Friday, August 22, 2008
Do you have the habit of private, regular prayer?
I am not asking if your prayers are perfect, whether or not at times you are negligent. But I am asking this:
Do you have regular times each day for private, personal prayer?
I know that you have habits - habits of sleeping, eating, personal hygiene, the time that you go to work, go to school, take your shower, shave.
Do you have regular, set, planned moments each day for personal prayer?
Do you, yes or no?
If the answer is No, why not?
Habitual, private, sincere prayer is the calling and need of every one of the children of God. Prayer, personal and regular, is not merely a recommended idea. It is not merely a suggestion of the living God. But it is the command of God and is our need. It forms the very backbone of our spiritual life. We must come personally before the face of God, for we are pilgrims and strangers. And we cannot walk here below on this earth without seeking often the face of our Father in heaven.
A Christian is not simply one who has different opinions about moral issues. A Christian is not simply one who has different preferences or a different temperament. But a Christian is one in whom is implanted the life of heaven, by the grace of God. That life needs to look up to God for its refreshment. That life must go to Jerusalem. It must talk with God. It must receive grace through prayer.
Do you have the habit of private, regular prayer?
Answer that question before God.
And if not, why not?
The message today is taken from the book of Daniel, chapter 6:10. The book of Daniel shows the continual struggle between the church and the world, between Christ and Antichrist, between the believer and the unbelieving world. It shows how Satan and the wicked world seek to overthrow and to destroy the church and the believer. And it shows how vain these attempts are.
In chapter 6 of the book of Daniel we see the most dangerous attempt that Satan makes upon our spiritual lives. In this chapter, Satan goes for the jugular vein. He attempted to outlaw prayer. Specifically he attempted to interrupt and abolish the private, personal, regular prayer-life of Daniel.
That demonic attempt goes on today. There are mighty foes aligned to keep you from the secret place of private prayer. And may now the exposition of this word of God in Daniel 6:10 be used of God to give us repentance and to inspire us to maintain habitual, private, heartfelt, sincere prayer.
It was prayer that stood at the heart of Daniel's life in Babylon. A plot had been laid against Daniel. Its intention was to get him to disrupt his regular, private practice of prayer. That was Satan's plot and Satan's motive. Understand when you read that chapter that the princes and presidents of Babylon who were so envious of Daniel's position laid their trap for another motive. They were jealous. Their intention was to get rid of Daniel and to take his place. They were moved by envy. They wanted to remove a rival so that they could ascend to greater positions of power. They were not so concerned about Daniel's personal habits - only so far as those habits provided an opportunity for them. They wanted him removed from a position of prominence.
But that was not the thing the arch-fiend, the devil, was after. To Satan it did not matter if Daniel became the prime minister or even the king himself. What mattered to Satan was to render Daniel prayerless. Therefore it was the devil, through the use of men's jealousy, who was plotting against Daniel. The devil's purpose was to stop prayer. At the top of his list of priorities is the disruption and destruction of our prayers. He did not want Daniel dead. Certainly he did not want Daniel dead on his knees praying to God. He did not want Daniel thrown into a lion's den and there in that lion's den meet his end while he was in prayer to God. The devil did not want that! He wanted Daniel prayerless, not dead. He did not want Daniel's life, his flesh and his blood. He wanted his soul. Yes, he is willing to use a threat to his life. Or he is willing to lure before Daniel the prominence and the positions of power. But his object was to remove prayer from Daniel's life.
In that chapter we read of the wicked princes who were motivated by jealousy against Daniel. These princes and presidents supervised the revenue or the taxes that were received into the kingdom. And we gather, from the reading of the passage, that very often that tax money which they were entrusted to regulate would stick to their fingers. The king would often suffer damage or loss. But Daniel, who was exalted to prominence among them, was a faithful man. Daniel was the leading member of a triumvirate, a prime minister, so to speak. And his enemies could find no fault or error in him, for, we read, there was an excellent spirit in Daniel. Daniel lived in a glass house. But he was faithful. He did not say, "Well, I'm working at higher levels of government now, and I suppose I had better do business. I can't avoid all the corruption around me in this office. After all, business is business. Just don't let me know about it. I'll turn my face at the appropriate moment." Oh, no. Daniel did not take that approach. There was an excellent spirit in him. And at its heart was prayer. He applied that habit of prayer also to his workplace and to his life in the midst of the world.
Are you a man, a woman of an excellent spirit, of the integrity of God?
Or has the plot against prayer been successful to a great measure in your life?
The secret of Daniel's holy walk in the world was prayer. And the devil knew that. That is what he was after in Daniel's life, and in your life.
We look at the characteristics of Daniel's prayer-life. First of all we see that it was habitual. We read that Daniel "kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime."
There was in his life regular, fixed, set times of prayer. This was something which his enemies knew before and which even the king knew. For they report to the king that Daniel makes his petitions three times a day. And the king says to Daniel in verse 16, "Thy God whom thou servest continually."
These scheming princes did not have to stake out Daniel's house to find out when Daniel was going to pray. They could not miss it. They knew exactly when he would be praying. So they convinced the king that, for thirty days, anyone who is found praying to any god but to the king should be put to death. They knew Daniel's habits of regular prayer. For Daniel was faithful in private, personal prayer. It was a fixed pattern in his life.
So is the will of God for our lives. Yes, there are in our lives prayers which are occasioned by crises. Sometimes there is prayer which is occasioned when our conscience is troubled and bloody under the weight of our sins. But there must also be, as the backbone of our life, planned, predictable moments of prayer. We are to have fixed habits: as we sleep, as we eat, shower, shave, and comb, as we leave for work or school. Daniel, three times a day as before, even after the king made his decree that no prayer could be made, Daniel prayed at these set times.
We read in the Scriptures, Psalm 55:16-17: "As for me, I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice."
We read again in Psalm 88:13-14, "But unto thee have I cried, O LORD; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee. LORD, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me?"
There the psalmist is in the deep hole of despair. He saw no light. He was tempted to give up on prayer. He found no profit in his prayer-life. He had yet no light. But he says, "Nevertheless, I will continue to pray. I am committed to pray. In the morning Thou shalt find my prayers ascending to Thee, O Lord."
Daniel's prayer-life was not only habitual. But Daniel's prayers engaged his heart. We do not have time right now to enter into all the detail of this important element of prayer. But it was very obvious that Daniel was intense in his prayers. He kneeled on the floor. He opened his windows toward Jerusalem, the place on earth where all the promises of God were centered. And his prayer was a prayer in which he gave thanks and made supplication before God and came before God to worship God as God. He directed his heart toward God. Consciously, by faith, he prepared himself actually to come before that throne of God and to worship. In his prayers he would list God's goodnesses and virtues. He would confess his sins. He would lay open his heart in all of his needs to God. He would plead the promises that God Himself had made. He was engaged in his prayer! He was not just rattling off routinely various words. He was focused, he was intent. His mind was upon what he said. In Psalm 62:8 we read: "Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us."
As water is poured out of a glass, so our hearts are to be tipped over and the deepest thoughts and fears and the essence of all of our needs are to come before God.
So Daniel lived the life of habitual, personal, and wholehearted prayer.
It was this that Satan attacked. He wanted to keep this child of God from praying altogether, or to make his prayer into a ritual, or to make his prayers proud. The devil hates prayer. He wants to disrupt communion with God. He knows how God condescends to us, how God sees us as weak and pitiable sinners, and how He will come to us.
You hear the lion's roar in Daniel's life as you read chapter 6. The lion's roar is heard long before the cover is removed from the den of lions and Daniel is thrown into that den. When that actually happened and Daniel was thrown in to those lions, Daniel could smile when he heard those growls. Those lions had become kittens to him by that time, because Daniel had already faced the lion. He had already heard the roar of the lion. The real danger to Daniel's spiritual life was not in the pit of lions. There was no danger there. But the battle was fought in Daniel's room. The battle was fought when Daniel must go home that first day after the king has made his edict against prayer. The battle was fought when the time was come, the set time to open his windows and look to Jerusalem and to kneel in prayer. Then Daniel heard the roar of Satan, the snarl: "Don't you pray for thirty days. Think it over, Daniel. Wouldn't it be better, Daniel, just to interrupt your habit right now and maintain your position of influence in this kingdom as a Christian? Can't you do more good in your prominent position? Can't you just make your prayers a very private thing. You can pray, you know, Daniel, without folding your hands. So, if the king makes this edict, is it really going to hurt too much if you go along with it? If you pray as you always have, you're going to lose this position of prominence." There was the lion's roar.
Beloved, there are times in our spiritual walk when to think about performing our spiritual duties is fatal - that is, to entertain the question whether or not we should do them is fatal. Now, when Daniel, we read, "knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house … and he prayed … as he did aforetime." Circumstances did not change his habit of prayer. Those circumstances put them to test. Those circumstances confirmed his habit. God showed His work in Daniel.
God's Word tells us that our lives, as His redeemed children, must be centered in regular, personal, heart-engaged prayer. Satan wants us to conceive of prayer as something entirely spontaneous. Satan wants you to think of prayer as a vague, devotional mood into which somehow you fall. And when you fall into it, you pray, but if you do not really fall into the mood of prayer it is rather hypocritical to pray and you should not pray. You should pray only when you are moved to pray. God says, "The time of prayer is not determined by your mood, but by faith and commitment." The psalmist says, in Psalm 5, "My voice shalt thou hear in the morning … in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up."
Let us be warned against praying simply after our own moods.
There are all kinds of things which would make us avoid prayer, that moment when we must enter into the closet and come to our Father in secret. Perhaps it is a quarrel in the home or in marriage or in the church. We get so upset. Satan is baiting us. He wants us to get into a hundred little tussles. And he wants words to be flung about to hurt in marriage, in family, in church. Not simply because he enjoys seeing the purchased ones of Jesus Christ going at it. He likes to see that, but there is something more. He knows that such disruption in the lives of believers on the horizontal level breaks communion with God on the vertical level. If in my heart, says the psalmist, I sin regard, my prayer He will not hear. So Satan loves those little tussles, those arguments, because he knows it will disrupt sincere, personal prayer.
Or, when you are under trial and temptation, it was Satan who wanted you to look inside, or it was Satan who wanted you to look outside of you to others. But he did not want you to look up to God.
Be determined, by grace, to engage in an all-out war to maintain private, personal prayer.
What comes first for you in your daily routine?
What comes first: the newspaper, the phone, the TV?
God has called you as His child to habitual prayer. There have been generations that have lived without newspapers, phones, TV. You will not die without that. But there has been no generation of God's children that has lived without habitual prayer.
Would you find it intolerable, would you find it difficult, if prayer were banned for a thirty-day period?
Could you live without praying?
Repent if you are and can. Perseverance in prayer is our calling. Look unto Jesus Christ and do not give up the throne of grace.
The Lord conducts a survey right now concerning you and me. He knows what that survey reveals concerning our prayer-life. He says, "Seek ye My face. Call upon Me. And I will answer thee." Daniel prayed as aforetime.
I simply cannot stress enough today how important a life of regular prayer is. Daniel in the lion's den is simply a fruit of his daily walk with God in prayer. The battle of the Christian life is won or lost, not in a spectacular moment, but in the trenches, in the basic duties of our calling as Christians. It is won in the daily habits. The Christian life is found in daily prayer. Go forward in your calling out of the strength of prayer, out of the spirit of prayer.
What a victory God gave to Daniel. We read that in that night, as the king spent an anxious night in the palace walking the floors, Daniel experienced peace - peace while surrounded by wild animals, peace granted to him through the habit of prayer.
Look now to God. He has opened the way for us through the blood of Jesus Christ. And He bids us to come. We shall find grace at His throne to help in time of need. At His right hand there are pleasures forevermore. His Son intercedes for us and draws us. He says, "Look unto Me, draw nigh, pray without ceasing."
May God give to us the consciousness of the need of habitual, private prayer. May we be found as regular worshipers in His courts. Then we, too, shall experience something of that peace which is found in the presence of God. Our lives will reveal that we have been with God. And we will live as those who have the light of God's countenance upon us.
By Carl Haak
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Do you possess the assurance of salvation?
Does that assurance grow to be a firm foundation for your entire life?
If you do not have the assurance of personal salvation in Jesus Christ, why not?
Is it because you, as a child of God, are slothful?
Have you fallen into an inconsistent, sinful walk of life?
Can you testify today to your own heart's satisfaction of the safety of your souls now and forever in Jesus Christ?
Are you assured of pardon?
Are you assured that you are one of His?
Do you ask yourself these questions?
Assurance of personal salvation and belonging to Jesus Christ is not a fancy, it is not a feeling, and it is not the result of one's temperament. But it is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Assurance is the voice of a living faith in the believer testifying of personal pardon, confidence, of hope of eternal life, and the persuasion that I belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
Understand, the assurance of salvation is not the same as perfection. You may, and you will, be vexed and troubled by your sin. You shall be dissatisfied by your weaknesses which cause you, at times, even to question.
But are you yet assured in your heart of gracious salvation?
Yes, you can be, as a child of God. And you should be.
Many call this presumption. And there are many presumptuous people who call themselves Christians, who are filled with a false assurance, a counterfeit, a fake. There are some who say that true humility before God means that we can never be sure, we can never be confident, we can never say, with the apostle, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (2 Timothy 1:12).
But that idea (that true humility means we can never be confident of our salvation) is not the teaching of Scripture. It is a false humility. The Scriptures are plain!
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me" (Psalm 23:4).
"For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, (then the apostle goes on to mention many more things), shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38, 39).
"And we know that we are of God" (1 John 5:19), we know that, says John.
Do you possess real, God-given, gracious assurance?
Without this assurance of personal salvation, every duty becomes a burden. Every aspect of the Christian life lacks vibrancy. We become laxadasical, apathetic, self-complacent, and presumptuous. Assurance of salvation is not a luxury. It is a necessity for peace and strength in the Christian life. This is assurance that may come to a true believer.
What do I mean by a true believer?
The true faith is the teaching in the holy Scriptures of the sovereignty of God; that salvation is of God, purchased in Christ for His children, and powerfully bestowed by the work of the Holy Spirit. Now there are other systems of theology (of Christian teaching), which teach that salvation is attained by one's works, or by the works of others (dead saints to whom you are to pray), or the works of penance as outlined by a church. Or, they say, salvation is attained by human will-God has done everything that He can do and now it is up to you and you must choose to be saved. It depends upon something you yourself must furnish God, not upon something that God has graciously furnished to you, something you did not have.
Both these systems of theology, both these systems of teaching, cannot provide assurance to those who embrace them. Therefore we decry it. We are filled with grief that such teaching would ever exist. For, if salvation is dependent upon the work of the sinner, there can be no assurance of salvation.
The nagging question is always going to be: Did I do enough work?
If the salvation of the sinner flows forth from his own will, which God supposedly would never interfere with because God wants him to make the decision, if it is all based on something he did, from fickle, sinful self, there can never be assurance. For none of the sinner's works, nor his will, is stable, steady. His will is dead and it is deceived in sin, says the Bible. Then he could never be sure that sometime he will not change his mind and no longer be in Jesus Christ.
No, salvation, says the apostle in Romans 9, is not of him that works, nor of him that wills, but of God who showeth mercy. Therefore the teaching of the Reformed faith that salvation is all of God's grace worked powerfully in the heart of the sinner, that is the truth. And that truth provides assurance, the experience of assurance.
The Bible often speaks of assurance. One such text to which I would direct your attention is found in Hebrews 6:11 where we read, "And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end."
That verse is really the very heart of the exhortation that the apostle is bringing in this book of Hebrews. In chapter 5:11 the apostle deviates from his main theme of Christ's priesthood after the order of Melchisedec. He has been showing that Christ is the true and the eternal priest. But he deviates to call the Hebrews (and ourselves) to diligence, to embrace the promises of God fully. The Hebrew converts to whom the apostle wrote were discouraged by persecution. They had come to the moment that they were counting the cost of their confession of Jesus Christ. The rosy and first glow of being a Christian was gone. They had experienced strong opposition. There were many appeals that they should return to their former life. And many had become lackluster and made no progress in their Christian life.
The apostle says, "You must go on from the first principles of the Christian faith. You must advance from the rudimentary truths of the Christian faith toward a fuller and richer understanding." And in verses 4-8 of chapter 6, the writer warns of the apostates. Apostates are those who appear to be Christians, who have come under all the benefits of the truth of God, but depart and are in reality thorns and briars in the field of God. In verses 9 and 10 the apostle lets these Hebrew Christians know that he is persuaded better things of them. He did not think of them as apostates. Rather, he says, his purpose in giving the warning about falling away was to provoke them to diligence so that they would persevere in their faith and love. Then he commends them in verse 10 that they have been faithful in labors of love to minister to the needs of the saints. And he says that the same diligence that they have shown in that aspect of hospitality, they must also show in their own personal faith. They must not be slothful. They must not become inconsistent and sinful in their Christian walk. But they must show diligence in order that they might have full assurance, because it is only in full assurance that the faith of Christ will flower in them and make them fruitful to the praise of God. And we desire, says the apostle, that everyone of them do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.
The apostle there is expressing a very intense desire. "We desire!" And that word means "crave," or "long"-a vehement desire. Very frequently, in the New Testament Scriptures, this very word is used in a bad sense to refer to lust, evil craving, insatiable desires. Here it is used in the good sense. And it is used that way in the New Testament: Philippians 1:23, "I have a desire to depart," says Paul. I have a vehement craving, a longing desire to be with the Lord, yet I know that it is better that I abide on this earth for the good of the church.
So the apostle says, out of a perfect knowledge of the Christian life and truth, that God has worked in him a great desire for us.
What is that great desire?
That great desire that he has is that we would give evidence of the same diligence onto a full assurance of hope. He wants, he craves, that we be diligent.
What is that hope?
The Christian hope is the confident expectation of the good things that God has promised, along with a love and a desire to have them. Christian hope is the daughter of Christian faith. By faith, Hebrews 11:1, we embrace the promises of God as true, and true for me. Those promises right now of pardon and of glory-by faith we embrace those things. Hope is born out of faith. Believing those things as real and certain and priceless and good, we hope for them. If our faith begets no hope, it is not genuine faith. We do not simply believe in Christ and glory and all the rest and say, "Well, that's all true. All that is true." And then say, "Well, that's it." No. Believing all those things are true, we hope for them, we long for them, we crave them. The more faith believes, the more hope longs. The more active your faith in all good works, the more strong will be the hope in your soul. If you believe the promises of God, by the grace of God; if you believe in the full enjoyment of glory with Christ; if you believe that you have been delivered from your sins and forgiven, then that flame of hope will kindle in your soul and you will desire and reach out more and more for these things.
Now that hope is confident. It is confident that God is going to complete all the things that He has promised and all the things that we believe. The things that we hope for are not yet fully ours. Romans 8:4, "For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?"
That is, you are hoping for something, and when it is realized and you have it, then you no longer hope for it in the future. You no longer expect it, you have it. So all those things of final salvation and the completion of those things are not yet fully realized.
But Christian hope for those things is not uncertain. It is not, "I hope so. I'm not sure. I'd like to believe. Maybe." Oh, no. Our hope is sure. It is not uncertain, it is real, it is true. All that we hope for exists. God has promised it to us. Hope, therefore, is the confident longing, the intense desire of faith to have those things.
And it is that hope which supports our soul under the troubles and difficulties of this present life. Difficulties that come to us especially because of our confession and profession of Christ. The Hebrew Christians had all kinds of strain and all kinds of conflict with family members. They were former Jews. And their unconverted relatives and family would put the squeeze on them. Therefore, they needed hope, the confidence, the full assurance of hope to support their souls under those difficulties. We do as well. Under the strain of the sorrows of our present life and all that opposes our faith, it is hope that supports the soul. It is hope that is the anchor of our soul, which keeps us from being drawn out by the tides of this world or being crashed into the rocks of despair. It is hope which, the apostle says, is the helmet of salvation. It protects us. It beats off. It keeps us from being wounded with the sharp swords and crushing stones of doubt and unbelief.
Our hope outweighs the present sufferings. Our hope is that all of our sufferings and trials are sent to make that salvation more alive in us. You may have a lifelong burden. You may experience heart-wrenching grief. You may go through a bout of depression and hopelessness.
What keeps us from sinking into the mire of despondence, of giving up and despairing?
It is hope-the sure hope of the Christian faith. The apostle says: I crave that you have the full assurance of hope.
We read in Isaiah 35:3-4: "Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you." We must have the full assurance of hope.
The idea of full assurance is, literally, to bring to a full measure. It could be translated "persuaded." And it means that hope and assurance do have degrees in the believer. It is not always the same in us or in all other believers. The question, you understand, is not if hope exists in every believer. It does. But it is a question of degree. The full assurance is what we must have. It is like a cup. There is water in it, but we must constantly endeavor that that cup be full. The Christian life is not like Fort Knox-all the gold bars stacked up and polished and sitting there. Oh, no! We burn up spiritual energies. We come under storms, droughts, trials, periods of testing. We must constantly be replenished. We possess that old man of sin. The devil and sin do not stop assaulting us because we have been brought to Christ. They do not give up. So we experience doubts and fears. Read the Psalms. Yes, God's work is there. He has given to us that hope and assurance. But it is our calling to be diligent that we might have the full assurance of hope.
What the apostle craves is an assured hope. Not, "I like to think so." But the confidence of faith. A weak hope will not support you under troubles. Without full assurance you will not be able to carry on your confession to the glory of God in times of trials. If you lose hope, you will fail in the duties of your profession. The apostle speaks of that to the Hebrew Christians in chapter 12. He says, "Your hands have fallen down, and your knees are feeble, they are shaking, because you have not been diligent that you might have full assurance of hope." It is the full assurance that we must possessa hope built upon the unmistakable promises of God, on the reality of those promises embraced by faith. This alone can support us through trial and difficulty. It will give us peace and comfort to bear poverty or loss, death, sorrow, fears (gripping fears), to find perfect contentment.
It is through hope that we praise God. It is through hope that we lay ourselves down in peace and sleep, knowing that the Lord will keep us in safety.
I invite you to return next week to this time and station, as we are going to return to this very beautiful passage in Hebrews 6:11. Until that time, may the Holy Spirit, through the Scriptures, make you diligent, studying the Scriptures, that you might have the full assurance of hope unto the end.
By Carl Haak