Charles SpurgeonI’m hardly alone in expressing love and admiration for Charles Spurgeon. He had a way with words that is nearly unsurpassed in the history of the church. These words about prayer and the Lord’s Prayer are powerful and challenging.

I very much question whether this prayer was intended to be used by Christ’s own disciples as a constant form of prayer.

It seems to me that Christ gave it as a model, whereby we are to fashion all our prayers, and I think we may use it to edification, and with great sincerity and earnestness, at certain times and seasons. I have seen an architect form the model of a building he intends to erect of plaster or wood; but I never had an idea that it was intended for me to live in. I have seen an artist trace on a piece of brown paper, perhaps, a design which he intended afterwards to work out on more costly stuff; but I never imagined the design to be the thing itself. This prayer of Christ is a great chart, as it were: but I cannot cross the sea on a chart. It is a map; but a man is not a traveler because he puts his fingers across the map. And so a man may use this form of prayer, and yet be a total stranger to the great design of Christ in teaching it to his disciples.

I feel that I cannot use this prayer to the omission of others. Great as it is, It does not express all I desire to say to my Father which is in heaven. There are many sins which I must confess separately and distinctly; and the various other petitions which this prayer contains require, I feel, to be expanded, when I come before God in private; and I must pour out my heart in the language which his Spirit gives me; and more than that, I must trust in the Spirit to speak the unutterable groanings of my spirit, when my lips cannot actually express all the emotions of my heart.

Let none despise this prayer; it is matchless, and if we must have forms of prayer, let us have this first, foremost, and chief; but let none think that Christ would tie his disciples to the constant and only use of this. Let us rather draw near to the throne of the heavenly grace with boldness, as children coming to a father, and let us tell forth our wants and our sorrows in the language which the Holy Spirit teacheth us.

 

Do you ever have those days where you just want to sin? Sin looks delicious while righteousness looks distasteful. Sin looks satisfying and holiness looks frustrating. You wake up in the morning with a desire to do what you know you should not desire to do. Your heart echoes with what God said to Cain: “Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you.” And your desire is for it.

What do you do on a day like that?

Take the Blame

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:13-15). Sin takes advantage of your sinful desires by promising satisfaction in the expression and fulfillment of those desires. Take the blame for wanting to sin. You want to sin because you are a sinner!

Look for Satan

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith…” (1 Peter 5:8-9). Satan knows you are prone to sin and knows you well enough to know your specific temptations to sin. In the days you are being tempted to sin, you may well be facing his attacks. When sin feels extrinsic, like it is coming from outside as much as inside, prepare yourself to resist the devil.

Talk to God

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. … praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:11, 18a). When tempted to sin, you are told to put on the whole armor of God—the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and so on. Each of these pieces of armor is donned and deployed through prayer. You resist sin and withstand temptation through humbling yourself in prayer and by crying out to God for his strength.

Talk to Someone Else

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). Tell your husband or wife, your colleague, your friend, your accountability partner. Confess your desire. Make it as simple as it really is: “I want to sin today. Sin looks desirable; holiness looks boring.” Ask for their prayer in the moment and ask them to talk to you later to ask if and how you withstood the temptation. Just as they can pray with you now to plead God’s help, they can pray with you later to rejoice in his deliverance.

Preach the Gospel

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Preach this great gospel truth to yourself. As a Christian, you have been purchased by Christ. You belong to him. You are his. You have been given everything you need to resist—the ability and the desire. You are a new creation and both can and should behave as such. Preach the gospel to yourself and remember whose you are.

Resist the Temptation

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). God promises that he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear, but that he will always provide a way of escape. He will provide a way, but you still need to take advantage of that way. Talk to God, ask him to make the way clear, and ask that he will give you grace to take it. Often resisting temptation is as simple as this: Don’t sin! Resolve that you will not sin and then follow resolve with stubborn obedience.

Rely on Patterns of Godliness

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you … Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience … And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called…” (Colossians 3:5-15). The Christian life is a lifelong obedience of replacing ungodly patterns and habits with godly ones. We continually put off the old man and put on the new. When facing temptation you will be tempted to fall back into old tendencies and habits. Instead, reject the old patterns of ungodliness and rely upon and follow the patterns of godliness you have developed.

Give Thanks

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). If temptation is born out of sinful desire and false promises of satisfaction through what God forbids, the solution is to give thanks. Where temptation focuses on all you do not have, thanksgiving focuses on all you have graciously been given. When you are tempted to sin, thank God for his good gifts. When you have been delivered from the temptation to sin, give thanks for his enabling grace.

Image credit: Shutterstock

 

John Stott
John Stott

I ought to be continuing my series on bestselling Christian books this morning, but found myself taken with this prayer from John Stott. It was apparently a prayer he would use to begin his day, and it’s a sweet one.

Good morning heavenly Father,
good morning Lord Jesus,
good morning Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, I worship you as the creator and sustainer of the universe.
Lord Jesus, I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world.
Holy Spirit, I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.
Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.
Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me.
Amen.

 

PrayerRequestLast night I sat with a group of men from our church and talked about prayer. And, as usually happens, our thoughts turned toward unanswered prayer or prayer that is answered very differently than we had asked or hoped. Why are there times when God seems not to answer? If a good Father would never give his children a stone in place of bread, why does it seem like God sometimes does this very thing?

The best way I know how to answer is to point to the cross. God’s people wanted deliverance from oppression. They wanted a Messiah. They wanted a Savior. Then that Messiah came. That Messiah told them that he was there to deliver them. That Messiah triumphantly entered Jerusalem as the prophecies had foretold. And then that Messiah was brutally murdered.

What happened? What did it all mean? Was this the answer to their prayers?

I think of Jesus’ disciples in the aftermath of the crucifixion, as the sun rose on the Sabbath day and their conquering Messiah lay cold and dead in the grave. They must have been perplexed. They must have wondered. They must have been confused and overwhelmed. Or maybe underwhelmed. Was this the answer to their prayers? What had happened to the promise of victory? When would they receive the deliverance they had been promised.

The Sabbath day came and went. And then they came to the first day of the week and an angelic messenger telling them, “He is not here, but has risen.” The fog began to lift.

What Jesus would accomplish made little sense to them when he described it in advance; what he was accomplishing made little sense while he endured it; what he had accomplished became clear only when they could look back on it. They just needed to wait. It all became clear in time.

And we often find ourselves in the same place. When we pray, and pray earnestly, and praying desiring God’s glory and fame, we know that he will answer and will give what we desire most. But we need to be patient. Like the disciples, we need to look to past, present and future with eyes of faith, trusting that in time everything will become clear.

 

The False Teachers

A few weeks ago I set out on a series of articles through which I am scanning the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notable false teachers and to examine the false doctrine each of them represents. Along the way we have visited such figures as Joseph Smith (Mormonism), Ellen G. White (Adventism), Norman Vincent Peale (Positive Thinking) and Benny Hinn (Faith Healing). Today we turn to a post-Reformation nun whose mysticism has remained influential through the centuries. She represents the false teaching of mysticism.

Teresa of Avila

Teresa of AvilaTeresa of Avila was born on March 28, 1515, to a family that would soon number twelve. Sadly, Teresa’s mother died in 1529 and against her father’s wishes, she entered the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation at Avil. Very quickly she encountered significant health concerns and was rendered an invalid for three years. It was during this time that she discovered and developed a love for prayer. However, once her health was recovered, this dedication to prayer soon waned. At that time, and in that area, the Carmelites were a relaxed order and living as a nun was easy, respectable, and could even be glamorous at times.

In 1554, when she was almost 40, Teresa had an intense religious experience while she was before an image of the wounded Christ in the convent’s private chapel. She felt that Christ “was within me, or that I was totally engulfed by him.” Such experiences became more common and she became accustomed to Christ appearing to her and engulfing her in his love, though this was regarded with suspicion by her fellow nuns and by her priest confessors. There was suspicion toward anyone who claimed to be receiving special illumination or revelation from God.

In 1558, increasingly concerned with the laxity of Carmelite life, Teresa began to consider reform. This reform would require Carmelite nuns to completely withdraw from society around them so they could dedicate their time and attention to prayer, and through a life of repentance and penance, do works of reparation for the sins of mankind. Pope Pius IV authorized this reform and in 1562 she founded a new convent, insisting that the nuns survive only through receiving public alms. She would give the rest of her life to establishing and growing sixteen of these convents through Spain. Though it all, she would have ongoing and increasing mystical experiences.

She left behind a significant number of books including The Way of Perfection (1583), and The Interior Castle (1588), which many regard as a masterpiece of spiritual autobiography alongside Augustin’s Confessions. Beside her books, she left behind some 31 poems and 458 letters.

Teresa died of cancer on October 4, 1582. It was said that she died in a state of ecstasy and that as she died, any object she had touched sent forth a sweet odor. Forty years later she was canonized by Pope Gregory XV and shortly thereafter named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI, the first female to be so honored.

False Teaching – Mysticism

Teresa was a mystic. Donald Whitney says mysticism refers to “those forms of Christian spirituality which attempt direct or unmediated access to God.” Mystics are those who expect to experience “a direct inner realization of the Divine” and an “unmediated link to an absolute.”

At the heart of Teresa’s teaching was the ascent of the soul into sweet and unbroken mystical communion with God. She described four progressive stages in this ascent.

  1. Mental Prayer. The first is mental prayer, devout contemplation and concentration, through which the soul withdraws from everything physical around it. This happens especially during penitence and during times of observing Christ in his suffering and death.
  2. Prayer of Quiet. In prayer of quiet, the human will becomes lost in God’s will in a kind of supernatural state. Faculties such as memory, reason and imagination have not yet been quieted from outside distraction, but the mind and will are quiet in a growing experience of Christ’s presence.
  3. Devotion of Union. The devotion of union is a supernatural, ecstatic state in which human reason has become absorbed in God and only memory and imagination remain unclaimed. This is a state of bliss and peace where the higher faculties experience a sweet rest and the devotee experiences conscious rapture in God’s love.
  4. Devotion of Ecstasy or Rapture. This is a passive state in which the feeling of having a physical body disappears. Sense, memory and imagination are all absorbed in God. “Body and spirit are in the throes of a sweet, happy pain, alternating between a fearful fiery glow, a complete impotence and unconsciousness, and a spell of strangulation, sometimes by such an ecstatic flight that the body is literally lifted into space . This after half an hour is followed by a reactionary relaxation of a few hours in a swoon-like weakness, attended by a negation of all the faculties in the union with God. The subject awakens From this in tears; it is the climax of mystical experience, producing a trance. Indeed, she was said to have been observed levitating during Mass on more than one occasion.”

Followers & Modern Adherents

Despite significant opposition to her experiences and reform, Teresa gained a substantial following in her day and was influential on her generation of fellow Carmelite nuns and on other mystics such as John of the Cross. Her influence has only widened in the centuries since, and especially after her canonization. Her books have been the primary means of disseminating her ideas.

In days past her many admirers have seen her in many different lights. “George Eliot, who cast Teresa as patron saint of the frustrated bluestocking Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch ; Vita Sackville–West, who made Teresa into a twentieth century free spirit with (but of course) lesbian proclivities; and a range of feminist theorists, from Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex to the tenured denizens of numerous women’s studies departments. To them, Teresa was a postmodern “subversive” against patriarchal power structures both secular and ecclesial, androcentric metanarrative, and whatever else is currently deemed oppressive to the female sex.”1

In recent days her influence among Christians has grown, and especially during a resurgence of interest in contemplative prayer. Her doctrine of asceticism is considered a classic explanation and exposition of the contemplative life. Teresa’s understanding of the soul’s ascent and the mystical communion with God through contemplative prayer has been influential to the likes of those who have a fascination with mysticism including Brennan Manning, Richard Foster, and Watchman Nee, along with many who were (or are) associated with Emerging Christianity. We can also spot her direct or indirect influence in the works of bestselling authors like Sarah Young (Jesus Calling) and Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts).

What the Bible Says

At the heart of mysticism is the primacy of experience over Scripture. Mystics seek to experience God directly rather than through the mediation of the Bible. Scripture demands for itself a unique place in the Christian life and church and mysticism threatens to supplant it. One of the great challenges before every Christian and every generation of Christians is this: Will the Bible be enough? Will we affirm the sufficiency of Scripture—that the Bible is all we need for life and doctrine—or will we demand that God reveal himself to us in other ways, such as mystical raptures?

Protestants have long held to the doctrine of sola scripture—Scripture alone. Teresa wrote during the Counter-Reformation, the period of time in which Rome was responding to the challenge of these Protestant doctrines. Donald Whitney says, “the Scriptures alone—and not anyone’s individual experience nor the collected and distilled corporate tradition of the church—are our final authority. And the Scriptures are our final authority because the Scriptures are what God says. In this context sola scriptura means that the Bible is the ultimate authority in all matters of faith and Christian living, and thus the ultimate authority in spirituality.” The Bible is also “a sufficient guide for our spirituality. In other words, the authority for our spirituality claims its sufficiency as the director of our spirituality.” The Bible will guide us not only in what we know of God but also in how we know God.

Whitney offers two ways we cross this boundary of sola scriptura. The first is whenever

we seek an experience with Him in a way not found in Scripture. In one sense it is difficult to think of an example of an encounter with God for which there is nothing remotely similar in the Bible. Yet in another sense mankind seems to have a unlimited capacity to invent ways to “get in touch with God.” And all these have in common the presumption of the ability to experience God apart from the forms He has selected, and/or the presumption of the ability to experience Him immediately, that is, unmediated by God’s ordained means of revealing Himself to us.

A second way to cross the boundary of sola scriptura is

seeking to experience God in a way not inaugurated, guided, or interpreted by Scripture. Scripture should inaugurate many of our experiences with God, for the Scriptures are the clearest revelation of God. This is why He gave His Word to us, so that we would experience Him. And in a real sense we might say that all true experiences with God are ultimately inaugurated by Scripture.

When we understand the unique position Scripture demands for itself, we also understand the danger inherent in mysticism.

 

The Bestsellers

A short time ago I launched a new series called “The Bestsellers.” The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association tracks sales of Christian books, and awards the Platinum Book Award for books whose sales exceed one million, and the Diamond Book Award for sales exceeding ten million. In this series I am looking at the history and impact of some of the Christian books that have sold more than a million copies—no small feat when the average Christian books sells only a few thousand. We will encounter books by a cast of characters ranging from Joshua Harris, Randy Alcorn and David Platt all the way to Joel Osteen, Bruce Wilkinson and William Young. Today we look at a surprise bestseller that is one of the very few to have sold more than ten million copies.

The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson

prayer-of-jabezBruce Wilkinson earned advanced theological degrees at several Christian seminaries and for a time served as a professor at Multnomah Bible College in Portland, Oregon. In 1976, he began Walk Thru the Bible, a worldwide ministry that provides seminars and conferences to teach biblical doctrine. He remained at the helm from 1976 until 2003 when he was succeeded by Chip Ingram.

In 2000, Wilkinson teamed up with Multnomah Publishers to release The Prayer of Jabez : Breaking Through to the Blessed Life and almost from the moment of release, it left an indelible mark on Christian publishing. The book is based on two verses from 1 Chronicles 4: “Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.’ Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!’ And God granted what he asked.”

In the introduction Wilkinson says, “I want to teach you how to pray a daring prayer that God always answers. It is brief—only one sentence with four parts—and tucked away in the Bible, but I believe it contains they key to a life of extraordinary favor with God. This petition has radically changed what I expect from God and what I experience every day by His power.” The first chapter begins with these words: “The little book you’re holding is about what happens when ordinary Christians decide to reach for an extraordinary life—which, as it turns out, is exactly the kind God promises.” Moving to biography, he tells how thirty years earlier he had discovered that small prayer spoken to Jabez and had prayed it on a daily basis ever since. “In the pages of this little book, I want to introduce you to the amazing truths in Jabez’s prayer for blessing and prepare you to expect God’s astounding answers as a regular part of your life experience.”

Through the book he teaches Christians that if they repeat Jabez’s prayer and make it an integral part of their devotional life, they will experience God’s favor in new and remarkable ways. “I challenge you to make the Jabez prayer for blessing part of the daily fabric of your life. To do that, I encourage you to follow unwaveringly the plan outlined here for the next thirty days. By the end of that time, you’ll be noticing significant changes in your life, and the prayer will be on its way to becoming a treasured, lifelong habit.”

The rest of the book simply teaches Wilkinson’s interpretation of the prayer and his guidance on praying it most effectively.

Sales & Lasting Impact

The Prayer of Jabez was an immediate bestseller and, according to some sources, became the fastest-selling book to that point in history. By 2001 the book had sold nearly two million copies and was awarded the Platinum Book Award. A whole industry of peripheral products grew up around it and many of them also earned awards: The Prayer of Jabez Devotional and The Prayer of Jabez for Teens both received the Gold Book Award that year. In 2003 The Prayer of Jabez for Kids and The Prayer of Jabez for Teens were both awarded the Platinum Book Award while The Prayer of Jabez for Women and The Prayer of Jabez Bible Study attained Gold status. In 2008 The Prayer of Jabez crossed the 10 million threshold and received the Diamond Book Award, putting it in the rarest of company. Only four other Christian books before or since have surpassed ten million sold.

While the book met with enthusiastic reception among many Christians, it also met significant criticism. Many believers expressed concern that Wilkinson presumes upon God by saying that God promises to always answer this prayer. It was also criticized for being an example of the “vain repetitions” Jesus forbids in his most explicit teaching on prayer. In short, the book contradicts what the Bible teaches and models in prayer. A review at Grace to You highlights another area of concern. The book “paints an inconsistent picture of the Christian life. Wilkinson asserts that praying Jabez’s prayer leads to a life of incredible blessing and ever-increasing ministry opportunities—a life that sounds almost like a fairy-tale. However, little reference is ever made to the reality of genuine difficulties in life, and the necessity of sincere prayer to face those difficulties in a God-honoring way.” Continue reading to see why this becomes especially important.

In the wake of the success of The Prayer of Jabez, several authors penned book-length responses and many of these sold in large numbers. Derek Webb said that his song “Wedding Dress” was based on the book.

Since the Award

Wilkinson has since written a number of other books. While none have approximated the success of The Prayer of Jabez, several have sold in significant numbers, with Secrets of the Vine selling over two million copies, A Life God Rewards selling over one million, and The Dream Giver selling over a half million.

One interesting episode in Wilkinson’s life merits mention for the way it so clearly contradicts his own teaching. In 2005 and 2006 both the Wall Street Journal and Christianity Today reported on Wilkinson’s broken dream for Africa. In 2002, at the heart of the success of The Prayer of Jabez, Wilkinson traveled through Africa and later told Christianity Today, “God ripped open our chest, took out our heart, dug a hole in Africa, put it in, covered it with soil and said, ‘Now, follow your heart and move down to Africa’.” Wilkinson soon launched Dream for Africa and announced that he was moving to Africa to save one million AIDS orphans. He would begin his work in the small nation of Swaziland.

The first problem he determined to solve was the problem of hunger. “Because I don’t come out of this arena of humanitarian aid, I have a fresh pair of eyes,” he said. Soon teams from America were traveling to Africa to plant vegetable gardens in yards across the nation. The next issue he would solve was the AIDS crisis, and for this reason he dispatched teams of American Bible college students and African volunteers to every high school in Swaziland where they held abstinence seminars.

In 2002 Wilkinson was granted an audience with King Mswati III and soon thereafter announced the African Dream Village. This village would be what the Wall Street Journal termed “a massive tourist-orphan-industrial complex.” The village would have homes for 10,000 orphans with each one housing twenty children and an elderly Swazi couple to serve as parents and chaperones. The houses would have a $500 per week bed and breakfast suite for tourists, allowing wealthy Western tourists to combine vacation with charity. “Fifty such homes would form a mini-village of 1,000 orphans, built around a theme — such as Wild West rodeos or Swazi village life — to entertain guests. There would also be a new luxury hotel and an 18-hole golf course. Orphans would be trained as rodeo stars and safari guides at nearby game reserves.”

Wilkinson recruited a native Swazi to help him head the project. Together they located 32,000 acres of prime land and asked the government to grant the organization a ninety-nine-year lease. Over several months they pitched the idea to various government officials and received verbal commitments. Finally Wilkinson provided a 34-page proposal and gave the Swazi government five days to approve it, threatening he would take his plan elsewhere if they did not grant immediate approval. For several months he negotiated until he realized his position was hopeless. Swazi media was mocking his plan, Swazi citizens were outraged that he planned to take children away from their clans and villages, and the king showed that he had no genuine interest.

In October Wilkinson suddenly announced his resignation, saying “With the successful launch of Dream for Africa, my family and I feel our work in Africa is complete.” An internal memo to his staff explained that, to his regret, God had told him to leave Africa and return to North America. The dream dwindled and died.

The Wall Street Journal provides a sad epilogue:

Word of Mr. Wilkinson’s decision slowly reached Swaziland, where it dismayed his followers. “I don’t know how to handle this,” said Rev. Zakes Nxumalo. “People won’t understand; to them Bruce is everything,” he added. “How can he leave everything in the middle of the road?” asked 22-year-old Gcina Mdluli, who has taken a vow of sexual abstinence and now volunteers full-time in Mr. Wilkinson’s school anti-AIDS programs.

Mr. Wilkinson says that he blames neither God nor man. He says he weeps when he thinks of his disappointed acolytes, and is trying to come to grips with a miracle that didn’t materialize despite his unceasing recitation of the Jabez prayer.

A Personal Perspective

The Prayer of Jabez came before my time as a writer and book reviewer. I knew it only as an absurd product with an entire industry surrounding it and multitudes lauding it. While I believe we can fairly understand and critique The Prayer of Jabez on its own terms, we understand it far better in the wake of the abject failure of Dream for Africa. The simple fact is: the prayer is not effective because it is not drawn faithfully from Scripture.

 

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Praying, and especially praying in public, represents a challenge to most Christians. It represents a challenge to the one praying—a challenge to pray humbly and clearly before others. Too often it represents an even greater challenge to the ones who hear that prayer—a challenge to follow a too-long and too-rambling prayer interspersed with filler words like “I just…” and “Father God.” D. A. Carson provides some timely counsel in his book A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. His solution is simple: Work at your prayers. Here is what he says:

If you are in any form of spiritual leadership, work at your public prayers. It does not matter whether the form of spiritual leadership you exercise is the teaching of a Sunday school class, pastoral ministry, small-group evangelism, or anything else: if at any point you pray in public as a leader, then work at your public prayers.

Some people think this advice distinctly corrupt. It smells too much of public relations, of concern for public image. After all, whether we are praying in private or in public, we are praying to God: Surely he is the one we should be thinking about, no one else.

This objection misses the point. Certainly if we must choose between trying to please God in prayer, and trying to please our fellow creatures, we must unhesitatingly opt for the former. But that is not the issue. It is not a question of pleasing our human hearers, but of instructing them and edifying them.

The ultimate sanction for this approach is none less than Jesus himself. At the tomb of Lazarus, after the stone has been removed, Jesus looks to heaven and prays, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me” (John 11:41-42). Here, then, is a prayer of Jesus himself that is shaped in part by his awareness of what his human hearers need to hear.

The point is that although public prayer is addressed to God, it is addressed to God while others are overhearing it. Of course, if the one who is praying is more concerned to impress these human hearers than to pray to God, then rank hypocrisy takes over. That is why Jesus so roundly condemns much of the public praying of his day and insists on the primacy of private prayer (Matt. 6:5-8). But that does not mean that there is no place at all for public prayer. Rather, it means that public prayer ought to be the overflow of one’s private praying. And then, judging by the example of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, there is ample reason to reflect on just what my prayer, rightly directed to God, is saying to the people who hear me.

In brief, public praying is a pedagogical [teaching] opportunity. It provides the one who is praying with an opportunity to instruct or encourage or edify all who hear the prayer. In liturgical churches, many of the prayers are well-crafted, but to some ears they lack spontaneity. In nonliturgical churches, many of the prayers are so predictable that they are scarcely any more spontaneous than written prayers, and most of them are not nearly as well-crafted. The answer to both situations is to provide more prayers that are carefully and freshly prepared. That does not necessarily mean writing them out verbatim (though that can be a good thing to do). At the least, it means thinking through in advance and in some detail just where the prayer is going, preparing, perhaps, some notes, and memorizing them.

Public praying is a responsibility as well as a privilege. In the last century, the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon did not mind sharing his pulpit: others sometimes preached in his home church even when he was present. But when he came to the “pastoral prayer,” if he was present, he reserved that part of the service for himself. This decision did not arise out of any priestly conviction that his prayers were more efficacious than those of others. Rather, it arose from his love for his people, his high view of prayer, his conviction that public praying should not only intercede with God but also instruct and edify and encourage the saints.

Many facets of Christian discipleship, not least prayer, are rather more effectively passed on by modeling than by formal teaching. Good praying is more easily caught than taught. If it is right to say that we should choose models from whom we can learn, then the obverse truth is that we ourselves become responsible to become models for others. So whether you are leading a service or family prayers, whether you are praying in a small-group Bible study or at a convention, work at your public prayers.

Valley Of Vision
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Over the past few months I have enjoyed exploring some theological and historical themes and I have been posting the results here every Sunday morning. I hope to begin a new series next week called “The False Teachers.” The series will look at some of church history’s notorious false teachers, stretching from ancient times to today.

This morning, though, I found myself enjoying this prayer from The Valley of Vision and wanted to share it because it is ideal for the Lord’s Day. Did you know Banner of Truth has the whole of Valley of Vision at their site? (Simply visit, then scroll down and look in the right sidebar.)

This is a sweet prayer; maybe it be a prayer shared between you to your God today…

O God, My Exceeding Joy,
Singing thy praises uplifts my heart,
for thou art a fountain of delight,
and dost bless the soul that joys in thee.
But because of my heart’s rebellion
I cannot always praise thee as I ought;
Yet I will at all times rest myself in
thy excellences, goodness, and loving-kindness.
Thou art in Jesus the object of inexpressible joy,
and I take exceeding pleasure in the thought
of thee.
But Lord, I am sometimes thy enemy;
my nature revolts and wanders from thee.
Though thou hast renewed me,
yet evil corruptions urge me still to oppose thee.
Help me to extol thee with entire heart-submission,
to be diligent in self-examination,
to ask myself
whether I am truly born again,
whether my spirit is the spirit of thy children,
whether my griefs are those that tear
repenting hearts,
whether my joys are the joys of faith,
whether my confidence in Christ works
by love and purifies the soul.
Give me the sweet results of faith,
in my secret character, and in my public life.
Cast cords of love around my heart,
then hold me and never let me go.
May the Saviour’s wounds sway me more
than the sceptre of princes.
Let me love thee in a love that covers
and swallows up all,
that I may not violate my chaste union
with the beloved;
There is much unconquered territory
in my nature,
scourge out the buyers and sellers
of my soul’s temple,
and give me in return pure desires,
and longings after perfect holiness.

 

I came across this video today from The Atheist Antidote and I found his tone to be calm and his presentation to be well-reasoned about what true love is. Please take the time to watch here:

I have a number of friends that have chosen worldviews and lifestyles that are contrary to the worldview that God has revealed to me through the reading of Scripture. I don't know all the circumstances that led them to their lifestyle choices but I do know that the Word of God is clear on these issues that are at the forefront of the culture today. What ever their worldview and lifestyle choice, I want to be abundantly clear that the reason I oppose their choices and worldview is certainly not because I hate them. Quite the contrary. I know what lies ahead of them if they do not repent and through God's gift of faith, trust in our Lord Jesus Christ and His imputed righteousness on their behalf and renew them to a right standing with God, their end will be an eternity living under the full fury of the wrath of God. But it doesn't need to be this way. God has graciously provided the way of escape, even though He is under no obligation to save ANY of us! To my friends caught up in these lifestyles and worldviews, ask God to reveal Himself to you through the reading of His word. My first suggestion is to read the book of John once a day for two weeks and answer this one question, Who is Jesus Christ? If you are willing to do this, I would love to hear your answer at that time. You may contact me here. To those of us who don't happen to struggle with these particular sins, let us always remember that the sins we DO struggle with are just as heinous to God as any we oppose in others.

>All over the news for the last few weeks has been the story of Rifqa Bary, the 17 year old girl who fled her home in Ohio in fear that because of her conversion to Christianity from Islam, her family would consider her an apostate and in order to preserve her family’s honor, her father would consider her death an honor killing. The Pastor of the Global Revolution Church in Orlando, FL has taken Rifqa in and given her a safe haven during this time and has asked for Christians to email their support for Rifqa to the church’s information email address, info@grcorlando.org and they will compile the messages into a notebook for Rifqa.

I encourage all who read this post to send Rifqa a word of encouragement and let her know that you are not only praying for her, but that you are praying that God’s glory will be demonstrated through her life and testimony.

Here is the text of my email to Rifqa:

Dear Rifqa,

Greetings in the name above all other names, the Name of our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, who was, and is, and is to come. All blessing, honor, glory, and dominion be unto His blessed Name.

I know to say that this is a troubling time for you is the understatement of all understatements, but I want to encourage you with the words of our Lord to His disciples prior to His crucifixion. John chapters 14 and 15 tell of Jesus’ last time of fellowship with His disciples and I hope that you will read this passage and allow the comfort of the Holy Spirit to ease your mind and give you peace during this difficult time. I particularly want to draw your attention to verse 27 of chapter 14 where Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Christ has your life in His hands and no matter the outcome, His Name will be glorified and as His chosen, He is working all things for your good. (Romans 8:28)

God in His sovereign plan appears to have brought you here “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14, an amazing story of the sovereign plan of God) Remember “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” (Philipians 1:6)

Be at peace, my dear sister in Christ and know there is a remnant of believers all over the world who are lifting you up in prayer. God bless you and may His glory be ever radiant in your testimony!

Continue to pray, not only for Rifqa, but for her family as well. To God be the glory!