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It’s one thing for someone to dispense sound advice, but it’s an entirely different thing for that advice to come from hard-won life experiences. The Hidden Smile Of God is the second book in John Piper’s excellent series of biographies called “The Swans are Not Silent.”
Each book in this series features biographies and life lessons of three notable saints. Pastor John weaves these character studies together around a common theme. In this book, the lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd are examined to see the fruitful ministry that can emerge from a life plagued by affliction.
John Bunyan, well-known author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, spent over a decade in prison, as well as the balance of his life under severely pressing circumstances. David Brainerd was a missionary to several American Indian tribes, while struggling with failing health and crushing loneliness. And William Cowper was suicidally depressed through nearly all of his life, and yet wrote some of the most intimate and moving poems.
Pastor John does more than merely share memorable biographies of these three men, but he extracts insights about suffering and affliction that will enable others to have a new biblical paradigm about their own suffering. Such amazing lessons for any of us struggling through dark times.
Even if you don’t personally struggle with affliction or anxiety or depression, chances are very good that someone around you does. Perhaps you could read this book and share some of these helpful insights with your friends or family members who are struggling.
If you would like to check out my review of another book in this series—Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully—please click here.
Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
I think the NIV footnote on verse 11 is the most accurate rendering of “the Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself.” The footnote says, “He prayed TO himself.” He made himself God, which, if you will recall, is exactly how satan tempted Adam and Eve—you will be like God (Genesis 3:5).
In a portion of William Cowper’s poem Truth, he addresses the pride of the Pharisee, and warns us that this could be our pride too if we aren’t carefully guarding our hearts.
Who judged the Pharisee? What odious cause
Exposed him to the vengeance of the laws?
Had he seduced a virgin, wrong’d a friend,
Or stabb’d a man to serve some private end?
Was blasphemy his sin? Or did he stray
From the strict duties of the sacred day?
Sit long and late at the carousing board?
(Such were the sins with which he charged his Lord.)
No—the man’s morals were exact. What then?
‘Twas his ambition to be seen of men;
His virtues were his pride; and that one vice
Made all his virtues gewgaws [gyoo-gaws] of no price;
He wore them as fine trappings for a show,
A praying, synagogue-frequenting beau.
The self-applauding bird, the peacock, see—
Mark what a sumptuous Pharisee is he!
Meridian sunbeams tempt him to unfold
His radiant glories, azure, green, and gold:
He treads as if, some solemn music near,
His measured step were govern’d by his ear;
And seems to say—“Ye meaner fowl give place;
I am all splendour, dignity, and grace!”
Not so the pheasant on his charms presumes,
Though he, too, has a glory in his plumes.
He, Christian-like, retreats with modest mien
To the close copse or far sequester’d green,
And shines without desiring to be seen.
The plea of works, as arrogant and vain,
Heaven turns from with abhorrence and disdain;
Not more affronted by avow’d neglect,
Than by the mere dissembler’s feign’d respect.
What is all righteousness that men devise?
What—but a sordid bargain for the skies!
But Christ as soon would abdicate His own,
As stoop from heaven to sell the proud a throne.
When the writer of Hebrews says that we can approach the throne of grace boldly, it is clear that it is not because of our righteous deeds, even if they are as exacting and as perfect as a Pharisee. We can only come boldly into God’s presence because we come in the name and the righteousness of Jesus. “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”
Adding “in Jesus name” to the end of our prayers isn’t a password that opens the storeroom of Heaven, but it is a reminder that we have nothing in ourselves to commend us to God. We come boldly only in Jesus.
The Bible says that satan prowls around like a lion, looking for an opening to devour Christians. Are you battle ready? The Apostle Peter gives us all of the battle preparation that we will need to be victorious!
One of the most important things we need to do is prepare ourselves before the battle even begins. Peter lists two key components: (1) self-control and (2) alertness (1 Peter 5:8-11).
This Greek word for self-control is only used six times in all of the New Testament. Peter uses it three times in his first epistle, and the Apostle Paul also uses the word three times. It’s amazing to see the similarity in uses between the two of them.
Peter says the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion.” Notice that important word: like. The devil has always been an imitator—trying to be like God, he was expelled from Heaven, and then he deceived Adam and Eve by telling them they could be like God too. He’s using the same strategy now.
Augustine pointed out, “Christ is called a Lion because of His courage; the devil because of his ferocity. The Lion comes to conquer, the other to hurt.”
So Peter encourages us to “resist him, standing firm in the faith.” You resist the devil when you…
…stay submitted to God
…remember the blood of the Jesus—THE Lion of Judah—that won your victory
…stay self-controlled in prayer
…remain alert in the Scriptures
Ask the Holy Spirit to keep you battle ready by helping you to develop the self-control and alertness you need.
Dressed For VictoryJuly 30, 2019 — Craig T. Owens
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power (Ephesians 6:10).
The armor I wear has been battle-tested by the undefeated Champion. It’s armor emblazoned with the crimson red blood of Calvary. It’s armor gleaming brightly with the glow of Resurrection victory.
I wear Christ’s armor!
I must continually clothe myself in God’s armor. Then I keep the armor bright by prayer—
Holy God, may I be dressed in YOU at every moment. May I daily use YOUR battle-tested armor and weapons to strike a blow against satan!
(Check out all the Scripture references above by clicking here.)