Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why is My Prayer Not Being Answered?

From Piper...

There is more than one reason why we may pray for things and yet not receive them. Reasons may include 1) because we don’t trust God (James 1:6); 2) because the answer would not glorify Christ and sanctify us as much as something else (2 Corinthians 12:8-10); 3) because the answer is coming later than we think (Joseph waited 13 years before he saw the reason for his afflictions, Genesis 37-50).

But here is a reason we may not think of very often. God may intend to give us the blessing we long for not directly in answer to prayer, but indirectly in answer to prayer—through the spiritual gifting of another believer. And the reason we don’t receive the blessing is that we don’t avail ourselves of the power God intends to channel through the gifts of his people.

For example, the gifts Paul mentions include wisdom and healings and miracles. This implies that God intends that sometimes wisdom and healing and other sorts of miracles come into our lives through other believers ministering to us. If this were not true, there would be no point in spiritual gifts. They are one way God brings about the “common good” of the church.

If we pray and pray for some change we want to see, but we never consider seeking the ministry of a fellow believer, we are like the eye that says to the hand, “I have no need of you” (1 Corinthians 12:21).

So in your small groups (which is the most natural place for such ministry to happen), seek the fullness of God’s “good” (1 Corinthians 12:7), and minister to each other—and seek to be ministered to—in this way.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Altar Call

I have been thinking a lot about this since I wrote the blog about Mars Hill's Easter service and the hundreds that were baptized there on that day. What a sad comment it was that I have never witnessed anything like that in the churches I have attended. I'm not talking about hundreds of conversions...I am talking about just one.

Why don't churches offer an altar call every single Sunday or at least one a month? I think if you asked a pastor that the response might be, "Well, what if no one came up, week after week, how would that look?"...or "That's not the way we bring people into the church. They have a talk with the pastor, they learn what it means to be a Christian, than we plan out a day of baptism and accountability."

The first objection is simply one of pride. I would look bad if no one ever came up. The second seems to subject God's ability to transform hearts to a more pragmatic, man-made method of "conversion". Yes, God is working in this person's heart but we really need to make sure they are sincere before putting our stamp of approval on them. I can understand a hesitation of performing adult baptisms and watching people walk out the door and never coming back. But what is the harm? Do everything you can to disciple them from that day forward but don't neglect baptism on the spot because you are unsure of their authenticity. Unless the Spirit is really speaking to you that something isn't right.

I recalled a passage from "Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire" that talked about Dwight L. Moody, the 19th century evangelist. He was haunted all his life by an occasion when he felt he got too clever in presenting the gospel. Six years before he died he recounted what had happened back in Chicago in the fall of 1871:

"I intended to devote six nights to Christ's life. I had spent four Sunday nights on the subject and had followed him from the manger along through his life to his arrest and trial, and on the fifth Sunday night, October 8th, I was preaching to the largest congregation I had ever had in Chicago, quite elated with my success. My text was "What shall I do then with Jesus which is called the Christ?" That night I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life. After preaching...with all the power that God had given me, urging Christ upon the people, I closed the sermon and said, "I wish you would take this text home with you and turn it over in your minds during the week, and next Sunday we will come to Calvary and the cross, and we will decide what we will do with Jesus of Nazareth."

Just at that moment, a fire bell rang nearby. Moody quickly dismissed the meeting and sent the people out of the building. It was the beginning of the Great Chicago Fire, which over the next 27 hours left 300 dead, 90,000 homeless, and a great city in ashes. Obviously, Moody never got to finish his sermon series. He continued:

"I have never seen that congregation since. I have hard work to keep back the tears today...22 years have passed away...and I will never meet those people again until I meet them in another world. But I want to tell you one lesson I learned that night, which I have never forgotten, and that is, when I preach to press Christ upon the people then and there, I try to bring them to a decision on the spot. I would rather have my right hand cut off than give an audience a week to decide what to do with Jesus."

Words worth thinking about.

Piper's Upcoming Leave

John Piper announced toward the end of March that he would be taking a leave of absence from his church and all public communication (with the exception of the Desiring God Conference) from May 1 through the end of the year. This is an excerpt from his open letter to his congregation at Bethlehem Church:

"I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me. How do I apologize to you, not for a specific deed, but for ongoing character flaws, and their effects on everybody? I’ll say it now, and no doubt will say it again, I’m sorry. Since I don’t have just one deed to point to, I simply ask for a spirit of forgiveness; and I give you as much assurance as I can that I am not making peace, but war, with my own sins."

There is a tremendous amount of humility here, as well as wisdom, in order to tackle these "flaws" head on before they become something that not only takes a toll on his personal relationships but his overall ministry. Granted, I have not closely followed many pastors in my life, but I don't remember ever hearing another who took an intentional leave to war against his sins. Speaking of which, what I like most, is Piper is walking the walk that he preaches. Case in point...

Even within this type of presentation, it is not difficult to see how pride could become an issue. Piper has written dozens of books, he is wanted for numerous speaking engagements here and abroad, the Desiring God website puts forth all of his resources and videos, he is the main sermon-giving pastor at a large church, and the list goes on. If that were me, I know that the battle against pride would be a daily one. When Piper joined Twitter he expressed an initial concern about the temptation of seeing how many followers he would have. I now see more clearly from where his concern came. I heard him introduced at another church recently where he was a guest speaker. The introduction was probably 1 1/2 minutes with all but the last 15 seconds extolling the wonderful Dr. John Piper and how blessed they all were that he was there. The last 15 seconds were about what God would have to say THROUGH John Piper. I can imagine the internal struggle John was feeling as he listened to that. There is a reason why God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh. Pride. My grace is sufficient for you Paul. You are totally reliant on me. Not on yourself. I will make sure you never forget that.

Mark Driscoll and his wife posted a good response to this. It's worth a read: