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)

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Genuine Humility is Self-Forgetfulness

“The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.–C.S. Lewis

This past Sunday afternoon I preached on humility. Here is a shortened version of what I said in my sermon:

Guarding Against the Opposite of Humility: Self-Glorification

The opposite of humility is pride and pride is in essence self-glorification. We need to be on guard against pride because pride is in all of us and it’s our biggest enemy. The late New Testament scholar John Stott once wrote, “At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend. . .Pride, is more than the first of the seven deadly sins; it is itself the essence of all sin.”

Is Stott being too strong? No! It seems that when we consider the whole of the Bible indeed pride is our greatest enemy. As we said, pride is essentially self-glorification and this is what Satan tempted Adam and Eve with in the garden: “if you eat the fruit, you will be like God.” Indeed, the sin that God seems to hate the most is pride. C.J. Mahaney, in his book Humility: True Greatness, writes:

“From my study, I’m convinced there’s nothing God hates more than this. God righteously hates all sin, of course, but biblical evidence abounds for the conclusion that there’s no sin more offensive to Him than pride. When His Word reveals those things “that the LORD hates” and “that are an abomination to him,” it’s the proud man’s “haughty eyes” that head up the list (Proverbs 6:16–17). When the personified wisdom of God speaks out, these clear words are emphasized: “I hate pride and arrogance” (Proverbs 8:13, NIV). And consider the divine perspective on pride revealed in Proverbs 16:5: “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished.” Stronger language for sin simply cannot be found in Scripture.

And consider also the fact that James and Peter both tell us: 6“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6; 1Peter 5:5). Indeed, pride is in all of us, it’s our biggest enemy, and we must hate it and oppose it in ourselves as God hates it and opposes it. We need to be on guard against pride.

Guarding Against the Counterfeit of Humility: Self-Loathing

But we also have to be on guard against counterfeit humility. If the opposite of humility is pride, which is in essence self-glorification, counterfeit humility is self-loathing, hating oneself, always talking down about oneself to others, shunning or shrugging off compliments all the time. Some people confuse self-loathing with humility. But it’s a counterfeit or false humility. Because the truth is that self-loathing and self-glorification really aren’t that different. They both share the same root, namely obsession with oneself.

Genuine Humility: Self-forgetfulness

So what then is genuine humility and how do we grow in it?  Genuine humility is not self-glorification or self-loathing, which are both obsession with oneself. Genuine humility is self-forgetfulness. C.S. Lewis once wrote: “If we were to meet a truly humble person. . .we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble. They would not be always telling us they were a nobody (because a person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually a self-obsessed person). The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less” (quoted in The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulnes: The Path to True Christian Joy, by Timothy Keller).

What is the opposite of pride then? The opposite of pride is not self-loathing but the freedom of self-forgetfulness. It’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit that comes from hearing the Gospel over and over and over again. We see this in Philippians 2 where Paul tells us that Christlike self-forgetfulness is the pattern of genuine humility: Phil. 2:1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Notice how the truly humble person is not one who is obsessed with oneself. The truly humble person is more concerned about other people than oneself. What does that look like? Paul says, they aren’t selfishly ambitious, they count others as more significant than themselves, and they look not only to their own interests, but also to the interests of others. I’ll leave it to you to apply these principles to your own life, or if you’d like you can listen to how I apply it in my sermon. Let me just conclude by pointing you to Christ, as Paul does.

The Cross of Christ: Gospel Motivation for Self-Forgetfulness

Christ points the Philippians to Christ as the supreme example of humble self-forgetfulness. And he doesn’t just point us to Christ he says, this is who you already are in Christ: 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 

This is the beauty of the gospel. Christ, who always was glorified in heaven and always deserved to be glorified as God, gave up His glory to save us from our vain attempts at self-glorification. And He did it through His own self-forgetfulness, by seeking and serving our interests above His own, even to the point of death on a cross! And because of His humble self-forgetfulness he was then glorified, not by Himself, but by his Father: 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This is the supreme pattern of genuine humility. It’s found in Christ! And this is who you and I already are, in Christ, by faith. And so, the Biblical exhortation is, “become who you are in Christ” knowing that God sees you in Christ and that you already have what He has.

You see, the Gospel provides both the pattern and the power to live a life of humility.How does it provide the power? The Holy Spirit speaks to you in the Gospel and says, “In Christ, you have everything you could ever want and need: In Christ, you are accepted by the God of the universe. In Christ, you have His fatherly pleasure. In Christ, you have the greatest love that anyone could ever long for. In Christ, you have the greatest name that anyone could ever seek to attain. In Christ, you have the greatest security, the greatest joy, and the greatest inheritance.” There is nothing you can selfishly grasp at in this world that isn’t already yours and more in Christ. You already have it now by faith and you will have it by sight when he returns. And it’s all a gift of free grace! And so, forget about yourself. Lose yourself to find yourself in Christ. And from the abundance that you have in Christ, magnify His worth by loving God and serving the interests of others above your own.

The opposite of humility is self-glorification. The counterfeit of humility is self-loathing. Genuine humility is self-forgetfulness and becoming who you are in Christ. How do you cultivate humility and how do you fight against pride?

Conclusion: Growing in Humble Self-Forgetfulness

There are a lot of things you can do, by God’s grace and strength, to cultivate genuine humility in your life.

  1. Use the means of grace (The Word and sacraments)
  2. Study God (“Who am I that YOU are mindful of me?”)
  3. Study sin and grace (“But for the grace of God, there go I”. . .”Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!”)
  4. Identify the grace of humility in others (We learn best by example. . .Christ is the supreme example. . .But Paul also says: “practice what you see in me, as I imitate Christ”)
  5. Encourage and serve others each day
  6. Invite and pursue and welcome correction (this is not my favorite, but still important)
  7. Every day acknowledge your dependence on God and your need for God through prayer, giving thanks at all times.
  8. Reflect on the wonder of the cross.

I could elaborate on each of these points in great detail, but this final one is probably the most important one. This is where Paul points us in Philippians 2 as noted above. And this is where other great preachers and teachers of the faith have pointed us as well. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote the following about the surest way to pursue humility:

“There is only one thing I know of that crushes me to the ground and humiliates me to the dust, and that is to look at the Son of God, and especially contemplate the cross. “When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.” Nothing else can do it. When I see that I am a sinner…that nothing but the Son of God on the cross can save me, I’m humbled to the dust…. Nothing but the cross can give us this spirit of humility.”

John Stott also wrote:

“Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to be saying to us, “I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.” Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.

And may we decrease so that Christ might increase in us for the glory of God and the good of others. Amen!

Sow Faithfully and Wait Patiently for the Harvest

Recently I preached a sermon on Galatians 6:9-10: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” We can easily grow weary in doing good and there are various reasons for this. But one reason that we can easily grow weary in doing good is because we sow and sow and sow and sow and we hardly see any fruit, if any at all. And so, we grow impatient, frustrated and weary. And this is why Paul says in Galatians 6:9: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

At the Valiant for Truth blog, I was reminded of this truth once again. One pastor encouraged the pastor and author of this post with the following words,

“Don’t think that Sunday is when people are sanctified. Be prepared for a lifetime of ministry to your congregation, one where you will see them struggle with certain sins and shortcomings for years. Be prepared to labor at great lengths and be long-suffering. Over time, you will see Christ sanctify his people. It just probably won’t happen in one day as a result of one sermon.”

This is so true and yet so hard to remember. Pastors and Christians in general get easily discouraged in doing good to others because of the lack of fruit that they see for all of their sowing. But God’s Word encourages us that “in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

In his commentary on Galatians Philip Ryken gives a couple illustrations of this point that have greatly encouraged me in my ministry. He writes,

“The harvest will come. It will come at the proper time, a time determined not by the seasons or the weather, but by the will of God. Whether it comes during this life or when Christ comes again (cf. 1 Tim. 6:15), the harvest will come in God’s own good time. In due season, those who do good will reap their reward. Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done” (Rev. 22:12).

Until the harvest comes, we must keep sowing. A good example of what it means to sow and then to wait for the reaping comes from the life of William Carey, the first modern missionary to India. From the day that he arrived on the subcontinent in 1793, Carey began to teach the Bible to anyone who would listen. This he continued to do for the next seven years without winning so much as a single convert to Christ. Not surprisingly, Carey sometimes got discouraged. On one occasion he wrote back to his family in England: “I feel as a farmer does about his crop: sometimes I think the seed is springing, and thus I hope; a little time blasts all, and my hopes are gone like a cloud. They were only weeds which appeared; or if a little corn sprung up, it quickly dies, being either choked with weeds, or parched up by the sun of persecution. Yet I still hope in God, and will go forth in his strength.” Though he sometimes grew weary in doing good, Carey refused to give up. In 1800 he finally began to reap what he had sown, baptizing his first Hindu convert in the Ganges River. This was the firstfruits of a great harvest among the Indian people.

Or consider another example, this one from the colony of Virginia. It concerns the conversion of a man named Luke Short at the ripe old age of 103. Short was sitting under a hedge when he happened to remember a sermon he had once heard preached by the famous Puritan John Flavel (d. 1691). As he recalled the sermon, he asked God right then and there to forgive his sins through Jesus Christ. Short lived for three more years, and when he died, this inscription was put on his tombstone: “Here lies a babe in grace, aged three years, who died according to nature, aged 106.”

But here is the remarkable part of the story: The sermon Short remembered had been preached by Flavel back in England eighty-five years before! Nearly a century had passed between the sermon and the conversion, between the sowing and the reaping. But a man reaps what he sows, and at the proper time Flavel reaped his harvest.

This is a reminder not to evaluate ministry on the basis of immediate results. Too many churches, especially in America, want to taste the fruits of their labours the day they are planted. Yet most spiritual produce takes time to grow. A long time. Often it takes years before parents, teachers, or ministers are able to see their work pay off. “Be patient, therefore, brothers,” wrote the apostle James, “until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand”” (James 5:7-8).

And so, if you have grown weary in doing good. . .to everyone, especially those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 5:9-10), remember these words from the Apostle Paul “for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 5:9). In thankfulness for God’s grace to you in Christ, sow faithfully and wait patiently for the harvest.

“Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is)”: A Brief Book Review

 

This past Sunday I preached a sermon on the topic of lust and found Joshua Harris’ book, Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is): Sexual Purity in a Lust-Saturated World, VERY helpful in my preparations. At this point I would say it’s the best contemporary treatment of the topic (check out the table of contents at Amazon). Here are a few quotes and what I appreciated about this book.

Harris addresses a couple misconceptions in one part. He writes,

“When it comes to lust, the greatest misconception about women is that they only deal with lust on an emotional level. Over the years many Christian books. . .have emphasized that men struggle with physical desire and guarding their eyes, while women deal with their emotions. But if these generalizations aren’t qualified, people might get the impression that women never struggle with lust as raw physical desire, or that their struggle against lust is less real. This just isn’t accurate. “Women have sex drives too!” a woman named Katie wrote me. “Believe me, as a twenty-two-year-old virgin, I know.” . . .

Another misconception that he addresses is that all men are monsters compared to women. Harris asks:

“Is a guys’ lust, which is blatant and obvious worse than a girl’s lust, which is more refined and subtle? [One girl who wrote Joshua Harris, thought otherwise when she described her so-called “harmless” female expressions of lust] “In the past year or so, I have realized just how much my mind is trained to lust over guys’ looks. Guys can be just as much objects of lust as women. if I could count how many movies my friends and I have gone to see simply because there was some cute celebrity in it, I’d be ashamed at the number. And then there are TV shows and magazine covers. Our whole culture thinks it’s perfectly normal for girls to drool over hot guys–in fact, it encourages it. I spent three years in high school being a fanatic of a certain boy band member who will remain nameless. I went to countless concerts, screaming and running up, trying anything to get closer to the stage. If that’s not lusting, I don’t know what is. I was reducing a guy’s worth down to only how physically attractive he was.” It’s not helpful to think that a girl who lusts as she watches romantic comedy is less disobedient than a guy who thrills over an R-rated movie that contains nudity. Both are indulging in lust. My point is that none of us should feel safe because our expressions of lust are culturally acceptable or civilized. I’m not saying this to excuse any man’s sin or let anyone off the hook. The point is not that guys aren’t so bad. The point is that all lust is bad. Apart from God’s grace working in us and changing us, we’re all monsters. Regardless of how lust is expressed, it’s motivated by a sinful desire for the forbidden. Lust is always based on the same lie–that satisfaction will be found apart from God.” (emphasis mine)

That said, we do in general (not as a hard and fast rule) tend to struggle with lust in different ways as men and women. Harris points out:

  • “A man’s sexual desire is often more physical, while a woman’s desire is more often rooted in emotional longings.”
  • A man is generally wired to be the sexual initiator and is stimulated visually; a woman is generally wired to be the sexual responder and is stimulated by touch.
  • A man is created to pursue and finds even the pursuit stimulating; a woman is made to want to be pursued and finds even being pursued stimulated.”

So you see, we tend to struggle with lust in complementary ways which is why it’s such a struggle for us all. Harris points out how we can both help each other in this fight.

He points out how lust is never satisfied and is a dead end street: “There is no such thing as “all the way” with lust. Ultimately, lust doesn’t want sex. It wants the forbidden, and it’s willing to take you deeper and deeper into perversion if you’ll indulge its latest request.”

He points out that the reason we are so unsuccessful in this battle against lust is because we’ve had the wrong standard, the wrong motive and the wrong source of power. We often lower God’s standard of holiness when God’s standard is “not even a hint” (cf. Eph. 5:3). When we have the right standard it rightly drives us outside of ourselves to look to Christ our Savior and to press on with the right motive (gratitude). It also drives us to our knees in dependence upon the Holy Spirit and to fight this battle in the strength of the Lord.

He writes:

“I’ve learned that I can only fight lust in the confidence of my total forgiveness before God because of Jesus’ death for me. My guilt and shame, even self-inflicted punishment, can never cleanse me. Even my good works can’t buy my forgiveness. I need a Savior. I need grace. Author Jerry Bridges says it best: “Every day of our Christian experience should be a day of relating to God on the basis of His grace alone,” he writes. “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”

Another important thing he points out:

“If you ever expect to find victory over lust, you must believe with your whole heart that God is against your lust not because He is opposed to pleasure, but because He is so committed to it. In his book Future Grace, John Piper writes: We must fight fire with fire. The fire of lust’s pleasures must be fought with the fire of God’s pleasures. If we try to fight the fire of lust with prohibitions and threats alone— even the terrible warnings of Jesus— we will fail. We must fight it with the massive promise of superior happiness. We must swallow up the little flicker of lust’s pleasure in the conflagration of holy satisfaction.”

He also has a proper view of strategies in fighting against lust. As I said in my sermon strategies are important but we must always remember that they aren’t sacraments. They aren’t the means of grace. Strategies are how we live out the gospel in thankfulness and wisdom. A lot of contemporary books, sermons and conferences miss this today. I was thankful that Harris understands the proper place of strategies and keeps the Gospel and our union with Christ by the Spirit as central in this fight and holds out the superior satisfaction that we have in God through Christ.

So that’s what I really like about this book (and I still have to finish it!). But from what I have read so far it is definitely worth recommending for these reasons.

The Secret of Marriage

Recently I began, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, by Timothy Keller, with Kathy Keller. So far it is really good. In the first chapter, “The Secret of Marriage,” after a thorough survey of the cultural landscape with regard to the institution of marriage in our day, here is what Keller has to say with regard to the secret of marriage (I quote at length because almost every paragraph in the last few pages was worthy of a highlight):

“If our views of marriage are too romantic and idealistic, we underestimate the influence of sin on human life. If they are too pessimistic and cynical, we misunderstand marriage’s divine origin. If we somehow manage, as our modern culture has, to do both at once, we are doubly burdened by a distorted vision. Yet the trouble is not within the institution of marriage but within ourselves. . .

In short, the “secret” is not simply the fact of marriage per se. It is the message that what husbands should do for their wives is what Jesus did to bring us into union with himself. And what was that? Jesus gave himself up for us. Jesus the Son, though equal with the Father, gave up his glory and took on human nature (Phil. 2:5ff). But further, he willingly went to the cross and paid the penalty for our sins, removing our guilt and condemnation, so that we could be united with him (Rom. 6:5) and take on his nature (2 Pet. 1:4). He gave up his glory and power and became a servant. He died to his own interests and looked to our needs and interests instead (Romans 15:1-3). Jesus’s sacrificial service to us has brought us into a deep union with him and he with us. And that, Paul says, is the key not only to understanding marriage but to living it. . .

If God had the gospel of Jesus’s salvation in mind when he established marriage [cf. Eph. 5:31-32], then marriage only “works” to the degree that approximates the pattern of God’s self-giving love in Christ. . .this is the secret–that the gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another. That when God invented marriage, he already had the saving work of Jesus in mind. . .

The Christian teaching does not offer a choice between fulfillment and sacrifice but rather mutual fulfillment through mutual sacrifice. Jesus gave himself up; he died to himself to save us and make us his. Now we give ourselves up, we die to ourselves, first when we repent and believe the gospel, and later as we submit to his will day by day. Subordinating ourselves to him, however, is radically safe, because he has already shown that he was willing to go to hell and back for us. This banishes fears that loving surrender means loss of oneself. . .

On the one hand, the experience of marriage will unveil the beauty and depths of the gospel to you. It will drive you further into reliance on it. On the other hand, a greater understanding of the gospel will help you experience deeper and deeper union with each other as the years go on. . .

The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the kind of relationship that will really transform us. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.

The hard times of marriage drive us to experience more of this transforming love of God. But a good marriage will also be a place where we experience more of this kind of transforming love at a human level. The gospel can fill our hearts with God’s love so that you can handle it when your spouse fails to love you as he or she should. That frees us to see our spouse’s sins and flaws to the bottom–and speak of them–and yet still love and accept our spouse fullly. And when, by the power of the gospel, our spouse experiences that same kind of truthful yet committed love, it enables our spouses to show us that same kind of transforming love when the time comes for it.

This is the great secret! Through the gospel, we get both the power and the pattern for the journey of marriage!”

Great stuff! Can’t wait to read the rest of the book.

The Blasphemy of Withholding Forgiveness From Christians

Here are some powerful words on forgiveness from Graeme Goldsworthy’s in his book Prayer and the Knowledge of God: What the Whole Bible Teaches. He is commenting on the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

“To show mercy and forgiveness to those who offend us stems from the conviction that nothing that others can do to offend us can compare with our sin against heaven. This is even more vivid when the offending person is a Christian brother or sister. To withhold forgiveness from them when we know they are forgiven and accepted by God is an almost blasphemous placing of ourselves above God.” (p. 101).

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).