What Happens To Us When We Are Not Thankful?

Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! Psalm 106:1

What happens to our souls when we are not thankful? We get a glimpse of this in Psalm 106. The Psalm begins by calling the people of God to praise and thanksgiving. The following 12 verses continue by reminding them of God’s great and merciful works. How He showed His power and set them free from the slavery in Egypt, parted the Red Sea to get them to safety, and covered their enemies with water. As they remember God’s goodness toward them, we see thanksgiving flowing from grateful hearts as they recognize the Lord and His mighty works. Then, a few verses later, we find a drastic change as they soon forgot His works and did not seek His counsel.

As they were in the wilderness, forgetful of God’s goodness, they began to lust for the pots of meat they had in Egypt and began to test God in the desert. They started to demand meat, as if the Lord had failed to give them something they deserved. It is at this point we find this in verse 15: “And He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul.” (NKJV)

The Lord had granted them their fleshly desires, which was meat in the form of quail, but the meat did not satisfy them. Instead, it made them sick. The more they ate, the more empty it left them, for the Lord had sent it with a wasting disease. Ingratitude works much the same way. When we think that we need something more than what God has already given us or has promised to provide, when we get it, we tend to find that our longings had deceived us. The reason for this is because we should be feasting upon God, through His word, in remembrance of all He has done on our behalf. When we forget God, and ingratitude begins to set in, it doesn’t matter what we receive; we will still want more and be spiritually sick. If God and His great mercy are not enough to fill our hearts with thanksgiving, nothing will.

Gratitude flows freely from a heart that is full of God, mindful of His great works, and aware of His grace to such unworthy and sinful creatures. The sinner, who hungers and thirsts after righteousness and has been filled by the justifying work of Christ, can find themselves in any harsh situation that this life has to offer and still have hearts that rejoice and are full. On the contrary, the person who forgets God’s great works toward them and begins to think they deserve more can be in the most pleasant of all earthy positions and still live with lean souls.

The same gospel that saves us from our wretched condition is the same Gospel that will fill our souls with joy for all eternity. We are never to forget how great His love is for us that we should be called sons and daughters of God. To live our lives without this truth at the center will bring leanness to our souls that will never be satisfied with anything this world has to offer.

This Thanksgiving, if your heart has been forgetful of God’s great love and mercy toward you, or if you find yourself unsatisfied with what the Lord had done for you, it is time to seek His face and remember His goodness. Do not let one more day go by without spending time in His word and calling out to Him in prayer. The most beautiful holiday meals will not cure the leanness of soul which accompanies ingratitude toward God, but if you have remembered your God and your heart is full of Him, then any lack you experience this holiday will not be able to empty the joy and gratitude which fills your soul. Godliness with contentment is great gain.

May all our hearts burst forth with gratitude toward our great God this holiday season!

-D. Eaton

Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations. – Psalm 100

How Prayer Leads to Contentment

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. – James 5:13

Humility, faith, repentance, heavenly-mindedness, and self-denial are the heart-quieting graces, and prayer is the heart-quieting duty. He that has not learned to pray, will not learn to be content. There must be a good striving with God in prayer, or there will be a striving against discontent. Are you afflicted? Pray (James 5:13). Do you meet with crosses? Pray. Does your estate decay, your family die, or is the body consumed by pain and sickness? Pray. The best way to be content in every state is to pray in every state. We study this hard lesson best upon our knees.

Prayer furthers contentment:

1. By giving vent to the mind under trouble. Full vessels are app to burst! Prayer is the best vent. We can go to God and pour out our hearts before him, and a heart ready to break is now greatly relieved. Hannah prayed, and wasn’t sad anymore (1 Samuel 1:18).

2. By obtaining grace and strength from God that enables contentment. He that stills the sea when it rages can also still the soul in all its passions and discontent. The calming of an inward storm is a thing that is in every way as marvelous as Christ calming the storm (Matthew 8:24-27). Paul was content ‘through Christ who strengthen him!’ This was a supernatural quietness of his mind.

If you desire to be content in every condition, then go to God often and beg for it from him. Say, ‘Lord, I am beside myself, and have a discontented heart that is ready upon every cross to fret against you. This is my burden: I cannot get the victory over my passion, I cannot bring myself to a calm, submissive frame. Blessed God, do help me through the power of your grace to have a contented mind in me! Oh, do but pray thus, and in due time God will give you what you pray for!

-Thomas Jacombe – Voices from the Past Vol. 2 – P. 287

Is Discouragement Always an Enemy?

How do you live with discouragement? Every attempt to remove yourself from the trial fails. Even the normal days are not good; they are only manageable. When people look at you, they see courage, but you know it is nothing but a stiff upper lip. The last thing you want to do is burden them more than you have to.

The problem is that every setback brings you a little lower. It has become so much of a pattern that when you see a little light at the end of the tunnel, you refuse to let it lift your spirit because it has let you down so many times in the past.

You know you must fight, but the desire and will to do so has been beaten lifeless by the enemy. You had the courage once, but it has been taken from you. So what do you do now? Do you allow the misery to take over? Do you resign yourself to it? Clearly, the answer has to be, no, but what do you do?

It is at this point you find your will exhausted, and that is probably a good thing because perhaps the battle is not yours to fight. Or perhaps you have been fighting the wrong battle. The first thing we must begin to realize is that, in at least one sense, discouragement is not always the enemy. Maybe, just maybe, it is a tool in the hands of our loving God to do us good. Bear with me for a minute.

Our God is sovereign. He is not simply trying to manage the chaos of this world. He is in complete control of it. His sovereignty becomes clear when we ask two questions of any hardship. Did God know this was going to happen, and could he have stopped it?  If we answer no to either of these questions, we truly are in trouble because God has ceased to be God, and something else is mastering him. This, of course, can never be because there is nothing beyond God’s knowledge or power. Being God means he knew you would face this and that you would respond to this trouble with discouragement, so dismay was part of his plan. I know this is the hardest part of the pill to swallow, so let me elaborate for a minute because the payoff will be worth it, and without this pill, experiencing disappointment will be unbearable.

The most significant objection people have with the conclusion drawn from the fact that God knows what is happening to us and could stop it, and that discouragement was part of his plan, lies in the fact that discouragement is often a sin. If God’s plan for us was to reach a point of discouragement, doesn’t that mean that God is causing us to sin?

The problem is that this way of thinking is too simplistic. The disconnect is in failing to realize that we are already sinful. The fact that the Lord allows us to face situations that draws our dross to the surface, in no way makes him the author of our sin. This understanding lines up perfectly with scripture. We are humanly responsible for our sin, and God is completely sovereign. We cannot deny either of these truths if we wish to remain biblical.

If you are God’s child, and he has brought you to a low point, he’s doing it because he loves you. There is something he wants to do with this discouragement in your life, and ultimately, like all dross drawn to the surface, he will wipe it away.

The first thing we need to do when discouragement hits is to ask ourselves why we are demoralized. Discouragement is almost always tied to the things of the world. Our hearts cling to them, and when hardship hits, they start to falter. Dismay almost always involves the removal of some earthly pleasure. We have placed our hope and trust in some aspect of the world.

Homes, cars, jobs, human relationships, health, quality of life, or even mortal life itself; discouragement is always the result of losing, or the threat of losing, one or more of these. But even as these begin to show weakness, God has not failed us. Knowing that God has not failed us, and we are still dismayed should be an indication that we have misplaced our trust.

This revelation of misplaced trust may be the the first blessing the Lord is bringing to us. He is going to use it to set us more firmly upon the rock of Christ Jesus. When we find ourselves discouraged, we are not to resign ourselves to it. We are to change the way we see it. Instead of trying to will our way out of it, we should ask the Lord what blessing he is giving us through it. The most significant blessing will always be increased faith.

Scripture tells us, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials (1 Pet. 1:6).” There are two things we need to see in this verse to help us. First, we need to realize that this happens after we have received the gospel. That is what “in this you greatly rejoice” means. We rejoice in the gospel. This verse is talking to believers, and the trial taking place is happening to Christians. The second point is that it says you have been “grieved” by the trials. One version says, “distressed,” and another refers to it as “heaviness.” The point of all these synonyms is that these are trials you will feel. These are not merely outward trials you will float through on a spiritual cloud. They are trials that will hurt your heart; they will bring you low. Dare I say, “discourage” you. And as the passage indicates, if they hit us, they are necessary.

There is a reason for this adversity. It is not pointless. The passage continues, “so that the tested genuineness of your faith may be tested,” and that faith is worth more than gold. It is worth more than any earthly possession because faith is our trust in God, and he is purifying it. The result of this is the praise and glory of God (1 Pet. 1:7).

Even when our health fails and we find our quality-of-life slipping, we must remember that even though the outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. This continued renewal in the face of hardship is why we do not lose heart (2 Cor. 4:17).

How do we not lose heart? The scripture tells us, “by looking not to the things that are seen, but the things that are not seen.” For the things that are not seen are eternal, and everything else is passing (2 Cor. 4:18). If the things of Earth are not letting you down yet, they will.

How do you live with discouragement? You allow it to do the work God intended it to do when he sent it to you. You let it turn your eyes away from this world, and be renewed spiritually. All of this will end in the glory of God, which is the chief end of man. This is where our true enjoyment will be found, and that enjoyment is eternal with a weight of glory that cannot compare to the heaviness you are facing now. Let the dross rise to the surface, look to the things unseen, and your loving Father will begin to wipe it away even if the trial remains.

-D. Eaton

The Years the Locust has Eaten

I hope you are finally sick of it. If you find yourself in a period of spiritual stagnation, I pray you have had enough of its emptiness. It can happen subtlety over time. One day you are walking close to the Lord and a period of time later you find yourself devastated by his absence. What makes it worse is the realization that he did not leave us; we left him.

Our hearts started looking to the things of the world for satisfaction. Our gracious Father had blessed us and sent us gifts of his kindness. He gave us health, employment, shelter, food, and transportation, and all of these were good. In his presence, they satisfied the needs he intended them to fulfill, but our hearts started to turn.

It was subtle but significant. We started to love the gifts more than the Giver. We saw the pleasure they provided and wanted more. As we desired to be filled, we turned to the treasures of the world, and before long, when the choice presented itself, we neglected our God and ran after riches. Our hearts were bound.

The locusts of our spiritual life began to have their fill. Our time of prayer turned into time spent binge-watching television shows while lounging on a soft couch. Time spent in scripture was eaten up by social media feeds on shiny new devices. Our minds, which used to have a spiritual focus, began to be consumed with how to find greater and greater personal peace and affluence. Our minds were trained on how to acquire nicer houses, more luxurious cars, and more financial security in case of a downturn. We began to combat time with physical fitness. We used to trust in the name of the Lord our God, but now we trust in retirement plans and the best medical insurance money can afford. All these locusts dined on the fiber of our spiritual lives. Its fruit was devoured, the grain destroyed, and the oil diminished.

Yet, praise God, while we sat in spiritual stagnation, the Lord sent us locusts of his own. He sent locust to eat what was pulling our hearts away from him. Our health began to hesitate, our vocations began to vacillate, and our security began to stammer. All of the things we thought could fill us began to reveal themselves as sinking sand.

Then the revelation struck, we are not the person of God we used to be. Though we may still go through the typical Christian motions at church and abroad, our hearts are far from Him. He has stripped us bare, and we now stand naked before him.

We look back over the past several months, or years, and we realize we have squandered them. Yet, even now, declares the Lord, “Return to me with all your heart. Come to me with your fasting, your weeping, and your mourning.” He calls us to rend our hearts before him and return for he is gracious, merciful, and slow to anger (Joel 2:12-13).

Come home, dear child. You have had your fill of what the locusts can award. Come to the Lord, and he will have pity on you. He will send you spiritual grain, wine, and oil. You will be satisfied (Joel 2:19). He will give you early rain, and times of refreshing, but as you return, opposition will appear.

As you return to your Lord, the enemy will rear his head and say, “You might go home, but the years you have wasted are mine. The seeds of sinfulness you planted will continue to produce fruit. There is nothing you can do to get those years back.” Instead of serving God storing up treasures in heaven, you gave them to the prince and the power of the air storing up treasures on earth which moth and rust destroyed and thieves broke in and stole.

When the enemy tells you this, know he is right. Nothing you can do can redeem lost time, but what is impossible with man is possible with God. Our Father says, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten (Joel 2:25).

Our Savior does not work in the economy of this world. Though you wasted many years in the service of worldliness, if you return to the Lord with all your heart, he can make your latter days more spiritually fruitful when taken together than the years you wasted.

As an example, if you are up in years, fighting a terminal illness with one year left to live, and you spent the past 15 years frittering away your life, if you give your heart entirely to the Lord, he can take your final year of life and produce 16 years or more of spiritual fruit. Yes, even if you are laid up in a sick bed. Never forget how the testimony of the thief on the cross has called thousands home.

A dear friend pointed out that even if while you were raising your children you were not walking with the Lord, and they followed your example, Christ can still call them home and train them up in way they should go. All is not lost.

Finally, let us never forget that the Lord has a way of harvesting fruit from your life even after you have gone on home to be with him. Think of the lives of many of the faltering saints in scripture; David, Peter, Samson, or Solomon. Though all of these had significant failings, the lord is still blessing us through the witness they left behind.

Return to Jesus. You shall eat in plenty, be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God. You shall know that God is in your midst, and that is what you have been missing. He is the Lord your God and there is no one else. You shall never be put to shame (Joel 2:26-27).

If you find yourself spiritually barren because the locusts are eating their fill, I hope you have had enough. It is time to come home.

-D. Eaton

The Christian Civil War

An awful thing has happened. I was traveling, when, during the night, some of the wicked men of Benjamin arose and came after me with the intent to kill me. They raped and killed my concubine, so I divided up her body parts and sent them to the rest of the people of God so they would know what evil has taken place (Judges 20:3-6 Paraphrased).

In the child of God there is a civil war raging. There is flesh and there is spirit. There is the new nature and there is the remaining indwelling sin, and like Israel’s first civil war, drastic action must be taken. As John Owen once said, “Let no man think to kill sin with few, easy, or gentle strokes.”

The first thing we must do is recognize the evil for what it is. When the Levite learned of the sinfulness at work in Israel, he did not partition it off as something that could be tolerated if they would simply keep it quarantined. He saw it for what it was, and he knew it needed to be killed.

One of the most dangerous aspects of sin is its deceitfulness. It is always trying to convince us that it is not that bad, and we can simply section off our lives and still be happy and spiritually healthy. This is not the case. There is no quarantine that can keep our sinfulness from poisoning every other aspect of our spiritual life. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. We must put it to death.

Once we see the danger, we must take action to kill it. Just as the Levite took drastic action to notify all of Israel of the danger, we too must make sure to sound the alarms. Not only within ourselves, but also to our fellow believers. God has not called us to fight alone. You need to find a band of trustworthy brothers and sisters in Christ to whom you can confide and find help. The purpose of this alliance is to gather strength to kill the enemy. So all the Israelites got together and united as one against the city (Judges 20:11).

Our hope is that this will be an easy war, and our flesh will simply lay down its arms, but this is never the case. As we begin to take this action against our iniquity, our sinfulness will also fortify itself. At once the Benjamites mobilized twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred able young men (Judges 20:15). The strength of the emeny will gather, and there will be causalities in this battle.

The Israelites went out to fight the Benjamites and took up battle positions against them at Gibeah. The Benjamites came out of Gibeah and cut down twenty-two thousand Israelites on the battlefield that day (Judges 20:20-21).

When we face a loss like this, we realize how daunting the enemy truly is, and we wonder if we should continue. The bloody nature of the fight rightfully leads us to the Lord to see if we should go up once again. The Israelites went up and wept before the Lord until evening, and they inquired of the Lord. They said, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites?” The Lord answered, “Go up against them” (Judges 20:23).

This will always be the Lord’s response when it comes to fighting our indwelling sin. Yes, you are to fight. This command of God to go up against our sin can often lead us to assume the next battle will be easy and the victory painless because he told us to contend. This, however, should not be assumed. The Israelites drew near to Benjamin the second day.  This time, when the Benjamites came out from Gibeah to oppose them, they cut down another eighteen thousand Israelites, all of them armed with swords (Judges 20:24-25).

Why would the Lord do that? Why would he tell us to go fight and then let us lose the battle? I believe Israel’s response to the defeat gives us the answer. Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the Lord. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the Lord (Judges 20:24-25).

As we contend with our sinfulness, we will be bloodied and bruised. Maybe you are there now. You have been fighting for some time with no success. The only proper response is to draw up under the wing of your God. As we lose battles, we begin to learn the most important lesson. This battle cannot be won in our own strength.

Much like when God wrestled with Jacob, the contest was not about Jacob getting something out of God, it was about God getting something out of Jacob. One of the most important aspects of that event is that Jacob, when he realized he could not win, went from contending against God at the beginning of the match, to clinging to Him at the end. This is exactly what our failures in our battle with sin should do to us. It should drive us closer to our Lord and cause us to cling more tightly to him.

Know this, this civil war of flesh and Spirit will rage until the day we die, but there will be victories as we lean more and more on God. We may be hesitant to continue the fight, but as you trust less and less in your own power and might and trust more and more in his Spirit, ask Him again if you should fight.

They asked, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites, or not?” The Lord responded, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands” (Judges 20:28). The more we know that the battle belongs to the Lord, the more he will give the enemy into our hands. He will use our hand, but it will be his power that is at work.

So how do we begin to fight? How does the Lord direct us to march? “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Benjamites?” The Lord replied, “Judah shall go first” (Judges 20:18). Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah. Though we will win some and lose some, there is only one way in which we should march. Advance with Jesus in the lead. He is our forgiveness and righteousness. If he is our head, then our ultimate victory is assured even if we lose some battles.

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. – 1 Timothy 6:2

-D. Eaton

3 Temptations of Weariness

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. – Galatians 6:9

Growing weary is something we will all face in the Christian life, especially as we get into our middle years. Martyn Lloyd Jones, in his book, Spiritual Depression, suggests that the middle period of life is the most difficult because there are compensations in youth and compensations in old age that do not exist in the middle years.

When we were young and entered the Christian life and work, there was an excitement, a freshness, that permeated all we did, but as we age, we become accustomed to the Christian life. We also grow accustomed to the work and fall into a routine of doing the same thing day after day. As we do this, the earlier excitements that brought us up to this level of work and energy begin to fade away, and we are simply left with the work. Lloyd Jones goes on to say, “There we are on that level, and the difficulty is to keep going on that level while lacking the stimulus that took us there.”

This leads us to a point where we are not “so much tired of the work as tired in it.” If we find yourself in this situation, Lloyd Jones lays out three distinct temptations that we must resist when we grow weary.

The Temptation to Give Up

When you find yourself growing weary, you will hear the cry coming up from within that this is too much much for you. These voices will tell you it is time for you to give up. They will come to you telling you that perhaps it is now time for you to rest from well-doing and let others take the reins.

Though a sabbatical or a vacation may be appropriate if you have not had one in a while, this is not the time to give up laboring for the Lord. You must resist this temptation to give up. You will reap in due season, so do not let the temptation to quit take that blessing away from you.

The Temptation to Resign Yourself to the Weariness

The second temptation is even more sinister. That is the temptation to press on while assuming that weariness is what is to be expected going forward. Do not resign yourself to the exhaustion.

Lloyd Jones puts it this way, ” The danger at this point is to say something like this: Well, I have lost that something which I had, and obviously I shall not get it back again. But I am going on, and out of loyalty I will go on, as a sheer duty. I have lost the enjoyment I once had, that is gone and undoubtedly gone forever.” People who do this, go on in a “dragging condition.”

Do not give into the spirit of resignation. This is a temptation to sinfulness. Joyless Christian service is not what the Lord has called us to. There is hope, and the Lord can provide the strength we need just like he did for Caleb (Joshua 14:10-11).

The Temptation to Resort to Artificial Stimulants

The third temptation that comes to us is to try to help God along in supplying us the needed energy and relief. We see this regularly in the working world when alcohol and drugs are used to provide strength and to relieve the weight of the burden that is being carried.

This happens spiritually as well. If we are weary in the work of the church or in our Christian life, what we often think we need is some new program or attraction to liven things up. The thought goes like this, “Let’s bring in new entertainment. If our worship is worn and routine, we can add lights and a fog machine or a whole host of other amusements.” All of this is artificial hype. It is a substitution for what we really need; the strength and joy of the Lord.

Among other things, many weary Christians will begin to seek rest by spending hours watching Netflix, others make social media their default retreat whenever the burden of work seems too much. Since none of these substitutes can provide what is truly needed, much like alcohol and drugs, all we are doing is exhausting ourselves further. Lloyd Jones puts it this way, ” As he becomes more exhausted, so he will need to have still more drink and still more drugs; and so the process goes on in a cumulative manner. And it is exactly the same in the spiritual realm.” Do not give in to this temptation, it is a cistern that cannot hold water, and it will only make conditions worse.

How to Fight

Provided that we are not over-working ourselves and we are taking care of our bodies by giving them the needed sabbath rests, to fight all three of these temptations we must do what we are called to do with any temptation. We must resist the devil, and he will flee. The way we do that is by preaching the gospel to ourselves once again, and by remembering what we were saved from and to what we have been called. That is the first gust of wind we need in our sails. “You are set in the midst of the most glorious campaign into which man could ever enter, and you are on the noblest road that the world has ever known.” Do not let that truth slip from your mind.

The second blast of wind we need to move our ships forward is to remember that this life is not our place of rest. Our rest is coming, and it will be glorious. Set your eye on the prize promised by the gospel. Jesus is coming again and his reward is with him. He will give to each person according to what he has done (Rev. 22:12). Cheer your heart with thoughts of the return of your Savior, and let that joy drive you heavenward.

Finally, the third and most consistent wind we need in our sails is the presence of God. God is the gospel, and he is our ultimate reward. Since you have been justified in Christ, he is with you and available to you now. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.

-D. Eaton

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop [Book Review]

We live in a fallen world, and many people do not know what to do with their anger, hurt, sorrow, and grief. Much of it is churned into bitterness and spewed out on social media. Unfortunately, cultural Christianity has no place for biblical lament which is a proper response to such things. Even our funeral services have become life celebrations where we do not allow the grieving to grieve. This is why we need Mark Vroegop’s book, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Rediscovering the Grace of Lament. The book is broken into three heads:

Section 1: Learning to Lament

Vroegop shows us how to lament biblically and the pitfalls to avoid. Lament is not being angry with God. Lament is not complaining as if we are not getting what we deserve from God, and lament is not despair. Vroegop gives us a thoroughly biblical understanding of lament and encourages us to turn our pain into passionate cries to God. He reminds us that one third of Psalms contain lament, and it should be part of our worship. If you are hurting, he will show you how to lay out your pain before God.

Section 2: Learning from Lament

Like all prayer, lament is a means of grace that leads us into several spiritual benefits. Vroegop spends time leading us through those blessings. Two examples are that lament takes our trials and turns them into trust, and it uses our injuries to tear down our idols that subtlety hold our hearts captive. This section opens eyes to the individual and corporate blessing we miss when we fail to lament properly.

Section 3: Living with Lament

The book closes with instruction on how to put lament into practice personally, in our churches, small groups, funerals, and life with others. In this section, it becomes even more clear how much we need lament. People are hurting from both actual and perceived injustices. Our political culture stirs up animosity, anger, and resentment, and biblical lament can be one aspect that could help move us toward healing by weeping with those who weep.

If we do not see any reason to lament, then we are not paying attention to the world around us or the sin that that still dwells within us. Vroegop has done the church a great service by pointing us back to a biblical act of worship that is too often neglected and replaced with bitter and angry social media rants. The church needs to understand and make room for lament, and the world needs the church to understand it as well. Lament is one of the first places we should go when confronting this fallen world.

-D. Eaton

4 Aims of a Godly Pastor – J.C. Ryle

It is of great importance to recall to our minds the real nature of our work as ministers of the Gospel. We should remember constantly the great ideal of what a Christian minister ought to be, sketched out in the sixth chapter of the Acts: “We will give ourselves to the Word of God and to prayer.”

The preaching and expounding of the Word of God, with nothing added, and with nothing taken away–is beyond all doubt our principal business. We must take heed that we give due honor to the Word of God in our public ministrations. A thousand things continually call us away from this–committees, schools, visiting, and the like. But we must remember that we are ministers of the Word of God, that our province is the Word of God, and that we must be very careful not to leave the Word of God to serve tables.

But after that, we must never forget private prayer. This is one grand secret of the strength of the ministry. It is here that the roots of the ministry, practically speaking, are to be found. The ministry of the man who has gifts, however great, but who does not give the prayer-closet the principal place–must sooner or later become tedious and ineffective.

I will remark, in the next place, that it is of immense importance that we should take heed to our own lives. “Pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things” 1 Timothy 4:16.

I have been lately studying the lives and private habits of those men whom God raised up to be the revivers of the Church in the last century. I have been much struck with their self-denial, and entire devotedness to the work of the ministry. They were men who lived very plainly and simply, and did not seem to care much for anything but their pastoral work. They were not men who sought the entertainments of the great and the rich. We would do well to consider whether we are living as near to God as they did.

I will remark, in the next place, that we all need to be more careful in the employment of our time. There is a danger of trying to do too much. Some clergymen have so many irons in the fire, that it is impossible to keep them all hot. A few things well done, are far better than twenty poorly done. The man whose work will stand the longest, is the man who, whatever people may say, however lazy they may call him determines that he will not do more than he can do well.

And always remember: What costs little, is worth little.

-J.C. Ryle

How To Prepare a Sermon: A Layman’s Guide

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What an honor! You have been asked to preach. After the initial excitement wears off, you start to think, “What have I gotten myself into.” How do I prepare a sermon? There are about as many ways to do this as there are preachers, so what I am about to present should not be taken as dogma. It is simply an example from which you may benefit. I also realize that many full-time pastors already have their routine, so I am presenting this as a layman, for laymen.

Sermon preparation is as important to preaching as the act of preaching itself, if not more so. As the preacher, we not only need to prepare our message, but we need to prepare our hearts as well. Accomplishing both should be our goal of our preparation.

The plan below assumes that you already know the passage of scripture from which you will be preaching. Please note, if you are currently writing a sermon and you do not know what your main text is (or texts), what you are preparing is a talk, not a sermon: even if you give your talk with passion and emotion. The word of God is what we are called to proclaim, not our own ideas. If you have not been assigned a text, find a passage of scripture and that ministers to you and stick with it; preferably something with which you are already familiar.

Step 1: Pray Without Ceasing (All 7 Days)

If you are being asked to preach, you are most likely a man of prayer already, but this week you will need to be more so. There is no specific time you should be praying as you prepare. You should be praying continually all week. Pray first for your own spiritual condition. Ask for forgiveness for all your sins. You are not entering the pulpit as the perfect spiritual specimen. Repent and guard your heart. You are weak and vulnerable to all kinds of temptations, especially pride.

The only fit condition for you to enter the pulpit is in recognizing your utter weakness to accomplish anything for the Lord if he does not move. If the Spirit of God is not at work in your heart, and the heart of your hearers, this will simply be another act of a man speaking and people hearing without spiritual benefit. This can happen even if you moved them to tears, and they loved every minute of it. If the Spirit of God is not involved, you might as well read the dictionary to the congregation. Ask the Lord to move in you and your hearers.

Step 2. Read. Study. Listen. (3-6 hours)

This is where you feed yourself full. Your goal is to understand the text. Read the larger context of the passage (preferably the entire book of scripture), study commentaries, and listen to other sermons on the passage you will be covering. For myself, I tend to do this Monday through Wednesday. I work full-time, so my prep time is limited. I typically put in a total of three to six hours over the course of the three days. This includes listening to sermons as I drive to work or walk the dog.

As you are going through this process, the goal, once you understand the passage, is to ask yourself, how these truths speak to our spiritual lives. Why is this passage of scripture important? If you are in the right frame spiritually, the Lord will begin to minister to you through His word. Once you have been warned, comforted, and encouraged by His truth, you are ready to preach it to others and not until then.

Remember, if you are not excited about the passage you are preaching, neither will your hearers, and I am not talking about artificial hype. Too many churches try to cover their lack of interest in the word of God with entertainment. Pastors often do this in their sermons as well. Do not do that. Whether or not the church where you will be preaching has all of these trappings is not the point. You need to ask, do I believe the passage of scripture I am about to preach is important enough that I am comfortable walking into a situation that will be boring if God does not show up? Has God ministered to you through the process of studying so much that the message is beginning to burn within you, and will you not be satisfied until you are able to share it with others? That is when you know you are ready to preach.

Step 3: Write (2 hours)

At this point, you are ready to sit down and write, and by write, I mean either manuscript, manuscript notes, or outline. Whatever it is that you want to bring into the pulpit, that is what you want to prepare. I tend to write manuscript notes. This means I write in an outline form, but the outline is so complete, that if you read it out loud, it would almost sound like you are reading a manuscript.

Whatever format you choose, it is important that you realize that you are not to fit everything you studied into your sermon. As that Lord was ministering to you in your studies, you most likely landed on one to three points from the text you are longing to make. Only use the material from your studies that help you make those points.

You are not called to exhaust the text or your hearers. Remember, this is the Word of God. Thousands of sermons could be preached from this passage, and you are only called to preach one for now. Don’t try to preach them all. Knowing what to leave out is crucial to sermon preparation, and this is where many preachers err.

For myself, I usually sit down for two hours on Thursday night and write the sermon. Avoid the temptation to make it perfect. Your goal at this point is to get something down on paper which resembles a sermon. You still have two days to refine it.

Step 4: Review, Edit, Rehearse (2-3 hours)

Yes, I said rehearse. There is something, probably pride, that wells up within us and says, “If I have to rehearse, it is not from the heart or led by the Holy Spirit.” That is a lie. Rehearsal does not cancel out the work of the Holy Spirit. It is often the means he uses to hone the message.

As you begin to talk your way through your sermon, you will notice phrases in your notes that do not quite work. You may even realize you need to rearrange your points. By practicing your sermon, you get to hear it in its allotted time span. By doing this, you will get a better feel for the flow and the connectivity of the points and illustrations. This is something you were unable to experience during the slower writing process.

As you run through it, make edits in the margin, and then go update your notes. You will be amazed by the things the Lord brings to your mind to enhance the sermon as you do this. You will find yourself recalling other relevant verses, biblical illustrations, and examples from life that you did not think of as you studied and wrote. In the end, I usually try to preach the sermon twice before I enter the pulpit. Once on Friday, and once on Saturday.

When I walk to the pulpit. My notes are typically 95% typed and 5% handwritten notes in the margin. I am usually making notes up to the point I enter the pulpit.

Step 5: Preach

You have now done your due diligence. You have been praying for yourself, the congregation, and the message. Now it is time to put it all in God’s hands and deliver it. In the delivery, remember, you are not preaching at the congregation. You are preaching to yourself as much as anyone. Preach as if your life is dependent upon the Gospel you preach because it is.

As you preach, you may stumble over your words, nerves may cloud your thinking, or you may feel absolute freedom. None of that proves the success or the failure of the sermon. You will never know who the Lord will minister to secretly. Your job is to simply present the truth. If you have done that, you have done your job whether the people like it or not. It is now up to the Lord to produce the results.

Now that you are done, listen to the godly men and women in the congregation who give you feedback. They are often God’s voice to you to help you improve if you are asked to preach again. Accept criticism with humility, and remember any praise you receive belongs to the Lord because you went into the pulpit weak and helpless entirely dependent upon Him.

May our Lord, Jesus Christ, be glorified by your efforts.

-D. Eaton

5 Blessings of Suffering – Thomas Watson

“God disciplines us for our profit.” -Hebrews 12:10

What profit is in affliction? Afflictions are disciplinary. Afflictions teach us—they are the school of the cross.

Affliction shows us more of our own hearts.

Water in a glass looks clear—but set it on the fire, and the scum boils up. Just so, when God sets us upon the fire—corruption boils up which we did not discern before. Sharp afflictions are to the soul, as a soaking rain to the house; we do not know that there are holes in the roof until the shower comes—but then we see it drop down here and there. Just so, we do not know what unmortified lusts are in the soul, until the storm of affliction comes—then the hidden evils of the heart come dropping down in many places. Affliction is a sacred eye-salve, it clears our eyesight. Thus the rod gives wisdom.

Affliction quickens the spirit of prayer.

Jonah was asleep in the ship—but at prayer in the whale’s belly. Perhaps in a time of health and prosperity we prayed in a cold and formal manner, we put no coals to the incense. Then God sends some affliction or other—to stir us up to take hold of Him. “They poured out a prayer—when Your chastening was upon them.” Isaiah 26:16. In times of trouble we pray feelingly and fervently.

Affliction is a means to purge out our sins.

Affliction cures the pestilence of pride—and the fever of lust. Affliction is God’s file—to scrub off our rust. Affliction is God’s flail—to thresh off our husks. The water of affliction is not to drown us—but to wash off our spots.

Affliction is a means to wean us from the world.

The world often proves, not only a spider’s web—but a cockatrice egg. Corrupting worldly things, are great enchantments. They hinder us in our passage to heaven. Affliction sounds a retreat, to call us off the immoderate pursuit of earthly things. When two things are frozen together—the best way to separate them is by fire; so, when the heart and the world are together—God has no better way to separate them than by the fire of affliction.

Affliction is a means to purify us.

It works us up to further degrees of sanctity. “God disciplines us for our profit—that we may share in His holiness.” Hebrews 12:10. The vessels of mercy are the brighter for scouring. As you pour water on your linen when you would whiten it—so God pours the waters of affliction upon us to whiten our souls. Afflictions are in themselves bitter—but they bring forth the sweet fruits of righteousness. Hebrews 12:11.

-Thomas Watson