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September 07, 2011

Last year I was ordained to the ministry at Grace Fellowship Church. Since then I went on-staff as a part-time pastor and, more recently, as a full-time associate pastor. Needless to say, this has given me great opportunity to closely examine the calling and task of the minister. At its heart, this task is very simple. “We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). Prayer and Bible; praying for and with people and teaching them the Word of God. If the job description is so simple, why is it so hard to do?

Of these two tasks, I feel much more confident and equipped when it comes to teaching. Words come easy to me. While I may labor over a sermon for many days, I am at least confident that in the end the words will come and the result will be adequate at least. But I find prayer far more difficult. While I feel the desire to pray and while I often long to pray, I find myself especially frustrated in organizing my times of prayer; often times I find myself giving up, or at least wanting to give up, because of the frustration involved in remembering all the things I want to pray for and in actually bringing them before the Lord.

To that end I have turned to a few pastors I know to ask them how they manage the task of prayer and in the days and weeks to come I plan to share some of these with you in the hope that you will find it helpful. The first man I turned to is Tim Kerr, pastor of Sovereign Grace Church here in Toronto. Tim is a dear friend to our church and a man who feels a special burden to pray. I asked him how he prays, and here is what he sent me. 

April 24, 2011

I had something queued up to post this afternoon. But then I read some blogs and found “A Prayer of Great Joy for Easter Sunday” by Scotty Smith. I took the liberty of copying and pasting it. It is a prayer of celebration, on this, the day we remember and celebrate the Lord’s resurrection.

Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:20-26).
Most exalted and loving Jesus, I offer a three-fold “Indeed!” and a three-fold “Hallelujah!” early this morning. You have been raised from the dead! Preaching the gospel is not useless, it’s essential. Faith in you is not futile, but fertile. We’re no longer encased in our sins, we’re fully wrapped in your righteousness. Those who have “gone to sleep” in you are not slumbering in the void, they are celebrating your glory. We have hope in this life and for the life to come!

Because you are alive, we are less to be pitied than anybody and more to be grateful than everybody. (1 Corinthians 15:14-19). Because you have been raised from the dead, everything changes, Jesus. You are the firstfruits and guarantee of a whole new order—the “new creation” dominion of redemption and restoration. The decay in our earthly bodies will give way to the delights of our resurrection bodies.

The kingdom of this world has become, and will be fully manifest, as the kingdom of our God and of his Christ, you! (Rev. 11:15) You are already reigning, and you will reign forever and ever. All evil dominions, wicked authorities and malevolent powers have already been defeated by your cross and, one Day they will be completely eradicated at your return.

Jesus, your death is the death of death, and your resurrection is the resurrection of all things. O the wonder, the glory, the grace of it all! By your compelling love, free us from the emptiness of living for ourselves. Bring your resurrection power to bear in our homes, churches and communities. Capture our children early and re-capture our hearts when they drift. May the rest of our days be spent for your glory and financed by your gospel. (2 Cor. 5:14-15). So very Amen, we pray, shout and dance, in your most glorious and worthy name!

March 27, 2011

I’ve felt myself drawn to this prayer written by Scotty Smith, a prayer that asks God to help our friends finish well in the gospel—to help us all remain faithful until Today becomes the Day. It begins with this passage of Scripture:

See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. Hebrews 3:12-14

Dear Jesus, this portion of your Word is both sobering and encouraging. It leads me to think about friendship this morning and the gospel-posse you’ve given me. I’m so very grateful for the friends you’ve woven into my life. Being an introvert, the journey of investing my heart in long term relationships has required, and still requires the work of the gospel in my heart—a grace work you’ve been faithful to provide.

I’ve already gripped the handle of a couple of friend’s caskets and they’ll do the same for me one day. More than ever, I want us to finish well together in the gospel. What does look like and what will it require, Jesus?

My temptation is to treat my easiest friendships like a broken-in pair of Birkenstocks—I just enjoy these relationships without much thought or effort. It’s a great gift to have a few friends who can finish each other’s sentences, endure one another’s jokes, appreciate each other’s quirks and accept one another’s weaknesses. Surely, this is a gospel-gift.

Yet, Jesus, we’re still foolish men—capable of acting out in very destructive ways, prone to wander, easy targets for temptation. Sin is exceedingly deceitful. With all of my heart, I believe in the “final perseverance of the saints,” but I equally believe that it’s the saints who will finally persevere. Your Word is very clear—continuance in the gospel is a sign of being rooted in the gospel. That doesn’t scare me, but it does humble me.

Help us know how to hold each other accountable for believing the gospel. Help us to take each other’s heart-struggles seriously. Don’t let us confuse flattery with encouragement. Help us never to minimize nor marginalize the hardening power of sin. Help us know how to preach the gospel to our own hearts daily and to each all the time, until Today gives way to the Day. So very Amen, I pray, in your all glorious name.

March 13, 2011

Here’s a prayer from Scotty Smith, one that really helped me this morning. In it Scotty looks at Psalm 42, where a deer pants for water, and asks God to help us long for him the way David did. As he says, “Thirst will not be denied. We’ll do almost anything to satisfy our thirst.”

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? Psalm 42:1-2

Loving Jesus, there’s no craving more demanding than thirst. It’s neither patient nor polite. When we get thirsty, we’re usually quick to slake its unrelenting demand, one way or another. Thirst will not be denied. We’ll do almost anything to satisfy our thirst.

Because this is true, we join the Psalmist in crying out, “Jesus, intensify our thirst for you. Keep us panting like the deer which pants after streams of water—the unpolluted, undistilled, never-ending brooks of your bounty.

Quickly drain the broken-cisterns of our own making. Don’t let us be even momentarily satisfied with any other beverage than the draft you draw, the potion you pour, the life-giving libation you alone can give.  

If we take up King David’s lament, “When can I go and meet with God?”,  you answer back, without delay, “Right now, my beloved, do not wait. If you’re thirsty, come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:38)

If we should say, “But Jesus, where can we find you?” You answer back even quicker, “Not in the Law; not in your strivings; not in your labors; not in your earnestness; not in your self-loathing’s; not in your vain promises, but only in the gospel. Come and fall into the rivers of my love. Stand under the cascading waterfalls of my grace. Open your heart wide to my supply and I will over-fill you with everything you need and more than you want.”

Even so and evermore, Jesus, school us well in pant-theology. Fill us afresh than we might be a people to the praise of your glory and grace. So very Amen, we pray, in your all glorious and all generous name.

February 27, 2011

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I have the privilege of preaching at Grace Fellowship Church this morning. I awoke feeling tired and worn, believing that fatigue is God’s means of rebuking me, of calling me to depend on him instead of myself. So I turned to the Valley of Vision, looking for a prayer that I could make my own. Here is how that book ministered to me today.

My Master God,
I am desired to preach today,
but go weak and needy to my task;
Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth,
that an honest testimony might be borne for thee;
Give me assistance in preaching and prayer,
with heart uplifted for grace and unction.
Present to my view things pertaining to my subject,
with fullness of matter and clarity of thought,
proper expressions, fluency, fervency,
a feeling sense of the things I preach,
and grace to apply them to men’s consciences.
Keep me conscious all the while of my defects,
and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.
Help me to offer a testimony for thyself,
and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy.
Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people,
and set before them comforting considerations.
Attend with power the truth preached.
and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.
May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted,
and help me to use the strongest arguments
drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings,
that men might be made holy.
I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness,
that I might be a pure channel of thy grace,
and be able to do something for thee;
Give me then refreshment among thy people,
and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way,
or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a redeemer,
or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end,
from lack of warmth and fervency.
And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.

February 03, 2011

I recently received an email from a long-time reader of this blog who asked if I could write about a week of prayer.

Your blog is the third time in the last month that I’ve heard of churches having a week of prayer once a year.  You state that you pray 2 hours a day every day during that week.  I would be curious how churches like yours conduct these week of prayers?  What are the finer details of how it is organized?

As the question indicates, my church begins each year with a Week of Prayer. Let me give a few details about how and why we do this.

The why is answered quite easily: we believe that prayer must be instrumental in the life of the church rather than being merely supplemental. The beginning of a new year seems like a perfect opportunity to dedicate as much time as possible to prayer, to seeking God’s will and God’s blessing for the year to come. When thinking about this I’m always drawn to a story from the life of Charles Spurgeon.

Five young college students were spending a Sunday in London, so they went to hear the famed C.H. Spurgeon preach. While waiting for the doors to open, the students were greeted by a man who asked, “Gentlemen, let me show you around. Would you like to see the heating plant of this church?” They were not particularly interested, for it was a hot day in July. But they didn’t want to offend the stranger, so they consented. The young men were taken down a stairway, a door was quietly opened, and their guide whispered, “This is our heating plant.” Surprised, the students saw 700 people bowed in prayer, seeking a blessing on the service that was soon to begin in the auditorium above. Softly closing the door, the gentleman then introduced himself. It was none other than Charles Spurgeon.

Let me say a few words about the how of it all.

February 01, 2011

After episode 25 of the Connected Kingdom Podcast, David and I signed off for a couple of months—a couple of months we wanted to take to re-evaluate and re-charge. And having done that, we’re now back with a new episode in what we are calling Season 2 of the podcast.

We are beginning with a bang, so to speak, having invited Joel Beeke to be our guest. In the podcast we talk to Dr. Beeke about prayer—always an interesting subject. So don’t listen to this for me or for David—listen to Dr. Beeke’s great wisdom when it comes to one of the great duties and delights of the Christian life.

If you want to give us feedback or join in the discussion, go ahead and look up our Facebook Group or leave a comment right here. You will always be able to find the most recent episode here on the blog. If you would like to subscribe via iTunes, you can do that here or if you want to subscribe with another audio player, you can try this RSS link.

January 30, 2011

Because of all I’ve written about pornography over the past few years, I was interested to see a recent prayer that Scotty Smith posted at his blog. He titled it “A Prayer for Friends Struggling with Pornography.” Here it is:

Jesus, my heart goes out today for friends and their spouses whose lives are being assaulted by the ravaging and enslaving grip of pornography.  I know of no other power sufficient for the task but the gospel. This is why I run to you today with grave concern, but also with great hope.

O Lord of resurrection and redemption, bring your mercy and might to bear in stunning fashion. Things impossible for us are more than possible for you. You have come to set captives free and to heal the brokenhearted. Pornography is creating an over abundance of both.

Jesus, for friends somewhere in the pornography continuum of titillation to addiction, we ask you to reveal yourself in the deepest place of their hearts. We ask for the holy gift of godly sorrow, not the short-lived remorse of worldly sorrow. For your non-condemning love has great power to deliver those who cry, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body which is subject to death?”

Lead them to that cry, Jesus. They need a lot more than embarrassment and fear, they need contrition and hope. Where pornography has desensitized our friends, re-sensitize them so they can see and feel the horror of their entrapment, and more so… much more so, the wonder of your deliverance.

For our friends who are married to someone in the talons of pornography, dear Jesus, theirs may be the greater pain and struggle. No one but you can help them with the anger, the disgust, the wound, the shame, and the mistrust that goes with this story. Help us walk with our friends who are right in the middle of this dark vortex. Show us how to validate their feelings without confirming hurt-driven conclusions. Bring patience and perspective, forbearance and faith.

Only you can rebuild the trust. Only you, Jesus, can bring a willingness to hope again. Only you can heal the places in our hearts which have suffered the greatest violation and harm. Absolutely no one understands all this like you, Jesus, and absolutely no one redeem these messes but you. So very Amen, we pray, in your great and glorious name.

Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 7:21-8:2