If you could ask one thing of God, what would it be?
A while back, an artist in the Netherlands decided that God needed a telephone number. So, Johan van der Dong got the Almighty his own personal cell phone number.
His idea was to show that God is available anywhere and anytime. The fascinating thing is how people responded: in just the first week of “God’s” cell phone number being available, more than a thousand people called to leave God a message.
Source: Associated Press, “Dutch leave messages on God phone,” www.newsvote.bbc.co.uk (3-7-09), and Reuters, “Leave God a message at his Dutch answering service,” www.reuters.com (3-2-09)
Let me ask you: If you had the chance to call and ask for anything at all, what would be your number one request? Or think of it this way: Christmas is four months away. If you could ask God for any one thing for Christmas, what would it be?
Some would ask for a new job or a better experience at the job you have. Others would ask to find the love of their life in answer to feelings of loneliness. Maybe you’d ask for stronger financial security. All of those things are legitimate and worth praying about.
But the one thing, the top request that you and I would do well to ask for is what empowered Jesus and enabled him to live with purpose. And that’s what I want to share with you this week. As we continue our series on God’s attributes, God’s perfect character traits, we come to the powerful revelation that God is the All-powerful and empowering God. He has all power, and he gladly imparts power to his people. And that is something we all need daily: the life-giving power of God for all that we are called to.
The most important thing about you
This series stands on the truth that what comes into your mind when you think of God is the single most important thing about you. When your vision of God is clear and accurate and comes from a right understanding of God as he has revealed himself in the Scriptures and in the person of Jesus, the more you get that right and clear, the better positioned you are to enjoy the life to the full that Jesus came to give, to you and your loved ones.
But clearly, not everyone has a clear and accurate image of who God is and what he’s like. I had a conversation with someone recently who very much wanted to say how much he doesn’t believe in the God he thinks God is. Christian theologian Michael Reeves talks about that, saying, “In my own experience, when I ask atheist or agnostic students to describe the God they don’t believe in, I am usually treated to what sounds like a good description of Satan: a self-obsessed, merciless bully. And if God is not an ever-loving Father, eternally pouring out his Spirit of life and blessing…then their descriptions are probably pretty accurate.” He concludes, “In the Western world today many people think that ‘spirituality is fine but belief in a personal God is often met with hostility. But is it possible that…such popular antitheism [is] the rumblings of a deep hunger for a better God?”
Source: Adapted from Michael Reeves, “Three Is the Loveliest Number,” Christianity Today (December 2012)
Catch that question: Is it possible that when people whom you know reject God, in fact they’re rejecting mischaracterizations of God, misrepresentations of who God is and what he is like?
Jesus’ surprising instruction on what to ask God for
What I want to bring back to that person from the other day is an invitation to take a good look at Jesus. And this week with you, I want to take you to one of the surprising and delightful promises of Jesus that reveals what God is like, and reveals what he wants to give you. If you have a Bible or a Bible app, open it to Luke chapter 11. Luke chapter 11. While you’re turning there, I’ll set it up for you. The chapter opens with Jesus praying, as was his regular habit. Early every morning, Jesus would go to a private place to talk with God the Father.
On this day when Jesus returned back to where his disciples were gathered, they asked him to teach them how to pray. Jesus then gives them the model prayer that we unpacked two weeks ago, the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father, where Jesus shows that we can call on God about anything: any kind of situation you might face is covered in that prayer.
But Jesus doesn’t stop with that model prayer. He immediately follows it with a parable emphasizing that God is generous in answering those who ask for the right things in prayer.
And then comes the surprise. Let’s read it from Luke chapter 11, verses 11-13. Immediately after giving a model prayer and then telling a parable that shows God loves to generously answer prayer, Jesus tells us one of the most important things to ask God for. Jesus puts it in the form of a question, and then a personal application, asking:
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
It’s a surprising question, and it’s a surprising application: as messed up and sinful as humanity is, with our imperfect motives and impatient words and actions, we still are fully motivated to give good gifts to our kids. How much more, then, will our heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
From lesser to greater
It’s a lesser to greater argument, lesser to greater logic. Here’s the same logic applied to exercise: if you join the YMCA, you’ve got a shot at getting in better shape. But if you join and sign up with a trainer, how much more will you get in shape?
The lesser to greater here is that as flawed as we are, we’re still good to our kids, and as such, we love to give them good gifts. Three months ‘till Christmas, parents! How much more God loves to give the greatest gift of all to those who ask him: the gift of the Holy Spirit and his power. That’s the lesser to greater argument Jesus puts out there: ask for the greatest gift possible, because the All-powerful God is glad to empower those who ask him so.
Does anyone reading this need God’s help, his power, his strength? Of course!
- You need strength when you’re under strain.
- You need power when you face temptation.
- You need the power to let go of bitterness and rage when they get a hold of you.
- You need the power to change and grow in Christlike character.
- You need strength to persevere when you hit a hard season like a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic with its constant changes.
- The one thing that we all keep coming back to is what Jesus urges us to ask for: a power greater than our own, when our own power is insufficient.
What prompted the disciples’ question was the power they saw in Jesus and wanted some of that for themselves.
The secret to Jesus’ power
This was the secret to Jesus’ life, regularly getting away to be re-empowered by the Holy Spirit. And in this brief, surprising teaching, Jesus makes unmistakably clear that the same power is available to you and me today. We need power, and God who is all-powerful is glad to give his power to us, to share his power daily.
So what I want to do this week is unpack why Jesus urges us to ask for the Holy Spirit, and then get real practical on how to walk in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. And if you still have questions when we’re done, hop on our 11 a.m. after-worship Zoom call, and let’s see if there’s anything that still needs to be clarified.
Our online fellowship calls will be replaced with in-person fellowship beginning two weeks from now—Sunday, September 12 as we return to in-person worship in the Fishers YMCA, 9:30 Sunday mornings. Please plan on coming to sing together, celebrate Communion together, dive into God’s Word in person, and enjoy fellowship together rather than online. Masks are recommended, and we will be in the Family Area just off the main lobby, where you have the easy ability to physically distance or not, as you are comfortable.
Alright, let’s jump in, beginning with why Jesus urges us to ask for the Holy Spirit. The bottom line is that you were not meant to go through life under your own power alone, in your own strength alone. You were created in the image of God, to go through life with the power of God, the power that only the Holy Spirit can impart.
Daily power for daily needs
When you look back at Luke chapter 11, Jesus isn’t talking about kids asking parents for junk food or something ridiculous. The speaks of a child asking a parent for a fish or an egg—that is, for everyday necessities.
Your kids need daily food for daily strength, and likewise, we need the Holy Spirit’s daily filling for daily power. That’s Jesus’ point. His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray; he concluded with what to pray for: ask our heavenly Father to fill you with the same Spirit who empowered Jesus.
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this, but Jesus would not have acted with the courage and wisdom and compassion and patience that he did apart from his daily filling with the Holy Spirit’s power. And so you and I cannot and do not act daily with the courage and wisdom and compassion and patience we need apart from similarly daily asking God for the fullness of the Holy Spirit. God is All-powerful, and he loves to empower those who ask. He is powerful, and he is generous.
Why would a Christian ask for the Holy Spirit?
Now here’s a fair question that Jeremy McKeen brings to this passage. Maybe it’s your question, too. You wonder, “I’m already a Christian. According to Scripture, when I received Christ, the Holy Spirit was given to me. The Holy Spirit now indwells me. He is God’s personal guarantee that God who has begun a good work in me will carry it on to completion. So why do I need to ask for the Holy Spirit again?”
It’s a fair question, and truthfully, it’s one that some disagree on. So let’s go back to the context of Luke chapter 11. Who is Jesus speaking to there? His disciples, men who had already given up everything to follow him. They’re fully on board. They’re deeply committed. So he’s not saying this to spiritual outsiders. The example he gives is that of a child in a secure relationship with their parent. So the plain sense of how to understand Jesus here is that he’s urging believers to ask for the same Spirit who empowered him. That’s the context: they saw Jesus’ power and asked him to teach them how to pray. His answer included the imperative that we, like he, consistently ask for the power of the Holy Spirit.
The apostle Paul urges the same as he writes to the church in Ephesians 5:18: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
“Be filled with the Holy Spirit” in the original Greek is a continuous action, literally be being filled; be continually filled with the Holy Spirit. That’s the gift we need most. It’s not only a great need; it’s an ongoing need, our daily need.
Being filled with the Holy Spirit isn’t meant to be a one-time thing. We daily need God’s power just like Jesus did, to truly walk in Jesus’ steps before God and people.
What could happen if we regularly asked for the Holy Spirit’s filling?
That’s clear, isn’t it? And imagine with me how much better our workplaces and homes would be if we regularly asked our all-powerful, power-giving God to fill us anew with the Holy Spirit’s power? With all the stresses and strains that so many people are feeling the past year and a half, how much better could we face in the coming months if we simply do what Jesus urges here: consistently give yourself to asking God to fill you anew with the Holy Spirit and his power?
Here’s another question that may come to your mind: When I talk about being filled with the Holy Spirit, what do I mean? What evidence is there when we are continually filled with the Holy Spirit?
The clear answer to that is found in Galatians chapter 5, what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit, that is, the evidence, what the Holy Spirit progressively produces in the life of those who continually ask to be filled. The fruit of the Spirit, Paul says, is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Do you need more patience? More gentleness? More self-control? Who doesn’t? To Jesus lesser to greater argument, how much better would our relationships be if we had the daily power to act with more love in the face of hatred, more joy instead of misery, more peace in the place of worry, more patience instead of impatiently lashing out, more kindness instead of rudeness, more goodness in response to evil, more faithfulness instead of bailing on relationships, more gentleness instead of abrasiveness, and more self-control instead of wounding with words and temper?
Friends, this is exactly what God wants to do in us. This is what God is pleased to give to his children who ask, and who keep asking. “Fill us with your Holy Spirit, Father! Give me the power to walk in a God-honoring manner today.” What could God do with a group of people who give themselves to acting on what Jesus urges here?
What Jesus urges us to pray is why in Ephesians chapter 1, Paul points out that we were given the Holy Spirit when we first believed in Christ, and then immediately says he’s been praying that we would grasp the greatness of the Holy Spirit’s power.
What Jesus urges us to pray is why Paul writes to the Christians in Philippi, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead,” that is, the power of the Holy Spirit. (Philippians 3:10 NLT)
What Jesus urges us to pray is why Paul reminds the Christians in Rome, “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you…” (Romans 8:11).
I really like how McKeen puts it: “Jesus doesn’t just give us pardon to get to heaven. He gives us the power to live life now…The Holy Spirit doesn’t just bring me through the gate; he brings me down the path. He doesn’t just get me started in the right direction but goes along with me every step of the way. God doesn’t just stop at giving you his mercy. He wants to give you his might. He doesn’t just stop at forgiving you; he wants to fill you. Not just pardon, but everyday power to face the world, the flesh, and the devil, power for a godly life and effective service to others.”
Friends, this is what we need most, and this is what the people closest to you need most from you: the power to love and serve people as Jesus did; the power to become a little bit more like Jesus every day in our relationships, our attitudes, and our conversations. That power comes in great part by us asking for the Holy Spirit to fill and empower us, as he did Jesus.
So that’s why Jesus urges us to ask for the Holy Spirit—because a world full of people who aren’t continually filled with the Holy Spirit is how we got to how things are now.
How to receive the power of the Holy Spirit
Let’s pivot practically to how to walk in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. And let’s start with the obvious:
You need to ask.
For every responsibility that’s on your plate—job, maybe marriage or parenting, extended family relationships—ask for the Holy Spirit to empower you. Ask for his power. Realize and act on the revelation that God is All-powerful, and he is glad to empower those who ask. So ask!
Remember David celebrating in Psalm 138, “When I called, you answered me; you greatly emboldened me.” (Psalm 138:3) There was someone who, in times of deep stress, received the power of the Holy Spirit to press on.
And ask daily. Ask regularly. Ask in the moment and in regular times alone with God at the start of the day.
If you’re a parent with young children, the shower can become a quiet place to pray and ask God to empower you for the day. Find what works for you and your situation. But ask. And ask regularly for the infilling, the power of the Holy Spirit to carry out your responsibilities with Christlike character and integrity.
So let me ask you again: where do you need God’s power?
- Some of you are in deep need for greater peace.
- Others desperately need greater patience.
- Maybe you find times when your thoughts go dark places and you need greater goodness.
- Or there are people who get on your nerves and desperately need gentleness for how you react toward them.
- Or in this era that is so marked with a lack of self-control, maybe you deeply feel the need for God to increase your self-control.
Where do you need God’s power?
Ask our All-powerful, power-giving God. Like a child coming to a generous parent, ask. And keep asking. Because he is glad to give. God is glad to empower those who come to him. This is who God is, friend. He is the All-powerful, power-giving Father in heaven, who loves you, and who is ready to empower you for all that comes your way.
If this is what you want; if you want the same power that empowered Jesus to empower you for what you are responsible for, then I invite you to pray with me right now. Let’s pray.
Lord Jesus, thank you for your example of daily seeking the Holy Spirit’s infilling, power, discernment, and the fruit of the Spirit. Thank you for answering the disciples’ request that you teach them to pray. And thank you for concluding with your source of power. So now we ask, as you urge. Heavenly Father, we ask for the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Believing that you are All-powerful and glad to share your power with your children, we ask that you empower each one according to their need:
For tired teachers, we ask for the Holy Spirit’s power to press on faithfully. For kids and parents with lots of changes and fears, we ask for Holy Spirit power that brings peace.
For workers at our workplaces whether remote or in person, we ask for the Holy Spirit power to do our work as though for you, with excellence and integrity.
For us as a church, as we look to regathering in-person in two weeks, we ask for the Holy Spirit power to pervade all that we do and say.
For your people around the world in a chaotic time, we ask for the same power that raised Jesus from the dead to raise us to Christlike thinking and speaking and reaching out in compassion to those around us.
We believe that you have begun a great work in us, and you will carry it on to completion. And so we bring ourselves before you, Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, confident that this is a prayer you are pleased to answer. Amen!