All Good Things Come to Him Who Hustles While He Waits

All Good Things Come to Him

Who Hustles While He Waits

Luke 15

Dr. Jim Denison

It’s not always easy to help someone in need.

Years ago, when I was pastor of First Baptist Church in Midland, Jeff Byrd and I were returning to the office after lunch. An old Chevy Impala was broken down on the side of the road; a short, grey-haired lady, her cane in the back seat, was trying to get it started.

We stopped to help—I pulled off the air cleaner and held the choke open while Jeff cranked the engine, and finally we got the car started again. She thanked us sweetly, and we stood watching in pride as she drove off, turned left, then drove into the parking lot of Pinkie’s Liquor Store. She got out her cane and shuffled in. We had helped her get to the liquor store.

It’s sometimes hard to help people in need, isn’t it? Nowhere is this more true than with evangelism. We know that people need Jesus, and that we are responsible for sharing him with them. But it’s not always easy.

And so we have the Seed Initiative—a strategy which will help us engage in relationships with lost people, invite them to events specifically designed to help them with their faith, and connect them with care ministries.

Where do we begin? What is our first step in helping people we know, know Jesus? Is there something every one of us can do, whatever our ability, training, or experience? Let’s see.

Why we pray for our lost friends

Jesus and his disciples are at the Last Supper. Later this night Peter will deny him and all the others will forsake him. And they don’t even realize their spiritual danger.

So Jesus says, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.” He repeats this very personal family name twice, showing the urgency of the moment.

Now we see the real nature of the upcoming conflict. This is not a battle with the Jews, or the Romans, but with the enemy himself. Satan means “adversary,” the sworn, mortal enemy of all that is of God.

And he is not just attacking Jesus, but Peter and the other disciples as well. “You” is in the Greek plural—he’s coming after all of you.

A friend of mine in Atlanta sometimes prays, “Paint the dragon red.” In other words, show me when the enemy is at work here, and what to do about it. This is just what Jesus is doing for Peter.

Note that the leader of the apostles, the first preacher of the Christian church, the author of two books of Holy Scripture, did not know that he was under spiritual attack. How much less do we. And how much less do the lost people we know.

C. S. Lewis was right: Satan has two main strategies—to convince us he has more power than he has, or to get us to ignore him; either way, he can do as he likes. Today he gets us to ignore him. His attacks are like carbon monoxide poisoning—silent, but deadly. That’s what’s happening to Peter here.

“Asked” in the Greek means “to beg earnestly.” Satan knows that our souls are eternal, and the most important priority. But with Christians, he must ask for permission to attack us, as he did with Job.

Unfortunately, this is not true with our lost friends; they are already on his side, whether they know it or not.

I once heard a story about a Christian and his lost friend, walking down the street together. They see the devil walking towards them, and the lost man hides behind the Christian. “Save me,” he pleads. The Christian says, “It’s me he’s after—he’s already got you.”

To sift you as wheat: Wheat is made into bread when it is crushed. This is what the enemy wants to do to us.

He is a liar and a murderer (John 8.44). Every time you see a cross, you see what Satan wants to do to us. In fact, Peter himself died on a cross, upside down. Satan is no comic book figure in red tights, but a malicious, wicked murderer.

And our lost friends already belong to him, as it were. They are headed for eternity with him, in his presence and power, subject to his tortures and hatred.

But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail: The “I” here is emphatic in the Greek syntax: “Satan has prayed for your destruction, but I have prayed for your protection.”

“You” here is in the Greek singular–Jesus has prayed specifically for Peter. He knows that when Peter returns to him, he will be strategic in helping the other disciples return to him as well. And he was–the leader of the early church, their first preacher, the first to evangelize the Gentiles, the writer of two books of Holy Scripture. He did indeed “strengthen his brothers.”

So Jesus prays that his “faith”–his trust in Jesus as his Savior–may not fail. Jesus knows that the attack is spiritual in nature, so he prays for a spiritual result. And Peter’s faith did not fail. Peter’s courage failed him, but he did not reject Christ as his Savior. Eventually he came back to him.

So here we find Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, his last night before his crucifixion, taking time to pray specifically for Peter and his coming assault by the enemy. If he had time to pray, don’t we?

So, how do we?

How to pray for our lost friends

First, pray passionately. There is truly a spiritual war going on for the souls of the people we know and love. And praying is our best weapon in the battle.

The devil is a “roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5.8).

This battle “is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6.12).

So, we must fight this battle with the right weapons–a spiritual battle with spiritual weapons. We cannot save souls with buildings, budgets, programs or pulpits. None of them are enough.

This is why Jesus prayed for Peter. If he needed to pray, don’t we?

Pray specifically. There was a pastor known for his sermons on love. However, when some neighborhood children wrote their initials in the concrete of his new sidewalk, he ran out of his house and chased them away. His wife accosted him when he returned: “How can you preach so much on love and do that?” He said with a wink, “I do love people in the abstract–just not in the concrete.”

Jesus prayed for Peter by name–“Simon, Simon.” He prayed for his need by name–“that your faith may not fail.” He prayed specifically.

Generic prayers do little good here. We must pray specifically for the lost people we know, and for what they most need to come to faith. Perhaps they have intellectual questions about the faith; perhaps they were hurt by a church; perhaps their friends are keeping them from God. If you don’t know how to pray specifically, ask the Holy Spirit to help you, and he will.

Pray persistently.As soon as Jesus saw this battle coming, he prayed for Peter. And he didn’t give up until he was sure the battle was won–“when you have turned back.” We are to keep praying until the battle is over and victory comes.

I was a speech major in college. In one class we studied nothing but the greatest speeches in the English language. My favorite, not just because it was the shortest but also because it was so effective, was Winston Churchill’s commencement address to the school he’d once attended: “Never give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never. Never. Never.” He was right, and never more than in the battle for eternal souls.

Pray confidently. Jesus believed his Father for Peter’s faith. So can we. Pray with a vision of what will happen when this person comes to faith in Jesus. Pray with excitement and anticipation. Jesus did.

My father had a plaque above his desk I’ve always appreciated. It said, “All good things come to him who hustles while he waits.” While we wait for our friends to come to Christ–while we seek ways to engage, invite, and connect–we first pray. Jesus did.


Mother Teresa was opening a new mission in New York City. Skeptical reporters surrounded her with their cameras and lights. One asked her, “How will you measure your success here?” The tiny nun said into the cameras, “I don’t believe our Lord ever spoke of success. He spoke only of faithfulness in love.” She was right. With Jesus, success is obedience.

Will we be obedient to pray as Jesus prayed? To fight this spiritual battle for the souls of the people we know and love?

When you and I stand before Jesus one day and he asks us, “Who did you bring me?” what will be your answer to him?

Do Versus Done

Do Versus Done

John 3.1-2, 16

Dr. Jim Denison

I spent the summer before my senior year of college serving as a missionary in East Malaysia, on the southeast Asian island of Borneo. This was my first personal contact with other religions, and I was astonished by the sacrifices I saw.

I watched Muslims walk out of their mosques with their foreheads bleeding, after they had rubbed them fervently on their prayer rugs during prayer. I watched Buddhist families convert a great sum of money to paper, which they constructed into a tiny temple on the grave of an ancestor, and then burned, believing the ancestor would receive the gift in the afterlife. I watched Buddhists pray fervently at their home altars, hoping to speed their dead ancestors toward Nirvana.

The other world religions are similar: Hindus spend their entire lives in a low caste, believing that they must pay for sins committed in a previous lifetime; Mormons give two years to personal missionary work; Jehovah’s Witnesses spend a minimum of twenty hours each week in door to door witnessing.

When we see the sincerity and sacrifice of these religions, we are forced to ask, “Is Christianity right and these other faiths wrong?” Is there any difference between our faith and their religions? Anything which makes the Christian faith unique?

Yes, there is. It is the difference between “do” and “done.”

The difference between do and done

The religions are all about what we must do to get to god or heaven, as they understand it. The four noble truths and the eight-fold noble path; lifelong obedience to the Koran, or the Torah; meditation and ascetic living; manifold reincarnations. Every religion centers on what we must do.

Christianity uniquely stands on what God has done for us, in his Son, Jesus Christ.

How can we explain this difference to people who don’t understand it, who think Christianity is just another religion? Rules and regulations, do’s and don’ts, an institution to join, dues to pay, rights and wrongs?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a clear, simple way to present what God has done in the gospel? Actually, there was, and there is. A way which is so simple that anyone can understand it, if only we want to. So simple that anyone can use it to explain the gospel to someone we care about, if only we will.

Can I show you the gospel, the entire Bible, in one conversation? Even better, in one verse? On one card?


In John 3 we meet Nicodemus, “a man of the Pharisees” and “a member of the Jewish ruling council” (v. 1). This is one of the most impressive resumes in the Bible, a succinct summary of all that a man could do to find God. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, as passionate a religion as man has ever invented.

There were never more than 6,000 Pharisees in ancient Israel. Their name means “separated ones,” and that’s what they were—separated from all ordinary life in order to keep every detail of the Jewish law–the dietary codes, Sabbath regulations, everything.

And Nicodemus wasn’t just any Pharisee. He was the “teacher of Israel” (v. 10), a special kind of religious scholar, a man who taught even the Pharisees their theology. The point is, no more religious a man can be found in all the Bible. If religion can do enough to find God, he should have found God.

He was powerful as well, a “member of the Jewish ruling council” (v. 1). This group was called the Sanhedrin—seventy men who constituted the Supreme Court of the Jews. They had power over every Jew in all the world. And he was also wealthy. In John 19:38 he helped Joseph of Arimathea bury the body of Jesus, supplying seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloe. This was the kind and amount of burial material normally used only for a king, and a very expensive gift. Nicodemus was part of the Jewish aristocracy, a very wealthy man.

He’s done everything a man could do. He had religion, power and wealth. But he cannot find God. His problem then is still our problem, today.

We matter to God. He made us, and he wants to have a relationship with us and with the world he created. However, our world is not the way God wanted it to be, is it? Don’t we all fail and make mistakes? The Bible calls these wrong things “sin.” And these mistakes separate us from a holy God in his holy heaven.

I cannot visit a patient in an isolation room at a hospital without washing my hands and face and putting on sterile garments, or I will contaminate the room and the patient may die. In the same way, I cannot get into God’s perfect heaven unless I’m perfect. And I’m not. Are you?

Most of us are aware of this distance from God, so we start doing all kinds of things to get back to him. We try going to church, helping our neighbor, giving money to charities, being good people. Many people try the various religions. We do these things because we want to be right with God, to have eternal life with him.

However, none of these things can earn us God’s forgiveness or reestablish our relationship with him. The Bible says that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) This is the penalty I owe for the wrong things I’ve done: physical and eternal death, separated from God for eternity in a place called “hell.” Instead of finding life, I perish.

That’s my problem: I’m separated from God, and nothing I can do is enough to bridge the gap, to save me from perishing and give me eternal life. And it’s your problem as well.

and done

So, here’s God’s solution to our problem. Jesus gives Nicodemus the answer to his dilemma, and ours, in what has become the most famous single verse in all of Scripture–the one verse we know if we know no other. Say it with me: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (v. 16, KJV).

This one verse explained to Nicodemus the difference between do and done, the way to find God. It is still the clearest, simplest explanation today. This verse states that God “so loved the world,” and every one of us in it. In spite of our sins and failures, God still loves us unconditionally. No matter where we’ve been, what we’ve done, how we’ve failed.

Religion tries to get us to God. In Christianity, God comes to us, in love.

How do we know? Because he proved his love for us: he “gave his only begotten Son.”

What incredible love! Imagine a parent letting his child die so someone else could live—taking his heart to transplant into a dying patient, or her lungs to give to a person dying of lung disease.

We couldn’t get to God, so God came to us. He built a bridge to us by coming to earth as one of us, dying on the cross to pay the death penalty we owed.

Now we have a choice to make: “whosoever believes in him.” “Whosoever” means anyone. God loves the world so much than anyone in the world can respond to his love, today. To “believe” is to trust, personally. Not just to believe this is true, but to trust it with your life. When I needed knee surgery a few years ago, I believed Dr. Thurston Dean was a good surgeon, but I had to trust him personally, to let him operate on me, before he could help me. We are to “believe in him.” To put our faith personally in what he has done. Not in what I can do—not in my success, money, appearance, religion, or denomination. In him.

This is how we respond to his love for us. And here’s the result: we “will not perish, but have everlasting life.” I admit to God that I have rebelled against him, and that I need his forgiveness and leadership. I ask him to forgive me and guide my life. And when I do, God promises that I will not “perish,” the result of all the “do’s,” of all religion. Instead, I will be given everlasting life. My sins are pardoned and my debt paid. My relationship with God is firmly established because I am immediately adopted into his family as his child.

This is God’s simple plan, and his gift to you and me this morning.


Where are you in this plan? Is there any reason you wouldn’t want to cross over to the other side, to God and to life? You can do it, right now, here, in this sanctuary, or wherever you’re watching by television. In just a moment our staff and I will stand here at the front of the sanctuary, waiting to talk with you. We will help you cross over, and receive the eternal life God wants you to have. You can receive this gift, here and now.

If you’re watching by television, call the number on your screen. A trained deacon or pastoral staff member is ready right now to talk with you. He or she can help you trust in Jesus, answer your questions, pray with you for someone you know. You can order these gospel cards and receive them free of charge. We want to help in any way we can.

And if you’ve made this decision, you have received God’s incredible gift of eternal life. Don’t you want other people to have it, too? If you’d been cured of cancer, wouldn’t you want to share the cure with others who have the disease? You have been cured of eternal death and given eternal life. Don’t you want to share this gift?

Would you decide to share it with someone you know, this week? Would you make that commitment to God, right now? But you may be thinking to yourself, “This is too hard. I’ll have to give up too much to receive this gift, or sacrifice too much to share it.” The fact is, anyone can receive the gift of eternal life, and anyone can share it. To prove that point to you, I’d like you to meet Abraham Sarker. Abraham will tell the miraculous story of his conversion and ministry tonight, but I’d like you to hear briefly his answers to a few questions this morning.

Abraham, why did you come to the United States?

“To be a missionary for the Muslim people, seeking to convert people to Islam.”

How committed to Islam were you? What did you do as a Muslim?

“I prayed five times daily, fasted during Ramadan, gave my life to my religion.”

What about Christianity most attracted you to Jesus?

“His offer of grace by faith. I didn’t have to earn my way to God—it was done for me in him.”

How has your decision to share Christ with others affected your relationship with your family?

“I can no longer see my parents in Bangladesh, and may never see them again.”

Are you glad you accepted God’s love in Christ, and decided to share that love with other people?

“Yes, it has been worth every sacrifice to know this joy and give it to others.”

Compared to Abraham’s sacrifice, what will it cost us to receive God’s love today? Will you receive his gift, right now? Will you share it, this week?

Preach the Gospel, Then Use Words

Preach the Gospel, Then Use Words

Matthew 5:14-16

Dr. Jim Denison

Last weekend, on the Saturday before Valentine’s Day, I bought Janet a red rose in a bud vase, along with some other things. Clinging to the vase was this cute little red bear. I was in a hurry, so I bought it without a second look and smuggled it all home.

The next morning was Valentine’s Day, so I handed Janet the rose with its cute little bear. She started to laugh and said, “You gave me a little devil?” I had no idea what she meant, then looked closer. The “bear” I bought was actually a stuffed red devil, with horns and a tail. If I’d known that I would never have bought the thing, but in my haste the day before I didn’t even look. It boils down to this: your pastor gave the pastor’s wife a Satan doll for Valentine’s Day, as an expression of his love.

Janet was very nice about it all, but she did make one comment: “If you want to appear thoughtful, it’s best to be thoughtful.” Our lives must back up our words.

Last week we focused on the need for close proximity with lost people. Today we’ll look at the kind of “high potency” faith required for maximum impact in their lives. Why? Because we all want our lives to back up our words. None of us wants to be a hypocrite. But most of us are afraid that if we start telling more people about Christ, they’ll look at our lives and be turned off. We think our lives are not good enough to share Christ.

So, what is required to be “high potency” Christians? The answer may surprise you.

Who is the “light of the world?”

When Jesus said, “You are the light of the world,” believe it or not, he was speaking of us. Now, this is a great compliment. The Bible says that “God is light” (1 John 1:5), and Jesus repeatedly called himself “the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5; 12:35; 1 John 1:7ff.). And the Jews typically called themselves the “light of the nations” as well.

But now Jesus says that you and I are the light of the world. Not the Jewish people; not Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, Gandhi, the New Age enlightened; not the good and moral people we know; not politicians in Washington, Austin, or Dallas. You and I, sitting in this sanctuary today, are the light of the world.

This compliment is his grace gift to us. Remember that the first hearers had only followed Jesus a few days. They had virtually no training, experience, or contribution to make. They were the “light of the world” solely because they were related to him. The same is true of you and me. “You” is plural, referring to all of us. No matter our mistakes or failures. By his grace, every Christian here today is the light of the world.

Why? A lamp cannot light itself. What is the source of our light? Ephesians 5:8 is clear: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Because we are children of God, we now have the light of God in our lives, shining to others.

II Corinthians 4:6 says that God “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Our “light” comes from Christ in our lives. And so ours is a reflected light. Think of the moon and the sun. The moon has no light of its own—it merely reflects the sun, which it can “see,” but we cannot. In the very same way, Christ has returned to his Father and we cannot see him now, but his light is reflected in the lives of his people, Christians.

Here’s the point: if you are a Christian you are already “the light of the world.” Believe it or not.

What can our light accomplish?

Now, what can this light in your life actually accomplish? Isn’t “high potency” Christianity really reserved for the Billy Graham’s and Mother Teresa’s of the world? For the missionaries and the monks, those few who are really “sold out” to God? If I knew your problems, your mistakes, or what’s in your mind right now, I wouldn’t call you the light of the world, right? But God does.

And he says that your light can defeat the darkness of your fallen world. Right now, you already have within you all the light you need to be a “high potency” believer.

“A city on a hill cannot be hidden,” according to Jesus. Their houses were made of very white limestone, and reflected the sun’s rays even from a great distance away. They were built on the hills around Galilee, so that you could see them at a distance. And at night, the city lights were visible from even farther away. Just as you cannot hide Dallas as you’re driving toward the city, so we cannot hide the light of Christ in our lives, unless we want to.

Jesus continues: “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house” (v. 15). Their “lamps” were small clay pots, with a tiny wick floating on olive oil. They were hard to light, so people didn’t extinguish them at night. Instead, they put a bushel basket over them so the flame could get air while hiding the light.

But you don’t light a lamp to hide its flame. You put it on its “stand,” a rock or ledge built into the wall of the home. Then, because theirs were one-room houses, one oil lamp would give light to “everyone in the house.”

The point is obvious: Christianity was never meant to be lived in secret. The purpose of a lamp is to give light. The point is not what the lamp looks like, how big it is, how much oil it possesses, what kind of wick it uses, or how much it costs. The point, the purpose is not the lamp but the light. And if the lamp does its job, its light will always defeat the darkness.

Listen to I Peter 2.12: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Flip a light switch, light a candle, turn on a flashlight. What happens? The light wins over the dark. Every time.

The choice is ours (v. 16)

Now we have a choice to make. There is no option as to whether or not we are the light of the world—Jesus established that fact. The question is, will you and I let his light shine in us so that others can see it (v. 16)? Will we be “high potency” believers? The choice is ours. How do we make the best decision?

Ryan’s science experiment this year used magnifying glasses to convert sunlight to heat. So he and I learned some facts about light. Let me share them with you.

First, find the right light source. The magnifying glasses worked well with sunlight, but not at all with sun lamps or heat lamps. Without the right source, the light doesn’t make any difference. Listen to I Peter 2:9: you are “a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (emphasis added). We’re not here to impress people with us, or our church, but with Christ. No other source will make an eternal difference in the lives of the people we know.

Make sure Jesus is your Savior and Lord. Then decide to reflect him to other people through your life.

Second, stay turned to the light. Ryan and I had to keep focusing the magnifying glasses, because the sun kept moving, or so it seemed. Actually, the earth moved, not the sun. We must stay turned to Christ, centered on him, walking with him, relating to him, or he cannot reflect his light in our lives. We do this daily through his word: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Ps. 119:105). We spend the day communing with God, walking with him.

Then with Job we can speak of “the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone upon my head and by his light I walked through darkness” (Job 29:2-3).

Third, keep the lens clean. Ryan and I had to keep the glass clean, or dirt would distort the light. We had to stay out of shadows, and wait for the clouds to pass. The lens must have a clear path to the sun. So with our lives: “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So, let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Romans. 13:12-14).

So with other people: “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble” (I John 2:9-10). If your lens is dirty, confess your sins and claim God’s promise to forgive you and to “cleanse you from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). Keep the lens clean.

Last, stay focused on the object. . Ryan and I found that it was hard to burn anything with a quick flash of light—it took time, and we had to be patient. The light would have its effect, but we had to stay focused on the object. So, focus on the people you know who don’t know Jesus Christ. Start with your family and close friends, for “the light that shines farthest, shines brightest at home.”

Shine the light of God’s love on those in need, for God promises that “if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday” (Isaiah 58:10).

We must have both “close proximity” and “high potency” if we are to achieve maximum impact in the lives and souls of others. Choose people upon whom you will focus the light of God’s love, and do it this week.


“High potency” Christianity is really very simple. We decide we will walk so close to Jesus, in his light, that others see that light in us and want it in their lives. Francis of Assisi said it well: “Preach the gospel at all times—if necessary use words.” I’ve adapted his motto for my title today: “Preach the gospel, then use words.” I can testify personally that this strategy still works today.

I became a Christian because of the joy and love I saw in other Christians. I didn’t understand the sermons or the hymns. I just knew that I wanted what these people had. And so on September 9, 1973, I asked my Sunday school teacher how I could have what they had, and she led me to faith in Christ.

Then when God called me to ministry, he used other “high potency” Christians to encourage me. One in particular stands out, Dr. A. O. Collins, a Christianity professor at Houston Baptist University. When I was a confused and discouraged freshman, he reached out to me. He encouraged me when no one else did. He became a father in the faith to me.

And he showed me Christ’s love in his own, over and over. One example: while I was pastor at New Hope Baptist Church in Mansfield, one year the church decided to have a “This Is Your Life” party for my birthday. A terrible idea. They got my brother to videotape my teachers in Houston from elementary school up, and everyone had a great time but me. Then Mark stepped out of the closet in the back of the fellowship hall to tell some more horrible stories.

More partying went on, then 45 minutes into the program, another voice emerged from that broom closet. It was Dr. Collins. He preached that morning in Waco, drove that afternoon to Mansfield, sat in a broom closet for 45 minutes, came out and talked to the church, stayed until 10 that night, then drove back to Waco to get his wife, so he could drive home to Houston and teach his 8 o’clock class the next morning.

I’ll never forget such love. I want to be a “high potency” Christian like that. Don’t you?