Reading, Praying, & Why I Am Encouraged By Other’s Failures

Martin Luther was a monk in the early 1500s. He wrote a theses, nailed it to a church door and the Protestant Reformation began. Luther has often been pointed to as a champion of spiritual disciplines. He read and read and read and read and read…and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed. I once heard a story that Luther was going to have such a busy day that instead of his normal 3 hours of prayer he got up an hour earlier to have 4 hours of prayer to be ready. With stories like this who needs the Devil, just whisper stories like this in my ear a few times a day and I will thoroughly believe that I am the worst Christian on the planet. I will berate myself for being lazy about reading and praying. I will loath the fact that I am not more committed and I might even doubt that I am a Christian at all.

But then, hopefully…the very verses with which the Reformation began will ring through the hollow, cold, frightened corridors of my mind and yell, “The righteous shall live by faith!” (Romans 1:17)  Then by the grace of God I will remember that it is not how many times a day I fall to my knees in prayer or how often I open the pages of my Bible that saves me, but it is the sacrifice of Jesus Himself that saves me. He was perfectly disciplined, perfectly obedient, perfectly righteous in all He did and that righteousness has been credited to me by grace, through faith…apart from what I do. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I don’t do The Weekly or the Thirteen:Seven Faith, or any number of other studies, reading plans, or other disciplines to gain God’s favor or grace. I do them BECAUSE He has shown me undeserved favor and grace. I do them BECAUSE He knows me and I want to know Him more. And when I fail at those disciplines I don’t have to doubt His love for me or doubt that I am His…I simply must confess that I have failed, ask Him to help me do better, and pick up right where I left off.

So the next time you hear a wonderful story about the faithfulness of some great saint remember, they were people just like us, they failed all the time, but by God’s grace they persevered to the end. And while we’re on the subject here’s a story about Martin Luther from his own words, in a letter to his friend Philipp Melanchthon:

“You extol me so much … Your high opinion of me shames and tortures me, since – unfortunately – I sit here like a fool and hardened in leisure, pray little, do not sigh for the church of God … In short I should be ardent in spirit, but I am ardent in the flesh, in lust, laziness, leisure, and sleepiness … Already eight days have passed in which I have written nothing, in which I have not prayed or studied; this is partly because of temptations of the flesh, partly because I am tortured by other burdens.” (Luther’s Works, vol. 48, p. 256.)

Luther was a “hero” of the faith and the stories of his faithfulness in the spiritual disciplines are to be looked up to and even imitated, but he was not perfect. His and other great saint’s successes and failures ought to encourage us to keep “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

May we trust only in the finished work of Christ. May we live by faith.
May we learn to follow.


My Abundance of Stress, My Lack of Control, & the Old Man Who Prayed

Growing up I remember this picture of an old man praying over a loaf of bread* hanging on our wall. Maybe you’ve seen it, or maybe you have one too. A lot of people had this picture in their house, but I just remember it sitting there on the wall telling me that food (and prayer) was more important than I might think. I wasn’t a Christian, we didn’t attend church, or talk about Jesus, but that old man helped me realize that Somebody was listening…even if I didn’t know who it was at the time.

In Matthew 6 Jesus’ disciples say to Him, “Hey Jesus, teach us how to pray” and Jesus says, “Ok, talk to God as your Father, ask for Him to make Himself really big in and around your life. Ask for His will to be done in your neighborhoods and schools and home.” Then Jesus went super practical…”Ask your Father to give you enough bread for today.” (Matthew 6:11)

If you’re like me, sometimes I have so many stresses on my plate that I’m not thinking about today’s bread, I’m thinking about every single thing going on in my life over the next week, month, or even year. Sometimes I come before God and think, “Where do I even begin?” If I was to actually stop and pray about everything I think I need I would be locked in my room for the next week. Sometimes the thought of that even makes me not pray. Sounds crazy right…but sometimes I’m so overwhelmed with not knowing where to start I don’t ask God about any of it. I think this is because down deep I just can’t handle not being in control of everything in my little world, so the million things on my mind remind me of how out of control I really am and I shut down.

But Jesus is the sovereign Lord of all…”in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Just a few verses after He tells us to ask for bread He reminds us that our heavenly Father is the one who is really in control (Matthew 6:25-34). He is in control of your food and your drink, but not just your food, He’s in control of everything. He’s in control of your parents, your friends, your siblings, your teachers and bosses and coaches. He’s in control of your present and your future and every perceived stress on your plate. He is in complete control of “our” little worlds, because our little worlds are not ours at all…”the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” (Psalm 24:1) So when Jesus says, “Hey ask for today’s bread” it’s because He knows who is in control, so He centers us on this fact: all we need to focus on is what we need today. As J.I. Packer reminds us, “bread…stands here for all of life’s necessities”** so Jesus is not just talking about bread, He’s talking about everything you need to keep you going, to sustain you…today.

So why should that comfort us? Why is the fact that God is in complete control good news?

Because the one true God, who created all things and controls all things…loves you. When Jesus tells His disciples not to worry He says that it’s because they are valuable to their God (Matthew 6:26). He says that if God feeds the birds that He simply spoke into existence, how much more will He feed those who He “knit together” (Psalm 139:13) with great care and love? How much more will He feed and care for you, whom He sent His own Son to die for? (Romans 8:32)

If God were a tyrant king waiting to strike us down at the first sign of distrust or lack of faith we would need to worry, but He’s not. God is a loving Father who “knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). So pray often, pray boldly, pray fearlessly; your Father will give you bread…and every other need for the day.

Then we can all join that old man in the picture and give Him thanks.

May we trust in the sovereign God who is in control of all things.
May we come to the Lord as a child to a loving Father.
May we learn to follow.

*The picture was Grace by Eric Enstrom
**Praying the Lord’s Prayer by J.I. Packer, pg 73-74


Teenagers, Wayne Grudem, & The 1958 Billboard Hot 100

So let’s just get to it…I mean, let’s cut through the proverbial poo and say it straight:

Teenagers need theology.

Theos meaning God, –logy meaning study of; hence, theology is the study of God. Teenagers need to study God, they need to have conversations about God, read books about God, learn about God…regularly.

For too long we have given our teens Wednesday night pizza and ping pong, Saturday morning service projects, and Sunday morning bible studies that have the doctrinal depth of a flannel graph teaching of the Good Samaritan and gets them no further than, “God loves everyone.” (wink…nod…twinkle smile) Then they wake up one day and someone offers them a hit of this or a drink of that or acceptance from them and all of a sudden all they know is, “Who needs God, when I have all this?” Or they get a phone call their sophomore year of college, “Your mom was in a horrible accident son, we lost her” or “Your dad has cancer honey, the doctors are giving him three months” and all of a sudden all they know is, “God hates me.”

They come to these conclusions, I believe, because the God we introduce them to, many times,  is the equivalent of a fairy godmother who loves us for who we are, only does nice things for us, and whose sole purpose is to make sure we are comfortable and happy…for eternity. They come to these conclusions because the Bible is treated, many times, like a follow up to our own thoughts, instead of the foundation of all thought. They come to these conclusions because we make Jesus our “homeboy,” the Holy Spirit our sherpa, and the Church is an option to be embraced or shunned at will. That God, that Jesus, that Holy Spirit, that Church are EASY to give up on, because we only need fairy godmothers when we’re in trouble, homeboys come and go, sherpas don’t always lead us the way we want to go, and options are just that…options…we can always find cooler (less hypocritical) people to hang out with.

So what’s the answer? Well…Wayne Grudem of course…just kidding, kind of. I once wrote a curriculum called Concentrate: Theology for Youth. It was a 28 week concise study of Wayne Grudem’s 1296 page  Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine  broken down to key points and fed to a group of teenagers in a Sunday School class. Week by week we worked our way through big truths and difficult doctrines to better understand the Trinitarian God we claim to know and love and week by week I witnessed something amazing…students actually falling more in love with that God. 

Listen, systematic theology is not the answer, Wayne Grudem is not the answer, Jesus is, but how do we best introduce teenagers to Jesus? How do we best explain to them who the God of the Bible really is and what He has done through His Son and what He continues to do through His Spirit and the Church, so that they don’t give up at the first sign of trouble? A.W. Tozer once said:

“What I believe about God is the most important thing about me.”

The Apostle Peter tells us:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:2-3)

“All things that pertain to life and godliness” come to us “through the knowledge of him who called us.” If it has to do with life and godliness, that’s faith, holiness, love of others, love of the church, growth in Christlikeness…everything we need…comes through knowledge of God. What God are you giving your teenagers? Is it the God of the Bible? Is it the God of your imagination? Give them sound doctrine (Titus 2:1), give them unadulterated theology that puts God before their eyes in His full and deserved glory. Then watch them fall in love.

In August of 1958 a little trio named The Teddy Bears put out their first record with a B-side track called To Know Him is To Love Him. By December 1 it had climbed the charts and was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. An unknown 17 year old senior in high school, named Phil Spector, wrote the song after being inspired by the epitaph on his father’s headstone that read, “To know him was to love him.” The words of this simple song from the 1950s still ring true today when it comes to the knowledge of our great and glorious King, Jesus.

To know, know, know him, is to love, love, love him
And I do, and I do, yes I do.

May we give our teens all that we can to help them know their God.
May we teach them with sound doctrine that leads to life and godliness.
May we give them theology that helps them fall in love with their Savior.
May we help them…learn to follow.