How to Pray a Prayer of Lament

This Sunday we started at 6-week series on the book of Lamentations. Although every Christian goes through periods of grief or profound sadness, we are pretty unpracticed with the biblical concept of lament. In this series we’re going to see how a four-step process frames the idea of faithful lament. Each of these are necessary to turn raw and powerful emotion into worship of a wonderful God.

TURN to God in prayer. Just by going to God with our grief, we are doing something distinctly Christian. It says that, no matter the sheer weight of emotion we feel, we are going to approach God with our fear or anxiety, not run to something else. When looking at Psalms of lament or Lamentations itself, it might be easy to miss this first step. But typically, just the very act of writing a prayer illustrates the turn to God the author took in the first place. When we turn to God, we are rehearsing an ancient biblical practice of faithfulness even in trials.

COMPLAIN to God about the effects of sin and brokenness. Complaining to God sounds a bit contradictory to what we’re taught about him. Who are we to complain to our sovereign God, the one who sent his Son to die for us? But a complaint is not simply whining about our situation. It is bringing to our Lord and Father something which is causing great distress in our lives. It is to say that we are feeling the effects of sin and our fallen world in a very specific way. Our complaint might be the loss of a job, or a recent medical diagnosis. It could be a family member’s death, or the rejection of Jesus by someone we love. But the common thread of lament is the proclamation to God that something is wrong and broken in our lives, and we need him desperately.

ASK for God to bring healing and wholeness. If God desires children who are bold enough to bring complaints, he surely expects them to ask for him to help them as well. By requesting to God that he heal our pain or cure our sickness, we lay bare the fact that we cannot fix our situation on our own. By asking for God’s help, we are confessing our own weakness. It is a realization that, in our human brokenness, we are utterly dependent upon a God who is capable where we are not.

TRUST that God will fulfill his promise and stay true to his character. As Mark Vroegrop says (and more on him below), if you never get to the trust part, you’ve only been really sad for a certain time. Trust in God means that we believe what God says about himself and what he will do. This is where we as readers in 2020 have a huge advantage, even over the authors of the OT books. When David or Solomon wrote their prayers of lament, they trusted that God would deliver them in some form, a Messiah who would redeem Israel. But over 2,000 years later, we as Christians know exactly how God’s promise was fulfilled. It was in the person of Jesus Christ, sent by God to live and die and rise again. He was (and still is!) the great hope for all of God’s people, and we can say today that we trust in God’s promises and his character because we have already seen it come through in the biggest way- through the Messiah himself.

We wrapped up this week’s sermon with a lament prayer of our own. In it we turned to God because we have nowhere else to God, complained to God about the brokenness felt in our world and in our own lives, asked God to be near from us in our pain, and trusted in the grace we have already experienced through Jesus.

A Prayer of Lament

Oh Lord our God,
To you we cry out,
To you we run,
For where else would we go?

We feel the weight of our broken world,
Through wars, famines, and disasters,
In injustice, hatred, and oppression.
The nations desperately need your deliverance.

We weep at our own brokenness
For the guilt, shame, and pain we feel
Weighed down by sin, held back by fear
We mourn our distance from you.

Be near to us, Oh God
Remember not our sin or failures
Reveal your Kingdom to our hearts and our community
Restore us to an awareness of your presence.

But, we have experienced your grace
And we will experience your restoration
Through your atoning death our sins are forgiven
And in your return we will be made whole.


Finally, a very helpful resource used in preparation for this series was Mark Vroegop’s Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, published earlier this year. Mark is a pastor in Indianapolis, and he wrote the book after preaching through Lamentations and the lament prayers from Job and Psalms. He also gave a talk at the 2019 TGC National Conference, which is a great audio resource on the topic of lament. In both the book and the podcast, he walks through the concept of Turn, Complain, Ask & Trust, so that we can become more proficient at this ancient and faithful Christian practice.

The Common Rule

Last Sunday we preached our vision sermon for 2020 focusing on how being a healthy church will naturally flow out of it having healthy members.  That sermon is linked here. One of the things we discussed was the daily and weekly habits proposed by Justin Earley in his book, The Common Rule.  In it he offers eight habits, either daily or weekly, that would help us to find clarity and purpose when things like distraction and “busy-ness” feel so overwhelming.  

The Habits of  The Common Rule  (IVP)

We don’t necessarily recommend tackling all eight of these habits at once, but just adding one to your rhythm and seeing how God uses it to speak to you in a new, powerful way.  At his website, Justin offers a short video explanation on each of the eight habits he wrote about, if you would like to know more. We pray that we become a people driven by gospel intentionality and purpose, and that our church grows out of the health of its people in the 2020 and the years beyond it.

Resources for Advent, 2019

December 1st marks the beginning of Advent. Advent (taken from the Latin for “arrival,” or “coming”) is the annual time in the church calendar where we look back to the first coming of Christ on Christmas and forward to the second coming of Christ when He fully consummates His Kingdom.

As a church we are prayerfully asking the Holy Spirit to orient our hearts away from religious activities that only create the appearance of godliness (2 Timothy 3:5), and towards an authentic and life-transforming worship of Jesus as the King of Kings. Our hope is that over the course of the twenty-five days of Advent we can collectively participate in two formative practices that will serve to orient our affections towards Jesus. The practices are:

Scripture Before Phone
For most of us, our day begins by reaching for our phone first thing, checking texts, email, news, and social media. This habit has a formative practice of its own, training us to find worth/value/significance in the messages that our phone sends us. But our souls have a far greater need to hear from Jesus. So, as a church family we are going to commit to reach for our Bibles every morning before we touch our phone. This discipline will remind us that what God says about Himself (and about us) is far more important as we begin our day.

An excellent resource on this practice is Justin Earley’s book, The Common Rule. He has put together many helpful resources on “Scripture Before Phone” that can be accessed on his website, including a short summary of the practice, and a video explaining why the discipline is important.

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, by John Piper
We have purchased a copy of John Piper’s book, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy for each household in our church (so make sure to grab one Sunday!). This short devotional has a reading for each day of Advent and only takes a few minutes to read aloud. Our hope is that we would read these devotionals over a meal (with your children, roommates, or coworkers) as a daily reminder of why Christmas is so significant. If you would prefer an electronic copy one can be dowloaded for free here.

As I mentioned above, our hope is that every person in our church family would participate in these two practices this Advent season, so that we can collectively experience the joy of Christmas in a fresh way. Let us all be praying that our church would not be a place with the mere “appearance of godliness,” or a place where we only “play church,” but rather that we would be a people transformed and strengthened by the authentic grace of Jesus.

Resources For Studying 2 Timothy

We desire to be a place where we can gather to encounter the person of Jesus through the transforming study of His Word, and to that end the vast majority of our sermons are verse-by-verse studies through whole books of the Bible. Last Sunday we began a seven week study of the book of 2 Timothy, and in order to glean as much from this amazing book as possible we want to share some additional resources. Our ultimate authority should always be the written Word of God, but secondary literature can help to expand our knowledge and understanding of what was written. This will fuel our love of the Bible when we devote time to comprehend it better. Below is a compiled list of resources about the book of 2 Timothy.

  • As an overview of the book of 2 Timothy, The Bible Project has a great video, you can watch here.
  • Additionally, Nancy Guthrie talks with John Currie about how to teach the book of 2 Timothy in a podcast interview. She also provides additional written resources on 2 Timothy.
  • John Stott wrote an amazing commentary on 2 Timothy and I would highly encourage you to spend some time reading it! You can purchase it here

Let’s all be in prayer for our church that this study would be used by the Holy Spirit to grow our affection for God and His Word, and enable us to better proclaim His truth to our neighbors!

Resources for Studying Malachi

We desire to be a place where we can gather to encounter the person of Jesus through the transforming study of His Word, and to that end the vast majority of our sermons are verse-by-verse studies through whole books of the Bible. On May 19th we will begin a seven week study of the book of Malachi, and in order to glean as much from this amazing book as possible we want to share some additional resources. Our ultimate authority should always be the written Word of God, the Bible, but secondary literature can help to expand our knowledge and understanding of what was written. This will fuel our love of the Bible when we devote time to comprehend it better. Below is a compiled list of secondary literature about the book of Malachi that speaks to this fascinating prophetic book.

  • As an overview of the book of Malachi, The Bible Project has a great video, you can watch here.
  • Additionally, Nancy Guthrie talks with Lee Gatiss about how to teach the book of Malachi in a podcast interview. She also provides additional audio and written resources on Malachi.
  • Peter Adam wrote an amazing commentary on Malachi and I would highly encourage you to spend some time reading it! You can purchase it here.

Let’s all be in prayer for our church that this study would be used by the Holy Spirit to grow our affection for God and His Word, and enable us to better proclaim His truth to our neighbors!

Lent 2019

Lent

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are at the very heart of Christianity. It is by means of these truths that we come into an understanding of our rescue. A rescue brought about by God as He has acted in history to conquer evil and reconcile sinners to himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. For those who find their identity in that truth, they have been united with Christ in His death and will one day be united with Him in His resurrection.

Romans 6:4–6 (ESV) We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

If we have been united to Christ, then it seems as if we should take some time to meditate on this truth. The early church believed that we should take time to meditate on our union with Christ and therefore added a period of time into the church calendar right before Easter. The preparation for Easter dates back to our early church fathers.  Prior to denominations, church calendars and papal decrees, we can find the second century church establishing a time of reflection, fasting and preparation for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

This time of reflection is commonly called Lent. References to fasting during Lent can be found in the early church writings. Irenaeus (130-202AD), the disciple of Polycarp (who was the disciple of the Apostle John), wrote concerning the time allotted for a lenten fast.  Concerning a season for fasting as part of the Easter preparation, Irenaeus writes: “Such variation in the observance did not originate in our own day, but very much earlier, in the time of our forefathers” (Eusebius, History of the Church, V, 24). This quote lets us see into the early church, that very early on they were discussing a time of fasting and preparation for the Easter celebration.

Our modern Christian calendars begin the Lenten Season on Ash Wednesday and proceed for 40 days (minus Sundays) leading up to Easter Sunday. The word “Lent” comes from the Greek word which means “forty.”  Although the English word Lent partially takes on that meaning, it literally means “lengthen.” The concept of the term lengthen comes from the lengthening of the sun during the days of Spring. Sundays themselves are not counted in these forty days, as they are generally set aside as days of renewal and celebration (“mini-Easters” of sorts).

The number forty carries great biblical significance based on: the forty days of rain Noah and his family endured in the flood, the forty years Israel spent in the wilderness, Jesus’ forty-day fast in the wilderness, the forty days Jesus spent on the earth after his resurrection, and so much more. Forty days have been used by God to represent a period of trial, testing, and preparation. Likewise, Lent is a season of preparation and repentance during which we anticipate the death (Good Friday) and resurrection (Easter Sunday) of Jesus. It is this very preparation and repentance that gives us a deep and powerful longing for the resurrection and joy of Easter.

Why Celebrate Lent?

For many throughout history, Lent has been a time of abstinence and self-affliction. As Reformed Protestants, we believe it is important to point people to the early churches’ perception that Lent is about preparation. As the church of Christ, we are preparing our hearts and minds for the Passion Week, the days that mark Christ’s atonement for our sins and victory over Satan and death. These days carry a much greater significance when we have properly prepared for them and retrace Christ’s journey to the cross. Lent helps the church focus on why Jesus had to die and why we need a Savior.

Some will find it helpful during this time to abstain from certain pleasures because you have found them to become idolatry for you. But never forget that as people who are centered on the Good News — the Gospel — we recognize that we need a Savior. Therefore, we put off idolatry because we have a Savior, and not because we are trying to be worthy of one. As with any ritual or symbol, Lent can be abused and made meaningless, so it is imperative to consider our motives before we begin.

Others will find it helpful during this time to add to our everyday rhythms. Consider spending extra time reading the Gospels or other theological books centered on the death, burial, and resurrection.  These activities are always encouraged, but especially during this season of preparation. The goal is to create a noticeable break in our regular schedules to prepare our hearts for the celebration of Easter.

Philippians 3:8–11 (ESV) Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Preparing for Easter Resources:

Fifty Devotional Readings from C. S. Lewis 

Journey to the Cross (Walker) 

Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die (Piper) 

Your Sorrow Will Turn to Joy: Morning & Evening Meditations for Holy Week (Desiring God) 

The Cross of Christ (Stott)

Redemption, Accomplished and Applied (Murray)

Hebrews Resources

As we continue in our study of the book of Hebrews over the next 20+ weeks, we want to provide some additional resources to make sure that we get the most out of our time in this amazing book. Our ultimate authority should always be the written Word of God, the Bible, but secondary literature can help to expand our knowledge and understanding of what was written. This will fuel our love of the Bible when we devote time to comprehend it better. Below is a compiled list of secondary literature about the book of Hebrews that speaks to this fascinating book of the New Testament.

  • Each week we will record and upload the previous weeks sermon to our website, so if you missed one you can catch up on the material by clicking here.
  • As an overview of the book of Hebrews, The Bible Project has a great video, you can watch here.
  • Additionally, Nancy Guthrie talks with Sam Storms about how to teach the book of Hebrews in a short video and she also provides additional audio resources and books on the book of Hebrews.
  • Kent Hughes book, “Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul, can be bought here.
  • Some other sermon series on Hebrews include ones by Piper, Chandler, and Storms, you can access by clicking on their names.

Writings on God’s Glory

Last Sunday we wrapped up our series on the 5 Solas of the Reformation with a message on Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone). This powerful concept answers the question of the ultimate purpose for each of our lives, but it is a message our sinful flesh wars against.  One of the ways we battle our tendency to make life “all about us” is by filling our minds with concepts that draw our affections heavenward. Two such resources are Glory Hunger, by J.R. Vassar, and The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis.

Both of these authors deal with the fact that we try to steal glory from God and hoard it for ourselves, and both authors awaken in the reader a desire to live more for the glory of God–a task worth pursuing with every fiber of our being!  You can buy both books online easily, but if you want to read the Lewis essay on “The Weight of Glory,” you can do so here.

May God increasingly make our church a place where He alone is glorified! Soli Deo Gloria!

Sola Scriptura: Definitions and Bible References

Last week we kicked off our study on the doctrines of the Reformation with the topic of Sola Scriptura, or Scripture Alone. We saw that as humans we all appeal to an ultimate authority for our understanding of what truth is, therefore our task is to make sure we are appealing to the correct authority! Some of the different authorities Christians submit to include:

  • Institutional Authority: Those in power have the ability to define truth.
  • Individual Autonomy: No one except the individual has the ability to define truth.
  • Hopeless Agnosticism: Truth may indeed exist, but we have no way of knowing for sure what it is.

The Roman Catholic Church has historically appealed to their institutional authority as the ultimate arbiter of truth, while modern evangelicals have often wrongly interpreted Sola Scriptura to be a license for individual autonomy (Often seen with the refrain, “Me and my Bible is all I need.”), totally void of any reliance on tradition or the historic Christian creeds. These differing approaches have left such a wide chasm that many in our day are now feeling the pull of hopeless agnosticism.

Contrary to these three approaches is the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura, which can be defined the belief that:

The Bible alone is our authority (not Institutional Authority), we study it in the context of community and historic orthodoxy (not Individual Autonomy) where we find truth (not Hopeless Agnosticism).

Out of this doctrine four principles regarding Scripture can further be affirmed, leading us to say, Scripture is:

  • Authoritative: It carries God’s authority and accomplishes His will.
    • Isaiah 55:10-11, Nehemiah 8:1-9, Acts 17:11.
  • Clear: The truths God has chosen to reveal can be understood through reading the Bible honestly.
    • Deuteronomy 29:29, Luke 16:29-31.
  • Sufficient: The Bible reveals all we need to know in order to follow and obey, particularly when understood correctly within the Church community.
    • 2 Peter 1:3, 1 Timothy 3:15, 2 Peter 3:16-17.
  • Necessary: No other writings reveal the Word of Life.
    • 2 Timothy 4:3, Isaiah 55:8-9, John 6:68, Psalm 119, Romans 10:13-15.

One of the great treasures of the Protestant Reformation was its emphasis on Scripture and the fact that it led to the translation and propagation of the Word of God into many different languages. With this being the case, may we be a people who study God’s Word, look to it as our authority, and share the Good News it communicates with all those we meet!