Prayer Done Aright: Part One

Is there a particular book that had a profound impact upon your life?  For me it was a book my daddy gave me when I was a young man.  “The Power of Prayer in a Believers Life” by Charles Haddon Spurgeon was that book that reached a special place in my soul.  Honestly, I don’t remember one single thing that was said in the book and I’ve read it twice.  All I can say is, at that particular time in my life,  prayer was not high on my list of Christian duties.  What I do remember about the book is that God used whatever Spurgeon said to stir me up to prayer and the Spirit has been faithful since to remind me.

We all have occasion to require a little stirring up.  I prefer to be stirred not shaken, and it is best that it be done as often as I can find someone to do it.  Whenever I sense a separation in my own amalgam, I go back to one of the dead guys I love to read.  Over the past two years the voice I have found always faithful is Thomas Boston.  In Volume Eleven of his “Complete Works” I found the inspiration for my next series of articles.  In Etterick, Scotland, in the year 1727, Boston would preach a series of sermons on the work of the Holy Spirit.  His treatment of the Spirit’s function in our prayers was of particular interest to me.

You have probably read Romans 8:26 “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”   This is the passage that Boston unpacks for us and I hope to repackage his work in easy to digest portions for you.  Not that you cannot do this for yourself, or that you lack the skill, but not everyone has time nor inclination to read these obscure old sermons.  Frankly, I realized a great deal about my own lack of skill by working on this project.  Boston started out by putting me on notice of that fact.

In describing the “weakness” Paul refers to, Boston says, “Such is the weakness of God’s own children, that they have not the skill to manage even their addresses to God by prayer aright, without the Spirit.  For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us. They are like children putting their hand to a work, but with so little skill, that they need have one to stand over them and direct them at every turn.”

When we think of the duties of our faith, praying would seem to be the most natural for us.  There is little skill required to speak.  We do it all the time.  But according to Boston we are inept.  Thankfully, the solution to our inadequacy is found in the implications from this passage of scripture.  Children of God pray not alone but with and by the Holy Spirit, without which we cannot pray aright.

Over the next series of posts I hope to provide the same encouragement I received from studying this topic.  In fact, this passage in Romans, if set back into the context from which it was taken, is all about comforting believers.  The whole of chapter 8 of Romans is about living by the Spirit and sanctification.



Just “Desserts”

Over the last month I have posted, under the category “Parents Concerns for Children,”  seven articles designed as encouragement for believing parent’s concerns for the salvation of their children.  These were theologically accurate depictions of the spiritual condition outside of Christ and doctrinally reformed in nature.  I presume that most of my readers are reformed and covenantal so most of what I have said should come as no surprise.  However I’m sure I struck a few nerves, and my guess is that if so this post will never see the light of day or the device screen of those whom I have offended.  Sadly they will miss dessert.  In the words of Pink Floyd, at the end of their song “Another Brick in the Wall,” in the dialog between the boarding school master and his oppressed students, “If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”

Well I hope you have not only eaten the meat of the last seven articles but have had time to digest.  For if you are a follower of mine you probably have noticed that for me “pudding” is music.  My treat to myself is to enjoy Rock and Roll.  Therefore, my treat to you is to share a great story of God’s remarkable grace in the life of a rock and roll superstar.

If you were a child of the seventies, or if you are a retro-rocker today, the supergroup Kansas will ring true in your ears.  Rising out of the turmoil of America’s morality revolt in the 1960’s, the British invasion of the music world, and the experimental and experiential psychedelic drug culture, came a young man with a different view on things.  Kerry Livgren was born in Topeka, Kansas.  Not a hotbed of musical invention, Topeka is not where you would look for a superstar to come from.  However, Livgren, the founder and the primary songwriter for Kansas, grew up and set a path for greatness in the heartland of America.

What is most striking about Kerry’s story is not about his musical success, Kansas having had seven albums go gold and platinum with over 30 million sold, but rather his spiritual journey.  Kerry grew up in a believing home.  He was active in his Church as a youngster and was influenced by what he saw and heard.  He was what we in the reformed community would have called a covenant child, but he was not regenerate.  It would be years later after following all sorts of religious teachings, none of which even resembled Christianity, that God brought life to his dead heart.  To better understand the story you can go to his book “Seeds of Change” or find him on the web.

Kerry’s story is what inspired me to write this series on the spiritual condition of our children.  I had recently been interested in the music of Kansas as they were noted by some friends of ours, Samantha and Zeb Snyder of the Snyder Family Band, as being influential in there own writing style.  Kerry is an exceptional guitarist and his arrangements, using an orchestral flare, are enchanting.  For me however, not being a  musician, I was drawn to the lyrics.  The two songs most popular by far for Kansas were “Carry on Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind,” both written and arranged by Kerry.  To hear the words, you would be safe to say that they were written during a time soon after his rebirth.  Go look the lyrics up, and within them you can see flickers of light, and rumblings of the Gospel from the apostles and prophets.  But no, Kerry was dead in trespasses and sins, under the law, broken and enslaved to the father of lies. It would be almost eight years before he was born again.

However, the seeds were there.  Planted deep in the consciousness of a young boy were sown the truths of scripture.  God chose rather late than never to germinate what was there. He would then gradually water and illumine Kerry’s growing faith.  Kerry’s newfound freedom would play a critical role going forward as a Christian in an industry not accepting of him.

I could go on and on about how Kerry Livgren has been used by God for the purposes of the Kingdom.  For my purposes here I will just make this observation.  For God to save the soul of Kerry, and many others in the rock and roll industry, gives hope that every Christian parent needs.  Wayward sons, prodigals, or rebelous youth are not final categories for your children.  Whether you are Reformed and Covenantal or you have no idea what that means and are just simply trusting in God’s sovereign will to save your child as he has saved you, you must rely on the means by which he pours forth his grace.  Pray for and with your child.  Teach your child the bible.  Don’t rely on VBS, Sunday School, youth group, or Christian school,  which by the way, are none spoken of in the bible.  Rather, per Deuteronomy 11:19, YOU shall teach them about God in your home, along the road (in the car on the way to where ever), when you lie down (sometimes when you are so tired you don’t feel like it), when you rise up, or when ever that teaching moment appears. Place your child, regardless of age, under the preaching of the Word, not in nursery or children’s church.   Encourage your child to claim what is rightfully his, the inheritance in Christ.  Do not discount the seeds that have been already planted, but rather look faithfully for their springing forth in season.



Play the Glad Game

From the outset of this series I warned that in order for the reader to be built up I had first to tear down.  In an evaluation of these last six posts I think that I have done a fair job of just that.  Compared to Edward Lawrence however I have been a bright sunny day.  In 17th century England there were very few bright sunny days, metaphorically that is.  For in a time when plague, famine, limited medical advances, and just generally hard living, placed a premium on life, to have unsaved children presented a similarly bleak problem for parents.  Today we expect that our children will live to a ripe old age and have time to spare before they are brought to saving faith.  We simply have a more difficult time seeing unconverted children as a calamity.

Even facing the very likelihood that his children might not live another year, Lawrence, in his treatment of the subject, could put a positive spin on God’s providence.  Though Lawrence preceded the fictional charter Pollyanna by about 300 years, he, in the end, applies the Pollyanna Principle to his thoughts and plays the “glad game.”  He suggests you do the same.

To have unconverted children is truly a heavy burden to the believing parent.  To experience the pain of this situation is normal and even in a sense good.  However, it is a transgression against God’s sovereignty to give up on trusting in His wisdom.  Lawrence says, “Abhor it as a great sin to faint under this affliction.”  God gives you no burden you cannot bear.  Though you stumble and fall, you are not alone in the journey as you are in Christ, who never leaves nor forsakes.  To be forced to place your dependence in Him is a blessing.  Remember the description of those Christ deems to be blessed in his sermon on the mount?  Those poor in spirit, meek, persecuted parents are those said to be blessed, blissful, happy.  Look at your predicament as God’s forcing you to turn to him when otherwise, resting in your own strength, you coast along through your parenting time unaware of his grace toward you and your children.

The affliction of having unconverted children is ordinary.  You do not bear this burden uniquely.  All around you on a Lord’s Day morning sit many who are likely to have the same cares as you.  There are those who you would least expect to suffer this perilous load.  You see grey headed saints with grandchildren and great grandchildren, on the surface appearing proud and confident in their extended generation, and yet torn to the quick over the thought that all their efforts may result in a mass contribution to the kingdom of the evil one.  Bear one another’s burden with empathy for their inward pain.  You are not extraordinary, except in the sense that you may now know better how to minister to many who may appear to be ministers themselves.  The next time you ask someone in your church how their children are doing look closely into their eyes.  You may see through the window to their soul a momentary sign of pain.  You may now know better how to defer to some who you may think has no excuse for their trespasses against you.  That grumpy, ill, uninvolved brother in Christ may be suffering the constant pain of lost children.  That person who may never speak or look your way, whom you deem to have some issue with you, may have just this sort of affliction.  Be careful toward them as you may find yourself in this very rut one day.

If nothing more, be pleased with God for what he has done, even if you do not have faith in what he will do.   First of all, God has saved you and brought you into his covenant family, making the likelihood that he will do the same for your children probable.  Secondly he may have given you a faithful spouse to assist you in bearing the burden.   I love Proverbs 19:13b.  “…a quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping.”  A wonderful blessing it is to have a spouse that is likeminded, especially one that doesn’t drip.  They may gush but please don’t drip.

Throughout the world there are whole groups of people and entire regions where parents love their children just as you do.  Within them there is no knowledge of saving faith.  I’m not just speaking of deepest darkest third world countries.  Even here in North America where in times past God has seen fit to pour out his Spirit and bring masses into his family.  Today, He has seen fit to be quiet, but his silence is deafening.  You are especially blessed if you have unconverted children.  Wait, isn’t this a painful, burdensome, calamity?  How are we to call it blessed?  Because our covenant keeping God says it is.  These light and momentary afflictions, are to be counted as joy in comparison to the weight of the glory that awaits us.  We are to see that God cannot fail to do us and our children good.  He cannot be anything but just.  He cannot be anything but righteous.  This is the hope you have that most do not.  When most of the world’s children venture near deaths door and their parents are forced to consider what is on the other side, from where do they draw any hope?  Do you see the advantage you have?  Do you see the blessedness of you condition?

Nothing you do nor have done as a parent can shorten God’s arm.  He can reach into the very depths of you darkest moment and snatch your child away from the gates of hell.  He can also, from the instant of life in the womb, convert your children so that they never know a day outside of Christ.  Whichever in his sovereign will he elects to do, you must be content in the counsel of His will.  Yes, you may suffer but suffer well, knowing that nothing can surpass the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for the covenant family.

The Calamity of Progeny

There are interesting similarities between man and the world around him.  I was recently speaking with a friend about how we see the wisdom of God in nature.  I recounted to her how the Tern, a ground nesting bird, endeavors for the preservation of their young.  From the incubation period, around a month, to the first days of life, until flight capabilities develop, the parent terns work in tandem to ward off predators.  All birds have predator issues, but with ground nesters the threat is from all quarters.  I am blessed to be able to observe these birds give there all for their young every spring, and am always amazed at the self sacrificial love they have for their helpless progeny.  Mothers lie flat and still over their eggs when a threat is detected.  The father is always near to act as a decoy, to feign injury, and lure the threat in his direction.  Never sleeping, always vigilant, and yet never showing a hint of despair at the perilous position their creator has placed them in.  Their entire continuation of the species is a calamity in the making.

The plight of the Tern bears a remarkable resemblance to my recent topic because as human parents, particularly Christian parents, the raising of our children can be fraught with danger.  Sickness, worldly influence, lack of achievement or willingness to thrive, and many other fears assault our weak faith all along the process.  We doubt the wisdom of our Creator in placing us in the position of rearing young and despair over what will become of our brood.  I can’t look into the little red eyes of these Terns and see what is going through there minds, but I think I can assume they don’t fret over their predicament.

Edward Lawrence, in the second chapter of his treatise, calls having unsaved children a calamity.  We don’t use that term often in our vernacular, but we have the wisdom of Solomon to give us quite an accurate description of the calamitous nature of our unregenerate offspring.  “To have a fool for a son brings grief; there is no joy for the father of a fool.” (Prov. 17:21)  “A foolish son is his father’s ruin.” (Prov. 19:13)  The very fact that children can bring pain and grief to a parent who, like the bird, loves them sacrificially, is the very definition of evil.  A child can never in a lifetime repay a parent for their love and devotion.  The human equivalent to Christ on the cross is the ill treatment of a parent.  I think back to my own parents and how I treated them.  Though they are vane regrets, I cannot help but see what grief my foolishness caused my parents and be struck by the evil of my  disregard of the fifth commandment.

“He who robs his father and drives his mother out is a son who brings shame and disgrace.” (Prov. 19:26)  How ever you envisage the picture portrayed by this verse the ugliness is apparent.  For parents to bear this pain is heart rending.  Parents see fear.  Fear of great sin lurking  in the future of the child if their ways are not mended can be paralyzing.  God’s heavy judgement waiting to be unleashed leaves the parent constantly in fear of what might befall the child around the next bend in the road.  Then there is the constant horror of eternal damnation as the last stop on their voyage.

Then there is anger.  Parents experience anger toward the children for willful disobedience.  We fail to recognize the fallen condition that drives the rebellion.  The fact that their rebellion might provoke God’s wrath has no affect on them.  Our righteous indignation on God’s behalf is but a ruse for our own affront.

In the end there is sorrow.  The parents knowledge of God makes their heart bleed to see children scorn and despise the glory of Christ.  Fear, anger, and sorrow are interchangeable emotions for the parent.  I once heard someone say that every example of anger was proceeded by fear and followed by sorrow.

Search your own experience and identify this emotional pendulum.   If you are new to the journey, look more closely at the object of your care.  Evolving in their tiny being are the very mechanisms for your own calamity.  If you are veteran parents you are well read on the subject.  For parents to have unregenerate children may truly be described as a calamity, for it is a most difficult trying of our faith.  However, it is a case for the application of God’s direction see the bright side.  Our hope comes in the purification promised by these refining fires, from which we will be made stronger.  To have our reliance on ourselves dissolved and our trust in God renewed is a blessing.  To become dependent on God’s parenting and not our own is the height of accomplishment.

“Post tenebras lux,” after darkness light, was the call of the protestant reformation.  This could also be the mission statement of Christian parents, for out of the darkness of fiery trials we look to the means of Grace for the light of God’s revelation on how to bear up under the strain.  In the next post we will apply the “Pollyanna” approach to parenting.


The Larger Issue

In the Reformed and Covenant Theology community we rely heavily upon the various confessions, compiled by counsels of Churchmen centuries before our time, to provide guidance into what are the truths that scripture teaches.  Edward Lawrence preached during the time of the publication of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646).  His subsequent run in with the Church of England was an outworking of his strong belief in what was taught by these doctrinal positions.  His hope for the eventual conversion of his children was bolstered by what the confession taught concerning baptism.  His strong desire for his children to claim their inheritance in Christ was dependant on baptism, infant baptism.  Chapter 25 Section 2 tells us that according to scripture the visible church, those who profess true religion, includes our children.  From the days of the Apostolic Church until the middle of the 16th century, the mass majority of the Christian Church baptized their infant children as an expression of their promised inclusion in the Body of Christ.  It was not until the late 1500’s that the Anabaptist doctrines of Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and the Netherlands began spread and the idea of not baptizing infants was popularized.

Without going into the details of the confessional position on baptism, for the purposes of encouragement to parents, one point is clear.  The efficacy of baptism is not tied to the moment it is administered (WCF 28.6).  Rather it is the promise signified by baptism that God’s Grace will be conferred in His appointed time according to the counsel of His will.

If you don’t come from a confessional background you may tend not to place much importance in these old reformed confessions.  What did they know back then anyway, right?  They did not have Wikipedia or all of the bible commentaries we have today.  Well, how about Peter?  Speaking under the inspiration of God,  Peter told the early church, “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off; for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38,39)  He told the Jewish believers to turn from your belief in your Jewish traditions, be baptized, and like you would circumcise your 8 day old baby boy, baptize all you children as a sign and seal of God’s covenant with Abraham and all his generations. On top of that we are going to tell the whole world that this same promise that was given to you in the old covenant, will be given to those of the gentile world whom God will call to repentance and faith.  We are going to baptize them and their children too as a sign and seal of God’s Covenant faithfulness to them.

This was some radical stuff for these early Jewish believers to grasp.  Radical in the sense that Peter was introducing the concept of a new sign and seal.  Not radical in the sense of their inclusion in the covenant of grace.  They were very familiar with God’s covenants to the patriarchs in their ancestral tree.  They were also very aware that God used these recipients of his Covenant of Grace as examples of exceptions to his covenants.  You might say, God used the children of these renown covenant characters as examples of what being outside of his covenant looked like.

The first members of “Grace Church” were Adam and Eve. Their children would have been the first covenant children.  However, in God’s providence, in order to accomplish his sovereign will, he chose only to include one of the boys in the covenant.  Not because of anything Abel had done nor would do, but rather for His own Glory, Abel would inherit the promise given to his parents.  Cain did not just go bad, or fall away, or fail to keep the law.  He was never of the family of God.  In 1 John 3:12 the warning to the visible Church is “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one.

There were none as faithful as Noah among the prediluvian world.  Genesis 6:8-9 made this plain saying, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.  Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time and he walked with God.”  This was said of him before he took the abuse of a scornful public for building an ark, and before he floated around for weeks without complaining about the cruise amenities.  He was later the recipient of another of God’s Covenant promises.  But you know the story.  God made an example of Ham as the one son who was cursed of God.  You might think that Ham’s indiscretion was not worthy of cursing him and his posterity forever.  That wasn’t the point.  Ham was never in the Covenant.

Isaac greatly loved Esau. He was his prized son and the heir to his family heritage.  However, God hated Esau.  God hated Esau and loved Jacob and made that decision based not upon their deeds but upon his right to choose to whom he will show mercy. Romans 9 is the go to scripture in matters of the sovereignty of God in the election of his followers.  Esau is used as the example of God’s right to choose not depending upon anything man can do.

David, the man after God’s own heart, was the father of Absalom, another fraternal murderer.  Absalom, like the others, was not included in the covenant family of God.  All their exclusion being left to the hidden wisdom of God, and not because he foreknew their actions or inactions.

All of the parents of these children who were outside of the redeeming grace of God must have been full of grief and bitterness.  We must all consider the possibility that our children may be in this category.  Though, looking at the larger issue, here we have more cause to believe that God will bring them to himself.  God does nothing arbitrarily.  He did not make a promise to grow his kingdom through the Church so that he may then cause you to doubt him by placing more weight on the examples of those he has shown us.  In fact, if you want to offend the righteousness of God in the most vile way, then doubt the righteousness in his promise keeping ability.  You are screaming mutiny.

We may be bitter, we may be grieved, but we may not doubt.  We will go through a myriad of emotions over the course of our lives as parents.  We may even see signs of the working of the Spirit in our children and then have some great disappointment when those signs fade.  Once again, we must not doubt God’s promise to work, relying on our lack of decerning vision.  If you are truthful with yourself in looking back on your own journey, you cannot declare the point of your rebirth.  If you can you are rare.  You may recount a time in which you discovered marks of your faith, but that may have been some time after God breathed life into your dead heart.   The mystery of God’s work of regeneration is outside of our realm of comprehension.  Likewise trying to weigh the behavior of our children to determine their conversion can be a roller coaster endeavor.  To engage in the work of identifying the presence of regenerative work by the Holy Spirit in the heart of your children, young or old, is folly.  Rather, focus your energy in identifying the truths of scripture that tell of God’s faithfulness to his promises.  I am not saying, “let go and let God.”  On the contrary, take hold of God’s word, wrestle with these concepts, and extract from these the power of His righteousness in His covenant keeping.  Simultaneously, never stop evangelizing your children, for they are the heirs of your inheritance, and co-heirs with Christ.  Treat them as such.

Six Situations That Aren’t Signs That Your Child Isn’t Saved

This is a great article related to this series of posts.

The Responsible Puppet

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I believe one of the most important considerations a parent can have is whether or not their child is saved. And while we often can’t know with certainty whether or not another person is saved, there are things we can look for.

A while back I posted a list of signs a child isn’t saved. Recently I been thinking about human situations that might cause a parent to fear that the child they thought was saved really isn’t.

So let’s say you have a son or daughter who understands, believes and loves the gospel. You see real spiritual fruit and sanctification in their life and you feel they are walking with Christ.

But there is something going on in their life that makes you doubt their salvation.

Here is a list of real life situations that shouldn’t.

1. He is sinful.
The Bible is clear, we all sin…

View original post 1,169 more words

A Case for Grief and Bitterness

We live in an age of incredible advances in technology. To contrast the changes over the last one hundred years to those of the previous century is astounding.  These advances have had ripple effects that have changed the way society does nearly everything.  However, some things never change.  Godly parents love for their children is the same now as it was in the beginning.  Nearly three thousand years ago King Solomon spoke his wisdom for our benefit.  The Proverbs are full of truths which are just as, if not more, relative today as ever before.  Edward Lawrence, who I introduced in the last post, lived in a relatively modern age (mid 17th century) as compared to Solomon, however he saw the contemporary wisdom and truisms that the Proverbs supplied.  Three hundred and fifty years later many of us today can empathize with Lawrence and King Solomon when we read Proverbs 17:25 “A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the one who bore him.”

I love the style of instruction from the Puritan era.  When these men taught and preached they did so with authority.  I can’t imagine these men sitting around in a circle with their pupils asking them, “What does this passage mean to you?  How does this make you feel?”  They were really good at laying out the facts.  Lawrence began the lesson in his treatise “Parent’s Groans Over Their Wicked Children”  with a few explicative points.  He reminds us that both genders are capable of fitting into the category of wicked and ungodly, sons and daughters.  Secondly it is ordinary for godly parents to have wicked children.  I remember the moniker PK, preacher’s kids, tagged on the infamous children of the local ministers. For some reason preachers seemed to have the worst kids, or was it that for some reason we expect theirs to be good little saints, like ours of course.  Lastly he shows that the terms wicked and foolish can be used interchangeably in scripture when identifying the unregenerate or unsaved.  From Lawrence’s perspective you most likely have wicked children.  Here is a quote that struck me as a wonderful tool to help us measure the climate of our children’s condition.  Lawrence says, “Wicked children think themselves wise, wiser than parents, masters(teachers, bosses, coaches, etc.), or ministers.” Try that on for size.  How does that fit?

Now for some of you I am not presenting any new information here.  Those who have a good handle on the nature of man outside of the life giving  power of the Holy Spirit can easily digest the fact that little Johnny most likely is dead in his trespasses and sin. Still it is hard to see our children as wicked or dead.  If we would choose one of scripture’s terms we might rather use foolish.  However, as I mentioned in my post last week, “I’m Not the Villain Here,”  foolishness is not a benign condition.  God uses foolishness to identify the worst of the worst in those whom he has given over to their desires in Romans 1:18-32.  For the sake of time I’ll let you decide if you want to read this passage and see if you would list your children in the same category as Paul does when he characterized even disobedient children as wicked fools.  Just saying!

Lawrence loved his children.  All the work that went into this booklet was originally intended as an inheritance for his children, to give them a legacy to remember what he desired most for them.  He did not speak of their success in the world, their education, nor their comforts.  His desire was to see them enter the Kingdom of Heaven on the judgement day.

So as we push ahead, and I do mean push because of the dreadful nature of the topic, I challenge you not to give up on my efforts.  After darkness, light must be our reward.  Covenant Theology does not teach that God will save every child of every saint.  But it does teach that God generally elects from within his tribe those who will serve him.  In the next post I will give some examples of God’s exceptions to the rule from scripture and the lessons he teaches through them.





































tha tbeing said