How God Prepares Us for His Work

I want to share a message today that I believe is necessary for us to reach our goal of becoming a glorious church, holy and blameless before God. When we come into a relationship with God, the Holy Spirit begins to work in us to change us. Our spirit is reborn and new, but our natural self remains. God’s Holy Spirit and our natural self are in conflict with one another.1 This natural self is a hindrance to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Consider the life and ministry of Jesus, and how the Holy Spirit worked through Him freely: • Jesus spoke and acted with power. • Jesus was entirely focused on doing His Father’s work. • Jesus obeyed the Father, even to the point of dying on the cross. On the other hand, consider ourselves, and how often the Holy Spirit is hindered by our natural self: • Our spirits long to be used by God, but we have no spiritual power. ○ We want to speak the right words, but can’t think of the right thing to say. ○ We exert a lot of effort and make a big show, but there is no change in people’s lives. ○ We use all the right arguments, but cannot produce spiritual maturity. • We are often distracted from what God wants us to do. ○ We are easily thrown off by annoyances and irritations. ○ We constantly compare ourselves with others or are concerned with what other people think of us. • We fight against what God wants in our lives. We lack spiritual discernment, charging ahead with our own thoughts and ideas. In fact, the more we try to serve God with our own thoughts, abilities, and judgment, the more we realize how ineffective and even counter-productive that is. All the things that we would normally think would work to our advantage can become snares and hindrances to being used by God. We need to learn to consider our natural advantages with suspicion and fear, to the point where we say to God, “Lord, I dare not make a move without You.” So, what are we to do?
1 Galatians 5:17

The main thing I want to communicate today is how God works in our lives to break down those things that hinder His work. He works through all those nasty trials and difficulties to break your confidence in yourself, and to prepare you so that His life and power can flow through you to bless people. God starts to work in us the moment we start our relationship with Him. He works to teach us lessons of humility, sacrifice, love for others, discipline, and temperance. Eventually, we come to a point in our lives where we tell God, “Lord, everything I am and everything I have, please use it for Your glory.” This is called consecration. Interestingly, God’s discipline doesn’t stop there, but actually increases.2 God says, “OK, let’s get to work on you.” He prepares us for His work by breaking our confidence in our natural strengths, breaking our pride, breaking our self-love, breaking our tendency to be too clever and intelligent. Last year, near the end of summer, I was mowing my lawn when I hit one of those cement paving stones. It totally ruined my lawnmower blade so that it was bent all out of shape. I couldn’t use it to mow my lawn any longer, and I needed to bend it back into shape. I took it off and put it aside. Now, the lawn is growing quickly and I need to mow my lawn, so the other day I took the bent blade out and went to work on it to fix it. I needed to bend it back into the right shape so that I could mow the grass. [Take out maul and blade to demonstrate how I hammered the blade back into shape.] It’s the same way with us. God needs to hammer us into shape. He lays us out against a hard surface and then hits us so that we slowly bend into the shape He needs. Many times, however, we don’t recognize what God is doing in our lives. We get angry at this or that person for not cooperating. We ask God to take away a particular thorn in our side. We wonder why we see so little result for some effort that we put a lot of time and energy into. But we fail to recognize what God’s sovereign purpose in these weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties. 3 Paul said he delighted in these things! Why? Paul had learned that God’s power was working in him and through him when he faced difficulty. If we understand this, we can also say, “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”4
2 Hebrews 12:7-13 3 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 4 Romans 8:28

God’s Purpose in Peter’s Life One person in the Bible who we can see God dealing with this way is Peter. • Call of Peter.5 When Jesus first called Peter to follow Him, Peter was fishing in the Sea of Galilee. Jesus told Peter to let down his net after a night without catching any fish. Peter obeyed and miraculously caught so many fish that his boat began to sink. Peter’s response is to his credit—he fell down at Jesus’ feet and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Like many of us when God first called us, Peter recognized his need for a savior. Jesus responded, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” Walking on water.6 One of the most famous incidents about Peter is when Jesus asked him to come out to him from a boat during a storm by walking on the water. Lots of people criticize Peter for his weak faith, but at least he got out of the boat! I don’t know about you, but I might find it hard to even do that. Peter’s confession.7 At one point, Jesus asked His disciples who people said He was. They told Jesus that people said he was John the Baptist, or Elijah, or some other prophet. Jesus asked, “What about you? Who do you say I am?” It was Peter that replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” I believe Jesus knew this was a turning point in Peter’s life, and Jesus prophesied over Peter that he would help to build God’s church based on this foundational confession of who Jesus was. Jesus rebukes Satan.8 Peter was devoted to Jesus, but was still looking at things from a human point of view. When Jesus explained to them that He would be put on trial and killed, Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Him, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” To whom shall we go?9 Later, when many other people were abandoning Him, Jesus asked the twelve disciples if they would leave also. Peter showed that he was sold out for Jesus. Peter replied to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Events before Jesus’ crucifixion. The next several stories about Peter come from the last week before Jesus was crucified.

5 Luke 5:1-11 6 Matthew 14 7 Matthew 16 8 Matthew 16 9 John 6:68

Feet washing.10 During the Last Supper, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. Peter was the only one who objected, saying, “No, you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus predicts Peter’s denial.11 At some point during the dinner, Jesus prophesied to Peter, telling him that they would all deny Him, and that Peter would specifically deny Him three times. Peter denied it, saying, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Watching for one hour.12 Later that night, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus specifically told Peter, James, and John, “My soul is overwhelmed to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Later, when they fell asleep, Jesus asked Peter, “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Cutting off the servant’s ear.13 When the temple guards came to arrest Jesus, Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, but Jesus healed him. With John, Peter followed Jesus at a distance. Denial.14 Peter’s denial of Jesus is recounted in Luke 22:54-62.

I believe this experience was important for Peter. Yes, it was extremely painful, but I believe that God used it for Peter’s own good. John was there to witness all of this. Some fifty years later, at the end of his life, John wrote down what he saw and heard in his gospel. He not only knew what preparation Peter went through, but also the role Peter played in the early Jerusalem church, how God used Peter as an apostle, and eventually how Peter died as a martyr. With this perspective, John included a sort of epilogue to his gospel, recorded in John 21. [Read John 21:1-19.] Can you see a new meekness in Peter? Jesus asks him three times if he loves Him, reminding Peter of the three times he denied Him. Of course Peter was hurt, but Jesus wanted to make sure Peter learned that he could never again trust his natural abilities and will.

10 John 13 11 Luke 22:31-34 12 Matthew 26:37-40 13 John 18:2-11, Luke 22:49-51 14 Luke 22:54-62

Brothers and sisters, the reason I am sharing this with you is so that we can recognize the hand of God working in our lives. God needs to break down our selfreliance, our pride, our self-love—anything that will hinder what God wants to do through us. If that means hammering us with trials and difficulties, let’s learn to thank God for teaching us to rely on Him alone. Prayer: “Lord, we’re not better than Peter. We’re not better than Paul. Lord, we yield ourselves to your work. Do what You need to do in our lives, Lord. We submit to You. We want to be used of You, Lord. Shape us so that we rely entirely on You. Amen.”

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