Archive for November 2007
Sunday School for Atheists – Al Mohler reveals a new trend amongst atheistic parents.
SBC going Calvinistic? – John Bunyan would be pleased with data that seems to show a rise in Calvinistic seminary graduates in the SBC.
Husbanding and Fathering – Don’t miss Steve Shank interviewing C.J. Mahaney on issues surrounding biblical masculinity in the family.
A while back, I took some good advice and upgraded my meager but expanding Puritan library with the Works of Thomas Boston. My only exposure to Boston before the purchase of his works was through his book, Human Nature in its Fourfold State, a classic on covenantal and redemptive-historical theology. My goal in purchasing this set was to read through Boston’s works, slowly but steadily.
I steeled myself for what it would take to work myself through Boston’s 12 volumes. Past experience has taught me that multiple volume collections of an author’s work can pose particular challenged. You see, when someone buys the complete works of an author it is because they have already read and fallen in love with some of that author’s work. The illusion is that all of an author’s works will be as profound as the favorite selections of an author’s work. The reality though is that all authors, like most skilled artisans, produce great work in addition to a good bit of mediocrity. The table in your house is not always decked with a Thanksgiving feast and you would be sorely disappointed if you expected it to be. It is for this reason that I was prepared to be patient with Boston, willing to trudge the valleys to reach the peaks. There has been only one problem. I can’t seem to get off of the peaks!
Boston has made for excellent reading and I’m barely through the first volume. That sentence should stand out to those avid readers of theology. The way most sets of an author’s works are organized place at the forefront of volume one whatever work qualifies as that author’s explanation of general theology. For Boston it is no different. Volume 1 and the beginning of volume 2 are devoted to Boston’s unfolding of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, thereby providing the reader with a general sense of Boston’s systematic theology before diving into his work on more specific points of theology. What this tactic can often amount to is a certain amount of monotony that comes from seeing endless forest instead of examining more interesting trees. But that has not been the case for Boston.
What I have come to joyful discover in Boston’s writing is an intentional grounding of all his theology in Jesus Christ and the plan of redemption. This may sound more simple than profound but it is not. It actually raises a good question. Is the unfolding of the covenant of grace in the person and work of Jesus Christ a topic solely relevant to studies in soteriology and christology or is it a topic that shapes and crowns all areas of theology? Or put another way, “How Christ centered should our theology be?” To this second question, Boston answers with a firm, “Very!”
To provide an example, I have just finished reading his work on the attributes of God as explained by question four of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. That answer reads, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” Boston takes ample space to explain each attribute. These attributes could be described accurately without talking about the plan of redemption in any detail. After all, in the scheme of the Shorter Catechism, Jesus isn’t mentioned until well into the section on God’s providence. But in each of these attributes Boston pauses, after giving a general biblical description, to show how Jesus Christ and salvation in him highlights the true richness of the attribute of God in question. How gloriously refreshing.
This is why I love reading Boston. He can’t help but take his reader to the Cross. That is where he sets up his seminary, on the hill of Golgotha. He is a peripatetic that walks the Via Dolorossa. This is not to say that he succumbs to Christo-monism or that he neglects the depths of the whole counsel of God. He is thoroughly balanced in the seven loci of systematic theology. But what Boston understands and exemplified is the simple truth that Jesus articulated on a country stroll to place called Emaus. All Scripture, and by deduction all theology, is about himself. All our theology should be Christo-centric.
That is why I have found it a distinct pleasure to read Boston. He ministers to my soul by consistently taking me to the only One who can satisfy my soul. This is why so much of the modern, cross-centered movement has latched onto Puritans like Boston. They and I have found in him a kindred spirit, a teacher, a pastor, a theologian, a man thoroughly captivated by Jesus Christ. It is my hope that you will join me in reading Boston and learning from him how to exalt Christ in all you do.
Multi-Campus Church Biblical? – JD shares some of Piper’s thoughts on the subject and adds some of his own.
We have a tradition at our house. It comes after the turkey has been decimated and stomachs are full. It comes just at the time that the dessert plates hit the table. We go around, one by one, and share something for which we are thankful. It has to be something from the year past and it has to be something relatively significant. My 5 year old son was thankful for a big yard and for God making him a good lizard catcher, a favorite past time of his. My 3 year old son was thankful for Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. Preacher in the making? My 2 year old son spoke with his own budding dialect which came out to mean something along the lines of him being thankful for the oreo that he was munching upon. I took a little bit of time to think while others gave their explanations for their top blessings of the past year. When it came to my turn I said I was thankful for my wife.
I am thankful for my wife. She is a godly woman, hard worker, dedicated mama to my boys, beautiful, and faithful. But upon further reflection I concluded that this year I wasn’t so much thankful to God for her as I was thankful to God for opening my eyes to what he is doing in her. He is causing her to grow in godliness. She talks differently than she used to talk. She is more patient that she used to be. There is a humility and kindness about her that only the daily tending to children can grow in a woman. She depends on Jesus in ways deeper and different than in years gone by. And I am thankful to notice it, to see the changes. Too often I take these changes for granted as scenery on a long care ride, too peripheral to notice. Maybe it was the birth of my fourth son that opened my eyes. Maybe it is the seven years of marriage. Maybe it is simply God’s faithfulness in making me less of a self-centered, relational imbecile than I have been in the past. Whatever it is, I’m thankful for it. I am thankful for my wife. She is a picture of God’s faithful work.
I hope I’m not the only husband who thinks this way. I will know no one better in my life than my wife. No one will know me better than my wife. We have a private window into each others heart that only we get to share. We just have to learn to look through it, to part the curtains and gaze. We have to learn to keep it clean. We have to sit by it and watch all that is happening on the other side of those kindly glass panes. And that is what I am learning. That is what my gracious God is teaching me. That is for what I am thankful.
Now I only hope that in the coming years I will look back on this post and say to myself, “You only knew the half of it. God has given you more, Joe, than your seven years young husband mind can even fathom.” May it be so. And may there be many more occasions for me to say at Thanksgiving dessert, “I am so thankful for my wife.”
Kindle or Kindling – I’m not sold on Amazon’s new book reader. Battery power and the inability to thoroughly mark up a book lead me to believe that this is not the future of the written word.
Stem Cell Breakthrough – Good news on the stem cell research front: scientists have successfully produced human embryonic stem cells from skin cells. This bypasses the need for human embryos in stem cell research.
Driscoll on the Atonement – Colin offers his thoughts on Mark Driscoll’s sermon on The Atonement preached in Edinburgh last Friday.
With this post, we conclude our series on how God answers prayer. This will be the fifth method of God in answering prayer as I have drawn these methods from Thomas Manton’s sermon on Psalm 119:26. To review where we’ve been, we’ve carried two main themes throughout this series.
- A belief in unanswered prayer leads to one of two conclusions; either that you don’t pray well enough for God to answer or that God is not loving enough to answer.
- All prayer must begin, continue, and end at the Cross. All of our prayers are accepted before God just as our persons are: by the atoning work of Jesus Christ. You cannot pray a prayer good enough to be answered on its own. All of our prayers must pass through our faithful and gracious Mediator.
It is from these two presupposition, especially the second one, that we have built this series under the premise that God hears and answers all the prayers of his people. Following Manton, we then attempted to articulate the five methods by which God answers prayers. The first four were as follows:
- God may answer a prayer just as we pray it.
- God may answer a prayer by giving the value of the request in an answer of equal or greater value.
- God may delay an answer in order to grow our faith, to exercise our patience, to try our love for God, or to enlarge our desire for the thing for which we pray.
- God may answer the end of the prayer without answering the means for which we pray.
That leads us to our fifth and final method by which God answers prayer.
God may make the excellency of prayer itself to be your answer to prayer.
Up to this point we have not discussed the matter of the means of grace. That term, means of grace, meets with some disagreement amongst the Reformed community as to what should actually be classified by it. Its definition is those normal means which God has ordained for us to grow in Christ-likeness. Disagreements aside, everyone agrees to at least the three means of grace as 1) the word, 2) the sacraments, and 3) prayer. You’ll see this designation especially reflected as the scheme by which the last 19 questions of The Westminster Shorter Catechism are ordered. All this is too simply say, prayer is a means of grace in and of itself.
We often pray because we need something. We are worried for ourselves or someone we love. We have a problem that needs an answer. We lack wisdom and seek God’s counsel. In all of these things we see prayer as a means to an end. But what we often fail to realize is that in prayer the means is often the end. We may come to God with some temporal need and simply be amazed at who he is and that he should invite wretched sinners to bring their requests to him. Often we will turn our eyes upon Jesus and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. To help round out this view of the excellency of prayer, we now turn to a brief theology prayer.
- Prayer is a taste of heaven. The most basic definition of prayer, inadequate and cavalier as it may be, is, “talking to God.” Prayer is communion with God. He speaks to us in his word and we speak back to him in prayer. Heaven is the culmination of this divine conversation. Though we will have no lack in heaven, and therefore no need for prayer of supplication or confession, prayer itself, nevertheless, will continue. We will for all eternity have upon our lips prayers of adoration, praise, and thanksgiving to our great and glorious God. It is for this reason that I say, prayer is a taste of heaven. To take a moment in your closet on your knees in prayer is to taste heaven. It is to commune with God in a way that will be magnified into eternal bliss at our homecoming. As dim as the mirror may be, prayer is the hors d’oeuvres of heaven. It is the appetizer to the wedding feast of the lamb. For in prayer, we talk to the living God.
- Prayer points us to the glories of our Creator. Two things astound me most as I consider creation. First, that before creation, God existed in trinitarian bliss. Our God has been relational and personal for all eternity. There has never been a time in which divine love has not been perfectly expressed between the members of the Trinity. Secondly, that when God created all things he spoke them into creation. He could have molded them with his anthropomorphic hands. He could have created by any number of means, but he chose specifically speaking. We might say, that God communicated something out of nothing. We pause here to note these two amazing attributes of God that He is personal and He is speaking. Then we draw our gaze to prayer and should be dumbfounded that we can even get a word out when speak to a God like this. Prayer should be a lightning rod of the character of God. Praying on our knees should not be a ritual but a necessity. That I could pray to such a Creator, a personal speaking God, is amazement upon amazement. I often wonder if I could even get my requests out of my mouth if I truly apprehended the Creator God to whom I addressed my prayers.
- Prayer points us to the glorious of our Redeemer. Two things astound me most as I consider redemption. First, that man fell as low as he did. I know I do not have the capacity to rightly estimate the sinfulness of sin. That capacity is not in me. I excuse it, deny it, and push its blame elsewhere. Yet I cannot escape its cold clutches in every area of my life. The sinfulness of my sin astounds me. But secondly, the grace of God in Christ astounds me more. Where the sinfulness of sin abounds, the gracefulness of grace abounds all the more. I do not have the capacity to rightly estimate the cost of what it took God Almighty to redeem a people to be his precious possession. I cannot place enough worth on the Cross and what happened there. It is standing between this two underestimations that the Christian is astounded at redemption. It is in these two underestimations that we pray. We pray as horrendously sinful people to an incredibly holy God through a gloriously beautiful Mediator in Jesus Christ. That we should be taught to call God, “Our Father”, or that we should be invited to “come boldly before his throne,” are wonders that are almost too wonderful to grasp. Prayer is the experiential manifestation of the realities of the gospel in our daily life. Prayer is the privilege of driving the stake of the gospel deeper and deeper into our hearts.
From these truths this fifth method flows. If we understood what it was exactly we were doing in prayer we would find it difficult to even make a request because we would be so enraptured with the beauty of God offered therein. This is not to say that it is wrong to make requests. It is however to say that it is wrong to waltz into prayer as if you were making an order at the local fast food restaurant. Prayer is not just a means to an end, it is often the means and the end.
Now, in conclusion, consider some implications of this method.
- Prayer is more than a duty it is a privilege. Too many books on prayer are sold under the premise of relieving the guilt you have for not praying by providing techniques to pray. Learning the rudiments of prayer is a necessity but reducing prayer to a duty is a crime. It is the imminent privilege of the Christian to pray. Your motivation to pray should not be guilt but the bountiful promises that you are offered in prayer and the tremendous gift of intimately communing with you Creator and Redeemer. To not pray is not to understand what is being offered in prayer.
- Don’t just pray to get stuff, pray to get God. I’m not asking you to not pray for your needs. I’m asking to realize that one of your needs is to pray. We all too often neglect prayers of adoration, confession, and thanksgiving because we are so eager to tell God what we need. In reality this is being so preoccupied with ourselves that we cease to be preoccupied with God. It is idolatry of the self. The amazing grace of God in prayer is that he often gives us a view of himself and his works that simply cause us to forget ourselves altogether. We should long and strive for this experience in prayer by focusing more often on the one to whom we pray rather than that for which we pray.
- Begin, continue, and end with Christ. I began and end this series with the only one who is worthy to begin and end with, namely Jesus Christ. Prayer that is Christ-centered will not fail to produce a greater love for Christ. Prayer that is not Christ-centered is vanity of vanities. Christ is the one from whom, through whom, and to whom are all things. The surest way to pray powerful and satisfying prayers is to pray to a Jesus who is imminently and solely powerful and satisfying.
Let us look full in his wonderful face, and see the things of this world grow dim in the the light of his glory and grace.
How God Answers Prayer Series:
We move now to the fourth method by which God answers prayer. As I said last post, the first two of five methods are the primary ways in which God answers prayer. These two are:
- By answering a prayer as we pray it
- By answering a prayer by giving something of equal or greater value to that for which we pray
The next three methods are in actuality subcategories of these first two but are still important enough to mention as separate methods. Last week, we covered method three saying that God will often delay a prayer in order to grow our faith, increase our patience, further our love for God himself, or increase our appreciation for the thing for which we pray. This week, we cover the fourth method by which God answers prayer.
Sometimes God will answer the end of our prayer without answering the means for which we pray.
In most prayer requests we pray for the means and an end. For example, “God would you heal Joe so that he would be returned to service in his church and home.” The means is this prayer is Joe’s healing. The end is being of service to church and family. Many a time God will answer the end without answering the means.
Before we get to biblical examples of this, it is important to note that this type of answer is usually the hardest to discern. My experience in prayer meetings and in my own prayers is that we often only pray for the method and neglect praying for the end. So often the sum of our prayers are, “Dear God, Heal so-and-so”, without saying or even thinking why we would want them healed. Certainly we imply the end but often don’t pray it or consciously think it. It is therefore especially bewildering to us when God doesn’t seem to answer our prayer when in fact he is giving the end without giving the means. He may be making Joe to be of service to his church and family by not healing him but instead keeping him ill.
Here are some examples from Scripture of granted ends and denied means.
- Gideon and his 300 men (Judges 7). Gideon knew what he had to do. He had to defeat the Midianites. He knew the apparent means: a large army. So he gathered together 32,000 men and marched on the camp of Midian. God comes to Gideon to inform him that he cannot give Gideon a victory with this many men. So God commands that any Israelite soldier who was afraid could go home. That sends two-thirds of Gideon’s army packing. With 10,000 left, there were still too many men. So God picked 300 men according to how they drank water from a stream. Gideon then lead those 300 men against the Midianites and saw God give them victory. God gave them the end that they desired but chose a method that would bring himself the most amount of glory.
- Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5:1-14). Naaman was a highly decorated commander in the Syrian army. However, Naaman had a big problem, he was a leper. A Jewish servant in Syria tells Naaman of someone who can cure him, a prophet in Israel. Naaman, eager for healing, goes to Elisha with the blessing of the king of Syrian and the king of Israel. He arrives at the prophets gate. A servant meets him and tells him to go wash seven times in the Jordan River for healing from his leprosy. At the servants instructions, Naaman is immediately enraged. We pause here to consider Naaman’s response. Why was he so angry? We find our answer in his words. Naaman expected that the means of his healing would be at least the courtesy of seeing the prophet face to face and certainly some ritual display of religiosity. And the Jordan river? There were plenty of better rivers in Syria. At a servants request, Naaman obeys and his healed, not only of his leprosy but of his pride. Naaman’s end was met but not by the means he expected. God chose different means to bring himself more glory.
- The resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:1-44). Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were good friends of Jesus. Jesus would frequent their house on his trips through Bethany. This leads to some puzzlement over Jesus’ response when he hears of Lazarus’ serious illness. Instead of going to ill Lazarus and his anxiety ridden sisters, he waits until Lazarus is dead. He then goes to Bethany. In his conversation with Martha as well as his prayer before the tomb, we cannot help but see that Jesus had a much more glorious method for healing Lazarus. Jesus wanted the people, in the resurrection of Lazarus, to know that God had sent Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and we see again that the end was granted, the healing of Lazarus, but by a method much different than anyone expected.
- The request of a mother (Matthew 20:20-28). James and John, sons of thunder, had a good mom. She did not hesitate to seize any opportunity to ensure the prosperity of her boys. So when she discerned that Jesus was going to establish a kingdom she came to him requesting the top spots in this new administration for her boys. Jesus’ response was along the lines of, “You have no idea what you are asking. If you knew the suffering that was ahead for your children, you wouldn’t be asking this.” The mother of James and John as well as the rest of disciples wanted to be near to Jesus and wanted as their end to be servants in his Kingdom. They however had no clue what this kingdom would look like. It was not an earthly kingdom that would come by the sword but rather a spiritual kingdom that would come through death. Jesus granted their request but not by the means they thought. They learned that in this kingdom the first is last and the last is first. They learned that Jesus did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Let’s consider some hypothetical situations.
- You pray for someone’s healing through a successful surgical procedure to the end that God would be glorified and that this person would grow in their faith. God may decide to answer the end of your prayer without using the means for which you pray. God’s greatest glory and the person’s greatest good could come through an unsuccessful surgery, a miraculous healing apart from the surgery, a continued illness, or even death.
- You pray for your children to have good educations, good jobs, and good spouses so that they can be of greatest service to the kingdom of God. God may decide to grant the end, making your children of service to the kingdom of God, but by limiting their intelligence, making them missionaries, giving them a rocky marriage, or giving them the privilege of being martyrs for Christ. God’s ways are not our ways, they are better.
Allow me to offer a few words of encouragement in closing.
- Pray the means and the end. To help you to discern God’s gracious answers, root all of your prayers in the end goal of God’s glory and the satisfaction of his people in him alone. Don’t try to pigeon hole God’s answers. He is the best judge of what is best and he will see it done. It is certainly not wrong to close a prayer, “Thy will be done.” It is giving the means over to him.
- See the gospel in this. We would have never thought of the gospel. The weight of sin perplexes us, its putrid tendrils creeping into every corner of our lives. We might think up a number of solutions to the problem of sin and the Fall but none of them would have been as glorious as the gospel revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. God’s ways are the most glorious to himself and the most good for us. I’ll close with a line from the prayer God the All found in The Valley of Vision.
I am well pleased with thy will, whatever it is,
or should be in all respects.
And if thou bidst me decide for myself in any affair,
I would choose to refer all to thee,
for thou art infinitely wise and cannot do amiss,
as I am in danger of doing.
I rejoice to think that all things are at thy disposal,
and it delights me to leave them there.
How God Answers Prayer Series: