Am I Not Called to (Ad)Minister?- John Piper on Avoiding Sacred Substitutes

April 27, 2009

Having just concluded my reading of John Piper’s excellent book on pastoral ministry, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, I thought that I would share one more thought from it that was very convicting to me.

In the chapter entitled, “Brothers, Beware of Sacred Substitutes,” Dr. Piper develops an idea of how the Christian minister is to allot his time based around the text of Acts 6.2-4, 

And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

The life of the Christian minister is full of starts and stops, interruptions and diversions away from the biblical calling to “preach the word” and to “shepherd the flock of God” that is among them (2 Timothy 4.2, 1 Peter 5.2).  Expanding on this, John Piper notes that “most of [the interruptions to our spiritual growth] and most of our busyness is ministry-related, not ‘worldly’.”  By this he means that most of the distraction comes not in the form of sinful diversion but disguised as good, seemingly essential, administerial and care related ministries.  Such was the case with the elders in Jerusalem who were being side-tracked by the dispersion of meals and other provisions to the widows in their fellowship.  This is undoubtedly a good thing, and yet its goodness does not make it superior to the elders call “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (v.4).  Looking to contemporary examples, Piper remarks,

And what opposes the pastor’s life of prayer [and thus his whole calling] more than anything?  The ministry.  It is not shopping or car repairs or sickness or yard work that squeezes our prayers into hurried corners of the day.  It is budget development and staff meetings and visitation and counseling and answering mail and writing reports and reading journals and answering the phone and preparing messages. (p.61)

Honestly, even though I am not yet officially “in the ministry,” I understand this difficulty quite well.  As a servant in the church and one who wants to contribute as much as I can currently within the scope of the ministry that I have, I often find that I simply spread myself too thin by assuming that every responsibility that comes up which seems remotely related to what I’m doing is a dire task that I personally need to respond to.  Thus I find myself committed to meeting people at 5 different locations and 4 different times, while simultaneously calling businesses trying to schedule events or place merchandise orders, which undoubtedly pushes my day out in both directions, shortening my mornings and my nights, making me feel more pressed to pray than I am comfortable with, and so I just short-change it and resolve to be in prayer “the way I should be” the following day.  I let my desire to be everything to everyone in my public ministry interfere with my devotion to God and reliance on him in my private ministry.  This is precisely what the psalmist is speaking to when he says, 

It is in vain that you rise up early
     and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
     for he gives to his beloved sleep
. (Psalm 127.2)

God bless John Piper and his wise insights into the trappings of the Christian pastorate; how I have benefited from them as much as any writer outside of God’s inspired word.  Again, if you are or plan to be involved in the pastoral ministry and you have not already read Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, you need to obtain a copy and immediately bump it up to the top of your reading list.

Whatever Happened to Acts 4?- Ministers Feed into the Fear of Speaking Jesus’ Name

March 2, 2009

When I need to know what is going on in the world that should concern me as a Christian, one person I always trust to inform me on this is Al Mohler.  President of Southern seminary and respected cultural commentator, Dr. Mohler runs a regular blog and daily radio show, which promises to offer “intelligent Christian conversation about the issues that matter.”  Often times his posts are stunning as to the amount of depravity that they reveal in all of humanity, but his most recent article was so disturbing to me that I felt I had to comment on it.

Friday Dr. Mohler posted a piece entitled, “This Prayer Approved by the White House?,” in which he approaches the topic of the newly elected adminstrations odd policy of approving the wording of the invocations given at public events prior to their being cleared to be delivered.  As we all know, the cries to remove prayer from all facets of the public square have been sounding out for many years, but this has never done much to stop the practice of the invocation.  With President Obama taking office, though, new teeth have been given to an old dog.  However, it would be one thing to end invocations, a sad decision undoubtedly, but livable; it is a complete other thing to vet the prayers being offered and marking them as “fit for use.”  This type of 1984-esque intereference (yes, I went there) with what many would expect to be an improvised, personal offering is just plain weird, and is probably not what anyone expected, either conservative prayer warriors or liberal secular activists.

What is most disturbing, however, is the seeming compliance of Christian ministers in this action.  Two such are mentioned in the post, one from Indiana who gives the gist of the process, and one from Florida who offers a small, but sad soundbite.  The minister from Indiana, one Ryan Culp, lets us in on how his invocation went from written, to presented over the phone to a White House Public Liason, to approved, and then delivered at an Obama town hall meeting.  It makes mention of the handshake he received from Obama afterwards, which makes me wonder if that was his sole motivation in following this all along.

The minister from Florida, a pastor of a black Baptist congregation in Ft. Myers named James Bing, was also one of those mentioned who had been vetted prior to his prayer for an Obama event.  What he revealed was even more freightening than the phone approval process Mr. Culp described.  The pastor, in explaining why his prayer “carefully avoided mentioning Jesus” said, “For some strange reason, the word Jesus is like pouring gasoline on fire for some people in this country . . . .  You learn how to work around that.”


I’m sorry.  I think I just threw up in my mouth!

How could any person claim at one and the same time to believe this and to be a Christian minister?!?  I have enough trouble seeing how one could allow their prayer to be censored by the White House.  I can’t even imagine volitionally not speaking the name of Christ in fear it would offend people.  

It’s supposed to offend people!

Do these guys preach in churches that don’t have Acts 4?

But when they had commanded [Peter and John] to leave the council, [the Sanhedrin] conferred with one another, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4.15-20)

How have we come so far?  Why was it so important for the apostles to stand up to the Sanhedrin and preach Jesus’ name yet now it is more important to “work around” even saying it and to get a handshake from the President?  What happened to there being “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4.12)?  There is to be submission to the authorities placed over us, but as Dr. Mohler says, “If the Christian cannot pray in the name of Jesus, let someone else deliver the prayer.”  How could this have ever happened?

We must see an end to this garbage.  The gospel message cannot be proclaimed with all of these dead, non-fruit bearing branches cluttering the vineyard.  I pray that soon God will see fit to gather them for the fire so the fruit of his redeeming love can grow freely once again!

The entirety of Dr. Mohler’s post may be viewed here.

A Prayer for One Nation Under One God- Our New President and Rick Warren’s Invocation

January 20, 2009

On this day, Tuesday January 20, 2008, America witnessed history as the first African-American was inaugurated as President of our country. This is the culmination of what many people longed for, prayed for, and bleed for for over two centuries in these not-always-so United States.

And yet, as that chapter closes, the story is just beginning. Now that the history has been set, the business has to be done. As a Christian looking at the four years ahead I can’t say that I am not proceeding with a little more apprehension than I did four and eight years ago. Not that my faith is any weaker or that I trust any less that God is in control, but it is because the landscape of this country, the protection of innocent life, the fundamentals of the American family, the freedom to live and worship as I chose, all seem to have darker days to come. We are warned that there may be occasions where our faith is “grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1.6) and looking at what lies ahead I fear that this thought, which we more commonly associate with Christians in foreign countries, will become a greater reality than we have experienced in quite some time, if ever.

Though I do not agree with him on everything I am thankful for the integrity which Pastor Rick Warren showed in his prayer at President Obama’s inauguration today. Unlike his Episcopalian counterpart did Sunday, Pastor Warren was not afraid to lay this country in subjection to its rightful owner, who is seated at the right hand of God (Psalm 8.6, cf. Ephesians 1.20). One line that stuck out to me was when he said,

“When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the Earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us.”

To hear these words offered up in a city as notoriously self-centered and contentious as Washington D.C. is tremendous. Unlike his liberal counterparts who seek unity and peace through tolerance and moral relativism, Rick Warren says, without actually saying the word, that our problems, our arguing, our strife and selfishness, are wrong, and are all an offense to God which we need to seek forgiveness over. Because of the format and nature of where he was speaking, I am understanding that Warren did not lay out our sinful need of a savior more, yet I believe God is sovereign over conviction to use even these shallower comments to strike deeply into peoples hearts wherever he may see fit.

Beyond this statement, Pastor Warren modeled a perspective that I myself am going to have to cultivate more over Obama’s presidency (see the remainder of his speech in text or video). Scripture is undeniable in its commands to pray for and respect any authority which is placed over us (Romans 13.1-7, 1 Timothy 2.1-3), and Warren did this superbly. It is our responsibility, regardless of politics and our fears, to pray for President Obama, his health and safety, his decision making, and most importantly his family. We may pray for God to change the president’s heart on certain issues, but ultimately our role is just to pray and trust God. We will be best served to learn this lesson, one which I think we have simply taken for granted over the last 8 years.

Teach me this God and please make me humble to your sovereign plan whatever it may cost.

I’ll See Your Hawaiian Shirt and Raise You a Gay Bishop- The Natural Outcome of Inconsistent “Christianity”

January 20, 2009

So, does anybody remember the firestorm surrounding soon-to-be President Obama’s selection of Rick Warren to give the Convocation at today’s Inauguration? Apparently Obama does. And for that reason we got what we saw Sunday afternoon at the Lincoln Memorial: the newly-wed, openly gay bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, issuing a prayer for our nation.

Now of course, Bishop Robinson has many qualifications for delivering such a high profile prayer. I mean, he is a pioneer just like Obama, and as The Times of London tells us, President Obama trusted in Bishop Robinson several times to see what it was like being the first of his kind. The only problem is, in as much as Obama is to be lauded for becoming the first African-American President of the United States, there is nothing laudable about the first June bride with a beard and mitre in the Anglican communion. In fact, one can hardly argue that were it not for Bishop Robinson’s sexual life he would just be another two-bit Episcopal priest with a 300 person parish somewhere in the forests of New England.

But he’s not and that’s why he was chosen to give this prayer. Now, of course, for a man who sees no contradiction in being a Minister of the Word and a practicing, unrepentant homosexual you can expect that he has some fruit loop theology as well, and by golly, he did not disappoint.

Bishop Robinson opened his prayer by appealing to the “God of our many understandings,” who I don’t think is the same recipient as “Our Father Who Art in Heaven,” though I could be wrong. He then went on to pray the classic prayer of tolerance for LGBTQ lifestyles found in the New Testament:

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

This was followed shortly after by a nice affirmation of the little known saying of Christ that everyone’s choice of god (little g folks) gets a vote in the end:

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God [sic] judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable.

Well, as least he did close it with ‘Amen.’ You can see the full text of this prayer here or watch its delivery here.

With that, I have nothing much more to say than this is a sad demonstration of the religious confusion that occurs when you try and mix a postmodern, relativistic mindset with a loose, inconsistent claim of “Christianity.” This mash-up of comedy and tragedy should open our eyes to just how dangerous it is trying to ride the convictional fence between being a Christian and being a tolerant, liberal minded member of secular culture. There are many reasons why we must pray for President Obama, and I think this type of gospel schizophrenia is one of them. As John Piper has stated recently, making decisions to acknowledge and support such illegitimate happenings as a married gay Episcopal bishop puts Obama in a place where he is making Christ “a minister of condemnation.” And in case you’re wondering, that’s not a compliment.

Dang Your Grace, God!- Learning about Our Failings in Forgiveness Through the Testimony of Jonah

January 4, 2009

I don’t know about you, but in my readings through the Bible one book that has always struck me as just wholly unusual is the book of the prophet Jonah. It seems that there is not a child in America who has not heard the story of Jonah being swallowed up and living in the body of a whale, but honestly, if that were it this book would probably only be half as weird. Thankfully that is not it and the lessons we learn from Jonah, strange as they are, strike deeply into the heart of the human depravity we all struggle with.

One particular portion of Jonah that I find piercing is in the final chapter, after Jonah has already been taught a lesson about fleeing from God and has seen the mighty city of Nineveh come to faith in obedience to God, Jonah is sitting out in the woods somewhere sulking about the great work God has done and this is what’s recorded:

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” [Jonah 4.1-3]

I mean, wow! First of all, this is just plain ballsy. Coming on the heels of three days of being fish food, to turn around and say such a thing to God shows that someone might not have been in the belly of a whale quite long enough. Second, I myself cannot even imagine the fear I would have in saying this. I’m not among the people who worries about being struck down by lighting, but at the same time I do not make a habit of challenging God by making myself a lightning rod.

Now, that said, the thing that is really striking about all of this is just what Jonah is saying. And I don’t mean the part about God being long-suffering and gracious, but the part where we see Jonah’s, and in turn possibly our own heart. As I heard Dr. Paul Tripp from Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia explain, Jonah is basically saying, “God, I didn’t want you to forgive those people, I wanted you to judge them.” That seems selfish, yet think to yourself, Is there anyone who I would rather God judge than forgive? Or, maybe more accurately, Is there anybody I don’t act as if I want God to forgive? I bet if you try hard enough you can think of an example. A boss who took advantage of you; a kid that picked on you growing up; a parent.

I know in my case it was an ex-girlfriend who caused me lots of stress. For the longest time I simply harbored ill-will towards her and made excuses for why I had to be mean to her. Then one day I realized that, though she had hurt me and was not someone I wanted to be around, the fact that she was not a believer in Jesus Christ was something that I should be broken over and should make me pray that God would transform her heart. It was hard, but I had to change my attitude towards her, and though I do not know what has happened to her since, I believe that that single Spirit-led realization made a dramatic impact on my life.

I think for a lot of “evangelicals” this is our attitude towards the gay community. We see them as sinners deserving of wrath. Some of us even go so far as to pronounce HIV/AIDS as a judgment from God upon them. Our hearts, for whatever reason, have been so hardened against homosexuals that we are desirous of their judgment in place of their forgiveness. We must ask ourselves, Is this right? Not homosexuality, clearly that is sinful (yeah, go ahead and dispute it, it’s still true). But is our attitude, our coldness, towards people living a lifestyle of homosexual sin the right one? Are we seeking their regeneration and renewal or do we just want judgment to reign from heaven onto their heads? If we are honest I think many of us will find ourselves not to far from Jonah in this respect.

Is there someone you need to change your attitude about? Jonah was angry at the forgiveness granted the Ninevites and prayed for death to ease his anguish. Are you at that point? Is that the state of your relationship with some individual or group of people? Pray it not be so. Learn the lesson of Scripture here and seek the change in your heart necessary to desire the change in another’s.

A Time for Unity and Concern- Gauging the Fallout of the Rick Warren Controversy

December 30, 2008

Let me begin by being honest and saying I am no fan of Rick Warren. However, though my personal opinion is against the methodologies he has chosen as a preacher, I believe he will be in heaven with me nonetheless. Therefore, when I see him being treated as he is in the media right now I stop and take a look to see just what it is that’s going on.

For those of you who may not yet have heard, Pastor Warren has been selected by President-elect Barack Obama to deliver the invocation at his January inauguration. This has caused a major backlash in liberal democratic circles with the reason given being Warren’s unabashed stance against gay marriage, and in particular his endorsement of the successful California marriage amendment, Proposition 8. In the week-and-a-half since the announcement, the Warren debate has carried on all over the news world, including in a blog posting by Dr. Al Mohler which I found quite interesting.

All this said, I would probably not have posted on the issue had it not been for one set of commentaries that I came across. The articles I speak of are the two opinion pieces written on the issue by infamous (and supremely arrogant) anti-theist Christopher Hitchens (articles one and two). In these articles, especially the first, there are several things which stick out to me as being disconcerting not just for fans of Rick Warren, but for most consistent, knowledgeable American evangelicals. Here is a quote from the beginning of the first article:

[I]f someone publicly charges that “Mormonism is a cult,” it is impossible to say that the claim by itself is mistaken or untrue. However, if the speaker says that heaven is a real place but that you will not get there if you are Jewish, or that Mormonism is a cult and a false religion but that other churches and faiths are the genuine article, then you know that the bigot has spoken.

Hitchens continues on to call out Rick Warren for his own “bigoted” views in this respect, as well as to label former SBC president and influential preacher W.A. Criswell as a “dismal nutbag” (He bases this in part off of Criswell’s belief in dispensational premillennialism, which again, though I don’t agree with the theological view, I do not believe it condemnable).

This all is disconcerting for your everyday evangelical because the stances which Hitchens is decrying are not “crackpot” and unusual like he makes them seem, but instead are actually at the core of mainstream orthodoxy. The sinfulness of homosexual behaviors, the exclusivity of the gospel, and some sort of Christian eschatology are not radical views, at least not from a biblical standpoint, yet being firm and convicted in them has led to a typically well-liked evangelical being run through the crapper of media scrutiny. If that is what’s happening to Rick Warren, just imagine what may happen to a little old Bible-believing baptist minister who isn’t making millions of dollars a year, living in California and rolling with Presidential candidates. If Warren could so quickly fall out of favor, how much more danger are we in as common biblical Christians?

I dislike making dire pronouncements, and praying for the rapture isn’t my idea of our Christian mission, but I do not believe that we can ignore the animosity and distrust that is rapidly arising from the popular culture against orthodox Christianity. For many years, possibly half a century or so, tolerance has been cruising it’s way to the top of American social thought. But in the last few years we have seen a steady increase from disdain of Bible-based Christianity in America to outright anger towards it. Now with the election of a radically liberal president and the controlling powers of liberal politicians in Washington and in the media, the fields are ripe for persecution. Someone of Rick Warren’s stature, though it looks bad publicly, will most likely not feel a great effect from this recent uproar. However it is you and I, the common everyday, hard-working American evangelical, who are about to put all those Don’t Waste Your Life books to the test.

The Power of Prayer?- John Piper on the Effectualness of Arminian Prayers

December 16, 2008

Continuing with a second post from John Piper’s book The Pleasures of God, I want to point out a comment he makes which I think gets all too often missed in the whole debate between Calvinism and Arminianism (or Sovereignty of God and Free Will of Man), that being the effectualness of prayer.

God’s Word has very specific things which it says about prayer, either by way of command or by way of example, and if we are in agreement about the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture then we have to grant these statements mean what they say. That taken into account, John Piper points out for us several ways in which praying in a biblical manner is hijacked by the theology of people who hold to man’s choice in salvation:

The effects on prayer for [those who esteem man's free will in salvation] are devastating if they try to pray consistently with this rejection of the sovereignty of God in election and conversion. It means they can’t ask God to actually fulfill many of his promises and effectually save anybody:

  • They can’t pray, “God, take out my friend’s heart of stone and give him a new heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 11.19)
  • They can’t pray, “Lord, circumcise my daughter’s heart so that she loves you.” (Deuteronomy 30.6)
  • They can’t pray, “Father, put your Spirit within my dad and cause him to walk in your statutes.” (Ezekiel 36.27)
  • They can’t pray, “Lord, grant my teacher repentance and a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2.25-26)
  • They can’t pray, “Open my sister’s eyes so that she will believe the gospel.” (Acts 16.14)

The reason they can’t pray this way is that all these prayers give God a right that they have reserved for man- namely the ultimate, decisive determination of man’s destiny. If you ask God to do any of these things, he would be the one who actually saves. How then does one pray if one really believes that man, not God, must make the ultimate decisions about individual salvation (and thus the ultimate decisions about the size and makeup of heaven’s population)? [The Pleasures of God, p.218]

These are heavy words.  How often have you thought about it this way?

Now, I know some will argue saying, “We can pray for God to woo or persuade the person,”  but as Piper argues later on,

There are two kinds of longings God could plant in an unbelievers heart.  One kind of longing is so strong that it leads the person to pursue and embrace Christ.  The other kind of longing is not strong enough to lead a person to embrace Christ.  Which should we pray for?  If we pray for the strong longing, then we are praying that the Lord would work effectually and get that person saved.  If you pray for the weak longing, then we are praying for an ineffectual longing that leaves the person in sin (but preserves his self-determination). [ibid, p.219]

This all comes down to Piper’s final conclusion, which I think is crippling to the non-Calvinist argument:

Do you see where this leads?  People who really believe that man must have the ultimate power of self-determination, can’t consistently pray that God would convert unbelieving sinners. [ibid, p.219]

Wow!  This is powerful.

Yet it takes on even more power when you consider that many people who stand against Calvinism and the sovereignty of God in salvation, claim to do so because they want “whosoever” to be able to believe and feel that Calvinism robs God of his glory in allowing that.  However, as this has shown, it is actually the non-Calvinists who rob God of his glory by turning the prayers which he has commanded into mere shows and nothing which is effectual for anything in the cause of evangelism.  And so, if this be the case, then the  unbelieving man is alone on an island, since, though we have been instructed to make intercessions for all people (1 Timothy 2.1), it turns out that those intercessions are not worth anything towards bringing him to faith in Christ after all.  That would be a sorry state.

Unable to Stand- A Prayer on Psalm 130.3

December 1, 2008

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” -Psalm 130.3

When I sin, the knowledge that my sin would remove me from God’s presence destroys me.  There is a desire, enticed by temptation, which makes me want to sin.  But beyond that there is a longing to follow after God in all his commandments.

My flesh and my spirit war within me.  Whenever my spirit, under the law of grace, gains an advance, the flesh is quick to launch a counter-offensive.  In the moment I feel closest to God, it is then I’m most vulnerable.  My flesh abhors the peace my spirit has in this communion.

And O how weak am I!  To the slightest charge of the flesh my defenses buckle.  I feel content, uncontested, when I draw near to God.  And then, in arrogance, I give a little ground.  Then some more.  Then more again.  Until finally I find myself back inside the barricades of the flesh.

God I thank you for your mercy.  I thank you that you do not mark my iniquities.  That in your eyes I am justified and glorified, though here I am not yet perfect.  I’m sorry for how I fail you, how I do not flee when you’ve said to flee, how I do not put off what you’ve said to put off.  Lord, draw me close to you.  Lift me out of the sinful lusts of my flesh.

You are glorious, merciful, and to be feared.  And I, though wretched and worthy of death, am the most blessed of men that Christ gave his life in my place.

Reflecting on Our Responses- A Thought for Thanksgiving 2008

November 27, 2008

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” -1 Thessalonians 5.16-18

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” -Colossians 3.17

With today being the celebration of the American holiday of Thanksgiving, I was faced with the decision of just posting as normal or of doing a cliched theme post about giving thanks and what that means and blah blah blah. But after careful consideration, I have decided that the boring old theme post might be much needed at this point.

To begin with, as a nation, particularly as Christians in this nation, there does not seem to be a lot to be thankful for at this time. The economy stinks and most of us are probably not too thrilled about the person elected to lead us through it and whatever else may come over the next four years. And while many of us are turning to passages like Romans 13.1 to comfort us that God places people in authority in accord with his will, I doubt that too many of us have gone beyond that into what God says about thanksgiving.

As 1 Thessalonians 5.16-18 above says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” Are we doing this? We may all know this, but are we actually doing this? If it is as the last line says, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” then we must set our minds to it so that our will will be conformed to his.

Rejoice always? Yes. As Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. . . . For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” (1.3-5, 8-10)

If this apostle, who had been shipwrecked, beaten, imprisoned, and who knows what else, was capable of giving thanks to God and rejoicing in his circumstances, knowing God was at work in it, then we should be capable of rejoicing in whatever financial or political hardships may come, since the same God who was at work in Paul’s day is still at work, unchanged, in ours.

Pray without ceasing? Yes. Throughout Scripture we are told to pray for just about everything, and here we are told to be doing that without halt. Particularly in times of hardship and trial, the unceasing prayer life allows us access to the Father, that he might speak into our hearts giving us peace and comfort, either by revealing his will for it in us or just by comforting us with his sovereignty. We all too quickly neglect prayer, thinking that what goes on is in need of something much bigger than some fancy words spoken in solitude. Yet, as we are made aware by James, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5.16b). So is it with us, that our prayer may have the power, if not to change the situation to our liking, to at least change our heart to the liking of God and granting us patience towards his holy design.

Give thanks in all circumstances? Yes. I think I am the worst at this. I complain so much. Of course, I dress it up and say that I am critiquing things, or providing constructive criticism, which I believe I am a lot of the time, but on occasion that “critique” is just a complaint. I am complaining because something is uncomfortable or difficult for me and so instead of rejoicing about it, praying over it, and giving thanks to God, I simply whine about it until my wife no longer has the patience to listen to me any more. I do this, which is in clear contradiction to all that I am supposed to be about.

Colossians 3.17 throws down the gauntlet by saying, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Whatever I do, whatever I say, if something comes out that is not wrought with thanksgiving then I am not in line with God’s will for me in that situation. Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe that “being thankful” and “being permissive” or “being liberal” are synonymous; I think we can be thankful even through biting words. However, if our words or actions display ill-will or discontent with what we have or who we speak against then our misgiving is not against the object of our attention but instead it is against God, as if we are saying “Why’d you let it be like this in the first place?”; and questioning God’s intent is not a position I want to take.

So, with another Thanksgiving Day coming and going, another set of football games and a myriad of casseroles, I want to do the cliche thing and call us back to a right spirit of thankfulness to the Lord. As I have told my wife, sometimes things are cliche because they are just so right, and I believe that is the case with this. It is God’s will for us to be constantly rejoicing, constantly praying, and constantly giving thanks to him, in all circumstances, and there is no time better than Thanksgiving to start doing this.

Building the Walls of Self-Control- A Prayer on Proverbs 25.28

November 24, 2008

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” -Proverbs 25.28

Without self-control I am left at the whim of the advances of the enemy.  The lion which roams, seeking to devour (1 Peter 5.8), will have free access to the streets and homes of my mind and body.

To gain self-control one must be like Nehemiah coming to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  It begins with a strong commitment to God, not allowing compromise (Nehemiah 1.4-11).  It requires both a hand at work in the building and a hand devoted to wielding the sword (Nehemiah 4.15-23).  If all we have is the sword then we may tarry the invaders for a while, but eventually we will tire and they’ll overwhelm us.  If all we have is the trowel to build then we will try to work too quickly, constructing a hastily-made wall which will not hold up to the attacks it’s sure to encounter (Matthew 7.24-26).

God, without self-control I am no better than the lost man I once was.  My heart is enlightened to you, and for moments I may shine in obedience, but in due time I find my way back to living like the world around me (1 Peter 4.3).

Lord, give me victory over the flesh, rein-in my worldly desires (James 1.14-15), that I don’t bring shame to your glorious grace by persisting in evils which I know you have saved me out of (Romans 5.8).

Father, restrain me like a child.  Keep me from making the decisions which cause you pain (Romans 8.14-15).

By no means should I continue in sin so that grace may abound (Romans 6.1-2).  Let my walls always be in repair (Nehemiah 2.17).  Let me work on them unceasingly, with sword and with trowel, with diligence and with eyes set on you (Colossians 3.2).