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843587_30393639The moment I finish eating, the dog leaves. Her companionship last as long as the sandwich.

So too our prayer life is often one of chasing gifts, not the Giver. Then forgetting God once we have eaten and become satisfied.

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Resource: This sermon, by Terry Virgo, will likely change how you view prayer. If it does not change you, it will refresh your commitment to prayer.

John Piper pointed me to the sermon via twitter: “I have just watched a sermon on prayer by Terry Virgo that will alter my year. I recommend it.”

I’ve listened to it twice today now. It is indeed a year-altering message from God’s word.

Watch the video or download the audio by clicking here. Note: video is in two parts, so be sure to click the link to the second video after finishing the first. Total running time for audio/video:  52 minutes.

If you are desperate for a powerful prayer life, and hungry for further teaching, here is another sermon worth listening to, by Piper.

I pray the Spirit teaches you through these men, kindling a passion for God and coming to Him in prayer.

328960_2898Resource: The Fighter Verses, as used by Bethlehem Baptist Church (where Piper pastors), are 5 sets of verses. One set per year. Four verses a month. The goal is to memorize one verse a week, so that our sword stays sharp in fighting sin and treasuring Christ.

Excerpt (from linked website): “Fighter Verses are short passages of Scripture which we as a church have chosen to memorize each week. The Scripture, day after day, reveals to us the greatness of all that God is for us in Christ so that by the power of the Spirit we find our joy in him and the ways of sin become distasteful — indeed ugly and repugnant.”

From the Children Desiring God website: “The Fighter Verses memory system (available in ESV or NIV) was created to help believers persevere in the fight of faith by arming them with God’s Word. Designed for preschool children through adults, this system allows individuals, groups, or entire churches to memorize and review at their own pace. Bethlehem Baptist uses this as a church-wide memory system with hundreds of adults and children committed to memorize one passage per week throughout the year. We invite you to join us!”

Click here to go download the verse sheet pdfs

Click here to buy the full memory system from Children Desiring God on their website.

Related posts:

An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture

18 Tricks to Memorize More Scripture

Here are a few videos, John Piper related. I highly recommend each, as they are short yet powerful.

What is your retirement dream? Advice you won’t regret hearing:

The reason why we need to be part of a small group meeting purposefully:

God is dangerous apart from Jesus Christ:

We need the gospel every day:

A song the builds powerfully, with Piper preaching at the end:

How do I know when my enjoyment of something becomes a sinful idol?

John Piper writes:
Idolatry will destroy our relationship with God. And it will destroy our relationships with people. All human relational problems—from marriage and family to friendship to neighbors to classmates to colleagues—all of them are rooted in various forms of idolatry, that is, wanting things other than God in wrong ways.
So here is my effort to think biblically about what those wrong ways are. What makes an enjoyment idolatrous? What turns a desire into covetousness, which is idolatry?

1. Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it is forbidden by God. For example, adultery and fornication and stealing and lying are forbidden by God. Some people at some times feel that these are pleasurable, or else we would not do them. No one sins out of duty. But such pleasure is a sign of idolatry.

2. Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it is disproportionate to the worth of what is desired. Great desire for non-great things is a sign that we are beginning to make those things idols.

3. Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it is not permeated with gratitude. When our enjoyment of something tends to make us not think of God, it is moving toward idolatry. But if the enjoyment gives rise to the feeling of gratefulness to God, we are being protected from idolatry. The grateful feeling that we don’t deserve this gift or this enjoyment, but have it freely from God’s grace, is evidence that idolatry is being checked.

4. Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it does not see in God’s gift that God himself is more to be desired than the gift. If the gift is not awakening a sense that God, the Giver, is better than the gift, it is becoming an idol.

5. Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it is starting to feel like a right, and our delight is becoming a demand. It may be that the delight is right. It may be that another person ought to give you this delight. It may be right to tell them this. But when all this rises to the level of angry demands, idolatry is rising.

6. Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it draws us away from our duties. When we find ourselves spending time pursuing an enjoyment, knowing that other things, or people, should be getting our attention, we are moving into idolatry.

7. Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it awakens a sense of pride that we can experience this delight while others can’t. This is especially true of delights in religious things, like prayer and Bible reading and ministry. It is wonderful to enjoy holy things. It idolatrous to feel proud that we can.

8. Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it is oblivious or callous to the needs and desires of others. Holy enjoyment is aware of others’ needs and may temporarily leave a good pleasure to help another person have it. One might leave private prayer to be the answer to someone else’s.

9. Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it does not desire that Christ be magnified as supremely desirable through the enjoyment. Enjoying anything but Christ (like his good gifts) runs the inevitable risk of magnifying the gift over the Giver. One evidence that idolatry is not happening is the earnest desire that this not happen.

10. Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it is not working a deeper capacity for holy delight. We are sinners still. It is idolatrous to be content with sin. So we desire transformation. Some enjoyments shrink our capacities of holy joy. Others enlarge them. Some go either way, depending on how we think about them. When we don’t care if an enjoyment is making us more holy, we are moving into idolatry.

11. Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when its loss ruins our trust in the goodness of God. There can be sorrow at loss without being idolatrous. But when the sorrow threatens our confidence in God, it signals that the thing lost was becoming an idol.

12. Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when its loss paralyzes us emotionally so that we can’t relate lovingly to other people. This is the horizontal effect of losing confidence in God. Again: Great sorrow is no sure sign of idolatry. Jesus had great sorrow. But when desire is denied, and the effect is the emotional inability to do what God calls us to do, the warning signs of idolatry are flashing.

For myself and for you, I pray the admonition of 1 John 5:21, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

Click here for the full article

Colombia bound

1146878_80379220Prayer warriors, we request your support again. In a few hours a small team will fly out for Colombia to train a large gathering of youth at a local church. The focus is on decision making, which means bringing the gospel of grace to bear on the issue, pointing our hearts to Christ Jesus our Lord who alone is able to transform our hearts to seek the Lord in all decisions.
It is not a lengthy trip, but because we are partnered with nationals in the country who are already working to train small group leaders, the stay need not be long for the Spirit to work.

Please pray “that words may be given to us in opening ours mouths boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which we are ambassadors, that we may declare it boldly, as we ought to speak.”

Twitter notified me of a new message. “Paring back some of the trading long rentals to be safe in here, volume wanting but action the world’s fair.” The cryptic message from a fellow stock trader launched me into a burst of anxious action.

I was a stock trader. Every morning at 6am my eyes popped open, and I would check futures to see where the market was headed. I would keep the trading platform open all day on my laptop, even during classes. Last thing before bed, I was watching market trading recap videos- from various guru traders- with my eyes set on the following day.

My fiercely competitive personality bred an anxiety that bled me of joy and peace. My emotions followed the ticker tape. Account up $750 today? I’m soaring into the clouds of bliss, though they are tinged grey on the underbelly with the discontented wish for $1,000. Slipped $800 into the red? I’ll harbor a poisonous defeated feeling that will seep out as irritability in relationships throughout the day. A particularly draining series of down days released anger to ricochet through my heart with an unwelcome sting, flashing a glaring warning signal I was slow to investigate. My heart was blindly whoring after an idol that devoured all of my time and controlled all of my emotions.

“…If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” Those words are true. My conscience would not leave me alone, and the Spirit spoke through the scriptures often. I fought back. Why was it such a problem? Why couldn’t I earn a living in stock trading world? Couldn’t it be akin to tent-making? There are other Christian stock traders, why can’t I be one? Why did I feel like I had to justify this to God in the first place?

The justifications barricaded my heart when the Spirit spoke through the word. The justifications were most ardent when the Spirit called for me to count all as loss in order to know Christ. Not that investing is evil in itself, yet it was keeping my heart from pursuing Christ. There was no need to justify my passion for the stock market when my heart was comfortably lukewarm. A lukewarm heart and the stock market were perfectly compatible, and fed off of each other. Yet when my hunger for God was roused, it could never be satisfied because I had no room to study and meditate on the Word and commune with God when stock charts filled my head every spare moment of the day. I admired one stock trader who said something to the effect of, “Don’t trade stocks on Fridays, because then you will be distracted all weekend while the market is closed, wondering if you were right to buy the stock. Save the weekend for church and family.” My admiration for that man revealed my heart attitude. “God, you can have my weekends. The rest is mine. I’ll honor the Sabbath, but worship other gods the rest of the week.” I thought it was a noble thing to be so devoted to God as to clear the weekend for Him.

I continued to wander in the desert. I found enough time for God only to know that I was missing more than I could imagine. Could I afford to continue to pay that price? What if I did gain the whole world, or even just a home-run stock pick? Was it worth starving myself spiritually and losing communion with my God? I didn’t want to answer those questions. God’s Word was abundantly clear: if anything in my life rises above God, whether it is intrinsically evil or not, it is an idol and it is rubbish. A close friend, after hearing me spill my heart out on the matter, could see I was torn between two loves. “I don’t see why you are still doing it if what you say is true and it is taking God’s place.” The words were blunt and I had no good response. God was speaking to me personally in His Word, and speaking to me through a friend who could see the low place God had fallen to in my life, even though I was blind.

Then I was broken. Christ took the throne of my heart one night as I cried out in prayer for hours. God, take me. All of me. I won’t hide from the pain or clutch at the rubbish anymore, tear it away, plow my fallow ground and prepare my heart for Your rain of righteousness.

The following morning, I liquidated my stock holdings. I feared that if I delayed a minute, black and white might turn to grey again and I might remain ensnared. I wanted out. Now. My longing heart was desperate for the quiet waters of the Lord. Let me be clear: I do not believe investing is evil in itself, and I do believe anything can take God’s place and become an idol. The problem was that I had given my life over to the markets, dethroning God. When an activity dethrones God and sabotages my relationships with God and man, it is a toxic lie that has deceived me into sacrificing joy Christ died to bring me for bondage Christ paid to release me from. And if such an activity has to be utterly abandoned to restore communion with God, so be it. Some things can not be abandoned and must be restored to a proper place in subjection to Christ. Yet others, as in my particular case, must be cut off.

For the first week after ceasing to day trade, I still woke up at 6am. Strong habits did not fade over night, and neither did the strange aimless feeling that followed suddenly giving up what once consumed my life. All of the short-cut buttons on my web browsers were links to stock trading websites. My computer desktop was covered in trading files. I cleaned and prayed. “Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.”

God is faithful. He opens the eyes of the blind, He pursues the hearts of the wandering. He gives wisdom to those that ask for the right reasons. He works through the body of Christ to bring words of insight and discernment to those who are lost. His grace is poured out for His own name’s sake. Glory to His name, His surpassing worth floods my heart with a joy and satisfaction that could never be found in the all-consuming world of day trading.

Recounting the story feels like trying to sort through a jumble. But it is a story that ends with a thankful heart. There is one who has paid our ransom, purchased our bodies so that we are not our own. We do not have a life to call our own, to spend as we please on rubbish. And the One who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it, just as a shepherd pulls a wandering lamb back. God, rescue us from the rubbish heap.

Do you have a similar experience? Has God brought something to your mind that is costing you more than you can afford to pay?