Paul’s prayer for his preaching

At the end of his letter to the Ephesians, the imprisoned Apostle Paul writes and requests pray for his ministry of the Word — “[18] praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, [19] and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, [20] for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:18-20, ESV, emphasis added).

Commenting on this, the late John R. W. Stott wrote* about the importance of clear and bold preaching — male-lion-14-1407039-639x962

Clarity and courage remain two of the most crucial characteristics of authentic Christian preaching. For they relate to the content of the message preached and to the style of its presentation. Some preachers have the gift of lucid teaching, but their sermons lack solid content; their substance has become diluted by fear. Others are bold as lions. They fear nobody, and omit nothing. But what they say is confused and confusing. Clarity without courage is like sunshine in the desert — plenty of light but nothing worth looking at. Courage without clarity is like a beautiful landscape at night time — plenty to see, but no light by which to enjoy it. What is needed in the pulpits of the world today is a combination of clarity and courage . . .  Paul asked for the Ephesians to pray that these might be given to him, for he recognized them as gifts of God. We should join them in prayer for the pastors and preachers of the contemporary church.”

*from The Message of Ephesians, (The Bible Speaks Today series); IVP, 1979; page 286.

Spiritual hope

Manton Monday — Insights from puritan Thomas Manton

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.”  (Hebrews 11:1-2 ESV). In a most interesting, brief comment,  Puritan Thomas Manton speaks of both a natural hope and a “spiritual” hope as he reflects on this verse.  Manton

“…when we delight in a thing when we hope for it; Natural hope is the flower of pleasure and foretaste of happiness; SPIRITUAL HOPE is the harbinger and forerunner of those eternal and unmixed delights which the Lord has prepared for us.”

May the Lord help us to hope for the best of things.
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Care for your soul!

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? – Matthew 16:26

The title of this post sounds archaic. No one talks about their soul anymore. Even those whose eyes have been opened seldom speak this way in modern days. We would do well to remember what previous generations have said about the significance of the soul. Here are a few quotes from my recent Sunday sermon.  

“The fundamental error of sinners is undervaluing their own souls!” (Matthew Henry)

“As the man is more noble than the house he dwells in, 
 so is the soul more noble than the body.” (John Bunyan)

“The soul is such a thing, so rich and valuable in its nature, that scare one in twenty thousand counts of it as they should. (Bunyan)

“The whole world cannot make up to a man for the loss of his soul!” (JC Ryle)

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God sees us praying (or not)

Manton Monday — Insights from puritan Thomas Manton

One of the great encouragements for keeping up our prayers comes from the instructions of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:6   “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. Jesus reminds us that our heavenly Father sees us. Of course, such a fact will unsettle those who neglect prayer (or do worse things, thinking no one sees them). Puritan Thomas Manton speaks of both consequences of the fact that “God sees” us in secret  — Manton

Here are the encouragements to this personal, private, and solitary prayer, taken from God’s sight, and God’s reward. From God’s sight, [He observes] thy carriage; the posture and frame of they spirit, the fervor and uprightness of heart which thou manifest in prayer is all known to Him. Mark, that which is the hypocrite’s fear, and binds condemnation upon the heart of a wicked man, is here made to be the saints’ support and ground of comfort — that they pray to an all-seeing God (1 John 3:20, “…for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything…”). Their heavenly Father sees in secret; He can interpret their groans, and read the language of their sighs. Though they fail as to the outside of a duty, and there be much brokenness of speech, yet God sees brokenness of heart there, and it is that He looks after. God sees.

[Works, Vol. 1, page 9]

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Luther

Consider this fine endeavor.

The Wanderer

Some readers might recall the Through the Eyes of Spurgeon documentary released a couple of years back, directed and produced by my good friend, Stephen McCaskell. Well, Stephen is back on the trail, this time hoping to produce a documentary called Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer.

At the moment, he is seeking to raise the necessary remaining funds through a Kickstarter campaign. At time of writing, he’s about 25% of the way there – only another $15000 (CAD) to go. Bear in mind that this means that a $100 CAD pledge is only about £55-60 GBP or $80 USD. There’s more bang for your buck here, so you can pledge more than you think!

Here’s the promotional trailer:


If you have a minute and a few shekels to spare, please consider heading over to Kickstarter to help. The Spurgeon documentary has been viewed over…

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A Day to Pray

One Scripture verse that encourages me to pray comes from Psalm 81:10I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.  ThisSONY DSC reminds me of newly hatched birds in a nest and their  wide-mouthed pleas for food from their parents. Our heavenly Father delights to receive our pleas in prayer, and He promises to answer us! We ought often to pray, and to “open wide out mouths” in expectancy of God’s blessing.

Today, the first Thursday in May, is our National Day of Prayer in the USA. I hope all Christians will take time (perhaps at Noon) to seek the Lord in heart-felt prayer for mercy on America. Let me further encourage you with a few historical quotes that define the work of prayer…

  • Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Spirit, for such things as God has promised.  — John Bunyan
  • Prayer as it comes from the saint is weak and languid; but when the arrow of a saint’s prayer is put into the bow of Christ’s intercession it pierces the throne of grace.  — Thomas Watson
  • Prayer is the sweat of the soul.  — Martin Luther
  • Neglect of private prayer is the locust which devours the strength of the church.   — C. H. Spurgeon

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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.