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.

Daily Light – January 15, 2020

My Soul Faints for You

Pursuing Joy in Every Prayer

Article by Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” If that is true, then prayer, like everything else we do (1 Corinthians 10:31), is first and foremost a pursuit of our satisfaction in God. Unlike everything else we do, though, prayer is an especially vital and precious means God has given us to grow our joy in him.

Why do I say this? Because in prayer, we go straight to God — the one who is not only the source of “every good gift and every perfect gift” (James 1:17) but is himself our “exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4). We see this beautifully expressed in one of David’s prayers:

You make known to me the path of life;
     in your presence there is fullness of joy;
     at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

When we pray, we are pursuing a fuller joy, a deeper pleasure, a more abundant life in God. We want to glorify him all the more in all we do, so we ask him to satisfy us all the more with himself. We pray to see more of his glory, to experience more of his strength and help, to feel more joy in God.

Root and Goal of Every Prayer

So, prayer is an especially vital and precious means God has provided us to pursue our joy in him. That does not mean our experience of prayer, if done right, will always leave us feeling more satisfied with God, or that it will produce satisfying results relatively quickly. That is not what the Bible teaches us, and Psalm 16 isn’t the only kind of prayer we find in the Bible.

The prayers of Scripture are amazingly diverse. They cover the spectrum of human experience. Along with sweet expressions of adoration, strong declarations of faith, and songs of exultant joy, there are prayers of perplexity over God’s ways, groaning in suffering, confession of sin, and deep laments. But could even these more difficult prayers — prayers that help us voice our anguish and confusion in painful seasons — also be means of pursuing joy in God?

I believe they are. At root in both sweet, savoring prayers and in the troubled prayers of the afflicted is a pursuit of God as the source of the petitioners’ satisfaction. We tend to see this more explicitly in the former, and sometimes only implicitly in the latter, but God, our exceeding joy, is the goal that unifies them. Look with me at several examples from the Bible’s inspired prayer book, the Psalms.

My Soul Faints for You

When we think of a prayerful pursuit of God-satisfaction, most of us likely think of prayers, like Psalm 63, that sweetly savor God:

Because your steadfast love is better than life,
     my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
     in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
     and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips. (Psalm 63:3–5)

Or we think of prayers that communicate a deep longing for God:

My soul longs, yes, faints
     for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
     to the living God. (Psalm 84:2)

Or we think of prayers that rejoice in God’s deliverance:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
     he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
     out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
     making my steps secure. . . .
May all who seek you
     rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
     say continually, “Great is the Lord!” (Psalm 40:1–216)

In these prayers (and many more like them), we hear the pray-ers explicitly delighting themselves in the Lord (Psalm 37:4). Their joy in him is palpable, and they long for more.

Revive Our Joy in You

But when biblical prayers express repentance, anguish, or sorrow, they are still pursuing joy in God. When Israel was under the discipline of the Lord due to sin, for instance, the Sons of Korah prayed,

Will you not revive us again,
     that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
     and grant us your salvation. (Psalm 85:6–7)

What do they really want? For the people of Israel, who are experiencing God’s indignation (Psalm 85:4), to once again experience joy in God.

When David, as an individual, had grievously sinned against God, he poured out this prayer of deep repentance:

Have mercy on me, O God,
     according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
     blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
     and cleanse me from my sin. . . .
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
     and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:1–212)

David, in his repentant grief and regret, is still seeking satisfaction in God. He’s not only asking for forgiveness and cleansing, but amazingly dares, despite what he has done, to ask God to restore his joy.

Why Have You Forsaken Me?

But what about the desperate prayer of someone in severe affliction?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
     Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
     and by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1–2)

This prayer was uttered first by David, and then later by the crucified Jesus (Matthew 27:46). We’ve seen how David sought God as his supreme satisfaction, his “exceeding joy,” and the writer of Hebrews tells us Jesus endured the cross “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). Are there any clues, though, that this prayer itself really is a pursuit of joy in God? We read further down:

The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
     those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
     May your hearts live forever! (Psalm 22:26)

Though the afflicted one has not yet received his answer, he’s tasting joy in the future hope that he and others who seek God will not only be rescued, but they will be satisfied in the God they seek.

Even in Our Darkness

But what about Psalm 88, perhaps the most desolate prayer in Scripture? It is a bewildered cry of one in the agony of deep depression, and it almost seems devoid of hope. But it’s not completely devoid of hope. We can hear a flicker in the prayer’s opening words:

O Lord, God of my salvation,
     I cry out day and night before you.
Let my prayer come before you;
     incline your ear to my cry! (Psalm 88:1–2)

This psalm likely gives voice to the experience of some reading this. I know something of this kind of desolation. Can we say such an anguished prayer is even remotely a pursuit of joy in God? I believe we can, even if it is remote — even if it is only implicit.

The very fact that the petitioner, though in great misery, turns to God in prayer, and looks to God as the source of his salvation, implies that he sees God as the source of the joy he so desperately longs for — not unlike David pleading with God to restore the joy of his salvation. I think that’s why God included this prayer in the Bible: we glorify him when we seek him as our satisfaction, even in our deepest darkness.

If you are in a Psalm 88 season, John Piper’s booklet When the Darkness Will Not Lift: Doing What We Can While We Wait for God — and Joy is a wonderful resource, full of wise, seasoned, gentle, biblical counsel.

At All Times

When we speak of prayer as a primary means God has provided us to pursue our satisfaction — our joy — in him, we do not at all mean to be reductionistic. The prayers of the Bible are very diverse and pursue joy in a wide variety of ways.

In their diversity, the prayers in Scripture show us how to pray “at all times” (Ephesians 6:18). God has provided these for us so that whether we are in seasons of praise or lament, adoration or confession, we might know how to seek deeper satisfaction in him. It is God who has the power, the authority, the wisdom, the grace, the goodness, the righteousness, the mercy, the wealth, and anything else that is needed, and it is God alone who is the source of the joy the pray-ers ultimately seek. Each pray-er looks to God as the source of fulfillment and the spring of satisfaction.

Prayer, at heart, is a pursuit of our exceeding joy: God (Psalm 43:4). And that’s by design. Because “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

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.

Daily Light – January 14, 2020

Are Hell and the Cross Overkill for Sin?

Interview with John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Was the cross overkill for sin? It’s a question from a person named Lisa. “Dear Pastor John, thank you for your diligence and taking the time to help people all over the world work through difficult questions! I have one. Why do we need a Savior in the first place? I consider myself to be a good person and when I look around at most people, I would say the same about them. I know I am not perfect, and I cannot hold God’s law perfectly, but I don’t consider my thoughts and actions to be so terrible that they need to be punished by death. Should I really need to die because I disobeyed my parents as a child or told a lie? I have a difficult time seeing myself and those close to me as being wicked and utterly depraved.

“There is certainly great evil in the world, such as war, rape, murder, racism, oppression, etc. But the majority of the world doesn’t need God to see these things as evil or to make a positive change. I certainly don’t see how someone innocent, dying a horrible death, somehow makes my wrongs right in the sight of God. Can you help me make sense of this seemingly twisted justice and come to understand why I need Jesus?”

I think Lisa speaks for millions of people who quietly don’t feel comfortable — to put it mildly — with hell or with the cross of Christ. And I would state the problem like this: Where God is small and man is big, hell will be abhorrent — indeed absurd — and the cross will be foolishness.

The most telling thing about Lisa’s question is that her conception of evil can never be big enough to make sense of hell or the cross of Christ, because she defines evil only in relation to what harms man, not what demeans God. She says, for example, “I have a difficult time seeing myself as being wicked and utterly depraved.”

And then she defines evil like this: “There is great evil in the world, such as war, rape, murder, racism, oppression, etc. But the majority of the world doesn’t need God to see these things as evil or make a change.” So what are the great evils in the world, according to Lisa? And the answer is war, rape, murder, racism, oppression.

Now, all of these are ways that man harms man. You don’t even need God in the picture in order to call those evil. Lisa doesn’t seem to have a category for evil understood as the dishonoring, demeaning, disparaging, insulting of God as infinitely worthy of honor. That doesn’t come into her picture.

Punishment Fits the Crime

So let’s do a thought experiment. Suppose there is no God, and Lisa is a super-successful Adolf Hitler. I’m not saying she leans that way at all. This is just an experiment. She’s a super-successful Adolf Hitler. She is able not only to kill all the Jews in the world, but all the other non-Aryans. Everybody in Africa, she kills. Everybody in China, she kills. Everybody in India, she kills. Everybody in South America, she kills. So she succeeds in orchestrating the murder of about seven billion people.

And the question is, Would she deserve eternal punishment in hell? And my answer is, No, she wouldn’t, for two reasons. First, if there’s no God, and we are simply complex chemical and material animals, then there’s no such thing as right and wrong anyway. There is no such thing as deserts or merit or blameworthiness. They’re just different chemical reactions.

But second and more importantly for my point, she wouldn’t deserve an infinitely long punishment because seven billion murders are still finite. And a finite number of finite crimes doesn’t deserve an infinite punishment. In other words, when God is left out, there’s no way to have an infinite crime deserving of an infinite punishment like hell or the cross. They would simply be unjust.

“When God is left out, there’s no way to have an infinite crime deserving of an infinite punishment.”

But this is why God has spoken to us in the Bible. We will never understand the depth of our sinfulness without God telling us what the problem is, which he has very clearly. Lisa and I would never come up with this truth on our own. We must learn it from the Bible. And what God has said is this: The essence of evil — what makes evil evil — is not harm done to man, but indignities done to God. Harm to man is horrible. But it is meant to be a vivid parable of the outrage of failing to honor God, failing to glorify God, failing to thank God as God.

What Do You Owe God?

So ask this question: If God is of infinite value, infinite beauty, infinite greatness, with all of his perfections uniting in an infinitely satisfying panorama of personal beauty and glory, then of what is he worthy from the human soul? That’s the key question.

And Jesus answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). And Paul answers, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” — every minute of your life (1 Corinthians 10:31). In another place he says that he aims that Christ be magnified in his body, whether by life or by death (Philippians 1:20).

Over and over again in the Bible, it’s made plain that God created the world so that his infinitely valuable glory would be manifest in creation by the worshipful enjoyment of his creation. The essence of virtue, therefore, is to love, and desire, and prefer, and treasure, and enjoy — and thus honor — God above all things in this world.

The essence of evil is loving and preferring and desiring and treasuring and enjoying anything above God. It’s treason. And since God is of infinite worth and beauty and greatness and honor — infinite — the failure to love and treasure and enjoy him above all things is an infinite outrage, worthy of infinite punishment. This will make no sense where God is small and man is big. It will only make sense where people see God as great, as he really is, and see man, see ourselves, and see our outrageous God-belittling self-centeredness for what they are.

Glory Exchanged

Paul says, “Both Jews and Greeks are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one’” (Romans 3:9–10) And then he explains what this failure is, this sin. He says in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And you see how he moves immediately from the concept of sin to failing to embrace the glory of God as our supreme treasure. And the reason I put it like that — “failure to embrace the glory of God as our supreme treasure” — is because just earlier, back in Romans 1:22–23, Paul describes the human race as “claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images.” There’s the essence of evil.

The outrage of the human race is not humans killing humans. That’s not the outrage of the human race. The true outrage is humans exchanging the glory of the immortal God for anything less. That’s who we are. We are outrageous, treasonous, God-belittling, self-exalting rebels against God. And we are this way even in our so-called moral efforts to do good to other people while giving almost zero attention, zero affection, zero admiration to God and taking no delight in his glory.

High Treason

God gave a glimpse of his rage toward such evil in these words from Jeremiah 2:12–13. This is God talking:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
    be shocked, be utterly desolate,
    declares the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
    the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
    broken cisterns that can hold no water.

The great shock, the great appalling reality in the world, is that humans have turned from God as the all-satisfying fountain of life and joy, and tried to find it not in God, but in what he made. It is high treason and worthy of eternal punishment. That, Lisa, is why we need a Savior.

I tremble with thankfulness that God, in mercy, sent his infinitely worthy Son to do what no mere man could ever do. Only a God-man can bear an infinite punishment for all who embrace him for the glorious one that he really is.

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 13, 2020

The Name That Opens Heaven

Why God Will Hear Our Prayers

Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

Before I was old enough to remember, I learned to pray in Jesus’s name. What a gift. Praying in his name is a reality simple enough for a child to acknowledge, and yet profound enough to keep saints in awe for eternity. Like learning to sing “Jesus Loves Me.”

And of course, when we teach young children such simple and profound truths (which we must), familiarity may breed neglect as they grow. So it is for any of us with the dear truths we repeat. At whatever age, we might make “in Jesus’s name, I pray, amen” into a throwaway closing at the end of our prayers, instead of the precious and massive theological reality it is.

For two thousand years, Christians have been praying in Jesus’s name, and for good reason. But when was the last time you paused to ponder why?

In the Name of Jesus

Jesus himself instructed his disciples to “ask the Father in my name” (John 15:1616:2326). The apostle Paul spoke of Christians as those who “call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2), and give thanks “to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).

Praying in Jesus’s name is just one act among many in a whole life under the same banner: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). Unsurprisingly, in the book of Acts, we see the earliest Christians making the name of Jesus explicit in all they did — whether baptism (Acts 2:3810:4819:5), or healing and exorcism (Acts 3:64:3016:18), in all their teaching and preaching (Acts 4:185:408:129:27), even risking their lives and embracing imprisonment and death in his name (Acts 15:2621:13).

Such living, and performing various actions, for the world to see, in the name of Jesus has a particular end in view: to glorify him. To honor him. To act in Jesus’s name is to act for Jesus’s fame. To aim to make him known and admired and appreciated and enjoyed, as he ought to be. But what about when we turn Godward in prayer? How is prayer, in directing our words Godward, instead of our actions toward fellow humans, distinct from other acts undertaken in Jesus’s name?

Five Reasons We Pray in Jesus’s Name

Praying in Jesus’s name aims at his glory, and the Father’s glory in him. “Whatever you ask in my name,” he says, “this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). When we pray with others, and they hear our prayers, invoking Jesus’s name redounds to his fame, his praise, his glory. Our prayers honor Jesus when we appeal to his Father in conscious reliance on Jesus — because of who he is, what he has done for us, and what he promises to be for us forever.

Hebrews 4:14–16 (and its expanded reprise in Hebrews 10:19–23) draws that glory out even more, giving us at least five specific reasons, among others, to consciously take up the name of Jesus when we pray to our Father.

1. As human, he sympathizes with our weaknesses.

We pray in the name of one who shares in our humanity. He is our brother in nature, and the weaknesses this nature carries. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). To identify fully with us, “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect” (Hebrews 2:17).

When we pray in Jesus’s name, we pray in the name of a fellow human. Not one who began as human, but one who is the eternal second person of the Trinity. Without subtracting any of his divinity (as if that were possible), he added to himself our full humanity, to identify with us. We pray to God Almighty through the singular mediation of the God-man, who as fully human is able to sympathize with us in the weaknesses of our humanity.

2. As a sufferer, he knows human pain.

Again, he “has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Hebrews 2:18 makes the connection between temptation and suffering: “because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Jesus not only took to himself our full humanity, but also the unavoidable reality of life in a fallen world: suffering. And he not only suffered, as human, in the ways most of us do, but he embraced unusual suffering, even to the odious, shaming execution of the cross.

Jesus is our fellow sufferer (Hebrews 2:95:813:12), and Hebrews 2:10 says his suffering was “fitting.” Why? Because we humans suffer. We all eventually know our own seasons of suffering, if not whole lives of various sufferings. Normal human life is well acquainted with suffering and grief, and so is Jesus. It is often our sufferings that prompt us to pray, and we pray in the name of one who knows what it’s like to suffer.

3. As our sacrifice, he paid all we owed.

Hebrews 10:19 claims, “We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus.” He took our humanity, and shared in our suffering — to the point of shedding his own blood — that he, being without sin, might “make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). Jesus is our substitute. He died the death we deserved for our sin.

To make propitiation means to satisfy the wrath of God we deserved because of our rebellion against him in our sin. The righteous wrath Jesus propitiated as our substitute was the punishment that we deserved. Without his sacrificial action, and our claim to his blood to cover our sins, we would have no warrant for approaching the holy God in prayer. And so, when we pray in Jesus’s name, we acknowledge not only his fellow humanity and suffering, but also his blood shed for us as our substitute.

4. As our forerunner, he opened heaven for us.

If his sacrifice on the cross is the most remembered aspect of Jesus’s name (his substitution), the next might be the most overlooked: his ascension, procession, and session. So far, what we’ve highlighted about Jesus has been “down here”: his humanity, his suffering, his sacrifice. But how do our prayers get from down here to “up there” in heaven where God is? How are we actually restored to God?

Jesus not only died, but three days later, he rose from the grave, he ascended to heaven, he processed, as our human pioneer, into the very presence of his Father, and he sat down at God’s right hand. In doing so, he opened a way for us and for our prayers. Jesus, in full resurrected and glorified humanity, ascended bodily into heaven and cut for us a path into the very presence of his Father. He has opened heaven’s door, and pioneered our way to come in his wake.

He “has passed through the heavens,” Hebrews 4:14 says. He is “a forerunner on our behalf” (Hebrews 6:20). There is a “new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain” (Hebrews 10:20). The reason we can “draw near to the throne of grace” is that the human Christ — our brother, who has suffered with us, and who died for us — also has drawn near for us. We can draw near to the Father in prayer because the risen Jesus has drawn near to him in person.

And in claiming the name of Christ, we do so in confidence. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16). “We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19). Apart from Christ, we sinners have no claim on the ear of God in prayer. But in Christ, we have access so secure that we come with chastened boldness and humble confidence. In him, Paul says, “we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:12).

5. As our priest, he brings us to God.

We pray in Jesus’s name because in him “we have a great high priest” (Hebrews 4:14; also 10:21). Just as the high priest alone could enter the very presence of God in the earthly tabernacle (and only once a year), so Jesus is greater, entering God’s own presence in heaven. And he gives us this superior access, bringing us with him — and without end, not just once a year.

“We can draw near to the Father in prayer because the risen Jesus has drawn near to him in person.”

The calling of a priest is to bring his people to God, which Jesus does not only as a representative, but now also in prayer, and one day soon in person. Jesus brings us to himself, and with him to his Father. Put so well by the apostle Peter, Jesus “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). And as Paul writes, “through him we . . . have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18).

Let Us Pray

When we Christians pray in Jesus’s name, we do not invoke some kind of magic spell or incantation that makes our prayers effective. “In Jesus’s name” is no mere tagline, added at the end of our prayers to make them Christian. We pray in Jesus’s name because he is our brother, our fellow human, our fellow sufferer, our sacrifice and substitute, and our pioneer into the presence of God. And we pray in Jesus’s name because he is our great high priest who alone brings us to God and will most certainly do so for all eternity.

Praying in Jesus’s name is not about merely saying the words. It’s about why and how we pray altogether — and why and how we have any relationship with God whatsoever.

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 11, 2020

How to Recognize the Holy Spirit


2 Parts:  Part 2

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org

Kindness: Do you not only overlook offenses, but also repay them with love?

It is one thing to receive an offense and quietly walk away. It is quite another to receive an offense, refashion it in the factory of your soul, and then send it back as a blessing. The former is patience; the latter is kindness (Romans 2:4–5Titus 3:4–5Ephesians 4:32). Spirit-wrought kindness creates parents who discipline their children with a steady, tender voice; sufferers who respond to ignorant, insensitive “comfort” with grace; wives and husbands who repay their spouses’ sharp word with a kiss.

This fruit of the Spirit has not yet matured in us unless we are ready to show kindness, not only to those who will one day thank us for it, but also to “the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35). The kind are able to give a blessing, to receive a curse in return, and then to go on giving blessings (Romans 12:14).

Goodness: Do you dream up opportunities to be helpful?

Outside the moment of offense, those who walk by the Spirit carry with them a general disposition to be useful, generous, and helpful. They do not need to be told to pitch in a hand when the dishes need drying or the trash needs emptying, but get to work readily and with a good will.

Such people, however, do not simply do good when they stumble upon opportunities for doing so; they “resolve for good” (2 Thessalonians 1:11), putting their imagination to work in the service of as-yet-unimagined good deeds as they seek to “discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8–10). They follow the counsel of Charles Spurgeon: “Let us be on the watch for opportunities of usefulness; let us go about the world with our ears and eyes open, ready to avail ourselves of every occasion for doing good; let us not be content till we are useful, but make this the main design and ambition of our lives” (The Soul-Winner, 312).

Faithfulness: Do you do what you say you’ll do, even in the smallest matters?

The faithfulness of God consists, in part, of his always doing what he says he will do: “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). The faithfulness of God’s people consists, likewise, in our making every effort to do what we say we’ll do, even when it hurts.

The Spirit makes us strive to say with Paul, “As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No” (2 Corinthians 1:18). The faithful build such a trustworthy reputation that, when they fail to follow through on their word, others do not say, “Well, you know him,” but are rather surprised. If we say we’ll come to small group, we come. If we commit to cleaning the bathroom, we clean it. If we agree to call someone on Thursday at 4:00, we call on Thursday at 4:00. We labor to be faithful, even if our areas of responsibility right now are only “a little” (Matthew 25:21), knowing that how we handle little responsibilities reveals how we will handle big ones (Luke 16:102 Timothy 2:2).

Gentleness: Do you use your strength to serve the weak?

Gentleness is far from the manicured niceness it is sometimes portrayed to be. “Gentleness in the Bible is emphatically not a lack of strength,” but rather “the godly exercise of power,” David Mathis writes. When Jesus came to save us sinners, he robed himself with gentleness (Matthew 11:292 Corinthians 10:1). When we do our own work of restoring our brothers and sisters from sin, we are to wear the same clothing (Galatians 6:1). Gentleness does not prevent the godly from ever expressing anger, but they are reluctant to do so; they would far rather correct others “with love in a spirit of gentleness” (1 Corinthians 4:21).

No wonder Paul pairs gentleness with humility in Ephesians 4:2. As one Greek lexicon puts it, gentleness requires “not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance.” In the face of personal offense, the proud unleash their anger in order to assert their own significance. The humble are more concerned with the offender’s soul than their own self-importance, and so they channel their strength in the service of gentle restoration.

Self-control: Do you refuse your flesh’s cravings?

Scripture gives us no rosy pictures of self-control. Paul writes, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. . . . I discipline my body and keep it under control” (1 Corinthians 9:2527). The Greek word for discipline here means “to give a black eye, strike in the face.” Paul’s use is metaphorical, but the point still holds: self-control hurts. It requires us to say a merciless “No!” to any craving that draws us away from the Spirit and into the flesh (Titus 2:11–12).

The need for self-control applies to every bodily appetite — for sleep, food, and caffeine, for example — but in particular to our sexual appetites (1 Corinthians 7:9). Those governed by the Spirit are learning, truly even if fitfully, to hear God’s promises as louder than lust’s demands, and to refuse to give sexual immorality a seat among the saints (Ephesians 5:3).

Walk by the Spirit

The Spirit of God never indwells someone without also making him a garden of spiritual fruit. If we are abounding in these nine graces, then we are walking by the Spirit; if these virtues are absent, then no spiritual gift can compensate for their lack. How, then, should we respond when we find that the works of the flesh have overrun the garden? Or how can we continue to cultivate the Spirit’s fruit over a lifetime? We can begin by remembering three daily postures, the repetition of which is basic to any Christian pursuit of holiness: repent, request, renew.

Repent. When the works of the flesh have gained control over us, we must go backward in repentance in order to go forward in holiness. Confess your sins honestly and specifically (perhaps using Paul’s list in Galatians 5:19–21), and then trust afresh in “the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Remember again that we are not justified by fruit, but by faith.

Request. Apart from the renewing, fructifying presence of God’s Spirit, we are all a cursed earth (Romans 7:18). If we are going to bear the fruit of holiness, then, we need to ask him “who supplies the Spirit” to do so more and more (Galatians 3:5).

Renew. Finally, we renew our gaze on Jesus Christ, whom the Spirit loves to glorify (John 16:14Galatians 3:1–2). Here we find our fruitful vine: our Lord of love, our joyful King, our Prince of peace, our patient Master, our kind Friend, our good God, our faithful Savior, our gentle Shepherd, our Brother who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet with perfect self-control. Just as no one can sit beneath a waterfall and stay dry, so no one can gaze on this Jesus and stay fruitless.

Heaven in Our Hearts

Of course, renewing our gaze on Jesus Christ is more than the work of a moment. When Paul said, “I live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20), he was speaking of a lifestyle rather than a fleeting thought or a brief prayer. We must do more than cast an eye in Jesus’s direction; we must commune with him.

We cannot commune with Christ too closely, nor can we exert too much energy in pursuing such communion. If we make nearness to him our aim, we will find ourselves rewarded a hundredfold beyond our efforts. The Puritan Richard Sibbes once preached,

Do we entertain Christ to our loss? Doth he come empty? No; he comes with all grace. His goodness is a communicative, diffusive goodness. He comes to spread his treasures, to enrich the heart with all grace and strength, to bear all afflictions, to encounter all dangers, to bring peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Ghost. He comes, indeed, to make our hearts, as it were, a heaven. (Works of Richard Sibbes, 2:67)

This is what we find when we walk by the Spirit of Christ: in making our home with him, he makes our hearts a heaven.

Scott Hubbard is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and an editor for desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – January 10, 2020

How to Recognize the Holy Spirit


2 Parts:  Part 1

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org

Of all the blessings that are ours in Christ, is any greater than the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit?

The Spirit is “the sum of the blessings Christ sought, by what he did and suffered in the work of redemption,” Jonathan Edwards writes (Works of Jonathan Edwards, 5:341). The Spirit illumines our Savior’s face (John 16:14). The Spirit puts “Abba! Father!” in our mouths (Romans 8:15). The Spirit plants heaven in our hearts (Ephesians 1:13–14).

For all the blessings the Spirit brings, however, many of us labor under confusion when it comes to recognizing the Spirit’s presence. As a new believer, I was told that speaking in tongues and prophesying were two indispensable signs of the Spirit’s power. Perhaps others of us, without focusing the lens so narrowly, likewise identify the Spirit’s presence most readily with his miraculous gifts: visions, healings, impressions, and more.

To be sure, the Spirit does reveal himself through such wonders (1 Corinthians 12:8–11), and Christians today should “earnestly desire” them (1 Corinthians 14:1). Nevertheless, when Paul tells the Galatians to “walk by the Spirit” and “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:1625), he focuses their attention not on the Spirit’s gifts, but on the Spirit’s fruit.

So if we want to know whether we are keeping in step with the Spirit, or whether we need to find his footsteps again, we would do well to consider love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Fruit of the Spirit

In order to understand the Spirit’s fruit, we need to remember the context in which it appears. Paul’s list came at first to a community at odds with each other. The apostle found it necessary to warn the Galatians not to “bite and devour one another,” nor to “become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:1526). The Galatians, in turning from God’s grace in the gospel (Galatians 1:6), had evidently begun to turn on one another.

In this context, the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit describe two communities: the anti-community of those in the flesh, seeking a righteousness based on their works (Galatians 5:19–21); and the true community of those in the Spirit, justified through faith alone in Christ alone (Galatians 5:22–23).

As we use Paul’s list to examine ourselves, then, we need to ask if these graces mark us, not when we sit in peaceful isolation, but when we move among God’s people. I may appear patient, gentle, and kind when alone in my apartment, but what about when I am with the church? Who we are around others — baffling others, irritating others, oblivious others — reveals how far we have come in bearing the Spirit’s fruit.

Now, what are these nine clusters of fruit that manifest the Spirit’s presence? To keep the survey manageable, we will include only one or two angles on each virtue, and restrict ourselves mostly to Paul’s letters.

Love: Do you labor for the good of your brothers and sisters?

When God pours his love into our hearts through the Spirit (Romans 5:5), our posture changes: once curved inward in self-preoccupation, we now straighten our backs, lift our heads, and begin to forget ourselves in the interests of others (Philippians 2:1–4). We find our hearts being knit together with people we once would have disregarded, judged, or even despised (Colossians 2:2Romans 12:16). Our love no longer depends on finding something lovely; having felt the love of Christ (Galatians 2:20), we carry love with us wherever we go.

Such love compels us to labor for the good of our brothers and sisters (1 Thessalonians 1:3), to patiently bear with people we find vexing (Ephesians 4:2), and to care more about our brother’s spiritual welfare than our own spiritual freedom (1 Corinthians 8:1). No matter our position in the community, we gladly consider ourselves as servants (Galatians 5:13), and are learning to ask not, “Who will meet my needs today?” but rather, “Whose needs can I meet today?”

Better by far to carry even an ounce of this love in our hearts than to enjoy all the world’s wealth, comforts, or acclaim. For on the day when everything else passes away, love will remain (1 Corinthians 13:7–8).

Joy: Do you delight in the Christlikeness of God’s people?

For Paul, the fellowship of God’s people was not peripheral to Christian joy. He could write to Timothy, “I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy” (2 Timothy 1:4), or to the Philippians, “In every prayer of mine for you all [I make] my prayer with joy” (Philippians 1:4). To be sure, the joy of the Spirit is, first and foremost, joy in our Lord Jesus (Philippians 4:4). But genuine joy in Christ overflows to all who are being remade in his image. By faith, we have seen the resplendent glory of our King — and now we delight to catch his reflection in the faces of the saints.

The pinnacle of our horizontal joy, however, is not simply in being with God’s people, but in seeing them look like Jesus. “Complete my joy,” Paul writes to the Philippians, “by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2). What would complete your joy? When we walk by the Spirit, the maturity of God’s people completes our joy. We rejoice when we see humility triumph over pride, lust fall before a better pleasure, the timid speak the gospel with boldness, and fathers lead their families in the fear of the Lord.

Peace: Do you strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit, even at significant personal cost?

The Holy Spirit is the great unifier of the church. Because of Jesus’s peacemaking work on the cross, the Spirit makes Jew and Gentile “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15); he gathers former enemies as “members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19); he builds us all “into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:21–22). No matter how different we seem from the person in the next pew, we share a body, we share a home, we share a sanctuary — all because we share the same Lord, and will one day share the same heaven (Ephesians 4:4–6).

Those who walk by the Spirit, then, do not grieve him by tearing down what he has built up (Ephesians 4:29–30), but rather “pursue what makes for peace” (Romans 14:19): We ask for forgiveness first, even when the majority of the fault lies with the other person. We renounce unwarranted suspicions, choosing rather to assume the best. We abhor all gossip, and instead honor our brothers behind their backs. And when we must engage in conflict, we “aim for restoration” so that we might “live in peace” (2 Corinthians 13:11).

Patience: Are you growing in your ability to overlook offenses?

As a fruit of the Spirit, patience is more than the ability to sit calmly in traffic or to wait at the doctor’s office well past your appointment time. Patience is the inner spiritual strength (Colossians 1:11) that enables us to receive an offense full in the face, and then look right over it. Patient people are like God: “slow to anger” (Exodus 34:6), even when confronted with severe and repeated provocation (Romans 2:41 Timothy 1:16).

Patience is integral to one of the church’s primary responsibilities: discipleship. When Paul exhorted Timothy to “preach the word . . . in season and out of season,” he told him to do so “with complete patience” (2 Timothy 4:2; cf. 3:10–11). Ministry in the church, no matter our role, places us around people whose progress is much slower than we would like. We will find ourselves around “the idle, . . . the fainthearted, . . . the weak,” and instead of throwing up our hands, we must “be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). We must come alongside the plodding, stumbling saint, and remember that he will one day shine like the sun (Matthew 13:43).

(Part 2 tomorrow)

Daily Light – January 9, 2020

Friends:   This is ‘gold’….an absolute must-read.  And re-read.  

What Every Marriage Needs Most

John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

I think the biggest investment that a wife or a husband can make in their spouse is the investment they make in their own souls. Here’s what I mean: If you do get married, all’s rosy and great. You love each other. And time goes by, and you read all kinds of books and you hear a question like that — “How are you investing in your wife?” Investing in my wife? What does that even mean?

“The biggest investment that a wife or a husband can make in their spouse is the investment they make in their own souls.”

I think it is very easy to abstract that from your own soul transformation, so that it becomes a project: “Marriage is a project. Got to read another book. Got to go to another seminar. Got to learn the right love language.” That can be good, but far more important is: Do I go to the Lord and invest in him and say, “God, make me a new person”? That’s not just what you pray at the beginning of your Christian life. Those of us who have lived long enough know we’re sinners today. And I’ve got soul-work to do so that when I open my mouth with my wife, I’m not only investing in her, but I’m a new person who loves better than I did yesterday.

Fight for Your Own Holiness

So, at 73 I’m fighting for my marriage every day by fighting for my holiness. I’m going to the Bible and asking not to be unkind, not to be critical. I’m asking for love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, meekness, faithfulness, self-control. That’s a happy marriage. And the main battle is here, inside me. Even if there’s conflict, that’s where the main battle is.

A text that is just massively important I think is Colossians 3:13: “bearing with one another . . . forgiving each other.” You could translate “bearing with” as endure. Now in the old King James, the words are forbear and forgive. But endure is really quite an unromantic word. And it’s good, right? It’s good.

Forgiveness is an awesome and wonderful thing. Every spouse needs to make a vocation out of asking forgiveness and giving forgiveness. It has to happen almost daily, I would say. But here’s the rub that I learned really quick. She doesn’t think what bothers me is a sin. She’s got nothing to repent of. And therefore, I’ve got nothing to forgive. And I’m ticked off. Now what? I mean it sounds funny, but that’s serious.

Pitch It to the Compost Pile

So the Bible — this is a great book. This is a really good book. This is a great marriage book, the best marriage book there is. It says, “Endure one another.” Now let’s put flesh on that. What does that mean? And I wrote a book on marriage. Probably the most important thing in that book is the compost pile illustration. Every marriage needs a compost pile.

Do you have any idea what a compost pile is? It means you’ve got a really nice green backyard. It’s wonderful. It’s a great place to hang out. And the relationship has pukey, dirty, lousy, no-good stuff in it that neither of you considers to be sin. And you could be wrong on that. You build a compost pile way off in the corner, and you throw that habit of your spouse in the compost pile.

“Every spouse needs to make a vocation out of asking forgiveness and giving forgiveness.”

Now, you can camp out by a compost pile and smell the stinky stuff all night long. Or you can pull a curtain around it and have a picnic at the picnic table on the green grass with the woman you married. While all your junk and all her junk is in the compost pile, you both know they’re there, but the smell is bracketed — it’s just cut off. And you both are looking in each other’s eyes and you know very honestly there’s a compost pile back there. “We’re not going to talk about it right now. We’re going to enjoy these grandkids, and we’re going to do this barbecue.”

Come to Terms with Your Own Sin

Behaviors are late things. Early things are soul things: attitudes, feelings, angers, joys. And that’s where the battle is fought — with Jesus, over your Bible — so that when you get up in the morning and go down to the breakfast table after a half an hour with Jesus, coming to terms with your own sin, confessing, you’re able to speak upbuilding things.

This is my wife’s favorite verse, I think, when it comes to relationships: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). And that’s what she faults me with all the time: “You should do that better.”

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 8, 2020

Humbly Coming Before Our Father

The Privilege of Christian Prayer

Article by Burk Parsons, Pastor, Sanford, Florida

As a local church pastor, I spend a lot of time in the community of central Florida, a diverse community that is composed of people from numerous backgrounds, cultures, nations, and religions. As I engage with them, I find that no matter what religion they claim or whatever religions they oppose, they all agree on one thing, namely, that everyone is a child of God.

When I hear people claim the universal fatherhood of God, I immediately want to respond by saying, “Well, yes and no.” Everyone is indeed a child of God in the sense that we are all creatures made in the image of God — we are “God’s offspring,” as Paul declared on Mars Hill (Acts 17:29). However, not everyone is a child of God spiritually, being born again by the Holy Spirit and adopted by God as Father through the imputed righteousness of his Son.

Although most people, even many professing Christians, believe that everyone is a child of God in a spiritual way, the word of God is undeniably clear that only those who are united to the Son by faith are the adopted children of God. These, and these alone, are those with whom Paul includes himself when he says, “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6; see John 1:12Romans 8:14–219:8Galatians 3:26).

Adopted into a Family

When Jesus taught us to pray with the words “our Father” (Matthew 6:9), he was not employing universal language to be inclusive of all human beings. He was teaching us something profound about God and our relationship to him — namely, that God is not merely a Father or the Father; he is our Father. When God adopts, he adopts us into a family. When we pray “our Father,” we are reminded that we’re not alone and that we’re part of a family.

God created us as human beings for community, and by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, he created us anew for the community of his family. For that reason, God calls us as his people to gather together, face-to-face, to worship him. When we come together in gathered worship every Lord’s Day, we are reminded that we are not alone, that we are a vital part of a living body, a covenant community of believers and our children.

That the only begotten Son of God would tell us to call his Father “our Father” is humbling. But for many Jews in the first century, it seemed arrogant. For them, it was extraordinary that Jesus called God his Father, as it implied that he is the Son of the Father (John 1:148:1914:7). Some scholars have argued that for Jesus to teach his followers to call God “our” Father would have been regarded by Jewish rabbis of the day as presumptuously conceited at best and blasphemous at worst.

Consequently, when Jesus rebuked certain Jews who rejected him, he made it abundantly clear not only that God was not their Father but that they were of their father the devil (John 8:39–47). They did not understand how God was not their Father because they did not believe that Jesus came from the Father. In their natural state before God, they could not believe because the Spirit had not given them ears to hear, eyes to see, or hearts to perceive that Jesus is the long-awaited seed of the woman, the long-expected Son of God (Genesis 3:15Isaiah 9:6). Moreover, in our natural state before God, we were enemies until God conquered us and made us his friends and adopted us as sons in Christ.

Welcomed and Blessed

God is our Father only by virtue of our being united to Jesus Christ, the Son, by faith. Through his resurrection, our brother Jesus demonstrated that he is the first fruits of our resurrection, that he is the firstborn among many brethren, and that, united to him, we are heirs with him. It is fitting, then, that our Father has given to us all things pertaining to life and godliness through Jesus Christ our Lord (2 Peter 1:3–4).

“God is not merely a Father or the Father; he is our Father.”

Our Father is a gracious and generous Father who cares for us in ways that our fathers on earth cannot, and who thus disciplines us in ways our earthly fathers cannot, because he loves us in a way they cannot (Hebrews 12:9–10Romans 5:8). Knowing the innermost desires and sins of our hearts, he is able to conform us to the image of Christ in the precise ways that we uniquely need to be conformed.

Too often, we presume what our Father will not do for us or what our Father will not give us, and thus we never ask. We treat ourselves like orphans although God has made us sons. For when God adopts us into his family, he doesn’t merely call us “adopted”; he calls us sons. Mephibosheth was crippled and at enmity with his king; we were not only crippled but dead in sin and at enmity with our King and his kingdom. However, as David welcomed and blessed Mephibosheth, God has welcomed us and blessed us; he has brought us in and has made us able to recline and rest at his table to be washed by him, to dine with him, and to dwell with him forever (2 Samuel 9; John 13:1–20).

Hallowed in Heaven

Jesus also taught us that God is our Father who is in heaven, reminding us that our Father is perfect in his glory, that he is transcendent, and that because he is in the spiritual realm of heaven he is not far away but is near to us, ever present, and always ready to listen to us and commune with us (Psalm 145:18Jeremiah 23:23Acts 17:28James 4:8). Therefore, we are not to regard him as some sort of distant authority figure who doesn’t listen to us, who is never around, who is too busy for us. Rather, we can always, at any time, day or night, cry out to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, the sovereign, triune, and almighty God, humbly and confidently praying, “Our Father.”

When Jesus taught us to call on God as our Father, he also taught us to call on our Father whose name is hallowed. The self-disclosed covenantal name of God is Yahweh (Exodus 3:14). Recognizing that the name of God is hallowed, or praying to him as one whose name is hallowed, does not make his name hallowed. On the contrary, his name is, in itself, apart from us, by his own declaration, hallowed.

His name is set apart and sanctified by no greater authority or power than God himself (Hebrews 6:13). His name is holy because he is holy. His name is not like our names, his name is not simply what we call him, and his name doesn’t just describe him. His name is who he is: Yahweh. Thus, when we confess that his name is hallowed, we are not asking him to become something he isn’t; we are acknowledging who he is, we are affirming our reverence of his holy name, and we are praying that God would make his name known and revered as hallowed to others throughout the world.

So, whenever we pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,” we can rest assured that he is our Father and that once he has adopted us, he will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6Hebrews 13:5).

Burk Parsons serves as senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida, editor of Tabletalk magazine, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow.

Daily Light – January 7, 2020

Say What No One Else Will

The Men We Need as the World Drowns

Article by Greg Morse, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

Weightless Men

Amidst the swirling tides of truth and heresy, heaven and hell, God and Satan, this world and the next, many — it must be lamented — do not rise above the shallowness of sports, sex, and careers. They are as spiritually deaf, mute, and useless as the idols they worship (Psalm 115:8). Their story is Pinocchio in reverse: devolving from a real boy to a wooden puppet. Their name might as well be Ichabod, because the glory has departed (1 Samuel 4:21).

The full tragedy is seen best when compared to what God made man to be in the first place: a reflection of himself. He was made to take and exercise noble dominion, to multiply, to work, to laugh, to provide, protect, sacrifice — to know his God and advance his Master’s kingdom in the world. Instead, modern men take neither themselves, nor this world, nor their God seriously. They drift carelessly downstream as a leaf on the surface of their instincts.

Satan is left with easy work. He need not conjure up great delusions or ancient heresies to capture such men. He simply hands them chocolates. Men should not be flies to be caught by so thin a web. And yet our lands are cursed with weightless men.

Thick Pews, Thin Men

In the church, as well, our share of frothy masculinity has crossed our threshold. What an even stranger and more awful sight to see a man, who claims to be remade in the image of Christ, pass his brief existence as little more than a sermon-hearer, note-taker, small group-attender. He too lives with little passion, little mission, little seriousness — just religious habits tucked neatly within a saltless life. How can we explain this?

Is nothing ever at stake? Has the devil tired of prowling for souls? Has he ceased blinding unbelievers to the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ? Should not an ever-filling hell and an ever-beckoning heaven forbid such a breezy manner?

God remakes a man (if indeed he has remade him) to make demons tremble, to shake the gates of hell. God sent his Almighty Spirit to dwell in him, and give his promises and his grace to empower every effort. But what do the demons say when they encounter such a respectably lukewarm churchman? “Jesus we know, Paul we recognize, but who are you?” (Acts 19:15).

Their enemies will never say, “These men have turned the world upside” (Acts 17:6). Such men never reason with anyone about “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment,” nor do they ever receive the response Paul did: “Felix was alarmed.” Their religion is too shallow to make them happy, holy, or heavy.

Three Resolves for Men of God

I have need, like others who may read these words, to resolve to gain, not lose, weight this year. To gain substance, gain gravitas, move from indifference to zeal, superficiality to depth, milk to solid food — and be the heavier for it. In this, I have been helped by considering the ballast of a man in the boat of all boats: Noah.

Whatever Noah was before God found him with grace, he became a heavy man afterwards. At least three realities conspired to build his mass: the world he lived in, the Giant he walked with, and the family he sought to protect.

Warn the Dying World with Love

Noah lived in an evil generation, on the verge of cascading judgment. The tides of wretchedness upon the earth had risen. Cain’s violence was spreading throughout the earth, and “every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). But God showed Noah grace and told him to construct an ark for deliverance, for he purposed to bring a flood through which “everything that is on the earth shall die” (Genesis 6:17).

God told Noah that all would perish outside the ark — family, foes, and friends — even while their lives continued on as normal. God’s flood will be no respecter of person. The poor will perish with the rich; the young with the old.

Noah’s world is not very different from our own. We slaughter our children at staggering rates. Sexual immorality and perversion are sport. We too await coming judgment at the return of Christ, who says,

As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:36–39)

Noah responded by believing God and becoming “a herald of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). He lived counterculturally in obedience to God’s will and spoke forth his hope, even when he was surely asked what in the world he was doing. It would have betrayed his manhood not to declare the truth. Before his generation would drown in the waters, they first would drown out his life, his warnings, and his pleadings. In his world, as in ours, the masses stood already condemned (John 3:18), and Noah, being the righteous man that he was, still spoke. Will we?

The weight of his message gave him substance. He sought to be taken seriously because he had something critical to say: “Enter the ark or be lost!” It betrayed that message to be dismissed as the town jester. So with us, we have something to say: “Enter the ark who is Christ or be lost!” Billions today eat, drink, and make merry at the foot of an active volcano. Men of substance will point them constantly, audibly to our only hope.

Walk Closely with Your God

How ridiculous was the message that the “windows of the heavens would open” and for the first time pour fourth rain, and so intensely that mountains would disappear and birds would drown (Genesis 7:17–24)? How absurd to see a man labor for a century on a stadium-sized boat, nested a six-day’s journey from the sea. And then to watch him fetch thousands of animals.

Noah’s message of salvation, like ours, was foolishness to the perishing, but the power of God for those being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18–19). And we, like Noah, smell like our message: the fragrance of death to many, but the smell of life to some (2 Corinthians 2:15–16).

Will we too be faithful in our day? Will we conquer the ever-pervasive fear of man that risks honor, to protect reputation and threatens to deflate manhood in the process? Will we too be described in these four words: “Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9)? Open Bibles and bended knees will make lions of lambs. Even common, uneducated men can blaze with boldness because we too have “been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

Over and over in Noah’s narrative, we find the secret to this man’s strength: he knew God. He feared God. He loved God. He “did all that God commanded him” (Genesis 6:227:5). His God was a giant hovering over the anthills of men. What did he have to fear?

Care First, and Most, at Home

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Hebrews 11:7)

It betrays a man to worry about the refugee status of distant peoples in far off provinces but not consider the health of those under his immediate care. We face a great temptation to care in theory about other people’s homes, while neglecting our own.

Righteous Noah did not make this fatal mistake. When he heard about the impending flood, he began building with a trembling reverence towards God for the saving of his household. He sought to bring his own family into the ark before other families. Other sons and daughters, wives and grandchildren were welcome (if they heeded his preaching), but he began with what God had first assigned him: his own household.

He did not outsource their welfare to the local pastor or youth leader, or to the government. In the fear of the Lord, he labored intentionally for the saving of his family.

Before All Becomes Dark

Soon after the boat landed, Noah would fall into the same drunkenness that God had just sent the flood to drown. Noah proved to be Adam’s son, not the second Adam. Sin survived the flood, and mankind, like Noah, would need someone to cover his nakedness.

And the one who came to do so is the one we proclaim today. We do not preach ourselves, bringing a hopeless message of mere death and judgment. We bring good news of great joy: the gospel of Jesus Christ. We bring news of one who submerged to the bottom of the flood to become an ark for all who will find refuge in him.

We speak seriously of the world’s separation from God in order to tell gladly of this King. We have the privilege of laboring for our families, laboring among our neighbors, laboring in our Lord. We are shooting stars across the expanse of history, should we not burn audibly for God’s glory in the ears of an unbelieving world before it fades to black?

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