Praying with Passion (Psalm 126)

rhythms-of-holinessAs we begin 2017, our church has taken January to focus on a handful of spiritual disciplines—personal and public. The first in our series is prayer. But instead of just commending its importance and techniques to help, I took the route of seeing how God forms desire for prayer in our hearts.

By drawing near to God, by remembering the promises of his Word, and by desiring with increasing anguish Christ’s kingdom to come, we grow more passionate in our prayer. Indeed, passion is not a word that simply means “with heighten emotion.” Rather, its original sense relates to suffering (hence “Christ’s passion”), and this is what we do when we pray—we entering into the sufferings of Christ and weep for his will to be done.

At first glance, this kind of praying may seem off-putting, but I believe, Scripture—Psalm 126 especially—teaches us that this is the kind of prayer that endures. So if you want to grow in prayer in 2016, consider what Psalm 126 says and how it fuels prayer. You can read the sermon notes or listen online. Discussion questions and resources are below. Continue reading

Like the Breaking of the Dawn: How Faith, Prayer, and the Holy Spirit Bring Spiritual Illumination

morningIn the Gospels, the disciples of Christ often appear as experts in missing the point. While seeing, they don’t yet see. Like an untrained miner, they do not yet possess and appreciation for the jewel that stands before them. Christ is the pearl of great price, the treasure of incomparable value. Yet, it took time for the disciples to perceive who Christ was and how he was bringing the kingdom of God.

The same might be true today. Although, we do not physically see Jesus Christ, we inhabit a world where the Spirit of Christ has been sent. While Christ’s absence may constitute some disadvantage to our understanding, the gift of the Spirit is a far greater advantage. As Jesus says of the Holy Spirit, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).

Thus, contrary to what we might think, to have the Spirit of Christ in this age is better than having the physical Christ. For to have the Spirit is to have Christ and the Father—for he is the Spirit of the Father and the Son. And more, in having the Spirit of Truth, we have One who opens our blinded eyes, convicts our dull souls, and enables us to see and believe in the Lord. Indeed, by the Spirit-inspired Word of God we have access to knowing in ways the disciples struggled to grasp. Continue reading

Practical Counsel for Growing in Grace

discipline“Discipline yourself for godliness.”
— 1 Timothy 4:7 (NASB)–

Recently Donald Whitney, professor of biblical spirituality at Southern Seminary (Louisville, Kentucky) answered a series of questions for Desiring God‘s podcast, Ask Pastor John. Dr. Whitney, who is arguably the foremost authority on evangelical spirituality, has been studying and teaching these materials for over twenty-five years. His book  Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is a modern classic and an illuminating study for growing in grace.

If you are not familiar with the Bible’s prescribed disciplines for spiritual growth, or you are and have not read his enlightening book, I cannot commend it enough. In the meantime, if you would like a primer on the disciplines or a refresher for why they are so important, take 30 minutes (or 5 seven-minute segments) to listen to his answers to these five questions. (I’ve included a teaser quotation from each interview). Continue reading

Recommended Reading: Ten Books on Prayer

praySunday I preached on the church’s calling to “pray for one another” (James 5:16). Among the seven points of application—“seven ways to improve your pray life today”—one of them had to do with learning how to pray.

In truth, nothing teaches you how to pray like praying, and especially by praying with others who know how to pray. The disciples asked Jesus “to teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). The assumption is that both John and Jesus prayed with and before their disciples, hence prompting their question.

Theologically, it is the Spirit who directs our prayers (see Romans 8:26; Ephesians 6:18; and Jude 20). But practically, like Jesus’ twelve disciples, we too need to learn from our Lord how to pray. Certainly, the Scriptures are the place to learn what it means to “pray in the Spirit,” “by the will of God,” “for his glory,” and “for our joy.” But if you are like me, you are helped when men and women gifted to teach and gifted to pray write books that relate Scriptural truth to real life.

Therefore, if you are earnestly desirous of learning how to pray, consider these ten books on the subject. I have found them helpful and encourage you to check them out too. Continue reading

(How to) Let Love Increase: A Meditation on 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13

waterNow may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
 – 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13 –

In his letters, Paul often inserts a prayer for the sake of his brethren. And what he typically prays for is twofold—that the church of God would increase in knowledge of God and love for one another.[1] First Thessalonians is typical in this regard. After recounting Timothy’s report of the Thessalonians faith, hope, and love, he proceeds to pray for these people whom he loves with deep affection.

In his prayer, he petitions God to increase their love for one another and for all people. In these three verses (3:11–13), we can learn four things about love for one another. Continue reading

A Prayer for America

thanksYesterday, I suggested we take time in our church services to pray for our country as Daniel and Nehemiah did for theirs. Last year, with those model prayers in mind, I offered this prayer at church. A year later it is just as appropriate, just as needed.

Holy God. You are right to demand holiness. Your will for all those made in your image is holiness. We confess that this is right and good.

And with that in mind, we confess we are not. In our city streets and in the corridors of our mind, we are unholy. Our nation and many in your church are drunk on impurity.

We are consumers of lewd entertainment.

We are led by an insatiable desire for more—more money, more sex, more fun, more stuff.

We legalize that which is a stench in your nostrils, and we outlaw that which pleases you.

Worse, our churches follow the ways of this world. We import the practices of our culture.

Instead of celebrating purity, we applaud celebrity.

Following the world, we mix your Word with a cocktail of psychology, leadership principles, and positive thinking.

Forgive us!

We thank you for the Christians who have gone before us, and been salt and light to preserve our nation.

We thank you for the legacy of Christian faithfulness that we have in this country. No country on earth has more churches, Bible schools, Christian publishers, and free access to you.

What a gift! What grace! Thank you for sharing your light with such undeserving and unthankful people.

But, oh how, we tremble at the way such blessings are trampled under foot.

Churches that were once committed to your Word are compromising.

Schools founded to glorify Jesus have exchanged light for darkness.

Leaders who once upheld truth, justice, and goodness are now controlled by moral relativism and whatever is popularity.

And what is popular is not holy. We deserve your judgment. If we learn anything from your words to Israel, we deserve to lose the lease on our land. We deserve to be vomited out. God forgive us!

Send your Holy Spirit. Revive your churches.

May the pulpits of America once again unashamedly declare Christ.

May the Christians in our country strive after holiness.

May we show the world a kind of love that makes God-haters thirst for Jesus.

Oh, be merciful to us! We are sinners. In your holiness, remember your Son’s atoning death. Be patient with us, and help us to be a light in this dark country.

Grant us sober hearts. Hearts that grieve not for the loss of Americana, but for the loss of your holiness.

Father in heaven, hallow your name in our country!

May God grant us, our churches, our nation a heart of repentance and renewed thirst for him and his righteousness.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Expositional Preaching is ‘Empowered Preaching’

empoweredLast month I attended a Charles Simeon Trust workshop with about 40–50 pastors in Indianapolis, Indiana. As a preacher unapologetically-committed to expositional preaching, I was deeply encouraged to join such large number of other ‘expositors.’

In the three-day seminar, we walked through the whole book of 2 Timothy and ‘worked out’ with a number of hermeneutic tools (i.e., reading strategies) for understanding and preaching epistles. Space doesn’t permit me to share all the highlights of seminar, but one thing is worth mentioning: In defining expositional preaching, David Helm reshaped my thinking about exposition with his emphasis on “empowered preaching.” He defined expositional preaching as “empowered preaching that rightfully submits the shape and emphasis of the sermon to the shape and emphasis of a biblical text.”

Helm’s point is that “expositional preaching” is not just limpidly restating the truths of Scripture. Empowered preaching is Spirit-filled preaching that reveals the living Christ through the faithful exposition of God’s Word. And this kind of preaching comes not just from solid hermeneutics; it comes from the Spirit of God and prayer—a point he well explains in his compact book on preaching, Expositional Preaching Continue reading

Take Up and Pray: Learning to Pray the Scriptures from Donald Whitney

prayDonald Whitney has just released a new book on prayer, Praying the BibleLike his earlier books spurring Christians towards love and good deeds (especially Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life), this little volume is sure to encourage believers and provide a pathway to greater, more fervent, more consistent prayer.

As I read the book at the end of last week’s prayer meeting at the SBC, I walked away with fresh encouragement to take up the Scriptures and pray. I am sure any believer will experience the same thing if they pick up this little book (89 pp.). To encourage you to pick up this book, let me give you a sense of Whitney’s argument coupled with his ‘tweetable’ prose. Continue reading

Cultivating An Appetite for Righteousness

hungerA few weeks ago, I preached on the fourth beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt 5:6). Jesus words call attention to the fact that those who will be righteous will first hunger and thirst because of their lack of righteousness.

In my sermon, I spoke about three kinds of people:

  1. those who are self-righteous and boast of their good works;
  2. those who are unrighteous and boast in their unrighteousness;
  3. and those who are unrighteous but long to be righteous.

I argued that only the third kind of person will be justified. The self-righteous can be humbled and the unrighteous can be convicted, but only when the Spirit grieves us about the sin in our lives, will we call upon the Lord in faith and in turn be satisfied with God. (The Spirit, of course, does far more than convict us of sin—he also illumines our mind (2 Cor 2:14-16), regenerates our hearts (Titus 3:5), enables belief (Gal 5:22-23), etc.—but in work or redemption, genuine grief for sin is necessary).

With desiring righteousness in mind, I urged our congregation to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Theologically, I know that such hunger and thirst is a gift from God, but I also know that hunger and thirst can and should be cultivated in the hearts of those who have been born again. Therefore, here are six ways that you can grow in your hunger and thirst for righteousness. These six steps towards cultivating righteousness did not make it into the sermon itself; the rest of which you can listen below.

Cultivating Your Appetite for Righteousness

1. Read Scripture. If you don’t hunger for righteousness, read the Word. That’s why it’s there. The Spiritual man lives on God’s word, because the Word of God created that man’s spiritual life. Just the same, hunger for righteousness comes from the Word. If you don’t feel hungry, sit down with the Bible and watch how God renews your appetite.

2. Pray. Ask God for a greater appetite. If you read Paul’s prayers, it will not take long before you realize that he doesn’t pray the way we do. Though he’s in prison and afflicted with physical pain, his prayer requests are always centered on the Word. Likewise, when he prays, he prays that his spiritual children would have spiritual power to perceive the beauty and glory of the gospel of grace. We should pray for this too . . . pray that God gives you stronger affections for his righteousness. God will never reject the saint who prays for this.

3. Spend time around people who will make you hunger for God and his Word. This can be done through good books, through friendships with people who love God, know his word, and speak the truth to you in love. A couple weeks ago, my wife and I took day away to attend the THINK Conference at College Park Baptist Church. John Piper was the speaker, and he spent four hours teaching through the text of Philippians. It was glorious. But what caused hunger & thirst in my soul was not his Bible teaching . . . it was his Scripture memory. He opened his first session quoting the whole book, and it urged me again to keep working on Bible memorization.

4. Meditate on Christ’s return and the satisfaction you will have when he returns.  I cannot tell you how many times the thought of Christ’s return has given me strength to say ‘no’ to ungodliness.  By meditating on the glories of the new creation, and the beauty of Christ, I have found strength to say no to sin, by means of choosing the greater pleasure of knowing God. There is no greater way to crucify the flesh, than to ponder the satisfaction of knowing God. Meditating on Christ is one of, if not the, greatest tools for fighting sin. Feed yourself on him, and you will have little appetite for unrighteousness.

5. Fast. No, that’s not an imperative to run your life at breakneck speed. Just the opposite, it is the call to pull away from the world and your bodies demand for food. We fast in order to quicken our senses for spiritual need. Just as we eat food when we are hungry, we fast so as to be more aware of the appetites in our life. Fasting cultivates a hunger for God and fasting reveals those created things which are most idolatrous to us. If you are struggling to hunger and thirst for righteousness, God has a specific medicine—fasting! I don’t do this well; I need to do it better.

6. Feast on the Lord’s Supper.  Now this is a little bit curious, because when we come to the Lord’s supper most of us are hungry. In our church at least, the Lord’s Supper comes near the lunch hour or just before dinner (when we observe communion at night). In those moments, most people with normal sized appetites are looking for more than a wafer & shot glass of juice. Therefore, it may seem odd to “feast” on the Lord’s Supper. What does that mean?

Simply this: When you come to the table, you are not coming for the wafer and the shot glass. No, if you have eyes of faith, you see through these things to the Lord Jesus who satisfies your soul.  He is the Bread of Life; the Living Water. His blood is the wine that quickens our hearts. He is our portion and our prize. Believers don’t come to him because they “have to.” We come to the table because we love him, and we hunger and thirst for him, his kingdom, and his righteousness. For those who know the Lord, the Lord’s Supper is a feast for your faith, even as we await the Wedding Banquet, where Christ will satisfy us in soul and body.

Surely, there are more ways to cultivate a hunger and thirst for righteousness. What would you add?

May God be gracious to us to give us an appetite for righteousness, and may he increase our hunger and thirst for him, that he might satisfy us now and forever.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Power of Prayer

powerChristians have always been a praying people. In truth, since the Spirit awakens us to God our Father and moves us to cry out to him (Rom 8:15-17), it is inconceivable that God’s children wouldn’t pray. Yet, as we pray, it is worth asking: From where does the power of prayer come?

To that question we could answer in a number of ways. James 5:19 says, “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (KJV). In comparison with a passage like Psalm 66:18, we might conclude that powerful prayer depends on the person: God hears and answers his choice servants, but ignores the pleas of men who regard sin in their heart.

Surely, there is some truth in that. But there is also error, if we think that our personal righteousness is the means by which God answers our prayer. Just a few verses before James speaks of “powerful” prayer, he says, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick.” In context, the righteous pray-er is the one who prays in faith. In other words, personal righteousness is the not the source of powerful prayer. Rather, powerful prayer comes from those who by faith confess their sins and plead for God’s mercy. Continue reading