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 Family, My Friends, & The Dead Guy That Keeps Screwing Things Up

God saved me in the winter of 1996. In January of 1997 I married Leslie and we have been together for 21 years now. Our daughter Grace was born in June of 2002 and she has been a reminder of God’s grace every year that she has been with us. Through the years we have made many friends; some of them very close to us. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for God, wife, daughter or friends. If they need me for any reason, I am gratefully available to them all, but…

There are times (if I’m being transparent) that I don’t want to be available. Do you ever feel that way? I mean, I love them, but sometimes that’s just not what comes out. I care about them all, but sometimes you just wouldn’t know it. There are times when I am a narcissistic jerk that wants my life to revolve around me and me alone.

It comes out in many ways: sometimes I get quiet, sometimes I say more than I should, sometimes I quit doing anything, sometimes I do things and my actions are hurtful, sometimes my words cut…deep. Sometimes my wit and sarcasm become weapons of mass destruction and before I even realize I hit the launch button all I can do is deal with the fallout and collateral damage. Sometimes I “do” or “say” and immediately think, “Nooo…why did you…?”

Sometimes I live like the old dead guy (2 Cor. 5:17) that doesn’t care about other’s feelings and only wants to be heard, wants to be smarter, bigger, and better than you. Yeah, I know, major jerk. Just writing this I want to punch myself in the face. But listen, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Rom. 7:18-19) But that’s kind of a cop out isn’t it? I mean just saying that I want to do right, but, oh woe is me, I don’t because I just keep doing it even though I don’t want to is kind of a joke.

And if I left it there, it would be a joke, but that’s not the biblical way of dealing with being a jerk. We can’t just say I am who I am and keep doing what we do. Why? Because if we are truly in Christ who we are is a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). I’m not a jerk, I’m not a bad husband, father, or friend. It’s not my true nature as a child of God. Do I still mess up? Yes. Do I still live like the dead guy sometimes? Yes. But that is not my identity. In Christ, I have been set free from the old me (Rom. 6:18) and I don’t have to choose to live that way. So how can I keep the old guy in the grave and live like the new creation that I am? How can you?

  1. CONFESS MY SINS REGULARLY: “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) Keep short accounts of your sin. Don’t let known sins linger, confess them to those you have sinned against and ask others to hold you accountable to your sins. Jesus said, “whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”(John 3:21)
  2. REPENT OF MY SINS: it’s one thing to confess our sins, but if we don’t actually turn from those sins, turn to God, and “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27) then it means nothing. The only thing confession without repentance accomplishes is that people know that we know we’re jerks. So we must “repent…and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19-20)
  3. STAY IN COMMUNITY (NO MATTER WHAT): “The New Testament contains at least 40 passages that contain the words “one another” and each one points to a way that Christians are to treat, or are not to treat, each other.” (One Another, Challies) Our relationships are more about our holiness than they are our happiness. It is only in community that we grow to be more like Christ. Hebrews tells us, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.” (Heb. 10:24-25)

Paul tells us, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” (Rom. 15:1) I’m not saying I am strong, quite the contrary, I’m saying I am weak. I need those who are strong in the community of faith to hold me accountable, call me out when I need it, allow me to confess my sins and still love me, help me to live a life of repentance and keep walking with them towards Christ-likeness.

Romans 8:13 says to “put to death the deeds of the body [and] you will live.” In other words we need to regularly tell the dead guy to stop screwing things up, put him back in the grave, and love like Christ has loved us…not just in word, but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18)