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When It Hurts To Keep Your Word

Promise

Mom, do I have to go? he cried. I really want to see my cousin play.

You do, Gabe- you have to go. You gave your word.

When “Something Better” Comes Along

And so the way to the town hall was a trail of tears. Because we had previous commitments that night.

That Monday night of his cousin Eli’s game. Of the only game Gabe might ever see in his MVP cousin’s last basketball season. Because Eli lives two hours away and was coming down this one time only, to play a team 20 minutes away.

But Gabe had signed up for his project talk that night, about bluegill fishing down in Honey Lake. Plus I’d promised to give some friends a ride that night. We’d made both these promises before the invite to Eli’s game.

But still- this was it, our last, best hope to see him play.

He Swears To His Own Hurt

So as Gabe bawled, I stewed. I seriously considered ducking out.

But I knew.

God’s children keep their word when it hurts. Sometimes only because their parents make them. But they don’t bow out the second something better comes along.

When Psalm 15 describes the kind of person who “may dwell on God’s holy hill,” one of the marks of that person is that “he swears to his own hurt and does not change.”

I knew the righteous keep their promises. That, even when it’s costly or inconvenient, their word is gold and their yes means yes.

Because They Trust God

I think they can do this because, at the end of the day, they trust that God is as just as involved in the timing of opportunities that came through as they trust that he never lies, that all His Word is truth.

Can we skip 4H? This is my only time to see Eli. Can we please not go, Mom?

But we couldn’t not go. We given our word. We’d promised.

Gabe, tip-off is at 7:00. The meeting is called to order at 7:00. We can’t do both. And Christians keep their promises– here I nearly shouted to hurdle his wails- WHEN IT HURTS!

When the Date Can’t be Changed

That was Monday. Then along comes Thursday, and lo! and behold, it’s me who’s all torn-up and thinking of bailing out.

Because the date of the boys’ annual piano recital- a day that marks an end of hours and dollars and commitment – was announced. And it just so happens it’s the one day this spring that I promised to speak hours away.

So after my sob story to our piano teacher friend, she nudged, I’m sorry the date can’t be changed. It would be good for them to perform.

And by the grace of God, I texted back, I agree.

Do we trust God in the timing?

These might seem so little: missing a piano recital or a basketball game.

But they made me revisit disappointment as His appointment and the truth that my times are in his hand. Which means, by extension, that the timing of the invites that come my way are also in his hand.

The speaking invitation came weeks before I knew the recital date, so I must take it that God didn’t mean for me to be at the recital. And Gabe agreed to give his project talk a month before Eli’s game was changed, so I take it to mean that we weren’t to be at the game.

Can we trust that the order in which the invites reach us isn’t random? That even this sequence was from God? Can we commit our commitments to him and take Psalm 37:5 to heart: “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in him and he will act”?

Will we bank on that promise when it costs us to keep our word?

Or will FOMO overcome us?

Maybe the root of our temptation to break our promises is FOMO- the fear of missing out? Maybe the reason we break our vows is that we really don’t trust God to work when we keep our word.

And fear, you know, is always at odds with trust.

This FOMO thing reminds me of a quote I recently came across. It describes a person whose faith is vibrant and growing and who is also self-controlled.

The world has no dominion over him: he is master of himself; and being possessor of a far better inheritance…he does not expect or seek on earth perfect happiness which he believes is secured for him in heaven.

John Brown, Commentary on 2 Peter 1

God’s children are not slaves to FOMO. We know we’ll miss out on some things here. We know our bucket list won’t all get checked off. That we’ll miss some great recitals and exciting games.

And that it is okay. Because we know that perfect happiness awaits.

More Concerned With Middles

One last point.

It strikes me that besides a lack of trust and a fear of missing out, there’s another reason it’s so hard to keep our word.

It has to do with beginnings and ends. We remember those best. When we study and practice, brain science says chunk it up so you have more starts and ends, because that’s what you’ll recall. And we emphasize births and graduations, first steps and last games.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that our God might be more concerned with middles. Middles are longer. They’re where we run the race. They’re where character is made.

In-betweens and middles are where we grow. And God cares about growth.

Where Faith Grows

And growth comes from how we live in the middle. From what we do with the “better party” that comes along after we committed to another, the ballgame on project talk night. That’s how character is formed.

Because faith is a like a muscle. Exercise it and it grows. Leave it- break your word, don’t trust God with the timing- and it will atrophy.

Will we be strong people of integrity who let our yes be yes and trust that God is pleased and his children are blessed when they swear to their hurt?

Will we believe his promises? That He is a shield to those who walk in integrity? That no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

And that when we keep our word when it hurts we will abide in His tent and dwell on his holy hill?

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He …who swears to his own hurt and does not change…

Psalm 15:1,4b

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Resolve. Even though you’ll fall.

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We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up.

C. S. Lewis, Letters, 1/20/42

Why We Don’t Resolve

Only one of five was. Some of the five shrugged. One shook her head and grimaced.

Why don’t we start the New Year with a resolution or two? Reasons tend to fall in one of two groups: either for sloth of soul or for fear of failure. I’ll explain.

1. Some of us opt out of New Year’s Resolutions because they’re so much work. We like comfort and a fast fix. Saying no to nighttime snacks and prepping salads for tomorrow’s lunch instead – these take diligence and effort and self-control.

And we don’t want to dig in for what might be a duel to the death. We’ve got work to do and kids to feed. Maybe next year. We’re not ready for that fight. Not yet.

2. Some of us resist resolutions because we know we’ll fall. Whether in two months or two days or two hours, it’ll happen. We’ll succumb. I’ll eat that bowl of ice cream at 10 pm and interrupt my friend, again. It’s only a matter of time.

But could it be that we fear stumbling on the right road more than we fear drifting along the wrong road?

Because we’re afraid of getting dirty, we let the perfect become the enemy of the good. We’re afraid to run and fall in the mud.

Which is why you might actually consider making these three resolves.

1. RESOLVE: To know God’s power in the fight.

C.S. Lewis knew of whence we speak, of what we fear, at the start of this new year.

I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptations. It is not serious, provided self-offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience etc. don’t get the upper hand. No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us: it is the very sign of his presence. (Letters, January 20, 1942)

So up and at ’em. Get in the fray. God is present with us in our muck.

Though a righteous man falls seven times, he gets up again (Proverbs 24:16a). Muddy and sweaty, maybe trembling or scraped, the righteous get back up.

But cowards watch unscathed from the couch. And cuddled up, clean and dry, they probably don’t much notice God’s power. They don’t feel his forgiveness and grace, helping them up.

We don’t know the strength of the wind until we try to walk against it and we don’t know the force of the evil within us until we try to fight it.

But, we also don’t know the power of God to strengthen us until we resolve, face off, do battle against the besetting sins and bad habits that would have us bound.

My power is made perfect in weakness, our Lord said.

2. RESOLVE: To avoid greater cost later.

It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish. -Sam Gamgee

Waiting can be costly. Strike while the iron’s hot. Resolve now. Agony comes when we wait too long, from thinking I wish I would have.

Rory Vaden is a motivational speaker. It’s hard to argue his premise that success of any sort requires self-discipline. He quips,

Procrastination and indulgence are nothing more than creditors that charge you interest.

He’s right. We eat too much and we feel sick and gain weight. That’s costly. We spew angry words and lose friends. Very costly. We don’t proof our messages and take triple the time undoing the confusion. Big interest. Procrastination and indulgence are costly.

Left unchecked, they cost us our souls. Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion (Hebrews 3:15).

Get started. Resolve today.

3. RESOLVE: To exalt Christ in the good fight and when you fall.

The Apostle Paul was a resolver. He resolved, he made it his ambition, to preach where Christ had not been named (Romans 15:10), to know nothing but Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2), to minister in Rome (Acts 19:21) to name a few.

You might not know this, but Paul also encouraged us to make resolutions. To make faith-filled resolves for good.

My proof text for urging you to make good resolves is 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12,

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul’s train of thought here is important for us to understand in order to make good resolutions. Not all resolutions are good resolutions. Because without faith it’s impossible to please God and whatever does not come from faith is sin. Resolves that are made, and-even worse-kept, without faith cannot be good and only tend to pride.

Yes, definitely- count the cost (Luke 14:28). Don’t be like the guy who started the tower and got laughed out of town because he didn’t have the resources to finish. If you are in Christ, you do have the resources. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work for you (Eph. 2:19-20).

But then, make good resolves by faith, relying on God’s power to help us will and act. And refuse to see failure as a sign that you’re on the wrong path.

The fact that you get mud on the windshield and temporarily lose sight of your goal and swerve, doesn’t mean that you’re on the wrong race track.

If you were, the enemy wouldn’t bother you. What the mud really means, John Piper explains (Future Grace, p. 55),

[I]s that you should turn on the windshield wipers and use your windshield washer.

Be encouraged. The mud means you’re right on track. Spiritual growth ahead.

Resolve Now. Quit Limping.

The opposite of resolved is not a happy-go-lucky drift to holiness. We only drift one direction and it’s not toward heaven. Not to resolve is to be undecided and irresolute.

Not to resolve is to limp between two opinions and to think, I really should stop ____ (eating, scrolling, interrupting)but not yet. 

So when should we resolve?

Whenever we see something we should be doing that we’re not doing we should resolve to do it and whenever we see something we’re doing that we shouldn’t be doing, we should resolve not to. To walk worthy, to see God’s power, to exalt Jesus. We should resolve. January first or December 31st and any day in between.

How long will you go on limping between two opinions? If the Lord is God follow him, if Baal is God follow him, Elijah challenged the Israelites.

It’s the same today. If God is strong and your resolve is born of faith and for good, don’t be irresolute. Resolve. Don’t go on limping.

Oh, sure, we’ll fail and stumble and get a little muddy. But we will rise.

And the towels will be out and our clean clothes waiting.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.
Jude 24-25
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More Than Conquerors: Not Somehow, But Victoriously

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Romans 8:37

The greatest truths don’t always feel true. Sometimes “more than conquerors” don’t even feel like conquerors.

Sometimes “super-conquerors” feel like losers.

More Than Meets The Eye

In fact, the “more than conquerors” are described one verse earlier as slaughtered sheep, who face death all the day long.

And back-to-back, just like that, slaughtered sheep are more than conquerors.

But that shouldn’t come as a shock to students of the Word. The Bible’s full of that sort of upside down kingdom talk. Because the earth is full of things are not what they seem.

It’s full of firsts who are lasts and lasts who are first and greats who are servants of all.  Full of weak who are strong and poor who are rich and mourners who get up and dance. Of persecuted who bless and wounded who pray and hurt ones who overcome evil with good. Of the hard pressed but not crushed and the fighters for rest and of the sorrowful yet always rejoicing.

The heroes are the saints who, like Mary and Joseph, and Joseph and Moses and maybe you and me- who choose what they did not choose.

Reality for these is far more than what meets the eye. These set their sights on things unseen and are never too old to see.

These are more than conquerors, in all these things.

Not In Spite Of, But Because Of

All means all. In all these things. For me, all these things means decades of longings unfulfilled and repenting of the same things and years peppered with rough scrambled days. In all these things.

What are your all these things?

Whatever they are, they can be your launching pad to spiritual growth. Because of that little preposition in. 

In all these things, we are more than conquerors through him. Not despite them, but because of them.

Do you remember the Old Testament Abigail? Abigail was “discerning and beautiful, but the her husband Nabal was harsh and badly behaved,” (1 Sam. 25:3).

In her study on Abigail, Nancy DeMoss Wolgumuth posed two questions that pulsate:

What if she was beautiful and discerning not in spite of the harsh and ill-behaved man she had been married to but because of her relationship with him? Was it her difficult circumstances that made her seek to know God and to become God’s woman?

Leading questions, those. No, Paul wrote, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

In all these things. Not in spite of them. In all these things. 

Not Somehow, But Victoriously

We’ve all heard it and most of us have said it:  I’ll get through somehow.

But come now. These aren’t the words of a super-conqueror, are they? Somehow it’ll all turn out.

Somehow?

And we who are in Christ are. We are super-conquerors. Not will be- are.

The word in Greek that is translated “more than conquerors” in Romans 8:37 is only used once in the whole Bible. It’s one compound Greek word that takes two- super conquerors– or three of ours- more than conquerors– to express.

Albert Barnes explains how it is we gain victory in all these things.

That is, they have not power to subdue us; to alienate our love and confidence; to make us lose our faith. We are the victors, not they. Our faith is not destroyed, our love is not diminished, our hope is not blasted.

But it is not simple victory; … it is more than simple triumph; it augments our faith, increases our strength, expands our love to Christ.

In other words, our sufferings become stepping stones on the path to glory when we score off them. When, instead of shipwrecking our faith, they cause our faith and love to grow.

Not somehow, but victoriously. In all these things.

But Not Without A Fight

In, “The Law of Antagonism,” Oswald Chambers explains that super-conqueror status doesn’t come without a fight.

Life without war is impossible either in nature or in grace. The basis of physical, mental, moral, and spiritual life is antagonism. This is the open fact of life.

Health…is maintained only by sufficient vitality on the inside against things on the outside…Things which keep me going when I am alive, disintegrate me when I am dead. If I have enough fighting power, I produce the balance of health.

The same is true of the mental life. If I want to maintain a vigorous mental life, I have to fight, and in that way the mental balance called thought is produced. Morally it is the same… No man is virtuous because he cannot help it; virtue is acquired.

And spiritually it is the same. Jesus said — “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” i.e., everything that is not spiritual makes for my undoing, but — “be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

I have to learn to score off the things that come against me, and in that way produce the balance of holiness; then it becomes a delight to meet opposition.

We learn to cling to him and run the race score of things that come against us. We overcome.

And, in all these things we are super-conquerors through him who loved us.

What Super-Conquerors Know

Super-conquerors don’t just triumph over evil things. We win by trampling- spiritually- on the things that would destroy us.

We score off suffering and sickness and mistreatment and conflict and injury and hardship and loss.

I love how John Piper explains what it is to be a super conquerer.

If you’re a conqueror, your enemies are dead at your feet. And if you’re more than a conquerer, your enemies get up…and serve you. The point is God doesn’t just protect you from all these adversaries, he makes them serve you, which is another way of saying Romans 8:28. The devil’s efforts are turned to work for our good.

This is the super conquerors’ secret: all these things are stepping stones to glory. What the enemy intends for evil, God turns for our good.

We look the worst straight in the eye and fight the faithless sin that would threaten to undo us and, through Christ, we fight for faith and strive to love and so we win the victory.

Through him who loved us. 

Stepping Stones To Glory

Christ was perfected through suffering and so will we be. Super conquerors use the same wounds that could be victim-makers and faith-takers and walk over them- as stepping stones- on the path to glory.

So we rejoice in our sufferings, Paul wrote, because we know that through Christ, these things serve us. They are precisely the means God ordains to grow us up and strengthen our faith.

Because these things-all these hard things– serve us. They pave the way to glory.

But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

1 Corinthians 15:57

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10 Things I Don’t Do (& 1 Thing I Do)

I write on the side. For love

Three days a week, I am gainfully employed outside of the home. Another day and more is joyfully invested in ministry and treasured scheduled times with my girlfriends. And feeding and clothing and making this house in the woods a home for Jim and the two sons we’re training up to be men takes time too.

Because I wear so many hats, now and then friends will ask, How can you do everything you do?

But what these friends might not know are all the things I DON’T do.

So if you ever feel rotten because you can’t do all the things that a friend of yours can do, this post is for you. On the gateway of the year, pause and remember: there’s a lot of things that person you’re comparing yourself to DOES NOT do.

Like these 10 things, for example, that I DON’T do🙂:

  1. Care for pets. But Dinah and Zippy were delightful parts of past seasons.
  2. Clip coupons, buy Groupon and find all the best deals. (I sometimes use Kohl’s cash, though.)
  3. Sew, knit, quilt and crochet. But I am super blessed by a mother-in-law, nephew, nieces and friends who do.
  4. Decorate my home.  Our walls are (mostly) monastery white, our sofa is 21 years old and that’s all right.
  5. Workout at the gym. In the time it would take me drive there and back, I can squeeze a jog or bike ride in.
  6. Watch TV and rarely a movie. I have never, not ever, rented from Netflix or Redbox or Vudu. Really. Truly.
  7. Make lasagna or salsa or pizza from scratch. Although, as in #3, I’m blessed by family and friends* who do.
  8. Scroll my way through Facebook. I post and run a lot, and Instagram and Pinterest are off limits for me.
  9. Pamper at the salon. A combination of Great Clips, Clairol and my friend Holly manage me swimmingly.
  10. Garden. And by extension: can, freeze and make herbal soap with lavender and thyme.  Caveat #7 applies.

That’s my list of 10 things I DON’T do.

They’re not good or bad, right or wrong. The point is not that I can’t or shouldn’t do these 10 things. It’s that, at least for now, I don’t.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. It does mean we’ll all find it easier to rest content with what we don’t do when we acknowledge God made us- intentionally-  fearfully and wonderfully different. We have different and unequal sets of skills, goals, interests, abilities, and resources.

Which means our lists could stretch to 10,000 things we DON’T DO. And that’s okay. Because our limits are built-in by God. They’re good.

Here’s how Andrea Dekkar closed her “10 Things I DON’T DO”  post that prompted this post:

I think the important thing is for each of us to realize what our skills and goals and interests are, and then focus on putting our time, energy, resources towards activities that align with our skills, goals, and interests.

If we can do that on a regular basis, our lives will feel simpler, more organized, less chaotic, and less stressed!

I like that and agree. Building on strengths and using gifts- rather than wishing we could do what we don’t- tends toward growth and joy.

But I can’t leave it there. Because, while my list of 10 will no doubt change with each season of life I’m in, there’s this 1 thing I do that I pray never ends.

Seek Him.

One of the first Psalms I set (back) into song 20 years ago was Psalm 105: 1-4. We four still sing it now, ending with verse 4:

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.

Look to the Lord and his strength and seek His face. Those might sound like three, but it boils down to  one.

  1.  Seek Him.

Bing, bang, boom- some things are that simple. God’s children seek his face. They press on, they exert effort to get to God himself.

John Piper describes this sort of seeking as,

[T]o constantly set our minds toward God in all our experiences, to direct our minds and hearts toward him through the means of his revelation…

And there are endless obstacles that we must get around in order to see him clearly, and so that we can be in the light of his presence. We must flee spiritually dulling activities. We must run from them and get around them. They are blocking our way.

These things we must move away from and go around if we would see God. That is what seeking God involves.

That’s my 1 thing. I want move away and go around- some of my DON’Ts- to seek His face because I want to know Him more.

He still speaks.

Because how can you possibly love someone you don’t know? And how can you possibly know someone if you never listen? If you don’t seek?

To know God, we must listen to his voice. His sheep listen to his voice and follow Him (John 10:27).

We must hear God speak.

The spectacular truth is we don’t have to climb a mountain or sail the sea or even rise at 5 am in the quiet, dark to hear Him speak. Because He has spoken. His words are within arm’s reach right now. “The Bible,” AW Tozer wrote, “is not only a book which was once spoken, but a book which is now speaking.”

God wants to speak to us today through his Word. So let’s don’t say God is silent.

He wants us to seek Him and press on to know HIm.

Don’t say God is silent if your Bible is closed.

Tozer also wrote,

Everything is made to center upon the initial act of ‘accepting’ Christ . . . and we are not expected thereafter to crave any further revelation of God to our souls. We have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insists that if we have found Him, we need no more seek Him.

Spurious means false. It’s false to think that once we’ve come to faith and received Christ as Lord we’re done. As if once you’ve found a great friend you can stop seeking to know him.

No! John Piper says it like this, Go hard after the holy God. Isaiah, like this, Seek the Lord while He may be found. He may be found now in His Word.

But we silence the sound of God’s voice in our lives when we leave our Bible on the shelf (or ignore our Bible apps). As has aptly been said, Complaining about God being silent when your Bible is closed is like complaining about not getting texts when your phone is turned off.

Tim Challies puts a bow on it:

Apart from this, speaking by his Son, through his Spirit, in the Bible, God does not promise that He will speak in any other way

In other words, we can all believe that God will speak to us through the Bible. And all this JoyPrO stuff, I hope, is about how God does speak. About how we find Him when we seek.  

What’s on your lists? Do you have 10 things plus 1?

My list of 10 things I DON’T do will change. There might even come a time when I make soap with thyme and crochet.

But seeking Him by grace will – I pray- be my 1 thing. To begin and end this year and all others.

How about you?  What are 10 things you don’t do?

And 1 thing, so help you God, you do?

But one thing I do: 
Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13b-14