Books

Why Study God?

Next week, we will be wrapping up our Youth Ministry Large Group sermon series in the Book of Exodus with a sermon on chapter 34 which is primarily about the attributes of God. In preparation for this sermon, I was reminded of one of the best books on the subject of the attributes of God. In J.I. Packer’s Knowing God, one is confronted with a God who is far beyond all eyes can see and minds can imagine. Packer has sold millions of copies of this book and for good reason. There are few books that explore the depths of the God of the Bible with so much simplicity. Packer begins his most famous book Knowing God with one of the best openings of any book ever although the opening is not his own words but rather someone else’s. Here is how the book begins:

[Packer begins] On January 7, 1855, the minister of New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, England, opened his morning sermon as follows:

“It has been said by someone that ‘the proper study of mankind is man.’ I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.

“There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, ‘Behold I am wise.’ But when we come to this master science, finding that our plumbline cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass’s colt; and with solemn exclamation, ‘I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.’ No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God….

“But while the subject humbles the mind, it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe….The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity.

“And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatory. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in its immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead. It is to that subject that I invite you this morning.”

[Packer’s begins again] These words, spoken over a century ago by C.H. Spurgeon (at that time, incredibly, only twenty years old) were true then, and they are true now. They make a fitting preface to a series of studies on the nature and character of God.

Oh, may God raise up more Packers and Spurgeons who know a God like this and proclaim a God like this!

20 Quotes on Corporate Prayer

The following is an excerpt from an article that was originally posted by The Gospel Coalition featuring 20 quotes from John Onwuchekwa's new book Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church (Crossway, 2018). The reason why I wanted to repost this is not merely to recommend what seems to be a resource that would be worth our time but also to inspire us with these quotes. As you read these, you might be struck with many thoughts about your prayer life as an individual and own prayer life as a corporate body. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was in a seminary class on Ecclesiology. The professor was pointing out to us some of the earliest mentions of the Church in the Bible. He took us Genesis 4:26 where it says, "At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD." He then said something like this (which I am paraphrasing to the best of my ability), "What makes the Church the Church? It is a corporate body of people who pray or call out to God. When we withhold prayer from God we withhold worship from God." Essentially, what he was saying is what Onwuchekwa will expound on in a greater form  in his book. So as we read these quotes, here are some of my own questions for us to reflect on:

  1. Do we pray (not do we just say our prayers)?

  2. What does it look like to have a life of prayer with our family and church family?

  3. If I did not pray for a week, would anything change about me?

  4. If we as Pear Orchard did not pray for a month, would there be any difference?

  5. Do we pray only or mainly for physical needs or do we pray for the ability to live the Christian life, conversion of unbelievers, protection against temptation, deliverance from sin, or anything that involves the spiritual aspect of life?

Here are 20 quotes from John Onwuchekwa:

“Of all the books that have been written on prayer, this one has a very specific purpose: examining how prayer shapes the life of the church. So much has been written about prayer as an individual discipline. Not much has been written about prayer as a necessary and communal activity that shapes local churches, either by its presence or absence (though Megan Hill’s Praying Together is helpful [Crossway, 2016]).” (15)

“It’s so much easier to read about prayer than to actually pray.” (16)

“Prayer is oxygen for the Christian. It sustains us. So it follows that prayer must be a source of life for any community of Christians. It is to the church what it is to individuals—breathing. Yet many of our gatherings could be likened to people coming together merely to hold their collective breath. This would explain why people seem to have so little energy for actually living out the Christian life.” (23)

“Prayer was never meant to be a merely personal exercise with personal benefits, but a discipline that reminds us how we’re personally responsible for others. This means that every time we pray, we should actively reject an individualistic mindset. We’re not just individuals in relationship with God, but we are part of a community of people who have the same access to God. Prayer is a collective exercise.” (41)

“This prayer for God’s presence to be seen and enjoyed is quite startling to a world that prefers for God to be an absentee Father that just sends a big child-support check each month. Because we’re sinful, we would prefer God to give us our demands while demanding nothing in return. We love to set the agenda. But Jesus teaches us here that God’s presence precedes his provision. His agenda is far better than ours.” (48–49)

“The Lord’s Prayer is supernatural. Sure, anyone can parrot the words, but only those who have been internally changed truly desire what it asks for. The words are not a magical incantation. Saying them out loud isn’t the goal. Slave owners probably recited the Declaration of Independence’s ‘All men are created equal’ hundreds of times. Parroting words does no good. Jesus isn’t creating parrots, but pray-ers.” (51)

“The local church is the best way to define the ‘us’ in our prayers. . . . The Christian in covenant with a local church is never alone. As long as the church endures, which will be for all eternity, the Christian is always part of an ‘us.’ The local church takes the theory of Christianity and makes it tangible—in love, deed, and especially in prayer.” (62)

“Jesus stared death square in the face, knowing his fate was inescapable. How did he face it? On his knees in prayer.” (70)

“While prayer may start with believing God can do the impossible, peace is never found there. If we only imagine what God can do and then judge his goodness by how often he does the impossible for us, we’ll never find true peace. His ability should cause our hearts to soar and ask for the impossible. But his sovereignty and wisdom should keep us grounded. They remind us that although God can do the impossible, he doesn’t have to—and we can trust him regardless. Peace is found here and only here. Any other arrangement ends only in discontentment, especially if we hold God hostage to an outcome he’s never promised. We’ll always lack peace when we judge God’s love for us by how many of our prayers are answered with a ‘yes.’ False hope is the most fertile soil for a crop of discontentment.” (71–72)

“The story of Gethsemane is as much about the power of prayer as it is about the inevitable failure that comes from prayerlessness. . . . Jesus’s faithfulness to do God’s task is directly tied to his prayer. The disciples’ faithlessness is directly tied to their prayerlessness.” (75)

“You can’t shout about God’s forgiveness if you’re stingy with your own.” (83)

“God wants a deep relationship with his people. And the deeper the relationship, the more varied the communication. We explore the wonder of who God is during our prayer of adoration. We embrace the mercy he provides during our prayer of confession. We reflect on all he’s done for us during our prayer of thanksgiving. We lean on him and feel his strength during our prayer of supplication. By including these prayers in our Sunday service, we display the width and depth of our relationship with God.” (88)

“A church that practices prayer is more than a church that learns; it’s also a church that leans. . . . We learn dependence by leaning on God together.” (92)

“Prayer is mentioned no less than twenty-one times in Acts. Furthermore, these prayers are inherently corporate. Whenever prayer is mentioned, it overwhelmingly involves others.” (95)

“[A prayer meeting] is different from praying during corporate worship, but it’s just as necessary. Prayer during corporate worship is the potatoes to the steak of the preached Word. In the prayer meeting, the roles are reversed. Now our prayer with one another becomes the main dish. We care for each other best as we lean on God together.” (96)

“The prayer meeting isn’t meant to be a theme park. It’s more like a storage facility, and we’re all cars without trunks. We were never meant to store up our concerns within ourselves (see Ps. 13:2). We were meant to offload those things to God. The prayer meeting isn’t a place of attraction, but a place of necessity. It’s a place where people come with burdens and leave without them because they’ve been placed in God’s hands. Here, we come together to lean on God with each other, for the sake of each other. Where’s that space for your church?” (96–97)

“The prayer list—not the Sunday service elements, not the preaching style, not even the ethnic makeup of the leadership of the church—is often where the battle for diversity is won or lost. What makes the prayer list is often a reflection of who’s praying and whose problems are seen as real, relevant, and important. A friend of mine was a part of a church that refused to pray for anything related to Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Eric Gardner, Laquawn McDonald, or any other African American who was killed at the hands of law enforcement, because those issues were ‘too politicized’ and would cause division in their church. This frustrated her. She didn’t want her church to march on Washington or hang a Black Lives Matter flag from the steeple. She simply wanted them to pray corporately on these matters because she knew they were deeply significant to many of the minorities in the church. . . . The battle for diversity is still won or lost here today. Diversity is more about priorities than programs. And a church prays for what it prioritizes. Your prayer lists essentially serve as price tags on current events and church concerns—assigning value or diminishing it. Therefore, don’t populate the prayer list in isolation. Populate the list with the concerns of all the flock. The honorable strides toward diversity are maximized when we pray together to our Father who has no favorite children (see Acts 10:34).” (101–02)

“As we pray for salvations, we realize that God’s sovereignty diminishes only our anxiety and apathy, not our activity.” (113)

“When it comes to singing, everybody wants a composed song. But when it comes to prayer, many insist on improvisation. Preparing prayers beforehand isn’t the enemy of authenticity. It’s an ally of clarity and an expression of love, not just for God but for others. Writing prayers beforehand and offering them up to God in the presence of his people isn’t any less authentic than writing a letter to your wife and giving it to her the next day. The words of the letter are heartfelt. She might even be more appreciative that you took the time to clarify your thoughts and put them down on paper. Preparation is a helpful way to communicate your heart clearly.” (123–24)

“The power of our prayers isn’t found in the number of people praying, but the willingness of the One to whom we’re praying.” (126)

For the full article, click here.