A few years ago, the men of our church studied a video curriculum by Gary Thomas called, Sacred Marriage. It is a series for both husbands and wives but I thought it would be useful to study with just the men. It was fantastic. The study is based on the book by the same name. I have recently begun reading the book and, like the video series, it’s great.
One of the things that struck me as I watched the video and discussed it with other men was the focus on the foundation of (or, theology of) marriage. In particular, Thomas wants to get us thinking about God’s ultimate purpose in marriage. The book is not, as he puts it, a three, seven, or ten-step program for a better, happier marriage. Instead, Thomas does the hard work of looking at God’s real purpose of marriage, which is to make us holy, not necessarily happy. That’s a hard message to sell, especially in the era of romantic comedies and the Hallmark and Lifetime television channels.
In the first chapter of the book Thomas puts it this way…
…there’s a deeper question that needs to be addressed beyond how we can “improve” our marriage: What if God didn’t design marriage to be “easier”? What if God had an end in mind that went beyond our happiness, our comfort, and our desire to be infatuated and happy as if the world were a perfect place?
As Thomas will say later in the first chapter, holiness and happiness aren’t necessarily contradictory, but a person’s happiness becomes illusory if they think, a.) that it’s the sole purpose of the marriage, and b.) their spouse is the one in whom they will find such ultimate purpose.
The real intention of the book, for Thomas, is to show his readers that marriage, in the same way as abstinence for celibates and isolation for hermits, is a context for spiritual growth. He says marriage can become the means by which we can “grow in our service, obedience, character, pursuit, and love of God.”
If I might put it in Wesleyan terminology, marriage is a means of grace by which we draw closer to God and conform more to the likeness of Christ. That’s not a bad deal.
I just started reading Gene Getz’s book, The Measure of a Man: 20 Attributes of A Godly Man. I immediately thought it was something I wanted to share with the men of our church family. The need for such a book seems obvious. Boys are rapidly growing up in this world without learning what it means to be a man… even fewer understand what it means to be a godly man. Too many are having to make it up on the fly… with disastrous results. Many adult men are in the same boat.
Therefore, I thought I would share some of the insights I’m gleaning from the book and pass them on to you, with a few extra items I hope will bless you.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12)
The first chapter of the book is a broad overview of everything Getz will be looking at throughout the rest of the book. The chapter is entitled, “Becoming Faithful Men.” That’s a key topic as well as an important title. You see, we aren’t born faithful. Just the opposite, in fact. We are born fallen in sin, broken, and far from God. If we’re blessed to be born and raised in a Christian family, we may come to know God earlier in our lives. However, regardless of our background, growing in our faith is a lifelong pursuit. As you can imagine, if our goal is "Christ-likeness,” then we all have a LONG way to go! So I like the word “becoming”, because it highlights the idea of process… not product. We are works in progress (superintended by God himself (Philippians 1:6), and our goal is to continue moving in a Christward direction throughout the course of our entire life.
The word becoming also emphasizes focus and intentionality. No one grows into a godly man by accident. It happens on purpose or it doesn’t happen at all. Philippians 3:12 captures this idea. The Apostle Paul labored and strained to reach the goal of maturity in Christ (i.e., godliness or holiness). It’s an everyday and “on purpose” process that requires nothing less than God’s Spirit working in and through us to give us the will, strength, and direction to grow in grace. We won’t grow in our faith apart from the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, and yet, the Holy Spirit won’t do the work for us. We have to participate in the process.
Finally, Getz uses the word “faithful” to describe the kind of man he has in mind. Then, borrowing from 1 Timothy and Titus, Getz puts together a list of what we might call the marks of spiritually mature (godly) manhood. Here’s his list…
Can anyone read that list and declare they’ve already arrived? Anyone doing perfectly with this list?
Over the weeks to come I hope to look at each one of these headings and offer some thoughts and reflections from Scripture regarding what these characteristics might look like in our lives and how we might, in Paul’s words, “obtain them.”
To close this post, I want to share this prayer from Ken Boa…
Faithful Father, as I reflect on the redemptive history recorded in the narratives and oracles of Scripture, I see so many surprising setbacks and breakthroughs. The wisdom of Your Word invites me to view events and circumstances with a long-term perspective. When I only look at the short-term, I get muddled, confused and doubtful, because I allow my immediate circumstances to shape my understanding. But when I contextualize the events of my life in the long-term, I can see that You are indeed causing all things to work together for good to those who love You and are called according to Your purpose. Teach me to affirm that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to Your children in Christ.
Your Brother in Christ,
You’ve heard the questions and maybe even asked them yourself. At the very least you’ve thought about them…
Below is a helpful bibliography to serve you in addressing these topics. To be sure, such questions require more thought and time than is usually offered on a television talk show. Perhaps a few of the books below will inform you for your own edification as well as equip you to share what you learn with others.
Several years ago I worked through Stuart Scott’s book, The Exemplary Husband, with a few folks from my church. We were moving along pretty well until we arrived at the chapter on communication. Yikes…I’ve got a long way to go before I reach mediocre, much less exemplary, regarding how well I communicate with my wife.
Now, I know that no one who reads this blog has any difficulties communicating, but just in case you know a person who knows a person who struggles in this area, I thought I would share a few of Scott’s key ideas.
Six Prerequisites to Good Communication
1.) A husband must want to please God more than anything else. (2 Cor. 5:9)
2.) A husband must be humble. (Eph. 4:1-3)
3.) A husband must be aware that he is accountable to God for everything he communicates (Matt. 12:36)
4.) A husband must know how to listen. (Proverbs 18:13) Listening well means…
5.) A husband must know that communication involves more than just words. He must be very careful about…
6.) A husband must be willing to put forth the effort and spend the time that it takes to communicate. (Rom. 12:10-12)
That ought to give us husbands something to work on for a while.
He made a difference in his culture for the Kingdom of God...
It’s probably easier to ask what Abraham Kuyper did not do rather than what he did do. Committed Christian. Cultural warrior. Founder of a political party. Prime minister and statesman. Newspaper founder and editor. Founder and president of a university and professor. Pastor. Writer. He did all that and more.
I believe with many that Abraham Kuyper is one of the most important role models for Christians today who want to make an impact in their world. He is someone you ought to get to know. Here are a few online resources to help better acquaint you with him…
There are a number of other articles and books that have come out since I first put this list together. I will continue to update it, so check back periodically to see what's new.
Grace and Truth,
A Little Help for a Friend
A friend once asked me to suggest a good book or two on prayer. I decided it might be worth a blog post with a few thoughts on the subject sprinkled throughout.
This list is by no means comprehensive. It's not necessarily even the best list. But it's a list of books on prayer and books of prayers... all for the purpose of serving as books for prayer... that have helped me a great deal.
Books of Prayers
This first list is primarily books of prayers. I once heard Peter Kreeft say the prayers of those who have gone before us can be very useful to our own prayer lives. I know I have found that to be particularly true in my own prayer life. I have a number of books, filled with prayers, that I read regularly. Like anything else, it would be easy to read these prayers only in a rote fashion and gain nothing from them. However, I usually pray before I read these prayers asking the Lord to make them my very own. Furthermore, I often use these written prayers of others as "jumping off" places for my own prayers. Consequently, very often I will wander from the prayer I'm reading as I feel the Spirit move me to pray my own thoughts and words.
I heartily encourage getting a few books of prayers. In addition to what I've already said, they can be very devotional in their own right. Moreover, they can also serve in teaching us how to pray more comprehensively and richly than we usually do when left to ourselves. I don't know about you, but if I'm not really "tuning in" to God during my times of prayer, my prayers can become (and often do become) very self-centered and one dimensional. These books of prayers by blessed saints who have gone before us do much to keep me focused and moving in the right direction.
So here's the first list. Some of these books are out of print, but I think many, if not most, can be found at Christianbook.com or Amazon.
1.) A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie (I have used this one the longest and most consistently. Love it.)
2.) Handbook to Prayer by Ken Boa (I use this one often and have purchased a number of copies for others. It's not really a book of prayers as much as organized prayer prompts based on Scripture. Very good.)
3.) The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett (Next to Baillie's above, I have used this one for many years.)
4.) Lutheran Book of Prayer, 1951 edition
5.) The Methodist Book of Worship for Church and Home, 1965
6.) The United Methodist Book of Worship
7.) The Pastor's Prayerbook, 1960; edited by Robert N. Rodenmayer
8.) A Barclay Prayer Book by William Barclay
9.) The Prayers of Peter Marshall, 1954
Again, this isn't a comprehensive list I use, but it is a list of ones I use most often.
Books About Prayer
This next list contains books about prayer. They range from books focusing on a "theology of prayer" to more practical "how to" books. Both have been helpful to me. Let me say once more that this isn't the definitive list of books on prayer. The number of books about prayer seems to be endless. These are just a few I refer to often.
1.) The Art of Prayer by Timothy Jones
2.) The Power of Personal Prayer by Jonathan Graf
3.) The Hour That Changes the World by Dick Eastman (a very "how to" book)
4.) The Struggle of Prayer by Donald Bloesch
5.) A Praying Life by Paul Miller
6.) Hearing God by Dallas Willard
7.) The Cry for the Kingdom by Stanley Grenz
8.) Taking Hold of God, edited by Joel Beeke and Brian Najapfour
9.) Prayer with Your Eyes Open by Richard Pratt
10.) The God Who Hears by W. Bingham Hunter
11.) Praying: Finding Our Way Through Duty to Delight by J.I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom
12.) Prayer: The Great Conversation by Peter Kreeft
13.) Did You Think to Pray? by R.T. Kendall
14.) The Papa Prayer by Larry Crabb
15.) Prayer & Devotional Life of United Methodists by Steve Harper
16.) And the Place was Shaken by John Franklin
17. Talking with God by Mack Stokes
Books That Inspire Prayer
This last list contains books on prayer that will unnerve you and make you hit your head with the palm of your hand, as you ask yourself why you don't pray more often, longer, and more intensely. These are books that are devotional in nature and draw you closer to your heavenly Father as they simultaneously convict you of laziness and apathy (and maybe even unbelief) on your part. I read these with fear and trembling... but I read them because they do me good.
1.) The E.M. Bounds Collection (you can't beat this price)
* The Necessity of Prayer
* The Essentials of Prayer
* The Possibilities of Prayer
* The Reality of Payer
* The Purpose of Prayer
* The Weapon of Prayer
* Power Through Prayer
* Prayer and Praying Men
2.) The Andrew Murray Collection
* Abide in Christ
* The Prayer Life
* Waiting on God
* With Christ in the School of Prayer
* The Ministry of Intercession
* The Secret of Intercession
3.) The Power of Prayer by R.A. Torrey
4.) How to Pray by R.A. Torrey
5.) Revival Praying by Leonard Ravenhill
I hope this list is helpful. I hasten to add at the end of this post an old adage about prayer: "If you want to learn how to pray... then pray." I think that's sound counsel. Yet, there's nothing wrong and everything right with wanting to grow in prayer and going deeper in prayer through learning more about it.
PS - Of course, the best book on prayer is Scripture and hopefully that's already part of your devotional diet.
A few of you may have heard of John Baillie. His most popular book is called A Diary of Private Prayer. I have been using it since 1993, almost every morning. It’s a very rich devotional tool that, no matter how often I use it, still draws me closer to the Lord.
I have not read many things by Baillie, but a few years ago I stumbled upon a collection of various sermons he had preached over the years. They made up a little book entitled, Christian Devotion. I enjoyed reading it, but the best part of the book, for me, was a short biographical chapter written by his cousin. She beautifully revealed the man behind the devotional I have been using for years.
My favorite part of the chapter was the following description of his study – not just a few facts about what it looked like – but the life that took place in that study. I know coveting is a sin, so let me say in the most sanctified way I can... I wouldn’t resist the opportunity, should God provide it, to have a similar study (as well as a similar ministry that took place in it!). Here’s his cousin’s description of his study…
But for those who knew him in his own home in Edinburgh, the most vivid memories of John are set in his study there, that grave book-lined room, with windows shadowed in summer by the trees of the big garden. It was a quiet room, with the noises of our modern world kept outside - no telephone, no radio, no typewriter. And it was a room with three clear focal points. There was the big uncluttered desk by the window where John sat for many hours of the day writing, in his clear beautiful handwriting, sermons, lectures, and articles, and dealing punctiliously and courteously with the endless steam of letters which came, asking him to preach, to lecture, to advise…
Amen and amen.
Direction 1: Concerning the Novelty of Godliness
A number of years ago, Scripture Studies.com. put out a series of excerpts from one of my heroes, Richard Baxter. Baxter's Christian Directory was a powerful influence in my life and I was happy to see this material put online. This particular material consisted of excerpts focused on Baxter’s Directions to Young Christians.
I thought I would provide an even smaller excerpt and include the link for you to check out more of Baxter's excellent spiritual counsel. He was a physician of souls indeed! As one person put it, “And in our day of spiritual fads and consumerism, his direction is needed more than ever.” I couldn’t agree more. I thought these directions were fitting for Christian men and women of all ages who are at different places along their Christian pilgrimages. May Baxter’s words bless you as you continue your journey to the Celestial City and the likeness of Christ.
Here’s Direction 1…
Take heed lest it be the novelty or reputation of truth and godliness, that takes with you, more than the solid evidence of their excellency and necessity; lest when the novelty and reputation are gone, your religion wither and consume away.
…To this kind of professor, the greatest truths grow out of fashion, and they grow weary of them, as of dull and ordinary things; they must have some new light, or new way of religion that lately came in fashion; their souls are weary of that manna that at first was acceptable to them, as angels’ food. Old things seem low, and new things high to them; and to entertain some novelty in religion, is to grow up to more maturity: and too many such at last so far overthrive their old apparel, that the old Christ and old gospel are left behind them.
Click here to read the whole message.
Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us, and to all men. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.
by Edward Reynolds (1662)
by Richard Baxter
Take God in Christ for your only rest, and fix your heart upon him above all. May the living God, who is the portion and rest of his saints, make our carnal minds so spiritual, and our earthly hearts so heavenly, that loving him and delighting in him may be the work of our lives; and that neither I nor you may ever be turned from this path of life… The saint’s rest is the most happy state of a Christian. It is the perfect endless enjoyment of God by the perfected saints…
The Fellowship of Ailbe
Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics
Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
C.S. Lewis Institute
The Gospel Coalition
The Institute on Religion and Democracy
Every Square Inch Ministries
Gene Edward Veith
Center for Cultural Leadership
Church and Culture