Posts Tagged ‘Charles Spurgeon’

God is no “mere spectator to events”

March 17, 2018

In my never-ending quest to own every study Bible on the market (I’m kidding… maybe), Lisa gave me the Spurgeon Study Bible from Holman last Christmas. I have used it nearly every day since. While the ESV Study Bible remains my work-a-day Bible, I cross-reference what I read there with the Spurgeon Study Bible to see if “the prince of preachers” offers any insights into that day’s scripture. (Or I should say, if the publishers include Spurgeon’s commentary on the text, it will be insightful; but in the interest of space, they can’t include his commentary on every chapter and verse!)

The following commentary is an excerpt from Spurgeon’s words on Daniel 4:34-35, which I read this morning.

The Lord’s place is on the throne, and our place is to obey; it is his to govern, ours to serve; his to do as he will, and ours, without questioning, to make that will our constant delight. Remember then, that in the universe God is actually reigning; never let us conceive of God as being infinitely great but not exerting his greatness, infinitely able to reign, but as yet a mere spectator to events. It is not so. The Lord reigns even now. Glory be to the omnipresent and invisible Lord of all!

Remember then, that in the universe God is actually reigning; never let us conceive of God as being infinitely great but not exerting his greatness, infinitely able to reign, but as yet a mere spectator to events.

There is, of course, nothing to these words that should be controversial to my regular blog readers—or to any Christian for the first, say, 1,900 years of Christian history. Recently, however, there has been a devilish idea (I use that adjective advisedly—I believe Satan is behind it) among many Christian preachers and teachers that says, in so many words, “God is a mere spectator to events.”

This is in part a well-intentioned effort to “protect” or insulate God from evil, catastrophic events in the world, which skeptics might use to tarnish God’s name. If God has no power (or desire) to intervene in our world, the reasoning goes, then at least we can tell our fellow sufferers, “There, there… God has nothing to do with this. God hates that you’re suffering, but what’s he supposed to do about it? God is suffering alongside you; he is with you.” (This message was communicated in a hundred different ways through my mainline Protestant seminary education.)

Does that make us feel better? How can it? By that same logic, we should also tell them, “Don’t expect God to grant any of your prayer petitions—especially those related to protection and safety.” Because if God has nothing to do with suffering, he has nothing to do with anything in our world. He is a “mere spectator,” as Spurgeon says.

Of course, the Bible contradicts this idea on every page. Try listening to this recent Unbelievable? episode with “open theist” Greg Boyd, for example, and see if the authority of scripture doesn’t die a death by a thousand cuts.

Thank God that the God in whom we entrust our lives isn’t like that! Thank God for the “all” in Romans 8:28:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Sermon 01-14-18: “Prayer Is Supposed to Be Easy”

January 24, 2018

As I argue in this sermon, we make prayer more complicated than it needs to be. The message of Jesus’ words in today’s scripture is that prayer isn’t that complicated. 

Sermon Text: Matthew 6:6-13

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Recently, I was listening to a sermon by a favorite pastor of mine whose church is very large and whose sermons are more intellectually demanding than my own. Unlike me, this preacher seems happily indifferent to using humor, or trying to be “relevant,” or entertaining his audience in any way in his sermons—he just dives right into scripture week after week. So, rightly or wrongly, I perceive that his church must be more advanced in the ways of prayer and in Bible study than the typical Methodist churches of which I’ve been part.

I was surprised, then, when he said that his church had recently conducted a survey on prayer in his congregation. Over half the congregation, he said, admitted that they did not pray regularly—his theologically rich sermons on the subject notwithstanding.

The pastor said that when he read the results of the survey, he was tempted to resign on the spot. Had he been wasting his breath all these years about the power and importance of prayer? Why wasn’t the message getting through?

I’m sympathetic with this pastor. But at the same time, I know from painful personal experience that prayer often seems hard to me. And I’ll bet you’ve experienced prayer as something that’s often difficult.

Actual alert message sent to smartphones throughout Hawaii

Not always, of course. In fact, prayer is the easiest thing in the world sometimes… When is it easy? When we are in a crisis. Prayer becomes very easy in those situations. I’m reminded of a hilarious Richard Pryor comedy routine from 1978 about his experience having a heart attack. He describes how that pain in his chest brought him to his knees, and he describes literally speaking to the heart attack, “Don’t kill me, don’t kill me, don’t kill me!” But his next words were directed to God: “God, please don’t let this thing kill me!” And then his heart attack spoke back to him, “Were you talking to God behind my back?” And the pain, he said, just got worse!

I’ve never had a heart attack, but “heart attack” prayers come very easily, I’m sure.

You know another time when prayer comes easily? When you believe that the island you live on is about to be attacked by ballistic missiles! Did you see that terrible false alarm on people’s smartphones in Hawaii yesterday? “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” No, it was not a drill, but it was a false alarm!

Don’t you know that literally tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of people in Hawaii were praying yesterday who hadn’t prayed in days, or weeks, or months before yesterday? Why? Because prayer is very easy when you fear you might die in a ballistic missile attack! People say, “Why did this false alarm happen?” I’m sure there are all sorts of interesting technological reasons. But I believe that another, overarching reason that this disaster happened was in order for people to turn to God in prayer! In other words, I’m sure that God used this crisis to get people’s attention. If it takes the fear of death to get people to turn to God, God will use it! It’s very merciful of God to use a disaster to bring people to him, while they still have to time to repent of their sins and turn to God. Because there is a far greater disaster coming upon our world—Judgment Day—and at that point, people won’t be able to repent and turn to God. It will be too late! Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 01-07-18: “Rewarding Prayer”

January 18, 2018

This is the first of a new six-part sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer. In this sermon, I talk about Jesus’ promise of a reward for praying the way that he teaches. I suspect many of us haven’t experienced prayer as “rewarding”—at least as much as God wants us to! I want that to change! I also talk about the privilege that we have in calling God “our Father.”

Sermon Text: Matthew 6:5-9

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Many of you have seen the funny meme that has circulated this past week, in the wake of the `Bulldogs’ overtime victory over Oklahoma. It looks like this: [show meme on screen] “If you made any promises in overtime, service starts at 9:30 or 11:15 this Sunday morning.”  And so we could change ours to 9:00 or 11:00, but same difference. The point is, many Georgia fans were praying during that game last Monday—and chances are that some of them made promises to God: “I will go to church, Lord, if only you’ll let the Bulldogs win.”

This is funny. I like it. But by the end of the sermon, I hope you’ll see why, according to Jesus, this is terrible theology.

But this meme is about prayer, and today at HUMC we’re beginning a six-part sermon series on prayer—specifically, the Lord’s Prayer. We sort of began last week by looking at a parable about prayer—the Parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18. As we saw last week, Jesus told that parable to encourage us disciples to pray always and not to lose heart.

A natural follow-up question to last week’s sermon is, “O.K., I get it, Pastor Brent. I need to pray a lot more than I do now. Tell me something I don’t know! But how do I do it?”

And to answer that question, Jesus gives us the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew chapter 6. We’re going to look at just the very beginning of the prayer today—“Our Father”—and the four verses leading up to it. The four verses leading up to the Lord’s Prayer tell us how not to pray.

The first way not to pray, Jesus says, is to do it for the sake of any audience other than God: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Read the rest of this entry »

Devotional Podcast #1: “Pour Out Your Heart like Water”

January 10, 2018

Devotional Text: Lamentations 2:19

You can subscribe to this and all future podcasts in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Wednesday, January 10, and today begins my new series of devotional podcasts, which I hope to bring to you two or three times each week. You’re listening to Phil Keaggy’s song, “Let Everything Else Go,” from his 1981 album, Town to Town.


During the final year of my father’s life, in 1995, when Dad was dying of terminal cancer, he experienced—praise God!—a reawakening of his Christian faith. For the first time in his life, perhaps, he was reading the Bible daily and was praying often. Or at least he was trying to pray often; he didn’t always accomplish it. He told me that because of all the medication he was on, he found it very difficult to concentrate. He said, “I begin to pray, and I lose focus. My mind wanders. What I do about that?”

I wasn’t a pastor at the time, but I reassured him with Paul’s words in Romans chapter 8:26: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

If no less a saint, I said, than the apostle Paul himself admitted that he didn’t know how to pray properly, then, well… it’s no wonder prayer can be hard… for all of us—even for those of us whose brains aren’t foggy from chemotherapy and other cancer-related drugs!

I find prayer difficult most of the time. And you probably do too.

I was listening to a sermon by a favorite pastor of mine whose church is very large and whose sermons are more intellectually demanding than my own. Unlike me, this preacher seems happily indifferent to using humor, or being “relevant,” or entertaining his audience in any way in his sermons—he just dives right into scripture week after week. So, rightly or wrongly, I perceive that his church must be more advanced in prayer and Bible study than the typical Methodist churches of which I’ve been part.

I was surprised, then, when he said that his church had recently conducted a survey on prayer in his congregation. Over half the congregation, he said, admitted that they did not pray regularly—all his theologically rich sermons on the subject notwithstanding.

The pastor said that when he read the results of the survey, he was tempted to resign on the spot.

I’m sympathetic. But prayer, as I know from painful experience, is hard. Of course, if you run in the same Christian circles that I run in, you may not know it’s hard. In my particular circles, for example, I have clergy colleagues and others who talk about praying almost all the time. They frequently post about their prayer lives on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… One clergy colleague, when addressing the challenges facing by my particular denomination said that she recently prayed for hours about our denomination’s problems—in anguish, in tears… And I thought, hours? How do you do that? It would take me months or more to accumulate “hours” of prayer about problems facing the institution known as the United Methodist Church.

Besides, why pray for hours about it when you can just be angry and bitter about it—like me?

But seriously, I get discouraged when I compare any aspect of my life to the lives of friends and acquaintances on social media—my prayer life included. Everyone puts their best foot forward online; everyone presents themselves in the most favorable light possible. What did someone say? On social media, we compare our insides to everyone else’s outside. It’s not a fair comparison. So let’s not do that. Let’s not worry about how we “measure up” to others when it comes to prayer. We only have one judge to worry about, as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 4:4. Let’s just worry about ourselves only, and see if we can’t become more faithful pray-ers than we are today.

And to that end, I want to share with you something that has helped me recently: Lamentations 2:19. The prophet Jeremiah is urging his fellow Jews, who have watched the Babylonians destroy their capital city, their temple, their way of life, to repent and pray to God. He says,

Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street.

I find the 19th-century British preacher Charles Spurgeon’s words on this verse very helpful here. He writes:

[W]e cannot pray too simply. Just hear how Jeremiah put it: “Pour out your heart like water before the Lord’s presence.” How does water pour out? The quickest way it can—that’s all; it never thinks much about how it runs. That is the way the Lord loves to have our prayers pour out before him.[1]

Pour out your heart like water.

Prayer—at least Christian prayer—is always a matter of the heart. When prayer becomes disconnected from our heart, that’s when it becomes boring and routine. It becomes a duty we have to perform. It becomes an empty ritual. It becomes drudgery—something to check off our list each day.

Has that happened to you?

If so, reengage your heart. Do what Jeremiah says: Pour your heart out like water.

Consider this: You’ve got something on your heart right now that is waiting to be poured out. What is it? Start your prayers today with that… And maybe you think, “Yes, but God doesn’t want to hear this trivial stuff—or this petty stuff—or this sinful stuff.” Are you kidding? He already knows all about everything that you’re thinking and feeling. Better than you do! Don’t censor yourself. Like Spurgeon says, “Water never thinks much about how it runs.”

So tell God what’s on your heart: What is worrying you today? What is making you feel afraid today? Who or what is angering you today? Why are you hurting? Who or what is causing the pain? What temptations are you facing? What sins are you struggling with? What’s making you feel guilty?

Whatever is in your heart, pour it out like water!

And then ask God for help.

Start there. Start with what’s on your heart! Our heavenly Father wants to hear from you. He wants you to pray today more than he wants you to do so “correctly,” by following a proper form or pattern of prayer.

Will you pour out your heart to him like water this week?

Almighty God, please make it so. Amen.

1. Charles Spurgeon, The Spurgeon Study Bible CSB (Nashville: Holman, 2017), 1073.