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April 22, 2015

A few weeks ago I announced that I will be hosting a summer internship program for several high school students. For 8 weeks we will focus on theology and worldview while also working on improving writing and communication skills. All of this can and will be done via the Internet, which means that students from around the world were welcome to apply. In the end, nearly 100 people applied for those 3 internships, with the applications coming in from all across the globe. And let me tell you: The future of the church is looking pretty good.

I deliberately made the application process just a little bit difficult in order to force the students to think carefully before applying. After answering a series of questions ranging from “What is your favorite subject at school” to “What are some ways you serve in your church?”, each of the applicants had to record a short video testimonial—an explanation of how the Lord saved them. I have watched each one of these videos now, and I don’t know when I have been more encouraged.

100 videos at a few minutes each: Do the math and you’ll see that I spent somewhere around 8 hours watching teenagers tell how they became Christians, and then I spent a few more hours reading their answers to the application questions. Now, I promised them confidentiality, so will not speak about any person in particular, but I do think it is interesting to reflect on the applicants as a group. Here are some things I observed.

Of the 100 videos I watched, nearly all of the students were able to articulate the gospel, and were able to express the difference between their life before conversion and their life after. Very few of the students used generic language or easy Christianese; instead, they were able to express how they had personally placed their faith in Jesus Christ, and they were able to explain how the gospel has turned away God’s well-deserved wrath while giving them Christ’s perfect righteousness. Time and time again I heard students express the best truths in deeply personal and soundly biblical ways.

Of the people who applied, roughly half are homeschooled and the other half are divided between public and Christian school. There was no discernible difference between the groups when it came to their understanding of the gospel and their ability to express it. The same was true when it came to church background—whether they were Southern Baptist, Sovereign Grace, Evangelical Free or Reformed Presbyterian, whether they were from The Summit Church, Covenant Life Church, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Harvest Bible Chapel, or the little church down the road, almost all of them expressed a similarly deep understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ.

I am not sure why this is noteworthy, but I feel it is: The vast majority of the applicants, over 90%, were Caucasian. There were a few exceptions, though even when there were exceptions the applicants would often tell that they had been adopted into Caucasian families. Whatever else this means, I suppose it means this: If we take the readers of my web site as a kind of “core sample” of the New Calvinism, it remains largely a movement of and by middle-class white people. (I will grant, of course, that many non-Caucasian folk may be thoroughly Reformed but not able to participate in an English-based internship program.)

Another observation I made is how many young people make a profession of faith when they are very young—5 or 6 years old—but then later doubt the reality or significance of that profession. Most can articulate a time when they were a little bit older, often around 10, 12, or 14, when they either had what they now consider a true conversion experience, or when they suddenly realized that they needed to have a faith independent of their parents. Time and again I heard of the good Christian kid who said the right things when he or she was very young, but then actually began to live as a Christian in those early teenage years.

Parents and pastors ought to be encouraged. What you are teaching your children is making a difference. What you are preaching from the pulpit is making a difference. Almost every applicant had heard the gospel repeatedly at home, and almost every applicant had heard the gospel repeatedly at church. And, not surprisingly, over time the gospel did its work in them. If there was anything that concerns me, it is how few of these teens spoke of older friends or mentors (who are neither parents nor pastors) who had helped them in their journey to faith. Get involved in the lives of teens!

My final observation is this: It is going to be excruciating to trim down the list of applicants to only 3. Even after going through the applications again and again, I’ve got at least 10 times more people remaining then I can actually accept. Yet time and finances (this is, after all, a paid internship) dictate that I cannot offer the internship to all of them. In the end I am still looking for 3 normal, godly teens who are eager to learn more about theology and worldview. But I’m also trying to figure out if there is some way that I can at least double that to 6. It grieves me to have to say no to any of them.

(A final note: If you applied for the internship program, you can expect to hear from me over the next couple of days.)

April 20, 2015

I find one of the trickiest matters of Christian living to be the matter of motives. I often find myself wondering why I do the things I do. Just as often, I find myself wondering why I do not do those things I refuse to do. Sometimes, even with a lot of focused thought, I can make little headway.

I think the Apostle Paul would identify with me. In Romans 7, he wrote, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (vv. 15–16). He was not looking to his motives per se, but he was still considering his life and finding that he was unable to discern why he did sinful things even when he wanted to do holy things. He saw his lack of holiness and his pursuit of sin and marveled at his own inability to do even the good things he wanted to do.

Like Paul, I am a Christian. I have been granted salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Day by day, my mind is being transformed by God’s Word, and I am being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.

As the Lord does this work within me, I find a growing ability to know the right thing to do in a given situation. When I am sinned against, I have a greater knowledge of Scripture to draw upon as I attempt to respond with grace. When I am asked to give money to a cause or a mission, I have deeper wells to draw from as I consider whether this is a worthy cause. When I am faced with a decision and am uncertain whether I should stay or go, whether I should say yes or no, I increasingly have the mind of Christ and with it the ability to make a wise and God-honoring decision.

And yet sometimes I still do not know why I do the things I do. Am I giving to that mission because I believe the Lord is using those people to do His work in his world, or am I giving to that mission because it makes me feel good or because I want the missionary to respect me? Am I speaking grace-filled words to the person who offended me because I really love him despite the offense, or am I doing it to show off and to convince myself of my own holiness?

Too often I simply do not know. I pray and think and ponder and in the end I simply cannot untwist it all. We are complex people with complex motives. We are being made holy, but in the meantime we still have sin clinging to every part of ourselves.

I have found freedom in two ways. The first is repenting of poor motives. Even if I cannot pinpoint where my motives are sinful, I know there must be some sin in them, and so I ask that they be forgiven through the work of Jesus Christ. And then I determine to concern myself less with discerning motives and more with doing the right thing. I look to the cross, I look to the Bible, and I attempt to discern the next right thing to do for God’s glory.

Image credit: Shutterstock

April 13, 2015

Just up the road from our house is a plaza or strip mall, a collection of 20 or 30 stores. This plaza has two large wings and right in the joint between the two wings is what must be the worst retail space in the city. At least, those of us who live here know that it is the worst retail space in the city. Aileen and I have been in this area for the past 15 years and in that time we have seen business after business try to make a go of it there, and not one of them has lasted for more than a couple of years. Several have lasted just a few months.

When we first arrived it was a family diner, but quickly the diner went out of business and was replaced by a fish and chips joint. Just a few months later there was a big notice on the door from the landlords saying that they were owed tens of thousands of dollars, and that the store had been shut down. Then it was a Lebanese restaurant, then a sandwich shop and, as of last week, an all-day breakfast place. And I know I am forgetting a couple of other iterations along the way.

The strange thing is that this store looks like it is in a great location. There is a long plaza stretching out on either side of it, with store after store. There is a lot of parking available, and a few attractive and well-trafficked stores just down the way. And yet, for some reason, this one storefront seems to be a retail black hole. It is where businesses go to die, where entrepreneurs go to blow their money.

Before every new store opens, the old sign gets hauled down, and paper covers the windows while the store receives a renovation. Every time I see another “opening soon” sign, I want to go and bang on the door and tell the people, “Don’t do it!” I see them walking in and out, full of excitement, and I feel a bit of dread for them. I know they’ve got a business plan that looks bulletproof, and they’ve convinced the bank to loan them some money to get started, but I want to tell them about all those other people who have followed the same plan and utterly failed. And eventually the inevitable happens.

Every time I see that “opening soon” sign I find myself thinking about people whose theology reminds me of this restaurant. I hear them tell me about some great new theological innovation they have discovered, or some great truth the church had been hiding from them. Or I see them gain a public profile and then their books begin to quote certain authors or hint at certain ideas. And I feel that same sense of dread. And I want to tell them that others have tried this and that it hasn’t gone well.

Others have tried to reconcile God’s knowledge and all the tragedy that happens in this world through various shades of Open Theism, but it has not gone well for them and they’ve soon smeared the very character of God. Others have been convinced that “inerrancy” is too strong a term and that we have to leave some room for minor errors or for certain cultural corrections, and before long they’ve rejected not just the inerrancy of the Bible, but also its authority. Others have become dissatisfied with hearing from God through the Bible and have demanded more; they have begun to live their lives by promptings and whisperings which they ascribe to God, and so often their lives have descended into personal and theological chaos. I see them setting up shop, thinking they are doing the right thing, but all the while they are walking into disaster.

And this is one of the reasons God places us in church communities where we are surrounded by people who are that much wiser and that much more mature than we are. He surrounds us with people who have tried things and found them wanting, or who have witnessed other people trying things and being led astray. He surrounds us with people who can speak with loving authority and experienced firmness of all of their attempts and failures, and who can guide us back to the straight path. He surrounds us with people who are wise enough to detect the first signs of wandering, and who love us enough to warn us of the consequences.

Image credit: Shutterstock

April 07, 2015

A clean house is a sign of a wasted life. Kind of. That’s what I said last week when I looked at Proverbs 14:4: “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” I said then that there are two broad streams of interpretation for this proverb, and that my preferred one says that it speaks to the messiness of a life well-lived. A productive life is a messy life. I think that is a perfectly valid and accurate interpretation of the text. But there is a second explanation for the proverb that is [almost] equally intriguing.

Whatever else we believe about the proverb, we know that Solomon meant to tell us that having oxen is better than not having oxen. We can extend this to say that having the appropriate tools for a task is better than having inappropriate tools. Here’s the thing: You can have a full feed-trough if you’ve got a small animal or no animal at all. But it is far wiser to let a big ol’ ox eat the feed and use it as fuel for some hard work. “A farmer persuades himself that if he doesn’t buy any oxen he will save himself both the initial outlay and the cost of feeding and the labour of maintaining them. But this is the fool’s economics. The wise man realizes he himself cannot do the work the ox can do; he will always be scraping a living, whereas if he buys some oxen and fodder, their work will bring a harvest which will feed him and them, with some over.” In other words, a stingy investment in tools earns a stingy return, and a substantial investment in tools earns a substantial return. (see Eric Lane’s excellent little commentary.)

When I interpret the proverb this way, I see it as a call to obtain good tools, even when those tools involve a greater cost. As Lane says, “Investment in the appropriate equipment will more than pay for itself, and the effort put into maintaining it will be saved in its efficiency.” The fact is, not all tools are created equal. We have many options for most of our tools, and we typically need to choose from a spectrum of qualities and prices. We are not surprised to find that better tools cost more money. Solomon’s farmer found the same. He could plow the field himself, or he could use a donkey—both of these would be economical options. But by investing in the ox, he will soon see abundance. Why? Because the ox is the best tool for the job. The ox is the wisest investment.

Now there is a movement afoot in the Christian world that elevates thrift as one of the great virtues. According to this movement, we are to be thrifty people who use our resources carefully instead of wastefully. Well and good, and especially so in an age of instant indulgence. We should not be wasteful! But the danger of thriftiness is that it can easily tip into stinginess. (Of course, in the same way, free spending can tip into a profligacy.) We can elevate the joy of finding an item at a low cost, while overlooking that this low cost may necessitate low quality. However, when we do this we may be settling for lesser tools which subsequently provide a lesser return.

The farmer, like you and me, is completely dependent upon his tools. If he wants abundance, if he wants to be the best farmer he can be, he will need good tools—he will need to buy and feed an ox, the best tool for the job. And if you want to succeed in whatever it is that the Lord calls you to, you will need tools as well. You will need good tools. Expensive tools, even. But take heart. You do not have to feel guilty for spending on your tools. The bigger expense may just be the wisest stewardship.

(And that, my friends, is how I defend my use of Apple products.)

Image credit: Shutterstock

April 06, 2015

We are at an interesting point in history. I guess there’s never really a boring point in history, but there are definitely times when things advance or unravel in a hurry. And today we are seeing the full-out charge of a new kind of morality. We see it playing out in the media just about every day, and Nancy Pearcey’s book Total Truth is still one of the most helpful guides to understanding what is happening around us.

Our society insists that there needs to be a radical split between two different spheres: the private and the public. In the public sphere we have society’s great institutions: the state, academia, multinational corporations, the mainstream media, and the like. In the private sphere we have the family, the church, and personal relationships. We are told that these public institutions are based only on what is scientific and objective. Meanwhile, the private sphere is composed of all those things that are subjective or based on personal values; we are allowed to have them, but they are less important than the public sphere and must never be allowed to influence it.

Here is how this dichotomy looks when diagrammed:

PRIVATE SPHERE
Personal Preference
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
PUBLIC SPHERE
Scientific Knowledge

In the private sphere are matters of personal preference, while in the public sphere are matters of objective truth. What is true for all people is on the bottom level, but what is true for you or me is on the top level. Both exist, but they must be kept apart. Pearcey says, “Religion is not considered an objective truth to which we must submit, but only a matter of personal taste which we choose.” For this reason the split is also sometimes call the fact/value split.

VALUES
Individual Choice
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
FACTS
Binding on Everyone

In the upper level is values—individual preferences—, while on the bottom level are facts which are binding on everyone. Facts represent knowledge drawn from and proven by science, which means they are objective and rational and binding on each of us. On the other hand, the top level values are considered subjective. Because they are a product of tradition and are essentially irrational, they have little to say about reality and cannot be binding on anyone’s conscience except my own.

According to this line of thinking, my Christian morality falls into the values sphere, and is allowed to have no bearing on the facts. While I may bind myself by what my religion teaches, I have no right to demand that anyone else hold to those same values, and no right to allow my values to influence the facts. I am required to hold these two spheres completely apart from one another.

Ultimately, these two spheres represent two tiers or two stories of truth that display a divide between what is rational and verifiable (and, therefore, superior) and what is nonrational and nonverifiable (and, therefore, inferior).

UPPER STORY
Nonrational, Noncognitive
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
LOWER STORY
Rational, Verifiable

On the upper story is what is true for me, while on the lower story is what is true for all of us.

Now why does all of this matter? Because it is “the simple most potent weapon for delegitimizing the biblical perspective in the public square today. Here’s how it works: Most secularists are too politically savvy to attack religion directly or to debunk it as false. So what do they do? They consign religion to the value sphere—which takes it out of the realm of true and false altogether. Secularists can then assure us that of course they “respect” religion, while at the same time denying that it has any relevance to the public realm.”

And this is exactly what is happening today in so many different areas. Christians are allowed to hold to their beliefs, but not when those beliefs begin to creep from the realm of private to the realm of public. A Canadian politician came under extreme pressure when he stated his skepticism about Darwinian evolution. Because his Christian faith is considered a value, he has no right to state it and no right to allow it to influence his public life. An American florist determined that she could not support a homosexual wedding by providing flowers. Because her view of homosexuality stems from the private sphere, she has no right to allow it to influence her business decisions. A media uproar immediately followed. We could look to today’s headlines and instantly find another ten or twenty similar stories.

Listen to what Pearcey says: “This same division also explains why Christians have such difficulty communicating in the public arena. It’s crucial for us to realize that nonbelievers are constantly filtering what we say through a mental fact/value grid. For example, when we state a position on an issue like abortion or bioethics or homosexuality, we intend to assert an objective moral truth important to the health of society—but they think we’re merely expressing our subjective bias.” When we see design in the universe, we are making a testable and verifiable claim, but they hear only religious irrationality. When we say that homosexual marriage is against God’s design, they see irrational personal preference creeping into the public discussion. As Pearcey says, “The fact/value grid instantly dissolves away the objective content of anything we say…”

What do we do about it? Well, whatever else we do, we first need to ensure we do not allow such a divide in our own lives. “We have to reject the division of life into a sacred realm limited to things like worship and personal morality, over against a secular realm that includes science, politics, economics, and the rest of the public arena.” We have to understand that the Bible describes a way of looking at the world that is perfectly unified, where both facts and values flow from the same Source and achieve the same great end. Today more than ever, we must be people who know and love and live the Word of God. And then we must be prepared to stand on, and suffer for, what we know is true.

April 02, 2015

The world only works when life is held as precious. Each of us wants to live more than we want to die. We are overwhelmed by the longing to not die, and consumed with the desire to go on living. 

A thousand times a day we make subconscious choices that preserve our lives. We brake when we come to a stop sign. We replace the battery in the smoke detector. We hold on to the handrail. We fasten the safety belt. We double-check the dosage. We do it all so we can continue to live. We do it all to diminish the likelihood of our own demise.

And it is not just our own life that we regard as precious, but all life. Just as we make decisions to protect our own lives, we make decisions to protect others’. We tighten our children’s seatbelts. We put the knives up high. We pay the salaries of police officers. We stop and help when we spot even a stranger in distress.

Life is the most precious thing. The world only works when we maintain this tacit agreement that life is precious, that I will do all I can to preserve both mine and yours, that you will do all you can to protect both yours and mine. Both civilization and civility stand or fall on this simple agreement.

The alternative is unthinkable. The alternative is cars swerving to meet oncoming traffic, bicycles drifting out of the bike lane, toddlers roaming at will, hospitals empty and unstaffed. The alternative might even be a pilot setting his aircraft so that it gradually coasts straight into the ground.

The world reacted with horror—justified horror—when they learned that Andreas Lubitz had deliberately crashed Germanwings flight 9525, taking his own life and the lives of the other 149 passengers and crew members. The reason for our shock is that he violated the agreement. He chose to take life instead of perserve life.

There are a hundred explanations for this desire to protect and preserve life. But the only one that really makes sense, and the only one that is compelling enough to believe, is that God is the creator of life, and that he has given life intrinsic value. He has made us this way, and deeply ingrained it within each one of us. To recklessly endanger life is to reject both the giver and his gift.

This, then, is why we react with such utter horror to what Lubitz did. He chose to diminish the value of his life, and the lives of each of those 149 people. We know intuitively that this is an outrage, the deepest kind of transgression. And it scares us. It terrifies us. It is unfair, unjust, unconscionable, unthinkable. And yet there it is, emblazoned in the headlines: He did it, and he could have done it to us. He rejected the most basic information, and broke our most foundational agreement.

March 31, 2015

Clean House

You have probably heard the saying before: A clean house is a sign of a wasted life. Whatever else the phrase means, it expresses some of the frustration and the sense of futility that attends life in this world. I thought of that saying when I spotted this proverb: “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox” (Proverbs 14:4). A little bit of research shows that commentators are divided on exactly what it means, but I think one of the explanations rises to the top.

According to this explanation, the proverb is about the messiness of a life well-lived. Tremper Longman says the moral is that “a productive life is a messy life.”

I love productivity. At least, I love productivity when it is properly defined—as effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. By this definition, each one of us, no matter our vocation, ought to pursue productivity with all the vigor we can muster. And if you do that, it is inevitable that along the way you will accumulate some mess. You cannot focus your time, attention, gifts, energy, and enthusiasm toward noble goals while still keeping every corner of life perfectly tidy.

The pastor’s desk will at times be crammed with books and papers. The baker’s counter will sometimes overflow with pots and pans and flour and sugar. The mechanics’s hands will be stained with grease and his shop will need a daily once-over with the power washer. And the home—the home will at times be messy and cluttered and downright embarrassing.

Longman says, “One desires a neat and tidy life, just as the ideal stall would be clean. However, a clean stall by the nature of things would mean an empty stall since oxen do not have to be in a stall long before it is messy. However, without oxen there is no productivity.”

We could as easily say that one desires a neat and tidy house, just as the ideal stall would be clean. However, a clean house by the nature of things might just mean an empty house since children and husbands and houseguests and those neighborhood kids do not have to be in the house long before it is agonizingly messy. However, without all of those people there is no productivity—no true, biblical productivity—, no children to care for, no friends to counsel, no hospitality to extend.

Like so much else in this life, you cannot have it all. You cannot have perfect order and perfect productivity. You cannot have a home that is warm and full and inviting, you cannot have every child fed and cared for, while also having every dish done and every sock laundered. You just can’t. Of course this isn’t to excuse slovenliness or laziness. But you need to understand what Derek Kidner says, that “Orderliness can reach the point of sterility. This proverb is [a plea for] the readiness to accept upheaval, and a mess to clear up, as the price of growth.” Growth, or productivity, as the case may be. Is a clean house proof of a wasted life? Not at all. But a tidy house isn’t necessarily evidence of a well-lived life.

If you do the things God tells you to do, messes will inevitably follow. But take heart: According to the wisest man who ever lived, these messes are not proof of a wasted life, but of a productive one.

March 30, 2015

GrovelI am not easily offended. People will sometimes apologize to me for something they have said or something they have done, concerned that I was offended at their behavior. But I rarely am. It usually doesn’t even occur to me to be offended. But then there is that one situation with that one friend.

A long time ago a friend really did offend me. He hurt me badly, actually. In the aftermath he did the right thing. I spoke to him and expressed how his behavior had hurt me, and he apologized. And that should have been enough, right?

But this is the one offense in my life I found it difficult to move past. And I mean that—for many years this offense existed in its own category in my life. It was the one wound that was so slow to heal. And I sometimes wondered why. Why was this one so hard to let go? Why did I still bear the weight of it, even much later on?

As I thought about it and as I prayed about it, I came to see that somewhere along the way I had decided that my friend was not sorry enough. My memories of the moment told me that he was not contrite enough. His assessment of his actions never quite seemed to measure up to my own. At least, that was my perception of the matter. What grieved me merely bothered him. That was how I perceived it and that is how it sat heavy on my heart.

It took me a long time to see that I was expecting too much. I was expecting the wrong thing. My friend expressed remorse and asked forgiveness, just like he should have. There were no amends he could make and no further actions he could take to make things right—that was not the nature of this offense. So he moved on. We remained friends.

But sometimes that old hurt would creep up. Sometimes I would find myself hurt all over again by that old offense. And I came to see that I wanted to measure his response by his sorrow. I wanted to see him grovel a little, as if this would prove his remorse. I wanted to see him shed a few tears for his offense against me. I wanted him to look and act sorry enough to satisfy my wounded ego. I had judged his apology sincere but insufficient, well-intentioned but trite.

Until one day I understood that he could never be sorry enough. He could never apologize deeply enough. He could never grovel contritely enough. He had done it all just right: He had apologized and asked my forgiveness and gotten on with life and relationship. The fault was with me, with unfair standards, and with unjust judgment.

I had to see that no one can ever be sorry enough. No one can ever be contrite enough. Not him, and not me. The same freedom I enjoy from the Lord—the freedom to ask forgiveness and then immediately enjoy the promise of that forgiveness—that is the very same freedom I was denying him. God doesn’t make me grovel. God doesn’t make me come back again and again to beg forgiveness for that very same sin. God sees the heart, he sees my remorse over my sin, and he forgives to such a degree that I can have absolute confidence in his forgiveness. If God were to grant me forgiveness only when my sincerity was sufficient, only when I properly understood the depth of the offense, and only when I expressed a fitting degree of remorse, I fear that few of my sins would be forgiven.

As is so often the case in life, I was holding someone else to standard I could not hold myself. I can never be sorry enough. He can never be sorry enough. But I can imitate God in granting free and full forgiveness and in letting the matter rest.

Image credit: Shutterstock

March 27, 2015

The very heart of the human condition is a faulty assessment of self. We think too much of ourselves, and think of ourselves too much. We overrate our importance and underestimate our depravity. Ultimately, we elevate ourselves to the place reserved for God.

In the face of such insanity, we need to know who we really are. We need to have a right assessment of self.

Who am I? It is a question we have all asked at one time or another, at least in one of its variations. And every man has his own answer. Every philosophy and every religion has its own response.

Most of them tell me to look inside. I am told to look within, to search myself for the truth, to search myself for my own identity. But I never seem to find it. I can’t quite seem to pin it down. The mere conviction that I can find answers within stands as proof of my faulty self-assessment. The simple fact is that I cannot know myself as I really am. I am too blind to see myself, too far gone to find myself.

Here is what I have learned: To know myself, I need to look outside of myself. My best assessment of self does not come from within but from without. It does not originate with me but with God.

The Bible is an inestimable treasure because of what it teaches me about God, but it is equally valuable for what it teaches me about me. It does not reveal only the truth about deity, but also about humanity.

If I want to know who I am, if I want to know why I exist, if I want to know where I’ve gone wrong, if I want to know my deepest meaning and purpose, if I want to properly assess myself, I need to look outside myself. I cannot know these things apart from God speaking through his Word. The Bible is different from every other book in this way: Where I read all those other books, the Bible reads me.*

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)

The Bible searches me and tells me where I have erred. It examines me and tells me what I need. It tries me and evaluates my every thought and attitude. Ultimately, it reads me and tells me who I am.

Who am I? I will never know until I open the Bible and ask.

*I think I have heard that phrase, or a similar one, attributed to R.C. Sproul, but I wasn’t able to track it down.

Image credit: Shutterstock

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.

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