Four Words Which Changed My Life
Dr. Jim Denison
A friend once sent me some advice from kids. It gives us a sense of what mothers must deal with: Never trust a dog to watch your food (Patrick, age 10); When your dad is mad and asks you, “Do I look stupid?” don’t answer him (Michael, 14); Never tell your mom her diet’s not working (Michael, 14); Stay away from prunes (Randy, 9); When your mom is mad at your dad, don’t let her brush your hair (Taylia, 11); Never allow your three-year-old brother in the same room as your school assignment (Traci, 14); Don’t sneeze in front of mom when you’re eating crackers (Mitchell, 12); Puppies still have bad breath even after eating a tic tac (Andrew, 9); If you want a kitten, start out by asking for a horse (Naomi, 15); Never try to baptize a cat (Eileen, 8); Don’t pick on your sister when she’s holding a baseball bat (Joel, 10); Never hold a dust buster and a cat at the same time (Kyoyo, 9).
This morning I am going to give mothers and the rest of us the best advice I know. The greatest solution to the challenges you face in raising your children and dealing with your problems, whatever they may be. The greatest help for the rest of us, wherever we need God’s help most. My advice takes only four words to state. It is going to seem paradoxical in the extreme, the last thing you’d think you should do when you need help and hope. But it is the key to living for Jesus, serving him effectively, and experiencing his power where you need it most this morning.
To get to that advice, first we need to set the stage.
Joining Jesus in heaven
We’re looking for pictures of Jesus in the Book of Revelation. We’ve seen him on his throne in divine majesty; we’ve watched him open the word of God in omnipotent power. Now we watch heaven worship him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The DaVinci Code says that in early Christianity, “Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet…a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal” (p. 233, emphasis his). Let’s see if John agrees.
“There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (v. 9).
This was the standard four-fold division of the peoples of the world. Today we might say, every nation and state and race and language. Despite the racial bigotry which was rampant in John’s time. In heaven’s worship of Jesus, everyone is included. Rich and poor, priests and people, sinners and saintly Christians–we’re all here.
We are “wearing white robes” (v. 9a). These refer to priestly robes as well as victory robes such as the Roman generals wore. Why are they white? Because “these are they who have come out of the great tribulation: they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (v. 14). As every mother knows, blood on a garment is one of the hardest stains to remove. But not this blood: Jesus’ blood has bleached out all the stains of sin in our lives. His forgiveness has removed them forever.
We are “holding palm branches” in our hands (v. 9b). These were used by the Greeks and Romans as victory signs at the Games, like our gold medals today.
If Jesus is your Savior and Lord, you’re in this crowd. You’re one of the saints of the ages, joining the angels of all eternity. You’re wearing the white robes of salvation and holding the palm branches of victory. This is our future with Jesus.
What will we be doing?
“And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb'” (v. 10). We are engaged fully in the worship of Jesus. We are loving him with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.
We will do this forever: “They are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple” (v. 15a). This is not Sunday morning in heaven, but Tuesday evening. This is our eternal joy, and privilege, and delight.
What will Jesus be doing?
“Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat” (v. 16). Why not? Because “the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (v. 17). He will be the Shepherd of his sheep, leading us to green pastures and still waters. He will wipe every tear from our eyes, as he comforts and protects us forever.
When those in heaven worship Jesus, they are blessed by Jesus. When they honor him, they are honored by him. When they give him their highest praise, even though they have come through “great tribulation” (v. 14), he gives them his highest blessing and reward. Those who worship Jesus experience the presence and power of God.
Finding Jesus on earth
What does this scene in heaven have to do with mothers and the rest of us on earth? Let’s keep exploring. In Isaiah 43:21, God says that we are “the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.” We were created to praise God. That’s what we’ll do in eternity, and what he wants us to do now.
So worship is how we experience his presence and power today.
Psalm 22:3 teaches that God inhabits the praises of his people.
When Daniel was in danger of losing his job and his life, “Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (Daniel 6:10). And God spared him in the lion’s den.
When Israel was going to war, with the very future of the nation at stake, “Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever'” (2 Chronicles 20:21). The result? “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against [their enemies] and they were defeated” (v. 22).
When Paul and Silas were beaten in Philippi and thrown into prison, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). The result? “Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose” (v. 26). And the jailer and his family were converted.
We experience God’s power and help when we worship him. Worship connects our souls to his Spirit. Worship elevates Jesus to the throne of our hearts. Worship surrenders our lives to his Lordship and thus to his power, hope, and help.
Now, what does that fact have to do with the challenges mothers face, and the rest of us with them?
The large majority of mothers say it’s harder to be a mother today than it was 20 or 30 years ago. You worry about the perennial issues: your family’s health and happiness, the choices your children are making with their lives, meeting their needs.
But today those challenges are exacerbated in a world where pornography is just a computer click away, where premarital sex is accepted and even expected by our culture, where alcoholism is an epidemic among young people, where terrorism and safety concerns are higher than they have ever been in our nation’s history.
You’re fighting these battles for your families, but there’s not enough of you to go around. According to the Pew Research Center, your top five problems are (1) not having enough time for yourself; (2) controlling outside influences upon your family; (3) balancing work and family; (4) not having enough money; and (5) stress on your marriage.
Seventy percent of mothers with children under the age of 18 work outside the home. That’s up from 45 percent just 20 years ago. But you earn 72.7 cents for every dollar earned by men. There’s just not enough of you for all you must do today.
And in our culture, you’re judged by the success of your efforts. Your children are judged by their popularity, their grades, their success in athletics or other activities. Your husband is judged by the money he makes. You’re judged by the house you own, the car you drive, the clothes you wear, by your appearance and social status. You’re supposed to balance all that while meeting your family’s needs, every day of your lives.
And so we come to the four words which changed my life, the four words which were the key to the presence and peace of God for my soul, the four words which put me in position to receive all that God wants to give. The four words I neglect and pay the price in frustration and defeat. The four words I remember and experience the victory they bring. A dear friend in Atlanta first taught them to me many years ago, after a life-changing encounter with their truth. I’ve tried never to forget them since. Here they are: it’s not about us.
Your culture makes it all about you. It’s all about your hard work and effort to meet your family’s needs, to help your kids succeed, to make your husband happy and fulfilled, and to meet your personal needs along the way. But it’s not.
It’s not about you. You don’t have to do this by yourselves. You don’t have to do this the best that you can and hope for the best. It’s not about you.
Your job is to love Jesus. With him at the center of your day, your priorities will be in order. You’ll have his peace in the midst of your hectic days. You’ll have his wisdom as you try to guide your children. You’ll have his strength as you wrestle with work and finances. You’ll have his love for your husband and your family. You’ll find your significance and worth as a person, not in your temporary possessions and appearance and social status, but in his incredible love for you. Your first job is to love Jesus.
And then your job is to bring your children to Jesus. To lead them to worship him, honor him, love him. To join them at his feet each day in surrender and worship. Your success is the result of this simple question: Do you love Jesus? Do they?
If you children love Jesus as you do, would that be a good thing? Fathers, I’ll ask you the same question. Sons and daughters, I’ll ask you that about your friends and colleagues. Is your life about you or him?
Do you start the day in prayer and Scripture and worship? Do you make your decisions by asking how this will honor Jesus? Do you speak with him throughout the day? Does his opinion matter more than those of your friends and even your family? Would he say you worshiped him yesterday? Will he say you worshiped him tomorrow?
Loving Jesus is the key to his power and help, wherever you need them most. Then, if you love Jesus and help your children love Jesus, when they are before the throne of Jesus one day, they will spend eternity thanking him for you.
Last Thursday morning I met a truck driver delivering materials to the new building. He needed to know where to park until the building opened. In the course of our conversation I asked him about his faith, and he assured me that he had asked Jesus to forgive his sins and be his Savior.
Then he asked me something. He had recently seen a quiz and wanted to try it on the Baptist preacher. He said that 80 percent of children answered the quiz correctly, but only 17 percent of adults. Here it is: What is greater than God, more evil than the devil, and if you eat it, you’ll die? The answer: “nothing.”
Nothing is greater than God. That’s true in heaven, where Jesus is being worshipped this moment. Is it true for you?