The true Christian is called to be a soldier, and must behave as such from the day of his conversion to the day of his death, he is not meant to live a life of religious ease, indolence, and security, He must never imagine for a moment that he can sleep and dose along the way to heaven, like one travelling in an easy carriage. If he takes his standard of Christianity from the children of this world he may be content with such notions, but he will find no countenance for them in the Word of God. If the Bible is the rule of his faith and practice, he will find his lines laid down very plainly in this matter. He must “fight.”
With whom is the Christian soldier meant to fight? Not with other Christians. Wretched indeed is that man’s idea of religion who fancies that it consists in perpetual controversy. He who is never satisfied unless he is engaged in some strife between church and church, chapel and chapel, sect and sect, party and party, knows nothing yet as he ought to know. Never is the cause of sin so helped as when Christians waste their strength in quarreling with one another, and spend their time in petty squabbles.
No, indeed! The principal fight of the Christian is with the world, the flesh, and the devil. These are his never-dying foes. These are the three chief enemies against whom he must wage war. Unless he gets the victory over these three, all other victories are useless and vain. If he had a nature like an angel, and was not a fallen creature, the warfare would not be so essential. But with a corrupt heart, a busy devil, and an ensnaring world, he must either “fight” or be lost.
He must fight the flesh. Even after conversion he carries within him a nature prone to evil, and a heart weak and unstable as water. To keep that heart from going astray, there is need of a daily struggle and a daily wrestling in prayer. “I keep under my body,” cries St. Paul, “and bring it into subjection.” “I see a law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity.” “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? .… They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” “Mortify your members which are upon the earth” (1 Cor. ix. 27; Rom. vii. 23, 24; Gal. v. 24; Coloss. iii. 5).
He must fight the world.The subtle influence of that mighty enemy must be daily resisted, and without a daily battle can never be overcome. The love of the world’s good things, the fear of the world’s laughter or blame, the secret desire to keep in with the world, the secret wish to do as others in the world do, and not to run into extremes—all these are spiritual foes which beset the Christian continually on his way to heaven, and must be conquered. “The friendship of the world is enmity with God: whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world, is the enemy of God.” “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” “The world is crucified unto Me, and I unto the world.” “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.” “Be not conformed to this world” (James iv. 4; 1 John ii. 15; Gal. vi. 4; 1 John v. 4; Rom. xii. 2).
He must fight the devil. That old enemy of mankind is not dead. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve he has been going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it, and striving to compass one great end—the ruin of man’s soul. Never slumbering and never sleeping, he is always going about as a lion seeking whom he may devour. An unseen enemy, he is always near us, about our path and about our bed, and spying out ail our ways. A murderer and a liar from the beginning, he labors night and day to cast us down to hell. Sometimes by leading into superstition, sometimes by suggesting infidelity, sometimes by one kind of tactics and sometimes by another, he is always carrying on a campaign against our souls. “Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” This mighty adversary must be daily resisted if we wish to be saved. But “this kind goeth not out” but by watching and praying, and putting on the whole armour of God. The strong man armed will never be kept out of our hearts without a daily battle. (Job i. 7; 1 Peter v. 8; John viii. 44; Luke xxii. 31; Ephes. vi. 11).
Reader, perhaps you think these statements too strong. You fancy that I am going too far, and laying on the colours too thickly. You are secretly saying to yourself, that men and women in England may surely get to heaven without all this trouble and warfare and fighting. Listen to me for a few minutes, and I will show you that I have something to say on God’s behalf. Remember the maxim of the wisest general that ever lived in England: “In time of war it is the worst mistake to underrate your enemy, and try to make a little war.” This Christian warfare is no light matter. Give me your attention and consider what I say.
What saith the Scripture? “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life. .… Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” “Strive to enter in at the strait gate.” “Labour for the meat that endureth unto everlasting life.” “Think not that I am come to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” “He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.” “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” “War a good warfare; holding faith, and a good conscience” (1 Tim. vi. 12; 2 Tim. ii. 8; Ephes. vi. 11-13; Luke xiii. 24; John vi. 27; Matt. x. 84; Luke xxii. 36; 1 Cor. xvi. 18; 1 Tim. i. 18, 19). Words such as these appear to me clear, plain and unmistakable. They all teach one and the same great lesson, if we are willing to receive it. That lesson is, that true Christianity is a struggle, a fight, and a warfare.
A stranger to the life of faith makes a snuffle at believing, and thinks no work so easy, or so trifling. He wonders why such gentle business should be called the fight of faith, and why the chosen twelve should pray for faith, when, as they believe, every human brain might quickly furnish out a handsome dose.
For my own part, since first my unbelief was felt, I have been praying fifteen years for faith, and praying with some earnestness, and am not yet possessed of more than half a grain. You smile, Sir, I perceive, at the smallness of the quantity; but you would not, if you knew its efficacy. Jesus, who knew it well, assures you that a single grain, and a grain as small as mustard-seed, would remove a mountain; remove a mountain-load of guilt from the conscience, a mountain-lust from the heart, and any mountain-load of trouble from the mind.
The Saviour’s word to his people is, Fear not, stand still, and see the salvation of God. (Exodus 14:13). In quietness and confidence shall be your strength (Isaiah. 30:15). Cast thy burden on the Lord, and he shall support thee (Psalm 55:22). Look to me for salvation, all the ends of the earth (Isaiah 14:22). Call on me in time of trouble, I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me (Psalm 50:15).
May my prayer be set before you like incense. – Psalm 141:2
Throughout the Old Testament, we see incense playing a significant role in the worship God had prescribed for his people. It was so essential that there was an altar of incense in the Holy Place. As we consider this topic, it is important to remember the ceremonies of the old covenant were pictures and shadows of what Christ would accomplish in His atoning work on the cross, and incense is part of that picture. Ultimately, incense is a picture of the sacrifice of Christ, which is the sweet aroma that goes before the Father on our behalf. Still, in another sense, incense also typifies prayer. John Owen, in his commentary on Hebrews, lays out four ways incense is like prayer.
1. The incense was beaten and pounded before it could be used. Likewise, acceptable prayer proceeds from a broken and contrite heart.
Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Elsewhere we are told that God “resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” For our prayers to be as incense, we must approach the Throne of Grace in poverty of spirit, knowing that our sinfulness has separated us from God and that only through Christ our mediator do we have peace with Him. This is biblical brokenness. If we approach God in any other way, we are like the tax collector trusting on our own righteousness, and he went away unjustified. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up.
2. Incense rises toward heaven, and the point of prayer is that it ascends to the throne of God.
One of the significant points made in the book of Hebrews is that Christ is exalted and sitting at the right hand of the Father. Yet, we are encouraged to approach the Throne of Grace with confidence. When we pray, we are doing precisely that. We are bringing our praises and petitions to the throne of God. Though we have no merit of our own, God still embraces us with love because of the merit of Jesus and His righteousness. For our prayers to be as incense, we need to be aware of the great heights they are reaching as we commune with the exalted Christ. This goes hand in hand with our brokenness. Pray with confidence. Despite your sinfulness, your prayers rise to the Most High, maker of heaven and earth, and there is no one above Him.
3. Incense requires fire for it to be useful, and prayer has no virtue unless it is set on fire by the power of the Holy Spirit.
By this, we are not referring to some mystical experience. The fact that a believer desires to go to the Lord in prayer is the work of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is not the natural man’s disposition. The only prayer that can take place without the Spirit is prayer that is not in accord with the Word of God. For example, prayers to false gods, and ritualistic prayers by those who believe they will be heard because of mere formality and many words. We must pray in accordance with the Word of God. When this happens, it is because the Spirit is moving. When you feel the urge to pray, do not neglect that desire because your incense is being set on fire by the power of the Holy Spirit.
4. Incense yields a sweet aroma, and our prayers are a sweet fragrance to the Lord.
This seems to be at the heart of the Psalmist’s cry. “May my prayer be as incense,” means, may it be a sweet aroma to the Lord. In Revelation 8:4, we see that the smoke of incense rose with the prayers of the saints. This seems to signify that there is a sweet fragrance associated with our prayers, and the sweet scent is because we approach the Lord in Christ’s name. Our prayers are pleasing to the Lord, and the fact we can bring pleasure to God is something that should cause us to drop to our knees with joy. Pray boldly in Jesus’ name, because it brings pleasure to God almighty.
May this short study encourage you to spend more time on your knees this week. You may not feel worthy to approach him, but that is the only proper way to draw near to the Throne of Grace. From there, your lowly supplications will rise to the heavens where Christ is exalted. If this encourages you to pray, know that it is the Holy Spirit who is encouraging you to do so. Finally, as you pray, you will bring pleasure to the only King of Heaven as the offering Jesus made for sin is presented to the Father on your behalf.
When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment! – John 16:8
The Holy Spirit is the only effectual reformer of the world! If He is absent, legislators may make laws against crime; philosophers may reason against vice; ministers may preach against sin; conscience may remonstrate against evil; the divine law may prescribe, and threaten Hell; the gospel may invite, and allure to Heaven; but all will be in vain!
The strongest arguments, the most melting entreaties, the most alarming denunciations from God and man, enforced with the highest authority, or the most compassionate tears, all will have no effect, all will not effectually reclaim one sinner, nor gain one sincere convert to righteousness!
Paul, Apollos, and Peter, with all their apostolic abilities, can do nothing, without the Holy Spirit. Paul may plant the seed, and Apollos may water it; but God alone can make it grow! “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow!” (1 Corinthians 3:6, 7)
Never will peace and harmony be established in this jangling world until this Divine Agent takes the work in hand. It is He alone, who can melt down the obstinate hearts of men into love and peace! It is He alone, who can soften their rugged and savage tempers, and transform them into mutual benevolence!
It is He alone, who can quench those lusts that set the world on fire, and implant the opposite virtues and graces. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, are mentioned by Paul, as the fruit of the Spirit, because the Spirit alone is the author of them. And if these dispositions were predominant in the world, what a serene, calm, peaceful region would it be, undisturbed with the hurricanes of human passions!
Oh, how much do we need the influence of the blessed Spirit to break the heart of stone, to enlighten the dark mind, and to comfort the desponding soul!
For many evangelicals, it seems goosebumps are the litmus test as to whether a song is anointed, but an emotional reaction can be misleading. I once had a co-worker who loved just about everything Disney. He put a sticker on his car, and he would proudly wear Disney hats and shirts. He was one of the managers at the store where I was working at the time, and I remember one day when everything was going wrong, he said to me, “when this day is over I am going home, and I’m going to watch an old Disney movie.” When I pressed him a bit as to why he chose to watch an old Disney movie as opposed to anything else, he said, “Disney things just bring me back to when I was a kid.” Ultimately, there was a sense of nostalgia from all the memories of growing up, and these things moved his affections in a way that made him feel a bit better after a hard day.
On another note, music has a way of doing the same type of things for us. I can remember in high school and college when I would be listening to secular radio, and that new song that I had been waiting to hear would come on. Immediately, I would turn up the volume, and I would be energized by what I was hearing. I would sing along with all the passion I could muster, sometimes to questionable lyrics.
There is nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia and being energized or moved by some piece of music, provided the context is not sinful. Still, when you put these things together with a Christian worship service or program, we must be careful to discern our emotions. I bring this up because sometimes we can be misled to think that we have had a time of worship, or that we have heard a great sermon, on the sole basis that it moved our affections.
We must pay close attention to what is stirring our hearts to discern whether what we are experiencing is worship or even spiritual. When the worship leader plays the first chords of our favorite praise song, are we being energized much like the natural man who hears a secular song that causes him to turn up the radio, or are we genuinely worshipping? When grandma’s favorite hymn starts to play and causes us to experience a time of peace and contentment while thinking back to when she used to sing it to us as a child, do we sometimes confuse that with worship?
Now, I am not saying we should only sing dull songs or songs that do not remind us of anything, or that it is impossible to be genuinely worshipping during these times. On the contrary, I think it can be helpful to remember our family worship from when we were growing up, and I believe it is good that we still have people today writing new psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs for us to sing that gets us excited. What I want to stress is that merely because we have these moments, does not mean we are worshipping or that we have drawn near to God in adoration.
Charles Spurgeon once said that if he wanted to, he could move congregations to tears by telling them sad stories of mothers with sick children or energize them by telling them stories of men and women who accomplished great things. He then went on to say, it would be a waste of time unless they were moved to cry over their sin and take joy in Christ and the cross. In other words, were their hearts and attention drawn to Jesus?
Even the natural man’s affections move in powerful ways, but those emotional stirrings will never be worship unless the truth of scripture moves us as the Holy Spirit points us to Christ and what He has done for us. Whether we attend a modern or traditional worship service is not the biggest issue, but we must be sure to seek out worship and preaching that convicts us of sin and shows us the remedy in Christ, which is the foundation of all true spiritual worship.
Many people think they have peace with God, but their lack of concern about their standing with him is a deception of their spiritually dead soul. There is a peace that passes all understanding, and in times like we were living in now, it is one of the most blessed aspects of the Christian life. The foundation of this peace is the cross of Jesus, where our sins found forgiveness, and the wrath of God is satisfied. The moment we trust in the atoning work of Christ, we are at peace with God objectively. From there, that truth begins to give us peace subjectively as God sheds his love abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5).
The problem is, many people believe they are at peace with God, but because of their sins, they are still at enmity with him. Though they experience no distress at the thought of the holiness of God, it is not the peace of Christ they are experiencing; it is a dead calm. Scripture tells us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. There are signs that manifest if what we are experiencing is not the peace of Christ but is, in reality, the stillness of a spiritually dead soul. Here are six telltale signs of a dead calm.
1. Peace Without Heavenly Joy
One of the first signs that the peace we are experiencing is not the peace of Christ is that it is not accompanied by heavenly joy. The person who is alive in Christ and has experienced the conviction of sin, knows that there is no more significant dilemma in life. Once we have been awakened to the fact that hell is the only proper punishment for our sins and we find salvation in the cross of Jesus, all other problems in life pale in comparison. From there flows joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Pet. 1:8), and that joy of the Lord will be our strength. If you find yourself unconcerned with your spiritual state before the Lord, but there is no joy in Christ Jesus, you may be experiencing the ease of a deceitful heart.
2. Peace That Rests on Our Own Merit
The second evidence that we do not have the peace of Christ can be seen when we consider our good-standing with God, and we base his favor on our character; when we think of all we do for the church, how we help the community, and think, “Of course, I have peace with God, look at all the good I do.” To further deceive ourselves, we often try to convince ourselves of our worthiness by looking around at the sins of others and see how we have avoided many vices that others have embraced. It is this comparison to other people that causes us to take comfort while we are still in our sins. This confidence in our goodness is a sure sign that we are experiencing the calm of a spiritually dead soul. Even if we claim the merits of the blood of Jesus, but believe our justification in Christ is a mixture of his death and our works, scripture says we are lost. We are saved by faith apart from works (Rom. 3:28); it is entirely the merit of Christ that brings us into a right relationship with him. If we add righteousness of our own, we condemn ourselves because our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
3. The Things of God are Barren and Dry
The third sign that our peace is not of God is exposed if we find the things of God barren and dry. This is when we have no hunger for the word of God, and when we try to feed upon it, it is like ashes in our mouth. If we can find more joy in an obscene Netflix series, than a time of prayer and Bible reading, something is seriously amiss with our spiritual condition.
4. Peace That is Easily Disturbed by Life’s Troubles
The fourth indicator deals with our response to trials. When life is going smoothly, our calm continues, but when troubles arise, so does the desperation of our heart. If life’s calamities have sent us into a tailspin of despair, the peace we are experiencing may not have been born of God.
Peace born of the flesh trembles when the things of the flesh tremble. Peace born of the Spirit of God looks to God himself who does not move, even when the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the sea (Psalm 46:2). There will be times of lament, sorrow, grief, and distress in the life of the Christian, but though we may be perplexed, we will not despair (2 Cor. 4:8).
5. Death Will Be Fierce
If we are reading this, we have not yet experienced this last one, but if worldly peace is not replaced with true peace with God, our deathbed will be a harrowing experience. Only the believer strengthened by the Holy Spirit is able to say, “Death, where is your sting. Grave, where is your victory. (1 Cor. 15:55)” A peace founded on the things of the world and confidence in the flesh will die when the flesh begins to perish.
As you went through this list, was any of this true of you? If so, it can only mean one of two things. 1. We are not a child of God, and we need to confess our sinfulness to the Lord, and trust entirely in the merits of Jesus, and the work he did on our behalf. Or 2. We are a believer, but our heart is still trying to find its hope and peace in this life. We must grow to be more spiritually-minded. If we do not, we may be saved, but we will suffer great loss as our carnal works are burned up on the day of judgment. We will be saved, but as one through fire (1. Corinthians 3: 15).
None of us are without sin. It is time for all of us to draw up under the wings of our Savior, and find joy in our salvation as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts. The revived joy will make the things of God more precious to us than anything this world can offer, and life’s storms will not be able to take our peace. Finally, on the day we die, death will not have its sting, and the grave will not have its victory.
Today is a gift from God, and you marred it with sin. It was not your intention. You planned to bring God glory in all that you did, and for a portion of the day, you were on track. You started the morning with scripture; you spent time in prayer, then you were off to handle the pressures of the day, but somewhere along the way you lost focus. The world threw so many curveballs, you forgot about your Savior, and focused all your attention on issues at hand.
As you successfully navigated the first several obstacles, you began to grow confident. You believed that whatever was going to come your way would be no problem for you. You even started to feel good about yourself, thinking that what you were doing was impressive. If people knew how well you were handling it all, they would most likely applaud you.
You knew the afternoon would have more that would need your attention, but you had already handled quite a bit today, so you thought you would give yourself a short break. You knew you should be doing something else, but you deserved it. Then you came back to handle the rest of the day.
As the hours progressed, something in your spirit started to long for more. The short break was not quite enough. There was a mild dissatisfaction that wanted to be filled, an itch that needed to be scratched. Before you knew it, temptation had presented itself robed as relief, and you had given in to that old familiar sin. You did not see it coming. You were not vigilant, and the enemy caught you off guard. He sent you to the ground bleeding and cloaked your day with darkness.
As you lay there, you remember the old saying, “The strength of sin is death, and sin is the death of strength.” Now more than ever, you know that to be true. It feels like something inside you has died. The spiritual vitality that moved you in the morning, now seems to be on life support.
As you lay there wounded, the enemy hides in the darkness whispering “failure” in your direction. “You might as well hang it up,” he hisses. “You have ruined this day; you are ruined” You feel like a lost cause; you wonder if you should give up, but then something starts to stir within you. The realization of your weakness and the humility it produced turns your eyes away from yourself and the issues at hand back to the one who can wash you clean and give you new strength.
Once again, you learn to trust yourself less, and your Savior more. You remember that you do not have what it takes to run this race, yet somehow, you do not despair because you know the one who can lives within you, and greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.
The Spirit reminds you that the wrath you deserve for the sin that so easily entangled you received its full punishment on the cross. He stands you to your feet, brushes you off, points you in the right direction, and empowers you to continue pressing toward the goal.
As you walk entirely dependent upon him, he does not leave you. He walks with you and reminds you that a soldier often wins the day after a fall; soldiers can win the battle after being wounded. Some battles in the Christian life are short-lived, but the struggle with yourself will last a lifetime. Remember this, however, life is short, and when the battle is done, comes an eternity of triumph in Christ Jesus.
Press on in the strength of the Lord. You may have fallen, but you are not foiled.
When the Spirit would glorify Jesus, He humbles you.
When He would glorify His fullness, He makes you feel your emptiness.
When He would bring you to rely on His strength, He convinces you of your weakness.
When He would magnify the comforts of Jesus, He makes you sensible of your misery.
When He would fix your heart on His Heaven, He makes you feel your deserved Hell.
When He would exalt His righteousness, you find that you are a poor, miserable sinner.
My friend, let nothing keep you from Jesus. Whatever you need, whatever you feel is wrong with you, may it bring you to the Savior’s fullness! Oh, that all things may help forward your acquaintance with Him, I except nothing, neither sin nor sorrow! I would carry all to Him as one great lump of sin, and receive all from Him, as the only storehouse of good for wretched sinners.
In this communion I desire to grow; for this I desire to live. Oh, that you and I may learn it more, and every day get nearer fellowship with our sweet Jesus, growing up into Him in all things.
You gave me health to use in your service, but I misused it to a wholly secular use. Now you have sent me a sickness for my correction. O let me not use this likewise to provoke you, by my impatience. I abused my health, and you have rightly dealt with me. O keep me now from abusing that also. And since the corruption of my nature distorts your favors to me, grant, O my God, that your all-prevailing grace may render your chastenings to be beneficial. If my heart has been in love with the world when I was in robust health, destroy my vigor to promote my salvation. Whether it be by weakness of or by zeal for your love, render me incapable of enjoying the worldly idols, that my delight may be only in you.
Blaise Pascal – A Prayer He Prayed During A Time of Sickness