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If We Hand It Over

Below is a quote from an interview with Jonathan Franzen on why it is essential to good writing that traditional publishers and editors continue to exist. This could be applied to a lot of things today, including the need for traditional denominational structures and ordination processes in churches. It also speaks to the need for isolation and meditation in a world inundated by technology.

Okay, let’s talk about those guys. What do you really think about Twitter?

[Laughs] I have a particular animus to the social-media world because I feel as if the kinds of writers I care about are just temperamentally not very good at that. Hard to see Kafka tweeting, hard to see Charlotte Bronte self-promoting. If we don’t maintain other avenues for establishing a literary reputation and finding some kind of readership – things like traditional publishers and reviewing, where the writer could just be a writer and not have to wear the flak hat, the salesman hat, the editor hat, the publisher hat – if we don’t maintain those, then we hand over the literary world to the personality types who are, I would say, less suited for the kind of work I care about.

It could be that my model of literature is simply outmoded, but I feel closer to Joyce with his ‘silence, exile and cunning.’ I worry that the ease and incessancy of communication through electronic media short-circuits the process whereby you go into deep isolation with yourself, you withdraw from the world so as to be able to hear the world better and know yourself better, and you produce something unique which you send out into the world and let communicate in a non-discursive way for you…

It’s not like I’m militantly opposed to discursive interactive communication. It’s fine, it’s great. But there’s a tipping point you reach where you can’t get away from the electronic community, where you become almost physically dependent on it. And that, I persist in thinking, is not compatible with my notion of where terrific literature comes from.

-From Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin, pp. 266-267

“Doctrine is but the Drawing of the Bow”

Ver. 7. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

The connection is illative; he applieth the former promise, and by a just inference enforceth the duty therein specified: `Submit yourselves therefore to God., But you will say, Wherein doth the force of the reason lie?

I answer—1. It may be inferred out of the latter part of the sentence 357thus: `God giveth grace to the humble, therefore do you submit yourselves;, that is, do you come humbly, and seek the grace of God. The note thence is:—

Obs. That general hints of duty must be particularly and faithfully applied, or urged upon our own souls.

Doctrine is but the drawing of the bow, application is the hitting of the mark. How many are wise in generals, but vain ἐν διαλογίσμοις, in their practical inferences! Rom. i. 22. Generals remain in notion and speculation; particular things work. We are only to give you doctrine, and the necessary uses and inferences; you are to make application. Whenever you hear, let the light of every truth be reflected upon your own souls; never leave it till you have gained the heart to a sense of duty, and a resolution for duty. (1.) A sense of duty: `Know it for thy good, Job v. 27. If God hath required humble addresses, I must submit to God; if the happiness and quiet of the creature consisteth in a nearness to God, then `it is good for me to draw nigh to God, Ps. lxxiii. 28. Thus must you take your share out of every truth; I must live by this rule. When sinners are invited to believe in Christ, say, `I am chief, 1 Tim. i. 15. (2.) A resolution for duty, that your souls may conclude, not only I must, but I will: Ps. xxvii. 8, `When thou saidst, Seek ye my face, my heart said, Thy face, Lord, will I seek., The command is plural, Seek ye; the answer is singular, I will. The heart must echo thus to divine precepts.

-Thomas Manton, A Practical Commentary, or an Exposition, with Notes, on the Epistle of James, Chapter 4, emphasis mine (Read it online HERE).

I came across this quote totally by accident while I was reading an article written by one of my former teachers. This ties in very well to what I have been trying to say about meaning and application HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Notice that, in this analogy, both doctrine and application are necessary and connected. You cannot separate them any more than you can separate the process of drawing the bow to hitting your target with an arrow. It’s one fluid motion. If one part is missing, everything is deficient. Second, Manton makes the point that Christians need to work to become skilled at making application (which would seem obvious from the analogy). He calls upon us to ‘never leave [the truth, or a doctrine] till you have gained the heart to a sense of duty…’ ‘The heart must echo…divine precepts.’

So, we could say that those who know a good deal of doctrine but lack the ability to make application could be likened to someone with an expensive hunting bow who has never shot a deer in his life. The bow looks nice on the wall, but it’s not providing anything for him, or anyone else, to actually eat.

The Deepest Thing I Know

I resolved to live differently, ‘to pay attention to the deepest thing [I] know,’ as Douglas Steere evocatively described prayer.

-Arthur Boers, Living Into Focus, p. 48

The Psalter paraphrase of Psalm 65:1-5 says this:

Praise waits for Thee in Zion; all men shall praise thee there
And pay their vows before Thee, O God Who hearest prayer.
Our sins rise up against us, prevailing day by day,
But Thou wilt show us mercy and take their guilt away.

How blest the ones Thou callest and bringest near to Thee,
That in Thy courts forever their dwelling place may be;
They shall within Thy temple be satisfied with grace,
And filled with all the goodness of Thy most holy place.

O God of our salvation, since Thou dost love the right,
Thou wilt an answer send us in wondrous deeds of might.
In all earth’s habitations, on all the boundless sea,
We find no sure reliance, no peace, apart from Thee.

In this psalm King David describes a group of people waiting, primed, to pay attention to God.

In Psalm 27: 4, David puts it this way:

One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD And to meditate in His temple.

The old word, rarely used these days, that captures the idea is ‘behold.’ To behold, to see, to pay attention. This type of language has been missing from my vocabulary about prayer.

Shocking: “Humans prefer an electric shock to being left alone with their thoughts”

The headline of an article on The Verge reads, “Humans prefer an electric shock to being left alone with their thoughts.” The potential for puns is shockingly high. I can feel the electricity as I type…

Anyhow, the article points to a study in which people were given a choice: sit alone in uninterrupted silence and solitude for 15 minutes, or amuse yourself (or whatever) by pressing a button that will shock you. The majority chose the shock, and some chose to repeat the shock quite a bit. My first thought was that this doesn’t really prove anything. I probably would have been curious enough to push the button at least once just to see what it felt like. But it is the repeat offenders that confound me. The first time is just curiosity, the 20th time must be done out of sheer boredom.

Regardless of the cause, it is an interesting anecdote for what we have been coming to realize for some time now: modern people struggle with solitude and silence. This is something I have pointed to quite a bit on this blog, and something that continues to trouble me. I believe it is one of the great pastoral issues of our day. It is a logical progression for a culture in which we are constantly surrounded by bells and whistles – even books. I wonder if any of the trial-subjects spent the 15 minutes in silent meditation and prayer. Perhaps we should all take this as a cue to do so.

Read the article HERE.

Meditation and Holy Sunburn

As those who are in the sun for work or play find themselves lightened and warmed, so let us set ourselves about holy meditations, and we shall find a secret, imperceptible change; our souls will be altered, we do not know how. There is a virtue that goes with holy mediation, a changing, transforming virtue. And indeed we can think of nothing in Christ without having it change us to the likeness of itself, because we have all from Christ.

– Richard Sibbes, Glorious Freedom, p. 120

Meditation produces, as it were, holy sunburn. But the burning comes from the Son, Jesus Christ. As constant exposure to the sun alters our bodies, constant exposure to Christ in the soul through mediation produces change. The burning of Christ-centered meditation in the soul produces a hot (not lukewarm) Christian.

On Devotions

A commenter asked me to say a word about Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ advice in Preaching and Preachers that Christians should make use of devotional books in order to ‘warm their hearts’ for prayer. So, here goes.

The Doctor’s remarks are from chapter 9, The Preparation of the Preacher. This may very well be the best chapter of the book, at least from my perspective, though chapters 4 (The Form of the Sermon) and 15 (The Pitfalls and the Romance) are right up there with it. What am I saying?, the whole book is very, very good. But I digress.

MLJ was keenly aware of what it felt like to be ‘cold at heart.’ He therefore encouraged folks to do things that would liven their affections with the intent of praying. There is a place for disciplined prayer to be sure, but if prayer is mainly cold and dry in your life, something is amiss. Perhaps your emotions have become dull. And so he pointed to regular, systematic Bible reading, the reading of devotional books, and music as the three primary means of thawing out a cold heart.

The frequent, systematic reading of Scripture is absolutely essential here. If you are cyclically reading the Bible, you will constantly be finding new things that move you. Just tonight this happened to me as I was reading 2 Kings 7 with my family. It tells the story of four lepers who trek into the camp of the Syrians in the midst of a famine only to find that the Syrian forces had fled and left all their goods. The lepers alerted officials to their findings and Israel found a new supply of cheap food, and gold and silver.

The premise, though not made up, is not unlike Goldilocks and the Three Bears. She found the house empty, and she enjoys the porridge. That’s what Israel did, on a much larger scale. As I thought about this passage, my mind was drawn to Christ, and particularly to the words of the Apostle Paul, that ‘he who was rich, for your sake became poor, that you might become rich in him.’ Which led me to the words of Charles Wesley, ‘He left his Father’s throne above, so free so infinite his grace. Emptied himself of all but love and bled for Adam’s helpless race.’ Christ is ransacked for our sake. He gives up his goods, his wares, so that they can become ours, and he does so voluntarily.

My point is simply that reading the Bible systematically, as MLJ contended, is a, make that the, major source of the fire that warms the heart toward God.

Next, he encouraged the reading of devotional books. He does not name them in Preaching and Preachers, but I have read enough of him to know what he considered to be gold. He loved the Puritans, as do I. When I find myself down or cold, I inevitably turn to the Puritans for warmth. Thomas Watson, Richard Sibbes, Thomas Brooks, and John Owen are my go to devotional writers. But notice I call them devotional. Today the word devotional usually equals short and fluffy, like Our Daily Bread. But this is not what devotional should mean. The Doctor used the term to denote something ‘with a note of worship in it.’ Devotional then, for him and for me, means something that exalts God and his grace and his glory. Something that draws you up into something of his glory. The Puritans do this.

The Doctor also liked Whitefield and Wesley and Jonathan Edwards. He read Charles Hodge often. He read Charles Spurgeon. These are names that he mentions repeatedly. He read their sermons. If you want your soul warmed, read the good preachers. A couple of months ago when I was reading The Pilgrim’s Progress, I happened to turn one night to a sermon by Spurgeon called Enchanted Ground. I was looking through a table of contents in a collection of his sermons and said to myself, ‘That sounds like it came straight out of Bunyan.’ So it did. But I found in the sermon a call to wake up from slumber, to not let the devil woo you to sleep with his devices and distractions. I needed that, it warmed my heart. Lately I have been reading a collection of sermons by Francis Shaeffer and it has had much the same impact. It has provoked me to praise God in prayer.

Lastly, MLJ mentions music. The devotional power of good music is fairly evident and doesn’t need explanation. Get to know the great old hymns. Learn the psalms. Sing the psalms. On days when I find myself cold, stressed, and melancholy, you will likely find me at some point singing the words of Psalm 43, ‘Send out thy light, send out thy truth, let them lead me…O my soul, why art thou cast down, why so discouraged be? Hope thou in God! I’ll praise him still. My help, my God, is he!’

And in addition, let me encourage here the practice of Christian meditation. Think about what you read and sing. Think deeply about it. Don’t read simply in order to get information. Don’t sing just to work up raw emotions. Read and sing to get fuel. Raw reading and raw singing are cheap fuel that don’t go very far. Reading and singing with an eye toward thinking – deep thinking – however, will provide lasting fuel. I am still living off the fuel I gained from reading Preaching and Preachers years ago – because I have kept thinking about what I read, internalizing it, applying it. The same, of course, is the case with the Bible. Think about what you read. Don’t be content to simply let your eyes pass over words. Embed those words in your soul, apply them to your soul, let them lead you to Jesus every day of your life. The Bible is like a fire, and meditation blows on that fire and makes it come to life and bring heat in your soul.

All of this will lead to more fervent prayer. And it cannot simply be a thing you do in the morning when you wake up. It has to be a part of your lifestyle, it needs to be engrained into who you are every waking moment. Every star in the sky should be fuel for devotion. Every rose in the flowerbed. Every hurricane or tornado. Every book, even the bad ones, even the godless ones. It’s all fuel if you will use it to point your heart back to Jesus Christ and his glory. Ask the Holy Spirit for help.

For more on meditation, see HERE and HERE.