Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Longing for the Joy of Secret Prayer

Some years ago I acquired a little book written by an anonymous author entitled, The Kneeling Christian (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids: 1971). I finally got around to reading it this summer and it made such an impact on my life that I have decided to read it again, only this time at a slower pace. I am more concerned that the principles of the book take root in my life than that I hurry to make it to the end.

As I mentioned, the author of the book is anonymous. He informs us in the Preface that he wrote it “by request, and with much hesitancy” and that it went forth “with much prayer” (7). He does not provide us with any clues as to who persuaded him or why he had to be persuaded, but having read the book I imagine that it was because he hesitated to issue such a piercing rebuke when he himself was a sinner.

It is not difficult to perceive in his writings that he was both a humble man and a prayerful man, neither is it difficult to perceive that he carried a great burden for the body of Christ. The longing of his heart is well captured by the final words of the Preface, “May He Who said, ‘Men ought always to pray, and not to faint,’ ‘teach us to pray’” (7). In other words, his passion was not so much to teach us about prayer as to persuade us to pray, or better put, to be a vessel through which the Lord himself would teach us to pray.

Therefore, my prayer as I begin my second journey through this little book is that I would humble myself before the Lord, and his appointed vessel, and allow him to teach me the joy of secret prayer. For as our author writes, “It is not too much to say that all real growth in the spiritual life—all victory over temptation, all confidence and peace in the presence of difficulties and dangers, all repose of spirit in times of great disappointment or loss, all habitual communion with God—depend on the practice of secret prayer” (7).

He did not say that these things depend on a right understanding but rather on “the practice” of secret prayer. If his assertion is correct—and I think it is—then, indeed, may we join him in saying, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

Longing for the joy of secret prayer,

Pastor Charlie

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Things I Admire about the Apostle John

Here's something I just wrote for our church's weekly newsletter.

I became a Christian while reading 1 John and therefore it is no exaggeration to say that the Apostle himself led me to Christ. Because this is so, I have counted it a great privilege to preach through John’s letters over the last four months and now that our time in them is coming to a close, I want to articulate a few things I love about John.

First, I see in John a submissive spirit. When Jesus called, John responded. This was true of him the very first time he encountered Jesus (Matt 4:21-22) and it was true throughout his life. John loved Jesus and he demonstrated his love through obedience to His commands.

Second, I see in John a spirit of utter devotion to Christ. When the chips were down and Jesus’ enemies came to kill him, John alone remained by Jesus’ side all the way to death. He clung to Jesus in life, he clung to Jesus in death, and he will cling to Jesus forever. John was a deeply devoted lover of Christ and I so admire him for this.

Third, I see in John the spirit of a servant-leader. After the resurrection of Jesus, John became one of the “pillars of the church” and he remained faithful to her until his dying day. He was a strong leader, to be sure, but he was the kind of leader who never exalted himself above the church but, like his Lord, laid his life down for her.

Fourth, I see in John a spirit of wisdom. John was a very discerning man and he was not afraid to say what he saw in very plain language, but he was also a very compassionate and hopeful man because he was well acquainted with Jesus. Therefore, by the spirit of Christ, John was always able to balance truth and grace, confrontation and mercy, and for this I admire him very much.

Fifth, I see in John a deep love for the truth. John new that Jesus had revealed himself in a particular way and that the details of this revelation matter. Thus, although he is known as the Apostle of love, he is first the Apostle of truth because he knew that one can only love Jesus when he or she knows Jesus as he is.

Finally, I see in John a spirit of authentic love. His passion for God’s people was not a put on but rather it was the fruit authentic love for Christ. He learned from his Lord the deep joy of devotion to the Bride.

Oh how I long to be like the beloved Apostle John, and I hope you do, too. I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on his life and asking the Lord to give you insight. May we all learn the joy of imitating what is good rather than what is evil (3 John 1:11).

Longing to imitate John as he imitates Christ,

Pastor Charlie

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Seeking Him who is Here

Here is a devotional I just wrote for our church's weekly newsletter:

We who love Christ are yet sinners, and therefore we sometimes need to be reminded of things we know but tend to forget. Obvious things, important things, profound things, but forgotten things. This is the purpose of the fifth chapter of A. W. Tozer’s book, The Pursuit of God (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1982), namely, to remind us of the simple fact that God is present and can be experienced, loved, heard, obeyed, and praised regardless of our location or circumstances. “Wherever we are, God is here” (62).

This, Tozer asserts, we Christians know well in our heads but often fail to experience in our lives. The ubiquitous presence of God is a truth “believed by every instructed Christian. It remains for us to think on it and pray over it until it begins to glow within us” (62). That is, it remains for us to ponder the reality of the presence of God until his glory lights up our souls and melds our hearts to His.

And the thing that will indeed light up our souls is the conscious realization that this truth is really true: “Wherever we are, God is here.” I am writing this devotional at a Starbucks, and God is here. We are gathered for worship in a gym at the Handke, and God is here. Soon we will return to our homes and schools and places of work, and we will be able to say, “God is here.” As the reality of this truth lands on us, our souls will indeed begin to glow within us and something of the holiness of all of life will begin to rise up within us.

But how are we to progress from being people who assent to truth to being people who experience the manifest presence of God? Tozer answers that we must simply and persistently cultivate within our lives what he calls “spiritual receptivity.” Reflecting on those saints who were well acquainted with the presence of God, he writes, “I shall say simply that they had spiritual awareness and that they went on to cultivate it until it became the biggest thing in their lives…They developed the life-long habit of spiritual response” (67).

As with everything in life, we will reap only what we sow. If we sow to the flesh we will reap corruption but if we sow to the Spirit we will reap eternal life, and we know that eternal life is knowing God, experiencing communion with God in Christ (Gal 6:8; John 17:3). Therefore, may we persistently sow into a life of communion with him who is truly life, and may we come to know the glory—truly to know the glory—of the truth: “Wherever we are, God is here.”

Seeking him who is here with you,

Pastor Charlie

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In Times of Trouble, Ponder & Pray

This morning as I was spending time with the Lord, I read Psalm 143 and though the entire Psalm moved my heart verses 5-6 in particular jumped out at me.

David is in some kind of trouble. It seems that he's been defeated by his enemies (vv. 3, 9), that he's in a "dark place" (vv. 3-4), and that he's therefore crying out to God. He writes in vv. 5-6, "I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land."

Several things jump out at me. First, in his distress, David disciplined himself to look to the past and remember all that God had done. Since he was such a lover of the Word, I take this to mean that he pondered the works of God as preserved in the Torah. Since he walked with God day by day, I take this to mean that he pondered all the things God had accomplished in his own life and times. Whatever the substance of his meditations were, the point is that in a time of trouble David responded by pondering the past works of God.

This set him up for the next step, namely, prayer and longing after God. Having pressed himself to ponder the works of God, David now stretched out his hands and called out to God, asking him, no doubt, to act now in the present moment. I can just hear him saying, "O God, I remember the many mighty works you have done, and now I ask you to act on my behalf for the glory of your name. And, Lord, not only do I call on you to act but I want you to know that I long for YOU. Yes, I want your help but mainly I want YOU. You are my treasure, you are my hope, you are my help."

Certainly David longed for God to answer his prayer but the prayer within the prayer was that he would know and have God himself all the more.

This train of thought really touched my heart this morning and I learned that in times of trouble the believing soul ought to ponder and prayer, remembering the works that God has done and pleading that he would add to them. And above all, the cry of the soul ought to be, "Oh God, I long and thirst for you regardless of how you respond to my pleas for mercy.

May the Lord be ever near to you this day,

Thursday, September 09, 2010

A Mighty Longing for God

Here's an article I just wrote for our church's weekly newsletter.

As I shared last week, lately I have been re-reading a classic work by A. W. Tozer called The Pursuit of God (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1982). Tozer’s passion in this book is to ignite a passion in God’s people to pursue God himself rather than mere knowledge about God. In his zeal he sometimes overstates his case, that is, he inadvertently minimizes the role of biblical truth, but on the whole he presents a very balanced and moving case.

Tozer is passionate about God and he simply wants others to share this passion with him. He wants the slumbering body of Christ to arise and behold the glory of her Lord and enter into deep communion with him.

“The modern scientist has lost God amid the wonders of His world; we Christians are in real danger of losing God amid the wonders of His Word. We have almost forgotten that God is a person and, as such, can be cultivated as any person can. It is inherent in personality to be able to know other personalities, but full knowledge of one person by another cannot be achieved in one encounter. It is only after long and loving mental intercourse that the full possibilities of both can be explored” (13).

Thus, Tozer writes “deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God” (17). He is not so much interested in the religious externals of this pursuit, that is, precisely what a person does to go hard after God, rather, he’s more concerned with focusing our attention on the fact that God himself is the point of the pursuit. It is only when we long for God himself with a great passion that the religious externals take on meaning and the fruit of the Spirit is born in and through our lives.

“When religion has had its last word, there is little that we need other than God himself. The evil habit of seeking God-and effectively prevents us from finding God in full revelation. In the and lies our great woe. If we omit the and we shall soon find God, and in Him we shall find that for which we have all our lives been secretly longing” (18).

At a few points I wish Tozer would have stated his case somewhat differently but I must say that I could not agree more about the case he is making. How I long to have a “mighty longing for God,” one which totally consumes everything else in my life. I pray that you too will long for this kind of longing, and that together we will seek after and, by grace, “find God.”

Longing for a mighty longing with you,

Pastor Charlie

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Longing for the Sweetness of God

It's been a long time since I posted anything to my blog. Sometime life just gets so busy and I must let go of all that can be let go, and this blog has been one of those things. But alas, I think I can make the time now to post something here and there which I hope will bless those who read it. Here is a little article I wrote for our church newsletter last week.

Earlier this week I began re-reading a classic work by A. W. Tozer called The Pursuit of God (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1982). Although the self-educated Tozer penned many works in his life, Pursuit is probably the most beloved of them all not in the least because he literally wrote it on his knees. The book was born in prayer, it smells of the aroma of God, and it will fan into flame the affections of every eager soul who hungers after God.

I first read Pursuit when I was in college and it is no exaggeration to say that the wisdom in this book gave shape to the entirety of my preparation for ministry. And central to that wisdom is the idea that the pursuit of God is about experiencing God himself and not only apprehending truth about him. Consider, for example, this passage from the preface:

“Sound biblical exposition is an imperative must in the Church of the Living God. Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of that term. But exposition may be carried on in such a way as to leave the hearers devoid of any true spiritual nourishment whatever. For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth. The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts” (10).

Oh how I love that last phrase and how I long to “taste and know the inner sweetness of God” deep within my soul. Oh how I long for God to be so attractive to me that all my passions are directed toward him. Oh how I long to be so consumed with desire for God that all other things take their proper place in my life and the “things of this world grow strangely dim.”

Do you long for God like this? Do you want to long for him like this? Whatever your answer pray and ask God to help you and in his own time and way he will hear you. To know God is indeed sweet, even if sometimes piercing, and I pray that we as a church will long for God above all other things, comprehending the truth with more depth of insight and experiencing God himself with more intensity of emotion.

Longing for the sweetness of God with you,
Pastor Charlie