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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Deepening the Ground of our Gratitude

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. I am more balanced in my enjoyment of it this year having just finished reading, The Hole in our Gospel by Richard Stearns. In the book, Stearns tells how he became the president of World Vision. It ranges from his difficult upbringing, determination to acquire an Ivy League school education, struggle to come to Christ from atheism, to becoming a committed follower of Christ, to CEO of the Lennox Corporation, to reluctant president of World Vision. His call experience reminds me of Moses’ reflectance to follow God’s call as recorded in Exodus 3. The book is worth reading for the sake of his story, but there is much more in the book than that. The second half is a tremendous challenge for American Christians to see the world from God's perspective and live out the full implications of the gospel toward the needs of the world. I did not take as a guilt inducing, but as a challenge and stiff reminder, that to whom much is given much is required.

I certainly believe there is a place for celebrations like Thanksgiving. But we could stand to elevate what provokes our gratitude. The things for which we are grateful reveal what we value and what is the aim of our lives. It seems there is a tendency to focus on material blessings and God's provision for material needs at Thanksgiving. But does that mean that those without many material blessings have little for which to be grateful? Why do some of God's people suffer, i.e. believers in many third world countries, while others, many American believers, live in relative comfort and affluence? Does God love those who are affluent more than those who suffer? Does God pour out blessings only on those who are obedient and withhold them from the disobedient? Can we discern who is obedient and disobedient by a person’s financial wealth? I think we know the answer to these questions, gleaned from the book of Job and other sources.

In Ephesians 1:15-23 Paul expresses gratitude for people and for the work of God within them at the beginning of a tremendous prayer. Perhaps we would be living with a better awareness of God's work in the world and could elevate our purpose in the world by taking note of what provokes Paul's gratitude. Perhaps this would block us from a mere recounting of gratitude for our relative wealth, if set our sights similarly to Paul's on what generated gratitude in him. Tomorrow, I will post further reflections on this text regarding this theme.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chesterton and the joy of God

Below is one of my favorite G.K. Chesterton quotes from his book Orthodoxy, expressing a fascinating thought about God's exuberance and creativity. I''m pretty sure that I first read it in a John Ortberg book or maybe Dallas Willard, but since I subsequently read Orthodoxy for myself, I get to call this one of my favorite Chesterton quotes, right?
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (1994-05-01). Orthodoxy (p. 38). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Using Written Prayers

Why is it that most evangelical believers grow up thinking that the only way to really pray is to pray spontaneously? This is the only sort of praying I ever experienced growing up. The only prayers that were not spontaneous were intercessory prayer lists either for people who were sick or for missionaries. Other than that, I never heard anyone talk about praying something that was already written out. A little more than 20 years ago, a wonderful professor of mine at Southwestern by the name of Bruce Leafblad taught me better. The class was spiritual formation, and among many other things, he taught us two things about this kind of praying that has drastically altered my approach to prayer. First and most important, was the practice of praying the prayers recorded in scripture. We will never improve on the words of scripture. When we are praying the words of scripture, we can know that we are praying according to God’s will. Furthermore, in the act of praying these words, they are working on our souls for the renewing of our minds as Rom. 12:2 discusses. I will be preaching soon on one of those prayers that I have used nearly every day for the last twenty years, Eph. 3:14-21. Second, he taught us to write out specific things we know that we need to pray for ourselves daily such as specific character issues. I began this practice then and continue to do so to the present. The material I use most every day to pray for my own spiritual formation stretches for more than a page. Yes, there is a danger in this becoming legalistic and mechanical. From time to time, I have to put it aside to correct my tendency toward “checking the box.” But I find myself returning to it and using it most of the time.

That said, I’ve recently added two items to this prayer material. One is from J.D. Greear’s book Gospel, which I’ve recently mentioned. In that book, Greear challenges his readers to pray the following daily.
Gospel Prayer
1. “In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less.”
2. “Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy.”
3. “As You have been to me, so I will be to others.”
4. “As I pray, I’ll measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.” [1]
I’ve also added this simple prayer, recommended by Craig Groeschel. You will have to see the 12th chapter of his book to see more of what he means by this short outline:
Stretch me, ruin me, heal me.
Do you have any such material that you pray daily for the development of your own soul? I’d love to hear about it.


[1] Greear, J.D.; Keller, Timothy (2011-09-13). Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (pp. 40-42). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.