March 18, 2007

A PARTING PRAYER

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-19

This is my last Back to God Hour program, and it’s hard to say goodbye. My first radio program aired in January of 1991. I was 29 years old at the time. Now 16 years have flown by, and I’m 45—not quite ancient, but not as young as I used to be. The past 16 years have been full of blessing. It’s been a joy for me to speak of Jesus on the radio and invite people to walk with God. It’s also been a joy to hear from so many of you. I’ve read thousands of emails and letters, and I’ve had thousands of conversations on the telephone. I’ve preached in hundreds of churches, as well as in prisons and public auditoriums, so I’ve met lots of you face to face. God has given me the privilege of touching many lives and of being touched by many of you. I thank God, and I thank all of you who have connected with me in one way or another over the years. My time as Back to God Hour host has been so rich and satisfying that it’s hard for me to let go.

But let go I must. Two years ago I informed my board that I would be leaving the Back to God Hour, but I agreed to continue speaking on the program until arrangements could be made for new programming. Now the time has come to complete the transition. I have been studying for a doctorate in intercultural studies, and I’ve accepted a position as Director of the Center for Advanced Studies at Crossroad Bible Institute. Crossroad offers Bible studies and personal mentoring through the mail to thousands of people in over 60 countries. Crossroad specializes in ministry to those in prison. In my new work, I will help prepare Bible-based lessons for Crossroad students and provide training for Crossroad instructors. I will research and write about what the gospel says to people in prison, to the justice system, and to the wider society. I will also preach in prisons and churches and anywhere else God gives me opportunity.

I look forward with excitement to new opportunities, and I look back with gratitude. When I first went on the radio at age 29, I was nervous. Dr. Joel Nederhood had been the long-time speaker on the Back to God Hour, and I had enormous respect for him. In fact, I grew up hearing his voice almost every Sunday—my parents were faithful listeners and loved his messages. When Dr. Nederhood and the Back to God Hour board invited me to become his successor on the radio, I felt overwhelmed by the honor and the challenge. Joel Nederhood became a friend and mentor, and he gave me much encouragement, but it was still scary for me to take over the program on which Joel had spoken the gospel so well for so long. I felt like I was only a kid. I was a farm boy whose worst grade in college was in speech. Who was I to take over from a master communicator? I did not try to match Joel or sound like his clone. I just tried to speak God’s message as best I could, and trusted God to make good things happen.

Many good things have happened. People who did not know Jesus have put their faith in him and received eternal life. People found answers to their questions and strength to face challenges. Christians grew in their faith. The broadcast expanded its outreach to English-speaking people overseas, especially in Nigeria, and God’s work among Africans has been marvelous. About twelve years ago the Back to God Hour began to partner with Crossroad, and since then Crossroad has expanded dramatically from a few hundred students to its current level of more than 38,000 students around the world. I praise God for all he has done in spite of my limits and faults. I know that many people have upheld this ministry in prayer, and I have seen God’s answers to prayer.

A lot can happen in sixteen years, in ministry and in family. Back in 1991, my wife, Wendy, and I had been married only a few years; now we’ve been married more than twenty years. Our oldest child was just a toddler back then; now she’s nineteen. We can’t afford to feel too old, though; we now have eight children, including a baby, so we still have lots of parenting ahead of us. God is good.

As I leave the Back to God Hour, my heart is full: full of thanks for past blessings and full of hope for future possibilities. As I say farewell, I want to leave you with some final reminders and a parting prayer.

Final Reminders

Some of you have listened to this program for many years, and others have heard it rarely or are hearing it for the first time today. I can’t squeeze into a few minutes everything I’d like to say, but let me highlight a few basics I’ve emphasized over the years, things you must never forget or ignore.

First, God is God. God is real. God is magnificent. God is good. God is wise. God is more important than everybody and everything else in the universe. God is God. You’re not. I’m not. God is God, worthy to be worshiped and obeyed.

Second, you are created in God’s image and designed to find fulfillment in relationship to God. You are not an accident of random evolution. You are specially created to reflect God. You are not junk. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Believe that you are God’s creation, and seek harmony with the Creator and everyone else he has made.

Third, you have sinned against God and need a Savior. You must repent of your sins and trust that Jesus died to pay for your sins. That is the only way to be forgiven and receive eternal life. It’s not fashionable to say that Jesus is the only way. It’s not popular to talk about hell. But hell is real, and unending anguish awaits all who die without Jesus. Only Jesus saves. I say to you what the apostle Paul once said as part of his farewell to some people: “I am innocent of the blood of all men… For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God” (Acts 20:26-27). If you go to hell, it won’t be my fault for not warning you or for not calling you to Jesus. I am innocent of your blood. Whatever my shortcomings, I have called you back to God and have warned what will happen if you refuse.

Fourth, God claims every part of life—not just an hour on Sunday, not just a small corner of your heart, but all of you. Jesus gave his all for you, so give your all to him: your love, your abilities, your career, your family, your friendships, your hobbies. In everything you do, aim to please God and serve others. As God claims you, he claims the whole world and everything in it. Be his witness, his agent for reclaiming and renewing his world. Do this in fellowship and partnership with God’s special community, the church. Church is not an option; it’s a necessity for being part of God’s mission in the world.

Fifth, keep your eyes on the prize. Seek to know Jesus in fellowship with his suffering and in the power of his resurrection, and pray to be filled with his Spirit—this is the start and the foretaste of eternal life. I have often spoken of God’s new creation, of heaven coming to earth when Jesus returns. My words can hardly give a hint of the joy and beauty that awaits God’s people, but I urge you to keep treasuring God’s promises and keep meditating on eternal life in Christ.

One last reminder: truth is truth. It’s popular nowadays to talk about being “spiritual” without believing anything in particular. But God has spoken truth in the Bible. Keep reading the Bible, and keep praying to God for wisdom. Hold to the truth. Don’t be led astray by lies. Jesus warned against wolves in sheep’s clothing, and Paul also warned that wolves from within the church itself would deny God’s truth and damage God’s flock. Over the years I’ve warned about false teaching, and I’ll say one last time: Beware of wolves. Stay close to the good shepherd, the Lord Jesus. Be strong in the Lord, and resist the devil. Since this is my final Back to God Hour message, I want to impress these vital things upon you.

Prayer to the Father

Even more important than what I say to you about God is what I now want to say to God about you. I want to offer a parting prayer for all who hear my voice. My prayer comes from Ephesians 3:14-21. It’s a biblical prayer that is very dear to me, one I’ve memorized and often meditated on. It’s a prayer I often pray for myself, and now it is my prayer for you.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

That’s my prayer for you: that God’s Spirit would strengthen your inner being, that Christ would make his home in you, that you may experience the vibrant life of Christ and move into fuller, more intimate knowledge of the love of Christ. As God answers this prayer and fills you with Christ’s life and love, you will be filled to overflowing with God’s fullness.

My parting prayer for you is powerful, not because I am the one praying it but because God is one hearing it. “I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” I pray to the Lord whose family spans heaven and earth: a family that includes girls and boys, men and women of every color living on every continent; a family that includes a multitude of people from the past who now live in the glory of heaven; a family that includes angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim. What a family, and what a Father!

Prayer for Christ’s Indwelling

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Only God can make this happen. It doesn’t depend on our resources but on God’s riches. The human spirit can’t do it, but the Holy Spirit can. The Holy Spirit isn’t a vague power that lies hidden in every person that we can find just by looking deep inside ourselves. The Holy Spirit is a person, the third person of the Trinity, along with God the Father and Christ the Son. Having the Spirit isn’t a matter of being in touch with ourselves, but of being in touch with God. The Holy Spirit creates faith. He shakes us out of our complacency and convicts us of our sin and our need for forgiveness. He convinces us of the truth of Christ. He brings us from death to life. He creates true faith, and when that faith is established, he makes us aware of his presence and remodels us into a dwelling for Christ. I pray that the Father, through the Holy Spirit, will make your heart a dwelling for Christ.

I pray not so much for outer blessings but for inner strength. “Prosperity preachers” tell people to trust God’s power to give them a new car, or a better job, or a miraculous healing. God might do that sometimes, but such things are not nearly the best blessings God can give you. You can be so busy asking God to change your finances, to change your family, to change your health, that you never ask him to change you. In many cases, our biggest problem isn’t that we have too many outer troubles but too little inner strength. Instead of asking God to make our situation easier, our biggest need may be for him to make our inner person stronger.

Coping with difficulties isn’t the only reason we need inner strength. The main reason you need this power is so that Christ may dwell in your heart through faith. If you are to be a home for the Lord Jesus Christ himself, you need constant reinforcement and remodeling. Just as a house needs floors that are strong enough to bear the weight of people and beds and heavy furniture, so your heart needs the strength to bear the infinite weight of Christ living in you. Only his Spirit can give you the capacity and power to be a dwelling for Christ.

What a marvel it is, that the eternal son of God would make himself at home in you! If you trust in Jesus, then the Christ who lives in heaven lives also in you, through faith. I pray that he will flood your whole being with awareness of him. When Christ dwells in you, it is not just abstract or theoretical, but real and dynamic and glorious.

It’s one thing to look at a picture of a beach. It’s quite another to actually be there: to gaze in awe at the seemingly endless expanse of water, to breathe in the air, to hear the splashing and crashing of waves and the piercing cries of seagulls, to feel the hot sun on your back and the warm sand between your toes, and then to plunge in and swim about in that vast and refreshing coolness. Faith in Christ isn’t just a matter of looking but of living—living and experiencing the presence and peace and joy of the Christ who lives in us.

This indwelling isn’t just a one-time experience but an ongoing relationship. When two people get married, they share the same home right away. But if it’s a healthy marriage, the longer they’re together, the more they’re at home with each other. Moving into a home may be a one-time event, but feeling at home together is a growing, lifelong process. In the same way, when we come to faith in Christ, he moves into our hearts then and there. But that’s not the end of the matter. With each passing day, Christ makes himself more and more at home in us, and we become more and more attuned to him. I pray that the indwelling Christ will help you to know him as he is, to love what he loves, to do what he does, until you are wholly his.

A Prayer for Love

In my parting prayer, I also “pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God.”

If we had to describe God in just one word, what would it be? LOVE! The Bible says, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16). When Christ dwells in us, we are “rooted and established in love.” Like a plant that draws nourishment from the soil, we are nourished by roots that draw from the rich soil of love. Like a building that depends on a strong foundation, we are established on the foundation of love. We are rooted and established in love.

God’s infinite love is something you need to grasp not just by yourself but “together with all the saints.” A relationship with Christ is always personal, but it is never private. God’s love is much bigger than your own experience. You’re not the only one who has been touched by his love. Other Christians have also experienced his love, and your awareness of Christ’s love grows much richer when you hear other’s stories, when you share and delight in God’s love for all his people. So I pray that God will deepen your connection with other believers and that together you may know “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”

How wide is God’s love in Christ? As wide as the world. God’s love is wide enough to embrace people of every color and nation and background and bring them together in one church. And his love is wide enough to include the rest of creation as well. As the Bible says, “O Lord, you preserve both man and beast. How priceless is your unfailing love!” (Psalm 36:6-7) “The earth is filled with your love, O Lord” (Psalm 119:64).

How long is God’s love in Christ? It stretches from eternity past to eternity future. God says in the Bible, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). “From everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him” (Psalm 103:17). “For he chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world… In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4-5). There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). “His love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1).

How high is God’s love in Christ? The Bible says, “For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies” (Psalm 57:10, cf. 36:5). The height of God’s love lifts us unimaginably high. Ephesians 2:6 says that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6). God adopts us as his children, as sons and daughters of the king. We become princes and princesses who reign with him forever (Revelation 22:5). That is how high we soar on the wings of his love.

How deep is God’s love in Christ? Jesus plunged all the way down to the darkest depths of sin and death and hell in order to rescue us. His love reaches to the very lowest of the low. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). I pray that you will know personally, in your own life and experience, how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.

It’s great to read a love story or to hear what other people say about love. But it’s even better actually to love and be loved: to see it in each other’s eyes, to tell each other, “I love you,” to hold each other in a tender embrace, to enjoy giving each other gifts and doing things to make each other happy—the experience of love registers in your mind, of course, but it also grips your heart and floods your entire being.

Likewise, it’s a great to read about God’s love in the Bible and to know in your mind, on the basis of what Jesus has said and done, that he loves you enormously. Your relationship to him would never reach even that point unless the Holy Spirit was already at work inside you, giving you faith and a measure of new life. But I pray that it won’t stop there. I pray that God will move you to know Jesus more intimately, to sense his presence more powerfully, to embrace a love that surpasses knowledge, and to be filled with God’s fullness.

Praising the Almighty

I pray that you will live by the energy and strength of the Almighty and not by your own power. Have you ever watched a little child playing with a stick horse? She bounces around the house, pretending to ride the horse, but actually that stick horse isn’t carrying her at all. She is carrying it. That’s what it’s like when I try to do God’s work in my own power. I busily race here and there with a stick horse of religious duties and tasks to carry around, and all the while I pretend is carrying me. What I really need is the living Holy Spirit, like a splendid horse, to carry me forward in the Lord’s great cause.

I pray that God won’t let you settle for stick-horse religion. That kind of religion doesn’t carry you; you carry it. It may be a fun game for a while, but it’s not the reality of the living God. Seek not the stick horse but living reality. Seek to be carried along by the mighty stallion of God’s love in Christ. British pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it well: “The man who knows the love of Christ in his heart can do more in an hour than the busy type of man can do in a century.”

As I reach the end of a chapter in my ministry, I feel all the more how little I can do and how much God can do. In my 16 years on the Back to God Hour, there have been many things that could have been done better by someone of greater holiness or intelligence, many areas in which I was lacking. Yet I know that beneath and beyond all I have done, the Lord has been at work and will continue to work, and I praise him for that.

Sometimes when we pray, we hope that God might be able to do at least a little of what we ask. But God can do all that we ask. Other things we hardly dare ask; we only imagine. But the Lord can do all that we ask or imagine. And we still haven’t reached the limit. He can do more than all we ask or imagine. And not just a little more, but immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. He has power unlimited.

What’s more, if we belong to God, that power has already begun working within us, ordinary and imperfect though we are. The Spirit of God brings his power to bear in our hearts and lives. It is power to house the living Christ. It is power to know the love of Christ. It is power to be filled with God’s fullness. It is power unlimited. It is with confidence in the power of the Almighty that I offer my parting prayer for you and my parting praise to God.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.