Prayer in Times of Great Peril – Valley of Vision

Once again the Lord’s sovereign hand has struck some of our families and congregations with the sudden death of a loved one, shaking us to the core, humbling us, teaching us, driving us to Him through Jesus Christ, our only Help and Hope.

In light of this I post this prayer titled “Peril” from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions (Banner of Truth, 1975). You will see that it is a cry for help raised “out of the depths” (Psalm 130:1), and yet a prayer of faith, with the child of God still clinging to the Lord of mercy.

At the end is a video recording of this prayer which may also be listened to and prayed in this way.

Peril – The Valley of Vision

Sovereign Commander of the Universe,
I am sadly harassed by doubts, fears, unbelief,
    in a felt spiritual darkness.
My heart is full of evil surmisings and disquietude,
    and I cannot act faith at all.
My heavenly Pilot has disappeard,
    and I have lost my hold on the Rock of Ages;
I sink in deep mire beneath storms and waves,
    in horror and distress unutterable.
Help me, O Lord,
    to throw myself absolutely and wholly on thee,
    for better, for worse, without comfort,
    and all but hopeless.
Give me peace of soul, confidence, enlargement of mind,
    morning joy that comes after night heaviness;
Water my soul with divine blessings;
Grant that I may welcome that humbling in private
    so that I might enjoy thee in public;
Give me a mountain top as high as the valley is low.
Thy grace can melt the worst sinner, and I am as vile as he;
Yet thou hast made me a monument of mercy,
    a trophy of redeeming power;
In my distress let me not forget this.
All-wise God,
Thy never-failing providence orders every event,
    sweetens every fear,
    reveals evil’s presence lurking in seeming good,
    brings real good out of seeming evil,
    makes unsatisfactory what I set my heart upon,
    to show me what a short-sighted creature I am,
    and to teach me to live by faith upon
        thy blessed self.
Out of sorrow and night
    give me the name Naphtali –
    ‘satisfied with favour’ –
    help me to love thee as thy child,
    and to walk worthy of my heavenly pedigree.

Character and Productivity – Matt Perman

Whats Best Next -PermanA while back now, I read chapter 9 of What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan, 2014), where author Matt Perman writes about the importance of character (“character ethic”) for productivity in our lives as Christian laborers.

The chapter is titled “The Role of Prayer and Scripture in Our Productivity”, and here are a few quotes:

How does character lead to productivity? First, as we’ve seen, character is itself at the heart of what God requires and is the essence of the productive life. The greatest success is to be a person of character – someone who walks with God, in Christ, and seeks to live this out every day by doing justice and loving mercy (Mic.6:8). Second, character leads to making the most off our time in the decisions of everyday life because character is usually the source of our ability to determine what’s best next (p.125).

…This means that the Scriptures are at the foundation of our productivity because the Scriptures are one of the chief means God brings about this transformation and builds our character. in Psalm 1, for example, the reason this person flourishes in his character and prospers in all he does (v.3) is because ‘his delight is in the law of the Lord,  and on his law he meditates day and night’ (v.2). Related to this, prayer is also foundational to our productivity because in prayer we call on God for help and strength (notice how Jesus connects prayer, the Scriptures, and productivity in John 14:7-8).

This is not moralism. The essence of character is walking with God. The essence, the heart, and the basic dimension of the Christian life is living in fellowship with God, and central to that is prayer and the Scriptures (p.127).

…The other component of character , which flows from love of God, is love of others. This manifests itself in a tendency to think of others, seek their welfare, and put them first. …That’s why character issues in productivity: it is of the essence of Christlike character to always be thinking of others – which, as we have seen, is the guiding principle of our productivity (p.128).

Applying these things to ourselves, may we practice true productivity our work this week, rooted in a Christlike character, using the means God has given us to grow that character – His Word and prayer.

How Do I Apply Doctrine Personally? – Daniel Doriani

How Do I Apply Doctrine Personally? by Daniel Doriani | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT May 2015Sunday I finished reading the last articles in the May Tabletalk, including this one by Dr.Daniel Doriani, professor of theology at Covenant Seminary (PCA) in St.Louis.

As the entire issue focuses on the importance of doctrine to the believer, Doriani addresses the importance of applying biblical, Reformed doctrine to ourselves personally. At the end of his article he refers to Calvin and how he applies doctrine in his Institutes. This is a model for us, he says.

I agree, and think you will find plenty to ponder as Calvin shows us how to apply the truth of God’s providence to our daily lives.

This is how Doriani ends his article:

While it’s easy to name one or two implications of almost any doctrine, many doctrines invite numerous applications. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin shows this as he explores the implication of God’s providence for many pages. Let’s consider five of these implications. First, those who know God’s power “safely rest in the protection” of the one who controls all the harmful things we fear (Institutes 1.16.3). Second, God’s providence requires humility, for we should not call God to account for His actions, but “reverence his secret judgments” and “consider his will the truly just cause of all things” (1.17.1–2). Third, the godly will neither murmur against God’s will nor fatalistically give up planning. We order our affairs, knowing God employs our means to effect His providence. We submit our plans to His will (1.17.1–5). Fourth, rather than straining against God’s providence, we find solace in it, since “the Lord watches over the ways of the saints with … great diligence.” Therefore, we must enjoy “patience in adversity and … freeom from worry about the future” (1.17.6–7). Finally, the doctrine of providence helps us in our adversities. Remembering that God willed them, we have an “effective remedy for anger and impatience.” He even permits “the acts of our enemies” (1.16.8). Yes, dangers threaten at every turn, but instead of letting them terrify us, we trust that God lets nothing touch us unless He has ordained it.

Calvin exemplifies the wise practice of theologians who join doctrine, piety, and practice. They meditate on doctrine, asking, “Who needs this truth? How does it warn, rebuke, call to repentance? How does it offer hope, direction, redemption, and healing?” If we take our time with these questions, we will find doctrine to be most practical.

“Faith in Christ does not relieve anyone of hard work….” -G.Keddie

TEccles-GKeddieonight our men’s Bible study group meets to discuss Ecclesiastes 11. In preparing yesterday, I read these good words from the pen of Gordon Keddie, found in his commentary on this book titled Looking for the Good Life (P&R, 1991). They make for great food for thought as we begin the work-week.

Faith in Christ does not relieve anyone of hard work; it only makes it possible to get on with the job in a joyful spirit that expects God’s blessing, whatever the immediate outcome may be.

…Qoheleth’s counsel is to ‘sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle’ (11:6a). Get busy! Redeem the time! Diversify your work investment by using morning and evening, even for different goals. The more doubts you have about the general situation, the more diligent you should be to get to work for the Lord in every aspect of life. If the times seems meaningless, you are called by God to bring meaning to them! If you ‘sow for yourselves righteousness,’ then you will ‘reap the fruit of [God’s] unfailing love (Hos.10:12). God has promised that ‘at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up’ (Gal.6:9). Paul’s encouragement to Timothy the preacher – ‘be prepared in season and out of season’ (Ii Tim.4:2) – has its application to us all. Especially at times when we don’t feel like putting in the effort (‘out of season’), we should be most ceaselessly active in living life for the Lord.

The reason for such driving diligence is precisely because ‘you do not know which will succeed, whether this [sowing seed] or that [your evening work], or whether both will do equally well (11:6b). The point is a positive one, not a counsel of despair. We may not know the future, but God does. Our job is to work in faith and leave the rest to God. And that is where we can have a confidence that reinforces our commitment and uplifts our hearts. Our confidence is not, please note, in some mystical assurance of success in all we do; it is rather a confidence in the Lord himself and an assurance, by faith, that whatever happens, there will be a blessing in it for us. ‘Those who sow in tears will read with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him (Ps.126:5-6).

“Sunday is ‘Father’s Day,’ and we have an appointment to meet Him.” -S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonFittingly, the final chapter in Sinclair Ferguson’s fine book In Christ Alone (Reformation Trust, 2007) is titled “Sabbath Rest”. In it he traces the four stages the sabbath has for man in the history of redemption, following the Word of God in Hebrews 4 (creation, fall, salvation, glory).

On this Sunday-sabbath night, I post Ferguson’s treatment of that last stage, realizing it also ties in well with my previous quote today. May these words also serve to strengthen us to run our race in this week, with all its toils and troubles, knowing the perfect rest that awaits us.

But we have not yet reached the goal. We still struggle to rest from the labors of the flesh; we still must ‘be diligent to enter that rest’ (Heb.4:11). That is why the weekly nature of the Sabbath continues as a reminder that we are not yet home with the Father. And since this rest is ours only through union with Christ in His death and resurrection, our struggles to refuse the old life and enjoy the new will continue until glory.

But one may ask, ‘How does this impact my Sundays as a Christian?’

For one thing, this view of the Sabbath helps us regulate the whole week. Sunday is ‘Father’s Day,’ and we have an appointment to meet Him. The child who asks, ‘How short can the meeting be?’ has a dysfunctional relationship problem – not an intellectual, theological problem. Something is amiss in his fellowship with God.

This view of the Lord’s Day also usually helps us deal in a non-legalistic way with the questions that ask, ‘Is it ok to do_____ on Sunday since I don’t have any time to do it in the rest of the week? If this is the way we phrase the question, the problem is not how we use Sunday, it is how we are misusing the rest of the week.

This view of the Lord’s Day also helps us see it as a foretaste of heaven. And it teaches us that if the worship, fellowship, ministry, and outreach of our churches do not give expression to that, something is seriously amiss.

Hebrews teaches us that eternal glory is a Sabbath rest. Every day, all day, will be ‘Father’s Day’! Thus, if here and now we learn the pleasures of a God-given weekly rhythm, it will no longer seem strange to us that the eternal glory can be described as a prolonged Sabbath! (Kindle ed.)

Published in: on May 31, 2015 at 11:11 PM  Leave a Comment  

How Do We Renew Our First Love and Drive Out Worldliness? – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonToday I read chapter 49 in Sinclair Ferguson’s collection of essays on the Christian life titled In Christ Alone. This forty-ninth chapter has the heading “Expelling Worldliness with a New Affection”, and in it Ferguson takes off from the famous but forgotten (probably by several generations now) sermon of Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.”

The question Ferguson faces and answers is the one I have placed in the heading to this post. Every Christian faces the reality in his life that he is not as inflamed by the gospel as he once was, resulting in a fresh wave of worldliness in one’s life. So how do we overcome this and renew our first love?

Ferguson’s counsel on this point is wise and simple. I pray that it also helps give you guidance in what is a frustrating reality in our lives as God’s children.

How can we recover the new affection for Christ and His kingdom that once so powerfully impacted our lifelong worldliness and caused us to crucify ‘the flesh with its passions and desires’ (Gal.5:24)?

What was it that created that first love? Do you remember? It was our discovery of Christ’s grace in the realization of our own sin.

We are not naturally capable of loving God for Himself; indeed, we hate Him. But in discovering this about ourselves, and in learning of the Lord’s supernatural love for us, love for the Father was born. Forgiven much, we loved much (Luke 7:47). We rejoiced in the hope of glory, in suffering, even in God Himself (Rom.5:2, 2, 11). This new affection seemed first to overtake our worldliness, then to master it. Spiritual realities – Christ, grace, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, service, living for the glory of God – filled our vision and seemed so large, so desirable, that other things by comparison seemed to shrink in size and become bland to the taste.

The way in which we maintain ‘the expulsive power of a new affection’ is the same as the way we first discovered it. Only when grace is still ‘amaz- ing’ – when we return to Christ and the cross where God’s love for us was demonstrated to us (Rom.5:8) – does it retain its power in us. Only as we retain a sense of our own profound sinfulness can we retain a sense of the graciousness of grace.

Many of us share Cowper’s sad questions:

Where is the blessedness I knew,
when first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus and His Word?

Let us remember the height from which we have fallen, repent, and return to those first things (Rev.2:5). Kindle ed.

Fighting Temptation (2) – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonThis is a follow up to the previous post, in which S.Ferguson concludes his look at temptation. I repeat here the context of his analysis.

In the forty-sixth chapter of his book In Christ Alone, Sinclair Ferguson treats the subject of temptation, plainly and powerfully, under the title “An Anatomy of Temptation.” The content speaks specifically to men (although women face the same evils and often in the same ways), as Ferguson deals with two parallel passages: David’s fall into sin recorded in 2 Sam.11:2ff. and the “anatomy of temptation” described in James 1:14-15.

I found his entire treatment soul-searching and faith-building, as he warns us about the power of sin within and without. Here is what he says about the fourth stage of temptation:

Stage 4:Temptation unresisted leads to death.

The death of David’s son illustrates the final fruit of sin. Its wages are death (Rom.6:23) – death as the destruction of blessing, death as separation from God, death as decay, loss, and darkness. If only David had asked, ‘Where will these desires lead me?’ But when our desires bring their objects near, vision is obscured. We forget Scripture’s sobering warnings that we reap what we sow, that the mind set on the flesh is death, that only those who put to death the misdeeds of the flesh can live (Gal.6:7-8; Rom.8:6,13).

Fourth Antidote: Always ask where an action will lead you, and what its final destination will be, before you become volitionally or affectionally drawn into it. Live always for the future, and in such a way that you will not be ashamed at Christ’s coming.

Yes, we fail [painfully true!]. But here is a word of encouragement from one who likewise failed: ‘Brothers… if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 1:10-11, NIV).

What things? [At this point Ferguson takes us back to vss.3-8 of 2 Peter 1, which we would do well to read and pray over.]

And he concludes:

Here is the apostolic medicine for sickly souls – prescribed by one who fell grievously ill but was raised up!

Praise be to the amazing mercy and grace of God! May we weigh these things well, fellow brothers in the Lord, and heed the only wisdom there is – Christ’s.

Luther on the Christian Life: Prayer and the Word – C.Trueman

Luther on Chr Life -TruemanTaken from the new Crossway book written by Carl R.Trueman, Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom, part of the series “Theologians on the Christian Life”, published by Crossway (Wheaton, IL), 2015.

In this section from which we quote, Trueman is treating Luther’s treatise on prayer (the one prompted by a letter from his barber, Peter Beskendorf), and here he ties together prayer and Scripture:

Throughout the treatise, Scripture is the bedrock on which Luther sees the life of prayer as being built. He speaks of the Decalogue as ‘a school text, song book, penitential book, and prayer book,’ and recommends that the Christian alternate meditation on the commandments with reflection upon a psalm or another chapter of Scripture day by day. For Luther, it is not the desire for reading Scripture that fuels prayer; it is reading Scripture that fuels the desire for prayer. That the Christian may not feel like praying is one of the Devil’s tricks played on weak and sinful flesh; the answer is the discipline of reading and meditation, both corporate and individual.

At this point Trueman draws on a familiar analogy:

One might draw an analogy with marital love: the husband is commanded by God’s Word to love his wife. That command is independent of how the husband feels at any given moment. He is to act in a loving way toward her, and as he does so, his love for her will itself deepen and grow. So it is to be with prayer: reading Scripture shapes people in such a way that their prayer life will deepen and grow as a result.

From there, Trueman makes a summary of Luther’s view of the Christian life based on these simple principles of practicing prayer and Scripture reading:

What is perhaps most noteworthy in all this, of course, is the routine nature of the practice of the Christian life. Nothing Luther proposes is in itself particularly exciting or novel. We live in an age mesmerized both by technique and by the extraordinary. Modern evangelicalism, particularly in America, has been shaped by the kind of revivalism pioneered by Charles Finney in the nineteenth century. Find the right techniques and one will achieve the desired spiritual results; and typically those techniques involve something unusual or impressive. For Luther, this would all have been alien and obnoxious; the Word is powerful in and of itself; and the ways in which the Word works are ordinary and routine. Liturgies with a catechetical structure, a focus on the Word read and the Word preached, and a constant ,meditation upon that Word – those were the major elements of personal spiritual growth and discipleship (122).

Have we also made the Christian life complicated by trying too many new means and methods? Then let Luther’s view of the Christian walk bring us back to God’s simple way.

“Opposition to Him (Jesus) will inevitably touch us.” – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonTaken from chapter 44 of Sinclair Ferguson’s work In Christ Alone (Reformation Trust, Kindle ed.). The chapter is about growing through persecution and suffering, and is titled “Growing Strong in the War Zone.” In it Ferguson references Peter’s first epistle, with its clear reminder to believers that to be a Christian means to suffer for Christ’s sake.

Suffering, he [Peter] underlined, is a basic element in the structure of the Christian life (1 Peter 4:12).

Faith is tested and proved genuine through trials ( 1 Peter 1:6-7). Like gold refined in a furnace, trials can cleanse and purify the Christian. The persecution that is intended to destroy you actually has the opposite effect – it makes you rely more on Christ and draws you to live closer to Him. The person who suffers in the flesh for Christ is the person who rejects the enticements of sin (1 Peter 4:1-2). When you have faced up to the cost of discipleship – socially, materially, even physically –  a new decisiveness enters into your lifestyle.

Suffering also provides the theater in which Christians demonstrate – by the radically different way they respond to opposition – that they belong to a counterculture or, better, to a Jesus culture. They submit to government, not for its own sake but the Lord’s ( 1 Peter 2:13). They submit even to harsh taskmasters because they want to follow in the steps of Christ, who left an example ( 1 Peter 2:18-21).

…Peter’s bottom line is this: don’t be surprised by suffering (1 Peter 4:12).

But how can twenty-first-century Christians in the Western world be un-surprised in times of suffering? We can do so only by being delivered from a faulty understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus was crucified by this world. To become a Christian by definition means to follow a cross-bearing Savior and Lord. It means to be identified with Him in such a way that opposition to Him will inevitably touch us.

Paul said that he bore on his body the marks of Jesus (Gal.6:17). So perhaps we should ask [These lines are taken from a poem written by Amy Carmichael.]:

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet, I was wounded by the archers, spent.
Leaned Me against the tree to die, and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned:
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole. Can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?

Are you are marked man or woman?

Sunday Worship Thoughts: Rejoice with Trembling

The following quotation is part of this weekend’s devotional as found in Tabletalk, which I find appropriate for our worship today. It is based on Psalm 2:11 – “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”

…It is important to remember that the Bible does not in reality offer us a ‘normal’ experience of God We never get used to the majesty of the Being who has called us into existence, that is, and called us to Himself. Psalm 2:11 is one biblical text that makes this very plain…. Life lived unto God is not the equivalent of spiritual elevator music. It is the equivalent of a roaring symphony, an exhilarating performance of holiness.

It is only when we ‘rejoice with trembling’ that we fully grasp who the God of Scripture is. He is the one who has made us and who has brought us to Himself in fulfillment of His covenant promises. Because of this, He lifts our burdens. But our consciousness of His love never leads us to forget the magnitude of His perfections. We are always delighted to be His, but also aware that He is a great and terrible God.

Our modern minds resist this kind of double-sided testimony. We would rather focus on one concept, not two. But Scripture pictures God as a resplendent king. He roars over His creation, claiming it all (see Isa.45). As Christians who have fellowship with Him through the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are subjects of the most powerful sovereign imaginable. We are able, by the kindness of His grace, to enter His court, and to dine at His table, and to see Him smile at us with love. But we never forget whose kingdom this is; we never lose sight of how majestic is the King. We always rejoice to be with Him; we always tremble before Him, for He is holy (Dr. Owen Strachan, p.51).

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