A Resource for Praying the Psalms

In recent days, several wonderful devotional books have been written on the Psalms. One notable example that I am presenting using is Tim and Kathy Keller’s, The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms. I cannot too highly recommend this resource.

Below is a link of my own thesis I wrote a few years back on how to pray the Psalms. What I have learned has been a huge blessing in my own life and ministry and I hope it will be for you. I jokingly encourage folks that, if that have insomnia, that this book will serve as a cure. Seriously, I encourage folks who are interesting in this study to start by reading chapters 1 and 8 before diving into the other chapters.

All eight chapters of my thesis on Recovering One of the Lost Tools of Christianity Spirituality: Praying the Psalms may be downloaded by clicking on this link.

Prayer of Supplication and Confession – Easter Sunday

O Mighty Father, the tomb calls forth my adoring wonder,
for it is empty and Christ is risen!
Grant me to be crucified with Christ
that I may live a new life,
for I wish to be dead and buried to sin,
to selfishness, to the world;
that I might not hear the voice of the charmer and be seduced by his lusts.
Purge me from selfishness, pride, the fear of man,
and the desire to be highly esteemed by others.
Grant me to stand with my dying Savior,
to be content to be rejected, and to be willing to hold to unpopular truths.
Grant me more and more of His resurrection life:
may it rule me, may I walk in its power,
and be strengthened through its influence,
through Jesus Christ my resurrected and ascended Lord! Amen.

Good Friday – Finding Hope in Suffering

Psalm 129 sets forth one notable feature of our journey of faith that we’d rather not talk about – suffering. In fact, many religions say that it’s an illusion. For some who profess faith in Christ, it causes them to abandon their journey of faith entirely. Where do we find hope when we suffer?

Hear the Word of God from Psalm 129:

1 “Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth” – let Israel now say—

2 “Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me.

3 The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows.”

4 The LORD is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked.

5 May all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned backward!

6 Let them be like the grass on the housetops, which withers before it grows up,

7 with which the reaper does not fill his hand nor the binder of sheaves his arms,

8 nor do those who pass by say, “The blessing of the LORD be upon you!

We bless you in the name of the LORD!”

How do you tend to respond when you suffer? Have you ever said or thought something like the words of Teresa of Avila: “Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!” Some of us are prone to get angry with God at his apparent indifference to our plight. We tend to charge Him with wrongdoing. We doubt His goodness and question His love and power. Some of us sulk and wallow in self-pity. Others of us take vengeance on our pain with the unrelenting pursuit of illicit pleasure. Others of us blame and shame others. Psalm 129 reminds us where to find hope in the midst of our suffering?

We generally need to recall God’s Pattern. It was his pattern with Israel, Jesus, and with us. Cross and crown … tragedy and triumph… sufferings and glories to follow.
Israel – Israel suffered at the hands of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, The Syrians, the Greeks, and the Romans, the Muslim crusaders, and the Nazis. Why such persistent antisemitism? Satan absolutely hates Israel as the people through whom God promised to send the Messiah. Why is this? The Apostle John declares that “the Son of God appeared  to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

Listen to how the Psalmist describes Israel’s suffering: They “plowed upon my back.” This is a powerful metaphor combining the idea of a vicious, painful scourging with the painstaking and thorough effort a farmer would make to plow a field.
But they have “not prevailed against me” (v. 2). They did not gain the victory. Persecutors never completely prevail over God’s people. For the Lord cuts the cords of the wicked.

Have you ever wondered why God persist in using this pattern of suffering before the glories that follow? This pattern can easily be traced in the life of Israel, in the life of Christ, and in the lives of Christ’s followers. One reason He does this is so that the world might know that the power is not from ourselves but from God.

But what would life be like in our fallen world if God eliminated suffering? Malcolm Muggeridge, a noted British author and journalist answers: “Supposing you eliminated suffering, what a dreadful place the world would be. The world would be the most ghastly place because everything that corrects the tendency of this unspeakable little creature, man, to feel over-important and over-pleased with himself would disappear. He’s bad enough now, but he would be absolutely intolerable if he never suffered” (Jesus Rediscovered, 1969. pp. 199-200).

We need to specifically remember Good Friday. Indeed, the Psalmist laments the repeated and frequent afflictions of his people, but this Psalm has its ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah on the day that we call Good Friday. For Jesus is the ultimate sufferer whose back is plowed to bring healing to us… His sin-sick people.

What do we do on Good Friday? We worship our suffering Messiah who willingly dies on our behalf. We recall His cross, we take time to relive the anguish, and renew our vows to live as His followers.

Why did He suffer so? Our salvation was contingent upon Jesus’ suffering. One of the things we remember on Good Friday is that the Messiah had to suffer. He suffered to ultimately end all suffering.

But notice that it doesn’t end with suffering. Paul spells out Jesus’ exaltation to the church at Philippi: “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:8-10). 

For Jesus, He endured the cross before He received the crown. The way of humiliation and suffering prepared and led Him to great glory.   God uses this same pattern with us. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 reminds us: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

May you find on this Good Friday renewed hope to persevere in your own suffering as you remember the One who suffered and died for you.

Advent Devotional 2: Relinquishing Riches to Make Us Rich

We all have difficulty relinquishing things that we cherish. I still remember my first ten-speed bicycle. It was a fully-equipped, Schwinn beauty that I received as a Christmas present. Not long after I received it, I allowed a friend to borrow it for a quick ride. She then proceeded to get hit by a car, and destroy my bike. Thankfully, she was just a bit banged up, but my precious, beautiful bike wasn’t so fortunate. I wish I could say that I was more concerned for her than my bike in that moment, but…

A bike is a small thing to relinquish. How difficult it is for us to give over to the Lord our dreams, our longings, our careers, our kids, and other precious things. Have you ever thought about what Jesus Christ relinquished to become the God-man and our Savior?

From eternity past, Jesus Christ was the eternally rich God. He not only was, but is, materially rich. He owns everything because He made everything and He is the end for which everything exists. Colossians 1:16 tells us: “All things were created through him and for him.” Abraham Kuyper states powerfully the implication: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” This means that every resource you have — your kids, your home, your car, your church, your 401K, your bank account — does not belong to you, but to the Lord.

Jesus is not only materially rich, but spiritually rich. He enjoys infinite glory in the immediate presence of God, which He set aside to be born to a poor, teenage mother in a cave and to die a criminal’s death, in order that we might become rich in the very things that He gave up.

Remember how Jesus prayed during His passion: “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5). Before He entered that glory, He suffered in the indignity, cruelty, and brutality of the cross. O the magnitude of the generosity and grace of Jesus!

Jesus enjoys perfect love in the immediate presence of God. What makes Jesus rich is that His father uniquely loves His only begotten son. “Because you loved me before the foundation of the world…I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them,” (John 17:24, 26). But Jesus cried out on Golgotha’s cross: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Why have you turned your smiling face away? O the magnitude of the generosity and grace of Jesus!

Jesus enjoys ultimate joy and bliss in the immediate presence of God. He has existed as the glorious, perfect, and happy second person of the Trinity from all eternity. Why? Psalm 16:11 tells us, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” God the Father says: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased.” But in the Garden Jesus says, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38). O the magnitude of the generosity and grace of Jesus!

What did Jesus do with all of these riches? He relinquished them. From this infinite height, Jesus performed the unimaginable condescension. Though He was rich, He became poor so that we might have the riches of which He let go — so that we might experience the immediate presence of God in heaven ourselves and live coram Deo (before the face of God) forever.

Those who repent and trust in Christ will become unimaginably rich in eternity. The Bible says that “we will inherit the earth” over which Jesus has all authority (Matthew 5:5). We will live in the immediate presence of God and He will dwell with us and we will be His people (Revelation 22:3). We will experience and share His love and joy in His immediate presence forever and ever.

The next time you are called by God to relinquish to Him something you cherish, remember all that Jesus relinquished to rescue you and make you eternally rich in Him.

Thank You, Father, that the Lord of glory
was crucified in weakness for our sakes!
He, the Lord of all, became the Lord of nothing
so that we might become immeasurably rich,
enjoying a face-to-face relationship with You for all eternity. O the magnitude of the generosity and grace of our Lord Jesus! We make our prayer in His name, AMEN.

Why Read Your Bible? Eight Reasons from J.C. Ryle

One of my favorite authors and pastors from a previous generation is John Charles Ryle. He was a pastor in Liverpool, England back in the 1800s. Here are a few excerpts from a book entitled Practical Religion that I am presently reading. This chapter is simply entitled “Bible Reading.”

There is hardly any discipline more important to our faith then Bible reading. 2 Timothy 3:15 says that the Scriptures are ” to make us wise to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus.” Yet, one sweeping charge that can be brought against the church throughout the ages is it’s neglect and abuse of the Bible. We have Bibles by the thousands but to actually take time to read them is quite another thing. If you can hear for yourself, you should value the Bible highly, study it regularly, and thoroughly acquaint yourself with its contents.

Why read your Bible?
1.  There is no book existence written in such a manner as the Bible.
2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21 set forth profoundly the unique nature of this book.

2. There is no knowledge absolutely needful to a man’s salvation, except the knowledge of the things which are found in the Bible.

All the education a person’s head can receive will not save his soul from hell, unless he knows the truths of the Bible and believes the Gospel.

3. No book in existence  contains such important matter as the Bible. It sets forth God’s grand plan of salvation and the way by which our sins can be forgiven. How precious are the promises which the Bible contains for the use of those who love the Lord. How blessed are the hopes which the Bible holds out to the believer in Jesus Christ. How striking is the light which the Bible throws upon the character of man (Heb. 4:12).

4.  No book in existence has produced such wonderful effects on mankind as large as the Bible.
This is the book whose doctrines turn the world upside down in the days of the apostles. In a few generations they entirely changed the face of society by the doctrines of the Bible. They emptied the temples of heathen gods. They famished idolatry and left it high and dry like a stranded ship. They raised the character and position of women. They altered the standard of purity indecency. They put an end to many cruel and bloody customs, such as the gladiatorial fights.

The Bible is the book that  turned Europe upside down in the days of the great Protestant Reformation.

This is the block on which the well-being of nations has always hinged and with which the best interest of every nation at this moment are inseparably bound up. See second Kings 22:8, Matthew 15:6

This is the book to which the civilized world is indebted for many of its best and most praiseworthy institutions.

5. No book in existence can do so much for everyone who reads it rightly as the Bible.

It can show you the way that leads to heaven. It can show you the great giver of pardon, peace, and grace, the Lord Jesus Christ. From every part of the Bible, you can see the majesty, the beauty, and the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Bible applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit is the grand instrument by which souls are first converted to God. The Bible applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit is the chief means by which men are built-up and established in their faith.

6. The Bible is the only rule by which all questions of doctrine  and duty can be tried.

A man must make the Bible alone his rule. He must receive nothing and believe nothing, which is not according to the word. Make it a leading principle of your life never to act contrary to God’s word.

7. The Bible is the book which all true servants of God have always lived on and loved. For biblical examples of this, see Job 23:12 and Psalm 119:97

8. The Bible is the only book which can comfort a man in the last hours of his life.

I have never seen anyone enjoy what I would call real solid calm reasonable peace on their deathbed who did not draw their peace from God’s word. The man who thinks to go to his deathbed without having the Bible for his comforter, his companion, and his friend, is one of the greatest mad man in the world.

Here’s the Best, Heart-Warming, Joy-Filled, Rest-Inducing Summary of TULIP

Recently my 18 year-old daughter ask me for a summary of what we call the doctrines of grace. I love the summary below because it is pastoral, practical, God exalting, man humbling, and, most of all, true to Scripture.

Total Depravity: “We all struggle with our total depravity that reminds us that we are not just bad people, but people who are blind to real beauty (Jesus) and, left to ourselves, are dead to the only source of real joy (Jesus alone).

Unconditional Election: In spite of ourselves, the completeness of our joy in Jesus was planned for us before we ever existed.

Limited Atonement/Particular Redemption: What’s even better is that we have the assurance that our indestructible joy in Jesus Christ is absolutely secured for us by the sacrificial death of our Lord.

Irresistible Grace: Furthermore, God is radically committed to making sure that we don’t hold on to suicidal pleasures and will surely set us free by the irresistible power of a superior delight in Him.

Perseverance of the Saints: Lastly, God, by His almighty power, will keep us through times of affliction and suffering for the inheritance of pleasures at God’s right hand forever.”

John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin.

The Only Power that The Powerless Possess – Acts 12

The Only Power that The Powerless Possess – Vespers Guide

I.  A CRISIS: A fledgling church faces a crisis (12:1-4)

  • Herod arrests, persecutes and kills church leaders.
  • A crisis rocks the fledgling church: James is beheaded. Peter is imprisoned.
  • Why? In order to appease and curry favor of a group of powerful religious leaders.

II. THE RESPONSE: How do we tend to respond to a crisis? What could this little community of Jesus, in its powerlessness, do against the armed might of Rome?  (12:5,12)

  • The Church gathers to pray.
  • How did they pray? Earnestly, fervently, intently – being stretched out.
  • When did they pray? Through the night.
  • What does this phrase imply: “The night before” (v.6)? God is seldom early, but He is never late.
  • According to this passage, for what purposes does God use suffering in the lives of His children?
  • Imagine you are in this prayer gathering. How do you respond to Rhoda’s news and the sight of Peter?
  • Has God’s answer to prayer ever surprised you?

III. OUTCOMES: What are the outcomes? (12:6-24)

  • EVERYTHING IS REVERSED. Here we have the complete reversal of the church’s fortune. At the beginning of this chapter Herod is on a rampage – arresting and persecuting church leaders; at the end he himself is struck down and dies. The chapter opens with James dead, Peter in prison, and Herod triumphing; it closes with the power of God to overthrow hostile human plans and to establish his own in their place. Tyrants may be permitted for a time to boast and bluster, oppressing the church and hindering the spread of the gospel, but they will not last. In the end, their empire will be broken and their pride abased” (Stott, The Spirit, The Church and The World, p. 213).
  • ANSWERED PRAYER. Peter is freed through the divine intervention of an angel.sent from God (vv.7-11, 17). How ironic that the group who was “praying fervently and persistently for Peter’s deliverance should regard as mad the person who informed them that their prayers had been answered” (Stott, p. 211). Why was Peter spared and James was not?
  • THE PROUD ARE HUMBLED: The Lord judges the tyrant Herod due to his pride (vv.19b-24).
  • THE WORD SPREADS: The Word of God continued to increase and spread (v. 24). What might it cost you for the Word of God to spread through you?

IV. What are some lessons that we can learn from Acts 12?

  • Is there a situation that you feel powerless to resolve? Prayer is the only power that the powerless possess.
  • “Here are two communities, the world and the church, arrayed against one another, each wielding an appropriate weapon. On one side was the authority of Herod, the power of the sword and the security of prison. On the other side, the church turned to prayer, which is that only power which the powerless possess” (Stott, pp. 208-209).
  • Paul sings hymns in prison. Peter sleeps like a baby. Both are equally defiant in the face of death. You can be too.
  • If you have a position of leadership and something you do goes well, how do you appropriately give glory to God?