Psalms of Lament

psalm-13-lament

Fifty or one-third of the Psalms are classified as laments. Gary Yates further explains, “Laments are times when the psalmist prays to God in times of trouble, distress, sadness, and in life-threatening situations.”[1] Walter Brueggemann classifies laments as psalms of disorientation as the relationship between the psalmist and God is conducted in an honest engagement, and where pain and hurt are acknowledged rather than denied and avoided.[2] The basic elements of the laments consist of: (1) an opening address or an introductory cry out to God in a very personal way; (2) a lament where the psalmist gives a description of present troubles, often in a very figurative, extreme, and over the top way, to make God aware of the dire circumstances; (3) a petition or prayer, which consists of what the psalmist is actually asking God to do; (4) a confession of trust and faith that God will act; and (5) a vow of praise where thanksgiving and sacrifice are offered when the Lord delivers the psalmist from his trouble.  Logan Jones describes the depth of pain in laments, “was the characteristic way of expressing and voicing the hurt, [but] the distinctive movement from plea to praise [demonstrated] an act of boldness. This movement does not stay stuck in the plea of brokenness and grief; [it] moves beyond to praise and unparalleled transformation with joy, wisdom and hope.”[3] This transformation did not deny the reality of brokenness or grief. Instead, the lament provided trust, confidence, and gratitude towards God.

Yates also illustrates, “The Bible does not command us to fake joy; it promises us a deep and real joy that is so satisfying because we know God is with us, regardless of what we are facing in life, [enabling us to] come to Him with complete honesty, especially in times of desperation.”[4] Jones adds, “By praying the laments, Israel had a way of directly facing the hurtful dimensions of human life. Israel did not try to explain them away, deny them, or avoid them. Instead, Israel held to the premise that all of life – even the hurtful dimensions – was embraced by it covenantal relationship with God.”[5] The psalmist’s relationship with God is deep, personal, and authentic. In Psalm 13, Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al. explain:

The prayer is spoken from a situation of severe crisis… The original crisis may have been a physical, emotional, social, or economic crisis. But two things are clear. First, the psalmist definitely understands the crisis as a spiritual and theological crisis — the relationship with God. Second, the psalm is now available to any believer for reuse in a variety of life situations.[6]

Craig Broyles further demonstrates, “This psalm allows believers to voice the mixed emotions often felt toward God while in the midst of hardship, namely complaint and trust.”[7] In Psalm 79, the lament depicts a community crying out for help and most likely refers to the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C. Everything the nation of Israel had believed and trusted in was gone and the people had no hope. However, in every lament, there is a wonderful transformation that occurs, where heartache, pain, and misery turn into joy, thanksgiving, and praise.

Laments are cries for help and Yates makes a valid point that “Part of dealing with pain is being able to express it.”[8] As Roland Murphy demonstrates, “The psalms are about honest dialogue where nothing is held back. The words of the psalms speak to the very core of human experience in ways other language cannot begin to approach. In this way, the psalms teach us how to pray, how to stand faithfully before God, asking and even demanding response, action, and answers.”[9] The psalms also teach us to bring our hopes, praise, and joy to God and they call us to bring our fear, pain, and sorrow before God. In desperate times, Jones illustrates “the psalmist gives voice to the anguished part of our human experience, [where] questions are asked that have no answers: How long will God forget? How long will God be hidden? How long must pain be born? How long will the enemy be exalted?”[10] These are valid questions, which every believer has wrestled with. Jones suggests some of the greatest reasons for the laments are to help believers make it through seasons where there is no hope and a cry for deliverance, for healing, for life, for mercy, for forgiveness, for help, for vengeance, for relief, for hope, for attention, for presence, and for strength.[11]

Jones then explains, “bad things happen, circumstances change, loss occurs, and grief and sorrow break the heart, [which] leads to the first movement [as] the cry of lament speaks of the terrible truth of disorientation.”[12] However, when the pleas and petitions reach God, Jones illustrates disorientation does not last forever. Instead, the laments petition God to be true to His character and as a new orientation emerges, blessings and breakthroughs in life are witnessed and praise and worship are given for all God has done. However, spiritual growth does not happen over night; it is a life-long pursuit of trusting and praising God, despite the circumstances.

By praying the laments, individuals will be able to face any hurt, betrayal, or anxiety, by looking to God and embracing the covenant relationship he or she has with Him. Jones explains, “The movement from orientation to disorientation to new orientation… is a way to move deeper into a faith which is transformative, where God indeed makes a difference.”[13] Laments illustrate why it is important to lift one’s petitions before God because as Jones explains, “Our pain can be spoken and named, our hurt can be lifted up and heard, our cries can come from our heart, and we can rest assured nothing, nothing at all can separate us from the love of God.”[14] The believer must simply understand and trust that God hears every prayer and He is continually working in the lives of His children, according to His perfect plan.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999.

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.

Jones, Logan C. “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow.” The Journal Of Pastoral Care & Counseling 61, no. 1-2 (2007): 47-58. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 3, 2016).

Murphy, Roland. “The Faith of the Psalmist,” Interpretation 34, (1980): 235-238.

Yates, Gary. “The Lament Psalms: Part 1.” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 17:54. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

________. “The Lament Psalms: Part 2.” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 14:18. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

 


[1] Gary Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 1,” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 17:54. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

[2] Logan C. Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” The Journal Of Pastoral Care & Counseling 61, no. 1-2 (2007): 47. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 3, 2016).

[3] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 48-49.

[4] Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 1.”

[5] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 49.

[6] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 158.

[7] Craig C. Broyles, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999), 87.

[8] Gary Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 2,” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 14:18. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

[9] Roland Murphy, “The Faith of the Psalmist,” Interpretation 34, (1980): 235.

[10] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 52.

[11] Ibid., 52.

[12] Ibid., 51.

[13] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 50.

[14] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 54.

The Emotionally Healthy Church

The Emotionally Healthy Church

          Peter Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York, which is a large, multiracial church with more than seventy-three countries represented. After serving as the senior pastor for twenty-six years, Scazzero now serves as a teaching pastor with a primary focus on a groundbreaking ministry that equips churches in deep, beneath-the-surface spiritual formation, and integrates emotional health with contemplative spirituality.[1] Scazzero takes real life experiences from both his own personal life and those from New Life Fellowship members, no matter how painful, and uses them to take the reader on a liberating journey of freedom found through emotional and spiritual healing. During a crisis of faith, Scazzero came to realize, “The sad reality is that too many people in our churches are fixated at a stage of spiritual immaturity that current models of discipleship have not addressed, [exposing] the link between emotional health and spiritual maturity, [which] is a large unexplored area of discipleship.”[2] This is a central problem because there is also a direct correlation between the overall health of a church and that of its leadership.[3] In addition, Scazzero demonstrates, “The starting point for change in any nation, church, or ministry has always been with the leader first.”[4] Scazzero then found people could not be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature, especially when conflict was involved. This profound realization came after Scazzero’s wife Geri said, “I quit” to New Life, but after a brief sabbatical and counseling, God restored and equipped the Scazzero’s marriage, to bring about real change in the culture at New Life, and now countless others have been impacted. Through this restoration process, Scazzero discovered the degree to which people live in truth is also the degree to which people are truly free.

            Scazzero breaks his strategy of discipleship into four parts: (1) discipleship’s missing link, which focuses on leaders initiating the change; (2) biblical basis for a new paradigm of discipleship, which shows the relationship between emotional health and spiritual maturity; (3) seven principles of an emotionally healthy church, which takes inventory of where the church finds herself and forces a hard internal look, by pulling back the multiple layers to uncover areas for potential growth; and (4) where do we go from here? This last part demonstrates, “In the same way, our growth into Christlikeness requires we get rid of our old, hard, protective shells and allow God to take us to a new place in him, [it also] calls for a commitment to do the hard work – one day at a time,[5] so Scazzero’s model shows love and listening as a core components.

       One of the most compelling areas of Scazzero’s work involves a new paradigm shift in the discipleship process. What made this section so valuable was its application to both the individual and the corporate setting. When New Life began to implement what Scazzero uncovered, the church moved from being “human doings to human beings, [but this process started first with] Scazzero’s understanding of what it meant to minister out of who you are, not what you do.”[6] The concentric circles of applying emotional health[7] properly demonstrate the necessity for change to occur from the top down in terms of leadership and influence. In a church setting, this would start with the senior pastor, then his or her family and spouse, staff and interns, elders and board, actively serving leaders, leaders in development, rest of the congregation, and the wider community influenced by the church.

       Scazzero then demonstrates the necessity of understanding mankind is created in the image of God, which encompasses much more than merely the spiritual dimension; it also includes the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual dimensions. Scazzero illustrates by “Denying any aspect of what it means to be a fully human person made in the image of God carries with it catastrophic, long-term consequences – in our relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves. Unhealthy developments are inevitable when we fail to understand ourselves as whole people, made in the image of our Creator God.”[8] Regarding this writer’s current emotional and spiritual health, there will always be areas to improve, as one of the best indicators of a good leader is being teachable and open to the guiding of the Spirit. However, being engrossed in fulltime ministry while also being a fulltime student has created a constant battle for time and priorities. The inventory and assessment of spiritual and emotional maturity illuminates strengths and areas for improvement, while also making sure the priorities in life are reflected in where time, talents, and treasures are spent. Scazzero’s principles can then be applied in the vision and mission of the church and for individuals, by affirming in all matters, God comes first. Scazzero also does a brilliant job demonstrating when people operate out of hurt or an underdeveloped character, he or she will not allow people to get close. Ultimately, past hurt leaves deep wounds, making it difficult to trust people. Scazzero concludes by showing how leadership is lonely, making it vital to surround oneself with like-minded individuals because another important part of being healthy is to surround oneself with healthy people. Unfortunately, this is not easy at churches, since the church is a place for broken and hurt people to come in order to find wholeness and restoration. As a result, Scazzero also lists self-care and forgiveness as challenges of anyone who serves, since forgiveness in not a quick process.[9]

Bibliography

New Life Fellowship Website, http://newlifefellowship.org/about-us/about-new-life/our-staff/  (accessed August 9, 2016).

Scazzero, Peter. The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives, Updated and Expanded Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.


[1] New Life Fellowship Website, http://newlifefellowship.org/about-us/about-new-life/our-staff/ (accessed August 9, 2016).

[2] Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives, Updated and Expanded Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 17-19.

[3] Ibid., 20.

[4] Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church, 36.

[5] Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church, 217.

[6] Ibid., 34.

[7] Ibid., 35.

[8] Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church, 54 & 164.

[9] Ibid., 151.

What is the Gospel? (gǒs’pəl) & From Dust to Destiny Book Reviews

gilbert-what-is-the-gospel

            Greg Gilbert is currently serving as the senior pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He earned his M.Div. from Southern Seminary in 2006 and his B.A. in History from Yale University in 1999.[1] Gilbert’s writing is based on the premise of two ideas: (1) the local church is far more important to the Christian life than many Christians today perhaps realize [because] a healthy Christian is a healthy church member; and (2) local churches grow in life and vitality as they organize their lives around God’s Word. God Speaks. Churches should listen and follow. It is that simple.[2]

            Gilbert’s primary goal is to demonstrate a church and a people who listen to God will begin to reflect His love, mercy, and forgiveness. He also seeks to demonstrate what the gospel of Jesus should look like. The very notion that there is a book needed to explain what the gospel of Jesus looks like is troubling and the fact that it is needed is only validated by the current state of the church. Through his roundtable discussions and extensive research, Gilbert found it was extremely difficult to find any consensus to this question. Gilbert thus demonstrates how Paul’s letter to the Romans is a great place to find the most basic explanation of the gospel. In the opening chapters, Paul first wants his readers to know they are accountable. Gilbert then illustrates, “We are made by Him, owned by Him, dependent on Him, and therefore accountable to Him.”[3] Secondly, Paul tells his readers that their problem is that they rebelled against God. This applied to Jews and Gentiles alike because every single person in the world had sinned against God.[4] Thirdly, Paul says that God’s solution to humanity’s sin is the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Gilbert then demonstrates, “Having laid out the bad news of the predicament we face as sinners before our righteous God, Paul turns now to the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[5] Lastly, Paul tells his readers how they themselves can be included in this salvation. This is where every individual must decide if the gospel is good news for him or her or not. Gilbert summarizes these four points as: God, man, Christ, and response.[6]

            The bad news for everyone is the presence of sin in his or her life and the fact God is the Judge. Ever since Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden, there has existed a separation between humanity and God. The good news is the gospel of Jesus has sought to bridge that gap and bring God’s children back into communion with God. The fact that creation is born into sin is a hard pill to swallow and the notion that forgiveness is needed only adds salt to the wound of this cultures’ need for independence. Humans are selfish by nature, so coming to understand God gave mankind His only Son to restore fellowship with Him, as a living sacrifice for all who would believe, is a revelation. It is also important to understand why Christ came and why He had to die. The atonement of sin required the shedding of blood and because man was and still is rebellious by nature, there remains a constant need to sacrifice. However, when Jesus was crucified as the spotless Lamb, He became the atonement for all sin. As a believer, it can be hard to forgive others for their wrongs and sometimes it is even harder to forgive one’s own sin. Conversely, forgiving others is necessary to receive the same forgiveness from God. This principle is crucial to maintaining a healthy relationship with others and with God. The final part of the gospel is becoming Christ-like and impacting others with the divine revelation of the salvation message.

What is the Gospel? (gǒs’pəl). By Gregory D. Gilbert. Crossway Publishing, 2010, 127 pp. $12.99 (Hardcover).

From Dust to Destiny

            Greg Faulls is the Pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church and has worked in Christian Leadership for over twenty-eight years, serving as Pastor of three churches in Texas and Kentucky. He earned his BA in Religious Studies and Speech Communication from Western Kentucky University and his Masters of Divinity and Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His vision of helping people follow Jesus is birthed out of a personal, life changing experience and his purpose in writing From Dust to Destiny is for his readers to discover the life God has planned for him or her.[7]

            Faulls seeks to demonstrate how everyone is created for more than mere self-gratification and he wants his readers to discover and have a divine encounter with God. This adventure to discover God’s plan is an exploration of what God is seeking to do in and through His creation. Faulls’ four concepts relate to: (1) Life is about God and until someone knows more about God, he or she will never find purpose and meaning in life; (2) God sent His Son for the redemption of mankind and to restore the communion that was lost in the Garden of Eden; (3) God dwells within His children and the more they walk with Him the more they will be transformed into the likeness of Christ; and (4) God desires to work through His children and He has had this plan from the beginning. Jesus came not only to save mankind, but also to work through the lives of those who call upon His name. While man was created from mere dust, when the Spirit of the Lord indwells the believer’s life, there is a transformation and glorious destiny that awaits.

            When mankind realizes there is someone bigger than themselves and something much larger at stake, there is an opportunity to truly transform the individual and ultimately the world. After experiencing a divine encounter with God, Faulls demonstrates, “We were created in the image of God, to be stewards of His creation [and] we were created in the Lord’s image so that we might relate to Him intimately.”[8] For anyone who suffers with self-confidence issues or disabilities, this is life-changing. Being an image bearer of God is humbling, but at the same time empowering as the believer comes to find his or her significance in is as Faulls put it, “anchored in the One who loved us so much that He chose to breathe into us the breath of life.”[9] In the ministry setting it is crucial to demonstrate the immense love God has for His children because in the cruelty of the world it can be easy to forget this profound truth. The redemption of mankind is yet another display of God’s love. Here, Faulls explains, “Jesus came for you, to save you from your sin, and to bring you home to a relationship with God the Father.”[10] It is reassuring to picture Jesus as the Shepherd who will search for every lost sheep because without Jesus redeeming mankind, sin and its damning consequences would prevail. Knowing why Christ died for the sins of mankind should compel His followers to live a life that would bring honor and glory to the Lord. The only appropriate response to the salvation and redemption granted to Christians is to carry the same gospel message to a lost and hurting world. Faulls also explains, “When we receive Christ, God’s Son, we become sons and daughters by adoption.”[11] Through this process the believer is transformed and receives a divine purpose and future. This transformation process is never-ending, as one walks with the Lord, but the ultimate goal is to allow God the opportunity to do a mighty work in and through the believer’s life.

From Dust to Destiny: Created for More. By Greg Faulls. http://prevailinglife.com 2014, (accessed July 27, 2016), 97 pp. Free (E-book).

Bibliography

Faith Gateway Website, http://www.faithgateway.com/author/greg-gilbert/ (accessed July 27, 2016).

Faulls, Greg. From Dust to Destiny: Created for More. http://prevailinglife.com 2014. (accessed July 27, 2016).

Gilbert, Gregory D. What is the Gospel? (gǒs’pəl). Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.

Prevailing Life Website, http://prevailinglife.com/meet-greg/ (accessed July 27, 2016).


[1] Faith Gateway Website, http://www.faithgateway.com/author/greg-gilbert/ (accessed July 27, 2016).

[2] Gregory D. Gilbert, What is the Gospel? (gǒs’pəl), (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 11.

[3] Ibid., 28.

[4] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 29.

[5] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 30.

[6] Ibid., 31.

[7] Prevailing Life Website, http://prevailinglife.com/meet-greg/, (accessed July 27, 2016).

[8] Greg Faulls, From Dust to Destiny: Created for More. http://prevailinglife.com 2014, 10 (accessed July 27, 2016).

[9] Ibid., 17.

[10] Ibid., 27.

[11] Ibid., 46.

Spiritual Formation & the Cross

lens of the cross

       This discussion board will use the information from Wilhoit’s Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered, to evaluate this writer’s experience and dependence on the Cross, for salvation and sanctification. Secondly, it will show how the view of the necessity of the Cross has changed over time and what specifically influenced that view. Lastly, by knowing that dependence on the Cross is the fundamental factor of spiritual growth, this forum will discuss ways that church leaders can inspire greater dependence on the grace of Christ in the lives of believers?

Dependence on Cross for Salvation and Sanctification

            Ever since humanity was exiled from Eden, they lived in a state of brokenness and as James Wilhoit illustrates, “Unless the brokenness is a prominent orientation, we will not catch the truth that the church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners.”[1] Sin separates humanity from God, creating a spiritual chasm that cannot be crossed without divine influence, which came in the form of the cross, allowing humanity to bridge the gap, once they received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. When Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden, there was a constant movement to the east, and this migration away from God carries on through much of the Old Testament narrative.

       The cross can be best described as a bridge back to God and without it, there would be no salvation or sanctification. The remission of sin required the shedding of blood and Jesus Christ became the spotless lamb, thus taking on the entirety of humanity’s sins and curses. Jesus voluntarily paid the ultimate sacrifice, He lived a sinless life, and He experienced the death that every human deserved. This writer is eternally grateful for what Christ did and he lives each day with the ethos that everyday is God’s gift to us and what we choose to do with it is our gift back to Him.

How Views of the Cross Have Changed Over Time and Influences

            The history of the cross and crucifixion has deep roots that can be traced back to the Old Testament and was one of the primary reasons many Jews did not believe Jesus could possibly be the Messiah; in fact, a crucified Messiah to the majority of Jews was an impossibility. From the Dead Sea Scrolls and some other early writings, there was a precedent that the one hanged on the tree to die is a traitor or a blasphemer, so to be hung on the cross came to mean they were also accursed by God and men. In Deuteronomy 21:22-23, there is a great example of why the Jews believed a man hanged on a tree is cursed by God, as Peter C. Craigie illustrates:

To break the law of God and live as though he did not matter or exist was in effect to curse him; and he who cursed God would be accursed of God. To break the law of God and incur thereby the penalty of death was to die the worst possible kind of death, for the means of death was a formal and terminal separation from the community of God’s people. Hence the use of this verse in Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians is very forceful. Christ took upon himself the curse of the law, the penalty of death, thereby redeeming us from the curse of the law. The manner of his death, crucifixion, symbolized dramatically the meaning of his death. His separation from the family of God made possible our admission to the family of God, because the curse of the broken law—which would have permanently barred admission—had been removed.[2]

            To die by crucifixion was one of the worst ways to die and the Romans had perfected this barbaric and tortuous means of death as they conquered the known empire. It served as a compelling reason not to go against the Romans or break the law. The cross also became closely associated with immense suffering, which points to Jesus being the suffering servant.[3] In fact, John N. Oswalt, demonstrates, “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that it is not accidental that the only extended metaphor in Isaiah 53 involves sheep, the primary animals of sacrifice. The Servant is to be struck down on account of the rebellions of his people (v. 8), and he will go as a lamb to the slaughter. “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’”[4] [5] While believers are encouraged to boldly approach the throne of grace,[6] they should humbly approach the cross, because through it, Jesus became the final Passover lamb.

How Dependence on the Cross Leads to Spiritual Growth

       As Wilhoit explains, “Much of our failure in conceptualizing spiritual formation comes from our failure to keep the gospel central to our ministry.”[7] Jerry Bridges explains, “Our first problem is that our attitude toward sin is more self-centered than God-centered.” Viewing others through the lens of the cross serves as a reminder that Jesus has become the mediator between God and believers. As this perception of others and their circumstances becomes the norm, it will lead to closer fellowship with God, as well as being able to speak into the lives of the lost and hurting. As Wilhoit demonstrates, “[Dependence] on the cross seems to become a means of transportation rather than God’s means of transformation.”[8] He shows, because of our blindness and self-justifying behavior, we can only perceive a small cross. This causes the perceived need for grace to fall drastically short of one’s actual need for grace, which is infinite.[9]

       Real spiritual formation and growth is possible; the problem, as Wilhoit highlights, is “Culture and sadly many churches seek to squeeze believers into a mold of simply being nice and seeking a sensible consumer-oriented faith that meets our needs and avoids offending anyone else.”[10] Paul, in his letter to the Romans tells them not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their mind.[11] God calls His children to be in this world, but not of it. Douglas Moo demonstrates: “For while belonging to the new realm, we continue to live, as people still in the “body,” in the old realm. Paul’s command that we “not conform to this world,” then, builds on the theology of Rom. 5-8 (and of Rom. 6 especially) and calls on us to resist the pressure to “be squeezed into the mold” of this world and the “pattern” of behavior that typifies it (see 1 Cor. 7:31).”[12]

How to Inspire Greater Dependence on the Grace of Christ

            Wilhoit contends, “From personal brokenness and reflection I have come to see that the gospel is not simply the door of faith; it must also be a compass I daily use to orient my life and a salve I apply for the healing of my soul. It is in returning again and again to the cross that we receive the grace that transforms us.”[13] Greater dependence on the grace of Christ is best explained as a transformation that is never-ending. From the moment of salvation, the believer is made new, but that is only the beginning of the metamorphosis. The longer one walks with Christ, the more they should embody His likeness. Andrew Murray said it best, “The fruit of a life in Christ is a life like Christ.”

       The local church plays a huge role in spiritual development, but over the last few decades, most have lost their way. Instead of teaching sound doctrine based on the promises of God, many churches have instead strived to become the most hip or cutting edge church focused on flair and not real life change. Instead of preaching messages that would initially convict and allow a deeper and closer relationship with God, they preach messages centered on naming and proclaiming or feel-good messages. These churches would rather their people wear smiles on their faces, so the offering plate is full, even if every part of the attender’s life is falling apart and their smile is a mere façade. Wilhoit illuminates that personal loss, tragedies, changes, and disruption can contribute to spiritual formation. He says, “We need to put structures in place that emphasize deep compassion, care, and empathy as well as formative guidance.”[14] He also says, “We are formed to serve and we are formed by serving, so cultivating the instinct to act on the gospel teaching is crucial to our transformation.”[15] David Henderson best illustrates, “As our hearts are transformed by faith, we will then move to conformity with God.”[16] The more one serves, the greater their dependence upon the grace of Christ becomes.

            All spiritual growth springs forth from God’s grace, which leads to Wilhoit’s premise that, “We are all born homesick, longing for a land and a way of life we have never directly experienced, but which we know is somewhere, or at least ought to exist.”[17] This notion rings more true as each generation emerges feeling less a part of society and being ostracized for their differences. Carol Lakey Hess illustrates: “If we are centered in ourselves, we experience the strangeness and restlessness of the homeless human spirit that yearns for God. Even if we are centered in God, we groan at the brokenness of creation and yearn for redemption.” Our brokenness leaves us empty, broken, and thirsty. Jerry Sittser then demonstrates, “[Our] brokenness forces us to find a source of love outside ourselves and that source is God.” Without God in our lives we will never find meaning or purpose in life. He is the source of all our longings.

Bibliography

Craigie, Peter C. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Oswalt, John N. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Wilhoit, James C. Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ through Community. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2008.


[1] James C. Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ through Community, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2008), 58.

[2] Peter C. Craigie, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Deuteronomy, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 284.

[3] Isaiah 53

[4] John 1:29

[5] John N. Oswalt, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 391.

[6] Hebrews 4:16

[7] Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation, 27.

[8] Ibid., 28.

[9] Ibid., 107.

[10] Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation, 33.

[11] Romans 12:2

[12] Douglas J. Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 754.

[13] Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation, 29.

[14] Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation, 122..

[15] Ibid., 149.

[16] Ibid., 159.

[17] Ibid., 64.

Finding Joy

joy of the lord

Finding joy in the midst of trials and circumstances can seem like searching for hidden treasure without a map or a shovel. However, if we seek God’s presence, He will grant us eternal blessings. Psalms 16:11 (ESV) says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” In this passage, David was assured that the Lord would preserve his life, even in the face of death. He rejoiced because God enabled his body to rest securely even when confronted with uncertainty. The reason David could find joy and rest is because he knew God would never abandon him.

When we turn our attention to the Lord, the light of His countenance and presence shines upon us. The more we depend on God, the more He will make us complete. Even in our weakness, He makes us strong. As we learn to live within His loving embrace, we will come to realize nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Run Your Race & Finish Well

greatcloudofwitnesses1

With broken legs we chase perfection.

We need God more, but we choose to want Him less.

We deny the promise of God’s presence and His powerful protection.

Instead, we walk our own path, experiencing fear, doubt, and hopelessness.

We forget about the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us.

Encouraging us to run the race set before us with faith and perseverance.

All we must do is fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

When we seek the Lord, He will deliver us from our fears.

As you call upon His name, He will bind up the brokenhearted.

As you draw near to Him, He will write His Word upon your heart.

So, look to the Lord always, and He will be your constant source of peace and strength.

How to Pray, What to Pray, and Why to Pray

child praying

Throughout much of Paul’s writing, we are presented with wonderful models of prayer which when properly examined gives an excellent model for believers to follow. As D. A. Carson points out, “If we follow Paul’s example, then, we will never overlook the monumental importance of praying for others.” In Paul’s prayers we repeatedly see him giving thanks to God, showing complete confidence and faith in God’s plan, and we see Paul make petitions based on God’s word and His promises.

Paul additionally had several goals in his prayers and the first, as well as the most important, was always to bring glory to God. Secondly, it was rooted out of a deep caring passion for all of God’s children and lastly it sought an overflow of strength, assurance, and sound teaching. On multiple occasions, we see Paul praying for people he had never even met, he prayed unceasingly, and he also linked thanksgiving to his prayers of petition while also praying God would fill the believers with the knowledge of God’s will.

Carson then illuminates how, “The sins that cut us off from effective praying may be the displays of evil [or sin in our own life.]” If we hold bitterness in our heart, resentment in our attitude, or grudges in our actions, we are not only a prisoner to that person or circumstance; we also hinder God from hearing our prayers. Instead, we are to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave us. As believers, prayer is the most important external act of worship available and it is also the most effective way we can approach God. The more one reads God’s word and prays, the more they will begin to understand His ways and the more one understands His ways, the more they will develop faith and trust Him.

Lord’s Prayer: Matthew 6:9-13 (NASB)

“Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. ‘Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

This passage of scripture came out of the disciple’s desire to learn how to pray the way John the Baptist taught his disciples, so Jesus gave His disciples and us this prayer because it literally has everything we need to say to God in it. This prayer is a game changer because it touches on every reality of life and it is transforming, healing, and empowering as Adam Clarke demonstrates:

We do not sufficiently consider the value of this prayer; the respect and attention which it requires; the preference to be given to it; its fullness and perfection: the frequent use we should make of it; and the spirit which we should bring with it. “Lord, teach us how to pray!” is a prayer necessary to prayer; for unless we are divinely instructed in the manner, and influenced by the spirit of true devotion, even the prayer taught to us by Jesus Christ may be repeated without profit to our souls.

As David Wenham suggests, “The Lord’s Prayer, in the form we find it in Matthew’s gospel, consists of seven petitions, carefully and chiastically arranged: the first three clauses go together and ask for God’s glory, the last three ask for help in our struggle with evil; the fourth is different, linking the two groups and asking the Father in heaven to supply our down-to-earth needs.” While sometimes unknown, forgotten, or even discounted, this prayer was a Jewish prayer because Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi and He never met a Christian until after He was resurrected. The language in the prayer is very corporate in nature: Our Father, our daily bread, our trespasses, deliver us, and forgive us. All of these characteristics point to this prayer being about the corporate liturgical people of God and the nation of Israel, as R. T. France illustrates, “The instruction is addressed to the disciples corporately, and the whole prayer will be phrased in the plural. It is the prayer of a community rather than an individual act of devotion, even though its pattern would also appropriately guide the secret prayers in the store-room.” The use of “Father” denotes a personal relationship, as Joel Green demonstrates how, “The disciples’ capacity to recognize and address God in prayer as “Father” is rooted, most immediately, in revelation, for Jesus had recently asserted that knowledge of the Father was unavailable apart from the Son’s disclosure of the same.” In Luke 11:1-4, we are presented with Luke’s account of this same prayer, which is significantly shorter. In Luke’s version, Green explains how, “Having established (1) a theocentric worldview (2) that is eschatological in focus and (3) that calls for human partnership in the divine purpose, the prayer Jesus teaches his followers turns more fully to the nature of life before God and within the community of God’s people.” The other major difference in these two accounts, as Adam Clarke highlights is, “The prayer related here by Luke is not precisely the same as that mentioned by Matthew; and indeed it is not likely that it was given at the same time. That in Matthew seems to have been given after the second Passover; and this in Luke was given probably after the third Passover, between the feasts of tabernacles, and the dedication.”

No one in the history of time has come up with a more powerful prayer due to the profound and comprehensive truth found in this prayer, which is also known as the “Our Father” prayer. When life happens and difficulties, temptations, and hardship seem to be around every turn telling you that you do not have a prayer in the world, this is the prayer you speak to the mountain in front of you. Each day, just like the Israelites counted on God to supply manna from heaven, we are to look to God for our daily bread as France elaborates further, “The first of the petitions for the disciples’ own needs concerns material provision…[And] part of what it means to recognize God as our heavenly Father is to be prepared to trust him for food and drink and clothing, and this petition expresses that trust in its simplest form. Even bread, the most basic of survival rations, comes by God’s daily provision.” Every effective prayer we find in scripture has its roots from this prayer, so this daily reliance upon God is paramount in one’s walk with Christ lest we fall back into our old ways like the Israelites did in desert. It is so sad to see what happens when we doubt the faithfulness of the Lord, as Matthew Henry recounts what happened to the Israelites in the desert, “The provisions of Israel, brought from Egypt, were spent by the middle of the second month, and they murmured. It is no new thing for the greatest kindness to be basely represented as the greatest injuries. They so far undervalue their deliverance, which they wished they had died in Egypt; and by the hand of the Lord, that is, by the plagues, which cut off the Egyptians.” The saying, “Complain and you will remain, but praise and you will be raised” comes from this lesson in life. The promises of God are ours, but many of them are conditional and rest upon our decisions in life, just as God promises to work everything for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.

Breaking down this prayer into individual parts is another important practical exercise in the exegesis and exposition of this prayer. When we say, “Our Father who is in heaven,” we are acknowledging we are adopted sons and daughters of our Abba Father who welcomes His prodigal children home and that heaven is our final destination, even though sin attempts to keep us separated from it. “Hallowed be Your name,” as Nicu Dumitraşcu illustrates is:

The most significant thing human beings can do is to glorify the name of God throughout their lives. So it is not about sanctifying God’s name in God-self, but about increasing God’s praise in the world, through the worship, learning, teaching, and glorifying of faithful and virtuous men and women, so that the words of the Holy Scripture might be fulfilled, “in the same way let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

“Your kingdom come,” affirms the kingdom of God is near and why John the Baptist continually preached saying, “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” This is an interesting use of wording as France establishes:

The importance and meaning of “the kingdom of God/heaven” [is] a central element in Jesus’ teaching… denoting a specific time, place or situation called the kingdom. The phrase “the kingdom of God” in both its Hebrew and Greek forms denotes the dynamic concept of “God ruling.” It represents, in other words, a sentence of which the subject is not “kingdom” but God.

“Thy will be done” is all about complete surrender and we see Jesus model this declaration in the Garden of Gethsemane praying, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” God’s will is always going to be better than our own, even if it leads to temporary suffering. The best example of this type of submission to the Father’s will occurs shortly after Jesus prayed these words, as Green demonstrates, “There is a certain irony in this, since, if Jesus embraces the cup in obedience to the divine purpose, He will also accept the fate willed for him by Satan; only as the story unfolds does it become clear that Jesus’ death represents not the greatest of the devil’s achievements but actually his demise.”

“Our daily bread,” we have already established points to continuous dependence upon God, but the foundation of this petition comes out of seeking first the kingdom of God because if that is one’s soul desire, all other things will be added unto you. It must be one’s desire and priority to seek God and His kingship above all other wants and desires.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” establishes we must forgive others who have hurt us in order to receive the same forgiveness from God. This principle is paramount to understand as Dumitraşcu further extrapolates, “The difficulty lies not in understanding the text itself, but in its concrete fulfillment. Our human weaknesses, momentary or long term interests, envy, pride, and lust for revenge are just a few of the obstacles to mutual forgiveness among people.”

“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” petitions God to protect us during seasons of testing and trials while also guarding us from the devil. “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation, [He] will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

It is interesting when you look at this prayer and compare it with the twenty-third Psalm, which David wrote three thousand years ago, and one thousand years before Jesus was even born. A Jewish king would write the twenty-third Psalm, one thousand years before the Jewish Rabbi would give us the Lord’s Prayer. What is even more interesting is how the twenty-third Psalm sounds even more Christian in nature than the Lord’s Prayer.

23rd Psalm: Psalm 23:1-6 (NASB)

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely Your goodness and loving-kindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

In this elegant poem arises one of the most powerful prayers as you meditate on each line and recite it as a declaration of faith. As Hosia Henley illustrates, “the 23rd Psalm is a great hymn of the faithfulness of God to provide, to protect, and to save those who call on God’s name. Believers see the text not only as being a personal testimony of David, but also as a prayer of comfort to be whispered during times of great peril.” In this passage, we see the Lord is my shepherd and not our shepherd, He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me by the quiet waters, He prepares a table for me in the presence of my enemies, and He anoints my head with oil. All of these features make this prayer very personal and passionate and this prayer is normally used at the conclusion of observing the Sabbath.

Both of these prayers also fit together very well in that we see they both begin with: “Our Father who is” and “the Lord is” which is a declaration of truth and faith in God. Both prayers also end with “forever” pointing to the eternity and infinite nature of God. “Surely, Your goodness and loving-kindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” and “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” While both of these prayers speak to the providence of God, they contrast each other in that David’s prayer is very extravagant in how, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies,” while Jesus’ prayer is much more economical as He prays, “give us this day our daily bread.”

Ultimately, prayer says, “I trust you God in everything, I put my hope and faith in you, and I count on you to provide for me all I need.” Notice this says all I need and not all I want. The core of both these prayers is found at their very center, which is restoration and forgiveness. Jesus says, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” and David says, “He restores my soul.” Jesus understood the key to restoration is found through forgiveness and by wiping out all chances of the repayment of a debt. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is teaching His followers the importance of giving without expectation of return. There is a connection with debt, sin, and trespasses because as we engage in these activities we essentially enter into a place where we have no legal right to be like David’s example of the valley of the shadow of death. Despite this peril, what is most evident is the presence of God as David writes, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” The parallel to this in the Lord’s Prayer comes from, “On earth as it is in heaven.” The translation of on earth is better understood when using the KJV of “in earth” because it points to the kingdom of justice and righteousness found inside every believer, so it should read, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done in me” since the kingdom of God is in us.

Prayer becomes a practice of deep personal surrender as we pray ultimately for His will to be done, and in doing so; we enthrone God over our entire lives as king. The Lord’s Prayer becomes one of the most unifying prayers for the church, while David’s twenty-third Psalm becomes one of the most intimate prayers we can use to commune with the Father. One must be careful not to turn reciting these prayers into some ritualistic habit; instead, they should meditate upon each verse while repeating them if necessary to add emphasis. When life knocks you down, you keep praying these prayers until God lifts you back up and causes that circumstance or trial to act as a stepping-stone to elevate you to a higher place than you were before. As believers, we must be doers of the word and in order to be doers of the word we must meditate on His word day and night, while allowing its truth to penetrate our hearts and become the motivation behind all we do and all we are.

Bibliography

Carson, D. A. Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group. 2014.

Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke’s Commentary: Luke. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1826. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke’s Commentary: Matthew. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1826. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Dumitraşcu, Nicu. “The Lord’s Prayer in Eastern Spirituality.” Dialog, 52: 349–356. (2013): 351. doi: 10.1111/dial.12071 (accessed 12-8-15).

France, R. T. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Green, Joel B. Green, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Henley, Hosia Lee and Garnett Lee Henley. “The 23rd Psalm: An Exposition on its Meaning and Prophecies.” Journal of Religious Thought 59/60, no. 1 (06, 2007): 181-9. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/222074634?accountid=12085. (accessed 12-8-15).

Rutland, Mark. “Lord’s Prayer” (Video of sermon, Generations United, Niceville, FL. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxlwazZV3dc (accessed 12-8-15).

Wenham, David. “The Sevenfold Form of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew’s Gospel,” The Expository Times. May 2010 vol. 121 no. 8 377-382. doi: 10.1177/0014524610364409 (accessed 12-8-15).