The Exhaustion of Having Control

Having control of our lives feels good. We love and crave control because we hate surprises. The allure of control is that the details and quality of our future can be predicted and altered as need be.

The thing about control is that our appetite for it is insatiable especially when envy comes into play. Our tendency is to look out at the lives of others with envy in regards to control. It’s not that we believe everyone we know has more control of their lives than we do. It’s that there are many we know who seemingly have more control over some aspect of their lives and envy can begin to poison our attitude. Experiencing exhaustion as a result of pursuing more control of our lives is inevitable.

How much control do I (or any of us) actually have?

The thing about control is that it doesn’t exist (at least not the way we often think it does). The way God talks about the type of control we desire is that it is something He alone possesses.

In Proverbs 16:9 Solomon writes, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” We are volitional and cognitive beings who make “plans.” However, God presides over us in such a way that ultimately He is the one “establishing” and directing our steps.

Similarly, in Ecclesiastes 7:13 Solomon calls us to, “Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?” There are things in your life that are “crooked,” which you desire to change, and conversely there are things in your life which are “straight” (good) which you wish to never see change. The point is that we are incapable of truly altering the outcome of those things which God has made crooked or straight. Any change that comes as a result of our actions happens because God allows to happen according to His plan.

As finite beings it is impossible for us to fully-grasp how it is that we make plans, decisions, and choices but yet God is in control. Our grasp of cause and effect is simply insufficient in terms of accounting for God’s sovereignty.

The Danger of Control

Recently I heard a song called If You Want Love by Nathan Feuerstein (‘NF’) and a couple of lines stuck with me. Feuerstein sings, “I’ve always tried to control things; In the end that’s what controls me.” He is spot on. Control is like a drug which once tasted has the ability to take control over us. We never feel as though we have enough control because control is absurdly addictive and for good reason.

Our sinful hearts sell us the lie that control is necessary because God operates according to a rigid sense of retribution. Within this framework of a rigid retribution we wrongly believe that God immediately and proportionately rewards righteousness and punishes wickedness. Solomon goes on to confront this wrong way of viewing God in the next few verses of Ecclesiastes 7:14-16. Unfortunately, this way of thinking distorts the very nature of God’s grace and mercy. By definition grace is God giving us what we do not deserve and mercy is God NOT giving us what we deserve.

How do we respond to God’s control? Faith, not Apathy

Someone could argue that a high view of God’s control (sovereignty) results in people being given over to indifference/apathy. The rationale being that if we aren’t truly in control in the exact way that we want then why even bother trying and doing.

A balanced view of God’s sovereign control recognizes that God in His sovereignty utilizes and accounts for our decisions, plans, and choices. Yes, we are to yield to God and His control of all things meaning that we relinquish our grasp (or at least our perception of having a grasp) on our lives. But this surrendering does not lead to indifference or lack of effort on our part. Just the opposite is true. Our responsibility to live and move in faith is unchanged and we strive to make choices, decisions, and plans which are God-pleasing.

With Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:10 we proclaim, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

By grace we live by faith.

Credits

Photo by Patryk Grądys on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 24 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Sickness and Suffering: How to Pray

Prayer request time in any church can devolve into a long list of distant relatives (or relatives of relatives) with relatively (pun intended) minor ailments. Though it can make us laugh when we are asked to pray for Aunt Loraine’s cousin’s friend’s colonoscopy, we are often faced with far more serious, and close to home, requests.

My wife recently spent the better part of a week in the hospital with a severe infection. As I sought to pray for her, it got me thinking about how exactly I should pray for those who are sick. The following is not the only four things we can pray for a sick person but can serve as a guide to get us moving in the right direction.

How should we pray for those with some kind of physical illness or weakness?

Appeal to the Lord for healing

Most Bible scholars agree that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12 was some kind of physical ailment. Paul prayed to God multiple times, asking him to take away this thorn in the flesh. Likewise, the Apostle John prays for the health of the recipients of his 3rd letter, “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 2).

As part of our prayer for those who are sick, we ought to ask God to grant them healing.

Ask the Lord for sustaining grace so that the sick might suffer well

God, for his own purposes and will, chose not to take away Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Three times Paul asked for it to be removed. Jesus’ answer finally came, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” Paul concluded thenTherefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9). Jesus promised sufficient grace for Paul to endure his physical suffering for the glory of God.

God is faithful and will always grant his children one of the two things: 1) healing or 2) sufficient grace to walk through physical sickness to the glory of God.

Admit that God’s will is superior to ours

On the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus pleaded with the Father to spare him from the impending suffering of the cross, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me–nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). It was the will of the Father for Christ to suffer and it brought about immeasurable good. Similarly, If God chooses not to heal, we must trust God’s good and sovereign will. God is so good, wise, and loving that even when we don’t understand, we trust that his plan is the better than ours. Tim Keller says it this way, “God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.”

Anticipate the suffering-free glories of heaven

As we pray for others we can anticipate a day where we won’t hear words like “cancer” or “death.” Sickness and suffering are both temporary aspects of our broken world. Revelation 21:3-4 remind us, “… ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore…” We long for that day. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Corinthians 12:7ff and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Tim Keller. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Penguin: New York, 2014) 228.

Jesus was Thirsty so You Don’t Have to Be

I love lemonade. Sweet, cloudy, pulp-filled lemonade. I love it so much that sometimes I am (almost) motivated to mow my lawn just so I can feel like I deserve a glass. The more thirsty I am the more I enjoy this dew that descends from the mountains of Zion.

In God’s kindness He designed our bodies not only to feel thirst, but also to experience the sweet relief of having that thirst quenched by our favorite beverages. One of the interesting ways that our human experience tracks with Jesus’ words and ministry is in regards to this idea of thirst.

In John 19:28 we have this seemingly insignificant detail recorded that right before Jesus died He uttered the words, “I thirst.” Of interest to us is: (1) why did Jesus say this and (2) why did John see fit to record these words when arguably every word and action John records serves the purpose of making a larger theological point?

Why did Jesus say “I thirst”?

There are a few reasons why Jesus said these words. First, Jesus said “I thirst” because He was literally and legitimately thirsty. Jesus had been tortured and was under the hot Sun. The Son of God is not only 100 percent God but also 100 percent man. He experienced things like hunger and thirst no differently than the rest of us. It is actually safe to say that Jesus knew thirst in a way that we will never know thirst.

Second, Jesus said “I thirst” because He was intentionally fulfilling Scripture which is why John says “[Jesus] said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”” These words connect back to Psalm 69:21 (“for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink”) and offer another Scriptural evidence that Jesus of Nazareth really is the promised Messiah.

One more reason that Jesus utters the words “I thirst” is so that John could record these words and show us deep theological truths about Jesus.

Why did John record Jesus saying, “I thirst”?

There is a theme of our thirst and Jesus quenching that thirst that builds throughout the book of John.

In John 4 we find Jesus interacting with the woman at the well who is thirsty. This woman is thirsty in ways she doesn’t fully understand. Her thirst isn’t primarily physical but spiritual. This spiritual thirst is evidenced by the fact that she has had five husbands and the man she was currently with was not her husband. What Jesus saw in this woman was an emptiness and discontentment that only living water could fix. This thirst is thirst that speaks to the heart of every person born in a sin riddled world. As we begin to see ourselves depicted in this woman our ears become attentive to what Jesus is offering.


Then in John 6 Jesus teaches that His “flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” and that “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (6:55-56). The connection between John 4 and John 6 is that the living water promised to the woman at the well is revealed to be the sacrificial work of Jesus made complete and sufficient through His death on the cross. It is only through consuming Christ (His completed work) through faith in Christ (6:40) that the woman’s spiritual thirst (and our thirst) can be quenched.

This necessary suffering is why Jesus in John 18 rebukes Peter for drawing his sword and attempting to use physical force to protect Him. What Jesus understands that Peter does not is that He must drink from “the cup” (18:11) of suffering. What drives all of Jesus’ suffering, including His thirst, is that He is willingly submitting to plan of the Father to suffer for our sins.

Jesus was thirsty so you don’t have to be

Standing back and looking at John as a whole it becomes clear that in order for Jesus to quench our thirst, He must thirst for us. His thirst is literal and legitimate but at the same time representative of His suffering.

Without Jesus being crushed by God’s wrath, we would inevitably be crushed instead of quenched. In the Father’s infinite wisdom He saw fit to pour out His wrath on His very Son so that we wouldn’t have to be.

Are you thirsty and leaning on someone or something else to quench that thirst? This thirst can only be quenched by Jesus.

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 24 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

You Can’t Help Others Until You Understand Them

On February 20, 1995, Willie King, a 52-year-old diabetic, was scheduled to have his right leg amputated below the knee. As if losing a leg wasn’t enough, when Willie regained consciousness from the operation the surgeon informed him that he had accidentally amputated the wrong leg. In this case, a lack of accurate information cost Willie King his leg, cost the hospital $900,000, and the surgeon was ordered to pay out $250,000. This misdiagnosis led to far more damage than if nothing had been done at all.

Similarly, we can do more harm than good when we try to speak truth to someone without fully understanding them or their circumstances. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 gives us a few categories to have in our brains as we are seeking to help others. Paul wrote, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

This passage is a command for all believers to be engaged in what is called interpersonal ministry, or discipleship. As Christians speak God’s truth to one another the church matures into Christlikeness (Ephesians 4:1-16). This act of engaging in interpersonal ministry can be quite intimidating. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 provides hope for fearful disciple-makers by helping us understand the person we are trying to help and how we should respond to them.

3 Dispositions & 3 Responses

First, there are those that are unruly. The unruly, or idle, are those that deliberately disobey the teaching of God’s Word. An example would be the professing believer who is abandoning his family to pursue an adulterous relationship. Or, the lady who is stealing from work by clocking in when she is not actually at the office. The proper way to respond to the unruly is to warn them of the dangers of sin (Proverbs 13:15) and to admonish them to turn from sin and return to Christ (2 Samuel 12:7). They often need help to see the holiness, righteousness, and justice of God.

A second disposition is the faint-hearted. These are the ones that are discouraged and tempted to give up in their pursuit of Christ. This might be a teenager whose parents are in the middle of a messy divorce. It could be the widow who is wondering if she will ever get used to going to bed alone. This person doesn’t need a warning the way the unruly does. Instead, we should seek to encourage by leading the faint-hearted to the gentle Savior. Often, the faint-hearted are very aware that God is ruler and judge, they often need reminding that God is also Father. We can come alongside and help by pointing them to God’s faithfulness, love, sovereign care, and unending grace.

Lastly, Paul mentions the weak. The weak could refer to those that have a weak conscience (Romans 14:1), those who are particularly susceptible to sin and temptation (Romans 5:6), or those that society has abandoned like the poor, the addict, or the refugee (1 Corinthians 1:27). The weak do not need a rebuke and encouragement will not go far enough. They need to be upheld. They need the kind of attention and care that the world would say is over the top. To hold someone up is to say, “hitch your life and faith to mine and we will get through this together.” As God’s people, we don’t run away from the weak. Instead, we take an interest in, pay attention to, and remain loyal to those who need to be upheld.

The Need for Balance

1 Thessalonians 5:14 is a call to action, but it is also a call for balance in the way we deal with people. David Powlison says, “Probably each of us who does ministry tends towards one of the characteristic forms of helping. It’s your gift. But left to itself, it remains unbalanced. That is part of why God has given us [1 Thessalonians] 5:14, to keep us from being blinded by our best gifts. We are called to broaden our vision, to work out of our comfort zone. A hammer thinks everything is a nail; a blanket, treats everyone as shivering; a wheelchair thinks everyone needs a lift. But wisdom sees people for what they are and gives what is needed.”

We need wisdom to discern the need of the moment. We don’t comfort the unrepentant adulterer, we don’t rebuke the sexual assault victim, and we don’t admonish the one who just found out she has cancer. We take time to consider whether the person sitting across the table is unruly, faint-hearted, or weak and we respond appropriately.

We also need the courage to do what does not come naturally to us. Personally, I lean towards encouragement above admonishing and upholding. I don’t enjoy the awkwardness of admonishing others. So, if I’m not careful I will seek to encourage when correction would be more appropriate. Consider which of these 3 responses–admonish, encourage, uphold–you are more prone to and ask God to give you the courage to respond in a way that doesn’t suit your strengths.

Lastly, we need patience. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 ends with a call to be patient with everyone, regardless of their current disposition. We exercise great patience as those who are cognizant of the fact that God has been patient with us. Peter reminds us, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). We seek to be patient with others in an effort to imitate our patient Savior.

May the Lord grant us the wisdom, courage, and patience we all need to engage others in discipleship.

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Thessalonians 5:14 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

David Powlison in “Familial Counseling: The Paradigm for Counselor-Counselee Relationships in 1 Thessalonians 5,” Journal of Biblical Counseling, Winter 2007, PP2-16

Disciple-Being: A call to be discipled

In 1992 Gatorade released the “Be Like Mike” commercial in which viewers were called to be like Michael Jordan. He had become such a household name that his renown was felt nationally. Most people already wanted to be like Mike, the commercial just gave voice to this sentiment. Since then this commercial and its message have been scrutinized many times by pastors and Bible teachers as they call their listeners not to be like Mike but to be like Jesus Christ, and rightly so. But how do we reconcile this noble commitment to not mimic other people with passages like Philippians 3:17 where Paul says, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us”? Are we to be followers of Christ or other people? Biblically speaking the answer is both.

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

What Paul is getting at in Philippians 3:17 (and again in 4:9) seems counterintuitive to our modern Christian mindset but this does not need to be the case. Paul does not view his words as a challenge to following Christ because Paul is only calling his readers to follow him to the extent that he follows Christ. This is most clearly observed in 1 Corinthians 11:1 when Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” In Paul’s theology he considers it a grace to be in the presence of other brothers and sisters in Christ who are more mature and seasoned in the faith. This concept of imitating other believers as they imitate Christ is also found in 1 Corinthians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 9; 2 Timothy 4:12; Hebrews 13:7; 1 Peter 5:3.

Disciple makers are being discipled

I’ve heard Mark Dever say, “If you say you are following Jesus but are not helping others to know and follow Jesus then I don’t know what you mean when you say ‘I follow Jesus.” Dever’s point is hard to accept but is certainly biblical (Matthew 28:19-20). It should be part of our normal Christian experience to help others follow Jesus. But making disciples is not the only ‘normal’ part of our Christian experience.

What Paul’s words remind us is that being discipled is also part of our normal Christian experience. God intends both being discipled and making disciples to be coexisting realities for the life of believers. We never graduate to the role of ‘disciple-maker’ in such a way that we can leave behind our need to be discipled. Maybe ask yourself the question, ‘who is currently helping me better follow Jesus?’

Clarifying comments


This commitment to be disciples doesn’t mean that there must be a person whom you have formally asked to disciple you or that there is a person who sees himself/herself as being your spiritual father/mother/counselor/advisor/mentor. Often these relationships are informal and organic in nature. The person you see fulfilling this role for you may even be surprised that you see him/her in this way. For others, this relationship may be may formal and structured and that is more than okay.

The core of what Paul is calling believers to is to identify individuals who are more mature in their following of Christ than you are and to imitate them. The person you have in mind may not be more mature in Christ than you in every way but he/she must necessarily be more mature at least in many ways and therefore a good source of imitation. Having someone(s) you look to as a point of reference for imitating Christ helps us see the commands of Scripture come to life in concrete and culturally ways.

Praise God that He saw fit to grow us into Christ-likeness along with others!

Credits

Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 24 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Quote from Mark Dever obtained from The Gospel Coalition book review for Dever’s book Discipling.

Does God Really Hate Religion?

“Inconceivable!”

“You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.”

So goes the dialogue in one of the most memorable scenes of perhaps the greatest comedy ever made, The Princess Bride.

I believe you could level the same critique at the way the word “religion” is used in Christian circles today. Whether on a podcast, on social media, or in a sermon you have probably been exposed to more than one person proclaiming that God hates religion. Or maybe you’ve heard that God wants a relationship, not religion. Or, Jesus came to abolish religion. It has become common for Christians to use the word “religion” in a strictly negative sense. It has become synonymous with legalism, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness. Religion is understood to be all law and no grace.

What is the problem with equating religion with legalism, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness? The Bible doesn’t allow for such a simplistic understanding. James 1:27 speaks of religion that is “pure and undefiled.” If Jesus hates religion, he forgot to tell his brother James. In the Bible, religion can devolve into a legalistic routine, rote ritual, and self-righteous attitudes, or religion can be pure and undefiled. What makes the difference?

What Is Pure Religion?

Pure religion has three necessary components: true faith, proper ritual, and godly living. This can be seen in James 1:26-27 wherein the brother of Jesus contrasts worthless religion with pure religion. James wrote, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Let’s look at each of the three aspects of pure religion from this passage:

  1. True Faith. Pure religion before God begins with a proper understanding of Christ and a proper response to his sacrificial death and victorious resurrection. John Piper argues that “religion” in James 1 is synonymous with “faith in Christ” in James 2. He states, “The reason I think he means ‘faith in Jesus’ when he uses the word ‘religious”’(1:26), or talks about ‘pure and undefiled religion’ (1:27), is that this is what he continues with in the next verse (2:1): ‘My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.’ There is no break in the flow between 1:27 and 2:1; so there is good reason to think that ‘pure religion’ is ‘faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.’”
  2. Proper Ritual. In v. 26 James is critiquing those who engage in religious activities (praying, fasting, and worshipping in community) but are divisive with their words. James is not being critical of religious activities themselves, he is simply pointing out that engaging in these activities is pointless if they aren’t bracketed by true faith in Christ on one side and godly living on the other. Jesus himself was often engaged in religious observances. He taught the Scriptures in the synagogue (Luke 4:31-37), he engaged in prayer often (Luke 5:16), he instituted the Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:12–26) and church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20), et al.
  3. Godly Living. The main point of James’ critique is that true faith, presumably accompanied by meaningful engagement in religious worship, will produce godly living. Specifically, it will produce a deep concern for orphans and widows. David H. Peters writes, “true piety helps the helpless, for God is the God who secures the rights of those who have no hope.” True religion, James goes on to argue, also produces a separation from the evil influences of the pervading culture.

What Does God Hate?

Now we are in a position to better consider what it is that God hates. He certainly doesn’t hate what James has called “pure and undefiled” religion–True faith in Christ, proper engagement in religious practices, and godliness. What God hates is religion that is lacking in one or more of the three areas listed above. He hates legalism–believing that we can earn God’s righteousness through being good–because it fails to properly understand and trust Christ. He hates hypocrisy because it claims to believe rightly about Christ, but doesn’t result in a deep concern for others or separation from the world. He hates self-righteousness because it tries to obey outwardly but lacks true worship and reliance on God through prayer, fasting, and worship.

It is not that God hates religion, he hates religion that is in clear defiance to his good will.

Conclusion

One of the reasons that the motto “God hates religion” is so attractive to us is that it gives us the illusion of having all the benefits of Jesus without all of his demands. It allows us to pick and choose which parts of the Bible we should submit to and which parts are just a little too “religious” for our relationship with God. It is tempting to cast off all the commands of Scripture we don’t like and label them as mere religious legalism. However, if we do that, we are actually participating in the very thing we are decrying, namely, a religious system that God hates.

Credits

PhPhoto by Marie Bellando-Mitjans on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (James 1:26-27 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

John Piper sermon quoted above can be found here: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/visiting-orphans-in-a-world-of-aids-and-abortion.

David H. Peters, The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1982) 103.

Thoughts on Sharing Christ with Your Child

I have served in children’s ministry for the past six years and am the father of two children under six years old. As a result of both of these blessings I have developed some thoughts on how to best share the hope of Christ with kids. I hope you find these thoughts helpful as you pursue making disciples in your home and ministry.

Be clear about what the Gospel is (and is not).

When we talk about evangelism or sharing Christ we are talking about sharing the Gospel. The Gospel is a specific set of truths connected to the person and redemptive work of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul reminds his readers of the Gospel which “saves” (v.1). In verses three and four he identifies that the Gospel is the good news that ‘Christ died for our sins’ (v.3; ESV), that Christ ‘was buried’ (v.4), and that Christ was ‘raised on the third day’ (v.4). These three truths describe the Gospel in its most simplified form.

The Gospel is not a catch all term for telling your child about God in a generic way. The Gospel is the good news that God the Father sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins and that Jesus defeated death and rose from the grave three days after being buried.

Be clear about how to respond to the Gospel.

When Paul says that the Gospel “saves” (1 Corinthians 15:1) it implies that God wants people to be saved by it. Further, when Paul says, “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:1) he connects the work of Christ to our sinful state. Your kid’s response to the Gospel arises from their perception of needing to be saved.  Unless they first see themselves as sinners in need of saving they will never see the Gospel as necessary.

The Gospel does not exist so that our kids can be empowered and inspired to be better people and as a result earn God’s favor. The free offer of the Gospel is if anyone believes in Jesus and His completed work he/she will be saved and inherit eternal life (John 3:16). Our hearts are naturally sin bent to want to believe that God’s love is something that can be harnessed and controlled by good works, but it isn’t. This wrong thinking often even creeps into spiritual conversations we have with our kids when we are talking about salvation.

Help kids think conceptually about the Gospel.

The truth of the Gospel is so simple that children can believe it but it is not so simple that it doesn’t need explaining. The concepts native to the message of the Gospel can be difficult for kids to understand. Concepts like sin, consequences, forgiveness, and faith are essential concepts that must be explained for the Gospel to make any sense to the hearer. This is especially true for children. Sometimes we as adults take for granted that we didn’t always understand what these words and concepts mean. Each of us as ministers of the Gospel must walk slowly our children as they learn the truths of the Gospel and the truths the Gospel is built upon.

For example, faith can be incredibly difficult for a child to understand. One effective way I have found to explain the meaning of faith is by using the illustration of a chair. If I say I have faith in a chair I mean that I trust the chair do what it was designed to do. The way my faith in that chair is demonstrated is that I actually sit and rest on it. Likewise, we are called to have faith in the completed work of Jesus. We put faith in Jesus by trusting that He accomplished for us on the cross what He said He accomplished. When I rest in Jesus no longer am I trying to earn my way to Heaven.

Closing Thoughts

Be patient with your child. Learning the Gospel takes time. Remember that believing the Gospel is a supernatural work of the Spirit (John 3:7-8; 1 John 5:1). You cannot cause or coerce your child to believe in the Gospel. We plant and water that Gospel seed but we recognize that God alone can produce growth (1 Corinthians 3:7).

Be patient with yourself. Not every spiritual conversation with your child has to explain the Gospel in its entirety. You are going to have incomplete conversations with your child that leave you feeling inadequate and ill-equipped. You are not alone. Your job is to be a faithful witness to the truth of Gospel so that your child may hear the Gospel (Romans 10:14-15). Don’t give up. Keep pressing forward by being a good student of the Gospel yourself and looking for opportunities to have Gospel pointed conversations. By God’s grace He uses imperfect parents with imperfect presentations of the Gospel to bring children to saving faith in Christ.

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 24 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Vanessa Bucceri on Unsplash

3 Convictions for a Consistent Prayer Life

Prayer is an area that nearly every Christian has room for greater consistency and discipline. That is actually the easy part to admit. It is more difficult to acknowledge that our lack of prayer flows from wrong thinking about God and ourselves. Our natural bent is towards unbelief and self-sufficiency. These tendencies often keep us from praying.

As we peer into the Word of God we find help for our prayerlessness in the opening pages of 1 Samuel. The book begins with a woman weeping in Shiloh. Her name is Hannah, and she teaches us much about prayer. A close inspection of Hannah’s story points us ultimately to God’s faithfulness and demonstrates that his character fuels our prayers. If Hannah were our instructor in the school of prayer, I believe she would give us 3 necessary convictions for a consistent prayer life.

1. Recognize Your Dependence

One conviction we must develop is a deep recognition of our dependence on God and his grace. We will never consistently pray without a settled understanding that we, as sinful creatures, need the Lord. I once heard a preacher say that a Christian’s prayerlessness is his/her declaration of independence from God. When we fail to pray regularly, we are demonstrating a reliance on self that is antithetical to the Scriptures. So, instead of pretending like we have it all together, we begin by admitting that we are actually quite needy.

We see this demonstrated in the life of Hannah. Upon first meeting her, we learn that she is absolutely devastated by her inability to conceive a child. On top of that, her husband makes his best case for “the boneheaded move of the year award” when he asks her, “…why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8 ESV). [A word of wisdom to husbands reading this, if you come across your wife crying, the answer is never to remind her how blessed she is to have you in her life]. Worst than the dumb question, Hannah’s husband has taken another wife, Peninnah, who has been able to bear children. Peninnah is relentless in her mocking and bullying of Hannah (see 1 Samuel 1:6-7).

All of this culminates in Hannah being broken. Her circumstances, family, and friends have all failed to provide hope. She is in such anguish that she has stopped eating. In her pain, she understands that there is only one place she can run. And run she does, straight to the throne of grace.

2. Believe God Cares

It is not enough to know we need God, we must believe that he cares. We need to know that our cries are heard by a tender and loving Father. God, by sheer grace, invites us to pour out our fears, our failings, our desires, and our griefs to him. It doesn’t make him nervous or embarrassed. He delights in hearing from his children.

Hannah is found at the Temple “pouring out her soul out before the Lord” because she believes that God is the type of God that cares for his children (1 Samuel 1:15). Dale Ralph Davis makes the connection between her desperate prayer and her belief that God cares, “[Hannah] addresses Yahweh of hosts, cosmic ruler, sovereign of every and all power, and assumes that the broken heart of a relatively obscure woman in the hill country of Ephraim matters to him.”

Hannah is so eccentric in her prayer that the priest on duty assumes that she is drunk (1 Samuel 1:14). While the priest is guessing about Hannah’s state of mind, the Lord of the universe has leaned in to hear her plea.

3. Trust God’s Sovereignty

God not only cares, but he is also sovereign, meaning he can and will bring about that which he wills. He is powerful enough to answer any request. He can save the person you’ve nearly given up praying for. He can deliver your child from the deepest bondage to sin. He can restore broken relationships. He can comfort in the deepest affliction.

We see Hannah’s trust in God’s sovereignty in the way she addresses him. She calls him “Lord (Yahweh) of Hosts,” a title signifying his rule over the entire universe. He is the sovereign Lord who commands all the armies of heaven. There is seemingly no doubt in Hannah’s mind that the one who “closed her womb’ (1:5) is the one powerful enough to reverse her fortunes. Hannah’s trust in the sovereignty of God doesn’t lead her to a “ho-hum why should I pray if God is sovereign?” sort of attitude. Instead, it was her understanding of the sovereignty of God that drove her to pray.

Conclusion

No schedule, no app, no amount of alarms can create in us a desire to pray. After all, Hannah didn’t run to the Lord because she realized she hadn’t done her daily quiet time. She came out of a clear understanding that she needed him to act, a firm belief that he cared to listen, and a settled trust that he was powerful enough to deliver her. Likewise, let us rest in these truths and find in ourselves a growing desire to pour our souls out before the Lord.

Credits

Photo by Hamish Clark on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Proverbs 9:10 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Dale Ralph Davis, I Samuel: Looking on the Heart (Christian Focus: Ross-Shire, Scotland, 1988) 18.

Why God Creates “Bad” Days For You

“Bad” days are relative to each person’s experience but we all have them. Sometimes our bad days are things like car problems or allergy issues, but then other times our bad days involve more difficult news. Our tendency is to think if we just had (fill in the blank) then we could avoid bad days, but this is not the case. Even Solomon had bad days despite his immense wealth and wisdom. While Solomon’s unparalleled resources were unable to protect him, his theology accounted for bad days so that he could process them in a God-honoring way. In Ecclesiastes 7:14 Solomon’s theology for understanding bad days is spelled out, “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.” (ESV). Solomon’s words are significant because he addresses “bad” days (‘days of adversity’) and in the process he gives us insight into both their source and purpose.

Where do bad days come from?

The book of Job shows us that even when Satan is the immediate culprit behind our difficult days that God, at the very least, has to sign off on what happens (Job 1:12). This is a hard truth to chew on and stomach. It is easier for our brains to process God being the cause of all pleasant things and the Devil being the cause of all difficult things in our lives. We like these nice and tidy categories but in God’s economy things are not this simple.

While bad days may be the immediate result of our choices or even Satan’s meddling, nothing happens outside the providential and inscrutable hand of God (Proverbs 16:33). At the very least God could have stopped or prevented the events and situations which result in what we deem a “bad day” but for reasons we cannot understand, He didn’t. So, during days of ‘adversity’ we strive to remember that “God has made the one as well as the other,” meaning that we remember God’s good and wise hands design and bring into existence what we often call “bad days.”

Why does God create (or at least allow) bad days?

God being the creator of bad days does not make God some kind of ant-bully arbitrarily dispensing pain to helpless beings. Romans 8:28 speaks to God’s good and providential plan in all things (“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good”). We know that God is using all events, even bad days, for our good which is Christ-likeness. What isn’t immediately clear is how God uses bad days to mold us into being the people He desires us to be. As we continue to read the words of Solomon we see that he speaks to this issue with specificity.

When Solomon says, “so that man may not find out anything that will be after him” (7:14) he is speaking to the specific purpose as to why God brings hard days into our paths. The translation from Hebrew to English comes across a bit weird but the phrase means, God does not want people to know or predict their future.

God knows that as imperfect, sinful humans we are relentlessly self-reliant. If we can leave God out of the equation, we will. We like to be able to predict and even control what tomorrow holds based on what we do (or don’t do) today. The logic is, “If I did _______ today, then I can expect ________ tomorrow.” The problem with this kind of thinking is that it keeps God on the fringes of our lives because it is an attempt to work around needing God’s grace and mercy. Thankfully, God is too kind to let us go on this way. We need the presence and grace of God every day and God knows how to force the issue so that we don’t begin to think otherwise.

In Closing

What we read in Ecclesiastes 7:14 does not make “bad” days any more enjoyable. The grace of Solomon’s words is that for those of us who are God’s people (true followers of Christ), our bad days gain perspective. No “bad” day is wasted in God’s providential care.
Even on our worst days God is not distant and unconcerned. We don’t get to know all the ways that God is using difficult days to accomplish His purposes but it is clear that He is using them to continually make us reliant on Him.

Credits

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 24 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Fear God, Find Wisdom

I went through an odd music phase in high school where I really began to enjoy oldies music. This probably had a lot to do with the fact that my waterproof shower radio only picked up one station and it happened to be the local oldies broadcast. One song that often played was Everybody Plays the Fool by the Main Ingredient. What the title suggests is true, there are no exceptions, we all play the fool sometimes. But, nobody really desires to be the fool.

Instead, we all want to be wise. After all, Proverbs reminds us that wisdom is more valuable than silver or gold (Prov. 3:14). Those who find wisdom are considered blessed (Prov. 3:13). The wise “will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man” (Prov. 3:4). Needless to say, wisdom is to be valued and sought after with perseverance. If we are to pursue wisdom–true wisdom, the type of wisdom that is priceless–we must understand that wisdom begins with fearing God. Solomon, the wise king of Israel, wrote, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10). If we desire to be wise, we must first consider what it means to fear God.

What Does it Mean to Fear God?

In C. S. Lewis’s beloved novel The Lion, The Witch and Wardrobe four children stumble into the fantastical world of Narnia. They find themselves at Mr. and Mrs. Beavers home being instructed about the Christ-figure Aslan. When the children discover that Aslan is a lion, they naturally have some questions about whether it is safe to meet him. Mr. Beaver responds, “Safe? … Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”


The fear of the Lord is a holy reverence for God flowing from a right understanding of God resulting in submission to God.


In Narnia, Aslan reigns as both the sovereign Lord as well as the good and gracious king. He is neither a domesticated house cat nor a violent ruler. Peter, the oldest of the four children, responds appropriately to the unsafe, yet good Aslan. He says, “I’m longing to see him. Even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point.” Like Peter, a proper understanding of God leads us to a sense of fear and, at the same time, a longing to know him. In affirming both the complete holiness of God and the goodness of God we can begin to understand what it means for us to fear God.

The fear of the Lord is a holy reverence for God flowing from a right understanding of God resulting in submission to God. Often when we consider fear we think only of being terrified. However, to fear God is less horror and more reverence. It is something that goes beyond mere respect for God but stops short of sheer terror. Therefore, to fear God is to revere him or to stand in awe of him.

This reverence develops as we properly understand God as he has revealed himself in Scripture. For instance, in Ecclesiastes 3:14 fearing God is directly linked to his sovereign power, “I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him.” Further, After pointing out God’s transcendence, holiness, and righteousness, Ecclesiastes 5:7 concludes, “God is the one you must fear.” When we understand our state as sinful creatures before a holy God, the proper response is fear, reverence, or awe. How then does a proper fear of God lead us into greater wisdom?

How is Fearing God Connected to Wisdom?

In the Bible, wisdom is a moral category as opposed to an intellectual one. Wisdom is living life God’s way in God’s world for God’s glory. Wisdom grants a person the ability to navigate the tumultuous waters of life in a way that pleases God. The fool, on the other hand, lives as if God does not exist (Psalm 14:1). He is described not as an intellectual dummy, but as the one who disregards his creator.

With this understanding of wisdom, it is easy to see why the fear of the Lord is the foundation of all wisdom. There is no true wisdom apart from a proper attitude and relationship to God. God is the source of true wisdom. Therefore, a deep reverence for God leads us to want to please him in all the various aspects of life including the way we spend our money, how we treat others, the words we use, how we handle lust, our responses to suffering, and a thousand other moments.

There is such things as false wisdom (Isaiah 5:21), earthly wisdom (James 3:15), and worldly thinking that parades itself as wisdom (Colossians 2:23). However, true wisdom–the skill to know God’s agenda and the motivation to live it out–begins only with a proper reverence for God. This is the very foundation in which wisdom is built. In essence, we will never walk in biblical wisdom until we cherish the God of all wisdom.

In Closing

We all want wisdom, but the path is often painful. Wisdom comes from humbling ourselves before God. To quote C. S. Lewis once more, “In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that–you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud, you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

Do you revere God? Have you experienced the freedom of humbling yourself before him? If not, begin by looking to the cross of Christ. The wise King, Jesus Christ, died a brutal death to rescue you from the treason of living life like he doesn’t matter. The one who is immeasurably beyond you, humbled himself to rescue you. Turn to him and find mercy, fear him and find wisdom.

Credits

Photo by Jonathan Bowers on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Proverbs 9:10 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

C. S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (New York: Collier Brooks, 1972) 75-76.

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1958) 56.