Rushed Sanctification

I’ve been under the lordship of Christ for nearly 18 years now. I say that not for a “pat on the back”, but as a little background to help shape the following reflection. The longer I’ve been in the Faith, the more I’ve noticed times in my walk where I may grasp Christian teachings in a theoretical/academic sense, but not in the full concrete/spiritual/applied sense.

Case in point…I’ve always known that I’ve been called to love my wife like Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5). I’d heard it taught a million times over my short Christian life. Yet for a long time, I didn’t connect the dots from this bedrock teaching to the action of walking into a house with a tired wife and taking on the responsibility of relieving her of whatever duties she had left no matter how I felt. That in and of itself is loving her like Christ loved the church! It’s not simply that I didn’t have the will to do it, but rather, I was completely blind to the reality that such an act was living out the doctrine I had always heard. As a matter of fact, I’m still learning the full implications of this teaching and will continue until the Lord calls me home.

Connecting the line between the teachings we hear and all the implications that spring from those teachings isn’t always immediate.

We’re part of the Internet generation, the Facebook age; we live in a time where Bible nerds across the world (like me) can hear a whole semester of lectures on Systematic Theology in less than a week. We can take a sermon series that a pastor has labored over for years and consume it in a matter of weeks. We can carry a whole library of books in a tablet that fits in our back pockets. Today, biblical knowledge is vast, everywhere, and mobile, and as a result, the acquisition of that knowledge is accelerated.

With all that said, the acquisition of biblical knowledge may be accelerated, but let us not make the mistake of assuming sanctification always moves at the same pace!

We sometimes like to equate sanctification with the number of books we’ve read, the hours of thought-provoking sermons we’ve heard, or the days of power-packed conferences we’ve attended. Lest some reader takes this post to be an undermining of these gracious gifts, let me say that these all carry the ability to bring growth, wisdom, and ultimately, sanctification to us. However, sanctification also has another side to it, one that is more slow burning, one that is a lot more “Selah” and a lot less internet, blogs, and sermon mp3s; one that, if ignored, will only result in a young pompous arrogant Christian who can rebut every argument against the Doctrines of Grace, but can’t seem to speak lovingly to his wife.

The imbalance I’m speaking of here is subtle, but nevertheless visible. Take, for example, how we give all the praise to our theological heroes, the heavyweights who can preach from the Hebrew and Greek manuscript, the 20, 30, or 40-year-old peers who can show you how every verse in Ruth points to Jesus. We highly esteem them, and we rightfully should. But at the same time, we can take the 60-year-old who has walked with Jesus for 30 years but can’t spell “amillennialism” and treat him like a total loser because he’s not a theological genius. There is a grave tendency for us to value knowledge while devaluing the Spirit-led process the wiser and elder Christians among us have experienced in shaping and using knowledge. It is probably this kind of knowledge accumulation Paul had in mind when he wrote to Corinth that “knowledge puffs up”.

So, what can we do to be on guard against this dilemma?

Think through the Biblical Knowledge you’ve acquired vs. merely accumulating it

We often quote those great Christian thinkers that we admire so much, but why not strive to think like those great thinkers! To devote time not just to consuming biblical content, but processing it. Take Jonathan Edwards, for instance, who was known to contemplate Heaven for hours at a time. A stark contrast from our rushed ‘million thoughts a minute’ treatment we give so much rich biblical content. Paul tells Timothy to think over the things that he said to him (i.e. the Scriptures) so that the Lord might bring understanding to Timothy concerning those things (2 Timothy 2:7). It is one thing to read a book on it, it is another thing to hear a sermon on it. It is an entirely different thing to actually think through it! To ponder the significance a teaching has on your life, on your family, on your view of the church, on your view of Christ. As you read through the scriptures, are you pausing long enough to allow the Spirit to grant deeper understanding? What about the books you’re reading or the sermons you’re listening too? Don’t rush the process. Welcome it!

Respect those who have lived a little while

There is a reason why Paul tells the older to train the younger (Titus 2). Sure, that older guy at your church may not be named John Macarthur, but it certainly doesn’t mean he doesn’t have significant amounts of wisdom to pass on. Open your ears when you’re in the presence of older saints. Treasure men and women who have lived long enough to raise children to love Jesus or to see their best efforts fail. Who have lived long enough to see churches flourish and fade, who have lived long enough to see Christian fads come and go. Consider their counsel prayerfully and carefully. Honor their insight even when it is not filled with all the theological vernacular. I’ve found myself in the presence of many of my elders that may lack the words, but who more than make up for it with pure unbridled wisdom, passion, and love for Jesus. Those are people that we should value.

Live A Little While

I’ve heard it said a million times, “Live long enough and you’ll learn”. I used to consider the saying trite and superficial, but as I’ve LIVED I’ve LEARNED to appreciate the statement much more. A great deal of Christian growth will come as we simply live life under the grace of Christ. I understand a little better the Fatherhood of God as I have been blessed to live long enough to have children of my own. I understand a little better the significance of being called the bride of Christ now that I’ve lived life with a bride of my own. The Holy Spirit, through these and other examples, has connected the dots for me between biblical teaching and the teaching’s implications.

While we may impress ourselves or others with our ability to retain theological concepts, our sanctification does not ULTIMATELY rest there. It rests first in what Christ has done on the cross. It rests secondly in the power of the Spirit to take those concepts and transform them into real, on-the-ground, joyful, loving, gracious, soul-stirring application. And yes, it also rests in our passion to grab a hold of robust Christ-exalting, biblical theology. So, as you take in more knowledge, let that knowledge always rest upon the solid foundation of Christ Crucified, and seek prayerfully the help of the Spirit to empower you to live an increasingly sanctified life in light of those learned theological truths. When our lives are so governed, the knowledge we gain will lead to worship not haughtiness, to humility not pride. It is here that we find true enduring sanctification in Christ!

CrawfordPic

Servant of the amazing Jesus Christ, Husband of the astonishing Candi Crawford, Father of the adorable Brian II (B.J.) and Elijah James (E.J.), and Pastor of the awesome Joshua Generation Church (Tallulah, LA). Learn more at raanetwork.org/author/bcrawford or follow him on Twitter @bcis4jc.

 

 

 

Prayer and Suffering

Prayer. Suffering. Two things our local church has become extremely familiar with as of late. One fuels the other.

Rare illnesses, sudden deaths, painful infirmities…you name it, it has found a place in the homes of every one of our families (LITERALLY). Lately, I’ve often found myself praying and asking the Lord if I’m pastoring a church or an infirmary! And no, that was not a joke, but a peek into some of my more honest times of bewilderment. This is a time in my young pastoral life that is both startling and troubling, a time filled with tears and questions. Watching so many people you love wrestle with all forms of suffering can be, and indeed is, unbelievably difficult.

When faced with such an onslaught of difficulty, what is the church to do? When you stand literally helpless and unable to do anything to change these situations and aid your cause? The church is to PRAY! Really PRAY! Really PRAY THROUGH SUFFERING. It is the perfect thing to do…the only thing to do… the “Christ thing” to do.

I say the “Christ thing” to do because it is actually what Christ did! Jesus PRAYED! He REALLY PRAYED! As a matter of fact, we see His fiercest use of prayer in His own sufferings. In some of Jesus’ final hours in the garden of Gethsemane, one of the most difficult moments of His earthly life, we see Him REALLY PRAYING THROUGH SUFFERING (Matthew 26:36-46).

It is in this moment that Christ offers us a powerful example, teaching us at least four important lessons concerning prayer in suffering.

1. Pray Through Suffering With COMMUNITY

Reading the Gethsemane account one would immediately notice that Jesus brings His disciples along with Him to pray! If we must pray through suffering, let us do so TOGETHER!

The early church certainly understood this as well. In Acts 12 as Peter is miraculously rescued by God from a prison, he returns to a household of people who are unaware of his release but they have been praying fervently TOGETHER for God to move on Peter’s behalf (Acts 12:12).

Obviously, Christ’s desire to have his disciples pray with him is not as successful as those of us reading the account might have hoped it would be, but it doesn’t make it any less necessary. In fact it serves as a sober reminder that even when we are the observers of suffering, we must seek God’s strength to press in with our suffering brothers and sisters, empathizing in such a way that it spurs us to DILIGENT prayer with and for them! We see Jesus pleading for the prayers of His brothers and yet them not being sensitive enough to see the urgency.  We must seek God’s grace to place ourselves in the shoes of those suffering alongside us in order that we can push through and pray with them and for them. The unfortunate reality is that our own frailties may cause us, like the disciples, to fail from time to time, but it can’t stop us from seeking the Holy Spirit’s power in our efforts.

If Christ asks for it, then it stands to reason that it is necessary.

2. Pray Through Suffering WITH HONESTY

As Christ stands in this garden called Gethsemane (translated WINE PRESS), preparing for the Father’s wrath to be pressed down upon Him (Isaiah 53:10), we also notice that He stands and prays with brutal honesty.

[38] Then he said to them, My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me. [39] And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.

The perfect Lamb of God speaking with what even appears to be human vulnerability is stunning to read, but what does that mean for our own bouts through suffering? It means we don’t have to be afraid to ask for our deliverance. No unwritten rule exists prohibiting us from simply ASKING! Christ doesn’t hide his desire in His suffering…”My Father, will you deliver me? Is it possible for this suffering to be taken from me?”

Now some may say, “we are no Christ!” and they would be right! But how about Paul? In 2 Corinthians 12, he describes being given some sort of thorn of suffering as a means of discipline, continued sanctification of his soul. Nevertheless, that didn’t actually stop him from praying the prayer THREE TIMES until he was told by God, “Paul, this thorn will remain but so will my grace!”

We must be willing to pray through suffering with honesty. To not shy away from asking God to move our suffering away from us.

Of course, our God moves according to His will, which is ALWAYS PERFECT AND GOOD, but on many occasions, His will is to actually answer in accordance to what we have prayed (James 5:16)!

3. Pray Through Suffering WITH RELENTLESSNESS

As we pray through suffering, we don’t have to get uncomfortable and cease after seeking the Lord once. As we suffer through trials and tribulations, we should not be afraid to pray fervently and to pray often about our suffering. Some popular and contemporary thought would have Christians believe that seeking God concerning the same thing over and over again is a sign of doubt. However, I think we have biblical grounds to disagree.

In Gethsemane, Jesus beseeches the Father on THREE separate occasions concerning the cup of suffering He is facing (v42-44)! Paul as well concerning his thorn in the text mentioned earlier (2 Corinthians 12:8).

In addition, Christ shares a compelling parable elsewhere (Luke 18:1-8) about a widow who stands before an evil judge constantly petitioning him for justice against her adversary.  This judge, being evil, could care less about God or about people, but before the judge stood a widow who obviously WOULD NOT STOP ASKING FOR JUSTICE TO BE SERVED. Her relentlessness won her the reward of having her request heard and attended to! How much more so is the case with our Holy and Just Father?

If we believe He is faithful to respond to our suffering, either with deliverance from our suffering or strength and courage to bear well through our suffering, why would we not ask Him?

I know the feeling of faith waning to the point where you just get tired of asking, but HE IS FAITHFUL to hear our relentless prayers made to Him!

4. Pray Through Suffering WITH HOPE

Christ, on the brink of the greatest suffering ever faced in history, prays with great desperation and doesn’t have his initial request granted. However, if you listen again, you won’t hear the sound of a denied request, but rather you can hear a whisper of hope.

Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done. (Matthew 26:42 [ESV])

YOUR WILL BE DONE. Those words don’t signify quitting. They signify HOPE!

It comes from a place in our Spirit-indwelled souls that tells us even in the midst of suffering, God is GOOD and His will is GOOD!

In the most desperate moment of His earthly life, Jesus prayed and acknowledged that the Father would not deliver Him from this trial but that He would eventually bring Him to a place beyond the suffering of the hour (Hebrews 5:7).

As we pray, we must see what is beyond our suffering! Not just temporary deliverance, not even just strength to bear through the suffering, but a final ETERNAL Glory (2 Corinthians 5:16-18)! A glory where our suffering will cease and most assuredly NEVER return again!

As we pray through suffering, let us always pray with that HOPE as our backdrop!

Prayer. Suffering. Two things our local church has become extremely familiar with as of late. One fuels the other.  One fuels us to endure the other.

CrawfordPic

Servant of the amazing Jesus Christ, Husband of the astonishing Candi Crawford, Father of the adorable Brian II (B.J.) and Elijah James (E.J.), and Pastor of the awesome Joshua Generation Church (Tallulah, LA). Learn more at raanetwork.org/author/bcrawford or follow him on Twitter @bcis4jc.