I read in a number of different categories on a weekly basis: personal spiritual health, theology, communion with God, purpose and vision, evangelism, and for sermon preparation. However, none of those are good reads right before bed, as they get the mind churning too much, which is not conducive to sleep. Therefore, I generally have novels, history, or memoir on the nightstand.
Currently, my nightstand stack is made up of The Complete Father Brown Stories (G.K. Chesterton), The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoevsky), and Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir (Carolyn Weber). In addition, I try to end every day with a nugget of Scripture and prayer, thus setting my mind at peace in God before the light goes out. The volume currently feeding my soul this way is A Passion for God (Ray Ortlund, Jr.). It is a series of meditations and prayers offered via his own paraphrase of the book of Romans, and his effort which I read a few nights ago from Romans 2:17-24 has extended beyond that pre-lights-out moment, and remained with me over the last few days. I share it for your edification below.
Maybe you can use it before you turn out the light tonight.
“But if you bear the noble identity of Jew, one set apart to God by covenant, then let’s take your own case. You rest your hopes on your scrupulous observance of the law and flatter yourself on your special relationship with God. You know what he wants from you and can distinguish the weightier matters of the law, having been well schooled in it. You are confident that you qualify as a guide to the spiritually blind, that you shine like a light in the midst of the surrounding moral darkness. You can correct the ignorant and teach spiritual babes, for you possess in the law God’s definitive statement of spiritual knowledge and absolute truth. Now, Mr. Moral High Ground, don’t you teach yourself?
You are the one preaching against stealing. Do you steal?
You are the one warning others not to commit adultery. Do you commit adultery?
You are the one who loathes idols. Do you desecrate that which is holy?
You feel so superior, because you know God’s law. But you dishonor God by violating that very law. Your life is exactly what the Scripture talks about when it says, ‘The name of God is desecrated among the Gentiles because of your hypocrisy!’
(Romans 2:17-24, Ortlund’s paraphrase)
O God in heaven, we, your church, see ourselves today as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. And so we are. Or are we? Do we live up to this high and holy calling?
Our sexual scandals, our financial crookedness, our doctrinal superficiality, our televised foolishness, our cynical competition between Christian organizations, our addiction to fads, our secularized methods, our hypocrisies, heresies and absurdities — and we wonder why we aren’t more influential for good!
Our moral influence is weak, because our moral character is weak. The world doesn’t take you seriously, because we ourselves have given them ample reason not to. O God, we are too ashamed to lift our eyes to heaven. But we are still your blood-bought church. You purchased us at a high cost and lovingly bound us to yourself through the eternal covenant. O Christ, we cling to your merit as our only warrant for confidence. O Spirit, we yearn for you to renew us and reform us. O Triune God, make your church majestic in the world today, to your own greater glory. Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains of sin in the church and in the world might quake at your presence, that the nations might tremble at your presence!
In the holy name of Jesus.
Christians, ye who profess to desire a revival of religion and to make this a commanding subject of your prayers, let me ask whether…you have no reason to fear that you may yourselves be standing in the way of the bestowment of the very blessing for which you profess to plead. The great obstacles to the revival of God’s work are no doubt to be sought in the church…And I appeal to each of your consciences, as in the presence of the Searcher of the heart, whether the guilt of hindering God’s work…does not lie at your door.
Why is it that the Holy Spirit is not now as manifestly in the midst of us by his awakening and converting influences as he has been in other days? Is it not because you have relapsed in some measure into a habit of worldliness? Or because you value the blessing less? Or because you are less united and vigorous in your efforts to obtain it?
Christians, awake, one and all, to a deeper sense of your responsibility. Let it not be told in heaven that God’s people on earth are posing obstacles to the salvation of perishing men. In doing this, ye parents, ye may be keeping your own children out of heaven…But you cannot do this and think what you are doing. It must be that you are acting incautiously.
Awake then to solemn reflection.
Awake to earnest prayer.
Awake to faithful and persevering action.
(William B. Sprague, 1795—1876)