Daily Light – January 24, 2020

Meditate to Move Mountains

How God’s Words Lead to Our Prayers

Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

What in the world did people do after dark on lonely nights before we had television? And before we had our litany of pixelated devices that so often light our nights, and days, absorbing our priceless commodity of human attention?

To go way, way back, Genesis 24:63 gives us an interesting peek into what Abraham’s promised son did, however often, after dinner: “Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening.” See him there alone, pacing in the field, with nothing in his hands, and his eyes wide open to God’s three-dimensional world — with a screen far more powerful and enriching than our modern pixels: his imagination.

Meditation is a lost art today. And one way to reintroduce it to the church is to consider how it relates to something many of us know much better: prayer.

What Is Meditation?

But before we pair it with prayer, let’s rehearse just the basics of what the Bible says about meditation. To meditate in Hebrew means literally to “chew” on some thought (as an animal chews the cud) with the teeth of our minds and hearts. To ponder some reality, to roll some vision around on the tongue of our souls, savoring it as it deserves and seeking to digest it in such a way that produces real change and benefit in us. What I am describing is the opposite of Eastern meditation that aims to empty the mind. Judeo-Christian meditation aims to fill the mind while engaging and nourishing the inner person.

God made plain the necessity of the leaders of his people meditating on his words, as he said to Joshua:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. (Joshua 1:8)

So also with all of his people, as we find in Israel’s songbook. The Psalms frequently celebrate the kind of life formed and filled by meditating on God’s words day and night (Psalm 1:2Psalm 63:6119:97). Such meditation happens by fixing our eyes (Psalm 119:15) on God and his wondrous works (Psalm 119:27145:5), pondering him (Psalm 77:12143:5) in our hearts (Psalm 19:1449:377:6). Meditation reveals our true loves. We will meditate on what we love (Psalm 119:4897), and also that on which we meditate, we will grow to love more.

Meditation, strictly speaking, is an Old Testament word. However, the concept of steeping our souls in the words of God is very much a Christian practice, and expectation. Jesus rebuked Peter for “not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23Mark 8:33). The apostle Paul, in one of the most important chapters in all of Scripture, warns,

Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:5–6; also Philippians 3:19)

As Christians, our meditation will have a certain center of gravity. We “set [our] minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2) and find that at the center and heart of those heavenly things is a person. “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). We meditate on God’s written words in light of God’s Word incarnate. We seek to abide in him (John 15:4–10), and “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly” (Colossians 3:16).

Four Prayers for Meditation

How, then, does our meditating on God’s words relate to our words to him called prayer? In two ways. Through prayer we both ask for help before we hear from God in his word and we respond to God after steeping our souls in his word. First, we ask for help to hear, and then we delight to have his ear.

On the first kind of prayer, the Desiring God Affirmation of Faith confesses that “prayer is the indispensable handmaid of meditation.” By that, we mean that prayer serves meditation on God’s word. We, then, specify four specific requests that we make of God, via prayer, for meditation:

for the inclination to turn from the world to his word

for the spiritual ability to see his glory in his testimonies

for a soul-satisfying sight of his love

for strength in the inner man to do his will.

If we are to gain any true and lasting benefit from lingering over God’s words, we depend on his help. Without him, our hearts gravitate toward the world, rather than his word. Without him, we cannot see true glory in his word. Without him, our souls will not be satisfied in him. Without him, we will not have strength to do his will. And so, we pray. Prayer before and during our meditating on God’s word is vital in asking God to give spiritual effect and power to our pondering.

Delight to Have His Ear

But what about prayer after meditation? Perhaps less widely understood today is how meditation also serves prayer. Thomas Manton (1620–1677) captures it well:

Meditation is a middle sort of duty between word and prayer, and hath respect to both. The word feedeth meditation, and meditation feedeth prayer; we must hear that we be not erroneous, and meditate that we be not barren.

Prayer is not only meditation’s handmaid but also its apex. We not only pray that God will give us eyes to see, but also once we have seen, and been aptly moved by his words, we respond back to him in adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. The general principle is that God’s word comes first, then our prayers. First he speaks to us in his word, and we welcome what he has to say. We listen. We linger over it. We meditate on it. And then, once we have heard him all the way through, then we respond in prayer. We reverently “talk back” in the wonder we call prayer.

Prayer, as the words we speak to God, is a fitting response to hearing and meditating on the words he speaks to us. God means for his words to inform and shape how we respond to him in prayer. As creatures, we don’t mainly “dial him up,” like even pagans are prone to. That’s human instinct apart from the revelation of the true God. The true God speaks first. He initiates. He tells us about himself, and about ourselves as his creatures, and about the world he made, and his Son and Spirit. And prayer is our response to God in light of what he has revealed to us.

Getting Practical

To make it tangible: instead of our prayer lives being list-driven, it would be fitting that our prayers be word-driven. That prayer would not only lead to and saturate our hearing and studying and meditating on God’s words, but also (and mainly) that prayer, as our response to God, having heard his words, would be informed and shaped by his words.

Here’s an example, from this morning. As I read John 12, I stopped in my tracks at verse 43, which is about various authorities who believed in Jesus but would not confess it because of their fear of the Pharisees. Why? John explains,

They loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. (John 12:43)

I paused to feel the weight of this statement. What a tragedy and horror! Then, after I finished reading the section, I came back to verse 43 to meditate. Verse 43 is cast in negative terms about those who feared man. So I turned it around, to make it about those who truly believe: They love the glory of God more than the glory of man. No, not just they. This is meditation: We. This should be true of every genuine Christian, that we love God’s approval more than man’s. That we fear him, not man. That we seek his smile, not human praise. That we live for his commendation, not man’s.

As I kept chewing, the truth became increasingly sweet to my soul. How could I not now turn in prayer to express this heart to God, and ask for his grace? First for myself: “Father, make me to love — and to keep loving — the glory that comes from you far more than the glory that comes from man.” And for my wife. My sons. My daughters. Our church. Our friends and family. And might you, O God, use me to make it true for our neighbors?

Rediscover the Lost Art

I took John 12:43 as a word to me from the mouth of God, and having heard him speak, and pondering his words, and trying to hear them all the way to the bottom, I then turned, in relationship with him, to respond in prayer. It was not a hard pivot from cerebral reading to rehearsing a prayer list. Rather, it naturally progressed from hearing his words through reading, to meditating on them in the heart, to speaking back to him in prayer, asking that he make this precious reality true of me, my loved ones, our church, and our city.

So, I invite you to discover with me this lost art of meditation. Let’s hear God’s voice in the Scriptures, pausing over his words in an unhurried manner. Let’s take them, each day, as a word from God’s mouth to us. And then, as our ears have listened intently and deeply to his words, let’s open our own mouths in reverence and joy, savoring the gift, in Jesus Christ, of having God’s ear in prayer.

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.

Daily Light – January 23, 2020

The Suffering of Christ and the Sovereignty of God

Resource by John Piper (From his book, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God)

(Friends, please review yesterday’s article ‘so that’ your context remains fresh)

Part 3

Glory Through Suffering

Consider the display of the glory of the grace of God in the achievements of Christ by his suffering.

1. Christ absorbed the wrath of God on our behalf — and he did it by suffering.

Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” The wrath of God that should have caused our eternal suffering fell on Christ. This is the glory of grace, and it could only come by suffering.

2. Christ bore our sins and purchased our forgiveness — and he did it by suffering.

First Peter 2:24: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” Isaiah 53:5: “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.” The sins that should have crushed us under the weight of guilt were transferred to Christ. This is the glory of grace, and it could only come by suffering.

3. Christ provided a perfect righteousness for us that becomes ours in him — and he did it by suffering.

Philippians 2:7–8: “He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” The obedience of Christ by which many are counted righteous (Romans 5:19) had to be an obedience unto death, even death on a cross. This is the glory of grace, and it would come only by suffering.

4. Christ defeated death — and he did it by suffering death.

Hebrews 2:14–15: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

“‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55–57). This is the glory of grace and it would come only by suffering.

5. He disarmed Satan — and he did it by suffering.

Colossians 2:14–15: “[The record of debts against us] he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” With the record of all our lawbreaking nailed to the cross and canceled, the power of Satan to destroy us is broken. Satan has only one weapon that can damn to hell. Unforgiven sin. This weapon Christ stripped from Satan’s hand on the cross. This is the glory of grace, and it could only come by suffering.

6. Christ purchased perfect final healing for all his people — and he did it by suffering.

Isaiah 53:5: “Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” “The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17). The Lamb was slaughtered and the Lamb was raised from the dead, and the Lamb together with the Father will wipe every tear from our eyes. This is the glory of grace, and it could only come by suffering.

7. Christ will bring us finally to God — and he will do it by his suffering.

First Peter 3:18: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” The ultimate achievement of the cross is not freedom from sickness but fellowship with God. This is what we were made for: seeing and savoring and showing the glory of God. This is the glory of grace, and it could only come by suffering.

The Ultimate Reason Suffering Exists

The ultimate purpose of the universe is to display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. The highest, clearest, surest display of that glory is in the suffering of the best Person in the universe for millions of undeserving sinners. Therefore, the ultimate reason that suffering exists in the universe is so that Christ might display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God by suffering in himself to overcome our suffering and bring about the praise of the glory of the grace of God.

Oh Christian, remember what Carl Ellis and David Powlison and Mark Talbot and Steve Saint and Joni Eareckson Tada said: they all, in their own way, said that whether we are able or disabled, enduring loss or delighting in friends, suffering pain or savoring pleasure, all of us who believe in Christ are immeasurably rich in him and have so much to live for. Don’t waste your life. Savor the riches that you have in Christ and spend yourself no matter the cost to spread your riches to this desperate world.  (end of article)  Amen.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons.

Daily Light – January 22, 2020

The Suffering of Christ and the Sovereignty of God

Resource by John Piper (From his book, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God)

(Friends, please review yesterday’s article ‘so that’ your context remains fresh)

Part 2

To the Praise of His Glorious Grace

Here’s the Biblical support, first from Ephesians 1 and then from Revelation 5. In Ephesians 1:4–6a, Paul says,

[God] chose us in him [that is, in Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace.

The goal of the entire history of redemption is to bring about the praise of the glory of the grace of God.

But notice that twice in these verses Paul says that this plan happened “in Christ” or “through Christ” before the foundation of the world. He says in verse 4: God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world in order to bring about the praise of the glory of his grace. And he says in verse 5: God predestined our adoption through Christ before the foundation of the world to bring about the praise of the glory of his grace. What does it mean that “in Christ” we were chosen and that our adoption was to happen “through Christ”? We know that in Paul’s mind, Christ suffered and died as a redeemer so that we might be adopted as children of God (Galatians 4:5). Our adoption could not happen apart from the death of Christ.

Therefore, what Paul means is that to choose us “in Christ” and to plan to adopt us “through Christ” was to plan the suffering and death of his Son before the foundation of the world. And verse 6 and 12 and 14 make plain that the goal of this plan was to bring about “the praise of the glory of the grace of God.” That is what God was aiming at. And that is why he planned the suffering and death of his Son for sinners before the creation of the world.

The Lamb Who Was Slain

Now consider the second biblical support for this from Revelation 5:9–12. Here the hosts of heaven are worshiping the Lamb precisely because he was slain — killed, slaughtered.

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. . . .” Then I looked, and I heard around the throne . . . myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

The hosts of heaven focus their worship not simply on the Lamb, but on the “Lamb who was slain.” And they are still singing this song in Revelation 15:3. Therefore we can conclude that the centerpiece of worship in heaven for all eternity will be the display of the glory of the grace of God in the slaughtered Lamb. Angels and all the redeemed will sing of the suffering of the Lamb forever and ever. The suffering of the Son of God will never be forgotten. The greatest suffering that ever was will be at the center of our worship and our wonder forever and ever. This is not an afterthought of God. This is the plan from before the foundation of the world.

Everything else is subordinate to this plan. Everything else is put in place for the sake of this plan: the display of the greatness of the glory of the grace of God in the suffering of the Beloved is the goal of the creation and the continuing of the universe.

God Ordains but Doesn’t Commit Sin

Do you see what this implies about sin and suffering in the universe? According to this divine plan, God permits sin to enter the world. God ordains that what he hates will come to pass. It is not sinful in God to will that there be sin. We do not need to fathom this mystery. We may content ourselves by saying over the sin of Adam and Eve what Joseph said over the sin of his brothers, when they sold him into slavery: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

As for you, Adam and Eve, you meant evil against God as you rejected him as your Father and Treasure, but oh what an infinite good he planned through your fall! The Seed of the woman will one day bruise the head of the great Serpent, and by his suffering he will display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. You have not undone his plan. Just as Joseph was sold sinfully into slavery, you have sold yourselves for an apple. You have fallen, and now the stage is set for the perfect display of the greatness of the glory of the grace of God.

For not only did sin enter the world, but through sin came suffering and death. Paul tells us that God subjected the world to futility and corruption under his holy curse. He put it like this in Romans 8:20–23:

The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

When sin entered the world, horrible, horrible things followed. Diseases, defects, disabilities, natural catastrophes, human atrocities — from the youngest infant to the oldest codger, from the vilest scoundrel to the sweetest saint — suffering is no respecter of persons. That’s why Paul said in Romans 8:23, “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

Ezekiel tells us that God does not delight in this suffering. “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). But the plan remains, and Jeremiah gives us a glimpse into the mysterious complexity of the mind of God in Lamentations 3:32–33, “Though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.” Literally: “He does not from his heart [millibbô] afflict or grieve the children of men.” He ordains that suffering come — “though he cause grief” — but his delight is not in the suffering, but in the great purpose of creation: the display of the glory of the grace of God in the suffering of Christ for the salvation of sinners.

The stage has been set. The drama of redemptive history begins to unfold. Sin is now in its full and deadly force. Suffering and death are present and ready to consume the Son of God when he comes. All things are now in place for the greatest possible display of the glory of the grace of God.

Therefore, in the fullness of time, God sent his Son into the world to suffer in the place of sinners. Every dimension of his saving work was accomplished by suffering. In the life and death of Jesus Christ, suffering finds its ultimate purpose and ultimate explanation: suffering exists so that Christ might display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God by suffering in himself to overcome our suffering.

Everything — everything — that Christ accomplished for us sinners, he accomplished by suffering. Everything that we will ever enjoy will come to us because of suffering.  (part 3 tomorrow)

Daily Light – January 21, 2020

(Friends:   I ask you to do yourself a great favor.  A favor of such magnitude that it will yield benefits that reach-out into eternity.  READ this 3 part series.  ‘Digest’ it.   Let it ‘seep’ into your spiritual mind.  ‘So that’ you will have much growth in understanding ‘so that’ you will ‘go out’ into the world and be able to more boldly share the light and truth of Jesus Christ.  Amen dh)

The Suffering of Christ and the Sovereignty of God

Resource by John Piper (from his book, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God)

 3 Parts, Part 1

What I would like to do is magnify Christ in his suffering. And in the process I would like to venture the ultimate biblical explanation for the existence of suffering. And I would like to do it in such a way that you and I would be freed from the paralyzing effects of discouragement and self-pity and fear and pride so that we would spend ourselves — able or disabled — to spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things (including suffering) for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.

The Ultimate Reason for Suffering

I believe the entire universe exists to display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. I might have said more simply that the entire universe exists to display the greatness of the glory of God. That would be true. But the Bible is more specific. The glory of God shines most brightly, most fully, most beautifully in the manifestation of the glory of his grace. Therefore, this is the ultimate aim and the final explanation of all things — including suffering.

God decreed from all eternity to display the greatness of the glory of his grace for the enjoyment of his creatures, and he revealed to us that this is the ultimate aim and explanation of why there is sin and why there is suffering, and why there is a great suffering Savior. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came in the flesh to suffer and die and by that suffering and death to save undeserving sinners like you and me. This coming to suffer and die is the supreme manifestation of the greatness of the glory of the grace of God.

Or to say it a little differently, the death of Christ in supreme suffering is the highest, clearest, surest display of the glory of the grace of God. If that is true, then a stunning truth is revealed, namely, suffering is an essential part of the created universe in which the greatness of the glory of the grace of God can be most fully revealed. Suffering is an essential part of the tapestry of the universe so that the weaving of grace can be seen for what it really is.

Or to put it most simply and starkly: the ultimate reason that suffering exists in the universe is so that Christ might display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God by suffering in himself to overcome our suffering. The suffering of the utterly innocent and infinitely holy Son of God in the place of utterly undeserving sinners to bring us to everlasting joy is the greatest display of the glory of God’s grace that ever was, or ever could be.

In conceiving a universe in which to display the glory of his grace, God did not choose plan B. This was the moment — Good Friday — for which everything in the universe was planned. There could be no greater display of the glory of the grace of God than what happened at Calvary. Everything leading to it and everything flowing from it is explained by it, including all the suffering in the world.

The Biblical Pathway to Truth

Walk with me now, if you would, on the biblical pathway that has led me to this truth. To this point, it just looks like high-sounding theology or philosophy. But it is far more than that. It is what the very words of Scripture clearly teach.

Before the Foundation of the World

Let’s begin with Revelation 13:8. John writes, “All who dwell on earth will worship [the beast], everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.” That is a good, careful, literal translation. This means that before the world was created there was a book called the “book of life of the Lamb who was slain.”

The Lamb is Jesus Christ crucified. The book is the book of Jesus Christ crucified. Therefore, before God made the world, he had in view Jesus Christ slain, and he had in view a people purchased by his blood written in the book. Therefore, the suffering of Jesus was not an afterthought, as though the work of creation did not go the way God planned. Before the foundation of the world God had a book called “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” The slaying of the Lamb was in view before the work of creation began.

A Display of Glory

Then consider 2 Timothy 1:9. Paul looks back into eternity before the ages began and says, “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us [that is, he gave us this grace] in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” God gave us grace [undeserved favor — favor toward sinners, grace!] in Christ Jesus before the ages began. We had not yet been created. We had not yet existed so that we could sin. But God had already decreed that grace — an “in Christ” kind of grace, blood-bought grace, sin-overcoming grace — would come to us in Christ Jesus. All that before the creation of the world.

So there is a “book of life of the Lamb who was slain,” and there is “grace” flowing to undeserving sinners who are not yet created. And don’t miss the magnitude of that word “slain” (esphagmenou): “the Lamb who was slain.” It is used in the New Testament only by the apostle John, and means literally “slaughter.” So here we have suffering — the slaughter of the Son of God — in the mind and plan of God before the foundation of the world. The Lamb of God will suffer. He will be slaughtered. That’s the plan.

Why? I’ll give you the biblical text that tells the answer, but let me state it again: it’s because the aim of creation is the fullest, clearest, surest display of the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. And that display would be the slaughter of the best being in the universe for millions of undeserving sinners. The suffering and death of the Lamb of God in history is the best possible display of the glory of the grace of God. That is why God planned it before the foundation of the world.  (Part 2 tomorrow)

Daily Light – January 20, 2020

Go to God Together

Why the Church Gathers to Pray

Article by Marshall Segal, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

The violent tremors they felt that day may have been the most reassuring earthquake anyone has ever experienced.

Christ had poured out his Spirit, he had established his church, and now he was adding to their number day by day (Acts 2:47). As the word spread, opposition mounted, threatening their young and fragile family. So, they did what souls captured by God do: they gathered to pray.

Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them . . . look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. (Acts 4:2429–30)

The threats against them were deadly serious. Some of them would be killed for standing with the risen Jesus. When they came together, though, they did not pray for protection, at least not here. Instead, they prayed earnestly for the courage to keep telling people about Jesus, to keep putting themselves at great risk for the sake of winning some. And how did God respond to their prayer?

When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31)

God answered, giving them great boldness, but he did more than that. Why would God shake the place where they prayed? Not only to impart more confidence, but also to say vividly, tangibly, even violently, Your Father in heaven loves when you gather to pray.

God Through One Another

Why do Christians, from the early church to today, in every time and place, pray together? In part, because heartfelt prayer requires fresh glimpses of God, and we know how little we see by ourselves. We want to take in and experience more of Jesus than we would ever see on our own. We want to kindle our adoration before God through the eyes of others. Tim Keller writes, quoting C.S. Lewis,

By praying with friends, you will be able to hear and see facets of Jesus that you have not yet perceived. . . . Knowing the Lord is communal and cumulative, we must pray and praise together. That way “the more we share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.” (Prayer, 119)

Praying with others gives us new windows into the worth of Christ. Of course we pray in secret (Matthew 6:6), and yet if we only prayed alone, we would tear out one of our eyes, as it were, missing facets of Christ we see only through others. The soul of any Christian rises or falls with secret prayer, but it is not good for man to only pray alone. We need to hear each other go hard after God, and we need to carry one another’s burdens before him.

God for One Another: Five Prayers

As we read through the book of Acts, we see that the early church never stopped praying together. The story seems to turn on followers of Christ gathering to seek their Lord — for wisdom, for deliverance, for boldness, for strength and comfort. They devoted themselves to the word of God, to one another, and to prayer (Acts 2:42). And how did God respond to their prayers?

Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46–47)

We all want such power in our lives, in our families, in our churches, in our cities, and we should not expect God to do it apart from our praying. So, what did the church in Acts pray together for?

1. For wisdom with difficult decisions.

When Jesus ascended to heaven, his followers fell to their knees, “devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:4). They felt the need to replace Judas among the twelve, but the Spirit had not yet been poured out on them. How would they decide between two worthy men, Joseph and Matthias? “They prayed and said, ‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen’” (Acts 1:24). So today, we pray together and for one another that we “may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9), especially in difficult, painful, or complicated decisions and situations.

2. For boldness in their mission.

As we already heard, the church gathered and prayed, “Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29). They were already bold (Acts 4:13), but they did not presume on past boldness. They asked God to renew their confidence — to continue to speak his word with all boldness. They pled together for courageous faithfulness, for an open door (Colossians 4:3), for clarity and precision (Colossians 4:4), and for supernatural fruit among their hearers (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

3. For the leaders of the church.

When they called men to public office, they prayed together over them. “When they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23). Similarly, they prayed over the seven table-servants (Acts 6:4–6), and over missionaries they sent (Acts 13:3). The church went to God together on behalf of its leaders, establishing a precious path and pattern before the throne for our churches today. The men God has called to us as shepherds need us to go to God together for them in prayer.

4. For suffering in the body.

When Peter was arrested to satisfy Herod’s pride and lust for approval, the church gathered to pray. “Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5). They didn’t just agree to pray in their own closets, but they came together to pray. And God miraculously freed Peter. When Peter realized what happened, “he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying” (Acts 12:12). What might God do if, instead of only adding another item to our personal lists, we gathered together to pray for those suffering in the body (Hebrews 13:3) — especially for persecuted and oppressed saints around the world?

5. For godly comfort in sorrow.

We know very little of the kind of goodbyes we read about in Acts. They truly did not know if they would ever meet again, and keeping up with one another was extremely difficult. When Paul left the Ephesian elders, “he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again” (Acts 20:36–38). He did the same, likely through tears, with the believers in Tyre (Acts 21:5). When sorrows rolled, they knew to kneel and pour out their hearts, together, to God.

We know the church gathered to pray for more, but these five prayers give us a great place to start in any prayer gathering, however big or small. If we don’t know what to pray for with our family or with other members of our church, we can start by praying what we know Christians have prayed for together since the church began.

When We Confess and Pray

As we gather to adore God, we see more than we would have seen on our own. As we gather to plead with God to move in specific ways among us (supplication), he is all the more eager to stretch out his hand to guide, to heal, to embolden, to comfort, to provide. Another surprisingly precious ingredient in corporate prayer, however, is the confession of sin. As we humble ourselves before one another in hope-filled honesty, grace rises and Satan runs (James 4:7).

How many of us have been stuck in ruts of sin while no one else prayed for us? And how would others pray for us if we never confessed our sin to them? God wants us to confess to one another, and then go to God together for forgiveness, renewal, and healing.

Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5:16–18)

When we confess our sins to one another, and pray for one another, we welcome that kind of power into our war against sin and all its consequences — the kind of power that disperses clouds and holds back seas. When we confess and pray together, we’re no longer a lone soldier against sin and Satan, but we fight alongside an army of warriors backed by the sovereign throne of heaven. James speaks of a kind of culture of hope and healing that comes through humbling ourselves, confessing our sin to one another and then going to God together in prayer.

Giving Thanks to God Together

Finally, when we pray together, we not only adore our God, confess our sins, and make our collective requests, but we also thank our great God together. We know, even by instinct, how to ask God to fix the present or provide for the future. We are not, however, as naturally thankful. Thankfulness, however, is indispensable to prayer, whether private or corporate.

Paul writes, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2). He wanted the church to watch together for reasons to thank God together. And we are never without reasons. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). So, when you sit together to pray, give place to give thanks.

Corporate prayer makes gratitude wonderfully contagious. As Paul writes, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:11). While the whole world restlessly runs ahead to the next event, plagued by anxiety about the future, linger uncomfortably long over all the good that God has done for you.

Thank him alone in secret, but don’t only thank him alone. Let your prayers strengthen someone else’s hope, and let their prayers strengthen yours.

Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have a son and live in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – January 17, 2020

Seven Ways to Sabotage Your Prayer Life

Article by Greg Morse, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

Unanswered prayer will test our faith. Weeks, or months, even years, of waiting on some particular request can tempt us to despair. Jesus, our compassionate Lord, knew this and told a parable to encourage us to endure in prayer and not lose heart (Luke 18:1–8). All of us need such encouragements.

Yet God also gives other graces to help us along in our prayer lives: he teaches us what hinders them. With all the good that unanswered prayer can provide, Scripture also has another category of unanswered prayer: the kind we ourselves have caused. Sometimes we are the architects, building the ceiling our prayers hit.

How to Sabotage Your Prayer Life

More often than we might consider, Christians sabotage our own prayers. Periodically in his word, God prompts our weary eyes from staring into the heavens wondering why the floodgates haven’t opened, to gaze at our own lives, our own hearts, and our own prayers. Sometimes the reason lies closer to us than to him.

God does not mean for his warnings for hindering prayer to cause the fretful to feel more unworthy and thus less likely to pray. The point is not praying perfect prayers — all our prayers require the blood of Christ. The point is to encourage us to cast off the weights of sin and carelessness that cling so closely that we might again run unfettered to God. To show that how we live does affect how God hears our prayers.

This short catalogue of biblical hindrances are given so that we might pray more — more heartily, more joyfully, more powerfully, more boldly — not less, remembering that boldly never means recklessly.

1. Live in Unrepentant Sin

The quickest way to sabotage your prayers is to live in unrepentant sin. God has informed his people of this at many times and in many ways, confronting our presumption that he must hear us no matter how we live. Consider a few examples:

If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. (Psalm 66:18)

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
     or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
but your iniquities have made a separation
     between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
     so that he does not hear. (Isaiah 59:1–2)

Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. (1 Peter 3:10–12Psalm 34:12–16)

A drunken, undisciplined life makes for belligerent prayers — prayers God does not answer. “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7).

2. Ignore God’s Words

Note well: “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Proverbs 28:9).

Dusty Bibles stir God’s allergies to our prayers. To understand why, ponder the privilege of prayer. As with a frightened child on a stormy night, God graciously leaves the door open for his people to come to him at any time for help, comfort, and joy. Glorying in this — that his problem with us is never that we come to him too much but too little — far be it from us to make prayer something that God must always hear from us while we can choose whether or not to hear from him. If one ought to be heard, it is God’s voice. If one ought to only listen, it is us.

Conversely, when we steep our souls in his word and ask according to his will, our confidence will increase “that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14–15).

3. Pray for Your Own Praise

When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. (Matthew 6:5)

“God’s problem with us is never that we come to him too much but too little.”

Make impressive prayers within the earshot of others, but let all be silent when only God is left to hear? In effect, you are praying for the sake of your glory, for your name to be hallowed among the hearers, for your kingdom to come on earth as it is in your mind. Praying for the sake of your reputation — praying to be admired, respected, and seen — strips prayer of its power.

4. Harbor Doubts About God’s Goodness

Prayers springing from our lips, while our hearts only mumble, ask not to be heard. When our hearts roll their eyes as we half-heartedly ask for what we don’t expect to receive, we dishonor God and anchor our prayers to earth.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:5–7)

Prayers of faith that draw near to God know not only that he exists but that he is good — that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6).

5. Pray Like an Adulteress

Sometimes God does not answer us because we ask for what we shouldn’t: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people!” (James 4:3–4). What business does an adulterer have to ask her husband for a gift she means to pass along to another lover?

“If we are living lives in which God does not have our highest allegiance,” writes Tim Keller, “then we will use prayer instrumentally, selfishly, simply to try to get the things that may be already ruining our lives” (Prayer, 138). If he loves us, he will not fund adulterous romances.

All prayer concerns the Father’s glory in Christ: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13–14). Prayer orbits around this Bridegroom and not our own fallen lusts and desires.

6. Belittle God’s Daughter

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)

Why would a man, much less God, listen to another man who bullies the first man’s daughter? If he expects anything it’s retribution, not blessing. For a man to use his strength against a daughter of the King, to regard her as less than a co-heir, and deal harshly with her, harms his prayers just as he does his wife. If we mistreat those God has given to our protection — especially a wife — we hinder our prayers.

7. Come Casually

Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. (Ecclesiastes 5:2)

We pray to our Father but our Father is also in heaven and has a kingdom and is its King, our King. Not thinking while in prayer, uttering many words as casually as you would a text message to a close friend, minimizes the majesty of the one whom we address.

“Sometimes God does not answer us because we ask for what we shouldn’t.”

If anyone had the right to come casually in prayer, it was the eternal Son of God. He did use the term of endearment Abba, but he was no less reverent for it. “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7).

God’s Breath Returning

If prayer is, as George Herbert so elegantly stated, “God’s breath in man returning to his birth,” we will want to ensure that breath is not befouled by the stench of unrepentance or worldliness. We go to him in prayer, broken and contrite over our sin, but not while we are content with careless hearts and reckless lives. As John Piper paints with vivid imagery:

Jesus does not kiss a drunk wife. He may carry her off the street and back to bed. He may be utterly patient with her, and set before her hot coffee and fresh starts. But he will not kiss a drunk wife.

What do I mean? I mean that when the bride of Christ, the church, is drunk with the world, she may turn to him for a brief kiss of prayer, but her breath reeks so bad of worldliness that he turns his face away.

So, we pray, and keep on praying, not losing heart and not losing a careful watch over our lives. Prayers soar from our lips when we live in repentance, devouring God’s word, seeking his glory, loving those for whom we are most responsible, and beyond. We go to our heavenly Father consistently, expectantly, reverently, and press on towards the place where prayer becomes a most precious pastime.

Greg Morse is a staff writer for desiringGod.org and graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Abigail, live in St. Paul.

Daily Light – January 16, 2020

The Strangest Thing Jesus Said

Article by Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

“Why did you not bring him?” The Pharisees were exasperated that the officers had not arrested and delivered Jesus yet. How did the officers explain their failure? “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46).

By the time we get to John chapter seven, Jesus had made himself a serious religious and political issue in Palestine. Everywhere he went, he created controversy. Some people said he was demonized with paranoia (John 7:20). Some seriously wondered if he might be the Prophet Moses foretold (John 7:40Deuteronomy 18:15–18), or even the Christ (John 7:3141). Others said the Christ hypothesis couldn’t be true, since obviously the Christ would come from Bethlehem, and Jesus was from Galilee (John 7:42) — and of course no prophet ever came from there (John 7:52).

One thing that helped fuel the rumors among the crowds was the fact that, in spite of all Jesus was saying, the Jewish leaders had not arrested him yet. Was this a signal that even they thought Jesus might be the Christ (John 7:26)?

When the chief priests and Pharisees caught wind of this, they decided to snuff out that rumor by arresting him, so they sent officers to do just that (John 7:32). The officers, however, returned empty-handed. When the Jewish leaders asked them why, the officers responded, “No one ever spoke like this man.”

The Enigma of History

The echo of that sentence has reverberated down through history. No one ever spoke like this man. The proof of its veracity is in the pudding of the historical result: the words of Jesus have shaped the course of world history more than any other human voice.

Observed as a historical phenomenon, it is the strangest thing. How did Jesus get to be the most famous man in history? Two thousand years later, no one’s words have been read more, studied more, quoted more, debated more, pondered more, written and lectured about more, translated into more languages, fueled more literacy efforts around the world, and shaped more diverse cultures than the words of Jesus of Nazareth.

“Over and over people keep trying to bury Jesus, and he keeps refusing to stay dead. He is still speaking.”

Over the centuries, many nonreligious theories have been proffered for the tenacious, massive, increasingly global influence of this wandering, first-century, Jewish rabbi with peasant roots and ordinary disciples. None do him justice. Political, institutional, economic, social, cultural, psychological explanations all prove reductionistic and overly simplistic. They don’t explain why people find Jesus so compelling.

When you look at all he said and taught, what did Jesus say that has been so historically profound? He said he was God.

He Claimed to Be God

Many have tried to argue that he didn’t claim this. The attempts are futile. The New Testament, the most reliable record we have of Jesus’s words, is unequivocal on this assertion. Any honest reading is unmistakable. And Jesus’s claim to divinity is the only reason he has been and remains such an incredible force in world history. Listen to just a few of his unparalleled statements.

The woman at the well said to Jesus, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus responded, “I who speak to you am he” (John 4:25–26). Jesus knew he was the prophesied Jewish Messiah.

When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And what did Jesus say to that? “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:15–17). Jesus not only affirmed his Messiahship, but he affirmed the title “Son of God,” and Peter’s use of this term is clearly and uniquely divine.

“I Am”

If that’s not convincing, this ought to be. When being interrogated by the High Priest during the infamous midnight trial, when his answer would either lead toward or away from crucifixion, he was asked directly “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus responded, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61–62). Everyone in that room knew exactly what Jesus was referring to: the divine Son of Man prophesied in Daniel 7:13–14, which is why they called it blasphemy.

And the apostle John quotes a string of audacious “I am” statements Jesus made:

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger.” (John 6:35)

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

“You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” (John 8:23–24)

“I am the door of the sheep. . . . If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:79)

“You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.” (John 13:13)

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Has anyone ever spoken like this man?

The Greatest Claim Ever Made

But perhaps the most powerful “I am” statement Jesus ever made, the one that captures the single greatest reason he has influenced the world like no other man, is this one:

I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25–26)

“The words of Jesus have shaped the course of world history more than any other human voice.”

Who ever said such a thing? Why does anyone listen to such preposterous words? It’s not wish-fulfillment. Mass movements of people don’t follow a crazy man. There is only one reason such words ever gained historical traction: Jesus’s tomb was empty that first Easter Sunday morning. Too many people personally witnessed him alive (1 Corinthians 15:6), too many of them paid with their lives for claiming to have witnessed him alive, and too many people throughout history have encountered Jesus as a real, living presence and power, and found eternal life in his words (John 6:68).

Jesus claimed to be God. He prophesied that he would be killed and rise from the dead three days later. He was killed and his tomb was empty three days later. And hundreds of witnesses who had nothing material to gain (and everything to lose) by claiming his resurrection, claimed it was so.

Who Do You Say That He Is?

The brief snapshot we see in John 7 captures the controversial effect Jesus of Nazareth had on those who came in direct or indirect contact with him. And this is still the controversial effect he has on those who come in contact with him today. Some still think him demonic, some think him delusional, some think him distorted by his biographers and early followers, and some think him divine.

But one stubborn thing is, Jesus doesn’t go away. We keep talking about him, much to the ire of certain powers-that-be. Over and over people keep trying to bury Jesus, and he keeps refusing to stay dead. He is still speaking and his words keep making people alive.

Just a handful of disciples heard him say, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). How audacious did such a statement sound the day it was spoken? How much more ridiculous did they seem as he hung on a cross just days later? Yet now, two thousand years later, we read these words in the light of the strange, unexpected, unrivaled impact Jesus has made on history. It must make each and every one of us wonder, forcing us to answer his question for ourselves: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15).

Say what you like about Jesus, one thing is true: no one ever spoke like this man.

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by SightThings Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife have five children and make their home in the Twin Cities.