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John Owen The Glory of Christ - God hides himself

Have you ever felt like God was distant, and that He was the one distancing Himself? Some of my deepest times of fellowship with Christ have been followed by times of great lack—as if God was playing hard to get.

Theologian John Owen spent much time contemplating that question, and in the book The Glory of Christ, he answers the question, “Why does God sometimes hide himself from believers?”

He withdraws himself in order to make us appreciate him more so that we diligently seek for him as we would seek for a lost precious treasure.

We all too easily take Christ for granted and become lazy in seeking fellowship with him…By withdrawing himself he aims to awaken his people to search for him, and to mourn over their sin in taking him for granted…While we are busy with other things, Christ withdraws himself and we cannot find him. Yet even this discipline is for our recovery and sanctification.

What an amazing picture of God’s grace and the deep communion He desires with His people. According to Owen, when God withdraws Himself, it is to cause us to seek Him more and repent from beholding something else. His withdrawing is a gracious discipline with the purpose of making us more like Christ.

What an astounding thought! And what a compelling reason to run an audit of our heart’s affections and recalibrate the direction of our soul’s gaze.

Owen then asks how can we know that God has withdrawn himself:

The first consequence of Christ’s withdrawing himself from us is that inward graces grow weak and we tend to rely more and more on outside helps. Above all, we lose the desire for holy meditation and we spend less and less time with Christ. Just as frost withers the plants in the garden, so the grace in our hearts also withers when the ‘Sun of Righteousness’ withdraws and hides himself…

What does your heart long after more than anything? To see the glory of Christ? Or something lesser? If your answer is “something lesser”, God will grow more distant until you make Christ your first longing. And how can we best do this?

 It is as the Holy Spirit gets us to behold the glory of Christ by faith that he powerfully renews and transforms our souls.

Let us make the beholding of the glory of Christ a chief goal in our lives. This is more than mere intellectual assent of facts about Christ; it is meditating on the person and work of Christ who has secured for us immeasurable riches in a glorious inheritance to the praise of His glory. This beholding will shine the ‘Sun of Righteousness’ into our hearts and cause the grace in our hearts to both take root and bear fruit.

The next time you feel distant from God, let these truths drive your heart’s affections back to behold the glory of Christ.

Quotes from pages 109-112 of The Glory of Christ (Banner of Truth).

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As I mentioned last week, Ecuador suffered a deadly earthquake that killed at least 650. Several of the churches we work with in Ecuador are hurting and rallying as the body of Christ to come to the spiritual, emotional, and material needs of those in their congregation and community.

Leadership Resources set up a relief fund to support members of a partner church affected by the earthquake with material needs. Would you consider making a donation to help our brothers and sisters in Christ?

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The phrase “in Christ” occurs 165 times in the Pauline Epistles.

But what exactly does it mean to be ‘in Christ’?

In Kent Hughes’ Ephesians commentary on one of the Bible’s most glorious passages (Ephesians 1:3-14), he answers the question. Below I share a collection of quotes that summarize Hughes’ (and Scriptures’) amazing answer.

First, [being "in Christ"] indicates radical transformation.

Paul delineates this in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Being “in Christ” is nothing less than being made alive. “. . . so also in Christ shall all be made alive,” says Paul (1 Corinthians 15:22; cf. 2:5). This is a total spiritual change. “He becomes the soil in which they grow, the atmosphere which they breathe, the source and goal of their entire existence as men.”

“In Christ” far outstrips the term “Christian” in describing Christianity. —Kent Hughes

Being in Christ brings a radical reorientation—a movement from external righteousness to inward righteousness that radicalizes our conduct. As a result, though the world hates, those in Christ forgive; while the world lusts for more, those in Christ are content.

From my perspective, “in Christ” far outstrips the term “Christian” in describing Christianity.

Secondly, being in Christ brings a dynamic unity of cosmic dimensions.

The heart of our unity is that we become members of the Body of Christ. Spiritually there is organic relationship with him. We are “seated . . . in the heavenly places” with him (2:6)— we are there because we are in him. Through this union we also enter into a profound oneness with other believers. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Thirdly, our being in Christ brings deep satisfaction. The simple fact is, it is not possible to be fulfilled outside of Christ.

The pleasure that the world offers is very much like a Chinese dinner. No matter how good it is, you’ll be hungry again in two hours! It is in Christ, and in Christ only, that lasting fulfillment, deep human satisfaction, is found. “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst’” (John 6:35).

Could there be a more enticing menu—transformation, union, satisfaction? This fare meets every need. How does it come to us? Humanly speaking it comes through believing, as Paul says in verse 13— “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” Believing in Christ is the path to being in Christ! This worked for me and millions of others, and it will most surely work for all who come to Christ.

Praise God for the transformation, unity, and deep satisfaction that we in Christ enjoy!

If you enjoyed learning about the theological and practical depth of what it means to be ‘in Christ’, I encourage you to study Ephesians, a book that uses the phrase 36 times, and highlight each time it mentions in Christ.

Ephesians will develop what life in Christ means for the individual and the church. You may enjoy Hughes’ easy-to-read devotional commentary like I did or his sermons that led to the book. (My Spanish speaking friends will enjoy Sugel Michelen’s great series on Ephesians.)


The day after my mother went to be with the Lord, my phone rang—it was my pastor.

After a few minutes of conversation, my pastor said, “Kevin, you know that your mom was so proud of you.”

“Yes,” I replied, “And I know I have her to thank for the man I am today. She would always tell me that she prayed for me everyday on the way to work. I don’t know where I would be without her.1 I was incredibly blessed to have a prayer warrior for a mother.”

What my pastor said next turned our simple and sentimental conversation into a moment I’ll never forget: “That’s great Kevin. Now it’s your turn to be the prayer warrior.”

While my prayer life has grown in leaps and bounds the past several years, the words inconsistent and rushed often characterize my prayer life more than rich and joyful. I’ve read many of the best books on prayer, organized my prayer life in the PrayerMate app, have a degree from a world-class seminary, and have seen God work in amazing ways through efforts in prayer. But none of that matters…if I don’t pray.

Maybe you’re like me and constantly battle to pray like you should. (I think that describes many “Bible people” like me.) But I resolve, after seeing the example of my mother and receiving that charge from my pastor, to pick up the prayer baton and continually strive forward in devotion and faithfulness.

For me, this means not getting down on myself when I think I’ve failed as a pray-er. I need to remember that I am accepted by God, and, flowing from that acceptance, seek to do my very best in prayer, knowing that my acceptance is based on  Christ’s finished work, not the state of my prayer life.

Striving forward in prayer also means having a realistic view of prayer. It is easy for me to think down on myself if I don’t spend two hours everyday in heart-moving, heaven-shaking prayer. I need to remember that small prayers not only “count” in God’s eyes, but also add up and bear fruit.

Striving also means I need to block of time in my schedule, sometimes entire days or portions of the day for prayer; not just presenting petitions and intercessions, but also to recalibrate my relationship with God. I am so thankful for the example of Leadership Resources, the missions organization I serve with. The first Wednesday of every year is an all-organization day of prayer.2  I cannot tell you how many prayers I have seen answered in amazing ways through our faithfulness in prayer—prayer either at our annual day of prayer or our time in prayer at the beginning of each workday. As missionaries training pastors to clearly and faithfully teach the Scriptures, we face plenty of spiritual obstacles (not to mention warfare) and we can’t afford not to pray!

Blog reader, as I take the baton from a prayer warrior like my mother and seek to be more devoted and faithful in prayer, I have two things to ask of you:

  1. Please pray for me.
  2. Join me in my journey.

1 Whenever I drive a portion of the route she took to work, I think about her faithfulness in prayer on my behalf.

2 It also happens to be the same day as Bill Mills’ famous fish fry :) .

image credit


Ecuador EarthquakeThis past Saturday night, Ecuador faced a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. The death toll is at 350 and rising, and many are now homeless, displaced, or frantically searching for loved ones buried. See some of the devastation.

As you may know, I travel to Ecuador a couple times a year to train pastors and church leaders with Leadership Resources. Several of the churches we know and love are reeling.

Please join me in prayer for the beautiful country of Ecuador, specifically for rescue/rebuilding efforts, that suffering would be consoled, the church would be mobilized and built, and God would be glorified.

The photo on the right is of a road that I’ve traveled several times…and would have been on in a couple of weeks (but we canceled our trip).

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“Christian fellowship is…not an end in itself. Fellowship between Christians is for the sake of fellowship with God.” —J.I. Packer1 Tweet This!

There are several misconceptions of fellowship that exist in the church today. Two common ones are that fellowship is not necessary and fellowship is purely horizontal, that is between humans.

By God’s design, fellowship is necessary for the Christian. That is why we are not to give up meeting together, but stir one another up to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25). Fellowship is not optional, but absolutely vital for a full and healthy Christian life. Consider the following illustration from Packer:

“A body in which the blood does not circulate well is always below par, and fellowship corresponds to the circulation of the blood in the body of Christ. The church gains strength through fellowship, and loses strength without it.”2

If you’ve ever felt weak in your faith, it makes sense you need someone to strengthen you. If you’ve ever felt down, you need someone to build you up. Part of God’s design of the church involves a mutual ministry to one another. Forsaking fellowship, especially weekly church involvement, forsakes God’s work in our lives.

Others wrongly believe that fellowship is just between human beings, or that as long as you pack a bunch of Christians together, fellowship occurs; regardless of the topic of conversation. The truth is that our fellowship together is fellowship with God the Father and the Son by the Holy Spirit (1 John 1:3; 2 Corinthians 13:14). When we speak God’s Word to one another, build each other up in the faith, pray for one another, and sing spiritual songs, we enter into fellowship with our Triune God.

Christian—if you want to know and experience God more, fellowship with His people around His Word as much as you can. I pray that Packer’s words in this quote will cause your heart to long for deeper, richer fellowship with God’s people so that you would have deeper and richer fellowship with Him as well.

JI Packer Quote on Fellowship

1 Quote from page 194 of God’s Words, now under the title of 18 Words: The most important words you will ever know.
2 Ibid, page 192.