Gospel Priorities

Gospel Priorities

Photo Credit: © Andy Dean – Fotolia.com

OK, it’s true. I’m having a gripe. It’s grumpy pastor time. But if you want to know what your pastor is really thinking… read on!

Now on the one hand it’s true, we have much for which we can give thanks to God. At Hills Bible Church God has done amazing things. He has worked in our lives to save us from our sins and bring us into the kingdom of the Son whom he loves. We have fellowship with each other as we serve the living and true God, and wait for his Son to return from heaven. There are individuals who work so hard, giving their time, in music, administration, teaching, caring, and so on. The list could go on. There is much for which we can give thanks to God.

Perhaps then the gripe is a matter of perspective, especially when it comes to sin. Most of us Christians think we understand the doctrine of sin. I sincerely doubt that! Do we really understand the sinfulness of sin? Do we understand the blackness of our hearts? Do we realise how heinous it is to fall even slightly short of God’s perfect standards of holiness in all that we do and say and think? These days I keep hearing Christians excuse ourselves on the basis of God’s work in us by his Spirit. The latter is true (God is at work in us to change us), but the former is also true (we are still desperately sinful).

Voluntary activities at church are a real eye-opener. I wonder if many of us come to activities out of habit, duty, and so on. That might not be such a bad thing in some respects. Many of us come to church on Sunday, go to Bible study groups mid-week, go to the committees we are on, etc. The eye-opener then is to see what happens with the optional, voluntary activity. How keen are we? How keen are we to know God; to study his Word; to come before him in prayer and praise?

Our church has monthly prayer meetings. In my mind they are not much different from weekly Sunday services. However that’s clearly not how most folk view them. They are woefully attended.

Recently, while we had a month and half break from Bible study groups, there was a three week Bible study series. Some folk were away; many of us were not away. The studies and discussions were stimulating, challenging and enjoyable. But they were woefully attended. I wonder if there were many folk from our church – wonderful Christians too – who were a stone’s throw away watching TV?

We are utterly sinful. We underestimate just how sinful we are. We should be banging down the doors to go to Bible study and prayer meetings, but we see them as a drag. We should be hungry for time with God, but we see it as a chore. Where is our zeal? Where is our commitment? We commit to work because we must. But church is voluntary. When church commitments become habits, we attend regularly. Otherwise…

Do we have gospel priorities? Are our priorities the building up of our church kingdom we have formed? Or do we have gospel priorities: where we long to hear God’s word, long to pray, long to see people come to know God, long to live to please God in every moment we have?

I know what the answer should be – for me and for you. But we are luke-warm and utterly sinful. The sooner we realise that the sooner we can repent, and seek God in his word and in prayer.


  1. Alex

    Hi Martin,
    I agree with you. I’m guilty of being the most luke warm christian on the planet.
    I find it a daily challenge to remember that I am totally sinful. Instead I let some specific sins get me down, forgeting that I’m utterly sinful! I find it to be another daily challenge to remember my need for TOTAL dependance upon Jesus and often think how different my life would be if I truly believed the gospel in it’s fullness – I think I would be a whole lot less distracted. I’ve recently picked up a book that you recommended in one of your comments in a previous post called “Spiritual Depression” which is helping me a great deal.

  2. Martin Pakula

    Hi Alex. Thanks so much for that comment. I feel very much the same way myself! But it’s also encouraging to hear you say that because it means that you do understand your sinfulness, even though you don’t know its depths all the way. Really glad to hear about the book too – Martyn Lloyd- Jones is a great Bible teacher.

  3. Don (Author)

    Martin, there is no question that Satan wants us to minimise the seriousness of our sinful nature and the sins we chose to commit. Right from the beginning Satan sought to deceive man by denying the consequences of sin and told the lie that doing what God forbade would bring about enlightenment. (Gen. 3:1-5)

    Another trap Satan sets for believers is the ‘guilt trap’. Satan loves nothing more than to discourage us by getting us to carry the burden of our sins.

    Paul addresses this in his letter to Roman believers. His sin and the resulting guilt caused him to cry, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

    His God-breathed answer is such an encouragement to us. ” Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 7:24-8:1)

  4. Martin Pakula

    Thanks Don. I certainly agree! But guilt is a good thing, at least temporarily. That is, we are indeed guilty of sin, and should feel that guilt. But that should lead us, as in Romans, to look to Jesus, trust in his death on the cross that has paid the penalty for our sin, and repent. I am hoping therefore that feeling guilty for our apathy and lack of spiritual hunger will lead us to the cross and to repentance.

  5. SDG

    Martin, this is deeply deeply troubling, and it (appears to me to be) commonplace in the churches. It is particularly troubling that the challenge raises so LITTLE concern that this is a disgrace to the Almighty God who has condescended to rescue us, and LISTEN to our cry. Priorities betray what is in us, and when we examine ourselves it isn’t very pretty.
    It must grieve the Holy Spirit that we are brought to see our sin, and in His grace and mercy, he converts us by a mighty work of His great power in us. Then for the next 20 or 30 of 40 years we mug up on doctrine … just enough to debate with others whose doctrine offends us, and we are gradually converted into …. Pharisees. When God is at work, the Pharisee becomes a praying believer (Paul), and stays in that state of utter dependence praying with and seeking the prayers of Gods people.
    Thankyou Martin, you have just challenged the people who bear His Name in the same way that Sennacherib challenged the ancient people of God in their feeble feeble weakness. There can be only one response. It is Hezekiahs response. If the church PM is not full of the Lords people this week ……..
    The trouble is we are so proud, full of excuses, and we ignore the God who is so near … and yet so far.

    • Martin Pakula

      Hey – thanks for this comment! I found your words quite convicting myself! I include myself in all this and I know I need to keep looking to the cross and repenting too.
      Unfortunately I suspect most folk at our church aren’t reading the blog for the very reasons I have given (we call it busyness!). There were the usual suspects at the prayer meeting, but very few. I must say though it has been the same at every church I have been at.
      I just hope we wake up to ourselves! I am concerned at the moment…

      • SDG

        I quite agree. It is a plague and it affects (and infects) us all.
        We can bang on about being reformed, evangelical, bible Christians as much as we like, but if we don’t know Him, we are just playing with words. Show me deep friends who do not want to communicate? They dont exist! So what have we got? An ‘imaginary’ Friend, and we are found out when we dont communicatev (or desire to). There are clearly things that church folk love more than God. They are called: TV, entertainment, family ‘quality time’, hobbies, careers…… God gave us all these thinks freely to enjoy, but like the 10 cured lepers, only one came to give thanks.

        We want a God who makes us happy. But I understand that God wants me for Himself, and for that reason gave up His Son that he might have us.
        There is something terribly terribly wrong in all the churches, and we have gotten used to it. It is not right. IT IS NOT RIGHT! God is dishonoured, and we are covered in shame.

  6. Martin Pakula

    A further comment after discussion with Simon & Hayley… I am NOT saying that it is sinful not to go to Bible study or a prayer meeting. Although it might be! It depends on our attitude. I don’t think that there is a rule about how many things we should go to at church. In fact I don’t think there is a rule about going to church, or having a private devotion, or going to Bible study, at all! Going to church on Sunday because it is a rule is pure legalism. What I am saying is that we should want to go to church, and to pray, and to go to a Bible study every day, any day, and to go to a prayer meeting every day, and any day – we should be longing to go! Obviously there are legitimate reasons at times for not going – we might be sharing the gospel with someone. But why wouldn’t we go to these things? Don’t we want to?

    • Stu (Author)

      Martin, although I agree we should want to do quiet time every day and go to Bible study and prayer meetings etc, clearly that is not the case all the time. To be honest there are times I can’t be stuffed! I’m either exhausted or motivation is down or I may simply ‘want’ to do something else. However I don’t believe being holy is always about wanting to do what is right, but simply doing it.

      I know you are not saying this, but we can’t be driven primarily by what we ‘want’ to do in life. We need to do what is right and pray for God to give us the zeal and passion to do so! We do that out of gratitude for what He has done for us in Christ so that we are not doing it begrudgingly or out of obligation, or certainly out of guilt. Commitment is more about us making a daily choice to follow God rather then always wanting to do it. That’s what makes it a challenge so often, especially with all the pressures of life. We need maybe reassess how we spend our time if it’s all too much.

      Funny thing though… so often when I don’t ‘feel’ like doing the right thing or to spend time with God or serving Him/others, when I do so it so often makes me feel content, joyful and satisfied more then anything else. God has a funny way of working in our lives. We simply have to trust in Him no matter how we feel, and often the gratifying feelings may come… or they may not. But what’s important is we are called to be holy and set apart to serve God and serve others no matter how we may feel from day to day. We do this because Christ Himself first endured the cross so that we could be saved.

  7. Martin Pakula

    Yep – I agree with you Stu. But that isn’t what I was saying. What I’m saying is, among other things, that we go to church or maybe Bible study out of duty, as a sort of legalistic rule. We are committed to building up the kingdom of our church. But if someone says let’s study the Bible or pray, we don’t seem to interested. How do I know? Because when that happens for activities that aren’t a ‘duty’ hardly anyone turns up. Call me cynical! – and I don’t know people’s motives or reasons too much – but I think we are just really slack, and not on fire for God – at all! If I do things out of duty, I will always draw the line at the minimum. That’s Pharisaism. Love will always do more. If I love God I will want to go to Bible study every day, not just once a week, and prayer meetings every day, not just once a week. Don’t we want to?

  8. SDG

    Ps 110:3
    This is a really important issue, and is one that NEEDS prayer more than we realise.
    The two big words that we have ALL taken on board over the last 30 or so years are: INDIVIDUALISM – we do our own thing, and you don’t have to look far to see a lack of community. How many of us know our neighbours? Yet there is an outstanding joy in Acts 2:42 ff where Gods people could not stop meeting together, rejoicing and praising God. Many of these folk were undoubtedly hard working slaves with none of the comforts we take for granted. It was not easier for them to meet than us. I have noticed of late that if I go to the gym on my own, its pretty miserable, and I end up being easy on myself, and there comes a point where you start to slide and do less and less. In the group classes it is entirely different and the motivation of the class means you feel obliged and even energised to keep going.We really must not forsake the assembling together .. and who says a prayer meeting is optional. 20 years ago two public meetings on a Lords Day was the norm. What has changed to justify one? We have life much easier with labour saving devices, we do so much less manual work we have to drag ourselves to the gym to stave off bodily vegetation. So why?
    CHOICES: this was the great watchword of the British Tory party in the 1980’s. We will give people CHOICE. But choice is not always a good thing in a sin controlled life, is it? Like a rabid Mac-ophile gathering up and filling their tech toys with all sorts of apps (they use only once!), our lives are full of stuff that we take for granted, does not need to be there, and in the light of eternity is simply unjustified and unworthy of a citizen of heaven.
    Time for an audit and a clear out, I think.
    If we all took the time to make a public gathering of praying saints a priority, just think of the encouragement we would give to each other … and who knows, perhaps our gracious God just might open the windows of heaven and pour our His blessing, and move so many of the impossible situations which have dogged the church for years, and sap our energies.

    • Martin Pakula

      AMEN and AMEN! Boy I hope folk at our church read all this! Please know everyone, that I’m including myself with you. I would often rather watch TV than read my Bible and pray – but I don’t think that is good at all. I agree very much with the comments here about working as a team. It’s very hard on your own. As Dick Dowsett says: “Holiness is a team sport”. Martin.

      • Stu (Author)

        Hi Martin… not that watching TV or “chilling out” is a bad thing 🙂 We shouldn’t feel guilty in watching appropriate things on TV or enjoying recreational activities/hobbies. God has created us to enjoy these things and to “recharge the batteries”. Maybe we miss out on a prayer meeting because we are just exhausted and need time to ourselves. I don’t think that is a bad thing. It’s only bad when recreational activities becomes an idol and keep us from serving God and spending time with Him. It’s just seems we often prioritise our time too much in recreational areas instead of investing more in drawing close to God and serving others.

  9. SDG

    I knew a young pastor with a young family once. He supported himself with demanding full time work (which was not salaried, and therefore precarious), at about 45 hours per week plus travelling. Preached on a Sunday, took the Bible study / Prayer meeting mid week, and gave up time with his family (who gladly supported this), only took local holidays so he could be with the little flock. As the congregation grew little by little, there were people to ask favours of … ‘how about opening the building instead of me, and closing up after..’. Just the little things, nothing really burdensome. What was the response? Oh we need ‘quality time’ with our family… Oh thats ‘your calling, not mine’.
    What was the result? He gave up: Exhausted, downhearted, and realising that its not enough for sheep to be ‘fed’, they must be exercised, or they become unfit and self absorbed. That is by no means a unique case.
    Many ‘spiritual’ people talk about the need of the church as ‘sound teaching’. This is not some remote part of Asia or Africa. We are swimming in teaching! Its time to take personal responsibility for what God has given to us, and get on with doing what we know very well is right. And that starts with PRAYER, because without His involvement and intervention we are going to simply languish and decline in self absorbed, over protective, isolation. May God have mercy on us all.

    • Stu (Author)

      I like your points SDG. Often we crave better or more “spiritual food” which is critical in itself, but then we don’t apply it. What a waste! The rubber has to hit the road, which is what the book of James is all about. Peter talks about making your calling and election sure by practicing what God teaches us (2 Peter 1). That doesn’t happen by just absorbing knowledge, but getting out there and serving and loving others as Christ has done for us!! I agree we need to take greater responsibility with what God has mercifully and generously given us!

  10. SDG

    ….lets keep to the main point which is PRAYER and the mutual obligation we have to encourage one another by our attendance at all the stated public meetings of the church, but particularly the prayer meeting.
    We don’t need to go to James for this, its all there in Heb 10:25. It’s not a matter of choice, it is an obligation (we are to love our neighbour as ourselves – especially those of the faith) to prioritise meeting and encouraging one another in this way.
    The liberal in me wants to amend the text to say ‘not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of MOST’. to reflect standards of behaviour.
    It is therefore important that all those in ministry or leadership in the church (and like it or not, anyone using this blog has such a perceived position and influence) to abbey this simple command. If we don’t, then why should the flock. And if the PM is neglected, what chance is there that the prayer lives of individuals are going to amount to anything serious.
    This is a shepherds responsibility – to encourage by word and example – that the Lords people must ‘WATCH AND PRAY’ that they do not fall into temptation. We do Christ no honour to excuse their or our neglect on the grounds of personal relaxation or comfort. We are in a war zone – but you would hardly know it in this hedonistic society that is Australia. Nevertheless, we do not need to go with the flow (in fact we are required to do the very opposite).
    As my favourite piece of Shakespeare says: ‘in peace there is nothing so becomes a man as stillness and humility, but when the blast of war blows in our ears …….’
    PRAY. PRAY WITHOUT CEASING. TOGETHER. All the more as you seethe Day approaching…

    • Stu (Author)

      Yes prayer is clearly critical, as it fuels all that we do. Without God enabling us through prayer and by His Spirit, what hope do we have. However I have to ask what is your understanding of “pray without ceasing”, and how would you put that into practice.

      To offer some more balance to this discussion, we must also remember that for a Christian, and in particular leaders of the church, the main focus is not first the church. First it’s our own relationship with God and then our family. If one can not manage their family, then what business do they have leading the church (1 Tim 3:4). I believe serving and investing in family comes before serving in the church. Our primary ministry as leaders of the church is to ensure we lead our families well and build them up in Christ.

      Clearly that doesn’t mean we neglect the church just to be at home all the time! But it does mean prioritising our time. Too often you see pastors and leaders of the church investing so much time and energy into the people of their congregation and then neglect their own family. Kids are neglected; wives alone. So if there are occasions when family commitments come up that may clash with a church meeting/activity and things can’t be rearranged, then I will be putting my family first.

      • Martin Pakula

        I agree with you myself again Stu. However to be blunt (you must be getting used to it by now?!? 🙂 ) – I think you’re missing the point. We mustn’t create excuses and rationalisations with straw dummies – either/ or: either go to the prayer meeting or spend time with the family. Obviously it’s both/ and: go to the prayer meeting and spend time with your family.

        • Stu (Author)

          I agree 🙂 I am just stating that family must come first in how we prioritise our time. Clearly if we do that properly there should be plenty of time for both our family and ministering to, and praying with one another in the church!

            Don (Author)

            Stu, Jesus commented on the place of family and the priority of following Him with these challenging words in Luke 14:26.

  11. SDG

    …. and I should express a heartfelt thanks Martin for stating and stimulating my own personal response to this. It’s not often the mist lifts and you can see clearly to the other shore, but this is one such occasion.
    I went scurrying off to look for an old E M Bounds paperback ‘The Weapon of Prayer’, but alas it was nowhere to be found when I wanted it. Never mind, a Kindle version cost me less than $2. I was touched by these words there:

    The apostles were as dependent on prayer as everyone else. Sacred work or church activities may make us so busy that they hinder praying, and when this is the case evil always results. It is better to let the work go by default than to let the praying go by neglect. Whatever affects the intensity of our praying affects the value of the work. “Too busy to pray” is not only the keynote to backsliding but it mars even the work that is done.
    Nothing is doen well without prayer for the simple reason that it leaves God out of the work. It is so easy to be seduced by the good to the neglect of the best, until the good and the best perish. How easily believers and the leaders of the church are led by the deceptive wiles of Satan to cut short our praying in the interests of the work!
    Prayer is the priority for us all, and it here and here alone that we measure what we are in faith. The Holy Spirit stir up faith in us (as we are more and more immersed in His word), and the evidence is that He sends us more and more to the Triune God in prayer.


  12. SDG

    There is plenty more where that came from (E M Bounds has a number of little books on prayer). Some good snippets to point prayer meetings in the right direction for weeks to come!

  13. SDG

    May I make a suggestion that might move things on in a practical way. I think everyone agrees intellectually that prayer is important, but FITTING IT IN to a normal Weekly life is proving to be a stumbling block for some. We have accumulated so much clutter in our lives, and just like me and my garage, all the clutter have become like dear children, and I cant see how I can give up anything to let something else in.
    A way to break this impasse is to plan and hold a week of prayer to encourage particular effort on the part of all. We can usually make a special effort. Once folk have tasted the joy and encouragement of praying in the larger group, they might be inclined to continue. It is a way of experiencing and understanding the greater value of prayer in the mix of life.
    Try it, there is nothing like it, and God waits to bless those who call upon His Name.

    • Martin Pakula

      Good suggestion! Actually I heard of a church that deliberately put an extended prayer time (half an hour) into their Sunday service to encourage everyone to get into corporate prayer. The half hour was basically run along the same lines as their regular prayer meetings (not half an hour of one person praying out the front). Maybe that’s something we should do. Alternatively, I’m sorely tempted to close down our weekly and monthly prayer meetings until the congregation tell me they are ready for it. (Probably not a good option – but tempting!)

    • Martin Pakula

      Good suggestion! Actually I heard of a church that deliberately put an extended prayer time (half an hour) into their Sunday service to encourage everyone to get into corporate prayer. The half hour was basically run along the same lines as their regular prayer meetings (not half an hour of one person praying out the front). Maybe that’s something we should do. Alternatively, I’m sorely tempted to close down our weekly and monthly prayer meetings until the congregation tell me they are ready for it. (Probably not a good option – but tempting!)

  14. SDG

    Well I don’t know really. We all have the same time – 168 hours in every week. We have now managed to reduce our congregational time to about 1 in 168 hours. We probably spend more time ‘chatting’ over coffee and listening to the notices (and the ubiquitous jokes that go with them). How much further is it possible to reduce our commitment to the corporate life of the church and retain a credible claim to be a church as the Lord Jesus recognises it?
    In my honest opinion,we could ditch a lot of things which have cluttered up church life, but the very last thing we can afford to let go is prayer.
    One day, folk will say, ‘Oh I remember there was a little church called Hills Bible something …. I wonder what happened to them …. ‘. God is not mocked!
    On the other hand, the folk around Surrey Hills may be thoroughly shaken up by the knowledge that this people takes God at His word, and in their praying seriously and the kingdom of darkness in full retreat.
    May the Lord strengthen your arm and keep hour eye on the ball, and encourage your heart.

  15. Martin Pakula

    I very much agree with what you are saying. We are WAY too busy. Frankly, I think if our job makes us too busy, that in this day and age we can probably get a different job which is more 9 to 5 and doesn’t take up all our time. Work is important, but not more important than church. My concern is that if we hold a week of prayer, as you suggest, that we may still get hardly anyone coming, which would be even more discouraging and counter-productive. But I’ll give it some more thought (and prayer)!

  16. SDG

    I would not concern myself at this stage with the popularity or otherwise of prayer meetings (when ever was prayer a popular thing for flesh and blood! – Even the disciples fell asleep at the most critical time).
    Prayer is a matter of faith, requires faith, exercises faith, and calls upon mighty resources. Thats the whole point of prayer!
    For your encouragement, there is a great little book by SamuelPrime on ‘The Power of Prayer – New York Revivals of 1858).
    You can see it here: http://www.revival-library.org/catalogues/1857ff/prime.html
    General conditions were much as they are in Australia (‘Before the commercial revulsion, the city and the country had been absorbed in the pursuit of pleasure and gain. Men were making haste to be rich and enjoy their riches. Recklessness of expenditure, extravagance of living, display in furniture, equipage and dress……. Christians who had kept free from the spirit of speculation and the mania for making money had trembled for the future of a people so absorbed in the material as to be oblivious of the spiritual and eternal ….).
    If you hold special meetings and only a few of your folk turn up, then you can pray for them, and God will work in ways which I certainly not understand touring about change.
    It is time for churches to stop emphasising information ABOUT God as the big thing, and begin seeking His assistance in transformation THROUGH God’s work in us and in our communities.

  17. Stu (Author)

    Thanks for the thoughts Martin and SDG. I agree we are all too busy. And Martin I am more than happy you being blunt… yes I am used to it!!! It’s so easy to get caught up in unfruitful things that zap our energy and time. May we all be more wise and discerning in cutting out the clutter in our lives so we can spend more time in prayer and fellowship with our Christian brother and sisters.

  18. SDG

    You know Don, I dont think any of us understand or apply faithfully the truth of God’s sovereignty, and His right of Lordship over our lives. We fence in our properties, we maintain our rights, and we do so proudly. I dont see this in Philippians 2.
    If we realised how poor and blind and wretched and naked we were, we would spend less time on blogs, and more time in prayer meetings, or in private prayer. But thats not ‘cool’ is it, because we are more concerned with what others think of us, than of our wonderful relationship to the Creator, Sustainer, and Lord of all things.
    God have mercy on us.

  19. Stu (Author)

    Don, that Luke passage refers to having Jesus as number one in our lives, i.e. our relationship with Him. To apply that to ministry in the Church I think is inconsistent with our responsibilities to family as instructed in Titus and 1 Timothy. Clearly our relationship with God must come first, as it is what should govern and drive all we think, do and decide. That means prioritising our shepherding and ministering to our family home, and then to the church. Otherwise we have no business ministering to the church in any leadership capacity. However it doesn’t mean we don’t minister in the church, as we must, but too often our families come second fiddle. I feel the poor state of many Christian families is a result of people being too busy in church instead of in their own home.

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