This is one of the most inspiring books I have read in a long time. It’s also an excellent book on calling and vocation from an incredible young leader. Jena Lee Nardella, co-founder of Blood:Water Mission, writes that her vision of providing clean water for one thousand African communities came to her when she was just 21 years old. She writes that the only way to reach an audacious goal is slowly by slowly.
As she tells her inspiring story she writes that the music that most resonated to her as a young woman was the 1995 debut album by Jars of Clay, one of my favorite bands. She tells us that she learned physical and relational skills at a camp she attended for several summers in Colorado that would one day carry her through the deserts of Africa and the rocky land of running a nonprofit organization.
She tells of spending her allowance to feed the homeless and later working at a shelter. She writes that she was unaware at the time that connecting an overlooked community to a community of resource would become the vocational pattern of her life.
After deciding against a career in nursing, she change her major to political studies. She writes that: “Vocation is surprising like that. Sometimes we try to make it much more difficult than it is. We assume that we have to be martyrs, monks, or missionaries in order to be doing what God wants us to do. I hold fast to the words of novelist and theologian Frederick Buechner, who writes, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
At a Faces of Justice Conference held on the campus of Grand Canyon University in Arizona she met Dr. Steve Garber, a professor from Washington, D.C. Dr. Garber was the speaker at my graduation from Covenant Seminary in 2014, and the author of the excellent book Visions of Vocation, in which he writes about Jena and Blood:Water Mission.
Garber introduced Jena to Jars of Clay, who were providentially playing a concert on her college campus the following week. Dan Haseltine, lead singer of the band, spoke about the AIDS crisis before the concert. After his talk, Jena met with the band to talk about their vision for an organization they wanted to begin. They called it Blood:Water Mission, a name derived from two things Africa urgently needs: clean blood (blood free from HIV) and clean water (water free from disease). Jars was using their platform as a popular band to talk about the AIDS crisis in Africa. They were looking for someone to turn their vision into a reality. That person would be Jena. She put together a proposal and sent it to the band, later moving to Nashville shortly after graduation to help them start Blood:Water.
The 1000 Wells Project was a goal to provide a thousand communities in Africa, especially the ones affected by HIV, with clean water. Steve Garber helped her connect to people who could lend expertise and support to Blood:Water.
The vision for Blood:Water would be more about Africa and less about Jena, the band and others who came alongside them in America. Africans would be the ones to solve the problems of their continent. Jena writes that the Africans were motivated to lead because the challenges of HIV and water were personal for them, and their own Christian faith called them to be agents of love. They had lost family members and neighbors to diseases that were preventable and treatable, and they wanted to stop the losses. Blood:Water’s vision would be accomplished through partnerships with local organizations such as Women’s Water Group.
The 1000 Wells Project was officially launched in February, 2005, about eighteen months after Jena and the band had met on her college campus. She tells the story of the ministry’s fund-raising efforts, from Haseltine’s pleas at the end of each Jars concert to a breakthrough fund-raising effort at radio station K-LOVE.
Jena and others would make many trips to Africa over the years to meet with the people of Africa and partner with local organizations. She writes that they learned that addressing water alone was simplistic. Water is just one leg of a three-legged stool if you’re trying to achieve real changes in health. The other two legs are hygiene and sanitation. Blood:Water started giving small grants to Africa-based organizations focused on water, sanitation, and hygiene.
Eventually Blood:Water would begin to feel more like a reflection of Jena’s own dreams (going back to her days of feeding the homeless and working in the shelter), rather than just a response to Dan Haseltine’s vision.
Jena writes of not only successes, but also of disappointments – a relationship with a young man who only wanted to be a friend when she longed for something more, the death of a partner in ministry, her frustration with evangelical ministries who wanted assurances that the gospel was being shared in addition to water being provided, and the leader of Women’s Water Group, who used funds donated for wells for his own personal benefit. She also writes of meeting James on a flight to Africa, who would become her husband and partner in the ministry.
Jena writes of the celebration at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, when the goal of 1,000 wells was not only reached, but exceeded. She writes “The challenge is to wake up each day and live out your vocation in the same way true change happens in Africa: slowly by slowly, brick by brick. Faithfully entering the world does not require an advanced degree, a fancy job title, or endless resources. Vocation is a calling, an action, to be expressed wherever your feet are today.”
She writes that partnering directly with local people who are capable, compassionate, and hardworking and applying the values of dignity, relationship, and excellence is where you’ll see true success. She was convinced more than ever that real change happens with Africans leading the way.
Overall, Blood:Water’s projects across Africa had brought clean water to more than 632,000 men, women, and children. Their lives had changed for the better, and in the process, so had Jena’s. She writes “My calling is to do the one more thing in front of me. And then the next. If I can step into that, I want to be there. If stepping into this calling means stepping into hard times, I still want to be there.”
- Scripture Cannot Be Broken: Twentieth Century Writings on the Doctrine of Inerrancy, Scripture Cannot Be Broken. Edited by John MacArthur. Books at a Glance interviews John MacArthur.
BOOK CLUBS – Won’t you read along with us?
Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller
Christians are taught in their churches and schools that prayer is the most powerful way to experience God. But few receive instruction or guidance in how to make prayer genuinely meaningful. In Prayer, renowned pastor Timothy Keller delves into the many facets of this everyday act. Won’t you read along with Tammy and me? This week we look at Chapter 6: Letters on Prayer.
- We turn first to three of the greatest teachers in the history of the Christian church—St. Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. Each of them wrote extensively on prayer in many places, but each of them also produced one timeless classic—three “master classes”—on the subject. Augustine and Luther each wrote a personal letter to an individual on how to pray, while Calvin included a magisterial treatment of prayer in his summary of doctrine, the Institutes.
- Augustine’s first principle is that before you know what to pray for and how to pray for it, you must become a particular kind of person. “You must account yourself ‘desolate’ in this world, however great the prosperity of your lot may be.” The scales must have fallen from your eyes and you must see clearly that no matter how great your earthly circumstances become, they can never bring you the lasting peace, happiness, and consolation that are found in Christ. Unless you have that clearly in view, your prayers may go wrong.
- Here again is one of the main themes of Augustine’s theology, applied to prayer. We must see that our heart’s loves are “disordered,” out of order.
- Unless at the very least we recognize this heart disorder and realize how much it distorts our lives, our prayers will be part of the problem, not an agent of our healing.
- If you have settled this—if you have grasped the character of your heart and admitted your desolation apart from Christ—then, he says, you can begin to pray. And what should you pray for? With a bit of a smile (I think), he answers that you should pray for what everyone else prays for: “Pray for a happy life.”
- If we have made God our greatest love, and if knowing and pleasing him is our highest pleasure, it transforms both what and how we pray for a happy life.
- If you just jump into prayer without recognizing the disordered nature of the heart’s loves, your prayer’s intention will be, “Make me as wealthy as possible.” The Proverbs 30 prayer is different. It is to ask, “Lord, meet my material needs, and give me wealth, yes, but only as much as I can handle without it harming my ability to put you first in life. Because ultimately I don’t need status and comfort—I need you as my Lord.”
- This is why in the Lord’s Prayer we don’t get to the petition for our daily bread and needs until we have spent time remembering the greatness of God and reigniting our love for him. Only then can we pray rightly for happiness and for our needs. Augustine’s
- Once you have learned to pray in full awareness of the disorderedness of your heart and where true joys are found, he says, you can be guided in the specifics of how to pray by studying the Lord’s Prayer.
- Think long and hard about this great model of prayer and be sure your own appeals fit it.
- Augustine’s fourth principle is about prayer in the dark times.
- Even the most godly Christians can’t be sure what to ask for when we are enmeshed in difficulties and suffering.
- Augustine concludes, pour out your heart’s desire, but remember the wisdom and goodness of God as you do so.
- Martin Luther’s most famous writing on prayer was also in the form of a letter to a friend. Peter Beskendorf was the barber who shaved Luther and cut his hair. One day Peter asked Luther to give him a simple way to pray.
- To begin with, Luther counsels the cultivation of prayer as a habit through regular discipline. He proposes praying twice daily.
- Next, Luther proposes ways to focus our thoughts and to warm and engage our affections for prayer.
- Luther proposes a preparation for prayer. He advises what he calls “recitation to yourself” of some part of the Scripture such as “the Ten Commandments [or] the words of Christ, etc.” This recitation is a form of meditation (or “contemplation,” as Luther calls it) of the Scripture, but it is not mere Bible study. It is taking words of the Scripture and pondering them in such a way that your thoughts and feelings converge on God.
- After advising meditation, Luther describes how to do it. First, we are to discern the “instruction” of a text. That means we must distill its essential content, what the passage wants us to believe or do. This is the work of interpreting the biblical passage. Luther calls it the “school text” part of meditation.
- Once we have drawn out the “instruction”—put the teaching of the text in a nutshell—then we ask how this teaching particularly leads us to praise and thank God, how it leads us to repent and confess sin, and how it prompts us to appeal to God in petition and supplication.
- A rich spectrum of insights can be immediately lifted to God as prayer. Those who have practiced this particular discipline of meditation know that as it proceeds it creates its own energy. It ingeniously forces you off the theoretical plane to consider what that biblical truth you are pondering should actually do to you and in you—how it should lead you to praise God, to repent and change your heart, and also what it should lead you to do in the world.
- Over time this meditative habit of mind will often exert itself during the day, naturally turning your heart toward God. You may find many things you hear, see, and read spontaneously leading you to repent, and to praise and petition God.
- Luther gives brief yet full examples of how he meditates on each of the Ten Commandments.
- They are not exactly Bible study, yet not exactly prayer. They are thinking in the presence of God—meditation.
- Luther suggests that after meditating on the Scripture, you should pray through each petition of the Lord’s Prayer, paraphrasing and personalizing each one using your own needs and concerns.
- The value of this exercise is manifold. It addresses one of the great practical difficulties of prayer—distracting thoughts.
- Ordinary prayer, which is either completely extempore or based on a list of prayer needs, often cannot draw the mind’s attention fully away from what occupied it previously. The exercise of elaborating on the Lord’s Prayer commands the full mental faculty, and this helps greatly with the problem of giving God full attention.
- Also, praying the Great Prayer forces us to use all the full language and basic forms of prayer. If left to ourselves we are likely to pray only about the items that most trouble us at the moment.
- Praying the Lord’s Prayer forces us to look for things to thank and praise God for in our dark times, and it presses us to repent and seek forgiveness during times of prosperity and success. It disciplines us to bring every part of our lives to God.
- Finally, praying the Lord’s Prayer, unlike meditation on a passage of Scripture, is actual prayer. It is address to God—with the authority of Jesus’ own words.
- To summarize this point—Luther says we should start with meditation on a text we have previously studied, then after praising and confessing in accordance with our meditation, we should paraphrase the Lord’s Prayer to God.
- Finally, we should just pray from the heart. This full exercise, he adds, should be done twice a day.
- Luther gives one more piece of advice. He calls praying believers to essentially keep a lookout for the Holy Spirit.
- The balance here is noteworthy and rarely found in other works on prayer. Luther expects that we will hear God speak through his Word.
- To paraphrase Luther’s little treatise—he tells us to build on our study of the Scripture through meditation, answering the Word in prayer to the Lord. As we do that, we should be aware that the Holy Spirit may begin “preaching” to us. When that happens, we must drop our routines and pay close attention.
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
This book made a significant impact on my wife Tammy when she read and discussed it with friends thirty years ago. When I picked up my diploma the day after graduation ceremonies from Covenant Seminary last year I was given a copy of this book. After enjoying Lloyd-Jones book Spiritual Depression (and the sermons the book was taken from), I couldn’t wait to read this book, which is the printed form of sermons preached for the most part on successive Sunday mornings at Westminster Chapel in London. This week we look at Chapter 4: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit.
- It is not surprising that this is the first, because it is obviously, as I think we shall see, the key to all that follows.
- There is no one in the kingdom of God who is not poor in spirit. It is the fundamental characteristic of the Christian and of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven, and all the other characteristics are in a sense the result of this one.
- We shall see that it really means an emptying, while the others are a manifestation of a fullness.
- What our Lord is concerned about here is the spirit; it is poverty of spirit. In other words, it is ultimately a man’s attitude towards himself. That is the thing that matters, not whether he is wealthy or poor.
- You will never find a greater antithesis to the worldly spirit and outlook than that which you find in this verse.
- There is nothing so unchristian in the Church today as this foolish talk about `personality’.
- To be `poor in spirit’ does not mean that we should be diffident or nervous, nor does it mean that we should be retiring, weak or lacking in courage.
- Neither does it mean that we are to become what I can best describe as imitators of Uriah Heep. Many, again, have mistaken being `poor in spirit’ for that.
- As it were, glories in his poverty of spirit and thereby proves he is not humble. It is an affectation of something which he obviously does not feel.
- Then again, to be `poor in spirit’ is not a matter of the suppression of personality.
- To be `poor in spirit’ is not even to be humble in the sense in which we speak of the humility of great scholars. Generally speaking, the truly great thinker is a humble man. It is `a little learning’ that `is a dangerous thing’.
- It was the spirit of a man like Gideon, for instance, who, when the Lord sent an angel to him to tell him the great thing he was to do, said, `No, no, this is impossible; I belong to the lowest tribe and to the lowest family in the tribe.’
- It was the spirit of Moses, who felt deeply unworthy of the task that was laid upon him and was conscious of his insufficiency and inadequacy.
- You find it in David, when he said, `Lord, who am I that thou shouldst come to me?’
- You see it perfectly, for instance, in a man like the apostle Peter who was naturally aggressive, self-assertive, and self-confident-a typical modern man of the world, brimful of this confidence and believing in himself. But look at him when he truly sees the Lord. He says, `Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, 0 Lord.’
- Or look at it as you see it in the apostle Paul. Here was a man, again with great powers, and obviously, as a natural man, fully aware of them. But in reading his Epistles you will find that the fight he had to wage to the end of his life was the fight against pride.
- But, of course, we see this most of all as we look at the life of our Lord Himself. He became a Man, He took upon Him `the likeness of sinful flesh’. Though He was equal with God He did not clutch at the prerogatives of His Godhead. He decided that while He was here on earth He would live as a man, though He was still God. And this was the result. He said, `I can do nothing of myself.’
- That, then, is what is meant by being `poor in spirit’. It means a complete absence of pride, a complete absence of self-assurance and of self-reliance. It means a consciousness that we are nothing in the presence of God. It is nothing, then, that we can produce; it is nothing that we can do in ourselves. It is just this tremendous awareness of our utter nothingness as we come face to face with God. That is to be `poor in spirit’.
- It is to feel that we are nothing, and that we have nothing, and that we look to God in utter submission to Him and in utter dependence upon Him and His grace and mercy.
- It is, I say, to experience to some extent what Isaiah experienced when, having seen the vision, he said, `Woe is me!… I am a man of unclean lips’-that is `poverty of spirit’.
- Am I like that, am I poor in spirit? How do I really feel about myself as I think of myself in terms of God, and in the presence of God? And as I live my life, what are the things I am saying, what are the things I am praying about, what are the things I like to think of with regard to myself?
- How does one therefore become `poor in spirit’? The answer is that you do not look at yourself or begin by trying to do things to yourself.
- The way to become poor in spirit is to look at God. Read this Book about Him, read His law, look at what He expects from us, contemplate standing before Him. It is also to look at the Lord Jesus Christ and to view Him as we see Him in the Gospels.
- Look at Him; and the more we look at Him, the more hopeless shall we feel by ourselves, and in and of ourselves, and the more shall we become `poor in spirit’. Look at Him, keep looking at Him. Look at the saints, look at the men who have been most filled with the Spirit and used. But above all, look again at Him, and then you will have nothing to do to yourself.