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J.I. Packer & Puritan Manliness

Jun. 9, 2015By: Evan Burns

John Owen has been called the John Calvin of England, and he is arguably the greatest of all the Puritan writers.  C.H. Spurgeon called him the prince of the Puritans.  J.I. Packer, having summarized Owen’s spirituality, sounds a clarion call to contemporary evangelicalism.  Packer says,

9781433515811Anyone who knows anything at all about Puritan Christianity knows that at its best it had a vigour, a manliness, and a depth which modern evangelical piety largely lacks.  This is because Puritanism was essentially an experimental faith, a religion of ‘heart-work’, a sustained practice of seeking the face of God, in a way that our own Christianity too often is not.  The Puritans were manlier Christians just because they were godlier Christians.  It is worth noting three particular points of contrast between them and ourselves.

First, we cannot but conclude that whereas to the Puritans communion with God was a great thing, to evangelicals today it is a comparatively small thing.  The Puritans were concerned about communion with God in a way that we are not.  The measure of our unconcern is the little that we say about it.  When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christians acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology—but rarely of their daily experience of God.  Modern Christian books and magazines contain much about Christian doctrine, Christian standards, problems of Christian conduct, techniques of Christian service—but little about the inner realities of fellowship with God.  Our sermons contain much sound doctrine—but little relating to the converse between the soul and the Saviour.  We do not spend much time, alone or together, in dwelling on the wonder of the fact that God and sinners have communion at all; no, we just take that for granted, and give our minds to other matters.  Thus we make it plain that communion with God is a small thing to us.  But how different were the Puritans!  The whole aim of their ‘practical and experimental’ preaching and writing was to explore the reaches of the doctrine and practice of man’s communion with God….

Then, second, we observe that whereas the experimental piety of the Puritans was natural and unselfconscious, because it was so utterly God-centred, our own (such as it is) is too often artificial and boastful, because it is so largely concerned with ourselves.  Our interest focuses on religious experience, as such, and on man’s quest for God, whereas the Puritans were concerned with the God of whom men have experience, and in the manner of his dealings with those whom he draws to himself.  The difference of interest comes out clearly when we compare Puritan spiritual autobiography… with similar works from our own day.  In modern spiritual autobiography, the hero and chief actor is usually the writer himself; he is the centre of interest, and God comes in only as a part of his story.  His theme is in effect ‘I—and God’.  But in Puritan autobiography, God is at the centre throughout….

Third, it seems undeniable that the Puritans’ passion for spiritual integrity and moral honesty before God, their fear of hypocrisy in themselves as well as in others, and the humble self-distrust that led them constantly to check whether they had not lapsed into religious play-acting before men with hearts that had gone cold towards God, has no counterpart in the modern-day evangelical ethos.  They were characteristically cautious, serious, realistic, steady, patient, persistent in well-doing and avid for holiness of heart; we, by contrast, too often show ourselves to be characteristically brash, euphoric, frivolous, superficial, naïve, hollow and shallow….

A word to the wise?  There was once a day when God sent Jeremiah to say to Israel, ‘Ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls’ (Jer 6:16).[1] 


[1] J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 215-218.

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Initiating Deeper Fellowship

Jan. 21, 2013By: Kristie Burns

Often I find myself longing for more spiritual conversation when I spend time with fellow believers. It's so easy to just chit-chat about surface issues. It takes concentrated effort to delve deeper into God-exalting fellowship. Donald Whitney in his book Simplify Your Spiritual Life offers some helpful questions to turn a conversation in a more spiritual direction.

1.  How is your (teaching, hospitality, outreach, deacon, or whatever) ministry going? What do you enjoy most about it?

2.  Where have you seen the Lord at work lately?

3.  What's the Lord been teaching you recently?

4.  Have you had any evangelistic opportunities lately?

5.  Have you had any obvious answers to prayer recently?

6.  What have you been reading? How has it impressed you?

7.  Where in the Bible have you been reading lately? What impact has it had on you?

8.  How can I pray for you?

9.  What's the growth point in your life right now?

10.  What are you passionate about right now? 

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The Pilgrim Mindset

Jan. 14, 2013By: Evan Burns

In some Christian circles, there is strong emphasis on relating to the culture around us.  This is especially trendy among twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings.  They give much weight to Paul’s self-description of being all things to all people (1 Cor 9:19-23).  Yet it seems they very rarely heed the numerous commands to be sojourners and exiles in this world.  This world and its passions are passing away.  The cultural siren that says we must maximize pleasure and security in this life is the Serpent-language.  It is the culture of Babylon. 

However, as described in Hebrews 11, the heirs of Abraham—the righteous—live by faith, and they leave the comfort of home to follow God though they do not know where they are going.  They live like nomads in the land of promise.  They build tents instead of cities.  They build arks in the desert.  They suffer torture because they desire a better resurrection and live in caves and holes in the ground.  The spiritual heirs of Abraham greet the promises from afar as exiles and resident aliens in this world, and they make it clear that they are seeking a better city, the city of God Himself.  Their citizenship, values, and culture are that of the heavenly Jerusalem.  They do not try hard to be relevant to their alien culture.  Instead, their relevance to their host culture is seen in their distinctiveness from it.  They take risks in this life for the sake of spreading the love of Christ, though they may lose their worldly possessions and even their lives.  As it is, they have a better possession and an abiding one, for here they have no lasting city.  Though they are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, they still render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and they seek the peace of the temporal city in which they reside.  They pray for kings and all in high places, that they may lead a peaceful life. 

The kingdom is already and not yet.  It was inaugurated in Christ’s first coming and yet remains to be consummated.  The best has come, but the best is yet to come.  We must live in the tension.  Hope is a difficult thing to understand.  Like Augustine suggested, the city of God is marked by new desires for the things of God.  Those who hope in God desire a better country, a heavenly one.  God is not ashamed to be called their God.  When we hope in the final resurrection and the return of the King, unbreakable joy pierces through to the present from the future to sustain us in our suffering.  No matter what the Serpent and Babylon seductively offer us, and no matter what the sting of death takes from us, hope in the promises of God unwaveringly declares, “The Seed and His city are better.”  

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Augustine's Thirst for God

Jan. 11, 2013By: Evan Burns

You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy,
because you have made us
and drawn us to yourself,
and our hearts are restless
until they rest in you
(Confessions 1.1)

Late have I loved you,
O beauty ancient, ever new!
Late have I loved you!
For behold, you were within; and I without
And without I sought you,
and deformed I ran after these forms of beauty you have made.
You were with me and I was not with you.
Those things held me back from you,
Things whose only being was to be in you.
You called; you cried; and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, and you chased away my blindness.
You became fragrant; and I inhaled and sighed for you.
I tasted and now hunger for you.
You touched me and I burned for your peace.
(Confessions 10:27)

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Jonathan Edwards’ Resolve to Know and Glorify God

Jan. 4, 2013By: Evan Burns

The following quotes from Jonathan Edwards' 70 Resolutions all speak of his resolve to pursue and know God amidst the adversity of the world and the flesh.  As Christian soldiers in this New Year, may we resist worldliness and sinful desires in pursuit of knowing and glorifying the King.  Let us, with Edwards, resolve to live with all our might for another year.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the aforementioned things.

3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

26. Resolved, to cast away such things, as I find do abate my assurance.

28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

29. Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.

48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.

49. Resolved, that this never shall be, if I can help it.

53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer. July 8, 1723.

57. Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether ~ have done my duty, and resolve to do it; and let it be just as providence orders it, I will as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin. June 9, and July 13, 1723.

62. Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Ephesians 6:6-8 do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man; “knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord.”  June 25 and July 13, 1723.

64. Resolved, when I find those “groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26), of which the Apostle speaks, and those “breakings of soul for the longing it hath,” of which the Psalmist speaks (Psalm 119:20), that I will promote them to the utmost of my power, and that I will not be wear’, of earnestly endeavoring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

65. Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing [sic], and every circumstance; according to Dr. Manton’s 27th Sermon on Psalm 119. July 26 and Aug. 10, 1723.

67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them. 


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