What rolls off your tongue when you’re in trouble? What comes out when you’re in a prison or a cave? How do you pray?
Like A Song, It Came
“Help me,” “Heal us,” and “Have mercy,” are desperate prayers my God has heard lately. There’s also been that prayer for a prodigal.
But last night, these words came. Like lyrics from songs we sang in eighth grade, they came.
Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.
That’s the last verse of Psalm 142, “Of David. When he was in the cave.” David prayed those words when he was literally in a cave, hiding from a hostile King Saul who literally sought to end his life.
I’d just texted a few friends to ask them to pray, another SOS. Please pray that God will bring peace to our family.
Then Psalm 142 verse 7 came, like ROYGBIV and All Cows Eat Grass and The Doxology.
Like a familiar, overlearned thing it came. The Spirit sent it and it came.
Because that verse was a go-to prayer during the decade of gut-wrenching infertility, a heart-wrenching church split, and marriage conflict that came along for the ride. Those felt like a prison that I couldn’t escape. I felt helpless and hemmed in.
David’s prison was a cave. He hid in a hole in the rocks to save his life from hostile King Saul. Derek Kidner explains, “the strain of being hated and hunted is almost too much, and faith is at full stretch.”
Psalm 142 teaches us how to pray when we feel trapped and out of control, when we see no way of escape from our dark cave of troubles. It is a psalm of lament, it is a psalm crying out to God.
My prison is not a cave. It was my “decade of troubles.”
But today I felt trapped and helpless again. As if there was nothing I could do to escape hostile, hateful words from someone I love, nothing I could do to help him know how much he is loved. I didn’t feel hunted but I did feel hated.
So for freedom, I prayed.
That I May Praise Your Name
During that decade of troubles, I loved to pray this phrase of Psalm 142. Because it grounded my prayer. It turned it from being just about me and my pain to the Lord and his praise.
Bible commentator Albert Barnes, explains, “Not merely for my own sake, but that I may have occasion more abundantly to praise thee; that thus [you] may be honored; an object at all times much more important than our own welfare.”
In other words, we ground our cries for help in the glory and praise of God that will come when he frees us from our prisons. Bring my soul out of prison, not that I may live more comfortably, or insure my physical safety and financial security, but that I may praise your name.
The Righteous Will Gather Around Me Because of Your Goodness to Me
The Hebrew verb for “praise” means to confess or acknowledge. David wants to extol God’s power, goodness and mercy in the company of the saints. In other words, he wants God to answer his prayer so that he can glorify God publicly.
Here, Derek Kidner notes, David “dares to visualize the day when he is no longer shunned or hunted, but thronged, or even crowned.” David visualized a good end. In Christ, with him as our refuge and portion (verse 5), we can be sure of a good end (Romans 8:28). But we can’t be sure when.
I believe we have biblical warrant to take our cues from David and visualize a good end.
Do you visualize how answered prayer would look? Because it does seem like that’s what David is doing. He’s picturing his faithful friends, like the friends I texted who pray, coming around him and rejoicing at God’s goodness to him in freeing him from prison.
David’s visualizing is hoping.
So in hope, I pray.
Faith Joined By Hope
David’s faith was tested in the cave. It was “at full stretch,” as Kidner said. But it was “undefeated, and in the final words it is at last joined by hope.”
Sixteen years ago, God broke me free from a childless prison. Six years ago, he brought me out of an estranged prison. Today, God is building our marriage. I am a prisoner of hope.
Now I am visualizing deliverance. It’s hard, but I picture a day when the relationship filled with hurt and hate is marked by love and laughter. Then the righteous will gather around us and celebrate because of God’s goodness to us.
Friend, tell me if I can pray for you. Because I’d like to get in on the party. Because there will be a party.
We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
Meet my moms. The one on the left has been my mom for 47 years, the other for 25. They’re both very easy to love.
Reason #1: My moms bake the best pies.
But their methods are not the same. One rolls a butter crust that might just mix with whole wheat flour. The other uses Crisco and uses a single shell for a perfect, flaky, double-shell crust. One bakes by feel, the other, by the book. A dollop of real whipped cream tops the pumpkin pie and crumbles of extra sharp cheddar top the apple pie. Both offer it à la mode.
They both bake the best pies. The pies make it easy to love my moms.
Reason #2: My moms work with all their might.
Their tasks are different, but what their hands find to do, they both do with all their might. With the fruit of her hands one mom plants a garden and provides food not only for her household but for her children’s households and for two farmer’s markets. My other mom holds the needle and scissors and her foot deftly pumps the sewing machine pedal. With the fruit of her hands she makes quilts and runners and patches the knees in her grandsons’ pants.
What their hands find to do both moms do it with all their might.
Reason #3: My moms love the hard to love.
Both moms have different difficult people in their lives. I don’t know all of them, but I know one well. Both moms have seen me at my ornery worst. I’d like to think that came 30 years ago when I was a moody teenager, but last month I was too mad and sad to give one mom a proper hug and good-bye after a three-hour drive together. Last week the other mom walked in on pity-party.
Can you guess what both moms said then, last week and last month? They both said, “I love you.”
Reason #4: My moms speak with kindness.
Both moms use their tongues to heal and give life. Their tone is different. One is more subdued and the other effusive. But both design their words to encourage and build up. Kindness, I shared before, has a firm core of truth and soft edges of grace. Both moms have told me no and asked me hard questions. But always the questions and no‘s are grace-laced. Plus, they are free with their thanks.
Both of these women infuse their words with kindness.
What Will Your Kids Say?
You are going to be what you’re becoming now, Dawson Trotman, the founder of the Navigators noted.
I bring it up because as I wrote these four reasons it’s so easy to love my mom and my mother-in-law, I kept asking myself, “What would my sons, or future daughter-in-laws, say about me?” My pies will never compete with grandmas’, but am I living today so that one day they might echo one of the other three?
I’ll explain. When someone, which might include myself, says or does something that makes me feel any of these negative emotions—say someone hurls hurtful words with a kernal of truth, or I say put my foot in mouth and blush— a shot of the cortisol bursts into the blood stream. The stress hormone is in my bloodstream for 90 seconds. I can’t help feel mad, bad, sad or less-than for those 90 seconds.
But after 90 seconds I can help it. I can choose. But it might be hard.
Because if the trigger for those stress hormones sets off a memory of a past trauma, podcaster Alisa Keeton says, “that story is in your neurology, in your neural pathways.” Keeton explains that once we have the physiological response of offense or stress or anger or shame it can “hook right into that memory and the memory drives the car.”
Triggers are real. We can’t stop the feeling.
But we can help whether we ruminate on the story after that initial burst of stress hormone fades in 90 seconds. Even if your life story is one of trauma or mistreatment, true thoughts can boss your feelings. You can get out of that story, take the wheel, and steer the car.
But we can only do that if we have a better story than the one our raw emotions will keep telling us.
We need a truer script.
What’s Your Truth Script?
That’s why we must know the word of God. The world has its “affirmations,” and some contain truth. But Christians have God’s eternal, rock-solid truth. His word—his living, nourishing, sanctifying word— is truth. It’s this truth we need to tell ourselves.
When I mess up and get bossy with the same people in the same way, again, I don’t need: “Inhale confidence, exhale doubt,” or “I let go of that which does not serve me.” These affirmations are not a better, truer script.
I love how Alisa Keeton fleshes this out in her podcast:
My story is best rewriting itself in light of the thought of who God is. In 90 seconds I have a choice to think in line with God and his word and heaven’s reality or I can think in line my present experience, the story of my pain and my hurt.
Which story will we choose?
Keeton’s advice is good: If someone disrespected you and you’re on your way to the pantry or Amazon, give it 90 seconds. Before you eat or drink or yell back or shop, be still and feel. Ride the wave of negative feelings out.
Feel The Feelings, Then Boss The Feelings
Dr. Jill says if we stay angry or anxious longer than 90 seconds, it’s because we are rerunning that loop. We are rethinking the thoughts that re-stimulate the emotional circuit. Then, here we go again on that ride. Another wave is out.
To recap: At any one moment one of three things is happening: a thought, a feeling, a physiological response to what you’re thinking and feeling (stress hormones pumped into the bloodstream). If we have a thought that stimulates anger or anxiety, the physiological response is the adrenaline in the blood stream. From the first of the thought until the adrenaline is completely flushed out of blood is about 90 seconds. We can observe rather than engage.
If we are in Christ, we have power to resist the temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13) and to “observe ourselves” rather than give way and engage in the negative story. This is Joshua saying “choose this day who you will serve” (Joshua 24:15), and Paul calling us to “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Are you feeling shame? Feel it. Name it. Confess and repent if it comes from real guilt. Then choose life. Choose truth.
I got to do that this afternoon.
How I Bossed My Feelings Today
It looked like this. I felt a wave of guilt and shame for a parenting choice I’d made, not once but over years. I observed myself in a new, painful way. When the thought came to mind, I felt sick to my stomach and tears welled up in my eyes.
For about 90 seconds. I rode the cortisol shame wave and then, glory to God, I got off.
And then, by the grace of God, I did two things. I chose a better meaning than the story of the “The Tiger Mom Who Tore Her House Down.” I could have lived in that story. (This is not to say there are no hard consequences for us. There are.) But I repented and confessed.
This is about reframing the pain. It’s about realizing that discomfort won’t kill us, and that God disciplines those he loves. It doesn’t mean he’s mad at us. It’s James 1 and Romans 5. It’s the truth that God uses trials—which even include cortisol blood spikes when people are mean and we screw up—to make us mature and complete and lacking nothing.
So we realize that the negative feelings will subside. Stay present and feel. Ride the wave and look for God’s love.
Include that in your truth script.
3 Ways The Reset Helps
The 90-second reset is just a tool. A bit of knowledge that is a gift from God.
Why is the 90-second reset so revolutionary for me? These three reasons explain why.
It is an acknowledgment that words can hurt us. It assures me that it’s part of the design that as a thinking, feeling creature made in God’s image, the stress hormones he made affect me.
Because it explains why, try as I might, I just can’t stop the feeling. At least not for those first 90 seconds. It explains why even though my head knows another truth, I still feel lousy.
Would you consider dropping a comment if this 90-second reset is helping you?
Or confusing you? I’d like to know that too.
Make Meaning, In God’s Story
Have you heard of Viktor Frankl? He was an Austrian psychiatrist and Jewish Holocaust surviver. He was also a great observer.
In his classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl wrote,
When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves… Everything can be taken from a human but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
Frankl was not, that we know of, a Christ-follower. But he knew that it was ours to choose. In Christ, we are free to write ourselves into his grand story where there is righteousness, peace and joy. Where, one day, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.
That inner freedom helped Frankl survive Auschwitz and find meaning in his tragedy. As Keeton says, our response is our response-ability. We are responsible to assign meaning. We must choose. Frankl chose his response to his circumstances instead of letting the circumstances dictate to him.
Corrie ten Boom was a Holocaust survivor too. And she knew the same truth. Jesus did not promise to change the circumstances around us, Corrie said. He promised great peace and pure joy to those who would learn to believe that God actually controls all things.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made, fight-or-flight, life-saving hormones included, by a loving God who controls all things.
As such, we need not be slaves to our feelings.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
Psalm 22:6-8 (ESV)
Why do you believe in him anyway? God doesn’t do anything on this earth and he doesn’t answer you. Look at all your problems. Why would I possibly want to be like you?
That from someone I love, someone close. Someone who assumes God wouldn’t let his loved ones suffer. Someone, incidentally, who called me worse than a worm.
Satan’s Top Lie To Suffering Saints
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” That is Psalm 22 verse 8, written by David. It’s not the first time I’ve written about that lie. For the accuser of the brothers is relentless.
So today I circled back and lingered on Psalm 22, alert for that old lie,
“that God is there for our convenience, if he is there at all.”
Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72
That lie was loud this week. That if God is here, he’s here for my convenience, my ease. I heard it in that dear one’s scornful words and again inside my troubled mind: If God really loved you, you wouldn’t have to deal with this. You must really be guilty for God to allow such heartache.
Satan kept aiming his fiery darts. A couple landed, with tips dipped in deadly poison. Because my grief morphed into self-pity, and self-pity is of the devil.
So this must be an effective lie. Because not only does he use it on me, he used it on David and on David’s Greater Son.
He Trusts In God, Let God Deliver Him
The devil first hurled it at Jesus in the wilderness when he said, “Command these stones into bread” (Matthew 4:3). It didn’t work.
But he came back to sling the lie again, at an opportune time. It came through different mouths.
So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he delights in him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.
Did you hear the lie? In his weakest, most vulnerable moments, the dying Messiah heard it. He trusts in God; let God deliver him.
I suspect it didn’t sound as harmonious as Handel wrote it. I think it was a raucous, jeering sound.
If I’m honest, if I were at the cross I might have reviled too. At least, I would have urged the Savior, Assert your beloved son status. You shouldn’t have to suffer like this. Come down from the cross.
Because being a beloved son or daughter of the King seems like it ought to bring some big perks. Like, say, not having to suffer like that.
I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way.
Away From Me, Satan!
When Jesus explained how he must “suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed,” Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him (Matthew 16:21-22). “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
I’m with Peter. Suffer many things and be killed doesn’t sound the least bit loving. But Jesus stood on truth.
That can be hard to hear when trouble comes. So Satan plants this seed of doubt, this lie, that suffering = unloved.
But Jesus would have none if it. He turned and said to Peter (Matthew 16:23), “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” The Son of God didn’t buy the lie that God the Father spares his children suffering.
Thank God, he didn’t.
For us and for our salvation he suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God.
The Silence Of God
But in his deepest suffering, our Lord heard the silence of God. Nailed to the cross, Jesus borrowed David’s prophetic words from Psalm 22. He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In our far lighter suffering we might hear accusing voices. Then we might hear nothing at all. There will be grace to endure, to stand up under (1 Corinthians 10:13). But we might receive no relief, no rescue, no response to our prayers—only the sound of silence.
It’s enough to drive a man crazy Or break a man’s faith It’s enough to make him wonder If he’s ever been sane When he’s bleeding for comfort From thy staff and thy rod And the heavens’ only answer Is the silence of God
But God’s silence need not break our faith.
As he was dying, Jesus fixed on to David’s words. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest (Psalm 22: 1-2).
In lament, Great David and his Greater Son both talked back to their silent God.
Don’t Stop Talking To God
David talked back to God because he had faith. Even though he felt God’s silence, he believed God heard. Read the rest of Psalm 22. Paul believed this too.
I believed, therefore I spoke, “I am greatly afflicted.”
Paul quoted that verse from Psalm 116. Lament is good. Crying out to God in our pain is healthy.
The problem is when we stop talking to God. Faith, belief, causes us to speak—even if our words form to tell God our troubles.
So cry out. The real problem is when we stop talking to God.
3 Truths to Defeat the Lie
Because it’s not where you start in this battle with despair. It’s where you land.
Jesus quoted Psalm 22 as he was nailed to the cross. We read Psalm 22 from the foot of the empty cross. There we find three life-giving truths to defeat Satan’s lie.
We know it’s not the end because God hears his people’s groans. He hears, he remembers, he knows. The Father heard the Son when he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He hears your sighs and cries and moans.
He Has Done It!
Serious Bible scholars suggest that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” (John 19:30) he was actually quoting the last line of Psalm 22. As Jesus hung in the dark on the cross, he was meditating on that psalm for he’d cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
But those words were the beginning of Psalm 22, not the end.
“He has done it!” That is the end of the psalm.
For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews chapter 12 verse two says this is true.
Bearing sin and scoffing rude, the Spotless Lamb of God didn’t buy the lie. As the Son of God agonized, bearing our sins in his body on the tree and hearing the heavy silence of God, I think he was still meditating on the truth from Psalm 22.
I think he was looking forward to the real and glorious end, when,
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord.
All the families of the nations will bow down before You...
They will come and tell a people yet to be born about His righteousness—
Y’all! I have some happy news to share in this short post. I’ll do that in a minute. But first I’ve got a quick update.
I’m nearly done with the draft for the Meek Not Weak (or A Taming Grace?) Bible study guide. Across five summers, 175 pages and a 25-page book proposal to boot, I learned that having real readers motivates me. Because in the last couple weeks, glory to God, I’ve condensed material into an actual-factual Bible study guide.
So this Thursday, Lord willing, my kind Bible study friends will begin a journey through the 12-week meekness study guide. I’ll edit and revise as we go. Then, DV, by November at the Empowered Women’s Retreat, there will be a table laden with a pile of meekness books.
Invitation to Action: Which title below would make you take a second look? Would you let me know with a comment below or an email reply?
A Taming Grace: How Meekness Frees Us To Rest In God’s Hand
Meek Not Weak: Reclaiming the Gentle Strength of Meekness
A Taming Grace: How Meekness Frees Us to Rest in Christ When Life is Hard
I’d be grateful for your feedback and your prayers.
In 2022, I resolved to submit articles for publication. I was inspired by a Hope*Writer friend who said her resolutions was to get 100 rejections. I didn’t go that far, but I did resolve to submit an article a month. That is up 1200% from the one piece I submitted last year.
The rejections have come. They start the same old way: “We received an overwhelming number of submissions and truly enjoyed reading through all of them.”
I knew the next line well, “We’re sorry that your submission doesn’t fit our needs at this time.”
But last week it said,
“I am delighted to inform you that we have accepted the following devotions to be included in the book. Congratulations on this incredible milestone of being published! We are celebrating with you.”
That’s update #2. The book will be released this fall.
But I admit, with this turn I am both humbled and delighted.
I am also grateful.Thank you for opening “your weekly doses of JoyPrO.” Thank you for investing your precious time in them. To you who share, comment, or send a note, please know you encourage my heart.
Invitation to Action: Is there a “tough topic in the Bible” or a practical “faith meets real life” topic you’d like me to take up?
A quick aside on this “invitation to action” business: the experts content creators must have a compelling call for action to increase engagement. Mine are usually not so explicit. But they’re there: obey, take God at his word, keep on.
Which reminds me. At the suggestion of two friends who mentioned they’d rather listen rather than read, I started a podcast. It’s called Keep On. For now, it’s just me alone with my phone in the closet and hopefully no Milky meows.
But one can never tell how a thing might grow. I’d like to branch out and do some seriously funny interviews and maybe some book reviews. Speaking of which, did you know I’m posting each month’s book club questions?
Invitation to Action: Subscribe to the KEEP ON WITH ABIGAIL WALLACE podcast or send a link to someone who’d enjoy 5-15 minutes of strong grace. Drop a line if someone you know (including you) can make us think and laugh in an interview.
Christ Exalting Is Why I Write
I promised this would be short. But I must add this bit, because this post feels a self-promotional and I don’t like that.
So I share now my deepest desire is that the words of my mouth will magnify my Lord. In other words, I write to make God look big. My earnest prayer is that you, friend, would be built up in your most holy faith as you see how in my struggles God is my refuge and strength. I write to show you that knowing Jesus Christ is the greatest treasure.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
If I’d Have Known
If you would have told me 10 years ago that this is where I’d be, I think I would have collapsed in a heap.
If you would have told me, as I gazed down at the beautiful rosy-cheeked, long-lashed baby feeding from me, that this child would be the first and last from my womb, I’d have wept.
If I had known how the sought-out son who came from God on a plane and wowed us with his memory and wit and thrilled us with his skillful hands would have this years-long fallow season, I’d have cried.
If I had known that the speaking gigs with the book deal, the bright, sunny home on the prairie, and the Sunday dinners with missionaries were mostly fantasy, I’d have crumbled.
I would have. But I’m not. Because my non-coddling, loves-me-to-the-end God is with me and in me and for me. So please know that I’m not looking for sympathy, nor, at least as I write, in a funk of self-pity.
I’m actually rejoicing.
I know that sounds a little crazy. But it’s not.
At least not once we start to count right.
Re-Learning To Count Loss
How can you possibly count the loss of a child, the death of a dream, the loss of wealth as gain?
Great question. That is why I’m writing. I want to show you the right way for a Christian to count. Let me hasten to add, I am learning to count. Learning. Sometimes I still count the old way. I count loss as loss, not as gain.
But Apostle Paul is teaching me. The syllabus is his life, condensed into a few verses in Philippians, chapter 3:
But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know him…
I bolded so you would notice how Paul is counting. He just finished recounting the things in his life that had given him purpose and meaning—his Jewish heritage, moral excellence and religious upper-crustness, for three. Then comes verse 7, quoted above, “But whatever things were gain to me…”
So what exactly is this new, right way to count?
Count, Consider, Think
First, we’ve got to know that in the Bible, counting means much more than simply numbering. It means considering and reckoning. Turns out, it’s an accountant’s term for balancing the books.
The word can mean to deem or consider—to account, suppose, or think. To think. Christian growth demands we think rightly. We must train ourselves to frame the circumstances we face biblically. We must discipline our minds to think, to consider and count certain things as loss and a certain thing as gain.
In other words, we need to build new associations in our minds. Here’s a fitness example.
Retrain Your Brain to Reframe the Pain
We need to know that there is good pain and there is bad pain. To grow strong in our faith we must be able to differentiate between the two.
After decades of regular exercise, I have trained my brain to actually crave a certain kind of pain. After I do a squat and lunge workout, I want to feel sore. When I lift weights, I want my muscles to quiver. After 40 real push-ups, I want my biceps to sting.
When I train for a marathon, I want to feel the sore legs and lung burn that come from a fast(-ish) 10 mile run. If I get a cramp in my side, I don’t panic—I run through. In fact, if I don’t hurt, I’m not getting my money’s worth.
Over the years, I have trained my brain to know that these are good pains. They are pains I associate with endurance, speed and strength. You could say I’ve learned to connect this sort of “suffering” with growth.
Therefore, I welcome the pain. I don’t count it loss, but gain.
Build Up Useful Associations
Now let’s go beyond the realm of exercise. I love this bit from Oswald Chambers about making associations.
We have to build up useful associations in our minds, to learn to associate things for ourselves, and it can only be done by determination. For instance, learn to associate the chair you sit on with nothing else but study: associate a selected secret place with nothing but prayer […] If we learn to associate ideas that are worthy of God with all that happens […] our imagination will never be at the mercy of our impulses.
When we become accustomed to connecting things, every ordinary occurrence will serve to fructify our minds in godly thinking because we have developed our minds along the lines laid down by the Spirit of God. It is not done once for always; it is only done always. Never imagine that the difficulty of doing these things belongs peculiarly to you, it belongs to everyone. The character of a person is nothing more than the habitual form of his associations
The Moral Foundations for Life
Don’t you love that? Even more than the word fructify, I love the idea that Chambers normalizes this mental training. It’s done always, for all believers who want to count right. When we learn to build useful associations, “our imagination will never be at the mercy of our impulses.” In the context of Philippians 3, that means that rather than wallow in self-pity’s mire when our life isn’t the life of our dreams, we press on to know Christ.
We look to him for comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3) and healing for our broken hearts (Psalm 147:3). In other words, we learn to associate our losses with deeper intimacy with Christ.
And that is gain.
The Intimacy Factor Prepares Us For Loss
In a message on Philippians 3, Pastor John Piper calls this “the intimacy factor.” When the saints suffer in faith, their relationship with God becomes less formal and distant, and more personal and deep. At least if they count right.
Becoming a Christian means discovering that Christ is a Treasure Chest of holy joy and writing “LOSS” over everything else in the world in order to gain him. “He sold all that he had to buy that field.” (Matthew 13:44).
Then Piper asks, Why is writing “LOSS” across everything in your life but Christ a way of preparing to suffer?
His answer? “Suffering is nothing more than the taking away of bad things or good things that the world offers for our enjoyment—reputation, esteem among peers, job, money, spouse, sexual life, children, friends, health, strength, sight, hearing, success, etc. When these things are taken away (by force or by circumstance or by choice), we suffer.”
But if we’ve been learning from Paul, we are already counting our losses as gaining fellowship with Christ. This prepares us for life’s inevitable suffering and loss.
4 Ways to Count Loss as Gain
These four guidelines from Pastor John have been so helpful to me.
It means that whenever I am called upon to choose between anything in this world and Christ, I choose Christ.
It means that I will deal with the things of this world in ways that draw me nearer to Christ so that I gain more of Christ and enjoy more of him by the way I use the world.
It means that I will always deal with the things of this world in ways that show that they are not my treasure, but rather show that Christ is my treasure.
It means that if I lose any or all the things this world can offer, I will not lose my joy or my treasure or my life, because Christ is all.
That is what it means in practical terms to count all things loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. When my mama dreams, and wifely hopes, when my author aspirations and fall away, or are delayed, I’m learning to rejoice.
Because in their void Jesus Christ, the treasure that will never rust, fail or fall away. But that doesn’t mean we don’t grieve. Jesus wept. He sweated blood in Gethsemane.
But we grieve with a measure of hope. We cry with a twinge of joy. Jesus rose from the grave and he meets us in our loss and pain.
What’s Up With The Balloon?
We’ve seen that suffering is losing what gives us pleasure. Losing these things, even these relationships and people, is a very real loss. But when we learn to count them right, we gain. We gain freedom to be content whatever the circumstances.
Now, about that balloon up top. What in the world does a hot air balloon have to do with counting right?
It’s my visual for loss and gain. The ropes that tether the balloon represent earthly enjoyments my heart gets set on. Each rope released is a loss of a pleasure—a child, a spouse, my health or a dream.
But the ropes released are also gain. Because their release frees me to soar heaven-high.
I’m starting to make helpful, “fructifying” associations, to reframe the pain of loss, and to taste the sweetness of knowing Jesus Christ better as the ruins fall.
In sum, I’m learning how to count loss right.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
I am Patrick, a sinner, the most unlearned [rustic] and least of all the faithful and utterly despised by many. —Saint Patrick, Confession One
Sometimes I feel less-than. When I do, it’s often because I’m painfully conscious of how uncultured I am, keenly aware of my rusticitas. Like Saint Patrick was.
Cousins and friends have earned Ph.D.’s and my sister-in-law and nieces have learned Latin. While some of them matriculated at Wheaton and Moody, I enrolled at state schools. I’m far from the elite.
I grew up in the country. I milked goats and pulled weeds. Sometimes still I feel inferior when my manners fail me. I’m clunky at small talk, I use the wrong fork, and I’m not at all polished or chic.
In short, I’m rustic. Something like Patrick.
My History With Saint Patrick
I’m a fan of Patrick. Ever since I spent seven timeless days in County Clare, where many reside who bear my maiden name, Considine. I am still smitten by the Irish people, their language, and their patron saint.
Patrick, a sinner, a simple country person, unlearned and the least of all believers. Those are the first words of his Confession. That’s how Saint Patrick introduced himself.
This humble simplicity is what first drew me to Patrick. But not everyone knows Patrick from his own words.
Will the real Saint Patrick please rise?
Many think of Patrick a the bearded, mitered, banisher of snakes and worker of miracles who roamed the Emerald Isle with a staff in one hand and a shamrock in the other—to teach the Holy Trinity, you know.
That Patrick is not real.
Patrick was not a leprechaun. Nor was he a legend, although legends about him abound.
Patrick did not expel snakes from Ireland: the snakelessness of Ireland had been noted by the Roman geographer Solinus in the third century. He did not compose that wonderful hymn known as ‘Saint Patrick’s Breastplate’: its language postdates him by about three centuries . . . He did not use the leaves of the shamrock to illustrate the Persons of the Trinity for his converts: true, he might have done; but it is not until the seventeenth century that we are told that he did.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity, 82
What we do know of St. Patrick comes through two ancient texts: his Confession and his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. You can access them here. He wrote both, handicapped, as it were, by his late-learned, unrefined Latin skills.
From them, we discover that Patrick was not Irish but British by birth. Magonus Sucatus Patricius was born to a good Christian family around 390 Roman Briton. He admits, though, that he was not a very good Christian growing up.
Irish raiders kidnapped the teen-aged Magonus, or Maewyn, and took him as a slave to Ireland. Alone in that “strange, wild land,” the rustic renegade Patrick turned to the God. While shepherding on the Irish hills, he came to know the Lord as his Shepherd.
Patrick’s Visions And His Calls
Six years a slave, he heard a voice call, “Come see, your ship is ready.” Heeding, he fled and reached a port perhaps 200 miles away. At first denied passage, he went away and prayed. Before he even finished his prayer, a sailor shouted, “Come quickly, for they are calling you.”
Patrick reached mainland Europe a few days later with his pagan shipmates and made his way through France to a monastery in Italy. Some years later, he returned to home to his parents in Britain. They begged him never leave again.
Alas, there soon came a life-changing vision in which a man came to him with countless letters from the Irish,
[A]nd I read the beginning of the letter, the voice of the Irish people. While I was reading out the beginning of the letter, I thought I heard at that moment the voice of those who were beside the wood of Voclut, near the western sea. They called out as it were with one voice: “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.” This touched my heart deeply, and I could not read any further; I woke up then. Thanks be to God, after many years the Lord granted them what they were calling for.
Confession, ch. 23
They were calling for a holy boy who had grown into a humble man.
Why Saint Patrick Is My Guy
Here are six reasons why-1600 years hence-the patron saint of Ireland still endears himself to this rustic, middle-aged, Midwestern, Christian mama.
1. Patrick felt his rusticitas [lack of learning and culture], but kept pressing on to proclaim Christ.
Patrick was uncultured, at least when compared to intellectuals and Church leaders of his day. While his peers were studying Latin and Greek, Patrick was herding sheep. His speaking and writing skills were not refined. I’ve read that he confused words like Helios (sun) and Helias (Elijah). I may have had typos. So I have sympathy.
If I had been given the same chance as other people, I would not be silent, whatever the reward. If I seem to some to be too forward, with my lack of knowledge and my even slower tongue, still it is written: ‘Stammering tongues will quickly learn to speak peace.’…
The Spirit is a witness that even what is of the countryside [rusticity, backwardness] is also created by the Most High! So I am first of all a simple country person, a refugee, and unlearned. But this I know for certain, that before I was brought low, like a stone lying deep in the mud. Then he who is powerful came and in his mercy pulled me out, and lifted me up and placed me on the very top of the wall. That is why I must shout aloud in return to the Lord for such great good deeds of his, here and now and forever, which the human mind cannot measure.
Confessions, ch. 11-12
Patrick wasn’t an elite or erudite, but he had a story to tell. That story trumped his rusticitas and kept his inferiority from becoming a complex. We have a story to tell, too. We were once like a stones lying deep in the mud until the powerful One pulled us out.
Will our stammering tongues speak?
2. Patrick endured many hard times, but overflowed with thankfulness.
In an age when the shortest wait and the smallest mistreatment sets some off, when videos won’t buffer in three seconds and three minutes in the drive through is too much, we would do well to follow Patrick’s thankful example.
So I’ll never stop giving thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the time of my temptation. I can today with confidence offer my soul to Christ my Lord as a living victim. He is the one who defended me in all my difficulties…This is how I come to praise and magnify your name among the nations all the time, wherever I am, not only in good times but in the difficult times too. Whatever comes about for me, good or bad, I ought to accept them equally and give thanks to God. He has shown me that I can put my faith in him without wavering and without end.
Confession, ch. 34
Will you resolve again to continually offer a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that confess his name? It’s what Patrick did. He presented himself to God, a living victim.
Do we, in everything give thanks to God?
3. Patrick loved Ireland’s green hills, but so much more, the lost souls who dwelt among them.
He knew better than many of us know how to engage a pagan culture. Saint Patrick knew how to be in the world and not of it. To converse and engage. Saint Patrick, I suspect, was winsome and listened.
His example challenges me. Because too often I stand off and let my rusticitas and bumpkin-ness excuse my distance. I’m not smooth and witty enough to enter into their world. But Saint Patrick pitched his tent beside chieftains, to befriend and convert.
Then he’d do it over again,
…Fishing well and with diligent care, as the Lord commands, “Go and make disciples of the nations….” spreading wide the net so that a great throng might be captured for God. How has this happened in Ireland? Never before did they know of God except to serve idols and unclean things. But now, they have become the people of the Lord, and are called children of God. The sons and daughters of the leaders of the Irish are seen to be monks and virgins of Christ.
Confession, ch. 40-41
Do we pitch our tents in among lost souls?
4. Patrick knew God’s Word and took it to heart.
Saint Patrick was called a homo unius libri (a one book man); but with that one book, Patrick was extremely familiar. His writings are crowded with Bible verses and phrases, probably quoted from memory. God’s words peppered his words. Patrick is my patron saint because I want to write, and to talk, like that.
Author Richard Fletcher, says Patrick was soaked in the Bible. Are we so soaked that we make and explain our choices through its lens? Is our blood Bibline? Spurgeon said of Bunyan, Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God.)
I am not trying to judge myself, since every day there is the chance that I will be killed, or surrounded, or be taken into slavery, or some other such happening. But I fear none of these things, because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of almighty God, who is the ruler of all places, as the prophet says: “Cast your concerns on God, and he will sustain you.”
Confession, ch. 55
Patrick knew the Bible and took it to heart. He quoted the Psalm back to himself. He cast himself on God.
Patrick knew life was a duel with the flesh till the death. He felt the pull of enticing things which would pull him away from his Lord.
I know I cannot trust myself as long as I am in this body subject to death. There is one who is strong, who tries every day to undermine my faith, and the chastity of genuine religion I have chosen to the end of my life for Christ my Lord. The flesh can be an enemy dragging towards death, that is, towards doing those enticing things which are against the law. I know to some extent how I have not led a perfect life like other believers. But I acknowledge this to my Lord, and I do not blush in his sight. I am not telling lies: from the time in my youth that I came to know him, the love and reverence for God grew in me, and so far, with the Lord’s help, I have kept faith.
Confession, ch. 44
Do we give up, give in, give way to sin? Or with Patrick, do we daily fight the good fight by faith?
6. Patrick saw thousands of splendid Irish sunsets, but he worshiped the one true sun.
We bow to created things- to fitness and fashion, to athletics and entertainment, to food and comfort and praise – over the Creator. From the top of Croagh Patrick (pictured above) I saw the same sun setting from the precise point that Saint Patrick saw it set. In Irish mist, he may have been a sun stalker too. In any case, his warning rings true.
The sun which we see rising for us each day at his command, that sun will never reign nor will its splendour continue forever; and all those who worship that sun will come to a bad, miserable penalty. We, however, believe in and adore the true sun, that is, Christ, who will never perish. Nor will they perish who do his will but they will abide forever just as Christ will abide forever.
Patrick’s Christianity was simple, direct, practical, as earthy as it is mystical, not so much Roman Catholic as baseline Christian, and not so much Irish as truly universal(The Wisdom of St. Patrick, Greg Tobin). Patrick was at once brave, bold pioneer-missionary and humble, servant-shepherd of God’s Irish flock. He was zealous and honest, ever aware of his own short-comings, and forever God’s grateful debtor.
In his final Confession, Patrick prays,
… for those who believe in and fear God. Some of them may happen to discover this document and read its words, composed in Ireland by an unlearned sinner named Patrick. May none of them ever say that whatever little I accomplished was a work of this ignorant man alone. No, rather, know this: that it was a gift from God and that it occurred only for God’s good reasons. And that is my confession before I die.
Confession, ch. 62
Irish history is a dramatic tale of turning from idols to serve the living God. It’s a remarkable true story of a pagan world turned totally upside-down, converted. An unlearned, rustic sinner named Patrick had an awful lot to do with it.
That is why this 21st-century Protestant claimed a humble rustic as a patron saint. That is why I celebrate Patrick today.
This is what the LORD says:
“Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom or the strong man boast in his strength or the rich man boast in his riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this:
That he knows and understands me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.”
It has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried. G.K. Chesterton wrote that about “the Christian ideal.” But it’s just as true of Paul’s treatment for anxiety.
In other words, we can be freed from anxiety. Moment by moment, hour by hour, if we are willing to exert and apply and fight the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12), we can live in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3).
But you don’t get me, Abigail. I have serious anxiety. I’m a worrier. It’s in my DNA.
Exactly. I am writing to you. Paul has written to you. His Philippians 4 treatment is just what we need.
I Was A Worrier Too
The tendency to worry and fret is deep in me. In seventh grade, social anxiety was so crippling that I missed my best friend Jill’s birthday party. Junior high upset my stomach so much I tucked a Ziplock in my backpack for fear I’d be sick on the bus.
I’m not immune.
If anyone has cause for worry, I have more. Circumstanced to breaking point, of the people of Worriers, of the tribe of Wustmann; in regard to personality, a Type-A; as for plans, lists overflowing; as for hyper-sensitivity to hurt feelings, faultless.
But whatever was cause for worry, I’m learning to count as fuel for faith.
What I wrote that hard times preparing me to “race with horses” is more true now than when I wrote it months ago. Stressors are ramping up not gearing down.
I share this to gain credibility not sympathy. Because I want you to know that I’ve got lots at home that could make me a nervous wreck. I’ve drawn this out so you believe me when I say that you can be free from anxiety. Paul’s peace pill works.
And we’d do well to take it.
Just A Little Worry? Or Infidelity?
Because when we are worrying, we are not trusting, Corrie ten Boom wrote.
Because, it is not only wrong to worry, Oswald Chambers said, it is infidelity, because worrying means that we do not think that God can look after the practical details of our lives.
The prescription for our anxious hearts is found in Philippians chapter 4.
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
NIV, bolding mine
I know this treatment works.
An Effective Prescription For Peace
Here are three reasons I know.
Because God never lies (Titus 1:2). He promised his peace will replace our anxiety if we take the Philippians 4 treatment.
Because I’ve experienced the cure. When an angry barrage came at 11 pm last night, I took the treatment and fell fast asleep.
Here’s how it looked today. A loved one made an unwise choice that will likely crimp his future and impact ours, a pang of fear shot through. My insides twisted from chest to waist. Then I took Paul’s peace pill.
Lord God, please take my worry. I give it to you. Thank you that you’re way ahead of us, working a solution before I even saw the problem.
Then I did part two: the “think on these things” part. I called to mind true, right, lovely things. As I did, peace trumped. It pushed out anxiety.
I won’t lie. I had to do it again and again this afternoon. But each time I did, it worked.
Effective anxiety treatment is within your reach. You can be an A-Thrower, too.
Insist Upon Thinking
But peace requires right thinking—thinking the way God calls us to think on the things God calls us to think. That is how the peace of God calms our anxious hearts.
Faith, according to our Lord’s teaching in this paragraph, is primarily thinking. And the whole trouble with a man of little faith is that he does not think. He allows circumstances to bludgeon him. That is the real difficulty in life, life comes to us with a club in its hand and strikes us upon the head, and we become incapable of thought, helpless and defeated.
The way to avoid that, according to our Lord, is to think. We must spend more time in studying our Lord’s lessons, in observation and deduction. Look at the birds, think about them, and draw your deductions. Look at the grass, look at the lilies of the field, consider them.
The trouble with most people, however, is that they will not. Instead of doing this, they sit down and ask: ‘What is going to happen to me? What can I do?’. That is the absence of thought, it is surrender, it is defeat. Our Lord here is urging us to think and to think in a Christian manner, and that is the very essence of faith.
Faith, if you like, can be defined like this: it is a man insisting upon thinking when everything seems determined to bludgeon and knock him down in an intellectual sense. The trouble with the person of little faith is that instead of controlling his own thought, his thought is being controlled by something else – and he goes round and round in circles – that is the essence of worry, that is not thought, that is the absence of thought, the failure to think.
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
We must not allow circumstances to bludgeon us. We must think. This is faith.
Because there’s a whole lot we could worry about. We could worry about Putin, the Ukraine, and the U.S. for three. We could worry about unhealthy choices our loved ones are making. There’s always fear of being misunderstood, mistreated or mistaken.
But by now you know, there is a way out of worry. But it’s not an easy way. Peacemaking is not passive, and rarely comes free. One gave all and all, who-would-be-anxious-for-nothing, must give something.
Peace with God came through Jesus Christ’s death on a cross. Christ gave himself up for us.
Peace within also comes at a cost. We must offer something up to God.
Anxiety Can’t Coexist With Thanksgiving
Back to Philippians 4 verses 6 and 7, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Did you see it? We offer up our prayers, with what Psalm 116:17 calls, “a sacrifice of thanksgiving.” Then, when human reason cannot figure how this can work out well, the peace of God glides in.
It guards us from the dread enemy of anxiety that would kill joy and steal peace.
Note, some anxieties can resist everything except thanksgiving. English preacher J.H. Jowett explains,
When thanksgiving begins, anxieties melt away like icebergs in tropical seas. The life that is ungrateful is very cold and icebergs abound. Let us raise the temperature and we shall be amazed at the results. A really thankful heart is so crowded with the sense of God’s mercies that it can offer no hospitality to worry and care.
This too, I know from experience. When I turn up the heat with thanksgiving, my worry melts away. Thanksgiving trumps anxiety. I simply cannot be anxious and thankful at the same moment. I can’t ride two horses with one heinie. Remember, even if you don’t feel thankful, youcan give thanks.
Because that’s how contentment comes. That’s the cost for inner peace.
But there’s more, in Philippians 4 verses 8 and 9. We’ve got to think on good things, true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable things. (I made this printable to help us do just that!) Then we’ve got to practice good things. When we do, Paul makes the promise: The God of peace will be with you.
Does the dread enemy of anxiety really stand a chance when the peace of God Almighty guards our hearts and the God of peace is with us?
Why Don’t We Take Peace Pill?
So why don’t we pay the price for worry-free?
First, maybe feeling anxious makes us feel like we’ve got a horse in the race. Corrie ten Boom said, “We imagine that a little anxiety and worry are indications of how wise we are. We think we see the dangers of life clearly.” As if our worry could change the outcome, as if anxiety makes us boss.
But the other reason is real, at least to me. It’s not one and done. The anxiety-peace trade must be made again and again. I may have to pray my anxious thoughts to God with thanks 20 times an hour.
Anxiety comes easy. Peace takes work.
But we block of the power of God’s promises (2 Peter 1:3-4) when we erect clinical barriers around anxiety. We make our troubles untouchable.
David must have faced anxiety when he was behind enemy walls, seized by hostile Philistines. A thousand years before Dr. Paul wrote the anxiety script, David took the peace pill and penned Psalm 56.
Keep on trusting, keep on thanking, keep on thinking. Give peace a chance.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?
Some of you are still shaking your head. “You don’t understand. My anxiety is way beyond what you know.” To you I say, “Maybe it is. But please go to God (Hebrews 4:16). He knows.” Relief from anxiety may involve more than the Philippians 4 script, but it will not require less.
He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.
I didn’t plan to write this post today. But then came a 1:30 AM wake up with another parenting struggle that nearly made my faith stagger and did keep me from falling back to sleep.
Then came new mercies: a text from a kind niece who mentioned my “strong faith” and these words from Romans 4—which just happened to be on the reading plan this day I woke up plumb-tuckered out.
And here we are.
How To Grow Strong
Now here is that text I read this morning. The last verse talks about how Abraham grew strong in his faith, giving glory to God. He trusted God would do what he promised. Another word for that is faithfulness.
In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver (stagger) concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
Romans 4:18-21, ESV
It’s like the chicken and the egg. We grow strong in our faith as we give glory to God. We give glory to God by trusting him, by having faith.
So how do we grow strong in faith? In four words: Have faith in God. The missionary Hudson Taylor explained those four words in these seven: Hold on to the faithfulness of God.
Because it is in the midst of these trials that faith has stood out most gloriously. It is just when everything is going against them that would make them despair at the natural level that they most glorify God, because they still go on believing. They’re unshaken. They don’t stagger because of unbelief.
In fact, the more severe the test, the more they give glory to God.
Then I heard how the strong men and women of faith are the very same people who endure so many trials and troubles and that no one more glorifies God than a person of faith (see Hebrews 11:6).
In all these things, you will grow strong. In them, I’ve shared before, not despite them. Because of our trials our strength grows.
Even if our trials are too tender and near for our friends to know, God knows. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Hold On to the Faithfulness of God
Faith does not look at itself. It looks at God. People who grow strong in faith, to borrow Paul’s words, are “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Acts 4:21b) People with strong faith learn to glance at their troubles and the gaze at their God.
That’s exactly what Abraham did. God had promised that he and Sarah would have a son. Twenty-five years passed and in Romans 4:19 we read, Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.
Oh, sure. Abraham knew all about his age and Sarah’s senior body. He knew babies aren’t made in people at that age. But He did not stagger because of unbelief. Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”
He knew that God had spoken. God had made a promise and because of that, as Lloyd-Jones puts it, Abraham said to himself, “Nothing else needs to be considered at all.” And so he gave glory to God.
It’s as if they put all their seemingly irredeemable weakness and trouble on one side of the balance and God’s faithfulness on the other. No surprise: the divine faithfulness drops weighty, like lead.
So Abraham hoped against hope and glorified God and Isaac was born.
Trust Issues: How Faith Gives Glory To God
Faith in God’s promises, John Piper explains, glorifies him as supremely wise and strong and good and trustworthy. Conversely, Lloyd-Jones notes, There is nothing more insulting to Godthan not believing him.
Martin Luther would have agreed, for faith he wrote, honors him whom it trusts with the most reverent and highest regard, since it considers him truthful and trustworthy.
All that to say, most of us say we’re here on earth and the “chief end of man” is to give glory to God. When we believe God’s promises we do exactly that.
“O ye of little faith!” What a pang must have shot through the disciples — “Missed it again!” And what a pang will go through us when we suddenly realize that we might have produced downright joy in the heart of Jesus by remaining absolutely confident in Him, no matter what was ahead.
At rock bottom, our anxiety and fear are staggering in faith. They reveal that a small faith. They show we distrust God.
Which means we don’t know him as well as he wants us to know him.
2 Ways To Strengthen Your Faith
It’s not surprising then, that Lloyd-Jones identifies these as the main factors that determine the strength of our faith:
Our knowledge of God.
Our application of that knowledge.
So we’ve got to know God and his unflinchingly faithful character. Then we’ve got to apply that knowledge.
3 Go-To Promises
I am learning both: to know God better and to apply my knowlege of him. And from 1:30-2:30 AM last night, I felt like a failure at both. But I desperately want to help you press on, and grow strong, in your faith.
So after some anxious thoughts and tossing and turning and feeble prayer, here’s what finally came at about 2:30 last night:
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:7) These parenting troubles are not futile or wasted. They are productive. They are producing glory.
For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is steadfast toward him. (2 Chronicles 16:9) Even at 1:30 AM, God is looking to help me.
The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. (Psalm 147:11) I make God happy when I hope in his love. (I wrote about this before.)
I took God to the bank on these. They weren’t complete in my head with chapter and verse at 2 AM. But the essence was there: I trusted that the trial was productive, that God was looking to help me and that as I hoped in his love— for me and my son—God would be glad.
He brought them to mind and I spoke them and I fell back to sleep.
He was “only a man.” But George Washington was God’s gift—reasonable, humble and wise. He was the right man to lead a divided, infant nation.
Our book club just finished Nathaniel Philbrick’s, Travels With George. “It could be argued,” Philbrick wrote, “that the only reason the Constitution was ultimately ratified by the nine states required to trigger a national election was that no matter what a person believed about the merits of the new government, everyone could agree that only Washington should lead it.”
Tradition has it that when wide-eyed, star-struck met him face-to-face, he would say, “I am only a man.”
Those 12 Quotes
1. Nothing is a greater stranger to my breast, or a sin that my soul more abhors, than that black and detestable one, ingratitude.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to Governor Dinwiddie, May 29, 1754
2.By the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability and expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, altho’ death was leveling my companions on every side.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, Letter to John A. Washington, July 18, 1755
3. While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious not to violate the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to him only in this case they are answerable.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to Benedict Arnold, September 14, 1775
4. The determinations of Providence are always wise, often inscrutable; and, though its decrees appear to bear hard upon us at times, is nevertheless meant for gracious purposes.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to Bryan Fairfax, March1, 1778
5. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is the best policy.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, Farewell Address to the People of the United States
6. Do not conceive that fine clothes make fine men any more than fine feathers make fine birds.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to Bushrod Washington, January 15, 1783
7. To contract new debts is not the way to pay old ones.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to James Welch, April 7, 1799
8. There is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists […]an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789
9. The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789
10. If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, Address to the Officers of the Army, March 15, 1783
11. Happiness depends more upon the internal frame of a person’s own mind than on the externals in the world.
But our first President was also a modest and reasonable man. He didn’t need to force his way. He preferred the good of his nation over his own private good.
Philbrick again, “Unlike Hamilton and Jefferson, Washington didn’t need to be right all the tie. He just wanted to make things work. He understood that feasible change is not attained by righteous indignation; it’s understanding that the road ahead is full of compromises if life is actually going to get better.”
Yes, our first President was “only a man.” But like the best of leaders, his humility was great.
I am a mess of unfinished business. I feel pangs of “in process-ness” every single day. Not that I have attained or been made perfect, Paul said. But if there is anything true, lovely or admirable about me, odds are it was shaped by my friends.
The truth is, I wouldn’t be me without my friends.
God Grows Us Through Our Friends
But spiritually, as physically, we can’t usually see growth happen. Discouraged, we ask: God, how are you working in me?
If you’ve ever wondered about how exactly God does work in you, here’s a great answer.
…[It] is rather like the woman in the first war who said that if there were a bread shortage it would not bother her house because they always ate toast. If there is no bread there will be no toast. If there were no help from Christ, there would be no help from other human beings. He works on us in all sorts of ways […] But above all, He works on us through each other…
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Chapter 7
God works in us through our friends.
Our Friends, God’s Grace
God uses their hugs to love and heal us, their words to convict and encourage us. God transforms us through our friends. Christian friendships are a means of grace.
If the phrase “means of grace” is new to you, it refers to the ways in which the Holy Spirit works in our lives to make us more like Christ. We can think of them as “channels through which God’s love and power flow” to his people. Scripture, prayer, and the sacraments are means of grace.
But Christian friendship is too. Friends are a massive means of God’s grace to us—his transforming, often uncomfortable, grace.
Smoothing And Honing
A few months ago, a friend asked me if I saw any “blind spots” in her. That question is not for the faint of heart. But if she could do it, I could too. So I asked her the same. What she said is another post and I’m not suggesting that you ask.
But I do hope that you have friends close enough to smooth your rough spots and to hone your dull edges. Because we all have those.
Good friends shape us as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17) and as sandpaper rubs wood (“walking with the wise,” Proverbs 13:20). The second process is more gradual and gentle. It throws fewer sparks.
But both are needful. The sanding that comes naturally from walking together is as necessary for our spiritual growth as trusted wounds from a friend (Proverbs 27:5-6).
What Friends Sharpen You?
Author and blogger Tim Challies couldn’t be more clear about why we need iron-sharpens-iron friends.
You need spiritual friendships for the sake of your soul; a sinful person who can hold tight to your depravity. You are a weak-eyed person who often cannot see yourself as you are; a selfish person who sometimes struggles to live for anyone or anything apart from yourself. And you need friends who will help you, serve you, strengthen you, equip you. You need friends to temper your weakness, to challenge your sinfulness, to comfort your sorrows, to speak truth into your tragedies.
I am a weak-eyed person who cannot see myself as I am. I need friends. You needs friends.
So who sharpens you? Who is sharpened by you?
What Friends Rub Off On You?
While iron sharpening iron implies a focus and directness that might hurt, sandpaper relationships need not rub us wrong. I think of these type of friendships as those that shape us in less direct, edge-of-blade sort of ways.
Here’s a short list of some sandpapery friends. Not that they’ve never been iron-sharpening friends, but they come to mind now less for their words and more for their rub-off influence.
They are soft-spoken friends like Traci and Brooke who help me to speak more gently and huge-hearted friends like Julia and Chrissy who make me want to give. They are self-controlled friends like Hannah and Mary who help me skip second dessert and hospitable friends like Christin and Jen who make me open to host. Ginny and Donna’s prayers spur me to be faithful in prayer, Sarah and Sandra’s pure hearts show me dirt in mine, and Shari and Myrt’s art help me see beauty. Then there’s my good friend mom.
This list could go on and on. God must give me so many good friends because there are so many prickly sides of me.
We all have those sides. So what friends are rubbing off your rough sides and rubbing off of you?
The Best Friendship In The World
Michael Haykin’s Iron Sharpens Iron is a short book about great friendships. I haven’t read it yet, but I intend to. (Any friends out there who’d like to read it with me? 😄 ) My gratitude to Tim Challies for his book review.
This excerpt is from John Ryland’s sermon at the funeral of his friend Andrew Fuller. Their friendship, Ryland said, had
never met with one minute’s interruption by any one unkind word or thought, of which I have any knowledge. I never had a friend who was so willing to stand by me, even in such services as most others would wish to decline; yet I never had a friend who would more faithfully, freely, and affectionately give me warning or reproof, if ever it appeared necessary; or whom I could more readily and freely, and without the least apprehension of giving offence, tell of any fault which I imagined I could see in him. And this I think is the best friendship in the world.
For no man is faultless; and true friendship will not be blind to the failings of those we love best; but will rather show itself in an anxious concern to prevent the least appearance of evil in them, or whatever might occasion their good intentions to be misrepresented. […]This most faithful and judicious friend is taken from me, and never will my loss be repaired upon earth!
I’ve been reflecting on that description all week.
It is exquisite because it tells how iron and sandpaper meld. Fuller was a friend who both stood by and warned. He faithfully and affectionately warned, Ryland said, and was so willing to stand by me.
And this I think is the best friendship in the world.
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.
Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
I could barely keep silent as Shelly bemoaned her stay-at-home mom status—short nights and short showers, cluttered closets and laundry without end, amen.
Blessings flooded my mind—her blessings. I thought of her hard-working husband and his well-paying job. I thought of her retired parents the next block over and her three adorable kids and the chance to stay at home with them. Blessings she didn’t seem to see. But I didn’t mention these.
Should I have?
Should we ever count each other’s blessings?
Don’t sing songs to heavy hearts.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your moths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
I absolutely don’t mean this: I don’t mean telling a friend who just lost her Mom, at least you’ve got your sister. Orreminding a friend who lost his job at least you own your house.
Those are not what I mean. That is pouring vinegar on soda, stealing someone’s coat on a cold day. That is singing songs to a heavy heart (Proverbs 25:20). Counting blessings over fresh wounds is mean. That’s not what I’m asking.
The hymn says, Count your blessings. We get that. We’re called to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances. This is God’s revealed will for us. That we know for sure.
But what about counting for others?
Prime the thankful pump.
May the word of God dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…with thankfulness to God. Colossians 3:16
We all can get blind to the familiar: blind to blessings, blind to God’s grace. So when is it good of a friend—even incumbent on a friend—to remind us of our blessings?
The Apostle Paul often helped the saints count blessings they might not have seen. He prayed the eyes of Ephesian hearts would be enlightened so they would know their great hope, God’s power and the riches of his grace. Paul reminded Colossians how they were dead in trespasses and now made alive. He reminded the Romans they’d been set free from sin.
These are spiritual blessings, and blessings indeed.
Bless the Lord for other’s blessings.
But Scripture describes counting others’ physical blessings, too. As when, in the dark days of the judges, the former widow Ruth bore a son.
Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter in law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” (Ruth 4:14-16)
The women called out Ruth’s blessings.
It’s a do-unto-others sort of thing.
Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 3:13
Counting each other’s blessings can be a subset of Hebrews 3:13. Matthew Henry wrote on that verse,
We should be doing all the good we can to one another while we are together, which will be but a short and uncertain time. If Christians do not exhort one another daily, they will be in danger of being hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
It’s a do-unto-others sort of thing. Because no one wants a hard heart.
Sanctification is a community project.
But sin is deceptive. Since grumbling is a sin (1 Corinthians 10:10), and since many of us find it easier to count problems and worries, it might be incumbent on friends to help us count our blessings. Because sanctification is a community project.
Timing and intent—I must be wary of my sinful, envious heart—are everything. Don’t sing songs to a freshly wounded heart. But if the Spirit leads, and you have a heart to help, count your sister’s blessings. Restore gently, testing your own heart for envy and pride. Then start counting. It might surprise her what the Lord has done.
As much as we might not want to hear it, ungrateful ,grumbly hearts might turn to hardened, sinful hearts. I know I don’t want a heart like that.
So, don’t hold back on me. If you catch me in a grumbly rut, start singing.
You have my permission: Please recount God’s blessings to me.
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
Here we are traveling and our home is a distant home in another world...Though we meet with traveler's fare sometimes yet it should not be grievous to us....
Consider what your condition is, you are pilgrims and strangers, so do not think to satisfy yourselves here.
—Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment
What’s Not To Love About Hygge?
I’ve been wrestling this week. I mean really grappling, straining to pin two ideas down right. HYGGE (or “hue-guh“) is on one side of the ring. It’s the Danish word for comfy coziness, and the feeling of contentment and well-being (Anna Altman, The New Yorker) that mightcome as you savor that Gevalia Gold Roast with your Bible and journal open on a sunny Saturday morning.
On the other side of the ring of my mind is SELF-DENIAL. As in, go out in the dark 2 degree cold this morning because you’ve offered to do the carpool after work and it’ll be too late to get out then. As in, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
Hygge is my good friend’s word of the year and was the subject of my workplace inservice last week.
What’s not to love about it? Shouldn’t Christians be all about hygge?
Is Hygge Living “As An Enemy of the Cross”?
But this morning I read this.
For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.
Paul, Philippians 3:18-19 (NIV)
Their God is their stomach? Their mind is set on earthly things? What? Is that hygge I hear?
Theologian D.A. Carson explains, “There’s no principle of self-denial. There’s no no sold-out principle to die daily for the sake of the gospel.”
Which isn’t to say hygge isn’t a lovely thing. Only to say that idols form when, in Tim Keller’s words, we turn a good thing into an ultimate thing. (These 4 questions can help identify our idols.)
Hygge may not be idol, but comfort, health or security might.
Hygge, on Earth as in Heaven?
Far from being drawn to suffer for Christ’s sake, they are endlessly drawn to creature comforts. Their mind is on earthly things. It’s not as if they focus on immoral, wicked things. Rather all their values and cherished goals and wishes are tied to what belongs to this earth.
Christianity prepares people for heaven. It is not about getting it all now. Someone said, Christians are “later people.” The meek will inherit the earth. Those who mourn will be comforted. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. These blessings will come later.
So does being a “later” person mean we have to hold out till heaven to enjoy hygge?
No. But whether or not we see ourselves as pilgrims on a journey and travelers passing through has everything to do with how we handle hygge. It determines whether we give thanks or grumble. Because pilgrims don’t grumble.
Here’s what I mean.
At Home Or On The Road?
When we are at home, we demand our just-right sleep number bed and just-right fluffy enough pillows. The thermostat is set so high and no higher and the food is just right. At home we can have it our way.
But when we’re on the road as overnight guests, we make do. We put up with a too-flat pillow or a rock-hard bed, grateful for a place to stay. We’ll endure the stiff neck and sore back because we’ll be in our own bed next week.
It’s the same with travel food. We don’t expect hygge on the road. We eat what’s put out for us—mushy French toast or weak French roast, runny eggs or rubbery yolks. It’s not how we fix them at home, but that’s okay. We’ll eat and drink what’s set before us because we are travelers, on our way.
This metaphor is not new. Four hundred years ago Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs wrote,
If a man travels, perhaps he does not meet with conveniences as he desires, yet this thought may moderate his spirit: I am a traveler and I must not be finding fault, I am in another man’s house, and it would be bad manners to find fault in someone else’s house, even though things are not as much to my liking as at home. So they are contented while away with the thought that it shall be different when they come home…Thus it should be with us in this world…here we are traveling, and our home is a distant home in another world.
Our earth is another man’s house, and there is Christ-like self-denial.
But There Is Also Honey-Almond Peach Tea
Hygge tonight is sitting with my smart-wooled feet up, a mug of hot, honey-almond peach tea between my knees, a short stack of books and journals beside me and a Dorothy Sayers mystery in my hands.
All the while a wood fire crackles in the stove as Wisconsin winds blow wild. Oh, and there’s some happy Irish folk behind me.
As hyggeligt as all that is here at “home,” I don’t think we will ever feel completely comfy and cozy in this life, if only because we know this life won’t last. The world is not our home. We are “pilgrims” (Hebrews 11:13), travelers en route to a better country. I know this is true.
The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast…It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world…: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.
The Problem of Pain
Hygge is a pleasant inn. Enjoy it. Embrace your creatureliness, Joe Rigney wrote.Go embrace the fact that creation is a magic glass, the kind that allows you to see God more clearly the thicker it becomes. Embrace your body and your five senses and the wonders that they can perceive and receive in the world…
Anchor yourself in a supreme and expanding love for God and go enjoy his gifts.
Share them. Create that place. Refresh some souls.
Enjoy God’s gifts and give him thanks.
Italian Hygge And Prison Fare
But you’re still wondering, who won that wrestling match—HYGGE or SELF-DENIAL?
Well, back to the Bible for that.
Paul wrote to the Philippians, that he knew how to deny himself and make do at the inn. But he also knew about hygge. He didn’t call it hygge. The Danes hadn’t coined it yet. Paul said, instead, that he knew, “how to abound.”
I think Paul enjoyed some Italian hygge, some fine wine and bruschetta.
I know Paul handled prison fare. He was in prison when he wrote his letter to the Philippians, about learning to be content in any and every circumstance.
Jesus knew both too. Foxes have holes and birds have nests, he said, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). He came to serve (Matthew 20:28) and to pour himself out (Philippians 2:7-8).
Still, I think Jesus relished Judean hygge. Picture him reclined at Matthew’s table and resting in Mary and Martha’s hospitality. He enjoyed good gifts enough that his enemies accused him of being a glutton and drunkard (Matthew 11:19).
On earth, Jesus knew the delights of his senses, even as he obeyed unto death. He knew hygge and self-denial. I think it’s safe to say his followers will too.
Back in the ring, that’s why hygge and self-denial tie.
Our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Enter Allison, one of those new friends. She is young, fresh and from the Pacific Northwest. But what really drew me to Allison is her passion and zest for helping women become rooted in God’s Word. I trust you’ll be blessed by her post.
I can still feel the silence that rang in my ears as he shut the door behind him.
It was January 2020. My husband had left for a six-month deployment after a tearful and much-dreaded goodbye.
I couldn’t have imagined the quiet that would follow. Little did we know the world would soon shut down for the pandemic, leaving me home alone with only my feisty kitty Daisy for company.
As many of my habits and patterns were interrupted, I found myself with more time on my hands than I had experienced in my adult life. The many distractions, some meaningful and some not, seemed to fall away.
It was through small acts of imperfect obedience that I drew near to God. I chose to open up His Word rather than hit “next episode” on Netflix., chose worship music when I could have chosen pop music, chose to give thanks even as I cried tears of loneliness.
My obedience was flawed and inconsistent, yet I could feel Him draw near to me when I drew near to Him, just as He promises in His word (James 4:8). More than ever, I craved His presence.
Joy Takes Root
As I drew nearer to Christ, I encountered a joy that wasn’t rooted in circumstance or temporary pleasure. Instead, it was a joy with a much firmer foundation. I experienced joy rooted in the everlasting faithfulness of a Savior who is always by my side.
This is a joy we can’t maintain on our own by willing ourselves a “can-do” attitude. Rather, we must humbly come before Christ each day asking Him to renew our joy in Him. When we do, we will find our joy doesn’t rely on something as shaky as our occupations, bank accounts, or physical appearance.
We will find our joy is rooted in Christ. This is the only joy that will never fail and will bring about the only outcome worth living and dying for—experiencing the presence of our Lord.
Are you ready to draw near to Christ through studying His word?
The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination! —C.S. Lewis
That quote exploded my big-plan, little-margin life when I first read it years ago. Sometimes I still chafe when my plans are interrupted and I have to wait.
But He’s changing me. I know that because when the red line that suddenly popped up on my Google map had me praying just now, not grumbling, while our van crawled along for miles. And when my day-off plans were quick shortchanged by a call from the school nurse, I could count that “trial” right.
Because waiting for the green line and tending a sick son are precisely the “real” life God is sending me.
Count It All Joy
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
We will be interrupted and we will be tried. Which is why James wrote when you meet trials, not if. And that means we need to commit before they hit to count our interruptions and trials as-you guessed it- joy.
So trials are inevitable and they often come on us suddenly, like interruptions.
Which explains why James used a word that means “meet” or “fall into.” It’s the same word used in the parable of the Good Samaritan when a man fell among robbers, and in Acts 27 when the ship Paul was on struck a reef. The word emphasizes the surprise nature of trials.
Trials can come on suddenly. But all trials- internal and external- are tests by God intended to make us strong, mature and complete.
But you know what happens when we’re not tested?
There’s a striking illustration of that in Jeremiah 48. “Moab has been at ease since his youth,” the prophet wrote. Moab was a neighboring people to Israel. They’d lived an easy life; undisturbed and at ease.
John MacArthur closed a sermon on James 1:2-4 with an explanation of that Jeremiah text. It has to do with wine-making. With dregs. Verse 12 says, “Neither has he been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile. Therefore he retains his flavor and his aroma has not changed.”
When wine is fermented initially it is a combination of what is sweet and what is bitter. The liquid was poured into a skin and left for a long time. Eventually, the bitter part would fall to the bottom and become what we call the dregs.
After a period of time what was on the surface was then poured into another skin and another passage of time would yield more dregs. After some time it would be poured into another skin and a few more dregs until finally it could be poured into a skin and there would be no dregs at all because all of that had been removed in that process.
What you had at the end was the pure wine.
Pure Sweet Wine
We want to be pure wine.. We don’t want to retain a bitter flavor and musty aroma.
But without trials- trials counted joy- we’ll stay bitter and musty. Moab’s problem was that he was never poured from trial to trial to trial. Moab’s sinful, bitter dregs never went out.
That’s why maybe we don’t always pray for smooth and ease. Why, by grace, we don’t fall apart when trials and delays come our way. Why we can say, If God needs to pour me from vessel to vessel, and trial to trial to so the sinful dregs of my life can fall to the bottom and pure, sweet wine of righteousness remains, then bring on the trials.
And, somehow, to count them all joy. Which means we learn to choose what we didn’t choose.
Choose What You Didn’t Choose
Choose to see the interruptions as sent by God for our good. See the sickness that keeps us home and flat tires that slow us down, infertility that blocks a dream and relationships that break our hearts as for our good. That we might be mature and complete, lacking nothing.
Christian joy is grounded in our union with Jesus, and that union, not our plans coming to pass is the fountain for our joy, which sounds and is supernatural. Murray M’Cheyne’s words, “It is always been my ambition to have no plans as regards myself.”
But that sure grates against our 21st century plan-oriented sensibility, doesn’t it?
Despite the autonomy and self-determination we have, much of life consists of things we didn’t choose. And as one friend just reflected—most of her life’s greatest joys were unplanned. Is that true for you?
Control is an illusion anyway, but we can choose joy.
Because saint’s trials are purposeful. They come to test our faith. The boot box says waterproof, but we don’t know till we hike in the rain. We say we trust God, but we don’t know till trials come our way. Alistair Begg makes it plain, Faith is a muscle. Test it and it grows. Leave it alone and it atrophies.
The pressure builds endurance. Kind of like boiling eggs. But if we pull the egg out before the pressure’s done, the good won’t come. If you don’t leave the egg in hot water long enough, it’ll be a useless mess.
Let perseverance finish its work, James 1:4 says. Get ‘er done, mama says. Finish the work. Don’t pull out of the pot before the pressure’s done.
South African pastor Andrew Murray shares four truths that helped him to joyfully endure trials:
I am here (in this trial) by God’s appointment. It’s not haphazard.
Choose what you didn’t choose. Count it all joy. If we’re going to be spiritual adults we can’t be dodging his purposes.
Let the egg boil already.
Alistair Begg says, trials responded to properly are always fruitful. That’s Begg’s code, I think, for Joy comes from choosing what you didn’t choose.
We accept that life is change and until the day day we die there will choices made for us that we did not choose. And we can resent the choices we didn’t make for ourselves or we can choose joy.
This is the day that the Lord has made. Don’t waste it. Choose what you didn’t choose. Choose joy. Because Someone who knows the beginning and the end sees it all and steers it all and loves you more than you can fully know, let those trials meet you.
Tim Keller said it this way, God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows.
The fullness of the Christian life is available where you are now. You don’t need a dreamy husband or cuddly kids. You can be full and complete without a great church that sings the songs you like and work and ministry you crave. I can be full and complete without a bigger blog or a published book.
Which is not to say, don’t change your circumstances if you can (see 1 Corinthians 7:20-31). But it is to say, don’t buy the lie you can’t be full and complete until you do. In Christ, you can (see Colossians 2:9-12).
Are you ever going to finish that meek book, Abigail? Give birth already. It’s been six years since you started.
Kate was blunt. But she was not the first one to mention my unfinished book.
Do you have piles of unfinished projects? I do.
A glance at piles of notebooks with unfinished drafts reveals I start a lot of projects I do not complete. Which, in the writing world, need not be a bad thing. Those idea notebooks belong in Jeff Goins’ bucket #1. Many are best left there.
There are also piles of baggies of bugs on the top shelf in the pantry part of half-finished 4H entomology project—only half the insects are pinned. But since it was my son’s 4H project, I’ll only take half the blame.
But my biggest piles of unfinished are mounting bedside. They are pictured bove. I counted. Of the 25 books there, I’ve finished 11—in fact, I’m re-reading a few. Still, that means I’ve only completed 44%.
Often readers don’t stop reading because they don’t have “permission” to stop. You have permission. The only book you should read entirely is the Bible. All other books must prove their value along the way. Don’t allow unfinished books to pile up in a mountain of guilt.
Tony Reinke, Lit!, p. 115
Side note: You do have permission. No guilt. You don’t have to finish that book.
What Is The Good Work?
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Those are Paul’s much loved words from Philippians 1 verse 6. But what is the good work to which Paul refers? Does it mean that every
Is it when an unsaved friend comes to church or when a family member watches The Chosen with you? Does that mean that he will be with you in heaven forever? Or even that my book will make it to print or your home remodel will finally get done?
To answer that we’ve got to see the Philippians 1 verse 6 in context. Paul had just called his readers saints in Christ Jesus. They were of the faith in Christ Jesus.
God finishes what he starts. He’s even called the starter and finisher, or perfecter, of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). God “started” and gave us faith ( 2 Peter 1:1, Philippians 1:29, and Acts 3:16). Since our faith in Christ is a good thing, we can be sure God will complete it.
In other words, Philippians 1 verse 6. The context shows us that the good work God will complete is the faith of believers. It doesn’t promise any less, or any more. Because he completes all of his good works.
Or Does He?
But what about Jeremiah’s field trip to the potter’s house? You can read about that in Jeremiah 18. Does God ever give a project up? Didn’t God show Jeremiah that he might just rework that lopsided pot? That the potter has the right to return the partly formed pot back into a lump?
He does. Which means that you might be asking, “So doesn’t that negate Philippians 1:6—that God always finishes what he starts?”
Because Paul wrote those words to Christians, individuals, and “fellow partners in the gospel.” But the context of Jeremiah 18 is nations. When nations go bad, God declares the right to do with them as he wishes. (That’s not the point of this post, but if you want me to take it up, please do let me know.)
God reserves divine prerogative to let rebel nations them go their own way. The good work in Philippians 1 verse 6 is a work of faith, which is the gift of faith (Phil. 1:29). This means it is a work that God will complete.
The unbroken chain of Romans 8 relates: Whom God calls, he also justifies, and whom he justifies he also glorifies. No one falls out. The chain will be completed. The circle will be unbroken. The good work starts with faith and is finished when we—perfected and complete—see Jesus face to face.
God will complete it.
Why It Matters
It matters because we fail. We lose heart when we make the same mistakes and break every resolution by January 18th. It matters because perfectionism paralyzes some of us. We want to be perfect, but when we fail, we freeze.
But we can rejoice knowing that if we are in Christ nothing is wasted. Nothing includes everything now imperfect and incomplete. Because God’s ways, his word, and his works are perfect (Psalm 18:30, Deuteronomy 32:4, Psalm 12:6).
As far as I can tell, perfect means a thing can’t get any better. There is no improving on it. When God undertakes a work, it will be as good as it is possible to be. It will be finished, perfect, complete.
Everything will be pulled together. There are not any dangling, unseemly threads from God’s vantage point, from the top of the tapestry.
Take that to the bank next time you mess up. Or at least consider “The Talking Teacup.”
The Talking Teacup
I read about an American couple, both connoisseurs of pottery and fine China who celebrated their 40th anniversary in Sussex, England. There in a little antique shop, their eyes landed on a lovely teacup on the top shelf.
Here I beg your pardon for this uncharacteristic, Disney-esque twist.
As the man gently strokes the teacup, it begins to speak.
“You don’t understand, I haven’t always been a tea cup. There was a time when I was red and that I was clay. My master rolled me, then patted me over and over and over. I yelled, ‘Let me be!” But he smiled and said, ‘Not yet.’
Then I was placed on a spinning wheel. Suddenly I was spun around and around and around. ‘Stop it! I’m getting dizzy,’ I said. The master nodded and said, ‘Not yet.’
Then he put me in an oven where I’d never felt such heat. I wondered why he wanted to burn me and I yelled and I knocked on the door. I could see him through the opening. He nodded his head as I read his lips. They said, ‘Not yet.’
Finally the door opened and he put me on a shelf where I began to cool. But suddenly he grabbed me again and brushed and painted me all over. I thought I would suffocate, the fumes were so bad. But he just smiled and said, ‘Not yet.’
He put me back into an oven, not the first one but one twice as hot, and I knew that I was going to suffocate. I begged and screamed, and all the while I still saw him through the opening, smiling and nodding his head, repeating, ‘Not yet, not yet.’
I was just ready to give up when the door opened and he took me out and he put me on a shelf. An hour later he came back and he handed me a mirror. “Now just look at yourself.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
He continued, ‘I know that it hurt to be rolled and patted but if I had left you, you would have dried out. I know that it made you dizzy to spin you around on a spinning wheel but if I had stopped, you would have crumbled. And I know that it was horribly hot in the oven but if I had I not fired you, you would have cracked. I know that the fumes were awful while I painted and brushed you, but if I had not, you wouldn’t have hardened or had any color. Had I skipped the second oven. you wouldn’t have survived. Your hardness would not have held.
But now you are complete. You are what I had in mind when I first began with you.'”
What His Grace Has Begun, His Strength Will Complete
“We are confident of this very thing: that He who began the good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus.”
That last phrase is both encouraging and wee bit disconcerting, isn’t it? This process of becoming like Jesus, called sanctification, will be completed. But it won’t be finished until the day of Christ Jesus.
Which means strap in. Get ready for more rolling and patting and spinning and more fumes and fires. God is still working on us.
But it also means we can take heart. Because God will complete us. One day will look like our brother Jesus (Romans 8:29). We will be perfect. Perfect.
Bible commentator F.B. Meyer wrote,
We go into the artist’s studio, and find there unfinished pictures covering large canvas and suggesting great designs, but which have been left, either because the genius was not competent to complete the work, or because paralysis laid the hand low in death.
But as we go into God’s great workshop, we find nothing that bears the mark of haste or insufficient power to finish, and we are sure that the work which His grace has begun, the arm of His strength will complete.
The word perfect means complete. God is going to complete those things that concern you. He is going to complete that work of His Spirit, that faith, even if it be small as a mustard seed. But He is not hasty.
Jesus Christ will complete it, because he is the author and the finisher of our faith—our faith. He doesn’t promise I’ll get a single book written, project completed or bedside pile read.
But he will perfect that which concerns me.His mercy is more. He will not forsake the work of his hands.
The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of Your hands.
It was not on our gift registry. Truth be told, I thought I was a pretty “live and let live” 21 year-old bride. But like the rogue aunt who went “off-registry” and bought us the best flexible cutting boards and a silicon spatula set that now I cannot live without, God knew better.
So he gave us the gift of tolerance.
But that snowy Sunday in January as we unwrapped the pile of wedding gifts, this newlywed didn’t appreciate that gift.
Two Bears In Marriage
But I had really been tuned in, I’d have welcomed it. After all, Grandma Beth had told me. At the bridal shower, when everyone shares a nugget of advice with the bride-to-be, she’d hinted. Grandma’s advice came in one short line.
Bear and forbear. We don’t use those words much. To bear means to accept and to endure and to forbear means to refrain, to control oneself (Lexico).
I won’t lie. I used to think forbearance was weak and acceptance meant beat. This last line in Amy Carmichael’s poem sounded like defeat.
In acceptance lieth peace.
The Bible uses the words bear and forbear. Jesus bore with faithless disciples (Matthew 17:17), Paul bore with hostile Jews (Acts 18:14), Christians bear each others’ burdens (Galatians 6:2), and our God forbears (Romans 2:4, 3:25).
But the Greek word for forbearance is also translated as—guess what?—tolerance. It means to hold oneself up against; to put up with. Synonyms are bear with, endure, forbear, suffer. In other words, we still may oppose the opinions, annoying habits and even the hurtful sins of others even as we bear with the people.
It’s only recently, that I’ve unpacked that wedding gift. For nearly 25 years, tolerance lay in a bin tucked away because I didn’t want that gift. Why? Because tolerance only had a negative ring to me.
I thought it meant one of two things. Tolerance either meant that one must agree with an opinion that one is opposed to—and how could anyone possibly do that?—or to accept all viewpoints as equally valid. Both were logically inconsistent, and unpalatable to me.
When it came down to it, I didn’t like the gift because, in G.K. Chesterton’s words, “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.”
And if I’m anything, I am a girl with convictions. But while tolerance can mean that, but it doesn’t always.
He Tolerates Me
Tolerate means to allow someone to do something that you do not agree with or like (Oxford Learners Dictionary). Did you catch the difference?
I used to think tolerance was all about agreeing with the idea, but it really means to abide with the person, regardless of their habits, opinions or ideas.
Jim tolerates my thinking out loud, my being late and my hogging the quilt in a sleepy frenzy in the middle of the night. He tolerates my abrasive Mrs. Business tone, my blasting backward out the driveway, and my sampling his food— no matter what he orders.
Last year I told you 10 reasons I’m glad I married Jim. Make “he tolerates me” number 11. Sometimes he makes me laugh at my annoying ways and sometimes he calls me out. But in every case he tolerates me.
The fact that despite our flaws and sins, we’re happily married after 25 years proves it.
Some of these same issues that hounded us in year one of marriage still hound us today. The same things that annoyed me about Jim when we dated, still annoy me today. In fact, they may niggle at me until we see Jesus face to face.
The Perfect Matrix
When I unpack tolerance this way it’s obvious that it grows best in a till-death-do-us-part relationship. Because anything short of that level of commitment simply does not demand it. The, If my friend (or spouse) doesn’t spark joy, I’m out of here mindset leaves no place for tolerance.
But I must add a word to my unmarried friends. Some of you are the most tolerant people I know. Tolerance can grow in so many ways, including the hard work of lifelong friendships. To flourish, tolerance requires the soil of commitment and the water of forgiveness.
Like Challies, I went into marriage thinking that marriage would help him grow in holiness. He thought that confronting each other about their sin would help them grow more like Jesus (more holy). I thought of how I’d help Jim see his sin and he’d oh-so-tenderly correct me.
But I agree with Challies on how the surprising way this actually plays out. He writes, “Aileen may grow in holiness by having me confront her in her sins, but she seems to grow more in holiness by patiently tolerating my sinfulness—by loving me despite my sin and loving me as the Lord helps me progressively put that sin to death.”
Holiness By Tolerance
If we’re honest it’s often harder to tolerate a bad habit than a bad sin. Maybe only because we brush up against habits more often than sins.
It is often harder to tolerate the way your spouse chews his food or leaves her clothes on the ground than the way he sins against you or the way she remains unsanctified. And again, while Aileen might grow in her sanctification by having me formally point out a way in which she is sinful, she seems to grow more in sanctification by learning to accept and perhaps even embrace some of those non-moral but oh-so-annoying things I do—those eccentricities and matters of preference.
So perhaps the foremost way that marriage has helped make us holy is not so much in calling each of us to serve as the other’s second conscience, a junior assistant to the Holy Spirit in bringing conviction of sin. It is not in calling each of us to be a kind of moral sandpaper to actively scour off each other’s rough edges. Rather, marriage has helped make us holy by calling each of us to extend a kind of divine mercy toward the other—to simply live lovingly with someone who is prone to be sinful and just plain hard to live with.
Tim Challies, The Great Challenge of Every Marriage
Twenty-five years in and I finally see it. Tolerance is not weakness, or leaving your conviction at the door. Tolerance is the path to holiness. It is extending divine mercy to others.
It’s the mercy that the God who disapproves of my pride, envy and impatience—to take three—still shows by loving me.
Showing Tolerance…In Love
That’s the 25 year-old wedding gift, friends, and now that it’s unpacked it’s yours for the taking, whether you are married or not.
It’s to “simply live lovingly with someone who is prone to be sinful and just plain hard to live with.” It’s giving the mercy God gives us to another. It’s walking worthy of Jesus.
So help me God, I intend to use this gift. Maybe it’ll become as prized as the flexible cutting boards and silicon spatulas. Either way, I intend to make room for the two bears in our home.
What? You’ve also invited them in?
Fantastic! Now let’s watch and wait.
Because I think their friends, friends like patience and humility, holiness, tolerance and peace, will come to dwell with us too.
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
I wished he’d called for Papa instead. Because Mama was nestled, all snuggled in bed. The heat was turned low and she didn’t want to go.
After a week of late nights, I’d set this Christmas Eve to be my long winter’s sleep.
Mama, please come, he cried again. I rolled over. It was 1:04 a.m. I’d knelt beside his bed at 9 p.m., rubbed his head at 10, and given meds at 11. After which I finished wrapping the gifts—yes, I am that mom—arranged them under the tree, then settled myself in bed.
But I couldn’t ignore his pitiful cry.
So This Is Christmas
Coming, I called with a sigh.
So this is Christmas. I thought as I lay in the dark, groping about for glasses and socks. I forced myself out of my snuggly, warm bed and stumbled shivering toward my son’s groans.
Then it hit me—this is Christmas. Rolling out of a warm bed to help a sick child is closer to the “real meaning of Christmas” than cozy and comfy and Silent Night by candlelight.
The creed says, “For us and for our salvation he came down.” The King of the Universe condescended. Almighty God came down.
Love Came Down
Paul told the Philippians, Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
I crawled out of my warm bed to care for a sick, pitiful child. The Son of left the glories of heaven and the warmth of his Father’s side to care for his sin-sick, pitiful children. For our sake, God the Son left heaven for sick, cold earth.
I love how C.S. Lewis explains that.
The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.
A Measure Of Love
Leaving aside our comfort for the sake of others is one measure of love.
Jesus Christ came out of heaven’s bright glory and was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger, “because there was no place…in the inn.” My Bible footnote on Luke 2:7 says that he could have been born in a stable or cave, but since mangers were often outdoors, “it’s possible that Jesus was born in the open air.”
Open air or stable or cave—they all sound uncomfortable and cold.
Our family has faced our hardest times yet these last few weeks. We’ve “expanded our circle” of helpers and burden-sharers. It’s humbling. Yesterday my hot-mess sobs stopped the ladies’ prayer time cold. But today I want to share the good coming out of all this: I’m learning not to judge.
Oh, sure, I already knew that. To walk a mile in his shoes; and take the log out of my own eye first. But through this backdoor way, the troubles of the last months are peeling off judgmental layers I didn’t know I had.
I’m embarrassed to admit it. “Judge not” feels, now, too obvious to state. But what is plain as day to some is as clear as mud to others. In some dark nights this truth did not shine brightly. It was not front and center when my friends passed through the valley.
This post is for you who are in a world of hurt. And to you who aren’t in that painful world now, but love someone who hurts. I want you to know this when you are tried and I want you to remember it you see hard times come to others, so that you don’t assume you know why trouble came.
It is both massive caution and immense relief. So, what is this brilliant truth?
Troubles are not proportional. Life is not a formula. We must not assume that suffering and prosperity are distributed in proportion to the bad or good that a person does; that if we live by faith and obey Christ, health and ease will come, and if we don’t, it won’t.
Job didn’t. But Job’s counselors gave him many iterations of “you reap what you sow,” to explain his trials. None of them helped. Every one hurt.
We hear it in the words of Job’s friend Eliphaz. First Eliphaz observes, “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:8). That’s the assumption. Job suffering must be a punishment for some secret sin. For, as Eliphaz adds, “The wicked man writhes in pain all his days” (Job 15:20). Then he gets even more direct, “Is not your evil abundant? There is no end to your iniquities” (Job 22:5).
You reap what you sowis biblical (e.g., Galatian 6:7, Hosea 10:13, Proverbs 1:31). As a general principal, you reap what you sow is true. But sometimes what looks like a harvest is not a harvest.
Job knew this. He is right when he says, “The evil man is spared in the day of calamity” (Job 21:30). And the suffering of Job was the suffering of “a man blameless and upright; who feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).
No, life doesn’t work like this. Trouble is not a proportional thing.
Don’t Judge That Way
None of us like to admit to being judges like this, judges with evil—or at least self-protective— thoughts. But I know I have been. I fall back into thinking that if I live by faith, I will be spared of trouble on earth. But God is teaching me to stop judging myself and others that way.
Because the earthly outcome of genuine faith is not the same. That’s just not how God does it. God does not spare his children from suffering. The good die young. And the good die old. The length of man’s days, and the trouble he sees in those days, does not reveal his faith.
In other words, don’t judge a man’s faith by the suffering in his life. Don’t judge your sister’s faith by the hardship she endures. Please don’t assume the cancer came because she ate junk food or the prodigal was formed by parental indulgence. Don’t assume the conflict means she was controlling and the lost job means he was a poor worker.
No, trouble is not so simple, not so black and white.
The Rule, Not The Exception
We see this truth throughout Scripture. Righteous (and afflicted) Job is Exhibit A, blameless (and long childless) Zechariah and Elizabeth are Exhibit B, Apostle (and thorn-poked) Paul is Exhibit C, the man born blind (and it was not for his sin or his parents’) is Exhibit D, and John the Baptist (among those born of women no one was greater and still Herod took his head) is Exhibit E. The list could go on and on.
In other words, we can’t judge a man’s faith by the trials in his life. God’s ways are higher. For who has understood the mind of the Lord? Ours is a non-coddling God. Aslan is not a tame lion. Our God is in the heavens and he does whatever pleases him. He has mercy on whom he has mercy and makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust. His righteousness endures forever.
In the end—hallelujah and amen— there is a crown for the righteous. Heaven awaits. Then we will see Jesus face to face.
But we make a grave mistake if we think we can judge the genuineness, purity and depth of one’s faith by looking at the trials they experience in this life.
My friends, this should not be. The end of Hebrews chapter 11 tells us why. It does not permit us to believe that a life of faith guarantees pain-free.
Both By Faith
Hebrews 11:32b-39 makes the case.
32 For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection.
36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, mistreated—38 of whom the world was not worthy— wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. 39 And all of these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised…
Both were commended. All of these are in the “Hall of Faith.”
Both Were Commended
By faith some conquer kingdoms and some are tortured to death. By faith some become mighty and some are stoned. And by faith some raise godly sons and daughters and some endure prodigal wandering.
Our faith is not the ultimate factor in whether we suffer or prosper. It’s not even the determining factor in if our own kids follow Christ. God is. His sovereign will and wisdom and love determine what I face.
But in the end, isn’t this truth comforting? Our faith is not the final determiner of our trials. Some shut the mouths of lions, some were sawn in two. And both were commended for their faith.
Swords And More Swords
God can and does deliver his people by faith. He even performs miracles for them. God changed the normal way things work so that his people were helped or rescued from danger or death. We see this in verses 32-35a. But God doesn’t always rescue the faithful from suffering.
Some escaped the edge of the sword (verse 34) and others were put to death with the sword (verse 37). And both are commended for their faith.
In other words, having genuine faith in God is no guarantee of comfort and security in this life. John Piper says, it is crucial that we see the agonies God’s people sustained in verses 35-38 come by faith, not because of unbelief. He draws this out of the text in two ways.
First, in verse 33, notice that the list begins with “. . . who by faith conquered kingdoms . . .” and without a break continues into all the miseries of verses 35-38. It is by faith that “others were tortured . . . and others experienced mockings and floggings…” All this misery is received and endured by faith.
The other way to see this is in verse 39 which looks back on all the sufferings of verses 35-38 and says, “And all these suffering people], were commended through their faith.” In other words, the suffering and destitution and torture of God’s people in verses 35-38 are not owing to God’s disapproval. Rather God’s approval is resting on them because of their faith. The miseries and sufferings were endured, not diminished, by faith.
Don’t miss this faithful, suffering friends: God’s approval is resting on you because of your faith.
Why We Judge This Way
I told my parenting woes to a friend this week. Then I confessed that I assumed. I assumed that behind all troublesome teens were problematic parents—over-controlling, hypocritical, neglectful, or some vile combination.
Then she said something surprising. Insightful, really. She said, she thought we did this formula thing not so much because we’re smug, judgmental beasts but because we want to protect ourselves. Because we want to believe that if we do X, Y, and Z this thing that happened to her won’t happen to me.
I think she’s absolutely right. I think we look for the flaws and the sins in those suffering as a way to sort of insulate ourselves. If I don’t parent like that, my kids won’t turn out like that. Or if I don’t eat like that, I won’t look like that. If I don’t do that, I won’t get cancer. We desperately want to know the cause.
Because if we know the cause, we avoid the cause. If we can reduce life to a formula to protect ourselves and those we love. Or so we think. While there may be some truth to each of the examples above—healthy lifestyles do promote health—they always break down. And the formula approach shatters in the context of faith and troubles.
In shards and smithereens, it shatters.
Joyful Suffering Shatters Assumptions
A new friend joined our Thursday ladies’ life group a couple months ago. Jan was there for the hot-mess, sob-fest. She heard me get so choked up I had to pause the prayer.
But you’ll never guess what Jan said.
She said thanks.
When I first met you, you seemed so strong and joyful. I assumed your life was all good. But now I hear this side and see your tears and you still have joy.Thanks.
My trials are tiny compared to the persecution described at the end of Hebrews chapter 11. But I’ve read about the life and death trials of God’s children and I’ve seen a few friends suffer to death and I know they have heard, “Well done, good and faithful.”
Your Gift to the World
Which takes me to John Piper’s last point on that message from the end of Hebrews 11.
“When the precious children of God are permitted to suffer and be rejected and mistreated and go destitute, God is giving a gift to the world. He is gracing the world. He is shedding his love abroad in the world. Because in those who suffer and die in the unshakable assurance of hope in God, the world is given a message and a picture: ‘The Lord himself is better than life. Turn, O turn and believe.’
Who would have thought it—that the suffering are a gift to the world?”
“There is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8)? Who described Job in such glowing terms? Again, who commends “all of these” for their faith?
So judge not.
When a man is right with God, God puts his honor in that man’s keeping.
Job was one of those in whom God staked His honor, and it was during the process of His inexplicable ways that Job makes his appeal for mercy, and yet all through there comes out his implicit confidence in God.
“And blessed is he, whosever shall not be offended in me,’ said our Lord.
Love is spelled T-I-M-E but that’s not the only way to sound love out. It’s also spelled I-N-I-T-I-A-T-E. Initiate.
1. Great Lovers Initiate
We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19
Initiate. There’s not much zing to this 4-syllable, 8-letter ‘i’ word. Love is spelled time has a better ring.
Don’t get me wrong. Love is spelled time. But sometimes we get it best and feel it most when love comes in other languages like gifts or touch or kind words or service. Love is spelled a lot of ways.
But great lovers initiate. They forgive first and confess first. They invite you before you invite them.
Great lovers take the lead.
When Love Goes First
If you remember your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar. First go be reconciled. Matthew 5:23b-24
This is a very hard thing. It takes supernatural strength and superhuman love to go to an offended brother or sister and initiate peace.
First, be reconciled. Go to her. Don’t wait for her to come to you. Initiate.
The best lovers go first to make peace.
I know this because Love came down at Christmas. For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). God sent. He went first to seek peace, to bring life.
Because of his great love, God being rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ when we were dead in our trespasses (Ephesians 2:4). That is the only place in the New Testament when God’s love is called great love.
Great love brings life. Eternal life is peace with God. Great lovers seek peace. He loved us to life when there was nothing lovable in us. We were dead.
So the Great Lover took the lead and made dry bones live and stone hearts soft as flesh.
Because the best lovers don’t wait. They peace make. They initiate.
2. Great Lovers Risk Rejection
He came to his own and his own received him not. John 1:11
I can barely face the risk of my own favorite books being unloved, rejected. If you don’t like this book, would you please give it back? I’ll find you a better one.
One year, I actually did jot that note and slap it on the front of the book. Talk about tacky.
But I fear bigger rejections too. I fear the rejection of my invites, children, writing, ideas, and efforts. I grow weary of going first. Confessing first and forgiving first, clearing awkward air and making peace are risky. They’re all rife with the risk of rejection. And there’s a real chance we’ll be misunderstood.
Jesus faced rejection. The Man of Sorrows was despised and rejected by men (Isaiah 53:3). His great love would be misunderstood and spurned.
But for Love Himself, it was beyond risk. In sure and certain omniscience, he knew some would not receive his gift.
He knew some would reject His love. His life. Him.
Follow Love’s Lead
And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:2
You’re invited! Aren’t those about two of the most happy-making words ever? It was only November 13th and there it was. An Evite Invite to the Greene’s New Year’s Eve party. Their early invite showed love.
I got it covered!Or how about when your husband not only cleared his schedule, made the reservation, but also arranged childcare so he could take you away for a night? His initiative spelled love.
Want to walk in an hour? Christin texted me to ask for a walk before I asked her. It’s risky to invite because you might be rejected. What if I already had another walking date? Her text expressed love.
These are little risks. We can only love like this because he first loved us.
But he did love us first. So we can follow his lead.
Know This Love
God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who he has given us…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:5, 8
Initiate and risk rejection for God’s sake.
That’s what’s ringing in these ears this Christmastime. It’s two sides of love I hadn’t much seen. Maybe I’m feeling it now as I ache for someone to initiate, to invite, to take a chance on me.
Then I remember.
A Great Lover did.
Come; see the place where the young child lay. Look at the manger: there is Lamb for the burnt-offering,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
These little tender hands shall yet be torn. These feet that have not yet trod this rough earth shall be nailed to the tree. That side shall yet be pierced by a Roman spear; that back shall be scourged; that cheek shall be buffeted and spat upon; that brow shall be crowned with thorns—and all for sinners!
Is this not love? Is it not the great love of God?
Fully one half their number was dead. Of the 102 who crossed on the Mayflower, only 50 remained. Of eighteen married couples who embarked together, just three remained intact. In fifteen marriages, one or both partners had died.
This was the group who paused to thank God. This was the thanks giving group.
But as Tracy McKenzie points out in this insightful The Real First Thanksgiving podcast, those 50 wouldn’t have dubbed that autumn week a first anything. The feasting was simply God’s children being the grateful people he had made them to be.
God gave them eyes to see his grace. Then they gave thanks.
Which reminds me of a story.
A Giving Thanks Story
After the Second World War, two seriously ill woman were placed in the same London hospital room.
Marie was blind, and Ginny was assigned the bed next to the room’s only window. The days flew by. Despite her sickness, Ginny’s words were full of good cheer. She inquired about Marie’s friends and family and prayed for those they knew. And always Ginny thanked God for the day.
But there was this other thing she’d do. It started their third afternoon together, when a discouraged Marie needed hope.
“What’s outside the window?” she’d ask.
Ginny by the window described the squirrels and trees, and the park with the little lake just beyond. She’d tell about the kids and their kites, the rowers and long-necked swans. And Ginny could paint a sunset. The sunsets were Marie’s favorite. Her face would glow as Ginny spoke.
Ginny Could See
In fact, Marie began to live for those “paintings” of the world outside the window. They inspired hope and healing even though her eyes could not see. But while Marie’s health improved, Ginny’s rapidly declined.
Shortly after Ginny died, Marie’s new roommate settled in.
“Would you tell me what’s outside the window today? Who’s at the park? Are the swans on the lake? If the sunset is pretty tonight, would you describe it to me, too?”
Silence filled the room.
“The park? A lake? Our window faces a brick wall. And there’ll be no sunsets tonight or any other, for even if the wall weren’t there, this window faces east.”
Now Marie knew. How Ginny could see.
Seeing Grace in All the Things
Ever since I first heard a version of that story decades ago, I wanted to be Ginny. I still want to be Ginny.
But my honest friends and family will tell you I’m a far cry from her. I dwell on my hurt and others’ wrongs and don’t always see through to the sunsets and swans. This bird gets quiet in winter.
But giving thanks is a miracle drug for our souls. It is a silver bullet for spiritual disease. It trumps every ugly that messes with our souls. You can’t sing as you sneeze and you can’t whistle while you yell. You can’t grumble as you give thanks. My friend Shari says: you can’t ride two horses with one heinie.
But you also can’t conjure up a thankful heart. Seeing grace is a gift. Author Sam Crabtree defines thankfulness asa divinely given spiritual ability to see grace. Giving thanks, then, is the corresponding desire to affirm that grace and the Giver of that grace as good.
This ability to see grace is a God-given gift. And affirming the grace and the Giver is called giving thanks. Crabtree explains, “I can ask God to help me look at my circumstances through a different lens or from a different angle. And He wants to do it, He wants me to be thankful.”
Give us what you command, Augustine prayed. We can echo him and say, You command us to give thanks, so give us eyes to see your grace.
Giving thanks does not depend on our circumstances. A difficult husband, problem child, poor health, unjust boss or a nasty neighbor might make it hard. But we can ask God to give us thankful hearts.
I’m here to tell you, that whenever I pray that prayer, he answers yes.
Singing Birds In Winter
Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father…Always and for everything is what Paul wrote (Ephesians 5:20). Not just in everything, which is God’s will for us (1 Thessalonians 5:18), but for everything. Everything. All. The. Things.
I want people to see Christ as all that. Giving thanks for everything does that. My Uncle Steve did that.
Uncle Steve has had a year. He was hospitalized, near death and discharged, then came bedsores, hospitalized, and G-tube. His breathing is still not right. A specialist next week may tell him there’s something big wrong. But more than once today Uncle Steve said, “God is good.” He sees grace and he gives thanks.
I want to be like that. Like Ginny and Uncle Steve. Because that kind of thanks giving is supernatural. In fact, the call to give thanks in Ephesians 5 verse 20 is an expression Paul’s main command to be “filled with the Spirit” in Ephesians 5:18:
Be filled with the Spirit….giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Spirit is supernatural—he’s God. And I’m supernatural and you’re supernatural if we’re in Christ and his Spirit lives in us.
Giving thanks when you’re healthy and all speak well of you, when your kid is a starter and your business thrives is natural. Most every bird can sing can sing in the spring.
But when we give thanks for illness and hurtful words, for kids who don’t make the team and fails at work—this is supernatural. These are birds singing in the dead of winter.
Which is what happened in 1621.
The 1621 And 2021 Project: Give Thanks
There are only two primary sources detailing the Pilgrim’s 1621 harvest feast. William Bradford’s is less detailed than this one by Edward Winslow.
[O]ur harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors…we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation…And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
Edward Winslow, Mourt’s Relation
That’s it. Yet by the goodness of God…The harvest feast of 1621 was a decimated, threadbare group who gathered to rejoice together and to celebrate the goodness of God.
That’s my 2021 project. Heading into a cold winter, I want to celebrate the goodness of God as he gives me eyes to see.
I want to be like the Pilgrims in 1621 and like Ginny and Uncle Steve. I want grace to sing in the dead of winter.
We should give thanks for all things; not only for spiritual blessings enjoyed, and eternal ones expected, but for temporal mercies too; not only for our comforts, but also for our sanctified afflictions…
It is our duty in every thing to give thanks unto God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father in him…
Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…
Because you, dear reader, are still reading. And unless this is your very first JoyPrO post— and if it is, a big warm hug of a welcome to you—you’ve suffered your way through an unkind number of typos.
Once upon a time, I wrote “Be Freed From Perfectionism.” Alas, it seems I’m a wee bit too free. It’s not perfectionism that’s plaguing me.
Reader, I’ve treated you with less than my utmost respect. I’ve drug you through the mud of my sometimes sloppy and slapdash ways. I am guilty of overthinking and under-editing. And, if I’m a writer who cares for my readers—indeed, who has readers—that’s a lethal combination.
In short, you’ve endured far too many typos. You deserve better. So I humbly beg your pardon.
To Love Is To Proofread
Some of you are thinking exactly what I’d be thinking right about now. Namely, “The proof is in the pudding.” Because you know that the mark of true repentance is turning from error.
By the way, the end of all this proofreading and patience is love. And I don’t mean mostly the self-love that knows you’ll stop reading if I keep publishing sloppy posts. I mean the care for my readers that says, “Slow down. Don’t push “publish” until fresh eyes have checked it for typos.”
In other words, I’d best deny myself and wait awhile for your good, dear reader. Because if what I have to say has any encouragement at all, you’ll miss it. It’s just not worth it if you must wade through missing punctuation, misspelled words and fragmentary phrases. It’s just not loving. So I must deny myself and wait.
I love how counselor Ed Welch explains that connection: Self-denial is the just the means to the end. And the end is love.Self-control is the grace that allows us to say no to indulging ourselves for the sake of others. You could call it love…
That Would Be A Good Idea
Abigail, you need a proofreader.
That’s what my sister-writer-friend Kat texted after she read the post. And I was convicted in a painful minute on Saturday morning. She was right.
Within minutes, a wise, insightful friend who reads with a careful eye came to mind. I didn’t waste time.
Yes, I think that’s a good idea. And I’d be proud to help.
I won’t tell you her name in case you spot a mistake. But my proofreader friend is another one who has the precious gift that some of you have. You encourage and correct in one fell swoop. When you correct, it feels like love.
Because, like Lincoln said, he has the right to criticize who has the heart to help. And believe you me, Kat has a heart to help. She told me I needed a proofreader, then she gave up her next half hour to be that proofreader.
When uncaring souls calls out our faults, our souls deflate. I call that “dish and dash.” But criticism tethered to a helpful heart is how the world is changed.
Back to you, reader: I ask your forgiveness and I promise to do better. You see, I am taking steps.
Listen In: Onward & Upward With Abigail Wallace
This has been a sort of DTR (Define The Relationship) post. DTR talks are dangerous. Sometimes couples and friends get too meta and that can get messy. But I hope this DTR has been less messy and more clarifying. I will do a better job proofreading, and in turn, I pray you will read with greater joy, and ease.
Because I want to serve my readers better. I want to write words that help build you up in your most holy faith as we become stronger, softer saints who embrace God’s sometimes uncomfortable grace. For the record, if there’s a question or topic you’d like to see me address, please send it my way. I want to scratch where you itch. Odds are, others itch there too.
One final note. A few readers have said they’d prefer to listen than to read. I get that. If you’re one of those readers, you’ll be happy to know that future posts will include a link to the brand new Onward & Upward With Abigail Wallace podcast, which for now, is simply me reading these posts.
I hope the podcast format helps you redeem your time. Plus, if typos sneak into a post, you won’t even know.
Enthusiasm without knowledge is no good; haste makes mistakes.
My husband knows those words well as they come from his external-processor wife. My best friends know how to “take and sift my words,” as the poet wrote.
To keep what is worth keeping
And with the breath of kindness
Blow the rest away.
But I don’t have that luxury, that “inexpressible comfort,” when I write.
I Failed And I’m Sorry
No writer does. Because readers can’t see writers’ hearts. You can’t hear my happy sighs or see my messy tears. You don’t know what happened last night or how he hugged me this morning. It’s up to me, the writer, to convey what I mean. And I fear I failed you, dear reader, last week. I failed to express my heart.
My last post, Don’t Force The Duck: 16 Years After Adoption Day,struck a chord. Actually it struck two very dissonant chords in readers. One group expressed gratitude for my candor with hope, the other near outrage that I would be so critical of adoption.
For each person who responded, there are dozens of you who made comments in your minds and left them there. I suspect The Duck ruffled more feathers than I know.
What I Meant
While my goal for this blog is to build stronger, softer saints who embrace God’s uncomfortable grace, I don’t want you to be uncomfortable because of my inability to write what I mean.
So here’s what I meant when I took the twin occasions of the 16th anniversary of our A#1 son’s adoption day and National Adoption Month to share a few pages of our unfolding, unfinished story.
I wanted to be the voice that I wish I had heard 20 years ago when I scoured the internet for adoption stories and studied all the “adoptive families” I knew. I wanted to be the voice that was neither the adoption-grim voice of our friend Jo, nor the blissful, glib voice I heard in those glossy adoption magazines. But I may not have been. So here’s take two.
What did I mean by that adoption post?
I meant to say that any decision we make to love – whether it be to marry, to conceive, foster or adopt children, or to be a loyal friend— brings with it the very real risk that the results of our commitment will be harder than we thought. That is par for the course with earthly love. When the hard comes, we are not to lose heart and think we made a mistake. Rather, it probably means we are starting to love like God.
I meant to say that I am not giving up. Not for a second. In fact, in the week since that post, God has softened my heart to help me better love A#1. A caramel macchiato with extra caramel delivered late to the high school is exhibit A.
I meant to say that no heart change, including a decision to love a person or to love God, can be forced. God alone gives new, soft hearts (Ezekiel 36:26). I didn’t force the duck and the duck stuck is my reminder that God can soften hearts without my help.
What I Didn’t Mean
What didn’t I mean to convey?
I did not mean to disparage adoption in any way. Because in the end, adoption is the way every single Christian becomes a child of God. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves (Ephesians 1:5-6). God loves adoption. It’s how he builds his family. I’m glad we could adopt.
I did not mean to convey that the hardship in our relationship is one person’s fault. No way. I am a sinful mother—a sometimes proud and impatient, harsh and unkind mother. Jim is a sinful father, and we have two sinful sons. Our sins affect each other. We are all sufferers and sinners. I wish I’d been more clear on that.
Finally, in no sense did I mean to convey that our story is over. Not a chance. While there is life there is hope. If can’t help myself, I am a prisoner of hope.
Comfort Is Overrated
Maybe, if the duck post was your first, you wondered how it could possibly be written by a mother who is joyfully pressing on, by a mother who hopes against hope. Well, one of the themes of this blog is that comfort is overrated. Could I beg two minutes more to explain that?
By comfort, I mean being comfortable. Believe me, if I could find it in Scripture that God’s plan and will for his children during their time on earth was to go through unscathed, unchallenged, untested, untried, uncorrected, undisciplined—in other words, comfortable—I’d be the first to proclaim it.
But the longer I seek my Savior and Lord—and so far it’s been about 25 cycles through his Word— I can’t seem to find comfortable among God’s goals for us. I don’t see it listed as a Spirit fruit or a mark of the mature Christian. In vain I search for verses that say God’s children will be known by their comfortable lives.
Mostly what I find is that Christians will be marked by their love.
For the Love of God
I read of a God who loved so much that he spared not his own Son, but freely gave him up for us all. I see a maligned and misunderstood Jesus who, in the span of one chapter of Matthew, is called a blasphemer and prince of demons. Then I hear the crowds laugh at him when he announced he’d raise a daughter back to life. Later, in the Upper Room, he would tell his disciples, if they hated me they will hate you, and in this world you will have trouble.
Now I hear old Simeon tell mother Mary that a sword would pierce her heart. I read that two of his three closest friends, Peter and James, were murdered. I see his servant Paul stoned, whipped, and left for dead. But I don’t find smooth and easy lives mentioned as evidence of God’s love.
Rather, from Genesis to Revelation, I meet a God who suffers with us, who calls us to come to him and share his yoke. I see the One by whom all things were made and in whom was life, indignant and weeping at the grave of his beloved friend Lazarus. I see Jesus who loved Mary and her sister Martha wait four days when he heard Lazarus was sick. He didn’t rush in to make them comfortable. He shows his love by giving us what we need most—a view of his glory. Suffering can give us that view. It can show us His glory. The stars are brightest in the darkest nights.
Adoption does that that for me. It shows me God’s glory.
Adoption, Parenting, Loving: All Uncomfortable Grace
This sometimes uncomfortable grace and lavish love of God is manifest in adoption every single day. Every single day. After all, He adopted me.
As I end, please know that your comments are most welcome. I love hearing from my readers. Whether your comment is critical or thankful or something in between, I am grateful to you for investing your precious time reading my words.
I pray that they will equip us to embrace God’s uncomfortable grace, and to grow more strong and meek—like Jesus.
Even as sometimes we groan.
And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
There are good reasons people choose not to adopt. I heard a lot of them. But this week, we celebrate adoption day.
Don’t Force The Duck
Think he’ll like the duck? I wondered aloud.
No idea. We’d never done this before. Jim was as clueless as I.
But I had followed the agency directions and all the pick-up-your-baby rules. The Britax car seat was firmly strapped in the back seat and the paperwork was in hand. Bottle, formula, blanket—check, check, check. My sister met us at O’Hare with the orange-beaked, yellow fella to mark adoption day.
The experts said it would be best to let him wear the clothes he was in and use the bottles they sent and slowly ease American formula into a blend with Korean. They said all the new sights and sounds and smells would be jarring to this six-month young sensory system. They said, Ease in.
No. I wouldn’t force the duck.
They Broke Her Heart
But let me back up. Before we met A#1 at the airport, we heard lots of reasons why we shouldn’t adopt.
The one I remember best came two summers before adoption day. My husband and a good friend, Jo, sat around me on the cafe veranda. I’m not sure how we landed on the topic of adoption. But suddenly here we were.
My friend Caroline’s adopted children both went bad. They rebelled in their teens and never did seem to accept her and Tom as their parents.They broke her heart.Even though they were treated like their own flesh and blood children, it just didn’t work out.
I’m not Pollyanna now and I wasn’t then. Nor were all my hopes of happiness hitched to the adoption cart. All the sessions with our adoption social worker guaranteed some measure of realism. Still, this was a bitter pill.
It happened to my college roommate Pat too. Her adopted son John never seemed to bond, even though he was with her from day one. He said vile things to them, left home at 18 and never came back. Pat said he’s only called a handful of times in all the years since. And then, only to ask for money.
Sobering isn’t strong enough to describe the effect of her words.
No, adoption just doesn’t seem to work out.
No Illusions Of Adoption Grandeur
That bubble-bursting conversation wasn’t the only one. We can’t say we weren’t warned. Our social worker, our friends, and our own knowledge of adoptions gone sour insured we were under no illusions of adoption grandeur.
But no illusions does not mean no hope. Not living life like I wrote it frees me to take part in a far grander story. The hard and heartache in this chapter does not mean adoption wasn’t part of God’s plan for our family.
Still, a grand story with a hope and a plan don’t make living it easy. A#1 tests my mettle and I test his. This National Adoption Month, I admit, it’s been harder than I ever imagined.
Make No Mistake
Do heartache and pain mean we made a mistake? Do conflict and strife mean we misread God? Does trying and hard mean we’d all be better off if we’d chosen not to adopt?
Because adoption is forcing us to trust, causing us to hope and teaching us to love. And last I knew, those three were the only lasting things: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
This is the adoption month message that came.
But it’s not just for those directly impacted by adoption. It’s for all of us who second guess decisions made in good faith whose results are far harder than we imagined. Maybe it was a decision to get married, to bear children or to remain a faithful friend. The message is for all of us who, for Christ’s sake, love right on.
For us sinful, disobedient people who keep on loving and, as we do, come to know and love our Father better. Our heavenly Father had a chosen, child named Israel who spurned him. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the hand, but they never knew that I healed them (Hosea 11:3). And, All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people (Romans 10:21). To love this way, those who do not repay, is the love that God rewards (Matthew 5:46).
So my adoption month message for us is a question:
Don’t Force. Trust.
I didn’t force the duck on November 2, 2005. And 16 years later, on November 2, 2021, I didn’t force a hug.
I can’t force golf, chess, or good friends and I can’t force dental floss, haircuts or good books. I can’t even force the veg. Once I was a royal tastemaker, but now I’m a short order quesadilla chef.
In all these things, I must trust that my God will meet all of this son’s needs without me pushing my way. In other words, this adoption, this son, and this God—his way is perfect—are forcing my force-it, control issues.
Could it be that one big reason God formed our family is so that that I’d quit thinking I can force my way? So that I’d trust that the perfect Father—whose own children resist and rebel, who spurn his love and break his rules—is completely able to lay hold of a heart?
A#1 wasn’t much of a snuggly, stuffed animal guy. But this beloved son is fond of the duck. Sixteen years after we met our stoic, six month-old A#1 at the airport, I snuck into his room to take a picture of Duck
I didn’t force the duck and the duck stuck.
Don’t force the duck has become my reminder to trust. The duck is my reminder that God can lay hold of hearts without me.
I know this adoption story isn’t over.
Afterward: Two Quotes from Two Articles About the Good and Hard of Adoption
There is no such thing in God’s economy as an “adopted child,” only a child who was adopted into the family. “Adopted” defines how you came into the household, but it doesn’t define you as some other sort of family member. In the Book of Romans, Paul defines all Christians, both Jew and Gentile, as having received a common “spirit of adoption” (Rom. 8:15; 9:4). -Russell Moore, Adopted For Life, Ten Years Later
Some adoptions cause quite a bit of pain and grief in the lives of moms, dads, sisters, brothers, and other relatives. But just because there’s conflict, it doesn’t mean that the adoption wasn’t meant to be…God uses all things, especially conflict and struggle, to work together.. and bring about a good “end.” -Mark Gregston, Pitfalls Of Adoption
How long do you wait? Not, how long do you wait in the drive-thru or the phone queue before you opt out?
I mean, how long until you remind or text the “❓“ or ask again? Do you anguish over that?
Sometimes I do.
How Long Do I Wait?
Lots of times I jump the gun. Ask my husband. Too many times to count I remind him of what he knows and, in a little way, betray the trust. And ask my sister-in-laws about the cherry Butter-braids I bought and the Horny Toad dress I lent—times my reminders hurt, not helped, the cause.
Because patience is a thing for me. Because the initiator, performer me likes to move. But the Jesus follower me needs to wait.
Yesterday I struggled. I drafted a friendly reminder to a friend who promised to send some key details about a project. But I deleted the text. But since Saturday was prime time to get this ball rolling, a few hours later, I drafted a text again. And deleted it again.
I have not so great a struggle with my vices, great and numerous as they are, as I have with my impatience. My efforts are not absolutely useless; yet I have never been able to conquer this ferocious wild beast.
French reformer John Calvin said that. I’m with him. My family and honest friends would agree.
How many times have I reminded my husband only to find he remembered? How many times have I sent a “❓“ when my text to a friend goes unanswered only to find she was on it?
Wait Beyond Your Waiting Point
Too many. For every one time I wait beyond my natural “waiting point,” there are two times I don’t. Times my impatience betrayed my weakness. Because strong people can wait.
But how do we grow and gain strength? Physically and spiritually, it’s the same. We must push ourselves, stretch ourselves past the pain point. To maintain we can do what we do—I can run the same 4 miles every day and do the same 150 saddle-backed pushups every other day and I’ll maintain fitness and muscle.
But I won’t grow. In order to grow stronger or faster, I’ve got to run the mile faster, or go two miles longer, or straighten my arms and my back for those push-ups.
That means for me to grow more patient, I’ve got to make myself wait—to send or say—to the point where I feel like I can’t wait a second longer. And then wait.
And the times I’m able to do that, it’s because I’m playing by this rule.
The Only Safe Rule
C.S. Lewis was dealing with giving not waiting when he offered this rule. But when I anguish over how long I should wait, I find in his answer my only safe rule. [Mine.]
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give [wait]. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give [wait] more than we can spare. […] If our giving [waiting] does not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say it is too small.
Mere Christianity, 82.
That’s the rule. Spend more time waiting than I can comfortably spare. My rule of thumb for waiting is that if I don’t feel pinched, I haven’t waited long enough.
Have patience. Have patience. Don’t be in such a hurry. When you get impatient, you only start to worry. Remember, remember that God is patient too and think of all the times when others have to wait for you.
I won’t lie. I sing Herbert the Snail’s song more now than I did in third grade. I’m not sure if I’m less patient or only more aware of my impatience. But when I remember how often others wait for me, it helps me wait for others.
Because my impatience is not love. It’s preferring my pace to theirs, and my time as more precious than theirs. It’s not thinking of others as better than myself. It’s not love. Because, love is patient. Love waits.
My loving friend waits for me when I’m late for our coffee date. My loving husband waits for me with the car pointed out Sunday morning. And my longsuffering Lord waits for me to wait every single day.
I’m not what I will be and I’m not what I should be. But, thank God, I am more patient than I was. I am learning— to wait longer before I hit send, to wait longer before I ask again, to wait longer before I text the “❓“.
Remember that text I drafted and deleted, then drafted and deleted again? How I waited longer than “I could spare”?
Well, round about 6 o’clock last night, this came.
“Sorry, Abigail, that I didn’t get back to you earlier.”
And I was so glad I waited.
May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy…
If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?
Our culture is getting so soft. No one can handle criticism. People just wilt. I can’t tell you how many times that gist has come up in conversation lately.
I’m no expert on culture. So correct me Mom and Dad if you think I’m wrong: You weren’t much for coddling. And correct me sons if you think I lie: I’m not much for coddling.
Which is probably just fine. Here’s why.
I Thought I’d Be Wrecked
No bright pink line. Another stinging sign of my empty womb. I thought I’d be wrecked at the next fruitless month. Little did I know there would be more than two hundred empty months (and nine full months) ahead. But here I am. I’m not wrecked.
I was looking for dirty socks under his bed. But there it was, my clue that something was off. I thought I’d be wrecked if we didn’t fix this now. But the rascally habit grew. It got more entrenched and bore bitter fruit. But here I am. I’m not wrecked.
They walked out of our house in silence. We’d have to meet again and try again to patch things up. I thought I’d be wrecked by year’s end if we couldn’t mend. But it would be ten long years before hugs. But here I am. I’m not wrecked.
God gave compassion and comfort and care. But there was not coddling.
Warm Mush & Helicopter Moms
So what is coddling?
To coddle means to overprotect. Not to protect, but to overprotect. As in helicopter mom. As in Ashley and her twelve year-old daughter Lacy, A girl was mean to Lacy at lunch, so I called her teacher and messaged the girl’s mom. As in, It’s 50 degrees so wear your hat and mittens and coat, Lacy, or you can’t go outside.
But I know many of you enjoy word study and a few love Latin. So here’s the quick etymology of coddling:
Coddle is probably a dialect variant of obsolete caudle: ‘administer invalids’ gruel’, based on Latin caldum: ‘hot drink’, from calidus: ‘warm’.
But that doesn’t mean he spares us grief, trouble and pain. While God is absolutely compassionate and merciful and comforts us in our sorrows (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), our Heavenly Father does not coddle his children.
He doesn’t overprotect us or spoon feed his adult children mush. God wants us to grow up (Ephesians 4:13, Colossians 1:28). But solid food is for the mature.
Anti-fragile: Children Prepared For The Road
I probably wouldn’t have had coddling on my mind if our book club hadn’t just read The Coddling of the American Mind. In it, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt take on some great cultural “untruths,” like human fragility: the untruth that what doesn’t kill us makes us weaker. The truth, they say, is that humans are anti-fragile.
While that is true now and then—the greater truth is that human beings need physical and mental challenges or we decline. Stress actually makes us stronger, not weaker. For example, muscles and joints need stressors to develop properly. Without stress, our muscles to atrophy, our joints to lose range of motion, our heart and lung function to decline, and blood clots may form.
This is not mere resilience as when when we bounce back from a fall like a rubber ball. It’s more. Anti-fragile means we actually get stronger, we move past baseline, because of the stress.
The foolishness of overprotection is clear as soon as you understand the concept of anti-fragility, Lukianoff and Haidt explain. Given that risks and stressors are natural, unavoidable parts of life, parents and teachers should be helping kids develop their innate abilities to grow and learn from such experiences. There’s an old saying: “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”
In other words, the trials you’re facing now will prepare you for bigger ones later. Running against men will get you ready to race horses.
Not the Exception, the Rule
Time to explain the horses. A little background might help.
I’ve been reading Jeremiah lately. It strikes me again that God doesn’t coddle his children. He doesn’t overprotect the ones he loves. Rather, he prepares them for the rocky road ahead with smaller bumps now.
The more I read the Bible the more I see this not as the exception, but as the rule. Job and Jeremiah and Elijah and Paul and 11 of 12 apostles who died martyrs deaths prove it. Recall Jesus’ words to Peter, What is it to you? You follow me. God often turns up the heat before he turns it down. He prepares his children for the road.
Here’s what I mean, spotlight on Jeremiah. As chapter 12 opens, the weeping prophet takes God to task.
You are always righteous, Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?
We get that, don’t we? How many of us would have a word with the Lord about his justice? Why is it bad guys thrive and honest, decent folks barely survive?
While it is grand to pour out our hearts to God, it doesn’t guarantee that we’ll like his reply. When Jeremiah inquires about the mistreatment he’s receiving in his own hometown (see 12:6), from his own brothers, God gives a shocking response.
You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet
So what is God’s answer to Jeremiah‘s questions? God comes back with a couple questions of his own:
If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?
You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. It’s as if God takes Jeremiah down to a track meet and has him run the 400 meter, the 800 meter and the mile. Then, as he stands doubled over in the infield, God asks, Jeremiah, you all set to race in the derby?You’re in lane five, against Secretariat.
The second question is like asking, If you fall down in the Great Plains how are you ever going to make it over the Rocky Mountains? Things will get worse before they get better. If the hometown crowd is mean to you, get ready for the toughies in Jerusalem.
Buck up, Buttercup. How will you compete with horses?
Prepared For The Road Ahead
In a message on Jeremiah 11-12, Phil Ryken says, God did have great things in store for Jeremiah, but he could never achieve them unless he was willing to persevere in little things. There were greater challenges to come.
By analogy, Jeremiah could expect to run against horses in the future. He needed to learn how to trust God and to draw on His strength in his present challenge, in order to prepare him for the greater challenges in the future.
If Jeremiah was foundering at his mild mistreatment in Anathoth, how would he fare in big-hostile Jerusalem? Before long, he would be locked in stocks (Jeremiah 20:1-3), thrown into a muddy cistern (Jeremiah 38:6), and imprisoned in the court of the guard (Jeremiah 28:13). The troubles he was having in Anathoth, Ryken says, were nothing compared to the troubles he would have later in Jerusalem, Babylon, or Egypt.
“In order to our preparation for further and greater trials, we are concerned to approve ourselves well in present smaller trials, to keep up our spirits, keep hold of the promise, with our eye upon the prize, so run that we may obtain it.”
That is 17th-century Bible teacher, Matthew Henry’s take on Jeremiah 12:5 and our non-coddling God. Our non-coddling, deeply-compassionate God who lovingly trains us for more difficult roads ahead.
So where’s the good news in this, Abigail? Good question.
Jeremiah never saw the hard road coming. But I want us to see it. I want you to learn what it’s taking me so long to learn. In the decades since that first negative pregnancy test and that wrapper under the bed and those hug-less years, I’m learning to feel God’s love in the trials, to know his purpose, that the Lord is compassionate and merciful (see James 5:11).
But believing that takes frequent reminders. Reminders about running with horses. Reminders that God is a loving Father but not a coddling grandfather.
Jeremiah’s little exchange with God reminds me again that our God is not safe— if safe means he keeps us from hardship and trouble. No, as Mr. Beaver said of Aslan, Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.
Good parents prepare their children for the challenging roads ahead. Our Heavenly Father is doing just that. Which, I hope you’ll agree, is good news.
As I close, I ask, Who’s running against you? What troubles could wreck you?What is the long, hard road you’re on?
Just look at you. Here you are—running with horses, bucking up. You are strong.
And you are definitely not wrecked.
The LORD is the strength of His people, a stronghold of salvation for His anointed.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
-God, to Paul
Is Sufficient Enough?
Do you like that word? How does it sound in your ear? Does it sound sort of meager, barely enough, and just scraping by? We prefer different words—words like abundant and lavish and great—to describe grace. Thankfully, there is biblical warrant for all three.
But sufficient is a grace word. And as such, a word we embrace. But outside of that one phrase in that one verse, who cites sufficient?
If I do, it’s only as a concession. Because I’m hungry for more. I prefer excess. If a 220 thread count percale is good, a 500 thread count sateen is better. If one scoop of ice cream is good, two scoops are better. And a three bedroom ranch is good, a split four bedroom must be better. If two kids are good, three or four are absolutely better.
Lavish, abundant, great—but most of us don’t want sufficient. We want better. We want more than enough.
But when God answered Paul’s thrice-repeated plea to remove his thorn in the flesh (see 2 Corinthians 12) the word the Word chose—of all the possible words and he knows all of the words—the word he chose was sufficient.
Sufficient for the Day?
In Greek, the word for this kind of grace is ἀρκέω. It’s used only eight times in the Bible and it’s always translated as one of three English words: sufficient, content, or enough.
These are three examples of how ἀρκέω (arkeo) is used:
Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” (John 6:7)
But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. (1 Timothy 6:8)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a)
Sufficient. Content. Enough.
A man can no more take in a supply of grace for the future than he can eat enough today to last him for the next 6 months, D.L. Moody said, nor can he inhale sufficient air into his lungs with one breath to sustain life for a week to come. We are permitted to draw upon God’s store of grace from day to day as we need it.
As we breathe it in, God’s grace sustains us, day by day. Grace enough like manna, like mercy to match tomorrow’s trouble.
But sometimes it feels like fumes.
Even When It Feels Like Running On Fumes
Fumes were enough to get Dad’s little yellow Chevy Luv truck through the intersection and into the gas station lot. That was a white-knuckle, “Will we make it there?” trauma, running on fumes. At least to the ten-year old daughter riding shotgun.
But fumes were enough. They were sufficient to get us to the pump and fill up the Luv tank.
And they were enough this week when our plans got highjacked by serious sickness in a son.
I really don’t feel good. My stomach hurts and I am sweating really bad. I want to go home, the first text said.
This, after a day home from school, a pick up at school after 90 minutes there and a call from the nurse, and then a third day at home.
It’s horrible. A cramp in my lower gut, I am sweating really bad. And on and on, five days like this with a sick boy weaker and weaker.
But He gives more grace. I breathed it in. God provided help and helpers. We adjusted our plans.
But I could be all wrong about sufficient grace like running on fumes. It could be that the Lord is massively understating.
British author Alan Redpath thought so, As if a little fish could swim in the ocean and fear lest it might drink it dry! The grace of our crucified, risen, exalted, triumphant Saviour, the Lord of all glory, is surely sufficient for me! Do you not think it is rather modest of the Lord to say sufficient?
The God of all grace may have been rather modest when he told Paul his grace was sufficient. I don’t know.
But I do know that until we meet Him face to face, our trials will endure and his sufficient grace will endure.
Until then, enough is as good as a feast. Whether it feels like drinking the ocean or running on fumes.
This sufficiency is declared without any limiting words, and therefore I understand the passage to mean that the grace of our Lord Jesus is sufficient to uphold thee, sufficient to strengthen thee, sufficient to comfort thee, sufficient to make thy trouble useful to thee, sufficient to enable thee to triumph over it, sufficient to bring thee out of it, sufficient to bring thee out of ten thousand like it, sufficient to bring thee home to heaven…
We get stronger by lifting others up. The words on my friend’s shirt caught my eye, and I mentioned it.
Yeh, John looked at it and said, “Really?”
My friend is not a hypocrite for wearing that shirt even if her “domestic encouragement” lapses — even if she’s not constantly lifting, as on mother eagle’s wings, her entire family up. I’m not a hypocrite when I join the meeting because I gave my word, even when when something better came along. And you’re not a hypocrite when you smile at me, I tell my sons, even if you don’t feel the love.
Don’t get me wrong—there are hypocrites inside the church and there are hypocrites outside the church and the best argument for Christianity is Christians and the best argument against Christianity is Christians—hypocritical Christians. Jesus saved his most scathing words for hypocrites. See Matthew 23. (Extra credit if you can count how many woes Jesus pronounced on hypocrites.)
Like this woe, in Matthew 23: 25, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”
But this post isn’t to pronounce woes on hypocrites. It is to correct one misunderstanding about hypocrites. Because we might get confused and think we’re hypocrites when we’re not. And it’s hard to grow up and mature when we’re mixed up and confused.
So what exactly is this word “hypocrite”?
What is a Hypocrite?
The Greek word, hupokrites, from which comes our English word hypocrite means a play actor. In ancient Greece, hypocrites literally put on masks to play the various parts. A hupokrites is someone who pretends to be something that he is not. He plays the part.
Hypocrites profess to believe one thing but actually live a completely different way. For example, if you are a vegetarian spokesman who eats a burger every lunch, you are a hypocrite. If you are an opponent of alcohol and you drink a bottle every night or if you’re a force for family values who enjoys strip clubs on the weekend, you’re a hypocrite.
Those are blatant examples of pretenders whose aim is to look good and get applause. Hypocrites might be slaves to praise.
More Natural, More Hypocritical?
But too often Christians confuse hypocrisy. And whenever we do, it’s to our loss. We lose confidence, and we feel shame. Or, more dangerous still, we may feel emboldened to sin because it feels more natural, less hypocritical.
Here’s what I mean. In Galatians chapter 5, Paul wrote, For the flesh craves what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are opposed to each other, so that you do not do what you want.
Which means that when my friend wore the Lift Others Up shirt, even though as her husband teased, she didn’t always to live up at home, this was not hypocrisy. Rather, she was a fallen human living out the battle. She shrugged, I wear the shirt to remind me to live it out. When I sent birthday wishes to someone who annoyed me, this was not hypocrisy. It is the Spirit in me.
Now you try it. Fill in the blanks:
When I [pray, say kind words, or do acts of service] for [someone who hurts, annoys, disappoints me], this is not hypocrisy, it is love.
No doesn’t that feel good?
Hypocrisy Or Maturity?
Hypocrisy is not when we do one thing but feel another. That is not hypocrisy.
Hypocrites publicize one set of beliefs but live by a different set of beliefs. When you come to church but you don’t feel like it, that’s not hypocrisy. That’s faithfulness. When you do the right thing in your marriage even when you don’t feel in love, that’s fidelity.
And I underscore this because I’ve heard this before, as a pastor, “Well, Pastor, I would be a hypocrite to stay in this marriage because I’m not in love anymore.” Or “I would be a hypocrite, Pastor, to give to the offering when I don’t feel like doing so.” God loves a cheerful giver, as you’ve heard me say before. Yes, He does, so keep on giving until you’re happy.
Listen very carefully, doing what is right when you don’t feel like doing what is right is not hypocrisy, it’s maturity.
God wants his kids to grow up. So send the note to the annoying friend (he may already have sent one to you). Do the deed when you don’t feel like it. Pray for your enemies. Love on.
It’s the nature of life in a tent. We must fight our sinful flesh and selfish feelings (Romans 8:13) and even still, we will fall (Proverbs 24:16). This makes us strugglers and sometimes sufferers and only proves again that we’re sinners who daily need the Gospel to free and empower and forgive.
But it does not make us hypocrites.
So while we are in this tent, we groan under our burdens, because we do not wish to be unclothed but clothed, so that our mortality may be swallowed up by life.
Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
I heard an expert say that you are qualified to teach a “master class” if you know 10% more about something than others. A handful of scintillating course topics I could teach crossed my mind when she said that. Then Sorry, can’t make it, lit up my screen. I knew my topic: loser-itis.
Actually not loser-itis, even though I’ve got some experience there. But who’d take that class? No, my masterclass would not be about loser-itis, but about how to fight loser-itis.
Fight Loser-itis Right 101
The next text confirmed my topic, Something came up. See you next week. A couple friends declined my invites and my husband rejected my plan, and someone unsubscribed from my Facebook group all on one day last week.
But even worse than outright rejection are those soul-desolating, joy-decimating crickets that come when you pour your heart out and not. a. peep. For souls who long to influence, those chirps are deafening.
This all was inflammatory. It triggered my loser-itis.
But recall, while I am a certain expert on loser-itis, I’m fairly sure I know 10% more than many about how to fight loser-itis. I don’t have a syllabus or slide show yet, but I’d love to share three fight tips that help me beat loser-itis— and they’re all 100% free!
Belt On: Fight Loser-itis With Truth
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist. Ephesians 6:14
No one has a chance against loser-itis—that discouragement that comes with failure, rejection and being ignored—unless truth undergirds.
Truth number one for every Christian is that in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. That’s Romans 8:37 and it deserved its own post. If you’re in Christ, you are not a loser. Period.
Here are the three other truths I’d unfold with those enrolled in my master class.
1. Sow On: Forget The Weather App
He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap. Ecclesiastes 11:4
Failure is part and parcel with trying. You can’t have one without the other. As Christians we are called to sow generously. We are to invite and initiate and bare our souls for the sake of the Name, even if no seed grows—or grows now, or grows where we can see it.
Because, you do not know if it will grow, but you will not reap if you do not sow.
This I know. There will always be excuses not to take a risk, and good reasons for caution, too. But if we observe the wind, we will never sow. At some point we must take that step into the river and stop looking at the weather app.
So when loser-itis bites, remind yourself that failure is part of success. Because not all seeds will grow. But none will grow if you don’t put yourself out there. Which leads straight into truth number two.
2. Love On: Accept No
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
This is a proven winner in the fight. Hard as it is, we’ve got to give others the grace to say no, or even to say nothing. We are not entitled to a response. And if the rejection is personal and a downright outright rejection of us or our message, it is still for us to give grace.
Because everyone we meet has struggles we don’t see. And sometimes the healthiest thing is to say no.
We all say no. And when we do, we want others to receive it well. Do unto others, as you’d have them do unto you. But it’s only the blessed meek who can go bold—can ask and invite and sow— and graciously take “no” for an answer.
So go meek, love on, and be kind. For everyone is fighting a hard battle. Which brings us to truth number three.
3. Keep On: Tend Your Little Patch
Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we don’t give up. Galatians 6:9
Don’t look past your front door for a cure for loser-itis. Odds are, there are people inside your house could use some TLC. Thirty years after she gave it to an insecure 7th grader, pining away on a Friday night, Mom’s advice to me is evergreen.
I can’t count the times I’ve fought off loser-itis by texting or writing or phoning a friend. Maybe I can’t pick the circles I run in, but I can love the ones in the circles I’m in. Love the ones you’re with.
Jonathan Rogers helps me here. I mentioned his words before. Rogers says we all have a territory,—a little patch of ground that is yours to cultivate. Your patch of ground is your unique combination of experiences and perspective and voice and loves and longings and community. Tend that patch of ground.
Serve them. Keep on. Tend that little patch.
Rejected, Victorious, and Lover to the End
That would be my master course, three truths to help fight loser-itis.
I might have done that with the little red dress that I would not give away. And I might have done it last week—and died on the window sill. I might have withered at the old job site. Buzzing at that window stole my sleep and made me sick.
Faithfulness is a good thing. But this was not about keeping a commitment. This was about selfish refusal to change.
Those honest faces around the table told me the truth, they instructed me in the way: Now was the time to go.
Ripping off the BAND-AID
Abigail, it’s the best way to do this. It’s ripping off the Band-Aid, my colleague Kay, said. Now you can heal.
Or, I shall be like the bee
That booms against the window-pane for hours
Thinking that the way to reach the laden flowers.
With help from Kay and other kind colleagues, we loaded and tossed and packed and hauled and unloaded and tossed and unpacked 20 years of desk entrails and materials in two hours—flat. The picture above is my van all packed. It took Kay and Tracy’s trunks, too, to pack up those 20 years.
I got watery saying a few unavoidable good-byes. The propped door set off the school alarm and, alas, I had to explain. As I crammed the van, I lamented. I grieved lunch walks with Kathy (this kindness post started with Kathy) and camaraderie with Jess and Michelle.
I’m not too proud to admit it. I mourned the big new window with light and breeze and Jiminy cricket singing round the clock to me. The new building had no Kathy, Michelle or Jess and the new room no windows.
But, as God would have it, I went to work Wednesday morning and sat down beside the window. I left for home that afternoon from a windowless room. Just like that.
Moving twenty years in two hours is ripping off the BAND-AID. The day shook out the bee in me.
Shaking out the Bee
Abigail, you might want to transfer after this year. I think you might be happier and it will be easier that way. But it’s up to you.
That, I sheepishly add, came during a rare after-hours phone call from Kay last May. Kay is the most senior in our department and she knew. Kay saw the writing on the wall.
But I buzzed on through the summer and into school’s first week. I wearied my wings and bruised my head. Anxiety was like a load of bricks on my chest all night.
‘If we could speak to her,’ my doctor said,
‘And tell her, “Not that way! All, all in vain
You weary out wings and bruise your head,”
Might she not answer, buzzing at the pane,
“Let queens and mystics and religious bees
Talk of such inconceivables as glass;
the blunt lay worker flies at what she sees,
Look there – ahead, ahead – the flowers, the grass!
”We catch her in a handkerchief (who knows
What rage she feels, what terror, what despair?)
And shake her out – and gaily out she goes
Where quivering flowers and thick in summer air,
To drink their hearts. But left to her own will
She would have died upon the window-sill.
– C.S. Lewis, Poems, 1964. p. 127
Until I heard my Doctor speak to me, in those looks around the table on Wednesday. He made the way plain. There was no more buzzing at the window pane.
I knew the move was right.
But left to my own…
Freeing up You and Me
My JoyPrO’s don’t always have bows tied. But this one kind of does. My new workplace is a delight. One week in, there’s so much to enjoy that I seldom miss the light, the breeze, and life outside my window.
Are you a bee like me sometimes? Do you buzz hard at the window thinking through it only is the way to life’s laden flowers? Do you hunker down and “faithfully” stay the course when God’s good way is to turn?
If you do, you are not alone. But I’m here to tell you that God is good. He instructs us buzzing sinners in the way—us humble, buzzing sinners.
And if we don’t let go, our faithful LORD might lovingly shake us free.
Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness…
Note: A version of this post appeared in February 2012, the month Uncle Kevin went home. That post—I Hold Your Hand—was the first post written for JoyfullyPressingOn.
No, Mom —no! It’s very scary. I don’t want to go. Pleeeeease—nooooo!
Waterpark guests stared. Lifeguards raised their brows. I tightened my grip on the four year-old’s hand.
Gabe’s four-year old cousin and his six year-old brother couldn’t get up the stairs fast enough. So yes, by golly, Gabe would try it once.
Onward, then—his screaming and squirming matched by my firm hold.
You’ll love it Bud. It’s not very scary. It’s very fun.
But the boy didn’t buy it.
No, Mom. I’m too scared. The green slide is too dark and too steep and it goes outside. Pleeeease. No!”
For a split second, wavered. But then I envisaged Gabe’s goggled grinning face bursting from the chute and toward the stairway I strode, struggling boy in tow.
By the first landing, his body had stopped protesting, a couple landings ahead of his mouth. So I lowered him, but to prevent retreat, I did not relax my hold. Hand in hand, we climbed, whine-singing, “Why Mom? It’s too scary. (x2) Please don’t make me go down.”
You can sing it to the tune of “Skip to my Lou.”
One hundred-twelve steps up we hit the summit, a relentless, omniscient mom and her reluctant, scared-to-death son.
At the sight of the gaping green mouth, Gabe made one loud, last stand.
No, Mom. Please, no.
It passed and I plopped us square on the blue tube, and wrapped him tight.
You’ll be back ten more times, assured the sage teen who pushed us off.
There we were. Together on our tube, sliding along through the seafoam tunnel, awash in mid-morning sun. No longer did Gabe project fear. He broadcasted joy.
And as the tube splashed into the pool, he burst with those words I hoped to hear,
That was so fun! Let’s go again.
In the course of the next hour, with help from Grandpa (2 runs), Grandma (2 runs), Aunt Charissa (1 run), Aunt Danielle (1 run) and mom (the remaining 4 runs), Gabe enjoyed not one, not two, but ten runs down the feared and dreaded, once very scary green waterslide.
Not Strong Enough
What’s your very scary?
Is it fear of that your pain or the heartache will never away? That the grief and loneliness will always stay? That your prodigal won’t come home, that you love is in vain, or even that your faith will fail?
Rest assured: Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you. (J.I. Packer, Knowing God). He will hold you fast.
From the first run down the green chute to the last breath on this green earth, the Lord takes his children by the hand and walks us through every very scary.
His Unseen Hand
This post was written in memory of my generous, joking, winking, eye-twinkling, and fearless Uncle Kevin. On Sunday, February 19th, 2012, God took hold of Uncle Kev’s hand and walked him home.
In the nearly ten years since, the truth of God’s unseen hand gripping mine means immeasurably more now than it did then. Then, I felt it as a parent clinging to a scared child and as an observer of a dear soul fading into glory.
Now, I feel it more as a fragile parent-child whose hand is gripped by the Everlasting Father. I feel it more as a servant looking to the hand of her master, waiting for mercy (Psalm 123:2). Now I know what that I only cling to him because his hand upholds me.
Speaking of holding, had he been here Uncle Kev would have held his first grandchild, little dark-haired, rosy-cheeked Ellie last month. I know there are no tears in heaven. I hope there is a beaming Grandpa Kevin amazed by the wonder of Ellie.
For I the Lord your God hold your right hand; it is I who say to you. ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’
I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD, your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
The “disease model” of mental health asserts that good feelings come effortlessly to “normal” people, so bad feelings are evidence of a disease…Here is an alternative: Happiness is a skill that must be learned…
Refuse to see happiness as an entitlement.
Loretta G. Breuning, “The Therapy-Industrial Complex,” THE EPOCH TIMES, 8/25-8/31/2021
Work For Your Joy
Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.
2 Corinthians 1:24
Did you catch that? We work, Paul wrote, with you for your your joy.
Which means, we’re not entitled to joy and happiness is not a right. I don’t want the point to get lost in my words: You’ve got to work for joy.
And I mean that as 100% encouragement. Because too many of us have bought into the lie that says if we’re normal and healthy we’ll never feel flat, lonely or blue. And, while we might not say it this way, that we have a right to be happy.
But that’s wrong.
Happiness Is Not A Right
Pursue it, as our Founding Fathers said. Work for it with all your might. Fight for it. But please don’t say it’s your right.
You’re not entitled to it. Joy is a gift. It’s a fruit of the Spirit, meaning it’s given by God. Joy happens. We can’t command it. But we can work for. We can work to place ourselves where joy is more likely to be found. I can’t command a splendid sunset, but I can get out of this hickory woods in the evening and face west toward an open field.
I’m more likely to enjoy a drop-dead sunset there that facing east in my forest. But if I do get to savor that sun, I didn’t earn it. I worked to get where it’s found. But I don’t deserve it. Sun like that is sheer gift.
Count It All Joy
James wrote, Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
I’m not an accountant by trade, but my work this Labor Day and every other day is to count it all joy.
Picture me with my ground teeth stalking joy—fully armed too as it’s a highly dangerous quest. The other day I ran up on a wonderful quotation: “The dragon is at the side of the road watching those who pass. Take care lest he devour you! You are going to the Father of souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.”
I love this image. I live this image. My ground teeth and furrowed brow, out I stalk joy. I dare the joy-stealing dragon to breathe his fire as I pass—my eyes set on the city that is to come.
Because I know there is full joy in the presence of my Father, I press on.
George Mueller ran orphanages in England in the 1800’s. He was a joy crusader. You may have read this quote before. I return to it again and again,
The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished.
My primary business each morning is the same. And I assure you, many days it takes a fight. It takes a prayer and verse and another prayer and a verse and forcing myself to give thanks for five things before I roll out of bed to, many days, tasks I dread.
The fight of faith is the fight for joy. I wake up every morning and fight that fight. Am I wanting to look at Twitter before I look at Jesus? It sounds stupid. That’s how stupid sin is. Every morning there’s war in the Piper household, and it’s not against my family; it’s against me.
Every day, Piper does what David did (Psalm 101:8), Every morning I will put to silence all the wicked in the land.
We stalk joy to get our souls happy in Jesus every single day. When we feel blue, we neither fear we are diseased, nor give up the fight. We grind our teeth and stalk our way past the ancient serpent that would forever steal our joy.
Because we know joy is not a given and happiness is not our right. Joy is a gift of God and a Spirit-fruit that grows as we fight the good fight of faith. We labor to be happy in Jesus until the day we die.
This wasn’t a how-to post. I wrote this JoyPrO to persuade you that happiness isn’t your right, so you’re not discouraged when it’s absent and you go after it with a fight. But if you want “15 Tactics For Joy,” look here. For one described in detail look here.
But my anxious mind wouldn’t let my tired flesh sleep. Despite casting my cares and reciting a verse, two days in a row I awoke by a mind awash, weary and weak.
Then sometime in the third watch of the third night, totally unprompted, stones and a rock entered and settled me.
Strength Of Stones
I can’t explain how they came except to say, if you put God’s Word in your heart, the Spirit pulls it out.
He brought stones to mind first: What is my strength that I should hope?Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze?(Job 6:10-11)
Job was my man. He felt my pain and I felt his. He was strong. I was strong.
I’ve been strong. My sisters and cousins and I joke about our strong genes and high tolerance for pain. After all, we milked kicky goats and weeded field gardens and bailed August hay. We Considine girls are strong.
My flesh is strong, but it is not the durable strength of bronze. My heart is strong, but it it is not the staunch strength of a stone. It’s true: my flesh and my heart fail me. That happens when my hope dims, like it did in the dark this week when I couldn’t solve my way out of the tension at work. The truth is, I still don’t see the way out.
But I’m not alone. Centuries ago the Puritan Matthew Henry was also taken up by Job’s words.
What is my strength, that Ishould hope? You see how I am weakened and brought low, how unable I am to grapple with my [moods], and therefore what reason have I to hope that I should outlive them, and see better days?
Is my strength the strength of stones?Are my muscles brass and my sinews steel? No, they are not, and therefore I … sink under the load […]
What is our strength? It is depending strength. We have no more strength than God gives us; for in him we live and move.
The only real strength that we stones have is a depending strength. That is not a bug. It is a design feature.
Because, as Paul Tripp says, It is not your weakness that will get in the way of God’s working through you, but your delusions of strength. His strength is made perfect in our weakness!
God created us weak and needy, not with the unyielding strength of stones.
Strong Enough To Stay Upon
The truth is, I still don’t see a way out of the conflict at work. But my perspective is changing. This depending strength is giving me hope. I know He will be with me with the tension is high. Trusting Him for that brings peace.
Which is the second truth God sent in third watch of the third night. It was Isaiah 26:3-4,
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.
Stayed upon means my mind is fixed on, focused on,stayed upon Jehovah. That is the only way to perfect peace. The Hebrew word sawmak comes from the root “to prop.” A Bible dictionary says it has the idea of “to lean upon or take hold of … lay, lean, lie hard, put, rest self, set self, stand fast, stay (self), sustain.”
No sugarcoating: staying our minds takes work. It means first we press on to know God. Because we won’t trust what we don’t know. And we certainly won’t focus and fix and lean and stay our minds on what we do not trust.
But I’m here to tell you that there is perfect peace when this dependent stone stays her mind on the everlasting Rock.
Come Forth As Gold
I actually started this post nine years ago when as I first pondered those “strength of stone” words of Job. Infertility wearied me then. It took massive depending strength that I didn’t always have to hope in God’s goodness—whether it came through a third child (it didn’t) or by knowing Him more (it did).
To tell you the truth, most of my adult life feels like a series of tests. Maybe yours does too. And maybe that’s normal for every believer. Maybe it’s God’s way of testing us lumps of gold.
I’ve got some theology for that too. It didn’t come in the third watch of the night like the Rock and stones. But I know what Job knew (23:10): that he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
No, my flesh is not bronze and my strength is not the strength of stones. But as I trust in the Everlasting Rock, I gain perfect peace and strength to hope.
And when he has tested us, we will come forth as gold.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:6-7
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart.
—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO
That’s it. If you need the TLDR, it’s that. Your greatest enemy isn’t outside of you. Because like it or not, you’re primed for polarity.
Good and evil pass right through the core of you. You and every human.
Polar Opposites, Fully Charged
There is the moral dualism that sees good and evil as instincts within us between which we must choose. But there is also what I will call pathological dualism that sees humanity itself as radically…divided into the unimpeachably good and irredeemably bad. You are either one or the other.
—RABBI LORD JONATHAN SACKS, Not In God’s Name
The earth has poles, magnets have poles, and some molecules—if I remember my chemistry—bond because of polarity. There is north and there is south, there is positive and there is negative, proton and electron. The whole world, Hopkins wrote, is charged with the grandeur of God.
The earth is charged all right. But how ’bout all the people that on earth do dwell? Are people made like magnets, with poles to attract and repel?
There is a sort of bi-polarity to every one of us. We all have both + and -, both good and evil poles. Every one of us is both/and, not either/or. No one is good but God alone. Which means no one is all good—not one of our heroes or models or guides.
But the other side of polarity is harder to swallow. Think of that person whose views are opposite yours. Pick your most staunch anti-vax or all-vax, pro-gun or no-gun, conservative or progressive cousin. Now remember, she is not bad to the bone.
We are not unimpeachably good or irredeemably bad. We’ve all got both forces inside us.
Okay, you say. But why tell me now?
3 Polarity “Untruths”
Because when the same truth falls into my lap from three different sources in less than three hours, I take note. And because I know I’m not alone.
People we trust take polar opposite positions. I felt it last night when a close friend expressed an opinion that was 180-degrees different from other valued friends. It’s confusing and unsettling and sometimes even crazy-making. By the way, these three non-negotiables still stabilize.
The past 18 months have been the most polarizing months of our lives. Friendships suffer. Relationships break. Yes, the earth is charged and we humans are tried.
Here are the three polarity “untruths” that were dropped in my lap. Writing them down shows me how polarity hurts humans.
This is emotional polarization. It means that “people who identify with either of the two main political parties increasingly hate and fear the other party and the people in it” (141).
Identity politics, the authors explain, “can be mobilized in ways that amplify…tribalism and bind people together in shared hatred of a group that serves as the unifying common enemy” (p. 60). Interpretations of “intersectionality” that teach people to see bipolar dimensions of privilege and oppression everywhere also “have the potential to turn tribalism way up” (p. 68).
Not surprisingly, this is driving many of Americans to embrace what the authors call, “the Untruth of Us Versus Them.” We go in to tribal mode and let the tribe think for us. Even worse, we show less empathy for “them” and “their” suffering when we’re in tribal mode (p. 58). That hurts humans.
Truth #1: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ (Romans 3:23-24). All. Not the heathen in the enemy tribe. Not the vaxxers. Or the anti-vaxxers. Not the oppressor, or the oppressed. All have sinned and all have need God’s grace.
Untruth #2: “Unconditional Affirmer Or Mortal Enemy”
After I read that, I heard this. There are two kinds of people: those who will give us unconditional affirmation and there are mortal enemies.
Some of us think there are only two kinds of relationships. There are people who will give me unconditional affirmation and there are mortal enemies. “If you do not give me unconditional affirmation—always agree with me, always like me, always tell me what I want to hear—then you are an enemy and you hate me.”
That sensitive is not that healthy. Tribalism cuts us off from hearing helpful, but uncomfortable information. So does “two-kinds of people” thinking.
If you have that mindset, you cannot understand who God is. That hurts humans. Because God does not unconditionally affirm everything about us. He said our sins are as scarlet and that they could be washed white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).
Healthy relationships are not polar. They don’t either affirm everything or oppose everything about you. Real friends, real brothers and real sisters and affirm and confront in love.
Truth #2: If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding (Proverbs 15:31-32). Seeing relationships with polarity is cutting off your nose to spite your face. Criticism may not be agreeable, Winston Churchill said, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to…an unhealthy state.
Untruth #3: “Good King Or Bad King”
The third strand came the same day, no kidding, when I dropped a book and an old paper fell out. It was a three column chart that listed the names of Judah’s kings, the dates of their reigns, and their “character.” That was in the last column where either “good” or “bad” was printed.
But scrawled in that right side column, I had added the word: mostly.
As in: King Saul: “mostly bad.” Recall: Early pardon of his enemies AND those spears he thrust at David.
King David: “mostly good.” Recall: Goliath, psalms galore, grace to bloodthirsty Saul AND Bathsheba.
King Solomon: “mostly good.” Recall: Prayer for wisdom, temple construction AND 1000 wives and concubines.
Fast forward to wicked king Ahab, who “did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel before him.” Who, with his long-lashed Jezebel knocked off righteous Naboth for a vineyard. But then the murderous thug, the evil King Ahab humbled himself. He repented. So again, I added “mostly” next to bad.
Three kings later: Jehu- zealous for God. He was so zealous that he executes wicked Jezebel and slaughters Ahab’s 70 sons. Not satisfied, Jehu gathers the Baal worshipers and wipes them out too. Such a righteous warrior! But still Jehu didn’t “turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam.” His zeal was incomplete; Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord with all his heart. This time, I had scratched “mostly” beside “good.”
Seeing polarity hurts humans because we write them off as static, as of the story is ✔️ and they’re either good or bad.
Truth #3: None is righteous, no, not one; … no one understands; no one seeks for God (Romans 3:10-12). One truth is inescapable in these royal annals of the kings: the good kings are not all good, and the bad are not all bad. Like Mom says,
No one good is all good, Or bad is all bad. We’re all shades Of gray or plaid.
I don’t know about you, but in my home, in my town, and in my nation I need this truth front and center. I need to give people the benefit of the doubt as much as I want it extended to me. I need to look for the good in those who naturally repel and I need to remember that no one is good but God alone as I’m with those who naturally attract.
I pray that simple prayer so real joy will come to the rebels I love. And if I revert to rebel ways, I hope my loved ones pray it for me. Because it is not healthy or right to think lightly of sin.
Listen to British preacher C.H. Spurgeon,
Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Savior. He who has stood before his God, convicted and condemned, with the rope about his neck, is the man to weep for joy when he is pardoned, to hate evil which has been forgiven him, and to live to the honour of the Redeemer by whose blood he has been cleansed.
Make sin taste bitter and repentance taste sweet.
Remember J.I. Packer’s definition of repentance?
Repentance is turning from as much as you know of your sin, to give as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of God.
But the Prodigal didn’t repent, he didn’t return, until his sin tasted bitter. Until he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
Make sin taste bitter and repentance taste sweet.
In Luke 15:17-18 we read,
But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.
We know how what happened then. A father runs and kisses and hugs. Servants prepare marbled steaks to celebrate.
But before the son ate the savory steak, the pig scraps tasted bitter.
Dear Heavenly Father, Make sin taste bitter and repentance taste sweet. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
Not playing it well. I’m the far left of the herd.
We are led to believe that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part we have played. The playing it well is what matters infinitely.
C.S. Lewis, The Last Night
I’m not sure if the role was wrong or if I just played it wrong, when I played a donkey in the pageant back in third grade. A donkey was a step up from white-tight, cotton-ball sheep or a gaudy, gold cardboard star. But it was nothing compared to Mary or even to a shepherd.
At least shepherds were people. Donkeys were just beasts. Plus, I resented the fuzzy brown hood and those tan, straight-leg, corduroys. I was a sulky donkey. I did not play the donkey part well.
When Uzziah Played The Wrong Part
Around 750 B.C. Judah’s King Uzziah wanted a new role. For the first 40 years Uzziah played the king part—his God-given role—like a pro.
He set himself to seek God…as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper(2 Chronicles 26:4-5). God helped him against his enemies and he became very strong. Engines on towers, irrigated farmland, and his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped. But Uzziah wasn’t content to be king. He stole a part not given to him. He took the role of priest. But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense…But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests and they withstood him and said, ‘It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense.’ (2 Chronicles 26:16-17). They were right. The fragrant, smoky offering part was assigned to Aaron’s priestly line. It was not in God’s script for his kings. So the 81 confronted Uzziah and said,
“It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the Lord God.”
Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the Lord’s temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead. (2 Chronicles 26:18-19) Because King Uzziah stole a role not his own, he lived leprous and alone for ten years until he died.
Don’t Let FOMO Ruin The Show
It sounds extreme. But Uzziah is a type. His sinful overreach—incited by his fear of missing out on a better priestly part?—was written down for our instruction, that we might have hope (Romans 15:4). Uzziah warns us to master the FOMO that tempts us to take a role not assigned to us.
“The fear of missing out,” writes blogger Jon Bloom, is “the Thing”-or the part- we think we need to be happy. In a word, it’s coveting. And coveting isn’t limited to material “things,” making it so illusive.
It’s a shape-shifter that assumes whatever form matches our current vulnerability to feeling like we’re missing out. Today it might be coveting someone’s income, tomorrow it might be coveting someone’s achievement, the next day it might be coveting someone’s harmonious family, next week it might be coveting someone’s opportunities or church or advanced degree or capacities or interior design or . . . you name it.
This is why we often experience Facebook and Pinterest as purveyors of “missing out.” They point out all the things that we don’t have. They remind us of what we are not. They show us where we have not been.
But the root problem isn’t social media or marketing. The root problem, says Bloom, is deeper. It’s “our active sin natures that tell us that idols satisfy. That fear that we are missing out is coming from inside us” (James 4:1-2).
So how do we fight FOMO?
Stage Tips: Play. Your. Part. Well.
That’s simple. Stay in your lane, on your stage. Focus on playing your assigned role well.
1. Play-work, take- an active part in salvation’s story. It’s on stage at this second in you. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12b-13
2. Play your. Not my part, or your best friend’s, or your fantasy role. Play your actual, factual, realio-trulio God-given part. Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. 1 Corinthians 7:17
3. Play your part. It’s not a one-man show. You’re only part of this grand play. But it is an important part. God picked you for this role. God arranged the parts in the body, each one of them as he chose… there are many parts, yet one body. 1 Corinthians 12:18-20
4. Play your part well. Not grudgingly, but cheerfully; not half-heartedly, but whole-heartedly. And whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing you will receive the inheritance as a reward. Colossians 3:23-23
My friend Jenny was new to her 50’s and working her way back to university when brain cancer hammered her husband. The youngest of their three sons was still in school when Phil went home to Jesus. Then her oldest married married a lovely lady with a lovely young daughter and suddenly Jenny was Nana frosting sparkly pink princess cakes.
A few years ago Christian author and speaker Nancy Leigh DeMoss, also in her 50’s, shocked us with this announcement:
No one could have been more caught off guard by this turn of events than I. In recent years, I have found myself in the most settled, contented, healthy, fruitful place of life and ministry ever. I did not have the slightest inkling that He was about to call me to step out into a whole new realm of faith and service…
For decades, I have [served] as a single woman, wholly devoted to Christ and His kingdom. Over these months, it has become clear to me that the Lord wants me to continue telling that gospel story . . . as a married woman.
Like Nancy, and Jenny, we’re often caught off guard when we find ourselves playing parts for which we didn’t tryout, and in roles God chose us to play.
Play Even The Little Parts Well
Brother Lawrence lived in a French monastery in the mid 1700’s. The Practice of the Presence of God tells of his “great aversion” to kitchen work and how he prayed “for grace to do it well.”
He is King Uzziah’s antitype. After fifteen years in the kitchen, Brother Lawrence wrote:
Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; I rise happier than a king.
The Author of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2), and the Director of our hearts (2 Thessalonians 3:5) wrote us into this grand play with just the right part. He casts each role, to the praise of his glory (1 Corinthians 7:17, Acts 17:26-27). He placed us on the perfect stage to make God look great.
I’ve cameoed in that donkey part more than I care to admit in the years since third grade. I’ve written before about how brutish I’ve been—with infertility, church conflict, in relationships that try me. My FOMO on other roles, roles I would have chosen for me, gives me some sympathy for King Uzziah. l do not always play my part well.
But always if I look back to the Director, his grace frees me to play my part. But there’s more. In every act, He holds my hand and guides me
Please know God picked you for your part. He is with you. He wants to guide you through.
When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.
The trouble is that what we call ‘asking God’s forgiveness’ very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses.
—C.S. Lewis, “On Forgiveness”
My tongue burned to tell all. All that led up to that rash word I spoke to Carrie that morning. How she was silent when I needed her most. How she said no when I desperately wanted her yes. The unkind word she’d said first. Maybe it was a passive-aggressive. For sure it was excuses.
Contrast these apologies:
1. I’m sorry I punched you Gabe, <eyes rolling high, facing away> but you shouldn’t have smashed my Ultimate Ultron Lego guy. It took me an hour to put it together. And it’s mine, not yours.
2. Sorry I punched you, Gabe. Will you forgive me?
And these two:
3. I’m sorry I’m late. This cake took longer than the recipe said to bake and then I got a call as I was heading out the door and since Sarah never calls I thought I better pick up. Sorry.
4. I’m sorry I’m late. Will you forgive me?
5. Samuel said, “What have you done?”
And Saul answered, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now they will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the LORD,’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:11-12).
6. Nathan said to David, “Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight?”
David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Samuel 12:9,13).
You’re right— the odd numbers aren’t apologies at all. They’re excuses. The most quoted forgiveness verse outside of the Lord’s prayer may be 1 John 1:9, where the beloved disciple wrote, “If we excuse our sins, God is faithful and just to excuse them, too.”
Excuses or forgiveness?
C.S. Lewis was on to this big mistake we make, when we (sort of) confess.
When I think I am asking God to forgive me, I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiveness and excusing. Forgiveness says, ‘Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology, I will never hold it against you…But excusing says, ‘I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it, you weren’t really to blame.’ If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense, forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites.
But the trouble is that what we call, ‘asking God’s forgiveness’ very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses. What leads to this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some ‘extenuating circumstances.’ We are so very anxious to point these out to God (and to ourselves) that we are apt to forget the really important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which the excuses didn’t cover, the bit which is inexcusable but not, thank God, unforgivable.
King Saul had defeated the Ammonites. His felt strong. But after seven days of wait he was growing fearful or impatient, or both. So he ignored the command and took matters into his own hands. In other words, Saul sinned.
What have you done? asked Samuel.
Then off Saul’s tongue excuses and good reasons poured: My troops were scattering and you didn’t come and the enemy was assembling and and and…
And if those weren’t enough for Samuel-or for God-then maybe explaining just how hard it was to do wrong would make it right. I forced myself to do it, Saul explained.
“I’m sorry I ___, but___,” does not apology make.
If we forget this, we might imagine that we’ve repented and been forgiven and all is well when what has really happened is that we have deceived ourselves with our own excuses.
What should we do when we’re stuck like I was with Carrie, making excuses and thinking up buts?
Lewis offers two remedies. We can rely on these to help overcome our self-protecting tendency to make excuses rather than beg forgiveness.
The first fix is to remember that God knows all our excuses much better than we do. He even knows the excuses we never even thought of. “All the real excusing He will do,” writes Lewis, “What we have got to take to him is the inexcusable bit, the sin.”
The second treatment is to really and truly believe in the forgiveness of sins. We make excuses, maybe, because we think that God will not take us back to Himself, “unless He is satisfied that some sort of case can be made out in our favor. But that would not be forgiveness at all.”
Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness; and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.
This is the grace in which we now stand. It is the grace to confess the horror and dirt of our sin—even if 98% of it is excusable and explainable. It’s the power to confess the 2% and be forgiven. Grace brings the power not to pile on excuses because we trust that God, in Christ, has forgiven us.
Let Excuses Collect Dust
Driving to Carrie’s house, a litany of her past failures—excuses for my failure—flooded my mind. Truly, as pastor Andy Stanley observed, Good excuses rarely collect dust. We use them and use them and use them.
But God gives a spirit of power and love and self-control. And in some miracle of grace, I dropped my excuses on the dusty ground.
And there I stood—in the mighty, no-excuses, grace of God on Carrie’s front stoop. I rang the doorbell. She appeared.
I’m sorry for saying that to you this morning. It wasn’t right.
Her lips didn’t move at first but her gray eyes said, Yes, you have done this thing.
Someone said, We’re never more like God than when we forgive.
And God-like, Carrie smiled and did.
I forgive you.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
I don’t get it, Mom. Why did Aunt Danielle get Ella all those pretzel bites?
Ella* was the only one who whined and cried on the drive and now she walks out with the pretzel bites. Just her—no one else. That does not seem right.
I had to agree. As much as I talk about grace and write about grace and stand in grace, I was caught off guard by my sister’s grace.
Why Grace Doesn’t Seem Right
Because from our inside the van perspective, Ella seemed the least deserving of a treat. Oh sure, our drive home from northern Michigan was fraught: six hours of torrid air conditioning, a steadily deflating rear tire and horrid Chicago traffic that delayed potty stops were perfect fodder for any grumbler.
Still, Gabe didn’t grumble.
But when we finally walked into the Lake Forest Oasis, Gabe didn’t get pretzel bites. Ella did. In fact, of all six cousins, only Ella did. Aunt Danielle bought a big cup of Auntie Anne’s pretzel bites just for Ella. A big cup of grace.
So no, Gabe, it doesn’t seem right. Because at its core, grace is undeserved favor. It comes in so many transforming shapes. But it is never earned or deserved. Grace is not just for good people.
We thing that God loves good people rather than that his love makes people good. But, as Jeremy Treat explains, the Bible is not a story of God looking for good people, but one of God redeeming sinful people.
Behold What Wondrous Grace
Behold what wondrous grace, Isaac Watts wrote. But did you know that you really can behold it? That you actually can see grace?
It’s not invisible like the wind. In Acts 11:23, we read how Barnabas arrived in Antioch and “witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all…”
Short rabbit trail, but I can’t help but think it is no coincidence that it is Barnabas, whose name means “son of encouragement,” who saw God’s grace. I’m not sure if it’s correlation or causation—if seeing grace makes one an encourager, or if encouragers simply see grace more clearly—but I know that encouragers see grace.
Regardless, sometimes we get to do more than merely see grace.
A Taste of a Pretzel Bite
Back in the Lake Forest Oasis parking lot, waiting beside a hot, disgruntled son, I shut my eyes and sighed.
You got it, Gabe. In a way, grace never seems right. Because we think of right as deserve. And we can never ever deserve grace. We can never ever earn the love of God. We can never ever pay our way to his favor.
We looked up. The cousins were coming. They were close enough to see Danielle’s grace. We saw the Auntie Anne’s salty nuggets in Ella’s hand.
Now Ella looked up at me, the selfsame aunt who had delayed our hot van from the potty stop that might have prevented her tears and distress.
Do you want to try one, Aunt Ab? She held out the cup. I took one hot, doughy, unmerited, unpaid for, and fully undeserved bite.
And it tasted all of grace.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions
—it is by grace you have been saved.
Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
*Not her real name
“Good Grace Stuff That Didn’t Make The Cut”
On “5 Misconceptions of Grace” and “3 Enemies of Grace”: Jeremy Treat explains, “Confusion results because we don’t get grace; meaning, we receive it but we’re not transformed by it because we don’t understand it.”
On being a “Grace Amnesiac”: Paul Tripp says we don’t need more grace. Rather, we need to understand and live in light of the grace God already gave us. Tripp explains the phrase, “grace amnesiac.”
On grace being more than undeserved favor. It is. But, as John Piper explains, biblically it is so much more, including “the action or the power, which produces real, practical outcomes in people’s lives.”
On tasting grace when our taste is gone: I share some spiritual lessons from the time my taste died. One nugget: Appetite comes by eating. Even when God’s Word of grace doesn’t taste good, keep eating.
We all need refreshers. We need to hear the old and familiar explained again so it doesn’t become stale and taken for granted.
That’s what this quote was for me: a timely reminder of the purpose of grace; the reason for the grace in which we—and that includes me—stand (Romans 5:2). It’s from a chapter called, “These Inward Trials,” in J.I. Packer’s classic, KNOWING GOD (IVP, 1973). The spacing, bolding and italics are mine.
What is grace?
In the New Testament grace means God’s love in action towards people who merited the opposite of love. Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves. Grace means God sending His only Son to descend into hell on the cross so that we guilty one might be reconciled to God and received into heaven. “(God) made him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
What is the purpose of grace?
Primarily, it is to restore man’s relationship with God. When God lays the foundation of this restored relationship, by forgiving our sins as we trust His Son, He does so in order that henceforth we and He may live in fellowship and what He does in renewing our nature is intended to make us capable of, and actually to lead us into, the exercise of love, trust, delight, hope and obedience Godward- those acts which from our side, made of the reality of fellowship with God, who is constantly making Himself known to us. This is what all the work of grace aims at. At an even deeper knowledge of God, and an ever closer fellowship with him. Grace is God drawing us sinners closer and closer to himself.
How does grace prosecute [go about] this purpose?
Not by shielding us from assault by the world, the flesh and the devil, nor by protecting us from the burdensome and frustrating circumstances, nor by shielding us from the troubles created by our own temperament and psychology. But rather by exposing us to all those things, so as to overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy, and to drive us to cling to Him more closely. This is the ultimate reason, from our standpoint, why God fills our lives with troubles and perplexities of one sort and another. It is to ensure that we shall learn to hold Him fast.
The reason why the Bible spends so much time reiterating that God is a strong rock, a firm defence, and a sure refuge and help for the weak, is that God spends so much of His time bringing to us that we are weak, both mentally and morally, and dare not trust ourselves to find, or to follow, the right road. When we walk along a clear road feeling fine, and someone takes our arm to help us, as likely as not we shall impatiently shake him off. But when we are caught in rough country in the dark, with a storm getting up and our strength spent, and someone takes our arm to help us, we shall thankfully lean on him.
Why is life rough and perplexing?
And God wants us to feel that our way through life is rough and perplexing so that we may learn thankfully to lean on Him. Therefore He takes steps to drive us out of self-confidence to trust in Himself—in the classical biblical phrase for the secret of the godly man’s life, “to wait on the Lord.”
One of the most startling applications of this truth is that God actually uses our sins and mistakes to this end. He employs the educative discipline of failures and mistakes very frequently. It is striking to see how much of the Bible deals with men of God making mistakes, and God chastening them for it. Abraham losing patience and begets Ishmael… Moses killing an Egyptian…David seducing Bathsheba and getting Uriah killed… Jonah running away from God’s call… So we might go on.
But the point to stress is that the human mistake, and the immediate divine displeasure was in no case the end of the story…God can bring good out of the extremes of our folly; God can restore the years that the locust has eaten.
You know what they say about those who never make mistakes?
They say that those who never make mistakes never make anything. Certainly these men made mistakes, but through their mistakes God taught them to know His grace, and to cleave to Him in a way that would never have happened otherwise.
Is your trouble a sense of failure? The knowledge of having made some horrible mistake? Go to God, his restoring grace waits for you.
For that, after all, is the purpose of grace: an even deeper knowledge of God, and an ever closer fellowship with him. Grace is God drawing us sinners closer and closer to himself.
To be near the Creator, Redeemer and Lover of my sinful, selfish soul and to know and be known by the one who loves me most.
What could this be, but grace?
He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.
If so, there’s no shame in it. Because you can be both at once. Jesus was.
Sorely Tempted And Dearly Loved
This post has one point and this is it:Don’t ever doubt when you are in the wilderness and sorely tempted that you are still dearly loved.
The flow of these three little verses in the beginning of Matthew’s gospel assure me this is true:
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
Matthew 3:16-4:1 (ESV)
The direct connection escaped me, because the chapter break between Matthew chapters three and four interrupts the flow. But chapter breaks are not inspired.
In Matthew’s mind the dove and the devil—the pronouncement of Beloved Son and temptation in the wilderness— were intimately connected.
His Well Pleased He Leads Into the Wilderness
From heaven the voice of God boomed, This is my beloved Son. Then without skipping a beat, the Spirit of God led the beloved with whom he was well pleased straight into the wilderness.
The seventeenth-century Bible commentator Matthew Henry observed, Great privileges, and special tokens of divine favour, will not secure us from being tempted.
I hope it’s becoming obvious. That if there is any connection between spiritual condition and “temptation factor” it is not that God’s children are spared. The opposite seems true—those walking closest to God have been the longest and hardest tempted in the wilderness.
Jesus, one with the Father, was fiercely tempted for 40 days.
Not Immune From Temptation
Something MUST be wrong, my friend said. I still struggle with the same sins that I did ten years ago. I struggle to forgive the same old things and sometimes I still get so mad at the kids. And just when I think I’ve got my discontentment nipped, a new envy blossom buds.No matter how hard I try and how much I pray, I just can’t master these things. Something must be wrong. This stuff should be overcome by now.
Really? I read Matthew 3 and 4 and I’m just not so sure. If the very Son of God, was not immune from temptation, we will not be either. It’s a sort of suffering that I think we’ll have to face until we leave these old tents.
In fact, I like to think, as I’m tempted yet again to envy or discontent, that the very fact I’m feeling the struggle against it, feeling it as a temptation to sin, means not only that the God-life is in me, but that I am God’s beloved.
That even with tempted and sometimes failing me—it feels audacious and tears me up to say—God is well pleased.
Beloved And Tempted
Because it was God, God the Spirit, who led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. Therefore, Thabiti Anyabwile explains, we know that the temptation of Christ was not random or without purpose. The Sinless Lamb of God endured temptation both so that He could identify with us (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15) and to showcase the beauty of His holy character. That is why the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness.
Here’s the point: Jesus proved that you can be God’s pleasing and beloved child and still be in the wilderness and tempted. So please don’t assume the next time you’re tempted, or even the next time you fall, that you are unloved. Please, please don’t.
Instead draw near to Jesus. Run to the One who knows temptation far better than you do and died and rose again to forgive all who flee to him. Go receive mercy where you failed and find refreshment in his grace.
And don’t ever assume when you are tempted that you are unloved.
Beloved and tempted—both.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
If you’re still curious about why your struggle might be exactly right, you might like this.
I would have thought them opposites. But after gazing at this bumblebee, I wonder.
Because exertion and elegance were together on display. And I think they often stay together in the way of faith.
Exertion And Elegance
A Taming Grace is the working title of “that meekness book” that’s still writing me. And I know that these two—exertion and elegance—go together in meekness, even as they did in the delicate, determined precise dance of the bumblebee.
Meekness is a fruit of grace and a work of faith. It is the freeing power that helps us to choose what we did not choose, and go through trials we meet, not just somehow but victoriously. It takes great grace and immense effort to yield to the hard and to seek the good.
The meek are always looking for the good. Their exertion is elegant. It’s graceful.
Meek Like A Bee
But what again does meekness have to do with bumblebees?
Well, we need meekness when unfair stings, for one. And meekness helps us call to mind that God is good and thatit is good to be near God. Meekness helps us stay in our own lane. It reminds us God will provide all our needs and that if we don’t have it, we don’t need it.
To extract takes work. It takes work when we feel mistreated, misunderstood and hurt to pull out some good. To be sorrowful and always rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10) means we can extract some good.
For the record, I can only ever do that and work meekness out because God is working his sweet will in me (Philippians 2:12-13).
How busy this bumblebee! How methodical and purposeful his movement, how tenacious and clinging his grip. He works so hard. Six legs tense, clasping tight before he thrusts that tongue down deep into each purple petal. Extracting.
We too have to work to extract the good. Granted, unless we’re talking about about teeth we seldom use the word extract. It means to remove or take out, especially by effort or force.
How hard the bumblebee works to extract that sweet nectar. Now I wonder, Do I? Do I work as hard to pull out the good in the hard in my house?
Spiritual Bees Extract Good
If I’m a spiritual bee I do. Proverbs 11:27 says, The one who diligently seeks good finds favor. The good is there to be found.
There is no provocation given us at any time but, if it be skillfully and graciously improved, good may be gotten by it. …[We may] gain some real benefit to our souls, by the injuries and offenses that are done to us: for even these are made to work together for good to them that love God. This is a holy and a happy way of…resisting evil. It is an ill weed indeed out of which the spiritual bee cannot extract something profitable…
So make like a bee. Exert to extract something good, something sweet. The effort itself might be a balm.
Kudos before I close to my dear friend Susanne for introducing me to bee balm. If it wasn’t for her Swiss, herbalist-botanist flair I wouldn’t have even glanced at that plant in our meadow with the bumblebee buzzing round.
But as we ambled through the garden last Saturday, she pointed, “These are good to eat.” Then Susanne plucked a pink blossom and we savored the spicy-sweet treat. But Susanne had another secret up her sleeve.
Then she unveiled a Mason jar full of elegant amber—a bee balm infused simple syrup. A splash at the bottom of the glass mixed with seltzer fizz for joy on a hot July afternoon.
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.
We know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. —Evelyn Beatrice Hall
Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the one right which they first of all strike down. —Frederick Douglass
Freedom isn’t free, and staying free is costly. Holding freedom up takes work. The default setting on the freedom toggle is off. “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man, a wise one said, is eternal vigilance.”
I’ll make this short so you can get out and celebrate America’s 245th Birthday. Because we felt it acutely this year: keeping freedom—especially to speak truth in love—required practice and vigilance.
Now for those quotes.
5 Free Speech Quote
1. “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
2. “It is often a strategic mistake to silence a man, because it leaves the world under the impression that he had something to say.” ~G.K. Chesterton
3. “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” ~ George Washington
4. “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” ~ George Orwell
5. “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.” ~ Frederick Douglass
Free Speech: A Liberating Strife?
I’m no political expert. But I know that what makes my muscles strong is weight-bearing exercise. I know that what makes my marriage and friendships, and my church or nation great is not 100% unanimity all the time, but in still being free to both listen, as Frederick Douglass pointed out, and to speak.
What makes for strength is not suppression but endurance, not plugging our ears but hearing what’s hard to hear, not silencing opposition, but staying engaged when we don’t agree.
To promote free speech even when we disapprove is difficult. It may even be painful. Because free speech cuts both ways.
But maybe hearing what we don’t want to hear is a severe mercy and perhaps free speech itself is a sort of liberating strife?
O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife, Who more than self their country loved And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine, Till all success be nobleness, And every gain divine!
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.
Mercy triumphs over judgment.
**Three of the five quotes are from Erwin Lutzer’s 2020 book, We Will Not Be Silenced. Lutzer gave a lively interview—”I think it’s okay to use the word bloody…No, you’re getting just enthusiastic enough.”—to Eric Metaxas this week. You can access that conversation here.
For physical training is of some value but godliness is of value in every way, holding promise for the present life and the life to come.
1 Timothy 4:8
It didn’t surprise me one bit.
Elizabeth Elliot exercised daily. This bold-meek saint and spiritual mother to so many trained her soul and her body. Theeulogy said that Elliot made a practice of “walking, biking or swimming in the ocean” near her oceanfront Massachusetts home. Ann Dirks is another spiritual mother. At 83, she is as spry as most are at 33. This week she leads 25 kids through a sweet, savory maze that is the church’s Cooking Camp. Kneading, rolling, and mixing are no match for Ann. And having sat beside her in Bible study, I vouch for Ann’s gracious, godly wisdom. Ann also happens to be an avid gardener.
Elizabeth Elliot biked. John Piper jogs. Ann Dirks gardens. And Jonathan Edwards* broke up his Great Awakening sermon prep with walks and horse rides and chopping wood. A thread emerges.
I don’t think it’s coincidence that so many Christ-exalting, fruitful servants exercise their bodies. It might have been a throw-away line in Elizabeth Elliot’s tribute- the bit about her daily exercise-but I won’t toss it. I think it was a rare glimpse at an usually unseen thread.
The paralyzed man dropped in from above and Joni Eareckson Tada prove it. Physical training is not a necessary means to God’s grace. It is not even close to the plane where prayer and the Word and assembling together rest. Some saints simply cannot exercise. No matter. It is only of some value.
Physical training can easily turn into an idol. Because the return is visible, we put some value over the great value of godliness. When we’re slave to our workouts-or the bodies they forge-we’d best take a time-out. One wise friend “gave up” exercise for Lent, seeing how work-outs were taking priority over all else, even time alone with the Lord.
This side of heaven, our motives are mixed. God ordained that there would be outward gain to exercise. The mirror motivates. Buff biceps and lean legs please our eyes. It feels good to look good. (But maybe God ordained that, too?) Maybe we work our bodies to buffer our gluttony- an extra mile for a second slice of pie.
Ann Dirks at Cooking Camp
Yes, let’s do ask God to search our hearts and reveal wrong motives. But mixed or multiple motives is no excuse to toss in the towel. When God’s glory is our chief goal, and gladly loving our neighbors is key to that end, there is some value in physical training.
Go Where Grace Flows
The body…is for the Lord and the Lord for the body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:13b, 19-20
The best reason to work the body is the best reason to work the soul. Not to avoid being caught, but because we were bought. It’s a means, not an end. The goal of training is to glorify God; to love him heart and soul, mind and strength. Glorify God in your body.
Like the spiritual disciplines-the Word, prayer and fellowship-physical disciplines can be a means of God’s grace to us. I can’t make the water flow, but I can turn on the faucet. I can’t make the electric current flow, but I can flip the switch. We can’t supply it, but we can go where grace flows.
Wee Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) and blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46) placed themselves on the path of grace. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by, he begged mercy. Grace, through faith, healed him. When Zacchaeus heard Jesus was passing by he climbed a tree to see. That very day, salvation entered his house. While we can never earn God’s grace or make it flow, be we can position ourselves to get should He keep giving. We can put the barrel under the spout and be in place ready to receive grace. We can line the paths where he might pass.
Four Reasons to Exercise, Even if it’s Second-Rate Training
For me that place is biking the backroads when weather and children allow. It’s on the treadmill with some good sermons and a duct-taped notepad when they don’t. Wherever your place is, go there, and glorify God with your body.
1. Serve strong.
If anyone serves, let him serve with the strength that God supplies, so that God in all things might be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:11
The obvious first: when you’re strong and fit, you’re better equipped for physical service. Fit people don’t get injured so easily or get sick so often. That means they have more energy to care for others. I can set up tables and chairs and help a friend move her boxes. I can bend low to pick Mom’s strawberries or help Dad hoist hay into the mow.
Being physically fit opens doors for service.
2. Remember more.
Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgements he uttered. Psalm 105:5
Christians are called to remember. Over and over we are warned not to forget how God worked in the past. Since we have such short memories, He even sent a Helper to bring to our remembrance all he said (John 14:26). The Helper doesn’t only remind- or always remind-while I bike or jog, but He does a lot. The memory boost, like the calorie burn from weight training, is twofold: during and after. My mind is more clear, more thoughtful and creative, while I bike than when I rest. I reflect, I remember, and memorized verses come to mind. But exercise helps us think straight after our heart rates go down, too. Over the long term, aerobic exercise reduces memory loss by reversing age-related shrinkage of the part of the brain largely responsible for memory.
3. Transfer strength.
[S]training 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
When the hill is steep, do you get off your bike and walk it up? Or turn around and coast down? Do you gear down and press on up? Exercise can be transposed to weightier matters. Physical work-outs can be the practice field for living strong in God’s grace in soul matters.
The more and more we prove to ourselves the presence of God’s grace in our work, the more and more we will be equipped, for the sake of our sanctification, to press in on that grace whenever the going gets tough. And this becomes our goal. This transposition becomes the fuel for that final push.
Making my body push up those hills somehow strengthens my soul to press on through life’s valleys.
God uses the grueling, gut-it parts of our work-outs to fuel the fight of faith.
4. Serve gladly.
Serve the LORD with gladness. Come before Him with joyful song. Psalm 100:2
You know what happens if Mama ain’t happy. Same is true about Papa. Or Auntie. My “sanctification level” fluctuates with the sleep I got last night and the jog I took this morning. I know the Lord loves a cheerful giver and I know patience and gentleness come a lot easier when I’ve had a good dose sleep and some exercise. That connection is central to why John Piper jogs:
I know that I am prone to depression and discouragement, and I have discovered that if I go to the gym three times a week and hammer my body, I don’t get depressed as often. I’m sure there are physical reasons for that…I know that it works. I know depression hurts my ministry, my marriage, and my parenting. So, for the sake of kingdom purposes I am off to the gym.
I think Elizabeth and Ann and Jonathan were on to it, too. How about you?
Do you know the some value of exercise?
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?
You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.
So glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
*Author Philip Gura describes how early in his pastorate, Jonathan Edwards established routines he’d keep for life.
He typically spent thirteen hours a day in his study but always punctuated this labor with some sort of recreation, usually walking or riding or, if the snow was too deep, chopping wood for half an hour or so. In the warmer seasons he commonly rode two or three miles “to some lonely grove,” where he would dismount and walk for a while, sometimes jotting his thoughts on small pieces of paper that he would pin to his clothes for the ride home.(Jonathan Edwards: America’s Evangelical, pp. 58-59)
The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him: What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb? What are you doing, son of my vows? It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink…
Proverbs 31:1-2, 4
Preparing Royal Palates
Is there squash in this, Mom? I hate squash. Do I have to eat it?
You do, Son. Two bites. The Tastemaker holds firm and holds her breath.
Yuuuuuuck. It just looks so gross.
Tastemaker looks away and waits. Finally, at the sound of a slurp, she exhales.
Not as bad as I thought, the young prince admits, and dips for spoonful two.
Royalty holds itself to a higher standard, which may or may not include squash soup. In any case, I doubt Prince William slugged six-packs of Surge or Prince Harry survived on Hershey’s. And it is ours to raise sons and daughters-not of any king or queen-but of the King of kings. To be royal tastemakers.
Parents, and aunts and uncles and friends, we are influencers. We called to help train children’s tastes. And not just any tastes, but discriminating tastes, and pure spiritual flavors.
Because it is not for kings to go with the flow. Those of royal blood don’t play fast and loose with food and drink. What’s acceptable for some, wrote Matthew Henry, would profane their crown, by confusing the head that wears it; that which for the time unmans them does for the time unking them.
Even kings must be catechised and princes and princesses must be taught.
Healthy Tastes Don’t Just Happen
One friend tells me her girls actually request squash soup and my five-year old nephew inhales carrots with hummus. But in our house raw veggies routinely reappear in shriveled, dried form in wastebaskets. Hummus migrates there, too.
I’m not above it. I was an Esau. In grade school I’d trade my mom’s hearty whole-wheat bread for soft, squishy white fluff. It used to be Pop-Tarts and Twinkies and Fruit Loops. Now it’s arugula with walnuts and Stilton and Greek yogurt with berries and seeds.
Tastes do change. But how?
In “Healthy Eating: can you train yourself to like it?” Guardian reporter Amy Fleming answers that question, with Yes! But they must taught. We need training to love what’s good. We didn’t-and our kids won’t-just “grow into” kale and cauliflower.
The holy grail, surely, is to learn to love health food more than junk, thus avoiding the binge-fast vicious circle. We know that most of our food likes are a triumph of nurture over nature, with the exceptions of an innate fondness for sweet, and distaste for bitter.
Most of our “real food” preferences are learned, Fleming concludes. So how do we teach them? I’m right with you in the trenches, beside boys slurping Spaghettios with Ninjago comic books outspread. I’m still learning.
But I won’t go silent into that junk food night. I am that mom who offers snap peas and stuffed peppers and serves salad and lasagna. I want their tastes to shift not to drift, so I pull hard on my Mom oars. I’ve got princes in the boat.
It’s all of grace, for sure, the acquiring of nourishing spiritual tastes. God gives life and new life. He made our mouths and gives us new tastes (Ephesians 2:3-5, 2 Peter 1:4). So desire for healthy soul food is way more than nurture. It’s being given a new nature.
PREPAring Palates For New Tastes
But there are means to put us on the path, to PREPAre the way for healthy new tastes. Means are unavailing unless the Lord blesses them. So we pray God will incline hearts to fear his name, and PREPAre our tastes so that healthy food tastes good.
Diet experts assure us that the best way to increase consumption of veggies is to have them washed and chopped and out. PREPAration clearly counts.
Teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:7
The familiarity that comes from repeated exposure does not breed contempt. Have them keep trying it, and they just might like it. One study showed that after nine or ten tries, most kids started to like the new veg. Some even said, the liked it “a lot.” So keep packing the peapods and peppers. Keep your library basket filled with good books.
Proximity primes the palate.
The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes….By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Psalm 19:8, 11
Another study found that healthy tastes can be nurtured. When kids were first fed sweetened broccoli, the kids liked the taste of plain broccoli more. Bible Lite is sugar: Gabe loves his Minecraft Bible and Sam, his Power Bible. Before the reward is intrinsic, you might sweeten the deal.
My parents had me memorize the first chapter of John in fifth grade. I don’t know if they asked me or told me to do it, but I do remember the $10 bill that came later. Jesus used reward to motivate. (See that in Matthew 6). And there was that mysterious appearance of big bills in Bibles at church. If that motivation isn’t above our Lord, it’s not above me.
We all long for hearts that crave broccoli without the sugar. God willing, that’ll come. Until then, Lego sets and candy corn motivate.
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. Philippians 3:17
Don’t minimize the power of example; for better or worse. Bad company corrupts, and set an example for the believers.
For a decade I’d watch I’d watch Jim shake red pepper all over his pizza. So often I got curious gave it a try. Now a pizza’s not a pizza without a smattering of crushed red pepper. My folks read the Bible a lot. Always, it was on the breakfast table. And my grandparents too. Whenever we had breakfast at Grandma and Grandpa’s, Grandpa would open that special Bible drawer the Amish built on the side of the table and take it up and read a Psalm while we watched the steam rise off our oatmeal.
Now guess who opens a Bible at the breakfast table?
Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things out of your law. Psalm 119:18
Pray. Pray for your princes and princesses. And pray for your yourself and your friends. Pray for yourself. Pray that God will open our eyes to see and our tune our spiritual tastebuds to delight in what is nourishing and good (Ephesians 1:18, Luke 24:45).
Samuel’s words to the people of Israel are for parents and grandparents and for aunts and uncles, too:
Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. (1 Samuel 12:23)
Pray God gives our kids new tastes and desires. Pray that they will not love the world, because without vigilance, and even with it, they’ll snack on the world’s fare. Love of the world creeps in.
5. Avoid Snacking
It’s not technically part of PREPAre. But it’s the last tastemaker tip. Because media molds our spiritual tastebuds. Don’t expect that a life filled with the world’s snacks —Fortnite and with its movies and Minecraft and music-will develop more discriminating tastes.
If our kids, and if we, constantly snack at the world’s buffet they won’t magically hunger and thirst for righteousness when they turn 18-or 38. They still might not. God must change their tastes. But, tastes are formed—I know from my experience with Stilton and Italian roast, with arugula and Shiitake and Kalamata – over time. Craving good Kingdom food doesn’t just happen.
Why don’t we hunger more for the living water and ever-filling bread? It could be that we’re already full. Maybe we’re sated by Facebook and Youtube and Netflix. If we’ve been grazing on pretzels and chips all afternoon, we won’t have room for salad and soup tonight.
Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says that a diet heavy with media influence decreases her hunger and thirst and love for the things of God.
But then she takes us tastemakers to task.
If you want your children to cultivate a hunger and a thirst for righteousness and for the Word of God, you need to then be asking, “Am I allowing their lives to be filled with the influence and influx of worldly or secular media that may be robbing them of spiritual appetites?”
I’m raising princes. Well-adjusted, popular, happy kids is not this mama’s endgame. Don’t get me wrong, those would be great. But, even more than those things, I want my sons to have healthy appetites. I want them to taste and see that the Lord is good and that his Word is the sweetest delight they could ever taste. Because they, and we, are called by his name. So let’s eat like it.
Because we are royalty. We are sons and daughters of the King of kings.
Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.
Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly. -G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Gravitas is not an issue for Dad and me. Actually, having a tad too much of it—as my deeply etched brow lines betray—might be, at least for me. Dad has a serious bent and this daughter does too. He taught me how to think and showed me how faith works in love.
But I’m light years behind Dad in this: my dad knows how to laugh.
So while others wax poetic this Father’s Day about how their dads taught them about the sacrificial and abiding love of Father God—and I’ve done that too— this time I’ll share something else Dad taught me.
Don’t Take Yourself (Or Your Shirts) So Seriously
What did I learn—who am I kidding? What am I still learning—from my dad?
Don’t take yourself so seriously. That people who laugh at themselves are refreshing. That a cheerful heart is good medicine. And that sometimes the medicine takes the form of a T-shirt.
For the record, this seems to be a choice prescription from the Good Physician for me. I have some shirt stories of my own. One involved a chocolate spot I sported for a night of parent-teacher conferences and the other about a breezy new blouse that wasn’t actually a blouse.
They both reinforce Dad’s lesson. God teaches me, and heals me, through shirts. Maybe we could even call them “garments of praise.”
Lighten Up & Laugh
Oh sure, Proverbs 14:13 is true, “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief.” But, Jesus said, laughter is a sign of well-being and blessing in Luke 6:21, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”
Which reminds me of another proverb Dad quotes: “The cheerful heart has a continual feast.”
For years, he had a picture of the Laughing Jesus posted on the fridge.
Just because Dad wears a Wiley Coyote T-shirt and laughs so loud at Laurel and Hardy or What About Bob? that you can hear him a mile away doesn’t mean he’s carefree and never provoked or pricked in heart. Not at all.
What it does mean that Dad is able to add the “nevertheless” like the Psalmist Asaph did. After he recounted in bitter detail the envy-inducing prosperity of the wicked, Asaph got to this near the end of Psalm 73.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory
Nevertheless. In other words, all that bad stuff is still true. Asaph didn’t retract all the all the ways the bad guys were winning. For now, the wicked might get away with murder.
But Asaph shifted his focus.
I studied those verses with my girlfriends today and I love what English pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote about them. He didn’t say that Asaph wore funny tunics and laughed a lot. He has an entire chapter titled, “Nevertheless” in his book Faith Tried & Triumphant he writes (p. 168),
“A very good way of testing whether we are truly Christian or not is just to ask ourselves whether we can say this ‘nevertheless.’ Do we know this blessed ‘but’? Do we go on, or do we stop where we were…?”
I’ve told you before about the wicked-mean chrome dome comment that mortified this sensitive seventh grader and how Dad just laughed.
Not a mean laugh, a nevertheless laugh. A good-medicine laugh. A “But God’s got this, Ab,” laugh.
So lighten up.
Life Is Good Again
Dad can laugh. To be sure, like Sarah the mother of Laughter, Dad recognizes the “wild incongruity of life.” Dad knows that things are not always what they seem.
A few days ago, I plodded up the sidewalk to Mom and Dad’s, heavy-hearted for hefty conflict at home compounded by, say, the weight of the wicked world, myself soundly included in it.
Then I lift my eyes and see Dad rinsing lettuce and not in any old T-shirt, but in his “WHO SAID SKIRT?” T-shirt.
Suddenly life was good. Nevertheless. A cheerful heart is good medicine.
And one of Dad’s choice drugs is a funny shirt.
A [humble] man must sacrifice himself to the God of Laughter, who has stricken him with a sacred madness. As a woman can make a fool of a man, so a joke makes a fool of a man. And a man must love a joke more than himself, or he will not surrender his pride for it. A man must take what is called a leap in the dark, as he does when he is married or when he dies, or when he is born, or when he does almost anything else that is important.
-G.K. Chesterton, in “W.W. Jacobs”, an article which appeared in The Tribune in 1906 Collected in A Handful of Authors (1953)
Ab, it was hard. A couple times it was actually sort of traumatic. I’m healing from other wounds. Now I’m processing this.
I swallowed hard.
This was us.
When Friends Keep Their Distance
Jess offered that in a phone call after our families had been together. She’d seen us up close. Jess was gentle, but I got the gist: our family dynamics were a downer. There was more downside than upside to being with us.
I felt unclean.
Friendship is risky. Traveling with friends is riskier. Sharing bathrooms and kitchens mean that faults will be exposed. And just like that, whatever bloom there was was off the Wallace rose.
Whenever we “put ourselves out there,” we risk being canceled or rejected. And in a Christian culture that promotes relational boundaries even good friends may be wise to draw their lines.
So I don’t blame Jess one bit. The burden of us it was just too much to bear.
Jess needed her distance from us.
Jesus Doesn’t Keep His Distance
But Jesus never did that. He never kept his distance. The Word became flesh to dwell among us (John 1:14)— the contagious, outcast, and unclean. The Son of Man visited his sinful people (Luke 1:68), and said, It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
Our burdens—tense family dynamics, secrets too secret for our best friends, the reasons we travel alone—don’t scare Jesus. Not one bit.
In fact, he knows all about them. He knows your issues better than you do. In fact, he knew you, and your burdens, before you even began to know you.
And Jesus doesn’t keep his distance because our sin doesn’t contaminate him. Our burdens are not to much for him to bear (Matthew 11:28-29). He doesn’t need to place boundaries. In fact, he destroyed the dividing wall that once created hostility and distrust (Ephesians 2:14).
But we’re fragile and frail. Jess is. I am. You are. This side of heaven, we are all saints, sinners and sufferers; we are victims and victimizers.
Healing For The Unclean
That reality hit me when our first-grader was infected by a bigger boy on the school bus. That morning, forever etched, made me want to protect my little boy. I wanted to keep him off the bus, and far away from “that boy.”
So no, I don’t fault Jess. Sin spreads. You can catch bad habits. Disease is contagious.
But there was a woman. She had been bleeding for 12 years. She probably hadn’t had either a husband or a hug in those 12 years because to touch her would make one unclean. This unclean, outcast woman knew that. Still, desperate for healing she risked touching Jesus. She risked making him unclean.
But that’s not what happened. She touched Jesus and immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease (Mark 5:25-34.). She didn’t make Jesus unclean. Jesus made her clean.
Jesus Didn’t Socially Distance
You see, in the Old Testament uncleanness, unholiness, was contagious. But in the New Testament, holiness— absolute cleanness and purity— is contagious. Jesus proved that when the woman touched him. In the New Testament, Jesus makes the unclean, outcasts clean.
Jesus brings healing.
We see this in vivid color when the leper came to Jesus.
And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.
Mark 1:40-45, ESV
There’s so much here. But don’t miss how Jesus was, “moved with pity.”
Then, again: how he was not afraid of contamination. Touching a bleeding woman or a leper would leave one unclean. But Jesus doesn’t socially—or ceremonially—distance to avoid infectious disease. He touched the man and made him clean.
As Kevin DeYoung so potently stated, Jesus doesn’t just overlook uncleanness. He conquers it.
DeYoung continues, He conquers it by trading places with it. The one who is unclean is clean and the one who can make everyone clean becomes an outcast. Jesus gives him his cleansing and restores him to the community. And now at the end of this great miracle, where do you find Jesus? He’s an outcast. He ends up, “in desolate places.”
Does that truth stir your soul? It about made me cry. We were that unclean. We needed healing. So a Healer came. The Holy and clean traded places with the canceled, unclean. All for love.
But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
What do you know about David? I mean, beyond slaying Goliath and sleeping with Bathsheba?
Did you know that Godsaid (Acts 13:2), “I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart“?
Why was David a Man after God’s Heart?
Why did David receive such an honor? What was it about David that would have God give him such high praise?
I don’t know all the reasons why. But I think they include the way he worshiped with his whole heart (Psalm 86:12), fearlessly fought for God’s glory (1 Samuel 17:45), and persistently sought the LORD’s face (2 Samuel 21:1).
But I think there’s another reason.
David was God’s man because David took God’s discipline with meekness. Whether it came directly from the hand of a holy God or through the second cause of a sinful man, David received it as from a loving God who intended his good. He did not “regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose heart when reproved by him” (Hebrews 12:5b).
In other words, he neither blew it off nor withered into a self-pitying heap.
Which is probably why he could say, Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.
David was used to God’s hand. He was a tamed horse, easily steered, not a foolish mule or a bucking bronco. The Latin word for meekness is mansuetus. It means tame, a compound of the words that mean “used to” and “hand.”
If meekness is key to delighting God’s heart, then how can we grow more meek?
Curses And Stones
Well. It turns out meekness grows when we are provoked. Like when Shimei hurled curses and stones.
Shimei was a pain in King David’s neck. He was a distant relative of King Saul, and a bitter provocateur. Now, decades after Saul’s death, he still resents David’s kingship. Shimei is not afraid to kick a man— even a king—when he’s down.
Here’s the scene: King David is running for his life, fleeing a hostile takeover by his usurper son Absalom. He and his loyal followers are just outside the city when they hear Shimei heckling, “Get out, get out, you worthless man. The LORD has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul… you are caught in your own evil” (2 Samuel 16:8).
To which Abishai, a loyal, right hand man asks, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head.”
A less meek, wounded dog would have.
But David didn’t.
Leave Him Alone
He didn’t let Abishai take revenge. Even though it was well within his power to avenge Shimei, he did not. Instead, I think he realized that God might be speaking to him through this cursing critic.
Here’s David’s reply,
Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.”
And as David and his men went along the road, Shimei went along the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went, threw stones at him and kicked up dust.
2 Samuel 16:11-13
He that is down fears no fall, John Bunyan wrote. The king is down, running from his rebel son while Shimei goes alongside, hurling curses and stones.
But David calls off Abishai. He doesn’t defend himself, but leaves vengeance to God.
He lets Shimei speak.
3 Reasons David Let Shimei Speak
Bible teacher David Guzik offers three reasons why David let Shimei curse. He doesn’t use the word meek, but do you hear it?
David let Shimei speak because:
1. He saw the hand of God in every circumstance (The LORD has said to him). He knew that God was more than able to shut Shimei up; David didn’t need to give the order.
2. He put the “Shimei problem” in perspective. (See how my son who came from my own body seeks my life. How much more now may this Benjamite?) David knew that his real problem was Absalom not Shimei, and he did not lose this perspective.
3. He knew that God’s hand was on the future as well as the present. (It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day) David knew that God would take care of the future.
But that doesn’t mean David didn’t grieve.
In 2 Samuel 15 we read, David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up.
This is a monarchy—in order for Absalom to take the throne, David must die. David weeps for the people he loves, people he can no longer lead.
But there is another reason for David’s weeping…When Nathan confronted David with the sin of adultery and murder, he predicted that evil would rise from the house of David against him—as a direct result of David’s sin. He is not just mourning his son. He is mourning the consequences of his sin.
The man after God’s own heart experienced God’s forgiveness (Psalm 32:1). But he still mourned the consequences of his sin. David’s sin with Bathsheba brought consequences on himself, his family and his kingdom.
So he wept.
But godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret. We do well to weep over our sin
So David wept.
And David Slept
I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
That’s what Psalm 3 verse 5 says. David wrote that. But do you know when?
The superscript over the third Psalm reads, “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.”
When David wrote “How many are my foes!” (Psalm 3:1), he is not just waxing poetic. There were literally thousands of people risen against him. David had massive, life-threatening, family-disintegrating, career-shattering problems.
And yet, David slept.
There was an army trying to kill him. His own son hated him to death. His family had turned against him. Yet God was a shield about him, his glory, and the lifter of his head.
So David slept.
Do you take discipline like David?
In the face of discipline, David did what maturing children of God do. It’s explained Hebrews 12:5, “My son, do not take lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose heart when you are corrected by him.” The meek avoid both extremes.
David didn’t take God’s discipline lightly. He didn’t “blow it off” as if his sin was no big deal. He wept.
But he also didn’t crumble into a heap. David did what the meek do when they’re disciplined: He confessed his sin and trusted God’s love. Then he slept.
He wept and then he slept.
At the moment we kiss the rod of his discipline meekness is being formed in us. We are growing into men and women after God’s heart.
But David’s is a tough act to follow.
I Hang My Head
A friend cared enough to confront me about some unkind words I spoke to her recently. I listened to her and agreed.
Guilty as charged.
But I hung my head. I was a puppy cowering beside her on the bench, my tail between my legs. My friend called me on that too.
Why are you sitting like that, with your head down?
I’m a complex case and I know it. But a big part of the answer was the obvious one.
I guess I still don’t like to be corrected.
It’s part of the “all or nothing” syndrome. Does it challenge you too?
It rears its head in relationships this way: When I realize I’ve hurt someone, I’m tempted to disengage and walk away. That’s the “nothing.” But the “all” would have me go hyper-verbal, defending my cause and explaining why her thin skin is the problem.
But that’s not what David did. All-or-nothing is not how the man after God’s own heart took discipline.
What about you?
Like great David’s Greater Son, David entrusted himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). He didn’t face off with Shimei. He accepted hard words because he trusted that God would right wrongs.
When you face discipline, even from the mouth of a sinful man, will you let the LORD be the shield about you, your glory and the lifter of your head?
What about you? Are you moving toward David’s wept-then-slept response? Do you graciously accept God’s discipline while trusting in His love?
The Lifter Of My Head
My friend Jen told me a story about her four-year old. Grace did something very naughty one morning. She made a mural on the wall with Jen’s Sharpies.
So they had a talk. Then Jen sent Grace to her room.
When lunchtime came, Grace slunk in, chin down, eyes glued to the floor.
But Jen loves Grace. That’s why she disciplined her and why she knelt beside her and stroked her tear-smeared cheeks.
Then Jen did what God does. She lifted up her child’s head.
And Grace did what meek ones do. She melted in her mama’s hug.
Let us pray that we may kiss the rod and bless the hand that holds it.
Let us pray unto God that we may see His hand in every affliction and say, as David does, “Oh, Lord, Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me!”
As for the saints who are in the land, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.
What delights your soul? Is it the saints you know? Do you even know any saints? And, if you do, do they make you glad?
Or does this sound like silly talk? Like such words about saints could only come from a super-spiritual poet living long ago in a faraway land?
Saint-Friends Who Stick Closer Than Brothers
It’s not silly talk. It’s real and daily- this saints-are-so-lovely talk. I know this because in the last week I’ve had- not one, not two, not three- but four different friends tell me, as it were, that sometimes blood isn’t thicker. That it depends on whose blood; specifically, if it’s saints’ blood.
All four confided to me big hurts inflicted by blood. A sister whose words are sword thrusts, a brother whose whose aloofness wounds, another brother whose lifestyle choices take him to a distant land (my friend misses him), and a father who waited until my friend was 42 to tell her, “I love you.”
All four also shared how a Christian friend- a saint- had helped them through. How, for example, when a blood-brother wound was raw, my friend texted a saint-friend to pray and then her friend not only prayed but showed up 30 minutes later to whisk my friend away to a happier place.
Christian friends may be more loyal than an unbelieving brother. Since brotherhood is one of the tightest relationships we know, a friend who sticks closer than a brother is a life-giving gift, indeed. (David and Jonathan’s friendship is a great biblical example of this type of closer-than-a-brother friendship.)
Proverbs 18:4 says, There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. And if the friendship is between saints, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that water’s sometimes thicker.
Just who are these saints?
Saints literally means, “holy ones.”
But if the term’s still a bit murky, don’t worry. You’re not alone. One source says the word “saints” has almost completely lost its original meaning,
[T]hat is, of being set aside for the exclusive ownership and use of the Triune God. Very few people in the Christian Church today would consider themselves to be “saints”…Unfortunately the original meaning of the word “saints” has largely fallen into disuse.
But if the term’s still a little fuzzy, a quick survey of Scripture makes it clear: saints are simply believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. And all believers are called saints, even when their character is “dubiously holy.”
Paul uses the term “saints” – the plural- to refer to a group of Christians about 40 times. In fact, Paul addresses almost all of his letters to “the saints” in that particular place. (See 2 Thess. 1:10, 1 Cor. 1:2, Romans 1:7, Eph. 1:1, Phil. 1:1, Col. 1:2.) Only once does Paul refer to a solo “saint.” That’s at the end of Philippians where he writes, “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.”
So saints are not a special class of Christian. They are all those called by God’s grace and sanctified by His Spirit. Saints are in Christ Jesus.
Saints-R-Us. Saints are believers. Saints are “just” Christians,running the race by grace through faith, in Christ Jesus.
Still, we’re prone to put people like Mother Teresa and Apostle Paul on pedestals and think they’re super-human. We ought not.
Their holiness is attainable even by us. We are “called to be saints” by that same voice which constrained them to their high vocation…They lived with Jesus, they lived for Jesus, therefore they grew like Jesus. Let us live by the same Spirit as they did, “looking unto Jesus,” and our saintship will soon be apparent.
I crossed paths with some saints last week. Their names were Holly and Hannah, Jim and Jen, Christin and Cindy and Shari and Stan. They live with Jesus, they live for Jesus, therefore they are growing like Jesus.
The saints in my land are doing this. They are growing more like Jesus.
That’s why the saints in my land make me glad. Saints remind me of Jesus.
Saint-Friends Strengthen Our Hands In God
In 1 Samuel 23:16-18, we find the best description of a best saint-friend a guy—or girl—could ever have. David is running for his life from a jealous king Saul.
Then Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.” So the two of them made a covenant before the LORD. And David stayed in the woods, and Jonathan went to his own house.
Whatever else Jonathan did to knit his soul with David’s he did this: he strengthened his hand in God.
We don’t use the phrase much. Maybe instead we say: He encouraged me. He gave me courage. She helped me hope in God.
We walk away from saint-friends like this feeling stronger. Feeling like we can look that difficult person in the face and take on the tough circumstance. We don’t feel so afraid. Jonathan reminded David of God’s promise—that you shall be king.
We, too, are strengthened when our friends remind us of God’s unbreakable promises.
Saints Point Us To The Right Rock
That is what Jonathan did for David. They stabilize us.
Jonathan could not rescue David, but he strengthened his hand in God. Jonathan couldn’t give David all the answers, but he strengthened his hand in God. Jonathan couldn’t stay with David, but he strengthened his hand in God.
My best saint-friends are those who don’t ignore my pain or minimize my trials. And they seldom solve my problems. In fact, I wouldn’t call any friend, even my husband, my rock.
It’s no wonder, then, that believers like this are closer to us in than even our non-believing families. That’s the oneness of the body of Christ. That’s the intimate, eternal relationship that we have with the saints.
That’s why the Psalmist cannot help but say, “As for the saints who are in the land, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.”
Or as S. L. Johnson said, God’s the center. Those that are nearest him are nearest to one another. Saints take joy in saints.
David did this too. He took delight in the saints he knew. “I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me,” (101:6), he said. And “I am a companion of all who fear you,” (Psalm 119:63). The saints were David’s delight.
Saints make saints glad.
Do the saints make you glad?
David says that there’s one type of person who gets him stoked and fired-up and makes him really, really glad. It’s saints. It’s the holy ones who treasure God.
So I repeat, do the saints make you glad? Do you cherish God’s people? And do you delight in them or merely endure them?
If your honest answer is merely endure, I have two questions for you. They’re from this sermon by Pastor John Piper.
Do you know any Christians? I mean radical people who lay down their lives for Jesus because Jesus means everything to them and they are servants of the world and God has broken them free from their love affair with the world and their ego and power and comfort.
Why would it be that you, a professing Christian, would find more joy in people who find no joy in what is your primary joy?
Hard hitting, those. But it makes sense: If we treasure God, we treasure those who treasure God.
These are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.
When it comes to people, he says, the ones who give him pleasure are godly people.. He doesn’t mean that he has delight in God’s people instead of God or above God. He means that godless people don’t give him delight in their godless ways; only the godly do. What delights him about people is how they treasure God and exalt God. This is the sweetness of his relationships.
Saint-friends are sweet to us because God is sweet to them. That’s why this saint stuff matters. Because it is one way we can measure our relationship to the Lord. It’s a simple test, really. For, as James Boice explains, Those who love the Lord will love the company of those who also love him.
So I’ll ask again: Do you love other Christians? Do you cherish the people of God and seek to be near those who treasure your Lord?
Do you delight in the saints in the land?
The new men are already here, dotting the earth- recognisable if you know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of ‘religious people’ which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. (We must get over wanting to be NEEDED: in some goodish people, specially women, that is the hardest of all temptations to resist.) They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognised one of them, you will recognise the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect that they recognise one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of colour, sex, class, age, and even of creeds. In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun.
Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? Proverbs 27:4
Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend’s success.
By this measure, Oscar Wilde’s measure, my nature is not very fine. I get jealous. Sometimes—when a friend shares a joy I wish was mine— I fake a smile. Mine is still a sin-twinged nature.
My daily reading today were 1 Samuel 18 and Acts 13. They got me thinking on jealousy. When David returned from striking down Goliath and the women came out singing, “Saul has slain his thousands; David has slain his ten thousands” Saul was very angry and greatly displeased (1 Samuel 18:7-8).
The word jealousy isn’t there but it’s there. So much, in fact, that King Saul repeatedly, ruthlessly sought to kill David. He nearly speared him to the wall in his jealous rage.
But in Acts 13:45 the word JEALOUSY is used: “The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him.”
Jealousy messes with our minds. It makes us assume the worst of others and to doubt God. And maybe it’s equally a sign of a messed-up mind. A mind that thinks it deserves what God has not given so much that it would hurt the one who has what it desperately wants.
Not A Jealous Bone
But, the good news is that if we are in Christ we are not slaves to sin, but to righteousness. Jealousy knocks at our door but we must master it. More good news, with the Spirit’s power, we can.
The Bible has some great examples of meek, contented souls. Like Jonathan, Saul’s son, the would-be-heir of the Israel’s throne who loved David as his own soul and helped to save his life (1 Samuel 18:3-4).
And in Acts 13:43, we read that there were “many Jews and devout converts to Judaism who followed Paul and Barnabas,” urged “to continue in the grace of God.”
Not a jealous bone in Jonathan and those many Jews. Theirs was such grace, such faith that God is good. Counting His blessings crushes my jealous bones.
So dear God, increase my faith. Help me put on the Lord Jesus Christ so jealousy won’t have me.
Let us behave properly as in the day […] not in strife and jealousy.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Afterward: Yes, you are absolutely right. Our God, our righteous, holy God is a jealous God. Our jealousy reveals two things-two hopeful things:
Through jealousy, God shows us two things. First, he shows us himself. He is a jealous God (he even says “my name is Jealous” Exodus 34:14). It is part of his character as the covenanting God to take on the pain and hurt of experiencing his bride’s unfaithfulness (Hosea 4:13–14). Through our jealousy, we experience a communicable divine emotion (Deuteronomy 32:21).
Second, he shows us ourselves. Through jealousy, the deepest desires of our hearts are elicited and amplified (Genesis 22:12; Psalm 66:18–20). The fire burns away the distractions of life’s details to show us the things we treasure. This process of internal emotional suffering — of jealousy most pointedly — can help clarify and bring to the surface all that we would otherwise have kept hidden from God and even from ourselves.
Driving out -ites is effortful. It’s hard work to hold back weeds. Despite all our pulling and digging, wild mustard grows like gangbusters and burdocks keep sharing their spiny seeds.
In fact, I plucked some burdock off my running tights this morning. Two steps off the trail was all it took; they latched on before I knew. I ran all of five yards before the itch was too much and I had stop and pluck them off.
At least some of them.
When It’s Not Good To COEXIST
In Part I, I shared how God told the Israelites on the edge of the Promised Land to drive out the current residents—the “-ites.” God promised through Joshua that he would be with them and give them success. So he called them to take and to possess the land. But they did not. They chose to coexist.
Neither God nor Joshua suggested the Israelites “coexist” with the Canaanites. Because coexisting with -ites leads to compromise (Deut. 7:16-26), “for that shall be a snare to you.”
The Israelites could not possess that part of the land where they coexisted with the Canaanites (Judges 1:27-34). Instead of destroying or driving them out as God had commanded, the Israelites allowed them to live in their midst.
But we are not called to dwell with sin in our lives and let burdocks to stick to our pants. With these we ought not coexist.
For we are called not only to take but to possess the land.
Take And Possess
In an insightful message called “Living With The Enemy,” pastor Bob Deffinbaugh explains the distinction between the Hebrew words, “take” (lakad) and “possess” (yarash),
The term “to take” has reference to the initial conquest of a territory while the term “to possess” refers to the permanent occupation and control of that territory.
We may read of an earlier conquest of a certain city in Joshua only to discover in Judges that it had to be taken again and then possessed. When the Israelites first “took” the Promised Land under Joshua, there were too few people to occupy and possess the land. When the victorious Israelites moved on to fight another battle, the displaced Canaanites moved back to “re-possess” their land. Under Joshua, the Israelite tribes united to fight the Canaanites and make strategic victories (Joshua 1-12). Later under Joshua (Joshua 13 ff.), the land was divided among the Israelite tribes with each tribe allotted an inheritance. Then, in Judges, it is the task of each individual tribe to “possess” their inheritance. This usually required retaking the land and then occupying (possessing) it.
But these two JoyPrO posts are more than an Old Testament history lesson. They’re meant to help make sense of our struggles with “indwelling sin.”
Because if we focus elsewhere the enemy slips back in. This morning it was a bright yellow flower, a cowslip I think, that took my focus off the beaten path where the burdock got me.
They represent our besetting sins, the ones that are hard to shake, that “cling so closely.” We might “take” and name them: gossip or anger, grumbling or envy or anxiety. But we don’t fully drive them out.
They’re irritating. But it takes more time and effort than we’d like to spend to pull all that burdock off.
Or, I could say, to fully “possess” my pants.
Why They Didn’t Possess The Land
Like we said at the start, taking possession is effortful. The Lord’s rebuke of his people in Judges 2:1-3 makes that plain.
Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”
The Israelites did not obey God. So God did not drive out the -ites. Which makes me wonder, does God drive out our sinful -ites while we stay friendly with them?
A Thorn In Your Side
The Lord had said that He would not drive out the Canaanites, but would leave them as a “thorn in the side” and as a “snare” to them (2:3). Thus, coexistence was a form of divine discipline.
God said to Israel, in effect: ‘If you make alliances with the people of the land, you shall no longer have power to cast them out. The swift rush of the stream of victory shall be stayed. You have chosen to make them your friends, and their friendship shall produce its natural effects, of tempting you to imitation.’ The increased power of our unsubdued evils is the punishment, as it is the result, of tolerance of them. We wanted to keep them, and dreamed that we could control them. Keep them we shall, control them we cannot. They will master us if we do not expel them.
The world’s prescription for hurt is to hurt back or to retreat, but it’ll only make it worse— more self-focused and proud. I know this. The worldly way of handling hurt won’t help you grow.
We’ve got to cling to the Lord and obey his commands. Or the weeds will come back.
Cling to the Lord & Possess the Land
We see this in Joshua chapter 23.
4 Behold, I have allotted to you as an inheritance for your tribes those nations that remain, along with all the nations that I have already cut off, from the Jordan to the Great Sea in the west. 5 The Lord your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you.
6 Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, 7 that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, 8 but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day…
11Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God. 12For if you…associate with them and they with you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.
The world will not yield an inch to the person who is not resolute for God. Like the -ites who became a trap and a snare. Like pesky, unyielding weeds. The world and the weeds come back. They’re invasive.
Worldliness is a garden of spiritual weeds.
But we don’t live those weeds.
Already & Not Yet
If you know Jesus, I know your address. Because it’s the same as mine: Between the already and the not yet.
The Book of Joshua speaks of both the complete fulfillment of God’s promises (11:23, 21:45) and the incompleteness of the actual possession of the land (13:1, 23:4-5). The writer speaks of the conquest as completed (21:43-45, 10:40-42, 11:23, 23:1, 14)—I have given them rest— but he also describes the occupation as incomplete (13:1-7; 15:63, 17:12-13, 18:3, 23:5). I will drive them out.
A country may officially be defeated and occupied before every part of it ceases resistance. I was after all jogging along with more prickers in my pants. But there will comes a time when they’re all plucked out.
We see the same truth in the New Testament: the power of sin is broken, but it’s still present in our lives. God has already blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing and our future inheritance is guaranteed (Eph. 1:3, 14).
But we don’t possess it completely. Not yet.
Able Not To Sin
Have you ever heard this progression? That after the Fall we were:
1) Not able not to sin. But when we were redeemed, we became
2) Able not to sin. Then, in glory, we will be
3) Not able to sin.
Zach Howard explains it well in context here. Near the end of the article he writes,
Although we are able not to sin, sin still plagues us. Scripture gives no promise of sinlessness in this life; indeed, it says the opposite (1 John 1:8). We’re never promised total victory over sin.
Instead, the renewal we experience in our life is a foretaste of future glorification. We will win battles against sin in this life, but we should not expect to win the war. We have the ability not to sin, but not the ability to eradicate sin…Our ability to achieve total victory over sin will never come in this life. But it will come. It will come because Christ will return.
As Christians we can live in hope — hope that God’s grace is sufficient for our fight against sin, hope that the Spirit is renewing us and restoring our ability to fight sin day by day, and finally, hope that we will one day be completely remade.
Yes, battling our own sin and waging war on our weeds is exhausting! But God’s grace is sufficient and the Spirit of Jesus is with us to strengthen us day by day.
Our Joshua Is Jesus
Which brings us full circle to Joshua. Reading the book of Joshua started this two part post.
Remember that the Greek name Jesus simply translates the Hebrew name Joshua. The names are the same.
What Israel received in the Promised Land, they received through the hand of Joshua. What we receive from God we receive through Jesus Christ, our Joshua. For all God’s promises are “yes” in Christ. Joshua led Israel into Canaan. Likewise, Jesus goes before us.
So don’t go into battle against with a coexist mindset. For in this Land of Already and Not Yet we are, after all, able to not sin. Even if the burdocks stick us now and then, we will pluck them off.
Until one day, led by our Joshua, we will possess a glorious thornless and weedless land.
A land with a tree and a river.
On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.
And as much as I’d like to think it was because our family is weary of fighting off Covid-19 and because layers of a loved one’s harmful stronghold keep unfolding. I’d like to think it was those—those “tough life circumstances.”
But if I search my heart, hard as those are, the real trigger is my sin within, my bad habits, my mental weeds. Self-pity is one. Comparing gifts—I’ll call it what it is, coveting—is another. These joy-killing natives in the land—these godless -ites—have have dwelt so long in my life that they dislike being dislodged.
They’re stubborn. The roots are deep. They go way back.
Back to the dejected five year-old hiding in Grandma Wustmann’s dark coat closet because she felt slighted by an aunt. Back to the eight year-old crying bitter tears because my up-north cousins go to Grandma Considine’s overnight grandma parties and again when my best friend Jane got a pool. Way back.
My sins are ever before me. They tell me that I need to be satisfied in God, that I need salvation’s joy restored (Psalm 51:10-12). But why should these enemies, these weeds, leave their dwelling-place?
After all, like the Canaanites in Promised Land- they were in the land first.
What Are Your Evil -ITES?
Do you know about the evil -ites? They’re the natives in the land; the enemies God’s people faced when they finally entered the Promised Land. God made it clear that Joshua was to destroy them and drive them out.
When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Deuteronomy 7:1-2
Why so severe?
God made that clear too. Because coexisting with Canaanites leads to compromise, “for that shall be a snare to you” (Deut. 7:16, also 7:17-26). That’s why this Canaanite must be conquered. The Canaanites were real godless people who lived in a real godless place. They were not an ignorant, innocent people.
To escape the evil, corrupting Canaanite influence, God told the Israelites to destroy them and drive them out.
But I think the -ites also represent our besetting sins, the sins that “cling so closely.” I mentioned a couple of my evil -ites, coveting and sullen self-pity.
They’re pesky and persistent—these “Canaanites.”
This Canaanite Must Be Conquered
But God commands us to deal with them the same way he commanded the Israelites to deal with the evil, godless -ites. “Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies…For sin shall not have dominion over you,” wrote the Apostle Paul.
Do you see how the imperative—let not sin reign— is grounded on the indicative—for sin shall not have dominion. This means that when God gives us a command to do, it’s rooted in what He has already done.
Christ has already set us free from sin’s ruling power (Romans 6:2,14,22). His death on the cross has already disarmed evil rulers (Colossians 2:13-15). What’s more, the Holy Spirit is ready to war against the sinful desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:17).
Which means, “The hasty temper [or the self-pitying, melancholic temper] may be natural to you: but seeing that your position is Christ is supernatural, this Canaanite must be conquered,” F.B. Meyer declares. “Talk no more of these Canaanites who would stay in the land; but say of the blessed Spirit, ‘He is well able to drive them out.‘”
If, by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body, we will live (Romans 8:13). We are well able to drive them out, to uproot our weeds.
Weeds—and -ITES—Have No Rights
Sometimes, at the beginning of our Christian life, we make a feeble effort against them, and hope to cast them out; but they stubbornly resist, says Meyer. If conscience strikes, we reply, “Do not find fault; we couldn’t help it. These Canaanites are self-willed and persistent, they would dwell in the land.”
Meyer is referring to Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land, the land west of the Jordan. I just read about that in the book of Joshua and the start of Judges.
The book of Joshua opens with these words,
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.
The book of Joshua is about how God was with Joshua on those conquests, gave victory over enemies, and gave Israel the Promised Land.
The Earth Is The LORD’S
Which means that their enemies had no right there. The rightful owner of the land, the Creator of the heavens and earth, had promised it to his people way, way back. In fact, hundreds and hundreds of years even before the Israelites were slaves in Egypt God promised this very land to Abraham.
For, “the earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). Which means the wicked -ites had no rights—no right to dwell in or to possess the Promised Land.
So too, our bad habits, our besetting sins, have no right to persist in our lives. We walk in newness of life.
These weeds have no right to grow in our united-with-Christ lives (Romans 6:1-11).
All Came To Pass
Because God keeps his promises. And He promised us his overcoming power. Remember 1 John 4:4, Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world?
God is greater than the enemy -ites. And He said if we obey, he’d drive out our enemies; and none of God’s good promises fail.
These next few verses come near the end of the book of Joshua,
Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. Joshua 21:43-45
It is ours to obey, and not to make peace with the enemy (See Judges 2:2). The whole soil of our hearts has been made over to the Son of God, Meyer writes, and there should be no part left to weeds.
Where “COEXIST” Cannot Exist
Whatever you might think of the bumper sticker, it was impossible for Israel to coexist with the Canaanites and thrive. And it is impossible for known, unrepented sin to coexist with righteousness (Romans 6:15-23).
There can be no peace between you and Christ, C.H. Spurgeon said, while there is peace between you and sin.
Which means that I had to do some fighting with my self-pity, whose roots were deep in coveting a life and I don’t have, and deeper still in discontentment.
I must wield the sword of the Sprit—real gospel truth—against these Canaanites. Truth like, The vinedresser prunes branches that bear fruit and the Lord disciplines those he loves. Like, in everything give thanks and be content with what you have.
Because we cannot possess what we do not first dispossess. We cannot possess what someone else controls. If coveting rules my heart, the peace of Christ won’t. Those two can’t possibly coexist. Don’t you know, James asked, that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?
The Israelites could not possess that part of the land where they coexisted with the Canaanites, even if they “kept” Canaanites as slaves. Instead of destroying or driving them out as God had commanded, the Israelites allowed them to live in their midst.
But if they had the power to enslave the enemy, they had the power to drive them out. (More on that in Part II.)
Living With The Canaanites
Judges chapter one gives an account of the successes and failures of the Israelite tribes in “possessing” what had been “taken” under Joshua. Judah did okay, but the other tribes did not.
At first, the Canaanites are dwelling among the Israelites (1:21), but soon after we read that the Israelites were dwelling among the Canaanites (1:32-33).
Do you hear the difference?
In the beginning of the account in Judges 1, the Israelites are driving out the Canaanites while a few pesky Canaanites lived among them. Even the finest manicured lawns have a few, isolated bursts of April dandelion bloom.
But eventually the Israelites are either using the Canaanites as forced labor—trying to put sin to work for them—or even worse, living among the Canaanites. That’s the yard so emblazoned with dandelion weed, you barely see green.
Dandelions And Grass
Here’s the progression from a few dandelions in a sea of green to a splash of grass in a field of dandelions.
It’s in Judges chapter one,
27 Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages[…]for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. 28 When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely.
29 And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them.
30 Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them, but became subject to forced labor.
31 Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, 32 so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out.
33 Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land…
34 The Amorites pressed the people of Dan back into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the plain.
The tribe of Dan didn’t even make it out of the hills. And so Israel failed to possess the land.
Not To Conquer Is To Be Conquered
Not to conquer your spiritual foes is to be conquered by them, A.R. Fausset warns. They will push the first advantage you give them over you, until step by step you are brought down from being their master, to become their dependent vassal.
We have all unconquered ‘Canaanites’ in our hearts. And friendship with the world is enmity toward God. We must be alert to our inward foes, whom we imagine we have “under control,” and so treat them leniently. Soul-foes like nursing a grudge, throwing a pity party, or maybe just “blowing off steam.”
But no. We can’t all just get along. These can’t righteously coexist.
Partial Obedience = Incomplete Victory = More Weeds
This was not a complete victory for God’s people. Despite the promise God made to give them the land and give the enemies into their hand, this is not that story. God had said to drive out these Canaanites. Israel was to get rid of them and then to dwell where they had dwelt. The tribes failed to drive them out.
There are things that God has told us to drive out of our lives. Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” In other words, fight your sin with urgency.
Irish Pastor David Legge warns, Do not flirt with it! Do not allow it to take root! You see, if you do not obey God completely, only in a partial obedience, you will be conquered. If you do not conquer that sin, that sin will conquer you!
I drive out the -ites in my mind. Sin has roots in thoughts. I must go deep to pull out weeds and plant that place with the excellent and praiseworthy.
Because gratitude and self-pity don’t coexist. Joyfully pressing on doesn’t dwell with discontentment. So I fought hard. I wrote thank you notes and sent I-care texts, and I thought on what is true. That’s how I took back the land.
Keep Up The Good Fight
I know I will have to keep up the fight because the Canaanites are persistent. But day by day, moment by moment, I can push them back. Because Christ died and rose again to give us His power to overcome.
So don’t make peace with sin. Don’t let the enemy possess the land. If you know it’s a sin, drive it out.
Don’t let the Canaanites dwell in your land.
When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land.
Amy’s “If’s” do. But her if’s are not meant to be read one after another. In her introduction to the book simply titled, “If,” Amy Carmichael writes,
Perhaps only one “If” will have the needed word.
But if one does, I say, then run with the one. Feel the conviction, let Christ’s love control you.
And if you’re like me and 21 “ifs” ring true, well then, back to the cross. He came, He died, He rose for these.
If I have not compassion on my fellow)servant even as my Lord had pity on me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I can easily discuss the shortcomings and the sins of any; if I can speak in a casual way even of a child’s misdoings, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I find myself half-carelessly taking lapses for granted, “Oh, that’s what they always do,” “Oh, of course she talks like that, he acts like that,” then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I enjoy a joke at the expense of another; if I can in any way slight another in conversation, or even in thought, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If, in dealing with one who does not respond, I weary of the strain, and slip from under the burden, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I cannot bear to be like the father who did not soften the rigors of the far country; if, in this sense, I refuse to allow the law of God (the way of transgressors is hard) to take effect, because of the distress it causes me to see that law in operation, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If my attitude be one of fear, not faith, about one who has disappointed me; if I say, “Just what I expected,” if a fall occurs, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I cast up a confessed, repented, and forsaken sin against another, and allow my remembrance of that sin to color my thinking and feed my suspicions, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I have not the patience of my Saviour with souls who grow slowly; if I know little of travail (a sharp and painful thing) till Christ be fully formed in them, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I cannot keep silence over a disappointing soul (unless for the sake of that soul’s good or for the good of others it be necessary to speak), then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I can hurt another by speaking faithfully without much preparation of spirit, and without hurting myself far more than I hurt that other, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I am afraid to speak the truth, lest I lose affection, or lest the one concerned should say, “You do not understand,” or because I fear to lose my reputation for kindness; if I put my own good name before the other’s highest good, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I am content to heal a hurt slightly, saying “Peace, peace,” where is no peace; if I forget the poignant word “Let love be without dissimulation” and blunt the edge of truth, speaking not right things but smooth things, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I fear to hold another to the highest goal because it is so much easier to avoid doing so, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I am soft to myself and slide comfortably into the vice of self-pity and self-sympathy; if I do not by the grace of God practice fortitude, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I myself dominate myself, if my thoughts revolve round myself; if I am so occupied with myself I rarely have “a heart at leisure from itself,” then I know nothing of Calvary love.
IF, the moment I am conscious of the shadow of self crossing my threshold, I do not shut the door, and in the power of Him who works in us to will and to do, keep that door shut, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I cannot in honest happiness take the second place (or the twentieth); if I cannot take the first without making a fuss about my unworthiness, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I do not give a friend “the benefit of the doubt,” but put the worst construction instead of the best on what is said or done, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I take offense easily, if I am content to continue in a cool unfriendliness, though friendship be possible, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If a sudden jar can cause me to speak an impatient, unloving word, then I know nothing of Calvary love.* *For a cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water however suddenly jolted.
If I feel injured when another lays to my charge things that I know not, forgetting that my Sinless Saviour trod this path to the end, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I feel bitterly towards those who condemn me, as it seems to me, unjustly, forgetting that if they knew me as I know myself they would condemn me much more, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I say, “Yes, I forgive, but I cannot forget,” as though the God who twice day washes all the sands on all the shores of all the world, could not wash such memories from my mind, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If interruptions annoy me, and private cares make me impatient; if I shadow the souls about me because I myself am shadowed, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If souls can suffer alongside, and I hardly know it, because the spirit of discernment is not in me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I become entangled in any “inordinate affection”; if things or places or people hold me back from obedience to my Lord, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If something I am asked to do for another feels burdensome; if, yielding to an inward unwillingness, I avoid doing it, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If the praise of man elates me and his blame depresses me; if I cannot rest under misunderstanding without defending myself; if I love to be loved more than to love, to be served more than to serve, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I want to be known as the doer of something that has proved the right thing, or as the one who suggested that it should be done, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I do not forget about such a trifle as personal success, so that it never crosses my mind, or if it does, is never given a moment’s room there; if the cup of spiritual flattery tastes sweet to me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If it be not simple and a natural thing to say, “Enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets,” then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If in the fellowship of service I seek to attach a friend to myself, so that others are feel unwanted; if my friendships do not draw others deeper in, but are ungenerous (to myself, for myself), then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I slip into the place that can be filled by Christ alone, making myself the first necessity to a soul instead of leading it to fasten upon Him, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If my interest in the work of others is cool; if I think in terms of my own special work; if the burdens of others are not my burdens too, and their joys mine, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I wonder why something trying is allowed, and press for prayer that it may be removed; if I cannot be trusted with any disappointment, and cannot go on in peace under any mystery, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If the ultimate, the hardest, cannot be asked of me; if my fellows hesitate to ask it and turn to someone else, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I covet any place on earth but the dust at the foot of the Cross, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
THAT WHICH I KNOW NOT, TEACH THOU ME, O LORD, MY GOD.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;
And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and was raised again.…
But in case you know about Pound and in the event a Good Friday poem by an unholy man like Pound is off putting— for he lived not like a saint—please read this quick bit by Matthew Melema,
God often shares his truth through unlikely sources. Nebuchadnezzar was cursed to live like a beast because of his hubris. But he later wrote one of the humblest tributes to God’s grandeur in the Old Testament. Paul was the “chief of sinners” before becoming Christ’s chosen vessel. Balaam’s donkey was, well, a donkey before God used it to berate an oblivious prophet.
That’s how I view Pound in the “Ballad of the Goodly Fere”: a donkey. Sure he’s hard-headed, brutish, and even bestial. But when his culture had grown dull, thinking of Jesus as a mere teacher of platitudes, Pound was there. He reminds us of the vitality, the loyalty, the gospel-strangeness of the Son of God.
Our King Jesus was a man’s man and a gentleman. He is the Lion and the Lamb. He is the Mighty King of Meekness. His strength was tenderly harnessed, his anger was ever righteous, and his love for his mates, to the end.
The Greatest Drama Ever Staged
I opened with Pound’s poem but I’ll close with Sayers’ prose. Both make the same point: Jesus was not the least bit dull, nor for a second is the Passion Story.
[T]he tale of the time when God was the under-dog and got beaten, when he submitted to the conditions he had laid down and became a man like the men he had made, and the men he had made broke him and killed him. This is the dogma we find so dull – this terrifying drama of which God is the victim and hero.
If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore – on the contrary; they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.
To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggested a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand. True, he was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before Heaven; but he insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites; he referred to King Herod as “that fox”; he went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a “gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners”; Christ assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the temple; he drove a coach-and-horses through a number of sacrosanct and hoary regulations; he cured diseases by any means that came handy, with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people’s pigs and property; he showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, he displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and he retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb. He was emphatically not a dull man in his human lifetime, and if he was God, there can be nothing dull about God either. But he had “a daily beauty in his life that made us ugly,” and officialdom felt that the established order of things would be more secure without him. So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness […]
Now, we may call that doctrine exhilarating or we may call it devastating; we may call it revelation or we may call it rubbish; but if we call it dull, then words have no meaning at all. That God should play the tyrant over man is a dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed […]
Perhaps the drama is played out now, and Jesus is safely dead and buried. Perhaps. It is ironical and entertaining to consider that once at least in the world’s history those words might have been spoken with complete conviction, and that was upon the eve of the resurrection.
From, “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged Is the Official Creed of Christendom,” which first appeared in the London Sunday Times two weeks before Easter 1938. Reprinted here from Letters to a Diminished Church, by Dorothy L. Sayers.
We are here again friends, on the eve of the resurrection. And I hope that with me, you’re more smitten with the master of men now than you’ve ever been.
Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.
What Our Savior Saw from the Cross, James Jacques Tissot. (Public Domain)
Dr. Pepper seltzer, Tim Hawkins, the ragged copy of My Utmostin her WC twenty years ago that led to one in mine; the elegance of Hedgehog and Goudge and countless other good books, whole cream in coffee, radish slices not Ruffles, and those flexible plastic cutting boards. Oh, those blessed chopping mats!
How could possibly forget that legendary Swiss vinaigrette, something like this but on the exact recipe, I’ve vowed secrecy.
Those things are not the half of it. They’re only a fraction of the ways Linda has influenced me.
On Linda’s Influence
You went to Peoria again last weekend? my friends ask. Why’d you go down this time?
It’s alway the same reason: Linda. Linda and John, and their five vibrant kids—remember that long, non-looping trip?— and their beloved “urban family” who have become our friends too.
And Linda. Linda is my husband’s sister, my sister-in-law. But more, she is my friend.
Turns out, my first memory of Linda is my first memory of my husband Jim. I was 14 when my family spent two August weeks at their grandparents’ campground. Jim and Linda would bound and bounce around the deck then spring into that little Meadowlark Acres pool. Vivacious, friendly, bright—I loved the life in them. Thirty-one years after we met at the pool, I still do.
Linda is a good influence—a joyful, faithful, cheerful influence. But you cannot be profoundly influenced by what you do not know.
Linda and her crew are why we go to Peoria. Because we want to know them more. I want them to influence me.
Think About These Things
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8
As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Proverbs 23:7
What do you think about when your mind is “resting”? Because the teacher wrote, as you think, so you are.
Lovely people think about lovely things, Alistair Begg said in a message on Philippians 4:8. By extension, truthful people think true thoughts, pure people think pure thoughts, and just people think just thoughts.
But the only way we can get those good thoughts a-thinkin’ is to place ourselves with them in the first place. That means we seek out good influences—influences that build our strength, our faith, our joy.
Do you see why all the three-hour drives to Peoria and all the time spent in the Word? In a word: influence.
Because thoughts stick around. For better and worse, they loop.
There’s a sign on a gravel road in Alaska that reads, Choose your rut carefully. You will be in it for the next 25 miles.
We have a say in what tracks we choose. As Christians, we’re called to choose an excellent and praiseworthy groove. Which means I must wisely choose my influencers. I must make an effort to spend time with people like Linda who affect me for good.
There Are No Ordinary People (So Be A Good Influence)
God created us to be influenced. Over and over, Scripture calls us to imitate, to be influenced for good. First, by the Spirit applying God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But then by the fellow image-bearers with whom we rub shoulders.
But God also created us as influencers.
This bit from Lewis is often quoted, and for good reason. Because we are all in process. We are all heading one direction or the other. We are all influenced and influencers.
It is a serious thing […] to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations -these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
From The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis. Lewis delivered this sermon at Oxford University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, on June 8, 1941.
All day long, we are influencing each other in one direction or another. Influence is never neutral.
You are not what you think you are. But what you think, you are.
We are influenced—for good or for ill—by who we know and by what we know. This knowledge base directly impacts our thoughts. As we think, so we are.
Which brings us back to the top. Find yourself some good influences. Latch on to a Linda. And set the Lord always before you.
Because you cannot be profoundly influenced by that which you do not know.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
This year I connected with two more of Patrick’s Confessions. For the uninitiated, Patrick lived in the 400’s AD and has two surviving writings, the Letter to Coroticus and and his Confession. (Read the Confession here, in English—or Gaelic—for free!)
On St. Patrick’s Eve I’ve made it my practice to read the Confession. Each time, I find more to make mine.
First, is Patrick’s Confession 6. It’s the reason Patrick wrote and the reason I write.
Although I am imperfect in many ways, I want my brothers and relations to know what I’m really like, so that they can see what it is that inspires my life.
That’s why. I want to be real and vulnerable enough in the blog that you get a sense of what I’m really like, not because I’m worthy of your time, but so that you can “see what it is that inspires my life.” In other words, I want to make God look big.
Which brings us to that other connection I have with Patrick.
It’s all about strength. Confession 30 is another way to say what Confession 6 said. Because what “inspires me” is what empowers me and makes me strong.
For that reason, I give thanks to the one who strengthened me in all things so that he would not impede me in the course I had undertaken and from the works also which I had learned from Christ my Lord. Rather, I sensed in myself no little strength from him, and my faith passed the test before God and people.
Patrick knew God’s strength when he risked his life over and over to preach the Gospel in Ireland—the very land where he’d once been enslaved. He felt it when he dealt with the hurt of his “very dear friend” sharing decades old dirt (See Confession 32). Patrick wrote his Confession so that his readers would know the source of that strength.
That’s also why I write. I write because I sense “no little strength” from Christ. Any act of forgiveness or repentance, any evidence endurance or love is through “no little strength” from Christ. I want you, kind reader, to feel it in your life too.
Let’s celebrate today. Because Patrick knew what Paul knew and what you know and I know. He knew what all of us saints know.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
My country girlfriend braved Chicago traffic last week. Because her husband’s cancer is still there, still growing. He’s barely 40 and his first brain surgery was ten years ago, before their youngest could even walk.
So off they drove to the big city to determine if he qualified for an experimental new treatment. But 48 hours after the consult, they got the call. He did not. A previous chemo disqualified him from this new drug.
Resting on the soft pillow of providence can happen at night, but it doesn’t happen overnight.
I still don’t always, but day by day, through Spirit power, I am training myself to not just trust, but to rest in God’s providential hand. I’m slowly learning to ask myself this one good question, “What good and wise thing is the God who loves me doing in what doesn’t seem good and wise?”
I won’t always know the answer. But it builds my faith to ask.
My Trials Are Because He Remembers
Paul Tripp’s devotions have a way of convicting and encouraging me in one fell swoop. This one from NEW MORNING MERCIES nails my little faith and helps me replace it with bigger trust when I face trials.
From day one, God has clearly communicated his zeal to us. It is his purpose that, by the means of rescuing, forgiving, transforming grace, we would be brought into relationship with him, and in the context of that relationship, be fully molded into the image of his Son. He has never promised us that he will deliver to us our personal definition of the good life. Rather he has promised that he will use all the tools at his disposal to complete the work of redemption that he has begun in our hearts and lives. He has not been unfaithful. He has kept every one of his promises He will do what he said.
Our problem is that we tend to be unfaithful to his holy agenda and get kidnapped by our plans for us and our dreams for our lives. The trials in our lives exist not because he has forgotten us, but because he remembers us and is changing us by his grace. When you remember that, you can have joy in the middle of what is uncomfortable.
This truth helps me retrain my brain to reframe my discomfort and pain. It helped my friend and her husband do the same: the white-knuckle drive to Chicago, the medical tests, and the rejection to the clinical trial. She texted, “We thank God for guiding us. He is with us. Even in this ‘no’.” He is changing us by his grace.
Truth is, it’s only when we remember this that our little, light and momentary trials bring joy. Because God loves us and wants us to endure and mature and be changed. Because he is good.
Sometimes he guides his children with “no’s.” But he always follows them with goodness and mercy.
Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.
Asking you to tolerate whatever I do or say because you say you love me is a fundamental misunderstanding of what love is and what love does. Much of what we think love is simply isn’t love after all.
-Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies
If You Love Me, You Would…
Have you ever said that? Has anyone said it to you? If you love me, you would ___________. Fill in the blank: scratch my back, stay up late, wear a mask, don’t make me wait.While it’s absolutely true that love is kind and seeks not its own, love does not mean anything goes.
We know this intuitively. Which is why I don’t bite when my 13 year-old says loving him means I allow him take a phone to school. Or when the 15 year-old insists loving him means I let him go deep with an ominously named gaming stranger.
But, as helpful as are, the love languages they might hurt us here. Because if I assume that for love to be love it must always come in my preferred language—and feel good—I’ll miss and misinterpret a whole lot of love.
I know this because the Lover of my soul doesn’t always speak my preferred language or love me how I would choose to be loved. He didn’t with Mary and Martha either.
Jesus loved them enough to let Lazarus die—yes, to die—so that he could raise him up in a majestic way and so that they would see the his glory. And I guarantee that Mary did not say, Master, if you love me, please wait to come until Lazarus dies.
I Wanna Know What Love Is
We’ve got to know what love is. And Jesus can show us.
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was (John 11:5-6). Jesus loved them so much he didn’t save Lazarus from dying. He didn’t spare Mary and Martha that pain.
Love is doing whatever you have to do — or whatever God has to do — at whatever cost, in order for the glory of God to be shown. If that sounds like no definition of love you’ve ever heard, like it’s straight out of left field, please reread John 11:1-6. (If that definition is still confusing, you might listen to “Even When It Hurts,” where John Piper explains this definition.)
Because seeing the glory of God is the greatest good. And love, we know, is helping the beloved enjoy the greatest good.
5 Things I Know About Love
1. Love Is Anchored In Truth
I know it must be anchored in truth. It cannot contradict truth. It cannot exist without truth.
Real, biblical, self-sacrificing, God-honoring love never compromises what God says is right and true. Truth and love are inextricably bound together. Love that compromises truth simply isn’t love. Truth without love ceases to be truth because it gets bent and twisted by human agendas. If love wants and works for what is best for you, then love is committed to being part of what God says is best in your life. So, I am committed to being God’s tool for what he says is best in your life, even if that means we have to go through tense and difficult moments to get there.
Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies
This, for the record, is one of the marks of a true friend. And lest we misconstrue Tripp’s words, it’s not as if one person in the relationship is always the “truth tool” while the other is always the “project.” Holding out the truth in love, or “truthing it in love” ala 4:15, is to be reciprocal. The subject and object are not fixed. Heidi truths it with me and I truth it with her.
What’s more, speaking the truth in love is not the main point. It’s not. The grammar of Ephesians 4 is clear. Truthing it in love is not an end in itself. Me correcting you or you proving a point factually true, or even us rooting out our idols together, is not the point.
Do you see the purpose of Ephesians 4:15? The end for which “speaking the truth in love” is but a modifier?
It’s grow up. We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. That’s the goal.
Speaking truth in love is not the endpoint. Growing up into Jesus is.
But what you might not know off the top of your head is what comes right before it. Here’s the famous command in context:
That jumped off the page when I read it last week. Because most of us are conflict avoiders. It’s so much easier to walk away when we see a brother do wrong. And if the wrong hurt us, well, we might walk away and nurse a grudge. Because, if I’m honest, to hate my sister in my heart takes less effort than to reason frankly with her.
When conflict comes we are tempted to think God has left the building. In peacetime we feel God’s presence; his providence is sweet. But the moment a fellow sinner hurts me, we imagine God left. But God said Love, don’t hate. And God said the way out of hate and the way into love is reason frankly.
Speaking truth in love includes “reasoning frankly.” And, done right, it not only benefits my sister it also helps me. Because the alternative to reasoning frankly with her is “incurring guilt” myself. The guilt could come if I take vengeance, bear a grudge, or get passive-aggressive. And she could be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:13). In both cases, reason frankly is God’s preventative against incurring guilt, against harm.
But this is hard. Because reasoning frankly and holding out truth in love can cost a lot.
3. We All Need Influencers
But I’m learning that silence is costly too. To the extent that I feel I can’t speak truth—because a friend is that sensitive— it is equally hard to feel love. My closest friendships are the ones who truth it love, side by side, with me. They say, “Smile more, talk less.” They ask, “Do I hear discontentment?”
I read this paragraph last night. It doesn’t use the word truth and it doesn’t mention love, but it’s on point. Here, a main character—The Man in the Wing Chair— describes his mother.
She just has her own opinions, and they’re the only tribunal that’s permitted to judge her when she makes a mistake. Can you imagine what you would be like if you didn’t have anyone close who was capable of influencing you? Anyone to point out your flaws, to confront you when you went too far, to correct you when you did something wrong?
Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera, The Awakening of Miss Prim
Isn’t that so sad? When I read the paragraph, I dropped the book and asked myself, Who is close enough to correct me?
Now I ask you, Who in your life is close enough to dare correct or confront you?
4. Speak Soft Words And Give Hard Reasons
I won’t grow if I stay blind to my faults, blind to my sin. As a Christian, I know that the Word of God and the Spirit of Christ can convict me. I don’t always need a fellow sinner to show me my sin. Sometimes it comes to light without him.
But God uses means. I wrote about the large chocolate spot I obliviously sported one night. The lesson: friends tell friends.
But how we hold out truth matters. And I’ll be first to admit that I don’t always get the how right. My family and friends will tell you that. But I do aim to apply C.H. Spurgeon’s advice:
If you see that a stick is crooked, and you want people to see how crooked it is, lay a straight rod down beside it; that will be quite enough. But if you are drawn into controversy, use very hard arguments and very soft words. Frequently you cannot convince a man by tugging at his reason, but you can persuade him by winning his affections.
That might sound like this: Kelsey, your voice is gorgeous. And I know you want us to be drawn to worship Christ not be focused on your clothes. That’s why I wanted to tell you I was distracted by your clothes the last few times you led singing. But I don’t doubt your love and I thank you for your hard work.
Gentle words, with gratitude and hard argument, rooted in truth. We speak this way so that we will grow into Christ and not incur guilt.
5. We Love People When We Love God
That was a big takeaway for me as I studied 1 John. Since God is love (1 John 4:8), it stands to reason that if I don’t understand God rightly, I won’t understand love rightly. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.
But isn’t that out of order? Hasn’t John explained that the main way show our love for the God who we can’t see is by our love for our brother we do see (1 John 4:20)? Yes, he did: We cannot love God without loving His children.
But that answer just kicks the can. How do we love people? In 1 John 5:2, John explains that we love others by loving God and keeping his commands.
That brings us full circle. So what about, If you love me you would…? Jesus is the only person who could say with impunity, If you love me you would.
Do you know why? Because he and the Father were one. The God-Man had no sinful nature to taint his If you love me you would. He knew with certainty what would help us see His glory. So he said, If you love me you will keep my commands.
Truth without love is abuse. Love without truth is neglect.
The doctor that conceals a cancer diagnosis is not “loving” his patient. Remember the prophets who “healed the wound of the people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14)? Perhaps out of self-love or fear of disappointing, the prophets did not act in love for God’s wounded people.
Love covers offenses and sins (1 Peter 4:8, Proverbs 10:12). But it also exposes and rebukes (Matthew 18:15, Proverbs 27:5-6). Soft, gracious words do not abuse and hard, biblical reasons do not neglect.
Paul David Tripp writes,
Love doesn’t call wrong right. Love doesn’t ignore wrong and hope it goes away. It doesn’t turn its back on you because you are wrong. Love doesn’t mock you. And love doesn’t go passive and stay silent in the face of wrong. Love moves toward you because you are wrong and need to be rescued from you. In moving toward you, love is willing to make sacrifices and endure hardships so that you may be made right again and be reconciled to God and others. God graces us with this kind of love so that we may be tools of this love in the lives of others.
Love moves toward you because you are wrong and need to be rescued from you. Jesus did that for me. He—Love—covers a multitude of sins, but also shows me my faults.
And as much as I want to be a tool of this kind of love, sometimes it’s hard to discern which path love takes.
What I Don’t Know About Love
There are so many things I don’t know about truth in love. The God-Man alone, could rightly say, If you love me you would… Because he knows all things. He alone knows all that is good.
I do not. Which is why I can’t always tell if my friends and sons are right when they say or imply, If you love me you would….
And I don’t know how much truth love tells. I’m not always sure when love conceals and when it reveals. I often don’t know the best, the most loving way to hold out the truth in love or if I should say a thing when I don’t feel the love.
But I do know that I want to be pure for the day of Christ. And I know I need a discerning love.
We hit a new low. We’ve had bad weeks in our house before, but this week’s behavior borders on criminal. Still, there’s a reason this blog is called JoyfullyPressingOn. My times are in his hands; every jaw-dropping event in his providence.
To protect the guilty one I love, I won’t share details. But trust me, if I told you, your jaw would drop. You’d ask, “What are doing about that?”
So why do I disclose this much?
Because I know that some of you are facing tough stuff too—that kind that keeps you tossing and turning at night. Please don’t hear this as a brag, because I mean to boast in the God of all grace: I slept like a baby last night.
Because I’ve got a stellar pillow.
When It’s Hard To Sleep
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. Psalm 31:9
The events of the week could have made it hard to sleep. And they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
What happened this week marks years of prayers still answered, Not now. That answer, these events could make it hard for a mom to sleep.
At least, without the right pillow.
But too many nights tossing and turning on too-soft and too-firm foreign pillows have taught me: when I travel, I pack my pillow.
It’s well worth the space because to sleep in all sorts of strange beds and new places.
Providence Is A Soft Pillow
I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8
But when I put my head on that pillow and catastrophic, hopeless thoughts still swirl, I need another pillow. Because uncertainty should not be the occasion of panic.Alistair Begg says, The only thing you can put your head on is the providence of God. Then you go to sleep.
The Puritans said, “Providence is a soft pillow for anxious heads.” And some of us are terribly anxious about the uncertainty we face. We are not trusting our unknown futures to a known God who knows the future. And we are not alone.
Most of the occasions of my worrying, most of the occasions of my rising fears can be traced ultimately to a loss of confidence in the doctrine of providence—can be traced to the fact that I am prepared to say, “My times are in your hands,” but I’m not prepared to live in the light of that truth.
Joyfully pressing on means living in light of that truth. It means that even though I have no idea how this today’s event will unfold and if the heart will untwist, I will trust. In peace, I will both lie down and sleep.
Because I sleep on the soft pillow of providence.
My Times Are In Your Hands
But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand… Psalm 31:14-15a
My old theology text books defines providence as the “continued exercise of [God’s] divine energy whereby the Creator preserves all of His creatures, is operative in all that comes to pass in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.”
Unpacked: Providence means God is guiding all the events of the world including those in your life. In other words, your times are in his hands.
Some of you know I’m working on a book about meekness. Here’s a little secret: The meek know how to sleep. They have a heightened sense of God’s providence. They carry this pillow everywhere. On it they rest their heads.
And as they doze off, you might hear them pray, “My times are in your hand.”
Asleep in the Storm Like Jesus
And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the back of the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow.Mark 4:37-38a
As I was writing this, it hit me. Jesus had a pillow too. His head was on it that evening he slept in the stern of the boat on the stormy sea. But his disciples then, like his disciples now, had trust issues. They got anxious.
Remember what they did? They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?”
For Jesus, Mark tells us, was in the back of the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. Yes, a pillow. The very same pillow, in fact, that you and I can sleep on—the soft pillow of providence. The pillow that helps me sleep in the midst of the storms in my home is the same pillow that Jesus lay his head on in the storm-tossed boat.
Into Your Hand
Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God. Psalm 31:5
How do I know? Well, it goes back to Psalm 31. A few verses before David prayed, My time are in your hand, he prayed:
Into your hand I commit my spirit.
I doubt Jesus prayed that on the boat. But great David’s greater Son did pray it in the most stressful of all times, ever.
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.
Luke 23:44-46, ESV
Ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it, John Calvin said.
I did not sleep well this week because I know how this chapter ends. I only slept well because of my pillow.
But when a good thing becomes an ultimate thing it’s an idol. When you’re willing to sin to feed it or sin if you think you’ll lose it, you may be feeding the beast.
Lent: Spring Cleaning For Your Soul
When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, Timothy Keller writes, it is essentially an ‘idol,’ something you are actually worshipping.
I shared 4 “idol-identifying” questions a couple posts back. And when the Spirit convicts me of inordinate time and energy going into Facebook—specifically a Bible study ministry group—I’d best change that.
So then along comes Lent, a lovely 46 days (I’m including Sundays.) to forsake a good thing to make space for “more vibrant discipleship.” In other words, Lent is a great season to do some spring cleaning in your soul. It’s a great time to starve your idol.
So I’m fasting from Facebook and the hardest part of that will be laying aside my baby, my Isaac, my little Bible study ministry, the Wonders of the Word (WoW) group that I so enjoy.
Not, because WoW is bad, or Facebook is bad. So why give a good thing up?
Why My Facebook Fast?
It’s the same reason one friend is giving up a nightly glass of wine for the month of February, and another friend is fasting from sugar for 12 weeks.
Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 6:12: “I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but I will not be mastered by anything.
My focus, my energy, my “happiness and self-worth” even, is coming too much from my social media presence. I’m being mastered by a good thing— my online ministry. And any good think that is not God can morph into an idol.
That’s why you won’t see me on Facebook (or Instagram or Twitter) for a while. That is reason #3 for a Lenten fast .
The other two are described now, in a repost from April 2015, when I kissed ice cream good-bye.
Why give up a good thing? Why wage an optional war?
In a word, training. In four, Christ-exalting soul strength. Each time I skip a soft-serve and pass on pie a la mode, my soul gets a little stronger. Train yourself to be godly, Paul told Timothy. I from a little thing like ice cream and am strengthened for bigger battles against greed and pride, grumbling and envy.
It’s called resistance training.
Reason #1: Resistance training makes me stronger.
Lent is testing ground; a time for spiritual resistance training. It’s a battlefield of sorts. Fasting shows what controls me, what comforts me. It exposes what I really live by: ice cream and coffee, Facebook and fitness? Or every word that comes from the mouth of God?
Christian fasting-giving up a good gift for a time- is not about Stoic pride, or proving my love for God. It is about training in godliness. I work my soul in a new way to build spiritual fitness. It’s resisting what would lure my heart away from my all-glorious, all-satisfying God.
Fasting increases the strength of my soul. so, I will not be mastered by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12). That is why I kissed ice cream good-bye.
If I can’t deny myself ice cream for six weeks, how can I resist the more habit-forming, tempting tastes of pride and envy, of anger and impatience?
A heaping bowl after dinner and a long run every morning and notices on my phone could all have me for breakfast. When my happiness hinges on those, I’m done. I’m captive.
All are innocent pleasures. Caffeine and ice cream, Facebook and fitness are gifts from God. And all can move subtly to become an end in themselves. To enslave. Ice cream has that power?
It does. Or did. And so does coffee in the morning and posting that elusive “100 likes” photo. A sub-seven minute mile can do it for me, too.
But I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing his suffering, becoming like him in death (Philippians 3 :10-11). Starting with these little denial deaths. Paul said he counted everything rubbish that he could know Christ. Little food and Facebook fasts make me strong for big soul fights, because in them I know Christ better.
But there’s one more big I kissed ice cream good-bye.
Reason #2. God gets glory when we call on him for help to resist temptation.
C. S. Lewis hinted at it. Only those who try to resist temptation knows how strong it is, he wrote. And Christ is the only one who never yielded to temptation.
Jesus was like us in every respect, and because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:14-15). He can sympathize with our weakness, because in every respect he has been tempted as we are, yet was without sin.
And here is how Christ is exalted. It’s when we confidently draw near to the throne of grace, to receive mercy-forgiveness when we fall– and find grace-power to keep from falling-to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).
He gives mercy and grace. I call, tempted and weak. Christ answers, sympathetic and strong. I called, you answered; my strength of soul you increased(Psalm 138:3).
That exchange- I call, God answers- is soul-strengthening, Christ-exalting soul training.
But what does look like in real life?
For me, it looks like closing the freezer without sneaking a bite from the pint in the back. And refusing to peek at Facebook one last time to check if someone liked my post. At Arby’s last week it was Thank you Jesus as the rest of the family shared a Jamocha milkshake.
That’s freedom. It’s starving idols that would ensnare and enslave me. That’s some Lenten cleaning for my soul. But we don’t go it alone.
We don’t call uncle; we call Jesus.
Help me stand stand firm. Fill the hollowness. And please remind me of your truth. Like this.
It might be countering your itch for human praise with this reminder: Let another praise you and not your own lips.
Or dueling with envy the minute he starts to whisper, You ought to have a four bedroom, sunny-side house. Nope: Godliness with contentment is great gain.
And striking with the sword of the Spirit when despair over a failed friendship falls. Why so downcast, O my soul? Put your hope in God. He’s the lifter of your face.
Or wielding the Word to kill worry when the infection spreads to your kids. Cast your cares upon him, for he cares for you. And, Commit your way to the Lord.
Or trading gratitude for grumbling, when we feel entitled to better this, or more that. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
That’s how God gets glory when we strength train. The One who was tempted in every way, who is right now interceding for us, His strength is exalted when I work my soul muscles.
Then we really know the truth we talk: no temptation can seize us beyond what we can bear. God truly is faithful to provide a way out so we can stand up under it. That kind of resistance strengthens our spiritual muscles.
Yes, we are a Resurrection People; Christ is Risen indeed! My sin is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. We stand forgiven at the cross. But our battles aren’t over yet.
Jesus suffered and died so I won’t have to suffer is NOT its message. It’s He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24).
The cross isn’t just past. The word of the crossis to us who are being saved the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). John Piper says the cross of Christ is not merely a past place of substitution. It’s also a present place of daily execution.
It is not just history. It’s a present way of life for the Christian. It’s Colossians 3:5, Put to death what is earthly in you. It is Roman’s 6:11, Consider yourself dead to sin and alive to Christ. And, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
But remember, fasting and denying are not ends in themselves. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Luke 9:23-24). The Lenten fast always leads to the Easter feast.
In heaven there will be no self-denial because none of our desires will tend toward sin. We’ll be with the Bridegroom and we won’t fast. Oh no. We will feast.
That this our fast of forty days, May work our profit and Thy praise!
The ancient hymn, Audi benigne Conditordescribes the bonds between our bodies and souls. Anthony Esolen’s translation beautifully expresses how God is glorified when we bring both into subjection. When we resistance train in the present power of the cross.
I don’t know which was the bigger miracle—my question or his answer.
Miracles Never Cease
The first title of this post was “Miracles Never Cease: How The Phone Stayed Home.”
It was an amazing, soaring short story about how a son who so loved his phone willingly agreed to leave it at home for a weekend youth retreat. The climax of the story was the part when the prone to over-control mom—after days and days of praying and pondering and asking her friends to ponder and pray— stunned herself.
How’s that? you wonder.
Believe it or not, it happened when she asked the son in a voice so open and gentle that it surprised her own ears,
So, what would you think of leaving your phone home this weekend?
That open-ended meek question was miracle #1. If you knew the Mom you’d marvel.
But then on the heels of #1 comes miracle #2.
That’d be okay.
That’s it. That’s what the son said without hesitation, protest or reservation. Two miracles right in a row. That would have been the post. It’s what I had written at 10 pm last Sunday night.
A JoyPrO about two amazing Spirit-controlled actions of a mother and son. Tied with a bow. Happily ever after. The end.
Then along came 11 pm.
How One Phone Stayed Home
When in a too-rare flurry of mother-son affection, the mother decided to sneak into the sleeping teen’s room to plant a kiss on his forehead. That was her plan.
So she stole in to where he lay—wide awake with earbuds in and spare phone in hand. And off came the bow.
Did you sneak this phone on the retreat?
Yes, he nodded. I did. But I hardly used it, he added, handing off the hot phone.
But there was more. Two words from this son the mother so hungers for,
It was late and he was caught red-handed. But this time, she believed him. Because little by little we grow. And little by little we change.
Because it’s little by little that we drive out the enemies of our soul.
Little By Little
Please stick with me. Because these couple of verses in an obscure chapter of Exodus have a lot to do with snuck phones and with how all Christians grow. With how I learn to ask not force, with how I learn to resist self-pity and give thanks, with how I train myself to get to bed before eleven. Little by little.
Here’s the background. The Israelites were fresh out of Egypt on their way to the Promised Land. But the Promised land was occupied—by the -ite peoples—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These were strong nations.
But not so strong that the God who’d just split the Red Sea and closed it on Pharaoh’s chariots could have destroyed them all at once.
But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by littleI will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land. I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you. (Exodus 23:29-31, NIV)
Little by little I will drive them out. And you will drive them out too.
I Will, You Will
In a message on Exodus 23, Kevin DeYoung explains how those three little verses describe the whole of Christian life, of Christian growth. You drive them out, I drive them out. That is how we grow.
Did you see that? In verse 30, “I will drive them out.” In verse 31, “You will drive them out.” That’s how it is with sanctification, with the process of becoming more like Jesus. We work out our salvation, for God works in us to will and act. God is doing the work. At the same time, he tells us to get to get to work (Philippians 2:12-13).
DeYoung sums up Christian growth this way: Victory comes from God, victory takes work, and victory comes little by little.
God works in you, so you work. Growth happens little by little, change comes from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). Degrees. Little by little degrees. The son didn’t take his phone but he snuck another. The mom held her tongue two times, but not the third. By degree. Victory comes little by little, when we work because God is at work.
Perpetual Vigilance, Constant Dependence
Don’t despise the day of small things. I wrote about that with the same phone-sneaking son 6 years ago. Screen time and sneaking have been issues for a decade. And truth be told, overbearing and controlling have been too. And after those two miracles the night before the retreat, I was so hungry for growth. I was hungry for victory and freedom in his life— so hungry I could almost taste victory.
And sometimes God works his power in our lives in an instant. He removes a desire or heals a cancer or creates a life. All of a sudden he does it and completely he does it.
But more often, we see his work little by little. Transformation comes slowly. Today may not feel like a success, but over time we could see growth.
Little by little the Israelites would drive out their enemies. Bit by bit, rather than in an instant, would keep them from getting sluggish and overconfident. And it would keep the wild beasts from multiplying in the unpopulated land.
Thus too in our spiritual warfare, it is no doubt ordained for our highest good that our corruptions should be subdued, not all at once, but by little and little; that our old man should be crucified gradually. This keeps us in an attitude of perpetual vigilance, and reminds of our constant dependence upon God, who alone giveth us the victory. (G. Bush)
And when you think about it, what could be better this side of heaven than to fully rely on God?
Little By Little We Grow
Israel was promised a bountiful land, but we are promised an abundant life (John 10:10). Not easy life, but abundant life.
So I was going to end the first post, the happy bow post before I learned about the stolen phone, with Ephesians 3 verse 20. But then I scrapped it. Because that’s a powerful victory verse and we’d had a setback.
But as I think about it, to stay the course and drive out our enemies little by little takes massive power within us, too. And it’s at work in the son and me.
So I think I still will.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
Idols? What idols? And why would you want to identify your idols? After all, asking these questions is like plunging into Lake Michigan on February 1st.
Exposure stings. It’s painful in the moment, but— my Polar Plunging niece tells me—you’re glad you did it once it’s done.
Exposing our idols at once stings and bites and cleanses and invigorates.
What is an idol?
I’ll borrow from Brad Bigney, since he wrote the idols book my girlfriends are studying with me.
An idol is anything or anyone that captures our hearts, minds, and affections more than God.
Brad Bigney, Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols
In other words, when I fear or seek anyone or anything more than Jesus Christ, it’s an idol. And worshiping idols is a fool thing to do.
Because idol worship is a self-injurious, double sin. In Jeremiah 2:13, God explains how,
My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
Whenever we look to things other than God to meet our desires— even perfectly legitimate desires for gifts like health and happiness or security and peace— we have become idolaters. Period.
Because God is the Giver of all good gifts. When we turn a good thing—whether health or helping, our children or friends— into an ultimate thing, it’s become an idol. Paul David Tripp asks, Could it be that desire for a good thing has become a bad thing because that desire has become a ruling thing?
3 Reasons Idol Worship Matters
Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them (Jonah 2:8). That’s why idolatry matters. God gives special grace to the humble, to those who fear him, to those who seek his face. By idol worshipers forfeit that special grace that could be theirs.
They pursued worthless idols and themselves became worthless (2 Kings 17:15b). That’s another reason your idol worship matters. Because we become what we behold. When we look on Jesus, we are transformed to his image, from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). But when we pursue drivel, our souls shrivel.
When any of the Israelites or any foreigner residing in Israel separate themselves from me and set up idols in their hearts...I the Lord will answer them myself. I will set my face against them (Ezekiel 14:7-8). That’s the big gun. God does not share his glory with others or share his praise with idols (Isaiah 42:8). In shorts, if you set up an idol in your heart, God will set his face against you.
Clinging and pursuing and setting up idols sounds a lot like slavery. Timothy Keller has written, An idolatrous attachment can lead you to break any promise, rationalize any indiscretion, or betray any other allegiance, in order to hold on to it. It may drive you to violate all good and proper boundaries. To practice idolatry is to be a slave.
I told you. It would feel like a cold shower. So get your towel out. In we go.
4 Questions To Identify Your Idols
But first, have you noticed how it’s so much easier to spot other people’s idols than our own? I can see a friend with a security idol a mile away—the anxiety, the refusal to risk, the control. And an approval idol—I can spot that one from two miles away. But I can be a bit blind to my own.
So it follows that others might see my idols more clearly than me.
That’s where the questions come in to play. But my Thursday morning girlfriends and I are serious about rooting out our idols. We’ve taken the stinging, invigorating, cleansing plunge. You are absolutely right—this is not for the faint of heart.
Because most of us are a little too defensive. We’re a little too tightly wound to receive criticism aright. We want answers for our troubles, but we can’t handle the truth.
Are you ready? Brace yourself. Then humble yourself and invite a spouse or a close friend to speak into your life.
What do you see me running to instead of God?
Where do you see a demanding spirit in me?
What do you see me clinging to and craving more than God?
Where do you see me wanting something so badly that I’m willing to sin to get it or sin if I think I’ll lose it?
An Idol Revealed
I was feeling strong the night I posed those four to Jim, and he didn’t hesitate. His answers were stinging and cleansing at once. But none was a shock. I’ll spare you most of the sordid detail, I will confess to you that Jim’s answer to #4 was <gulp> “writing.” Which, I’m aware, goes deeper to a root of influence and pride. I like to feel esteemed. Not always and in every way, but sometimes and most every day.
I am guilty as charged: I have sinned to get my writing in. Namely, I may ignore the family around, or I may stay up too late—it’s 10:37 pm as I type—and wake up grumpy and get myself sick, both of which are unloving to those around me. Or I may be tempted to use work time for writing, which is stealing. And if, after I’ve poured heart and soul into it, my writing goes is unread and ignored I may commit the twin sins of envy and self-pity.
2 Ways To Guard Yourselves From Idols
It’s not quite Whac-A-Mole, but my idols keep popping up.
Seeing as, “Man’s nature…is a perpetual factory of idols” (John Calvin), my first tear-down technique is to realize that the fight won’t be over till glory. Bigney calls this a “wartime mentality.” Galatians 5:17 is true: For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want to do. That is as true for me today as it was 20 years ago and will be 20 years from now.
The second idol-destroying strategy is to seek Jesus. I seek Him in his Word, and I seek him in the wisdom of the saints. As Bigney notes, “Reading the Bible keeps you honest, because you don’t just read the Bible—the Bible reads you.” It exposes us—Polar Plunge style sometimes—but the more time we spend with Him in his Word, the smaller our idols will be and easier to uproot. But, addsTullian Tchividjian explains, If you uproot the idol,but fail to plant the love of Christ in its place, the idol will grow back.
That’s it: be on guard, and know Jesus. And follow him. Obey his Word. That will starve those idols out.
For me and my writing (and respect) idol, it meant no JoyPrO post last week. It meant delaying this post to play Euchre and watch a movie with the boys last night. And every single day, by grace, it means that I won’t open the laptop to write or head to Facebook to post if I haven’t sought God in His Word first.
Knowing Jesus Christ will keep us from idols. Or, as Elisabeth Elliot wrote, When God is first in our hearts, all other loves are in order and find their rightful place. And a cold plunge can be a rousing way to expose those other loves.
Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
1 John 5:21
Bonus: 10 Probing Idol Worship Quotes
1. “Thus it is that we always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap.” –Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
2. “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God, your functional savior. ” –Martin Luther
3. “Saint Augustine defined idolatry as worshiping what should be used or using what should be worshiped.” –Colin S. Smith
4. “If we make an idol of any creature, wealth, or pleasure, or honour – if we place our happiness in it, and promise ourselves the comfort and satisfaction in it which are to be had in God only – if we make it our joy and love, our hope and confidence, we shall find it a cistern, which we take a great deal of pains to hew out and fill, and at the best it will hold but a little water, and that dead and flat, and soon corrupting and becoming nauseous (Jer. 2:23).” -C.H. Spurgeon
5. “What are you really living for? It’s crucial to realize that you either glorify God, or you glorify something or someone else. You’re always making something look big. If you don’t glorify God when you’re involved in a conflict, you inevitably show that someone or something else rules your heart.” –Ken Sande
6. “The most dangerous mistake that our souls are capable of, is, to take the creature for God, and earth for heaven.” –Richard Baxter
7. “Our culture says ‘live your dream,’ but God calls you to place your dream on His altar and to keep it there at all times. It is good to have hopes and dreams for the future, but we have no rights. There are no certainties. Any dream can become an idol and, if it does, God will bring it down.” –Colin S. Smith
8. “When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, it is essentially an ‘idol,’ something you are actually worshipping. When such a thing is threatened, your anger is absolute. Your anger is actually the way the idol keeps you in its service, in its chains. Therefore if you find that, despite all the efforts to forgive, your anger and bitterness cannot subside, you may need to look deeper and ask, ‘What am I defending? What is so important that I cannot live without?’ It may be that, until some inordinate desire is identified and confronted, you will not be able to master your anger.” -Timothy Keller
9. “When human beings give their heartfelt allegiance to and worship that which is not God, they progressively cease to reflect the image of God. One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only to the object itself but also outward to the world around.
Those who worship money increasingly define themselves in terms of it and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners, or customers rather than as human beings. People who worship sex define themselves in terms of it (their preferences, their practices, their past histories) and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sex objects. Those who worship power define themselves in terms of it and treat other people as either collaborators, competitors, or pawns. These and many other forms of idolatry combine in a thousand ways, all of them damaging to the image-bearing quality of the people concerned and of those whose lives they touch.” -N.T. Wright
10. “The bottle of the creature cracks and dries up, but the well of the Creator never fails; happy is he who dwells at the well.” -C.H. Spurgeon
Cut comma, delete clause, better word. First impression! No typos on this one, Abigail. Big breath. Triple check.
Read it out loud. Read it again.
Is it wrong to want more influence? Is it bad to try to build your tribe? And is it sinful to want more opportunity to make a bigger mark for God?
It all depends.
It depends first of all if you’re being, what Paul David Tripp calls, a glory thief. If you’re craving the credit for what only God could create, or wanting your tribe to dote on you and hang on your words rather than worship God, you are a glory thief.
But there’s this other piece I’m learning. S L O W L Y learning. I am learning that while it isn’t wrong to approach Mom’s apple from a position of scarcity—because there are a limited number of pieces— it is both irrational and wrong to approach ministry and writing this way.
Because there is plenty of ground to go around.
On Friday, I wrote the big **Intro Post** to the Hope*Writers group I joined four months ago. Four months of build up to make the perfect first impression that could connect me to the “right people” and help launch the MORE MEEK book before long. That’s what the deleting and cutting and breathing and re-reading were all about before I hit post.
Saturday evening I looked back at the post, back at the group. I looked back like Lot’s wife and I started comparing. Not only the meager likes and tepid welcomes on my intro post with the massive likes and red hot welcomes on Amy’s intro post, but my life with her life.
You see, Amy was working for the campus organization that I almost joined 20 years ago. She is doing what I love do as her job. Plus Amy has a real book published by a real publishing house.
Silent tears kicked off a short-lived, impromptu pity party on Saturday night.
Yes, I know. Ug-ly.
Tend Your Territory
Enter Jonathan Rogers into my ugliness. The words of his post were God sent for me that Saturday night, when I started comparing my writing with hers.
Rogers describes urges his writing readers to switch from a hierarchical orientation to a territorial orientation. A hierarchical orientation is fueled by comparison. Instead of comparing and thinking better than, more than, think of faithfulness tending your land. Because comparison, we know, is the thief of joy.
Writing, like running (and, for that matter, like football) requires discipline and work and a willingness to do hard things when a thousand easier things present themselves. But the goal of all of that work and discipline is to get better, not to get better THAN. Other writers are your allies, not your adversaries…
If you’re a writer, forget about your place in the hierarchy. You don’t have a place in the hierarchy because there is no hierarchy in any meaningful sense. What you have is a territory—a little patch of ground that is yours to cultivate. Your patch of ground is your unique combination of experiences and perspective and voice and loves and longings and community. Tend that patch of ground.
Please be encouraged. Because we all have a patch of God-given territory. It’s ours to tend. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.
So tend your little patch of ground that is uniquely yours. Tend the girlfriends who want to spend time with you. And tend the growing sons who need you even if they don’t want you. Tend the home that needs your gentle stability. Attend to the readers and listeners God sends you.
Tend, tend, tend. Tend them.
Two Prayers: Both/And
Remember the prayer of Jabez? It’s buried in an obscure passage in a rather obscure Old Testament book. The genealogy is humming along, when after forty-four names, the name Jabez breaks in. And in 1 Chronicles 4:10 we read,
Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.
Jabez prayed for more territory—for me that might look like more people to encourage with God’s Word, more Bible studies, more readers, and maybe, getting that MORE MEEK book in print. What would enlarged territory look like for you?
Pray for it. But remember, too, the words of Psalm 131—that little prayer that King David prayed,
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Both. Pray for an enlarged territory. Pray that your little patch of influence for Christ, please God, would increase.
After a three month build up to that big first impression intro*post, which 5-6 hours of deliberation, I did the deed on Friday. Then came the sore dejection and deflation on Saturday when I compared my post, and my life, with Amy’s.
Then I got to tending. I started the Bible study prep in the Gospel of Matthew for my little Sunday afternoon territory. And as I prepared this little patch of ground that God has entrusted to me, I started to see that even though my envy is ugly, God isn’t afraid of ugly. So neither should we be. Jesus touched the unclean and made them clean. He deals in beauty made from ashes.
It was getting late and I was still straddling the fence. But my choice distilled to this: Do I stay at the party or blow the joint with the meek and humble Jesus?Do I compare or choose fellowship with the man of no reputation? I can’t do both.
He knows. Which means he can sympathize with the likes of you and me.
All Glory Be To Christ
That was Saturday night. Then came Sunday morn.
God wasn’t done speaking to me about envy and legacy. He speaks through his Word. Sometimes his Word is expressed through man’s lips or song lyrics that remind us of God’s truth.
And it just so happened that on the first Sunday of the new year we sang a song that starts like this, and this pity-party throwing, would-be glory thief was all undone.
In the best of ways.
Should nothing of our efforts stand No legacy survive Unless the Lord does raise the house In vain its builders strive To you who boast tomorrow’s gain Tell me what is your life A mist that vanishes at dawn All glory be to Christ
Hair fades, brows crease, and it is all grace that our marriage has endured to year 25.
But even with 24 years under my belt, I’m no marriage expert.
I do have one quick tip, though. I call it the THAT’S WHY I MARRIED YOU game; AKA: CALL OUT THE GOOD, or I LOVE THAT ABOUT YOU.
Single? No worries. It works with friends, too. Just call it, THAT’S WHY YOU’RE MY FRIEND.
In fact, I advise my single friends, Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, then half-closed after the wedding. This, I think, is an active way of keeping our eyes half-closed—closed to negatives we can’t change in others—and wide open to their praiseworthy ways.
To clarify, calling out the good does not mean we don’t see the bad. It only means we choose to dwell on the good, à la Philippians 4:8,
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Not Blind, Just Focused
So playing this “game” doesn’t imply you’re smitten down to the pinky toes. It just means you’re choosing to see the good in them. It’s not blind devotion. It’s proper focus.
Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates…But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to.
Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 51-52
And you’re real soul-mate will thank you and feel more like your soul-mate if you practice this one tip.
Do Not Withhold Good
Directions for use: Simply call out the good when you think it. You notice when a friend keeps her word when it hurts, call it out. Your husband unloads the dishes, acknowledge it.
Don’t save you loving speeches. Praise the praiseworthy. Don’t be stingy with it. If you think a complimentary, affectionate, kind-hearted thought about your husband (or friend) share it.
Bonus Points: Call out the good in front of others. I try to play “that’s why I married you” in front of the boys. It sounds like, “He gives great hugs. That’s why I married your dad.” Or when you’re having coffee with Meg and some mutual friends you casually ask, “Doesn’t Meg give the most thoughtful gifts?”
And without any more ado, here’s why 24 years after the wedding, I’m glad Jim’s my man.
In no particular order, here are 10 reasons I’m glad I married Jim:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
I think of these lines as December runs out. They’re from a king’s speech to his fearful people—people of one of the most powerful nations on earth in a time of great uncertainty and three long months at war.
More than eight decades have passed since King George delivered that message, but its truth is as needed as it was then. Because the times they are a-changin’. And the order rapidly fading and the roads rapidly changing isn’t all good.
It wasn’t so good then, either.
Peace In Troubled Times
Great Britain had entered the Second World War in September 1939. In the three months since, air-raid sirens had been ringing in their ears and tension was rising. Anxiety and fear over the New Year pressed into English hearts and minds.
King George VI was England’s reigning monarch in December 1939. As was the custom, the king addressed the nation on a BBC radio broadcast on a Christmas day when all was not calm and bright. He told the people of the only true source of peace in troubled times. King George concluded the message with the part of a poem introduced to him by his 13 year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth.
The king read the poem to encourage the English people that even during the dreadful war their future could be bright and secure.
That’s why I share it with you on the gate of this year. If your hand in His, you will walk by faith in him, your way will tread safely and rest secure—come what may.
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
So heart be still: What need our little life Our human life to know, If God hath comprehension? In all the dizzy strife Of things both high and low, God hideth His intention.
God knows. His will Is best. The stretch of years Which wind ahead, so dim To our imperfect vision, Are clear to God. Our fears Are premature; In Him, All time hath full provision.
Then rest: until God moves to lift the veil From our impatient eyes, When, as the sweeter features Of Life’s stern face we hail, Fair beyond all surmise God’s thought around His creatures Our mind shall fill.
God knows. His will is best…Our fears are premature. He will provide for all time.
For all your days and times.
Our Days Are Numbered, And That’s Good News
All of our days are numbered. They were written in his book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). Priest and missionary Henry Martyn said, You are immortal until God’s purpose for you is complete. And since God loves his children with great love, this is very good news.
So I echo the king at the gate of our year, May that Almighty hand guide and uphold us all. Amen.
I finished the list—the 23rd list. Compiling the Piquant Page-Turner ladies’ book club annual book list is both one of my favorite and one of the most difficult things in all the world.
Partly because I feel a sacred trust. Selecting in which friends will invest their precious time is a burden. I don’t want them to waste their time. But it’s excruciating for another reason: I see how many good books I cannot introduce to my friends.
After 22 years of reading a book a month together—250 or so books, I think—we have barely touched the top shelf.
Good Ladies Behind Good Books
This year two books helped me pick good books. Not surprisingly, both books were gifts from book club friends. Before I tell you about the books, let me tell you about the friends.
My friend Jen gave me the book on the left, Karen Swallow Prior’s, On Reading Well. Jen joined the book club over a decade ago, but her health seldom allows her to leave the house. But still Jen reads. She reads and reviews and helps launch books. Jen has been behind some of our best books and arranged the most fascinating author interviews.
My friend Karen gave me the other book about good books, Sarah Clarkson’s, Book Girl. Karen came to the very first book club meeting I hosted as a 22 year-old, married 1-year, grad-school student who loved reading and talking about books. She’s 30 years older than me and Mom’s friend—Mom comes too—but age is no barrier to when you love to read.
I wish I could tell you about my other book club friends—friends like Lisa and Kathy and Joyce and Jen.
Why Read Good Books?
Reason number one: because my imagination and attitudes and behavior need tune-ups. Reading helps me set my mind on what is good and pure and lovely. But it’s not enough to read widely. As Karen Swallow Prior notes, One must also read well…Reading well entails discerning which visions of life are false and which are good and true.
And, as Mark Edmundson explains in his book Why Read?, The ultimate test of a book, is the difference it would make in the conduct of life. So why take the time to find and read good books? Because reading good books makes us more virtuous people.
Prior quotes Thomas Jefferson to explain this further,
Everything is useful which contributes to fix in the principles and practices of virtue. When any original Act of Charity or of gratitude, for instance, is presented either to our sight or imagination, we are deeply impressed with its beauty and feel a strong desire in ourselves to do charitable and grateful acts also. On the contrary, when we see or read of any atrocious deed, we are disgusted with its deformity, and conceive and importance of Vice. Now every emotion of this kind is an exercise of our virtuous dispositions, and dispositions of the mind, like limbs of the body acquire strength by exercise. But exercise produces habit, and…the exercise of the moral feelings produces a habit of thinking and acting virtuously.
We read good books works our virtue muscles, if you will.
Why Keep Reading Good Books?
Build An Excellence Habit
In a word: habit. To have your imagination bathed in virtue you must continue at it. Don’t just dip your hand. Just as water, over a long period of time, reshapes the land through which it runs, Karen Swallow Prior explains, so too we are formed by the habit of reading good books well.
Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly; “these virtues are formed in Man by his doing the actions”; we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit: “the good of man is a working of the soul in the way of excellence in a complete life…For as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or short time that makes a man blessed and happy.”
Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, quoting Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics
We keep setting good books before our eyes because goodness is formed in us over time. We become what we behold, someone said. And what we keep beholding.
Build Empathy Too
Why else should you keep reading good books? Because continual reading of good books gives us more empathy. Empathy enables kindness, and God knows we need more kind and tender-hearted among us.
Reading allows us to place ourselves in another’s shoes, seeing the world through another’s eyes, empathizing with views different from our own… Just as thinking about walking can actually stimulate your brain and muscles to remember the feeling of walking, reading a book stimulated the brains of readers in such a way as to suggest they were imaginatively “feeling” the story as something real. Imagine the power that gives us to feel the pain of another, to understand someone else’s struggle, stubbornness, or need. The kind of compassionate insight offered by a perceptive story is one that drives us toward connection. We are given the insight both to understand and to reach across the barriers…
Sarah Clarkson, Book Girl: A Journey through the Treasures & Transforming Power of a Reading Life
We need each others’ presence. And we need—and crave for ourselves—empathy in their presence. That’s why we keep reading good books.
Why Keep Reading Good Books Together?
I won’t lie. It’s a drain. I’ve greeted my book club friends with dinner-stained sweatpants and tear-stained eyes some Monday nights. It takes time to read and effort to get together and the family still needs feeding. So we eat and I and race to the couch to finish the last 20 pages which more often than not make me cry. Then I answer the door and we book girls talk about books together.
In these more “socially-distant” days, we need friendship. Reading books together builds friendship. As Irving Stone noted, There are no faster or firmer friendships than those formed between people who love the same books.
Clarkson explains how this connection happens.
[A] woman who reads is a woman who relates. A book girl knows that a shared book is a ground of mutual discovery, a space in which the soul and thought of another may open to her in a wondrous way…When people inhabit a realm of imagination or theology or poetry together, their own realms of soul and spirit are revealed to the others who sojourn with them to that place. Reading, when shared, begins a conversation that breaks down the barriers of isolation and connects us, one to another, as we exclaim, in C.S. Lewis’s description of friendship in his book, The Four Loves, “What! You too?”
Sarah Clarkson, Book Girl: A Journey through the Treasures & Transforming Power of a Reading Life
Reading good books together connects us.
Will You Be a Book Girl (or Guy)?
That’s it. Now I’ll share the book list. And I hope with me you’ll resolve to keep reading good books in 2021, and maybe to read some together. (You’re always welcome to join the Piquant Page-Turners. If you can tolerate sweats and tear-stained eyes.)
I’ll close with this. It’s a vision of the generous Book Girls I’m blessed to know (you know who you are), and, by grace, I want to be.
The reading life is, I’m convinced, a form of love, a way of encountering the world and its splendor and drama. The reading life comes to us as a gift and, as it fills us, drives us to fresh generosity. As you read and imagine, learn and grow in the company of great books, I hope you, too, will find that joyous urge that comes of a heart grown rich to hand out books to the children in your life, to pass on novels to your best friends, to press a good story into the hands of a struggling teen.
Sarah Clarkson, Book Girl: A Journey through the Treasures & Transforming Power of a Reading Life
I hope you’ll enjoy these books and I hope you’ll use these books—to learn and grow, to gain hope, to battle well.
Love, be changed: read good books together.
2021 Piquant Page-Turner Picks
January 11- Perfectly Human: Nine Months With Cerian, Sarah Williams
February 8- Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High, Melba Pattillo Beals
March 8- The Awakening of Miss Prim: A Novel, Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
April 12- The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim
May 10- True Grit, Charles Portis
June 15- The Death of Ivan Illych, Leo Tolstoy
July 12- Live Not By Lies, Rod Dreher
August 9- A Gentleman From Moscow, Amor Towles
September 13- The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
October 11- Health Is Membership, an essay by Wendell Berry
November 8- Pilgrim’s Inn, Elizabeth Goudge
December 13- Two From Galilee, Marjorie Holmes
The Piquant Page-Turners typically meet at 7 PM on the second Monday of the month. Please note that dates and times are subject to change based on the fancy and whim of its members.
In 1948, C.S. Lewis published a poem called, “The Turn of the Tide.” In it, he imagines the cosmic significance of Christ’s birth.
Rest assured, the tide has turned. It might not feel like it, but feelings lie. Oh sure, we’re still in these long last days and I’m still one of the poor orn’ry people—but about 2020 years ago the tide turned.
It was never intended to stay there. In fact, it reached the highest heavens. Breathless was the air over Bethlehem. When the Virgin gave birth to a son the galaxies tingled and rocked.
But it also reached the lowest shepherds keeping watch over their flocks that night and it penetrates into our little house in some big Wisconsin woods in these Covid-19 days.
The Turn of the Tide
I read the poem aloud to three teenage boys in that little house this afternoon. At least two out of three at half-listened. I hope you enjoy it at least twice as much as one of three did.
Breathless was the air over Bethlehem. Black and bare Were the fields; hard as granite the clods; Hedges stiff with ice; the sedge in the vice Of the pool, like pointed iron rods. And the deathly stillness spread from Bethlehem. It was shed Wider each moment on the land; Through rampart and wall into camp and into hall Stole the hush; all tongues were at a stand. At the Procurator’s feast the jocular freedman ceased His story, and gaped. All were glum Travellers at their beer in a tavern turned to hear The landlord; their oracle was dumb. But the silence flowed forth to the islands and the North And smoothed the unquiet river bars And levelled out the waves from their revelling and paved The sea with cold reflected stars.
Where the Caesar on Palatine sat at ease to sign, Without anger, signatures of death, There stole into his room and on his soul a gloom, And his pen faltered, and his breath. Then to Carthage and the Gauls, past Parthia and the Falls Of Nile and Mount Amara it crept; The romp and war of beast in swamp and jungle ceased, The forest grew still as though it slept. So it ran about the girth of the planet. From the Earth A signal, a warning, went out And away behind the air. Her neighbours were aware Of change. They were troubled with a doubt.
Salamanders in the Sun that brandish as they run Tails like the Americas in size Were stunned by it and dazed; wondering, they gazed Up at Earth, misgiving in their eyes. In Houses and Signs Ousiarchs* divine Grew pale and questioned what it meant; Great Galactal lords stood back to back with swords Half-drawn, awaiting the event, And a whisper among them passed, ‘Is this perhaps the last Of our story and the glories of our crown? –The entropy worked out?–The central redoubt Abandoned? The world-spring running down? Then they could speak no more. Weakness overbore Even them. They were as flies in a web, In their lethargy stone-dumb. The death had almost come; The tide lay motionless at ebb.
Like a stab at that moment, over Crab and Bowman, Over Maiden and Lion, came the shock Of returning life, the start and burning pang at heart, Setting Galaxies to tingle and rock; And the Lords dared to breathe, and swords were sheathed And a rustling, a relaxing began, With a rumour and noise of the resuming of joys, On the nerves of the universe it ran. Then pulsing into space with delicate, dulcet pace Came a music, infinitely small And clear. But it swelled and drew nearer and held All worlds in the sharpness of its call. And now divinely deep, and louder, with the sweep and quiver of inebriating sound, The vibrant dithyramb** shook Libra and the Ram, The brains of Aquarius spun round; Such a note as neither Throne nor Potentate had known Since the Word first founded the abyss, But this time it was changed in a mystery, estranged, A paradox, an ambiguous bliss.
Heaven danced to it and burned. Such answer was returned To the hush, the Favete, the fear That Earth had sent out; revel, mirth and shout Descended to her, sphere below sphere. Saturn laughed and lost his latter age’s frost, His beard, Niagara-like, unfroze; Monsters in the Sun rejoiced; the Inconstant One, The unwedded Moon, forgot her woes. A shiver of re-birth and deliverance on the Earth went gliding. Her bonds were released. Into broken light a breeze rippled and woke the seas, In the forest it startled every beast. Capripods fell to dance from Taproban to France, Leprechauns from Down to Labrador, In his green Asian dell the Phoenix from his shell Burst forth and was the Phoenix once more.
So death lay in arrest. But at Bethlehem the bless’d Nothing greater could be heard Than a dry wind in the thorn, the cry of the One new-born, And cattle in stall as they stirred.
C.S. Lewis, Poems, edited by Walter Hooper, 1992, pp. 49-51.
The After Effects
I’ve never imagined how it would feel to be a galaxy—Bowman or Crab, Libra or Ram— or even a planet of moon. But I’m glad Lewis did.
Because there must have been a ripple effect—a pulsing sound into space and even into forest and seas—when One babe was born. Maybe a shiver of re-birth and deliverance on the Earth.
And because every single day I feel the after-effects of the Babe born, the Son given. I live and love, I confess and forgive, and whenever I joyfully press on, it’s because of the coming of the One. It’s all because of the birth that arrested death.
Oh, yes. All these pulses and ripples and shivers and thrills and all this joyful musicmust mean the tide has turned.
The Tide Has Turned
A few years later, another famous Inkling, was also writing about the turn of the tide.
‘Gandalf,’ the old man repeated, as if recalling from old memory a long disused word. ‘Yes, that was the name. I was Gandalf.’ He stepped down from the rock, and picking up his grey cloak wrapped it about him: it seemed as if the sun had been shining, but now was hid in a cloud again. ‘Yes, you may still call me Gandalf,’ he said, and the voice was the voice of their old friend and guide. ‘Get up, my good Gimli! No blame to you, and no harm done to me. Indeed my friends, none of you have any weapon that could hurt me. Be merry! We meet again. At the turn of the tide. The great storm is coming, but the tide has turned.’
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, 1956
The Child was born and the Son was given—unto us. The tide turned when the majestic glory of the King of the Universe was revealed in a Babe laying in a manger in Bethlehem.
And I’d be surprised if the galaxies didn’t dance.
So feel free. Be merry!
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
We await our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…
He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the Lord is his name…
I can’t wait for 2020 to be done! 2021 has got to be better. I keep hearing that and I’m just not so sure.
But I know we have need of endurance.
Need Of Endurance
That’s how the author of the book of Hebrews put it, For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised (Hebrews 10:36).
Endurance is bearing up under pressure or strain. It’s holding the weight above your head for 30 more seconds while your arms are quivering and aching. It’s carrying the six-year old all the way back while your legs are shaking. Weight bearing strengthens your body. It also strengthens your soul. But there are no shortcuts. You must bear up.
Endurance is strength in opposition. People who endure stand firm and handle pain because they know that trials can be productive (James 1:2-4). I like to write about about strong moms and strong grace and strength to do the ordinary things. My business card says I’m a spiritual strength trainer. I love to help people stand firm and grow strong.
So it’s not surprising that in this truth-denying climate, with freedom-ceding Covid-19 and a hyper-charged political scene, I hear the call to endure louder than ever.
Because 2020 might have been birth pangs and tremors. Not recovery and aftershock, but beginnings. You have need of endurance.
Because who’s not to say that the year of our Lord 2021 may be an even wilder ride?
Oak Or Squash?
Before James Garfield was President of the United States, he was head of Hiram College. At Hiram, a father once asked Garfield if his son’s course of study could be simplified so he could get through by a shorter route.
The blessed are the steadfast. The ones who endure like Job and grow strong in their faith like Abraham (Romans 4:20). The ones who feel the pain and scratch with potsherds and grieve their losses as praise, but don’t charge God with wrong (Job 1:22). But they don’t take shortcuts. They cling to God’s promises (Romans 4:20). They’re strong, steady oaks.
The not-blessed are those who squish under pressure. They feel they heat and turn to mush. They don’t stand firm. They spring up. But trials— like 2020 come and under the pressure, they wilt (Mtt. 13:21).
Or, to borrow from Garfield, they seek shortcuts. They don’t stand firm and they’re squash. Squishy, mushy squash.
Ooh. That sounded condescending, I confessed seconds after using the phrase, “So cute.” The topic? Christmas decor.
What does condescending mean? asked the 13 year-old son.
Like you’re God’s gift to the people you’re with. I paused, As if they’re beneath you and you’re so great to get on their level and give them the time of day.
Oh, he said.
I didn’t tell him the Latin part.
Condescending Is Seriously Bad
I can be condescending. The bad way—the smug, snooty, Seriously?! way. The, How could you not know that? way. I don’t say it. But sometimes I think it. And thinking it even once is too often for a child of God.
But I begin to think how good it is of me to “go low” and help someone “up.” Even with “so cute” Christmas decor. That thought betrays my pride. For humility is not thinking less of yourself, Lewis said, it’s thinking of yourself less. Jesus said, Don’t let your left hand know.
Bad condescending is bad not only because it’s proud, but because it lacks sympathy. I condescend the bad way when I feel like the people I’m “gracing” with my insight or presence should know better or know more or fear less and trust more.
I’m not alone in that mire. Even the great preacher C.H. Spurgeon confided,
There are distresses to which God’s people are subject with which their fellow Christians can have but little sympathy. Some Christians whom I have tried at times to comfort, have had fears so silly that I have felt more inclined to laugh at them than to console them.
Aunt Merriam says to condescend means 1: to assume an air of superiority, 2: to descend to a less formal or dignified level; to waive the privileges of rank. Number one is bad. Number two is the good.
Now here’s that Latin part. Condescendere comes from the Latin words con- which means ‘with’ or ‘together’ + descendere which means to ‘descend’ or ‘come down.’
A question for us: When we descend to be with another, is it with love and sympathy or pride and superiority?
Condescending Is Gloriously Good
The God way is the good way. Philippians 2, verses 6 and 7 explains the “good” condescension so beautifully,
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Come, lift your hearts on high, Alleluia! Amen! let praises fill the sky; Alleluia! Amen! he is our Guide and Friend; to us he’ll condescend; his love shall never end. Alleluia! Amen!
Did you see it again? God’s condescending love is worthy of our praise. God’s is gloriously good condescension; his condescension is free from pride and full of sympathy. Spurgeon—and I— know that even when we are unsympathetic and condescend in the bad way, our God in not like us. Thank God he is not like us.
Now our God is so tender and gentle that He even condescends to deal with our silly fears…His gentleness shows itself in His being afflicted in our afflictions and entering into our sorrows, and putting Himself side by side with us in the battle of spiritual life.
Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people. He settles the barren woman in her home as a joyful mother of children.
The Lord who is enthroned on high nevertheless stooped to look down upon me. He was mindful of my humble estate. After ten years of barrenness, he remembered me. He came down with me and lifted me from the heap.
But our Lord condescends in everyday ways too. Today he gave me peace in conflict and strength to forgive again. Then he allowed a cancelled session which gave me time to finish a report. In big and small ways, God stoops down.
But He did it biggest at Christmas.
Christmas Is About Condescension
I think C.S. Lewis saw it that way. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body, he wrote. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab. (Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 5)
That condescending conversation in the van last night brought this song to mind in the morning. You might like it.
Who but God would send his Son To condescend and make himself the likes of a mere mortal man
For in the end, condescend is one of the sweetest, most Christmasy words I know. It’s why we stretch Advent out. Because in the incarnation, God did way more than just come down and give us a hand. More than just step out of his castle for an evening of revelry with his serfs at Ye Olde Pub. Oh, no. Infinitely more.
He became one of us. He took on our weakness, sympathized with our weakness and bore our sin. The Creator became a creature. Like us becoming slugs but far more shocking. Who would condescend like this?