Christian: You Can Always Pray!

Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

In writing about Paul’s comment in Ephesians 3:14-15, (“For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whole the whole family in heaven and earth is named”), Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones makes excellent points, as always. Below is one aspect he shared that all of us can benefit from, and my reflections on his wisdom.

First, he talks about the fact that Paul prayed. No matter what Rome did to him, no matter the deepest dungeon they cast him into, or the heaviest bonds they secure him with, nothing could stop Paul’s ability to access the throne of God in prayer. Then he makes an application for us:

“This is always applicable to us whatever our circumstances and conditions may happen to be. There are times when as Christians we seem to be in some kind of prison. We may be hemmed in and tied down, perhaps by illness or some physical weakness or by circumstances, or circumstances may prevent us from coming to the House of God or from having fellowship with others…[W]hatever circumstances or evil men do to us, there is always open to us this particular ministry and activity…[I]f you find yourself ill and confined to a sick bed, that does not mean you are useless for the time being, it does not mean that you can do nothing. You can still go on praying. You can pray for yourself; you can pray for others; you can be taking part in a great ministry of intercession.”

Dr. M.L. Jones, “The Unsearchable Riches of Christ.” Banner of Truth Books

As I write this there is an army division advancing in unstoppable victory. It’s the division of God’s people assigned to the front lines of suffering and frailty. They march from their homes and their hospital bed, advancing in quiet prayer. They maybe haven’t been able to step foot in church for years but they are tirelessly interceding at home for challenged pastors, discouraged missionaries, unreached people groups, and hostile nations.

Some may only be assigned to this battalion for a month or two, temporarily on “light duty” because of a broken leg or surgery recovery. Still, they join the concerted effort and do their part.

Some are permanently reassigned to these ranks in the prime of their lives. They never expected to have their days filled with doctors appointments, pain, and pills. Not for many more decades, anyway. But here they are. They don’t understand God’s plan for them now, but they are faithful and obedient.

And some of these servant-soldiers have fought for a long time. They have served well. Their bodies are weary, even brittle. Their health is failing each day. Soon they’ll be eternally young again, reinvigorated and with their Lord forever. But for now, although they can do little or no work on the outside, they live out Paul’s exhortation to, “pray without ceasing” on the inside.

Whatever their situation, IV drips or oxygen, they pray. Waiting rooms or hospital rooms, they pray.

Maybe I pushed the wartime metaphor a bit too far (although I believe eternity will show I didn’t push it far enough!). The point is: All of us, every Christian, always has a job to do in the Kingdom of God: All of us can pray! No matter whether we are young or old, healthy or sick, working hard to nail down a new roof or passing the time receiving chemotherapy, let’s never forget we can avail ourselves of this great duty and privilege.


Help, I’m Reading Numbers!

With its stories of rebellion in the ranks, attempted coups, early battles, and even international espionage, Numbers is quite the page turner…Still, Numbers is not without its challenges.

Ed. Note: I recently shared some ideas on how to read through Leviticus with more appreciation than we often tend to have, if we’re honest about it. Numbers being next in line, this post follows in what I guess is going to be a series. – AR

With its stories of rebellion in the ranks, attempted coups, early battles, and international espionage, Numbers is quite the page turner. For that reason, it’s less daunting reading than Leviticus. Still, Numbers is not without its challenges.

Contextually, the new nation of Israel is still learning to relate to and serve under the Lord. And so, reading through Numbers we come to passages where action is replaced by instruction and drama is replaced by historical record keeping.

With its stories of rebellion in the ranks, attempted coups, early battles, and even international espionage, Numbers is quite the page turner.

Like I said about reading Leviticus, it is all God’s Word, all holy, and all useful for our instruction, so we would be foolish to skip over any of it. Here are three reminders I wrote down as I reread Numbers. Hopefully they help you, too.

1. Numbers Reminds Me How Holy God Is

God is holy. Holiness (separate-ness, distinction) isn’t an add-on trait to God, like a crown on a king’s head. God is holy. Holiness is an essential attribute of His being.

The Lord is unapproachably holy. For sinful men to approach him they must be made pure or they will die. Nothing imperfect can be before him. Not imperfect men marred by physical deformities or internal sin. Not imperfect sacrifices. Animals scarified to the Lord had to be, “without blemish.” And even then, speaking of those sacrifices the writer of Hebrews would later say they could never, “make perfect those who draw near…for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb 10:1,4).

Even some clans within the priestly Levites would die if they looked at the tools and instruments of the tabernacle they were charged with carrying after Aaron and his sons covered them (Num 4:15-19). (And He is so holy those instruments aren’t allowed to be carted but must be carried by hand with poles.)

God is holy, Holy, HOLY.

2. Numbers Reminds Me How Sinful I Am

I see me, my sin, in everything Israel does. Their constant grumblings remind me of my own. Their complaining against God’s wisdom reminds me of mine when I don’t like how God chooses to lead me. Time and again the Israelites thought they knew better, and that hits close to home.

Aaron’s and Miriam’s rebellion and later Korah’s rebellion gut me. Their rebellions were there attempts at overthrowing not just Moses, as God’s representative, but God himself. Thousands of people died in their sin as punishment. The ground literally opened up and ate them alive, or they died of plague or fire broke out from their incense censers. They suffered the wrath of God for their rebellion.

By the way, we might think that was the end of it, right? Surely no one would be stupid enough to complain after witnessing that terrible scene! Guess again. In that same chapter (16), look at 16:41, “But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron…” (emphasis added). The next day!

I’m honest when I read Numbers, every page exposes my heart’s attempts to overthrow God every single day.

And, if I’m honest when I read Numbers, every page exposes my heart’s attempts to overthrow God every single day. Don’t believe me? Who of us love our trials? Some days by his grace I persevere and other days fall so short in bearing up under them well. Those are the days I hate the difficult circumstances I have been in for months and the other circumstances that have lasted decades.

And if you’re honest when you read through Numbers, it exposes the same sins in your life. If Numbers was the end of it, we would have plenty of reason to despair over our sin. But being convicted about our sin is a mercy from God. Which brings us to our third and final reminder…

3. Numbers Reminds Me of Christ

He is on every page. He is in the holiness of God and the promised future atonement for sinful men. For over a thousand years animals would be sacrificed, butchered, and burned on the altar for the sins of individuals and for the nation.

The author of Hebrews would eventually sum up this epoch of blood and fire and ashes to us, “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Heb 10:11). That is, until the Lamb the Lord himself would offer up. “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…” (Heb 10:12).

Jesus is the great future perfect fulfillment. The tabernacle (and later the Temple) and the sacrifices were awesome-but-imperfect shadows. Jesus is the reason you and I are not blotted out a hundred million times over for our sins, as theologian RC Sproul famously called sin against God, “cosmic treason.” Jesus bore my punishment (and yours if you are in Christ today).

I want you to know, brothers, that our others were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all dark the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

1 Corinthians 10:1-4

These three reminders changed how I read and understand the Book of Numbers. Now I read every story differently. What used to be black-and-white and fuzzy now has crystal clear 4K Ultra HD picture quality. What I struggled to see as applying to me personally makes perfect sense now. In the story of the rebellion of the sons of Korah, God punished the Korahite clan and they died. In the story of the rebellion of Anthony, God the Father punished Jesus and he died.

In the story of the rebellion of the sons of Korah, God punished the Korahite clan and they died. In the story of the rebellion of Anthony, God the Father punished Jesus and he died.

Don’t let someone tell you the Old Testament is irrelevant, even if that liar is standing behind a pulpit. The Holy Spirit can use Numbers to humble us, expose our sins, and, by grace, not destroy us, but lead us repentance and forgiveness that is now freely available through Christ.

[Reading Leviticus] The Drama of Aaron’s Sacrifice

Do you struggle to pay attention reading through Leviticus? Last week I posted about how we can do more than simply “get through” it. Today I want to share an Aha! moment I had reading through Leviticus again last week. For all the times I’ve read Leviticus over the years, I never noticed the drama in the story Aaron’s first official sacrifice as Israel’s high priest.

In my ESV Bible the heading for Leviticus chapter 9 says, “The LORD Accepts Aaron’s Offering.” Straight-forward enough, right? Not exactly. Two events occur, one before and one after the sacrifice, that make the events of chapter 9 so astonishing.

The Drama Before

In Exodus 24:9-11 we read,

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel ent up, and they saw the God of Israel. There were under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness…they beheld God, and ate and drank.

Keep this mind as we go.

In Exodus 32, before Aaron and his sons are officially installed as Israel’s first priests, Moses was atop Mt Sinai with the Lord, leaving Aaron to mind the store, overseeing the Israelites. In a move that even Barney Fife, on his worst day while Andy was away, wouldn’t have the audacity to do, Aaron gives in to the whims of the Israelites and creates the golden calf. And with it declares, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”

This is the man who saw the Lord, who ate with Him on the mountain, who was used by God as Moses’ right-hand man during the encounters with Pharaoh leading up to the Exodus. And then, turning his back and his conscience on all of that, sets up Israel’s first (and sadly, not its last) national idol.

It is a miracle itself that God did not wipe him out right there. Which brings us to…

The Drama After

We’re not given a timeframe from Leviticus 9 to Leviticus 10. It could’ve been days, weeks, or months. Regardless, not long after the Lord accepts their initial priestly sacrifices, God kills Aaron’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu.

The details of the incident are divinely sketchy in the text, but we know they offered profane incense before the Lord, unauthorized or “strange” fire. In irony and contrast, the Lord immediately consumed them in his holy and vengeful fire.

Here again, we have to go back and reread Exodus 24:9-11. Right there in the text we see these two men were also on the mountain seeing the Lord and eating there with their father Aaron, their uncle Moses, and seventy elders of Israel!

And still they would go on to profane the worship of the Lord and suffer the terrible consequences.

The Drama in the Middle

Knowing all of this makes the drama of what took place in Leviticus 9 even more amazing, doesn’t it?

It is a wonder and a mercy that God even condescends to acknowledge our sinful race, much less bid us draw near in reconciliation.

It is also stunning to think God didn’t disqualify Aaron from ministry (or just kill him) after the golden calf incident, which from our human perspective seems as-bad or worse than his sons’ sinful perversion of God’s instructions for worshipping him.

Instead God appoints him to the greatest honor, to become the first high priest to the Lord. And on that inauguration day the Lord was pleased to receive the sacrifices on behalf of the priests and the people.

Thirdly, it’s mind-boggling to think that God allowed Nadab and Abihu to serve in ministry knowing full well what would later do.

Reminds me of how the Lord called and welcomed Judas into the fold, giving no indication whatsoever of his future betrayal. Jesus was so kind to him that not only did he let him hold the money bag while knowing he was stealing from it. Which is why in the upper room at the last supper when he announced one of them would betray him, the other disciples had no clue who it might be.

The Drama of Redemption

Ultimately, what we have to marvel at is the drama of redemption itself. What happened in Leviticus 9 not only foreshadows a better, eternal Priest, Jesus, who would offer the greatest sacrifice for sin, himself.

Leviticus 9, as with all of Leviticus and the whole Old Testament for that matter, reminds us in pictures of the depths of our sin and idols of the heart, Christ’s future perfect atoning sacrifice where by God accepts and reconciles us to himself, through no merit of our own. Our sins atoned and forgiven, we are restored and commissioned into service for our God.

Astonishing. And to think–how often have we grumbled that Leviticus is boring. God forgive us!