Faith To Keep Praying For Your Unsaved Children

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And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)

Nothing concerns Christian parents more than the salvation of their children. And God is concerned even more than we are.

God created the institution of family to reflect his own desire and love for his family. He sent his Son to bring us into his family.  When God saves us he adopts us as his children. He becomes our heavenly Father. He loves us as his precious children and makes us joint-heirs with Christ. Scripture is filled with his promises to parents. Promises like:

Isaiah 54:13 All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children.

Isaiah 59:21 “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from this time forth and forevermore.”

Psalm 102:28 The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you.

We should pray that God would fulfill these promises for our children, our grandchildren and all our descendants. If God has saved you, then you have good reason to believe and hope that he plans to save your children.

Speaking of Paul’s words to the Philippian jailer in Acts 16, Charles Spurgeon says this:

Acts 16:31 “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Does the father’s faith save the family? Yes! No! — Yes, it does in the sense that the father’s faith makes him pray for his family, and God hears his prayer, and the family is saved. No, the father’s faith cannot be a substitute for the faith of the children, for they must believe also. When a man has believed, there is a promise that his house will be saved. The father should not rest satisfied until he sees all his children saved. If he does rest, he has not believed correctly. Yet, there are those who only believe for themselves. Take the promise as broadly as the Word states and claim from God your little ones as well.” (Charles Spurgeon, Characteristics of Faith, in The Triumph of Faith in a Believer’s Life, Robert Hall, ed, 60)

“The father should not rest satisfied until he sees all his children saved.”

The church father Augustine was a wild and immoral teenager. When he got older, he rejected his mother Monica’s Christian faith and joined a cult. He fathered a child outside of marriage. Yet his mother never stopped praying for him, and near the end of her life, when he was 29, he became a believer. She died at age 56, and said on her death bed, “There was indeed one thing for which I wish to tarry a little bit in this life and that was that I might see you a Christian before I died. My God has exceeded this abundantly.”

Don’t stop praying for your children. Don’t give up. God hears our prayers for our children and grandchildren. He desires their salvation more than we do. If Jesus saved you, you have good reason to believe he intends to save your children as well. Pray that he will save them for his glory. Don’t rest satisfied until you see your children saved. And when he does save them, KEEP praying for them!

Are Our Hearts Really Idol Factories?

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John Calvin famously said:

From this we may gather that man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols…Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God. –John Calvin, Institutes, 1.11.8

This quote is often used when discussing the issue of idolatry in the Christian heart. The argument usually goes something like this: Our hearts are perpetual idol factories, always leading us to worship something other than God. Therefore, we must be constantly evaluating our hearts to ensure that we are not drifting into idolatry.

I have made this argument myself. I included this argument in a book I wrote. But recently, my thinking on this issue has changed a bit.

To reference that other great theologian, Jay-Z, I’ve got 99 problems, and two of them are with the “idol factory” line of thinking.

First, Calvin was not referencing regenerated, Spirit-filled, New Covenant Christians when using the phrase “idol factory”. He was discussing the fact that throughout all ages, men have sought to create visual representations of God. He was not speaking of the Christian’s every day battle against sin. He was speaking of the unregenerate, and probably also taking a swipe at the Papacy, which Calvin liked to do in about every other sentence. Calvin concluded this particular section of the Institutes by saying:

In consequence of this blind passion men have, almost in all ages since the world began, set up signs on which they imagined that God was visibly depicted to their eyes.

If we’re going to quote John Calvin, let’s at least do him the kindness of quoting him in context.

My second problem with calling the Christian heart an “idol factory” is much more theological than literary. The dominant problem of God’s people in the Old Testament was idolatry. Shortly after being delivered from Egypt, the people of Israel erected a golden calf to worship. God punished the people, the people repented, and the people of Israel temporarily returned to God. This pattern repeated itself again and again. Reading the books of Judges and 1 Kings is like listening to a scratched record.

  • And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals (Judges 2:11).
  • But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways (Judges 2:19)

  • And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud died (Judges 4:1).

  • Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods (1 Kings 11:7-8).

  • And Judah did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins that they committed, more than all that their fathers had done (1 Kings 14:22).

You get the point. The people of God repeatedly turned away from God to worship idols. They repeatedly loved false gods more than the true God. And this pattern would have repeated itself indefinitely if God himself had not intervened. In Ezekiel 36:25-27, God promised that a day was coming when he would give his people the power to follow him:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

The beauty of living in the New Covenant is that we have the Spirit of God dwelling within us, empowering us to obey and cleansing us from our idols. Are we still tempted to worship things other than God? Sure. That’s why John tells his readers to keep themselves from idols (1 John 5:21). But the fundamental disposition of our hearts has changed. Our hearts are not primarily bent toward idol worship, they are bent toward obeying God. When we do sin, the Spirit convicts us of sin and draws us back to himself.

When we refer to ourselves as “idol factories”, we are undermining the glorious, wonderful, God-given power that is ours in Christ. We are minimizing all that God has accomplished for us through the work of Christ. And, we potentially put ourselves in the position of being navel gazers – always looking inward in an effort to detect the slightest idol, rather than trusting the Spirit to do what he promised.

Are we sinners? Yes. But we are redeemed sinners with changed hearts. We are no longer “idol factories”, we are children of God.

How To REALLY Help Someone Change

photo credit: SomeDriftwood via photopin cc

photo credit: SomeDriftwood via photopin cc

You’ve got this person in your life, and they really need to change. For years your husband has struggled with anger. For years your wife has struggled with self-control. For years your son has struggled with laziness. For years your daughter has struggled with body image issues. At this point, you don’t know h0w to help them move forward. You don’t know how to help them overcome the sin that has beset them for so long. You’re fed up, worn out, and pretty much hopeless. You’ve resigned yourself to things always being the way they are.

What the heck are you supposed to do? Fortunately, the Bible gives us straight forward wisdom on how to really, actually help a person change. And odds are, the Bible’s wisdom probably runs contrary to your own ideas of how to help a person change. It certainly runs contrary to mine!

So how can you help a person change?

PRAY FOR THEM. REPEATEDLY. 

We tend to get this wonky, thoroughly unbiblical idea in our minds, that we can actually change people. That by the force of our will, we can move a person from ungodliness to godliness. We think that if we get sufficiently angry, they will see our point and change. They will feel the force of our anger, come under the cutting conviction of the Holy Spirit, and repent. Of course, this is complete nonsense. We know this both from Scripture and from experience.

James 1:19-20 makes this clear when it says:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

The harsh reality is that we cannot cause a person to change. No matter how angry we get, no matter how much we raise our voices, no matter how much huffing and puffing and blustering we do, we cannot cause a person to change. Only God can create true godliness in a person. Only God can bring about repentance. Only God can soften the heart.

If God is the only one who can create change, then the absolute best thing we can do for a person is to pray for them. Not in a, “God please change this person, because they are annoying the heck out of me,” kind of way, but in a, “God please change this person for their good and your glory,” kind of way. Do you want someone to change? Pray for them! Constantly, repeatedly, without ceasing. Pray that God would bless them, fill them with joy, increase their knowledge of him. Pray that God would give them victory over their sin.

Instead of criticizing the person you want to change, pray for them. For every one time you criticize, pray ten times! This is an area I have repeatedly failed in over my life. I have criticized far more than I have prayed. I want to change. I want my prayer to criticism ratio to be 10 to 1. Why? Because God really does change people when I pray. The best way to help a person really change is to pray for them.

ENCOURAGE THEM. REPEATEDLY. 

This sounds counter intuitive. If we want a person to change, encouragement certainly isn’t the answer, right? After all, if I encourage them, they’ll think everything is okay, and everything is NOT okay. They need to hear my criticisms, not my encouragement.

But this isn’t how it works. The Biblical authors followed a very distinct pattern. Before bringing any criticism, they began with encouragement. The way Paul responded to the Corinthians is a prime example of this. The Corinthian church was an absolute circus. The church was embroiled in spiritual gifts mania, sexual immorality, defiling the sacraments, and a host of other problems. But Paul began his letter to the Corinthians by telling them how GRATEFUL he was for them!

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:4-9)

Do you want to help a person change? Give thanks to God for them. Encourage them. Point out the areas where you see God at work in their life. We often fixate on a person’s weaknesses to the point where we miss all the good things God is doing in a person. Encouragement is fertilizer for spiritual growth. If you want a person to grow, pour encouragement onto them.

CORRECT THEM. OCCASIONALLY

There is a time for correction, but that correction should be occasional, and in line with 1 Thessalonians 5:14, which says, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” Sometimes our correction will take the form of admonishment. Sometimes it will take the form of helping someone in their weakness. Sometimes it will take the form of a rebuke. But it will always be done with a spirit of patience. Not anger, not frustration, but patience.

How do we help people really change? PRAY. ENCOURAGE. CORRECT. REPEAT.

Too often we get the sequence of events backwards. We correct far more than we pray or encourage. The result? No change.

Don’t Turn Wisdom into Mantras

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We love to simplify complex ideas, to make big thing small and sum things up as neatly as possible. It is the easiest way to keep thoughts organized and make sense out of the complicated. We try to take entire ideologies or theologies and sum them up in tight paradigmic phrases. We especially do this with quotes pulled from deep thinkers. Rather than do the work of learning absorbing the entirety of their arguments we lift the one or two phrases that seem to sum up the ideas nicely and just run with those.

Martin Luther King Jr. – “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

C.S. Lewis – All sin stems from Pride.

Mother Teresa – “If you love until it hurts there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

Tim Keller – “All sin is idolatry.”

Gandhi – “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

John Piper – “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

Winston Churchill – “You have enemies? Good; that means you’ve stood up for something in your life.”

William Shakespeare – “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”

Truth is easily apparent in each of these quotes or ideas. So the problem isn’t finding the wrong paradigms, it is settling for too few and doing so too readily. When we adopt a single paradigm, or maybe two, as our inspiration and guidance they easily become mantras – phrases repeated endlessly with little thought in the hopes it will transform. Mantras are meaningless. Christians can even do this with “life verses.” Jeremiah 29:11 becomes the quick fix for all problems and Romans 8:28 is the comfort for all troubles, an band aid for our spiritual and emotional boo boos.

Three main problems present themselves when we settle for such simplistic, mantra-like wisdom.

First, is that we are settling for synthesized and compacted thought. The strength of these singular thoughts comes from the massive scaffold of other thoughts on which they are built. If all we take is the single mantra we know little of the true power of the thought process and deep truths.

The second problem is more one of human nature: anything repeated often enough, no matter how brilliant, becomes rote and fades into the background. In order for truth to maintain its radiance in our eyes it must remain varied in its expression (how it is expressed, who expresses is it, when we see or hear it expressed). Truths repeated endlessly become tired (though not less true).

The third problem is also a function of humanity – that of human error and finitude. No one mantra sums all of life or truth perfectly. No one piece of wisdom answers all the questions or is clearly applied in every situation. So to claim one or two or three bits of wisdom as what you “base your life on” is to leave yourself with a largely empty tool box while facing the complex project of life.

There is no simple way to find and learn wisdom for life. Simplicity functions to create easier opportunities to begin discovering. It is not to be the end of discovering. Even biblical truths cannot be isolated and claimed apart from the full canon. Our response to brilliant bites of wisdom should not be to treat them like the samples at Costco but rather as an appetizer for the seven course meal. Each bite should titillate the senses and create wonder as to what more there might be.