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.
When you listen to believers talk about the Christian life there is a common theme: prayer is important and difficult. This is not a new phenomenon, even the earliest disciples requested some classes on prayer (Luke 11:1). Therefore, it is encouraging and instructive to hear Jesus’ teaching on how to pray from what is called “The Lord’s Prayer.”
What is interesting to me is the way he begins: “Our Father…” (Matthew 6:9). In this Jesus calls us to the family room for a conversation with our heavenly Father. Before we go further, however, it is important, even imperative to acknowledge and overcome a major obstacle that this opening presents.
As we in the US prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, this prayer from Valley of Vision will doubtlessly bless you:
O My God,
Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects, my heart admires, adores, loves thee, for my little vessel is as full as it can be, and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in ceaseless flow.
When I think upon and converse with thee ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up, ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart, crowding into every moment of happiness.
I bless thee for the soul thou hast created, for adorning it, for sanctifying it, though it is fixed in barren soil;
I bless thee for body thou hast given me, for preserving its strength and vigour, for providing senses to enjoy delights, for the ease and freedom of my limbs, for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding;
I bless thee for thy royal bounty providing my daily support, for a full table and overflowing cup, for appetite, taste, sweetness;
I bless thee for social joys of relatives and friends, for ability to serve others, for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities, for a mind to care for my fellow-men, for opportunities of spreading happiness around, for loved ones in the joys of heaven, for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly.
I love thee above the powers of language to express, for what …
It is a fact of life along with taxes, mismatched socks, traffic when you are in a hurry, that in this world we are going to have trouble.
In fact Jesus, who himself encountered more trouble in this world then all of us combined, said, “…in this world you will have tribulation…” (John 16.33). Furthermore, for believers who have been saved by divine grace, given a new nature, yet still imperfect and given to sin, we seem to encounter varied forms of ‘trouble’ even in the body of Christ.
Even more for those of us in pastoral ministry, we seem to partake in espresso strength doses of trouble. I remember a particular ‘green’ moment in my first year of full time ministry when I asked the guys during a staff meeting (this was about 4 months in), “Is it always like this?” To which they lovingly responded, “It is Mach IV with your hair on fire. Buckle up. Heaven will be great.” This was during a particularly tumultuous time, but it has nevertheless characterized ministry. Those of you who are in ministry know what I am talking about.
So how do we respond? Well, the temptations abound, and the natural responses are, well, natural. We can become bitter, self-consumed, tired, discouraged, or even depressed. All of these things will naturally happen when we find ourselves inwardly focused and dressed with thin skin. But is this God-honoring? Is this biblically right?