A New Identity (John 16:23-24)

 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

(John 16:23-24)

Hi everyone, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I am Pastor Ki-taek Lee, in charge of overseas mission in Sungrak Church. Today is the 31st December, the last day as well as the last Lord’s Day of 2017. In Jesus’ name I bless you to be filled with God’s happiness and joy.

The scripture we read today is John 16:23-24. They are the words of Jesus, and He made a promise, saying, “And in that day, you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” Before we came to know Jesus, we had nothing to do with God. Obviously, we couldn’t receive God’s help or request anything from Him. But after we came to have faith in Jesus, we became God’s children. Therefore, we can receive God’s love and His help.

So today’s sermon title is “A New Identity”. We have literally been given a new identity. Now, this is not just a subjective feeling that we have a new identity but it is really true. As a result, we are able to use our new identity while we are on earth. And prayer is something we can definitely feel our new identity.

In the past, when you were faced with hardships, you might’ve sought help from others, or you might’ve worked harder to overcome. However, you might feel like you’re against a wall and be disappointed. Some people become so depressed that they take extreme actions. They are constantly anxious. Even though they try hard they still feel anxious and lonely. When you have no one to help you, how lonely do you feel? You might lack confidence and cannot push forward with a decision because you don’t feel like it is the right decision.

But after we know God in Jesus Christ, it’s a totally different story. We can pray. Through prayer we can receive God’s help. Who is God? The One who created heaven and earth is God. Even now the One who controls our breath is God. We keep breathing while we sleep at night, though we don’t try. Our hearts also beat continuously. We don’t need to do anything to make our hearts beat. They just beat themselves.

In this way, God has opened a way for man to live without those efforts. He also opened the way for us to take and use the things of heaven – heavenly resources. And that is done through prayer.

If you have come to church and believed in Jesus, you can now receive God’s help through prayer. Prayer is not merely a way to relieve inner tension or a form of complaining. Prayer is the way you actually receive God’s help.

Whose help do little children receive? They receive help from their parents. The assistance that parents provide to young children differs from what they offer to mature children. When children are little, parents may buy them candy if they ask for it. However, parents do not give candy to their mature children. Candy is not a necessity for children; parents provide it because the children want it. Why? As children grow up, it is important for them to have the experience of their parents buying them the things they desire, and because at that stage, children indeed desire candy.

The same holds true for our God. Mature individuals seek more mature things in their prayers. They pray for the fulfilment of God’s will and receive it. However, if you have recently started going to church, you are spiritually like a young child spiritually. You can ask at the level of a little child. In a sense, just as parents are more forgiving towards their children when they are young and give more things to them, you could receive various answers to your prayers. Even if they are not very spiritual things, even if you are not seeking to do great things for the church, as long as you’re not committing to sin before God and it benefits your spirit and furthermore be a confirmation of your relationship with God and your faith in God, then ask. And God will give that to you. It is good to have many of those experiences.

When I look back now there are some things I prayed for that make me think ‘Did I really pray for that?’ Once on my way to university the bus was running late. I prayed for the bus to come. “Please make the bus come quickly!” Of course, I didn’t always get a satisfying result. Even so, I prayed about things like that. Even though the bus didn’t come fast, I didn’t complain to God about it. There must have been a reason for that. Wouldn’t God be able to send the bus if He wanted to? He is more than able to. But God has His own plans. I can’t just think about myself, can I?

God’s doing is truly amazing. Since I mentioned the bus in my personal testimony, I’ll share a testimony about a car. When I was in university, I live in Bisan-dong of Anyang. But the university was in Sangdo-dong. It’s not a long distance but I had to take two or three buses. But the buses didn’t come frequently on that particular route. So, it was very difficult. On a particular day, I had to get home by 4:30 or 5pm and get my ID card renewed or something like that. If I didn’t get it renewed before that time, I would have to pay a fine. That was the last day to renew it.

I just needed to go after my class but that morning on my way to university, I prayed saying, “God, I will evangelize at least one person today!” After class, I had about an hour and a half left till the deadline and I was exiting the gates when I remembered what I prayed for. ‘Oh, I was meant to evangelize someone today!’ But if I was to go back into university and find someone to evangelize and then take the next bus, I was sure I wouldn’t be able to get to the district office near my house in time. And I would have to pay the fine of few ten thousand won. Back then it was a lot of money for me. But what was I supposed to do? If I didn’t have faith and didn’t seek the things of God, I would’ve gone to the district office first, wouldn’t I? But God’s word says, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness!” Of course, I need to put God’s work first.

So, I quickly went back in. I went to the university and found a person sitting on a bench and preached to them. Usually, it’s hard to find someone to evangelize but that day I found a person straight away and preached and the person also listened intently. He even prayed with me to accept Christ. I wrote down his phone number and then checked the time. I had about 40 minutes left. It was obvious I wasn’t going to make it in time. I won’t be able to get there before the district office closed. ‘What should I do? Should I go tomorrow?’ As I was walking out of the university, a car was exiting the gates. But the car had stopped in front of the gates because the lights had turned red.

What I sometimes did was I knocked on the cars that were caught at the traffic lights and asked if they could give me a ride because it was so hard to catch the bus. So that day, I also knocked on the window and asked if they could give me a ride to Chongshin university entrance subway station. And the driver agreed to. When we were nearly at the station I asked, “I need to go Sadangdong way, and if you happen to go that way, can you let me ride till then?” The driver said, “Oh yes I am headed that way”. So he drove me towards Sadangdong. When we were almost there I asked, “Are you by any chance going towards Gwacheon? Cause if you are, can you drive me there too?” He said he was. And since we were going by car, it didn’t take very long. When we got to Gwacheon the driver asked me, “Are you going towards Gocheon or Indukwon? I need to go to Indukwon” because the roads separated to either Gocheon or Indukwon. I told him I was going to Indukwon too. So he drove me there. I said, “I live near the so-and-so apartment in Bisandong. Where are you headed to?” He said he will be passing the apartment. So he ended up dropping me off in front of the district office. The time it took was 25 minutes. It would’ve taken an hour and a half if I went by bus.

I was able to go to the district office right away and resolve the matter. How wonderful is it? I received answer to my prayer. I said, “God, I will seek Your kingdom and Your righteousness first, so please help me with this!” I didn’t even pray that hard. The only thing is that I made a promise to God that day. So, I said to God that I will keep my promise, and asked if He can help me with my matter at hand. That’s all I said. And remarkably the answer to my prayer came.

Although I had not been a Christian for a long time, I enjoyed my faith life a lot because I had such answers to prayer one after another. Later I graduated from university and got a job. Because I met Jesus when I was in the third year of university, I was at university for another year after that. So, in my last year, I studied fairly hard. I didn’t study much before that, but after making much effort I was able to graduate.

In my university there was a group called CBA. It was a mission group that was connected to our church. I wished to serve there as a teacher and did get the opportunity at the camp. It was called GBS which stands for Group Bible Study. I was given the opportunity to serve as a teacher. At that time, my fellow students were busy preparing for employment because we were in the graduate class. And although I felt the need to get a job too, I also felt that ‘I should at least serve as a teacher in this university mission group once before I graduate. Since God has given me so much grace, I should serve.’ Hence I decided to serve as a teacher in my last camp and prepared for that.

For this reason, I wasn’t able to prepare for work placement while others were busily preparing. So, I prayed again as I did before. “God, I will seek first Your kingdom and Your righteousness. Please take care of my problem!” Later on, I submitted my application to a company called “Recruit”. It’s an employment services company located in Myeongdong.

I went there to submit my application. I was sitting outside with the document in my hand when they called me: “Kitaek Lee, please come inside.” So I took my application inside and sat down. Then the person sitting in front of me asked various questions. “You are Kitaek Lee?” he  asked and then he asked about my family and other topics. And then he asked, “Why did you quit your previous job?” But I never had a job since I was in the graduate class. I replied, “I just graduated university. What do you mean my previous job?” “Aren’t you Kitaek Lee?” “Yes I am.” “So you had a job before didn’t you?” And then I saw that my application form was still in my hand. “Oh my application form is here.” “Then whose application is this? Are you not Kitak Lee?” He was actually holding the application form of Kitak Lee. This person had already submitted his application and had come for the first round of interviews. I could’ve also posted my application beforehand. But when I, this bumbling Kitaek Lee was there to submit my application form in person and heard them say, “Kitak Lee, please come in!” I walked into the room.

So ,we ended up having a long chat and after a big laugh about what had happened, the interviewer said, “Well I quite like you! I want you to work for our company. Next Monday is the 2nd round of interviews with our senior manager, but I will speak to him in advance. Many people came today but I like you. Besides, it will be me you’re going to work with anyway. Come back on Monday with answers to these questions! The senior manager will be asking these questions. Answer him like this!” He gave me a heads up on everything.

Do you think I got the job or not? It seems like I should’ve, right? The next Monday I went there. I had an interview with the senior manager. And as anticipated he said, “It’s just as I was told. Very good. Look forward to working with you!” Then he asked me a final question, “So, how much do you drink?” Without hesitation I answered, “I don’t drink any alcohol.” He was surprised, “What do you mean you don’t drink? Why?” “I am a Christian!” “Why? I’ve seen Christian drink too.” “Well there may be some that do drink but I don’t.” “You never drank?” “Yes.” “Hmm. You do realize that this is a sales business?” Usually, you need to be able to drink in order to be a sales person. “Ah, you want to work in sales but you can’t drink…okay. Just wait outside for a minute.” So, I went outside.

Then he called for the assistant manager. After he had a long talk with him, the assistant manager came to me and asked, “What is this? You can’t drink? Why?” And went back to the senior manager. They had another long discussion and he came back to me again. “Let me ask you one thing. If we all have work dinner together and the CEO hands you a cup of drink, what are you going to do?” What do you think was my answer? “I will politely decline. I will drink cola instead.” He then passed that on to the senior manager. They had another long chat. It seems they quite liked me. He came to me again and asked, “One last question. If you are meeting a client and they offer you alcohol, what are you going to do?” “I would do exactly the same. I will tell them that I don’t drink and have cola instead.” He went away again and discussed for the last time and told me that I would be notified of the results of the interview the next Monday.

This was my first ever job interview. After that day, I told someone about what happened. And he said, “Are you stupid? You should’ve just said you do drink. Then when you get the job, don’t drink!” This person also went to church and that’s what he said to me. Of course, I could’ve just lied a bit like he said, but I had told them that I can’t drink. Do you think I got the job or not? No, I didn’t.

So do you think I blamed God? No I didn’t. I just thought. ‘It’s a good thing that I didn’t get the job!’ Although I had prayed for myself to get into that company, in the end I didn’t get to. Yet I thought ‘This is a good thing for me. This is what God gave me!’ And I regarded that as God’s answer.

Since that was the outcome, I began to pray like this: “God, I’m going to have to face a lot of these situations in the future and there is so much to do right now. Help me to get a job where I am not stressed about work dinners and drinking, and don’t have to think about those things! And help to find a job where I can earn this much a month! Let the job be located somewhere that takes a certain amount of time to commute. It doesn’t matter what kind of job it is. If You can answer the above requests, I don’t mind if it’s hard labor. Work is only a means to make a living for my flesh. I need to live my spiritual life. So please God, answer my prayer!”

Not long after, a community welfare agency had a job opening. My major was social work. They were looking for one person. This was the welfare center that many of my fellow students went to apply for a job at while I was preparing for the camp. It’s the best welfare center in our country.  But none of them got the job. This company doesn’t hire if they don’t find anyone they like. Since they paid so well. But I applied for a job there. My grade was 3.0. If it was even 1 less than 3.0, I wouldn’t be able to apply for a job anywhere. I hadn’t studied much. It was only after I believed in Jesus that I began to study. So it was with a grade that barely passed the mark that I applied for the job. Who would think that I would get it? Even the students that had studied overseas couldn’t get in. But I got the job.

I found out that the people that work there were those that prayed. Some were pastors’ children, and some had dropped out of theological school. It was a Christian welfare center. Hence there was no pressure on employees to drink or anything like that. My prayer was answered.

In this way, if we take after God’s heart, God will hear our prayers and answer them to fill up our joy. No matter how small a matter, rely on God. Then God will lead you step by step. The one thing we do need to remember is that we don’t seek first for our own gains but seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and the Lord will take care of the rest. Even if you may not see anything happen right before your eyes, that will be what is better. Therefore, I bless you in Jesus’ name to the those who trust in the Lord and pray with a peace of mind.

I’ll pray.

God our Father, in the past we didn’t know God and couldn’t receive His help. But we thank you that we have been given a new identity – God’s children in Jesus Christ who can seek the help of God. Help us all to receive God’s help and live a life that is pleasing to God and also prosperous in God. Especially for those who are feeling alone in life, help them to know that our God is with them through Immanuel, and fill them with the heavenly happiness to smother up the loneliness and distress of life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pastor Ki-Taek Lee
The Director of Sungrak Mission Center