Category Archives: influences

Finish the Book! 3 tips to becoming a reader and a list of where to start!

“Leaders are readers!” – Harry Truman. Leaders read books that engage their mind and challenge them to be better. Likewise, good pastors read books. Books about theology, history, practice, church ministry, and the like flood the desk of a good pastor. Good pastors will try to read a variety of books from a variety of perspectives and they will strive to understand viewpoints that are well beyond their personal opinions.

I can remember seeing the library of a particular pastor I had come to admire. He had three small rooms lined wall to wall with books, categorized according to topic. In addition to the walls lined with books, he had free-standing shelving that filled the empty space with more books. He was asked how many of these books he had actually read. He casually said, “Every book, cover to cover. With the exception of the reference works and commentaries.” The reference works and commentaries lined one wall of one of the three rooms. Then, pointing to a stack of about 10 books, he added, “Oh! And that stack on my desk. I’m reading those now.” Such a wealth of knowledge had made him a powerful pastor whose knowledge was used by the Holy Spirit to touch the hearts of all he came in contact with.

Contrast the aforementioned pastor with a particular pastor I knew in seminary. Having found him in the library, I asked if he had completed the assigned reading for the class. “Sure. I mean I got the gist of it.” Slightly appalled I asked for clarification. His response: “Oh, I didn’t actually finish the books. I mostly just skimmed them until I got the idea.” I didn’t understand! I was unaware that we could just skim a book and say we got the material down. Over the next few weeks of coursework, my friend began to fall behind in the class discussion. His lack of knowledge began to show and his ignorance of the subject matter drove him further and further into unengaged silence in the class. I cannot help but wonder the effect that failing to finish the books that are designed to equip him for the ministry has had on his pastoral ministry.

Don’t get me wrong. Many pastors are descent pastors in spite of not being strong readers. They love people and engage well. However, one cannot help but wonder how much more powerful they would be if they were disciplined readers. Reading is a matter of training your mind. I am assuming that most pastors are reading their Bibles in significant measure. If that assumption is wrong, then those pastors need to leave the ministry. In addition to the Scripture, pastors would benefit from reading other books as well.

I was not always a reader. I preferred a ball and a hoop on a blacktop over a book in a chair. Yet, God drove deep into my soul the understanding of my own need for discipleship and the wealth of spiritual discipleship available to me in books. As I began to pastor I started to realize that godly men had laid their souls out on page for me! So I began to read the works of Ravenhill, Edwards, Spurgeon, Tozer, Piper, Bonhoeffer, and Murray. I experienced in those authors words that have accelerated my spiritual growth. So, read dear brother! Read! If you are not a reader, here are three tips for getting started.

  1. Finish the book. There is nothing more tragic than reading 3/4th of an author’s labor only to quit near the end. Finish the work! If you have ever read the likes of AW Tozer or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you know that the last chapters are paramount to understanding their efforts. Tozer particularly tends to put his greatest and most passionate applications at the end of his works. Read to the end, or you may deprive yourself of the best part.
  2. Vary your reading. I try to read one book that is an easy read (usually about ministry practice), one book that is a heavy read (usually theology), and one book for fun (often a book I’ve already read). In this way, I’ll feed myself a well-rounded diet of thought. Further, vary your perspectives. Read the heretics. Even if you spend the whole book fighting with them, read them. As a pastor, you will find it invaluable to be able to explain to your congregation members why you disagree with prominent authors. Do not be afraid of the heretic, they are here to sharpen you.
  3. Start small. I sometimes find myself reading 4-6 books at a time. If you’re not used to reading and engaging texts, don’t do that. Start small. Read one book at a time. Make your first work something easy but engaging. I’d suggest something from the Christian living section of your bookstore. As you get your feet under you as a reader. Read something heavier. Perhaps a puritan? Maybe something by Tozer? Go ahead! Dive in! But start small.

If you are not used to reading consistently and finishing the whole book here is a short list of books to get you started. I’ve broken them into four phases to kind of stair step you into reading larger more weighty works. Hopefully these help.

Phase One: Tuning your mind to enjoy reading spiritual material.

  1. Crazy Love by Francis Chan
  2. More than a Carpenter by McDowell
  3. Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron
  4. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

Phase two: Learning to engage deeper (a little).

  1. Don’t Waste Your Life by Piper
  2. Basic Christianity by John Stott.
  3. Knowing God by J.I. Packer
  4. Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris

Phase Three: Moving Towards personal practice

  1. Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
  2. The Bravehearted Gospel by Eric Ludy
  3. Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
  4. Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray

Phase Four: Enjoying the journey of reading for worship.

  1. Heaven by Randy Alcorn
  2. The Holiness of God by RC Sproul
  3. Living in Light of Eternity by KP Yohannan
  4. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
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3 Things to Incorporate in Worship: Reasons for art as worship part 4

tim-marshall-76166-unsplashThe tears streamed down my face as I sought for reason. My mind, racing, was not able to process the mercy set before me and my heart offered no reprieve from the overwhelming emotion welling up inside me. I could not comprehend the feelings and despair within my soul. The expression of my heart could not be explained in a simple paragraph. I needed an exposition that resonated with the soul and not just the mind. I needed a psalm that would cross the divide of the intellect and provide a glimpse into the soul. I needed God’s creative expression. I needed Him to speak to me in art.

G.K. Chesterton asserts that “poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger [of madness] does lie in logic, not in imagination… The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.” –Chesterton’s Orthodoxy

slice-of-heaven-horizontal-abstract-art-jaison-cianelliG.K. Chesterton, no matter the historical accuracy of his claim, makes a good point. It is in poetry and art that we are lifted to heaven. It is the imaginings of God’s glory that set us free to soar upon the wings of the unmerited favor of God! When we face those moments of despair and find ourselves in deep need of a vision of God’s glory, logic and reason often fall flat. In these moments of tremendous anxiety and difficulty, God offers a balm for the soul through art. The expressions we find in art lifts our soul, causing us to ascend into the heavens – where we can engage the presence of God beyond the trappings of the earth. Art has a way of exalting the human frame to otherwise unattainable heights. Art has a way of answering the desperate longing of the soul for expressions beyond reason and logic.

 

In light of this profound reality, I’d like to suggest three things you can add to your corporate and private worship.

NUYO-2

 

  1. Poetry draws the hearer to engage. It requires mental energy. In this way, poetry is difficult. Yet, the same difficulty required in order to engage with poetry is also fueled by the very same activity. As a worshiper invests their mind in the activity of poetic engagement, so the mind is raised to new heights and the soul is given the fire of deep and abiding joy! So use poetry… not merely as an illustration for a sermon or as a delivery system for an ideology. No, use poetry in your worship. Read it aloud, encourage your people to write and share it, make strides to sculpt and craft your transitions in a poetic manner.yannis-papanastasopoulos-586848-unsplash
  2. There are members of your congregation that do not sing. There is a silent, underutilized expression that rests in the heart of someone in your congregation. Free their expression to exalt the Most High! Encourage members to produce artwork and then give them space to display it. As you do this, you will see your people engaging the Lord and each other in a new and liberating way. Further, you will give voice to the hearts of some of the most profound theologians in your church. Not everyone sings, not everyone gives speeches… some have another unique ability to express themselves.
  3. Opportunities for verbal praise. Occasionally in our congregation, we will ask our people to verbalize something about God or prayers in short sentences. For example we will say, “let’s proclaim the greatness of our God! Speak out something glorious about Him.” Then someone will say something like, “Lord You are merciful!” and someone else will follow, “Lord You are mighty!” So the praise begins to echo around the room and individuals praise openly. This is a powerful aid to the worship of the soul.

God has given you many creative outlets to incorporate in worship. Any I missed that you would encourage!? Put them in the comments, I’d like to stretch more.

For an example of poetry and art that can be used in worship I have attempted to journey within this reality through these two works:

ReCreated_4Re-created; a poetic walk through the gospel of John. This is a poetic exegesis of the Gospel of John. It is the fruit of a two-year journey through the Gospel.
If you’d like to order this work,
it is available at Amazon.com here and at Lulu.com here.
For a specially discounted copy, comment on this blog with an email address and I’ll send you a link.

The Bird’s Psalm:
TheBirdPsalmcover85kdp copyThis is a short poem with sketches of a bird that is the result of my own personal worship times in the course of 3 days.
available at Lulu.com for $4.80 here
and at Amazon.com for $6 here

The Pastor’s Role in Art as Worship. Reasons for Art as Worship, pt. 3

(This is part of a series. The first two installments are here and here.

Pastors have a great many tools by which they can serve, teach, and love their congregation. Preaching, prayer, writing, one on one counseling, hospitality, acts of service, leadership, administrative tasks, etc…  All exist in the toolbox of the pastor for the sake of accomplishing the equipping of the body of Christ. In many modern churches, preaching is the primary tool that is used to engage the congregation and is often supplemented by blogs, writing, and activities designed to aid in discipleship. Pastors are adept at these tools and we frequently use them in powerful and meaningful ways. In our modern church, the pulpit is used mightily and songs are frequently used to enhance the ministry of the pulpit. Yet, there is another tool that the Christian community appears to have forgotten. That is: art.

Art as worship is not new

ricardo-gomez-angel-367741-unsplashArt is not a new tool in the discipleship of Christians. Francis of Assisi, Jerome, and even Luther recognized the power of art for the discipleship and worship within the Church. Ancient churches were covered with stained glass, paintings, and statues that were used to instruct and inspire! In Christian history, art was used to magnify God through worship, teach people of His great character, and even evangelize those who do not know the truth. One cannot study art history without recognizing the dominant themes of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the day of judgment, and the creative power of God. Art was used to teach, inspire worship, heal, and even console the believer in times of turmoil. Yet, in modern churches, we have reduced the use of art to backgrounds on a screen or environmental lighting.

Art is a tool for worship

markus-spiske-378490-unsplashArt can be a profound tool that can provide a balm to the soul of longing Christian. To gaze in wonder at a piece that is designed to glory in the character and nature of God, or to wander through a poem that challenges the intellect and engages the soul, or to rejoice in the motion of a dance that tells the story of redemption can engage the soul on a level that a sermon of solid conversation cannot. It cannot because it lacks the freedom to uniquely engage the audience without explanation. A freedom found in most clearly in works of art. Two people can be moved in completely unique ways by a piece of art. One can see the beauty and majesty of God in the rendering of a landscape while another can be deeply moved by the courageous-loneliness of a tree within the field of that same landscape.

The Pastor’s responsibility to utilize art.

The pastor of the local church has a profound responsibility in discipleship of their congregation. We are commissioned to love and train the souls of people. We must use all the tools afforded to us and sometimes that means stretching ourselves beyond our ability or preferences. In order to do this, I believe pastors must re-shape the way we think about our role. We must begin to understand our role within our congregation to include: pastor as creative artist, pastor as curator, and pastor as conductor.

  1. tim-wright-506560Pastors as Creative Artist: If we are to teach our people to utilize art in worship, we must model it. You don’t have to be a good artist to model a striving to utilize art in worship. Especially in your personal worship. Draw pictures, use visual aids when you teach, read poetry, exhibit a thirst for material that challenges the intellect and soul without blandly explaining every aspect of itself. Art engages through mystery and expression! As you strive to engage the Lord beyond words, your soul will be strengthened and your ability to lead your people to worship will be enhanced. It might be difficult to do, but your congregation will benefit from the artistic/poetic soul that will result through engaging them on a level beyond their own ability to verbally express themselves. Show them that they can create worship beyond words! Strive to model art as worship through your own efforts.
  2. dev-benjamin-219172-unsplashPastor as Curator: Pastors must curate art as worship. So you can’t paint, draw, or write poetry, and rhythm and message of dance escapes your ability. If you desire to use artistic expressions to teach your people, engage your people in worship, or provide some salve to the soul of your brothers and sisters, then stretch yourself by studying and curating a volume of art that engages the soul. Study art! (Some recommending readings are at the end of this article.) Collect a compendium of poetry, artwork, and performances that exalt the name of God in powerful ways. Then, when your people are in need of inspiration, healing, or teaching, you will have more than just an exposition. You will have an aid to your exposition that will inspire them to worship beyond your ability to verbalize God’s character.
  3. radek-grzybowski-74331-unsplashPastor as Conductor: While you may not be a competent artist, you are surrounded by people who are. I say that in utter confidence, you ARE surrounded by artists. You must enable them to express themselves. You must conduct the worship of your congregation by utilizing the gifts of your people in worship. A conductor does not play every instrument. The conductor directs the combination of the various artists to make one expression. Likewise, the pastor needs to find creative ways to combine the expressions of the various members of the congregation to display Christ! Dig deep into the expressive talents of your people. Equip your people to engage their souls in worship to God! Even if you don’t understand art and it does not resonate with you. It resonates with someone in your congregation!

Pastor, you are a talker… I get it. I’m a talker too. I preach and I value preaching. I engage the Lord through expository sermons and classic hymns of the faith. I like to read weighty theological books and sermons by old dead preachers. And still, I must recognize that my congregation is not going to be solely comprised of people who respond to reading a theological treatise on the impassibility of God or the theologically rich hymns of Martin Luther. There will be some who engage beyond words. They paint, draw, ponder, dance, create, and provide a richness to worship that is valuable and necessary to the empowerment of your congregation and the engagement of a lost world. Stretch yourself! Pastor, this is not about you! Get over your hang-ups and conduct worship, curate volumes of great art, and create expressions of art for your congregation. They will be stronger Christians because of it and you will engage the lost world on a level you would otherwise fail to realize.

What do you think? Is there another role that the pastor can play to help engage the congregation in this unique way? put it in the comments.

chasin francisChasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale by Ian Morgan Cron 

Chasing Francis is an excellent fictional story about a mega-church pastor who leaves the ministry and is forced to re-evaluate ministry in the face of changing paradigms. He goes on a journey in which he learns about Francis of Assisi and rediscovers what church is.

Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life by Makoto Fujimurafujimura

Culture care is an excellent treatise on engaging culture beyond mere words. Many bemoan the decay of culture. But we all have a responsibility to care for culture, to nurture it in ways that help people thrive. Artist Makoto Fujimura issues a call to cultural stewardship, in which we become generative and feed our culture’s soul with beauty, creativity, and generosity. We serve others as cultural custodians of the future.

ReCreated_4Re-Created: A Poetic Walk Through The Gospel of John by J. Novis Elkins

Re-Created is my own offering to exemplify the gospel through artistic expression. It is a book of poetry intended to be read alongside the gospel of John. As the reader walks through the Gospel, it is my hope that they will encounter Jesus in a fresh and powerful new way.

Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In his letters and papers from prison, Bonhoeffer expresses the value of art in worship. He wrote poems and hymns while imprisoned and models for us the artistic soul of a Christian in captivity. That is a soul that can never really be held captive by anything other than Christ.

piperThe Misery of Job and the Mercy of God by John Piper

This book was my first introduction to the pastor’s use of art to shepherd and teach. Piper lays out a fantastic example of how to utilize poetry and art in worship. It is worth your time and labor to engage with poetry. John Piper is not an artist. His poems are simple and easy to access. He is a pastor who models the use of art in the ministry.

Reasons for Art as Worship pt. 2

This is part 2 of a series on art as worship. You can find the first one here.

Before I begin, I’d like to clarify: I am not talking about representations or images of God in this article. That is a necessary debate, but not one I am going to undertake at this time. This blog is about utilizing artistic expression in worship. Images of God is a different subject. For a full discussion on that topic, see J.I. Packer’s wonderful work: Knowing God.

As stated in the first article of this series: modern church culture has diminished the value and beauty of art. That is not to say art does not exist in churches or is not utilized. Many churches have embraced performance arts and strive to create atmosphere through lights, worship backgrounds, and décor. However, few have sought out how to engage and lead their congregations to worship in and through art. Yet artistic expression offers the pastor/leader a powerful tool to engage and shepherd the congregation. As I see it, there are at least four different reasons art could benefit our worship.

logic-vs-emotionFirst, art has the ability to engage mind and heart simultaneously. When a person truly engages with art, the mind and heart are both engaged. Art has a special way of conveying emotion and expression that can be interpreted by the viewer. The interpretation is seldom directed, though good art delivers a clear but profound message. Artworks (both performance and static) are observed, seldom explained, and invitational. Good art invites the reader to interpret as they observe. As such, the observer must enter into engagement with the work. Indeed, the Psalmist exclaims God’s greatness through admiration for The LORD’s art in Psalm 8 (c.f. Psalm 92, 102, and 143). When we consider the “work of the hands,” our mind are called to think about what the work communicates. Our heart must search for the application of the work. We find ourselves engaging with the work and responding accordingly. We become the interpreter of the effort and thereby engage in worship.

togetherSecond, art offers an expression that is unique and can express the heart of the individual in a powerful and deeply personal manner. From the artists’ perspective, the production of art allows for individual expression of worship. All people are different. All people are given different gifts (c.f. 1 Cor. 12). A brief study of the tabernacle will reveal that there were many artisans God called and empowered to build and design the tabernacle (Exodus 36). Think about how powerful it would be if churches empowered the artists in their midst to produce art as an act of worship! We would add yet another method to worship the Triune God. We are a vast and multi-talented cast of worshipers! Worship should not be restricted only to those who sing and speak. Local churches ought to reflect the talents that God has given in praise to His name.

Third, art offers a mode of expression that engages senses differently than merely singing, speaking, or listening. In a typical church, there is music and speech. If your church is wealthy enough to add graphics and lighting, there will also be some supportive artistic expression. Graphic arts and setting the atmosphere for worship are valued to some degree in some churches. However, they are seldom considered an act of worship in themselves… only support to worship. It is my contention that churches should think deeply about the art they produce and consider going beyond simply utilizing worship backgrounds. Produce art that can hang and be observed and engaged with. There was a time when even the windows of our churches were efforts to praise God! Produce art that is performed and can inspire the soul. When someone sings, the hearer and the singer are blessed with the beauty of the music, the meaning of the words, and the joining in the song. So our hearts and minds are engaged through our ears and voice. We can do more. We can engage through sight, smell, and touch as well. Art can provide an avenue in which to do that.

DSC00132Fourth, art allows for new corporate expressions of worship that can be blended in a tangible and powerful illustration of the Christian life. When I was a student pastor I used art as an instructional tool to teach students about corporate worship. (You can read those articles here: part 1, part 2.) Painting a large canvas together is a unique way to teach about worship and to train your people to worship well. It stretches our sensibilities to engage in worship with these unique means. We serve a great and transcendent God! Our worship should stretch us. Artistic expressions that stretch us are powerful opportunities for worship.

Art is beautiful in its uniqueness and presentation in a way that no other expression could be. We should produce art as worship for the sake of praising God through beauty. Artistic expressions in our congregation ought not to be diminished but heralded. We must raise the bar for worship. There are expressions that are tremendously powerful and that can ignite the soul that are being under-utilized because we have become artistically illiterate. This can change and our congregations will be the better for it.

If you would like to examine some stretches in worship, I have a few suggestions:

natashas book

First, check out my friend Natasha Miller’s work. She has written a devotional journal that is accompanied by music. The work journal itself is beautiful and the music that accompanies it is inspiring. You can purchase her work here.

 

ReCreated_4

Second, I wrote a book of poetry through the Gospel of John. The poetry and art are my attempt to worship the Lord through artistic expression. You can find it for purchase at Amazon or at Lulu.com.

Finally, I would encourage you to examine the works of Makoto Fujimura. His art will certainly stretch you. A word of warning, his work requires that you linger and let your eyes settle on it in order to adjust to the layers and beauty of the piece.

mako4

O, Christian… Stretch! Stretch yourself in this way, you will be more powerful as a worshiper if you do.

 

Reasons for Art as Worship pt. 1

Modern western Christianity has lost a great foothold that once was a bulwark and balm of Christian discipleship. There was a time in Christian history when the Christian community’s senses were engaged and the mind was elevated to new heights because of the efforts of its adherents to worship the Lord in unique ways. joel-filipe-191372There was a day when we sought to learn of God through the arts and worship Him through artistic expression. We commissioned art, lead society into deep thoughts and engagement with the arts, and even sought to express theology through in our artistic works. Christians once lead the world in expression through the arts. Yet, modern Christians have reduced the Christian’s artistic expression to paintings with crosses in them and songs with short memorable choruses. This should not be! Art of all kinds should spill out from the heart of the Christian community.

There are many reasons to embrace artistic expression in b

oth corporate and private worship. One of the reasons is the infinite character of our God.

300px-Olsen_O_Jerusalem_small

 

  1. God is infinitely creative, therefore his people ought to strive to reflect that creativity. Consider for a moment that God created the earth from nothing and that He commanded man to expand His image across that earth. In the expansion of His image across the earth, that same creativity of God that birthed life must also be reflected in subduing the earth. Likewise, Christians ought to exemplify the creativity of God, for they are the redeemed image of God incarnate! If we claim that Christ has redeemed and changed us, we must display His creativity.
  2. God is infinitely vast, therefore there is no exhaustion of him as a motive for and source of our own creativity. O Christian, if you will try to exhaust the character of God, you will find yourself creating art and beauty that exceeds the scope of understanding. Art has a unique way of simultaneously expanding a mystery and providing intricacy. Unlike almost every other form of expression, artistic works do not narrow the field of view but expand it. Thus, we create art, not to try to narrow our understanding of God, but to expand it. As the expression of worship grows and develops, so our view and understanding of God grows.
  3. God is infinitely expressive, therefore those who claim to know Him ought to create expressions of infinite variety. If we are God’s people, then our communities should produce a variety of worshipful expressions. Poetry, dance, paintings, graphic arts, speeches, music, and anything else imaginable ought to be manifest in the worship of believers, be it corporate or individual. God created you to be His image. That image was marred in the fall. Now, in Jesus, He is re-creating you (Col. 3:9-10). So, be His image bearers and express His character in infinite methodologies.
  4. God is infinitely distinctive, therefore the expression of His glory and character must be infinitely unique. There is never a sunset repeated. There is never a moment the exact same. There is never a cloud that is perfectly mirrored in another. God produces a unique product! Further, there is no copy of Him. There is no other God like Him. Even when someone attempts to copy, mirror, or represent God, the effort is always wholly inadequate. God cannot be replicated, He is too unique and the more we get to know Him, the more distinctive He becomes. He is like none other! Therefore, when we are producing art in praise of the most creative, vast, expressive, and unique being, we must be unique. Worship must be distinctive. Artistic expressions allow for that distinct nature in a way that no other form of expression can.

tim-wright-506560There is much more to say about The Infinite God. What other infinite qualities would you argue for? Put it in the comments. Our communities must recapture the arts. For too long the arts have been the domain of the secular world, it is time we make some waves and produce art for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ! So, what are you waiting for? Go grab a sketch pad, notebook, musical instrument, dance shoes, or computer and create! Express praise to God through the arts.

I have contributed some to this effort most recently by producing a book of sketches and poetry. You can check it out here.

If you’re interested, you can purchase the book

here: Lulu.com  (Use promo code: BOOKSHIP18 for 10 percent off plus free shipping)

or here: Amazon.com

 

 

Dear Christian, how long will you go limping between two different opinions? – I Kings 18:21

In 1 Kings 18:17-41, Elijah levels the charge against the people of Israel and their king. He calls out the king and the people for worshiping the false fertility god Baal, demanding they choose between Baal and the LORD. The people must choose! Either submit to the will of the LORD and believe in Him, or follow your own passions and find your help in the worthless Baal.

He stood before the people of Israel to display the Lord’s might, proposing a competition between the LORD and Baal. Which god would answer? The fertility god Baal or the LORD, God of all. Baal was a god that promised fertility and sexual satisfaction. Cultic prostitution and sexual deviance were normative parts of worship within the cult of Baal. As such, the LORD, God of the Hebrews, stands in total opposition to the worship of Baal. The Law of God condemned the very acts of religious fealty in Baal’s religious cultic worship. Two bulls were prepared and Baal could go first. Let your god light the fire.

The 450 men of Baal prepared their altar and pleaded with their god to answer their cries. They danced, begged, preformed rituals, and even cut themselves to bring from their god the desired outcome of fire from heaven. Yet, nothing came. The spectacle went on for hours as Elijah taunted them, fanning their furious attempts to call forth fire from the heavens. The prophets used knives cutting deep into their own flesh and the flesh of others in desperate pleas to secure the answer. Still… silence. All day they worked to call their God to appease their desires. Still… nothing… their god could not bring fire.

The prophets of Baal trusted in that which could not bring fire. They mutilated themselves and begged their god to answer and yet they received nothing. As you read this account in the Bible, you get the feeling that no one has ever challenged these prophets on this scale before. No one says anything save Elijah, who simply taunts them. The entire nation is gathered to watch and sits enraptured, waiting for Baal to answer. The prophets obviously expected their god to answer. Hours of desperation and embarrassment, yet the prophets persist.

This devotion to the false gods of sexual indulgence is not uncommon in our own culture. Promiscuity is the norm and deviant sexual behavior is lauded and even heralded as entertaining (e.g. the 50 shades series). Men and women will spend hours indulging in pornography hoping it will bring fire that will satisfy. They will cut themselves, ruin their relationships, and beg and plead for their false gods to bring fire. The more they beg and plead for their false god to answer, the deeper their despair grows and the more ruinous their scars become. The result of such false worship is a “limping” life. “How long will you go on limping…” (1 Kings 18:21). Elijah recognized the result of such wicked hypocrisy: a limping, unsuccessful life.

Like the prophets of Baal, sinful sexual indulgence works until it is challenged. The moment you confront this false god with an actual need for satisfaction, the god can’t answer. In private, as a prophet of the false god, you can pretend. But, once you need actual satisfaction, the horrific reality sets in and you begin to ruin yourself and everyone around you calling on the false god to answer your need for fire. Pornography and sexual deviance are destructive. These practices destroy intimacy, silence truth, emasculate men, and objectify women. Those who indulge in such activities cause irreparable harm to their own psyche and bring permanent damage to their own ability to relate to others. Further, pornography is fiction! It is an illusion that does not actually satisfy. Finally, these practices pervert the glorious picture of sexual intimacy that God created and thereby damage the person’s ability to engage in the worship of the One True God! Like the worship of Baal, our own modern sexual idolatry has left American Christianity limping and weak.

Now, someone will argue that it is not fair to call someone who indulges in private one of the prophets of Baal. However, remember the beginning of the story. Elijah says, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” [1] Elijah is calling the people of Israel to account. He is not attacking the worship leaders of Baal in his challenge. He is attacking the adherents to the religious activity. Indeed, he is challenging the nation of Israel asking them how long they will persist in worshiping Baal and Yahweh. So this display of mutilation and self-destruction in an attempt to get the false god’s attention is meant for those who would vacillate between two opinions. It is an example for those who would worship Christ and harbor within themselves a worship of false gods. It is for those who have split allegiance. It is intended for us.

Consider for a moment the fruit of seeking satisfaction in the false god of pornography.

  1. You will go on limping in life. You will not run so long as you are tethered to the false fertility god.
  2. You will seek satisfaction that will never bring true fire. While you may convince yourself that you have been satisfied in secret, you will forever stand beside a rotting corpse hoping for fire to fall.
  3. You will do damage to yourself. Just like the prophets cut themselves, so you will scar yourself and leave wounds on your soul that may never fully heal.
  4. You will be angry at the Saints when you are not satisfied and they are. You will feel mocked and scorned when your god does not answer.
  5. You will be ashamed. No need to elaborate on this one.
  6. You will die. If you are a believer, this particular half way worship of Jesus will kill your zeal for Christ. You cannot worship God and sex.

Now let’s consider Elijah’s response to Baal.

Baal’s prophets stand embarrassed after hours of labor. Exhausted and wasted, they watch as Elijah takes the crowd’s attention.

First Elijah rebuilds the altar of the Lord. He does not create a new altar, nor divine some fancy new method for defeating Baal. He rests on the strength of the worship that the Lord has commanded. He rebuilds and places his sacrifice on what God has already set in place. Oh Christian, if you are to claim victory over sin and feel the fire of God fall from the heavens to ignite your soul, you must rely on the altar He has already placed before you. You must rely on Christ’s word. Lay your hopes and sacrifices upon the altar of the Word of God… no other counsel will lead you to overcoming.

Second, Elijah finds his identity in the Lord’s calling of Israel. He rebuilt the altar with 12 stones signifying the 12 tribes of Israel. If we are to defeat sin, we must remember that we belong to Him and are called to Him by Him (c.f. John 6:35-40 and John 10:27). It is paramount that you remember that you do not belong to sin any longer. You are claimed as His own, one of His tribe. You are Christ’s now. If you have trusted in Jesus for salvation, you are no longer slave to sin (c.f. Romans 6 and Ephesians 2:1-10).

Third, Elijah covered the sacrifice with water. We must expect greater things from the One True God. Our requests of Him are so superfluous that we should be ashamed. It is as if we have asked for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when offered any meal we desire prepared by the greatest chef in existence. Perhaps the reason you have not overcome your sin is because you simply have not asked. Or perhaps you do not trust that God can satisfy your needs. Do you really think that your sexual desires are beyond His ability to fulfill? Do you think it’s not within the Lord’s realm of provision? Ask the Lord to provide for you in this way. I have seen many marriages rekindled by such a request. Elijah set his sacrifice up with impossible odds stacked against God Almighty! Yet still… fire fell! He will answer you as well.

Fourth, Elijah prays a simple prayer, asking that the Lord would answer him. His request is that God would answer him so that others would see and that others would be drawn to repent. This is our purpose for life, that the Lord’s name would be made great in us. However, so long as we vacillate between two opinions, we will not rest in the provision of God.

Finally, Elijah kills the false prophets. Pornography must die. It’s that simple, Christian. You must make war on sin and kill the pornographic influences in your life. If you want a life that revels in the power and provision of God, you must be devoted to Christ. Otherwise, you will spend all your time being called to a singular devotion rather than living in it.

 

Impossible Prayers

Recently I was challenged by a message by Eric Ludy. He spoke in the message about praying “impossible prayers.” His challenge to the congregation was to pray in accordance with God’s character. God is immense! God created and sustains all things. He is powerful beyond what we could ever think or imagine. So, if we believe this, our prayers must exist in accordance with this truth.

At Sovereign Grace Fellowship, We’ve asked all the members to join in by making a list of a few impossible prayers that they can pray. What is so powerful about prayer is that God uses it to change the pray-er. Not only does prayer affect the circumstances that one prays about, it also affects the one who is doing the praying. I thought I’d share some of my impossible prayers below as well as some of the effects that have resulted within me from praying this way.

  1. I pray that everyone who lives on my street would become believers in Christ Jesus. As I have prayed this, I find myself speaking more openly to my neighbors. I will see them outside and, instead of a simple wave and walk inside, I approach with the intent of spiritual conversation. This has extended beyond just my neighbors. I find myself talking about deep things with more and more people as I pray this prayer. The cashier at the store, the guy walking along the road, the city worker… every person I see and talk to becomes a valuable deep conversation. I’ve become “that guy.” My evangelistic zeal has increased as I beg the Lord to save my street.
  2. I pray that starvation and poverty would be eradicated in the United States and then that our country would use it’s resources to do the same in the rest of the world. As I have begun to pray for this on a regular basis, my own sense of gratitude has been developed. Sitting down to a meal, in a house is a pretty big deal now. The sorrow I feel for those who don’t have a place is only eclipsed by the gratitude that grows in me. I also have been more attentive to the needs of those who do not have food or a home. I know that I am more sensitive to the hunger of others now. I know that, though I have little, I have some and can help others who have none.
  3. I pray that every church in the west would teach the gospel with clarity and that the church would look completely different from the world. This prayer has made me less concerned with my own church’s numeric success. It has made me much more concerned with the salvation of souls and the discipleship of Christians. This prayer is really not a new one. It has kind of been a cornerstone of my life since the age of 22… So when we started SGF, we incorporated prayer for another church every Sunday. We receive no material benefit from these churches and we have no special connection to them other than Kingdom work. With our limited resources and size, we strive to partner with others in the gospel ministry in this way. As I have prayed for every church to teach and live out the gospel in a way that changes the perception of the church in the west, I find myself evaluating other churches based on their Kingdom efforts. Buildings, membership, and programs no longer impress. But, Kingdom work – that selfless effort of Christians to proclaim the gospel with no material benefit to ourselves, is all that matters.

So what are some impossible prayers you pray!? Post them in the comments.

Featured Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash