Against the Sophists

Here’s an excerpt from Against the Sophists, R.C. Sproul’s contribution to the April issue of Tabletalk:
When our educational system is ruled by skepticism, we are on the fast track to civilizational suicide. We’re seeing it all around us as so m…

The New Definitive Book on the Great Awakening in New England

Why Douglas Winiarski’s new book is the best, most comprehensive history of the Great Awakening in New England.

What Can Church History Teach Us About Wolves?

Wolves and false teachers don’t know how to use wisdom to settle different disputes in different ways.

God Plans for the Unexpected and Inconvenient

God Plans for the Unexpected and Inconvenient

When Luke recorded his version of the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2–4), he included Jesus expounding on this prayer through an odd parable that would have made his original hearers cringe:

“Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.” (Luke 11:5–8)

What’s odd is that a story about a socially humiliating situation and a reluctant, irritated benefactor is supposed to encourage us to pray. What does Jesus want us to see in this kind of need and this kind of provider?

1. Expect Unexpected Needs

The first thing to see is that the protagonist’s guest was unexpected. Jesus’s original hearers would have implicitly understood this.

In first-century near-Eastern cultures, having no food to offer a guest was deeply shameful. Note that this man would rather wake his sleeping friend’s entire family in the middle of the night than fail to provide food for his unexpected guest. Both situations (no food and sleeping friend) would have been deeply embarrassing and he would have avoided them if at all foreseen.

Lesson One: Jesus wants us to expect unexpected needs and respond to them.

2. Prepare Yourself for Inconvenience

A second thing to see is that the protagonist’s unexpected guest arrives at midnight. Of course it would have to be midnight.

Most of us today would consider midnight an inconvenient time to meet an unexpected need. Back then it was a really inconvenient time. We could assume our protagonist also had a family who also had their sleep interrupted. It’s not hard to imagine the crankiness and culturally equivalent grumbling whispers of “Are you serious?” when suddenly forced to entertain an unexpected midnight guest — especially when there’s no food to offer them. With no 24-hour convenience stores, and no phones to discreetly call for help, the man is required to trudge over to a friend’s house in the dead of night, and wake an entire family to ask for three small loaves of bread.

Lesson Two: Jesus wants us to expect to respond to unexpected needs at very inconvenient times.

3. Admit Your Insufficiency

A third thing to notice is what the protagonist says to his sleepy friend: “Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.”

“I have nothing.” These are powerful words about impotence. The man in the parable found himself suddenly called on to respond to a need he lacked the resources to meet, and this forced him to beg provision from someone who had the resources.

Remember, this is a parable about prayer, not hospitality. In the man’s words, “I have nothing,” Jesus means for us to see our condition before God. Does this not describe our frequent sense of desperation in the face of someone else’s need? I feel this daily as a husband, father, friend, pastor, writer — as a Christian. I don’t have resident in me the resources to meet the needs around me. Our lack tempts us to avoid others’ needs rather than expose our insufficiency.

But Jesus not only knows our impoverished condition; he designed it. He’s the Vine; we’re the branches. “Apart from [him we] can do nothing” (John 15:5). He wants us to feel keenly that we have nothing to offer on our own because this desperation moves us to ask God for what we need. That’s why immediately after telling this parable, Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9).

Lesson Three: Jesus wants our inability to meet unexpected, inconvenient needs to drive us to plead with God to supply the resources we need to serve others.

4. Remember God Is Eager to Help

A fourth thing to notice is the sleepy friend’s reluctance to help his desperate friend. This is what really makes the parable odd. The sleepy friend doesn’t want to be bothered. This forces the already inconvenienced and humiliated protagonist to become impudent (stubbornly persistent) in begging for help.

Why did Jesus use a reluctant friend to encourage us in prayer? We can see his reason in a similar point he made a few sentences later:

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

Jesus’s point here is that our heavenly Father is more inclined to give us good gifts than we evil fathers are inclined to give our children good gifts. Similarly, the friend’s reluctance in the parable is not a reflection of our heavenly Father; he is a contrast to our heavenly Father. If a selfish, inconvenience-avoiding friend can be moved by “impudence” to meet his friend’s need, how much more will our eager, generous heavenly Father be moved by our persistent prayers! If God delays in answering our prayers, it is not due to reluctance on his part.

Lesson Four: Jesus wants us to respond to unexpected, inconvenient needs we cannot meet, with persistent prayer, remembering our Father’s eagerness to provide for us.

Will You Accept the Invitation?

This odd parable about prayer is a wonderful gift. Jesus is reassuring us that unexpected needs, arising at the most inconvenient times, which are beyond our ability to meet, and so press us to plead with God for provision, are part of the normal Christian life.

They are, in fact, God’s design. Few things have the power to make people feel more loved than our willingness to joyfully sacrifice to make them a priority. And few things honor God more than our willingness to really trust him to provide for our needs. The two forces combine when we face unexpected, inconvenient, overwhelming needs. They are opportunities to sacrificially love like Jesus and radically trust in Jesus at the same time.

Owen On Sola Scriptura As Applied To Public Worship

Q. 3. How, then, are these ways and means of the worship of God made known unto us? A. In and by the written word only, which contains a full and perfect revelation of the will of God as to his whole . . . Continue reading →

12 Free Classic eBooks on Sanctification with Bonus Title

The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification (eBook) by Walter MarshallSanctification (eBook) by J. C. RyleThe Doctrine of Sanctification (eBook) by A. W. PinkYour Sanctification (eBook) by C. H. SpurgeonHoliness (eBook) by J. C. RyleHow to Grow in Grace (eBoo…

The Rule Of Worship, Christ And Culture, And Asparagus Fest

As near as I am able to determine, the first fellow in the procession is a minister in the Church of England.  I infer this from his (Roman) clerical collar, from which I infer that he might also be sympathetic to the . . . Continue reading →

The First Followers and the Fight for Jesus

The First Followers and the Fight for Jesus

The dominating issue of the early church revolved around the question, “Who exactly is Jesus?” The orthodox church had to fight to show that Jesus is truly God and truly man.

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To Ph.D or Not to Ph.D?

This sponsored post was prepared by Dr. Todd Chipman of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. If you’ve ever wondered whether pursuing a Ph.D. in your theological training would be worth it, there are lots of factors to consider aside from wondering how it might impact your career aspirations. If you’re sorting through whether Ph.D studies are for you, think and pray through the following questions. 1. Can you be single-minded and voracious in your studies? The Ph.D allows students to devote their …

Contentment in Trials: My Son Has a Brain Tumor

Contentment in Trials

When I first began leading women’s Bible studies, I was surprised (and a little unsettled) that almost always, after teaching on a practical topic of Christian living, I would very soon be tested on that very point. If I taught on the sin of worry, something would invariably come up that would be a sore temptation for me to worry about.

I soon learned that God will have no hypocrites. If I’m going to teach women to submit to their own husbands, as to the Lord (Ephesians 5:22), I had better be doing that myself. So, I would often pray ahead of time that I would be ready for the test that was sure to come. And I might steer away from topics I thought I wasn’t quite ready for yet. But then, who is ever ready? Do we ever think we have mastered the material? But the tests are coming, guaranteed.

Since we know God gives us all tests, we should not be the least bit surprised by them. After all, we are all enrolled in his Bible course, and what kind of class has no testing? So, we should expect tests. And we all know how to prepare for tests: we pay attention to the material, we review, we study, and we apply. Thankfully, God’s tests are always open book.

A few months ago, I undertook the job of writing a book on the subject of contentment, something that I have wanted to do for a very long time. Having learned so much from the Puritans Jeremiah Burroughs and Thomas Watson on contentment, I wanted to assemble something simple for women, something to make contentment attainable and understandable and practical. I wanted the title to be Learning Contentment because it is definitely an ongoing study for me.

After many hours at the computer, I turned in the manuscript for my book the end of February. Two weeks later, my son Nate learned that he has a brain tumor. Though not cancerous, it is life-threatening. His brain surgery is scheduled for May 2, and my little book on contentment will be released on the same day.

Do I think this is a coincidence? Not even close. As I said, God will have no hypocrites.

Study Hall

God was obviously preparing me for this trial during those weeks of writing. I thought I was writing a book. But God had enrolled me in a focused study hall to prepare me for a test. A big test. He knew full well that I was going to be applying the material in ways I could not see. So, not only was he going to test me on the material, but he was also kindly preparing me for the test. He could have given me the opportunity to write about contentment any time. But he chose this time. And he chose well.

When Nate was a boy, I remember telling him that someday in the future I would be learning from him. He would be the teacher, and I would be the student. That day came long ago. He is an author and filmmaker, writing fiction for children and nonfiction for adults.

And I continue to learn from him, from his books, his films, his observations about life, his humor, his love of life, and his love of story. Nate understands that God is the great Author, and he loves being the character God has chosen for him to be. He is content. This brain tumor is a new plot point, and we are all waiting to see what comes next. As he has said, he writes his own characters into very hard circumstances that require great courage, so how can he object when God writes him into a tough spot that will require courage of his own?

The Basics of Contentment

So, now what? Do I believe what I wrote about being content in our good God? Absolutely. He will never leave us or forsake us. He wants us to exercise our faith and lean on him, and this happens most when we are in the midst of trial. As God tests us, he wants us to test him, to see if he is as faithful as he promised. And he is. He wants us to have practice knowing that our lives are governed entirely by his wisdom and grace.

God knows what he is about, and he’s told us what to do: we are to cast our cares on him (1 Peter 5:7), set our minds on things above where Christ is (Colossians 3:1–2), and walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7). And on top of this, he wants us to rejoice in all things, giving thanks for everything (Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). This is not amazing, super-special Christian living. This is basic Christian living.

When my children were small, there were times I wanted their undivided attention. I wanted them to listen carefully to my words and hear me: “No running across the street!” So, I would take a little, fat face into my hands, pull it close to mine, and tell the child to look me in the eye. Then I would speak, and they would listen. I have often thought that in trial, this is what God is doing to us. In this particular moment, he has my undivided attention. I am listening. I hear him.

Are You Ready for Your Test?

Your trials are tests. You know the material. It is your almighty Maker who is giving you this test now, and it is perfectly suited for you. You have gone over this material before. You know what to do. Sharpen your pencil. Get to work. If you do poorly, he provides forgiveness, but you may never get another chance like this one. Don’t squander it. As Pastor John Piper has said before (and I quote him often), “Don’t waste your trials.” There is much profit to be gained through trials. Look for it. Expect it. Be eager for it.

Contentment is a deep satisfaction with the will of God. Contentment enables me and you to rest quietly in his hands, knowing we are safe, even (and especially) in the midst of trouble. Remember that open-book tests are not helpful if the Book isn’t open. And when the Book is open, our hearts must be open too. We follow where God leads, and he will never leave us or forsake us. “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread . . . for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).