You CAN Pray [Part 2]

Prayer and the Trinity

For You CAN Pray [Part 1], click here. 

Ephesians 2:18 – For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

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Disconnect.

To sever, interrupt, or detach the relationship between two things.

Disconnect might happen when you are on the phone and you walk in a room with no service. It might happen as you check email at home when the power goes out and you’re WIFI goes down.

Disconnect can be pretty dangerous too.

It can happen when your pickup truck is pulling a trailer full of boxes as you move your student into her new dorm room. Disconnect can prevent communication between pilots and air-traffic control towers.

Disconnect can show up in your spiritual life as well.

If you profess to be a Christian but claim an inability to pray or a fear to pray aloud, you may have become the victim of Disconnect.

Whether intentional or unintentional, this fear or inability reveals that you have disconnected your prayer life with the foundational Christian belief in the Trinity.

The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that there is one God who exists in three persons, equal in essence and being but distinct in function.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

There is mystery here, but the doctrine of the Trinity is not a mere philosophical exercise. It is not merely a teaching to study and ponder.

The doctrine of the Trinity has real, gritty, concrete, flesh and bone arms and legs. It impacts your everyday life.

It impacts how we live in relationships with one another. It impacts how we read the Bible.

And the Trinity directly connects to how you pray.

Sam Allberry writes, “Christian prayer is Trinitarian.”

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Trinity by Jeronimo Cosida, circa 1570

The beauty of this truth is that when you start to understand how the Trinity connects to prayer, you will be more confident when you pray and more excited to pray.

Scripture shows us to pray…

TO THE FATHER

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. When we turn to Jesus’ pattern for prayer, we start with the address, “Our Father”.

Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:18 that we have access “to the Father.”

The norm in Scripture is prayer to God the Father.

A common question emerges: Does that mean we should not pray to Jesus or the Holy Spirit?

Praying to Jesus – There are a few examples in the Bible of praying to Jesus. Before his death, Stephen prays, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” (Ac 7:59). The very end of the Bible gives us a prayer to Jesus, “Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20).

Clearly it cannot be wrong to pray to Jesus. BUT… Jesus himself told us, “Pray like this… Our Father“. We actually honor Jesus more when we follow his example and pattern and pray to God the Father.

Praying to the Spirit – Unlike the Son, there are no examples of praying to the Holy Spirit in the Bible. This does make some sense. The Holy Spirit characteristically hangs in the background; his main role is to put the spotlight on Jesus.

It must be said that the Holy Spirit is God so it would not be a sin to pray to Him, but we need to recognize that this should not be the general form of our prayers if we are going to pray like the prayers we find in Scripture.

Praying to God the Father is the norm.

Family Time

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One of the reasons for primarily praying to the Father is that it reminds us who we are in relationship to God. He is our Father. We are his children. This isn’t a meeting with your boss or an over-busy, easily frustrated dictator. Praying to the Father, we remind ourselves that prayer is family time.

Family time should be intimate – not intimidating.

Consciously recognizing God as your Father when you begin to pray should give you a boost of encouragement! Right away, we start off with a reminder of God’s love and grace. Look, you can do this!

Next we pray….

THROUGH THE SON

Here’s an important question to consider: What does IN JESUS’ NAME mean?

Once, you’ve answered that, here’s a second question: If you’re not really sure what it means, why do you say it?

Even though it does mean something quite important, we should never try to fill up space in our prayer time with things that mean nothing to us. Jesus said, “When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases,” (Mt 6:7). If IN JESUS’ NAME is an empty phrase to you, don’t keep saying it mindlessly. Fill it up with meaning first, and then say it.

When you go to a wedding, an usher usually greets you at the door and asks a simple question. “Bride or Groom?”

You respond by telling the usher who it is that you know. Hypothetically, this ensures that everyone gets into the wedding is someone with a relationship with the wedding party. Hypothetically, if you do not know anyone, you do not get into the ceremony.

 IN JESUS’ NAME means access. 

For through him we both have access… to the Father.

We can pray to the Father only when Jesus grants us access to him. He gets us in the door. Hebrews 9:24 tells that “Christ has entered… into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”

Another way to say this is Jesus is our mediator. A mediator is someone who stands in the gap. Left to our own, we have an unbridgeable gap between us and God. Jesus’ work on the cross makes the unbridgeable bridgeable.

Our prayers reach God because Jesus stands in the gap.

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Some people think IN JESUS’ NAME is Christian magic. If you pray (it is thought) and forget to say IN JESUS’ NAME, God will say no. But if you say IN JESUS’ NAME, God will say yes. Plus you can even say it and wave your arm like a wand and beat demons, cure cancer, or make your bank account bigger… But only if you say IN JESUS’ NAME.

But IN JESUS’ NAME is simply a regular reminder to ourselves and an admission before God that we believe in the Gospel.

It is a declaration that you understand you have done nothing to make God your Father, that you have done nothing to gain access in prayer, and that you can only make these prayers because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

So IN JESUS NAME is a Christian distinctive. If you do not believe this about Jesus, IN JESUS NAME doesn’t mean anything. It is just three extra words.

IN JESUS’ NAME is a declaration of hope.

All the promises of God find their Yes in him.
That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.
2 Corinthians 1:20

I hope you see how filling up IN JESUS’ NAME with this gospel meaning should only increase your confidence in prayer.

You don’t have to warm yourself up. You don’t have to have it all together. When you pray through Jesus, you recognize you never have it all together and that every word of prayer is a word given by grace.

IN JESUS NAME reminds you, you can pray.

Last, we pray…

BY THE HOLY SPIRIT

This might be the best part. All of our fears and insecurities in prayer should melt when we understand the Spirit’s work in prayer.

The Holy Spirit’s role in prayer should make the disconnect connect.

In Romans 8:15, Paul writes, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry “Abba Father!

When Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer, he said to pray like this, “Our Father.”

Paul shows us that the Spirit moves us so that we do pray that way.

God the Spirit propels us to pray to God the Father in the very way God the Son taught us.

There’s more good news in verse 16, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

Do you ever feel too messed up to pray?

If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit lives inside of you. His job is to remind you who you are. You tell yourself you’re too messed up to pray, but the Spirit inside whispers, “No you are not! You’re a child of God. Say it with me… Father.

Sometimes that does not seem enough.

We give in and start to pray even though we feel too gross, too weak, too simple. But then, we have no clue what to say.

(Ignoring the fact that you can always hop on the ACTS train) Paul has even more good news for your prayer life pessimism in verse 26.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercede for us with groaning too deep for words…. the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Don’t know what to pray? Not a problem.

God the Holy Spirit not only reminds you and encourages you as a child of God. He prays with you and for you.

So as you mumble, stumble, and fumble your way through prayer, God himself is prays. And notice what Paul says at the end. He prays “according to the will of God.”

Remember, Jesus teaches us to pray your will be done.

Now, the God the Spirit prays for us to God the Father in the way God the Son taught us.

THIS is why you cannot disconnect the Trinity from your prayer life.

 

God the Spirt prays for you

to God your Father

accessed through the work of God the Son.

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CONNECT YOUR PRAYER

Disconnecting your prayer life from your belief in the Trinity puts you in dangerous territory.

When you say you cannot pray or that you do not know what to pray, then you are also saying that God the Spirit does not live inside you or that he refuses to do his job.

You are saying that you do not have the same access to the Father. This means Jesus’ work on the cross failed to do the job.

Connect the dots. You don’t believe these things, do you?

Christian prayer is Trinitarian.

The Trinity fuels Christian prayer.

So the next time you are called to pray in a small group or you hit a wall and do not know what to say next, remember who God is and remember who you are.

Pray to your Father.
Pray through the access you have in the Son.
Pray by the power of the praying Spirit inside of you.

You can pray!

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You CAN Pray [Part 1]

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If you ever want to terrify someone, ask them to pray.

Sometimes someone will come up to me since I am a pastor, drag me across a room, introduce me to someone, and say something like, “This is Mark. Mark has this problem. Can you pray for them?”

I look at Mark’s friend, smile, and say, “I could. But, no. You can pray for Mark. I’ll pray with you both.”

Mark’s friend expected a pat-on-the back; instead he is simultaneously wrestling regret, fear, and the sudden urge to run.

Sometimes I will be in a small group and everyone is having a great time since the conversation hasn’t gotten too personal or practical yet. Everyone loves theory in a small group. Theory is safe. But some brave soul breaks the unspoken rule and says something real – a real issue that needs real prayer. I look at the circle of friends sitting around our honest friend and ask, “Will someone pray for our sister, Katerina?”

Katerina suddenly finds herself in a circle of frozen, deaf zombies that failed to understand any words that left my mouth.

You can play this game too if you want. It is kind of fun.

Ever share a need with a friend and they look at you like they are only half-listening? They nod and murmur something like, “Sure. I’ll be praying for you.” Next time that happens, you can drop this bomb on them.

“Great. Would you mind praying for me right now?”

Be prepared to get any number of looks, excuses, and weird body contortions.

In each of these situations, if you press these friends about their hesitancy, you will hear all sorts of reasons for this prayer phobia.

But the most common response I hear is this: I don’t know how to pray.

People who have been in church for thirty years will tell you this. People who went to 36 weeks of Vacation Bible School as children. People who serve on ministry committees. People who haven’t missed a Sunday morning service since Ronald Reagan was in office. People who meticulously share their own personal prayer requests with anyone who will listen.

Somehow, when you ask them to pray, almost no one knows how.

The Lord’s Pattern

This shouldn’t be the case. On a broad level, God gave pastors to equip the saints, to enable them to do the work, to empower them to obey God’s will for their lives. Surely this includes the expectation that the people will be equipped to pray.

At another level, God knew we would struggle here and included a manual for us in the Bible. One of Jesus’ twelve disciples specifically asks Jesus how to pray.

Jesus shares with his disciple what we call The Lord’s Prayer.

As Tim Keller says in his must-read book regarding prayer,  our relationship to The Lord’s Prayer is like living next to a railroad.

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At the time I went to school, The University of Memphis main campus was split by a set of train tracks. This caused all kinds of headaches when you parked on the south side and had class on the north side or when you lived on one side and wanted to work out at the gym on the other.

At the beginning of my senior year, I moved into an apartment that sat right next to the track. When my roommate and I first moved in to the apartment, sleep was near impossible. Every time a train rolled through campus and blared its horn at a pedestrian or a car trying to beat the train to the intersection, my windows and bed frame would shake.

But an amazing thing happened.

By Fall Break, I never heard the train.

I had heard the train so much, I stopped hearing it at all.

As Keller writes, we do the same thing with The Lord’s Prayer.

We recite it at church, at weddings, at funerals, and at pregame huddles. We say it so much we no longer hear the words we say. It means nothing to us now.

We have taken Jesus’ teaching prompt and turned it into a mindless pool of words.

We have taken his grace to help us pray and built it into an obstacle of communion.

The Lord’s Prayer is not a dictated ritual to be thoughtlessly repeated verbatim ad nauseam. Jesus meant for it to be used as a guide to influence our own personal talks with God.

It is not so much The Lord’s Prayer as much as it is The Lord’s Pattern.

Adapting the Pattern

When you examine his pattern for prayer, you can boil it down to a few essential elements. There are numerous prayer tools that have been created to help you pray in light of the Lord’s Prayer. One of the most popular is the ACTS method of prayer.

When you pray, think ACTS.

 ADORATION – Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name…

Jesus’ pattern helps us see we should start our prayers by honoring God for who He is. Our prayers should start with a vertical dimension.

Practically, you can pray about one of God’s names (King of Kings, Prince of Peace, Jehovah, etc). You can pray about one God’s attributes (God, you are holy… loving… wise). You can pray about one of his works (God you created all things… revealed yourself through the Bible… saved me by your grace).

God cannot be exhausted. So when you start your prayer by praying about God, you start off with an endless supply of material.

CONFESSION – Forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors

Confession simply means to agree with God about your sin. You do not need a priest. You do not need to do a good deed to even up the score of your heart. You simply need to recognize where you have fallen short.

Practically, you should confess specifically. Resist the urge to brush your prayers with broad strokes. Instead of confessing your anger, confess the ugly words you spit at your spouse. Instead of confessing your pride, confess your condescending thoughts towards your coworker. Get specific.

THANKSGIVING – This aspect of prayer is not found in The Lord’s Prayer, but Scripture tells us many times to show thanks. For example, Philippians 4:6 says,

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer… with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Usually when we pray, we immediately jump to what we need. The ACTS method helpfully reverses that urge. Pastor H.B. Charles, Jr. says, “Before you ask God for something you need, thank Him for what He has already done.”

Practically, continue to be specific with your thanksgiving. A good rule of thumb to get started is for every one thing you ask of God, offer thanks for one thing He has done.

SUPPLICATION – Give us this day our daily bread… Your will be done… 

We probably need the least amount of help here. Supplication is a fancy way of saying request or petition. If we are good at anything in prayer, we are good at supplication. The Lord’s Pattern gives us two important reminders. First we ask for daily needs. Like the Manna in the wilderness, God wants to give us just enough for today so that we return to Him again with our needs tomorrow. Second, we should recognize that all of our needs are subject to His will and not our own.

Practically, think necessity not extravagance. As you bring your requests to God, explicitly recognize God has the right to answer as He pleases. Voice your willingness to submit to His call on your requests.

 

As with the pattern given to us by Jesus himself, the ACTS method is simply a guide. It is meant to help us pray; it should never constrain us as we seek to meet with God.

If you struggle with knowing how to pray, use a tool like this to get more comfortable. Certainly, reading works on prayer like the one from Keller or studies on the Sermon on the Mount like this one by Daniel Doriani will surely help us grow as prayers.

But the best way to grow in prayer is by actually praying.

Your prayer life is not solely an individual matter. Your friends, family, and church need you. The next time someone asks you to pray for them or to pray out loud in a small group, you have an opportunity. Do not be content with sheepishly backing away from it by saying you do not know how. Jesus has shown us how; He’s given us a pattern. ACTS or no ACTS, be bold and pray.

In an upcoming post, we will look at how the doctrine of the Trinity empowers us to pray. God Himself enables us to pray to Him.

For now, listen to the train rolling past. Hear it once again. It was sent down the track to remind you. You can pray.

Click here for You CAN Pray [Part 2]

Numb to Good News

A Poem and Reflection on Feeling Nothing

And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them.
Genesis 45:26b

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Your boy lived here.

Running around the house

Arguing back and forth with his brothers

Wearing that polychrome tunic you made just for him.

This boy dreamed.

 

You wake to word that your boy is gone.

Running around the house

Searching among his brothers

Dreaming, surely you must be dreaming

No. Your boy. Your boy.

Your boy is dead.

 

His brothers arrive with that polychrome tunic.

No, not polychrome.

Crimson. Only crimson.

One color and only one smell.

Your boy’s blood.

 

Years and years pass.

Eleven other sons refuse time its rest.

Running around the house.

Arguing back and forth with one another.

No boys look you in your eye.

 

The earth dry as your soul.

Cracked dirt and empty fields,

the other side of the mirror

to your bitter scars and stripped faith.

You send your boys to Egypt,

the enemy will feed you now.

 

Miles away a caravan treks the wasteland

The sounds do not fade

The procession pivots on the path to your home.

Your sons ride wagons not mules.

Your sons carry treasure not seed.

Your sons bring news you do not believe.

 

Dad…

Joseph is still alive

He is ruler over all the land of Egypt.

No memories invade your mind.

No relief penetrates your soul.

You feel nothing.

You believe nothing.

 

Your boy is dead.

 


 

REFLECTION

In Genesis 45, Jacob receives the greatest news he could imagine. His son is alive!

Notice what the text says. “His heart was numb, for he did not believe them.”

It does not say that Jacob refused to believe because he was numb.

Jacob was numb because he did not believe.

 

This happens to us all the time. Many of us receive the greatest news one could imagine. The Son is alive!

Like Joseph, Jesus’ brothers sold him and left him for dead.

Unlike Joseph, Jesus of Nazareth actually died. But the grave that held him for three days is empty. And we hear this news the same way Jacob did.

Numb.

We are not moved. We have heard it before. We do not see it change anything.

Nothing. We feel nothing.

 

We get it backwards. We do not feel anything and we make that the reason for why we do not believe. In our minds, our numbness is the ground for our unbelief.

But Jacob shows us otherwise. We do not believe. We reject the good news, and in turn, we become numb. In reality, our unbelief is the ground for our numbness.

Do you feel numb? Do you lack passion? Are you missing excitement and conviction?

Quit trying to change how you feel. Change how you believe.

The Son is alive.

4 Treasures I Found Exploring Geerhardus Vos

Reformed Dogmatics Volume 1: Proper Theology  by Geerhardus Vos
Book Review and Takeaways

77292741_ec5b47243bDaddy, do you know what Cat in the Hat said?

Thus began my breakfast one morning between Christmas and New Years.

Lowering my coffee, I replied, “No, what did the Cat in the Hat say?”

Explorers never stop exploring.

Thanks to Dr. Seuss via my attentive daughter, Daddy’s breakfast was served with life lessons that morning.

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In one of my favorite reads last year, The Lost City of Z, explorer Percy Fawcett gives his life for the sake of traversing the dark, Amazonian rainforest. Time after time, he returns to South America in hopes of finding an ancient city of riches and wonder.

Fawcett leaves his British home for the Amazon on behalf of the Royal Geographic Society. The President of the Society during Fawcett’s missions once proclaimed this:

There [is] not a square foot of the planet’s surface to which the Fellows of this Society should not at least try to go.

Not a square foot.

There’s still more to see, more to find, and more to learn.

Whether on morning cartoons or in real-life cross-Atlantic missions, the truth remains.

Explorers never stop exploring.

With this mantra firmly centered in my mind as I prepared for a new year, I resolved to explore. To explore new things, new authors, new ideas, new countries, new hobbies.

But as Fawcett shows us, this commitment to exploration drives you to return to the familiar and explore again. Old jungles and old paths. Old things, old authors, and old ideas.

So in 2017, I am exploring the new. You might hear about it this year; that is, if my return to the old blog, obtains new steadfastness.

But in 2017, I am also exploring the old. One way in which this has already happened is a return to the study of systematic theology.

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Geerhardus Vos

I recently finished Reformed Dogmatics Volume 1: Proper Theology  by the Dutch professor, Geerhardus Vos. Until recently this work, which is part of a greater five-volume set, was not available in English. Thanks to translator Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., most of us have new territory to explore.

In the same spirit as my reads of 2016 list, below is my take on the book.

REVIEW

Book in a Nutshell: This head-spinning work presents Vos’ teachings on the doctrines of God (His names, being, attributes), the Trinity, God’s decrees, predestination, creation, and providence. Based on lectures given at Calvin Theological Seminary in the 1890’s, this text is delivered in a question-answer format rather than a more typical paragraph format.

Reaction: I have studied this type of material often in the past, but I found this quest back into the jungle of systematic theology refreshing. Sections of the book can be overwhelming as Vos demonstrates his mastery over weighty topics, but he has a knack for distilling his position in crisp summary statements. I enjoyed the format as it enables easy start-stop reading. One of the greatest strengths is the set of indexes in the back of the book that will make returning to it for further study and teaching all the more profitable. If you have never read a book like this before, it might be more helpful to first explore a more accessible venture like Wayne Grudem’s work.

GoodReads Ranking:  5 out of 5 stars

FOUR TAKEAWAYS

On my exploration, I discovered a few treasures I couldn’t hoard all to myself.

1. God’s Infinity and Our Imagination –  God in his perfection has no limits and no restrictions however impossible it is for our limited minds to grasp it.

“We cannot make a concept of the infinite with our thinking… However far we proceed in our imagination, we know that we have not arrived at the end, that we could still take one more step.”

2. Rest – Vos asserts that in God’s rest on the seventh day, there are two aspects. Negatively, rest means “ceasing from creating”. Positively, rest involves “taking pleasure in the finished work”.

True rest is both stopping work and enjoying the fruits.

Think about how we rest. Do we do both? Or do we merely cease from work and forget to enjoy? Maybe, a lot of us feel like we never rest because we only go half way. Maybe, we have to move past stopping and start enjoying.

3. A God Who Governs – Back in 2008, during the national championship game, I prayed that God would let the Memphis Tigers win. I really did. Sadly, God said no.

A lot of people, Christians included, might think this silly. Surely, we think, God doesn’t care about something so meaningless. Vos has my back, however. He writes, “Scripture teaches us that nothing (emphasis mine) is excluded from God’s governing, be it small or large, free or necessary, good or evil (win or lose?).”

Reformed Christians have long taught that the providence of God is exhaustive (in case you missed it, exhaustive includes basketball). Greek philosophers like Aristotle believed the gods only concerned themselves with important matters, but the God of the Bible is no mere Zeus. When we think the same way as Aristotle, we are thinking about God’s heavenly reign as king in an earthly way.

So the current application here is simple: For whatever reason, God didn’t want Nick Saban and Alabama to win again. Bama Christians will have to recite Romans 8:28 to themselves until next year.

4. Straight Talk – When you read a systematic theology work, you will be confronted with controversial issues. There’s no way around that. Geerhardus Vos doesn’t pull punches.

ON THE TRINITY – “Is the Son God in the sense that one can speak of only one God?… Everyone must take sides [Vos argues Yes!]. No one can be saved from it with vague answers.”

ON FREE WILL – “The decree of God also embraces the free acts of men… it is completely absurd and impossible that what is most important… in world history would be beyond the control of God.”

ON GOD’S JUSTICE – “One does not convince such people, one stops their mouth.”

 

My trek through the Dutch-Reformed Amazon delivered more than enough plunder to make the effort worthwhile. I am glad I made the journey.

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But with Dr. Seuss still in mind, the journey continues. I have already begun the initial leg of Vos’ second volume on Anthropology and I have other jungles, caves, and rivers to explore this year as well. Most of them are Russian.

What are you exploring right now? Maybe it is a new author or artist or hobby. Feel free to share some your plans below.

Maybe you don’t have an answer. Whether its an old Dutch professor, a classic novel that has sat on your nightstand for months, or a foreign language waiting to be learned and spoken, let the Cat in the Hat keep you on your toes and push you down a path, any path.

Explorers never stop exploring.

Wisdom in Action: From the Baseball Diamond to the Real Life Battlefield

THIS POST IS PART OF THE NEW SERIES, “A GOOD SOLDIER” – A SERIES OF REFLECTIONS ON THE MILITARY CLASSIC ONCE AN EAGLE AND HOW THE LESSONS WITHIN THE BOOK CONNECT TO BIBLICAL LEADERSHIP. FOR AN INTRODUCTION TO THE SERIES, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

Doing the Right Thing

When You Don’t Know What to Do

Sam Damon not only was a good soldier. He was one heck of a baseball player.

He excelled at the high school level and continued to play competitively after graduation. Soon after joining the army, Damon finds himself on the familiar diamond in a scrimmage between the troops. Even among a group of athletic soldiers that included former professional athletes, Damon stood out.

He could throw and hit a baseball harder and farther than most men, and he knew it. (p. 58)

With two outs in the last inning and Damon’s team clinging to a marginal lead, Private Sam Damon gives the reader a glimpse at true wisdom.

First, Damon accurately assessed the situation.

Davis, a solid hitter in his own right, is standing at the plate. If he gets on base, Damon’s team will find themselves letting the victory out of their clutches. Damon watched from the outfield as his pitcher stared the batter down and considered carefully his next pitch.

Sam knew what the big man was thinking: if he didn’t get Davis he would have to face Corporal Hansen, a big blond Swede who had hit him all afternoon, who could always hit him — who would drive in the two runs and the game would be over. (p. 59-60)

From over a hundred feet away, Damon observed what was happening and knew what would happen next if immediate action wasn’t taken to deal with the batter at hand. This at-bat, one way or the other, would determine the game.

Damon knew something had to be done.

Next, Damon instinctively acted with skill and with decisiveness.

Pitch by pitch, Damon predicted what would happen as if he were the pitcher and batter himself. Damon knew the pitcher was about to unleash a fastball right over the plate to try to bring the count back in his favor. He also knew that the batter would anticipate the fast pitch and would take a hard swing.

Seconds later, a line drive soars in Damon’s direction in left center. Time almost freezes as the outcome of the game lies in the balance.

Davis is about to get on base… Hansen’s coming to the plate… Damon’s team is about to lose.

As Damon chases down the line drive bouncing in the rough grass of the outfield, Damon, in an instance of spontaneous awareness, processes everything that is happening and everything that is about to happen and executes a deceptive play on the ball – all on a whim with the game on the line.

Without any conscious thought he dipped down, trapped the ball deftly; then spun around in the wilted yellow grass as though bewildered, took a step back. There was an outcry and he could hear Merrick distinctly now, shouting, “Go on, go on!” He wheeled and threw with all his might…

Out. Out a mile. The game was over. (p. 60-61)

Even as the ball screams towards him, Damon isn’t entirely sure what he’s going to do. He finds himself in a position that requires immediate action. Damon obliges and acts.

Later on, after the spectacular game-winning assist had caused a scuffle among the troops, Damon admits to his commanding officer that this wasn’t a scheme he had tried in other games. This wasn’t planned out ahead of time. This wasn’t a case of knowing what to do because he had “been there, done that”. This was a man in the face of conflict, executing with skill and decisiveness.

Sam Damon, a humble Private in a scrimmage among troops on a baseball diamond, exhibits for us, biblical wisdom.

Wisdom is not just knowing truth; wisdom is the ability to live life skillfully.

My church is working through the book of Proverbs on Sunday mornings right now. In his introduction to the sermon series, my senior pastor offered several definitions of wisdom.

My favorite was this:  Doing the right thing without precedent.

Commenting on this definition of wisdom, Pastor Darrin explained, “[Wisdom] means you know what to do in a situation even though you’ve never experienced it before. You have built up such an understanding of life from God’s perspective that you have skills not from experience but from intuition.”

Wisdom is Sam Damon in the outfield.

In life, you are going to get a line drive hit right to you with the game on the line. There won’t be time to do research or take a survey from friends and counselors who have been there before.

You are going to have to field the ball now or you’re going to lose the game.

You are going to need wisdom.

Great. Thanks for obvious. I need wisdom. How am I supposed to get that?

Whether we turn to Chris Pratt guarding the endangered galaxy or Mitch Hedberg pointing out the irony in the mundane like the way escalators can never be “out of order” because they just turn into stairs, we are a people who love one-liners.

Star-Lord delivers the one-liners at a rapid pace. What? You’ve never heard of Star-Lord?!?

But the king of one-liners was also the king of wisdom.

He was a man wiser than any other – one who could step into a situation he had not faced before (such as handing over a baby claimed by two women) and execute with skill and decisiveness (threatening to slice the baby in half):

King Solomon, son of David.

In the book of Proverbs, Solomon drops the one-liner of all one-liners to answer the fool who doesn’t really buy into the idea that he needs wisdom to field the line drives of life with skill and precision. He says:

The beginning of wisdom is this… GET WISDOM.

Proverbs 4:7

If we want to live life with skill and decisiveness, we can’t just wait until the line drive is already heading our way and hope that we can handle it. Skill and the ability to make a decision with decisiveness come from a lifetime pursuit of discipline, character, and conviction.

Solomon sees you facing a situation you’ve never met before – parenting your kid through a new phase of growth and maturity – going through an interview process you’ve never had to endure – putting the food on the table with an income not quite at what you’ve been accustomed – and he offers a word of advice.

You need wisdom?

Get after it.

Go. Get. Wisdom.

God will be gracious to grant wisdom to those who seek it (James 1:5-6).

But wisdom requires some exercise and discipline on our own end.

Damon would not have been able to field the line drive bouncing awkwardly in the grass…

He would not have been able to fire a rocket to home plate with such accuracy and might…

He would not have recognized the likelihood of his team’s defeat in the present situation…

He would not have the wisdom needed to execute his trick play…

… had he not put in years of disciplined, physical training and rigorous study of the game of baseball.

Being prepared for life to come our way does not mean we will always know what to do when crisis strikes. But when the ball takes a hard bounce the other way and we need to fire a line back to the plate, we need to be in a position where we have done everything we possibly could ahead of time in order to be in a position to live life skillfully with decisiveness.

When life demands some hard work, we need to have taken the time to put some wisdom in our tool belt. The job is not going to get done without it.

There isn’t always time to consider options or get second opinions. The game will be over unless we act with wisdom.

So let’s go get it.

7 Simple Steps to Actually Finishing The Longest Book You’ve Ever Read

In April, I sojourned back to my home of four years (Louisville, KY) for a pastor’s conference with a group of about ten men. There were more than a handful of meaningful takeaways that have impacted my life since the conference, but one unexpected application has already bore great fruit.

Southern Seminary. Louisville, KY.
Southern Seminary. Louisville, KY.

Because of my trip to Louisville, I am on pace to finish the longest book I have ever read (that wasn’t part of an assignment for school) by the end of the summer.

During this panel discussion alongside Matt Chandler, Kevin DeYoung, and John Piper, Derek Thomas, the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, significantly changed the course of my year by sharing a personal anecdote about a season he spent with one of his mentors. Early in the morning, Thomas and his mentor would wake up and read aloud from the works of John Owen. Now, reading John Owen at any time during the day is a supreme challenge. Thomas’ story of reading such dense material in the early hours of the morning along with his mentor arrested my imagination.

I started to ask, “What would it look like to try to do something similar in my own life?”

The fruit of that meditation has led me to uncover a method of reading incredibly long books that entails far less pain and fewer instances of warring against the urge to fall asleep.

To be upfront, I am still working my way through my first book using this method. However, the fruit of this endeavor has already proved to be so worthwhile that I thought it best to pass it on now so that you can have the opportunity to adopt the strategy this summer as well.

Many thanks to Derek Thomas and his unnamed mentor for the inspiration to pursue this adventure.

Seven Simple Steps to Actually Finishing the Longest Book You’ve Ever Read

1. Pick a reliable partner. You need to have confidence that your partner is going to be there for you. You need someone who will finish each section on time and hold you responsible for doing the same.

Like the example of Derek Thomas, I have found this method to be especially beneficial in a mentor relationship. Within the context of mentorship comes natural levels of expectation for growth and challenges. Reading a massive book alongside someone you are in a mentor relationship with provides a great opportunity to develop character as well as to have fun while learning aside one another.

Whether it is a mentor, a mentee, an accountability partner, or just a good fried, do not go on this trek alone. Frodo needed Sam. You will too.

2. Pick a worthy read. You not only need confidence that your partner is not going to waste your time by not keeping up, but you also need confidence that the book isn’t going to be a waste of time either.

Pick something that has been on your dream reading list for a long time. Tackle a book you have always wanted to read but have always put off because of its unflattering weight. Get recommendations from people you respect. Choose an all-time classic.

Personally, I wanted to introduce my reading partner to the world of Biblical Theology (the study of the Bible in which one traces a major theme throughout the big-picture story of Scripture). So I bought a pair of copies of Tom Schreiner’s 736 page, The King in His Beauty. It has not disappointed at all.

736 Pages of Awesome

There’s freedom here. Pick Calvin or Tolkien. Grudem or Tolstoy. Owen or Dostoevsky. Edwards or Steinbeck. The bottom line is to pick something actually worth a season of your life.

3. Pick a time to regularly meet with your partner. This doesn’t need to be written in concrete, but you want a reliable time that will consistently be available for you and your partner.

Bright and early in the morning before work and school will usually be a good option. Make some coffee if you need to make it less painful. The pleasure of reading aloud with your partner will quickly propitiate any early morning grumpiness.

With it being summertime, my partner and I are fairly open-handed on what day we will meet. We usually aim for 6 a.m. on Mondays, but are open to moving it to another day depending on the demands of the week.

4. Map out your reading plan for the entire book at the outset. Planning your reading schedule will help in a few different ways. It will prevent the completion date of the reading from being arbitrary. Knowing ahead of time when you will finish the book provides a sense of urgency to open the book up and work through a few chapters.

This will also ensure that you evenly space out your reading so that you are not reading hundreds of pages one week and only a few dozen the next. This step is especially helpful during the summer when you and your partner might be out of town on vacation. Mapping your reading ahead of time enables you to know how to work around these weeks that you will not be able to meet.

Below, you will see the Table of Contents from The King in His Beauty. Notice how I have written a date beside each major section of the book. This is the date that we will begin each new section together.

KinginHisBeautyContents

5. Meet together and start reading the assigned section aloud with your partner. When my partner and I get together, we read for an hour. We do not waste much time in small talk before or after our reading. We may highlight a few things after we have read a chapter, but for the most part, we read and nothing else.

We want to knock out as many pages together out loud as possible. The more you read out loud together, the less you have to read on your own.

The method we use to read aloud together is to alternate pages: I read one page. He reads the next. When we come to the end of a page, we finish whatever sentence we are on and let the other one pick up from there.

Nothing fancy here. Read a page. Take a break. Repeat.

6. Read the rest of the assigned section as homework. When your time together comes to an end, you need to set a page number as the place you will begin to read aloud when you meet back up with your partner. This short-term finish line should coincide with the long-term plan you mapped out in Step 4.

Agreeing on the next goal together gives you a firm plan for reading on your own over the next few days. It provides a clear idea of how much time you are going to need to dedicate to get to the next checkpoint.

I have actually found that if you pick a good enough book, the hard part is not getting to the checkpoint. The difficult thing is to not read ahead and to wait for the day you meet back with your partner.

7. Repeat steps 5 & 6 until the book is complete. When you map out your plan ahead of time and stick to it, it might surprise you how fast you can finish a rather lengthy book.

My partner and I started our 736 page wonder at the end of May, and we plan to complete the last section before the end of July.

_____________________

A few months ago, when I went to a pastor’s conference on the topic of evangelism, I did not expect to come across such a helpful takeaway in regards to reading lengthy books. Reading this worthy book with a reliable partner has already been a worthwhile endeavor for me.

I hope that some of you might try your own adaptation of this reading method I picked up from Pastor Derek Thomas. There’s still plenty of time in the summer to knock out that book on your list that you never dreamed you would actually finish.

I would love to hear some of your thoughts and plans. Are there any methods that you have used to help you finish some rather lengthy books? What’s the longest book that you read just for fun that you have ever finished?