Who Can Pray?

Every week, while planning our Sunday Worship, one of the most difficult roles to fill is that of corporate prayer. I get a mix of responses when I approach church members with the opportunity to participate in Sunday worship through corporate prayer: “Can you put me on for scripture reading instead?”; “I’m really bad at public speaking”; “Praying is not really my gifting”; “I’m not comfortable doing that”’; “I feel so disingenuous when I pray”; and so on.

Prayer is no easy task.

Public speaking ranks as one of the biggest fears that people have. While many may have a genuine and legitimate full-fledged phobia of speaking in front of people, for some, this fear may stem more from a overly self-critical heart. We get concerned about how people will see us; or it may be how certain people (that we deem of consequence) see us.

What if I pray the wrong thing?

Will people see that I’m not biblically informed in my prayer?

What if I don’t honestly care to pray about those things?

Will people see the hypocrisy in my prayer?

I’m not spiritual enough to pray!

And this preoccupation with our own self worthiness often blinds us from seeing what… or rather who… makes anyone worthy to pray. To think that one could have the ear of the Lord—how pretentious! Even the most well written or well delivered prayers… do you think God is impressed?

We are able to worship in prayer because the work of Christ on the cross has given new life and new identities. The Spirit has been given to us who believe and he works in us to draw us into communion with the Triune God. Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:24 teach us that Christ intercedes for us right now.

Every time we bring our imperfect worship (which is every time), Christ takes that worship—that prayer, that song, that deep sigh—and he sanctifies it and makes it a worthy act of worship before a holy God. Every time we pray, whether it be in our bedroom or with others, we lean completely on Christ; why else do we pray “in Jesus’ name”? We can approach because of Christ!

So what does this mean?
Should we only pray when we’ve learned to have more trust in the work of Christ? What if we doubt? What if we don’t know what to pray? Should we pray only after we’ve figured this all out?

We learn to pray by praying. Just as you will have extremely difficulty learning how to ride a bike from merely reading a book about bicycling (as opposed to actually getting on a bicycle), you will not grow in prayer and trust of our Chief Prayer-er until we practice it and learn how the Spirit moves and changes us as we engage the Living God.

But some of you may still be protesting, “But I’m afraid of doing it wrong.” There is grace for you; there is grace for all of us, his beloved children. When we endeavor to grow in prayer, we must constantly take our eyes off ourselves and our inadequacies and look to the only one who can pray—who draws us into prayer with himself and who ever lives and pleads for us.

Pray the Scriptures by Scotty Smith

I really enjoyed this reflection by Scotty Smith about prayer. I hope that it is a source of encouragement to you and your journey of faith this week. 

I am a recovering self-centered pragmatic pray-er — a believer who spent many of my first years in Christ thinking of God more as a sugar daddy than the sovereign Father. Prayer, for me, had more in common with programming a heavenly computer than surrendering to a loving Master. I worked harder at claiming God’s promises for my ease than being claimed by God’s purposes for His kingdom. Instead of being still and knowing that God is God, my prayer life was that of an antsy man, trying to help God be God.

Alas, this was a manifestation of the man-centered gospel that distorted my view of God and, therefore, enfeebled my practice of prayer. Thankfully, continued growth in grace has led me to a better understanding of the gospel, which, in turn, has radically reoriented my prayer life. It’s not cliché; it’s wondrously true: the gospel changes everything.

Nothing has been of greater importance to my growth in grace than learning to pray the Scriptures while wearing the lens of the gospel, and nothing has proven to be more fruitful. A gospel-centered approach to praying through the Bible will yield a mind informed by the will of God, a heart enflamed with the love of God, and hands extended in the service of God. All three of these are central to life in Christ, and all three flow out of our union and communion with Christ.

So, what’s involved in this doxological discipline of praying the Scriptures? I don’t suggest my way is the only way, but here’s how my commitment to Bible study and prayer have been tremendously enriched in recent years.

Praying the Scriptures requires us first to be in the Scriptures regularly, preferably daily. A “diligent use of the means of grace” doesn’t earn us anything, but it profits us in every way. We can’t hide the Word in our hearts if we’re not lingering in the Bible’s pages. Personally, the best time for me to meet with God in an unrushed, expectant way is early in the morning, but we’re all wired differently.

Jack Miller, my spiritual dad and professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, taught me the importance of reading through the whole Bible while at the same time having a smaller portion of Scripture read me. If we aren’t careful, we can read the Scriptures for information and inspiration while playing dodgeball with our calling to transformation. Having the Scriptures “read me” deepens my prayer life because it exposes my sin, reveals Jesus, and makes me hunger and thirst for more of the gospel.

As Martin Luther said, we need the gospel every day because we forget the gospel every day. There’s nothing like knowing our need for Jesus to cure us of gospel amnesia. Nothing will so enflame our hearts like a fresh experience of God’s grace for our current needs. Reading the Bible and having the Bible read me constantly convinces me of this: there’s nothing more than the gospel, there’s just more of the gospel.

Praying the Scriptures, therefore, calls us to look for Jesus in every part of the Bible, for He is the heart, heartbeat, and hero of the gospel. “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets” (Luke 24:27), we want to discover everything prophesied and promised about Jesus as He is progressively revealed in the history of redemption from Genesis through Revelation.

All of God’s promises find their “yes” in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20), but they’re not God’s “yes” to all of our fancies and fantasies. Jack Miller taught me to pray the promises of God with my eyes fixed on Jesus and His kingdom purposes. This represents an important paradigm shift away from looking for verses we can name and claim to pursuing the Christ we can know and serve.

Minds informed by the will of God and hearts enflamed with the love of God will be authenticated by hands extended in the service of God. The more we pray through the Scriptures wearing the lens of the gospel, the less we’ll find ourselves giving God bit parts in our story and the more we’ll think about finding our place in His story. The central and operative question in life is not “What can I dofor Jesus?” while He’s away in heaven. Rather, it’s “What can I do with Jesus?” since He’s right here, right now. Each of us is called to live as a character in and a carrier of His story of redemption and restoration.

Praying the Scriptures involves heart-fully engaging with Christ in His three offices of prophet, priest, and king:

Because Jesus is our Prophet — the final Word from God — reading the Bible isn’t merely about gaining information; it’s about prayerfully listening to the One in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. We are to give Jesus our rapt attention and our grace-liberated consciences.

Because Jesus is our Priest — our great High Priest — we must read the Scriptures doxologically, for Christ is the completed sacrifice for our sins, our perfect righteousness from God, and the Shepherd of our souls. We are to give Jesus our current brokenness and our fresh adoration.

Because Jesus is our King — the King of kings and Lord of lords — we must pray through the Bible with bowed heads and surrendered lives. We are to give Jesus our humble obeisance and our overjoyed obedience.

Pray Where You Are: Praylessness as a Sign of Grace

Do you really long for the courage to believe that deliverance from a prayerless life is possible for you, and may become a reality? Then you must learn the great lesson that such a deliverance is included in the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, that it is one of the blessings of the New Covenant which God himself will impart to you through Christ Jesus.

— Dr. Andrew Murray

One of the first things we need to get our hearts right in prayer is to pray our praylessness. This seems odd to pray about our prayerlessness, but I think that it is a sign of grace to us when we lack prayer because it is a diagnosis of our spiritual condition. It is a sign that we have sought something else besides God for our desires and also it means that we found something else that has captured our comfort in the midst of suffering. Yet, the remedy is not condemnation for our prayerlessness but rather in scripture there is a solid truth that God validating His promise to be there in our hard places and broken stories. There’s no name that you call us that is any more precious to us than, “Mine” (Isa. 43:1). God is continually calling us to His. It is in this heart of prayerlessness that we should find our delight and honor that we are called to be His, and that is confirmed in the suffering that he bore in the cross. That is where He stands in the midst of our prayerlessness; God is inviting us to return to Him and to delight in the resurrection and return of Jesus.

Prayer is one of the most vital ways for us to connect with God and like any intimacy that we have in our lives, there is a need to cultivate it through the means of presence and time. As we spend more and more time, we find out two things; first, when we cultivate relationships we discover the “other” and we see what passions has formed this person, we see their values, their fears, their joys and most of all we simply connect our hearts with their hearts. Second, we discover ourselves through that interaction. We find a bit of ourselves being stirred and expanded through that interaction.

That is why John Calvin in “Institutes of Christian Religion” states “Without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God. Our wisdom, insofar as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.” God wants us to know him and through that we discover who we are.” God in this great act of condescension invites us to know Him and be known by Him. God is offering His presence to us. Yet, the reality is that we still lack a desire to pray to Him.

One of the gifts of grace that is extended to us in our prayerlessness is God is offering a mirror to us. A few years ago, I met with some pastors from Australia and they talked about spiritual disciplines and said that “the calculator always wins.” I really loved that. They are saying that we can’t lie about our spiritual condition of we don’t regularly enter into disciplines of grace like prayer. It is God’s way of showing us our spiritual condition and drawing a picture to present to us the gaps in our public profession and our private lack of  repentance and turn our hearts to Christ. It is showing that our condition is filled with a wounded rebellion and forgetfulness….Like all relationships there is the danger that this could leads us to a place of shame and condemnation that sounds like this, “how can you ever think you can go back to God when you have been so neglectful in your prayer to this loving God….He can’t accept your feeble attempts to go to Him after all your rebellion.” That is not the spirit of God. His posture is continually to “come.” He continually shows you the cross and our prayerlessness is a sign of grace to turn to him or rather run to Him. To know that the cross has provided a way back to our Abba Father without condemnation. To know that presenting our prayerlessness as a sign of grace that the Spirit is working in our hearts. If it wasn’t working then we wouldn’t even pause to acknowledge we lack prayer. Can you praise God that you are now awakened to your prayerlessness? Can you see that this is a gift to us? To see it as a diagnosis that is leading us to the invitation to relocate our hearts to Him?

As God has worked in my own heart, I see that my prayer life is prone to start from a place of desperation instead of a heart of devotion. Many of my prayers are transactional and not transformational in nature. “God give me this…” As DA Carson states in “Praying with Paul, “The unvarnished truth is that what we most frequently give thanks for betrays what we most highly value.” So when I ask God for…is what I truly cherish. I also have succumbed to the tone of prayer that lack any great expectations so I keep them manageable to what is “practical” so I don’t get disappointed. It is filled with cynicism and with a shade of sarcasm. I am embarrassed by some of the prayers I have written down in my prayer journal but yet in the pages are filled with praise of God working despite my lack of faith. He is showing that these faithless distorted prayers are pointing me towards Him; God shows me the countless ways He has provided for his people and also in light of eternity the wonder of what He will accomplish and redeem all of creation. He shows me his intimacy towards me and in his gracious, patient and boundless love God invites me into the glimpses of how He is working. He shows me that he is worthy of God-sized prayers. A grand picture of prayer that bears forth His sovereign grace over every sphere of His creation. So I am emboldened to pray prayers that moves from the personal towards the cosmic. Thank God that His work is not dependent on how effective my prayers are but rather our prayers are effective because God is already at work. He is inviting us to delight in what He is done, doing and will be doing.

This is how our prayerlessness can be an awakening to the sign grace that is pointing us to the promise that He will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us; in, through, and even after our lack of prayer. So let’s come before our God and pray our prayerlessness.

Prayer Prompt (Taken from the Worship Sourcebook)

A prayer of confession for cynicism
Father, you tell us in your Word
that whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
We confess that we have frequently relaxed our faith.
We have allowed ourselves to become cynical,
and our cynicism has boiled over
with slander, criticism, prayerlessness, and pessimism. How easily we’ve allowed ourselves
to crumple under the stresses of our lives.
Forgive us for our smallness of faith.
In your mercy, hear us,
for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Repentance Is Just Humility

As a staff, we have been going through “The Heart of a Servant Leader” by John C. Miller (aka Jack Miller). This came at such an opportune time as I am recovering from a cold and last year with the diagnosis of diabetes. It made me reconsider so much about the notion of self care but also of “holy self-forgetting.” So for this week, I wanted to share a letter he wrote to a missionary who was recovering from a serious illness. Jack had also almost died a year before as he undergone four months of chemotherapy. I hope that you as you read this, it touches your heart in a manner that considers our rest as a way for us to serve. Often we think of rest as the end goal but it is a pathway for use to rest in God so we can serve others. 

Repentance Is Just Humility 

August, 1988

Dear Sam, It was with much joy that I received your letter, telling about God’s working in your life during a very hard time. You have been very sick, and we rejoice in God’s great kindness in restoring you to good health in answer to many prayers. We love you, dear brother. Your family needs you, and we need you. So take good care of your health, as much as is consistent with faithfulness to God and with living fearlessly and without undue preoccupation with our physical condition.

God has been bringing to us here at New Life and the home office [World Harvest Mission] a spirit of healing too—that of a deepening repentance. That is why your letter speaking of your own repenting struck me as part of a pattern of God’s working. I know God granted me the grace and joy of repentance during my ordeal last October and November. Paul [Jack’s son] and I did some deep repenting together. God really convicted me that pride crowds out the love of God. The group taking leadership training this year has also been undergoing much repentance and with many lives being changed, really in a basic way. Then some of these same folks and others under Bob Heppe’s guidance in Amsterdam experienced a similar repentance as they read Repentance and Twentieth Century Man together in preparation for a very fruitful ministry time.

So God has shown great kindness to us—and most certainly to you. I praise Him for healing you and restoring you to your ministry. I especially honor your repentance, which you described to me. Cotton Mather has said, “Every man upon earth may find in himself something that wants mending.” Calvin also describes repentance as a gift from God to the church, a gift that is especially to be treasured as we see the Spirit working it in Christian lives. Thank you for sharing with me this gift. I treasure you as a work of God, most precious to Him and to me. May God grant you grace to deepen in your repentance! Pray that He will do the same for me! For repentance is just humility, and humility stands in the low place, not on the mountains of pride. Therefore humility gets much grace because grace runs downhill! Bear also with a little counsel about your experience of severe illness. Don’t take lightly having been very sick. When you have been seriously ill—as you have—afterwards you may have to struggle to balance care of your body with a holy self-forgetting. When cancer came, my temptation and inclination was to give up being a careless extrovert in matters of health and become an introvert, preoccupied with my physical life. Well, God has helped me to repent, in some measure, for both tendencies. At present, though, I am still waging war in this area of my life. For this is the anniversary of my illness. About this time last year I first noticed the onset of lymphoma symptoms—abdominal swelling and sweats. Well, any time my body is slightly overheated or a bit feverish or I just feel sweaty in the heat, I have a fight with a satanic attack of fear. The feelings whisper, “Maybe your lymphoma is coming back.”

Perhaps you don’t have precisely the same kind of struggle, but we all need to labor to see that our lives are controlled by God’s will and the gospel of hope and not by our anxieties.

But the Lord has helped me. I have been able again and again to confess my anxieties—really deep ones—and ask God to take them away because I cannot. They are simply too deeply rooted in me and my past. But once the Spirit shows me the self-centered unbelieving core of my fears, then help usually comes to me very quickly in the form of release. Essentially I need to confess to God that I have a deep-seated need to protect and control my life and ministry. Once I acknowledge that hard, painful fact to Him, grace seems to stream into my life. Somehow the Father delights in honesty. Usually when my anxieties dominate and will not go away, I need to face the truth that my devotion is not being given to God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind, but to myself.

But His cleansing through the blood of the perfect Lamb has been so powerful and freeing for both you and me. So let’s not be afraid to confess and forsake our ugliest sin and rely on the Spirit enabling us to put on Christ’s love for others. Since you shared your struggles with me, let me acknowledge that one of my battles is with my constant tendency to forget what God has done for me, to ease off on my repenting, and to rest on my past humblings under the impact of chastening. Here I am almost fully recovered from my severe chastening of the past year and amazing deliverances, and already my heart is drifting into complacency. Forgive, O Lord!

But Rose Marie and I took today (Saturday) to pray together and put the priority on thanksgiving and praise and letting intercession flow out of that. We have especially been praying for you and the Ireland team and for us in the church and mission here to experience revival, and maybe that revival begins with the recovery of thanksgiving and praise.

Today has been a wonderful time of joy and freedom—and we believe an opportunity to shift our faith from circumstances and appearances to the Father’s holy and absolute sovereignty, His all-conquering grace, and the sweet hope of Jesus’ sacrifice revealed in the preaching of the cross.

Finally back to Mather and the joy of repentance, which is closely related to the joy of praise. After he stated that every one of us has something that needs “mending,” he added that “the work of repentance is to inquire, not only, what we have done, but also, what we have to do.” What the staff and I, and others, have been doing here is trying to deepen our oneness of love with members in the church and fellow elders. We think this is what we have to do! Sometimes it means that people who are really different in style and personality have to work harder at developing oneness. Sometimes it means getting rid of prejudices or prejudgments about others and especially getting rid of attitudes of superiority toward those who seem less enlightened than we are! I am thrilled by what I see happening as we work on what we “have to do” in order to mature in Jesus’ love.

Will you join us in this work of the Spirit? Why not labor with all faith and hope and joy to deepen your relationship with your team leader first?—and then with each of the other team members? Make it your goal, the burden of your labor and the intensity of your devotion—to fulfill the law of Christ in serving them in love. For me, I like to translate this into practical terms: one of my primary jobs is to make others successful. Make it your joy and your task to see that the team succeeds. Rest when you need to, but work very hard when you work. Gather the fuel by meditation in the Scriptures when you rest, but when you work burn hot for Christ!

I write these things to you with confidence that you are not neglecting them. You are laboring with zeal in the heat of harvest. I have seen you many times burn hot for Christ. Let grace abound and joy abound and let loving work abound. These next six months are crucial. Give it all you have as your praise of Christ repent, we magnetize the world with our hope, love and joy. You are already a magnet, grow in your magnetism. Warm greetings to your family.

Much love,

Jack Miller

Prayer Prompt (taken from the Worship Sourcebook)

We are tired, Lord,
weary of the long night without rest.
We grow complaining and bitter.
We grieve for ourselves
as we grow hardened to the pain of others.
Another death leaves us unmoved.
A widow’s tears fall unnoticed.
Our children know only the bitterness
already possessing their parents.
Our violent words explode into violent acts,
bringing destruction without thought or reason.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Lead us to repentance, that we may forgive and be forgiven. Amen.

I hope that this will help you dive deeper in the wonders of grace, repentance and faith. I hope that we consider the words of Jack Miller as we are invited to the joy of repentance. One of the best ways of exercising that gift is to do it in community that promises to extend that to one another.

Remaining in Him,
Peter Ong

Pray Where You Are: Gasping Surrendered Rest

Dear King’s Cross Family,

This week has been one of those unexpected detours that start off with the feeling of dread. My youngest son was sick and as I started having a scratchy throat. I thought to myself, “here it comes…another cycle of the cold will come to the Ong family household.” It wasn’t that bad, Noah recovered pretty quickly and I thought it would pass pretty quickly. Then it was confirmed, I felt chills then my throat started to hurt; progressively it got worse and worse and each day, the pain got worse. Jamie, my wife started getting all the remedies, lemon/honey/ginger tea, every over the counter medicine of lozenges, cough suppressants, pain relief but nothing helped.

Finally I succumbed and went to the doctor and they found out, it was strep throat. Now, if you never had strep throat, then I would not hope you do, but it is debilitating. It exposed me. I couldn’t pray with voice. I couldn’t sing. I tried to read but every few minutes, the pain would distract me. So, I just tried to stay in bed wanting recovery so I can be with my kids but also to be with God. So, I tried to do some more planning for 2016 for the church, then the detour of pain. Finally, I felt muted. I got on my knees and prayed silently. Gulping. Silence. Pain. Flinch. Gulp. Pain. Flinch. A building of tears. Then the words came. Grasp. It was as if I was missing the truth of the sermon I preached two Sundays ago. In Ephesians 3:18, the word in the NIV translation is more appropriate with “grasp” then the ESV of “have strength to comprehend…what is the breadth and length and depth of His love,”

Why would he use this fighting metaphor? To grasp, to fight to attain? What is Paul eluding to? What are we wrestling with that makes it so hard to take hold of? One of the best relocations of my heart arrived on Psalm 42 where the psalmist says, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me?” or in Psalm 103, where the psalmist says, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits …” What’s going on there? There is this inner conversation that we have and in this time of being muted, I had to pray to God by talking to myself. The Psalmist is expressing that he is wrestling the truth into his heart. He is “grasping.”

He is grasping at the truth and speaking memory into his heart. “Don’t forget the gospel. Why are you feeling this?” He’s saying, “Look, in light of this truth of Christ, why are you doing this, oh heart? Why don’t you see this? Why are you anxious? Why are cast down? Why are you not more grateful?”

What is he doing? He’s taking himself in hand, he’s taking the truth, and with the power of the Spirit, he’s thinking and reflecting and applying and connecting until he begins to feel and sense and see change. Do you know how to do that?

As I sat at home this Sunday, feeling useless and a burden to my family and the church. I went to God. I read his word, I saw God inviting me into surrender to the rest that He is providing me. This is His grace to me. The God of the universe is inviting reflection, and he is dealing with my wrestling with anxiety; with my busyness and my addiction to ministry work. It felt like there was no one else in my living room, it was just God showing the truth of his love. He was showing me the cross. Most of the typical meditation techniques are invitations to empty your mind. “If you want to have meditation, you must empty your mind.” That’s not how the Bible teaches us about meditating. God fills your mind with truth and your heart with love, and with the power of the Spirit, you get that truth into the center of your being. God is a giver of presence. That is how I was able to call out to him as “Abba Father.” It was so active. I saw Him as He saw me; an insecure, inadequate and filled with identity issues. Yet God is reorient my heart. He is seeing me through the lens of the redemption on the cross and likewise I was able to see my Lord as my Savior. It was a renewing of my mind. It wasn’t not passive. I was grasped that this gospel is very filling. It’s not emptying. It was grasping.

So Paul’s prayer is that we have this living, vital, bright reality that fills you with the fullness of God, then it may require us to have a discipline to meditate, not just on how long and wide and high and deep God’s love is in general, but on how long and wide and high and deep is the love of Christ for those He died for. It’s only when you understand the Christ, that you’re saved by grace in spite of being a sinner. You’re saved not by what you do but by what Jesus has done, not on the basis of your performance or your good works. You’re saved by sheer grace. That is the thing that turns the concept of the love of God into a real warming reality that you can truly sense. Look at Christ’s commitment on the cross and this should emboldens us to sense the delight that God has when He looks upon us because of our union with Christ.

If you want to understand the depths of the love of God … In fact, the only way to understand the depths of the love of God is to understand the depths to which Jesus Christ went to love you. The central symbol of our faith is God’s humiliation for our restoration. Christ prayed on his knees as well…in Gethsemane, he fell to his face not that you may not only to gain acceptance but from that truth; desire you to experience acceptance in your heart. How deep did he go? “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He was thrown into the deepest pit anybody ever went into, and he went in voluntarily. He went down and down and down so you can grasp how deep…

Prayer Prompt

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?
He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, 
will he not with him also give us everything else? 

Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?
It is God who justifies.
Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 
Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor rulers,
nor things present, nor things to come,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
—Romans 8:31-35, 37-39, NRSV

Pray Where You Are: Divine Light

Dear King’s Cross Family,

I want to extend my warmest and sincere regards to this New Year and I pray that it has been a means for you to reflect back on 2015 and also approach 2016 with great expectations. This past Sunday, I shared part one of a three part sermon on what are to be the some guiding principles as we move as a church. I shared Paul’s prayer for the spiritual strength of the church from Ephesians 3:14-21.

I would like to share an excerpt from Jonathan Edward’s sermon called Divine and Supernatural Light:

“…a real sense of the excellency of God and Jesus Christ, and of the work of redemption, and the ways and works of God revealed in the gospel. There is a divine and superlative glory in these things; an excellency that is of a vastly higher kind, and more sublime nature than in other things; a glory greatly distinguishing them from all that is earthly and temporal. He that is spiritually enlightened truly apprehends and sees it, or has a sense of it. He does not merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but he has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart. There is not only a rational belief that God is holy, and that holiness is a good thing, but there is a sense of the loveliness of God’s holiness. There is not only a speculatively judging that God is gracious, but a sense how amiable God is upon that account, or a sense of the beauty of this divine attribute.

There is a twofold understanding or knowledge of good that God has made the mind of man capable of. The first, that which is merely speculative and notional; as when a person only speculatively judges that any thing is, which, by the agreement of mankind, is called good or excellent, viz., that which is most to general advantage, and between which and a reward there is a suitableness, and the like. And the other is, that which consists in the sense of the heart: as when there is a sense of the beauty, amiableness, or sweetness of a thing; so that the heart is sensible of pleasure and delight in the presence of the idea of it. In the former is exercised merely the speculative faculty, or the understanding, strictly so called, or as spoken of in distinction from the will or disposition of the soul. In the latter, the will, or inclination, or heart, are mainly concerned.

Thus there is a difference between having an opinion, that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former, that knows not how honey tastes; but a man cannot have the latter unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind. So there is a difference between believing that a person is beautiful, and having a sense of his beauty. The former may be obtained by hearsay, but the latter only by seeing the countenance. There is a wide difference between mere speculative rational judging any thing to be excellent, and having a sense of its sweetness and beauty. The former rests only in the head, speculation only is concerned in it; but the heart is concerned in the latter. When the heart is sensible of the beauty and amiableness of a thing, it necessarily feels pleasure in the apprehension. It is implied in a person’s being heartily sensible of the loveliness of a thing, that the idea of it is sweet and pleasant to his soul; which is a far different thing from having a rational opinion that it is excellent.”

What is the distinction is Edward is saying that when we hear about God’s grace, you feel loved. You hear about God’s holiness, you feel a deep affinity to be a holy person yourself. In other words, when the Holy Spirit is actually warming your heart, it’s not just you hear about God’s love, you hear about God’s holiness, you grip it. It grips you. It comes in. It changes you.

Right now you say, “I know God loves me, but this person has criticized me,” or this person says you’ve failed and you’re devastated. That’s because you know it rationally but you haven’t grasped it. You haven’t been gripped by it.

So as we enter into a new year, may we grasp this as a community. As we seek in our community groups, let’s consider if we have a wide love that extends to others in the church as well as outside.

Prayer Prompt (taken from the Worship Sourcebook)

Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we, your unworthy servants, give you humble thanks
for all your goodness and loving-kindness
to us and to all whom you have made.
We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life,
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ,
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies
that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up ourselves to your service,
and by walking before you
in holiness and righteousness all our days,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

Thank you for joining us in praying where you are today and I hope to see you soon as we worship each Sunday as a body rooted in the love of Christ serving our Flushing community.

Remaining in Him,
Peter Ong

Suffering as a Grace

As 2015 comes to an unexpected close, I am struck by how quickly this year passed and also thinking about how much the church has grown through our study of Romans and also now moving through our call to pray and pray through psalms.

As I write this, I am enjoying some time with the family as we ventured into the city for a staycation. Nico and Noah are filled with wonder and I see a very big turning in the life of our sons that they are beginning to be spiritually formed. I look at them and my initial and default mode is to to go into full gear to provide for them the most that they can experience in this lifetime. So we take them to museums and teach them about the wonders of God’s creation, we take them upstate to see the fall foliage, we teach them to ride their bikes and scooters. Nico is learning to play piano and Noah is learning to play air guitar.

I also want to protect them from some of life’s difficulties liking getting wet in the rain, remedies when they are ill or hurt. But there are emotional pain too, when their stuff gets taken from other kids or them getting picked on. I remember one time at a church Christmas party, this bigger boy try to bully Nico; Nico stood up to him, I was so proud but also worried that there will be days that he will not be able to protect himself. But in more sinister world, I want to protect our boys from real evil that is out there.

But as I prayed and reflected on the Psalms, and also on the larger Biblical narrative, it is latent with God’s people suffering. They are not insulated from the real evils of treachery and evil as they are sinned against and also their rebellion has lead to dire judgment from God. Yet, I see that in those dark moments in lives of the God’s people, there is a turning; a realization once again of God’s mercy and grace to them.

I thought about that as two article this week helped me consider how important suffering is. One is a great article from my friend Cameron Cole called” There Is No Crown Without a Cross for Your Kids” and a discussion with Tim Keller, D.A. Carson and John Piper on “Thousand Sorrows Teaches a Man to Preach.” Each of these articles reminds me of how precious sorrow could be in shaping our gospel character. We often try to avoid suffering and insulate ourselves from any threat of pain but when we look at scripture, is really the most cogent way the gospel engages and moves us from the cognitive affirmation of the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace to a deep experience of God’s goodness in the midst of some of the darkest encounters with sin.

So, I think back on the years God has brought me through unbelief, betrayal, loss, despair, desperation and moments of wanting to walk away from ministry and faith altogether, it was then that God exposed me for who I was. A man grasping for my own ownership and throneship. I wanted to be God and yet, there was this rich experience of joy that it was a grace to me to go through it so there is a greater confidence of the depth that the Gospel is renewing and bringing me closer to promise of the King who is making all things new again.

This year has not been an easy one for me as God confronted a lot of my pride and my exquisite ways I have navigated through my public life with little reflection on my private discipleship of obedience towards the cross. But as God would have it, He loved me so much He wrecked my health and my effectiveness in ministry. So, I paused, and in a moment of despair, I repented and in that moment of clarity, I saw that all this mess was a grace to me. So the story is not over and God is still forming this stubborn heart towards a deeper understanding of His word and His Spirit to lead me to a deeper prayer towards the Father. So, now I see so clearly that God brings these sorrows as a way to grow us and in that we can lean upon Christ and the cross. I learned to see that God is moving so that I can thank, and love him not simply as a doctrine but as my redeemer. Sorrow and suffering has brought me to God and this faith to endure and mature. It goes beyond just thinking but it moved me from my mind on the eternal truths revealed in the biblical story to the person of Christ and his work on the cross for humanity. Suffering has made it possible—and helpful—to think about the biblical truths that make our suffering exposes to our convictions to these truths. By His mercy it moves me to reorder my loves and relocate my glory, turning my affections and attention to the One who brings meaning by bending suffering to his glory and to draw me into intimacy with God as reflected in His nature. God chose the way of love in through the Cross; and we can bring our crosses to Him because He has shown how he can relate and also overcome the darkest moments.

One pastor told me, “everyone agrees and affirms the theology of Paul and Jesus but nobody wants to emulate their suffering.” I agree that we should not pursue suffering but rather we should not create such a buffer of comfort that we can’t grow in our dependence when we have despaired and cried…it is in these moments that the light and balm of the gospel runs deeply. That is what marks Christians is not how moral they are but rather how joyful they are in the deepest sorrows. Even when the grave is upon us, We cry but we do not cry without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Also when we go through suffering, we have such a tremendous empathy for those who go through suffering, we don’t just spout out Christian platitudes because we know that they are very cold comfort, rather we empathize, we weep and we can see that their pain is so very real.

So I prayed that this is our reflection as we close out the year…that we find praise for the good, the bad and the ugly for God is working. Do you have any regrets? God is working. Any anxiety about this past year, God is working. Any uncertainty upon the future? God is working. But not only is He working but He is close. His sovereignty is always intimate and always good. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He is Lord. He is Love.

At the right time Jesus will return and to make things news. He will come to establish his kingdom on earth, restoring comprehensively all things and wiping away every tear. The end result will be so overwhelmingly good and perfect that even the worst suffering we’ve endured will seem beautiful and perfectly holy in light of God’s final act of redemption.

That is true hope that is given to us through the word and the person of Christ.

Prayer Prompt (taken from the Worship Sourcebook)

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
God of the ages, we praise you for all your servants,
who have done justice, loved mercy,
and walked humbly with their God.
For apostles and martyrs and saints of every time and place, who in life and death have witnessed to your truth,
we praise you, O God.
For all your servants who have faithfully served you, witnessed bravely, and died in faith,
who are still shining lights in the world,
we praise you, O God.
For those we have known and loved,
for teachers and colleagues and friends,
for parents and grandparents, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, for all who by their faithful obedience and steadfast hope
have shown the same mind that was in Christ Jesus,
we praise you, O God.
Keep us grateful for their witness, and, like them,
eager to follow in the way of Christ.
Then at last, bring us together
to share in the inheritance of the saints in light,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.

"I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation,
from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Thank you for joining us in praying where you are today and I hope to see you soon as we worship each Sunday as a body of Christ serving our Flushing community.

Remaining in Him,
Peter Ong

One Solitary Life

Dear Church,
On Christmas day, the world will collectively celebrate one life that has changed the course of history. Wherever your faith is, it is undeniable that the birth of Jesus Christ has marked the world in such a way we cannot dismiss it. There is probably no other day that has as much expectation as December 25th with so many families preparing for that morning of great expectations. In the Gospel of Luke Chapter 2:6, the birth happens and the arrival brings about promise, peace and praise. Yet the promise would come through this child’s one solitary life.

In a sermon preached by Dr. James Alan Francis called “One Solitary Life,” Dr. Francis gives us a perspective that shows us the measure of the life of Christ:

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, 
the child of a peasant woman. 
He grew up in another village. 
He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. 
Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. 
He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. 
He never held an office. 
He never had a family. 
He never went to college. 
He never put His foot inside a big city. 
He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. 
He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. 
He had no credentials but Himself… 
While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. 
His friends ran away. 
One of them denied Him. 
He was turned over to His enemies. 
He went through the mockery of a trial. 
He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. 
While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. 
When He was dead, 
He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. 

Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today, He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that were ever built, and all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon the earth as powerfully as has this one solitary life.

So how are we to respond to this arrival? What do we offer? This child who is God is not asking to barter with him. God doesn’t want you make excuses. Your best offering to him is a plea. There are times in life when everything you have to offer is nothing compared to what you are asking to receive. What could a man offer in exchange for this child’s life?

What can we give so we can receive salvation? So there are no games. No haggling. No masks. Just ask for help to believe. And Jesus, who loves the honest and pleading heart, is giving himself to you by entry into humanity. Let’s not forget this as we gather for Christmas. Pray that sense of wonder won’t ever escape from us.

This past Sunday’s sermon I urged us to consider the purpose of Christmas as a day not only about the promise of peace but the person of peace. This is a day for us to remember that God looked at the world and saw the mess that judgment and fear has done to us. The creator made himself vulnerable to his creation. God became a participant in humanity and this child who had little feet and toes. He had eyelashes, fingernails, hair and within his tiny ribs was a heartbeat. But this child was not simply be adored like so many babies. This child would be on mission to the cross and that heartbeat would stop one day at cross on calvary. This child would have the shadow of the cross before Him…yes, this child who was the divine King entered into the world in a feeding trough (wood), he would be a son to a carpenter (wood) and he lost his glory so we can have glory forever. He lost his peace so we could have peace so we can be a peace to all people. He couldn’t even be born in a decent room so that you can dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Look at this child and what he did for you. Won’t you trust this God who would do that for you… Can you trust Him with your fears? Do you see what the angels said and what the shepherds were praising? To the degree you ponder this and treasure the truth of His arrival, your fears will surprisingly turn to praise. When you see that this child will pursue the cross because in that pursuing of the cross, He will rescue us. That this child’s blood will reconcile to Himself all things…as scripture tells us.

“and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you  continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”

Colossians 1:20–23.

So the purpose of Christmas is a person who made peace through his sacrifice of a solitary life but it is filled with so much significance because of the person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross and his power over death through His resurrection. It is in this resurrection that seals that promise of that child came to be savior of the  world but as I often remind myself and others, “the story is not over.” On this side of eternity, Christmas is still a promise. Yes, the Savior has come, and with him peace on earth, but the story is not finished. Yes, there is peace in our hearts, but we long for comprehensive peace in our world. That is the story to come, that there will an eternal peace that will every hint of brokenness will be flooded with full restoration. Poverty will be forgotten as the land will be filled with abundance.

So as you open the gifts and see the smiles that comes from it, remember the greatest present we have is God’s presence to us today and the age to come. When we can see him in full glory.

Prayer Prompt

Arise, shine: for your light has come.
O God, we live as if the light
had never defeated the darkness in the world or in us.
And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
We confess that we ignore the Christ
you sent to be among us, to be in us.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. We’ve kept the birth of your Son confined to the Christmas season and do not yearn for his birth each moment in our waiting hearts. And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
Lord, you came to us in the fullness of time.
Forgive us for not opening our eyes to your coming.
It’s time that we prepare for your coming.
Let the earth ring with song. Let the light break forth.
Let us all rejoice in the miracle of love.
Let Christ come into the fullness of our time. Amen. 
—based on Isaiah 60:1-3

From Worship Sourcebook

My Soul Magnifies the Lord

This past Sunday, we heard a familiar Advent passage from the Gospel of Luke where Gabriel appears to Mary with startling news: she’s going to be the mother of a child who will known as the Son of the Most High. Even more than that name, this child will continue the line of David—he will be a king! But not just any king—The King—for he will reign forever and his kingdom will know no end (The whole passage is Luke 1:26-38 if you want to go back and re-read).

Now immediately following this, Mary rushes over to her cousin Elizabeth’s. Elizabeth was “barren”—everyone knew that; but that strange messenger Gabriel said to her, that even her “barren” cousin Elizabeth in her old age is carrying a child! So in joy, awe, and perhaps mixed with a little fear, she rushed over to her cousin’s for she wanted to see at least part of the fulfillment of what Gabriel had said to her. The baby in Elizabeth’s womb jumped for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice and Mary, seeing confirmation of Gabriel’s words, expresses her own joy and breaks out in song:

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
 For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
 and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
 from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
 he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
 and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
 and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
 in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
 to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

(Luke 1:46-55)

I recount this narrative for several reasons: (1) In this season of Advent, to remind us of the King to come. But also (2), to look at this account and Mary’s responsive expression—this psalm (since we are studying prayer through the psalms at the moment)—to inform our prayers. In her encounter with Gabriel, she understands what is to happen to her and she accepts it with humble awe.

But could it be that Mary struggled with knowing in her mind and “knowing” in her heart just as we often do when we live our faith? She knew she would bear the child but the child had not yet come nor was she showing any signs of pregnancy.

How could she teach her heart which seemed out of sync with her faith in God’s promise?

She looked for signs of the promise. As I re-read this story over and over and try to live into Mary’s experience, I believe that her encounter with Elizabeth (and John the Baptist in her womb) taught her heart to hope in a way that complemented her knowledge of what was to come. It was an experience that deepened that longing for what was to come, and with high towering praise and humble deep gratitude she burst out in verse praising God for what was to come as if it were already here.

In this season, as we collectively practice this longing for the King to come, and especially at a time when the world seems to be unraveling, what are the tangible reminders that the Kingdom, though not fully here, has its grasp on this broken world? Do you see it in your work? In your family? Perhaps you find a taste for the kingdom to come in the meals with you community group. Or in the good friendship and conversation with a good friend.

Today as we pray together, my encouragement is that we set aside time explicitly praise God for his promise and its coming fulfillment as we see the signs of the promise in our every day lives. May we join with all the saints who have longed for the promise—with Mary herself as she also longed for its fulfillment—in the coming of Jesus, whose means “The LORD is Salvation.”

Advent: Come Let Us Adore Him

Dear King’s Cross Family and Friends,

This past Sunday, we started our Advent Sundays. Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming” or “arrival.” This four-week season of reflection and preparation for the Christmas season so we can fix our hearts and eyes on the arrival of Jesus. As many of you experienced during Thanksgiving, a good celebration requires proper balance of preparation and expectation for us to fully enjoy it. There is the preparation to travel to homes where feasts were prepared and also eaten. As soon as the meal is finished, the Christmas trees are set up and then right after Black Friday is upon us as we seek the best deals. There is a great quote that sums up our ethos during this time:

“Because only in America, people trample others for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have.” — Unknown

Advent is a gift to us to consider what is the greatest gift to the world. As I shared this past Sunday, the greatest present/gift we can gain from someone is their presence. But Christmas is something staggering is not only God came to give us His presence but the manner in which He came was in humility. He draws himself to us not in the spectacle of majesty but in meekness in a manger. It would serve us well to consider the implications of that shapes this season. It is marked by the grace of this historic moment. It should make us marvel at the wonder of how God recognized that through our moral achievement we will never “get to” God but rather came to us through grace. Through unmerited love for us and if we believe this, it should cause us to marvel and to take a deeper consideration for the things have take so much weight in our hearts. The infinite became finite so we can know the depths of His love.

So as we take a pause this season where the hustle of Christmas shopping, parties, and preparations can overshadow the Advent season; let’s pray that we recognize how much this can take us out of sync with the beauty of this quiet scene of God arriving. It could mute this moment with all this noise and busyness.

This past Sunday I was reminded by the power of God’s invitation to see his face and Apostle Paul states, “We are beholding with unveiled faces the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 3:18. Jesus came to us in the face of a child. This child who will grow up and will have the shadow of the cross before him. This face who will one day be spat upon and also struck with blood flowing down from this brow from a crown of thorns. Christ went, and the moment of his death on the cross, His blood poured out, immediately the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom, the veil that separated the face of God from the people.

This is the glorious absurdity of the gospel. The most beautiful human became the most grotesque, mauled and at the cross; humanity’s worst of assault on this beautiful Christ. Christ calls out and mediates on our behalf by stating “Father, Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do…” He is presenting himself on our behalf. That was God’s way of saying, “Do you want to know what the cross is about? Do you want to know what the gospel is about? Do want to know what the Christian faith is about? Do you want to know what life is about? He died so you could see God face to face, so you could know Him personally, so the barrier could be gone, so instead of me just being a boss or a taskmaster but I could be your Father.”

Let’s take a moment to prepare our hearts for this season to receive Christ and I believe that our heart aches for this narrative. We are so desperate for a pause for unsustained demand for perfection but we want grace and Advent is centered on the arrival and this arrival had a face. A face with flesh that is undisputedly affirm that grace has arrived. We can sing “peace on earth” has truly come and Christ is the prince of peace because he took on the full weight of our sins so will arrive again to full make that song true.

Prayer Prompt
“Living God, I confess the slant of my heart to hate you and my neighbor. But that sounds so harsh— I’m not that bad, am I God? Yet if I am brutally honest I see that I’m in deeper than I dare admit, unless I am born again by your Spirit. Fill me with the greater hope this Advent season that in Christ’s love I am on my way to new life. In the Savior’s name, amen.”

Reinders, Philip F (2013-02-26). Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible Through the Year (p. 25). Faith Alive Christian Resources.

Thank you for joining us in praying where you are today and please consider using this Advent resource from John Piper of Desiring God Ministries for your advent reflection. It is my hope that you can take time each day approaching Christmas to reflect.

Please come to our service on Sundays to prepare for this season as we come and let us adore him.

Remaining in Him,
Peter Ong