There always seems to be some sort of news of a scandal or shameful practices concerning professing Christians. Somewhere a pastor or professing Christian’s secret life of rampant sin gets revealed. As a result, we all (rightly) lose our collective breaths and our stomaches turn.
Then questions come. Why? How did this happen?
I remember hearing John MacArthur say,
“Nobody just falls out of a tree. They climb up in it, move around a bit, and then fall out.”
His point is obvious: this doesn’t happen overnight.
The apostle Paul seems like someone who took the initiative. If we could imagine Paul we would think of a guy who would parachute into a town and talk to everyone about Jesus before lunch. He was a guy who fearlessly and faithfully got it done.
We might be tempted to think that this was just how Paul was wired. After all, he was the guy who reminded Timothy not to fear men but to be bold with the truth.
But what if Paul wasn’t naturally bold? What if he was supernaturally bold? What if he knew that he was weak and as a result prayed for God’s help? What if Paul was just like us? Then we would be encouraged and instructed by his praying.
Most books on prayer are convicting. The authors don’t have to work too hard to give us the Bible verses, make some helpful observations, and point us to simple application. On the other hand, I have found it somewhat rare to find books on prayer that also provide clear, practical instruction. Perhaps this is due to people being afraid of imposing standards or practices that are not mandated in the Scriptures. At any rate, I am very excited when I can find a book that does both: provide conviction and instruction.
The Hidden Life of Prayer by David McIntyre is one of those books. It is not a long book. It weighs in as a paperback at about 120 pages. However, whatever is lacked in volume it brings in substance. Think of it as a cup of espresso for the discipline of prayer.
McIntyre (1859-1938) was a minister in Scotland. His daily faithfulness precedes this volume. It is helpful to remember that this book was an outflow of a life that was bathed in prayer and the ministry of the word.
I can still remember my mom encouraging me to count sheep as a viable option to cure my adolesent insomnia. Even though it seemed strange to me to count sheep I was compliant. I can’t remember if it worked or not. At any rate, the saying endures through another generation.
I can tell you first hand, from a pastoral perspective, that counting sheep will not put you to sleep. In fact, it will do the opposite. If I wake up in the night and something comes to my mind concerning members of Emmaus or other believers that I love, then I am toast. I will toss and turn, restlessly praying for them.
The fact that there is boundless, endless, bottomless grace in Christ is a deep consolation to the one who has been made to feel weary and heavy under the weight of their sin. John Owen says beautifully, “Drink, O my friends, yea, drink abundantly!”
…if all the world should (if I may so say) set themselves to drink free grace, mercy, and pardon, drawing water continually from the wells of salvation; if they should set themselves to draw from one single promise, an angel standing by and crying, “Drink, O my friends, yea, drink abundantly, take so much grace and pardon as shall be abundantly sufficient for the world of sin which is in every one of you;” — they would not be able to sink the grace of the promise one hair’s breadth. There is enough for millions of worlds, if they were; because it flows into it from an infinite, bottomless fountain.
Will not this suit us in all our distresses? What is our finite guilt before it? Show me the sinner that can spread his iniquities to the dimensions (if I may so say) of this grace. Here is mercy enough for the greatest, the oldest, the stubbornest transgressor, — “Why will ye die, O house of Israel?” Take heed of them who would rob you of the Deity of Christ. If there were no more grace for me than what can be treasured up in a mere man, I should rejoice [if] my portion might be under rocks …
Sometimes we may get caught in a bit of a trap of thinking about God simply in broad, non-precise terms. For example, we may think and pray about how God has saved us from our sins and promises to bring us to dwell with him forever.
This is a beautiful and infinitely glorious truth! But there is more.
As Christians when we think of God we think in Trinitarian terms. There is one God, one being that is God. At the same time, within the one being that is God there are distinct, coequal, coeternal persons. The distinct persons are: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father sent the Son. Jesus, the Son, lived and died for us, purchasing our redemption. The Holy Spirit was sent to apply what the Son has accomplished according to the what the Father has decreed. Look, you just went from a “Costco sample sized” prayer or theological thought to a 48 oz ribeye!
But we do not fight this war, this spiritual battle on our own. We fight it together with other Christians in the church and under the leadership and command of Christ. And we fight it with powerful weapons that God has provided for us. Prayer connects us with the unlimited resources of our Father in Heaven.
In evangelism we clearly see the need for prayer for this spiritual battle. When we read the Bible we see that prayer and evangelism are inextricably linked. This is because prayer fuels mission. Evangelism is a spiritual work, so we must pray for the Holy Spirit to open doors and hearts.
But how do we pray for evangelism? What do we pray for?
Prayer before preaching is essential because, without God’s help, we are useless.
In Deuteronomy 32 Moses is no doubt feeling quite a burden. You see, Moses is about to die–and he knows it. He is going to look into the eyes of the covenant community once again. He is going to preach and plead God’s character, promises, and threatenings to them. In the ensuing words of chapter 32 he uncorks one if the heaviest, pastoral, and most passionate sermons in print. Remember, it was this chapter that proved to be the sermon text for Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.
How does he begin?
May my teaching drop as the rain….For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! Deu. 32.2-3
The preacher’s burden has never changed, therefore his prayer remains the same. God–may you be pleased to use my words to magnify your name!
Moses knew himself, a dying man preaching to dying men (to use Baxter’s phrase). As a result, he did not long for such temporal and base things like what the crowd would think of him, how they would remember him, or how he would feel saying what needed to be said. Instead, he pleaded the living word of the living God! And in his prayer he struck the flint for God to light up his people with an awareness of God’s awesomeness and sin’s repulsiveness. Oh, that more preachers would preach a deep awareness of their own mortality as well as God’s eternality!
Whether you are stepping …
Baseball pitchers need to have a “go-to” pitch. This is their best pitch. And, it is their most important pitch because it sets up effectiveness and it compensates for under-effectiveness. How do you know what a pitcher’s money pitch is? It is what he throws when he is down in the count or in some trouble with runners on base. It is his “go-to” pitch when he gets into jams.
As Christians we have something of a spiritual go-to pitch. When we are in a jam or need answers we shake off other pitches in favor of what we think will get the job done. Whether at work or in the home, physical or emotional, in the church or in your neighborhood—we get into jams. What do we do?
It was good for me to hear this today.