Self-Awareness, Confession, and Prayer

Wednesday is for Prayer

If you want to truly learn to pray, breathe the air and spirit of these puritan prayer warriors. (Adapted here from Kairos Journal.)

the-valley-of-visionA Christian Cardiogram—Puritan Prayers

If a man’s prayers are a true indication of the theology of his heart, then prayers in the Puritan tradition point to faith in a glorious God and true humility before Him. In The Valley of Vision Arthur Bennett offers a collection of prayers gleaned from the prayers and writings of English Protestantism.1

Knowing as they did the inward evil remaining in even the most sincere believer, the Puritans encouraged self-abasement and continual repentance. These extracts from their prayers offer a sense of their piety and hunger for grace.

Here the prayer is for self-knowledge before God:

ETERNAL FATHER,
Thou art good beyond all thought,
But I am vile, wretched, miserable, blind;
My lips are ready to confess, but my heart is slow to feel,
. . . . and my ways reluctant to amend.
I bring my soul to thee;
. . . . break it, wound it, bend it, mould it.
Unmask to me sin’s deformity,
. . . . that I may hate it, abhor it, flee from it.

Conscious of sin, the penitent soul seeks refuge in the death of Jesus:

Yet still I live, and fly repenting to thy outstretched arms;
. . . . thou wilt not cast me off, for Jesus brings me near,
. . . . thou wilt not condemn me, for he died in my stead,
. . . . thou wilt not mark my mountains of sin, for he leveled all,
. . . . and his beauty covers my deformities.

O my God, I bid farewell to sin by clinging to his cross,
. . . . hiding in his wounds, and sheltering in his side.

Ultimately the penitent seeks not only forgiveness but life through grace:

Give me to distinguish between the mere form of godliness and its power,
. . . . between life and a name to live,
. . . . between guile and truth,
. . . . between hypocrisy and a religion that will bear thy eye.
If I am not right, set me right, keep me right;
And may I, at last, come to thy house in peace.2

Footnotes:

1 Arthur Bennett was a canon of St. Alban’s Cathedral, rector of Little Munden and Sacombe, Hertfordshire, and tutor at All Nations Christian College. He died in 1994, aged 79 years.

2 Arthur Bennett, ed., The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), 70, 10, 95.

Prayer:

“Yes Lord, break my heart, wound my heart, bend my heart, mold my heart to delight in, truly delight in, doing Your will. Make me a man who runs to You and Your will like a thirsty man runs to fresh water and help me to run away from everything in thought, word, or deed that is against Your perfect will. In the matchless name of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, bend my heart to You. Amen”

The Jesus Model: Association with Sinners

jesus-at-supper-after-emmaus-road
Caravaggio (1606);     Medium: Oil on Canvas;      Size: 56×69 inches;       Location: Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

My life’s purpose is “to live passionately for and like Jesus.” I am a long way from my goal. But one thing is absolutely certain. I will never make any progress if I am not constantly examining the gospel record for how Jesus lived. Last night before dropping off to sleep I was reading in Matthew 9 when verses 9 and 10 arrested my attention. 

“As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him,

‘Follow Me!’

And he got up and followed Him.

Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples.”

—Matthew 9:9-10 

He never compromised the Torah. He never compromised the truth. He never lowered the standards or changed the standards of God’s law. He challenged people to a high level of personal commitment to Himself.

The effect of Jesus’s model was in three directions:

  1. His disciples followed him and associated with types of people that assaulted the religious sensitivities of the religious people of the day.
  2. His enemies were completely scandalized by his associations with “sinners.”
  3. Many other sinners, ostracized by the religious people of the day, began to draw near to Jesus and the disciples.

Am I becoming like Jesus? Are sinners drawn to me? Am I willing to associate with others that may be on the outside of religious sensibilities today? Do I? Do you?.

Maybe the reason the church is not as influential as it should be is not because of personal or governmental oppression or regulation, or intimidation but because we aren’t living passionately FOR and LIKE Jesus?

What do you think?

When Repentance Isn’t Repentance

jeremiah

For the past five days, I have been meditating on this haunting text in Jeremiah 4. Three days ago I took a 16-mile ride with verses 1 and 2 echoing through my spirit as I rolled by farmers bringing in their soybeans and corn. Honestly, it was hard to get away from the first two lines. 

The implication of YHWH’s declaration/invitation is that there is a way of “returning” that is NOT a returning to God.

Is it possible that a people could be called to repent, hear that call, know that they needed to repent, begin to move in the direction of repentance, change their behavior in some discernable way, return to some more overtly “religious” patterns of devotion, think that they are somehow doing something good and yet, . . . it all be false, a turning that is for naught, unproductive, even counter-productive?

Listen to Jeremiah’s text. 

1 “If you return, O Israel,” declares the LORD,
.  “Then you should return to Me.
.   And if you will put away your detested things from My presence,
.   And will not waver,
2  And you will swear, ‘As the LORD lives,’
.   In truth, in justice and in righteousness;
.   Then the nations will bless themselves in Him,
.   And in Him they will glory.”
3  For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem,
.   “Break up your fallow ground, 
.   And do not sow among thorns.
4  “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD
.   And remove the foreskins of your heart,
.   Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
.   Or else My wrath will go forth like fire
.   And burn with none to quench it,
.   Because of the evil of your deeds.”

jeremiah-2The nation was far from God. Israel had turned from God and lived in idolatry, apostasy, and become hardened in heart toward both truth and justice and as a result, righteousness was not a high priority. As a judgment, God was about to send the nation into exile in Babylon. And He told them that when they returned to the land at the end of the exile it was imperative that they also return to Him. So even before they go into their 70-year exile, God pleads with Israel to repent and return to Him.

In fact, the whole chapter is an earnest plea for the nation of Israel to get serious about repentance. And that earnest plea seems particularly relevant not just for ancient Israel but for 21st Century America as well. And what would that look like? The second part of verse 1 tells us.

  • We will put away detestable practices to God.
    (That will require understanding what is detestable to Him).
  • We will not waver in our commitment to eradicate these things from our lives.
  • We will swear as God is our judge.

Just as with Israel, 2,600 years ago, God is calling His people to put away detestable practices and declare our allegiance to Him as our sovereign and only Lord.

He is calling us to put away anything that stands in the way of obeying Him. He is calling us to love truth, justice, and righteousness. He is calling us to swear by His name that we will live lives that are pictures to the world of an earnest pursuit of God, and His Kingdom and His righteousness.

Israel did not heed the call. 

Will the church of America in 2016?

Will you? Today?

Thinking of Phyllis and Other Believing “Shut-ins”

hands claspedIf you have an elderly friend or parent, or if you are reading this and you happen to be older and slower and less spry than you once were, don’t miss John Stonestreet’s commentary today. 

Your friend or parent or anyone else who happens to be “shut-in” from as much outside contact with people as you or they once enjoyed are not “on the shelf” in God’s economy. You might be coming into your most significant ministry.

Click on the link right here and you’ll understand why. And Phyllis, thanks for your incredible impact on my and countless lives not only in the past but right now as well.

Update:  Moments after posting this my phone rang. It was Phyllis’s daughter calling to say that my dear sister in Christ had asked for me to visit. She couldn’t speak but somehow had made it clear that she would like to have me there. I just got back from an hour and a half visit and it seems clear that Jesus might be calling her home soon. What a woman. What a friend. What a prayer warrior for the saints of God. All I can think of is who will take her place? 

The Flabby American Church

Here’s the audio link to my last message at Trinity Church (from 5/29/16). The video is not yet up but I think the audio of either service is better than the video recording on this particular week.

Sorry for the sniffling at the beginning. The worship team, the prayers of God’s people, the text and the occasion of my last message at Trinity all combined to make me a bit more emotional than usual.

Let’s not be “flabby” in our Christianity. Let’s be a people who live passionately for and like Jesus. 

And keep us in prayer. Pray that God would lead us to our next adventure with Him.

Beginning the Day with Jesus

Wednesday is for Prayer

Andrew Bonar on M'CheyneI have so much to learn.

Here’s the story of a young man who can teach every pastor some sobering, helpful, and Christ-honoring truth. We don’t have to be M’Cheyne. We don’t have to practice his model. But certainly the principle of meeting with Jesus in the first part of the day and the motivation of wanting to have our ministry centered in Christ is worthy of emulation. The following is from Kairos Journal.

Beginning the Day with Prayer—Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813 – 1843)

Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a nineteenth-century Church of Scotland minister revered for the depth of his piety. Upon hearing him preach, a listener once wrote, “I saw in you a beauty in holiness that I never saw before.”1 He served two churches, including St. Peter’s Church in Dundee, before dying at age 29.

Upon M’Cheyne’s death, ministerial colleague Andrew Bonar published a biography that included many of his manuscripts and letters. Taken from that work, this selection illustrates his determination to fight sin through spiritual disciplines. It shows the intensity with which this servant of God craved communion with his Heavenly Father.

I ought to pray before seeing any one. Often when I sleep long, or meet with others early, and then have family prayer, and breakfast, and forenoon callers, often it is eleven or twelve o’clock before I begin secret prayer. This is a wretched system. It is unscriptural. Christ rose before day, and went into a solitary place. David says, ‘Early will I seek Thee; Thou shalt early hear my voice.’ Mary Magdalene came to the sepulchre while it was yet dark. Family prayer loses much of its power and sweetness; and I can do no good to those who come to seek from me. The conscience feels guilty, the soul unfed, the lamp not trimmed. Then, when secret prayer comes, the soul is often out of tune. I feel it is far better to begin with God—to see his face first—to get my soul near him before it is near another. ‘When I awake I am still with Thee.’

If I have slept too long, or am going [on] an early journey, or my time is any way shortened, it is best to dress hurriedly, and have a few minutes alone with God, than to give it up for lost.

But, in general, it is best to have at least one hour alone with God, before engaging in anything else.2

Footnotes:

  1. Andrew A. Bonar, Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1844), 194.
  2. Ibid., 188.

Note:  I edited a book related to M’Cheyne (An Ordination Sermon by Robert McCheyne. It is available through Amazon.com.)