Pray in a closet?

Manton Monday — Insights from puritan Thomas MantonManton

Matthew 6:5-6   “And 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. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” esv

Of course, most of us also know the KJV  which says, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door….” In what way are Christians to understand this duty in prayer? Are we to make use of a physical secret place for prayer?

Puritan Thomas Manton provides some helpful insight today —

These words are not to be taken metaphorically, not yet pressed too literally. Not metaphorically, as some would carry them:  ‘Descend into thy heart, be serious and devout with God in the closet of thy soul, which is the most inward recess and retiring place of man.’ This were to be wanton with Scripture. The literal sense is not to be lear without necessity, not yet pressed too literally, as if prayer should be confined to a chamber and closet. Christ prayed in the mountain (Matt. 19:23); and (Gen. 24:63) Isaac went into the field to meditate. The meaning is, private prayer must be performed in a private place, retired from company and the sight of men as much as may be.

[Works, Vol. 1, page 8]

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Prayer shaped by God’s Word

FRIDAY FRIENDS – a guest post by Tom Malinowski*

Jesus commands us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” We cannot fulfill this greatest of commandments without developing and nurturing a relationship with God — which can only occur through a rich and powerful prayer life. This desirable prayer life must, however, begin with God’s Word.1103660_hands_up

Martin Luther was adamant that we cannot “know” who we are communicating with if we go “beyond God’s Word.” In other words, we cannot be assured we are communicating with the one true god unless we begin with Scripture. He writes: “We must first hear the Word, and then afterwards the Holy Ghost works in our hearts; he works in the hearts of whom he will, and how he will, but never without the Word.”

Timothy Keller, in his book, Prayer, asserts that our starting point for prayer must be immersion in God’s Word. We cannot grow in our relationship with God unless we learn who He is. The more we know who God is, the more our prayer is shaped and determined accordingly. Consequently, if our prayers are not a response to God’s Word, our prayers may be addressing a god that we wish for rather than the real God. In his book, Answering God, Eugene H. Peterson writes, “What is essential in prayer is not that we learn to express ourselves, but that we learn to answer God.”

Many of us lack communication skills in that we tend to speak without listening. Let that not be the case as we communicate and build our relationship with the Lord.

 

*My friend, Tom, is a financial consultant and father of five residing in Charlton, NY, with his wife, Lisa. Tom is also a facilitator in the Schenectady City Mission’s Bridges to Freedom Program, a recovery and discipleship program.

 

Caution: Busyness is not a virtue

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42 ESV

In the Gospel of Luke, the visit of Jesus to the home of Mary, Martha & Lazarus brings about this brief but precious conversation — and an arresting statement. What is this “one thing necessary” that Jesus speaks about? busy-1446660-639x426

In directing Martha (and all of us) to turn to “the one thing necessary” our Lord points to a contrast here, that Mary had chosen better — a superior use of her time, a more important focus for her energies and cares. Jesus told Martha that she was anxious and troubled about many things. Granted, Martha was not doing anything inherently wrong; in fact she was doing much that was good! Yet, Jesus implies that her heart was tangled up, her busyness was not right. She was distracted and worried and upset in a worldly way. Our hearts can be pulled away from the Lord by busyness in respectable activities. God does not want our busyness — religious or otherwise. God wants our hearts. Indeed the greatest commandment of all of Scripture is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. (Matthew 22:37-38). This is what Mary appears to be doing — learning at the feet of Jesus, even worshipping as she took in His words of truth and life. She put first things first and Jesus was so very pleased!

Jesus points to Mary and tells Martha (and us):  that’s the better thing, that is the one thing necessary!  Oh how the world misunderstands what God requires — and how much those who are merely religious miss the most important thing. Many people think they know what Jesus wants, but will not listen to His very words here to Martha! As a famous preacher once said, it should be our first and sole business to attend to our soul’s business!

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Seeking treasure?

Vital to spiritual life and growth is our time in the Word of God. How do you approach your time in the Word? How do you undertake your reading of Scripture? Jerry Bridges* directs us to the wisdom of Proverbs 2 in order to remind us of some essential attitudes.1206351_romans-1

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:1-5 ESV)

(1) You must read Scripture with a teachable spirit. Proverbs 2 speaks of receiving and treasuring, both reflecting a desire to learn and grow from time in the Word. it is not enough to read it — even to master God’s Word — unless you are willing to be taught by it, and submit to it. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day knew the Scriptures, but were not teachable — or else they would’ve also accepted Jesus.  See John 5:39-46.

(2) You must have a spirit of dependence upon the Word of God, a childlike need for wisdom and direction. Proverbs 2 has the phrase “if you call our for insight and raise your voice for understanding” which reflects this. Think of the child or person in a moment of need, how they simply but clearly cry or call out. They know their need and call out for help. Wouldn’t you benefit more often if you cried out more earnestly to the Lord for help and understanding as you read?

(3) You must have a diligent spirit as you “seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures.” Of course we would turn our homes upside-down with meticulous searching if a valuable possession were missing! Do you exercise the same diligence in opening your Bible each morning, and looking for spiritual gems? We must be more diligent during our reading of the Bible. To paraphrase a Scripture, You have not because you searched not…

May the Lord give us all a better attitude and approach in our daily reading of the Word!
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*see chapter 8 of Jerry Bridges’ The Joy Of Fearing God.

Combined strength in prayer

Manton Monday — Insights from Puritan Thomas Manton

“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:19-20 esv

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The promises of God’s word are precious, especially those related to prayer. One promise found here in Matthew 18 leads us to believe that there is a greater ‘impact’ (for lack of a better word) when groups of believers pray together. Listen to the commentary of Thomas Manton on this Scripture (written while discussing another verse about praying in private).

“When they shall agree in one public prayer, it seems to have a greater efficacy put upon it — when more are interested in the same prayer — when, with a combined force, they do as it were besiege the God of heaven, and will not let Him go unless He leaves a blessing. Look, as the [civil or legal] petition of a shire and county to an authority is more than a private man’s supplication, so when we meet as a church to pray, as as a family, there is combined strength. And in this sense, that saying of the schoolmen is orthodox enough — viz., that prayer made in the church has a more easy audience with God. Why? Because of the concurrence of many which are met there to worship God.”

[Works, Volume 1, page 8; emphasis added]

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God’s Powerful Word

MANTON MONDAYS – Insights & quotes from Puritan Thomas Mantonmanton2

God has owned the Word by associating the operation of His grace and powerful Spirit with it… Things of a powerful operation do evidence themselves, as fire by heat, the wind by its noise and strength, salt by its savor, the sun by light and heat, and the like. …Let us see how the case stands with the scripture. It is called (Romans 1:16), “the power of God unto salvation,” and the “preaching of the cross is to them with are being saved the power of God,” (1 Cor. 1:18); and (1 Cor. 2:4) “My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power;” and (1 Thess. 1:5), “Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.” It gives a persuasion of itself by its being the power of God, and the rod of His strength.

[Works of Thomas Manton, Vol. X.446]

Elsewhere, Manton reminds us how even a single verse of the Word of God has brought about the conversion of men — as recorded in Scripture itself, and throughout church history. In Acts 8 we are told of the Ethiopian Official reading the scroll of Isaiah (53:7) and his conversion as Philip explains the text to him. The great theologian Augustine was converted from reading Romans 13:11.

Behold the amazing power of God’s Word!
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Can’t Do Too Much of This…

[Friday Friends – in lieu of a personal friend submitting a post here at The Breadline today, I’ll share the gist of a great post by an acquaintance, Jared Wilson.]

Over at his blog at TGC site, Jared writes about THREE THINGS PASTORS CAN’T DO TOO MUCH, and makes some excellent points. I suggest you click through to read the whole thing. In summary, the three things a pastor can’t do too much are these:

overdo(1) Over-read.  Not just books in general, says Wilson, but the Bible itself. He says, “But most I meet don’t read enough, and many I meet hardly read any. But I’m less concerned about books than I am the Scriptures, and in particular, whatever biblical text a pastor is fixin’ to preach on.”

(2) Over-pray.  Indeed, the Scriptures themselves call us to “pray without ceasing” so how can a pastor pray too much!  Wilson writes, “Prayer is essentially acknowledged helplessness — prayer is faith actualized, an emptiness and needfulness expressed — and we are never not in need of God’s grace, presence, and power. Therefore we can’t pray too much!” Although life and ministry seems to be getting busier than ever,  I am constantly trying to make more time for prayer. We all should.

(3) Over- think.  Wilson’s third point surprised me, but it’s right on. It could be taken in more than one direction, and still be important, but here is the way Wilson goes in his third point with our need to think:

I just mean we ought to consider our flock more. Definitely more than we currently do. We ought to consider their hearts, their minds, their motivations, their fears, their idols. We ought to think about the people in our care as sacred beings made in the image of God, beset by all kinds of temptations, plagued by all kinds of worries, burdened by all kinds of sins, wounded by all kinds of memories, traumatized by all kinds of violations, and so on and so on. The minute we don’t consider the flock as “sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless,” is the minute we drift away from compassion for them.

Jared Wilson concludes:  “Read, pray, and think — three things you can’t do too much. Overdo it, brothers.” Check out the whole thing (not that long) at Wilson’s blog.

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