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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How Do I Evangelize in Word and Deed?

Ligon Duncan begins the conversation by sharing his and David Platt’s shared belief in the primacy of the Word just as God speaks and brings his people into being. Duncan says that as we image God as witnesses, we should speak his word of grace, and the Holy Spirit will use that to bring people to newness of life. Duncan goes on to say that we want to see the Word come to fruition in the lives of the people we are speaking to, and that if we desire those people to come to faith in Christ, we should then want the Word coming to fruition in our own lives and through our testimonies. Duncan thinks one reason that Christians are motivated to do deeds is not just for evangelistic reasons, but also because we are called to be a blessing to other people and to love our neighbor, at all times. Duncan says we as Christians don’t need an evangelistic motivation to love our neighbor. In the context of evangelism, Duncan says that when people see us living out the life that we are proclaiming with our lips, it makes the words that we are saying especially compelling, and oftentimes, opens a door of someone’s heart to hear the Word of God. Duncan thinks it’s helpful for us to see ourselves as followers of Jesus—called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind. Second, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are intended to look to others’ interests and ask, “How can I serve, how can I care?” Duncan says this is the character of Christ in us, and the greatest love we can show to someone else is to share the good news of how they can be reconciled with God.… Read More

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Do You Redeem the Time by Reaching Others?

When the Bible tells us to make the best use of our time, what comes to your mind as practical ways to do that? Paul’s focus is not primarily on us reading our Bible and praying more, but it is on us reaching others and serving them. The excerpt is taken from the full sermon, “Making the Best Use of Your Time“. So often you will hear when Christians talk about redeeming the time, very often they’re thinking, you know, getting their prayer life together this year, getting on track with their Bible reading. That’s not even on Paul’s radar here. It’s almost like that is Christianity 101. That’s an assumption. Those are the things by which you keep your light bright, by which God makes you light and bright. They’re not even the things. Brethren, all I’m saying is this, is if we approach this new year and we’re thinking about redeeming the time, if the main thing that’s on your mind is getting your Bible reading act together you’re not even where Paul is saying you need to be seeking to redeem the time. You’re not even on the same page with him. Brethren, breathing for the Christian – prayer is like breathing. The Word of God – it’s not bread alone – it’s by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. You see, this is breathing and eating. This is 101. Those are just the basics of life. If that’s where you’re at, you’re not even hearing what Paul’s saying here. Paul isn’t even dealing with seeking opportunities to get in the Word and get in the prayer closet. “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders making the most of the opportunity.” We’ve got to move beyond just praying, fasting, being in our Bibles. Paul’s very specific… Read More

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Through the Word in 2020 / Feb/ 25 – The Lost Jubilee

We are reading the Bible through together this year, using the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan published by the Navigators. You can download it free of charge from: https://www.navigators.org/resource/bible-reading-plans/ Today’s 4 readings are: Matthew 21:12-22; Acts 28:17-31; Psalm 47, Leviticus 26-27. Outside of one reference in Numbers 34, Leviticus 25-27 contain the only mention of Israel’s “Jubilee.” It was a marvelous institution given by God and had massive economic and social ramifications for the nation. It was in effect a giant resort button, where along with other things, all debts hit their termination point whether fully repaid or not; property values were all reset to their highest rate; slaves were set free; and tribal properties all reverted back to their original clans if they had been sold to others during the previous years. This was to occur every 50 years in Israel and served as a sort of crowning “sabbath” to all the other sabbaths – the weekly, the yearly appointed and the every-seventh-year of giving the land rest from being cultivated. Since the appointing of sabbaths was a unique mark given by God to distinguish Israel from all the other nations on earth, our 2 chapters today outline how seriously God took them. And what He said in regard to ignoring them. His discipline could be withering in the face of repeated disobedience. That discipline would culminate in Israel being invaded and exiled if they would not repent. And though God is so patient that He waited hundreds of years before He took that final step – the warning was sounded clearly and precisely in this passage. Looking at the various ways He would discipline them and ratchet up the discipline in the face of their refusal to repent is frightening. And it is meant to be so. And the sad account of… Read More

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Healing from Pastoral Hurt for the Long Haul

Acts 29: Churches Planting Churches It took me a long time to realize how wounded I was from planting our church. Opening up my life, home, and church to be repeatedly taken advantage of was painful. It hurt to hear that people I’d spent hours counseling, shedding tears over, and giving generously to were moving. Being repeatedly “ghosted” wounded me. And seeing my wife misunderstood and wrestling with unfair expectations from people cut deeply, too. Pain is unavoidable when pastoring. It can’t be ignored. Complaining or white-knuckling our way through won’t work. When I was hurting the most, I existed in a state of cynicism, resentment, and frustration. I kept trying to heal on the fly and haphazardly bandage my wounds. But some wounds are too deep for Band-Aids and quick fixes. Brothers, if we’re going to plant and pastor churches for the long haul, we must address our wounds. Our aim should be to maintain our spiritual health and connection to Jesus. But this is easier said than done when we’re suffering. Here are three ways planters can prioritize healing from pain to ensure longevity in service to Christ. 1. Assess the Damage For years, I took a “head down, shoulders squared” approach to church planting. My motto was “forward at all cost.” I kept going, but only out of obligation, not joy. On the outside, I was determined; inwardly, I was dejected, discouraged, cynical, and often critical of others. Brothers, if we’re going to plant and pastor churches for the long haul, we must address our wounds. David prayed for God to search his heart, examine his motives, and reveal his sin (Ps. 139:23–24), and so should we. But be warned, brothers: asking God to examine you and reveal what’s hidden is a dangerous prayer. We may not… 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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Through the Word in 2020 / Feb. 24 – Justice, not Barbarism

We are reading the Bible through together this year, using the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan published by the Navigators. You can download it free of charge from: https://www.navigators.org/resource/bible-reading-plans/Today’s 4 readings are: Matthew 21:1-11; Acts 28:1-16; Psalm 46, Leviticus 24-25. Casual readers of the Bible often come away with very distorted views about what the Bible actually teaches. One of the places where this is seen both familiarly and mistakenly is in our Leviticus passage today. Many a person reads: “an eye for an eye” and run with it as though this is the whole of how God speaks about justice. Something Scripture reiterates God loves – and that which Isa. 42:1 reminds us is a particular end that Christ will establish perfectly in His return.  What then does it mean in our reading today? First off, we must never forget the purpose of the command is to establish equity, not barbarism. In other words, the concept of an “eye for an eye” is twofold: a. It prevents the thwarting of justice by failing to punish crimes at all. Sins against one another in society are not to be summarily dismissed. Personal forgiveness is always requisite, but sin often extends beyond the individual into society as a whole. It is one thing for me to forgive one who has broken into my house and stolen from me. To forgive and not require restitution of any kind is good. But it is another thing altogether to let such thieves go, only to rob my neighbor! This is to fail to love my neighbor as myself – and to see to it he is protected from harm. Thus I dare not let the thief go completely, but am responsible to see that justice is done for the good and protection of others. Hence Paul… 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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Can I Ask for a Raise at My Ministry Job?

It’s been a long time—years—since I’ve had a raise. I work for a Christian organization that doesn’t have a lot of money, so I feel bad asking. On the other hand, I’m starting to feel a little resentful that I’m getting paid the same rate when my skills and responsibilities have grown. Is it ever legitimate for a Christian to ask for a raise? Is that putting myself forward too much? How can I do so humbly? I appreciate the heart behind this great question. The various emotions you feel all find their roots in Scripture; and, fortunately, Scripture can help us sift them faithfully.  First, a Christian should absolutely feel freedom to ask for a raise. I’m not just saying that as an economist—though economics is surely on your side here. Consider the following examples. In Luke 10, Jesus sends out the 72 and encourages them to willingly receive hospitality from their hosts, “for the laborer deserves his wages.” Jesus makes his point by bringing in something we already know from the sphere of “regular labor” and applies it to the sphere of kingdom work. He doesn’t merely say, “Accept hospitality because ministry deserves it,” but he reasons that just as laborers in every other context deserves their wages, so do those who labor for the Lord. Paul makes the same claim in 1 Timothy 5. He quotes Jesus directly, then adds an image from Deuteronomy: “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” The assumption is that the ox deserves to participate in the fruits of its labor. And consider that the more the ox treads, the more it would eat while treading. The “pay” accruing to the ox would grow the more it worked. Jesus and Paul both make the case that those who… Read More

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Through the Word in 2020 / Feb. 23 – Spiritual Cosmetics

We are reading the Bible through together this year, using the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan published by the Navigators. You can download it free of charge from: https://www.navigators.org/resource/bible-reading-plans/ Today’s 4 readings are: Matthew 20:17-34; Acts 27:27-44; Psalm 45, Leviticus 21-23. Each of us have individual tastes concerning what is attractive to us. It is true in general – we find certain car styles, house structures, art forms, fabrics, aromas, tastes, vocations and even recreations each to have their own attraction. Some more than others. And this is nowhere more true than in choosing a mate. Certain qualities, physically, spiritually and personality draw us to one versus another. Psalm 45 begins by extolling the beauties and laudable attractiveness of Christ as King. Hebrews 1 opens that truth to us. Jesus is glorious and desirable in a host of ways. It is a “pleasing theme” to the Psalmist to contemplate His loveliness. Gracious lips; mighty in battle; majestic in comportment; and above all ruling with a scepter of righteousness. It is a wondrous picture indeed. And we ought often to stop and ponder the beauties of our Christ and King lest we allow them to grow ho-hum to us. This truly is a place where familiarity can breed contempt if we aren’t careful. But the text goes on to say what King finds most beautiful in His Queen. It is a reminder of how to “pretty ourselves up” for our dearest husband. Psalm 45:10–11 (ESV): “Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him.” What does He find attractive? What can animate His pleasure in us? It is wrapped up in these words: “forget your people and your father’s House.” What… 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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God’s People Aren’t Impressive. Just Look at Moses’s Family Tree.

Editors’ note:  Take part in TGC’s Read the Bible initiative, where we’re encouraging Christians and churches to read together through God’s Word in a year. The Bible is surely history’s most honest book. Its unfettered and brutal transparency about the unimpressive nature of God’s chosen people, even its human authors, testifies to its authenticity. The gospel makes this point powerfully. Jesus, the God-man, entered human history, lived a sinless life, died a sinner’s death, and rose again so that unrighteous, unimpressive chosen people would be reconciled to God. If God’s people believe they’ve been saved by grace through faith—that they contributed nothing to their salvation except the sin that made redemption necessary—then why do they often have such a challenging time believing that God can use them to do his kingdom work? Unimpressive Moses Frequently God’s people sense a lack of ability, as if God chooses to work only through those who have some innate and impressive aptitude. Moses struggled with this very thing. The same Moses whom God used to deliver Israel from Pharaoh’s oppression was a self-identified unimpressive man who believed he was unable to accomplish God’s mission. The example of Moses helps highlight the unimpressive nature of God’s chosen people and his choice to use them anyway. Toward the beginning of Exodus, shortly after God commissions Moses, there’s a genealogy that seems out of place. But the genealogy, found in Exodus 6:14–25, serves a critical purpose in the exodus narrative and a larger theological purpose for God’s people. Unfortunately, our tendency is to read genealogies hastily or skip over them altogether. Genealogies offer God’s people critical information, however, and Exodus 6 is no exception. Like the framing on a piece of art, a literary framing complements and accentuates the substance within its border. Moses, led by the… Read More

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Through the Word in 2020 / Feb. 22 – Social Justice

Today’s 4 readings are: Matthew 20:1-16; Acts 27:1-26; Psalm 44, Leviticus 18-20. Leviticus 19 is a most extraordinary portion. It begins with God calling His people to be “holy”, because He is holy. What follows hangs in this principle. In other words, God is going to give a series of charges that demonstrate the acts of loving one another in the society of God’s people. But such charges are not random, they issue from God’s own holiness. These are predicated on His nature. They are a means of living with one another in the same attitudes which God holds toward us. It is most instructive. In our present climate, we hear a lot about the cause of “social justice.” Defining that is a tall order. But here, God gives His people 8 principles of social justice from His point of view. They are to be ours as well. 1 / 9-10: CHARITABLENESS – God has a heart of great charity toward those who are poor. We manifest this aspect of His character when we do the same. We must see them in their distress, and make provision for them – and that, in such a way that preserves their dignity and keeps them from falling into a pattern of receiving without laboring. Thus, the fields are not to reaped entirely, and so those in need, can gather the food themselves, without disgrace, and leave knowing they’ve done the harvesting themselves and remain dignified. 2 / 11-12: HONESTY – God deals with us in truth. He desires it in our own inward parts, and it is essential in our dealings with one another. We do not steal, because our God does not. We do not deal falsely, because He does not. We do not lie to one another because He IS… Read More

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