Prayer in the Life of the Church

I am reposting a quote I gave out a few years ago now, but remains as relevant today as then. In Eric J Alexander’s Prayer: A Biblical Perspective (Banner of Truth, 2012) he gives  testimony to the value and power of corporate prayer in the life of the church. Enjoy:
 
I came to faith in a church in Glasgow where the minister, Dr William Fitch, taught us regularly from Scripture the central place of prayer in the life of the church. The church prayer meeting was held on Saturday evening.The evidence that someone had been converted to Christ in the congregation was that they would walk into the prayer meeting on a Saturday evening. That meeting became the power house, under God, for a remarkable work of grace in that church.The only reason a believer would be absent from it would be that they were either ill or away from home. Very properly, people called it the ‘prayer fellowship’, for that was where we experienced true Christian fellowship and mutual support at the deepest level.
– p.74

 

Prayer in the Life of the Church

Notes on ‘Method’

I have really enjoyed reading Iain H. Murray’s book, Wesley and Men Who Followed. There is much that could be said, but just a word on ‘methodism’. Today we associate the word with an ecclesiastical structure and tradition – certainly one that has drifted far from its evangelical roots. But in its original form, at its heart was a method for the Christian life, and for Christian ministers. Writing of Thomas Collins, Murray writes:

“Far from regulating his devotional life by impulse or mood, Collins was a typical Methodist in his determination to ‘live by method’ not he impulse of the moment.”

— (p.190)

It’s a word for today! So what was his ‘method’? Here is Thomas Collins’ pattern as a minister of the gospel while in Durham (my summary):

  • 5.45am Get up
  • to 6:30am Private devotions
  • to 8:00 Reading his chosen divines (Murray suggests John Owen and Thomas Goodwin we his current sources at the time)
  • to 9:00 Breakfast and family worship
  • To 10:00 Greek or Hebrew Study – alternate day by day
  • To 12:00 Sermon preparation and writing
  • To 1:00 Read scripture and pray
  • To 2:00 Lunch
  • Afternoon – visiting with the people in town or country

One cannot but be struck by the structure and how spiritual benefits accrue over time with such discipline. I am struck by the balance.

  • Time is given to personal devotions apart from study. There is a temptation I certainly feel to make my study and sermon prep devotional. Some people I know find that that works fine, but my own experience is that the devotional life can become somewhat mechanical.
  • Time is given to language study. I am impressed by this. I always struggle with the temptation to think it is not as important as other things. It often gets squeezed out.
  • A surprisingly short time is given to sermon writing. This amounts to 12 hours a week. I certainly spend much more than that. Sometimes I need 12 hours for one sermon! But perhaps the discipline in the other areas makes this task quicker.
  • Bible reading is separated from devotions and a significant chunk of time is given to it. I have always believed that our minds need to be shaped by the regular reading of scripture and that we need read great chunks to get the broad sweep of it, as well as devotionally meditate on smaller passages. But this is longer than I currently give to this task.
  • a large amount of time is spent visiting with people. It is not specified what kind of visiting this is, but I am increasingly of the opinion that these old saints saw all the homes in the neighbourhood as their responsibility and visited them, even though they may not have been members of their churches. It was undoubtedly evangelistic. I wonder if that is something we have lost in our day – a sense of call to the locality and the boldness that comes with knowing God has sent us.

Of course if anyone reading this has thoughts on ‘method’, let me know! I would be glad to learn more.

Notes on ‘Method’

Hindrances to Revival

I have always been sceptical of movements that seek revival in the church. I know some of the history of it. I have even met some people who experienced the Lewis revival of 1949-52. They were impressive people who were blessed by God in the remaining years of their lives. But I have been around long enough to see lots of bad ideas surrounding revival – that it can be organised through big meetings, that it is about “manifestations of the Spirit”, and so on.

It is my settled conviction that what the church needs most today is the regular, faithful, ordinary use of the means of grace (preaching the word, engaging in fervent prayer, making good use of the sacraments). If we ministers and our people were focussed on these things, the church would be  so much the better for it.

However, perhaps I have been too eager to dismiss the idea of revival. Recently I picked a book off my shelf and started reading it. I think I must have bought it second-hand more than 25 years ago and has remained on my shelves eagerly awaiting its turn. It is W. B. Sprague’s Lectures on Revivals. It was published in the United States in 1832 and introduced to Britain by, amongst others, John Angell James who preached in Carrs Lane, Birmingham.

I have been challenged by it. The Bible speaks of God reviving his work and his people:

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. – Psalm 19:7

When the humble see it they will be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive. – Psalm 69:32

You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. – Psalm 71:20

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? – Psalm 85:6

I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. – Isaiah 57:15

O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. – Hab 3:2

God does revive, and note the objects of that reviving work: the soul, hearts, me, us, the spirit, the Lord’s work. The Lord does the reviving; it is done as we are contrite before him; he can do it through his word; it is to be prayed for.

In Lecture III, Sprague lists obstacles to revival. This particularly stirred me up and I want to list them here. (The summary after each one is basically my thoughts on his thoughts!)

Ignorance or misapprehension of the nature of true revivals.

Some people are simply put off by the excesses that sometimes accompany true revival, where passions are unleashed which are hard to control and sometimes result in sin. Some other people are put off because their temperament is such that any expressions of feeling make them uncomfortable. I suspect this feeling is very common in our modern reformed/conservative evangelical church in the UK which is largely middle class and well educated. As a result, and without an understanding that God does move in wonderful ways at times, thoughts of revival are suppressed.

A spirit of worldliness amongst professed Christians.

This rather speaks for itself. Worldliness is not so much about behaviour as it is about what “floats your boat”. What really animates you? What gets you up in the morning? What grabs your heart? For many of us who are Christians, we are less motivated by the glory of God than we are about something else we are involved in.

The want of a proper sense of personal responsibility among professed Christians.

It is true that we are not ultimately responsible for what only God can do. And yet, in God’s grace, he engages us as his people to play a part. That is why the church is described as a body, each member playing its part, actively engaged in fulfilling their immediate purpose as part of that great purpose that God is working out.

I know too many people who don’t seem to play a very active part in the ministry they have been given. They don’t have their hearts in worship, they don’t pray and cry out to God, the are lazy about finding ways to serve and love others. They don’t have a sense of responsibility before God. They are happy with irresponsible apathy.

The toleration of gross offences in the church.

That is, the church and its leaders are unwilling to act when sin is present in the church’s life. Now it is not that the church is or will be perfect. It is just that when gross sins appear (which is bad enough) the church doesn’t do anything about it (even worse).  Churches and Christians need to take holiness seriously.

The absence of a spirit of brotherly love among professed followers of Christ.

We want it to be said of Christians, “Look how they love one another!” Yet often this is not present in the life of the church. People come late and leave early on Sundays. They never see other Christians from one Sunday to the next because there is no desire to be involved with each other’s lives. That lack of love and relationship within the church can be one of the greatest hindrances revival as a loveless spirit has a deadening effect on the church.

An erroneous or defective exhibition of Christian truth.

This final reason comes down to people like me – minsters of the word of God. To fail to teach a congregation the whole counsel of God. To have hobby horse subjects you regularly go back to. To miss out difficult doctrines or passages. To teach good doctrine in a bad and unbalanced way that distorts the glory of God, of Jesus Christ and his word. To ’embellish’ the teaching with stories, studied eloquence, clever quotations which display one’s education. All this hinders the reviving work of God.

***

We need regular faithful ministry using the ordinary means God gives us. And yet how we also need an outpouring from heaven that animates his people and his work! Let’s examine the list above, apply it to our hearts, and may God grant that he revive our souls for his name’s sake.

Hindrances to Revival

Objections to Christianity

Anyone who has been involved in seeking to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ soon discover that objections to Christianity fall into a small number of categories.

A few weeks ago we at Solihull Pres took four of those objections and organised a series of short seminars in Acocks Green. They were recorded and we have put them up on our church website. The recordings consist of a talk for 20-25 minutes followed by 20mins of Q&A.

I have gathered them together here. Enjoy!

You can’t take the Bible literally – Chris Statter

There’s more than one way to God – Stephen Dancer

How can I believe when there’s so much suffering – Chris Statter

Science disproves God – Stephen Dancer

Objections to Christianity

Selling Christ

There are two interesting places in Scripture where the price of thirty pieces of silver are mentioned. The one everyone knows is that of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in Matt. 26:14,15. The other, however, is in Zech. 11:12,13 where Zechariah asks for his wages as a prophet. (There is another reference in Ex 21:34 which sets the value of a slave.)

It is worth pondering the connection between these two verses because it is not a simple “this is that” correspondence. Klaas Schilder writes on these passages and comes to a remarkable and challenging concluding application, applicable to every Christian but perhaps especially to preachers:

What can be more moving than to put Zechariah’s declaration next to the narrative of Matthew? Reading Matthew alone, I am disposed to say: What a giant in sin that man Judas was! Compared with him I am a dwarf, a Lilliputian, te Deum … But when I hear Zechariah say that it is very natural for all unfaithful sheep to dismiss the Shepherd of Israel for thirty pieces, Judas becomes as small as I. And at second thought I become as great as he in transgression. Lord, as often as I do not believe, I dispatch the Good Shepherd, I grow to Judas’ size, I attain the stature of the scribes in sin. O God, be merciful to me, a sinner! Reading Matthew alone, I think of Judas as I ponder Lord’s Day 31 (the keys of the kingdom) of the Heidelberg Catechism. Reading Zechariah also, I think of myself, of the incriminating power of the Word, of the ultimatum of God’s shepherding.
Christ in His Suffering:Through the Garden Scene, K Schilder, p.79

Selling Christ

Suffering, Gospel and Calling

It is October 31st, which in some circles is known as Reformation Day, the day in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. It is good to remember those who have gone before us, the giants upon whose shoulders we may sit. There was much suffering to make known the truth of God’s word and how it ought to inform worship and doctrine. 

As we met yesterday for worship I was very conscious of that fact. We spent a few moments reflecting on what was achieved. Solihull Presbyterian Church owes a great deal to the Reformation, perhaps more than we realise. The day brought to a close a wonderful month for us: three adults and three children received into membership, a covenant child baptised the previous Sunday, our best average morning attendance for a calendar month ever (even with half-term holiday disruption!). We don’t know why. Everything we try seems to have little direct effect. Yet interesting things keep happening.

I continued our series in Mark’s gospel, looking at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (1:12-20). Jesus, thrust into the wilderness by the Spirit, shows us the supernatural dimension of his ministry, resisting satanic temptation which signalled the undoing of the fall of Adam, portending the good news of victory. Jesus proclaimed the gospel of God, summoning people to repent and believe. It is what he was all about – everything else fed that end. Others were called to follow him (more literally, “Here! Behind me!”), not to be teachers like the Rabbis, but to become fishers of men. How hands on! – to do what Jesus was already going, declaring the truth and calling people to repent and believe. What a model!

Jesus. Luther. SPC? Pray for us as we seek to be faithful to our Lord and honour those clay-footed giants of the past, as Luther certainly was, but most of all, that the man-fishing would go well in Solihull.

Suffering, Gospel and Calling

The Eternal Blessed Life with God in Heaven

The eternal and blessed life with God in heaven, accompanied by rest and unspeakable glory, is the goal of the faith of Christians. This is the harbor of their hope, the refuge of all their desires, the crown of their consolation that they will certainly enjoy, having escaped from the travails of this miserable and fleeting earthly life, indeed, from death itself.

They will receive in heaven glorified bodies, healed of all evils, no longer afflicted by sin, ignorance, errors, illness, sadness, worry, fear, anguish, or enemies. They will be delivered from all pain and suffering. They will enjoy fully and completely the Lord their God, the fountain and inexhaustible treasure of all good things, who will pour out on them all His goodness, His infinite joy, with which He will satisfy all their thoughts and desires. They will see Him and contemplate Him face to face, without any clouds to obscure Him. They will learn of God’s wisdom with regard to the creation and redemption of His elect by means of Jesus Christ, and the reasons for all His all-powerful and wondrous works. The eternal Father will disclose His burning and unspeakable love for them, which He demonstrated by sending His Son into the world to draw them from death into eternal life. His children will be moved by His gracious work, filled with wonder, contentment, and ineffable delight, and will love their heavenly Father with a burning love, submitting themselves fully to His wisdom with eager joy. And they will submit to Him as their only sovereign and greatest good. And they will rejoice with continuous joy in His presence, magnifying His glory, singing of His goodness along with the holy Angels and the entire Church triumphant. There they will see Jesus Christ, the Patriarchs, the Prophets, the Apostles, and all the faithful who have preceded them, including their family members and friends who died in repentance and faith. This entire company together, with one heart and voice, will recall the goodness and infinite blessings God has shown them, celebrating with songs of thanksgiving the praises of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.

Thus eternal life is the end and fulfillment of all good things for which God has purchased us through His Son. This is the goal on which our gaze should be fixed throughout our earthly pilgrimage. This is the treasure that we should unceasingly desire. This is the hour and the blessing to which all the plans and efforts of our lives should be inclined. This is our true country, our permanent city, in which our citizenship has been acquired by the merit of the death of Jesus Christ. This is the home that we long for, amidst the banishments, the weariness, the dangerous fears of this valley of misery and the shadow of death. This is the safe refuge and the beautiful harbor toward which we sail amidst so many waves and storms that constantly trouble the world. This is the blessed land where we will dwell by means of death.

–Simon Goulart, Christian Discourses XXVIII, 322-327. As quoted in Scott M. Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 297-298.

The Eternal Blessed Life with God in Heaven