How to Argue with God

May12
Psalm 60.5-6
Give salvation by your right hand and answer us! God has spoken in his holiness.

In his sermon, Order and Argument in Prayer, Charles Spurgeon said that we should not merely go to God with our requests; we should go to Him full of arguments as well: 

“The best prayers I have ever heard in our prayer meetings have been those which have been fullest of argument … I have listened to brethren who have come before God feeling the mercy to be really needed, and that they must have it, for they first pleaded with God to give it for this reason, and then for a second, and then for a third, and then for a fourth and a fifth, until they have awakened the fervency of the entire assembly.”

Spurgeon gave several reasons to use in prayer: 

  1. We can plead the character of God, praying, “Be in this situation as you are in essence – just, merciful, faithful, wise, patient and tender.” 
  2. We can plead His promises, praying, “Do as you have said. Keep your promises.” 
  3. We can plead His great name, praying, “We have put our trust in you. Arise and uphold your name.” 
  4. We can plead our sorrows, praying, “We are dust. Come deliver us from despair.” 
  5. We can plead the past, praying, “You brought your people out of Egypt. Do not forsake us. Rescue us.” 
  6. We can plead our own unworthiness, praying, “We are great sinners, but your grace shines brightest when it is bestowed on the unrighteous.” 
  7. We can plead the sufferings, death, merit and intercession of Jesus, praying, “Do not look upon us, but look upon Jesus. Remember his wounds and cries on the cross for us.”

Here, in Psalm 60, we see that David prayed with arguments. He claimed God’s promises: “Manasseh is mine; Ephraim is my helmet; Judah is my scepter.’” He claimed God’s superiority: “Grant us help against the foe, for vain is the salvation of man!” He reminded God of His past provision for Israel when he claimed God’s “right hand.”

Prayer
Lord, we order our causes before you as a petitioner comes into court. For we are in the presence of the King of Kings and we give thought to your divine goodness. Help us to order our prayers so that our fervency in prayer awakens and our view of you increases. Amen.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 21 (Listen – 5:03)
Psalms 60-61 (Listen – 2:27)

Inner Vision
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Crying Faith

May11

Psalm 59.10
My God in his steadfast love will meet me.

The most efficient way for a politician to generate a cocktail of fodder for pundits and bloggers is to overtly mix politics and theology. This has not dissuaded the president from speaking publicly of faith.

“For many of us, prayer is an important expression of faith — an essential act of worship and a daily discipline that allows reflection, provides guidance, and offers solace,” President Obama said last week in a proclamation for the National Day of Prayer. Though less than 600 words, the White House document read like a theology of prayer and presents three outcomes of prayer:

“Through prayer we find the strength to do God’s work: to feed the hungry, care for the poor, comfort the afflicted, and make peace where there is strife. In times of uncertainty or tragedy, Americans offer humble supplications for comfort for those who mourn, for healing for those who are sick, and for protection for those who are in harm’s way. When we pray, we are reminded that we are not alone — our hope is a common hope, our pain is shared, and we are all children of God.”

There is much to be learned about a person’s theology from their understanding of prayer and much will likely be written about the president’s views. But even more can be learned from how a person prays. This is what makes the Psalms so powerful — they teach Christians how to pray by exposing us to intellectually honest, emotionally vulnerable, dedicated times of prayer.

“Faith is never quiet; true faith is a crying faith,” Charles Spurgeon says in his exposition on the Psalms. “If you have confidence in God of such a kind that you do not need to pray, get rid of it; for it is of no use to you; it is a false confidence, it is presumption. Only a crying faith will be a prevailing faith.”

The easiest way to take for granted a country where prayer is nationally endorsed, and — more egregiously — a God who desires to meet us in prayers, is simply not to pray.

Prayer
God, forgive us for presumption in faith. Don’t allow the relatively un-persecuted nature of prayer in our country lull us into complacency. Thank you for hearing our prayers. Give us hearts that abide and lives enriched by our relationship with you through the sacrifice of your son.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 20 (Listen – 4:15)
Psalms 58-59 (Listen – 3:32)

Inner Vision
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Renewal in Failure

MayEight

Psalm 54.6-7
With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good. For he has delivered me from every trouble. 

“Principles are like prayers,” Maggie Smith’s character Lady Grantham explains on Downton Abbey; “noble, of course, but awkward at a party.” The Dowager Countess is right in many respects, principles are awkward — cumbersome and even forced — but that’s just at first. After a principle gains steam it’s called character. Actions which initially require deep intentionality grow natural and become the bedrock on which reputation is built.

Likewise, “the words of psalms in worship helps us to ‘grow into’ beliefs and attitudes about God, note C. Richard Wells and Ray Van Neste in their book Forgotten Songs: Reclaiming The Psalms for Christian Worship. “Therefore, worship is not just expressive, it is formative.”

“The feelings the psalmists express are ones we need to ‘own’ for ourselves…the psalms give us forms for our feelings. Thus, the sentiments and feelings the psalmist expresses become normative for us.”

Growing character through determination and discipline is not distinctively Christian. In many respects the ability to do so is a reflection of the potential and strength woven into beings created in God’s image.

What is distinctly Christian — the linchpin of the whole growth process — is how a person responds to failure along the way. David’s life is an exemplar, even on the extreme end, of what ought to happen after a lifetime of reputation and character collapses in an instant. 

It would have been easier for David’s relationship with God to become transactional — sacrifices made in order to earn God’s benefaction. Instead, after repentance, David rejoices and offers freewill offerings. The Jewish Publication Society’s Torah Commentary observes, “The freewill offering was one which the worshiper—usually with no prior obligation or commitment—promised to give as an expression of devotion or gratitude.”

David knew he could neither deserve nor earn the forgiveness or favor of God. He lived his life in joyful response to the grace he was so generously given. Perhaps this is why C.S. Lewis reflected, “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.” 

Prayer
Father God, your grace is our life. Your love nourishes our souls and brings strength to our minds. Restore to us the joy of your salvation.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 16 (Listen – 6:59)
Psalms 52-54 (Listen – 2:26)

Finding Our Way
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: Numbers 17-18 (Listen – 5:58); Psalm 55 (Listen – 2:43)
Sunday: Numbers 19 (Listen – 3:39); Psalms 56-57 (Listen – 3:11)

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TBT: Repentance in Light of Forgiveness

MaySeven

Psalm 51.9-10
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 

TBT: Repentance in Light of Forgiveness | by John Calvin 

But here it may be asked why David needed to pray so earnestly for the joy of remission, when he had already received assurance from the lips of Nathan that his sin was pardoned? Why did he not embrace this absolution?

David might be much relieved by the announcement of the prophet, and yet be visited occasionally with fresh convictions, influencing him to have recourse to the throne of grace. However rich and liberal the offers of mercy may be which God extends to us, it is highly proper on our part that we should reflect upon the grievous dishonor which we have done to his name, and be filled with due sorrow on account of it.

The truth is, that we cannot properly pray for the pardon of sin until we have come to a persuasion that God will be reconciled to us. Who can venture to open his mouth in God’s presence unless he be assured of his fatherly favor?

In proof of this, I might refer to the Lord’s Prayer, in which we are taught to begin by addressing God as our Father, and yet afterwards to pray for the remission of our sins. God’s pardon is full and complete; but our faith cannot take in his overflowing goodness, and it is necessary that it should distill to us drop by drop.

The mention which is here made of purging with hyssop, and of washing or sprinkling, teaches us, in all our prayers for the pardon of sin, to have our thoughts directed to the great sacrifice by which Christ has reconciled us to God. “Without shedding of blood,” says Paul, “is no remissions” and this, which was intimated by God to the ancient Church under figures, has been fully made known by the coming of Christ. 

Prayers from the Past
I am spent, O my Christ, Breath of my life.
Perpetual stress and surge, in league together,
make long, O long, this life, this business of living.
Grappling with foes within and foes without,
my soul hast lost its beauty, blurred your image.

— A prayer of confession from Gregory of Nazianzus, 383 C.E.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 15 (Listen – 5:09)
Psalm 51 (Listen – 2:19)

Finding Our Way
Part 4 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Desiring the Inner Ring

MaySix

Numbers 14.10
Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel. 

In 1944, C.S. Lewis spoke of our dangerous desire for exclusivity: “In all men’s lives… one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.”

“Men tell themselves that it is a hardship to stay late at the office on some bit of important extra work. But it is not quite true. It is a terrible bore when old Fatty Smithson draws you aside and whispers, ‘Charles and I saw at once that you’ve got to be on this committee.’ A terrible bore… but how much more terrible if you were left out! It is tiring and unhealthy to lose your Saturday afternoons; but to have them free because you don’t matter, that is much worse.”

Throughout his life, Moses was in the inner ring of fellowship with God. He led God’s people out of Egypt and through the Red Sea. On Mount Sinai, the Lord would speak to Moses “face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” When God was angry with the grumbling Israelites, he almost started over with Moses only: “How long will these people treat me with contempt? … I will destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater.”

When Moses did not trust in God enough to honor him as holy in the sight of the Israelites, however, God denied his entry into Canaan and replaced him with Joshua: “After you have seen [Canaan from afar], you too will be gathered to your people … [for] you disobeyed my command to honor me as holy … Give [Joshua] some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him.” Thus, God declared that no one—not even Moses—was immune from his justice, for his salvation was received by grace alone.

Prayer
Lord, Thousands of years after Moses, Jesus left the inner ring of fellowship with the Father to redeem us. He laid down his life and was killed outside the camp. If we are in him, we receive your unmerited grace to enter the only inner ring that matters. Forgive us for prizing others’ opinions more than yours. Work in us to crave being in your inner ring so that we will receive your grace to enter the Promised Land. Amen.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 14 (Listen – 6:15)
Psalm 50 (Listen – 2:26)

Finding Our Way
Part 3 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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