How To Do What You Cannot

How to Do What You Cannot Do

Matthew 7:12

Dr. Jim Denison

Someone has written that you know you are in Texas in July when: the birds have to use potholders to pull worms out of the ground; the best parking place is determined by shade instead of distance; hot water comes out of both taps; you can make sun tea instantly; you discover that in July it takes only two fingers to steer your car; you break into a sweat the instant you step outside at 7:30 a.m.; you realize that asphalt has a liquid state; the potatoes cook underground, so all you have to do is pull one out and add butter, salt, and pepper; and farmers are feeding their chickens crushed ice to keep them from laying boiled eggs.

Nonetheless, despite the hot weather and vacation schedules and all that might distract us this morning, God has brought us to a text of life-transforming significance. How can we be like Jesus? One verse will tell us.

This sentence has been known as the Golden Rule since a sermon by John Wesley in 1750. These are the most famous words Jesus ever spoke. They have been called the “Everest of ethics” (William Barclay), the greatest single statement of ethics in all of literature.

So, what did Jesus really say in this famous text? And how can we put his words into our lives? I am praying that you and I will never be the same for learning the answers from Jesus’ lips today.

Learn what Jesus said

First, what did Jesus really say? Walk through his words with me.

The verse begins with “so,” or “therefore.” This verse sums up the entire Sermon on the Mount, the greatest discourse ever preached.

These words summarize the beatitudes, being salt and light, and God’s word regarding murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, retribution, love for enemies, giving to the needy, prayer, fasting, treasure in heaven, worry, judging and gossip, and seeking God. Here is the “capstone of the whole discourse” (Plummer).

“In everything, do to others”—attitudes, thoughts, words, actions. No exceptions.

“What you would have them do to you.”

Jesus here assumes, as with the entire Sermon on the Mount, that we are his followers. These words were preached to believers, and they require a prior faith commitment before they will work in our lives.

If a person wishes evil for himself, this Rule would permit him to wish it for others as well (drug dealers, pornographers, alcoholics). So you must make your heart right with God before you can use this as a Rule by which to live. More of this in a moment.

“For this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Jesus said earlier, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

This one Rule summarizes all God has said to mankind to this point in revelatory history.

Think for a moment about all the ways our world would be different if we lived by this Golden Rule.

Consider the social parts of the Ten Commandments. Do you want others to murder or harm you? To commit adultery with your spouse? To steal from you? To lie to or about you, to gossip and slander about you? To covet what is yours? What if the world practiced this Rule? What would be the consequences for our prisons and jails if there were no more murder or physical assault or theft? For our families if there were no more adultery? For our relationships if there were no more lies or slander or gossip or coveting? What would be the consequences regarding issues such as abortion, pornography, substance abuse?

A century ago, a Great Awakening came to the nation of Wales, and the population began living by the Golden Rule. What were the results? They had to close the jails, for there were no prisoners. The police formed choruses and sang in churches. Coal miners had to retrain their mules, because they had before heard only foul language from their masters. Everything changed.

How different would our personal lives be if we each lived and thought by this Rule? If we didn’t have murderous wishes, or adulterous lust, or desires to steal, lie, and covet? How much more healthy and godly would our minds and souls be?

Admit that his ethic is impossible

Obviously, we should each live by this Golden Rule. But there’s a catch.

The negative form of this rule is found throughout literature. The great Jewish rabbi Hillel taught, “What is hateful to you, do not do to another. This is the whole law; the rest is explanation of it” (cf. Tobit 4:15). Confucius said, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” The Stoics said the same, as did the Greek philosophers.

But Jesus was the very first to state this rule positively. Not just, don’t do what you don’t want done to you; but, do what you do want done to you. This had never been said before in all of recorded literature. It was a new teaching, a new way of looking and life and all its responsibilities and privileges.

And it is a way of life none of us can follow.

You see a car broken down on the side of the road. Hillel tells you not to hinder or harm the person; Jesus tells you to stop and help him. You notice a lonely colleague at work or student at school. Hillel says not to make things worse; Jesus says to befriend her. You learn of someone in financial trouble. Hillel says not to compound the problem; Jesus says to help meet the need. You know someone who is lost spiritually. Hillel says not to make things worse spiritually; Jesus says to pray for the person and win him to faith.

Jesus applies this Golden Rule to “everything.” No exceptions. No parts of life left out. No people to the side. No days off. No moments off. Every dimension of your life—your thoughts, attitudes, private words, public actions—every day of your life is to be lived this way.

C. S. Lewis: “When I was a child I often had a toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother—at least, not till the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this. I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I knew she would take me to the dentist next morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from pain: but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists; I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache. They would not let sleeping dogs lie; if you gave them an inch they took a [mile.]

“Now, if I may put it that way, Our Lord is like the dentists. If you give Him an inch, He will take a [mile]…That is why He warned people to ‘count the cost’ before becoming Christians. ‘Make no mistake,’ He says. ‘If you let Me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through…I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect—until My Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me” (Mere Christianity 171-2).

God means for every part of every moment of every day to be lived this way. And this, you and I cannot do. We simply can’t.

Live in dependence on his Spirit

So how do we do what we cannot do?

First, we go to the only One who can. Jesus Christ was the only person in all of human history to live fully by this Golden Rule. The only one. Begin by establishing a personal relationship with him. Ask him to forgive your sins and failures, to step into your life and make you the child of God. You must have Christ in your heart to live like him in the world.

Next, admit that you cannot live by this Rule.

If you think you are “just fine” spiritually, measure last week by this standard. Measure today by it. Have you prayed for every person you hope will pray for you? Have you given financially as you hope others will? Have you loved those around you as you hope they love you? Have you been the spouse or parent or child you want others to be with you?

See how far short of this Rule you have fallen, as we all have.

Now you’re ready to ask God for his strength and power, for his help and hope.

a. This is a prayer God will always answer. Any time you ask him to help you do to others what you would have them do to you, he will. Claim these promises: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24); “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3); “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15.7); “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).

Ask God to fill your heart with his love for your neighbor as yourself, and believe by faith that he has. Then follow Augustine’s advice: love the Lord and do as you will.

Next, apply this Rule to that specific situation where it is needed most. What relationship is most strained in your life this morning? Family, friends, neighbor, fellow church member? Is there someone you have hurt? Someone who has hurt you? What would you want that person to do now? What, therefore, must you do now?

I’m praying for marriages to experience healing, starting today. So many couples are struggling. At Youth Camp there were so many teenagers living in homes where the parents are separated or divorcing. I’m praying for friendships to be restored, for bitterness to be healed, for souls to be saved, for lives to be transformed. I’m praying for miracles as a result of this text today. I’m asking you to join me.

Last, make such dependence on Jesus a lifestyle. Our culture so tempts us to be proud and self-sufficient. “Do to others what you would have them do to you”—I can do that. I can try harder and do better. No, you can’t. Not for long. Not in any way which changes anything. But you can ask Jesus to do this through you. You can ask his Spirit to fill your heart with his love, his forgiveness, his grace, his courage. Every time, every day, when you must live by this Rule, you can depend on the One who gave it. And you must.


This statement by Thomas Merton has challenged me this week: “We are not converted only once in our lives, but many times, and this endless series of large and small conversions, inner revolutions, leads out to our transformation in Christ.”

I am asking God to make this day one of these “conversions.” The morning we asked God to help us live every day by the Everest of ethics, the essence of Christian relationship, the one value which will transform our lives and our entire world. The day he answered that prayer.

Will you join me?

The Cure For Gossip

The Cure for Gossip

Matthew 7:1-6

Dr. Jim Denison

Some of you are new to our city. In the interest of public safety, I wish to help. A friend recently sent me a set of driving rules for Dallas. You’ll find them essential, I think.

If your Mapsco is more than a few weeks old, throw it away and buy a new one. If you’re in Denton County and your Mapsco is one day old, it is already obsolete.

There is no such thing as a high-speed chase in Dallas. We all drive like that.

Morning rush hour is from 6 to 10; evening rush hour is from 3 to 7. Friday’s rush hour begins Thursday night.

If you actually stop at a yellow light, you will be rear-ended, yelled at and possibly shot.

If someone actually has his or her turn signal on, it’s probably a factory defect.

f. Roads change names without reason. For instance, Lake Highlands Drive, when it crosses Northwest Highway, becomes Plano Road. It is then Avenue K, Greenville Avenue, and Highway 5 before ending in Sherman.

It is possible to be driving west in the northbound lane of East Northwest Highway. Do not let this confuse you.

You can tell who your enemies are when driving in Dallas: they’re everyone else. When you’re out of your car, it’s not so obvious. At least not to you. They don’t talk to you, just about you.

A “Dear Abby” column once carried this essay: “My name is Gossip. I have no respect for justice. I maim without killing. I break hearts and ruin lives. I am cunning and malicious, and gather strength with age. The more I am quoted the more I am believed. My victims are helpless. They cannot protect themselves against me because I have no name and no face. To track me down is impossible. The harder you try, the more elusive I become. I am nobody’s friend. Once I tarnish a reputation, it is never the same. Even my name hisses. I am called Gossip.”

What do we do about gossip? Social psychologist Nicholas Emler has concluded that gossip forms as much as 80% of a normal person’s conversation in a day. What cures this disease of the tongue and the soul? Jesus will tell us today.

Admit that gossip is wrong (vs. 1-2)

He begins: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

The word “judge” means subject someone to harsh, sharp, unjust criticism, in a habitual way.

The words are a present tense imperative: never judge. Stop judging. No exceptions, conditions, or loopholes. Don’t do it.

This prohibition applies to all unjust criticism. But typically we criticize people in their absence more than in their presence; we slander and gossip.

We need to know that we will be criticized by others as we are doing to them now: “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (v. 2). If someone will gossip about you to me, they will gossip about me to you.

And we need to know that God is paying attention to our slander and gossip:

“Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure” (Psalm 101:5).

“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (Luke12:2-3).

So refuse to speak about those who are not present.

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you” (Matthew 18:15).

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things” (Romans 2:1).

“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2:12-13).

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19-20).

“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (James 1:26).

Jim Cymbala is pastor of the remarkable Brooklyn Tabernacle and best-selling author of spiritual books. His church has grown from 20 to more than 7,000, in one of the harshest environments in America. He credits the unity of the church as one of its keys to experiencing the power of God. In that light, Jim says that when his church receives new members, his final charge to them is:

“Never slander or gossip about another member. If you ever hear somebody talking about a person not present, if you ever hear a critical word about the pastor of the church or a choir member or an usher, we charge and authorize you to stop that person in his tracks. Say to him, ‘Excuse me, has Pastor Cymbala hurt you? An usher hurt you? They’ll apologize. Come with me right now to the pastor’s office, or I’ll make an appointment for you. The pastor will bring whoever hurt you, and if necessary they’ll kneel before you and apologize. But we won’t permit talking behind their backs, slander, or gossip. We can’t be going to the prayer meeting and calling on God, ‘Lord, come in power!’ and then during the week be grieving the Holy Spirit by gossip and phone calls.”

Admit that gossip is wrong. This is the first step to its cure.

Confess your own sins (vs. 3-5)

Jesus continues: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (v. 3).

The “speck” was a splinter from a piece of dry wood or chaff. It would not damage the eye or limit eyesight, but would be irritating.

The “plank” was the “dokos,” a log upon which planks in a house rested in a pier-and-beam kind of construction, the largest and strongest “plank” they knew.

When we see the speck in someone else’s life and ignore the plank in our own, we are “hypocrites”—Greek actors who wore two masks and played two roles. We act spiritual, when we are carnal. We appear to be helping, when we are hurting and hating. We transfer our sins and problems to others, looking for their faults so we can avoid our own.

To stop slandering and gossiping about others, begin by examining yourself. A wise Bible teacher once taught a truth I’ve not forgotten: there is no sin I cannot commit. Your sins may not be mine, but mine may not be yours. And I cannot see or judge your heart. There is always something I don’t know, or have wrong. Always.

And we tend to see in others those wrongs we commit ourselves. Otherwise we wouldn’t see them. Gossips reveal their own sins in the slanders they repeat.

So let me urge you to consider a valuable spiritual discipline again today: the moral inventory. Dan Hayes, my friend and staff colleague in Atlanta, has written a spiritual masterpiece called Fireseeds of Spiritual Awakening. In it he suggests this experience: “Here is an exercise that has worked for thousands…Take a sheet of paper, a pencil, and your Bible. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you any areas that are displeasing him. Take 30 minutes to an hour and make a list of those sins. Then tell the Lord you acknowledge them as sin and accept by faith his forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Determine by his power to turn from them and expect the Holy Spirit to fill you with his power. Make restitution or public confession where necessary. (It may be tough, but it will be worth it.) If you were sincere when you did this, you will be a cleansed vessel ready to become a glowing spark of revival and awakening” (rev. ed., p. 68).

Practice spiritual discernment (v. 6)

Jesus tells us to refuse gossip and slander by examining our own sins before we give attention to those of others. But he does want us to see sin for what it is, and to refuse its contaminating influence in our lives: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces” (v. 6).

In Jesus’ culture, “dogs” referred to ethnic impurity (Gentiles), “pigs” to ethical impurity (eating meat forbidden by Torah).

Giving dogs what is “sacred” refers to meat consecrated for worship and sacrifice, symbolically giving Gentiles that which is sacred to Jews.

Pearls looked like peas or acorns and would deceive the hogs until they discovered the deception.

Wild dogs and pigs were nothing like the domesticated animals with which we are familiar. If you were close enough to them to toss them meat and pearls, and angered or threatened them, they would likely attack you. Think of bears in Yellowstone or coyotes on the open plain.

We are called not to slander or gossip, but to practice spiritual discernment:

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

“Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).

“Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (John 7:24).

We are to refuse the ungodly:

“I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people” (1 Corinthians 5:9).

“Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).

“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving the Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people” (Romans 16:17-18).

“They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:4-5).

But do so in love, praying for reconciliation in grace.

During World War II, Hitler commanded all religious groups to unite so he could control them. Among the Brethren churches, half complied and half refused. Those who complied were treated well by the government; the others were persecuted, and many died in concentration camps.

After the war, feelings of bitterness ran deep between the two sides. Finally they determined that the situation had to be healed. Leaders from each group met in a quiet retreat. For several days, each person spent time in prayer, examining his own heart in the light of Christ’s commands. Then they came together.

As they confessed their hostility and bitterness to God and yielded to his control, the Holy Spirit created a spirit of unity among them. Love filled their hearts and dissolved their hatred.


So what do we do with gossip? We admit that it is wrong. We confess the sin in our own hearts. We discern and refuse sin in others, while looking for spiritual healing and reconciliation in grace.

All the while, we trust and love the One who endured the slander and gossip, judgment and hatred of the entire human race for us. Just for us.

On our family vacation we spent a day in Yellowstone, one of the most amazing natural environments in the world. We could see the burned, charred trees which still stand there from the 1988 fires which consumed more than 300,000 acres.

After the fires were finally put out, forest rangers began exploring the damage. National Geographic reported on one discovery: a ranger found a bird literally petrified in ashes, perched on the ground at the base of a tree. He pushed the dead bird over with a stick. When he did, three tiny chicks ran out from under their dead mother’s wings.

Their mother, aware of impending disaster, had carried her offspring to the base of that tree and gathered them under her wings, instinctively knowing that the toxic smoke would rise. She could have flown to safety but refused to abandon her babies. When the blaze arrived and the heat singed her small body, the mother remained. Because she was willing to die, those under the cover of her wings would live.

You and I live under the wings of the Almighty, forgiven by his grace. Now, let our words to each other reflect that grace, to the glory of God, this week.

The Only Way To Life

The Only Way to Life

Matthew 7:13-14

Dr. Jim Denison

Where did you go on vacation this summer? How much work was it to prepare? You studied your options, read travel brochures, contacted travel agents and friends. You chose the location and manner of travel, reserved plane tickets and hotel rooms and admissions. You chose your clothes and packed them the night before. All to go someplace for a few days or weeks.

Janet is the vacation planner in our house. For our vacation this summer, she read more material than I had to master for my dissertation. I don’t even want to know how many hours she spent booking flights, confirming flights, and checking on details. The rest of us just did as we were told. And all was well.

Now let’s think about our final destination in life. Not just the place we’ll spend a few days or weeks, but all of eternity. If you could stretch a measuring tape from here to the farthest star, your lifespan on earth would be less than a hair on that tape. You’re en route to that final destination, right now. Are you ready to go? Are you sure? Are the people you care about? No trip could be more important than the one before us today. Let’s learn from the only One who knows the way.

Own the correct map

Jesus says there are two “gates” you need to know about for your trip.

Some gates are “narrow.” The Greek word means to be compressed, to be narrowed as in a tight place between rocks or walls, as with gates leading to narrow alleys between buildings. This is a gate you can enter only by yourself. No baggage, no companions. Just you.

Other gates are “wide.” They thought of the gate leading into the city. The gate which is so wide an army could march through it, ranchers and shepherds could bring their animals to market, a gate which is easy to see, to choose, to enter, with as much baggage and as many companions as you like.

Next, our Lord tells us about the two roads in life, connected to these gates.

One is “narrow.” This is a different word from the one found in v. 13; it means to be pressed down, the weight they used to crush grain into flour. The road which leads to oppressing and suffering, the way of unpopular persecution.

The other is “broad,” the Main Street to which the city gates opened, and the wide highway which led to it. A road which is level, easy to walk, with as many people and as much luggage as you like. The way that is popular.

Now Jesus tells us about the two crowds we will find in life.

The narrow gate and road have on them “only a few” (v. 14).

The wide gate and broad road have large crowds, for “many enter through it” (v. 13).

And these gates and roads lead their crowds to the two destinations of life.

One is “life.” This is the first use of this word in the Sermon on the Mount. It means life now and eternally, the “abundant life” he came to give us (John 10:10).

The other is “destruction.” The word means absolute ruin, total despair, death now and eternally.

According to the Lord Jesus, this is the way life is. Only two gates, only two roads, only two crowds, only two destinations. Life and destruction. No third choice.

I admit that his words are not popular or politically correct today. Intolerance is the great evil in our society. Live and let live. There’s no such thing as absolute truth (which is an absolute truth claim). Just do what’s right for you. All roads lead up the same mountain. Whatever God is to you is fine, so long as you’re sincere.

But may I ask you: upon what basis are you sure that you are right and God and the Bible are wrong? What evidence? Do you want to stake your eternal destination on what you hope is true, or have heard somewhere, or seems popular? Would you do that with surgery for your temporal body? Investments for your temporal money? Don’t we want the best experts giving us the best advice, backed by the best evidence and facts?

Here the God of the universe, the One who created all that exists, the only One who knows the future, tells us how life and eternity really are. Begin your journey by owning the correct map.

Avoid the wrong destination

When we choose the right map, we learn to avoid the wrong destination. What is this place of “destruction” about which Jesus warns us?

It is a real place. The Bible tells us what will happen for many people when their road comes to its end: “Each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:13-15).

What is the name of this place?

The Greek New Testament calls it tartarus, translated “hell:” “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4).

And it calls it gehenna, the most common Greek name translated “hell.” This was literally the garbage dump outside the city walls where children had been sacrificed in earlier centuries.

Jesus used it as a metaphor for hell: fires constantly burning, stench and smoke everywhere, disgusting and revolting.

What is it like?

It is a place of torment: “In hell, where he was in torment” (Luke 16.23).

A place of fire: those who reject Christ “will be tormented with burning sulfur” (Revelation 14:10).

A place which is eternal and permanent: “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Luke 16:26).

A place of wrath: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36).

Jesus warned us constantly about this place of destruction. Eleven of the 12 references to “gehenna” in the New Testament come from his lips. In fact, he spoke more about hell than he did about heaven.

Dante captured the essence of this place in his Inferno:

I am the way to the city of woe.

I am the way to a forsaken people.

I am the way into eternal sorrow.

Abandon all hope ye who enter here (Canto 3:1-3, 9).

Choose the right destination

We don’t want to end up here. So let’s consider our other option: the road which lead to “life.” How do we find it? How do we walk on this road?

Jesus tells us: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:7-9). With this result: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (v. 10).

The Bible says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). We find life only through faith in Christ.

But we must choose to enter this life. If we are not on this narrow road, we are on the wide path. If we did not “enter” through the narrow gate, we have come through the wide one. If we are not intentionally on the road to life, we are on the road to destruction.

No one becomes a Christian by nationality; you are not born onto this road by the country of your origin. No one becomes a Christian by inheritance; your Christian parents or the grandfather who was a preacher are not enough. None travel this road by proximity, as though being around Christians and churches will do it.

We cannot be neutral. There is no third way, no third gate, no third road, no third crowd, no third destination. You have either made the deliberate and intentional decision to step through the gate of faith in Christ and travel the road of salvation, or you are on the road to destruction, whether you know it or not.

Let me speak plainly. Jesus’ parable makes clear the fact that you can be on the road to hell and not know it. You can think you are saved when you are not. Satan loves nothing more than to escort people to hell who are shocked when they arrive. No wise person would step onto any road without knowing where it will end. Are you certain you know where your current road is leading you?

Theologian John Hick pictures the situation this way. Two men are traveling a road together. The first believes that it will end in the Celestial City; the second believes that it will lead nowhere. Neither can see the end of the road, of course, so both are traveling by faith. They stroll together down the same hills, and climb the same mountains. They endure the same thunderstorms and enjoy the same periods of sunshine and warm breezes. All the while one believes he is traveling to the Celestial City, and the other to nowhere at all.

Then they come to the final turn in the road, and one will be right, and one will be wrong. Which are you?


If you know beyond doubt that you have chosen Jesus, that you are traveling his narrow road of life, let me ask: who are your bringing with you? Will you pray by name for a lost friend this morning? Will you make a prayer list of lost people and pray for them by name every day? Will you to become concerned about the eternal destination of the people you love? Will you pay any price to help them choose the road of life?

Ask them where they’re going. Take a chance, risk their response, decide that their eternity is worth whatever your witness costs you today. Don’t let them spend eternity in “destruction.” Make it your life purpose to help as many people as possible follow Jesus. Use your career and school, friendships and influence and opportunities for this sacred purpose and highest of callings. Orient your life around this one goal: to bring as many to Jesus as you can. And know that they will spend eternity thanking you, and the Savior to whom you have led them.

Nate Saint was one of five missionaries stabbed to death by Huaorani Indians in Equador in 1956. 40 years later, his son Steve was able to travel back, befriend those who had murdered his father, and learn the rest of the story. Here’s part of the report he wrote:

“Dawa, one of the three women, told me she had hidden in the bush through the attack, hearing but not seeing the killing of the five men…She also told me that after the killing she saw cowodi (foreigners like the five men) above the trees, singing. She didn’t know what this kind of music was until she later heard records…and became familiar with the sound of a choir.

“Mincaye and Kimo confirmed that they heard the singing and saw what Dawa seems to describe as angels along the ridge above Palm Beach (where the missionaries’ plane had landed). Dyuwi verified hearing the strange music, though he describes what he saw more like lights, moving around and shining, a sky full of jungle beetles similar to fireflies with a light that is brighter and doesn’t blink.

“Apparently all the participants (in the killings) saw this bright multitude in the sky” (Steve Saint, “Did they have to die?” [Christianity Today, September 16, 1996]). If you have chosen the road of life, so will you one day. This is the promise of God.

When God Seems Silent

When God Seems Silent

Matthew 7:7-11

Dr. Jim Denison

A friend sent me this essay. See if it is as true to your life as it is mine.

Satan called a worldwide convention. In his opening address to his evil demons, he said, “We can’t keep the Christians from going to church. We can’t keep them from reading their Bibles and knowing the truth. We can’t even keep them from conservative values. But we can do something else. We can keep them from forming an intimate, continual experience with Christ.

“If they gain that connection with Jesus, our power over them is broken. So let them go to church, let them have their conservative lifestyles, but steal their time so they can’t gain that experience with Jesus Christ. This is what I want you to do. Distract them from gaining hold of their Savior and maintaining that vital connection throughout their day.”

“How shall we do this?” asked his demons. “Keep them busy with the nonessentials of life and invest unnumbered schemes to occupy their minds,” he answered. “Tempt them to spend, spend, spend, then borrow, borrow, borrow. Convince them to work six or seven hours a day, 10-12 hours a day, so they can afford their lifestyles. Keep them from spending time with their children. As their families fragment, soon their homes will offer no escape from the pressures of work.

“Overstimulate their minds so they cannot hear that still small voice. Entice them to play the radio or CD player wherever they drive, to keep the TV, the DVD player, and their CDs going constantly in their homes. Fill their coffee tables with magazines and newspapers. Pound their minds with news 24 hours a day. Invade their driving moments with billboards. Flood their mailboxes and e-mail with junk, sweepstakes, and every kind of newsletter and promotion.

“Even in their recreation, let them be excessive. Have them return from their holidays exhausted, disquieted and unprepared for the coming week. And when they gather for spiritual fellowship, involve them in gossip and small talk so they leave with souls unfulfilled.

“Let them be involved in evangelism. But crowd their lives with so many good causes that they have no time to seek power from Christ. Soon they will be working in their own strength, sacrificing their health and family unity for the good of the cause.”

It was quite a convention. And the demons went eagerly to their assignments.

Has the devil been successful in his scheme? You be the judge. A recent poll reveals that while nearly 9 in 10 Americans say they pray to God, only one in four is “completely satisfied” with his or her prayer life. Only 60% of Protestants who pray are “absolutely certain” that prayer makes a difference in their lives. Most say they are too distracted to pray regularly.

They are the people I want to address today. The three in four who are not satisfied with your prayer lives; the 40% of you who are not certain that prayer makes a difference in your lives; those of you who are praying but not receiving; those who are so busy that praying is a struggle; those who are listening, but God seems silent.

We’ve all been there, and we’ll all be there. Some of you are there right now.

How to pray

So what do we do? Ask, seek, and knock, Jesus says.

Note the ascent. A child asks for his mother’s help. But he cannot find her, so he seeks her. He still cannot find her, but there is a closed door. And so he knocks at the door, hoping to find the one he seeks so he can ask for the need she can answer.

So with us. We ask, but it seems he does not hear. We seek, but it seems he is not to be found. We knock, but it seems the door is closed. But it is not. Your Father will always open to you.

But you must pray. How? First, with urgency. Jesus’ words are imperatives, commands. Clearly praying means something to God. And it must mean something to us.

Charles Spurgeon: “He who prays without fervency does not pray at all. We cannot commune with God, who is a consuming fire, if there is no fire in our prayers.”

Maltbie Babcock: “Our prayers must mean something to us if they are to mean anything to God.”

Spurgeon again: “The sacred promises, though in themselves most sure and precious, are of no avail for the comfort and sustenance of the soul unless you grasp them by faith, plead them in prayer, expect them by hope, and receive them with gratitude.”

And again he said: “Do not reckon you have prayed unless you have pleaded, for pleading is the very marrow of prayer.”

Pray with urgency, and continually. Jesus’ words are in the present tense: pray and keep on praying.

Jesus prayed before light, after dark, all night long, continually.

His word commands the same of us: “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

George Mueller, the great minister and man of faith, prayed patiently for five personal friends who did not know the Lord. After five years, one came to Christ. In ten more years, two more were saved. After 25 years, the fourth friend came to Christ. He kept praying for the last friend for 52 years, then died. The fifth friend came to know Jesus a few months afterward. Keep praying.

In Atlanta I met a non-Christian who came to our church with his believing wife. We spent several breakfasts together talking about his issues with the faith. When we moved to Dallas, I kept him on my prayer list for unsaved people. I have prayed for him daily across these years. Last week I received news that he has trusted in Christ. Now when I pray through that list, I rejoice. As do the angels in glory.

How do we pray with continual urgency?

Begin. Make an appointment to meet with God. I read this week about a man who put on his calendar each day, 7-7:30, prayer. But he kept missing it. Then he changed it to say 7-7:30, God. That’s harder to neglect.

In Jesus’ name: “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13-14). Do you believe that you deserve to be heard, or do you pray on the basis of Jesus’ death for you?

According to God’s will: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15). He will give us what we ask, or something better.

For God’s glory: “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father” (John14:13). Do you seek your glory or his?

With a clean heart: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my prayer” (Psalm 66:18-19).

If God seems silent, check yourself by these biblical standards. But know that your Father wants to hear you even more than you want to be heard. And pray. Let nothing stop you. Do it today.

Why to pray

Now we come to the hard question: why? Why pray with continual urgency, especially when it seems God is silent? Because your Father always hears you.

Jesus promises: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened. No exceptions.

God has an “open door” policy with the universe. Billions of people pray in thousands of languages, all at the same time, and God hears each one. You included.

God always hears you—Jesus’ parable proves it. Stones along the Sea of Galilee were small limestone balls, in appearance much like the bread of the day. Fish-like snakes grew in the Sea; they were without scales and thus forbidden to the Jews as food (Leviticus 11:12). Now, if you were a father in those days and your hungry child asked for bread, would you trick him with a stone? If he asked for a fish, would you give him a snake? Of course not. And compared to God, we are “evil.” Our perfect Father who is love always hears us. This is the promise of God.

Second, pray with continual urgency because your heart needs to pray.

Frederick Buechner: We are to pray continually “not, one assumes, because you have to beat a path to God’s door before he’ll open it, but because until you beat the path maybe there’s no way of getting to your door.”

Blaise Pascal: “All the troubles of life come upon us because we refuse to sit quietly for a while each day in our rooms.”

Gordon MacDonald: “I have begun to see that worship and intercession are far more the business of aligning myself with God’s purposes than asking him to align with mine.”

Oswald Chambers: “Prayer is the way the life of God is nourished. We look upon prayer as a means of getting things for ourselves; the Bible’s idea of prayer is that we may get to know God himself.”

When we pray with continual urgency, God always gives us what we ask or something better. But what do we do when it seems he has not?

The Greeks told a story about Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, who fell in love with Tithonus a mortal youth. Zeus offered her any gift she might choose for her mortal lover. She naturally chose that Tithonus might live forever; but she had forgotten to ask that he might remain forever young. And so Tithonus grew older and older and older, and could never die, and the gift became a curse.

Our God is no Zeus. He loves us so much he watched his Son die in our place, on our cross, for our sins. Do you know anyone who loves you enough to send their child to die for you? One did.

But he cannot give us everything we ask. A farmer prays for rain; a baseball fan prays for sunshine that same day, for that same county. And God loves us too much to give us all that we ask for. When one of our boys was very small, he watched me use a razor blade to scrape paint from a window and wanted to play with this new, shiny toy. He was incensed that I refused.

When God seems silent:

Perhaps he’s still preparing you for his answer; you need more time in prayer to be able to hear him and obey.

Perhaps he’s still preparing your circumstances. You’re praying for a job, for instance; God must move the person in your job to the next place so you can take his. He’s not done with what he must do to answer you.

Perhaps you’re not obedient to what he is saying; maybe sin clouds your eyes and ears, and you need more time in prayer to be right with him.

Often he has a better answer than the one for which we are asking. He has already answered us, but we must keep praying until we see that he has.


Now, where does this message come home to you?

Do you pray much at all? Continually? With urgency?

Is there a need you’ve abandoned, a request on which you’ve given up? A place in your life where God seems silent?

Perhaps this man’s experience will help. An anonymous Confederate soldier wrote,

I asked God for strength that I might achieve; I was made weak, that I might learn to serve. I asked for health, that I might do great things; I was given infirmity, that I might do better things. I asked for wealth, that I might be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise. I asked for power, that I might earn the praise of men; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life; I was given life, that I might enjoy all things. I got nothing I asked for, but all I hoped for. Despite myself, my prayers were answered. And I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

So can we be. This is the promise of God.