The Essentiality of a Secret Life in God

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“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” -Matt. 6.6

There is something most holy and precious about obediences and acts of loyalty that are carried out unto the Lord in secret. The real discrepancy in modern ministry is not a lack of activity or enthusiasm, but a woeful lack of true foundations, and this malady stems from the neglect of a secret life with God.

At the end of the day, all our anxieties, fears, compromises, moral collapses, and worldly strivings can be traced back to a threadbare secret life. We may be gifted in some form of ministry, waxing eloquent in spiritual talk, and impressing our friends and colleagues, but when the heat and press of real life strikes our hearts, our best facades wither for want of the reality of Jesus Christ. “Beholding Him, we are changed,” but when we the secret place of prayer is forsaken for other things, we are “mere men” with no heavenly distinctive in the earth.

The Lord has never cared much for religious performances. Feverish and self-conscious attempts at spirituality are ever and always driven by the desire to be seen and approved by men. He has always been the great Purist in terms of a jealousy for reality and “truth in the innermost parts”, and this can only be established and maintained when we are engaging Him in the secret place. It takes time to cultivate a secret life, for we are an inwardly itchy and distracted people, always yearning for recognition and praise. But during Jesus’ earthly sojourn, He left us with the preeminent example of Sonship, living out a seemingly mundane 30 years of submission to earthly parents and carpentry work, while abiding with His heavenly Father when there was no one to pat Him on His back. His identity was found totally in the favor the Father, and so He was able to live in a distinctive manner, “full of grace and truth”, unmoved by criticism and unaffected by flattery.

He did not strive for the recognition of His name or His spirituality, but lived a common life in a radically uncommon way. If anyone had the earthly right to “toot” their own horn it would have been Him, but He demonstrated the wisdom of God by glorying in that which only His Father could see. And when the day of His showing forth came, He emerged from the Jordan waters as One upon Whom the Spirit rested “without measure.”

Dear saint, get your eyes off of men, and cease this deathly cycle of seeking their praise and acceptance. As you fix your eyes upon “Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith,” you will be delivered from strife and brought into the real rest of sonship. All things will be made new. He will bring you into His heart and purpose, and your secret life with God will become your supreme treasure.

The great enemy of the Lord Jesus Christ in the present day is the conception of practical work that has not come from the New Testament, but from the systems of the world in which endless energy and activities are insisted upon, but no private life with God.  -Oswald Chambers

(Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God, by David McCasland; Discovery House Publishers, 1993; p. 187)

The Supremacy of Preaching Christ Himself

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“For while I was with you I resolved to know nothing except Jesus the Messiah, and Him crucified.” -1 Cor. 2.2

“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.” -Acts 8.5

Every true preaching will lead its hearers to a higher vision of Jesus Christ and the centrality and supremacy of His cross. When we set up camp around superfluities or even biblical doctrines, however crucial they may be, yet fail to proclaim them in a manner that points the hearer Christ-ward, we fail in the high calling of true proclamation.

Nearly every religion on earth has some measure of light and truth; a paradigm or mode of thought that could be beneficial for living, but every one falls short of the glory of God. Religious systems do not impart life, and not one of them can deliver men in the salvific sense. Only the proclamation of “Christ, and Him crucified” brings to bear the truth of God, for “there is no other name given under heaven by which men can be saved.”

No other supposed faith can hold a candle to the glory of the Man Christ Jesus, and none can answer the ancient problem of mankind; namely, the universal dilemma of depravity and sin. To preach Jesus in the apostolic sense is not merely to give a “Roman’s Road to Salvation” presentation. It is to declare things which “angels long to look into”- the mystery of God as the merciful Judge, and the remarkable desire of Jesus Christ to restore sinners to Himself. Only the Gospel reveals the eternal God as He is, and only the Gospel deals with the issue of sin.

The missionary message is the limitless significance of Jesus Christ as the propitiation for our sins, and a missionary is one who is soaked in that revelation.

The key to the missionary message is the remissionary aspect of Christ’s life, not His kindness and His goodness, and His revealing of the Fatherhood of God; the great limitless significance is that He is the propitiation for our sins.

A missionary is one who is wedded to the charter of His Lord and Master, he has not to proclaim his own point of view, but to proclaim the Lamb of God.

(Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, October 15th selection)

Missionary work, ministries, movements, or “revivals” that stray from the proclamation of“Christ, and Him crucified” will ultimately fade into nullity. Even if they flourish numerically in this age, they will be as nothing in the age to come. “That which is born of flesh is flesh,” and only the foundation of Jesus Himself will endure to the glory of God. He must be the center, the nexus, and the capstone of our proclamation and vision. Even other necessary biblical views will end in nothingness unless they are postured in such a way as to lead us to “Christ, and Him crucified.” We need not to set forth our “own view, but to proclaim the Lamb of God.”

A man may preach about eschatology, the issue of Israel, divine healing, or even the cross itself without preaching Jesus Christ. If the message delivered is only categorical and canned, one may even expound on 1 Corinthians 2.2 without actually preaching “Christ, and Him crucified.” There is preaching and there is preaching. Have we come to know the difference between the two?

In contrast to mere human proclamation a man sent by the Lord will expound the same subject matter in such a way that it reveals the centrality and glorification of Jesus Christ to the heart of the hearer. Everything depends on whether or not the proclaimer is ascribing the glory to God in his own soul. If we are puffed up about knowledge, wanting to be clever, hoping to receive a certain calculated response from our listeners, we are disqualified from preaching Jesus Christ. Our own souls must be ever and always ascribing glory to the Lamb of God, or all our speech becomes suspect and dubious.

Thus, a radical and total jealousy for Christ Himself to be glorified is at the heart of true proclamation. Philip preached Jesus. He not only spoke about Christ, but his proclamation was an actual conveyance of the Person Himself. Something of the substance of the Lord was transmitted to the hearers and salvation ensued immediately. For Paul it was the same reality. Even the prophets of old preached Christ in this manner, though they prophesied “in part.” 

We need to see to the restoration of preaching Christ Himself, and not merely speaking of Him in a superficial or skin-deep manner. Down to the “marrow” of the soul we must be suffused with an active jealousy for the glory of Jesus Christ. Preaching and living from that place is preaching Christ indeed.

Have I “resolved to know nothing except Jesus the Messiah, and Him crucified,” or am I frolicking on the periphery of Christian theology and thought? He must be the center, dear saints. The world shall be in want of a true proclamation of the Gospel unless we give Him the pre-eminent place.

The more the Church holds to its central message- Jesus Christ Himself- the more effective it is.

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Fragrance of Christ vs. Self-Conscious Spirituality

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“…. thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” -2 Cor. 3.14

The greatest triumph is not in the establishment of an impressive organization, the saving of my reputation, or the performance of some great spiritual feat before men. The greatest triumph is led by God Himself, and it has to do with wringing out my personality and aura until I am a broken vessel through whom He shows forth “the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.”

Though I have adapted to the niceties and expected behaviors of Christian culture, though I know how to act around the right people, though I have “stopped doing what I used to do, because now I’m a Christian,” I may yet be bound by self-conscious spirituality. The life of faith does not have to do with conforming to external expectations in relation to the Christian subculture that I’ve been inducted into. It has to do with an ultimate inward surrender to the Lord of history, “who always leads us in triumph in Christ,” over every earthly influence and power. When we are so conscious of the Lord that we are able to love our enemies, resist the lusts of the flesh, and we are no longer moved inwardly to seek glory from men, only then is it evident that we are following the Lamb of God in His holy triumph.

If I am not emanating the fragrance of Jesus Christ, I must still be bound by self-consciousness in some way or another. When the light of heaven shines upon me, it may yet be seen that I am still concerned for my own glorification. The evidence of this is that I am not yet “broken bread and poured out wine”; I am failing to emit the “sweet aroma” of Jesus Christ. When “the least of these” come into contact with me, are they coming into contact with the vitality of the Son of God, or something that smells too much like the work of man?

When we have soulish ties to men, to this earth, or to our own religious ideals and presumptions, rather than a total jealousy for God’s glory, it becomes impossible for us to “triumph in Christ,” and we are incapable of manifesting His “sweet aroma,” which is His very character and nature. His fragrance is always antithetical to our self-conscious attempts at spirituality. I may need to ask myself some questions along these lines.

When challenging or rebuking another saint, am I abiding in the kindness of Jesus Christ? Would the Lamb of God deal as abrasively as I have when addressing that child or that struggling brother? When complimenting or encouraging someone, am I using flattery to gain some end myself, or am I actually expressing His own encouragement? When correcting some faulty doctrine in another brother, am I exhibiting my own knowledge and correctness, or am I speaking out of a true jealousy for the glory of God and the good of that soul?

I may claim to be radical for the Lord, carrying the cross and going against the tide of this age, but am I emitting the very fragrance of Jesus Christ in the process? If I am not, it may well be that the “tide of this age” is still sweeping me away, except that I am blanketed in Christian phraseologies and ideas. The only solution to self-conscious spirituality is God-conscious living, and Jesus has rent the veil that we might abide with Him in that holy place. From there we triumph in Christ, and manifest the sweet aroma of the knowledge of God “in every place.”

You are not required to pass through a religious maze to “manifest” the fragrance of the Lord. There is no puzzle involved, no trick up His sleeve, no riddle to unpack. To experience the depths of Christ, you need only to go down into death, taking up your cross and following the Lamb wheresoever He goes. He will inevitably lead you on paths that will wring out your personality and press His glorious image into your person. You will still be unique as an individual, but you will exhibit the wisdom and power of the age to come, which is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

We do not triumph in Christ by boasting in a meeting, seeking favor from men, or finding our way onto some platform of religious fame. We triumph in Christ when the power of self is broken from our lives, and the very fragrance of Jesus flows from our being. When He leads us in triumph, we will bring to bear the knowledge of God Himself upon a world that is perishing for want of that great Light.

Groping for God On Less-Than-Green-Grounds

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“…. and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us…. ” -Acts 17.26-27

There are times in the life of a saint when the Lord will bring him into transition and move him from one place to another, one function to another, or one occupation to another. Often the minds of believers are occupied with searching for the next transition, hoping for another position, looking over the horizon to some idyllic destiny. We hope for a picturesque scenario, where there is no turbulence or trial, no uncertainty or mystery, and where all the pieces of the puzzle seem to fit together effortlessly and without thought.

God, in dealing with His children, will have none of this. He is bent on establishing reality, and His reality is ever and always opposed to our idealistic wish-dreams, particularly those aspirations that are not grounded in a jealousy for His glory. He has “determined” our appointed times and boundaries, which is to say, it is in His calculated purpose for us to live in the specific generation that we live in. It is in His design for us to abide within the physical boundaries wherein He has placed us. If we are willing to follow Him wheresoever He calls us, and we have yet to hear a word of some great transition, we must conclude that He has us where we are for a significant reason. And that reason is supremely this:

“…. that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him…. “

The current press and trial of life, whatever it may be, is most likely a “determined” tool meant for the refinery of the saint, and it has been initiated by the great Potter Himself. Have we been vessels of pliable clay, or are we hardening our hearts towards His dealings? We are too often looking for the greener grass on the other side, when the real purpose of being on this side is that we “would seek God,” “grope for Him and find Him,” exactly as He is.

If you are gripped with anxiety about the future, about entering ministry, or pursuing some higher position of occupation, you are missing the point of your present location and orientation. The real key for transitioning rightly is not in seeking all the options set before you in your own wisdom and rationale, but in seeking God Himself. He will permit the most exquisite and painstaking sufferings in our lives, if they are necessary to bring us to the place where we are quickened to seek and grope for Him.

We may see others advancing in areas where we feel we should be advancing, but the word of the Lord to us is the same as it was to Peter, when he coveted John’s long life in light of his own foreseen martyrdom:

“…. what is that to you? You follow Me!” (Jn. 21.22)

Often the seasons in which He seems most absent are the seasons when He is present and at His greatest work in our souls. His silence is not evidence of His standoffishness, as much as it is a Fatherly kind of waiting upon us, to see if we will respond as His sons in the test that He has permitted. When that press and turmoil is upon our hearts, do we turn inwardly, looking for an answer within our own shoddy logic?  Do we look to flesh and blood, or do we “seek God”, “grope for Him and find Him?”

The promise holds true for us all, “He is not far from each one of us.”

Look not to that idyllic world of your own contrived destiny. Look not to what men say you are entitled to by virtue of any worldly accomplishment. Look not to despair or fear or bewilderment in the face of the weighty trial. Seek God. Grope for Him, right from the ground He has placed you upon in the here and now. That is the central issue. He is the central issue. Your transition, position, and destiny are totally secondary to seeking and beholding the Lord of History. And if He knows how to oversee the whole of history, He is wise enough to lead His sheep through the hills and valleys of our lives.

He is trustworthy, dear saint, and when we seek His face on “less-than-green” grounds, all things work together for our conformity to the image of His Son.

Wisely Entering the Sanctuary of God

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When I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God… || Psalm 73.16-17a

In Psalm 73 the psalmist recounts how he had broken his brain over an inward conflict regarding the reason things seem to go so smoothly for others (in this case the wealthy), while his life seems to be marked by trial and heartache.

Whenever we get entangled in the cycle of examining things we cannot understand, our souls are subjected to all kinds of confusion and grief. This is especially true when we fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others. It is a “wearisome task,” most often centered around things we cannot rectify on the basis of our own wisdom or within the sphere of our own authority to change them.

This “wearisome” cycle will continue for us, as it did for the psalmist, “until” we enter “the sanctuary of God.” That is to say, clarity and wisdom can only be found when we learn to turn to the Lord, and to find our refuge in the shadow of His providence and grace, the place where He dwells.

For the New Covenant child of God, this “sanctuary” is most often found to be in one of two places.

  1. The secret place-

    This is the place where we go to meet with Him— to give ourselves to prayer, worship, and a humble, hungry and hopeful reading of the Scriptures. If we neglect this place, we can be sure that “wearisome” musings will be our portion, for in that neglect we rob ourselves of the reward which the Father gives only in this place- the reward of knowing Him, hearing Him, seeing Him, and obtaining the grace to treasure and obey Him.

2. The place of fellowship with the saints-

This is the place wherein we meet Him in the faces of our brothers and sisters. Here we “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” and are subsequently helped to think better about our plight— not in the “wearisome” cycle of self-absorbed reflection, but in the grace of fellowship, by which we’re pointed God-ward through the felt presence our brothers and sisters— reminded of truth, encouraged in faith, provoked to love and good deeds. Neglecting this place leaves us to ourselves, robs us of the warmth of familial reality and identity, and leaves us thinking myopically, as if the world revolves around us and all its maladies are to be experienced alone. The psalmist knew something of this congregational grace in the ancient tabernacle where he gathered with his brethren, and we may know it all the sweeter in New Covenant fellowship.

Both of these places— the secret place and life within the Gospel-congregation— lift us out of the wearisome morass of the self-life. Both of these places constitute for us “the sanctuary of God.”

In the the sanctuary of God we find true guidance and rest, even while the world— even much of the professing Christian world— goes on running amuck around us.

….You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory. || v. 24

In the secret place, and in real fellowship with the people of God, we find “counsel” and Gospel-hope. We are grounded upon the truth that He is with us in the present trial, that He is conforming us to the image of the Son, and that He will finish that good work when, at the end of the age, He receives us “to glory.” The secret-place-sanctuary, coupled with the congregational-sanctuary, is meant to lead us to the place wherein we cherish, love, and worship God supremely. Here we find solid ground beneath our feet again, when Christ is perceived afresh as our foundation for walking, and our fountain for drinking.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. || vv. 25-26

Having experienced the “until,” that point where we transition from our own soulish wanderings to the place of faith through prayer, the Scriptures, and Christian fellowship, the Lord Himself becomes our “portion.” Not possessions, not release from trial, not food, not hobbies, not entertainment, not even some idealized role in ministry. God Himself is seen again as “the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” 

…for me it is good to be near God;
    I have made the Lord God my refuge,
    that I may tell of all your works. || v. 28

Being made aware of His nearness again, we venture out into the harvest fields as those who have God Himself as our refuge, and we are equipped to go out to those who are perishing, bringing the “goodness”, trustworthiness, and truth of God to men. It is upon this foundation alone that we are equipped to “do the work of an evangelist”; to “tell of all” His “works.” 

You who would be freed from the suffocating cycle of self-consciousness and bewilderment; you who would be grounded upon the Rock of your salvation; you who would see your plight as God sees it, rather than as the world sees it; you who would be near to God and have Him as your portion; you who would bear witness to the Person and work of Jesus Christ, enter “the sanctuary of God.” Meet with Him in the secret place, and meet Him in and alongside His people. There is no other way.

“Here is wisdom.”

The Superior Pleasure and Priority of Prayer

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For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
….Once God has spoken;
    twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. || Ps. 62.5, 11-12a

There is no substitute for the hope that comes to the child of God in the secret place of prayer, and yet hope seems thin in the lives of many saints, even many who have been grounded in a clear hearing of the Gospel.

Little is more trying to the busy-headed disposition of modern culture than the call to “wait in silence” “for God alone”, and our schedules all-too-often attest to this. Distractions have always militated against a life of prayer, and we may likely have more objects of distraction than any generation before us. We are at war against distractions like never before, whether we realize it or not.

“There is no command in the whole Bible so difficult to obey and so penetrating in power as the command to be still.” || Amy Carmichael

Being still before God does not come naturally— this idea of going to the inner-room and meeting with our Father in secret. Therefore, the Scriptures call us out of our God-evading cycles and habits and command us to go to quiet places as our Lord did before us, that we might “be still and know” that He is God.

In the case of Psalm 62, David conjoins himself with the command of God and tells his own soul what to do: “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence…” 

This is what is most often required for the attainment of that hope which has already been purchased for us in Christ. We’ve got to say, whether in morning devotionals, throughout the daily affairs of life, or in the midst of trial, “Bless the Lord, O my soul…”, or, “O my soul, wait in silence…” It is an act of faith in God to take our eyes off of ourselves, off of our phones, off of everything that pulls and beckons for our attention, to look “unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” 

Waiting upon God “alone” with increasing consistency is a crucial attribute in the life of a disciple. It is an evidence of the sanctifying work of God in our lives. If we are not growing in an intimate communion with God through prayer, if we are going days and months without substantial time at His feet, this ought to be a matter of serious concern.

So, how do we grow in the grace of waiting upon God? It is not by convincing God or man that we are devoted by some heroic display. We enter in one way only. We enter boldly into the place of prayer on the basis of the Atonement. Our feelings, our failures, our doubts, our misplaced affections are real, but they are irrelevant to our ascending of the mount. We go up because Christ has torn the veil and provided the only way to true hope. We go up “in His Name,” for “no man comes to the Father but by Me.”

The more time we spend before Him, the greater the frequency of our coming to Him, the more we see of His glory in prayer and in the Scriptures, the more we desire to return to Him; the more we learn to abide in Him.

In the place of prayer, our most refined theological categories become more than accurate theology. The Spirit’s fire descends upon truth, quickens faith, and vitalizes our knowledge of God. We see the source and aim of the faith when we behold Him. The truths of Scripture are enlivened in our souls by faith, and our eyes are opened to behold wondrous things from His Word. We discover again and again a most vital conviction in that place, “that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.” Our idols are exposed, our afflictions can be seen as lighter and more momentary, and the “light of His glory and grace” warms our souls. 

Beholding Him there, seeing Him as He is, we are changed— and the course of our day, the lens through which we see, the aim of our lives is adjusted to His purposes, from glory to glory. The Spirit teaches us how we ought to pray as we wait upon God, and we are given a “taste of the powers of the age to come.” No man ever regretted spending time at Jesus’ feet. Every believing man has regretted his neglect of prayer.

“A true prayer is the echo of the eternal purpose. The Spirit of God leads us to desire exactly what God has decreed.” -Charles Spurgeon

It is a pitiful practice, neglecting such a richly rewarded waiting. It is a cursed striving which seeks to uphold life and play at godliness devoid of the appropriate hope and reverence which comes to us from His felt power and steadfast love. Yet so many who profess the faith would seek to get along without waiting on God alone. So often, we all do.

We may be willing to wait upon a restaurant meal, wait for another episode of our favorite show, wait for all that we anticipate seeing and sharing on smart phones, but to what degree can we be found waiting on God alone? In the deathly cycle of prayerlessness, we hope for hope and do not find it. We reach and consume and grasp for satisfaction in a million different places and find only wind. We make ourselves rich in a world of distractions, and are left empty.

Yet there is real, substantial, life-altering hope for those who are willing to lay the axe to the root of schedule and priorities to wait upon “God alone.” This is an axe that we must daily grasp; one we must swing with earnest intent both day and night. Only that kind of aggressive prioritization will clear the way for prayer.

Are you enjoying this reality, dear saint? It has been purchased for you by the One to Whom “power” and “steadfast love” belong. He has “loved you with an everlasting love,” but you will not abide in that love until your life becomes one which is characterized by this kind of waiting upon Him. “Choose you this day,” yes, every day, whom and what you will treasure; whom and what you will wait upon. Only that son or daughter who chooses by faith to look unto Jesus will abide consciously in the power of His steadfast love. He has both promised to keep us, and charged us to “keep” ourselves “in the love of God.” Prayer is one of the chief means of grace for doing just that.

Take whatever actions you need to take then, children of God. Go to bed earlier that you might rise earlier. Circumcise your usage of the smart phone. Stop worshipping food and entertainment. Abandon the pull to always be the first person hearing news, or the desire to be the life of every party. Silence the multi-faceted clamor and noise of this age, and quiet your soul before Him.

Every purported pleasure which keeps us from prayer will be revealed as a shabby thing at the end of our lives, in comparison with the rock-solid joy, hope, and enlargement of heart that comes from waiting upon Him, beholding Him, being still and knowing that He is God… indeed, that He is your God. Christ has purchased our acceptance with God, but only in prayer do we become acquainted with the “power” of the Good News, and learn to abide in the sweetness of it.

Don’t wait for some ambiguous trigger-situation to beef up your devotional life. It alone is not likely to establish you, anyhow. The Scriptures have given us the clarion call, a firm command, a glorious invitation. “Hope,” “power,” and “steadfast love” will be the portion enjoyed by the child of God who waits upon “God alone.”

“If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy. Cut something out…

We do not drift into spiritual life or disciplined prayer. We will not grow in prayer unless we plan to pray.” || D.A. Carson