Haystack Monument:

Reflecting on a Movement and a Man of Apostolic Proportions

The recent desecration and defacing of the Haystack Monument on the campus of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, seems to be just another in a series of similar assaults on traditional religious and political institutions. It occurs to me though, that most Americans do not appreciate the significance of the humble and largely unknown Haystack Monument.

The monument reflects on a seminal event that launched a seismic sized movement more than two centuries ago, when five students at Williams College met to pray in a meadow during a late summer storm in 1806, finding shelter under a haystack. Notable church historian David W. Kling has stated that “This incident . . . became the pivotal event in the launching of American Protestantism’s foreign missionary movement.” Organizations such as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship rightly claim a share in the legacy of the “Haystack Prayer Meeting.”

Of the five students who met to pray on that summer day, one individual, Samuel Mills, Jr., a resident of Torringford, Connecticut, stands out.  He might be described as the spark God used to ignite the Haystack and spread missionary fervor throughout the nation and the world.

With a desire to serve God in distant places burning within him, young Mills was sent to Williams College for training. His circle of closest friends included Francis Robbins of Norfolk and Harvey Loomis of Torringford.  Joined by Byram Green and James Richards, the young band met to pray, and to discuss the prospects of taking the Gospel to Asia.  Under the famous haystack, during a torrential downpour accompanied by thunder and cracks of lightening, they committed their lives to serving God anywhere He might send them.

By 1808, the little prayer band for missions at Williams had grown and became an organized student movement called the Society of Brethren.  Mills traveled from Williams to Andover College in Boston to organize a student missionary society there. In 1810, at the request of the Society of Brethren at Andover and at Mills’ urging, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was organized. In 1812 the first American missionaries were sent out to India.

Oddly enough, Mills was not among those who sailed for India in 1812. Mills’ greatest desire had been to serve as a foreign missionary, but the American Board of Commissioners felt differently.  They encouraged him instead to explore the possibilities of missions at home in New England, particularly among Native Americans. Mills’ accomplishments over the next few years were nothing short of amazing.

After graduating from Williams College, Mills began by enrolling for a year of study at Yale, with the purpose of completing his education and promoting missions among the students there. It was at Yale that he met Henry Opukahaiah, a young stowaway from Hawaii. Mills encouraged Opukahaiah’s vision of bringing Christianity to Hawaii, and shortly thereafter Opukahaiah’s tearful pleas for missionaries to the South Pacific resulted in the founding of the Foreign Missionary School in Cornwall, Connecticut to bring that vision to reality. 

Samuel Mills went on to become a founding member of the American Bible Society and the Mariners Bible Society of New York. He traveled into the Mississippi River Valley and beyond, ministering to the Native Americans living in that region.  In 1816 he worked in the slums and ghettos of New York City, combining social service among the poor with zealous proclamation of  the message of the Gospel.  Finally, in 1817, his call to a foreign land was fulfilled.  Characteristically ahead of his time, Mills sailed on an expedition to West Africa with a vision of African Americans reaching indigenous Africans with the Gospel of Christ. On the return voyage, Mills fell ill and died at sea, at the age of only 35.  His body did not return home, but his heart and passion for missions survive today.

Adapted in part from “God’s Spark for the Haystack Prayer Meeting” Spiritual Heritage Series: Part Three of Seven, Published in the Register Citizen, November 19, 2006

A Woman’s Lost Coin and the Legacy of a Stowaway

In 1808 a sixteen-year-old lad, dives into the surf of Hawaii’s Keal’e’ke’kua Bay. With uncommon determination he swims until he reaches the Triumph, a clipper ship anchored several hundred yards offshore, a trade ship carrying  goods from as far away as China to New York.

          He climbs on board and pleads with the ship’s captain to allow him sail away from his native land, away from the memory of tribal conflicts and bloodshed, which claimed the lives of his father, his mother, his aunt; and his baby brother, a mere infant of two or three months who was stabbed by a spear intended for the tormented teenager.

          But the young man sought also, to be free of his uncle, a kahuna, a Hawaiian shaman or priest who had been grooming the youth to follow in his steps. But the young teenager had enough of the dark and superstitious religion that required the blood of any commoner should their shadow so much as touch the person or property of a tribal chief, or the blood of a young women who violated tribal kapu laws that strictly forbade women from eating pork. Indeed, for Henry Opukahaia, it was escape or die, even if death was by his own hand. And it wouldn’t be the first time the adolescent might try to take his own life. Hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that.

          The ship’s captain, Caleb Brintnall, was a committed Christian. He welcomed the young refugee aboard and growing fond of him, and eventually brought him to his own home in New Haven, Connecticut. Over the next ten years the young man not only found Christ, but began preparing himself to return to his homeland as a missionary, to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Hawaii. In 1818, he was to have graduated from the first class of the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut, but he died in February of that year of typhoid fever at just 26 years of age, just months before graduating and sailing for Hawaii as Hawaii’s first Christian missionary.

          One might hear a story like that of the young Henry Opukahaia and say, “How tragic! What value is there in such a life wasted away like that?” “Perhaps” one might wonder, “would the money and effort invested in such a life have been better invested somewhere else?” I thought of young Henry as I read Jesus’ parable about a woman and a lost coin.

“Or what woman, having ten silver [a]coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ 10 Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:8 – 10 NKJV 1982

           Many Bible teachers believe that the ten coins represented a peasant virgin’s dowry. When married, the coins would be gathered into a headband, which served the same purpose as a wedding band today, indicating that a woman is married. That being the case, the loss of even one coin is much more important than the actual purchasing power of the coin, because without all ten coins, this peasant woman would be considered unfaithful and careless, unqualified for marriage and unworthy of the security of having a husband.

          The point Jesus is making about the insignificant drachma of the woman is that, just as she finds in the coin a significantly greater value than the Pharisee who dribbled away drachmas like pocket change at the local coffee shop, so our Lord Jesus Christ finds great value in the lives of the sinful and lowly, the lost ones for whom He ultimately gave His life on the cross.

          So, what is the value of a sinner reclaimed by God’s grace? Henry Opukahaia died before ever making it to Hawaii as a missionary. But in the space of just a few years in Cornwall, he put the Hawaiian language into writing for the first time. He completed a grammar of the Hawaiian language, translated the book of Genesis from Hebrew into the Hawaiian language, and left a diary behind when he died. Edwin Dwight, Henry’s mentor and friend, and the first headmaster of the mission school, put that diary into print. Entitled the Memoirs of Henry Obookiah, the diary became a best seller in its day and raised enough money to pay for the first ship bearing missionaries to Hawaii. Though Henry didn’t live to see it, his work enabled Hawaiians to learn to read and write, to be evangelized with Scriptures in their own tongue, and his story became the catalyst for mission work in the South Pacific.  In the words of Lyman Beecher who preached his funeral message:

          “If the churches of New England, knowing the purpose of God concerning Obookiah, had chartered a ship, and sent it to Owhyhee on purpose to bring him to Christ, and fit him for Heaven, it would have been a cheap purchase of blessedness to man, and glory to God.”

          Every sinner is a precious coin to God. There are still precious coins in the world that need to be found. The lost coins are valuable to Him. They need to be found. It will take the light of God’s Word and the love of Christ to find them. But God will throw a party in heaven for each and every coin that is found. Will you join God in His mission to find the lost through you?

Beecher, Lyman, (1819). A Sermon Delivered at the Funeral of Henry Obookiah, a Native of Owhyhee. Edson Hart Publisher.

Dwight, Edwin, (1968). Memoirs of Henry Obookiah. 150th Anniversary Reprint Published by the Women’s Board of Missions for the Pacific Islands.

What an Unusual Name for a Child

His name was Maranatha. He was a little towheaded boy in my cabin at New England Keswick Bible Conference and Camp during the summer of 1970, and I was his camp counselor. He was a funny little guy. I’ll never forget the night he fell out of his bunk bed onto the hardwood floor landing with such a thud that it sounded as if a bowling ball had been dropped through the roof. No bones were broken, and he didn’t even have a bump on his head, but it really gave us all a scare. Needless to say, we made him sleep in a lower bunk from then on. But I remember thinking, “Maranatha” what an unusual name for a boy.

Maranatha is an Aramaic expression which occurs but once in the Bible, specifically in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians [1 Corinthians 16:22] meaning, “Our Lord, come!” In the early church, when Christians were persecuted for the  faith and didn’t know who could be trusted, marantha was used commonly by believers as a watchword [a password]. It expressed what early believers of the first century longed for, the personal and visible return of the risen Christ to rule and reign over the earth as both Lord and King.

Old and New Testaments alike speak of the coming of one called “the Son of Man,” “the Son of David,” “the Messiah” or the “Anointed One,” that is to say “the Christ” to reign over the world. The New Testament records a first coming as a matter of history, and anticipates a second coming yet future. What the Old Testament saints didn’t comprehend nor even the prophets who wrote of it, was that the Messiah they anticipated would need to come twice in order to fulfill two very different and distinct lines of prophecy spoken of him. It was as if there were two missions to be fulfilled. The missions were related, and the latter would be based on the former, but two separate and distinct advents were essential nevertheless.

One line of prophecy spoken of by Isaiah, Daniel and Zechariah, concerned a suffering servant or Messiah whom Israel would reject, a Messiah who would be afflicted for the sins of the nation, a Messiah who would be cut off. Isaiah spoke of him in these words:

“Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment which brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away and who can speak of his descendants, for he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.” Isaiah 53:4-8 NIV84

But then the prophets also spoke of a very different coming, in which the Son of Man would come in glory to judge the nations and establish His kingdom over the earth.

“I was watching [Daniel writes] in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14 NKJV

Is this Messiah who comes once to suffer and the Messiah who comes a second time to reign as king really one and the same Messiah? Listen to the words of the prophet Zechariah.

“In that day the LORD will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the one who is feeble among them in that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the Angel of the LORD before them. It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” Zechariah 12:8-10 NKJV

The New Testament identifies Jesus of Nazareth, as that Christ, the Messiah, who alone fulfills both the mission of the suffering servant, and will come again a second time, to fulfill the prophecies of a reigning Messiah, who will judge the nations and rule in righteousness and peace over an everlasting kingdom. Jesus himself understood that.

You will recall the words of Jesus on the night he was betrayed and forced to endure the mockery of a trial before the Sanhedrin.     

“Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” He was asked.

“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you. In the future you will see the Son of Man [simply another designation for the Messiah] sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”                       Matthew 26:63b-64 NIV

At that, he was charged and dispatched ultimately to Pilate, who ordered him crucified. But then on the third day following his death, Jesus rose bodily from the dead, later to ascend in a cloud into heaven, where he is presently seated at the right hand of the Father. But we are reminded that he will return just as he left, first for the church (1 Thessalonians 4:161-18), and then to judge the nations (Matthew 25:31-48). Maranatha!

“For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Matthew 24:27

“’Surely I am coming quickly’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! ”  Revelation 22:20b NKJV

Breakfast with a Friend and Mentor

Yesterday, I drove an hour north of my home for an early lunch with Tom Ash a personal friend and mentor, at a “Cracker Barrel” restaurant. Within 30 seconds of being seated (NO exaggeration!) something that would take me 30 minutes or more, he had the name, marital status and important insight into the spiritual condition and struggle of our server! Gloria [not her real name] is the single parent of a 13 year old son. She currently lives with her parents and has recently been released from a rehabilitation facility, where she was treated for an addiction. And, not knowing who or what we were (pastors), when asked about her marital status, blurted out, “The only person I’m interested in marrying is the one God will choose for me. I won’t be marrying the wrong person again!”

Tom’s listening skills and approach to initiating conversation challenged me. After listening to more of Gloria’s story, he said to me, “Ed, most people want to talk about themselves and will do that if you give them a chance. When I talk to people I assume they want to tell me about themselves, so I open conversation with simple questions.” Subsequently we learned Gloria had trusted Christ as her Lord and Savior, but needed a church home, and a Christ centered support group. I encouraged her to find a church with a Celebrate Recovery program, something with which both Tom and I have had direct and positive experiences. Gloria then hugged us both and said, “I had a rough start this morning, but now know that God sent you here for me.”

The bottom line on this was being reminded of what discipleship is all about. Making disciples is about bringing people from where they are to where they need to be in Christ, and that requires getting to know them first. And maybe, just maybe, it “ain’t all that hard.”

How to Engage the Battle of This Age

Is it possible that God calls pastors and churches to engage openly in matters of social justice, a manifestation of the spiritual warfare evident in this present age? The question is rhetorical! But there is one underlying principle that must govern how every pastor, every church and every believer must carry out the battle. Its application will vary in large ways and even in seemingly contradictory ways, but it sets the parameters of our conduct in this age of Grace. The Apostle Paul puts it this way:

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:4 NIV

I must confess to liking better how this sounds in the old King James:

4For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds. 2 Corinthians 10:4 KJV

It is striking to realize the specific issues of social justice to which Jesus Christ, the apostles and especially the apostle Paul did not speak during their earthly ministry, at least in so far as Scripture records. And yet, it was in the teaching of broader biblical principles laid down by them, that ultimately birthed the abolitionist movement in Great Britain and the United States, and subsequently established the elevation of women’s rights.

I have on a personal level made the decision to avoid engaging in contentious politically charged endorsements and debates on Face Book and in my Hidden Arrows blog, and to remain focused on the Gospel of Christ. That said, God surely calls some to engage publicly in the great social issues of our day. And if God should call you to that, you must! But, in the final analysis, whatever we do, we must remember in the wearing of the Gospel armor, to put on the shoes of the Gospel of the Preparation of Peace which is the Good News of reconciliation of sinners toward God made possible in Christ Jesus.

So, Who IS My Neighbor?

I’ll admit it. I am not much of a “Hallmark” genre movie lover. But every so often, my wife and I will agree to watch something on that order. Last evening was one such occasion. We decided on the 2020 British comedy-drama, Love Sarah. What has this got to do with us, you ask?

The plot is simple enough. Three women, representing three generations in one family, attempt to revive a family bakery and coffee shop that had been closed for several years, located in the present day, Notting Hill section of London. With the hiring of an outstanding culinary artist and a freshly remodeled eye-appealing shop, the business almost immediately began to nose dive. That is until one day…

A Latvian deliveryman entered the shop. Asked if there was a baked item he would make a special effort to go to that Notting Hill bakery and buy, he mentioned an item not on the menu, a kringle, a tasty delight which brought back fond memories of his homeland. That’s when the “light bulb” went on. Notting Hill is a community populated by immigrants from several countries. So, the original menu of baked items was scrapped and a new one which reflected the preferences of a diverse community was adopted with great success.

Granted, there are parts of America which are homogeneous, and the churches that thrive in those areas look like the people who live there. But our nation, regardless of whether we’re comfortable with it or not, is becoming culturally and ethnically diverse. And if our churches are to fulfill their God given mission, we must find ways to connect and serve those who live around us. Oh, how do I regret “blowing off” those French and Spanish classes in middle and high school, because I could sure use a little help now.

The Prayer That Made an Unremarkable Man Remarkable to God

His name appears but once in all of Scripture, though it seems an ancient town in Israel may have been named for him. We would pay him no notice but for the fact that Scripture says of him, “Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain’” (1 Chronicles 4:9 NKJV 1975).

 But what made him more honorable than his brothers that God should take notice of him? Verse ten discloses it was his resort to prayer, and what he prayed for reveals him to be a person whose life was a blessing and not a grief or disappointment to God or to the mother who bore him.

 Jabez was a descendant of Judah and it is believed, that he was an ancestor of King David. So, he lived in the days of conquest that began under Joshua and continued until the days of Samuel the prophet, the last judge over God’s people, who anointed David as Israel’s king.

But what made him a man whom God honored and blessed? The short answer.  It was his devotion to prayer. The long answer. It was for the four things he begged of God. It is sometimes thought that his prayer was self-centered. What would you make of it?

“Oh, that You would bless me indeed,  and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain”(1 Chronicles 4:10 NKJV 1975).

Let’s take a closer look and see what he desired of God.

First, he prayed: “That You would bless me.”           It is impossible to live the kind of life God would have us live for His glory unless His favor rests upon us. This is not a request for material wealth, but for the smile of God’s face as we live and work for His glory in this wicked and evil world. It is knowing the joy of His presence. Isn’t that the approval we ultimately seek? As the old hymn has it, “May His beauty rest upon me, as I seek the lost to win.” That is the blessing we like Jabez ought to desire.           

Second, he asked: “And enlarge my territory.” The will of God for Israel as she entered the Promised Land was to occupy all the land God measured out to the twelve tribes by Joshua. Jabez sought to occupy all that God had appointed for him. And, he asked for more, not for selfish gain, but for the enlargement of God’s kingdom. You and I are not appointed to enlarge real estate for God in this age, but we are called to enlarge the Kingdom of Heaven by fulfilling our mission to make disciples of all nations. Are we like Jabez seeking the enlargement of His Kingdom by reaching out to others for Christ?

Third, he pled: “That Your hand would be with me.” Without the enabling support and power of God, Jabez would not be equal to the task to which God had called Him, let alone to accomplish the enlargement of the Kingdom beyond his allotted borders. So, too we are in desperate need of God’s power, His resurrection power, to fulfill the mission Christ gave to us. What is the strength you lack that you know you must trust God to supply? Shall we not plead God for it?

And fourth, he begged: “That You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.” The birth of Jabez caused great pain to his mother. She survived it but named her son “Grief” or “Pain” for that is the meaning of Jabez. But Jabez did not want to be remembered as a “Grief” to God. He wanted to be remembered as a faithful servant who did not embarrass or bring shame to the Lord he served. I fear sometimes, that I might be a “Grief” to God. Do you? We do not have to be a thorn in the Savior’s side. Our Savior did all the suffering that needed to be done at Calvary. His resurrection means that He lives to help us live lives transformed into His likeness. Yes, it is not ultimately about our joy, though our joy is in it, but it is about our desire to see His smile, His favor, and His pleasure at work in us.

A Church Where Everyone Gets to Play

I’m presently teaching a course for Rockbridge Seminary entitled, “The Missional Leader.” One of the required textbooks is The Permanent Revolution by Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim (2012). As I prepared to teach the course, something in a chapter subtitle recalled for me a conversation with my wife twenty-five years ago. The subtitle had but seven words, “A Church Where Everyone Gets to Play” (p. 73). Those words are essential to the health and growth of missional churches and movements. So, for two cents, let me share my wife’s contribution to my understanding of the church as a missional movement.

On January 11th, 1998, I was to preach as a pastoral candidate at a small church located in the southern Berkshires of Massachusetts. For reasons I didn’t wholly understand, I was impressed to preach on Revelation chapter one, verses 5b and 6.

“To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood— and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father— to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:5b – 6 NASB 1995).

The exegesis of this text was straight forward enough. But for the life of me, I couldn’t find a way to express how it was that we who were redeemed from our sins by the blood of Christ, should be so favored of God that He would elevate our station before Him as citizens of His kingdom and most significantly as priests! Yes, I could identify the things believer priests would be expected to do, but how could I communicate why that should be such a huge privilege in terms that would connect with skeptical saints?

I shared my frustration with Lynn, who would soon be my wife, a woman who had no formal theological training, just an infectious passion to serve God. “Oh, read me that text” she said. A smile broke out on her face.  She clapped her hands like cheerleader and said, “That’s easy! Everybody is on God’s team. Everyone is on the first string. Everybody plays and nobody sits on the bench!”

Preaching in January of 1998 with Super Bowl dreams on everyone’s mind, I stole Lynn’s words, the message resonated, and a week later I received a call to that church where Lynn and I served for 16 years. But it is precisely those seven words, which we must embrace today and every day, if we are to fulfill the Great Commission Mandate our Lord entrusted to us.

18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18 – 20 NASB 1995).

Prayer: Monologue or Dialogue?

Talk about honesty! One of my seminary students admitted,  “My past practice of prayer…has been mostly a monologue.” He then made a simple yet powerful case for centering or contemplative prayer: “I am attracted to it because it will help me grow in my commitment to listen more to God…” Can you identify with that?

Isn’t it time we all confessed that we tend toward monologue because there is really only one side of the conversation that is important to us? Prayer for most of us is presenting God with a grocery list of our wants and needs, “seeking His hand instead of His face,” as Daniel Henderson put it in his book, Transforming Prayer, [Bethany House, 2011. p. 27]. 

Sounds pretty selfish! But, are we not also inclined at times to make the throne of God, the customer service department of heaven, where we voice our complaints and vent our displeasure or anger about matters great but usually small? Then after a perfunctory expression of thanks for blessing, and faint praise [After all we don’t want to “tick” God off, do we?], we close the conversation and walk off. I used the first person plural because it is easier than admitting, I personally have done this!

In Psalm 37, David says,

“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him.” Psalm 37:7a

It could be argued that we are to be still and wait patiently for God to handle our complaint. The context certainly suggests that is part of it. But, I wonder if it isn’t also, that we are to be still and patiently wait for God to speak a word to us.

Several years ago, while working as the Social Services Director of a large nursing facility, a new administrator had been hired who didn’t like me for some reason. She had a reputation for terminating departmental staff left over from the previous administration, beginning with the social services department. My department! Ouch!

She really did try to make my job difficult. Within weeks my prayers were consumed with “get me out of here, Lord” prayers. And, then early one morning, I sat out on the lanai of my Florida home, and finally said, “Lord, I need an answer, and I’m just going to listen and wait until you speak. Whatever you tell me to do, I will do.” For several minutes I was totally silent before the Lord. And then the Spirit impressed on my heart, “Ed, I want you to be willing to stay put regardless of what goes on around you. Quit fighting.” That is all God said, and somehow it was enough.

That morning at about eleven o’clock, the phone rang in my office. I was invited to lunch with the administrator of a local retirement center up the street. The outcome of that lunch was an invitation to take his position, and no one but God knew about the battle that had been waged in my spirit, no, not even my wife. But God taught me the lesson of stillness before Him in prayer. Had I not been offered that new job, I would have been just fine. God spoke to me, and somehow that was enough!

Like small children, we are sometimes more interested in one sided conversations with God. But God is longing for us to be still and quiet before Him, and to listen for His voice.  Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.” When was the last time you heard His voice?


  1. What do we mean by centering or contemplative prayer?
  1. Is there a biblical basis and are there examples of it?
  2. How does Satan counterfeit this practice?
  • Some suggest that God has but three responses to our prayers: Yes, No, or Wait. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • In what way can we discern the voice of God from all other voices?
  • What does waiting for God to speak look like?

Renewing the Mind

With little athletic experience in high school, I naively invested a year in college on the wrestling team. Small colleges like the one I went to needed bodies to fill slots, so you could probably guess, I learned far too much about the wrestling mat than anyone ever should have to ever learn.  But I did learn one important lesson from that experience that has proved helpful over the years.  “Where the head goes, the body is sure to follow.” Success in life is largely determined in the mind.

Now, I’m not talking about formal education. The world is full of highly educated people with no common sense. But it is about wisdom, and the way we think about things. If we think wrong, we do wrong. If we think right, we do right. So, how do we go about the process of right thinking?

The apostle Paul writing to the church at Rome from the city of Corinth (circa 56 AD), gives us in a compact statement, a simple formula for right thinking. In the 12th chapter of the epistle to the Romans, he writes,

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2 NIV84

Verse one of chapter 12, describes the kind of life God wants us to live, one that is lived in appreciation of ALL He has done for us. We are asked to calculate everything God has done for us in Jesus Christ, and out of a heart of gratitude present ourselves to Him as a living and acceptable sacrifice.

And so, Paul speaks of God’s mercy. The word is plural in the Greek text and should be translated “mercies,” because it includes all of the stuff wrapped up in our salvation, forgiveness of sin, reconciliation and peace with God, justification and a right standing before God, security and eternal life, freedom from the power of sin, hope of resurrection, our adoption as sons and daughters of God, the lavishing of divine love and grace on us, the indwelling, leading and intercession of the Holy Spirit, and on and on and on!

Sadly, we do not spend enough time thinking, pondering, meditating on these great and precious endowments God has showered on those who by faith receive them. But right thinking begins with calculating the goodness of God on us in Jesus Christ. It is helpful to take out a few minutes each day simply to list two or three things God has done for us, think about them, and verbally thank God for them. One might list two or three more things God has done for you, over the course of the week.

Now, offering our bodies to God, that is worshiping our Lord from head to toe, requires a radical transformation in the way we think. It begins with calculating the things for which we are most grateful to God, but there is more. Notice verse two of Romans chapter twelve carefully. Paul writes,

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2 NIV84

There are two things required which are really two sides of the same coin. The first looks at a negative and the second at a positive. Both relate to what goes on between the two ears, that is our minds.

Negatively, we are urged to stop allowing the philosophy of the age in which we live, to shape our thoughts and world view. The Message Bible has it,

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.” The Message Bible Paraphrase

Paul knew something of the pressure, the intellectual bullying of the world, which seeks to force Christians into lockstep with an immoral and godless culture. That’s why he sounded this alert to early believers, one which is still relevant today:

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. Colossians 1:8 NKJV

Dr. Keith Krell, in his book entitled, Transformed: More than Meets the Eye, sums up the philosophy of our age pretty well. He writes,

The world’s philosophy is pretty simple: If you want something, go get it (partners, possessions, and power). People are important primarily because of what they can do for you. If they can’t do anything for you, don’t waste your time on them. Public opinion defines truth … popularity is more important than holiness. Faith and everyday living are unrelated. Live for the moment and don’t concern yourself with consequences. You are the center of your universe; don’t let anyone push you around!

            [Keith Krell, Transformed: More Than Meets the Eye].

We are not called to stick our heads in the sand, or to drop out of the world like the Amish. BUT we are called to think, to recognize what is false and know why it is false, and to recognize the source of what is false. To do that requires us to immerse our minds in the truth, and God’s Word is truth!

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 NIV84

Moreover, if we are to stop allowing the philosophy of the age to dictate our thinking, there are some things we must avoid, things we may be allowing into the eye gate, and the ear gate, things which we know are not pleasing to God, but things we may be allowing to entertain us. I’m talking about our recreational reading, our choice in music, and what we choose to watch on television or in the theatre, or over the internet. I’m not saying God wants us to shut out the media entirely. I’m saying shut out unnecessary and gratuitous exposure to the filth of the world.

But there is a positive action that must accompany the negative one. We must allow God to transform our minds. The world attempts to force us into external conformity. It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with the increasingly permissive mores of our culture, as long as you keep your lip buttoned about it, and appear to support those who disagree with you. The world tells us to play word games,  in order to bring us into the appearance of conformity. But God isn’t looking for that kind of thinking. He wants our minds changed from the inside out, so that our thoughts are His thoughts on any and all matters governing life and personal conduct. Expressed another way, He wants us to have the same heart He has. So, the “renewing” Paul speaks of (and this word in the Greek does not mean, to make the minds young again, but rather to make our minds totally different, brand new, like that of our Savior), we must learn to put all things to the test of God’s will.

In short this means, understanding what God’s will is, and then examining what His will is in any given situation. Three key questions must be asked:

  1. Is something morally good, consistent with God’s character as revealed in Scripture?
  2. Is something pleasing to God, something with which we are certain He would say “well done?”
  3. Is there something strangely lacking, something missing that says, “I have no certainty or confidence that God is in this thing or will bless it?

Now, it is not merely that God’s will is characterized by being good, pleasing to God, and complete or perfect. It is that God’s will IS good. God’s will IS pleasing to Himself. God’s will IS perfect, with nothing lacking. Some have said that Paul is referring only to God’s general or moral will as revealed in Scripture. Essentially, that is correct. But I do find this applicable to many if not most of the decisions and choices we make in life. Knowing what is God’s will, is in principle most definitely helpful in navigating decisions about careers, and whom to marry, or even how we handle our finances and so on. It always behooves me to ask three questions before making any major decision.

  • Is it morally good, because God’s will IS good, that is morally good?    
  • Is God going to be pleased if I take this course of action or make this choice, because God’s will, when it is obeyed, is always going to please Him?

If I feel like God is not going to be pleased with an action, even if might be permissible, it isn’t His will. Paul declares,

“Everything is permissible”  but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible” but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good but the good of others. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 NIV84

I would very much like to own a motorcycle. I know that sounds immature and selfish, but the truth is, I would enjoy it. But, owning and riding a motorcycle at 72 years of age would put a stress on my wife that would cause her to worry needlessly about me. Would God be pleased if I put that kind of stress on her? So, for me, the bike is out!

  • And, is there something missing in the equation that feels unsettling, because God’s will IS perfect, complete and mature?

When I made the decision to marry Lynn 22 years ago, I asked myself that very question. You see I made poor decisions in the past, contrary to God’s will because I failed to ask that question. If nothing is missing and the parts are all there, the heart isn’t troubled or doubting, and we can be sure we are headed in the right direction, according to God’s will.

Maybe you would join me and pray this prayer:

Lord God, in gratitude for all that you have done for me in Christ Jesus, I now joyfully offer up my body and my mind, all that I am for your service. I will saturate my mind with Your Word and ask you to enable me to discern and test what is true and what is false; to approve only that which is good, well pleasing to You, and perfect. Grant me the wisdom to live for you with all my body as well as with my heart, my soul and my mind. In Jesus Name. Amen.