Here are eight helpful things to remember about prayer by Ichabod Spencer. I am posting them here in a shorter out of context format. Click here to read the entire article.

  • “The first thing I would have you remember is this, that your God commands you to pray. This is your duty. Nothing can excuse you from it. Wicked heart as you may have, God commands you to pray.”
  • “The second thing is, that God connects his promises with these commands. You have no right to separate them. The promise and the command stand together.”
  • “The third thing is, that when you do thus separate them, saying the promises are not for such wicked hearts as yours, and therefore refuse to pray, you are not taking God’s way, but your own. You are teaching him, instead of suffering him to teach you. Your duty is to take his way. His thoughts are not your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8)”
  • “The fourth thing, therefore, is – you are never to despair. Despair never yet made a human being any better; it has made many a devil worse. Hope in God, by believing what he says. You need not have any hope in yourself; but you may have hope in God, and you may pray in hope. Never despair.”
  • “The fifth thing is, that your wicked heart, instead of being a reason why you should not pray, is the very reason why you should pray most earnestly. It is the strongest of all reasons. Pray just because you have a wicked heart. Such a heart needs God’s help.
  • “The sixth thing is, that a great many persons have thought, and felt, and talked about prayer just as you do; and afterwards have found out that they were mistaken, have prayed, and have become true and happy Christians.” “Remember this: others just like you have found out their error. You may find out yours.”
  • “The seventh thing is, [that thinking your heart is too wicked to pray]… is a temptation of the devil, it is a falsehood, a deception, a lie designed to keep you in sin and misery. Not that you think your heart worse than it is; but that you do not think God so gracious and merciful as he is, to hear the prayers of even such a heart. ‘Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.’ (James 4:7)”
  • “The eighth thing is, that this idea of yours, about not praying with such a [wicked] heart, is just an idea of self-righteousness. You are ‘going about to establish a righteousness of your own, and have not submitted yourself to the righteousness of God. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness.’ (Romans10:3-4) You wish to pray with such a good heart, that God will hear you on that account. This is pride, wicked, foolish pride, a spirit of self-righteousness, self-justification, and self-reliance. It is this which keeps you from prayer.”

Three days ago I posted a “sketch” (from A Pastor’s Sketches) by a man who’s writing has greatly influenced my own theology. Today I am posting this second sketch which Spencer evidently intended to be read in conjunction with the previous one.

CONTINUING TO PRAY

by Ichabod Spencer

Having noticed from the pulpit, for several Sabbaths, the very fixed attention of a young friend to all that I uttered in my sermons, I called upon her at her residence. She had been a gay girl; and her social disposition, the pleasantness of her manners, her taste, and the almost unequalled kindness of her heart, while they made her a favourite everywhere, exposed her, as I thought, to be drawn into temptations to volatility and the vanities of the world. As I spoke to her of religion, her eyes filled with tears, and she frankly told me, that, for several weeks, she had been thinking very much upon that subject, and had been “very unhappy” in finding herself “so far from God, – just as you described in your sermon,” said she “’without God and without hope.’ That sermon told me my heart, and I have had no peace since. I am astonished at my sinfulness, and I am more astonished at my stupidity and hardness of heart.” I conversed with her, and counseled her, as well as I could, and we kneeled together in prayer.

After this I saw her three or four times within the space of a fortnight. She studied the way of salvation most assiduously, and, as I thought, with a most docile disposition; and she prayed for pardon, and for the aid of the Holy Spirit, with most intense earnestness. “I do want to love my heavenly Father,” said she; “I do pray for the Holy Spirit to show my poor heart the way to the Saviour.”

Calling upon her a few days after, I found that her appearance was very much altered. She was less frank than I had ever found her before; and though not less solemn, perhaps, it was a different sort of solemnity. She appeared to be more downcast than ever, though not so much agitated; not affected to tears, but having now the appearance of fixed, pensive thought. The impression came over my mind, that she had been led to yield up the world, and that the peculiarity which I noticed in her manner and conversation was the mute humility of a brokenhearted penitent, now musing over the world she had sacrificed, more than rejoicing over the Christ she had found. But after a little further interrogation, I found it was not that: she was as far from peace as ever.

But I could not understand her. Her heart did not seem to me the same as formerly. She had no tears to shed now; her manner was cold, and unlike herself; her words were measured and few; her misery, which seemed deeper than before, had put on an aspect almost of sullenness.

“I am entirely discouraged! I never shall be a Christian! My heart is so wicked, that it is wrong for me to pray at all, and for the last three days I have not tried! I have given up all hope of ever being saved!” She thanked me for my kindness and good intentions; but gave me to understand, that she did not wish to have the subject of religion urged upon her attention any more.

I encouraged her to persevere in her attempts to gain salvation. Especially I enjoined upon her the duty of prayer, and said to her almost precisely the same things which I had said before to another friend, and which are recorded in the sketch preceding this, as eight things to be remembered.

As I was speaking to her in the way of encouragement, her look appeared to alter, her bosom heaved, she burst into tears, and sobbed aloud. Referring to this some weeks afterwards, she said to me, “When you encouraged me so kindly, that day, my whole heart melted; I would have done anything you told me. I thought, if God is so kind, I must love him, – I will love him. She promised to resume prayer again. She kept her promise. And about a week after that, light broke in upon her darkness; she was one of the most bright and joyous creatures, and, I am sure, one of the most lively ones, that ever consecrated to God the dew of her youth. She has continued to be so. Her days are all sunshine. Her heart is all happiness, and humility, and love. “My dear pastor,” said she to me, when I asked what particular truths or means it was that led her to Christ, “I never should have found my Saviour, if you had not encouraged me so kindly, and led me back to prayer. Prayer is everything, – for God answers it.”

The young persons (mentioned in this, and in the preceding sketch) were very much alike in conviction, in despondency, in temptation – they had the same means, the same ministry – the same truths were urged upon them in that same manner. Surely God is the hearer of prayer. If that other young woman could have been “led back to prayer,” as this happy one expressed it, who can doubt that she would have been happy too, in “the kindness of her youth, and the love of her espousals?” If this page ever meets her eye may it lead her back to prayer.

Remember the Contagious Christian program? I do. And I’m sure many others do as well and even currently use it in their churches. It was the first curriculum in which I was exposed to and taught to use something called the “sinner’s prayer.” This prayer was designed to help lead others to Christ by providing the evangelist with an outline of what a desirous convert to the Christian faith should pray. It usually goes something like this, “Dear Father, please forgive me for my sins. I am sorry that I have sinned and I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and ask you to come into my heart and be the Lord of my life. Thank you for saving me. Amen.” Now there is nothing wrong with the sinner’s prayer or even with using the sinner’s prayer. I myself repeated the sinner’s prayer when I began to follow the Lord and have had others repeat it after me. But, I have not used the sinner’s prayer for several years now. And here is why:

First, the sinner’s prayer causes people to trust in themselves and not in Christ. What I mean is, there are moments in every Christian’s life when they ask themselves, “Am I really a Christian?” Unfortunately, too many people have thought to themselves, “Yes, I have prayed the prayer, I am a Christian.” But in that crucial moment they are trusting they are alright with God because they have prayed a prayer. This is a self-centered trust opposite of the Gospel. They believe that a prayer has made them a Christian when only Christ makes someone a Christian. I believe in times of doubt that it is better for a Christian to not have an available crutch in the sinner’s prayer on which to rest their trust but instead be forced to rely solely on Christ for the assurance of their salvation.

Second, it allows many individuals to falsely believe that they are a Christian. Many individuals sincerely believe they are a Christian and even claim to be a Christian but when they are pressed for an explanation of what makes them a Christian are unaware of such basic tenants as Jesus Christ died on a cross in their place for their sins. Often the reason for this is that they were encouraged to “say the prayer” at which time they repeated a few words and were assured they were a Christian. The sinful human heart is then all too happy to play along, insidiously whispering “you are okay” while hiding its rebellion against God even from its owner.

Third, it hinders evangelism. This is because people, who believe they are okay with God, because they prayed a prayer, often use this as the first line of defense in brushing off any future evangelistic inquiries. They say, “Don’t worry about me. I’ve prayed the prayer.” The sinner’s prayer then becomes the means by which unbelievers avoid the Gospel and rebuff casual inquires which may have borne fruit. The sinner’s prayer becomes a roadblock to evangelism and the evangelist must first undo the sinner’s prayer before effective communication of the Gospel can occur.

Fourth, it shortchanges the work of the Holy Spirit. This is because the sinner’s prayer is often treated as the goal of any evangelistic encounter. The idea is to show a person their need for salvation, present the Gospel message, and offer the sinner’s prayer as the way to be saved. But the Holy Spirit does not work on our timetable. Often He works through our words to convict the hearer’s heart of sinfulness. Then when the hearer feels their sin, we prematurely speak peace to their troubled conscience by having them pray the sinner’s prayer before the Holy Spirit was pleased to work a deep and abiding conviction of sin and need for a Savior. The sting of the Spirit’s conviction is blunted by the prayer and the unconverted individual is comforted just enough to allow themselves to think about other things. At times the most loving thing an evangelist can do is not to comfort their hearer.

Fifth, it becomes the criterion by which we discern the genuineness of a person’s faith. We are led to believe a person is a Christian because they prayed a prayer with evident sincerity. But repeating words out of a tract does not make a person a Christian. Christ makes a person a Christian through faith. But the sinner’s prayer, because of its wide usage becomes the unofficial acid test of whether or not someone is a Christian. This becomes dangerous when an unbeliever, who is thought to be a believer, is placed in a position of leadership in a worship service, a youth group, a Sunday school class, or even a pastorate. They will be the person making decisions for the church and the church will suffer for it. But some may ask, “Is it even our role to judge someone else’s faith? That sounds awfully un-Christ like!” To this it should be demonstrated that Paul himself gives us the criteria by which we are to judge who is genuinely born of God when he tell us, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5)

Sixth, it causes Christians to be inarticulate when sharing their faith. Anyone can say “repeat after me…” without any serious reflection on the message of the Scriptures. Without the formulaic sinner’s prayer it may become more difficult to lead an individual to Christ but it also summons greater reflection on the part of the evangelist who is forced to ponder, own, and clearly articulate the call of the Gospel for themselves.

Seventh, we don’t need it! This is not a great argument against the sinner’s prayer, after all, there are a million things we use every day that we do not truly need. But this seventh reason is simply to point out that the majority of Christians who have ever come to faith in Christ have never even heard of a “sinner’s prayer.” It is only a recent invention in Christian history. When is the last time you heard any of the early Church fathers, Reformers, writers of Scripture, or Jesus himself recommend the use of a prepackaged sinner’s prayer? You have not because the sinner’s prayer simply did not exist. Yet generations of believers before now have had no problem sharing their faith without a prepackaged prayer. We are not dependent on it, and in my opinion should be free from it as the dominant way to think about evangelism.

I say there is a better way to call people to place their faith in Christ. What do you say?

Today I came across a short autobiographical blurb of a man whom I had once greatly admired. In reading it I was struck by the pridefulness of the statements describing the successfulness of this man’s ministry. The whole time I wanted to vomit because I could see myself in this man’s statements. It was as if I was reading my thoughts, the thoughts I might not write or say out-loud but that I would certainly think to myself on a day when God’s kindness in ministry had been especially evident. I could feel my repulsive pride next to the beautiful humility of Christ and thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit made my heart desire holiness today. Because of that I am posting a prayer which I found helpful today in acknowledging my pride before God. I hope someone else finds it helpful as well.

HUMILIATION

Sovereign Lord,

When clouds of darkness, atheism, and unbelief come to me,

I see thy purpose of love

in withdrawing the Spirit that I might prize him more,

in chastening me for my confidence in past successes, that my wound of secret godlessness might be cured.

Help me to humble myself before thee

by seeing the vanity of honour

as a conceit of men’s minds,

as standing between me and thee;

by seeing that thy will must alone be done,

as much in denying as in giving spiritual enjoyments;

by seeing that my heart is nothing but evil,

mind, mouth, life void of thee;

by seeing that sin and Satan are allowed power in me

that I might know my sin,

be humbled

and gain strength thereby;

by seeing that unbelief shuts thee from me,

so that I sense not they majesty, power, mercy, or love.

Then possess me, for thou only art good and worthy.

Thou does not play in convincing me of sin,

Satan did not play in tempting me to it,

I do not play when I sink in deep mire,

for sin is no game, no toy, no bauble;

Let me never forget that the heinousness of sin lies

not so much in the nature of the sin committed,

as in the greatness of the Person sinned against.

When I am afraid of evils to come, comfort me,

by showing me

that in myself I am a dying, condemned wretch,

but that in Christ I am reconciled, made alive, and satisfied;

that I am feeble and unable to do any good,

but that in him I can do all things;

that what I now have in Christ is mine in part,

but shortly I shall have it perfectly in heaven.

Ichabod Spencer was an American pastor who was exceptionally gifted at exposing and addressing spiritual problems. It was his habit to visit every member of his congregation and keep “sketches” of their conversations. He then, at the request of his congregation, published two volumes of these conversations, available today under the title, A Pastor’s Sketches. These true conversations are one of the finest examples of pastoral care and exceedingly beneficial to Christians and unbelievers alike. I have often discovered my own sin or help in witnessing to others in these pages. Here is a slightly updated excerpt of his sketches:

CEASING TO PRAY

by Ichabod Spencer

At the earnest solicitation of a friend, very dear to me, who had herself just come to a happy tranquility of mind, I sought an interview with her sister – an accomplished young woman, of about seventeen years of age. I found that the attention of my new acquaintance had been directed to religion some few months previous to this; but though her mind was still very tenderly affected, yet she had ceased to pray. She appeared very discouraged and very miserable.

“I have given up trying to seek God,” she said; “it does me no good. I would give anything to be a Christian; but I never shall be!”

“You ought not to say that, my child,” said I. “You do not know that. I know you may be a Christian if you will; for God has never said, ‘Seek ye my face in vain.’”

“Well, sir, it seems to me that I can never be a Christian. I have that feeling; it comes over me every time I think about religion.”

“And is that the reason why you have ceased to pray?”

“Yes, sir. My prayers will do me no good!”

“How do you know they will do you no good?”

“Because I don’t pray with a right heart.”

“And do you expect to get a right heart without prayer?”

“I don’t expect to get a right heart at all, sir.”

“Well, if you could get a right heart, would you get it without prayer?”

“I suppose not. But all my prayer is only an abomination in the sight of God!”

“Does not God command you to pray, to seek him by prayer; to seek his aid and favour?”

“Yes, sir; I know he does.”

“Then is it not a greater abomination in his sight when you neglect prayer, than when you pray as well as you can?”

“Perhaps it may be,” said she, sadly, “I don’t know; but ‘If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.’” (Psalm 66:18)

“Then you had better not ‘cherish iniquity in your heart.’ You ought to ‘cease to do evil,’ and ‘learn to do good.’” (Isaiah 1:16-17)

I then took up her Bible, which was lying upon the table, and read and explained to her Proverbs 2:1-5, Isaiah 4:1-10, and Jeremiah 29:12-13. Then I appealed to her, –

“It is not plain that God required you to pray? and is it not just as plain that he connects encouragements and promises with that requirement?”

“Yes, sir, I suppose it is.”

“Then, will you obey him?”

“I would, sir,” said she, “if I had any heart to pray;” and she burst into tears.

“Do you want to have a heart to pray?”

“Oh, sir, I do wish I had one!”

“Then, cannot you ask God to give you such a heart? Cannot you go to Christ, and give up your heart to him, and beg him to accept you, since he loves to save sinners; and trust him to put a right spirit within you, as he has promised to do?”

In this way I reasoned with her out of the Scriptures for a long time. It appeared to me that she was deeply sensible of her sins. She was evidently very miserable. She longed to be a Christian. But she was prevented from every attempt to seek the Lord, by the discouraging idea that her prayers would be useless, and were an offence to God. I had to expectation that she would gain any blessing without prayer, and, therefore, I requested her to listen to me, as calmly as she could, for she had become much agitated, while I should mention to her some things which I wanted her to remember. She tried to repress her emotions; and drying her years, lifted her face from her handkerchief, –

“I will hear you, sir, very willingly; but you don’t know what a wicked heart I have.”

I proceeded, –

“The first thing I would have you remember is this, that your God commands you to pray. This is your duty. Nothing can excuse you from it. Wicked heart as you may have, God commands you to pray.

“The second thing is, that God connects his promises with these commands. You have no right to separate them. The promise and the command stand together.

“The third thing is, that when you do thus separate them, saying the promises are not for such wicked hearts as yours, and therefore refuse to pray, you are not taking God’s way, but your own. You are teaching him, instead of suffering him to teach you. Your duty is to take his way. His thoughts are not your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8)

“The fourth thing, therefore, is – you are never to despair. Despair never yet made a human being any better; it has made many a devil worse. Hope in God, by believing what he says. You need not have any hope in yourself; but you may have hope in God, and you may pray in hope. Never despair.

“The fifth thing is, that your wicked heart, instead of being a reason why you should not pray, is the very reason why you should pray most earnestly. It is the strongest of all reasons. Pray just because you have a wicked heart. Such a heart needs God’s help.

“The sixth thing is, that a great many persons have thought, and felt, and talked about prayer just as you do; and afterwards have found out that they were mistaken, have prayed, and have become true and happy Christians. I could name to you, this moment, at least a dozen, whom I have known and have talked to just as I do now to you. They have been persuaded to pray, and they are now happy in hope. If you will go with me, I will introduce you to some of them, and they will tell you their own story. Remember this: others just like you have found out their error. You may find out yours.

“The seventh thing is, that your impression about prayer is a temptation of the devil, it is a falsehood, a deception, a lie designed to keep you in sin a misery. Not that you think your heart worse than it is; but that you do not think God so gracious and merciful as he is, to hear the prayers of even such a heart. ‘Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.’ (James 4:7)

“The eighth thing is, that this idea of yours, about not praying with such a heart, is just an idea of self-righteousness. You are ‘going about to establish a righteousness of your own, and have not submitted yourself to the righteousness of God. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness.’ (Romans10:3-4) You wish to pray with such a good heart, that God will hear you on that account. This is pride, wicked, foolish pride, a spirit of self-righteousness, self-justification, and self-reliance. It is this which keeps you from prayer.

“ Do you understand me?”

“Yes, sir, I think I do.”

“And are not all these things true?”

“I don’t know but they are, sir.”

“Then will you pray? Will you begin now, today?”

“Yes, sir, I will try.”

For a time she faithfully kept her promise. Several times after this I conversed with her, and thought she did not appear to me to become more unhappy, yet she did appear to me to become more truly convicted. Her conscience seemed to be more awakened. Her mind seemed to be more influenced by the principles of truth, and I fondly expected that she would soon find “peace in  believing.” (Romans 15:13) But she did not. She yielded to the old temptation. She neglected prayer; and, in a few weeks, divine truths ceased to affect her!

I strove to bring her back to her closet duty, but in vain! Years have passed, – she is still without hope!

The related sketch “Continuing to Pray” can be found here.

Israel 186I need the Gospel. I need it. I need it every day and my heart dies to God without it.

There are times in life when it seems that God chooses to build a theological truth into your life. I believe over the past year God has been showing me my daily need for a dose of the Gospel.

If I do not daily consider the Gospel – the truth that God through Christ has undeservingly provided for my righteousness and the forgiveness of my sins, and not because of anything I have done – then my heart begins to wander. I act as if I have to earn my salvation. Having daily evidence that I could never earn my salvation I begin to lose joy in my Savior. Scripture becomes a chore to read. I become attracted to worship music because of its catchy tune and not because of the truth contained in its lyrics. My patience with others wears thin. I am overly critical. My humor begins to sting and I am not gracious to others. Instead of my conversations being about Christ they are about ministry and church related issues. When I am presented with opportunities to tell others about Christ I don’t.

This is why I need the Gospel. I need to hear over and over again about the grace of Christ – that I do not deserve forgiveness but yet the Father had mercy on me. I was bankrupt in all things but God gave me everything in his Son. I am not smart enough to know Christ on my own but God gave us the Scriptures to know his Son. – I need to hear the Gospel daily because it shows me the mercy of God. It breaks my self reliance. It fills my heart with worship for my Savior. It glorifies God by my dependence. And it proves him to be exceedingly precious.

I need the Gospel preached to me every day if I am to live as a Christian. Those who do not know Christ need the Gospel and Christians need the Gospel.

lightI remember, as a little child, sitting in a church pew wondering if I would go to heaven. It is one of my clearest memories of being a child. I would feel anxious and I would ask myself, “Am I a good enough person to go to heaven?” In the end I was always able to convince myself that I was indeed a good person; that there was no way God could refuse me entry into heaven. Eventually I would find enough comfort in this thought and ignore my anxiety.

Since then I have discovered that this is a very common misunderstanding. Many people I have talked to, even those who consider themselves to be Christians, truly believe they will enter heaven because they are a good person. I know I myself considered myself a Christian. At that point in my life I had attended an Episcopal church, sang in the choir at a United Methodist church, attended a Southern Baptist church, another United Methodist church, been baptized in a third United Methodist church, and attended Sunday school in a Full Gospel church without ever once hearing how to get to heaven.

Once when I was sharing this with a friend at UPS he stopped me by reassuring me that he was a Christian and was a good person who deserved to go to heaven. I was very glad that he brought this up because it allowed me to point out to him that although he considered himself a Christian and believed he would be in heaven with the God of the Bible, he did not believe what the Bible taught or what Jesus himself told us about ourselves or about God. For example, the Bible tells us in Romans (chapter 3) that:

“None is righteous, no, not one”

“No one seeks for God. All have turned aside”

“No one does good, not even one.”

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Notice how serious this is: “None is righteous,” meaning zero. No one. No person anywhere. And just in case we missed the point the emphasis is added, “no, not one.” It is pretty clear that this is the view of Scripture: no one will make it to heaven by being a good person because no one is a good person in God’s eyes. Everyone has committed sin and turned away from God. The affect of our sin is then described in Isaiah (chapter 59):

“But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

Therefore, according to the Bible “No one does good, not even one” and because of it there is “a separation between you and your God” so that He has hidden his face (his loving presence) from you. So, please, if you are like I was and you think you can know God or make it to heaven by being a good person, please stop. Be honest with yourself and do not play games. Do not fool yourself into thinking God accepts any “good” person. That is not what the Scriptures say. This idea has no basis in anything but the sinfulness of the human heart wanting to deny that it is really that bad.

But, for those who come to the end of themselves and realize they cannot be good enough there is a great gift. God’s Son was born as a man. His name is Jesus Christ. Jesus lived a sinless life, performed miracles, fulfilled precise prophecies written hundreds of years before His birth, and died on a cross as God the Father had planned before the world was even created. During His death on the cross God the Father punished Jesus as if He were the person who had committed all of our sins. The Scriptures say (Isaiah 53):

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

And this is the gift, God offers us forgiveness. Free forgiveness. And righteousness, the righteousness that Jesus earned as He lived a perfect life. All of this is a gift, absolutely free, if we would place our trust in Jesus. We can never be good enough to overcome the separation our sins have made with God but God has provided a way to cleanse us from our sin if we by faith accept Jesus. This means we must come to a place where we hate our sin and desire Jesus instead. It has to be an intentional response of your will. It will not just happen. It cannot be a one-time-decision, repeated prayer, or walk down a church aisle. It might even follow a period of deep anguish and soul searching. It cannot be earned but it is a free offer:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:10-11)

May Jesus Christ be glorified as the only Savior of men.

There is nothing more valuable than Jesus Christ.

About a month ago I came across the story of a missionary who discovered an unknown people group; the “‘Sayang.’ After seeing where these people lived the missionary asked one of them why they lived in such a harsh place. A young man who spoke English answered him by explaining that the people would never move because there is an old story among them that one day they would be visited by an outsider with something “precious” to share with them.

What could be more precious than the Gospel of grace of Jesus Christ? And what could be a better opportunity to share the Gospel with an unreached people group than the opportunity that God in his soveriegnty arranged for this missionary?

For anyone who is interested here is the link to a video which tells this amazing story. Unfortunately, this is not the original video I watched several months ago but it still tells this basic story. If anyone finds the other video please let me know.

For centuries, they’ve waited

Scripture teaches us that, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46) It is because Jesus and the forgiveness he offers is of infinite value that a man would be willing to joyfully give everything he has if it meant he might make Jesus his own. Jesus is the “pearl of great value.”

barbed wireI read this story today and thought it was a great testimony to God’s wisdom in appointing the suffering of his people for the sake of the Gospel. This story is about Joseph a Masai Warrior and is recorded in Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (John Piper and Justin Taylor) as told by Michael Card:

“One day Joseph, who was walking along one of these hot, dirty African roads, met someone who shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with him. Then and there he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. The power of the Spirit began transforming his life; he was filled with such excitement and joy that the first thing he wanted to do was return to his own village and share the same Good News with the members of his local tribe.

Joseph began going from door-to-door, telling everyone he met about the Cross of Jesus and the salvation it offered, expecting to see their faces light up the way his had. To his amazement the villagers seized him and held him to the ground while the women beat him with strands of barbed wire. He was dragged from the village and left to die alone in the bush.

Joseph somehow managed to crawl to a waterhole, and there, after days of passing in and out of consciousness, found the strength to get up. He wondered about the hostile reception he had received from people he had known all his life. He decided he must have left something out or told the story incorrectly. After rehearsing the message he had first heard, he decided to go back and share his faith once more.

Joseph limped into the circle of huts and began to proclaim Jesus. “He died for you, so that you might find forgiveness and come to know the living God,” he pleaded. Again he was grabbed by the men of the village and held while the women beat him reopening the wounds that had just begun to heal. Once more they dragged him unconscious from the village and left him to die.

To have survived the first beating was truly remarkable. To live through the second was a miracle. Again, days later, Joseph awoke in the wilderness, bruised, scarred – and determined to go back.

He returned to the small village and this time, they attacked him before he had a chance to open his mouth. As they flogged him for the third and probably the last time, he again spoke to them of Jesus Christ, the Lord. Before he passed out, the last thing he saw was that the women who were beating him began to weep.

This time he awoke in his own bed. The ones who had so severely beaten him were now trying to save his life and nurse him back to health. The entire village had come to Christ.” (Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, p. 99-100)

Amen. This same story has been repeated over and over again throughout the world. God brings suffering into the lives of his servants that their suffering might turn others to know the grace of God in the suffering of his own Son Jesus Christ.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) Joseph can now rejoice that through his suffering an entire village has come to know the one and only eternal God. Praise be to God.

This morning I was trying to picture what my foot would look like dead. This is not because I have some sick fascination with death. Yes, it may be true that I enjoy walking in the cemetery but that is because it reminds me; first, that death is a reality and my life will be short; second, that Christ is a reality and I need him; third, that people are dying and there is an urgency for them to hear the Gospel; and fourth, that wealth, fame, and comfort do not matter in the end but only what is done for Christ. So, yes, one day soon I too will die and my foot, along with the rest of me will lie lifelessly in a grave.

But on that day of my final breath I can think of no greater joy than these words: “’Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” These words from 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 are a reference to Isaiah 25:8-9: “He[God] will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’”

My joy in thinking about these verses is not that I will one day my soul will be floating around “in a better place” as we often picture but that one day God will restore life to my physical body. My body will be made new and joined to my soul. I will physically step out of my grave and the sting of death which is my sin will be no more. Sin and death will be swallowed up by my God. I, who was once a sinner and under the power of death, will be transformed in the twinkling of an eye. And I, along with everyone else who knew Christ, will step out of our graves and worship Him. We will all say, “Behold!” This is our Savior! This is our Christ! This is the one who is perfect! This is the one who died for us! This is the one who took our sin! This is the one who has forgiven us! This is the one who has made death no more! “This is our God!”

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