Soul Shift — Lord, Teach Us To Pray #1

SoulShiftToday we begin a new series – “Soul Shift.”  I thought the title expressed well a desire for transformation.

We will be working our way through Matthew 6 – and other related passages (Luke 11 for instance).  By next Sunday we will have a curriculum available for use to follow along.  It will be able to be used in a Sunday School class, a bible study, or a community group.

If you were here the last two weeks, we listened to theologian, author, and lecturer J. Edwin Orr talk about revival, and specifically revival in America – and its relationship to prayer.

I think the most important thing J. Edwin Orr said was:

“There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united concerted, and sustained prayer.”

We are beginning – or returning, to some prayer initiatives here at SBF.

  • After the service.
  • On the first Sunday afternoon of each month we will gather for a concert – or concerted prayer.  This afternoon from 4-5:30pm.

I will be beginning to search out pastors prayer gatherings in and around Manchester to pray with them as well.

Last week J. Edwin Orr gave us some perspective on the history of revival – particularly as it relates to New England.  I think it’s important for us to be aware of our history here in New England.

And in the last couple of our SBF e-NEWS that goes out during the week I have spoken of a sense that there is a “quiet revival,” taking place in New England right now.  One New England pastor referred to it as a “gospel replanting” of churches.  Both formerly liberal as well as moralistically fundamental churches are undergoing a gospel-centered transformation, which is much like what has been happening here.

For most of us prayer is, without a doubt, the most difficult spiritual discipline to make good and consistent progress in.

It’s a little bit like humility – no one ever feels like they’ve “arrived.”

And, when we think about prayer it’s easy to feel very guilty very quickly.

The bottom-line definition of prayer is that it is communion with God.

I recently came across a way to think about and clarify the different aspects of prayer that I’d like to share with you – and we will come back to this over the coming weeks.

This matrix, or template, for prayer can be called 360 degree prayer, which helps us to see prayer in four ways, or dimensions:

Inward – Surrendering to God and aligning ourselves with God.  We’ll be talking about this aspect more today – and next week.  This is where we surrender ourselves into the sanctification process.  Most of the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount is devoted to a humble surrender and reorientation through owning our own issues and mourning over the effects of sin.

Upward – Worshipful communion with God.  We lift our hearts and hands in grateful surrender, adoration, and worship.

Around – To pray with others.  The passage we’ll be studying, after all, begins with the words, “Our Father…”

Outward – To engage with the mission of God.  Asking God to send us out on mission with Him.  It’s been said that we serve a missionary God:

  • The Father sent the Son.
  • The Son sent the Holy Spirit
  • And the Holy Spirit sends us…

Some people go around the world as missionaries.  Most of us are missionaries sent to neighbors, co-workers, family, friends, acquaintances who are not yet active, intentional followers of Jesus Christ.

What we are aiming for in this series (and season of SBF’s ministry life) is for there to be a transforming shift in our soul (individually and collectively), so that prayer becomes more natural – and more normative.

I have come to see that there may be a common reason why we don’t pray more…

It’s happened to me in different seasons of my life…

Sometimes, when we have a burden to pray or a strong desire to draw closer to God, things right away, seem to get harder and more difficult – so we tend to back off of prayer.  We end-up thinking, or even saying:  “God, You just do Your thing and I’ll do mine…”  Then we don’t move into “extraordinary prayer,” we just stick to “ordinary” prayer.

I don’t want to discourage you, but I do think that often times our circumstances will get harder before they get better when we lean into God – and into prayer.

Realistically, we need to be prepared for this.

Why is it like that?  Because when we get all soft and tender before God, He begins to deal with stuff in our lives.  Someone said He “fixes a fix to fix us.”

Mostly God begins point out and put His finger on our idols – or functional saviors, which are all the earth-bound things we turn to, to quiet the longings or pain that is in our souls.

In the Bible – and in prayer, we have a language of love, trust, holy fear, hope, seeking, and serving.  These are terms describing our legitimate longings, our desires for relationship to the true God.

Then most of us have a host of false loves, false trusts, false fears, false hopes, false pursuits, and even false masters.

Idolatry describes our drift away from God, where we find ourselves serving lessor Gods.  The best working definition for idolatry is: turning a good thing into an ultimate thing…

There are personal, cultural, and religious idols…

1.  Some common personal idols include:

  • Certain relationships can become idolatrous – looking to other people to find our value or worth – and not finding that in and through good.  It may be a spouse, a parent, a boss…
  • Dysfunctional family or marital systems are often idolatrous.  The most destructive of these is the classic addict and enabler.  Did you know you can’t have an addict if there’s no enabler?
  • There are many kinds of addictions…
    • There are ingestive addictions – things like alcohol, drugs, or food.  We ingest substances to satisfy the longs and cravings of our soul.
    • There are also process addictions – things like gambling, pornography and masturbation, shopping (or spending), watching too much TV, religion can become an idol, making money – even working out can become an addiction – although most of us could use a little more time at the gym 🙂

2.  We have many cultural idols – There are famous people that we idolize.  We even have a national TV show – American Idol… What might a North Eastern cultural idol be?  (Patriots :), “Live Free or Die”?)

3.  What are some religious idols?

  • The most common is probably superstition, trying to earn God’s favor, or other forms of moralism.
  • The biblical expression of our lives and the Church through the gospel is: “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey.”
  • Religion alternatively says: “I obey, therefore I am accepted.”
  • The human tendency is bent toward religion, which essentially sets up rules and regulations (i.e., moralism) and we keep them to earn our righteousness before God.
  • This is exactly the “different gospel” that Paul addresses in his letter to the Galatians (1:6).  In the same verse Paul expresses amazement at how quickly they have veered and substituted religion for the gospel.  Religious practice can become our functional savior.
  • While the Galatians struggled with abuses of legalism, the Corinthians struggled with abuses of liberty.[1]
  • Both are soulish expressions of religion and not born of the Holy Spirit.  The antidote to both excessive legalism and excessive liberty is the gospel.

What am I saying with all this talk of idolatry?  If we want to learn how to pray, we must be prepared for life to get harder before it gets better.

We must be willing for God to point out our idols – and then ask us to offer them up to Him.

In the end Satan remains the enemy of our souls who wants to disrupt, discourage, distort, and divide (see Eph 6:10-12).

Prayer is not a method to get what we want from God, but THE means of getting more of God Himself, of encountering God so that He becomes the primary object we desire – God becomes the end goal of our lives.

  • Ps 63:1 – O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You…
  • Ps. 42:1 – As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God.

Here are some descriptions of prayer that have recently caught my attention:

  • Brennan Manning, prayer is “holy loitering.”
  • Anne Lamott, prayer is our real self trying to communicate with the Real.
  • Richard Rohr, prayer is disrobing our souls before God.
  • Someone has said that prayer is like good jazz – it is both structured and spontaneous; there is tempo, timing, and a key yet there is freedom to move around.
  • Shane Claiborne writes, “the cry of the Lord’s Prayer reminds us of our vocation as children of God, [we are] orphans adopted into the family of Yahweh…God comes and dwells among us as a Big Brother whom we can emulate.  From Him we learn to pray, “Our Father in heaven.”

[1] Which Paul specifically addresses in 1 Corinthians.

God Is Closer Than You Think #2 – What Is God Like?

What Is God Like?  (A Taste For His Majesty*)

I. INTRO

Most of us know who Chuck Colson was – a Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973…

On June 1, 1973, Chuck Colson[1] visited his friend Tom Phillips,[2] while Watergate unfolded in the press. He was baffled and shocked at Phillips’ explanation that he had “accepted Jesus Christ.”

But he saw that Tom was at peace and he wasn’t. When Colson left the house, he couldn’t get his keys in the ignition he was crying so hard. He wrote in his book, Loving God:

That night I was confronted with my own sin—not just Watergate’s dirty tricks, but the sin deep within me, the hidden evil that lives in every human heart. It was painful and I could not escape. I cried out to God and found myself drawn irresistibly into His waiting arms. That was the night I gave my life to Jesus Christ and began the greatest adventure of my life.[3]

Charles Colson’s New Understanding of God

That story has been told thousands of times over the last four decades. We love to hear about this kind of conversion.

But far too many of us settle for that story in our own lives and the life of our church.

But not Charles Colson. Not only was the White House hatchet man willing to cry in 1973; he was also willing to repent several years later of a woefully inadequate view of God.

It was during a period of unusual spiritual dryness. (If you are in one, take heart! More saints than you realize have had life-changing encounters with God right in the midst of the desert.)

A friend suggested to Colson that he watch a videocassette lecture series by R.C. Sproul on the holiness of God. Here’s what Colson wrote:

All I knew about Sproul was that he was a theologian, so I wasn’t enthusiastic. After all, I reasoned, theology was for people who had time to study, locked in ivory towers far from the battlefield of human need. However, at my friend’s urging I finally agreed to watch Sproul’s series.

By the end of the sixth lecture I was on my knees, deep in prayer, in awe of God’s absolute holiness. It was a life-changing experience as I gained a completely new understanding of the holy God I believe in and worship.

My spiritual drought ended, but this taste for the majesty of God only made me thirst for more of him.[4]

In 1973 Colson had seen enough of himself to know his desperate need of God, and had been driven “irresistibly” (as he says) into God’s arms. But then several years later something else wonderful happened. A theologian spoke on the holiness of God and Chuck Colson says that he fell to his knees and “gained a completely new understanding of the holy God.” From that point on he had what he calls a “taste for the majesty of God.” Have you seen enough of God’s holiness to have an insatiable taste for His majesty?

This same thing happened to Job in the Bible – through all his tribulations he came to see God anew.

Job 1:1There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”

Job was a believer, a deeply devout and prayerful man. Surely he knew God as he ought. Surely he had a “taste for the majesty of God.” But then came the pain and misery of his spiritual and physical desert. And in the midst of Job’s dryness God spoke in His majesty to Job:

Job 40:8–14; 41:10–11: “Will you even put Me in the wrong? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like His? Deck yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor?…Look on everyone that is proud, and bring him low? And tread down the wicked where they stand? …Who then is he that can stand before Me? Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.”

In the end Job responds, like Colson, to a “completely new understanding of the Holy God.” Job says in 42:3–6:

Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”
‘Hear, now, and I will speak;
I will ask You, and You instruct me.’
“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear;
But now my eye sees You;
Therefore I retract,
And I repent in dust and ashes.”

These two stories of men encountering God in life-changing ways is the same thing that is happening to Isaiah in Chap 6…

Isaiah 6:1-8 — In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said,

“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.”

And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said,

“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

II. BODY

Revival happens, individually and corporately, when we see God majestic in His holiness – and we come to grips with our own need and desperation.

Brokenness, repentance, the unspeakable joy of forgiveness, a “taste for the majesty of God,” a hunger for His holiness—to see it more and to live it more: that’s revival. And it all begins by seeing God.

We have a companion book for this series and we have a companion passage that I am asking all of us to pray for ourselves, our loved ones, for SBF. That passage is:

Eph 1:17-19 — That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.

In our companion book “Christian Beliefs” by Wayne Grudem we are in Chap 2 – What Is God Like?  It is the longest chapter of the book (16 pages listing 24 separate attributes of God), and we won’t be able to cover them all this morning, so I would like to offer you 4 glimpses of God from the first 4 verses of Isaiah 6 that coincide with our companion book.

1. God Exists – 6:1:KingUzziah is dead, and Isaiah encountered the Lord sitting on the throne.

We see this also with the first four words of the Bible: Gen 1:1 – In the beginning God…” God was the living God when this universe banged into existence. And He will be the living God in 10 trillion years.

God never had a beginning and therefore depends on nothing for His existence. He always has been and always will be alive.

Our companion book describes God as “independent.”  I would take issue with Grudem’s choice of words here.  I agree with Grudem’s words that God “doesn’t actually need us or anything else in creation for anything.”[5]

I would prefer to use the term self-differentiated rather than independent.  What does it mean to be self-differentiated?

“Self-differentiation” is a term used to describe one who is emotional healthy – and is no longer ultimately dependent on anything other than themselves. They are able to live interdependently with others because their sense of worth is not dependent on external relationships, circumstances, or occurrences.

There are three categories of connection that are worthy of our understanding:  

  • Independence (-)
  • Dependence (-), and
  • Interdependence (+).

Within the Trinity each member is fully self-differentiated – and each is supremely interdependent.

2. God Is Omnipotent – The word omnipotent means all-powerful (omni = all; potent = power). Notice the throne of God’s authority is not one throne among many thrones. It is high and lifted up above ALL thrones. Again in 6:1: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up.”

That God’s throne is higher than every other throne signifies God’s superior power to exercise His authority. No opposing authority can nullify the decrees of God.

What God purposes, God accomplishes. In Isaiah 46:10, God emphatically states: “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all My purpose.”

Daniel 4:35: “He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand.”

To be gripped by the sovereign omnipotence of God is either marvelous because He is for us — or it is terrifying because He is against us.

Indifference to God’s omnipotence simply means we haven’t seen it for what it is. The sovereign authoritative power of the living God is a refuge full of joy and delight for those who have been gripped by the gospel, which is His new covenant promise of love, mercy, and forgiveness.

3. God Is Holy – 6:2-4: “Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke 6:3: “And one called to another, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!’”

The seraphim are never mentioned again in the Bible again. The word seraph literally means “to burn.”  John Wesley describes them as, “An order of holy angels…[that] represent either their nature, which is bright and glorious…and pure; or their property, of fervent zeal for God’s service and glory.”[6]

According to verse 4, when one of them speaks, the foundations of the thresholds in the temple shake.

This scene is repeated in Rev 4:8, where John has a vision of the throne in heaven – “And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”

The difference between the creatures in Isaiah and Revelation have a lot to do with the eyes of these angelic beings.  In Isaiah the Seraphim covered their faces – and in Rev – the beings “are full of eyes around and within.”

In Isaiah’s vision the Seraphim cannot even look upon the Lord. Great and good as they are, untainted by human sin, they revere their Maker in great humility. How much more will we shudder and quake in His presence!

Let’s consider the word holy…

  • The possibilities of language to carry the meaning of God eventually run dry.
  • The root meaning of holy is to cut or separate. A holy thing is cut off from and separated from that which is common, or we might use the word, secular.
  • Earthly things (and people) are holy in so far as they are distinct from the world — and devoted to God.
  • The Bible speaks of holy ground (Exodus 3:5), holy assemblies (Exodus 12:16), holy sabbath (Exodus 16:23), a holy nation (Exodus 19:6); holy garments (Exodus 28:2), a holy city (Nehemiah 11:1), holy promises (Psalm 105:42), holy men (2 Peter 1:21) and women (1 Peter 3:5), holy scriptures (2 Timothy 3:15), holy hands (1 Timothy 2:8), a holy kiss (Romans 16:16), and a holy faith (Jude 20).  While it’s not used in the Bible, we speak of holy matrimony.
  • Almost anything can become holy if it is separated from the common and devoted to God.
  • God is not holy because He keeps the rules. He wrote the rules! God is not holy because He keeps the law. The law is holy because it reveals God.

Habakkuk 2:20 –“The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”

The final glimpse is not in our companion book – or, perhaps we could say it is interwoven throughout our companion book…

3. God Is Glorious – 6:3: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.”

We cannot separate God’s holiness from God’s glory.

The glory of God is the manifestation of His holiness. God’s holiness is the incomparable perfection of His divine nature; His glory is the display of that holiness.

When we say, or when the Bible says, “God is glorious” it means: God’s holiness has gone public. His glory is the open revelation of the secret of His holiness.

Leviticus 10:3 — “I will show myself holy among those who are near me, and before all the people I will be glorified.”

When God shows himself to be holy, what we see is glory. The holiness of God is His concealed glory. The glory of God is his revealed holiness.

When the Seraphim say, “The whole earth is full of His glory,” it is because from the heights of heaven they can see the end of the world. From down here the view of the glory of God is limited. And truth be told, it’s limited largely by our foolish preferences for lessor things.

Some day God will remove every competing glory and make His holiness known in awesome splendor to every humble creature.

CONCLUSION

Having said that, there is no need to wait. Like Chuck Colson, Job, and Isaiah, my prayer is that as individuals and as a church we will humble ourselves to go hard after the Holy God – that we would develop a taste for His majesty.

I want to hold out this promise from God, who has existed forever, who is omnipotent, who is holy, and who is glorious.

As we prepare our hearts for communion I’d like to read my favorite about revival. But I must warn you it’s not for the faint of heart…Burns asks the question:  Do we want a revival?  Do we really?  And then he answers…

To the church, a revival means humiliation, a bitter knowledge of unworthiness and an open humiliating confession of sin on the part of her [pastors] and people.  It is not the easy and glorious thing many think it to be, who imagine it filled the pews and reinstated the church in power and authority.  It comes to scorch before it heals; it comes to [convict] people for their unfaithful witness, for their selfish living, for their neglect of the cross, and to call them to daily renunciation and to a deep and daily consecration.  That is why a revival has ever been unpopular with large numbers within the church.  Because it says nothing to them of power, or of ease, or of success; it accuses them of sin; it tells them they are dead; it calls them to awake, to renounce the world [system] and to follow Christ.[7]

Sit quietly and reflect and repent as necessary – and when you’re ready come and remember what Christ has done.  His broken body and shed blood.  He lived the life we should have lived – and He died the death we should have died.  While we were yet dead in our sins, Christ died for us – He became poor that we might become rich in mercy and grace…

* I am grateful to the teaching and preaching ministry of John Piper for some of the illustrations of this sermon – as well as the treatment of holiness — and the relationship between God’s holiness and God’s glory.


[1]  Colson was Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973. He gained notoriety at the height of the Watergate affair for being named as one of the Watergate Seven, and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. He became a Christian in 1973 after his arrest.

[2] Chairman of the defense contractor Raytheon.

[3] Loving God, p. 247.

[4] Loving God (pp. 14–15).

[5] Christian Beliefs: 22.

[6] Wesley’s Notes On The Bible. Christian Classics Ethereal Library; 1.1 edition 2010.

[7] James Burns. Revival, Their Laws & Leaders, Hodder and Stoughton 1909:50.

Stages of Renewal

I listened to a lecture the other day that concluded with Mark Driscoll quoting Rick Warren on seven stages of renewal.  I can certainly see the pattern to be accurate in my experience and I thought it was very succinctly stated.

I have incorporated some of my thoughts and experience to each of the seven stages and conclude with two quotes that, from my viewpoint, help us to to engage the stages.

1. Personal renewal is about loving God and begins with acknowledging Jesus Christ as our greatest treasure and the object of worship. Personal renewal occurs as we recognize our spiritual poverty and surrender afresh to loving care and instruction of a God who is alive and available. The outflow of this active and intentional surrender is prayer, the reading and study of Scripture, and a growing worship of Jesus and connectedness with him – which renews us from the inside out.

2. Relational renewal is about authentically loving others.  As we embrace personal renewal with Jesus an initial effect is that we have new hope for people and pursue them in love. If married, relational renewal begins with our spouse. And, if we are parents our children ensue. Relational renewal allows us to be authentic around others, stop pretending and performing, and simply be in loving community where we are known and know others, with deep gratitude for the work of the gospel.

3. Missional renewal awakens in us a hope and love for the Great Co-mission. Once we have personal and relational renewal, the result is that God’s people want to be on mission together doing what God calls the church to accomplish. Without personal renewal, a church cannot have relational renewal. And, without both a church has no life or unity that allows them to press forward on mission with God together.

4. Internal cultural renewal happens as the fruit of personal, relational, and missional renewal forms a new culture of grace internally and new passion for lost people externally. In a church this results in people trusting their leaders and one another more, wanting to spend more time together, worshiping with greater intensity, and hanging out longer after services – as they begin to realize they are becoming a unified community.  This also increases innovation, a willingness to risk, and a burgeoning missiology.

5. Structural renewal is necessary once the personal, relational, missional, and internal renewals have been initiated and creates the need to change how a church operates. What structures have hindered growth?  What structures can be implemented so the church won’t have a bottleneck as the church grows? There is no perfect structure in Scripture because every situation is different. Rick Warren speaks of changing structures just about every year at Saddleback. We can’t put new wine in old wineskins. As a church begins to get healthier and healthier, the structure needs to change.

6. Institutional renewal happens when Christianity’s institutions change. Institutions – like seminaries and denominations are usually the last ones to change; they have difficulty with the change process. Unfortunately, institutions generally exist to preserve the change of the previous generation. It’s like a tree – the growth of a tree is not on the trunk but on the new branches. Institutions are like trunks. They provide stability not innovation.  Innovation happens at the local church level.

7. External cultural renewal is the fruit of personal, relational, missional, internal, structural, and institutional renewal. It might be best described as the outworking of Acts 2:43-47: A renewed sense of awe, wonders and signs taking place, refreshed and authentic community, mutual identification amongst classes and cultures, equality, unity, enthusiastic joy, heartfelt praise, favor with all the people, and salvations.

Here are two quotes that seem to reflect the attitude that initiates the process:

Charles Spurgeon was converted on January 6, 1850, and on February 1 he wrote the following prayer of consecration:

“O great and unsearchable God, who knows my heart, and tries all my ways; with a humble dependence upon the support of Your Holy Spirit, I yield up myself to You; as Your own reasonable sacrifice, I return to You your own. I would be forever, unreservedly, perpetually Yours; while I am on earth, I would serve You; and may I enjoy you and praise You for ever! Amen.”

James Burns, in Revival, Their Laws and Leaders writes:

“To the church, a revival means humiliation, a bitter knowledge of unworthiness and an open humiliating confession of sin on the part of her [pastors] and people.  It is not the easy and glorious thing many think it to be, who imagine it filled the pews and reinstated the church in power and authority.  It comes to scorch before it heals; it comes to [convict] people for their unfaithful witness, for their selfish living, for their neglect of the cross, and to call them to daily renunciation and to a deep and daily consecration.  That is why a revival has ever been unpopular with large numbers within the church.  Because it says nothing to them of power, or of ease, or of success; it accuses them of sin; it tells them they are dead; it calls them to awake, to renounce the world [system] and to follow Christ.”