How Can I Jumpstart My Prayer Life?

Audio Transcript If you’re unhappy with your prayer life, you join a lot of us. And Pastor John has a word for us. On December 28, 2008, he preached a sermon on prayer titled “Put in the Fire for the Sake of Prayer.” In it, he lamented the pervasiveness of prayerlessness among Christians, a complaint of many Christians, even of those in his own church (as you will hear him talk about in a moment). So how do we kickstart this essential discipline in our lives in order to exercise our faith? He offered three practical suggestions. Here’s Pastor John. Three Suggestions Let me give you a few practical suggestions. These are growing out of my life and out of my reading of the Bible. Just three brief, practical suggestions because many of us are not doing as well as we should. 1. Set aside a time and a place to pray, and don’t leave it to chance. The devil defeats most praying before it happens because we didn’t make a plan. I have been at this a long time, and the devil hates me and my prayer life. You wouldn’t believe how many good things keep me from praying. Not sin. Sin does not keep me from praying. Righteousness keeps me from praying — answering holy emails and other holy things, like just checking out one more piece of relevant news to pray about at whatever news service you click on. It’s not evil that keeps us from praying; it’s good things. And the devil is shrewd to the bottom. So, pick a place and pick a time and show up. 2. Combine your praying with reading the Bible. Take what you read in the Bible and turn it into prayer, because your brain, if it’s a typical human… Read More

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Does God Really Hate Me? When Deep Love Feels Like Wrath

The woman he loved so deeply left him because he began to lose his sight. The two had been engaged to marry. George Matheson (1842–1906) went completely blind before his twenty-first birthday. He lived and ministered in Scotland for decades, and never married. His eldest sister cared for him for more than twenty years after he lost his sight, until she herself married on June 6, 1882. He had depended on her, in almost every way, for all those years, and then even her eyes were taken away from him. The night of her wedding, he wrote the sorrow-filled lines he may be most remembered for today: O love that will not let me go,     I rest my weary soul in thee.I give thee back the life I owe,     that in thine oceans depths its flow.May richer fuller be. . . . O joy that seekest me through pain,     I cannot close my heart to thee.I chase the rainbow through the rain,     and feel the promise is not vain.That morn shall tearless be. “The question is not whether we will suffer, but whether we will suffer with God.” Tweet Share on Facebook When the rain of all he lost threatened to drown the love he’d known — and he might have wondered if God had utterly abandoned him — Matheson instead wrapped his fingers all the tighter around the promises of heaven. He ran for the tearless wedding to come. His blind eyes, filled with joy, pressed into the tension so many of us feel in suffering: Intense and abiding pain often seem to cast serious doubt on the Father’s love for us. Fear Can Inflame Suffering Matheson’s hymn “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go” has been recently revived, with new music, by Indelible Grace. When the group introduced the song at… Read More

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How Much Victory Can I Expect over Sinful Desires?

Audio Transcript Last week we talked about the challenge of why our theology does not change our lives quickly, at least not as fast as we wish it would. We also talked about the expulsive power of a new affection — that new, holy affections for God push out of our lives the fallen desires we have for sin. But from those topics emerges another related question: Realistically, how changed will my desires become in this life? This question is from a listener named Emma. “Pastor John, hello! I think I understand Christian Hedonism. By the sovereign grace of God in regeneration, God gives me new desires that align with his desires. This includes a new delight in what most delights God — himself! Amen and amen. But boy, do I sure struggle with a ton of desires within me that are not God-honoring! So how in the world can I be sure God has given me new, holy desires when I so often feel inundated by my old, unholy desires? Even Jesus seemed to be more motivated in his earthly life by future joy (Hebrews 12:2). So how much desire-victory is realistic and normative in the Christian life, inside this fallen flesh and inside this cursed planet?” Emma asks two questions, as I’m hearing it. First she asks, “How can I be sure that I have been given new, holy desires?” And this is really a question of “How can I be sure I have been born again?” Because that’s what the new birth does; it gives us these new, God-centered, Christ-exalting, Spirit-empowered desires. And the other question she asks is “How much desire for God and victory over contrary desires — sinful desires — is realistic or normative for the Christian life?” So, let’s go about answering these… Read More

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Live for Your Greatest Desire: Jesus

For over twenty years, the flag that has flown over the Passion Conferences is a declaration from the prophet Isaiah. If you go to the Passion 2020 website and click “more information” and scroll down, this is what you see from Isaiah 26:8 (fading from yellow to magenta to red): Yes Lord, walking in the way of your truth, we wait eagerly for you, for your name and renown are the desire of our souls. This has never changed — ever since the beginning of Passion. Your name, O God, and your renown, your fame, are the desire of our souls. So yes, Lord, we wait for you. We long for you. You are our greatest desire. Name Above Every Name The reason I say “you, Lord” and not just “your name” is our desire is not only because the text says “we wait eagerly for you,” but also because that is what “your name” means: Your name is the essence of you — who you are. You said your name is Yahweh, “I Am Who I Am” (Exodus 3:14). So, when we say his name is our desire, we mean his being is our desire. And now, on this side of the incarnation, we know you by another name: Jesus, who said, in the most outrageous, glorious, true statement that a man ever made: “Before Abraham was, ‘I Am’” (John 8:58). So, Jesus is “I Am.” Jesus is Yahweh. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The Word was Yahweh, “I Am Who I Am.” “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). And of this great, incarnate “I Am,” the angel said, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his… Read More

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How Do I Bless My Children Before Bed?

Audio Transcript How can I meaningfully bless my children before bedtime? I love this question. It’s from a dad named Wes. “Hello, Pastor John. My question is about blessing my children. I have three boys, six and under. Among the household duties that I regularly assume is bedtime. I have, since each was born, sang ‘Jesus Loves Me’ to them every night, thousands of times, inserting their names into the lyrics. I am stunned at the impact this little song has. Even when a child is melting down and revolting against being put to bed, they will not let me skip the song. Additionally, I pray for each son. “Now, I have decided to give each of my boys a blessing. It will be given to them nightly and must be theologically rich, since it will be memorized by them through the years. There are so many biblical truths I want them to understand and carry into adulthood. I cannot seem to find the right words or Scriptures to incorporate them all. If you were writing (or selecting) a blessing for your son to carry throughout his life, how would you do it, and maybe more specifically, what truths would you want them to hear every night?” Well, since Wes seems to me to be so far ahead of most parents here, let me cheat a little bit on his question and back up and give some words of explanation and foundation and encouragement, I hope, before I say something brief in response to his particular question about a content for the blessing of his children. What I mean when I say he’s ahead of most parents is that I would guess very few parents actually have given a lot of thought to what a blessing over their children would… Read More

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The Wrath of God Was Satisfied: Wondrous Love in the Awful Cross

The cross. What a terror. Extremely, almost inconceivably terrible. It was designed to be that way — to strike profound terror into the minds of any who could potentially be tortured upon one. Two thousand years removed from the reality of Roman crucifixion and having become familiar with the cross as an abstract theological term, it can be hard for us to emotionally connect with what it really was: the terrible means of Rome executing its wrath upon its worst offenders. “The death of Christ was real, and it was really terrible. He was an object of wrath.” Tweet Share on Facebook And Jesus was executed on a cross. He was counted as among the worst offenders. His death was real, and it was really terrible. He was an object of wrath. But not just of Roman and Jewish wrath; in fact, not mainly of Roman and Jewish wrath (John 19:11). Jesus was primarily the object of his Father’s wrath — the most just, righteous, and terrible wrath there is. And he became that object willingly, even when his every human impulse longed for escape (Mark 14:36). It’s the very reason he came. For This Purpose He Came Jesus knew what his mission was long before circumstances took their terrible turn toward the cross. He told a Sanhedrin member early on that he had come to be “lifted up” as Moses had lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness (John 3:14). He explicitly warned his disciples, The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Luke 9:22) To a crowd seeking more divine bread from Jesus, he said, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If… Read More

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Why Is My Theology Not Changing My Life?

Audio Transcript Why is my theology not changing my life? Or at least, not changing me as fast as I thought it would? Anyone who regularly plunges into the riches of Scripture and of the Reformed tradition will eventually face this very sobering and probing question. The topic was taken up by Pastor John and by the late R.C. Sproul at a Ligonier National Conference back in 2011. The conversation was on stage. There the dialogue turned toward how the mind and heart relate to the discovery of biblical truth. We jump into the conversation, beginning with Pastor John. Behold and Be Changed John Piper: I totally agree that the primacy of the affections is in terms of the mind serving the affections so that they’re not emotionalism, but real fruit of knowing. God is not honored by emotions based on falsehood. He’s only honored by emotions that are rooted in truth. Now, here’s the practical issue: Lots of people know things and don’t get changed. Some of you are just discovering the doctrines of grace, and you’re just as crabby this year as you were last year. What’s wrong? Knowing leads to right affections and doing, but not quickly for everybody, or not immediately, or sometimes not at all. The devil knows quite a bit of theology and hates all of it. And he’s maybe more orthodox than most of us, but he can’t abide it. The reason is because he doesn’t know it as glorious. He doesn’t know it as beautiful. I’m just going to add: to know something aright is not just to get the theological pieces in order and have the right quotes in the Bible, but to go to 2 Corinthians 3:18: “Beholding the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same… Read More

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Freedom Is to Be Like Him

You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13) Jesus Christ set his face toward the cross in order to set his people free. The nails in his hands were the keys that unlocked our shackles. The cry “It is finished!” (John 19:30) was his command for our release. And Easter’s empty tomb shattered the door to every cell. Because Jesus died and rose again, every Christian can say with the apostle Paul, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). Sometimes, however, the idea of freedom is more thrilling than the reality of it. For, as Paul goes on to tell us, true freedom is less about following your dreams and more about kneeling down to scrub another’s feet. “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). Why did Jesus set us free from the guilt of our past, from the curse of the law, and from the tyranny of our former sins (Galatians 1:3–4; 3:13; 5:24)? He set us free to serve. Go Low to Go High Paul’s words sound like nonsense to our sinful flesh. In our natural state, we associate the word freedom with all sorts of ideas — independence, self-expression, personal choice — but rarely with service. Unbelief, however, always separates what God has joined together. And in the kingdom of God, freedom and service belong together like Adam and Eve, like heaven and earth, like grace and peace. We need look no further than our Lord Jesus. No one has ever been freer than God himself. Yet what did the Son of God do with such freedom? He… Read More

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Should Christians Attend Alcoholics Anonymous?

Audio Transcript Can Alcoholics Anonymous break my addiction? It’s a question from a listener named Tanya. “Dear Pastor John, I’m five years sober from alcohol because I went to A.A. and was miraculously delivered from the desire to drink. I was, and am, a born-again believer. I listen to and read much of your content. However, I’m now hearing that it is wrong for a Christian to attend A.A. I only want to do the right thing before the Lord. I have entered a deeper relationship with God through A.A. and am always at liberty to declare that my ‘higher power’ is Jesus Christ. I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on the matter.” Pastor John, what potential role can social programs play in really helping to bring genuine change to the Christian life? The roots of Alcoholics Anonymous are in the Christian tradition. The founders, Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, were members of a Christian revival organization called the Oxford Group. So, even though the A.A. movement now is non-sectarian, it’s not surprising, therefore, that the 12 steps are all, so to speak, like the Christian shell where the nut of Christ has been removed. With this much outward similarity to the way Christians overcome sin, it’s not surprising to me that the 12 steps have and can be amazingly helpful for those moving out of addiction to alcohol. Road to Recovery My guess is that most of our listeners will never have read all of the 12 steps. Some for sure have. So, I want to read them, all of them. It will take only a minute. They’re very short. I want to read them and then say something to Tanya about her situation. We admit we are powerless over alcohol — that our lives are unmanageable. We come… Read More

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Can You Repent If You Were Caught? Three Signs of Godly Sorrow

In recent years, we’ve sadly seen some popular Christians fall into ministry-disqualifying sins. Often, the revelation of a double life is followed by a public statement of regret. It’s hard not to be cynical about the purity of the motives behind such acts of repentance. After all, wouldn’t a truly repentant Christian confess the truth about their sin before being caught? But if we’re honest, I wonder whether what unsettles us most on these occasions is how familiar it all feels — offering rushed apologies in an effort to mitigate sin’s consequences. It’s one of the most worn pages in our own playbook. Is true repentance even possible when we’ve been caught in the act? “A repentant sinner pleads guilty to all charges, trusting Jesus Christ the advocate to secure our forgiveness.” Tweet Share on Facebook Though we might be jaded by our contemporary experiences, a survey of Scripture finds numerous examples where true repentance followed a sudden exposure of sin. Only after Abigail’s courageous public confrontation did David realize he had let pride nearly drive him to murder (1 Samuel 25:23–35). Later, David remained blinded to his heinous crimes against Bathsheba and Uriah her husband until Nathan raised a pointed finger and pronounced, “You are the man” (2 Samuel 12:7). Both exposures are followed by David’s sincere repentance. Likewise, the city of Nineveh expressed sorrow only after God sent Jonah to bring public outcry against her sin, yet her repentance is lauded by Jesus himself (Matthew 12:41). Although repentance after the humiliation of uncovered sin may appear contrived, the fact remains that one of God’s patterns in Scripture is to use human agents to expose sin and bring about repentance. The question, then, is not whether true repentance after being caught is possible, but what this true repentance looks… Read More

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How to Pray the Psalms

If you want your prayer life to be shaped by the word of God — as I hope you do! — you cannot do better than to make the Psalms a central part of your prayers. For in the Psalms we have words that God has given us to speak to God. Such a rich tapestry of praises, laments, meditations, requests, and urgent supplications is given to us that we neglect it at our peril. The Psalms tie our personal prayers to the corporate prayers of the people of Christ in every generation. They warm our hearts, inform our minds, and shape our wills. “The Psalms connect our personal walk with God to the corporate life of the whole church of Christ.” Tweet Share on Facebook Christian history certainly supports a robust use of the Psalms in our worship. In the first few centuries after Jesus, the Psalms generated more commentaries than any other biblical book. By the fourth century, at the latest, the book of Psalms (the Psalter) was being used regularly for Christians to sing. For Benedictine monks, the Rule of Saint Benedict (c. 530) stipulated that all 150 Psalms should be sung each week! We have come a long way from this focus on the Psalms. Now, in many Christian churches, the Psalms get no more than the occasional sermon and some songs loosely inspired by psalms. Does this matter? I think it does. I want to encourage you to make the Psalms a rich and major part of your life of prayer and praise, both privately and corporately in your churches. I want to persuade you that this is right and good. And I want to give some pointers to help you know how to do this. Teach Us to Pray Let’s go back to basics.… Read More

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Can We Love Both God and Pleasure?

Audio Transcript Why can’t we love pleasure and God at the same time? Paul seems to assume that we can’t. And it’s a text that confuses a podcast listener named Gabriel, who writes in to ask: “Hello, Pastor John. My question is about that phrase in 2 Timothy 3:4, ‘lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.’ Does this establish a dichotomy between seeking pleasure and seeking God? If so, why is it impossible to do both? Why can’t we love pleasure and God at the same time?” It is about time that we get this question. I mean, we are Christian Hedonists, and there’s a text just crying out for attention. So, let’s put the text in front of us. Here’s what 2 Timothy 3:1–5 says: In the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. Now, Gabriel is certainly right to flag this text as something that needs special attention, especially from a Christian Hedonist like me: “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” Is this, then, not an indictment of Christian Hedonism, which says that we should pursue our fullest and lasting pleasure in God no matter what it costs? That’s what I believe and have devoted my life to arguing for and trying to live. Gabriel wants to know, Can’t we pursue pleasure and God — can’t we love pleasure and God — at the same time? To which Paul seems to say, “No, you can’t.” What You Really Crave So, what… Read More

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Reading Without Seeing: How Not to Study the Bible

We can drift from God with our Bibles open in front of us. We are so prone to wander that any activity can be an opportunity for sin, even reading God’s word. Although we may assume activities intended for growth in godliness — prayer, fellowship, Bible reading — are immune to such temptation, we can still fail to bring God glory even as we engage the Scriptures. The Pharisees had this problem in their Bible reading. Jesus shot straight to the heart of the issue: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40). “We need help, but we have a Helper. God loves to meet us as we pray to meet him in his word.” Tweet Share on Facebook The Pharisees searched the Scriptures diligently. They devoted their entire lives to memorizing and obeying the Law of Moses. But what does Jesus call them out for? He says they missed the bright neon sign flashing “Messiah.” The Pharisees knew God’s word, but they didn’t recognize Jesus. They never allowed God’s word to penetrate their hearts so that they would desire the Messiah and welcome him when he came. Imagine taking an interest in your ancestry, creating a family tree, and learning all about your great-grandparents. You know their birthplace, their history, where they worked, how they met, and so on. Now imagine that they walk into your kitchen as you sit down to eat dinner, but you don’t recognize them. You don’t hop off your seat with excitement to hug them. This only begins to capture how crazy it is for us to read the Scriptures and miss Christ. How Not… Read More

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