Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

prayer

August 05, 2012

I have been reading Jeremy Walker’s The Brokenhearted Evangelist and in that book he includes a powerful section dealing with the importance of prayer in the practice of evangelism. After quoting John Sutcliff, who cries out against lukewarmness, Walker asks and answers this question: How do we keep our prayers fiery?

How do we keep our prayers fiery? By engaging in hand-to-hand combat with Satan’s hosts, for those who are yet under his dominion. Why do we keep our spiritual weapons sharp? So that we can fight. How do we learn how to use those weapons? When we engage with lost men. Where are our graces brought to their highest pitch and exercised to their greatest degree? It is often when we are locked in mortal combat for the salvation of a soul. Where are our minds fired with holy truth so that we begin to understand, to press, and to be in earnest? When are our hearts most ablaze with love for Jesus Christ? When, in short, are we most alive as Christians? With the possible exception of the gatherings of the saints for worshiping God, it is when we are involved in the life business of the redeemed men and women of Jesus Christ, engaging with transgressors and seeking their salvation for the glory of God in Jesus Christ. There is little that so elevates us—that so engages the totality of our redeemed humanity—as the holy cut and thrust of evangelism. Nothing so casts us upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Nothing so reminds us of our need and sends us in desperation to God for increased measures of His Spirit as the reality of wrestling for souls.

June 27, 2012

A few days ago I received an email from a reader of this site and I found that much of it has universal application. Each one of us struggles with these questions at times. For that reason, and with his permission, I will make my response public. Here is a part of what he sent me:

Personal situation with universal question: My wife and I are adopting 2 kiddos from Africa that have HIV. That’s all planned, no surprise, grace given to us to do so, praise be to God. Throughout this, I continuously pray for my kiddos over there. Yelling, crying, heart wrenching (I’m tearing up right now thinking about it) kind of prayers. They are very sick, and I want my babies home with me. They’re dying of starvation and little medication over there. I don’t feel like I keep praying the same prayers because I don’t believe God cares or can take care of it, I pray because it’s breaking my heart, I badly want by children home, and I want it to stay as a “top-shelf issue” in front of God. Am I wrong in my theology and practice by continuing to pray for the same thing? I sometimes feel that it’s blasphemous to re-pray something, as if I’m insinuating that God is not listening, doesn’t care, doesn’t remember, or needs to re-prioritize His to-do list.

And now my answer.

Over the past few weeks I have been reading a book by David McIntyre called The Hidden Life of Prayer and just yesterday I read a section that looks at petitioning God in prayer. McIntyre offers up some thoughts that are directly applicable to your situation. He says that the foundational reason we ought to ask God for the things that are important to us is that God commands us to. It is as simple as that. All through the Bible we are told things like “make your requests known to God” (Philippians 4:6). And so we pray to God in obedience to God.

But a question remains: why? Why would the Lord choose to do things in this way, to have us ask him and even repeatedly plead with him for his blessings. McIntyre offers four reasons and I think these reasons come into sharper focus the longer and the more fervently we pray.

June 14, 2012

If in all the world there is a place that ought to be void of pretense, it is the place of prayer. What value can there be in anything less than complete honesty when speaking to the one who knows our thoughts and hearts and motives far better than we do ourselves? If we are less than honest, we are doing nothing but hindering relationship, we are lying to God, acting as if he cannot see beyond the surface.

In The Hidden Life of Prayer David McIntyre discusses the direction of the mind in prayer and he includes a powerful call to honesty. “In our address to God we like to speak of Him as we think we ought to speak, and there are times when our words far outrun our feelings. But it is best that we should be perfectly frank before Him. He will allow us to say anything we will, so long as we say it to Himself.”

Can we bring even our complaints to God? What would be the purpose? McIntrye answers:

It is possible that some who read these words may have a complaint against God. A controversy of long standing has come between your soul and His grace. If you were to utter the word that is trembling on your lips, you would say to him, “Why hast Thou dealt thus with me?” Then dare to say, with reverence and with boldness, all that is in your heart. “Produce your cause, saith the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob” (Isa. 41.21). Carry your grievance into the light of His countenance; charge your complaint home. Then listen to His answer. For surely, in gentleness and truth, He will clear Himself of the charge of unkindness that you bring against Him. And in His light you shall see light. 

This is not grumbling against God in a sinful way, but simply being respectfully honest, expressing your lack of understanding, your lack of agreement with what God has brought, all the while acknowledging your own lack of understanding. And in prayer the Lord will begin to give you understanding, or at least, to give you himself.

But he also offers an important warning:

June 07, 2012

A Christian cannot have a powerful prayer life unless he takes advantage of the equipment for prayer the Lord offers to him. In The Hidden Life of Prayer David McIntyre says this equipment “is simple, if not always easily secured. It consists particularly of a quiet place, a quiet hour, and a quiet heart.” Let me quote what he says about each of these:

A Quiet Place. “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 seculstion 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.’” McIntrye goes on to show that Jesus himself grew up in a home with what may have been no less than nine people, and yet commanded private “closet” prayer.

A Quiet Hour. “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. The ‘world’s gray fathers’ might linger in the fields in meditation on the covenant-name until darkness wrapt them round. But 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.”

A Quiet Heart. “For most of us, perhaps, it is still harder to secure the quiet heart. … 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.’”

April 27, 2012

Here are seven ways that you can pray about your prayer life. These are seven items you can add to your prayer list as you consider your own prayer life or another person’s.

1) Pray that your prayers would be the expressions of a humble heart.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-6)

2) Pray that God would remind you that he doesn’t want or need your eloquent prayers.

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)

3) Pray that you would remember what the really important requests are.

Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
(Matthew 6:9-13)

December 22, 2011

Acts 12 contains one of my favorite stories of the early church. It is a great little bit of writing—a short story in three acts. I was reflecting on that story recently and just had to tell you about it.

The chapter begins with a description of Herod’s persecution against the church. In order to please his Jewish subjects Herod has James arrested and killed. This makes his subjects so happy that he then goes after Peter, throwing him in prison as well. Knowing the popularity of these upstart Christians, Herod puts Peter under the care of four whole squads of soldiers. The first act ends with these words: “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” This earnest prayer is no incidental detail; it is a little fact, some narrative tension, that the author offers to foreshadow what will come.

The second act tells how Peter is delivered by God through one his angels. Peter, half asleep, sees his chains fall off and quickly passes all the guards before waking up and realizing what is happening. He hurries quickly to the church, to the gathering of people who just happen to be praying for him at that very moment. There is a delightful bit of comedy injected into the text when Rhoda, the servant girl, so excited to hear Peter at the door, runs to tell everyone that he has arrived. But she forgets to let him in; he is left standing on the street, pounding at the door. With the prayer meeting coming to a prompt end, the people belittle Rhoda, refusing to believe that Peter has actually arrived. And yet, because of Peter’s persistent knocking, they soon come to realize that he really has been rescued. Peter quickly tells his story and then disappears, presumably opting to lay low for a little while.

In the third act we return to Herod. Herod has ordered the execution of the soldiers who allowed Peter to escape. And then we find him accepting worship as a god. His Creator is most displeased and strikes him down so “he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” Herod bookends this story, appearing as a cruel tyrant at the beginning and as a pathetic worm-eaten corpse at the end. He has gone from holding the power of life and death in his hand to being struck down by the Lord himself. It’s a pathetic end to a pathetic ruler.

September 18, 2011

This topic has been much on my mind lately—possessions, stuff and contentment. Not too long ago I found a prayer by Scotty Smith that did a great job of asking God for contentment admist all the stuff we do have and amidst all the stuff we could have.

He looks to these two Scripture passages: “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven” (Prov. 23:4–5) and “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Tim 6:6-8).

Loving Father, we continue to live in a difficult economic season. Some of us who thought we’d be retired in a couple of years are now thinking it’s ten, if ever. Some of us have lost jobs, even homes. Some of us are selling stuff and downsizing out of necessity, not choice. Some of our marriages are being stressed to the point of breaking. Some of us are actually being tempted to steal for the first time. Lord, we need wisdom, we need a work of your Spirit, and some of us really do need jobs.

Father, we look to you. Give us the perspective and power of the gospel as we make hard decisions, and reflect on our relationship to money and “stuff.” Free us from an attitude of entitlement and place within us a Spirit of contentment. When did we first assume the right to excess? When did abundance get relabeled as need? Why did we think only first-century disciples of Jesus would ever actually have to pray for daily bread?

In our “iWorld” of new gadgets and cool widgets, help us ponder the fact that over half of the population on the earth exists on three of our American dollars, or less, a day. Free us to share with others from the much or little that we have. Help us to raise our children not to love money as much as we have. Don’t let us grow bitter, shame-filled or fearful.

Father, if we would wear ourselves out for anything, let it be to become rich toward you (Luke 12:20–21)—to have the gospel so penetrate our hearts that we cry out with spontaneous joy, “Who do I have in heaven but you, O Lord, and being with you I desire nothing on the earth . . . You are my portion, sovereign Lord.”

Lord Jesus, you who were immeasurably rich in all things became incomprehensibly poor for us, so that we, who were desperately poor in sin, might be made inconceivably rich in grace. We worship and adore, with humility and gratitude. We thank you for the daily bread of both wheat and the gospel. So very Amen we pray, in your holy and gracious name.

September 16, 2011

PrayerMateIf you keep up with this blog, you know that I’ve been trying to learn how other people—pastors in particular—organize their prayer life. The fact is that I am a forgetful person and, at heart, a selfish one. Yet I want to pray for the things that I ought to pray for—the things that are important to the people I serve at my church. And I want to pray for other requests that come along, the kind of requests I mean to pray for, but tend to forget about. If I do not organize my prayer life, I naturally gravitate to only those things that are most urgent to me.

What I am finding is that most people, at least most pastors, eventually develop some kind of a system that ensures they pray for all the things they want and need to pray for. I am eager to learn from them.

But then something interesting happened. A reader of this site happens to have developed an app for iPhones or iPods that is meant to organize a person’s prayer life. He calls it PrayerMate. Now listen, I am as wary as anyone about using an app for prayer. But he sent me a copy of the app and asked if I’d like to check it out. Rather on a whim I decided to give it a try for a 1-week period. So for 7 days I relied on the app to guide me. And I have to say that I was quite impressed. It ended up being a very useful aid. I was genuinely surprised by this.

Now, I think the usefulness of the app will vary a lot with how and when you pray. I tend to do my praying early in the morning, before phone calls and text messages start to come in. If I were to use this app in the middle of the day I know I would be interrupted too often. But in the way I used it, it was remarkably helpful.

Here is what Andy Geers, who developed the app, says about it:

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!

Pages