‘the heart of the problem’ by Alun Ebenezer

‘the heart of the problem’ Alun Ebenezer, EP Books, 2019. The author is Headmaster at a school in London. The book is primarily an evangelistic book. It isn’t complicated. It isn’t fancy. And it isn’t long at just 58 pages. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn. I enjoyed reading it. This book is written in a style that doesn’t mince words. The one aim of the book is to encourage and persuade you to go to the doctor (The Lord Jesus Christ). He is passionate about the task in hand. ‘Don’t mince your words doctor. Tell me the truth.’ This is what Alun does. You are in good hands. Rarely does an evangelistic book come along that I can unreservedly recommend. This is one of them. ‘Knowing the terror of the Lord we persuade men‘ says the Apostle Paul. This is written in that spirit.

It’s a good book to give away. It might not suit everyone. But if you want to know what the problem is, and the answer, this book does that. Ten of Those are selling it for £1.99.

There are five chapters:

1. The Problem: In just 2 pages he lays out the problem in no uncertain terms saying ‘…. the one thing we can all agree on is that something is wrong with the world we live in (p.1.).’

2. The Diagnosis: When you have a problem with your health you go to the doctor. Why? You want to know what’s wrong. So what’s wrong:

‘To get a diagnosis, …. we need a reliable understanding of our deepest problem. The Bible provides that level of understanding because it is God’s Word …. the problem is not ‘out there’ but rather in us; …. The fundamental problem is not bad parents, bad schools, bad friends, bad circumstances, corrupt politicians or a broken society. The fundamental problem is we all have a bad heart. (p.3.).’

He then. goes on to demonstrate this under eight brief headings, culminating in a Verdict on page 14:

The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. The symptoms are around us and the diagnosis is that we are sinners, every one of us (Romans 3:23).

3. The Prognosis: ‘…. where does this condition I have lead? What will happen if it carries on?’ ‘…. the Bible goes on to show us the prognosis, which tells us just how serious things are and why the diagnosis cannot be ignored (p. 15.).’

Just now people are scared they will catch the CoronaVirus because they know it can lead to death. Although some might brush it off thinking it only applies to people with underlying conditions. This isn’t something we can brush off because all of us have the underlying condition (the diagnosis) of a sinful nature. The author goes on to briefly show what that means under three heads: Death, The Judgement, and Hell. He says this:

‘All the things we enjoy on earth will be gone forever. It is impossible to imagine how awful it will be…. The anger of God hanging over you forever. There is no escape, no emergency exit, no prospect of getting out (p. 20).’

4. The Cure: The condition we have can’t be more serious. But ‘…. God doesn’t tell us about hell because he is nasty and horrible and wants to frighten us and spoil our enjoyment; rather, out of love and kindness, he warns us about it so that we don’t end up there (p. 21).’ A serious condition then, needs a serious cure. Not the prospect of a cure. Not a ‘What are my odds Doctor’ kind of cure. But a certain cure. Millions of people through the ages have received this cure. The author goes on to explain what that involves.

Remarkably, the cure doesn’t involve something we have to do. Some cures are quite radical and involve a great deal of effort by the patient. Not this cure. All the effort, all the hard work, is done for us by another. Such is our condition the cure cannot come from within. Neither our effort, nor our resolve will do it. Alun, throughout what is the longest chapter, explains what it is the Lord Jesus Christ has done for sinners.

Trying to grasp what Christ suffered for sinners on the cross is difficult to comprehend. Alun explained the suffering of The Lord Jesus on the cross in a way I’d not heard, or at least not quite appreciated before. He explained it by referring to the way time changed in the Narnia books. So while Christ was on the cross for those three hours he somehow entered another (eternal?) dimension where his suffering was of such a nature that here on earth we only get to see a fraction of what Salvation actually cost.

‘On earth it was hours but as Christ went into the darkness he left time and entered eternity and suffered an eternal hell (p. 34.).’

You might think all this is far-fetched, but seeing the things in the world and maybe your own experience convinces you that something is radically wrong. The Bible explains what’s wrong, and gives an answer. Jesus said to his disciples at one stage, ‘Will you also leave me? They said there’s nowhere else we can go, you alone have the words of eternal life (John 6: 66-69).’

Indeed, there’s nowhere else to go. And so to the final chapter.

5. The Doctor: Not convinced? It’s amazing that people, even with a serious condition, will not go to the doctor. There are a few reasons given why they just will not avail themselves of the cure. We are then given some of these are why they are no reason not to come. He gives five reasons and ends with this final heading: ‘Come to the doctor!.’

‘Just come to the doctor! The way you come to him is in repentance and faith (p. 54).’

In the penultimate paragraph he encapsulates the whole book when he writes:

‘The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. The symptoms are serious. The diagnosis spot on. The prognosis is terrifying. The cure sublime. And the doctor is ready and willing to see you… Come to him now! (p. 58.).’

Just in case you missed it, the doctor is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. The same Lord Jesus that said ‘Only the sick need a doctor (Mark 2:17).’ Have you seen that you are sick. Not everyone does. Some see it, but do nothing. They don’t come. Don’t be like them. Especially when the Lord Jesus says:

‘All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out (John 6:37).’

 

The Lord Christ sets His Face as Flint.

Luke 9:51 ‘….he (that is, the Lord Jesus) steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem;’
Says John Gill ‘or “strengthened his face”, as the Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions; set his face like a flint, as in Isa 1:7 denoting not impudence, as hardening of the face is used in Pro 21:29 but boldness, courage, constancy and firmness of mind: or “he prepared his face”, as the Syriac; or “turned his face”, as the Arabic, he looked that way, and set forward; or as the Persic version renders it, “he made a firm purpose”, he resolved upon it, and was determined to go to Jerusalem, his time being up in Galilee; and though he knew what he was to meet with and endure; that he should bear the sins of his people, the curse of the law, and wrath of God; that he should have many enemies, men and devils to grapple with, and undergo a painful, shameful, and accursed death; yet none of these things moved him, he was resolutely bent on going thither, and accordingly prepared for his journey;’
Source: From the Luke 9:51 verse comments in John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible.

‘When Christians Suffer’ by Thomas Case

I first came across Thomas Case in Voices from the Past Vol 1, a book of daily readings edited by Richard Rushing. This little volume, When Christians Suffer, is also edited by Richard Rushing and again published by The Banner of Truth. He has made, I think, another valuable contribution to the church of Christ.

Thomas Case (1598–30 May 1682) lived to the age of 84 and was, bar one, the longest surviving member of the Westminster Assembly (Westminster Confession of Faith and other documents). Case knew bereavement, persecution, the confiscation of his property and spent 5 months imprisoned in the Tower of London – though his wife (he remarried) was allowed to be with him. The book is written out of deep personal experience. It’s worth pointing out that Thomas Case doesn’t confine what the suffering is to any specific issue. Bereavement and illness are there of course, but suffering manifests (though sometimes it isn’t even seen at all) itself in many ways. The Corona Virus is with us, so many in the world are suffering right now. Mentally, financially, physically and spiritually. So for Christians especially, though it needn’t be confined to them, is a wonderful little book. Perhaps to give away. The book is an exposition of Psalm 94:12. ‘Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law.’

I shall take discipline here in the utmost latitude, for all kinds and degrees of suffering, whether from God, or man, or Satan. Whether sufferings for sin, or sufferings for righteousness sake. p.13.

This isn’t really a review, other than a few notes and a hearty recommendation. It’s a great little booklet. It’s 113 tiny pages (smaller than A6). My copy was a gift, but I’ve since bought another couple of copies to give away. I paid £3.25 at our local Christian Bookshop. The opening letter by Thomas Manton is worth reading on its own. You should know this is a very heavily edited edition of Case’s ‘A Treatise on Afflictions.’ That’s not a criticism as it’s extremely well done and makes the work of Thomas Case accessible to a much wider readership having updated the language making it more readable to a modern audience. Having read this edition I started to read the un-edited version which also contains a brief Biographical Preface, which I have to say isn’t that helpful.

Introductory Letter (slightly edited) by Thomas Manson to Thomas Case

I thank you for your thoughts concerning afflictions. I was pleased to drink from this fountain, and the half was not told me. To treat of afflictions when we ourselves flourish and abound in ease and plenty is more like the orator than the preacher, and the brain than the heart. It seems that when you went into prison, the Spirit of God went into prison with you. When you were shut up to others, you were open to the visits and free breathings of his grace. A prison cannot restrain the freedom of his operations. It would be a prison for sure to be shut up also from fellowship with the Holy Spirit. I begin to see the truth in Tertullian’s discourse to the martyrs:

‘You went out of prison when you went into it, and we’re but sequestered from the world that you might converse with God; the greatest prisoners and the most guilty are those at large, darkened with ignorance, chained with lusts, committed not by the proconsul, but God.’

Sir, I could even envy your prison comforts, and the sweet opportunities of a religious privacy. We that are abroad are harassed and worn out with constant public labours, and can seldom retire from the distraction of business for such free converse with God and our own souls. But we are not to choose our own portion; crosses will come soon enough without wishing for them, and if we were wise we might take an advantage of every condition.

Good sir, be persuaded to publish these discourses: the subject is useful, and your manner of handling it warm and affectionate. Do not deprive the world of the comfort of your experiences. Certainly my heart is not one of the tenderest, yet if heart answers to heart, I can easily foresee much success and that you will not repent of the publication. The Lord bless your endeavours in the gospel of his dear Son. I am, sir, yours in all Christian observance,

Thomas Manton.

The first section is ‘Twenty-One Lessons Which God Usually Teaches His People in a Suffering Condition.’

‘(1.) The first lesson God teaches us by affliction is to have compassion for those who are in a suffering condition.
We are prone to be insensitive, writes Case, when we are at ease in Zion! Partly out of the delicacy of self-love which makes us unwilling to sour our own sweet blessings with the bitter taste of a strangers affliction. Upon this very account God brings a variety of afflictions and sorrows upon his own children.’ p. 14.

‘(5.) God also uses affliction to reveal unknown corruption in the hearts of his people.
He reveals in the heart what pride, what impatience, what unbelief, what idolatry, what distrust of God, what murmuring, and what unthankfulness abides there that you never took notice of!’ p. 21.

One final quote from section 3. ‘How the Instrument of Affliction Promotes the Teaching of God in the Soul’
(1.) Through affliction God tears down the pride of man’s heart.
There is no greater obstruction to saving knowledge than pride and self-opinion. Pride raise objections against the word (The Bible), and disputes the commands when they should obey them. The heart of man stands as a mountain before the word, and cannot be moved until God comes with his instruments of affliction and knocks down those mountains, and then stands on level ground to talk with man. This pride of heart speaks loud in the wicked, and whispers audibly even in the godly. It is folly bound up even in the hearts of God’s children until correction drives it out, and the pride is broken and cries, ‘Lord, what will you have me to do?’ p. 82, 83.

As Manton writes, ‘crosses will come soon enough without wishing for them, and if we were wise we might take an advantage of every condition.’

 

Muslims are coming to faith in Christ (MERF).

Our Church had a visit on Tuesday by a representative of the Middle East Reformed Fellowship (MERF). The Coronavirus made the meeting a little uncertain but it went ahead, albeit with a difference. There were about 5 people at the physical meeting but more of us ‘gathered’ to take part online. I thought it was a very encouraging meeting. Our Tech guy (Eifion) did a great job.

Even under what we regard as extremely difficult circumstances (they are) The Lord Jesus Christ is building his Church in The Middle East. The Church is growing. And by growing I mean Muslims are turning from Islam to Christ. We were able to watch a video of how Nadia came to faith in Christ. She came in contact with no Christians. Her testimony demonstrated three things we saw in one of the slides (Just as I was about to take a picture the slide disappeared). I was really struck by this. The three things:

  1. Islamic Extremism

Most Muslims are shocked by the extremism. (More Muslims are killed by Islamists than any other people.) This is one of the factors that are making Muslims question the Islamic faith. Let’s not assume that all Muslims are Extremists. They aren’t. Or that they support Extremism. They don’t.

2. Life of Mohammed

Once they start to read about Mohammed, Muslims wonder how this can be a man of God.

3. Social media

Muslims can read the Bible, and listen to sermons without risk of anyone knowing.

You might not agree with those three points, but when they (MERF) speak to Muslim converts and hear their testimonies these seem to be the three most common factors.

Pray for the Church in The Middle East.

Visit the MERF website for more info.

Bulkington Church History Lecture. ‘Henry Havelock: Every inch a soldier and every inch a Christian.’ A Recommendation.

Photo Credit to Andrew Shiva

So yesterday I decided to take a trip to the great metropolis of Bulkington where Jeremy Walker was giving a lecture (at Bulkington Congregational Church) on Henry Havelock. The full lecture title was (Follow link to listen) ‘Henry Havelock – Every inch a soldier and every inch a Christian.’ Here’s what I thought was a key quote (there were many more!) Havelock had ‘An unfashionable faith in an unsympathetic environment.’ And another, one viewed him as ‘Being ready to live or die.’ Jeremy gave an account of his military life. He wasn’t in a position to buy his way up the ranks so any promotions he did have were on his ability as a soldier. Promotions were for specific campaigns but these were short lived and he found himself dropping back down the ranks when his usefulness was over. Nevertheless he did make progress, but it was slow and over many years, unlike some of his contemporaries. Eventually, but after many years, his service was recognised. His Christian faith was a particular barrier to promotion. On top of that he was a Baptist. Interestingly, while in India he met Adoniram Judson – the Baptist missionary.

We were then treated to how his Christian faith fitted in with being a professional soldier. This was just great. But extremely challenging to each of us to be the very best we can be in whatever vocation God by His providence has placed us. He was respected by all even when they thoroughly disliked his Christian faith. His practice was to spend the first two hours of every day in private prayer and reading his Bible. If the column of troops had to leave at 6:00 he would rise at 4:00. If they had to move at 4:00 he would rise at 2:00. This was his daily practice as a Christian and he would not be moved. Unflinching commitment to his Saviour and to his craft as a soldier. Disciplined and professional to the very end.

That is just the briefest account of what was an excellent and challenging lecture. Jeremy delivered it with suitable humour in places and with the utmost respect for this man of God. We can all learn from Henry Havelock and his devotion to The Lord Jesus Christ and his service as a soldier, but I think servicemen or retired members of the armed forces will especially appreciate this lecture.

Christians are finding as Sir Henry found, we also have ‘An unfashionable faith in an unsympathetic environment.’ I enthusiastically commend the lecture to you.

We read this from Wikipedia: ‘Major General Sir Henry Havelock KCB was a British general who is particularly associated with India and his recapture of Cawnpore during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.’

The Dead can do Nothing

On Saturday evening at Ebenezer’s 50th Church anniversary weekend; Dr Eryl Davies gave a most striking illustration on Eph 2:1  ‘And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.’

It went something like this:

‘Some of you,’ he said, ‘have stood over the body of a loved one, maybe you were crying, but no matter how much you wanted that loved one to be alive, they are dead.’

And they stay dead.

It’s an extremely powerful image. I’ve stood over the bodies of several dead loved ones. I can tell you, it’s a sobering experience. So his illustration wasn’t lost on me, or on others.

The point he went on to make is that only the Spirit of God can bring life to the sinner. The Bible speaks very plainly that spiritually by nature we are dead. The problem is that unbelievers think they are very much alive.

The Apostle Paul goes on to say that ‘we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:3)’ That is the position of the person without Christ. All seems well and Christians appear to be the most foolish people on earth. The reality is very different. Unbelievers are described in a variety of ways. Dead, darkened in their understanding, blind, ignorant, hard-hearted and many more. In other words, it’s a hopeless situation. There is no flicker of life.

Those of us that are Christians recognise that description because it describes where we were. (Our redemption is not yet complete. We know we have black hearts.) What happened?

Eph 2:4  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,

Eph 2:5  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

God stepped in. There’s no room for pride or any sense of achievement.

Eph 2:8  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

Eph 2:9  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

So how does a dead person, a walking dead person, become alive? Well, he certainly doesn’t do it to himself as the above illustration so clearly demonstrates. God does it. God makes us alive and grants the gift of repentance and faith in The Lord Jesus Christ. And He normally works through something similar to what you have just read. That is, the proclamation of the Gospel. This is why it is SO important to be in a church where the Gospel of the grace of a God in Christ is regularly preached.

How can you become alive? Or how can you be saved? Read how this happened to a hardened jailer in the 1st Century.

Act 16:29  And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas.

Act 16:30  Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Act 16:31  And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Or as Jesus Himself put it:

Mar 1:15 …. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

JESUS – Who is He?

JESUS – Who is He?

One Christmas hymn asks:

‘Who is He in yonder stall,
At whose feet the shepherds fall?’

Who is this person? Jesus has profoundly affected the lives of millions and even altered the direction and history of whole nations. Yet there’s an astonishing ignorance of who He really is.

The Bible teaches that Jesus is the Son of God. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day fully understood what Jesus was claiming by saying He was the Son of God. Jesus was claiming equality with God the Father. The religious leaders were incensed by this claim. They were seeking to kill Him because He was ‘making himself equal with God (John 5:18).’ Jesus was claiming to be God and under Jewish religious law was blasphemy and punishable by death.

The Christian Church makes exactly the same claim today. Jesus, the Son of God, is God. Many today are incensed by that truth claim.

Jesus at one time asked His disciples ‘Whom do people say that I am’. Just like our own day, they replied by saying, the people have many ideas about His identity. But then Jesus made it more personal by asking ‘Whom do YOU say that I am?.

There’s a vague notion about the identity of Jesus, but few find out for themselves, preferring to simply parrot what others say.

When Jesus asked ‘Whom do you say that I am?’ Peter, one of the disciples, replied by saying that Jesus is ‘The Son of the living God.’ In saying this, Peter acknowledges that Jesus is God (See Matthew 16:13-17).

You too may have a vague notion that Jesus is not like everyone else and might even concede that Jesus said some good things. You might even see that it makes sense to see Him as God, but you just don’t believe it. You might say ‘I’m fine, it’s not for me.’ But this has no bearing on its truthfulness. As an illustration: think about gravity. You can’t see it. But it affects our lives every moment. And if you were to jump out of a window you would very quickly be confronted with its reality. Apparently, survivors of suicide regretted jumping the split second gravity took over as they hurtled to their death.

The split second you leave this life and your spirit leaves your cold dead body you will immediately believe that Jesus is God. Tragically, it will be too late. The Bible says ‘now is the accepted time, now is the day of Salvation (2 Cor 6:2).’

The chorus of the hymn I started with answers the ‘Who is He’ question by saying this:

‘Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
‘Tis the Lord! the King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall,
Crown Him! Crown Him, Lord of all!

What must you do in the light of who Jesus is? It’s what we all must do. You need to bow before Him. Acknowledge your rebellion towards your God and plead for mercy on the basis that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners 1 Timothy 1:15).


To hear more about The Lord Jesus Christ, join us for a Sunday service.

Service times at Alfred Place Baptist Church

Sunday morning at 11:00 & Sunday evening at 5:00.

Or drop into our regular Coffee morning: Wednesdays 11:00 – 1:00.

 


This is my first attempt at an Evangelistic Leaflet. The errors are all mine but If you can use it, please go ahead.

God takes Ezekiel’s Wife ‘at a stroke’

The following singular personal account in the life of Ezekiel stands out like the proverbial ‘sore thumb’. Poor Ezekiel, I feel for him. Derek Thomas calls this incident ‘one of the saddest and most difficult in Scripture.’ (God Strengthens, Derek Thomas p, 177, EP, 1993.)

Eze 24:15  The word of the LORD came to me:
Eze 24:16  “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.
Eze 24:17  Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.”
Eze 24:18  So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

I was trying to think what it feels like to have ‘the delight of your eyes taken away.’ I described it the other day like having your insides sucked out through your eyes. The inner pain is indescribable. Unless you’ve been through it you have no idea. So like I say, I feel for Ezekiel.

A very hard providence

Whether his wife had been ill for some time we aren’t told. But it seems to be sudden and unexpected: hence literally ‘at a stroke’ would be the best interpretation I feel. A mercy really, for him and his wife. No protracted illness for her or long-term care for him. Nevertheless, a very hard providence. If a man like Ezekiel delighted in his wife, I’d expect her to be a Godly woman. There was more than looks going on here. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it but it seems to me this verse from Peter would describe Ezekiel’s wife and the inner beauty of her godliness. 1 Peter 3:4  ‘but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.’ (1 Peter 3:1-6) Ezekiel will see her again. He knows this. His faith is in The Redeemer, the One to come. That is, his faith is in Christ. As was his wife, I believe. This softens the blow, but a blow Ezekiel would have keenly felt.

We don’t make excuses for God

Here we are in no doubt as to why Ezekiel’s wife is taken from him. It’s for a sign to Israel. And is for their good. Though it falls on unrepentant hearts. And, we are specifically told that God was going to ‘take away the delight of his eyes’. The cause is known. We don’t have to try and work it out or make apologies for God. I certainly feel no need to make apologies for God and feel no need to defend the fact that He is the potter, and we are the clay. (Isaiah 64:8) He is The Lord, He does what He wills.

Ezekiel wasn’t to weep or grieve – he was allowed to quietly sigh – for his wife even though everything within him would want to. And God knows this, otherwise, why give that command to not weep. God isn’t oblivious to what this will cost Ezekiel and the pain His prophet will experience. Even in this, He is still ‘the Father of all mercies.’ Ezekiel is allowed to sigh, ‘but not aloud.’ What a sigh that must have been!

We aren’t told anything about Ezekiel’s wife other than that she was ‘the delight of his eyes.’ That doesn’t necessarily mean she was unbelievably beautiful to look at, but it does mean he loved her very much. She was a delight to him. When he saw her his heart skipped a beat we might say. She was to be taken from him. She wasn’t lost but taken.

The Lord gives and The Lord takes away

To the unbeliever, and maybe for some Christians, this will seem incredibly cruel. However, the caricature of a vindictive and hateful God just isn’t true. I know. I’ve walked in Ezekiel’s shoes. Admittedly, I wasn’t commanded to ‘weep not’ like Ezekiel but I do know but what it’s like to have ‘the desire of your eyes’ taken away. And taken away by God. Like Ezekiel, I was under no illusion as to who was in control. It was The Lord who took away ‘the delight of my eyes.’ I could say with Job “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21) This is a salutary lesson for us all. I’m sure Ezekiel wasn’t expecting this. He could say perhaps with Job ‘For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.’ (Job 3:25) We are NOT the masters of our own destiny. We aren’t in control. That thing you live for could be gone ‘at a stroke.’ And God doesn’t have to ask your permission or give notice. God can take away from our lives whatever He pleases – and that ‘at a stroke.’ Don’t deceive yourself into thinking all will be well when without Christ and without God, it won’t be.

Had Ezekiel sinned (I mean here in a specific instance as we are all fallen – including Ezekiel)? He had not. Had his wife sinned? We aren’t told, but I think we can infer not. The death of his wife then illustrates in a most tragic and powerful way the sudden destruction that is to come upon Jerusalem. Did the people get it? Did they respond to the sign? No, they did not.

How will you respond?

Will you respond to this sign? It’s as relevant now as it ever was. In our materialistic age, especially here in the West, we push our ‘inalienable rights’ to the limit. All the time God could take everything away at a stroke. Yes, and even our most precious things. And even our very own lives. Jesus put it this way ‘You fool, this night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ (Luke 12:20) Without being overly dramatic, this could well be your last day on earth. By evening you could be having to give an account of yourself before God! Without an advocate, without a Saviour that is, that is not something to look forward to.

Extreme Love from God

It probably seems quite extreme the lengths The Lord will go for the good of His lost people. He took Ezekiel’s wife, but that’s as nothing compared to the plan of God to rescue sinners. He has done this by sending into the world His Son. And the Son comes Himself to rescue and redeem.

Heb 10:5  Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;
Heb 10:6  in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Heb 10:7  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

The cost of Redemption is plainly stated by Christ ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ (John 10:10&11) Nothing but the blood of Christ can redeem sinners like us. This is extreme love! You have heard this and you know this.

Be Reconciled

Much more could be said but in the words of the Apostle Paul (2 Cor 5:20):

‘Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.’

The Deceitful Heart

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV).

Another translation says the heart is not only deceitful but wicked.

‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?’ (KJV)

In today’s reading (29th April) from ‘Voices From The Past‘ (Banner of Truth, Edited by Richard Rushing) we are treated to the writing of Thomas Manton (Works, 1:138-144) on the deceitful heart. I’ll probably post more from this book because it’s really excellent. Thanks to The Banner of Truth and Richard Rushing for editing it. There is a ‘Voices From The Past’ Volume 2 but that will have to wait.

If you are someone who isn’t a Christian then read this (below) and understand the dire predicament you are in. If God doesn’t do the work of Conversion in your heart you are without hope (Eph 2:12). The Lord Jesus Christ has said ‘… whoever comes to me I will never cast out’ (John 6:37). If you want to know what’s really wrong with the world then look no further than your own heart. Yes, systems and governments and laws limit its wicked out working to some extent but as Manton says ‘What a miserable, wretched creature man is!’. Even the Apostle Paul cried out ‘O Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24) But Paul was then able to exclaim from where deliverance comes:

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25) Can You?

 

The Prayer Meeting

It’s probably true – though I can’t prove it – that every Church Prayer Meeting will have people in attendance that do not pray. We all know what it’s like to be in a meeting with those ‘awkward silences’. Not only that, it’s probably every Minister’s goal to get everyone praying. It’s the Ministerial equivalent of bringing peace to the Middle East. Many have tried; all have failed.

Believe me, none of the following is meant to be in a critical spirit. I too, attend the prayer meeting. I too want to see God moving. I want to be blessed. I want the local Church to be blessed. I want God’s people to be blessed. I too would like the experience of the early church:

Act 4:31  And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

What a thing that would be! I’ve been a Christian for nearly 40 years and my experience tells me not everyone prays. I know this because I can easily be the one that doesn’t pray. I’ve sat under countless pleas from Ministers to get their people praying in public. It doesn’t seem to make a lasting difference no matter what’s done or said. Something isn’t working.

This is my rambling take on the problem, if it is a problem, and some comments that will hopefully help both the meeting and Minister.

Audible & Silent Prayer

We all need to realise that because a person does not pray audibly it does not necessarily mean they are not praying. They may not be. But isn’t it more charitable to assume they are? And when someone is praying audibly the others are following (one would hope) the prayer and saying a silent Amen (if not an audible one) to the prayer.

I recently read an article about ladies praying in the prayer meeting. More specifically, that they should be praying. I know ladies that would never ever ever pray audibly in a prayer meeting. This is because it is their honest Biblical conviction they should remain silent. I’m thinking especially of some elderly Godly ladies. Forcing them to go against their conscience I believe is unhelpful. There are then differing views on women praying in public. Personally, I have no objection to women praying in the prayer meeting if that is their conviction. Though to be honest after looking into this there’s a strong case against the practice. And it has nothing to do with male superiority but everything to do with how God has ordered differing roles for men and women.

Men not praying in the prayer meeting is another thing altogether. And I must address myself in this regard. Though even here there should be room for charity given differing abilities, self-consciousness, immaturity and so on. But as a general rule, the men ought to be praying.  If they are not praying, how should this be remedied? That is the question. Strong arm tactics I don’t believe are effective. Pummelling non-praying men with guilt is also not effective. But there may be a case for the Minister to lovingly draw alongside to counsel and encourage the brother.

The ‘Awkward Silence’

The ‘awkward silences’ are only a problem if we make them a problem. Let’s assume, for the sake of charity, the people are praying, just not audibly. Ok, it is a church prayer meeting where people, God’s people, gather to pray, aloud. But people will pray. People do pray. Just not everyone. Just not continuous non-stop prayer throughout the meeting. Perhaps accepting this as the norm is just giving in to the ‘problem’. But maybe it would take the pressure off and more would pray.

The Vicissitudes of Life & Warfare

The condition of the people is very varied. Some come almost straight from work, some with great burdens, some struggling with sin, lack of assurance, worries, illness, caring for loved ones, debt and many other conditions. Some are simply terrified at hearing the sound of their own voice or speaking in public. We definitely need encouraging. What I believe is needed most is preaching. Mini-sermons if you will. Not a Bible study. No hobby horses. Preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. Preach the Majesty of God and His Grace to us His people. Preach His Kindness to undeserving sinners. Preach the Word and let The Spirit of God do the work that only He can do.

‘Inspirer and Hearer of prayer
Thou Shepherd and Guardian of Thine’ (Augustus Toplady)

And,

‘Great Shepherd of Thy people hear;
Thy presence now display;
As Thou hast given a place for prayer,
So give us hearts to pray’ (John Newton)

There’s’ no doubt we are in a warfare as soon as we enter the prayer meeting. It will give the enemy of our souls great delight to see us not praying. On the other hand

‘…. Satan trembles, when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.’

And it’s true! But then I’ve heard that verse quoted many times in a prayer meeting and it has to be said, to little effect. One of the problems is the belief that if there’s a free flow of prayer that’s a good meeting. But if it’s hard work and a struggle it’s a bad meeting. The one makes us feel good, the other not so much. It’s good to have a sense of The Lord with us – of course it is – but we can so easily come to wrong conclusions. The reality is not always what it appears to be. Unless there’s a supernatural empowerment to pray engagement in warfare is going to be tough going.

Priorities in the Prayer Meeting

In our prayer meetings we all too easily start praying for stuff. It’s so easy to make it all about ourselves. We need to make a conscious effort to not do that. Even when urged to give God praise and thanks we so quickly and easily fall into making it all about ourselves. We need to cultivate a different attitude – this takes time. We need to be patient with ourselves and with one another. But cultivate the attitude we must.

What is wanted is something to ‘fix’ the meeting. I don’t believe that is possible. We can’t ‘fix’ anything. We need the Spirit of God to lead and guide us in our prayers. What does God want us to pray for, to thank Him for or to confess? With the best will in the world there will always be needs in the local, national and worldwide church and there will always be needs that suddenly arise so these could be mentioned at the meeting. But what if we had a list in our Bibles (perhaps inside the Church Bible as well) or on our phones that we can always bring to the meeting.

Here are a few suggestions:

To thank God for His being. Who He is. He is entirely self-sufficient in need of nothing and creator of all that exists..

The person and work of The Lord Jesus Christ. His Cross, His Blood, His resurrection, His intercession.

The person of The Holy Spirit. Pray that He would reveal The Lord Jesus to us and guide and help us as we pray.

To thank Him for the Holy Scriptures and the preservation of them for us.

To know God’s will.

His providence’s and the grace to persevere.

That the Triune God would be glorified in our church

Thank God that He has purchased a Church and those in it. Thank Him for our Salvation and that He keeps us by His Grace.

Thank Him for forgiveness, sanctification, justification and Glory.

To pray for the Pastor, Elders, Deacons. Pray they would be kept faithful and kept from falling.

To pray for the Word as it is proclaimed. That it might have the unction of God upon it.

To pray for the advance of the Gospel in our lives, church, locality, nation and world. Pray the Lord Jesus would see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.

Pray for our persecuted brethren around the world.

Many many more could be added to this list. It isn’t exhaustive but these are the sorts of things that should be on our minds (and in our Bibles I suggest) already. But then add to this more specific needs (in the local church) as they arise. But keep these to a minimum. Perhaps communicate the needs of the church through other means as well (email, text etc.) so we arrive at the meeting ready to bring our requests before the Throne of Grace. If there’s a need you know about. Pray about it.

Be Challenged & Encouraged

I hope this has been of some help. It has challenged me to think in the way I’ve suggested. It also challenges me to put what I can into practice.

I’m not naive enough to think any of this will ‘fix’ the prayer meeting, and certainly not a quick fix, but I do pray both people and our Ministers will be encouraged. God is with us! Christ is our Advocate! We are indwelt by His Spirit!

Come Down LORD!

Isa 64:1  Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence,

I’m reminded often of a passage in ‘The Experience Meeting’ by William Williams translated by Bethan Lloyd-Jones. I’m paraphrasing but – ‘One brother began to pray in his usual lifeless and boring manner and as he continued praying in this way his prayer began to have life. As he then continued others were moved and The Spirit of God fell upon them – and Revival broke out.’

If I find the book I’ll correct it, but that’s the gist anyway. Isn’t that what we all want? But it’s not usually like that and it wasn’t for them either. But may it be so for His Glory – AMEN!