“I wanted to wear out my life”: A New Year’s Resolution from David Brainerd

What follows was not a New Year’s resolution as we would commonly think of such a resolve.  It was not made on January 1, intended to be kept throughout that year.  It was made on a Tuesday, April 20 – David Brainerd’s 24th birthday, as he lamented that he had not met his resolve for the previous year.  Historically, the Lord was pleased in His grace to help the young man as he would become a pioneer missionary to the Native Americans, dying only 5 years later of tuberculosis.  John Piper wrote of him, “Instead of a quiet six years in the pastorate or lecture hall followed by death and little historical impact for Christ’s kingdom, God meant to drive him into the wilderness that he might suffer for His sake and have an incalculable influence on the history of missions” (John Piper, The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd, p. 129).  This is then the resolve of the young man Brainerd (1718-1747) upon his 24th birthday, to be lived out the following year.  We would do well to be of the same mind ~

This day I am twenty-four years of age.  Oh, how much mercy have I received the year past!  How often has ‘God caused His goodness to pass before me’ (Exod. 33:19)!  And how poorly have I answered the vows I made this time twelve-month [a year ago], to be wholly the Lord’s, to be forever devoted to this service!  The Lord help me to live more to His glory for time to come.  This has been a sweet, a happy day to me: Blessed be God.  I think my soul was never so drawn out in intercession for others as it has been this night. … I hardly ever so longed to ‘live to God’ (Rom. 14:8), and to be altogether devoted to Him; I wanted to wear out my life in His service and for His glory.

From Vance Christie’s biography: David Brainerd: A Flame for God, p. 44.

Top 50 Books that have Shaped Evangelicals

Per ChristianityToday.

“I Never Say Amen”

It is customary for one, when they have finished praying, to say “Amen.”  Amen is a word which means something like “truly”, as if the one who says it means to put their stamp of approval upon what has been said, particularly when what has been said accords with the word of God.  Our Lord said “Amen”, using it in a distinctive way of course.  For whereas the Christian sets his seal of truth to the end of the statement (whether it is true depends upon its agreement with God’s Word), Jesus set it upon the beginning of His statements.  Thus, John 3:3, “Truly, truly, (Amen, Amen) I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Thus, whereas we seek to discern the truth and set a soulish affirmation upon it, Jesus, the Word in flesh, speaks as God only that which is absolutely and incontrovertibly true – therefore, He begins His statements with “Truly, truly.”  Again, where the prophets of old and preachers anew say, “Thus saith the Lord,” our Lord said, “Truly, truly, I say to you,” where the implication is “I am the Lord.”  Amen, then, has theological value.

Recently, I was helping my grandmother out of her house and into my car on our way to a Christmas meal.  As we gathered into the car, she told me of the verses that she had memorized this week, and promptly recited them: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing, gives thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” – “1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, she affirmed with gusto.”  It was the “pray without ceasing” that caught her attention.  Now I understand that the word “Amen” is the beings affirmation to the truth of a statement insofar as it agrees with God’s infallible Word, and is not dogmatically the cessation or ending of a prayer.  However, when that little 82-year old said, “the Bible says, ‘pray without ceasing’, so I never say amen,” I was tickled, and delighted at her enthusiasm.  What she means, as she understands it, is that “amen” signifies the close of prayer – but Paul here exhorts us never to cease praying; and thus, she surmised, she was never to be done praying – she would never say “Amen.”  To which, in principle, I think is the right way of thinking about prayer (I need not set another qualification on the use of Amen at this point).  We are to always be about the spirit of prayer to God our Father – this is His will in Christ Jesus for us. 

I say, then, give your hearty “amen’s” – Amen, absolutely, the truth of God’s Word; more than that, let your life shout “Amen” as it does the truth of God’s Word.  When you pray, set “Truly” upon your tongue, for rock hard affirmations of objective reality are few and far between these days.  But, as it pertains to the spirit of prayer, I would encourage you, “never say amen (as it is understood to be the close of prayer).”  Amen?  Amen!

Thoughts on “I will not forget your word.”

Yesterday, I mentioned the resolutions of the Psalmist in Psalm 119:15-16 as resolutions (or issues of repentance) for  every day . . . and the New Year also.  I also mentioned that I desired to return to some of the practical outworkings of these resolutions today – Christmas day.  But as Patrick Schreiner’s advice concerning brevity has continued to stick in my side like an irritating spur, so I intend to focus on one of those four resolutions, albeit briefly – “I will not forget your word.”

This is a striking resolution.  It is a negative resolve – a resolve concerning something that he “will not” do – he will not forget God’s Word.  Question: How do we forget God’s Word?  Answer: In a myriad of practical ways.  First, we forget God’s Word when in any given day we fail to take it up and consume it.  Secondly, we forget God’s Word when we allow our prayers to deviate from the biblical mold and its wisdom and light.  Thirdly, we forget God’s Word when the Gospel of Christ ceases to pour forth from our lips to others, believer and unbeliever alike; when our talk is no longer flavored with the salt and radiant with the light of His Word.  Fourthly, we forget God’s Word when we do not have a song of praise within our hearts and upon our tongues, for when the Word dwells richly within us, songs are the effect.  Fifthly, we forget God’s word when in life’s circumstances we lean upon our own understanding and take no comfort from God’s counseling testimonies.  Sixthly, we forget God’s Word as we are prone not to meditate upon it or memorize it or commit our Godward thoughts to writing.  Seventhly, etc.

But the psalmist resolved: “I will not forget your word.”

And thus, implied, is the Christian who knows the true sustenance of his life!  He knows his lifeline, his food, his light, his counselors, his strength, his weaponry, that is, his sword against sin and the enemy, his treasury and delight to be the Word of God – and how devilish it would be, then, to forget it as Adam and Eve did when confronted with the serpent’s anti-word. 

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, when he was weak, hungry, and being tempted to the greatest of degrees, being presented with the temptation to – by His divinity – turn a stone into bread and eat, thrust this sword into the belly of the enemy: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).  Thus, the one who resolves with the psalmist is one patterned after the wisdom of Jesus Christ, understanding and experiencing the reality that man lives on the words of God – and, therefore, the resolve arises like a beacon of absolute necessity: “I will not – indeed, I cannot – forget your word.” 

Let us, then, remember God’s Word – remember it, to read it, to minister it, to sing it, to take counsel from it, to consume it and spit it out again in order that others might be fed.  Let us resolve, “I will not forget your word.”  Then it shall be intertwined with the DNA of our lives, drawing us closer and closer to the heart of our God.  May God be pleased, as he has written in Psalm 119:32, to enlarge our hearts that we might run in this way, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Some Resolutions from Psalm 119

Or perhaps, as a friend would say, “repentances” (rather than resolutions).  Last night, Jenny and I began to read through Psalm 119 together with the intention of reminding ourselves of the majesty of the Scriptures inner testimony of itself.  I was particularly struck by vv. 9-16 – they remained through the night, prodding my heart even into this morning – hence, this post!

In vv. 9-11, the word of God is set as divine weaponry against sin.  A young man keeps his way pure by guarding it according to God’s word.  The word is the objective of the new heart, keeping its course Godward.  The psalmist set this word in his heart – note, not only in his mind, but in his heart – that he might not sin against God.  So, memorization of the Word is profitable for slaying sin – a mighty sword indeed!

In vv. 12-14, the word of God is established as our great delight, our mode of communion with God and communication with men.  Thus, the psalmist pleads with God that He would teach him His statutes.  Remarkably, he goes on, in v. 13, to say that he speaks “all the rules of your mouth,” which must mean that all manner of men about him had grace bestowed upon them.  He knew God’s rules so well, in fact, all of them, that his lips declared them, they were set upon his tongue; oh, that we too, would so well know the Bible that our language would be set to its mold.  And, also, in v. 14, he speaks of God’s word as testimonies of gold – that in which he delights as much as all riches. 

But for the sake of length, vv. 15-16, are the psalmists’ resolutions. 

“I will meditate on your precepts and (I will) fix my eyes on your ways.  I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” 

Notice, how, while I am sure that the psalmist has done such things, these two verse are not thoughts about how the word should be used, or adored, or what the psalmist has done with them previously (primarily), but rather, about what he resolves to do still further.  He says, “I will!” do this or that; “I will meditate . . . I will fix my eyes . . . I will delight . . . I will not forget your word.”  So, as I said, I was struck by the psalmist’s resolve, a man who is apparently well-acquainted with God’s word and, yet, he still resolves to know them, delight in them, be straightened towards them, and make use of them in an increasing fashion and by an increasing desirability. 

Perhaps, tomorrow, then, I will spend some time writing upon the resolutions themselves.  But suffice it for this Christmas Eve morning that if we are going to make any sort of resolution this New Year’s, let it be with the psalmist – “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.  I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”  Let us be what we are as Christians – a people of the Word!

The Joy of Being Homeward Bound

After several frustrating re-entrances into our apartment for additional things that we really will not need but for some reason felt compelled to grab, we hopped in our car and began our descent to South Carolina for our familial tour, house to house, of what will seem like 50 Christmas gatherings.  It is fine by us, of course!

As we drove, drawing nearer and nearer home, I began to notice a dramatic change in Jenny’s disposition.  Now, she is usually sunny – no doubt about it!  But in this instance, I could tangibly see her rays getting brighter and brighter – her eyes widening, the corners of her mouth drawing up at the corners, her disposition becoming weightless, her voice a note higher, her excitement arising by the second – we were homeward bound, and the knowledge of it produced in her a tremendous affection of joy. 

This is, to borrow from Bunyan, the biblical affection of the pilgrim’s progress.  As a Christian, from the first moment of new birth, we are always homeward bound!  Day by day, we are progressing down the way of righteousness.  At all times, our heavenly citizenship is before us, around us, in us.  There is that wonderful longing that arises within the soul for that place and its Maker, our God and Father; yes, ascends from the depths of us when we pray, read the Bible, commune with God and His church, etc.  We know that He awaits to receive us in Christ with open arms forever.  And, oh, the glory of Him and the home He is making for us – inexpressible, unspeakable joy!  Joy, I say!  And among many things that God has given us to insure the fullness of our joy here and now, the knowledge of home and that we are at every moment upon the way and sure to get there safely, to be with our Father, the Lamb, the Spirit, and our family, the saints of God; and that there will be great feasting in those days of bliss, celebration and worship, songs and perfected existence, insurmountable revelry, and golden words abounding to the heart; oh, that we know that we are on this path, homeward bound is of the greatest joys in all the universe.

And a bit of practice from what has been written – if it is true, and it is!, that the Christian is at every moment progressing towards the finish line, only to cross it, and rather than being done, enters into eternal glory, a home made by the hands of our God – if this is so – then, the Christian must be the most unceasingly joyful sort of human being, if it is plausible, increasing in joy every day by the knowledge of our increasing nearness to Him and home.  Joy is no veneer put on to cover up real anguish in insincerity.  May it never be!  Joy is the rockish inward disposition of the soul in light of the greatest realities in the universe – which by grace – are yours.  How do the worst of temporal circumstances stand, though they toss you about and ravish your body, – how do they stand – against the soul that knows in the midst of said tossing that God is for you, He is your Father, He is bringing you home, and that on account of Christ and the working of His Spirit, you will inherit it, you will come into it, you will see God – not temporally, but eternally.  Joy, I tell you!  Joy!  This is the might of the working of the Gospel within the soul – unceasing joy! 

Thus, I will retire to some of those golden words and may your soul be encouraged this day, dear brothers and sisters – we are homeward bound!

“You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” Psalm 4:7;

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” John 15:11;

“But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves” John 17:13;

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” Romans 14:17;

“Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” Philippians 3:20-21;

Note also, “the hope laid up for you in heaven,” Colossians 1:5, and is not Christ in us called, “the hope of glory,” Colossians 1:27.

“For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” Hebrews 10:34;

“Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” Hebrews 12:2.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” 1 Peter 1:8;

Let us then, by the prospect of home, be joyful in God.

Worship is Imperatival (or We Must Worship God)

Psalm 100

1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
2 Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!

3 Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

This is the most simple Psalm in that it communicates what it wants us to do without hesitation or apology.  We must worship God!  Six imperatives are given in the first 4 verses before they are grounded upon the reality of the God of v. 5.

First imperative: Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

Second imperative: Serve the Lord with gladness!

Third imperative: Come into his presence with singing!

Fourth imperative: Know that the Lord, he is God!

Fifth imperative: Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!

Sixth imperative: Give thanks to him; bless his name!

And while each would be wonderful to ponder, I only want to assert the main issues here.  First, that there is a God and He is Lord.  Secondly, that this God is unchangeably good, eternally steadfast in His mercy, and equally faithful to all generations (I would add, to those who love Him, cf. Exodus 34:6-7).  Thirdly, because there is a God who is Lord, unchangeably good, eternally steadfast in His mercies, and equally faithful to His people, worship of Him is imperatival (or we MUST worship God)!  The Psalmist’s response to the concrete fact of this God is WORSHIP!  Within the consideration of this God lies enough glorious ammunition that the psalmist is loaded to rifle commands of worship – commands, not suggestions.  We must worship the Lord, because He is the one true and living God!

Upon this foundation, let us – with joy – command one another, church, to worship our God, privately, publicly, in service and at home and on the job, etc.  And let us also consider Him, and be, like the psalmist, overwhelmed by Him, and loaded with Gospel ammunition for all peoples.  That God must be worshipped is reason enough to go to all peoples and share the Gospel with them – they must worship Him too!  But they will not lest they with believing ear hear the Gospel of God: that He sent His only Son to redeem us from the curse of Adam’s sin, to save us from our own sin and sinfulness; and so He came to earth and put on flesh, being born of the virgin; He lived a sinless life, identifying with us in every way as human beings, perfectly fulfilling the law of God in our stead; and though He was sinless, He willingly took the penalty of our sin against God on His cross, becoming sin for us; and as His justification, God raised Him up from the dead, for death could not hold Him, and He ascended into heaven where He is seated at God’s right hand, as King, our representative with God, and He is coming quickly to gather His church into His eternal glory, and His enemies into eternal condemnation in a literal hell – and God will be glorified!  And thus, we are commanded to repent of our sin and to embrace Jesus Christ, through whom we receive the forgiveness of sin, eternal life, the hope of the resurrection, the gift of God’s Spirit, and the guarantee of an eternal and glorious inheritance.  So a worshipper of God is made – through faith in Jesus Christ!  And so, if you have been made a worshipper, you must worship God!  You have been redeemed from every other sort of worship to this one true worship of the biblical God – in spirit and in truth!  But I say again as a warning, these imperatives are for all mankind – believer and unbeliever alike, for such imperatives reveal the proper and exclusive object of worship: the God of the Christian Bible!  And thus, it directs the heart – and the one who has been made a worshipper will know as much by the tug of his heart to the truth; and the one who has not, indeed, will not, will know – if not now, then soon – that they have lived as idolaters.  May it not be so!  We are commanded to worship God, for He is infinitely worthy of our worship, the only being worthy of our worship.  Consider, then, your ways; behold what you worship – it reveals the heart of the matter!  And as a matter of encouragement, dear brothers and sisters, you who by grace have been awakened to this reality – as you have been awakened, so worship our God with exceeding joy!

“Thoughts From Hawaii” #3: The Virtue of Prayer

I have often been taken to wonder by Jesus’ words in John 14:14, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”  To which I want to respond: Really?  This verse alone teaches us to be careful about context, as a dear friend has admonished me.  If one is not careful, this can become a prosperity gospel verse, and it is not!  And, one more apt to orthodoxy must also be careful, for while they do not adhere to the prosperity gospel, the reaction of bitter disappointment to the Lord’s contrary answers to their prayers does taste a bit like prosperity soup.

The context, then, does help in this case (as it always does).  The immediate context (14:12-14), and that which follows (the rest of 14, and at least chapter 15) sets this verse in the frame of good works, that is, of faith in Christ working through love by the Holy Spirit (14:15-31) for the glory of God the Father (15:1-8, specifically 8).  Ask of Christ to do such works, and He will do it!  The context determines the “anything” of the verse; it is no less dramatic however – Christ promises to do “it”, whatever that kind of work is . . . every time!  And thus, we should be all the more fervent in our prayers and not less.

And for the sake of the title, I would add the question: upon what does the virtue of prayer depend?  Answer: It cannot be that the virtue of prayer depends upon whether or not the prayer is answered, or upon the effectiveness of it.  For a man may pray, and pray fervently, and yet, God – answering according to His will – may do something entirely different, or nothing at all (and this, of course, will be the best since it is God’s will).  So there will be times when, like Paul, we pray to have something removed – for example – but God will answer differently than is requested, albeit sufficiently and perfectly.  And therefore, the virtue of prayer cannot be in the results of prayer.  And here, as a matter of practical wisdom, one must be warned; for as I also am tempted to make the virtue of prayer depend on the results of prayer, having fallen into the trappings of a cultural blindspot that makes value and results synonymous, so I warn you to avoid the pitfall at all costs; lest, when God answers differently than is requested, you begin to grown in despair and wonder if in fact He hears you, which the Bible testifies to everywhere that He does insofar as you are His communing child.  In a culture of pragmatism and results, results, results, the virtue of prayer does not depend upon result.

No, the virtue of prayer is the Godward prayer itself – humbly offered to God, fervent and sincere, through Christ; remember, the context determined that the “anything” is “faith abiding in Christ working through love by the Holy Spirit for the glory of God,” or something along those lines of godly deeds.  One of those faithful works must include prayer.  Thus, while the virtue of prayer cannot be in the result of it (for God will always do what He does, which is not always what we have asked Him to do), yet there is prayer that is virtuous in itself precisely because Christ lives to do it.  The virtue of prayer, then, is the closeness of its relationship to the prayer that is permeated in faith, dependent upon the Spirit, aimed at glorifying God the Father that Christ lives to accomplish.  This prayer is, in itself, virtuous.  God cares that we pray, faithfully and fervently.  So let us not assign any value to a prayer on the basis of whether it is or is not answered according to our own will; rather, let us seek to pray biblically – once more, for godly employments, in faith, by the Spirit, for the glory of God.  This sort of prayer is, indeed, virtuous and valuable of itself, also accomplishing anything by Christ Jesus.  So continue to pray, knowing that it pleases our Father; and so I send you, Away to God, dear brothers and sisters, away to thy knees!

“Thoughts From Hawaii” #2: The Power of Biblical Clarity

My time with Pastor Todd Morikawa in Hawaii included many beneficial conversations that had polarizing effects upon my soul – piercing conviction and warm encouragement.  Both served to edify!  What I write now about those conversations is sort of a meditative conclusion regarding the effectiveness of Todd’s words.  How was he able to puncture so deeply and cleanse so thoroughly with his words?  My answer: Clarity!

The best friend of the preacher (or arguer) and his words (arguments) is biblical clarity.  I can learn from this example.  How swift I am to speak foolishly!  The Bible often deems silence to be one’s wisdom (I often regard such verses as ordained for me).  We are not admonished to be quick with our words, but quick to the Scriptures.  There is no need to spew out some half-baked, unorganized, and random thoughts; the world will not pass away on account of my thoughtful silence.  We must turn again, and again to the Word of God; we must fall again, and again on our knees in prayer; we must give ourselves over to the hard work of clarity, the difficult but nourishing task of biblical purity, the stretching of our minds and hearts as we seek to organize our thoughts in the beauty of simplicity (while maintaing deep richness), and the loving deed of considering the simplest method and form of communication.  A sermon is, in one sense, the preacher’s Godward argumentation, and it is incumbent upon us to strive for biblical clarity.  Herein, congregants are biblically informed, nourished, charged, encouraged, and equipped.  Herein, opponents are left breathless, without any manner of refutation but that which falls upon the ears as folly.  Yes, clarity, biblical clarity, the argument saturated and informed by the Bible, biblically intense, this will puncture, this will prod, this will render a man speechless before God.  But let me warn again – the exhortation hear is biblical clarity.  Where a man takes God’s Word and, by his words, clearly argues for and demonstrates the validity of that which he intends to communicate as true, there a man’s words are fitted to God’s Word, and there souls are encountered with only two options – receive as such, or reject as much.  The former knows life, while the latter displays the reality of the darkness which he loves.  So, I say, assert and set yourselves, dear brothers, to pursue biblical clarity, and the transformative power of God and His Word will have its way with the souls of men.  Let us pray for such help from God, and give ourselves wholly to the clear communication of His Word.

“Thoughts From Hawaii” #1: Interrogating the Text Puritanically

I understand that “puritanically” has come to be a word that is used negatively, but that is not my intention in the use of it.  I have found the Puritan’s method of interrogating the text to be quite helpful and insightful, often producing insights that  pierce and penetrate the soul with the deep wonders of God’s Word.  I am currently reading Thomas Watson’s A Godly Man’s Picture and have found his interrogation of primary texts (and of course, those complementary texts as well) encouraging; and inspiring in the sense that it develops within my soul the desire to read the Bible in much the same way – always asking the text of God questions . . . which leads to more texts and questions, etc., until you have an ocean of biblical material, understanding, and nourishment . . . on a single verse of Scripture.  So a specific encouragement: interrogate the text, or ask questions of the biblical passage that you are currently reading.

Dr. Don Whitney has provided the following questions for textual interrogation; the first set comes from the Joseph Hall (1574-1656); the second set is a group of questions provided by Philippians 4:8.