Thursday, October 28

Praying BIG

I quote from a timely article found in a recent issue of Revive magazine, a publication of Life Action Ministries. This issue in particular, calls for us to imagine revival everywhere. That is exciting to me. But I suspect that for many in Christendom, revival is little more than a term with which they are only familiar. Others, perhaps, have never experienced the Holy Spirit's pungent power working in a meeting, filling the whole room with His divine essence. Or, perhaps they have not read of any such wonderful workings of God among a needy and fallen people. Either way, we who have even an inkling of such a blessing and of the unbelievably dire need all around, need to be ardent in our prayers for God to bless as He has in the past, . . . poignantly, and powerfully!

In his article entitled, "Praying BIG," David Butts writes:
Incredibly, we come into the throne room of heaven when we pray. Jesus Christ has literally given us access to the control center of the universe!
For the last seven years, I've served as chairman of the National Prayer Committee here in the United States. I have a real burden to pray fo rour nation, and as I look at our nation, I see a desperate need for revival.
But as I travel across the country, I sadly have to admit that I'm not hearing the kind of praying that will produce revival. I don't hear bold praying. Instead, I hear "wimpy" praying. 
Do you know what I mean? "Well, God, I've got an idea, and I'm not sure if You're interested, but if You are, here it is. Now do whatever You want."
This kind of prayer comes out of our mouths, dribbles down our chins, and falls on the floor. There's nothing that causes it to rise to heaven. There's no power there, no confidence, no faith. 
The Bible teaches to pray differently. In fact, God's Word commands us to pray boldly, to pray with confidence: "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:16, emphasis added).
Now, this is convicting to me, and I suspect to most of my readers. But, oh, how needed it is! Citing Acts 4, Butts presents several principles that guide bold praying. (The principles in bold print are his, the part that follows is mine).

1. Pay attention to the One with whom we are talking. To this I say "Amen." Know God to be Sovereign, Creator, Controller, and Eternal. Just a few of these will alter the praying saint IF he believes them to be true of God! Our attitudes change in direct proportion to the nature of the Being with whom we have to do.

2. Pray according to the Word of God. Quote Scriptures that you've memorized, or better those hidden in your heart! Listen, it's what's inside of us that's going to come out when we pray. The reason so many pray such slight prayers is because they have such a slight knowledge of God and His Word. Why do so many we hear pray rote prayers? Because their understanding of God (if you call it that) is but a rote knowledge, Sunday School lessons and a few theoretical principles. But nothing seems to rise up from the depths of their being, since little has been planted there over the years!

3. Pray Big Prayers. Don't pray to escape pain or trouble; pray to become bolder in the face of opposition. This is an example of big praying. Pray for the infilling of the Spirit of God who empowers and emboldens any believer beyond their normal abilities. Way beyond! But who'd think to do this if most of their time is spent thinking about things, and purchases, and the next game? Oh, we have grown all too lax in our attention to things large. Most Christians (?) think far too small . . . and incorrectly. If the first two are in place, a right knowledge of God, and a thorough knowledge of the Word, then the last one will be far more likely. The more knowledge of God's Word, the higher the bar is set. And the higher the bar is set, the greater the chances that we will pray prayers accordingly, and have a faith to believe that God will answer!

God help us!

Wednesday, October 20

How Bad Will It Have to Get Before We Pray?

To what degree must everything fall apart before we cry out to God to change our circumstances? This came to mind when reading Psalm 80. The Psalmist, Korah, urges God, "Stir up your might and come to save us." Then this in verses 3–7:  
3 Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!
4 O Lord God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
6 You make us an object of contention for our neighbors,
and our enemies laugh among themselves.
7 Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!
In my mind, I picture the squalid conditions of those poor Poles hold up in the ghettos of Warsaw during WW2. I imagine myself, dirty, scared, devastated, having lost home and honor and friends. In wonder over the past, anxious about the present. Hopeless. Any prospect that this will change? Worse, how did we get here?!

If there were a Christian counterpart to the above scene, would we pray? I would cry out then! Wouldn't you? It's too extreme not to. Notice the two verses on either side of 4-6. Verses three and seven say the same thing: "Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved!" And how many times did Israel have good reason to so pray? Read the book of Judges and you witness the roller-coaster ride of unbelief. And what can be said of the history of the kings? Wow! Very few good kings of thought more of God than they did of themselves. Squalid spirituality, that's what it was!

QUESTION: Why didn't they cry out then, before everything went south? I'm sure some did. But apparently not enough. How about us today? How bad will conditions have to get in our own hearts, in the church, before we declare a moratorium on amusements and mere forms and bow in abject poverty of spirit to the only One who can save us? Are we so calloused that we cannot feel the difference between a living relationship with Christ and the mere eking out of a ghetto-like spiritual existence? 

There is hope to be sure. Always. But one has to see the poverty, feel the hunger pangs before going to whatever extremes in order to find relief.

Why wait? . . . Really. "Let your face shine, that we may be saved!"

Monday, October 18

When Complaining is Helpful

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah (Psalm 77:1–3
There are a couple of ways to complain . . . at least! The one is bad and Scripture commands against it. Phil. 2:14, "Do all things without grumbling or questioning." I have fond memories of the sign back of our dorm room doors at Bob Jones University. One line read, "Griping will not be tolerated." By the way, that 's from the word "gripe" not "grip." (Perhaps there ought to be on Wall Street a sign about "No gripping" or grasping after money!?) . . . Anyway . . . The OTHER kind of complaining is illustrated in the above Psalm. Such "complaints" are found frequently throughout the Psalter and provide us with the life experience of the people of God. It's not always coming up roses, is it? "In the day of my trouble I seek the LORD." That's the key . . . I seek the LORD not just pity. But read on . . .

But you might be saying right now, "This is not what I think of as complaining." And you're right. But he is saying, "I am in trouble, my spirit is low; I'm fainting." It's a frank admission that all is not well. But my point in bringing this out (and what particularly struck me when reading it) is to draw a simple observation. There is an important distinction between complaining in the presence of others and complaining to God. Before others, I am just venting, expressing my displeasure at my situation with no real solution or hope of resolution in mind. But that is not the case with complaints to God. Complaining to God may indeed be a venting with no hope in mind. Initially. But when we issue complaints against God TO God, we set the table for our Lord to serve up the best of solutions. It puts our life-situation in the right forum, the forum where the sovereign and loving God works his will . . . an often unappreciated, but nevertheless, pure and godly will. When I complain before God, I am saying not only what I don't like, but admitting that I don't want to continue NOT liking it, and therefore, I am appealing to him to help me out. 

I think this is something of what the Psalmist is doing here. Let us cast our complaints before the Lord in faith that he will help us handle it well, and that he will solve our dilemma. That beats by far just a lot of hate speech issued to others about our situations. Griping to others only exascerbates our situation, but complaints to God lay them out where they can be dealt with and resolved. 

That's when complaining is helpful.

Sunday, October 17

Guarding Our Soul

Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:26, 27)

Since I was quite young, these verses have been among the most solemn and frankly scary in all of Scripture. We who minister are so privileged to speak in Jesus' name. But, oh, how we must be very sure that we stay to our calling, and remain unfettered by sin's allurements. It is for this reason that I truly identified with the following from Ken Osbeck's, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions. Keying on the hymn by George Heath, 1750-1822, he writes:

There is nothing more tragic than to see a Christian negate a lifetime of worthy living and service for God through some spiritual defeat and dishonor to the gospel. Imagine the shame of Job when Eliphaz the Temanite rebuked him with these cutting words:
Think how you have instructed many, how you have strengthened feeble hands. Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees, but now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged; it strikes you, and you are dismayed. Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope? (Job 4:3–6)
The apostle Paul’s fervent concern for his life, that after he had preached to others he himself might be disqualified by God through careless living, seems to apply to the writer of this hymn text. George Heath was an English independent minister, who in 1770 became pastor of a Presbyterian church at Honiton, Devonshire. Later, proving himself unworthy of this office, he was deprived of his parish “for cause.” Eventually, it seems, he became a Unitarian minister. It is difficult to understand how a person could write such a stirring challenge on the subject of spiritual steadfastness and then change so drastically in later years. Yet the Scriptures are clear that the Christian life is a lifetime of perseverance, and whoever puts his hand to the plow and looks back is unfit for service in God’s kingdom (Luke 9:62). We must have the enabling power of the Holy Spirit each day if we intend to be on guard.
My soul, be on thy guard—ten thousand foes arise. The hosts of sin are pressing hard to draw thee from the skies.      
O watch and fight and pray; the battle ne’er give o’er; renew it boldly ev’ry day, and help divine implore.      
Ne’er think the vict’ry won, nor lay thine armor down; the work of faith will not be done till thou obtain thy crown.      
Fight on, my soul, till death shall bring thee to thy God; He’ll take thee, at thy parting breath, to His divine abode.

Saturday, October 16

'A Kempis on Despising the World and Loving Christ

HE WHO follows Me, walks not in darkness,” says the Lord. By these words of Christ we are advised to imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus Christ.

The teaching of Christ is more excellent than all the advice of the saints, and he who has His spirit will find in it a hidden manna. Now, there are many who hear the Gospel often but care little for it because they have not the spirit of Christ. Yet whoever wishes to understand fully the words of Christ must try to pattern his whole life on that of Christ.
What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone.
This is the greatest wisdom—to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world. It is vanity, therefore, to seek and trust in riches that perish. It is vanity also to court honor and to be puffed up with pride. It is vanity to follow the lusts of the body and to desire things for which severe punishment later must come. It is vanity to wish for long life and to care little about a well-spent life. It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and not to make provision for things to come. It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides.
Often recall the proverb: “The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor the ear filled with hearing.” Try, moreover, to turn your heart from the love of things visible and bring yourself to things invisible. For they who follow their own evil passions stain their consciences and lose the grace of God.
Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1996), 1-2.

Wednesday, October 13

Repentance: A Joyous Sorrow

Sin has an amazing hold over us, such that it not only grips us in its bondage, but then (for the believer) tries to prevent his getting cleaned up afterward. Confession is a wonderful grace, made abundantly available through Jesus' blood. Which Christian hasn't learned 1 John 1:9? But one thing is better than confession. No, I'm not referring to forgiveness (as wonderful as it is), but repentance. It's one thing to know I've done wrong, sinned, and therefore, need to confess it (lit., "to say the same thing about my sin as God would say"). It's quite another thing to repent of that sin. Hear Charles Spurgeon,
Genuine, spiritual mourning for sin is the work of the Spirit of God. Repentance is too choice a flower to grow in nature’s garden. Pearls grow naturally in oysters, but penitence never shows itself in sinners except divine grace works it in them. If thou hast one particle of real hatred for sin, God must have given it thee, for human nature’s thorns never produced a single fig. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.”
I want to-as a Christian-grow to hate the sin that clasps me and fools me. True repentance as about it an attitude of sorrow, sorrow over the sin, for having committed it at all, and for having committed it against such a wonderful Master as Jesus Christ! There's a gloriously cleansing aspect to repentance, when you know that not only do you realize your error, but you truly feel sorrow over it! Sorrow not only "feels" right, but it required.
True sorrow for sin is eminently practical. No man may say he hates sin, if he lives in it. Repentance makes us see the evil of sin, not merely as a theory, but experimentally—as a burnt child dreads fire. We shall be as much afraid of it, as a man who has lately been stopped and robbed is afraid of the thief upon the highway; and we shall shun it—shun it in everything—not in great things only, but in little things, as men shun little vipers as well as great snakes. True mourning for sin will make us very jealous over our tongue, lest it should say a wrong word; we shall be very watchful over our daily actions, lest in anything we offend, and each night we shall close the day with painful confessions of shortcoming, and each morning awaken with anxious prayers, that this day God would hold us up that we may not sin against him. (Morning and Evening)
Lord, drive us to such a place of sorrow, that we may be re-introduced to the garden of your joys!

Wednesday, October 6

Jesus, A Well of Water in the Dryest of Times!

Due to an article deadline, I have not posted since the 25th. And this one is but a quotation from Spurgeon's Morning and Evening devotional which any of you could find easily online (or like me, in your Bible software). But it is one that we do well to read and in which we should rejoice. No matter how distraught we may become in our circumstances, Christ is a "spring of living water welling up." Oh, that we in this information age could sit still long enough to realize this. Read and ponder the implications of this particular devotional and your heart will find great solace.

Years ago, I was given Morning and Evening devotions as a gift. I still have it, though it is somewhat tattered. I would highly recommend it to you along with Oswald Chamber's My Utmost For His Highest

“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  John 4:14

He who is a believer in Jesus finds enough in his Lord to satisfy him now, and to content him for evermore. The believer is not the man whose days are weary for want of comfort, and whose nights are long from absence of heart-cheering thought, for he finds in religion such a spring of joy, such a fountain of consolation, that he is content and happy. Put him in a dungeon and he will find good company; place him in a barren wilderness, he will eat the bread of heaven; drive him away from friendship, he will meet the “friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” Blast all his gourds, and he will find shadow beneath the Rock of Ages; sap the foundation of his earthly hopes, but his heart will still be fixed, trusting in the Lord. The heart is as insatiable as the grave till Jesus enters it, and then it is a cup full to overflowing. There is such a fulness in Christ that he alone is the believer’s all. The true saint is so completely satisfied with the all-sufficiency of Jesus that he thirsts no more—except it be for deeper draughts of the living fountain. In that sweet manner, believer, shalt thou thirst; it shall not be a thirst of pain, but of loving desire; thou wilt find it a sweet thing to be panting after a fuller enjoyment of Jesus’ love. One in days of yore said, “I have been sinking my bucket down into the well full often, but now my thirst after Jesus has become so insatiable, that I long to put the well itself to my lips, and drink right on.” Is this the feeling of thine heart now, believer? Dost thou feel that all thy desires are satisfied in Jesus, and that thou hast no want now, but to know more of him, and to have closer fellowship with him? Then come continually to the fountain, and take of the water of life freely. Jesus will never think you take too much, but will ever welcome you, saying, “Drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.”