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And He Himself gave some to be....evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ...
- Ephesians 4:11-12

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Location: The Hill Country of Texas

Pastor - Providence Reformed Baptist Church
Director - TIME in the Word Ministries

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Second Mark of a Sound Church

TIME in the Word - Daily Devotional
Together for Inspiration, Motivation, and Encouragement

Verses of the Day
Acts 2:42 - "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers."

1 Thessalonians 5:17 - "pray without ceasing,"

Daily Scripture Reading - Luke 18

Puritan Catechism
Question #10 - How did God create man?
Answer - God created man, male and female, after his own image (Gen. 1:27), in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (Col 3:10; Eph. 4:24) with dominion over the creatures (Gen. 1:28).

Devotional Thoughts

The Second Mark of a Sound Church: Prayer is Central

When the church in the Book of Acts identified itself by faith and practice as a sound church, they were approved by God and used by Him to expand the work of the gospel. One of the signature marks seen in the Book of Acts was the mark of continual prayer. The church in Jerusalem continued steadfastly in prayer.

To understand this we must understand what it means to pray. The Bible commands that the believer "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17). Can we pray without ceasing and truly make prayer a central part of our lives and our churches and still have time for other activities? Yes. To pray without ceasing does not mean to always be uttering a prayer of some sort. Prayer itself is communion. It is a dialogue between God and us. We talk; He listens. He talks; we listen. To pray without ceasing is to ever be in communion (open communication) with God. It is to be aware of His presence and dependent upon His power moment by moment.

A Christian cannot pray without ceasing and at the same time rely upon himself and his own resources to deal with whatever trials or temptations he may encounter. Instead, we must be ever aware of our relationship with God. That relationship defines who we are as Christians.

It was preached by Del Fehsenfeld, Jr., that being a Christian was not based on what you did, what you said, what you believed, or how you lived. Being a Christian is just that - being! It is what you ARE. Because you are His child and have a relationship with Him, you should naturally commune with Him often.

In the New Testament we learn that even Jesus would go off by Himself to pray to the Father. If He, being God in the flesh, needed to pray often and for long periods of time then how much more do we, as fallen human beings, need that time alone with God? And time alone with God produces a deep prayer life.

The evidence of prayer for most people though is found in what they utter from their mouths when they are called upon to lead in prayer during a church service. This is not any evidence whatsoever of the depth or magnitude of one's prayer life. And if we think we can prove our spirituality by the way we pray in public then we have fallen for the same lie that the Pharisee did in Luke 18:10-14.

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men - extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

In this text we learn the both the false and the true nature of prayer. False prayer, which is just empty talking and wind, is proud, full of self, and condemning of others. True prayer is humble, penitent, and answered! False prayer is forced. True prayer is the natural flow of conversation with God just as communication between two people who love each other.

The Pharisee here stood for all to see and prayed for all to hear. "Thank you God, that I am so much better than all these sinners around me!" He prayed with pride, comparing his goodness to those around him. He was puffed up and full of himself. And God did not lend him an ear. As a matter of fact, if ever we pray like this, without a proper heart attitude, our prayer is an abomination to God! That's right. Read Proverbs 28:9. If a person refuses to hear the Word of God and then thinks he can pray to God about whatever he wants, that person's prayer is abominable to God.

The tax collector humbly approached the throne of grace, not even daring to look up to heaven in his humility and unworthiness. He cried out expressing his deep need, believing that only God could meet the need. And God did what he asked. He showed him mercy and justified him!

The self-righteous, religious Pharisee was shunned. The humble sinner was saved. True prayer contains within it a proper view of God and a proper view of self. True prayer is born out of dependence and humility, reverence and need. True prayer is a delight.

We do not pray humbly because we are worthless, but because we know our own unworthiness. Our salvation, and every other gift God gives us, is completely of His choosing and grace. He does not reward any merit He sees in us. He gives us grace despite ourselves. And when we express our gratitude in prayer, we must do so with a focus on Him, not on us.

Prayer does involve intercession. Pleading with God to meet the needs we have and others have. But that intercession is never to be made with the expectation that just because we ask and end the prayer in "Jesus Name" that we will get what we want. True prayer expresses to God our understanding that His will is going to be done. And when we deny ourselves and follow Him, we want His will, not our own.

Corporate prayer then does not have to fit a formula or be long winded. The most powerful prayers ever recorded have been short and to the point, dripping in both praise and faith. We are to pray with expectation. And part of that prayer that is central to a true church is prayer for one another. We should be ready in an instant to stop what we are doing and pray for a fellow believer in need.

Prayer must be central in the church because it must be central in the life of every believer. How do we expect to have a relationship with One with whom we never talk? Our services should begin and end with prayer, and be full of prayer in between as we seek His will, His provision, His blessing, and His grace as we serve Him as His church!

The New Testament church was born in prayer. It must live in prayer and continue in prayer. As soon as we stop communicating with our Lord and Master, we cease to be His church. Any church that does not give proper place to public prayer and foster opportunity for its members to pray together and for one another often is not a true church. For a true church prays constantly to take advantage of every moment spent in communion with her Lord.

To sum up the importance and place of prayer, let me quote briefly from the writings of Leonard Ravenhill, a man who prayed. He wrote,

No man is greater than his prayer life. The pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying. Poverty stricken as the church is today, she is most stricken here, in the place of prayer. We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few pray-ers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here, we fail everywhere. In the matter of New Testament, Spirit-inspired, hell-shaking, world-breaking prayer, never has so much been left by so many to so few. For this kind of prayer there is no substitute. We do it - or die.

(taken from Why Revival Tarries, chapter 2).


Puritan Voices
We are reading a small portion each day from a poem by John Bunyan titled The Building, Nature, Excellency, and Government of the House of God.

VII.

OF THE GOVERNORS OF THIS HOUSE.

The governors that here in office are,
Such be as service do with love and care;
Not swerving from the rule, nor yet intrude
Upon each other's work, nor are they rude
In managing their own: but to their trust
They labour to be honest, faithful, just.
1. The chief is he who is the Lord of all,
The Saviour; some him physician call.
He's cloth'd in shining raiment to the ground,
A golden girdle doth begirt him round;
His head and hairs are white as any snow,
His eyes are like a flame of fire also;
His feet are like fine brass, as if they burn'd
Within a furnace, or to fire were turn'd;
His voice doth like to many waters sound;
In his right hand, seven glittering stars are found.
Out of his mouth goes a two-edged sword,
Sharper than any ('tis his holy word)

And for his countenance, 'tis as the sun
Which shineth in its strength, till day is done.
His name is call'd holy, The WORD OF GOD;
The wine-press of his father's wrath he trod;
At all the power of sin he doth deride,
The keys of hell and death hang at his side.
This is our governor, this is the chief,
From this physician comes our soul's relief.
He is the tree of life and hidden manna;
'Tis he to whom the children sing hosanna.
The white stone he doth give with a new name;
In heaven and earth he is of worthy fame.
This man hath death destroy'd and slain the devil,
And doth secure all his from damning evil.
He is the prince of life, the prince of peace;
He doth us from the bonds of death release.
His work is properly his own; nor may,
In what he doth, another say him nay.

'Tis he who pays our hospitalian scores,
He's here to search, supple, and bind up sores;
He is our plaster-maker, he applies
Them to our wounds, he wipes our wetted eyes.
'Tis he that gives us cups of consolation,
'Tis he renews the hopes of our salvation.
He'll take our parts, oft times to us unknown,
And make as if our failings were his own;
He'll plead with God his name and doings too,
And save us will, from those would us undo.

His name is as an ointment poured forth;
'Tis sweet from east to west, from south to north.
He's white and ruddy; yea of all the chief;
His golden head is rich beyond belief.
His eyes are like the doves which waters wet,
Well wash'd with milk, and also fitly set,
His cheeks as beds of spices, and sweet flowers.
He us'd to water with those crystal showers,
Which often flowed from his cloudy eyes;
Better by far than what comes from the skies.
His lips like lilies, drop sweet-smelling myrrh,
Scenting as do those of the comforter.
His hands are as gold rings set with the beryls;
By them we are delivered out of perils;
His legs like marble, stand in boots of gold,
His countenance is ex'lent to behold.
His mouth, it is of all a mouth most sweet,
O kiss me then, Lord, every time we meet!
Thy sugar'd lips, Lord, let them sweeten mine,
With the most blessed scent of things divine.

2. This is one Governor; and next in place,
One call'd the Ghost, in Honour and in Grace
No whit inferior to him; and HE
Will also in this house our helper be,
He 'twas who did at first brood the creation;
And he's the cause of man's regeneration.
'Tis he by whom the heavens were garnished,
With all their host they then abroad did spread
(Like spangles, pearls, diamonds or richest gems)
Far richer than the fairest diadems.
'Twas he who with his cloven tongues of fire
Made all those wise ones of the world admire,
Who heard his breathing in unlearned men.
O blessed ruler! now the same as then!
His work our mind is to illuminate
With things divine, and to accommodate
Us with those graces, which will us adorn,
And make us look like men indeed new-born.
For our inheritance he makes us meet;
He makes us also in this world discreet.
Prudent and wise in what we take in hand,
To do and suffer at our Lord's command.
'Tis he that leads us to the tomb and cross,
Where Jesus crucified and buried was;
He shews us also, that he did revive,
And doth assure us that he is alive;
And doth improve the merit of his blood,
At grace's throne for our eternal good.
Dark riddles he doth here to us unfold,
Yea, makes us things invisible behold.
He sheds abroad God's love in every heart,
Where he doth dwell, yea to them doth impart,
Such tokens of a future happiness,
That's past the tongue of angels to express.
'Tis he which helpeth us, that to perform,
Whether becalm'd, or whether in a storm,
Which God commands: without him we do nought
That's good, either in deed, or word, or thought.

'Tis he that doth with jewels us bedeck,
'Tis he puts chains of gold about our neck;
'Tis he that doth us with fine linen gird,
That maketh us ofttimes live as a bird.
That cureth us of all our doubts and fears,
Puts bracelets on our hands, rings on our ears;
He sanctifies our persons, he perfumes
Our spirits also; he our lust consumes;
Our stinking breath he sweetens, so that we
To God and all good men sweet-scented be;
He sets God's mark upon us, and doth seal
Us unto life, and life to us reveal.

VIII.

UNDER OFFICERS.

3. Another sort of officers here are,
But such as must not with these first compare;
They're under-officers, but serviceable,
Not only here to rule, but wait at table.
Those clothed are with linen, fine and white,
They glitter as the stars of darksome night.
They have Saint Peter's keys, and Aaron's rod;
They ope and shut, they bind and loose for God.
The chief of these are watchmen, they have power
To mount on high and to ascend the tower
Of this brave fabric, and from thence to see
Who keeps their ground, and who the stragglers be.
These have their trumpet, when they do it sound
The mountains echo, yea it shakes the ground.
With it they also sound out an alarm,
When they perceive the least mischief or harm
Is coming, so they do this house secure
There from, or else prepare it to endure
Most manfully the cross, and so attain
The crown which for the victor doth remain.

This officer is call'd a steward too,
'Cause with his master's cash he has to do,
And has authority it to disburse
To those that want, or for that treasure thirst.
The distributor of the word of grace
He is, and at his mouth, when he's in place,
They seek the law, he also bids them do it;
He shews them sin, and learns them to eschew it.
By this example too he shews them how
To keep their garments clean, their knees to bow
Before the king, when he comes into place;
And when they do him supplicate for grace.

Another bade this officer doth wear,
Is that of overseer; because the care
Of the whole house is with him, he's to see
They nothing want, nor yet abused be
By false intruders, doctrines, or (perchance)
By the misplacing of an ordinance.[7]
These also are to see they wander not
From place or duty, lest they get a blot
To their profession, or bring some disease
Upon the whole, or get a trick to lease,
Or lie unto their God, by doing what
By sacred statutes he commanded not.
Call them your cooks, they're skill'd in dressing food
To nourish weak, and strong, and cleanse the blood:
They've milk for babes, strong meat for men of age;
Food fit for who are simple, who are sage,
When the great pot goes on, as oft it doth,
They put not coloquintida[8] in broth,
As do those younglings, fondlings of their skill,
Who make not what's so apt to cure as kill.

They are your sub-physicians, and know
What sickness you are incident unto;
Let them but feel your pulse, and they will tell
You quickly whether you are sick or well.
Have you the staggers? They can help you there;
Or if the falling-sickness, or do fear
A lethargy, a fever, or the gout,
God blessing of their skill, you need not doubt
A cure, for long experience has made
These officers the masters of their trade.[9]
Their physic works by purge and vomit too,
Fear not, nor full nor fasting but 'twill do,
Have but a care, and see you catch no cold,
And with their physic then you may be bold.

You may them Prophets call, for they can tell
Of things to come, yea, here they do excel.
They prophesy of man's future event,
Whether to weal or woe his mind is bent,
Yea, so expert are they in their predictions,
Their arguments so full are of convictions,
That none who hear them, but are forced to say,
Woe unto them who wander from the way.
Art bound for hell against all wind and weather?
Or art thou one a going backward thither?
Or dost thou wink, because thou would'st not see?
Or dost thou sideling go, and would'st not be
Suspected? Yet these prophets can thee tell,
Which way thou art a going down to hell.
For him that would eternal life attain,
Yet will not part with all, that life to gain,
But keepeth some thing close, he should forsake,
Or slips the time, in which he should awake;
Or saith he lets go all, yet keepeth some
Of what will make him lose the world to come.
These prophets can tell such a man his state,
And what at last will surely be his fate.
If thou art one who tradeth in both ways,
God's now, the devil's then; or if delays
Thou mak'st of coming to thy God for life;
Or if thy light, and lusts are at a strife
About who should be master of thy soul,
And lovest one, the other dost control;
These prophets tell thee can, which way thou bendest,
On which thou frown'st, to which a hand thou lendest.
Art one of those whose fears do go beyond
Their faith? when thou should'st hope, dost thou despond?
Dost keep thine eye upon what thou hast done,
And yet hast licence to look on the sun?
Dost thou so covet more, as not to be
Affected with the grace bestowed on thee?
Art like to him, that needs must step a mile
At every stride, or think it not worth while
To follow Christ? These prophets they can tell
To cure this thy disease, and make thee well.

This officer is also call'd a guide,
Nor should the people but keep by his side;
Or tread his steps in all the paths they walk,
By his example they should do and talk.
He is to be to them instead of eyes,
He must before them go in any wise;
And he must lead them by the water side,
This is the work of this our Faithful Guide.
Since snares, and traps, and gins are for us set,
Since here's a hole, and there is spread a net,
O let no body at my muse deride,
No man can travel here without a guide.
Here's tempting apples, here are baited hooks,
With turning, twisting, cramping, tangling crooks
Close by the way; woe then to them betide,
That dare to venture here without a guide.
Here haunt the fairies with their chanting voice;
Fiends like to angels, to bewitch our choices;
Baits for the flesh lie here on every side:
Who dares set here one foot without a guide
Master delusion dwelleth by our walks,
Who with confusion, sings and prays and talks;
He says the straight path's his, and ours the wide:
What then can we do here without a guide
Let God then give our leaders always eyes;
Yea, let him make them holy, bold, and wise;
And help us fast by them for to abide,
And suffer not the blind to be our guide.[10]

4. Here are of rulers, yet another sort,
Such as direct our manners to comport
With our professed faith, that we to view,
May let beholders know that we are new.
These are our conversations to inspect,
And us in our employments to direct,
That we in faith and love do every thing,
That reacheth from the peasant to the king.
That there may be no scandal in our ways,
Nor yet in our profession all our days.
These should after our busy-bodies look,
Tale-bearers also, they have undertook
To keep in order, also they must see
None that can work among us idle be;
Jars, discords, frauds, with grievances and wrongs,
These they're to regulate; to them belongs
The judgment of all matters of this kind,
And happy is the house thus disciplined.

5. Another sort of officers we have,
Deacons we call them 'cause their work's to save
And distribute those crumbs of charity
Unto the poor, for their subsistency,
That contributed is for their relief,
Which of their bus'ness is indeed the chief.
These must be grave, not of a double tongue,
Not given to wine, not apt to do a wrong
Unto the poor, through love to lucre. (Just
In this their office, faithful to their trust)
The wife must answer here as face doth face;
The husband's fitness to his work and place,
That ground of scandal or of jealousy
Obstructs not proof that he most zealously
Performs his office well, for then shall he
Be bold in faith, and get a good degree
Of credit with the church; yea what is more,
He shall possess the blessings of the poor.
His wisdom teach him will, to find out who
Is poor of idleness, and who comes to
A low estate by sickness, age, or 'cause
The want of limbs, or sight, or work it was
That brought them to it; or such destiny
As sometimes maketh low, who once were high.
They must remember too, that some there are
Who halt before they're lame, while others care
Not to make known their want, they'll rather die,
Than charge the churches with their poverty.
This done, they must bestow as they see cause;
Making the word the rule, and want the laws
By which they act, and then they need not pause.
The table of the Lord, he also must
Provide for, 'tis his duty and his trust.
The teacher too should have his table spread
By him; thus should his house be clad and fed;
Thus he serves tables with the church's stock,
And so becomes a blessing to the flock.[11]

I read of widows also that should be
Employed here for further decency;
I dare not say they are in office, though
A service here they are appointed to:
They must be very aged, trusty, meek,
Such who have done much good, that do not seek
Themselves; they must be humble, pitiful,
Or they will make their service void and null.
These are to teach the younger women what
Is proper to their sex and state, what not:
To be discreet, keepers at home, and chaste;
To love their husbands, to be good; shamefac'd:
Children to bear, to love them, and to fly
What to the gospel would be infamy.
I think those to the sick should look also,
A work unfit for younger ones to do.
Wherefore he saith, The younger ones refuse;
Perhaps because their weakness would abuse
Them, and subject them unto great disgrace,
When such a one as Amnon is in place.
And since the good old woman this must do
'Tis fit she should be fed and clothed too,
Out of the deacon's purse, let it so be;
And let this be her service constantly.[12]


Bible Reading For Further Study

Recommended Songs for Worship

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