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Often our praying becomes rote. We pray the same things over and over. (Sadly, that is assuming we do pray regularly. As a short personal quiz: How often do you pray? How long do you generally commune with the Lord in and through prayer? If married, do you and your spouse pray together?)

Often our praying is general. “Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care” or “Bless all the missionaries.” That is better than not praying at all, and at times we simply do not know what to pray so we pray more generally, and thankfully the Spirit intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26-27).
This was the experience of John Piper. He found that his praying would fall into a rut (rote), and in order for him to get out of the rut, it required discipline. What helped him was compiling a list of that prayers prayed by the church as recorded in the Scriptures: What Should We Pray For?

Piper confesses his own personal rut in prayer.

If you are like me, you find that from time to time your prayer life needs a jolt out of the rut it has fallen into. We tend to use the same phrases over and over. We tend to default to worn out phrases (like the word default). We fall into patterns of mindless repetition.

The devil hates prayer. Our own flesh does not naturally love it. Therefore, it does not come full-born and complete and passionate from the womb of our heart. It takes ever renewed discipline.

In order to address this “default praying,” Piper searched the Scriptures to discern those matters for which the church prayed. He compiled them and used them to guide his praying (he also included this list in his book Let the Nations Be Glad):

So when I wrote that book, I gathered into one place all the things the early church prayed for. I printed this out for myself, and it has proven to be one of those “jolts” that I need. I thought you might find it helpful. You might want to print it out and keep it for a while in your Bible to guide you in your praying.

Piper highlights the great and glorious mystery of prayer, that the God of the universe, the all-sovereign one, would exercise his sovereignty and providence through the prayers of his people is amazing (Piper uses the expression “mind-boggling”), which means that even though one is not physically present, one can touch, influence and affect people, families, neighborhoods, churches, institutions through prayer:

Prayer remains one of the great and glorious mysteries of the universe — that the all-knowing, all-wise, all-sovereign God should ordain to run his world in response to our prayers is mind-boggling. But that is the uniform witness of Scripture. God hears and answers the prayers of his people. Oh, do not neglect this amazing way of influencing nations and movements and institutions and churches and people’s hearts, especially your own.

If you want to pray for what the early church prayed for . . .

Piper follows this by including 35 prayers directly from the Scriptures. I encourage you to read through the list. Better yet is to pray through the list. Best is to memorize these prayers and to make them a regular part of your prayers, applied to specific situations. In this way our default praying is praying “according to the Scriptures.”

Let me conclude with this challenge. For those who profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, often in our prayer lives we live more like practical atheists than we do children of the heavenly Father. Dear adopted child of God, what will you do to change that? God, our loving Father, will give you the grace not only to change that, but his grace is also sufficient to change your heart to desire to change it.

Johan Gustav Gudmundson (also known as Gummeson, and changed to Gunnerson after they arrived America) was born in Smaland, Sweden on September 18, 1845. Johan and his family emigrated to the United States arriving in New York on July 3, 1856. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Princeton, IL.

When Johan departed for further education in 1863 he changed his name to John Gustaf Princell, out of respect to the town that had become his home, Princeton. We know him as J. G. Princell, and consider him one of the “fathers” of the Evangelical Free Church (Swedish).

Often we hear or know the great accolades of an individual, or the many gifts a person possesses, or the numerous ways the work of a person’s hands prospered. All of these matters would be accurate for Princell. But what is often missing from such a recounting of a person’s history is the kind, wise, good providence of God in preparing a person for those tasks. Although the former is true, without the latter it can almost become historical hagiography. The result can be that we end up making more of a man and less of God.

In the recounting of the lives of those who have gone before, there are few, if any, who are exempt from learning and growing through pain, suffering and sorrow. In fact, it has been said those God uses greatly are those who have been tested deeply. And by faith, they have come forth as God’s refined gold, vessels in the redeemers hand.

This is true for our beloved J. G. Princell. God used him greatly in the Free Church movement, which is why he is considered one of the fathers. He had a giant of an intellect, was a gifted preacher, and a strong leader. But that did not happen apart from God’s gracious sanctifying work in his life. Here are three painful life experiences, which are little known, but which God used for good, evidenced in the spiritual fruit that remained in his life and ministry.

The Death of Princell’s Brother. Three days before they arrived in New York, John’s younger brother died and was buried at sea. As a boy of 11, John was overcome with grief. Through his tears he said, “It was so hard to see little brother sink into the depths of the ocean!”

The Death of Princell’s Wife. J. G. was married to Selma Ostergren in the Gustaf-Adolph church in April 1873. After two short years of marriage, Selma succumbed to death. Upon exchanging vows, J. G. did not think his commitment “till death do us part” would be only two years. Interestingly, prior to Selma’s departure to be with the Lord, she informed J. G. about his remarriage upon her death. “I know who will be my successor,” she said, “because I have already talked to the Lord about it. She is Josephine Lind, and you may remember that there is no one who I would rather see in my place than she.” J. G., once again, experienced the depth of grief in the loss of his wife. What transpired between them prior to Selma’s death also says something about their relationship. J. G. and Josephine were married in 1876 in Boston, and they remained married until J. G.s death in 1915.

The Joys and Sorrows of Revival. P. P. Waldenstrom’s ministry in Sweden was used greatly of the Lord in the renewal and revival of individuals. Waldenstrom’s influence was carried by and flourished among Swedish immigrants in the United States. These immigrants studied the Bible and experienced revival. Princell was also influenced by Waldenstrom and the revival. This resulted in a commitment to the Scriptures and to spiritual reform in the church with an emphasis on “believers’ church membership and believers’ communion.” (There were other emphases, such as his view of the atonement that were problematic, but that is for another time.) This offended some of the members which resulted in a split in the Gustaf-Adolph church. This painful split led to Princell’s resignation from the church in 1879, and a formal and official suspension by the Augustana Synod at their annual meeting in 1879. Princell personally experienced both the joys and pains of revival.

In the midst of trials and tribulations, we trust in God’s good providence as he “causes all things to work together for good.” We are also assured it is these kinds of life experiences God uses to form and shape who we become, and from this character created by God, we serve others with an “aroma of Christ.” This truth was manifested in the life of J. G. Princell, and we are thankful.

Today is the first of the month in which we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses: October 31.

Desiring God is providing a month-long study of the Reformation leading up to the October 31, the actual day of the posting of the Theses: Here We Stand: A 31-Day Journey With Heroes of the Reformation Each of the studies focuses on an individual used of God in the Reformation.

This study is described as follows:

In one especially memorable scene, he stood before the emperor and declared courageously, risking his own life, “Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me, God.”

But Luther did not stand alone. The Reformation was not about one or two big names — Luther, Calvin, Zwingli — but about a massive movement of Christian conviction, boldness, and joy that cost many men and women their lives — and scattered the seeds that are still bearing fruit in the twenty-first century. Not only was Luther surrounded by many Reformers in Germany, but lesser-known heroes of the faith rose up all over Europe. Heroes like Heinrich Bullinger, Hugh Latimer, Lady Jane Grey, Theodere Beza, and Johannes Oecolampadius. Luther was the battering ram, but he ignited, and stood with, a chorus of world changers.

And here we stand today, 500 years later. Luther wasn’t alone then, and he’s not alone now. To mark the 500th anniversary, we invite you to join us on a 31-day journey of short biographies of the many heroes of the Reformation, just 5–7 minutes each day for the month of October.

The first one in the series was officially published today:

Jon Bloom, The First Tremor: Peter Waldo Died by 1218

One was published last week as a precursor to the series:

Stephen Nichols, The Morning Star of the Reformation: John Wycliffe c. 1330-1384

Here are a few that were published leading up to this 31-day journey of learning.

John Piper, Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone?

Ryan Griffith, Luther Company Remember the Rest of the Reformers

Tony Reinke, The Nail in the Coffin of Our Hearts: Five Hundred Years of Fighting Idolatry

I encourage you to sign-up and join many others in learning about key individuals, known and lesser known, but all important as they were used of God, in the great work of God in reforming the church, and bringing God’s people back to affirm and embrace the solas: sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), and soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone).

As Johannes Bugenhagen (1485-1558) wrote, which captured the heart of the solas and of the Reformation, “We give God the glory if we trust in His grace that He does everything and that our work, righteousness, ability, and merit cannot save us or eradicate sin.”

Essentials of the Doctrine of Creation

Greg Strand – September 13, 2017 Leave a comment

In the EFCA, “We believe in one God, Creator of all things, holy, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Article 1, God)

When you ponder biblically and theologically, what does it mean to confess and profess “God [is] the Creator of all things”? In affirming this truth, What are the essentials, the non-negotiables, that must be affirmed/believed in order to affirm this truth?

This was a question posed to Tim Keller, Russell Moore and Ligon Duncan: Keller, Moore, and Duncan on the Non-Negotiable Beliefs About Creation

In this 12 minute discussion between Keller, Moore and Duncan, this is the very issue they address, focusing on the non-negotiables of the doctrine of creation. They focus on what ought to be communicated in discussions with unbelievers, and what ought to be included in discussions with believers.

In sum, they conclude there are three non-negotiable truths that must be affirmed: (1) God created all ex nihilo; (2) God’s creation is good; (3) God’s special creation of Adam and Eve, who are historical and unique, and they serve as the fountainhead, or federal head (primogenitor/progenitor) of all humanity.

In the EFCA, added to the essential belief of affirming God being the “Creator of all things,” we have given the following biblical and theological parameters (Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America, 34):

To be sure, Genesis 1 expresses truth about God as Creator and his creation, but because of the uncertainty regarding the meaning and literary form of this text and the lack of Evangelical consensus on this issue, our Statement does not require a particular position on the mechanics of creation. However, to be within the doctrinal parameters of the EFCA, any understanding of the process of creation must affirm:

1. That God is the Creator of all things out of nothing (ex nihilo)
2. That he pronounced his creation “very good,”
3. that God created with order and purpose,
4. that God is the sovereign ruler over all creation which, by his personal and particular providence, he sustains,9
5. that God created the first human beings—the historical Adam and Eve—uniquely in his image,
6. and that through their sin all humanity along with this created order is now fallen (as articled in our Article 3).10

 9  We deny the notion that God is simply the Creator of the universe but is no longer active in it, as is espoused by deism.
10 This Statement does not speak to the precise process of creation or to the age of the universe. To be acceptable within the EFCA any views on these specifics must completely affirm this Statement of Faith and align within these essential parameters.

And to the doctrine of God’s unique historical creation of Adam and Eve, “We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image” (Article 3, The Human Condition), which expounded biblically and theologically means the following (Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America, 76-77):

There are legitimate differences of opinion about how one understands the nature of the language used in the early chapters of Genesis to describe the actions of God in the world. However, our Statement affirms that Adam and Eve were historical figures16 in the following sense: 1) From these two all other human beings are descended (Acts 17:26).17 2) These two were the first creatures created in God’s image such that they were accountable to God as responsible moral agents. And 3) these two rebelled against God, affecting all their progeny.18

What is essential to the biblical story-line is that the problem with the world is not ontological-that is, it is not a result of the material nature of creation itself nor is sin an essential part of our humanity.19 The problem is moral. The first human beings from the very beginning, in a distinct act of rebellion, chose to turn away from God, and this act not only affected all humanity (cf. Rom. 5:12-21), but creation itself (cf. Rom. 8:18-25). This leads us from considering the dignity of humanity to acknowledging our depravity.

16 The historical reality of Adam and Eve has been the traditional position of the church (so Tertullian, Athanasius, Augustine, Calvin) and is supported elsewhere in Scripture. Particularly, Paul compares the “one man” Adam with both Moses and Jesus (cf. Rom. 5:12, 15-19; 1 Cor. 15:20-22). In addition, Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam (Luke 3:23-37; cf. also 1 Chron. 1).
17 We take no position on the manner in which the human soul is passed on, either by natural heredity (“traducianism”) or by a unique work of God in each life (“creationism”).
18 Consequently, no human beings existed prior to these two, and, consequently, no human beings were sinless and without the need of a Savior.
19 This also gives us hope that human beings can be redeemed from sin.

“We believe in one God, Creator of all things, holy, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. . . [And] We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image.”

 

How do we understand God’s presence with suffering and pain? As pastors, how do we trust in and rest upon the Lord while giving pastoral care to those who are in the midst of deep suffering and pain? Often during these moments it feels like a Job-like experience, we believe and we trust, but it does not seem to make sense. And in the midst of it all, it feels like God has become silent.

This refers to the Deus absconditus, the hiddenness of God. This is when it is critical to remind those who are feeling God’s hiddenness of the truth of God’s presence, even if it is not felt. It is the heart of Jesus’ human experience on the cross. It is also the heart of a pastoral presence.

Colin B. Johnstone writes about God’s presence and human suffering in “Theophany & Theodicy: When the Inevitable Questions of Suffering Confront the Living God,” Touchstone (July/August 2017), 36-39. This was an unpublished paper written by his father, prior to his succumbing to Alzheimer’s.

For some context, Colin’s father “studied the Western classics, and became a theologian and then a applied theologian, spending 25 years in a cancer research hospital as a chaplain. He provided care for terminal patients, taught aspiring chaplains, and counseled scientists and medical doctors in the ethics of care and research.”

Since it is not available on-line, I include lengthy quotes from the article, so even though you will not get the full gist of the essay, I will attempt to give some context so you get the most out of the quotes I have included.

This article grounds theology in God, in his presence (theophany) in the midst of suffering and pain (theodicy), and it provides an excellent example of combining pastoral theology with pastoral practice.

In the introduction, he sets the context of the attempt to reconcile “belief in God’s goodness with the existence of evil and suffering,” and in particular with the existential, personal angst of “why me?” For the caregiver, the question is heard as coming from the head. For the sufferer, he utters the plea from the heart.

Questions of theodicy, questions concerning the reconciliation of belief in God’s goodness with the existence of evil and suffering, are among the passionate existential questions. They come out of my own story. “Why me?” is not a textbook question but rather a question that comes out of my life and stirs my passions every time it returns. I believe that the important existential questions do return repeatedly, for they are questions of the heart, not of the head. We may have excellent answers for the questions, but they do not quiet the heart’s ache. The heart cries, laments, and complains, and although it expresses itself in the language of a question, an answer will not satisfy the lament of the heart.

The biblical context he focuses on is Job, the man from Uz. Job is considered an “innocent sufferer,” who experiences a “cosmic ‘wager’ between the Lord and Satan,” and who was given inadequate answers by his “comforters.”

Johnstone concludes it is important to discern who is asking the question. Often the one giving counsel to the sufferer wants to respond to the intellectual question. Furthermore, it is done “by someone deeply disturbed by the suffering of someone else. It is usually offered in an attempt to change the person’s mind about his or her suffering, and it assumes that suffering is a human problem.” For the sufferer, it is more of an existential question than it is an intellectual objection.

However, the question changes considerably when it is actually the suffering asking the question. He writes that when the sufferer asks the question of “why me?, “it is often a private conversation between God and the sufferer.”  He continues,

I would not wish this reflection to be construed as an attempt to deny the value of struggling with the theodicy question. Caregivers, especially pastoral caregivers, need to “justify” the behavior of the One in whose name they come, but they should not confuse an adequate working theology of suffering with a pastoral methodology for easing suffering. Their care should not be used to stop the questioning; it should be used to help people who have stopped questioning to restate questions that remain unresolved. Several years ago, I suggested that the question “Why me?” asked by a sufferer ought to be listened to and the emotions responded to, but the question itself not answered. I argued that until the emotions were heard, the question couldn’t be dealt with. I wrote of venting emotions, differentiating the question and integrating it into a search for meaning. I stated that, very often, when the emotions are listened to, the question seems to lose its power and to no longer need an answer.

He speaks wise words for caregivers. We often are afraid of questions, and we do not like to leave questions unanswered. And when there are no questions, we conclude all is well. However, he communicates an important and helpful reminder writing, “they should not confuse an adequate working theology of suffering with a pastoral methodology for easing suffering. Their care should not be used to stop the questioning; it should be used to help people who have stopped questioning to restate questions that remain unsolved. . . . very often, when the emotions are listened to, the question seems to lose its power and to no longer need an answer.”

At the end of the day, Job did not get all of his questions answered. In fact, God responded to Job’s questions with questions of his own. Although Job did not receive answers, he encountered God’s presence through his word. Prior to this, his claim was God was silent. Now he spoke, not answering his questions, but with his presence.

It is the encounter with the living God that heals and transforms. When we explore the dynamics of Job’s healing, we see clearly that the very presence of God is sufficient. In this encounter, however, we must not ignore the content of the discourses, for that is also important. The Lord not only spoke out of the whirlwind, but also directed Job’s attention to the whole of creation. A sufferer is like an astronomical black hole that draws everything into itself. The Lord directs Job to look beyond himself to the total perspective of creation. It is as if he is saying, “Look around you, Job, and ponder the mysteries of creation. There are many things out there that you don’t understand but can still appreciate.” This calling out was a call to an encounter with the living God. Thus, theophany is experienced with fear and trembling, but there is also healing and resolution in the encounter. Job doesn’t have anything more to say, because God has come.

In essence, “Job doesn’t have anything more to say, because God has come.” In the words of Job, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6).

Here is his conclusion:

It has been my experience that my personal pain and suffering has been resolved by the caring presence of another person or the caring presence of God. It has also been my professional experience that suffering is eased and resolved by a Healing Presence and not by a brilliant answer to the theodicy question. One who has explored theodicy and has come to an acceptable answer will probably be more able to minister to the suffering, but he will also find that it is not the answer itself that helps but the calm, trusting presence of the caregiver.

Remember these two keys: (1) “It is the encounter with the living God that heals and transforms.” (2) “One who has explored theodicy and has come to an acceptable answer will probably be more able to minister to the suffering, but he will also find that it is not the answer itself that helps but the calm, trusting presence of the caregiver.”

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor. 1:2-5).

What thoughts do you have? How do you approach those who are suffering, those sufferers who are asking questions, those sufferers who have stopped asking questions, those who suffer with or because a loved one is suffering?