June 27, 2012

How to Pray for Theological Students (Part 2)

Yesterday we began compiling a list of ways to pray for young (or older!) people from who are in the midst of preparations for a calling into full-time ministry. So far we've said that we should pray for:
  1. Their finances. Seminary days can be tight.
  2. A solid church home … where all that the local church is and should be will come to light and be a blessing.
  3. A godly, wise pastor … who can provide hands on training and example that cannot be picked up in the classroom.
But there are still more ways to pray. Let me now finish out my list of seven:

4. Pray for their studies. That is why we send them away to school is it not? To learn things that they cannot fully learn without concentrated time and effort. So pray for our students, that they would not simply pass classes and earn a degree, but truly receive an education! Pray that, in every class, their desire would be to learn everything they can, and provide themselves with the best toolkit possible before heading off into ministry.

5. Pray for their personal walks with the Lord. Studies for ministry can (and should!) be personally enriching! Indeed, woe to the would-be gospel minister who thinks that learning theology is not exciting and spiritually invigorating! But there is a difference between studying theology for the classroom and pulpit, and reading the Bible for your own soul’s delight, simply because you need, as George Mueller said, to begin every day “happy in Jesus.” So pray for our students – that they’d love their studies, and find their souls as well as their minds enlarged thereby. But pray they’d also cultivate a deep personal friendship with Jesus in the devotional closet.

6. Pray for their future spheres of work. The previous requests have to do with what would be ministers need while they are still in school. These last two have to do with the life of ministry beyond … for it is never too early to begin praying about what someone will be! So pray that way for our theological students! Will  he be a pastor, a missionary, a seminary teacher?  How will God use that young lady in women's ministry, counseling, or working with children?  What will it look like to be a ministry wife? Ask the Lord to specifically prepare these young people for the specific spheres of service to which He will guide them … even if they themselves do not yet know what they may be!

7. Pray that they will finish well. A few weeks ago we considered, in these very pages, those wise words of King Ahab “Let not him who girds on his armor boast like him who takes it off” (1 Kings 20.11). How well they apply to the work of the gospel ministry! The young folks we have sent away in recent years are just now beginning to fit themselves into the armor that will equip them, Lord willing, for many years of service. And it’s a wonderful and praiseworthy thing! But not half so wonderful and praiseworthy as if they make it to the end, still wearing the armor, and fighting the good fight! So pray that they will! Pray that they will finish well, and keep the armor on, until that day when they remove it for the last time, and hear those words we all long to have spoken to us: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

O, I plead with you … do pray for those who are preparing for gospel ministry! Who knows what blessing they may be for the kingdom, and how much they will need our support!

June 26, 2012

How to Pray for Theological Students (Part 1)

Our church has had a unique privilege over the last handful of years. Several of our young people have sensed God’s call into the full-time ministry of the word, and have begun (or are about to begin) theological education of various kinds.  To be able to nourish and encourage a number of future pastors, biblical counselors, and missionaries is more unique than perhaps we know, and is a signal evidence of God’s kindness to our congregation … for which we should greatly praise Him! What will they all become? How mightily might God use them? And how might our little church have had the privilege of helping them along the way?

This weekend we have the joy of hearing one of those potential future ministers preach to us ... for the final time before he and his wife head off to Southern Seminary at the end of July. Their leaving prompts me to ask the question: ‘How should we pray for them?’ Indeed, how ought you pray for such young (or not so young!) people in your church?  Some of what I will say below pertains particularly to a new couple just embarking for seminary.  But most of it also applies to all of our young people (and yours) who are preparing for ministry in various forms of theological training.

So how do we pray? Over two weeks’ worth of articles, we’ll think about both the nuts and bolts, and the far more important bigger pictures:

1. Pray for their finances. Going to school as an adult has its peculiar challenges. No longer are mom and dad footing the bill for food, and clothing, and rent, and so on. And yet studying for ministry usually means that full-time work is hard to fit in. But part-time work means that finances can be tight. If and when children come, even tighter. So pray for young people who are away at school, preparing for ministry, that God would supply all their needs, according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

2. Pray for a church home. Seminary is richly rewarding spiritually. Strong and lasting friendships are made. But not every Christian (thankfully!) is a seminary student who knows the difference between supra- and infra-lapsarianism! And young men who will soon be pastors need to remember that. They need to remember all that richness that comes from the whole body of Christ, not just the few oddballs who are called to be the teachers! They need, in a word, a church family! Their wives need this desperately, too! They don’t get to make the friendships their husbands do in the classroom. So pray that our future ministry families would find and sink their lives into good, godly churches!

3. Pray for a godly, wise pastor. Not everything about ministry can be learned in the classroom. Lectures cannot fully teach you what it is like to stand beside a deathbed, or counsel a rebellious child, or lead a pre-marital counseling session, or be a godly husband, or interview a baptismal candidate. So young potential pastors need models who do it right. Pray that the Lord would give them to our students, in the aforementioned churches.

Tomorrow, Lord willing, we’ll fill out our list of prayer requests. But I hope, even before then, you’ll begin praying!

June 25, 2012

Sermons from the book of Joel

We just finished a four-part series on the Old Testament prophecy of Joel.  Listen in, read along, or do both:

Joel 1.1-20 - Locust Invasion! - Listen
Joel 2.1-17 - "Return to Me with all your heart" - Listen
Joel 2.18-32 - Repentance, Rejoicing, and the Holy Spirit - Listen
Joel 3.1-21 - "The valley of decision"

June 11, 2012

The Destruction of Sennacherib

By George Gordon (Lord) Byron, 1815
Based on 2 Kings 19.8-20, 32-37

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

June 5, 2012

The Flipside of God's Discipline

One of the great lessons from the book of Joel – which we have begun studying on Sunday mornings – is that God disciplines those whom He loves. When His people wander off the narrow road; when they settle into patterns of unrepentant sin; when they are sleep-walking spiritually, our merciful heavenly Father reserves the right to sting them awake. Perhaps He will use a national crisis, like the plague of locusts in Joel’s day. Perhaps He will use kidney failure, or financial straits, or just sheer frustration at every turn in our chosen path. But, because He loves us, He will not let us continue in the broad road that leads off the edge of a cliff. That is a hard lesson, but a biblical one … and one for which we should be grateful, if we value a safe docking in heaven more than smooth sailing in this life.

But there is another side to the coin of God’s providence. Books like Joel remind us of how God deals with His people when they are wandering from the path. But on the reverse of the coin are books and verses that remind us of God’s dealings with us when we stay the course. Take Psalm 84.11, for instance:

No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.

Isn’t that a marvelous text to put up on your mantel, alongside the truths of the book of Joel? Yes, it’s true – no form of difficulty may God withhold if that’s what it takes to break us from our sinful ways. But, when we have returned to the narrow path, and are walking uprightly, “no good things does He withhold from us!” O, what blessing there is – on work, and family, and prayer life, and so on – when we simply walk in the Lord’s ways; when we are diligent to keep His commandments; when we are dogged in our integrity; when we give ourselves to the people of God; when we serve the Lord with gladness! Take this promise to the bank – if you are serious about walking uprightly, your life will be blessed beyond all that you can imagine. The Lord will meet needs, and pay bills, and answer prayers, and bless relationships, and honor your witness for Him in ways that lukewarm Christians know nothing about! “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”

Now, lest I sound like a legalist, let us remember that, if any one of us walks uprightly, we must, at the end of the day, echo the words of the apostle: “yet not I, but Christ within me.” Even our Psalm 84.11 obedience comes from Christ’s strength, not ours! But when we walk in it, “no good thing” does God withhold!

And, lest I sound too much like Joel Osteen, let me remind you that there is often a significant difference between what we think would be a “good thing” for our lives, and what God knows would be the best thing. So Psalm 84.11 is not a TBN-like promise that you’ll be wealthy, healthy, and well-dressed if you just walk with the Lord. No. Sometimes the upright have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death in order to retrieve the “good thing” that God has for them. Sometimes, in God’s wisdom, it is better for us to spend some days in the hospital, or to stand over the grave of a loved one, or to live hand-to-mouth for a season. Perhaps the “good thing” that God is granting to us in those moments is greater faith, not earthly blessing. And if that’s what He gives, rather than the other, than we must conclude that it is for the best!

So the point of Psalm 84.11 is not that life will be a cakewalk if you just walk with God. The point is that, if you really are walking with God, you can trust that whatever happens to you will be for your ultimate good. Because, when you walk with Him, “no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly!”