If God Could Save Paul He Can Save Anyone

PaultheApostleOne of my favorite verses in the Bible lately is this:

“They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”” (Galatians 1:23).

It’s a powerful testimony that if God can save Paul the Apostle he can save anyone (see also Acts 7:54-60; Acts 9; Gal. 1:11-24; Phil. 3:1-11). Paul’s background as a Pharisee gives us hope that God can save religious people today who are trusting in their own self-righteousness for salvation. His background as a persecutor of the church gives us hope that God can save even the worst of our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers who are currently in rebellion against God.

So keep praying and keep sharing Christ. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes! (Romans 1:16)

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A Thanksgiving Meditation: Prayer with Thanksgiving is a Shield Against Fear and Self-Absorption

Have you ever noticed that often when Paul instructs the churches to pray he admonishes them to pray with thanksgiving?

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving“. . .”do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. . .”Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (Colossians 4:2; Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Why does Paul place such an emphasis on praying with thanksgiving? For at least two reasons: Because prayer with thanksgiving is a shield against fear and self-absorption.

1. A Shield Against Fear

The one who never thanks God is easily given to fear and self-absorption. You see, thanking God for past and present blessings casts out fear and fuels confidence for future grace. This is why it is so important to pray thankfully. When you are daily reminding yourself of God’s grace to you in Christ and thanking Him for all of the temporal and eternal blessings that you have from his good and sovereign hand it encourages you to trust Him for the future. You can say, with confidence, “I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds it. . .He is a good God and he has proven it to me ultimately in Christ” (Romans 8:31-37).

Commenting on Psalm 136, Charles Spurgeon once wrote,

“Let us thank him that we have seen, proved, and tasted that he is good. He is good beyond all others; indeed, he alone is good in the highest sense; he is the source of all good, the good of all good, the sustainer of good, the perfecter of good, and the rewarder of good. For this he serves the constant gratitude of his people.”

As Spurgeon notes, he is serving the “constant gratitude of his people”, including you! Have you noticed lately how he has served your gratitude daily and prayed thankfully? The sooner you start noticing his goodness to you in daily temporal blessings, and the all-sufficient eternal blessings that are yours in Christ by faith, the sooner you will stop worrying about the future.

Gratitude is a shield against fear! This is why Paul says, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7)Notice the connection between the exhortation not to be anxious and to pray with thanksgiving. Prayer with thanksgiving is a vital element in the kind of prayer that casts out anxiety and experiences the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.

2. A Shield Against Self-Absorption

And not only is gratitude a shield against fear it’s also a shield against self-absorption. The one who does not thank God on a regular basis is also given to self-absorption. Why? Because the blessings that they have they take for granted as if they earned them apart from God. It’s a form of practical atheism and a practical denial of our sinfulness and God’s grace. It’s also a form of idolatry as it worships the gift rather than the Giver. And thus, a lack of thankfulness is a turning within, a form of self-absorption. This is why we need to pray thankfully, namely because it’s a shield against fear and self-absorption. When we pray thankfully we live in confidence and are rightly absorbed with God and praising Him for who He is and what He’s done for us in Christ. And this is what will bring us ultimate delight and satisfaction in this life and the next.

And for us who know the AMAZING GRACE of God in Christ, thanksgiving should be a natural, joyous, and constant disposition. Joel Beeke writes,

“We are so prone to count our one or two troubles and so quick to dwell upon that one unkind word more than upon another hundred kind words for which we should be so deeply thankful. True thankfulness brings us close to the heart of God, to His love and grace. True thankfulness realizes that anything short of hell is grace.”

Conclusion

And so, pray with thanksgiving, and “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus!” And God is worthy of our thanksgiving! So let us, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever”. . .“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift [Christ]!. . .AND. . .“from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen!” (Psalm 136:1; 2 Corinthians 9:15; Romans 11:36)

Christian, pray as one who is in a covenant of grace and not under a covenant of works!

Christian pray as one who is in a covenant of grace and not under a covenant of works. Joel and/or James Beeke gives this good reminder,

“Praying sincerely does not mean that we first attain a certain degree of sincerity and then pray. A sincere person knows and feels his imperfections; he deeply recognizes that his insincerity is not sincere enough. If we needed to become truly sincere in order for God to hear us, nobody would be able to pray. But someone asks, “Is not sincerity a quality that the Holy Spirit must work in my heart before I can truly pray?” We must answer “yes” and “no” to this question: Yes, the Holy Spirit must open our spiritual eyes to see sincerely that we are not sincere enough. But, no, we are never to think of our sincerity as a qualifying factor that earns us a right to God’s attention and answer. This would drag us back into a covenant of works, making us like pagans who think they must bring something in their hands to please their gods in order to be heard” (Developing a Healthy Prayer Life: 31 Meditations on Communing with God, 53).

Note: This also applies to our approach to public worship on Sunday when we don’t feel sincere enough to go to church. It even applies to pastors when they don’t feel sincere enough to preach. Remember, in Christ you are not in a covenant of works but a covenant of grace! (Romans 6:14; Galatians 5:18)

A Prayer for Thankfulness

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving! One of my favorite musicians today who is taking old hymns of the faith and making them new and fresh for today is Sandra McCracken. On her album In Feast or Fallow she has a beautiful prayer for thankfulness as the opening song. The song is called “Petition.” You can listen to it here for free. Here is the background to the song and the lyrics taken from her web-site New Old Hymns.

Petition

Gratitude is a shield against fear and self-absorption. It makes the heart quiet and poised to listen. This album, as a faith statement, opens with a prayer for thankfulness. Anne Steele wrote these words in 1738, at the age of 21, after her fiancée drowned in the river the day before their wedding. Her life had much sorrow, and her hymns display beauty that triumphs over grief. (She also wrote “Dear Refuge” and others from the Indelible Grace projects.) Her hymns read like Psalms, timeless and resonant, as the poet preaches truth to her soul and mine.

Lyrics

Father, whate’er of earthly bliss
Thy sovereign will denies
Accepted at thy throne of grace
Let this petition rise

Let the sweet hope that thou art mine
My life and death attend
Thy presence through my journey shine
And crown my journey’s end

Give me a calm, a thankful heart
From every murmur free
The blessings of thy grace impart
And make me live to thee

You raise your hand to still the storms
that rage inside my head
revive my heart with gratitude
Love, quell my doubt and dread

Give me a sure and rested soul
From every fear relieved
Thy spirit’s pow’r and presence mine
To ever comfort me

Dealing With Unfulfilled Prayer

Here is a beautiful meditation on unfulfilled prayer from James and Joel Beeke in their book, Developing a Healthy Prayer Life: 31 Meditations on Communing With God. There are 31 chapters/meditations and each one is so short that it is a great daily devotional to read through in one month. This particular mediation on “Unfulfilled Prayer” is so good that I just have to quote the whole thing for your encouragement. It will also give you an idea for about how long each mediation is:

I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan. . .and the Lord said unto me, Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter. . .Get thee up into the top of Pisgah, and lift up thine eyes westward, and northward, and southward, and eastward, and behold it with thine eyes: for thou shalt not go over this Jordan. (Deuteronomy 3:25a, 26b, 27)

For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)

Moses’ prayer was legitimate. After forty years of leading the children of Israel through all the trials, difficulties, and setbacks they encountered in the wilderness, he now longed to rejoice in God’s fulfillment; he desired to actually enter and see the land of Canaan. But the Lord denied his request because of his own act of anger and unbelief in smiting the rock twice. Though God forgave Moses, He said to him, “Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter.”

Paul’s request was also legitimate. He experienced a constant thorn in the flesh, a handicap or impediment, and he asked God to remove it. Perhaps Paul thought he could serve the Lord more effectively if it was gone. But God’s answer was, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness,” In Paul’s case, we read of no sin connected to God’s lack of response.

These are biblical examples that legitimate prayers, proper requests, and fitting petitions can remain unfulfilled. It is possible that our prayers for wayward sons of daughters, for more effective gifts to serve, or for the healing of a loved one remain unfulfilled. Legitimate prayers may remain unfulfilled prayers. Such experiences can hand as a cloud over our spiritual lives. Everything begins to look darker and feel colder. We can become depressed, coming to wrong conclusions like, “All my prayers are fruitless,” or “I must not be a child of God because my prayer is not answered.” Both of these conclusions are mistaken. Remember that despite these examples of unfulfilled prayers, Moses and Paul were true children of God and many of their prayers were answered.

If our prayers do not obtain the benefits we desire, this does not necessarily mean that they are fruitless. Unfulfilled prayer can serve as a means to produce far deeper and more valuable benefits than those we originally requested. Unfulfilled prayer can teach us patience and contentment, surrendering and bowing before God. Moses did not rebelliously ascend Mount Nebo to look despairingly at the land and resentfully to die there. No, God was glorified more by Moses’ response to his unfulfilled prayer than if it had been answered in the way he desired. Unfulfilled prayer can serve to exercise the soul and produce greater reliance upon God. Paul confessed, “When I am weak (in self), then am I strong (in the Lord)” (2 Cor. 12:10b). Whatever his thorn was, it kept him humble and dependent upon the Lord. Do you see how God provided richer experiences to Paul by not granting his request? The Lord can use unfulfilled prayer to work deeper fulfillment, rest, and trust in God. “My grace is sufficient for thee.” A craftsman will be more glorified when he produces beautiful art with imperfect tools. Unfulfilled prayer can serve to teach us humility and dependency, to trust more in God and less in self. Unfulfilled prayer can loosen our attachment to man and temporal things.

Do you understand how unfulfilled prayer can produce rich, fulfilling purposes? And how fruitless prayer can serve a fruitful purpose? The difficulty lies with our vision. We often have our eyes on more shallow, temporary results and fruits. God’s vision is deeper; he aims for eternal results and fruits. Moses’ eye and prayer were focused upon earthly Canaan, which God denied; from Mt. Nebo, however, God took him into the heavenly Canaan. Paul desired that his temporary thorn be removed, but God gave him grace to bear it, and in the end Paul entered God’s rest where all thorns are removed.

When considering unfulfilled prayers, let us remember that God’s “no’s” are often deeper “yes’s.” We may view unfulfilled prayer as receiving a no answer from God, but He may be providing deeper answers. The Lord can fulfill much through unfulfilled prayer, to His glory and to our amazement.” (pp. 70-72).

Faith is a Gift: Don’t Give Up Praying For Your Loved Ones

This is the first point of a sermon I recently preached in two parts entitled “We Believe: The Doctrine of True Faith.”

The first thing that we confess about faith is that faith is a gift from God.

Saving faith is not something that we can, in and of ourselves, conjure up from within. Remember that the Bible describes our condition before conversion as being dead in our sins and trespasses. And so if we are to ever believe, God must first regenerate our hearts by his Holy Spirit. The way the Bible describes this is as a new birth or a spiritual resurrection, both of which are images of something that we can’t initiate or do.

What were you doing before you were born? Did you decide to be born? Did you say, you know what I would really like to be born and I want these parents over here and I want to be born in this country in this location (perhaps you would or wouldn’t have chosen Saskatchewan if you had a choice!)

The same could be said of dead people. Dead people don’t do anything. They can decide to be raised. Lazarus didn’t say, “you know what I would really like to be resurrected by Jesus today, and so, I have decided to make myself alive again.” Nor did he say, “I hear you telling me to rise up and come forth Jesus, now that you’ve done your part, I will now do mine.” I mean these things are just funny and absurd to think about.

You see the new birth is a miracle! And faith is a gift from God. If you believe in the person and work of Christ, it’s because God made you alive and gave you the gift of faith. This is the clear teaching of the Bible:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul tells us that faith comes, not of one’s strength or virtue, but only to those who are chosen of God for its reception. Paul puts it this way: “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”

“Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 6:23).

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29)

“One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14).

More verses could be given. But these are enough to prove that our confession is based on what the Bible clearly teaches. And so we confess that: “We believe that, to attain the true knowledge of this great mystery, the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts an upright faith” (Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 22).

One Qualification

That doesn’t mean that God believes for you. Rather, once God makes you alive you are the one who believes. It’s like when a blind person is given the gift of sight again. Once that miracle takes place they are the one’s seeing. But without the miracle in the first place they would never see.

Two Applications

1. Give thanks to God for the faith that you have! If you believe in the person and work of Christ it is because God loved you unconditionally before time began in Christ (Eph. 1:3-6). It has nothing to do with anything good in you but everything to do with God’s unconditional electing love in Christ. To God alone belongs the glory in your salvation (Rev. 7:10)!

2. Pray for God to open the hearts of others like he did Lydia in Acts (Acts 16:14). It should give you hope for your loved ones who do not know Christ, no matter how stubborn they are, that faith is a gift from God. If he could open the heart of Saul of Tarsus, who was once one of the greatest enemies of Christ and His church, and transform him into Paul the Apostle, who wrote most of the New Testament and suffered and died for the faith, then surely he can open the heart of your friend or family member who does not know Christ and refuses to repent and believe. And so don’t give up praying for the salvation of your loved ones, (even your enemies!), who don’t know Christ. Faith is a gift from God. May He be pleased to “kindle in [their] hearts an upright faith, which embraces Jesus Christ with all His merits, appropriates Him, and seeks nothing more besides Him.” Amen!

The Valley of Vision: “Need of Grace”

A Prayer from The Valley of Vision: “Need of Grace”

“Thou knowest my great unfitness for service, my present deadness, my inability to do anything for thy glory, my distressing coldness of heart. I am weak, ignorant, unprofitable, and loathe and abhor myself. I am at a loss to know what thou wouldest have me do, for I feel amazingly deserted by thee, and sense thy presence so little; Thou makest me possess the sins of my youth, and the dreadful sin of my nature, so that I feel all sin, I cannot think or act but every motion is sin. Return again with showers of converting grace to a poor gospel-abusing sinner. Help my soul to breathe after holiness, after constant devotedness to thee, after growth in grace more abundantly every day. O Lord, I am lost in the pursuit of this blessedness, and am ready to sink because I fall short of my desire; Help me to hold out a little longer, until the happy hour of deliverance comes, for I cannot lift my soul to thee if thou of thy goodness bring me not nigh. Help me to be diffident, watchful, tender, lest I offend my blessed Friend in thought and behaviour; I confide in thee and lean upon thee, and need thee at all times to assist and lead me. O that all my distresses and apprehensions might prove but Christ’s school to make me fit for greater service by teaching me the great lesson of humility.”

“The Valley of Vision” is a collection of Puritan prayers that I have found very helpful in expressing my prayers and emotions to God in an honest and real way (of course, the Psalms are great for this as well). These are prayers that are forged in the depths of the heart during trying circumstances and are filled with truth. I recommend them to you. Here is a summary of this devotional resource from Ligonier’s Ministries:

Summary

In this classic volume, edited by Arthur Bennett, the prayers of the Puritans are brought to life. Including prayers of Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, Charles Spurgeon, and others, The Valley of Vision is a selection of petitions and meditations in the Puritan tradition. This compilation of prayers is intended to teach and encourage Christians to be faithful in their private and family worship.

The strength of Puritan character and life lay in prayer and meditation. In this practice the spirit of prayer was regarded as of first importance and the best form of prayer, for living prayer is the characteristic of genuine spirituality. Yet prayer is also vocal and may therefore on occasions be written. Consequently in the Puritan tradition there are many written prayers and meditations which constitute an important corpus of inspiring devotional literature. Too often ex tempore prayer lacks variety, order and definiteness. The reason for this lies partly in a neglect of due preparation. It is here that the care and scriptural thoroughness which others found necessary in their approach to God may be of help. This book has not been prepared to “supply” prayers but to prompt and encourage the Christian as he treads the path on which others have gone before.

Makes a wonderful gift!

You can order this resource here.