One Thing

“One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life”
(Psalm 27:4)

What’s your “One Thing?”

The world is filled with so many good things that it’s hard to really focus on the “One Thing” that really brings meaning and satisfaction to life.  We are so busy chasing after straight A’s, first place, the corner office, the tidy home – all really good things – that we often end up missing the One really great thing.  At the end of the story, we find that we’ve been majoring in the minors, and minoring in the majors; we’ve never really found the “One Thing.”

So what is that “One Thing?”  What brings meaning, purpose, and direction to our lives?  Well, if you remember City Slickers, Curly never told Mitch what that One Thing was, only that that’s what YOU have to figure out for yourself.  So according to that theory, your One Thing may be completely different from my One Thing.  If that’s the case, then our individual pursuit of the One Thing will lead us all in different, and often competing, directions.  If finding my One Thing, my happiness, my security, means trampling on your One Thing, well… that’s just how it goes.

I’m reminded of the song My One Thing, by Rich Mullins:

Everybody I know says they need just one thing
And what they really mean is that they need just one thing more
And everybody seems to think they’ve got it coming

Interestingly, Scripture does tell us, so much clearer that Curly ever would, what the One Thing really is.  If you want to know that inner peace, to find meaning and satisfaction in this life, to be secure even in the life to come, there is only One Thing you need: You Need to Know and Walk with Christ.

The rich young ruler, who in his estimation had kept the law without fail, asked Jesus what he needed to do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus told him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22).  This young man had everything he could ask for: he was financially set; he had lived a good and moral life; what more could he need?  He only lacked One Thing: following Christ.

Martha served Jesus faithfully; she even had the opportunity to host Him in her home.  She, no doubt, laid out the finest linens, served the most exquisite meal, and worked tirelessly to make sure that no detail was left out in the care of her Lord.  Yet there was her sister, Martha, sitting idly by at the feet of Jesus.  “Lord, couldn’t you tell Martha to get up and help out?”  Mary pleaded.  But Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).  All of Martha’s service and attention to detail was good, but she had neglected the One Thing she really needed – to sit at the feet of Jesus.

Even the Psalmist joins in this witness, telling us where to find the One Thing our hearts desire.  In Psalm 27:4 we read, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”  Dwelling in the house of the Lord, abiding in His presence – that is the One Thing.

The apostle Paul said something similar, when he writes, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”  Paul’s birth rite, upbringing and education, his righteousness and service – all of these “good things” were actually hindering him from knowing the One Thing he really needed, and so he gladly laid them aside that he might know Christ.  Christ Jesus is the One Thing we need more than any other.

What are the many things you are anxious over?  What are the many things that you chase after, only to find yourself wanting more once you’ve got them?  Are you running yourself ragged trying to maintain the all-so-many good things at the cost of having the One Thing; at the cost of the daily, quiet, sweet-communion with Jesus, the friend of sinners, the captain of your salvation?

Let all of these things go that you might follow Him.  Settle yourself at His feet that you might learn from Him.  “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” – let this be your One Thing – “and all these things will be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).

Rich Mullin’s song continues:

Save me from those things that might distract me
Please take them away and purify my heart
I don’t want to lose the eternal for the things that are passing
‘Cause what will I have when the world is gone
If it isn’t for the love that goes on and on with

My one thing
You’re my one thing
And the pure in heart shall see God

SDG

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The Only Real Comfort

“For you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
(1 Corinthians 6:20)

What is your only comfort, in life and in death?

There are a lot of things that bring me comfort – many of them involve bacon and/or gravy.  There’s the comfortable pair of jeans that I wear when I know I’m not going anywhere.  There’s the comfy chair which is guaranteed to produce a nap if I sit in it too long.  There’s a certain sense of comfort afforded by a 7 game post-season streak and a 3 game lead in the ALCS.  There’s even the comfort of depositing my paycheck in bank and knowing that I’m able to provide for my family.

Yet with all of these “creature comforts,” there’s always this sense that something’s missing, that I’m wanting something more.  As good as these things which bring me comfort may be, they do not truly satisfy the longing of my soul.

The human soul longs for meaning, for purpose, for satisfaction, for completion.  We are social creatures because, deeply wired in our existence, we are meant to be fulfilled by something other than ourselves.  We want to know we have made a difference, we want to leave a legacy.  We want to know that we have been right, not just correct, but righteous – on the side all that is good and lasting.  We want to know that we are secure, not just for today, but for eternity.

This is why the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism resonates with so many, it gets to the deepest longing – what is your only comfort, in life and in death?  Kevin DeYoung, in his book, The Good News We Almost Forgot, gives a little insight into the makeup of that question:

“Comfort” translates the German word trost, which was, in turn, rendered consolatio in the first official Latin version.  Trost is related to the English word “trust” and has the root meaning of “certainty” or “protection.”  Heidelberg is asking, “What is your solace in life?  What is your only real security?”

DeYoung, Kevin The Good News We Almost Forgot. (Moody Pub., Chicago, 2010) pg. 21.

The answer is this;

That I belong – body and soul, in life and in death – not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation.  Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Our only – the Catechism says, only – sole, unique, lone – comfort is that we belong to Christ.  More than bacon, more than the love of family, more than a healthy IRA – our belonging to Christ is the only thing which will bring us consolation, security, protection.

Christ has purchased us through the shedding of His blood.  Acts 20:28 tells us that Christ obtained the church with His own blood; 1 Cor 6:20 teaches that we have been bought with a price.  We were debtors to God’s glory, slaves to sin and death.  But through His cross, Jesus ransomed and redeemed us, our sins have been atoned for – all through His blood.  Our guilt, our shame, our debt has been covered.  We belong to Christ Jesus, and this is for our comfort.

What’s more, I am safe, kept in him.  Romans 8 tell us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, Jude 2 that we are kept in Him.  We are not just saved from wrath and sin, we are kept for righteousness – that we might be kept blameless before Him at His coming.  We are so preserved and protected by God’s grace in Jesus Christ that “not even a hair can fall from my head without His knowledge – and without it being for God’s purpose for my salvation.”  In Christ, there is nothing that I face that is not ultimately for God’s glory and my drawing nearer to Him.

Belonging to Christ Jesus, I am assured of eternal life and I am willing and ready to live for him.  Because He has saved and kept me unto salvation, I will live in His strength, His grace, His wisdom, joyfully serving and testifying to His goodness all my life.  I know that it is His strength that makes my work successful; His love that empowers mine.  I do not need to worry about tomorrow, or tomorrow’s tomorrow, for I know that, as Alpha and Omega, He holds all things in His hand.

What greater comfort is there than belonging to such a savior, of having your life hidden in His?  This comfort is meant to be our foundation, our starting place.  When you know that you belong, in life and in death, to Christ who purchased you, and that your life is secure in Him… well then I suppose you can face just about anything that comes your way!

SDG

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Safe on Base

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty…”
(Psalm 91:1)

Today’s message is brought to you by that eternal and ever-present childhood game: Tag.  You remember the game: running furiously to avoid getting “tagged,” until that moment you are “it” and you begin to chase the rest of the crowd.  “No-Tag-Backs!” you’ll hear the children shout, just to make sure they can get away.

Of course there are countless varieties to the classic game:

Freeze Tag – once you’re tagged you are “frozen” in place until another person crawls under your legs.

Blob Tag – one person starts as “it,” but as others are tagged, they join hand-in-hand to create a large “it” blob

Toilet Tag – when you are tagged you must squat down to form the toilet and hold out your hand like a handle.  To get back in the game, someone must flush you and make the flushing sound.

Then you will all remember crying “Base” just before you got tagged.  Now, a good game leader will have established a base, if there is one.  But when kids just get together and start playing,  base” becomes whatever is closest to keep you from getting tagged; a tree, a wall, a rock, it doesn’t matter, just so long as it keeps you “safe.”  Of course then, arguments ensue about the legitimacy of the base, how long one can stay, and how far away “it” has to stay from the base.  Who knew Tag could be so complicated.

Now you be thinking, Pastor Ethan’s lost his mind… and you might be right.  But there’s actually a point to all of this.  When playing tag, having a pre-determined base could come in handy.  It was a safe place, a place to catch your breath.  I always thought, as a kid playing tag, that base was a cop-out.  That was, until I needed one.

Wouldn’t it be nice if in this life, when thing are spiraling out of control, when everything is “tagging” you and you feel like you’re always “it” – wouldn’t it be nice if there were a place to call “base,” a hideaway, a safe place to go?

This is the promise of the Lord’s presence in Psalm 91:1-2.  “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”

Now, before you all start singing “And he will raise you up on eagle’s wings…” consider for a moment what those verses have taught us about God.

God is a Shelter, a Refuge, a Fortress, He Hides us in the Shadow of his wings.  All of these images tell us that the Lord is a secure defense for those who trust in Him.  Keep in mind, you don’t need a shelter, a refuge, a fortress, a hiding place in times of comfort and ease.  The image of God as savior and keeper are only meaningful for those who need to be saved and kept from harm.

We are never promised that we will not face adversity.  In fact, Jesus said that those who follow Him must expect trials and tribulation (John 15:18-21).  Paul even said that no one who seeks to be righteous will avoid persecution (2 Tim 3:12).  We are not exempt from the storm, but we do have a shelter in the midst of it.

Today, whatever your facing, whatever storms are brewing, whatever “it” is chasing you down; run to Him who is your Shelter, your Refuge, your Fortress, hide yourself in the Shadow of His wings.

Sola Deo Gloria!

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O Be Careful Little Ears

“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
(1 Thessalonians 2:13)

As a preacher, I realize that the quality of my preaching varies from week to week; sometimes the other demands of ministry cut into sermon preparation, sometimes as a speaker you just have an off day.  By nature, so much of the sermon depends on the preacher, the time spent in study and prayer, the thoughtfulness in preparation, and the quality of presentation.  One factor that is out of the pastor’s hands, though, is the quality of the listening.

How do you listen to a sermon?  We gather together for an hour to worship each week, and spend about 25 minutes studying the Word of God.  This is not something that just comes naturally, and Jesus instructed us to “take care then how you hear.”  How can you approach this time on a Sunday morning with “ears to hear,” so that you get the most out of the message?  Here are a few tips on preparing to listen well to the proclamation of the Word.

Receive It As the Word of God
When Paul praised God for the Thessalonian church, what he appreciated most was that they received his teaching, not as the word of men, but as the word of God.  The Scriptures that are read are the Word of God and ought to be received as such.  We are to sit under the word, to recognize its authority over us in matters of life and faith.  The sermon, then, as it is faithful to the Word, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and guided by faith and love, should be received with a similar authority, as instruction, correction, and training in righteousness.  George Whitefield once wrote, “If an earthly king were to issue a royal proclamation how eager would his subjects be to hear.  Shall we not pay the same respect to the King of Kings, and lend an attentive ear to His ministers, when they are declaring, in His name, how are pardon, peace, and happiness may be secured?”

Prepare Yourself
Back in college, you probably learned that you will get the most out of a lecture if you have done the preparatory reading in advance.  The same holds true for the way we listen to sermons.  Often, preachers will tell you what the next week’s Scripture text will be.  Through the week leading up to the sermon, pray and read through that text.  Read it in the larger context (the surrounding chapter, or the rest of the book). The Sunday sermon will be much more profitably received by you if you heart has been prepared prior to the service, ideally the night before, by prayer and confession and by reading the passage to be preached.  And get a good night’s rest on Saturday, that way you can be alert and attentive to what is taught.

Listen Regularly and Actively
One of the best ways to ensure that you get the most out of the sermon is by actually hearing the sermon.  Show up for worship where the Word of God is prayerfully taught, and you will hear and be blessed by the Word of God, guaranteed.  Show up regularly, with a heart prepared for the message, and you will catch even more.  You will begin to hear common threads through each sermon as you learn how the preacher communicates.

Also, listen actively.  Many find it helpful to take notes.  Write down questions that come to mind.  Bring your Bible to church, highlight or underline things that stand out to you, tuck your sermon notes into the cover.  Actively engage in the sermon.

Don’t Be Preoccupied with the Preacher
This can go both ways.  I have seen some church that are so in love with their pastor that they believe he can do no wrong.  The message may lack any connection to Scripture, or the Scripture readings are used as proof texts to support the preacher’s position, and the congregation receives it without question. Then again, there are sometimes when the preacher can do no right, and the congregation can’t get past his choice of tie and therefore will not hear one word that he preaches.

The congregation must be sure to check that what the preacher says is what the Bible says.  There will be those preachers who will come along to tickle our ears, who will say exactly what we want to hear, and we must be careful.  If your preacher is teaching something other than the gospel of Jesus Christ, then it is incumbent upon you, and upon your Session (elders, church council – whatever…) to correct and restore the teaching from the pulpit.  We need to hear the Word of God; even as we mature and grow in righteousness, we will never satisfy that need.  We stand in constant need of both comfort and correction.  We must be called to both repent and rejoice.

So double-check what you are hearing, but also double-check your attitude toward the preacher.  Remember, extend the same grace to the preacher that you would want given to you.  Realize that, just as you are in daily need of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, so too is your pastor.  He is not perfect, but neither is he a wretch beyond the mercy of God’s sovereign hand.  Paul Tripp, in his book, Dangerous Calling reminds us that we are all, pastor’s included, in the midst of our own sanctification, none of us have arrived.

Your pastor will sin, that is a given.  Your pastor will even struggle to do the things he teaches in his sermons.  That does not, however, negate the faithful exposition of God’s word, and our need to obey.  It does, in fact, call us to pray.  Pray for your preacher.  Pray that he may know and be afforded in his own life the same transforming grace that he preaches from the pulpit.

Pray in and through the Sermon
Keep in mind, doing all of these things may help put you in the right place and mindset, but without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, we will “keep on hearing, but not understand; keep on seeing, but not perceive” (Isa 6:9).  Through the inward ministry of His Holy Spirit, God uses His Word to calm our fear, comfort our sorrow, disturb our conscience, expose our sin, proclaim God’s grace, and reassure us in the faith.  You cannot manufacture or guarantee the presence of the Holy Spirit, but you can seek the Lord in prayer and ask for His Spirit to teach and guide you.  As you pray for the pastor, pray also for your heart and mind to be renewed in the Word.

Apply the Sermon
Finally, Phillip Ryken, President of Wheaton College writes, “Good preaching always applies the Bible to daily life.  It tells us what promises to believe, what sins to avoid, what divine attributes to praise, what virtues to cultivate, what goals to pursue, and what good works to perform.  There is always something God wants us to do in response to the preaching of his Word.  We are called to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).  And if we are not doers, then we were not hearers, and the sermon was wasted on us.”

Whitefield, who was quoted earlier, also noted, “If only all who hear me this day would seriously apply their hearts to practice what has not been told them!  How ministers would see Satan, like lightening, fall from heaven, and people find the Word preached sharper than a two-edged sword and might, through God, to the pulling down of the devil’s strongholds!

Sola Deo Gloria!

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Contend for the Faith

“Contend for the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints.”
(Jude 3)

As part of our Adult Sunday School study on the Book of Jude, I shared with the class that when we are called to contend for our faith, it is necessary that we know what it is we actually believe.  As a class we brainstormed some “Essentials of the Faith,” but as homework I suggested that each member write a brief statement of faith as well.  Below is my statement.  I admit it is not a complete statement, and I’m sure I’ve shared it before, but I wanted to share it again.

I know that I am a broken man, a sinner, who, left to his own ways, would continue to sin, rejecting God, His commands, and even His grace, mercy and love.

I know that God, who is holy, sovereign, and glorious in His majesty, is worthy of my praise, worship, honor, and obedience.  In my sin, I do not honor God, and I fully deserve God’s wrath; and He is righteous and just in His judgment against me.  Yet God is rich in mercy and steadfast in His love, and He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for me.

Jesus was everything I was supposed to be and was not.  He was without sin, living completely devoted to God, and completely loving His brothers and sisters.  Even more, He took my sin, my guilt, my shame, my judgment, and He died on the cross in my place.  Three days later, He rose from the dead, and now He lives and reigns with God, praying for me and for all who follow Him.

Through the grace of God and the love of Christ, I now live in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit teaches me through the inspired word of scripture how to live a life in response to God’s grace, mercy, and love.  I am called to become Christlike, and can only do this by the Spirit working within me.  I am called to be a faithful disciple, to follow Christ, to learn from Him, to receive his blessing, and to proclaim His gospel.

I did not choose Christ, he has chosen me.

I did not love God, he loved me.

I did not come to God, he came to me.

Everything I do from this point forward ought to be a response of thanksgiving and praise for all that He has done.

I believe that the Church is the body of Christ in the world today when the word of God is faithfully taught and preached, when the sacraments of baptism and communion are properly administered, and when, in love, we disciple and encourage one another in our maturing Christian journey.

I believe the world, now more than ever, needs to know the blessing of knowing Jesus as savior and lord – may it know this through me.

Sola Deo Gloria!

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Doxological Theology

“Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!
(Psalm 66:1–2)

I have heard it said, and I completely agree, that all theology should lead to doxology.  That is, every conversation about God, who He is, what He has done, should ultimately inspire us to praise.  The more we know about God, the more we will want to fall on our knees and praise Him.  Allow me to illustrate…

Last Sunday I began our Adult Sunday School Class on the book of Jude.  As Jude opens his letter, he addresses the epistle to “those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept in Jesus Christ” (Jude 2).  As we unpacked this threefold phrase (called, beloved, kept), I asked the class to turn to Romans 8:29-30 – what is commonly referred to as the Golden Chain of Salvation.

In these two verses we find one of the most succinct explanations of God’s work of Salvation in all of Scripture.  These two verses have inspired volumes and tomes to try to describe God’s great work of grace and mercy in our salvation.  There will be no attempt to speak exhaustively on it here: but note what the apostle teaches:

For those whom he foreknew… This word draws upon the OT word “know” to emphasize that God had a personal, covenantal affection for His people.  God wasn’t randomly picking names out of a hat, but those whom He knew from the beginning of time…

He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…  God has crafted our destiny, and our destiny is to be conformed to the image of His Son, to be like Christ.  Many reject the notion of predestination as God for-ordaining our every move.  I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying.  That’s not what predestination means.  I don’t think that God orchestrates our every move, as though we are marionettes on a string.  I do, however, affirm that God’s sovereign will and His plan for all creation will be fully realized, and in the end we will see how, for those who love God, all things have worked together for good, that is, the good and glorious goal of our being conformed to the image of Christ.

And those whom he predestined he also called…  God calls His children, by the testimony of the Word (preached, read, etc.) and by the inward working of the Holy Spirit.  When we are lost in sin, dead to the things of God, alienated from His kingdom, God calls us out of darkness and into the light.  God calls us out of death and into life.  God calls us out of sin and into righteousness.  God calls us out of the dominion of sin and into the kingdom of Christ.  This call comes through the outward preaching and teaching of the Word, the proclamation of the Gospel, and is received by the inward working of the Holy Spirit.  The reason you responded to the call is not because you are wiser than the others, but because the Spirit changed your heart.

Those whom we called he also justified…  The Westminster Confession says it best: God justified, “not by infusing righteousness…, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness, but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.”

Those whom he justified he also glorified…  Those who have been known by God, predestined by God, called by God, and justified by God, will ultimately also be glorified by God as well.  Paul speaks of this assurance of God’s work with such confidence that he puts it in the past tense.  God will complete what He has started, and as Paul finishes the 8th chapter of Romans, we are assured that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Okay, I said this would not be an exhaustive study on Romans 8:29-30, so let me get back to my original point.  As I said at the beginning, all theology should lead to doxology, to praise, and this Golden Chain of Salvation clearly demonstrates how that happens.

Notice as you read through Romans 8:29-30, there is not one mention of our work, of our choice, of our responsibility.  Our salvation is the one work of God.  Yes, there is the gracious response to all that God is done.  When the Spirit makes us alive to God, we answer the call, embrace the grace, and grow in righteous obedience to the Word of God.  But all of this is a response to the primary, foundational, sine qua non gracious work of God.

Because our salvation is the work of God, it is therefore sure and secure.  I don’t have to worry that I might let God down (that’s actually a given), that I might rebel and fall away from my salvation.  I am kept in Christ, it is His sovereign grace, His calling, His justifying – it is His work.  He will not let me go.

As I was teaching this to the Sunday School class, one class member stopped me and said, “Can I just say, ‘Hallelujah!’”  Absolutely; that’s the point of it all.  All our theological musings, all our confessional statements, every word upon the Word should lead us, ultimately, to give glory to God.

All theology should produce a humble and gracious response of love.  If you study this Golden Chain, or the 5 Points of Calvinism, or any other theology for that matter, and come away with an air of superiority and self-righteousness, you have completely missed the point.  If your theology leads you to sit in judgment of others who are lost in sin rather than compelling you to demonstrate for all to see the very grace, mercy, and love of God that delivered you from sin and death, then your theology is of no use to you, to the world, and does not bring God glory. The theology of the church does not exist to puff up the pride of man, but to exalt and glorify God.

We are His creation.  Salvation is His gift.  It is all His work.  All glory and honor belong to Him.

Sola Deo Gloria!

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A Dehydrated Spirit

“Pray without ceasing.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:17)

While I was in Haiti last week, I took everybody’s advice, and I stayed well hydrated.  Haiti is hot, there’s no way around that.  It’s in the Caribbean, so it’s got the warm ocean wind and the sun beating down directly overhead.  Add to that, I went at the end of August and first of September, when it’s already hot (usually) in Northern Iowa – so, yeah, staying hydrated was important for a successful mission trip.  I went through at least 6 large bottles of water per day, sometimes adding electrolytes to the bottle just for good measure.  I even had a couple of Coconuts, the milk and meat of the Coconut having tremendous restorative properties.  All in all, I stayed hydrated, and therefore stayed pretty healthy.

Then I came home.  Back in the states, its cooler.  I’m not working as hard physically.  Don’t get me wrong; while I greatly enjoyed cutting metal and welding to help make beds and desks for the orphanages, I much prefer my study, with my cushioned leather chair, my books and keyboard, and, best of all, the air-conditioning.  And yet, Monday afternoon, my first full day back in the office, I found I was sluggish and having stomach troubles.

That’s when it hit me, I hadn’t had any water all day.  There was the cup of coffee early in the morning, but other than that, no fluids all day long.  I had gone from almost 200 fl. oz. of water a day in Haiti to about 6 fl. oz. in Iowa.  I was unintentionally dehydrating myself.  Why would I think that if I needed so much water there, I wouldn’t need any here?

And then I got to thinking, what else was I doing in Haiti that I quit doing as soon as I got home?  The answer was rather disturbing.  I had stopped praying.

I hadn’t stopped altogether.  I still woke up and prayed as part of my daily devotion.  I prayed at meal-time, and at the end of the day before going to bed.  I would say a prayer, when prompted, too, for those who asked for prayer.  But I wasn’t praying, unceasingly praying, like I was in Haiti.

When I was in Haiti, I was out of my comfort zone.  I didn’t speak the language, I was unsure of my surroundings, and I was there to do work and ministry in a way that is vastly different from my day-to-day work and ministry here.  So while I was in Haiti, I was dependent upon prayer.

I wasn’t obvious about it. I wasn’t closing my eyes and bowing my head every minute.  But I was still praying.  Before every conversation, before heading out to a new destination, before and during every encounter, I was going to God in prayer.  I was praying for His wisdom to guide me, His hand to guard me, His love to be seen through me, His name to be glorified in me.  I was praying that all that I would do would help to promote the Gospel of my Savior, Jesus Christ.   I lived and breathed in prayer while in Haiti.

So why did I stop when I got home?  I was comfortable here.  I spoke the language, I knew North from South, I could easily hold a conversation with those around me. I didn’t see my day to day living as mission, nor did I see myself as needing God’s wisdom, God’s protection, God’s grace every minute of the day.  I did not need God (or so I thought), so why should I pray?

In the story of the Transfiguration (Mark 9), Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain to pray.  While they are praying, Jesus is transfigured so that he shone white, brighter than the sun.  Beside Him were Moses and Elijah, and from the clouds came the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, whom I love, listen to Him.”  All of this happened while they were there to pray.

When they came down from the mountain, though, they met up with the rest of the disciples, and there was a crowd there arguing with them.  Apparently, a man had brought his son to the disciples to be healed, but the disciples were unable to heal him.  Jesus rebuked the disciples, and the crowd, for their faithlessness, then He healed the child.  When the disciples asked Him why they couldn’t heal the boy, Jesus said, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

I’m guessing the disciples were thinking they had seen Jesus heal other before, all they needed to do was follow His example.  They had even done some miraculous healing, so if they just followed the right procedure, all would go well.  And they failed.

So often we get to where we think we have all the answers, that we know how to do what needs to be done.  We follow the steps laid out before us, we do the right things, say the nice things, and all will go well.  And yet when the world comes to us demanding a sign, wanting to know why our faith should matter, we find our formula falls short, our plan is powerless – because we have not prayed.

Shouldn’t we treat every day, every moment, like we’re strangers in a strange land, pilgrims through this world?  Shouldn’t our language, our custom, our service, be so radically different from the rest of the world’s that we are constantly in need of the sovereign hand of God to guide us and protect us, the Spirit of God to move our lips in praise and powerful witness to Jesus Christ.

A life without prayer is a life without faith, without trust in the gracious hand of God.  A life without prayer is a life that is blind to the reality of our great need for God’s goodness, mercy, and love.  A life without prayer is a not a life at all.

I am reminded of the old hymn which draws us back to a life of absolute dependence on God:

I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord; no tender voice like thine can peace afford.
I need thee every hour, stay thou nearby; temptations lose their power when thou art nigh.
I need thee every hour in joy or in pain; come quickly and abide or life is in vain.
I need thee every hour, most Holy One; O make me thine indeed, thou blessed Son!

I need thee, O I need thee, every hour I need thee;
O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee!

SDG

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