Prayer (book review)

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

John Bunyan was in prison for refusing to bow to the dictates of the ecclesiastical rulers of England, but prison could not silence his pen. Before writing The Pilgrim’s Progress, which Bunyan said came to him in a dream, he wrote two manuscripts on prayer which can only have come from a visit to a much more substantial heavenly realm. 

Prayer is actually two books written in the mid-seventeenth century. The first book is A Discourse Touching Prayer in which Bunyan dives deep on the apostle Paul’s desire, “I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:15). The second book is The Saints’ Privilege And Profit, which is a deep dive into the idea of “the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:15). 

When I say “deep dive” I mean that John Bunyan gives us a masters’ level course on prayer! This is not reading for a new Christian nor for someone who merely utters a superficial prayer here and there. These books are for the mature Christian who is dissatisfied with their current level of prayer and longs for a deeper level of intimacy in communion with our Heavenly Father. 

Let me reiterate that Bunyan wrote these books from jail. Not exactly the idyllic setting for contemplation, nor an environment for pious platitudes that are reserved for the serene time of prayer in a place of comfort. Just imagine: Bunyan uses just one verse from the Bible for each of these works, and then keeps drilling down and down into the immeasurable riches that are found in our relationship with God. 

If you’re ready to take your prayer to an entirely new and more intimate place, spend some time with your Bible and these two short books from John Bunyan. 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Mercy Finds The Loophole

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

Mercy Finds The Loophole

And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma. Then the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.” (Genesis 8:21) 

     To begin, then, with the text, we have here a most painful fact that man’s nature is incurable. ‘The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.’ You will remember, before the flood, in the fifth verse of the sixth chapter, it is written, ‘Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually’ (Genesis 6:5). After the flood it was just the same. … 

     You might have hoped that after so terrible a judgment, when only a picked and peculiar few, that is, eight, were saved by water, that man began anew with better stock.… It is not one wit so. The same God who, after looking at men, declared that his imagination was evil before the flood, pronounces the very same verdict upon them afterward. …

     I believe that God might justly have condemned the whole race of Adam on account of Adam’s sin and their own guilt. But I do think that this was a blessed loophole through which His mercy could, as it were, come fairly to the sons of men. ‘No,’ He says, ‘I made them not distinct individuals but a race. They fell as a race; they will rise as an elect race. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). And ‘For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).’ … 

     I must have more than nature can give me. More than my mother gave me, more than my father gave me, and more than flesh and blood can produce under the most favorable circumstances. I must have the Spirit of God from heaven.

From Human Depravity And Divine Mercy

When Adam and Eve sinned, God wasn’t scrambling to come up with a Plan B. Jesus is described as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8), meaning that God had His merciful plan of redemption ready before He even created humans! 

The atoning sacrifice Jesus made on the Cross was the “loophole” that God’s mercy used to pardon our sins. We can never earn our salvation because we are still people with evil hearts. But we can put our faith in the One who took our punishment upon Himself so that His righteousness can be our righteousness. 

O what a Savior! O what mercy God has shown! O how great is His love for us! How shall we escape appropriate retribution if we neglect and refuse to pay attention to such a great salvation…? (Hebrews 2:3)

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? ◀︎◀︎

 

“These Things”

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

…whoever does these things will never be shaken (Psalm 15:5). 

David says “these things” are what allow us to come into God’s presence, but we cannot consistently nor completely do “these things” without the help that can only come from being in God’s presence. So I have to already be doing “these things” in order to get into His presence in order to get empowered to do “these things”?! 

That seems like a classic, no-win, Catch-22! 

So… how do I get into God’s presence in the first place?

Simple: I can’t. 

Only Jesus can. 

Thankfully, He made it possible for me to come in: He became the Door! 

Only by Jesus can I come in. Only in Jesus can I be empowered. Only with Jesus can I consistently do “these things.” 

What are “these things” that David listed that both allow me to come into God’s presence and then keep me in God’s presence? David said we must…

  1. …walk blamelessly before God. Or as Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). I am blameless in God’s sight only when I am in Jesus.  
  2. …speak truthfully: from the heart, no slander on my tongue, no unkind words in my mouth, no gossip on my lips. 
  3. …live courageously: honoring what is good and opposing what is evil. 
  4. …keep my oaths: making my yes mean yes, not making any excuses, helping others to do the same. 

“These things” both glorify God and keep me in God’s presence. And “these things” attract others to His presence too. But I don’t try to do “these things” in my own strength—that would make me God—nor just as a religious To-Do List—that would make me a Pharisee. But I take a cue from the apostle Paul—

But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out His special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by His grace (1 Corinthians 15:10). 

It is grace—a free gift of God—that enables me to do “these things” not in my own strength, but in His strength! 

I don’t try harder to do “these things” that keep me secure in God’s presence, but I trust more profoundly in His grace that continually empowers me to successfully do “these things” every single day.

Thursdays With Spurgeon—God Wants To Bless You

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

God Wants To Bless You

     It delights God to bestow His goodness. The cost was paid long ago on Calvary’s Cross, and that is over. Since the great sacrifice has been presented, God freely gives all the blessings of divine grace to us with a willingness that shows that His heart goes with them. …  

     Come along with you, you needy saint or sinner. The more you can take in, the better pleased will the Lord be with you. … The Lord desires you to open your mouth wide and He will fill it—it is easier for Him to give than for you to open your mouth. He encourages and requests you to bring large petitions with you when you come before His mercy seat. …  

     ‘How can I apprehend these blessings and make them my own?’ … ‘The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God’ (1 Corinthians 2:14). The power to receive the things of God lies not in high gifts or attainments. … Do not sit down and say, ‘I am a poor stupid man and cannot be taught of God.’ Or, ‘I am a humble countryman, or a poor woman keeping house for others. I cannot know these precious things.’ It is not so. Read the words of Paul in the first chapter of this Epistle: ‘For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called’ (1 Corinthians 1:26). The power to receive the blessings of God does not lie in talent at all, but it lies in the Spirit of God. …

     Grace is not tied to the rare gifts of genius, nor to the precious acquirements of experience, nor to the high attainments of learning. … The power to receive is still of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit does not find good in us but brings it to us.

From Grace For Grace

I truly believe that God wants to bless us more than we want to receive God’s blessings. Far too many times I encounter people who want to talk themselves out of their worthiness to receive anything from God. 

But remember this verse: Since He did not spare even His own Son but gave Him up for us all, won’t He also give us everything else? (Romans 8:32). If God the Father would give up His Son to make it possible for you to be reconciled to Him, why would He hold anything back from you. 

God’s doesn’t want to blast you, He wants to bless you!

Please, my friend, let Him bless you. His blessings aren’t because of anything you or I have done to deserve them. The definition of “grace” is an undeserved gift. God gives and He enables us to receive. Let Him pour out His blessings on you today!

Thursdays With Spurgeon—The Plan Of The Cross

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

The Plan Of The Cross

What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. (1 Corinthians 2:12) 

     The course of our fallen race has been a succession of failures. Whenever there has been an apparent rise, it has been followed by a real fall. Into ever-increasing darkness the human mind seems resolved to plunge itself in its struggles after a false light. When men have been fools, they have danced in a delirium of sin. When they have been sober, they have given themselves up to a phantom wisdom of their own that has revealed their folly more than ever. It is a sad story, the story of mankind! Read it in the light of God’s Word and it will bring tears from your very heart.

     The only hope for man was that God should interpose. And He has interposed, as though He began a new creation or worked a resurrection out of the kingdom of death. God has come into human history and here the bright lights begin. … See yonder avalanche rushing down the steep mountainside? Such is humanity left to itself. Lo, God in Christ Jesus throws Himself in the way. He so interposes as to be crushed beneath the descending rocks. But beloved, He rises from the dreadful burial. He stops the avalanche in its terrible path. He hurls back the tremendous mass and changes the whole aspect of history. … 

     The plan of the Cross is to conquer death by death, to remove sin by the endurance of the penalty, to work mightily by suffering terribly, and to glorify Christ by shame.

From Grace For Grace

This sermon reminds me of the poignant words from Isaac Watts—

When I survey the wondrous Cross 
On which the Prince of Glory died, 
My richest gain I count but loss, 
And pour contempt on all my pride. 
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, 
Save in the death of Christ my God! 
All the vain things that charm me most, 
I sacrifice them to His blood.
 

All of man’s attempts to control his universe, or determine his fate, or even make himself acceptable to God have been an abysmal failure. So God Himself stepped in, but He came in a way that no one could have imagined and no one could claim as their idea. The prophet Isaiah said it this way, “The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, He was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so His own arm achieved salvation for Him, and His own righteousness sustained Him” (Isaiah 59:15-16). 

It is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone that we have hope of our salvation. And for that we give all glory to God alone. Sola Deo gloria!

 

Learning Perseverance

I have shared three lessons I learned going through dark times in my life (you can check them out here, here, and here), but we aren’t even close to exhausting all of the lessons that can be learned in the night. I want to teach you one principle that will allow for lifelong learning and application of these nighttime lessons. 

The apostle Paul shared how he had matured during his times of struggle. He told the Corinthians he realized that God had delivered him in the past, was delivering him now, and would continue to deliver him in the future (see 2 Corinthians 1:3-11). The key is to hang in long enough to actually see how God brings about the deliverance and teaches the lessons. 

Paul told the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can ENDURE it (1 Corinthians 10:13). And the writer of Hebrews said, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to PERSEVERE so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36). 

The Greek word translated “persevere” means keeping focused on the goal despite the struggles that it takes to get there. Jesus used this same Greek word at the conclusion of His parable of the sower: “The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the Word, retain it, and by PERSEVERING produce a crop”; a crop that Jesus said was a hundred times more than what was sown (see Luke 8:5-15). 

I love riding my bike on the White Pine Trail by my house. My long rides have a really fun stretch where I am flying downhill! But as fun as that part is, I’m not really building anything of lasting value. However, when I am coming back uphill and I want to quit because my legs are burning and I can hardly breathe, that becomes a valuable struggle. I cannot build endurance by any other way than to push myself just a little bit farther each time. When I want to quit, I pedal just a few more feet. Gradually, the uphill becomes less daunting. 

A friend gave me a t-shirt I like to wear on my rides. When I put it on the blue-lettered message on the shirt says, “Do It!” but as I struggle uphill and the sweat begins to pour off my body, a new message emerges: “Don’t Quit!” 

I have learned that easy roads teach very few valuable lessons. 

So here are three thoughts to help you persevere in your struggling times: 

  1. Keep your eyes on Jesus and on His eternal rewards (Hebrews 12:1-3; James 1:2-4, 12) 
  2. Keep persevering friends close by—notice the “let us” phrases the writer of Hebrews uses 
  3. On your worst day, don’t quit but commit to going one day longer (Romans 5:3-4) 

[check out all of the verses by clicking here]

Remember that as you struggle and persevere, you are not only building your own endurance, but you are strengthening yourself to be able to help others. So we can be thankful IN the night because God is building our endurance for the next night, and our endurance for our friend’s next night. 

If you have missed any of the other lessons in this series called Thankful In The Night, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

Learning Empathy

I’m an up-and-at-em, carpe diem kinda guy. Nothing gets me down for very long—I’m resilient and self-motivated. So I used to have a hard time relating to people who weren’t wired the same way. That is until I went through a time in my life where getting up-and-at-em was one of the hardest things I had to do each day.  

In the midst of this dark night, I would ask God, “Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong?” But I heard the Holy Spirit gently but unmistakably remind me, “This isn’t about you!” 

The dictionary says that empathy is nearly a transliterated word from the Greek word empatheia. It means to be in suffering, but the emphasis is more on imaginative empathy. Something like, “If I was them and I was in that situation, I bet it might feel like this.” 

In the New Testament, a different Greek word is translated sympathy, which is also a transliterated word from the Greek sympatheō. This word means to enter into another’s suffering, but the emphasis is on experiential empathy. In other words, I don’t have to imagine how you might feel, but I know how you feel because I’ve gone through the same thing myself. 

Just as the Holy Spirit taught me this lesson, let me say the same thing to you: the dark night you are going through isn’t about you. It’s about learning empathy SO THAT you can help others persevere all the way to the end! 

Think about the dark night Jesus went through just before His crucifixion. He might have asked His Father, “Why is this happening to Me? What did I do wrong?” But He knew why He was going through this night: it was to prepare Him to be the perfect empathetic High Priest for all of us (check out these verses in Hebrews).  

When we invite Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, we become a part of His Body (1 Corinthians 12:13, 26). 

Dr. Paul Brand was a renowned hand surgeon and missionary who worked with leprosy patients in India for years. He learned that leprosy doesn’t mangle a person’s foot or hand, but their lack of ability to feel pain does. He wrote, “A body only possesses unity to the degree that it possess pain…. We must develop a lower threshold of pain by listening, truly listening, to those who suffer. … The body protects poorly what it does not feel.” 

Sometimes we have to go through the painful, dark nights so that we can learn to feel others’ pain so that we can learn empathy. 

Through those nights we can learn to hear what others aren’t saying, and feel what others aren’t expressing. We don’t have to ask, “Can I help?” but rather, “I’m here to help because I know what you’re going through.” 

You cannot truly empathize until you go through your own dark night. I can be thankful IN the night because God is growing my empathy so that I can help others! 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in this series, you can check out the full list by clicking here. 

Thursdays With Spurgeon—God’s Part, Our Part

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

God’s Part, Our Part

     The lesson is clear to all: The wind turns mills that men make. It fills sails that human hands have spread. And the Spirit blesses human effort, crowns with success our labors, establishes the work of our hands upon us, and teaches us all through that ‘the hand of the diligent makes rich’ (Proverbs 10:4). And ‘if anybody will not work, neither shall he eat’ (2 Thessalonians 3:10). … 

     Let us do our part faithfully, spread every sail, make all as perfect as human skill and wisdom can direct, and then in patient continuance in well-doing await the Spirit’s propitious gales, neither murmuring because He tarries nor being taken unawares when He comes upon us in His sovereign pleasure to do that which seems good in His sight.

From The Holy Spirit Compared To The Wind 

We cannot do what only God can do, and God will not do what we are supposed to do. It is the Holy Spirit who can help us keep those two thoughts clear. 

It’s wrong to say, “God only helps those who help themselves.” But it’s equally as wrong to say, “I don’t need to do anything except wait for God.” In example after example in the Bible we see people doing their part while at the same time believing for God to do something miraculous:

We don’t take matters into our own hands, but neither do we sit idle waiting for something miraculous to happen. We plant, and water, and tend, and then God brings the harvest.

Now And Not Yet

Psalm 68 is a Christological Psalm. That means it points to Jesus and it is fulfilled through Christ’s First and Second Advents. These types of psalms don’t make sense if they are restricted strictly to the Old Testament. 

As I have explained previously, Hebrew literature often puts the key point in the middle—in the case of this psalm, that’s verses 18-20. The opening verse sets the stage, or the scene of battle, and then right in the middle of this psalm of David is the description of God’s victory won through Jesus. 

There are three Selahs in this psalm, and I want you to notice what’s happening at each one: 

  • When You marched through the wasteland (v. 7) 
  • Who daily bears our burdens (v. 18) 
  • Sing praise to the Lord (v. 32) 

Do you remember the three definitions of Selah? A pause to consider; a breath before the crescendo; a time to weigh what’s valuable. In this case, I believe we should lean more to the second definition. Why? Because all three of these Selahs shows us what God has done, what He is still doing, and what He will ultimately do in the eternity of Heaven. I believe we are living in the breath/Selah after Christ’s First Advent and leading up to the crescendo of His Second Advent. 

Jesus is BOTH the Immanuel that came to earth at His First Advent AND the returning King at His Second Advent. We are living in an era of BOTH “now” AND “not yet.” 

The apostle Paul looks back to this psalm (especially those middle verses of 18-20) even as he looks forward to the Second Advent. He captures the essence of “now” and “not yet” in all these passages:  

Jesus paid the price for our sin.
He broke the bonds of hell and death.
He prepared the way to Heaven.
He showed the way to Heaven.
He built our mansions in Heaven.
He WILL return to take us to be with Him in Heaven!

 

So how shall we now live in this time of “now” and “not yet”? In a word: AWARE… 

  • …of His ultimate victory (Psalm 68:1) 
  • …of the desperation of the enemy. Death, sin, and the devil have been defeated! We now deal with a broken army, a scattered foe in the final death throes, a wounded, dying warrior desperately lashing out. The prince of this earth is quickly failing, while God is liberally pouring out rewards that were purchased by Christ our King! 
  • …of the brevity of this life (v. 2)
  • …of the joy of living in God’s presence (v. 3) 
  • …of the power of worship (v. 4) 
  • …of our confidence in being heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (vv. 5-6) 

Now is not the time for fainting, but fighting the good fight. Our Immanuel has won the battle, He will continue to strengthen us every day that we walk this Earth, and He will keep us by His side as He reigns for all eternity as King of kings and Lord of lords! 

If you’ve missed any of the previous posts in this series, you can check out the full list by clicking here. 

The Core Curriculum Of The Spirit

“The Law of God teaches us how to love Him and our neighbors (Matthew 22:34-40). The Law of God is critical for seeking the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5:17-19). The Law of God liberates us from the blinding and binding power of sin (James 2:8-13). The Law of God marks the path of love that Jesus walked, and that all must walk who would follow Him (1 John 2:1-6; 5:1-3). The Law of God provided the framework within which the apostles ordered their churches (cf. 1 Corinthians 5, 9; James 2:5; 1 John 5). The Law of God is the core curriculum of the Spirit, as He brings us into the presence of God’s glory and transforms us into the image of Jesus Christ (Ezekiel 36:26-27; 2 Corinthians 3:12-18). Neglecting the Law of God is a major cause for the decline of true and selfless love in the world; it licenses the progress of evil; and it threatens to render the prayers of Law-neglecting believers an ‘abomination’ or, we might say, ‘a dead and a useless thing’ (Matthew 24:12; Proverbs 28:4, 9). 

[all Scriptures from the above paragraph are here]

“It’s no wonder the psalmist, echoing Moses, insisted that the righteous person, the one who embodies the goodness of God in all his ways, meditates on the Law of God day and night, hides it in his heart and embodies it in all his ways (Psalm 119:9-11; Deuteronomy 6:1-9), keeps it diligently, delights in and loves it, and hastens to make sure his feet follow in its path (cf. Psalm 1; Psalm 119:4, 5, 35, 59, 60, 97). 

[all Scriptures from the above paragraph are here]

“If you are missing the Law of God in your relationship with Jesus, you are depriving yourself of a most important resource for bringing the goodness of God to light in the land of the living. The good works outlined in the Law of God are those ‘ordained of old’ which God intends us to do in all our ways (Ephesians 2:10). Yes, understanding the Law can be difficult. But we can learn from the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles how to read, study, and meditate in this most important corpus of Biblical literature, and thus we can discover the true freedom for goodness and love that God has prepared for us.” —T.M. Moore 

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: