Tempted to Sleep

And when he rose from prayer, he came to his disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:45-46

I was in the Prayer Room at the Desiring God National Conference here in Minnesota when I read this tonight, and it made an impression on me. Jesus is in Gethsemane, and after separating himself and praying so earnestly that sweat falls like great drops of blood to the ground, he returns to his disciples to find them asleep. At first I thought Jesus said to them “Get up and pray this: pray that you won’t be tempted.” I thought the word that introduced the content of what the disciples were to pray. That’s one way to use the word that, right? As in, “Did I tell you that I read Luke 22 earlier?” But this isn’t the kind of that Jesus is using. He is using the word that which introduces not content but purpose. “Rise and pray in order that you may not enter temptation.”

I think about the times in my life when I have been most tempted, and they have been when I have been asleep. Not physically, but spiritually. It seems to be a one-way-or-the-other kind of deal: Either I enter into prayer, into a life characterized by wakefulness, watchfulness, and prayer, or I enter into temptation, into a life characterized by soft decisions and desires which grow stronger and stronger until they blot out the thought of prayer or fellowship or worship or confession or study or repentance or joy.

I have been so convicted lately, and this reading has been one more confirmation, that the call of the day is prayer. Watchful prayer which engages the mind and soul to do business with God, to cry out over the lost, to repent of sin, to understand the Word, to make peace with the body, to send and go and be light in every corner of the globe. It’s a call on my life, and it’s a call on your life:”Rise, pray in order that you may not enter into temptation.”

Hither By Thy Help I’ve Come

I don’t know when exactly I was born again. Some people can tick off the exact day, which I think is pretty neat. For me, I’m fairly sure I know the year but that’s about it.

I believe that I was about four years old when my father came up to my bedroom to tell me a story before I fell asleep. His stories were often from the period of the kings or from the gospels, and this night it was gospels, some story about Jesus and his disciples. I couldn’t tell you for the life of me what the story was, but I remember vividly it producing in me a mixed sense of longing and shame. Shame that I was so unlike Jesus, the kind and gentle healer, and longing to be with him. I prayed a prayer, something token I had probably learned from an older sibling or perhaps in children’s church, and immediately felt a wonder and happiness and peace which was so alien then but which I have come to recognize through the years as good ol’ Christian joy. I’ve doubted the legitimacy of that experience since then at one time or another, but by and large I am confident that my life in Christ began that night.

But my testimony, as much as I love it, is not my point right now. I was sitting here tonight and thinking that if my recollection of the time when I was saved is correct, then it has been twenty years since my conversion. Twenty years of sin and holiness and victory and defeat and sadness and joy and confidence and despair, and I’m still a young man yet. Tonight I tried to remember if in twenty years I’ve ever sought the Lord, really sought him, and been disappointed. I can’t think of a single time. To be sure, there have been plenty of times when the Lord has withdrawn for a season, which always feels like the three hours of darkness at Golgotha; but at the end of those seasons I’ve always been assured that the Lord had never abandoned me, even if I don’t and can’t understand why he hides his face.

I know I’m young and haven’t been through nearly a tenth of the storms that some people face in their lives, and perhaps that’s reason to doubt my confidence in God’s steadfastness in the past. Perhaps someday there will be a storm that’s just too big, and when I look for him he just won’t be there. But I’ve read my Psalms, and I’ve seen the Psalmist extrapolate time and time again. He praises God for his help in the past and looks with rock-solid assurance toward the trials of the future, knowing that the God who delivered Israel yesterday will not fail tomorrow.

So I’ve got a good fifty years left, probably. And it’s likely the storms which lie on the horizon will dwarf my past and present trials by comparison. But I remember throwing myself on Jesus twenty years ago, how he took away my shame and gave me peace, and I am sure that he who held me then and holds me now will never let me go.

“My soul waits for the Lord
more than the watchmen for the morning,
more than the watchmen for the morning.”
Psalm 130:6

Palm Sunday

Some Palm Sunday reflections, for which I am indebted to Jason DeRouchie.

When Jesus came into Jerusalem the week before Passover, the word of his coming spread before him such that a large crowd gathered to welcome him in, believing he would deliver them from Roman occupation and restore the kingdom to Israel. So Jesus rode into town, to fulfill what was written, which, as John put it (John 12:15), was as follows:

Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!

John is mostly quoting from Zechariah 9:9, with a paraphrase here and there. Here’s the text in Zechariah, with the exact words used in John bolded:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

So it looks like John left out the parallel second line, the “to you” in the third line, and then the longer description of the manner of the king’s coming at the end. But he didn’t paraphrase the beginning– he just up and changed it from “rejoice greatly” to “fear not.” Why?

The phrases “fear not,” “daughter of Zion,” and “king.” only appear together in one other place– Zephaniah 3:14-17:

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
‘Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love.;
he will exult over you with loud singing.’

The passage in Zechariah, which contains the specific prophecy about the donkey’s colt, is largely about God’s judgment of the nations and his deliverance of Israel. God is high and lifted up, the king over the whole earth, the divine warrior– that’s the sort of language used. The king is coming, yes, and coming to save, but he seems rather transcendent and terrifying in Zechariah, particularly in the verses following 9:9. In Zephaniah, the king comes to Israel and stands in her midst, singing over her and telling her not to be afraid. The transcendent God has become the immanent God.

It’s possible that John conflated these two passages accidentally. But I think John is smarter than that. I think that in noting the fulfillment of Zechariah he intended to tell his readers just what kind of king it was who fulfilled the prophecy. There will come a day when Jesus will come on a war horse (Revelation 19:11). But not today. Today the king comes on a donkey, sitting with children and telling his people not to be afraid.

On Friday he will be for us– he will be a priest for us, a sacrifice for us, becoming sin for us, being God and man for us. But today he is the immanent God. Emmanuel, God with us.

One for the money…

Been meaning to stick this up here for a while,

I sometimes worry about money. I think I’m probably not alone in this. How am I going to pay my bills, how am I going to buy groceries, get gas, can I afford to go see the new Hobbit movie, I just want to buy a coffee for Pete’s sake, why am I so hungry, I need new socks, and on and on– I have it pretty well off, but these are the questions which run through my head. Sometimes it stresses me out.

But, it’s not good for me to get stressed out, so I started trying to find a way about a year ago to combat this. God tells us not to worry, after all. I started asking myself five questions every time I get stressed out, and when I’m forced to answer these questions, my anxiety and worry melts away. It really does. Here are the questions I ask myself and meditate on:

1. Who clothes and shelters you?
2. Who feeds you?
3. Who holds your life in his hand?
4. Who equips you with all good things to do his will?
5. Who provides you with all things richly to enjoy?

These five questions get at my anxiety concerning my housing/clothes, grocery bill, medical needs, college, and recreational spending, respectively. God addresses each of these things in Scripture, which I’ll leave you to find. The questions aren’t really that profound; the answer to each, however, is extremely comforting to me. If you ever have the money-anxiety which I experience from time to time, then I hope these questions will be fruitful for your to meditate on.

-Daniel

Promising Faith

Good morning!

Just a quick thought. I was reading Genesis this morning, about Joseph’s unjust imprisonment and the two servants of Pharaoh whose dreams he interpreted. The cupbearer was restored and the baker executed, just like Joseph told them. Then the cupbearer promptly forgot to tell Pharaoh anything about Joseph (perhaps he didn’t want to use up any favor he hadn’t got on behalf of a Hebrew?) for two years. At the end of those two years, Pharaoh dreams a few dreams, and cannot figure them out. This cues the cupbearer’s memory, and Joseph is summoned to interpret the dreams for Pharaoh.

So now Joseph, clean-up and freshly-shaven, is standing before the man in Egypt who has the most power to do him good or evil. He hasn’t had a favorable time of it so far in this land, so he might be a little nervous. Pharaoh says to him, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it” (Genesis 41:15). Think about it– this is a lot like when someone asks you to do a huge favor for them without telling you what it is, or when your boss asks you to volunteer for a mysterious high-level project. This might be a really hard dream, and Pharaoh isn’t even giving Joseph a peek at it; he just wants to know if he can do it.

This is what makes Joseph’s response amazing: “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (Genesis 41:16). Absolute confidence. But here’s my question: how does Joseph know God will do this? Perhaps God told him, but we have no record of that. Perhaps Joseph just knew he could always interpret dreams, but we have no record of that either, and he does say that “it is not in me.” Or perhaps…

Perhaps Joseph knew he was in a tight spot, a prisoner not cared about by anyone, and Pharaoh might decide to “lift up his head” as with the baker if he were not able to interpret this dream. If that were the case, then Joseph’s response is an amazing statement of faith about the promises of God. God had told Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that he would do good to them and their offspring. Joseph, being daddy’s favorite, probably had heard the stories of God’s relentless blessing of Jacob in spite of Jacob’s boneheadedness. He knew that he was part of a line through which God would fulfill his promise to Abraham by blessing the whole earth.

If all that were running through Joseph’s head, then his response makes sense. What else would God do? This is the same God who honored Jacob’s weird breeding ideas in Genesis 30. Surely the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would not fail to deliver Joseph, the son of Israel’s old age.

It reminds me of Moses, one of Joseph’s distant nephews, who stood on Mt. Sinai and pleaded God’s promises with him. And it gives me confidence that I myself, when tried and tempted, can remind God of his Word to me, knowing that he is faithful to perform it.

“Plead the promise of God in prayer, show him his handwriting; God is tender of his Word.” –Thomas Manton

Reflections on Reading in 2013

Hello,

In 2013 I decided to track my reading for the year, for three reasons: first, I’ve always believed that I read a lot, but never knew how much I read; second, I wanted to analyze my reading patterns; and third, I often forget that I’ve read this or that book, and wanted to keep a list to remind myself of what I have read. I think it was a good idea, and I suggest you try it out for 2014. Here are some things I learned in the process:

I read a lot of fiction. Of the 65 book which I finished in 2013, 44 of them were fiction. That’s nearly four fiction books per month, compared to the six total school books I finished in 2013 and only three biographies. Of those fiction books, 28 of them were written by Terry Pratchett. Yikes.
I like fiction, and I’m not saying it’s a vice, but I think there’s definitely a place for it, and I think my reading over the last year took it beyond that place.

Recording my reading makes me read more. There were books I would not have finished except that I wanted them on my list, and I’m glad I did finish them. There just seems to be something about observation that makes a person try harder, because I’ve experienced this same phenomenon with running and other forms of exercise.

I need to read my Bible. Unfortunately, one book I didn’t read cover to cover in 2013 was the Bible, and the numbers reveal that I have no excuse for this. All of the fiction books I read this year add up to about 17,100 pages. Page for page, that means I could have read my study Bible with all the notes nine and a half times! This year, I am determined not to neglect my reading of the Word in favor of other books.

So in the final analysis, I’m glad I did this, and I think it’ll help me direct my reading for 2014. Again, if you’re an avid reader, you should think about trying this out for a year, just to see what it teaches you about your own reading habits.

-Daniel

Can’t Tie Me Down

Hi.

I know it’s been a while. I feel somewhat sheepish. But I can explain, if any of my six readers are still reading.

I recently read Neil Postman’s excellent and prophetic book Amusing Ourselves to Death. I highly recommend it. In that book, Postman posits that new information technologies come with a price tag which we cannot calculate ahead of time. He gives the example of the telegraph, and this is so good I’m going to quote him at length. This is from the beginning of chapter five of his book:

[The] telegraph erased state lines, collapsed regions, and, by wrapping the continent in an information grid, created the possibility of a unified American discourse.
But at a considerable cost. For telegraphy did something that Morse did not foresee when he prophesied that telegraphy would make “one neighborhood of the whole country.” It destroyed the prevailing definition of information, and in doing so gave a new meaning to public discourse. Among the few who understood this consequence was Henry David Thoreau, who remarked in Walden that “We are in a great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. . . . We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.”
Thoreau, as it turned out, was precisely correct. He grasped that the telegraph would create its own definition of discourse; that it would not only permit but insist on a conversation between Maine and Texas; and that it would require the content of that conversation to be different from what Typographic Man was accustomed to.

My point is this: I don’t want to be banal on this blog. I want to share the wonder of what I see in the world and in God’s Word. When I read Postman, I realized that in having a blog, I feel compelled to post semi-regularly, which leads me at times to try to come up with things to say when in reality I don’t have anything worth saying. I don’t like that. I have no wish to become a slave to communication. I know that blogging inconsistently is no way to build a readership, but I’m more interested in sharing things of depth than sharing frequently.

So, I’ll continue to post when I feel I have something to say, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride! The best way to keep up is to follow me via email on the top right there. I hope you will enjoy it.

-Daniel