Archive for the ‘Soul Food’ Category

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Why God Loves People Who Hate Each Other

In Soul Food on March 31, 2014 by The Spillover

Marshall Segal:

The church is filled with lots of dangerously different people.

There are rich and poor, old and young, male and female. We have families with fifteen children and fifty-year-old unmarrieds. There are Republicans and Democrats, executives and janitors, athletes, artists, and teachers. And the differences get even deeper — American, African, Asian, Latin, and Middle Eastern.

Not to mention our personalities — outgoing and shy, bold and meek, patient and ambitious, emotional and unaffected, rational and relational. There’s no mystery why the Bible has so much to say about stress, conflict, and reconciliation between believers. How could there not be friction in a family like ours?

A First-Century Food Fight

Remember when Paul called out Peter in front of everyone? When the apostles— a very small group of very like-minded men who alone mediate the very words of Christ — don’t always get along, it could easily discourage the rest of us, right? Paul said, “I opposed him to his face” (Galatians 2:11). So what was he so worked up about? Peter had stopped eating with Gentile believers to preserve his image among the Jews, and many had followed his example (2:12–13).

But is that really that big of a deal? It may seem like Paul blew an empty seat in a lunchroom way out of proportion, but he didn’t. Paul saw that Peter’s decision denied the world-changing, death-defeating, unifying work of Christ. Through the gospel, God was doing something uniquely beautiful and glorious by not onlyreconciling people to himself, but also bringing them together in love across every imaginable barrier and boundary.

Why Did God Make Us So Different?

We might be lulled into forgetting all of our differences are due to the God himself, who knit us together, every cell and disposition, before we were even born (Psalm 139). He’s never surprised that we’re different. In fact, he knows every difference completely and intimately because he designed them.

Think for a minute about the thousands of years now of bloody, almost unrelenting, hostile conflict between Jews and Gentiles. God did that. God made Israel “distinct from every other people on the face of the earth” (Exodus 33:16). He set them violently against every neighboring nation (Deuteronomy 7:2). It was the worldwide rehearsal of Joseph and his fancy coat, when his father made him the enemy of all his brothers by setting him apart with his special love (Genesis 37).

Why would he design Jews and Gentiles for so much division and destruction? For this reason: “[Christ] himself is our peace, who made us both one and has broken down the wall of hostility . . . and reconciled us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:1416). The God-designed differences — even hostilities — between these two peoples was meant to show the invincible power of the gospel message to produce love.

When Two Become One

God’s full acceptance of us in Jesus binds up the brokenness in our relationships. That’s a significant, intentional part of the most important plan in history, God’s plan to save his children from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. Christ came to repair what our rebellion had wrecked in our relationship with him, but he also came to reunite us in love with people different than us in every imaginable way. Through the gospel, in light of every conceivable contrast, God has united us in at least three remarkable realities.

1. We are one in death.

This is where Paul turns first with Peter. “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. . . . By works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16). Self-righteousness has never rescued anyone from God’s wrath, because no one has lived and loved God’s law flawlessly. “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). Therefore, we all — without exception — were dead in our sin and without hope in ourselves (Ephesians 2:1Romans 6:23).

2. We are one in hope.

“In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:26–29).

Everything that elevates us over one another in everyday society is eliminated before our heavenly Father for eternity. We can’t escape comparison, class, and cliques in this life, but God embraces us each equally from every family, country, and social status. In Christ, we are all — without exception and distinction — complete and full heirs of eternal life, the world, and God himself.

3. Therefore, we are one in life.

Jesus promised the world would see him in our love for one another (John 13:35). How much more powerfully will they see him in our love for one another when we’re really, really different? When we love people like us, we don’t surprise many people in the world. But there’s a strange and beautiful love across boundaries that they simply cannot explain.

It’s a love that restores the broken (Galatians 6:1) and bears heavy, inconvenient, painful burdens (Galatians 6:2). It’s a life that loves to do good to everyone, especially to those with whom we’re one in Christ (Galatians 6:10). Miraculously, there’s a oneness in this diverse family that “fulfills the law of Christ.” The happy, servant-hearted, committed, mutually beneficial relationship between flawed and different sinners displays the character and glory of God.

Seeing Differences Differently

The gospel turns haters into brothers, enemies into sisters. One of the most powerful and winsome things that Jesus purchased with his death was unlikely love. So we have to learn to see our differences differently, to see the contrasts and even inconveniences as unique canvases for Christ and his redeeming love for us.

Articles

God is There With You in the Midst of Your Depression

In Soul Food on March 18, 2014 by The Spillover

Randy Alcorn:

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The Rock of Comfort is God Himself

In Soul Food on March 14, 2014 by The Spillover

Erik Raymond:

When we are afflicted by the devastating trials of this life it can feel like we are being held underwater. It’s tough to hear, hard to breathe, and frightening. We panic. We get anxious. This is understandable. Life in this broken world is filled with heart-shredding trials that leg-sweep us surprisingly.

In the midst of this it is very important to remember to focus on what we know and not what we do not know. The common question is “why?” This is something we know in part but not in full. In the context of the big picture we understand that the answer to the “why” question is that we live in a post Genesis 3 world. However, the specific nuanced answer to “why” is unknown. We don’t know precisely “why.”

But we do know who God is and how he acts. This is tremendously comforting. In fact, when Job was laid low by trial he never received the answer to the “why” question but he did get a lengthy exposition of the “who.” It may seem like a theological copout but if you are spending time “under-water” in the midst of the waves of the trial then you need something objective, you need to clasp ahold of a dock.

The “who” aspect is expansive. And this theological railing is sufficient to bear your weight, the full range of human emotions.

When you need to be comforted (and you will) or when your brother/sister needs to be comforted (and they will), then comfort them with truth. Here is a sampling of statements and corresponding verses.

1. God is Sovereign. Nothing happens outside of his control.

“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3)

2. God is Good. He is good and does good.   

“For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100:5) “You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.” (Psalm 119:68)

3. God is Just. He will always do what is right.

“Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25)

4. God is Holy. He is pure and without compromise.

“And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”” (Revelation 4:8)

5. God is Unchangeable. He will never change, he is as he has always been.

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6)

6. God is Infinite. His power is unstoppable.

“Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” (Psalm 147:5)

7. God is Faithful. He always keeps his promises.

“But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” (2 Thessalonians 3:3“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)

8. God is Wise. He knows what is right and always does it.

“to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” (Romans 16:27)

9. God is Personal. He knows you and everything about you.

“But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Matthew 10:30)

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:13–14)

10. God is Sympathetic. He sympathizes with you in your weakness.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

11. God is Gracious. He gives us what we do not deserve.

“But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (Ephesians 4:7)

12. God is Merciful. He bids us to come to his throne of grace to find help and mercy in our time of need.

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,” (Ephesians 2:4)

13. God is Loving. He loves us redemptively. This means that he has seen our worst and made atonement for it. His love is secure.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:3539)

14. God is Working. He is not distant or disinterested. In the midst of the storm he calms the wildest, frightening, hearts of emotion and pain.   

“But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”” (John 5:17)

“Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:17)

15. God is Independent. He does not rely on anyone else for anything else. He alone is God.

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Psalm 90:2)

16. God is Sufficient. You do not need to go to anyone else. He can fully bear the weight of all human pain and suffering.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

See also Ps. 46.

When I feel myself capsized by a trial I claw my way to Romans 8. These words of comfort sing like angels to my heart. Two verses in particular:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

In the first we are reminded that the Sovereign and Good God will work all things together for good for us. He is able to make a masterpiece out of our mess. He is able to turn our weeping into joy. We have to believe this.

“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

In the second, we read that God has proved his love for us in and through Jesus. When I feel alone and succumb to doubting I have to remember to look at the cross. There on Golgotha, Jesus was affixed to a wooden cross. This communicated a myriad of things but none louder to the Christian than this: God loves you in Christ! He has proved his love and faithfulness to you by means of the cross. Therefore, you can and must trust him!!

It is important then to resist the temptation to interpret God’s character through the lenses of our circumstances. Instead, we have to interpret our circumstances through the lenses of God’s character. He is the rock that provides stability and comfort in need.

Articles

The Secret Will of God

In Perspective,Soul Food on February 25, 2014 by The Spillover

Paul Tripp:

When you think about the will of God, what do you think? If you had to define the phrase – the will of God – what would you write?

I’m deeply persuaded that there are many Christians living in fear, anxiety, and confusion because they don’t know what the will of God is for their life. Are you one of them? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you constantly searching for “hints” or “clues” about what God is doing?
  • Are you worried that you’re not at the exact place where God wants you?
  • Do you find it hard to make decisions because you’re not sure of God’s will?
  • Do you struggle to rest with the decisions you’ve made because you think you might have made a mistake?

I think many Christians make the mistake of acting on what they can never be sure of rather than relying on what they can know for sure. In other words, Christians confuse God’s secret will with his revealed will.

By no means is this Article encouraging you to stop praying or seeking after God – the Bible says on countless occasions to seek after him. But I’m afraid that we sometimes seek in the wrong places. Rather than resting within the clear limits of what God has made known to us, we search in the foggy, unrevealed, secret parts of God’s will and end up lost, confused, discouraged, and anxious.

The reason why theologians call God’s secret will a secret is precisely because it’s kept secret from us! God’s sovereign plan for the universe hasn’t been revealed to us. Yet God hasn’t left us without guidance – he has given us his Word.

The Apostle Paul reminded Timothy of what a helpful book the Bible is. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The Bible is profitable for correcting – it gives us the steps of change we need to follow where God wants us to be. And the Bible is useful for training – it tells us all the skills we need to acquire to live life God’s way. God has revealed many things to us through his Word – just the right amount – and if we live by his revealed will, we can live at peace not knowing his secret will.

Let me give you an example from my own life. Years ago, we were living in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I was the pastor of a small church there, and out of the blue, I was offered an opportunity to move to Philadelphia to a new and exciting ministry.

Immediately, Luella and I started thinking about the will of God. How could we not? I wondered to myself, “How would I ever know that it was God’s will for me to leave this church and this ministry and move to Philadelphia?”

Let’s be honest: for a life-altering decision, you want surety. I wanted to be absolutely convinced of what God wanted me to do. But Luella and I decided that it wasn’t our job to figure out all the signs and to guide ourselves. We decided that we needed to do what God has revealed to us in his Word.

In the Bible, God says that we’re not supposed to live independent lives. We live in community with other people – the church – and each part of the Body contributes to each part, and we grow and mature as all the parts contribute (Eph. 4:13-16). So Luella and I decided to be open about talking to people about the offer that had been made.

We invited people to speak into our lives about what they thought we should do. And an amazing thing happened – as we obeyed God’s revealed will, the Lord began to guide us, and over a period of time, the people of our little congregation confirmed in many ways that we should be pursuing this new ministry opportunity.

I understand that life is confusing and big decisions are hard to make in confidence. I was there many years ago in Scranton, afraid of making a mistake that wasn’t part of God’s will. But I was reminded that I didn’t have to read the signs or search in the sky. God had given me his revealed will in his Word.

Rest in knowing that as you willingly obey God, God will lovingly guide you.

Articles

Eleventh-hour Breakthroughs

In Perspective,Soul Food on February 17, 2014 by The Spillover

John Piper:

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)

One of the greatest hope-killers is that you have tried for so long to change and have not succeeded.

You look back and think: What’s the use? Even if I could experience a breakthrough, there would be so little time left to live in my new way that it wouldn’t make much difference compared to so many decades of failure.

The former robber (the thief on the cross next to Jesus) lived for another hour or so before he died. He was changed. He lived on the cross as a new man with new attitudes and actions (no more reviling). But 99.99% of his life was wasted. Did the last couple hours of newness matter?

They mattered infinitely. This former robber, like all of us, will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of his life. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). How will his life witness in that day to his new birth and his union with Christ?

The last hours will tell the story. This man was new. His faith was real. He is truly united to Christ. Christ’s righteousness is his. His sins are forgiven.

That is what the final hours will proclaim at the last judgment. His change mattered. It was, and it will be, a beautiful testimony to the power of God’s grace and the reality of his faith and his union with Christ.

Now back to our struggle with change. I am not saying that struggling believers are unsaved like the robber was. I am simply saying that the last years and the last hours of life matter.

If in the last 1% of our lives, we can get a victory over some longstanding sinful habit or hurtful defect in our personality, it will be a beautiful testimony now to the power of grace; and it will be an added witness (not the only one) at the last judgment of our faith in Christ and our union with him.

Take heart, struggler. Keep asking, seeking, knocking. Keep looking to Christ. If God gets glory by saving robbers in the eleventh hour, he surely has his purposes why he has waited till now to give you the breakthrough you have sought for decades.

Articles

Fighting Porn with a Corny Acronym

In Soul Food on February 5, 2014 by The Spillover

Gavin Ortlund:

In my current ministry role, guys often confess to me that they’re struggling with pornography or some other kind of sexual sin. To help them, as well as in my own fight for purity, I’ve developed an acronym that encapsulates some often-neglected strategies for fighting the good fight in this area. I call it “fighting by F.A.I.T.H” (okay, kinda corny, but easy to remember).

Last year Dane Hays wrote a helpful article reminding us of the importance of accountability. These strategies complement that important theme. In other words, if someone says, “I have Covenant Eyes on all my devices, and I meet with a group, but I’m still struggling!”—what else can we do? (Note: these strategies are primarily directed toward males, simply because I only counsel guys in this area.)

1. Friendship

In his book The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis lamented how impoverished our idea of friendship has become. While in the ancient world friendship was considered the happiest and most human of all loves, today it’s rare to even find real friendships. As a result, we tend to look to romantic love for what God designed to be a part of friendship love. We use sex to fill a more general relational void.

In my experience, guys rarely connect the dots between temptation and plain old loneliness. And yet so many feel disconnected—isolated—like no one knows what’s really going on inside them. Amid our busy schedules and social media activity, we’re aching for the deeper connections God designed us to experience—for vulnerability, trust, acceptance, assurance. Temptation has such power because it appeals to this deep-seated loneliness.

In our cultural setting, the fight for sexual purity is one piece of a countercultural approach to all relationships. We need the kinds of friendships described in verses like Proverbs 17:17. When we’re living in deep and authentic community, the appeal of temptation is less comprehensive and thus less powerful.

2. Adventure

Another issue is the lack of adventure in many guys’ lives. So many seem to have nothing grand to aim for. They’re drifting, cynical, bored—lacking in idealism and initiative, without a sense of purpose and direction, untethered from anything transcendent and glorious. And when our lives lack adventure, temptation promises what we’re not getting elsewhere: excitement, adrenaline, a sense of life. It reminds me of King David’s choice to stay back from battle in 2 Samuel 11:1—where the real battle with lust for Bathsheba was ultimately lost. So many guys succumb to temptation because, like David, they stay back from their own God-ordained battles. They’re overwhelmed by temptation because they’ve never been overwhelmed by the glory of God and the wonderful thrill of walking in the good works he’s prepared for us.

I’m reading The Hobbit to my son in the evenings. Its great theme is adventure. Adventure is a holy thing, a delightful thing. Our hearts will seek adventure one way or another, so temptation can seem overwhelming when we’re safely burrowed up in our cozy hobbit hole. But the same temptation will often grow small and languid in the midst of a journey toward Smaug. And we all have our own hobbit holes to abandon, and our own Smaugs to slay.

3. Intimacy

In one of my counseling classes during seminary we devoted an evening to analyzing different kinds of marital affairs. My professor, Dan Zink, suggested affairs rarely happen because of the strength of one’s sex drive. Instead, they usually have to do with emotional factors, like the desire for relational intimacy and affirmation. I’ve carried this insight with me and applied it to sexual sin more generally, and I believe it’s crucial to consider in fighting temptation. When counseling guys fighting porn, for instance, I encourage them to look underneath to the emotions making the temptation particularly strong, and then to engage those emotions with the gospel and in other healthy ways. Are you tempted because you’re bored? Pursue a hobby. Are you tempted because you’re exhausted? Take Sabbath rest. Are you tempted because you’re depressed? Talk with a biblical counselor. Are you tempted because of rejection? Engage your heart with the gospel.

A lot of guys seem to fight temptation at the biological level but never at the emotional level. But because our sexual lives are related to our entire person, that’s like bolting up two-by-fours over our front door while leaving the back door and all the windows wide open. Seeking sexual purity must involve seeking emotional self-awareness as well.

4. Truth

In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller recount Jane Eyre’s inner struggle with temptation. They note how most TV depictions of this classic novel make it sound like Jane resists the temptation by looking inward for self-assurance and self-respect. But in the book, Jane’s inner emotions are a whirlwind of clashing and confused emotions, and she has to look outside of herself to resist the temptation. The Kellers observe:

[Jane] does not look into her heart for strength—there’s nothing there but clamorous conflict. She ignores what her heart says and looks to what God says. . . . God’s law is for times of temptation. (231, italics original)

In the midst of temptation, it’s often hard to cling to what we know is true. After all, the tempter is also a deceiver, and with temptation comes that ancient question: has God really said? Resisting temptation is therefore not just a matter of willpower but of faith. Part of the fight involves clinging to the objective truths of the gospel—likely those very truths that seems most distant and unreal in the moment of temptation.

In Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, the character Mark is imprisoned, and he experiences a kind of intellectual temptation. In the midst of it, he discovers the power of objective ideas:

Day by day, as the process went on, that idea of the Straight or the Normal which had occurred to [Mark] during his first visit to this room, grew stronger and more solid in his mind till it had become a kind of mountain. He had never before known what an Idea meant: he had always thought till now that they were things inside one’s own head. But now, when his head was continually attacked and often completely filled with the clinging corruption of the training, this Idea towered up above him—something which obviously existed quite independently of himself and had hard rock surfaces which would not give, surfaces he could cling to.

Like Mark, we need to learn to cling to the objective truths of God’s Word in the moment of temptation. Temptation’s power is its fleeting pleasure; truth’s power is its bracing objectivity. Temptation is like cotton candy, empty and unfulfilling; truth is like cold steel, unyielding and enduring. The great allies of temptation are distortion, spin, deception, theological muddleheadedness; the great ally of resisting temptation is truth.

Let me share an example of a gospel truth I speak into temptation, sometimes even out loud: That’s not who I am anymore. In my union with Christ, this assertion is a “hard surface” of glorious truth I can cling to no matter what my emotions may be saying to me.

What truths do you particularly need in order to defeat temptation? Cultivate the habit of clinging to them amid temptation. They will not give way. Cotton candy cannot bend steel.

5. Healing

If you were exposed to pornography at a young age, or sexually mistreated at some point in your life, or have a family history of sexual sin, that part of your past has undoubtedly complicated your battle for sexual purity. Victory over future temptation will probably progress only as you deal with your past brokenness. An important step may be counseling. Above all, though, healing comes from the gospel, and “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19). Christ is the great physician. He died for failures, repeat offenders, and the sexually broken. He can bind up all wounds and make you whole again.

A final note: no matter where you are, no matter how hopeless you may feel, don’t give up. In the gospel, Jesus has “perfect patience” (1 Tim. 1:16) for those who rely on him. That means no amount of falling down can ultimately destroy you as long as you keep getting up and running to Jesus (Prov. 24:16). But we must keep repenting, keep fighting. Don’t give up!

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Made Much Of to Make Much Of

In Soul Food on January 31, 2014 by The Spillover

Jared Wilson:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
– 1 Peter 2:9

Look at the lengths to which Jesus goes! Look at how he exalts us out of our lowly state. Once we were not a people; now we are. Once we were aliens; now we are a chosen race, a set-apart nation. Once we were Godless rebels; but now we know we belong to him alone.

God in Christ certainly does make much of us. But not because we are lovely. Because Christ is. Because his excellencies deserve to be shouted from the rooftops, God wants shouters.

We are made much of ultimately to make much of Christ.

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Normal Prayer, Normal Life

In Perspective,Soul Food on January 20, 2014 by The Spillover

George Grant:

Prayer is the most common Christian expression of authentic faith; but it may be among the least practiced Christian disciplines. It is said that prayer is the universal language of the soul, but it is actually the solitary province of the supplicating saint. Prayer, as the unconscious heart cry in times of distress, is the currency of all humanity; but prayer, as the deep and committed soul-bond in communion with almighty God, is an exceptionally rare and precious jewel.

The heroes of the faith have always been diligent, vigilant, and constant in prayer. They humbled themselves with prayers, petitions, and supplications that always acknowledged their dependence upon His mercy and grace. Athanasius, for instance, prayed five hours each day. Augustine once set aside 18 months to do nothing but pray. Bernard of Clairveaux would not begin his daily activities until he had spent at least three hours in prayer. John Fletcher regularly spent all night in prayer. His greeting to friends was always, “Do I meet you praying?”

Martin Luther often commented, “I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.” If ever Joseph Alleine heard other craftsmen plying their business before he was up, he would exclaim: “Oh how this shames me. Doth not my master deserve more than theirs?” John Calvin, John Knox, and Theodore Beza vowed to one another to devote two hours daily to prayer.

The extraordinary thing is that such fervent praying was not considered to be particularly extraordinary. Indeed, as Homer W. Hodge argued: “Prayer should always be the breath of our breathing, the thought of our thinking, the soul of our feeling, the life of our living, the sound of our hearing, and the growth of our growing. Prayer is length without end, width without bounds, height without top, and depth without bottom; illimitable in its breadth, exhaustless in height, fathomless in depths, and infinite in extension. Oh, for determined men and women who will rise early and really burn for God. Oh for a faith that will sweep into heaven with the early dawning of morning and have ships from a shoreless sea loaded in the soul’s harbor ere the ordinary laborer has knocked the dew from the scythe or the lackluster has turned from his pallet of straw to spread nature’s treasures of fruit before the early buyers.”

Thus, according to E.M. Bounds, a life of constant, persistent, and fervent prayer ought to be the ordinary Christian life. “There ought to be no adjustment of life or spirit for the closet hours,” Bounds asserted. “Without intermission, incessantly, assiduously; that ought to describe the opulence, and energy, and unabated ceaseless strength and fullness of effort in prayer; like the full and exhaustless and spontaneous flow of an artesian stream.”

The life of Bounds was itself a testimony to the normalcy of diligent prayer-fulness. He was born in 1835 along the rugged Missouri frontier. He died in 1913 in the heart of the Deep South. During the 78 years in between, he panned for gold in California, worked as a lawyer in St. Louis, pastored churches in Tennessee, Alabama, and Missouri, served as a chaplain during the bitter War sieges of Vicksburg, Franklin, Atlanta, and Nashville, and was a renowned journalist and publisher.

But it was as the author of a number of remarkable books on prayer—including Power Through Prayer, The Preacher and Prayer, The Weapon of Prayer, The Necessity of Prayer, and The Possibilities of Prayer—that he made his mark on the world. It was in those books that he told the stories of the extraordinary ordinariness of praying men and movements. It was in those books that he underscored the Biblical verities of the life of prayer. It was in those books that he recovered for a new generation—and for several generations afterward—the mandate for an unremitting commitment to prayer.

Though he suffered persistent failure—as well as imprisonment, persecution, impoverishment, isolation, and humiliation at nearly every turn during the long course of his faithful labors—he never wavered in his commitment to a life of prayer. He was fond of quoting the great Puritan divine, Samuel Chadwick, who wrote: “Satan dreads nothing but prayer. Activities are multiplied that prayer may be ousted, and organizations are increased that prayer may have no chance. The one concern of the devil is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.”

The testimony of Bounds is that both the testimony of the church’s heroes and the testimony of Scripture’s mandates are sure and true. Ours are to be lives marked by prayer, suffused in prayer, and enlivened for prayer. Normal prayer is to be our normal life.

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God’s Indescribable Gift

In Perspective,Soul Food on December 24, 2013 by The Spillover

John Piper:

If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:10–11)

How do we practically receive reconciliation and exult in God? One answer is do it through Jesus Christ. Which means, at least in part, make the portrait of Jesus in the Bible — the work and the words of Jesus portrayed in the New Testament — the essential content of your exultation over God. Exultation without the content of Christ does not honor Christ.

In 2 Corinthians 4:4–6, Paul describes conversion two ways. In verse 4, he says it is seeing “the glory of Christ who is the image of God.” And in verse 6, he says it is seeing “the glory of God in the face of Christ.” In either case you see the point. We have Christ, the image of God, and we have God in the face of Christ.

Practically, to exult in God, you exult in what you see and know of God in the portrait of Jesus Christ. And this comes to its fullest experience when the love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, as Romans 5:5 says.

So here’s the Christmas point. Not only did God purchase our reconciliation through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ (verse 10), and not only did God enable us to receive that reconciliation through the Lord Jesus Christ (verse 11), but even now, verse 11 says, we exult in God himself through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus purchased our reconciliation. Jesus enabled us to receive the reconciliation and open the gift. And Jesus himself shines forth from the wrapping — the indescribable gift — as God in the flesh, and stirs up all our exultation in God.

Look to Jesus this Christmas. Receive the reconciliation that he bought. Don’t put it on the shelf unopened. And don’t open it and then make it a means to all your other pleasures.

Open it and enjoy the gift. Exult in him. Make him your pleasure. Make him your treasure.

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Christmas is for Freedom

In Soul Food on December 19, 2013 by The Spillover

John Piper:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14–15)

Jesus became man because what was needed was the death of a man who was more than man. The incarnation was God’s locking himself into death row.

Christ did not risk death. He embraced it. That is precisely why he came: not to be served but to serve and give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

No wonder Satan tried to turn Jesus from the cross! The cross was Satan’s destruction. How did Jesus destroy him?

The “power of death” is the ability to make death fearful. The “power of death” is the power that holds men in bondage through fear of death. It is the power to keep men in sin so that death comes as a horrid thing.

But Jesus stripped Satan of this power. He disarmed him. He molded a breastplate of righteousness for us that makes us immune to the devil’s condemnation.

By his death, Jesus wiped away all our sins. And a person without sin puts Satan out of business. His treason is aborted. His cosmic treachery is foiled. “His rage we can endure, for, lo, his doom is sure.” The cross has run him through. And he will gasp his last before long.

Christmas is for freedom. Freedom from the fear of death.

Jesus took our nature in Bethlehem, to die our death in Jerusalem, that we might be fearless in our city. Yes, fearless. Because if the biggest threat to my joy is gone, then why should I fret over the little ones? How can you say (really!), “Well, I’m not afraid to die but I’m afraid to lose my job”? No. No. Think!

If death (I said, death!—no pulse, cold, gone!)—if death is no longer a fear, we’re free, really free. Free to take any risk under the sun for Christ and for love. No more bondage to anxiety.

If the Son has set you free, you shall be free, indeed!

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The Danger of Drifting

In Soul Food on October 30, 2013 by The Spillover

John Piper:

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. (Hebrews 2:1)

We all know people that this has happened to. There is no urgency. No vigilance. No focused listening or considering or fixing of their eyes on Jesus. And the result has not been a standing still, but a drifting away.

That is the point here: there is no standing still. The life of this world is not a lake. It is a river. And it is flowing downward to destruction. If you do not listen earnestly to Jesus and consider him daily and fix your eyes on him hourly, then you will not stand still, you will go backward. You will float by.

Drifting is a deadly thing in the Christian life. And the remedy to it, according to Hebrews 2:1, is, “Pay close attention to what you have heard.” That is, consider what God is saying in his Son Jesus. Fix your eyes on what God is saying and doing in the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

This is not a hard stroke to learn so that we can swim against the stream of sin and indifference. The only thing that keeps us from swimming like this is our sinful desire to float with other interests.

But let us not complain that God has given us a hard job. Listen, consider, fix the eyes — this is not what you would call a hard job description. It is not a job description. It is a solemn invitation to be satisfied in Jesus so that we do not get lured downstream by deceitful desires.

If you are drifting today, one of the signs of hope that you are born again is that you feel pricked for this, and there is a rising desire in your heart to turn your eyes on Jesus and consider him and listen to him in the days and months and years to come.

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Getting Bored With the Right Things

In Perspective,Soul Food on October 17, 2013 by The Spillover

Jared C. Wilson:

And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
– Mark 14:39-41

Jesus is in emotional and psychological agony in this garden. He is sweating blood. And the disciples are sawing logs.

One of the important exercises in reading Scripture is making connections. Thinking through what passages and narratives the passage or narrative before us reminds us of. Where do we see parallels, similarities, foreshadows, fulfillments? Sometimes the exercise doesn’t take us anywhere discernibly meaningful. Many times it does.

As I reflected on this passage, it reminded me of another time in Christ’s ministry, another time when someone was in agony and someone was sleeping. I think of Jesus and his disciples in the boat. The storm is crashing all around them. The disciples are despairing of life itself. It seems they will be sunk and drowned. And Jesus sleeps.

“Don’t you care that we’re going to die?” they cry (Mark 4:38).

As the disciples agonized, Jesus slept. Later, in Gethsemane, as Jesus agonized, the disciples slept. What gives?

Well, it’s just like the disciples – I mean, it’s just like us – to freak out about the world’s storms and be asleep to the things of the cross.

Whether it’s outrage about the sinful state of popular media — whatever new scandal the news people want you to get mad about — or fear about the declining state of our political process — “It’s the Democrats!”; “No, it’s the Republicans!”; “No, it’s politicians!” — or just the crushing anxiety of everyday demands and stresses, in the flesh we are like the disciples in that boat, thinking the skies are crashing down on us as if God is not in control, as if all sin will not be judged, as if justice will not prevail, as if the church will not endure, as if the Spirit is not ever-present and all-powerful, as if our hopes are pinned to what happens to our bodies and bodies politic. But when it comes to the things of the gospel, we can barely keep ourselves awake.

But not Jesus. He has the right priorities. When it comes to the temptations of earthly things, the temporal stresses of cultural idolatry, he is practically stoic, uninterested.

e.g. “What about taxes, Jesus? God, the tax burden!”
“Pay them,” Jesus says.
“But they’re so oppressive!”
“Pay them,” he says.

He’s revealing his view of temporal things. And exposing our false comforts and idolatrous securities.

Insist Jesus order the stress du jour, and he will decline. But when it comes to redeeming sinners — to the praise of his glorious grace! — he brings all his energy to bear. Show him the array of worldly treasures offered by the glossy pages in the grocery checkout line, their bold lines and photoshopped bait promising lurid gossip and fabricated scandals, and he rolls his eyes. Show him the latest People magazine cover, and he will yawn. (Oh, that Christians would YAWN more when the world tries to bait us into outrage over shallow things!) But show Jesus not People magazine, but people — needy, desperate, sinful people — people who are like sheep without a shepherd — put him in the thickest thick of dealing with souls, and he weeps, he prays, he loves.

In the light of Christ’s cross, may we find the Spiritual energy to carry our own cross and the courageous conviction to be utterly bored by comparison with the stuff that is passing away. And let’s remember Jesus blood in that garden and on the cross was for those sleeping disciples. Now that is something amazing. And exciting. Let’s get bored with the right things.

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Joy Unbound

In Soul Food on October 4, 2013 by The Spillover

John Piper:

“I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)

Imagine being able to enjoy what is most enjoyable with unbounded energy and passion forever. This is not now our experience. Three things stand in the way of our complete satisfaction in this world.

One is that nothing has a personal worth great enough to meet the deepest longings of our hearts.

Another is that we lack the strength to savor the best treasures to their maximum worth.

And the third obstacle to complete satisfaction is that our joys here come to an end. Nothing lasts. But if the aim of Jesus in John 17:26 comes true, all this will change.

If God’s pleasure in the Son becomes our pleasure, then the object of our pleasure, Jesus, will be inexhaustible in personal worth. He will never become boring or disappointing or frustrating.

No greater treasure can be conceived than the Son of God.

Moreover, our ability to savor this inexhaustible treasure will not be limited by human weaknesses. We will enjoy the Son of God with the very enjoyment of his Father.

God’s delight in his Son will be in us and it will be ours. And this will never end, because neither the Father nor the Son ever ends.

Their love for each other will be our love for them and therefore our loving them will never die.

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The Sweetness of Jesus

In Soul Food on September 23, 2013 by The Spillover

Jared C. Wilson:

Reading in John’s Gospel last week, I was struck by something for the first time. It happened in John 16, in the midst of this little scene:

So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. (vv.18-20)

I bolded the part that ministered to me. It’s not something that would ordinarily jump out. “Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said…”

I found that exceedingly sweet. Now, I confess I was feeling pretty heavy from ministry circumstances when reading this, but, reading this passage aloud, I actually started crying reading “Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said…” Because: Isn’t that sweet? Isn’t that wonderful?

What a tender Lord we have, what a compassionate King! He doesn’t overhear us in our confusion, deliberation, ignorance and stand aloof. He doesn’t overhear our conversations about what we want to ask and refuse to speak unless spoken to. In our house we call this “hinting” and I confess we don’t respond to it as well as we ought. I will overhear my daughters discussing something within my earshot of something they want to ask me: it’s usually a request involving money or some other matter they think I will not be agreeable to. So by discussing it with each other in the next room, it’s a way of putting it in my ear, softening me for it before they bring it to me. My wife and I think they do this in case I will want to bring agreement before they bring request, saving them the trouble. “Hinting,” see?

I don’t know that that’s what the disciples are doing. They’re just confused. And Jesus hears them and sweetly answers, taking the initiative with his kindness and clarity. For some reason, this line in John 16 reminded me of the line from Mike Cosper’s Rhythms of Grace: “In Christ, we are never misunderstood.”

I love my friend Jesus, because he’s sweet in all the ways I deeply need and greatly want.

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
– Proverbs 16:24

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The Soul’s Final Feast

In Soul Food on September 16, 2013 by The Spillover

Today I’m imagining Carter Jones enjoying his final feast.

John Piper:

God is not unresponsive to the contrite longing of the soul. He comes and lifts the load of sin and fills our heart with gladness and gratitude. “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalm 30:11–12).

But our joy does not just rise from the backward glance in gratitude. It also rises from the forward glance in hope: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5–6).

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope” (Psalm 130:5).

In the end, the heart longs not for any of God’s good gifts, but for God himself. To see him and know him and be in his presence is the soul’s final feast. Beyond this there is no quest. Words fail. We call it pleasure, joy, delight. But these are weak pointers to the unspeakable experience:

“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).

“In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

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How to Fight Anxiety

In Soul Food on September 10, 2013 by The Spillover

John Piper:

Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. (1 Peter 5:7)

Psalm 56:3 says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in thee.”

Notice: it does not say, “I never struggle with fear.” Fear strikes, and the battle begins. So the Bible does not assume that true believers will have no anxieties. Instead the Bible tells us how to fight when they strike.

For example, 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.” It doesnot say, you will never feel any anxieties. It says, when you have them, cast them on God. When the mud splatters your windshield and you temporarily lose sight of the road and start to swerve in anxiety, turn on your wipers and squirt your windshield washer.

So my response to the person who has to deal with feelings of anxiety every day is to say: that’s more or less normal. At least it is for me, ever since my teenage years. The issue is: How do we fight them?

The answer to that question is: we fight anxieties by fighting against unbelief and fighting for faith in future grace. And the way you fight this “good fight” is by meditating on God’s assurances of future grace and by asking for the help of his Spirit.

The windshield wipers are the promises of God that clear away the mud of unbelief, and the windshield washer fluid is the help of the Holy Spirit. The battle to be freed from sin is fought “by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

The work of the Spirit and the Word of truth. These are the great faith-builders. Without the softening work of the Holy Spirit, the wipers of the Word just scrape over the blinding clumps of unbelief.

Both are necessary — the Spirit and the Word. We read the promises of God and we pray for the help of his Spirit. And as the windshield clears so that we can see the welfare that God plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11), our faith grows stronger and the swerving of anxiety smooths out.

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6 Things It Means to Be in Jesus

In Soul Food on August 29, 2013 by The Spillover

John Piper:

[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began. (2 Timothy 1:9)

Being “in Christ Jesus” is a stupendous reality. It is breathtaking what it means to be in Christ. United to Christ. Bound to Christ.

If you are “in Christ” listen to what it means for you:

  1. In Christ Jesus you were given grace before the world was created. 2 Timothy 1:9, “He gave us grace in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”
  2. In Christ Jesus you were chosen by God before creation. Ephesians 1:4, “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.”
  3. In Christ Jesus you are loved by God with an inseparable love. Romans 8:38–39, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
  4. In Christ Jesus you were redeemed and forgiven for all your sins. Ephesians 1:7, “In Christwe have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.”
  5. In Christ Jesus you are justified before God and the righteousness of God in Christ is imputed to you. 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
  6. In Christ Jesus you have become a new creation and a son of God. 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Galatians 3:26, “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”

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We Cannot Manipulate God, But We Can Trust Him

In Perspective,Soul Food on August 21, 2013 by The Spillover

J.D. Greear:

It frustrates me to no end when I hear people talk about miracles in the Bible and then say something like, “So if you want your miracle, just . . .” That sort of thinking may be enticing, but it is miles away from the gospel. Those who know the gospel know that God cannot be reduced to a formula, as if he were a high-powered vending machine. We cannot manipulate God, but we can trust him, and that is far better.

Just look at the rich woman in 2 Kings 4:8–37. After God miraculously blesses her with a son, the son suddenly dies. But the ensuing miracle is less than flattering for Elisha, God’s appointed prophet. He tries in a few different ways to raise the child from the dead, to no avail. He eventually succeeds, but not because he figured out the right pattern. He simply knew to approach a God that he knew to be merciful.

Religion is always teaching us to approach God based on formulas: “If you do this, God will do this.” It is mechanical and guaranteed. I’ve followed God’s rules, so he owes me a happy marriage (or a healthy family, or a prospering business, etc.). But that sort of “faith” is faith in a formula, not a person. Gospel faith is faith in a person—an almighty, all-knowing, infinitely caring person. When you trust a person, that can never be reduced to a mechanical formula.

It would be terrible if God operated on formulas anyway. How many times have you asked God for something that you later realized was absolutely foolish? If any of you are like me, there are probably dozens of girls that you desperately pleaded with God to make fall in love with you. We’re sinners, which means that a lot of what we ask for is garbage. What we need is not a genie in a bottle, but a loving father who sometimes overrules us.

A “no” answer to prayer is not necessarily “no answer to prayer.” Sometimes God answers our prayers by giving us what we would have asked for had we known what he knows. But the woman in 2 Kings 4 also shows us that trusting in God doesn’t mean we stop pursuing him for grace.

As my friend Steven Furtick says, we cannot make God move in our lives, but we can make room for him to move. The woman wasn’t sure that Elisha would raise her son from the dead. Judging by his awkward failed attempts, Elisha may not have been sure about it, either. But they both presumed upon God’s grace. That didn’t guarantee a miracle, but it put them both in the vicinity.

Don’t mistake me: there is nothing we can do to force God to move in our lives. As Jesus said, the movement of God’s Spirit is mysterious, like the wind. We cannot tell where it comes from or when it is coming. (As soon as someone says they have it figured out, you can be sure they’ve missed it!) But by pressing in to the grace of God, we put our sail up so that when his Spirit blows, we can catch it.

I sometimes think that so few of our people see God work powerfully in their lives simply because they’ve never put their sail up. They’ve never taken the risk of giving any money to the church. They’ve never considered how to repurpose their business for the gospel. They’ve never walked across the room to talk to their coworker. Why not take that risk today? If God is a loving Father—which he is—then you have nothing to lose. Quit trying to manipulate God into acting how you think he should; start trusting him to act how he knows is best.

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When You Pray With Your Children, You Are Teaching Your Children to Pray

In Perspective,Soul Food on August 14, 2013 by The Spillover

Tim Challies:

Every night my girls want me to pray with them and for them. If I do not tuck them in at night, or if I forget to pray when I do tuck them in, I can be sure that sooner or later I will hear feet coming down the stairs and then the question: “Daddy, will you pray with us?” Sometimes I think they are expressing a good and heartfelt desire and other times I think they are merely being superstitious, as if bad dreams will plague them and every shadow will frighten them if I do not pray. Either way, I never refuse them.

The other night I neglected to pray with them. It was at the end of a long day, I had fulfilled my parenting duties, I had gone off the clock, I wanted some “me time.” And then I heard the footsteps on the stairs. I groaned inwardly. “Daddy, you didn’t pray with us!”

So I called them over and prayed with them. It was a perfunctory prayer. It was lacking in enthusiasm and joy and confidence. I have shown more interest in taking out the trash. I sent them back to bed and went back to what I was doing. It was just another little moment in the life of a normal family.

The next morning I woke up and spent some time reading God’s Word. My devotions took me to Philippians where, right from the start of the letter, Paul tells that church how and why he is praying for them. Paul deliberately opens up his prayer life in order to teach this church how they ought to pray. In his commentary, Dennis Johnson writes, “How can we learn to pray? Instruction helps, but example is the key.” We learn to pray by hearing other people’s prayers.

When I had spent a few minutes in the passage, I went for a walk. And as I walked and prayed, and prayed and walked, this thought struck me: When you pray with your children, you are teaching your children to pray. When my girls had crept down the stairs the night before, they gave me an opportunity to teach them. And I had taught them. I had taught them that prayer can be monotone, that prayer can be done in a quick and uninterested and perfunctory manner. I had taught them that prayer is duty more than it is delight. The lessons were notall bad. I had taught them as well that they can, and should, entrust their cares to God and that he is the one who provides for our needs. But still, if that prayer was a teaching opportunity, it was one I mishandled and one I regret.

If my girls had come to me for formal instruction, if they had said, “Daddy, teach us to pray,” I would have taught something far different from what I modeled that night. I would have told them to approach God boldly and confidently, trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ. I would have told them to approach God enthusiastically. I would have warned them of the danger of perfunctory prayers which can all too soon tip over into superstitious prayers. I would have warned them against all the things I did.

Tonight they will come to me again, if I do not first go to them. And again I will have the opportunity to pray with them and to pray for them. But now I know this is not a time to fulfill a duty or cross something off my list. When I pray with my children, I am teaching my children to pray.

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He Loved Me and Gave Himself for Me

In Soul Food on July 30, 2013 by The Spillover

John Piper:

Feeling Specially Loved by God

I wonder if you have ever felt especially loved by God because of Ephesians 2:4–5? “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”

Six things stand out here in Ephesians 2:4–5.

1. The phrase “great love.”

“Because of the great love with which he loved us.” That phrase is used only here in the New Testament. Let it sink in. God loves his own with a “great love.” Surely Paul writes this so that we will enjoy being greatly loved.

2. The peculiar greatness of this love that moves God to “make us alive.”

Because of the great love with which he loved us, God made us alive.” His great love is the cause of our life. Our life did not cause the greatness of his love for us. It’s the other way around. The greatness of his love made us alive.

3. Before he made us alive, we were “dead.”

“Even when we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive.” There is such a thing as the living dead. Jesus said, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Luke 9:60). Before God made us alive, we were the living dead.

We could breathe and think and feel and will. But we were spiritually dead. We were blind to the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:3–4); we were stone-hearted to his law and could not submit to him (Ephesians 4:18Romans 8:7–8); and we were not able to discern spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14). Only God could overcome this deadness so that we could see the glory of Christ and believe (2 Corinthians 4:6). That’s what he did when he “made us alive” (Ephesians 2:5).

4. God does not make everyone alive.

What happened to you, to bring you to faith, has not happened to everyone. And remember, you don’t deserve to be made alive. You were dead. You were “by nature a child of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3). You did not do anything to move God to make you alive. That’s what it means to be dead.

5. Therefore, God’s great love for you is really for you, particularly for you.

It is not a general love for everyone. Otherwise, everyone would be spiritually alive. He chose specifically to make you alive. You did not deserve this any more than anyone else. But for unfathomable reasons, he set his great love particularly on you.

6. He has wronged no one. For no one deserves to be saved.

No one deserves to be made alive. We have all sinned and deserve death (Romans 3:23;6:23). He could have left all of us in the deadness of our rebellion, and done no wrong.

But if you have seen the wisdom of his cross, and trusted his promise, and treasured his glory, he has made you alive. Unlike many others, no more dead than you, you have beengreatly loved.

The Special Love of the New Covenant

Now here is the connection with the death of Christ. When Jesus died, he secured for us the removal of our deadness, and purchased for us the gift of life and faith. In other words, God’s “great love” could make us alive, because in Christ that same great love had provided the punishment of all our sins and the provision of all our righteousness.

We know this because Jesus said at the Last Supper, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). The blood of Jesus is the price God paid to establish the new covenant. And the new covenant, at its heart, is God’s securing, by the blood of Jesus, living hearts for dead sinners.

“I will make a new covenant. . . . I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:3134). “I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes” (Ezekiel 36:27).

Jesus Purchased the Activation

This is what Jesus bought for us when he died. And this is what the great love of God did for us when he made us alive in Christ Jesus. Therefore, God’s specific purpose in the death of Jesus was not the same for everyone. The great love of God, shown for you in the death of Jesus, was the purchase of your faith when you were dead.

He did not merely purchase the possibility of your life that you then would activate. Dead people don’t activate. What he purchased was the activation. Christ did not purchase the possibility for you to raise yourself from the dead. He purchased your resurrection. Because of a great love for you in particular.

Feel the Greatness of His Love for You

So when Ephesians 2:4–5 says, “Because of the great love with which he loved us, God made us alive,” and Luke 22:20 says, the blood of Jesus establishes the new covenant, and Ezekiel 11:19 says that in the new covenant God gives us living hearts, we know that the blood-shedding of Jesus was an expression of the great love that made us alive.

Whatever else the death of Christ does or is, it is not less than this. And this is what I want every believer to enjoy. The great love of God for you is not the same as the love he has for the whole human race. The love God has for you moved him to make you alive when you could do nothing to make yourself alive. And that same love moved him to purchase your life by the death of his Son.

So when you say with the apostle Paul, “He loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20), feel the greatness of the words, “He loved me.” He loved me.