A Way to Pray

A Way to Pray

When someone gifts me a book, I tend to pay close attention. Books change lives. A new title added to my library, prompted by someone’s concern that it might enrich me, makes me want to read the thing with very few exceptions.

That certainly was the case with my recent sabbatical when a dear friend of mine sent me this gem of a read. Most people know the Puritan Matthew Henry for his massive commentary on the whole Bible. Rarely do I prepare a sermon that I don’t reference this classic as part of my study. What I didn’t know until receiving a copy of A Way to Pray and reading its introduction by O. Palmer Robertson, is that the man never finished the commentary without help. He considered the publication of this work a greater priority.

A Way to Pray consists almost entirely of Scriptures arranged topically and put into the language of prayer to help guide the believer’s intercessory life. Robertson revised the 300 year old work to put it into language suitable to the modern day.

Here’s what Robertson says in the introduction about the significance of this approach to prayer:

Prayer in this form is nothing more and nothing less than what the old Puritans called ‘pleading the promises’.  God has made promises to his people.  His people respond by redirecting those promises to the Lord in the form of prayer.  How could a God who is faithful to his word fail to answer prayers of this kind?  He has promised.  He will honour that promise.  If Christians would join together and form their prayers with the maturity and insight provided by Scripture itself, the impact on the world could not be measured.”

Robertson also goes on to say, and this strikes me as no insignificant testimony, that, “Next to the Bible it has been the most read and the most influential book in my life.”

As I have begun to work through the various sections – praise, confession, petition, thanksgiving, intercession, etc., I have found A Way to Pray to provide a richness to my spiritual disciplines which I regret not adding to the mix a long time ago. You can purchase a copy here. Or you can access a free online version here.

In working through the section on confession this morning, I prayed this from p. 54:

In the multitude of our words there never has been a lack of sin, for man full of talk will never be justified. While the lips of the righteous feed many, our lips have poured out foolishness and spoken perversity. Much corrupt communication has come out of our mouths. We are guilty of foolish talk and jesting, which are always out of place in your presence. We have spoken little of things useful for building up; others in the faith. We have failed to speak words that could minister grace to our hearers.

If we must give account for every idle word that we have spoken, we stand condemned. If by our words we shall be justified and by our words we shall be condemned, then woe to us. We are ruined, for we all have unclean lips and live among people with unclean lips. What would happen to us if you should turn our tongue against us?

Here’s to prayer that impacts the world beyond measure.

The Rhythm of Grace

This comes to you from the pen of covenant member, Matt Kenyon. Thanks Matt!

So I’ve been grinding my teeth at night.

My dentist says it’s genetic. Could be. Personally, I think it’s my trademark anxiety that comes from too many months of half-heartedly abiding in Christ and steadily drifting from the love of His sovereign grace and prayer. I kept that diagnosis to myself while I was in the dental chair, though.

Sunday’s sermon delivered at Orlando Grace on the fifteenth chapter of John was no coincidence, and was a timely example of the Lord’s common grace in my life.

Throughout the better part of the chapter, Jesus is articulating the believer’s relationship to Himself and the Father through the lush metaphor of the vine and the branches. Much of the focus of the Lord’s words are in reference to His own role as the grace-supplying vine and the Father’s role as the loving pruner of the Christian. However, it isn’t long before we run headlong into a single commanding verb from the lips of our Savior that requires intentionality and action from the believer: “abide.”

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4)

Abiding may sound ethereal; I mean, how exactly do you “abide” in anybody, much less the God of the universe? Jesus elaborates further:

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will done for you.” (John 15:7)

Now, we’re getting somewhere. When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, the means of grace by which we abide are simple: being saturated in the reading and memorization of Scripture (His very “words”) on the daily, being constant in prayer (Romans 12:12), living in a covenant community with other believers, among others. Notice that I said simple — not easy. This is why we need the grace of a Romans 8:28 God undergirding our feeble wills even to perform such acts of spiritual discipline. After all, Jesus plainly tells us in regard to all matters of spiritual effectiveness: “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5b)

Currently, I’m recording an album, and trucking my way through a very robust online video class on sound editing and recording. One of the fundamental lessons deals with amplified sound waves. We’ve all seen what a sound wave looks like: a line that peaks and valleys in different patterns over and under a zero axis. Now, I’ll spare you the geek-talk, but one of the examples in the lesson illustrated what happens when you double (or amplify) the sound wave just milliseconds out-of-sync. The peak of the first waveform doesn’t match the peak of the next, and the resulting sound is slightly less preferable than nails on a chalkboard. The further away the sound waves spread from each other, the nastier and more distorted the sound becomes. However, when they are perfectly in sync with each other, the difference is like night and day. The doubled wave lays perfectly in line with the first wave, and the sound is amplified, pristine and clearer than ever.

This is what happens to me when I fall out of sync with the gospel of grace; when I’m not actively abiding in the vine. Like I said before, abiding is a verb that demands intentionality. You don’t wake up one morning and accidentally start abiding in the Lord. On the contrary actually, most mornings we wake up thinking about our problems, our idols, our vices and our comforts. The original rhythm Adam had with the Father in the garden has become all wonky and awkward, and must be corrected by grace-laden prayer and mind-renewing Scripture.

So, today, let’s start abiding deeply again. Let us not dare, however, attempt it upon our own flawed ability. Knowing that we are justified not by works, but by grace, let us find strength in Philippians 4:12, in God moving and working underneath all of our actions, to abide. The Son shall supply the nutrients to fight, the Father shall prune the deadness that bars, and we shall certainly bear fruit in the rhythm of the heavenly.

Whatever You Get, Get Wisdom

Last Friday night it was my privilege to give the charge to this year’s graduates of Veritas Academy. This post is the text of my address. I entitled the talk Whatever You Get, Get Wisdom.

Let me add my congratulations to you on your graduation. Job well done! I count it an enormous privilege to address you, your family, and friends, in these commencement exercises. I too once sat where you now sit. May, 1970, I graduated from Conestoga High School, in PA. I decided to pursue, as I suspect most if not all of you have done, higher education. I went on to acquire three earned degrees. But it all started with finishing high school.

I will never forget a conversation I had with the principal of my high school upon graduation. He had only one charge for me. Get straight A’s. Believe it or not, I did that. I finished my undergrad with a 4.0 GPA. When I thought about how I would use my time in this charge to you this evening, I wanted to say something equally succinct, but not the same message. I wish my principal had told me this, quite frankly, though I have nothing against academic excellence. But nobody and I mean nobody, in my profession as a pastor, has ever asked me about my GPA at any institution. But they care a great deal about how much wisdom I have.

As well they should. The book of Proverbs in the bible puts it this way in 4:7-8 – The beginning of wisdom is this: get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. Prov. 8:11 goes so far to call wisdom far better than jewels – all you may desire cannot compare with her. That statement should focus you intently in terms of where you go from here. And so that’s my charge to you in this commencement address, graduates – whatever you get, get wisdom.

I want to give you blazing fast in bullet point fashion, six two-word principles for getting wisdom all from the book of Proverbs, the treasure chest of wisdom. I made this easy to remember by making an acrostic from the word wisdom. If you embrace these things and act on them, I believe you stand to gain the prize among prizes, no matter what your career endeavor. Nobody can do without the priceless commodity of wisdom – put simply, the ability to apply knowledge in any situation to the best of all possible ends.

W – Worship God.

I – Imbibe Scripture

S – Seek counsel.

D – Doubt self.

O – Overlook sin.

M – Make disciples.

Okay, let’s go. First, W for Worship God. Prov. 9:10 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. If you get this wrong, you get everything wrong. You have no hope for wisdom in your life if you don’t start here. The five of you, listen to me, if you haven’t already settled this, then settle it tonight. Whom will you worship? The world will assault your soul with a million and one competitors to the living God. It will bid you worship money, power, sex, possessions, status, leisure, and on the list goes. Determine that nothing matters more to you than pleasing God and you will set yourself well on the road to getting wisdom, the jewel-in-the-crown prize.

W for worship God. Second, I for Imbibe Scripture. I’m sorry. Nobody uses the word imbibe anymore. But it fits. It means literally to drink something as to imbibe a beverage like a Coke. Prov. 2:1-6 –

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Make a decision now as to what disciplines you will master. Whatever your vocational calling, your calling as a follower of Jesus requires you to make the word of God your daily bread. You shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). Jesus words, not mine. No Scripture, no wisdom.

Worship God. Imbibe Scripture. Third, S for Seek Counsel. Prov. 13:10 – with those who take advice is wisdom. Prov. 19:20 – Listen to advice and accept counsel, that you may gain wisdom in the future. When I graduated seminary, I originally wanted to seek a position under a seasoned pastor to learn for five years or so before I struck out on my own. I let somebody talk me out of that because of my supposed giftedness and the waste that would be. One of the worst decisions I have ever made. No amount of giftedness will ever compensate for a lack of wisdom. Get yourself a mentor, maybe multiple mentors and badger them for input, critique, counsel and insight. You will be wiser for it, I guarantee it.

Worship God. Imbibe Scripture. Seek Counsel. Fourth, D for Doubt Self. Not in the sense of lacking self-confidence. That is not what I mean. Doubt self in terms of not trusting your sinful heart. Proverbs 11:2 – When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. Listen to me. Your and my worst enemy is ourselves – our desperately wicked, deceitful-above-all-else, who-can-know-it Jer. 17:9 heart. In your relating to others, learn to be suspicious first and foremost of your own sinful heart. That’s wisdom.

Worship God. Imbibe Scripture. Seek Counsel. Doubt Self. Fifth, O for Overlook Sin. Not in yourself. That wouldn’t square with D for doubt self. No, overlook sin in others. I love this verse. Prov. 19:11 – Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. Hear this. It is GLORY to overlook the sins of others. Deal harshly with your own sin by repenting as the Lord convicts you through the grace that Jesus in the gospel gives you but deal with others with amazing grace, patience, forbearance and love. I have a saying. I think it’s a good one. You will have to work a whole lot harder to offend me than that. Do not be easily offended. That’s wisdom.

Worship God. Imbibe Scripture. Seek Counsel. Doubt Self. Overlook Sin. Sixth, M is for Make Disciples. Do you want to fast track toward wisdom? Determine to give yourself away to others. Proverbs 4:11 – I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. Here is my challenge to you, graduates. Don’t just seek a mentor; be a mentor. I know no better way to acquire wisdom than to need it desperately because someone else depends on you to show them the way. Someone out there needs you to take them under your wing and show them the way. Do you want to learn wisdom? Then take somebody, probably younger than you, maybe in your church, and pour your life into them.

That’s my charge. Whatever you get, get wisdom. Get from God the ability to apply what you know whatever the circumstances to the best of all possible ends. To do that, commit yourself to these six things. Worship God. Imbibe Scripture. Seek Counsel. Doubt Self. Overlook Sin. And Make Disciples.

As I searched for a way to close this address, I turned, in wisdom, I think, to a mentor of mine, John Piper, of Desiring God and Bethlehem Baptist Church. Turns out he spoke at a graduation like this one and finished this way:

Finally, there is one last, absolutely essential thing to do if you would “get wisdom”: you must come to Jesus. He said to the people of his day, “The queen of the south will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold something greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42). What an understatement. Greater than Solomon indeed! Solomon spoke God’s wisdom. Jesus is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:2430). Others had spoken truth; he is the truth. Others had pointed the way to life; he is the way and the life (John 14:6). Others had given promises, but “all the promises of God find their yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Others had offered God’s forgiveness; Jesus bought it by his death. Therefore, in him are “hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). To know and love and follow this Jesus is to own the treasure of ultimate and eternal happiness. Therefore, the command, “Get wisdom,” means first and foremost “Come to Jesus! Come to Jesus!” in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom.

Dear ones that is wisdom. If you get anything from this point on, in all your getting get wisdom. Amen.