Suffering and Prayer

 

Sometimes suffering can drive us away from prayer when we focus on our present misery, pain, and loneliness knowing that sufferings should move us to more prayer.

This short homily from the “Prince of Preachers” reminds us that Jesus prayed for us even when His crucifixion and death on the cross were only hours away.

 

A Sermon Delivered October 24th, 1869,

by C. H. SPURGEON,

at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, England

“Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

Luke 23:34

OUR LORD was at that moment enduring the first pains of crucifixion; the executioners had just then driven the nails through his hands and feet. He must have been, moreover, greatly depressed, and brought into a condition of extreme weakness by the agony of the night in Gethsemane, and by the scourgings and cruel mockings which he had endured all through the morning, from Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod, and the Praetorian guards. Yet neither the weakness of the past, nor the pain of the present, could prevent him from continuing in prayer. The Lamb of God was silent to men, but he was not silent to God. Dumb as sheep before her shearers, he had not a word to say in his own defense to man, but he continues in his heart crying unto his Father, and no pain and no weakness can silence his holy supplications. Beloved, what an example our Lord herein presents to us! Let us continue in prayer so long as our heart beats; let no excess of suffering drive us away from the throne of grace, but rather let it drive us closer to it.

 

A Rebellious Youth Revolutionizes Congregational Singing

 

“Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!

Sing to the Lord, all the earth.

   Sing to the Lord, bless His name;

Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.

   Declare His glory among the nations,

His wonders among all peoples.”

Psalm 96:1-3

 

A Rebellious Youth Revolutionizes Congregational Singing *

Line by line the clerk read a Psalm. Line by line the congregation sang after him. That is, everybody sang except young Isaac Watts.

After church services that Sunday in 1692, when his Puritan father called him to the carpet for not singing, Isaac said bluntly that there was no music in the Psalms. He said further that the Psalms did not rhyme and that there was no sense in having to sing them line by line.

When outraged Deacon Watts’ blood pressure subsided, he suggested that if his young upstart son were smarter than King David he might try his hand at writing something better. The result of that challenge was a revolution in church singing that has resounded for more than three centuries.

Staid old Deacon Enoch Watts must have spoken without thinking when he hurled his sarcastic remark at his teen-age son. For at his boarding school in Southampton, the deacon himself had taught Isaac five languages before the boy was fourteen years old. That is, the deacon taught when he wasn’t in jail for his acts against the Established Church.

For twelve years Mrs. Enoch Watts had tutored her oldest son in the writing of verse. At seven he had won a copper medal for writing rhymes. He waxed so poetical that when the elder Watts threatened to flail him for rhyming even his everyday conversation, the boy cried out, “O father do some pity take, and I will no more verses make.”

Accepting his father’s challenge, eighteen-year-old Isaac Watts set about “Christianizing” and “modernizing” the Psalms. The following Sunday the clerk read Isaac Watts’ hymn and the congregation was so pleased that for two years Watts had to bring one of his “modernized” Psalms every Sunday!

Eighteen-year-old Isaac had successfully broken an ancient tradition. From his prolific pen would come “Joy to the World! The Lord is Come,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Am I Soldier of the Cross” and many other notable hymns.

With his bold departure from Psalm singing, Isaac Watts gave to Christianity a popular and inspiring medium of worship and paved the way for Charles Wesley, John Newton, William Cowper, and hundreds to follow.

Here is a hymn, written by Isaac Watts in 1719, that was one of three selections sung by President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill during devotional services aboard the man-of-war H.M.S. Prince of Wales in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland in 1941. Four months later, the United States entered WWII.

O God our help in ages past,

   Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter from the stormy blat,

   And our eternal home.

* A Hymn is Born, by Clint Bonner (Broadman Press, 1959)

Contentment Amid Conflict

 

Conflict

from The Valley Of Vision *

O LORD GOD

Thou art my protecting arm,

            fortress, refuge, shield, buckler.

Fight for me and my foes must flee;

Uphold me and I cannot fall;

Strengthen me and I stand unmoved, unmovable;

Equip me and I shall receive no wound;

Stand by me and Satan will depart

Anoint my lips with a song of salvation

            and I shall shout thy victory.

Blessed Lord Jesus, at thy cross,

            may I be taught the awful miseries from which I am saved,

                        ponder what the word ‘lost’ implies,

                        see the fires of eternal destruction;

Then may I cling more closely to thy broken self,

            adhere to thee with firmer faith,

            be devoted to thee with total being,

            detest sin as strongly as thy love to me is strong,

And may holiness be the atmosphere in which I live.

 

* From The Valley of Vision, A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975

“The prayers in The Valley of Vision are steeped in Scripture, yet never succumb to mere formula. They are theologically fresh and vibrant, yet they are rooted in confessionalism. They range over a huge sweep of Christian experience and devotion… They brim with deep emotion and transparent passion, but they carefully avoid mere sentimentalism. This is a book that teaches readers to pray by example.” — D. A. Carson

 

Content with the Imminent Return of Christ

The Meaning of “Imminent”

from: Maranatha, Our Lord Come!, by Renald Showers

[Note: As Dr. Showers explains in this excerpt from his excellent book on the Rapture, the concept of imminence has in it an element of uncertainty. Uncertainty can make us nervous, impatient, discontented. Or, it can thrill us with joyous anticipation. Waiting for a loved one to arrive at the airport when their flight is delayed can make us excited. The airline assures us that the plane is circling overhead waiting for clearance to land. Yet we keep looking up in anticipation. Despite repeated assurances, we can’t seem to sit still. Brethren, we are waiting for our Lord to return at any moment! Now is not the time to be discouraged or unhappy with troubles around us. We wait with expectation for our Beloved to arrive!]

The concept of the imminent coming of Christ is a significant inference for the Pretribulation Rapture of the church. To understand this concept, we must examine the meaning of the term “imminent.”

When an event is truly imminent, we never know exactly when it will happen. In line with this, A.T. Pierson stated, “Imminence is the combination of two conditions, viz.: certainty and uncertainty. By an imminent event we mean one which is certain to occur at some time, uncertain at what time.” Thus, “imminent” is not equal to “soon.”

In light of the meaning of the term “imminent” and the fact that the next coming of Christ has not happened yet, we can conclude that the concept of the imminent coming of Christ is that His next coming is always hanging overhead, is constantly ready to befall or overtake us, is always close at hand in the same sense that it could happen at any moment. Other things may happen before Christ’s coming, but nothing must happen before it takes place.

Because we do not know exactly when Christ will come, three things are true:

  • First, we cannot count on a certain amount of time transpiring before Christ’s coming; therefore we should always be prepared for the event to happen at any moment.

  • Second, we cannot legitimately set a date for Christ’s coming.

  • Third, we cannot legitimately say that Christ’s coming will happen soon. Again, it may happen soon, but it does not have to in order for it to be imminent.

Christians should have an expectant attitude toward Christ’s coming. Since it is imminent and therefore could happen at any moment, believers should constantly look forward to, look out for, or wait for that event.

“Looking for that blessed hope,

and the glorious appearing

of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;”

Titus 2:13

The Excellence of Contentment as Worship

“In contentment we come to give God the worship due to Him.”

Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646)

“I say it is a special part of divine worship that the creature owes to the infinite Creator, in that I tender the respect that is due from me to the Creator.

“You worship God more by contentment than when you come to hear a sermon or spend half an hour, or an hour, in prayer. These are the acts of God’s worship, but they are only external acts of worship: to hear and pray. This is the soul’s worship: to subject itself thus to God. You who often will worship God by hearing and praying, yet afterwards will be froward [contrary, perverse] and discontented—know that God does not regard such worship; He will have the soul’s worship, in this subjecting itself unto God.

“Oh! That I could do what pleases God! When we come to suffer any cross: Oh! That what God does might please me! I labour to do what pleases God, and I also labour that whatever God does shall please me: here is a Christian indeed, who shall endeavour both of these. It is but one side of a Christian to endeavour to do what pleases God; you must as well endeavor to be pleased with whatever God does, and so you will come to worship as a complete Christian when you can do both. And that is the excellence of contentment.”

 

Hymn: Lord With Glowing Heart I’d Praise Thee

A Tribute to Christian Hymn Writer Francis Scott Key

In our tribute this weekend to the patriot who wrote the lyrics to our national anthem, this autobiographical hymn captures his love for the Lord and his praise for God saving him. The expressions exude heartfelt thanks to God in spite of his sinfulness (“wretched wand’rer far astray”) and human frailty (“my weak endeavor”). God sought him, graciously forgave his sins (‘pard’ning grace”), and saved him (“to that cross, new life to give”). The writer ends his hymn expressing the desire of every believer: “let my life show forth thy praise.”

Lord With Glowing Heart I’d Praise Thee

by Francis Scott Key

Lord, with glowing heart I’d praise thee

for the bliss thy love bestows,

for the pard’ning grace that saves me,

and the peace that from it flows.

Help, O God, my weak endeavor;

this dull soul to rapture raise;

thou must light the flame, or never

can my love be warmed to praise.

Praise, my soul, the God that sought thee,

wretched wand’rer far astray;

found thee lost, and kindly brought thee

from the paths of death away.

Praise, with love’s devoutest feeling,

him who saw thy guilt-born fear,

and, the light of hope revealing,

bade the blood-stained cross appear.

Praise thy Savior God that drew thee

to that cross, new life to give,

held a blood sealed pardon to thee,

bade thee look to him and live.

Praise the grace whose threats alarmed thee,

roused thee from thy fatal ease;

praise the grace whose promise warmed thee,

praise the grace that whispered peace.

Lord, this bosom’s ardent feeling

vainly would my lips express:

low before thy footstool kneeling,

deign thy suppliant’s pray’r to bless.

Let thy love, my soul’s chief treasure,

love’s pure flame within me raise;

and, since words can never measure,

let my life show forth thy praise.

Hymn: Before the Lord We Bow

A Tribute to Christian Hymn Writer Francis Scott Key

This hymn was composed by Key for a July 4th, 1832 Independence Day celebration. The “We” in the title are American Christians bowing in subjection to “heaven’s high King” from whom all blessings flow. The nation had survived years of war with Great Britain, seen Washington D.C. ransacked and burned by enemy troops (only miles from Key’s home in Baltimore), fought bloody battles against Indians and Canada allied with Britain, experienced an economic depression, and watched most of Europe conquered by Napoleon. The years after the War of 1812 were a reminder that the United States had escaped annihilation by a powerful enemy and that it was God who had spared the nation.

In 2021, thanks to a gracious, omnipotent, sovereign God, the United States has rich resources, protection from enemies, and abundant blessings. Key’s vision in the last verse of the hymn is that America be represented by a “glorious band” resurrected at the Lord’s Coming. On this holiday let us bow before the Lord and thank Him for all that we have as Americans.

 

Before the Lord We Bow

by Francis Scott Key

Before the Lord we bow,

The God who reigns above,

And rules the world below,

Boundless in power and love;

Our thanks we bring

In joy and praise,

Our hearts we raise

To heaven’s high King.

The nation Thou hast blest

May well Thy love declare,

From foes and fears at rest,

Protected by Thy care.

For this fair land,

For this bright day,

Our thanks we pay–

Gifts of Thy hand.

May every mountain height,

Each vale and forest green,

Shine in Thy word’s pure light,

And its rich fruits be seen!

May every tongue

Be tuned to praise,

And join to raise

A grateful song.

Earth! hear thy maker’s voice,

The great Redeemer own,

Believe, obey, rejoice,

And worship Him alone;

Cast down thy pride,

Thy sin deplore,

And bow before

The Crucified.

And when in power He comes,

O may our native land,

From all its rending tombs,

Send forth a glorious band;

A countless throng

Ever to sing

To heaven’s high King

Salvation’s song.

Francis Scott Key

A Tribute to Christian Hymn Writer Francis Scott Key

Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) was a devout and prominent Christian as well as an influential lawyer. In his youth, he almost became an Episcopal priest rather than a lawyer. Throughout his life he sprinkled biblical references in his correspondence. From 1818 until his death in 1843, Key was associated with the American Bible Society. Much to his dishonor later, he successfully opposed an abolitionist resolution presented to that group around 1838. Key also helped found two Episcopal seminaries, one in Baltimore and the other across the Potomac River in Alexandria (the Virginia Theological Seminary). Not only did he teach a Sunday school class at his church, Key also served as manager and vice president of the American Sunday School Union from its inception in 1824 until his death in 1843. The American Sunday School Union was responsible for establishing thousands of churches across America.

Francis Scott Key composed and published a poem entitled “Defence of Fort M’Henry“. In the fourth verse of the poem, Key’s published version of the poem includes the line, “And this be our motto—‘In God is our trust!’” Key’s poem would later be adopted as the national anthem of the United States under the name “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

When ‘In God We Trust‘ was under consideration to be adopted as the national motto of the United States by the US Congress, the words of the fourth verse of Key’s poem were brought up in arguments supporting adoption of the motto.

A monument to Francis Scott Key was commissioned by San Francisco businessman James Lick, who donated some $60,000 for a sculpture of Key to be raised in Golden Gate Park. The travertine monument was executed by sculptor William W. Story in 1885–87. The city of San Francisco allocated some $140,000 to renovate the Key monument, which was about to be lost to environmental degradation if repairs were not made. Repairs were finished on the monument in 2019.

Because of Key’s anti-abolitionist stand, his statue was toppled and destroyed by protesters on June 19, 2020. Sadly, our national anthem is in jeopardy today because this godly man, with all his human faults and shortcomings, did not take a position against slavery two centuries ago.

Self-denial and Contentment

Jeremiah Burroughs’ thoughts on self-denial as the path to contentment need some explanation. The Biblical concept that he called self-denial at the turn of the 17th century is the theological term we use today called co-crucifixion. This little-understood concept comes from Galatians 2:20 and the broader concept is explained in Romans chapter six. Another term used today is “complete surrender” or “completely yielded.”

To be very clear: Biblical self-denial is NOT the practice of the ancient Greek philosophers – asceticism, cynicism, or stoicism. It is not abstinence from material objects or denial of worldly pleasures in order to achieve some spiritual goal or benefit. It is not the payment of some indulgence or performance of outward penance as taught by the Roman Church. Paul taught in Romans 14:5-6, Colossians 2:20-23 and elsewhere that eating or not eating food has no spiritual value in itself. Similarly, a painful ritual or costly, elaborate religious ceremony will not gain you favor with God. Remember—man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. (I Samuel 16:7; Isaiah 57:15; Psalm 34:18, 51:17) Jesus said, “…the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23)

The Biblical principle of self-denial is surrendering ourselves completely to God and His will. Self (the flesh) and the world (Galatians 5:24; 6:14) are reckoned dead on the cross and alive unto God. (Romans 6:6-18)

With that in mind, Jeremiah Burroughs offers us these gems to consider how true self-denial brings us closer to spiritual contentment:

“Just as no one can be a scholar unless he learns his ABCs, so you must learn the lesson of self-denial or you can never become a scholar in Christ’s school, and be learned in this mystery of contentment. The lesson of self-denial is the first lesson that Jesus Christ teaches those who are seeking contentment.”

“When you strike something soft it makes no noise, but if you strike a hard thing it makes a noise. So it is with the hearts of men who are full of themselves and hardened with self-love. A self-denying Christian yields to God’s hand and makes no noise. That is the first lesson that Christ teaches any soul—self-denial—which brings contentment; which brings down and softens a man’s heart.”

  1. A person must learn that he is nothing—“He comes to this, to be able to say, ‘Well, I see I am nothing in myself.’”
  2. I deserve nothing—“I am nothing and I deserve nothing. We deserve nothing and therefore why should we be impatient if we do not get what we desire?”
  3. I can do nothing—“Christ said, ‘Without me you can do nothing.’ (John 15:5) Do but consider of what use you are in the world and if you consider what little need God has of you, and what little use you are, you will not be much discontented.”
  4. I cannot receive any good—“I am so vile that I cannot of myself receive any good. I am not only an empty vessel, but a corrupt and unclean vessel that would spoil anything good that comes into it.”
  5. We are worse than nothing—“Sin makes us more vile than nothing and contrary to all good. We are not empty pitchers in respect of good, but we are like pitchers filled with poison, and is it much for such as we are to be cut short of our outward comforts?”
  6. Any good I do is nothing without God—If God cleans our vessel and puts in something good, some grace of His Spirit, we can do nothing with it without God.”
  7. If we perish, we will be no loss—If God should annihilate me, what loss would it be to His purposes? God can raise up someone else in my place to serve Him in a different way.” [See Esther 4:14 as an example of this.]

“I beseech you to notice this: If a man is selfish and self-love prevails in his heart, he will be glad of those things that suit with his own ends, but a godly man who has denied himself will suit with and be glad of all things that shall suit with God’s ends. When a man is selfish, he cannot but have a great deal of trouble and vexation of spirit, for if I regard myself, my ends are so narrow that a hundred things will come and jostle me and I cannot have room in those narrow ends of my own. Those whose hearts are enlarged and make public things their ends, and can deny themselves, have room to walk and never jostle with one another as others do.”

 

The Sovereignty and Providence of God in Psalm 57:2

“[To the chief Musician, Altaschith, Michtam of David, when he fled from Saul in the cave.] Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast. I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth all things for me.” Psalm 57:1-2

 

The Sovereignty and Providence of God in Psalm 57:2

from The Mystery of Providence, by John Flavel, (c. 1630–1691)

“It is the duty of the saints, especially in times of straits, to reflect upon the performances of Providence for them in all the states and through all the stages of their lives.” John Flavel

[David’s] “…extreme danger is expressed in both the title and the body of Psalm 57. Yet, this does not frighten him out of his faith and duty, but between the jaws of death he prays, and earnestly addresses himself to God for mercy: ‘Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me.’ In the words of this psalm I shall consider two things: the duty resolved upon, and the encouragement to that resolution.

The duty resolved upon: ‘I will cry unto God.’ Crying unto God is an expression that denotes not only prayer, but an intense and fervent prayer. To cry is to pray in a holy passion; and such are usually speeding prayers (Psalm 18:6; Hebrews 5;7)

 “The encouragement to that resolution: ‘I will cry unto God most high’”

The sovereignty of God – “In this, [David] acts his fath in extremity of danger. Saul is high, but God is the Most High, and without His permission he is assured Saul cannot touch him. He had none to help, and if he had, he knew God must first help the helpers or they cannot help him. He had no means of defense or escape before him, but the Most High is not limited by means. This is the singular proposition of faith. (Psalm 59:9)”

The experience of His Providence – “The word which we translate ‘performeth’ comes from a root that signifies both to perfect, and to desist or cease. For when a business is performed or perfected, the agent then ceases or desists from working. ‘The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me.’

“Let us bring our thoughts a little closer to this Scripture, and it will give us a fair and lovely prospect of providence in its universal, effectual, beneficial, and encouraging influence upon the affairs and concerns of the saints.”

“The expression [performeth] imparts the universal interest and influence of divine Providence in and upon all the concerns and interests of the saints. It not only has its hand in this or that, but in all that concerns them. It has its eye upon everything that relates to them throughout their lives, from first to last.

“The text displays the efficacy of providential influences. Providence not only undertakes but perfects what concerns us. No difficulty so clogs it, no cross accident fall into its way, but it carries its design through it.

“And (which is sweet to consider) all its products and issues are exceedingly beneficial to the saints. It performs all things for them.

“…how cheering, supporting, and encouraging must the consideration of these things be in a day of distress and trouble! What life and hope will it inspire our hearts and prayers with when great pressures lie upon us!”

 

John Flavel (1630-1691) was born at Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, Britain about 1630, and thus spent his childhood in the stormy years which led up to the Civil War in 1642. He attended University College, Oxford, and entered the ministry in the decade of spiritual reaping which preceded the restoration of Charles II.

Flavel’s life and work was carried on in the county of Devon in the thriving sea-port of Dartmouth until August 1662 when about 120 ministers in Devon and approaching 1,800 in England were thrown out of their livings for failing to comply with the terms of the Act of Uniformity.

Thereafter he took his place in the suffering ranks of the nonconformists and had a full share of the persecution which with greater or less intensity, and short intermissions, was to continue until James II fled the country in 1688. The repressive legislation which followed 1662, while it broke the evangelical ministry of England in a public sense, scattered Gospel light into new areas and led not infrequently to the use of strange pulpits. We hear of Flavel preaching at midnight in a house at South Molton; in a wood three miles from Exeter; and – the most colourful site of all (though it could not have been a comfortable one) – at Saltstone Rock, an island in the Salcombe Estuary which is submerged at high tide.

After the Indulgence given by Charles II in 1672, Flavel obtained license for a Nonconformist meeting-house in the town, and, when this was soon withdrawn, he stayed at his post until the summer of 1682 when his person was in such danger that he took ship to London.

In London, Flavel joined a congregation and narrowly escaped arrest when some members were seized in 1684. He returned to Dartmouth where that same year he was burned in effigy by a mob and, despite all hazards, maintained a ministry among his scattered flock until November 1688 when James II fled the throne. By that time, Flavel’s work was approaching its end. Speaking for his fellow-ministers he wrote, ‘We have long borne the burden and heat of the day; we are veteran soldiers almost worn out.’ He died of a stroke on June 26, 1691, in his 61st year.