Praying before the throne of grace

praying-before-the-throne-of-grace

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 ESV)

‘Seeking God’, sounds so spiritual and pious – far removed from what my life actually looks like in the real world. I want to seek God much more than I do; to live by the Spirit, walk in obedience to His direction, seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly before God.

Unfortunately I have become anxious about worldly things and my divided interests have lead me away from a strong devotion to God1. For this I feel ashamed and am reluctant to face up to Jesus in prayer when I have been such a lousy disciple. So as an avoidance tactic which at least had an appearance of being spiritual, I picked up a book about prayer2 by John Bunyan (author of Pilgrim’s Progress).

Writing while incarcerated in the Bedford goal from 1662, Bunyan addresses this very issue:

Another encouragement for a poor trembling convicted soul is to consider the place, throne, or seat, on which the great God has placed Himself to hear the petitions and prayers of poor creatures; and that is a ‘throne of grace’, ‘the mercy-seat. (Hebrews 4:16 & Exodus 25:22) …

… Poor souls! They are very apt to entertain strange thoughts of God, and of His carriage towards them: and suddenly conclude that God will have no regard unto them, when yet He is upon the mercy-seat, and has taken His place on purpose there, to the end He may hear and regard the prayers of poor creatures.2

​This is an encouraging reminder of grace. That when it comes to praying to and communing with God, He takes pains to place Himself on a throne of grace so that our prayers may come to him unhindered by the burden of sin we may carry. As I approach God in and through Christ my own very poor track record is gloriously overlaid with the perfect record of Jesus such that I am accepted as God’s own child.

So my attempt to avoid facing my shortcomings as a follower of Christ by reading something written by a great follower of Christ was perhaps not quite so deluded after all!

Now to place myself before that throne of grace.


Notes:

1. See 1 Corinthians 7:33-34

2. Prayer by John Bunyan (Puritan Paperbacks, ISBN 0-85151-090-6) p55

Image: iStock

God doesn’t wrap His gifts

It is 5 minute Friday in which I write feverishly for five short minutes, find a picture to fit my story and then post without reworking and rewording the entire thing before being brave enough to publish!
Today our prompt is gift.

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

I get the impression that God does not like fancy gift wrap.

He made a man out of dirt! Then He made his wife from one of his ribs.

God’s greatest gift to us came as an ordinary baby in a grubby stable, wrapped in swaddling cloths and placed in a feed trough. Then the epitomy of His generosity and giving was a bloodied mess of whipped, scourged flesh dying on a torture instrument.

Jesus gave us his peace – un wrapped. He gave us His Holy Spirit, again with no nice wrapper. We are given treasure of value we do not understand, wrapped in jars of clay.

If my mother gave me a birthday present wrapped in brown paper I would be a little disappointed in her lack of effort. Yet God has given me gifts I do not fully comprehend and they are without any wrapping I can see, though I cannot say I have truly unwrapped them yet.
Stop


Photo of paper bag: iStock

Quit working

Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow as each day has enough worries of it’s own. In Exodus God supplied enough food for each day only, forcing His people to look to Him for their provision rather than their own cleverness or hard work. When God and wise Christians tell me to be faithful to the tasks in front of me today, trusting God for tomorrow I nod in agreement while internally I am still seeking security in what I can do, planning, worrying and fretting.

I’m going to quit working and will live by faith. I have come to realize that although I’ve not thought of myself as an anxious person, I do in fact worry a lot about the future for myself and my family. Jesus tells us not to do this so I have decided it is time to take a step of faith and trust God’s promises for provision (see Matthew 6:25–34).

Some history

On freeing the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, one of the first issues to arise was the logistical problem of feeding hundreds of thousands of people. God took care of this by providing manna each morning (except on the Sabbath) which the people were to gather and cook for food. To ensure the Israelites only gathered what they needed for the day and didn’t stockpile the stuff, God made it go rotten if kept overnight (except on the Sabbath). So they had to go out each day to gather enough for that day. Anxiously hiding away extra ‘for a rainy day’ would result in an awful stink and maggots growing in it.

Written for us

Paul tells us that these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come (1 Corinthians 10:11). We have a big thick Bible with Exodus included in it so that we will learn spiritual lessons from what God has done in the past (see also 1 Corinthians 10:1–5).

Your goal is to get into a manna rhythm. Seek his grace today, be faithful to the tasks in front of you, and trust him for tomorrow (Ed Welch, Depression, A stubborn Darkness p150).

Such a manna rhythm is something that honours God. It is an attitude which acknowledges that all we have comes from Him. It is an attitude of humility, trusting that God knows what He is doing, is faithful to His promises and will always provide what I need as I need it.

Now the rubber hits the road

That’s not to say it is easy though. I prove day after day my mistrust of God’s promises, embracing assumptions which highlight a lack of faith in God by my choices to work at improving myself by human means. Allowing weakness to become an excuse for not fighting for joy. Letting physiology over-ride love.

Changing these things is a daunting mountain. I do try to overcome this obstacle, and this is where I’m going wrong. God is calling me to seek grace daily for the tasks of today. He is not asking me to worry about the mountain, He calls me to follow Jesus. Step, step, step, step. Jesus even calls me His friend. We can chat on the way. What He does require is that I trust Him. Trusting promises such as:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV).

But I fall and fail. It is so easy to look at my own weakness and failings (sin) and interpret the situation as meaning this promise cannot be true because I have sinned so that settles it. Whereas perhaps it is more like I have given up on enduring, or have not accepted the way out. Giving up too early or hanging around too long can open me up to sin.

God’s promise is that he will never put us in a situation where we have no choice but to sin (Ed Welch, p201).

Sin is not only actions, I have sinful thoughts more often than I do sinful actions. Temptations are not limited to lust or coveting, despair and joylessness can be lure me in also. Whether Satan skewers me with sex or suicide probably makes little difference to him. The roots of sin and temptation go very deep into my heart, it is difficult for me to discern where each temptation originates, this is like guerrilla warfare against my own heart (James 1:14–15, Jeremiah 17:9 and 1 Peter 2:11). It is serious stuff, subtle – but of eternal consequence.

In the mind of God, sin is a much more serious problem than suffering (Ed Welch, p202).

I’m too busted for a DIY job to be feasible, only God can fix my sin. So working at a patch up job is simply making the mess worse, yet there remains a job to be done. My job is to keep trusting in Jesus Christ when my anxious thoughts are wanting to scheme ways to look after myself.

So I remind myself

God is calling me to seek grace now for the tasks of today.


Photo of sleeping construction worker: iStockphoto

Fan the flame

man_lighting_fire

It’s cold, there is snow on the ground and more is forecast. I am coughing and achy.

In this state I am paying close attention to keeping the fire that heats our house going. When it is cold you are acutely aware that without an ongoing supply of fuel and air a fire will quickly go out. Then it requires gentle persuasion to coax the flames back into life.

Gently fanning flames from small sparks is what Paul encouraged Timothy to do:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
(2 Timothy 1:5–7 ESV)

Paul is not taking Timothy’s faith for granted. A sincere faith, passed on from his mother and a gift of God. If left untended faith would burn low, flicker, then fail.

Much of my growth in faith is by grace, the Holy Spirit causing faith to grow in ways I don’t understand (Mark 4:26–29). But knowing it is only by grace that I’m able to grow does not mean I will grow by doing nothing. If I do not fan the flame and keep adding fuel to the fire it could go out.

When faith is left untended it burns low and loses energy. I may still trust in Christ but beyond that am ineffective, lacking any fervour or motivation to be a positive force for God in my community. This is a familiar state for me, glowing embers but lacking the blazing fire needed to warm others.

I think the fuel for faith is to see the works of faith – God working through the lives of His people. Opening my eyes to see grace in the real world, realizing that God is active and has not abandoned us to unbelief.

When my fire has burned low and I am cold to the idea of shining the light of Christ, what am I to do about it?

My tentative approach is:

  • Open my eyes to see grace at work (John 4:35).
  • Ask God to use me and make me burn to do His will (Luke 10:2).
  • Love my neighbour (Luke 10:36-37).

Gifts I have noticed this week:

561) An evening out at a movie with my wife.
562) Realizing the blessings showered upon me when I see shattered relationships.
563) Folks romping in snow in our church carpark.
564) Abundance of cuddles from my kids.
565) A warm ride to work through the snowstorm.
566) Chocolate cake lovingly created.
567) Roasting marshmallows.
568) Workmate picking up some cough medicine for me.
569) God already knows the ways in which I would fracture if put under pressure.
570) Birdsong this morning.
571) Knowing the ‘flu will pass!
572) Someday all will be made new.
573) Looking forward to a warm bed.
574) Home-made popcorn.
575) Paracetamol.

Image of Samburu man lighting a fire: iStockphoto

Wrestling with an Angel


I want to thank God for an amazing little book I am currently reading. The book is Wrestling with an Angel: A Story of Love, Disablity and the Lessons of Grace by Greg Lucas, about insights gained as he raised a severely disabled son by the grace of God. It is very well written, humorous and heart-rending.

A commonly used phrase within Christian circles is ‘in the trenches’, meant to refer to people who are serving God in the midst of tough circumstances of daily life. Greg and Kim Lucas have certainly been doing that and what has been distilled from their years of difficulty and love into this 100-page book is like gold. True wisdom that is never easily gained.

I have spent days meditating on the depth of humility displayed in the chapter ‘Opposition|Humility’, and the excerpt below is from the very first chapter, challenging my perception of how big a load God could place upon me:

Break|Equip

I hear religious-minded people say all the time with good intentions, “God will never place a burden on you so heavy that you cannot carry it.”
Really?
My experience is that God will place a burden on you so heavy that you cannot possibly carry it alone. He will break your back and your will. He will buckle your legs until you fall flat beneath the weight of your load. All the while He will walk beside you waiting for you to come to the point where you must depend on Him. (p14)

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
(2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)

Thank you Lord that You still write wisdom in books by Your servants (Ecclesiastes 12:11).


Greg Lucas blogs at Wrestling with an Angel

Gifts I have noticed this week:

549) Firewood delivered and stacked before the latest storm.
550) God kept the snow away so I could preach my sermon.
551) Kids enjoying collecting pine cones on a freezing cold afternoon.
552) Two-year-old son thinks my pathetic drawing of a tractor is wonderful.
553) The faith and perseverance of others lifting me up.
554) Ability.
555) Cooking dinner for a change, letting my wife rest.
556) Politicians I didn’t vote for.
557) A friend searching for ways to help.
558) Getting to bed at a reasonable hour.
559) Being pursued to deal with my weaknesses.
560) Those who love me making sure I am helped.

Image of book cover: Cruciform Press

Pray for your kids – grace

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18 ESV)

To enable my children to grow physically I must provide nutritious food, clothing, shelter and physical exercise. For their social growth they need interactions with a variety of people in safe environments. What do they need for growth in grace?

The mediator of grace is Jesus Christ. To grow in grace my kids need to grow in their knowledge of Christ.

As I pray for my children to grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, I pray the same for myself so that they will be able to see the life of Christ in me also.


Download the prayer prompts:

31 Days of Prayer; Children

John Newton on grace

john-newton-on-grace

If anyone could be expected to have some idea of what grace means it would be John Newton (author of ‘Amazing Grace’). Here is an excerpt from one of his sermons:

The Glory and Grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ

The great God is pleased to manifest himself in Christ, as the God of grace. This grace is manifold, pardoning, converting, restoring, persevering grace, bestowed upon the miserable and worthless. Grace finds the sinner in a hopeless, helpless state, sitting in darkness, and in the shadow of death. Grace pardons the guilt, cleanses the pollution, and subdues the power of sin. Grace sustains the bruised reed, binds up the broken heart, and cherishes the smoking flax into a flame. Grace restores the soul when wandering, revives it when fainting, heals it when wounded, upholds it when ready to fall, teaches it to fight, goes before it in the battle, and at last makes it more than a conqueror over all opposition, and then bestows a crown of everlasting life. But all this grace is established and displayed by covenant in the man Christ Jesus, and without respect to him as living, dying, rising, reigning, and interceding in the behalf of sinners, would never have been known. (Works of John Newton Vol 2)

Servant girl denials

Satan doesn’t leap into our path dressed in a silly red suit with pointy horns and pitchfork in hand, announcing he will now proceed to test our faith. Instead, someone who we actually quite like and respect says in a slightly incredulous tone, “you don’t honestly believe God created the universe do you?”, or “how can you seriously think there is only one path to eternal life?” or “only a nutter would believe in the devil”.

Sometimes we attempt to serve God the best we know how and are rebuffed, not only by men but also by God. Such rebukes sting and I know I am tempted to withdraw and sulk when it happens to me.

Not so with Peter – after two rebukes from Jesus within a few hours ( Matthew 26:33-35, John 18:10-11), Peter follows the armed mob who arrested Jesus right into the courtyard of the high priest. This is a very dangerous place for him to be, a large band of soldiers are in there under orders from the elders to crush Jesus and his followers.

Nevertheless, there was another disciple¹ who was known to the high priest and obtained access for Peter into the courtyard (John 18:15-16). Peter is eager to get close to Jesus but knows it is dangerous. Perhaps he is bracing himself for another situation in which he may need to put his life on the line to protect Jesus. Then the slave girl at the gate says, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” Peter’s answer slips out all too easily – “I am not”. He doesn’t seem to even realize what he has done.

With his mind on much more important things and emotions already stretched thin the very question possibly caught him unprepared, coming not from a soldier or guard but from a servant girl. In a seemingly inconsequential incident Peter gives a throwaway answer that he assumes will keep him out of trouble. From here the slope just gets steeper and more slippery.

For those of us who live and work amongst secular folks, these situations are surprisingly common. Satan doesn’t leap into our path dressed in a silly red suit with pointy horns and pitchfork in hand, announcing he will now proceed to test our faith. Instead, someone who we actually quite like and respect says in a slightly incredulous tone, “you don’t honestly believe God created the universe do you?”, or “how can you seriously think there is only one path to eternal life?” or “only a nutter would believe in the devil”.

In fact, even these examples are fairly blatant. Often it is much more subtle. I find myself agreeing with some comment about peace being much easier when religious people recognize their shared humanity rather than their doctrinal differences, only to realize hours later that I’ve effectively knocked down my credibility to even state that I believe in Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Son of God.

I’m not sure about others, but I know I am particularly vulnerable to such ‘servant girl denials’ – not even realizing what I’ve done at the time. Perhaps this is why one of my favourite passages in the Bible is John 21:15-19. After all my denials and failings Jesus continues to say, “Follow me.” I firmly believe that the reason we exist is to proclaim the glory of God. Unfortunately the words of my mouth can end up doing the opposite – concealing that I consider God to be the greatest being in existence and that what I most want to do is to worship Him. It is not that I set out to conceal God’s glory or deny Christ, but when caught off guard I slip into conformity with the world rather than love for God. The Tempter and indwelling sin conspire to bring me down.

But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
(Luke 22:60-62 ESV)

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
(John 21:17 ESV)

And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
(John 21:19 ESV)

¹Note: Although it is commonly thought the ‘other disciple’ of  John 18:16 is the apostle John, it is also possible that this disciple may have been someone like Nicodemus or another member of the Sanhedrin – this would better explain how the unknown disciple had the authority to let Peter in.

Grace

But [Jesus] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV)

Sometimes I end up being thankful for things that initially I was annoyed or grumbling about… Like missing the bus one Thursday evening because I answered the phone at work just as my shift ended and it was a call that took a while to handle. It was the last bus of the day and a fine evening so I walked home listening to music on my iPod. The very last song I listened to was my favourite Keith Green song, Grace By Which I Stand. This reminded me of my many weaknesses, fallings and failings in faith, the fact that at any time I am only a decision away from denying Christ or making a mockery of my confessions of faith.

This may sound despondent and morbid, but it is actually a good place to be. When I am weak, then I am strong. Knowing that it is only by grace that I stand in Christ makes me more secure, not less. If I stand in my own strength that strength fluctuates daily, hourly even. My strength will fade as I age, is weak in the face of temptation and is untested against what is yet to come in my life. Whereas God’s strength is unwavering, proven in His raising Christ from the dead, knows the end from the beginning and He holds all of it in His hand.

Lord, the feelings are not the same,
I guess I’m older, I guess I’ve changed.
And how I wish it had been explained, that as you’re growing you must remember,

That nothing lasts, except the grace of God, by which I stand,
In Jesus.
I know that I would surely fall away,
Except for grace, by which I’m saved.

Lord, I remember that special way,
I vowed to serve you, when it was brand new.
But like Peter, I can’t even watch and pray,
one hour with you,
And I bet, I could deny you too.

But nothing lasts, except the grace of God, by which I stand,
In Jesus.
I’m sure that my whole life would waste away,
Except for grace, by which I’m saved.
(Keith Green, 1980)

Gifts I have noticed this week (215 – 224)
[as I adjust to working nights]:

215) A quiet house.
216) That our goal is perfection in Christ, not simply being better than others.
217) The pleasure of lying down and closing sleepy eyes.
218) A comfy bed.
219) The security of being able to sleep without fear.
220) A satisfied stomach.
221) Being wakeful enough to function.
222) The enjoyment of watching my little boy and dog playing with a ball together distracting me completely from what I was doing.
223) Appreciation for my hardworking neighbour as I hear him mowing his lawns.
224) Daughters missing home while on holiday at Grandma’s.
225) Another dawn in our beautiful city.
226) Tiredness reminding me of early days with new babies.

Grace in tablet form?

Assorted multicolored pills. Close up.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:22-24 ESV)

As a father, God calls me to avoid provoking my children because it will discourage them (Colossians 3:21) and not to sin in anger (Ephesians 4:26). I am also to avoid being anxious (Matthew 6:25). These things are hard. But I have found that my antidepressant medication makes them much less hard than they were.

We cannot know what is ‘normal’ parental grumpiness, or internal anger or anxiety – there are not reliable ways to measure such things. It may be that what I experience on a bad day is mild compared to most and that I am just weak and indulgent. I also do not think that it would be right to take a pill in to be sanctified. And yet, in pondering this I find myself wondering, “what is the difference from praying and asking God for grace?” In praying I am asking God to do what I cannot do – change my heart.

So I am in the curious situation in which taking a pill makes it appear as though I am exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24). A naturalistic worldview would argue that the drug is the real causative agent and the fruit of the Spirit is a psychological concept to explain a physiological phenomenon. It is difficult to distinguish where the physiological effect ends and the spiritual one begins. But I am convinced that the fruit of the Spirit is the result of God-wrought changes in the heart of a person by grace. It is not affective changes due to mood, emotions or physiology. Physiology may facilitate the fruit (i.e., the manifestation of grace) but is not the origin of it.

What cause do I have for such a conviction? Paul tells us that God has put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit (2 Corinthians 1:21-22) and His Spirit within us cries out to our Father (Galatians 4:5-6). This is the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11). So sanctification comes only by the Spirit, regardless of superficial means I may use to mask the overflow of my heart (Mark 7:21).

Is the medication opposed to God’s Spirit? No, I am using it to moderate something which is causing problems. The effects of medication may not reflect a true heart change wrought by God, it reduces the negative effects of a disordered state, making life better for people around me.

In this is grace, showing me that a different state is possible. Making me aware that the depressed state is destructive, so I can begin along a path of submitting to the Spirit of God to put in order the chaos of my heart.