Prayer as the Route to True Theological Experience

In Romans 8:15-16 Paul says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

There are many things to draw from the wealth of this passage, but do not miss what is sitting right on the surface of it. When we’re reminded that we’ve been adopted by God and feel the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we’re children of God, what happens? We cry out in prayer saying “Abba! Father!” Or in other words, we experience a deep and profound communion with God that leads to a peaceful assurance and rest in God. Some of you may shrink back at the thought of experiencing God as something too emotional, too subjective, perhaps too mystical. There is some truth in this. In every age there have been those who have allowed emotion and experience to determine their faith and view of Scripture, rather than placing their emotion and experience under the examination of Scripture. But, I’m convinced that we will miss a great deal of heavenly blessedness in our souls if we overreact in the opposite direction and reject all emotion and experience with God. If we reject all emotive experiences with God how are we to commune with God? How are to we feel deeply for Him? Indeed we cannot.

John Owen, the English Puritan, in a sermon on the gospel once encouraged his hearers to “get an experience of the power of the gospel…in and upon your own hearts, or all your profession is an expiring thing.”[1] Similar to this quote the Scottish theologian John Murray said, “It is necessary for us to recognize that there is an intelligent mysticism in the life of faith…of living union and communion with the exalted and ever-present Redeemer…He communes with His people and His people commune with Him in a conscious reciprocal love…The life of true faith cannot be that of a cold metallic assent. It must have the passion and warmth of love and communion because communion with God is the crown and apex of true religion.”[2] Hear Peter in 1 Peter 1:8, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory…” We cannot commune with God in any proper or substantial way, we cannot ‘rejoice with joy inexpressible filled with glory’ if we remain cold and against all emotion. No, we are called an intimacy with God where a deep love for God is felt and cherished.

We must be reminded first and foremost that prayer is not a conversation between two equal parties. We do not pray to get things from God, we pray to get more of God.[3] We pray to commune with God and to grow in our affections for God. Tim Keller commenting on these things says, “An encounter with God involves not only the affections of the heart but also the convictions of the mind. We are not called to choose between a Christian life based on truth and doctrine or a Christian life filled with spiritual power and experience. They go together…”[4] God doesn’t intend us to leave our theology behind and go out on a quest looking for deeper religious experience, no. Rather, in prayer the Holy Spirit helps us experience our theology.[5]

With this in mind let’s examine four prayers Paul makes in his letters to the churches.

Ephesians 1:15-20

“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places…”

When Paul heard of the faith the Ephesian believers had in Christ and their love toward one another, it moved him to pray for them. Specifically praying that God (calling Him the “Father of glory”) would give them the Holy Spirit who would reveal more of God to them so they would increase in their wisdom and knowledge of God. Paul even asks for their hearts to be enlightened so that they would four things: first, how deep and vast our hope is in Christ. Second, how glorious our inheritance in Christ is. Third, how immeasurably great God’s power is toward us who believe. And fourth, for them to recognize that all of these wonderful things he’s been praying for are given to us in the Spirit who raised Christ up to God’s right hand. It seems clear to me, and I hope it seems clear to you, that Paul’s main agenda in prayer here is to ask God to so move among these Ephesians that these Ephesians would experience subjectively what they know to be true objectively. They have rich doctrine in their minds, and Paul desires that doctrine would fill the rest of the lives and the means he goes about encouraging them toward this is prayer.

Ephesians 3:14-19

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

We see a progression in Paul’s prayer here. First, Paul desires that these believers would be strengthened by the Spirit in their inner being according to the riches of God’s glory, so that, Christ would abound in their hearts through faith. Secondly, Paul asks that because of that they would be rooted and grounded in love with one another. Thirdly, because of that He asks that they, together, would comprehend the breadth, length, height and depth of Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge. Fourth, because Paul’s ultimate request from all of this is that they would be filled with the fullness of God. Again, Paul’s driving motivation in praying for the Ephesians here in chapter 3 is similar to his motivation back in chapter 1. He desires they comprehend what is incomprehensible, and that they be filled with the fullness of God. This is to say, he prays they would experience subjectively what they know to be true objectively.

Philippians 1:9-11

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

After reminding the Philippian believers in v3-8 that he prays for them regularly, remembering them for their deep and heartfelt partnership with him in the gospel, Paul prays for that their love would abound, be filled with more knowledge and more discernment, and that God would fill them with the fruit of righteousness for the praise and glory of Christ. Again, we see Paul praying for the Philippians in a very similar manner he prayed for the Ephesians. He is taking immense doctrinal truth and praying that this Philippian congregation would experience the fullness of it. That this truth they know would not only inform their minds but inflame and enliven their lives with a new depth of spiritual communion with God.

Colossians 1:9-14

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

As with the Ephesians and the Philippians, Paul uses almost the exact same language to pray for Colossian believers. He wants them to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and from that desires they walk in a manner worthy of God. He wants them to be increasing and strengthened with God’s glorious might and from that desires they endure patiently with joy. And lastly he wants them to be thankful to God who has delivered them from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Christ.

I think you get the picture I’m seeking to set before you.

In Paul’s prayer for these churches we something very experiential and something very doctrinal. As Tim Keller told us before, be reminded that God does not ask us to choose between a Christian life that’s doctrinal and a Christian life that’s powerful. No, God calls each of us to a Christian life that is deeply and objectively theological as well as richly experiential and subjective. How exactly does God intend these two worlds of objective truth and subjective experience to mesh together? In prayer.

The greatness of prayer is that in it we subjectively experience what we know to be true objectively. The greatness of prayer is that it is the way in which our theology moves into our soul.

So the application is simple, give yourself to this deeply and daily and what God fill you with His fullness.

 

 

Citations:

[1] John Owen, quoted in Tim Keller’s Prayer, page 15.

[2] John Murray, quoted in Ibid., page 16. Emphasis mine.

[3] Tim Keller, Ibid., page 21.

[4] Ibid., page 16-17.

[5] Ibid., page 17.

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Prayer As the Pursuit of God’s Glory

What is prayer?

I believe that the glory of God is the most ultimate and supreme and majestic reason behind everything, so I want to begin a series of posts on prayer but feel I must start in seeing prayer in relation to God’s glory. So, my first answer to the question ‘What is Prayer?’ is this: prayer is the pursuit of God’s glory.

In Psalm 50:15 we read, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” Similarly in John 14:13 Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in My name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” So, the ultimate reason we’re to call on God in days of trouble, and to come before God in Christ’s name with our requests is so that God would be glorified. When God brings us out of the day of trouble His goal is His glory. When God hears and grants our requests in Christ’s name His goal is His glory. God desires to be glorified in our prayer. One question we may ask at this point is how? God says He wants to be glorified when in prayer, that is clear, but how does He want to be glorified in our prayer? Think of like this.

Suppose you are completely paralyzed and all you can do is talk.[i] Then suppose your brother promised to live with you for the rest of your life to care for you and do for you what you are no longer able to do. Then suppose one day afterwards someone decides to visit you. So they get ready, come to the door and ring the doorbell. Your brother then opens the door, lets them in, and brings them to your room. In that moment how would you make much of your brother’s humble willingness to live with you and care for you? Would you try and get up out of bed, and clean yourself and your room up to make room for your guest? Of course not. No, you would call out to your brother for help. Help to be propped up, help with your glasses to see your visitor, help to clean up your room a bit so your visitor can sit down with you. After seeing your brother help you, your visitor would learn two things from watching this. First, they would learn how needy you are. And second, they would learn how kind and able and strong your brother is.

Prayer is very similar. By coming to God in the day of trouble, and by coming to God with your needs in Christ’s name, you are shown to be needy and weak, unable to do for yourself what you most need to do. But your neediness isn’t the only thing on display here. What else is on display? God’s power and strength to provide the help we need. So how God glorified in prayer? God is glorified in prayer because prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as strong. To not pray is like having the rooms of your house wallpapered in Target gift cards while you keep shopping at Goodwill because you can’t read.[ii] To not pray is like being a bus driver and trying to push your bus out of a ditch on the side of the road unaware that Clark Kent is on board.[iii] Remember what Jesus said to the Woman at the well? In John 4:10, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you ‘Give me a drink’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” If you knew…you would ask! Therefore those who labor in prayer are those who know two things. They know how needy and helpless they are, and they know how willing and able and strong God is in Christ toward those who believe.

Charles Spurgeon once used the famous tale Robinson Crusoe as an illustration in a sermon. He said this, “Robinson Crusoe had been wrecked. He is left on the desert island all alone. His case is a very pitiable one. He goes to his bed, and he is smitten with fever. This fever lasts upon him long, and he has no one to wait upon him – none to even bring him a drink of cold water. He is ready to perish. He had been accustomed to sin, and had all the vices of a sailor; but his hard case made him think. He opens a Bible which he finds in his chest, and he comes upon a passage, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” That night he prayed for the first time in his life, and ever after there was in him a hope in God which marked the birth of the heavenly life.”[iv]

Spurgeon explained his use of Robinson Crusoe’s tale like this, “God and the praying man take shares…First here is your share “Call upon Me in the day of trouble…” Secondly here is God’s share “I will deliver you.” Again, we take a share “You shall be delivered.” And then God takes the final share “You shall glorify Me.” Here is a covenant that God enters into with you who pray to Him, and whom He helps. He says, “You shall have deliverance, but I must have the glory.” Here is a delightful partnership: we obtain that which we so greatly need, and…God gets the glory which is due to His name.”[v]

Church, see this great discovery about the nature of prayer. We do not glorify God in prayer by asking God if we can provide for His needs, but by asking that Him to provide ours and trusting Him to answer in His own wise and gracious time. Prayer is in a very real sense, giving up the effort of doing things in your own strength and hanging a help wanted sign around your neck.[vi] It is sitting back in the doctor’s chair and trusting the Great Physician to do what only the Great Physician can do.[vii] So yes, in all of life, and for our purposes here – in our prayer, if God is to get the glory we are to act as receivers and not givers. This is how God is glorified in the prayer of His people. And more so, this is how we receive great joy. John 16:24, “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” So when we come with empty hands, acknowledging our neediness and depending on God to provide in His abundance, God is glorified and our joy is made full.

You’ve probably felt his influence throughout all of this, so I’ll just go ahead and quote him now to end. John Piper concludes his chapter on prayer in Desiring God like this, “Prayer pursues God’s glory by treating Him as the inexhaustible reservoir of hope and help. In prayer we admit our poverty and God’s prosperity, our bankruptcy and His bounty, our misery and His mercy. Therefore prayer highly exalts and glorifies God precisely by pursuing everything we long for in Him, and not in ourselves.”[viii]

Lord willing, we will continue next week discussing more of the nature of prayer.

 

Citations:

[i] John Piper, Desiring God, page 160-161.

[ii] Ibid., page 162.

[iii] Ibid., page 162.

[iv] Charles Spurgeon, Twelve Sermons on Prayer, page 105. Quoted in Piper, Desiring God, page 161.

[v] Charles Spurgeon, Twelve Sermons on Prayer, page 115. Quoted in Piper, Desiring God, page 162.

[vi] John Piper, Desiring God, page 171.

[vii] Ibid., page 172.

[viii] Ibid., page 182.

Ten Prayer Points on Preaching

Each week I go through two texts of Scripture to understand them, absorb them, and preach them on the upcoming Sunday morning and evening. This process involves as much prayer as it does study. Here are ten things I pray for each week about my preaching.

In the Study

Lord, give me words for Your people.

This is the first thing coming into my heart when I open my Bible. I understand that I am opening it not just for the sake of my own soul but for the sake of the souls in my church. So yes I’ll have a slow and steady eye on the text, but I’ll also have an eye on the congregation as well.

Lord, give me words of precision.

Having the congregation in view increases the urgency of having a quality sermon for the congregation. What is a quality sermon? A precise sermon where the point of the text is the point of the sermon. Where attention is given to God’s agenda in the text and submitted to. In this sense I seek only to say what God has already said.

Lord, give me words of passion and power.

As I’m slowly working through the texts and as the sermons begin to take shape before me I begin to desire that these sermons not be merely information passed from me to them. I want the demeanor in which I preach to match the demeanor of the text. I don’t want to be unaffected myself and want to affect my hearers with the truth. I want passion and power, unction from the Spirit of God in preaching the Word of God, a feeling sense of the truth I’ll preach. I cannot create this on my own, so I plead with God to create it in me.

Lord, give me words for Your praise.

Lastly, as both sermons are close to being completed I remember the ultimate aim in preaching – the glory of God. Yes the text must be understood, yes the people must grow, and yes I must grow myself. But above all these things God must be honored and glorified. I complete my sermons and ask God to use this small effort to build His Church and make much of His name.

In the Pulpit

As I approach the pulpit I am aware that this moment is the culmination of a weeks worth of study and struggle with the text. It is the moment where I’ll reap the consequences of a diligent week of study or a poor week of study, and it is always my preference to reap well than poorly! It is the moment that never ceases to amaze me that God works to build His Church through flawed preachers like myself. Knowing all of these things fills my walk to the pulpit with the following five requests.

Lord, use me to challenge, use me to convict, use me to comfort, use me to console, and use me to change Your people.

Though every week is different, filled with joys and challenges of all shapes and sizes these 10 things have, at least for me, remained true and constant. I hope they encourage you in your own preparation.

3 Ways to Pray For Your Pastor

In Hebrews 13 we are told that pastors must give an account for those they watch over (Hebrew 13:7). We see this again in the epistle of James where we are told that pastors will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1) as they have tremendous influence over the church. Pastors have been given a very weighty task – to shepherd God’s people (Acts 20:28). This is an enormous responsibility that at times can be daunting. Certainly there is great joy in pastoral ministry. It is a tremendous privilege and blessing to shepherd God’s people. However, at the same time, the toll of ministry can truly cause pastors to become overwhelmed, discouraged, and even burnt out. It is so important that we lift our pastors up in prayer regularly, asking God to guide their every step.

Here are three ways we can do this:

Pray For His Walk with Jesus

It is important that we pray for our pastor’s spiritual growth. We want him to be a man who is walking closely with Jesus and who is striving to be more and more like Him everyday. Over the years the church has had it’s fair share of pastors who have fallen in moral failure. Certainly we do not want this to be true of our pastor. However, sin and temptation are never far away (Genesis 4:7). Therefore, it ought to be our prayer that God would guard our pastor’s heart from sin. The Bible calls for our pastors to be men who are above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6 ) and that needs to be our regular prayer for him. This includes all areas of his life – his family relationships, his work relationship, his personal friendships, and ultimately his walk with Jesus.

Pray For His Preaching

Every week our pastors stand before their congregations and preach God’s Word (hopefully). This is one of the most important, if not the most important, things he does. God’s Word is spiritual nourishment to God’s people. It helps them to grow into mature, healthy believers. Therefore, it is important that the church is served a hearty portion of God’s Word each week. Pray then, that God would guide our pastors each week in their sermon preparation and study. Pray that they would rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) each time they step into the pulpit. And most importantly, pray that God would be magnified and that we would grow through the preaching of God’s Word.

Pray For His Leadership

There are many decisions to be made, people to counsel, and problems to solve when a person is in pastoral leadership. In each instance we want our pastor to lead wisely and in a way that honors God. We want him to be moving in the direction that God would have him go. This requires prayer. We need to pray that God would grant great wisdom to our pastor as he leads the church (James 1:5), meets with individuals, and plans for the future. We want each step our pastor makes to be guided by God.

Prayer is a crucial component to the Christian life and your pastor needs to be included in your regular prayers. Don’t just think of your pastor as the one who should be praying for and helping you – he is just as much in need of prayer as any person. Never stop praying for your pastor. He covets your prayers, he needs your prayers, and your prayers will have an impact.

 

Who Prays…..

In the church today one of the most overlooked elements seems to be the importance of prayer. 

While we all may agree that prayer is an essential part of the Christian life we seem to, at times, relegate it to nothing more than a passing conversation with God. When we look at the Scripture this is not the case, nor is it simply a private matter. At the start, middle, and end of every day our greatest need is to be refreshed by the gospel and the power of Christ, and we experience this reality most closely when we are in prayer. Prayer is an essential aspect of the Christian journey seen throughout the Bible. The book of Psalms displays for us the grandeur of the prayers and cries of the people of God, multiple epistles open with the Apostle’s prayers for those whom he is writing, the Pentateuch records for us many prayers of Moses and the early fathers seeking God. The Bible is filled with prayers, but at times we may lose sight of who is praying and where their prayers are directed.

The Church Prays

First, prayer begins in the church. This may seem foreign and to some even false, but prayer at its core is both private and communal, both aspects are in play. The book of Psalms were sung and prayed by the whole congregation of Israel, they were used as elements of worship to God as the spoke His words back to him. In our churches today this may take the form of singing praises to God as well, which are in fact communal prayers. However, it is not only in the singing of songs and psalms that we see the church pray it is through the actual act of worship on Sunday mornings and prayer gatherings where the church is encouraged to join in prayer for the work of God in the lives of their brothers and sisters and in the outworking of the Gospel around them through the ministry and direction of God in the church. Within the church we see modeled for us the prayers of the saints of old and the hearts of our brothers and sisters. The church models for us proper reverence and familiarity with the almighty. It is from this modeling that we pray individually.

The Saints Pray

Now from the church gathered we move into our own individual areas of influence and life. While we may at times cross paths with other saints, often we work and do life outside of continual interaction with the our church family. It is in this that we are reminded that our faith is more than just a communal gathering; it is a life dependent on Christ. If you live form Sunday to Sunday with no recognition or dependence on God through the week that is not healthy and is probably a sign of a greater spiritual problem, for while the church gathers and we are lifted up in prayer, we too must be in prayer and communion with God throughout our lives. So you may ask then the question of ‘how then shall we now pray?’ 

Well Scripture shows us a multitude of options, but it also shows us that it begins in the attitude of worship before God.

Firstly, we come to God with an understanding of His Kingship. He is the Almighty God who rules reigns and judges humanity of their sins and rebellion. He has created the universe and knows the deepest parts of us. At first this may sound terrifying and lead to a fear of coming at all, but when taken in the full context of who God is it should do the opposite. This understanding helps us to see that He is to be revered and not to be taken lightly. He is the great King, who can handle all of lives problems, for He is the one who has decreed life itself. Therefore we should be led to Him in humility and reverence for who He is.

Secondly, we remember that He is our eternal Father. He is the one who loved us and sought us out through the work of Christ. He cares deeply for us and can handle our life’s complaints and trials. Look again at the Psalms, there are many that reflect to God the fact that His ways make no sense and are confusing. One of the most interesting Psalm 88 ends with no resolution of how God will bring salvation in the midst of pain, it is a prayer that speaks to God as a scared child who doesn’t understand and is crying out to his Father for comfort, in the midst of confusion. The prayers of lament are some of the most powerful because they show us that it is okay to be confused by the works of God, and it is okay to tell Him. Don’t worry He can handle it, remember He is a loving Fatherly King, who’s desire is for His children to come to Him not hide from Him.

Finally, because He is our fatherly King who loves us, we are able to confess our faults and find forgiveness and rest in Him. He is the one who declared righteous, through the death and resurrection of the Son, all who repent and believe. He has made us whole; He is the One who initiated the relationship with us, when we were His enemies, how much more now that we are children, does His love for us spread. He can handle your problems and He already knows your sins, so do not flee His embrace, but turn to Him and experience the full warmth of His forgiveness.

With this view of God in mind we come to him both at designated times and continually throughout all of life. We are to set some time aside to be with God and focus on Him alone, but we are also suppose to be in continual prayer throughout the day knowing that it is God who we need for everything. Let us pray in times of joy, sorrow, confusion, success and failure, because our kingly Father cares and loves us through it all.

Prayer: A Mixture of Faith and Error

Prayer is a glorious gift we have been given by God.  It is the heartbeat of the Christian life.  It is communing with the most pleasant company anyone could ever have.  In prayer we grow closer to God by receiving more of God.  Our hearts, and therefore our lives, are further conformed to the image of His Son Jesus.  Our resolve to stand strong amid hard days, trials, or suffering is increased.  But prayer can be frustrating.  Why?  Have you ever been praying about something for a long time and been confused as to why God doesn’t give us what we’re asking Him for?  I have.

Confusion with how and why God answers some prayers over others isn’t a rare experience, I think it’s normal Christian experience.  This becomes further distressing to the soul when we know we’re praying for something good, something that God tells us to pray for in His Word.  Why then doesn’t God give those things to us?  If we ask, won’t we receive?  If we seek, won’t we find?  If we knock, won’t He open the doors?  Not always.

In Tim Keller’s book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God he makes a statement I’ve never read before in any book on prayer and it concerns this very thing.  On page 102 he says, “Gifts from God that are not acknowledged as such are deadly to the soul, because they thicken the illusion of self-sufficiency that leads to overconfidence and sets us up for failure.”  You see why God doesn’t give us all we ask for?  Keller later gives the reason: because our hearts are “discordantly arranged and fatally unwise.”  In His wisdom God doesn’t give us what we ask for because he knows some of the things we ask for aren’t good for us.  He knows if He was to give those things to us that our hearts would interpret those things as the fruit of our own effort and our pride will be increased.  These things will ruin us and bring nothing but self-congratulatory ego-ism into our souls.

He is wise.  He knows some of the things we ask for are the things we don’t need to ask for and some of the things we don’t ask for are the very things we need to be asking for the most.  John Calvin gives us hope in prayer by recognizing this very thing, “God so tempers the outcome of events according to His incomprehensible plan that the prayers of the saints, which are a mixture of faith and error, are not nullified.”

Knowing that your heart is mixed with faith and error shouldn’t stop you from praying.  It should motivate you in prayer, because you already know that YOU WILL ask for the wrong things in prayer.  Cry, ask, appeal, seek, and knock for many things, many times – God will answer you.  When the answer isn’t what you want it to be, wield the weapon of prayer and ask God to give you rest in His wise will.

A Worrying God

Chris Robins, one of my mentors (who is planting a church in San Francisco), giving us an insight into his own heart and how God’s heart calms it:

Isaiah 62:6–7, “I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.”

There’s a focus, a kind of raw delight mixed with fanatic intensity, that a dog has with a bone. Nothing else in the world exists in those chewing and cracking moments when the marrow is just out of reach. He growls at you if you grab for his prize. He begins at one end, using the leverage of his jaw and paw to split open his treasure. That is an old way of using the word “worry” as a verb. “That pup is really worrying that bone,” you would say.

It’s a funny way to use the word, because it kind of describes how we cope with anxiety. You worry about your daughter’s school, or the lump they found in your abdomen, or whether your house will sell at the right price. What do you do? You worry the problem. You chew on it by thinking about it before you go to sleep, talking it through with your friends every day, clicking every link you can find online for hours to find more info. You chew and gnaw at it until your chewer is sore. I just did that. I had insomnia for the first time in my life this month. Night after night laying awake. It was awful. I hated it. I was worrying this church plant to the bone. But I absolutely love this little passage from Isaiah. I love it.

This is God speaking. Actually I think it’s even more than that. This is a perfect script for Christ. It was written about Him and for Him. Which makes incredible sense because one of Christ’s strangest commands, along with equally bizarre stories, is about worrying God. If you call on God, this God, don’t give yourself a break. Don’t rest. Don’t quit. Don’t stop. In what? Bugging God about what He says He will do. Asking, pleading, reminding, and then after you’ve grown tired of that, asking, pleading, and reminding some more. The religious word for it is “importunate.” The ordinary word for it is “obnoxious.”

Christ owns this command in Isaiah as the model for all real prayer done by His people. Don’t. Give. Up. Not until the skies are rolled back like a scroll. Today I went back to old prayer lists from years ago and I could hear the Holy Spirit whisper in His word: Don’t. Give. Up. Isaiah 62:6-7 is printed at the top of my old prayer list. It was good and sweet and strangely restful. What does this kind of worrying God do? It finally puts to rest all those little worries of our unbelieving hearts. Knocks them down. Kills them. Relentless pleading with eternal love is an antidote to anxiety. I’ve got better things to do than worry about our worship service tomorrow. I’ve got a God to worry about all of this. Where are the conversions Father? Where are Your people? Who’s going to do childcare? When will San Francisco know the power of the reviving God?

I am praying to (read worrying) God with relief about all of this. I am not giving Him any rest, just so I can sleep tonight. I pray for a raw delight and intensity for you with the Lord now. In Jesus.Name.Amen.Praise Him.

Forgiveness Leads to Fear

Chris Robins:

“But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 103:4)
Isn’t that backwards? I know that this brief line of Biblical poetry puzzled me when I first heard it. Today it would be written differently. Something like “with You there is so much love and forgiveness, therefore: I will praise You, love You, want You to be my best friend, etc.” No fear would come up. Wouldn’t even occur to us. We worship like we’re using hallmark cards for our bulletins. So why does this ancient poet say this? Or more to the point, why don’t we? Because we’re backwards. The text isn’t. Someone will say, “oh, that’s just a primitive understanding from an ancient book, not the loving God that I worship. He isn’t like that.” Oh really? Is that why Jesus, as the reality of the cross grows in Him, as He weeps in the garden right before it happens, as He pleads with God – is that why He shakes with a terrible blood sweat? No. Jesus knew forgiveness had to be forged, and therefore He feared – truly feared – because of what only He really knew. When He looked down at his hands, that just held His head as He prayed and cried, He saw a horrifying smear of blood from his face. That’s terrifying, and the presence of a holy terror was in His soul. He’s staring into hell, and knows He will drink all of hell itself. The dark truth I know is this – I should be facing that. It shouldn’t have been His Son. The greedy gullet of hell should swallow me whole. But then comes a disturbing reality. It doesn’t happen. My God forgives. He shuts hell’s mouth with the blood of His Boy. Joy of joy, my God forgives. Backwards and forwards, my God forgives! It is just at this moment of wonder that something happens. Fear enters in, because there’s just no way to make sense of that kind of love. The cross is an awful sight, God’s own Son dying in pain, rejection, and abuse. If He exacted that cost from His Dearest, to call me His beloved, what is He capable of? This isn’t servile fear I feel, flinching at a raised hand. This is awe, realizing that I have no control over this God, not even over His mercy. This is knee knocking fear, where all the grandeur and purity of Holy love is now given to a man who isn’t pure or grand or holy. Even as I imagine I must slink away from His presence because of who I am, I’m free to boldly walk across the sapphire floor at His feet. Jesus loves me! Fear now aches in my gut with a sense of joy at His Name and His throne. I can toss good sensible prayers to the wind! Why not?!?! The Son of glory dies to set the wicked free! That’s me! The sensible stuff is all gone now. I am made holy when I realize I’m not. I’m accepted when I see I shouldn’t be. I’m heard when I ought’ve been ignored. Backwards after all and all glorious, in Jesus’ Name. Amen. What can keep you from praying now? Amen.

May God Interrupt Your Prayer

Chris Robins:

Isaiah 65:24  Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.

Can you even imagine that? You’re mid-sentence with God, about to explain what you need, and He just says “Sure, I’ll do that.” It’s like my crazy family at Christmas.  Every person talking over each other.  I’ve heard folks complain that they feel prayer is meaningless.  It’s usually Reformed people, who have somehow let God’s omniscience and omnipotence be an excuse for prayerlessness and passivity.  Their condemnation is just.  Explain this in a systematic theology: God talks over you in His own eager love.  What God “knows” is obvious: absolutely everything. He wouldn’t be much of a God otherwise. He can create a better punch list of your needs than you can.  So when our sacred writings talk about God “knowing” us, it’s more than just data.  It’s not just a fact sheet bio.  It’s the way you personally know a friend and can predict what he’ll say.  This is what Abraham knew haggling with God along the dirt road to Sodom.  This is David curled up in a cave asking God for directions like you’d ask a cabbie. This is Moses hiking up Mt. Sinai to tell God to His Face that he wanted to see more of His Face. And God, our God, like an attentive Father, was already signing off their requests. Before they finished their sentences.  This was all before Jesus!  How much more can I now ask because of the Son?  What will He not give me?! Imagine this picture in all of it’s beautiful absurdity. The Eternal Creator, who needs nothing and knows everything, is falling over Himself to answer His children.  The Almighty, Ancient of days, leaning forward with a sense of anticipation about your next request.  That is ridiculous and wonderful.  That is what the cross did for us.  Yes, He knows what I need.  Yes, He knew what I was going to write in this letter before I started typing.  Yes.  And for His own glorious pleasure He was already answering me, mid-sentence, in His love.  Doesn’t that make you want to spill out your heart to Him now?

Do it.

May God interrupt you in Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

The Constant Company of our Creator

In 1834, Scottish clergyman, Robert Murray McCheyne wrote this in his journal:

Rose early to seek God and found Him whom my soul loveth.  Who would not rise early to meet such company?

Prayer, to the Christian, should be as natural as the rising and falling of breath.  God is worth spending time with.  Has that thought crossed your mind?  We can spend time and enjoy the company of our Creator?  He is accessible.  He is not only willing to listen but eager to hear us.  And when He hears us He does not remain silent, He answers us back through His Word.  It is challenging to note that throughout our day we are eager to get to this email, or that appointment, or eager to not miss that workout.  How eager are you to get to God?  As soon as we wake up we must push back all the “stuff” of the day that comes rushing in and go to our Father in prayer.  There is no better company to start our days with.  Indeed through prayer we can, in a sense, always have company over.

I pray you do.

15 Prayers for God’s Power

John Piper:

I love strength. I love the word “mighty,” as in “Mighty Woman of God,” and “Mighty Man of God.” I love to hear that “Moses was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts7:22), and that Apollos was “mighty in the scriptures” (Acts 18:24).

I love it when Paul says, “Act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13), or, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Ephesians 6:10), or, “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1).

But make no mistake, the pursuit of this might is not the path to human power and pride. It is the path of ceaseless warfare with your own self. The greatest power in the world among human beings is the power not to sin. The power of holiness and love.

So if you are up for it, would you join me in these 15 prayers that you would be a mighty man of God or a mighty woman of God?

  1. Lord, make me so mighty in wisdom that I know and taste that the height of might is childlikeness (Matthew 18:4).
  2. Lord, make me so mighty in war that I defeat every impulse in my soul that destroys peace (Hebrews 12:14; Romans 14:19; Matthew 5:9).
  3. Lord, make me so mighty in my hardness against bitterness that tenderness of heart is not destroyed by wounds (Hosea 11:8; Ephesians4:32; 1 Peter 3:8).
  4. Lord, make me mightily unbending and inflexible in my Christ-exalting resolve to bend and become all things to all people that I might save some (1 Corinthians 9:22).
  5. Lord, make my trunk and branches so mightily tough and impervious to wind and drought that I never cease to bear the fruit of gentleness (Galatians 5:23; James 3:17; 1 Peter 3:4).
  6. Lord, make me so mighty in serpentine discernment that I see every opening for dove-like love (Matthew 10:16).
  7. Lord, make me so mightily unmoved by the sting and deceits of injustice against me that I may feel and show the miracle of undeserved compassion (Luke 10:23; 15:20; Hebrews 10:34; 1 Peter 3:8).
  8. Lord, make me so mightily unyielding to the enticements of selfishness that from my heart kindness forever flows (2 Corinthians 6:6; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12).
  9. Lord, make me so mightily unresponsive to the honeyed lure of self-pity that I may have ever-replenished resources to return good for evil (Romans12:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9).
  10. Lord, make me mighty with ruthless courage to cut off my hand at every trace of greed that I may be content with what I have (Philippians 4:11; 1 Timothy 6:8; Hebrews 13:5).
  11. Lord, make me mighty with happy thoughts of child and wife and King to tear out my eye lest I betray their trust and lose the purity that sees my God (Matthew 5:8).
  12. Lord, make me so mighty against the powers of self-justification that I never lose the humility to repent and weep for my sin (James 4:9; 5:16).
  13. Lord, make me so mighty in resisting the bait of frenzied productivity that I never cease to enjoy the still waters of prayer and your sweet presence (Psalm 23:2; Isaiah 46:10; Luke 10:42).
  14. Lord, make me so mighty against the deadly undertow of self-reliance that I am never ashamed to trust your arm, like a child with his father, in every breaking wave (Psalm 37:3, 5; Proverbs 3:5; Galatians 2:20).
  15. Lord, make me so mighty in seeing and mighty in savoring the promises of your sovereign grace that in all my sorrows I might never cease to sing your praise (Matthew 5:11-12; Acts 16:25; 2 Corinthians 6:10; 1 Peter 4:13).

Before You Preach….Pray

Listen to Augustine’s words to preachers:  they are well put and should be well heard.

And so our Christian orator, while he says what is just, and holy, and good (and he ought never to say anything else), does all he can to be heard with intelligence, with pleasure, and with obedience; and he need not doubt that if he succeed in this object, and so far as he succeeds, he will succeed more by piety in prayer than by gifts of oratory; and so he ought to pray for himself, and for those he is about to address, before he attempts to speak. And when the hour is come that he must speak, he ought, before he opens his mouth, to lift up his thirsty soul to God, to drink in what he is about to pour forth, and to be himself filled with what he is about to distribute.

Why “In Jesus Name?”

Have you ever wondered why Christians end their prayers with “in Jesus name, amen.”?  Is it just a traditional thing people do?  Do they do it because it sounds good and Christian?  No, these are horrible reasons for doing anything.

The reason Christians say “in Jesus name” is profoundly simple.  Profound because it is the greatest truth anyone can fathom.  Simple because it is the simplest of all truths, so much so that it seems painfully easy.  So why pray “in Jesus name”?  Because it is in Jesus, that we are only acceptable to the Father.  Jesus is the only way to the Father.  The Father delights in His Son, and if we are in His Son, the Father delights in us.  We say this because we are banking on Jesus’ work to make us right with the Father, and not our own.

Think about this way: Are you able to come to God for anything, in your own name?  No.  Are you able to come to God for anything, in Jesus name?  Yes!  Why?  Because we find our way to God, through Jesus.  This is profound, and this is simple; as most great truths are.