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3 Keys To a Powerful Prayer Life
August 18, 2016

Every Christian comes to find that prayer is difficult. Prayer is a tremendous joy and a tremendous blessing but the joy and blessing come through tremendous difficulty. Thousands and tens of thousands of Christians have written about prayer and offered their counsel on becoming more skilled, more consistent, and more confident in this precious discipline. I was recently reminded of David McIntyre’s counsel as offered in The Hidden Life of Prayer and it both encouraged and motivated me to pray and to pray all the more. Here are his 3 keys to a powerful prayer life.

A Quiet Place. The first key is a place of quiet, a place that is free, or as free as possible, from distractions. “With regard to many of us, the first of these, a quiet place, is well within our reach. But there are tens of thousands of our fellow-believers who find it generally impossible to withdraw into the desired seclusion of the secret place. A house-mother in a crowded tenement, an apprentice in city lodgings, a ploughman in his living quarters, a soldier in barracks, a boy living at school, these and many more may not be able always to command quiet and solitude. But, ‘your Father knoweth.’” Of course today we have distractions that may arise from the very devices we use to pray—the iPhone that houses our prayer app, for example—so we need to take special care that we “silence” our devices so they do not distract us.

A Quiet Hour. Having found a quiet place, we also need a quiet, committed period of time. This is the second key. “For most of us it may be harder to find a quiet hour. I do not mean an ‘hour’ of exactly sixty minutes, but a portion of time withdrawn from the engagements of the day, fenced round from the encroachments of business or pleasure, and dedicated to God. … We who live with the clang of machinery and the roar of traffic always in our ears, whose crowding obligations jostle against each other as the hours fly on, are often tempted to withdraw to other uses those moments which we ought to hold sacred to communion with heaven. … Certainly, if we are to have a quiet hour set down in the midst of a hurry of duties, and kept sacred, we must exercise both forethought and self-denial. We must be prepared to forgo many things that are pleasant, and some things that are profitable. We shall have to redeem time, it may be from recreation, or from social interaction, or from study, or from works of benevolence, if we are to find leisure daily to enter into our closet, and having shut the door, to pray to our Father who is in secret.” The most important appointment you make every day is the one you make with God. All of life’s other responsibilities will threaten to encroach upon this time. You will be constantly tempted to neglect it. But it is too good, too sweet, to miss.

A Quiet Heart. With place and time secured, we now face the most difficult task—securing the heart. McIntrye is right when he says “For most of us, perhaps, it is still harder to secure the quiet heart.” Prayer is difficult when we are hurried or surrounded by distractions. Prayer is more difficult still when our hearts are withdrawn, when our hearts are distracted, when our hearts are uninterested in praying. McIntrye shows how this has been the challenge of many great Christians: “Stephen Gurnall acknowledges that it is far more difficult to hang up the big bell than it is to ring it when it has been hung. Mc’Cheyne used to say that very much of his prayer time was spent in preparing to pray. A New England Puritan writes: ‘While I was at the Word, I saw I had a wild heart, which was as hard to stand and abide before the presence of God in an ordinance, as a bird before any man.’ And Bunyan remarks from his own deep experience: ‘O the starting-holes that the heart hath in the time of prayer; none knows how many bye-ways the heart hath and back-lanes, to slip away from the presence of God’.” It is difficult but necessary.

Christian, find a quiet place and a quiet time where you can quiet your heart before God. These are the keys to powerful prayer, to effective personal devotions. If you need further inspiration, consider Jesus himself:

Crowds were thronging and pressing Him; great multitudes came together to hear and to be healed of their infirmities; and He had no leisure so much as to eat. But He found time to pray. And this one who sought retirement with so much solitude was the Son of God, having no sin to confess, no shortcoming to deplore, no unbelief to subdue, no languor of love to overcome. Nor are we to imagine that His prayers were merely peaceful meditations, or rapturous acts of communion. They were strenuous and warlike, from that hour in the wilderness when angels came to minister to the prostrate Man of Sorrows, on to that awful “agony” in which His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood. His prayers were sacrifices, offered up with strong crying and tears.

Now, if it was part of the sacred discipline of the Incarnate Son that He should observe frequent seasons of retirement, how much more is it incumbent on us, broken as we are and disabled by manifold sin, to be diligent in the exercise of private prayer!

 

August 17, 2016

The Prince of Peace once told his disciples “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Many antagonists have interpreted this to mean that Jesus incites his followers to acts of violence—if not physical violence, at least relational. In their view Christians are cruel, Christians are mean, Christians are eager to separate themselves from anyone who disagrees with them.

But any fair reading of the Bible will show that sword is not meant to be understood literally. No, sword is meant metaphorically, as a representation of conflict—the inevitable conflict that will come to Jesus and to those who follow him. Just as a sword divides, Jesus will divide. But who will he divide? What will be the nature of this division? “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” This sword will disrupt and at times even destroy the most natural, precious relationships any of us can have. Fathers and sons and mothers and daughters will be sliced apart, divided from one another.

Jesus is the sword. His gospel is the sword. Every Christian soon finds that the most divisive thing he can do is tell someone else about their sin and their need for a Savior even or especially the ones he loves most. He finds that living for Jesus brings even greater and deeper division. The thrusts of this sword are acts of love, care, concern, pleading. I think of Keith Green and his “Song To My Parents:” “There’s a heaven waiting / For you and me / I know it seems every time we talk / I’m only tryin’ to just make you see / And it’s only that I care / I really only want / Just to see you there.” His relationship with his parents was strained and breaking because he had turned to the Savior and now pleaded with his parents to do the same.

The gospel that is beautiful and transforming to God’s people is ugly and odious to those who are not his people. The gospel that so satisfies those who believe it revolts those who reject it. This difference in taste, this difference in perception, brings division. It divides so that the One who brings peace to the Christian’s soul also brings division to his relationships. One commentator says it well: “Hostility against Christians results not from their making themselves obnoxious but from the sad fact that … sometimes the gospel so alienates unbelievers that they lash out against those who would love them for Christ’s sake.” It isn’t the believer who pushes away the unbeliever, but the unbeliever who pushes away the believer. This distance is caused not by the believer’s hatred but by his love—love that is rejected and despised.

Christian, you cannot be surprised when you experience division. You don’t need to seek this division or long for it or glory in it, but you do need to expect it. Jesus and his gospel bring division between those who embrace him and those who reject him. As Matthew Henry said, “Christ came to give us peace with God, peace in our consciences, peace with our brethren, but in the world ye shall have tribulation.” Even with those you count nearest and dearest to your heart.

August 15, 2016

You have probably bumped into Adam Ford before, either through his comics at Adam4d.com or through his satire at The Babylon Bee. Over the past couple of years I’ve come to enjoy Adam as a friend and recently asked if he’d like to try his hand at another medium by penning a guest article. He obliged and this is the result. I trust you’ll benefit from it.


For 7 years I have lived with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Social Anxiety. It has completely changed my life. I have written and drawn about these things before and the response has proven to me that there are tons of Christians who relate to my story. This probably includes people you know. I also know that many are hesitant to tell others about their struggles. So for them, based on my experience, I compiled a little list of things you should know about your Christian friends and family who struggle with anxiety.

It changes us.

Before I had these issues I was an outgoing, type-A extrovert. I fed off social situations and loved being the center of attention. Today I’m a serious introvert who struggles mightily with social situations, unfamiliar settings, having any attention on me, meeting new people, talking on the phone, or even writing an article like this one. More often than not, I just can’t do it. I’ve been unable to leave my house for stretches of time. I’ve almost crashed my car while having a panic attack. I hate going to the doctor or the barber shop. I can’t do small groups with people I don’t know. I’ve tried so, so hard to go to conferences (I wanted to go to T4G so bad this year!), but I’ve never been able to go through with it. I’m a mess, really.

It’s not a Matthew 6 or Philippians 4 issue—it’s a physiological issue.

Pre-anxiety-me would probably have scoffed at this. But having an anxiety disorder is not the same thing as being a worrywart. Most people with anxiety don’t go to the doctor and say, “I dunno doc, I can’t stop worrying about stuff.” Most of us go to the doctor with troubling physical symptoms, and only then do we learn that anxiety is the cause. In my case, I went to the doctor thinking I was having a stroke or some major brain issue. In reality, I was having my first panic attack. When the doctor told me it was anxiety I thought he was crazy or that he was not taking me seriously. I was convinced I was experiencing medical trauma! My entire central nervous system was telling me so. And then this guy tells me I have anxiety. It was surreal. I’ve had tons of people tell me that this is their story as well. This is not the same type of anxiety that manifests mainly as nagging worry. We have a mental disorder, not a control problem.

We know it doesn’t make any sense.

It doesn’t make sense to you—or us, most of the time. It’s called a disorder because it is a disorder—our brains are malfunctioning. We know our thoughts are illogical. We know there is no good reason for our adrenaline to be pumping like we’re running from a T-Rex. We know it’s just the anxiety messing with us. But knowing that doesn’t help a single bit.

Having anxiety doesn’t make us overly concerned about things as much as it makes our brains short-circuit as a feeling of certain impending doom envelops us. Being in an anxiety pit is a feeling that can’t be explained, and in bad times it’s a feeling that’s with us from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep. It’s our life.

The feeling of doom is very real to us. As real as anything else.

You can tell us everything is OK, and sometimes we know it’s true. But the monster of anxiety will still assure us, louder than anything else, that everything is wrong, nothing is right, every bad thing that could possibly happen is certainly going to happen and there’s simply no other alternative. We are convinced we’ve ruined everything we’ve ever touched, worked on, or looked at. It’s so real and in our state of panic, it feels more real than anything else. Have you ever been in a temporary state of seriously elevated anxiety? That feeling that your heart is in your throat and your stomach has dropped through the ground—it’s that real to us. It’s panic. When panic hits us, it takes over, and invokes an immediate and overwhelming need for escape. We have to live with it.

We’re exhausted all the time.

Think back to a very high-stress situation you’ve been in, when your fight-or-flight response took over. Adrenaline flowing, heart pounding, vision altered. You probably collapsed into your bed shortly thereafter, your body depleted from expending all of its energy reserves. That’s our life when we’re going through a bad anxiety spell. It’s utterly draining to get through even a non-eventful day. Many days we’re ready for bed by lunchtime. Our brains are clouded. We’re experiencing derealization. We can’t think straight. We can’t process information. We can’t focus. We can’t remember things. We’re sorry for sometimes being grumpy or irritable because of this.

Please know we’re not just blowing you off.

We know it seems like we are, but we’re not. We’re sorry for canceling plans. We’re sorry for declining invitations. We’re sorry for leaving early. We’re sorry for not following up. It’s not you, it’s us. It’s our anxiety. Upcoming events, even minor ones, can foster a serious sense of dread for people with anxiety disorders. Sometimes the only way to relieve the pressure so we can get back to living is to eliminate the source. We live in constant fear of anxiety triggers and snowballs. And need to be alone much more than most people. Social situations quickly exhaust us, and we reenergize with solitude. It’s not that we don’t like you.

Having friends and loved ones who are OK with all of this stuff is priceless.

To have those few beloved friends who know we have anxiety and know it makes us act weird, but they’re cool with it and they still love us and pray for us and let us deal with it the best we know how—this is such a blessing from God.

All we can do is be honest with you.

If someone tells you that they have an anxiety disorder, they’re being brave. If someone cancels plans with you and openly tells you it’s because their anxiety is through the roof right now, they’re choosing to tell the truth and be vulnerable with you, instead of trying to save face by telling a half-truth or looking for a scapegoat. The best we can do is be open and honest about our struggles with anxiety. And if we do that, we’re doing well.

The gospel is everything to us.

We live a life in which our feelings actively try to kill us. It’s a strange existence. We know better than most that feelings can be filthy, stinking liars. While subjective feelings try to do us in, the objective truth of the gospel is what sustains us. It’s our life raft.

The fact that God chose us before the foundation of the world, sent His Son to die on a cross for us, taking upon Himself the punishment for our sins, granting us eternal life in perfect bliss with Him in heaven—this is what sustains us through many dark times. I don’t know how I could go on without this truth sustaining me. This is the anchor of our soul: That our status before God is secure because it’s not dependent on our turbulent feelings, it’s dependent on the finished work of Christ, and when God looks at us, even when we’re being smothered by a wet anxiety blanket, he sees a beloved child, perfectly clothed in the full righteousness of Jesus Christ.

When you know we’re struggling, send us a little reminder of the beautiful truth of the gospel. It might be a blessing bigger than you know. Tell us what Christ has done. Tell us “it is finished.” Tell us what He accomplished on our behalf. But please, don’t call—a text or email will do just fine. :)

August 14, 2016

The kingdom of God is in every way opposite to the kingdom of this world. We see this clearly described in a powerful bit of preaching from an old Wesleyan minister. His text was Matthew 16:24-25: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

If God has called you to be truly like Jesus in all your spirit, He will draw you into a life of crucifixion and humility. He will put on you such demands of obedience that you will not be allowed to follow other Christians. In many ways, He seems to let other good people do things which He will not let you do.

Others who seem to be very religious and useful may push themselves, pull wires, and scheme to carry out their plans, but you cannot. If you attempt it, you will meet with such failure and rebuke from the Lord as to make you sorely penitent.

Others can brag about themselves, their work, their successes, their writings, but the Holy Spirit will not allow you to do any such thing. If you begin to do so, He will lead you into some deep mortification that will make you despise yourself and all your good works.

Others will be allowed to succeed in making great sums of money, or having a legacy left to them, or in having luxuries, but God may supply you only on a day-to-day basis, because He wants you to have something far better than gold, a helpless dependence on Him and His unseen treasury.

The Lord may let others be honored and put forward while keeping you hidden in obscurity because He wants to produce some choice, fragrant fruit for His coming glory, which can only be produced in the shade.

God may let others be great, but keep you small. He will let others do a work for Him and get the credit, but He will make you work and toil without knowing how much you are doing. Then, to make your work still more precious, He will let others get the credit for the work which you have done; this to teach you the message of the Cross, humility, and something of the value of being cloaked with His nature.

The Holy Spirit will put a strict watch on you, and with a jealous love rebuke you for careless words and feelings, or for wasting your time, which other Christians never seem distressed over.

So make up your mind that God is an infinite Sovereign and has a right to do as He pleases with His own, and that He may not explain to you a thousand things which may puzzle your reason in His dealings with you.

God will take you at your word. If you absolutely sell yourself to be His slave, He will wrap you up in a jealous love and let other people say and do many things that you cannot. Settle it forever; you are to deal directly with the Holy Spirit, He is to have the privilege of tying your tongue or chaining your hand or closing your eyes in ways which others are not dealt with. However, know this great secret of the Kingdom: When you are so completely possessed with the Living God that you are, in your secret heart, pleased and delighted over this peculiar, personal, private, jealous guardianship and management of the Holy Spirit over your life, you will have found the vestibule of heaven, the high calling of God.

The Bestsellers
August 11, 2016

Today I continue this series of articles that takes a look at books that have been awarded the Platinum or Diamond Sales Awards from the Evangelical Christian Booksellers Association. The Platinum Award recognizes Christian books that have reached 1 million sales while the Diamond Award recognizes the few that have surpassed the 10 million mark. Today we turn our attention to a book that uses a fictional story to make a real-life and deadly serious point.

The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn

Jonathan Cahn was born into a devout, reform Jewish home in New York. He revoked his faith as a child, declaring himself an atheist, but when 20 years old, encountered the Christian faith and determined that Jesus is the Messiah. Today he is President of Hope of the World ministries and both Senior Pastor and Messianic Rabbi of the Beth Israel worship center in Wayne, New Jersey.

Jonathan Cahn

One of Cahn’s particular interests is biblical prophecy and it was this that led him to write his debut novel The Harbinger: The Ancient Mystery that Holds the Secret of America’s Future. It released in 2012 and very quickly made a tremendous splash. With only a few exceptions, the Christian novels that sell a million copies are what we might call didactic or theological novels—novels that use fiction not simply to tell a story but to instruct the reader. The Shack and its redrawing of the Trinity is an obvious example and The Harbinger very clearly falls into this same category.

Within the story are claims that the author insists are factual, biblical, and of critical importance. He claims to reveal an ancient mystery that holds the secret to America’s future. He tells how this truth has been hidden in the pages of the Bible until he uncovered it. The book is essentially a lengthy exposition of Isaiah 9:10: “The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with hewn stones; The sycamores are cut down, but we will replace them with cedars.” It is, in fact, a two-level exposition of this text, applying it both to ancient Israel and to contemporary America. An excerpt of dialog will help show what he believes and what he means to teach:

“But what does America have to do with ancient Israel?”

“Israel was unique among the nations in that it was conceived and dedicated at its foundation for the purposes of God.”

OK…”

“But there was one other—a civilization also conceived and dedicated to the will of God from its conception…America. In fact, those who laid its foundations…”

“The Founding Fathers.”

“No, long before the Founding Fathers. Those who laid America’s foundations saw it as a new Israel, an Israel of the New World. And as with ancient Israel, they saw it as in covenant with God.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning its rise or fall would be dependent on its relationship with God. If it followed His ways, America would become the most blessed, prosperous, and powerful nation on earth. From the very beginning they foretold it. And what they foretold would come true. America would rise to heights no other nation had ever known. Not that it was ever without fault or sin, but it would aspire to fulfill its calling.”

“What calling?”

“To be a vessel of redemption, an instrument of God’s purposes, a light to the world. It would give refuge to the world’s poor and needy, and hope to its oppressed. It would stand against tyranny. It would fight, more than once, against the dark movements of the modern world that threatened to engulf the earth. It would liberate millions. And, as much as it fulfilled its calling or aspired to, it would become the most blessed, the most prosperous, the most powerful, and the most revered nation on the earth—just as its founders had prophesied.”

The correlation between ancient Israel and modern America allows Cahn to read the Bible’s prophecies in such a way that they apply equally to both nations. “Before its end as a nation, there appeared in ancient Israel nine specific warnings and omens of national destruction – These same nine Harbingers are now manifesting in America with profound ramifications for America’s future and end-time prophecy.” These warnings, he says, are real and must be heeded before it is too late.

Sales & Lasting Impact

The HarbingerThe Harbinger was an immediate smash hit. By 2012 it had already crossed the 500,000 mark and the next year it was awarded the Platinum Sales Award for surpassing 1 million sales. It has since more than doubled that total. While sales were brisk and reader reviews were enthusiastic (currently 8,436 at Amazon with an average of 4.5 stars), the book also received a number of serious critiques for both its quality as a novel and its theology. When addressing the latter concern, most critics pointed out that Cahn violates basic and well-established rules of biblical interpretation by applying to America prophecies given to ancient Israel. The Berean Call made this clear: “Cahn gleans nearly all of his correlations connecting America with a prophecy made to Israel from one verse—Isaiah 9:10. To begin with, this verse applies only to the tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, who, along with the Southern Kingdom of Judah, comprise God’s covenant people. All the way through TH , the United States is presented implicitly as a nation in covenant with God. No, God has only one covenant nation—the nation of Israel.”

Many reviewers also pointed to the dubious correlation between words recorded in the Bible and historical events that have since taken place in or to America. “The nine harbingers are selectively (and erroneously) taken from Scripture and are then given life by the comparison to similar things surrounding 9/11, which are then identified with Isaiah 9:10.” But, of course, similarity does not indicate identity.* One reviewer concluded that “The Harbinger is a distraction from properly understanding the Word of God, particularly prophecy and so can legitimately be characterized as dangerous. It conveys what the author believes is a prophetic message, but the book clearly does not meet the tests for a prophetic Word from God.”

Since the Award

Not surprisingly, the success of The Harbinger generated some unique opportunities for Cahn to spread his message. At the United States Capitol Building he spoke before a number of national leaders after being introduced by Mike Huckabee who described The Harbinger as “remarkable,” “soul-stirring,” “stunning,” and “spell-binding.” Joseph Farah of WorldNetDaily produced a two-hour program featuring Cahn which further popularized his work. He was also featured on The 700 Club where Pat Robertson praised the book and recommended it to his viewers.

The Harbinger spawned a number of related resources, the first of which was The Harbinger Companion, a study guide of sorts. In 2014 Cahn released The Mystery of the Shemitah: The 3,000-Year-Old Mystery That Holds the Secret of America’s Future, the World’s Future, and Your Future! and this September is set to release The Book of Mysteries, a daily devotional in which “the reader will discover life-transforming secrets, mind-blowing realities, and heart-changing revelations in such mysteries as the Face in the Waters, the Leper King, the Land of Gezarah, the Secret of the Third Prince, the House of Spirits, the Mystery of the Rains, How to Alter Your Past, the Second Scroll, the Similitude, the Mystery of the Eighth Day, and much more.”

A Personal Perspective

I read The Harbinger after receiving a number of requests for a review. I found it difficult to read as a novel and utterly exasperating as a work of theology, though I was at least glad to see that the author included a clear and substantial call to believe the gospel. I mostly left the heavy lifting to others while focusing on a couple of salient points, the first of which is one of the benefits of writing fiction: “What stood out to me as I read The Harbinger … is that writing fiction allows the author to dictate his reader’s reaction. He can present a mundane fact and follow it with a gasp or an expression of awe as if the reader has missed the obvious importance. This is something Cahn does often and to his advantage. What seems like a great stretch in logic can be rationalized or given increased credence by a character’s excitement.” It’s a tactic he uses regularly and effectively.

I concluded this way: “It’s not that The Harbinger has nothing good to say, but that so many of even those good things are built upon a poor and even dangerous foundation. The book depends upon a fundamentally flawed way of understanding and applying the Bible, treating the Bible as a mystery to be solved rather than a clear and sufficient explanation of what we are to believe concerning God and how we can live in this world to his glory. There is no good reason to read or recommend this book.” I stand by those words and assume it applies equally to Cahn’s other works.

 

3 Ways College Students Can Do More Better
August 10, 2016

My friend Peter Krol loves the Bible, he loves college students, and through the ministry DiscipleMakers he loves to bring the two of them together so college students can better understand, appreciate, and obey the Bible. I recently spoke to Peter about some of the challenges faced by college students today and asked whether the principles I lay out in my book on productivity might be helpful to them. In response he kindly wrote this article telling why productivity is for college students, too.


God Almighty’s intention to bless every nation has always included young adults and students.

Remember Joseph? Kidnapped and sold into slavery at age 17, he spent the twilight of his teen years serving, and then managing, the household of Pharaoh’s bodyguard. Unjustly accused, he found himself in prison for a few more years. But “the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed” (Gen 39:23). These years became his training ground, preparing him to manage Pharaoh’s food stores and rescue the world from disaster. Facing his kidnappers, he could later say with confidence: “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen 45:5).

Remember Daniel? Also kidnapped and enslaved at a young age, he was forcibly enrolled in Babylon U to study the literature and language of the Chaldeans. After three years at this indoctrination center public institution, he outshone the civil servants and imperial advisors of his day by a factor of ten (Dan 1:20). He outlived and outwitted not only his royal captor, but that king’s successor, and the next as well. Daniel would see the empire itself fall and another take its place (Dan 1:21).

Remember Mary? This favored one, newly engaged and planning a wedding, would certainly have qualified for student loans, had such things existed in the days when Gabriel visited her with life-changing news (Luke 1:26-33).

Of course, these three twenty-somethings helped prepare the world for another young savior. A son of Joseph and Mary would be accused unjustly. And Persian magi, likely informed by the handed-down teachings of Daniel the Wise, would bow before the one born King of the Jews. The young Jesus would himself increase in wisdom and in stature, in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52), thus preparing for his most fruitful years.

In short, God’s agenda to bless all nations has always involved motivated young adults and college students. Perhaps you’ll be one of them.

Do More Better

In his book Do More Better, Tim proposes a vision and a system for biblical productivity. The vision is to bring the greatest glory to God and the greatest good to mankind. The system involves applying good tools (calendar, tasks, and information) to your areas of responsibility (personal, family, church, work, etc.). The vision and the system work just as well for college students as for other busy adults; college students will just need to account for the seasonal nature of university life. As you prepare for the coming school year, here are a few suggestions to help you implement the system.

Establish Work Hours

Many students complain about how busy they are, in part because too few of them view their studies as they’d view a job. You can buck this trend. Your chief identity may be “college student,” but that doesn’t mean your studies should rule your life—any more than your future career would rule your life. If you plan to reserve time for hobbies, personal growth, church involvement, and family life then, you should begin to do so now.

In my previous post about the end of the semester, I suggested designating a workweek of not more than 60 hours. When I was a student, my work hours were 9-6 Monday through Friday (with an hour lunch break) and 9-3 on Saturdays. I avoided 8 am classes like an evil stepsister. A few semesters required evening courses, and I would adjust my work hours accordingly to buy back some personal time.

But establishing work hours is the easy part. The hard part is consistently treating them as work hours. This means that, when you are “on the clock,” you should be working. Strain out all distractions. Find good places to study. Always work on the next thing, even if it’s not due right away. Resist the urge to goof around if nothing demands your attention.

If you have a class at 9 am and another at 11 am, don’t squander the hour in between. Find a quiet lounge or unused classroom somewhere between the two buildings, and put the hour to good use. Someday, when you have many demands on your time, and children interrupting you at every turn, you’ll appreciate having learned the skill of squeezing the life out of your sporadic down time.

Here’s the beauty of having defined work hours: When they’re over, you don’t have to do any more work that day. Without a trace of guilt, you can set the schoolwork aside and do things you enjoy. Spend time with people. Get to know your hall mates. Attend or lead a Bible study. Join a small group at your church. Participate in a few clubs. Read something just for fun, or go for a jog.

Commit to a Few Extracurriculars, Including Church

This principle follows from the first one. If you establish defined work hours, you’ll be free to commit to other things in the off hours. You can keep your promises to attend extracurricular meetings. You can join and serve your church-away-from-home.  You can disciple and be discipled. You can learn a new sport or promote an important cause. You can get to know your peers deeply and win some to Christ. You can get adequate rest.

Before the semester begins, define your areas of responsibility. Sample areas could include: church, campus fellowship, sports team, special interest club, or residential life. Create a “project” for each area, with a view toward developing as a young adult before the Lord.

As you organize your tasks within each area, you’ll be more likely to avoid some of the extremes:

  • Recluses make Minecraft, Netflix, and YouTube their only friends.
  • Resume-builders join every club while committing to none.
  • Relational-types can’t turn down an opportunity to hang out, have fun, or go to a party.

What you do now sets you up for sustainable long-term service to Christ. What will help you grow into a mature, thinking Christian adult and a magnetic influencer of others? Give yourself to those things.

Blitz the Task Manager Early

On or near the first day of class, enter your complete class syllabi into your task manager (such as Todoist). It may feel costly to take 2 or 3 hours to do this. But when you combine these documents into a single task manager, you’ll know, on any day of the semester, exactly what is the next thing you should work on. You’ll save loads of time—and retain peace of mind—from week to week.

Don’t Give Up

In Do More Better, Tim recommends a daily and a weekly review of tasks, appointments, and priorities. If you set up the system before the semester begins, and stick to it week in and week out, your semester just might go smoother than a greased watermelon down a bowling alley.

But you’ll still have crunch times, tempting you to abandon “the system” in favor of “the urgent.” Some weeks will have three or more exams. Or your professors will conspire to overload you with unannounced assignments. Or group projects will involve fellow students who don’t pull their own weight. Or a family crisis will prevent you from focusing on anything for a few days.

During these crunch times, remember that God has given you this lot. And he makes everything beautiful in its time (Eccl 3:10-11). In other words: You are not God, and your life does not consist in the abundance of your pain points. Because God never sleeps, you can sleep (Ps 121). Because God is always working, you can get some rest (John 5:17). The world will continue turning, and life will go on.

Get some help to figure out the next thing, and do it. As soon as you can, get back on the daily and weekly reviews. But if you do abandon the system, you can always learn from the experience and try it again next semester. Don’t give up on it altogether. There’s too much to be done.

Avoid Vanity

“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:1-2).

You don’t need to dedicate four years of your life to vanity. Productivity is for college students, too. May the Lord use these skills to prepare you for more fruitful service to him in the years ahead.

Peter Krol is president of DiscipleMakers campus ministry. He blogs at Knowable Word, where he helps ordinary people learn to study the Bible.

Rio Olympics
August 09, 2016

Did you know that the location of the 2016 Olympiad, watched over by the iconic Cristo Redentor, was also home to a little-known but early Calvinistic mission? My friend David Hall (whose church hosts the annual Reformation Worship conference) recently forwarded a fascinating article about it. I share it today so you can learn about a forgotten piece of history.

Rio’s Guanabara Bay was the site of an early Genevan mission in the 1550s. As you watch this present Olympiad, you might appreciate some of the history behind the 1558 Confession of Guanabara in Brazil. The site of the first Reformed confession in the Americas is also a reminder to be ready to confess our faith at any time. Some spiritual athletes suffered much more than fatigue and muscle strain at Rio 450 years ago.

You may have heard illustrations like this one: what if armed guards burst in, arrested you, and at threat of your life, asked if you would stick to the Christian faith or not? It’s not that hard to imagine such when you look at Muslim threats and beheadings of Syrian Christians, French priests, or others. There are some, in our day, who are challenged: will you continue to confess Christ? Are you always ready? If terrorists broke in to your home or Sunday School class, would they see Christianity? Are you trained sufficiently to voice it under pressure?

In 1557, a group of Protestants left Calvin’s Geneva to help settle part of Brazil. The leader was a wealthy merchant from Geneva, and a professing follower of Calvin, Villeaignon (alternatively spelled “Villegagnon”). Along with him were dozens of other Genevans, who landed in the bay of Rio de Janerio and settled a small island off the coast. Things went well for a while. However, the leader had—along the way—flipped back to Roman Catholicism, and he grew jealous and suspicious of the other Calvinists. He had the disciples of Calvin arrested, charged with treason, and sought to punish them under Catholic law.

The way he did this was to arrest them, lock them in a room, and in under 4 hours, they had to write out a confession of their beliefs on a list of topics. If they were Roman Catholic, they might live but could be sent home. Conversely, if they were Protestants, they would be killed. They were ordered to commit their beliefs to writing. The result was an 18-paragraph confession that was chock full of Scripture (it was closed book; they were allowed no Bibles), even citing Augustine, Cyprian, and a few other well-known religious leaders. Within 12 hours after this confession was written, three of its authors were promptly hanged. The authors knew they were writing and signing their own death sentence—and the others later were sent back to Geneva.

Guess what passage they used as the beginning of their Confession of Guanabara? They used the well-known verse in 1 Peter 3:15. They were always ready to give an answer for the hope that was within them and with gentleness. Their rapidly drafted confession began with these words:

According to the doctrine of St. Peter, the apostle, in his first letter, all Christians must be ready to give an answer of the hope that they possess, with all meekness and benevolence; we, the undersigned, Mr. Villegagnon, unanimously (according to the measure of grace upon us bestowed by the Lord), are giving an answer, point by point, as you have thus requested and ordained, beginning with the first article:

  1. We believe in one God, immortal, invisible, creator of heaven and earth, and of all things, visible and invisible, who is identified in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; who constitute nothing else but the same substance in essence, eternal and of the same will; the Father, source and beginning of all good; the Son, eternally generated by the Father, who, in the fullness of time, manifested Himself in the flesh to the world, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, was born of the Virgin Mary, made under the law to rescue those that were under it, in order that we would be received by adoption as God’s own sons; the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son, teacher of all truth, speaking through the mouths of the prophets, bringing the things that were said by our Lord Jesus Christ to the apostles. He is the only comforter in affliction, imparting steadfastness and perseverance in all good.

We believe that it is necessary to worship solely, perfectly love, cry to and call upon the majesty of God in faith, and in a personal manner.

Their confession continued on to affirm the true nature of Christ, the bondage of the human will, the nature of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, a biblical view of divorce, and other basic Christian tenets. Those Rio athletes were ready and gave a clear confession.

Are you ready? Do you know your beliefs? What if at machete point you or I were asked to give an account for the hope that is within you? 

These Reformed confessionalists exhibited every bit as much sacrifice and dedication as the finest Olympian. They received a crown that will not fade.

Romans 8
August 07, 2016

Sometimes I go back and read a book I meant to read in the past or one I should have read in the past. Such was the case recently with Derek Thomas’ How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home, an explanation and celebration of Romans chapter 8 which is without doubt one of the most celebrated and significant chapters in all of the Bible. If you know this chapter you know the heart of the Bible. If you know this chapter you know the gospel.

No chapter of Scripture reaches the same sustained levels or covers the same ground as Romans 8. It is a description of the Christian life from death to life, from justification to glorification, from trial and suffering to the peace and tranquility of the new heaven and new earth. It contains exhortations to persevere as well as reassurances of God’s preservation of His people. And no chapter has been cited more than this one in expounding the application of redemption in the life of an individual (the ordo salutis). In short, Romans 8 gives us a picture of salvation in its completeness. For this reason, I have titled this little book How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home.

Here are a few choice quotes that I hope will spark your interest in reading and studying Romans 8 and perhaps even picking up a copy of Thomas’s book:

  • There are only two ways of salvation: by the law or by grace. If salvation is to happen by the law, perfect obedience is necessary. There can be no blemishes or shortcomings, for the law will never show mercy. It knows nothing of grace or forgiveness. It demands perfection, because whoever transgresses in one tiny detail transgresses the whole of God’s law. … It is vitally important to grasp exactly how much the law demands if we think we are going to be in a right relationship with God through law-keeping
  • The law cannot put us in a right standing with God. It knows how to do only one thing: condemn us. It is relentless and unforgiving in this task. It is not because the law itself is sinful or desires our condemnation. The law says, ‘Do this and live,’ but we cannot. The problem lies in us, not in the law. The law is good but we are sinful. In other words, the law is ‘weakened by the flesh’ (Rom. 8:3). It is not the law that is at fault. The problem lies in our inability to do what the law demands.
  • Even in the midst of worship, we find our minds wandering and our hearts engaged in something (or someone) else. Our greatest sins occur in church.
  • Even as mature Christians, we need to remind ourselves continually of the basis of our acceptance—it is entirely because of what Christ has done for us. Thus, faith in Christ is not a onetime event; we must live by faith each day.
  • Grateful law-keeping is the saved sinner’s response to received grace. The rest of our lives are a way of saying, ‘Thank you.’
  • Grace must raise the temptation to think we can sin as we please; if it does not, we have not understood the true extent of grace.
  • The key to subduing the downward drag of sin in our lives is to know the impulse of gratitude that follows the experience of forgiveness and reconciliation. Law-keeping out of love is the true path of holiness.
  • A relentless anti-God energy is at work in the minds of unbelievers, distracting, deceiving, and dragging down every thought into a grave.
  • There must be a radical destruction of sin. Kill it; strangle it; starve it of oxygen until it cannot breathe again. There is no other way.
  • Unless our motivation in pursuing holiness is gospel-based and grace-centered, our efforts toward holiness become attempts to win God’s favor.
  • The word legalism is overused. Sometimes I tell my students at the seminary where I teach that they may use this word once a year and no more.
  • Being able to say, ‘Abba! Father!’ (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6) is the heart of Christianity and our greatest privilege.
  • Our faith is not the ground of God’s love. God’s love—eternal love—is the ground of our faith.
  • Nothing can blow you over when you are inside the walls of Romans 8:28. Outside of Romans 8:28 all is confusion and anxiety and fear and uncertainty.
  • Our salvation is bound up not in something intangible and impersonal, but in a person-in Jesus Christ.

Derek Thomas