Biblically, “holy” means “separated,” or “set apart.” In Scripture, God’s chief attribute is holiness. In fact, He is said to be “holy, holy, holy,” that is, completely holy. So I think we can look at each day of our lives as “set apart,” but what does that mean in practice? Some people think it means to go live on top of a mountain in a monastery. Others don’t change their address, but they still hold themselves aloof from the “things of the world” to the degree that they are basically isolated from the mainstream of life and have little impact on other people.
I think, for us as Christians, that the proper understanding of this idea of separation is twofold: I separate myself in my heart (and in practice, depending upon the activity) from evil; and I have a place in my heart that is set apart for holy communion with my heavenly Father and my Lord Jesus. In the Old Testament, those who wanted to talk with God had to pack a lunch. That is, they had to travel to somewhere like the Tabernacle or the Temple, because that is where God dwelt. But now, because of the work of Jesus Christ and the gift of holy spirit, each “saint” (holy one) is a “holy dwelling place” where God has taken up permanent residence. So I can enter into the presence of God any time I choose to quiet my heart and focus upon my God and/or my Lord.
In that vein, I have been thinking a lot lately about specifically requesting much more from God. After all, not only is He my Father, He is also The Creator. His willingness to do “exceeding abundantly above all I can ask or think” equals His ability to do so. We all know Jesus’ words: “Ask, and it will be given to you.” And James says, “You have not because you ask not.” I think I’ll start believing both of those statements more than I have been, and realize that I can, and no doubt should, talk with both my Father and my Lord about everything in my life. That is, I can ask for their help about anything, big or small, internal or circumstantial. My goal is to more clearly recognize my own helplessness, and look to them for the help they so fervently desire to give me – and you.
It seems clear from Scripture that perhaps the biggest key there is to walking with God is recognizing our total dependence upon Him, yet how often do I fail to act this way, take matters into my own hands and get kicked in the teeth by the Devil. Then it becomes a matter of how I relate to these failures — I can rationalize, blame someone else, or blow it off. Or I can honestly look at my sin in light of God’s Word, feel the pain of hurting God and others, and then stay in the pain until I realize that God is the only way out. Then I can account and repent before my heavenly Father who will, like the father of the prodigal son, run to me in my repentance, take me up in His loving arms and, with perfectly appropriate kindness, do whatever it takes to help me see where I erred in my heart and encourage me to keep going on my path of righteousness.
In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey quotes C.S. Lewis:
“It is easy to acknowledge, but almost impossible to realize for long, that we are mirrors whose brightness, if we are bright, is wholly derived from the sun that shines upon us. Surely we must have a little—however little—native luminosity? Surely we can’t be quite creatures…Grace substitutes a full, childlike and delighted acceptance of our Need, a joy in dependence. We become ‘jolly beggars.’”
Yancey then writes:
“We creatures, we jolly beggars, give glory to God by our dependence. Our wounds and defects are the very fissures through which grace might pass. It is our human destiny on earth to be imperfect, incomplete, weak and mortal, and only by accepting that destiny can we escape the force of gravity and receive grace. Only then can we grow close to God.”
Today, in our postmodern culture, “dependence” is hardly a byword. In fact, “independence” is the order of the day for those truly tuned in to “reality.” Of course, postmodern thinking makes it difficult to pinpoint reality, because each person is, in his ongoing evolution toward godhood, so independent that he creates his own reality. Because, they say, there is no such thing as absolute truth, no standard set by Someone higher than ourselves, each of us determines his own truth. I wonder what they say when two opposing “truths” clash head-on.
Postmodernism is akin to what Satan told Adam and Eve in the Garden: “You will be better off if you decide for yourselves what is reality. Any standard imposed upon you is restrictive, and dilutes the quality of life you could have. So go ahead, take matters into your own hands and don’t worry about the consequences.” How thankful we can be to the Last Adam, Jesus Christ, that he perfectly modeled a life of total dependence upon God, and that he is now ready, willing and able to help us walk in his steps of faith.
Some time ago I became aware of two very strange verses of Scripture “hidden away” back in the book of 1 Chronicles. At least, in the context they are very strange. 1 Chronicles 1:1 through 4:37 is a lengthy chronology of who fathered who fathered who fathered who, etc. But stuck right in it, out of the proverbial blue, are these two verses:
1 Chronicles 4:9 and 10 (NKJV)
(9) Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.”
(10) And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying “Oh, that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.” So God granted him what he requested.
Then recently I came across a little 92 page book by Bruce Wilkinson titled The Prayer of Jabez, and I would like to share with you some of it, in light of the importance of our making requests of God. Let us remember that God longs to give us every good thing He can, but He has set up the relationship between Him and each of His children such that it is usually incumbent upon us to ask for things before He can give them to us.
Wilkinson breaks down the four clauses in Jabez’ prayer. In the chapter titled, “So Why Not Ask?” he writes in regard to Jabez’ general request: “Oh, that you would bless me indeed”:
When we ask for God’s blessing, we’re not asking for more of what we could get for ourselves. We’re crying out for the wonderful, unlimited goodness that only God has the power to know about or give to us…Notice a radical aspect of Jabez’ request for blessing: He left it entirely up to God to decide what the blessings would be and where, when and how Jabez would receive them…The Jabez blessing focuses like a laser on our wanting for ourselves nothing more and nothing less than God wants for us…Even though there is no limit to God’s goodness, if you didn’t ask Him for a blessing yesterday, you didn’t get all that you were supposed to have.
Regarding Jabez’ request that God would “enlarge his territory,” in a chapter titled, “Living Large For God,” here are some excerpts:
Ask God to enlarge your life so you can make a greater impact for Him…As your opportunities expand, your ability and resources supernaturally increase also…Most believers seem to shrink from living at this level of blessing and influence…Our God specializes in working through normal people who believe in a supernatural God who will do His work through them…My willingness and weakness + God’s will and supernatural power = my expanding territory…You’ll nearly always feel fear when you begin to take new territory for Him, but you’ll also experience the tremendous thrill of God carrying you along as you’re doing it…It’s when you thrust yourself into the mainstream of God’s plans for this world—which are beyond our ability to accomplish—and plead with Him, “Give me more ministry for You!—that you release miracles…God always intervenes when you put His agenda before yours and go for it!
“Oh, that your hand would be with me” is the next part of the prayer of Jabez, and in regard to that, Wilkinson writes about “descending to power”:
Actually, the second you’re not feeling dependent is the second you’ve backed away from truly living by faith…Dependence upon God makes heroes of ordinary people like Jabez and you and me…Your surrendered need turns into God’s unlimited opportunity…God’s power under us, in us, surging through us is exactly what turns dependence into unforgettable experiences of completeness…If seeking God’s blessings is our ultimate act of worship, and asking to do more for Him is our utmost ambition, then asking for God’s hand upon us is our strategic choice to sustain and continue the great things that God has begun in our lives…You and I are only one plea away from inexplicable, Spirit-enabled exploits. By His touch you can experience supernatural enthusiasm, boldness and power. It’s up to you. Ask every day for the Father’s touch, because for the Christian, dependence is just another word for power.
The last of Jabez’ four requests is, “Oh, that you would keep me from evil.” Of late I have been sobered by considering the lethal combination of Satan’s clever wiles and my own weaknesses of character, so I have perhaps emphasized that clause as I have prayed this prayer recently. Writing about the perils of spiritual success, Wilkinson quotes another writer: “Blessedness is the greatest of perils because it tends to dull our keen sense of dependence upon God and make us prone to presumption.” In regard to Jabez’ plea, he goes on:
Somehow we don’t think to ask God simply to keep us away from temptation and keep the Devil at bay in our lives…We make a huge spiritual leap forward when we begin to focus less on beating temptation and more on avoiding it…Like Jabez, we should plead to be kept from the powerful pull of what feels right to us but is wrong.
Wilkinson suggests a prayer:
“Lord, keep me from making the mistakes I’m most prone to make when temptation comes. I confess that what I think is necessary, smart or personally beneficial is so often only the beautiful wrapping on sin. So please, keep evil far from me!”
As I said, I have been praying this prayer for only a while now, but I think I can already see evidence of how God has answered it. Of course, I pray a lot of other prayers too, but I try to start my day with this simple but powerful request to my heavenly Father. I also pray that I recognize how God is answering this fourfold supplication so that I can walk all the way into His will for my life. To do that, I see that I will have to trust Him to go all the way out “on the edge” of my faith and allow God to expand it.