The Providence of God

Session 10

Bethlehem Baptist Church

Though I said last Sunday was our last time on providence, I felt like maybe we weren’t done with the prayer issue. And so I’m going to spend one more night on providence and prayer, and just take further the problem we were dealing with right at the end of last time: Why pray if God has ordained everything to happen ahead of time?

Everywhere-Present Power

Let’s go way back to the beginning from September. Here’s the definition of providence that I believe is a good one from the Heidelberg Catechism.

The almighty, everywhere-present power of God, whereby, as it were, by his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, all things come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.

What we did then was we moved out in concentric circles — or maybe in, depending on how you see it — from the most general things, like rain and drought, right down to the human will, and right to the very center of that will: the will to believe or not. And I have defended over these past five or six months, a view of providence that is completely thoroughgoing in God’s rule over all things, including the will of man, and including the will to believe or not. And therefore, I am what’s commonly known as a Calvinist, though I have learned these things, I hope and believe, from the Bible, and not from Calvin.

Now, what I’d like to do: I want you to see texts that, on the one hand, ascribe sovereignty and control and providence to God, and, on the other hand, call for prayer in relation to those things. So I’ve got a series of pairs. I want you to see a series of prayers and texts regarding God’s sovereignty, and his acceptance of those prayers.

Eternal Security — Through Prayer

So, the first one is promises regarding God’s answer to prayer, just in relation to that definition of providence above.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7–10)

And in the Old Testament, a text like,

Call upon me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. (Psalm 50:15)

So those are simple, straightforward words in the Bible on God’s intention and willingness and eagerness to answer prayer. So, if anybody says anything to you that causes you to stop praying or stop believing in prayer, then either they’re wrong, or you’ve misunderstood them. This is just clear. These are beautiful words, and there are dozens and dozens such words in the Bible. Now let’s take a few promises and then put prayers over against them. This is a glorious passage from Romans 8:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? (Romans 8:31–33)

The answer to that is: no one successfully. A lot of people will bring charge against God’s elect, but no one successfully

It is God who justifies. (Romans 8:33)

So if God, the ultimate judge of the universe, acquits a person in his courtroom, all other indictments fall to the ground.

Who is to condemn? (Romans 8:34)

Well, lots of people condemn, but nobody effectually. Nobody can make a charge stick against God’s elect. Why?

Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)

So, Paul piles up reasons here why you should believe that the elect are untouchable. They will never be brought to ruin.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (Romans 8:35)

I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39)

Now that’s a very strong set of promises, that those who are elect will persevere, and nothing will separate us from God. If you know yourself elect through faith in Christ, these words are of incomparable comfort. And they spin out in promises like this:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

Alright, now, if those things are so, how then shall we pray for perseverance? Oh, well, who needs to pray for perseverance, right? It’s a done deal. That’s human logic, which is false. It’s not logical at all. But before we see why logically, we just need to see texts to show that that’s the case. Take Luke 21:36, for example:

But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.

Now, what does that mean right there: “stand before the Son of man”? I think it means be saved. A person who can’t stand before the Son of man has to run away from the Son of man or fall dead before the Son of man. To stand before the Son of man means to stand in the courtroom of the last day and hold out your hands as a guilty sinner, and still stand. And that happens only by prayer. Pray that that’ll happen. Jesus is saying we would be utterly presumptuous not to pray that we could stand.

You need to see the implication of this: Paul has said in Romans 8 that those who are justified will be glorified (Romans 8:30). And this text says, “Not if they don’t pray.” Prayer is an essential means that God uses to keep the elect able to stand before the Son of man. Look at another one. We read this one downstairs about the widow who comes knocking.

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. (Luke 18:1)

Pray for what? Well, we’ll see as we move on.

He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Well, he will find it among the elect, but only if they cry to him day and night. He will bring about justice. He will vindicate. He will rescue. He will save his elect who cry to him day and night. The point is that: if we are going to stand before the Son of man, if he’s going to find faith in us, it will be because we have prayed and cried to him day and night. This is very crucial, because I can remember the semester and the classroom and the moment when this became clear to me in a class with Dr. Fuller on the unity of the Bible, where we were studying Hebrews.

If you read from the Bible a text about your security and conclude from it that you do not need to use means to stay secure, you are lost, if you carry that out. The evidence of your security is that you appropriate the means appointed by the Father to keep you secure. And one of those means is the promise that those who do those will be secure, and one of those means is prayer.

The same issue, the same argument against prayer in view of the providence of God, could be applied to evangelism or pastoral labor. If all the elect are elect, and if all the people that are elect are going to go to heaven for sure, and everybody else is going to be lost, forget church. Right? Forget church, right? Forget preaching. Forget prayer. Forget evangelism. Don’t get out of bed in the morning. Listen to what Paul says. It’s amazing. It’s just amazing how he puts it. Now, Paul wrote Romans 8, right? It’s all about the glorious security of the elect. But this what he says in 2 Timothy 2:10:

I endure everything for the sake of the elect [those who are chosen], that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

The necessary implication of that verse is: nobody gets saved without somebody doing these kinds of things. “I endure everything for the sake of those who are chosen” — that is, this is the means by which it’s going to happen. And if this doesn’t happen, this isn’t going to happen. God has appointed to save the elect by means of the ministry of the word and prayer. Therefore, you may not conclude: “Oh, if people are predestined, then we can stop praying and stop doing the word.” That’s false. It’s illogical to say that he has appointed to save the elect through prayer and the word, therefore stop praying and doing the word. That’s illogical and unbiblical. That’s one pair — namely, that God gives security to the elect, and he tells us they’re not secure unless they pray.

Missions — Through Prayer

And here’s another one on the promise for future triumph of the gospel in missions.” Texts like these:

This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

That is going to happen. It’s going to happen. God said so. These are the words of Jesus. There is no question that that’s going to happen. So, don’t pray for it, right? Don’t pray for the spread of the gospel, right? Dead wrong. Don’t ever draw such conclusions from predestination or providence or foreordaining.

All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:27–28)

In other words, providence. The kingdom is the Lord’s, and he rules, and therefore he’s going to make sure that all the families of the nations will worship before him — that somebody from every family, all the people groups, are going to join in the family. This text is going to come true.

Now, how then does prayer fit in? If those promises are true, if that is certainly foreordained and predestined by God to happen, how then shall we pray? Well, pray like this.

Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you. (2 Thessalonians 3:1)

God has ordained that the Great Commission most certainly be completed by prayer. To draw the conclusion from that that we should not pray is crazy.

Pray then like this:
    “Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.” (Matthew 6:9)

Is there any doubt that the kingdom’s going to come in anybody’s mind? The kingdom’s coming, folks. It’s going to come by prayer, and not without it. But it’s going to come. It’s going to come by prayer. So, to conclude: “Oh, since the kingdom is guaranteed to come by prayer, we don’t need to pray.

Then he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:36–38)

For years, I have been overwhelmed by that verse; it just amazes me because that verse comes as close to the paradox of prayer as any in the Bible that I know of. What it sets up is a picture that is almost unthinkable. Who owns the harvest? God owns the harvest. He’s the lord of the harvest. He owns the harvest. Who knows how to run the farm? The farmer who’s been a farmer for eternity and created the farm, designed the farm, knows the farm. It’s his. Who knows how to run the farm? Who knows how many hands are needed on the farm? The farmer knows. The Lord knows. So, Jesus tells us — who know nothing; we know nothing compared to what the farmer knows — to tell the farmer what to do. That to me is amazing. That to me is absolutely stunning: that we, little, ordinary, know-nothing, finite, sinful creatures should be instructed to tell the farmer what to do. Beseech him, plead with him to do what he knows good and well to do, and which, according to Matthew 24:14, he most definitely is going to do. There are always going to be enough missionaries to get the job done when God’s ready to get it done — through prayer, and not without it.

So, we are told to do it through prayer. That’s a second pair: the triumph of the gospel, and then prayers that it triumph — that the kingdom come and that the gospel spread.

Provision — Through Prayer

Here’s another pair: the promise that all of our needs will be met — texts like Philippians 4:19:

My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. That’s a glorious promise: “My God will supply all your needs.” When you read that in context — namely 4:11–13, where he says,

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me,

then you realize that needs here is a very flexible term. It might mean death: I need the grace to die. I need the grace to starve. What you need in order to stand and to glorify God and maintain the faith, you will get. There will always be grace for whatever situation you’re in. You will always have the money you need, you’ll always have the house you need, you’ll always have the car you need, you will always have the education you need, you’ll always have the spouse you need, the children you need, the clothes you need, the job you need, to live and die well.

So why pray? Because he said to. “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Now, why did he tell you to pray that if he promises you’re going to get what you need? Answer: he promised that you’d get it through prayer. He ordains the cause and the effect together.

No Condemnation — Through Prayer

Here’s another pair: the assurance that in the cross, our sins are all forgiven — no condemnation.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14)

He has perfected you, so there’s no condemnation. So how then should you pray about your sins? You should pray like this: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). And you should pray like this: “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). I thought it was done? Why does God say Forgive us our sins and If we confess our sins? The gift of the cross is both the effect of forgiveness and the cause of prayer. What Christ bought on the cross was your prayer and its consequent forgiveness. We will not be forgiven if we don’t confess our sins.

Now, lest you take that in a way that I don’t think John meant it, there are two things he did not mean. One is perfection because he said in verses prior to this, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And he didn’t mean: if you are speaking harshly to your wife on the way home tonight, and you have a wreck and you die, you go to hell before you have a chance to confess the sin. He didn’t mean that. What he means is: if you become cavalier about your sin, on the basis of the cross, as if to say, “Well, I’m forgiven and Christ died for my sins” — if that begins to creep in — and there’s no brokenness, there’s no agreement, a crying out to God over how bad our sins are and an asking for his to cleanse and forgive, then we are simply bearing witness that we’re not in Christ. Because the evidence of being in Christ is not only the effects of Christ’s purchase, but the causes of the effects of Christ’s purchase — in this case, confession and prayer.

The Church Built — Through Prayer

Here’s another example: the promise that Peter would figure foundationally in the future of the church. Jesus to the disciples,

“But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:15–18)

Now, I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about the exact correlation between Peter and the rock. There’s a lot of disagreement. The Catholics make much of this as Peter being the first pope-like person, so that the successor of Peter in Rome becomes the rock of the church. I don’t think that’s implied here. I think Peter, as a representative and spokesman of the disciples, is going to be the rock on which Jesus builds the church. That is Ephesians 2:20: the church is built “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” Here’s the least I think we can say from this: Peter is expected and promised by the Lord to be a foundational element in the building of the church.

And then look at this prayer in Luke 22:31–32:

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.

In other words, be a strong foundation for the church. This prayer right here saved the church, saved the foundation of the church. This promise is true and infallible, but not without this prayer. God ordains that Peter survive temptation — survive it, not triumph over it — that he might minister as an apostle for some decades in the church of Christ, and help lay a foundation for our faith. And Jesus did not think that he could say, “Oh, you’re going to be tempted. No problem. You’ll come back, because God said you’re going to come back, because you have to be a foundation.” Jesus prayed, “God, save him. Bring him back. Break his heart. When I look at him tonight, cause him to cry.” And he did. Don’t ever draw the conclusion when you see a promise in the Bible that you don’t need to pray for the promise to come true for you.

Appointment — Through Prayer

God has chosen Judas, but they prayed.

They put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” (Acts 1:23–25)

I think that’s just another illustration that though God has already chosen the replacement, the apostles are going to pray and ask that you help us participate in this appointment.

He Will Be Sought — Through Prayer

This is my last text, because this one I think gives a window onto the dynamic of God’s mind in prayer. This is a text that comes a few verses after the new-covenant promises about God putting a new spirit within us and causing us to walk in his statutes. He’s talking about the future of Israel and how glorious it’s going to be, and what God’s going to do to bring them back from bondage and make them great someday (Ezekiel 36:26–27).

Thus says the Lord God: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.

Thus says the Lord God: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock. Like the flock for sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 36:33–37)

Now, in the Hebrew, the word translated “ask me to do for them” is darash, which is “to seek” and it’s passive here. Here’s what I think this implies when he says this. He’s contemplating all these glorious things he’s going to do. “I’m going to do this for them, I’m going to do this for them, and I’m going to do this for them. And I’m also going to be sought by them for me to do this for them.” What that text says, I think, is that, “I’m going to ordain that they pray that I do this, so that I can do it. I’m going to ordain that they seek me to make the men like a flock, so that I can do that for them as well. I will be sought by them for this: that I do it.” And I think that is typical of the way God does all prayer. Which leads me now to my little thing to read.

A Conversation Between Prayerful and Prayerless

So what I want to do is read you my little “Prayer and Predestination”, a conversation between prayerful and prayerless. And then we’ll start with your questions.

Prayerless: I understand that you believe in the providence of God. Is that right?

Prayerful: Yes.

Prayerless: Does that mean you believe, like the Heidelberg Catechism says, that nothing comes about by chance but only by God's design and plan?

Prayerful: Yes, I believe that’s what the Bible teaches.

Prayerless: Then why do you pray?

Prayerful: I don’t see the problem. Why shouldn’t we pray?

Prayerless: Well, if God ordains and controls everything, then what he plans from of old will come to pass, right?

Prayerful: Yes.

Prayerless: So it’s going to come to pass whether you pray or not, right?

Prayerful: That depends on whether God ordained for it to come to pass in answer to prayer. If God predestined that something happen in answer to prayer, it won’t happen without prayer.

Prayerless: Wait a minute, this is confusing. Are you saying that every answer to prayer is predestined or not?

Prayerful: Yes, it is. It’s predestined as an answer to prayer.

Prayerless: So if the prayer doesn’t happen, the answer doesn’t happen?

Prayerful: That’s right.

Prayerless: So the event is contingent on our praying for it to happen?

Prayerful: Yes. I take it that by contingent you mean prayer is a real reason that the event happens, and without the prayer the event would not happen.

Prayerless: Yes, that’s what I mean. But how can an event be contingent on my prayer and still be eternally fixed and predestined by God?

Prayerful: Because your prayer is as fixed as the predestined answer.

Prayerless: Explain.

Prayerful: It’s not complicated. God providentially ordains all events. God never ordains an event without a cause. The cause is also an event. Therefore, the cause is also foreordained. So you cannot say that the event will happen if the cause doesn’t because God has ordained otherwise. The event will happen if the cause happens.

Prayerless: So what you are saying is that answers to prayer are always ordained as effects of prayer which is one of the causes, and that God predestined the answer only as an effect of the cause. Prayerful: That’s right. And since both the cause and the effect are ordained together you can’t say that the effect will happen even if the cause doesn’t because God doesn’t ordain effects without causes.

Prayerless: Can you give some illustrations?

Prayerful: Sure. If God predestines that I die of a bullet wound, then I will not die if no bullet is fired. If God predestines that I be healed by surgery, then if there is no surgery, I will not be healed. If God predestines heat to fill my home by fire in the furnace, then if there is no fire, there will be no heat. Would you say, “Since God predestines that the sun be bright, it will be bright whether there is fire in the sun or not”?

Prayerless: No.

Prayerful: I agree. Why not?

Prayerless: Because the brightness of the sun comes from the fire.

Prayerful: Right. That’s the way I think about the answers to prayer. They are the brightness, and prayer is the fire. God has established the universe so that in larger measure it runs by prayer, the same way he has established brightness so that in large measure it happens by fire. Doesn’t that make sense?

Prayerless: I think it does.

Prayerful: Then let’s stop thinking up problems and go with what the Scriptures say. Ask and you will receive. You have not because you ask not.

Why Does God Want Our Input?

Why God has so set things up in the universe that he has taken fallen creatures into his counsel chamber, as it were, and given them a role in the counsel of how to run the universe? “Send forth laborers to Kazakhstan. Lord, send forth more laborers to the Kazakh people.” As though we have a map of the universe spread out on the table, and the Great Commission is the triumphant progress of the gospel, and here you have the infinitely wise general looking down on it, and me standing over here, kind of looking like this up over the table, saying, “How about sending people to the Kazakhs?” And God says, “Oh, we’ll do that.” Now, why in the world would God set up a universe like that? Why does he do this?

I was reading today in some old notes in a class on prayer that I didn’t take, but that Dan Fuller taught after I left, and he was reflecting on those things. And he mentioned two or three things that are possibilities. The Bible doesn’t, as far as I know, just forthrightly say, “This is why.” Prayer does two things to us at least. One, it puts us in the position of beggars over and over again. To cry out to the Lord for mercy, for whatever the thing is we’re asking for, is a humble demeanor. On the other hand, it’s very exalted thing if you look at it from another angle, that he should grant you to hold sway with the mind of God. You have not because you ask not. So you ask, and then God gives. So you obviously have some influence on the mind of God. That’s an awesome thing. So, it is both humbling and exalting at the same time.

I had a meeting with Josef Tson, the president of the Romanian Missionary Society last week, and I just finished the Star article about this meeting yesterday. He’s just completed a PhD dissertation on the theology of martyrdom at a university in Amsterdam. And it was kind of a breathtaking two hours to listen to him, and to go back and forth with him. And he believes, among many other things, that God created humans to reign with him. And he just shot text after text at me with this, and he pointed to Revelation 3:21, which says that we will sit with Christ on his throne as he sits with his Father on his throne. It’s always a breathtaking text to me, that I will sit on the throne of God.

And so if he’s right, these texts that he referred to, that humans are created as co-rulers of the universe, then what’s the parable of the talents? If you were faithful with, if you made ten out of five, I will put you over what? Ten cities. So it’s San Diego, and Los Angeles, and Sacramento, and Portland, and Vancouver, and Minneapolis, and Chicago, and Detroit, and New York, and Greenville, South Carolina, and Tallahassee. In the kingdom, human beings will share in rulership. And he does it because he loves us. There’s something inside us that loves to shape and make and guide and organize. And that’s why businesses exist in the world. That’s why we’re not all singers, but even singers create songs. We are makers from the word go, it seems. So, out of love to us, he exalts us and he humbles us.

What does God get out of it? And Psalm 50:15 gives the answer:

Call upon me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.

So the Giver gets the glory. Prayer is woven into the fabric of the universe, so that we are exalted through the instrumentality of our praying and humbled by the fact that we’re beggars and can’t do anything on our own, and God is glorified because every time we cry out to him for something and he gives it, he’s shown to be the self-sufficient one, and not us. So those would be three or four things: our humility, our exaltation, our participation in the rulership of the world, and God’s being glorified as the all-sufficient Giver. And prayer, he thinks, would accomplish all of that God-glorifying, human humbling, human loving, better than a prayerless world.

Is Faith Enough?

What’s the difference between prayer and faith, especially in relationship to promises, which I intimated we needed to ask God to fulfill, and not just believe that he would?

Now, why did Jesus say in Luke 21:36 to be vigilant in prayer, that you might be able to stand before the Son of man when the key to standing before the Son of man is justification by faith? And my answer is that it flows inevitably, naturally, out of the heart of faith — that we cry out to God for persevering grace, if we believe the promise that we will persevere. I want to keep faith as the essential constant means of appropriating God’s promises and his grace, and treat prayer, just like every other deed we do, as a fruit of faith, a result of faith, but one that, in general, is a sure sign that the faith is real.

Here’s an example I’m thinking of: I read the story of the martyrdom of John Bradford recently, and how he was dealing with the Lord in prison before they took him to the stake. And he was praying for grace to endure and persevere, and not cave in. And it seems to me that that’s the way a humble, reliant heart, facing its own fallibility and its own sinfulness, will react to faith. Faith will bear fruit in a cry to God for a persevering grace, even though faith in the promise that “I will keep you” is the key.

There’s something about the very nature of faith that yields, like fruit on a tree, the acts of obedience we’re called to do, rather than faith being one thing over there. “Alright, I believe you.” And a word comes: “If you believe me, you’ll obey me.” And then over here’s an opportunity to obey. And I don’t feel like obeying. Yes, but over there it said, “If you believe me, you must obey me.” OK, logically, to be consistent, I will have to obey. I will now obey. That’s not the dynamic of the Christian life.

The dynamic of the Christian life is that faith is of such a nature that it ascribes infallible wisdom to the counsel of God, such that it would be tomfoolery not to walk in his ways. It also is a being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus so that the allurements of sin lose their power, and we are naturally drawn into paths of righteousness. The essence of nature of saving faith is what accounts for these works, which is why I wrote Future Grace: to try to show that you can’t have authentic saving faith that is not a good tree bearing good fruit. We’re not a perfect tree while we’re still in this life, but it will bear different fruit than if it were non-faith.

Means of Grace

As you contemplate the Scriptures, it seems like the means of grace by which Christ builds his church and the kingdom advances are fairly simple: the ministry of the word and prayer. And yet in our culture — seminaries and books and seminars and conferences — all kinds of techniques are commended to the church to grow: “You can grow if you do the right kind of mailing, you can grow if you do the right kind of building, and grow with the right kind of parking lot, and grow if you do this and that and all the other.” Is there any hope of getting back to the simplicity of what the Bible seems?

When I got to the end of my sermon from this past SundayI thought I had said something profound. And when I stood back at the end of my sermon all I really said is: read the Bible and pray, which is what I wind up saying pretty much every Sunday as far as means of making progress as a church and in society. I have circumscribed hope. My eschatology is one of great darkness and great brightness.

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. (Matthew 24:12)

But two verses after it says:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

That’s not cold people that are going to do that. That’s red-hot, martyr-like people. So, you’ve got side-by-side as the end comes: the love of many is growing cold, and there are these red-hot people that are ready to lay down their lives among Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and secular pagans. Therefore, if you ask me, Will we recover the powerful, life-changing, simplicity of the gospel? I would say, some people will. I don’t have much hope for America frankly. I would be very happy to fall on my face before a great sweeping of the work of God that would bring millions into the church, and see our society transformed from the inside out. I see glorious pockets of power, big pockets of power, and I just want to be one. I want to torch the glacier. I see this glacier of coldness coming over the church, and I see nothing in the Bible that says Minneapolis has to be frozen out at the end of the age. It’s possible that a thousand churches in Minneapolis would be anointed by this simplicity and fire and power and revival, and we would lift up our torches of prayer and the word, and we’d burn a big hole in the glacier, and the light of God will shine through. That’s possible.

So I have my little niche here in the world right here, and I just want to preach and teach and write and be there to melt as much of the glacier as I can. And if God is pleased to raise up people like that all over the world, I would be thrilled. And if the glacier melted off of America for a season, amen. I want to be a part of that. More important than answering your question about will it happen, is to know where the answer is, and to stay there.