LIVING ON A PRAYER
February 25, 2001
Temptation Island is yet another show to satisfy our voyeuristic desires. “Committed” couples are dropped off on some Belizean island, split up, and then tempted by buff and beautiful members of the opposite sex, all while millions are memorized to their televisions during prime time viewing hours. It’s Gilligan’s Island on steroids. Personally, I think it’s a sad commentary on our culture.
A lot of us have a Temptation Island situated in the seas of ourselves, that place, that area that carries with it the potential for great destruction. The psychological world says that two things usually trip up most people, a bad environment and a tainted heredity. The man we have been studying lately, Jabez, this Old Testament figure who lived four thousand years ago, had both of those things going against him. He should have lived a messed up life but he didn’t. Why? Because he prayed a high-risk, high-yield prayer, a prayer that I have been challenging you to pray over the last several weeks. Today, as we conclude this series, we are going to look at the hinge of this prayer. All of the other things we have talked about, pretty much, encompass this foundational principle.
If this is your first time here, if you are saying, “Ed, who in the world is this Jabez guy, let me do the rewind and give you the quick Reader’s Digest version of this interesting personality. In the book of 1 Chronicles, chapter 4, six hundred genealogies are listed, name after name, after name. Suddenly, though, in verses nine and ten of 1 Chronicles, chapter 4, God gives two verses, that’s right, two verses to this man who makes the all-name team. When God gives a thumbnail sketch of someone in the seas of all these genealogies, we better take notice. We better watch out. This man, Jabez, must have lived a life of greatness, because historians tell us that a city was named after him, people followed him, and he was a true man of God who morphed his pain into prayer.
Let’s check him out and I will read this brief bio to you. “Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers.” In other words, he stood out. “His mother called his name, Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.’ And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying,” now, here is the prayer, “’Oh, that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory.” Expand my coastlines, God. So far, we have Jabez, a man named pain, I would hate to have that name. “Hey, pain, come here. You are a pain. Pain. Pain.” That was his name. For some reason, he was able to take this pain and morph it into prayer.
He prayed something unique. He said, “God, bless my life.” We said that God wants to bless us. The word to bless simply means for God to pour out his supernatural favor on our existence, and that’s a cool thing. Sometimes that blows people away, like “What? You mean God wants to bless me? He wants to empower me? God wants to expand my influence, my client base, my personality, my leadership?” The answer is “yes.” If, and we have learned this, if we say, “God, not my will, but yours. God, not my agenda, but your agenda. God, it’s your deal. You work through me.” As long as we understand that, then God will bless us the way he wants to bless, and he will expand our territory the way he wants to expand it.
The next part we talked about last week, we said, “That your hand would be with me.” The hand of God. The hand of God refers to the presence, the power and the protection of God. So if we pray this Jabez-like, high-risk, high-yield prayer, if we say, “God, bless me according to your desires. Expand my horizons.” If we do that, the third piece of this prayer will be that God will have to show up. God will have to act. He will have to move because we will be so outgunned, out manned, over our head, that he will have to lead and he will have to guide. Notice the progression, blessing, expansion, then we are out of control, over our head. That’s when God shows up. When was the last time, I ask you, when was the last time God supernaturally did something in your life? When? If you have to think a long time, then you better check your spiritual pulse.
Well, now, we move to this last line in this one-of-a-kind prayer. It’s the Temptation Island piece of the prayer. Here is what he said. “That you,” you being God, “would keep me from evil.” Did you download that? “That you, God, would keep me from evil.” Now, for far too long, I have prayed a one-dimensional prayer concerning temptation. I say, “God, give me the strength to withstand temptation.” I’m sure you have prayed that prayer too, and that’s good. Good for you. Let’s give ourselves a big round of applause. However, that is a one-dimensional deal. This prayer is the multi-faceted, multi-dimensional deal. This “keep me from evil” stuff is on another planet. More on that in a couple of moments.
If God blesses me, which he wants to, if God expands my coastlines, which he wants to, if God’s hand is upon me, which he wants it to be, then God wants to keep me from evil, keep me from Temptation Island.
Every year, we usually take a beach retreat with our students. We take a week for junior high and a week for high school. When you take students to the beach, what happens? They hit the water. They swim. When kids swim, safety is our number one priority. We have buoys that we put out and we tell the kids, “Hey, stay between the buoys.” We have bullhorn-toting lifeguards in the water and on the beach. We also initiate something called the buddy system. You pick a partner and, every five minutes or so, we blow the bullhorn and you are supposed to raise your hand with your buddy, “Okay, here he is, here she is.”
Constantly, though, the bullhorn-toting lifeguards are saying, “You’re drifting. You’re drifting. Get out of the water. Walk up the beach. Stay between the buoys. Stay between the buoys.” What happens when you swim in the ocean? You don’t realize it but the current can carry you away. All of a sudden you look up and you see, “Wow, I’m way down the beach. I didn’t realize it.” The same happens in our lives. This drift can occur. After God has blessed, after he has expanded, after he has shown up in a supernatural way, we have a tendency, don’t we, to shut the motor down, kick back, open up the cooler, drink a cold beverage, and catch some rays, just to float along.
If we are not careful, the currents can carry us into Temptation Island. I think many of us need some buoys, some buddy systems, and some bullhorn-toting lifeguards in our lives, don’t you? That’s where prayer comes in. That’s where the local church comes in. That’s where accountability comes in.
How many of you know Owen Goff, one of the pastors here at Fellowship Church? Owen, would you come out here for a second? Owen, where are you? Owen is one of the most Christ-like men I have ever known. He is a true servant, a wonderful Christian, except when Owen does two things. He is a great Christian, a wonderful Christ-like, Christ-honoring guy, except when he does two things. Number one: when he walks into a restaurant. Watch out. Number two–you think I am kidding you?–when he jumps behind the wheel of his candy apple red Dodge Durango. Owen will tailgate you. He is an aggressive driver. The first time I ever rode with him, I thought, “This is Owen behind the wheel? This is out of control, man. Unbelievable.” He loves to tailgate people. I said, “Owen, if that guy stopped, and we are going like 70, we are going to plow into him. You’ve got to give people at least three or four seconds, so you can stop the car.” There he is, right there. Now Owen, I am telling you, he is a risky driver.
Okay, so I want you to think about Owen. Owen stand right here for a second. When you think about Owen, I want you to think about someone who tailgates, just for a second. Some of you are saying, “Where in the world is he going?” Right now, using Owen as an example, I am going to lift out several powerful principles from this keep me from evil prayer that Jabez prayed. Just that one line, “Keep me from evil, God.”
Here is the first one, thinking about Owen now. Remember SUVs always tailgate blessings. SUV stands for Susceptible, Unapproachable and Vulnerable. Whenever I am blessed, whenever you are blessed, whenever God really shows up, whenever good things are happening, after a spiritual highpoint, after a victory, after a windfall, after selling the company, after bagging the client, after the big game, after helping someone come to know Christ, watch out because the evil one revs up that all terrain, four-wheel drive, candy apple red Dodge Durango, that SUV. We are usually more susceptible, more unapproachable and more vulnerable, and we get a skewed view of our strengths. We’ve got to realize and remember that SUVs tailgate blessings. Owen, thanks very much. Stay away from Owen. If you ever see that car coming, just try to avoid him.
Have you ever noticed that? After a great time, after a strengthening area, you have got to watch out for the SUV. That’s a Biblical principle. Adam and Eve, way back in the book of Genesis, at the pinnacle of the creation, everything was going perfectly. They had just been made in the image of God. Everything was humming along and what happened? Satan rumbled onto the scene and began to tempt them. Why? They were susceptible, unapproachable and they were vulnerable.
Remember David? He was at the top politically, economically, materialistically, militarily, you name it, he was there. That is when the SUV drove onto the terrain of his life.
Elijah, this man of God, he took on hundreds of prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, the Mt. Carmel confrontation. He won. God showed up in a big way and helped him out. You would think Elijah would not have had problems with the SUV–Elijah, not this guy, a patriarch. You know what he did right after that great victory? He put his tail between his legs like a scalded dog and ran from one woman who was mad at him. SUV.
Ultimately, the evil one drove an SUV up to Jesus after his baptism, after he began his public ministry, after a spiritual highpoint, and tried to get him to do evil. It’s a principle. We have got to understand it and apply it. The SUV is always tailgating those blessings. Once we realize it and understand it, then we are way ahead of the game.
I was having dinner; I guess it was September, here in Dallas with an outstanding Christian leader. Over dessert and coffee, he looked at me and said something I will never forget. We were talking about temptation and sin and stuff like that. He said, “Ed, you know what I have noticed about people? People usually don’t fall when they are climbing the ladder. They usually fall when they are at the top.” I said, “Man, that was a great statement. I am going to use that. That is awesome.”
Here is the next principle. Watch out where you lean your ladder. Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” The problem in a lot of our lives is that we have our ladder leaning against the wrong thing. We have it leaning against human understanding, leaning against this bit of wisdom from this armchair expert, instead of leaning our ladder against the grace and mighty arm of God. That’s a big problem for us. If we don’t lean it against God, here is what will happen. We will one day get to the top of this ladder. But, if we lean our ladder against God and especially pray this one of a kind prayer, our ladder will always be extending, always.
God is in the extension business, the vision business. Remember, if we pray this one of a kind prayer — “God, bless me,” blessing means expansion, “God expand my territory. Make my coastlines bigger. God, may your hand be upon me,” again, that’s expansion, that’s the vision thing. “God, keep me from evil.” — If we do all of that, we don’t have to worry about reaching the top. There are always goals out there. There are always dreams. There is always something else. Why? We are bowing the knee to a God who is always moving us, who is always taking us out of our comfort zone, who is always extending our ladders. Where do you have your ladder? What is it leaning against: your own understanding, or God?
I guess it was in 1993 to be exact. I was with four men from this church in a single engine plane, and, as the plane touched down on this dirt landing strip in this third world country, I knew what was going to happen when we got off the plane. What was so deceptive about this country was the fact that, on the exterior flying in, it looked magnificent: the swaying palms, the sugar white beaches, the beautiful water. Once we got off the plane and walked through a couple of pretty areas, we saw the real thing: a dilapidated polluted country and poverty that would break your heart. It was kind of weird, though. On the exterior it looked cool, on the interior it was horrible.
When we pray this keep me from evil type prayer, we have got to ask God for discernment. We have got to, and here is the next principle, look past the palms to the pollution. Temptation and sin looks good. The first look, the first initial glance at it, is thrills and chills, excitement and enticement. Satan tells us, “Oh, no one will find out. No one will ever know. You deserve this. It looks great.” But we don’t realize that right behind the exterior, right behind this beautiful stuff is something that is polluted and ugly and dilapidated and can mess our lives up.
Let me go back to our boy, Jabez. In 1 Chronicles 4:10, Jabez said this, “Keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me.” I hope you didn’t miss that. “That it may not grieve me.” I’ll say it again, the first look at Temptation Island is not one of grief. If that was my first look, and if that was your first look and first response, we would never ever mess around on Temptation Island. The first look is something enticing, “Oh, it looks great!” But right behind greatness is grief. It’s pollution. It’s something bad.
Remember Jabez, remember the context, he was part of this real estate deal that God had orchestrated called the Holy Land. God had all this territory he wanted Jabez to claim, but some of the territory was occupied by Canaanites. Canaanites were evil people. Obviously, Jabez knew they were involved in serious evil, and he would be tempted in this area. So he said, “God, keep me from evil. Help me to steer away from it.” He knew the currents were very strong. That friends, is this multi-dimensional prayer.
It’s great to say, “God, help me and give me strength in temptation.” But the multi-dimensional, multi-faceted prayer is what Jabez prayed. He said, “God, keep me from it. Help me to steer clear from it, to take a wide berth around Temptation Island.” Most of us don’t pray that way. Most of us are tethered to too many temptations, or tethered too closely to Temptation Island. If we pray this keep me from evil type prayer, we would stay away from most of the stuff that causes a lot of problems in our lives.
Proverbs 5:3-6 back up this whole principle of Temptation Island, how the first look is one usually of greatness: “For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil: But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.” Wow. Do you remember the Lord’s Prayer that we talked about in this service? Twenty-five percent of Christ’s fifty words have to do with deliverance from evil. What did he say? Matthew 6:13, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” I challenge you to make that petition before God. I challenge you to say, “From this day forward, I am going to adopt this keep me from evil, take a wide berth around Temptation Island type deal. I am not going to shut the motors down. I am not going to drift. I am not going to sip a cool beverage and catch rays. No, no. I am going to be alert, watching for those Owen Goff type SUVs. I am going to take a wide berth around it.”
The staff gave us a cool Christmas gift recently. They gave Lisa and I a down comforter for our bed. I love comforters. During those cold wintry Texas nights, to sleep beneath a comforter, there is nothing like it. It warms you up. It makes you feel great. It just envelops your body and you can sleep very well.
Here is another principle. We need to get under “the” comforter. In John 14:16 here is what John said, “He shall give you,” (he, being Christ) “another comforter.” This word in the original language is pronounced par-a-cle-tos, which means “alongside.” It refers to the Holy Spirit of God. “That he may abide with you forever.”
Let me sit down here, if I can, and just talk to you as plainly and as openly as I can. I will be forty years old in a couple of weeks. I have lived a pretty long life. Part of life is being tempted. The Bible says “when you are tempted.” Now, being tempted is not a sin. Sin becomes sin when you sin. Temptation is not a sin. Usually, I discovered for my life, when I feel the temperature of temptation kind of turned up on my life, usually, and I guarantee you that you feel the same way, usually, I feel depleted in some way. Usually, when I am tempted, I am seeking comfort in some area. I am seeking satisfaction and so are you. What do you do? Sometimes you are going to feel tempted, and you are going to feel like, “I need comfort. I need satisfaction.” What do you do?
If you are a believer, if you are a Christian, the Bible says what? The moment Christ comes into our lives, he places the person of the Holy Spirit there, the comforter. So I have discovered this. When temptation is tough on me, if I will just say to the Holy Spirit, “Holy Spirit, I want you now to be my comforter. I want you to envelope me. I want you to satisfy me. I want you to calm me down. I want you to envelope me, to cover me up.” Here is what will happen. Put a watch to it next time you feel tempted. In about sixty seconds, as you face the temptation with the comfort of the Holy Spirit, in about sixty seconds, the temptation will slither back into the shadows. Call on the comforter. Isn’t that great? That is what the Holy Spirit is there for.
But sadly, if you are not a believer, if you don’t know Jesus, I hate to say this but I will, you are going live on Temptation Island. Now and then, you might have enough courage to turn from temptation, but, for the most part, you are going to get hammered with temptation after temptation, after temptation. You are going to live a powerless life. But, because of the Gospel, because of Jesus, because of his power, because of the power of the Holy Spirit, we can have victory. We can live a life on another level. We can steer clear of Temptation Island, and, even when we are tempted, we can look at it in the eye, because of the Holy Spirit, and turn from it.
1 Corinthians 10 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man. But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able.” Now remember, this is just for Christians. “But with the temptation, will also make a way of escape that you may be able to bear it.” We have that kind of power. The Bible says in the book of Acts, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” The word power in the original language is pronounced du-nam-is. We get the word dynamite from it. I used to love the show GOOD TIMES with Jimmy Walker. “Dynomite!” I love that. We have that kind of power. The majority of us walk around not realizing, “Well, I’m a Christian and I’m…” You’ve got the comforter in you. You’ve got dynamite in you. Deal with it. Talk to him.
Remember, too, that God has given us a brain. You can’t live as a believer on Temptation Island and expect to do this keep me from evil thing. I remember as a kid, I grew up watching Gilligan’s Island. It’s a funny show, but it’s a frustrating show. How in the world can the professor make those satellite dishes with bamboo shoots yet couldn’t get them off the island. I will never understand that. That happened week in week out. It was always frustrating. Gilligan was always doing these dumb things to mess up the whole deal about getting off the island. Sometimes I look at those of us who call ourselves Christians, and I say, “Man, you are doing like Gilligan. I mean, you are like bumbling, stumbling around.” “Well, I live on Temptation Island, but I can’t believe I am all messed up in this sin. I don’t know what is wrong. I’m just looking for a boat. If God will send me a boat, on the island, or a leer jet, then I’ll get off the island.”
Hey, if you are living on Temptation Island, jump in the water and start swimming away. Just start swimming, because once you start swimming, God will bring you off the island and you can live a life of victory.
My twins are six years of age. They are little girls and they sometimes mispronounce words. They don’t mispronounce words now as much as they did when they were four, but they still do. Some of the mispronunciations are hilarious. Any time you talk and mess up words, that is part of it. Our twins, though, they mispronounce words and it’s hilarious. I don’t correct them, because I want them to do it as long as possible, just for the laugh. Here is what they do. They have been doing this for a long time. We will be driving in the car and we will pass like a playground or something, and they don’t call it a playground, they say, “Look Mom and Dad, a prayground.” Is that cool, a prayground. I thought about that against the backdrop of this one of a kind, high-risk, high-yield prayer. We need to hit the prayground in our lives.
Throughout this series, I have been challenging you to pray the prayer of Jabez for thirty days. I also challenged you to start a Jabez journal, to write down God’s miraculous acts in your life, as his hand is upon you, how he has blessed you, how your territory has expanded. But today, I want you to say, “You know what? I am going to establish now a prayground. I am going to establish a spot where I talk to God, where I do business with him.” Once again, this is a Biblical thing. Look throughout the Old and New Testament. They were always having certain spots where they prayed, maybe a mountain or along a seashore. When God would show up in a great way, they would make a little altar or a little reminder of what he did. Do that. That prayground will become Holy Ground.
Because Jabez prayed this high-risk, high-yield prayer, here is what happens, 1 Chronicles 4:10, the last part of it, “and God granted him what he requested.” God wants to grant what you request and what I request, too. A lot of us don’t have because we don’t ask. He is our loving, blessing, keep me from evil, Heavenly Father. Ask him. Because when you ask him, and when you get serious about the prayer of Jabez, all heaven will break loose in your life and in mine.
To conclude today’s message, I’m going to ask you to pray, and I am going to ask you to repeat the words after me as I pray this prayer of Jabez. This is not my prayer, this is yours. Just say this after me, “Oh, God, that you would bless me, indeed, and enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me and that you would keep me from evil. God I look forward to seeing how you are going to grant us these requests according to your will, according to your way, following your agenda for our lives. I thank you, God, for the greatness that will occur because of people who are surrendered to you. Give us the strength and discernment God to stay away from Temptation Island. For Christ’s sake, Amen.