The Bond Between Theological Study and Theological Delight

As we read through the Bible, we come across passages that we have read before except that, by God’s grace, some greet us afresh.  For me, this has been the case with Psalm 111 over the past few months.  It, and particularly a single verse within it, has laid hold of my heart and surfaced time and again to spur me into wonder.  While the whole Psalm is quite beautiful, it is verse 2 that has captured my attention and affection.  It goes like this:

“Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.”

A single bonded thought I offer from this verse: delight in the works of God motivates the study of the same, and the study of the works of God deepens delight in the same.  Or theological delight incarnates in theological study, and theological study feeds theological delight.

The two are inseparable.  Knowledge of God is not an end in itself.  It must enter the heart and terminate in affections appropriate to the knowledge of the truth.  Likewise, true delight in God is pursued in the study of God.  As we behold Him, we can’t but love and adore Him and His great works.

If we complain of joylessness, perhaps it is because we have wandered away from studying the Scriptures and the God who reveals Himself to us in them.  Little delight may be the symptom of little study.  What we need is a fresh delight in God, and this must turn us to the Scriptures wherein He has revealed Himself to us in the history and work of creation and redemption.

On the flip side, study that does not aim at delight is an errant study.  So we can study until we are blue in the face with the knowledge of God, but if it is not translated into delight, if pleasure in God is not the goal of it, then our study is hollow, missing its blood and marrow.  The study of God and His works are meant to result in pleasure and praise.  Insofar as it does not, our study is incomplete.

Now, a word to those with little time.  It would seem that little time means little study, which means little delight. While it is true that a person who has more time to study will, most likely, reap the benefits of that extended study, study needs to be nuanced beyond nose-in-book ideals.  In other words, while the study and practice of the Scriptures will be primary and the most indispensable parts of your pursuit of delight in God, study is more nuanced than that.  And understanding this opens up a world of possibilities to those who do not have eight hours every day to read and study the Scriptures.

A few thoughts here:

1.  As you read the Scriptures, take the verse that jumps at you and let it fill your thoughts throughout the day.  Have a scrap piece of paper and jot down all the insights that arise from that verse or group of verses.

2. Memorize the Scriptures.  If you memorize, you can take it with you.  You can have the kids in the car and be studying the works of the Lord in this way.

3.  If you have small windows of time, be sure to set the dial of your study to delight in God.  Let that 5 minutes produce praise and thanksgiving to God.

4. Give up the notion of study as that which only happens behind a desk.  Go outside with your two year-old and examine the trees and squirrels and ants, the sun and moon and stars, and let these things lead you into adoration for the Creator, your Redeemer — and to the evangelization of your two year-old.  Just for balance against misconception here, though, get behind a desk and search the Scriptures!  How we are to understand the elements of creation, yes even the ants, is subject to the Word of God.

5.  Give up a compartmentalized worldview that says you must fit Bible study into a pocket of minutes or even a pocket of your life that does not transcend and pervade every minute and pocket of life.  We were created with the capacity for infinite joy.  Only God can satisfy this capacity.  We have been saved such that God not only indwells us by His Spirit, but that God should reorient our view of the world, reorient the use of our time, rearrange our priorities, and absolutely consume all of our hearts, souls, minds, and exertions.  We must allow the way we view all things to be colored by the biblical vision of God, of Christ, of grace, of the gospel, of glory.  As we put our five minutes to practice in this way, we have our hearts continually set upon God and His Word, and delight in Him is ever near to us.

Sum: even as delight in God should never be set aside, neither should the study of God be left behind.  Study is not about time, mainly.  It is more nuanced than that.  It is more exacting than that.  It is more pervasive than that.  While it begins in the Word of God, it is to stay with us throughout the course and activities of all our days.

At issue, then, is true study and true delight in God.  If we languish in study, it is because the root of delight has dried up.  And if the root has dried up, it is because it has ceased to be nourished by the steady stream of God’s Word.  The Christian armed with the Bible is like a tree planted by streams of water.  As the roots stretch out for the water, so delight will strain for the Word of God.  And as the roots are fed, so they will grow and deepen.  Delight will increase.  The pursuit of delight in God will exercise itself in biblical study, and this exercise, aimed at delight, will yield ever-deepening delight indeed.  The two are inseparably bonded by God.

A True Critique May Not Always Be A Wise One

My two year old likes to sing. And when he sings, he sings with all his might. And, you know, he can carry a tune — for a two year old. And because he is two and can barely put sentences together, and because he has not been trained in the academy or raised for operatic genius, I would critique him quite differently than I would a professionally trained singer. The slightest error might be cause for a corrective and stringent critique towards the trained professional. But for my son, the slightest error is only part of a larger reality that he is putting words together and being excessively cute. And so that sort of critique would not exist. Critique might come, but it will come much more indirectly and softly, according to his ability to handle it. Depending upon the experience and training and ability and maturity of the singer, the critique will be more or less stringent. It might even address different things.

The issue in giving critique is to know the one whom you are critiquing. The better we know them and their abilities and their level of training, the better equipped we will be to offer appropriate and gracious criticism.  I think we largely fail at this. The reasons for this suggested failure are manifold: perhaps, pride — we cannot stand to fathom that this person might be more gifted than me, so we have to knock them down a notch with our superior knowledge. Perhaps, extreme expectations, which is another way of saying gracelessness.  This is the inability to consider room for growth. We tend to think of people in static terms. What they are now, that they will always be. So we are more inclined to criticize harshly, thinking that by our effort they might be transformed. Tangential to this, I think, is the lack of a truly pastoral heart. Again, a failure to understand sanctification and how best to bring others along to full maturity in Christ. Or worst of all, perhaps, a simple lack of love. This idea is underneath the others. Love seeks to edify, to build up. And don’t misunderstand me. Direct and stringent and tight criticism can be edifying and has been necessary and useful in my own life as I have received it from others. I am not calling for the abolition of such critique. It can be done, it must be done in love. But a lot of what I have witnessed on this front is, ultimately, a failure to apply growth-inducing compassion. It requires the hard work of getting on the other person’s level, understanding their foundation, trusting in the inward work of God’s Spirit to transform, and offering edifying critique on those grounds.

An example and a final thought.

Example: My local church has an apprenticeship for men aspiring to the office of pastor, or missionary, or, very wonderfully, the biblically-informed and brave-hearted husband and father. Preaching a handful of short sermons is part of the course. While I am not in the apprenticeship, I sat in on one of the sessions a few months ago. One of the brothers preached for the rest of the men, about twenty-five of us. It was his first attempt at preaching before other human beings, much less a room full of present seminarians and future pastors and missionaries. And when he finished, he was critiqued — critiqued hard. One of the brothers used his knowledge of biblical Greek to criticize one of his points. What’s the problem? Not that this brother desired to help this other brother see things a bit more clearly by means of New Testament Greek. But that a critique was offered by means of New Testament Greek to a brother who had not yet taken New Testament Greek. And a few other such critiques were offered. I have been in both shoes. By God’s grace, I was able to see his discouragement. So afterwards, I went to him and mentioned a few things that he had said that were encouraging to me, that God really used to build me up in the faith. He had studied hard. He had genuine affections for the truth of the text. He had wrestled with it experientially. And he taught it with passion appropriate to the glory of Christ. He even used suitable illustrations (something I envy). And so I made these things known to him in order that he might be encouraged to continue to grow in his craft. Later, he sent me an email thanking me for the encouragement.

A final word: what this means is that while a critique may be true, a true critique may not always be wise. Again, know the person, know their foundation, give room for growth and sanctification, trust the working of God’s grace, seek to build up, and before speaking, consider humility. It is not that they do not need to know the truth at the center of your critique. They do! It is rather the packaging of it. And the packaging of it usually shows the maturity of our own hearts. Do we only seek to be a corrective? Or do we also seek to offer affirmation? Do we hold them accountable for things beyond their current level of knowledge or ability or experience? Or do we package these things with understanding and an encouragement that looks to future growth in what they lack? If we approach criticism in the latter ways described, then our hearts are venting a shepherd’s love. And at the end of the day, it is this shepherd’s love that must serve as a guide to all of our conversation.

Musings on Raising My Children

Many things concerning the raising of my children (in the fear and admonition of the Lord) have come to mind of late, but especially:

1) their need to know that I am a sinner that most desperately needed the salvation of God offered in none but Christ;

2) the importance of my approach to them for the purpose of discipline.  Discipline over a fit of rage is carried out in vain if I approach the discipline in a fit of rage;

3) the necessity of actually taking out the Bible so that they might see it, and reading God’s words to them;

4) of morning prayers for both of them, both privately and, humbly, in their presence;

5) of speaking frequently to them of what they already know (or have learned from us) and how it is a dangerous thing to go against what they already know, if what they know comes from good authority and a godly source.  Acting in accord with what we know, keeping with what we have already attained in the way of righteousness is essential in making progress in sanctification;

6) speaking to them of true love and true joy, which is a love and a joy not confined to self and not sought in self, but is found most highly in God and exercised most properly upon others, in order that they too might join in the love of and joy in God;

7) of Scripture memory;

8) and the use of the memorized passages in the prayers that I make for them, so that what they hear me praying, that they are most familiar with, knowing it to be a most blessed and happy and essential thing that I am praying on their account;

9) the necessity of confronting the temptation to set aside our word, occurring when they are playing with others.  The temptation is to do what the other child is doing.  Wrong or right, it doesn’t matter.  What matters is joining the parade.  But this is what the world does.  And even though they are of the world at this point, yet I find it a good thing to stress with them the importance of weighing anything contrary to our word and wisdom as something they ought not to do without first conferring with us.  They are to learn that our word is more valuable than their friends ways, and that their friends ways do not set aside our word and wisdom.  They must be taught to hold fast to our word when the temptation tempts them to do otherwise.  This is preparation for Christian discipleship and holiness;

10) that if there is a disagreement between Jenny and me, it is to be had in private, in peace, in pursuit of what is right and best in the way of advancing the gospel in our home;

11) that discipline is not mutually exclusive with mercy.  In fact, discipline carried out in love and for the sake of righteousness is a subset of mercy.

I’m positive there are more, but these are my most recent musings on the raising of the children that God has so graciously lent us for this season.

Fighting Sin With Worship, by Tim Keller

Originally part of a sermon, and recently posted at the Desiring God blog.

If you are a Christian and you are dealing with enslaving habits, it’s not enough to say, “Bad Christian, stop it.” And it is not enough to beat yourself up or merely try harder and harder and harder.

The real reason that you’re having a problem with an enslaving habit is because you are nottasting God. I’m not talking about believing God or even obeying God, I’m saying tasting —tasting God.

The secret to freedom from enslaving patterns of sin is worship. You need worship. You need great worship. You need weeping worship. You need glorious worship. You need to sense God’s greatness and to be moved it — moved to tears and moved to laughter — moved by who God is and what he has done for you. And this needs to be happening all the time.

Go here for the whole, really, really, really good excerpt on the enslaving nature of sin and the power of worship to set us free.

11 Reasons Why Working With Kids Is Not Second Rate Ministry, by Brent Osterberg

Sadly, children’s ministry in the local church can often be seen as second rate ministry, not much more than crowd control and waiting out the clock. This can be seen on the occasions when members looking to move on to bigger and better things will see children’s church or AWANA as merely something to cut their teeth on. Or when the church leadership, in a desperate attempt just to fill the volunteer gaps, will try and make children’s ministry as burden-less and non-committal as possible. Then, of course, there are those who take a shift with the kiddos just because they feel like they have to do something to serve.

Truth be told, I’ve thought all these things at one time or another over the years. Only now that my wife and I have kids of our own have I realized the crucial role that children’s ministry plays in the lives of the kids it serves, their families, and the church.

So then, in the hopes that more Christians and churches will begin cherishing this ministry and investing in it more copiously, here are 11 reasons why children’s ministry is not second rate ministry:

Go here for his 11 insightful reasons.

How the Gospel Changes Our Apologetics, Part 1, by Tim Keller

Apologetics is an answer to the “why” question after you’ve already given people an answer to the “what” question. The what question, of course, is “What is the gospel?” But when you call people to believe in the gospel and they ask, “Why should I believe that?” —then you need apologetics.

I’ve heard plenty of Christians try to answer the why question by going back to the what. “You have to believe because Jesus is the Son of God.” But that’s answering the why with more what. Increasingly we live in a time in which you can’t avoid the why question. Just giving the what (for example, a vivid gospel presentation) worked in the days when the cultural institutions created an environment in which Christianity just felt true or at least honorable. But in a post-Christendom society, in the marketplace of ideas, you have to explain why this is true, or people will just dismiss it.

Go here for the first part of this blog series by Keller at City to City.

Where And How Do We Draw The Line, by Kevin DeYoung

1. Establish the essentials of the faith.
2. Listen to the communion of the saints.
3. Distinguish between landing theology and launching theology.
4. Distinguish between the explicit teaching of Scripture and the application of scriptural principles.
5. Distinguish between church existence and church health.
6. Avoid foolish controversies.
7. Allow for areas of disagreement, especially regarding “conversion baggage.”

Go here for his explanations of each.