Category: Suffering

Insight: John Newton on Seeking God

Every Christian is on a journey to know God more fully (John 17:3)… but rarely does anyone explain that the path is not an easy one nor is it well-populated. It can be strange and disorienting, especially as you look around and it seems no one else is travelling with you, or that no one else has passed this way before (not true, but it can feel that way).

John Newton (1725-1807), best known as the author of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace,’ in another hymn describes the way our Father draws us near and refines our faith into the finest spiritual “steel”…


I ask’d the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answer’d prayer;
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favour’d hour
At once He’d answer my request,
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seem’d
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

“Lord, why is this?” I trembling cried,
“Wilt thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
“’Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith:”

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st seek thy all in me.”

~ John Newton (1725-1807)


Source: Winchell, James M., ed. An Arrangement of the Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of the Rev. Isaac Watts. Boston: James Loring, and Lincoln & Edmands, 1832.

growing faith

Romans 10:17 “…faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Be careful what you pray for. When I first married, I asked God to make me a man of faith. I thought that was the thing to do. Then…

  • … he allowed us to experience a deep financial crisis;
  • … he led us to serve twice in places that couldn’t support us;
  • … he allowed us to lose children in three pregnancies;
  • … he allowed me to be unemployed on 3 different occasions; and
  • … he allowed me to enter a surveilance mode for cancer (though still clear after 6 years).

And there’s more. But you’ve got the picture.

Faith didn’t arrive because of those experiences, but faith in God was enlarged as He led us through those experiences. In each circumstance I found myself driven for direction and comfort in God’s Word. And on each occasion God spoke to me in new ways even when reading familiar passages.

Faith cannot be exercised until we know what to trust God for. We can read the Bible and not hear God. But when we turn to the Scripture with a burning thirst for direction and help, He speaks!

Faith is a response to what God says. Hearing results from the word (literally “utterance”) that God impresses on your heart as you pour over the pages of the Scripture.

When God speaks, my life changes, even though my circumstances may never change to my liking. Would I pray again to become a man of faith?

In a heartbeat! I would not have wanted to live those experiences without a vital faith rumbling around in my soul — a faith driven by encounters with God in His Word.

Living in Enemy Territory: Reflections on the Tragedy at Virginia Tech

Originally Published by Baptist Press on April 18, 2007

It has happened once again. Evil has surfaced unmistakably in a form everyone can see. The world will struggle with this for days to come, asking “why would a good and loving God allow such evil to happen?” Meanwhile the parents and friends will weep, struggling with their own questions drawn from a darkened, bottomless well of unspeakable pain and disorientation.

For believers it is a harsh reminder that the world we live in is at war. Evil is not simply an idea or an act. Evil is fueled by an individual consciousness nearly as old as creation itself. The early Christians never asked “why did God allow…?” They knew better.

The world we see is profoundly affected by a world we cannot see.

    • And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Ephesians 2:1-2
    • Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:11-12
    • For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan hindered us. 1 Thessalonians 2:18
    • Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. James 4:7
    • Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8

We tend to see everything bad that happens in terms of something God allows or disallows. Yet, we also fiercely (and correctly) hold on to the idea of personal choice. We choose–which makes us responsible for our actions. We can be influenced by evil, but we are ultimately responsible for the evil we choose to do.

Angels make choices too, just like us. Millennia ago, the Bible explains that some of God’s creatures rebelled. The angels sinned. Man sinned. The world as God intended devolved into moral and spiritual chaos.

Jesus came to rescue us from the enemies of our soul, both in this world and the world we cannot see.

It is true that God is sovereign. He is the Lord of Lords. He is the King. Jesus came announcing the kingdom of God (Matthew 4:17). He taught us to pray that God’s kingdom would break through into this world, demonstrating that He is the King (Luke 11:2). He “bound the strong man” and demonstrated God’s reign by restoring creation and creatures to a condition reflective of God’s rule (Matthew 12:28-30), then expects you and me to “gather with Him” — doing the same kind of ministry today.

Jesus calls the devil the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). The devil tempts Jesus by offering Him the very kingdoms under his control in exchange for worship (Luke 4:5-7): if the devil does not control the kingdoms of the world, how could Jesus be tempted? He was tempted only if it was legitimate offer by the ruler of this world.

Jesus calls Satan a liar and a murderer (John 8:44), who steals truth from the hearts of people who do not know God (Matthew 13:19), keeping them blind to the reality of a living God (2 Corinthians 4:4). He animates evil in the world, influencing and empowering those who do not know God to reject God and do everything that is offensive to God (1 John 5:19).

In the face of clear, biblical teaching, the church too often slumbers on, fumbling around trying to answers questions about “why did God allow this to happen?” rather than running to the secret place, combating the mortal enemy of the souls of mankind. We are called to do battle.

When we are responsive to Jesus and doing life under His directional control, Jesus said the gates of hell would not be able to withstand the forward movement of the church (Matthew 16:18). Far from being on the defensive, the church Jesus builds goes on the offense against an unseen army of evil at work in this world.

C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity:

One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe—a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin. The difference is that Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel. Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is.

Do you realize where you are living today? The horrific acts of violence at Virginia Tech are a reminder that there is no place where you and I can sit down, relax, and forget about the imminent threat of evil. You and I are doing life in the middle of a battlefield that is raging… all around us… every day… right now.