Results tagged “prayer” from Reformation21 Blog

Feeling Forsaken, But Not Forgotten: An Infertility Story

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I met my husband, Pete, in April of 2004. We were set up on a blind date by a mutual friend who knew both of us well, and our friend thought we would be the perfect match. The only glitch, I lived in South Carolina and he lived in Germany. Pete had been stationed there for several years and had come to visit some friends in the States. That's where our story began. We met for coffee that afternoon and talked for hours, only to say goodbye--never to know if we would meet again. Several months, many emails and phone calls later, we met again and spent a few weeks together getting to know one another's family. After a nine-month deployment, Pete proposed and we were married over Labor Day weekend in 2005. Just after the wedding, I moved to Germany with two suitcases and my violin. It was truly a whirlwind romance.

Living in Germany was like a fairytale. Castles around every corner, rolling meadows, idyllic landscapes, open-air markets, and cobblestone streets were part of my new home--not to mention, the best cappuccinos ever! We traveled as much as we could and we tried to consume all of Europe in the short time we had left. After about 18 months of bliss, we left Germany to begin a new adventure. Pete had a strong desire to become a pastor so we began to pray about the when and the how of our new adventure that were ready to start as soon as possible.

Sadly, all fairytales come to an end. Joanna, Pete's 23 year old sister, was battling brain cancer for the third time, and we made the decision to move to Boca Raton, Fl, to live and work near family so we could support Joanna. Shortly after we moved to Boca, Joanna went to her eternal home where she was finally healed and made whole. It was a very long and painful goodbye, but we thank God for the opportunity we had to be with her daily. 

During this time, we were also beginning to feel the weight of our inability to have children. After our first few months of trying, we thought it would just be a matter of time. As months passed, I became more and more confused. I was only 31. I thought this would be easy, but I quickly discovered that this process would be very difficult and painful. I started asking questions. Was there something wrong? Was I exercising too much? Did I need to gain weight? Did I need to change my diet? Did I really just need to take a vacation and stop stressing? When struggling with infertility, the irrational thoughts and strange questions you have never cease. Even more, trying and concerning are the dark and twisted questions you ask about your faith: Is God angry with me? Is He punishing me for my past sins? I was starting to re-write my theology and it was dangerous. When you endure long periods of silence and suffering, this is one of the greatest pitfalls the enemy seeks to weave into your life.

Every doctor will advise you to wait at least 6-12 months before seeking out medical testing and intervention. After a year and a half without success, we began the long road of tests, procedures and more questions. It is an incredibly stressful and emotional process. And for us, this process went on for the next 6 years. My whole life began to run by the calendar, my body's cycle, medications, blood work, tests, surgeries and a lot of waiting. 

Where do you turn when your emotions vacillate from happy to sad in one day? What do you do when you can't handle baby showers, Mother's Day, or just seeing families together at church? I knew all the theologically correct "answers" in my head but connecting them to my heart was the most challenging part of living out my faith. 

I began to withdraw from social settings centered around babies and would cry after spending time with families whose children I adored. Being a high energy over achiever (aka - a "Type-A control freak"), I naturally wanted to solve my problem quickly. I researched everything on the subject of infertility, met with several different doctors for second and third opinions, changed my diet/lifestyle, went to counseling, joined support groups and prayed fervently. We asked people in our small group at church to pray. We asked our pastors to pray, our family, friends and anyone else who asked, to pray. Psalm 121:1-2 says, "I lift my eyes to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth." This was our answer. I knew God's promises were true and that He always hears the prayers of His people. Not always answering according to our desires or on our timetable, but always in His wisdom and time.

After 5 years of medical treatments, testing, as well as naturopathic and holistic medicines and treatments, we were still barren. We decided to pursue adoption simultaneously with treatment, hoping and trusting that the Lord would answer our prayers to grow our family. Our friends, family and church community truly carried us through this trial with their prayers and encouragement as we pressed on. Our pastor and church officers offered us a special prayer and anointing service and prayed over us, asking God to bless us with children. Next to our wedding ceremony, this ceremony was equally as sacred and beautiful. Witnessing the tears and cries of men as they pleaded with God on our behalf was moving and transformational for our spirits. We left with new life and joy in our hearts.

A year later, we had finished our adoption home study and were waiting for placement. Around the same time, the reproductive endocrinologist had sent me home with sad news - he wouldn't be able to perform another IUI (In-Uterine Insemination) because my ovaries were covered in cysts. It was in these darkest moments, that the Lord met me in the most unexpected ways. I had kept a praise journal over the many years, chronicling all of the ways He had met me.  Notes, gifts, phone calls, surprise visits and many more examples of unexpected encouragement. This day was no exception. As I cried and prayed, I picked up the mail only to find a package with a book inside. A friend had ordered a book for me which arrived the very day I needed it the most. The Infertility Companion had been on backorder and arrived that day. What a gift it was my to my heart! I gave thanks to God for His faithfulness and the strength He continued to supply for my weak spirit.

The next month, I was a few days late in my cycle and laughed off the thought of a pregnancy, knowing it was seemingly impossible. A week later, I humbled myself and took a pregnancy test. It was positive. I drove to the store and bought about ten more tests, to to be sure! I was filled with disbelief and bewilderment. How could this have happened?! Surely the test was wrong and had expired from old shelf life and dust in my cabinet. After the sixth positive test, I decided to get a blood test just to confirm the results. I wish I could say that I was filled with joy but my heart was anxious. We had struggled for so long that the reality of having a baby was too hard to grasp. The results came back positive. We were pregnant! And it took the entire 9-month pregnancy to accept the new reality that we were really going to be parents. God had answered our prayers in His time. Brynn Piper Whitney was born February 19, 2013 and we moved to Savannah, July 6, 2013 as Pete was called to be the Assistant Pastor at Kirk O' the Isles Presbyterian Church.

Two years later, on June 1, 2015, I gave birth to twins--a boy and a girl. I often joke that the prayers of the saints were too powerful. Ecclesiastes 11:5 says, "Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things." God had answered our prayers in the most miraculous and mind-blowing ways! And just to make sure we were removed of any doubts and concrete in our faith, He has opened my womb again at age 41 and given us another miracle that is due in 4 weeks! As if twins weren't enough for our hearts and home, our hearts are so full now they feel as if they might burst at times. Every tear, heartache and disappointment was caught and carried in the hands of God. Psalm 58:6 says, "You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book."

Our faith has been tried, twisted, strained, strengthened and fortified tremendously over the last 10 years as we've witnessed His faithfulness in our lives! Spurgeon says, "No faith is so precious as that which lives and triumphs through adversity. Tested faith brings experience. You would never have believed your own weakness had you not needed to pass through trials. And you would never have known God's strength had His strength not been needed to carry you through." Soli Deo gloria!

 

Nan Whitney lives in Savannah, Ga with her husband, Pete, and their three children, Brynn, Sadie and Landon. Pete is the Pastor at Kirk O' the Isles Presbyterian Church. You can friend Nan on Facebook

 

Praying Through the Scriptures: Joshua 24; Acts 4

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Over the years it has been my practice, learned from others, to offer up praises and petitions framed by a passage of Scripture. Some of these passages were read in preparation for preaching, others offered material for meditation in daily devotion; still others were plundered specifically for the purpose of finding fresh material for prayer. As I continue to learn how to pray I have shared a few prayers with my family and friends for their use or adaptation. Here is the fifth prayer--based on Joshua 24--in a series on Praying Through the Scriptures:

"Father in heaven, long ago you wrested Abraham from the grip of idolatry, delivered your people at the Red Sea, and preserved them in the wilderness. You reversed the curses of Balaak and issued blessings through Balaam. You gave your people a home they did not build, and food they did not earn. Surely, there is no one like you; surely there is no one who saves as you save.

And now in these latter days you have done even more. You have taken us from our idolatry, delivered your people at Calvary, and continue to preserve us in the wilderness of this world. When our accuser would curse us, you bless us. It is because of you alone that we are now destined for a home that is not our making, and that we will be welcomed at a feast that you yourself will spread. Surely, there is salvation in no else but Jesus; surely there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved and eternally blessed.

And so as we count our blessings, help us Lord to serve you in sincerity and in faithfulness. Help us to be able to say, "as for me, and my house, we will serve the Lord." Help us never to deal falsely with you who are so true to us. Help us to do what is right in your sight.

And as we recall our salvation and your sustaining hand, give us the grace to share what we have seen and heard and experienced. Grant us the grace to speak with all boldness. Please fill us with your Holy Spirit to that end. In Jesus name we give you this praise and ask you these favours. AMEN."

Praying Through the Scriptures: Joshua 23

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Over the years it has been my practice, learned from others, to offer up praises and petitions framed by a passage of Scripture. Some of these passages were read in preparation for preaching, others offered material for meditation in daily devotion; still others were plundered specifically for the purpose of finding fresh material for prayer. As I continue to learn how to pray I have shared a few prayers with my family and friends for their use or adaptation. Here is the fourth prayer--based on Joshua 23--in a series on "Praying Through the Scriptures:"

"Lord, you are my God, and I know in my heart and soul that not one word has failed of all the good things that you have promised. All you have declared would come to pass has come to pass. But Father, I know that you are as faithful in your blessings as you are in your chastisements. And so help me to be warned and encouraged by the consistency of your character and by the reliability of your actions.

Lord, you have granted me an inheritance; you are the one who has fought for me. And so give me a grateful heart and the strength - make me very strong! - to keep and to do what is written in your holy book. Help me not to leave the straight path that you have appointed, but to focus on your promises and then your precepts. Help me to cling to you at the end as I did at the first, for I know that I too will one day go the way of all the earth. Help me to be very careful to love you. Keep me from the snares and traps which surround me lest I sin against you and bring shame on your name and grief on myself. Help me by your Holy Spirit we pray.

Father, forgive me - and all your people -- for the sins that we have already committed. Forgive us for conforming to the world around us, for drifting towards what you call evil, for not treasuring what you call good. Forgive me for your Holy Son's sake I pray. Amen."

Note: This short prayer has an earnest, even desperate tone to it - as does Joshua 23. Some attempt has been made to capture the serious warnings of Scripture at this important juncture in the history of Israel. Perhaps it is just what some of us need to pray too, at this point in our lives.

Praying for Our New President-Elect

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What has been termed the most contentious and discouraging Presidential election in my lifetime has finally come to an end. America has spoken. For many Christians, a Trump presidency marks the end of a now fractured Republican Party's fall from unity, integrity, wisdom and stability. For others, our President-Elect Trump's victory is a welcomed win for the religious right in the stand against the current progressive regime's perceived threat to religious freedom, national security, economic stability and Judeo-Christian bio-ethics in America. Whether you are discouraged or elated by the outcome of the election, here are some ways that we should be praying for President-Elect Donald Trump:

Pray that the Lord would give President-Elect Trump biblical wisdom as he, his cabinet and his administration face some of the most daunting challenges of our lifetime. Pray that he and Vice President-Elect Pence will together seek the Lord in His word and in prayer. Our new president will have the unique challenge of being our commander-in-chief. He will lead our military in protecting our citizens and will, therefore, need enormous wisdom to navigate unique defense challenges.

Pray that the Lord would protect our new President. President-Elect Trump and his family will inevitably be the object of threats from wicked men and women. We must pray for their safety during a time of national division. Similarly, we must pray that the Lord keeps our country internally at peace during a time when it is rife with division. 

Pray that the Lord would surround President-Elect Trump with men and women who will serve as wise and competent counsellors. Pray that he would seek out that counsel on a regular basis in order to make good decisions for the future of our country. 

Pray that President-Elect Trump would follow through with his promise to appoint supreme court justices who will protect the unborn. Millions of babies continue to be slaughtered in the womb every year in our country. We must pray that the Lord would bring this unparalleled evil to an end. We must not become callused to this greatest of evils. We should long for a day when the most helpless image bearers are protected in the womb. After all, "God's designated place of safety...has become, tragically, the most unsafe place in the world." 

Pray that our new President would care deeply for the poor and the needy in our country. We must not only pray that he will make wise decisions that will result in a healthy economy, but that he will genuinely care for the well-being of the economically impoverished citizens of our land. 

Pray that President-Elect Trump will defend religious freedom in such a way that men and women in our land will be free to worship and to live out their faith without fear of unjust imprisonment. While many have suggested that persecution would help awaken the church in America from materialistic complacency and compromise, we should never want to be persecuted for worshiping and serving Jesus in truth. The Apostles never wanted persecution for the church in the world, the anticipated it. 

Whether we are discouraged or elated by the election of Donald Trump, we are called to be subject to him. If we are discouraged, we must remember that God commands us to respect, honor and pray for him--as we are for all those who God puts in authority over us (Rom. 13:1, 5, 7; 1 Pet. 2:13-14, 1 Tim. 2:1-2, Rom. 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:17). This is not a time for disrespectful banter--it is a time for prayer. 

On the other hand, if we are elated by the election of Donald Trump, we must pray that the Lord's purposes would triumph over our now President's unbiblical actions. After the 2008 election of Barack Obama, Ligon Duncan wrote an outstanding post--from which I have borrowed much--in which he suggested that we have a responsibility to pray that God's purposes would overrule any unjust Presidential decision making. He wrote:

"Where our new president opposes or undermines biblical moral standards in our society, fails to uphold justice for the unborn, undermines religious liberties or condones an ethos that is hostile to the Gospel, we will pray for God's purposes to triumph over our President's plans and policies." 

It is just as appropriate for us to pray accordingly for President-Elect Donald Trump. Now is not the time for compromising biblical standards in the name of political interest--it is a time for us to pray to the infinitely righteous God who rules over all. 

Whatever our response to the recent news that Donald Trump has been elected our next President, we need to be praying for him and his administration. The next four years will potentially bring unprecedented new dangers and challenges to our nation. Now is not the time for bickering or banter--it's time to bring our new President (and all of our leaders) to the throne of grace and to the One who rules over all. 

Praying Through the Scriptures: Deuteronomy 3

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Over the years it has been my practice, learned from others, to offer up praises and petitions framed by a passage of Scripture. Some of these passages were read in preparation for preaching, others offered material for meditation in daily devotion; still others were plundered specifically for the purpose of finding fresh material for prayer. As I continue to learn how to pray I have shared a few prayers with my family and friends for their use or adaptation. The Alliance has asked me to share some with you too. Here is the third in a series on "Praying Through the Scriptures:"

Deuteronomy 3: Life in Light of the Law

O Lord our God, we confess that when you speak, you speak clearly. The promises of your covenant are perfect; your rules are righteous; the law you have delivered to us is not hard to understand. We also confess, O Lord, that have every reason to study your commandments and follow them carefully - for you are not only the God who has made us for yourself; you are also the one who has redeemed us for yourself. It is the story of our lives that we were enslaved until you rescued us. We served other gods, we made our own idols, we honoured our names above yours, we took little time to be holy, and these are but a few of our sins. We thought we were free, but in truth, we were chained to our sins. 

 As if that were not enough, even after your deliverance, we are strangely drawn to dark places that we know too well. We still fail to give our parents their full honour, we've held hate in our hearts, and we sometimes lust with our eyes. The covetousness hidden in our hearts has leaked out into our lives: we want what is not ours, and then cover the sins we ought to confess. Sometimes we our greed comes out in our actions. Often it is evident in our speech. We have taken from the reputation of others in attempts to exalt our own. We have lied by exaggerating our abilities, and denying your work in us by failing to mention it. Forgive us, we pray, for our many sins. 

 Our Father, we confess that in ourselves we deserve to be under a cloud, to live in thick darkness, or even to die. What have we earned for ourselves, except a full measure of your judgment? And so how can we find words that measure our true thankfulness? How can we praise you enough for delivering us from such fears by sending your Son? It was He who endured the darkness. It was his soul that was consumed by the thunder of your wrath. An eternity of our punishment was rushed upon Him in our place and for our sakes. We bless you this day that we are allowed to taste the glory and greatness of your grace, because he was crushed under the awesome power of your anger. 

 But will you help us? Will you aid us by your Holy Spirit to be careful to do what you command, and not to turn away to the right hand or to the left? Will you help us to walk in your ways, and to live, to thrive in so doing? Will you give us a heart like this always? And then beyond all our deserving, will you give us many days to live for your praise, until our Redeemer returns, or until you call us home to that eternal land which we will possess through Jesus Christ our Lord?


Chad Van Dixhoorn is Chancellor's Professor of Historical Theology for Reformed Theological Seminary. He is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM) and the University of Cambridge (PhD). In 2013 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in recognition of his five-volume work on the Westminster Assembly, published by Oxford University Press. Chad and his wife Emily have five children. He organizes his free time by coaching little league, losing tennis matches against all comers, and reading NYT bestsellers.

[Editorial note: This prayer may be used or adapted freely and without authorial attribution. If printed in an order of service, simply cite the source of the prayer as "reformation21.org." As with other written material on Reformation21, it may not be reproduced for any commercial purpose without the author's written permission.]

Praying Through the Scriptures: Genesis 2

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"We come to you this morning, our Maker, Redeemer and eternal Rest. You are the one who patterns the weeks of our lives, ordered by the work of your creation and the rest of your holy day. We praise you for giving us work for six days and rest for one day.

We know that every day belongs to you, but you have set one day apart. With your permission, we call this day a holy day. For your honour, we call this day the Lord's day. With your encouragement, we celebrate this day designed for our good. We bless you for this gift; we ask that you would give us on this day some of the rest that we crave, and grant us a Sabbath day's blessing, we pray.

We also know that the whole of the Christian life is to be a life of worship, but we know that you call us together to worship you as your gathered people, redeemed by your Son and our glorious Saviour, the Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. We ask that you will help us by your Holy Spirit, to worship you this day. Assist us in our prayers, speak to us through your Word, bless us through every gift and means of grace we ask.

Finally, O Lord, we admit today that even as we consider your goodness, we also see our failures. We find faults in our working, when we do too little, or do too much. We see wrongs in our resting, when we treat each day alike, or shrink your day down to a sixty-minute Sabbath. And so we come to you on your day, confessing that we are weary of our foolishness and tired of our sins. Lift our heavy hearts by your Holy Spirit, and give us the true rest we need. Pardon our sins because of the work of Jesus Christ. And then so bless us this day that we will show forth your Lordship every day, until we reach the promised rest purchased for us by Jesus Christ Our Lord, in whose name we pray. AMEN."



Chad Van Dixhoorn is Chancellor's Professor of Historical Theology for Reformed Theological Seminary. A former British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, in 2013 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in recognition of his five-volume work on the Westminster Assembly, published by Oxford University Press. Chad and his wife Emily have five children. He organizes his free time by coaching little league, losing tennis matches against all comers, and reading NYT bestsellers. 

[Editorial note: This prayer may be used or adapted freely and without authorial attribution. If printed in an order of service, simply cite the source of the prayer as "reformation21.org." As with other written material on Reformation21, it may not be reproduced for any commercial purpose without the author's written permission.]

What Andy Stanley Has Forgotten

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What Andy Stanley has forgotten is that conversion to Christianity involves a supernatural rebirth that requires the Word of God. Forgetting this essential truth has been the tendency of the seeker-sensitive church-growth movement. This vital truth is forgotten wherever sociology is given a higher priority in the church than theology--whether the church is Reformed or broadly evangelical. It is forgotten by pastoral search committees whenever they seek a charismatic personality in place of faithfulness to the ministry of the Word. And it is forgotten by churches that give the sacraments a higher place of priority than Bible preaching in the worship service. In reality, all of us forget that salvation takes place only by the grace of God through the Word of God when we neglect prayer as an essential component to our evangelism.

In case we have forgotten, let the Scriptures remind us of the necessity and centrality of the Word of God in every ministry of the church:

How are we to lead sinners to faith? Paul answers: "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:10).

By what means are unbelievers converted? Peter states: "You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God" (1 Pet. 1:23).

How are churches revived? God commanded Ezekiel: "Say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. . . . and you shall live" (Eze. 37:4-5).

How do Christians grow in godliness? Jesus prayed to the Father: "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth" (Jn. 17:17).

How do Christians learn how to make wise and godly decisions? Paul answered: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom. 12:2).

We may only pray that Andy Stanley's influence does not lead success-driven pastors away from the Word of God. For by following his lead, we may gather a massive following without saving a single soul. Stanley has argued that preaching the Bible is an impediment to the conversion of unchurched people today. He points out that most people in our post-Christian culture do not accept the authority of the Bible, so we should stop appealing to them on the basis of the Bible. What he forgets is that the Bible conveys not only information but power. The Word of God is "living and active" (Heb. 4:12), so that by the working of the Holy Spirit people are supernaturally changed by the Word in order to believe the Word. We may gather crowds to our movement without the Bible. But when it comes to gathering sinners into the salvation of Christ and his Church, we should follow Jesus' instruction over that of pragmatists like Stanley. According to Jesus, entry into his salvation requires not sociology or any other earthly methodology. Instead, Jesus declared: "flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (Mt. 16:17). It is through God's Word - the Bible - that God reveals his salvation to sinners today. "You must be born again," Jesus insisted (Jn. 3:7), through the power of the Spirit and by the Word of God.

Praying Through the Scriptures: Genesis 1

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Over the years it has been my practice, learned from others, to offer up praises and petitions framed by a passage of Scripture. Some of these passages were read in preparation for preaching, others offered material for meditation in daily devotion; still others were plundered specifically for the purpose of finding fresh material for prayer. As I continue to learn how to pray I have shared a few prayers with my family and friends for their use or adaptation. The Alliance has asked me to share some with you too:

Genesis 1: The Beginner

Our great and glorious God, creator of the heavens and the earth: We come before you this morning, for you are the beginner of all good things. All creation sings your praises. From morning light to evening shade, from the expanse of the sky to the breadth of the sea, all that you have made declares that you are God and that there is none like you.

You caused the earth to sprout, to yield, to bear sweet fruit of many flavors. You gave the sun to warm us with its golden rays, the moon to illume the evening tide, the stars to keep us wondering and to prevent our wandering. You made the secret creatures of the sea and the soloists of the sky. You alone fashioned cows to feed in the open field, lizards to leap across desert rocks, and great beasts to pad along the forest floor. For all these things we praise you. They are all of your design, your execution, and exist for your pleasure.

And yet as if all of this were not enough for you, you have done even more. You created man in your own image, male and female. You've called us to multiply ourselves, commanded us to exercise dominion over this world, and encouraged us to enjoy its food for our need. How easy it is for us at this moment to share in your judgment that this is all good, even very good!

And still we wonder. If the lights of our heaven are so glorious, how much more the lights of yours? If by your word alone you have commanded into existence a world of astonishing creatures, what have you commanded for the creatures around your throne? If this is the glory of the world that is seen, what will be the glory of a world unseen? If we are left breathless at the sights of a world that is tarnished by sin, what will be our wonder at a world where you have banished all evil? If we are stunned at the sight of your creation, how will we measure our amazement if we are granted even a glimpse of the Creator's glory?

And so we come to you this morning not merely to sing your praises, but also to bring our petitions. We confess that we have not respected enough your creation. We confess that we have not reverenced enough you our Creator! Forgive us Father, and fit us for the new heavens and the new earth. Forgive us, male and female, for all that we have done that is not good, and refashion us, in your mercy, into the image of your Son. Call the Spirit who once hovered over the waters to hold sway over our hearts. And hear us for the sake of our loving Savior, who for our sakes hung on a tree bearing the bitter fruit of all our sin. AMEN. 



Chad Van Dixhoorn is Chancellor's Professor of Historical Theology for Reformed Theological Seminary. He is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM) and the University of Cambridge (PhD). Chad has taught theology at the University of Nottingham, and has held three fellowships at the University of Cambridge, where he has researched the history and theology of the Westminster assembly and taught on the subject of Puritanism. A former British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, in 2013 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in recognition of his five-volume work on the Westminster Assembly, published by Oxford University Press. Chad and his wife Emily have five children. He organizes his free time by coaching little league, losing tennis matches against all comers, and reading NYT bestsellers.


[Editorial note: This prayer may be used or adapted freely and without authorial attribution. If printed in an order of service, simply cite the source of the prayer as "reformation21.org." As with other written material on Reformation21, it may not be reproduced for any commercial purpose without the author's written permission.]

Matthew Henry's Method for Prayer

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Praying the Bible.jpg
We know that we are called to pray. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 instructs us to "pray without ceasing". Then why do we find it so difficult? Perhaps we feel that our prayers are not sufficiently eloquent or compelling. There can be many reasons for our struggles with prayer. Doesn't it make sense to turn to God's Word for help? 

MatthewHenry.org is a free, donor-supported resource from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals that delivers Matthew Henry's A Method for Prayer, currently available in ten languages, to modern Christians worldwide who might not otherwise have access this exceptional material. It equips Believers to pray in a way that reflects Scripture back to God and brings Him glory. Resorting to a more scriptural pattern of prayer may be a simple (but profound) answer to many problems in our practice of prayer. 

There are a number of reasons that could be given as to why Christians should "Pray the Bible," but the ones below combine to make a rather convincing argument:

  1. Praying scripturally will teach us what prayer is, even while we do it.
  2. It will correct "shopping list" views of prayer which abound in the Christian community.
  3. It will begin to solve in our own minds the question of "unanswered prayer."
  4. It will remind us of just how much there is to pray about day by day.
  5. It will teach us of the extreme urgency of prayer.
  6. It will return proportion to prayers long on petition, but short on adoration, confession, and thanksgiving.
  7. It will instruct us how best to pray for ministers, missionaries, and one another.
  8. It will show us the proper way to approach God in prayer.
  9. It will remind us of the good things that God does for us (which we, more often than not, take for granted).
  10. It will remind us to always give thanks to God (which, paradoxically, is so important for our own assurance of His faithfulness in answering prayer).
  11. It will begin to engrave in our minds biblical patterns of thought which can help immunize us from the enticing folly of the world's view of life.
  12. It will force us to rehearse the solemn warnings and precious promises of God (which will do eternal good to our souls).
  13. It will move us from our inherent man-centeredness in prayer to a biblical, God-centered way of praying.
The aim of the online publication of this "old-made-new" monograph is to assist and encourage modern Christians in both public and private prayer.

Sign up for daily Method for Prayer emails. Work your way through Matthew Henry's "6 parts of prayer" and his elaboration of the Lord's Prayer by signing up to receive daily devotional emails. Each day you'll receive a self-contained unit of a particular chapter of Henry's book, about 1 to 1.5 book pages long. Instead of moving you through the book consecutively, the emails will cycle you through the different parts of prayer nearly every week: Adoration, Confession, Petition, Thanksgiving, Intercession, and Conclusion (coupled with the chapter on the Lord's Prayer). These emails will take you through the heart of the book (Chapters 1-7) twice in a single year. 

Praying the thoughts, concerns, and language of the Scriptures back to the true and living God who breathed them out: What a great way to root your heart and mind in truth as you begin each day!

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The Adversary and the Intercessor

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I love the hymn "Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners" - but one line makes me uncomfortable every time I sing it: "Jesus! What a strength in weakness! Let me hide myself in him; tempted, tried, and sometimes failing, he, my strength, my vict'ry wins." Sometimes failing? How about many times...often...frequently? I need the strength of Jesus every day because I am incredibly weak and full of sin. My heart is covered with more than enough nooks and crannies on which Satan can get a handhold through temptation to pull me down.

Recently, the words of Jesus to Peter in Luke 22:31-32 have been a source of great comfort to me in my struggle against sin and temptation: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." In these verses we see two prayer requests - Satan's demand to shake us to pieces, and Jesus' intercession to uphold us when we fall. We see as well the ministry that results due to the prayer of Jesus. In the experience of Peter's denial of Jesus and his repentance, our hearts find hope.

Several things stand out from Jesus' opening words to Simon Peter - "Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat..." First, notice that Satan's request is violent: he desired to sift the disciples (the "you" in Luke 22:31 is plural) like wheat, shaking them through a sieve, as it were, breaking them to pieces, and bringing them to ruin. Just as he was permitted to assault Job and his family violently, so Satan is allowed to afflict the eleven, and Peter in particular, with grievous effect. He seeks to devour us as well, and so we must be watchful (I Peter 5:8). Second, recognize that God at times grants Satan's requests and accedes to his "demands," at least in part. Though the Scriptures are clear that God is never the source of sin or temptation (James 1:13-15), yet it is plain from the disciples' experience following these words that the sovereign God, while not allowing Satan to "have" His elect ultimately, is willing to give us over to Satan's temptations. This is a sobering reality, and in part should lead us never to be surprised when we fall into grievous sin. To be sure, we ought never to be satisfied in or content with our sin, for which we are always responsible - yet we shouldn't be surprised by it either. Third, never forget that Satan must ask permission of God to tempt and try us. We see this reality in the experience of Job (Job 1:6ff.), and here in the life of the disciples. Satan does not have absolute, sovereign sway over us, but is limited - he prowls about like a roaring lion, yes, but he is a lion on a leash. There is comfort in knowing that Satan cannot do to us whatever he might wish, but must submit to the will of our loving heavenly Father.

We also find incredible hope in the fact that while Satan our adversary desires our harm, Jesus our Priest intercedes for us: "...but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail." If the shaking of Satan is terrifying, even more assuring is the praying of Jesus! Jesus prays for Peter in particular (the pronoun here is singular), knowing that he will bear the brunt of the devil's assaults, and must rise to lead the weary band of disciples after the resurrection. He prays that Peter's faith will not give out totally. If Peter were left to his own strength and pride, surely he, like Judas, would fall and never get up again. But He who always lives to intercede for the saints (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34) knows and can sympathize with our weaknesses, since He has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He knows our peculiar sin struggles, and knows how to pray most pointedly in our time of need. The prayers of Jesus are effectual, and they are fervent. Therefore "the righteous man falls seven times, and rises again" (Proverbs 24:16). Our hope in time of temptation is not found within ourselves, but in the heavenly throne room, where the Lord rebukes the accuser, clothes us with His righteousness in place of our sin, and empowers us to walk in His ways with greater and greater delight every day (see Zechariah 3:1-7).

That brings us to the final thing Jesus' words to Peter teach us: when we are tempted and actually fall, the prayers of Jesus on our behalf drive us to repentance and ministry to others in their time of weakness (cf. I Samuel 12:19ff.). "And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." Jesus' words prophesy not only Peter's denials, but his reaffirmation of faith (see John 21); and they lay out his mission of encouragement, reinforcing, and helping the weak (cf. I Thessalonians 5:14). God's purposes in allowing Satan to sift us like wheat are many. In the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, "The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth oftentimes leave, for a season, his own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends" (WCF 5.5). One of the "sundry other" goals of God in leaving us to ourselves is to equip us with patience, understanding, and ability to support those who would fall around us. He equips us for ministry through our own failures. He turns our evil to good.

Are you tempted, tried and frequently failing? Hear Jesus: though God allows Satan to shake you, Jesus is praying for you, that your faith will not fail. So when you fall, get up, and turn your trial against your enemy, using it for the good of those around you, and the glory of God.

Moving Prayer to the Center of Ministry

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God's people need to be prayed for. They need to led in prayer. They need to be taught how to pray. We all believe that prayer is important. Nevertheless, working our convictions about prayer into our practice of ministry is challenging. The Apostles declared "But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4). Have you noticed that prayer actually comes first in this sentence, but that most often in conversations ministers will speak of "word and prayer." There may be something to this inversion of order in our speaking. Too often we expect that prayer will happen organically or accidentally, or to frame it more spiritually, providentially. And yet, we don't expect other aspects of ministry to unfold without intentionality, planning and leadership. Let us make sure that we are giving the ministry of prayer the same intentional focus that we are giving to preaching, teaching, worship, evangelism and discipleship. Below are five relatively simple, manageable and non-radical (ordinary Christians can do this!) ways to incorporate more prayer into your leadership and ministry. 

1. Pray for Officers--Most pastors already pray for the officers of their congregations. But often I find that our prayers are not specific enough or don't reflect the concerns that the officers have about their own lives. It is a peculiar challenge of ministry that it can be difficult for a pastor to maintain a spiritual fellowship with his officers, especially his elders. Conversations with elders tend toward routine assessments of ministry or analysis of problems in the life of the church. Pastors and elders frequently call each other with matters of concern about the church; matters concerning the soul are much less frequent. 

To move toward specificity in ways that are meaningful to the men you shepherd, ask your officers to write down on an index card how you can pray for them. Offering some categories may be helpful: career, family, fruit of the spirit, etc. Pray daily for these items, adding your own prayer emphases as well (emphases that you may or may not chose to share). At some regularly interval, ask again using the same plan. An intentional plan for prayer provides a clear way for a pastor to insure that he is ministering to his elders, and not simply with his elders. If there are differences in emphases or philosophy of ministry, a pastor's prayer for an elder will help keep his heart soft toward him as a brother and fellow elder. 

2. Make Corporate Prayer part of Your Stated Session Meetings--Prior to your stated meeting gather requests for prayer from the congregation, officers and staff. Before moving toward proposing ideas or developing plans for ministry, bring the life and ministry of the church before the Lord in prayer. Do a very brief devotion from Scripture to set the trajectory for the time. Twenty to thirty minutes in corporate prayer is a tangible way to keep in step with the Spirit as he seeks to minister Christ to the church. There may be concern over making the meeting longer, especially if you have a busy docket. However, praying together about ministry tends to shorten meeting. We are more likely to agree in the Lord with one another when we have sought the Lord with one another. Struggles for power and influence tend to dissipate when there is a shared sense that God is present and moving us forward. 

3. Have a Monthly Prayer Meeting for Elders to Pray for the Church--"Once a month!" you say. "Shouldn't elders pray daily for the church?" Yes. But this meeting is different. A monthly meeting provides a clear space in the life of the church where the congregation knows that the elders are praying specifically for them. Elders ask members to provide requests for prayer so that the elders can intercede for them. Elders can personally initiate with folks in the congregation, asking them how they can pray for them at the monthly meeting. Each elder can write a hand written note to the people that they prayed for. A stated monthly meeting also provides a place for elders to pray with people in times of crises or distress. A significant amount of prayer can take place in 45 minutes. No preaching. No Scripture reading. No discussion of ministry. All those things are already happening elsewhere. At this meeting requests that have been prepared beforehand are distributed quickly and prayed for. 

4. Have a Weekly Congregation-Wide Time of Prayer--For reasons we won't discuss here, let's acknowledge that it is difficult to get people to come to meetings designated for prayer. However, while folks won't come to a meeting to pray, they will pray when they come to a meeting. People will come to a meeting with good Biblical teaching/preaching and singing. Taking 15 minutes for corporate prayer in an evening service or mid-week meeting can be transformative in the life of a congregation. This time is led best by a pastor who sets the site of the congregation upon the kingdom of God. Prayers for the sick will inform the time, without overwhelming the meeting. The scope and gravity of the matters considered will be on par with the New Testament's own emphases for prayer. Consider having folks form small groups for prayer in this time. There are few things more encouraging than hearing the quiet rumble of a room full of folks praying. 

5. Lead with Prayer--Each one of the occasions for prayer listed above becomes an opportunity to pray for God's mission in and through the church. If you have a burden for your church, lead spiritually by praying with others before you develop plans for ministry. "Let's pray that God would draw young people in our city to Christ" is a burden. "I am starting an evangelistic Bible study downtown at Starbucks" is a plan. People in the church can be genuinely impressed with plans and supportive of our ministry without ever becoming partners in ministry. A principal form of partnership in ministry in the New Testament is prayer. Pray and lead with prayer in such a way to allow folks to become partners in ministry with pastors, elders, and ministry leaders. 

There is certainly more than one way to pray more in your ministry. We have found these five practices to be a blessing in our congregation for a number of years now. We have also seen how God has acted in very tangible ways among us as a result of moving prayer more to the center of ministry in our church. God delights to hear the prayers of his people and will bless your congregation as you move prayer toward the center of your ministry. And, it may be a lot easier than you think. For starters, you can share this post with some elders and pray about it!              

Jay Harvey is the senior pastor of Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Newark, Delaware. Jay has written articles for Tabletalk Magazine. He is also a contributor to Don't Call It A Comeback: The Old Faith for a New Day.

In Defense of Praying for Aunt Sally's Big Toe

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"Pray for the dead bird on the sidewalk!"

The six-year-old's words rushed through the church prayer meeting leaving an uneasy silence behind. Our pastor had invited requests, and one little boy--the newly-attending grandson of a church member--was endearingly eager. But his request? Not even just a bird. A dead bird.

Were we really supposed to pray for a dead bird?

Anyone who has participated in a time of corporate prayer probably has a similar awkward prayer request story he could tell. Even more common are requests about the physical illnesses and material needs--some critical, some relatively minor--of people only loosely related to the church.

And in conservative, Reformed circles we can sometimes treat these petitions dismissively, or even critically. For example, a recent book on prayer jibes at the prayer time in which "a couple of people will inform us of their next-door neighbour's friend's aunt who has just got bad news" and make requests for "someone's next-door neighbour's grandmother who may or may not be a Christian and has been diagnosed with cancer." An article last year similarly poked fun at a prayer meeting where a member might say, "my aunt is going in to hospital for an ingrown toenail," and then ask for prayer on her behalf.

I affirm the basic point of these critiques: we need to pray together with greater concentration on God's grand, redemptive purposes. Jesus himself taught us to pray "thy kingdom come" before "give us this day." And the Scripture establishes prayer as a spiritual weapon and a spiritual tool; it is therefore rightly applied first to spiritual concerns.

I also agree that corporate prayer entails corporate responsibilities. Praying together "in Jesus's name" is no magic abracadabra but is an intentional submission of all our wills to his. When we pray together as the church, we should regularly and deliberately pray for the God-directed mission of the church: the advance of the kingdom, the strengthening of the body, and the exaltation of Christ.

But it is no mark of holiness to disparage the small and sometimes immature requests of those who are also in the body. As people who are being built up together into Christ who is the head, we have good reasons--kingdom reasons!--to sometimes pray together for dead birds and ill aunts and next-door neighbors who have had bad news.

First, such requests remind all of us that we are weak and dependent on the Lord for everything. Nineteenth century theologian Charles Hodge pointed to his childhood prayers for insignificant things as evidence of a vibrant faith:

As far back as I can remember I had the habit of thanking God for everything that I received and asking him for everything I wanted. If I lost a book, or any of my playthings, I prayed that I might find it. I prayed walking along the streets, in school and out of school, whether playing or studying . . . . It seemed natural. I thought of God as an everywhere-present Being, full of kindness and love, who would not be offended if children talked to him.1

As we mature in the faith, we will include larger concerns in our prayers, but we should never think we are above praying for smaller ones. It is pride to think we do not need God at every moment. But it is humility, Peter tells us, to "[cast] all your anxieties on him because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:6-7). Praying together for seemingly minor requests is a valuable public admission of our complete dependence on God.

Too, we pray together as an act of love for one another. As Matthew Henry writes about the members of the body described in 1 Corinthians 12, "Christian sympathy is a great branch of Christian duty. We should be so far from slighting our brethren's sufferings that we should suffer with them." In love, we affirm that the weaker members are indispensable (v. 22). In love, we take up their concerns in prayer: we bear their burdens, we count their needs just as important as our own, and we lend them a hand to cast those things on the Lord.

Finally, by our prayers for seemingly small requests, we have an opportunity to turn one another's eyes toward the spiritual purposes of temporal need. Just as Jesus concerned himself with both healed legs and forgiven souls, just as he handed out loaves of bread and gave himself as the bread of life, we pray for the material concerns of our brothers and sisters so that they might learn to seek the fulfillment of their spiritual needs also.

In the case of the little boy and the dead bird, one of the church members eventually prayed, asking the Lord who numbers hairs and watches sparrows to comfort the boy and assure him of his loving sovereignty. A small pile of feathers became an occasion for one generation to tell the next of the mighty acts of God.  

Likewise, a neighbor's sickness is an opportunity to pray for both bodily healing and spiritual salvation. A friend's bad news is a chance to humbly thank the God who does all things wisely and well.  Even an aunt's ingrown toenail allows us to ask God for grace in trials and patience in suffering--for his strength made perfect in weakness. We encourage and train one another in the life of faith as we welcome small requests and then pray thoughtfully for God's purposes to be accomplished.

Brothers and sisters, let us count it a privilege to pray together for lowly things, and may God be exalted as we do.

 

1 Hoffecker, W. Andrew. Charles Hodge: The Pride of Princeton. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2011). 37.

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Megan Hill is a PCA pastor's wife and writer living in Massachusetts. She is the author of Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer in Our Homes, Communities, and Churches (Crossway, 2016).

The Difficulty of Prayer (and a solution)

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Prayer is not easy. I find that true myself, but others whom I respect have also given testimony to the difficulty of prayer. Some chaps make it sound easy; if they spend hours a day in the tent of meeting, they probably have their computer in the tent with them. 

Consider the following testimonies, which are filled with thoughts that one ordinarily doesn't hear when people give their public testimonies, oddly enough:

"Everything we do in the Christian life is easier than prayer." Martyn Lloyd-Jones

"There is nothing that we are so bad at all our days as prayer." Alexander Whyte

"There are times in my life when I would rather die than pray." Thomas Shepard

Imagine Thomas Shepard saying those words as he is brought to the front of the church to "speak about the wonderful things God has done in his life." Whatever the case, I find those words from the aforementioned men somewhat comforting. In fact, read this from John Bunyan:

"May I but speak my own Experience, and from that tell you the difficulty of Praying to God as I ought; it is enough to make you poor, blind, carnal men, to entertain strange thoughts of me. For, as for my heart, when I go to pray, I find it so reluctant to go to God, and when it is with him, so reluctant to stay with him, that many times I am forced in my Prayers; first to beg God that he would take mine heart, and set it on himself in Christ, and when it is there, that he would keep it there. In fact, many times I know not what to pray for, I am so blind, nor how to pray I am so ignorant; only (blessed be Grace) the Spirit helps our infirmities [Rom. 8:26]."

That's a Puritan - ahem - who obviously struggles, as most of us do, with prayer.

Sometimes Christians get in a "prayer rut" and find it difficult to break out of that rut. It isn't that they give up praying altogether, but they do seem to give up spending time alone with the Lord in what the Puritans called "private, fervent prayer" (see Heb. 5:7). 

Of course, there is no rule set down how often and how long we should pray. Yet, we pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17); we are to pray at all times (Eph. 6:18); and we pray suddenly based on need and occasion (Neh. 2:4). 

The Bible also gives us examples of those who seemed to have set times or specific times where they devoted themselves to prayer (Matt. 6:6). Consider Daniel, who prayed three times daily, "as he had done previously" (Dan. 6:10). "Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray" (Acts 10:9). And our Lord Jesus "would withdraw to desolate places and pray" (Lk. 5:16).  

Given that prayer is difficult, how does Christ motivate us to pray? In Matthew 6:6 he promises his disciples their Father will reward them for what they do (i.e., pray) in secret. Notice how often the word "reward" appears in that chapter alone. 

We do have to ask ourselves whether we adequately believe the words in Matthew 6:6. Do we really believe, as we should, that God will reward us? If we did, we would indeed spend a lot more time in secret prayer than we do. We do not have because we do not ask! We do not ask because we lack faith (Matt. 21:22). 

Faith is the hand that begs from God: "And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Heb. 11:6).

Christ, the man of faith par excellence, certainly grasped this concept in his own prayer life. In fact, he prayed for his reward: "And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed" (Jn. 17:5).

I don't know precisely how the Lord will reward us for what we do in secret. Sometimes the answers to prayer are either obvious or immediate. Sometimes he rewards us by not giving us what we (sometimes wrongly) ask for. And there are prayers which may not even be answered in our own lifetime (see Stephen's prayer in Acts 7:59-60, which may have resulted in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus; or notice how Moses' prayer to see God's glory in Ex. 33:18 was answered at the Transfiguration). 

But I do know this: 

The rewards from our Father are of grace:  "It is called a reward, but it is of grace, not of debt; what merit can there be in begging?" (Matthew Henry)

And, he has promised to reward his children when they pray in secret, and that motivation alone should be enough to get us into our "prayer closets" where we ask in order to receive. 

Sarah's problem, in Calvin's estimation, was that she believed the promise of God. Or at least, that was part of her problem -- part, that is, of what actually drove her to let those very strange words pass the threshold of her lips: "Go, sleep with my slave" (Gen. 16.2; NIV).

There's no question, Calvin concedes, that Sarah desired a child per se. But Sarah's "natural impulse" to hear the pitter patter of little feet on ancient near eastern floors hardly accounts for the desperate lengths she went to -- offering her servant to her husband as a concubine -- in order to bring a baby into their nest. Had this merely been a case of pining for a child, the Reformer reasons, "it would rather have come into her mind to do it by the adoption of a son, than by giving place to a second wife." After all, Calvin adds, "we know the vehemence of female jealousy."

It was, rather, knowledge of -- and indeed, confidence in -- God's repeated promise of a child to Abraham (Gen. 12.1-3; Gen. 15.1-4) that drove Sarah to do precisely what she did. Calvin takes it as given that Sarah was "cognizant of those promises which had been so often repeated to her husband." Indeed, the rather desperate plan she hatched in Gen. 16.2 very likely reflected specific familiarity with God's most recent statement to Abraham in Gen. 15.4 that his own biological child would be his heir. Thus far in salvation history neither Abraham nor Sarah had received, at least to our knowledge, any corresponding affirmation that Abraham's offspring would also be her biological child. One can, then, perhaps understand her reasoning: "While contemplating the promise, she becomes forgetful of her own right, and thinks of nothing but the bringing forth of children to Abram. [...] While she reflects upon her own barrenness and old age, she begins to despair of offspring" -- she begins, that is, to despair of the realization of God's promise through her -- "unless Abram should have children from some other quarter."

Calvin goes so far as to discover something "laudable" in "Sarai's wish, as regards the end, or the scope to which it tended." Her actions, in other words, reflected a genuine and proper desire to see God's promise come to fruition. Nevertheless, "she was guilty of no light sin." So what precisely was her crime?

Calvin finds fault with Sarah in two regards. First of all, she failed to realize that when God promises some end, he sovereignly supplies and/or orchestrates the means to that end (as he orchestrates all things), and so achieves that end in his own time and manner. God, Calvin thus reminds his readers, is no consequentialist. In God's estimation, the end never justifies the means. The means themselves must conform to God's holy standards, regardless of whether the particular end in view is one of man's devising or God's promising. "However desperate" Sarah considered the situation, "still she ought not to have attempted anything at variance with the will of God and the legitimate order of nature." She should not, in other words, have violated that "divine law by which two persons [are] mutually bound together," regardless of her (possibly) proper desire to see God's promise realized.

Sarah's plan and efforts, together with her husband, to help God's promise along (so to speak) were, ultimately, a failure in faith. "The faith of both of them was defective; not indeed with regard to the substance of the promise, but with regard to the method in which they proceeded; since they hastened to acquire the offspring which was to be expected from God without observing the legitimate ordinance of God." In other words, faith at times looks directly to God's promises -- Abraham and Sarah had this part figured out. At other times faith looks not directly to God's promises but to God's character and commandments. After all, God has not revealed to us every detail of what he has in store for us, whether in this life or the next. It is, accordingly, an exercise of faith to conform to God's righteous standards even when we can't for the life of us figure out what God is up to, or how our present circumstances might lend themselves to the realization of his ultimate purposes for (and promises to) us. Abraham and Sarah failed in this regard. With eyes fixed on God's promise, they lost sight of God's law, and stumbled and fell.

But with characteristic insight (not to mention a slight tendency to indulge in speculation), Calvin discovers one further fault in Sarah that led her to plan and execute her crime. "What fault then shall we find in her? Surely that she did not, as she ought, cast this care into the bosom of God, without binding his power to the order of nature, or restraining it to her own sense. And then, by neglecting to infer from the past what would take place in future, she did not regard herself as in the hand of God, who could again open the womb which he had closed." Simply put, Sarah failed to pray. She failed to take her anxiety about the fulfillment of God's promise to God himself, and cast it upon him. And she failed to pray because she lost sight not only of God's power to achieve whatever he purposes, but also his tender and fatherly compassion towards her and her plight.

Calvin's claim regarding Sarah's failure to "cast [her] care into the bosom of God" is, as intimated above, speculative. But it rings true. And it provides us with an important lesson. It reminds us, which is just what Calvin intends, that prayer and faith are mutually supportive. Prayer is itself an act of faith. Prayer, in turn, sustains faith. Prayer sustains a similar, symbiotic relationship with our perception of God's tender and fatherly concern for us. Prayer is itself an acknowledgement of God's compassion. Prayer, in turn, stretches and informs our sensitivity to God's tender care.

In sum, then, we learn two valuable things from Sarah's unfortunate example in Gen. 16.3. First, we must trust God not only to deliver upon his promises, but to do so in his own time and manner. Faith sometimes leans more heavily upon God's character than upon any specific promise. And faith in who God is naturally prompts obedience to God's commandments. Second, we pray not only because we do believe, but also in order to believe. The frequency and fervor of our prayers provides some indication of the measure of our faith. But where faith proves to be weak, prayers proves to be one critical remedy -- which is, of course, good reason to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5.17), "casting all [our] anxieties on [God], because he cares for [us]" (1 Peter 5.7).


Respond Prayerfully

So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: "Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said:

'Why did the nations rage,
And the people plot vain things?
The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the LORD and against His Christ.'

For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus." And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:24-31)

Here Luke depicts the response of the righteous when the God-appointed authorities set out to play God. The context is one that goes well beyond background antagonism--it is one of outright opposition and persecution. The Sanhedrin "called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, 'Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard'" (Acts 4:18-20). Again, as in Acts 5:29, God's authority is ultimate, man's authority is subordinate, and the church is now facing a human civil and religious authority that is requiring her to disobey God.

In the verses that follow we see the response of the church as a church, the people of God gathered together in a particular place. It may be that some of them in this place were converted priests, perhaps Roman soldiers or officials, members of Herod's or Caesar's households, or women with extensive circles of contacts or the wives of men with particular influence. There may have been some or many who might have had personal opportunities to do good in the circumstances. Doubtless such sincere believers, given the chance in the days following, might have used whatever legitimate influence they had or whatever means lay lawfully at their disposal to protect the apostles or to divert the march of persecution. But notice what the saints do as a church: They do not begin to organize and orchestrate a plan of civic resistance. They do not plan marches and establish alliances and coalitions and institutes to carry their voices to the upper echelons of society. They do not reach out to other oppressed and concerned parties to establish campaigns of co-belligerency. They do not make contact with lobbyists nor print leaflets and redesign their websites, working up a more effective advertising campaign. They do not draw up petitions, design banners with catchy titles, print T-shirts with telling slogans, and work up posters with vivid images. They do not conclude that they need to engage the world on the world's terms. They do not seek to obtain a voice on the political and cultural stage. They do not pursue larger numbers, greater prominence, cutting-edge websites, pithier sound bites, all the while whipping up publicity campaigns to sweep the floor with the opposition. None of that is remotely what you find in Jerusalem (allowing for a little modernization).

Rather, they get on their faces before God Most High and pour out their hearts to the One who governs, appoints, ordains, and judges--the Lord to whom all in heaven and earth are ultimately accountable. They raise their voices not to men but to God. This is most assuredly not mere mindless quiescence or fawning, grovelling submission to human authorities. If you read their prayer, you will see that they first recognized the divine authority and government, ascribing honor to God as the King enthroned over all, the Creator of all things, the Governor of all things, and the Revealer of Himself to men. They also reckoned with the human opposition as it really was, fierce and united against the Christ and all those who named His name. Natural enemies found a common cause in opposing Christ and His kingdom. Like Hezekiah reading Sennacherib's letter (Isa. 37:14-20), they spread the whole matter out before the Lord. Therefore, faced with such a challenge, they requested divine equipment from God's hands. But note the specific requests. They do not pray against the government, but rather for the gospel. They do not ask to be made able to avoid the threat, but rather to be given grace to meet it as true and steadfast believers: "In the face of opposition, make us yet more distinctive as those who live for and proclaim Jesus the Christ. Take away our fear, and give us courage to declare the truth." And so they received specific answers to their prayers, being filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking the word of God with boldness.

The church's response to the assaults made on her is not a rallying cry to civic resistance or even civic engagement, but to get on her knees before the living Lord and to seek His face, crying for heavenly power to declare divine truth faithfully and fruitfully even in the face of opposition and persecution.

Excerpted from the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness (Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or Westminster Bookstore or RHB).

Excerpted from the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness (Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or Westminster Bookstore or RHB). - See more at: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/06/respect-the-authorities-script.php#sthash.Vk7QikU8.dpuf
Excerpted from the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness (Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or Westminster Bookstore or RHB). - See more at: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/06/respect-the-authorities-script.php#sthash.Vk7QikU8.dpuf
Excerpted from the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness (Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or Westminster Bookstore or RHB). - See more at: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/06/respect-the-authorities-script.php#sthash.Vk7QikU8.dpuf
Excerpted from the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness (Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or Westminster Bookstore or RHB). - See more at: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/06/respect-the-authorities-script.php#sthash.Vk7QikU8.dpuf
Excerpted from the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness (Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or Westminster Bookstore or RHB). - See more at: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/06/respect-the-authorities-script.php#sthash.Vk7QikU8.dpuf

Having introduced the topic of respect for God-constituted authorities, and considered a proper subjection, we move on to account for the prayers of the saints.

The Prayers of the Saints

I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. (1 Tim. 2:1-2)

Paul calls Timothy to fulfill his appointed role with fidelity. Part of that requires Timothy to be truly and righteously publicly minded. We may be separate from the world, but we do not cut ourselves off from those around us, from the world in which we live. One of the ways in which we show our engagement with the world is by prayer.

Here is a command that all kinds of prayers be offered for all kinds of men, including and especially kings and all who are in authority. Paul speaks of various approaches made to the Lord God: seeking to obtain needful things, making requests, having close dealings with God on behalf of ourselves and others, also giving thanks to God for His goodness bestowed on others and on ourselves. Why does Timothy need to pray in this way? The desired consequences are not to obtain wealth, power, influence, or prominence in society or among its rulers, but simply to be able to get on with the job of beingthe saints of God without interference or oppression. God's people wish simply to conduct themselves in godliness and reverence, discharging the duties we have toward God and men. The commentator Patrick Fairbairn says that these are prayers that we "may be allowed freely to enjoy our privileges, and maintain the pious and orderly course which becomes us as Christians, without the molestation, the troubles, and the unseemly shifts which are the natural consequence of inequitable government and abused power." [1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002), 112.] Up to a point, we wish merely to be left alone to get on with the life that God has called us to lead.

Here is a new covenant echo of the prayer that the exiles of Jeremiah's day had commended to them: "Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace" (Jer. 29:7). We do not wish to suffer from rapid shifts of power, from abuses of authority, or from threats to civil order. Pray, then, that the Lord would guide those in authority so that you may have peace to pursue righteousness. Paul goes on to say to Timothy that such a disposition to pray and such a righteous expectation is pleasing to the Lord God.

Excerpted from the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness (Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or Westminster Bookstore or RHB).

Excerpted from the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness (Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or Westminster Bookstore or RHB). - See more at: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/06/respect-the-authorities-script.php#sthash.Vk7QikU8.dpuf
Excerpted from the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness (Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or Westminster Bookstore or RHB). - See more at: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/06/respect-the-authorities-script.php#sthash.Vk7QikU8.dpuf
Excerpted from the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness (Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or Westminster Bookstore or RHB). - See more at: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/06/respect-the-authorities-script.php#sthash.Vk7QikU8.dpuf
Excerpted from the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness (Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or Westminster Bookstore or RHB). - See more at: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/06/respect-the-authorities-script.php#sthash.Vk7QikU8.dpuf
The Christward Collective is an attempt to help introduce the reader to various aspects of theology, together with the experiential benefits that ought to flow from them. Whether systematic, biblical, exegetical, historical, or pastoral theology, we seek to help further equip believers for growth in their relationship with Christ and other believers. We hope you enjoy these highlights from ChristwardCollective.org.

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Many of us have heard the Lord's prayer, but have you heard Jesus' other prayer? The Christward Collective contributor, Tim Brister, writes about Jesus' prayer on the behalf of His disciples. This prayer is commonly called His High Priestly Prayer. This prayer teaches us how Christians are supposed to walk in this world. Continue Reading...

The "Again" of Freedom in Christ, by Joe Holland
The luxury of the unexamined life is never the luxury of the Christian. Self-examination and preaching of the Gospel to your own heart is the duty of every Christian-always. The times during which Christians find themselves in most trouble are the times when they think that they have arrived at a new plateau of spiritual maturity--where self-examination is no longer necessary (or at least is not viewed as something as necessary as it had been in times past). Continue Reading... 

Forgiveness and the Christian's Piety, by Donny Friederichsen 
Before I was a pastor I served with the college ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. During my New Staff Training, we had the opportunity to hear from Bill Bright, the founder of Crusade. Our new staff class was actually the last class to be addressed by him before he died. by this time Dr. Bright was suffering from significant respiratory problems and was on oxygen and in a wheelchair. Continue Reading...

Your prayer-life is a measure of your spiritual maturity. Just about any decent book on prayer will tell you so. Your prayer lives exposes you to the reality that what is nearest and dearest to your hearts are those things for which you pray the most. It's an inescapable rule. In this respect, your prayer life may betray the public image which you, in turn, portrayed to others. Continue Reading...

Recommended resource on prayer: Matthew Henry, Method for Prayer. This is the collection par excellence of biblical passages that may rightly be used in prayer. The book covers every conceivable item of prayer and is of profound use to the Christian.


Text links: 
www.christwardcollective.org/christward
www.christwardcollective.org/christward/how-christians-walk-in-the-world
www.christwardcollective.org/christward/the-again-of-freedom-in-christ
www.christwardcollective.org/christward/forgiveness-and-the-christians-piety
www.christwardcollective.org/christward/praying-most-for-what-you-love-the-most
http://reformedresources.org/ligon-duncan-books/a-method-for-prayer/



ISIS and the Imprecatory Psalms

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The recent execution of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya by the murderous Islamic group ISIS has prompted appropriate and helpful Christian reflections (see here and here). But one question I have yet to see asked is, "Is it time now to pray the imprecatory Psalms?"

I hear a frequent refrain in Reformed and evangelical circles that Christians should pray the imprecatory Psalms (i.e., those that invoke God's curse on particular enemies and plead for their imminent destruction; e.g., Ps 58:6-11, 68:21-23, 69:23-29, 109:5-19; 137:7-9) only against those enemies of God who manifest prolonged, high-handed rebellion against him and commit atrocities against his people (surely ISIS fits the bill). Related to this understanding, I also hear that Jesus' ethic of "love your enemy" is the Christian's default mode in prayer, but the imprecatory Psalms are the "nuclear option"--they are to be launched only after careful consideration of the occasion and self-assessment of proper motives, but launched nonetheless when necessary: If Bob the accountant steals your stapler, "Pray for those who persecute you" (Matt 5:44); but if Abu Bakr and his minions torch your home, "Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime" (Ps 58:8)!

John Day, for example, argues that "[i]n circumstances of sustained injustice, hardened enmity, and gross oppression, it has always been appropriate for a believer to utter imprecations against enemies or to appeal for the onslaught of divine vengeance. In certain instances today, appeals to God for his curse or vengeance are fitting" (Crying for Justice, 15-16). Another writer puts it even more bluntly, "Do you ask God to destroy His enemies today as He has in the past? Do you who are pastors instruct your people in this kind of prayer? Surely you must if you pray in line with God's Word and His promises for the future." (James E. Adams, War Psalms of the Prince of Peace, 59; emphasis in original).

In my view, such lines of reasoning fail to situate the imprecatory Psalms properly within the theocratic context of Israel in which they were written, a context which is, itself, typological of the eschatological kingdom of God to come. Just as the Levitical priests were to execute anyone who arrogantly intruded into the tabernacle complex (Num 3:38), and just as Christ will do in redemptive triumph over his enemies throughout the earth he came to redeem (Rom 16:20; Rev 19:20-21), the Davidic king and his people could pray (and sing) these Psalms as an expression of their obedient desire for God to sanctify his holy land and his chosen people by destroying his and their enemies in their own day, enemies who had specific names and faces (cf. Ps 35:4, 41:9-10).

Christians today, however, do not live in a holy realm (yet), but sojourn in a world that is not their home (Phil 3:20; Heb 4:11). This means that, by God's ordaining, Christians, who themselves were once God's enemies (Rom 5:10), are surrounded by those who are his enemies now, enemies who will hate them (Matt 10:22; Luke 21:17; John 15:19) and will do them harm (Matt 5:10-12; John 16:2). The final judgment typologically meted out in Israel's context (and expressed in the imprecatory Psalms) is yet to come for today's Christians. Through this "day of salvation" (2 Cor 6:2; cf. Heb 4:7) between Christ's first and second coming, no matter how horrendous the assaults on Christians may be, the marching orders for Christians includes having fellowship in Christ's sufferings (2 Cor 1:5; Col 1:24), a fellowship that should subdue every vestige of our impatience for visible eschatological triumph today: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them" (Rom 12:14).

So may we pray the imprecatory Psalms today? No, in the sense that Christians today may not pray the imprecatory Psalms with outstretched finger, identifying enemies who do them harm and praying for their imminent physical and eternal destruction. Christians may, however, even must (cf. Matt 6:10), pray these Psalms more generally with their eyes on heaven, from whence their public vindication will come (Heb 9:28) at the hands of the One risen from the dead, who will judge the earth (2 Thess 1:6-8). Until that Day comes, our more immediate and particular prayer must be for God to restrain or convert the enemies we encounter (Luke 6:27-28; Rom 12:20; 1 Pet 3:9). 

It is right to declare and desire God's righteous judgment on the persistently unrepentant, whoever they turn out to be (cf. Gal 1:8-9; Mark 11:14). It is also right to call for and support the civil authorities' forceful intervention to stop gross injustices, if necessary by waging just war (Rom 13:4). But the spiritual judgment we should pray for God to apply to our specific enemies today is the judgment he has already applied to Christ on the cross, that even those who ruthlessly execute the Lord's people might turn and rejoice with us at the saving mercy of God (1 Cor 15:9-10; Gal 1:13). After all, such infinite grace is what saves anyone, including you and me.

Some clarifications on prayer

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I am delighted to learn that I have managed to awaken Mr Levy from his seasonal slumbers. I am sure that ripples of thankful applause are now washing around the globe from his fans. However, I must admit that I am slightly discombobulated to discover that he now suggests that I have offered what even he considers an overstatement. I am though, as ever, delighted with the faint nod of Levitical approval.

Might I offer a few brief clarifications?

First, my caveats did not concern reading or reciting aloud the prayers of Spurgeon or anyone else. I think some of those collections, recording as they do either the extemporaneous pleadings or the more carefully scripted written intercessions of men who lived close to God, are helpful models and prompts, but not mere vehicles to carry us around.

Second, I am fascinated by the suggestion that the Lord's prayer gives us an example of a written prayer to be recited. I would be interested to see that demonstrated in an exegetically watertight fashion, as I think there are some fairly substantial arguments to the contrary.

Third, I think that - taking into account the available data in the New Testament - it is fairly evident that it would be unreasonable to draw too many absolute parallels between corporate sung worship and corporate prayer. The line about hymns is a lovely, knockabout brickbat, but it rather misses the target.

Fourth, let me underline that avoiding written prayers is not the same as condoning or endorsing thoughtless, aimless, insubstantial and shallow praying. If Christ did not consider it a flawed request, "Teach us to pray," we should not consider it a flawed pursuit to learn to pray. But direction in prayer is one thing, and tying oneself up in a set form is another.

Fifth, the opening paragraph, for some reason, was unfinished. I may have deleted something before posting, hence the rather abrupt tone. I acknowledge that it sticks out rather, and it was not my intention to offer such a bald statement. The sentiment is mine, the form is unfortunate. Please bear that in mind. [NB the original post has now been updated to offer something of the original intention in the opening paragraphs.]

For the rest, I refer my honourable friend to the answer previously given by Mr Bunyan in his Discourse Touching Prayer, which contains many excellent things.

Praying in four directions

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[The introductory paragraph was originally posted in an unfinished form. Mea culpa. I have not changed the sentiment and substance, but have adapted and I hope improved the tone and the direction. I do not have the original piece, but what follows is close to the original intention. Other clarifications are here.]

At this time of year, we may see provided a variety of what I shall call scripted prayers. Some of them are entirely personal productions and some are woven together from other sources. Some are occasional pieces and some are habitual constructions. Such offerings and collections may have some value, when used and not abused. I stand pretty much with Bunyan on the matter of formally scripted and read prayers. I consider them close to an abomination. I appreciate the personal reading of thoughtful and careful prayers that were offered extemporaneously and recorded as they came (such as Spurgeon's pulpit prayers [e.g. Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Westminster] or those which conclude many of Calvin's sermons [e.g. Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Westminster]). I value prayers that were written as part of a longer project and were not intended to be recited as some kind of intercessory ritual, but into the spirit of which we might enter as a means of priming the pump of the soul (e.g. The Valley of Vision [Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Westminster]). But such reading does not and cannot replace our own praying. The idea of taking those words, reciting the script, and calling it heart prayer is not something I can countenance. I do not doubt the sincerity of some who pursue such a course, but the thing is so dangerous in its practice (inviting us to a mere performance) and deadly in its tendency (replacing the form for the substance) that I would advise anyone to steer well clear (and I am fully aware that more extemporaneous prayer can fall into the same traps, but I do not think it has the same measure of inherent weakness at this point). Do not misunderstand me, it is a rare privilege to listen - either really or at a distance - to a true man of God pleading with his heavenly Father, and there is much to learn from so doing. But the mere recitation or repetition of such words - even if they are our own - is not, in itself, prayer. Carefully used, such examples can be, in measure, spiritual springboards. Carelessly abused, they become spiritual shackles and militate against a true spirit of prayer.

So, by all means use some of these examples, but do not abuse them. Employ them, if need be, to prime the pump. And then, pray! The new year provides one of those natural turning points that gives us an opportunity to pause and reflect. The instinct to pray is entirely right and proper, but we must ourselves bow the knee and engage the heart, however carefully we ponder and prepare beforehand. With that in mind, let me suggest that we should pray in four directions.

Pray back. As you ponder where you have come from, remember who has brought you to where you are. Every child of God, whatever the gloom that seems presently to surround us, has the gospel light shining in our soul. Whatever your heavenly Father has seen fit to give you, it is as your Father in heaven that he gave it. Wherever the good Shepherd has led you, it is as the Shepherd that he led you there and through there. If you are Christ's, and Christ is yours, then all things are yours. Every step of the past year, let alone every day of every year of your life, have been governed by divine love and gracious compassion. All has been intended to bring you to God and keep you with God, and to develop likeness to Christ in you, in accordance with God's design. So look back, and lift up your Ebenezer, for till now, the Lord has helped us (1Sam 7:12).

Pray around. Remember your present circumstances and blessings, frailties and responsibilities. On the one hand, the Christian is the most privileged and the richest person on earth:
"All things are ours;" the gift of God,
And purchas'd with our Saviour's blood;
While the good Spirit shows us how
To use and to improve them too.
Like the Kingswood colliers of whom Wesley wrote, on all the kings of earth, with pity we look down, and claim - in virtue of our birth - a never-fading crown. We are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, and for that we should sing with joy and gladness. We stand in grace, and yet the world moves on around us. Week by week I prepare a sheet for the church where I serve, each one numbered as the year turns. It is often very unsettling to see the speed at which the weeks pass by, those days swifter than a weaver's shuttle. It is not morbid or maudlin to consider that we do not know how many more of those days we shall be granted, to remember that you may not see another new year, that you are a creature of the dust, and to assess how we shall live in the days allotted to us. So we look around, and pray, asking the Lord to "teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Ps 90:12). It is what we need for every moment as we wrestle with the demands of this day, and then the next, each day having enough trouble of its own, and supplies of grace to meet every trouble that comes.

Pray forwards. There are before each one of God's children countless opportunities and responsibilities, many of which we have not yet seen. They may come with minutes or it may take months. For the days to come we need wisdom, and it is wisdom which the Lord himself has undertaken to provide, and commanded us to seek: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (Jas 1:5). This, and every other good thing, is promised to those who ask, seek and knock. It is the Father's delight to provide those needful things for kingdom life that his beloved children request. We never need to be ashamed of our asking, if we are asking in accordance with his will and our character as trusting children. We do not need to twist his arm, bargain with him, or fear a harsh response. He is ready to provide every needful blessing, through his Spirit, that we need to secure his certain glory and enjoy his promised good.

And so, pray upwards. Every prayer must be directed to heaven. The greatest abominations in prayer are those self-referential or performed prayers that have more regard for the approval of men than concern to be heard by God. Far too many prayers are like damp fireworks; they may splutter a little with a few sparks, but they barely get off the ground. True prayer is, in essence, an expression of dependence upon God. If we do not pray, it is a practical atheism. But the saints pray to the Lord for what we can only receive from the Lord. We look to him, and - anxious for nothing - in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, we let our requests be made known to God. Thus the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Phil 3.6-7). May the new year, in its beginning, continuing and ending, prove that so.

A Thoroughly Reformed Book on Prayer

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This morning, I finished reading Tim Keller's new book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. I very much appreciated the book--I read it a chapter at a time during my morning worship times and found myself reminded of much that I knew, but also spurred on toward a genuine engagement with God through prayer. It was hugely encouraging, thought-provoking, and insightful (and the discursive endnotes are mini-treatises not to be missed).

The thing that particularly struck me about the book was how thoroughly Reformed it was. That shouldn't be a surprise to those who really pay attention and who have recognized how well Keller popularizes our Reformed tradition. Still, this book was a distillation of several Reformed sources on prayer: John Calvin (along with his Lutheran friend, Martin Luther), John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and especially the Westminster Standards. 

And from these impeccable Reformed guides, Keller emphasizes that Word and Spirit combine together as we pray: our praying is rooted in the Bible. Not simply Bible study, but meditation upon Scripture provides the material for our praying. The Psalms, especially, serve as a kind of prayer book that, along with the Lord's Prayer, offer guidance; praying but also singing these psalms are a way to be shaped even as we pray. And yet, this praying is not simply intellectual; rather, our hearts are engaged as we pray and our affections moved so that we come to enjoy God. All of these themes come directly from the Reformed tradition.

In fact, this book was so Reformed at points, I couldn't help but wonder what a non-Calvinist Southern Baptist, United Methodist, or even Roman Catholic who bought this book at Barnes and Noble or on Amazon would make of it. At one level, I think they would find the best of our theological tradition on display--its fine balance of heart and head. And they would find it to be winsome and attractive: hardly anyone presents the outlines of the Reformed faith in a more winsome fashion than Keller. That said, I wondered how they would take the repeatedly references to Reformed bona fides

On the other side of things, I also wondered about those who for a variety of reasons have criticized Keller for not be Reformed enough. What would they make of the repeated references to Calvin and Owen, the appeals to the Westminster Standards, the clear teaching on repentance? How can Reformed critics not see that this is an excellent book that is distilling and popularizing our tradition in the best way possible? 

Tim Keller's Prayer takes its place among the very best Reformed books on the topic--no, check that. It is one of the best books on prayer, period. It is one to which I will return year-by-year as a benchmark for my own praying as my heart and life is Reformed according to Scripture. 
Jesus was a man of prayer.  Regardless of how mysterious this is in light of our understanding of God's Triune nature, it is nonetheless undeniable that Jesus spent much time praying to the Father.  We see this throughout His earthly ministry - from beginning to end.  Howard Marshall provides a helpful introduction to this theme when he writes, "...Jesus did everything that was normal for a Jew  and more..."  In other words, the gospel writers take for granted that Jesus prayed several times a day, as was the Jewish custom.  That normal two- or three- times a day habit of prayer is a given.  Therefore, to quote Marshall again, "When prayer is mentioned by the Synoptic evangelists, it must be for special reasons, and we are entitled to ask in each case why."  What is highlighted in the gospels are the additional times, the moments and seasons that go beyond the normal religious observance which can no doubt be assumed.  In other words, Jesus was surely praying multiple times a day just as a matter of course.  But his life of prayer did not stop there. Continue at Place for Truth.

http://info.alliancenet.org/placefortruth/jesus-life-of-prayer
There are many model prayers in the Bible.  The most famous is The Lord's Prayer, recorded for us in Matthew and Luke; but there are others besides.  Recently, Mark Johnston has turned our attention to the prayer of Daniel, or, more specifically, to the prayer life of Daniel.  Both Daniel's specific prayer in Daniel 9, as well as his ongoing practice of prayer, are worthy of imitation, and it is right that we should reflect on them.

But there is an even more basic step than looking for models of prayer (though no disciple of Jesus Christ can ignore these), we must also actually pray.  Or, to put it in the language of Hebrews, we must "draw near to the throne of grace."  This is nothing less than a command.

Continue at Place for Truth

http://info.alliancenet.org/placefortruth/let-us-draw-near

A Life of Prayer by Mark Johnston

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There are few places in Scripture where we are given deeper insight into the anatomy of a life of prayer than in the book of Daniel. The well-known words of the old children's chorus, 'Daniel was a man of prayer...' could not be more apt! This great man who was so greatly used for such a great length of time had a great secret that lay behind his usefulness - it was his prayerfulness. From our first introduction to him as a mere teenager to our last glimpses of him - presumably as an octogenarian - it seems as though he exudes an aura of prayer.

The beauty of this biblical cameo is the fact that it is not given merely to be a portrait in some gallery from the dim and distant past, but as a reminder that in the same way as 'Elijah was a man just like us' (Jas 5.17), so too was Daniel. The prayerfulness that was bound up with his usefulness is recorded both to instruct and inspire us in our own prayer life.

Every Christian obviously needs such instruction and inspiration - especially as we begin to appreciate that living the Christian life means 'going the distance' - but the same is true for those in the Christian ministry in its many and varied forms. If there is such a thing as 'the loneliness of the long-distance runner' in the world of marathon running, so too there is a sense in which we can feel as though the same is true in a life of ongoing service. Those in ministry need to cultivate the art of praying.

Even though it is very tempting to develop our abilities in prayer with our eye on its public face, it is clear from the Bible in general and the life of Daniel in particular that there is another facet of prayer that lies behind what is heard in public: that is our private prayer. If we make that the focus of this brief overview of the prayer life of Daniel, then several things come to light.

Continue at Place for Truth

Text links -
Article - http://info.alliancenet.org/placefortruth/a-life-of-prayer#.U-n_YoBdVDI

(In)dependence and Prayer

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My wife will tell you that I am a fairly independent guy. If I am assigned a task, I normally attempt to accomplish it without requesting help. Of course there are times when I know I need assistance, but if I can do it on my own I will. In the eyes of some, this is a great quality to maintain; however, such independence has caused me to struggle in certain areas (e.g., prayer). (In)dependence and prayer do not go hand-in-hand. 

I know what I need to remedy the situation. It is the gospel. That is a given not to be taken for granted. I must not assume it. I need to hear it. However, I am also required to walk in a manner worthy of the calling of Christ. In other words, there is an indicative and an imperative. In my case, the imperative is to remove the "in" in (in)dependence. Put differently, the old man of self-reliance must go. By the grace of God, I must put on the new man, one who is dependent upon for the Lord for all things, one who expresses that dependence by praying.  

I know I will continue to fail in this area. Perhaps you do, too, but there is hope. Hope has a name. His name is Christ. 

These are just a few jumbled thoughts; maybe it is a confession. Whatever the case I know one thing - I need the Lord.

Helps for prayer

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You may have heard Apple-adorers testifying of the usefulness of an application called PrayerMate. Now Google-gogglers can join in the fun, because PrayerMate has been made available for Android.

Some warnings: PrayerMate will not give you a heart for prayer; it will not fight your battles against lukewarmness; it will not overcome the devil on your behalf; it will not keep you praying day after day; it will not destroy a shopping list mentality; it will not, necessarily, turn you to adoration, confession, and thanksgiving.

However, if you wish to pray and are committed to pray, but are looking for a means to help you pray consistently and comprehensively, maintaining a regular pattern of intercession for people and situations and topics (such as the members of the church to which you belong, those who need to be converted, evangelistic endeavours, or desires for godliness) then PrayerMate may be useful tool for you.

At the moment, the Google adaptation is a pretty stripped-down beast compared to the Apple version, but get in early and you can send in feedback to help the developers direct and prioritise the next stages of progress. (I am sure that they would also welcome any contributions to that end, and if I get information on that, I will let you know). Thank you to Andy Geers and other friends for their labours in this regard.

Update: PrayerMate is free in January, thanks to sponsorship from the London City Mission. Get it while the going is good.

I Love President Barack Obama, but...

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Facebook is an interesting utensil. People use it for all sorts of things (e.g., advertising, spying, networking). If you spend even the slightly amount of time there, you can also get a sense of what matters to people. Some highly value their family. Every other post is a picture of their child or their latest family vacation. Others use it as a means to argue about doctrine. In certain discussion rooms, it seems that every other post is about baptism or church polity. 

Along with the aforementioned, you further get a sense of who is politically inclined. Of course we should all be concerned about what is occurring in the government, both locally and nationally, but not everyone knows the particulars to same extent. However, what is interesting is regardless of the degree to which one knows how the US government functions and how policies are employed, almost everyone has something to say about President Barack Obama. Fox News' posts and certain underground websites' posts go viral over the President's desires. The Affordable Care Act and abortion are a couple of the latest controversies.

Over the years, however, I have refrained from entering most of the conversations on Facebook about the President. Like any form of online communication, it is too easy to be misunderstood. Perhaps I have waited too long. They say, "Timing is everything." Now, I have something to say. Here it is: "I love President Barack Obama and I pray for him."

It seems fair to suggest that many of us, who were raised in the US, were taught to fight for those things in which we believe. "Stand up for your beliefs!" "Find others who are like-minded and fight! Protest! Get others to sign petitions! Do what is right despite what others believe!" If that is not how many of us were raised, Facebook tells a different story. People have no problem telling you what they believe.

"The Affordable Care Act is not so affordable," they say. "We should impeach the President," some believe. "He really isn't American," they post. "The President is a Muslim," a minority suggest. 

Are these claims and suggestions true? You probably have an opinion. You may have even posted your thoughts on Facebook already. Thankfully, in this nation, we have "some" freedom to express ourselves, but in our expressions we should be balanced. "We" in the previous sentence could mean "everyone." As image bearers of God, we should all maintain balance in our comments, but for the purposes of this blog I am particularly interested in Christians.

Regardless of where you find yourself on the theological spectrum (i.e., reformed or reforming), your theology requires balance. Listen to a fundamentalist sermon that is all law and no gospel and you'll soon realize why we need balance. The law is good. It reveals our sin, points us to Christ, and directs our steps, but without the gracious gospel, we are in a desperate predicament. 

Similarly, when we make comments about the President (and anyone else for that matter), we should, likewise, attempt to be balanced. Most of the posts I read on Facebook, however, are far from balanced. You are entitled to your opinion. Please don't misunderstand me. I have my thoughts on the institution of certain policies, too. I have to remind myself to be balanced, though.

Jesus calls us to love (and pray).

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:43-48).

Paul calls us to pray.

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Yes, stand up for those things in which you believe. On many of them, I would probably stand beside you. But I hope, along with standing for what you believe, you can also, by the grace of God, obey your Lord. He tells you to love (and pray). By the inspiration of the Spirit, Paul also tells you to pray. 

Do you?

I understand. I can't read your heart. I don't know your motives. I'm not with you 24-hours a day. You may love the President as an image-bearer of God and pray a great deal, but my perception is something different. As you know, perception can be a gateway to reality. If all you did was write your wife letters criticizing her activities, she might begin to wonder if you really love her. A husband can respond all day long, "Of course I love you," but the portrayal reflects the contrary. As Christians, we must love everyone and pray for them. That includes President Barack Obama. 

I know you desire to see things change. You were likely taught that speaking out on things can lead to change. I was taught the same thing. Yet, while I know lifting our voices in one accord can lead to change, love and prayer can lead to change, too. I'm not naive. Love is not void of correction, but it is definitely much more than correction. 

I'm sure many people want me to say, "I love President Barack Obama, but..." (fill in the blank; lists all your disagreements about his policies). I'm not going to say that. I'm going to say, "I love President Barack Obama, and..."

"...and I pray for him."

Will you love President Barack Obama and pray for him, too. Will you allow your Facebook posts to reflect that love and heart of prayer? People are watching, and you may be providing a perception that is contrary to your heart's desire.

Your spiritual appetite

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This day was the best that I have seen since I came to England. . . . After Dr. Twisse had begun with a brief prayer, Mr. Marshall prayed largely two hours, most divinely, confessing the sins of the members of the Assembly, in a wonderful, passionate, and prudent way. Afterwards, Mr. Arrowsmith preached an hour, then a psalm; thereafter, Mr. Vines prayed near two hours, and Mr. Palmer preached an hour, and Mr. Seaman prayed nearly two hours, then a psalm. After this, Mr. Henderson brought about a sweet discussion of the heated disputes confessed in the assembly, and other seen faults to be remedied. . . . Dr. Twisse closed with a short prayer and blessing.
So wrote Robert Baillie, one of the Scots commissioners at the Westminster Assembly, about one of the best days he had in England. Now, I can imagine all the caveats and contentions and complaints that might be thrown up if it were to be suggested that this is a good model for us to embrace or an implicit rebuke for us to face - different time, different men, different environment, specific situation, unusual demands, and so on and so forth.

It is not, therefore, my intention to set this up as some kind of gold standard for Christianity, but rather to ask a genuine question: is there anything in your spiritual appetite or mine that finds this prospect remotely appealing? Do we only think of caveats, contentions and complaints, or is there any awareness, perhaps any regret, that our appetites and capacities for preaching and prayer are not greater than they are?

Even if we suggest that such an appetite is an unusual high point, does it not at least suggest that our time and place might be more of an unusual low point? Would the prospect of a day given over to "wonderful, passionate, and prudent" prayers, interspersed with sermons and psalms, remotely whet our appetites?

When even a well-stocked Lord's day seems an unconscionable burden to many, I suggest that Baillie's appetite offers something of a corrective for our easily-satisfied, all-too-easily sated and therefore often-malnourished age. Can we say with Job, "I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my necessary food" (Jb 23.12)?

Effective personal evangelism: prayer

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The marks of effective personal evangelism we have surveyed so far are love, tenacity, boldness, consistency and understanding.

The sixth mark of the effective personal evangelist is prayer. The place of prayer in this list is not a marker of its relative insignificance. Could it be that one of the reasons why, with our children, friends, colleagues and communities, we are less effective than we wish to be is because we have not proved to be men and women of earnest, pleading prayer, borne of a love for God that seeks his glory above all else and a love for people that longs to see them saved from sin? Think, for example, of our Lord's mourning over Jerusalem: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Lk 13.34). I know that this is not a prayer per se, but can we imagine that a spirit such as this would not find an outlet in prayers to his heavenly Father? Or consider the words of the psalmist: "He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him" (Ps 126.6) - is that merely generic and diffuse weeping, or does it not suggest some earnest and heartfelt pleading? Do you think that Paul taught men and women night and day with tears, and that there was no counterpart in his private wrestlings with God for a blessing on his labours? How often does the apostle assure Christ's people of his continued prayers for them, and how much would he have prayed for them to come to new life? He agonises until they are brought to birth and then to see them mature in the faith. We must be pleaders with God. Perhaps you think of the vast number of people to be reached, the great number of streets to be visited, the endless number of words that might be spoken, and you would be tempted to conclude that we do not have time to waste in prayer. I know one gifted man who would give the first hour of his appointed time in this work to poring over an open Bible and pleading with the Lord for a blessing on his efforts before he ever opened his mouth to men. Could it be that our relative prayerlessness lies behind both our faint appetite for the work and our feeble strength in it?

Concerning petitions

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Paul "Champion of the Chip People" Levy makes good points regarding petitions, with which - I must confess, though it irks me to do so - I am substantially in agreement. If he carefully reads the post about the Keep Marriage Special petition, he will observe that it is not so much a recommendation to sign as a public service announcement. Did I sign it? Yes. I did so because I am a Christian who is happy to show solidarity with other believers who share similar convictions about marriage, and because I appreciated the Scriptural simplicity of this particular petition. I did so because I am a pilgrim who happens to be passing through the world as a citizen-subject of a particular nation/earthly monarch, and because I am happy to record my respectful wish that the government of the day should honour the Lord who has put them in their place, and I sincerely hope that it might contribute to the peace which I hope to enjoy as a gospel preacher. (Perhaps I should make clear here that, if it were ever needed or suggested, I am not sure I would feel obliged to throw my weight behind a Levy campaign for the restoration of the chip to the national menu.)

However, I must say that I was slightly amused by Paul's contention that a bit of letter-writing might be the way forward. It rather put me in mind of the famous exchange between an interviewer and Sir Arthur Greeb-Streebling (or was it Streeb-Greebling?), in which the noble interviewee was rather chuffed that he had been against the Second World War. His humble interlocutor pointed out with some diffidence that most of us were. "Ah, yes," responded the triumphant Streeb-Greebling, "but I wrote a letter."

Paul says, "Even if we had a million signatures on the petition it would not make a difference. That is not to say we don't write, visit our MPs, lobby the government; but can someone please tell me what good petitions do?"

I am not sure what good they do. I have written and spoken to MPs on issues before (I am glad that my present MP voted against the legislation in question) and had the privilege, if that's the word, of watching some at work and play, and find that their representative role does not always extend to actually taking account of the perspectives of the people they claim to represent. I think that letters and meetings may be at least as ineffective as petitions in actually altering the collective mind of government, but they are measures that - as concerned citizens - we are free to take if we wish to do so.

However, as citizens of a heavenly kingdom, there are certain petitions that we must never neglect. It is notable that when the early church was faced with particular opposition and oppression of a particularly aggressive sort from the religious and the secular authorities (if I may be permitted that distinction), they did not organise marches, found alliances and coalitions and institutes, lobby the authorities, print leaflets, establish petitions, create banners and posters, or print T-shirts with telling slogans.

Instead, we find them in getting on their knees and crying out to the God of heaven. Again, I am not saying that there is no place for Christian citizens to engage civil authorities on behalf of themselves and others like and unlike them. Furthermore, I sincerely hope that those individual Christians in positions of influence or power in government and society at every level will use that influence and power in the service of Christ, bringing a savour of Christ personally in all their dealings, and manifesting a Christlike character and concern in all the influencing and counselling. A few more Wilberforces would not go amiss, and it might be that a few letters, meetings and petitions from sub-Wilberforces would be of assistance to them.

However, as citizens of heaven and subjects of a king whose kingdom is not of this world, the reliance of the church is not on the weapons of the world: the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2Cor 10.4-5).

And so our true and most effective petitions ought to take this form:
Lord, you are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of your servant David have said:
Why did the nations rage,
And the people plot vain things?
The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against his Christ.
For truly against your holy Servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever your hand and your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to your servants that with all boldness they may speak your word, by stretching out your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your holy Servant Jesus." (Acts 4.24-30)
If these petitions reach the ear of the God of heaven, then we might hope that God's people shall be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak the word of God with boldness. This is the great impact that we long for. In truth, not much in the church should change whatever the present current of legislation or oppression. To be sure, our circumstances might alter, but will we not worship the same God, serve the same Christ, walk the same path, live the same life, obey the same commandments, and preach the same truth? It is not a strange thing that the saints should suffer tribulations, but only that ours in the modern West should to this point be so relatively light. We may be returning to the norm, and our first and primary concern should not be to petition the kings of earth for a little more latitude, but to petition the Lord of glory for a deal more light and love, and to get on with the business of making Christ known.

Review: "Developing a Healthy Prayer Life"

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Developing a Healthy Prayer Life: 31 Meditations on Communing with God
James W. Beeke and Joel R. Beeke
Reformation Heritage Books, 2010, 99pp., paperback, $10 / £7.50
ISBN 978-1-60178-112-3

This is the first in a planned series of volumes providing 31 meditations on a given subject. Each portion consists of a verse or two from the Word clearly dealing with the topic followed by no more than two or three pages of lucid and warm comment. There is a measure of development throughout the volume, giving the sense that if one were to use this as a daily devotional help over the course of a month, there might be genuine progress in understanding and engagement with God. A book like this cannot make us pray, nor will reading it instantly solve all our problems in prayer, but as a guide in the intentions and substance of prayer, gratefully received and earnestly practiced, it may be of much help in teaching us this holy discipline.

Fervent prayers

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How do you pray? How do you think about praying? How do you set out to pray? Consider these encouragements from Thomas Brooks in his volume, The Privy Key of Heaven (also reprinted recently by Banner as The Secret Key to Heaven). Brooks clearly feels himself on the very borders of reverent speech as he seeks to communicate the fervency of true and prevailing prayer, calling for a holy impudence that we would do well to cultivate:
God loves to see his people zealous and warm in his service. Without fervency of spirit, no service finds acceptance in heaven. God loves that his people should be lively and active in his service. Rom 12.12, "Persistent in prayer;" or "continuing with all your might in prayer." It is a metaphor from hunting dogs, which will never give over the hunt until they have got their prize. Rom 15.30, "That you strive together with me, in your prayers to God for me;" "strive mightily, strive as champions strive, even to an agony," as the word imports. It is a military word, and notes such fervent wrestling or striving, as is for life and death. Col 4.12, "Always laboring fervently for you in prayer." The Greek word which is here used, signifies to strive or wrestle, as those do who strive for mastery; it notes the vehemency and fervour of Epaphras' prayers for the Colossians. Look! as the wrestlers do bend, and writhe, and stretch, and strain every joint of their bodies, that they may be victorious; so Epaphras did bend, and writhe, and stretch, and strain every joint of his soul, if I may so speak--that he might be victorious with God upon the Colossians' account. So, when Jacob was with God alone, ah how earnest and fervent was he in his wrestlings with God, Gen 32.24-27; Hos 12.4-5. He wrestles and weeps, and weeps and wrestles; he tugs hard with God, he holds his hold, and he will not let God go, until as a prince he had prevailed with him. Fervent prayer is the soul's contention, the soul struggling with God; it is a sweating work, it is the sweat and blood of the soul, it is a laying out to the uttermost all the strength and powers of the soul. He who would gain victory over God in private prayer, must strain every string of his heart; he must, in beseeching God, besiege him, and so get the better of him; he must be like importunate beggars, that will not be put off with frowns, or silence, or sad answers. Those who would be masters of their requests, must, like the importunate widow, press God so far as to put him to a holy blush, as I may say with reverence: they must with a holy impudence, as Basil speaks, make God ashamed to look them in the face, if he should deny the importunity of their souls.
Brooks, Works, 2:258-259

Praying in the Whirlwind

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Lately I've been sleeping less to get more done, and therefore feel drained in the doing; so I sleep more and get less done, but worry that I need to work faster. It's a vicious cycle I'm sure many reading this have experienced.   

Reading through some old notes on Calvin's Institutes made me realize what always gets dropped when life feels like one giant game of whirlyball: prayer. Calvin says that if we do not pray, we are like a man who "neglect[s] a treasure, buried and hidden in the earth, after it had been pointed out to him" (3.20.1). "So true is it," Calvin explains, "that we dig up by prayer the treasures that were pointed out by the Lord's gospel, and which our faith has gazed upon" (ibid.). The metaphor is apt: digging is hard work, but digging for a treasure known to be there is worth the effort.

Then Calvin offers four rules for prayer--four rules for when we need the basics all over again. The first rule of prayer, according to Calvin, is reverence for the one to whom we pray. We need to remember that we address our Almighty Creator and Father through the mediation of the exalted Lord by the power of the Spirit who searches "even the depths of God" (1 Cor 2:10). Just work through the opening sections over at www.matthewhenry.org to learn this first and vital step. The second rule, Calvin says, is realizing just how needy we are before God. Too often people offer prayers while their "hearts are . . . cold, and they do not ponder what they ask" (3.20.6); even worse, "for the sake of mere performance men often beseech God for many things that they are dead sure will, apart from his kindness, come to them from some other source" (ibid.). (Just when we are crushed with conviction, Calvin offers a word of sympathy: "If anyone should object that we are not always urged with equal necessity to pray, I admit it" [3.20.7]. Even the great Calvin struggled at times to pray!)

The first two rules of prayer (reverence for God and a keen sense of neediness) naturally lead to a third: humility. The humble prayer casts away all smugness or pretension and rests wholly in God's mercy to sinners. For this reason, Calvin argues, it is fitting that we begin our prayers to God by repenting of individual sins. As the Westminster Confession puts it, we are to repent of "particular sins, particularly" (WCF 15:5). Do you do this, out loud if necessary?

Finally, a fourth rule: "we should be . . . encouraged to pray by a sure hope that our prayer will be answered" (3.20.11). Such confidence is the antithesis of pride, since we are to trust in God's goodness even as we revere his holiness.

It should be clear by now that the Institutes' four rules for prayer (reverence, a deep sense of need, humility, and trust) cohere: knowing God as he has revealed himself magnifies our helplessness; and the humility that results takes God at his Word that he will hear the prayers of his children. The crux, according to Calvin, is this: if prayer is to do us any good, we must place our entire trust in God's self-revealed character, promises, and faithfulness.     

Friend, the more we are overwhelmed by our own unworthiness before God and the myriad, sometimes agonizing, circumstances of life, the more we ought "to grasp with both hands" (3.20.12) the assurance that God will hear and answer our cries for help. Biblical faith, after all, does not teach us to approach God as slaves, but to pour out our hearts "as children unburden their troubles to their parents" (ibid.). 

Well, my country and much of the rest of the world are electric with the election of Barack Obama as the new President of the United States of America. To say that it is historic, is a gross understatement.

Justin Taylor and Al Mohler, have both inspired some reflection on the question of how we as Christians --Bible-believing, Reformed, Christians-- ought to pray for him, and I have freely borrowed many of their words and thoughts on this. But here are some ideas for leading our people to pray for our President-Elect. Barack Obama.

We ought to commit ourselves to pray for our new President, for his wife and family, for his administration, and for the nation. We will do this, not only because of the biblical command to pray for our rulers, but because of the second greatest commandment "Love your neighbor" and what better way to love your neighbor, than to pray for his well-being. Those with the greatest moral and political differences with the President-Elect ought to ask God to engender in them, by His Spirit, genuine neighbor-love for Mr. Obama.

We will also pray for our new President because he (and we) face challenges that are not only daunting but potentially disastrous. We will pray that God will grant him wisdom. He and his family will face new challenges and the pressures of this office. May God protect them, give them joy in their family life, and hold them close together.

We will pray that God will protect this nation even as our new President settles into his role as Commander in Chief, and that God will grant peace as he leads the nation through times of trial and international conflict and tension.

We will pray that God would change President-Elect Obama's mind and heart on issues of crucial moral concern. May God change his heart and open his eyes to see abortion as the murder of the innocent unborn, to see marriage as an institution to be defended, and to see a host of issues in a new light. We must pray this from this day until the day he leaves office. God is sovereign, after all.

For those Christians who are more dismayed than overjoyed about the prospects of an Obama presidency, there should be a remembrance that as our President, Barack Obama will have God-given authority to govern us, and that we should view him as a servant of God (Rom. 13:1, 4) to whom we should be subject (Rom. 13:1, 5; 1 Pet. 2:13-14). Thus, again, we are to pray for Barack Obama (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We are to thank God for Barack Obama (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We are to respect Barack Obama (Rom. 13:7). We are to honor Barack Obama (Rom. 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:17).

For those Christians who are more overjoyed than concerned about the prospects of an Obama presidency, there should be a remembrance of our ultimate allegiance: Jesus is Lord (and thus, He, not we, decides what is right and wrong), we serve God not man, and the Lord himself has promised to establish "the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him" (Malachi 3:18). Thus, where our new president opposes or undermines biblical moral standards in our society, fails to uphold justice for the unborn, undermines religious liberties or condones an ethos that is hostile to the Gospel, we will pray for God's purposes to triumph over our President's plans and policies.

Without doubt and whatever our particular views may be, we face hard days ahead. Realistically, we must all expect to be frustrated and disappointed. Some now may feel defeated and discouraged. While others may all-too-soon find their audacious hopes unfounded and unrealized. We must all keep ever in mind that it is God who raises up leaders and nations, and it is God who pulls them down, and who judges both nations and rulers. We must not act or think like unbelievers, or as those who do not trust God.

How Long?

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Today I received an anonymous prayer card from someone who was at Tenth Presbyterian Church yesterday for worship.  The card asked us to pray for a baby whose heart is failing and may need a transplant. 

The baby's parents are believers in Jesus Christ.  On Saturday the mother, fearing for her daughter's life, asked her husband, "How long will God continue to show us mercy?"

"Always," he replied.