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March 26, 2015

Pray without ceasing,” Paul says. Simple words, but a seemingly impossible challenge. How can you be expected to pray all the time? In chapter 54 of their work A Puritan Theology, Joel Beeke and Mark Jones dive deep into Matthew Henry’s great book A Method for Prayer to distil what he says about the importance of praying through all of life’s circumstances. As it turns out, there is no great trick to it. What follows is at times transcribed and at times adapted from A Puritan Theology.

Begin Every Day with God

Henry writes, “It is our wisdom and duty to begin every day with God.” You always have something to talk to God about. He is a dear friend, so it is a pleasure to know him personally and to walk with him intimately. He is also Lord over you and over everything that touches your life. Shall a servant not talk to his master? Shall a dependent not talk to his provider? Shall one in danger not converse with his defender?

Let no obstacle hinder you from coming to God. Though God is in heaven, he will hear your cries from the depths. Though God be fearsome, he grants believers the Spirit of adoption to have freedom with him. Yes, God already knows what you need, but he requires your prayers for his glory and to fit you to receive mercy. Though you are busy with many things, only one thing is necessary: To walk with God in peace and love. So for that reason you ought to begin each day with God.

Why should you dedicate morning hours to God? Because God deserves your best and not just the day’s leftovers when you are tired and worn. For many or most of us, the best hours are the earliest hours. Not only that but, as Henry wrote, “In the morning we are most free from company and business, so we should give him fresh thanksgivings and fresh meditations on his beauties. In the morning as we prepare for the work of the day, let us commit it all to God.” Begin every day with him, and give him the best part of your day.

Spend Every Day With God

You need to begin the day with God, but you also need to spend the day with God. In his explanation of Psalm 25:5 (“for you I wait all the day long”) Henry explains that this involves a patient expectation of God to come at his time, and it involves a constant attendance upon the Lord in the duties of personal worship.

The Christian’s constant attendance upon God throughout the day is captured in the phrase “to wait upon the Lord.” Henry said, “To wait upon God is to live a life of desire towards him, delight in him, dependence on him, and devotedness to him.” Constant dependence is the attitude of a child toward his father in whom he trusts and on whom he casts all of his cares. This waiting on the Lord is something you can do every day, and not just the days you gather for public worship. You do it in private worship, in family worship, and in corporate worship.

Wherever you go or whatever you do each day, search for abundant reasons for prayer and praise. As James wrote, if you are sad, then pray to God; if you are happy, then sing praises to God (James 5:13). That covers all of life.

Close Every Day with God

Just as you begin your days with God, and spend your days with God, you should also close your days with God. Henry insists that you may end each day in contentment only because you have the Lord as our God. “Let this still every storm, command and create a calm in thy soul. Having God to be our God in covenant, we have enough; we have all. And though the gracious soul still desires more of God, it never desires more than God; in him it reposeth itself with a perfect complacency; in him it is at home, it is at rest.”

When you lay down to rest at night, Henry advises you to lie down with thanksgiving to God. You should briefly review his mercies and deliverances at the end of each day. “Every bit we eat, and every drop we drink, is mercy; every step we take, and every breath we draw, mercy.” You should be thankful for nighttime as God’s provision for your rest, for a place to lay your head, and for the healthy of body and peace of mind which allows you to sleep. You can lay down and sleep in peace, resting your soul upon the intercession of Christ to grant you peace with God, and forgiving your fellow men of all their offenses against you so that your heart may be at peace with God and man.

Begin the day with God. Spend the day with God. Close the day with God. “This life of communion with God, and constant attendance upon him, is a heaven upon earth.” Indeed.

Image credit: Shutterstock

March 26, 2015

Here are just a few new Kindle deals: When Missions Shapes the Mission by David Horner ($0.99); Manhood Restored by Eric Mason ($2.99); Holman Concise Bible Dictionary ($0.99).

Dating a Non-Virgin - Richard Phillips offers wise counsel in dealing with the dark side of the chastity industry.

How Many Stars Are There? - Enough that every couple of weeks there is a new YouTube video that tries to wrap our minds around it.

Christians, You Will Suffer - “If suffering disproves your Christianity, you’ve missed Christianity. The Bible is filled with the suffering of those whom God loves.”

Lifeway Pulls Heaven Tourism Books - This is great news: LifeWay Christian Resources has stopped selling all “experiential testimonies about heaven…”

ERLC Leadership Summit - ERLC’s leadership summit on racial reconciliation begins today; you can watch it live at the link.

Sing Your Heart Out - “The messiness of congregational singing is part of the beauty of God using weak and broken people. While we certainly want to strive for excellence in how we sing to our God, the sound of a child singing extremely loudly or, even at times, out of key, is a sweet sound that brings God great glory.”

Unreached peoples are unreached for a reason. They’re hard, difficult, and dangerous to reach. All the easy ones are taken. —David Platt

Platt

March 25, 2015

Earlier this month Crossway announced that they are considering March Pastor’s Wife Appreciation Month, and this on the occasion of Gloria Furman’s new book The Pastor’s Wife. To mark the month they have offered blog articles and video interviews featuring wives of well-known pastors, and many of these articles have been very helpful. You can find the list right here.

To this point, the bulk of the articles have focused on the struggles that can come to the pastor’s wife: the hurt, the expectations, the difficulty in making friends, and so on. Since I am married to a pastor’s wife, I can attest that these are real issues. But Aileen and I put our heads together and would like to offer an article that looks at the pastor’s wife from an alternate angle: the privilege of it. Because despite the difficulties, the pastor’s wife does experience some unique privileges. We have written this little article with the pastor’s wife in mind in the hope that it will encourage her.

(Note: It is always dangerous to speak very broadly, but for the purposes of this article we will assume that this pastor and his wife attend a good church that takes seriously the biblical qualifications for a pastor.)

Here are 6 privileges of the pastor’s wife.

She Is Married To a Godly Man

If this pastor and his wife attend a church that loves the Bible and that honors the qualifications of a pastor, then the pastor’s wife is necessarily married to a godly man. In fact, she is married to a man who exemplifies godliness. This is not to say that her husband is perfect, of course, but it does give her the privilege of being married to a man who can be put before the congregation as one who lives a life that is above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2). With so few men called and qualified to the office, she enjoys a rare but noteworthy privilege.

She Is a Godly Woman

There is no biblical office of the pastors’ wife, and neither is there a specific list of qualifications for a pastor’s wife. However, it is clear that a man cannot be qualified to the office apart from his wife. Unless she is willing and unless she is godly, he simply cannot be a pastor. And so the church’s affirmation of a man to the office of pastor is an affirmation of his wife’s godliness and spiritual maturity. She has the privilege of having the church agree that she is godly and mature, and will only help, not hinder, the work of her husband.

She Has a Good Marriage

The pastor’s wife is not only married to a good man, but she also enjoys a good marriage with her man. His life is worthy of imitation, and so too is his marriage. After all, the Bible says that an elder must be “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2) and that he “must manage his own household well” (1 Timothy 3:4). These qualifications, when filled out, indicate a man who loves and treasures his wife, and who leads her as Christ leads the church. His marriage to his wife testifies to the church that he is capable of leading and loving his congregation.

Her Husband Nurtures His Children

An elder must be a man who raises his children to be submissive (1 Timothy 3:4) and whose children are not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination (Titus 1:6). This indicates a father who is involved with the care and spiritual nurture of his children. The pastor’s wife will play a critical role, of course. But this qualifier indicates that the father takes an active interest in his children and raises them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. She enjoys the privilege of a husband who loves and nurtures their children.

She Is Admired

A pastor is to live above reproach and to live worthy of imitation so that he serves as a model of godliness. Do you want to know what it means to live the Christian life? Look to your pastor and live like your pastor! It is little wonder, then, that he is admired and worthy of the honor given to him. And it is little wonder that his wife is admired as well, because he is not qualified to the office apart from her, but through and because of her. In this way she is admired by the church community and she, too, is held up as a model of godliness.

She Is Married to a Respectable Man

Finally, the pastor’s wife has the privilege of being married to a respectable man. There are some vocations that command a degree of respect in the wider community, and the pastors’ wife is privileged to count her husband among them. In fact, the Bible demands that he be thought well of by outsiders (1 Timothy 3:7) so that he is both known and admired in the wider community. The pastor’s wife is married to a man who is an involved and upstanding member of the community where no one thinks evil of his life or character. She feels no shame when she interacts in the community, because her husband is a respectable man.

The pastor’s wife has a unique calling, and one that comes with particular challenges. But it is also one that comes with considerable privileges. So, pastor’s wife, we honor you, and we thank God for the privileges you enjoy.

Image credit: Shutterstock

March 25, 2015

Here are today’s Kindle deals: Double Play by Ben Zobrist ($2.99); The End of Christianity by William Dembski ($0.99); Andrew Fuller by Michael Haykin ($0.99); The Word and the World by Eugene Merrill ($0.99). You might also consider 2 titles by Jeff Goins: Wrecked ($2.51) and The In-Between ($2.99).

When I Don’t Desire God - Ligonier and Desiring God have partnered to create a course called “When I Don’t Desire God” featuring John Piper. It’s free for the taking! (Also, Ligonier is having an #AskRC Live Twitter event today.)

Q&A with Sam Allberry - Denny Burk recently moderated a Q&A with Sam Allberry where he fielded questions from both Denny and students at SBTS. You can watch the video at the link.

Cannonball - Whether or not you like the music that accompanies it (I did!) this video is very well done.

Honoring Our Favorite Theologians - Westminster Books is offering a great deal on 3 volumes written in honor of some favorite theologians (Piper, Carson, Gaffin). Logos has some good deals in their March Madness event.

Take Note - Every serious reader has strong opinions about footnotes versus endnotes.

The Christian and Common Grace - I appreciated this reflection on God’s common grace. Now there’s something we too often take for granted!

Emotional Blackmail - John Piper comments on emotional blackmail within the church.

In the gospel, there is included all that the heart of man can wish. —J Gresham Machen

Machen

March 24, 2015

When I was growing up and still living with my parents, my family supported ministries based in the USSR, and on our fridge we had a big poster covered in photographs of Russian pastors who were imprisoned or endangered because of their faith. Every night in our devotions we would pray for one of them, that God would bless and protect him. Meanwhile we lived in middle-class suburbia in Toronto. We freely told our neighbors about Jesus, we went to church twice each Sunday, we read the Bible openly, and even went to Christian schools. It did not seem fair that we had it so easy.

And we still have it easy. It is still remarkably easy to be a Christian here in North America. We have never faced systemic persecution. We have laws that protect our freedom to worship and our freedom to believe what we believe.

That’s not to say, though, that we never suffer. We still do face scorn and mockery, and especially so as the culture around us proceeds farther and deeper into paganism. Though the burdens we bear are light compared to what some others have had to carry, they are burdens nonetheless. I was recently studying 1 Peter 4 and found 5 reasons that we can and should rejoice even now when we are persecuted, or even in that day when we face much greater persecution.

Rejoice Because God Is Testing You

In times of trial, you can rejoice because God is testing you. Peter says, “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you” (verse 12). Even trials exist under the sovereignty of your all-powerful God, and they exist in order to test you. There are at least two ways that God tests you in times of persecution: He tests the genuineness of your faith, and he tests the maturity of your faith. When persecution comes, the false Christians are tested and inevitably run away. In the moment they are forced to suffer, they recant their faith and run away. Their faith is tested and proven fraudulent. The other kind of test is one that proves the depth or maturity of the believer’s faith. There is an important distinction between this test and the kind of test you are accustomed to. When you are in school and take a test, the purpose is for the teacher to know how well you’re doing. But when God tests you, the purpose is for you to know how well you’re doing. God wants you to be encouraged, and so he allows a trial to come, and that trial proves you who you are and how much you’ve grown. You don’t know what your faith is made of until it’s tested. So you truly can rejoice in trials knowing that God tests the ones he loves.

Rejoice Because You Share Christ’s Sufferings

The second reason you can rejoice in suffering is because you are sharing Christ’s sufferings. Peter says, “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” When you are persecuted, when you undergo those trials, you are participating in Christ’s sufferings. As you suffer you inevitably come to a greater understanding of what Christ endured on your behalf, and this draws you closer to him. After all, if someone persecutes you, it isn’t because they hate you; they persecute you because they hate Christ. In this way suffering is a kind of promise from God: A promise that you are united to his Son. Your suffering is proof of your salvation. You can praise God knowing that you are sharing Christ’s sufferings because you are united to him.

Rejoice Because God Is With You

Third, rejoice because God is with you. He is near to you in your persecution. Verse 14 says, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” This is a promise that God does not abandon you in your persecution, but is right there with you in the middle of it. This is one very good reason to read church history. What you find as you read about people who are being persecuted is that they have a supernatural joy and that they so often speak about God’s nearness in their suffering. When it seems that everyone else has abandoned them, they have a much deeper awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit living within them, blessing them, and comforting them. While they do not love being persecuted, they would not trade away their personal experience of God in that persecution. As C.S. Lewis so aptly said, God whispers to us in our pleasures but shouts to us in our pain. Rejoice, because God is with you.

Rejoice Because God Is Glorified

Fourth, rejoice because God is being glorified. Peter says, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” When you suffer because you are a Christian, and when you suffer as a Christian, God is glorified. Why? We can get a hint from the book of Job. Job’s friends insisted that he was suffering because he had done evil, because he deserved it. But no, Job was suffering because God had determined it and because Satan was bent on it. As Job was shown to be blameless, and as Job refused to curse God, God was glorified. And we see that in times of persecution, Christians constantly glorify God. As they suffer they tell others about him. As they suffer they sing his praises. As they suffer they prove themselves blameless. God is glorified even in persecution, and God is glorified especially in persecution.

Rejoice Because Justice Is Near

Finally, Christians can rejoice in persecution because justice is near. Those who persecute Christians will not triumph in the end. Peter says, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” Peter asks a rhetorical question: If God even allows his precious, chosen people to suffer in this world, how much greater will be the suffering of those who persecute them? God has determined that Christians will suffer. He has determined that Christians will prove their faith and strengthen their faith not apart from persecution, but through it. And yet persecution is not the end. Death is not the end. The worst thing unbelievers can do to the Christian is destroy his body through death, but the Christian knows that in Christ he has overcome death. Christian, you can rejoice in God’s justice, knowing that God has triumphed, is triumphing, and will triumph. Those who persecute you will receive justice; God will not be mocked.

In your suffering you really can rejoice. As you are being persecuted, you can be glad. Why? Because God is testing you to prove and strengthen your faith, because you share the sufferings of Christ, because God is near to you, because God is being glorified, and because justice is not far off.

Image credit: Shutterstock

March 24, 2015

Here are today’s Kindle deals: Five Points by John Piper (One of my all-time favorite Piper books; $3.99); Salvation by Crucifixion by Philip Ryken ($2.99); Bible Answers by Derek Prime ($2.99); Holy Ground by Chris Castaldo ($0.99); Preaching to a Post-Everything World by Zack Eswine ($0.99).

Shelf-Life Of Worship Songs - Jamie Brown: “Things are not as simple for worship leaders/church music directors as they used to be. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly a more complicated thing.”

Closing Accounts - This is a sad and sobering account of elder care today.

Blaine Boyer And His Personal Entourage - I enjoyed this story about Blaine Boyer and his baseball career.

Witchdoctors, Football, and Understanding Africa - This is definitely one of the most interesting articles you’ll read today.

He Knows - “He knew what joys this day would hold and He knows what sorrows tomorrow may hold, and whatever comes we know that we little unknowing ones are held close.”

Keep a Close Watch on Your Life and Illustrations - “I for one think sermon illustrations are way overrated. Yep, I said it. I think too much emphasis is put on illustrations in how we train preachers and in too many actual sermons.”

We stand in the present but dwell on the past in order that we can be steadfast for the future. —Dale Ralph Davis

Davis

March 23, 2015

We Christians put on a good face, don’t we? Each of us shows up on Sunday morning looking like we are doing just fine, like our lives are on cruise control, like we have had the best week ever. But ask a couple of leading questions, and probe just beneath the surface, and it soon falls apart. Each of us comes to church feeling the weight and the difficulty of this life. God has something he wants us to do in these situations. There is something he calls us to—something beautifully surprising and uncomfortable. Track with me for a couple of minutes here, and I’ll show you what it is.

The Reality: You are Dust

One of my favorite passages in the whole Bible is Psalm 103. I pray it often, and focus on these words: “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” These words tell us that even while we pray to the all-knowing and all-powerful God, we do so as created beings who were formed out of the dust of the ground. If we learn anything from our dusty origins, we learn that God did not intend for us to be superhuman and he did not intend for us to be God-like. He made us dust, not divine, and this was his good will. He made us weak.

The Difficulty: You Are Burdened

Meanwhile, the Bible tells us that this life is full of trials and tribulations. Experience backs this up. This world is so sinful, we are so sinful, and the people around us are so sinful, that trials are inevitable. Each of us has burdens we carry through life. Sometimes these are burdens of our own making, sometimes these are burdens that come through sickness, sometimes these are burdens that come through other forms of suffering. But whatever the case, we dusty humans inevitably face burdens that seem crushingly and insurmountably heavy. Jesus speaks to the reality of life in this world when he says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We are weak and we are burdened.

The Promise: Help

God knows that we are weak. God knows each one of the trials we face, and he makes the sure promise that he can and will sustain us through each of them. In Psalm 55:22 he says, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you.” In times of temptation toward sin he promises, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). There are many more promises we could turn to, but the theme would be the same: God acknowledges our weakness and promises to meet them with his strength. We are weak and we are burdened, but God promises to help.

The Temptation: Self-Reliance

We dusty, sinful human beings face a ridiculous temptation: self-reliance. Despite our weaknesses and despite our track-record of sin, we find ourselves constantly tempted to look to ourselves for help. Listen to what John Piper says: “Pride, or self-exaltation, or self-reliance is the one virus that causes all the moral diseases of the world. This has been the case ever since Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because they wanted to be God instead of trust God. And it will be true until the final outburst of human pride is crushed at the battle of Armageddon. There is only one basic moral issue: how to overcome the relentless urge of the human heart to assert itself against the authority and grace of God.” We may see this self-reliance manifest itself in our lives in at least two ways: When we will not bring our burdens to the Lord in prayer, and when we will not bring those burdens to other Christians. In both cases we like to convince ourselves that we can bear this weight on our own, that we are strong enough to carry it.

The Solution: Community

When we are ready to let go of our self-sufficiency, we find that God offers an amazing solution. He offers a way that we can be relieved of the burdens we carry. Very often, the way God fulfills his promises and answers our prayers is through other Christians right there in our local churches. God expects that we will tell others about our burdens and that we will respond to them together, in community. This is why Paul told the church in Galatia to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Our church communities are to be marked by the sharing and bearing of burdens. If this is to happen, our churches need to be marked by humility, as each of us admits that we cannot make it through life on our own; they need to be marked by vulnerability, as we open up to others and seek their counsel and their help; they need to be marked by awareness, as we pursue the people around us, asking them how we can assist in life’s trials. God’s solutions always come from outside ourselves.

The Vocation: Burden-Bearing

All of this leads us to the joyful vocation of burden-bearing. Piper says, “Here is a vocation that will bring you more satisfaction than if you became a millionaire ten times over: Develop the extraordinary skill for detecting the burdens of others and devote yourself daily to making them lighter.” Make them lighter through prayer, make them lighter by skillfully bringing and applying the Word of God, and make them lighter by the comfort of your presence. In every case, make it your sacred calling to seek out and to share the burdens of your brothers and sisters. There is no higher calling than this. (For more on burden-bearing read An Extraordinary Skill for Ordinary Christians.) But there is more: You also owe it to yourself and to your church community to share your burdens with them, to humble yourself by asking for their help.

Image credit: Shutterstock