Suffering: But God said no…

Written by R.C. Sproul

images (8)I am astonished that…

…in the light of the clear biblical record, anyone would have the audacity to suggest that it is wrong for the afflicted in body or soul to couch their prayers for deliverance in terms of “If it be thy will….” We are told that when affliction comes, God always wills healing, that He has nothing to do with suffering, and that all we must do is claim the answer we seek by faith. We are exhorted to claim God’s yes before He speaks it.

Away with such distortions of biblical faith!

They are conceived in the mind of the Tempter, who would seduce us into exchanging faith for magic. No amount of pious verbiage can transform such falsehood into sound doctrine. We must accept the fact that God sometimes says no. Sometimes He calls us to suffer and die even if we want to claim the contrary.

Never did a man pray more earnestly than Christ prayed in Gethsemane.

Who will charge Jesus with failure to pray in faith? He put His request before the Father with sweat like blood: “Take this cup away from me.” This prayer was straightforward and without ambiguity—Jesus was crying out for relief. He asked for the horribly bitter cup to be removed. Every ounce of His humanity shrank from the cup. He begged the Father to relieve Him of His duty.

But God said no.

The way of suffering was the Father’s plan. It was the Father’s will. The cross was not Satan’s idea. The passion of Christ was not the result of human contingency. It was not the accidental contrivance of Caiaphas, Herod, or Pilate. The cup was prepared, delivered, and administered by almighty God.

In all our prayers, we must let God be God.

Jesus qualified His prayer: “If it is Your will….” Jesus did not “name it and claim it.” He knew His Father well enough to understand that it might not be His will to remove the cup. So the story does not end with the words, “And the Father repented of the evil He had planned, removed the cup, and Jesus lived happily ever after.” Such words border on blasphemy. The gospel is not a fairy tale. The Father would not negotiate the cup. Jesus was called to drink it to its last dregs. And He accepted it. “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

This “nevertheless” was the supreme prayer of faith.

The prayer of faith is not a demand that we place on God. It is not a presumption of a granted request. The authentic prayer of faith is one that models Jesus’ prayer. It is always uttered in a spirit of subordination. In all our prayers, we must let God be God. No one tells the Father what to do, not even the Son. Prayers are always to be requests made in humility and submission to the Father’s will.

The prayer of faith is a prayer of trust.

The very essence of faith is trust. We trust that God knows what is best. The spirit of trust includes a willingness to do what the Father wants us to do. Christ embodied that kind of trust in Gethsemane. Though the text is not explicit, it is clear that Jesus left the garden with the Father’s answer to His plea. There was no cursing or bitterness. His meat and His drink were to do the Father’s will. Once the Father said no, it was settled. Jesus prepared Himself for the cross.

Coming to the Father as Family and Friend

Adapted from “A Brief Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer”
Written by Thomas Hooker.
Edited for thought and sense.

01-father-and-child-portraitRejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

Now the motives whereby the soul may be furnished to call on God are three:

First, a cheerful readiness to come unto the Lord.

Why? We have an interest in him; he is our Father. We have the interest a child has in his father, which stirs him to come readily to his Father, he does not crave from a stranger, as when the child cried they carried him to his mother. If anything befalls the child, he says, ‘I will tell my father, and complain to my mother,’ and the like. So ask the child, who will provide for him? He says, my father. So it is here with our God. There is a fresh and living way that is marvelous, easy, and open. Whosoever seeks shall find, whosoever knocks it shall be opened to him. Therefore, whatever our injuries are, we should not complain to the world. No, pour forth your prayers to your Father, and he will be sure to hear you.

Secondly, as there should be a cheery readiness to come to the Lord so there should be a spiritual boldness to challenge what may be needful.

Among strangers we are strange, but among friends we are bold. We have a right and title to these things, and we may be bold with our own. Thus David challenges God. As you are faithful, deliver me, I am your servant, etc. If a servant wants food or raiment, he goes to his master. So says David, I am your servant, therefore give me understanding, that I may live. When they bragged of Paul and Apollos, he says, All is yours. This should comfort our hearts. Let us claim our portions. God is our Father and he will give it. Therefore be humbled in regard of your weakness and unworthiness, and confident in regard of his mercy, and walk comfortably in regard of the Lord. If I should see the child doubt in regard of my readiness, I should wonder. Care not, he says, it is your own, and he is our Father, and all that is in him is ours, Matthew 6:32.

Thirdly, this stirs up our hearts to have a fellow-feeling of our brethren’s misery in our prayers.

Therefore God cuts off all in-seekings of our own. Our, as if he should say, ‘Is there never a Joseph in prison, never a Daniel in the lions’ den, remember and pray for them. If one suffers, all suffer; we are all members of one body. We should mourn with those that mourn, and weep with them that weep, Isaiah 58. Put up a prayer for the remnant. Oh that our hearts would have a fellow-feeling of their trouble. Paul begs for prayers as for a penny. Ephesians 6:19, for me also; no, he entreats the Romans to wrestle for him in prayer.
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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: Thomas Hooker (July 5, 1586 – July 7, 1647) was a prominent Puritan colonial leader, who founded the Colony of Connecticut after dissenting with Puritan leaders in Massachusetts. He was known as an outstanding speaker and a leader of universal Christian suffrage.

Called today “the Father of Connecticut,” Thomas Hooker was a towering figure in the early development of colonial New England. He was one of the great preachers of his time, an erudite writer on Christian subjects, the first minister of Cambridge, Massachusetts, one of the first settlers and founders of both the city of Hartford and the state of Connecticut, and cited by many as the inspiration for the “Fundamental Orders of Connecticut,” cited by some as the world’s first written democratic constitution that established a representative government.

Hooker arrived in Boston and settled in Newtown (later renamed Cambridge), where he became the pastor of the First Parish Church. His parish became known as “Mr. Hooker’s Company”.

Hooker and Company Journeying through the Wilderness from Plymouth to Hartford, in 1636, Frederic Edwin Church, 1846

Voting in Massachusetts was limited to freemen, individuals who had been formally admitted to their church after a detailed interrogation of their religious views and experiences. Hooker disagreed with this limitation of suffrage, putting him at odds with the influential pastor John Cotton. Owing to his conflict with Cotton and discontented with the suppression of Puritan suffrage and at odds with the colony leadership, Hooker and the Rev. Samuel Stone led a group of about 100[9] who, in 1636, founded the settlement of Hartford, named for Stone’s place of birth: Hertford, in England.

On January 14, 1639, freemen from these three settlements ratified the “Fundamental Orders of Connecticut” in what John Fiske called “the first written constitution known to history that created a government. It marked the beginnings of American democracy, of which Thomas Hooker deserves more than any other man to be called the father. The government of the United States today is in lineal descent more nearly related to that of Connecticut than to that of any of the other thirteen colonies.”

The Rev. Hooker died during an “epidemical sickness” in 1647, at the age of 61. The location of his grave is unknown, although he is believed to be buried in Hartford’s Ancient Burying Ground. Because there was no known portrait of him, the statue of him that stands nearby, in front of Hartford’s Old State House, was sculpted from the likenesses of his descendants. However, the city is not without a sense of humor regarding its origins. Each year, organizations and citizens of Hartford dress up in outrageous costumes to celebrate Hooker Day with the Hooker Day Parade. T-shirts sold in the Old State House proclaim “Hartford was founded by a Hooker.”

A Prayer for Restoration

Posted in Puritan Prayers

HolyOrdersLord Jesus, I sin.

Grant that I may never cease grieving because of it, never be content with myself, never think I can reach a point of perfection. Kill my envy, command my tongue, trample down self. Give me grace to be holy, kind, gentle, pure, peaceable, to live for Thee and not for self, to copy Thy words, acts, spirit, to be transformed into Thy likeness, to be consecrated wholly to Thee, to live entirely to Thy glory.

Deliver me from attachment to things unclean, from wrong associations, from the predominance of evil passions, from the sugar of sin as well as its gap; that with self-loathing, deep contrition, earnest heart searching I may come to Thee, cast myself on Thee, trust in Thee, cry to Thee, be delivered by Thee.

O God, the Eternal All, help me to know that all things are shadows, but Thou art substance, all things are quicksands, but Thou art mountain, all things are shifting, but Thou art anchor, all things are ignorance, but Thou art wisdom.

If my life is to be a crucible amid burning heat, so be it, but do Thou sit at the furnace mouth to watch the ore that nothing be lost.

If I sin tormentedly, in grace take away my mourning and give me music; remove my sackcloth and clothe me with beauty; still my sighs and fill my mouth with song, then give me summer weather as a Christian.

On Morning Prayer

Taken and adapted from, “A Method for Prayer”,
Written by, Matthew Henry,

images (2)“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” 

–Psalm 90:14 (ESV)

In the morning we are most free from company and business, and ordinarily have the best opportunity for solitude and retirement, unless we be of those sluggards that lie in bed, with yet a little sleep, a little slumber, until the work of their calling calls them up, with how long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? It is the wisdom of those that have much to do in the world, that have scarcely a minute to themselves all day, to take time in the morning, before business crowds in upon them, for the business of their religion, that they may be entire for it, and therefore the more intent upon it.

As we are concerned to worship God then when we are least burdened with deadness and dulness within, so also when we are least exposed to distraction and diversion from without; the apostle intimates how much it should be our care to attend upon the Lord without distraction, 1 Corinthians 7:35.  And therefore that one day in seven, (and it is the first day too, the morning of the week) which is appointed for holy work, is appointed to be a day of rest from other work. Abraham leaves all at the bottom of the hill when he goes up into the mount to worship God. In the morning, therefore, let us converse with God, and apply ourselves to the concerns of the other life, before we are entangled in the affairs of this life. Our Lord Jesus has set us an example of this, who, because his day was wholly filled up with public business for God and the souls of men, rose up in the morning a great while before day, and before company came in, and went out into a solitary place, and there prayed, Mark 1:35.

In the morning we have received fresh mercies from God, which we are concerned to acknowledge with thankfulness to his praise. He is continually doing us good, and loading us with his benefits. Every day we have reason to bless him, for every day he is blessing us ; in the morning particularly; and therefore as he is giving out to us the fruits of his favour, which are said to be new every morning, Lam. iii. 23. because though the same that we had the morning before, they are still forfeited, and still needed, and upon that account may be called still new: so we should be still returning the expressions of our gratitude to him, and of other pious and devout affections, which, like the fire on the altar, must be new every morning. Leviticus 6:12.

Posted by, The Dead Puritan Society

A Prayer with Power

pcotw_crossO Lord, Whose power is infinite and wisdom infallible…

…order things that they may neither hinder, nor discourage me, nor prove obstacles to the progress of Thy cause. Stand between me and all strife, that no evil befall, no sin corrupt my gifts, zeal, attainments. May I follow duty and not any foolish device of my own. Permit me not to labour at work which Thou wilt not bless, that I may serve thee without disgrace or debt.

Let me dwell in Thy most secret place under thy shadow, where is safe impenetrable protection from the arrow that flieth by day, the pestilence that walketh in darkness, the strife of tongues, the malice of ill-will, the hurt of unkind talk, the snares of company, the perils of youth, the temptations of middle life, the mournings of old age, the fear of death.

I am entirely dependent upon Thee for support, counsel, consolation. Uphold me by Thy free Spirit, and may I not think it enough to be preserved from falling, but may I always go forward, always abounding in the work Thou givest me to do. Strengthen me by Thy Spirit in my inner self for every purpose of my Christian life.

All my jewels I give to the shadow of the safety that is in Thee—my name anew in Christ, my body, soul, talents, character, my success, wife, children, friends, work, my present, my future, my end. Take them, they are Thine, and I am thine, now and for ever.

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Posted in Puritan Prayers

The Powerful Work of the Holy Spirit Interceding in Our Prayers

Written by: Edward Bickersteth
Published in: 1839
Edited for thought and sense.

HolySpirit7Gifts_imgThe intercession of the Holy Spirit differs from that of Christ.

Our Lord intercedes in heaven, separate and apart from us, by himself, at the throne of glory. The Holy Spirit intercedes in, and with our hearts, at the throne of grace. The gift and intercession of the Holy Spirit is the fruit and effect of the intercession of Christ, who, when he ascended up on high led captivity captive,and received this gift for men, yea, even for the rebellious.

Christians have then the intercession, and the additional interposition of the Holy Spirit, like a powerful and able advocate, who takes up our sinking cause, urges our necessities and our pleas, with power, earnestness, and perseverance, and places them with strong and irresistible effect in such a light,that it is evident the suit is obtained and the request granted. Thus the Spirit makes intercession for us, suggesting to us, and offering up in us, those desires, arguments, and pleas, which would otherwise never have risen in our minds.

“The Holy’ Spirit,” says one of the Reformers, “excites within us confidence, desires, and sighs, to the conception of which our native powers were altogether inadequate.” There are pious persons of very poor attainments in other respects, without learning or human acquirements, in the very lowest stations of life,who, asking for the aid of the Holy Spirit, can, with the greatest propriety of expression, the deepest reverence, and an uninterrupted fluency of words, pour out their souls to God, and edify their families and their neighbors. Indeed, have not those who entirely decry the assistance of the Holy Spirit, as given to believers in our days, reason to fear lest they should be guilty, in some measure, of the sin of blasphemy against him?

There is a distinction, not improperly made, between the gift and the grace of prayer, though perhaps the more just distinction would be between the talent of elocution and the spirit of prayer. Some have a natural or acquired power of a great command of words, and a full flow of language, which enables them to pray with facility,and so far it is very desirable ; and I hesitate not to say with Dr. Watts, that “there is the ordinary assistance of the Spirit required, even to the attainment of this holy skill, or ability to pray.” But men may have this talent, and yet have none of those real feelings of want, desire, resignation, peace, hope, joy, etc., which form the essence of true prayer, and without which the best expressions are of little worth. The right spirit of prayer is not merely to be able to press God with the most proper words and urgent vehemence: this is talent and elocution.

True prayer is a higher thing, the special gift of the Holy Ghost; not so much a matter of the lips, as of the heart.

He has the most of this gift, who ” has the most enlightened apprehension of the God to whom he speaks: the deepest sense of his own wants: the most eager longings after grace, the most fervent desires of supplies from heaven; and, in a word, whose heart sends up the strongest cries to the Father of Mercies.” Hence many may have much of the spirit of prayer, who have but a small degree of the power of utterance.

Much, indeed, of the work of the Spirit is secret. We know not various particulars connected with it. We know it rather by its effects, than by its mode of operation. The wind blows where it will,and thou hears the sound thereof, hut canst not tell whence it Comes, and whither it goes; so is every one that is born of the Spirit. We experience its power, and that is sufficient. The Christian knows that he has often knelt down averse to prayer, dead, dull, stupid; almost without desiring the blessings for which he ought to ask. And yet with all his weakness, after looking for the aid of the Spirit,after praying as did David, Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise, (Psalm 2:15) and persevering in asking, seeking, and knocking, (Matt. 7:7) he has in such a remarkable way experienced the presence of God, as to fill him with joy unspeakable, and a hope full of glory. He has in these cases sometimes found an unction, an enlargement of expression far beyond anything that he had previously calculated on, or could expect, accompanied by such lively and vehement desires and thirstings after God and holiness and glory, as satisfactorily and evidently to his mind, marked the agency and assistance of a divine power which makes intercession for us.

But farther, he makes intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered.

I am sensible that I am here bringing a subject forward which must be in a great measure unintelligible (and may therefore appear absurd) to those who have never experienced it: but since the sacred writings have plainly stated it, we should neither conceal it, nor keep it back. And conceive the case of a mind truly and fully awakened to see the shortness of time, the vanity of worldly things, the unutterable glory of the blessed, the never-ending anguish of the condemned, the boundless ages of eternity,the uncertainty of every moment, and the inseparable connection between obtaining grace in this life,and glory in the next.

Conceive the mind open to just views of the loving-kindness and glory of the great God, and our privilege to have fellowship with him. If we realize this state of mind, we may easily imagine that there are such ardent thirstings wrought in the immortal soul, after pardon, grace, Christ, heaven and God’s glory, as no words are great or strong enough to express. The Psalms of David often manifest this state of mind “My soul fainteth, he says, for thy salvation. O Lord, how long! I am weary with my groaning.” Here we may observe some of the groanings of him in whom the Spirit intercedes; but yet this intercession is with such importunity of desires, such holy pleading and wrestling with God, such ardor of spirit, such inward laboring and working of the heart toward God, as cannot be expressed by words.

Hillel, On the Wisdom of Prayer

agony-in-garden-gauguinThe wise Hillel had a pupil named Maimon,

Hillel was greatly pleased with his talents and his good understanding. But he soon discovered that Maimon was trusting too much to his own wisdom, and had entirely given up prayer. For the young man said in his heart, “What is the use of prayer? Does the Omniscient God need our words before He helps us? He would then be like a man. Can a man’s prayers and sighs alter His plans? Will not the gracious God give us of Himself whatever is good and useful?” These were the thoughts of the youth.

But Hillel was troubled in his heart that Maimon should think himself wiser than the Word of God, and he determined to teach him better. When Maimon went to him one day Hillel was sitting in his garden, under the shade of a palm-tree, meditating, with his head resting on his hand. And Maimon said to him, “Master, about what are you meditating?”

Then Hillel lifted up his head and said, “I have a friend, who lives upon the produce of his estate. Till now he has carefully cultivated it, and it has well repaid his toil. But now he has thrown away the plough and hoe, and is determined to leave the field to itself, so that he is sure to come to want and misery.”

”Has he gone mad?” asked the young man, “or fallen into despondency?” “Neither,” said Hillel. “He is of a pious disposition, and well grounded in learning, both human and Divine. But he says “the Lord is Omnipotent, and can easily give us nourishment without our bending our head to the ground; and as He is gracious, He will bless my table and open His hand.

And who can contradict Him?”

“Why,” said the young man, “is not that tempting God? Have not you told him so?” Then Hillel smiled and said, “I will tell him so. You, dear Maimon, are the friend I am speaking of.”