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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Help My Unbelief CD Now Available | Main | Roman Catholic Considers Reformation Theology »

    How are you doing spiritually? by Pastor John Samson

    A few weeks ago I was approached by a young man at the end of a Church service. He confided in me that his spiritual life had lost much of its initial luster, and that he was groping around in something of a fog-like daze. "To be completely honest with you pastor," he said, "my devotional life is the pits. Is there anything I can do to get my spiritual life back on track."

    I wondered exactly how to respond to him. Of course, there are many things I could have said. Yet, what I did say may be something of a surprise. I feel sure my answer was a surprise to the young man.

    I responded with a question of my own. "What books are you reading right now?"

    I could see immediately that the gentleman could see no relationship at all between this question and his spiritual dryness.

    He responded by saying that he hadn't read much at all of late.

    I then asked, "what was the last book you read?"

    "You mean, other than the Bible?"

    "Yes," I said.

    He then told me of a book that I knew would not be one to provoke much in the way of devotional life.

    "Seeing you asked me a direct question, please allow me to give you a direct answer," I said. "I believe that one of your problems is that you haven't read a good book lately."

    He looked stunned. "That's it?" he asked with a puzzled look.

    "I don't believe its the only thing, but I think its one of the things you need to address."

    "O.K., I guess" he said. "So what would you recommend I do?"

    "Because you haven't been reading much recently, start off with a small amount of time each day, perhaps just ten to fifteen minutes, reading a good book. And what I mean by a good book is one that revels in the person and work of the Savior, that triumphs in the cross of Christ and the doctrines of grace. It does all this and a whole lot more. Not every book is a good book. When I speak of a good book I am talking about a book that gives you an insatiable thirst to read the Bible more as well as provokes you to be more intimate with the Master."

    I feel sure that the man went away, not too certain that the prescription I gave him would be of help. I am not sure he could see how this would be any solution.

    However, three weeks later the same young man came up to me after a service once again. He looked a different man. His eyes told me he had found his answer. He said, "do you remember me coming to you a few weeks ago?"

    I said "yes, did you start reading any good books?"

    He said, "well, I did, and although it is still early days, my spiritual life has taken off once again."

    I couldn't stop him.. he was talking at a great rate of speed... he was so excited as he went on, "I realise that I was living on baby food in my spiritual diet, and even then I was severely undernourished with that. I guess I realise now that there comes a time when you need to move on from Sesame Street type Christian material to things that cause you to think and ponder... things that cause you to reflect and ponder long after the words have been read."

    May I use this incident to ask you about your own devotional life? How are you doing spiritually speaking right now? Are you growing in the knowledge and the grace of God?

    Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Pastor Steve Weaver commented on this by saying, "Newton saw farther than anyone had before, because he learned from those who had gone before him. Just imagine, if all anyone knew was the knowledge he accumulated on his own! There would be no electricity, no light bulb, no telephone, no computers, no cars, no airplanes, no space shuttles, etc. But because men learned from those who had gone before, these inventions and many more were possible. Sadly, many preachers like to work in a vacuum, gleaning nothing from the God-gifted men who have gone before them. God has especially equipped the Body of Christ with teachers, evangelist, and pastors. I thank God for men like Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Newton, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and a host of others, who are, without a doubt, God’s gifts to the Church! By studying the writings of these gifted men, we are enabled to “stand on their shoulders.”"

    That's true regarding knowledge in general and the knowledge of God in particular, but I believe this principle also holds true concerning developing a rich devotional life. Don't simply try to go it alone. Let others help you on your journey.

    2 Timothy reveals Paul's mindset as he awaited his impending death. Understanding this context, lets read this last instruction to Timothy: "When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments." (2 Tim. 4:13)

    I find this quite amazing. Paul, the great Apostle was about to die. In the very same chapter he had written, "I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (v. 6, 7)

    Paul was the great adventurer and pioneer. He had taken the Gospel of Christ to many foreign lands for the very first time. He had accomplished so much in the cause of Christ. If anyone had the right to think that they could coast the rest of the way it was Paul. He'd been there, done that, bought the T-shirt and was usually beaten, stoned and jailed for doing so. Even now he writes from a jail cell in the city of Rome. But rather than wanting to sit back, relax and take it easy spiritually, his heart was to press on... to study more, to learn something more about the Word of God, and know the Master He served that little bit better. Because of this strong, abiding passion in Paul, he asks Timothy to bring the parchments with him when he came (in all probability, the "parchments" mentioned here is a reference to the sacred Scriptures themselves). But in addition to the parchments, there's something else Paul wants. He wants books. Books!!?? Books!!??

    Can we grasp what's happening here? The Apostle Paul is just about to die... about to depart to be with Christ... and he asks for books??? I can certainly understand Pauls' desire to read the scriptures and find comfort and solace there, but "books"? Knowing that death was soon awaiting, would we have requested books?

    Charles Haddon Spurgeon, commentating on this verse says, "He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He has had wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up in the third heaven, and had heard things unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books! He has written a major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books! The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every Christian, ‘Give thyself to reading.’ The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains proves he has no brains of his own." (from sermon #542, "Paul - His Cloak and His Books")

    If anyone could have said "I don't need the writings of others" it was Paul. I dare to say that no man living had the insight he did. Yet, he wanted to know what others were discovering in their walk with Christ. What a lesson this is.

    Christian, let this be a word of challenge and of strength to you - don't try to go it alone in your walk with Christ. Allow others to help and to guide you. Take some friends with you as you enter the secret place - the place where you and God meet each day... above all take the Bible, of course... but also take with you the writings of a few trusted individuals who have walked the same barren hills as yourself, and have beaten a sure and tried path to the Savior. As you do, I think you'll find that others have been where you now stand... and what they found, you can find too. Allow them to direct you to the arms and safety of the Shepherd of the sheep - our great God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Posted by John Samson on July 14, 2006 02:27 PM

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    » Good Books and Your Spiritual Life from IsaiahSix
    I’m still on vacation, but I thought this post would be helpful to you. John Sampson at Reformation Theology has an excellent post on the effect of good books on ones spiritual life. It’s a must read. ... [Read More]

    Comments

    Good post. I think it was C.S. Lewis that stated that we should read "three old books to one new book." I think the idea was that generations before us have dealt with issues from a different perspective and may just assume things with which we now wrestle. Iron sharpens iron, even from generations before us.

    Hebrews 13:7-8 says, "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the Word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." It is an amazing thing to be "mentored" by Augustine, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, John Calvin, John Owen, etc., who saw the same Christ, the same truth, with "fresh eyes" through the ages. I am very thankful to the Lord for the faithfulness of these men and the faithfulness of the great teachers and preachers of our own day.

    Excellent post. I can corroborate to all that you said. My spiritual life has grown in so many ways because I have been reading about doctrine from godly men as such as mentioned. Not by reading the heretical teachings of Rick Warren. Again good points, I appreciate this blog and how God has used it in my life.

    Hm, maybe this is a hard-to-answer question, but which books would you recommend reading? Or, um, sorry, maybe a better way to ask it is, which books have you recently found edifying in your own walk? I'm always curious as to what others are reading! :-) Kindest thanks.

    Inspiring! I relate to the young man. I'm off to the bookshop!

    Patrick,

    You asked me for books I recommended to spur your devotional life and for a listing of the books I've recently used in this regard.

    I think a great place to start is to use John Piper's books for devotional material. I find each of his works to be immensely rich in theological content and in passion for the Savior. Here's three of his books I have used myself and would recommend:

    1. A Godward Life (Book One)

    2. A Godward Life (Book Two)

    3. Future Grace - I used this as a devotional book for our entire church last year. It has 31 short chapters - one for each day of the month. I wrote about our experience here on the blog at http://www.reformationtheology.com/2005/12/future_grace_book_review_by_pa.php

    I hope this very brief list will get you started in the right direction. I also just checked out the monergism book site and there are many good resources there that are worth considering. If you go to www.monergismbooks.com, look for the section on the Christian Life and there you will see a link to books on prayer and devotion. There's excellent material there.

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