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Reading Classics Together

August 09, 2012

For several years now I have been leading a program called “Reading Classics Together.” The program exists so that we can read classic Christian books in community because, well, just about everything is better in community. Today we begin reading Jerry Bridges’ The Discipline of Grace. What I try to do in these weekly wrap-up posts is share just a couple of the important points that are at the heart of the chapter. If you’d like to read along with the few hundred of us who are going through this book, please do. Simply get a copy of the book and read the first two chapters for next Thursday. For the time being, here is a reflection on the first chapter.

Bridges concern in this book is that so many Christians acknowledge that we are saved by grace through faith—which is to say, that we gain favor with God and are saved because of his grace—but they then begin to believe that what sustains God’s favor is our performance. The more we do what God demands, the more we do what is good, the more of his favor we experience. And so Bridges begins with a simple question: How good is good enough? He poses a scenario we can all identify with.

“You get up promptly when your alarm goes off and have a refreshing and profitable quiet time as you read your Bible and pray. Your plans for the day generally fall into place, and you somehow sense that presence of God with you. To top it off, you unexpectedly have an opportunity to share the gospel with someone who is truly searching. As you talk with the person, you silently pray for the Holy Spirit to help you and to also work in your friend’s heart.” We’ve all had days like that. But we’ve also all had days like this: “You don’t arise at the first ring of your alarm. Instead, you shut it off and go back to sleep. When you awaken, it’s too late to have a quiet time. You hurriedly gulp down some breakfast and rush off to the day’s activities. You feel guilty about oversleeping and missing your quiet time, and things just generally go wrong all day. You become more and more irritable as the day wears on, and you certainly don’t sense God’s presence in your life. That evening, however, you unexpectedly have an opportunity to share the gospel with someone who is really interested in receiving Christ as Savior.” 

Bridges then asks if you would enter into those two witnessing opportunities with a different degree of confidence. Think about it for a moment. If you’re like most Christians, I suspect you would feel less confident about witnessing on a bad day then on a good day. You would feel less confidence that God would speak in and through you and that you would be able to share your faith forcefully and with conviction.

July 26, 2012

Reading Classics Together
In 2007 I had an idea that changed my life. For years I had wanted to read some of the classics of the Christian faith, but I knew that without a measure of accountability I would never have the self-discipline to make my way through them. I realized that this accountability could come by reading books together in community and decided to launch a reading program called Reading Classics Together.

In the years since this program began we’ve read some amazing classics from years gone by and from the present time. These include titles like Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul, and Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Most recently we read David McIntyre’s The Hidden Life of Prayer. These books and others like them have benefited me immensely and I know the same is true of those who have read along with me.

The Discipline of GraceHaving recently finished two older titles I think it is time to look at another contemporary classic—Jerry Bridge’s The Discipline of Grace. This is a book I have read before but one I am anxious to read again. We hear a lot of talk these days about being gospel-centered and about preaching the gospel to yourself. Bridges was telling us all of these things long before it was cool to do so. The publisher does a good job of explaining why this is an important book.

We know we need grace. Without it we’d never come to Christ in the first place, but being a Christian is more than just coming to Christ. It’s about growing and becoming more like Jesus—it’s about pursuing holiness. The pursuit of holiness is hard work, and that’s where we turn from grace to discipline—and often make a big mistake.

Grace is every bit as important for growing as a Christian as it is for becoming a Christian. “The pursuit of holiness,” writes Jerry Bridges, “must be anchored in the grace of God; otherwise it is doomed to failure.” Grace is at the heart of the gospel, and without a clear understanding of the gospel and grace we can easily slip into a performance-based lifestyle that bears little resemblance to what the gospel offers us.

According to Bridges, many Christians don’t have a good grasp of what the gospel message is. In The Discipline of Grace, he offers a clear and thorough explanation of the gospel and what it means to the believer. Bridges discusses how the same grace that brings us to faith in Christ also disciplines us in Christ, and how we learn to discipline ourselves in the areas of commitment, conviction, choices, watchfulness, and adversity.

If you’ve ever struggled with what your role is and what role God takes in your growth as a Christian, this book will comfort and challenge you as you learn to rest in Christ while vigorously pursuing a life of holiness.

Though this book follows two of his other titles, it stands very well on its own.

How does the Reading Classics program work? It’s easy! Simply get yourself a copy of the book and read the first chapter before August 9, two weeks from today. Then visit the blog on the 9th; I will have a reflection on the first chapter which you can read and, if you are so inclined, comment on. We will read a chapter a week until the book is finished. It’s that simple!

Buy It

The book is widely available.

If you’re going to read along with me, why don’t you just leave a comment below so I can get a gauge on interest.

July 05, 2012

Those of us who have been reading David McIntyre’s classic work The Hidden Life of Prayer have now come to the end of the book, and before I leave off, I want to share just a couple of reflections on this week’s reading. This week we read a chapter titled “The Hidden Riches of the Secret Place” (and then followed it with “The Open Recompense”). Having already told us why we ought to pray and having given some direction on the method of prayer, McIntyre now wants to point to the treasures stored up for those who do pray and who pray faithfully. He finds two of them.

The first is holiness. “Through prayer our graces are quickened, and holiness is wrought in us.” Because prayer is a means through which we experience and exercise all of God’s graces, it is a crucial component of the path to holiness. He says, “Communion with God is the condition of spiritual growth. It is the soul in which all the graces of the divine life root themselves. If the virtues were the work of man, we might perfect them one by one, but they are the fruit of the Spirit and grow together in one common life.”

He offers an important encouragement about our growth in holiness, saying

While we abide in Christ, we ought not to allow ourselves to be discouraged by the apparent slowness of our advancement in grace. In nature, growth proceeds with varying speed. Sibbes compares the progressive sanctification of believers to the increase in herbs and trees,” which “grow at the root in winter, in the leaf in summer, and in the seed in autumn.” The first of these forms of increase seems very slow; the second is more rapid; the third rushes on to full maturity. In a few days of early autumn a field of grain will seem to ripen more than in weeks of midsummer.

Do you want to grow in holiness? Then you must pray. Do you pray? Then look to your life and you will see that growth in holiness.

The second hidden treasure in prayer is intimacy with Jesus Christ. This is, of course, directly related to the first. “Communion with God discovers the excellence of His character, and by beholding Him the soul is transformed. Holiness is conformity to Christ, and this is secured by a growing intimacy with Him. It is evident that this consideration opens up a vast field for reflection.”

June 28, 2012

In last week’s reading in David McIntyre’s The Hidden Life of Prayer we looked at praising God in prayer. This week we were to read two chapters, one that looked at supplication and one that looked at confession—two other integral components of prayer.

I found the chapter on supplication—making requests of God in prayer—particularly helpful. Though I shared a few elements of that chapter in a blog post yesterday, I want to share them again today. They have already proven very helpful and practical in my own life and ministry; they have helped sharpen my understanding of why God does not just grant us the things we believe we need, but instead tells us to pray to him. They have helped me see the goodness of God in having us labor in prayer.

McIntyre tells us of four things the Lord accomplishes in us as we labor in prayer:

  • Dependence. “By prayer our continued and humble dependence on the grace of God is secured. If the bestowments of the covenant came to us without solicitation, as the gifts of nature do, we might be tempted to hold ourselves in independence of God, to say, ‘My power, and the might of mine hand, hath gotten me this wealth’ (Deut. 8:17).”
  • Communion. “The Lord desires to have us much in communion with Himself. The reluctance of the carnal heart to dwell in God’s presence is terrible. We will rather speak of Him than to Him. How often He finds occasion to reprove us, saying, ‘The companions hearken to thy voice; cause Me to hear it.’ A father will prize an ill-spelled, blotted-scrawl from his little child, because it is a pledge and seal of love. And precious in the sight of the Lord are the prayers of His saints.”
  • Preparation. “Much, very much, has often to be accomplished in us before we are fitted to employ worthily the gifts we covet. And God effects this preparation of heart largely by delaying to grant our request at once, and so holding us in the truth of His presence until we are brought into a spiritual understanding of the will of Christ for us in this respect. If a friend, out of his way (Luke 11:6), comes to us, hungry, and seeking from us the bread of life, and we have nothing to set before him, we must go to Him who has all store of blessing. And if He should seem to deny our prayer, and say, ‘Trouble Me not,’ it is only that we may understand the nature of the blessing we seek, and be fitted to dispense aright the bounty of God.”
  • Cooperation. “Once more, we are called to be fellow-laborers together with God, in prayer, as in all other ministries. The exalted Saviour ever lives to make intercession; and to His redeemed people He says, ‘Tarry ye here, and watch with Me’ (Matt. 26:38). There is a great work to be done in the hearts of men, there is a fierce battle to be waged with spiritual wickedness in heavenly places. Demons are to be cast out, the power of hell to be restrained, the works of the devil to be destroyed. And in these things it is by prayer above all other means that we shall be able to co-operate with the Captain of the Lord’s host.”

June 21, 2012

The sexual relationship within marriage is powerful and beautiful, but it can only be described to a certain extent; eventually it must be experienced to be understood. The young soon-to-be-married man imagining the sexual relationship with his wife-to-be can really only guess at what it will be like; the bit he understands about it brings about a good and pure longing in his heart to actually experience it. The same is true of so many of the beautiful things in life; beauty calls to be experienced.

Worship is much the same. I love reading about worship, but it is always ultimately dissatisfying because it stirs up the desire to experience worship. This longing to experience beauty is part of the great hope of every Christian—the desire to experience the beauty of worshipping God face-to-face. While we love worship in this world, it is always stained by sin and it is always mediated, and for these reasons we long for the real thing, the fullest thing.

I thought about beauty and the beauty of worship as I read this week’s chapter in The Hidden Life of Prayer. When I was a child I was taught the ACTS acronym to help me distinguish between the different kinds of prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. Christians use different terms for these things; some combine them into fewer categories and some add a couple. What is consistent, though, is that there are different ways to pray. At times prayer is full of praise and thanksgiving, at times prayer focuses on confession of sin, while at other times it is full of pleas for the Lord’s help and guidance.

In The Hidden Life of Prayer, David McIntyre speaks of worship, confession and request as the three components of prayer. This week’s Reading Classics Together brought us to his chapter titled “The Engagement: Worship.” Here he gives three ways in which “the tribute of praise which the saints are instructed to render to the Lord may arise,” which is to say, three reasons for which we ought to express worship in prayer: in acknowledgement of daily mercies; in thanksgiving for the great redemption; and in contemplation of the Divine perfection.

Returning to my earlier analogy, I wonder if we are approaching the point in these discussions of prayer where there is really only so much that can be said without simply turning to prayer. As much as I enjoyed this chapter, it felt like something that would be far better experienced than described. I am glad to hear of how a man offers prayers of thanksgiving for his redemption, but I would far rather offer prayer for my own redemption. I suppose that is the ultimate purpose of any book on prayer—to make us pray. Later on in the book McIntyre will quote John Laidlaw who says this: “The main lesson about prayer is just this: Do it! Do it! Do it!” In good Baptist style I’ll add an “amen!” to that.

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.’”

May 31, 2012

Reading Classics Together
Today we begin reading a new Christian classic together—David McIntyre’s The Hidden Life of Prayer. If you would like to read along with us, consult this post where you’ll find instructions on downloading the free audio book or the $0.99 Kindle book and find some places where you can purchase the printed book.

As is my habit, I will begin with a couple of brief thoughts on this week’s reading (chapter 1) and then keep comments open so anyone else who has read along can tell us what value or questions or concerns or applications they found.

Discussion

The Hidden Life of Prayer is a book of short chapters, which I believe is ideal for our purposes. The short chapters mean we can read them early in the week and then work on application. I doubt there is any area of the Christian life which requires as much practice as prayer; neither is there any area of the Christian life in which we are prone to give up so easily.

I found several challenges and encouragements in the first chapter and the foremost was this: prayer is hard work. There is something so liberating about that. I find prayer a difficult, difficult task. Not only are there always hundreds of other things competing for my time and attention—things that either keep me from even attempting to pray or things that attempt to distract me while I pray—but even the act of communicating with God can be very difficult. It is often hard to believe that prayer matters or that my prayers matter. Many days it feels like they must be rising no higher than the ceiling. Other days it feels like I have nothing to say to God and there is nothing God would want to hear from me.

To all of this McIntyre says, “Prayer is hard work.”

Prayer is the most sublime energy of which the spirit of man is capable. It is in one aspect glory and blessedness; in another, it is toil and travail, battle and agony. Uplifted hands grow tremulous long before the field is won; straining sinews and panting breath proclaim the exhaustion of the “heavenly footman.” The weight that falls upon an aching heart fills the brow with anguish, even when the midnight air is chill.

May 24, 2012

Read on and you will be able to download a free audiobook. That’s a teaser, of sorts. Before we get there, I want to remind you of the new Reading Classics Together project that will begin next week.

John Piper once said, “God brings books at their appointed times. The Hidden Life of Prayer arrived late but well-timed. This little jewel-strewn tapestry has done for me at 64 what Bounds’ Power Through Prayer did at 34. I could be ashamed that I need inspiration for the highest privilege. But I choose to be thankful.” For all the great classics we’ve read as part of the Reading Classics Together program, none of them have focused exclusively on prayer. For that reason, and based on its history and acclaim, we will turn next to The Hidden Life of Prayer. Already hundreds of you have agreed to read along.

The format is simple: Beginning next Thursday will read one chapter of the book each week and then gather here to discuss it. If you want to participate, all you need to do is get a copy of the book and start reading. For next Thursday just read any introductory matter along with chapter one. 

There are many ways you can get a copy of the book, some of which are free and some of which will require just a few dollars.

  • Westminster Books has kindly discounted a print edition to just $5.49. Click the link to take advantage.
  • The Kindle edition is available for just $0.99.
  • Chapel Library has the PDF for no charge.
  • Granted Ministries has a nice new edition that also includes The Prayer-Life of Our Lord, a sequel of sorts. The cost is just $7.50.
  • A Google search will turn up many online editions.

After I announced that we would be reading this classic, ChristianAudio got in touch with me and said that they would like to record and then give away the audio version of the book. They recorded it earlier this week and it has now been added to their catalog.

  • Click here to take advantage. Simply add the book to your cart and apply the coupon code HLOP12. That will reduce the price to $0.00. Then follow the checkout procedure and you will be all set. It won’t cost you a dime.

Finally, a word about The Hidden Life of Prayer:

The Hidden Life of Prayer

This classic was written by David McIntyre (sometimes spelled M’Intyre) who lived from 1859 to 1938. McIntyre was a Scottish preacher who succeeded Andrew Bonar as minister in Finnieston and later served as principal of the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow from 1913 to 1938. His book was first published in 1913. He describes the book’s purpose in his preface: “Books on secret prayer are without number; but it seems to me that there is still room for one in which an appeal may be taken, steadily, and from every point, to life—to the experience of God’s saints.”

One publisher’s introduction to the book says this: “Upon the foundation of biblical teaching, M’Intyre piles example after example of what has been helpful and effective in the prayer lives of many Christians, from Augustine to Spurgeon. The result is a handbook for prayer based both on Scripture and on the time-tested wisdom of God’s people through the centuries. Reading this book will, therefore, give you an abundance of counselors (Proverbs 11:14) to help you toward a victorious prayer life.” 

May 17, 2012

Reading Classics Together
John Piper once said, “God brings books at their appointed times. The Hidden Life of Prayer arrived late but well-timed. This little jewel-strewn tapestry has done for me at 64 what Bounds’ Power Through Prayer did at 34. I could be ashamed that I need inspiration for the highest privilege. But I choose to be thankful.” For all the great classics we’ve read as part of the Reading Classics Together program, none of them have focused exclusively on prayer. For that reason, and based on its history and acclaim, we will turn next to The Hidden Life of Prayer.

It was back in 2007 that I had an idea that genuinely changed my life. I wanted to read some of the classics of the Christian faith, but I knew that without some measure of accountability I would never have the self-discipline to make it happen. I realized that this accountability could come by reading classics together in community. I decided to launch a reading program called Reading Classics Together. It was simple: We would choose a classic work and read it at a pace of one chapter per week until it was complete; along the way we would “gather” here at the blog for discussion.

The Hidden Life of PrayerIn the years since this program began we’ve read some amazing classics from years gone by and from the present time. These include titles like Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul, and, most recently, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. These books and others like them have benefited me immensely and I know the same is true of those who have read along with me. I am sure that The Hidden Life of Prayer will be a good fit in this program.

This classic was written by David McIntyre (sometimes spelled M’Intyre) who lived from 1859 to 1938. McIntyre was a Scottish preacher who succeeded Andrew Bonar as minister in Finnieston and later served as principal of the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow from 1913 to 1938. His book was first published in 1913. He describes the book’s purpose in his preface: “Books on secret prayer are without number; but it seems to me that there is still room for one in which an appeal may be taken, steadily, and from every point, to life—to the experience of God’s saints.”

One publisher’s introduction to the book says this: “Upon the foundation of biblical teaching, M’Intyre piles example after example of what has been helpful and effective in the prayer lives of many Christians, from Augustine to Spurgeon. The result is a handbook for prayer based both on Scripture and on the time-tested wisdom of God’s people through the centuries. Reading this book will, therefore, give you an abundance of counselors (Proverbs 11:14) to help you toward a victorious prayer life.” 

There are many ways you can get a copy of the book, some of which are free and some of which will require just a few dollars.

  • Westminster Books has kindly discounted a print edition to just $5.49. Click the link to take advantage.
  • The Kindle edition is available for just $0.99.
  • Chapel Library has the PDF for no charge.
  • Granted Ministries has a nice new edition that also includes The Prayer-Life of Our Lord, a sequel of sorts. The cost is just $7.50.
  • A Google search will turn up many online editions.

My plan is to begin discussing this book on May 31. That gives you two weeks to secure a copy and read the first chapter along with any introductory matter. Then you simply need to visit this site and we can discuss it together. We will read one chapter per week until it is complete. The chapters are short, but will require time and reflection in order to apply, so this seems like a good and manageable pace.

Will you read it with me? If so, get a copy of the book and visit the blog on May 31 so we can discuss it together. In the meantime, leave a comment to let me know that you’ll be reading along.

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