Starting 2019 like this . . .


Almost always mildly satisfied with my prayer life, I often turn to someone for encouragement. Tim Keller wrote his book, “Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God” (published in 2014), and this is my first book to read this year because I want to do better at praying and having a devotion with Cheryl. For our devotions this year, we’ll use the Keller’s, “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs.”  

Do not admire me for what appears to be a strong spiritual walk with God. Hardly! I struggle with the same ups-and-downs as any believer does with prayer and devotion with a spouse. But if this post encourages you to do better, then mission accomplished.

Might I give you a quote to help you as it did me; Tim begins his book on prayer like this:

“In the second half of my adult life, I discovered prayer. I had to. In the fall of 1999, I taught a Bible study course on the Psalms. It became clear to me that I was barely scratching the surface of what the Bible commanded and promised regarding prayer. Then came the dark weeks in New York after 9/11, when our whole city sank into a kind of corporate clinical depression, even as it rallied. For my family the shadow was intensified as my wife, Kathy, struggled with the effects of Crohn’s disease. Finally, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. At one point during all this, my wife urged me to do something with her we had never been able to muster the self-discipline to do regularly. She asked me to pray with her every night. Every night. She used an illustration that crystallized her feelings very well. As we remember it, she said something like this:

Imagine you were diagnosed with such a lethal condition that the doctor told you that you would die within hours unless you took a particular medicine – a pill every night before going to sleep. Imagine that you were told that you could never miss it or you would die. Would you forget? Would you not get around to it some nights? No – it would be so crucial that you wouldn’t forget, you would never miss. Well, if we don’t pray together to God, we’re not going to make it because of all we are facing. I’m certainly not. We have to pray, we can’t let it just slip our minds.”

Tim then says,

“Maybe it was the power of the illustration, maybe it was just the right moment, maybe it was the Spirit of God. Or, most likely of all, it was the Spirit of God using the moment and the clarity of the metaphor. For both of us the penny dropped; we realized the seriousness of the issue, and we admitted that anything that was truly a nonnegotiable necessity was something we could do. That was more than twelve years ago, and Kathy and I can’t remember missing a single evening of praying together, at least by phone, even when we’ve been apart in different hemispheres. Kathy’s jolting challenge, along with my own growing conviction that I just didn’t get prayer, led me into a search. I wanted a far better personal life. I began to read widely and experiment in prayer. As I looked around, I quickly came to see that I was not alone” (pgs. 9-10).

And neither are you. May the Lord be your joyful pursuit this New Year!

Our Monday Morning Prayer, 9-10-18

Image result for valley of vision puritan prayersFrom time to time we use The Valley of Vision: Puritan Prayers & Devotions for corporate worship. It was compiled and put together for the church to use these prayers from the puritans who lived in the 17 and 18oo’s. This one is titled, “Love”. Join me this morning for prayer:

Lord Jesus,

Give me to love thee, to embrace thee,

though I once took lust and sin in my arms.

Thou didst love me before I loved thee,

an enemy, a sinner, a loathsome worm.

Thou didst own me when I disclaimed myself;

Thou dost love me as a son,

and weep over me as over Jerusalem.

Love brought thee from heaven to earth,

from earth to the cross,

from the cross to the grave.

Love caused thee to be weary, hungry, tempted, scorned, scourged, buffeted, spat upon, crucified, and pierced.

Love led thee to bow thy head in death.

My salvation is the point where perfect created love

and the most perfect uncreated love meet together;

for thou dost welcome me,

not like Joseph and his brothers, loving and sorrowing, but loving and rejoicing.

This love is not intermittent, cold, changeable;

it does not cease or abate for all my enmity.

Holiness is a spark from thy love

kindled to a flame in my heart by thy Spirit,

and so it ever turns to the place, from which it comes.

Let me see thy love everywhere, not only in the cross, but in the fellowship of believers and in the world around me. When I feel the warmth of the sun may I praise thee who art the Sun of righteousness with healing power. When I feel the tender rain may I think of the gospel showers that water my soul.

When I walk by the river side may I praise thee

for that stream that makes the eternal city glad,

and washes white my robes

that I may have the right to the tree of life.

Thy infinite love is a mystery of mysteries,

and my eternal rest lies in the eternal enjoyment of it.

We ask God for Wisdom because . . .

The reason why James does not say, “If any of you lack wisdom, read your bible,” is because the bible does not reveal all there is to know about God and about how to do life. Simply put, the bible does not have all the answers. This does not mean that it is inadequate or insufficient. It just means that there is more to know than what the bible provides. Besides, the bible was not meant to have a cookie-cutter answer for every possible circumstance – that was not God’s aim in giving us his inspired word.

Proof: how many of you will turn to “Thus Saith Google” in the next 7 days, attempting to put real facts and figures together so that you can make a wise decision? Why not condemn research altogether and just read your bible? And why not just google what we need to know instead of asking God?

At this moment, I’m having a very, very smart man do something for me – and he’s worth every penny I’m going to pay him. He does not know the Lord, and could not tell you where Genesis is in the bible. And the knowledge that he has in a particular area – there is not a whisper of it in the bible. But . . . it is wisdom that says to me, “Ivan, you’re as dumb as a hammer in this area. You should seek out a reputable source of knowledge so that this pressing issue does not blow up in your face.”

Let’s put this all together:

1. Smarts is not the same thing as Wisdom. Know-How is not the same thing as Know-When and Know-Why. My hired friend has know-how. But I needed the Lord’s wisdom to know that. I needed the Lord to help me through this as I had to vet out good sources of help from the bad sources.

2. If you are not asking God for wisdom in how to persevere through a pressing issue, you are robbing yourself of one of the means of successful Christian living. It’s actually arrogance and pride in the heart that believes you can navigate your trials without asking God for on-the-spot wisdom. What hubris does it take to go throughout your life, saying to yourself, “I’ll go to this place, for this purpose, for this amount of time, to accomplish this outcome” (James 4:13-17) – without any feeling of inadequacy of knowledge, and without any acknowledgement that the Lord is sovereign over one’s life? As one reader commented to me on this subject,

“The trials of life that James mentions in 1:2 are a means that God uses to show us our inadequacy in dealing with our earthly struggles – thus driving us to prayer and asking God for His Wisdom to live appropriately and persevere in any circumstance.”

yes, yes!

3. Read James again from this angle: His entire letter is the application of Scripture. It is not enough for James to quote a few verses here and there, he actually practices what he preaches. He’s providing godly wisdom on how to negotiate the application of faith that really works itself out in every day circumstances. So much so, that he challenges the false assumption that if you say you have the faith that saves, but not the every day practical and wise works of perseverance that follow faith, then you are deceived: you don’t have the faith that actually saves you from sin.

This is a good place to conclude:

I need daily-living wisdom from God so that as I read his Word, hear sound advice from those within the faith (Prov. 15:22) and those without (Matt. 5:45), I can make some sense out of the presses and stresses that are refining my faith (James 1:2-4). My God is much bigger than the Word that he gave me. This does not diminish the authority of his Word, but points me to the Author of what is written.

For Healthy Discussion: Why didn’t James say, “If any of you lack wisdom, read your bible”?

As quoted from James 1:5, consider the context and the aim of his letter and with as few words as possible, answer the title question as best as you can. I’ll put all the various answers on the next post and then provide commentary. This is a very important subject that I’m sure will raise some healthy and encouraging discussion. You may email me with your answer at if you prefer.



Praying & Waiting for Healing

Sickness and disease in the body tells us that there is something wrong with the world we live in. We do not accept our brokenness as normal – we fight back against the perennial deterioration of the body and mind; we will even apply cream to fight wrinkles! Clearly, we do not go silently. And we will do what might seem absurd: We will pray for healing. But not like your evening news anchor who invokes the sentimental, “they are in our thoughts and prayers,” as a tag at the end of a sad story. No, we will pray to a real person who hears and answers prayer according to what is not only best for us, but what is the best way to display his grace and mercy in our lives.

As our family and friends wait for news this day on whether the radiation had some success in treating my father’s liver cancer, I want to be encouraged by answering my own questions:

To whom did I pray over the past months? I prayed to the one who created me and sent his son to rescue me from my sins and the consequences of my sins:

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples mad by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything . . . he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man who he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:24-25, 31). “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us . . . creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption . . . we ourselves, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies . . . the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:18, 21, 23, 26).

What is prayer? It is the yearning of the soul that speaks to him who made us. “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being . . . to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph. 3:14-16, 19-21)

What can I expect? I may expect one of three things when praying for healing:

1. Healing without medicinal intervention. Jesus may heal outright with a command that reverses the effects and consequences of living in a fallen, sinful world (Luke 5:17-26; Acts 5:12-16).

2. Healing with medicinal intervention. Jesus may use the things of the earth to signify that healing often comes by means (John 9:1-7; 1 Timothy 5:23).

3. Healing that comes after death, but not until then (2 Cor. 12:9-11). Jesus promises to make all things new for those who love him. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Which means that for those who know the Lord, the answer is emphatically, “you will be healed of all your diseases.” It’s just a matter of time!

Is this real and how do I know?

1. It is an inherent desire among humans to be rid of all sickness and death. Let Darwin die with his lie that weakness leading to death is a “natural part of the evolutionary process of producing a stronger race.” Fiddlesticks!

2. People are healed and are healing all around us. If you think this is just coincidence, you should consider the stunning odds that more of us are not in the hospital or dead, considering the massive amount of ways the body can just shut down and die at any moment. The one who holds the universe in his hands is holding your breath this very moment.

3. Because there is on record, with full disclosure and eye-witnesses who gave their lives to say so, that Jesus was crucified, buried, and on the third day rose again from the grave. Since this is true, the one who is in Christ can mock death and all that threatens death: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law (meaning, the consequence of loving sin over Christ is the penalty of death. But Jesus died a sinless man and therefore his Father acquitted all who love his son, freeing them from the law’s penalty), but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54b-57).

Now what?

I wait with hope in God!



Praying is Like Giving Birth to a Baby

Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), Works, VII:242-246

Lord, Teach Us To Pray – Luke 11:1

“To pray properly is not any easy matter. To pour out your heart and soul before God, to believe he hears and will come to help you; to pray in faith and to wrestle with him; to strive for a blessing and hope against hope; being delayed, yet waiting for him until he comes; this is exceeding hard to be done. Our natural corruptions hinder us with dullness and hardness of heart. Guilt gives stabs to our prayers and hinders assurance. Our ignorance of the nature and methods of God hinders us from praying properly. We have a false image of God, and view him more like one of us, and not as one filling heaven and earth with his majesty and glory. Though he is so good to us, our prayers are weak and cold. We view delays as denials, our faith wavers and we are discouraged and give up. The difficulty of the things we pray for also hinder our prayers.

Satan always labors to oppose our prayers. He knows that if our faith does not take hold of God, then God will not lay hold on us. He strikes us at this vital point: our seeking God. He fills our hearts with cares, temptations or discouraging thoughts of God to keep us from prayer. If we continue, he seeks to persuade us to despair that our prayers are even heard, and that God does not love us. It is one of the hardest tasks in the world to pray with faith and feeling. If you find stops and failings, do not be discouraged; you realize how hard a thing it is.

Do not be discouraged as you walk with a heavy load that you must sit down once in a while to rest. If you keep trying, your striving and endeavours shall bring you through at last. The bringing forth of a prayer is much like the bearing of a child. There is much pain, anguish and sorrow, but when the child is born there is much joy. If in prayer you are troubled, realize the outcome will be for your good.”