A New Birth

Everyone is born dead. Signs of life are evident—the ability to breathe, the pulse felt on our wrists, and an ever-increasing ability to understand the things of this world. Yet signs of death are lurking in the background. Death is seen in the disobedient child, in the small lies we tell each other, and in the secret thoughts of our minds. Life is lived, but not only will death tarnish every moment, it will bring life to an end. We call this death sin! Not one person is born without sin infecting them. If mankind is to truly live, then we must be born again into a new life, one where death has no hold or power. Without rebirth, we can never experience regeneration.

Death

In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he explains how sin has brought death to us all. Romans 5:12 states, “Sin came into the world through one man.” It was Adam’s breaking of God’s covenant in the Garden of Eden that brought sin into the world. Adam disobeyed God’s strictest command not to eat from a certain tree (Genesis 2:17); when tempted, he disregarded the Word of God and ate (Genesis 3:6). Paul continues in his letter, “…and death [came] through sin, and so death spread to all men.” The sin of Adam meant that mankind could no longer enjoy perfect relationship with God. Punishment was due, and death was the price to be paid. Paul notes, “One trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Romans 5:18) and “By one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Romans 5:19). Even to this day, we are born into the wickedness of Adam and must suffer the fate that every person has had to face—the punishment of death. Everyone is born dead! Dead in their sin.

Some deny that they are sinners before God. Just as Peter thought highly of himself (Matthew 26:33-35), we too fall into the trap of thinking of ourselves with high esteem. There are some who claim to be right before God, denying the presence of sin in their lives (1 John 1:8). Scripture makes clear that this denial is deception. Satan has blinded us to our own sin and set us on the path to death. Every man, woman, and child has sinned (Romans 3:23) and deserves the punishment of death (Romans 6:23). It is true that some may indeed be moral people, good people who have done no major wrongs toward others. Yet remember: sin lurks! It exists in our self-exaltation and denial of our need for Jesus. It exists in our willingness to downplay the evil in our hearts and over sell our occasional good deed. Those tempted to deny that death reigns in their mortal body are those who live in arrogance before God. As disobedience entered through Adam, so we are now all wrestling with the arrogance of disobedience. Without rebirth, we will remain languishing in our sin.

Life

In the sovereign will of God, He has provided a way for regeneration. As death entered through one man in creation, so life will be brought through one man and His redemptive power. Paul declares, “One act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (Romans 5:18). Jesus, the one who Himself is life, willingly took on death to present us with the free gift of life. Only Jesus holds the power to do so, for only Jesus was born alive without the shadow of death hanging over Him—“so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). Everyone may be born dead, but all can find life. It is not from within themselves that they will find this life, but in the person and work of Jesus Christ. To kill the sin that has infected us, we must be born again (John 3:3).

Still thinking in earthly terms, Nicodemus asks the question that many will consider at this stage—how is one born again? (John 3:4) Jesus responds, “So must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). Those dead in their sin must look to Christ on the cross and place their faith in Him. Only then will they be born into a new life, one marked by the blood of Jesus, not by the sin that once plagued them. In coming to Christ, we are washed by His blood and made completely new. Paul writes, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Faith in Jesus brings death to the old way. Notice how after the old way is gone, “behold” new life is given. The old life must be destroyed for the new life to begin. Therein lies mystery of the new birth. Paul helpfully writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). As we experience new birth, we find that our sin is dead, our sin is buried, and our sin is defeated. Now we can rise into the newness of life in Christ Jesus.

New Creation

Faith in Jesus leads us from death to life through the mystery of a new birth. You are no longer dead, but alive. You are a new creation, free to worship the Lord and to draw close to your Heavenly Father. There was once a time where death had its strangle hold on you, but not now! Now you are lifted high by the very hands of God and seated in the heavenly realms as renewed, refreshed, and regenerated. New birth through Christ Jesus brings a new stunning reality—you are a child of God. You were once born dead, but now you are born alive! So live, oh child of God! Live life to the full! Enjoy your creator and the gifts He bestows upon you. Live in the knowledge that sin is defeated. Live as one born to life!



What the Christian Does

Editor’s Note: Excerpted with permission from The Great Commission: A Sermon Collection by Charles H. Spurgeon, edited by Jason K. Allen. Copyright 2024, B&H Publishing. Available now from B&H and wherever Christian books are sold.

What the Christian Does[1]

I will take it for granted that every believer here wants to be useful. If he does not, I take leave to question whether he can be a true believer in Christ. Well, then, if you want to be really useful, here is something for you to do to that end: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

What is the way to become an efficient preacher? “Young man,” says one, “go to college.” “Young man,” says Christ, “follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men.” How is a person to be useful? “Attend a training class,” says one. Quite right, but there is a surer answer than that—Follow Jesus, and he will make you fishers of men. The great training school for Christian workers has Christ at its head, and he is at its head not only as a tutor but as a leader. We are not only to learn of him in study but to follow him in action. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

The direction is very distinct and plain, and I believe that it is exclusive so that no man can become a fisherman by any other process. This process may appear to be very simple, but assuredly it is most efficient. The Lord Jesus Christ, who knew all about fishing for men, was himself the Dictator of the rule, “Follow me, if you want to be fishers of men. If you would be useful, keep in my track.”

I understand this, first, in this sense: he separates unto Christ. These men were to leave their pursuits. They were to leave their companions. They were, in fact, to quit the world, that their one business might be, in their Master’s name, to be fishers of men. We are not all called to leave our daily business or to quit our families. That might be rather running away from the fishery than working at it in God’s name. But we are called most distinctly to come out from among the ungodly, to be separate, and not to touch the unclean thing. We cannot be fishers of men if we remain among men in the same element with them. Fish will not be fishers. The sinner will not convert the sinner. The ungodly man will not convert the ungodly man, and what is more to the point, the worldly Christian will not convert the world. If you are of the world, no doubt the world will love its own, but you cannot save the world. If you are dark and belong to the kingdom of darkness, you cannot remove the darkness. If you march with the armies of the wicked one, you cannot defeat them.

I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church. Nowadays we hear Nonconformists pleading that they may do this and they may do that— things that their Puritan forefathers would rather have died at the stake than have tolerated. They plead that they may live like worldlings, and my sad answer to them, when they crave for this liberty, is, “Do it if you dare. It may not do you much hurt, for you are so bad already. Your cravings show how rotten your hearts are. If you have a hungering after such dog’s meat, go, dogs, and eat the garbage.

Worldly amusements are fit food for mere pretenders and hypocrites. If you were God’s children you would loathe the very thought of the world’s evil joys, and your question would not be, “How far may we be like the world?” but your one cry would be, “How far can we get away from the world? How much can we come out from it?” Your temptation would be rather to become sternly severe and ultra-puritanical in your separation from sin, in such a time as this, than to ask, “How can I make myself like other men, and act as they do?”

Brothers, the use of the church in the world is that it should be like salt in the midst of putrefaction, but if the salt has lost its savor, what is the good of it? If it were possible for salt itself to putrefy, it could but be an increase and a heightening of the general putridity. The worst day the world ever saw was when the sons of God were joined with the daughters of men. Then came the flood, for the only barrier against a flood of vengeance on this world is the separation of the saint from the sinner. Your duty as a Christian is to stand fast in your own place and stand out for God, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh, resolving like one of old that, let others do as they will, as for you and your house, you will serve the Lord.

Come, you children of God, you must stand out with your Lord outside the camp. Jesus calls to you today and says, “Follow me.” Was Jesus found at the theater? Did he frequent the sports of the racecourse? Was Jesus seen, think you, in any of the amusements of the Herodian court? Not he. He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” In one sense, no one mixed with sinners so completely as he did when, like a physician, he went among them healing his patients. But in another sense there was a gulf fixed between the men of the world and the Savior that he never assayed to cross and that they could not cross to defile him. The first lesson the church has to learn is this: Follow Jesus into the separated state, and he will make you fishers of men. Unless you take up your cross and protest against an ungodly world, you cannot hope that the holy Jesus will make you fishers of men.

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[1] Published in Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 32 in 1886 by Charles Spurgeon. This is an excerpt from sermon 1906, delivered in 1886, exact date unknown.



The Missing Ingredient In Too Many Marriages: Joy

Like cupcakes that are missing sugar, there are too many Christian marriages that are missing a key ingredient. This missing ingredient in too many marriages doesn’t mean it’s not a marriage, just as a cupcake missing sugar doesn’t mean it’s not a cupcake. But neither “tastes” good.

When we realize that what is at stake is not a bad batch of baked goods, but potentially being a poor reflection of the gospel through our marriage relationship, we will do all we can to put the ingredient of joy back into our marriages. Many Christian marriages, including many ministry marriages, would be sweet again if husbands took the lead in loving their wives joyfully.

My wife is usually pretty positive with me, but one evening she looked at me and said, “Did you know you’re pretty grumpy most of the time right now?” I was knocked a little off-kilter. She knew that things had been stressful at church recently. She had been supportive and prayerful with me. But after I stopped defending myself in my mind and started to think about what she had the courage to point out, I asked her more about it and realized that she was right. I was getting so consumed with trying to stay on top of pastoral ministry, while dealing with multiple fronts during a difficult season in our church, that it was negatively affecting my parenting—and our marriage.

I had to ask for forgiveness, and start to make changes. Nothing was immediate, but through choice by choice, joy began to seep back into our marriage and family. As I evaluated what happened, I realized that in trying to be Jesus for my church, I had not loved my wife like Jesus loves the church. Ephesians 5:25 is loud and clear on our calling: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…”

One specific way that Christ loved the church, a way that God calls us to echo his love in our marriages, is that Jesus loved the church joyfully. He loves to love us. Do we love to love our wives?

Jesus doesn’t just put up with the church. He receives joy by giving us joy (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus doesn’t grudgingly love but persistently loves the church. He joyfully and persistently loves us. Jesus’s love doesn’t change based on how we are doing in our relationship with him any given day.

When wives are loved this deeply, knowing that their husbands love to love them, there is a security in marriage that develops and strengthens over years. This security frees a wife to be an even greater blessing to others. Also, when we love our wives so joyfully that it’s obvious to her and others, there is a sweetness that develops. When a pastor and wife exude this sweetness to their church and others through the genuine joy in their marriage, their marriage “smells” like the gospel. A joyful marriage covenant points to the New Covenant.

Here are four ways to cultivate more consistent joy in your marriage as you strive to reflect Christ in the love you have for your wife.

1) Spend intentional time together

Jesus delights to be with his bride. Yet, I am shocked at how quickly I can coast in marriage. The demands of ministry, bills, raising children, home repair, and just making it through each day can mean that I look up and we haven’t had enough intentional time together. We have found that a weekly date night is unrealistic in this season of five kids including toddlers to teenagers. But we can still purposefully set aside one night or more a week to cuddle on the couch together while we watch a movie or talk. And we can still intentionally carve out times that we do go out together without kids, both for a few hours and occasionally for a few days. Are you as intentional to spend time with your wife as you are to follow up on shepherding issues at church?

2) Talk about what God is teaching you

Joy ultimately comes from Jesus (Luke 2:10, Matthew 28:8, 1 Peter 1:8, 1 John 1:4). When you are both investing personally in your relationship with Jesus, true joy will begin to seep into your marriage. I have found that when we talk about what God is teaching us, whether spontaneously or as an intentional question, it not only encourages each other’s walks with the Lord, but it also begins to spill over into our marriage relationship. Pastors, God is teaching you in the Word every week. Share some of that with your wife not as an additional sermon, but out of the joy of knowing Jesus.

3) Act like Jesus is King

One of the greatest pieces of advice I have ever heard from another pastor is to talk about church matters as appropriate or needed with your wife for just a little bit when you get home. Then pray together about it before moving on with the evening if there’s a pressing issue, but act like Jesus is king. It is easy to bring things up again and just go around and around about ministry. That is ok to a degree if it is helping you to serve others together, but at some point you need to have discussions that are not ministry related, especially if the issues are stressful. Give it to Jesus, and let it go for the evening (Matthew 6:34).

4) Serve together in some way

Serving as a pastor does not mean that I am automatically serving Jesus together with my wife. It can be okay to serve in different areas of the church or family life depending on season of life and giftedness. After all, she is not a pastor because she is married to you. But I have found that it has been helpful to do some sort of ministry purposefully together. For us it has looked as varied as visitation, foster care, planning an outreach together, or both being on the worship team together. Serving together purposefully can bring joy to your marriage, reminding both of you that God brought you together to glorify him.

Brothers, does your wife not only know that you love her, but know that you love to love her, as your Savior does? The marriage of A.W. Tozer leaves us with a somber warning. In his book I Still Do, Dave Harvey recounts: “Tozer was a spiritual giant—a man of spectacular faith, incredible insight, and compelling godliness. But Tozer neglected his wife, Ada, and their family in some pretty stunning ways…After Tozer’s death, Ada remarried a man named Leonard Odam. Dorsett [Tozer’s biographer] writes of a poignant moment when Ada was asked to describe her life with her new husband. ‘I have never been happier in my life,’ Ada observed. ‘Aiden [Tozer] loved Jesus Christ, but Leonard Odam loves me.’”[1]

Brothers, we can love both Jesus and our wives well. We are called to love both. A marriage that “smells” like the gospel will have one often-overlooked ingredient: joy.

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[1] Dave Harvey, I Still Do (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020), p. 193.



Unstoppable: Fuel for Service from Isaiah 40

My wife, Tracy, and I had spent all day on a bus. We had just arrived in a rural town; we stepped off the bus into the pitch black; we weren’t completely sure which way we should be walking. But we could hear it.

We didn’t know which direction the sound was coming from. We didn’t know how far away it was. We didn’t know its precise location. But we could hear it; we knew it was there.

We were visiting Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

The word awesome is overused, but seeing the Falls in person is awesome. Victoria Falls is powerful, majestic, and impressive. It is just over a mile wide, more than 100 meters tall, and at least a million liters of water pour over the falls every second. Victoria Falls is awesome.

Now, imagine standing at the bottom of Vic Falls, looking up at the million liters of water falling 100 meters for a whole mile every second. As you stand there looking up at this, someone whispers in your ear, “Try and stop it. Go ahead—try and stop all that water flowing over the falls.”

It would be impossible.

Likewise, with our God. It is impossible to stop Him. This waterfall in southern Africa is only one of the many things that the One True God spoke into existence. This God is truly awesome.

Isaiah 40

The majesty and power of our God is beautifully presented in Isaiah’s words from Isaiah 40:10–31. Isaiah, mingling comfort and warning, begins with, “Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him” (41:10). This is God’s Word to each of us. His awe and majesty bring reward and recompense. This is why we need to be reminded of our awesome God who is tender in His care.

There’s nothing more important for us to remember than God’s incomparable majesty for the good of His people. Isaiah communicates this in a most compelling fashion in 40:10–31.

Awesome in Power

First, our awesome God is just that, awesome. Nothing is beyond His control. Only God’s purposes and plans will ultimately prevail. He is the One who spread out the skies and brings the princes of earth to nothing (vv. 21–23). He is the One who made, named, and numbered all the stars—keeping them in place by His might (vv. 25–26). If He can do that, He can sustain us in whatever we face. God is unstoppable. Satan cannot stop God. Sin cannot stop God. You cannot stop God. I cannot stop God. He is awesome in His power.

Tender in Care

Second, our awesome God is tender in His care. Despite the unmatched power that God possesses, in 40:11 Isaiah makes it clear that this awesome God is tender in His care. He tends his flock; He gathers, carries, and gently leads His people. At the end of the passage in 40:29–31, it is made clear that this awesome God strengthens those who wait on Him. The One True God could crush us, but instead He comforts us. In all the stresses, strains, and struggles of life, never forget the omnipotent God is tender in His care.

Relentless

Third, our awesome God is relentless. Throughout this chapter, God questions His people. Many of these questions point to God’s unrivaled power: Who else has held the waters of the earth in their hand? (v. 12) Who else has measured the starry skies with the span of their hand? (v. 12) Who else knows all things?  (vv. 13–14; cf. 25, 27, 28). The most pointed question is asked twice: To whom will you compare this God? (vv. 18, 21). These rhetorical questions are intended to back us into a corner. He relentlessly pursues Isaiah’s reader with a series of questions which underscore how unstoppable this awesome God truly is. Of course we know, of course we’ve heard—there is none like our God.

Conclusion

Commenting on this section of Isaiah, Geoffrey Grogan (Isaiah, EBC, p. 723) notes, “The incomparable majesty of God set forth in [here]…will give strength to his frail people.” Considering God’s power and care, we cannot remain unmoved and inactive. Just as Paul urges those who desire to serve as deacons in 1 Timothy 3:10, I urge you—as I urge myself—to prove yourselves blameless. The reality that our God is unstoppable should fuel our service for Him and His glory. We must and we can strive on in service confident that nothing can stop our God—He is relentless, unstoppable.



Preach, Preach, Preach Everywhere

Editor’s Note: Excerpted with permission from Preaching: A Sermon Collection by Charles H. Spurgeon, edited by Jason K. Allen. Copyright 2024, B&H Publishing. Available now from B&H and wherever Christian books are sold.

Preach, Preach, Preach Everywhere[1]

“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” (Mark 16:15–16)

Before our Lord gave his disciples this commission, he addressed them in tones of serious rebuke. You will observe that, appearing unto the eleven as they sat at dinner, “he upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart because, they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.” So honorable an estimation did he set upon testimony; so marked a censure did he pronounce upon those who neglected it. The reprimand they received on such an occasion may well serve as a caution to us, for unbelief unfits the Christian for service. It is in proportion to our personal faith in the gospel that we become competent witnesses for teaching it to others. Each one of us who would get credit for sincerity must say with David, “I believed, therefore have I spoken,” or else a want of faith of ourselves will effectually deprive our speech of all its power over our fellow men.

There can be little doubt that one reason why Christianity is not so aggressive now as it once was, and exerts not everywhere the influence it had in apostolic times, is the feebleness of our faith in Christ as compared with the full assurance of faith exercised by the men of those days. In vain you hide a timid heart behind a modest face when the attitude we should show and the living force that should constrain us is a bold reliance upon the power of the Holy Spirit and a deep conviction of the might of the truth which we are taught to deliver. Brothers, if there is to be a revival of religion, it must begin at home. Our own souls must first of all be filled with holy faith and burning enthusiasm, and then shall we be strong to do exploits and to win provinces for the scepter of King Jesus.

Having thus made a note upon the context, I want you to refer to a parallel passage in Matthew. There we learn that in delivering this commission our Lord assigned a remarkable reason for it, and one that intimately concerned himself. “All power,” he said, “is given unto me in heaven and in earth, go you therefore and teach all nations” These words were adapted to strengthen the faith of his disciples, of whom it had been just observed that “some doubted.” Do you not see the point of this announcement? Jesus of Nazareth, being raised from the dead, tells his apostles that he is now invested with universal supremacy as the Son of Man. Therefore he issues a decree of grace, calling on all people of every clime and kindred to believe the gospel with a promise of personal salvation to each and every one who believes. With such authority is this mandate clothed, and so imperative the duty of all men everywhere to repent, that they who do not believe are threatened with a certain penalty of damnation. This royal ordinance he will have published throughout the whole world, but he enjoins it on all the messengers that those who bear the tidings should be thoroughly impressed with the sovereignty of him who sends them. Let the words then ring in your ears, “Go ye therefore.” They sound like the music of that glad acclaim that hails the Redeemer installed with power, holding the insignia of power in his possession, exercising the full rights of legitimate power, and entrusting his disciples with a commission founded on that power, “Go ye into all the world.”

Yet another remark before we proceed to the text. The commission we are about to deal with was the last the Lord gave to his disciples before he was taken away from them. We prize greatly the last words of his departing servants, how shall we sufficiently value the parting words of our ascending Master? Injunctions left us by those who have gone to glory have great weight upon our spirits; let obedient lovers of Christ see to it that they act according to the last will and testament, the last desire expressed by their risen Lord.

I claim for my text peculiar attention from every disciple of Jesus, not indeed as if it were a mournful entreaty but rather as a solemn charge. You remember Christ’s own parable, “The kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.”[2] Look at this as the last direction Jesus gives to his stewards before “he went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.” It seems to me that as when the mantle of Elijah fell upon Elisha, Elisha would have been much to blame if he had not caught it up, so when these words fell from our ascending Savior before the clouds concealed him from the disciples’ sight, we ought to take them up with holy reverence. Since he has left them as his parting mantle, they ought to be lovingly cherished and scrupulously obeyed.

Come we, then, to invite your earnest heed to the command the Savior here gives: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”[3] It was given to the apostles representatively. They represent the whole body of the faithful. To every converted man and woman this commission is given. I grant you there is a specialty to those gifted and called to surrender themselves wholly to the work of the ministry, but their office in the visible church offers no excuse for the discharge of those functions that pertain to every member of the body of Christ in particular. It is the universal command of Christ to every believer: “Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”

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[1] Published in Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 15 in 1869 by Charles Spurgeon. This is an excerpt from sermon 900, delivered in 1869, exact date unknown.

[2] Matthew 25:14.

[3] Mark 16:15.



Prayer and Evangelism Reinforce One Another

Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is by Joe M. Allen III, published with permission from Before You Go: Wisdom From 10 Men on Serving Internationally, edited by Matthew Bennett and Joshua Bowman. Copyright 2024, B&H Publishing. Available now from B&H and wherever Christian books are sold.

Prayer and evangelism go together like chocolate and peanut butter. The two practices mutually reinforce one another and enhance the other spiritual disciplines. The dynamic happens like this: the more you pray, the more you attune your heart to God’s heart, and specifically, God’s heart for the lost. The more you seek to evangelize, the more you sense your need for the Holy Spirit’s divine enablement and long for his intervention. Prayer should lead to gospel proclamation, and gospel proclamation should intensify your prayers.

The irony is that prayer is often a solitary activity that appeals to introverts, while evangelism is a social activity that appeals to extroverts. Regardless of your personality, maintaining a close interrelationship between prayer and evangelism will push you out of your comfort zone and force you to grow. When you join prayer and evangelism, watch out! Something special is about to happen.

Jesus links prayer and evangelism in Luke 10:2 when he says, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.” Jesus instructs his disciples to pray for harvesters and then, in a surprising twist, he sends them to be the answer to their own prayers! The same thing might happen to you, so when you pray, be ready to obey.

A verse that I find myself returning to time and again when I think about prayer and evangelism is Romans 10:1. Here, we get a glimpse of Paul’s heart, which proves instructive for us. He writes: “my heart’s desire and prayer to God concerning them is for their salvation.” As we consider the importance of prayer and evangelism in the life of a missionary, let me make three observations about this verse.

First, Paul cared deeply. His desire was not a shallow, fleeting desire, but a core longing that sprang from the center of his being. If you do not feel deep compassion for the lost, go back and review the gospel. Consider afresh the glory of the One who calls you into fellowship with him. Meditate on the majesty of God as revealed in Scripture. Think about the sacrifice of Jesus and the depth of the love that bought your salvation. Contemplate the joys of heaven and the horrors of hell until your heart is stirred for others to know the gospel. Feed your godly desires so you can say with Paul, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God concerning them is for their salvation.”

Second, Paul prayed fervently. The people of Israel had rejected Jesus as their Messiah, but Paul remained hopeful that they might be saved. Paul did not give up on them, and he did not leave his heart’s desire unexpressed; he acted. That action first took the form of prayer. We must do the same. Do not bottle up your desire; let it bubble up and overflow in prayer. Give expression to your desire through intercession.

Third, Paul prayed specifically. He did not pray ambiguous prayers for some amorphous spiritual blessing. Instead, he prayed for their salvation. Elsewhere, Paul prayed for boldness (Eph. 6:18–20), for opportunity (Col. 4:2–4), and that the Word of the Lord would spread rapidly and be glorified (2 Thess. 3:1). A couple of years ago, I realized that if I only make vague or general requests with lots of qualifications and caveats, then I would never be able to tell if God had answered. So let me encourage you to pray such focused prayers for the salvation of souls so that you can recognize God’s answers and rejoice.



Spurgeon’s Love of Poetry: An Excerpt from Christ Our All

Editor’s Note: This article is taken from Christ Our All: Poems for the Christian Pilgrim and used by permission of B&H Academic. The book is now available everywhere Christian books are sold.

Spurgeon’s love of hymns began at a young age. Once, during a summer holiday, his grandmother offered him a penny for each Watts hymn he memorized. With his gifted mind, young Spurgeon memorized so many that his grandmother soon had to change her offer or risk financial ruin! The money earned was eventually spent, but his love of hymns remained with him for the rest of his life, becoming a part of his theological vocabulary. “No matter on what topic I am preaching,” he wrote, “I can even now, in the middle of any sermon, quote some verse of a hymn in harmony with the subject.”[1] As Spurgeon grew in his knowledge of hymns, his sermons would come to include not only Watts, but Toplady, Cowper, Wesley, and many other great hymn-writers of the Christian faith.

As the pastor of a church, Spurgeon sought to pass on his love of hymns to his congregants. In addition to preaching, he planned the liturgy for the gatherings of the church, including the selection of hymns. When he first arrived, there were two hymnbooks in the pews, one by Watts and the other by John Rippon. But watching people fumble with multiple books convinced Spurgeon that something had to change. So, in 1866, he compiled and published Our Own Hymn-Book, containing 1,130 psalms and hymns. As reflected in the title, Spurgeon’s concern was the church. This was not Spurgeon’s hymnbook; this was the church’s hymnbook. One of his top priorities was to pull together psalms and hymns that reflected the church’s doctrinal convictions. After all, Spurgeon understood that a church’s hymnbook was often the only book of theology most church members would ever read.

But even while Our Own Hymn-Book reflected Spurgeon’s Reformed and Baptist traditions, he also sought to introduce a wide variety of traditions, pulling together hymns from all of church history. He wrote:

The area of our researches has been as wide as the bounds of existing religious literature, American and British, Protestant and Romish; ancient and modern. Whatever may be thought of our taste we have used it without prejudice; and a good hymn has not been rejected because of the character of its author, or the heresies of the church in whose hymnal it first occurred; so long as the language and the spirit commended the hymn to our heart we included it, and believe that we have enriched our collection thereby.[2]

Thus, we see in Spurgeon’s collection of hymnbooks a wide variety of hymn writers: Scottish Presbyterians, English Baptists and Methodists, German Lutherans, Anglicans, medieval Catholics, and other nationalities and church traditions, ranging from the nineteenth century all the way back to the medieval and early church. From all these psalms and hymns, Spurgeon sought to bring out the ones that best reflected the historic faith of the apostles and the church’s doctrinal convictions. In his day, Our Own Hymn-Book was recognized as an achievement in Christian hymnody.[3]

But Spurgeon’s love of poetry extended beyond hymns. His library reveals that Spurgeon enjoyed just about every kind of poetry: ancient poetry, poems about nature, love poems, children’s rhymes, and many others. Most of all, however, Spurgeon loved poems about God and the Christian life. Preaching in 1855, Spurgeon declared, “Much as I respect the genius of Pope, or Dryden, or Burns, give me the simple lines of Cowper, that God has owned in bringing souls to Him.”[4] William Cowper was indeed one of Spurgeon’s favorite poets. He usually included Cowper’s famous hymn whenever he signed autograph albums, “E’er since by faith I saw the stream . . .”[5] Fittingly, these lines are etched on his tombstone.

Another poet he loved was John Bunyan. Throughout his life, he read, “at least a hundred times,” The Pilgrim’s Progress, “that sweetest of all prose poems,” which shaped his vision for the Christian life.[6] What he loved most about it was simply how much Bible was in it.[7] Bunyan brought together Spurgeon’s love of Scripture with his love of poetry.

Yet another of his favorite poets was George Herbert. Herbert was a source of refreshment for Spurgeon, especially after a long day of ministry.[8] His wife, Susannah, recounted:

It is the Sabbath, and the day’s work is done. The dear preacher has had a light repast, and now rests in his easy chair by a bright fire, while, on a low cushion at his feet, sits his wife, eager to minister in some way to her beloved’s comfort. “Shall I read to you to-night, dear?” she says; for the excitement and labor of the Sabbath services sorely try him, and his mind needs some calm and soothing influence to set it at rest. “Will you have a page or two of good George Herbert?” “Yes, that will be very refreshing, wifey; I shall like that.” So the book is procured, and he chooses a portion which I read slowly and with many pauses, that he may interpret to me the sweet mysteries hidden within the gracious words. Perhaps his enjoyment of the book is all the greater that he has thus to explain and open out to me the precious truths enwrapped in Herbert’s quaint verse;—anyhow, the time is delightfully spent. I read on and on for an hour or more, till the peace of Heaven flows into our souls, and the tired servant of the King of kings loses his sense of fatigue, and rejoices after his toil.[9]

For Spurgeon, poetry was about more than just entertainment. It gave him the perspective of a Christian pilgrim. It provided spiritual nourishment for his tired soul. And it strengthened him with a renewed joy in God for the week ahead.

Thou Art My All (by C. H. Spurgeon)

Dear Lord, in thee I view my all,
And lovely is thy name.
For though on earth I slip or fall,
Thy love remains the same.

Each day reminds me I am weak
To stand against my foes;
And, but that I thy help may seek,
I’d fall beneath my woes.

But thou hast said my strength shall be
According to my day.
Thy promise has been kept to me,
And still will be I pray.

For what are we if left to roam
In life’s deceitful way?
Yet farther off, not nearer home,
Our feet are prone to stray.

Then never have us Lord to tread
This world without a guide.
And never let the tempter lead
Thine erring sheep aside.

“I will not leave, nor yet forsake
My people here below;
Until in glory they shall wake
And purer regions know.”

For further reflection: Deuteronomy 33:25–27

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[1] Autobiography 1:43–44.

[2] OOH, vi–vii.

[3] For an appreciative nineteenth-century analysis of Spurgeon’s contribution to Christian hymnody, see Josiah Miller, Singers and Songs of the Church: Being Biographical Sketches of the Hymn-Writers in All the Principal Collections: with Notes on their Psalms and Hymns (London: Longmans, Green, 1869), 580–81.

[4] NPSP 1:344.

[5] Hayden, Highlights, 101.

[6] MTP 45:495.

[7] “Next to the Bible, the book I value most is John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ I believe I have read it through at least a hundred times. It is a volume of which I never seem to tire; and the secret of its freshness is that it is so largely compiled from the Scriptures. It is really Biblical teaching put into the form of a simple yet very striking allegory.” C. H. Spurgeon, Pictures from Pilgrim’s Progress: A Commentary on Portions of John Bunyan’s Immortal Allegory with Prefatory Notes by Thomas Spurgeon (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1992), 11.

[8] “Frequently, when I return home from chapel on the Sabbath evening, I get down George Herbert’s book of songs; and when I see how much he loved the Lord, it seems to me as if he had struck upon his harp the very notes that he had heard in Paradise, and sung them all again.” MTP 46:106.

[9] Autobiography 2:185–86.



To See Thy Face, Immanuel

Editor’s Note: The following poems were written by Charles Spurgeon and compiled by Geoffrey Chang in Christ Our All: Poems for the Christian Pilgrim . They are reproduced here by permission of B&H Academic. The book releases May 15 and is available to preorder now.

 

The One Request[1]

Cambridge / Waterbeach, June 1853

If to my God I now may speak,
And make one short request;
If but one favor I might seek
Which I esteem the best, —

I would not choose this earth’s poor wealth;
How soon it melts away!
I would not seek continued health;
A mortal must decay.

I would not crave a mighty name;
Fame is but empty breath.
Nor would I urge a royal claim;
For monarchs bow to death.

I would not beg for sinful sweets;
Such pleasures end in pain.
Nor should I ask fair learning’s seats;
Love absent, these are vain.

My God, my heart would choose with joy,
Thy grace, Thy love, to share;
This is the sweet which cannot cloy,
And this my portion fair.

For further reflection: Psalm 16:5–8

 

Immanuel[2]

Cambridge / Waterbeach, June 1853

When once I mourned a load of sin,
When conscience felt a wound within,
When all my works were thrown away,
When on my knees I knelt to pray,
Then, blissful hour, remembered well,
I learned Thy love, Immanuel!

When storms of sorrow toss my soul,
When waves of care around me roll,
When comforts sink, when joys shall flee,
When hopeless gulfs shall gape for me,
One word the tempest’s rage shall quell,
That word, Thy name, Immanuel!

When for the truth I suffer shame,
When foes pour scandal on my name,
When cruel taunts and jeers abound,
When “bulls of Bashan” gird me round,
Secure within my tower I’ll dwell,
That tower, Thy grace, Immanuel!

When hell, enraged, lifts up her roar,
When Satan stops my path before,
When fiends rejoice, and wait my end,
When legion’d hosts their arrows send,
Fear not, my soul, but hurl at hell
Thy battle-cry, Immanuel!

When down the hill of life I go,
When o’er my feet death’s waters flow,
When in the deep’ning flood I sink,
When friends stand weeping on the brink,
I’ll mingle with my last farewell,
Thy lovely name, Immanuel!

When tears are banished from mine eye,
When fairer worlds than these are nigh,
When Heaven shall fill my ravish’d sight,
When I shall bathe in sweet delight,
One joy all joys shall far excel,
To see Thy face, Immanuel!

For further reflection: Matthew 1:21–23

 

[1] Autobiography 1:293.

[2] Autobiography 1:294; SOOH 13.



Getting to the Glory: An Excerpt from The Storied Life

The sportswriter Red Smith was once asked if writing a daily column was difficult.

“Why, no,” Smith replied. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”[1]

Admittedly, Smith’s observation is a little overwrought. But only a little.

There is a way to write that costs the writer very little. And then there are Writers. There is a contemplation of the art and an undertaking of the craft that engages all we are and all we have, as if the ink on our page is drawn from our very blood.

Maybe you’re not sure which one you are. Are you a writer or a Writer? It’s okay. You don’t have to know just yet. Both Writers and “people who write” can create work that impacts readers in profound ways.

Writers write. That is the bottom line. There is no getting around it. It is a nonnegotiable truth. You don’t need to be particularly good at writing to be a writer. You don’t have to be published to be a writer. You don’t even have to be read to be a writer. But you must write. By definition, writers write.

Wanting to write is not being a writer. Thinking about writing is an important part of being a writer, but it isn’t by itself being a writer. Fancying yourself a writer is not being one.

Writers often hear wannabe writers say, “I want to write someday,” but actual writers don’t say such things. They’ve been writing.

Writers don’t ask for permission. They don’t wait for the perfect moment. They feel the inexorable draw to create coming from the inside; it’s something they just do, something they are. Nobody has to assign them the task. They usually don’t need anyone to give them an idea.

Someone once said, “I don’t know what I think about a thing until I write about it.” That is the sort of thing only a writer would say. Writers cannot conceive of their place in this world apart from processing it through the written word. Putting the stuff on paper or a screen makes it more real. Modern society possesses a pronounced shortage of people who will admit to not knowing things, but among those whose pride will not forbid them this confession are the ones who make up their minds about a thing after reading about it. Writers do that too. But only writers understand the concept of writing to understand.

Writers understand writing as a way of being.

If you just consider yourself “someone who writes,” all this talk of costliness and bleeding onto the page might be making you a little queasy. I do apologize. And I promise there’s not a whole lot of gore in the rest of the book.

For all you Writers, though—this introduction is especially for you. It’s for those of you who make reading introductions a habit because you suspect every bit of a book matters. After all, it all matters when you write.

I bring to this project a spirit kindred with yours. I love the whole writing process out of all proportion. I love the finished project, of course. Everybody loves that. But I also love the first bit of noodling around on a page, typing and typing and backspacing and backspacing. I love the part when I’ve been writing for a while and suddenly something unlocks and, lo!, a rushing wind, a tongue of fire, unction!, and the words are now carrying me rather than the other way around. I love moving chunks around, scratching out lines, cutting, pasting, turning a series of disjointed what’s-its into a smooth pastiche without the seams. Finding le mot juste? I adore.

What I’m trying to say is that if you love to write, feel called to write, or cannot not write, this book is for you. If you wonder sometimes if any of it is worth it, if you wonder if there’s such a thing as a “call to write,” if you get frustrated that the work won’t flow like you want it to—this book is for you too.

I see writing as more than an opportunity to communicate creatively. Creative writing is in fact a reflection of the creative meaning of the universe, a direct derivation from the Creator himself. He has made everything with words and has given even of himself as the Word. This isn’t some piddling around kind of stuff.

I don’t care if you write novels or a recipe blog, theological essays or personal letters, book-length devotionals or thirty-minute sermons. Your writing is divinely gifted, eternally scaled, and gloriously weighted. I’m going to spend this book convincing you of that fact.

Together we’ll remind each other that God is telling an important story about himself in the world. To do that, he tells important stories with our own lives. And getting to the glory of the former means getting in touch with the glory of the latter. I’ll tell you a little bit about how my own journey has helped me see my ordinary life as a storied life, a succession of days (the number unknown to me) full of wonder and insight, despite the pain and ignorance, because of the way they are driven and shaped by the glorious gospel.

Oh, sure, to get to the glory, you have to go through the chaos. We’ll talk about that too. If you’re a writer, you already know you can’t write much of anything worth much of anything without getting a little banged up, maybe a little bloody.

But we know what our Lord does with blood.

 

[1] The line is often attributed to the likes of Ernest Hemingway or Thomas Wolfe—I’ve even seen it attributed to Ray Bradbury—and while its origin is in some dispute, it most likely derives from an anecdote related to Smith, whom, it so happens, Hemingway regularly read. See Garson O’Toole, “Writing Is Easy; You Just Open a Vein and Bleed,” Quote Investigator, September 14, 2011, https://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/09/14/writing-bleed/.

__________

Editor’s Note: Taken from The Storied Life: Christian Writing as Art and Worship by Jared C. Wilson. Copyright © 2024 by Jared C. Wilson. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.harpercollinschristian.com

The Storied Life is now available wherever Christian books are sold.



Am I Out of Asks?

“Thank you, Lord,” I uttered when I got off the phone with my doctor. A few months before I had been diagnosed with melanoma, and a few days after the surgery, I received the welcomed news that the cancer had not spread. The Lord kindly answered my prayer.

Several weeks later I sat on our couch praising God for answering yet another specific prayer in the way we had hoped. I then moved on to pray about an additional weighty matter, but I stopped.

My sin and skepticism got the best of me, and I thought, Am I out of asks? “Oh, but God,” I muttered, “Please hear this one.” I have experienced the Lord not answering my prayer in the way I hoped, so fear unexpectedly gripped my heart as I prayed, pleaded, doubted, and as I wondered whether I had used up my asks of God.

But this is not the way our Father works. Every area of our existence is tainted by sin so that even our prayer life is replete with our brokenness. But a careful look at others in the Bible who pleaded with God reveals for us the character of God which shapes the way we ask of him.

Through Moses: Prayer Reveals God’s Relationship with His Children

Moses prays to God throughout the book of Exodus, and it is remarkable how dialogical his prayers are. They reveal a deep relationship between Moses and his Creator. On many occasions, Moses is invited into a conversation with God, and his dialogue with him, while often sequential, is also very relational. He prays, he asks, but in doing so, he desires to know more about God. He says in Exodus 33:13, “please show me now your ways.”

There is an intimacy to his ask, and God answers his request in the next verse: “My presence will go with you” (33:14). In essence, Moses asks of God, Please let me in on your plans to experience your presence! And God answers, I will always be with you, Moses.

When we ask of God, our prayers do not function like a business transaction. Rather, when we come to the Lord with requests, we are leaning into the relationship that God desires to have with his children. He wants you to ask of him boldly and frequently because doing so strengthens your relationship with him.

God hears, he answers in his timing and according to his perfect will, and the more we talk to him, the more we understand that prayer is not just about getting what we want. Prayer is a dialogue that causes us to abide in our Savior and connect to him so much so that all he is pours out in and through us.

Through David: Prayer Reveals God’s Mercy with His Children

The way David honestly pours out his heart to God throughout the Psalms is an encouragement for believers in Jesus. His prayers express anger (Ps. 10), doubt (Ps. 13), and sometimes deep, deep sadness (Ps. 88). What is remarkable is God’s never-ending mercy and gentleness with David. Even as an adulterer and murderer, David is treated by God with kindness and patience as God inclines his ear and draws near to a man whose emotions run the gamut. What’s beautiful is that David acknowledges in Psalm 18:35 that it is the gentleness of God that has made him great. He knows the depth and significance of his Savior’s mercy through his many failings, and not only is he grateful for it, but he has learned from it.

We do not ask of a God who is harsh and volatile. The perception of God as a violent storm ready to consume those who ask too much of him is not what the Bible teaches us about his character. He is just and holy (Deut. 32:4; 1 Sam. 2:2) and deserving of our reverence, but he is also gentle and merciful, willing and wanting to carry our greatest burdens (Ps. 55:22). Mercy and justice mingle necessarily; his mercy toward his children springs forth from his justice, and we see this throughout David’s prayers in the Psalms.

Ask of your Father with honesty, child of God. He already knows the deepest longings of your heart, so there is no need to fear openness before him. Our Father is patient and merciful as we learn through our doubts and uncertainties of his matchless mercy and grace.

Through Paul: Prayer Reveals God’s Perfect Sovereignty

Paul had a thorn in his flesh, something that regularly caused him grief. I have a thorn in my flesh, an area of weakness which I regularly ask God to take away. I imagine most believers empathize with the constant, dull pangs from these thorns that we wish we could be entirely freed from.

Paul pleads with God for the thorn to be removed (2 Cor. 12:8), and you can almost sense the emotional exhaustion from his prayer. We don’t know what exactly his thorn is, but we do know that he asks for it to be taken away persistently and honestly. But God does not remove it.

Instead, he answers Paul’s ask with these words: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Paul sees one way forward in his ministry, and that is the removal of this thing that causes him distress. But God sees a greater way forward. He leaves the thorn and lavishes on Paul his grace. Interestingly, the Apostle does not lament this; instead, he rejoices because God takes him to a place of miraculous strength and power that he would not have experienced otherwise.

There are times when God’s answer to our ask is not what we hoped for. But there is no need to fear this outcome because our Father consistently answers better than we ask. We are not the author of stories, nor should we want to be. The heart of God is such that he answers us in ways that are more stunning than we could ever imagine (Eph. 3:20). We can trust this will be the case with every prayer uttered to our Father. Ask of him. You can never ask too much, nor can you ask too many times. Your Father loves to answer your prayers with his unconditional love and incomparable glory. As his child, you are never out of asks.