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John Flavel: Keeping the heart is the most difficult, constant, and important work

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23

“In such particulars as these do gracious souls express the care they have of their hearts. They are careful to prevent the breaking loose of the corruptions in time of temptation; careful to preserve the sweetness and comfort they have got from God in any duty. This is the work, and of all works in religion it is the most difficult, constant, and important work.

1. It is the hardest work. Heart-work is hard work indeed. To shuffle over religious duties with a loose and heedless spirit, will cost no great pains; but to set thyself before the Lord, and tie up thy loose and vain thoughts to a constant and serious attendance upon him; this will cost thee something. To attain a facility and dexterity of language in prayer, and put thy meaning into apt and decent expressions, is easy; but to get thy heart broken for sin, while thou art confessing it; melted with free grace while thou art blessing God for it; to be really ashamed and humbled though the apprehensions of God’s infinite holiness, and to keep thy heart in this frame, not only in, but after duty, will surely cost thee some groans and pains of soul. To repress the outward acts of sin, and compose the external part of thy life in a laudable manner, is no great matter; even carnal persons, by the force of common principles, can do this: but to kill the root of corruption within, to set and keep up an holy government over thy thought, to have all things lie straight and orderly in the heart, this is not easy.

2. It is a constant work. The keeping of the heart is a work that is never done till life is ended. There is no time or condition in the life of a Christian which will suffer an intermission of this work. It is in keeping watch over our hearts, as it was in keeping up Moses’ hands while Israel and Amalek were fighting. No sooner do the hands of Moses grow heavy and sink down, than Amalek prevails. Intermitting the watch over their own hearts for but a few minutes, cost David and Peter many a sad day and night.

3. It is the most important business of a Christian’s life. Without this we are but formalists in religion: all our professions, gifts and duties signify nothing. “My son, give Me thine heart,” is God’s request. God is pleased to call that a gift which is indeed a debt; He will put this honor upon the creature, to receive it from Him in the way of a gift; but if this be not given Him, He regards not whatever else you bring to Him. There is only so much of worth in what we do, as there is of heart in it. Concerning the heart, God seems to say, as Joseph of Benjamin, “If you bring not Benjamin with you, you shall not see my face.” Among the Heathen, when the beast was cut up for sacrifice, the first thing the priest looked upon was the heart; and if that was unsound and worthless the sacrifice was rejected. God rejects all duties (how glorious soever in other respects) which are offered Him without the heart. He that performs duty without the heart, that is, heedlessly, is no more accepted with God than he that performs it with a double heart, that is, hypocritically.”

John Flavel in Keeping the Heart (New York: American Tract Society) 12-13. Click to download this classic work of Puritan spirituality.

As I study how characters like Ezra and Nehemiah led God’s people from captivity and exile to a place of community and flourishing, I see them practice confession and prayer that flows from their hearts.

Flavel suggests that keeping the heart is the most difficult, constant, and important work. It requires God’s servants to see corruption from God’s perspective and to pray and speak humbly in response.

In my role with GTP, I must kill any root of corruption within myself and call others to do likewise, so our whole hearts are devoted to God. At this point, I see a strong link to generosity.

Can you imagine giving God a gift without your whole heart in it? God would deem it unacceptable. He’d reject it. This explains why our generous service is to guard our hearts before we give and serve.

Father in heaven, so that our living, giving, serving, and loving sets people free to enjoy community and flourishing by your Holy Spirit, help us guard our hearts I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen!

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Clint E. Arnold: Call directly

Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.” Daniel 10:12-14

“The biblical and historical evidence supports the idea that there are “territorial spirits.” These are fallen angels that wield some kind of dominion over people groups, empires, countries, or cities. They exercise their supernatural power not only to bring harm and misery, but most important, to keep people from coming to a knowledge of the one true God.

Historically, this has happened most commonly when these spirits create, animate, and maintain deviant religions and cults to which people give their devotion and worship. At no time is there any intimation that these powers in any way rival God or present a serious threat to the fulfillment of His plan and purposes. God is sovereign and is infinitely more powerful than any of the spirits or angels. The Father seeks the full devotion of His people. He wants believers to call directly on Him for wisdom, strength, and help.”

Clint E. Arnold in Three Crucial Questions About Spiritual Warfare (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997) 159.

In my role with GTP, I pray for the nations. I often do it on prayer walks to stay alert (photo above from my walk yesterday). I ask God for wisdom to help me and my team serve the 12 regional facilitators with whom we serve. What I know about these regions from Scripture is that principalities or spiritual forces of evil are behind many of the regional systemic sins that hold people captive (Ephesians 6:12).

So, I went to this book authored by one of my seminary professors to find biblical insight. His research was enlightening. While we know these forces exist, our job is not to fight or do battle with them but to “call directly” on God. This is where generosity comes into view. It’s God’s generosity. Like Daniel, we can call on God and not be afraid though we may have to wait for His answer.

Do you know anyone who is oppressed and struggling? Do you lack wisdom about something? Are you praying for some kind of breakthrough in a situation that seems dark and hopeless? If so, don’t be afraid. Call directly on our generous God and wait patiently for Him. You do not know or see what’s going on in the heavenly realm but you can trust in His matchless power.

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Uncle Screwtape to Wormwood: The great thing is to prevent his doing anything

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

“The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilizing the seeds which the enemy plants in a human soul. Let him do anything but act. No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will. As one of the humans has said, active habits are strengthened by repetition but passive ones are weakened. The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.”

Uncle Screwtape to Wormwood in Screwtape Letters: Letters from a Senior to a Junior Devil by C.S. Lewis (Samizdat University Press, 2016) 26. If you have not read this classic work, click the link to access the PDF.

The evil one and his minions will do anything they can to prevent God’s people from doing good. They use fear to immobilize us and distraction to neutralize our passion for God. We must not succumb to either ploy.

How does this relate to generosity?

The two words every steward longs to hear some day are “well done” which link to our doing. We must persevere with fearless focus and determination in our doing good and not let the evil one desensitize us to become unable to act or feel.

Compare yourself today to the zeal you had as a new convert. Has your enthusiasm waxed or waned? We must keep our spiritual fervor in service to the Lord. How do we do this? Paul offers this answer. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12

Father in heaven, deliver us from the evil one and his minions. Help us remain joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer for ourselves and others who suffer. By your Holy Spirit, help us not grow weary in doing good, in the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

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William Gurnall: Set the house of God in order

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6:10-13

“Paul was now in bonds, yet not so close kept as to be denied pen and paper; God, it seems, gave him some favour in the sight of his enemies: Paul was Nero’s prisoner, but Nero was much more God’s. And while God had work for Paul, he found him friends both in court and prison. Let persecutors send saints to prison, God can provide a keeper for their turn.

But how does this great apostle spend his time in prison? Not in publishing invectives against those, though the worst of men, who had laid him in; a piece of zeal which the holy sufferers of those times were little acquainted with: nor in politic counsels, how he might wind himself out of his trouble, by sordid flattery of, or sinful compliance with, the great ones of the times.

Some would have used any picklock to have opened a passage to their liberty and not scrupled, so escape they might, whether they got out at the door or window. But this holy man was not so fond of liberty or life, as to purchase them at the least hazard to the gospel. He knew too much of another world, to bid so high for the enjoying of this; and therefore he is regardless what his enemies can do with him, well knowing he should go to heaven whether they would or no.

No, the great care which lay upon him, was for the churches of Christ; as a faithful steward he labors to set the house of God in order before his departure. We read of no dispatches sent to court to procure his liberty; but many to the churches, to help them to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free.

There is no such way to be even with the devil and his instruments, for all their spite against us, as by doing what good we can wherever we be come.”

William Gurnall in “The Christian in Complete Armour: A Treatise of the Saints’ War against the Devil” (Lavenham, Suffolk) 2-3.

This reading really inspired me. As I work globally to help “set the house of God in order” I must remain fearless and focused while also preparing for the spiritual battle waging around me by putting on the whole armor of God. I must also urge all those around me to do the same thing. We are under attack for the path we have chosen.

Seriously, the evil one is trying various tactics to sow depression, defeat, and discouragement within me, my wife, and the members of the Global Trust Partners network around the world. So we must put on the whole armor of God, call for prayer from others, and follow the instructions set forth in Ephesians 6:14-20.

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

What does this have to do with generosity?

We can often think that spiritual problems can be solved with financial solutions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps the most generous thing we can do in our service to God is to remain fearless and focused as faithful stewards and put on the full armor of God. And we must pray for fellow believers and remind them to put on their armor too.

God please deliver us from the war that rages around us. 

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Jeremy Taylor: Double Return

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26

“Be pleased, O Lord, to remember my friends, all that have prayed for me, and all that have done me good. (Here name such whom you would especially recommend.) Do thou good to them, and return all their kindness double into their own bosom, rewarding them with blessings, and sanctifying them with thy graces, and bringing them to glory.”

Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667) in Holy Living (Grand Rapids: CCEL) 69.

In the first prayers for each day, Jeremy Taylor recommends we pray for those who have done kindness to us to have a double return. This brings into view a good practice for ministry workers to pray daily for supporters. I am learning to do this as President / CEO of GTP.

Do you ask God to bless friends who have prayed for you or done good to you? How might this practice transform your life and fill your heart with gratitude and also bring rich blessing on those who have been a blessing to you? God hears these prayers.

Jenni and I have wrapped up our teaching in Olympia, Washington. We plan to visit Shawn & Cheryl Manley in to see their farm and vision for Generous Corner in Puyallup this morning. From there we will meet up with Kendra VanderMeulen of NCF Northwest in Seattle before flying home.

Father in heaven, thanks for the work of National Christian Foundation across the USA. By your Holy Spirit, pour out a double return on NCF givers. Do this for GTP supporters too. Richly supply all those who sacrifice to support your work globally. Hear my prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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C.S. Lewis: Area of Death

Then He said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” Luke 9:23-24

“He cannot bless us unless He has us. When we try to keep within us an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death. Therefore, in love, He claims all. There is no bargaining with Him.”

C.S. Lewis in “The Slip of the Tongue” as recounted in The Quotable Lewis (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 1990) 172.

Whatever we hold back from God is like keeping an “area of death” which will cause us to lose our life. These are strong words from Lewis today, but they merely echo the weighty words of Jesus to the first disciples!

This idea relates closely to my remarks this week to the Korean pastors and their wives about generosity here in Washington state. It also relates to the practices of confession, prayer, and fasting that I believe will be foundational for the work of GTP globally.

Getting rid of these areas starts with you and me. Through confession, prayer, and fasting, we position ourselves to grasp blessing and life because we are surrendering to his loving claim on all we are and all we have.

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Oswald Chambers: Living Monuments of God’s Grace

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Matthew 6:7-8

“Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him.” Then why ask? The idea of prayer is not in order to get answers from God; prayer is perfect and complete oneness with God. If we pray because we want answers we will get huffed with God. The answers come every time, but not always in the way we expect, and our spiritual huff shows a refusal to identify ourselves with our Lord in prayer; we are here to be living monuments of God’s grace.”

Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1963) reading for 6 August. Special thanks to Daily Meditations reader and Aussie mate, Josh Reid, for sharing today’s post with me!

All too often I approach prayer as making long requests and seeking answers from God rather than aligning my heart with God. I want Him to help me or GTP have what I think we need to accomplish His purposes, when in reality I think He wants my heart to become one with His and to trust in His faithfulness and love.

This idea that we become “living monuments of God’s grace” comes into view as profound picture. When my heart is one with God’s heart, it enables people to shift from focusing on what I lack to realizing I have everything I need. Out of that realization, I am overcome by the reality of God’s abundant grace and (hopefully) people see this in my life.

This week in Washington (pictured above from the air) Jenni and I are talking with Korean pastors and their wives about generosity and spiritual formation. Our remarks relate to the central message of this post. We must change the focus of our prayers and align our hearts with God’s and starting living in the reality that we have everything we need in Christ.

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Meister Eckhart: Waxing and Waning

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. Colossians 3:1-6

“Not by fasting and outward works can we gauge our progress in the good life: but a sure sign of growth is a waxing love for the eternal and a waning interest in temporal things. If a man had a hundred marks and gave them all for God’s sake to found a cloister, that would be a fine deed. And yet I say, it would be greater and better to despise and naught himself for God’s sake. In all a man does he should turn his will Godward and, keeping God alone in mind forge ahead without qualms about its being the right thing or whether he is making a mistake. If a painter had to plan every brush-stroke with the first, he would paint nothing. And if, going to some place, we had first to settle how to put the front foot down, we should get nowhere. So, follow the first step and continue: you will get to the right place, and all is well.”

Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) in “Sermon Fifty-Five” in The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, translated and edited by Maurice O’C. Walshe (New York: Crossroad, 2009) 291.

In this sermon, Eckhart focuses on generosity. He reminds us that our giving must be toward God and not to people because our heart must be focused on the eternal and not earthly things. We find roots for this thinking in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians. We must set our hearts and minds on the eternal while putting to death the patterns of the earthly nature.

What does this mean for each of us today?

Don’t try to go do a generous act or make a big gift. While it may sound counterintuitive, try something else instead. Set your mind and hart on the things of God. Feed heavenly desires with care. Feast on what is good and true and right so that you are turning your will Godward. Meanwhile, starve earthly desires by shutting off all sustenance to them.

This will lead, one step at a time, to a waxing love for the eternal and a waning interest in temporal things. It’s a journey and not a sprint. Speaking of journey, Jenni and I fly to Seattle today. Pray for us as we speak at a conference with Korean pastors and their wives through Friday. Pray for Spirit-led teaching and receptive hearts. Thank you.

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Evelyn Underhill: Innumerable responsibilities

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Luke 2:36-37

“We know, as a historical fact, unusually well attested by contemporary evidence and quite outside the sphere of hagiographic romance, that both St. Catherine of Siena and her namesake St. Catherine of Genoa — active women as well as ecstatics, the first a philanthropist, reformer, and politician, the second an original theologian and for many years the highly efficient matron of a large hospital — lived, in the first case for years, in the second for con- stantly repeated periods of many weeks, without other food than the consecrated Host which they received at Holy Communion. They did this, not by way of difficult obedience to a pious vow, but because they could not live in any other way. Whilst fasting, they were well and active, capable of dealing with the innumerable responsibilities which filled their lives.”

Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) in Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness (Grand Rapids: CCEL, 1911) 59.

I felt led by God to look up fasting in the thinking of Evelyn Underhill yesterday, and I am glad I did. In this excerpt which is outside the norm of my regular posts, Underhill reveals a spiritual secret of two famous Catherine’s in church history, one a generous giver and reformer and the other a theologian and hospital administrator. They actively fasted.

Do you feel God has called you as a giver or a ministry administrator to juggle “innumerable responsibilities” for Him? I know I do right now in my life. If so, join me in this. Set aside your desires for God’s through the adoption of a regular pattern of fasting. Do this so that all that you do is guided and sustained by God. Both Catherine’s would say there is no other way to live.

Today is my last day set aside to work on a draft of the GTP training program with my colleague, Ereny Monir, before she heads to the Global Leadership Summit in Chicago, and before Jenni and I head to teach at the Kurios Gospel Forum in Seattle tomorrow. Pray for a fruitful day of meetings at the Denver office of Nathan Jones of Youth For Christ. Thanks.

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Richard Foster: Fasting reveals the things that control us

Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for Me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?'” Zechariah 7:4-6</a>

“If our fasting is not unto God, we have failed. Physical benefits, success in prayer, the enduing with power, spiritual insights — these must never replace God as the center of our fasting…

Once the primary purpose of fasting is firmly fixed in our hearts, we are at liberty to understand that there are also secondary purposes in fasting. More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface.

If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. David writes, ”I humbled my soul with fasting“ (Psalm 69:10). Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear — if they are within us, they will surface during fasting.

At first we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we will realize that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us. We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ.

Fasting reminds us that we are sustained “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Food does not sustain us; God sustains us. In Christ, “All things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Therefore, in experiences of fasting we are not so much abstaining from food as we are feasting on the word of God. Fasting is feasting!”

Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1998) 55.

For those who desire to grow in generosity, I’d encourage you to adopt a discipline of fasting. Focus on God, set aside your desires, and see what things surface. As Foster notes, “fasting reveals the things that control us.”

What controls you? If that sounds awkward, think of it this way. What do you feel like you need or can’t live without? Whatever your answer, like it or not, that is something that controls you.

The early church adopted a discipline of fasting two days a week (Wednesdays and Fridays in contrast to the Pharisees who fasted on Mondays and Thursdays). I encourage people to do the same thing.

Skip a meal, for example, every Wednesday and Friday. Instead of eating, feast on God’s Word. Seek His heart. Discern what controls you and surrender it to God. Fasting helps us remove obstacles to the Spirit’s work of generosity in our lives.

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