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Christian Living

January 27, 2011

The Lord has been forcing me to learn about prayer. And it’s a good thing since I’m finding myself in one of those times in life when prayer is coming only with difficulty. It was a blessing to attend a local pastors’ fellowship on Monday where I enjoyed a panel discussion about prayer and the pastoral ministry. And it was a blessing to record an interview this morning with Dr. Joel Beeke, a man who is known not only for writing books on prayer, but for being a man who loves to pray and who prays powerfully. (listen to the interview)

When discussing prayer, I find that there is always a lot of value in the little nuggets, the little pieces of gold that are encountered in conversation. While listening to an hour-long panel discussion on prayer, each person in the audience picked up on a few little things that impacted him. And the same was true in my conversation with Dr. Beeke.

I want to share with you just a few of the things that have been resonating in my mind.

Pray in Jesus’ name. To pray in the name of Jesus is to pray with his authority in a way that claims his power. In prayer I should always be asking, “In whose interest am I praying? What is God’s agenda in this?” In other words, I need to make sure that I have a conscience sense of praying to the Lord, the King, the Sovereign One. I pray not only to this God, but I also pray in his power and with his authority. That merits a “wow!”

Use model prayers. One of the best ways to learn to pray is to use the New Testament prayers as a model. The Apostle Paul always brings home what he has been teaching through his prayers. So learn these prayers, learn how they relate to the letters, and learn to pray them first for yourself. Let Paul be your teacher.

Pray within your capacity to believe. One pastor said that we often pray beyond our capacity to believe. He used the example of praying for the salvation of his wife’s parents. He and his wife would pray that the Lord would save them, but they were praying without faith; though they knew God could, in theory, do this, they doubted that he actually would. What they decided to do was to pray within their capacity to believe, and so they began to pray smaller, incremental prayers for things they truly could ask in faith. In a similar situation you might pray that the Lord would bring your parents just one Christian friend, or that they would hear the gospel just one time, and so on. And once that prayer is answered, you can then pray for the next, slightly bigger thing. All the while you are ratcheting up your prayers while acknowledging God’s incremental answers to them.

Do not stop praying until you get through to God. This pastor said that you need to labor in prayer until you feel that you have gotten through to God. He particularly warned against stepping into the pulpit and preaching before first gaining a sense of the Spirit’s presence and power. If the preacher cannot go into the pulpit in the power of the Spirit, how can he expect the Spirit to then speak to the people?

Prayer is better caught than taught. Do you want to know how to pray? Then spend time with people who pray and pray with them. Do you want your children to learn to pray? Then pray with them and let them catch the ability to pray. There are few shortcuts here.

Prayer changes us, not God. The purpose of prayer is not to change God, but to change us, to realign ourselves according to his purposes. Prayer is not an attempt to twist the arm of God or to bend him to our will. Instead, it is God’s means of changing and transforming us, driving us to joyfully submit to his will.

Pray warmly. Dr. Beeke asked what right anyone has to feel that he should be able to pray warmly out of the cold blue. If we want to enjoy warm fellowship in prayer, we should first be willing to spend time with the Lord in the Word and in meditation. This warms the heart and draws us to the Lord, igniting our prayer.


If you would like to hear the wisdom of these men, you don’t have long to wait. Audio from Toronto Pastors’ Fellowship will be available soon. My interview with Dr. Joel Beeke will be available here at the blog next Tuesday (Lord willing).

January 19, 2011

On November 11 I bookmarked 2 blog articles. Bookmarks usually last about 24 hours before they get a) archived b) used in A La Carte or c) erased. But these ones are still sitting there. Several times I have gone back to read the articles and each time I’ve wanted to think about them a little bit more. There is nothing in them that is earthshaking to me. And yet the way they are phrased has given me a lot of food for thought (just ask Aileen if you doubt me).

The first article I read was by Amy Scott and it was titled simply “Be You.” In her article she references another, one titled “Just Whose Wife Am I Anyway?” They both deal with a common them: submission. In particular, they deal with the biblical command that a wife submit to her husband. Those are fighting words in many parts of the Christian world, not to mention outside of the Christian world. I won’t allow that to distract me here.

Both women write about their own struggles with what submission really looks like in a godly marriage. And as I read their thoughts, here is what struck me: We spend a lot of time talking in general about how men and women complement one another—generic men and generic women. This complementarity is obvious from a physical standpoint, but also from many others. But I wonder if we spend far too little time talking about how this husband and this wife complement one another. When we move beyond the generalities of gender roles, we find that the specifics may look very, very different from one couple to another. Within the Bible’s general guidelines, there are many ways to work out the details. Amy puts it like this:

My own husband would knock me silly (…figuratively) if I called him yesterday from the flooring store to solve and negotiate the huge issue that came up. He trusts me. He knows I am capable, and we are a team. (On the flip side, many husbands feel very respected to have their opinion asked about how to handle disasters.) We found a rhythm that works for us.

Greg has one Patriarchal rule for me. He will not let me use a paintbrush under any circumstances in our house. But I am OK with this.

January 06, 2011

A few weeks ago Aileen’s grandmother passed away. Two or three decades ago I’m sure the cause of death would have been listed simply as old age—a shorthand doctors used to say that her body simply gave out after many long illnesses; she just did not have the strength to fight anymore. She was the last of our grandparents, the last of that generation.

In the time since then the family has been wrapping up her affairs, dealing with the estate, emptying the house and preparing it for sale. Each of the kids and grandkids has gone through the house, staking claim to certain special items, little things that often have little monetary value but great emotional significance—clocks, dolls, pictures and things of that nature—the things that they associate with the person they loved. And having done that, they are now left with a house full of stuff. It’s a house full of furniture and boxes and pots and pans and junk drawers and appliances and everything else that a person uses and accumulates over a lifetime.

And so they are now sorting through that stuff, throwing much of it in the trash, donating other things to Salvation Army, and keeping the occasional thing that they just can’t bring themselves to throw out. Aileen’s grandmother was no pack rat—she kept a careful and clean home and had moved enough times that she had not accumulated as many possessions as some people do. And yet there is still a lot of stuff—as much as you would expect to find in a good-sized home. There is nothing in the home that she did not keep for one reason or another. Some she kept because it was practical and she thought she would need it; some she kept because it was sentimental, having been given to her by someone she loved. And now other people—her children and children-in-law, are sorting through all of that stuff, keeping some but discarding most.

January 03, 2011

A short time ago a reader of this blog wrote me with rather an interesting question. Here’s what he asked: I was hoping for some guidance on something. I am looking for books about being ‘Gospel-Centered.’ I know that is a buzzword nowadays and it is really intriguing to me. I am a long-time Christian, but am new to this Gospel-Centered idea. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jesus and Scripture and the Gospel, but I’ve never really heard or really understand the Gospel-Centered.

In my church we talk a lot about living gospel-centered lives or cross-centered lives, about applying the gospel to situations in life. So let me share a bit of my experience about what this actually means. And at the end I’ll offer up some suggestions for further reading. I feel like I am far more of a student than a teacher in this area, so I will largely depend on what others have said.

I’d love to know the origins of the phrase gospel-centered. While I cannot produce any proof of where it came from, my sense is that it arises from a combination of various factors: the writings of C.J. Mahaney and Jerry Bridges along with the emphases of organizations such as CCEF and Desiring God. Somehow if you do a smash-up of those men and those organizations, I think you end up with this emphasis on gospel centrality. Maybe someone can offer a more thorough history of the phrase.

Gospel

The first thing we’ll need to do is define gospel. In our church we’ve got a handy little short-hand way of doing this, one that all the kids understand. I’m pretty sure you could go to just about any child in the church, ask “what is the gospel?” and hear this response: “Christ died for our sins and was raised.” When we talk about this during services, we accompany it with a little action. We begin with a closed fist held out in front of us and with each of the first five words we open one finger. “Christ…died…for…our…sins.” And then, with the open hand, we raise it up and say “and was raised.” And that’s the gospel. Of course the gospel can be as simple as those eight words or as complex as many volumes of theological text. But the essential gospel is right there—that Jesus Christ was put to death as an atoning sacrifice for our sins and was then raised back to life.

December 24, 2010

A couple of days ago I received an email from a young man who reads this site and he asked a rather simple question: How am I to react to sexual desire? As a teenager, unmarried and with marriage in the distant future rather than the near future, he wanted to know how God would have him understand sexual arousal.

That took me a little bit of thought, but here is how I think a young man can understand sexual arousal.

Sexual Arousal Motivates Marriage. Arousal points you to the fact that God wants you to marry. The fact that you feel sexual desire is a good and God-given thing—he uses it to point you toward marriage. Sexual desire is a part of how God has wired men so that they will pursue a bride. So in that way, see it as something that is not inherently evil. Arousal is evil only if it is improperly acted upon or if it leads to sin.

Sexual Arousal Preaches Imperfection. The very fact that you feel sexual desire tells you that you are incomplete—incomplete without a wife with whom you can find satisfaction and fulfillment of that desire. And I think this kind of incompletion can point you to the wider reality that we live in an incomplete world marred by the realities of sin. There may be a deeper lesson in unfulfilled sexual desire.

Sexual Arousal Teaches Self-Control. Young men who continually give in to sexual desire by acting out on it through masturbation train themselves—their minds and bodies—that they need and deserve sexual release whenever they feel desire. And yet that is not how life works. Even married men with loving wives and great sex lives deal with a great deal of unfulfilled sexual desire. So this is an opportunity to train yourself, while still young, that sexual desire can and must be controlled if it is to be something that is properly stewarded to the glory of God.

In the end, if you trust the Lord, you can know that there is no temptation that must cause you to sin. The Holy Spirit gives you the ability, the power, to stand strong in the face of even the most difficult torment. So in those moments when desire is aroused and when it feels like torture, you need to plead the cross, you need to preach the gospel to yourself. In those moments you need to know that Christ died to forgive sin and he rose to overcome the power of sin and death. So you can remain unstained by sexual sin.

December 15, 2010

Gracious Father,

One of the great promises of heaven, a promise that I long to see fulfilled, is that what gets old and tired in this world will always remain new and fresh and exciting in the world to come. Niagara Falls will send chills down my spine every time I see it; the Grand Canyon will cause me to gasp in delight, not just once but for all of eternity; the night sky will move me to praise you for your greatness each and every time I look up. Nothing will get tiring, nothing will get old, nothing will be just the same time after time after time.

What is it that causes us to grow weary of things that are good and even things that are so very good? How could we build up such hardness, such spiritual resistance to your greatest gifts?

You called Adam to name each of the animals, and paraded them in front of him one by one. He saw two of this animal, two of that, two of another, and through it all realized that there was no helper fit for him. He could not have been lonely, living there in that perfect world. And yet he realized that he was incomplete. You caused him to fall into a deep sleep and there, when he awoke, standing before him, was the perfect complement to him, the perfect mate. In wonder he exclaimed, “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” He praised you for your marvelous provision.

But then Adam sinned. He allowed his wife to lead him astray, he fell for the deception of the devil. And when you called to him he turned on that woman, he turned on that gift and said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” He turned on that gift, hated it, and in that moment hated the one who gave it.

Your Son called Peter to be one of his disciples. Jesus simply said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And Peter followed. For several years he followed, walking in the steps of the man who claimed to be the Messiah. He followed him all the way to Jerusalem, even proclaiming, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

But then danger came. Suddenly that Savior did not seem so mighty. And when the people said to Peter, “You were with Jesus of Nazareth,” he cursed and swore “I do not know the man!” He turned on that gift, hated it, and in that moment hated the one who gave it.

Why are we like this? Why do we marvel at something for a time and then grow weary of it, grow complacent toward it and even come to despise it? How do good gifts become old and tired gifts?

Father, I learned recently that you have seen fit to take your Word to some of your children, to some of my brothers and sisters who live almost a world away from me. Until recently the Kimyal Tribe in Papua, Indonesia have had only a portion of the New Testament available in their language. They loved that Word, they memorized it, they fed upon it. But like Adam after he named the animals and saw no helper fit for him, they knew that what they had was incomplete. But now, Lord, now you have given them the entire New Testament, all four gospels in which they can read about the life of your Son, Acts which allows them to study the earliest days of the earliest church, all those epistles in which your apostles tell us how we are to live in this world for your glory, those pastoral letters that will encourage the men in church leadership to hold fast the precious deposit that has been given them, and Revelation which beautifully describes that which is to come.

Their joy is remarkable. They overflow with it. They weep with the emotion of holding in their hands your precious Word. They throw a feast in an attempt to give back of the firstfruits. They dance and celebrate and act like this is the greatest thing that has ever happened to any of them. And that may just be the case. They have been waiting for two thousand years to hear from you. And now at last, in your perfect timing, you are speaking to them in their own language. And oh, how they rejoice.

I weep to see them celebrate. I weep with joy for them. I am grateful to you on their behalf, grateful to the ones whose long labor of love translated that Bible. But I also weep with shame and sorrow for me. How can my heart have grown so cold to your Word when these people, your children in the Kimyal tribe, are just now receiving those words for the first time? How could I grow so hardened to the gift you’ve given me? I sit in an office surrounded by Bibles—I can count 7 without even turning my head and I know there are many more downstairs and a whole box in the basement. And I say, “I’m tired. I don’t feel like it. It all feels the same. It just doesn’t seem exciting today.” My dancing has turned into mourning, my celebrating into complaining.

Father, I need you to renew my love for your Word. I need you to keep my heart from growing cold toward your greatest gifts. I need you to keep me from looking to my wife and seeing only those things I think she isn’t, only those things she doesn’t do; I need you to keep me from denying you, perhaps not in my words but too often in my actions, in the orientation of my heart. And I need you to keep me from being complacent toward your Word, from assuming that I know enough about it, from regarding it as a chore rather than an honor, a responsibility rather than a delight. Stir my heart as you’ve stirred the hearts of so many of your people when they read your Words for the very first time. And let even this remind me of the greater joy that is to come on that great day when you wipe away my tears of sorrow, when you take away every ugly complacency.

As they say in the Kimyal language:

Al weig buna’ ag bulamlange
ab Domba Me ab se,
sig aga meibna’ ab,
gibna’ ab, bebnag ab, migib ab,
unum-unum se ulamla.

“To him who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb, be blessing
and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”

To the Father, to the Son, to the Holy Spirit be glory for ever and ever. Amen!

Note: Here is the pastor’s prayer upon receiving the New Testament:

The month that you had set, the day that you had set, has come to pass today. Oh my Father, my Father, the Promise that you gave Simeon that he would see Jesus Christ and hold Him in his arms before he died. I also have been waiting under that same promise, O God. You looked at all the different languages and chose which ones will be put into Your Word. You thought that we should see Your Word in our language. Today, the day you had chosen for this to be fulfilled, has come to pass. You have placed it here in our land. And for all this, O God, I give You praise.

December 08, 2010

I wonder if life will ever be the same on this side of Wikileaks. If you ask me, Wikileaks may just prove to be a game-changer, not just in politics but in all of society. Let me explain.

Just about a year ago I told you that God Watches You Google, showing how search engines never forget what we search for. They know things about us that we have long since forgotten—those embarrassing searches, those immoral questions—they are all there, recorded forever. Would you be prepared to have your search history revealed to the world? Not many of us would. And most of us have assumed that there is little reason to fear; what happens between me and Google stays between me and Google, right?

This is where Wikileaks comes in.

Julian Assange is the man behind the leaks. He is the one who has gathered all of the information that is now coming to light and he is the one who has made it publicly available on the Web. And, of course, he is the one who insists that this is just the tip of the iceberg and there is far more he can reveal. These further revelations could be the most devastating yet. These leaks will impact governments and big businesses. And along the way they will doubtlessly also impact many individuals (since what is government and what is business but a collection of individuals?).

Here is what Assange says about business in a Wikileaks world:

WikiLeaks means it’s easier to run a good business and harder to run a bad business, and all CEOs should be encouraged by this. I think about the case in China where milk powder companies started cutting the protein in milk powder with plastics. That happened at a number of separate manufacturers.

It just means that it’s easier for honest CEOs to run an honest business, if the dishonest businesses are more effected negatively by leaks than honest businesses. That’s the whole idea. In the struggle between open and honest companies and dishonest and closed companies, we’re creating a tremendous reputational tax on the unethical companies.

What Assange believes is that the inevitability of exposure will compel businesses to be more ethical. How will this happen? Because leaks will not just show end results, but also the means a company used to get there. We will not just know that a milk powder company began to cut the protein in milk powder with plastics, but we will also see how the executives came to that decision, what their rationale was, who they told and who they didn’t tell, how they justified themselves. Suddenly everything will be exposed. Everything will be brought to light.

The whole purpose of Wikileaks is to reveal correspondence that was meant to be private. It destroys privacy, laughs at it, regards it as a quaint vestige of the past.

December 07, 2010

Studying European history can be both fascinating and frustrating. Understanding the intricacies of all of those nations, borders and rulers could very easily be a life-long pursuit. The history of the continent is filled with claims, and counterclaims as one person after another sought to prove himself the legitimate heir to one of its many kingdoms. There were many who sought to claim thrones and these claims had to be settled through lengthy and detailed examination. Generations, kingdoms, marriages, and thrones had to be examined to understand who had the rightful claim to a throne.

I once found a similar concept of “claiming” in the Bible and it struck me as one of the most terrifying passages of Scripture. I remember as a child finding Revelation a dark and scary book. Visions of beasts and persecution, wrath and disaster played out in my mind as I tried to sleep. But I don’t think that’s any scarier than the implications of what I found in a particular verse.

It comes as Jesus is preparing to leave his disciples for the last time. They are in the upper room together celebrating the last Passover and the first Lord’s Supper. Jesus is giving his disciples their final instructions, telling them that all he has taught them is about to be fulfilled. He is gentle with them, knowing that they are blinded to the reality of what is about to happen. He is kind to promise that he will send His Spirit to indwell and guide and teach them. And then he tells them that it is time for him to leave.

I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me…” Jesus knew that Satan was about to unleash his full fury upon him. And far, far worse, he knew that Satan’s wrath was as nothing compared to the wrath of God that he would soon have to face. Satan, the ruler of this world, was coming. He was going to drag Jesus, like a helpless, hopeless lamb, through the streets, through the courts, and to the cross where he would be tortured and nailed and pierced in utter agony. Satan was going to do his worst. But Satan would not accomplish what he had hoped. In fact, he would accomplish the very opposite of what he had intended. By inciting the masses to drag Jesus to that tree, Satan would make sure his own doom and ensure the salvation of multitudes of God’s people. Satan could do nothing to Jesus beyond the physical, for he had no claim on him. He had no claim on the Son of God.

December 01, 2010

We had only lived in our home for a few months when the one next door to us was put on the market as well. It sold quickly and in moved Barb. Shortly after she moved in, her home was given a makeover (an extreme makeover, even). Barb was sent away for the weekend and returned to find her house completely renovated. The volunteers who gave of their time for this program did an incredible job. They replanted and resodded the lawns and gardens, laid new floors, repainted the entire house, themed the bedrooms and added lots of new furniture. We enjoyed watching them do their work and we were there when Barb and the family arrived home. It was a great deal of fun to see their faces, to see their joy, as they explored their new home.

Because the house was a construction zone for three days, it was not a great weekend for those of us who live beside or around the place. We live in townhouses and my house shares a wall with Barb’s home. Sound travels readily through these walls and of all the neighbors, we had the worst of it. For much of the weekend there was sawing, banging, hammering and talking. Groups of people moved in and out from dawn until long after dusk. Television crews milled about to capture video of the work. It was difficult, but the crew seemed to do the best they could to be as sensitive as possible to the neighbors. The only one time I felt compelled to go next door was when hammering at 11 PM was keeping the baby from sleeping. I went next door and asked nicely if they would stop the hammering. They apologized and stopped immediately.

We had a great weekend despite the constant noise and commotion. We were thrilled for Barb that she would have the privilege of having her home renovated and we were willing to put up with almost any amount of annoyance for her sake. Unfortunately, most of our neighbors were not. On Friday evening, one neighbor called the police to lodge a complaint about the noise, even though it was only 8 PM. The police arrived and, recognizing the work from an article in the local newspaper, said they were unwilling to do anything. They promptly left and, I trust, found more pressing concerns. On Saturday I saw some other neighbors yelling at one of the crew members who had parked in the wrong parking spot. On Sunday, a few neighbors were gathered in a small group, muttering amongst themselves, making “choking” gestures towards the workers. On the way to church we were apprehended by a particularly grumpy neighbor who told us we should lodge a complaint because Barb’s lawn had been laid with new grass and our adjoining lawn had not. Sunday afternoon a neighbor tried to draw Aileen into complaining about the house but Aileen would only say how great she thought the place looked. The neighbor scolded, “I just hope they now take good care of it both inside and out.” We learned from the crew that a rumor was going around the neighborhood that Barb intended to sell the house as soon as the work was done.

November 23, 2010

Have you ever stopped to ponder what it might have been like for the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness, knowing that each day they would completely exhaust their food supply? Have you thought what it would be like knowing that they would go to bed with no food, but that the next day their supplies would be fully and miraculously replenished? It is an interesting, thought, really, and one that is worth considering.

In the Wilderness

MannaImagine that you are an Israelite father or mother and that you have three or four young children depending on you. Imagine putting these children to bed in the evening, knowing that there is not a bit of food to be found anywhere in your tent. Just to be sure, you wander over to the fridge and open it up. The glare from the light shows nothing but the glistening white of the inside of the Kenmore. There is nothing on any of the shelves; nothing in any of the drawers. There isn’t even a mostly-empty jar of relish left over from when you made burgers a few weeks earlier. There isn’t a clove of garlic or an old stick of butter. There is nothing. You close the door and open the freezer and as you wave your hand to brush aside the mist, you see that every corner of the freezer is empty. You turn to the nearby pantry and, looking high and low, see that there is not a bag, not a box, not a jar to be found. You have no food. Nothing.

As you tuck your daughter into bed that night, she says, “Daddy, what will we eat for breakfast tomorrow?” And with utter sincerity and utter confidence you say, “God will provide.” And, despite the bare cupboards and the empty fridge, you are able to go to sleep that night with full confidence that there will be food for you the next day. When you wake in the morning, you unlock the tent door, step outside, and see the world around covered in food like frost on a cold winter morning. You are able to quickly and easily collect enough food for the day, and can head inside knowing that the children will have all the food they need that day. As you nuke their mannapancakes, you whisper a prayer of gratitude that God provided again. Yet again.

But you also know that God has provided for only that day. The manna that lay on the ground was not enough for today and tomorrow. As the sun rises in a few minutes, the manna will melt into the ground and be gone. God has not provided for a week or a month or a quarter—he has provided for only one day at a time. You have heard of people who doubted God’s providence and hoarded manna, packing it into Tupperware and stuffing it into the deepest recesses of their fridges, freezers, and cupboards. But when they took it out and tried to eat it, they found that it was rotten and disgusting, crawling with worms and smelling worse than sandaled feet in a hot desert. You know that as day fades into night, and as you prepare the evening meal, you’ll find that you have just enough manna to eat, and that as you close your eyes in sleep, you’ll lie in peace, knowing that God will provide again tomorrow. But only for tomorrow.

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