Monday, June 27, 2011

Unanswered Questions About Unanswered Prayers

Yesterday’s sermon provoked some great questions. Thanks of the emails! Many of the questions revolved around people wanting to make sure that the prayers they are praying are the right kind of bold prayers.

One man expressed concern that a bold prayer his family had prayed was in accordance with God’s will. A woman emailed me to ask whether or not one of her prayers could be prayed in a bold manner or if she was being selfish and ungrateful for the things God has already provided her.

Let me provide a few more thoughts that may be helpful as you pray.

1. Mundane issues should provoke extraordinary prayer.

The problem with our prayers isn’t that we’re concerned with the little things in life. The problem is that we fail to see the eternal importance of the little things. Praying for Aunt Mabel’s big toe to heal isn’t wrong. What's wrong is when the focus of the prayer becomes the toe instead of God.

2. God-glorifying motivation is at the heart of God-glorifying bold prayers.

The key—as is so often the case—is to determine what our motives are as we pray. Is our desire our own kingdom or God’s? Mundane prayers are focused on our own glory. Bold prayers begin by glorifying God and praying for the establishment of His eternal kingdom.

3. As we continue to pray, our prayers should become more refined and our wrong motivations filtered out.

After considering the second principle, some might object: “But the problem is that I can pray for a request and justify my motives even if those motives aren’t pure. I can pray for a job promotion and say that it is for God to be more glorified in the workplace, but I’m not sure that’s truly my motives."

Perhaps this is another reason God allows our requests to not be answered right away. The longer we pray, the more pure our prayers should become. God continues to show things in our heart that aren’t right and it allows our soul to be more focused on Him. As the Psalmist prays: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" (Ps. 139:23-24; cf. Ps 19:12).

I told the young woman who was concerned that her prayers might be selfish that what she wanted to pray for was Biblical and just to make sure that her motives were right. She replied that after considering her motives, she had confessed to God that her desire was not His glory but her own ease of life. Continuing in prayer in this area has been a refining process for her, she told me.

May you and I similarly be refined by a loving and generous Heavenly Father.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Jane Austen for Men

File:Jane Austen.jpgOn Sunday morning, a young lady approached me and asked me to defend Jane Austen.  “Will you please tell my dad that it’s manly to like Jane Austen?” she pleaded.

I declined. I didn’t want to look like a wimp.  Which, ironically, is exactly how you'd expect a Jane Austen fan to act.

I felt ashamed of my cowardice later. After all, my love for Jane Austen novels is great.  People assume that my son is named after the capital of Texas, but my love for a certain 19th century author had as much to do with his name as the state from which I hail. And, although we call her Ellie, it is not a coincidence that my daughter Elizabeth Bennett shares the name of the most famous heroine in all of English literature.

In a recent Christianity Today blog post, Gina Dalfonzo argues men should read Jane Austen. Her blog was prompted by the controversy stirred by V.S. Naipaul, who arrogantly pronounced that no woman writer was his literary match. When asked specifically about Jane Austen, Naipaul replied he “couldn’t possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world.” It is a woman’s “sentimentality, the narrow view of the world” that limits her writing, he argued.

Naipaul’s comments surely resonate within the hearts of many men. There is a sense in which literature that deals with romance and the inner-workings of the heart is not “real” and “weighty” and “manly.”

To make amends for my momentary cowardice, allow me to offer a few thoughts regarding why I think it is helpful for men to read Jane Austen.

Jane Austen affirms gender distinctions. Bombarded by a culture that seems unwilling to affirm the truth that men and women are different, Austen offers a welcome reprieve. In her novels, men and women think and feel differently.

Neither are inherently superior. Both are capable of great good and great evil. Both can be silly and petty and vindictive and foolish. Both can be kind and self-sacrificing and generous. But the novels celebrate unique qualities of each gender.

Jane Austen helps men understand women.  I somtimes hear men complain that their wives speak a different language; they simply “don’t understand” them. In Scripture, of course, women are not instructed to understand their husbands. Instead, it is the husband who is tasked to live with his wife in an understanding manner (1 Peter 3:7).

Men, while reading Jane Austen won’t cause you to suddenly fully understand all the emotional intricacies of your wife, it may help you think more clearly about the complicated nature of her thought processes.  Austen will help you understand better human foibles and the necessity for clear communication with others.

Jane Austen increases the value we place upon the home. The drama that fills the pages of an Austen novel only rarely delves into the global affairs of the day. Wars and political mechanizations are relevant only in their affect upon the lives of loved ones. Austen’s myopic scope doesn't triviliaze the home but instead shows that it has equal importance with affairs of state.  The home as an important place, not a place to "escape" for something more grand.

I can still remember the first time I read a Jane Austen novel.  My college schedule had forced me to take a Women's Literature course.  The first novel we were assigned was Pride and Prejudice.  I delayed and delayed reading the first three chapters we were supposed to read until 10 PM the night before the class.  I opened the book and read those famous first lines, full of wit and sarcasm, and was hooked.  I didn't stop reading until the morning, having finished the novel in a single night.

There is nothing feminine about understanding human nature.  It is a manly endeavor and Jane Austen helps us in that pursuit.

Eerily similar to what I experience every Sunday morning...


Whitney's friend and famed blogger put a plug in for the book. Thanks, Amy!


Monday, June 13, 2011

But a Breath...

On Sunday at BCC, we considered how to rightly approach God in prayer. Last night, I read this prayer in Psalm 39:4-5:

“O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!”

What an odd thing to pray.  The psalmist does not pray for improved self-esteem or a greater sense of self worth.  Instead: “Lord, help me remember my smallness and keep me mindful of my frailty.” “Lord, let me be reminded of how short my life will be.”

Without understanding our frailty, our ability to see God rightly is hindered. How can we exalt the Creator if we are consumed with the laborious task of exalting ourselves?

So, my prayer for you and me this week is: “Lord, consume us with a sense of our own insignificance.”

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

John MacArthur's Legacy and Expository Preaching

This past Sunday—June 5, 2011—Pastor John MacArthur accomplished a rather tremendous feat, by God's grace. He completed preaching through the New Testament, an endeavor begun some forty-odd years ago.

In the Christian blogosphere, negative stories get a lot of attention. If an emergent guy sneezes, we take to our blogs and pulpits to discuss the impact on the health of the church. Vigilance is necessary, of course, but it’s sad when important stories fail to receive the attention they deserve.

The reaction to MaArthur’s accomplishment has been surprisingly muted. As of the time I am writing this, I have only seen one announcement on the subject. On Monday morning, a Tweet by Al Mohler simply read:

“Congratulations to my dear friend John MacArthur, who completed a 30 year project of preaching through the New Testament today. Incredible.”

That was it. A Tweet—and one that got the timeline wrong to boot—is all that I’ve seen to commemorate this milestone.

As I think about how God has used John MacArthur, it invigorates me with a renewed passion for expository preaching at our church. The faithful proclamation of His truth through sustained study of it a portion at a time has already yielded spiritual fruit and I am confident it will continue to do so. It encourages me to continue to be faithful to proclaim the whole counsel of God, reproving, rebuking and exhorting with great patience and instruction.

Here is an interview Phil Johnson did with John MacArthur earlier this year in anticipation of what God allowed to come to fruition yesterday:

I hope you find it edifying as well as you consider how God will be faithful to our bear fruit through the preaching and teaching minstry at Bethany Community Church.