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Richard Bennett :: Chapter 3 Prayerful Preparation

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Food for Faith — Chapter 3

Prayerful Preparation


  Sins Like These

Sins unnumbered I confess;
Of exceeding sinfulness—

Worldly cares at worship time;
Selfish aims in work sublime;
Pride, when God is passing by;
Sloth, when souls in darkness die;

Tasting that the Lord is good,
Pining then for poisonous food;
At the fountain of the skies
Craving creaturely supplies.

Sins like these my heart deceive,
You—who only know them grieve!

O how lightly have I slept
With the daily wrongs unwept,
Woke to holy labors fresh;
With the plague-spot in my flesh;

Still Your comfort does not fail,
Still Your healing touch avails,
See my sorrow Lord for Thee,
O be merciful to me.

Father, pardon through Your Son,
Sins against your Spirit done.


—William Maclardie Bunting
(1805-1866) Adapted by R.A.B.



When I was first converted, I had very little knowledge of the Bible, but I very soon discerned that when I turned to its pages, I was in fact reading the Word of God. To this very day, I still rejoice to realize that the Lord Jesus continues to speak to my heart when I read His Word.

Even as a new Christian, I was taught that when I opened my Bible, the Holy Spirit desired to make it living to my heart. So I would often start my Together Time by praying a little prayer that I had learned as a chorus:

  Spirit of God, my Teacher be,
Revealing the things of Christ to me,
Place in my hand the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.

Before leaving His disciples to go to His Father in Heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ promised: When He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth (John 16:13 NKJV). Ultimately there is only one Teacher—the Holy Spirit.

If the Holy Spirit is not free to work in our lives, our reading of the Word of God will remain flat and empty.

John Wesley (who was mightily used of God in the eighteenth-century British revival that many historians credit with saving England from revolution) also knew the value of his Together Time. He wisely learned a lesson that we might all do well to emulate. Wesley disciplined himself to go to bed early in the evening to make an early rise in the morning possible. Recently, I knelt alone and prayed on the very prayer-stool where Wesley would meet his Lord at 4:00 a.m.! In that very room I was moved when I read the following quotation from his diary: ‘I sit down alone… Only God is here. In His presence I open, I read His Book. And what I read I teach.’

And in order to encourage born-again believers, the Apostle John assured them of the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit to touch their hearts through God’s Word, even when they would not have other people to help them understand the Scriptures. To them he wrote: But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you [not ‘no one’ but not a ‘self-apppointed teacher’]; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him (1 John 2:27 NKJV). When you consciously rely upon the illumination of the Holy Spirit as you read God’s book, He will make its truth living to your heart.

If you really desire to have a rich, fulfilling and regular Together Time, seek to find a quiet place and set aside a specific time to open your Bible and commune with God. Though the prospect of such times alone with God will often thrill your heart in joyful anticipation, there will also be days when your family, or your business, or other interests will vie for your attention and make it difficult for you to go aside to be alone with God. Such days will require real discipline if you are to grow in the love and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember, a neglected Bible is just as useless as if you did not have one.

Even as the Israelites had to make daily preparations to gather the manna that God had divinely provided for their physical sustenance on their way to the Promised Land, so, too, we need to ready ourselves to take in the Word of God.

First: It might be helpful for you to actually bend your knees when you open your Bible to be alone with God.

Second: When you come to Him who is Eternal Light, it is always necessary to bare your heart in His Holy Presence. You can hide nothing from Him, so why try?

Once you have prepared yourself for your encounter with God, the Bible will come alive with glowing reality and you will begin to discover how the Word of God will move from your head to your heart.

BEND YOUR KNEES

Living fellowship cannot co-exist with a proud spirit.

In the Bible, we read about many godly people who expressed their reverence and submission to God by assuming the kneeling position. Though liturgical Christians and practicing Muslims make a habit of kneeling in their public prayers, such a posture does not necessarily indicate a living fellowship with God. However, when we do come to our Eternal God and Creator, our attitude of mind and heart can be greatly helped if we kneel before Him.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, when the Lord Jesus Christ was approaching the dreadful hour of His crucifixion, He saw that His disciples were fast asleep. After having withdrawn a distance from them, Jesus kneeled down, and prayed (Luke 22:41 NKJV). Jesus was alone with His Father. There He knelt to pray. Likewise, when we separate ourselves from our friends and our family to be alone with God, we, too, might find it helpful to express our reverence to Him and our commitment to His will by kneeling as we pray.

When the Apostle Paul was nearing the end of his public ministry, he made a point of saying a fond goodbye to the church that he had established at Ephesus. We read how he knelt down and prayed with them all (Acts 20:36 NKJV). On the seashore at another time, Paul said goodbye to the disciples and their wives and children. The Scriptures record that they knelt down on the shore and prayed (Acts 21:5 NKJV). Many today might think that the sight of women and children kneeling to pray in a public place would be misconstrued by bystanders. In a day when we fear being accused of fanaticism, we, too, often opt for casual comfort in a private prayer meeting. Obviously, the disciples, along with the women and the children of Paul’s day, had no such problem with kneeling. Neither should we, whether we are in a public prayer meeting or whether we are alone with God.

It must be remembered, however, that, whether we stand, sit or walk when we pray, the important thing about our private communion with God is our attitude of mind. Yes, when we pray, the Bible tells us to adopt the right mental attitude, for: God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw nigh to you (James 4:6-8 KJV).

Because of certain physical problems, it may be impossible for some people to kneel for an extended period of prayer. Happily, God sees each of our hearts. Certainly our heart attitude is more important to Him than is our posture. But for those who are able, kneeling can be a very helpful way of sharpening our understanding of the fact that when we pray we have the awesome privilege of talking to our Creator—as friend with Friend! For each of us, the all-important biblical injunction is: Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and as we respond to this command, God continues with a wonderful promise: and He will lift you up (James 4:10 NKJV).

BARE YOUR HEART

Living fellowship always commences at God’s Mercy Seat, which in New Testament terms is at the Cross upon which Jesus died.

Yes, even before the Lord Jesus died on the Cross, in His great mercy and love, God had chosen to accept the death of His innocent Son as a sin payment so that wayward mankind would be able to renew fellowship with Him. So, long before the crucifixion of our Savior, God declared that He would meet with His children at the Mercy Seat: And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the Mercy Seat (Exodus 25:22 KJV).

Today the sacrifice for our sin is part of history; the precious Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ has been shed on our behalf and thus, through Jesus’ death, a new and living way has been provided for us to commune with Him. His inconceivable love enables us to joyfully exclaim: Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16 NKJV).

Mercy means that God does not give us what we do deserve; grace means that God does give us what we do not deserve. How wonderful to walk in fellowship with our God of mercy and grace.

  From every stormy wind that blows,
From every swelling tide of woes,
There is a calm, a sure retreat;
’Tis found beneath the mercy seat.

There is a place where Jesus sheds
The oil of gladness on our heads,
A place that is to me so sweet;
It is the blood-bought mercy seat.

There is a spot where spirits blend,
Where friend holds fellowship with Friend;
Though sundered far, by faith they meet
Around one common mercy seat.

Ah! whither could we flee for aid,
When tempted, desolate, dismayed;
Or how the host of hell defeat,
Had suffering saints no mercy seat?

There, there, on eagle’s wings we soar,
And time and sense seem all no more,
And heaven comes down, our souls to greet,
And glory crowns the mercy seat.


                —H. Stowell

Living fellowship cannot co-exist with an impure conscience.

A boy that is born into a family will always be the son of his parents. He can never be ‘un-born’! But if that child is naughty, there will be times when open communication with his parents will be broken. The relationship remains, but fellowship is certainly severed! That is a great tragedy.

It is wonderful for us to bathe in the knowledge that the moment we were born again, an eternal relationship was established with our Father in heaven. If we sincerely received the Lord Jesus Christ into our hearts, we became the children of God, a relationship that will remain for eternity. However, when we sin, our fellowship with our Father is tragically severed.

Because of our disobedience, we will no longer sense the same blessing of His smile upon our lives that we once enjoyed. And this break in transparent fellowship, whether short-lived or long-lasting, certainly cannot be attributed to God or His lack of concern. The rift is always due to our own defiled conscience; we are the sole cause of any interruption of fellowship with God.

An Impure Conscience: John Bunyan once said: “Sin will keep me from the Bible and the Bible will keep me from sin.” When a person has grieved the Holy Spirit and has consciously embraced sin in his life, he will also lose his appetite for the Word of God. A pure conscience is absolutely essential for the Christian to have a vibrant and expectant faith when he turns to God’s Word. The Bible states: without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6 NKJV).

But if we persist in ignoring our sin, when we read the Bible our faith will be quenched because our conscience will no longer be attuned to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

A Clean Conscience: To renew fellowship with God after we have sinned, it is necessary that our guilty, sin-laden conscience be cleansed. To rid himself of this burden of guilt, the defiled Christian must bare his heart in confession of his sin before God. The Apostle John wrote:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9 NKJV).

In that portion of my Bible I have recorded a prayer as it was prayed by F. W. Krummacher. When I become conscious of my own failure and sin, I try to name those specific sins before God’s Mercy Seat. Then I will sometimes pray Krummacher’s prayer as the basis of my own private confession to the Lord:

O Lord, my God, I have sinned against You afresh and am grieved by it. I judge and condemn myself; but Your mercy is great and therein do I trust. Sprinkle my conscience with the Blood of the atonement, and enable me, by faith, to appropriate for this my sin, the sufferings You have endured for me.

—F. W. Krummacher

We do not commit our sins in bundles, so why should we try to confess them in one general admission of guilt? Asking God to forgive us for ‘all our sins’ in one lump sum is more likely to be an attempt to find an easy way out for our proud hearts than to be a sincere expression of repentance and the desire to step back into the will of God. This type of all-encompassing confession does little to really clear the conscience of its guilt. When the Holy Spirit brings to mind anything that is known to be sin, we must name that act of disobedience with the very word that the Bible uses to describe such a sin—not a white lie, but a lie; not a mind that fantasizes, but an adulterous mind; not a hasty word, but a heart filled with murderous hate.

Because real guilt, and not just a guilt complex, is our problem, there should never be any psychological double talk or human excuse when we come into the light of God’s presence. When, humbly and honestly, you name your sin before Him, God, in His great mercy, will respond to your confession. Such is the wonderful grace of God.

After David had confessed his own tragic sin, he rejoiced to reflect upon: the multitude of Your [God’s] tender mercies (Psalm 51:1 NKJV). The Bible record in Psalm 51 shows that when David turned to God, this broken and heart-stirred man was not only honest in his confession, but he was also genuine in his repentance. If you repent (recognize that you have taken your own path rather than God’s and now desire to return to God’s pure and holy way) and then make humble and honest confession of your conscious sins and name them in specific terms before God, you, too, will rejoice in the multitude of God’s tender mercies. Only then will your conscience be clean so that you will once again be able to resume fellowship with a Holy God.

And when your conscience has been cleansed by the merciful act of a loving God, you will find that you have a new boldness in prayer.

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus… let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience… (Hebrews 10:19,22 NKJV).

Yes, true boldness before God flows from a clean conscience. Then a transparently truthful heart will release the type of bold faith which is a virtual prerequisite to the full enjoyment of living fellowship with God.

When you know your heart is clean, the humbling memory of past sin will no longer be able to disturb your conscience. Of course, Satan will try to accuse you, but to thwart his strongest attacks, your answer to him must be the same as God’s answer to your guilty conscience; that is, the power of the precious Blood of Jesus. In the book of Revelation, saints, who were being accused by Satan of the very sins that God had forgiven, understood the mighty power of that precious Blood. Of them it is recorded: And they overcame him [Satan—the accuser of the brethren] by the blood of the Lamb… (Revelation 12:11 NKJV). Not only did they enjoy the blessing of a cleansed conscience, but they had also learned the secret of an undisturbed conscience. Hallelujah!

Living fellowship cannot co-exist with a wrong mind-set.

There is often a hidden reason why people do not have a desire for the nourishing milk of God’s Word. Have you ever had such a fever that you lost your appetite? No matter how tasty the food might have been, you were not interested in eating. Likewise, just as a nourishing meal may not be attractive to you when you are ill, the Bible will hold no fascination if a wrong mind-set has quenched your spiritual appetite.

Though Peter encourages us to desire the nourishing milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2 NKJV), he first warns us of those attitudes that will destroy our desire for God’s nutrition. Bluntly, he also records that there is only one way to deal with these hindrances to a nourishing Together Time. Every hindrance to a wholesome spiritual appetite must be laid aside. The unhealthy mind-set has to be radically changed if a healthy appetite is to be restored—this is another way of saying ‘repent’!

Therefore, laying aside all malice, all guile, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking… desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby (1 Peter 2:1-2 NKJV).

Scripture emphatically states that we will never really desire ‘the pure milk of the Word’ until the before-mentioned spiritual sicknesses—which ruin our spiritual appetite—have been dealt with. Let us consider them one at a time:

Malice: Our resentment or anger for the way we have been treated by others—having an unforgiving spirit.

Corrie Ten Boom endured incredible suffering in the notorious extermination center at the Ravensbruck Nazi concentration camp. Even more horrific for her was to witness her own beloved and saintly sister’s life ebb away in the inhumane and torturous circumstances of that camp. Speaking of the cruel guards who had been responsible for such atrocities, Corrie Ten Boom later testified how she had truly forgiven them and said:

“Forgiveness is an act of the will;
and the will can choose to act regardless of the temperature of the heart.”

—Corrie Ten Boom

If you harbor an unforgiving spirit to anyone—no matter how you may have suffered at such a person’s hands—your lack of forgiveness will not harm them, but it will certainly throttle your spiritual life! In fact, you will be in bondage to such a person until you have willed to forgive them. Only then can you pray the prayer our Lord taught us to pray: forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us (Luke 11:4 NKJV). If you are aware of a spirit of ‘malice’ (unforgiveness) in your heart, choose to forgive that person, or persons, as you spend time alone with God. Then you will be able to express God’s love towards them without hypocrisy!

Guile: Our covering up or rationalizing our failure rather than confessing our sin—living an existence of deceit rather than of honesty.

Hypocrisy: Overt misrepresentation of ourselves in a proud desire to give a wrong impression—pretending to be someone or something we are not. A desire for approval—whether from a pastor, a parent, a friend, or at the workplace—is at the root of all hypocrisy.

Envy: The reacting to another’s blessings with suspicion rather than with genuine rejoicing—coveting what somebody else possesses.

Evil Speaking: The use of our tongue to hurt or malign another, or the lending of our ear to anything that would defame another’s character—trying to ease our own personal guilt by pointing to the sins in the life of another person.

These are the things that we must lay aside if we truly desire to be nourished by the Word. Then, just as a newborn baby does not need persuasion to seek life-giving milk when nursing time comes around, so, too, when you have an opportunity to open your Bible, you will desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby (1 Peter 2:2 NKJV).

Living fellowship cannot co-exist with a self-centered life.

Recently I was privy to a letter from a lady missionary who has been in Japan for many years. She ministers to people most others cannot reach—those in government and diplomatic circles and others in ‘high-society’. She wrote:

Whatever happened to the teaching of denying self and taking up the cross daily? As I sorted books relating to the Christian life, something came to my attention. Many of the themes of the books I have acquired in the past twenty or so years boiled down to ‘do it yourself’ improvements for the Christian life. But I remember that the books from my early Christian life were about denying self, daily taking up the cross, living a holy life, abiding in Christ and allowing Him to live through me. Are those teachings gradually disappearing or am I imagining it?

Maybe that is what a Chinese leader in Hong Kong meant when he wrote: “In the West, or in the free world as a whole, I see the church identifying far more with the powerful victory of Jesus’ resurrection. They want that kind of relationship. They are keen for the success, the prosperity, the good things of the risen Son. Few partake in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. However, I see the opposite in the Asian Church, particularly in countries where situations are confining and restrictive. These believers are more willing to fellowship with the sufferings of Christ. For them, the fellowship of His sufferings is their greater reward and privilege.”

Conformed to His Death

The Apostle Paul himself prayed:

That I may know Him [the Lord Jesus], and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:10 NKJV).

Amos helps us to grasp the implications of this noble ambition to fellowship with the Lord Jesus as expressed by Paul when he asked: Can two walk together, unless they be agreed? (Amos 3:3 NKJV). If we desire to walk in the power of His resurrection, then we should also surely agree to share in the fellowship of His sufferings. Half an agreement is really no agreement at all!

Elsewhere Paul pinpointed the great pain of unrequited love when he wrote to his own converts who had begun to despise his apostolic authority: I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved (2 Corinthians 12:15 NKJV). Elsewhere he analyzed genuine love and emphatically declared: love suffers long and… does not seek its own… (1 Corinthians 13:4-5 NKJV).

Such pure love, that was both long-suffering and unselfish, was wonderfully personified in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. When the Lord Jesus came into a loveless world, He perfectly demonstrated the love of God in human form. His deeds, His words, His innermost thoughts, His all-consuming commitment to His Father’s will—all painted an exquisite picture of love that was never self-serving. In other words, from the moment He was cradled to the moment He was crucified, the Lord Jesus lovingly refused to exercise the overwhelming advantages of His own human perfection to seek His own personal benefits.

Accordingly, during His thirty-three years on earth, the Lord Jesus continually laid down His life (1 John 3:16 NKJV) for the good of other people. Then as He faced the agony of the Cross, we read:

Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, He loved them to the end (John 13:1 NKJV).

Yes, His love certainly suffered long. So, if we would truly ‘fellowship’ with our Savior, the heartsearching question we must now ask ourselves is:

Do I use the advantages of life that God has given me for my own benefit and advancement; or am I prepared to lay down my life in genuine love for other people even if it does involve suffering in the process?

Yes, God’s love portrays a stark contrast to our current ‘me-first’ generation, which boldly declares that self-love is a virtue and that one’s rights are more important than the welfare of others. It is this very worshiping of self that the Scriptures reveal as one of the signs of the last days: men shall be lovers of their own selves… lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:2, 4 KJV).

It is not surprising, then, that Alexander Maclaren insisted that the pathway to loftier spiritual beauties is stained with the bloodied footprints of wounded self-love.

Sin, whether expressed by deed or in thought, bears evidence of our inherited disposition of self-consciousness and self-centeredness. Oswald Chambers defines this selfish bias as “my claim to my right to myself,” and declares that it is “equally dangerous whether it is worked out in respectable morality or whether it is worked out in vile immorality.” It is easy to deplore the selfishness and ruthlessness of theft and exploitation, but we need also to realize that man’s sinful self-centeredness is likewise expressed in more subtle ways.

Not surprisingly, at the heart of every domestic problem and social tension, and even at the heart of most church difficulties, is the insidious claim of my right to myself—my time, my money, my way, my desire, my will. Indeed, anything that does not reflect the love of God, which seeks not its own, is an expression of man’s inherent selfishness.

MY HEAVENLY PERSPECTIVE

The only way we can truly recognize self-centeredness is to look at ourselves from God’s point of view. J. B. Phillips in his Letters to Young Churches transliterates Paul’s prayer for the people in the church at Colossae like this:

We are asking God that you may see things from His point of view by being given spiritual insight and understanding (Colossians 1:9 NKJV).

Only when we follow Paul’s example and pray for God to open our spiritual eyes will we begin to view the ‘true’ circumstances of our personal life, not through the eyes of our self-centered existence, but from God’s heavenly perspective. And only in this way can we look at the realities of our life through His spiritual prism.

One night Mrs. Silence, a long time friend of Dorothy’s and mine, was greatly comforted when she prayerfully and obediently faced a family crisis from a heavenly perspective. She was awakened at 2:00 a.m. by a telephone call. “Do you know who was driving your car tonight?” asked a police officer. “Yes, my two sons are driving home from a young people’s Bible Conference,” she apprehensively replied. “Well, I have sad news for you—the driver fell asleep and your car is wrapped around a tree on the side of the road. The driver of the car is dead and there is virtually no hope that the other young man will live!” This shocking news stunned the bewildered mother, whose heart had always been filled with tender love for her children.

Putting down the telephone, Mrs. Silence cried to her Heavenly Father, “O God, what does a mother do at a time like this?” Fortunately, she had learned to pray and think biblically. She told me later that all she could reflect upon was the verse of Scripture that commanded, In everything give thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV). “But Lord,” Mrs. Silence continued, “You know my heart is not thankful. It is cold and shocked and empty, but on this terrible night I will obey Your Word. As I do, please perform a miracle in my heart. When I obey You and say thank You, You will have to make it real because, in this tragic hour, I do not feel at all thankful.” In this way, Mrs. Silence exercised her faith and began to pray.

This tender-hearted mother told me that when she first said, “Thank You, Father, for who You are,” her stunned heart remained both cold and empty. But as she faithfully repeated her thanks, the Holy Spirit performed His own wonderful miracle! He filled her heart with comfort and genuine thanksgiving. Yes, during those long dark hours of night, God’s Comforter, the Holy Spirit, responded to the faith and obedience of Mrs. Silence. He reassured her of God’s unchanging love to both her and her family. As the morning dawned, no doubt, there were still tears in her eyes, but at the same time she experienced the indescribable comfort of God’s peace ruling in her heart.

This is a wonderful testimony of the grace of God as He enfolded a grieving mother to His bosom of eternal love. With deep and quiet confidence, Mrs. Silence said how during that dark night the peace of God, which passes human understanding, had flooded her soul. As Mrs. Silence proved in her walk with the Lord, when trouble comes, there is a total difference between a human and a heavenly viewpoint.

As you too enjoy an intimate fellowship with God you will come to realize that thanksgiving and faith are always interrelated. When the thanksgiving of genuine faith fills your heart, God will enable you to view the changing circumstances of your life—whether they outwardly appear good or bad—from His point of view. From such a heavenly perspective, God will certainly reassure your hurting heart that All things really do work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28 NKJV). The comfort of this verse need not remain a cold, empty, oft-quoted truth. God has given us this wonderful promise that it may ring with miraculous reality in each of our hearts. So praise the Lord when you feel like it! Praise the Lord when you don’t feel like it! And keep on praising the Lord until you do feel like it! There will never be a circumstance in your life or mine when it is inopportune for us to praise the Lord.

Recently, Dorothy and I received a letter from long-term missionaries who have faithfully and fruitfully ministered for Christ in the restrictive circumstances of a Middle East country. In his letter Stan wrote: “I can and must praise the Lord on the basis of His character—not my comfort.” To amplify Corrie Ten Boom’s statement about forgiveness, we could also say that since praising the Lord is an act of the will, the will can choose to praise the Lord regardless of the temperature of the heart! Then as we choose to praise Him, He will surely give us the inner glow of His peace and the abiding assurance of His unchanging love—no matter what our circumstance may be.

Notice we are not told to give thanks to God for everything; but to give Him thanks in everything.

Genuine thanksgiving, which flows from a recognition of our heavenly perspective, is the one ingredient of faith that separates self-pity from grief.

Remember, this is true whether we are in a church or in a hospital! Even when the storms of life assail, though an earthbound heart will find it easier to reflect a ‘pity me’ attitude, a Christ-centered heart will still praise the Lord.

Most of us fall and collapse at the first grip of pain; we sit down on the threshold of God’s purposes and wilt with self-pity. Even so-called Christian sympathy will only accelerate the process. But, in His great love, God will never do that. He comes with the grip of the pierced hand of His Son, and says—“Enter into fellowship with me; arise and shine.” If through a broken heart God can bring His purpose to pass in the world, then thank Him for breaking your heart

—(Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, paraphrase).

Notice God’s loving reason behind the “all things” in our lives. The very next verse reveals that they are purposed so that we “be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29 NKJV).

Yes, if we are to understand how God has provided us with a glorious freedom from ourselves, it is essential that we learn to view our life from a heavenly perspective.

God’s answer to a self-centered life is not improvement nor education, but death! When we are confronted with the gravitational pull of the self-life during our lives on earth, genuine faith will be able to rejoice in God’s eternal truth: For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3 NKJV).

Because we are hidden with Christ in God—through the process of death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6:2-4 NKJV)—we have already been radically severed from our earthbound existence with its self-centered concerns. Now we can enjoy our new perspective of life on the resurrection side of the Cross!

  In Christ I died, in Christ I rose,
In Christ I triumphed o’er my foes,
In Christ in Heaven I took my seat,
And Heaven rejoiced at hell’s defeat.

Dead to the old creation, the true Christian has become part of God’s new creation. That is what our salvation is all about.

As we understand our positional co-crucifixion with Christ, our daily life on earth will be transformed from that of being a self-centered existence to that of being a Christ-centered experience. But to constantly enjoy such intimate fellowship with Him we must know how to constantly deal with the self life—our earthly problem!

MY EARTHLY PROBLEM

Now we should ask the heart-searching question: “Is my life on earth really Christ-centered or is it still self-centered?”

Certainly, a self-centered life will quickly become hostile to any person or angry at any circumstance that threatens its security, its ego, its comfort or its pleasure. G. Campbell Morgan put it this way: “Self-centeredness is the essence of sin; the core of hostility; the substance out of which hell is made” (Hosea: The Heart and Holiness of God).

One evening in a prayer meeting, I heard a lady pray with unusual sincerity. She was obviously meeting God in a new and life-transforming way as she prayed: “Lord Jesus, throw Your arms of love around me, fold me to the cross and love me to death. I want it to be no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me!” Her prayer impressed me greatly.

Though this lady knew that she had already been delivered—through the process of death and resurrection—to dwell in the heavenlies with Christ, she was also conscious that her body was still very much in this world! Evidently, as she prayed, she was seeking God’s solution to the selfish deeds and words of her body here on earth. Such a meaningful prayer surely expressed her fervent desire for a more intimate fellowship with her Lord. As I later reflected upon this prayer, I realized that Paul had given the biblical basis for such a heart-agonizing petition when he wrote: For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13 NKJV).

Some of my readers may find the next thoughts helpful as an in-depth meditation upon the significance of this verse, while others may find the illustration of the subsequent paragraph to be more helpful and practical. Those who are familiar with the Greek language give us an even fuller understanding of the liberating truth found in this verse:

For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13 NKJV).

First: In the original Greek the word you is the subject of the phrase put to death and it is written in the active voice.

Biblical fact: If I am to be delivered from the ‘deeds’ of my body (my self-centered life) I must actively and positively co-operate with God.

Second: This verse also tells us that it is through the Spirit (God’s Divine Executioner) that He makes His own wonderful provision for victory over our selfish, earthbound deeds.

Biblical fact: Though I must be prayerfully and actively involved in the process, by myself I cannot bring to death my selfish deeds! While I am in this world, it is only the Holy Spirit who can radically sever me from my self-centered acts.

Third: It is also interesting to observe that this verse is written in the present tense. In practical terms, the use of this tense indicates that my prayerful and active co-operation with God must be continually exercised.

Biblical fact: Though it can be a transforming experience the first time a Christian asks the Holy Spirit to love his self-life to death, it is not something that is to be done only once. No, whenever the self-life rears its ugly head there must be specific prayer on our part to co-operate with the liberating work of the Holy Spirit. Then, as we constantly rely on the executing ministry of the Holy Spirit our selfish deeds will indeed be brought to death.

God intends that, on our part, this attitude of faith should be a continual, ongoing, everpresent experience!

To illustrate this, let us go in our imagination to a courtroom. There a man is being tried for murder. The evidence has been sifted, the man’s guilt has been established, and now the judge has the solemn responsibility of pronouncing sentence. A hush falls over the courtroom as the judge rises and says: “This man has been found guilty of murder and is therefore condemned to die.”

With that somber statement the task of the judge has been completed. If, however, the judge were to try to carry out the sentence of death himself by taking a pistol from under his bench and shooting the murderer, the judge himself would become guilty of murder!

After having announced the sentence of death, all the judge can do is hand the condemned man over to the State executioner.

In the same way, our self-life can do nothing but recognize and confess its selfishness. Like the judge in the courtroom, we must pronounce the judgment of death upon all our selfish deeds. But just as the judge could never take the life of the murderer, so, too, we in our self-centered condition do not have the power to put to death the deeds of the self-life. But, thank God, He has provided a Divine Executioner—the Holy Spirit—and it is the Holy Spirit who has the power to render inoperative the potential selfishness of our lives.

Yes, by God’s grace, it is ‘through the Spirit’ that we are enabled to bring to death the ‘deeds of the body’. As we avail ourselves of this wonderful provision on a continual and deliberate basis, we will come to experience the liberating joy of a life that is truly Christ-centered.

Because of such clear Scriptural teaching, and the moving lessons of such earnest prayers as I heard from the lips of the lady in the prayer meeting, I too, have many times prayed in a similar vein:

Lord, by Your Holy Spirit, enfold me to the Cross and love my self-life to death. I want it to be no longer I who live but: Christ who lives in me!

It is easy to think that the ultimate purpose for our being nourished and nurtured with the Word of God is that we may graduate to a life of personal contentment. Not so! Why did the Old Testament priest nurture and nourish the very best of his flock? Merely to have the finest specimens to put on display? On the contrary, as William Still points out, they were the very sheep that were needed for the slaughter! They were purposed from their birth to be a sacrifice!

Too often, Christians wrongly conclude that their musical or oratorical abilities will somehow please Christ as they attempt to become the gold medalist before a crowd of evangelical spectators! When God, with loving provision, nourishes us from His Word, His purpose is not that we may make a better platform appearance, but that every area of our lives be laid out on His altar of sacrifice. Before we can be alive to all that He is, there must first be death to all that we are in ourselves—our self-pity, our self-sufficiency, our self-centeredness, our self-pleasing, our self-vindication… the list goes on and on. *

With a pained heart the Apostle Paul stated that, apart from Timothy, he could find no other person who would ‘care’ for the church at Colossae. Because many Christians in that city did not know through their own experience that love ‘seeks not its own,’ we read how Paul sadly reflected: For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:21 NKJV).

Where are the Christians today who really care about the suffering church in so many parts of the world? Are we so preoccupied with life as it affects us that we have no time to love people who have nobody else to really care for them? And we must remember that it is only God’s love that seeks not its own and suffers long. And, just as a cup full of vinegar must first be emptied of its bitterness before it can be the receptacle of sweet, luscious orange juice, so our self-life must first be brought to death before we can be filled with the love of God. Praise God that both of these ministries are part of the Holy Spirit’s gracious work in our lives. How needful it is for all of us to continually ask the Holy Spirit to bring to death by radical separation the deeds of the self-life and, in turn, to fill us to overflowing with the love of God: Because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:5 NKJV).

As these truths begin to vibrate in your heart during your Together Time, the Holy Spirit will open fresh truth to you from the Word of God.

It has well been said that every believer should ‘keep short accounts with God.’ Let us constantly make sure there is nothing in life that will stifle our God-consciousness and intimate fellowship with Him.


* In the Bible, death never means extinction but separation. For instance, physical death is the separation of the soul from the body and eternal death is the eternal separation of the soul from God. In a similar meaning, death to the self-life is the continual separation of selfish deeds from human behavior patterns. And this, as we have seen, can only be accomplished in the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

Spiritual Check-up


  1. In the presence of my Lord, am I aware of any unconfessed sin of which I have not repented?
  2. Do I have a problem with: An unforgiving spirit? Loving people I do not like? Deceiving people to project a good image? Coveting another person’s gifts or possessions? Murmuring and criticism?
  3. Can I exercise an expectant faith because my conscience has been cleansed?
    Now, you may want to turn again to the prayer of William Maclardie Bunting and then quietly and thoughtfully pray it again yourself.
  4. Is my life on earth really Christ-centered or is it still self-centered?
Chapter 2 The Head and the Heart ← Prior Section
Chapter 4 Together Time Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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