A Call to Spiritual Reformation

CarsonI have multiple aims in this post. First, I want to review D. A. Carson’s book by the same title (Baker, 1992, 230 pages). Second, I want to introduce our 9:30 equipping hour curriculum focus for the first quarter of the New Year. The two go hand-in-hand as you will quickly see.

At first glance of the title, you wouldn’t guess the book had much to do with prayer. You have to proceed further to the subtitle for this clarification: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. This work comes from a series of sermons Dr. Carson once preached on the subject of prayer. Baker then took them and edited them into book form for the greater public.

In the preface, the author lays out this lament:

I doubt if there is any Christian who has not sometimes found it difficult to pray. In itself this is neither surprising, nor depressing; it is not surprising, because we are still pilgrims with many lessons to learn; it is not depressing, because struggling with such matters is part of the way we learn.

What is both surprising and depressing is the sheer prayerlessness that characterizes so much of the Western church. It is surprising, because it is out of step with the Bible that portrays what Christian living should be; it is depressing because it frequently coexists with abounding Christian activity that somehow seems hollow, frivolous, and superficial. Scarcely less disturbing is the enthusiastic praying in some circles that overflows with emotional release but is utterly uncontrolled by any thoughtful reflection on the prayers of Scripture (p. 9).

Carson, as would I, admits that he is part of what he condemns. Who hasn’t struggled with the means of grace called prayer in terms of pursuing it with the passion and consistency Scripture commends to us? This makes his aim in writing all the more attractive to me – to work through several of Paul’s prayers in such a way that we hear God speak to us today, and to find strength and direction to improve our praying (pp. 9-10).

After a relatively brief introduction where Dr. Carson presents his case for this lack of prayer constituting the most urgent need of the church, he brings twelve chapters on the subject of prayer. In all he examines seven of Paul’s prayers including 2 Thess. 1:1-12, 1 Thess. 3:9-13, Col. 1:9-14, Phil. 1:9-11, Eph. 1:15-23, 3:14-21, and Rom. 15:14-33.

Interspersed among the soundly exegetical and practical studies of these prayers are topic headings like Lessons from the School of Prayer, Praying for Others, Excuses for Not Praying, and Praying to a Sovereign God. Only in the last chapter on Rom. 15, Prayer for Ministry, did I feel a bit cheated by a more cursory treatment of the biblical text and its ramifications for those of us in vocational ministry than I would have hoped.

Otherwise, and I have read the book in its entirety, this is by far one of the most helpful resources on prayer I have ever encountered. Given the fact that one of our core values at OGC is intercessory prayer and that, to my knowledge, we’ve not given ourselves to an equipping hour yet on this immensely important subject, our leadership team has decided to make this a church-wide emphasis for adults in the first quarter of 2010. We have purchased fifty copies of this paperback book which are available at our resource table in the narthex throughout December. The cost is $13 or whatever you can afford. If you can help someone else in need purchase a book by an extra contribution to the cause, that would be much appreciated.

We will take one chapter per week over the thirteen weeks utilizing the discussion questions at the end of each chapter. We will also do some workshop praying along the way, so we can practice what we are learning. To start we will meet in the fellowship hall. If the crowd proves too big, a problem I would love to have, we’ll move over to the sanctuary. I will take the point on facilitating the discussion, but I am certain that we will do some smaller group work as well to encourage wider levels of participation.

I urge you to get your copy soon and begin to read Dr. Carson’s work so that you might experience what The Banner of Truth wrote on the back cover – the reader is guided, gently yet persuasively, towards a reformation in personal dealings with God.

 

How Shall We Give Thanks This Sunday?

This coming Sunday brings us to our annual Thanksgiving service. I will not preach. Rather we will give the sermon time to congregational sharing. We will give thanks for God’s goodness and kindness to us in manifold ways.

The Psalmist expressed his determination to do that very thing in the temple in places like Psalm 111:1. Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

The question remains. Give thanks for what? Some things come quickly to mind. Health, provision, relationships, family, etc. These are all gifts of God and worthy of His praise.

But when we examine the disciplines of thanksgiving modeled by the apostle Paul we find other reasons for thanks on his agenda.

Consider Romans 1:8. I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.

Or how about 1 Cor. 1:4-7? I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given in Christ Jesus . . . so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.

Then there is 2 Cor. 1:3-4. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Hmmm. No thanksgiving at the beginning of Galatians. He was too hopping mad over their defection from the gospel into legalism.

Oh, good, back on track in Eph. 1:3. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (see vv. 4-14).

He gives yet more thanks in Phil. 1:3-5. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

Pouring it on in Col. 1:3-5. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.

Overflowing in 1 Thess. 1:2-3. We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Seeing a pattern developing with 2 Thess. 1:3-4. We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

For a specific individual, Timothy, in 1 Tim. 1:3-5. I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.

Finally, another particular person in view, Philemon, in Philemon 4. I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints.

My, the sheer volume of thanks coming from Paul’s lips in the New Testament takes the breath away! Surely he would echo the resolve of the Psalmist to let his praise and thanksgiving be heard amidst the congregation of the upright.

Along with the normal things we thank God for, let’s take our cue from the apostle and reflect more broadly in scope for causes of thanksgiving – Christian faith around the globe, spiritual gifts working in the church, comfort in affliction from Christ and toward others, unspeakable mercies in every spiritual blessing from above, partners in the gospel, faith in Christ, love among the saints, hope of eternal life, steadfastness in suffering, tears of joyful remembering, and faith transmitted by godly parents.

In light of this survey, prayerfully consider what God might have you share with a whole heart in the company of the upright this Sunday morning. And may our praise redound to His glory and add to the overflow of our joy!