Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Wise Person

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).  I read a powerful thought this morning in Richard Sibbes’ comments on 2 Corinthians 4:11: “We who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”  There are no wiser thoughts in this world than judging rightly the condition of earthly things, and the condition of our own hearts in relation to them.  Wisdom is seeing the vanity of this world, and our own mortality.  We are “earthen vessels”, our mortal bodies are subject to decay and death.  The wise person is always keeps in mind the fleeting nature of this life.  This wisdom will keep us from setting our affections on things that will not last long.  It is the foolishness of youth to put so much emphasis on the appearance of the body.  If we have wisdom, the “life of Jesus” will be seen in us.  People should see something very different and very compelling in Christians. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Holy Spirit’s Help in Prayer

“And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).  This is one of the most fascinating and provocative verses in all of the Bible.  A great deal could be said, and a great deal has been written, concerning it. Thomas Manton’s perspective on this passage in Romans inspired a few thoughts I would like to share.  Manton said that the fundamental teaching here is that the Holy Spirit directs and orders our prayers so that they will be in harmony with our ultimate purpose, which is to glorify and enjoy God.  I think that is a good framework from which to approach this passage.  It is our natural tendency to focus our prayers on all the things we desire God to do for us.  Our prayers tend to cleave to the things of this world.  The many things our bodies need everyday often crowd out concern for our souls.  If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that too often in prayer we try to employ God as a servant of our worldly desires.  In many situations we simply do not know what is best for us or for others.  What should we pray for?  What would best serve their highest interests?  Now the Holy Spirit intercedes in our prayers, directing them with respect to God’s will, His glory and our eternal good.    

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Spiritual Strength and God’s Word

“I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one” (1 John 2:14).  The distinguishing characteristic which is singled out for special consideration here is the spiritual strength of these Christians.  This is the strength that comes from God’s grace; strength to overcome temptations, to govern our passions and affections in the fear of God, to do the things which He commands.  Proverbs 16;32 gives us some indication of how greatly this excels outward physical strength: “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit , than he who captures a city.”  By grace there is sufficient power for the Christian to perform all spiritual duties.  This strength enables us to bear afflictions with patience, to resist temptations successfully, and to cheerfully do God’s will.  We see in this passage what we find throughout Scripture—that spiritual strength comes from God’s word.  The two are always intimately connected in the Bible.  The believer who is strong is the one on whom the word has made a deep impression.  Laziness is the neglect of God’s word and this enabling grace.         

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Governing Our Affections

Jonathan Edwards wrote a famous treatise on the essence of Christianity, entitled The Religious Affections.  It deals with the heart of a Christian’s relationship with God.  The great Puritan preacher Richard Sibbes addressed the same subject a century earlier.  It is so fundamentally important, and yet is often neglected today.  I recently read Sibbes’ thoughts on this subject in one of his sermons.  He said that the Christian religion is especially seen in our lives in moderating our affections.  Biblical religion purges our affections from the evil that is in them.  A large part of spiritual growth has to do with moderating our sorrow and our joy over earthly things.  The mature Christian can show the power of religion both in restraining grief in the midst of suffering and managing prosperous times without living for the things of this world.  Sibbes said Christian maturity is seen in knowing how to grieve well and how to rejoice well, and that we should ask God to give us the grace to govern our affections.  The Christian who has learned this has learned the purpose of religion.    

Monday, September 20, 2010

Revived by God’s Word

“I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have revived me” (Psalms 119:93).  Whatever our difficulty or condition might be, there is enough comfort in God’s word to support us.  If His word dwells richly in our souls, it will keep our faith strong and vigorous.  But God’s word is the only source for that kind of spiritual strength.  Why only God’s word?  Because it contains the knowledge and promises that meet our specific needs.  It is filled with the serious considerations and arguments that nourish faith.  It is the only source of knowledge that has the glorious authority of God behind it, and can therefore persuade us that His commands are reasonable.  If this wonderful revelation from God cannot move our hearts, what can?  The Holy Spirit delights to use the word as His instrument to influence us and transform us. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Delight in Every Duty

“I shall delight in Your statutes, I shall not forget Your words” (Psalms 119:16).  The Christian duties that God requires of us each day are meant to be done with delight.  Reading and hearing God’s word should refresh us; it should be our recreation.  The true character of a Christian will be manifested in recreation as well as in business, in simple daily activities as much as in religious ones.  If we were as we should be, free from the influence of sin, reading the Bible and contemplating spiritual things would be immense pleasure to us.  If we love something, it is because we have found joy in the object that we love.  Delight in God sets all of our other affections in order.  Our highest desire and delight should be reserved for God.  All of the earthly things He has created are to be used in serving Him.  We have liberty to enjoy earthly things, but excess is forbidden.  If we delight in creation more than in God, our desire for Him will degenerate, our capacity to love Him will decay.  The wonderful affections God has endowed us with, such as love, joy, fear, reverence, etc., are intended to enable us to enjoy and serve Him with everything that is in us.    

Friday, September 17, 2010

The True Riches

“I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches” (Psalms 119:14).  The Bible teaches that the true riches in life are the gracious favor of God, genuine knowledge of God, and faith.  A rich person is one who is emptied of self and filled with God.  Why are such spiritual things the true riches?  True riches are what makes a person more valuable; they are what imparts an intrinsic worth to a person, which material wealth cannot do.  Do we judge the value of a horse by the richness of its saddle?  People, made by God as reasonable creatures, should be valued for something higher than the size of their bank accounts.  True riches are what makes us valuable in the esteem of God, who is best able to judge.  True riches are what can support us in our darkest hours.  When death approaches, and we are stripped of all other comforts, the exploits of our favorite football team will be meaningless.   

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Prime Act of Grace

“I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches” (Psalms 119:14). Every autumn we see how excited and enthusiastic people become about football. Are we fans or fanatics? The Christian should display that degree of passion over God and His word. The fact that we do not is a measure of how deranged our affections have become because of sin. A heart that has experienced the power of God’s grace will rejoice more in the way of His word than in all riches. Our affections should be in harmony with the true worth of things. Objects of great value should have more of our hearts than those of less value. The prime act of grace is seeing and choosing God as our highest good. The more grace works to change our affections, the more will our desires and passions move away from created things to God. Things that once commanded our full interest and were so important to us will lose their attraction. Grace will turn our affections to the most noble objects, to things that are truly worthy of all that is in us.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

All for God

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:31).  “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17).  What God requires of us in these verses is staggering!  And utterly beyond our own ability.  The life of faith extends to every part of our lives.  Our every thought and action must be directed by our religion, by our relationship to God.  Christians are not left to their own resources in anything.  In everything we do, we must look to Christ’s command, looking for His help, aiming at His glory.  Other people should see God’s grace at work in our lives.  Those who live by faith will not try to make God serve their desires.  They will seek to please Him, whatever their present condition may be.  

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sorrow in Suffering

“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful” (Hebrews 12:11).  Trusting God in afflictions does not make those afflictions painless.  The effect of faith is patience in suffering; it does not make suffering enjoyable.  Faith enlightens the mind, so that we can rightly judge the outcome of suffering.  If we judge God’s care and love for us by how we feel in the midst of affliction, we will conclude that He has no concern for us.  Faith concludes that God is good and loving because it judges afflictions by the outcome, by the ultimate purpose of them.  Faith is necessary so that we look beyond the present pain to the blessed outcome.    

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Providence in Our History

“I shall remember the deeds of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work, and muse on Your deeds” (Psalm 77:11-12). John Flavel counseled us to think often about what God has done for us throughout our lives. It was his conviction that a great deal of the pleasure of the Christian life is experienced in recognizing God’s providence in our personal history. He wrote: “There is not such a pleasant history for you to read in all the world as the history of your own lives, if you would but sit down and record from the beginning what God has been to you, and done for you; what signal manifestations of His mercy, faithfulness and love there have been in all the conditions you have passed through. If your hearts do not melt before you have gone half through that history, they are hard hearts indeed.” What a great way to express his thought—“If your hearts do not melt, they are hard indeed!” We should labor with all diligence to have faith, to see God’s sovereign hand working in mercy all the days of our lives. What a difference this will make in how we view our present duties! We should endeavor to see God in everything.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Mystery of Providence—2

It was John Flavel’s contention that “It would not be worth living in a world devoid of God and providence.”  In support of that statement, Flavel wrote: “In heaven, how delightful a sight it will be to behold the whole design of providence that we could not understand in this world!  All the dark, intricate, and puzzling providences at which we sometimes stumbled, and which we could not reconcile with the promises, and which we so unjustly condemned and bitterly bewailed as if they had fallen out against our happiness; we shall then be able to understand them.  A soul may now enjoy sweet communion with God in his providences.”  Our earthly view of God’s sovereign providence, even with all the difficulties it presents us, has an abundance of sweetness in it.  Flavel said it was “a little heaven on earth, a highway of walking with God in this world.”  If we ignore or reject the biblical teaching on this subject, we cut ourselves off from one of the greatest sources of comfort the Scripture offers us.  We should view it as a great mercy.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Mystery of Providence

John Flavel wrote a wonderful book, The Mystery of Providence, to show how God works all things for His own glory and the good of His people.  It was first published in 1678, and is probably the finest work on this subject.  In the next few days I’ll share with you what has made it one of my favorite books.  The subject itself is provocative, and yet so encouraging.  Flavel wrote: “It is a great support and solace to the saints in all their distresses, that there is a wise Spirit setting all the wheels of providence in motion.  He governs the most irregular creatures and their most destructive designs to a blessed and happy outcome.  It would not be worth living in a world devoid of God and providence.”  That last sentence is amazing!  It is worthy of a few hours of serious thought alone!  Read it again: “It would not be worth living in a world devoid of God and providence.”  A world that was not fashioned by an intelligent creator has no purpose.  There is no meaning to our lives in a universe ruled by blind chance.  We should be so thankful that God does govern His creation with a good purpose, and that He has revealed that purpose to us.  Flavel held that, “All the issues of providence are beneficial to the saints.  How cheering, supporting, and encouraging is the consideration of these things!  What life and hope it inspires in our hearts and prayers when great pressures lie upon us!”  More tomorrow, God willing. 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

“Oh how I love your law!” (Psalm 119:97)

Oh how I love this verse!  Many verses in many parts  of Scripture resound with expressions of the believer’s passion for God’s word.  If we don’t have that love in our hearts, how do we get it?  If we must admit that we take no great pleasure in spiritual things, what are we to do?  Faith can transform our hearts, so that God’s word is no longer foreign to us, but natural and delightful.  David is set before us as a great example of one who loves the word of God.  He was not some special saint far above the ordinary Christian.  His horrible failures make that painfully evident.  Yet his love for God was genuine, and the exercises of his heart in faith are beautifully portrayed for us in his many psalms.  What is said of him in Scripture can be, and should increasingly be, true of us.  David found delight in serving God.  He loved the commandments of God more than gold.  They were sweeter to him than honey.  He often rose in the middle of the night to contemplate the wonders of God.  Faith gave him strength in all of the troubles he endured.  The sins of this “man after God’s own heart” had calamitous consequences, but the grace of God overcame them all.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Nothing Stronger Than a Humble Heart

Humility is an indispensable virtue in the life of a Christian.  Many people conceive of humility only as weakness.  The last thing they want is to be perceived as weak in character.  To them, humble Christians are spineless.    But the reality is exactly the opposite.  The Bible teaches that humility is the foundation of a relationship with God.  Those who are humble see their need of something outside of themselves.  The humble have learned to depend on God and His unlimited resources for their every need. There is nothing stronger than a humble heart.   Paul said, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”  How can that be?  “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  Do not let the world’s twisted ideas of Christianity determine how you relate to God.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ask, Seek, Knock

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9).  Some of Richard Sibbes’ thoughts on this great promise are really good: “If we pray, this is always sure: ‘If we ask, we shall receive.’  The Lord has said it; it is so, it must be so.  Consider how God has been faithful in past times.  If once he has heard you in mercy, he will hear you always.  Fathers on earth care for their children, how much more pity, love, and mercy may we expect from our heavenly Father?  Our great God has planted this affection in earthly parents as a type and picture of his own great love.”  Whatever our condition, we will find Him exceedingly merciful.  Whatever we might wonder about such a promise, we cannot doubt the love behind it.  It was good to read Sibbes’ straightforward assertion: “The Lord has said it; it is so, it must be so.”

Thursday, September 2, 2010


I was gripped by a thought from Richard Sibbes this morning, that comes from his comment on two verse:  “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33), and “Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8).  Sibbes said that you cannot put things in their proper priority unless you know your overall purpose in life.  We must know why we are here, why we have been created, to put everything in our lives in their proper order.  Things that are closer to our highest end, that are needed to fulfill the purpose of our existence, will be given a higher priority.  We must seek God first each day, and then other things will fall into place.  That is a tremendous thought!  In Sibbes’ words. “Our care should be so to use the world that we may not lose Christ, or communion with him in better things; so to look to things temporal, as that we lose not things eternal.”  “One thing I desire”, said David; “One thing is necessary”, said Christ;  “One thing I do”, said Paul.  Does it not just put us to shame, how often we let lesser things command our full attention?!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

God’s Glory, Our Happiness

One of the greatest manifestations of the wisdom of God in the way He saves and works in the lives of people is that what glorifies Him brings us happiness.  He has brought these two things together.  It has often been commented on, but it never loses its wonder to the humble heart.  Our greatest desire—to be happy—will be fulfilled in seeking to honor God in all that we do.  Richard Sibbes said this: “What a sweetness is this in God, that in seeking our own good we should glorify Him. Therefore let us dedicate ourselves and services to God, for happy are they that can lose themselves in God, and be swallowed up in the love of Christ.  For time will come, if we belong to Christ, in which we shall lament for spending our time in pursuit of our own vanities.”