Tuesday, December 5
According to 2 Peter1:5-7, faith is a starting point. “. . . make every effort to add to your faith goodness, and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” So faith is the starting point, but of what? This letter was written to believers who had already exercised faith unto salvation. What remained was their need to mature in the faith and bear fruit. Verse 8. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive.” While Peter starts with saving faith, those traits listed are no more attainable by human effort than was their salvation. But Peter also says “make every effort.” We are not robots. We can choose to progress or to remain static. When I meditate on each of those seven godly traits, I realize two things. I lack in every one of them, and I’ve made progress in all of them. I’m pleased with what God has done, and I’m disappointed that I’ve not “made every effort.” I’m happy for Peter’s words “in increasing measure.” No need for quantum leaps, just progression. What a gracious way of encouraging God’s people.
Monday, December 4
Bunyan doesn’t mince words. How about this one (p. 24 of Bunyan, Prayer)? “The great cheat by means of which the devil and antichrist delude the world, is to make them continue in the form of any duty, the form of preaching, of hearing , or of praying.” He supports this by 2 Tim. 3:5. “ . . . having a form of godliness but denying the power.” Too many formal prayers (and sermons) in churches focus on elegant words at the expense of content. Even in my private prayers I spend too much effort on getting the precise words to express my heart, and all the time, God is already reading my heart. Words are not really necessary; in fact, they can get in the way. And when I have trouble expressing my thoughts, the Holy Spirit is right there to make adjustments (Rom. 8:27). I doubt if English is the celestial language, but I suspect God doesn’t have a whole lot of trouble with it. He seems to get along quite well with no language at all.
Sunday, December 3
There was a time when I wondered why I should pray. One, God knows all things. He knows the needs of every person on this planet. He doesn’t need a finite, biased, sinful creature to tell him what he already knows. Two, God is quite capable of dealing with any and all problems. His wisdom and power are beyond human understanding. He can do whatever he chooses in a moment of time. Three, God loves every human being. He “is not willing that any should perish” nor suffer without cause. I can’t match that! So why should I pray? It took me a long time, but I think I finally have an answer. He loves me and wants to commune with me. His desire is my happiness. I ran across a statement by D.A. Carson in his book Praying with Paul (p. 15) that touches on this. “. . . effective prayer is the fruit of a relationship with God, not a technique for acquiring blessings.” If my motive in prayer is to be blessed, it’s the wrong motive. When I pray with the sole desire to talk with him as my friend, the outcome is far different. I’m in tune with his heart and it will show as I live out the day. I’m encouraged, I have a renewed vigor for life, and I want to please him. That is the message that my brother Carlson is focusing on. Mind you, my prayer life is not always like that. Remember that I’m not a finished product yet. So when you go to God in prayer, ask yourself “Why am I doing this?”
Saturday, December 2
After picking out one word of Bunyan’s definition of prayer, I think I need to give you the entire quotation. It’s rich and worthy of a lot more analysis, but I leave that up to you. “Prayer is a sincere, sensible affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to his Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.” That would be worth memorizing, but even more worthwhile to practice.
Friday, December 1
There’s a rather long definition of prayer in the book Prayer, a compilation of John Bunyan’s comments on prayer (p. 13). His definition includes the word “sensible,” which has a different sense than it did in his day. As he explains later “sensibility” is an awareness of our sinful state and impending judgment by a holy God. That kind of awareness promotes humility, diminishes arrogance and selfish interests, a better understand of God’s love, and an increase in our desire to serve him. I hope you caught my words “promotes, diminishes, better, increase” The point is that even though I’m redeemed and stand as justified before God, I still have the sin nature to deal with. But Bunyan doesn’t stop there. We also need to be aware of God’s grace. To pray without that truth would make prayer meaningless. His mercy is needed for conversion and it’s also needed to complete the process of making us holy. So I’m not a finished product yet. That will come before I enter the pearly gates. The net result of being aware of our sinful nature and God’s grace is solid grounds for entering into communion with God. And that’s only one word in that rather lengthy definition. The rest of it is worth pursuing, too.
Thursday, November 30
Pastor Doug made an interesting point about Jesus’ comment in John 17:5. “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” We need to remember that this statement was made just hours before he gave up his life of his own accord to pay for our sins. Doug’s point was that Jesus’ incarnate life, including his death, burial and resurrection would not bring any more glory to him than what he had before the incarnation. Behind that is the truth that he had already possessed maximum glory. There was nothing that could add to his glory, not even dying a cruel death on the cross. The statement also reveals that his glory—or at least a part of it—was temporarily diminished by taking on a human form. The timing of the statement comes as his incarnate life was coming to and end. He was finishing his earthly ministry and would soon return to his normal position in the godhead. But it’s still interesting that he made the statement in the presence of his disciples. The statement had to have some effect on them. One thing is that they were loath to have him leave them. They had to know that there was a sound reason for his ascent into heaven. Secondly, they needed to know the magnitude of the sacrifice that Jesus made in coming to earth. They probably did not know the how much His glory would impact their lives. (Piper hadn’t arrived on the scene yet.)
Wednesday, November 29
I have been concerned with my prayer life recently. It has to do with the fact that I don’t pray enough. And it’s not just how much I pray, or how I pray, but my attitude toward it. According to dedicated prayer warriors, it should be an awesome encounter, a finite sinful creature in the presence of a holy and sovereign God. And it should be a love relationship, something to be anticipated with joy and eagerness—like a person spending time with his fiancée—except that it would have more eternal ramifications. Robert Murray McCheyne said “What a man is alone and on his knees before God, that he is, and no more.” I’m not sure that I understand all that he meant by that statement, but I’m sure it includes the points mentioned above. I don’t think the physical position of being on one’s knees is the issue, but it reflects the attitude of the pray-er in facing a holy God. And that attitude would also shape the prayer itself. McCheyne doesn’t specify what the results of such a prayer life would be, either, but it would have to include satisfaction, renewed trust in God, and a resolve to please God. I want that kind of relationship with God, but do I want it enough to bring about a change? I think God will have to have a hand in it. It’s kind of like a paradox. I need to pray that I will have a vital prayer life.