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Three Ways Parents Can Pray for Their Prodigal Children

In Home and Family on July 30, 2018 by The Spillover

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Sarah Walton:

I once was that prodigal child — lost, angry, and struggling to find my identity. Hardened on the outside, but deeply hurting within. The pain of my choices was not only destroying me, but creating heartache within our family and severing my relationships with the people who loved me most.

By God’s grace, my parents did not give up on me — despite how tempting it must have been at times. Instead, they entrusted my life to God, prayed for my brokenness, and fought for me in prayers that God eventually answered.

Parents, if you are raising a seemingly hard-hearted, rebellious son or daughter (whether outwardly or inwardly), I challenge you to take up your arms, fight the spiritual battle that rages over them with all of your God-given strength, and refuse to give up on their life.

I encourage you to pray these three prayers over lost children.

1. Pray for a heart of brokenness, no matter the earthly cost.

It’s incredibly hard to pray for anything but a comfortable, successful, and pain-free life for our children. But as Christian parents, the greatest eternal good that we can pray for them is their salvation over their earthly happiness or comfort. We have to fight for them in this world filled with temporary pleasures, self-gratification, and blurry lines — entrusting their lives to our Lord — even if the path of salvation comes through pain.

I am eternally grateful that my parents loved me enough to pray for my brokenness, a brokenness that would lead to healing.

And my path of brokenness nearly killed me.

After a devastating loss of my identity as an athlete and hidden abuse from peers, my life spiraled out of control. I searched for identity and purpose in anything but Jesus. As self-destructive patterns drove me deeper into despair, I longed for an escape from this world, ultimately landing me in the protection of a hospital.

In that stark white hospital room, the choice before me was clear: be crushed by the weight of my sin or lay the broken pieces of my life at his feet. By his grace, he led me to my knees and has been redeeming those broken pieces ever since.

We will only be bold enough to pray a prayer of brokenness over our children when we ourselves have been broken before God and trust his love for our children and us. It’s only when we have completely surrendered our children to him that we can pray, “Father, use what you must to save my child from an eternity apart from you, no matter the cost.”

2. Pray against the enemy’s desire to have them.

A battle is being waged over our children’s lives. We have to fight for them, especially when blindness keeps them from fighting the battle themselves.

I remember my mom telling me the story of a time when I was standing in the kitchen with her, angry at the world, and taking it out on her. She looked at me and said boldly, “I am fighting for you, and I won’t let Satan have victory over your life!” After she spoke those words, I fell into a heap on the floor and burst into tears.

Although we don’t have a guarantee of our children’s salvation or the outcome we may desire, we can be confident that God is faithful to his promises and hears our prayers. One of the great weapons God has given parents to fight against the world’s pull and the enemy’s schemes over their children is to pray the way Christ did for Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31–32).

Although Peter was a believer and the children we are praying for may not be, we can still pray to God that he would rescue our children from the power of Satan, give them faith in Christ, and use their lives to advance the gospel and strengthen other believers.

3. Pray specific Scripture over their life.

Even if your child wants nothing to do with the truth and hates to hear the word of God, they can do nothing to stop you from praying Scripture for them. This is another mighty weapon God has given to parents.

My parents prayed Psalm 18:16–19 over my life and prayed it often:

He sent from on high, he took me;
he drew me out of many waters.
He rescued me from my strong enemy
and from those who hated me,
for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
he rescued me, because he delighted in me.

It truly amazes me to look back and see how faithful God was to answer this prayer. I was drowning in self-destruction, abuse from others, rebelliousness, and sorrows too deep to understand at the time. God, in his mercy, drew me out of many deep waters, and rescued me from my own flesh and Satan’s desire for me.

As I sat in a hospital room, no longer wanting to live, God rescued me, brought me out into a broad place, and showed me that he delighted in me (despite my unworthiness). He has continued to be faithful to this prayer, upholding me through many deep waters and carrying me through many dark days.

Parents, no matter how far your child seems to be from Jesus or what path they are on, you can fight for their life with the powerful weapon of God’s word.

The Power of a Praying Parent

The truth is, while we must teach and train our children, and put boundaries in place, we have no control over their hearts. Ultimately, God alone can fill their hearts with a love for Christ and open their eyes to see the beauty and glory of who he is.

I am learning this on a new level and from a different perspective as I now face struggles with my own children that often tempt me to despair. But we are not helpless, and we are never hopeless. Whether our children are young or old, have soft hearts or hearts of stone, we have the power of prayer, God’s living word, and a sovereign God we can trust.

Our Father in heaven loves to take seemingly hopeless lives, like my own once was, and show himself merciful and mighty. Give your child the gift of prayer, and trust that God will use his or her life for his good purposes — growing and transforming your own life in the process.

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Answering Claims That the Bible Contains Errors, and Why It Matters That It Doesn’t

In Scripture on December 14, 2017 by The Spillover

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Randy Alcorn:

When people say they believe the Bible contains errors, it’s a good practice to ask them to name those errors so you can open a Bible and look at them together.

Sometimes they will raise old and easily answered questions such as “Where did Cain get his wife?” But usually they can’t name many supposed errors, if any at all. Often, they’ve taken as truth the word of other people that the Bible contains errors, without investigating for themselves.

When you take the time to talk about their concerns, you can demonstrate that you have investigated it for yourself, that you’ve done your homework, and are convinced that when God says all Scripture is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), He means that it is all accurate and reliable. Of course, if you haven’t actually done that, it’s time to start! Don’t be afraid, because God’s Word will hold up under your scrutiny. (It certainly has under mine!)

Remember, if someone asks a question you don’t know the answer to, it’s okay to say, “That’s a great question. Let me research it, and I’ll get back with you.” The Christian Research Institute gives this advice: “…rather than taking a fearful attitude when faced with an alleged biblical contradiction, we should view these occasions as opportunities to search and explore the Scriptures. One thing I can guarantee is this: your awe of the majesty of Scripture will deepen.”

Where Did Cain Get His Wife?

Let’s go back to Cain’s wife. She is referred to in Genesis 4:17 as the mother of Enoch. The typical claim is that Cain couldn’t have had a wife since only he and Abel were born to Adam and Eve.

This fails to recognize that Genesis 5:4 specifically tells us that Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters. Considering their long lifespans they likely had many childbearing years. But is there a problem since Genesis 4:17 precedes Genesis 5:4? Not at all. The narrative is not strictly sequential. It’s very common for books of history to talk about one person’s life, tracing out what they did for decades, then move back to deal with another of their contemporaries. With Cain, the text of Genesis has fast-forwarded decades, and by then he likely had a number of sisters of marriageable age. He obviously married one of them, or if it was multiple decades later, possibly one of his nieces. If in those days no one had children by a close relative, the human race would have quickly become extinct.

The problem of Cain’s wife is no problem to anyone but the most superficial reader of Scripture (and to those who have heard others say it is a problem).

What about Other Supposed Errors?

There are many claims of various errors in the Bible; I’ll deal with just a couple.

Some say that since it groups bats with birds, the Bible falsely teaches that bats are a type of bird (Deuteronomy 14:1118). First, there was no scientific definition or established classification of a bird in that time. It makes perfect sense that bats could be grouped with birds due to the fact that both fly.

The inspired original manuscript, in reference to bats, used a Hebrew word meaning a kind of animal that can fly. Unfortunately, some English translations render the word as “bird.” When a bat is involved, a better English translation would be “flying animal.” Obviously, it’s not an error to categorize a bat as a flying animal!

Some critics claim attribution errors, such as in Matthew 27:9-10: “Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.’” This reference is actually found in Zechariah 11:13, not in the book of Jeremiah.

The answer to this lies in early Judaism’s understanding of the canon of the Old Testament. The standard Jewish practice was to group the prophets together, even as Jesus did in referring to “the Law and the Prophets” in Matthew 22:40. According to Jewish scholar Nahum Sarna, Jeremiah was once regarded as the first book of the prophets, before Isaiah. He further explains “…in the Jewish way of labelling things you call a book by its first few words, and you call a collection of books by the first book in that collection.” So a learned Jewish exegete would see nothing strange in Matthew’s attributing this fulfilled prophecy of the potter’s field to Jeremiah.

Was Jesus Wrong about the Mustard Seed?

Some claim that when Jesus said the mustard seed was the “smallest of all the seeds on earth” (Mark 4:31), He was mistaken, since there are smaller seeds.

According to botany experts, the seed of the black mustard variety was in fact the smallest garden-variety seed commonly used in Palestine—even the entire eastern world—at that time. It grew into a very large shrub. Jesus used it as an illustration twice, and both times was speaking proverbially with statements about faith (Matthew 17:14-20) and the Kingdom of God (Mark 4:30-34).

John Piper lends a helpful perspective by clarifying the proper definition of error for judging the reliability of any literature. Thus when Jesus said the Kingdom of God is “like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth” (Mark 4:31), His basic intention was “not in the least botanical…Jesus capitalized on the proverbial smallness of the mustard seed to make a perfect, inerrant point about the kingdom of God.”

Why Does All This Matter?

It matters because if we cannot trust the Bible—if we can’t rely on it to tell us the truth in everything it speaks to—then it cannot be, as 2 Timothy 3 says, “profitable” for us. We can’t correct ourselves with it if it’s sometimes incorrect.

And if it isn’t reliable in this and that area, why would I think it is correct about love, holiness, grace, justice, idolatry, greed, gossip, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, or even the Gospel itself? If the Bible cannot be trusted to tell us the truth in all things—big or small—how can it be trusted at all? And if God considers truth so precious, and His Word so powerful, why would He claim to breathe out Scripture from His mouth (2 Timothy 3:16) and carry along the writers of Holy Scripture (2 Peter 1:21), and then fail to guard that Scripture against error?

In the early church, God’s Word, all of it, was viewed as the standard by which God’s people should evaluate any and all teachings. The Berean Christians were commended for measuring the apostle Paul’s words against the Old Testament Scriptures: “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11, NIV).

Unless the Bible were fully inspired, fully true, “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were true” would be meaningless. We can’t take something containing untruths—with no objective way to decide what’s true and what isn’t—and use it to measure whether something else is untrue. If you had a tape measure you knew to be inaccurate, would you bother using it?

Ironically, without studying Scripture or researching the actual facts, countless believers embrace the claims of the Bible’s critics. Yet most of those critics’ claims are nothing new. The Bible has been criticized incessantly for the last 150 years, and long before that. The charges just haven’t stuck. “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89).

I’m reminded of what the Huguenots said of the Bible and its critics: “Hammer away ye hostile hands; your hammers break, God’s Anvil stands.”

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Where Is God in a Mass Shooting?

In Perspective on October 3, 2017 by The Spillover

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Russell Moore:

A few hours ago I was on the phone with a friend in Las Vegas. He and his neighbors had just lived through, and will be living through for some time, the trauma of seeing in their own city the worst mass shooting in modern American history. I reflected after that conversation what my friend, a strong Christian and a respected leader, would say when asked by those around him, “Where was God in all of this?” He will have a word for his community, but for many Christians, when disaster or great evil strikes, this is a hard question to answer. Maybe that’s you.

The first thing we must do in the aftermath of this sort of horror is to make sure that we do not take the name of God in vain. After a natural disaster or an act of terror, one will always find someone, often claiming the mantle of Christianity, opining about how this moment was God’s judgment on an individual or a city or a nation for some specified sin. Jesus told us specifically not to do this, after his disciples asked whether a man’s blindness was the result of his or his parents’ sin. Jesus said no to both (Jn. 9:1-12). Those self-appointed prophets who would blame the victims for what befalls them are just that, self-appointed. We should listen to Jesus and to his apostles, not to them. Those killed in a terror attack or in a tsunami or in an epidemic are not more sinful than all of the rest of us.

We live in a fallen world, where awful, incomprehensible things happen. When an obvious and egregious injustice such as this one is done, we should stand where God does and see this as real evil, not as an illusion of evil. This means that our response to such should not be some sort of Stoic resignation but instead a lament with those around us who are hurting.

Christians sometimes suppose that our non-Christian friends and neighbors want to hear a detailed explanation, to justify God in light of such horror. The Bible doesn’t give us easy answers. The Word of God instead speaks of the “mystery of iniquity” (2 Thess. 2:7). When tragedy fell upon Job, an ancient follower of God, and asked why such happened to him, God did not fully answer him. God instead spoke of his own power and his own presence. That’s exactly what we should do.

We do not know why God does not intervene and stop some tragedies when he does stop others. What we do know, though, is that God stands against evil and violence. We know that God is present for those who are hurting. And we know that God will ultimately call all evil to a halt, in the ushering in of his kingdom. We know that God is, in the words of the hymn, both “merciful and mighty.”

When my wife and I were going through a difficult time, years ago, a friend stopped by, a respected theologian who spoke often and well of God’s sovereign providence. I expected him to speak to us of how God was working in this tragedy we were facing. He didn’t. He cried with us. He sat with us. He prayed with us. And as he left, he turned and said, “Russell, I don’t know why God permitted this to happen to you, but I know this: Jesus loves you, and Jesus is alive and present right now in your life.” I’ve never forgotten those words.

Our neighbors do not need us to provide easy answers to what is, this side of the eschaton, unexplainable. What they need, though, is a reminder for us that life is not the meaningless chaos it seems to be. There is a loving Presence at work in the universe. They need for us to weep and hurt with them, as Jesus did at the grave of his friend. In short, they need us to be a people of the cross, a people whose God is not distant and blank but a God who instead loved the world enough to send his Son to bear in his own body the full measure of the curse of evil. In the cross, we see evil and horror. We also see that God is there. And in the empty tomb, we see that death does not get the last word.

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Resolved: To Read the Bible

In Soul Food on December 30, 2016 by The Spillover

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David Mathis:

Whether you feel like a beginner, or the grizzled old veteran, one of the most important things you can do is regularly read the Bible for yourself.

It is a remarkable thing that we have Bibles we can read personally, whenever we want. For most of church history, and still today in many places in the world, Christians have not had their own personal copies of the Bible. They had to gather to hear someone read it to them. “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13) was all they had for Bible time.

But now, with printed Bibles and electronic options galore, we have priceless access to God’s very words to us, words that we are so tragically tempted to take lightly. Reading your own copy of the Bible daily is not a law that every believer must abide; most Christians have not had this option. But daily Bible reading is an extraordinary means of God’s grace. Why miss this bounty and blessing?

The Whole Thing?

“All Scripture,” says 2 Timothy 3:16, “is breathed out by God and profitable.” It is the whole Bible, says Sinclair Ferguson, which was given to make whole Christians. Everything in Scripture, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, is for the good of the church. “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

But not every text functions to build our faith in the same way, and has the same effect for every one of God’s children in the new covenant. It is a wonderful thing to read all the way through the Bible. It is something that pastors and teachers in the church should strongly consider doing on an annual basis, to let all the Scriptural data pass before their eyes for continually informing their public theological claims. But this is not a yoke to be set on every Christian every year. Though it would be a good thing for every Christian to try at some point, or at least to have some multi-year plan in place to eventually get you through the whole Bible in some cycle.

For those considering the journey, you may be surprised how doable it is. It takes about 70 hours to read the Bible from cover to cover.

That’s less time than the average American spends in front of the television every month. In other words, if most people would exchange their TV time for Scripture reading, they’d finish reading the entire Bible in four weeks or less. If that sounds unworkable, consider this: In no more than fifteen minutes a day you can read through the Bible in less than a year’s time. (Don Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 29)

Maybe now is your time to try it. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Discipleship Journal is our most beloved, and most used, over the years at Desiring God. There are four daily readings, but only 25 days each month — which leaves some margin for missing here and there when life gets busy. John Piper says, “Few things discourage us more from reading the Bible through in a year than falling behind. This plan gives five catch up days every month. This is absolutely golden!”
  • M’Cheyne is the classic plan, designed by Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813–1843), the beloved Scottish minister who died before his thirtieth birthday. The plan has readings for every day of the year and will take you once through the Old Testament and twice through the Psalms and the New Testament.
  • The Kingdom gives proportionate weight to the Old and New Testaments in view of their relative length, the Old receiving three readings per day and one for the New. The Old Testament readings follow the arrangement of the Hebrew Bible, with one reading coming from each portion per day. Only 25 readings are slated per month and can be started at any time of the year.
  • For Shirkers and Slackers is for those who’ve tried other plans and stalled out again and again. This plan assigns certain genres to certain days of the week and breaks biblical books into sections you can read in one sitting — so without reading everyday, you can still make measurable headway. Pace yourself well and do some extra reading, and you might even finish in less than a year.

Also Justin Taylor has a long list of plan options; Ligonier has another list.

Or if the whole thing in a year seems out of your reach, try taking up a plan and working through it at your own pace, even if it takes you several years. It will give you a specific place to go next when you open the Bible, instead of just opening to some random text, and in time it will give you confidence that you’ve traversed the whole terrain of Scripture and at least glimpsed briefly God’s full written revelation to us.

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Stop the Revolution. Join the Plodders.

In Perspective on October 5, 2016 by The Spillover

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Kevin DeYoung:

It’s sexy among young people—my generation—to talk about ditching institutional religion and starting a revolution of real Christ-followers living in real community without the confines of church. Besides being unbiblical, such notions of churchless Christianity are unrealistic. It’s immaturity actually, like the newly engaged couple who think romance preserves the marriage, when the couple celebrating their golden anniversary know it’s the institution of marriage that preserves the romance. Without the God-given habit of corporate worship and the God-given mandate of corporate accountability, we will not prove faithful over the long haul.

What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. That’s my dream for the church—a multitude of faithful, risktaking plodders. The best churches are full of gospel-saturated people holding tenaciously to a vision of godly obedience and God’s glory, and pursuing that godliness and glory with relentless, often unnoticed, plodding consistency.

My generation in particular is prone to radicalism without followthrough. We have dreams of changing the world, and the world should take notice accordingly. But we’ve not proved faithful in much of anything yet. We haven’t held a steady job or raised godly kids or done our time in VBS or, in some cases, even moved off the parental dole. We want global change and expect a few more dollars to the ONE campaign or Habitat for Humanity chapter to just about wrap things up. What the church and the world needs, we imagine, is for us to be another Bono—Christian, but more spiritual than religious and more into social justice than the church. As great as it is that Bono is using his fame for some noble purpose, I just don’t believe that the happy future of the church, or the world for that matter, rests on our ability to raise up a million more Bonos (as at least one author suggests). With all due respect, what’s harder: to be an idolized rock star who travels around the world touting good causes and chiding governments for their lack of foreign aid, or to be a line worker at GM with four kids and a mortgage, who tithes to his church, sings in the choir every week, serves on the school board, and supports a Christian relief agency and a few missionaries from his disposable income?

Until we are content with being one of the million nameless, faceless church members and not the next globe-trotting rock star, we aren’t ready to be a part of the church. In the grand scheme of things, most of us are going to be more of an Ampliatus (Rom. 16:8) or Phlegon (v. 14) than an apostle Paul. And maybe that’s why so many Christians are getting tired of the church. We haven’t learned how to be part of the crowd. We haven’t learned to be ordinary. Our jobs are often mundane. Our devotional times often seem like a waste. Church services are often forgettable. That’s life. We drive to the same places, go through the same routines with the kids, buy the same groceries at the store, and share a bed with the same person every night. Church is often the same too—same doctrines, same basic order of worship, same preacher, same people. But in all the smallness and sameness, God works—like the smallest seed in the garden growing to unbelievable heights, like beloved Tychicus, that faithful minister, delivering the mail and apostolic greetings (Eph. 6:21). Life is usually pretty ordinary, just like following Jesus most days. Daily discipleship is not a new revolution each morning or an agent of global transformation every evening; it’s a long obedience in the same direction.

It’s possible the church needs to change. Certainly in some areas it does. But it’s also possible we’ve changed—and not for the better. It’s possible we no longer find joy in so great a salvation. It’s possible that our boredom has less to do with the church, its doctrines, or its poor leadership and more to do with our unwillingness to tolerate imperfection in others and our own coldness to the same old message about Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s possible we talk a lot about authentic community but we aren’t willing to live in it.

The church is not an incidental part of God’s plan. Jesus didn’t invite people to join an anti-religion, anti-doctrine, anti-institutional bandwagon of love, harmony, and re-integration. He showed people how to live, to be sure. But He also called them to repent, called them to faith, called them out of the world, and called them into the church. The Lord “didn’t add them to the church without saving them, and he didn’t save them without adding them to the church” (John Stott).

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). If we truly love the church, we will bear with her in her failings, endure her struggles, believe her to be the beloved bride of Christ, and hope for her final glorification. The church is the hope of the world—not because she gets it all right, but because she is a body with Christ for her Head.

Don’t give up on the church. The New Testament knows nothing of churchless Christianity. The invisible church is for invisible Christians. The visible church is for you and me. Put away the Che Guevara t-shirts, stop the revolution, and join the rest of the plodders. Fifty years from now you’ll be glad you did.

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10 Spurgeon Quotes for Wounded Christians

In Soul Food on September 7, 2016 by The Spillover

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Christian George:

Carl F. H. Henry was right to call Charles Spurgeon “one of evangelical Christianity’s immortals” (Carl. F. H. Henry in the foreword to Lewis Drummond, Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers).

In his twenties, Spurgeon pastored the largest mega-church in Protestant Christendom. London’s most cavernous buildings could hardly accommodate his crowds – and one of them even collapsed. American tourists returning from England were greeted with two questions: “Did you see the Queen?’ and ‘Did you hear Spurgeon?’” (A. P. Peabody, “Spurgeon,” North American Review 86 [1858], 275). Truly, the memory of his ministry has become immortal.

But Spurgeon himself was very much mortal. The preacher was anything but bulletproof. In fact, for most of his life Spurgeon nursed deep wounds and struggled to cope with a myriad of emotional and physical maladies.
In 1867 Spurgeon suffered his first attack of chronic nephritis, or Bright’s Disease (kidney inflammation similar to Lupus). At 35 he was diagnosed with gout, an inflammation of the joints. In 1886 he said, “When I am suffering very greatly from gout, if anybody walks heavily and noisily across the room, it gives me pain” (MTP 49:234). In a letter to his brother he wrote, “I thought a cobra had bitten me and filled my veins with poison” (Autobiography 3:134).

So much medicine arrived from friends and family that Spurgeon said he “would have been dead long ago if we had tried half of them” (ST 4, February 1875).

Spurgeon also suffered from depression. “I do not suppose there is any person in this assembly who ever has stronger fits of depression of spirits than I have myself personally” (MTP 15:640). After witnessing seven people trampled to death he said, “The very sight of the Bible made me cry” (MTP 37:383-84).

On October 22, 2009, Dr. Anil Den, a London-based psychiatrist, reviewed Spurgeon’s symptoms and concluded:

“Spurgeon was suffering from a form of endogenous depression and that, if he had presented with such symptoms today he would certainly have been treated with a mixture of medication and therapy” (Peter J. Morden, Communion with Christ and His People, 262).

While it’s difficult to diagnose the dead, one thing is certain: Spurgeon lived in the spotlight and the shadow.

In a moving sermon “Songs in the Night,” Spurgeon revealed the struggle of the Christian trying to praise God in the dark:

It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but he is the skilful singer who can sing when there is not a ray of light by which to read,— who sings from his heart, and not from a book that he can see, because he has no means of reading, save from that inward book of his own living spirit, whence notes of gratitude pour forth in songs of praise (MTP 44:98-99).

Spurgeon’s ministry sparked a wildfire throughout the world because it was forged, to be sure, in the fire. “I think it would have been less painful to have been burned alive at the stake than to have passed through those horrors and depressions of spirit” (MTP 53:137-38).

Yet even in the heat of public criticism, character assassination, physical setbacks, and emotional challenges, Spurgeon experienced the warm kindness of God.

Spurgeon never suffered from having never suffered. He saw hardships as God’s hammer, shaping sinners into holiness and channeled his suffering into his sermons. Small wonder the hard working class were magnetized to him. “You must go through the fire,” he said, “if you would have sympathy with others who tread the glowing coals” (MTP 32:590).

Here are ten quotes with their contexts, forged on the anvil of Spurgeon’s own affliction:

1. “The storm has a bit in its mouth.”

“Perhaps at this very moment, down in some cabin, or amidst the noise and tumult, and the raging of the ocean, when many are alarmed, there are Christians with calm faces, patiently waiting their Father’s will, whether it shall be to reach the port of heaven, or to be spared to come again to land, into the midst of life’s trials and struggles once more. They feel that they are well-cared for, they know that the storm has a bit in its mouth, and that God holds it in, and nothing can hurt them; nothing can happen to them but what God permits.”

“Safe Shelter” (MTP 15, Sermon 902, p. 650).

2. “The greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness.”

“Health is set before us as if it were the great thing to be desired above all other things. It is so? I would venture to say that the greatest blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness. Sickness has frequently been of more use to the saints of God than health has. If some men, that I know of, could only be favoured with a month of rheumatism, it would, by God’s grace, mellow them marvelously.”

C. H. Spurgeon, “The Minister in These Times” in An All-Round Ministry (Banner of Truth, 2000), p. 384, italics in the original.

3. “Men will never become great in divinity until they become great in suffering.”

“Men will never become great in divinity until they become great in suffering. ‘Ah!’ said Luther, ‘affliction is the best book in my library;’ and let me add, the best leaf in the book of affliction is that blackest of all the leaves, the leaf called heaviness, when the spirit sinks within us, and we cannot endure as we could wish. And yet again; this heaviness is of essential use to a Christian, if he would do good to others. . . . There are none so tender as those who have been skinned themselves. Those who have been in the chamber of affliction know how to comfort those who are there. Do not believe that any man will become a physician unless he walks the hospitals; and I am sure that no one will become a divine, or become a comforter, unless he lies in the hospital as well as walks through it, and has to suffer himself.”

“The Christian’s Heaviness and Rejoicing” (NPSP 4, Sermon 222, p. 461).

4. “Better to be taught by suffering than to be taught by sin!”

“Perhaps there may be no way of teaching us so thoroughly the baseness of our heart as by leaving us to its devices; perhaps we shall never know our folly, unless suffered to play the fool, but oh prevent it, Lord! prevent it by thy grace! Better to be taught by suffering than to be taught by sin! Better to lie in God’s dungeon than to revel in the devil’s palace.”

“Hezekiah and the Ambassadors, Or Vainglory Rebuked” (MTP 12, Sermon 704, p.438).

5. “Our infirmities become the black velvet on which the diamond of God’s love glitters all the more brightly.”

“Grace is given to keep us from sin, which is a great blessing; but what is the good of grace except it is in the time when the trial comes? Certainly, the grace that will not stand in the hour of temptation or affliction, is a very spurious sort of grace; and we had better get rid of it, if we have it. When a godly woman’s child dies, the infidel husband sees the mother’s faith. When the ship goes down, and is lost in the sea, the ungodly merchant understands the resignation of his fellow-man. When pangs shoot through our body, and ghastly death appears in view, people see the patience of the dying Christian. Our infirmities become the black velvet on which the diamond of God’s love glitters all the more brightly. Thank God I can suffer, thank God I can be made the object of shame and contempt; for, in this way, God shall be glorified.”

“A Wafer of Honey” (MTP 52, Sermon 2974, p. 80).

6. “Mark then, Christian, Jesus does not suffer so as to exclude your suffering.”

“Mark then, Christian, Jesus does not suffer so as to exclude your suffering. He bears a cross, not that you may escape it, but that you may endure it. Christ exempts you from sin, but not from sorrow. Remember that, and expect to suffer.”

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Morning (New York: Sheldon and Company, 1865), April 5, p. 96.

7. “There is no University for a Christian like that of sorrow and trial.”

“Israel gained by education. The Lord was not going to lead a mob of slaves into Canaan, to go and behave like slaves there. They had to be tutored. The wilderness was the Oxford and Cambridge for God’s students. There they went to the University, and he taught and trained them, and they took their degree before they entered into the promised land. There is no University for a Christian like that of sorrow and trial.”

“Marah Better Than Elim” (MTP 39, Sermon 2301, p.151).

8. “There are times when we cannot cry at all, and then he cries in us.”

“Is it not ourselves that cry? Yes, assuredly; and yet the Spirit cries also. The expressions are both correct. The Holy Spirit prompts and inspires the cry. He puts the cry into the heart and mouth of the believer. It is his cry because he suggests it, approves of it, and educates us to it. We should never have cried thus if he had not first taught us the way. . . . There are times when we cannot cry at all, and then he cries in us. There are seasons when doubts and fears abound, and so suffocate us with their fumes that we cannot even raise a cry, and then the indwelling Spirit represents us, and speaks for us, and makes intercession for us, crying in our name.”

“Adoption –The Spirit and the Cry” (MTP 24, Sermon 1435, p. 537, italics in the original).

9. “O dear friend, when thy grief presses thee to the very dust, worship there!”

“O dear friend, when thy grief presses thee to the very dust, worship there! If that spot has come to be thy Gethsemane, then present there thy ‘strong crying and tears’ unto thy God. Remember David’s words, ‘Ye people, pour out your hearts,’ — but do not stop there, finish the quotation, — ‘Ye people, pour out your hearts before him.’ Turn the vessel upside down; it is a good thing to empty it, for this grief may ferment into something more sour. Turn the vessel upside down, and let every drop run out; but let it be before the Lord. ‘Ye people, pour out your hearts before him: God is a refuge for us.’ When you are bowed down beneath a heavy burden of sorrow, then take to worshipping the Lord, and especially to that kind of worshipping which lies in adoring God, and in making a full surrender of yourself to the divine will.”

“Job’s Resignation” (MTP 42, Sermon 2457, p. 134).

10. “Fear not the storm, it brings healing in its wings, and when Jesus is with you in the vessel the tempest only hastens the ship to its desired haven.”

“I, the preacher of this hour, beg to bear my witness that the worst days I have ever had have turned out to be my best days, and when God has seemed most cruel to me, he has then been most kind. If there is anything in this world for which I would bless him more than for anything else, it is for pain and affliction. I am sure that in these things the richest, tenderest love has been manifested to me. Our Father’s wagons rumble most heavily when they are bringing us the richest freight of the bullion of his grace. Love letters from heaven are often sent in black-edged envelopes. The cloud that is black with horror is big with mercy. Fear not the storm, it brings healing in its wings, and when Jesus is with you in the vessel the tempest only hastens the ship to its desired haven.”

“Ziklag; Or, David Encouraging Himself in God” (MTP 27, Sermon 1606, p. 373).

Articles

God’s Sovereign Grace in Timbuktu

In Soul Food on August 4, 2016 by The Spillover

Sahara

Randy Alcorn:

As a child, Steve Saint thought of Timbuktu as a made-up name for “the ends of the earth.” In 1986, while traveling in western Africa for Missionary Aviation Fellowship, he found himself stranded in the real Timbuktu.

Steve decided to rent a truck to travel elsewhere, despite warnings that if it broke down, he wouldn’t survive in the Sahara Desert. Men armed with scimitars and knives watched him suspiciously. After he failed to find a truck, Steve’s thoughts ran to his father, Nate Saint, a former missionary in Ecuador. When Steve was only five, natives speared to death his dad and four other missionaries. Now, thirty years later, Steve found himself questioning his father’s death. “I couldn’t help but think the murders were capricious, an accident of bad timing.”

Steve asked for directions to a church. Some children led him to a tiny mud-brick house with a poster on the wall showing wounded hands covering a cross. A dark-skinned man in flowing robes approached and introduced himself as Nouh Af Infa Yatara.

Steve asked Nouh, through a translator, how he came to faith in Christ. Nouh said he had stolen vegetables from a missionary’s garden. The missionary gave him the vegetables and promised him an ink pen if he memorized some verses from the Bible. Nouh believed the verses he learned and came to Christ. Nouh’s parents threw him out of the home and pulled him out of school. Nouh’s mother even put a sorcerer’s poison in Nouh’s food at a family feast. Nouh ate the food but suffered no ill effects.

Steve asked Nouh, “Why is your faith so important to you that you’re willing to give up everything, even your life?”

“I know God loves me and I’ll live with him forever.”

“Where did your courage come from?” Steve asked.

“The missionary gave me books about Christians who’d suffered for their faith. My favorite was about five young men who risked their lives to take God’s good news to stone-age Indians in the jungles of South America. The book said they let themselves be speared to death, even though they had guns and could have killed their attackers!”

Stunned at these words, Steve said, “One of those men was my father.” “Your father?” Now Nouh felt stunned.

Steve assured Nouh of the truth of the story. And then Nouh assured Steve that God had used his father’s death, many years later, to help a young Muslim-turned-Christian hold on to his faith. Steve realized that if God could plan the death of his own Son, He could also plan and use the death of Steve’s dad, Nate Saint, to accomplish His sovereign purpose—including reaching one young Muslim for Christ and orchestrating this God-ordained meeting of two men at the ends of the earth.

Stories like this don’t apply only to the deaths of missionary martyrs. Over time, God has brought countless people to Christ through the lives and deaths of ordinary housewives, common laborers, farmers, factory workers, business people, teachers, and schoolchildren.

We won’t all, in this life, meet someone whose story will suddenly shed light on God’s purpose in our loved one’s suffering or death. But I think most of us will have that very experience one day, beyond the ends of this Earth, on that New Earth, where we, eyes wide, will hear countless jaw-dropping stories of God’s sovereign grace.