Jerry Ediger asked me to post some of the tremendous wisdom that is found in the above book on John Newton that was written by Tony Reinke. Many people at North Avenue have already read through this book, but if you haven’t you can purchase it here. Jerry, Mark, Fred, and I were discussing Hebrews 12:1-17 recently on a Zoom call that Lord willing will be posted at some point in the future. During our discussion I mentioned chapter 9 of Tony Reinke’s book on John Newton called the discipline of trials. I pointed out how impactful that chapter has been in my life. Basically Newton gives us various benefits of trials, and he is helping us see the goodness of God during trials. So, on this post let me start by mentioning just one, and Lord willing in the future I will try and write some more post on other benefits of trials that Newton gives us. The first one I will mention is that: “Trials drive Christians to pray.”
Tony Reinke writes that: “Normally our prayer lives are unimpressive. Sin degenerates the beauty of prayer into a painful chore. The glorious privilege of prayer becomes for us a “mere task” we ignore at the slightest excuse…Instead of enjoying the blessed communion with the Almighty, we are dragged before God like a slave and we run away from prayer like a thief. Or we fall into the trap of mindless praying. We slip into rote prayers when life becomes comfortable.”
I think most of us know exactly what Reinke is describing in terms of our prayer lives somewhat drying up when life is comfortable. However, when God in His goodness brings various trials into our lives, our prayer lives tend to drastically change. Reinke says: “Mindless and habitual prayers are never less suited than when the circumstances of our lives crumble around us. Trials breathe new desperation–new life–into our prayers.” Then Reinke quotes John Newton who wrote: “Experience testifies, that a long course of ease and prosperity, without painful changes, has an unhappy tendency to make us cold and formal in our secret worship.” Then Newton gives us these powerful words: “Trials give new life to prayer, Trials lay us at his feet, Lay us low and keep us there.”
I love that last sentence from Newton. My guess is that all Christians who have walked through suffering would verify the validity of that Newton quote. As soon as we begin to walk through a trial the RPM gauge of our prayer lives revs up big time. I will just mentioned a few examples of this. Probably about a year ago a Christian coworker of mine got a call one morning while at work that his father had a stroke. He came over to my desk and told me the news and then asked me if I would go out in the hallway and pray for his dad. We walked into the hallway and I had the privilege to pray for the situation. It didn’t take long for this trial to begin to breathe new life into prayer.
I think my wife and I could both talk about praying for our son Michael during his suffering that he has walked through. On various occasions Michael has awakened crying and has been hard to console. Some of the sweetest moments with my son have been singing and praying with him when he has been crying in the night. God in His goodness has brought in these trials with my son that have breathed new life into my wife and my prayers.
The next story I will mention is a powerful story from the life of Charles Spurgeon, who went through a lot of suffering in his life. This story is from 1871 when he was enduring severe pain. Spurgeon writes: “When I was racked some months ago with pain, to an extreme degree, so that I could no longer bear it without crying out, I asked all to go from the room, and leave me alone; and then I had nothing I could say to God but this, ‘Thou are my Father, and I am thy child; and thou, as a Father art tender and full of mercy. I could not bear to see my child suffer as thou makest me suffer, and if I saw him tormented as I am now, I would do what I could to help him, and put my arms under him to sustain him. Wilt thou hide thy face from me, my Father? Wilt thou still lay on a heavy hand, and not give me a smile from thy countenance?’
So, Spurgeon walked through this severe pain, and this trial laid Spurgeon low, and it breathed new life into his prayers as he poured out his heart to his heavenly Father. Spurgeon then concludes by saying: “I bless God that ease came and the racking pain never returned.” Which John Newton tells us that: “Trouble excites prayer, prayer brings deliverance, deliverance produces praise,…” So, trials drive us to pray, and then so often God is gracious and brings deliverance after we pray, and that then produces praise and thanksgiving in us.
The last story I will mention is one that Mark mentioned in one of his recent sermons. This comes from missionary John Paton. This has to be one of my favorite stories from his life. Paton who took the gospel to cannibals on the New Hebrides Islands, faced all kinds of opposition and his life was in danger many times. This particular story Paton was once again in a perilous situation. 100’s of angry natives were trying to find him to kill him. He went and hid in a chestnut tree. Here are Paton’s powerful words describing that night:
“I climbed into the tree and was left there alone in the bush. The hours I spent there live all before me as if it were but of yesterday. I heard the frequent discharging of muskets, and the yells of the Savages. Yet I sat there among the branches, as safe as in the arms of Jesus. Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among those chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship. If thus thrown back upon your own soul, alone, all alone, in the midnight, in the bush, in the very embrace of death itself, have you a Friend that will not fail you then?”
So, when God brings trials into our lives, let us be sure to remember that God in His goodness so often brings those trials to us, to drive us to pray. As John Newton wrote: “Trials give new life to prayer, Trials lay us at his feet, Lay us low and keep us there.”