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Do Not Provoke Your Children
May 16, 2016

It’s a word, it’s an idea, that I have wanted to explore for some time. Within the New Testament there are two clear instructions to parents and this word features prominently in both of them. It is the word provoke. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” while Colossians 3:21 echoes “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Risking the wrath of expositors everywhere, I created a mash-up of the two that reads like this: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger lest they become discouraged, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” I’d like to suggest a number of ways that we, as parents, may sinfully, unjustly provoke our children. But before we do that, let’s walk through these two passages together.

Fathers. The first word in both passages is Fathers. While it is fathers who are addressed here, most commentators acknowledge that it is fair to see these instructions as being written to both parents. Greek society was patriarchal so Paul addressed the mothers through the fathers. We are on good ground allowing the verse to speak equally to both parents.

Do not provoke … to anger. Both passages contain the same exhortation: Do not provoke, though Ephesians adds to anger. Provoke is the kind of word you might use when you kindle a fire into flame—you begin with something small and provoke it into a roaring fire. Or from another angle, it is the kind of word you might use when you are getting your children all excited, chasing them around and tickling them until you provoke them to being all wound up. Here, of course, Paul is using it in a negative sense of stirring, exasperating, or irritating them toward anger or bitterness. Parents must not provoke their children to anger.

I want to make an important application: Parents can cause their children to become angry and bitter. I’m sure you know this and I can assure you that they know this. But I think we can go even a step further to say there are times when our children are justified in their anger toward us. There are times when we so provoke our children, we so exasperate them, that anger is the fitting response. It may even be the right response if that anger is expressed in righteous ways. There may be times when your children’s anger toward you is more righteous than your actions or attitude toward them.

Next we read, lest they become discouraged. A discouraged child is one who has lost heart. He is so beaten down that he has lost hope, he has lost motivation, he doesn’t care anymore. One Bible translates it, “lest he get discouraged and quit trying.” The idea here is that you can so beat down your children that they stop trying to please you. Maybe your demands are arbitrary or unfair, maybe you never praise your children and take joy in them, maybe you live hypocritically before them with higher expectations for them than for yourself. Whatever the case, they eventually stop caring and stop trying. Douglas Moo says, “Paul does not want to see the children of Christian families disciplined to such an extent that they ‘lose heart’ and simply give up trying to please their parents.”

Putting it all together, God exhorts parents in this way: Parents, do not provoke your children to anger lest they become discouraged. On the heels of that exhortation he offers a solution: “But bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Do not beat down, but raise up. Do not provoke with impatience and injustice, but instead shepherd with nurture and tenderness, and do this through discipline and instruction.

These two words are key: discipline and instruction. Between them they offer words of training and correction, words of admonition and rebuke, words that express both the positive and the negative sides of leadership. You need to correct your children, sometimes with a look, sometimes with a word, sometimes with a timeout, and sometimes with a spank. That is the negative side of parenting. But positively, you also need to teach them, explaining to them what is right, demonstrating how they are to live. This little pair of words covers both the positive and the negative sides of learning and growing, helping our children go from folly to wisdom, from childishness to maturity, from self-centeredness to loving others, and, we trust, from sin to salvation.

Parents, do not provoke your children to anger lest they become discouraged, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. With all of this in place, we are prepared to look at how parents may sinfully, unjustly provoke their children to anger and discouragement. We will turn to that tomorrow. (See 7 Ways Parents Provoke Our Children)

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The Joy of Discipline
May 13, 2016

We don’t accomplish much in life apart from self-discipline. Discipline plays an especially important role in life’s difficult or full-out unpleasant tasks, in those things we know we ought to do but struggle to accomplish. We discipline ourselves to get exercise and lose weight. We discipline ourselves to update the family budget on a regular basis. We discipline ourselves to read instead of watch television or to get up early instead of sleep in. In so many areas we rely on discipline to help us complete our most difficult or least favorite tasks.

In general, we discipline ourselves to avoid the negative consequences of a lack of discipline. We know that we will suffer if we don’t exercise, if we don’t manage our finances, if we never crawl out of bed. If these things were pleasant, they wouldn’t require so much effort, right? We don’t need discipline to eat chocolate but to not eat chocolate. Discipline is associated with self-denial and it is not surprising, then, that it tends to have negative connotations.

But sometimes it really just comes down to how we frame it, because discipline is equally important when it comes to life’s pleasant tasks. We don’t just need to discipline ourselves away from unpleasantness but toward joy. Discipline allows us to picture desirable outcomes, to form a plan to get there, to take the necessary steps, and to experience the joys we long for. Discipline is good because discipline delivers joy.

Each night before I go to sleep I make sure I kiss Aileen and pray with her. I didn’t always do these things, but over time developed them as disciplines. Why? Because I know each of them brings joy. It brings joy to be relationally connected with her and there is something about that little kiss that is a reminder of what we share together. It also forces us to let go of petty squabbles or at least to say, “Maybe we can’t fix this before we go to sleep tonight, but let’s at least remember that each of us is in this for the other and that we will work it out.” It brings joy for us to have a shared relationship with the Lord, and so together we commit our day and our night to him. We developed these disciplines for our joy. We saw a joyful outcome we wanted and developed the disciplines that would get us there and keep us there.

It’s not just in marriage. I have disciplined myself to open the Bible with my family each morning so we can experience joy together—the joy of hearing from God together as a family. I believe as well that it will be a key to the future joy of my children as they respond to God’s voice, God’s Word, in repentance and faith. I also discipline myself to have personal devotions because it too brings joy. I see the joyful outcome of a closer relationship with God and greater obedience to his Word and work backward to the means that will get me there—spending time hearing from him and speaking to him.

When we associate discipline only with avoidance of negative outcomes we rob ourselves of a means God uses to promote our joy and ultimately our joy in him. Where would God have you develop a discipline for your joy?

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Why I Am Not
May 12, 2016

I am a person who has deep religious beliefs—beliefs that give shape to my convictions which in turn give shape to my life. My faith takes the place of utter centrality so that I am who I am and I live how I live because of it. You cannot understand me, I cannot understand myself, apart from my faith.

If faith so shapes me that it works itself out in my every thought and every action, if it so shapes me that I cannot understand myself apart from it, I am responsible to carefully examine the nature of that faith. In an age when so many consider religious beliefs as subjective and irrational, I am convinced that any conviction worth holding must stand up to serious scrutiny. So how did I come by my faith? Why do I believe so strongly in the existence of a God instead of doubting or denying it? Why am I Protestant instead of Roman Catholic? I might even ask why I am Baptist instead of Presbyterian or why I believe the miraculous gifts of the Spirit have ceased instead of continued.

This article serves as the introduction to a series through which I will examine a number of my beliefs—the beliefs that give shape to my life. I will do this by beginning with my most foundational and unshakeable beliefs and then progressing to those that, though still important, are less central. My goal is not so much to persuade you to believe what I believe but to remind myself of my beliefs and how I came to them.

Perhaps I can illustrate by having you picture a series of concentric circles. At the very center is a small circle that represents the most fundamental belief of all: Christianity in contrast to atheism. The next circle will be slightly wider and represent Protestantism in contrast to Roman Catholicism. Beyond that will be a circle that represents Reformed theology in contrast to Arminian theology. And it will go on like that until we reach categories where I have still had to make a decision even though the distinctions are far more nuanced and both are well within the bounds of orthodox Christianity. If the first couple of options distinguish between accepting and denying the gospel of Jesus Christ, the other options simply distinguish between different ways of understanding the gospel and its implications.

The categories I use will reflect those times in my faith journey in which I have had to choose between two opposing options. I could not be a Christian atheist so had to choose to be a Christian or an atheist; I could not be a Protestant Catholic so, again, had to choose to be a Protestant or a Roman Catholic. Because the categories I use will reflect my own faith journey, I will not look at categories that never seriously confronted me, such as Christianity in contrast to Islam or Protestant Christianity in contrast to Mormonism. In each case I will frame my examination by telling why I am not this but that. And in each case I want to be honest, admitting where my beliefs are strongly shaped by evidence and contemplation and where they are shaped by inertia, assumption, or lethargy. 

Here is how I expect the series to shape up (though I may add or take away as it progresses):

  • Why I am not atheist
  • Why I am not Roman Catholic
  • Why I am not liberal
  • Why I am not Arminian
  • Why I am not Presbyterian
  • Why I am not dispensational
  • Why I am not egalitarian
  • Why I am not continuationist

I will kick things off next week by explaining why I am not atheist. I hope you’ll consider reading along and I hope you’ll find it profitable.

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5 Questions To Ask of a Book
May 09, 2016

They are far and away the most common questions I receive (beyond, perhaps, how to pronounce my name—it rhymes with “valleys”): Can you tell me anything about this author? Have you heard of this book? Is it safe to read? Sometimes people ask to avoid wasting time or money on a book that would not be worth either one, and sometimes they ask to avoid the influence of false doctrine. Since I can’t answer all the questions, and since I can’t know all the books and authors, I’ll offer a few tips on sorting it all out and do so in the form of 5 questions you can ask of any book.

Who wrote you? Familiarize yourself with trustworthy authors. As a reader you should have your list of favorites, the short list of people you regard as especially influential and trustworthy. I believe there is a lot of value in tracking a few authors through the course of their career and reading—or at least considering—every one of their books. This is difficult with an R.C. Sproul since if you begin today you are 100 books behind, but much easier with younger authors who have a shorter list of works. Don’t know where to begin? Then ask a friend or pastor. Or ask me. I’d try people like H.B. Charles Jr., Kevin DeYoung, Gloria Furman, Russell Moore, Andy Naselli, Barnabas Piper, or Jen Wilkin—people like that. They have each written a few books but not so many that you’ll need to spend two years catching up, and they are all likely to write quite a few more. Find “your” authors and read what they write. But then also track who endorses their books, who speaks at conferences with them, and so on. Start to look for connections.

Who published you? You should familiarize yourself with Christian publishers and learn which of them are especially trustworthy. There are quite a lot of excellent publishers whose books may vary by quality and secondary theological issues but which will never fall outside the conservative Evangelical stream. Learn to trust these ones. Among them are Banner of Truth, Christian Focus, Crossway, Evangelical Press, Matthias Media, P&R, Reformation Heritage, Reformation Trust, The Good Book Company, (and, I hope, Cruciform Press since I was involved in founding it). If they publish it, you can be quite confident in it. Other publishers publish a much wider range of titles and, depending on the company, the imprint, or the department, their titles may range from very good to quite concerning or from very good to outright heretical. For these you will need to exercise a bit more caution. Here I refer to IVP, Eerdmans, Multnomah, Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, as well as the faith or Christian imprints of large mainstream publishers (Harper Collins, Penguin, and so on).

Who endorsed you? If you don’t know the author or publisher, or you are still looking for more information, check the endorsements or, more properly, the endorsers. Look there for trusted or at least familiar names. The value of endorsements is not so much in what the endorser says but in the fact that the endorser is willing to put his or her name to the other person’s work. Your favorite and most trusted authors can also become your most trusted endorsers. Not only that, but their friends can become your friends. I have learned that there are some authors who are very slow to put their name to a book so have an extra measure of trust for them. Names that mean a lot to me include: Randy Alcorn, Thabiti Anyabwile, Nancy Leigh Demoss, Mark Dever, Gloria Furman, Mary Kassian, John MacArthur, Al Mohler, Andy Naselli, Burk Parsons, John Piper, and R.C. Sproul. There are others who endorse so many books across such a wide spectrum that I no longer put much stock in their endorsements, but it would be inappropriate for me to say who they are.

Who reviewed you? Avid readers read more than books—they also read reviews of books. Reviews are helpful in giving an in-depth overview of a book or providing some in-depth engagement with it. They also serve to keep you updated on books you have not read. As you commit to reading more and more, begin to find reviewers you can trust. When I haven’t read a book, I find myself looking to see if it has been reviewed by Aaron Armstrong, Books at a Glance, David Steele, The Gospel Coalition, Themelios, or any of my favorite bloggers. For children’s books I look to Redeemed Reader. WORLD magazine is also a useful source if you have a subscription. For general market books I am an avid reader of the book sections of New York Times and Macleans.

Who will I find in your endnotes? If all else fails, look at the book’s sources. Few books stand on their own and most authors rely on work that has already been written. You can learn a lot by flipping to the endnotes to see who the author is quoting and interacting with. Look especially for your favorite authors and publishers. If it is a book on the spiritual disciplines and contains hundreds of quotes from Richard Foster it will be a very different kind of book than if it contains plenty of quotes from, say, Donald Whitney. A book on preaching that draws from Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John MacArthur will be very different from one that draws from Joel Osteen and Rob Bell. The more you familiarize yourself with Christian books, the more information you will be able to glean this way.

All of this is designed to help you filter the few books you will read from the thousands you could read. Not only that, but it is designed to help you get a sense of what a book is all about before you begin to read it. When you are quite new to Christian books, there is value in choosing your books carefully to avoid bad influences. As you familiarize yourself with doctrine and as you better ground yourself in truth, you will become better equipped to exercise discernment when reading and to read “bad” books without fear of being unduly influenced by unworthy books.

What Should We Do with Books by Fallen Leaders
May 06, 2016

Today’s article was sparked by a question from a long-time reader of the site. “With the sad removal from ministry of yet another prominent pastor, I’ve been wondering how we are to view their ministry retrospectively. What do we do with their books? With their sermons? With their tweets and blog posts?” He told of a Christian bookseller who has been left with entire boxes of titles by an author who was removed from ministry. Would it be wrong to try to sell them? Would it be right for him to take the loss and to throw them away? The questions remind me of a gloomy photo snapped outside what was formerly Mars Hill Ballard’s building, a photo of a dumpster filled to overflowing with rain-drenched copies of Mark Driscoll’s A Call to Resurgence.

What do we do with material associated with a leader who has since justly been removed from his position after committing some act or pattern of disqualifying immorality? What should we do? I am not convinced there are crystal-clear and perfectly objective standards here, but let me tell you how I think it through, especially as it pertains to purchasing, reading, reviewing, or recommending books.

The first thing that must be said is that immorality does not negate truth, even truth that is in the books of leaders who have fallen. What was true when the pastor had a good reputation is true when he has a poor reputation. This means that a book does not suddenly transform from orthodox to heretical on the basis of the author’s immorality. What was true before is true now, what was brilliant before is brilliant now, what was mediocre or muddled before remains mediocre or muddled now. The leader’s actions have no effect on the objective truth or error of his material.

But then we must also say this: Immorality negates the qualifications of the author. When it comes to Christian leaders, our concern must be for character far more than ability or any other quality. I recently dedicated an entire series of articles to Christian character, explaining that while Christian character is meant to be displayed by all Christians it must be exemplified by church leaders. In almost every case, the leaders who fall are local church pastors or elders and called to exemplify such character. A Christian leader needs to acknowledge that his qualifications are inextricably bound up in his character. If it is proven that he lacks godly character, his local church is right to exercise God’s authority by removing him from positions of influence. It stands to reason that the rest of us, those of us who are beyond that local church, do well to follow the lead of its elders.

Also, not all disqualifiers are the same. Some disqualifiers are rightly seen as permanently ending a leader’s ministry and this is especially the case when the leader is unrepentant or when he flees from the authority of his church or denomination. But there are other disqualifiers that can be addressed over a period of time under the care and authority of a local church in such a way that the leader can return to positions of influence.

Then I think of another factor: A book is closely associated with its author. Recommending a book is usually tacitly recommending the book’s author. After all, to learn from a book is to learn from its author. To commend a book is in some way to commend its author. In the case of a man who has fallen, others have been caught up in his fall and often damaged by his actions. Recommending a book by an abusive pastor may be unkind to those he has abused and may subtly cast doubt on the judgment of his local church. It may be that the way to love others, and especially those hurt by the fallen leader, is to keep a distance from his material.

On a similar note, a book reflects its author. A marriage book written by an adulterer probably reflects his lack of self-control, a leadership book written by an abuser probably reflects his domineering, a doctrine book written by an apostate probably contains the seeds of his apostasy. Choose very carefully who influences you.

And here is another factor: A book is a means to pay an author. To purchase a book is to give money to its author. Though authors usually make only a small portion of a book’s purchase price, the fact remains that there is a financial transaction between the author and reader. In this way, purchasing a book by a fallen pastor is a means of offering him monetary support.

Let’s add this: Without immoral men we would have to gut the Bible. Think about a Bible that excised every word spoken or written by an adulterer. We would have to remove every word spoken by Abraham and Jacob, just to start. Then we’d have to get rid of most of the Psalms and Proverbs and, of course, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes would have to go as well. If we expanded from adultery to other serious sins, we’d have to remove Isaac because of his repeated deceptions, Peter because of his denial of Jesus, Jonah because of his disobedience to God’s revealed will, and Samuel because of his protection of his wayward sons. Soon we’d have almost no Bible left. I will grant that these men were speaking and writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and, therefore, not the ultimate authors of their words, but the fact remains that God has often chosen to use fallen and immoral men. I don’t really know how this one factors in, but felt it was right to mention it, even if only to show the complexity of what might seem like a straightforward question.

In the end, exercise wisdom, heed conscience, and take cues from the local church. Consider all of these factors, trust that God delights to give you wisdom, carefully heed conscience when it calls or accuses, and be willing to follow the cues of the author’s church or denominational authorities.

As for me, I find it difficult to read books by authors who have disgraced and disqualified themselves. Depending on the kind of immorality he displayed, I may even get rid of his books. We of all generations are so blessed by good books that I see little reason to even consider ones written by leaders who have made a trainwreck of their ministries. I can’t think of a single category of book that needs the work of a fallen author. There are other great books on leadership, other ones on marriage, on prayer and suffering and Christian living. I do not need to rely on the books of those who have justly been removed from ministry. Neither do I need to read or recommend them.

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50 People 1 Question
May 04, 2016

Last month the Jubilee Project published a short video in which they ask 50 people 1 simple question: If you could be any age, what age would you be? They ask the question of children and seniors and people of every age between. The answers are not surprising—not surprising in a culture that so honors autonomy and freedom, that so honors youth. Most wanted to be in their late teens or early twenties so they could live or relive the days of youth, the days when they were young and energetic and care-free, the days before the onset of so many of life’s regrets and responsibilities.

If you could be any age, what age would you be?

As long as I can remember I have wanted to be older, older than right then, older than right now. When I was sixteen I wanted to be seventeen so I could get out of high school and get started on college. When I was seventeen I wanted to be twenty so I could be done with college and move on to a career. I finished high school a year ahead of my peers and university two years ahead mostly because I was stretching and straining to be older.

If I could be any age, what age would I be? I certainly wouldn’t be a day younger than my current age of 39. When I look back at 16 and 18 and 21 and the other significant milestones of youth, I have no desire to return to them. I have some fond memories, to be sure. I might go back and relive certain moments just to feel and experience them again. But I have no desire to go back, no desire to be young.

I have no desire to be young because I treasure what has come with being old—or older, at least. An 18-year-old body is terrible value in exchange for a 39-year-old mind. A 19-year-old’s autonomy makes a woefully poor trade for a 39-year-old’s Christian maturity. A 21-year-old’s optimism is absurd in light of a 39-year-old’s realism. Even a newlywed’s romance, while genuine, is shallow in comparison to the depth and stability that comes with the passage of years and decades. It is maturity I have always longed for, maturity I have always sought after—maturity of mind, spirit, relationship. There is no path to maturity but the path that leads through time. To go back would be to forsake hard-won maturity, to even desire to go back would be to prefer folly over wisdom. I would never want to do it. Those days may have been good, but these days are far better.

How old would I want to be? 39 at the very least, but probably even older than that, older than I am now. It’s not so much that I want the years, but that I long for the character, the maturity, and the closeness to Christ that comes with the years. I will gladly take the years if only they make me more like Christ and draw me closer to Christ. That’s the best exchange of all.

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Tim and Aileen
May 03, 2016

One of the things I love to do for fun is read, ponder, and memorize poetry. One of my favorites is “I Wish I Could Remember That First Day” by the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti. In this poem she gives voice to a woman thinking back to the first time she met the man she would eventually fall in love with. She expresses remorse that she cannot remember more about the day and the occasion. She knows it happened but is grieved at the realization that she can’t recall details—even basic ones like whether it was cloudy or sunny, whether it was summer or winter. But that lapse of memory should be no surprise, right? There was no reason to take note of the details because there was no way of knowing that this man and, therefore this occasion, would eventually prove to be especially significant. She says,

If only I could recollect it, such
A day of days! I let it come and go
As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;
It seemed to mean so little, meant so much;

She finishes wistfully: “Did one but know…” If she had known then how important the day and the meeting would prove, she would have recorded every detail. She would have made sure to take mental snapshots of it all. But, alas, it was soon over and forgotten, lost to the mists of time.

I know the feeling.

It was the summer of 1993. I was sixteen going on seventeen, sandwiched between eleventh and twelfth grades, convinced, no doubt, that I was all grown up. That summer I was working shifts as a gas jockey in the little town of Ancaster, Ontario. The Blue Jays were flying high and well on their way to a second consecutive World Series. Life was good.

One evening my friend Mark asked me to hang out at his place and my guess is that we were getting together to watch the ballgame since he had cable and I did not. He lived on a little court with 5 or 6 other houses and as we drove into the court that evening, we saw the neighborhood kids playing a game together. One girl was a little bit older than the others—she looked about our age—and obviously the boss. Did Mark introduce us? I don’t remember. But I know I would remember if I had grasped the significance of that moment. I would have taken in every detail. I would have noticed exactly where she was standing, how she looked, what she was doing. “Did one but know.” But how could I have known? How could I have known that I was getting my very first look at my future wife, at the one woman God had already determined I’d spend my life with. I couldn’t. So Mark and I walked into his house and I didn’t think about her again.

At least, I didn’t think about her again until that fall. In twelfth grade I began a new school—Ancaster High School. On my first morning I walked into history class, and there she was, sitting at the desk right behind me. She recognized me—did I recognize her? Again, I don’t remember. We chatted, and pretty quickly we became friends. Again, I wish I had recorded every moment of that first day in class. It would be fun to replay it now—now that I know how our lives would intertwine. But I have no memory of it beyond the mere fact that we met (and that her first words to me were “If you ever tell anyone, I’ll kill you. I’ll absolutely kill you.” She was thinking back to the fact that I had seen her doing something as uncool as playing with the neighborhood kids.) We were friends for the first semester when we shared that history class, we were acquaintances for the second semester when we no longer shared a class, and then I graduated and moved on to university while she went back for grade thirteen—Ontario had thirteen grades in those days, though I chose to fast-track by compressing my final two years into one. And again, she disappeared from my life and mind. “Did one but know.”

More than a year later the phone rang. She had been cleaning out her address book, had come to my number, and had to make the decision about whether to keep it or erase it. She chose not only to keep it but to call it. It turns out she also had a murder mystery party coming up and needed someone to accompany her. Would I like to? No, I was far too shy so turned her down. But she called again a little while later. She asked me to go somewhere else, though I’ve long since forgotten what or where. I turned her down again. We kept talking, though, and eventually decided we’d meet up for ice cream.

She didn’t know it, but I had an agenda for this meeting, for the first time I had seen her in nearly a year-and-a-half. I had to explain to her that I couldn’t date her because I was a Christian and she was not—she had been raised without any reference to religion, hadn’t ever been to a church, hadn’t ever read a Bible, hadn’t ever put her faith in Jesus Christ. And here, at last, is where the vague memories give way to much more vivid ones. I can remember where we met and what she was wearing. I can remember her responding well and expressing what seemed to be genuine interest in Christianity. I can remember her professing faith just a few weeks later and being baptized not too long after that. And, see? The memories begin to get much clearer because I—because we—began to realize they mattered. It began to dawn on us that we were building toward something. We started to deliberately make memories together. We’ve been making them for more than twenty years.

Aileen PhotoThe girl I first saw when I was sixteen and she was seventeen turns forty years old today. We’ve been together for more than twenty years and have been married for nearly eighteen. I’ve often wondered if it’s weird that I carry in my wallet a picture of an eighteen-year-old girl. Is that weird? Not if it’s a picture of my wife, right? The photo has been there for twenty years now and I guess I keep it because it links me back to the beginning, back to the days I’ve mostly forgotten, back to when I first saw her, when I first spoke to her. It’s one of my most precious possessions. Yet even though I keep that picture of her from when we first met, it’s who she has become, who she is now, that I love the most. She has become patient and kind and wise and godly. She serves me, she helps me, she pushes me, she strengthens me, she guards me, she loves me. I am gladly, gloriously dependent on her in so many ways.

The great honor of my life is that she would willingly link herself to me so we can go through life together. I am proud of her: proud to be her friend, proud to be her husband. I am proud to have been there when she turned twenty, when she turned thirty, and to be here still as she turns forty. I pray that God gives us many more years, many more decades, many more memories together. It baffles me, it humbles me, it thrills me that God would entrust to me so precious a gift as his daughter, my wife. I am—and no doubt will be—eternally grateful.

Faith Hacking
May 02, 2016

Not too long ago I was speaking to a friend who was lamenting the way he had spent his time the day before. He had become convicted that his prayer life was languishing and that it would benefit from a measure of organization. A couple of hours later he had to move on to other activities and realized that he had put a lot of time into thinking about prayer and organizing prayer, but little time into the actual act of prayer. Have you ever had an experience like that?

I attempted to relieve my friend’s burden that day. I explained that sometimes the key to sparking your prayer life is as simple as dedicating time to prayer but that other times the key is organizing the time you’ve already dedicated to it. I explained that the time he gave to administer his prayer life stood as proof of the importance he places on it. After all, while there is a time for spontaneity, most good things in life require effort, they require administration. Most of life’s important matters require not only the act itself, but also the preparation for the act. This is true of worship, relationship, and romance, so why should it be any different with prayer? We carefully plan our church services to consider unity between Scripture, sermon, and songs. We carefully plan our events to consider introductions, topics, and transitions. We carefully plan our dates to consider dress and reservations and conversation. In all of these activities we understand that the up-front effort is necessary to bring about a better result. Good things require effort; the best things require even more effort.

Prayer is a good thing that thrives with effort, not only in the act of praying but also in its administration. And so I find myself wondering today: Is it time for you to organize your prayer life? Is it time for you to invest some effort not only in praying but also in preparing yourself to pray?

Here are a few ideas that may help.

Integrate John Piper’s method of praying in concentric circles. This is how Piper once challenged his church: “Consider praying in concentric circles from your own soul outward to the whole world. This is my regular practice. I pray for my own soul first. Not because I am more deserving than others, but because if God doesn’t awaken and strengthen and humble and fill my own soul, then I can’t pray for anybody else’s. So I plead with the Lord every morning for my own soul’s perseverance and purification and power. Then I go to the next concentric circle, my family, and I pray for each of them by name: Noel, Karsten/Shelly/Millie, Benjamin, Abraham, Barnabas, Talitha and some of my extended family. Then I go to the next concentric circle, the staff and elders of Bethlehem. I name them all by name.” And it continues outward until he has prayed for his city, his country, and the world. This is a method I have long since integrated into my own prayer life. You may want to read more about it.

Use PrayerMate or another prayer app. I have been a long-time user of PrayerMate and have benefitted tremendously from this simple app. PrayerMate borrows from the physical world and mimics an organized collection of index cards. Imagine a card file: Each of the dividers marks a new category, each of the categories contains several cards, and each card contains a person or item to pray about. Now just take that paradigm and translate it to an app. You create your categories and cards, and each day the app presents you with a collection of items to pray for. It’s that simple! Piper’s concentric circle model fits perfectly with the PrayerMate methodology and it has been the way I’ve prayed now for many years. You can read more here about how I set it up and how I use it. Even if you do not follow the model exactly, it will at least give you a place to begin.

Use D.A. Carson’s method of prayer cards. In his book A Call to Spiritual Reformation, D.A. Carson outlines the method he uses. It is quite similar to the previous two, but relies on paper instead of an app. “Apart from any printed guides I may use, I keep a manila folder in my study, where I pray, and usually I take it with me when I am traveling. The first sheet in that folder is a list of people for whom I ought to pray regularly: they are bound up with me, with who I am. My wife heads the list, followed by my children and a number of relatives, followed in turn by a number of close friends in various parts of the world. The second sheet in my folder lists short-range and intermediate-range concerns that will not remain there indefinitely. They include forthcoming responsibilities in ministry and various crises or opportunities that I have heard about, often among Christians I scarcely know…” You can read more about his method in this excerpt from his book.

Use Paul Miller’s method of prayer cards. In A Praying Life, Paul Miller outlines a method that relies on index cards. He say, “A prayer card has several advantages over a list. A list is often a series of scattered prayer requests, while a prayer card focuses on one person or area of your life. It allows you to look at the person or situation from multiple perspectives. Over time, it helps you reflect on what God does in response to your prayers. You begin to see patterns, and slowly a story unfolds that you find yourself drawn into. A list tends to be more mechanical. We can get overwhelmed with the number of things to pray for. Because items on a list are so disconnected, it is hard to maintain the discipline to pray. When I pray, I have only one card in front of me at a time, which helps me concentrate on that person or need.” Once again, you may do well to read more about this method and to consider adopting it.

There are many more methods you can use to organize your prayer life. But the principle is clear: Give time and effort to your prayer life, not only in praying, but also in preparing yourself to pray. A healthy prayer life consists not only of prayer, but also of preparation. I have long since found that the absolute best motivator in prayer is knowing what I am going to pray for. Vague ideas of prayer promote vague prayers. Disorganized methods of prayer promote disorganized prayers. Methods for prayer promote meaningful prayers. Why don’t you take some time today to organize your prayer life?