Category Archives: Prayer

Settling for Chuck E. Cheese

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (John 6:26-27)

My kids would rather have dinner at Chuck E. Cheese’s than Fogo de Chao or Manny’s Steakhouse. I mean… for real? I’m disappointed in myself. I thought I had been a pretty good father. How could they possibly prefer pizza of questionable quality peddled by a large rodent over the most beautiful and tender steaks known to man? It just defies all good sense.

Unless… well… you’re a kid. Then it makes perfect sense because most kids haven’t developed a taste for great steak yet. They have no idea what they’re missing. You can’t fault a kid for picking a lackluster pizza over steak so tender you can cut it with a butter knife. But you could (and should) fault an adult for making the same choice. An adult should know better, right? If you choose Chuck E. Cheese’s over Fogo, you’re either a kid, a vegetarian or a moron. Those are the only possibilities.

After Jesus fed five thousand people with no more than five small loaves of bread and a couple of fish, the people came looking for him—this man who had performed a miracle unlike anything they had ever seen. And do you know why they were looking for him? Wait for it…

They wanted more food.

In John 6 the people find Jesus and he speaks to them very directly. He says, “You are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (vv. 26-27).

They came to Jesus looking for more bread and fish, rather than for “food”—spiritual sustenance—that endures to eternal life. And Jesus says to them: You’re looking for me because you want some more Chuck E. Cheese pizza, while I’m trying to offer you Manny’s steaks. Your desires are warped. You’re seeking the wrong thing.

It seems to me that we do this quite a bit when we seek God in Christ. Think about your prayer life. What do we spend most of our time in prayer (however much time we spend in prayer) asking for? If you’re like most people, the majority of your prayers are focused on the health of your family, things at work, concerns about finances, stuff at school, the lottery, maybe friends and relational issues. Is it wrong to pray for these things? Of course not (well, maybe the lottery). God invites us to pray for anything we truly believe he may want for us (John 14:13-14).

But is it wrong to pray for these things to the exclusion of things that will really matter long after we die? Absolutely. It wasn’t wrong for the disciples to seek Jesus for food. But it was wrong for them to prioritize asking him for something as ordinary as food over asking him for spiritual sustenance.

Think about this: What do you regularly pray for right now that will truly matter in 5 billion years? The health of your family? It won’t matter. Things at work? They won’t matter. Finances, school, the lottery? None of it will matter in five billion years. What will matter? Humility. Living with hearts full of love. Hearts that overflow in generosity. Minds that are pure and holy. Patience and kindness. Self-control and gentleness. Satisfaction and contentment in Christ. A God-centered view of everything in our lives. These are the things that will truly matter in 5 billion years. So these are the things we should prioritize now when we seek Christ in prayer.

May we not settle for bread when he offers us food that endures to eternal life.


Kingdom-Centered Prayer

chandler2.jpgGreat stuff (as usual) from Tim Keller for those who long for spiritual revival in the church:

People are used to thinking about prayer as a means to get their personal needs met. However we should understand prayer as a means to praise and adore God, to know Him, to come into his presence and be changed by Him. We need to better learn how to pray, repent and petition God as a people.

Biblically and historically, the one non-negotiable, universal ingredient in times of spiritual renewal is corporate, prevailing, intensive and kingdom-centered prayer. What is that?

1. It is focused on God’s presence and kingdom.

Jack Miller talks about the difference between “maintenance prayer” and “frontline” prayer meetings. Maintenance prayer meetings are short, mechanical, and totally focused on physical needs inside the church. But frontline prayer has three basic traits:

a. a request for grace to confess sins and humble ourselves

b. a compassion and zeal for the flourishing of the church

c. a yearning to know God, to see his face, to see his glory.

It is most interesting to study Biblical prayer for revival, such as in Acts 4 or Exodus 33 or Nehemiah 1, where these three elements are easy to see. Notice in Acts 4, for example, that the disciples, whose lives had been threatened, did not ask for protection for themselves and their families, but only boldness to keep preaching!

2. It is bold and specific.

The characteristics of this kind of prayer include:

a. Pacesetters in prayer spend time in self-examination. Without a strong understanding of grace, this can be morbid and depressing. But in the context of the gospel, it is purifying and strengthening. They “take off their ornaments” (Exod. 33:1-6). They examine selves for idols and set them aside.

b They then begin to make the big request–a sight of the glory of God. That includes asking: 1) for a personal experience of the glory/presence of God (“that I may know you” – Exod. 33:13); 2) for the people’s experience of the glory of God (v. 15); and 3) that the world might see the glory of God through his people (v. 16). Moses asks that God’s presence would be obvious to all: “What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” This is a prayer that the world be awed and amazed by a show of God’s power and radiance in the church, that it would become truly the new humanity that is a sign of the future kingdom.

3. It is prevailing, corporate.

By this we mean simply that prayer should be constant, not sporadic and brief. Why? Are we to think that God wants to see us grovel? Why do we not simply put our request in and wait? But sporadic, brief prayer shows a lack of dependence, a self-sufficiency, and thus we have not built an altar that God can honor with his fire. We must pray without ceasing, pray long, pray hard, and we will find that the very process is bringing about that which we are asking for – to have our hard hearts melted, to tear down barriers, to have the glory of God break through.

Why I’m Dropping the Ph.D. Program

praying-hands-1.jpgAs of about two weeks ago, I am no longer a student in the Ph.D./THS in New Testament program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

This will come as a shock to some and as no surprise whatsoever to others.  I imagine that most of you who know me will fall somewhere in between.  Sort of a, “Hm.  Wow.  Makes sense, though” response.

I began the Ph.D. program at Trinity immediately after completing my Master of Divinity (M.Div.).  I wasn’t real big on Trinity’s placement model for seminary graduates, which was essentially: “Give your résumé to the Placement Office, they’ll send it to a hundred churches and we’ll see who bites.”  Call it naïve or reckless or whatever, but that seemed to me a somewhat strange way to find a place to serve.  So I pursued a few leads, made some phone calls, submitted an application to a church I had been a part of, but nothing panned out.

Taking this to be a signal that the timing wasn’t right for me to be in vocational ministry just yet, I applied to the Ph.D. program at Trinity as a way to further my training, spend more time around men from whom I desperately wanted to learn (Don Carson, Kevin Vanhoozer, Graham Cole, etc.), and (admittedly) to tread water until a fitting position in ministry opened up.  I took as many classes from these guys as I could, and benefited enormously.

God, in all his irony and wisdom, opened up a perfect opportunity for me at New Hope Church during my third semester of coursework (of four) in the Ph.D. program.  I wanted this position, Leslie and I sensed a call to it (as did the NHC elders and several other trusted counselors) and I accepted it in November of 2006, moving to Minneapolis a month later. I was unsure at this point what would become of my doctoral studies.  My senior pastor and the elders fully supported—and have continued to support—my completion of the degree and urged me to do so if it seemed wise to Leslie and me.  I have pursued both full-time ministry and full-time doctoral work with as much balance and excellence as I have been able for the last three years.  And while my ministry has been fruitful, my family has been reasonably healthy and my coursework is now complete (comprehensive exams and a dissertation would still await—likely another 3-4 years of work), it has become very clear to Leslie and me that it is time to set this course down.

At the end of August, I sent this e-mail to my faculty advisor (his name is irrelevant):

Dear _______,

I’m writing to let you know that after long and earnest prayer and discussion with my wife, I am on the verge of setting down my doctoral work.  Obviously, there is a bitterness in thinking about giving this up, but I cannot deny that over the past year or more I have been spread far too thin and feel that I’ve done nothing as well as I am capable.  I’ve ‘gotten by’ with a (very) patient wife, giftedness for ministry that masks what is too frequently prayerlessness and lack of adequate preparation, kids that are too young to know that I’m not spending much time with them, and a devotional life that has grown thin.  Something needs to give and the only thing that makes sense to set aside is doctoral work.  I do realize how close I am to comprehensives, but in all honesty I am nowhere close to being ready to take them.  I have no confidence that I would successfully navigate the exams at this point.  Moreover, I’m growing more and more certain that I love my church, my wife and my kids too much to spend 5000 hours on a dissertation in the next few years.

All of that said, I do value your counsel very highly and if you see a glaring mistake in my reasoning, or if there are other things you think I need to hear, I would certainly welcome them.  Thank you so much for your investment in me, Dr. ________.”

He responded with a wonderfully kind and supportive e-mail affirming my priorities and prospective decision.

This revelation of the wisdom of setting the Ph.D. aside had been working its way into my consciousness for some time, but boomed into clarity during a run one day in August.  I was running along the shore of Medicine Lake, near our home, and heard what I can only describe as the closest thing to an audible communication from the Lord that I’ve ever experienced.  I heard the words, “That’s enough.  It’s time to set this down.” repeatedly and in such a clear and nearly-audible way that I looked around myself several times to make sure I wasn’t hearing something or unknowingly talking out loud to myself.  When I returned home I explained what had happened to Leslie, asked her to pray, and then I knelt by my bedside to pray for wisdom and discernment to know whether I had heard from Him clearly or not.  The above e-mail was sent a week later.

My completed coursework will merit a Master of Theology (Th.M.) in addition to my Master of Divinity (M.Div.), which is gratifying in that the coursework completed (and tuition paid) will be recognized.  I’m very interested in pursuing a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) in the future—not for the additional letters, of course, but because I am extremely interested in conversing with other learned pastors and scholars in a structured environment about how to pastor effectively, to cast vision, and to preach, shepherd and lead well. But I will not pursue it unless I am able to free up time for it—rather than trying to stack it on top of an already full schedule.

Since making this decision, Leslie and I have experienced an enormous amount of relief and peace.  Our date nights are regular again.  Are devotional lives are rich.  I don’t have to say, “Daddy can’t play. I have to study” to Owen anymore.  What a joy. What a deep, deep joy.  It was the right decision all the way around.  I love my God, my family and my church (in that order) too much to neglect any of them to continue to pursue a degree that cannot do much more to help me carry out what I am certain is my vocational calling: To expound and apply the Word of God from the pulpit and in private so as to win the lost, edify the saints, and create missional disciples who multiply disciples.  May God be pleased to continue to use me.

A Prayer

mcinnis.jpgBryan McInnis posts a beautiful prayer today from The Valley of Vision on Searching for the Sound of Silence:

Lead me to the cross and show me his wounds,

the hateful nature of evel, the power of Satan;

May I there see my sins as

the nails that transfixed him,

the cords that bound him,

the thorns that tore him,

the sword that pierced him,

Help me to find in his death the reality of

and immensity of his love.

Open for me the wondrous volumes of truth

in his, ‘It is finished’.

Increase my faith in the clear knowledge of

atonement achieved, expiation completed,

satisfaction made, guilt done away,

my debt paid, my sins forgiven,

my person redeemed, my soul saved,

hell vanquished, heaven opened,

eternity made mine.