Acts 1:4-5). This power of the Spirit coming upon us is illustrated in the sermon of Peter at Pentecost. At Pentecost one who had previously cowardly denied Jesus three times now stood in the midst of the enemies of Christ and boldly preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Acts we see the church born and boldly sharing the gospel (Acts 4:31). This is the Holy Spirit’s dynamic practical power that can change a world. Has the Holy Spirit come upon you in power?

Ninth, God’s power is His presence in our lives (Psalm 16:11). Someone has said, “One with God is a majority.” In psalms it states, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). With God on our side we need not fear. “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32). Those are powerful words! Are you walking and living with God by Your side? Do you know and accept that He is for you? There is power in the presence of Jesus.

When God is with us there is nothing impossible. Where God guides God provides. Where God guides God empowers. God’s power is passed on to us by His own presence. We see this in particular in our joy.

In God’s presence is His powerful fullness of Joy. Joy is the presence of Jesus within assuring, guiding, and empowering us through the circumstances of life. This is illustrated in Paul’s letter to the Philippians where he speaks of God’s incredible joy to them. But where did Paul write of his joy? He wrote the joy filled letter to the Philippians from a jail cell! (cf. Acts 16). And that wasn’t just for Paul’s day. The testimony of Jimmy Cavanagh is evidence that the same joy is available for us today. Are you walking in the presence of the Lord? Do you have His joy? Joy is a nuclear part of God’s practical power.

Tenth, God’s power is in the resurrection (1 Cor. 15). Because of the resurrection we don’t have to face death in fear or darkness or despair. The great question mark that all humanity faces, death, can be faced with certainty and victory because of the resurrection. With regard to death Paul speaks of the power of the resurrection stating

  • 1 Corinthians 15:1–4, (NKJV) Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, . . .

Death is the most formidable foe for humanity. It is the last enemy. It is the one that meets us in the end. Death can be scary. Death can be threatening and terrifying. But this last enemy, death, has been defeated by Jesus and the resurrection. We have power over death through faith in Jesus. Because of Jesus’ resurrection we can say, “for to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). This last enemy is our greatest enemy. And yet, in Christ, through faith in Him, we have been given power over it. Jesus said, “And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:26). Then He added, “Do you believe this?” Do you; do you believe in Jesus and His resurrection? There is power over death, practical power, steadying power, encouraging power, sustaining power, despair destroying hopeful power in the resurrection of Jesus. Do you have it?

In the book Jesus Freaks the account is given of Jack Vinson a missionary in Kiangsu Province, Mainland China in 1931. Vinson was confronted by a robber while journeying to minister to people in the land. When the bandit stepped into the path of Vinson, he “told the missionary, ‘I’m going to kill you. Aren’t you afraid?” Jack Vinson replied simply, ‘Kill me, if you wish. I will go straight to God.” A friend of Jack Vinson was inspired by his courage and wrote the following poem:

Afraid? Of What?

To feel the spirit’s glad release?

To pass from pain to perfect peace,

The strife and strain of life to cease?

Afraid – of that?

Afraid? Of What?

Afraid to see the Savior’s face

To hear His welcome, and to trace

The glory gleam from wounds of grace?

Afraid – of that?

Afraid? Of What?

A flash, a crash, a pierced heart;

Darkness, light, O Heaven’s art!

A wound of His a counterpart!

Afraid – of that?

Afraid? Of What?

To do by death what life could not –

Baptize with blood a stony plot,

Till souls shall blossom from the spot?

Afraid – of that? [2]

Scripture states:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:55-58 – “O Death, where is your sting?  O Hades, where is your victory?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

That is a great comfort to those facing death. For that victory we should forever worship Jesus. This is living hope (1 Pet. 1:3-4). This is the most practical manifestation of God’s power; the defeat of death and resurrection to eternal life. Praise Him!

God’s power is practical. God’s power is seen in many ways. You have to experience it to appreciate it. Have you experienced the power of God? Do you want it? Jimmy Cavanagh prayed a simple life changing prayer and the power of God came into his life. You can do the same. God will give power to the one who utters a heart-felt prayer of trust in Jesus. Yun can pray that prayer right now and experience the power of Jesus in your life. Will you do it?

I’ll leave you with Paul’s prayer for power. He loved the people of Ephesus. He wept with them when he had to move on in ministry. But in his inspired letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul prayed they come to know the practical power of Jesus in their lives. I pray we pray that prayer again today, and experience and know the practical power of God in our lives. This lost world needs the practical power of Jesus in their lives and we are the ones entrusted by God to deliver it for such a time as this. really know it. Paul prayed:

  • Ephesians 1:15–21 (NKJV) – 15 Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power 20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.

 

Join me in praying that prayer. And God bless you and me and those around us with the practical power of Jesus. May His power meet all our needs. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CR8j7FfX3mQ&t=4s

[2] dc Talk and The Voice of the Martyrs, Jesus Freaks, (Tulsa, Oklahoma: Albury Pub.1999) p. 74.

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