3 Things to Remember When You Pray

As I was reading in a morning devotion time in 1 Thessalonians last week, I read a tiny two-word phrase so small that if it were not so profound I could easily pass through without even noticing. Paul closes his letter to the Thessalonians by giving them succinct and specific instructions, most likely to supply what they are lacking in their faith. We all have room to grow, even beloved congregations. Hidden snuggly in this quick-paced list of commands are two that you can easily miss, but once you notice them you will never be the same. Who knew just five words could change a person so much? “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing” (v. 16-17).

These five words make up two whole verses. Whoever divided the Bible into chapters and verses must have realized the gravity of these words. Either that or he just randomly assigned verses and divided chapters. Yeah, the latter is probably true, but the point is, these five words are massively challenging for the Christian. Rejoice always? Pray without ceasing? Spend a little time meditating on these two commands and you will realize just how much you need Jesus.

But it got me thinking. While I’m praying without ceasing, while prayer is a constant attitude in my heart, what should be on my mind? How should I think about prayer? In another of Paul’s letters, I believe he gives us three things to remember when we pray. Philippians 4:6-7 calls us to pray in three ways. When you pray, keep these things on your mind.

[D]o not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

  1. Pray for specific things.

The word “supplication” used in verse 6 refers to an urgent specific plea. There are some people who say they only pray for others; that they do not pray for themselves. This sounds very humble and holy, but it is very biblical and right to pray for specific personal requests. Jesus teaches us to pray this way when he tells us to pray for food and for deliverance from temptation (Matt. 6:11-13). It is good to pray for specific things going on in your life. As a Christian, you are a child of a heavenly Father who desires your good and joy in all things. It is good to ask God to provide for you, your family, and your friends. It is good to ask God to forgive you and protect you. This recognizes that all forms of provision and protection come from God. Be quick to call on God to help you when you worry personally about things in your life.

  1. Pray as you remember God’s goodness.

Notice that Paul tells us to pray “with thanksgiving.” Praying with thanksgiving means remembering all of the good things God has done and is doing. Praying with thanksgiving recognizes that God is not only able to answer your prayers, but he is also willing to answer them according to his goodness and wisdom. This is also encouraging when it comes to the way God answers our prayers. God does not always answer our prayers in the way we want or think he should. Sometimes we ask for things for which we do not understand.

We are like little children asking to eat playdoh. When a child asks this, his parents don’t give him what he asked for, but instead something better. Sometimes God doesn’t give us what we ask, but he gives us something better for us, even if we do not understand it. God does not always answer prayers the way we want. But he answers them according to his perfect goodness and wisdom. The way our prayers are answered is not dependent on how wise or good our prayers are. It is dependent on how wise and good God is. Know that even if there are a lot of bad things happening in your life or the world around you, they are only temporary and the God to whom you pray is eternally wise, good, and powerful.

  1. Pray expecting an answer.

This can be the most exciting and frightening part of prayer. It can be exciting to expect God to answer, because we can be confident that our loving Father gives us good gifts. However, it can also be frightening, because we are unsure of how God will answer our prayers. It can be frightening in another way as well. For example, if you pray for God to use you in any way he wants, you can be sure that he will answer this. But this might mean that he could send you to another country to share the gospel. It could mean that God could send you to have that awkward conversation with your neighbor or coworker about Jesus. Praying for an opportunity to share the gospel may just mean you will get that opportunity.

So we should pray with an expectant heart. We should pray expecting God to answer. He could say “yes,” or he could say, “no.” He could even say, “not yet.” We usually want a “yes” from God, but our Father who is in heaven knows what is best for us. Like a parent who only gives good gifts to his children, God does not answer our prayers based on what we want. This is because sometimes we want things that would not be for our best. When you pray, expect God to answer according to his glorious goodness and grace.

19149367_2014653971893374_3834793165439186257_nMathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.


5 Ways to Pray During Spiritual Battles

prayer11Can you imagine what it would be like to be put in jail for your faith? There are many Christians around the world who are put in jail because they believe in Jesus. Some of them are even killed. Following Jesus costs a lot in some places in the world. But Christians everywhere face spiritual battles on a daily basis.

In order to stand against sin and Satan in your daily spiritual battles, we must pray. In Ephesians 6:18-20, Paul gives us five ways to pray that will help us stand strong in the spiritual battles we fight.  If you are to slay the dragon, you will need constant, Spirit-led, persistent, self-less, and bold prayer in your holster. As you face sin today, fight by wielding prayer in these five ways

1. Pray at all times

We don’t have to be at church to pray. Pray at home, at school, at practice. Pray anywhere and everywhere all the time. Temptations aren’t confined to one particular area, so neither should your prayers.

2. Pray in the Spirit

We are to pray “with all prayer and supplication” in the Spirit. This is a form of worship as our prayers are enabled by the Holy Spirit. We pray in the Spirit because he intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26-27).

3. Pray with toughness

Be tough in your prayers. This is what Paul means when he writes, “keep alert with all perseverance” (v. 18). It is easy to stop praying when God doesn’t answer your prayers the way you want. The kind of prayer that helps you stand against sin and Satan is tough; it doesn’t stop asking.

4. Pray for other Christians

You are not alone in this war. Satan does not just attack you; he attacks all of God’s people. So, it is important for us to come together to fight against him. One way we do this is by praying for each other. Pray for your Christian friends at church to find strength in Christ to fight the enemy.

5. Pray for gospel courage

The last thing we see in this passage is Paul’s request that the Ephesian church pray for him. Even though we shouldn’t pray for Paul, we should pray for what Paul wanted. Paul asked the Ephesians to pray for him to boldly share the gospel. We should pray for this same kind of gospel boldness. Paul didn’t feel hatred toward those who held him as a prisoner. He loved them. He loved them so much he wanted the courage to share the gospel with them. Let’s pray for this love and courage.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

10 Motivating Descriptions of the Greatness of Prayer

Since the beginning of June, I have been studying, thinking, and meditating on Christian prayer. Prayer is one of the most difficult spiritual disciplines to “master,” if you will. Walk up to any random Christian and ask them about their prayer life, and most likely they will be hesitant to discuss it with you. In fact, you may find some Christians who have not truly prayed privately in the last two months. Maybe longer.

Admittedly, I have struggled in my own prayer life. I would love to characterize it as vibrant, joyful, and intimate. But I would be lying. More accurately, my past prayer life would more aptly be described as absent, empty, and lackluster. I would use God when I needed him, placing him on my terms. I was trying to perform a religious rite, rather than experience an intimate relationship.

However, my prayer life has since been transformed. This is partly because I am growing in my knowledge of what prayer actually is. One book that has helped me tremendously is Tim Keller’s, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. In the second chapter (pp. 29-32), Keller beautifully describes prayer without defining it. He makes a lot of “prayer is” statements without defining prayer. His descriptions provided me with greater motivation to pray. Keller gives nine descriptions of prayer based on George Herbert’s beautiful poem called, “Prayer (I).”

1. Prayer is a natural human instinct

2. Prayer is a nourishing friendship

3. Prayer changes those around us

4. Prayer is a journey

5. Prayer helps us endure

6. Prayer means knowing yourself as well as God

7. Prayer changes things

8. Prayer is a refuge

9. Prayer changes us

10. Prayer unites us with God himself

Think through each of these statements and use them to develop a deeper prayer life. The first step in growing closer to God in prayer is meditating on the greatness of prayer. Keller closes by saying, “Prayer is awe, intimacy, struggle—yet the way to reality. There is nothing more important, or harder, or richer, or more life-altering. There is absolutely nothing so great as prayer” (32).

Cultivating a healthy and deep prayer life is one of the hardest things you will do as a Christian. But it is also one of the most meaningful, joyful, and life-changing things you will do as a Chrisitan. But above all, prayer is an absolute necessity—the breath of the Christian life. And it is of infinite greatness—“there is nothing so great as prayer.”

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

The Power of a Praying Mother


My son, Jude Adoniram, is almost one month old. Erica and I have been overwhelmed with joy over the course of this month. There truly is nothing like being his father. I dream for him. I pray for him. I labor for him. Just having Erica and Jude in my life has led me to the Word to ignite my affections for God so that I might lead them in his joy.

I love to watch Erica be a mother. She was made for motherhood. It is one of the most natural things I have ever seen her do. To say that she loves Jude and would do anything for his good is a terrible understatement. She delights in Jude the way she delights in God. Oh, may he learn her passion for the ones she loves. She labors for him like a champion boxer. She absorbs blows in stride, but refuses to wave the white flag. And when she sings to him, oh, I just melt. Her new identity as mother should overwhelm her with stress. But through the stress of a radically changed lifestyle, she has shown that motherhood is greater than individualism. The cause of being a mom is far greater than any individual goal she could accomplish.

Seeing her selflessness causes me to see the face of Christ when I look at her. When she nurses, changes diapers, and loses countless hours of sleep for the sake of our little one, I see the cross. Not just suffering, but selfless sacrifice for the joy of others. And my wife who is now a mother delights in this sacrifice. She finds joy in putting Jude before herself. Are there frustrations? Absolutely. But through the sighs and the cries, this new mother shines with patience and love.

Of all the things that I have enjoyed since Jude’s birth, there is one I have enjoyed the most. I love to see Erica praying over Jude. When he is sleeping, his mother is praying. When he is eating, his mother is praying. When he is playing, his mother is praying. When he is crying, well, we are all praying! This young mother is persistent in her praying.

Is there anything greater than a praying mother? In a passage I have studied all week, we see an example of a persistent praying mother. Jesus enters the region of Tyre and Sidon and is approached by a Gentile (Syrophoenician) woman (Mark 7:24). This woman falls at the feet of Jesus and begs him to exorcise a demon from his daughter (vv. 25-26). Jesus then seems to shut her down by essentially saying that he has come first to the Jews, not the Gentiles. Well, this praying mother is not satisfied to stop now. The persistent praying mother is unstoppable. As Tim Keller says, “There are cowards, there are regular people, there are heroes, and then there are parents. Parents are not really on the spectrum from cowardice to courage because if your child is in jeopardy, you simply do what it takes to save her” (King’s Cross).

It isn’t so much courage that marks her response as it is motherhood. She basically tells Jesus, “Yes, I know the kingdom is for the Jews, but I also know it and you are so great that there is enough in the crumbs of the kingdom for someone like me to enjoy forever.” It is through the mother’s faith, through the mother’s prayer that her child is healed. The praying mother allows nothing and no one to get in her way. Theologian J.C. Ryle reflected on this mother’s faith when he wrote:

The woman who came to our Lord, in the history now before us, must doubtless have been in deep affliction. She saw a beloved child possessed by an unclean spirit. She saw her in a condition in which no teaching could reach the mind, and no medicine could heal the body — a condition only one degree better than death itself. She hears of Jesus, and beseeches him to “cast forth the devil out of her daughter.” She prays for one who could not pray for herself, and never rests till her prayer is granted.

By prayer she obtains the cure which no human means could obtain. Through the prayer of the mother, the daughter is healed. On her own behalf that daughter did not speak a word; but her mother spoke for her to the Lord, and did not speak in vain. Hopeless and desperate as her case appeared, she had a praying mother, and where there is a praying mother there is always hope (Expository Thoughts on Mark).

There is always hope when there is a praying mother. There is tremendous power in a praying mother. Whatever God will do with Jude, I know that all his future acts of faith in Christ will be partly due to the prayers of his loving, selfless, beautiful, and brave mother. Beloved mothers, please don’t stop praying for your children. Through your prayers, they will find healing in Christ.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Thoughts on the National Day of Prayer


Today is National Day of Prayer. At schools, courthouses, and other establishments across the country, people will be gathering to pray for communities, cities, and our nation. I am still unsure how I feel about days of prayer like this. In one sense, community leaders gathering for prayer is a very beautiful and biblical picture of the role of government. It is a recognition of where their authority comes from and to whom their responsibility falls. But in another sense, it has the potential to create many pitfalls, which characterize much of evangelicalism in the South.

However, in the Bible Belt a National Day of Prayer offers a tonic laced with moralistic therapeutic deism. A National Day of Prayer is often presented as evidence that our governmental leaders truly trust God and lead our communities based on God’s will. It fuels the myth that the United States is a theocracy of sorts. Contrary to popular belief, the United States is not the New Israel. The whole ordeal just seems a bit put on, disingenuous, and politically motivated. In the Bible Belt, the National Day of Prayer is code talk for “pray Obama out of office day.”

Christians participating in this event may see it as an example of religious freedom. Events such as this are always seen as the extent of religious freedom. It’s like keeping the Ten Commandments in school, or having prayer in school. When these things are tampered with, Christians cry for religious freedom. But as we are proud of the National Day of Prayer and whine over a framed list of the Decalogue, the rug is being swept from under our feet. Our society is trying to tell us that we are free to worship privately, but as soon as our faith actually impacts the way we live, think, vote, lead, work, and conduct business, we have overstepped the bounds of our religious freedom.

Am I in support of a National Day of Prayer? For what it’s worth, I am in full support of a National Day of Prayer, because of what it shows. If ever asked to participate in such an event, I would comply, so long as it would not cause me to sin. Regardless of the genuineness of those leading such events, the collective recognition of dependence on the divine in civil matters is a good thing. But let’s not fool ourselves. While such a day is one example of religious freedom, it is on the fray.

Religious freedom as granted us by the Constitution extends much further. May we not limit ourselves by finding too much pride in this day. America will not be transformed by a single day of prayer. It will be transformed by God-centered, Jesus-loving people living out their faith on a daily basis.

I am praying for all pastors who are involved in speaking and praying at various locations. Show that all governmental authority comes from above (John 19:11). Communicate the one thing all Democrats, Republicans, and otherwise need–the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ, the one true perfect King. Do this by praying. Pray for our country. Pray for religious liberty. Pray for our leaders, not against them. Pray for justice. What is said will be important, but the picture of bowed heads relinquishing self-dependence will be worth the risk of all pitfalls–I hope.

But let’s be clear. Gathering for prayer on a special day is not some mystical way to awaken Jesus. By virtue of his death and resurrection, Jesus has been crowned rightful King of the universe. He isn’t waiting on our prayers to rule in authority. His sovereignty is dependent on nothing, but his own will. Want a National Day of Prayer? Fine. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking Jesus is only in control on this day. He reigns whether you like it or not. All the time. Forever more.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

What Is the Church Without the Holy Spirit?


At Together for the Gospel this past week, David Platt shook every soul in the KFC Yum! Center in his sermon entitled, “Relentless Wrath: The Role of Desperate Prayer in the Mystery of Divine Providence.” It was a chilling message that stirred every heart to conviction over the degree of prayer in their lives, churches, and ministries. The point Platt drove home convincingly from Exodus 32 was this: “Right doctrine of providence results in relentless prayer. Platt emphasized the truth that God’s eternal plan unfolds through our prayers, so in a real sense, the prayers of the saints can change the world. I was personally broken under the conviction of God on my own prayer life.

I gladly affirm God’s providence over all things, but this is not evident in the way I pray and how often I pray. I am so guilty of emphasizing God’s sovereignty in my writing, preaching, and teaching, but I do not practice what I proclaim. My lack of prayer has demonstrated not only a deficient love for people, but a poor understanding of God’s absolute sovereignty. Some would say that because I hold to such a high view of God’s sovereignty, it only makes sense that I would not pray, since desperate prayer cannot coincide with divine sovereignty. This would be correct if Scripture did not so overwhelmingly disagree with that notion. Prime example: Moses’ prayer in Exodus 32. Moses greatly realized the sovereignty of God and it was the basis of his desperate prayers for God’s mercy on and presence among his people. My prayers have already since become much more desperate and relentless. I pray that they would continue.

In the course of his sermon, Platt challenged every pastor in attendance by asserting that many churches could carry on business as usual without the Holy Spirit. This was an alarming claim. But a true claim, nonetheless. So many of our ministries depend solely on us. When that is the case, we have a real problem. When the ministries of the church, from feeding souls to feeding mouths, become dependent on human agents outside of the power of the Holy Spirit, the church becomes a simple gathering place of self-glorifying sinners. This is usually the result of churches and ministries that are not soaking in the Scripture and supplication. Dependency on the Spirit is realized when their is saturation in the Word and prayer. Oh, and when the church captures this glimpse and vision of dependence on the Spirit of God to empower all ministries and save whom the Father wills, the gathering becomes that of men and women sold out to Christ and his cause for the glory of God in peoples from every tribe and nation. May all of our ministries be products of the work of the Spirit in us. Without the Spirit, there would be no people of God. Without him, salvation is not accomplished, and neither is gospel-centered, God-honoring ministry. For this to be, for the Spirit to be infused in all of our ministries, let us run to our Bibles and fall to our knees in prayer. May we be such a people.

Charles Spurgeon in his work The Greatest Fight in the World: The Final Manifesto writes, “In the pulpit do we really and truly rest upon the aid of the Spirit?” (107). What a challenging question! He further carries this concern for the lack of dependency of ministers and churches on the Holy Spirit in the question, “What is the Church of God without the Holy Ghost?” (109). The short answer is, “nothing.” If you are in the place where you feel your church could continue without the Holy Spirit, I want to point you to what Spurgeon believes the church of God is like without the Spirit. I pray his comparisons lead you to consider just how dependent your church, ministry, and life are on the Holy Spirit:

What is the Church of God without the Holy Ghost? Ask what would the Hermon be without its dew, or Egypt without its Nile? Behold the land of Canaan when the curse of Elias feel upon it, and for three years it felt neither dew nor rain: such would Christendom become without the Spirit. What the valleys would be without their brooks, or the cities without their wells; what the corn-fields would be without the sun, or the vintage without the summer–that would our churches be without the Spirit. As well think of day without light, or life without breath, or heaven without God, as of Christian service without the Holy Spirit. Nothing can supply His place if He be absent: the pastures are a desert, the fruitful fields are a wilderness, Sharon languishes, and Carmel is burned with fire (109-110).

I leave you with this prayer from Spurgeon on the matter and I hope you make it yours:

Blessed Spirit of the Lord, forgive us that we have done Thee such despite, by our forgetfulness of Thee, by our proud self-sufficiency, by resisting Thine influences, and quenching Thy fire! Henceforth work in us according to Thine own excellence. Make our hearts tenderly impressible, and then turn us as wax to the seal, and stamp upon us the image of the Son of God (110).

The Blood-Bought Joy of Prayer

cropped-bbHb-pic2This morning as I sat on the patio enjoying a cup of coffee and the warm light from the sun beaming from the east with no clouds to hide it, I prepared to read from 1 Timothy. I had Shane & Shane – Before The Throne Of God Above (written by Charitie Lees Smith in 1863) playing in the background as I prayed to ask God to bless the reading of his word and to give me the grace to understand and the desire to obey what I read. In the middle of my prayer, I burst out in song as this verse began:

Because the sinless Savior died, 
My sinful soul is counted free; 
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me

Yes, right in the middle of my prayer I lifted my voice in praise of my sinless Savior. Without Jesus satisfying the wrath of God, it would still remain on me (John 3:36). The truth of the gospel and the work of Jesus in it caused me to ponder the joy of prayer. I realized that I can only make this plea to God because my sinless Savior took my punishment, took my shame, took my guilt, so that I may be free to cry in the Spirit, “Abba Father” (Rom. 8:15)!

I stand before the throne of God guiltless, blameless, and free
Because of Christ, the Lamb, who died for me

I wish to expound on the joy of prayer briefly by taking a look at Hebrews 4:14-16.

14Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. — Hebrews 4:14-16

This passage shows us the importance of Christ’s sinlessness and his temptation as well as the basis for our confidence to approach the throne of God in prayer.

Fully Tempted
Jesus Christ was fully tempted. There are many reasons why this is important, but pertinent to our discussion here, his temptation is vital so he can sympathize with us. In other words, the intervention and pleading that Jesus does on our behalf is personal. It is not a general grace, but a personal grace. Our pleas are not only heard, but felt. This goes to the heart of the nature of the God we serve and love and have. He is set apart from all other gods as a transcendent and personal God! This means that prayer is not a super-spiritual rite or performance in order to obtain righteousness. Prayer is instead a means of grace through which we fellowship and commune with an eternal God who not only comforts us in our weaknesses, but can fully identify with them.

Wholly Sinless
Jesus was not only fully tempted, but he was also entirely sinless through all temptation to sin. It is great that Christ can identify with us to a certain level and I am eternally glad and grateful for this. But if we could fully identify with us in sin, this would be detrimental and the end of the Christian faith. We identify with Adam in the sense that we are tempted as he was and we sin as he did (see Genesis 3). However, Christ is the second Adam, the new Man, who was tempted as we are, and as Adam was, but did not sin. Jesus obeyed where Adam did not and where we did not. Adam’s only hope and ours as well is in the perfect righteousness of Christ, which he accomplished through much temptation to sin. As a result of this perfect righteousness, Jesus is the perfect sacrifice, a lamb without blemish, to be condemned in our place. Jesus’ sinlessness means that he is able to take our sin upon himself and by offering himself as this perfect sacrifice, he becomes our great High Priest through whom we approach the throne of God.

Draw Near with Confidence
This passage does not mean that when you pray to God for something to happen, that it automatically will. Paul prayed three times for the thorn in his side to be removed (see 1 Cor. 12:7-9). He prayed through the same Christ and approached the same throne of God with the same confidence that we do, yet the thorn in his flesh remained. His request was denied. Sometimes God may want to demonstrate the power of his grace through your endurance through suffering. He may want to teach you that his grace is sufficient.

However, what is certain is the way for us to receive grace and mercy for our souls and in our lives is to approach God’s throne. We can do so confidently only on the basis of what Christ has done on our behalf. On our own merit, we do not have the right to approach God, for if we did, we would surely die. But with Christ Jesus as our substitute and our great High Priest, we can with full confidence ask God to bless us and to give us grace and mercy in our time of need (Heb. 4:16). The prospect of being turned down by God is not the basis of our confidence. A child does not base his confidence in asking his dad or mom for a gift on the guarantee they will say yes. He is confident in asking his parents for a gift because of the relationship he has with them. So it is with prayer. We should be confident to ask of God anything on the basis of our relationship with him. In short, we can be confident because Christ has restored us to God! We can be confident in prayer because the gospel demands it.

The Nature of Prayer Because of Christ
The significance of Hebrews 4:14-16 is massive. I wish to leave you with three aspects of prayer that I hope will encourage you to pray more and to discover the blood-bought joy of prayer. Prayer is now personal, powerful, and pleasing because of the work of Christ.

1. Prayer is personal because of the Christ through whom we pray who identifies with our temptation and sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). Through him, we personally commune with God our Father.

2. Prayer is powerful because our pleas are heard by an omnipotent God. It is the God who gives sight to the blind and life to the dead who sits on the throne of glory we approach in prayer. But prayer itself from our perspective takes power in the work of Christ in his intervention and pleading on our behalf. It is in Jesus’ name we pray.

3. Prayer is pleasing both to God and us because God desires to give his children good gifts and we desire to be in fellowship with God. We have peace with God because of our justification before him in Christ. And this peace is pregnant with pleasure. So, prayer goes from being a meaningless rite, to a glorious joy-producing means of grace.

Pray in Christ. Pray for joy. God is glorified when you pray this way.

From Singing of Glory to Singing in Glory: George Beverly Shea Dies at 104

GeorgeBeverlySheaPhotoThe evangelical world grieves and weeps with the passing of George Beverly Shea. Shea was the longtime soloist for Billy Graham during his worldwide Crusades, which led to thousands of professions of faith and countless conversions. The booming voice of George Beverly Shea is unmistakable and bone-chilling. Shea had an impeccable and God-given talent to usher men and women into holy worship of a holy God. Though singing is not listed in the Bible as a spiritual gift, it is undoubtable that this man sang Spirit-gifted. According to the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (BGEA), Shea first started singing with Graham on a radio program in Chicago in 1943. Their article on Shea continues,

“Shea has faithfully carried the Gospel in song to every continent and every state in the Union. Graham’s senior by ten years, Shea devotedly preceded the evangelist in song in nearly every Crusade over the span of more than one-half century.”

For over fifty years, Shea accompanied Graham in taking the gospel to our nation and the nations. This active work of obedience to the eternal Word of God and his devotion to his Jesus who he’d “rather have” until the day he died, were Shea’s greatest accomplishments. George Beverly Shea did earn quite a few earthly rewards, though:

  • Ten Grammy nominations
  • 1965 Grammy Award
  • Lifetime Achievement Award by the Grammy Association (2011)
  • Inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame (1978)
  • Inducted into Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame (1996)
  • Inducted into Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists’ “Hall of Faith” (inaugural class 2008)
  • 70 albums recorded

Despite these impressive temporal awards that will nevertheless collect dust and rust away, George Beverly Shea desired Jesus and the treasure that he had to offer–treasure of eternally full joy. Shea sang of glory, and the love and desire for the Jesus he sang of flowed from his deep bellows. Shea sang of glory and demonstrated in song and devotion what it means to desire nothing but Jesus.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:25-26)

For over sixty years, George Beverly Shea sang of the glory of the God of his salvation. He exalted Christ in the Spirit. He faithfully pointed us to a God and Christ who was far more powerful than his deep baritone. And he sent chills up our spines when he bellowed out those first few words of “How Great Thou Art”. Every single time a re-run of a Billy Graham Crusade came on television, my dad would turn up the volume in order to hear those first few words: “O, Lord my God…”

George Beverly Shea will likely go down as the greatest worship leader of the 20th century–and rightly so. He lived his life exalting the glory of God, exulting in the joy of God, and proclaiming the message of God to his nation and the nations. He ran his race. He fought the good fight of the faith. Until his last year on this earth he continued to sing of his Savior and his God. On April 16, 2013, George Beverly Shea stepped into the glory of which he so often sang. He sang of the glory of God in such a way that attested to his intimate knowledge of him. Well, that knowledge just increased by a degree of 10,000 as of last night. He stepped into the glorious and joyous presence of the One he so often exalted. He was welcomed into eternal rest by the God of his salvation. O, and what a sight that must have been! For so long he sang of the greatness, glory, and majesty of God in Jesus and last night he came face to face with the One of whom he sang. He sees even now the glory of God that satisfied him for so many years–and his satisfaction has been increased immeasurably in a matter of moments. What unimaginable joy to look on the Holy One! The Jesus with whom he walked this earth with and sang so boldly of is even greater than he anticipated and he will continue to satisfy him for the next 10 trillion years. The hope he proclaimed is now an unveiled, unmasked, and uninhibited reality! No sin will mar him. No disease will affect him. No frailties will cover him. No death will haunt him. He laughs at death because he is united to the One who defeated death! This is his legacy–love and desire for a glorious Savior represented in the words of Rhea F. Miller that he made famous:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand

Than to be the king of a vast domain
And be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame;
I’d rather be true to His holy name

He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs;
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead

It is only fitting that the words of his lifelong friend and partner in the gospel close out our farewell to the greatest worship leader of the 20th century:

I first met Bev Shea while in Chicago when he was on Moody Radio. As a young man starting my ministry, I asked Bev if he would join me. He said yes and for over 60 years we had the privilege of ministering together across the country and around the world. Bev was one of the most humble, gracious men I have ever known and one of my closest friends. I loved him as a brother. My prayer for his wife, Karlene, and his children, Ron and Elaine, is that God will strengthen them during this time. – Billy Graham

My prayers are with the Shea family as they grieve the loss of this beloved man of God.

George Beverly Shea singing “How Great Thou Art” at age 103:

George Beverly Shea singing his testimony (“I’d Rather Have Jesus” – 1965) at age 23:

Why Do Justified Saints Need to Confess Sins?

hhhJohn Piper asks in his devotional book Taste and See: Savoring the Supremacy of God in All of Life a very important and intriguing question:

How can we be justified by faith, once for all, and yet need to go on confessing our daily sins so that we will be forgiven (p. 95)?

The New Testament teaches both. When we trust in Jesus, believing in him and submitting to his Lordship, that faith is counted to us as righteousness (Rom. 4:3, 5-6). Indeed God imputes the righteousness of Christ to us as he takes our sin upon himself (2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Romans 4:7-8; Psalm 32:1-2)

This righteousness, which is counted to us, is therefore dependent on the work of Christ in the place of sinners. Our forgiveness and justification is solely a gift of grace bestowed upon us by a just, holy, and loving God (Rom. 6:23). We cannot earn it and we cannot lose it (John 1:12-13; Phil. 1:6).

However, there are also places in the New Testament that teach that our forgiveness is dependent on the confession of our sins. Two passages are clear on this. 1 John 1:9 gives us an “if-then clause” indicating that God will forgive us our sins if we confess them. Therefore, forgiveness of sins is in one sense dependent on our confession. Piper rightly observes that “confessing sins is part of ‘walking in the light,’ which is what we must do if the blood of Jesus is to go on cleansing us from our sins.” He derives this from 1 John 1:7. The other passage that indicates our forgiveness of sin is in a way dependent on our confession of sin is Matthew 6:12. Jesus commands that when we pray we ask for forgiveness. Now, if all of our sins past, present, and future are covered and forgiven as a result of God’s grace and our faith in Jesus, how is it that our continued forgiveness is somehow dependent on our confession? In fact, why would we even need to confess sins? Aren’t we seen in light of Christ’s imputed righteousness to us? How can we be justified by faith, once for all, and yet need to go on confessing our daily sins so that we will be forgiven?

Piper finds a very helpful answer in the thoughts of Thomas Watson. Before reading, know that this is a very biblical and correct answer to our question assuming that we understand the ground and purchase of the forgiveness of all our sins (past, present, and future) is the death of Christ Jesus once for all time (Heb. 10:10). This pastor and theologian from the 1600’s sheds wonderful light on this confusing reality:

When I say God forgives all sins, I understand it of sins past, for sins to come are not forgiven till they are repented of. Indeed God has decreed to pardon them; and when he forgives one sin, he will in time forgive all sin; but sins future are not actually pardoned till they are repented of. It is absurd to think sin should be forgiven before it is committed…

The opinion that sins to come, as well as past, are forgiven, takes away and makes void Christ’s intercession. He is an advocate to intercede for daily sin (1 John 2:1). But if sin be forgiven before it be committed, what need is there of his daily intercession? What need have I of an advocate, if sin be pardoned before it be committed? So that, though God forgives all sins past to a believer, yet sins to come are not forgiven till repentance be renewed. (Body of Divinity, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979, p. 558)

Puritan Thomas Watson (1620-1686) gives a very logical answer to this dilemma. Let it be known that our pardon and forgiveness is dependent on nothing but the blood of Christ. But present and future sins are forgiven on this basis “in time”. For if they were forgiven without need of repentance, what need have we of an advocate? Therefore, the answer to our initial question is twofold. The basis of the forgiveness of our sins is the death of Christ. Secondly, our forgiveness is applied to each transgression to remove God’s displeasure of it at the renewal of our repentance. While the “judicial wrath” of God is removed through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, the “fatherly displeasure” still remains when his justified children sin against him (Body of Divinity, 556). We are united to Christ by faith and thus are guaranteed forgiveness through our repentance.

The promise of this [new] covenant is that God will never turn away from doing good to us and will never let us turn away from him, but will always bring us back to confession and repentance (Jer. 32:40). (Taste and See, 97)

As a justified believer, when you sin, confess this sin to a Father who is eager to restore his pleasure to you and yearn for the day when there will be no more need for confession of sin or renewal of repentance.

“The Children” by John Piper

John PiperOne of the most amazing and emotion-stirring poems I have ever read and listened to. My heart is broken today as I ponder the countless lives that have been legally murdered because of a personal preference. It has been a solemn day for me as I consider how many have been killed and by the one whom they need the most. I needed this poem to lift my soul today. I am now eager to fight this fight for the end of legal abortion with joy and with hope in mind. Why? For the children. For the beautiful and innocent children who have a right to live.

If you need a good cry or smile, take the time to listen to my mentor, pastor John Piper, read this poem he wrote for this day, the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Despite the despair that this day brings with it, there is joy to be found in the glory of God’s grace. Please, continue to pray for the end of the legal murder of millions upon millions of innocent children and above all trust and hope in the God who these children are singing to and enjoying today. Please, enjoy…

The Children

Do you hear the children crying?
I can hear them every day,
Crying, sighing, dying, flying
Somewhere safe where they can play.

Somewhere safe from all the dangers,
Somewhere safe from Crack and AIDS,
Safe from lust and lurking strangers,
Safe from war and bombing raids.

Somewhere safe from malnutrition,
Safe from daddy’s damning voice,
Safe from mommy’s cool ambition,
Safe from deadly goddess, Choice.

Do you hear the children crying?
I can hear them every day,
Crying, sighing, dying, flying
Somewhere safe where they can play.

* * * *

Do you see the children meeting?
I can see them in the sky,
Meeting, seating, eating, greeting
Jesus with the answer why.
Why the milk no longer nourished,
Why the water made them sick,
Why the crops no longer flourished,
Why the belly got so thick.

Why they never knew the reason
Friends had vanished out of sight,
Why some suffered for a season,
Others never saw the light.

Do you see the children meeting?
I can see them in the sky,
Meeting, seating, eating, greeting
Jesus with the answer why.

* * * *

Do you hear the children singing?
I can hear them high above,
Singing, springing, ringing, bringing
Glory to the God of love.

Glory for the gift of living,
Glory for the end of pain,
Glory for the gift of giving,
Glory for eternal gain.

Glory from the ones forsaken,
Glory from the lost and lone,
Glory when the infants waken,
Orphans on the Father’s throne

Do you hear the children singing?
I can hear them high above,
Singing, springing, ringing, bringing
Glory to the God of love.

* * * *

Do you see the children coming?
I can see them on the clouds,
Coming, strumming, drumming, humming
Songs with heaven’s happy crowds.

Songs with lots of happy clapping,
Songs that set the heart on fire,
Songs that make your foot start tapping,
Songs that make a merry choir.

Songs so loud the mountains tremble,
Songs so pure the canyons ring,
When the children all assemble
Millions, millions, round the King.

Do you see the children coming?
I can see them on the clouds,
Coming, strumming, drumming, humming
Songs with heaven’s happy crowds.

* * * *

Do you see the children waiting?
I can see them all aglow
Waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting,
Who of us will rise and go?

Will we turn and fly to meet them
In the light of candle two?
I intend to rise and greet them.
Come and go with me, would you?