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Psalm 143 sermon

Psalm 143

TEXT

POWERPOINT

AUDIO

…The Book of Psalms is Jesus’ prayer journal. But don’t worry, He’s very happy for us to be reading His prayer journal. It’s not confidential. We’re meant to own these prayers ourselves and the Spirit helps us to pray Jesus’s prayers to the Father.

This is such a relief. Because, just speaking for myself, I’m very bad at praying. And when I feel desperate and faint and spiritually thirsty, I’m just no good at articulating that, whether before God or anyone else for that matter.

So, how wonderful to know that Jesus has felt those things Himself. He knows what it is to be flat on His face in desperation, sweating blood, overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. He knows about betrayal and loss and excruciating pain. He knows about the valley of the shadow of death. He knows how it feels to be utterly ashamed, utterly alone, utterly godforsaken.  God the Son knows ALL these feelings.

More than this, He knows how to pray through them. And here are those prayers. What a relief! Because we’re terrible at praying. Yet Jesus prays for us. And then He says, “Why don’t you join in? Why don’t you pray my prayers? I’ll give you my Spirit to help you, and now you pray to God like I pray to God. I call God “Abba, Father”, why don’t you call God what I call God? And why don’t you pray to God what I pray to God? I’ll even give you a whole prayer book of 150 prayers – they cover EVERY situation. So use my prayers, the Spirit will help you and my Father will hear you.”…

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Levy

Steve Levy on Ephesians 6:19-20; Ezekiel 37

If you preach, please listen, and pray.

If you listen to preaching, please listen, and pray.

If you know someone who preaches, please pass it on.

So they can listen. And pray.

I firmly believe that evangelicalism would be revolutionized if we had a true theology of preaching. This sermon both models and exhorts us towards that kind of proclamation. And prayer.

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It’s happened three times in the last three weeks, so let me give you a composite account of the conversations…

— [Embarrassed biting of lip] Umm… I know I should know the answer to this… And I feel really silly for bringing it up.  I realise it’s, like, really basic… but it’s been bugging me for ages now:  How do I Have A Relationship With God?

— What do you mean?

— Well I know it’s not about rules.  I keep hearing that Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.  Well, ok.  But how do I Have A Relationship With God?  It sounds so stupid that I should ask that.  I know this is Christianity 101.  It makes me wonder whether I’m even a Christian.  But when people talk about “having a relationship with God”, I kinda know what they mean.  But I’m not sure I have what they’re talking about.  What are they talking about?

— To be honest, I don’t really know what they’re talking about.  And I wonder if they know what they’re talking about.

Yes, that’s really how I’ve been answering this question.  Really.

Which will make you wonder whether I’m even a Christian.  I mean honestly, who could possibly be against having a relationship with God??

Well I’m not against enjoying the gift of relationship with God.  But I’m dead set against definitions of Christianity that throw the spotlight on me and my relationship with God.  That might sound like a trivial difference.  Actually it’s all the difference in the world.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the living God – a personal God – I hear Him in His word, I speak to Him in prayer.  I enjoy fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Honest, I do.  It’s great.  All a wonderful gift that’s mine in Jesus.  Fantastic.

But if I have to “have a relationship with God” then I’m stuffed.  Seriously.  I’m hell-fodder if ‘relationship with God’ is up to me.

Let’s put the exact same truth in slightly different terms and you’ll see what I mean:  I love the law. It describes the good life of loving God and loving neighbour.  Brilliant.  And I have performed good works which the Father has prepared in advance for me to walk in (Ephesians 2:10).  And that’s been a lot of fun.  Yay law.  Yay works.  Yay.  But if I ever start talking about ‘the heart of Christianity’ as ‘me obeying the law’ then let me be accursed!  If I ever say “People get the wrong idea about Christianity, it’s not about ancient rituals, it’s actually all about legal obedience” – you’ll instantly realize my error.  Well, it’s just the same when you say “It’s not about being religious, it’s about Having A Relationship With God.”

And you’ll say – No, Glen, you’ve got it backwards.  Religion is about rules – yuck.  But Christianity is a totally different thing.  It’s all about relationship.  It’s not the same thing at all!

To which I’ll say – Really?

Really??

I understand that the essence of Christianity is not my outward works (so far, so good) – but then I’m commonly told that it’s about the quality of my inner devotional life towards God.  Do you see what’s happened?  We’ve come to a different swamp, but we’re still sunk.  We’re still lost in ‘works righteousness’, it’s just there’s a different flavour to the ‘works’.  Before it was all about outward, ritualistic hoops.  Now I’m being told it’s all about inward, pietistic hoops.

Well Hallelujah!  Don’t you feel the chains just falling off you?  Rejoice, you don’t have to perform physical acts, only mental and spiritual ones! Is that the freedom the gospel brings?

No, it’s just a different kind of slavery.  And in some ways, it’s an even deeper slavery.  That’s why Christians, furtively, secretly, wonder to themselves (and sometimes they wonder it aloud to visiting Christian speakers) What is this Relationship With God I keep being told to manufacture?  And why is it spoken of as liberating when all I feel is condemned by it??

Because, seriously, who on earth can have “a relationship with God”?  Where would you even begin?

Look at the person in that photo at the top. Are you like them? Can you do what they’re doing?

And if you could manage it, what, precisely, would be the point of Jesus?  Do we really need “the One Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus”?  Is He actually crucial to our Christianity?  Or perhaps He just gets us in the door and then leaves us to get on with the main work of Christianity: having a relationship with God?  Is that it?

No! The priesthood of Jesus is absolutely vital to understand. And this is what I’ve told my questioners when they’ve asked. The good news is this: We, by nature, are sunk in self and sin and have no chance of a relationship with God. But Christ is our Mediator who became Man for us, who lived our life for us, died our death for us and rose again to the Father’s right hand for us. He now lives to intercede for us, carrying us on His heart the way Aaron carried the sons of Israel on his (Exodus 28:29).

Jesus is the true David – the true Man after God’s own heart. Now, by the Spirit, I am swept up into Him – carried on His heart while He enjoys the ultimate heart-to-heart. I am included in the true God-Man relationship – not because of any devotional aptitude or inclination on my part. It is a sheer gift of grace given freely in Jesus.

I have a relationship with God. The good news is that it’s not my own relationship, which would be as fickle as my feelings. No the relationship I have with God is Christ’s relationship with God.

Some don’t like this way of speaking.  They think it diminishes a warm and personal walk with God. The opposite is the case. To know that I have Christ’s relationship with the Father is where my personal walk begins. Secure in Jesus I can enjoy my status as a child of God. I can even join in with the Spirit’s constant prayer: “Abba, Father.” But none of this is a relationship I must manufacture. It’s the grace in which – FACT – I now stand through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:1-2).

So this is what I said to my questioners. Don’t look within, trying to find a relationship with God. You won’t find it in you. Look to Christ – your Mediator, Advocate, Intercessor and Priest. He is your relationship with God. To the degree that you know you’re on His heart, you’ll feel Him in yours.

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Previously I’ve blurted out some thoughts on memorialist sex and memorialist preaching.

In both (as with memorialist communion) there is an unhelpful divorce between the physical act and an internal realm: where ‘the action’ really happens.

In sex it leads to a proliferation of fantasy sex (porn) and/or a growing uncomfortability with the physical act.  The mechanics of sex put us off and we retreat into remembrances of the real thing.  All the while, the pressure for sex to be “mind-blowing” makes actual love-making less and less likely.

In preaching it leads to sermons that offer the raw materials of gospel proclamation but there’s no belief in the ‘real presence’ of Christ ‘in, with and under’ the preacher’s words.  Preaching does not hand over Christ, it merely calls truths to mind and leaves the congregation to piece it together in their own internal worlds.

Here’s another area, ripe for the divorce between physical acts and the real meaning: prayer.  Let me ask you some questions:

How do you feel about prayer beads?  Why?

Do you close your eyes when you pray? Why?

Do you pray silently? Why?

There is an explicit reference to silent prayer in the bible.  Hannah came to the temple to pray for a child:

Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli [the Priest] took her to be a drunken woman.  (1 Samuel 1:13)

The High Priest thought only a drunk would pray silently!  He was wrong of course.  But it’s interesting what his expectations were.  And it’s interesting how our expectations have almost completely inverted.  Prayer, for us, is a silent and utterly internal act.  As with communion, as with sex, as with preaching, apparently all the action happens between our ears.

And when we do physically pray (especially with others) we find our prayers are peppered with “Just… really… Lord… hmmmm…. Just…. Just…   LORD…  HMMMM…. Really….”  We know we’re praying but we feel that… really… you know… we should… REALLY… MEAN IT!  We feel that prayer is one thing but the main thing is a “spiritual” frame of mind – one which becomes increasingly difficult to muster.

Are you the same?  When I pray with others I “hmm” along, as is our evangelical wont, I say ‘Amen’ but still I sense a lack of emotional intensity in my soul. So I attach a silent addendum to the prayer-time: “Lord, Really. I meant that one. Please.  Mmm.”  Is it just me?

I’m tempted to think that the act of praying is one thing, but on top of that there’s a pressure.  A pressure to really mean my prayers.  And so I leave prayer meetings with furrowed brows and sage nods and an intangible fear that I wasn’t ‘engaged’ enough.  Perhaps – Oh dear – I was just ‘going through the motions.’

But I wonder whether I’m labouring under a pretty serious misapprehension.  Maybe I’m imagining that my prayers themselves establish a connection between myself and the Father.  Perhaps I’ve been duped into thinking my prayers must make the journey to the throne of grace.  In which case, they’d better be good!  They better be sent up with a fair bit of impetus.  What kind of thrust do rockets need to escape the earth’s gravitational pull?  Well surely I need to match that intensity – emotionally speaking!

But what if my prayers don’t travel to the throne of grace.  What if Christ has already made that journey?  What if I’m not shouting up to heaven.  What if I’m at the Father’s right hand – whispering in His ear?  What if my prayers go, not in my name, but in Jesus’ name?  What if their efficacy is not determined by my heart towards God, but Christ’s heart?  What if the Spirit is Himself praying within me (Gal 4:6)?  What if I genuinely have the Father’s ear before and apart from any of my “prayer-righteousness”?

Then I can just pray.  I can take the focus off my internal world, and simply speak to my heavenly Father.  Of course, as I do that, I might just find myself “really meaning” my prayers.  Great!  When you understand the real presence of Christ in the Supper, you’re free to commune with Him in your heart.  When you understand the real connection which sex brings, you’re free to commune with each other in a personal way.  When you understand the real presence of Christ in the sermon, you’re free to receive Him powerfully in your pew.  But it’s got to start with the reality.

Prayer really connects with God – not because you really connect with God but because Christ does.  Prayer really works, but it works apart from any of your fickle feelings.  So, speak to your Father and rest your confidence, not on your own heart, but on Christ’s.

So the High Priest shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD.  (Exodus 28:29)

 

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Happy Friday

Prayer in cinema.  Illuminating…

 

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Sometimes I use the Valley of Vision prayers like a starter motor for my own prayer life.  (Some of them are here).

This morning I was praying through Consecration and Worship.  It reminded me of a lot of the issues I tried to raise with my ‘Christ our Substitute‘ video.  Here’s the prayer.  Note the ending especially:

My God, I feel it is heaven to please Thee, and to be what Thou wouldst have me be. O that I were holy as Thou art holy, pure as Christ is pure, perfect as Thy Spirit is perfect! These, I feel, are the best commands in Thy Book, and shall I break them? must I break them? am I under such a necessity as long as I live here?

Woe, woe is me that I am a sinner, that I grieve this blessed God, who is infinite in goodness and grace! O if He would punish me for my sins, it would not would my heart so deep to offend Him; But though I sin continually, He continually repeats His kindness to me.

At times I feel I could bear any suffering, but how can I dishonour this glorious God? What shall I do to glorify and worship this best of beings? O that I could consecrate my soul and body to His service, without restraint, for ever! O that I could give myself up to Him, so as never more to attempt to be my own! or have any will or affections that are not perfectly conformed to His will and His love! But, alas, I cannot live and not sin.

O may angels glorify Him incessantly, and, if possible, prostrate themselves lower before the blessed King of heaven! I long to bear a part with them in ceaseless praise; but when I have done all I can to eternity I shall not be able to offer more than a small fraction of the homage that the glorious God deserves. Give me a heart full of divine, heavenly love.

I can pray this prayer with heartfelt devotion.  I empathise completely with the sense of inadequacy from which it springs.  But I always feel a little odd about it.  As though the Father will be forever short-changed.  As though angels and men will do their best into eternity but it won’t be enough.  I mainly feel odd because Christ our High Priest – i.e. our Worshipper! – is not being credited with a job well done.  So, I think I’d like to rework it:

I confess Father that I do not consecrate my soul and body to Thy service and I grieve over my dry and sullied devotion.  Indeed Father, I cannot consecrate myself as I might, as I would, as I ought.  Woe, Woe is me that I am a sinner.  Therefore I look again to Thy Son – given up to Thee, without restraint and without ceasing; every will and affection perfectly conformed to Thy will and love.  I look to Jesus, the heavenly Worshipper, the Director of music, the eternal High Priest.

O may Christ glorify Thee incessantly.  He who stooped to depths far deeper than men or angels have trod; He who has paid homage at infinite cost; He whose blood speaks a better word than all creation ever could; He who is full beyond measure with Thy Spirit of truth and of glory and grace; He who was born and baptised, who was raised and appointed to be Thy Priest and mine – may He offer my praise.   And will you accept mine from Him – my Amen a faint but hearty echo from below.  I thank Thee and bless Thee for Thy perfect rest in Christ, confident of a full share in that homage that echoes into eternity with ceaseless praise.

.

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A prayer of Martin Luther’s:

“O Lord, deliver me from Christian churches with nothing but Christian saints in them. I want to remain in and be part of a church which is a little flock of faint-hearted people, weak people, who know and feel their sin, their poverty, their misery, and they believe in the forgiveness of God.”

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In Jesus’ name [repost]

Jesus prayingWhat does it mean to pray in Jesus’ name?

Here’s Jesus Himself using the phrase ‘in my name’:

Many will come in my name, saying ‘I am He’ and will lead many astray.  (Mark 13:6)

This is a very strong understanding of ‘in my name’.  Here to act “in Jesus’ name” is to act as Jesus and to appear to others as Jesus.

Well now – Jesus Himself asks you to pray to the Father ‘in His name’ (John 14:13,14; 15:16; 16:23).  So when you come to the Father, come as Jesus.  Come as son, come as christ (anointed one).  Call on God Most High with Jesus’ own cry – ‘Abba, Father’ (Mark 14:36 <=> Gal 4:6).  By the Spirit, you are so identified with the Son in prayer that you pray as Jesus.  And the Father hears you as His very own Beloved.

Jesus does not point the way to prayer, nor simply blaze a trail and ask you to follow along.  He incorporates you into Himself in His own self-offering to the Father.  As you pray you are not outside the Trinity.  But neither are you a fourth member of the Trinity.  You are in Christ, filled with the  Spirit of adoption, calling on your Abba, Father.

That’s prayer “in Jesus’ name.”  But of course we do all of life – whether in word or deed – “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).  We don’t only approach the Father “clothed in Christ”, we approach the world “clothed in Christ.”  That’s our true identity.  More true than any phony masks we wear.

I say this stuff with glib assurance but as I write I realise I have no idea of the magnitude of Christ’s mediation both to God but also the world!

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This was first published on Emma’s site.  If you haven’t already, go and subscribe.  Best blog ever!

How much thought do you give to the Priesthood of Jesus?  It seems to me to be a much neglected teaching.  But it’s absolutely crucial, especially when thinking about mental illness.

What’s it all about?  Well here’s Job, Paul and the writer to the Hebrews…

“Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend.”  (Job 16:18-20)

“Christ Jesus… is also interceding for us.”  (Romans 8:34)

“Jesus is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”  (Hebrews 7:25)

According to the bible we have a Friend in high places.  And He’s praying for us.  Continually.

I remember speaking at a prayer meeting and beginning with these words “You’re all late to prayers.”  One person who’d only just stolen in at the back spoke up sheepishly, “Sorry I had car trouble…”  I said, “You’re not the only one late.  I was late.  Everyone was late.  We are all always late to prayers.  Before we ever think to pray, Jesus has already been offering up to the Father the perfect prayer, the perfect obedience, the perfect worship, the perfect love.  He has been doing it in our place and on our behalf.  And He always will.  Any prayers we pray are just the Amen to His perfect prayer.”

In other words, Jesus is our Priest.  And He will continue to be our Priest forever. Our whole lives are offered up to the Father perfectly by Jesus, no matter where we are or what we are doing.

That’s crucial when dealing with depression or with any kind of dark time.  When it seems impossible to pray, when I don’t even want to pray, Jesus is praying for me.  When my heart is as hard as nails towards God, Jesus is the true Man after God’s heart.  When my internal world is completely chaotic, Jesus is my peace.  And He always lives to intercede for me.  My status before God is not me – it’s Him!

Therefore when times are hard and my heart’s a mess, my hope is not in sorting myself out.  My hope is not in me rising above it all.  My hope is seated far above my stormy circumstances and He is immovably secure.

Emma and I have a friend who wrote to us with a letter addressed to God.  It was full of mixed emotions – wanting to serve God yet feeling completely unworthy.  On the one hand she had great love for God but on the other, terrible anger and feelings of distance and loneliness.  It was an unresolved tension throughout her prayer.  Extremely presumptuously, I wrote a reply to her as Jesus.  It was His Priesthood that I really wanted to communicate.  Here’s what I wrote (in Jesus’ name):

Dear Lucy,

I hear you.  I know you.  I’m for you.

In the midst of your darkness and pain and in the midst of your sin I hear you, I know you and I’m for you.
I have you on my heart before the Father and I pray for you.  Constantly.  However you feel and however you rebel, you are secure before the throne of God.  I’ve got you.

I offer to God the perfect praise, the perfect sacrifice, the perfect obedience, in your name and on your behalf.

You are more than forgiven Lucy.  Your sins have been covered, cleansed and removed as far as the east is from the west.  My work on the cross was complete.  There’s nothing between you and God now.  Only me.  And I am keeping you together.  I will do that forever – I will never leave you or forsake you.

When you feel unable to pray – I am praying for you.
When you feel far from God – I am lifting you to Him.
When you wallow in the darkness – I’ve got you in the light.
When you sin – I am bearing the wounds of your forgiveness.
When you cut – I am robing you in righteousness and love.

I am yours forever,
Jesus

Cheesy I know.  But it’s the Priesthood of Christ that lifts us out of ourselves and allows us to take our eyes off our own stuck-ness.  Even if we don’t feel it, that’s ok.  It’s true.  Far above and beyond our own hearts it is true.  So then, let’s allow ourselves to be told the truth:

Before the throne of God above,
I have a strong, a perfect Plea,
A Great High Priest Whose name is love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.

.

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Audio Here

What does true prayer look like?  Let me give you a picture of true prayer.

I’ll read out from Luke chapter 11, you imagine the scene in your mind’s eye:

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

And Jesus teaches them the Lord’s Prayer.  Luke 11 is Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, but Luke gives us that extra detail.  It all begins’ with Jesus’ prayer life.

He is the Ultimate Pray-er.  From before the world began Jesus has been communing with the Father in the power of the Spirit.  Between Jesus and the Father there has always been a word-full, joy-full heart to heart.  And now Jesus has come into the world and has come INTO our human life.  And He carries on the conversation.  He’s still talking to God, but He’s talking to God as one of us.  Jesus has earthed the Prayer Life of God into our Human Existence.  And He carries on the conversation.

There He is praying on the mountaintop – God the Son who has become God our Brother – and He’s praying “My Father, My Father, My Father”.  In fact it’s more intimate than that.  We know from Mark chapter 14, verse 36 that He calls God, “Abba, Father.”  Last week Tony talked to you about the intimacy of the word Abba, meaning Father or Daddy.  It’s a beautiful term of intimacy and respect.  “Abba, Father”

God the Son comes into our humanity and as a Man – as our Brother – He continues calling God “Daddy.”

The disciples see it from a distance and they want in on it. “Lord teach us to pray.”

And, wonder of wonders, Jesus replies – let’s see it in our passage, Matthew 6, verse 9:

“This then is how you should pray “Our Father…”

Glory!  We get to call God Most High, what Jesus does.

Not because I’m good.  I’m wicked.  Not because I’m religious.  I’m not.  Not because I’m a prayer-warrior.  I’m anything but.

How do I get to call God Father?  God the Son became my Brother, He took me to Himself and brought me home.  Now I am IN on the eternal prayer-life of God.

And this revolutionizes our prayers.

So often we feel we have to yell our prayers up to a silent heaven.  Jesus says, “Come on in, Come in to the heart of heaven.  Come in my name.  In Me you are as close to God as I am.  You don’t have to yell up to heaven.  You can whisper in His ear and call Him ‘Father’”

(more…)

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Today was my last official 1662 Book of Common Prayer communion service as curate.  Aside from the prayer of humble access, this is the prayer I really love from the service.  It’s said after receiving communion and saying the Lord’s prayer:

ALMIGHTY and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee, for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us, who have duly received these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favour and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs through hope of thy everlasting kingdom, by the merits of the most precious death and passion of thy dear Son. And we most humbly beseech thee , O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen

What is communion according to this prayer?

1) The Father feeding us with Christ,

2) Assuring us of His favour and goodness towards us, namely…

3) That we are members of Christ, and…

4) We are heirs of the kingdom

5)  All through the death of Christ

.

Now what?

1) Please Father, helps us to continue in communion with Christ

3) And that we walk in the good works you’ve prepared for us.

.

Glory!

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Sermon Audio

Do you ever worry that you’re not a proper Christian?  Do you fear you might not be a child of God after all?

Do you ever struggle to pray?

Do you worry about friends who are caught in certain sins?

Do you wonder what to do about those who once said they were Christians and now they’re speaking against Christ?

Do you ever find your heart wandering from Christ, and falling for other things?

John is going to address all these questions as he concludes his letter.  And his answer to all these questions is to bring us back to Jesus.  If Jesus is at the heart of our thinking then we’ll be able to handle these question.

(more…)

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From here (ht Rich Owen)

LORD, we would come to Thee, but do Thou come to us. Draw us and we will run after Thee. Blessed Spirit, help our infirmities, for we know not what we should pray for as we ought. Come, Holy Spirit, and give right thoughts and right utterance that we may all be able to pray in the common prayer, the whole company feeling that for each one there is a portion. We are grateful as we remember that if the minister in the sanctuary should not be able to pray for any one of us there is One who bears the names of all His redeemed upon His breast, and upon His shoulder, who will take care with the love of His heart and the power of His hand to maintain the cause of all His own.


Dear Savior, we put ourselves under Thy sacred patronage. Advocate with the Father, plead for us this day, yea, make intercession for the transgressors. We desire to praise the name of the Lord with our whole heart, so many of us as have tasted that the Lord is gracious. Truly Thou hast delivered us from the gulf of dark despair, wherein we wretched sinners lay. Thou hast brought us up also out of the horrible pit and out of the miry clay, Thou hast set our feet upon a rock, and the new song which Thou hast put into our mouths we would not stifle, but we would bless the Lord whose mercy endureth for ever.

We thank Thee, Lord, for the love without beginning which chose us or ever the earth was, for the love without measure which entered into covenant for our redemption, for the love without failure which in due time appeared in the person of Christ and wrought out our redemption, for that love which has never changed, though we have wandered; that love which abideth faithful even when we are unfaithful.


O God, we praise Thee for keeping us till this day, and for the full assurance that Thou wilt never let us go. Some can say, “He restoreth my soul,” they had wandered, wandered sadly, but Thou hast brought them back again.  Bless the Lord, our inmost soul blesses the Lord. Blessed be the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Triune; blessed be the Lord for every office sustained by each divine person, and for the divine blessing which has come streaming down to us through each one of those, condescending titles worn by the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.


We feel like singing all the time; we would take down our harp from the willows, if we had hung it there, and we would waken every string to the sweetest melody of praise unto the Lord our God. Yet, Lord, we cannot close with praise, for we are obliged to come before Thee with humble confession of sin. We are not worthy of the least of all these favors; we cannot say, “He is worthy for whom Thou shouldst do this thing,” nay, but we are altogether unworthy, and Thy gifts are according to the riches of Thy grace, for which again we praise Thee.


Lord, forgive us all our sin. May Thy pardoned ones have a renewed sense of their acceptance in the Beloved. If any cloud has arisen to hide Thee from any believing eye, take that cloud away. If in our march through this world, so full of mire as it is, we have any spot on us, dear Savior, wash our feet with that blessed foot-bath, and then say to us, “Ye are clean every whit.” May we know it so, that there is no condemnation, no separation; sin is removed as to its separating as well as its destroying power, and may we enter into full fellowship with God. May we walk in the light as God is in the light, and have fellowship with Him, while the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin. Let no child of Thine have any dead work upon his conscience, and may our conscience be purged from dead works to serve the living and true God.


And oh! if there are any that after having made the profession of religion have gone astray by any form of sin, Lord, restore them. If they have fallen by strong drink, if they have fallen by unchastity, if they have fallen by dishonesty; if, in any way, they have stained their garments, Oh! that Thy mighty grace might bring them back and put them yet among the children. But give them not up, set them not as Admah, make them not as Zeboim, but let Thy repentings be kindled and Thy bowels of compassion be moved for them, and let them also be moved, and may they return with weeping and with supplication, and find Thee a God ready to pardon.


Furthermore, we ask of Thee, our Father, this day to perfect Thy work within our hearts. We are saved, but we would be saved from sin of every form and degree; from sins that lie within, and we are scarcely aware that they are there. If we have any pride of which we are not conscious, any unbelief of which we are not aware, if there is a clinging to the creature, a form of idolatry which we have not yet perceived, we pray Thee, Lord, to search us as with candles till Thou dost spy out the evil and then put it away. We are not satisfied with pardoned sin, “We pray, create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Help us in our daily life, in our families, in our relations as husbands or wives, parents; or children, masters or servants, in our business transactions with our fellow men, in our dealings with the Church of God, may we be true, upright, pure; kept from the great transgression because we are kept from the minor.


Oh! that we may be such as glorify Christ. Save us, we pray Thee, from the common religion; give us the peculiar grace of a peculiar people. May we abide in Christ, may we live near to God. Let not the frivolities of the world have any power over us whatever. May we be too full grown in grace to be bewitched with the toys which are only becoming in children.


Oh! give us to serve Thee, and especially, and this prayer we have already prayed but we pray it again, make us useful in the salvation of our fellow man. O Lord, have we lived so long in the world and yet are our children unconverted? May we never rest until they are truly saved. Have we been going up and down in business, and are those round about us as yet unaware of our Christian character? Have we never spoken to them the Word of Life? Lord, arouse us to a deep concern for all with whom we come in contact from day to day. Make us all missionaries at home or in the street, or in our workshop, wherever Providence has cast our lot, may we there shine as lights in the world.


Lord, keep us right, true in doctrine, true in experience, true in life, true in word, true in deed. Let us have an intense agony of spirit concerning the many who are going down to the everlasting fire of which our Master spoke. Lord, save them! LORD, SAVE THEM! Stay, we pray Thee, the torrents of sin that run down the streets of London; purge the dead sea of sin, in which so many of the heathen are lying asoak. Oh! that the day were come when the name of Jesus shall be a household word, when everybody knew of His love, and of His death, and of His blood, and of its cleansing power. Lord, save men, gather out the company of the redeemed people; let those whom the Father gave to Christ be brought out from among the ruins of the fall to be His joy and crown. “Let the people praise Thee, O God, yea, let all the people praise Thee.” Let the ends of the earth fear Him who died to save them. Let the whole earth be filled with the glory of God.


This is our great prayer, and we crown it with this: Come, Lord Jesus, come Lord and tarry not. Come in the fullness of Thy power and the splendor of Thy glory! Come quickly, even so come quickly; Lord Jesus.


Amen.

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My friend Paul Hawkins has written a cracker on the altar of incense.  Enjoy!

Read Exodus 30:1-10, 34-38

I wonder how many of us are in something like a prayer triplet, getting together with say two other Christians to pray together?

CAUGHT UP IN THE TRINITY

Exodus 30 is a great chapter on prayer.  We’re in the middle of the tabernacle, this massive multimedia picture of heaven and earth.  And inside the tabernacle were three pieces of furniture described back in Exodus 25.  The ark, symbolising the throne of God the Father. The table of the Presence, symbolising God the Son, present with us.  And the lamp-stand, a picture of God the Holy Spirit, shining to the world.

But there was one other piece of furniture in the tabernacle, only one, which was the altar of incense.  In verses 1-3 we see it was quite small, it was made of wood covered with gold and if we look on to verse 6, Moses is told

“Put the altar in front of the curtain that is before the ark of the Testimony—before the atonement cover that is over the Testimony—where I will meet with you.”

That means it would have stood right in the middle of those other three things, symbolically in the middle of Father, Son and Spirit.

So what’s this altar, and this incense, all about – what’s it a picture of?  Well we’re told in a number of places and one of them is Revelation chapter 8 verse 3, which says an angel

came and stood at the altar.  He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne.”

The prayers of all the saints.  That’s us!  It’s as if the Father the Son and the Spirit are at three corners of a triangle and we and our prayers are right in the middle.  Here’s the original prayer triplet, God himself, and the glorious reality is that if we’re Christians we are surrounded by him.

OUR PRAYERS RISE TO GOD’S THRONE

I don’t know what sort of terms you’re on with Her Majesty the Queen.  If I gave her a call I think I might just struggle to get put through.  But with prayer, it’s not just that we can get through to God if we call him up – if we sort-of throw up a few prayers.  No, we’re in the centre of his life, we’re family, it’s like we’re with the Queen in her living room, and she’s saying, how’s it going – what’s on your mind?

And prayer is how we live out this family life caught up in God.  Look down at verses 7 and 8 – Aaron burned incense (so think: prayers of the saints) every morning and evening, regularly before the Lord.  Verse 9, he didn’t come with a sacrifice or another offering or anything, no just incense, prayer.  Prayer is our expression of the divine life.

THE LAMB’S BLOOD MAKES US WELCOME

So how is it that we can share in God’s life – how come we’re caught up in this divine prayer triplet? Well verse 10 talks about atonement being made with the blood of the atoning sin offering, it says it’s most holy to the Lord.  Isn’t that the heart of the message of the cross, where the Lord God himself, gave his own blood to make us holy.  His passion gives us his life.

And do we see how that means we are very welcome as he brings us into the throne-room of God?  Very welcome.

OUR PRAYERS SMELL SWEET TO GOD

So what does God think of our prayers?  Well what’s this incense like?  Looking on to verse 34 we see – it’s fragrant!

What’s your favourite smell?  I was thinking mine might be fresh raspberries – gorgeous.  Well these spices here have sweet and powerful aromas and as they rise to the Lord they’re verse 37 holy to him, verse 38 they’re enjoyable – no-one’s allowed to copy them for their own enjoyment, no they’re for the Lord’s enjoyment.  So when we pray, God thinks, “… what’s that lovely smell?  Ah, the incense, the prayers of my saints, how wonderful!”

Isn’t that amazing? … Not that there’s anything in us that makes our prayers smell nice – no, it’s because we’re caught up in this sweet fragrant life of God himself – God the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts and prays, for us (Romans 8), he takes our feeble prayers and wraps them up in Jesus.

SO LET’S PRAY

So what do you find hard about prayer?  I mean, we all do, don’t we?  I think for me I too often spend my time worrying, thinking, “how am I gonna cope?” instead of bringing everything to the Lord.  Maybe someone is reading and thinking “my prayers are just so rubbish” or “I’m too bad, surely God can’t accept my prayers.”

No, if we’re in Christ, the wonderful news to grasp is that God the Father is delighted with our prayers.  Next time we smell a lovely fragrant aroma, let’s think to ourselves – “that’s how God thinks of my prayers”.

So let’s pray – how often is prayer the last thing we think of, not the first thing we do – maybe it’s time to join a prayer triplet, let’s take every opportunity to pray.  We’re locked into the life of God, and the immeasurable resources of the Godhead are ready and waiting.

What a friend we have in Jesus.  What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.

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When studying the Lord’s prayer it’s common to think about the character of God that’s assumed in the prayer: i.e. Father, in heaven, holy, etc, etc.

What about the character of the one praying it?

Here are some thoughts:

  • Childlike
  • Reverent
  • Expectant
  • Guileless
  • Obedient
  • No agenda of our own
  • Desperate
  • Dependent for all things
  • Confident of mercy
  • Acknowledging sin
  • Repentant
  • Merciful
  • Having a deep appreciation of grace
  • A follower
  • Hating sin and temptation
  • At war with the evil one
  • Sheltering in the Lord’s deliverance

Three thoughts:

1) I want to be this person.

2) Jesus has made me this person (John 16:23-27)  The Father regards me as this very person, clothed in my Advocate. I not only pray in and through Jesus but with Him.

3) As I pray, resting in the intercession of Jesus, I am increasingly living up to what I’ve already attained in Him.

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Genesis 18:20-33

God is a Haggler.  He wants us to haggle.

What do we feel about that?

Here’s a website offering to take the cringe factor out of your financial exchanges.  Instead of negotiating with a real, live human being, you can simply click a button in the privacy of our own home.

Are you from a haggling culture?

I wonder whether the way we shop and the way we pray are linked.  I’m used to fixed prices, no negotiations, no back and forth, no give and take, in and out in 18 seconds, the less chat the better.  And my prayers?  Are they just as clean and clinical?  Do I know what it is to haggle with God?

Here’s audio from a 10 minute talk for our prayer meeting last night.

Click below for the rest of the text.

(more…)

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From last night’s sermon on Galatians 4:6:

A new year has begun, it’s often a time when we assess our Christian lives and think about how they’re going.  If I were to ask you ‘how is your prayer life going?’ How would you respond?

If you belong to Jesus, you can look me in the eye and tell me ‘My prayer life is unimprovable’.  How’s your prayer life? ‘My prayer life is divine.’

I am clothed in the Son of God and His prayer-life is pretty darned good.  And Galatians 4 verse 6 tells me that the Spirit of the Son is in me.  And what is He doing?  He is praying!

What is He praying?  He is praying the prayer of Jesus to the Father.  ‘Abba, Father’ is Jesus’ own prayer – He prayed it in the Garden of Gethsemane – it’s Jesus’ own prayer “Abba, Father.”  (Mark 14:36)  And the Spirit OF THE SON is praying that prayer from within ME.

I’m not just invited to pray, I am already caught up in the prayer life of God.  The Spirit is already praying Jesus’ perfect prayer IN me and praying it to the Father.

The Spirit is praying from within you right now, ‘Abba, Father, Abba, Father, Abba, Father’ – it’s as constant as your heart-beat.  ‘Abba, Father’ – that is your spiritual pulse.  The Spirit of the Son calling out to your Father from the depth of your being.

And those words ‘Abba, Father’ – they are not just the first line of a prayer.  ‘Abba, Father’ is the essence of prayer.  It is resting like a needy child in the arms of a strong and loving Heavenly Father.

And all our little prayers that we say (when we get around to it) – they are the ‘Amen’ to the Spirit’s continual prayer.  We’re always late to prayers – did you know that?  However early you get up in the morning – the Spirit has been up earlier, and He’s been praying in you.  You join in late and add your own Amen.

And as we go on in the Christian life, the Spirit of the Son will help our little prayers to become more child-like, so that more and more we call out “Daddy” the way He does (Rom 8:15).  And then we stop praying like slaves and start praying like sons.

Every time I forget I’m a son, I start praying like a slave and it kills my prayer life.  I pray like I’m a slave and He’s a slave-master, like I’m a soldier and He’s a commanding officer.  But Jesus didn’t teach us to pray ‘Our Sergeant-Major in Heaven’ or ‘Our Line Manager in Heaven’  – instead: Our Father in Heaven.

We need to be little children in prayer and thankfully the Spirit of the Son makes us exactly that and helps us to pray child-like prayers where we depend on our heavenly Dad.

Our own attempts at praying won’t be very good but, wonderfully, the Spirit takes even our most rubbish efforts at prayer and wraps them up in the Son’s perfect prayer and lifts them the to the Father.

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I’ve been listening to sermons from the web on Luke 14.  It’s Jesus at a banquet.  He heals on the Sabbath, He teaches about refusing the seats of honour, He calls us to invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind to dinner and He speaks of the kingdom as a great feast.  Wonderful stuff.

But do you know, in all the sermons I’ve listened to from the web, what’s been the number one application of Luke 14??  Quiet times!  From both UK and US pastors, the predominant take-home message was ‘make sure you get alone with God every day.’  I’m not going to name names but I listened to some big hitters.  And they preached on the feast.  The feast where Jesus tells us to throw feasts and then speaks of the kingdom as a feast.  And what’s their conclusion: ‘We need to get on our own more!’

??!

Usually the logic was: Don’t take the places of honour => Therefore get humble => Therefore get on your knees => Therefore commit to quiet times.

Now there were two notable exceptions:  John Piper was good.  And so was the Australian (obviously!) Mike Frost.  (Those two aren’t usually positively lumped together but there you are).  But the rest took Luke 14 and boiled it down into some very individualistic applications.

Now I’m all in favour of ensuring that our doing flows from a lively relationship with Christ.  But why does that equate to ‘getting alone with God’??  I mean how do we get from the feast to the prayer closet??  Are conservative evangelicals that afraid of getting our hands dirty in mission, in rubbing shoulders with the poor, crippled, blind and lame?  Are we that individualistic and moralistic?

Anyway…  I do think a healthy relationship with Christ means talking and listening to Him daily.  But why is the quiet time the touch-stone of evangelical spirituality?  Why is it the default application for every sermon?  Why do we reach for the privatized exhortations so readily?

And how many times have I heard Robert Murray McCheyne’s daunting challenge:

What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is and no more.

I mean it’s right to be challenged by that.  But is it true?  And is it right to aim for this as the very model and highpoint of Christian maturity?  What about: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:35)

I dunno.  Bit of a rant really.  What do you think?

Here’s the Luke 14 sermon I ended up preaching.

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