Handcuffed to Jesus

We are called to provide for our families. We have jobs, careers, and we face financial problems—but we must trust God for all direction. This entire message is about binding ourselves to his leading.

I want to tell you about a deeply significant experience in my walk with the Lord. It became a spiritual milestone for me. And I believe it's a lesson that speaks directly to what the church of Jesus Christ needs today.

I was crying out in prayer, "Lord, take hold of me. Put me in your grip and possess me. Apprehend me for your glory." I had no idea as I uttered this that the Holy Ghost was preparing me to be handcuffed.

It is scriptural to pray for God to handcuff us. It means asking him to place manacles on our hands and take us prisoner. Paul refers often to himself as "the prisoner of Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 3:1). In Ephesians he says that being the Lord's prisoner is actually his calling. He considered this to be a gift of God's grace to him (see 4:7).

Paul also wrote to Timothy, "Be not…ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner" (2 Timothy 1:8). Even into his old age, Paul rejoiced that he had been apprehended by the Lord and taken captive to his will. "Being such an one as Paul the aged, and now [still] also a prisoner of Jesus Christ" (Philemon 9).

Paul could tell you the very hour the Lord handcuffed him and took him captive.

Paul was on the road to Damascus with official letters from the high priest. He had been authorized to arrest Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem. Scripture says he was "breathing out threatening and slaughter against the Lord's disciples." In other words, Paul was full of hatred, bitterness and anger in his misguided zeal for God.

But as Paul approached Damascus, "Suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven" (Acts 9:3). He was struck totally blind by that light, which was Christ's glory.

Paul testified again and again of how he had to be taken by the hand and led into Damascus. In short, he was a helpless prisoner. He spent three days in an isolated room without sight and refusing all food. He had been taken captive totally—in spirit, soul, mind and body.

So, what happened in that prison-like room for three days? The Lord was handcuffing Saul and making him into Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ. You see, God had Paul's full attention—and during that period, Paul's eyes were opened to the truth of the gospel. It was then he let go of his own zeal and independence and submitted himself to the yoke of Christ.

As we read Acts 9, we can almost hear Paul's agonizing prayer: "Lord, I thought I was doing your will. How could I have been so blind? You have taken away my fleshly sight—and given me spiritual eyes to see! All this time I've been going my own way. I've done whatever I thought was right. But I can't trust my own thoughts.

"Lord, put my will to death. It will only lead me down a wrong path. Here, Jesus—manacle my hands to yours. Keep me handcuffed to your mighty arm. I want to die to my independence and instead be a prisoner to your will!"

Many godly men and women throughout Scripture understood what it meant to be handcuffed to the Lord. David was one of them. He said of the Lord, "Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me" (Psalm 139:5). "Thy right hand shall hold me" (139:10). The word for "hold" in the original Hebrew here is "grip."

David was saying, "I am led about handcuffed to my blessed Lord. If I try to flee, he will not permit it. If I ascend to heaven, or try to take wings and fly, even there his hand is on me" (see 139:7-13).

No one understood being handcuffed to Jesus more than Peter did.

Peter had an incredible encounter with the resurrected Jesus. The Lord prophesied of the disciple's need to be handcuffed: "When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not" (John 21:18).

Some Bible scholars suggest the Lord was revealing to Peter how he would spend his last days: in senile helplessness, half-blind and dragged about against his will. But the apostle John pointed to a different meaning: "This spake he signifying by what death (Peter) should glorify God" (21:19). Indeed, tradition says Peter was crucified upside down, with his arms outstretched. John surely would have known about this since he wrote his Gospel account after Peter's death.

Yet what Christ was saying to Peter here goes beyond these interpretations. In Peter's own epistles, we find the apostle still burning with Holy Ghost fire in his old age. He battled apostasy, exposed false prophets and preached with authority. He explained his calling this way: "I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up" (2 Peter 1:13).

I have no doubt that in John's Gospel Jesus was telling Peter how he would die. But Christ was saying much more than that. He was describing a spiritual process. In fact, I believe he was prophesying not just to Peter, but to all who would follow him. Here is what I believe Christ is calling all of us to do.

True love for Jesus must result in the death of all independent self-will.

Make no mistake: Peter truly loved Christ. Three times Jesus looked him in the eye and asked, "Do you love me?" Peter knew that Jesus could read his thoughts. And the disciple could honestly answer, "Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee" (John 21:17).

Peter not only loved the Lord dearly. He was probably more zealous in his love than the other disciples. He was always hurrying to get to Jesus, whether getting out of the boat to walk on water, or later running to the empty tomb on the day of the Resurrection.

Yet in spite of his great love and zeal for the Lord, Peter was still a man full of willful independence. Even at this stage of his spiritual life, nobody was going to tell him what to do. His independent will hadn't been broken.

Think about it. Here was a man who exuded confidence and competence. Peter was self-reliant and used to acting on his own. He was a fisherman who owned his own boat and had to battle rough waters and weather to earn his living. He was self-made, always in control. (At times, he probably felt the Lord needed him as much as he needed the Lord!)

The truth is, the world loves and admires such a man. The American dream is exemplified by people who are self-made—self-confident movers and shakers, independent thinkers, all of whom accomplish great things by doing things their way.

But in the kingdom of God, that kind of independence is a sure sign a person hasn't been to the cross to mortify his or her flesh. Simply put, Peter hadn't died to his own flesh. You can't be handcuffed to Jesus and maintain an independent spirit. To be bound to him fully, you have to stretch forth your hands in total surrender.

Jesus must have heard the honesty in Peter's voice when he testified of his love for him. Yet the Lord didn't publicly acknowledge it. Instead, Christ chose to focus on a sobering reality and placed it right in front of Peter. Jesus said, in essence:

"Ever since you were young, you've been used to doing whatever you wish. You've done things your way, in your own time. That's your nature, Peter. It's the kind of man you are." "Thou girdedst [set in action] thyself…and walkedst whither thou wouldest" (John 21:18).

Even after the Crucifixion, Peter's independent spirit broke out in self-assertion: "I go a-fishing!" (21:3). We know Jesus had called Peter to go fishing— but for men, not fish! At one time Peter had laid down his nets, forsaken his career and followed Jesus to fish for souls. Yet now Peter wanted to go fishing his way—not the Lord's way.

We see in Peter that it's possible to have the most incredible revelation of the resurrected Christ—to be in love with him—yet still not be his prisoner, still not handcuffed to our Master.

We all want one big haul before we're handcuffed.

The language of independence isn't merely, "I go a-fishing." It is something deeper in the heart, which whispers, "I must have just one more big haul. Then I can be handcuffed."

Peter was out to get more than just a few fish. Think about it: If he only wanted to relax, he could take a pole and some worms and stand knee-deep in the waves casting for a catch. No, Peter wanted his old boat and old crew and all the old nets. He had to have one last shot at doing what he was good at, under his own independent course. He could fish just one last time, and then he would have it out of his system.

Have you ever experienced a moment like Peter's? It was one last surge of independent will. Yet that night, Peter and the others caught nothing. Jesus, standing on the shore, knew what was in Peter's heart, and he called out: "Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find" (John 21:6). The Lord was going to let Peter have that one last haul.

At first, Peter didn't recognize Jesus on the shore. As the nets filled up before his eyes, he got so excited all he could think was, "We hit it big. What a haul!"

Now, the apostle John was in the boat with Peter. And when he saw what was happening, he grew convicted at heart. He had seen this kind of great, miraculous blessing before with fishes multiplied. So he took hold of Peter and said, "Brother, this is the Master's doing. Don't you see?" "That disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord" (21:7).

Peter looked down at that great multitude of fish thrashing in the net—and he let go. It was the biggest haul of his life. But something bigger was at stake, and he knew it. He suddenly remembered the Lord's call on him: "I will make you my fisherman. You're going to catch men's souls for me. Come, follow me."

Now Peter saw how meaningless his ambition had been. He knew that even a thousand big hauls would never satisfy him. He could never again be fulfilled trying to make things happen on his own. I believe Peter said to himself at that moment: "I won't allow myself to become a prisoner to this boat, to dreams of big hauls. I want to be a fisher of men! To do that, I need to become a prisoner of Jesus. I can't find meaning, purpose, fulfillment on my own. I need him to lead me—and only then will I be fulfilled. I want to be handcuffed to him!"

Consider Peter's story here. The true test of love for Christ isn't that you simply come back to him after failing on your own. It is seeing the emptiness in your own greatest opportunity and dropping every selfish dream to become his prisoner.

Think of the fishermen in nearby boats. They would have called Peter crazy: "What are you doing? You've got it all! This is your big chance. You're a fool to run away when your opportunity is right in front of you."

But Peter thought only of his Master's words: "What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?" Peter now had eyes for what was eternal. And he desired that above all else. So he left the nets and the other disciples behind. Jumping into the water, he swam toward Jesus on the shore.

Was there one last, dying wish in Peter?

Did Peter feel one final tug on his heart as he saw the other disciples dragging that great haul of fish ashore? If he did, Jesus addressed it when he asked him, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?" (John 21:15).

Beloved, I know what Peter felt like in that moment. There have been times when I've thought I had victory over materialism—when I dropped everything and swam to Jesus—yet soon afterward, here came the same battle again.

I believe this is the question we all face right now, as the final days draw near and the financial world spins out of control. Of course, we love Jesus. But do we love him more than our financial security? More than comfort? More than any success this world could give?

In short, are you ready to jump out of the boat as Peter did—leave your full net behind—and swim to Jesus? Are you ready to give up your last shred of independence and handcuff yourself to the only One who knows what fulfills you? When our purposes cross with the Lord's, we are always tempted to put our interests first.

When Jesus asked Peter whether he loved him, he was saying to him, "Now that you've given up your independence, I want to show you where you're headed. As you grow and mature in the Spirit, you'll learn to walk beside me with your hands outstretched. You will be my prisoner—doing my will, letting me lead you, even where you don't want to go.

"Now, put out your hands, Peter. You say you love me? Then be my prisoner. Trust me to lead and guide you through everything in life."

Jesus knew all things. And he saw what was ahead for Peter after Pentecost. He knew Peter wouldn't want to go to the Gentiles with the gospel. He knew he wouldn't want to go to Cornelius' house and eat things that were unclean for Jews. But Peter learned to stretch out his hands, accept those holy handcuffs and be led by the Spirit.

Of course, Peter did eventually go to Cornelius' house, by the Spirit's leading. And he brought the gospel to the Gentiles. The world was never the same.

Consider Jesus' words again: "Another shall gird thee" (John 21:18). Who is this "other"? It is Christ! He takes hold of us, dresses us in his armor, and leads us to places and people we never thought we would encounter— all for his kingdom's sake.

That is his call on us. We are to submit to his handcuffs, saying, "Take me, Lord. Make me a prisoner to your will. I forfeit all my independence and lay down all at your feet."

Many make excuses not to let themselves be bound to the Lord.

Here is the language of those who refuse to be handcuffed: "They all with one consent began to make excuse" (Luke 14:18). Jesus is telling a parable here about a great feast being held. The man hosting the feast represents God, and the feast itself represents the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

Right now the Holy Spirit is moving throughout the world, calling all invited guests to prepare themselves and come: "All things are now ready" (14:17). But most are making excuses not to attend. I ask you: Do you have an excuse for not responding to his call? Are you tempted instead to go for one last haul? Are you tied up by some independent urge or ambition?

In the parable Jesus told, no one had time for the Lord. And the excuses they gave all sounded legitimate: concerns for family, investments, possessions— all good, earthly things. I see the same thing happening among many Christians today, especially in these turbulent economic times: They are refusing to submit wholly to Jesus. Their affections are caught up and entangled by the things of this world.

What is the Lord's response to this? "The master of the house being angry said…none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper" (14:21, 24).

Jesus couldn't say this any plainer. He is warning us against the last-hour temptation of being enamored with this world. I urge you: Yield to him, submit yourself to him and be handcuffed to him. Pray with me this prayer:

"Lord, I'm sick of my independent spirit. Right now I'm stretching out my arms to you. I want to fish for men, not for my own purposes. Put your loving handcuffs on me. Bind me to you!"

In this way, you will be prepared for the greatest blessing of all: being present at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Make it your prayer today!