Monthly Archives: October 2012
A couple of weeks ago I was discussing with my students the command for us to “pray for one another” (James 5:16). Somewhere in the middle of the lesson the question was asked, “Why do our prayer lives tend to be so me-centered?” An answer came from a fourteen year-old young man: “Because we know ourselves the best.”
Although I think there are other components involved, his answer is spot on. What I know about you or other people in my life is only what I’m told, and yes, I can derive things from your non-verbal communication, but those things are more uncertain. I can’t read your mind and I can’t gaze into the depths of your soul, but I can read my mind and gaze into the depths of my soul. Sure, to one degree or another I can suppress self-reflection and self-examination, but if I’m honest with myself, I can become very acquainted with my weaknesses, sins, desires, and motivations. That is one of the reasons I pray for myself more than anyone else, and not only that, but I feel all the emotions that are attached to those things which propel me ever-so-quickly to pray for me.
What should this reality compel us to do when it comes to us, the family of God, praying for each other? If one of the reasons we pray for ourselves most is because we know ourselves best, then, very practically, we should more diligently seek to know our brothers and sisters in Christ. The more we know about them, the more we will have to pray about for them. And I don’t know about you, but when I have information about a person that is needy of prayer, it is hard to ignore, like God has it set up camp in my heart and mind until I pray for that person.
Further proof that I need to seek to know people more in order to pray for them more, is the simple fact that next to myself the people I pray for the most are the people I know the most. What does this say? Not only will such a practice lead us to pray for the body more, but it will also cultivate a stronger community of faith in our local churches as the bonds of relationship are tightened.
As I look back over the last thirteen years of being a follower of Christ, the book that has most helped me in addressing sin at the heart level has been Future Grace by John Piper. This fall a new revised edition has been released and Westminster Books is selling it for $10.
And if 448 pages seems a little too daunting for you, there is an abridged version of Future Grace called Battling Unbelief that is 176 pages.
As promised (though with a week’s delay), today I begin blogging through the book . This will only take up one post per week and I will be writing in such a way that you will be able to benefit even if you never pick up the book.
The reason I chose this book is because I, like the author, believe that Christians need to stop striving to make a name for themselves and instead draw each other and the world to the glory of God’s name. I need to hear this message a thousand times over and then some, so my prayer is that my journey through repentance will be yours as well.
In the Introduction, the author, whose pen name is Anonymous tells us why it was confirmed to him that he needed to keep his name hidden for this project:
After some divine arm-twisting, Embracing Obscurity-and anonymity-was born. Apart from the the surprisingly difficult logistics of writing anonymously (like keeping my own family in the dark), my flesh has been as rebellious as Terrell Owens at a press conference. Old sins die hard. I’ve found myself imagining scenarios in which I get some sort of glory for the work involved in these pages: “accidental” discoveries, best sellers’ lists-even one daydream in which I was discovered by a respected mentor and rewarded on my deathbed. My pride evidently knows no bounds.
One hand, it’s refreshing to read that someone else struggles with ridiculous narcissistic fantasies like me, but on the other hand, it’s devastating because as C.J. Mahaney has written, pride is essentially “contending with God for supremacy” (from his book, Humility). When we’re honest about our pride as Anonymous has been, it’s not hard to understand why the Bible tells us “God opposes the proud” (James 4:6). But we cannot forget the second half of this verse which says, “but (God) gives grace to the humble.” The desire behind this book is that Christians will “find and embrace the unsurpassable joy, freedom, and newfound purpose to be had in embracing obscurity.”
Whether or not you grew up in a Christian home, you were probably raised hearing The Golden Rule – Do unto others what you would have them do unto you. It has been a pillar of morality in our society for generations and yet, many people do not know that it comes from the Bible.
For the people who do know that it comes from the Bible, even fewer know the context in which it was spoken. Like me, for the longest time, The Golden Rule stood alone in my mind unsupported by the words printed around it in Matthew 7. The Golden Rule was spoken toward the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in v. 12 of that chapter, and if you have an ESV Bible (and perhaps other versions as well), the editors chose to have v. 12 start a new section with a new heading. This, however, interrupts the train of thought that Jesus is working through.
At the beginning of v. 12 we read the first word as being “So” which points us back to the previous verses for the reason why we should treat others the way we want them to treat us. The previous paragraph (vv. 7-11) gives great weight and motivation to this command because in it we find the graciousness of God dripping from the page. In verse 7 Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Then, in vv. 9-10, he asks the audience a couple of instructive questions about their tendency as parents: “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?” The obvious answer is that most people wouldn’t show that kind of cruelty to their kids. So then, Jesus concludes by asking, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him?” (v. 11)
What’s the point? Why do these verses give power to The Golden Rule? Because they make The Golden Rule more than just a “be good for goodness’ sake” command. If you tell me to be good without giving me a reason (and a good reason at that), I might obey for a little while, but it won’t last. Jesus knows this about our nature, so he tells us about the overflowing kindness of our heavenly Father who will always give good things to us when we ask. So, The Golden Rule becomes “Do unto other as you would have them do unto you because God always gives good gifts to his children.” We aren’t called to be good for goodness’ sake, we are called to be good because God has been so good to us. Because Jesus died in the place of believers, God is an ever-generous giver of good to us, therefore, we are called to extend that kindness to others.
In terms of practical Christianity, Jerry Bridges is easily one of the men who has challenged and encouraged me most. In fact, his books The Pursuit of Holiness, The Discipline of Grace, and Trusting God are ones that I give away and recommend on regular basis. His new book, True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia, on the subject of Christian fellowship promises to be of similar impact and it’s free today for the Kindle. Here’s the description:
Fellowship among believers is more than just talking over coffee after church service. Biblical fellowship in New Testament times—or koinonia—had rich and varied meanings, including covenant relationship, partnership in the gospel, communion with God and others, and the sharing of earthly possessions.
In True Community, best-selling author Jerry Bridges (The Pursuit of Holiness, Respectable Sins, Trusting God) explores koinonia and the practical implications it has for today’s church. With discussion questions at the end of each chapter, this book will help you dig deeper into what Christian community in the twenty-first century should look like. You will come away with a new appreciation for fellowship, the church, and what God intended the body of Christ to be.
R.W. Glenn is the pastor of preaching and vision at Redeemer Bible Church in Minnetonka, MN where he has served since 1995. I was just recently introduced to his ministry and have been amply blessed in what I have encountered. Here’s his take on what books every Christian should read. Check out his ministry website here for more info and resources.