Category Archives: Christian Life

Some Thoughts on Daily Bible Reading

lightstock_4192_xsmall_nikolas_Lots of people use Bible reading plans to guide their daily Bible reading. I’m in favor of reading plans – I use M’Cheynes One Year Reading Plan myself. But I also think it’s important to remember that reading plans are man-made tools, not divine mandates.This means you’re free not to read the Bible today.

One reason this is helpful to remember is that many of us feel burdened at times by obligatory Bible reading. Our minds are racing for one reason or another. Our hearts are melancholy and unresponsive to gospel truths. In this condition a hurried and distracted heart easily finds that following a reading plan feels like a chore. Maybe on a mind-chaos day it would be better not to read, but to rest.

John Owen was very realistic about the difficulty and distractions of our minds. In his writings about meditation he says, “When, after this preparation, you find yourselves yet perplexed and entangled, not able comfortably to persist in spiritual thoughts unto your refreshment…cry and sigh to God for help and relief.” And then he advises to end the time and come back to it tomorrow.

So maybe you’re not “feelin it” today. Your mind is in a thousand places and try as you might, it refuses to be reined in. What should you do? I humbly suggest you close your Bible and instead fix your mind on one verse or prayer that you might take with you through the day. “Lord, set in my heart a sense of the joy and freedom that are mine as a child whose Father is God.”

Remember, the Bible doesn’t demand for itself to be read every day. Thou shalt read the Bible daily is not one of the ten commands. Many (perhaps most?) Christians throughout history have not had access to the Bible at all, or at least not in a language they could read. One of the clearest calls to the constant use of Scripture is found in the first psalm, “Blessed is the man…[whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” There is no call for daily Bible reading, but rather for constant meditation. The expectation is both less and more.

Bible reading is aimed at preparation for heaven. Like trees don’t grow overnight, so the fruit of devotion to Scripture is cumulative not instantaneous. We read as preparation for heaven, not just for today. This future orientation removes the pressure from immediate daily obligations. The goal is larger and longer. Thus we should read the Bible regularly in preparation for heaven, but this does not demand daily reading. If it seems more prudent to forego Bible reading for a day, our preparations for reunion with God are not thereby thwarted. Geoffrey Thomas encourages persistence in Bible reading with heaven as the goal:

Do not expect always to get an emotional charge or a feeling of quiet peace when you read the Bible. By the grace of God you may expect that to be a frequent experience, but often you will get no emotional response at all. Let the Word break over your heart and mind again and again as the years go by, and imperceptibly there will come great changes in your attitude and outlook and conduct. You will probably be the last to recognize these… Go on reading it until you can read no longer, and then you will not need the Bible any more, because when your eyes close for the last time in death, and never again read the Word of God in Scripture you will open them to the Word of God in the flesh, that same Jesus of the Bible whom you have known for so long, standing before you to take you forever to his eternal home.

G. Thomas is speaking about the necessity of persistence in Bible reading. We should certainly persist even when feelings do not align. I’m not so much talking here about persistence over the course of ten years as I am about frequency from day to day. So  if you haven’t read your Bible in thirty days, then these thoughts are not for you. You should probably commit to daily Bible reading for the next thirty days and revive the experience of its constant benefits. But for those whose hearts feel bound to mechanical daily duties, go breathe the fresh air of freedom. As you walk in fellowship with the Father, there will be many days of joy and freedom in reading the Bible, but it won’t be every day. And there will come a day when reading the text is outmoded, giving way to the greater glory, “that same Jesus of the Bible whom you have known for so long, standing before you to take you forever to his eternal home.”

Discerning Satan’s Work: Three Clues

dynamicsSpiritual renewal is a daily process with daily setbacks. And as C.S. Lewis imaginatively reminded us (Screwtape Letters), the Biblical worldview includes a realm of activity beyond physical awareness, from which many of those setbacks originate.

The lineage of human brokenness is mixed. Sin derives from many sources. Envy and arrogance from within led Eve to eat the fruit. Yet as the story goes it was clearly the serpent that lured her in. But surely Adam’s absence had something to do with her transgression as well. As with Eve, so with us.  Sin springs from many fountains.

The flesh, the world, and the devil conspire to preclude our progress in being transformed to look more and more like Jesus in the way we live. While Christians are usually somewhat sensitive to the presence of personal sin (both acts and condition, e.g. 1 John 1:5-10), and also alert to the allures of the world (1 John 2:15-17), there seems to be less perceptiveness regarding the ways of the devil (1 John 3:8-11).

Paul expressed concern for the church in Corinth regarding this potential imperceptiveness of the devil’s work, “…so that we would not be outwitted by Satan: for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Cor. 2:11).

I recently finished reading Renewal As a Way of Life: A Guidebook for Spiritual Growth by Richard Lovelace, which emphasizes our need for awareness of Satan’s role in our downfalls. Lovelace brings a balanced approach, neither attributing all sin to the devil nor ignoring the devil’s influence. Lovelace highlights three “clues” for discerning the devil’s work, calling them the “Stratagems of Darkness.”

  1. Temptation: Steering God’s children into forms of sin which are in obvious conformity to the world. “Temptation is not his most dangerous technique with believers, for they cannot be led away from Christ into damnation.” Nonetheless, sin can sideline believers, both through discouragement and discrediting.
  2. Accusation: There is no activity which is more characteristic of the devil (106). How do we become sensitized to spiritual conflict? How do we know when we are up against the devil? Based on the situation in 2 Corinthians 2, where believers are being tempted toward mutual resentment and unhealed relationships due to lack of forgiveness, Lovelace suggests that there are two ways in which the devil normally works: “dividing the body of Christ and using unhealed resentment as a gun emplacement for firing accusations” (153). He goes on to say, “Whenever we find accusation dominating our minds or the minds of others, especially with an apparent admixture of lies, we may be dealing with the devil” (153).
  3. Lying: Jesus said of the devil, “When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). “Every part of the church…shows some marks of the devil’s ability to lead us into believing falsehood, causing us to ignore or doubt biblical truth” (108). There are those doctrines which directly contradict biblical teaching, and yet appeal to human arrogance. But there are also innovative philosophies which have a distinct biblical “ring” to them, and yet subtly subvert the teachings of Jesus.

There is one further “clue” to be aware of. Lovelace asks “How can we tell that we are dealing with demonic agents when many of their characteristic strategies employ the temptations, doubts, lies and slanders common to the flesh and the world?” (153).

There is a simple answer to this question. The powers of darkness do not afflict us aimlessly. There is usually design in their operations, and the design centers on blocking the expansion of the Messianic kingdom. Much of our discernment of Satanic powers come as we follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance in mission and ministry. As we begin initiatives for the kingdom, events will turn in a direction precisely calculated to block our efforts….If all of this comes with an especially disabling power behind it, Satan is probably involved.

If you feel the onslaught of temptations, accusations and lies, remember this: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn 1:8). Or as Lovelace put it, “To topple the power structure created by the interlocking operation of the flesh, the world and the devil, we need a liberator of cosmic dimensions and a Messianic people fully enlightened concerning the difficulty and the supernatural grandeur of the work yet to be done.”

And in addition to the Messiah’s conquering/delivering achievements (Heb 2:14-18), we must remember that we also have the Holy Spirit’s enabling achievement, as Paul directs in Romans 8:13, “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” The Holy Spirit is the active agency by which the remaining sin in us will be killed.

But to the extent that we are deficient in understanding Satan’s role in influencing, and the Spirit’s role in killing sin, to that extent we will be deficient in the fight and thus flagging in faith and joy.

So go forth and conquer in the confidence of the Messiah and the power of the Spirit.

 

Resources for further consideration:

Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal, Richard Lovelace. The original work, from which Renewal As a Way of Life is distilled. More historical/theological context.

The Enemy Within: Straight Talk About the Power and Defeat of Sin, Kris Lundgaard. Drawn heavily from the teaching of John Owen, but much briefer and easier to read.

Overcoming Sin and TemptationJohn Owen. The evangelical standard from which so many others take their cues.

Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis. The classic masterpiece that imagines an expert demon who writes to his novice nephew, instructing him on best methods of tempting humans.

What Is Discipling?

Print“Discipling is deliberately doing spiritual good to someone else so that they will be more like Christ.”

So says Mark Dever in “Presenting Them Perfect: What It Means To Disciple Others” (part two in a five-part series on discipling). Below are notes on this sermon from Colossians 1:28-29 which says, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”

1. What does it mean to disciple others?

At its core discipling is teaching. Less like a classroom and more like an apprenticeship at a job. Perhaps even more like what our dads and moms have been to us: teaching both facts, but also teaching how to live.

Very intentional. Means picking this person and not that person. There are more people to spend time with than you have time to spend. So you have to make a decision. Who needs the help? Who wants the help (knowing they need it)? Are you able practically to make it happen?

May not always be clear who is the teachers and who is the student. Discipling relationships are always two-way: from one to the other and back again (Col 3:16 – “admonish one another”).

To disciple is to help someone live each day in light of the final day.

Our role in discipling: Intense involvement combined with humble openhandedness. Intense involvement can make us too concerned about our own input. Humble openhandedness reminds us this is God’s work not ours. For his glory and not for the satisfaction we might get out of it.

2. Who are you deliberately loving like this through discipling?

This is what the church is for. So find someone in the congregation who may benefit from a relationship with you. Intentionally invest in their spiritual good.

3. Objections to discipling

Concern 1: This discipler is not ideal. (I wanted an older woman, not a woman just merely older than meAnswer: Neither are you. The more humble you are, the more surprised you’ll be at the wisdom of others

Concern 2: I’m concerned this will undermine other good authority. Answer: Discipling done well encourages submission

Concern 3: This whole thing seems self-centered and prideful. Answer: This only means to follow someone else as they follow Christ.

Concern 4: Isn’t this pushy and imposing? Answer: No, because this is a relationship voluntary on both sides.

Concern 5: I don’t need this. Answer: That’s lone ranger Christianity. But in contrast Jesus set up the local church. Calling us to make his commands to love very real by loving particular people. Christianity is personal but it is not private. God is the only one who doesn’t need to be taught.

Concern 6: This is just for extroverts. Answer: No. This is for all Christians.

Concern 7: I can’t disciple – I’m too imperfect and make too many mistakes. Answer: Discipling is sharing what you do know with love, not sharing what you don’t know. Begin simply by sharing the gospel. Proceed simply by asking questions, climbing into their lives. Anyone truly following Christ can disciple.

Conclusion

Discipling is part of discipleship, not an optional extra to following Jesus.

Think about your approach to church: do you come just wondering when someone else is going to disciple you, or do you come prepared to contribute the progress of others in faith?

What do you mean by saying that you are following Christ, who laid down his life for other, if you are not helping others to follow Christ? How are you following him?

The Golden Rule Applied to Prayer

Prayer is not the primary duty. The greatest command is not, “Pray to God.” Rather the greatest command is “Love God wholeheartedly.” Prayer, then, is simply a reflection of this prior duty working itself out. Because I love God, I communicate to him my love for him and my need of him. This is the essence of prayer: loving God.

Likewise the second great command is not, “Pray for your neighbor.” Rather, the command is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet one of the clearest reflections of this love is our praying on behalf of one another. Paul states the Golden Rule in fresh terms, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Again, let this principle be applied to our prayers. Our prayer should be guided not by our own interest, but by the interests of others.prayer together

Such praying directed toward the needs and interest of others is most often called intercession, and this type of prayer is pervasive in the Bible, even when it doesn’t go by that title.

Jesus prays for Peter, “Satan has demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31-32). And Jesus prays no doubt similarly for all who follow him: “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25).

These two passages (Luke 22 and Hebrews 7) shed light on one another. Jesus is able to save completely, because he always lives to make intercession. And his making intercession has a protective effect regarding our faith. At those points where we may be weakest in faith—where Satan is most likely to launch his offensive—it is at those points that Christ makes intercession for us. His prayer for us is that our faith would hold strong against the onslaught of Satan’s advance.

His praying is the means; his saving is the end.

Thus if we want to be like Jesus in our praying, then we should pray for others. And as we pray for others, our prayers should be targeting those areas in which they may be weak in faith. As we are aware of their characteristic besetting sins, tension-filled relationships, despair-inducing circumstances, we should target our prayers at their maintenance of faith through these things.

Tim Keller makes this observation about the prayers of the apostle Paul: “It is remarkable that in all of his writings Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances” (Prayer, 20). Rather than praying for change in circumstances, Paul prays that their faith in God and love for God would grow through suffering, not apart from it.

There is no better way to love a brother or sister in Christ than to make intercession for them, specifically that their faith would not fail when under assault.

Giving God Arguments

J.I. Packer says, “Hallowed be your name…is the basic petition of the Lord’s Prayer, the global ideal and desire that all the other petitions are actually spelling out and specifying in one way or another” (Praying: Finding Our Way Through Duty to Delight). Thus, all prayer is really a matter of reasoning with God as to how we would like to see his name honored and exalted (“hallowed”). Stephen Charnock (1628-1680) called this giving God arguments:

Our praying…should consist of arguments for God’s glory and our happiness: not that arguments move God to do that which he is not willing of himself to do for us…as though the infinitely wise God needed information, or the infinitely loving God needed persuasion, but it is for strengthening our faith in him. All the prayers of Scripture you will find to be reasoning with God, not a multitude of words heaped together; and the design of the promises is to furnish us with a strength of reason in this case: Dan 9:16, “Now according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thy anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem.” He [Daniel] pleads God’s righteousness in his promise of the set time of deliverance; after he had settled his heart in a full belief of the promise of deliverance, he shows God’s own words to him. The arguments [in this and all biblical prayers] you will find drawn from the covenant in general, or some promise in particular, or some attribute of God, or the glory of God.”

(Charnock, Works, 4.8)

Does Prayer Make a Difference?

There’s an apparent incompatibility between praying for God to take a specific course of action when we know that “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps. 115:3) If what he does is based on what he pleases, then how could it be based on what we pray?

C. S. Lewis reflects on this very question:

Can we believe that God ever really modifies his action in response to suggestions of man? For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it. But neither does God need any of those things that are done by finite agents, whether living or an inanimate. He could, if he chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert the heathen without missionaries. Instead, he allows soils and weather and animals and the muscles, minds, and wills of men to cooperate in the execution of his will. “God,” says Pascal, “instituted prayer in order to lend to his creatures the dignity of causality.” But it is not only prayer; whenever we act at all, He lends us that dignity. It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so.

C. S. Lewis, The Efficacy of Prayer

Spiritual Vitality: Where Life Comes From

WhoIsTheHolySpiritThe psalmist asks God to bring life to him, but of course the psalmist is already living. It’s not merely life that he asks for, but a specific kind of life–the kind of life that is fully alive to God’s word, God’s love, and God’s assessment of good and evil.

And where does this kind of life come from? The New Testament answers resoundingly, “From the Spirit!”

So then for this supernatural life that sees God and Christ with new eyes, we must seek the Spirit who gives the rich oxygen of divine experience to our gasping breaths.

Give Me Life!

  • Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name! (80:18)
  • My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word! (119:25)
  • Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways (119:37)
  • Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life! (119:40)
  • In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth. (119:88)
  • I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word! (119:107)
  • Hear my voice according to your steadfast love; O Lord, according to your justice give me life. (119:149)
  • Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise! (119:154)
  • Great is your mercy, O Lordgive me life according to your rules. (119:156)
  • Consider how I love your precepts! Give me life according to your steadfast love. (119:159)

He Who Gives Life

  • It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life (John 6:63)
  • If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:11)
  • For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6)