Bible Study · John Piper · Prayer

BIBLE STUDY: Jesus Calling: God Invites You Into His Presence

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Verses to Read for Christmas

 

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There are times when all of us fall victim to the activity trap. If we could just do more, then we will feel better, be more spiritual, be closer to God. Yet, Jesus points out that increased actions do not always lead to increased effectiveness.

Sarah Young leads us through the story of Mary and Martha. Using the Jesus Calling Bible Study Experiencing God’s Presence, we are called to come into God’s presence, to choose the right thing, to be still and know that He is God.

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God’s Presence Invites You

Consider It

God is present with you. Right now. Do you believe that? Do you believe it in theory, or do you experience God’s Presence as you go through your day?

God yearns to spend quiet moments with you and help you grow more and more aware of His Presence as you seek Him. In this first ses­sion, we’ll begin to develop the habit of sitting in God’s Presence, hearing His voice as He speaks through the Scriptures.

1. Have you ever experienced God’s Presence? If so, what did you (or what do you) experience? If you never have, do you believe God wants you to experience His Presence when you read the Scriptures? Why or why not?

2. What draws you to this exploration of God’s presence?

Experience It

“Come to Me with a teachable spirit, eager to be changed. A close walk with Me is a life of continual newness. Do not cling to old ways as you step into a new year. Instead, seek My Face with an open mind, knowing that your journey with Me involves being transformed by the renewing of your mind. As you focus your thoughts on Me, be aware that I am fully attentive to you. I see you with a steady eye because my attention span is infinite. I know and understand you completely; My thoughts embrace you in everlasting Love. I also know the plans I have for you: plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Give yourself fully to this adventure of increasing attentiveness to My Presence.”

~ From Jesus Calling, January 1

3. How eager are you to be changed? What makes you long for transformation?

4. What, if anything, makes you uncomfortable with change?

5. How do you respond to the thought that God is fully attentive to His children? Do you want that attention? Is it scary to you at all? Why or why not?

“Relax in My healing Presence. As you spend time with Me, your thoughts tend to jump ahead to today’s plans and problems. Bring your mind back to Me for refreshment and renewal. Let the Light of My Presence soak into you as you focus your thoughts on Me. Thus I equip you to face whatever the day brings. This sacrifice of time pleases Me and strengthens you. Do not skimp on our time together. Resist the clamor of tasks waiting to be done. You have chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from you.

~ From Jesus Calling, January 2

6. What are some reasons this reflection offers for spending time in God’s Presence? What are some others that come to mind?

7. Listening to what God is saying to you in the Scriptures is a skill that you can develop with practice. But unlike many skills, it doesn’t come by trying harder but by trying softer — by relaxing and just allowing God to speak to you through the Holy Spirit. It also comes from having a right understanding of how the Lord sees you. How do you believe Jesus looks at you right now? Is He frustrated, frowning? Is He delighted with you?

8. In Romans 12:2, Paul writes, “ Do not conform to the patters of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” What do you think “the renewing of your mind” means?

Study It

In this section, you will reflect on a Bible passage in which Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha. As you read, it is important to keep in mind that Jesus was close friends with these two sisters, as He was with their brother, Lazarus. Also notice that it was Martha who opened their home to Jesus. In the culture of that time, she would have been expected to provide hospitality to her guests, and she would have expected her sister to help her with the preparations.

9. Read the following passage aloud. Then spend several minutes in silence rereading the passage and picturing yourself in the scene. You can put yourself in the place of one of the characters—Mary, Martha, one of the male disciples accompanying Jesus—or you can be in the room watching.

As Jesus and His disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed- or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” — Luke 10:38-42

Ask God to show you what He wants you to see in the passage. Use your senses to imagine the scene. What do you see? Hear? Smell? Does Jesus look at you? Say anything to you? What do you feel when He speaks to each person? What are His tone of voice and facial expressions when He speaks? Write some notes about what you have recognized through this exercise.

10. When you sat in silence with this Scripture passage, how easy was it for you to relax in Jesus’ Presence? Where did your mind go?

11. If you’re meeting with a group, share your experience. Where did you put yourself in the story? What insights did you have? How was this like or unlike the way you usually approach the Bible?

12. What might Jesus be impressing on your heart through this Scripture passage?

13. If you’re meeting with a group, how can the members pray for you? If you’re using this study on your own, what would you like to say to God right now?

Excerpted with permission from Experiencing God’s Presence from the Jesus Calling Bible Study Series by Sarah Young, copyright Thomas Nelson.

Be blessed,

3l8vgf8e2pga9jxok0br

 

(Source: Faith Gateway)

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Bible Study · John Piper · Prayer

BIBLE STUDY:What Should We Pray For?

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Verses to Read for Christmas

One way to answer this question is to look at what the early church prayed for. Here is a list gathered from the New Testament. It can guide you in how you pray. I suggest that periodically you pray through this list just to test whether your prayers are leaving out anything the New Testament included. We don’t have to pray all of these each time we pray. But over time it would be good if our prayers had the breadth and depth of the New Testament prayers.

They called on God to exalt his name in the world.

Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. (Matthew 6:9)

They called on God to extend his kingdom in the world.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10 )

They called on God that the gospel would run and triumph.

Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph, as it did among you. (2 Thessalonians 3:1)

They called on God for the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:13; cf. Ephesians 3:19)

They called on God to vindicate his people in their cause.

And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? (Luke 18:7)

They called on God to save unbelievers.

Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. (Romans 10:1)

They called on God to direct the use of the sword.

Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying through all prayer and supplication on every occasion. (Ephesians 6:17–18)

They called on God for boldness in proclamation.

Pray at all times in the Spirit . . . and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel. (Ephesians 6:18–19)

And now, Lord, look upon their threats, and grant to thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness. (Acts 4:29)

They called on God for signs and wonders.

And now Lord . . . grant your servants to speak thy word with boldness . . . while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of thy holy servant Jesus. (Acts 4:30)

Elijah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit. (James 5:17–18)

They called on God for the healing of wounded comrades.

Let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick man and the Lord will raise him up. (James 5:14–15)

They called on God for the healing of unbelievers.

It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery; and Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him healed him. (Acts 28:8)

They called on God for the casting out of demons.

And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Mark 9:29)

They called on God for miraculous deliverances.

So Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. . . . When he realized [he had been freed], he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. (Acts 12:5, 12)

But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake. (Acts 16:25–26)

They called on God for the raising of the dead.

But Peter put them all outside and knelt down and prayed; then turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, rise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. (Acts 9:40)

They called on God to supply his troops with necessities.

Give us this day our daily bread. (Matthew 6:11)

They called on God for strategic wisdom.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)

They called on God to establish leadership in the outposts.

And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed. (Acts 14:23)

They called on God to send out reinforcements.

Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. (Matthew 9:38)

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:2–3)

They called on God for the success of other missionaries.

I appeal to you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints. (Romans 15:30–31)

They called on God for unity and harmony in the ranks.

I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. (John 17:20–21)

They called on God for the encouragement of togetherness.

[We are] praying earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith. (1 Thessalonians 3:10)

They called on God for a mind of discernment.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. (Philippians 1:9–10)

They called on God for a knowledge of his will.

And so, from the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. (Colossians 1:9)

They called on God to know him better.

[We have not ceased to pray for you to be] increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:10; cf. Ephesians 1:17)

They called on God for power to comprehend the love of Christ.

I bow my knees before the Father . . . that you may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge. (Ephesians 3:14, 18–19)

They called on God for a deeper sense of assured hope.

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers . . . that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. (Ephesians 1:16, 18)

They called on God for strength and endurance.

[We have not ceased to pray for you to be] strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy. (Colossians 1:11; cf.Ephesians 3:16)

They called on God for a deeper sense of his power within them.

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers . . . that you may know . . . what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe. (Ephesians 1:16, 18–19)

They called on God that their faith not be destroyed.

I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren. (Luke 22:32)

Watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:36)

They called on God for greater faith.

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24; cf. Ephesians 3:17)

They called on God that they might not fall into temptation.

Lead us not into temptation. (Matthew 6:13)

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41)

They called on God that he would complete their resolves.

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfil every good resolve and work of faith by his power. (2 Thessalonians 1:11)

They called on God that they would do good works.

[We have not ceased to pray for you that you] lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work. (Colossians 1:10)

They called on God for forgiveness for their sins.

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)

They called on God for protection from the evil one.

Deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:13)

Praise the Lord!

Be blessed,

3l8vgf8e2pga9jxok0br

 

(Source: John Piper)

Family · John Piper

FAMILY: Why Satan Exists For Christ’s Glory and Your Joy

Family

In a very real sense, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). All humans, including those who compose the church, are subject to the evil god of this world.

So here’s a question for you: True or false? God — and from the vantage point of the New Testament, let us specify our Savior, God the Son, the promised crusher of the serpent’s head — could have cast Satan into the lake of fire immediately after he rebelled, or immediately after the deception in the garden, or at any point from then until now, thus sparing his people and the world untold misery and suffering. Answer: True.

By [Jesus] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)

Christ spun forth galaxies with a word. He could just as easily have removed the entire kingdom of darkness with one little word. Wouldn’t the bride of Christ have been better off? Why didn’t the Divine Bridegroom care for us in that way?

All this is just one way to pose one of the most knotty questions in all of theology.

Why Does Christ Allow the Enemy to Exist?

The short answer is this: for our joy and his glory.

Jesus Christ came “to proclaim liberty to the captives” (Luke 4:18). Through his death, he destroyed “the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). What a Savior! What a Deliverer! Every liberated POW story shares a common climax — triumphant jubilation. If there were no enemy to free us from, we would never experience this extraordinary magnitude of joy.

Light is all the more glorious in contrast to darkness. Freedom is enhanced by the experience of captivity. Holiness is more beautiful when we have been shocked by the gargoyle face of evil.

Remembering how our Divine Rescuer irreversibly saved us from the jaws of the enemy maximizes our delight, admiration, and reverence for him. Thus the very existence of Satan ultimately magnifies the glory of Christ. And this type of glory would not be possible were Satan not allowed to range throughout the earth. And we have at least three more ways to see these truths in the Bible.

1. Satan and Demons Obey Christ

Consider Christ’s forty-day battle with the devil in the wilderness. Not only did Jesus win, but when the ordeal was over he said, “Be gone Satan,” and the evil one immediately obeyed (Matthew 4:10–11).

Christ was also victorious over demons. Even by the thousands they were clearly no match for him (Mark 1:23–27, 5:9–13). He cast out demons “by the finger of God” (Luke 11:20).

The fact that Satan and demons obey Christ results in glory for him — and profound joy for us who follow Christ.

2. The Hour That Changed Everything

In Gethsemane, as the mob approached with swords and clubs, Jesus said, “This is your hour and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53).

He knew this was coming. But instead of asking the Father to save him from this hour, he prayed, “Father, glorify your name.” The voice from heaven replied, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” Jesus explained to those who heard it, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (John 12:27–31).

The hour of the power of darkness was also the hour of Christ’s glory. Whenever we remember and proclaim this most extraordinary hour — this amazing cosmic turnaround — Christ receives glory, and we receive joy in him.

3. This Drama Is No Cliffhanger

Scripture reveals the ultimate destiny of Satan. Good news lies ahead: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20). How will spiritual warfare ultimately conclude?

Then comes the end, when [Christ] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. (1 Corinthians 15:24–25)

When we look to our future hope and realize what lies ahead for our enemy, Christ is glorified, and we can rejoice knowing no one will ever snatch us out of his hand or separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (John 10:28; Romans 8:38–39).

What Is Spiritual Warfare About?

Spiritual warfare is not primarily a story about believers dressed in awesome armor. Nor is it primarily a story about Satan and demons. Instead, spiritual warfare is first and foremost a story about Christ and his all-surpassing glory over and above the kingdom of darkness. The bad news about Satan becomes the good news about Satan when we recognize that the glory of Christ shines most brightly against the black backdrop of the kingdom of darkness. As for Satan, he means it for evil against us, but God means it for good (Genesis 50:20).

And even in the heat of the fiercest battle, with our faith riveted on the indomitable Jesus Christ, we can “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:3–9), knowing that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

 

Why Satan Exists

God Bless,

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(Source: Bob Bevington)

Bible Study · John Piper

BIBLE STUDY: 12 Promises for Perseverance in Bible Reading

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Verses to Read for Christmas

As Christians, we know that without time in God’s word our faith will become anemic, shallow, and weak. And yet, so often, we neglect the precious gift of God’s word in our daily lives. This is a simple list meant to help motivate souls prone to wander see that giving ourselves to God’s word in 2016 will be worth it — one reason for every month you might be tempted to give up.

1. The Bible enables us to know and love Jesus more.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me [Jesus]. (John 5:39)

The Bible is not ultimate. Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, is ultimate. But the Bible is the place where we know for certain that we can see and savor Christ each day. The Old Testament writings promise him and point toward him. The Gospels show us his ministry here on earth leading to his death and resurrection. The letters show us the work he continues to do by his Spirit through his church, which is his body.

There is nothing and no one more valuable for you to know and love in 2016 than Jesus Christ, and there is nowhere you’re more likely to encounter him than in this book.

2. The Bible gives us hope in God no matter what is happening in our lives.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)

The Bible is the foundation under our feet that gives us the encouragement we need to remain hopeful in Christ through times of depression and suffering. We have a God who wrote a book so that we might be people with hope. We should take advantage of that precious gift.

3. The Bible leads us to supreme happiness in God.

Blessed [this means happy!] is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1–2)

The Bible is the place where God has revealed himself. In the Bible, discover the path of life that leads us to “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

The happiness the Bible offers us is as unchanging and durable as the God who wrote it and who is himself our greatest Treasure.

4. The Bible arms us to kill our sin by the Spirit of God.

If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)

The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17)

The Word of God is the sword in the hands of the Spirit of God. The sword goes to work to hack up sin in our life that keeps us from God. The sword pierces through bone and marrow to reveal our hearts. With sin removed and cleansed, we can see Christ more fully and find greater holiness and happiness.

5. In the Bible we hear directly from the mouth of the God of the universe.

All Scripture is breathed out by God. (2 Timothy 3:16)

May we never be bored reading the Bible. May we never forget that the almighty God of the universe is speaking directly to us in those moments.

There are probably people you are dying to meet in person. You would never miss the opportunity if it was given to you. You would clear your schedule of anything to be with them. Shouldn’t the God of the universe make that list? We meet him again and again in his word when we read our Bibles.

6. The Bible is a free course on life taught by God himself.

All Scripture is . . . profitable for teaching. (2 Timothy 3:16)

If God is speaking, and his word is profitable for teaching, then we get to go to class every day under the professorship of God himself. And it’s free. Indeed, God has given us his Spirit to teach us his secret and hidden wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:7, 10).

7. The Bible enlightens us to areas where we need to grow so that we can be changed and trained into the image of Christ.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

As we see Jesus in his word, we will also see that we don’t measure up. We will see sin and areas for growth. Jesus is the standard for change and the means of change. As we see him, the Spirit goes to work to change us more and more into his image, and to set us free from the silly little desires and idols we’ve been settling for.

8. The Bible equips us for good works that bring glory to our God.

All Scripture is breathed out by God . . . that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)

The Bible stirs us up and equips us to do good works that beautifully adorn the gospel. And as we do these good works, others see them and give glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12). We want our lives to count for his glory, and God gives us the guide for that great cause in his word.

9. The Bible produces healthy and happy families and relationships.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. . . . Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1, 4)

We cannot know how and why we ought to obey our parents, at least in a way that honors God, if we do not know the word of God. And we cannot know how to raise our children to know, and love, and obey the Lord if we do not know the word of the Lord.

Families and church families will be much healthier and happier places, for all of the reasons already mentioned above, if we are people saturated with the Bible.

10. The Bible keeps us from being conformed to this world.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

The world bombards us with sinful and foolish temptations. The world screams for conformity to its systems and ways. We desperately need to be people who fix our eyes on Jesus and meditate on all his words so that we are not conformed to the world, but transformed to be more like him.

If you want to be average and irrelevant, ignore the word and fall in with the world. If you want to make an eternal difference for the world, be transformed by the word.

11. The Bible teaches us to pray.

If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. (Proverbs 28:9)

Without the Bible our prayers too easily drift into our own fleshly, sin-driven complaints, desires, and pity parties. With the Bible we can see reality, see our sin, even see the sins of others against us, and approach the throne of grace for help, with deep and lasting truths ringing in our ears.

12. The Bible spurs us toward genuine and healthy fellowship and accountability.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24)

The Bible helps us in our families and churches to make God’s glory the goal, sin the enemy, and perseverance in our faith the priority. It gives us the courage and wisdom to humbly and lovingly admit our own wrongs to others and to confront sin in one another.

Make this next year a quest to find joy in God by hearing from God. He’s worth all the effort.

Praise the Lord!

Be blessed,

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 (Source: Dave Zuleger)

John Piper · Motivation · Power Thoughts

POWER THOUGHTS: A New Year’s Plea: Plan!

PowerThoughts1

Planning for Physical Necessities

Suppose the thought enters your mind that you want to build a house. You sit down and make a list of all the materials you think you will need. Then you order them to be delivered to the lot where you will build. Everything is piled in the center of the lot, and the next day the bulldozer comes to excavate the basement and everything is in the way. It’s all just where he has to dig.

Why?

A failure to plan.

Without some rudimentary planning you probably won’t have anything to eat when you get up in the morning. And without some detailed planning no one can build a house, let alone a skyscraper or shopping mall or city. If producing shelter and food and clothing and transportation is valuable, then planning is valuable. Nothing but the simplest impulses gets accomplished without some forethought which we call a plan.

Planning for Spiritual Necessities

All of us know this and practice it in relation to the basic physical necessities of life. We take steps to see that we have enough to eat and clothes to keep us warm. But do we take our spiritual needs that seriously? Do we apply the same earnestness in planning to maximize our ministry as we do in planning to make a living?

What I would like to do here is to try to persuade you to set aside time each week in the coming year to plan—and specifically to plan your life of prayer and devotion and ministry. The bulldozer of God’s Spirit often arrives at the scene of our heart ready to begin some great work of building, and he finds that due to poor planning there are piles of disordered things in his way. We’re not ready for him.

The way I hope to motivate you to do this is to give four examples of planning in the Bible. First, some illustrations from the Proverbs; second, the planning of the apostle Paul; third, the planning of God; and fourth, the planning of Jesus.

Illustrations from Proverbs

Proverbs 6:6–7, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her food in summer, and gathers her sustenance in harvest.”

The ant is an example not only because it works so hard, but also because it plans ahead. It takes thought in summer that there will be need in winter, and this forethought provides its needs in winter.

Proverbs 14:15, “The simple believes everything, but the prudent looks where he is going.”

The difference between planning and not planning is whether you look where you are going in the future or whether you focus all your attention on the immediate right in front of you. If you are not a planner, then you will be at the mercy of others who try to give you counsel about how to act now so as to be happy in the future.

So “the simple believes everything, but the prudent looks where he is going.” He considers the days to come and what they are bringing and thinks about how best to prepare for them and use them to accomplish his purposes.

Proverbs 15:22, “Without counsel plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed.”

Here the wisdom of planning is taken for granted, and the writer simply gives us advice for how to make plans that succeed. He says, Don’t be so independent that you think yourself above counsel. Read the wisdom of others who have gone before you. Talk to experienced and wise people. Watch the way others do things and learn from their mistakes and successes.

Proverbs 16:3, “Commit your work to the Lord and your plans will be established.”

Again planning is taken for granted and the issue is: How can you plan in such a way that what you produce will have abiding value and not just pass away overnight? Answer: Commit it to the Lord. That is, always seek the Lord’s guidance and strength in your planning. Trust his wisdom and not your own. Then your plans will bear fruit that stays.

Proverbs 24:27, “Prepare your work outside, get everything ready for you in the field; and after that build your house.”

This probably means that it is important to be able to support yourself by the productivity of the field before you establish your own household. Perhaps we would say to a young person today: get a job before you get married. Or at least plan how you are going to support the new household you are establishing.

Proverbs 31:15–16, “She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and tasks for her maidens. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.”

Here the model homemaker is a model planner in two ways. She gets up early and assigns tasks to her maids. You cannot assign tasks to your maids if you have no plan about what you would like to be accomplished that day. And she considers a field and buys it. What does she consider? She considers how it will fit into the plan of the household.

Conclusion from the Proverbs: Careful planning is part of what makes a person wise and productive. Not to plan is considered foolish and dangerous. This is true even though the Proverbs teach that we do not know what the future may bring. “A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). The fact that the Lord is ultimately in control of the future does not mean we shouldn’t plan. It means we should commit our work to the Lord and trust him to establish our plans according to his loving purposes.

The Planning of the Apostle Paul

We will take just one example of Paul’s planning from the many that we could take from Acts and from his letters. Romans 15:20–28,

I make it my ambition (i.e., my plan) to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on another man’s foundation…. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be sped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem with aid for the saints…. When therefore I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been raised, I shall go on by way of you to Spain.

Here is a typical example of how the apostle Paul carried out his mission. And I think we should learn from him that planning is essential to a productive ministry. And I mean your personal ministry as well as the more complex organism of church ministries. Paul was the greatest church planter who ever lived. He accomplished more in his life for the spread of the reign of Christ than any other person. So I think we would do well to take seriously his method. Part of his method was his planning.

He had a general guideline: he wanted to preach where no one had preached before. Then he developed a specific plan from this guideline: he would take the gift to Jerusalem; then he would go to Rome to establish a western base, from which he would then go to Spain.

What makes this especially significant is that as far as we know the plan fell through. He was arrested in Jerusalem. He went to Rome as a prisoner and probably never got to Spain. It’s just like we saw in the Proverbs. God is the one who finally makes the future. But we plan nevertheless. God uses our planning even if he aborts it.

For example, if Paul had not planned to use Rome as a base of operations for a trip to Spain, he probably never would have written the greatest letter the world has ever known—the epistle to the Romans. Planning is crucial in Christian living and Christian ministry—even when God overrules our planning.

The Planning of God

The ultimate reason for planning is that God is a God who plans and we are created in his image to exercise dominion in the earth under his lordship.

I don’t think it is even possible to conceive a God who does not act according to his own eternal planning—that is, a God who has knee jerk responses to stimuli rather than deliberate actions that fit into a wise purpose.

Isaiah 46:9–10, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.'”

Ephesians 1:9–10, “God has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and on earth.”

Acts 2:23, “This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.”

Since God is a God who does all things according to plan it befits us to approach the most important things of life with forethought and plan, not haphazardly.

The Planning of Jesus

Jesus had a mission to accomplish, and he finished it with forethought and planning.

When his mother urged him to do a miracle at the wedding in Cana, he said, “My hour is not yet come” (John 2:4). There was a planned and appointed hour for the revelation of his power. He would stay with the plan. Luke 9:51 says, “When the days grew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” He knew that the plan meant death in Jerusalem and he didn’t shrink back from the plan.

But he wasn’t driven against his will. The Father’s plan was his plan. He said in John 10:18, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.”

Conclusion:

Very specifically my plea to you this new year is that you take time to plan the most important things in your life.

Plan for the Most Important Things in Your Life

Plan how you are going to spend time with your spouse to deepen and strengthen the relationship. Plan how you are going to spend time playing with and teaching the children. Plan how you are going to get the amount of exercise you need to stay healthy. Plan how you are going to get enough sleep. Plan how much you should eat and how you are going to limit yourself. Plan your vacation so that it really gives rest and spiritual renewal.

And most important, plan how prayer and meditation on the Word are going to be significant parts of your life. Without a plan these most important things always get pushed aside by urgent pressures.

Make Planning a Regular Part of Your Life

But it won’t work just to plan something tonight or tomorrow. Planning must be a regular part of your life. I expect that the pastoral staff at Bethlehem will take a full day each month away from the church office just to pray and plan their ministry. This is in addition to the time I expect we are all taking each week to plan our week’s work.

So my plea to you is that you set aside time each week to plan, especially to plan your life of prayer and Bible study. For example, since Sunday is the first day of the week (not the last day of the weekend!) and belongs to the Lord, take ten or fifteen minutes each Sunday and think through when you will pray and what you will study that week. Give some thought how God might want to use you that week in a special way. Plan the letters you need to write, the Bible verses you want to teach your children, the visit you want to make, the book you want to read, the neighbor you want to talk to, etc.

The Proverbs teach us to plan. The greatest missionary who ever lived was a planner. God is a God who does all things according to plan. And Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem because of the most loving plan ever devised.

He planned for our joy; we ought to plan for his glory.

A New Year's Plea: Plan!

 

Love and joy to you all,

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(Source: John Piper)

John Piper · Motivation · Power Thoughts

POWER THOUGHTS: Plunge Your Mind into the Ocean of God’s Sovereignty

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Sometimes we need to plunge our minds into the ocean of God’s sovereignty. We need to feel the weight of it, like deep and heavy water pressing in against every pore, the deeper we go. A billion rivers of providence pour into this ocean. And God himself gathers up all his countless deeds — from eternity to eternity — and pours them into the currents of his infallible revelation. He speaks, and explains, and promises, and makes his awesome, sovereign providence the place we feel most reverent, most secure, most free.

Sometimes we need to be reminded by God himself that there are no limits to his rule. We need to hear from him that he is sovereign over the whole world, and everything that happens in it. We need his own reminder that he is never helpless, never frustrated, never at a loss. We need his assurance that he reigns over ISIS, terrorism, Syria, Russia, China, India, Nigeria, France, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, and the United States of America — every nation, every people, every language, every tribe, every chief, president, king, premier, prime minister, politician, great or small.

Sometimes we need to hear specific statements from God himself about his own authority. We need God’s own words. It is the very words of God that have unusual power to settle our nerves, and make us stable, wise, and courageous.

On the one hand hearing the voice of God is like a frightened child who hears the voice downstairs, and realizes that daddy’s home. Whatever those other sounds were, it’s okay. Daddy’s home.

On the other hand it feels like the seasoned troops, dug in at the front line of battle, and about to be overrun by the enemy. But then they get word that a thousand impenetrable tanks are rushing to their aid. They are only one mile away. You will be saved and the enemy will not stand.

Vague generalizations about the power of God do not have the same effect as the very voice of God telling us specifically how strong he is, how pervasive his power, how universal his authority, how unlimited his sovereignty. And that our times are in his hands.

So let’s listen. Let’s treat the Bible as the voice of God. Let’s turn what the Bible says about God into what God says about God — which is what the Bible really is — God speaking about God.

And as we listen, let us praise him. There is no other fitting way to listen to God’s exaltation of God. This is what happens to the human soul when we plunge into the ocean of God’s sovereignty.

We praise you, O God, that all authority in the universe belongs to you.

“There is no authority except from me, and those that exist have been instituted by me.” (Romans 13:1)

“You, Pilate, would have no authority over my Son at all unless it had been given you from me.” (John 19:11)

We stand in awe, O God, that in your freedom you do all that you please and all that you plan.

“Whatever I please, I do, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.” (Psalm 135:6)

“I work all things according to the counsel of my will.” (Ephesians 1:11)

“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” (Isaiah 46:9–10)

We marvel, O God, that you share this total authority and rule completely with your Son.

“I have given all authority in heaven and on earth to my Son, Jesus.” (Matthew 28:18)

“I love my Son and have given all things into his hand.” (John 3:35)

“I have given my Son authority over all flesh.” (John 17:2)

“I have put all things in subjection under my Son’s feet — all things except myself.” (1 Corinthians 15:27)

“I raised my Son from the dead and seated him at my right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion. . . . I put all things under his feet.” (Ephesians 1:20–22)

“I welcomed my Son into heaven. He is at my right hand, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.” (1 Peter 3:22)

We submit with reverence to you, O God, because, through your Son, you remove and install the rulers of the world.

“Wisdom and might belong to me. I change times and seasons; I remove kings and set up kings.” (Daniel 2:20–21)

“I loose the bonds of kings and bind a waistcloth on their hips.” (Job 12:18)

“I sent my angel and struck Herod down, because he did not give me glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” (Acts 12:23)

Indeed, O God, you not only raise rulers and put them down; you govern all their deeds in every age.

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in my hand, says the LORD; I turn it wherever I will.” (Proverbs 21:1)

“I will put an end to the wealth of Egypt, by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. . . . I will break the yoke of Egypt, and her proud might shall come to an end. . . . I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon and put my sword in his hand, but I will break the arms of Pharaoh.” (Ezekiel 30:10, 18, 24)

“I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes. Then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave.” (Jeremiah 27:6–7)

“As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand. I will break the Assyrian in my land; and his yoke shall depart from my people.” (Isaiah 14:24–25)

“I will make the nations the inheritance of my Son, and the ends of the earth will be his possession. He shall break them with a rod of iron.” (Psalm 2:8–9)

We acknowledge with wonder, O God, that no plan of man succeeds but those which you, in unfathomable wisdom, permit.

“I bring the counsel of the nations to nothing; I frustrate the plans of the peoples.” (Psalm 33:10)

“No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against me.” (Proverbs 21:30)

And how mighty and wise you are, O God, that no man, no nation, force of nature can thwart your holy plans.

“No purpose of mine can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2)

“I do according to my will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay my hand or say to me, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35)

“There is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 43:13)

So, we bow, as dust in the scales, O God, and confess with joy, that we are as nothing compared to your greatness.

“Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales. . . . All the nations are as nothing before me, they are accounted as less than nothing and emptiness.” (Isaiah 40:15, 17)

“I sit above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers. I stretch out the heavens like a curtain, and spread them like a tent to dwell in. I bring princes to nothing, and make the rulers of the earth as emptiness.” (Isaiah 40:22–23)

The joy of our hope, O God, is that you magnify your greatness by lifting up the low, and putting down the proud.

“Who but me can say to a king, ‘Worthless one,’ and to nobles, ‘Wicked man’? I show no partiality to princes, nor regard the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of my hands.” (Job 34:18–19)

“I shatter the mighty without investigation and set others in their place.” (Job 34:24)

“I look on everyone who is proud and bring him low and tread down the wicked where they stand.” (Job 40:12)

“I the LORD kill and bring to life; I bring down to Sheol and raise up. I make poor and make rich; I bring low and I exalt.” (1 Samuel 2:6–7)

“I have scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; I have brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.” (Luke 1:51–52)

And so it will be forever, O God. You rule over all, with an everlasting rule, for the sake of the lowly who trust your Son.

“I live forever, for my dominion is an everlasting dominion, and my kingdom endures from generation to generation.” (Daniel 4:34)

“My dominion shall not pass away, and my kingdom shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:14)

“My Son will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:33)

Therefore, overflowing with praise and thanks, O precious and holy God, we rest in your absolute sovereignty over our lives. And rejoice to hear you say,

“Your times are in my hand.” (Psalm 31:15)

Plunge Your Mind into the Ocean of God’s Sovereignty

Love and joy to you all,

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(Source: John Piper)

Christmas · Family · John Piper

FAMILY: Seven Reasons to Celebrate Advent

Family

 

1. Advent reminds us we are not the center of God’s plan.

Advent is an opportunity to refresh your perspective that God has a grand plan for history that is so much larger than just you and your kin. For all the emphasis on gift-giving and sentimentality that characterizes our cultural holiday, we can tend to focus on our small circles of friends. So in the midst of a season that might shrink our gaze, Advent reminds us to pan the camera back out to the larger scope of God’s purposes for history.

Before the foundation of the world, God wrote “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8), a story culminating in the marriage of the Lamb and his Bride (Revelation 19:7). What a marvel that we are spectacularly included in this grand plan, but we are not individually the main characters in this story.

The expectation of Advent points our gaze to a far grander story than our sentimental yuletide inclinations.

2. Advent reminds us of generations of saints longing for the Messiah.

Not long ago, it was a luxury to have two-day shipping for online purchases. Now you can have your purchase show up in just a matter of hours. Do modern people even have a category for longing, pining, and waiting?

Advent gives us an opportunity to imagine the long-awaited coming of the Messiah, who was promised thousands of years before his arrival in Bethlehem (John 8:56; Hebrews 11:13). Generations of saints had promises from God in Scripture, and types that heightened their yearning for the coming One.

As we imagine ourselves in this kind of expectation, we begin to see glimpses of how Jesus expected his disciples to see predictions for his ministry in the entire collection of Scriptures (Luke 24:27, 44), not simply a few isolated prophecies. With this kind of yearning, the pages of the Hebrew Bible rustle with Jesus from Genesis to Chronicles.

3. Advent connects us to centuries of church tradition.

Church tradition is not our final authority like Scripture, but we are not the first generation to seek to live faithfully to God’s word. We are naïve to blindly disregard a practice that has been fruitful for so many citizens of God’s Kingdom.

We should remember our leaders, and consider the outcome of their faith (Hebrews 13:7), and celebrating Advent is an opportunity to imitate the faith of many faithful leaders who have gone before us. We can avoid what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery” by letting the voices of seasoned saints offer wisdom into our context.

4. Advent brings slowness in the midst of a frantic season.

The Christmas holiday, especially in the West, seems to be on a vector towards insanity. Black Friday appears to have no desire to remain confined by a 24-hour window, even while shoppers have literally been reported to stampede retail stores. Students are busy studying for finals, parents are busy shopping for gifts, families are busy traveling to visit relatives — even social calendars can crowd uncomfortably during December.

Advent provides opportunity to slow the pace, or even comparatively grind it to a halt.Remember the deliberateness of God. He completed his promise “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4). Whether through daily readings, candle-lightings, or other Advent-themed traditions, we resolve to pause and reflect in a season that otherwise could otherwise drown out reflection — and be still.

5. Advent teaches us patience.

Patience is fruit of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22). But though it is his work, we may seek out means whereby the Spirit of God can cultivate patience in our hearts.

As we observe Advent, God can grow patience in our hearts by demonstrating that God is patient, and not because he is slow (2 Peter 3:9). By remembering the longing for Christ’s first coming, we see God’s mercy. He did not rush into swift destruction of his enemies and triumph of his kingdom — glorious as that will be.

Every moment of God’s patience is an opportunity for repentance for those who would otherwise be destroyed in his final coming (Romans 2:4). During Advent we behold the patience of Jesus, and by beholding him we are transformed more into his likeness by God’s Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).

6. Advent demonstrates the rarer jewel of Christian discontentment.

Puritan author Jeremiah Burroughs wrote of The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. And indeed this rare jewel is worth cultivating, especially in view of a mass conspiracy of advertisements designed solely to rob it from you. But not all discontentment ought to be shunned.

Where Christian contentment is rare in the vast sea of discontented people, distinctlyChristian discontentment may be rarer. How else can the result of the firstfruits of the Spirit be groaning inwardly (Romans 8:23)? What are we to make of the souls of martyrs under the altar of God crying out, “How long, O Lord?” (Revelation 6:10)? We do not have to look far to find reasons to grow in righteous discontentment with the sin-broken world around us, and lift up holy cries of lament.

Advent uniquely models this in the Christian calendar, as we remember similar cries for the first coming of Christ, and join their refrain for the second coming.

7. Advent fortifies confidence in the promises of God.

Finally, the best application of all of a season of heightened, purposeful remembrance and expectation directs us toward the glorious Second Advent of King Jesus.

As we reflect on God’s faithfulness to his promises past, we are reassured in the promises we yet await. Jesus said he is coming soon (Revelation 22:12), and though our concept of soon may seem to have a different calibration than our Lord’s, the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith by tracing the exactitude of God’s faithfulness to the saints long ago. Confidence in the second coming of Christ inspires missions (Matthew 24:14), enables Christian fellowship and mutual encouragement (Hebrews 10:25), and equips us for joyful suffering (Hebrews 10:34).

So if you are like me, and did not grow up with the tradition of Advent in your family or church, consider the benefits to your Christian walk this season by joining many in the Christian faith who have found great benefit in purposefully preparing during Advent for the great celebration of Christmas. Let us join the voices of generations of saints past and present in the refrain, O come, O come, Emmanuel.

God Bless,

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(Source: Ryan Shelton)

Family · John Piper

FAMILY: Thanksgiving, Thanksfeeling, and the Glory of God

Family

Thanksgiving, Thanksfeeling, and the Glory of God

Now and then, it needs to be said that not all thanksgiving is thanksfeeling. We can make ourselves (or our children) say, “Thank you,” whether we feel it or not. But it’s not a good habit, especially in relation to God.

Jesus warns against “vain” worship. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me” (Matthew 15:8–9). Thanksgiving without thanksfeeling is empty. It does not count with God.

An Act of the Heart

Genuine thankfulness is an act of the heart’s affections, not an act of the lips’ muscles. It is not willed, but awakened. It is not a decision of the will, but a reflex of the heart. It happens to us. We become aware of good will toward us, and either we feel gratitude or we are ungrateful.

It is not an inference; it is an experience. If the response of our lips is a mere logical deduction, it’s not heart-thankfulness. (Premise 1: Someone is willing my good. Premise 2: One should say thanks in such situations. Conclusion: I will cause my lips to say thanks.)

Now let’s relate this to the glory of God the way the Bible does.

To the Glory of God

“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me” (Psalm 50:23). This offering of thanksgiving which glorifies God is not merely external. It is gratitude truly felt in the heart. That is the only kind of sacrifice that pleases him.

“You will not delight in sacrifice . . . you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:16–17). This is the kind of heart that can truly feel gratitude for grace.

So the sacrifice of thanksgiving that glorifies God is the offering of contrite and broken-hearted thankfulness for undeserved mercies. This makes God look glorious — it glorifies him.

Similarly Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:15, “As grace extends to more and more people it increases thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” The sequence goes like this: God’s grace is experienced as wonderful and undeserved; heartfelt thanksfeeling rises in the heart; this true thanksfeeling overflows with thanksgiving; thus God is shown to be glorious — he is glorified.

Implications:

  • God is glorified more fully when we feel thankfulness, not when we only say, “Thank you.”
  • Authentic heart-feelings are not in our control. We can’t make ourselves feel thankfulness. If our hearts are not moved by God’s goodness, we are ungrateful. Thankfeelings are a work of grace.
  • Therefore, as fallen sinners whose hearts are often dull, we should regularly pray for God to overcome our sinful hardness, and cause us to see his goodness and feel thankful. (Psalm 51:10–12)

So the manifestation of the glory of God depends on 1) the appearance of God’s good will toward us in some undeserved benefit; 2) our eyes seeing it as from God; 3) the awakening of a sense of our being undeserving; 4) the awakening of the sweet thankfulness for being loved like this; 5) the expression of our thanksfeeling in thanksgiving.

May the God of great grace work these miracles in you this Thanksgiving.

 

God Bless,

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(Source: John Piper)