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Spiritual Stability, Part 4: Thankful Prayer

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
January 9, 2023 3:00 am

Spiritual Stability, Part 4: Thankful Prayer

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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January 9, 2023 3:00 am

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You see, in all the difficulty, God's purpose, and you thank Him, and you thank Him for the available power you know is there, and you thank Him for the promises which He never will violate. Instead of questioning God, He says, in everything, when you pray and supplicate and request to God, in the process of doing that, do it with thanksgiving. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur.

I'm your host, Phil Johnson. In recent years, maybe you've watched a fellow Christian lose a job, maybe lose his or her house, or endure the kind of deep sorrow that comes only when a precious loved one dies. Yet through all the heartbreak, this person never stopped obeying Christ, never doubted the goodness of God. The question is, how do you make that sort of unwavering faith your faith? When your job is uncertain, when you don't know how you're going to pay your bills, when your spouse or your child or you get a scary diagnosis from the doctor, how can you find strength?

Where do you look? John MacArthur has some practical answers today as he continues his series called Seven Steps to Spiritual Stability. And with that, here is John MacArthur. All of us, I think, would like to be able to face death, to face the most difficult circumstance of our life with spiritual stability, wouldn't we? I mean, we would like to think that we have the strength to do that. How can we be spiritually stable in the very most trying times? I believe the answer is in Philippians 4.

Let's turn to it. We're studying the fourth chapter of Philippians and we're learning about spiritual stability, what it takes to be strong in the trying times. Times of great temptation, times of great trial, times of persecution, times of great loss in our families, times of confusion, times of distress and illness. How can we be spiritually strong? How can we have that stability that looks death right in the eye and doesn't flinch and doesn't waver and doesn't equivocate and doesn't doubt?

How can we have that kind of calm, that kind of contentment, that kind of peace in the midst of grave difficulty? I think every Christian hungers for that and that is precisely why every one of us should learn the great truths in this fourth chapter. Now the key is in verse 1. The key phrase is, stand firm in the Lord. Stand firm in the Lord. That's what the Apostle Paul is really after with the Philippians. He wants them to be strong. He wants them to be rooted and grounded.

He wants them to act like men, to be courageous and bold and strong as they stand for the Lord. Then you'll notice the little word so, so stand firm. That means thus or in this way or here's how I want you to stand firm.

Here are the components of a firm life. Here's what it takes to be spiritually stable against everything that can be thrown at you. Now as we start in verse 2, we begin to see the principles of spiritual stability. The first one, and this is by way of review, the first thing that is required to be spiritually stable is to be in an environment of peace or an environment of love in the fellowship. You are to be a peacemaker, cultivating peace in the fellowship of love. And I won't go back over that point except to say verses 2 and 3 call for harmony in the church.

Why? Because loving, peaceful harmony is a stabilizer. When you are in an environment of harmony and an environment of love and an environment of peace in the church, you are stabilized by that environment. On the other hand, discord, disunity, chaos, division in the church will always produce great insecurity and it will destabilize people.

We went into that in detail. So the first thing that must be cultivated if you're to be a stable Christian is you are to cultivate peace in the fellowship of love. In other words, you are to enjoy the unity of the church.

You are to do everything you can to be a peacemaker so that in the peace of the church and in the loving bond of the church you find spiritual strength. Second, the second element in spiritual stability is maintaining a spirit of joy. Verse 4 says that we are to rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice. And this joy is based upon our relationship with the Lord, not our circumstances. We are to rejoice in the Lord. In other words, our joy is because of our privileged permanent union with the Lord.

It transcends circumstances, it transcends difficulties, trials, temptations, persecutions or whatever. We must cultivate that deep down joy that comes when we understand, contemplate and live in the light of a privileged union with the living Lord Jesus Christ. So spiritual stability comes then to those who are experiencing peace and love in the fellowship.

It comes to those who have maintained a spirit of joy no matter what the difficulty is because they can focus on their relationship with the Lord, which is always a cause for joy no matter what difficulty comes. Thirdly, spiritual stability requires learning to accept less than you deserve, learning to accept less than you are due. And here is the spiritual grace of humility. This is contentment.

Verse 5 says, Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. That means your contentment, your humble graciousness. It's the idea that you expect nothing, you demand nothing. And if you expect nothing and demand nothing, and if you rightly assess your sinfulness and know you deserve nothing, then you don't mind when you get nothing.

That's the bottom line. That's the essence of humility. But if I wrongly assess my worthiness and assume that I am worthy of much and deserve much, if I don't get much, I'm very upset and unstable. But in true humility, when I have no demands and I seek nothing for myself and I know I deserve nothing for myself, I will never be disappointed when I get nothing for myself and when I am mistreated. You can be spiritually stable in the most difficult time when you are hated, when you are despised, when you are rejected, when you are persecuted.

If you understand that as an unworthy sinner you don't deserve anything anyway and you should be grateful for the grace of God which is yours and not expect anything beyond that. Then fourthly, and last time we noted this in some detail, spiritual stability demands resting on a confident faith in the Lord. It demands resting on a confident faith in the Lord. Verse 5 says, the Lord is near. Verse 6 says, be anxious for nothing.

That's sequential. We're talking about here near, angus, in the sense of space, if we can use that as a designation, as opposed to time. It is true that the Lord is near in the sense of His second coming, but that's not really the priority here. The Lord is near in terms of His presence. And because the Lord is near, we're not anxious for anything. So spiritual stability then is predicated on a confident faith in the Lord. That's the bottom line.

Remember what we've been saying? The way you handle problems, temptations, trials, difficulties, is a reflection of your view of God. If you understand the Lord and who He is and all His power and all His promise and all His resources and purposes and plans toward you, and you also understand that He's always near, then where's the cause for anxiety?

What are you going to be anxious about? If you understand that God is sovereign, God is loving, if you understand that God is in control of everything in your life for His glory and your good, if you understand that nothing is beyond the purview of God's control, if you understand that He's orchestrating everything for eternal purpose and you can rest in that confident faith, then you're going to be stable in the most serious times. The psalmist really extols God as the strong protector and emphasizes his faith in many of the Psalms, but perhaps none more strongly and firmly than Psalm 31 where he writes, In Thee, O Lord, I have taken refuge. Let me never be ashamed. In Thy righteousness deliver me. Incline Thine ear to me, rescue me quickly. Be Thou to me a rock of strength, a stronghold to save me. For Thou art my rock and my fortress. For Thy name's sake, Thou wilt lead me and guide me. Thou wilt pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me. Thou art my strength. Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.

Thou hast ransomed me, O Lord God of truth. In other words, you're true to what you say and I trust in you. That confident faith is the bottom line in your ability to deal with difficulty. When people have difficulties that they can't solve, when they get into problems that debilitate them and raise their anxiety level and cause all kinds of personal trauma, the right answer isn't you need to go to someone who can talk about your problem. That is not the right answer. The right answer is you need to better understand the God who is sovereign over your problem. That is the answer.

It is a fallacy to assume that some kind of careful human analysis of the problem is going to provide the solution. The solution is to understand I am a fallen person. I live in a fallen world. It is cursed and I bear the mark of that curse in my own fallen flesh.

This is what is to be expected. I will rest in the confident faith that my God is sovereign over all this fallenness to effect His own eternal purposes. That's the solution to the problem, that perspective. Inadequate knowledge of God is essential in the matter of spiritual stability. The Scripture, for example, is the revelation of God so that in knowing Scripture we know God. In knowing God, we can predict how He is acting.

We can predict what His purposes are and thus be content. In fact, in Ephesians 6, when the believer gets into intense spiritual combat with the forces of the enemy, spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies, principalities and powers, when we're in hand-to-hand battle with demons, it says that our feet are shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. The feet of a Roman soldier had to be prepared with something and they wore a hobnail boot. This boot was leather and nails were driven through from the inside. Those nails would grip the ground like a football or a baseball or a track shoe would grip the ground in athletics. Only in that particular situation you were in hand-to-hand combat for life and death.

It wasn't a game, it was real. And so they had these boots that were able to anchor in the soil and not slip and slide and thus cause a great amount of vulnerability. Now what Paul says is that what makes you stand firm, what anchors your feet is the gospel of peace. What do you mean by that, Paul? What I mean is that you are a participant in the good news that you are at peace with God. Another way to say that, God's on your side. What anchors you in battle is the confidence that God is on your side. He's not your enemy, He's your friend.

He's your resource. He's your power. So I am anchored in spiritual battle by the confidence that I'm at peace with God, therefore God is at peace with me, therefore God is on my side to be my defender, as the psalmist said.

My rock, my strong defender. That's stability. You can be stable in any situation if you understand your God. And you understand His sovereign control and His sovereign purposes and His great omnipotence that can overpower anything.

Now let me just digress for a moment to share a burden on my heart. One of the curses on this culture, this Christian culture in which we live in America today, is really the reflection of traditional Arminian theology. Traditionally through the years, the Arminian theology and the Calvinistic theology have sort of been at opposite poles. Arminian theology is distinct from Calvinistic theology in terms of principle. For example, traditional Reformed theology that we call Calvinism says God is sovereign. Arminian theology in effect says man is sovereign.

That's the primary difference. Now, Arminian theology is pervasive in our culture today. It's pervasive in the church and even in some churches that wouldn't say they believe in it, it's still pervasive.

More subtly so, but it's there. Arminian theology says that man is sovereign, God is hopeful, and God is helpful. But man is sovereign. You've got to find it in yourself to come to Christ. You've got to find it in yourself to stay with Christ. You've got to find it in yourself to accomplish your spiritual goals, to win your spiritual victories with the knowledge that God is hopeful that you will because He'd like to see you in heaven if you could work it out.

And He's also helpful. Given the right conditions on your part, He'll come along and give you some assistance. So what happens in this kind of theology? Well the first thing that happens is that a man may profess Christ, think himself to be a Christian, and never experience the shattering of his own confidence in himself. In other words, a typical Arminian person, and I don't say that in the racial sense, but the theological sense, a typical Arminian person, a person who believes that salvation is something he chooses to do on his own, is going to come to salvation and say, wasn't I what? Smart to do that. I have heard a testimony recently, as recently as a few months ago, where a guy said, I had the sense to commit my life to Christ.

Oh you did, did you? So what happens is this person is now professing Christ without ever experiencing the shattering of his own confidence in himself. He believes he has the power to choose salvation. He believes he has the power, by the way, to un-choose it.

He also has the impotence to lose it. Can you imagine facing death, lying on a bed, and realizing that you had the power to choose Christ if you wanted, or thinking that to be true, and you had the power to lose Christ if you failed, and wondering how in the world you were facing God at that particular moment? Can you imagine battling in your heart the feeling that you might be saved or you might not be saved if you committed too many sins and got disqualified?

There wouldn't be a lot of security in that. There might be a lot of anxiety. But you see, this particular kind of person who believes that they choose to be saved on their own, and it's sort of all up to them to stay saved and to fight their spiritual battles, has never experienced the shattering of confidence in himself. Therefore, he does not understand what it means to totally trust God. Furthermore, because he knows God in reality only as hopeful and helpful rather than sovereign, he does not totally trust God.

Consequently, he lives with tremendous anxiety. He doesn't understand a sovereign God, therefore he doesn't understand a sovereign grace. He doesn't understand the total divine working power of the eternal God on his behalf. He doesn't understand that he was chosen by God, that he was redeemed by God, that he is kept by God, that he'll be glorified by God, and that every trial of his life is under the total control of God. If his trouble is a result of his sin, then it's chastening to make him perfect. If his trouble is not the result of his sin, it still fits the purpose of God for his own good and God's glory in some way that he may at that moment not understand. But it's all in God's plan. But see, if you don't ever understand the shattering of your own confidence in yourself, which then abandons you to God, then you're not going to totally trust God.

And that's why I say what I've been saying all along. If you are going to be stable in the tough times of life, it is born out of an absolute distrust of yourself and a total trust in the sovereign God of grace and power. And if you trust that God, you stand stable. So believers who really know their God can say, My God is in this. My God has his purposes. Spurgeon once said, If you believe that everything turns on the free will of man, you will naturally have man as the principal figure in your landscape.

Now you're really stuck with a dilemma because you know how weak man is and you know how fickle man is, so you have every reason to be full of anxiety. People with right theology shouldn't have anxiety problems. People who believe the truth. I really believe that this pervasive sort of Arminian theology that exists in the church today is the precursor to all this anxiety of people who still believe they've got to orchestrate their life and it's sort of on their own, they've got to try to do it with the help of some well-meaning people who've got some formulas that might work.

This is foolishness. One manifestation of it is this new thing about binding Satan, binding demons. What are you doing there? People running around saying, I bind you, Satan.

I command you, Satan. I hear them doing that all the time. I read it in books.

I see it on the television. I hear it on Christian radio and preachers. Binding Satan, listen. Let me tell you two things. Number one, Satan doesn't listen to you. What do you think you're doing? You don't have any power to tell him to do one thing. And why in the world would he do it anyway?

Who are you? You can't even get your kids to do what you tell them. Who are you kidding? Telling Satan what to do. Telling demons what to do. You know, even Michael the archangel and Jude wouldn't bring a railing accusation against Satan.

That was territory he didn't even belong in. That's foolishness. Who do you think you are? You see, that comes out of a theology that says man is powerful. And that is, again, an Arminian theology that does not have the shattering of man's confidence in himself. I've got nothing to say to demons. I've got nothing to say to Satan.

In fact, there's no illustration in the Bible in the New Testament that anybody ever talked to Satan. Nobody goes around, Satan, get away. Satan, you do this. Satan, I'm commanding you. You don't do that.

That's ridiculous. Furthermore, what it tells me is you must be very powerful because the one who does have control of Satan is whom? God. And if you're running around taking over for Him, boy, you've got an exalted view of yourself.

You better get back on track, my friend. You better have a shattering of all confidence in your own flesh and total trust in a sovereign God. And if you've got a complaint with the powers of darkness, then go to the one who is over them.

And that's our living God. This is absolute folly on the part of these people who do this. See, they don't understand the weakness of man. They think they've got some kind of great power. They run around throwing this weight around as if all the demons were scurrying at their command.

Foolish. They neither understand the weakness of man, nor do they understand the great power of a sovereign God. They play silly games of a weak theology. Spiritual stability comes to those who understand their God and understand that He is near and that everything is in His plan and there's no anxiety. So spiritual stability is the result of strong peace in the fellowship of love, the result of a rejoicing heart in all situations because of our relationship to Christ, the result of humble acceptance of every difficulty and inequity because we know we don't deserve anything anyway, and the result of a strong, confident faith in our great God.

Number five, this fits. We've already talked about the virtues, peace, love, joy, humility, faith. Here's another virtue of a stable Christian, gratitude. This point is spiritual stability calls for reacting to problems with thankful prayer, reacting to problems with thankful prayer. Verse 6, In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.

And we'll stop at that point. Here is the antidote to worry. Here is relief from anxiety. By the way, this section does not emphasize the theology of prayer. It emphasizes the importance of prayer and the attitude of prayer. It's not really a study of the theology of prayer. There are three different words for prayer used here. They're translated prayer, supplication, and request.

They all have to do with petitions. And the assumption is that when you get into a problem, you're going to cry out to God, right? I mean, that's natural. You're going to cry out to God. But what Paul is saying is instead of crying out to God in your difficulty with doubt, with questionings, with dissatisfaction, with discontent, blaming God, cry out to God with what attitude? Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving.

Well, you say, why? Well, because you know that He's the God of promise, who has promised that nothing's ever going to come in your life that's too much for you to bear, that He is the God of promise who is working all things for your good. He is the God of promise who is causing you to suffer a while in order that you might be made perfect, that you might be settled, that you might be established, 1 Peter 5.10. In other words, you see, in all the difficulty, God's purpose, and you thank Him, and you thank Him for the available power you know is there, and you thank Him for the promises which He never will violate. Instead of questioning God, doubting God, sort of shaking your fist at God, He says, in everything. That's like 1 Peter 5.7, casting all your care on Him.

In everything. When you pray and supplicate and request to God, in the process of doing that, do it with thanksgiving. That's John MacArthur, Chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary, here on Grace to You. Today he continued his study, Seven Steps to Spiritual Stability. Well, we are one week into 2023, and if it hasn't already, the busyness of life will soon test your commitment to having consistent time in God's Word this year. So, John, as the pace picks up for all of us, what steps can listeners take to build a habit of Bible reading that they really long for? Well, it's good that you asked that, Phil, because this morning, as we have been doing, Patricia and I sat together in the early hours of the morning, and we read the MacArthur Daily Bible. Thousands, tens of thousands of people, maybe hundreds of thousands of people, have been blessed by the MacArthur Daily Bible. Because, as I said, you get an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading of Psalms and Proverbs, and then you get a devotional section and some explanations mixed in.

It's just a great tool. And if you can start now, at the beginning of the year, and it'll take you right through the year, I'm telling you, it's life-changing. What happens when you start your day by reading the Word of God is that that becomes the mindset.

That's in your mind, and that's what you're thinking about, and what more wonderful thing than having your mind set on the truth of God. So the MacArthur Daily Bible we now have available in an updated edition. The new edition features the New American Standard Translation. For years it was the New King James, and of course that was good and many people loved it, but we had endless requests to put it in the New American Standard Translation, because that's what I preach from. The MacArthur Daily Bible, the New American Standard text, beautiful leather-soft cover, like the one I used even this morning, a grace to you exclusive, the only place you can get it is with us, and it includes study notes, all kinds of things that will set your mind on divine truth. So don't worry about the new year having missed a few days, it's not too late to back up and start from the beginning and read the MacArthur Daily Bible through the year.

Reasonably priced, by the way. You can order it today. That's right, friend. I encourage you to do what John does and read the MacArthur Daily Bible with your spouse or your family. It gives helpful structure for learning and growing in God's Word together. To get the MacArthur Daily Bible, contact us today.

Call us toll-free at 800-55-GRACE, or you can order online at Again, the MacArthur Daily Bible helps keep you on track by giving you a passage each day from the New Testament, the Old Testament, and Psalms and Proverbs. It also includes notes from John to help you understand what you're reading and a list of passages to memorize over the year.

It's a really helpful tool. To get your copy of the MacArthur Daily Bible, call 800-55-GRACE or order online at And while you're online, take advantage of the thousands of free resources that can help you know God's Word. You'll find previous radio broadcasts, video clips of John's various conference and television appearances, the Grace to You blog, and most of all, John's sermon archive. That's 54 years of verse-by-verse Bible teaching in audio and transcript format. Start downloading sermons today and make use of everything that's available at Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson, encouraging you to be here tomorrow when John looks at why you can weather any trial that comes your way. It's another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time on Grace to You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-09 06:07:16 / 2023-01-09 06:18:02 / 11

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