Every day, for many years together, he used to be up by three in the mornings, or sooner, and to be with God (which was his dear delight) when others slept…

friends_meetingSo said John Howe in his funeral sermon about Richard Fairclough, Rector of Mells (1647-1662).  I can’t help but wonder what those early mornings looked like for Fairclough, a somewhat unknown Puritan voice.  How did he approach the Bible?  How did he pray for his own heart, family, congregation, and community?

I also wonder how those early morning investments shaped Fairclough as a man and pastor.  Thankfully Howe’s funeral sermon gives some indication of the fruit that likely showed up because of Fairclough’s sustained abiding in Christ.

1. Fruit on Sunday mornings.  O how hath that congregation wont to melt under his holy fervours!  His prayers, sermons, and other ministerial performances had a strange pungency, quickness and authority with them; that softness, gentleness, sweetness…; that one would think it scarce possible to resist the spirit and power wherewith he spake.

2.  Fruit during the week.  He also found time, not only to visit the sick (which opportunities he caught at with great eagerness) but also, in a continual course, all the families within his charge; and personally to converse with every one that was capable, laboring to understand the present state of their souls, and applying himself to them in instructions, reproofs, admonitions, exhortations and encouragements, suitable thereto…

3.  Fruit of joy and devotion.  He went through all with the greatest facility and pleasure imaginable; his whole heart was in his work. 

4.  Fruit of discernment.  [He] was a man of a clear, distinct understanding, of a very quick, discerning, and penetrating judgment, that would on a sudden … strike through knotty difficulties into the inward center of truth with such a felicity that things seem’d to offer themselves to him which are wont to cost others a troublesome search.

5. Fruit in his church.  [His congregation] became much enlightened, knowing, judicious, reformed…religious people.  

May we too take great delight in daily communion with God – for our good, the edification of the church, and the spread of the gospel!

Quotes taken from A Quest for Godliness by J.I. Packer (pp 44-45).

For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:13

Keep in mind that Paul here is speaking to mainly Christians, or those who think themselves as Christians.  We could paraphrase this verse like this:  Those who don’t regularly fight and kill sin aren’t real Christians.  They will experience spiritual death, now and in the next age.  But real Christians consistently fight and kill sin by the Spirit’s power.  They will experience eternal life, now and in the next age.

Reflecting on this verse the Puritan John Owen said “be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”  Indeed, there are only two options with regards to sin.

sinAs I examine my own heart, I’m tempted to opt for an imaginary third option.  Sometimes I nurture the perspective that sin ought to be managed but not killed.  It’s impossible to kill the sin of lust.  It’s impossible to kill the sin of pride.  It’s impossible to kill the sin of selfishness.  So as long as I don’t let these get out of hand – as long as I make some progress, occasionally – I’m good-to-go.  And if I don’t make progress, I’m ok because of the Cross.  I’m under grace after all.  Whew!   

This a dangerous perspective.  Believing that we ought to control our sins instead of killing them leads to countless problems, including spiritual inoculation and lethargy, ineffectiveness in the ministry etc. Most importantly it grieves our Heavenly Father.  Yes, we may not be prodigal sons, throwing ourselves into all kinds of gratuitous sins.  Still our Enemy relishes the fact that he has incapacitated us with complacency.

Besides this, hiding behind the Cross and managing sin doesn’t make sense of Paul’s teaching in Romans 6:1-23 and 8:13.  We are commanded to kill sin because we are new creations in Christ.   The power of sin has been broken.  Christians are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6:15-23).  Will we choose to step away from our former chains and live in freedom?  Or will we choose to live the shackled life, even though the manacles have been smashed by Christ?

Now of course I’m not saying that we can achieve perfection this side of heaven.  But making real, lasting progress against particular sins is not only possible but necessary for Christians.  Therefore, Christians need to nurture a new perspective regarding sin.  Christians must think of the sins they are presently fighting with their death in view.

Some questions I am wrestling with that I commend to you…

  1. What specific sins am I presently fighting with their death in view?
  2. How will I draw strength from the Spirit to fight and kill these sins today and this week?
  3. How will I strategically kill these sins today and this week?  Keep in mind the progression of temptation and sin in James 1:14-15.
  4. How can I lean on other Christians to help me fight and kill these sins today and this week?

A Responsive Prayer

Father, even though I know you and love you, there are heaps of sins I have not put to death.  Forgive me.  Give me eyes to see your magnificent holiness and my subsequent unholiness.  Give me eyes to see my sin for what it is – a rupture in my relationship with you and a rupture in my relationship with others.  Help me go to war today with my sins.  Grant me the Spirit-wrought resources to fight sin today, so that I may enjoy my new life in Christ.  Help me believe that true life is not found anywhere else except in unencumbered fellowship with You.  Amen.

“Abide in me, and I in you….  Jn 15:3

PrayingLifeOver the last few years, God has been teaching me an important lesson: deep, daily communion with God is vital for faithfulness and fruitfulness.  Several weeks ago I had the privilege of guest preaching on John 15:1-11, where Jesus exhorts his disciples to abide in Him for fruitful living.

What exactly does abiding in Christ look like?  Maybe our answers would begin with quiet times, meal-time prayers, and family devotions – all important, and all expressions of abiding in Christ.  But I don’t think we’ve gotten deep enough yet.  Abiding in Christ is something all-encompassing and all-consuming.  Thankfully Paul Miller, in his book A Praying Life, goes deep and fills in some gaps for us.  He offers five characteristics of what he calls a praying life (Miller’s quotes in italics below)…

1. The praying life is interconnected with all of life.

We don’t learn to pray in isolation from the rest of our lives.  For example, the more I love our youngest daughter, Emily, the more I pray for her.  The reverse is true as well; the more I learn how to pray for her, the more I love her.  Nor is faith isolated from prayer.  The more my faith grows, the bolder my prayers get for Jill.  Then, the more my prayers for her are answered, the more my faith grows.  Likewise, if I suffer, I learn how to pray.  As I learn how to pray, I learn how to endure suffering. 

2.  The praying life becomes aware of the story.

If God is sovereign, then he is in control of all the details of my life.  If he is loving, then he is going to be shaping the details of my life for my good.  If he is all-wise, then he’s not going to do everything I want because I don’t know what I need.  If he is patient, then he is going to take time to do all this.  When we put all these things together – God’s sovereignty, love, wisdom, and patience – we have a Divine story.  People often talk about prayer as if it is disconnected from what God is doing in their lives.  But we are actors in his drama, listening for our lines, quieting our hearts so we can hear the voice of the Playwright. 

3.  The praying life gives birth to hope.

If God is composing a story with our lives, then our lives are no longer static.  We aren’t paralyzed by life; we can hope.  Many Christians give in to a quiet cynicism that leaves us unknowingly paralyzed.  Many Christians haven’t stopped believing in God; we have just become functional deists, living with God at a distance.  We view the world as a box with clearly defined edges.  But as we learn to pray well, we’ll discover that this is my Father’s world.  Because my Father controls everything, I can ask, and He will listen and act.  Since I am his child, change is possible – and hope is born. 

4.  The praying life becomes integrated.

The quest for a contemplative life can actually be self-absorbed, focused on my quiet and me.  If we love people and have the power to help, then we are going to be busy.  Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offer us a less busy heart.  In the midst of outer busyness we can develop an inner quiet.  Because we are less hectic on the inside, we have a greater capacity to love…and thus to be busy, which in turn drives us even more into a life of prayer. 

5.  The praying life reveals the heart. 

As you develop your relationship with your heavenly Father, you’ll change.  You’ll discover nests of cynicism, pride, and self-will in your heart.  You will be unmasked.  None of us likes being exposed.  We have an allergic reaction to dependency, but this is the state of the heart most necessary for a praying life.  A needy heart is a praying heart.  Dependency is the heartbeat of prayer.  So when it starts getting uncomfortable, don’t pull back from God.  He is just starting to work.  Be patient. 

A responsive prayer

Father,

Too often I pray for the wrong reasons.  Like the hypocrites, I pray to get attention from others.  Like the pagans, I babble thinking that somehow I could manipulate you into doing what I want.  Forgive me.  I forget that this world is about You and the story You are writing.  I lose a sense of our Father-child relationship.  Teach me to pray to You as my Father and Lord.  Help me to approach you in light of the gospel: as I am, with my whole being, and with great reverence.  Amen.

PrayingLifeSome staff and elders at SSBC are reading Paul Miller’s A Praying Life in January.  Almost everyone I know who has read this book says it’s one of the best resources on prayer.  This is good timing for our church, as our theme for the year is drawing closer to God through prayer and drawing closer to one another.  This is also good timing for me, as I want a richer fellowship with God and more fruitful intercessory ministry.

I hope to post some reflections here as I read.  I probably won’t edit these much – just some raw thoughts from my inner track.  Here is my first entry…


Why is Prayer Hard?

My prayer life isn’t great.  I’ve seen bursts of enthusiasm and depth in my communion with God.  But sometimes it is more perfunctory than enjoyable, more rushed than restful.  And I am so easily distracted!  The cares and worries of my day enter in and short-circuit the connection I have with God.  The pressures of work and home responsibilities crowd out the desire to be still and know God.  So I end up bouncing back and forth between focused time of fellowship and distracting, unhelpful worry over daily tasks.  My 30 minutes of prayer end up being 10 minutes of real prayer and 20 minutes of who-knows-what.  This chaotic way of communicating to my Father is awful frustrating.  Miller writes…

American culture is probably the hardest place in the world to learn to pray.  We are so busy that when we slow down to pray, we find it uncomfortable.  We prize accomplishments, production.  But prayer is nothing but talking to God.  It feels useless, as if we are wasting time.  Every bone in our bodies scream, “Get to work.”  (15)

Yup.  Amen. Right on.  Why does prayer sometimes feel like I’m wasting time?  Why is it hard for me to linger in God’s presence?  As a Pastor-Elder at SSBC, I am called primarily to two things:  the ministry of the Word and the ministry of Prayer (Acts 6:1-7).  Why do I sometimes view Word ministry as more important than prayer ministry?  More from Miller…

A praying life feels like our family mealtimes because prayer is all about relationship.  It’s intimate and hints at eternity.  We don’t think about communication or words but about whom we are talking with.  Prayer is simply the medium through which we experience and connect to God.  Oddly enough, many people struggle to learn how to pray because they are focusing on praying, not on God.  Making prayer the center is like making conversation the center of family mealtimes.  In prayer, focusing on conversation is like trying to drive while looking at the windshield instead of through it.  It freezes us, making us unsure where to go.  Conversation is only the vehicle through which we experience one another.  Consequently, prayer is not the center of this book.  Getting to know a person, God, is the center.  (20)

A Responsive Prayer

Father,

Forgive me for not approaching you as my caring Father when I pray.  Teach me to pray, Father.  Teach me to rest in You, to depend on You, and to know You through prayer.  Like a young child with a parent, help me today to pause and enjoy unhurried conversation with You.  Amen.