Thoughts on Praying for Our Leaders

Over the last couple of weeks we have heard a lot about praying for our leaders in light of the inauguration of a new president.  Obviously, this call has been heightened by the reality that most evangelicals didn’t vote for the president, and he stands for a few things that evangelicals stand strongly against.  So, appropriately, there has been a strong reminder for believers to pray for the President, regardless of whether we voted for him.

So it was fortuitous when our time in our High School sunday school class brought us to the first part of I Timothy 2.  I had read a lot of people building on the command to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions”, but not a lot else exegetically about the passage.  So when I spent some time studying, reading, and meditating on it, I came to some conclusions that I believe help us better understand not on the command to pray, but also how and why.  Here are some thoughts in no particular order.

Obviously, we all know that context is king when understanding a passage, so its helpful to notice the context of this passage.  It directly follows Paul reflecting on the Gospel’s effect in his own life.  He recognizes that formerly he was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.  But Paul, the foremost of sinners, received mercy through Christ.  This causes him to spontaneously break out in praise in verse 17, proclaiming that God is the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, and deserves all the honor and glory forever and ever.

Once we approach the passage of 2:1-7 itself, we notice that it’s actually about the Gospel also.  In verse 4 we are reminded of God’s desire for all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.  (I told the kids that Conor would be providing a discourse fully explaining this and other difficult passages concerning God’s will in two weeks.)  Paul says that there is one way to God, one mediator between man and God, that being Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom for many.

I don’t think we can separate the Gospel from the command to pray for leaders.  This means, I believe that the primary concern and topic of our prayers should be the salvation of our leaders.   This fits in with the reality that we can’t transform our nation through political reform, but through the transforming work of the Gospel.  Of course we are to pray for wisdom and guidance for our leaders, but I don’t think our prayers should stop there.

That leads me to the statement in verse 2.  Paul says we are to prayer for our leaders “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”  When I read this, I could see a health and wealther taking this verse and preaching that our lives would be easy and comfortable if we just follow this command.  Unfortunately, we know that this won’t be our physical reality on this side of eternity. I don’t think this is talking about a physical state of our lives.

Rather, I think that when he speaks of a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified, I think he speaking of an emotional and spiritual perspective prayer brings us.  Prayer aligns our priorities and perspectives with God.  Prayer is not just making our thoughts known to God, but uniting our hearts and minds with His.  So when we make a practice of praying for our leaders, we are reminding ourselves of God’s sovereignty over the leaders of our nations, states, and towns.  Truly this was to bring comfort to believers living under the tyranny of Nero, as was the case in this context. If they can draw comfort and peace from prayer in that situation, surely it can be a comfort to us no matter who our leader is.

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Theology of Worship- Prayer as Worship

“Prayer is the process by which our will is brought in line with God’s will.”

In reference to Jesus teaching the Lord’s Prayer- “Our patter of conduct becomes God’s pattern of conduct to us.  What kind of God is this?  He forgives us as we forgive our debtors.”

“Prayer changes God.  He is immutable in his essence and character, but He is not a stone.  There are circumstances that when there is repentance, He changes his mind.  (Jonah 3, Exodus 32)”

“There is a great difference between private and public prayers.  Private prayer is often spontaneous.  There is room for speaking to God as if in natural conversation, voicing struggles, concerns, and things like it.  But when prayer is public, on behalf of a congregation, it is not casual.  It is to be poetic and elevated.  It has an appropriate awareness of being in God’s presence on behalf of the people of God.”

“Prayer operates to make our hearts more like God’s.  It is important that in our prayers and thanksgiving that we declare God’s grace in our lives.  It can also be done in the way we address God in our prayers in our opening words of adoration.  It communicates a profound theology and ecclesiology.  We can do it in appealing to God to have mercy according to His lovingkindness.  The moment we say that, we declare theology.”

Theology of Worship- Representing Yahweh

This week I have the privilege of taking the winterim class at The Master’s Seminary.  I have gone to the class the last 2 years, and wanted to go to this one even more since it will probably be my last opportunity to do this.  The class is “For the Glory of God: A Biblical Theology of Worship” taught by Daniel Block, professor at Wheaton College and renowned Old Testament commentator.  I’ll be including little snippets of great things that I’ve learned and that have challenged me.  So far I have really enjoyed Block’s pastoral style of teaching.  He doesn’t just info dump or read off a list of references, but really gets to the heart of the matter while approaching the text expositionally.

My first thought is what it means to “take the name of the Lord in vain”.  Conventionally, this has been interpreted and applied as not swearing or using God’s name casually.  Of course, that is part of what this is saying, but that falls short of the whole intended meaning.  In that time, there was a practice of writing the name of God on your hand if you wanted people to know that you were a follower of Yahweh.  You were taking on the name of God for everyone you meet to know.

Taking the name of the Lord in vain would be failing to live up to the name that you were carrying or writing on you.  It was living a life that was contrary to the God you claimed.

We also entered into a discussion of what this means in our prayer lives, and a warning of using God’s name casually or hypocritically in prayer.  So often, I can enter into prayer and not think about the Almighty God I’m speaking to.  Block also spoke of how often people use the name of God as a filler word in prayers, dropping it without thinking.  The thing that got me thinking most was how often I have asked students to pray, only to hear a student treat the prayer lightly and casually.  Sometimes something happens and then giggles break out, and my heart breaks that they take prayer so lightly.

The scariest thing I’ve wondered is if I have placed students in positions to sin.  Have I asked them to do something that they don’t take seriously?  It has definitely caused me to think more seriously, not only about how I pray, but also about who I encourage to lead in public prayers.

Pastoring a Family

Now that Micah is getting older, I have found how much of a challenge pastoring my own family is becoming.  I don’t mean to say that the family is becoming difficult, but I find that it is stretching me more and more.  I’ve known that I want to have my home model a Christ-centered, Cross-centered family, but I’m finding that more and difficult to do.  For some things, it just doesn’t come naturally.  For example, when it comes to discipline, the easy thing is to tell Micah no and discipline him.  What needs to happen next, though, is an explanation of how that was displeasing to God and disrespectful to me.

I don’t know if it is the fact that this side of my own personal ministry is much more real and immediate for me, but it seems to be much more intimidating than my pastoral ministry.  I guess I feel a sense of confidence that I have been there and done that to a certain degree with Youth Ministry and have a handle on where things are going, but everything is so different and new when it comes to parenting and spiritual training my own family.  And it seems like the impact is much more long lasting, as I’m completely responsible for how I guide my wife and son.

I’ve had general ideas of what I want to do, but life never allows plans to be simple.  Obviously I know many of the general truths of parenting and have read many books on the subject, but it is sometimes more of an art than science.  You know the truths, but applying them can take wisdom and experience.  I want Micah to learn how to pray, learn to study his Bible, grow a Biblical worldview, and see what it means to be a godly father and husband. Leah and I have been reading through “Shepherding a Child’s Heart”, though we both read it before being parents.  We’ve also begun praying in the morning and including Micah in that.  We also want to get some books for Micah to read through in the evening during our reading time before his bedtime.  Anyone with good suggestions, we’re all ears.

Then today I was blog hopping and found this Piper post.  He was asked how he spiritual guides his family.  Here is what he said.

1. We encouraged our children from the very beginning to be alone with the Lord in the morning. That can start as soon as you can prop a child up with a pillow so that he doesn’t topple over and bonk his head. You can set a tape recorder beside him with a song about “Jesus loves me, this I know” or a Bible story.

So a child can have devotions from age 1 on, as strange as that may sound, if you train him to have a little time alone to be with God. He can’t read yet, obviously, and he won’t read yet for another 4 or 5 years. But he can listen and he can enjoy that time. So we did that, and then it turned into Bible stories. Then it turned into giving them their own Bible that they could read, which went on up through teenage devotions.

2. We were at the table together every morning, and I led devotions at breakfast with the children. And if the child is little he just says “Jesus” and that’s all he says. But we used to work our way through the Global Prayer Digest so that there was a missions component. And then we read a short passage of Scripture, and I would pray. It might not take more than 5 minutes, because of the children being little.

3. Then in the evening we had family devotions, which was a little longer. We read a longer portion of Scripture, and all the children–if they were able–would pray, not just me. Noel would pray, I would pray, and each of the children would pray. And as soon as they could talk, we taught them to pray.

4. And then when we put them to bed, we tucked them in, blessed them with

The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace,
and joy, and hope, and love, and a good night’s rest,
and someday a godly husband. (Talitha will always laugh when I say this last line.)

And then I sing a song for Talitha. And then I give her a big hug. There is a very definite routine that we walk through. And there is a word component even as you tuck the child in bed at night.

That has been the routine for 31 years, basically, though I don’t want to create the impression that it is flawless or that we didn’t miss mornings or evenings. We did, but this was the goal and the routine. And pretty much we have been able to keep with it.

Hope someone might find this helpful!

Shepherd’s Conference 2007: Update 2

I’m not going to attempt to cover all of what has been taught and preached because I don’t have the time for that and you can just visit Challies.com for that. What I thought I would do is share some highlites thusfar.

Main Sessions
I have to say my favorite so far has to be CJ Mahaney’s message on Humility. For those of you who have not read his book on Humility, I would highly suggest picking it up. It’s a good read and doesn’t take long to get through. Most of what he spoke was in the book, but it it was really good to hear it preached. He spoke from the text of Isaiah 66:1-2. If you purchase one message, that’s the one to get.

The other messages were ok, Dever did well on preaching through various parts of the Daniel 1-6 and belabored the point of the opposition that pastors should expect to face. The last 10 or so minutes of his message were very powerful, as he called for the pastors to rethink their outlook on expecting to be accepted, but instead expecting growing opposition in our culture.

I was honestly a little disappointed with Mohler. He’s one of my heroes and actually spoke on one of my favorite passages, I Cor 2:1-5. It wasn’t the best I’ve heard from him. And Ligon Duncan preached from Numbers 5 as an example of how to preach from the OT. He seemed to find some things in the passage that weren’t necessarily there, though. I heard there are some interesting comments on Challies.com, so I’ll have to go check those out.

Seminars
I have actually only attended one seminar, due to homework. The one I did attend was on prayer, taught by Andy Snyder. It was a good balance of the role of prayer in the pastor’s life and then how that is carried over into the life of the church.

I was planning on going to one taught by Steve Lawson on the life of John Calvin, but the guys from my church decided to head back to the hotel for some time together. We’re buying the audio, so I’ll have to listen to it later.

BOOKS!
Well, this year they didn’t exactly give as many books, but there were a few that I’m pretty excited about. We got a couple MacArthur things. One was a NT Commentary, humorously bound to look just like a Bible. It was even given in a gold cardboard box. We thought that was pretty funny. Two other books by MacArthur were “The Second Coming” and “Because the Time is Near”, which is his reader friendly commentary on Revelation.

We also got one on I also got a book that was on my wishlist, which is a Piper book, “What Jesus Demands from the World”. I was also pleased to receive Steve Lawson’s book, “Foundations of Grace”. That came out last year, but I didn’t get around to buying it. One book that also perked my interest and will be a fun read is “Meet the Puritans” by Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson.

Other books that I do not have much of a knowledge of are “Life in the Body of Christ” (a book about the local church) by Curtis C. Thomas, “For teh Sake of His Name” (on missions) by David M. Doran, and “Assureed by God” edited by Burk Parsons. We also got a DVD by MacArthur called “Why We Believe the Bible Is True.”

As far as some books that I purchased, one I’m very interested in is “Growing Up Christian”. this is written by the principle of the school at Mahaney and Harris’ church. It is a book about kids who grow in up in the church and in Christian families. I was told it would be very useful for youth ministry.

I also bought a brand new book by Lawson, “The Expository Genius of John Calvin”. It was the first day it was available. I purchased a book on suffering by D.A. Carson (“How Long, O Lord?”) that was highly reccommended to me, as well as Piper’s new book on dealing with doubt called “Battling Unbelief”, which was taken from the book, “Future Grace”. I was also able to get “Praying Backwards: Transform Your Prayer Life by Beginning in Jesus’ Name” by Bryan Chapell. So basically, I need to get out of seminary so I can do my own reading.

Personal Experiences
Maybe the best part of this conference is the time that I’ve been able to spend with the pastors, some of the elders and other men from my church. Since Leah’s close to the end of the road, I’m not able to stay with them in their hotel, but i’ve still been here all day with them, and getting to eat and talk with them. Last year we were able to go to the “Together for the Gospel” conference in Louisville, Kentucky, which was an absolute blast.

We’ve shared quite a few laughs, as well as debating a literal six-day creation, dispensationalism, the NT use of the OT, the role of literal Israel in eschatology, as well as the mother of all debates. yes, that’s right, the most devisive debate we’ve had was our ‘Pie vs. Cake’ debate. It didn’t exactly go as I had envisioned it, and to save you the agony of putting you through the whole thing, I may have at one point yelled out “I’m surrounded by lunatics!” in the passanger van we’re cruising around in. Lets just say that I’m surrounded by very unreasonable men when it comes to their high regard for fake, dry cakes. Unfortunately, Geoff was not there at the time to get my back over pies, but the waitress at “The Cheesecake Factory” joined my side. (That also lead to the debate of whether a cheesecake is more of a pie or cake. I hold firm that despite is unfortunate name, it is more of a pie than cake.)

So, that’s all for now. I’ll write some closing comments on the week at another time.

A Christian’s Reaction to Nancy Pelosi

I’m sure that most of you who are reading this post are a little shocked over Tuesday’s elections. I think most of us expected the republicans to lose the house, but what happened was far bigger than what I expected. We had to watch Cokie Roberts try to do everything she could to contain her excitement on the evening news last night, and watch the local political reporter, Ms Bebitch (that’s seriously her name), admit she was excited and thrilled. So much for unbiased reporting.

But after I recovered from the illness inducing reporting, I began to think about how this will affect the Christian community. One of the big downsides of making Republican = christian is that when our guys don’t get the office, we feel defeated and confused. One of the worst things that could happen is for Christian’s to walk around discouraged and depressed. Was our faith in our leaders? Psalm 20 says that we are not to place our trust in powers, but in the Lord our God.

the problem with Christian’s becoming so consumed with being politically active and trying to reform the country morally is that when it doesn’t happen (which it never will) they feel failure. The real purpose, to glorify God and proclaim his name, becomes secondary. And often the possibility for our real purpose is sacrificed because politics is so divisive. That’s why I’ll never put a campaign sticker on my car. that’s why i’ll never call myself a republican. I’m a Christian, and that’s how I’ll vote. That’s why I try to make a joke of it with my fake campaign shirt for Steve Bozell “Vote for me or I’ll sue you”. Politics have become so divisive that they create a wall before the Gospel is even presented.

So what should our reaction to this all be? I have often wondered if this big movement to pray for the government will continue when socialists or democrats take over. But last time I checked, I Timothy 2:1-4 applies to whoever is in charge. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Titus 3:1: “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,”

Romans 13:1 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

I Peter 2:13-14 “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”

And I don’t think I need to go into who these people’s rulers were. Abortion may not have been a huge issue then, but burning people alive on stakes was. So this morning I will be thankful for Ms Speaker Pelosi. And i will not be discouraged because my mission is to proclaim Christ and him crucified.

The Unbelievable Power of Prayer!

I was listening to the radio late the other night and heard an ad for a prayer service that one could ‘subscribe’ to, and the description of such prayer and the provision of a website made me check it out. You should check it out, who knows, it might be what you’ve been missing in your life.