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& Song & Story Story Q

De vo ti o n a ls on Ps a lm s & P a r a b le s by Patrick Lafferty and Jeremy Weese

a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Song & Story An Every Thought Captive devotional collection Š 2009 by Patrick Lafferty and Jeremy Weese All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America Sixth Printing, 2010 Park Cities Presbyterian Church 4124 Oak Lawn Avenue Dallas, Texas 75219

Contents Luke 15:22–24 Luke 15:28 Matthew 13:1 Matthew 13:5–6, 20–21 Matthew 13:22 Matthew 13:23 Luke 10:36–37 Luke 11:1–4 Luke 11:13 Luke 11:2 Psalm 39:12 Psalm 46:9 Psalms 46:1, 47:1-6 Psalm 4:8 Psalm 144:2 Psalm 144:15 Psalm 121:7–8 Notes

4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30 32 34 36 38

April 23, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

“Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

but because he considered the whole concept of God a complete sham. To the atheistic cloister he thus committed himself. Among the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, Wilson was celebrated and catechized in his new faithless faith, at times reveling in what felt like a new freedom of unbelief.

And they began to celebrate. Luke 15:22–24

In time, though, the echoes of his former affiliation grew into gnawing doubts. He began to backslide as certain unassailable truths chastised his seemingly airtight defense of atheism. Observable truths about the very existence of language were inexplicable from a purely naturalistic view of reality. The presence and resonance of beauty seemed to him a complete “aberration” if we inhabited an exclusively materialistic universe: “Materialist atheism says we are just a collection of chemicals. It has no answer whatsoever to the question of how we should be capable of love or heroism or poetry if we are simply animated pieces of meat.”3

Like many, his conversion emerged over time. After 30 years of sitting on the fringe of this fold, he finally broke with his past and took the leap of faith … into atheism.1 A. N. Wilson, a prolific and respected English author and biographer, had once been affiliated with the Church of England. Ironically, after writing a biography of C. S. Lewis,2 Wilson announced his own personal repudiation of all things Christian. Sunday ushered us back into Jesus’ parable of the two sons. The defiant younger son renounces all allegiance to his father, which Jesus employs as a metaphor for those who seek their own good without God. Like the younger son, A. N. Wilson thought the so-called heavenly father unworthy of ongoing allegiance. But his choice to disavow the Lord’s authority was not out of disrespect for the deity,

Most compelling to Wilson—and most decimating to his outlook— was the enduring magnificence of love—love demonstrated in believers like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who had been moved profoundly 4

by the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Renunciation of Wilson’s former renunciation ensued. “As a working blueprint for life,” he says, “as a template against which to measure experience, [the gospel] fits.” Like the younger son, Wilson came to his senses and sought reconciliation with the Father he’d previously denied.

God who came to us and for us in Christ. He came to show us that the only enduring good is found in Him. He came to show Himself as good by extending it to us even “while we were yet sinners.” A. N. Wilson’s story imitates the parable which imitates the story our God wrote in Christ. How must it become woven into your story today?

Both the younger son’s and Wilson’s story might seem saccharine in how reconciliation follows alienation—at least until you imagine yourself in the position of the father. How would you respond to being undeservingly despised, maligned, rejected, and abandoned? Would you be as quick to welcome back, much less trust, one who thus treated you? Now imagine someone faultless in every respect embracing the offender; would not He be eminently justified in forgoing reconciliation? Is this the God you know? Do you believe He will not only receive one who has formerly repudiated Him, but will receive such a one with celebration (v. 24)? Do you believe He can still turn hearts, long callous toward Him, back to Him? Do you believe that despite whatever way, over whatever matter you’ve formerly renounced Him, His willingness to receive you and restore you to Himself is not exhausted? Is that the God you know? That is the God who is—the God we see most clearly in Christ, the Patrick Lafferty

April 30, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him... Luke 15:28

tion. He is faultless in compliance, steadfast in restraint. Yet this allegiance is mercenary because it is not driven by love for his father, but by his own desire for gain—as Sunday’s sermon reminded us.

You’ve likely never heard their names: Mike Hoare, Simon Mann, Bob Dennard, Robert C. McKenzie, Patrick Sarsfield. They would’ve preferred that, because they weren’t doing what they were doing for notoriety; they were doing it for money.

If it had been for love he obeyed, would he not have looked with sorrow and pity upon his profligate brother, rather than scorn? You mourn for those whose folly keeps them from good if you yourself are the beneficiary of that good. But consider also his response to his father’s joy. If he loved to do his father’s will, would not contentment rather than envy have been his response to the celebration of his brother’s return?

They were mercenaries—resourceful, cunning individuals without personal, moral, or ideological allegiance to those they serve. John Calvin employed the same term to refer to some people’s love. “Mercenary acts,” he said, “are of no account in the sight of God. Not that he absolutely condemns all acts of kindness which are done in the hope of a reward; but he shows that they are of no weight as a testimony of charity; because he alone is truly beneficent to his neighbors, who is led to assist them without any regard to his own advantage, but looks only to the necessities of each.”1

In that light his obedience is even more obscene. A true mercenary knows his only allegiance is to himself. The older brother only thinks his allegiance is to his father; he doesn’t realize where his true affections lie. His younger brother was self-deceived to think he could find his good apart from his father. The older brother was no less deceived to think that it was for his father that he labored.

The older brother of Jesus’ parable exemplifies precisely what we should fear. His allegiance has all the appearance of noble devo-

Can you see why we must fear this older brother’s version of allegiance? How easily can we drift into a self-serving servitude. Like a 6

virus, it can subtly and thoroughly our affections. The cross reveals infiltrate every thought, affechow deep our corruption lies and tion, and action. We can comply how incapable we are of obtaining with a great deal of what the Lord the love our hearts naturally war commands, but when we revile against. The cross reveals how others for their folly, when we unshakeable is that love for those crater under the weight of our own who see their folly and turn to failures, when we find it difficult to God for reconciliation and renewal. rejoice in the noble accomplishWhen we see those twin truths, ments of others can’t celebrate in we leave the inclination for mercetheir restoration after they’ve fallen, nary love behind, and at last begin when we tend to view life as one to genuinely love God. big competition of surpassing and David Brainerd, a missionary to impressing—any of those maninative American Indians in the festations reveal we’ve drifted into 18th century, noticed the mercethe older brother’s mercenary love. nary spirit in his own obedience They all indicate we no longer trust when he wrote: the Lord’s estimation of us. We’ve made ourselves the object of “I saw that I had been heaping our own affections, and crowned up my devotions before God, ourselves capable of securing our fasting, praying, pretending, and significance. indeed really thinking sometimes that I was aiming at the glory Fortunately, the infection of of God; whereas I never once mercenary love reveals itself to truly intended it, but only my the discerning eye. The scorn for own happiness.... the whole was his brother and the envy for his nothing but self-worship, and an father’s magnanimity unmasked 2 horrid abuse of God.” the older son’s true motives. The father perceives that and, as Pete Where has the mercenary spirit noted, revealed to his eldest what infected you? In what ways have he’d been oblivious to: “Son, you you made yourself the object of are always with me, and all that is your own affections and aspiramine is yours.” Irrespective of how tions? In what ways have you disingenuous his son’s complisought to crown yourself capable ance had been and of how loveof securing your significance and less his heart still seemed to be, salvation? Ask the Lord to reveal the father had withdrawn neither that as clearly as the father did for himself nor his provision. No show his older son. Then the gain you of obedience could impress him seek will be God Himself. enough to love; no display of ingratitude could subdue that love. The gospel of the Lord Jesus unmasks our delusions and reorients Patrick Lafferty

May 7, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Matthew 13:1

house” (13:36) to share deeper insight with those who were interested signifies His overarching goal: not merely to speak truth but to draw people to it—to Him. Jesus employed metaphor to accentuate His point, but also to induce attentiveness. Only by the Son of Man shall such truth be revealed; but only through attentiveness to His words—even the seemingly insignificant ones—shall that truth bear much fruit.

The words at first seem unimportant—ostensibly some contextual color to connect the previous episode in Jesus’ ministry to this His first parable. But upon closer inspection, Matthew’s reasons for inserting this introductory sentence reveal grander intentions. That Jesus told His parable of the sower on the “same day” as His encounter with the Pharisees and the incident with his mother and brothers (Matt. 12:22–50) was no mere coincidence. What He had disclosed to a few experts in the Law He also intended to disclose to the crowds on the beach. He had no partiality for the doctrinally-informed.

Our pastor challenged us to consider the condition of our own souls last Sunday. He asked us to take inventory of our hearts for the fruitfulness which Jesus intends by His words. In an essay titled “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God,” Simone Weil argues that attentiveness has great benefit to our spiritual lives. “If we concentrate our attention,” she says by way of example, “on trying to solve a problem of geometry, and if, at the end of an hour, we are no nearer to doing so than at the beginning, we have nevertheless been making progress each minute of that hour in another more mysterious dimension. Without our knowing or feeling it, this apparently barren effort has brought more light into

Matthew tells us Jesus “went out” to the sea as a prelude to His telling the parable of the sower who “went out” to sow his seed. He likely intends to draw a tighter connection between the protagonist of the parable and the One who tells it. The biographical becomes subtly autobiographical. Last, the fact that Jesus went out of “the house” to address the crowds, only to return “into the 8

the soul. The result will one day be discovered in prayer.”1 The focused effort exerted to understand something enriches our capacity to pray, because we learn to give our minds to something that may not immediately yield its essence. Furthermore, she adds, not only does such attentiveness teach us to pray; it also teaches us to love: to learn to inquire of another’s condition, to set aside our own concerns for a moment and to hear, consider, and empathize with another’s concerns. Love is born of attentiveness. You might say attentiveness is what distinguishes the four soils of Jesus’ parable. Those who give no attention to His Word have it snatched from them. Those who give attention only in pleasant times prevent rooted steadfastness. Those whose attention is diverted to various and sundry concerns lose what follows from patient devotion to His truth, while those who remain attentive find the fruitfulness His Word intends. So how is attentiveness nurtured? Time must be made for it. It will never take root in an unremittingly harried and hurried existence. Perhaps that means you set aside some moments in the morning and evening, or some extended time on a monthly or quarterly basis, to give attention to His Word and your own heart. Part of making time for it is to have faith in His power to bless

it. Weil says, “Every time that a human being succeeds in making an effort of attention with the sole idea of increasing his grasp of truth, he acquires a greater aptitude for grasping it, even if his effort produces no visible fruit.” The satisfaction is not in having been attentive but in knowing that such attentiveness eventually yields, by the grace of God, the fruitfulness that provides satisfaction. Faith in His promise to bless it, Weil says, is the precondition for ever experiencing that blessing. Last and most important, the cross must be at the center of our attention. In the cross we see most captivatingly God’s attentiveness to His own glory, our good, our need, and His love. If we take our pastor’s challenge and indeed find a lack of fruitfulness—in contentment, in love, in hope—our task begins with giving our attention anew to the cross. As you come these next few Sundays to hear the parable of the sower unpacked, take one of George Whitefield’s suggestions from his sermon on listening to sermons: “If you would receive a blessing from the Lord, when you hear His Word preached, pray to Him, both before, in, and after every sermon, to endue the minister with power to speak, and to grant you a will and ability to put in practice, what he shall show from the book of God to be your duty.”2 That’s attentiveness, and it will be the seedbed for fruitfulness.

Patrick Lafferty

May 14, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away...

His identity as the sower. His intention is to bring forth something abundant in us because what He places in us has inherent potential for doing just that. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. Matthew 13:5–6, 20–21

But He also alerts us to what impedes that fruitfulness. He speaks of a kind of receptivity to His Word that is doomed from the beginning. Just as a seed sown in a shallow layer of soil on a bed of rock soon withers in the very sun meant to nourish it, so the heart without rootedness in the whole counsel of God will soon find His enlivening promises implausible when struggle inevitably comes. If I assume His Word affords a trouble-free life, my trust in that Word fails when life becomes anything but trouble-free. Jesus is not out to sell us a bill of goods. Just as there is to be an expectation of fruitfulness, so there must be an expectation of struggle. In fact it’s in the struggle itself that the Lord does His best work (James 1:2). To be ignorant of or resistant to the truth of struggle is to be in thin soil. Or as Jesus puts it, to have no root in oneself (v. 21).

Whom have you respected most in your life? Likely it’s the kind of person who’s done two things for you. On one hand, they’ve provided you with great hope. On the other, they’ve spoken with great candor about the way things are. Those who do the former without the latter set you up for disappointment. Those who do the latter without the former set you up for cynicism. The Lord Jesus does both for us. He awakens us to the prospect of being fruitful in Him—of His manifesting something enduringly and undeniably good in us and through us as a result of following His Word. That’s why He intimates 10

Jesus says that to hold to His Word is to expose yourself to tribulation or persecution of some sort precisely because of that obedience. There’s a cost to speaking and demonstrating unqualified allegiance to the Lord. Being dressed down, overlooked, ridiculed, or worse—Jesus offers no illusions about what often comes with obedience. “In this world you will have tribulation, but take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Our aim in life is not to have our obedience cost us, but, in seeking to please Him (2 Corinthians 5:9), to be open to the cost of obedience.

The grace of His cross screams that fruitfulness may indeed follow rootlessness. May our respect for Him grow even more as these truths become more real to us.

What has been your response if obedience has cost you? A measure of sorrow followed by contentment—or a chronic, perhaps even subconscious, bitterness? Jesus’ candor gently reminds us of what is to be expected in following Him. With his candor comes encouragement too. He did not tell this parable to his disciples to define categories of people, but to describe situations in which fruitfulness might be squelched—in them and in us. Painting such vivid pictures of fruitlessness paved in their minds the way toward fruitfulness. The cautionary tales served to highlight the high road. Have you feared the cost of obedience? The reward of His pleasure will make the cost seem like a pittance. Have you become discouraged at your response to the cost? Patrick Lafferty

May 21, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. Matthew 13:22

he is presented an offer he can hardly refuse: He may have all the land he can circumscribe on foot between sunrise and sunset of a single day. Trembling at the prospect, Pahom takes the challenge and sets out one morning at dawn to stake his claim.

Tolstoy’s short story “How Much Land Does a Man Need” tells of a farmer who lives in a commune in pre-revolutionary Russia. Pahom displays well-cultivated industriousness in enlarging and enriching his holdings, and he takes right and proper satisfaction in his labor: “When he went out to plough his fields, or to look at his growing corn, or at his grass-meadows, his heart would fill with joy. The grass that grew and the flowers that bloomed there seemed to him unlike any that grew elsewhere. Formerly, when he had passed by that land, it had appeared the same as any other land, but now it seemed quite different.”

Walking mile after mile, his prospective land increasing with every step, Pahom travels so far that as the sun heads towards twilight, he realizes he has little time to return to his starting point. His pace accelerates to a fevered pitch. Soaked with sweat and nearly out of breath, Pahom arrives in a heap as the last glimmer of sunlight recedes beneath the horizon. Exhausted, Pahom falls down there— dead. And there they bury him in a six-foot plot. That was all the land he needed. Tolstoy is careful not to paint a one-dimensional character whose every ambition smacks of greed. This farmer used his resources well, and he took sincere delight in their proper use. When common things began to obscure greater truths, though, he lost even more than he thought he could gain.

But as the story proceeds, another opportunity for enrichment deforms that commendable resourcefulness into an ominous avarice. Word reaches Pahom of nearly limitless land held by an ethnic people willing to sell it for a pittance. He leaves all he has behind and journeys to the remote soil of the Bashkir people. There

Finding an analogy in seed sown among thorns, Jesus warns of common things stifling more 12

substantial things. He speaks of the “cares of this world” and the “deceitfulness of riches” squelching the godly life His Word intends to produce in those who hear Him. But it’s important to note that the cares (merimna) and the riches (ploutos) He speaks of have no stifling quality intrinsic to them. The cares simpy pertain to the responsibilities and relationships of life. Paul uses the same word to refer to his concerns for the churches he’s served (2 Cor. 11:28). They only become prohibitive when one lets them eclipse God’s sovereignty and one’s identity. That’s why both Paul (Phil. 4:6) and Peter (1 Peter 5:7) call us to “cast” our anxieties upon God by seeing them in that larger context. As for riches, the New Testament typically uses the word for those eternal benefits God gives us in Christ (e.g. Romans 11:12, Eph. 1:7), but Paul elsewhere instructs those with earthly riches not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on them, but to be rich in good works and generous (1 Tim. 6:17–18). As Jesus’ instruction on wealth corresponded to the bearer of that wealth (cf. the rich young ruler and Zacchaeus), so Paul’s instruction reveals that the usefulness or deceptiveness of wealth depended on the heart of its possessor. If neither cares nor riches necessarily stifle the godly life intended by His Word, how then do we know when either devolves from something commendable into

something dangerous, as it did for poor Pahom? As Mark reminded us last Sunday, it’s not so much what you produce by your cares and wealth that matters but what your cares and wealth produce in you. The fruitfulness Jesus produces in us is neatly and comprehensively summarized in what Paul outlines in Galatians 5:22–23. Its presence or absence reveals a great deal. What is your present pace in life producing in you—peace or irritability? What does your pursuit of a living produce in you—generous goodness or self-indulgence? The internal harvest reveals what you believe. If you believe He is sovereign, fretfulness over what you cannot control is myopic and futile. If you believe He is sufficient, you will labor with an overarching desire for His glory. Scripture places no monastic call upon its saints—no command to seclude oneself in order to avoid being tainted or distracted. But to monastic moments and cycles we are indeed called—by ourselves or with a few like-minded pilgrims; they rescue us from becoming too encumbered by the cares or too enamored by the riches common to our existence. In times of sustained stillness we can see whether our cares or riches have begun to undermine what He intends: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Such is all the fruit you need. Patrick Lafferty

May 28, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. Matthew 13:23

Despite its diminutiveness, the polyphemus moth is a dazzling and majestic silkworm, its wings adorned with eyespots (thus the name) of deep blue in a field of vibrant yellow. In her book Pilgrim on Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard writes dolefully of watching one such moth in her childhood.

functioning but not flourishing. For weeks now we’ve considered Jesus’ parable of the sower. We’ve said that the fruitfulness Jesus came to manifest in us—godliness working in and through us—requires attentiveness, an appreciation of His encouragement and candor, and a frequent assessment of what is flowing from our heart. All these requirements for fruitfulness operate on the individual level; they each relate to what we do as individuals because Jesus’ Word has the capacity to bring forth in every individual He chooses the godliness He intends.

Like most moths, the polyphemus must undergo a delicate and urgent process shortly after emerging from its cocoon: it must unfurl its wings, allowing blood to fill them and the substance coating the wings to solidify them. On that day, a friend of Dillard’s had captured a moth still in its cocoon and placed it in a small Mason jar. The moth began to unfurl his wings—only to find his quarters too cramped to extend them. Within only a few minutes, the lacquer-like coating hardened the wings in their shriveled form, rendering them unalterably useless. Dillard’s last sight of the moth was of him walking the nearby sidewalk—alive but defenseless,

However, even though he plants His Word in individual souls, it is to a company of souls He addresses that Word. He calls each disciple to Himself, but He calls them to form a band of disciples. Each of us will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10); to Him each must give an account (Heb. 4:13). Yet each is called to be a member of a Body (Eph. 3:6), a part of the living God’s temple (2 Cor. 6:16), a living stone in a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5).


So the fruitful life centered on of soul (the condition of your reGod’s will for the world assumes lationships, your priorities, your both a personal and corporate finances)? There are too many context for its nurture. Private de- “one another” commands in the votion and community participaNew Testament to adopt an insular tion are interdependent elements— attitude toward the brethren. like a moth’s two wings—of what Is there anyone with whom you allows a given individual to yield are involved in God’s project the thirty, sixty, or hundredfold of seeing His will be done “on that Jesus promises. The dual earth as it is in heaven”? The context allows the Lord’s ordained commission to be a blessing intentions to unfurl in those He’s unto all nations (Gen. 12:3) is birthed to new life. too demanding to fulfill 1) as an Though our culture militates individual and 2) as a people only against the stillness that private superficially connected. We need devotions require, seeking the the guidance, goading, and grace mind of God is not a complicated that comes with community to matter; Jesus ably demonstrated love the world in the way that a life of prayer and reflection on commends Christ to it (John 17:21, every word that proceeds from the Matt. 5:16). mouth of God. But what are the These questions offer a barometer marks of someone who is rightly of whether you grasp the place of related to the community of God? community in your own personal Is “community” such an overused fruitfulness. term now that it has ceased to have any discernible meaning? It’s been noted that marriages Consider these questions to begin today have never had to be so your diagnosis of whether you’ve dependent on themselves for their found the community life Jesus own vitality.1 The culture’s movesought to establish: ment towards insularity must now Is there anyone in our Body who be challenged if marital bonds are to endure. If even marital vitality prays for you and for whom requires a kind of community for you pray regularly? Those who its survival, how much more does know one another well and who one’s own spiritual vitality call for recognize that our primary battle the same? is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces (EpheThe life lived privately and corsians 6:12ff), will pray for one anporately devoted to the Lord fills other. It’s how we love one another one’s heart with joy and conviction, as Christ loved us (John 13:34). leading to fruitfulness. It means the difference between a soul Is there anyone with whom you shriveled and one that soars. can transparently share matters Patrick Lafferty

June 11, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

Now, with so much more information coming our way, and from places we’ve likely never heard of, we can’t hope to respond appreciably to even a fraction of it. In constantly receiving without responding, though, we’re being conditioned to respond to nothing. Our responsiveness is atrophying for want of use because we’re becoming accustomed to hearing information only.

He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:36–37

In his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman coined a phrase to refer to what he considered to be one of the negative impacts of the information age. His “low information-action ratio” postulated that with the exponential increase of data now flooding our flat screens, highways, desktops, and cell phones comes a corresponding diminution of actual responsiveness to any of it. There was a time, Postman argues, when most information we received was local, whose implications or impact were immediately felt, and therefore which tended to elicit some kind of reaction more readily. If you heard your neighbor’s house burned down, you were more likely to tend to their need because you knew them and because that information represented almost all the “news” you’d heard all day.

That our compassion is being compromised by the onslaught of data we’re exposed to seems a very tenable thesis, but Jesus’ parable of the Samaritan may unearth a deeper reason for our unresponsiveness: the atrophy results not so much from lack of use as it is from a lack of gratitude. The Samaritan is the quintessence of responsiveness and compassion. He is entirely impartial to the identity of the beleaguered journeyman. He pays no attention to his ethnicity, his physical condition, or his socioeconomic status; he simply attends to his need because of the need. The Samaritan expresses substantial generosity in extending time, care, wisdom, and resources to see to his recovery. Furthermore, Jesus’ protagonist exemplifies clear perspective: 16

whatever the Samaritan’s priorities or responsibilities, nothing was as important in that moment than rendering sacrificial aid to this hapless victim. Jesus employs the Samaritan as the embodiment of compassion to remind the listening Jews what true neighborliness was—à la Leviticus 19:18. His audience had allowed their warped reading of the Law to excuse them from the true compassion the Law enjoined. Their neighborliness had atrophied for lack of clarity about God’s concern for mercy. We could all stand to hear afresh, as we did the last two Sundays, the call to neighborliness. Simply following the command to love your neighbor will do much to restore vigor where there has been atrophy. But it’s even more important to remember that this parable about neighborliness came from the mouth of Jesus. More important because all the reasons you might be hesitant to show the compassion of neighborliness get swallowed up in Jesus when you really believe His gospel. The Word and Work of His gospel inspire abiding compassion. Remember those aspects of the Samaritan’s compassion we mentioned above? When you see how you are equally in need of mercy in Christ as anyone, impartiality is the only logical response. Believing yourself to be afflicted with sin and self-inflation,

and nevertheless tended to by Jesus, you lose all reason to bear prejudice to another in their need. When you recognize His substantial generosity to you in setting aside much to bring you even more (Phil. 2:6–11), the inclination to be tightfisted with what you have evaporates. You don’t feel the compulsion to hoard your time or money when you know that what you’ve been given is more lavish and substantial than anything you might feel compelled to keep. Finally, when you see how Jesus saw His glory and our need all in clear perspective, you tend to see another’s need above all the things you “need” to do. Neighborliness is elevated over Netflix in the priorities of your heart. Postman theorized that our neighborliness suffers for lack of use. Jesus argues that neighborliness will be reinvigorated through use, but moreso through gratitude—a gratitude that can be sustained only by a deep-rooted belief in the love compassionately offered in His cross (cf. Eph. 3:14–19). What, if anything, is hindering your neighborliness? How might reconsidering His “voluntary transfer of wealth” to you cause your neighborliness to become more involuntary?

Patrick Lafferty

June 19, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

And He said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” Luke 11:1–4

It won’t be news to you to know that the percentage of people is high who purchase gym memberships and then either never go or stop going before their contact expires. One source says that 30% stop going within 21 days.1 You can understand the struggle to maintain commitment. There’s a cost to giving yourself faithfully to exercise: your schedule has to change; you have to pack the workout bag; you have to find a routine that doesn’t become too wearisome; you soon find why “no pain, no gain” became an adage; and the strong, vital, svelte life just doesn’t appear overnight.

has to change from guilt to an appreciation of wellness. The experience has to change from drudgery to strenuous delight. It can be just as agonizing to extricate oneself from the cyclical rut of trying and failing to cultivate a genuinely prayerful life. You can hear of prayer’s importance (as you did again last Sunday). You can hear the what, the how, and the why of prayer, and resolve to commit yourself to prayer. You can plan to pray more often, more systematically. And you can expect that you will become able to say confidently, but not arrogantly, that you believe in prayer. But, inevitably, the new burst of enthusiasm for prayer is met with a commensurate blowback of antagonisms, mostly from our own armchair theologizing: “Why pray, if God is sovereign? He already knows what I’ll ask, and He would do His will regardless of my so-called prayerful intervention.”

So it’s difficult to exit the cyclical rut of inspiration, resolution, execution, frustration, enervation, and disillusion. At some point, you have to feel like what you’re doing is making a difference. The motive

“If some, or many, of my prayer requests aren’t answered, wouldn’t it be better to avoid


setting myself up for disappointment?” Some will say to themselves they’re just too busy. But that’s really a pretext for the belief that they can fulfill their desires more effectively than prayer can. Others might conclude that the Lord will not hear the prayers of sinful people. Few, if any, of these soul-dampening thoughts are illegitimate concerns. We’ve been rehearsing them for as long as we’ve been praying. The question remains, though: must we always be at the mercy of these hindrances to a life of prayerfulness? Can nothing extricate us from their rut? Instruction in prayer, or a prayer system, or accountability—all those elements certainly help. But believing the gospel is the only sufficient ground for prayerfulness. If the Lord did the impossible in raising His Son from the dead, there are no impossible things we may not pray for. If the Lord conquered death in His Son, may we not ask Him to conquer pride in the human heart? To give hope where despondency threatens, and humility where complacency sings its siren call? The gospel’s power and majesty guide the scope of our prayers. Perhaps more to our concern, the gospel crystallizes and fortifies the motive for prayer. To believe the gospel is to understand how dependent you are—not just for

God’s wrath to be solved, but for the kind of heart that loves the things of God for God’s sake alone. Grasping the extent of your dependence on God for any substantial good thing can’t help but turn you to praying. To believe the gospel is also to trust that because of Christ, the Lord’s acceptance of you is unbreakable. Despite your frailty and flaw, your folly and fear, the Lord loves those who look to the Son. You can’t help but be transparent with someone who loves you like that. When Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner said, “He prayeth well who loveth well,” he meant that love will inevitably manifest itself in prayer. Yet standing behind the love that issues in prayer is a love that liberated it. That’s the love of the gospel. So we end up praying not in order to please God but because He is already pleased with us. Prayer then ceases to become a discipline to acquire but an orientation to embrace, an orientation toward life and God. Your supplication will feel like obligation until there’s adoration of His salvation. What have your prayers felt like of late? What does that show you believe about the gospel? Perhaps for a while, until you can come to times of intercession with a real sense of what He has done for you in Christ, you might begin your prayers with a time of reflection and thanksgiving for the gospel. It’s the only way out of the rut. Patrick Lafferty

June 25, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! Luke 11:13

Beneath Emmanuel’s shining face Lifts up his blooming branch on high. No fears he feels, he sees no foes, No conflict yet his faith employs, Nor has he learnt to whom he owes The strength and peace his soul enjoys.

You likely know the name William Cowper (pronounced “Cooper”) because of his line “God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.” Less known is the cross he bore for nearly all his life: a profound melancholy that on multiple occasions led him to seek to take his own life.1

But sin soon darts its cruel sting, And comforts sinking day by day, What seem’d his own, a self-fed spring, Proves but a brook that glides away. When Gideon arm’d his numerous host, The Lord soon made his numbers less; And said, “Lest Israel vainly boast, My arm procured me this success!”

Cowper was born near London in 1731 and sent to boarding school at the age of six. Goaded into pursuing a law career he had no interest in, he was first overwhelmed by a crippling depression at the age of 21. Following his conversion, Cowper became acquainted with the famous slave-trader turned pastor and hymn writer, John Newton. Newton perceived Cowper’s chronic despondency and poignant introspection, and he invited him into a collaborative hymn-writing effort. Of the sixty-eight hymns Cowper himself penned, one was titled “The New Convert”:2

Thus will He bring our spirits down, And draw our ebbing comforts low, That saved by grace, but not our own, We may not claim the praise we owe.

As Mark reminded us last Sunday, the first thing Jesus teaches us about prayer is that we must understand the identity of the One to whom we pray. The Lord is our Father. He is, as our catechism reminds us, “Spirit, infinite, eternal, unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.”3 Yet, all those divine attributes are best understood in the context of a very this-world conception of fatherli-

The new-born child of gospel grace, Like some fair tree when summer’s nigh,


ness. Even if our fathers have failed or harmed us, we know intrinsically what a perfect father is like, if only in the wistfulness for such a father.

To which our heavenly Father responds by “[bringing] our spirits down,” and “[drawing] our ebbing comforts low.” And why? That “we may not claim the praise we owe.”

Cowper’s father may have contributed painfully to his distress. Nevertheless, Cowper’s hymn reveals insight into what it meant to live joyfully before a heavenly Father.

But why does the heavenly Father seek to perpetuate our sense of dependence on Him? Is it not the virtue of our earthly fathers to guide us for a while, like training wheels on a bike, and then let us learn to balance on our own? Are fathers not to release us—to give us wings, as the saying goes— that we might not only learn to fly on our own, but to relish in our having matured?

Our Father is the source of all our life and hope. He takes joy in giving us what we need and allows us to rise like a “blooming branch” to bask in the sun of forgiveness and divine delight. Our heavenly father gives us no greater gift than His Spirit. The Spirit awakens us to the majesty of God; He forces us to face our frailty; He convinces us of the singular goodness of Christ and His Cross. All this our Father does to the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:14), but also because He delights to give us expensive, enduring gifts even more than our earthly fathers do (Luke 11:13). Such is what Jesus means to tell us about the fatherliness of our God. But Cowper mentions one other aspect of fatherliness we might at first find odd. Within all the exuberance that comes with being born again—the joy at having had your ultimate enemy vanquished, your eternity secured, your purpose outlined, and your acceptance vouchsafed—there lurks a temptation to think oneself “a self-fed spring,” to conclude, “My arm procured me this success.”

The answer may lie in the fact that it is never a mark of maturity to become more impressed with ourselves than with our God. Whenever we become too intoxicated by a perception of our self-sufficiency we tend to run off the rails into indulgence and folly (cf. Deut. 8:11–14). True maturity discovers that “He must increase and I must decrease.” Maturity sends us to our knees, praying to our God as Father, because we see Him as the source of our life, our guide, and our benefactor. The four diagnostic questions Mark asked us to pose to ourselves will reveal clearly whom we are more impressed with—God or ourselves. What do your answers to those questions reveal? As you continue to ask the Lord to teach you to pray, ask, seek, and knock for the heart that dares not “claim the praise we owe.” Patrick Lafferty

July 2, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

must He continually be addressed as one who is holy?

‘Father, hallowed be your name.’” Luke 11:2

In truth, it’s not for His sake that we rehearse His hallowedness; He is not served by human hands, and He needs nothing (Acts 17:25). Rather it is for our sake that we establish every prayer with a recognition of His majesty. It is to our advantage that we look up often from whatever commands our attention to notice again, “This is the God we’re living before.”

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn play a dynamic duo of married lawyers in the 1949 film Adam’s Rib. Their quick-witted banter illumines the screen and provides the perfect context for the unfolding of the film’s plot. All gussied up and ready for a night on the town early in the film, Amanda Bonner, played by Hepburn, tries to get her aloof husband to take stock of her dazzling outfit. After a few unsuccessful attempts, she finally comes right out and says with a matter-of-factness belying an ulterior motive, “This is the dress I’m wearing.” For an instant, the otherwise tough-minded, strong-willed, and outspoken attorney displays a touch of puerile insecurity, saying in effect, “Notice me.” Jesus taught His disciples to include in their prayers a voiced recognition of the hallowedness of God—to notice His holiness. Hearing that one might hastily conclude this God is a bit vain, or at least a touch insecure. Why

Why is it to our advantage? For one, there is nothing more worthy of focused, fervent attention than the God responsible for all things (Gen. 1:1, John 1:1–3). Yet, the mundaneness of daily routines can seduce us into thinking there is nothing particularly astonishing about what is and what’s been made available to us. We can become so accustomed to all we have that we unconsciously adopt an attitude like that of Bart Simpson in his famous prayer before dinner one night, “Hey, God, we did all this ourselves, so thanks for nothing.” We slide into this complacency with God as easily as we do with the people we love. Who hasn’t had the experience of treating


someone you love dreadfully, and then, with quiet reflection upon all they are to you, finding yourself scandalized by your own action? The reflection restores your sight, freeing you to relate to them again in their fullness which your heart’s attitude previously obscured. So it’s to our advantage, first of all, to restore our sense of His hallowedness whenever we pray because it keeps life’s tedium from pulling us into a quagmire of indifference. There’s another reason, too. The rest of our prayers will find their meaning and motive in seeing Him as hallowed. In fact the remainder of Jesus’ instruction on prayer requires a sense of His hallowedness. We’ll long for earth to reflect how it works in heaven when we’re awakened to His honor. We’ll recognize both our need of His sustenance—physical and spiritual—and His willingness to provide it. We’ll also see sin as sin—harmful in numerous dimensions, but moreover a raw affront to God. Seeing that, we’ll be compelled to confess our own sin, to extend forgiveness to others in light of His forgiveness of us, and to ask for vigilance to resist temptation. In this prayer, Jesus wasn’t supplying us a script to follow, or a mantra to somehow goad God into action. He gave us this prayer to make us new, and He makes all things new (Rev. 21:5). Before his affliction had resolved, and

the bounty he’d lost was restored, Job underwent a change through his suffering. He’d hallowed God before, but in hearing afresh of God’s majesty from God himself— and in response to his agonizing inquiries over his suffering—Job’s sense of God’s hallowedness was intensified: I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. “Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to Me.” I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:2–6)

Answers to his questions had not come; reasons for his suffering were not disclosed. Yet neither those answers nor reasons would’ve been as precious to Job as the deepened sense of God’s hallowed glory. It was for Job’s sake, not God’s, that the former grasped the latter’s glory. This is the God you are living before. Do you take time in prayer to remember your reasons for hallowing Him?

Patrick Lafferty

July 9, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; hold not Your peace at my tears! For I am a sojourner with You, a guest, like all my fathers. Psalm 39:12

The Lord makes it a continuous point, however, to treat sojourners with the same respect as if they were native to Israel. Though they held no land, they were to be provided for and protected in the same way any Israelite would be (Lev. 19:33). Furthermore, they were held to the same standard of obedience as the covenant people of God (e.g. Lev. 17:15, 20:2).

When you feel you’ve been faithful, do you feel as if God is more likely to answer your prayers? When you feel your faith has faltered, do you feel as if God is more likely to ignore your prayers?

Our psalmist, David, though an Israelite from the house of Judah, declares himself to be a sojourner, one previously outside the covenant care of God but now brought into that covenant care on the basis of God’s prerogative. In fact, David goes so far as to say that all his forebears are likewise sojourners—not an innovative point but one grounded in what God says to Israel in Leviticus 25:23, “You are strangers and sojourners with me.”

On what basis does He answer any of them? The fight for hope is often a fight in prayer. Men’s wickedness, the world’s triviality, our hearts’ sinfulness—the distress they can cause threatens our hope in God. Yet there’s something about prayer that enables us to hope.

The psalmist prays in every cirTherefore, any confidence David cumstance, but what is the basis has in God delivering him from his of his hope that God will answer? transgressions (Ps. 39:8), removApparently not his own faithfuling the stroke of hostility (v. 10), or ness, since he acknowledges his hearing his prayer and his cries need for deliverance from faithlessness (v. 8). Instead, his hope in (v. 12), is based not in his faithfulness but in God’s promise to have God’s willingness to show mercy regard for the sojourner in the land. is based on something else— something about being a sojourner. Moses does something similar when the Lord uses portentous Sojourners dwelt in Israel’s land language toward Israel, threatenbut were not of Israel’s lineage. 24

ing them with extermination for their continual faithlessness (Exod. 32:9–14). There Moses centered his appeal for mercy on God’s promise to make a great nation— even through this stiff-necked people. The case Moses makes is persuasive to the Lord. The disconsolate setting of this Psalm notwithstanding, isn’t what David (and Moses) did a bit cheeky? Isn’t David presuming upon grace? In a word, no—if by presume we mean supposing something to be true with no evidence to substantiate it. The grace David appeals to is the same grace that motivated God to move toward Abraham, to make a nation through Abraham, to sustain the progress of His plan through the chronically flaccid hearts of the patriarchs. More to our concern, David appeals to the mercy of God no more presumptuously than you or I do if we are in Christ. For just as sojourners were afforded protection and provision despite their previous distance from the covenant people of God, those in Christ who were once far off “have now been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). God extended mercy to the sojourner on the basis of His prerogative. He extends mercy to the one in Christ on the basis of His prerogative to bless the work of His Son. Our works neither obtained our salvation (Eph. 2:8–9) nor perfected it (Gal. 3:3). Faith in His work does.

But what of James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power”? Don’t his words seem to draw a causal relationship between our righteousness and God’s willingness to respond to our prayers? What motivates our good works if He answers our prayers on the basis of His good work in Christ? Welcome to the astonishingly magnificent heart of the gospel. That “righteous” one whose prayers are powerful—it’s the same kind of person who confesses their sins (James 5:15), who trusts in the work of the Son to bring them to God (1 Pet. 3:18). Their faith may even fail for a time, as Elijah’s did (1 Kings 19:1–8). Rather than presume upon His grace, though, they will necessarily seek to honor it, because they know their righteousness is entirely attributable to Him. So, the next time you feel like God is more obligated to answer your prayers because of your obedience, think again (and aright). Any good you’ve done has been a function of His work in you (Eph. 2:10, Phil. 2:13). And the next time you feel like God would never hear your prayers because of your faithlessness, think again. He surely would have us set aside the sin that so easily entangles (Heb. 12:1), but He also would have us draw near to the throne of grace with confidence that we may receive mercy (Heb. 4:16). Patrick Lafferty

July 16, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the chariots with fire. Psalm 46:9

ing root—the marriage can survive and thrive. Throughout Psalm 46, the Psalmist declares the Lord’s inimitable power—power to nourish, power to lay waste, and, here in verse 9, power to end strife. God’s interest in and capacity for bringing peace are well noted. Israel’s history can certainly point to God’s peaceable geopolitical activities (e.g. 2 Sam. 10). His prophets anticipate God’s apocalyptic work of bringing peace fully and finally (cf. Daniel 7, Rev. 20:7–15). Far be it from us, though, to conceive of God’s power to bring peace only on the large scale.

With a staggering degree of accuracy, John Gottman can predict the future of a marriage by listening to a mere 15 minutes of a taped interaction between husband and wife. In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell reveals how this psychologist has developed a remarkable sensitivity to verbal and non-verbal messages between spouses.1 So sensitive that he’s been able to detect the presence of a single interpersonal dynamic which correlates significantly with the health and life-span of a given marriage: contempt. One or both spouses often display frustration with their mate. When the frustration leads to a conception of the other as inferior to them, however, the relationship has entered into the toxic domain of contempt.

That power should be respected even at the scale of interpersonal relationship—where strife can devolve into contempt. Whether it’s in a marriage, within a family, or between friends, our sinfulness continually exposes us to the threat of strife that can sow contempt. How then shall we respect God’s reconciling power so that contempt might not devastate whatever relationships we’re in?

“Contempt is special,” Gladwell notes. “If you can measure contempt, then all of a sudden you don’t need to know every detail of the couple’s relationship.” Where it grows, the marriage tends to die. Contrariwise, where it can be rooted out—or even kept from tak-

Sunday reminded us that the Psalmist enjoins a stillness of surrender. We do not still ourselves for the sake of stillness, but to surrender to the will and work of God. 26

We humble ourselves enough to listen for what His word is telling us (Joshua 1:8). We recognize our finitude against His eternality and majesty (Ps. 8:4). Above all, we still ourselves to comprehend how He, in His Son, has ended the lengthiest, most entrenched, most devastating, and most consequential contempt—that which existed between us and Him (Eph. 2:14–17). The stillness found in prayer yields the necessary insight. When we see our strife in the context of His strife with us, the recognition breaks and burns whatever fuels our interpersonal conflicts. Remembering former wrongs (1 Cor. 13:5), speaking unwholesome words (Eph. 4:29), engaging in rivalry or conceit (Phil. 2:3)—they all cease to be our weapons of choice when we submit in stillness to what He’s done for us in Christ.

Meeting God in the stillness to surrender to His sufficiency is the only way to stop the war to get from another what only God can give. With whom are you at war right now—whether in open conflict or brooding alienation? Where do you notice frustration teetering on the edge of—or plunging headlong into—contempt? If in our stillness before Him we see anew His greatest work of peacemaking, how might such stillness serve to end that present war?

When, in our stillness, we see Him as our ultimate refuge, strength, and ever present help, we no longer press for such things in another person—the frustration of which often greases the skids toward contempt. As Bob Franke sings:2 There’s a hole in the middle of the prettiest life So the lawyers and the prophets say Not your father nor your mother Nor your lover’s gonna ever make it go away

Patrick Lafferty

July 23, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

God is our refuge and strength, a very preset help in trouble.

was nothing compared to what it would gain—Darnay’s life as well as the good that awaited Carton in death.

Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! ...Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! Psalms 46:1, 47:1-6

In Star Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi speaks the second line just before Darth Vader takes advantage of Kenobi’s suddenly defenseless repose and, by all appearances, vanquishes the Jedi knight by lightsaber. Like Carton, Kenobi knew there was something greater to be secured by his loss.

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

The third line is vocalized with an intriguing tone of relief by a winsome twentysomething named Jamal, the protagonist of Slumdog Millionaire. Caught in a part love story, part rags-to-riches story, Jamal has made it to the final question of India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, while also cultivating a love with a childhood friend, Lakita. For reasons beyond his control, Jamal has been separated from Lakita— his hopes of ever seeing her or hearing from her again essentially dashed.

If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine. Final answer: A. Aramis. Three memorable lines from three very different stories—each line, though, with a strikingly similar motivation. Sydney Carton utters the first in what is the last line of Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. He speaks from the shadow of the guillotine of revolutionary France, prepared to give his life for Charles Darnay, the condemned man with whom Carton has deliberately switched identities because of their mutual resemblance. Despite all he would lose, Carton knew his sacrifice

When he phones his brother for help on the final question, it is Lakita who happens to be in the possession of the phone. He hears her voice and discovers


she is safe, but when she cannot help him with the question, Jamal simply answers blithely—no longer caring a whit whether he wins the money. Like Carton and Kenobi, Jamal relinquishes what is costly because he knows there is something more valuable, more sure, more worthy to be had.

The quality of our love reveals where we place our trust. If we find ourselves withholding love, it may reveal arrogance or indifference in us. But it might otherwise reveal fear—fear of what we might lose (or what we might be left with) if we relinquish something of value to us.

C. S. Lewis famously wrote that in the gospel of Jesus, myth became fact.1 The archetypal yearnings of humanity, variously expressed in our legends and fables, eventually entered into history in the person of Jesus. He, like the three characters above, relinquished what was precious to Him for the sake of something of immeasurable value. Such was His praise of the One who brought Him to that moment.

Mark has outlined for us what a real stillness before God will lead to. To that list we add freedom to love extravagantly. Abundant care becomes not only possible but preferable because you no longer fear losing what cannot be taken from you. The Christ who bestowed all that we would gain all is meant to persuade you of the fact that He is our true refuge. Persuaded of that in the stillness of prayer, praise will flow, and often through relinquishment for love’s sake.

For the last two Sundays we’ve heard how Psalms 46 and 47 bring us to a posture of hope and praise. Those who are confident in God as their refuge and strength (Ps. 46) naturally give praise to God—in the context of these two Psalms, through clapping, and singing, and making music (Ps. 47). But praise comes in many forms. For our three protagonists, praise comes in the form of relinquishment for the sake of love. For Darnay, Carton offers his life. For Luke, Kenobi offers his immediate presence. For Lakita, Jamal was willing to forsake 20 million rupees. Each saw a greater refuge in what they sacrificed for, and that loving sacrifice was their praise.

Who are you afraid to love right now? Nothing the Lord has given you in Christ—forgiveness, favor, renewal, eternity—can ever be siphoned from you. How might the truth of His being our strength in those ways free you to love?

Patrick Lafferty

July 30, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8

has changed is the source of the fear. It is no longer thunder, monsters, or nightmares. Rather, we worry about our jobs; we are afraid that our savings will run out or disappear. We fear that our kids will stop loving us, stop coming to us; that they will not get into college or into the right college. We worry that our spouse no longer loves us, that our house will never sell, that the cancer will win this time. Peace and safety seem as unattainable as a good night’s sleep.

In a week filled with rain and thunderstorms, I am sure that many of us were jolted awake at some point by the crash of thunder or the streak of lightning all too close for comfort. In that moment of surprise, and maybe (if we are honest with ourselves) fear, were we reminded of similar moments in our childhood? Did we remember the times that we awoke to thunder and lightning, afraid, and in our fear and uncertainty running to the only source of comfort and security we knew—our parents?

In the sermon on Sunday, we learned that we should not let anxiety (along with attacks and anger) ruin our faith. But what does it really mean to be free from anxiety? How can David sleep in peace and safety?

Thunder wasn’t the only thing that sent us running. We ran from nightmares, monsters in the closet or under the bed, strange noises, and annoying siblings. Our parents’ bed was the place of safety where neither monsters nor thunder could reach us.

It certainly isn’t his situation. As Tim talked about on Sunday, this Psalm, like the previous one, was probably written while David was on the run from his own son. David was forced from his home and city; betrayed by his family and some of his closest advisors. Everything that David could have been relying on for safety had been ripped away: his position, his power, his wealth, and his relationships. Yet still we find David making this audacious claim—he

But somewhere along the way we lost that safety. We grew older, and most of us became parents ourselves—becoming a haven for our own frightened children. Yet we have nowhere to run. The sleepless nights persist, and the fear remains; the only thing that 30

can rest in peace and safety. What does David know that we have forgotten? When we were young, we ran to our parents’ bed for safety. It was not that the bed was much different than ours, or that their room was much farther away from the storm. It was the comfort of their presence: the sense that they were with us. It was the assurance of their power—everything would be all right. Nothing could reach us in our father’s arms. But we grew older, and that security was taken away as our parents were revealed as people who could fail us and who could not fix everything. At that point, the world became a bigger and scarier place. Our naive sense of security was stripped away, and we were left to create peace and safety however we could manage.

could provide it. There is a reason why God reveals Himself so often as Father in scripture. Our earthly parents are pictures of our heavenly Father, the one and only source of true safety and lasting peace. What are the thunderstorms in your life? What is keeping you awake at night? Will you continue to look to yourself and your self-built structures for peace and safety? Or will you run to your Father’s arms? “For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

But we aren’t good at that, are we? As David’s story and our own illustrate, all the things we run to or build up for security can be stolen just as easily as our childhood security. Knowing that, we are left in the ironic position of worrying about the things that we established to keep us from worrying. Where does that leave us? How can we get to where David is? It is in the little phrase in the above verse: “For You alone...” David is saying that we got it right as children. We knew intrinsically that the place to go for safety was to the only person or persons who Jeremy Weese

August 6, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

He is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and He in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me. Psalm 144:2

At first glance, that seems perplexing. How can the God whose love is steadfast be the same God who subdues David’s people under him? How can a loving God, in effect, beat down (another nuance of subdue) David’s people under him?

In this one verse, two phrases are brought together which seem curiously joined. Yet their juxtaposition grants us greater clarity into what each of them means. They also help us see that our Lord—to whom both phrases refer—is altogether different from what we may assume.

David’s history surely chronicles that very phenomenon. He was anointed king of Israel following the death of Saul, but not before a rival faction of Israelites sought to enthrone Saul’s son, Ish-Bosheth (2 Kings 2–4). A “long war” (2 Kings 3:1) ensued, with David displaying both great courage and great respect for those who opposed him—a respect that translated even to mourning the death of Abner, who had orchestrated Ish-Bosheth’s ascendancy.

The verse begins with David praising His Lord for being his “steadfast love” (hesed). It’s a word used some 150 times in the Old Testament, 100 of which are in the Psalms alone. It connotes His fidelity, solidity, and compassion. Years earlier, the Lord had set The verse ends with David praisDavid apart to be the king over ing his Lord for being the One who all Israel. Despite the opposition “subdues peoples” under him. Now, of Saul, antagonistic nations, and we know David to have had fierce even his own people, the Lord animals, King Saul, and many opsaw fit to subdue them all to fulfill posing nations vanquished before His promise to make David the him with the Lord’s help. What king through whom He would makes the last phrase intriguing, bring blessing to the world (2 Sam. though, is the tiny footnote in the 7:14). This was His steadfast love ESV translation: In many manuand His powerful subduing in scripts of this text, the phrase concerted action. Therefore, from reads: “who subdues my peoples a purely historical standpoint, the under me.” Lord indeed steadfastly loves 32

and methodically subdues what (or who) opposes His plan—even those who are to be part of that plan. So what? Just as there were segments of Israel who refused to trust in the kingship of David, and thus had to be subdued by the Lord, so there are parts of us—our interests, our affections, our practices—that remain unconvinced that the Lord steadfastly loves or that He is the one in whom we can rightly take refuge. What are those parts of you that remain unconvinced? Sunday we mentioned that by our patient praying—by “praying until we pray”—we find a more steadfast sense that the Lord is worthy to be praised, that our peace is in Him, that humility before Him is the only proper posture, and that it is perfectly legitimate to petition Him with astounding requests that further His righteousness. Do any of those truths seem more like assertions than axioms? In what segments of your life is there subconscious, but lively, debate about the sufficiency of God and His right to have every part of you?

position in us. The only sufficient object of our trust in His steadfast love falls to the One in whom two other concepts were juxtaposed: The Lord Jesus satisfied God’s requirement to be just toward sin, yet also satisfied His interest in justifying a people by designating those who were still sinners as righteous in His sight (Romans 3:26, 5:8). The more deeply you trust in that union of two seemingly irreconcilable truths, the more readily you will praise Him, find your peace in Him, be humble before Him, and utter your requests to Him. Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Gen. 32:26). About what must you now wrestle with God?

If you’ve needed a little guidance about what to speak of in prayer, perhaps your answers to those questions form your agenda. And perhaps they illuminate this core truth: Because of His steadfast love, He subdues what opposes us; but by our trust in that steadfast love He shall subdue the opPatrick Lafferty

August 13, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Blessed are the people to whom ited opportunities, and unlimited such blessings fall! possibilities. Yet this generation Blessed are the people whose God is far from perfect. She continues, is the Lord! “In spite of parental concern and Psalm 144:15 economic advantage, many of my

adolescent patients suffer from readily apparent emotional disorders: addictions, anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders and assorted self-destructive behaviors.” Levine exposes the emptiness of the modern myth that enough resources, education, and strategy will lead us to the perfect life.

For several years now my practice has been increasingly filled by teenagers whose problems seem out of proportion to their life circumstances. Like all of us who scramble to provide advantages for our children, I had assumed that involvement, opportunity and money would help safeguard the emotional health of children. Yet my appointment book forced me to consider quite the opposite: some aspects of affluence and parental involvement might be contributing to the unhappiness and fragility of my privileged patients.1

We buy into that myth as well, don’t we? We buy and read the latest and greatest Christian books that promise to reveal the biblical strategy to better parenting, better money management, better education, and a better marriage. David, in Psalm 144, reveals a different approach.

In an article introducing her groundbreaking work, The Price of Privilege, Madeline Levine speaks of how many of her basic assumptions about parenting were challenged. In this article (and more fully in her book), Levine shows a generation of children who have received everything the world has said would produce the perfect life: unlimited resources, unlim-

He prays. We might be surprised at the simplicity of the things he asks for: mature children, crops that grow, livestock that reproduces. Aren’t children supposed to mature? Aren’t crops supposed to grow, livestock to reproduce? Why is David praying for such simple things?


In the sermon on Sunday, Patrick reminded us that “If prayer is anything, it is everything.” David reveals what we so often forget: that God is the source of all blessings, big and small, miraculous and mundane. We so often divide up our lives: Sunday and the rest of the week; spiritual and physical; ministry and the workplace; prayer and our actions. David is reminding us that there is no divide. The God we pray to in the face of cancer is the God we pray to in the face of balancing a checkbook. The same God we beg to protect our missionaries as they travel and work overseas is the God we need to protect our children as they grow up. This is hard news. David is showing us that the things we thought we could handle, the things over which we thought we had some measure of control, are actually in God’s hands. Mature children, successful work, a happy home— these things come from God. But it is good news. Do you see what this means? Everything about you, everything about your life, is important to God. There is no part that is too mundane, too ordinary for God. In fact, God meets us every day in the “sacred ordinary.”2 Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall! Blessed are the people whose God is the LORD!

Jeremy Weese

August 20, 2009 a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 121:7–8

How shall the Psalmist keep from insulting the intelligence of the listeners, losing their ongoing trust and investment? Is he ignorant of the myriad ways this fallen world can inflict calamity? Or does he refuse to qualify himself for fear of selling the Lord short? He is neither ignorant nor naïve. He speaks from within an assembly of voices whose faith in the Lord’s goodness and might is as deep as their awareness of this fallen world:

In the business world, it’s a principle of customer service to set expectations appropriately. If you fail to follow through on a commitment, you risk losing the customer’s trust and future business.

Man is made for trouble, [as surely] as sparks fly up.

Sometimes businesses are explicit about all the reasons their product might not operate as promised. (It’s almost comical how much time of pharmaceutical commercials is dedicated to enumerating all the potential side effects!) But when such explicitness might be distracting, there’s always the fine print. For every sweeping promise there’s a slew of caveats.

Job 5:7

“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

All that is why Psalm 121 may seem awfully odd to us—even nerve-racking, for those who have had no shortage of evil befall them. The psalm’s promises are so sweeping! And no caveats. No fine print!

Romans 8:21–23

There’s candor and confidence in these texts which allows us to believe a deeply encouraging 36

truth in the face of abject sorrow. Tim provided us a fresh example Sunday of Psalm 121’s confidence amid adversity. To that we add another example: John Chrysostom was a church father of the fourth century, known for his courage, incisive preaching, and unflinching integrity. Brought before Roman empress Eudoxia on the charge of preaching the gospel without imperial approval, she threatened to banish him. The following exchange ensued:1 “You cannot banish me, for this world is my Father’s house.” “But I will kill you,” said the empress. “No, you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God,” said John. “I will take away your treasures.” “No, you cannot, for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there.” “But I will drive you away from your friends and you will have no one left.” “No, you cannot, for I have a Friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me. I defy you, for there is nothing you can do to harm me.” To Chrysostom there was every reason for confidence in what Psalm 121 propounds. The Lord would keep him from all evil, in spite of her threats. The Lord would keep his life, then and forevermore. Jesus had further validated the substance of Psalm 121 by His own testimony: “Do not fear those who kill the body

but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:23, 28). The only evil of any concern is alienation from the God who made us—a matter solved in the Son He sent in order to bring us to Himself (1 Pet. 3:18). He knows our groanings (Rom. 8:23). He hears our cries. (1 Pet. 5:7). He brings goodness out of evil incidents for those who trust in Him (Rom. 8:28). No one whom the Father gives the Son shall be snatched from His care (John 10:28). Have you prayed your fears, your disappointments, your reasons for preoccupation? Has life’s fine print led you to look incredulously upon the Lord’s claims of provision and protection? Neither this Psalm nor Chrysostom intend for us to walk with a swagger, but with confidence. Such confidence is found in Christ alone. By His work of redemption, He renders all those ostensible threats mere sound and fury, signifying nothing. While Jesus provides ample reason for confidence, praying through Him to the Father provides great hope of knowing that confidence (Phil. 4:6–7). Abstraction becomes palpable reality in the mystery of God in the act of praying. So in giving us Himself and in giving us prayer, He has set our expectations high, yet appropriately. May we live and pray in that confident expectation. Patrick Lafferty

a weekly devotional

every thought captive from Park Cities Presbyterian Church


May 7, 2009 1. Simone Weil, “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God,” Waiting for God (New York: Putnam, 1951), 57.

April 23, 2009 1. A. N. Wilson, “Why I Believe Again.” New Statesman, April 6, 2009. http://www.newstatesman. com/religion/2009/04/ conversion-experience-atheism.

2. George Whitefield, “Directions How to Hear Sermons,” Bible Bulletin Board. http://www.biblebb. com/files/whitefield/GW028.htm.

2. Wilson, C. S. Lewis: A Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1990). 3. Wilson, “Religion of hatred: Why we should no longer be cowed by the chattering classes ruling Britain who sneer at Christianity.” Mail Online, Last updated April 11, 2009. article-1169145/Religion-hatredWhy-longer-cowed-secular-zealots. html.

May 21, 2009 1. Leo Tolstoy, “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” http://www. html. 2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: HarperCollins, HarperOne, 1978).

April 30, 2009

May 28, 2009

1. John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists. Trans. William Pringle. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Commentary on Luke 6:35. calvin/calcom31.ix.l.html.

1. Stephanie Coontz, “Too Close for Comfort,” The New York Times, November 7, 2006. http:// opinion/07coontz.html.

June 19, 2009

2. Jonathan Edwards, The Life and Diary of David Brainerd (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2006), 68.

1. Ed Tock, “Membership Retention for Fitness Clubs,” Club Industry, June 1, 2006. http:// fitness_retention_equals/.


June 25, 2009 1. John Piper, The Hidden Smile of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008). 2. William Cowper, “The New Convert.” poems/olney03.html#LVII. 3. The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q.4. http://www. westminster1.i.i.html.

July 16, 2009 1. Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (New York: Little, Brown: 2005). 2. Bob Franke, “For Real.” For Real (Flying Fish FF90368, 1986).

July 23, 2009 1. C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 66–67.

August 13, 2009 1. Madeline Levine,“What Price, Privilege?” San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday, June 25, 2006) CM-6. 2. Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).

August 20, 2009 1. Kent Hughes, Romans (Wheaton: Crossway, 1991), 171.


About Every Thought Captive Every Thought Captive is a weekly e-mail devotional based on the previous Sunday’s sermon at Park Cities Presbyterian Church. You can sign up to receive these e-mails at

About Patrick Lafferty Rev. Patrick Lafferty is Pastor of Spiritual Formation at Park Cities Presbyterian Church. He is a graduate of the University of Texas and Dallas Theological Seminary. Patrick and his wife, Christy, live in Dallas with their two children, Seamus and Savannah, and a dog named Boomer.

About Jeremy Weese Jeremy Weese is a pastoral intern at Park Cities Presbyterian Church. A native of Rochester, New York, he has slowly migrated south and west. He graduated with a BA in religious studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned an MDiv and an MA in counseling from Covenant Theological Seminary in May 2009. Jeremy can usually be found reading, and his favorite book is The Lord of the Rings, which he has read 37 times.

Park Cities Presbyterian Church 4124 Oak Lawn Avenue Dallas, Texas 75219 214-224-2500

Song and Story: Devotionals on Psalms and Parables  

Every Thought Captive, a devotional from Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Song and Story: Devotionals on Psalms and Parables  

Every Thought Captive, a devotional from Park Cities Presbyterian Church