The Law & Looking to Another Quarter for Help

If the means of grace (prayer, study, etc.) constituted some form of bartering/payment with God for His favor, I’d be in deep weeds. At least in term of the excruciatingly slow pace with which I’ve been slogging through Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. To my chagrin I’ve yet to work my way through this classic in its entirety. A long time ago I decided to take a mere paragraph a day as part of my daily devotions. To date I’ve managed to get only as far as Book Two, Chapter 8. I can’t honestly remember when I started on this pilgrimage.

That present chapter concerns Calvin’s exposition of the moral law of God. Paragraph three of chapter 8 addresses one of three uses of the law in our lives that, as he puts it, causes us to descend into ourselves.

When, under the guidance of the Law, we have advanced thus far, we must, under the same guidance, proceed to descend into ourselves. In this way, we at length arrive at two results: First, contrasting our conduct with the righteousness of the Law, we see how very far it is from being in accordance with the will of God, and, therefore, how unworthy we are of holding our place among his creatures, far less of being accounted his sons; and, secondly, taking a survey of our powers, we see that they are not only unequal to fulfill the Law, but are altogether null. The necessary consequence must be, to produce distrust of our own ability, and also anxiety and trepidation of mind. Conscience cannot feel the burden of its guilt, without forthwith turning to the judgment of God, while the view of this judgment cannot fail to excite a dread of death. In like manner, the proofs of our utter powerlessness must instantly beget despair of our own strength. Both feelings are productive of humility and abasement, and hence the sinner, terrified at the prospect of eternal death (which he sees justly impending over him for his iniquities), turns to the mercy of God as the only haven of safety. Feeling his utter inability to pay what he owes to the Law, and thus despairing of himself, he rethinks him of applying and looking to some other quarter for help.

Altogether null. Despair of our strength. Utter inability to pay.

These words and phrases describe the descent into self brought about by the effect of the law leading to the sobering admission that we stand no chance whatsoever of fulfilling the law in our own pitifully paltry strength.

Reformers call this the pedagogical use of the law for a reason. It teaches us of our absolute need for the mercy of God in Christ as the only haven of safety. It guides us to the cross.

Romans 8:3 – 4 says

[3] For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, [4] in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The Son of God is that quarter of help, in His work on the cross, the only quarter and the completely able quarter of help at that, which can relieve us of the misery of our conviction before the crushing weight of the Law’s righteousness and make us acceptable in a holy God’s sight. There is no other quarter of help that can do that for you and for me.

Whether we read through Calvin at breakneck speed or a snail’s pace, the grace of God in Jesus Christ remains the same. He is mighty to save. Mighty to save. No condemnation now I dread. I am my Lord’s and He is mine. Grace, all is of grace.

Reflections on Prayer and Leadership from Oxford Club

Saturday morning of last week our men gave their early morning to a vigorous discussion centered in chapter 11 of Oswald Sanders’ book Spiritual Leadership. The title of the chapter is Prayer and Leadership.

Every one of us resonated with the opening quote in the chapter:

If I wished to humble anyone, I should question him about his prayers. I know nothing to compare with this topic for its sorrowful self-confessions.

One of the questions in the study guide for the day asked us to consider what obstacles conspire to keep us from praying. We came up with an imposing list of things that war against the call of Scripture to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).

Among them were:

  • a misunderstanding of the Reformed faith (if God ordains everything why pray?)
  • laziness
  • busyness
  • sleepiness
  • lack of a plan to pray
  • lack of trial or difficulty in one’s life that compels one to pray
  • idolatry – worshiping the gift over the Giver
  • unbelief
  • pride
  • self-sufficiency
  • lack of biblical training and education
  • distractions
  • spiritual warfare
  • unconfessed sin
  • isolation (limiting our praying to only a private discipline)

We discovered no lack of impediments to the challenge to live as men of prayer as we seek to lead in whatever spheres of responsibility God has called us to steward.

While we worked to identify obstacles we also sought to list various helps for overcoming those things. Among the more helpful hints we shared these (I’ve added some others):

  • put prayer into the schedule
  • join a prayer group
  • go to bed earlier
  • utilize lists (like the directory/prayer list as one of our elders reminded/exhorted us on Sunday)
  • pray on the spot with people who share a request
  • pray Scripture back to God
  • use the Lord’s prayer (Matt. 6:9-13) as a template or pattern
  • repent of unbelief and pride
  • get an accountable partner for prayer
  • read some good books on prayer (like D. A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation – available on our resource table on Sundays)
  • memorize Eph. 6:10-20
  • keep short accounts with God
  • change postures (go for prayer walks if you can’t stay awake on your knees by the bed)

Sanders says that a spiritual leader should outpace the rest of the church, above all in prayer. None of us disagreed with that proposition. But if John 15:5 is true, that apart from Him we can do nothing, should we not, leader and follower alike, seek to excel in prayer as a means of grace?

The answer, of course, is yes.

How to Stop the Sinful Self-Indulgence of the Flesh

I know, I promised this morning I would post the study guide questions for this week’s study in Dr. Carson’s book. Actually, I have that file on my computer at the office. I am posting this from home. I promise, tomorrow I will put up the study guide.

But here is a review of the gist of this morning’s message (listen to the entire sermon here) from Colossians 3:1-4:

Sinful self-indulgence is progressively overcome by cultivating a thoroughgoing heavenly-focused orientation in this life based upon the realities of our identification with Jesus in His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. Since we have been identified with Christ in these realities we must commit to do three things if we are to overcome the sinful indulgence of our flesh. We must pursue the things of Christ in His exalted domain – seated at the right hand of God in heaven –  working hard at the various means of grace -, ponder – by memorizing and meditating upon Scripture –  the things of Christ in His exalted domain since we have died and our lives are buried with Christ and God within the unseen realm, and picture the return of Christ from His exalted domain when He and we will be revealed in the same glory.

So remember your position in Christ. This is all important. Make spiritual things the number one priority of your lives. Think on spiritual things in regular meditation. Give yourself to reading through the Bible this year and memorizing extended portions of Scripture. Pray come quickly, Lord Jesus, every day.

J. C. Ryle, in his book Holiness, writes:

Christianity will cost a man his love of ease. He must take pains and trouble if he means to run a successful race toward heaven. He must daily watch and stand on his guard, like a soldier on enemy’s ground. He must take heed to his behavior every hour of the day, in every company and in every place, in public as well as in private, among strangers as well as at home. He must be careful over his time, his tongue, his temper, his thoughts, his imagination, his motives, his conduct in every relation of life. He must be diligent about his prayers, his Bible reading, and his use of Sundays, with all their means of grace. In attending to these things, he may come far short of perfection; but there is none of those who he can safely neglect. “The soul of the sluggard desires, and has nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat” (Prov. 13:4). 

Let us be diligent that our souls may be made fat.

How to Get a Richly Supplied Soul

Proverbs contrasts the sluggard who craves and gets nothing with the diligent whose soul is richly supplied, or literally, made fat (13:4). 

No matter how much the sluggard craves something, his inherent laziness precludes him from acquiring anything. He is a victim of his own sins of sloth.

There is only one road to a richly supplied, spiritually fat soul. It’s called diligence. If you and I want a richly supplied soul by God’s grace, we must work at it. Hard.

J. C. Ryle, in his book, Holiness, said true Christianity will cost a man his love of ease.

He must take pains and trouble if he means to run a successful race toward heaven. He must daily watch and stand on his guard, like a soldier on enemy’s ground. He must take heed to his behavior every hour of the day, in every company and in every place, in public as well as in private, among strangers as well as at home. He must be careful over his time, his tongue, his temper, his thoughts, his imagination, his motives, his conduct in every relation of life. He must be diligent about his prayers, his Bible reading, and his use of Sundays, with all their means of grace. In attending to these things, he may come far short of perfection; but there is none of those who he can safely neglect. “The soul of the sluggard desires, and has nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat” (Prov. 13:4) (emphasis mine).

Two emphases tomorrow at OGC will converge towards the end of promoting richly supplied souls for those who participate. In the 9:30 hour (meeting in the sanctuary this week) we will continue our study in Carson’s book, A Call to Spiritual Reformation. We have resupplied our resource table with copies that will be available tomorrow. Few books can help us more with how to grow in diligence in our prayers for a richly supplied soul. In the worship service I will preach another New Year’s sermon, this one from Colossians 3:1-4, entitled How to Stop the Sinful Self-Indulgence of the Flesh. Paul uses a diligence verb in his command in verse one – seek the things above where Christ is. Praying is one important way we do seeking that our souls may be richly supplied.

Diet all you will in the New Year that the body may return to fitness after the indulgence of the holidays. But take pains, eschew your love of ease, be diligent, seek the things above, that your soul may be made fat, richly supplied indeed.

Get a good night’s sleep and, Lord willing, I will see you tomorrow.

What Is a Silent Communion?

This Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Advent, will see us engage in a silent communion  during the 9:30 hour in the SDA sanctuary. Some of you may never have participated in such an experience. A silent communion is a self-directed exercise in reflection, devotion, and worship centering on the Lord’s Table conducted in silence (only background instrumental music will be heard). Upon arriving in the sanctuary (please do all you can to be prompt as we make use of every minute of the hour) you will receive a guide describing the four movements of the communion.

The first movement from 9:30 to 9:45 AM concentrates on adoration and praise. Using Psalm 145 as our guide we will worship the Lord in the silence of our hearts for His various attributes and acts.

The second movement from 9:45 to 10:00 AM calls us to a focused time of confession of sin and repentance before God. We will utilize the Puritan prayer entitled Purification for this purpose. Here is how that prayer begins:

Lord Jesus, I sin. Grant that I may never cease grieving because of it, never be content with myself, never think I can reach a point of perfection. Kill my envy, command my tongue, trample down self. Give me grace to be holy, kind, gentle, pure, peaceable, to live for Thee and not for self, to copy Thy words, acts, spirit, to be transformed into Thy likeness, to be consecrated wholly to Thee, to live entirely to Thy glory.

The third movement from 10:00 to 10:15 AM brings us to the actual supper. After reflecting on three paragraphs of our confession of faith, we will approach the table and serve ourselves the bread and cup. Here are those paragraphs if you wish to do extra preparation in advance:

Paragraph One: The Lord’s supper was instituted by the Lord on the same night in which He was betrayed. It is to be observed in His churches to the world’s end, for a perpetual remembrance of Him and to show forth the sacrifice of Himself in His death. It was instituted also to confirm saints in the belief that all the benefits stemming from Christ’s sacrifice belong to them. Furthermore, it is meant to promote their spiritual nourishment and growth in Christ, and to strengthen the ties that bind them to all the duties they owe to Him. The Lord’s supper is also a bond and pledge of the fellowship which believers have with Christ and with one another. See 1 Corinthians 10:16, 17, 21; 1 Corinthians 11:23-36.

Paragraph Seven: Those who, as worthy participants, outwardly eat and drink the visible bread and wine in this ordinance, at the same time receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and receive all the benefits accruing from His death. This they do really and indeed, not as if feeding upon the actual flesh and blood of a person’s body, but inwardly and by faith. In the supper the body and blood of Christ are present to the faith of believers, not in any actual physical way, but in a way of spiritual apprehension, just as the bread and wine themselves are present to their outward physical senses. See 1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

Paragraph Eight: All persons who participate at the Lord’s table unworthily sin against the body and blood of the Lord, and their eating and drinking brings them under divine judgment. It follows,therefore, that all ignorant and ungodly persons, being unfit to enjoy fellowship with Christ, are similarly unworthy to be communicants at the Lord’s table; and while they remain as they are they cannot rightly be admitted to partake of Christ’s holy ordinance, for thereby great sin against Christ would be committed. See Matthew 7:6; 1 Corinthians 11:29; 2 Corinthians 6:14-15.

The fourth movement from 10:15 to 10:30 AM puts the church directory before us and calls us to a time of petition and intercession for one another’s needs as God brings them to mind.

I urge all of us to  make this additional observance of Communion in the month of December as a means of grace that brings even more blessing into our lives during this Advent season.

Powerful Incentive to Pray

CarsonJesus taught His followers to open their prayers this way: “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9). Paul wrote in Eph. 3:14, “For this reason I bow my knees before the  Father.” Before both the Lord and the apostle revealed the content of their praying, they prescribed and modeled a certain manner of address toward God in praying. Call Him “Father.”

This is no small thing, particularly in the ancient eastern culture. The ancients revered their fathers as those who led the family unit and cared for its well being, doing it good and bestowing upon it favors. So by using the term “Father” as a means of addressing the Lord, we should see a ground of our praying that can powerfully motivate our praying. God is no mere transcendent Other to which we bring our petitions; He is the ultimate Father.

Once again, D. A. Carson, in his terribly helpful book on prayer, A Call to Spiritual Reformation (Baker, 1992, 230 pages), helps to motivate and equip in the all important means of grace that is intercessory prayer.

So as Paul approaches God with his petitions, he reminds himself that the God he addresses is his heavenly Father, the archetypal Father, the Father of all who are truly his people in heaven and on earth. He is a good God; he knows how to give good gifts. Paul dares to approach this God with these requests because he knows God to be good God, a heavenly Father. Thus the nature and character of God become for Paul the fundamental ground for intercessory prayer (p. 201).

Now here is where Carson takes the truth and brings it home to our prayer lives.

The more we reflect on the kind of God who is there, the kind of God who has disclosed himself in Scripture and supremely in Jesus Christ, the kind of God who has revealed his plans and purposes for his own “household,” the kind of God who hears and answers prayer–the more we shall be encouraged to pray. Prayerlessness is often an index to our ignorance of God. Real and vital knowledge of God not only teaches us what to pray, but gives us powerful incentive to prayer (p. 201, emphasis mine).

How is your prayer life? Do you need some incentive? Contemplate the nature of your God in Jesus Christ as Father. And then, when you pray, bow your knees and begin with, “Our Father in heaven.”