April 2009


The Blazing Center has a good article – More Important Than a Dream Job for recent grads looking for work. It’s something you can never hear too many times.

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I’ve also been reading Frans Bakker’s Facets of Prayer and this stood out under “Improper Prayer” –

Think, for example, of Esau. As big and tough as he was, he lay crying bitterly at his father’s feet, begging for a blessing. Alas, Esau was concerned with the benefits and not the benefactor…So it is with those who engage in this prayer. From whom they receive gifts is of little importance. They want the gifts, not the Giver…Such prayer will never be answered. Would the great giver separate the gift from Himself? Then God would not be God.

I was convicted by this because it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately – how I keep failing at seeking God for who He is, not what I want out of him. I think the first step in the spiritual journey of prayer is to actually begin to ask God for things, to seek Him out in prayer believing that He can and will answer and reyling on Him to do so. The second step I think is beginning to pray to Him for other people -moving beyond simple selfish asking just for yourself to be concerned about other people, lift them up to the Great God of the universe too. Since I began seriously praying(not that long ago) I discovered gradually that I actually, for the most part, really do like praying for people. I consider it an act of service for them, and I have faith that God will help them. But there’s two problems with this – number one is, I’ve been questioning my motives in praying for people – is it just out of my love for them, rather than a pure godly love? Do I want to lay some claim on them by praying for them? Am I just praying for them so that I can tell them so and draw closer to them, rather than praying for them for God’s sake? And do I pray only for those I love and am close to, or is my prayer equally frequent and fervent for those in the outer layer of my prayer-intimacy? (I know for certain I fall far short in that last area anyway). So already this second step, at least for me, is clouded by so much selfishness.  But the third step, even beyond the second step, is seeking Him out for Himself, and that is where I fall really short.  I turn to God, at least three-fourths of the time, seeking emotional peace or comfort, or guidance, or asking him to fix things in my life, or praying for my present or future, or often for friends, of course, and their emotional peace, current life, etc. So seldom do I just spend time in prayer with God, listening to God. A friend of mine wrote this a while back –

Prayer is conversation with God…Consider what it would be like to have a one-way conversation with a friend. You tell your friend everything–personal facts, how your week is going, anything you are thinking about–and then you ignore your friend and keep talking when he/she responds. Do you think you could deepen your relationship or learn anything with your friend this way? Wouldn’t this be a lot stranger than a conversation that involves both of you talking and listening? Or if you went back in time to talk to someone famous, would you just talk or would you try to absorb as much as you could by listening to that person? Cliched analogies aside, that could only be a bit of what I’m missing when I don’t let His voice resonate in my heart. The way I’ve been praying is awkward, but counterintuitively listening to God can be spiritually refreshing. For instance, this is what the Lord’s Prayer sounds like when we just “go through the motions” without listening:

Man: Our Father, who art in heaven . . .
God: You called?
Man: Don’t interrupt me. I’m praying. Hallowed be thy name . . .

In contrast, here’s a prayer by A.W. Tozer that Amy Lin posted in one of those inspiring notes:

Oh God, show me Thy glory.
Oh God, show me myself.
Oh God, show me the need of the world.

If we really mean these words, we must actively listen for God’s response. Our loving God wants to share His heart with us, and He wants us to know Him.

I was convicted by the Bakker example of Esau also because I remember vividly how I’ve always despised Esau – he’s always been one of my least favorite characters in the Bible because not only is he sinful, but his sinfulness is of such a petty and childish manner. I remember always feeling contempt and wonder at how he didn’t seem to care for his father or who his father was at all, even though his father was clearly dying/old and whose company should be treasured. He always just seemed concerned with the blessing. I was never able to understand that. And yet – that’s what I do with God. I always want something from God – I don’t want Him. And while I continue to draw from him only things concerning me, my knowledge of Him, and hence my holiness and ability to live a God-centered and God-honouring life, will always be limited, crippled.

Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 (italics mine)

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Between Two Worlds highlighted this today-

From philosophy professor James Spiegel:

  1. Augustine (5th century): Remember that you are a citizen of another kingdom.
  2. Martin Luther (16th century): Expect politicians to be corrupt.
  3. Thomas Aquinas (13th century): God has made himself known in nature.
  4. John Calvin (16th century): God is sovereign over all, including our suffering.
  5. Jonathan Edwards (18th century): God is beautiful, and all beauty is divine.
  6. Thomas a’Kempis (15th century): Practice self-denial with a passion.
  7. John Wesley (18th century): Be disciplined and make the best use of your time.
  8. Fyodor Dostoevsky (19th century): God’s grace can reach anyone.
  9. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (20th century): Beware of cheap grace.
  10. Alvin Plantinga (21st century): Moral virtue is crucial for intellectual health.

Full article

And so from the beginning, from the very first story told in Scripture, God presents life, as it is, without escape, with only Himself to cling to.

via Communiqué: An Online Literary & Arts Journal.

I recently finished reading  Brokenness by Lon Solomon. In this book, Lon Solomon details something which he calls brokenness, which he defines as “the process by which God dislodges our self-life and teaches us to rely upon him alone in every facet of our lives”, a term he uses as a sort of loose synonym for what other people would probably call the process of sanctification. Solomon takes a specific aspect of sanctification – that of sanctification through trials – and addresses it, terming it a necessary and central part of the Christian life. He is not wrong in this, but where he does go wrong is in assuming on the one hand that this is the full answer(he mistakes a part for the whole) and on the other hand stopping short of the full implications of his topic and failing to discuss the purpose, the end result of this process of “brokenness”. The end result of brokenness is not brokenness itself, though by portraying it as a state of humility and godly blessings Solomon attempts to reconcile it as such, e.g. when he says after Moses’ time in the desert “Moses is not a fully broken man, but the shattering blow has been delivered and the rest of Moses’s life now becomes a chronicle of God’s deepening and maturing this man’s brokenness”.  The only purpose which he presents, right at the end of the novel, is for an individual’s usefulness for God to be increased.  I would say, rather, that Moses’ story, and all brokenness, is a chronicle of God’s deepening his people’s holiness. A more precise view of the matter would be that the end result is not brokenness but holiness – by the gradual and never-ceasing work of sanctification by the Spirit in our lives, we are granted an ever-increasing holiness. Brokenness, otherwise known as a series a similarly never-ceasing trials, struggles, and problems, is merely a facet of this work of sanctification; clearly, God doesn’t need to bring us to misery every time before he can bless us spiritually! And of course one by-product of holiness is an increased usefulness for God. But that’s not the main purpose of the trials we’re put through here on this earth – God desires worshipers above all else, not servants – he desires faithfulness and love more than works or service, though the latter certainly spring naturally and inevitably from the former.

In summary: Solomon is certainly right in highlighting the purifying through trials and misery which God works in our lives – he simply takes too narrow a look at it, without putting it in the broader Christian perspective.  Overall, I probably would recommend this book.

Some quotes:

“Not every broken follower of Christ will be another Finney or Moody. Such ministries belong exclusively to the sovereign will and plan of God. But any Christ-follower who will allow God to break them will see a new intimacy with God, a new level of relationship with people, and a new power for service in their lives. God will give those believers greater fruitfulness for Jesus than they’ve ever known or dreamed possible.”

“Through brokenness, God replaces:
-our self-sufficiency with a dependence on the sufficiency of God;
-our self-reliance with a reliance on God alone;
-our self-wisdom with a wisdom rooted in the ways and word of God; and
-our self-will with a surrender to the will and timing and plan of God, tempering our human zeal with a deep waiting upon God.”

“Many of us were told to read our Bible, pray, witness and fellowship and God will make our life smooth sailing. So we do all we’ve been told to do and, instead, our life falls apart. We go to our knees and begin searching for sin in our lives, but we find no areas of open, defiant disobedience to God. We search harder and still nothing shows up. At this point, we often become victims of our ignorance about brokenness and trouble sets in. Rather than submitting to the process, we head off in other directions that work against what God is trying to do in breaking us. These other directions generally fall into one of two broad categories: anger and false guilt”

(more…)

Christianity Today had a recent(not very good in my opinion) article called A Holy Longing, about beauty. The ordinary dictionary definition of beauty is “The quality that gives pleasure to the mind or senses and is associated with such properties as harmony of form or color, excellence of artistry, truthfulness, and originality.”

Truthfulness. Beauty is associated with truth? Of course there’s Keats’ famous quote “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”, but I was under the impression that in our modern world this had been pretty generally disavowed, and I myself never quite agreed with it. But reading this definition, it struck me as(forgive the pun) quite beautiful. Beauty is truthfulness. The truthfulness of the Gospel, God’s truthfulness to us, His promises, how the Bible is inherently and necessarily truthful because it’s the Word of God and God, by his nature, cannot lie.  God doesn’t summarily endow or declare that his Words or promises(i.e. the Bible) are true. Rather they simply are true, are made true, by who He is. And that is a beautiful thing.

The talk on Christian blogs lately is all about African Pentecostalism; most hail its rapid growth and particularly explosive recent popularity with enthusiasm, but you don’t have to look far to find it more worrisome than reassuring.

For instance, Christianity Today recently published an article reviewing Ogbu Kalu’s The Africanness of African Pentecostalism, a book exploring in detail the origins, characteristics, and movement of African Pentecostalism, and essentially arguing that African Pentecostalism sprang up on its own almost completely without help or influence from outer/Western sources(i.e. missionaries). The book, and the review, both focus on the cultural and social aspects of the movement, more concerned with whether the movement is culturally original that the theological ramifications and implications behind it, but what they do say about the movement itself is both highly revealing and worrisome .

More to the point, unlike the original preaching of the gospel message, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit does not need a foreign missionary. And the nature of African spirituality is such that ‘from the earliest contact with the gospel, Africans have tended to appropriate its charismatic dimensions, attracted to the extra power offered by the new religion, and stamped it with an African identity.’ On the ground, local believers spontaneously experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the context of recurrent revivals and a perennial quest for spiritual power—much to the consternation of foreign missionaries, whose fastidious norms and control mechanisms were thus subverted. Western (Pentecostal) outsiders were only invited after the fact.”

(more…)

Of the two daily devotionals I read fairly frequently, Elisabeth Elliot’s online daily devotional is one(find her in the blogroll to the side), and today’s I found particularly good.  I like her because she writes with terse profundity about faith.

“The God who determined the measurements of the foundations of the earth sets limitations to the scope of our work. It is always tempting to measure ourselves by one another, but this easily leads to boasting or despair. It is our business to find the sphere of service allotted to us, and do all that He has appointed us to do within that sphere, not “commending ourselves.”

Paul said, “We will keep to the limits God has apportioned us” (2 Cor 10:13 RSV). Jesus did that–willing to become a helpless, newborn baby, to be a growing child, an adolescent, a man, each stage bounded by its peculiar strictures, yet each offering adequate scope in which to glorify his Father.

Lord, glorify yourself through me and in the place You’ve set me. Let me not covet another’s place or work or glory.”

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