The Music of the Heart of God?

Friday is for Heart Songs

I am away, making my first ever trip to Israel. While I am gone I have prepared a series of re-posts comprised of some of the most downloaded and viewed pages of the last 5 years.

Keep me in prayer for the next 10 days. I am looking forward to walking the streets of Jerusalem. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6).

This particular post, simple as it is, may be the most viewed and downloaded post of all. That is a tribute to some of the 2,500 people that follow the BLOG and passed it on to friends, who passed it on to friends, ….

For more see: The Music of the Heart of God?

Simplicity and Prayer

Friday is for Heart Songs

Luther at the Diet of Worms, by Anton von Werner, 1877
Luther at the Diet of Worms, by Anton von Werner, 1877

Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom, by Carl Trueman (Crossway, 2015)

First, when I feel that I have become cool and joyless in prayer because of other tasks or thoughts (for the flesh and the devil always impede and obstruct prayer), I take my little psalter, hurry to my room, or, if it be the day and hour for it, to the church where a congregation is assembled and, as time permits, I say quietly to myself and word-for-word the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and, if I have time, some words of Christ or of Paul, or some psalms, just as a child might do (119-120).

I love that Luther encourages a lack of toleration in his (and our) spirit concerning “cool and joyless” prayer. Let us follow his model and “hurry to our rooms” and drive the chill from our spirit by seeking God in the warmth of His word and the testimony of those who have gone before us.

“He Will Hold You Fast”

Friday is for Heart Songs

Ada Ruth Habershon, Hymnist and Bible TeacherThere are treasures waiting for us. Every day they are waiting for us in the faith of those who have gone before us.

In a more literate age, they poured their faith into cups made of words and handed them to the world, words made of steel, words formed with meditation and passion.

In contrast, our age is filled with images and platitudes. Theirs was filled with words and song. Today their gifts are wrapped up in books gathering dust on shelves and labeled “Hymnal.” But there is gold to be chiseled from their pages.

About a year ago, Ed Gross, a friend, sent me a video that someone sent to him. It was a simple handheld camera capturing a congregation singing this fantastic treasure of grace as a part of congregational worship. I have never heard the hymn but I loved it. The hymn is titled “He Will Hold Me Fast.” Here’s the link to a version with the lyrics included.

I had to find out more about the author.

Here’s what I found.

Ada Habershon was a hymnist born into Christian family in Marylebone, England in January of 1861.  She was raised in a Christian home. In her twenties, she was a member of the circle surrounding Charles Spurgeon and through that connection met Dwight L. Moody and Ira Sankey in 1884. She was a keen student of the Bible and “at their urging, she visited the United States, delivering a series of lectures on the Old Testament that were later published.” (Wiki)

She also wrote another hymn, one that is very well known, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

But let’s leave that hymn for another time.

Right now, or perhaps before you turn the light out tonight, let the hymn and the words of your sister Ada, and the voices of the Capitol Hill Baptist congregation, encourage your soul in the gospel, and in your Savior.  Enjoy.

The Rhythm of Preaching

Friday is for Heart Songs

Attentive audience 2
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit down with a fellow preacher and friend, Colin Smith of the Orchard Church in Arlington Heights. I so appreciate Colin for his passion but also for his skill in preaching. He is doing a significant amount of training and equipping of young preachers now and I am aspiring to do the something similar in our smaller context in Watseka.

For me it is going back to my roots in some ways. In what seems like a lifetime ago, during a six year period when I was between the age of 25-32, I had the privilege of teaching preaching in a seminary in California.

I was in over my head.
I was not academically qualified.
I was inexperienced.

But, in the sovereign plan of God, I was in the right place, at the right time and was given the opportunity to use my spiritual gift of teaching and through that time, found my calling to be a pastor. [And how that all came about is a story for another time.]

Those who don’t preach wonder what we preachers do all week, and those who do preach, wonder how God could use us week to week. Preaching is a humbling exercise when it is done right. For four years, from 2008-2011, I did not preach on a regular week by week basis. Then in the summer of 2011 a friend asked me to preach for him while he took a two month sabbatical. Through that experience I learned how much I missed “the rhythm of preaching.”

The rhythm of preaching I am referring to is the weekly grind of pouring over the language, and grammar, and history, and context, of a portion of God’s word and having the Spirit of God rake your own soul over the white-hot-heat of His holiness. And as the preacher studies and prays his way through the text the Spirit deepens and broadens not just his understanding, but his passion.  Out of that deepened passion and understanding comes the ability to speak with power and authority to others and gives the experience in the congregation of having heard not from a man but from God.

attentive audieneBut there is till another part of the process that is almost incomprehensible to those who have not preached themselves. The congregation helps the preacher learn even more about the text in the dynamic interplay of their own prayers and their involvement in the process. Their attentive listening, their need and desire for the truth spurs him on to deeper dependence upon God’s Spirit.

Every preacher has the same experience. As they preach and look at particular faces and responses and because they know particular needs of members, God brings to mind other connections, other texts, other illustrations, other applications that changes every message.

Some people ask, “why does the message change from service to service? Why is it 35 minutes in one and 40 in another? Why did you move the illustration of point #1 to the conclusion of the message? Or …

Why does the message lengthen when the audience is live or larger?

Recently I saw a great quote from Blaise Pascal that answered this question.

“There are some who speak well and write badly. For the place and the audience warm them, and draw from their minds more than they think of without that warmth.”
.                                                                –Blaise Pascal


The “warmth of the audience” draws more out of the preacher and the preaching moment. So recordings of messages that do not engage audiences or messages that are given to small audiences or large audiences, audiences that are cold-to-truth or audiences that are hot-to-truth are necessarily going to be different in length, in texture, in tone, and impact.

And that is another reason why nothing happens without the Spirit of God working. And it is also a reason why preachers should not be over criticized if periodically they are a little bit long or short.

And preachers, as best we can, we need to be disciplined with our alloted time.

“Lord, make me a man who is hard-working in the study, passionate in prayer, and supple to your Spirit and to the needs of the congregation in the moment of preaching. For the Glory of Christ and in His name I ask it.”

The Self-Image of the Psalmist

Friday is for Heart Songs

There are six statements in Psalm 119 that have arrested my attention. Each of them speaks to how the psalmist views himself in the world. I think of them as the “I am” statements of a heart saturated with the word of God. I think of them as the self-image of the psalmist.

  • May the words of my mouth“I am a stranger in the earth” (v. 19)
    [He sees himself as passing through, an alien or sojourner, one living in a foreign land that is not completely understandable or familiar. And as the next line indicates, he knows that he needs guidance, “Do not hide Your commandments from me.”]
  • “I am the companion of all those who fear You” (v. 63)
    [His fellowship, his friendships are with those who love God, with those who fear God more than man, with those who love the words that come from His mouth and take them seriously. So the second half of the verse says “And of those who keep Your precepts.”]
  • “I am Yours” (v. 94)
    [He knows to whom he belongs. He knows that he is owned by a Sovereign God. He knows himself to be in a covenant relationship with a good God who he expects to save him because that good God will not abandon him. He has sought God’s precepts and knows that he will not be disappointed.]
  • “I am exceedingly afflicted” (vs. 107)
    [When he hurts, when he is afflicted, or depressed, or anxious, or fearful, suffering loss, betrayed, abandoned—his instinct is to cry out to God and to seek answers in the words of His mouth. He seeks revival of his soul in the midst of his troubles from the word of His sovereign.]
  • “I am Your servant” (v. 125)
    [He knows that he serves a particular God, the only God and he longs for knowledge (“That I may know Your testimonies”) and understanding that he might serve well and honorably.
  • “I am small and despised” (v. 141)
    [He knows that others will not value him as the God he serves values him but that will not stop him from serving. He will not forget the precepts of God because others think him small or because others despise him. He will remember the words of God and know he is approved and is not despised by the greatest being in the universe.]

This might be a good series of texts to do a message or a series of messages on the self-image of a believer, or the self-image of a servant of God.

There is No Third Option: Either Prayer Fuels the Work or the Flesh Will

Friday is for Heart Songs

GratitudeWe’re human.

We’re American.

We’re educated.

We’re healthy (mostly).

And all those blessings are opportunities for gratefulness. They are opportunities to acknowledge our contingency, our dependence on things outside of our control, and for which we have no merit. We are simply the recipients of grace, unmerited favor.

But when that grace, that unmerited favor is forgotten, is not consciously relied on and joyfully acknowledged we begin to function in our natural, independent, sin-infected selves. And that is at least one of the reasons why we are encouraged to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17-18).

Prayer of ThanksPrayer reminds us that all the good things we have, all the good things that have been given to us, and even all the good things that we hope to achieve are gifts from God

That’s the import of Jesus’ words in John 15 when He said that “apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

I wonder if we believe Him?

We are so quick to plan, to organize, to discuss, to strategize, to “do something,” that private prayer and gathering the saints for corporate prayer are simply pro forma actions, something we do because we should, not because we believe it is vital. Oswald Chambers put it this way:

The measure of the worth of our public activity for God is the private profound communion we have with Him.… We have to pitch our tents where we shall always have quiet times with God, however noisy our times with the world may be.

My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers, January 6

I want to learn to “pitch my tent” in the quietness of seeking God and I want to help leaders, pastors, and elders to leave “the noise of our times” and make their plans and strategies only after a long and deep contemplation of God and His will for the Church.

Prayer will either fuel the work
or my flesh will
and my flesh is a train wreck waiting to happen.

I want to lead my soul to believe and live by the motto, that without Jesus, I can do nothing.

My Shuffle-footed Neighbor

Friday is for Heart Songs

Backyard 3

A Restful Friday

Shrill the voice from beyond the trees
Unseen but loud
“Out of there, get out of the flowers”
And lifting my head
I see him, the “old man” next door
Head bowed, brown-backed and shuffle-footed
He humbly searches for other prey
Sniffing the freshly mown grass
And hoping for one more adventure.
We are not so different 
Me and the pooch beyond my yard.