Here is another prayer from my upcoming book, Praying God’s Word. In this prayer I try to express my gratefulness for God’s grace that hunted me down and saved me.
The Holy Calling
[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began… (2 Timothy 1:9)
Thank you for calling me! The same voice that spoke the light into existence spoke light into my heart. The same voice that created the universe out of nothing created life in my heart. Your mighty voice called, and my dead heart awoke. You called me out of death and darkness, out of the kingdom of Satan, out of my sinful muck and filth. You spoke and my spiritually dead heart suddenly kick-started into life. You spoke and my ears were opened to hear your glorious voice. You spoke and my blind eyes were suddenly filled with your glory. I bless your name for calling me.
You did not call me because of my impressive array of good works. You did not call me because of my astounding number of gifts or abilities. You did not call me because I was wealthy or influential. You did not call me because I had anything special to offer. Lord, I am delightfully baffled that you called me. I am wonderfully perplexed that you would choose to save a sinner like me. You called me because you wanted me. You called me because of your sovereign, good purpose, and because of your grace. Before time began, you had a purpose for my life, and you will fulfill that purpose.
Thank you for your precious, overwhelming, relentless grace. Grace that pursued me. Grace that hunted me down. Grace that would not let me go. When I lay down to sleep, your grace haunted my dreams. When I awoke I found myself bumping into your grace. It was irresistible, unstoppable, powerful grace. Had your grace not been irresistible, I never would have surrendered. But the more I struggled, the tighter your grace gripped me. I could not escape your wonderful grace. Grace that I did not deserve, yet you lavishly poured out on me. I worship you that you are such a gracious, wonderful, sovereign God. I praise you for calling me. Today let me be overflowing with thanks because of your wonderful grace.
It can be tough for me to trust politicians, especially when they try to relate to normal, everyday folks like myself. When Mitt Romney was campaigning against Barack Obama, one of the knocks on him was that he was fabulously rich. Could a fabulously rich guy really relate to the struggles of a middle-class family in Alabama or a low-income family in Detroit? Could a dude who jetted around in a private jet relate to folks who have to take public transportation? When Bill Clinton told an AIDS activist, “I feel your pain,” it was hard to take him seriously. Could Bill Clinton really relate to the pain of those afflicted by AIDS?
Simply put, it’s hard to trust a person who hasn’t experienced hardship. Hardship and suffering teach us lessons that can’t be learned any other way. Although it sounds terribly cliché, there really is such a thing as the school of hard knocks. The reason so many people loved Ulysses S. Grant was because he was a soldier who knew first hand the trials and terrors of war. One of the reasons people loved Abraham Lincoln was that he was a man of the people. He came from a poor, backwoods family, and he understood suffering and deprivation.
A person who has suffered understands the unique challenges and trials and pain that accompany suffering. We can trust the leadership of a person who has suffered.
These realities make Hebrews 2:18 a precious verse. Speaking of Jesus, it says, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
Our God is not an isolated, insular, always comfortable God. Our God suffered.
Jesus suffered in ways we can’t even begin to fathom. He was rejected and mocked. He was called an illegitimate bastard. His own brothers made jokes about him. He experienced the sickness and suffering and sadness which permeate all of life. He had friends die. He worked until he was so exhausted that he fell asleep in the back of a boat. He experienced the full fury of Satan’s temptations. Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He did not have a comfortable, easy, pain-free life.
Because Jesus suffered and was tempted, he is perfectly equipped to help me when I am suffering or being tempted. Jesus knows what suffering feels like, he knows exactly what I need in order to honor God in the midst of my suffering, and he has all the power necessary to sustain me in the midst of my suffering. In my grief Jesus can supply me with grace. In my pain Jesus can supply me with perseverance. Jesus is the wonderful physician who has experienced sickness himself. He is the wonderful healer who knows first hand what pain feels like.
It’s hard to trust someone who has never suffered. Jesus has suffered, which makes him perfectly suited to help me. I can trust a God who has suffered.
The knowledge of death brings a certain clarity to life. Coming close to death makes the beauty of life and the reality of eternity stand out in stark, blazing colors.
Several weeks ago, Jen and I were driving on the highway in the midst of a snowstorm. We were traveling at an appropriately slow speed, crawling along, simply trying to make it home. But sometimes driving slow isn’t enough. The laws of physics can do serious damage, no matter how slow you are going. As we went around a turn, our van began to simultaneously slide sideways and drift toward the median. We slid until we were perpendicular to the road, then hopped up onto the median, and ground to a stop on top of the concrete median. We were in such a position that we easily could have been hit by cars coming eather direction.
But we didn’t get hit. And we didn’t blow out a tire or rupture a fuel line. God had sovereignly arranged the traffic patterns of the night in such a way that when we lost control, no one was there to hit us. We were able to pull back onto the highway and drive home.
As we drove home, we loudly gave thanks to God for sparing our lives. We could have died, leaving our three little girls with no parents. When we got home, we hugged our girls tight and kissed them and simply delighted in them. We rejoiced in the wonderful gift called life. Yes, our girls can be crazy and whiny and refuse to poop on the toilet. Yes, our girls can push us to the breaking point. But when you come face to face with death, everything else seems inconsequential.
Why do brushes with death have such a positive impact on me? In Psalm 90, Moses wrote:
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)
Getting close to death reminds me that my days are numbered. My life is painfully short. A mist. A vapor. I have a few, short years on this earth. A few short years to cram full of love for God and love for others. A few short years to treasure Jesus, treasure Jen, and treasure my kids. Spinning out on the highway gives me a heart of wisdom. It reminds me of what is important and what my priorities should be.
I would be wise to consider death more often. To number my days. To remember the brevity of my life. I’m not trying to be morbid or overly fixated on death. I don’t want to live my life gripped by fear. But remembering my impending death also helps me to live more fully.
When was the last time you considered death?
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to dispense some hugs.
Donald Miller ruffled quite a few feathers when he recently wrote on his blog that he doesn’t regularly attend church.
While I disagree with much of what he said, I won’t parse through every point. Others have already done that. But Miller said one thing that bothered me very much. Actually he said two things, but they were part of the same point. His point was that the Bible does not give us specific instructions as to what church should look like, which therefore means that no one can really claim to attend a “biblical” church.
The reason this statement bothered me so much is that it is so blatantly false. To claim that the Bible doesn’t tell us what church should look like is to ignore many, many very clear scriptures. To claim that th Bible doesn’t tell us what church should look like also allows a person to substitute his own preferences for the clear teaching of scripture, which Don Miller seems to do at numerous points in his blog post.
So what does the Bible have to say about church?
1. A biblical church involves at least two people gathering together in the name of Jesus. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). Working with a client on a team building exercise, while valuable, is not church. Church consists of believers coming together, in the same physical space, in the name of Jesus Christ. To gather together in the name of Jesus means gathering together to publicly worship Jesus, serve Jesus, and help others love Jesus. If you’re not gathering together with other believers in the name of Jesus, don’t call yourself a church.
2. A biblical church celebrates the Lord’s supper together. 1 Corinthians 11:23–26 says, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Jesus commanded his followers to regularly come together to remember and celebrate his death. This is a command, not an optional add-on for the Christian life. This isn’t about preference or opinion or “connecting with God” (a phrase Miller likes to use). The Lord’s supper is a communal event in which the church publicly proclaims the death of Christ. While not expressly forbidden, there isn’t a single place in scripture where a person celebrates the Lord’s supper by themselves. A biblical church celebrates the Lord’s supper. If you’re not celebrating the Lord’s supper with other believers, don’t call yourself a church.
3. A biblical church is led by qualified elders. In Titus 1:5–9, Paul said to Titus: “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
Paul insisted that the churches he founded be led by qualified elders. This was so important to Paul that he left Titus behind in Crete for the express purpose of finding and appointing qualified elders for each church. In our post-modern, democratic society, the idea of eldership isn’t especially popular, but it is especially biblical. If you’re not being led by qualified elders, don’t call yourself a church.
4. A biblical church worships in song together. Ephesians 5:18–21 says, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Notice that this passage has both a vertical and a horizontal dimension to it. We are to be filled with the Spirit, making melody in our hearts to the Lord. We are also to address one another with our psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Singing isn’t just about you connecting to God or experiencing a particular emotional response. When the church gathers to sing we are also proclaiming truth to one another. Honestly, God isn’t primarily concerned with whether or not we like singing or emote when we worship. He is concerned that we proclaim his goodness and glory to Him and to one another through song. If you’re not singing to the Lord and to one another, don’t call yourself a church.
5. A biblical church maintains corporate holiness through church discipline. Matthew 18:17 says, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” The church really is a place of spiritual protection. Jesus expects his followers to help one another pursue holiness. If a Christian begins to engage in serious sin, Jesus expects the members of his Christian community to lovingly rebuke him. If the person refuses to repent of his sin, the entire church is expected to get involved.
This process presupposes that a Christian will be vitally connected to other Christians. The reality is, the process of discipline can’t happen apart from a local church. If you’re not maintaining holiness through church discipline, don’t call yourself a church.
6. A biblical church is a place where Christians can use their spiritual gifts to bless one another. 1 Corinthians 14:26 says, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”
In writing this verse, Paul was clearly assuming that the Corinthians would be gathering together on a regular basis in the name of Jesus for the purpose of worshiping together. When they gathered together, they were to use their spiritual gifts to build one another up. It is impossible to build other Christians up if you’re not regularly gathering together with other Christians in the context of corporate worship. If you’re not using your spiritual gifts to build other Christians up, don’t call yourself a church.
Contrary to what Donald Miller says, attending church is not about tribalism, or learning styles, or opinion, or preference. Attending church is a matter of obedience.
And there really is such a thing as a biblical church.
Stephen Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA, where his main duties include leading worship, preaching, and working with youth. He also has written a number of worship songs that have been included on Sovereign Grace Music albums. Stephen is the author of the book Game Day For the Glory of God: A Guide For Athletes, Fans, and Wannabes, published by Crossway Books in September 2008, and The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence, published by Crossway Books in April 2011. When not shining his dad’s shoes, you can find Stephen drinking coffee or playing video games.
Find out more when you visit his blog, The Blazing Center.