Monday, December 31, 2007

24 Hour Prayer as 2007 ends and 2008 begins



Once again, my home church of Troy Christian Chapel, is conducting a 24 Hour Watchnight Prayer Time from 2pm today through to 2pm January 1st. I'm home for a few hours and thought that I would report that it has been a blessed time for us.

Happy New Year 2008... a year of continued grace!!!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Freedom From Quiet Time Guilt - Parts 3 to 6


Here is the final installment of "Freedom From Quiet Time Guilt." I pray that it was freeing for you as it was for me.

3. The Remedy: Weakness Christianity
There are two religions calling themselves evangelical Christianity today: Strength Christianity and Weakness Christianity. Strength Christianity is that religion which places both feet squarely on the Bible and proclaims, “I am strong. I sought the Lord. I’m a believer. I’ve turned away from sin. I read my Bible and pray every single day. I’m for God!” Weakness Christianity, by contrast, places both knees squarely on the Bible and says, “I am weak, but the Lord has sought me. I believe, but help now my unbelief. I fail and am broken by my continued sinfulness. Have mercy on me, Lord, and grant me favor, for apart from you I can do nothing.”

Those who pursue Strength Christianity will never find joy in God, for they will never find God. Our Father refuses to be approached in that manner. They will find only increasing religious pride and secret hardness of heart. On the outside, they will project a picture of righteousness. They’ll have it all together. They’ll be spiritual. But only on the outside.

For those who stumble across the rare jewel of Weakness Christianity, however, there is provision beyond what we can possibly imagine. Our suffering, our failures, our weaknesses and disappointments all gain an incredible spiritual significance. God never says he’ll be glorified in our religious accomplishments. But he does promise that his power will be made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9).

Neediness is the heart of biblical religion. When we honestly lay our brokenness before God, we’re surprised to see a radically different message in the Bible. While we had perhaps expected a to-do list from Holy Writ, a program to make us righteous, or a divinely sanctioned self-help book, we instead see a shocking message that centers on our God and his grace to his broken people, not about us and our performance and expected rewards. And when we approach God in brokenness—Weakness Christianity—we find a radically difference vision for prayer. Prayer is not something we do—a performance designed to get something from God. Instead, it’s merely a free and honest confession of our neediness to God and our spoken reliance upon him for each and every blessing. When you stumble upon Weakness Christianity, you realize that true religion is all about God’s grace, not about our devotional consistency.


4. The Shocker: Grace for the Christian
This grace is for you right now, now and tonight and tomorrow and next week and forever. The deadly assumption made too often among those who claim to heed the Scriptures is that grace is only for non-Christians. Grace is what God offers to people who don’t know Christ. Grace is what makes us Christians; but once we’re Christians, we live by our own resources. This is why advocates of Strength Christianity so often sound like evangelical Christians. They really do believe that God offers grace to unbelievers who will turn to God through Jesus Christ. And they’re right on that. What they wrongly assume, though, is that the Christian life begins by grace, but continues by human works.

I’ve seen this confusion many times. I found it ironic that the very same prayer program that so hurt the church I love included within it an absolutely wonderful children’s program. This at first puzzled me. The children who attended were pointed to Jesus, reassured of God’s love for them, and encouraged to rest in God’s mercy and total acceptance in Christ. In the adult activities, by contrast, people were told to try harder, to persevere, to do better, to be more consistent and to pray more, so that God could bless them. The children heard, “God did it,” while the adults were told, “Just do it.”

Why the difference? The difference was simple. These teachers were assuming that the children of the church were not yet Christians (…an assumption I would question). God offers non-Christians grace. The adults, however, were committed Christians. The Christian’s relationship with God rests not upon God’s grace, but upon his or her performance, particularly the performance of the ultimate devotional duty, the daily quiet time. This assumption, that grace isn’t for Christians, is spiritual venom, which is keeping millions of Christians in bondage to self-reliance, guilt, shame, and despair. Quiet Time Guilt is the great epidemic among Bible-believing Christians today.

If you think the purpose behind this little tract is to absolve you from the call to pray or the need for Scripture, think again. My purpose is to free you to desire prayer—to desire God. I want you to long for the pure message of the gospel, spelled out on page after page of the Bible, and to find the joyous freedom found in Christ. Prayer is a grace, not a work. It is a confession of our neediness to God, not a proof that our “relationship with God” is going well. If you think that God will not bless you today because you missed your quiet time, this has been for you. If subtle legalism has left you in bondage so that you no longer hunger for God’s word or freely call out to him in prayer, then hear this: God has already chosen you, pronounced you righteous, adopted you into his family, and promised to finish his work in you. Perhaps you have been lied to in the past. Now it is time for the truth to set you free. Free to be needy. Free to fail. Free to approach God without dread. Free to delight in him rather than in your performance.

But I have a few more theological reflections to share before you leave. Keep reading.


5. The Surprise: The Quiet Time is Optional
Imagine for a moment you’re meeting a Christian friend. “How’s your relationship with God going?” they ask you. “Well, I’m struggling with my attitude about my job—but God is teaching me to be content and to not gossip when people rub me the wrong way.” A silent stare greets the words, your inquisitor’s eyes staring you up and down. After a moment of awkward silence, the question comes again, “But how is your relationship with God?” Hmm. What wrong with this picture?

Perhaps this has never happened to you. But I’ve found contemporary Christians are often more concerned about my ‘relationship with God’ than with my relationship with God. Whose idea was it to define the sum total of my relationship with God as my devotional consistency? Your quiet time is not your relationship with God. Your relationship with God—or, as I prefer to say, God’s relationship with you—is your whole life: your job, your family, your sleep, your play, your relationships, your driving, your everything. The real irony here is that we’ve become accustomed to pigeonholing our entire relationship with God into a brief devotional exercise that is not even commanded in the Bible.

Yes. That’s what I said. The daily quiet time—that half hour every morning of Scriptural study and prayer¾is not actually commanded in the Bible. And as a theologian, I can remind us that to bind the conscience where Scripture leaves freedom is a very, very serious crime. It’s legalism rearing its ugly little head again. We’ve become legalistic about a legalistic command. This is serious.

But no misunderstand what I’m saying. My goal isn’t that we pray and read the Bible less, but that we do so more—and with a free and needy heart.

Does the Bible instruct Christians to call out to God in prayer? Absolutely. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:16-18). But this isn’t a command to set apart a special half-hour of prayer; it’s instruction to continually call upon God. Elsewhere the Apostle calls us to pray: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7). But notice that the focus here is not on the performance of a devotional duty, but on approaching God for grace—for our heats and minds to be guarded by him. Paul’s burden is that we would rely upon God in every circumstance and therefore have peace, rather than relying on ourselves and finding ourselves captive to the anxiety that accompanies self-reliance.

Does the Bible command us to read our Bibles every day? No. Not really.

What Scripture actually instructs is that we meditate on God’s word all the time. Consider the godly man in Psalm 1. “His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps 1:2). This is not exactly the same thing as reading the Bible every day. Personal Bible reading is one—and only one—way we to meditate upon God’s word. At this point it’s helpful to consider the difference between a good idea and a biblical mandate. A biblical mandate is something that God explicitly or implicitly commands in Scripture. Loving your neighbor is a biblical mandate (Mt 5:43). Moving to Philadelphia to work in a homeless shelter, by contrast, is not a biblical mandate. Rather, it’s a good idea, a wonderful possible application of the biblical mandate to love your neighbor. But moving to Philly isn’t the only way you can love your neighbor. Similarly, meditating on God’s word is a biblical mandate. The daily quiet time, by contrast, is a good idea, a wonderful possible application of the mandate of biblical meditation.

It may surprise you to know that the concept of the quiet time as a command is a modern invention. It’s only in recent centuries that Christians have been able to actually own Bibles—the printing press and cheap paper have given us more options so far as biblical meditation is concerned. But remember that most Christians throughout history have not owned Bibles. They heard the Bible preached during corporate worship. They were taught the Bible in the churches. They memorized the Bible profusely—a first century rabbinic saying stated, “If your rabbi teaches and you have no paper, write it on your sleeve.” But for most Christians through history, biblical meditation took place when they discussed the Bible with family and friends, when they memorized it, when they listened very carefully to God’s word preached. The concept of sitting still before sunrise with a Bible open would have been very foreign to them.

We have so many options today, why do we get hung up on the quiet time? Listen to Christian teaching tapes. Invest your time in a small group Bible study. Have friends over for coffee and Bible discussion. Sing and listen to Scripture songs. Read good theology. Tape memory verses to the dashboard of your car. And pray throughout your day. I always reserve the drive to church on Sundays as a time of uninterrupted prayer for my pastors and elders, for those leading worship, and for the peace and purity of the church. Certain landmarks around town remind me to pray for certain churches, Christians I know, or causes God says are important. I suspect I spend more time praying in my car than on my knees. (Though I love praying on my knees as a concrete display of my dependence on God, I can’t do this in my car without causing an accident.)

If you have a regular quiet time, don’t stop. You’ve found a wonderful way to meditate on Scripture. You’ve set aside a specific time to call upon God in prayer. But if the quiet time doesn’t work for you, that’s okay. You should not feel guilty since you have not broken a commandment. The quiet time is an option, a good idea—not a biblical mandate. If the quiet time isn’t working for you, there are other options as well. All of them are good ones. The key is to rely on God to accomplish his plans, a reliance expressed in prayer and fed in Scripture. You have all kinds of opportunities to call upon God in prayer and to meditate upon his word. He loves you and delights in your expressions of weakness and dependence. He is glorified in your weakness.


6. The Theology of Prayer: Means of Grace
So what exactly does prayer do? That’s the question I’m often asked. There are several wrong answers to this question. Some assume that prayer furnishes God with the information he lacks. God doesn’t view it that way. He not only knows what’s going on now, he knows what will be going on next week. Indeed, he even ordained what will be going on next week, the Bible speaks of “the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph 1:11).

Neither is prayer an attempt to convince God to do what he wouldn’t otherwise do. He will grant our requests only insofar as they accord with his eternal purpose—his will. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 Jn 5:14-15).

And I hope we’ve dismissed the idea that prayer shows God how much we love him! It’s not a work, but a grace! But often we think that prayer is something we do to obligate God to bless us. This is the subtlest of errors, for it resembles the biblical teaching. Indeed, it is a caricature of the biblical picture of prayer. Grace-empowered, grace-motivated prayer does bring blessing, but prayer isn’t a work we do that obligates God to give blessing. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. Prayer is a means of grace, not a work to merit grace.

Theologians have classically called prayer and Scripture (along with the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper) means of grace—highways along which the Holy Spirit tends to travel. The means of grace are the normal instruments God uses to accomplish his saving work in and through us. Does prayer change things? Yes, because God changes things, and prayer is an expression of our reliance upon him to accomplish his purposes.

I remember about six months ago calling upon God in prayer about my finances. Starting a not-for-profit teaching ministry is hard work, and church missions committees would often rather support a missionary doing evangelism than one who is training believers. One evening I called out to God with great urgency. After a year of support raising and teaching, I could still only afford to teach half-time while working another job, and even the funds that had enabled that year of half-teaching were almost all gone. “Father, this is your ministry, not mine. If you have raised me up for this, then something must change. I cannot go without food. I cannot fail to pay my rent. If you wish me to teach, you must grant the resources to do this. If you do not enable me to teach, I will not teach. Apart from you I can do nothing.”

Was I manipulating God by threatening to stop teaching? No. And being a sovereign God, he wouldn’t have been impressed. Rather, I was confessing to God my utter and total dependence on him to fund my work.

The next day, after eight months without any new support, a new friend took me out for coffee and told me he felt compelled to support me at $100/month. That same day, I received a note from an old friend in another part of the country pledging monthly financial support. When I checked my email, I had received a message from a member of my church who had since moved away, telling me a $1200 check was in the mail.

Did my prayer force God’s hand? No. All of this was already in the works long before I prayed. But when I confessed my neediness to God, he was pleased to provide for me. Prayer was the means of grace, not a work I offered for reward. And God was glorified in my weakness. God is faithful to hear our prayers, and he delights in answering them. Prayer is one of the basic freedoms Christians have, and freedoms aren’t given to leave us in bondage. There is a cure for Quiet Time Guilt. That cure is the gospel of Christ, in whom we have redemption. Gospel—our need and God’s provision—is the heart of biblical prayer. God will care for us. We belong to him.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Freedom From Quiet Time Guilt - Part 2


Here is Part 2 of Greg Johnson's tract "Freedom From Quiet Time Guilt":

2. The Culprit: Legalism
The root of Quiet Time Guilt is legalism. Often when we think of legalism, we think of the petty man-made rules that have so often strangled the churches—rules against dancing or drinking or makeup or ‘secular’ music. But these legalistic rules are merely an outward sign of a deeper legalism of the heart. When prayer and Bible study are thought of primarily as duties (‘disciplines’) rather than as grace, both prayer and the study of Scripture become unfruitful in our lives. We put ourselves on a performance treadmill and cease relying on God’s grace to sustain us. We trust in ourselves and our consistency, becoming proud if devotionally successful—or despairing because of our inconsistency. Either way, our spiritual self-reliance short-circuits the inexpressible joy of life in Christ. The quiet time becomes a human work whereby we think we gain—or lose—God’s daily favor. When we’ve started our day with Scripture, we presume that God’s blessing will rest upon us because of it. When we fail in our quest for devotional consistency, we feel we’ve short-circuited God’s grace in our lives. Quiet-Time Guilt.

If this describes you or anyone you know, the situation is far worse than you think. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for this very attitude about Bible study. “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (Jn 5:39). Yes, that’s what Jesus said. Bible study can be a sin. The Pharisees assumed the Bible a book of rules or principles for living, but failed the grasp it as a story about God’s love for his people. The quiet time can drive you far from God if you fail to understand that the Scriptures are a story about grace. The Scriptures are a story about Jesus Christ, the man of grace. His works—not our works—are the center of the biblical story. And this Jesus gives grace daily to those who fail him. How you approach the Bible—as needy sinner or as self-reliant Pharisee¾says a lot about the state of your soul.

Just like Bible study, prayer too can be sinful. Remember what Jesus said about the Pharisee and the tax collector. The one saw prayer as a work, the other as an expression of need. The one who merely expressed his neediness to God—the expression of our neediness being the heart of true prayer—that one went home right with God.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 18:9-14).

Often we assume that if we really had it together and could approach God without sin, without failing, with only pure spiritual successes to offer, then God would somehow delight in our prayer more. The opposite is true. If you approach God in that manner, you approach him as his enemy. We are all fallen. If we presume to approach him as something more than needy, dependent sons and daughters, God rightly takes offence. There’s nothing more dangerous than the pride of devotional consistency.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Freedom From Quiet Time Guilt - Part 1

Last week, I re-discovered this great tract from Greg Johnson of the St. Louis Center for Christian Study. It's a wonderful diagnostic for our natural fallen tendency to relate to God by means of duty rather than by a relationship of grace in which we enter that relationship with Him by grace and are kept in it by grace.
Here is Part 1

1. The Diagnosis: Quiet Time Guilt

I recently watched as a congregation I love was spiritually raped. A Christian ministry came into the church for a three-day program whose purpose was to encourage believers to pray more. During one of the breakout sessions, a man expressed his frustration with unanswered prayer. He had faithfully prayed with and for his daughter for years, and still she was not walking with God. He was broken, depressed, perhaps more than a little ashamed. How does God in his grace speak to this man? A bruised reed was crying out for help.

“You need to try harder. You need to pray more.” That was the message he was given. I was enraged. Having known this church for many years, I was horrified. What I was hearing was what one seminary professor calls sola bootstrapa. Self-reliance¾We pull ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps. The teachers who said such things surely meant well. The problem was not a lack of sincerity on their part. The diagnosis is far more severe. The problem was heresy. Any heresy wounds the soul.

When I look upon the evangelical world today, I see millions of sincere believers who are loaded down with false guilt by teachers who fail to grasp the basics of biblical prayer. To sharpen the point slightly, Christ’s sheep have been lied to. They have been told that prayer is a work that we must perform in order to get God to bless us. As heresies go, this one is often subtle. Prayer has become a work rather than a grace. The result has been a loss of joy in prayer.

And prayer is not the only grace we’ve turned into a work. Personal Bible study has become a source of bondage as well. A whole generation of Christians has been told that God will bless them if they read their Bibles every day, as if the act of reading the Scriptures were some kind of magic talisman by which we gain power over God and secure his favor. This is not the religion of the Bible. This pervasive belief that God gives us grace as a reward for our devotional consistency is antithetical to the religion of Jesus Christ. Prayer and Bible study—what evangelicals for the past century have called the “quiet time”¾have become dreaded precisely because they have been radically misunderstood.

It’s ironic, but the Quiet Time has become the number one cause of defeat among Bible-believing Christians today. At one time or another, nearly every sincere believer feels a deep sense of failure and the accompanying feelings of guilt and shame because he or she has failed to set aside a separate time for Bible study and prayer. This condition is called Quiet Time Guilt. And it’s a condition with many repercussions. The shame of Quiet Time Guilt manifests itself in even deeper inability to fruitfully and joyfully study Scripture. Prayer becomes a dread; Bible study a burden. The Christian suffering from Quiet Time Guilt then despairs of seeing God work in his or her life, until finally he or she simply gives up. He may continue outward and public Christian commitments like church attendance, but secretly he feels a hypocrite. What is the root of Quiet Time Guilt?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

True Spirituality

Last Sunday, I finished reading "True Spirituality" by Francis Schaeffer. It helped me think through issues such as what the New Testament means when we read repeated references to our dying with Christ and rising with Him.

The book was written in 1971. Some of Francis Schaeffer's concerns in this book sound prophetic when read 36 years later. In my next few blog entries, I'll be providing quotes from this book and my comments in relation to those quotes. Let me leave you with this quote now:

May I put it like this? If I woke up tomorrow morning and found that all that the Bible teaches concerning prayer and the Holy Spirit were removed (not as a liberal would remove it, by misinterpretation, but really removed) what difference would it make in practice from the way we are functioning today? The simple tragic fact is that in much of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ – the evangelical Church – there would be no difference whatsoever. (Page 171)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Day



Today's entry is an encore from last Thanksgiving:

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States.

In our nation's history, we look back to the 1620s in New England for the custom of setting aside a day for recognizing the blessings which God has given to us and to thank Him accordingly. Those festivals of thanks were typically preceded by days of fasting and humbling to seek God's favor and direction in difficult circumstances. Over the years, there were periodic celebrations of Thanksgiving, such as occurred in 1789 during the first year of George Washington's Presidency under our current Constitution. (The text of Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving proclamation can be found at: http://www.leaderu.com/humanities/washington-thanksgiving.html)

The concept of giving thanks to God is found throughout the Bible. (The Psalms are filled with praises of thanks to God). There is a dual sense to these biblical references to thankfulness. One sense is that of physical provision. We do know that all good gifts come to us from God. (See James 1:17). It is our duty to recognize that we are not the ultimate source of our physical well-being but God Himself. The second sense is that of the spiritual dimension. It is the recognition that God has done more than keep us warm and well-fed. For those who have faith in Christ, we are called to be those who are:

joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. Colossians 1:11-13 NIV

In the hustle and bustle of this day, please take the time to think about the blessings which you have received from God and be thankful for them. While this day is certainly a great time to express our gratitude to God, the Christian is called to show this attitude every day. It should be a part of our thinking and result in a life of gratitude. It must be a part of our life of prayer.

Thank you for reading this blog and being a part of the School of the Solitary Place.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Colossians 4:2 NIV

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Boiler Rooms

The 19th century was known as the age of steam. It was during that time that the steam engine was developed. Steam became synonymous with power. The English preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) also known as the prince of preachers, credited what success he had in preaching to those in his congregation who gathered together in the church's boiler room for prayer. Spurgeon acknowledged that that physical boiler room was also a source of spiritual power.

Since then, the "boiler room" concept has spread as a way of praying for one's church and its' pastors. An example of how this idea has been picked up by the 24/7 Prayer movement can be found here. Our congregation has recently started something of a boiler room prayer for our pastor. We have been blessed with a godly pastor who takes time between the hours of 3:30am to 6:00am to pray in preparation for that day's teaching and preaching. Our prayer small group has started praying for our pastor during that time. While we are not physically present with our pastor during this time, several of us wake up and pray for an hour at our own homes during that 2.5 hour window of time.

Please consider praying for your pastor on a regular basis. Also, let your pastor know that you're doing this. You might be surprised at the response of gratitude you will receive.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Reformation Day


Today, 490 years ago, Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 points of debate to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. This is sometimes portrayed as an "I'll show you" act of defiance on the part of Luther. Such was hardly the case. The church door was the community bulletin board. Luther was merely asking for an academic debate on points regarding the sale of indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church.

The radicalness of what Luther was asking for came to light when these 95 points were printed and published throughout Germany by someone other than Luther. This is a day worth celebrating for the Bible-believing Christian. While the desire for reform in the church didn't start with Luther, the actual ability to begin reforming the church started during the time of Luther (Prior reformers were either killed or otherwise effectively repressed).

The issues which came to be seen as the core issues for church reform then remain with us today. Perhaps the central issue raised by the Reformation is not merely about the necessity of the grace of God in our lives. It is, as Dr. James White has pointed out repeatedly, not the necessity of the grace of God of but its' sufficiency. In the issue of our standing right and acceptable before God (justification), is God's grace sufficient for us or merely a means to "reduce the gap" that separates us from a holy God and allows us to finish the job?

The Reformers would emphatically state that God's grace in standing in the right before Him was not the means to help us to work to finish our salvation. It is sufficient due to what Christ has done and not us. We live in an era in which those who want to add human merit to the work of Christ are gaining a greater voice. In response, we must affirm that when Christ said on the cross "It is finished", He really meant just that. Such a gospel humbles us. We are not co-redeemers with Christ. Christ holds that position alone. The Reformers re-discovered the legacy of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Today is a wonderful day to remember that legacy and the Gospel of grace which frees us through Christ alone.

In the words of the song "Be Ye Glad"...
Be Ye Glad, O, be ye glad
Every debt that you ever had
Has been paid up in full
by the grace of the Lord
Be ye glad, be ye glad, be ye glad...

Happy Reformation Day!!!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

150th Anniversary of the Fulton Street Revival

One hundred fifty years ago today, a prayer meeting started in New York City which was a catalyst for a worldwide revival. A lay missionary named Jeremiah Lanphier started a one hour prayer meeting in a room at the Old Dutch Reformed Church in lower Manhattan. He designed the time for the prayer meeting to coincide with lunch time for the workers in the area. During that first hour-long meeting, Lanphier was the only one in attendance. However, by 1pm, there were six others who joined.
The attendance at the weekly meeting grew rapidly. Within months, there were similar prayer meetings all over New York City. Within six months, prayer meetings were being held all over the United States in such cities as Philadelphia and Detroit. The newspapers of the the time noted these meetings. A brief mention of the revival in Detroit can be found in the March 3, 1858 edition of the Detroit Daily Free Press. The following is a copy of the text of that day’s article:

RELIGIOUS REVIVALS – There is an interesting religious revival at the Woodward Avenue M.E. [Methodist Episcopal] Church of which Rev. Mr. Blades is pastor – Meetings are held every evening at 7 o’clock. About fifty persons have been added to the church within the past four weeks, more than three fourths of whom are heads of families.

There is also a revival at the First Presbyterian Church (Rev. Dr. Duffield’s.) Prayer meetings are held morning and evening.

As the interest in the revival, church buildings were no longer the only sites of the prayer meetings. The New York Times of March 20, 1858 reported:

Churches are crowded; bank-directors rooms become oratories; school houses are turned into chapels.

Places associated with worldliness became sites of prayer. One example was Burton’s Theatre in New York. The Times’ account stated:

Instead of noisy laughter, excited by play-actors, in low comedy and farce, those present listen quietly and seriously to earnest words from earnest men on the most solemn and earnest of themes.
Over the next few years, the revival spread through the United States, Canada, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England, Australia, South Africa and other countries. In 1859, Dr. B. Evans delivered a lecture in Scarborough, England, entitled ‘The American Revivals’. It recounted the details of the revival in the United States. Evans observed:

The work originated with, and has been sustained by, prayer. This is its universal characteristic; and the fact admits of no doubt.

Evans asked his audience to ponder several questions. First, he asked: ‘Do we need such a revival, such manifest and manifold tokens of the power of the Divine Spirit?’ His implicit answer was ‘yes.’ He pointed to opportunities to spread the Gospel in previously closed lands such as China, Japan and the ‘wilds of Africa.’ Yet, English society had devolved into ignorance and indifference. Evans painfully noted:

Upon millions in this land of ours religious truth has exerted no saving influence. …Glance for a moment at the majority in our congregations, gradually ripening for perdition under the ministry of the Word, perishing amidst the atmosphere of prayer, and dying within sight of the fountain of healing and eternal life!
Evans further asked: ‘If a revival is needed, the second question I would ask is not less vital and thrilling in its interest—can we have one?’ He answered his question with another: ‘Why not?’ He reminded his hearers that God is not the God of America only. His shower of revival blessings was not exhausted upon America and Canada.

His third and final question: ‘Will you seek one [revival]?’ He challenged his audience to adopt the thinking that ‘Holier and higher motives must prompt our actions, and mould our character.’

Perhaps the main and telling feature of the spread of the prayer revival was that when Christians heard about the revival in other places, they did not treat the news as merely some point of quaint interest. They desired the same blessing of revival in prayer for their land. As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Fulton Street Revival and the triggering of a worldwide revival in the English-speaking world, I pray that we who read this account will be moved to a holy desire to see such revival visited upon our nations in the early 21st century.

If you wish to read more about the prayer revivals of 1857, may I suggest that you read the article Prayer Revivals and the Third Great Awakening in the Evangelical Review of Theology (Volume 31, No. 1 - January 2007)

The inset picture is a photograph of Jeremiah Lanphier, seated in the prayer room at the Old Dutch Reformed Church in New York City.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Flashing or Occulting Prayer Life?


During the summer, we had the chance to spend some time at my in-laws cottage in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. From their deck which faces toward the water (a bay in the Les Chenaux Islands), you can see a marker buoy straight-away in the distance. At night, you can see the buoy's location by its' flashing light.

I happened to find out a little more about marker buoys this summer. Turns out that there are basically two different types of buoys which display a light at night. One type is the kind in front of my in-laws' place. It is a buoy that displays a light very briefly and then remains dark otherwise (i.e. 1 second of light, 5 seconds of darkness).

This is a flashing buoy. The other kind is an occulting buoy. No, this doesn't have anything to do with the occult (i.e. sorcery, etc). It is based on the fact that occulting means "darkening". That type of buoy will remain lit with brief moments of the light going dark (i.e. 5 seconds of light; 1 second of darkness).

The reason that I bring this up is that this type of arrangement for the lighting of a buoy reminds me of the type of prayer lives we can display before God. Do we stay "dark" most of the time with a little bit of a brilliant prayer life? Or is our life manifest by ongoing prayer with few times that we "go dark"? I am learning that our prayer lives don't need to be confined to only specific times in the day. We need to cultivate an attitude of prayer in which we are more and more sensing the presence of God and able to communicate to Him in pray even beyond our usual times with him. My pastor raised a good example of this several years ago. He mentioned that while driving through a very rundown section of the Detroit area, my pastor instantly "lit up' in prayer to ask God what His thoughts were concerning the human condition in this part of town.

Does our light in prayer continue to shine or is God waiting for it to briefly light up in the darkness?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Revival Hymn



I found this video on God Tube yesterday. It is a thought-provoking call to revival. It runs about 35 minutes and contains portions of exhortations by Duncan Campbell, A.W. Tozer and Leonard Ravenhill on the topic of revival.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Persecution of Christians

I have been reading an account of the revival which took place in Korea exactly one hundred years ago in 1907. It is entitled "When The Spirit's Fire Swept Korea" by Dr. Jonathan Goforth (1859-1936) who was an eye-witness of the wonders which happened there . The text can be found here.

The account is a wonderful chronicle of God's Holy Spirit moving among the people of Korea in the first decade of the 20th century. At one point though, Dr. Goforth made reference to the "persecution of Christians." I found this reference quite extraordinary.

When we typically think of the persecution of Christians, we think of our Christian sisters and brothers around the world who are suffering for their faith in Christ. (See this site for more information about this). However, Goforth was not referring to persecution of Christians but rather persecution by Christians. Even in this instance, he was not referring to such aberrations and sins as the Inquistion.

Rather, Jonathan Goforth was referring to the strong and powerful witness of those Koreans who were new and bold in their Christian faith and how that strong and effective witness was burdensome to those who were not believers in Christ. Goforth wrote:

A burning zeal to make known the merits of the Saviour was a special mark of the Church at Pentecost. The same is not less true of the Korean Church. It was said that the heathen complained that they could not endure the persecution of the Christians. They were evermore telling of the strong points of their Saviour. Some declared they would have to sell out and move to some district where there were no Christians, in order to get rest.

Quite candidly, I had never heard of such a thing before reading this today. Could it be said of us that our witness for Christ was so strong that those who refused to repent and believe in Christ felt so convicted and burdened that they needed to leave?

(The photograph is of Jonathan Goforth and his wife Rosalind).

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Revivals and Prayerlessness



I came across this quote last week. I think it speaks volumes.

"It is my conviction that we are never going to have revival until God has brought the church of Jesus Christ to the point of desperation. As long as Christians people can trust religious organization, material wealth, popular preaching, shallow evangelistic crusades and promotion drives, there will never be revival. But when confidence in the flesh is smashed, and the church comes to the realization of her desperate wretchedness, blindness and nakedness before God, then and only then will God breathe in. Yes, there must be the point of desperation but there must also be the point of intercession. Oh, that God would bring us to this place of intercession! We cannot think or talk, let alone taste of revival, without intercessory prayer. Indeed, the reason for an unrevived church in the last analysis is the sin of prayerlessness."

Stephen Olford (1918-2004)

A Happy Independence Day to my American readers.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Moravian Revival


During the last few weeks, I have been reading an account of the wonderful work of God among the Moravian Brethren in the village of Herrnhut (The Lord's Watch). The account is entitled "Power From On High." It was written by Rev John Greenfield in 1927 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Moravian Revival of 1727. An Adobe version of the book, released for distribution this year, can be found here. It should be noted that within weeks of the start of the revival, a movement started among the inhabitants of Herrnhut to commence round the clock prayer. Even more remarkable is that this 24 hour prayer did not stop for a century. The story is a great testimony of God's grace. I hope you find it as inspiring and faith-building as I have.

The photograph is of a painting of Count Zinzendorf, the leader of the Moravian Brethren during this era.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Listening to Ravenhill and Ryle

MP3 players and similar devices (i.e. IPod) can be a real blessing. I have been using my mp3 player to listen to some wonderful works concerning revival and holiness. I've listened to a section of a book called Holiness (considered by many to be a devotional classic) by Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) [pictured here]. The section has to do with the faith of Moses and what Moses gave up to be a true follower of God. You can listen to or download what I've been listening to from here.

I've also been listening to a radio interview conducted with Leonard Ravenhill (1907-1994), an English revivalist. The interview took place back in 1983. Despite a scant number of references which date the interview, its contents are just as relevant now as they were back in 1983. You can listen to them or download them from here.

Ravenhill had great insight regarding prayer and revival. Some thoughts of his can be found on the webpage for Prayer at http://www.ravenhill.org/prayer.htm A recurring theme with Ravenhill was the concept of desperate prayer before the Lord. He said:

C. H. Spurgeon was converted at the age of 16 and began preaching in London at the age of 19. When he was 27, they built him a tabernacle seating 6,000 which he packed twice on Sundays - that's 12,000 - and once on Thursday nights. How? He waited on God. He got alone with God. He studied...and he prayed.

God makes all His best people in loneliness. Do you know what the secret of praying is? Praying in secret. "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door..." (Matt. 6:6). You can't show off when the door's shut and nobody's there. You can't display your gifts. You can impress others, but you can't impress God.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Green Cathedral With A Sky Blue Dome

As the weather gets warmer (at least here in southeastern Michigan), you may want to consider expanding the locations in which you pray to include an outdoor location. This is something found throughout the Bible and in church history.

Isaac, the son of Abraham, is recorded as meditating in a field (Genesis 24:63). The Lord Jesus is known to have prayed outdoors (Mark 1:35) and seemed to be fond especially of praying on a mountain (Matthew 14:23; Luke 9:28). We find in the book of Acts that a praying community in Philippi met by a riverside (Acts 16:13). In 18th century America, Jonathan Edwards would walk in a field or in a forest for a time of prayer and contemplation on the things of God.

The outdoors are, of course, a part of God's creation, They reflect the beauty of His holiness and the depths of His creative thought. My family and I are blessed to have an 11 acre forest as a part of our backyard. Due to its size, I have referred to it as the "green cathedral". We have also been blessed to be able to visit my in-laws' place in the eastern part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula for a week's stay during the summer. On a clear night, the starry dome of the sky automatically lends itself to prayer. While the original ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome was painted with a starry background, I suspect no human-built place of worship can exceed having the actual stars as the ceiling above you.

As opportunity permits, take advantage of this original and most beautiful of worship sites, the very creation which God Himself made.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Personal Retreat


Today, I took the day off for a personal prayer retreat. There have been a number of items which I have been trying to work through spiritually. I sensed that I needed some time away with the Lord. I was able to arrange staying at a retreat center during the day.

It was a truly blessed time. Upon my arrival at the retreat center, for a moment, I had a sense of guilt about taking the whole day off work for this. There are so many things to be done. Yet, I very quickly reminded myself that seeking God first in my life is not something to be done second. My body may not have needed a day of vacation but my soul did.

Although I did encounter a few people during the day, it was truly a time of silence and solitude. In the morning, I read through the devotional reading (Zechariah 2) for today with the printed guide that I use called Encounter With God (published by Scripture Union here in the U.S. and also in Great Britain). I also read through the letter to the Philippians, with a special emphasis on Chapter 3 and its' call for us to put the past behind us and look ahead to the heavenly and upward call of Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14). I really sensed during that time this morning that God wants me to slow down my Bible reading and spend more time on meditation. I do not merit favor with God if I complete a reading the Bible in one year. I do obtain grace in pondering over the text and seeking how to apply it to my life.

I was able to spend quite a bit of time in prayer in the chapel at the retreat center. My prayers centered in on trying to develop and deepen my relationship with God in Christ as well as deepen my relationship to those around me, particularly my immediate family. One of my prayers was based on the response to God by Thomas Aquinas about three months before Thomas died. God is to have said that Thomas wrote well of him (his literary output for a low tech society and not having quite lived to the age of 50 is utterly amazing). Thomas said that all he wanted was "You, Lord." That has been my prayer as well. I prayed to put ambition (even if seemingly noble in the cause of Christ) in the "back seat" and prayed to seek God as my prize and may really pray that

"I [may] count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ"
(Philippians 3:8 NASB)

At lunchtime, which I had in silence, was occupied with reading some devotional material which I had printed earlier, some from the Logoscentric blogsite as well as reading about Christ's priesthood in text taken from the book "A Body of Divinity" by the 17th century Puritan minister Thomas Watson. He is one of my favorite authors to read as he had a writing style which used comparisons from Scripture or nature to make a point. He could turn a phrase with the best that I have read. For example, in speaking of the sin which Jesus bore for us on the Cross, Watson wrote:

The sight of Christ’s bleeding body should incense us against sin. Let us not parley with it; let not that be our joy, which made Christ a man of sorrow

or

The balm-tree weeps out its precious balm, to heal those that cut and mangle it; so Christ shed his blood, to heal those that crucified him. He died freely.


It was a warm, beautiful clear day so I walked the grounds at the center for some of my prayer time and spent an hour sitting by a rather quickly flowing large creek. While sitting by the creek, I read from George Marsden's biography of Jonathan Edwards (Jonathan Edwards - A Life).

Also, I spent some time in my room and then in the library working on the some writing which I needed to do (I decided to spend at least two nights a month in writing a book which I've had rattling around in my mind and spirit for the last few months on the topic of restoration as found in the Bible).

The day was such a tremendous blessing. I am grateful that the same God who let me sample just a little of the peace of eternity during the retreat is the same God I meet in prayer everyday outside the retreat.

While not everyone's schedule and circumstances allow for this kind of daylong retreat, I highly recommend for you to try to find (or make) the time to do this. It is a great way to deepen your relationship to God in Christ.

(Photo courtesy of www.heartlight.org)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Weights and Measures


Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV

Notice the distinction between "every weight" and "sin which clings so closely." There are some things we are called to put off which are not, of and by themselves, sinful by nature. An interesting commentary on this passage is found in "Way Into the Holiest" by F.B. Meyer(1847-1929). In Chapter XXVII, Meyer wrote:

WE MUST RUN FREE OF WEIGHTS. This speed can only be maintained when we run unencumbered and free. Now, of course we would all admit the necessity of divesting ourselves of sins; but in all our lives there are weights which are not sins. A sin is that which in its very nature, and always, and by whomsoever perpetrated, is a transgression of God's law, a violation of God's will. But a weight is something which in itself or to another may be harmless, or even legitimate, but in our own case is a hindrance and an impediment.

Every believer must be left to decide what is his own special weight. We may not judge for one another. What is a weight to one is not so to all. But the Holy Spirit, if he be consulted and asked to reveal the hindrance to the earnestness and speed of the soul's progress in divine things, will not fail to indicate it swiftly and infallibly. And this is the excellence of the Holy Spirit's teaching: it is ever definite. If you have a general undefined feeling of discouragement, it is probably the work of the great enemy of souls; but if you are aware of some one hindrance and encumbrance which stays your speed, it is almost certainly the work of the divine Spirit, who is leading you to relinquish something which is slackening your progress in the spiritual life.

No man would think of maintaining a high speed encompassed with weights. The lads who run for a prize litter the course with garments flung away in their eager haste. There would be little difficulty in maintaining an intense and ardent spirit if we were more faithful in dealing with the habits and indulgences which cling around us and impede our steps. Thousands of Christians are like water-logged vessels. They cannot sink; but they are so saturated with inconsistencies and worldliness and permitted evil that they can only be towed with difficulty into the celestial port.

Is there anything in your life which dissipates your energy from holy things, which disinclines you to the practice of prayer and Bible study, which rises before you in your best moments, and produces in you a general sense of uneasiness and disturbance? something which others account harmless, and permit, and in which you once saw no cause for anxiety, but which you now look on with a feeling of self-condemnation? It is likely enough a weight."

I also found a related blog entry here. The blog entry is a commentary on and application to Psalm 101:3 and the topic of "worthless things." How often do our best intentions get derailed when things which have no real enduring value in the scheme of eternity absorb time which could have been used in Bible study, prayer, Christian service to others? This is something which has become more and more evident in my Christian walk. For many years after my coming to Christ in faith back in 1984, I spent a lot of time in doing research to refute certain distinctive doctrines of the church in which I grew upapologetics. I kept telling myself that I was doing this to help family members who were still a part of that church. Only about two years ago did I realize that I have been spending way too much time in this endeavor. It was at that time that I knew I could logically demonstrate my case but without the Holy Spirit opening up hearts and minds, no one would listen. My prayer life suffered and has only really recovered in the last year.

Keep in mind that what I was doing was not only not evil but could definitely glorify God. However, it ended up sucking away irreplacible time and screwing up my prayer life. It was definitely a weight which I needed to throw off (or at least radically reduce) to run the race which Christ is calling me to run.

Pray for the wisdom to know what your weights and worthless things are. Truly this must be done with wisdom. It would be easy for myself or someone else to develop a list of "never do the following...." as a kind of holiness code. However, church history shows us, from the Pharisees of Christ's time to individuals today, when one makes up a list of dos & don'ts, we can easily default our thinking and actions to conform with the list rather than conforming to Christ. We might think that if something is not on the list, it's automatically okay.

One help in this may be found in a resolution written by Jonathan Edwards in the early 1720s. In his 7th Resolution, Edwards wrote:"Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life. Our time on Earth is short. I realize this more and more with each passing year. I turned 51 last month. Those years have seemed to go by so quickly. Yet, I have been blessed to make it to at least 51. Many others in human history never got this far in their earthly years. This should be a sobering reminder about asking the Lord to teach us to live our lives redeeming the time which we have.

Please don't take this entry as a "let's put on a hairshirt and have no more fun for as long we live" rant. However, this does require wisdom from God. Are we spending excessive time and money in some pursuit, which, in the eternal scheme of things, is of little or no value. My first application comes immediately. Being a hockey fan and relishing the fact that my hometown Detroit Red Wings have made it to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I'll need to ask myself if I'm spending too much time in following the Red Wings during this playoff season.

Lastly, while non-useful items to the Christian are considered a weight, there is a weight which we need to involve ourselves in. 2 Corinthians 4:7 tells us: "For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison". A verse such as this is a poignant reminder to keep eternity in mind in how we use our time here and now.

Friday, April 6, 2007

The Core of Our Faith


Today is Good Friday. It is during this weekend, during the days of Maundy/Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday that we remember the core events of the Christian faith. It is during this time that we remember the start of the practice of the Lord's Supper which is continued to this day as a remembrance of the Lord Jesus' sacrifice of Himself on the cross for our sins.

We remember the events of Good Friday and the incomprehensible price paid by Christ to free us of our sins. On Sunday, we will remember the raising back to life of Jesus in His body. It is both a continuity and a discontinuity. Scripture is clear that this is the same body in which Christ died. Yet, this body has been more than revived. It has been given a life which will never end. (The implications of this are staggering. From that day of resurrection right up to today and beyond, Jesus Christ has been and IS alive in bodily form, the first human being to do so).

Prayer played a large part in these events which happened in real time and space. On Thursday night, Christ offered up prayers to be spared the suffering of the cross if possible. Yet, His prayers brought Him to the place of accepting God the Father's will for Him. On Friday, Christ speaks few words. He is mostly silent. Yet, in the midst of a physical and spiritual agony that none of us could possibly imagine, He prayed that those who were crucifying Him would be forgiven.

In your prayers this weekend, may I suggest that you thank God for Jesus Christ. What Christ did on the cross cleared the way for us to have the confidence to approach God in prayer. The veil separating God and humanity was ripped in two that day. In Christ, we have access to God and the life which truly is life.

The School of the Solitary Place wishes you a blessed Holy Weekend. (The picture is Rembrandt's "Raising of the Cross" c. 1633)

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Holy Name of the Lord

The Bible shows us that God is in an "other" category. He is unique, with no predecessor or follower or rival (Isaiah 43:10). His thoughts are infinitely above ours. Thus, we should not be surprised that His priorities differ radically from ours as well.

We see an example of this as we reflect upon the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) .We find that immediately after calling upon God as Father, the first request concerns the Name of God: "hallowed be your name" (Matthew 6:9 ESV). This is a solid reminder that in light of our day-to-day needs, many of which are real and some are imagined, the asking of God for those needs is not His first priority. The reverencing of the name of God, rather than our need, is understood as primary. Like His glory, God's Name, in Christ, is above all other names (Philippians 2:9). Like His glory, God must logically promote the honoring of His Name above all other things since nothing is greater.

An interesting term for prayer can be found early on in the text of the Bible. In Genesis 4:26, we find prayer being described in relational terms as the time when "men began to call upon the name of the LORD." In the Proverbs, God's Name is likened to a strong tower to which we may flee for refuge (Proverbs 18:10). In the Psalms, there are around 110 references in which all but a handful refer to the Name of the Lord. This brief section from Psalm 86 demonstrates this so clearly:

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.
I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.

Understanding the Lord's priority in having His Name reverenced and regarded as holy may give us a new perspective on how our culture mistreats the Name of the Lord God. Unfortunately, there is much in our culture which violates God's known will. Numerous examples from the media can be presented which we know are offensive to God. Consider that we live in an age in which images which would have been considered pornographic a generation ago are now used in everyday commercials and advertising. Without diminishing that measure of a moral slide downward, I do wonder if the common misuse of God's Name and that of Christ, in swearing or even simple exclamations, offend God more than the raciest images found in television, movies and magazines of today. Even in television programs that could be considered family viewing, how many times does the even mindless uttering of "Oh my God" cross the lips of so many.

As you read through this entry, reflect on what it means to call upon the Name of the Lord and to honor His Name as holy. It may be a topic to which we've given little thought. To the Lord God, it is a vastly and infinitely important priority. It must be ours as well.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Following a Pattern of Prayer from the past

On Monday, our church began a monthly time of prayer for revival in the United States. We took our cue for this from a call to prayer issued by British minister John Sutcliff in 1784. (There is a link to a text of this prayer call which can be found on the sidebar of this blog or here). It was Sutcliff's desire for churches in the United Kingdom to pray for revival and not only within their own churches (denominations) but within other Christian churches as well.

We will be meeting on the second Monday of the month at 7:30pm Eastern time for the purpose of such prayer. Please pray that God will honor this time of prayer and stir the hearts and minds of His people to pray that they can pray.

(The photo is old Walpole Chapel in England. It was in use during the 1780s)

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Prayers To the Dead?

Ideas have implications. That is particularly noticeable in the realm of theology. While this might seem theoretical to most of us, we continue to live with the implications of ideas in our day-to-day lives. One example can be found in the media attention currently being given to "The Lost Tomb of Jesus." On Sunday, the Discovery Channel will air a program that will make the claim that Jesus' ossuary (a burial bone box) and that of other members of His family has been found in an archaelogical site in suburban Jerusalem.

Think of the implications if this happened to be true. If this were true, it means that Christ's bodily resurrection, attested to so strongly in the Gospels, would have never happened. The remains of His dead body would have been in a burial site in Jerusalem for over the last 1900 or more years. It would mean that somehow the well-attested historical accounts in the New Testament would have never happened. How, also, could the rise of Christianity be explained? If Jesus died and stayed dead, what could possibly have motivated His followers to travel great distances and often give their lives to spread the testimony of the death and resurrection of Christ, the very core of the Christian faith (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

Also, if Christ had died and stayed dead, Christians over the centuries have been offering prayers to the dead man by praying to Jesus. Yet, we know better as we read in the book of Hebrews:

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. (Hebrews 7:25 ESV) (Emphasis added)

Our prayers to Christ do not fall on deaf or even dead ears. Christ's bones are not in Jerusalem. They haven't been since the first century. Rather, the bones of Christ are still attached to Him because He is alive and is currently in heaven, at the right hand of God the Father, in resurrected glory. (see Hebrews 1:1-3)

This latest attempt to blaspheme Christ and destroy the core of the Christian faith will collapse as all other attempts before this have collapsed. History stands against it. Logic stands against it. Most importantly, the living Christ stands against it.

If you want some well thought out responses to the "Lost Tomb", I suggest the website site of Dr. James White at Alpha Omega Ministry aomin.org under "Tomb Issues." I also recommend reading the blog of New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III found at http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/02/problems-multiple-for-jesus-tomb-theory.html (I think highly of his teaching and writings. I was fortunate enough to have Ben Witherington as my New Testament Gospels professor when I was in seminary back in the 1990s and thus have followed his further career with interest).

Christian, take heart. A mere assertion that Christ's bones were found in Jerusalem in 1980 is not true merely because the assertion was made. Once these old claims are re-examined in the light of known reliable history, they will become a mere footnote in the history of failed attempts to discredit the Gospel.

(The picture included here is that of an ossuary found at the same site as that of the alleged Jesus ossuary)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Insights on Prayer and Revival


Earlier this week, I began to become acquainted with the writings and sermons of Leonard Ravenhill (1907-1994). Ravenhill was a contemporary of A.W. Tozer and like Tozer, had some tremendous insights on prayer and revival.

In 1959, Ravenhill wrote "Why Revival Tarries". The following is an excerpt from that book:

"No man is greater than his prayer life. The pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying. The pulpit can be a shopwindow to display one's talents; the prayer closet allows no showing off.

Poverty-stricken as the Church is today in many things, she is most stricken here, in the place of praver. We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few pray-ers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here, we fail everywhere.

The two prerequisites to successful Christian living are vision and passion, both of which are born in and maintained by prayer. The ministry of preaching is open to few; the ministry of prayer-the highest ministry of all human offices-is open to all. Spiritual adolescents say, "I'll not go tonight, it's only the prayer meeting." It may be that Satan has little cause to fear most preaching. Yet past experiences sting him to rally all his infernal army to fight against God's people praying. Modern Christians know little of "binding and loosing," though the onus is on us-"Whatsoever ye shall bind...” Have you done any of this lately? God is not prodigal with His power; but to be much for God, we must be much with God.

This world hits the trail for hell with a speed that makes our fastest plane look like a tortoise; yet alas, few of us can remember the last time we missed our bed for a night of waiting upon God for a world-shaking revival. Our compassions are not moved. We mistake the scaffolding for the building. Present-day preaching, with its pale interpretation of divine truths, causes us to mistake action for unction, commotion for creation, and rattles for revivals.

The secret of praying is praying in secret. A sinning man will stop praying, and a praying man will stop sinning. We are beggared and bankrupt, but not broken, nor even bent.

Prayer is profoundly simple and simply profound. "Prayer is the simplest form of speech that infant lips can try," and yet so sublime that it outranges all speech and exhausts man's vocabulary. A Niagara of burning words does not mean that God is either impressed or moved. One of the most profound of Old Testament intercessors had no language "Her lips moved, but her voice was not heard." No linguist here! There are groanings which cannot be uttered."

Are we so substandard to New Testament Christianity that we know not the historical faith of our fathers (with its implications and operations), but only the hysterical faith of our fellows? Prayer is to the believer what capital is to the business man.

Can any deny that in the modern church setup the main cause of anxiety is money? Yet that which tries the modern churches the most, troubled the New Testament Church the least. Our accent is on paying, theirs was on praying. When we have paid, the place is taken; when they had prayed, the place was shaken!

In the matter of New Testament, Spirit-inspired, hell-shaking, world-breaking prayer, never has so much been left by so many to so few. For this kind of prayer there is no substitute. We do it--or die!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Some advice on prayer from an English Puritan


The following are some quotes on prayer by the 17th century English Puritan minister, Thomas Watson (c.1620-c.1686). Watson is among my favorite of the English Puritans. He is very readable, even to an early 21st century audience. He was a master of colorful analogies to drive home a point being taught. Please enjoy these words from a master of prayer who lived over 300 years ago. (While the date of Watson's death is uncertain, what he was doing when he died is not uncertain. He died while at prayer in his prayer closet.)

Prayer includes confession of sin, petitions for the supply of our needs, and the homage of our hearts unto the Giver Himself. Principal branches are—humiliation, supplication, and adoration. If the heart does not go along in prayer, it is speaking, not praying. Prayer is called a wrestling, a pouring out of the soul. Prayer without fervency is like incense without fire. Spiritual prayer is believing prayer. "Whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." The reason why so many prayers suffer shipwreck is because they split against the rock of unbelief. Spiritual prayer is holy prayer. Prayer must be offered upon the altar of a pure heart. Spiritual prayer is humble prayer. Spiritual prayer is when we pray in the name of Christ—to pray in the hope and confidence of Christ’s mediation. Spiritual prayer is when we have spiritual ends in prayer.

Prayer is the condition annexed to the promise; promises turn the hinge of prayer. Jesus Christ prays over our prayers again; he takes the dross out, and presents nothing but pure gold to his Father. God has made sweet promises regarding prayer. "He will be very gracious unto thee, at the voice of thy cry...Then shall ye go and pray unto me and I will hearken unto you...Before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear." These promises keep the head of prayer above water; God is bound with his own promises.

If we want to pray aright—implore the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit both indites prayer and inflames it. God understands no other language but that of his Spirit; pray for the Holy Spirit, that you may pray in the Holy Spirit. Let us be importunate suitors, and resolve that we will not come away from God, without God.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The Prayer of A Minor Prophet



The following prayer was written around 1950 by A.W. Tozer. You don't need to be an ordained minister to appreciate it or even pray many sections of it:

This is the prayer of a man called to be a witness to the nations. This is what he said to his Lord on the day of his ordination. After the elders and ministers had prayed and laid their hands on him he withdrew to meet his Savior in the secret place and in the silence, farther in than his well-meaning brethren could take him.

And he said: O Lord, I have heard Thy voice and was afraid. Thou has called me to an awesome task in a grave and perilous hour. Thou art about to shake all nations and the earth and also heaven, that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. O Lord, my Lord, Thou has stooped to honor me to be Thy servant. No man taketh this honor upon himself save he that is called of God as was Aaron. Thou has ordained me Thy messenger to them that are stubborn of heart and hard of hearing. They have rejected Thee, the Master, and it is not to be expected that they will receive me, the servant.

My God, I shall not waste time deploring my weakness nor my unfittedness for the work. The responsibility is not mine, but Thine. Thou has said, "I knew thee - I ordained thee - I sanctified thee," and Thou hast also said, "Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak." Who am I to argue with Thee or to call into question Thy sovereign choice? The decision is not mine but Thine. So be it, Lord. Thy will, not mine, be done.

Well do I know, Thou God of the prophets and the apostles, that as long as I honor Thee Thou will honor me. Help me therefore to take this solemn vow to honor Thee in all my future life and labors, whether by gain or by loss, by life or by death, and then to keep that vow unbroken while I live.

It is time, O God, for Thee to work, for the enemy has entered into Thy pastures and the sheep are torn and scattered. And false shepherds abound who deny the danger and laugh at the perils which surround Thy flock. The sheep are deceived by these hirelings and follow them with touching loyalty while the wolf closes in to kill and destroy. I beseech Thee, give me sharp eyes to detect the presence of the enemy; give me understanding to see and courage to report what I see faithfully. Make my voice so like Thine own that even the sick sheep will recognize it and follow Thee.

Lord Jesus, I come to Thee for spiritual preparation. Lay Thy hand upon me. Anoint me with the oil of the New Testament prophet. Forbid that I should be come a religious scribe and thus lose my prophetic calling. Save me from the curse that lies dark across the modern clergy, the curse of compromise, of imitation, of professionalism. Save me from the error of judging a church by its size, its popularity or the amount of its yearly offering. Help me to remember that I am a prophet - not a promoter, not a religious manager, but a prophet. Let me never become a slave to crowds. Heal my soul of carnal ambitions and deliver me from the itch for publicity. Save me from bondage to things. Let me not waste my days puttering around the house. Lay Thy terror upon me, O God, and drive me to the place of prayer where I may wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Deliver me from overeating and late sleeping. Teach me self-discipline that I may be a good soldier of Jesus Christ.


I accept hard work and small rewards in this life. I ask for no easy place. I shall try to be blind to the little ways that could make life easier. If others seek the smoother path I shall try to take the hard way without judging them too harshly. I shall expect opposition and try to take it quietly when it comes. Or if, as sometimes it falleth out to Thy servants, I should have grateful gifts pressed upon me by Thy kindly people, stand by me then and save me from the blight that often follows. Teach me to use whatever I receive in such manner that will not injure my soul nor diminish my spiritual power. And if in Thy permissive providence honor should come to me from Thy church, let me not forget in that hour that I am unworthy of the least of Thy mercies, and that if men knew me as intimately as I know myself they would withhold their honors or bestow them upon others more worthy to receive them.

And now, O Lord of heaven and earth, I consecrate my remaining days to Thee; let them be many or few, as Thou wilt. Let me stand before the great or minister to the poor and lowly; that choice is not mine, and I would not influence it if I could. I am Thy servant to do Thy will, and that will is sweeter to me than position or riches or fame and I choose it above all things on earth or in heaven.


Though I am chosen of Thee and honored by a high and holy calling, let me never forget that I am but a man of dust and ashes, a man with all the natural faults and passions that plague the race of men. I pray Thee, therefore, my Lord and Redeemer, save me from myself and from all the injuries I may do myself while trying to be a blessing to others. Fill me with Thy power by the Holy Spirit, and I will go in Thy strength and tell of Thy righteousness, even Thine only. I will spread abroad the message of redeeming love while my normal powers endure.

Then, dear Lord, when I am old and weary and too tired to go on, have a place ready for me above, and make me to be numbered with Thy saints in glory everlasting. Amen. AMEN.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Protecting Prayer (Part 2)


Be careful to guard and protect your time of prayer with God. The time should be, quite literally, a holy time. Often, we think of things that are holy in moral terms and as a special attribute of God. All of that is true. Yet, in addition, the concept of holiness is also one of "set apartness." The quote found on the right-hand panel of this blog from the Gospel of Mark (1:35) shows us Jesus as going to a solitary place to pray. Consider that if He did not do these things, the pressing demands of His ministry would have burnt Him out. He needed to guard that time as holy (set apart).

Consider also the description of a temple complex as given in the 40th to 48th chapters of the book of Ezekiel (the layout is in the above left graphic of today's entry). Compared to the site of the first temple on Mount Zion and its re-building on the same site a few decades later, the plan for Ezekiel's temple site would be enormous. Unlike the two temples built on Mount Zion, Ezekiel's temple calls for a sacred district surrounding it. Its area would be around 55 square miles (my hometown of Troy, Michigan is 33.6 square miles). The purpose of all this additional space is found in Ezekiel 42:20. It was "to separate the holy from the common." We see how the protecting and keeping of holy things as separate is so very important to God.

Prayer is a privilege but it is not a luxury. The world would have us think that taking time out to pray before or in the course of a busy day is a waste of time. If we're going to get something done, the world would say, get off your knees and get busy. Yet, the Bible and Christian experience point to the idea that our work really begins with prayer. Thus, we need to guard our sacred time in prayer with the same attitude which sacred space has been guarded by the people of God in both Old and New Testament times. My prayer for my readers and myself is that God will implant in us the same sense of importance, urgency and holiness in prayer which God has toward prayer.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Protecting Prayer


One way of understanding the title of this entry is that of a prayer which asks the Lord's protection in a difficult or dangerous situation. Such prayer has biblical precedent. We find an example of such a prayer offered by a group of exiles as they prepared for the long and dangerous journey from Babylon to Israel (see Ezra 8:21-23)

However appropriate and true it is, that is not the intended meaning for this blog entry. My meaning here is the protecting of the time and circumstances in which prayer occurs. The three enemies which war against the Christian, namely the world, the flesh and the devil, have a way of trying to entice or convince us that time in prayer with God in Christ is not a top priority. In our entertainment-crazed culture, we find too often, as Shakespeare put it, that "the world is still deceived with ornament" (The Merchant of Venice Act 3, Scene 3). My wife refers to this as "being distracted by shiny objects." Our culture exists in a time in which these "shiny objects" are available to us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These are the things which grab our attention and often take away (as in steal) our time with the Lord. This may take many forms depending on our lifestyles. Perhaps it is that "just one more" television show or video game that you think will take only a few minutes and mutates into an entire evening. Perhaps it's that "I'll hit the snooze button one more time" which ends up becoming several snoozes and results in little or no time in prayer in the morning.

There can be other aspects to the world's call to neglected or deflected prayer. Many of us live through times in which a number of real demands are made upon us. Perhaps it's an increased number of hours at work. (Ironically, I received a call at home for tech support from work while I was writing this entry). Perhaps you've just brought your newborn baby home and the child is keeping you up at night. There can be a number of demands, legitimate in themselves, that demand our attention. It must be noted that an increased workload was an strategy of an evil Egyptian pharaoh. You can find it in Exodus 5:1-9

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.' " Pharaoh said, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go." Then they said, "The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword." But the king of Egypt said, "Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their labor? Get back to your work!" Then Pharaoh said, "Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working." That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and foremen in charge of the people: "You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don't reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, 'Let us go and sacrifice to our God.' Make the work harder for the men so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies."

For Pharaoh, the most important thing in life was not God. It was himself and his own glory in the building projects of his reign. Therefore, according to Pharaoh, it was critical to get the attention of the Israel off God and onto him. Reflect on how this attitude still prevails in so many ways in our own time and place.

More on this in the next entry...