Living and Praying with Your Eyes Open

“Surely I am too stupid.” That’s not the typical way you start a lesson on how to be wise. But that is exactly what our friend Agur does in Proverbs 30. He admits he’s not wise or educated or has a vast knowledge of God. And yet, he gets one chapter—out of only 31—in the most renown book of wisdom ever compiled. Why?

He lived and prayed with his eyes open.

Admitting you aren’t wise, maybe even that you are stupid, is perhaps the first step on the road to wisdom. The second step is to open up your eyes and look around while you walk. That’s what Agur did. What did he see?

His eyes were opened to the ease with which eagles fly, serpents sit, ships sail, and lovers love. His eyes were opened to the ease with which an adulteress lures and cheats and ruins. He saw ants and badgers and locusts and lizards doing their business to perfection. The proud walk of lions, goats, roosters mesmerized him.

Indeed, all of Proverbs uses metaphors from the theater of creation to help motivate us to wise living. But here, we see a man who doesn’t have answers or give us short, memorable sayings. Oh he teaches us, be sure of that. But his teaching comes not from self-proclaimed expertise but by simply marveling at what his eyes see.

And, at least for one chapter, that’s enough.

I struggle with seeing. I sense more often than not I don’t stop to look at the world God made. I’m too busy. I’m too busy killing ants in my backyard rather pulling my kids aside and wondering at their diligence and organization. I’m too busy finishing this project or that around the house rather than marveling at the way people fall in—and stay in—love.

I’m learning, however. I’m trying. My eyes were first opened to living with my eyes open when I read chapter seven in Eugene Peterson’s book Contemplative Pastor. It’s titled “Praying with Eyes Open,” and it challenged me to reconsider the intersection of the spiritual and physical. The fact that we are physical people in a physical world should force us to be more material, not less, when we pray and live. Christians should not be less human, but more. Prayer should force us to speak to God and, consequently, live with and before God with open eyes.

It’s necessary and good to open our eyes to the material world in life, in prayer, because the Word became flesh. The second Person of the Trinity became material. We could see him; touch him; hear him (see 1 John 1). Let that sink in. The One through whom the world was created had a body, like you and me. Don’t be fooled: being a Christian is not an escape from the material world. It’s thoroughly set in among ants and lizards, lions and roosters, virgins and eagles, rocks and cliffs, bread and wine, nails and thorns. Jesus does not take us deeper into the mystical unknown. His body dies and his body rises from the dead. Are you eyes open to that?

There are billions of amazing things happening around us all the time. We only have to open our eyes. When our eyes are opened, we’ll gain insight into God’s character, what he’s up to in the world, and, most importantly, we will know God’s Son whom we cannot now see, but whom we will see one day. That’s wisdom. That’s what Agur was after. That’s what I’m after. What about you?


Knowing What God Has Prepared for Those Who Love Him

You have heard it said with a warm tone during a small group. You have seen it plastered on a coffee mug or a Bible cover at a Christian book store. You have even quoted it to yourself in hard times.

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9). 

When we say it, read it, or hear it, what we often assume is that this is God’s “word to me” during life’s doldrums. Essentially, what we mean is, “God has awesome plans for your life. It will work out. Hang in there!” But is that what the Apostle Paul meant?

Let me tip my hand right away: this verse is not about God’s unimaginable plans for your life. Paul is saying that God has actually already revealed the depth and riches of his wisdom in the gospel. What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart imagined actually has been seen, heard, and imagined by those who have the Spirit. Let’s allow the context to explain.

In the middle of chapter 2, Paul is finishing up a little section on the wisdom of God. He already made the point in chapter 1 that his job as an apostle is to preach the gospel, not with eloquent words of worldly wisdom, but with cross-exalting speech (1:17; cf. 2:4). Paul calls his message “the word of the cross,” which, for those who are being saved, is the power of God (1:18). This word, this power, this wisdom, is Christ himself (1:23; cf. 1:30). The world’s got wisdom backwards (1:20). Yet, it pleases God to save those who believe this “folly” of the cross. (1:21). This folly, this gospel, this Christ, is the incomprehensible redemption that God has accomplished through his Son: life through death; victory through defeat; exaltation through suffering. It is the exact opposite of the world’s so-called wisdom. 

As chapter 2 begins, Paul reminds the Corinthians that he didn’t preach to them the wisdom of the world (2:1-5). He preached Christ (i.e. the word of the cross). Paul admits this word is not a wisdom of the world or of the rulers of this word (2:6). “The rulers of this age” did not understand God’s wisdom (2:8). If they had, Paul argues, they would not have crucified Jesus. But, as it is, they did not understand. Their eyes, ears, and hearts could not discern what God prepared for those who loved him. But those who love God can.

The gospel, then, is “what no eye has seen, nor ear has heard, nor heart of man imagined” (v. 9). Paul quotes Isaiah 64:4 here, which is talking about how God has done “awesome things that we did not look for” (64:3). Isaiah tells us that God acts, unlike the idols of the world, and works redemption in ways that the human mind could not conceive or invent. The gospel is foolishness to our natural thinking, and only a God who is not of this world could plan something so beautifully backwards. Christians would not have understood this if God had not revealed its wisdom through the Spirit. But, thankfully, contrary to the Christian t-shirts and handbags, we do know what God has prepared for those who love him! Paul writes, “These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit…[so] that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (vv. 10, 12).

If you have the Spirit, if you trust in Jesus as your wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, then you have seen, heard, and imagined what God has prepared for those who love him. It has not all been revealed now. But it has been revealed in part through the word of the cross. Folly to the world, but divine wisdom to us.


Why Is That Preacher So Skeptical?!

Many of us have read Ecclesiastes and have been blown away at how negative it is. Incredibly negative. Unbelievably negative. Depressingly negative.While the author of Ecclesiastes is skeptical, however, it’s clear from the book itself that “the Preacher” (Eccl. 1:1) is not on par with modern atheistic nihilists. A nihilist argues that nothing has meaning. The Preacher appears to argue that (cf. 1:2), but throughout the book, the Preacher actually believes life has meaning, for God is real, true, and trustworthy. He even states that the whole point of life is to fear God and obey him, for God is the final judge of everyone (12:13-14). That implies, beyond a doubt, there is meaning and purpose to reality.

Graeme Goldsworthy has provided a view of Ecclesiastes that I have found helpful. He does not think that the Preacher is writing a polemic against secularism or fleshly indulgence. Rather, “[The Preacher’s] main attack is directed at a form of Israelite wisdom that found a few simple answers to the question of our existence in the world. The friends of Job gave one expression of this dogmatic wisdom, which operated on a perceptible rule of retribution.”[1] Other scholars agree: “[The Preacher] protested against the easy generalizations with which his fellow teachers taught their pupils to be successful.”[2] The Preacher rebukes those who use proverbial wisdom as timeless rules. In other words, wisdom has its limits, but God is unsearchable and sovereign over the entire universe (cf. 3:1-8). Therefore, in the face of life’s uncertainties, the point is that the sovereign God is the one worthy of trust, not “wisdom.”

With this in mind, Ecclesiastes’ tone is not negative about God or even life in general, but rather, it’s skeptical of a trite use of wisdom which turns life into a composition of simplistic formulas: do this and you’ll get that; avoid this and enjoy the benefits; invest here and relish the returns. The truth is that life is complex, and it does not always work out the way we imagine, whether we are righteous or unrighteous. The author (whoever it is) makes it clear that he doesn’t want any part of that kind of wisdom.

As a Christian message, Ecclesiastes provides a silver lining. The Preacher hammers home the point that life is hard and death is certain (e.g. 2:16; 3:19; 6:12). The same ends waits for everyone. But there is hope in Jesus, the righteous sufferer par excellence. Only in light of Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion does Ecclesiastes begin to make sense. Jesus is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24, 30), and in him are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). Though his suffering and death is foolishness to the world, it is the way of redemption for those who believe, and these believers willingly suffer with him in hope of greater inheritance than this world and its pithy wisdom can offer.

With his own unique touch, the Preacher challenged the overconfidence of the prevailing wisdom of his day and paved the way for one “greater than Solomon” (Matt. 12:42).[3]

[1] Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Wisdom, in The Goldsworthy Trilogy (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2001), 455.
[2] William S. Lasor, David A. Hubbard, Frederic W. Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1996), 500.
[3] Ibid., 509.


Life Theology

Exchanging God’s Glory for Created Things

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:22-23)

Paul describes in verse 23 what this looks like.  The result of believing yourself to be wise in your own right is exchanging the glory of God for the glory of some lesser thing—that is, something created.  Here, we see the first dark exchange that man has made for worship of his Creator.  Paul writes, “And [they] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”  People have exchanged the worship of God for idols.  Futility of mind and foolishness ultimately leads to idolatry.   Every person was created for worship.  People either worship God as Creator, Author, and Sustainer of life, or something that is created and, by definition, finite, dependent, and frail.  Paul said that people have exchanged the glory of God for images.  What kind of images?  He points to man, birds, animals, and reptiles.  In essence, every created animate object on earth.

Paul does not have in mind the Israelites of the OT or pagan Gentiles, but rather the entirety of mankind (Moo, Epistle to the Romans, p. 110).  It is natural for people to worship and in our foolishness and unrighteousness, we suppress God’s truth and worship we can see and touch.  So this passage applies to the one who worships sex, money, fame, food, friends, or technology just as much as it does to the one who makes a statue out of gold or stone.

The question we must ask ourselves is: “What am I exchanging for the glory of the immortal God?”  In other words, what is it that we want to glorify and exalt and take true satisfaction in?  Tim Keller has said that nearly every idol is a “good thing.”  Think about the things that we worship.  None of them are inherently bad—money, sex, food, spouse, children, work, friends, computers, communication, etc.  However, when a good thing becomes an ultimate thing, Keller says, that thing becomes a god thing, an idol.  We must get to the root of our desires and discern what those things are that we consider ultimate things.

Keller said one way of identifying those things would be to pose this statement to yourself: “If I lost _______, I would want to die.”  If we examine our lives closely, we can ask ourselves, what takes up our time, energy, and resources.  Is it the one who is “blessed forever,” the one who is “immortal, invisible, the only God” who has “honor and glory forever and ever” (1 Tim. 1:17)?  Or is it something that is finite, dependent, and frail?  And if this other “god” were to die, would it rise from the dead like Jesus did?  The answer is a resounding no.



Some Reviews to Look Forward To…

I might be setting myself up for failure with this one, but I’d like to review a few books on the blog in the coming weeks.  In the past months I’ve finished reading Crazy Love, Finally Alive, Knowing God, and will soon finish The Masculine Mandate.  Here’s a quick note about the books:

  • Crazy Love by Francis Chan
    If you want to be challenged to be all-in in your relationship with Jesus, this book will do it. It’s nearly a newer version of Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life. Chan brings to light biblical Christianity and asks the reader to put away cultural Christianity as well as the Christian version of the American Dream.
  • Finally Alive by John Piper
    Being born again is the only way to see the Kingdom, Jesus said. In this book, John Piper takes a series of sermons from a few years ago and examines from Scripture why the new birth is important, what it is, what it accomplishes, how we can experience it, and what it means for every-day Christian life.
  • Knowing God by J.I. Packer
    This classic book is a systematic theology of God. Packer uses nearly every corner of Scripture to talk about who the God of the Bible is and how we can know him. He includes chapters on God’s most controversial attributes, Wrathful and Judge, as well as the most helpful treatment on Adoption that I have ever read.
  • The Masculine Mandate by Richard Phillips
    This is not your normal “man book” for Christians. Phillips contends that man’s identity and purpose can be found way back in the Garden, with God’s original command to Adam to be a builder and a keeper. Whether in relationships, work, play or spiritual discipline a man should always be building and keeping.