The Discipline of Trials Part 2

Newton

I wrote recently the first post of what I am planning to be a short series of blog posts on the discipline of trials. I am drawing heavily from chapter 9 of Tony Reinke’s fantastic book on John Newton. In that chapter Reinke points us to various benefits of trials that John Newton gives to us. In the first post we saw that “trials drive Christians to pray.” In this post we will look at three more benefits of trials.

Trials Humble Proud Hearts

Reinke says that: “Trials are intended to humble us and launch a frontal assault on our pride.” Newton in one of his letters to another minister said: “It requires much discipline to keep pride down in us,…” It does indeed, because all of us as Christians are prone to be proud. Think about the apostle Paul and his thorn in the flesh in 2nd Corinthians chapter 12. Why did God give him this thorn in the flesh? Paul tells us in 2nd Corinthians 12:7: “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” One author said: “How dangerous must self-exaltation be, when even the apostle required so much restraint.” God though in His goodness will send trials our way to humble us. As Reinke says, trials will set: “us free from the shackles of our own self-righteousness and self-importance.”

Trials Kill Worldliness

Reinke writes on this benefit of trials when he tells us:

“When rust and moth and robbers eliminate our securities, when cancer arrives, or when we find ourselves speechless in the company of a suffering friend, in this place we feel deep in our bones that this world cannot be the eternal rest our hearts long for. Trials remind us of the vanity of life, and the vanity reminds us that this world is fallen, and the fallenness reminds us that it is a deeply unsatisfying world…trials make us uneasy and set our hearts on things above, where Christ is (Col. 3:1-4).”

So, God in His goodness will sometimes bring trials into our lives to: “make us uneasy and set our hearts on things above,…” When this happens to us, we should see the goodness of God in these trials. Newton said: “Let us adore the grace that seeks to draw our hearts above!”

I remember a few years ago when Rachel Bowen almost died during one of our church services, but God miraculously saved her life. I remember that people in our church were greatly impacted by that serious trial that Rachel and Ben walked through and really our whole church walked through. Members in our church were thinking about eternity and the shortness of life. I know I was regularly thinking about death and eternity during those weeks after that happened.

Trials are Ice Water on Sleepy Souls

Reinke tells us that: “The Christian life is one of sobriety and wakefulness (1 Thess. 5:6). Drawing from Bunyan’s allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, Newton believed we walk this life in danger of spiritual laziness.” My guess is that all of us as Christians know about this danger of spiritual laziness in our lives. I am sure we have all faced the temptation to coast in the Christian life and to go on auto-pilot, or to simply be lazy spiritually. When we begin to be careless spiritually, we will find that we will begin to dry up spiritually. As Mark reminded us in a recent sermon that spiritual dryness is a common problem. When we are growing spiritually dry and beginning to take a spiritual nap, God in His goodness will sometimes send trials our way. Those trials will be like ice water to our sleepy souls, to snap us back awake.

Reinke reminds us that: “Trials are medicines measured out with care and prescribed by our wise and gracious Physician. He proportions the frequency and the weight of each dose exactly to what the case requires.”

 

The Discipline of Trials

Newton

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.”

 

 

Digging Down Deeply Into The Riches of God’s Grace in Jesus Christ

large_is-your-jesus-too-small-edq5smj1

In this post I wanted to talk about the importance of sinking down deeply into the riches of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Sinclair Ferguson tells us that: “God never throws us back to rely upon ourselves and our own resources. He encourages us rather to grow up as Christians by digging down ever more deeply into the riches of his grace in Jesus Christ. Christ himself is the rich and fertile soil in which Christian holiness puts down strong roots, grows tall and bears the fruit of the Spirit.” He also adds these helpful words: “When God urges us to be holy he is not throwing us back on our own resources to pull ourselves up by our boot strings and to do better. Rather he encourages us to swim into the sea of God’s love, to immerse our lives in his grace, and to live on the basis of the resources he has provided for us in Christ. To change the metaphor, growing in holiness and sanctification requires that we put down deep roots into the soil of gospel.”

Examples of what Sinclair Ferguson is talking about are found all over the Bible. One of those examples is found in 2nd Timothy 2:1 which says: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus,” John Stott comments on this verse in 2nd Timothy and says: “It is as if Paul says to Timothy: ‘Never mind what other people may be thinking or saying or doing. Never mind how weak and shy you yourself may feel. As for you, Timothy, be strong!’ Of course if his exhortation had stopped there, it would have been futile, even absurd. He might as well have told a snail to be quick or a horse to fly as command a man as timid as Timothy to be strong. But Paul’s call to fortitude is Christian not stoical. It is not a summons to Timothy to be strong in himself—to set his jaw and grit his teeth—but to be ‘inwardly strengthened’ by means of the grace that is in Christ Jesus…’ Timothy is to find his resources for ministry not in his own nature but in Christ’s grace. It is not only for salvation that we are dependent on grace, but for service also.”

So, how do we practically speaking begin to swim into the sea of God’s love? How do we immerse our lives in his grace? How do we sink down deeply into the riches of God’s grace in Jesus Christ? According to Sinclair Ferguson we need to make it an absolute priority to reflect and meditate on gospel principles. One of those gospel principles is found at the end of Galatians 2:20 which says: “the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” I was reflecting on this verse recently and the more I thought about it the more stunned I became. Charles Spurgeon said: “A sense of the love of Christ to you personally will affect your whole life. It will change it at first; but it will keep it changed ever afterwards.” 

The Cross

If we want to swim into the sea of God’s love, then we need to race to the cross over and over again. We need to meditate on the cross or as Martyn Lloyd-Jones says we need to: “Look again at the cross, my friend. Take another survey. Examine it again with greater depth and profundity…” As we begin to examine the cross we will see God’s love for his people. Jerry Bridges says: “When John (1 John 4:9-10) said that God showed His love by sending His Son, he was saying God showed His love by meeting our greatest need – a need so great that no other need can even come close to it in comparison.  If we want proof of God’s love for us, then we must look first at the Cross where God offered up His Son as a sacrifice for our sins.  Calvary is the one objective, absolute, irrefutable proof of God’s love for us.” D.A. Carson tells us that: “The cross is the high-water mark of the demonstration of God’s love for his people. It is a symbol of our shame and of our freedom. It is the ultimate measure of how serious our guilt is and the comforting assurance that our guilt has been dealt with.”

As we continue to meditate on the cross we will see the justice of God and the holiness of God. Lloyd-Jones points out that: “the cross tells us…that God hates sin. God is the eternal antithesis to sin. God abominates sin with the whole intensity of his divine and perfect and holy nature. And God not only hates sin, he cannot tolerate it. God cannot compromise with sin…There is no compromise between light and darkness, good and evil…God must therefore punish sin.”

As we continue to look at the cross we need to remember that we are all sinners as Paul makes clear in Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Therefore, we deserve God’s wrath, or as Lloyd-Jones bluntly puts it: “We deserve nothing but hell.” As we see the depth of our sin and begin to feel the weight of our sin we will be more stunned by verses like 2 Corinthians 5:21 which says: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Lloyd-Jones commenting on this verse says: “God has made his own Son to be sin for us, though he knew no sin, in order that he might be able to forgive us, in order ‘that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.’

Jesus Knew No Sin

As we meditate on the cross we should think about the life of Jesus. Paul says that Jesus ‘knew no sin.’ Lloyd-Jones powerfully describes the life of Jesus when he says that: “Jesus was meek and he was lowly. He was pure, he was clean, he was holy. He sacrificed himself. He gave himself, he served. Lord of Glory though he was, he washed people’s feet. He rendered an utter and a perfect obedience to the holy law of God…He had left the throne of heaven, he had come and humbled himself, and he gave himself to healing people, and to instructing them. He never did anyone any harm. He went about doing good.”

Romans 8:32

I find those words from Lloyd-Jones moving especially in light of Romans 8:32 which says: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” I want to end this post by quoting a lengthy quote from Lloyd-Jones commenting on Romans 8:32 that I hope will stir up our affections for Jesus:

“God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.’ Now that is a wonderful description of what happened on the cross. God, in his great love to us, delivered up for us his only begotten, dearly beloved Son, who never disobeyed him and had never done any harm to anybody, to the death of the cross. But you notice what Paul says: ‘He that spared not his own Son.’ He means that God made it very plain and clear that he was going to punish sin by pouring out upon sinners the vials of his wrath. He was going to punish sin in this way—that men should die. The wages of sin is death, and it means endless death and destruction. And what we are told by the Apostle is that after he had laid our sins upon his own Son on that cross, he did not spare him any of the punishment. He did not say, Because he is my Son I will modify the punishment. I will hold back a little, I cannot do that to my own Son. I cannot regard him as a sinner. I cannot smite him, I cannot strike him. He did not say that. He did everything he had said he would do. He did not keep anything back. He spared not his own Son. He poured out all his divine wrath upon sin, upon his own dearly beloved Son.

So you hear the Son crying out in his agony, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ and he literally died of a broken heart. John tells us that when the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, ‘But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water’ (John 19:34). The heart had burst and the blood had clotted, and there it was—serum and blood clot, because his heart was literally ruptured by agony of the wrath of God upon him, and by the separation from the face of his Father. That is the love of God. That, my friend, is the love of God to you a sinner. Not that he looks on passively and says: I forgive you though you have done this to my Son. No, he himself smites the Son…He pours out his eternal wrath upon him, and hides his face from him. His own dearly beloved, only begotten Son. And he did it in order that we should not receive the punishment and go to hell and spend there an eternity in misery, torment and unhappiness. That is the love of God. And that is the wonder and the marvel and the glory of the cross, God punishing his own Son, in order that he might not have to punish you and me.”

 

Picture from here

 

 

Sanctification Flows From The Gospel

large_jesus-paid-it-all-lx22ntqi

Mark said during his sermon this past Sunday that: “You never ever ever ever ever want to detach the imperatives of the Bible from the indicatives of the gospel.” He went on to say that we should never give people the law of God without giving them the gospel as the motivation for keeping the law of God. Commentator Douglas Moo said that: “Rules must never take the place of Christ as the source of spiritual nourishment and growth; and any rules that we propose to follow must be clearly rooted in and lead back to Christ.” Sinclair Ferguson says that: “Sanctification flows from the gospel.” He goes on to say that: “When God urges us to be holy he is not throwing us back on our own resources to pull ourselves up by our boot strings and to do better. Rather he encourages us to swim into the sea of God’s love, to immerse our lives in his grace, and to live on the basis of the resources he has provided for us in Christ. To change the metaphor, growing in holiness and sanctification requires that we put down deep roots into the soil of gospel.”

Ferguson continues by helpfully telling us that: “Divine indicatives (statements about what God has done, is doing, or will do) logically precede and ground Divine imperatives (statements about what we are to do in response). This is true no matter the actual order in which the indicative and imperative statements appear in any given passage. Thus: Who God is, what God has done, is doing, and will do for us (indicative) provides the foundation for our response of faith and obedience (imperative). Thus his grace effects our faithfulness. This is the logic that explains the power of the gospel.”

Biblical Examples Of This

We can look at some Biblical examples of this. In 2nd Corinthians 8 Paul asked for financial generosity to the poor. The most important motivation that he gives us is the gospel. Tim Keller writes that: “When Paul asked for financial generosity to the poor, he pointed to the self-emptying of Jesus and vividly depicted him as becoming poor for us, both literally and spiritually, in the incarnation and in crucifixion.” This is what Paul wrote in 2nd Corinthians 8: “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Tim Keller describes how Jonathan Edwards helped him on this passage: “Jonathan Edwards noted that Paul’s introduction “I say this not as a command…For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” is significant, implying that if one truly grasps substitutionary atonement, one will become profoundly generous to the poor. The only way for Jesus to get us out of our spiritual poverty and into spiritual riches was to leave his spiritual riches and enter into spiritual poverty.”

Keller continues: “If it is the gospel that is moving us, our giving to the poor will be significant, remarkable, and sacrificial. Those who give to the poor out of a desire to comply with a moral prescription will always do the minimum. If we give to the poor simply because God says so, the next question will be “How much do we have to give so that we aren’t out of compliance?” This attitude is not gospel-shaped giving.

1 Peter 1

Another passage that recently hit me was 1 Peter 1. Peter was writing this letter to a church in modern day Turkey that was facing persecution. Sinclair Ferguson throws out this question: “How would you begin such a letter?” Basically, if we were writing to a persecuted church how would we start that letter? Ferguson then answers: “Perhaps with words of sympathy, saying how sorry you were that things had become so difficult? Not Simon Peter. He began first by reminding them of their identity in Christ and then by breaking into a doxology as he reflected on its implications.” Here is what Peter wrote to this persecuted church at the start of his letter:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Ferguson adds that: “Peter’s subliminal logic is: As you face life with all its trials do not lose sight of who you are and what you are for. Be clear about this and you will make progress. Forget this and you will flounder and fall…I need to be clear about who and whose I am, and what I am for in Christ. And Peter is teaching us how to answer them here. If you are a believer you are someone who has been chosen in grace, loved by the Father before you were born, and in your experience sanctified by the Spirit in order that you might become obedient to the Saviour who shed his blood to bring you into covenant fellowship with God…Peter says to believers in Turkey exactly what Paul said to believers in Corinth: You are not your own; you have been bought with a price―the sacrifice of Christ; you are his, so live for his glory because it is for this that you have been purchased.”

The Book of Romans

The last Biblical example I will mention on this post is the book of Romans. I am once again borrowing heavily from Sinclair Ferguson. In the first 11 chapters of the book Romans there are 315 verses. If we went through all 315 verses specifically looking for imperatives―’that is, every statement that is in the form of a command, telling the reader to do something.’ We would only find 7 verses that are imperatives. Romans 6:12, 13, 19; 10:4; and 11:18, 20, 22.

Sinclair Ferguson says: “In essence Paul devotes 308 out of 315 verses to sustained exposition of what God has done, and only then does he open up the sluice-gates and let loose a flood of imperatives. (There are more than 20 of them in Romans chapter 12 alone). Clearly Paul believed in the necessity of exhortations, commands, and imperatives. And his are all-embracing and all-demanding. But the rigorous nature of his imperatives is rooted in his profound exposition of God’s grace. He expects the fruit of obedience because he has dug down deeply to plant its roots in the rich soil of grace. The weightier the indicatives the more demanding the imperatives they are able to support. The more powerful the proclamation of grace the more rigorous the commands it can sustain. This is the principle that destroys both legalism and antinomianism. For this is how the gospel works:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation. -Romans 1:16

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. -Romans 12:1

Get this right and we have a strong foundation for growth in sanctification. Go wrong here and we may go wrong everywhere.”

When I Survey The Wondrous Cross

I will end with a portion of this powerful hymn written by Issac Watts. In that hymn Watts said:

“When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the prince of glory died”

As we ‘survey’ the cross, and as we meditate on the cross we are overwhelmed by the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Then we will respond as Watts does in his hymn:

“My richest gain I count buy loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.”

Once again Sinclair Ferguson says: “Thus the motivation, energy and drive for holiness are all found in the reality and power of God’s grace in Christ. And so if I am to make any progress in sanctification, the place where I must always begin is the gospel of the mercy of God to me in Jesus Christ.” So let us all “immerse ourselves in appreciating the grace of God expressed to us in Jesus Christ…”

 

Prayer & Giving Thanks

pray-without-ceasing
1st Thessalonians 5:16-18 says: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” How do we obey these verses? Specifically, how do we pray without ceasing? Part of the answer to this is to obey verse 18 which says: “give thanks in all circumstances.” Let me share a powerful story from Corrie Ten Boom that relates to these verses from 1st Thessalonians 5. She and her family were Christians who hid Jews in their home in Holland during World War II. They hid Jews in their home undetected from 1943 to the early part of 1944. Then in February 1944 Corrie and her entire family were arrested. Corrie and her sister Betsie were both in their 50’s at this time. They were sent to a few different prison camps, but eventually they were transferred to a horrible prison camp named Ravensbruck. This camp was in operation from 1939-1945 and during that time about 130,000 female prisoners passed through this camp. Of that 130,000, it is estimated that 50,000 ‘of them perished from disease, starvation, overwork and despair; some 2,200 were killed in the gas chambers. Only 15,000 of the total survived until liberation.’ 

Giving Thanks In All Circumstances

Here is Corrie Ten Boom in her own words describing being moved to the horrible prison camp Ravensbruck:

“The move to permanent quarters came the second week in October. We were marched, ten abreast, along the wide cinder avenue…Several times the column halted while numbers were read out–names were never used at Ravensbruck. At last Betsie’s and mine were called…We stepped out of line with a dozen or so others and stared at the long gray front of Barracks 28.
Betsie and I followed a prisoner-guide through the door at the right. Because of the broken windows, the vast room was in semi-twilight. Our noses told us, first, that the place was filthy: somewhere, plumbing had backed up, the bedding was soiled and rancid.

Then as our eyes adjusted to the gloom we saw that there were no individual beds at all, but great square tiers stacked three high, and wedged side by side and end to end with only an occasional narrow aisle slicing through.

We followed our guide single file–the aisle was not wide enough for two–fighting back the claustrophobia of these platforms rising everywhere above us…At last she pointed to a second tier in the center of a large block.

To reach it, we had to stand on the bottom level, haul ourselves up, and then crawl across three other straw-covered platforms to reach the one that we would share with–how many?

The deck above us was too close to let us sit up. We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw…Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above. Something had pinched my leg.

‘Fleas!’ I cried. ‘Betsie, the place is swarming with them!’

We scrambled across the intervening platforms, heads low to avoid another bump, dropped down to the aisle and hedged our way to a patch of light.

‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed. ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place!’

‘Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.

‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly. ‘He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!’

I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. ‘It was in First Thessalonians,’ I said. We were on our third complete reading of the New Testament since leaving Scheveningen.

In the feeble light I turned the pages. ‘Here it is’: “Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.

‘Go on,’ said Betsie. ‘That wasn’t all.’

‘Oh yes:’…”Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’

‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

‘Such as?’ I said.

‘Such as being assigned here together.’

I bit my lip. ‘Oh yes, Lord Jesus!’

‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.’ I looked down at the Bible.

‘Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.’

‘Yes,’ said Betsie, ‘Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’ She looked at me expectantly. ‘Corrie!’ she prodded.

‘Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.’

‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for–‘

The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’

‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.’

And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.

Back at the barracks we formed yet another line–would there never be an end to columns and waits?–to receive our ladle of turnip soup in the center room. Then, as quickly as we could for the press of people, Betsie and I made our way to the rear of the dormitory room where we held our worship “service.” Around our own platform area there was not enough light to read the Bible, but back here a small light bulb cast a wan yellow circle on the wall, and here an ever larger group of women gathered.

They were services like no others, these times in Barracks 28.

At first Betsie and I called these meetings with great timidity. But as night after night went by and no guard ever came near us, we grew bolder. So many now wanted to join us that we held a second service after evening roll call.

There on the Lagerstrasse we were under rigid surveillance, guards in their warm wool capes marching constantly up and down. It was the same in the center room of the barracks: half a dozen guards or camp police always present. Yet in the large dormitory room there was almost no supervision at all. We did not understand it.

One evening I got back to the barracks late from a wood-gathering foray outside the walls. A light snow lay on the ground and it was hard to find the sticks and twigs with which a small stove was kept going in each room. Betsie was waiting for me, as always, so that we could wait through the food line together. Her eyes were twinkling.

‘You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,’ I told her.

‘You know, we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,’ she said. ‘Well–I’ve found out.’

That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.

‘But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?’

Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: ‘Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, “That place is crawling with fleas!’”

My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.”

Pray Without Ceasing

A key then to praying without ceasing is to give thanks in all circumstances. If Betsie and Corrie Ten Boom could give thanks in Ravensbruck, how much more do we have to be thankful for? Let’s see if we can all cultivate a spirit of thankfulness in our hearts to God each day.

John Piper says that to pray without ceasing: “means that there is a spirit of dependence that should permeate all we do. This is the very spirit and essence of prayer. So, even when we are not speaking consciously to God, there is a deep, abiding dependence on him that is woven into the heart of faith. In that sense, we “pray” or have the spirit of prayer continuously.”

He goes on by saying: “I think praying without ceasing means not giving up on prayer. Don’t ever come to a point in your life where you cease to pray at all. Don’t abandon the God of hope and say, “There’s no use praying.” Go on praying. Don’t cease.” To pray continually according to Piper means that we: “lean on God all the time. Never give up looking to him for help, and come to him repeatedly during the day and often. Make the default mental state a Godward longing.”

Something else that I think is helpful on this topic is that we don’t have to be praying for 10-15 minutes at a time all throughout the day. I don’t think that is what Paul had in mind. Charles Spurgeon is helpful when he said:

“You may be…weighing your groceries, or you may be casting up an account and between the items you may say, “Lord, help me.” You may breathe a prayer to Heaven and say, “Lord, keep me.” It will take no time. It is one great advantage to persons who are hard pressed in business that such prayers as these will not, in the slightest degree, incapacitate them from attending to the business they may have in hand! It requires you to go to no particular place. You can stand where you are,…walk along the streets,…and yet pray just as well such prayers as these. No altar, no Church, no so called sacred place is needed!

Wherever you are, just a little prayer as that will reach the ear of God and win a blessing. Such a prayer as that can be offered anywhere, under any circumstances. I do not know in what condition a man could be in which he might not offer some such prayer as that. On the land, or on the sea, in sickness or in health, amidst losses or gains, great reverses or good returns, still might he breathe his soul in short, quick sentences to God! The advantage of such a way of praying is that you can pray often and pray always. If you must prolong your prayer for a quarter of an hour you might possibly be unable to spare the time, but if it only needs a quarter of a minute, why, then, it may come again and again and again and again—a hundred times a day!”

George Mueller who was an amazing man of prayer, describes what praying without ceasing looks like: “I live in the spirit of prayer. I pray as I walk about, when I lie down and when I rise up…From the very early morning, let us make everything a matter of prayer, and let it be so throughout the day, and throughout our whole life.”

Picture from here

Rejoicing Through Suffering

133

My blog post this week just didn’t quite come together. So, I decided to post something from Matt Chandler that I thought was powerful. I took this quote from a Matt Chandler book, which you can get here. This is a powerful portion of the book where he talks about rejoicing through suffering. Chandler writes:

“One day when my son, Reid, was just a little over one year old, I went home from the office in the middle of the day to surprise my wife for lunch.  My wife’s a blogger, and she was working on a new post that day. When I show up, Reid’s upstairs napping.  Lauren asks me to read what she’s written before she posts it, so I sit down to give it a look.  And while we’re sitting there reading and just catching up, I hear Reid upstairs.

He’s not able to get out of his crib yet, of course, but something up there just sounds … wrong.  I don’t know if you can understand that if you’re not a parent, but if you are, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.  You get used to certain sounds of stirring, crying, turning over.  You know which silence is normal and which isn’t.  And this time, something just doesn’t sound right. So I say that. I say, “What is that?”

Lauren heads upstairs.  I sit down at the computer to finish reading her blog post.  As I’m scanning through her post, I hear her scream like I’ve never heard her scream before.  She’s screaming at the top of her lungs – and she’s running down the stairs, carrying my son, who’s in a full-on seizure, turning blue and gasping for air.  He’s trying to breathe, but he can’t.

I take Reid from her, set him down on the ground, try talking to him, try to get him to snap out of it, and Lauren starts dialing 9-1-1.  The fire department is literally a block from our house, so I hear them, while my wife’s on the phone with them, fire up the siren and start the short drive to my house.

I turn Reid on his side.  I don’t know if he’s living or if he’s dying, but the ambulance gets there right away, and the paramedics push me out of the way and start working on him. Then they hustle Reid outside and put him in the back of the ambulance. They turn to Lauren and me and say, “Only one of you can ride in the ambulance.”

Now, I don’t know how it works in your house, but we didn’t even have a discussion about that.  We didn’t say, “Well, what do you think?  Do you want to go?”  My wife just gets in the ambulance.  She doesn’t even turn around.  She doesn’t look at me.  She doesn’t nod.  She just gets in the ambulance, and the paramedics tell me, “Follow us.”

So I run and get in my car.  The paramedics shut the ambulance door.  Boom, and they’re gone.  I don’t know what hospital they’re going to.  I quickly start my car and tear off after them, and I keep up with them for maybe about the first mile.  They’ve got a siren, remember, and I don’t.  So it doesn’t take long for me to get cut off and for us to get separated.

I don’t know where I’m going.  I don’t know where they are going.  I can’t get Lauren to answer her cell phone.  And I don’t know if my one-year-old son is about to die. How do you rejoice then?  Because God is not saying through Paul, “Rejoice when everything’s going well.”  He said, “Rejoice always.”  “Always” includes when they put your son in the back of an ambulance.  Or when you get put in there yourself. Rejoice in the Lord.  Always.  And again I say, rejoice.

We need help then, don’t we?  I want to rejoice always, but I need help on the day I’m stuck at a stoplight, my son and wife are gone, I have no idea where to go, I don’t know if he’s going to make it – how in the world could I possibly rejoice?  Because as out-of-the normal as those situations are for many of us, they are still real-life situations right?….That day when the ambulance disappeared out of my sight, knowing that God is God – that nothing is too difficult for Him, that His love and His sovereignty are real – was my foundation.  When my heart and mind wanted to go to every plausible reason why despair made sense, the fact that nothing is too hard for God became my reason, my rationality.

This is why the mature Christian is reasonable.  Because, as Paul says, “the Lord is near,” even in a desperate situation like the one I described.  Because in that moment, here’s what I had at the ready: the knowledge that the God of the universe, the God who rescued and saved me, is not Himself powerless at all in that moment, is not at all surprised or shocked by that moment, is not reeling one bit or trying to figure out what to do in that moment.

The God of the Bible is not an ambulance driver who shows up after the wreck and hops out and thinks, Okay, let’s do some triage here.  The God of the Bible does not show up after the accident and try to fix it.  That’s not what He does.

He’s there.  He knows. And on that day, the Lord was near, and my son’s life was not too difficult for Him to save.  He could be trusted with my son.  Reid was and is His.  My wife is His.  My daughters are His.  I am His.

My prayer, then, is, “Lord help me rejoice in You in this moment.  Because I know you are in control.  I know You love me; I know You love my family.  And I don’t understand what You’re doing, and I don’t know how things are going to work out.  But help me to acknowledge that if I have You, I have everything.”

My prayer in that moment, seeking joy in all circumstances, is similar to Job’s – “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” Job 13:15) – and Jehosephat’s – “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chron. 20:12).

Now, let me be very clear, because I’m not trying to make this whole exercise stupid.  I didn’t sit in my car with an idiot grin on my face, saying, “Well, I’m glad the Lord’s here, and this is great!  Rejoice in the Lord always; and again, I say rejoice!”

That wasn’t happening.  That’s what we might call an unreasonable theology.  God is not glorified when you act happy about horrific things. He’s glorified when, in the deepest possible pain you experience, you still find a way to say, “I trust You.  Help me, because my heart is failing in my chest.  Help me!  My son is Yours.  His soul is Yours.  His life is Yours.  You loaned him to me for Your good to begin with.  And I know I’m supposed to hold him loosely, and if you take him home, he’s Yours…but I’d like to keep him.”…

In the end, all turned out well with my son.  But in those moments when joy is hard to come by, I go back to that painful, desperate day.  And I use my imagination like this:  I see the Lord in that ambulance with my son.  I see the Lord caring for my wife, calming my wife, and giving peace to my wife.  I see His glory filling that ambulance with infinite power.  Regardless of how it might have ended, I see God as fully in control and fully loving in that moment.”

Picture from here

 

Fighting Sin

Put to death therefore what is(1)

It is time once again to dig deeper into this past weeks sermon. We saw the great contrast between the two brothers Judah and Joseph. Judah in chapter 38 falls prey to sexual temptation. Joseph on the other hand in chapter 39 flees the sexual temptation that he was under. What I want to do this week is just spend some time discussing temptation, and our fight against sin. How do we obey Colossians 3:5? “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” How do we: “die to sin and live to righteousness?”

Let me start with temptation. What is temptation? I am going to quote John Owen (1616-1683) quite a bit on this post because he has been so helpful in my own fight against sin. I will update some of the quotes to be plural and may change some of the old English a little bit. Owen defines temptation like this: “Temptation, then, in general, is any thing, state, way, or condition that…has a force or efficacy to seduce, to draw our minds and hearts from our obedience, which God requires of us, into any sin, in any degree whatever.” So, a point of quick application here. Something that we should probably pray at least at the start of each day is: “Lead me not into temptation.”

So, how are we tempted? James chapter 1 says: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” So, during a temptation sin is seeking to entice us. Let me see if I can use a fishing illustration. When we give into a temptation we are in essence biting the hook. The hook is what we will end up with, but during the temptation sin seeks to hide the hook and it seeks to cover the hook with bait. John Owen says that sin will seek to: “possess the mind and affections with the attraction and desirability of sin,…” When this happens it diverts our: “soul from realizing its danger.” Let’s look at a Biblical example of this. Eve in Genesis chapter 3 is being tempted by Satan. In that temptation she sees the hook in verse 3 and tells Satan that God had told them not to “eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden,…lest you die.” Satan undeterred, covers that hook and he as Owen says: “immediately filled her mind with the beauty and usefulness of the fruit, and she quickly forgot her practical concern for the consequences of eating.” 

We are being tempted with the bait of pleasure, on the hook of sin. John Owen wisely tells us since this is the case we need to: ‘Clearly, watch over our affections.’ Let me see if I can try and explain this. Let’s take the sin of gossip. A modern translation of Proverbs 18:8 says: “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.” Matthew Mitchel wrote a small book on gossip and in that book he says that “Choice morsels are tasty things that we want to devour quickly. They are the best, most attractive, most addictive things to eat. They are like a bowl of potato chips left on the kitchen counter.” Mitchel goes on to define sinful gossip like this: “Sinful gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.” He continues by saying that: “Bad news, shameful news…is attractive but not good for us. There is something really wrong within us that makes us want to know and to talk about the shameful things that other people do.”

So, let’s say we overhear some shameful news about someone we know. Right away our affections may be drawn to this shameful news, and we may see it as a choice morsel. We leave that setting and we can’t wait to tell the first person we see about this shameful news. This can literally all happen in just seconds. We enter into the temptation, the choice morsel is dangled in front of us, our affections are drawn out and we take the bait. Later though after repeating the shameful news to our friends we will find ourselves with the hook of sin in our mouths. As Matthew Mitchel says: “Gossip tastes great going down, but is has lasting and poisonous effects on our hearts.”

Watching Over Our Affections

When John Owen says that we need to watch over our affections he is just summarizing Proverbs 4:23 which says: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.” To help us better fight our sin we need to watch over our hearts will all diligence. John Piper says that when we commit sinful deeds those deeds come from somewhere. They have a life line that leads back to our hearts. He says: “Sinful deeds have a life line that must be cut. In other words, there is a condition of the heart that gives rise to the “deeds of the body.” It’s a heart issue.” When we begin to see a particular sin as desirable and attractive, our affections and life line as Piper says are already heading out of our hearts at that moment. If we don’t cut that life line then, sin is right around the corner. Once again James 1 tells us: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin…” 

So, let’s say we gave into sin today. We committed the sin of envy. We took the bait and bit the sinful hook of envy. Well, the first thing we would do would be to repent of this sin. Race to the cross as Jerry always says. A second thing that we can do in this situation would be to examine ourselves and see what lead us to commit this particular sin. So, hypothetically let’s take this sin of envy. Let’s say we committed this sin at 5:00 in the afternoon. It is 10:00 o’clock at night and we have repented of this sin. We go back over the day and start looking for answers in terms of what lead us to commit this sin.

As we look back at the start of our day we realize that we didn’t sleep well the night before. Our lack of sleep lead us to be more susceptible to sin. John Piper discovered in his late 20’s that a lack of sleep caused trouble for him. He said: “I realized for the first time that when I lack sleep I get irritable and impatient, and with enough sleep, I am less irritable and more patient.” Tim Challies is so helpful here in explaining what I am trying to get at with this: “Contemplate the occasions in which this sin breaks out and guard against them…think about the times when you fall into this sin. What are the occasions? What happens right before you sin? What are the habits or patterns that lead to it? Think about these things, know what you do before you actually commit the sin, and stop the downward spiral long before it gets to the point of sinning.” This doesn’t necessarily help us deal with the root of the sin, but it helps us better understand how we were made more susceptible to sin. Doing this will help us obey the words of Jesus when he said: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Matthew Henry says: “we should be much afraid of entering into temptation. To be secured from this, we should watch and pray, and continually look unto the Lord to hold us up that we may be safe.”

Fighting Sin

Part of our fight against sin involves watching over our affections. One of the best ways though to fight sin is the joy of the Lord. As Nehemiah 8 says: “for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Matthew Henry powerfully tells us that: “The joy of the Lord will arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.” So, one of the things that we need to do every day is to pursue joy in Jesus. George Mueller wisely said: “According to my judgement the most important point to be attended to is this: above all things see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord. Other things may press upon you, the Lord’s work may even have urgent claims upon your attention, but I deliberately repeat, it is of supreme and paramount importance that you should seek above all things to have your souls truly happy in God Himself!”

That is profound wisdom from George Mueller. When our souls are happy in the Lord our mouths are put out of taste for sins pleasures. However, when our joy in the Lord is low we are making ourselves sitting targets for sin. Tim Keller said: “The sin under all other sins is a lack of joy in Christ.” This is why it is so important for us to have our souls happy in the Lord. Plus there is far superior pleasure to be found in Jesus. Michael Reeves said: “Compare Christ to whatever else it is that you treasure. So what is it that you really want? Is it love? Is it that you want to be loved? And that can come across in various ways — a sexual addiction, a desire for fame — those are really varieties of wanting to be loved. Is it acceptance? Is it money? Is it power? Is it comfort? Now compare that thing that you dream of and love with Christ. Which is better? Does pornography offer you the satisfaction, acceptance and love that Jesus does? Does money offer you anything in comparison to the riches of Christ? Does passing temporal power offer you anything in comparison to what Christ is offering? And when you see how much better Christ is than those other things you go running after, you will choose Christ rather than those things and you will walk away from them with freedom.”

In our pursuit of joy in Jesus we need to continually go back to the gospel. John Owen reminds us how important the gospel is in our daily battle with temptation. He writes: “keep the heart full of a sense of the love of God in Christ. This is the greatest preservative against the power of temptation in the world. Joseph (in Genesis 39) had this (sense of God’s love); and therefore, on the first appearance of temptation, he cries out, “How can I do this great evil, and sin against God?” and there is an end of the temptation as to him; it lays not hold of him, but departs. He was furnished with such a ready sense of the love of God as temptation could not stand before,…”

Lastly he says: “store the heart with a sense of the love of God in Christ, with the eternal design of his grace, with a taste of the blood of Christ, and his love in the shedding of it; get a relish of the privileges we have thereby,—our adoption, justification, and acceptance with God;…” I hope that we will all be gospel-centered people who fight sin, and who seek to have our souls truly happy in God Himself!

My wife made the picture that I used for this post 🙂