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“Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in protection from suffering…. The love of God did not protect His own Son…. He will not necessarily protect us – not from anything it takes to make us like His Son. A lot of hammering and chiseling and purifying by fire will have to go into the process.”

~ Elisabeth Elliot

Margaret Ashmore Drawing of Elisabeth Elliot

The reality (of hell) will likely be far more terrible than what we can comprehend, considering the limits of our language and understanding. Nevertheless, I cannot think of anything more terrifying than eternally burning in a lake of fire, and that is precisely the point, and precisely why we must preach hell as Jesus preached hell and preach the gospel of eternal life as He preached it–for the love of God and our love for the lost.

~ Burk Parsons, Tabletalk, February 2014, 2. 

God is far more willing to save sinners than sinners are to be saved.

~ J.C. Ryle

The Sovereignty of God and Prayer

Dr. John Piper

January 1, 1976 | by John Piper | Topic: Prayer

I am often asked, “If you believe God works all things according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11) and that his knowledge of all things past, present, and future is infallible, then what is the point of praying that anything happen?” Usually this question is asked in relation to human decision: “If God has predestined some to be his sons and chosen them before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4,5), then what’s the point in praying for anyone’s conversion?”The implicit argument here is that if prayer is to be possible at all man must have the power of self-determination. That is, all man’s decisions must ultimately belong to himself, not God. For otherwise he is determined by God and all his decisions are really fixed in God’s eternal counsel. Let’s examine the reasonableness of this argument by reflecting on the example cited above.

God Decides Who Will Be Saved

1. “Why pray for anyone’s conversion if God has chosen before the foundation of the world who will be his sons?” A person in need of conversion is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1); he is “enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:17John 8:34); “the god of this world has blinded his mind that he might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians. 4:4); his heart is hardened against God (Ephesians 4:18) so that he is hostile to God and in rebellion against God’s will (Romans 8:7).

Now I would like to turn the question back to my questioner: If you insist that this man must have the power of ultimate self-determination, what is the point of praying for him? What do you want God to do for him? You can’t ask that God overcome the man’s rebellion, for rebellion is precisely what the man is now choosing, so that would mean God overcame his choice and took away his power of self-determination. But how can God save this man unless he act so as to change the man’s heart from hard hostility to tender trust?

Will you pray that God enlighten his mind so that he truly see the beauty of Christ and believe? If you pray this, you are in effect asking God no longer to leave the determination of the man’s will in his own power. You are asking God to do something within the man’s mind (or heart) so that he will surely see and believe. That is, you are conceding that the ultimatedetermination of the man’s decision to trust Christ is God’s, not merely his.

God’s Sovereignty Enables Prayer

What I am saying is that it is not the doctrine of God’s sovereignty which thwarts prayer for the conversion of sinners. On the contrary, it is the unbiblical notion of self-determination which would consistently put an end to all prayers for the lost. Prayer is a request that Goddo something. But the only thing God can do to save a lost sinner is to overcome his resistance to God. If you insist that he retain his self-determination, then you are insisting that he remain without Christ. For “no one can come to Christ unless it is given him from the Father” (John 6:6544).

Only the person who rejects human self-determination can consistently pray for God to save the lost. My prayer for unbelievers is that God will do for them what he did for Lydia: He opened her heart so that she gave heed to what Paul said (Acts 16:14). I will pray that God, who once said, “Let there be light!”, will by that same creative power “shine in their hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). I will pray that he will “take out their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). I will pray that they be born not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God (John 1:13). And with all my praying I will try to “be kind and to teach and correct with gentleness and patience, if perhaps God may grant them repentance and freedom from Satan’s snare” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

In short, I do not ask God to sit back and wait for my neighbor to decide to change. I do not suggest to God that he keep his distance lest his beauty become irresistible and violate my neighbor’s power of self-determination. No! I pray that he ravish my unbelieving neighbor with his beauty, that he unshackle the enslaved will, that he make the dead alive and that he suffer no resistance to stop him lest my neighbor perish.

The Relationship between Prayer and Evangelism

2. If someone now says, “O.K., granted that a person’s conversion is ultimately determined by God’ I still don’t see the point of your prayer. If God chose before the foundation of the world who would be converted, what function does your prayer have?” My answer is that it has a function like that of preaching: How shall the lost believe in whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear without a preacher, and how shall they preach unless they are sent (Romans 10:14f.)? Belief in Christ is a gift of God (John 6:652 Timothy 2:25;Ephesians 2:8), but God has ordained that the means by which men believe on Jesus is through the preaching of men.

It is simply naive to say that if no one spread the gospel, all those predestined to be sons of God (Ephesians 1:5) would be converted anyway. The reason this is naive is because it overlooks the fact that the preaching of the gospel is just as predestined as is the believingof the gospel: Paul was set apart for his preaching ministry before he was born (Galatians 1:15), as was Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5). Therefore, to ask, “If we don’t evangelize, will the elect be saved?” is like asking, “If there is no predestination, will the predestined be saved?” God knows those who are his and he will raise up messengers to win them. If someone refuses to be a part of that plan, because he dislikes the idea of being tampered with before he was born, then he will be the loser, not God and not the elect. “You will certainly carry out God’s purpose however you act but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.” (Problem of Pain chapter 7, Anthology, p 910, cf. p 80)

God Uses Means

Prayer is like preaching in that it is a human act also. It is a human act that God has ordained and which he delights in because it reflects the dependence of his creatures upon him. He has promised to respond to prayer, and his response is just as contingent upon our prayer as our prayer is in accordance with his will. “And this is the confidence which we have before him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). When we don’t know how to pray according to God’s will but desire it earnestly, “the Spirit of God intercedes for us according to the will of God” (Romans 8:27).

In other words, just as God will see to it that his Word is proclaimed as a means to saving the elect, so he will see to it that all those prayers are prayed which he has promised to respond to. I think Paul’s words in Romans 15:18 would apply equally well to his preaching and his praying ministry: “I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles.” Even our prayers are a gift from the one who “works in us that which is pleasing in his sight” (Hebrews 13:21). Oh, how grateful we should be that he has chosen us to be employed in this high service! How eager we should be to spend much time in prayer!

©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org

That’s what John Knox said of Scotland. I would say: To fall in love with your community, you have to die–to yourself, to the mission and to your own preferences.

If you are going to reach a community, you need to be deeply in love with it. Jesus, looking down on Jerusalem, cried, “They are like sheep without a shepherd.” We have to say the same, about Plainview, Philadelphia and Pasadena. I am convinced you will not reach a community for Christ unless you are deeply in love with the community and its people.

Think Like a Missionary

outreach-nov-dec.jpegI have often called for Christians in our world to think like missionaries in the Two-Thirds World. If you have ever been around a missionary, you know that the good ones all love the people they are sent to–they can’t stop talking about the culture and context.

When missionaries take up residence cross-culturally, they truly love the culture where they live, sometimes even more than the culture back home. In the same way, a person looking to minister in a specific community cannot be disinterested in it. If it is a fishing community, you had better love fishing or learn to love it. If the community has a high school football team, you had better keep up with it. If you are a church leader, the community and its people must have an important part in your heart.

I think you and I need the same passion in our contexts–our own personal “Scotlands”–for the Gospel.

Jesus demonstrated this very concept in His earthly ministry as He: walked with the people in His culture, lived with them, listened to them, told stories to them, welcomed their children, and recognized and met people’s needs.

The Church in Your Head

Too many church leaders read a book or go to a conference and get a great vision of a church in their heads. The problem is, they don’t have a great vision for their community. The catch here is that part of you often has to die. Your own preferences have to be laid down to receive Christ’s call and mission to the community. I don’t care what you like; I care that you love the Gospel and the people God has called you to reach. You may have to die to your desires–to pastoring a cool church in Manhattan or a laid back church in Southern California.

Leading the Church to Love

As a church leader, you must be willing to die to your preferences so your community can be reached with the Gospel, and so must your church. In established churches, this can be even more challenging than personally dying to self.

For the rest of the article…

This column first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of Outreach Magazine. The magazine has several excellent articles, including a cover story on evangelism that highlights some of our LifeWay Research.

From All Worship

If it can’t wash others, how will it wash you?

One night in a church service a young woman felt the tug of God at her heart. She responded to God’s call and accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior.

The young woman had a very rough past, involving alcohol, drugs, and prostitution. But, the change in her heart was evident.

As time went on she became a faithful member of the church. She eventually became involved in the ministry, teaching young children.

It was not very long until this faithful young woman caught the eye and heart of the pastor’s son. The relationship grew and they began to make wedding plans.

This is when the problems began. About half of the church did not think that a woman with a past such as hers was suitable for a pastor’s son. The church began to argue and fight about the matter.

So they decided to have a meeting. As the people made their arguments and tensions increased, the meeting got completely out of hand.

The young woman became very upset about all the things being brought up about her past.

As she began to cry, the pastor’s son stood to speak.

He could not bear the pain it was causing his wife-to-be. He began to speak.

“My fiancé’s past is not what is on trial here. What you are questioning is the ability of the blood of Jesus to wash away sin. Today you have put the blood of Jesus on trial. So, does His blood wash away sin or not?”

People throughout the church began to weep as they realized that they had been slandering the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Too often, even as Christians, we bring up the past and use it as a weapon against our brothers and sisters.

Forgiveness is a very foundational part of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If the blood of Jesus does not cleanse the other person completely, then it cannot cleanse us completely.

“So likewise shall My Father do also to you, if you from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” Mathew 18:35

–author unknown

 

Be persuaded, timid soul, that He has loved you too much to cease loving you.

Francois Fenelon (1651-1715)

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