Monday, November 30, 2009

for those who didn't read (and those who read) When I Don't Desire God

I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted after all those EQUIP book club posts! My copy of When I Don't Desire God is looking very dog-eared, not to mention thoroughly scribbled in.

What a month it's been! While I've been writing about prayer and the Bible and rest and walking in God's world, these are exactly the things I haven't had much time for! It's a relief to get back to my normal routine. You can probably expect a quiet week on this blog.

In the meantime, if you'd like to learn more about joy, or keeping the cross central, or engaging with the Bible, or prayer, or enjoying God's world, or depression, you don't need to read When I Don't Desire God: many of the posts stand alone. Here's some quick links for you to follow.

an overview

does God really want me to feel joyful?

when I don't desire God

why joy is both a gift and a fight

keeping the cross central

4 weapons for the fight for joy

1. preaching the gospel to ourselves

2. reading, reflecting on and remembering the Bible

3. prayer

4. enjoying God's world and keeping our bodies fit for joy


my story of joy

I hope you'll join me in the fight for joy!

Friday, November 27, 2009

my story of joy

There was a time when joy came to me as easily as falling in love. I was 15, and for the first time the wonder of God in Christ opened before me. I read the Bible like someone thirsty gulping down water. I escaped to my room to pray. I closed my eyes, and slipped into joy like a second skin.

There was a time when joy was lost to me with the suddenness of unexpected grief. I was 17, and praying felt like staring into darkness. The Bible seemed to be only dry and dusty paper. Having lost joy, I pursued emotional "experiences" instead, but they were as fleeting and meaningless as an empty look from an old boyfriend. ...

Read the rest at EQUIP book club today.

image is from stock.xchng

Thursday, November 26, 2009

that '70s book

I was chatting with my 20-something nephew a couple of weeks ago about books we liked. Inevitably, The Lord of the Rings came up.

"Oh, yes," he said, "I tried to read that three times, but I didn't get very far. I reckon the only reason people ever read that book is that there was nothing else to do in the '70s."

Nothing else? Nothing else?

What about ABBA? What about Grease? What about Atari? What about Pong? What about rollerskating? What about rollerskating to ABBA?

In those moments of spinning on four wheels to the sound of Dancing Queen echoing around the carport from our portable cassette player, we knew what it was to live.

Yes, yes, I know it's really that '50s book, but I guess my nephew sees me as a '70s child. Which I was. Kind of. Nearly. At least after I turned 1. And the '70s is when everyone was reading it. Wasn't it? Including me. Or that might have been the '80s. Whatever.

image is from Rongem Boyo at flickr

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

depression and the fight for joy

There have been times when I woke to series of days filled with dreary dullness. Every movement had to be forced against a resisting heaviness. Joy in God was like something seen through the small end of a telescope: impossibly remote and endlessly receding.

I say this knowing that my experience is a tiny, salty drop in the ocean of what you may have experienced. If depression ranges from mild to severe - or "situational" to "clinical" - then I have only been at the very mild end of the spectrum. I have friends who have been in and out of hospital fighting relentless darkness for many years, and other friends for whom anxiety is debilitating and depression a horror which visits and leaves without warning.

Piper is too experienced a pastor not to know about such times. And so he writes this final chapter. So relevant is its message that it's been printed as a separate booklet, When the Darkness Will not Lift.

What does God have to do with depression? ...

You can read the rest at EQUIP book club today.

image is from Megyarsh at flickr

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Roger Rosenblatt on lending books

My dear friend Jenny sent me this quote from a book she was reading. I laughed.

The custom of borrowing books confutes nature. In every other such situation, the borrower becomes a slave to the lender, the social weight of the debt so altering the balance of a relationship that a temporary acquisition turns into a permanent loss. This is certainly true of money. Yet it is not at all true with books. For some reason a book borrower feels that a book, once taken, is his own. This removes both memory and guilt from the transaction. Making matters worse, the lender believes it too. To keep up appearances, he may solemnly extract an oath that the book be brought back as soon as possible; the borrower answering with the matching solemnity that the Lord seize his eyes were he to do otherwise. But it is all play. Once gone, the book is gone forever. The lender, fearing rudeness, never asks for it again. The borrower never stoops to raise the subject...

There's no spectacle that is so terrifying as the sight of a guest in your house whom you catch staring at your books. It is not the judgmental possibility that is frightening. the fact that one's sense of discrimination is exposed by his books. Indeed, most people would much prefer to see the guest first scan, then peer and turn away in boredom or disapproval. Alas, too often the eyes, dark with calculation, shift from title to title as from floozie to floozie in an overheated dance hall. Nor is that the worst. It is when those eyes stop moving that the heart, too, stops.

The guest body twitches; his hand floats up to where his eyes have led it. There is nothing to be done. You freeze. He smiles. You hear the question even as it forms: Would you mind if I borrowed this book?" Mind? Why should I mind? The fact that I came upon that book in a Paris bookstall in April 1969 - the thirteenth, I believe it was, the afternoon, it was drizzling - that I found it after searching all Europe and North America for a copy; that it is dog-eared at passages that mean more to my life than my heartbeat; that the mere touch of its pages recalls to me in a Proustian shower my first love, my best dreams. Should I mind that you seek to take all that away? That I will undoubtedly never get it back? Then even if you actually return it to me one day, I will be wizened, you cavalier, and the book spoiled utterly by your mishandling? Mind? "Not at all. Hope you enjoy it." "Thanks. I'll bring it back next week." "No rush. Take your time." [Liar.]
from a monologue by Roger Rosenblatt, quote in Harold Rabinowitz A Passion for Books

Monday, November 23, 2009

using the world and our bodies to fight for joy

We're bodily creatures. When we don't get enough sleep, we feel irritable. When we hear music, we're moved to tears or joy. ... Even if we don't admit it, we all use physical means to affect how we feel. So how do we avoid emotional manipulation and idolising created things, while using the world and our bodies in the fight for joy? ...

It's a little ironic, but as I sit hunched over the computer, neglecting a certain amount of exercise and rest to write these posts, it's these words which come to mind:

To sit long in one posture, poring over a book ... is itself a taxing of nature; but add to this a badly ventilated room, a body which has long been without muscular exercise, and a heart burdened with many cares, and we have all the elements for preparing a seething cauldron of despair . . . He who forgets the humming of the bees among the heather, the cooing of the wood-pigeons in the forest, the song of birds in the woods, the rippling of rills among the rushes, and the sighing of the wind among the pines, needs not wonder if his heart forgets to sing and his soul grows heavy. A day’s breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a few hours’ ramble in the beech woods’ umbrageous calm, would sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive. (quote from C Spurgeon on p.204 extended)

How important this has been in my own fight for joy! As I walk through God's world and think and pray, I practise both of Piper's means for using the world in the fight for joy: I see God's glory revealed in the things around me, and I help my body to become a partner in the fight for joy through rest, exercise and the refreshing beauty of God's good world.

You can read the rest at EQUIP books today - just click here.

image is from saturn at flickr

Friday, November 20, 2009

praying for joy

How do you feel about prayer? Do you enjoy it (this miraculous opportunity to talk to your heavenly Father!) or do you find it hard (staring into space, speaking into silence)? Do the words "prayer" and "joy" go together?

What are your temptations when it comes to prayer? Here are mine:
- I'm tempted to treat prayer as a time to work myself into a state of trust and joy, instead of asking God
- I'm tempted to be lazy about the bread-and-butter of prayer: intercession for my family, community and world
- I'm tempted to pour my heart out to others and not to God
- I'm tempted to get it all together before I pray

One thing I'm learning is to come to God as I am. Not to put it off until I haven't been quite so sinful. Not to avoid God because I've been avoiding him recently and I feel guilty. Not to wait until my thoughts and emotions are together enough to frame a clear request. To come to God confused, unhappy, doubting or angry. To come to God with the guilt and the mistakes and the pain and the questions. To come to God because of his grace, not my goodness. To come to God messy.

Until I do this, I deprive myself of a great weapon in the fight for joy. Joy becomes something I achieve (or don't achieve!) through my Bible reading, my sought-out encouragement, my biblical counselling techniques. Joy shifts sideways into smaller goals: a happy family, an organised life, a friendship. Joy turns into something I try to feel before I pray. Instead of going to God, crying out my emptiness to him, and seeking his fullness, I fill myself with the fruit of my own efforts.

Which is pretty stupid. Try as I might, I can't fill myself with joy. I can't make myself desire God: only God can do that.

How then do we fight for joy when our desires languish... ? ... The key to joy in God is God's omnipotent, transforming grace ... [T]he great purpose of prayer is to ask that - in and through all his gifts - God would be our joy. (p.138)

So how do we pray? What will keep us real and keep us praying? ...

You can read the rest at EQUIP book club - just click here.

image is from stock.xchng

Thursday, November 19, 2009

hospitality is ...

My mum had guests over the other day.

She hadn't planned to invite anyone for lunch, but she'd made a pot of soup and baked some biscuits, and there were some odds and ends in the fridge, so she asked around after church until two couples she hadn't met before accepted her invitation.

"That's hospitality", said one of her guests. "Entertaining is when you go to a lot of fuss and bother.

"Hospitality is when you share what you have."

image is by neon.mamacita at flickr

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

the Bible and joy

I love the Bible. It's the honey on my tongue and the fire in my belly and the sword in my hand and the joy in my step.

I love reading it on those dull days when I'd rather pick up a novel, and watching it works its magic in spite of me. I love memorising passages, and seeing God's Spirit bring them to mind exactly when they're needed. I love nutting out difficult verses, and realising they're nutting out me.

Of course, there are mornings when the newspaper wins the reading contest. There are days - sometimes months! - that pass by without much Bible. There are plenty of moments when the words drift through my eyes and spiral straight out the top of my head. There are times when the words on the page don't touch the way I'm feeling.

But God's Word changes me even when I'm not noticing. It nourishes me even when I don't feel it. It gives me what I need even when I'm hoping for something else. It helps me see the glory of Christ and transforms me by the seeing until he is, at last, my highest joy:

God has chosen in this age to reveal himself to the world mainly through the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, by means of the written Word, the Bible ... It may take the Word of God to show us what we really need, and then to give us the power to get it. In the end what we really need is Christ. (pp.96, 100)

So how do we read the Bible? How do we keep reading the Bible? The best advice I've ever received is Piper's: plan how, plan when, plan where. If this sounds like legalism to you, Piper's The joy of duty will set you right - and The Quiet Time Performance will remind you to stay in God's grace. Use Jennie Baddeley's practical theology for women to assess how your Bible reading is going. ...

Here's some ideas for engaging with the Bible. ...

You can read the rest at EQUIP book club today - just click here.

image is from Tigerlily at flickr

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

a worksheet for changing your behaviour

A couple of months ago, I posted some questionnaires to help you identify the lies and idols of your heart. Since then, we've talked about how important it is to not just change our thinking, but also to change our behaviour - to put off the old self and put on the new (Eph 4:22-24).

Today I'd like to tell you about a worksheet, inspired (again!) by Elyse Fitzpatrick's Idols of the Heart, to help you take practical steps to change your attitudes and actions.

Choose a habitual sin that you struggle with, or a persistent negative emotion like anger, guilt, despondency or anxiety. Draw up four columns on a page. Write these headings and questions at the top of the columns:

Put off
What attitudes and actions does God want you to put off?
What areas of temptation can you cut out?

Renewed thoughts
What thoughts of God’s truth and the gospel would help you combat these attitudes and actions?

Put on
What attitudes and actions does God want you to put on?
What would support this change (e.g. memorising relevant Bible verses, being accountable to someone)?

Specific actions
What specific steps can you take to start practising these new attitudes and actions?
What specific steps can you take to support this change?

I hope you find this as helpful as I have!

adapted from the worksheet in Elyse Fitzpatrick's Idols of the Heart 176

image is by TheAlieness at flickr

Monday, November 16, 2009

preach the gospel to yourself

I think you'll really enjoy EQUIP books this week. Today's post is about how to remember the gospel, on Wednesday I'll write about the Bible, and on Friday I'll talk about prayer. There'll be lots of practical ideas, and links to what other people have written, in a kind of extended online meandering. Here's how today's post begins (click here to read the whole post).

Preach the gospel to yourself. Ever since I was first encouraged to do this, it's become one of my most important weapons in the fight for joy.

Preach the gospel to yourself. Women especially need to heed this call. We hear a talk on biblical womanhood, and are burdened by a hundred ways we need to change. We're self-aware, and emotionally and relationally aware, so we're often very sensitive to our faults and weaknesses. We need to be reminded, over and over, that God's love doesn't depend on what we do, that change is motivated and enabled by grace, and that obedience isn't about rules but love. We need to keep returning to the cross.

Preach the gospel to yourself. This is the first and central strategy in the fight for joy. Any helpful spiritual practice is really just a way to make this happen.

Hearing the word of the cross, and preaching it to ourselves, is the central strategy for sinners in the fight for joy. Nothing works without this. Here is where we start. And here is where we stay. We never outgrow the gospel. Here we see the glory of Christ more clearly than anywhere. ... And here in the cross is where every enemy of joy is overcome. ... What could stop our joy if we really believed this truth: Everything we need to be satisfied in God, the cross has made certain. It cannot fail. (pp.91-92)

... How do you preach the gospel to yourself? Tell us about it in the comments! Here's my ideas ...

You can read the rest at EQUIP book club - just click here.

image is by abcdz2000 at flickr

Friday, November 13, 2009

weapons for the fight

If you were asked to list the "spiritual disciplines" which help you fight for joy, what would be on your list? Stop for a minute and think about it. ...

How does your list compare with Piper's? Here are the "means of grace" he encourages us to use in the fight for joy:

1. the gospel - hearing it preached, preaching it to ourselves
2. the Bible - reading, memorising, musing, sharing it with others
3. prayer - when, how, where, praying the word
4. the world - creation and our bodies ...

Piper's chapters on the "means of grace" are pure gold. They're rooted in the Bible and historical evangelical piety, and they're so practical and helpful that I follow Piper's advice every day. ...

You can read the rest at EQUIP book club - just click here.

image is from stock.xchng

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

keeping the cross central in the fight for joy

Every year I rediscover the gospel. Every year it sweeps over me again like a breaking wave. Every time it's startling, as if I've discovered it for the first time, so that I wonder if I could possibly have understood it before.

I hoard the memories like treasures cast up by the waves. A talk on Gethsemane which left me in tears. A mind-bending book on the theology of the cross. A realisation, late one night, that I'm free from the iron bands of legalism, loved by God and free to live in love.

What are your memories? What were the moments when the cross and resurrection of Christ impacted you?

There can be no joy without the cross. As Piper says, without it any happiness is self-deluded, small and shrunken, dancing before the Titanic crashes. With it, all obstacles to joy are removed and all joys are made possible. ...

We're about to launch into the wonderful chapters where Piper unveils the practical strategies we can use in the fight for joy. But he's made it clear: these strategies are worth nothing if they don't direct our eyes to the glory of God in Christ.

All strategies in the fight for joy are directly or indirectly strategies to see Christ more fully. ... This is the most foundational strategy in the battle for joy - the strategic battle to see. In all the strategies commended in this book for how to fight for joy, this is always the aim of each. Directly or indirectly every strategy is a strategy to behold the glory of Christ and become enthralled with his beauty above all. (pp.60, 66-67)

You can read the rest at EQUIP book club - just click here.

image is from stock.xchng

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Martyn Lloyd Jones: the practicalities of putting off

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:22-24, my emphasis)
It's all very well to say "put off" the old self and "put on" the new. How do you do it in practice? Last week I shared an excerpt from Martyn Lloyd Jones's Exposition of Ephesians where he talks about the "principle" of putting off the old self. This week, I'd like to share his "practical application", where he tells us how to put off the old self.

If you're observant, you'll notice that these"how to's" are very similar to Tim Chester's in You Can Change. Martyn Lloyd Jones's first three points are really about faith: remembering who we are in Jesus. His fourth and last are about repentance: turning from sin. His fifth point is about avoiding temptation, one of Chester's strategies for supporting faith and repentance that we'll cover later this term.

The first essential is, that we have to remind ourselves of who we are and what we are. ...
The whole art of Christian living is to know how to talk to yourself. ... A Christian is a preacher, he preaches to himself. You start your day by telling yourself, Now I am the new man, I am no longer the old man; my old man has been crucified with Christ ... It is not surprising that we fail so much. We do not start the day as we should. We groan, Here are these thoughts again, and here is the problem, another eighteen hours or so before me, what can I do? And before we realise it, we are already defeated. Let us therefore remind ourselves who we are ...

The second essential follows obviously ... We are to remind ourselves again of the nature and the character of the old life. [Eph 4:17-19, 22] ...
I suppose I have to say this more frequently than anything else in my pastoral work. People come about particular problems; they tell me that they have been praying to be delivered ... I say to them, Have you ever really looked this thing in the face? You are frightened of it, you are running away from it, you are cowering ... But now, wait a moment. Examine this thing, put it up in front of you, analyse it and dissect it, see it for what it is. That is half the battle. And then ... you will see that the whole thing must be got rid of. Look at it and face it, instead of running away from it. ...

And then there is a third point. Impress upon yourself the utter inconsistency of claiming to be a Christian but continuing to live in the old way.
So obvious, is it not? And yet how we all fail to do it! You have to ... say to yourself: ... I am being utterly inconsistent ... As a Christian ... I am saying that I am a partaker of the divine nature, that Christ died to rescue me from this present evil world, that I have been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son. ... Is my conduct and my behaviour to be that of the old realm when I claim to belong to this new realm? [Phil 1:27] ... There are certain things that are incompatible with this new life. Put them off! Get rid of them!

But we must go on to the next step of obedience to the gospel. ... Have nothing at all to do with the works of darkness. [Eph 5:11]
Be drastic. Have no dealings at all with them. ... Watch the beginning. Have no parleying, have no discussion, have nothing at all to do with sin ... The moment you even listen to the devil you have practically gone under. If you have a discussion with him, ... you are already beaten, he will defeat you every time; he is subtle, he is clever ... If you begin to have any parleyings with sin, you are done for. ... If you are in doubt about a thing, say No! Err on that side rather than on the other. Things that are even doubtful should not be touched. [Rom 14:23]

Next we come to another positive injunction which I want to emphasise. ... Do not be fool enough to lead yourself into temptation. [Rom 13:14]
There are certain places that are bad for you - Stay out of them! ... You know beforehand that if you go in, the flesh will be stimulated. ... Therefore, never go into such a place. And not only places, but also people. ... You do not pray about this, you do not argue, you do not need special guidance about this. If experience teaches you that such a person invariably tends to have a bad influence upon you, avoid such a person. ... The same holds good with respect to reading ... So be discriminating and careful as you read ... Avoid that which tends to harm you and to drag you down. ... If there is something that is enticing, do not look at it! ... Make a covenant with your eyes, look straight on [Job 31:1, 7, Prov 4:25], do not let your eyes wander, do not let them lust after things, do not let them turn from the straight path ... : you do not merely pray about it; you must just not look! ...

And that brings me to the last principle - I have tried to put the principles in ascending order - ... mortify the flesh [Rom 8:13, Col 3:5] ...
Mortify means to deaden, it means deliberately to attack, it means to starve ... 'I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection'! [1 Cor 9:25, 27]. ... I am like a boxer, I am not beating the air, I am pummelling myself, I am hitting myself black and blue, I am giving myself black eyes; that this flesh may not get me down. I keep my body under, and bring it into subjection. ... So we not only do not make provision for the flesh, we must mortify the flesh, keep it under, keep it down, realising that unless we do so, it will get us down temporarily and we shall be living a contradictory life. ...

Put off the old man! And do it in detail. The Apostle goes on to details - lying, stealing, corrupt communications. He takes them up one by one, and he says you have to apply the principles with regard to every single item. And thus you will put off the old man that is corrupt and dying and decaying, ... that we may no longer disgrace the fair and glorious name of our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

from Martyn Lloyd Jones's comments on Ephesians 4:22-24 in his Exposition of Ephesians; longer emphases mine

images are from Hope., tilaneseven, adedip, ashley.adcox, Phil Dragash, Geekgirly, and Alva+Chien at flickr

Monday, November 9, 2009

turning on joy

It would be nice if you could turn on joy with the flick of a switch, wouldn't it? Imagine waking in the morning, feeling discouraged, and deciding to rejoice in God. Bing! The light goes on and so does joy.

We all know it's not that simple. We can fight tooth and nail for joy, and it can still be beyond us. That's because joy is God's gift. But how do you fight for something which is a gift? ...

My favourite quote in John Piper's When I Don't Desire God, which has comforted me innumerable times, and reminded me to wait for God and keep fighting when joy seems a million miles away, is this:

We are like farmers. They plow the field and plant the seed and cut away weeds and scare away crows, but they do not make the crop grow. God does. He sends rain and sunshine and brings to maturity the hidden life of the seed. ... We must learn to wait for the Lord. ... In obedience to God's Word we should fight to walk in the paths where he has promised his blessings. But when and how they come is God's to decide, not ours. If they delay, we trust the wisdom of our Father's timing, and we wait. In this way joy remains a gift, while we work patiently in the field of obedience and fight against the weeds and the crows and the rodents. Here is where joy will come. Here is where Christ will reveal himself (Jn 14:21). But that revelation and that joy will come when and how Christ chooses. It is a gift. (pp.42-43) ...

Knowing this has helped me a lot over the years. I try to be disciplined in the fight for joy: to battle my emotions, to read God's word and pray, to spend time with his people, to walk in his good world. But when joy proves elusive - as it often does! - I've learned to wait. I cry out to God, I pray, and I wait for God to restore joy (Ps 51:20) in his own timing and in his own way. This isn't easy, but it reminds me that God is sovereign and trustworthy: he knows what is best for me.

This is a slightly edited excerpt from today's post at EQUIP book club - to read the rest, click here.

image is from Jaako at flickr

Friday, November 6, 2009

desire, delight, and when I don't

As I write this, rejoicing in God is the last thing on my mind. I'm exhausted. I didn't get much sleep. I've got a Bible study to write - and this post. So far this morning, I've dealt with no less than three emotional meltdowns. My fourth child was running and jumping around the house, noisily annoying anyone within reach.

Chapter 2 is an odd little chapter. Piper seems to go to a lot of effort to explain that desire and delight are two sides of the same coin (the man does love defining his terms!). His illustration about sex makes a lot of sense to me:

Who could draw a line between the power of sexual desire and sexual pleasure? The desire is part of the satisfaction. We speak of climax not because that is the only pleasure, but precisely because it is not the only pleasure. All the desires leading to it and following after it are part of the one big pleasure. (p. 26)

He's right: desire and delight overlap and merge into one another. But I'm not sure why he's bothering to make this point.

That's until I realise that it has important implications for days like today, when I don't feel delight in God. In fact, if I'm honest, I don't feel desire either - not today! But I'm immensely comforted by Piper's words: ...

You can read the rest at EQUIP book club today - just click here.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

questions for God

Thomas has his questions all lined up. When he gets to heaven, here's what he's going to ask God:

1. How many hairs do I have? (Luke 12:7.)

2. Can I have my heaven-party today? (Matt 8:11.)

3. Can I have wishes? (no Bible references for that one, I'm afraid!)

I must admit, I'm starting to get curious about the answer to the hair question. Ah, there we go, there's nothing like google. About 100,000, apparently, and 250 per eyebrow - 550 on a bad eyebrow hair day.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

does God want duty or delight?

It's time for another question. I'll give you a few minutes to think about this one (actually, you can take all day if you like) since it's not easy or obvious. Here's my question.

When is God most glorified?
a) when we obey him when we don't feel like it
b) when we obey him with joy

Be honest! You might like to share your answer in the comments. Perhaps, like my small group, you said "both" - and maybe there's some truth in that, as we'll see. ...

You can read the rest at EQUIP book club today - just click here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Martyn Lloyd Jones: don't pray, put off!

A week ago I talked about how important it is that we don't just work on changing our attitudes, but also our behaviour. So I was interested to hear about a conversation my friend Jenny had a couple of weeks ago about this very topic.

One of her friends told her how helpful she'd found Martyn Lloyd Jones's reflections on Ephesians 4:22-24:

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:22-24, my emphasis)
She kindly sent Martyn Lloyd Jones's commentary on these verses to me, and because it's not easy to get hold of - unless you have all 8 volumes of his Exposition of Ephesians! - I'll post an excerpt this week and next week.

You'll enjoy the story about the lady and the thunderstorms! Or you might like to print the whole quote out and reflect on it as you read the Bible sometime this week.

It is not enough just to say, Put off the old man, put on the new! ... The "putting off" is something that the Christian has to do. It is not something that is done for him. ...

Putting off the old man is not something that is to be prayed about. That sounds most unspiritual, does it not? Imagine a preacher in a Christian pulpit telling people that they are not to pray about this matter! ... Not at all, says Paul; ... put off the old man; get on with it! There is something almost violent about this; and I think it needs violence, because there is a great deal of sickly sentimentality and false piety concerning this matter, which leads certain people to live a kind of spiritual life ever in the doldrums. ...

But what if a believer talks about his lack of strength and power? The answer to that is, that as a regenerate creature, a new-born being, he has the power. If in the New Testament we are commanded to do a thing, we may rightly expect to receive from the Lord the power to do it ...

Many years ago a lady came to see me about a problem which had been crippling her life for about twenty-two years. It may sound to others a trivial thing, but it was spoiling her life. She had a phobia, a terror, a horror, of thunderstorms. She once had been in a terrible thunderstorm and thought she was going to be killed, and that had fixed on her mind. And in the end it had come to this, that if she were walking to her place of worship on a Sunday morning and happened to see a black cloud, this fear would immediately suggest a coming thunderstorm, and instead of going to church she would go home because of her fear. This phobia had taken many forms: it had prevented her doing many things she had wanted to do, and it had created difficulties in the family; one can imagine the problems that would arise. ... Well now, I said, what have you been doing about it? She replied, I have done everything I can; I have talked to all sorts of people. I said, I suppose you have prayed about it? She said, I pray and nothing else, I am always praying about it. I replied, That is probably why the problem has persisted! And I continued, What you need is not to pray, but to think! And then I simply pointed out to her what a bad testimony this was in a Christian person such as she was; had she ever thought of that? Had she ever asked herself the question, Why should I be more afraid of a thunderstorm than anybody else? If all these other people can continue their journey to a place or worship, why should not I? Why is this trouble so peculiar to myself? She had never thought of that. Instead, she had been praying sincerely and honestly, and with great intensity, for twenty-two years to be delivered from the fear of thunderstorms, but the fear remained and was increasing. ...

There are points ... about which you do not need to pray, but you do need to think and to apply the doctrine. You put off the old man! You need not pray for guidance about this! ... This is not a matter of praying, this is a matter of doing. And so we see that the devil in his subtlety and as an angel of light can sometimes encourage us to pray in a blind and unintelligent manner ...

Many Christians are familiar with the teaching which says ... 'Let go and let God!' ... and there are people who have been trying to practise it. But they have not been delivered from their troubles. They may have had temporary deliverance while they were in meetings, but the trouble comes back again ...

You do not ask God to take the old man from you, you put him off! ... We do not just wait passively, or relax and expect it to be accomplished for us. Not at all! Put off! Stop doing certain things ... If you and I are born again, the Spirit of God and of Christ is in us, the Holy Spirit is in us, the power is there. And we have to realise this, and in the strength of divine might and power we act, we do this thing. ...

You have got to do it, and I have got to do it; it is not done for us; evil is not all taken out of us in a marvellous, thrilling experience ... And it is to be done through the Spirit ... ; ... in his power ... Such is the Christian! ... Put off the old man!

All very well! But how do you do this in practice? Next week, I'll share Martyn Lloyd Jones's practical suggestions for putting off the old self. If you'd like to see the full excerpt, please contact me.

images are from Hope.*, nicky.reynolds, rachel titriga and thescotty from flickr, except for image of lightning, which is from stock.xchng

Monday, November 2, 2009

spiritual disciplines and When I Don't Desire God

One thing I haven't told you yet about John Piper's When I Don't Desire God is that it's the best book on the "spiritual disciplines" I've ever read - and I read a number earlier this year for a seminar I was preparing! Today I talk about that and about the month ahead on EQUIP book club.

Today I want to give you a bird's eye view of John Piper's When I Don't Desire God. This isn't a book you want to just launch yourself into! It helps - it would have helped me, anyway! - to have a feel for what lies ahead.

The first third of the book tells us why we need to fight for joy. It talks about how joy glorifies God, how devastating it is to know that God should be our highest joy when he's not, what the difference is between desire and delight, and how joy is both a gift and a fight.

The rest of the book tells us how to fight for joy. You'll find here the best chapters on the "spiritual disciplines" (Piper calls them "means of grace") I've ever read - and I've read a few! ...

Here's the plan: ...

You can read the rest at EQUIP book club today - just click here.