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5 words that will change your life

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Technology is changing our world faster than ever.  For example, in the next year or two, Google will begin sending balloons into the stratosphere.  The reason: to create links that provide Internet access to the 4.3 billion people who live out of reach of cell towers.  Facebook intends to do the same thing, using solar-powered drones.

Car-to-car communication will soon be a reality as well.  Vehicles will broadcast their position, speed, and direction to other cars within a few hundred yards.  Vehicles will then be able to avoid each other, preventing many of the five million car crashes that occur on U.S. roads every year.

Technology discoveries change our lives daily.  Today I’d like to talk with you about the most important spiritual discovery I have made in years.  Five words that I believe will change your life.

In John 17 we find what theologians call Jesus’ “high priestly prayer,” his intercession on the night he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It was recorded not for the disciples, but for us.  By the time John wrote down these words (ca. A.D. 90), each of the men who originally heard the prayer had been martyred, leaving John as the last living apostle.  The Holy Spirit inspired him to record that prayer of decades earlier, so we could know that Jesus prayed for us.  And how he prayed for us.

Toward the end of this prayer, we come to the discovery we’ll explore today.

But first, some background.  Our younger son Craig began writing devotional blog posts for our ministry two years ago.  We call them “First15,” because they lead you through 15 minutes with the Lord.  They begin with a worship video, followed by a devotional and then a time of guided prayer.  Even though they’re written by my son, I have to tell you that God uses them every day in my spiritual life.

Craig’s devotional on today’s text lays out the principle that so amazed me.  It’s the idea we’ll explore together this morning.

Why God loves you

Verse 20: “My prayer is not for them [the original disciples] alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.”  That’s you and me.  That’s every Christian across all the years from the first century to now.  On that night in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Son of God prayed for your soul today.

He prayed for our unity: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (v. 21a).  Here’s why: “May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (v. 21b).  Our unity is our greatest witness.  Our community is compelling to those who are lonely and alone, forsaken and lost.  Conversely, our division is our greatest hindrance to witness.  When Christians and churches fight, why would the outside world want what we have?  So Jesus prayed for us to be one so the world would believe the Father sent the Son.

He identifies the basis for our unity: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one” (v. 22).  Our unity is not uniformity.  It is not found in doctrinal agreement, or worship styles, or denominational relations.  It is in Christ and what he has done for us.  The closer we draw to him, the closer we draw to each other.

He continues: “I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me” (v. 23a).  Jesus prayed that we would be as unified with each other as he is with his Father.

Now comes the amazing discovery: “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (v. 23b).  “Even as” means “to the same degree as” or “with the same love as.”  In his prayer, Jesus is teaching us that the Father loves us as much as he loves the Son.  God loves you as much as he loves Jesus.

That fact can change our lives.

Because God loves you

Brennan Manning was one of my favorite spiritual writers.  His was an amazing life.

He served in the Marine Corp during the Korean War, attended a Catholic seminary, and had a life-changing encounter with Jesus.  He graduated from seminary with degrees in philosophy and Latin, then completed an advanced degree in theology.  He became a Franciscan priest, where he served as a teacher and missionary.  He once spent six months alone in a cave in the Spanish desert, then founded a monastic community in Alabama.

However, he fell victim to the disease of alcoholism.  Six months of treatment brought him into recovery, though he battled the disease for the rest of his life.  He began speaking at spiritual retreats, and was eventually led by God out of the Franciscan order.  He married in 1982, and died in 2013.

My favorite of all his books is called Abba’s Child.  “Abba” is Aramaic for “father, daddy.”  Jesus was the first Jew in all of history to use this word personally for God.  He taught us to do the same, to see God as our “Daddy.”  That’s the theme of Brennan’s masterpiece.  Here we learn to see ourselves as our Father sees us—children he loves as much as he loves Jesus.  And we learn why this matters so much.

The first step is to stop pretending to be what we think we should be.

From childhood, our culture programs us to measure success by what others think of us.  To believe that we are attractive, or accomplished, or significant only if others think we are.  To believe that we are inferior or flawed if they say we are.  We see ourselves as we think others see us.

But this is a dead-end, a trap, quicksand for the soul.  We can never measure up to everyone, all the time.  When we please one person, we displease the other.  When we succeed, we must keep succeeding.  Basing our self-worth on the opinion of other people is never enough, and it never lasts.

The second step is to agree that we are nothing without God.  That no matter what others think of us, we have no life, no value, no significance that matters unless God imputes them to us.  That we are computers that must be programmed and used, tools that must be empowered and employed, cars that must be fueled and then driven.  By ourselves we can do nothing that matters.

Brennan’s spiritual mentor prayed this over him: “May all your expectations be frustrated, may all your plans be thwarted, may all your desires be withered into nothingness, that you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child and sing and dance in the love of God who is Father, Son and Spirit.”  Brennan quotes his fellow monk, Thomas Merton: “The reason we never enter into the deepest reality of our relationship with God is that we so seldom acknowledge our utter nothingness before him.”

Conversely, the third step is to admit the self-hatred that keeps you from accepting God’s love.

One the one hand, we must confess that we are nothing without God.  At the same time, we must acknowledge that this is not our fault.  We are flawed, fallen people.  We inherited a sinful nature we did not create.  We are each imperfect and inadequate.  So we must abandon the self-hatred that our failures produce in our souls.

Brennan writes: “In my experience, self-hatred is the dominant malaise crippling Christians and stifling their growth in the Holy Spirit.”  He quotes Henri Nouwen: “Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. . . . Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’  Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

Now we are ready to accept the unconditional, absolute love of our Father, the same love he has for his Son, the love that will change our lives forever.  How do we do this?

Believe that God really does love you, where you are, as you are, right now.  Why?  Because “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  His very nature is to love, whether he is relating to Jesus or to you.  If he ceased to love, he would cease to be God.  He cannot help loving you.  It has nothing to do with you—with your achievements or failures, your abilities or sins.  He loves you because he loves you.

Now define yourself by this fact.  Brennan quotes a spiritual mentor who advises: “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God.  God’s love for you and his choice of you constitute your worth.  Accept that, and let it become the most important thing in your life.”

This is easy to understand and hard to do.  All our lives, we have been programmed to define ourselves by what we do and what others think of what we do.  This must be unlearned.  So start each day by saying to yourself:

The core fact of my life is that I am loved by God.
Nothing I do can make him love me any more or any less than he does right now.
I am a person of worth because God loves me.
I can love others because God loves me.
I am loved by God.”

When you fail, admit your failure and claim the love of God.  When you succeed, give the glory to God and thank him for his love.  When others test you, give them his love in yours.  All through the day, say to yourself the five life-transforming words, “I am loved by God.”


Have you been measuring yourself by what people think of you?  Would you admit that you are nothing without God?  Would you admit the self-hatred that keeps you from accepting his love?  Would you make his love the core fact of your existence?

A man stood at a busy street corner and asked those who passed by, “Who are you?”  Every person responded with what he or she did.  “Who are you?”  “I’m a teacher” or “I’m a student” or “I’m a businessman” or “I’m a lawyer.”  If I asked each of you as you entered chapel today the same question, I’m guessing you’d answer in the same way.  So would I.

The next time someone asks you, “Who are you?” remember the core fact of your existence: “I am loved by God.”  That’s who you are.  That’s who you will be when everything you do and have is gone.  That’s who you will be ten thousand millennia after this planet is gone and this universe is no more.  That’s who you are.

A pastor noticed an elderly man who slipped into the back of the church sanctuary each morning, day by day by day.  He would stay a while, looking up at the altar with a smile on his face, then he would leave.

One day the pastor stopped the man, introduced himself, and welcomed him to the church.  Then he asked, “What do you do there in the sanctuary each morning?”  The man smiled and answered, “I look at God and he looks at me, and we tell each other that we love each other.”

Would you do the same today?