Five books every Christian should read on prayer

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Prayer is a discipline many of us need help with. Okay, maybe you’re doing great in your prayer life. I need a lot of help in mine. Thankfully, there are a lot of really great books out there on the subject. Here are five I’ve found particularly helpful and you might, too:


The Mighty Weakness of John Knox

True, I recommended this one when talking about biographies you and I should read, but Douglas Bond’s book on John Knox offers us an example to look to when we want to know what a life submitted to the Lord in prayer looks like. “Because of his candid acknowledgment of his great need, he sought the aid of the God of the universe, and one way he sought it was through the prayers of fellow believers.”

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor

Don Carson’s book on his father, Tom, is another powerful “pray by example” book (even if not technically a book on prayer). As I wrote elsewhere, Carson shows his father as a man who prayed as though the Lord really is sovereign—that He must intervene for the lives of his hearers to be transformed.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


A Simple Way to Pray: The Wisdom of Martin Luther on Prayer

Archie Parrish offers an examination of Luther’s prayer life, as well as the advice he wrote in his little booklet, The Way to Pray. As far as “instruction” books on prayer, there are few better than this because of it. (More thoughts related to this book can be found here. And for a related book, read R.C. Sproul’s The Barber Who Wanted to Pray, a child-appropriate retelling of Luther’s The Way to Pray.)

Buy it at: Amazon


A Call to Prayer

This little book is one of the most challenging, if for no other reason than J.C. Ryle’s willingness to call out the complacency of Christians in his day (a complacency that looks familiar in ours, as well). He writes:

Can we really believe that people are praying against sin — when we see them plunging into it? Can we suppose they pray against the world — when they are entirely absorbed and taken up with its pursuits? Can we think they really ask God for grace to serve him — when they do not show the slightest interest to serve him at all?

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Valley of Vision

As mentioned above, often the best way to learn to pray is by example rather than by instruction. Sometimes the best way to pray in a given moment is to pray with someone else’s prayer. That’s where the Valley of Vision, with its powerful, gospel-rich prayers, is so helpful.

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon


Reader’s choice: A Praying Life by Paul Miller. I’ve not read this (yet), but I keep hearing I should and that you should, too! (You can get it at Westminster Books or Amazon.)

What books have you found helpful for cultivating your prayer life?

The irony of God’s strength

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In, Psalm 8:1-2, David gives God praise, describing the gloriousness of His nature and the majesty of His name. And almost immediately, he presents us with a curious irony: God’s strength is displayed in weakness:

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. (emphasis mine)

Notice how God has established his strength—”out of the mouth of babies and infants.” God reveals His majesty using the “weak” and “foolish” things of this world. He uses voices that don’t matter, at least in worldly ways. He revealed himself to the world through the nation of Israel—redeemed slaves taken out of the land of Egypt. Through Moses, God revealed himself to Pharaoh with power and authority. Moses, a man who stuttered. Later, as Israel’s earthly throne was established, God rejected Saul, who was the epitome of what a human king should be, and gave the throne to David, a lowly shepherd boy.… On and on we could go through the Old Testament as God consistently used seemingly insignificant voices within the culture of the time—the poor, women, children—to reveal his power and majesty to the world.

And today, it’s no different. God continues to reveal his strength through the weak things in the world. He reveals himself through the church. A church founded by uneducated fishermen, a former tax collector and zealots, with a message that sounds like absolute lunacy to most who hear it: that God would come in human form, suffer and die on a roman cross to pay for the sins of the world, and rise again from death.

In his excellent book, The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life, Dale Ralph Davis describes the day General T.J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s world came crashing down around him. His wife had given birth to a stillborn son, then she suffered an uncontrollable hemorrhage. In the span of a few hours, Jackson went from joyful expectant father to crushed widower.

The next day he wrote his sister Laura; he told her he thought he could submit to anything if God strengthened him for it; but he made no attempt to cover his sad despair. But then there in the middle of his note, there is a most moving one-liner. He says: “Oh! my Sister would that you could have Him for your God!”

Can you imagine that? Can you think of anything weaker than Jackson dashed and devastated by the Lord’s “taking away”? Here is a man beaten and crushed who nevertheless says, Oh that you could have him for your God.

This is one of the great ironies of the gospel: God’s strength is made known in weakness. That is what God has entrusted to us. Fallible, foolish, sinful people, who, by God’s grace, have been saved and redeemed by this foolish message of good news and great joy. And so, like David, we give God praise because of the irony of his strength.


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Seven books to read on Christianity and homosexuality

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Last week, recording artist Vicky Beeching, whose songs are sung in thousands of churches in America (possibly even yours this weekend), announced, “I’m gay. God loves me just the way I am.” And she is just the latest among many who are either coming out as gay or in favor of same-sex marriage.

Far too many of us struggle to know how to respond. Is there a biblical case for same-sex relationships? Does the Bible really condemn it? Can we just “live and let live”?

If we’re going to be people who truly love our neighbors, we need to be people who tell the truth. And in order to do that, we need to know what the truth is—what God’s Word has to say about homosexuality. Here are a few books that I’ve found helpful and you might, too:


God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines

This one might be the surprise recommendation to some of you. But it’s one I believe we all should be paying attention to as it purports to offer a biblical foundation for the compatibility of homosexuality and Christianity. For that reason alone, it will almost certainly be the book progressive Christians will be appealing to on this matter (in fact, one of them—Rachel Held Evans—wrote a glowing endorsement for it).

Buy it at: Amazon


Is God anti-gay? by Sam Allberry (reviewed here)

Sam Allberry’s book is one of the finest you will read on the subject. He writes not simply as a pastor helping Christians wrestle with the implications of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, but also as a man who deals with same-sex attraction. So for him, the temptation to compromise on what the Bible says would undoubtedly be strong. It would certainly make it convenient for him. Instead, he reminds us of the simple truth: “God’s message for gay people is the same as his message for everyone. Repent and believe.”

Buy it at: AmazonWestminster Bookstore


Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill

Like Allberry, Wesley Hill writes from the perspective of a man living with same-sex attraction. And like Allberry, he writes from the perspective of one who truly believes the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality and marriage. His approach is a little different than Allberry’s in that the message of his book finds its heart in the hope of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11: that although some of the Corinthians practiced homosexuality, and adultery, and were thieves, drunkards, and swindlers, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


The God of Sex by Peter Jones

Peter Jones broadens the discussion away from merely talking about homosexuality as if it were “the” problem, to the larger issue, which is one of worldview. For Jones, fundamentally, what we’re seeing is a clash of worldviews at work, the continued battle between the truth and the lie (Romans 1:25). Examining the relationship between sexuality and spirituality through this lens allows us to see how both worldviews see sex as sacred, but with purposes in mind.

Buy it at: Amazon


Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Rosaria Butterfield is another writing from first-hand experience, having been in a relationship with a woman for several years before her conversion to Christ. While the book is principally the story of her conversion, her thoughts on the conflict between the two opposing ideologies—especially given that she was a chief advocate for gay rights at an academic level—is fascinating.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


The Truth About Same-Sex Marriage by Erwin Lutzer

It’s been about five years since I read this one, so a lot of the details are fuzzy. However, I do remember it being you’d expect from its author: biblical, careful, pastoral and extremely helpful. While he does strongly express the serious implications of homosexuality and same-sex marriage on society, his point is not to condemn this sin as though it existed in a vacuum. Essentially, even as he equips us to think biblically about the issue before us, he also gives readers a gentle warning (and rebuke) to not ignore the other serious sins among us, whether greed, adultery or gossip.

Buy it at: Amazon


Bonus book: Love into Light: The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Church by Peter Hubbard

This is not one I’ve read (yet); however, it is one that a number of friends and fellow bloggers have recommended. Here’s a look at what Tim Challies had to say in his review:

Hubbard writes as a pastor, as a counselor and as a man deeply marked by the gospel of divine grace extended toward human sin. He insists that the gospel makes all the difference, for before the cross we are all the same, we are all sinners, we are all in desperate need of grace.… The gospel makes all the difference and the gospel is exactly what Fred Phelps and so many others have thrown away in their misguided, hate-filled attempts to address homosexuality. “If our attitude toward a gay or lesbian person is disgust, we have forgotten the gospel. We need to remember the goodness and lovingkindness that God poured out on us. God should have looked at us and been disgusted. Instead, without condoning our sin, He loved us and saved us. And I want everyone to know that kind of love!”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

That’s a few of the books I’d recommend checking out. What about you: what books on this issue have you found helpful? 


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This should make us stop and think

Without realizing it, leaders can paint their own dysfunction over churches, ministries, and missions fields. All too easily, the effort to preach the gospel becomes about appeasing fears and insecurities, turning leadership into a tool used to primarily gain a sense of personal meaning.

If this doesn’t make us sweat a little bit, I’m not sure we’re examining ourselves carefully enough, what do you think?

Prioritizing the gospel

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Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, a celebrated politician of France, was known for his brilliance in the court and his wisdom in the pulpit. He was influential, wealthy, and powerfully wise. Educated as a priest, even to the rank of bishop, he renounced the church to excel in public affairs. And excel he did. Only the emperor was more distinguished.1

And yet, with all his knowledge, with all his splendor, and with all his wealth, Talleyrand died with a miserably regretful epitaph. Next to his deathbed was a handwritten letter detailing his dying words and reflections on the life he was leaving behind:

Behold eighty-three years passed away! What cares! What agitation! What anxieties! What ill-will inspired? What vexatious complication! And without any other result than great moral and physical fatigue, and a profound feeling of despair for the future, of disgust at the past.

We find a similar letter in the Bible. It wasn’t found next to a comfortable bed under a warm lamp, but smuggled out of a cold Roman dungeon where criminals were imprisoned, drowned in the city sewage, and flushed away with the garbage. It wasn’t written by a political dignitary or high ranking diocesan, but by a humble and modest-living Christ follower. It did, however, contain the dying words of a well-known man—the apostle Paul.

He didn’t write what you might have expected a man to write in such an appalling setting—especially staring death in the face. His words were most powerful, most abiding, most encouraging, and most wise. His words captured the remarkable joy of a fulfilled life.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Tim. 4:6-8)

What consumed Paul’s life and culminated in such an extraordinary epitaph? It was the gospel of Jesus Christ. He made it his priority, his purpose, his aim in life, and his motivation to endure (2 Tim. 2:8-10). He made it his all. The gospel was a treasure entrusted to him by God, just as his life was a treasure entrusted to God (2 Tim. 1:12-14). The gospel mattered most to him—even above his own life.

The fight fought

Paul described his life as a war waged against gospel negligence. It was a gutsy struggle to maintain persevering trust in Christ by rooting himself deeply in the gospel. He fought apathy, laziness, comfort, weariness, fear, shame, unfaithfulness, and worldly arguments that would challenge his gospel meditations.

The race finished

Paul also described his life as a race, not to be won by finishing first, but to be won by finishing well. He taught that an athlete is crowned only if he competes according to the rules (2 Tim. 2:5). So the race finished well is a race finished with honor and excellence. Paul was not concerned with success tips, marketing points, or worldly wisdom. He knew that fulfillment in life was not succeeding in the world, but excelling in the Word. He concerned himself with the gospel.

The faith kept

Finally, Paul described his life as having a strong hold on the cross. He gripped Christ, knowing that the winds of persecution would fiercely blow and the waters of suffering would aggressively flow against him. Only the cross of Christ could withstand such a current. So he clasped tightly, kept strongly, seized firmly. The faith that he held was the breathed-out Word of God, the only resource capable of shaping a life such as his (2 Tim. 3:16). Paul held the gospel in order to keep the faith.

When the gospel means this much to you, death is the vehicle to the reward you seek and your life is labor toward the offering you give (2 Tim. 4:6-8). The Lord poured him out and he loved it. Is the Lord pouring you out?


Jacob Abshire is the author of Forgiveness: A Commentary on Philemon and Faith: A Commentary on James, and co-founder of Resolute Creative. You can find him online atjacobabshire.com and follow him on Twitter @aliasbdi.

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Let’s do some catalytic visioneering… and stuff! Because we’re leaders!

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I have to be honest: I really, really miss the days when leaders were cool with just being called managers or leaders. You know, when people weren’t adding qualifiers to boost their self-importance self-esteem?

Today, instead of being managers, we’re leaders. But not just leaders, catalytic leaders. Visionary leaders with fireworks shooting out our rear-ends with every decision we make. (And not just because of the Taco Bell we ate at lunch.)

We get it, okay? You’re a big deal. You’ve got people skills, dag-nabbit!

But could you maybe shut up about it?

There’s a problem in leadership circles when you have to declare yourself a catalytic, visionary such-and-such with mad woo skills (which is just as creepy as it sounds). The problem is simple: you’re clearly not one.

Your vision is seen in what you’ve accomplished, not by what you say you’re doing.

Your ability to move people to action is less important than what action you’re calling them to.

Your charisma is less important than your character.

Who are we trying to kid, honestly? The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced it’s ourselves.

We want to be seen as important. We want to be seen as big deals. We have a brand to uphold and promote, after all. We want to matter… because, well, we are deeply insecure. We are unsure of our ability to lead faithfully, so we mask it in bravado. We are insecure in our relationship with Christ, so we look to our performance for comfort.

But it’s a little bit like a foodie blog operated by someone who only knows how to make Kraft Dinner. The disconnect is often obvious to everyone but us.

“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth,” says Proverbs 27:2, “a stranger, and not your own lips.” There’s a reason the Lord inspired these wise words. When we praise ourselves, we reveal our insecurity.

But, brothers (and sisters, too!), we do not need to be insecure. The fruits of our labors will be apparent to all in time, if they are not already. And in time, if the fruit is good, the lips of another will praise our efforts. So we don’t need to!

Leader, let another praise you. Worry less about calling yourself a catalyst or a visionary. Vision and charisma is fleeting, and your security is not in those things anyway.


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What loving our enemies looks like

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You know how there are some passages of the Bible people seem to reject quicker than others?

Romans 1 is one of those.

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to preach on this text, one of the most divisive chapters of the Bible. Much like Genesis 1, which presents God as the authority over all creation, Romans 1 reminds us that, despite our best efforts, we cannot deny His existence, for He has made it plain to us in the things that are seen.

And yet, people do deny Him. Thousands of people die every day clinging to this rejection of God… Thousands live every day clinging to it, and embracing its fruit with abandon. Idolatry, foolish thinking, sexual immorality, gossip and slander, disobedience to parents—evil of all sorts and kinds. For these, who are haters and enemies of God, only one thing awaits them at the end: the unrestrained wrath of God.

And even as we know this truth, that punishment awaits, we are also called to love the lost, to love our enemies. So what is one of the most important ways for us to love them?

The answer is, for many, something that seems so counterintuitive, and yet it is the one thing that can turn away the wrath of God from those who are perishing: the gospel.

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). This is the only hope those any of us have. And so loving our enemies, loving those who mock and jeer, who treat us as intellectually incompetent because we believe such silly things, means telling them this truth—stuffing our pride and often our hurts so that they might also be saved.

We plead with them, knowing that they might reject us. But we do it because God does not rejoice in the death of the wicked. Think back to Ezekiel 33:11, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and life,” God says. “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die?”

There is no act of righteousness committed by man that will satisfy God’s anger. We need the righteousness of another to save us, a perfect righteousness. And so God, in love for His people, provided. God loved the world in this way, by sending His only Son so that whosever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. And at the cross, Jesus took the full force of God’s fury against sin, bearing the burden for every sinful thought, word and deed ever committed by those who would believe in Him. And then He rose from the grave as proof that sin had been defeated, that forgiveness had been achieved, and could be found in Jesus.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” Paul wrote in Romans 1:16-17. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

And so we must go and we must plead with those around us, “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die?” We must plead with them to repent and believe the good news. We must offer them the grace God has so richly provided in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Because those who have rejected God’s authority are perishing, we must plead with them to repent. We must show great love to the lost. Great affection toward those trapped in the worst of sins. But most of all, the most loving act we can possibly do is tell them that their only hope is to repent and believe.

The righteous don’t go with the flow

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The happy man (or, the man enjoying God’s blessing) is the separated man, a man who is not in neutral but who has a bias against evil in all its forms.… So… how happy the man who does not… He is countercultural. He is, in a word, different. He is not just a nice, easy-going, tolerant chap who likes to share a Löwenbräu with you. There’s a difference between the righteous man here and what my culture calls a ‘good old boy.’ He resists the vacuum-cleaner power-moves that evil puts on him. Mardy Grothe tells of a long-lived lady who, when asked what was the best thing about being 104, replied, ‘No peer pressure.’ But the righteous man in [Psalm 1:1] is not 104 and he meets plenty of peer pressure. It may cost him. But the righteous man is the one who does not go with the flow.

Dale Ralph Davis, The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life: Psalms 1-12, 15

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Being all about Jesus: thoughts on Mark Driscoll, anger, forgiveness and grace

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So… Mark Driscoll.

Yeah.

By now, you’ve probably read scores of blog posts from all corners of the Internet talking about his removal from membership with Acts 29, the church planting network he co-founded, and its board’s call for him to take an extended leave of absence from ministry.

You’ve read accounts from his apologists and antagonists alike, responding to the charges of abusive behavior, vulgar language, and sinful anger, to name but a few of the disqualifying charges leveled against him.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably had a mix of emotions.

“How could I have been so foolish?”

I first learned of Mark Driscoll in 2006, as a fairly new Christian (about 18 months as a believer), and just beginning to come to some doctrinal convictions. I was a member of a church that followed a seeker-sensitive model, but with little gospel proclamation. Hearing him was refreshing, even if I could have done without the yelling and whooping. He was relatable in the way he spoke. He talked about Jesus a lot. He preached the Bible as if it really mattered.

Those are things I’m truly grateful for.

But over the years, as my own discernment and convictions grew, his shininess became tarnished. Questions and concerns started growing: about the quality and content of his preaching, about his responses to criticism about his books, about the concerns I was seeing more and more frequently in my newsfeed and hearing from people in the circles I travel in.

And then the plagiarism allegations came to light, which have been more or less proven true (whether you agree with how they came about, well, that’s a different discussion). And then the revelations of the culture of fear and abuse from former—and well respected—elders and staff members. And then the… You get the idea.

With revelation after revelation, my disillusionment started to turn into anger—anger at the numerous and carefully crafted apologies that seemed designed to absolve oneself of guilt, but lacked true contrition. Over the number of people damaged, even as numerous people came to know the Lord. Over the way the Lord’s name was being defamed as one man continued to act with impunity and without accountability.

What do I—as someone watching this mostly from a distance—do with this? What do I do with this anger, this heartbreak, and this feeling of “oh my goodness, how could I have been so foolish?”

Turn away from anger

As hard as it is, turn away from anger. When anger is left to fester, it becomes bitterness. And bitterness is death. When we let anger linger, the offense we feel can lead us to rejoice in Driscoll’s downfall. What was hidden has been revealed, as the Lord said it would be. But the last thing we need to do is point and say, “I told you so!”

“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,” Proverbs 24:17 tells us. If you see Driscoll as an enemy to the gospel or as your enemy, you must not rejoice in all of this, as tempting as it may be. It’s disrespectful to him, it’s unbecoming of you, and it’s dishonoring of the Lord Jesus. To not put too fine a point on it, if you are rejoicing over Driscoll’s downfall, consider your ways.

Similarly, remember that we live in a culture that distrusts authority of any kind. You and I are not immune to this. And seeing the actions of a prominent figure like Driscoll can exacerbate this tendency. When a leader falls, we easily say, “And that’s why we shouldn’t have leaders,” when the truth is we shouldn’t have leaders who don’t have true accountability. God established leadership in the church, but he also established accountability for that leadership. It’s why we’re told that Jesus walks among the churches, and stands in judgment over them. It’s why we always see a plurality of elders—not in name only, but in practice—and teaching always tested against Scripture. It’s why laypersons can and should be able to raise concerns about our leaders, just as we can about one another.

Let grace triumph

But more positively, what we can do is, where we need to, seek forgiveness. If, in my failure to voice concern about a leader I have failed my brothers and sisters in Christ, I need to ask their forgiveness. If by my actions, I have allowed an abusive leader to continue unchecked, I need to repent. If in my desire to believe the best about someone (which we should always seek to do), I have failed to examine that person critically, I need to admit I was wrong.

I am not personally responsible for Mark Driscoll’s continued pattern of sinful behavior (and chances are, if you’re reading this, you aren’t personally affected by it, either). But while I am not responsible for his actions, I do need to confess something: I was not discerning enough about him. I wanted to think the best of him. I wanted to believe that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, he had true accountability. I was wrong, and I am sorry because, had I realized how bad things truly were, I would never have recommended his books, nor would I have recommended his teaching. But here is my hope in this: that grace would triumph.

And that’s my prayer in this ugly situation. I’m praying that those who have been hurt by Driscoll’s abusive behavior, those who have been maligned and slandered, will find healing and restoration. I’m praying that Mark Driscoll would heed the call from his brothers in Christ to take an extended leave—even a permanent one—from ministry and get the help he desperately needs. I’m praying that the existing elders who remain at Mars Hill will have the courage to humble themselves as they attempt to pick up the pieces and restore trust among those who make it their home. I’m not praying for former glories to return. But I am praying that, true to their tagline, every decision made from here on out would really be “all about Jesus.”


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Three warning signs I’m too busy

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These days I’ve been feeling pretty distracted. Pulled in a lot of directions. Focus hasn’t been coming easily to me. I’ve spent the last two months working more than I should, although with good reason, which help that whole “work/life balance” thing. I periodically go through seasons like this, where—either because of external factors or my own tendency to take on too much—I find myself with waaaaaaaaaay too much on my plate.

So how do I know when I’ve gotten there? Here are three signs that usually clue me in:

1. Reduced sleeping time. While I’ve always been a six or seven hours a night guy (which is barely considered healthy), when I am too busy, it’s really not good. It usually starts with bedtime getting pushed back just a bit later. And then a bit later. And then a bit later again.… And then the morning starts coming earlier. And a little earlier than that. And then a little earlier than that. And then consistent sleep becomes elusive, to the point that I’m waking up periodically throughout the night, getting maybe 2 hours of sleep in a row… and only four to five hours of sleep total.

2. Forgetfulness. Because I’m trying to do too much, I start forgetting things. At first it starts small, like forgetting a piece of a conversation, but it escalates from there. This one is probably the most frustrating for my wife, even more than my occasional irritability, because it is so disruptive to our daily lives.

3. Unfocused reading. Honestly, this is the sign that almost always clues me in. When I’m way too busy, I can’t focus easily. And because I can’t focus, reading just one book becomes challenging. So I start a book… and then I start another. And then another. And then another… and before you know it, I’ve got up to 12 on the go. Which is dumb.

It’s also where, I realized this week, I’m at. I’ve been way too busy lately. But I have a hard time realizing it. This is, in part, because one of the ways I unwind is by… working. When I’m not working at my day job, I’m writing a blog post, or working on a documentary script, or a book proposal or doing some marketing consulting work.

(My wife likes to joke that my hobbies are jobs.)

For me creative outlets—which usually come in the form of work—help me unwind.

But when I’m not careful, when my employer’s needs increase during a particularly busy season for example, even the things that help me unwind can actually add to my feeling of being way too busy.

At this point in an article like this, it’s typical to include the “and here’s what I’m doing to change all that.” Well, I’ve got some bad news: I don’t have anything profound to say on that. I can only give the first step: recognizing the problem. But that’s probably the most important one because if you don’t see the problem—if you don’t know how to recognize the warning signs—you won’t be able to work toward finding a solution.


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You know it’s not that hard, right?

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I don’t always do something stupid, but when I do, it’s usually reading comments on blogs.

Seriously. I’m very thankful for the helpful quality and tone of 99.9 per cent of the comments I receive on this blog. But, dang, you all are the anomaly, I think. That or I’m just reading the wrong websites.

Anyway…

The last time I made the mistake of reading the comments section on a blog, it was on an article talking about some of the latest blunders and buffoonery coming out of Seattle (I can’t remember the site, which may or may not be a good thing). As I read these comments, some thoughtful, some obvious trolling and attempts at gaining some attention for their own blogs, I stumbled upon a statement I never expected to see:

“I don’t believe any pastor needs to be above reproach.”

I… What do I even do with that besides say: “Well, you should, because the Bible tells you so (1 Tim 3:2)?”

The thing that’s funny about this blanket character qualification for a pastor/elder, this whole idea of being above reproach, is, really, it’s not that hard in some ways. I mean, at a basic level, being above reproach could be summed up simply as being a person of good character—you’re the kind of person who, as Thabiti Anyabwile puts it, “no one suspects of wrongdoing and immorality” (Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons, 57).

It doesn’t mean you’re perfect. It doesn’t mean you’re sinless.

But it does mean your character is such that others would be absolutely shocked if you were accused of some wrongdoing or immoral behavior or speech.

It means people would be surprised if you were accused of trolling on a website, swiping from other people’s sermons, only allowing your kids to watch the prequel trilogy, fudging your taxes, sexually harassing your admin assistant…

You know it’s not that hard, right?

When we no longer believe a basic character requirement—one that, at the lowest possible bar, means adhering to “Wheaton’s Law“—is actually a requirement, it’s sad. When we no longer believe it’s attainable, something is dreadfully wrong.


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Accidental double agents in the pulpit

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You have heard it said, “Pray like a Calvinist and work like an Arminian”—or, “pray as though everything depended on God, but work as though everything depended on you.”

But I tell you, this silly nonsense should never be heard coming from the lips of a consistent Evangelical Protestant.

Ever.

The reason is simple: aside from being stupid, it’s heresy.1

This realization hit me as I continued my trek through Bruce Shelley’s wonderful Church History in Plain Language. There, as he writes about the founding of the Jesuit order, the Catholic Counterreformation, and the Council of Trent, he explains:

Luther, Calvin, and Grebel stressed salvation by grace alone; the council emphasized grace and human cooperation with God to avoid, in [Ignatius of] Loyola’s terms, “the poison that destroys freedom.” “Pray as though everything depended on God alone;” Ignatius advised, “but act as though it depended on you alone whether you will be saved.” (Kindle location 5346)

One should quickly and easily see the problem with this kind of thinking.2 Whether we’re using this concept in thinking about our own growth in godliness, encouragement to fellow believers, or in ministry to the lost, it is a failure to recognize that everything does depend on God, both in prayer and in practice.

Praying as though everything depends on God is right and true—but we also must work as though everything depends upon Him. Because everything does.

This is the truth of Philippians 2:12-13—that, as we work, God works through us. This is the reality of John 15:5—if we abide in Christ, we will bear much fruit. But apart from Him, we can do nothing. This is the fact of John 14:12—that we who believe will do the works Jesus does!3

There is no dependence upon us to get things done. God is not passive. Nor is He is impotent.

We work, knowing that it is God who works through us. We are instruments in the hands the master craftsmen, and joyfully so!

A cute soundbyte makes for a memorable quote, but if we don’t think about our words, we may also be acting as accidental double agents in the pulpit.


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A prayer for contentment

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Oh Lord, You are my shepherd and I should not be in want,
but so often I struggle to be content and do want;
forgetting that you have graciously provided me with every spiritual blessing in Christ
and everything I need for life and godliness.

Thank you for often not giving me what I want
because my desires would draw my heart from being satisfied in You.
Help me to be content in You with what You have given me
and to not be focused on what my flesh wants or the world tells me I should have.

Protect me from coveting possessions or people,
talent or influence, relationships or prestige.
Keep my heart from being anxious for what I don’t have
and make me thankful for the numerous gifts that You have already given.

According to Your Word and steadfast love,
fill me with the joy and satisfaction of contentment in Christ.
Help me learn to be content in any situation like Paul
and to quickly reject the idolatry that dwells beneath the surface of my coveting.

I ask you to continually bring to mind your faithful provision for all of my needs,
that Christ died for the sin of coveting,
that in Christ I am free to be content and live righteously,
and that godliness with contentment is greater gain than pleasing my flesh.

And may I be humbled and changed by the ultimate example of contentment;
of Christ becoming poor in order that I could become rich,
and being content to go to the cross to fulfill the Father’s will
to rescue a people for Himself who can be free from discontent and zealous for good works.


Kevin Halloran is a lover of Christ, drinker of coffee, and reader of books who has no real reason to continue being a Chicago Cubs fan (but is anyway). He serves with Leadership Resources International training pastors to preach God’s Word with God’s heart. Follow Kevin on Twitter or visit his blog.

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Everything hidden will be revealed

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Jesus scares me.

He absolutely terrifies me sometimes. Not because of the power He exhibits in His miracles, although that’s certainly a good reason to fear Him. It’s because of what He says. He tells us we have to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). He warns that some who do mighty works in His name will hear, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). And then He says things like this:

No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away. (Luke 8:16-18)

On the one hand, there is great encouragement to be had here: You cannot hide who you are, it always comes out. If you are in Christ—if you are called “son” or “daughter” by God our Father, if you have been saved by Jesus, if you have been given new life through the Holy Spirit—you can’t keep it hidden. It will always be made manifest; the “light” of your faith will eventually be revealed, even if you try to cover it.

Negatively, the same is true. If your heart is rotten, if there is darkness in your soul, it will be made manifest. It will inevitably come through in your speech, whether in words of anger and hatred, or sweet words of manipulation. No matter how hard you try, no matter what kind of appearance you put forward, what you are will be revealed.

Anyone else a little nervous?

If it doesn’t scare us a little, then I’m not sure we’re really taking verse 18 seriously: “Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”

It’s not difficult to see how this warning is at work in the life of a guy like Mark Driscoll, who built his entire ministry on his persona as an edgy, “angry young prophet.” And many of us, who were either too immature to see it, or too caught up in the excitement of seeing the lost come to Christ through (or perhaps in spite of, depending on your point of view) his efforts, turned a blind eye to concerns that have only grown more serious.

And now it’s all coming to a head. Plagiarism. Manufacturing a bestseller. Questionable financial dealings. More and more stories of people coming out about their experiences at Mars Hill… And now, the unearthing of a thirty-ish year-old Driscoll’s actions as “William Wallace II” online—140 pages filled with some of the most foolish, ungodly, and downright evil things I’ve ever had the misfortune of laying eyes on.

“For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.”

No one knows for certain what’s going to happen to Driscoll or to Mars Hill Church, nor is it really appropriate for any of us to speculate. But it should make us consider our own actions—and do so with fear and trembling. What have we done that, if revealed, would end our careers, our marriages, our ministries? What have we said—or thought—that would put the worst of the Wallace rants to shame?

None of these are a secret to the Lord.

And if they’re online, they’re probably not a secret to someone else, either.

When we see a man besieged, and potentially undone, by controversies of his own making, we should weep—for him, for the people directly affected by all of this… And also for ourselves, for but by the grace of God go we.


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