Gift of Renewed Thirst

A prayer by Scotty Smith based on Psalm 63:1-5, from his book Everyday Prayers.

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, (Psalm 63:1-5, ESV)

Dear Jesus, we come before you today asking for the gift of thirst. Renew and intensify our thirst for you. Make us so faint that unless you hydrate our hearts with the gospel, we will surely perish.

It’s a perilous thing to no longer deeply crave fellowship with you, Jesus. It’s a deceptive thing to enjoy, but no longer actually need you. It’s a deceitful thing to be satisfied with correct theology about you, without experiencing rich communion with you. It’s a demonic thing to find our ultimate satisfaction in anyone or anything else but you.

Only your steadfast love is better than life, Jesus—only your contra-conditional, irrepressible affection for us. Nothing else will do. You have created a gospel-shaped vacuum in our hearts—a screaming empty place that fits only you. Forgive us when we try to cram human love, creature comforts, or anything else into that place. Don’t let us be so easily satisfied. Give us redemptive discontent until our hearts rest again in you.

Jesus, we’re not just asking this for ourselves as individuals, but for our churches as well. Forgive us when we get so organized, creative and “right” that we no longer miss your presence. Is it really you we are worshipping, or are we just worshipping worship? Is it really you we are serving, or are we just serving ourselves as religious consumers?

If you actually “left the house,” how long would it take before we knew the difference? In all honesty, Jesus, how much of what we do in our churches doesn’t require the Holy Spirit at all? Show us, convict us, forgive us, and change us.

Let us see and experience your power and glory in fresh ways, Jesus. We want to lift our hearts, voices, hands and whole lives to you, as a sacrifice of praise. May the truth and grace of the gospel satisfy us as fat and rich food. So very Amen, we pray, with longing hearts.

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I am resurfacing a bit like a wobbly cork with a fish on the line. My schedule is unpredictable but I do hope to be back here writing on the weekends.

Themes I would like to (re)explore, in the form of questions:

Where does power for the Christian life come from? Sure, I have a dusty theological answer tucked away in the archives. What I want – what my soul needs – is to discover again exactly what God says in His own words. I have a hunch that the answer offers more hope than I remember.

How can I be satisfied and content? No sense in denying the restlessness I have felt recently. Time to return to the well.

Are Christian disciplines necessary? There are those around me who place much less emphasis on Christian disciplines than I have in the past. I am less interested in an argument about legalism and more interested in highlighting whatever it takes to have a real relationship with the Living God.

What has God promised? I want to put some meat on the bones of my scrawny prayer life. Maybe you do too. I am pretty sure that if I stop trodding in the same self-absorbed circles, there is great joy in adopting the priorities of God as reflected in His promises.

To be continued.

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Where Else Can We Go?

You can almost see Peter throw up open hands when he replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of Israel.”

As many of Jesus’ disciples were leaving (John 6:60-68), Jesus turned to the twelve and asked them if they were next. Peter’s response has been echoing in my head.

Where else would we go?

Peter didn’t play down the reasons others had for leaving Jesus Christ. Peter didn’t deny contemplating it himself. Peter just asked a question that demands a reasonable answer.

Look around – is there any other option? Where else can you turn for eternal life if you turn away from Christ?

Would you reject the Fountain of Living Water to hew broken cisterns for yourself? Peter realized that no matter who or what you turned to, it would be less than Christ. It wouldn’t offers the eternal life that our souls long for. It would be a vain attempt to satisfy oneself outside of God, where satisfaction cannot be found. How futile it is to look for something in a place other than where it is.

Where I’ve Been and Where We’re Headed

I flew the coop for a couple weeks because midterms had me in a headlock. But what I learned while I was away from the blogosphere is worth coming back to share in the coming weeks.

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Pursuing Sound Doctrine: How and Why

Sometimes I wonder: Am I missing something, or is this all there is to know God? Is God really as shallow as my experiences have been? Is this what knowing an infinite, eternal God is like?

While there is no single factor to blame for an insipid and monotonous Christian life, there are a few notable ones. Maybe it is time to [re]discover prayer. Or bring hideous secret sin out of the closet and slay it.

Or maybe it is time to stop avoiding the word “doctrine” like the plague.

Shallow doctrine plots a shallow Christian life.

When we assume there is only one way to approach doctrine – as a bland academic study – we naturally shy away from it. It sounds dry and lifeless. That, however, is is hideous and costly misconception, and it can be cured by understanding that there is a right and a wrong way to pursue sound doctrine. Let’s look at both.

The Right Approach to Pursuing Sound Doctrine

If we study sound doctrine as a purely academic pursuit, our approach will be dry and hollow. Information is not equivalent to intimacy with God, and intimacy is where vitality comes from.

This wrong approach stands in contrast to the learner who seeks sound doctrine as one who is parched and tastes the sweet waters of a fountain. His thirst compels him to rest by the fountain and dip back in a second, third, and fourth time.

So it is with approaching God by learning sound doctrine. Doctrine deepens out belief and enlarges our vision of God in a soul-satisfying, life-changing way.

Therefore, the right approach to doctrine is to approach it as coming to know God as He really is.

As Joshua Harris writes in Dug Down Deep,

“For many people, words like theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy are almost completely meaningless. Maybe they’re unappealing, even repellent.

“Theology sounds stuffy. Doctrine is something unkind people fight over…

“I can relate to that perspective. I’ve been there. But I’ve also discovered that my prejudice, my ‘theology allergy,’ was unfounded.

“This book is the story of how I first glimpsed the beauty of Christian theology. These pages hold the journal entries of my own spiritual journey—a journey that led to the realization that sound doctrine is at the center of loving Jesus with passion and authenticity. I want to share how I learned that orthodoxy isn’t just for old men but is for anyone who longs to behold a God who is bigger and more real and glorious than the human mind can imagine.

“The irony of my story—and I suppose it often works this way—is that the very things I needed, even longed for in my relationship with God, were wrapped up in the very things I was so sure could do me no good. I didn’t understand that such seemingly worn-out words as theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy were the pathway to the mysterious, awe-filled experience of truly knowing the living Jesus Christ.

“They told the story of the Person I longed to know.”

[Go ahead and read the review, download the first chapter PDF of the book, and then purchase a copy…it is worth it]

Doctrine is Basic to Practical Christian Living

In the same vein as Harris, AW Tozer writes in Knowledge of the Holy [Warning: PDF],

A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.”

So learning sound doctrine is both practical and necessary for Christian living. Shying away from doctrine leads to a shallow understanding of God and cuts us off from the very depth of relationship that we long for.

That should spur us to dig deeper, and here are four ways to do that…

Practical Application

Four ways to tackle learning sound doctrine in manageable chunks:

1. Pray for understanding as Paul did for the church in Colossians 1:9-14.

2. Come up with a morning routine and read just three pages of classic theological work each day and finish in a year.

3. Include in your routine regular Bible reading and study, book by book, so that you build familiarity with the Old and New Testament.

4. Subscribe to Tabletalk after taking a look at 8 Reasons Why You Should Subscribe. I wholeheartedly endorse that monthly publication and strongly encourage you to check out the zero-obligation free trial. Its excellent authors plumb the depths of doctrine every month in a practical, understandable way.

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Go Hastily to Find the Savior

“And the shepherds went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:16).

The shepherds were hurriedly seeking Jesus. Why didn’t they wait until morning? What was the rush?

Because falling at the feet of Jesus was better than anything else they could have been doing that night. “Well that’s easy to say,” one might think, “All they had to do that night was watch a herd of sheep.” Truthfully, we are no better off than the shepherds. The best thing we can do apart from Christ doesn’t compare any more favorably than watching sheep.

If you knew He was your Savior from sin that destroys, you’d run to Him.

If you knew that He offered the joy and peace you seek, you’d run to Him.

We’ll Find Nothing More Worthy of Pursuit

If we are not hurriedly seeking Jesus, it is not because we have found something better. It is because we don’t know who He is to properly value Him. We don’t know how real and immediately needed the gospel is for everyday life.

How Needed is the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Let’s just focus on one area where the gospel is practical: our work.

Apart from Christ,

» You can earn and pay money, but we will all still use it to seek worthless things with no eternal value and remain impoverished in all meaningful accounts.

» You can bring someone healing, but they’ll only use their strength to continue heading to the grave.

» You can give someone legal advice, but they’ll keep breaking the laws of heaven and face legal condemnation before a just and righteous Judge.

» You can build people’s houses and buildings, but that will still leave them homeless in the next world.

» You can offer insight and advice, but all of our earthly wisdom is futile and foolish in light of living unprepared to die and face eternity.

You can bring people a lot of earthly things, but you cannot change the hearts that destine them for hell apart from salvation in Christ.

Apart from Christ, all our greatest efforts are ultimately worthless and futile. We are wandering, destroying ourselves, purposeless, enjoying a moment of pleasure while storing up a harvest of ache and woe.

Unless you intimately know Christ yourself and bring Christ to to the people in the workplace and anyone else you try to serve here on earth.

No surprise the shepherds ran to the One who was called their Savior.

How Close is Close Enough?

Is hearing the angels say Jesus exists enough for you?
Is running to the stable door close enough?
Or is running all the way to the side of the manger where you want to be?

What level of intimacy do you let pass as “finding Christ”?

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2 Questions for Examining Our Spiritual Condition

Light Bulb of ThoughtThis is Part Two in the series, “2 Questions for Examining…” Part One: 2 Questions for Examining Our Affection for Christ.

I can handle answers. It’s the good questions that I have a hard time recovering from. They hit harder.

The following are two quality questions. They are thought provoking. Give them both a serious answer.

1. Why do I read the Bible?

Why do you read the Bible? On his blog, Don Dudley writes,

“Our answer will tell us a lot about who we are. I think the reality is, many of us probably cannot answer the question because we do not know.

Most answers will either be based on the need for knowledge (I want to learn about God, history, doctrine, etc) and emotion (I want to be closer to God because he makes me warm and fuzzy).

What happens beneath the surface is we tend to embrace intellectualism or we embrace an emotional faith with no balance in between.”

2. Is there anything in my life that can be explained only because of God Himself?

In his book, How to Give Away Your Faith, Paul E. Little writes,

“The problem of mere ‘environmental faith’ is plaguing the church of Jesus Christ today. I use this term to describe spiritual life when it’s largely an outgrowth of our surroundings:

Sundays we always go to Bible classes and worship services where we hear the Bible expounded.
During the week we attend prayer meetings and say our little piece.
Much of our time is spent with Christian friends; we speak the same language.

But that’s about the extent of out Christian life. We don’t know what direct, personal, communication between ourselves and the living God is…Result? When the non-Christian looks at us he sees a reflection of our environment (which he does not share) but nothing more. And it doesn’t impress him. He’s not looking for an environment. He’s looking for living faith…

Suddenly we’re faced with the shallow superficiality of our Christian experience…[W]e frequently need to ask ourselves, ‘Is there anything in my life that can be explained only because of God Himself? Or is everything due to my background, surroundings, and present circumstances? What if, a week from now, my environment should be completely different?”

Here are 10 More Questions to Help You Diagnose Your Spiritual Health.

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2 Questions for Examining Our Affection for Christ

Light Bulb of ThoughtThere is no better way to assure a quality answer than to ask a quality question.

Asking careful, introspective questions is a key for anyone does not want to squander life with aimless wandering.

We seldom choose to waste our life. We simply cease evaluating our thoughts, words, actions, deeds, motives, habits, desires, and goals.

As the saying goes, “Only one life, ‘twil soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

If living for Christ is the only way to avoid a wasted life, we need a couple questions to use as heart-checks.

Two Best Questions of the Month
The two best questions I heard this month both ring with affection for Chris and stir up  oft-neglected introspection.

1. What is it that I want most when I am not craving Christ?

Al Hartman rocked my comfortable boat when he shared that question with me over the phone.

The question is tinted by an awareness of failure, yet it also is asked in hope, knowing change is more than possible. Sanctification is, in fact, inevitable for the Christian.

Behind the question is also an all-out passion to treasure Christ. It’s the kind of driving force that moves like a surge of water released from a dam, rushing to demolish anything that stands in the way.

It’s a surge that is only released by the Holy Spirit into a heart transformed by truth.

2. What things affect my affection for Christ most?

This question is derived from a short interview of Matt Chandler. He humbly explained his struggle to find activities that set his passion for Christ on fire.  And to eliminate the activities that snuff it out or damped passion for Christ.

“I’m trying to always be aware of what’s going on in my mind and in my heart, and what really stirs up my mind and heart towards Him [Christ], and what doesn’t.”

Now Answer
Carefully answer the questions, and couple them with prayer.

Remember, there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But there is honest confession, gracious forgiveness, and powerful transformation.

What’s the best question that you’ve answered this month? What questions do you use to evaluate your heart before the throne of grace?

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3 Ways to Cultivate Continual Communion with God

Cultivating Continual Communion in the WordBy the end of the day, the the morning quiet time is all but forgotten. The spirit of worship and prayer has faded to a dot in the rear-view mirror.

But that is not what we long for.

Our souls crave continual communion with God that does not end when we close our Bible. We want to feel an intimacy that does not diminish during the day.

3 ways to cultivate continual communion with God

1. Take the quiet time off the to-do list
We must break the habit of treating the quiet time as a distinct event that we can check off.

This mindset shatters communion as soon as we complete our allotted 20 minutes with God. We may walk away from the quiet time refreshed, but we do not walk away connected.

Take the quiet time off the to-do list, and in a sense, put it on the to-be list. We don’t want to do communion with God as an event, we want to be in communion with God as a lifestyle.

2. Find ways to keep the Word open all day
David models this point like none other (Psalm 1:2, 63:1-8, 119:15). David also was a man after God’s own heart, like few others (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22). We need to take the hint.

We commune with God best in His Word. No surprise there, because the Word is His direct word to us. It’s more than a newspaper, it is a personal, intimate word. 

Constant meditation on the Word is a rich feeding for the soul. If we let the Word of God dwell richly in us through the day, it will draw us into continual communion. We can savor the God of the Word all day by tasting the Word of God all day.

Two ways I have found to do this:

First, memorize a verse from the quiet time that can be used for either soul-feeding or sin-fighting (or both).

Second, write a verse on a note card and pocket it.

Either option is beneficial. Both are easy and effective. Sometimes I have found my pocket more sure than my memory, so I use a mix of both approaches (coincidentally, reading a note card all day often locks it into memory).

A beautiful side effect of keeping the Word open all day: It is combustible tinder for a ceaseless prayer life.

3. Go back for another drink
Only recently have I come to appreciate the value of the model in Daniel 6:10. We often feel drained during the day. Sin is creeping in. We’re wearing down. Things start to fall apart…

The note card may not be enough.

Why not go back before the Lord on our knees?

Using a blend of the three approaches is best. They all have a place. But in the end, I don’t really care what it takes to get close to God. The continual communion is what I am after. I just want to experience intimacy with God. I want you to as well.

What helps you cultivate continual communion during your day?

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Mistaking spiritual information for intimacy

WritingYou could call me an information pack rat. As I flipped through the pages of my journal on Sunday, I found a rich bank of scribbled sermon notes, bedside thoughts, and devotional gleanings.

But there was something missing. The pale yellow pages told a story of a young man who substituted information for intimacy – and then starved.

The journal lacked the prayerful vitality that springs from communion with God. I marveled at God as if he was one of those fold-out pictures in a National Geographic, talking to myself in my journal about God, but not actually to God.

Information cannot feed the soul. Experiencing intimacy with God can.
There is an important distinction between information and intimacy. It’s like the difference between the boy daydreaming about the girl sitting two rows in front of him at school, and the lover walking hand-in-hand with his bride in the flower gardens. The schoolboy says an awkward hello. The lover gently tucks a flower in his bride’s hair.

Information is key to intimacy. Therefore, we study God’s Word. A rich knowledge of God’s character enables more intimate adoration and worship.

But information is not equivalent to intimacy anymore than hours of surfing Facebook is equivalent to personal relationships.

Because even the most vast reservoirs of information can not feed the soul, Psalm 63:1-8 has become my cry:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

My journaling is now taking on a new tone as the result of the Holy Spirit’s work over the last few months. What’s the tone of your quiet time, journaling, and prayer? How much intimacy do you really have with God?

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Break up your fallow ground

Sow for yourselves righteousness;

reap steadfast love;
break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you
– Hosea 10:12

For those who long to break away from apathy, the passage that AW Tozer expounds in the folloiwng except is a pround tonic. Hosea 10:12 is powerful.

From AWTozer:
“As soon as we seek protection out of God, we find it to our own undoing. Let us build a safety-wall of endowments, by-laws, prestige, multiplied agencies for the delegation of our duties, and creeping paralysis sets in at once, a paralysis which can only end in death.
The power of God comes only where it is called out by the plow. It is released into the Church only when she is doing something that demands it, By the word “doing” I do not mean mere activity. The Church has plenty of “hustle” as it is, but in all her activities she is very careful to leave her fallow ground mostly untouched. She is careful to confine her hustling within the fear-marked boundaries of complete safety. That is why she is fruitless; she is safe, but fallow.
Look around today and see where the miracles of power are taking place. Never in the Seminary where each thought is prepared for the student, to be received painlessly and at second hand; never in the religious institution where tradition and habit have long ago made faith unnecessary; never in the old church where memorial tablets plastered over the furniture bear silent testimony to a glory that once was. Invariably where daring faith is struggling to advance against hopeless odds, there is God sending “help from the sanctuary.”

Please read the rest of this article. It will aid any of you who are fighting, as I am, against apathy and complaceny in life and want to be on fire.
Read here:

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