When you hear the word theologian what comes to mind? When you think about doctrine do you picture scholars in suits and ties studying 2000 page books full of 15-letter -isms and -ologies? Do you picture them solving problems and writing page after page on issues that have no little to no practical bearing on the lives of everyday, average people like us? As much as I hate to admit it, I have often felt that way as I've waded into depths of theological conundrums caused by the translation (or mis-translation) of a single Greek word.
I used to think John Calvin was one of these ivory tower theologians with all head and no heart. However, the more I read what he wrote and not what people say he wrote, I see that he had the heart of a lover of God and pastor. He was a man of strong devotion and zeal for God, and he puts this on display with the numerous prayers and references to seeking God in writings. Contrary to popular belief, he wrote more on other topics than did on election or predestination.
Everyday Prayer with John Calvin is one such example of his passion for God. It isn't a book that Calvin wrote, but it's jam-packed with quotes and excerpts of his writings on dwelling with Christ through prayer. Donald McKim has done an excellent job of pulling excerpts from Calvin's magnum opus, Institutes of the Christian Religion, as well as his numerous commentaries on the Old and New Testaments.
McKim suggests four steps to using this book in your prayer life:
1. Read the passage of Scripture at the top of each page. (Yes, this book is about the Word and the God Calvin wrote about, not Calvin himself!)
2. Meditate on the teaching and instruction from the passage and devotional writings of Calvin.
3. Pray in reflection on the Scripture and the devotional..
4. Act in light of what you've read and prayed about.
In the strange and scary days we are walking in right now, here is an excerpt of how Everyday Prayer with John Calvin and helps us pray in light of God's Word. In his writing on Psalm 18:1-6, Calvin said:
"It was a very evident proof of uncommon faith in David, when, being almost plunged into the gulf of death, he lifted up his heart to heaven by prayer. Let us therefore learn, that such an example is set before our eyes, that no calamities, however great and oppressive, may hinder us from praying, or create an aversion to it." (p. 27; emphasis added)
With prayer points and reflection questions each day, Everyday Prayer with John Calvin is an excellent supplement to your devotional life. Whether you're looking for a quick and simple tool for your quiet times or you're planning to spend time with a friend, spouse, or family member, this is a great option for you!
*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to leave a positive review.
Image Credit: Amazon
Unexpected and life-altering changes are the icy cold bucket of water that instantly jars us awake on a cozy morning. It seems that life went from normal to chaos in only a couple of days. Of course, history is full of pandemics and mass hysteria, but it is unprecedented—as the media has often said—for us in the 21st century with our advanced medical technology and interconnected systems of communication and information.
Yet here we are. A tiny band of parasites is threatening to undo us. A microscopic organism is lurking at the grocery store or in the breath of a loved one. These evil minions are rubbing their sheisty hands together as they wait to embed their genetic material into our bodies and try to take us down. Most of the time, they don't win. But that doesn't mean they'll give up without a fight.
Back To The Old Paths
Every generation is faced with some circumstance that can seem to pull the rug right out from beneath their feet. From the Black Death of the 1300s to the Spanish flu of the 1900s to the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020, we all face circumstances that can leave us feeling undone. Yet in these challenging times, we would do well to remember the words of Jeremiah 6 when Jerusalem was facing great destruction:
"...Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls."
While our circumstances are quite different than the Israelites Jeremiah was speaking to, the principle is still very applicable to Christians today. In the face of what appears to be a new reality for us in coming months, we have the choice to either respond in faith a follow the good path or say to God, "we will not walk in it." I hope and pray for myself as well as this generation that we will respond by going back to the ancient paths.
A Side Note
Before we go further, I'm not one of those gloomy Christians who starts every sentence off with, "the modern church has got it wrong because of...". There are many Christians around the world who are striving, with 2000 years of tradition behind them, to live out a biblical faith. It brings me great joy to see Christians around the world rallying to worship God together in these days of global lockdowns and quarantines. Praise God for technology that lets us worship and receive His Word together in these days of "social distancing".
My focus is what we do with the other 167 hours of the week. After my first seven days of social isolation, I was ready to go insane! It wasn't because I have a house full of little kids or even that I'm stuck and can't have the social interaction I desperately desire. Rather, my problem is that my devotional life was so intimately tied to the routines of my life that when things changed, so did my time with the Lord.
I've got to keep focused on the old paths or I'll be led by the media's mirage that solace is found in having more knowledge of the world around me.
What are the old paths?
What are the "ancient paths"? What is "the good way" where we can find rest for our souls? The first and most obvious answer is Christ alone. He calls us to come to Him and find rest (Matthew 11:28). But what are the means He has given us to do this? How do we seek and find Christ in the midst of all the noise and chaos that seems be closing in from all sides?
I'll be forthright. This is not an impressive or exhaustive list. I don't have a secret path or formula that will guarantee instant devotional success. If you have it, please share it early in the COVID-19 social isolation phase so we can master it! In all seriousness, I just want to recommend 3 basic spiritual practices that can help anchor our souls during such a time as this.
Spend Time In God's Word
This may be the most boring and unoriginal tip you've read all week. But in the barrage of free books, free lectures, free courses, and a host other free resources, we can lose sight of the richness of God's Word. While starving our souls on supplements and junk food, we forget that there's an infinite supply of manna right before our eyes. We need God's Word in these times.
Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, says "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). Will we be like the Israelites who detested God's food (Numbers 21:5)? Will we frown at the Scriptures like children do a plate Brussels sprouts or will we heartily agree that God's Words are "sweeter than honey" (Psalm 119:103)? Whether it's your physical Bible, an audio Bible, or an app on your phone, it's important that we spend time reading and hearing God's word alone, with our families, and even with friends (get creative!). Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17).
Meditate on Scripture
I once heard of dieters who put tasty food in their mouths, chewed it up for a few seconds, and then spit it out. This gave them the taste of the food without adding all the calories, sugar, and fat from the foods they loved. While it sounds like something for the birds, we often do this with the Bible as we plow through our reading plans or knock out our chapter for the day.
Just as people who don't actually eat their food would wither away to almost nothing, so our souls will be desperately malnourished without meditation. The 19th century writer, Nathanael Ranew said that, "little meditating makes lean Christians, of little life, little strength, little growth, and of little usefulness to others." This doesn't mean we need to be monks or mystics, but it does mean that we need to commit to slowing down and thinking deeply about God and His Word. If Joshua and David were both men of meditation and great leaders in Israel (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:2), then we can "find" the time during our time away from work and social life to meditate. The blessed path of meditation is available for all of us.
Once again, nothing new here! We know we ought to pray, but do we actually pray? Do we delight in our time with God? There used to be a slang phrase called the "Blackberry prayer" before smartphones took over. You've seen it. People have their phones in their lap, looking down in what could either be deep agonizing, solemn prayer, or simple scrolling. I wonder how many hours we will spend in "Android prayer" or "iPhone prayer" during these COVID-19 days with our live news and infinitely scrolling newsfeeds. I get easily sucked in.
It is during these days that we must remember to "continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving" (Colossians 4:2). Watchful, thankful prayer, like meditation, is a continual command, but it is especially needful as we are isolated and waiting out this storm. As valuable as it is to connect with people during these socially isolated days, it is infinitely more valuable to connect with God. We must prioritize our time with the Lord.
Spiritual Paths for Spiritual People
These old paths have been blessing believers for millennia, but it's not merely the doing that brings change. Without the Holy Spirit's help, our reading, meditating, and praying will be vain and powerless. We are needy people! Without the blood of Jesus, we can't come boldly to the throne of the gracious Father, nor can we understand the aim of all the Scriptures—Jesus. Without the love of the Father, we would be left to our sin and lost for eternity! Never forget who and whose you are while you're doing these spiritual duties, for that will put you on the path to legalism and burnout. But also don't neglect these important duties which God has given for our good.
The COVID-19 Outbreak of 2020
By now, COVID-19 is probably on your radar no matter where you are in the world. Rather than offer more news--the internet is full of it—I would like to share some ways to pray as we walk through some interesting and uncertain days. While some are saying there isn't much risk with this pandemic, the global economic and medical impact is staggering.
People across the globe are quarantined and major tourist areas look like ghost towns. The NBA, PGA, March Madness, and high school sports are gone indefinitely. Many churches (possibly even your local church) have canceled services or opted to meet virtually to help prevent the spread of this highly contagious coronavirus. The CDC's latest recommendation is to cancel or postpone all gatherings of 50 people or more for the next 8 weeks!
As Christians, we know and trust that God is sovereign over chaotic and scary situations like this coronavirus outbreak. We also know that uncertainty and fear can grip even the strongest of believers in times like these. Psalm 91 reminds us that God is a refuge, shelter, and fortress for those who abide in, dwell with, and trust in Him. One of the greatest ways to exercise our faith is to pray.
10 Ways To Pray During the COVID-19 Outbreak
1. Pray for the lost. There are millions (if not billions) of people around the world who don't know Jesus or the hope we have in Him. We don't lose heart in these perilous times because we know there is more to life than this flesh and blood. We know that He who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Him and bring us into His presence (2 Cor. 4:14). We need to remember these truths and pray for our unsaved friends and family.
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."
-2 Corinthians 4:16-18
2. Pray for the sick. A tiny virus can speed up the process of our bodies wasting away, but God is powerful enough to heal us. We need to pray for both the bodies and souls of those who are sick because bodily health is important, but spiritual life is much more valuable. While our physical health is sure to fade, Christ gives us eternal life that will never decay. We want the sick to be healthy and righteous:
"...the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous."
3. Pray for the Church. Let us not forget about Christians in the places most heavily impacted by COVID-19. Christians in China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, and many other nations are being heavily impacted by this virus. Some of the churches in these nations haven't been able to gather for weeks, some church members may have been killed during this outbreak, and others will be facing tough times in the coming days and weeks. We also need to pray for Christians in our nation as well as believers in our local churches. Scripture commands us to pray for all the saints.
"...praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints"
4. Pray for church leaders. Not only are pastors judged with greater strictness for what we teach (James 3:1), but we are also accountable to God for our leadership of the church. As we make decisions about how to navigate these challenging and scary times, pray that God would give us wisdom (James 1:5). Whether or not you agree with every decision we make, pray for us. Pray for God to give you words of gratitude and encouragement over the coming weeks and months.
"Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you."
5. Pray for government leaders. This COVID-19 situation is highly politicized and fraught with skepticism, conspiracy, and fake news. Rather than drawing strict party lines and spreading false reports about our government leaders, pray for them (Exodus 23:1). In general, we have become too lax with how we speak about and pray for our government leaders. Make no mistake, God is not silent on how we should regard and pray for our government leaders. We need to pray for God to graciously give them wisdom and guide their hearts (Proverbs 21:1). Read and think about Romans 13:1-7. Also heed God's command to pray for government leaders.
"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way."
-1 Timothy 2:1-2
6. Pray for wisdom. In situations like this, we all need to exercise wisdom. If you're in isolation and practicing social distancing, perhaps you could devote some extra time to reading Proverbs and consider how to walk in wisdom. If you're healthy, pray for God to help you navigate life in a way that could prevent you from contracting or spreading COVID-19 to others (since it is often spread through people who don't have any symptoms). If you're feeling ill, pray for wisdom as to how to seek treatment or quarantine yourself until your symptoms subside.
"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."
7. Pray for first responders and healthcare workers (and their families). It can be easy to forget about the doctors, nurses, EMTs, police officers, firefighters, nursing home workers, and others who keep our healthcare infrastructure up and running. I have friends and family who work both on the front lines and behind the scenes in healthcare. These people are risking their lives and giving the best of their time and energy to help people impacted by COVID-19, as well as people facing other ongoing medical situations and issues. As you're praying, send up some gratitude for these people and all of the others who are spending and being spent on behalf of this virus. Also, don't forget to pray for their families. Spouses, children, and other family members are now having to distance themselves in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving."
8. Pray for the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. Early on, I comforted myself with the notion that this new coronavirus really only seriously affects the elderly and the immunocomprised. Perhaps you have done so, too. Rather than comfort ourselves in others' misfortune, we should pray for them. We should empathize with them. Many of the physically vulnerable aren't afraid or worried at all, but some of them are terrified. They hear what we hear and see what we see (and say). We should pray that God would comfort them and protect them, even if it is just like a the flu or a minor case of pneumonia. Now is a great time to remember the mind of Christ.
"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."
9. Pray for humility. In situations like this COVID-19 crisis, there are at least two ways pride manifests itself. For some of us, we are so self-reliant that we think we can outsmart and out-prep the coronavirus. We put our faith in a 2:1 ratio of alcohol to aloe—hand sanitizer. We put our hope in the food we have stashed away in our root cellars or basements. Others exhibit pride in thinking that they are invincible. They think to themselves, "I'm a young, healthy American, nothing will ever happen to me!". God calls us all to cast our anxieties on Him (1 Peter 5:7). He also commands that we look humbly toward the future.
"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'"
10. Pray for your heart. In tumultuous seasons like these, our hearts tend to float from one crisis moment to another. We go from fear in one moment to a deep sense of security in God in the next. Then we get gripped by uncertainty as more news floods in. During these frenzied and tumultuous times, we must pray for our hearts. We need to pray that God would graciously help us keep watch over our hearts (Proverbs 4:23). We need to fight the urge to be constantly checking in, reading our feeds, and distracting ourselves from the realities of death and weakness. Rather, we should examine ourselves to see where our trust truly lies and beg God to strengthen our faith.
"Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!"
-2 Corinthians 13:5
Book Snob At The Coffee Shop
For a few years now, I’ve known a guy who is a know-it-all. Every time he meets a friend in a coffee shop, he lets you know that he’s well-read. When someone needs a book recommendation or a Christmas gift, he’s always got an idea. In fact, he’s got a shelf full of them! He reads, reviews, listens to, studies, and summarizes books—and he’ll let you know that too! He considers himself to be ahead of the curve on all the best books, both old and new, so don’t even try to recommend something to him because he has already seen it, ordered it, and read the first chapter on his Kindle.
Have you ever met a guy like this? I usually see him in the coffee shop once or twice a week. In fact, he’s at my house every day. I look at him in the mirror every morning. Sadly, I’ve been faced with the realities of my snobbery as I’ve seen friendships go sour and friends get annoyed with my incessant tendency to reference and recommend the latest books I’m reading. I’m sure they have gotten sick of hearing me go on and on about how the current book I’m reading is one of the best I’ve ever read on the topic.
Don’t Read In Vain
As I write these words, it’s embarrassing to think about how many times I’ve made a fool of myself as a book snob. I’ve read a little more than 200 books, which could seem like a lot until you look at the bibliographies of your shelf. If the average American reads 12 books each year, it may seem amazing to read a lot more than that. It’s humbling to see that guys like Tim Challies read 2 books a week, and Albert Mohler reads several each week as well.
I’m not a big shot at all—though there are times that I think I am. There are times that I vainly plow through a book just so I can add it to my reading list or say that I’ve read it. The vanity in reading this way is summed in Ecclesiastes 12:12: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” This isn’t saying that reading many books is sinful or even something to be avoided. But it can indeed be “vanity of vanities” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
Learning To Read Again
After a couple of years of reading a lot (not all!) in vain, I have deliberately changed the way I read. In fact, I’ve changed the way I look at reading altogether. The Puritan writer, Richard Baxter, said, “It is not the reading of many books which is necessary to make a man wise or good, but the well-reading of a few, could he be sure to have the best.” In other words, it’s not important to simply plow through a book just to say I’ve accomplished it. Rather, reading a book well makes all the difference.
Here are some of the changes I’ve made regarding how I read:
1. . When Jesus was waging war with Satan, He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4). It is to my shame that there have been years where I’ve read 30 or 40 books but didn’t read through the Bible. While professing to value God’s Word above every other book, my actions proclaimed that “man lives by good books and God’s Word is a supplemental add-on if I get around to it”.
2. I read good books slowly and I mark them up with copious notes. There are some books that I read to simply gather the information or to see what’s in it. Sometimes this happens when a friend asks my opinion of a book I’ve not read or asks me a question on a topic I haven’t looked into. There are other books that warrant diving deeper because they help me behold Christ or draw me to deeper devotion (2 Corinthians 3:18). Books like David Saxton’s God’s Battle Plan for the Mind or Brian Hedges’ Watchfulness have been slow and meditative deep reads for me.
3. Rather than always grabbing the most popular or eye-catching titles, I’ve shifted my reading to fit practical needs in my life. For example, I recently started co-pastoring a church, and I preach twice a month in addition to my full time teaching job. We are preaching through Galatians, so I do the bulk of my reading from commentaries on Galatians. If I’m not reading something on Galatians, I’m listening to a book on parenting, marriage, spiritual disciplines, or pastoral ministry. These are my life priorities right now, and my time is limited, so I’ve given up much of my pleasure reading until summer break. God has been gracious and shown me much through these good books in the past couple of months.
4. I ask other people to talk. Ok, I’m at least trying! I haven’t come close to mastering this, but when a friend tells me they’re reading a great book, I am learning to ask them to describe it, share relevant quotes, or summarize it for me. This not only helps me listen, but it allows me to show that I value my friends—even though I often struggle to display it! It also allows me to glean from good books when I don’t have the time to devote to reading or listening to them myself.
Learn From My Foolishness
Don’t be that know-it-all guy at the coffee shop. Don’t be the “self-professed authority on every topic” lady at Bible study. Even if you read at Mohler pace—some 300 books a year—you don’t have to let everyone know about it. Remember, “A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly” (Proverbs 12:23). This doesn’t mean that you never share what you know. But it means that you share wisely and with humility, knowing when the time is right.
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I often read great blog posts and articles that are good for my soul and may benefit yours, too! I read blogs for pastors, parents, and Christians in general. I share these with the hope that you'll be blessed by the ministries of other Christians around the country and across the globe. Feel free to share some other good blog posts with me in the comments or on social media!
Brothers, Preach Your Heart Out — No Matter How Few People Are in the Room
This post was a well-placed reminder to preach my heart out in my small church plant. As pastors (and members), it's easy to get caught up in the numbers game. We must never forget that "the value of preaching Christ is not dependent on the number of your listeners. The value of preaching is in Christ himself. His supremacy over all things makes all preaching valuable, whether it’s to 30 or 3,000 people."
Waiting On the Lord to Renew Our Strength: Reflections on Pastoral Burnout
Though written to pastors, we live in a burnout culture. From childhood we are taught to be go-getters and do everything we can to get to the top of whatever ladder we are climbing—whether ministry, motherhood, or corporate. Ortlund reminds us that, "when we sink into the lowest of the low, we will find God himself waiting for us down there with deeper grace 'to revive the spirit of the lowly' (Isaiah 57:15)."
Come Away and Rest Awhile
"As weak people, we need regular time of rest, refreshment, and relaxation. Vance Havner said it well: 'If you do not come apart and rest, you will come apart.'" Seeing myself and ministry friends on the verge of burnout has reminded me of the value of rest. God didn't create us to work endlessly, and it isn't more spiritual to burn out.
Parents, Take Note of the Spiritual Practices Common to Kids Who Flourish As Adults
Nothing we do can save our children's souls, but since parents are the primary means of discipleship for our children, we should model faithful Christianity. "The research... indicated that children who remained faithful as young adults (identifying as a Christian, sharing their faith, remaining in church, reading the Bible, and so on) grew up in homes where certain practices were present."
When Parents Feel Like We Are Mostly Failing Most of the Time
I can agree with this! "I’m convinced the great majority of us feel like we are failing most of the time. We’ve got this deep gut feeling that our kids are spending way too much of their childhoods tapping on glowing glass rectangles. We feel a lot of guilt that our kids aren’t spending more time playing in the great outdoors or reading great books. We feel frustrated that mostly they don’t even want to."
Spurgeon and the Cholera Outbreak of 1854
The 2019 Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a serious global illness. Christians are not exempt from the deadly effects of pandemics, but we don't have to live in fear. We must be wise and trust our wise and loving Father. "As pastors and church leaders consider their response to COVID-19 in our present day, there is much to figure out practically and logistically. But the core of our ministry remains: Preach the gospel."
Here at Dwell With Christ, we take family worship and devotional time seriously. We believe that God has given parents as the first disciple-makers in our children's lives. Here's a devotional you can read with your children, grandchildren, or children's class at church (for those children who aren't being discipled at home). The plan is to have more of these in the future in order to support not only your devotional life but the devotional lives of the children in your life.
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Has someone ever said something that made you angry? Maybe your sister made fun of the way you said something. Or it could have been your little brother who screamed at you. Sometimes your parents lose their temper and yell at you, too. Even your best friends say things that are hurtful, don’t they?
We do it to others, even though we may not notice it. Instead of asking nicely for a toy, we say, “Give me that toy now!”. Rather than doing what our parents say, we yell back, “No! I don’t want to!” Sometimes we say really mean things to people who are trying to be nice to us. It hurts their feelings just like it hurts ours.
Did you know that giving a harsh answer is sinful? It really is! God doesn’t just care about what we say. He cares a lot about how we say it, too. Sometimes our mean words lead other people to anger. Sometimes our harsh words make things worse for us. They always reveal the anger in our hearts. God doesn’t take that lightly and neither should we.
We all say things we regret. Only Jesus knew how to speak perfectly to other people. Sometimes He had to say hard things to sinful people, but even in those moments, He spoke the truth in love. Did you know that Jesus describes Himself as gentle? Read Matthew 11:29. This doesn’t mean that Jesus was weak. In fact, He showed His strength through patient, loving, and gracious words—even hard ones.
You can learn to give a soft answer. You can learn to get rid of harsh words and speak with gentleness. The important thing is not just to say things the right way. Anyone can do that. You have to say the right things from the right heart. Only the gospel can bring this kind of change. Jesus took the harsh words of His enemies and didn’t respond in the same way (1 Peter 2:23). Instead, He gave His life on the cross. He said, “Father, forgive them” instead (Luke 23:34).
When we trust in Jesus and believe the gospel, the Holy Spirit makes us more and more like Jesus. He reminds us to use kind words. He helps us fight the angry thoughts in our hearts. He even bears fruit in our hearts that we can use the next time we get tempted to use harsh, angry words. The Spirit takes God’s words and makes them real in our hearts.