Don Carson reminds us not to go to the extreme of believing we can so influence God in prayer that we turn him into a genie of our own making:
The…extreme begins with the slogan, “Prayer changes things.” Petitionary prayer is everything. This means that if people die and go to hell, it is because you or I or someone has neglected to pray. Does not Scripture say, “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2)? Worship and confession must of course be allotted an appropriate part, but they can reduce to mere self-gratification: it can be fun to worship, a relief to confess your sins. Real work for God, however, demands that we wrestle with God, and cry, with Jacob, “I will not let you go until you bless me” (Gen. 32:26). Not to intercede is to flee your responsibilities as a Christian. Far from being an insult to God, petitionary prayer honors him because he is a God who likes to give his blessings in response to the intercession for his people. In fact, if you agonize in your prayers, fast much, plead the name of Jesus, and spend untold hours at this business of intercession, you cannot help but call down from heaven a vast array of blessings. Of course, if a Christian adopts this line, he or she is in danger of treating prayer much like magic: the right incantations produce the desire effect.
David Murray, professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, answers this question when asked about preaching Christ from the Old Testament:
I’d also like to encourage preachers and teachers to be clear and consistent on the question: “How were Old Testament believers saved?” The most common options seem to be:
1. They were saved by obeying the law.
2. They were saved by offering sacrifices.
3. They were saved by a general faith in God.
4. They were saved by faith in the Messiah.
Unless we consistently answer #4, we end up portraying heaven as not only populated by lovers of Christ, but also by legalists, ritualists, and mere theists who never knew Christ until they got there. Turning back again in order to go forwards, may I recommend Calvin’s Institutes Book 2 (chapters 9-11) to help remove some of the blur that often surrounds this question.
Read the whole post to see thoughts from Murray, as well as Tim Keller and Don Carson, about some cautions when preaching Christ from the Old Testament.
If you are a Christian and if you live in a postmodern world (which we all do), then you need to read The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World. The book wonderfully tackles tough issues that Christianity faces in our world today and how we can overcome those issues to continue advancing the kingdom.
It is a collection of essays that are taken from messages given at the 2006 Desiring God National Conference. Contributors include Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, Don Carson, Voddie Baucham, Jr., David Wells, and John Piper. Piper and Justin Taylor are the general editors.
We just had eleven American students come to Joburg for a month long mission trip. Perhaps the most important thing they learned is that God works in his own time and for his own purposes in the salvation of people.
It would be a delight to tell you that we saw a hundred conversions to Christ in a month. It would also be a lie. Let me tell you how many we saw after literally hundreds of gospel conversations.
In The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, Don Carson provides some comforting words for guys like me who lead mission projects like the one we just had. During a panel discussion, he said:
There are people who went to Korea in 1900, planted churches, and saw the church grow to a quarter of the world’s evangelical population today. There are people who went to Japan about the same time — and no place on God’s green earth did the church grow more slowly than in Japan. What are you doing to do? Say, “All the ones who went to Korea are spiritual — particularly loved of God?” The ones in Japan aren’t blessed of God? God works on another scale.
South Africa is a de-churched culture on the brink of European-like post-modernism. The soil is hard, and cultivating takes work. Seeds have been planted. And if they grow, God is glorious. If they don’t sprout anything, God is still just as glorious.