The Answered Prayer of 2014

At the beginning of this year I posted a hymn that would by my singular prayer appropriate to anchor me as I looked forward; “Guide me, O thou great Jehovah!” I was pretty anxious but also excited about the year that lay ahead and was eager to trust the Lord for wherever he was going to guide me. Little did I know what 2014 would hold.

Frankly, it was the most difficult year of my life, even beyond all my our family went through with mom's illness. The pressure, assaults, and trials of this last year leave me eager to be done with it. I feel no sorrow that 2014 is over. In fact, just the opposite. “Good riddance!” Yet that doesn’t mean that God hasn’t been faithful, and that he has not been wise in leading me in the way in which he did. It just wouldn’t have chosen the path I was taken on at all.

In His wisdom, I have seen the truths of this hymn unravel throughout the year. The Bread of Heaven has fed me and sustained me through the trials. The Strong Deliver has been my strength and shield. The defeater of death and hell has lead me safe so far.

If anything is true of 2014 it is that I have been safe in the Lord’s leading. He has guided me and done it for his glory, and my good. The truth of “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” is that is the one who will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death, so we have nothing to fear. He will guide, care, protect, and love all those who trust in him. Whatever may come from his sovereign hand, we can trust his wisdom. I will continue to robustly affirm and sing this song as a way of issuing “songs of praises” to the one who is so great and so kind. 

I do not look fondly back at 2014, but I see the evidence of a God who has safely guided me through the troubled waters. I'm praying for green pastures and still waters in 2015, but whatever the case ahead he will guide me well. 

A Plan For Prayer

At the conclusion of every year I always see a handful of posts about reading the Bible in a year. I have no problem with this and want to encourage you to plan and practice reading through the Bible on a consistent basis. However, Scripture intake alone is not the means by which we grow as a Christian. Just as we have a means to hear God from his Word so we also have a means by which to respond to or “answer God” back in prayer. Calvin remarks, “To call upon God is the chief exercise of faith and hope; and it is in this way that we obtain from God every blessing.”1

Just as we have plans for Scripture intake, we need plans for praying. Perhaps you might feel that this turns something that should be spontaneous and relationally organic into something dutiful and forced, but I would actually argue the opposite. We are not natural prayers, quite the opposite in fact, we neglect prayer often. We aren’t predisposed to talking with God and communing with him. We fill our lives with distraction, noise, hurried business, and anything and everything but prayer. If we want to see prayer become something that is a delight and not a mere duty we must work at it. A plan will help us in this.

Timothy Keller’s latest book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God has been an enormous help for me in developing a prayer plan, as well as Eugene Peterson’s book Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer. Keller has included a plan for morning, midday, and evening prayer that I feel will be a helpful and good start in developing a stronger prayer life this next year. Here is a summarized version of his plan:2

Morning Prayer:

  • Pray through Psalm 95
  • Read two chapters from the Robert Murray M’Cheyne daily reading plan
  • Meditate on favorite verses within the daily reading
  • Freely pray in the categories of “Adoration” (who God is), and “Supplication” (what our concerns are)

Midday Prayer:

  • Pray through Psalm 103
  • Paraphrase the Lord’s Prayer
  • Self-examination
  • Free prayer for the challenges of the day and moment

Evening Prayer

  • Read and pray through two Psalms, working through the Psalter.
  • Confession and repentance of sins.
  • Intercession for family, friends, the local church, your neighbors, and city.
  • Thanksgiving

Two other suggestions that come to mind in developing a prayer plan are Joe Thorn’s prayer guide through the Valley of Vision. The other is to buy a journal of some sort (I prefer a Moleskine) and write out your prayers. This can force your mind to stay focused on speaking to God and give you a direction in praying so that you don’t mentally wander off.

In any regard having a plan to pray this next year is just as helpful as having a plan to read through the Bible. I would encourage you to develop or borrow a prayer plan for 2015 and grow in your desire and delight in speaking to our Heavenly Father.

What are some of your plans for how you will pray in 2015?

  1. John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 340.
  2. See the appendix on pages 263-266. 

The Best of 2014

As we wind this year down (thankfully) and get ready for 2015 here are some of my categorical favorites from this last year:

Best Album

Borderland — John Mark McMillan

This album continues to get playtime in my earbuds and continues to haunt me regularly. Several songs off this album are especially excellent, first among them is “Future/Past.” McMillan sings:

And you,
You are my first
You are my last
You are my future and my past

Honorable Mentions

  • Page CXVI — Good Friday to Easter: Their original song “Roll Away The Stone” is my new favorite Easter song. I will be strongly advocating that we sing it together at Woodside this Easter.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1: True, none of these songs are 2014 natives, but the album as a whole set the tone for the film, and they are fun classic rock tunes. Great summertime road trip music.
  • U2 — Songs of Innocence: It’s U2. Fantastic album. Free album! (Stop your petty whining).

Best Film

The LEGO Movie

While this film is a gigantic marketing piece, it’s also a brilliant, funny, engaging, and enjoyable film. The humor, pace, and story of the entire film is worth-while and I think well done. Plus, LEGOs. So we have that going for us. Everything, in this film, is awesome.

Honorable Mentions

  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Chris Pratt’s other film in 2014. It was a refreshing twist on the super hero formula. Well done Marvel.
  • Interstellar: I am still thinking about this film from Christopher Nolan. There were some things I didn’t like about it, but the fact that I am wanting to see it again says a lot.
  • Captain America: Winter Soldier: The best spy-thriller movie since The Borne Supremacy.

Best Book:

The Psalms by Crossway Books, English Standard Version

It might not be fair to include an entire book of the Bible as the “best book” of 2014 for me, but this book gave me words this last year. It gave me words to talk with God about all that I was going through and enduring. It gave me words to properly cry out for help, justice, healing, and praise. The book of Psalms was exactly what I needed this year. Thankfully Crossway released a “Psalter” that is beautifully set and bound and will last as a prayer book for me for decades. This book has been with me all year long.

Honorable Mentions

  • Make, Mature, Multiply edited by Brandon Smith: A solid anthology of articles on various aspects of discipleship. An excellent resource from my friends at GCD.
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: Yes, I know it wasn’t written this year, but I read it a few weeks ago and loved it. Such a surprising and excellent story.
  • Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright: A remarkable and well researched book on the resurrection and our hope in it. I don’t always agree with Wright, but his work in this area of theology is sounds and precise. 

What were your best albums, films, or books this last year?

Say Yes! To Michigan

If you had told me a year ago all that this year would have brought I would have probably hidden in a cave somewhere. Simply put it’s been the most difficult year of my life. However in this last year it’s been a time of growth and seeing much of the grace of God in our lives. Trial is many times a form of God’s grace to give us something greater and better for our good and his glory. God has been writing that story large in my life this last year.

Part of that story is in God redirecting my ministry path and opening a door for me to serve him with an incredible church in the Detroit Metro area. This last week I was called to work and serve at Woodside Bible Church in Troy, MI. Woodside is a church that has been impacting Detroit and the world for sixty years. Spread out over nine regional campus (plus an Internet campus), the church has been seeing the grace of God and the advance of the gospel far and wide. Under the leadership of Pastor Doug Schmidt I am confident and excited to be part of a dynamic team of campus pastors and leaders.

Specifically, I will be leading a campus and working to see people “BELONG to Christ, GROW in Christ, and REACH the world for Christ.”

Please be praying for our family as we get ready for a big transition to Detroit and need to find a place to live, setting on a school situation for our daughter, and restart life in a new place. Pray for me also as I settle into a new role and begin to labor for the sake of the gospel. We are eager to get to 2015 and see all that God has for us in a new place.

Michigan, Wolverine, Here We Come! 

Advent: Taste and See

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” (Titus 2:11–13, ESV)

“What are you waiting for?”

Advent asks that question of us. If we would slow down and listen the question is being asked over and over again. “What are you waiting for?”

Many of us, myself included, often find ourselves waiting (or wanting I should say) the good gifts of the Giver. We long for salvation, perfected bodies, sinless souls, heaven, and the end to misery, pain, and injustice. We want good things. But do we want the source of those things? Do we want the One from whom every good and perfect gift comes (James 1:17)?

I suspect we might, although we don’t know it enough to articulate it well. The gifts are, as C.S. Lewis put it, beams of light that trace back to the sun itself. The gifts make us long for the Giver. But I don’t think we know it well. The restoration of our broken and ailing bodies tells us of One who was resurrected from death itself. The healing of the soul tells us of One who has conquered sin by his sinless life. The joy of heaven tells of us of being in the presence of the One who is peace and joy and glory. The bringing of perfect justice tells us of the King who will right every wrong and reign over us all in the Kingdom come, making all things new. We long for these gifts, but they should really point us to the Giver.

Paul told Titus that the first Advent of Grace (God’s bringing salvation to all through Christ — Titus 2:11) prepares and trains us to wait now for the second Advent of Glory (the appearing of our hope, which is Christ himself — Titus 2:13).

This causes me to ask a question of myself, do I find Christ desirable? Or, do I long for and eagerly wait for Christ himself? Strip away all the the good gifts that I desire and long for, do I look forward to being with Christ forever? If not, why? What keeps both me and you from desiring Christ? Surely, one reason it is our sinful hearts that desire all sorts of other things beyond Christ. This is the great work of Satan to distract us from the best while causing us to settle for the good. Yet, another reason I find that keeps me from desiring Christ is that I haven’t tasted of Christ frequently. I find that I tend to lose my desire for Christ when I haven’t reflected on his “excellence” with regularity.

Consider our cravings for certain types of food (for some reason right now I’m hungry for a juicy steak). We find our desire for that meal increases as we contemplate it with increasing frequency. We might have in our mind that the meal is of particular splendor and taste. We salivate thinking about the goodness of the meal. It is the best we’ve ever eaten. In our minds we meditate and fixate on the meal and when we have it the joy is increased because the actual meal was better than our mind made it. The point is, if we aren’t meditating on Christ regularly, and particularly who he is, then we are starving ourselves of desire for Christ. No wonder the Psalmist tells us “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). Frequent “tasting” of Christ births deeper longing for Christ. If we merely taste the gifts we will have a sugar rush of joy, but miss the greater delight of the Giver himself.

Advent as a season is for us to increase our appetite for Christ. It’s a time for us to reflect on the “excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). In so doing we will increase our expectation and longing for the Giver himself, and not just his great and wonderful gifts.

So let’s find a banquet table of Christ himself. Let’s look at the glories of Christ. Let's gaze upon his wonderful and diverse excellencies. As Jonathan Edwards put it, let us find the “admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ.” Let’s pause looking for the gifts and find the Giver himself. As we do, and as we wait, our desire, and our eagerness for that second Advent will only increase. We will sing and worship and rejoice in the Giver himself.

This is who we are waiting for.