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Quotes

December 21, 2014

I am looking forward to Christmas this year. Though I have no great affection for the Christmas season and all its commercialization, I do love the day, and I love to celebrate it with my family. I have also been able to preach for the past couple of Sundays which has helped me focus on the unfathomable wonder of God made man. Yet of all I read and all I pondered, the sweetest might be this simple prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson. In light of all the ugliness in the world today, it seems especially timely in its call to peace, love, and deliverance from evil.

Loving Father, Help us remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.

Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts. May the Christmas morning make us happy to be Thy children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake, Amen!

December 14, 2014

Whatever else we know about Charles Spurgeon, and whatever else we honor and respect in him, what always stands out to me is his unshakable confidence in the Bible. I recently came across two short quotes, both of which stand as eloquent proof of his love of God’s Word, and both of which stand as a challenge to me to imitate him in this regard.

There are some people who seem as if they would not be converted unless they can see some eminent minister. Even that will not suit some of them—they need a special revelation from Heaven. They will not take a text from the Bible—though I cannot conceive of anything better than that—but they think that if they could dream something, or if they could hear words spoken in the cool of the evening by some strange voice in the sky, then they might be converted. Well, Brothers and Sisters, if you will not eat the apples that grow on trees, you must not expect angels to come and bring them to you!

Well, my Brothers and Sisters, whenever you put your hand to your brow and say, concerning anything revealed in the Scriptures, ‘I cannot comprehend it,’ lay your other hand upon your heart and say, ‘Nevertheless I believe it. It is clearly taught in the Bible and although my reason may find it difficult to explain it, and I may not be able to discover any arguments to prove the truth of it, yet I lay my reason down at my Infallible Master’s feet and trust where I cannot see.’

December 07, 2014

I continue to enjoy and benefit from Prone to Wander, a new book of prayers that was inspired by The Valley of Vision. This week I found a prayer meant to stir up delight in God, and to seek forgiveness for when we did not delight in him. Here it is.

Almighty Lord,

We find great delight in your creation and the good things you have given us to enjoy, but we rarely spend time delighting in you. We tend to enjoy you when you give us what we want, but we become anxious, fretful, and angry when life is hard and you seem unwilling to rescue us from uncomfortable or painful circumstances. We spend many days haunted by guilty fears over the sins that we have committed, forgetting the wounds that will forever scar the hands of your Son, and that plead forgiveness for us every moment of every day. We fail to bear grief and shame patiently, because we forget that you alone are our stronghold in times of trouble, and you are working all things together for our good. Father, forgive us.

We thank you for your radiant and beautiful Son, who delighted in you above all else and perfectly committed all his ways to your sovereign will. We praise you that his flawless obedience is ours through faith, and we are forever reconciled to you as your beloved children. Instead of trying to escape discomfort, Jesus chose the pathway of excruciating pain in order to purchase us. In the tomb he waited patiently for you, trusting in you for his salvation. You delivered him from death, making a showcase of his righteousness and your justice, investing him with great honor and glory. He took refuge in you, and you exalted his name above every other name. Thank you for uniting us to Christ and for loving us in the very same way that you love him.

Father, cause us to find overwhelming delight in the salvation you have given us through Christ. Stir our weak souls to arise and shake off the fearful guilt we cling to with stubborn pride. Open our eyes more and more to see our great High Priest, crushed for us, and now pleading for us before your throne. May we treasure his love and believe with all our hearts that nothing can separate us from it, not even the sin with which we continue to struggle. Give us such great confidence in the gospel that we run joyfully to you in the midst of our weakness, to hear your pardoning voice and feel the ardent and passionate embrace of our true Father. Amen.

November 23, 2014

I have been enjoying Tim Keller’s new book on prayer (Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God). There are many of prayer’s mysteries he handles with exellence and perhaps none more so than what Paul means when, in Romans 8, he writes these words: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” What are these groanings or sighs? Here is Keller’s answer.

There has been some debate over the meaning of “the Spirit’s groans.” Some believe that this is the spirit helping us when we are desperate and groaning, but it is unlikely that this is describing only times of depression. Rather, the “weakness” referred to in verse 26 is the weakness described in the preceding verses, which refer not just to times of despondancy but to our entire human situation of frustrated longings as we await the future glory (vv. 18-25, especially v.23). We know that God is working out all things for our good according to his will (v.28), but seldom can we discern what that good actually is. In other words, most of the time, we don’t know exactly what outcome we should pray for. The Spirit, however, makes our groaning his groaning, putting his prayers to the Father inside our prayers. He does so by placing within us a deep, inexpressible longing to do God’s will and see his glory. This aspiration—this “groaning” desire to please him—comes through in our petitions to God. In every specific request, then, the Father hears us praying for what is both truly best for us and pleasing to him, “and the intercession of the Spirit is answered as God works all things for our good.” The Spirit enables us to long for the future glory of God and his will, even though we don’t know the specific things we should pray for here and now.

Prayer is the way to experience the powerful confidence that God is handling our lives well, that our bad things will turn out for good, our good things cannot be taken from us, and the best things are yet to come.

November 16, 2014

I recently came across this powerful prayer—I can’t even remember where I found it. I wanted to share it with you as a great example of a prayer of true and deep repentance.

My God, I feel it is heaven to please Thee, and to be what Thou wouldst have me be. O that I were holy as Thou art holy, pure as Christ is pure, perfect as Thy Spirit is perfect! These, I feel, are the best commands in Thy Book, and shall I break them? must I break them? am I under such a necessity as long as I live here?

Woe, woe is me that I am a sinner, that I grieve this blessed God, who is infinite in goodness and grace! O if He would punish me for my sins, it would not [wound] my heart so deep to offend Him; But though I sin continually, He continually repeats His kindness to me.

At times I feel I could bear any suffering, but how can I dishonour this glorious God? What shall I do to glorify and worship this best of beings? O that I could consecrate my soul and body to His service, without restraint, for ever! O that I could give myself up to Him, so as never more to attempt to be my own! or have any will or affections that are not perfectly conformed to His will and His love! But, alas, I cannot live and not sin.

O may angels glorify Him incessantly, and, if possible, prostrate themselves lower before the blessed King of heaven! I long to bear a part with them in ceaseless praise; but when I have done all I can to eternity I shall not be able to offer more than a small fraction of the homage that the glorious God deserves. Give me a heart full of divine, heavenly love.

November 09, 2014

A couple of times now I have shared prayers from a new book I am really enjoying. Prone to Wander is a wonderful new collection of prayers inspired by The Valley of Vision. I probably can’t share too many more of them lest I fun afoul of copyright laws, but I did want to share this amazing and convicting one. Let this be your prayer of confession to God:

King of heaven,

We confess before you the pride, fear, and selfishness that closes our eyes to hurting people around us. Though we share their flesh and blood, we are quick to look away when their suffering and brokenness make us uncomfortable. Instead of looking at them and seeing their great need, we quickly walk away, and turned toward people who make us feel good. Forgive us for the help that we should have offered this week that we did not. Forgive us for the help that we offered for sinful reasons: to feel proud and superior, to purchase friendship, or to put people in our debt. Forgive us for the times when our hearts have been full of resentment and bitterness toward hurting people for needing us, and toward you for asking us to help them. Lord, we cannot obey you with pure hearts and minds. Thank you that in your deep love for us you have not despised and abhorred us in our great affliction, but treasured us and sent your Son to rescue us.

Jesus, you see our great need and are not ashamed of us. We are crippled and afflicted by weakness and sin, but you rushed to rescue us. You took on the weakness of our human bodies and entered our sin– infested world in order to live the life we could not live. Thank you for seeing the needs of those around you, for loving them in their brokenness, and serving them with pure compassion, clean hands, and a pure heart. Thank you for your perfect obedience, which is credited to us, even though we continue to struggle every day with selfish hearts that lack compassion.

Holy spirit, melt our hard hearts, for we cannot soften them. Cause us to see how we have been rescued by our great Savior, and give us the desire and ability to open our eyes, to look around us, to see people as they are, and to love them deeply from a heart of gratitude and concern. Help us to enter the worlds of others, to celebrate with them, to grieve with them, and to walk alongside him with caring hearts and hands that are ready to help. May we grow into people who love as we have been loved and who serve as we have been served. Amen.

November 02, 2014

Sometimes it is good to have a bit of assistance in praying. Prone to Wander is a wonderful new collection of prayers inspired by The Valley of Vision. Last week I shared a prayer from that book that called upon God to Help Us Pray. Today I want to share a second prayer that calls upon the triune God to help us see his purposes in our trials. Here it is:

Guiding Father,

Forgive us for our lack of faith. As you called Abraham out of his country into unknown circumstances, so you often call us to walk through frightening, lonely, or unstable times. In response to trials of various kinds, we have certainly not counted them as joy. Like sheep, we are prone to wander at these times; we have turned—everyone one of us—to our own way. In moments of suffering, we have looked for wisdom from this world, comforting ourselves with man-made schemes to deal with our suffering or escaping into addictive patterns of numbing behavior. Our vision for what you are doing in our lives in the midst of suffering is blindingly clouded by fear and anger, and we have consistenly settled for our own limited, self-centered vision as the final word of truth.

Yet in your immeasurable grace, the Good Shepherd has laid down his life for his selfish, wandering sheep. Holy Jesus, thank you for the life of doubtless faith that you lived on our behalf. You came from heaven to take on human flesh and live perfectly in the place of your children. In the midst of every kind of trial and temptation, you responded with utmost truth and faith in your Father’s will. Even as your Father turned his face away as you were crucified for our sin of unbelief, you remained faithful to your final breath, declaring your atoning work as finished. What vast, free, abounding grace!

Spirit of God, bind our wandering hearts to you as we walk through the paths that you have ordained for us. When we suffer, be our vision by teaching us to count this cost as joy and strengthening our belief that you always have redemptive purposes in the suffering of your children, as we see so clearly in the cross of Christ. Enable us to cry out for wisdom when we lack it, and humble us to see that we lack wisdom often. Grow our faith in the promise that you will not leave us as we pass through troubled waters, that we will not be burned when we are called to walk through fire, and that we do not need to fear, for you have called us by name; we are yours. In Jesus’ name, amen.

October 26, 2014

Sometimes it is good to have a bit of assistance in praying. Prone to Wander is a wonderful new collection of prayers inspired by The Valley of Vision. One of those prayers is about praying—seeking God’s forgiveness for praying poorly, and seeking God’s help to pray more powerfully and skillfully. Here it is:

Heavenly Father,

Teach us to love prayer. Help us to live our lives before you, in public and in private, at church and at home, each prayer and each moment perfumed with the incense of Christ’s atoning blood. We are invited by your promises to come to you with all our burdens and desires. Draw us by the power of your Spirit, or our hearts and minds will wander carelessly from thought to thought, and our anxieties will rule over us.

We praise you that great sin draws out great grace, for we are great sinners. We seldom want to pray, and when we do our petitions are laced with self-importance and mixed with sinful motives. We confess our ignorance, for we do not know how to pray, and we confess our willful rebellion for prayers uttered from cold and selfish lips. But we celebrate Jesus and plead his righteousness to cover our iniquities, and rejoice that his obedience weighs more heavily on your scales than all our sin and satisfies your justice in full. Where our guilt is most terrible, your mercy is most free and deep, and we thank you for this incredible grace.

Holy Spirit, by your power, may the throne of grace become the pleasure ground of our souls. There may we know the delight of our Savior’s love, the relief of repentance and reconciliation, the privilege of our sonship. Ignite our hearts with joy before you, quicken our deadness with thanksgiving, and strengthen us to cling to you, love you, and obey you. Fill us with the imagination of faith, which considers all things possible and believes that you are a God who loves to give far beyond all that we could ask or imagine. May we grow to be persistent in prayer, until Christ is the pulse of our hearts, the spokesman of our lips and the center of all our hopes and longings. In his great name we pray, amen.

October 19, 2014

There is nothing easy about parenting, and nothing easy about the responsibility of training our children in obedience through discipline. Because discipline is unpopular and unpleasant, parents often find themselves looking for substitutes. In her book Parenting Against the Tide, Ann Benton lists five poor substitutes for disciplining our children—five poor substitutes that fail to address the heart.

Excuse Them

This is the voice of therapy culture. Sometimes we make excuses for our child’s misbehavior. We say, “he’s tired, she’s had a hard day, he’s disappointed, she’s traumatised, he’s got low self-esteem …” Now all of these things may be true. But that is not the point. The point is this: are we going to allow our children to take responsibility for their own behavior/misbehavior or not? Or is it always going to be the fault of someone else or of the circumstances? I am not saying we cannot be understanding or sympathetic. But if we are going to praise our children when they do well, surely it is logical to chastise them when they do badly. They make choices, which are moral choices, all day long. If we commend them for the good we cannot merely excuse them for the bad. That is very poor training because it teaches them to blame-shift.

Ignore Them

This is the voice of liberalism, which would be inclined to allow the children as far as possible to do as they like. When called upon to intervene, liberalism refuses to recognise an absolute moral worldview, whereby some things are definitely wrong and some things are definitely right. This is a failure in discipline because we need to instruct our children’s sense of right and wrong and that this is quite outside of how they fell about it. It might feel great to pull someone’s hair but it is wrong. Children have a moral sense, they have a conscience and this conscience is your friend when you discipline. Bring in right and wrong as absolutes. And be clear that the fundamental right course of action for a child is obedience to you.

Organise Them

[This is] the voice of strategic management. Some parents work really hard to avoid the occasion for misbehavior by organizing their children’s life and surroundings. You tie up the cupboards; you take the plug off the computer; you run a tight schedule. You make prevention of confrontation your responsibility. If your child misbehaves it is your fault for not organizing the circumstances so that it was impossible for them to misbehave. By taking this approach you are denying your child the freedom to fail. But you are forgetting that in general in this life we learn more by getting things wrong than by getting things right. It is one of the great routes to wisdom: learn by your mistakes. A child has to have some independence in order to learn to take responsibility. They need to be let off the leash so that they will understand the need for self-discipline. Otherwise you are deceiving yourself. So back off occasionally and see what he/she does.

Consult Them

This is where you always ask the child what he or she would like. There is a place for that of course, say, in a restaurant. But in many parents’ vocabularies, the language of choice has replaced the language of command. They say, “Would you like to wash your hands and come to the table?” Do they really mean that doing those things is optional and that the child can legitimately say “no?” It is an habitual turn of phrase but it also carries a message. And it can turn into parental wheedling and coaxing a child when in fact perhaps she could have just kindly but firmly instructed. It sometimes seems that parents are afraid to tell their children what to do. I want to suggest that it is fine to just say what you want to happen and insist that it does. Parenting is not a consultation exercise. You are the adult and you are there to take the long view and decide what is best. You don’t have to shout and rant, you can just say, “This is what is happening now.” Be in charge.

Bribe Them

It seems such a great idea and in the short-term can be extremely effective. And I am well aware that it is highly recommended in some circles. But it is a poor choice. Firstly because it does not change anything inside — being extrinsic, it only changes outward behavior and that only just enough to hit off the reward. After that, normal misbehavior can be and often is resumed. But worse than that, bribery takes behavior out of the moral framework and makes obedience to you optional. Can that be right? What if the child turns down your proffered sweets or sticker and decides being disobedient is more fun? Do you enter into negotiations and up the ante? You are teaching the children that the only reason to comply is if there is something (material) in it for him. But remember what the Bible says, “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Certainly the next verse talks about the promise attached to a long life in the land. But that is only saying what I often told my children: “Good boys are happy boys; good girls are happy girls.” As a Christian parent you will want your children ultimately to choose good behavior for its own sake. If you habitually bribe them you are effectively denying the child the opportunity for finding out that good behavior is its own reward.

October 12, 2014

For just a few minutes today, I’d like you to think about the things that matter most to you (which, I trust, are your relationships). And then let Michael Horton guide you via his new book Ordinary.

Think of the things that matter most to you. How do you measure your relationships? How do you “measure” your marriage, for example? When my wife and I talk about our relationship, we often have different takes on how things are going. Looking back over the course of our married years, we have seen many ways in which the Lord has bonded us together since our first year together. We can see steady growth and identify ways in which we’ve deepened in our relationship. But when we shift our focus to the short-term, the week-to-week, it becomes harder for us to get an accurate gauge on how we are doing. The extraordinary weekend retreat was memorable, but it’s those ordinary moments filled with seemingly insignificant decisions, conversations, and touches that matter most. This is where most of life is lived. The richest things in life are made up of more than Kodak moments.

Is it any different when you are raising children? The mantra among many parents today, especially dads, is “Quality Time.” But is that true? Think about all that happens in those mundane moments that are unplanned, unprogrammed, unscheduled, and unplugged. Nearly everything! Nicknames are invented, identities and relationships are formed. On the drive home from church, your child asks a question about the sermon that puts one more piece of the puzzle into place for an enduring faith. Everyone in the car benefits from the exchange.

I’ve used the “quality time” line before too, but it’s just an excuse. Can we really compensate for extended absence (even if we are physically present), missing the ordinary details of life, with a dream getaway or by laying out a thousand dollars to take the kids to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Any long-term relationship that wants to grow and be healthy needs those ordinary minutes, hours, days, months, and years. This is more than just enduring those moments passively. It requires engaging in intentional thought and effort as well as enjoyment.

Horton goes on to draw a comparison to the local church and the very ordinary Christian life, but I will have more to say about that in the near future.

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