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Approaching the middle of the nineteenth century, the glow of earlier religious awakenings had faded. The city, like most of America, was prosperous and felt
little need to call on God. Then came the late 1850s:
Secular and religious conditions combined to bring about a crash. The third great panic in American history swept away the giddy structure of speculative wealth. Thousands of merchants were forced to the wall as banks failed, and railroads went into bankruptcy. Factories were shut down and vast numbers thrown out of employment, New York City alone having 30,000 idle men. In October 1857, the hearts of the people were thoroughly weaned from speculation and uncertain gain, while hunger and despair stared them in the face.
On 1st July, 1857, a quiet and zealous businessman named Jeremiah Lanphier took up an appointment as a City Missionary in downtown New York. Lanphier was appointed by the North Church of the Dutch Reformed denomination. This church was suffering from depletion of membership due to the removal of the population from the downtown to the better residential headquarters, and the new City Missionary was engaged to make diligent visitation in the immediate neighborhood with a view to enlisting church attendance among the floating population of the lower city. The Dutch Consistory felt that it had appointed an ideal layman for the task in hand, and so it was.
Burdened so by the need, Jeremiah Lanphier decided to invite others to join him in a noonday prayer meeting, to be held on Wednesdays
once a week. He therefore distributed a handbill:
P R AY E R
How Often Shall We Pray?
As often as the language of prayer is in my heart; as often as I see my need of help; as often as I feel the power of temptation;
as often as I am made sensible of any spiritual declension or feel the aggression of a worldly spirit.
In prayer we leave the business of time for that of eternity, and intercourse with men for intercourse with God.
A day Prayer Meeting is held every Wednesday, from 12 to 1 o’clock, in the Consistory building in the rear of the North Dutch Church, corner of Fulton and William Streets (entrance from Fulton and Ann Streets).
The meeting is intended to give merchants, mechanics, clerks, strangers, and businessmen generally an opportunity to stop and call upon God and the perplexities incident to their respective avocations. It will continue for one hour; but it is also designed for those who may find it inconvenient to remain more than five or ten minutes, as well as for those who can spare the whole hour.
Accordingly, at twelve noon, 23rd September, 1857 the door opened and the faithful Lanphier took his seat to await the response to his invitation.… Five minutes went by. No one appeared. The missionary paced the room in a conflict of fear and faith. Ten minutes elapsed.
Still no one came. Fifteen minutes passed.
Lanphier was yet alone. Twenty minutes; twenty-five; thirty; and then at 12:30 a step was heard on the stairs, and the first person appeared, then another, and another and another, until six people were present and the prayer meeting began. On the following Wednesday…there were forty intercessors.
Thus in the first week of October 1857, it was decided to hold a meeting daily instead of weekly.…
Within six months, ten thousand businessmen were gathering daily for prayer in New York, and within two years, a million converts were added to the American churches.… Undoubtedly the greatest revival in New York’s colorful history was sweeping the city, and it was of such an order to make the whole nation curious. There was no fanaticism, no hysteria, simply an incredible movement of the people to pray.15 And the joy of Jeremiah Lanphier was very great. “Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
SUMMARY EXHORTATIONAND The Bible plainly teaches that the goal of all we do should be to glorify God.
But it also teaches that in all we do we should pursue the fullness of our joy.
Some theologians have tried to force these two pursuits apart. But the Bible does not force us to choose between God’s glory and our joy. In fact, it forbids us to choose. And what we have seen in this chapter is that prayer, perhaps more clearly than anything else, preserves the unity of these two pursuits.
Prayer pursues joy in fellowship with Jesus and in the power to share His life with others. And prayer pursues God’s glory by treating Him as the inexhaustible reservoir of hope and help. In prayer we admit our poverty and God’s prosperity, our bankruptcy and His bounty, our misery and His mercy.
Therefore, prayer highly exalts and glorifies God precisely by pursuing everything we long for in Him, and not in ourselves. “Ask, and you will receive…that the Father may be glorified in the Son and…that your joy may be full.” I close this chapter with an earnest exhortation. Unless I’m badly mistaken, one of the main reasons so many of God’s children don’t have a significant life of prayer is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to. If you want to take a four-week vacation, you don’t just get up one summer morning
15. J. Edwin Orr, The Light of the Nations (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1965), 103–5.
and say, “Hey, let’s go today!” You won’t have anything ready. You won’t know where to go. Nothing has been planned.
But that is how many of us treat prayer. We get up day after day and realize that significant times of prayer should be a part of our life, but nothing’s ever ready. We don’t know where to go. Nothing has been planned. No time. No place. No procedure. And we all know that the opposite of planning is not a wonderful flow of deep, spontaneous experiences in prayer. The opposite of planning is the rut. If you don’t plan a vacation, you will probably stay home and watch TV. The natural, unplanned flow of spiritual life sinks to the lowest ebb of vitality. There is a race to be run and a fight to be fought. If you want renewal in your life of prayer, you must plan to see it.
Therefore, my simple exhortation is this: Let us take time this very day to rethink our priorities and how prayer fits in. Make some new resolve. Try some new venture with God. Set a time. Set a place. Choose a portion of Scripture to guide you. Don’t be tyrannized by the press of busy days. We all need midcourse corrections. Make this a day of turning to prayer—for the glory of God and for the fullness of your joy.
Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (1 Timothy 6:9)
Or what you do with your money can secure the foundation of eternal life:
They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (vv. 18–19) These verses teach us to use our money in a way that will bring us the greatest and longest gain. That is, they advocate Christian Hedonism. They confirm that it is not only permitted, but commanded by God that we flee from destruction JOHN PIPER and pursue our full and lasting pleasure. They imply that all the evils in the world come not because our desires for happiness are too strong, but because they are so weak that we settle for fleeting pleasures that do not satisfy our deepest souls, but in the end destroy them. The root of all evil is that we are the kind of people who settle for the love of money instead of the love of God (1 Timothy 6:10).
[They are] people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (vv. 5–10, author’s translation) Paul writes to Timothy a word of warning about slick deceivers who discovered they could cash in on the upsurge of godliness in Ephesus. According to verse 5, these puffed-up controversialists treat godliness as a means of gain. They are so addicted to the love of money that truth occupies a very subordinate place in their affections. They don’t “rejoice in the truth.” They rejoice in tax evasion.
They are willing to use any new, popular interest to make a few bucks.
Nothing is sacred. If the bottom line is big and black, the advertising strategies are a matter of indifference. If godliness is in, then sell godliness.
This text is very timely. Ours are good days for profits in godliness. The godliness market is hot for booksellers and music makers and dispensers of silver crosses and fish buckles and olivewood letter openers and bumper stickers and MO N EY lucky-water crosses with Jesus on the front and miracle water inside guaranteed to make you win at bingo or your money back in ninety days. These are good days for gain in godliness!
HE DIDN’T SAY, “DON’T LIVE GAIN” FOR In his day or in ours, Paul could respond to this effort to turn godliness into gain by saying, “Christians don’t live for gain. Christians do what’s right for its own sake. Christians aren’t motivated by profit.” But that’s not what Paul says.
He says (in verse 6), “There is great gain in godliness with contentment.” Instead of saying Christians don’t live for gain, he says Christians ought to live for greater gain than the slick money lovers do. Godliness is the way to get this great gain, but only if we are content with simplicity rather than greedy for riches. “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” If your godliness has freed you from the desire to be rich and has helped you
be content with what you have, then your godliness is tremendously profitable:
“For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). Godliness that overcomes the craving for material wealth produces great spiritual wealth. The point of 1 Timothy 6:6 is that it is very profitable not to pursue wealth.
What follows in verses 7–10 are three reasons why we should not pursue riches.
GETTING RAISES IS NOT SAME GETTING RICHTHE AS But first let me insert a clarification. We live in a society in which many legitimate businesses depend on large concentrations of capital. You can’t build a new manufacturing plant without millions of dollars in equity. Therefore, financial officers in big businesses often have the responsibility to build reserves, for example, by selling shares to the community. When the Bible condemns the desire to get rich, it is not necessarily condemning a business that aims to expand and therefore seeks larger capital reserves. The officers of the business may be greedy for more personal wealth, or they may have larger, nobler
motives of how their expanded productivity will benefit people.
Even when a competent person in business is offered a raise or a higher paying job and accepts it, that is not enough to condemn him for the desire to be rich. He may have accepted the job because he craves the power and status and luxuries the money could bring. Or, content with what he has, he may intend to use the extra money for founding an adoption agency or giving a scholarship or sending a missionary or funding an inner-city ministry.
Working to earn money for the cause of Christ is not the same as desiring to be rich. What Paul is warning against is not the desire to earn money to meet our needs and the needs of others; he is warning against the desire to have more and more money and the ego boost and material luxuries it can provide.
THERE ARE NO U-HAULS BEHIND HEARSESLet’s look at the three reasons Paul gives in verses 7–10 for why we should not aspire to be rich.
1. In verse 7 he says, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” There are no U-Hauls behind hearses.
Suppose someone passes empty-handed through the turnstile at a big-city art museum and begins to take the pictures off the wall and carry them importantly under his arm. You come up to him and say, “What are you doing?” He answers, “I’m becoming an art collector.” “But they’re not really yours,” you say, “and besides, they won’t let you take any of those out of here. You’ll have to go out just like you came in.” But he answers again, “Sure, they’re mine. I’ve got them under my arm.
People in the halls look at me as an important dealer. And I don’t bother myself with thoughts about leaving. Don’t be a killjoy.” We would call this man a fool! He is out of touch with reality. So is the person who spends himself to get rich in this life. We will go out just the way we came in.
Or picture 269 people entering eternity through a plane crash in the Sea of Japan. Before the crash, there are a noted politician, a millionaire corporate executive, a playboy and his playmate, and a missionary kid on the way back from visiting grandparents.
M O N EY After the crash, they stand before God utterly stripped of Mastercards, checkbooks, credit lines, image clothes, how-to-succeed books, and Hilton reservations. Here are the politician, the executive, the playboy, and the missionary kid, all on level ground with nothing, absolutely nothing, in their hands, possessing only what they brought in their hearts. How absurd and tragic the lover of money will seem on that day—like a man who spends his whole life collecting train tickets and in the end is so weighed down by the collection that he misses the last train. Don’t spend your precious life trying to get rich, Paul says, “for we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of the world.”