Finding Goodness in the Wilderness

I have heard it said that a preacher cannot preach a text from the pulpit without first having wrestled with it in prayer.

Unfortunately, I have heard, and even preached, a few sermons that sound and feel like very little wrestling ever took place. In fact, it seems that when the passage took the ring for the bout to begin, some preachers forfeited the match, and rather than wrestle with the text in the heart, they give a walking commentary through the text and never get closer than an arm’s length away.

All that to say, my preparation for this Sunday’s message is coming out of a few rounds of wrestling.  I’m preaching through Romans 8, one of the greatest chapters in Scripture, full of promise, hope, and glory. I’ve heard one Pastor call this chapter the “Tion” chapter; where we read of condemnation, election, redemption, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification – all in one chapter! Yet in the midst of preaching through this beautiful chapter, I have been wrestling with assurance and vocation, struggling with the “old man of sin,” and feeling like my prayers are lacking in zeal and effectiveness.

This wilderness experience is a dry and barren land where there is no drink (Psalm 63). Whether I came here by some sin that I have been harboring in my heart, or whether God has chosen to hide His face from me for a period, I do not know.  But I walk in the wilderness hearing the promise of Scripture, that “for those who love God, all things work together for God, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).  All things, even this wilderness, God is using for the good of those who love Him.

What good can come from the wilderness?  Let me share with you what I read from Martin Lloyd-Jones* sermon on this passage:

God, as it were, averts His face, turns away from us, and we feel that we cannot find Him. This is a method that God often uses for the good of His people… It is a way of convicting them, and of humbling them; it is a way of getting them to repent and admit that they have been wrong and are sorry, a way to make them ask for forgiveness and for restoration. For this reason sometimes there are periods of dryness and barrenness in the life of the Christian… It is one of the ways of God doing us good.

Even such an experience of barrenness and aridity and dryness of the soul in one’s spiritual life can be used to our advantage; it makes us desire Him more; it makes us seek Him more, and long for Him. There is nothing in life which is of greater value than the experience that you have when such a period is suddenly ended, and when God again smiles on you… When the period of withdrawal ends you enjoy the nearness and the presence of God to a greater degree than you have done before.  All these things are to comfort us. All things are made to work together by God. What appears to be so wrong, and so opposed to us, is meant and designed for our ultimate good.

If you find yourself in the wilderness, learn to hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God. Long for Him, cry out to Him, and wait upon Him. He will fill your heart with good things, He will make your cup overflow. God is working through all things for your greatest good, for your salvation and life in Christ! Trust and rely upon Him.

*D.M. Lloyd-Jones. Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 8:17-39, The Final Perseverance of the Saints. (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 1980) pgs. 174-175.

Spending the Day in Prayer

I long to grow in my life of prayer.

It is astonishing that I have come so far on so feeble prayer. Like holding my breath while running, it makes no sense, it will not last long, and I will not get very far without collapsing.

I need to commune with God, not just as a Pastor, but simply as a Christian. Prayer brings me back to my dependence on God for my every need. Prayer is worship before the throne of grace. Prayer is the least I could do, the simplest act of faith, and yet it is the greatest power of change in my life and one of the hardest disciplines to maintain.

I’ve been studying from Joel Beeke’s, Taking Hold of God; Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer*. I came across this summary of Matthew Henry’s “Directions for Praying All Day” that I thought worth sharing. May you be blessed and encouraged in your prayers as I was.

Directive One: Begin Every Day with God

Henry wrote, “It is our wisdom and duty to begin every day with God.” David testified in Psalm 5:3 that the morning hours are especially good for prayer. Likewise, Henry observed that the priests offered a sacrificial Lamb and burned incense every morning, and singers thanked the Lord every morning. He cited these examples to indicate that all Christians, who are spiritual priests in Christ, should offer spiritual sacrifices every morning to God. God who is Alpha, requires our first fruits; therefore, we should give him the first part of the day. God deserves our best, not just the leftovers of the day when we are tired and worn out. Henry wrote, “In the morning we are most free from company and business, and ordinarily have the best opportunity for solitude.” God gives us fresh mercies every morning, so we should give Him fresh thanksgivings and fresh meditations on His beauties. In the morning we prepare for the work of the day, let us commit it to God. Begin every day with God.

Directive Two: Spend Every Day With God

The Christian’s attendance upon God throughout the day is captured in the phrase to wait upon the Lord. “To wait on God, is to live a life of desire towards him, delight in him, dependence on him, and devoted ness to him,” Henry wrote. We should spend our days desiring God, like a beggar constantly looking to His benefactor, hungering not onl for His gifts but for the One who is the Bread of Life. We should live in delight of God, like a lover with his beloved. “Do we love God?” Henry asked. Constant dependence is the attitude of a child towards his Father whom he trusts and on whom he casts all his cares. A life of devotedness is that of a servant towards His Master, “ready to observe his will, and to do his work, and in everything to consult his honor and his interest.” It is “to make the will of his precept the rule of our practice,” and “to make the will of his providence the rule of our patience.” Henry thus argued that to pray without ceasing is a disposition of the heart waiting upon the Lord all through the day.

Directive Three: Close Every Day with God

Henry said we may end our days in contentment if we have the Lord as our God. He wrote, “Let this still every storm, on and and create a calm in thy soul. Having God Be ourGod in covenant, we have enough; we have all. And though the gracious soul still desires more of God, it never desires more than God; in him it reposted itself with a perfect complacency; in him it is at home, it is at rest.”

Henry advised us to lie down with thanksgiving to God when we go to bed at night. We should review his mercies and deliverances at the end of each day. “Every bite we eat, and every drop we drink, is mercy; every step we take, and every breath we draw, mercy.” We should be thankful for nighttime as God’s provision for our rest, for a place to lay our heads, and for the health of body and peace of mind which allows us to sleep.

Henry suggested we might fall asleep with thoughts such as these:

To thy glory, O God, I now go to sleep. Whether we eat or drink, yea, or sleep, for this is included in whatever we do – we must do it for the glory of God…. To thy grace, O God, and to the word of thy grace I now commend myself. It is good to fall asleep, with a fresh surrender of our whole selves, body, soul, and spirit, to God… O that when I awake I may still be with God; that the parenthesis of sleep, bough long, may not break off the thread of my communion with God, but that as soon as I awake I may resume it!

Oh may I, may we, learn to live in prayer like this!

* Beeke, Joel; Najapfour, Brian. Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer. (Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, MI. 2011) pgs 153-152.