It’s common to see advertisements and books that promise to help us “thrive”—a vision that’s generally about being comfortable, confident, and carefree. Is this a goal that Christians should share? What does it look like to “thrive” as a follower of Jesus?
Authors Joel Beeke and Brian Hedges suggest a different vision in their book Thriving in Grace. The title is drawn from a phrase coined by Puritan writer John Owen—they see it as a “beautiful description of gospel holiness and spiritual maturity” (xii). Over 12 chapters, Beeke and Hedges explore how the writings of the Puritans (pastor-theologians from the 16th and 17th centuries) can fuel our spiritual growth.
Instead of seeking to curate a beautiful life, we should gaze on Christ’s beauty. Instead of cultivating self-dependence, we should seek the Lord’s strength in prayer. Instead of avoiding suffering, we should rejoice in how God grows us through affliction. It’s a countercultural vision but a much-needed one today. Here are just three ways that Beeke and Hedges suggest the time-tested wisdom of the Puritans can bring true thriving.
1. Seeing Christ’s Beauty
While this book explores 12 ways we can grow, there’s one means that seems to stand at the head of all of them. Hedges writes, “Thriving in grace is, essentially, just this: a growing satisfaction in the sufficiency, loveliness, and beauty of Christ” (58). Our holiness, our prayer life, our joy in suffering—all grow and strengthen as see more of Christ’s beauty.
And the Puritans are a great help to us here. I’ve come away from every Puritan book I’ve read with a greater love for Jesus. They “loved Christ passionately and sought His glory tirelessly. Christ meant everything to them” (49). The Puritans weren’t content to have a surface-level knowledge of Jesus. While the cross was central to their understanding of what Christ had done, they didn’t stop here. They pressed further and deeper, fostering “meditation on Christ by covering the whole terrain of His person, natures, offices, states, names, titles, and mediatorial work—including His life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, session, intercession, and second coming” (54).
How would we be different if we set our minds and hearts upon Jesus in all his multifaceted beauty and glory? This river will never run dry. From it will issue streams of joy, gratitude, faith, heavenly-mindedness, and holiness.
Puritan Quote: “Only Christ is the whole of man’s happiness, the Sun to enlighten him, the Physician to heal him, the Wall of fire to defend him, the Friend to comfort him, the Pearl to enrich him, the Ark to support him, the Rock to sustain him under the heaviest pressures.” – Isaac Ambrose
Where to Start: Christ Set Forth or The Heart of Christ by Thomas Goodwin
2. Praying Earnestly
How is your prayer life going? I imagine this question leaves most of us feeling guilty. After reading the chapter in Thriving in Grace on prayer, I wanted to pray more and pray deeper—but not out of a sense of guilt. I saw the immense privilege of prayer, the joy it should bring us. As Beeke writes, “Prayer is like a key that opens heaven’s treasure chest, which is full of the riches Christ secured for His people” (119). How could we not want to pray?
Two ways the Puritans can help us pray are by shaping the aim and the content of our prayers. Our aim should not just be to fulfill a duty or to get things from God. Instead, our goal should be communion with God—“not just to receive God’s benefits but to receive God Himself” (126). This will fuel our desire to pray. The Puritans were great pray-ers because they knew their great God.
We can pursue this aim by paying attention to the content of our prayers. While we should speak to God from our hearts and pour out what we’re feeling, the Puritans also counsel us to shape our hearts by praying the Bible. God has spoken to us through his Word, so we should pray his Word back to him—praising him for his goodness, asking him to fulfill his promises, and pleading for help to live according to his commands. For the Puritans, “every Scripture passage [was] fuel for burning prayers” (123).
Puritan Quote: “A praying man can never be very miserable, whatever his condition be, for he has the ear of God; the Spirit within to indite, a Friend in heaven to present, and God Himself to receive his desires. It is a mercy to pray, even though I never receive the mercy prayed for.” – William Bridge
Where to Start: The Lord’s Prayer by Thomas Watson or Prayer by John Bunyan
3. Rejoicing in Suffering
Do you ever think suffering is impeding your Christian growth? If only you didn’t have such difficult circumstances—that unhappy marriage, that chronic pain, that demanding dead-end job—you’d be able to spend more time in the Word and prayer, and enjoy your relationship with God. It’s easy to think that way. But the Puritans had a different view of suffering. They knew that God, in his infinite providence, intends suffering to draw us closer to him.
The Puritans wrote much on suffering, but it’s not just their works that can help us rejoice amid pain. These men, by and large, had difficult lives. They faced the trials common to people who lived without modern medical care—many of them lost wives in childbirth or children in infancy. They faced poor health themselves. But many Puritans also experienced the deep pain of losing their pastorates or their liberty because of religious persecution. John Bunyan was imprisoned for 12 years over his nonconformity to the Church of England—and he used that time to write The Pilgrim’s Progress, which is one of the best-selling books of all time and has encouraged countless Christians through the centuries. Reading biographical details about the Puritans gives us a vivid picture of how God uses suffering in the lives of his saints to achieve his good purposes.
Puritan Quote: “Sin is always sinful, but in our prosperity we are not so aware of it. The dust of the world fills our eyes. We don’t see clearly the evil that is in sin. In the sharp and bitter waters of affliction God washes out the dust and clears the eyes to discover sin.” – Thomas Case
Where to Start: All Things for Good by Thomas Watson or The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel
These three means of growth are just a glimpse into the riches of Puritan writing. In Thriving in Grace, Joel Beeke and Brian Hedges marshal the wisdom of the Puritans to help us grow in other ways like gazing on the glory of our triune God, pursuing holiness, and meditating on heaven.
And I hope, as the authors do, that reading Thriving in Grace is only the beginning of your friendship with the Puritans. Acquaint yourselves with these godly men and you’ll have companions to help you thrive for a lifetime.
This article was originally published at The Gospel Coalition Australia.