Spurgeon on prayer – “if I may have my choice, I will sooner yield up the sermon than the prayer.”

Reeves Spurgeon

It’s hard not to be both encouraged and challenged by reading about Spurgeon.  Michael Reeves introduction to his life gives a great flavour of the man, and the importance of prayer is an aspect that struck me.  In particular, Spurgeon said that he would rather “yield up the sermon than the prayer”!  Quite a statement from a man known for his preaching.  This is the excerpt it is from.

In Michael Reeves book on Spurgeon Pages 143-144

“One expects theologians and pastors to say that prayer is important. Talk is cheap. Yet Spurgeon’s high regard for prayer would prove itself in his life and ministry. He would often get especially passionate when pleading with his people to pray: “Oh, for God’s sake, for his name and glory’s sake, if you would honour the Father, if you would let Jesus see of the travail of his soul, wrestle together with us in your prayers for the divine working.” Every week, it was the Monday night main prayer meeting that under- pinned the life of the church, and normally over a thousand would attend.

At church meetings, and especially on Sundays, Spurgeon was remarkably cautious in whom he allowed to lead in public prayer. For, he said, “it is my solemn conviction that the prayer is one of the most weighty, useful, and honourable parts of the service, and that it ought to be even more considered than the sermon. There must be no putting up of anybodies and nobodies to pray, and then the selection of the abler man to preach.” Indeed, he went on, “if I may have my choice, I will sooner yield up the sermon than the prayer.”

Spurgeon prized prayer so because he did not view it merely as one Christian activity among others. Prayer is communion with God, which is the very nature of eternal life. It is faith in action. It is a taste on earth of the everlasting life of praise Christians will enjoy before the throne of heaven. As such, prayer is an activity the unbeliever will never truly enter into. It is, then, a sure token of regeneration and adoption, evidence that a heart has been reconciled to God and turned to feel dependence on God, love for God, and peace with God. Prayer is the breathing that evidences the new life in Christ. “The habit of private prayer, and the constant practice of heart- fellowship with the Most High, are the surest indicators of the work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart.”

Page 146

“To be clear, while true prayer is not the mere utterance of words, nor is it the mere feeling of desires. More than either, “it is the advance of the desires to God, the spiritual approach of our nature towards the Lord our God.” It is the approach of the believer by the Spirit of God to the throne of God. Yet, because prayer is not a vocal performance, it cannot be a privilege reserved for the articulate; it is the birthright of every child of God. “We cannot all argue, but we can all pray; we cannot all be leaders, but we can all be pleaders; we cannot all be mighty in rhetoric, but we can all be prevalent in prayer. I would sooner see you eloquent with God than with men.”

All that being the case, prayer must not only be the living breath of the new life: it must also be the breath of any faithful ministry. Because of what prayer is, no amount of talent or education-wonderful gifts though they may be to the church-can substitute for it. “All our libraries and studies are mere emptiness compared with our closets. We grow, we wax mighty, we prevail in private prayer.” Talents and education are good, but they do not in and of themselves contain the spiritual life that prayer has. And this is why Spurgeon was so cautious in whom he allowed to lead in public prayer. His concern was not primarily that they might not be articulate but that they might not be sufficiently holy. An able but spiritually emaciated man will betray his state in his prayers more quickly than in his preaching. And if he is strong in talent but weak in prayer, over time his congregation will be nurtured in the lie that style matters more than spiritual substance.””

https://www.10ofthose.com/uk/products/23111/spurgeon-on-the-christian-life

 

 

 

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How is your preparation for the sermon?

Last Sunday I asked folk in the church how their preparation for the sermon had been that week. It was a rhetorical question, I wasn’t expecting an answer.

But reading Michael Reeves book, “Spurgeon on the Christian Life: Alive in Christ”, there was a reference to the people at the Metropolitan Tabernacle praying for the sermon on the following Sunday.  So if you are a Christian who is planning to be at a church service on Sunday, how is your preparation for the sermon going? Pray for the preacher to have faithfulness and wisdom as he studies and plans. Pray for your own receptivity. Pray for the Spirit to overrule and bring God glory whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the sermon.

And do read the sermon passage ahead of time if you know what it is going to be.

And If you want a guide as to how to listen to sermons, including bad ones, do get hold of “Listen Up!” by Christopher Ash which is short, easy to read, and excellent (there are one or two copies on BEC’s bookcase if you are at Bishopdown).

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Something Needs to Change: David Platt

 

A mission ageSNTCncy we’ve just started supporting sent us this book by David Platt that I read yesterday in one sitting.  In one sense it’s an easy read because it’s gripping. In another sense, it was definitely not an easy read.

I love travel, seeing different places, different parts of God’s creation.  But this was a travel story with a difference. It’s an unusual book about time David Platt has spent in the Himalayas. He puts together incidents to take the reader on a week long trek, documenting the beauty, rawness and heartbreak encountered, as well as the way he processed difficult questions on the love of God, suffering, hell, and the interplay between evangelism and social action.

It’s an uncomfortable read, in a challenging way. What do you do with the doctrine of hell when you see a sky burial for someone who has never heard the gospel? Practically, what do you do when you’ve been told not to give food to anyone because it will make the situation worse, but the little girl won’t let go of your hand and is looking at you with hungry eyes pleadingly? And this wasn’t the hardest story to read.

I suppose you can gloss over the stories, read the book and try and disengage.  But David Platt tries to get you to see the individuals in the stories, rather than statistics about poverty and people who are unreached with the Gospel.  And it worked for me.

So the challenge is not to just drift on without any change – hence the title of the book. But what to change? It will be different for everyone, but the challenge is certainly not to live as comfortably as I was before! Jesus demands that when he says “Love your neighbour.” But Jesus demands more than some change surely? Paul calls himself a “slave of Christ Jesus.”

I would encourage any Christian to read this, and expect to be challenged. It’s not written to make us feel guilty, but rather to exhort us to live lives of love, for God and neighbour, recognising that this life is not all there is!

But there were beautiful experiences as well. And one was meeting with a church family. This was challenging in a different way. [pages 102-105]

“One by one they start to cram in, and cram is the right word. By the time everyone arrives, I count more than fifty people sitting on the floor, on the bed, or on top of each other. They will sit in the most uncomfortable positions with smiles on their faces for the next two hours. They will sing, clap, pray, and listen intently as I share from Scripture.

When I’d prayed earlier about how to encourage this church, I thought about its makeup: men and women who live in a very difficult environment, physically poor, in a battle every day for the most basic needs of food, water, and medicine, and persecuted for their faith.

Before the meeting, the church’s pastor had shared with me that his non-Christian parents died when he was just fifteen. A few years later, someone shared the gospel with him for the first time. He trusted in Jesus and was baptized, but as soon as this happened, the rest of his family abandoned him. His brothers told him to never come back, and he lost the inheritance his parents had left him.

But this pastor and his people believe that Jesus is worth it. “Jesus is worth losing your family,” the pastor told me. Then he quoted Mark 10:29-30, saying,

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said, “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, who will not receive a hundred times more, now at this time- houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions-and eternal life in the age to come.”

In this setting I hardly know what to say. Who am I to share anything? I wonder. Sure, I have been to seminary, written books, pastored churches, and led ministries, but compared to these brothers and sisters, I know so little of what it costs to follow Christ. Compared to them, I know so little of what it means to depend on and trust in Christ for all that I need. I know so little of what it means to take risks to make his love known.

Nevertheless, trusting that God’s Word is sufficient to encourage them, I open up to Nehemiah 8 and 2 Timothy 4, and I exhort them to hold fast to God’s Word, even when it’s hard to do so. They nod their heads as Nabin translates. I hope they are encouraged.

It’s not until I finish, however, that I am most encouraged. After our time in God’s Word, they begin to share their needs with one another. One older woman in the corner of the room mentions a physical challenge she is facing, and a woman on the other side of the room offers to help take care of her. A young man tells of someone he recently shared the gospel with who is now persecuting him, threatening to harm his family. In response, an older man shares how the same thing happened to him, prompting the pastor to encourage them both based on his own experiences with persecution. That leads to a couple who tell about how they shared the gospel with another family and how that family believed in Jesus. They are now thinking about starting a new church in that family’s home in a nearby village.

As I watch what is happening in this room and listen to these conversations between brothers and sisters in the family of God, it hits me: This is it! This is what these villages and the people in them need most! Absolutely, they need the gospel. Without question, they need to hear the good news of God’s grace that gives them eternal life. But they need more than that, too. They need community-the kind of community that treks for two hours- not just to worship with one another but to care for and encourage one another. The kind of community that takes responsibility for one another’s physical needs. They need brothers and sisters who, as we read in Mark 10, provide for one another as family and love one another as themselves (Luke 10). And these villages need a community of men and women who will take great personal risk to share the greatest news in the world with people who have never heard it.

In other words, these villages and the people in them need the church. The church as God has designed it to be. A people fearlessly holding on to God’s Word while selflessly sacrificing to share and show God’s love amid need around them.

This kind of church can change the world!

It’s surprisingly simple when you think about it. Not easy, but simple. This church has so little of the things you and I think about when it comes to church in our culture. They don’t have a nice building. They don’t have a great band. They don’t have a charismatic preacher. They don’t have any programs. They just have each other, God’s Word in front of them, and God’s Spirit among them. And, apparently, that’s enough.

I wonder if that would be enough for us. I wonder if that would be enough for me. Would you and I be content with belonging to a community that is simply committed to seeking God, loving each other, and sharing the good news of God’s love with the world around us no matter what it costs us? Isn’t this the essence of the church according to God’s design?

As I sit in the middle of this family of brothers and sisters on this remote mountainside, I can’t help but think of how easy it is to get caught up in so much extra stuff in the church that we miss the essence of who God has called us to be and what he has called us to do. I think about what I read in Luke 11 earlier before dinner. There, Jesus confronts the leaders of God’s people because they were missing God’s design for their community. One verse in particular sticks out:

Woe to you Pharisees! You give a tenth of mint, rue, and every kind of herb, and you bypass justice and love for God. These things you should have done without neglecting the others. (verse 42)

Jesus indicts the religious leaders because they were so focused on small things, including their traditions (which weren’t all bad), that they missed the most important things in God’s Word- namely, the spread of God’s love and justice. And I wonder if the same indictment could be made against church leaders like me, and the church culture you and I are a part of Isn’t it so easy for us to focus on small things in the church, including our traditions (which aren’t all bad), that we miss the most important things- namely, working for justice among the oppressed and loving people in need as we love ourselves?”

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Engaging with our culture: Plugged In by Dan Strange

As light relief from reading books on gender and sexuality over Christmas I turned to Dan Strange’s book – Plugged In. It’s about how Christians can and should engage with our culture, and he gives some helpful principles on how to do it.Plugged In

But why bother? Well … One of the books on sexuality that I read makes the point that whether we like it or not, realise it nor not, we are encultured people. We drink from the wells of our culture; it can shape how we think and live and if we are going to protect ourselves and other Christians we need to think it through and be aware of the messages our culture sends and we receive.

So what are the messages our culture is giving? What messages lie behind the soaps and films we watch, the books we read, the sport we play and the music we listen to? And what is the Christian response to these messages?

I like superhero films and series, and was watching one last night. One of the supporting characters was being encouraged to act on her feelings, to genuinely be herself. The programme played on the emotions – it was set up to have you cheering when she put her feelings above what anyone else thought of her.

The message was pretty blunt, more a slap in the face than a creeping up on you. Be your authentic self and don’t be ashamed of it!

And when you’ve seen that, you start to realise that the same message comes through all over the place in the series. We’re all different, with different feelings and gifts and we should just let them all out! Be yourself. And if you don’t you’re just suppressing who you really are – and that’s not good. We’re all heroes when we live out who we are! (This is just one message from the series, the one I’m focusing on here.)

How do we deal with this from a Christian point of view?

Clearly Dan thinks the latter, and rightly so! Christians can’t separate themselves off completely, so we need to engage at the very least to protect ourselves, others, and to understand and critique the worldviews of others and point them to Jesus.

And he gives us four steps to do so based on Paul’s speech to the Areopagus in Acts 17:

“1. Entering: Stepping into the world and listening to the story: “For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship … ” (v 23)

2. Exploring: Searching for elements of grace and the idols attached to them: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To AN UNKNOWN GOD.” (v 23)

3. Exposing: Showing up the idols as destructive frauds: “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone-an image made by human design and skill.” (v 29)

4. Evangelising: Showing off the gospel of Jesus Christ as “subversive fulfilment”: “So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship-and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.” (v 23)”

Dan expands on each of these headings, and then, if you want to see this approach unpacked, he gives four examples, drawn from essays his students have given: adult colouring books, birdwatching, zombies and the Japanese domestic toilet (yes, really).

 

What are your hobbies? What do you watch on television? What do you read or listen to? What messages do they send? And how could you respond to that from a Christian perspective as you enter, explore, expose and evangelise? Dan’s book will help you do that: https://www.10ofthose.com/uk/products/24811/plugged-in

 

Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

 

 

 

 

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Tim Keller: Walking with God through Pain and Suffering: The Christian hope.

keller suffering

As we looked at Job over the Summer I read a number of books on suffering. One of the most helpful was Tim Keller’s book; “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.” https://www.10ofthose.com/uk/products/19793/walking-with-god-through-pain

The book is divided into three:
• The philosophical perspective where he argues that the Christian faith gives the greatest resources to cope with suffering, and indeed grow through it.
• The theological perspective: what the Bible teaches us to help us in suffering.
• The pastoral, practical perspective: “how do we actually walk with God through these times?”

In the wonderful, and very personal, last chapter he writes about the hope Christian’s have that sustains them. John writes the book of Revelation to a suffering people in order that they might endure in their faith. Keller writes:
“And what did John give them so they could face it all? John gave them the ultimate hope-a new heavens and a new earth that was coming. That is what he gave them to face it, and it is a simple fact of history that it worked. We know that the early Christians took their suffering with great poise and peace and they sang hymns as the beasts were tearing them apart and they forgave the people who were killing them. And so the more they were killed, the more the Christian movement grew. Why? Because when people watched Christians dying like that, they said, “These people have got something.” Well, do you know what they had? They had this. It is a living hope.” Page 314.

And then from pages 317-319:
“But how can we be sure this future is for us? The answer is-you can be sure if you believe in Jesus, who took what we deserve so we could have the heaven and the glory he deserved. Donald Grey Barnhouse, who was a pastor at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for many years, lost his wife when his daughter was still a child. Dr. Barnhouse was trying to help his little girl, and himself, process the loss of his wife and her mother. Once when they were driving, a huge moving van passed them. As it passed, the shadow of the truck swept over the car. The minister had a thought. He said something like this, “Would you rather be run over by a truck, or by its shadow?” His daughter replied, “By the shadow of course. That can’t hurt us at all.” Dr. Barnhouse replied, “Right. If the truck doesn’t hit you, but only its shadow, then you are fine. Well, it was only the shadow of death that went over your mother. She’s actually alive-more alive than we are. And that’s because two thousand years ago, the real truck of death hit Jesus. And because death crushed Jesus, and we believe in him, now the only thing that can come over us is the shadow of death, and the shadow of death is but my entrance into glory.”?”
We sing that song “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” and the last line of the last stanza is “made like him, like him we rise; ours the cross, the grave, the skies.” What does that mean? It’s almost like a taunt. It’s like saying, “Come on, crosses, the lower you lay me, the higher you will raise me! Come on, grave, kill me and all you will do is make me better than before!” If the death of Jesus Christ happened for us and he bore our hopelessness so that now we can have hope-and if the resurrection of Jesus Christ happened-then even the worst things will turn into the best things, and the greatest are yet to come.
There have not been many times in my life when I felt “the peace that passes understanding.” But there was one time for which I am very grateful, and it stemmed from this great Christian hope. It was just before my cancer surgery. My thyroid was about to be removed, and after that, I faced a treatment with radioactive iodine to destroy any residual cancerous thyroid tissue in my body. Of course my whole family and I were shaken by it all, and deeply anxious. On the morning of my surgery, after I said my good-byes to my wife and sons, I was wheeled into a room to be prepped. And in the moments before they gave me the anesthetic, I prayed. To my surprise, I got a sudden, clear new perspective on everything. It seemed to me that the universe was an enormous realm of joy, mirth, and high beauty. Of course it was-didn’t the Triune God make it to be filled with his own boundless joy, wisdom, love, and delight? And within this great globe of glory was only one little speck of darkness-our world-where there was temporarily pain and suffering. But it was only one speck, and soon that speck would fade away and everything would be light. And I thought, “It doesn’t really matter how the surgery goes. Everything will be all right. Me-my wife, my children, my church-will all be all right.” I went to sleep with a bright peace on my heart.
C. S. Lewis wrote:
For if we take the Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendor of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling’ with the rumor that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get in. ‘When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch. We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendor which she fitfully reflects.”

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Joyfully giving thanks – Colossians 1:9-14

A Call to SRAs we come to look at this passage on Sunday, here are some words from Don Carson (Spiritual Reformation, pages 109-110) on verses 12-14 that challenge our prayers:

“If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Saviour.

What Paul is saying is that to live a life worthy of Jesus Christ is to overflow with joyful thanksgiving in the light of the salvation we have received at his hand. If we have been transferred out of the dominion of darkness and into the kingdom of the Son beloved by God, our only appropriate response is joyful gratitude.

Indeed, as Paul thinks along such lines, his mind is so compellingly drawn to Jesus that he breaks out in a paean to Christ (1:15-20). Of course, it is important for Paul to remind his Colossian readers that Christ is the Lord of the universe, since he was God’s agent in creation, and to tell them that Jesus is not only creation’s agent but its goal: “all things were created by him and for him” (1:16). Because of the syncretism all around them, the Colossians needed to be reminded that Christ alone is the head of the church. Yet Paul reminds them in such a way that he displays the joyful exuberance that he has just been describing. It is the inevitable heritage of those who dwell on the countless blessings they have received from God through the merits of Christ Jesus.

The line of thought in this prayer of the apostle is straightforward. He prays constantly that these Christians will be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. Then he tells them the purpose of his prayer: he wants them to live a life worthy of the Lord, utterly pleasing to him, and Paul assumes that such a life is utterly impossible unless there is a growing and spiritual grasp of what God’s will is. Finally, unwilling to leave undefined such expressions as “worthy of the Lord” and “please him in every way,” he fleshes them out with some concrete characteristics of Christians who live this way. His list is not meant to be exhaustive, merely typical, but it is no less revolutionary for that. Christians, he says, bear fruit in every good work. They grow in the knowledge of God, they are strengthened by God’s power so as to display great endurance and patience, and they joyfully give thanks to the Father for the astonishing salvation he has granted them through the Son he loves, Jesus Christ. That sublime thought elicits a burst of praise for Jesus himself.

When was the last time you prayed like that? Does not the example of the apostle suggest we should be constantly praying along these lines?”

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Spark Wonder

 

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