- 2018 Oct 01
The last few years, I've found myself speaking on a topic I didn't anticipate speaking on. Yet, I've found myself speaking to college students, participating in panel discussions, and leading workshops on this topic. I've mentored people in person and answered questions via email on the subject. And though it was unexpected, I've enjoyed it. I’ve loved helping people find their place and encourage them in the journey. What is that topic? Writing.
People write for many reasons. Some find it therapeutic. It’s a way of releasing emotions. For some, writing is the way they process their thoughts. There's something about putting your thoughts onto paper that helps you see and understand them in a way you didn't before. Some, like me, don't even know what they think about a topic until they write about it. The very process of writing helps them think through an issue.
For others, writing is an art form. It's a way of painting a picture, but instead of using a paintbrush, they use words. The craft of taking 26 letters and arranging them into words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs is a creative act.
For still others, writing is a way to teach and instruct. It's used to communicate a message. Such writing compels people to think differently about something, differentiates truth from fiction, and helps solve a problem. Writing is a means to an end rather than the end itself.
For all believers who write, whatever form of writing we do, and whatever context we do it in, it's all for the glory of God. "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). Whether we write fiction, non-fiction, poems, or newspaper articles, each word is for the honor and praise of God. We magnify him in our writing when we work hard and write well. We highlight his wonder and majesty when we use words to point readers to who he is and what he has done. We reflect him when we write for his praise and not our own. When we craft beauty out of words, it's a way of imaging and reflecting our Creator God to the world around us. In all these ways, we write for God and his glory.
Like all things in life, we can do nothing apart from Christ (John 15:5). Writers must abide in him and rest in his grace, wisdom, and strength. One of the ways we do that is in prayer. Like all the things we submit to our Father, we must submit our writing to him as well, asking him to use it for his glory and praise.
A WRITER’S PRAYER
Father in Heaven,
You are the Maker and Creator of all things. You spoke this world into being and keep it in its orbit. By your word, all things exist. You watch over each creature and know the stars by name. Your word made flesh, Jesus Christ, shows us who you are. And your written word feeds, strengthens, and sanctifies your children.
As your image bearer, you made me to reflect you to the world around me. You gave me gifts and abilities to use in my life and work. One of the ways I image you is in my writing. I thank you for this gift. I thank you for the joy I have in weaving words together. Words are an amazing thing, they have the power to build and the power to destroy. They can point to you or away from you. They can honor and glorify you or honor and glorify ourselves.
Forgive me for the ways in which I have stolen your glory in my writing. Forgive me for the ways in which I have not glorified you in the words I have written. Forgive me when I fail to use the gift you've given me in a way that honors you, when I waste the gift and horde it, or when I fear what others think of my writing more than I fear you.
Help me to continue to grow in this gift. Help me to use words to build and not destroy. Help me not to worry or fret about how you will use my words, but to entrust them to you, knowing you will use them in the right time and for your eternal purposes. Whether one person reads them or many, may they be used to exalt and magnify you.
In everything I write, may it be for you.
Because of Jesus I pray, Amen.
- 2018 Sep 26
Prayer fascinates me. I’m intrigued by its mystery, its form, and its function. I love learning about prayer: how to pray, why we pray, and how God uses our prayers. I love what prayer does in my heart and how it draws me into sweet communion with my Father in heaven.
Recently, I heard someone pray and noticed that they ended the prayer with a simple “Amen.” It felt like something was missing, like shutting a book closed with one paragraph left unread. Like leaving the movie theater five minutes before the end. Like pulling out the pie from the oven before the crust is golden brown.
And then I realized, the prayer was missing an ingredient: in Jesus’ name. That got me thinking, why do we pray in Jesus’ name? What happens if we don’t? Is it an essential part of our prayers?
Jesus taught the disciples in the Upper Room Discourse that when they ask for something in his name, he will provide it. "'Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it'" (John 14:12-14). "'You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you'" (John 15:16).
Some prosperity gospel advocates claim that if you don’t pray in Jesus’ name, you won’t get the blessings you ask for. It’s like having an all access pass or an invite to an invitation only event. If you don’t have it, you don’t get in. They use it as a stamp of approval for their prayers. It's the final number in a series of codes that opens the door to blessings and prosperity. It's more like a magic formula than coming to our Father in heaven and asking him to meet our needs.
That's not why we pray in Jesus' name.
We pray in Jesus’ name because he is the one who broke down the barrier between us and God. When he hung on the cross and cried out his last breath, the curtain in the temple was torn in two. That curtain symbolized the barrier between God and mankind. We couldn’t pass through it to be in his presence because he is holy and we are not. But because of Jesus’ perfect and complete sacrifice for us on the cross, that barrier was removed. The curtain was torn.
Through faith in what Christ has done for us in his perfect life, sacrificial death, triumphant resurrection, and ascension, we are united to him. We are now clothed in Jesus’ righteousness and have access to God’s presence. We can come to him in prayer through Jesus. “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12, NIV). Our Father is now our Abba; we come to him as children, as his children, seeking help for what we need. That’s why the author to the Hebrews encourages us to come to the throne with confidence, "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).
John Calvin said this about prayer in Jesus’ name: "Since no man is worthy to present himself to God and come into his sight, the Heavenly Father himself, to free us at once from shame and fear, which might well have thrown our hearts into despair, has give us his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, to be our advocate and mediator with him, by whose guidance we may confidently come to him, and with such an intercessor, trusting nothing we ask in his name will be denied us, as nothing can be denied to him by the Father." (Institutes, XX.17).
Calvin also points out that those who call on God in any name other than Jesus Christ, have no promise of receiving anything. All of God's promises are confirmed and fulfilled in Christ alone. "For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory" (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Praying in Jesus' name reminds us why we come to God in prayer. It reminds us of what Jesus did for us. It reminds us that all of the promises and blessings God has for us, comes to us through Christ alone.
Now, as to what we ought to pray for in Jesus' name, that's for another post, another day.
- 2018 Sep 17
In my quiet time lately, I've been reading the book of Jeremiah. He was a prophet to the people of Judah, called to warn them of God's coming wrath for their sin. As I've read it, I've found myself wanting to do what my kids do while watching a game on TV: yell at the players, telling them what they should be doing.
When I read Jeremiah telling the King exactly what to do to keep Jerusalem from being destroyed by the Babylonians, I wanted to yell "Just do it already!"
"Thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life shall be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. But if you do not surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand” (Jeremiah 38:17-18).
Instead, King Zedekiah defied what God said through Jeremiah and in the end, he lost his family, his eyes, and lived the remainder of his life in prison (Jeremiah 39).
As I read this, I thought to myself, "The king had a prophet of God speaking to him and he still did what he wanted to do. How can that be?" But then I remember, wait, I have God's words too, right there in my Bible, and still I turn and do my own thing.
I've had the same thoughts whenever I read the account of the Israelite's leaving Egypt and wandering in the desert. I think, "How could they not believe God would be with them? They saw his power in the plagues, they saw him part the sea and defeat their enemies, and then they question whether he will give them water to drink or food to eat?"
But then I do the same thing. I read God's word and still wonder what he wants me to do with my life. I've seen God's faithfulness in my life over and over and still I question whether he will provide. I see his grace and mercy poured out for me at the cross and still I question whether he loves me. I'm no different than God's people in the Old Testament.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, recounting some of Israel's history. He wrote of their idolatry, their grumbling and complaining, and their immorality. He wrote, "Now 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).
The Corinthians were resting and relying on their progress in faith and thought they had made it. They had spiritual pride. As a result, they had slipped into sin of their own (idolatry and immorality, among other things). Paul pointed to Israel as an example, reminding them that Israel had the same spiritual benefits as the Corinthians did, yet they fell into sin (1 Corinthians 10:1-5). That's why he wrote, "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (v. 12).
This is a strong reminder for me in my own spiritual pride. When I read the stories of my ancestor's in the faith, instead of shaking my head in wonder at their actions, I ought to see myself in them. The stories are examples for me to realize I have the same benefits as those in the past did (God's word, the community of faith, the sacraments, etc), yet I am just as prone to idolatry. I am just as prone to do my own thing. And I need a Savior just as much as they did.
It's easy to study the narratives of the Old Testament and merely read them as history lessons. And there's certainly history there to learn. But ultimately, those stories remind me of my story. They point to the depths of my depravity and my great need for Jesus. They remind me not to trust in my heritage, in what I have learned, in my spiritual disciplines, or in what I have or have not done. Rather, they remind me to trust in Jesus. He is the only one who can rescue me from myself. He is the only one who can help me resist temptation to sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). He is the author and perfecter of my faith.
What about you? Have you learned from the example of those before us?