Lately, I’ve been thinking about the benefits of being a Christian. There are so many that I hardly know where to start. I can easily write about the gifts of justification, sanctification, or adoption (and many others similar to it). But in this post, I want to keep it simple. I want to focus on a blessing that we may sometimes overlook — the blessing of the gift of prayer.
Isn’t it amazing that the God of the Bible allows his people to communicate with him through prayer?
I think sometimes we take for granted this access we have to God. But if you pause and think about the various dimensions of prayer and just how beneficial this access to God is, it will bless your soul.
The Blessing of the Gift of Prayer
When I think about prayer being a blessing, here are some things that come to mind:
We have 24/7 access to God.
There have been times when I couldn’t fall asleep because I felt restless. During these times, it’s almost impossible to cast your burdens on anyone else since they are likely asleep. And yet, even in the middle of the night when everyone else is unavailable, God is up, ready and willing to hear your prayer.
This is amazing. You might have close family, friends, mentors, and other such relationships where people are helpful to you in many ways. But they cannot always be there for you because they are not always available. But God is incessantly accessible.
The Lord doesn’t need sleep. He’s always awake. You can always go to him — at 2:00 am when your screaming baby can’t sleep, at 6:30 am when you’re anxious and scared about facing the day, at noon when the day isn’t going how you planned. This 24/7, 365 access to God we have in prayer is truly astounding.
We don’t need to use physical words when we pray.
I once led a small group with someone. I told this person I was praying for our group at work, to which the response I received was something like, “God loves cubicles prayers, too!”
It’s true: because God is omniscient (all-knowing), he can understand what you pray in your mind with 100% accuracy, every single time. Yes, using words and praying out loud is essential. Soundless prayers should not summarize the entirety of our prayer lives. But sometimes words aren’t possible, and God gets your thoughts.
We don’t need to always pray long-winded prayers.
I love this exchange between the King and Nehemiah.
The King asks: “What are you requesting?” (Nehemiah 2:4a). And this is the little line I love: “So I prayed to the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 2:4b). And then Nehemiah tells the king what he wants.
The footnote from my ESV Study Bible says: “Nehemiah had prayed a great deal, of course (Neh. 1:4), but here he quickly speaks to God (probably silently) before he answers the King.”
I’m not knocking long-winded prayers. I love praying extensively, and I find my prayer times with the Lord to be some of the best parts of my day. But there is a time and place for everything, which means sometimes your prayers should be long-winded and other times they simply will not. Sometimes, you can just say a quick prayer, move forward, and trust God with the results.
I heard a story of a Christian leader who was on a panel discussing a tough cultural topic. He was asked a hard question and didn’t know how to respond. He knocked his pen from the table to buy himself time to pray quickly and silently in his mind as he picked up his pen. He said after he prayed and picked up his pen, he felt as if the Lord gave him a response.
Who am I to doubt him? I believe these sorts of little prayers throughout the day are powerful.
Prayer changes things.
John Piper says: “Prayer causes things to happen that would not happen if you did not pray.”
As it’s been said before, God ordains all ends (the end result of everything that happens), but he also ordains the means to every end (the things that he uses to make the ends happen), and he sometimes uses your prayers to accomplish the ends.
I bring this up because it’s not talked about enough. Too often we treat prayer as something we should do only to sustain us, to give thanks, and to ask for general things. These things are good — very good. But don’t forget that God is a Father and you are his child. And as his child, you are free to pray prayers with particular specificity for things that you want to see happen. Pray big, bold, specific, prayers.
Prayer changes you.
Back to the previous one: prayer can change things. But sometimes it doesn’t. Why? It could be for a number of reasons. But it’s usually because your prayer does not align with God’s will. But that’s a good thing because God knows better.
And yet, we must recognize that while prayer does not always change your circumstances, prayer often changes you. The Lord meets with you when you pray. He sanctifies you. He changes your character and provides what you need to get through your situation, even if he does not give you exactly what you want.
We can go to other Christians for prayer.
When we take prayer requests at church or after small groups or after that one-on-one coffee meeting, we are not playing games. We’re not just going through motions. We’re not just saying Christian stuff just to be saying it. No, we ask for prayer requests because we know our God answers prayer. It is such a privilege to belong to a group of people — namely, the church — where we know we can have other brothers and sisters pray for us.
There are many aspects to prayer which are a blessing. Often, we take it for granted. But when we reflect on the many ways in which prayer is a blessing, it will help us appreciate this great gift from God.
You might be able to list the ten commandments in order, but do you know what they forbid and promote?
I used to think I knew the ten commandments pretty well. “Thou shall not steal.” Got it. Won’t steal anyone’s stuff. As long as I do that I’m good, right? Not necessarily. There’s more to the ten commandments than what first meets the eye, and below you can find what they both encourage and discourage. 1
The Ten Commandments: What They Forbid and Promote
From Exodus 20: 3-17.
1st Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
Forbids: Having or worshipping any other God but Yahweh. Worshipping false notions of the God of the Bible.
Promotes: Worshipping God correctly and worshipping him alone. Exclusive loyalty to Yahweh and consecrating ourselves from the world to be fully devoted to him.
2nd Commandment: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”
Forbids: Creating carved images in place of worshipping the triune God. Worshipping God without regard to his preferences.
Promotes: Avoiding idolatrous worship. Worshipping God as he has prescribed in his Word.
3rd Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”
Forbids: Taking the Lord’s name in vain, or showing a lack of reverence for the Lord’s goodness in your speech. Mindless “god talk.”
Promotes: Using the Lord’s name correctly, and showing proper respect and reverence to him. Showing respect to all peoples with your speech, but especially those in authority.
4th Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.“
Forbids: Not taking a Sabbath’s day rest. Not allowing those who work for you not to take a Sabbath’s day rest.
Promotes: Taking one day off of work per week. Worshipping on the Sabbath. Celebrating redemption (Deut 5:12-15). Showing mercy to others. Working six days a week.
5th Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.“
Forbids: Not showing proper honor to your parents and also those in other areas of authority (e.g., government officials, police officers, etc.) Since the early church, Christians have viewed the 5th commandment to apply not just to your parents, but to all authority figures.
Promotes: Honoring your parents and all of those in authority. Giving significant weight to your parents. Taking care of their needs as they age. Not being resentful or harsh with them.
6th Commandment: “You shall not murder.”
Forbids: Murder. Racism. Hate. Unauthorized killing. Abortion. Unjust war.
Promotes: Unity. Love. Reconciliation. Forgiveness. Respect for other image bearer’s.
7th Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.”
Forbids: Extramarital sex. Lust. Divorce (in most cases).
Promotes: Sex in the context of a covenant marriage, between one man and one woman. Faithfulness to your spouse. Watchfulness over your sexual desires.
Promotes: Financial responsibility. Contentment with what God has provided. Generosity. Care for the poor. Giving your money to God’s kingdom purposes.
9th Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
Forbids: Gossip. Slander. Lying. Bearing false witness in a court of Law. Judging rashly. Any form of spreading dissension with your words.
Promotes: Unity. Truthfulness. Keeping promises. Keeping your word. Desiring to promote the good name of your neighbor. Believing the best in other people’s words first. Being slow to judge what others say.
10th Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Forbids: Coveting. Rivalry. Jealously. Discontentment. Fixation on what God has not provided.
Promotes: Contentment. Satisfaction with God’s provision. Gratitude.
More to the Ten Commandments
As you can see, there’s more to the 10 commandments than we usually think. 2 Yes, all 10 commandments still matter today. We should take them seriously and seek to study and appropriately apply them to our lives.
Theology is for every Christian — not just pastors and ministry leaders. It is my belief that, if accompanied by prayer and obedience, the discipline and practice of studying theology will be one of the primary means of sanctification in your life. But with so many books available on the subject— and many of them tough to read — where do you start?
I’ve got a list for you. This list is by no means exhaustive. I’m sure you (or someone else) could add a few more books or change some of the books I have selected and it would still be worth perusing. I put the number “seven” in the title but there are a few extra books sprinkled in, too. And while the word “beginners” made the title, these books can benefit any Christian, no matter how far along the road you are.
If you haven’t read much theology and you’d like to start, below you can find the best theology books for beginners.
A marvelous work of theology. I have the version with the larger and shorter catechisms and Scripture proofs. The sentences in the book are beautifully crafted and have served the church well for hundreds of years. While I take a few exceptions (i.e., I don’t agree with everything in it), few books are more enriching than the Confession. The book is both meaty and edifying, two things that don’t always go together. (You may want to read it along with Confessing the Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith).
In a day where an increasing amount of people question the reliability and necessity of the Old Testament canon, the need for more good books on the OT today is vital. There’s too much suspicion toward the OT — even amongst Christians — and it shouldn’t be this way. Confusing at times? Yes. But the frequency at which its relevance is questioned is startling.
Wright to the rescue. This book is excellent — one in which he shows how the OT points to Jesus. Remember: the Old Testament is what Jesus read, studied, quoted, and obeyed. If you’re tempted to question its use, look to our Lord’s example. (Wright’s, The Mission of God’s People, is excellent, too).
The subtitle of this book gives you a better understanding of what this book is about (although the title is beautiful, one that borrows from a famous hymn). It’s a book about the covenants in the Bible and how they build and relate to other covenants in the Bible, and to the rest of Scripture. The theme of covenant is important in Scripture and one that you would do well to grasp.
My favorite dead guys are John Calvin and Charles Spurgeon. But I love me some Pink, too. I read this book back in, I think, undergraduate school. Man, did it make me fall in love with God more. The more knowledge I have of God, the more readily I am able to love and obey him. That’s one of the reasons why studying theology is so important. Nowadays, all the cool kids are writing books on God’s attributes, but no doubt they have borrowed and are indebted to Pinks’s work published many moons ago.
This is the smaller version of his Systematic Theology and the bigger version of his Christian Beliefs (which is the first theological book I ever remember reading, one that gave me a deeper thirst for the knowledge of God). I love Grudem. His prose is remarkably clear and engaging, something you can’t say for every theologian. This book (and the two others mentioned that are similar to it) have been foundational theological books for many Christians, but especially Reformed Baptists.
I believe this book started out as a series of essays by Packer. Years later, this book has sold over a million copies (and counting). I saw a guy on vacation last year reading it as he and his family waited to be seated at a restaurant. “That’s a great book,” I told him. Or something like that. I don’t remember my exact affirmation, but I wanted to encourage him. I got the sense that he was either a skeptic or a new Christian and my desire was for him to read and consume the book in its entirety. That’s my desire for you, too. I just re-read four of the chapters the other day and was reminded again why this book resonates with so many people. (You may also want to refer to Packer’s Concise Theology).
I remember having lunch a couple of years ago with Gerry Breshears, a theology professor at Western Seminary, and Bruce Ware, who teaches theology at Southern Seminary. We were there with another friend.
Bruce asked me the question, “Randy, of all books besides the Bible itself, what book has had the greatest influence on your life?” And I said, “That’s easy to answer. Without a doubt, it’s A. W. Tozer’s book The Knowledge of the Holy.”
Bruce looked at me and said, “You’re kidding. That’s the book that has had the biggest influence on my life.”
And then Gerry Breshears said, “I’m not kidding! That’s the number one book for me.”
You are a new Christian. Or someone that you know is a new Christian. You (or they) want to start reading the Bible. Where should you begin? In other words, what’s the best book of the Bible for new believers?
The word “best” here is subjective. What I think and what someone else thinks could be different and, in some sense, we both could be right. Reading the Bible is better than not reading the Bible. Any place would be great, really. But some places in Scripture seem more advantageous than others for beginners.
Over the years, I have found that many people recommend the Gospel of John as the best place to start in Scripture. Not a bad choice by any means. I love the Gospel of John. It’s a beautiful book. But in John’s Gospel, there are some tough sayings and interesting imagery that can be confusing if not read in its proper context. Again, John is great, but I think we would do well if we skip back two Gospels.
If you are a new Christian, the best place to start reading in the Bible is the Gospel of Mark.
Why the Gospel of Mark is the Best Book of the Bible for New Believers
Here are a few reasons why I say so:
1. The Gospel of Mark gives you Jesus.
I know, I know. The whole Bible is about Jesus. Read from a redemptive-historical perspective, you can find Jesus in the books of James and Jude and Jeremiah. He is the point of every page. And yet, the Gospels are just different.
They are different because they give you the words, actions, and deeds of Jesus up close and personal. We see an intimate image of Jesus as we read a biographical sketch of his life, something new believers should immerse themselves in. In particular, the Gospel of Mark focuses on the actions of Jesus (more on this later), which quickly helps a new believer understand Jesus’ life and ministry.
2. The Gospel of Mark is the shortest Gospel.
You will ask, “If you recommend a Gospel for a new believer, couldn’t Matthew or Luke or John suffice?” The answer is — yes, of course, it will. But at 16 chapters, the book of Mark is the shortest of the Gospels, making it less intimidating than, say, Luke, which is 24 chapters long. You can read Mark in less than 90 minutes. It’s a book that you can read in one sitting over and over again.
3. The Gospel of Mark is Action-Packed.
The Gospel of Mark is jammed-packed with stories. It’s choppy, with new scenes beginning and ending quickly. The word “immediately” appears 42 times, showing that Jesus wasn’t just standing around doing nothing. It’s an exciting book to read, one that will surely keep and capture the attention of a new believer.
In his book King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus, Tim Keller captures this idea well when he writes: “Mark does not read like a dry history. It is written in the present tense, often using words like “immediately” to pack the account full of action. You can’t help but notice the abruptness and breathless speed of the narrative. The Gospel conveys, then, something important about Jesus. He is not merely a historical figure, but a living reality, a person who addresses us today.”
4. The Gospel of Mark is Fairly Easy to Understand
Not that a new believer won’t have any questions about Mark’s Gospel as he or she reads it. I still have questions when I read it, and I’ve read it countless times. But the Gospel of Mark, on the whole, is not that hard to get. There are no genealogies. There aren’t an abundant amount of difficult sayings (although that whole thing about handling serpents and drinking poison is (Mark 16:18). The Gospel of Mark is a quick, fairly easy to understand biographical sketch of Jesus’ life.
5. The Gospel of Mark is About Discipleship
The purpose of Mark’s Gospel is discipleship. That’s the main point. As my ESV Study Bible tells me, “The ultimate purpose and theme of Mark is to present and defend Jesus’ universal call to discipleship.” Discipleship means walking with Jesus. It’s a call to love and obey Jesus, to emulate his character, and to be prepared to suffer as he did. This is something a new believer needs to grasp. This is why the Gospel of Mark is a great start.
I’m thankful that a new believer would ask this question. It’s evidence of God’s grace. I remember when I first fell in love with the Scriptures and how I longed to know the Word. I still do long to know it more than ever before. But I didn’t get this way overnight. Everybody has to start somewhere and few places of the Bible are better for new believers than the Gospel according to Mark.
Do you treasure books of the Bible like 1 Chronicles? If you follow a Bible reading plan you’ll read through the Old Testament. But there’s a difference between having to read something and feeling like you get to read something. And for many, certain Old Testament books feel obligatory rather than delightful to read. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is so much gold here, something I recently learned while reading through one of King David’s prayers.
The prayer I have in mind is 1 Chronicles 29:10-22. It’s right before David’s death, right before he passes the throne to his son. In David’s prayer, we learn many things about the Lord. Here are a few of them.
1. The Lord is blessed forever.
Verse 10: “Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: ‘Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever.'”
2. Everything in heaven and on earth belongs to the Lord.
Verse 11: “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.”
Verse 14: “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you”
Verse 16: “O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own.”
3. All things come from the Lord, and he rules over all.
Verse 12: “Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.”
4. The Lord’s name is glorious.
Verse 13: “And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.”
5. The Lord tests the heart, and takes pleasure in uprightness.
Verse 17: “I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you.”
6. The Lord is able to change hearts.
Verse 18: “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you. 19 Grant to Solomon my son a whole heart that he may keep your commandments, your testimonies, and your statutes, performing all, and that he may build the palace for which I have made provision.”
I fear that books of the Bible like Chronicles and Obadiah and Nahum and so forth are overlooked. In a day where some question the relevance of the Old Testament and still some speak out against it entirely, I would love to see these 39 canonical books read more often and taken more seriously.
If you take time to read some of these neglected books of Scripture — and if you take the time to read the footnotes in your study Bible for the passages you don’t understand — you will find many glorious truths about our glorious Lord. I encourage you not to skip over this part of the Bible when you read it. Indeed, I hope you come to cherish and love the Old Testament. After all, if it is good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for you too.
Do you believe in infant baptism or believers baptism? Are you Reformed? Concerning the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, are you a continuationist or a cessationist? The answers to these questions sum up some of your theological convictions. You may know what you believe. But do you know how you got there?
This is a question I’ve been pondering for the past couple of years. How in the world can we match two people with equal intelligence and get a totally different interpretation from a Bible passage? The more I reflect on why so many smart men and women are divided on so many secondary theological issues, the more I think that there’s a number of influences that determine what you believe.
How We Arrive At Our Theological Convictions1. Your Family Upbringing
“Now, the reason I am a Baptist is, first, very simply, because I grew up in a Baptist home,” says John Piper. Not because of a book he read by Charles Spurgeon, but because of the influence of his parents. Your family has influenced you more than you know. This is especially true if you grew up in a Christian home. While you may divert from some of the things your parents believe in your twenties and beyond, no one can doubt the influence that parents have on their kids’ theological convictions.
Why I’m Baptist // Ask Pastor John - YouTube
2. Your Experiences
Similar to your worldview, your personal life experiences also influence what you believe.
If the church has hurt you in some way, you may neglect the Sunday service and instead watch a sermon from your living room on Sunday mornings, downplaying the texts that command Christians to meet regularly. You will wrongly be committed to small groups but not to the Sunday gathering.
On the flip side, if you’ve had a good experience in a particular denomination or family of churches or network or whatever, you will be inclined to stay even if there are glaring faults with the movement. Not a bad thing. Could be a good thing, actually. Just saying your experience will shape your decision to stay (and consequently, align with that movement’s theological convictions).
3. Your Exposure
If you grew up in a Baptist context and all of your friends and family are Baptists, and you’ve never read or listened or interacted act with others from a paedobaptist position, the thought of infant baptism may seem strange to you. And yet, infant baptism is what John Calvin, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards (and many other deceased and living brilliant Christians) believe. Your exposure — or lack thereof — will blind you from potentially seeing a clear argument on the other side.
The things that you are exposed to most (and often at a young age) will affect what you believe. Often, too little exposure produces narrow-minded Christians who are not able to identify or sympathize with one who holds an opposing view.
4. Your Church
And it should be this way, shouldn’t it? Preachers have the great responsibility to preach the Word of God in season and out (2 Tim. 4:2), to preach the entire counsel of God (Acts 20:27), to teach the flock what she should believe. Some things are caught, not taught, as the old saying goes. And when we spend time around other Christians, and when we hear the Word of God preached, we learn what to believe.
5. Your Personal Devotional Life
Few things have shaped me more than private Bible reading and prayer. Not being legalistic. Just an observation from my own life: the seasons of life in which personal Bible reading and prayer are a constant are the seasons that my theology is continually built up and my soul is encouraged.
6. Books, Conferences, and Media
The books we read shape what we believe. If you’re an Arminian, and you spend a couple of years reading John MacArthur and John Piper, chances are you’ll be a Calvinist before you know it! There are a host of conferences held each year that supplement the church with theological resources. And let’s not forget about the role that blogs and YouTube, among other things, play in our lives. While most Christian content online often lacks sound theological precision, they are a tremendous blessing when done well and can aid in shaping your beliefs.
7. Your Worldview
N.T. Wright (or Tom Wright, as the cool kids like to call him) argues that our worldview impacts our reading of Scripture. He says that we all view the world from our own spectacles and this worldview can cause misreadings of Scripture. You know, I think he’s right. To say it plainer, the way that a poor person from a bad area interprets the Sermon on the Mount may vary from how a rich man does. Our worldview — our personal perspective on life — shapes what we believe.
N.T. Wright on How Our Worldview Impacts Our Reading of Scripture - YouTube
8. Your Sufferings
Luther said it: “I want you to know how to study theology in the right way. I have practiced this method myself…The method of which I am speaking is the one which the holy king David teaches in Psalm 119…Here you will find three rules. They are frequently proposed throughout the psalm and run thus: Oratio, meditatio, tentatio” (prayer, meditation, trial).”
Personal suffering has a way of making you lean more into the Word and into Christ. In these desperate times, you may be more inclined to read and pray and gain new insights that shape what you believe.
Be Grateful and Charitable
Why do you believe what you believe? It’s a complex thing. I hope this helps you to better see how you came to your convictions. This should cause you to be humble and grateful before God and thankful to those who have played a part in helping you grow in theology. It should also create a desire for unity and charity amongst the body of Christ. The more we realize that there are numerous factors that contribute to how we land on a theological position, the more readily we will be able to be gracious with those who disagree with us on secondary issues.
“What books are you reading in seminary?” This is a question I’ve been asked a lot over the past couple of years. As often as I’ve been asked this question, I thought it might be helpful to put together the entire list of books.
1. This list is required reading for MDiv students at Covenant Theological Seminary from fall, 2016 to spring, 2019 based on the classes I took. This list is not meant to curate all the books read at every seminary.
2. This list represents the Master of Divinity degree only.
3. Professors sometimes change the books they assign, which means one could do the same program I did and have, say, 10-15% different books required to read.
4. Most of these books were required. However, I’ve added some of the recommended books from professors if I thought they were worth mentioning.
1. Apologetics, Evangelism, and Missions 2. Applied Theology 3. Church History 4. Counseling 5. Covenant Theology 6. Greek 7. Hebrew 8. New Testament 9. Old Testament 10. Preaching 11. Systematic Theology 12. Miscellaneous
You can find the books below.
Seminary Books: A Complete Lists of Required Reading for my MDiv Studies1. Apologetics, Evangelism, and Missions
Last week, I wrote about how I became a daddy. I have a son now and I’m in full swing on the dad life. I love it and I love to see him happy. But I hate to see him cry. Call me a newbie, but I’m just not used to all the crying. When he cries, I hurt for him. I want to help. I know I can. But sometimes, I know his tears are necessary.
Take, for example, when we change his diaper. He sometimes cries and throws a fit. He gives the impression that he doesn’t want his diaper changed. Maybe the feeling of being undressed is temporarily uncomfortable. There could be a thousand reasons why he doesn’t like it. But if we don’t change his diaper, he could land a diaper rash and things would be worse.
Or think for a second when he gets shots from the doctor. I don’t want to see him suffer, but I know it’s best for him; if he doesn’t get the shots, something worse could happen. The shots are for his good even if the shots are accompanied by tears.
When I see him cry, three things come to mind:
I care deeply for his well-being.
I have the power to help.
I know that tears are sometimes necessary.
The more I reflect on my relationship with my son when I see him in pain, the more I see a correlation on how God relates to his people when they suffer. The Christian life is filled with seemingly endless and perplexing trials. Over the years, tears have flowed from my eyes and from the eyes of people I love. “Why me, God?” could easily become our mantra. But we must remember that in Christ, our tears are never in vain.
God’s Care, Power, and Wisdom
When we suffer and cry out to the Lord, it’s important to remember three things.
God cares deeply for our well-being.
It sometimes feels like he doesn’t. But feelings cannot always be trusted (although they should not be ignored, either). When you suffer and God feels distant, know that he is close and know that he cares. He is omnipresent, with you always and wherever you go.
When my little man cries I have a deep affection and longing for him to get better. And that’s coming from me, a sinner. The perfect Father’s love is flawless and beyond measure. Often in those painful moments of life, God is sanctifying us. He cares too much for us to remain like we are so he works on our character. Refinement comes through pain.
God has the power to help.
“Why are you allowing me to go through this, God?” “If you’re omnipotent, why don’t you do something about this? Huh?”
When the thorns and thistles strike, God has the most power to help and should be consulted first. We are so tempted to cast our burdens on family and friends before we cast them on the Lord. While we should bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), that should happen after we have casted our cares to Christ.
Do not neglect private time with the Lord in seasons of suffering. He may not remove your pain, but he will give you the strength to endure.
God knows best.
God can remove your pain. But often he doesn’t. Why?
We know it’s for our sanctification. We know it’s to expose and remove idols. We know it can be to teach us a lesson like, say, endurance or perseverance or something like that. But we don’t always know what God is up to. We shouldn’t read too much into his Providence, presuming that our finite wisdom knows exactly what he’s doing. God’s perspective and yours are not the same. As D.A. Carson says, “God wants your trust more than he wants your understanding.”
Christian, your tears are not in vain. When my son cries, I care, I’m able to help, and I (sometimes) know best. We can say infinitely more about God and his relation to his people when they cry out to him. We don’t always know why things happen the way they do. But we know that no tears are wasted. Trust the Lord and press on.
Some of you, observant types, would have noticed that last week I didn’t publish an article on this site. It’s the first time I haven’t done so in a while. Well, I think I have a pretty good reason why I didn’t, and that reason is this: I was in the hospital spending time with my wife and newborn son. That’s right, I’m a daddy!
I try to be organized with this blog. So much so that I have many articles that I could have easily posted. I even brought my laptop to the hospital with the intent of publishing an article; it’s not abnormal for me to bring my MacBook places when I travel to keep articles churning on this site. But I decided not to this time.
This site is a blog, but others have told me it’s a ministry. Since this is a ministry (I still use the word “ministry” loosely), I wanted to make a statement both to myself and others, which is family is more important than ministry.
Nevertheless, I’m back to blogging and now I’m a daddy. Before I forget what it’s like to experience the birth of a firstborn child, I want to get my feelings out there. I’m much more of a thinker than a feeler, but I’ve been feeling things this week (which I’m told is a good thing, who knew?) and want to share them here.
Mostly, I feel thankful.
I feel thankful to God for his provision of a child. To my wife for her endurance and toughness and care for our son. To my church family for all their support, and my extended family, too. I feel thankful that the million things that had to go right for birth to happen did, and everything is okay.
Our son was born during the biggest snowstorm to hit the state of Missouri in quite some time. In God’s providence, we made it to the hospital just over an hour before the storm hit. We had ups and downs during the labor process, but ultimately we gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Don’t have time to spell out all the details here, but suffice to say God was gracious to us throughout the process.
I feel thankful for other parents, too. It’s easy to be critical when you’re not the one doing the thing that you’re criticizing. It’s far harder to actually do that thing you’re criticizing. I feel deeper respect not just for my parents, but all mommies and daddies out there. And that means you if you’re a parent. Thank you for your godly example and all that you do to raise your child in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Thanksgiving is an extremely important response to God. He commands it; and if we as his people don’t do it, our thankless disposition robs our joy. We are even told of those unrighteous persons who will experience God’s wrath because, in part, they did not give thanks to God (Romans 1:21). While I’m tempted to grumble since I’m sleep deprived, and while I feel impatient when baby is crying and I don’t know why, deep down the biggest thing I feel is thanksgiving to God for this incredible blessing.
“For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (2 Chronicles 5:13)
Which Christian books should you read in 2019? I’ve put together a list of 10 books for you to consider reading this year. I’m going to try to read a few of these myself, although time may fail me to read the whole list. You can find the list below.
I’m glad to see more books written on the subject of Christian singleness. There seems to be more attention to this area which is a good thing. Here is Alberry’s contribution in which he debunks seven common myths about the single life.
I’m an advocate of this idea — combining words with something visual to communicate something truthful. That’s what Challies and Byers are doing with their Visual Theology ministry, in which they have dedicated a previous book, a site, and now this book. They are engaging people not just with the mind, but also the heart and imagination.
I try to read everything Kevin DeYoung writes, although I haven’t read much from him in two years (sigh). I clearly have some catching up to do as he seems to release one or two books a year. Here, he goes back to the 17th century and examines the Canons of Dort, a work that summarizes the Christian faith from a Reformed perspective.
A book on apologetics. Seems like the Christian publishing industry has been publishing tons of good books on evangelism and apologetics in the past 5-10 years. I’m glad to see this trend. This book looks good.
Absolutely loved Miller’s book A Praying Life as it has been one of the most influential books I have read. I enjoy Miller’s work, and with this book he seeks to teach his readers a thing or two about personal discipleship.