Sunday, October 31, 2010

Prayer Quotes

Robert Murray M'Cheyne:

A man is what he is on his knees before God, and nothing more.
Martin Luther:
To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Too Busy to Pray?

I think it would be a fair evaluation to say that the church in our day has replaced prayer with programs, planning, committees, and events. And that individual Christians have replaced prayer with activities, busyness, careers, or even service. At the least, prayer takes a back seat to our “I can do it myself” mentality. Prayer has become a leftover, an add-on to a busy day if we have time. Or a last retreat in times of difficulty. I believe this very attitude about prayer has crippled churches and Christians in our time. We are trying to do God’s work without His power. We run our lives without letting the Creator direct us. How can we expect to end up in the right place like that?

This calls to mind the error of God's people in the Old Testament of whom we read:

Ezekiel 23:35 (ESV)
Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, you yourself must bear the consequences of your lewdness and whoring."

Isaiah 17:10-11 (ESV)
For you have forgotten the God of your salvation
and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge;
therefore, though you plant pleasant plants
and sow the vine-branch of a stranger,
though you make them grow on the day that you plant them,
and make them blossom in the morning that you sow,
yet the harvest will flee away
in a day of grief and incurable pain.
God doesn't mince words with those who are supposed to be His people, but fail to seek Him. Are we guilty of doing the same?

We could end there, feeling guilty about ourselves and yet still powerless to change. Or we can look to our gracious God in repentance, relying on Him to help restore us to Himself and renew in us a passion for prayer. While the application is a bit different, the essence of God's promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 still rings true for us today:
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (ESV)
Heal us, O God!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Week of Prayer

This Sunday, my church begins a Week of Prayer. I invite you to join us in devoting 30 minutes a day to focused time with God. We've developed a Prayer Guide to direct our people in worship through Scripture-based, comprehensive prayer. Some additional blog posts will follow with thoughts on prayer.

In addition, we have a number of resources available to help renew your time with God in prayer, including resources on how to pray for 30 minutes, the prayers of Paul, hymns for meditation, and more. Check them out at obf.org.

BLOG POSTS ON PRAYER

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Interview with Tim Keller on Social Justice

The interview was done by Kevin DeYoung and has to do with Keller's new book Generous Justice. Here's one of the questions and answers:

DeYoung: Any cautions you would give to Christians who are eager to transform the world or make the shalom of the city their church’s mission?

Keller: I believe that making disciples and doing justice relate (not exactly) but somewhat in the same way that faith and works relate to one another. We would say that faith alone is the basis for salvation, and yet true faith will always result in good works. We must not “load in” works as if they are an equal with faith as a salvation-base, but neither can we “detach” works and say that they are optional for a believer. Similarly, I would say that the first thing I need to tell people when they come to church is “believe in Jesus,” not “do justice.” Why? Because first, believing in Jesus meets a more radical need and second, because if they don’t believe in Jesus they won’t have that gospel-motivation to do justice that I talk about in the book. So there’s a priority there. On the other hand, for a church to not constantly disciple its people to “do justice” would be utterly wrong, because it is an important part of God’s will. I’m calling for an ‘asymmetrical balance’ here. It seems to me that some churches try to “load in” doing justice as if it is equally important as believing in Jesus, but others, in fear of falling into the social gospel, do not preach or disciple their people to do justice at all. Both are wrong. A Biblical church should be highly evangelistic yet known for its commitment to the poor of the city.

Read more here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kids Say the Darndest Things

From Kevin DeYoung:

Indulge me in a brief “kids say the darnedest things” story.

Last night I was playing soccer in the backyard with my two oldest sons. After stopping the ball outside the goal I threw the ball with two hands to the other side of the yard. I was trying to get it to the son playing on my team. Anyway, the ball landed, rolled a few feet all by itself, and made its way untouched directly into the goal clear over at the other fence. My five year old son came sprinting to me across the yard and made my day with his exclamation: “Wow, daddy, only you and Jesus can do that.”


Update: Someone in the comments reminded me of what my daughter Lexys said to me when she was 5 years old and I was doing some stretches, "Daddy, why are you pretending like you can't touch the floor?"


Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Sorry You Were Offended"

A couple of good links here from Chris Brauns, author of Unpacking Forgiveness and my wife's uncle. For readers who are part of Oxford Bible Fellowship, Chris will speaking at OBF in February 2011. Check out his blog and these posts:The second post includes this comic from the blog of Abraham Piper (John Piper's son):


As I jumped on Abraham's blog to link that comic, I also saw this one. Thought you might enjoy:

Friday, October 22, 2010

How to stop thinking about everything but God when you're trying to pray

Fairly often when I'm trying to pray I end up down a rabbit trail of thoughts. It will sometimes take me 10 minutes or so before I realize I'm thinking about how bad the paint looks in my room or why my daughter's hermit crab never shows his face or what I'm going to eat for lunch. Or I just fall asleep. Suddenly I'll snap out of it, and think, "Wait a minute, come back...you're supposed to be praying!"

You have this problem? D.A. Carson calls this mental drift, and I've found his comments on this issue very helpful. I thought you might benefit from them as well. They come from his book A Call to Spiritual Reformation (i.e. best book on prayer I've read).

Hope this helps:
Anyone who has been on the Christian way for a while knows there are times when our private prayers run something like this: “Dear Lord, I thank you for the opportunity of coming into your presence by the merits of Jesus. It is a wonderful blessing to call you Father….I wonder where I left my car keys? [No, no! Back to business.] Heavenly Father, I began by asking that you will watch over my family­-not just in the physical sphere, but in the moral and spiritual dimensions of our lives….Boy, last Sunday’s sermon was sure bad. I wonder if I’ll get that report written on time? [No, no!] Father, give real fruitfulness to that missionary couple we support, whatever their name is….Oh, my! I had almost forgotten I promised to fix my son’s bike today….” Or am I the only Christian who has ever had problems with mental drift?

But you can do many things to stamp out daydreaming, to stifle reveries. One of the most useful things is to vocalize your prayers. This does not mean they have to be so loud that they become a distraction to others, or worse, a kind of pious showing off. It simply means you articulate your prayers, moving your lips perhaps; the energy devoted to expressing your thoughts in words and sentences will order and discipline your mind, and help deter meandering. Another thing you can do is pray over the Scriptures. Christians just setting out on the path of prayer sometimes pray for everything they can think of, glance at their watches, and discover they have been at if for all of three or four minutes. This experience sometimes generates feelings of defeat, discouragement, even despair. A great way to begin to overcome this problem is to pray through various biblical passages.

In other words, it is entirely appropriate to tie your praying to your Bible reading. The reading schemes you may adopt are legion. Some Christians read a chapter a day. Others advocate three chapters a day, with five on Sunday: this will get you through the Bible in a year. I am currently following a pattern set out by Robert Murray M’Cheyne in the last century: it will take me through the Psalms and the New Testament twice during this calendar year, and the rest of the Old Testament once. Whatever the reading scheme, it is essential to read the passage slowly and thoughtfully so as to retrieve at least some of its meaning and bearing on your life. Those truths and entailments can be the basis of a great deal of reflective praying.

A slight variation of this plan is to adopt as models several biblical prayers. Read them carefully, think through what they are saying, and pray analogous prayers for yourself, your family, your church, and for many others beyond your immediate circle.

Similarly, praying through the worship sections of the better hymnals can prove immensely edifying and will certainly help you to focus your mind and heart in one direction for a while.

Some pastors pace as they pray. One senior saint I know has long made it his practice to pray through the Lord’s Prayer, thinking through the implications of each petition as he goes, and organizing his prayers around those implications. Many others make prayer lists of various sorts, a practice that will be discussed in more detail later.

This may be part of the discipline of what has come to be called “journaling.” At many periods in the history of the church, spiritually mature and disciplined Christians have kept what might be called spiritual journals. What such journals contain varies enormously. The Puritans often used them to record their experiences with God, their thoughts and prayers, Their triumphs and failures. Bill Hybels, the senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, takes a page to record what he did and thought the day before, and then to write out some prayers for the day ahead of him. At least one seminary now requires that their students keep such a journal throughout their years of study.

The real value of journaling, I think, is several-fold: (a) It enforces a change of pace, a slowing down. It ensures time for prayer. If you are writing your prayers, you are not daydreaming. (b) It fosters self-examination. It is an old truism that only the examined life is worth living. If you do not take time to examine your own heart, mind, and conscience from time to time, in the light of God’s Word, and deal with what you find, you will become encrusted with the barnacles of destructive self-righteousness. (c) It ensures quiet articulation both of your spiritual direction and of your prayers, and this in turn fosters self-examination and therefore growth. Thus, journaling impedes mental drift.

But this is only one of many spiritual disciplines. The danger in this one, as in all of them, is that the person who is formally conforming to such a regime may delude himself or herself into thinking that the discipline is an end in itself, or ensures one of an exalted place in the heavenlies. That is why I rather oppose the imposition of such a discipline on a body of seminary students (however much I might encourage journaling): true spirituality can never be coerced.

D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1992, p. 20-22.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Intro to Puritan Prayers

One of the resources I have benefited from as I spend focused time with the Lord is The Valley of Vision. It's a collection of Puritan prayers. These prayers may be very different from what many of us are used to. They are formal, precise, and logical. They are also doctrinally rich and emotionally moving.

The danger, of course, is in fanciness and formality. But just because the prayers are formal doesn't mean they must lack sincerity. They actually provide a wonderful means of allowing the mind and heart to engage in seeking God. We just need to make sure we use them to that end.

Here is one we used a couple weeks ago during services at Oxford Bible Fellowship:
The Savior
(adapted from The Valley of Vision, p. 78-79)


God of all grace,
You have given me a Savior, produce in me a faith to live by him, to make him all my desire, all my hope, all my glory.

May I enter him as my refuge, build on him as my foundation, walk in him as my way, follow him as my guide, conform to him as my example, receive his instruction as my prophet, rely on his intercession as my high priest, obey him as my king.

May I never be ashamed of him or his words, but joyfully bear his reproach, never displease him by unholy or imprudent conduct, never become proud if I take it patiently when disciplined for a fault, never make the multitude my model, never delay when your Word invites me to advance.

May your dear Son preserve me from this present evil world, so that its smiles never allure, nor its frowns terrify, nor its vices defile, nor its errors delude me. May I feel that I am a stranger and pilgrim on earth, declaring plainly that I seek a better country, my home in it becoming daily more clear, my fitness for it more perfect, my foretaste of it more abundant; and whatever I do, may it be done in the Savior’s name. Amen.

Check out more Puritan prayers at these websites:
Also, check out this Tim Keller post on a similar theme.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Legalism vs. Grace

Check out another good post over at The Resurgence by Tullian Tchividjian. Tullian pastors the church founded by the late D. James Kennedy and is the grandson of Billy Graham. He begins:

I’m ecstatic about the resurgence of gospel centrality taking place in the evangelical church. The idea that the gospel is not only for those outside the church but also for those inside the church; that it not only ignites the Christian life but is the fuel that keeps Christians going and growing every day, may seem like a new idea, but it’s really old. I’m glad it’s re-gaining traction, but as far as we’ve come, we need to go further.

For all the talk of gospel-centeredness, there’s still some fear and trepidation fueled by a common misunderstanding regarding the radical nature of grace. Even amongst the proponents of gospel-centrality, I still hear talk about there being two equal dangers that Christians must avoid: legalism and lawlessness.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Explaining the Trinity to a 7 Year-Old

From Justin Taylor:

Common sense would tell you that the younger a child is, the harder it is to explain the Trinity in an understandable way.

Common sense can be wrong.

When my daughter was 5 we talked about the Trinity, and she explained to me that it’s a hard doctrine for little kids (like her younger brother) to understand, and that it’s only older kids (like her) who truly understand it.

Now that she has a few more years under her belt (age 7), she has become more confused about the Trinity—to the point where she was having trouble sleeping due to it being so perplexing to her.

On our ride to school recently I did my best to give her some help. Her response was: “You just made things more confusinger.”

Read more as Justin explains some helpful ways to increase your understanding of the Trinity. Below, see a traditional and helpful diagram.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Be the Pole

Recently I attended a conference themed around the 7 churches of Revelation 2-3. One of the most helpful reminders came from Colin Smith speaking on the church at Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7). He said something like this:
Be like the pole that held up the serpent in the wilderness - that serpent to which all who looked were saved. No one was ever saved by looking to the pole; it was only useful for holding up the serpent. Be the pole, and Christ the serpent.
And a similar thought in poem from missionary Amy Carmichael:
Love through me, Love of God.
Make me like thy clear air
through which, unhindered, colors pass
As if it were not there.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Jesus' Prayer for You

"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."

John 17:20-26 (ESV)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Get to Work vs. It is Finished

Jared Wilson has a great post over at The Resurgence about relying on the Gospel instead of our works. He starts:

The utter uniqueness of the Christian message—the heart of the gospel—is found in the three words of Christ from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Every single other religious message, without exception, is predicated on some variation of another three words that stand starkly opposed to the gospel’s three words. Religion’s three words are: “Get to work.” This is the heart of the bad news behind every approach to spirituality, enlightenment, or salvation that is not Christian.

Most Christians see this quite readily when it is pointed out. What is more difficult to see is when the gospel’s three words become supplanted by religion’s three words within the church. The edging out of gospel by religion is not just a problem for the world. It is a problem we face “in house.”

Read More.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

New Album from Lecrae

Lecrae's new album Rehab is out, and Justin Taylor writes:
A friend sent me a note that Lecrae’s new album Rehab is now the #4 top-selling album at iTunes. And it’s also #1 on the Christian and Gospel Billboard Charts. Praise be to God.
You can listen to a couple songs for free and read the lyrics:

Friday, October 8, 2010

What Else Does the Holy Spirit Do?

Yesterday, I posted from John 13-16 on a number of things the Holy Spirit does. The following list isn't exhaustive, but here are 8 more things we learn about the Holy Spirit from the rest of the New Testament.
  • He regenerates dead people, making them alive to God (Titus 3:5; John 3:3-8)
  • He baptizes believers into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13)
  • He indwells believer, making them a place of worship to God (1 Cor. 3:16; 1 Cor. 6:19-20)
  • He sanctifies believers, growing them in holiness (Rom. 15:16; 1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2)
  • He seals believers, keeping them secure in their salvation (Eph. 1:13-14; Eph. 4:30)
  • He fills believers as they submit to his leading (Eph. 5:18)
  • He helps believers pray effectively to God the Father (Rom. 8:26-27)
  • He adopts us into the family of God, affirming that we are God's children (Rom. 8:15-17; Eph. 1:5)
Do you need to reconnect with the Holy Spirit who does all of this in you?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What Does the Holy Spirit Do?

John 13-16 records Jesus' Farewell Discourse, his final teaching to his band of disciples. These are like Jesus' final words to his disciples just before his arrest and crucifixion, and with his closing moments he chose to teach primarily about love and the Holy Spirit. So, get to know the Holy Spirit a little more by checking out what Jesus says the Holy Spirit does:
  • He is our Helper (14:16)
  • He is the Spirit of Truth (14:17)
  • He dwells in believers (14:17)
  • He teaches us all things (14:26)
  • He bears witness to Jesus (15:26)
  • He convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (16:8)
  • He guides us into all truth (16:12)
  • He glorifies Jesus (16:14)
View these passages here. And then check out "What Else Does the Holy Spirit Do?"

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