Book Review: A Hunger for God (Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer) [Piper]

As you read this review there are a thousand things vying for your attention; begging to become the center of your focus. Even more than that, there are countless other things warring to become the center of your affections and to consume your desires. With more choices to be made and more distractions than ever before, it is more important than ever for us to fix our eyes on God. Yet even as we do that there is a danger of striving after the things God provides rather than after God Himself.

The book provides this enticing quote from J.I. Packer:

   When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology — but rarely of their daily experience of God.

Modern Christian books and magazines contain much about Christian doctrine, Christian standards, problems of Christian conduct, techniques of Christian service–but little about the inner realities of fellowship with God.

Our sermons contain much sound doctrine–but little relating to the converse between the soul and the Saviour.

We do not spend much time, alone or together, in dwelling on the wonder of the fact that God and sinners have communion at all; no, we just take that for granted, and give our minds to other matters.

Thus we make it plain that communion with God is a small thing to us.

A Hunger for God has a calming sort of impact on me. In a culture where everything is shouting for your attention this book has helped me slow down and focus my affection and attention on God Himself, and let everything else flow from that. Admittedly I fall short of this far too often, but that is why having this book as a resource has been such a blessing to me.

Piper shows us that “apart from dependence on and desperation for God, we will not only miss the ultimate point of our mission, but we will also neglect the ultimate need of our souls” (p.10); and that (in regards to fasting) “‘More than our stomachs want food, our souls want (God).’ Once we ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Psa 34:8), the things of the world no longer appeal to us in the same way” (p.11).

This is not a book filled with legalistic steps to fast and pray, but rather a book seeking to rekindle the daily (vital) experience of communing with God Himself. As David Platt puts it in the Introduction, “this book is more about our hearts than about our stomachs.”

Take a moment to pick this book up and walk through it in stillness. You will be greatly treated.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the Crossway Publishing. I was not required to post a positive review and the views expressed in this review are my own.

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Suffering That Strengthens Faith

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2–3)

Strange as it may seem, one of the primary purposes of being shaken by suffering is to make our faith more unshakable.

Faith is like muscle tissue: if you stress it to the limit, it gets stronger, not weaker. That’s what James means here. When your faith is threatened and tested and stretched to the breaking point, the result is greater capacity to endure.

God loves faith so much that he will test it to the breaking point so as to keep it pure and strong. For example, he did this to Paul according to 2 Corinthians 1:8–9,

We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not in ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

The words “but that was to” show that there was a purpose in this extreme suffering: it was in order that Paul would not rely on himself and his resources, but on God — specifically the future grace of God in raising the dead.

God so values our wholehearted faith that he will, graciously, take away everything else in the world that we might be tempted to rely on — even life itself. His aim is that we grow deeper and stronger in our confidence that he himself will be all we need.

He wants us to be able to say with the psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25–26).

—–

From John Piper’s Future Grace, page 347

Trembling, Spread Thin, and the Need for Discipline

As a brief preface before getting into the entry, I just wanted to let you know that this blog post will hit on a number of different topics–most specifically the idea of thinking through a Gospel-lens, how suffering/trials are used for our good, and how we must discipline ourselves to remember this and work towards various goals.

I suppose I could publish them in multiple different posts, but I feel like they are coherent enough to lead into each other, and that seen as a whole they provide a synthesized context to think over and work to implement.

This is something I’ve been mulling around in my head for quite some time and I pray that you will find it useful.

———

“This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” ~ Isaiah 66:2

Not the religious guy who thinks he’s got his life together.

Not the legalist who worships a checklist Christianity (which, let’s be honest, is no Christianity at all).

But he who is humble. He who understands his depravity and unworthiness and yet can rejoice in his worth in Christ!

The one who trembles at the word of God because he understands that it has the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21) and is living and active (and therefore applicable, meaningful, and piercing)(see Hebrews 4:12).

This is humbling to me because if I’m not careful and intentional to remember this truth I will drift into the first category. It’s like the old hymn says: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.”

A.W. Tozer has a very telling quote on this topic. He says, “You can know the truth and quote it verbatim, but you’re spiritually cross-eyed until it changes how you live.” We must know from the outset that this Gospel deeply affects every part of us. Furthermore, the Gospel provides a proper lens on our lives and circumstances–a sort of proper view of things as they ought to be seen.

Left to myself it is easy for me to become overwhelmed with what’s going on in and around me: jobless and struggling to get hired somewhere, relationship-less (in the context of a girlfriend/future spouse/etc.), prone to constant idolatry and slipping into pointless sins that I know will not satisfy, enslaved to the need to be approved and liked by others, insecurities and deficiencies ever on my mind–likely because I’m comparing myself to others instead of to Jesus.

Not only does the Gospel expose all of these in me, but it also reinforces my identity because of the Gospel. I am not “sinner” but “saint”; not unwanted but adopted; not defeated but victorious. In addition to these truths the Gospel also provides examples I can draw on to instill hope.

In a sense, when things are going poorly in some area (or many areas) of my life I have a tendency to amplify it/them like it’s the most painful and hopeless thing to ever happen.

Enter Paul:

imprisoned, beaten, lashed, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked, lost at sea, constantly pursued to be killed, hungry/thirsty frequently (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-28) and yet he is the one who proclaims that all these things are happening for a purpose (and even more so, are happening for a good purpose)!

He says “I am afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; constantly reminded of the death of Jesus.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)

Why?

That His life (that is, Jesus’ life) might also be declared and made known as great in us (2 Corinthians 4:10)! And “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Now I come to terms with a very sobering question I have to ask myself: If God is intentionally at work in these difficulties, who am I to believe that He is absent and inactive in my own? It is for this purpose that we ought to be more wrapped up in the treasures of the Gospel than the pressures in and around us. This is how Paul is able to proclaim in 2 Corinthians 4:18 that we “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

The following quotes really set the tone for where I am going next:

“The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one.” ~ Thomas Chalmers

 

“[Christians are] a people conquered by a Superior Affection.” ~ David Platt

This is where we must necessarily shift gears for a bit. I touched on it a little bit earlier but I see it absolutely necessary to flesh this out in a little more detail.

Herein lies the concept of discipline.

I mentioned before that if unchecked I will drift into a self-centered mentality and it would be easy to become overwhelmed by my circumstances and slip into a “woe is me” mentality, and with that in mind we must be disciplined and urgent/intentional in our approach to this.

The idea of disciplining ourselves is anything but natural. I mean just be honest.. what went through your mind when I brought up the idea of discipline? Likely not “Yes! I really hoped I would get called out to do things I didn’t really want to do!”

Think about the various examples in our everyday lives (excerpted from a Desiring God blogpost by Jon Bloom found here: http://ow.ly/ngCB0 ):

–Healthy, nutritious food often requires discipline to prepare and eat while junk food is convenient, tasty, and addictive.

–Keeping the body healthy and strong requires frequent deliberate discomfort while it only takes constant comfort (laziness, no change in routine, etc.) to [head in the opposite direction].

–You have to make yourself pick up that nourishing but intellectually challenging book while popping in a DVD is as easy and inviting as coasting downhill.

–You frequently have to force yourself to get to devotions and prayer while sleeping in or catching up on sports or checking Facebook is almost effortless.

–Learning to skillfully play beautiful music requires thousands of hours of tedious practice.

–Excelling in sports requires monotonous drills ad nauseum

–Learning to write well requires writing, writing, writing, and rewriting, rewriting, and rewriting. And usually requires voluminous reading.

–It takes years of schooling just to make certain vocational opportunities possible.

You get the idea. The pattern is this: the greater joys are obtained through struggle, difficulty, and pain, while brief, unsatisfying, and often destructive “joys” are right at our fingertips.

Why is this?

Because God, in His great mercy, is showing us everywhere, in things that are just shadows of heavenly realities, that there is great reward for those who struggle through and persevere (Hebrews 10:32-35). He is reminding us almost everywhere to walk by faith in a promised future and not by sight of immediate gratification (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Paul speaks further into this issue by using the analogy of an athlete. 1 Corinthians 9:25-27 says that “every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

Paul is saying many things in this passage, but for our sake he is saying that he “exercises self-control.. not aimlessly” (so there’s a purpose and objective to it!) and that he does it for an “imperishable (reward).” This athlete analogy helps us envision someone who has a clear goal in mind and trains and disciplines himself (or herself!) to obtain that goal.

Now that we’ve fleshed out this idea conceptually, let’s make it a little more practical, shall we?

Personally, I tend to say things like “I want to know more about what the Bible says than what John Piper (or Mark Driscoll, or [insert your favorite pastor’s/author’s name here]) says.” … You know what that requires of me? To actually stop reading that blog/book and pick up my Bible.

I say “I want to have wisdom and a breadth of knowledge like Tim Keller has” and yet I neglect to pursue the breadth of sources Keller does (and still I expect somehow to absorb information and perspectives that I’m not even encountering!)

I so often expect (progressive) results from my inactivity and a differing set of affections from implementing no change at all into my routine and time spent.

How foolish!

Now pay attention to this next part because I think this really gets at the heart of this issue.

I believe wholeheartedly that much of this struggle comes because our attention and affections are spread so thin in so many directions.

I think as a generation (speaking as a Millennial, at least, I can’t speak on this issue for everyone else) we are content with being OK at a lot of different things, and not exceptional at a few things. We want to know a lot of different technologies, facts, songs, play a bunch of different things (sports, video games) or be a part of a hundred different university clubs, but we don’t often identify those two or three things we truly want to flourish in.

I would challenge you in this: Identify those things for you personally.

I believe everyone has those deep desires and longings and I would encourage you to spend some time (undistracted! imagine that!) identifying what those are for you; then discipline yourself to make progress on them.

Once you have narrowed your focus, I think it’s incredibly important to remember one key principle: it is a process. Usain Bolt didn’t just wake up one morning, walk into a sprinting competition, and break world records or win olympic gold. Tim Keller didn’t walk out of a nursery quoting Sociologists and providing ministry-shaping ideas on urban contextualization. They identifies what they wanted to pursue and they worked towards it (incrementally).

One man I know has memorized entire books of the Bible. I took some time to ask him how he did it and what the process was like and you know what he said?

“I started with a verse.”

Take the time to really think hard about what thing (or few things) you want to flourish and excel in–perhaps what you want to be defined by–and take the first step.

You cannot expect to be a master theologian overnight.

You cannot expect to climb half-dome or Everest if you haven’t even taken a hike in the hills in your city.

Figure out where you want to be, what it’ll take to get there, and just start taking a step, then a second, then a third, and sooner or later you’ll be amazed at the progress that is being made. But it takes that intentionality and discipline to follow through to even work towards that progress.

You don’t get there overnight, but you can ask yourself “what can I do today to enable me to be able to do tomorrow what I wasn’t able to do yesterday?”

Even with this perspective change in mind, there will still be barriers to this discipline. For me, I know I often come into contact with the fear of not doing well at something. I find it hard to pick up running again because my asthma acts up–because I’m not in cardio-shape, and therefore my asthma picks up; see the dilemma? Or I find it hard to get back into rock climbing because I know how good I used to be, and it’s a blow to my pride to not be as good as I know I used to be, and therefore have to appear like a beginner again.

Essentially, I have a fear of failing and a fear of not living up to expectations (even when the expectations being placed on me are my own).

The Gospel helps remind me that because of Christ’s death on the cross and victory over the grave I know that my failures and struggles will ultimately help shape my future successes and that though I may stumble and fall, I am not defeated, and that I can continue with strength that comes from the Lord (see Philippians 4:13).

So I feel like I’m a little scattered with all this, but I hope you see the concepts really merging together. There’s a lot I wanted to say, and I’m sure a lot of it didn’t come together as ideally as I intended, but I hope that in each area something stuck out at you and stuck with you.

My hope is that this post in some way triggers some thoughts and actions for you to begin assessing and implementing to work towards this concept of “disciplining yourself” as Paul said above.

And ultimately you MUST remember this: there is grace.

We can rejoice and operate in freedom because these strivings and our ability to attain goals do not define us. Christ has accomplished it all for us because He knew we would fall short. He knew we’d mess up, get distracted, and run to other things we know do not ultimately satisfy. And guess what? He STILL chose to die for you.

Christ STILL calls you “brother” and “sister” and accomplished for you adoption into the family of God. This should free us to strive all the more–not to earn what we cannot earn, but because our place is secure in Him and this instills in us a new set of hopes and desires to love and follow Jesus and make much of God with our lives!

Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions – #17

Resolved that I will live so, as I wish I had done when I come to die. (#17)

Resolved never to do any thing, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour before I should hear the last trump. (#19)

[update: I’ve combined Resolutions 17 & 19 due to the consistent nature of their content and my reaction to them]

This reminds me of a quote I read recently. Dr. Samuel Johnson is reported to have said: “Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” When we are near death–or made more aware of it–our minds tend to think clearer. When someone close to us dies, when we struggle with a grieving loss, what is truly (and ultimately) important to us becomes apparent.

I believe this is the emotional response Jonathan Edwards is hoping to trigger with this resolution.

Essentially he is saying that he wants to live in such a way that he has no regrets. Sure he (as we all) will mess up and wish things could’ve been done differently, but having an attitude of urgency and proactivity changes the way in which we live; the people in which we share the Gospel with; even HOW we share that Gospel. It changes the filter in which we perceive and act in our lives. Even the risks we do or do not take.

Another quote that comes to mind in regards to this topic is from C.S. Lewis who says: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

I think he hits it dead on in pointing out that as we think about Heaven and the eternal promises provided to us in the Gospel it changes us. It changes the way we think, act, pray, love, and serve. It changes our perspective from the temporal to the abiding/eternal; and when that happens, there are fundamental changes in us.

This resolution is about making these truths more readily on the front of our minds. We ought to be thinking through this lens much more than we presently do. Maybe then we won’t watch that extra episode of a TV show we’ve already seen. Maybe then we will have the courage to share the Gospel (and take the risk!) with the person God has put on our hearts. Maybe then we will begin actually responding to our own question of “will this (action) even matter in 5 years, or am I just wasting time?”

At the end of the day it’s about a level of intentionality. John Piper in Don’t Waste Your Life puts it well when he (continually) asserts that he doesn’t want to get to the end of his life and say “I’ve wasted it.”

Session Six: Good Preaching (Execution, Delivery, and Pragmatics) [Justin Anderson]

Justin Anderson book15

[These are Session 6 notes (Session 3 of Day 2) from the Preach The Word 2013 Acts 29 West Regional Conference in Reno, NV]

[ UPDATE: VIDEO FROM SESSION SIX IS NOW AVAILABLE HERE ]

—-

“Everything you’ve heard (at this conference) becomes useless if you don’t get the delivery.”

This is essentially about critique.

–Book recommendations:

“Why Johnny Can’t Preach”

“Communicating For a Change”

“There’s no such thing as public speaking” (Henderson)

1 Cor 9:24-27 (“let’s take this out of context: you must work tirelessly to prepare preaching well)

•10 Points: (was thinking of doing ‘DON’T SUCK’ but I had 10 pts; and I thought that’d be cliche A29 stuff to I figured: ‘JOEL OSTEEN’)

Here we go:

•J – Just Be You

Nobody buys your imitation of someone else.

If you believe God has called YOU to preach, preach YOU. He called YOU to your people, not Driscoll.

“It takes 250 sermons to find your voice” (Keller) BUT that doesn’t mean that every preacher is owed that many to figure out if you’re any good at it.

Theres a lie that your preaching level should be 1-2x more excited than normal. It’s precisely that: a lie.

It should be you. Should sound like you.

If you aren’t regularly making being die with laughter, don’t try to be funny in the pulpit.

(The only time Keller and Piper are funny is when they don’t mean to be)

You don’t have to be funny to be a good preacher.

•O – Only preach for as long as people want to listen to you

“I realized then that sermon length is not measured in minutes; it is measured in minutes-beyond-interest, in the amount of time the minister continues to preach after he has lost the interest of his hearers (assuming he ever kindled it in the first place).” ~ T. David Gordon (Why Johnny Can’t Preach; p.31)

“Just about every guy who regularly preaches 50 mins would be better at 45; the man at 45 to 40; etc”

(“Keller preaches 35. None of you are better than Keller”)

–Here’s how you find your number: talk to people in your congregation that love you, are mature, are for you, have been around for a while, and ask “am I preaching too long?”

Don’t ask your wife (she loves you too much). I usually only ask her “was it clear?”

If people start shifting a bunch, you’ve lost them already.

–find that number and back 5 minutes off of that (there are moments, texts, Ideas, sermons that you need that extra 5, but if you go your full length then 5 every time, they’ve checked out).

Your people will give you grace to take the extra 5 if you honor that

•E – Every point should make the same point

“I believe in 1 point preaching”

“Your people can only understand one idea a week”

Another way: “you are only able to communicate one idea a week”

Have supporting ideas (Driscoll: metaphor of the hook; one hook, every idea hangs in that hook)

–Another way: sermon as a narrative (start-end) and each pt a stepping stone direct (not swerving side to side, etc)

Keller lays it exactly out in the very beginning (here is where we’re going; “we’re going to cover 3 points today”)

Another way: preach through the text (we’ll start in v7, know where we’re going next? 8. And after that? Yep. 9.)

You’re teaching them that they can go home and read it and understand.

-They see it doesn’t take all the jumping through hermeneutical hoops.

Do a “big idea”

•L – Listen to what your body is saying (everything communicates)

When you critique yourself don’t just listen to the MP3, watch it.

Posture, eyeline, hands, volume, pause, pace.

(Idea of facing the pulpit straight away to engage the audience and not be disconnect, tall pulpit)

“The strongest place to (fix your body/eye-line to) communicate is dead center, 2/3 back, straight ahead” (from public speaking book mentioned above)

full center/full posture on main points.

Pick out sections for eye contact (regions/zones example)

Deliver your strong points behind the pulpit, in priestly moments step to the side and lean down, be at the side (lean in, etc.) — like talking to your kids

-Let your posture communicate what your words communicate.

-Same with your hand movements (“don’t thread the needle when you’re chopping it up”)

–Volume should be relative to the content you’re reading. (Same with pace, pause)

–Your body matters (what you wear, your weight, your presentation of yourself matters)

-Your congregation follows you not just as a pastor but as a leader (they follow your lead; your people have to see themselves in you)

Paul said “follow me as I follow Jesus”

If you’re in an urban business context, don’t wear flip flops and a Hawaiian shirt (you want to be seen as more of a boss, than an Intern)

–Present yourself as someone credible to be following.

Be aware of what everything communicates

•O – Operate a manual transmission

This synthesizes voice, body, and content.

Think about our sermons as gears:

1st gear – most pastoral/priestly voice; used to communicate difficult truths

Softest/slowest speaking; talk about serious, hard, personal content matter.

2nd gear – teacher voice, beginning of the sermon, communicate historical/cultural background, posture more upright, used when direct quotes

3rd gear – preacher’s main voice, moving from information –> exhortation, telling stories, difference of degree and not kind; roughly 50-60% of the sermon is this gear

4th gear – High point of the sermon (everything should communicate that; posture, volume, pace, focus) deliver to the middle of the room, 2/3 back. Used when delivering sin/grace; should include your best dramatic pauses. The more important your point and your voice the more impactful your pauses.

5th gear – yelling, screaming, jumping up and down (communicating something egregious). Must match the subject matter (“use only once or so a year or if you’re Driscoll, whenever you talk about men”)

This is when you’re losing your mind about something, and only do so when the text is losing their mind about it.

Screaming is not effective communication (should not be “he cares the most about everything”)

Use sparingly (but use it)

This is not manipulative, it’s storytelling (it’s used cross fly just not explicitly talked about)

In preaching (particularly preparation), think of your gears and when they will kick in.

-Use the gears to illustrate importance, type of content, shifts in content, etc. (give it to them, let it breathe, deliver truth, show care)

•S – Say less, prove more

We live in an increasingly secular society. Many of us don’t preach like that’s true. (We preach as though it’s still Christendom Bible Belt)

We go into our sermons with (our own) presuppositions (“based on XYZ”.. They lost you back at A)

The Bible’s authority and relevance is no longer culturally accepted. You will likely need to address that.

You can have powerful, amazing statements (“drowning in the cesspool of your own mess”) … But do they believe it? (non Christians, baristas, CHRISTIANS even)

Need to be convinced of their presuppositions (for the last 6 days they’ve been given different values, goals, images, etc.) they’ve been told a million different narratives OTHER THAN creation, fall, redemption, restoration. (More like “you’re awesome, but with our product you’ll be MORE awesome!”)

That power phrase just became  a complete disconnect from everyone in your congregation (at BEST they waver on it; ‘I know I should believe that…’)

–If you believe someone in your room MIGHT not believe it, prove it. (Just one or two pts; “bible as word of God” -> show a couple proofs) // [copy from audio]

•T – Teach me, move me, show me

Some struggle with structure in their sermons (most preachers tend to be prophet/priest)

[his example from how he does sermon prep: prep, main point, then push it back at look at the various angles to go about it]

    Practical example from other religions/philosophies and bridging -> Christianity (provides a parallel but clear distinction) // [listen to audio for richer example used; worth the time!]

**Think through that rhythm: teach them truth and the text; move them in response (has to get in their hearts); and show them (I taught you, I moved you, here’s how you do it)

Most of us are good at one, maybe two of those things:

Taught them new information, they’ll leave smarter, but will not care about it

Some of us move our congregation to tears weekly.. About nothing in particular.

Knowing HOW to do something doesn’t mean they will do it.

“Preaching”: a tool helping people understand the gospel intellectually, stir people’s affections for Jesus, and move them on mission

Catechism quote [pull from audio]

•E – Examples of 4 archetypes to teach from

-1) Communicate to the mechanic (50 year old dude, sun burn, hard worker, no BS kind of guy; the “hell of a talk, preacher” guy)

Give him something with handles to grab on to and in the first 10 mins (he won’t wait longer)

-2) The smart skeptic

(Intelligently address their skepticism)

Address him every time you say something unbelievable (faith-driven, the cross, etc.)

-3) Disciple

(Already bought in, committed, love you, love jesus; just give them something to chew on… This is the easiest to reach; this guy loves your sermon the minute he steps out of the car)

Show that they track with you; they just want some meat

-4) The dude that’s there for chicks (address him!)

Get them with the hammer at some point (that’s the only time he will listen to you)

Doesn’t care about your groups, handles, meat.. You need to punch him in the face to get his attention.

–These are not the only 4, but I’m convinced if you hit these 4, you hit all the rest.

•E – Everything isn’t ‘awesome’

Chose your words carefully.

Grace is amazing (everything else has to be somewhere below that)

If everything is amazing, nothing is amazing. (They are not at the same level)

“The cross is remarkable… That burrito? Was good.”

-There are some things that are amazing (you don’t have to convince someone that something is amazing if it is amazing)

Grand Canyon and “Jesus is awesome” examples (“it’s self-evidently deep”)

The more you beg someone to believe something is great, the less sure they will be in believing that.

Don’t say “Jesus is great,” show them! (“Isn’t grace amazing?!” -> show it)

Ephesians 2

“Everything isn’t awesome, but some things are, and they should be self evident”

•N – Nurture your brain and your heart

What kinds of ministers does such a culture produce?  Ministers who are not at home with what is significant; ministers whose attention span is less than that of a four-year-old in the 1940s, who race around like the rest of us, constantly distracted by sounds and images of inconsequential trivialities, and out of touch with what is weighty.  It is not surprising that their sermons, and the alleged worship that surrounds them, are often trifling, thoughtless, uninspiring, and mundane.  It is not surprising that their sermons are mindlessly practical, in the “how-to” sense.  It is also not surprising that their sermons tend to be moralistic, sentimentalistic, or slavishly drafted into the so-called culture wars.  The great seriousness of the coming judgment of God, the sheer insignificcance of the present in light of eternity — realities that once were the subtext of virtually every sermon — have now disappeared, and have been replaced by one triviality after another.” ~ T. David Gordon (Why Johnny Can’t Preach)

And that was written before Twitter!

~~There is very little in the social media world that makes you better

(not saying it’s ‘bad’, but you have been called by God to deliver the word and deliver His people)

~~The question we should ask ourselves (not just with social media but with everything) is “is this making me BETTER?” (Husband, pastor, friend, etc.)

Put stuff out there that’s valuable, imbibe things that make you better.

Read your bible

Read books about the bible

Read thoughtful critiques of the culture (but don’t imbibe it straight; it’s too much) [listen to audio for context of this point]

Conclusion: We have to work hard. We have been given a great task, we have to work at it (its fun and rewarding, we get to play a part in this! Nothing is bigger than this story)

–We ought to be compelled to learn it and communicate it as well as we possibly can.

“Well God used Moses, a stutterer, and an ass in the OT” (it’s the exception not the rule)

(“Our goal should not be ‘ass'”)

“God, at the same time you call us, you equip us”

“I pray that we would never tire of it and never tire of doing it better”

A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer

As we look out at the church today, there is so much that encourages us and fills us with gratitude. There is renewed zeal among God’s people for the spread of God’s glory across the earth. Like never before we hear brothers and sisters in different circles and different streams of contemporary Christianity talking about the gospel and mission, about transforming cities and reaching unreached people groups. These conversations are essential, and we hope they will continue with even greater intensity and intentionality in the days ahead.

But sometimes what we are not hearing can be as illuminating as what we do hear. It reminds us of an exchange in an old Sherlock Holmes mystery, where Holmes refers to “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time” during a robbery. A fellow detective, confused at Holmes’s comment, responds that “the dog did nothing in the nighttime” — to which Holmes responds: “That was the curious incident.” Despite the proliferation of Christian publishing and Christian conferences, J. I. Packer’s observation of our own curious incident still rings true:

When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology — but rarely of their daily experience of God.

Modern Christian books and magazines contain much about Christian doctrine, Christian standards, problems of Christian conduct, techniques of Christian service — but little about the inner realities of fellowship with God.

Our sermons contain much sound doctrine — but little relating to the converse between the soul and the Saviour.

We do not spend much time, alone or together, in dwelling on the wonder of the fact that God and sinners have communion at all; no, we just take that for granted, and give our minds to other matters.

Thus we make it plain that communion with God is a small thing to us.

Think about it. Where are the passionate conversations today about communing with God through fasting and prayer? We seem to find it easier to talk much of plans and principles for proclaiming the gospel and planting churches, and to talk little of the power of God that is necessary for this gospel to be proclaimed and the church to be planted.

If we really want to be a part of seeing disciples made and churches multiplied throughout North America and to the ends of the earth, we would be wise to begin on our knees.

It is for this reason that we gladly commend the new edition of John Piper’s Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer. If you have read or heard anything from Piper, you know that he is rightly and biblically passionate about the spread of God’s glory. But at the same time, he is acutely and biblically aware of our need for God’s grace. He knows that apart from dependence on and desperation for God, we will not only miss the ultimate point of our mission, but we will also neglect the ultimate need of our souls.

We were made to feast on God. In the words of the psalmist, we were created to cry:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food. (Psalm 63:1–5)

We have read the sad statistics about the number of young people who turn away from the church once they are out of their parents’ home. We have heard people explain that they have “tried God” when they were young but that it didn’t work for them. But we have to wonder: did they “earnestly” seek him with their whole hearts? Did they cry out to him in fasting and prayer? Sometimes we “earnestly seek” after things from God rather than God himself. It is hard for us to imagine anyone leaving the presence of the living God — the maker and sustainer of heaven and earth — and looking for something better!

There is spiritual delight to be found in God that far supersedes the physical diet of this world, and fasting is the means by which we say to God, “More than our stomachs want food, our souls want you.” Once we “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8), the things of the world no longer appeal to us in the same way.

As Piper says in the opening pages of this book, “Beware of books on fasting.” This is not a book of legalism. It’s not a book of technique. It does not contain a twelve-step plan. At the end of the day, it’s a book more about our hearts than about our stomachs. Abstaining from food (or other things) for a period of time is not an end in itself but a means to cause us to learn about and increase our love for Christ. As Piper explains in this book, the Bible gives us many reasons to fast:

  • We fast because we’re hungry for God’s Word and God’s Spirit in our lives.
  • We fast because we long for God’s glory to resound in the church and God’s praise to resound among the nations.
  • We fast because we yearn for God’s Son to return and God’s kingdom to come.
  • Ultimately we fast simply because we want God more than we want anything this world has to offer us.

Few things are as frustrating as trying to convince our loved ones of the greatness and grandeur of God. We are jealous for our neighbors and our faith family and the nations to find satisfaction in God alone. As we recently reread the book you hold in your hands, we have tried to imagine what it would be like if our churches were filled with believers fasting regularly and biblically. What might God be pleased to do if his church rises up to say, “This much, O God, we want you!”? We encourage you to read this book, asking great things from God, “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think!” (Ephesians 3:20).


For a free pdf of the book, as well as options to purchase paperback or Kindle versions, see Desiring God’s updated resource page for a Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer.

This post is transcribed from DesiringGod.org with permission

Book Review: This Momentary Marriage (Piper)

In Ephesians 5:32, Paul calls marriage a “profound mystery.” We may have heard it said before: earthly marriage is a picture of the Gospel; Christ being wedded to His Bride, the Church. That is what this book is about. The temporary being a shadow, pointing to the reality that is permanent. John Piper writes that “there has never been a generation whose general view of marriage is high enough” and with the constant pressure places on marriage in the U.S.–as we’ve seen over the years, as well as with all the debate over same-sex marriage–having a right understanding of marriage is more critical than ever.

Marriage is constantly under pressure in our society:

  • Who says that marriage should only be between one man and one woman?
  • Why should any two consenting adults be denied marriage if they’re in love?
  • Isn’t being in love essentially what marriage is all about?
  • Who says marriage ought to be “till death do us part”? If love is gone why stay married?

Even within the church:

  • What does the Bible mean that the husband is the head of the wife?
  • What does submission look like? Are there times we should not submit?
  • Do single people just miss out on the mystery of marriage?
  • What is God’s design in sex? What role does it play in the “mystery”?
  • What does the Bible really teach about divorce and remarriage?

This is what This Momentary Marriage is about. It seeks to display how marriage on this earth is separated only by death, but that it is meant as a profound symbol of the everlasting covenant between Christ and the Church. That marriage points to the Gospel, and points to profound, ultimate joy.

I cannot wait to experience this joy, in both respects, and I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone wanting to know what the Bible says about marriage, how it points to Jesus, and the joy available to us in the Gospel.

Some content adapted from DesiringGod.org; used with permission.
A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by Crossway Publishing. I was not required to post a positive review and the views expressed in this review are my own.