Why Is It So Hard to Pray? March “Tabletalk” on Prayer

Today I started reading the featured articles in the new issue of Tabletalk magazine. The March issue is on prayer – “Key Questions About Prayer” – and the opening article by editor Burk Parsons is a powerful introduction.

I plan to return to this issue again, but for tonight I wanted to follow up yesterday’s post on the new book on Jesus’ prayers with a quote from Parson’s article, “Why Is It So Hard to Pray?”

It’s hard to pray because humbling ourselves, getting over ourselves, and coming to the end of our stubborn and sinful selves is hard. When we pray, we die to self, and death hurts. That’s why our flesh fights so hard against prayer. When we pray, we are entering into real warfare against our flesh and against the flaming arrows of our accuser and his host. Although they are not afraid of us, they are terrified of the One within us and who is for us, and they despise that we are praying to the One who has crushed them and will destroy them.

Moreover, it’s hard to pray because our focus is too often on praying itself and not on God. We learn about prayer not so that we might know a lot of facts about prayer, but so that we might pray with our focus on God. By His sovereign grace, we know Him, and we know He is there and that He not only hears but listens—that He is not silent but that He always answers our prayers and always acts in accord with His perfect will for our ultimate good and for His glory. When we recognize God’s sovereignty in prayer, we are also reminded of His love, grace, holiness, and righteousness, and we are thereby confronted with the harsh reality of our own wretched sin in the light of His glory and grace.

That is good food for our souls as we enter a new work-week. Let’s remember to begin each day at our sovereign Father’s feet, pleading for His grace and Holy Spirit in our battle under the cross of His Son.

To finish reading Parson’s introduction, visit the link above. To read the other brief articles answering various “key questions about prayer,” visit the link below.

Source: Latest Issue – March 2019

The Prayers of Jesus: As a Child of the Covenant

prayers-jesus-jones-2019A brand new book I requested and received from Crossway publishers carries a unique title and contains a special focus – The Prayers of Jesus – with the subtitle Listening to and Learning from Our Savior (2019; 221 pp.). The author is Mark Jones, pastor of Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Vancouver, B.C.

As the title reveals, this is a study of the prayers of our Lord as contained in the Bible. And where would you start in considering these prayers? To what passage would you turn first? Before you answer those questions, consider that the author begins with a solid, Reformed introductory chapter on Christology. That’s right – a biblical, historical, and confessional study of the doctrine of Christ.

Why?, you ask. Because we cannot properly understand the prayers of Jesus without understanding who it was that prayed them and how He could pray them. We refer, of course, to the fact that Jesus prayed to His Father as the One who is fully man while also being fully God. Did our Lord need to pray, or did He pray only to give us an example of how to pray? Jones establishes the truth that Jesus, the eternal Son of God come in our full humanity, prayed out of his own deep need for all the graces His life and mission required. That opening chapter is vital for grasping the rest of the book on Jesus’ actual prayers.

But now, back to those prayers. What is the first passage you would turn to find Jesus’ prayers in the Bible? Something in the New Testament? No doubt, that is where most of us would go. But then we would miss His earlier prayers. The author properly takes us to the Psalms, and specifically Psalm 22:9-10 (look it up – his chapter heading is “Jesus Prayed from His Mother’s Breasts”). And what he emphasizes from the perspective of this Psalm is that Jesus learned to pray as a child of the covenant, indeed, as the Son of the covenant. With this in view, Jones ends his treatment of this prayer of Jesus with these paragraphs:

Our Lord came into this world with the graces needed to live out his calling as the Son of God. As such, he had not only the abilities to live in constant communion with God, but also the identity that he was someone peculiar: the God-man. Such abilities and awareness, coupled with the Father’s resolve to have his Son know him, provide us with the proper context for the prayers of Jesus and why his life was lived in constant communion with his heavenly Father. Furnished with the Spirit, his life was constant Trinitarian activity: the Son communing with the Father in the power of the Spirit. Just as he first called upon the Lord by the power of the Spirit working upon his human nature, so his last words were calling upon the Lord by the Spirit (Luke 23:46; Heb.9:14).

And he closes with this application:

We should note the importance of starting well in life: it is easier to develop patterns and habits at an early age than to pick up those habits later in life for the first time. For some this is not possible, due to their circumstances (e.g., growing up in a non-Christian household). But in believing households, children must therefore be taught to pray, by faith, as early as possible and as frequently as they are able. In Scripture there are patterns for us to follow, words for us to use to help us in our prayers. God does not expect his own Son to be left alone to figure out how to pray. Thus, he certainly would not leave us to ourselves in so important a spiritual discipline.

If one of our readers is interested in reviewing this book for the Standard Bearer (of which I am book review editor for the rubric “Bring the Books”), contact me here or by email. The review should be brief – and the book is yours if you write it.

A Theology of Listening (to the Preaching of the Word) – K. Ramey

This  [that is, that the Bible is the inspired, reliable Word of God] also means when a preacher faithfully preaches the Bible, it is God speaking and not the preacher (John 14:24; Acts 13:7,44). By virtue of the fact that God is the one who spoke it, we should listen and obey.

It’s His Word.

Just like a child should listen to and obey what their parents say for no other reason than it is the right things to do because of who they are (Eph.6:1-2), we should listen to and obey what our heavenly Father has said because of who He is. God’s Word is an expression of all that He is. He spoke forth His Word so that we know about His glory, His love, His grace, His mercy, His power, His wrath, His justice, His goodness, His faithfulness, etc. God’s character is inherent in His Word (cf. Ps.138:2). What makes the Bible so dynamic and gives it the ability to dissect our hearts with such precision and so accurately discern every aspect of our lives is because it is the Word of the all-powerful, all-knowing God (Heb.4:12-13). Whenever we are exposed to the Word of God we are in essence being exposed to God Himself (1 Cor.14:24-25). That alone should be enough to motivate us to honor and obey the Word of God.

ExpositoryListeningTaken from Expository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word by Ken Ramey (Kress Biblical Resources, 2010), Chapter 1 – “Biblical Audiology: A Theology of Listening.” We touched on the introduction in our first post. In the months ahead I plan to draw on some of the author’s good thoughts concerning our calling to listen believingly to God’s Word proclaimed.

A Prayer After the Explanation of the [Heidelberg] Catechism

prayer-bible-1The 1934 edition of the Psalter Hymnal published by the Christian Reformed Church contains a section of “Christian Prayers” in the liturgical part in the back. Two of those prayers relate to the preaching of the Heidelberg Catechism. Prof. B. Gritters referenced these in his first Interim course lecture last Friday (Jan.4).

[This course on Heidelberg Catechism Preaching is being live-streamed daily this week and through next Tues, Jan.15 on the PRC Seminary’s YouTube channel. The videos from each day (2 lectures, except for yesterday’s class) may also be found there.]

In our Sunday post (Jan.6) we quoted the first one; in this one we post the other. This one has the heading “Prayer After the Explanation of the Catechism.” I believe you will find it to be thoroughly Reformed and biblical, and therefore, a prayer that is edifying and fit to be used ourselves.

And this is the prayer (slightly edited with paragraphs):

O gracious and merciful God and Father, we thank Thee that Thou hast established Thy covenant with believers and their seed. This Thou hast not only sealed by holy baptism, but Thou daily showest it by perfecting Thy praise out of the moth of babes and sucklings, thus putting to shame the wise and prudent of this world.
We beseech Thee that Thou wilt increase Thy grace in them, in order that they may unceasingly grow in Christ, Thy Son, until they have reached complete maturity in all wisdom and righteousness. Give us grace to instruct them in Thy knowledge and fear, according to Thy commandment.
May by their godliness the kingdom of Satan be destroyed and the kingdom of Jesus Christ in this and other congregations strengthened, unto the glory of Thy holy Name and unto their eternal salvation, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Lord, who taught us to pray, saying,
Our Father who art in heaven, etc. Amen.

Posted yesterday on the PRC Seminary’s new website blog.

Expository Listening – Introduction

As a representative of the King of kings, preachers have been given the responsibility and authority to boldly herald forth what God has said in His Word. But the hearers have a responsibility too, one that’s equally pressing: They must engage themselves as wholehearted, blood-earnest listeners who respond to the call of God on all mankind; ‘Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth; for the LORD speaks’ (Isa.1:2).

In the pages ahead, we will explore God’s call to listen. …After all, if you are like most Christians, you listen to at least one or two sermons a week. Let’s say you came to Christ at age ten [the author does not share our Reformed covenantal perspective, but his point is still valid] and you live to be seventy-five. If you average two sermons a week, you will listen to over seven thousand sermons during the course of your life. And at the end of your life you will stand before God and give an account for every sermon you heard. On that day, God will essentially ask you, ‘How was your life changed as a result of the thousands of times you have heard My Word preached?’ So we see that it is vital that you are ever welcoming the Word of God and diligently seeking to put what you hear into practice, thus proving ‘yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves’ (James 1:22). [NASB]

At the beginning of this introductory chapter the author referenced the Thessalonian Christians who had this testimony of the apostle Paul concerning how they listened to the preaching he brought them: “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” (I Thess.2:13) He returns to this at the end of this chapter:

The Thessalonians understood this supernatural dynamic [the “dynamic duo of faithful herald and fervent listeners”] and it caused them to have a great appreciation and affection for the preached Word. They loved to listen to Paul preach. They could be truly described as preaching enthusiasts, preaching fanatics even. Augustine urged his congregation to attend preaching with ‘burning thirst and fervent hearts.’

…My desire within these pages is to create congregations that share this passion to honor God by being discerning hearers of His Word, diligent doers of His Word, and devoted lovers of His Word, preaching fanatics even, who come to church like a thirsty man craving something to drink and whose hearts fervently long to hear the Word preached because they know that in it God speaks to them.

expository-listening-ramey-2010Taken from Expository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word by Ken Ramey (Kress Biblical Resources, 2010), the “Introduction: Welcoming the Word.” In the months ahead I plan to draw on some of the author’s good thoughts concerning our calling to listen believingly to God’s Word proclaimed.

This section begins with these words from the Puritan Thomas Watson: “When we come to the Word preached, we come to a matter of the highest importance, therefore we should stir up ourselves and hear with the greatest devotion.”

Petition for Help in Praying the Psalms

We have taken this short stroll through the Psalter [that is, the book of Psalms] in order to learn to pray a few psalms a bit better. It would not be difficult to arrange according to the Lord’s Prayer all the psalms mentioned. …But this alone is important, that we begin to pray the psalms with confidence and love in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

After which the author concludes this brief section with a quote (prayer) from M. Luther:

‘Our dear Lord, who has given to us and taught us to pray the Psalter and the Lord’s Prayer, grant to us also the spirit of prayer and of grace so that we pray with enthusiasm and earnest faith, properly and without ceasing, for we need to do this; he has asked for it and therefore wants to have it from us. To him be praise, honor, and thanksgiving. Amen.’

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferTaken from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in one of the closing sections, “Petition for the Spirit of Life”  (p.63).

The Perfect Wisdom of Our God

At the “Evening of Praise” program tonight at Grandville High School Auditorium (an annual fundraiser for Heritage Christian School Foundation) we were privileged to hear a variety of vocal and instrumental music again. From piano duets to strings to voices in trios and groups, young and old joined in praise to God.

One of the numbers the Daling Family Trio sang was a song written by Stuart Townend and composed by the Gettys (Keith and Kristyn). The title is “The Perfect Wisdom of Our God,” (from their album “Hymns for the Christian Life”) and is based on a variety of Bible passages that speak of God’s wisdom , especially Rom.11:33.

Here are the beautiful lyrics to the song:

The perfect wisdom of our God
Revealed in all the universe:
All things created by His hand
And held together at His command.
He knows the mysteries of the seas,
The secrets of the stars are His;
He guides the planets on their way
And turns the earth through another day.

The matchless wisdom of His ways
That mark the path of righteousness;
His word a lamp unto my feet,
His Spirit teaching and guiding me.
And O the mystery of the cross,
That God should suffer for the lost,
So that the fool might shame the wise,
And all the glory might go to Christ!

O grant me wisdom from above,
To pray for peace and cling to love,
And teach me humbly to receive
The sun and rain of Your sovereignty.
Each strand of sorrow has a place
Within this tapestry of grace;
So through the trials I choose to say:
“Your perfect will in Your perfect way.”

The video below records Kristyn singing the song and shows the lyrics.

It was a good night for leading us into the worship of the day of our risen Lord tomorrow.

Where Is the Word of God? November 2018 “Tabletalk”

The November 2018 issue of Tabletalk centers on the theme of “Living by the Word of God,” an extremely important subject in our day of moral relativism and Scripture-denying doctrine, and that within the nominal church and among many professing Christians. As Christians we claim to be “people of the Book,” the Word of God. But as this issue shows, that begins with a right understanding of what this Book is, and then with a practice that matches what we confess it to be. If this Book is indeed the Word of God, then we must truly live by it. If you are in need of those reminders (and aren’t we all?!), then read on!

In addition to the daily devotions (on the gospel of John), I have been working my way through the various articles, including editor Burk Parsons article titled “Our Only Infallible Rule.” He makes a powerful point in his introductory comments on the theme:

Anyone who says the Bible is boring isn’t reading the Bible with a heart of faith, and anyone who says the Bible is easy to read isn’t really examining the Bible. The Bible never actually calls us simply to read it. It calls us to study it, examine it, search it, meditate on it, hide it in our hearts, and let it dwell in us richly. Yet many Christians seem to read the Bible as quickly as they can so that they can tell everyone they have read it. We do indeed need to read the Bible—sometimes multiple chapters and entire books in one sitting—yet we are also called to study it so that we do not simply allow the sacred Word of God to pass before our eyes without properly considering its manifold splendor. Not only that, but many professing Christians don’t read the Bible much at all. Many are looking for a special word from God while their Bibles sit on their shelves gathering dust. If we want a special word from God, we need only open the Bible and read it, and if we want to hear a special word from God, we only need read the Bible aloud. For the Bible is the special revelation of God, and it is our only infallible rule for faith and life.

The first main article I read on Sunday is the one in the title to this blog post, “Where is the Word of God?” by Dr. Michael J. Kruger. After explaining that God’s Word is “the ultimate standard for all of life,” he goes into the importance of the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura. But then he also issues some cautions about misunderstanding and misapplying this truth, one of which is this one:

Of course, like many core Christian convictions, the doctrine of sola Scriptura has often been misunderstood and misapplied. Unfortunately, some have used sola Scriptura as a justification for a “me, God, and the Bible” type of individualism, where the church bears no real authority and the history of the church is not considered when interpreting and applying Scripture. Thus, many churches today are almost ahistorical—cut off entirely from the rich traditions, creeds, and confessions of the church. They misunderstand sola Scriptura to mean that the Bible is the only authority rather than understanding it to mean that the Bible is the only infallible authority. Ironically, such an individualistic approach actually undercuts the very doctrine of sola Scriptura it is intended to protect. By emphasizing the autonomy of the individual believer, one is left with only private, subjective conclusions about what Scripture means. It is not so much the authority of Scripture that is prized as the authority of the individual.

The Reformers would not have recognized such a distortion as their doctrine of sola Scriptura. On the contrary, they were quite keen to rely on the church fathers, church councils, and the creeds and confessions of the church. Such historical rootedness was viewed not only as a means for maintaining orthodoxy but also as a means for maintaining humility. Contrary to popular perceptions, the Reformers did not view themselves as coming up with something new. Rather, they understood themselves to be recovering something very old—something that the church had originally believed but later twisted and distorted. The Reformers were not innovators but excavators.

Kruger has other good points that are worth your reading. Follow the link below to read his full article.

Source: Where Is the Word of God?

The Benefits of Reading “Promiscuously” – J. Milton & K. Prior

reading-well-priorIn making her case for ‘reading well” in her new book by that title (On Reading Well, which I just picked up at the local Barnes & Noble store), that is, for virtue, author Karen S. Prior begins by referencing her previous title Booked, in which she emphasizes the importance of reading “widely, voraciously, and indiscriminately.” In doing so, she points out the spiritual lessons she learned while reading widely, or as she calls it reading “promiscuously,” drawing from a famous book by John Milton (though perhaps not as well known as his Paradise Lost).

This is how she references Milton and his work Areopagitica:

Areopagitica makes a deeply theological argument, one that Christians today, particularly those nervously prone to a censoring spirit, would do well to consider. Grounded in Protestant doctrine (as well as the polarized political situation surrounding the English Civil War), Milton associates censorship with the Roman Catholic Church (the political as well as doctrinal enemy of the English Puritans) and finds in his Reformation heritage a deep interdependence of intellectual, religious, political, and personal liberty – all of which depend, he argues, on virtue. Because the world since the fall contains both good and evil, Milton says, virtue consists of choosing good over evil. Milton distinguishes between the innocent, who knows no evil, and the virtuous, who know what evil is and elect to do good. What better way to learn the difference between good and evil, Milton argues, than to gain knowledge of both through reading widely: ‘Since therefore the knowledge and survey of vice is in this world so necessary to the constituting of human virtue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth, how can we more safely, and with less danger, scout into the regions of sin and falsity than by reading all manner of tractates and hearing all manner of reason? And this is the benefit which may be had of books promiscuously read.’

Perhaps we struggle to understand Milton’s point here. Let me try to clarify it. I believe that, being the good Puritan that he was, Milton would never say, “In order to appreciate virtue you ought to go out and experience or enjoy vice (sin).” But he is saying here that there is a way to learn (and to choose) virtue, and that is by reading about evil. In that way of “the scanning of error” through the world’s books, you learn to see evil for what it is (“sin and falsity”), in order that you reject it and choose the virtuous (“truth”) instead.

Is that not one of the reasons why Christians ought to read widely? Milton makes a valid point, to my thinking, and Prior is right to direct us to it so we too may learn to read well and find “the good life through great books” (the sub-title of her new book).

We’ll return to more of Prior’s spiritual lessons on reading as I move through the book.

Put on Love – H. Hoeksema

col3-14Put on, therefore…

Holy and beloved, elect of God, above all put on love.

How strange an exhortation. …How utterly impossible it appears to heed it.

…this love of God was not poured out in their hearts as one pours water into a dead and earthen vessel that is utterly passive and in no way affected by the contents it receives; but as conscious and rational and willing children of God they tasted this love of God. They became co-workers of God, his imitators. God’s eternal purpose of love became their purpose by his grace. They will to love God and to walk before him unblameably in love, to manifest themselves in the light of love, that he may be glorified. And this manifestation of the love of God that is in their hearts, this walking in love in the midst of the world, in every relationship of life, is the putting on of love.

Put on, therefore!

Yes, put it on as a garment, but as a garment that is but the outward manifestation of the love of God that was realized in your hearts. Put it on in the word of your mouth, in the look of your eye, in the work of your hand, in the direction of your foot. Put it on in your thinking and willing, in your every desire, and in the expression of them all in your whole life, individually, in the midst of the brethren, in the midst of the world.

Through the power of his marvelous grace, let this love dominate all the manifestation of your life as a co-worker with God.

Communion_with_God-HHTaken from the meditation “Put on Love” (based on Colossians 3:14) in the collection of meditations Communion With God (Reformed Spirituality series, volume 2) by Herman Hoeksema, edited by David J. Engelsma (RFPA, 2011), 327-29.