Lent Devotional: From Dust to Glory

Lent begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday. There are many great resources and devotionals available to use throughout this period. Last year, I wrote a little devotional book for our church, From Dust to Glory: Readings and Reflections for Lent, and I want to share it with you.

Most devotional resources are heavy on reading the author’s thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, and I have benefitted from things like that in the past. The church needs clear, articulate writing that encourages and challenges people. But this little booklet has a different aim. In the introduction, I explain what the book is and how to use it:

This is a devotional guide for Lent. Each week focuses on a different biblical theme: repentance, humility, lament, suffering, enemies, and death. A short devotional reading will introduce you to these themes. Each day of the week, there will be a Scripture reading related to that theme and also a passage from the Gospel of Mark, each accompanied with reflection questions. The readings from Mark begin in chapter 8 and will, successively, take you to the end of Mark in 40 days. Because Sundays are celebrations and anticipations of Easter, there will be a short Scripture text focused on resurrection and renewal each Sunday.

There is not a devotional article to read each day for a very specific reason: this guide is meant to get you into the Scriptures. The temptation with devotional books is to spend more time reading someone else’s thoughts on the Bible rather than the Bible itself. Devotional readings are wonderful servants, but bad masters. Be mastered by God through his word, for this is where the true power for transformation lies. The reflection questions are there to stir your mind and heart. Please, don’t feel confined to answer just those questions or even answer them at all. They simply “prime the pump” and, sometimes, only cover a single aspect of the passage. Let them stimulate your thinking, feeling, praying, and acting. Let them, also, merely be your servant, but not your master.

I pray this is a helpful resource to you as you pursue Jesus this Lent. To God be the glory!

Download From Dust to Glory: Readings and Reflections for Lent.


Quiet Time Confessions of a Pastor-Dad

photoWhat you see to the left is a picture of my nine month old daughter Hope and me from an early morning a couple weeks ago. This is characteristic of my morning “quiet time” (what I refer to as “personal worship”–I’ll use the terms interchangeably here). More often than not, early in the morning, I settle down with a Bible, a notebook, and a squirmy, noisy, giggly, grunty baby girl on my lap.

I’m a pastor, but I’m mainly a dad, so that means my personal worship times look less like the shekhinah glory and more like grabbing fingers, laughs and cries and babbles, diaper changes and bottle feedings all interwoven with reading, meditations, confessions, laments, praises, thanksgivings, and supplications.

Children are a blessing from the Lord…unless they are present during my quiet time! Has that thought ever entered into your mind? If you are a parent (especially a mom!) of young children, then you know the difficulties of trying to balance everything being a parent brings and trying to carve out time in your busy schedule for personal worship. It’s not only difficult, it can be overwhelming and even a source of bitterness and anger.

So think about the last time something like this has happened to you. Now take a step back. When Hope (or Bailey, our two-and-a-half year-old) “messes up” my quiet time, and I get angry or frustrated or just annoyed, I’m making a personal worship event about me rather than about Jesus. I’m slipping into performance-mode. At that moment, I forget that personal worship times are vehicles to cultivate repentance and faith in my life. Nothing more. Nothing less. Reading Scripture and praying and journaling and singing, etc. are means of grace that God uses in his kindness to make me look more like Jesus. So what being angry, frustrated, or annoyed reveals is that I’m really basing my standing with God and my progress in the faith on how my quiet times go. Quickly, I’m on the road to believing a different gospel (see Galatians 1).

So when a crying or laughing or giggling or snorting baby “interrupts” me during a time of worship, it’s imperative that I remind myself that my righteousness is in Jesus, not this worship event; my sanctification is in Jesus, not how holy I feel during this time; my hope is in Jesus; not how well this ends up.

This is good news—gospel—for my quiet times. It eliminates pride: if things go well, I remember that God is not more inclined to me than before because my good works merit me nothing. It eliminates fear: if things go badly (or get stopped altogether!), I rest knowing that if God gave his Son for me while I was an enemy, there’s infinite grace for this particular moment.

Now with this good news, I’m liberated. My personal time of worship doesn’t define me or shape my identity. Rather, its one tool, one instrument, one means to the end of knowing, worshiping, loving, and obeying Jesus.

I’m liberated to use this time, as a tool, to love and disciple my kids, rather than twist this time into a pseudo-savior and grow annoyed that they keep me from “going deep” with this idol. I can take advantage of this moment to model to our daughters what it is to believe the gospel and repent of my self-righteousness. Even though they are young, I can discuss with them what I’m reading. It’s never to early to teach them how to read and meditate on the Scriptures and pray and sing. I trust that over time God will use this to woo them to himself.

“But,” you ask, “what about my quiet times?!” Press on. If you have a literal “quiet” time, great. Take advantage. But for the other 95% of the time, engage with God and worship him in the mess of life. Kids are messy. Parenting is messy. Life is messy. Why should your quiet time be any different?


The Grace of the Cross

Taken from Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

I thank Thee from the depths of my being for Thy wondrous grace and love in bearing my sin in Thine own body on the tree. May Thy cross be to me as the tree that sweetens my bitter Marahs, as the rod that blossoms with life and beauty, as the brazen serpent that calls forth the look of faith. By Thy cross crucify my every sin, use it to increase my intimacy with thyself, make it a ground of all my comfort, the liveliness of all my duties, the sum of all Thy gospel promises, the comfort of all my afflictions, the vigor of my love, thankfulness, graces, the very essence of my religion, and by it give me that rest without rest, the rest of ceaseless praise.

Thou hast also appointed a cross for me to take up and carry, a cross before Thou givest me a crown. Thou hast appointed it to be my portion, but self-love hates it, carnal reason is unreconciled to it, without the grace of patience I cannot bear it, walk with it, profit by it. Oh blessed cross, what mercies dost thou bring with thee. Thou art only esteemed hateful by my rebel will, heavy because I shirk thy load. Teach me, gracious Lord and Savior, that with my cross Thou sends promised grace so that I may bear it patiently, that my cross is Thy yoke which is easy, and Thy burden which is light.


Life Theology

How to Use Scripture in Prayer

In the midst of all the excitement we have for our New Year’s Bible reading plans, we often forget that our aim is not simply to read Scripture, but to have it read us. That is, we do not read the Bible to master it like we would a mechanic’s manual. We read it so that it can marinate in our soul and master us. As God’s word permeates our lives, we are mastered by him, by his authoritative word.

The supreme way to use Scripture so that we are mastered by it is to use Scripture in prayer. The Bible without prayer will lead to rigid dogmatism. Prayer without the Bible will lead to emotionalistic spirituality. Both together, however, fuel the flame of worship toward God.

John Piper has said, “It will be difficult to pray for five minutes without an open Bible.” I have found this to be true. However, if I am meditating (i.e. thinking) about how God has revealed himself and his works through Scripture, I find that I can pray for a long time! Before I hear shouts of “Quality, not quantity!” let me remind you that no man in his right mind would say to his wife, “I know our date is scheduled to last for ten minutes, but the restaurant is 5-star, after all!” That is a foolish man—one who will be sleeping on the couch in a few hours. Simple wisdom tells the husband to pursue quality and quantity. It is no less true for our relationship with God.

How then should we use Scripture to pray well? I have been greatly helped by a paradigm I learned from Martin Luther. You can read the whole thing in his little booklet A Simple Way to Pray. In the context of prayer, Luther used Scripture as

  1. a textbook: Scripture teaches us about God, ourselves, and the world. It is the revelation of the nature of reality. Use it to learn about who God is and what he has done;
  2. a hymnbook: we are to praise God for what we have seen and learned from “the textbook.” Learning with our minds should lead us to worship with our heart and truly delight in God;
  3. a confession book: Scripture shows us our sin. We fall short of what we praise God for and what he demands of us, so we should be quick to ask for mercy and grace;
  4. a petition book: Scripture tells us what to ask for. We should petition (ask) God for what we specifically need in order to honor and glorify him. We should ask God to help us clearly see truth and feel it.

When I use this model, I add a thanksgiving element at some point. Simply, I thank God for how Christ is the solution to my sin (whatever sin the passage exposed, or other related sins). I thank God that his sustaining grace through the Holy Spirit empowers me to overcome the sin I confessed.

Kevin DeYoung has also recently written about this. Luther seems to have had an impact on him as well.

Happy reading and praying in 2013!


Spurgeon on Praying in the Spirit

The seed of acceptable devotion must come from heaven’s storehouse.  Only the prayer which comes from God can go to God.

Spurgeon’s five aspects of praying in the Spirit:

  1. Fervency: “Those who do not plead with fervency, plead not at all.”
  2. Perseveringly: “The longer the gate is closed, the more vehemently does he uses the knocker.”
  3. Humbly: “Out of hte depths must we cry, or we shall never behold glory in the highest.”
  4. Loving: “Prayer should be perfumed with love, saturated with love — love to saints, and love to Christ.”
  5. Faith: “A man prevails only as he believes.”

Most blessed Comforter, exert Thy mighty power within us, helping our infirmities in prayer!

Read the whole thing here.

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