Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney. Crossway. 114 pages. 2015
In this short book, the author, a respected seminary professor, writes that Christians often don’t pray simply because they do not feel like it. And he states that the reason they don’t feel like praying is that when they do pray, they tend to say the same old things about the same old things. He tells us that the problem is not us, but our method of prayer. The method of most Christians in prayer is to say the same old things about the same old things. Prayers without variety eventually become words without meaning. He writes that it’s normal to pray about the same old things because our lives tend to consist of the same old things. His solution to this problem is that when we pray, we should pray through a passage of Scripture, particularly a Psalm. He states that God gave the Psalms to us so that we would give the Psalms back to God, and that no other book of the Bible was inspired for that expressed purpose.
He suggests that we pick a Psalm (he provides us a method for determining which psalm to choose each day when he discusses “Psalms of the Day”), and simply go through the passage line by line, talking to God about whatever comes to mind as we read the text. By following this method, we will never run out of anything to say, and, best of all, we will never again say the same old things about the same old things. What we will be doing is taking words that originated in the heart and mind of God and circulating them through our heart and mind back to God. The author tells us that by this means God’s words become the wings of our prayers. When we pray through a passage of Scripture, we won’t be praying empty, repetitive phrases. If we pray in this way, in the long run our prayers will be far more biblical than if we just make up our own prayers. Without the Scripture to shape our prayers, we are far more likely to pray in unbiblical ways than if we pray the thoughts that occur to us as we read the Scripture.
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BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review and reviews of:
- For a Continuing Church: The Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America by Sean Michael Lucas
- The Hand of God: Finding His Care in All Circumstances by Alistair Begg
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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He addresses the difficulties of praying through the “imprecatory psalms,” those passages where the psalmist calls for God’s judgment upon his enemies. Next to the Psalms, he suggests praying through the New Testament letters because of the ease in which they can be turned into prayer. He also addresses the need to learn to pray through narrative passages because so much of the Bible is narrative.
The author allows time in the reading of the book to actually practice this method. He then shares the most common feedback he receives from people after he has taught them the method and they have practiced it.
He concludes the book by telling us about how George Mueller, Jesus and the early church prayed the Psalms, and how to pray the Bible with a group. He tells us that if we make it our prayer practice to pray the Bible, we’ll never again say the same old things about the same old things.
For a Continuing Church: The Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America by Sean Michael Lucas. P&R Publishing. 367 pages. 2016
As a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), I’d been wanting to read this book for some time. Thoroughly researched and footnoted, the book should be considered required reading for all PCA teaching (pastors) and ruling elders. After I finished the book, I asked myself what can we learn from this history of our denomination? There is certainly a progressive wing of the denomination today as we see certain churches and presbyteries pushing the limits on issues such as sexuality (Revoice Conference) and women’s role in the church (Deaconesses).
The author, a PCA pastor and seminary professor, tells us that the creation of the PCA on December 4, 1973 was an attempt to preserve a “continuing” Presbyterian church. Concerned about the liberal drift of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), those who led in forming the PCA were concerned with doctrinal and ecclesiastical issues. They believed that the agencies and boards of the denomination, along with many of its ministers, had become apostate and that the only way in which the mission and tradition of the PCUS could be preserved was through a separation. The PCA was formed to be a conservative mainline Presbyterian body, and now represents the largest conservative Presbyterian body in North America. The new denomination would affirm biblical authority, the Reformed evangelicalism of the Westminster Standards, and the evangelistic passion of the Great Commission.
The author tells us with excellent detail the story of how leaders in the PCUS, through the teaching of pastors in churches and seminaries, began to move to the left theologically as early as the 1920’s. The progressives had a goal throughout this history – a reunion with the northern Presbyterian church (PCUSA).
Conservatives felt that the church should focus on evangelism and worship, not political or social concerns. The issues of doctrine, mission, and reunion threatened the existence of the PCUS, whether by absorption from the larger northern body or by decay from within. The author tells us of progressives who defended evolution and denied biblical inerrancy who wanted to move the PCUS in a more progressive, tolerant, and ecumenical direction.
Among the issues that the author addresses in this history are the continuing movement toward the union with the northern church (PCUSA), the role of the Southern Presbyterian Journal, the threat of communism, how the PCUS addressed segregation, the Federal and National Council of Churches, ownership of church property, ordination of women, revival and evangelism, the inerrancy of scripture and biblical authority, Westminster Standards, Book of Church Order, denominational literature, universalism, secularization, Reformed Seminary and the eventual separation from the PCUS and forming of the PCA.
Similar to Martin Luther and the Roman Catholic Church, conservatives were initially more focused on reforming the church than on dividing it. But as the 1960s progressed and as the direction of the church moved harder leftward, southern Presbyterian conservatives began to consider the issue of separation. This eventually led to a new denomination, initially called the National Presbyterian Church. After a court challenge, the denomination’s name would be changed to the Presbyterian Church in America. In 1982, the denomination would join with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES), bringing into the denomination a college and seminary—Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, and Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, the latter of which I would graduate from in 2014.
This book details how the PCUS continued to move to the left, eventually forcing many, but not all, conservatives to leave the denomination and begin the PCA. From this, there is much we can learn, regardless of which denomination we are in about remaining faithful to scripture and our confessional standards.
The Hand of God: Finding His Care in All Circumstances by Alistair Begg. Moody Publishers. 256 pages. 2019
I read the first edition of this revised book twenty years ago, and recently listened to the wonderful sermon series that it is based on, which I would highly recommend, and that you can find on the Truth for Life website. The book is about the biblical doctrine of providence as expressed in the story of Joseph, one of my favorite characters in the Bible. The author tells us that Joseph’s story is the classic Old Testament Story of Romans 8:28, and that he was a life-sized illustration of that verse:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Through the events of his life, Joseph understood that God sovereignly orders all things that come to pass and preserves the lives of His creatures for His purposes. The author tells us that the doctrine of providence brought Joseph, and brings us as well, comfort in the face of great difficulty and sorrow.
The story of Joseph is well known. He was the object of his father’s special interest, his brothers’ jealous hatred, and God’s providential care. He was favored by his father Jacob, as one of two sons from wife Rachel. At age 17, his jealous brothers threw him in a pit to die, and then decided to sell him into slavery. Twenty years later, those same brothers would be reunited with Joseph, now second in command in Egypt, as they came for food during a famine. The author tells us that the story of Joseph is a tale of jealousy, deceit, slavery, misrepresentation, injustice, lust, rivalry, and forgiveness. It pits brother against brother.
The overarching theme of the book is that of the sovereign hand of God manifesting itself in His providential care over His dearly loved children and bringing about all that He has purposed in the affairs of time. He tells us that Joseph’s life ought to be for us a story of great encouragement and reassurance as we make our way in the walk of faith.
The author tells us that in the details of his life, Joseph foreshadowed Jesus. As an example, he writes that Joseph provides a wonderful illustration of Christlike forgiveness.
The author takes us from Genesis 37:2, when Joseph was seventeen to Genesis 50, when he dies at the age of 110. Through it all, he tells us that Joseph stood the test of time. He states that one of our greatest challenges is to stand the test of time and stay the course in the Christian life. He tells us that Joseph left a wonderful legacy. He left us a record of steadfast faith in the face of extreme trial. He left us a graphic picture of forgiveness in response to bitter jealousy. He left us a wonderful testimony of generosity and kindness as repayment for cruel neglect. The author leaves us with a final challenge: what kind of legacy will we leave?
Below are 25 of my favorite quotes from the book:
- There is an important lesson here: it is virtually impossible to commit just one sin. One sin needs another to guard it from detection. You can mark it down that when you sin, you’ll sin again—especially in the area of lying.
- The center of God’s will may take us into the eye of a storm. We should not seek, therefore, to confirm God’s will by the absence of adversity.
- It takes the test of trials to make us useful to God. Some of us are not as useful as we might be, for in shunning trials we have missed God’s blessings.
- There is no ideal place to serve God except the place in which He has set you down.
- People who search for ideal circumstances forget that all that is ideal and perfect is saved for heaven. They launch forth on a journey destined to end in disappointment.
- We often ask God to remove the problem from us or remove us from the problem. But most of the time what God does with His children is change their attitudes toward the circumstances in which they find themselves.
- God never calls us to an action that He does not enable us to complete.
- The most successful people I have seen, however, are the ones who are able to see the shining blessing of God in the routine experiences of life.
- For most of us, most of the time, it is true that more spiritual progress is made through failure and tears than through success and laughter.
- It is not a sin to be tempted; it is our response to temptation that leads us either down the path of righteousness or into the dead end of disobedience.
- It can take thirty years to build a reputation, and only five minutes to ruin it.
- God tests us, but the difference between God’s testings and the devil’s temptations is this: God sets up His tests for His students to pass. The temptations of the devil are set up so that his students will fail.
- Suffering is not the unusual exception for the Christian. Therefore, we should not be surprised when we suffer unjustly.
- We need to help people understand that they cannot have a heaven without a hell, that it is intellectually implausible to have the one without the other, and that they must prepare for the day when they will stand before God and face eternal judgment.
- People can be secondary causes of God’s provision for us, but our ultimate confidence must be in Him. Anything less than this will lead us to great disappointment and pain.
- We need to understand that although our days may seem dark, and although there seems to be no potential for change, nevertheless God is working everything out in conformity with the purpose of His will. He makes everything beautiful in His time.
- God knows what is best for each of His children. We do well to wait upon Him, for He will never give us anything too soon, nor will anything ever arrive too late.
- It is in the routines of life that real gains are made, real joy is found, and the reality of God’s provision becomes most obvious.
- God determines what is going to happen according to His will, for His glory, and for the good of His people.
- The challenge is always this: Are men and women going to allow the Word of God to sit in judgment on their puny minds, or are they going to make their puny minds the judges of the Word of God?
- The wonderful truth of God’s providence enables us to have humility in success, for it makes us aware that all our successes are gifts from God.
- Can we kiss all our brothers and sisters, whether physical or spiritual, the way Joseph kissed his brothers? Or are we still holding grudges over things that are microscopic compared to what Joseph went through?
- Can we who have been forgiven every debt by God honestly tell Him we plan to hold a grudge against our brother and sister the rest of our lives over what might be some marginal, minimal offense?
- Forgiveness is not some little extra part of the Christian experience; it is at the very heart of it.
- The rule is always that secret sins must be confessed secretly to God, and private sins must be confessed privately to the injured party.
- Christianaudio’s free audiobook download for March. The free audiobook download from Christianaudio for March is Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
- Tim and Kathy Keller on Why Marriage Is Not About Us. Caleb Wait reviews Tim and Kathy Keller’s new book On Marriage. He writes “If the resources of modernity seem to fall short of capturing what marriage is truly about, then On Marriageis for you—as it is for the Christian couple needing reminders of what marriage is all about.”
- Tim Keller on the Significance of ‘Birth’ in Your Life. Rebecca McLaughlin reviews Tim Keller’s new book On Birth. She writes “On Birthis a slim book. It can be read in a couple of hours. I highly commend it to those in the throes of parenting. But its practical theology is a gift to us all: married or single, directly parenting or modeling faith to the kids in our church.”
- Tim Keller Talks Birth, Marriage, and Death. Ivan Mesa corresponded with Tim Keller about our role in forming children, what’s wrong with the modern understanding of consensual sex (and why superconsensual is better), why some Christians are still afraid of death and dying, and more.
BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?
We are reading through John MacArthur’s classic book The Gospel According to Jesus. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Follow me”? MacArthur tackled that seemingly simple question and provided the evangelical world with the biblical answer. For many, the reality of Jesus’ demands has proved thoroughly searching, profoundly disturbing, and uncomfortably invasive; and yet, heeding His words is eternally rewarding. The 20th anniversary edition of the book has revised and expanded the original version to handle contemporary challenges. The debate over what some have called “lordship salvation” hasn’t ended—every generation must face the demands Christ’s lordship. Will you read along with us?
This week we look at Chapter 7: He Challenges an Eager Seeker. Here are a few takeaways from the chapter:
- Most people who witness for Christ regularly would admit that it is relatively easy to get people to profess faith. Getting them to follow the Lord is a much more frustrating experience.
- Salvation is only for those who are willing to give Christ first place in their lives.
- There is something we have to do to inherit eternal life: we have to believe.
- Much of contemporary evangelism is woefully deficient when it comes to confronting people with the reality of their sin.
- Recognition of personal sin is a necessary element in understanding the truth of salvation.
- You cannot preach a gospel of grace to someone who has not heard that God requires obedience and punishes disobedience.