“Give me Scotland, or I die”: John Knox as a Man of Prayer

John Knox was born in Scotland about 1514. So he was only about three years old when the Protestant reformation started in Germany in 1517. Converted to Protestantism from Roman Catholicism in 1543, Knox lived during the time when it was often very dangerous to be a follower of Christ. When the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor (also known as “Bloody Mary” because of her ruthless persecution of the Protestants) became queen in 1553, Knox, who was in England at this time, was forced to hide. He eventually landed in Geneva where he met John Calvin, who became his mentor. Knox retuned to Scotland in 1559, the year after Queen “Bloody Mary” died and was succeeded by the Protestant Queen Elizabeth. He remained in Scotland, bringing reformation to the church until his death in 1572. The Collected Prayers of John Knox

Today people remember Knox as the leader of the Protestant reformation in Scotland and the founder of Scottish Presbyterianism. But what others don’t realize is that by the end of his ministry, he became more well known for his prayer than for his other ministries.  The devout Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, is reputed to have said, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.” Why do you think the Queen said this? Well, because she saw the impact of Knox’s prayer. From a human point of view, it was the prayer of Knox that sparked the Reformation in Scotland. His prayer became the fuel of the ongoing reformation during his time. His prayer shook the land of Scotland, causing a revival among God’s people.

Perhaps of all the prayers of Knox, “Give me Scotland, or I die” is the most quoted one.  It was not an arrogant prayer but a passionate plea, showing his intense desire for the conversion of the people of Scotland. His prayer was an expression of his great confidence in God. One of Knox’s mottos was “one man with God is always in the majority.” His prayer also echoes the Apostle Paul’s prayer in Romans 10:1, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.” I wonder if we have the same desire for our fellow countrymen. When was the last time you prayed for your country like Knox did for his? Do we sincerely pray for our fellow countrymen’s conversion?

Knox remained prayerful even to death. During his dying hours, “he was much engaged in meditation and prayer. These words were often in his mouth”: “Come, Lord Jesus. Sweet Jesus into Thy hand I commend my spirit. Be merciful, Lord, to Thy Church, which Thou hast redeemed. Give peace to this afflicted commonwealth. Raise up faithful pastors who will take charge of Thy Church. Grant us, Lord, the perfect hatred of sin, both by evidences of Thy wrath and mercy.”

“Grant us, Lord, the perfect hatred of sin.” What a godly prayer of Knox! Indeed, after he died on November 24, 1572 (at about age 58), Principal Smeaton, one of Knox’s contemporaries, said of him, “I know not if ever God placed a more godly and great spirit in a body so little and frail.” Knox was not perfect, but we can definitely learn from his prayer life.

To learn more about Knox’s theology, spirituality, and practice of prayer, see The Collected Prayers of John Knox (Reformation Heritage Books, 2019).

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John Knox Prayer

How to Fight for Contentment in Your Work as a Mom

Our guest contributor today is Esther Engelsma (née Beeke) who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with her husband and two children. She is the author of How Can I Feel Productive as a Mom? and serves her church as an administrative assistant. Learn more at estherengelsma.com.

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Contentment in the type and amount of work you accomplish in motherhood, or in any other role, is not a magical trait that God sprinkles over you. It is something that must be learned (Phil. 4:11) and fought for daily. One of Satan’s strategies since the day he tempted Eve in the garden is to sow discontent in our hearts. But we do not have to fall for his lies. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can combat him and glorify God by fighting for contentment in the work God has called us to. Here are some practical examples of how to do that: How Can I Feel Productive as a Mom

1. Believe what God says about Himself. He says He is good (Pss. 119:68; 145:9). He says that if you love Him and are called according to His purpose, everything in your life works together for good (Rom. 8:28). Do you believe this? If you do, then you must also believe that any command He gives is for your good. Among many other commands, He tells you to work heartily (Col. 3:23). He would not tell you this if the work in front of you was not good for you. Even if it feels small or boring at times, you can grow in contentment by repeating these truths to yourself again and again.

2. Work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men (Col. 3:23). Doing your work with energy makes it go by faster and helps you feel energized by it rather than depleted. The exhaustion that comes at the end of a day of hard work is a far better feeling than the tiredness at the end of a lazy day of short tasks sandwiched between long breaks on social media. It is laziness that breeds discontent, not work. And while work does not guarantee contentment, you will never be content if you don’t do the work the Lord has put in front of you. It is in obedience that you find peace.

3. Remember your reward. Read on in Colossians 3: Work “heartily…knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance” (vv. 23–24). God Himself gives the incentive of reward, and it’s not wrong to look forward to it. No matter what you do, knowing there is a reward waiting for you at the end is a wonderful incentive. As Paul wrote, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

4. Learn to love your work. If a task must be done, you might as well learn to love it. You can learn to love it in the same way that someone can learn to love investing five dollars instead of spending it—by focusing on the long-term results rather than on the immediate satisfaction. And isn’t that what so much of the Christian walk is about? We must learn to deny what our flesh wants in the moment, which leads to death, in order to do what God wills by the Spirit’s power, which is life (Rom. 8:13).

5. Realize that the work of motherhood and homemaking must be learned. We tend to think that motherhood a natural role and must therefore come easily, but it doesn’t. We know how to do many of the individual tasks, but putting them all together in a way that gets it all done is a challenge and takes time to figure out. But just like any other job, you don’t have to start out as an expert. You can search out people in person or online to teach you better ways of doing the work. You can improve with time. As your kids grow, so do you.

6. Get good at your work. What activities do you enjoy doing? What activities are you good at? The two lists are probably similar. A reasonable conclusion is that if you want to like an activity or task more, you need to get better at it. How can you get better at your work? By practice. How can you practice? By doing it over and over—weekly, daily, or hourly. How convenient that motherhood and homemaking put you in a position that requires you to do just that. If you put in the effort, you can’t help but get better at your work and therefore learn to enjoy it more.

7. Accept what you can accomplish in a day. Productivity is like money in that you tend to think that if you had just a little more, you would be happy. You won’t. When you get more, you’ll want more. You must be aware of how much you can and should accomplish in a day and you must work hard, but you must also train your mind to be content with what was accomplished. God has the hairs on your head numbered (Luke 12:7). Do you think He didn’t number the crumbs that fell from the high chair today? Do you think He didn’t plan the fights you had to mediate, the tears you had to wipe? Those “interruptions” did not get in the way of your “real work.” They were your real work. They were your calling. Contentment doesn’t just apply to whether you are happy with your body or your clothes. God gave you a limited and specific level of ability, time, and opportunity to get things done. You must use time and talents well, but when you have done that, you must be content with what you accomplished, because it is what God meant for you to accomplish.

8. Look for the cause of your discontent. If you struggle with discontent, try to pinpoint what is causing it. On the one hand, is it something that you can and should be working on or changing? Then work at it. Spiritual life is so intertwined with your physical life and environment that often tackling a project or goal you should have finished months ago can help in the fight for contentment. It’s not the finished goal that will make you content, but it is God’s will that you care for the blessings and do the work He has placed in front of you, and you cannot expect contentment outside that will. On the other hand, is your struggle with discontent over something that you cannot or should not be working on or changing? Then soak your mind in the Word of God, prayer, and good books and podcasts so that it is not being soaked in the matter of discontent. No one stays content without prayer, work, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

9. Practice gratitude. Pray thanksgiving and sing praises all day long, every time you think to do so. It will change your experience of motherhood and of life. It is what God created you for. You are included in “the people…I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise” (Isa. 43:21). It doesn’t matter how productive you may be in the world’s eyes. If you shirk the purpose for which God made you, productivity means nothing and you will never feel satisfied, no matter how much you strive for it. If, however, you strive for productivity not as a means to prop yourself up but as a tool to bring glory to God, you can be and feel productive.

Note: Content taken from How Can I Feel Productive as a Mom? p. 28–33. © 2017. Used by permission of Reformation Heritage Books.

 

Mother

Four Possible Reasons Why Some Depressed People Hesitate to Tell Others about their Depression

Many people are silently suffering from depression. Their suffering is silent because for some reason they feel embarrassed to let others know that they are having times of despair. Why do they feel embarrassed to admit that they have depression? Let me suggest the following four possible reasons: Silent Depression

1. People with depression feel ashamed that they actually have a form of mental illness, as depression is a health issue affecting the mind (what and how we think).

That’s why a depressed person is generally unable to think rationally. But depression also affects the heart (what and how we feel). In short, it can affect the totality of our being—both our body and soul. Interestingly, people with high blood pressure don’t hesitate to tell others that they have some heart issues and are taking beta blockers to treat their hypertension. Yet some depressed people feel somewhat embarrassed to inform others that they have some mental issues and are on an antidepressant. This feeling of shame is unnecessary. If you are on an antidepressant, you don’t need to be embarrassed. When properly taken, antidepressants can be a blessing to you. Just as insulin is God’s blessing to the diabetic, so is an antidepressant to the clinically depressed. Thank God for that medication!

2. People struggling with depression are often misunderstood.

“You have a beautiful house, a wonderful family, and a nice job, and you are depressed?” Misunderstanding:  If you are rich, you should never feel depressed.

“You are a Christian and you are depressed?”

Misunderstanding: Christians don’t get depressed.

“You are a church leader and you are depressed?”

Misunderstanding: Spiritual leaders (such as deacons, elders, and pastors) should never feel depressed. Remember Charles Spurgeon, the so-called Prince of Preachers, suffered from depression. William Cowper, the great hymn writer of “There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood,” also struggled with depression.

3. People battling with depression are often treated insensitively. Some heartlessly say to them, “Get over it. Don’t act like a baby. Get up and work!” They may utter these words with a good motive to help, but such remarks will only cause the depressed to feel more discouraged. Sometimes the best thing we can say is this: “I’m sorry to hear about your depression. I will pray for you. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do to help you.”

4. People suffering from depression are often accused of something that is not necessarily true. Here’s the accusation: they are suffering from depression because of their personal sin. Sadly some people think that depression is always a result of personal sin. Now, it is true that depression is a consequence of our original sin. If Adam had not sinned, there would be no depression. But depression is not necessarily a result of personal sin.

For example, a mother who is suffering from postpartum depression is not necessarily suffering because of a particular sin. She just gave birth. And now her body is undergoing physical changes. Her hormones are dropping and that can make her feel very tired both mentally and emotionally. Mental and emotional exhaustion may lead to depression. What she thus needs is medical treatment because she is having a medical issue. She needs a medication to treat her postpartum depression.

If you say to this mother that her depression is God’s punishment for her sin, and that she must therefore repent in order to get healed, you will not help her but further harm her. You will only place an unnecessary feeling of guilt in her heart.

Having said this, I’m not suggesting that depression is only a physical problem and that it has nothing to do with our spiritual life. The truth is God created us with body and soul. And our body and soul are so closely united to each other that our physical problems can affect our spiritual condition (and vice versa). That’s why a depressed Christian often struggles with doubts. Therefore when dealing with a depressed person, it is highly advisable to be holistic—to address all aspects of life. Thankfully, today we have Christian counselors who are especially trained to deal with depression from a biblical point of view. Thus, if you are depressed, don’t hesitate to look for professional help.

 

Note: This post appeared as “Silently Depressed” in The Outlook 69, no. 5 (September/October 2019): 16–17.

Sickness

Exercise Patience as You Listen to the Preaching of God’s Word

Sadly, our culture has helped make us all far less patient than we need to be. We live in a world full of impatient people who demand instant gratification from those who serve them. I’m afraid this self-centered way of thinking has now become tolerated, or even accepted, in our local churches. As a result, we seem to want everything now—from short worship songs to brief prayers to brief sermons. We have this same mentality virtually everywhere we go. We want fast service at restaurants and immediate access to information on our smartphones. We evaluate every invitation to do something with others by how much time it will take for us to participate. Even as we worship God, we want things to be fast and convenient; if they are not, we are quick to complain.

But listening as God speaks to us is not always fast or convenient. It is challenging work, and it often constitutes the longest part of our worship services. Strangely, we seem to be able to watch a movie for hours or attend a long sporting event without complaining, but we want our worship services to end precisely on time so we can rush off to lunch and to the next thing on our schedule. If the preaching runs a bit too long by our standard, we are quick to complain to others in the church, and possibly even the pastor, that we feel that way. Don’t we realize the damage we can cause by having such a critical attitude? We don’t help anybody by trying to rush through our worship services, least of all ourselves. We need to learn to be patient!

We must remind ourselves that rich, deep, biblical sermons—sermons with substance that are able to feed our hungry souls, minister to our deepest hurts, and ultimately help us grow in Christlikeness—are rarely able to be delivered by a pastor in a mere fifteen minutes! According to Nehemiah 8:2–3, “So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard . . . from early morning until midday . . . And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.” Just imagine! Ezra read God’s Word to the people for hours, and they listened! In a similar way, we must remember to be patient as God’s Word is faithfully expounded and to not allow other things to distract us from hearing what God wants to say to us. Nothing in all the world is more important to us than hearing from God, so we must be sure to make that the top priority of our lives. This requires us to be patient listeners when our pastors open God’s Word and proclaim its truths to our hearts.

A Hearer of God's Word

Preaching Sermon

Come Prepared as You Listen to the Preaching of God’s Word

Because the preaching of God’s Word is the most significant and challenging part of public worship, it requires mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual participation from not only the pastor but also the listeners.

For the pastor, preaching is an exhausting process. In fact, some think that preaching just one sermon is the equivalent of a full eight-hour work day. Thus, pastors who preach two sermons are working sixteen hours in one day. While others may not agree with this somewhat exaggerated statement, preaching two sermons in one day takes a ton of energy out of the preacher. Pastors also have to labor for hours prior to preaching in order to prepare the messages God has put on their hearts. In his article “How Much Time Do Pastors Spend Preparing a Sermon?” Thom S. Rainer concluded that “70% of pastors’ sermon preparation time is the narrow range of 10 to 18 hours per sermon.”[1] Obviously, good, biblical sermons don’t write themselves. Pastors must devote many hours to praying, studying, and writing out their messages (and hopefully getting some rest!) before they stand before the congregation. A Hearer of God’s Word

Because the preaching of God’s Word is such a crucial part of God-honoring worship, the congregation must also come prepared to receive what God says to them. But this does not happen automatically. It requires some planning and special effort on our part, and we will benefit far more from each worship service—and each sermon—if we prepare ourselves in at least two ways.

First, we must prepare ourselves spiritually. Receiving the preached Word of God is challenging work; it requires alertness and active listening on our part. Yet it is also one of the most important things we do as growing Christians! Just as physical trainers teach athletes to stretch their muscles and warm-up prior to intense exercise, so we should take some time to “stretch our spiritual muscles” before we participate in public worship. This means we must prepare our hearts and souls to receive biblical truth from God, truth that is sure to stretch us spiritually as we are clearly reminded of the awesomeness of God, the lostness of unbelievers, and even the lingering sinfulness of our own imperfect hearts. The glorious truths of Scripture should produce great joy in our hearts, but they are not always easy to receive, since they also call on us to confess sins and to change our lives in significant ways.

We should remember that prayer is the most important way for us to prepare ourselves spiritually for worship, as we ask God prior to each service to make our hearts receptive to whatever He wants to teach us. Another way to do this is to find out in advance what text is going to be preached (which is often posted in the church bulletin or on the church website) and to spend some time reading it and contemplating what it says, either the night before or the morning of the worship service. Take some time to pray over the specific passage of Scripture, asking God to help you understand it better as you hear it preached and to show you how to apply it to your own life. We can also prepare ourselves spiritually by singing hymns or listening to Christ-exalting music as we get ready for church.

Second, we must also prepare ourselves physically to worship God with our church family. It is easy for us to forget that our bodies are involved in worship too! We use our eyes to watch the pastor and read the Bible. We use our ears to hear the music and to listen to the preaching. We use our mouths to sing and to pray. Sometimes our legs are used for standing to sing or pray with our church family. Likewise, our mind is vital for all of these things and for contemplating the life-changing truths that are proclaimed to us from Scripture. Sometimes we try to distinguish the spiritual worship of God from anything that we do physically, but we can’t do that. When we worship God, we do so physically.

This means that when our bodies are exhausted, it is hard to participate fully in worship. We’re far less likely to benefit from the sermon if we are too tired to even listen to what is preached. We owe it to ourselves, to our church family, and certainly to God to be sufficiently rested prior to attending worship. Are we going to bed at a good time? Parents, are you making sure children get their sleep on Saturday night so that the entire family will have the physical energy to benefit from the church service? If you’re blessed to attend a church that has two services on Sunday, are you faithful to attend both services as often as possible, and are you trying to rest before attending the evening service? Sometimes the most pious thing we can do on Sunday afternoon is take a nap so that we’ll be physically prepared for the evening service. Whatever our particular schedule may look like, we should make every effort to limit our evening activities the night before we attend worship and to prepare ourselves physically as well as spiritually.

     [1] Thom S. Rainer, “How Much Time Do Pastors Spend Preparing a Sermon?,” June 22, 2013, https://thomrainer.com/2013/06/how-much-time-do-pastors-spend-preparing-a-sermon/.

Note: This post is an excerpt from A Hearer of God’s Word: Ten Ways to Listen to Sermons Better

 

Preaching Sermon

John Newton’s Four Thoughts on Public Prayer

Our guest contributor today is Giancarlo Montemayor, the Spanish Publisher at B&H Publishing Group and a PhD student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Marcela and they have two children.

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John Newton (1725–1807)—the famous writer of Amazing Grace—wrote more than a thousand letters in his lifetime, and many of them deal with the subject of prayer. Newton believed and taught that prayer is a corporate discipline as much as it is a personal one. In correspondence with a friend, Newton expressed his high view on public prayers—or “social prayers”—as he called them. He referred to these prayers as “the most profitable exercises (excepting the public preaching) in which Christians can engage”.[1] In another letter, Newton instructed a reader on how to conduct such public prayers—that they should be short, methodological, distinct from sermons, and reverent.[2]

1. Public Prayers Should be Short

John Newton

John Newton

First of all, Newton argued that “long prayers should in general be avoided,” because they could distract even the most spiritually mature people. For him, the problem of some public prayers is that they are too long. He thus said that it is better that the hearers “should wish the prayer had been longer, than spend half the time in wishing it was over.”[3]

2. Public Prayers Should be Simple

Newton was not fond of elaborated prayers, arguing that they sounded rather “artificial.” He didn’t mean that prayers should be disorganized. In fact, he said that “some attention to method may be proper, for the prevention of repetitions.”[4] He recommended Isaac Watts’ A Guide to Prayer, but he commented, “a too close attention to the method therein recommended, gives an air of study and formality, and offends against that simplicity which is so essentially necessary to a good prayer.”[5]

3. Public Prayers Should be Distinct from Sermons

Public prayers are indeed a learning opportunity for those who listen, but Newton regretted that “the prayers of some good men are more like preaching than praying.” Newton believed that preaching is speaking “the Lord’s mind to the people,” while praying is speaking “the desires of the people to the Lord.”  When one confuses one for the other, “it can hardly be called a prayer.” Far from benefiting the congregation, Newton lamented, such prayers would hardly help those who want to pray from their hearts. In contrast, Newton commended prayers that are “breathings to the Lord, either of confession, petition, or praise.” And although prayers should be based on Scripture and the gospel, they should reflect the experience, expressions, and feelings of the soul. By doing so, prayers will result in “the edification of others.”[6]

4. Public Prayers should be Reverent

Lastly, Newton disapproved the “custom that some have of talking to the Lord in prayer.” He was referring to the informal tone as if prayer was “the most familiar and trivial occasion.” He exhorted those who pray publicly to remember that they speak to the King of kings. Praying this way will “prevent us from speaking to [God] as if he was altogether such as one as ourselves!”[7] 

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[1] John Newton, Letters of John Newton (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2007), 78.

[2] Even though the letter is not divided as such, the pattern seems obvious as one reads it.

[3] John Newton, The Works of the Reverend John Newton (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1985), 1:77.

[4] Newton, Works, 1:77.

[5] Newton, Works, 1:77.

[6] Newton, Works, 1:77.

[7] Newton, Works, 1:77.

John Newton Prayer

Ten Ways to Listen to Sermons Better (Part 1)

One crucial part of public worship—and often the longest part of each worship service—is the preaching of God’s Word. Without a doubt, this is the most important part of public worship since it is God’s primary means for saving sinners and sanctifying those who have already believed in Christ. Yet preaching is also the most difficult aspect of our worship service, not only for the pastor preaching behind the pulpit but also for the members listening in the pews.

During preaching, two things happen simultaneously. First, using the preacher as His instrument, God speaks to us; second, as God’s Word is faithfully proclaimed, we are expected to listen. But good listening does not happen automatically! In fact, listening to a sermon that lasts thirty minutes or more can be a struggle for even the most devoted Christian. There are so many potential distractions—from physical weariness and our own personal thoughts and opinions to the things happening around us at any given moment. We have to be intentional if we are going to listen to sermons well. Yet, if we are truly honest with ourselves, many of us are not good listeners—let alone good sermon listeners.

One of the greatest problems in our churches today is poor listening. Too often we put the blame on our pastors when we are not sufficiently fed by the preaching of God’s Word. We complain and tactlessly say, “Our pastor is not a good preacher.” However, it is wrong for us to think that the blame for our dissatisfaction with public preaching should always fall on the pastor. Perhaps at times it does, since pastors are not perfect themselves. But if your pastor is genuinely preaching the full counsel of Scripture (as God has divinely commanded him to do) and seeking to do so effectively, then perhaps you should consider whether you are truly honoring God with the way you listen to sermons. All of us have surely struggled in this area and could stand to become better listeners, especially with regard to sermons. So, in humility, let us together seek to become more pleasing to God in the way that we listen to the preaching of His Word. In the following pages, I share ten biblical and practical ways that I believe we can and should follow with God’s help. A Hearer of God’s Word

1. Pray as You Listen

In 1 Samuel 3:10, Samuel spoke to God, saying, “Speak, for your servant hears.” We can almost hear the eagerness in Samuel’s voice as he pleads, “Lord, please speak to me, because I am listening to You. I am ready to hear what You want to say to me!” Like Samuel, we should communicate with God about our desire to hear from Him. We as listeners should participate in sermons by listening prayerfully, and we can do this in at least three ways.

First, pray before the sermon. Do you pray before the start of each worship service, asking God to speak to your heart? Do you thank the Lord for sending a preacher to teach God’s Word to you, and do you ask the Lord to bless His servant? Are you intentional in asking God to make the sermon’s message clear to you and to help you hear and receive the truth? Preparing our hearts for worship in this way—and asking God to remove any distractions that might prevent us from hearing from Him—can help us listen better as God’s Word is proclaimed.

Second, we can also utter brief prayers during the sermon. Of course, it is important for us to be quiet and respectful during the message, listening to all that is preached from the pulpit and being careful not to distract others as God speaks to each of our hearts. But it is still appropriate to pray short, silent (or nearly silent) prayers to God as we hear Him clearly speaking to us through what is preached. This can be as simple as whispering a quick “Amen!” or “Thank you for this truth, God!” or as profound as asking God to forgive you for a sin of which you are convicted because of the sermon, or to help you live out a particular instruction being preached. By praying like this while we listen, we are in a sense seasoning the sermon with prayer, asking God to penetrate our hearts deeply with His powerful and life-changing Word. We must remember that the almighty God of heaven is actually speaking to us as His Word is preached, and we should be sure to receive His message in the appropriate way and in a spirit of genuine gratitude.

Third, we should also remember to pray after each sermon, asking the Lord to help us remember and apply the truths we have just heard, so that we might grow not only in our listening but in our daily obedience to Him as well. God’s Word exhorts us to become “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22), and we can’t possibly do this in our own abilities. We must remember to ask God to penetrate our hearts with His Word and to make us able to live what it teaches!

Note: This post is an excerpt from my new book A Hearer of God’s Word: Ten Ways to Listen to Sermons Better. A Hearer of God’s Word (back cover)

 

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