Watchful Prayer.

Psalm 5:1-3

The Psalmist offers up his desires in prayer to his God and King. He has learnt to be watchful in prayer with thanksgiving. He desires to come to His mercy seat, and as a result he is watchful. He does not merely come to dump his feelings so that he himself feels better, although that is often times a consequence and benefit. Instead his prayers are directed toward God whereby he desires to take hold of Him by faith. This, again, makes him watchful. Sincere prayer brings with it a sense of anticipation, an eager hope of what God may do, as a child does when presenting a request to their parent. Hope rests itself in the stability of God’s character. His well-meaning toward us is the basis for such anticipation. Those who sleep anticipate the dawning of a new day; the employee anticipates ongoing employment, the child a need for food. In each case a stable hope is present and serves as the soil-bed of anticipation. Prayer that is offered with anticipation is a pleasing, delightful aroma to our heavenly Father, made acceptable through our mediating Holy Priest. The fragrance of heaven is filled with such sacrifices. It is a bridge that connects heaven and earth. Be reminded therefore that the King awaits you; indeed knowing it to be good for us, He even summons us to come to Him, so as to experience His loving provision. In so doing He renews our earthly palette with the heavenly taste of his blessedness. Therefore be watchful in prayer, and see what the Almighty may do.

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Who will Show us Some Good?

Man is a vast deep, whose hairs you, Lord, have numbered, and in you none can be lost (Matt 10:30). Yet it is easier to count his hairs than the passions and emotions of his heart. – St Augustine of Hippo.

Psalm 4.

The Psalmist’s concern here was related to his men. He was distressed over his men of rank who seemed to be weakening the brotherhood and ultimately the mission they’d been called to carry out. David saw this as dishonoring, and it unsettled and grieved him.

The symptoms he saw around him were a ‘love of vain words’ and a ‘seeking after lies’. What he sees is that his men have employed an unhealthy use of words with little substance. They are words of levity and frivolity, without any nourishing benefit or value. They fail to have any real purpose for the building up of others. They’re words of mere existence at best, destructive at worst, and were failing to impart life and increase vitality toward one another. In short, they failed to exercise grace.

But that’s not the only symptom. Another symptom lay in a seeking after lies. They were failing to seek the truth. Lies have a way of cloaking the truth, they do their best work in the darkness of one’s soul, and in isolation from the truth. David saw that his men were actively seeking after lies. He sensed a relativistic spirit in his men that gave the impression that there was no real need for accountability, and as a result that one need not count. In short they failed to exercise truth.

And so David reminds his men of their purpose. God has set them apart for himself. He has brought them into a blessed position and they mustn’t forget that. As a result the LORD hears David when David offers up his desires to him. It brings him peace.

But as a leader who knew his men, he foresees that there maybe some anger upon hearing such truth. He also knows something of the nature of anger, and so he counsels them that if they do feel some initial agitation toward him, then to make sure that they risk falling prey to sin by externalizing it. Instead he counsels them to internalize it. He counsels them to take their anger and to ponder his observations in their own hearts, on their beds, and to be silent in doing so. He would have them avoid further discord in the form of slander, backbiting or quarreling. By pondering his words in solitude, he hopes that they might be led to ask deeper questions, such as: Why am I going after these things, What is my purpose in doing so? What am I believing at this moment about God that would have me go after vain words and cause me to seek after lies? This may lead them on the path to a remedy, and renewed life and direction.

David then counsels them to offer right sacrifices and to put their trust in the Lord. He emphasizes ‘right’ sacrifices because he knows that failing to provide a a correct diagnosis will bring no remedy. David knows that a misdiagnosis won’t bring them healing. They may offer sacrifices, but they wouldn’t help.

So what was a right sacrifice? Rom 12 helps provide some color to this question as new covenant believers. “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice; holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The Psalmists concern was not for his men to seek mere moral conformity as a remedy to his truth-telling, it was holiness. Holiness brings with it joy and animation and is heavenly. Mere moral conformity is lifeless, burdensome and earthly. The answer lay in their trust in the LORD. Were they asking the LORD to grant them an ever-delighting joy in Him, One full of grace and truth, and to taste his glory? Were they conscious of the joy of their salvation? David concludes that one reason for their love of vain words and pursuit after lies, lay in their somewhat downcast state. Their desire was to see some good in the land of the living. This is a noble desire. And yet the problem lay in that they were seeking to have this desire fulfilled by ‘taking the edge off’ with excessive food and wine. To do so is one way to deal with a desire to see good, and yet the fruit of an untethered love of pleasure leads to a moral laxity, a loss of militancy toward the powers of evil that do not sleep, and the mission that one is called to engage in as God’s people.

It was leading his men to lose sight of the joy that they possessed in the LORD and the blessed fellowship of participating in his mission.

The Psalmist offers the remedy. “Lift up the light of your face upon us O LORD. You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” Seeing the glory of the Lord brought more joy to David, than even the merriest of fellowship with his men! Exulting worship is what enabled him to sanctify this desire. And so he asks afresh for their inner spirits to be enlivened not by drink or food, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17).

Indeed the joy of the Lord is truly our strength! (Neh 8:10)

Prayer and Communion with God.

Rev 3:20 “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

Here is a door.

God is at the door of many a heart knocking, and how often is it that even in his condescension for our sakes, we are too busy for him and his communion? Our souls lie dormant, while we hurry around filling our time with pursuits that busy us and add little value to the only thing that will endure beyond the shifting sands of time. How often do we open the door of our hearts to him in prayer? How often do we take time out of our lives to pray to the one who is infinitely mighty and powerful to save? How often do we shun and even block our spiritual ears to his pursuit? What price do we put on such highly esteemed company? If the president or a person of high esteem were to offer their company, many would drop all that they were doing to make provision. How much moreso should we make provision for the company of the King of Kings. We are often like children engaged in some form of entertainment and upon hearing their parents voice, are prone to turn up the volume. Our pursuits may be noble, and yet that has never been an excuse for neglect. To disregard the pursuits of the Almighty who is the essence of nobility, and from whom all nobility is derived is pure pride. And yet even so, He says, ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock.’

Heaven itself is accessible by this door, and yet prayer is an unpopular thing to enter into today. People talk about anything and everything through their twitter accounts, Facebook feeds, paper columns and blogs, and yet what do we hear of prayer? Many people exercise great perspiration over the ability to make money and yet when do we see any perspiration exercised through prayer? Fun and enjoyment is found at happy hour or in gaming or dining and yet nothing much is said about the joy found in prayer? Does that not say something about our attitude toward prayer?

And yet even so, He says, ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock.’

There is a call.

Our neglect of such things would be enough for him to walk away and stop knocking, and yet he is faithful in his pursuit of his chosen people. There is great comfort in the words, “if anyone hears my voice”. A strangers voice is unrecognizable, but the voice of someone familiar is much more open to our reception. We do not have a God who presents himself as someone mysterious and unknowable, but who invites us to open the door by the sound of a known voice. It’s a voice that we may recognize. It’s a presence we have already welcomed. We may be inclined to open the door briefly to a stranger or salesperson, but how much more then are we inclined to open the door to the knocking pursuit of God who is also our Father? He could have called to us with the voice of anger and heated pursuit. He could have called to us by his wrath and judgment, instead He reveals himself to us as a welcoming voice, a voice of mercy and grace.

And yet there is no fellowship with a person until there is agreement, and there is no agreement with the almighty until provision for sin has been made. Just as those who are about to sit down to eat, are first given to wash their hands, likewise if we would dine with our heavenly Father in his throne room we must be cleansed of all impurity. A newborn child first receives a washing to clean away the blood and vernix by a nurse or parent, but requires many cleanings afterward. Likewise we are born into the kingdom of God through the regenerating work of the Spirit symbolized in the washing of water, but we are in need of ongoing cleansing through the renewal of the Holy Spirit. This we must do whenever we come to dine in heaven’s courts. Just as Isaiah was quick to express his uncleanliness of speech, so too is this a precursor to our being healed. And so we must come to him in confession, shedding all the earthly impurity that is unfit for his holy presence. But what about the spots that we miss? The grease and grime that are hard to remove. Our prayers are often tainted and fall short of heaven’s perfection. Words expressed without any real sense of his presence, words uttered without clarity, desires shared without any passion or expectation.

Dwell on this for long and we might be prone to lose heart, and yet we are encouraged to look to our Lord Jesus who sits at the Father’s right hand and as our perfect Priest sympathizes with us and makes all our prayers presentable to the Father. His dining with us is not dependent upon our weakness in prayer, our failure to confess all that is impure, our still often feeble and ignorant minds and hearts. We may dine with Him in prayer because He dresses us in presentable garments.

There is a Feast. 

God invites us to dine with him. There are fewer more pleasant things on earth than being able to dine and have conversation with friends and others you love. God invites us to share our hearts and desires with him knowing him to be our portion.

God is present at the meal. Too often our prayers are governed by perceived distance, failing to perceive the Father’s company. We forget that the whole reason that the Holy Spirit was given was so that we might be given faith to access his throne room, to apprehend his presence with us. God invites us to dine with him in the purity of his mercy and grace so that we might be strengthened as his ambassadors on earth.

God provides the meal. He provides the meal in which he speaks to us through recollect faith and his promises. Have you come to him to express your worries? Has he sent you on your way with a reminder of who he is, or a promise to take hold of? Have you come to him to plead your cause, which is also his? Has he left your soul in peace? He gives us the meal of his sacrifice in the past as a reminder to us of his character and so as to inform us in the present. He hears all our concerns and our cries, he listens to all our anxieties and proposals. He dines with us and as we eat in his presence we are filled by his love and strengthened in faith and trust.

We are invited to dine with him, and having been given such an invitation; we have every reason to be thankful and to express our enjoyment in thanksgiving. A meal can quickly be soured by a lack of gratitude toward the host and the cook, and likewise unless we exercise gratitude for the great privilege extended to us and wrought for us by Christ in prayer our hearts can become presumptuous and calloused to it’s joys.

If we have our Father’s attention, why not come to him with a list? Spurgeon described insightfully that our prayers are often directionless. We are prone to enter into prayer like some would enter a grocery store or open their pantry. They enter without any real sense of what they want and are content to meander through it. Let us instead be bold children and come with requests to our heavenly Father. Children come with an awareness of who holds the resources they need. They feel their weakness, their need for their faith to receive mercy and grace and our heavenly Father has all these resources in his grasp. Consider his power to give through prayer. The parting of the Red Sea was obtained by prayer, the water teeming from the rock was given through prayer, bread fell from heaven through prayer, fire thrust down from heaven on Elijah’s water-saturated sacrifice, the sun stood still. If we know God to be in control of all things then let us pray boldly and with expectation.

Let us make it our aim to respond to every prompting of the Spirit to dine with the King, and be nourished with thanksgiving.

Shepherding God’s flock.

shepherd-sheep-12By way of preface: I was raised on a sheep farm in New Zealand, where I still remember somewhat vividly a few of the sermons on shepherding or on passages concerning sheep, since the illustrations were very accessible. The Spirit continues to bring these Scriptures to life as I meditate on the many parallels, and as I seek to live before him as one of his sheep, and as I seek to exercise the high calling to shepherd his sheep (see: Psalm 23; Ezek 34; John 10; Mark 6:34; Luke 15; Rev 7:17).

What are some of the ways a shepherd conducts his call to shepherd the sheep?

  1. The shepherd must first be a sheep.
    How does a sheep know what a shepherd is to do unless they first cling closely to the Good shepherd? The sheep who are close to the shepherd observe his care and protection and all that he is and does. Knowing their limitations, they are in constant dependance since they know that there is no other source of help outside of the Good shepherd. The sheep in close proximation to the shepherd know of their own ‘sheepishness’ and are able to identify and empathize with the situations and struggles that they, and other sheep, are prone to get into without the aid and companionship of the Good shepherd.
  2. The shepherd is aware of where to find food for the sheep.
    If a shepherd is finding enjoyment in doing the work of a shepherd, he may be tempted to lose sight of the true source of food and nourishment. Enjoyment in ministry is a gift, and may at times appear to give us energy like that of food, and yet the only nutriment that fills the stomach is to be found in the green pastures of the Word of God, and our conversing with God in prayer and our worship of him. A full stomach can make for lazy sheep which must be addressed, but malnourished sheep will be full of heartache and oftentimes bitterness. Sheep in such a state will be opposed to any ministry or movement of the best kind. The shepherd knows that food is the most vital need of the sheep and that priority is reflected in his own life and ministry.
  3. The shepherd is attuned to the needs of the sheep.
    A shepherd is aware of the needs of the sheep. The various threats that oppose them, the water they drink, the food they eat and ingest, the places they are prone to frolic and play. The shepherd is aware of the cliffs and the ravines, the deep waters, and the banks that may endanger the sheep. All of this guarding helps the shepherd with his rod and staff to provide direction and comfort toward the sheep in the good and righteous confines given to them.
  4. The shepherd is attuned to various seasons that will come upon the sheep.
    The shepherd knows that shepherding in Winter is not the same as shepherding in Summer, and likewise Autumn and Spring. The Winter requires closer attention to the sheep and their needs. Summer lends itself to other works in preparation for more harvesting. Spring and Fall also have their distinctives. Suffering, affliction, illness, all these things can appear like Winter to the sheep, and shepherds do well to ensure that such sheep are best cared for and sustained in such an hour.
  5. The shepherd celebrates the maturation of the sheep.
    The shepherd rejoices over the harvest and the season of lambing where new life is produced. Although it is not synonymous with health, never-the-less, new-life is the fruit of healthy sheep, and the shepherd celebrates the fruit of the womb, and the yield of the harvest when it comes. Although there is often much food and water consumed, much attuning to the needs of the sheep, much attention given, new life in this environment is sure to come and brings the shepherd much joy!

The Cleansing of the Temple and the School of Prayer.

Why was the temple scene that Jesus exercised so much anger over a problem? Why did Jesus allude to prayer and not something else? Why overturn the tables? Matt 21:12-13. 

This can be instructive in understanding the nature of the tabernacle in the Old Testament (Ex 26-30), which is an image or symbol of heaven. The altar that stood in the holy place near the curtain that entered into the most holy place was where incense was to be burned symbolizing God as the gracious host of heaven. As Poythress suggests,

“The life of the average Israelite was accompanied by the strong and not-always-pleasant smells associated with animals and physical labor. The fragrance of burning incense was used by hosts to add the pleasant atmosphere of a special social occasion. God the supreme Host made sure that such items of pleasant hospitality were associated with His house… The altar of incense signifies what happens to the very top of the visible heavens. It becomes a sweet smelling fragrance that enters even into the Most Holy Place, God’s throne room. God smells and is pleased. He receives the offering. The offerings themselves are a sort of nonverbal prayer – prayer for forgiveness of sin, prayer of adoration, prayer of thanksgiving, prayer of intercession by the priest for those whom he represents. Appropriately the New Testament clearly identifies the rising incense with the prayers of the saints (Rev 5:8; 8:3). But first of all we must think of the prayers of Jesus Christ as he prayed on earth (Heb 5:7) and as He now intercedes for us in heaven (Heb 7:25). “

Jesus was provoked to anger because they had made the temple courts to be the exact opposite of what it was meant to represent and embody, which was God’s heavenly dwelling. They were content therefore in their industrious pursuit to bring in the stench of earthly animals as a means of trade rather than for it to be a resting place where the sweet aroma of prayer was lifted up on behalf of their needs and the needs of others, namely prayers for the forgiveness of sin, prayers of adoration, prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of intercession. Thus by overturning the tables, Jesus was giving his dissent to the way that they had overturned the representation of God’s house and what pleased Him.

God delights in the prayers of his people and has instructed us in the way that we may approach him in worship. Our worship pleases God as a sweet aroma when we take prayer seriously as Jesus taught us to pray. May we seek enrollment in the school of prayer to learn and be taught from Jesus our instructor, and find a sweetness in it.

On Mission.

“Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34)

Sometimes we can be tempted to pit the need to be on mission with the study of God’s word. We feel as though we either need to focus our attention as a group on evangelism or we need to be serious about God’s word, so that we can be motivated and focused on one or the other. But our primary focus in both is not self-motivation but the worship of God. Jesus said this in his encounter to the woman of Samaria at the well, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. Reference is made here not only to “God,” but to the “Father.” The Father is seeking such people to worship him. This is personal.

As Michael Reeves states in his book ‘delighting in the Trinity,’

“Evangelism or being on mission is not, then that God lounges back in heaven, simply phoning in his order so that we get on with evangelism so that he might get more servants. If that were the case, evangelism would take a lot of self-motivation-and you can always tell when the church thinks like that, for that’s when evangelism gets left to the more adrenaline-stoked salespeople/professionals.” But the reality is so different.

“To be on mission means to share in doing the Father’s will. God is already on mission, and has sent his Son and his Spirit to do accomplish His mission. So we share in this mission when we go outside the camp and join Jesus in reconciling sinners to the Father (Heb 13:12-13).”

So what’s the motivation? Why did the Father send the Son?

Because the Father so enjoyed loving the Son that he wanted his love to be in others. John 17:25-26 says, “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

 The Son came to make the Father known; a Father that loved him.

 And why did the Son go?

Because, he says, I love the Father and…I do exactly what my Father has commanded me (John 14:31).

Mission comes from the overflow of love, from the uncontainable enjoyment of the fellowship between the Father and the Son.

Why then do we need the Spirit?

The Spirit enables us to share in their pleasure, and it is that delight in them that fuels us to want to make them known. We rely on the Spirit, not as a force, but as a person. As we relate and rely on him and turn from our sin that he illumines to us, we have our attention drawn to the love of the Father given to us in the knowledge and grace of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Father’s gift to us, the seal of his eternal favor toward us (2 Cor 1:22). And so when we meet together we must ask the Spirit to draw us to have our love rekindled for the Father and the Son. If we are treasuring Jesus Christ we know the Spirit is at work in us, since he works to create in us the same desires as our heavenly Father, who also treasures Him above all others (John 6:27).

The Puritan Richard Sibbes once said that a Christian singing God’s praises to the world is like a bird singing. Birds sing loudest, he said, when the sun rises and warms them; and so it is with Christians: when they are warmed by the Light of the world, by the love of God in Christ, that is when they sing loudest.

He writes, “as the shining of the sun enlarges the spirit of the poor creatures, the birds, in the spring time, to sing, so proportionably the apprehension of the sweet love of God in Christ enlarges the spirit of a man, and makes him full of joy and thanksgiving. He breaks forth into joy, so that his whole life is a matter of joy and thanksgiving.”

It’s not and either/or but a matter of worship. Worship is the goal of our bible study and the motive for our witness. I continue to be in prayer that the Spirit might give us such a rich relationship with the Father and the Son so that we might live among our neighbors, work colleagues, friends and family in this way.

What Must I do to be Saved?

“Sir’s what must I do to be saved?” – Philippian Jailer (Acts 16:30)

It’s not an understatement to say that this question is the most significant question that a person can ask in this life. It’s a question that has eternal value, and many if not most people are kept from asking it and giving any real thought as to it’s value. The fact that the Philippian jailer even asked it was part of God’s providence. Prior to the earthquake in the prison (see surrounding verses for context), he hadn’t even considered it. But now, things were different, and in a moment of despair he was led to ask it. To be led to ask such a question is a good thing.

And yet at that moment of desperation the jailer’s true belief was revealed.

How so?

By way of his question. What must I do to be saved?

The emphasis of the question is the default belief of every religion outside of Christianity. The emphasis of every religion is on what I must do to be saved. For example, many adopt the belief that salvation is achieved by being a good humanitarian, others through achieving harmony with nature and the world around them, other’s upon the exercise of faithful citizenship and allegiance to their country, and still other’s by enforcing their percieved revelation even if it involves hostility toward others. The whole question is framed at what I must do to be saved. It begins and ends with man and his works. Not so Christianity. Christianity is entirely different. Christianity takes the emphasis off of man altogether and asserts that man can do nothing with regard to inheriting salvation. There is nothing that man can do to earn salvation and make one right with the One who made them. Instead Christianity says, salvation is not about what man must do, rather it is about what has been done on man’s behalf by Jesus Christ. Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Encompassed in those few simple words lies salvation and is the essence of Christianity. Christ has done what mankind could not do for him or herself and it’s the merit of Jesus Christ who had to die and shed his blood for us that makes us right with our Creator. The God-man Jesus Christ had to die because it required One who possessed eternal life to swallow up eternal death and satisfy divine justice (not our percieved sense of justice) so as to present sinners as free. His merit secured your freedom. Believe that (and we never stop needing to be reminded) and I assure you, it will change your life not only now, but also into the next.