The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.— G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles (1910), 7.
God picked out a couple of schoolteachers, Miss Mills and Miss Thomas, to have a large part in my coming to Christ. Miss Mills was a general science teacher, and I was one of her problem pupils. She wrote my name on her prayer list and prayed for me every day for six solid years.
On the Friday night I was arrested, she was home with Miss Thomas, looking up verses in the Bible, trying to find ten on the subject of salvation which they could give to the young people to memorize. Little did she know that the boy for whom she had been praying for six years was going to memorize those verses. When Sunday came along, I decided to go to young people’s meeting. The pool hall where I played billiards and gambled was about half a block from the church. That evening I looked around to make sure none of the pool hall bays were looking, and I sneaked down to the church and joined in the young people’s service.
During the third week of my renewed interest in young people’s meetings I was on my way to work with these 20 verses of Scripture stored away in my memory. I walked along, minding my own business, with my lunch pail in my hand. I was back in my sin. My promise to God, made that night when the policeman was taking me to jail, did not change my life. Going to young people’s meeting on Sunday did not change me either. I was the same guy. I was spending Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at the taverns and beer joints, and going to church on Sunday and feeling, “Well’ I’m a little better. I guess a little of this good won’t hurt me after all.”
But Miss Mills was praying, and the Word of God was working; and all of a sudden that morning, as I walked along, the Holy Spirit brought one of those verses to my mind: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth My Word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life…” (John 5:24).
Those words “hath everlasting life” stuck in my mind. I said, “O God, that’s wonderful — everlasting life!” I pulled my little Testament out of my pocket and looked it up, and sure enough, there it was — “…hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”
There for the first time I remember praying, after I had grown to be a man, when I was not in trouble with the police or something like that. I said, “O God, whatever this means, I want to have it.” And just like that the Holy Spirit brought John 1:12 to my mind: “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God…” I then looked up that verse, and there it was, just as I remembered it. “O God,” I said, “whatever it means to receive Jesus, I do it right now.” That was my new birth.— Dawson Trotman, Born to Reproduce
Many men turn aside from religion when their interest would be compromised. If I see two men walking together I cannot tell who is the master of the dog that is behind, but I shall discover directly. One of them will turn to the right and the other to the left—now I shall know who is the master of the dog, for when it comes to the turning point the dog will go with its master and leave the stranger. You cannot always tell whether it is God or Mammon that a man is serving when virtue is profitable—but when it comes to the turning point and the man has to be a loser for Christ in what he gives up for Christ’s sake—then sincerity is tried! Turning points are places where we may judge ourselves, for they are the only true criteria of our real character.— Charles Spurgeon, Sermons (1866), p. 134
You could go through your whole life walking behind two masters, never knowing whether you are following Christ or following some false treasure, because you have so confused the two as lord. This is why the spiritual practices that Jesus gives us in the beginning of chapter six are so crucial. What better way to cut yourself off from the hoarding spirit of Mammon than by generously giving it away to others? What better way to counter the lie of self-sufficiency and personal productivity than by spending time in prayer and contemplation? And what better way to deny the power that worldly pleasure has over you, whether food or sex or anything else, than be temporarily fasting from its provision? These practices are defensive in that they expose the tendencies in your heart and shield you against the temptations of worldly treasure. But they are offensive also, because they strengthen your resolve to pursue God himself, and find delight in him alone.
No one, my son, can serve two lords,
For one he will be forced to hate
So that he might the other love.
No devotion shown to two above
For with one enthroned, one must vacate.
So serve he who gives or he who hoards.
We are always liable to distort emphases. Out of deference to all the stress that falls upon God’s agency in sanctification we must not fall into the error of quietism and fail to take account of the activity of the believer himself. The imperatives directed to the believer imply nothing less.
Perhaps the most instructive text is Philippians 2:12,13, a text frequently misapplied. The salvation spoken of is not initial salvation, but that to be attained at the revelation of Jesus Christ. It is salvation as completed and consummated that we are to work out. And this means that our agency and activity are to be exercised to the fullest extent in the promotion of this salvation.
Hence, the implications: our working is not dispensed with or made superfluous because God works; God’s working is not suspended because we work. There is the correlation and conjunction of both. The fact that God works in us is the encouragement and incentive to our working. Indeed, God’s working is the energizing cause of our working both in willing and doing. Our working is the index to God’s working; if we do not work, the working of God is absent. Presumptuous self-confidence is excluded; fear and trembling in us are the reflection of our helplessness.
Yet, the more assured we are that God works in us, the more diligent and persistent we are in our working. Our whole personality is not only drawn within the scope of but also enlisted in all its functions in that process that moves to the goal of being conformed to the image of God’s Son.John Murray, “Sanctification (The Law)”, Basic Christian Doctrines, ed. Carl F.H. Henry (Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1962), 232–233.
Now when you are praying, do not babble like the Gentiles, for they think that in their many words they will be accepted. Therefore do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.Matthew 6:7–8
The Pharisees pray to be seen by men. The Gentiles pray to be seen by no one at all. Their prayers are mindless babbling, having no thought, no wisdom, no content of any significant value at all. They are mosquitos in the ear of God, and they hope that by their continual buzzing he might become annoyed enough to respond. Pharisees pray to God without a heart, but the Gentiles pray to God without a brain.
There must be thinking that informs prayer, and thinking of the right sort. For the Pharisees thought about their words, but these words were designed to impress. Prayer is not rhetoric. Instead, prayer considers what words befit the character of God. Neither the Pharisees nor the Gentiles understood who God is.
This is why Jesus responds with, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” In this clause lies a world of theology. We see God’s omniscience in his knowledge of all unspoken requests. We see his omnipotence in divine power inclined to need. We see his immanence in his ability to draw near, and his benevolence in his willingness to do so. And most significantly, we see his intimacy as he identifies himself as Father. It is this knowledge that we carry with us into our prayers.
God has always had His specialists whose chief concern has been the moral breakdown, the decline in the spiritual health of the nation or the church. Such men were Elijah, Jeremiah, Malachi and others of their kind who appeared at critical moments in history to reprove, rebuke, and exhort in the name of God and righteousness.
A thousand or ten thousand ordinary priests or pastors or teachers could labor quietly on almost unnoticed while the spiritual life of Israel or the church was normal. But let the people of God go astray from the paths of truth and immediately the specialist appeared almost out of nowhere. His instinct for trouble brought him to the help of the Lord and of Israel.
Such a man was likely to be drastic, radical, possibly at times violent, and the curious crowd that gathered to watch him work soon branded him as extreme, fanatical, negative. And in a sense they were right. He was single-minded, severe, fearless, and these were the qualities the circumstances demanded. He shocked some, frightened others and alienated not a few, but he knew who had called him and what he was sent to do. His ministry was geared to the emergency, and that fact marked him out as different, a man apart.
To such men as this the church owes a debt too heavy to pay. The curious thing is that she seldom tries to pay him while he lives, but the next generation builds his sepulcher and writes his biography, as if instinctively and awkwardly to discharge an obligation the previous generation to a large extent ignored.
Those who know Leonard Ravenhill will recognize in him the religious specialist, the man sent from God not to carry on the conventional work of the church, but to beard the priests of Baal on their own mountaintop, to shame the careless priest at the alter, to face the false prophet and warn the people who are being led astray by him.
Such a man as this is not an easy companion. The professional evangelist who leaves the wrought-up meeting as soon as it is over to hie him to the most expensive restaurant to feat and crack jokes with his retainers will find this man something of an embarrassment, for he cannot turn off the burden of the Holy Ghost as one would turn off a faucet. He insists upon being a Christian all the time, everywhere; and again, that marks him out as different.A.W. Tozer, in Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries (1991, Bethany House), foreword.
See the contrary disposition of Christ on the one hand and Satan and his instruments on the other. Satan sets upon us when we are weakest, as Simeon and Levi upon the Shechemites, ‘when they were sore’ (Gen. 34:25), but Christ will make up in us all the breaches which sin and Satan have made.
‘He binds up the broken-hearted’ (Isa. 61:1). As a mother is tenderest to the most diseased and weakest child, so does Christ most mercifully incline to the weakest. Likewise he puts an instinct into the weakest things to rely upon something stronger than themselves for support. The vine stays itself upon the elm, and the weakest creatures often have the strongest shelters.
The consciousness of the church’s weakness makes her willing to lean on her beloved, and to hide herself under his wing.Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed (Banner, 2016), p. 10.
The propitiation of the divine wrath, effected in the expiatory work of Christ, is the provision of God’s eternal and unchangeable love, so that through the propitiation of his own wrath that love may realize its purpose in a way that is consonant with and to the glory of the dictates of his holiness.
It is one thing to say that the wrathful God is made loving. That would be entirely false. It is another thing to say the wrathful God is loving. That is profoundly true.Murray, John. Redemption Accomplished and Applied (p. 27)