Loving God More

In 1928, Temple Gairdner wrote a poem called Prayer for a Fiancée or Wife. I heard it in a sermon by one of our elders last week. It's a profound prayer, and I think you'll see that it relates to more than just marriage.

That I may come near to her,
draw me nearer to thee than to her;
that I may know her,
make me to know thee more than her;
that I may love her with the perfect love
of a perfectly whole heart.
Cause me to love thee more than her and most of all.
Amen. Amen.
That nothing may be between me and her,
be thou between us, every moment.
That we may be constantly together,
draw us into separate loneliness with thyself.
And when we meet breast to breast, my God,
let it be on thine own. Amen. Amen.

I wish I had this poem for when I preached on the command, "You shall have no other gods before me," earlier this summer. But at least I have it for future weddings I conduct.

It reminds me of these words by C.S. Lewis:

When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.

God save us from idols so we can love him more, and enjoy all of his gifts as well.

Messy Churches

One of the realities about churches is that they are messy. Even - especially - the good ones. I've always liked what Eugene Peterson said about pastoring:

Pastoral work consists of modest, daily, assigned work. It is like farm work. Most pastoral work involves routines similar to cleaning out the barn, mucking out the stalls, spreading manure, pulling weeds. This is not, any of it, bad work in itself, but if we expected to ride a glistening black stallion in daily parades and then return to the barn where a lackey grooms our steed for us, we will be severely disappointed and end up being horribly resentful.

There is much that is glorious in pastoral work, but the congregation, as such, is not glorious...I don't deny that there are moments of splendor in congregations. There are. Many and frequent. But there are also conditions of squalor... (Under the Unpredictable Plant)

If you're like me, you sometimes get discouraged by this. But we shouldn't be. These, Peterson says, are the people the pastor is called to serve:

...this haphazard collection of people who somehow get assembled into pews on Sundays, half-heartedly sing a few songs most of them don't like, tune in and out of a sermon according to the state of their digestion and the preacher's decibels, awkward in their commitments and jerky in their prayers.

Not to mention all the other challenges: the extra-grace-required people, the critics, the marriages in crisis. This is the nature of pastoral ministry.

What got me thinking about this was Spurgeon, who seemed to actually argue for more mess in churches in his Lectures to My Students. Spurgeon argues that pastors should release control and lead from a position of respect, rather than by trying to lead a well-run church from a position of control. Read the first sentence thinking of all the church business meetings you wish you hadn't attended:

For my part I should loathe to be the pastor of a people who have nothing to say, or who, if they do say anything, might as well be quiet, for the pastor is Lord Paramount, and they are mere laymen and nobodies. I would sooner be the leader of six free men, whose enthusiastic love is my only power over them, than play the dictator to a score of enslaved nations.

Maybe I need to enjoy the mess a little more. Maybe I should even start to enjoy business meetings. Although that could be taking things a little too far.

Lectures to My Students

I've been meaning to read Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students for years, and I'm finally reading it now. I've read lots of books on pastoring, but I have never read a better one yet. Not only that, but it's by far the funniest book on pastoring I've read.

A sample that made me laugh out loud last night:

I heard one say the other day that a certain preacher had no more gifts for the ministry than an oyster, and in my own judgment this was a slander on the oyster, for that worthy bivalve shows great discretion in his openings, and knows when to close. If some men were sentenced to hear their own sermons it would be a righteous judgment upon them, and they would cry out with Cain, "My punishment is greater than I can bear." Let us not fall under the same condemnation.

Spurgeon has much more encouraging things to say, but he also knows how to cut someone down to size when necessary.

If you've been meaning to read this book but haven't yet, don't put it off. I don't know why I waited so long. Definitely worth a read or a re-read.

The Gospel's Answer to Evil

Yesterday I quoted Trevin Wax: "To people wrestling with the problem of evil: God didn’t come to explain evil; he came to utterly destroy it." This is a profound reminder that the gospel's answer to suffering and evil is not a theory. It's a reality centered on the cross and the restoration of all things.

The God Who Suffers

In The God I Don't Understand, Christopher Wright says that the problem of evil can cause us to question one or more of the following truths:

  • the utter evilness of evil
  • the utter goodness of God
  • the utter sovereignty of God

It's at the cross that we see all three truths coming together. The cross exposes the utter depths of evil as all of its forces were hurled at Jesus. The cross reveals the goodness of God, who offered himself in radical love. And it reveals the sovereignty of God as events unfolded according to his sovereign will from eternity.

For God, the problem of evil isn't an academic one. God himself became a man and willingly experienced the full force of evil on our behalf. As Tim Keller puts it in The Reason for God, "God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself...We can know that God is truly Immanuel - God with us - even in our worst sufferings."

The Final Defeat of Evil

Not only this, but suffering and evil will not have the last word. Keller again says, "Every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater."

Christopher Wright says:

This is our great hope and joyful expectation. In the midst of all of our struggles now, as we confront evils we cannot understand and as we cry out to the God we cannot fully understand, we are urged by Jesus to pray, "Deliver us from evil." More than merely a prayer for daily protection, that is a cosmic request that will one day be cosmically answered...

When the reign of God extends over every corner of the universe, when the earth is filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea, when the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ, when heaven and earth are renewed and united under the righteous rule of Christ, when the dwelling place of God is again with humanity, when the city of God is the centre of all redeemed reality - then we will have been delivered from evil forever.

The cross and the resurrection of Christ accomplished it in history and guarantee it for all eternity. In such hope we can rejoice with incomparable joy and total confidence.