Saturday, February 21, 2009

Put “through the fire to awaken earnest prayer”

I needed to read this (from Dr. John Piper):

Now what about Zechariah 13:8-9? It tells us one of the main ways that God awakens earnest prayer in his children, namely, in the refining fires of suffering. Don’t worry about when this passage is talking about. Just see, for now, how God works, and use this word to prepare yourself for God’s prayer school.

Verse 8: “In the whole land, declares the Lord, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive.” So the one third represents God’s remnant—his faithful, imperfect, weak people, who do not pray with the kind of discipline and desperation and joy, and hunger for God, that they should. So what is God’s remedy? What is his school of prayer?

Verse 9: “And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested.” Notice carefully what is happening. In his great love, God saved the one third from being cut off with the two thirds who perished (v. 8). And then as part of his love for them, he puts them in the fire to be tested and refined. That is normal Christianity. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).

But what is it that God wants to see change in his people? Verse 9: “I will test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them.” That’s all he mentions. Nothing about their sex lives. Nothing about their money lives. Nothing about their power struggles. He just says: “When they come through the fire, they will pray to me, and I will answer.”

God puts his people through the fire to awaken earnest prayer.
Read the rest here.

Happy 13th birthday, Ethan!

I love you.

(Photo taken this past summer when we visited Washington, DC)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Here we go, again

Recently, I entered into what might turn out to be a significant period of personal trial. For the time being, it wouldn’t be wise to talk about it too much (especially over the Internet) but, suffice it to say, this trial is not health-related or marital or in any way scandalous.

But, it is a significant personal trial for me and my family. We stand in great need of prayer. In fact, about the only thing we can do is pray and trust God.

That sounds strange to say, but isn’t it often the case that we Christians would rather do something—anything!—rather than just trust God? Of course, we say we trust God. We’re supposed to—we’re Christians, after all. But, the reality is, most of us prefer to do something about our situation, whatever it is. Trusting God seems so impractical, like doing nothing at all.

I think this is why God must, sometimes, put us in the place where there simply is nothing we can do but trust Him. He puts us between the proverbial rock and hard place, trapped with no way of escape and no clue what to do. In such a situation, the mind is filled with questions, but we have absolutely no answers.

That’s where I am right now, along with my wife. From past experience, I know that God is getting ready to teach us something about trusting Him. In about three months, I hope to let you in on what God is doing with us.

Today, I was feeling sad and depressed, thinking about our situation. It was really getting me down. After lunch, I shut myself up alone to pray, read the Bible and think. In the course of reading, I came across these verses:

“Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD” (Psalm 4:4-5).

I believe this was the word I needed to hear. This Scripture certainly spoke to what I was feeling today. In a time of trial and testing like this, the temptation is strong to be anxious and lash out at somebody—anybody—in anger. Perhaps, we have good cause to be angry, but the Scripture says “be angry, and do not sin”. What is usually the best way to not sin when angry? Keep your mouth shut! The Scripture says, “ponder in your own hearts”—think it over, process it—“and be silent.”

Then, the Scripture says, “Offer right sacrifices”. Immediately, I thought of Psalm 51:17: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” When times get tough, it is not the time for us to react; it is the time for us to humble ourselves before God and offer right worship to Him.

“Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.” I’m ashamed to say, there have been times in the past when God has come to my rescue, and I was surprised! I didn’t think He would do it. I didn’t trust Him, yet God was merciful and rescued my fool self, anyway. “How could I have doubted you?” I said afterwards. I don’t want to repeat that mistake. I have the written record—the Scriptures—and that record is clear: God is faithful. He is true to His character. The Lord will not forsake His own. Then, there is the record of God’s past dealings with me. Since even before I was born, God has been faithful. His grace has brought me “through many dangers, toils and snares”. There is no logical reason to not trust Him, so the Scripture commands, “put your trust in the LORD.”

And so I shall. Like I said, I’ll let you know in about three months exactly what is going on. Right now, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m just trusting the Lord. And He is trustworthy.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

“Am I a soldier of the cross?”

One thing that stays with me from the church experience of the first 30-plus years of my life are the hymns. Now, I’m not one of those who is opposed to all things contemporary in music, nor am I one who wants all hymns and classical music. Nevertheless, there is something special about hymns, particularly those “Common Meter”, “Long Meter” and “Short Meter” hymns that were common in the denomination in which I came to faith.

One hymn that has frequently come to mind over the years, and which seems to carry more personal meaning for me the older I get, is the hymn “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?” by Isaac Watts (1674-1748). We always used to sing this hymn to the tune, “Arlington”, by Thomas Arne (1710-1778). Reading the words of Dr. Watts makes me long for “that illustrious day” when it will be announced that the “kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever”(Revelation 11:15).

Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His Name?

Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?

Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?

Sure I must fight, if I would reign:
Increase my courage, Lord;
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy word.

Thy saints in all this glorious war
Shall conquer, though they die;
They see the triumph from afar,
By faith they bring it nigh.

When that illustrious day shall rise,
And all Thy armies shine
In robes of victory through the skies,
The glory shall be Thine.