Daily Light – January 31, 2020

Ask God for the World

The Missing Prayer the Nations Need

Article by David Platt, Pastor, Washington, DC

God’s end goal in the world is that his glory would be known and enjoyed among all the nations. This reality is evident from cover to cover in the Bible, from the creation of man and woman in God’s image to the consummation of God’s kingdom in a multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language worshiping him for the salvation and satisfaction found in him (Genesis 1:26–28Revelation 7:9–17).

If this is the end goal of God — the spread of his glory among all the nations — then this should be the end goal of every Christian in whom the Spirit of God dwells. If the Spirit of God wants the world for Christ, and you have the Spirit of God living in you, then you will want the world for Christ. Global mission is apparently not a program in the church for a select few who are called in a special way. Global mission is the purpose for which we all have breath. Every Christian lives and dies for the spread of God’s glory among all the nations. This means that every Christian, at least in theory, prays for the spread of God’s glory among all the nations.

But what about in practice?

If Angels Heard Our Prayers

If someone were to listen in on your prayers over the last week, would they hear a zeal for God’s glory among all the nations? Would they hear concern for the more than two billion men, women, and children who are among groups still unreached by the gospel? Would they hear compassion for imprisoned and endangered brothers and sisters in persecuted countries?

Would they hear prayers for God’s mercy and justice amidst crises in Latin America or conflicts in the Middle East, or on behalf of the starving in sub-Saharan Africa, the trafficked in South Asia, and refugees forced from their homes around the world? Would they hear pleading for the health of the global church in places where it does exist and for missionaries who are planting the church where it does not exist?

If the answer to any (or all) of the above questions is “no,” I simply want to encourage you to incorporate praying for the world into your regular time alone with God. And I want to encourage you in this way because God has invited you to pray in this way. Well, to be more accurate, he has commanded you to pray in this way. But as with his other commands, this is an invitation from God to participate with him in what he is doing in the world.

How to Pray for the World

Just think of it: Before you or I get out of bed in the morning, we can pause and play a part in what God is doing in North Korea. Or North Africa. Among the unreached, among the persecuted, and among the suffering in places where we may never go and in the lives of people we may never meet (at least this side of heaven). And God has not only invited you and me to ask him for requests around the world; he has promised to answer our requests according to his word.

So how do we pray for the world according to God’s word? I offer the following as a biblical and practical guide to get you started:

Pray for the unreached among the nations.

Pray that God would relent of his wrath and show his mercy by saving people who are unreached right now. Pray that God would send laborers to them and from among them (Matthew 9:36–38). Pray that a similar pattern from the ministry of Paul and Barnabas through Acts 13–14 would emerge: that missionaries among the unreached would have confidence in God’s word (Acts 13:4–5), power from God’s Spirit (Acts 13:6–7), victory in spiritual warfare (Acts 13:10–12), success in gospel witness (Acts 13:12), peace with other believers, and favor with unbelievers (Acts 13:14–15).

Pray that the gospel would be clear through them (Acts 13:26–34) and that God would open hearts around them (Acts 13:48). Pray for their joy in the midst of suffering, kindness in the midst of slander (Acts 14:1–2), spiritual power (Acts 14:3), personal humility (Acts 14:4–18), patience (Acts 14:8–18), and perseverance (Acts 14:19–20). Pray that God would use them to make disciples and multiply churches (Acts 14:21–28).

For a useful tool to help in praying specifically for unreached people groups, I encourage you to download the “Unreached of the Day” app from Joshua Project. This is a simple, powerful way to incorporate prayer for the nations into your daily walk with God.

Pray for the persecuted among the nations.

Ask God to strengthen persecuted believers that they might hold fast to the hope God gives, to know the depth of God’s love for them, to experience boldness and strength from the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the gospel faithfully. Pray for persecutors to see and come to know Christ through the lives of those they are persecuting, and for justice (Acts 4:23–302 Timothy 1:8–14).

Pray for the poor among the nations.

Plead for provision of food for the hungry and for safe drinking water for the thirsty. For medical provision for children and adults suffering and dying of preventable diseases. For refugees who have been separated from their homes due to natural and moral disasters. For the church to give generously, sacrificially, and cheerfully to the poor (Deuteronomy 15:7–11Proverbs 3:27–28Matthew 25:34–40James 2:15–171 John 3:16–18).

Pray for orphans and vulnerable children among the nations.

For children and their parents in the foster care system. For children and caregivers in orphanages. For foster care and adoptive families. For unadoptable and unadopted children around the world (Deuteronomy 10:17–19Psalm 82:3–4Isaiah 1:17James 1:27).

Pray for the enslaved among the nations.

Pray for salvation, strength, protection, freedom, justice, hope, and healing for victims (Psalm 82:4103:6Luke 19:10). For conviction, repentance, and salvation for oppressors, for criminal networks to be dismantled, and for oppressors to be arrested and persecuted (Psalm 7:9Isaiah 55:7Jeremiah 22:32 Timothy 2:25). For government corruption to cease and for the implementation of just legislation (Deuteronomy 16:19Proverbs 8:15Amos 5:121 Timothy 2:1–2). For the church to advocate and work in unity against injustice (Psalm 133; Proverbs 31:8John 17:23Romans 15:5).

How Jesus Taught to Pray

The above is a starting point, but it’s certainly not the whole story when it comes to all the ways we can pray for the world. And not only can, but must. After all, this is how Jesus taught us to pray. For the hallowing of God’s name in all the earth (Matthew 6:9). For the hallowing of God’s name as King of the nations, Lord of the peoples, Savior of sinners, Defender of his people, Provider for the poor, Father to the fatherless, and Deliverer of the oppressed. Let us pray accordingly.

Let us be done with prayer that merely centers around our lives, our families, and the world right around us. We have been created for so much more. We have been called to join with the God of the universe in spreading his goodness and glory among all the nations. Let’s pray today toward this end — starting today. And as we do, we will experience the pure joy of participating with God in the accomplishment of his end goal for all the world.

David Platt (@plattdavid) is a pastor at McLean Bible Church in the DC area. He is the author of Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.

Daily Light – January 30, 2020

Who Is Yahweh?

John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Who is God? I can think of no more foundational question in all the world. So who is this God, this One behind all of creation? Who is this One who made you and me? Who is this One who speaks to us through an ancient book, a book that is as alive as it is old? This is the beautiful topic of Pastor John’s recent sermon delivered in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He opened that message with ten brief answers to the question “Who is God?” Have a listen.

Why did God identify himself as “I Am Who I Am” — I absolutely am (Exodus 3:14)? Now, if we can take off our clouded spectacles of mere religious jargon, like G-O-D, this should come and will come as a bolt of lightning. God is. That’s staggering. What sentence could be more important in any language than God is? So, what did he mean when he said, “I absolutely am — I Am Who I Am”? What did he mean?

No More Tinkering with Religion

And I’m going to linger here longer than you think I should, perhaps, because until God becomes dominant in our thinking and in our feeling — until God becomes the blazing sun at the center of the solar system of our daily lives; until God becomes the Mount Everest in the foothills of all our concerns with this world; until God rests on the souls of the saints in Belfast, and on the churches of Northern Ireland; until he rests on the churches and the people here with ten thousand times more weight than all your political concerns and all your church-growth concerns — then all of our talk about the glory of God and singing and gathering for worship will be just more tinkering and engineering of religion to try to get people to do what we hope they will do in some kind of appropriate way.

The world doesn’t need any more tinkering with religion. It needs God. It needs to see God. It needs to be stunned that there is a God. So, it’s no accident that when Moses says, “Who’s sending me?” God says, “I Am Who I Am.” Period. And we need to linger over that.

Ten Truths About God’s Absolute Being

I’ve got ten things I think it means. They’re very short. It’s not the whole message. It’s introduction.

1. God had no beginning.

God is who he is means he never had a beginning. And that just staggers the mind. Every child asks his parents, “Where did God come from? Who made God?” And every wise parent says, “Nobody made God. He just was always there. Always. No beginning.”

2. God is without end.

God is who he is means God will never end. If he didn’t come into being, he can’t go out of being, because he is being — absolute being. There’s no place to go outside being. There’s only he. Before he creates, he’s all there is. Absolutely.

3. God is absolute reality.

God is who he is means God is absolute reality. There’s no reality before him. There’s no reality outside of him unless he wills it and creates it. He’s not one of many realities before he creates. He is simply absolute reality. He’s all that was — eternally. No space. Space didn’t exist. The universe didn’t exist. Emptiness did not exist. Only God existed forever, absolutely and absolutely all.

4. God is utterly independent.

God is who he is means that God is utterly independent. He depends on nothing to bring him into being. He depends on nothing to support him. He depends on nothing to counsel him. He depends on nothing to make him what he is. He is absolutely independent.

5. Everything depends on him.

God is who he is means everything that is not God depends totally on God. All that is not God is secondary, dependent. The entire universe is secondary reality. Let that sink in, because nobody in this city believes that. And if the church doesn’t, you’re just like them. All the universe is secondary. Humanity is secondary. God is primary, absolute first, last, glorious. Everything else is secondary.

6. Nothing compares to God.

God is who he is means all the universe is, by comparison to God, as nothing. Galaxies compared to God are nothing. All the universe by comparison to God is as nothing. Contingent, dependent reality is to absolute, independent reality as a shadow to substance, as echo to thunderclap, as bubble to ocean. All that we see, all that you are amazed by in your land or around the world — all the world, all the galaxies — compared to God, is as nothing. If you put God on one side of the scales and the universe on the other side of the scales, the universe goes up like air or dust on the scale. Isaiah 40:17: “All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.”

7. God cannot be improved.

God is who he is means God is constant. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. He cannot be improved. He cannot be diminished. He’s not becoming anything. He is who he is. There’s no development in God. There’s no progress in God. Absolute perfection cannot be improved.

8. God sets the ultimate standard.

God is who he is means he is the absolute standard of truth and goodness and beauty. There’s no law book that he consults in deciding what is right. There’s no almanac to establish facts for God. There’s no guild, no musical guild, for example, to determine what is excellent and beautiful. He’s the standard. He himself is the standard of the right, the true, the beautiful.

9. God always does right.

God is who he is means God does whatever he pleases, and it is always right, always beautiful, always in accord with truth. There are no constraints on God from outside that he doesn’t will to exist, and thus govern. All reality that is outside of him is subordinate to him. So, he’s utterly free. He’s the only free being in the universe, in fact. He is utterly free from any constraints that don’t originate from his own will.

10. Nothing is worth more.

God is who he is means he’s the greatest, the most beautiful, the most valuable, and the most important person in existence. He’s more worthy of interest and attention and admiration and enjoyment than all persons and all realities put together, including the entire universe.

The Bible reveals and assumes that God everywhere.

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 29, 2020

Is Something Evil Only If It Harms Others?

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

What Evil Really Is

To find your superior satisfaction anywhere else but in God is the essence of evil. The essence of evil, all evil — what makes evil really evil — is that it always involves finding more pleasure in something other than God. Let’s go to Jeremiah 2:12–13: “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils.” What are those evils?

“They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters.”

“[They have] hewed out [dug out] cisterns [wells] for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

That’s an amazing definition of evil, isn’t it? It goes right to the heart of every evil. I mean, pick an evil. We’re so humanistic, we’re so man-centered that we think real evil is when you hurt somebody. That’s not the real evil. The real evil if you hurt somebody is that they’re in the image of God. Don’t you touch God! Evil has to do with God. What makes evil evil is this: Here he is, and he’s in this room, and he’s offering himself right now as the fountain of living water to every one of you. “I am a never-ending fountain of all-satisfying water.” And if you put your tongue on that fountain and say, “Let me taste you, God — let me taste,” and you say, “I don’t like it; I’m going to dig a well,” you are evil.

Pick an evil person in history. That’s what you are, if you taste God and turn away from the Creator of the universe, who is freely offering this to you at the cost of the life of his Son. So, I want you to know what evil is. Evil is tasting God and preferring something else. And the reason the world is in the condition it’s in is because Adam and Eve committed that evil. And we’ve all inherited it, and we’re born loving other things more than God.

What Do You Desire?

It might be good to read what Adam and Eve did. This is Genesis 3:6: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food” — it’s going to be delicious — “and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” — wiser than God. It’s as if we are saying, “I can make my own decisions, thank you. You can get out of here and leave me alone because I’ve got wisdom now.” “She took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Good for food. Delight to the eyes. Desired to make one wise.

Here’s God, the fountain of living water. Here’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And they look and they say, “See you later, God. I want the tree.” That’s what all of us have done — all of us. Every temptation in your life is that temptation: Is he worth it? Is he precious? Is he beautiful? Is the fountain flowing? Am I drinking? Am I being satisfied by God? Or is the world constantly conquering me? That’s one reason why you should pursue joy in God: because it is the essence of evil not to.

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 28, 2020

Refresh Your Soul with Humility

Article by Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you may have memorized the following verses without trying, simply because you’ve heard them quoted so often:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
     and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
     and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5–6)

This promise is so beloved because it is so freeing. We are finite and there is so much that exceeds our understanding, it can be overwhelming. But in this command to trust the omniscient one, we find a place of refuge that allows us to maintain our sanity. We find peace in the promise that if we are humble enough to obey this compassionate command, God will direct our course.

I wonder why, then, given how less I’ve heard them quoted over the years, we don’t seem to be as familiar with the next two verses:

Be not wise in your own eyes;
     fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
     and refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:7–8)

I would think that the promise of God-given refreshment would be nearly as precious to us as God-given guidance.

Similar but Not the Same

It’s clear that the writer meant for his son (Proverbs 3:1) — and the rest of us — to read these eight lines (four verses) together. I doubt he intended them to be separated, because they form the kind of parallelism so common in Hebraic poetry and wisdom literature:

The command, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart”, corresponds with “Be not wise in your own eyes”;

“Do not lean on your own understanding” corresponds with “fear the Lord, and turn away from evil”;

And the promise in verse 6 (“he will make straight your paths”) corresponds to the promise in verse 8 (“It will be . . . refreshment to your bones”).

The genius of this kind of parallelism is that it allows the writer to make related statements that are not redundant. There’s a clear connection between what verses 5–6 say and what verses 7–8 say, but they don’t say identical things. Trusting in God with our whole heart is not the same thing as not being wise in our own eyes (though we can’t have the former without the latter).

What God Gives the Humble

What the proverb is doing is turning the diamond of a profound truth in the light of God’s wisdom so that we see a different refraction of that light. What is this profound truth? We learn more explicitly further down in the chapter: “toward the scorners [God] is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor” (Proverbs 3:34).

Proverbs 3:34 is one of the most quoted verses in the whole Bible. If you don’t recognize it, that’s probably because you are simply more familiar with the Greek translation of the verse (from the Septuagint), which both the apostles James and Peter famously quote: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:61 Peter 5:5).

That is the truth-diamond the writer holds up in this chapter: God gives grace, his favor, to the humble. When he turns it one way, the light of God’s wisdom refracts verses 5–6 (“Trust in the Lord with all your heart . . . and he will make straight your paths”). When he turns it another way, it refracts verses 7–8 (“Be not wise in your own eyes . . . [it will be] refreshment to your bones”). Guidance in life and soul-restoration are both graces God gives to the humble.

But since we are so familiar with verses 5–6, let’s linger over the refraction of God’s wisdom we see in verses 7–8 and the grace promised us if we heed it.

You Aren’t as Wise as You Assume

First, look at the command: “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:7).

To be told, “be not wise in your own eyes,” has a different effect on us than “trust in the Lord with all your heart.” It immediately heightens our awareness of and confronts the “pride of life” (1 John 2:16), the pride we all have as part of our sinful natures. This is the pride that assumes we can adequately understand the knowledge of good and evil, and judge rightly between the two. It is a perilous assumption.

The proverbial author knows how seductively deceptive this pride is and warns us against its folly throughout the chapter. What’s so seductively deceptive is how easily choosing evil can appear wise to us because of the benefits it seems to provide those who do. When we read his examples of evil behavior (Proverbs 3:28–34), we might be tempted to think we’re above such behavior. But the fact is, we notoriously underestimate how confusing things can appear in the pressure of real-life situations, when we are afraid or angry or suffering or threatened.

This command is a great mercy for the complex and difficult situations and decisions we all face. There are times when we need the soul-jolting, in-our-face, direct warning not to trust our own wisdom and to turn away from evil more than to be merely told to trust in God. We need to be reminded how untrustworthy our own wisdom is.

Humility’s Restoring Power

Lastly, look at the powerful promise to those who aren’t wise in their own eyes, but fear God and turn away from evil:

It will be healing to your flesh
     and refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:8)

Note the words the writer chooses here: “healing” and “refreshment.” These are restorative terms. Why does he use them?

Because this experienced father knows the violence done to the soul by the doing of evil and the temptation to evil. He knows that “a tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot” (Proverbs 14:30). He knows what David meant when he wrote, “When I kept silent [about my sin], my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long” (Psalm 32:3). He knows how evil violates the conscience and creates terrible conflict with God and man. And he wants his son and all of his readers to experience peace (Proverbs 3:2), or to return to peace if he’s strayed into evil.

And the path to deep, refreshing peace from God is living humbly before God.

Humble Yourselves

The apostle Peter was thinking of the truth-diamond in Proverbs 3 when he wrote,

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:5–7)

God gives grace to the humble. To those who humbly trust him with all their heart, he gives the grace of guidance. To those who humbly refuse to be wise in their own eyes, he gives the grace of refreshing peace. To those who humble themselves under his hand, he will give the grace of exaltation. And to those who humbly cast their cares on him, he gives the grace of carrying their cares.

It is good for us to be as familiar with verses 7–8 of Proverbs 3 as we are with verses 5–6. There are times we must remember to trust in the Lord with all our heart, and there are other times we must remember to not be wise in our own eyes. They are similar, related, complementary, yet different refractions of God’s wisdom. And both remind us that cultivating humility before God is among the healthiest things we can do for our souls.

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 27, 2020

God Will Be Good Again Tomorrow

Article by Marshall Segal, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. . . . Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:1–28)

The circumstances in which David wrote these words were anything but good (1 Samuel 19).

When David cried out — “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! — it was despite what he was suffering, not because he was being flooded with blessings. He was resolved, no matter what came, no matter how hard life got, no matter who betrayed or assaulted him, “I will bless the Lord at all times.”

Anything but Good

David had not yet been crowned king (2 Samuel 5). He was being ruthlessly hunted by the current king of Israel, a man of incredible power and resources (and even more jealousy and anger). As the crowds sang, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7), Saul’s blood boiled and gave birth to a craving to kill the prized son of Jesse.

Saul sent men after David to kill him, but they loved David (1 Samuel 19:1). So, in a moment of rage, he launched his own spear at the young man (19:10). David narrowly escapes and flees. If the enemy at home was not enough, he runs into the hands of another in nearby Gath. Achish, the king of Gath, immediately becomes jealous and hostile toward David. So David pretends to be insane so that they will not kill him. As a result, they let him go.

And leaving that city of hostility and heading back out into a world of opposition and danger, David writes, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8). Refuge with the Lord in the midst of danger is far better than the comfort of safety without him.

Delivered from All Fear

David was facing a thousand more problems than Achish of Gath, but that didn’t keep him from celebrating the grace of God for this answered prayer, for this deliverance. He was able to keep all the cares of the world at bay long enough to say, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4).

All your fears, David? After he escaped from Gath, Saul slaughtered all the priests at Nob because of David (1 Samuel 22:18). Then Saul pursued David into the wilderness to kill him (1 Samuel 23:15). Eventually, David is forced to return to Gath again (1 Samuel 27:2). They receive him for a while this time, but then the Philistines hated him again and cast him out (1 Samuel 29:11). Then his family and friends were captured in a raid (1 Samuel 30:2), and his own people turned on him to stone him to death (1 Samuel 30:6). God had not delivered David from everything he feared.

But he had delivered him today. Faith in a sovereign and gracious God freed David to rejoice and give thanks in today’s deliverance, today’s victory, today’s mercy — even while tomorrow’s troubles stormed the gates of his mind.

Grace Enough for Today

That is the weak, wounded, and invincible song of Psalm 34. Worship the God of all wisdom and all power, who created and governs the whole universe, and who cares for the daily needs of each of his children. Take refuge in the God whose eyes “are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry” (Psalm 34:15).

When stress and disappointment and fear begin to drown our hope and joy in God, Jesus encourages us to be like King David,

Do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:31–33)

God’s new mercy meets us each morning (Lamentations 3:22–23), and yet we’re often too consumed by tomorrow’s trouble to even notice. David models stopping, even in the midst of ongoing uncertainty and distress, to see daily grace, and he calls us to join him in the peace and confidence that seeing brings.

Taste and See the Good

Like a great Father-King, God plans to pour out everything at his disposal to keep you from everything threatening your eternity with him and to satisfy you fully and forever with himself.

God knows the suffering you carry, he knows the hurdles you face, he knows how insufficient and insecure you feel, and he knows exactly what you need. It may not always be safe or pain-free or clear to you in the moment, but he will bring you to a faith and joy and life through hardship that you wouldn’t trade for anything.

Good will not always feel good. In fact, if you hide yourself in him, you will see and feel the goodness of God more clearly and more deeply in your trials. For now, focus on the ways, small or large, he has lovingly cared for you today — taste and see that he really is good — and trust him for that grace to come again tomorrow.

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 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.