Boast! James 1:9-11

James 1:9-11

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

James continues to give his readers encouragement and instruction in their suffering. We have seen the joy that we can, and will have in trial. We have seen the warning concerning doubt in suffering and have been reminded about the wisdom of God.

James now encourages and challenges the believers with truth about the temporal nature of our lives and riches here on earth and turns our focus to the eternal work that God has done in us.

James speaks to two different kinds of people; the lowly and the rich. He tells each of them to do the same thing; to BOAST – but in different directions; the lowly in his EXALTATION and the rich in his HUMILIATION.

What is James getting at here? What does he mean by telling the lowly to boast in their exaltation and the rich to boast in their humiliation? Doesn’t Scripture tell us that we are only supposed to boast in Christ?

as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” I Cor. 1:31

I think the answer is found in asking another question.

WHO has exalted the lowly, and WHO has humiliated the rich?

Answer: God.

I find it interesting that James doesn’t use the word “poor” here in contrast to the rich but he uses the word “lowly” which makes me think James isn’t just talking about material riches or poverty (although I think he is making a point about those things as well). He is getting at something deeper.

As believers, and James is speaking to believers, God reaches down and takes us where we are at, lowly or proud, poor or rich; poor and proud, rich and proud, rich and depressed, poor and happy, rich and happy, poor and depressed; wherever we find ourselves, and appropriately brings our hearts and spirits to a place that can and does understand and trust the gospel.

God takes the lowly, the poor, the depressed, the self-hating, and he shows them the gospel, and the gospel gives them an identity, an adoption, and an inheritance that lifts them out of their lowliness (whether material or in spirit), and gives them worth in Christ and promises them spiritual wealth this side of heaven and spiritual and material wealth in eternity. This is how God exalts the lowly and the lowly can boast in how God has exalted their position in Christ.

James also tells the rich to boast, but not in their exaltation rather in their humiliation. James here contrasts the rich with the lowly which I think warrants the interpretation that James isn’t just speaking about those with material wealth, he is speaking about those who think they can make it in this life and the next depending on their own resources, intellect, money, wit, fame, or power- riches of many kinds. The concept is one of self-dependence, pride, and an inflated view of ones own worth, (whether financial or any other way) apart from God. So… lest you think, “I’m not rich… this verse is not about me,” think again, it might be.

Physical riches are relative. I don’t consider myself a rich person, and most people who live in the United States would NOT come to my house or look at my bank account balance and say, “wow she is rich.” At the same time there are MANY around the world who WOULD walk into my house and be blown away by the riches and comforts they see, and there are many around the world who could live for years, in their country, with what I have in my bank account. So my point is, riches are relative and you don’t have to consider yourself rich in order to find your heart wrapped up in your earthly possessions, pursuits, life goals, intellect, or experiences. If you are self-dependent and trusting in your own resources (whatever those resources are), you fall into the “rich” category no matter how big or small your account or house.

So when God saves the rich (or the rich at heart/rich in spirit/ self-dependent in spirit) he takes their inflated and proud view of their riches and self-dependence and he makes them see their utter worthlessness apart from Christ. He humiliates the rich and self-dependent so that they can see the gospel and know their desperate need for a Savior. So… the rich are to BOAST in their humiliation because it has led to their salvation in Christ.

To sum up, the testimony of the rich is that they needed Christ… and the testimony of the lowly, is that they too needed Christ. And God has brought both of their hearts to where they needed to be in order to show them the glory of Christ and the glory of the gospel so that they could each BOAST in what God has done for them.

Jeremiah 9:23-24

23 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

What James says next confirms this idea that both the lowly and the rich need the same thing. James gives a singular reason that the lowly and the rich are to boast in what God has done in their lives: What’s the reason? “because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.”

Both the lowly and the rich need Christ because both, will pass away like the grass. James is turning our attention to the temporary nature of our lives here on earth and calling both the rich and the lowly to boast in the eternal work that God has done, whether a lifting up or a merciful humbling (and for most people both), because our lives here on earth are temporary.

The lowly need not wallow in self-pity, the rich need not perish in their arrogance because the state of both: the state of having nothing in this world and the state of having everything in this world is temporary because this world, this life, our lives in this world are temporary…like the grass.

The Temporal and Eternal in the Context of Suffering

Just for a second here I want to take a step back and look at these two verses in the context of suffering. We can’t forget these verses are sandwhiched in the middle of James speaking about trial and suffering. Two verses down (vs. 12) James is going to speak again directly about suffering and point us directly to eternal rewards for our persevering through trial.

So how does this passage help a believer going through suffering and trial?

James is emphasizing the temporal nature of our earthly lives. No doubt many of these scattered believers had lost their material and temporal riches and James is skillfully bringing their attention back to the riches they have in their salvation. He is saying, “look at what God has done, look at how he has saved you, exalted you from a lowly position, humbled you from your self-exalted position and brought you into life eternal….boast in that!”

We boast in what we value and we boast in what we are sure of, and in the midst of suffering, and change, and trial, the thing we as believers are the most sure of and should bring our full attention to, is what God has done for us in Christ. Our salvation (who is Christ) is our solid rock in changing times, that is our hope in painful suffering…that is our boast; Christ.

Back to Verse 11

James continues with his analogy illustrating the temporary nature of our lives and this time he directly compares it to the rich man fading away in the midst of his pursuits.

Verse 11 :

For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.\

In verses 9 and 10 James speaks to both the lowly and the rich and says both will pass away. Now he turns his gaze more directly to the rich man and his pursuits. James doesn’t rebuke the rich man for being rich, he simply, once again points to the temporary nature of earthly PURSUITS for riches. This has more of an emphasis on the direction of the heart rather than a counting of ones possession to see if one might be considered “rich.”

Again, the question isn’t, “am I rich?” or “should I feel guilty for my possessions?” or “should I quit my job so I don’t get richer?” the question is, “is my heart wrapped up in pursuits of temporary riches and am I dependent upon those pursuits and riches for my life, my salvation, my comfort, my meaning, my purpose, my joy?” Or…. do I understand that whatever earthly comfort I have will fade away along with my own life here on earth and do I then, out of that belief, place my heart and its dependence solidly upon the Lord and the eternal riches that HE offers.

I think we might tend to see this passage as simply a rebuke to the rich for being rich!

I think this passage can and does serve as a rebuke for those wrapped up in earthly temporary pursuits. But I think this passage is more than a rebuke but also serves as a comfort and reminder for those brothers and sisters whose riches may have been stripped from them for the sake of Christ.

Imagine if you were a rich believer in the days of the early church and you were being persecuted and scattered, and in all that persecution your riches, and maybe even your livelihood, were stripped from you. To that person, this passage is no rebuke, but a gentle comforting reminder to focus on and boast in the eternal things God has done in them, as well as a reminder that all they had worked for materially was going to fade away in the end anyways (So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.) They have really lost nothing, and have gained everything! What a comforting reminder that would be!

So whatever boat you find yourself in today, lowly or rich or somewhere in between, BOAST in CHRIST! Boast in how he has humiliated you. Boast in how he has exalted you. If you are a child of the King, he has done BOTH for you!

Let the Redeemed of the Lord say so! Psalm 107

I want to end with Psalm 107

In Psalm 107 the author describes different kinds of people coming from different places whom God has gathered together from all direction- from the east, west, north and south- to be his people.

The author opens the Psalm with a command for those who have been redeemed to declare their story of redemption. To BOAST! To boast in what God has done for them.

The writer tells 4 of their stories. He tell how God brought them from places of lowly despair, of haughty rebellion, of foolish ignorance, of pursuing business and riches, and brought each of them to the same place- crying to Lord in their trouble. And for each of them God does the same thing, he delivers them from their distress, because of his steadfast love; He redeems them.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to a city to dwell in;
hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
till they reached a city to dwell in.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

10 Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
prisoners in affliction and in irons,
11 for they had rebelled against the words of God,
and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12 So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
they fell down, with none to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
and burst their bonds apart.
15 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
16 For he shatters the doors of bronze
and cuts in two the bars of iron.

17 Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
20 He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
22 And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!

23 Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men
and were at their wits’ end.[
b]
28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
29 He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad that the waters[
c] were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
31 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

33 He turns rivers into a desert,
springs of water into thirsty ground,
34 a fruitful land into a salty waste,
because of the evil of its inhabitants.
35 He turns a desert into pools of water,
a parched land into springs of water.
36 And there he lets the hungry dwell,
and they establish a city to live in;
37 they sow fields and plant vineyards
and get a fruitful yield.
38 By his blessing they multiply greatly,
and he does not let their livestock diminish.

39 When they are diminished and brought low
through oppression, evil, and sorrow,
40 he pours contempt on princes
and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
41 but he raises up the needy out of affliction
and makes their families like flocks.
42 The upright see it and are glad,
and all wickedness shuts its mouth.

43 Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things;
let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.

 

Doubt Part 2: Description of a Doubter

Hello Friends,

This post is a continuation of my last post on doubting; a part 2 of sorts so if you haven’t read part one I would suggest going back and reading part 1.

https://washed611.wordpress.com/2020/04/14/doubt-james-15-8/.

James 1:5-8

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

James describes what a doubter is like. He gives three descriptions.

  1. A doubter is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind

A doubter is not controlled by the wisdom of God but rather by his own emotions, by what those close to him say, and by popular opinion.

I don’t know if this is what James had in mind when he uses this simile of a doubting man and a wave of the sea, but it reminds of a story in Matthew 14:28-33.

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind,  he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

I love this story because in it you see the mixed emotions and struggling faith of Peter. Peter had faith enough to ask Jesus to command him to come into the water but his faith dissipated when we was right in the middle of the storm and he starts to sink. This is an incredible picture of what the life of a doubting believer in the middle of a storm of suffering looks like. And when Peter is sinking what does he do? He desperately sees his need, even in the midst of his doubt and cries out for his Lord to save him. And Jesus IMMEDIATELY reaches out and took hold of him and saves him.

But while Jesus is saving Peter he gives, what I imagine to be, a gentle rebuke along with a soul searching question. First he says, “O you of little faith.” Jesus points out Peter’s lack of faith and then asks him to evaluate the root cause of his little faith by asking him “why did you doubt?”

This is an incredibly good question for doubters struggling in their faith. I think sometimes we focus on the little faith part of it, and ask “what can I do to have a stronger faith?” and we try to believe harder, read the right passages, search for better more emotionally satisfying answers for the problem of our pain and suffering, or the problem of hell, or the problem of sovereignty and human will or whatever problem your doubting seems to revolve around.

Instead what many of us should be doing is examining our sin of doubting and asking ourselves, “why do I doubt God?” And at its root we will almost certainly find pride, fear, and/or, anger. As long as those sins remain our faith will always be “little”. The first step to strengthening our faith is facing our doubting and the sins of pride, fear, or anger that often lurk beneath our doubt.

Now I don’t want to miss the point if this story. Because the main point of this story isn’t Peters faith and doubting, although I think we can learn about faith and doubting in it. The point of the story is that Jesus is who he says he is and can be trusted! He is the Son of God! He is God! All wise. All powerful. And as we see in this story, ever gracious to those of  us who see their desperate need for Him in the midst of our doubting, and call upon him to save us not just from the storms of life destroying us, but from our own doubting within those storms.

  1. A doubter is double-minded.

When we ask God for wisdom, but doubt that God is wise or doubt that he is wise enough to keep his promise to grant us wisdom we are double-minded. It’s a very literal description of what’s going on in the mind and heart of a “believing-doubter.”

James uses this word “double-minded” again in chapter 4.

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

I will not take the time to break-down this whole passage right now, but I want to draw your attention to verse 6 where James says that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. After he makes this truth statement he gives a list of what we are therefore supposed to do in light of this truth and the last thing on his list is for the double-minded to purify their hearts. This is part of where I get the biblical connection between pride and doubting- which is double-mindedness. If God opposes the proud and we are therefore supposed to purify our doubting hearts and minds it would make sense that pride and doubting are connected and each feeds the other.

And so how do we purify our hearts from our double-mindedness? The answer is in verse 6 and vs. 9-10….we humble ourselves before God in repentance (we become wretched and mourn and weep; a picture of what we become and what our response should be when God gives us a glimpse of the heaviness and seriousness of our sin and pride against a holy God) And when we do this, when we humble ourselves in repentance, His immeasurable grace is poured out upon us, and in his grace HE provides the faith we need to reject our doubting.

  1. A doubter is unstable in all his ways.

The nature of a doubter is that he is driven NOT by the solid, stabilizing, unchanging truth of God and his character, but rather by his own emotions and thoughts, and by the thoughts of those he might deem as being wiser than God (scientists, Hollywood, friends, false teachers etc.). People change, our emotions can wildly change, and when we doubt God we become unstable, tossed by the winds of suffering, tossed by the winds of current popular opinion, and tossed by the winds of our own shifting emotions. When our minds, beliefs, and allegiances are unstable, our actions and attitudes and all our ways, will reflect that instability.

Compassion and Wisdom

I want to close out this discussion of doubting with a few passages that speak of God’s inscrutable wisdom as well as his compassion and grace to restore his children who doubt. I will not comment on these passages, I want to simply let them speak for themselves and pray that God would use his Word to convict, teach, and speak grace to you.

Romans 11:33-36

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Isaiah 28:29

This also comes from the Lord of hosts;
he is wonderful in counsel
and excellent in wisdom
.

Isaiah 33:5-6

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness,
and he will be the stability of your times,
abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.

Psalm 94:8-15

Understand, O dullest of the people!
Fools, when will you be wise?
He who planted the ear, does he not hear?
He who formed the eye, does he not see?
10 He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke?
He who teaches man knowledge—
11     the Lord—knows the thoughts of man,
that they are but a breath.

12 Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord,
and whom you teach out of your law,
13 to give him rest from days of trouble,
until a pit is dug for the wicked.
14 For the Lord will not forsake his people;
he will not abandon his heritage;
15 for justice will return to the righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.

Isaiah 10:12-13

12 When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes. 13 For he says:

“By the strength of my hand I have done it,
and by my wisdom, for I have understanding;
I remove the boundaries of peoples,
and plunder their treasures;
like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones.

Micah 7:14-20

Shepherd your people with your staff,
the flock of your inheritance,
who dwell alone in a forest
in the midst of a garden land;
let them graze in Bashan and Gilead
as in the days of old.
15 As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt,
I will show them marvelous things.
16 The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might;
they shall lay their hands on their mouths;
their ears shall be deaf;
17 they shall lick the dust like a serpent,
like the crawling things of the earth;
they shall come trembling out of their strongholds;
they shall turn in dread to the Lord our God,
and they shall be in fear of you.

18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
19 He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
20 You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
from the days of old.

Isaiah 55:6-13

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts
;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord
.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

12 “For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Jude 1:17-25

17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Colossians 2:1-5  

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

I Corinthians 1:18-31

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

II Corinthians 2:6-16

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Doubt: James 1:5-8

Been thinking through James 1:5-8 this week.

James 1:5-8

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

James continues to give instruction and encouragement for those in trial and suffering.

The natural human emotional reaction to suffering and trial is fear, anxiety, anger, and depression which often then leads to a desperate attempt to relieve those emotions through a dozen different sinful avenues which usually only leads to more pain and suffering. Suffering can also bring about situations that call for difficult decision to be made. James knows that walking through trials in a godly way and dealing with these natural human emotions to suffering, will take wisdom. And so he exhorts these believers to ask for wisdom in the midst of their suffering.

James tells us that if we lack wisdom we should ask God for it, and he follows this up with a promise based on God’s character; that God gives his wisdom generously, without disapproval or scorn. This picture of God giving wisdom to his children feels like a tender one to me. He sees the pain, he sees the difficulty and he isn’t going to kick you when your down because you don’t know how to handle a situation. He is going to walk through it with you, patiently, tenderly, and kindly.

But…there is a caveat to this verse; James tells his readers who are asking for wisdom to ask with faith and with no doubting, and then he says, for the doubting man must not suppose he will receive anything from the Lord.

At first glance this passage almost looks like God is speaking out of two sides of his mouth. He first says that he gives to all liberally and without reproach, but then seems to change his tune and says, but not to doubters. Why not to doubters? Don’t those struggling with doubt need the wisdom of God the most?

These questions led me to ask myself, what is it that the doubter is doubting?

The obvious answer is that he is doubting that God will give him the wisdom he is asking for. He thinks maybe he will ask God for wisdom and God will leave him high and dry. God would have us ask with faith and not doubting that God will indeed keep his promise to give us the wisdom we ask for. I think this is true; I think that God would have us believe that he will keep his promise and that James is telling us to not doubt God’s promise of provision here.

But I think there is another way in which we can doubt God when we ask him for wisdom and it’s what hinders us from being able to receive God’s wisdom. What the doubter is doubting is that God is actually wise in his words, designs, plans, and decrees. He doubts the character and wisdom of God himself. The one who asks for wisdom but doubts that God is wise must not suppose he will receive wisdom from God because he isn’t in the position to hear God’s wisdom.

When a person doubts God’s wisdom they hear God’s words and they consider whether their own emotions or thoughts are better than God’s. This is very easy to do when suffering hits, and remember James is speaking to a people who know suffering. When suffering hits we are tempted to question God’s wisdom in bringing suffering to our lives or the lives of those we love. When a believer begins to doubt God’s wisdom and they remain in that place of doubting and questioning, pride and often anger are what creep into that person’s heart. They become a proud fool and this is why God says, a doubter must not suppose he will receive anything from the Lord; because a proud fool cannot receive the wisdom of God because the nature of a fool is that his own way is better than anyone else’s, even God’s.

Consider a few of these passages that describe fools.

Proverbs 12:15

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.

Psalm 92:5-9

How great are your works, O Lord!
Your thoughts are very deep!
The stupid man cannot know;
the fool cannot understand this:

A proud fool exalts his own way and does not accept that God’s thoughts and works are greater and deeper than he may ever be able to grasp or understand.

The opposite of being a doubter/proud fool is being a person who has within him the fear of the Lord. Proverbs speaks about how important the fear of the Lord is if we are to be wise and get wisdom.

Proverbs 1:7

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 9:10

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

Proverbs 3:7

Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

Proverbs 15:33

The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.

Part of what fearing the Lord means is that we acknowledge that God is the greatest, wisest, and most important being. Greater than the opinion of others and greater than our own opinion and greater than our emotions. If we ask for wisdom, our hearts must be solidly convinced that God is infinitely more wise than we are, and that the God who brings suffering and discipline into the lives of his children does so in complete wisdom and goodness. When we doubt the wisdom of God, we do not fear God, and we cannot receive his wisdom, not because God is not genuinely offering it, but because our hearts will not and cannot receive it. And so James says, the doubter, the one who doubts that God is wise, must not suppose he will receive God’s wisdom.

So if you are a doubter, if you find yourself in a place where you are asking for God’s wisdom but your heart is doubting and questioning God’s character, what should you do?

Let me share my personal experience with this. I have often been a doubter. I have struggled much of my life with doubting the wisdom of God’s design for gender, marriage, and sexuality. I will not describe this struggle right now, but there are season in my life when this struggle has been heightened and this struggle always brings suffering. In my suffering and struggle I turn to God for wisdom, but often in my asking for wisdom, my sincere asking is also mixed and muddled with doubt; I doubt that God really knew what he was doing when he made me, and designed these things. I have doubted his wisdom and goodness.

So as I have approached God in this way; filled with doubting, God has mercifully revealed to me that when I doubt I become a proud fool who cannot receive his wisdom. He has tenderly whispered to my heart, “Why are you asking me for wisdom when you doubt that I am perfectly wise in all my doing and designs?” “Do you believe I am wise Melissa? Or do you think you are wise?”

So I have come to realize that as long as I hold onto my doubting and the pride that underlies my doubting, I will live in turmoil indefinitely, and will not be able to receive the wisdom and help from God that I need to live with my struggle and suffering this side of heaven, in a godly and peaceful way because in my doubting I have become a proud fool who cannot receive wisdom. I have come to realize that my ultimate wrestle is not with the remaining brokenness of my sexuality or gender, or the suffering that sometimes brings, but my ultimate wrestle is with the pride that underlies my doubting and hinders me from receiving wisdom from God so that I can live wisely and I might add, joyfully, in my struggle and suffering.

So if you find yourself asking for wisdom, but doubting, I would encourage you to turn to the Lord, admit to him your pride and ask him to grant you a heart of repentance. Do this often, do this daily, do this every time you get into his Word, do this every time you pray.

The good news is there is an abundance of grace for the doubter who will humble himself before God, fear Him, and begin his journey towards wisdom he desperately needs to live in this difficult world full of trial. James gives us this warning because he knows there is hope for the doubter who will see his doubting for what it is; pride, and humble himself before his gracious and kind God who desires to walk with us through our suffering and who desires to provide the wisdom and joy He knows we will need.

Counting the Joy; James 1:1-4

I am studying in James! I will be posting my thoughts on James as I work through this book. They will not be eloquent or polished or brilliantly organized…they will just be my thoughts. 🙂

James 1:1-4

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. 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.

A Better Home

James is writing to Jewish Christians who have a long history of persecution and being dispersed amongst the nations. Even after Christ’s death and the establishment of the church, God’s people, God’s church, continues to be a persecuted and scattered people. But God’s promise in Ezekiel of what he will do for his people stands!

Ezekiel 16:16-20

16 Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.’ 17 Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’ 18 And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. 19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

So we see Paul is speaking to a people who are no strangers to suffering, trials, and temptations but who also come from a heritage of people who knew that the countries where they sojourned were not their true homes and who had their sights set on a better country, a heavenly one.

Hebrews 11:13-16

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Believers today, all over the world, are also no strangers to various kinds of suffering and live as exiles who are looking forward to a better country! James is going to encourage and instruct these brothers, as well as us today, in how to face trials and temptations in a godly and hope-filled way.

Counting It all Joy?

James tells these fellow believing brothers to “count it all joy” when they meet various trials and he tells them to do this because they know God us using these trials to give them a steadfast faith and to bring them to spiritual maturity.

At first glance this seems fairly straightforward, but when we are in the thick of pain, trial and loss, what does it actually look like to “count it all joy?”

First, I want to say what I DO NOT think James is telling us to do or be when he tells us to “count it all joy” here in this passage.

  • I do not think James is telling us to simply see the bright side of a situation.
  • I don’t think this is a call to be positive thinking optimists who see the glass as half full instead of half empty.
  • He isn’t telling us to produce or manufacture happy feelings about whatever emotionally or physically painful situation or persecution we are facing.
  • And James is not telling us to play some mind game by denying the real pain, sorrow and hard reality of a situation or persecution.

We aren’t masochists who invite or delight in pain, and we aren’t deluded into denying the very real difficulty of emotional and physical pain in this life.

So what DOES it look like for a believer to “count it all joy” when we face hard things? How do I “just be joyful” when I am in pain?

Romans 6:11 and Genesis 15:6 might shed some light on this concept of what it means to count something to be true even when it doesn’t always feel like it is true, or when we have not yet realized or experienced the full reality of what we are to count as true.

Counting our Various Present Realities

Sometimes when we “count” something to be a certain way, it doesn’t always feel or seem to be the way we are counting it as. For example, we, through Christ, are counted as being righteous. However, when we look at our present lives, it doesn’t always seem to fit the reality of what we are experiencing. We don’t often feel righteous because we all still experience the reality of indwelling sin in our lives. And yet in Romans 6:11 we are told to consider ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God, through Christ Jesus. We are told to put on and live in that reality of the righteousness that Christ provides for us, over-against the also present reality that we still wrestle with indwelling sin as we see in Romans 7.

When Abraham believed in the Lord, the Lord, counted it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Was Abraham in his present reality righteous? Was he sinless? No, he wasn’t, but God counted his faith as righteousness for him.

We as believers are often called to live in between conflicting present realities.

So, when we are told to count something that feels like the opposite of joy, as joy, we aren’t being told to deny reality of the hard things, or to deny or ignore the pain of those hard things, any more than we are being told by Paul in Romans 6:11 to deny or ignore our remaining sin. In fact, John in his first epistle, warns against such deluded thinking (I John 1:8-2:2). Rather we are being told to set our sights on a co-existing but stronger reality of the joy that is to come; the same joy that we can taste and experience in part, right now, in much the same way that we taste and experience the freedom from sin and fruits of the Spirit in our lives, despite our continued wrestle with sin in this life.

As we continue in James we will see the reality of joy that comes to us from the work God is doing through our trials and temptation to produce steadfastness of faith, character, and spiritual maturity. James is telling us to count the reality of what God is doing through our trials, and the joy that comes with that, as greater than the reality of the pain of the trials themselves.

Counting our Future Reality:

As we have seen above we often live between two competing present realities as believers; imputed righteousness vs. remaining indwelling sin, the joy that God brings through his using trials in our lives vs. the pain and sorrow that we still experience in the midst of those trials. But we are told to count ourselves as righteous, and count the joy of what God is doing in us over-against the sin and pain we still experience. And one reason we are able to put on that righteousness and to put on that joy, is because of the future reality that God has promised. We see this future reality summed up by Paul in Romans 8:18-30.

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,  for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Here we see the final redemption;  the final freedom from our sin natures, and the glory that is to be revealed to us. Part of that glory to be revealed, Paul tells us in vs. 30, is our own final perfection and glorification, and THIS is the joy we are to count; this is joy James speaks of in his epistle; the joy of God perfecting us and the glory of God to be revealed through that.

So let us count the joy! As we squarely face the pain and suffering of life let us set our final gaze on the joy of perfection and glory to come both through, and at the end of our sufferings on this earth. And as we count it all joy the Holy Spirit will indeed instill in us a joy from God that comes, and remains, and exists alongside our pain and suffering. This abiding joy the Spirit gives us is but a taste of the joy to come! So take heart! And count the joy!

 

Encouraging Transparent Sharing in A Small Group Setting

Sometimes small groups can be refreshing, transparent places of real encouragement and deep spiritual growth, and sometimes they can be frustrating, pride-filled places where everyone needs their two cents to be received and their thought to be heard. Then, of course, there are the majority of small groups that land somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.

I am blessed to be a part of a small, women’s, group that has been characterized by the first, however, in the past few months we have started studying a book on marriage and have found it to be a particularly difficult and personal topic to discuss in a small group church setting. Therefore, I have recently had the opportunity to think through and share my thoughts on this topic of what makes a small group a safe place to share, particularly when discussing the sensitive but important area of marriage. I have been encouraged to share this piece on my blog and make it available to others, so feel free to pull from it or adapt it to fit your own small group setting (my suggestion would be to simply go through this or a version of it with your group before you start your study). While this is tailored to the topic of marriage, many of these principles can be adapted to other sensitive topics of discussion or could be used in assisting your group to think through and examine their general sharing habits and patterns. So…here you go!

Encouraging Transparent Sharing in a Small Group Setting

Marriage is an incredibly difficult topic to be transparent about, especially in a church group setting. Marriage sits very close to our identity, and in the church it sits very close to people’s perceptions of our spiritual maturity and qualifications/usefulness in ministry.

As I have thought about this difficulty I have been thinking through the dynamics of the group, and I just wanted to take a step back before we go any further to give some thoughts and principles that can make this a more comfortable place to share struggles and can help us each think through when we should share something and when we should remain silent and share in a different context.

So….what makes a small group a safer place to be real?

  1. Simply acknowledging together that everyone’s marriage is different and in a different place. Some are thriving in their marriage, some are struggling deeply, some feel like they are just coasting and in neutral.
  2. We also have to acknowledge that most, if not all, marriages on the face of the planet are going to hit rough waters. If your marriage is struggling let this give you HOPE that you are not alone; if your marriage hasn’t hit struggles yet or isn’t in that place right now, let this give you HUMILITY and ears to listen to those who are or have struggled, and prepare yourself for when your marriage hits the storm.
  3. Acknowledge and discuss what makes it particularly difficult to share personal marriage struggles in this setting. A few I have thought of are:
  •  Fear of being judged and looked down upon.  Galatians 6:1-3 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” There is a priceless humility and tenderness that these verses portray in how we should respond to the sin of others. If we sense any pride in ourselves when we share and or when we are responding to another person we should keep silent. Humility is safe, pride is dangerous.
  • Fear of being given a pat simplistic answer for a complex and painful situation. Groups like this tend to do that just by their nature. We all want to give our two cents of what works or worked in our marriage and it can be overwhelming for a person sharing things that are deeply personal and/or painful. My exhortation to all in the group would be to think very carefully before giving someone an answer. Maybe don’t answer at all at first beyond a, “that sounds really difficult or painful, I’m so sorry,” or let them know you have thoughts you would like to share but need to think them through more. Possibly, ask more questions before answering and always seek to understand a matter more fully. Consider writing out your response first and sending it in an email or sharing it the next week. And remember, what worked in your marriage might work in someone else’s and it can be a great blessing to share what you have learned, just be sure that when you are suggesting things from your experience that have worked for you, do so with utmost humility, and do so tentatively with the understanding that their marriage is made up of a different history, different people, different child dynamic and phase, and different sin struggles etc. (Prov 18:13 If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame).

Two other thing to keep in mind as we interact with our small group are that sometimes problems don’t always have a concrete, earthly answer and  that we should never make promises to hurting people that the Scriptures do not make. For example, don’t ever tell a wife that if she will simply submit to her husband, her husband will start treating her better, or will become the spiritual leader she longs for him to be. Scripture never guarantees those sorts of results for obedience. Instead offer the ever present hope and joy found in the blessing of knowing Christ and obeying him, regardless of the outcome. Offer the hope of the final redemption when we see Christ and the hope of seeing and experiencing the sanctifying work of Spirit in our lives that inevitably happens when we accept suffering as from God’s loving hand and choose to lean into the process of change that he is seeking to work in the lives of his children.

In sum, when engaging those sharing their struggles in your small group, resist the common urge to jump to giving simplistic answers and take time to think deeply about what people are sharing before responding to them.

  • Being the first one to share the difficult thing or failure when it feels that all that is being shared so far is positive marital experiences. This is what naturally happens in this type of group as well. It’s easy to share the good and very difficult to share the failures or sins; therefore the good will naturally be shared more quickly and more frequently. We want to rejoice with those whose marriages are going well and we want to have opportunity to mourn with and bear the burdens of those who are struggling. Just keep in mind that if your marriage is going great that it’s naturally going to be the easiest for you to jump in and answer and talk about your marriage and others might find it hard to find a place to jump in and share how their marriage feels like it’s falling apart or how they struggle with God’s design for them in marriage and need help seeing the good in it etc.. So be sensitive and wary of this dynamic and seek to be selective and discerning in when and how quickly you jump in to share, giving others the opportunity to muster the courage to share something difficult.
  • Confusion as to when and what is appropriate to share in this setting regarding your marriage. When we are vulnerable about our marriages we must keep in mind that because our husbands are part of our marriages we are by default making them vulnerable along with us. We are told not to slander our husbands so we need to have an understanding as to what slander is, as opposed to sharing struggles. This can be hard to discern. Here are levels of sharing and generally their appropriate setting to help us think through wisely what sharing should look like in this context in order to constructively build our marriages and husbands up instead of tearing them down.

§  Small group appropriate (in my humble opinion):

-General sharing that there is struggle there and asking for general prayer.

-Sharing our OWN sin or personality issues in the marriage- I struggle with anger, discontentment, lust, being open in my marriage etc.

-Sharing with permission: If your husband gives you the go ahead to be an open book about the marriage then by all means be an open book.

-Sharing struggles that are more personality based than sin based with the aim to focus on your part of the struggle, not how to fix your husband to get him to be what you want him to be: for example “My husband is quiet and I struggle with feeling like he doesn’t care to talk with me.”. Being quiet is not a sin or even in and of itself negative, it’s just a common difficulty within marriage.

§  Types of sharing that takes discerning knowledge of your own marriage and spouse. (NOTE: If you feel your spouse would not like you to be sharing certain struggles in such a public context then I would suggest finding a trusted godly counselor and/or friend to talk through things. Please do this! Or feel free to share in the group that you are having struggles and need to find someone to talk with one-on-one. One of the leaders or elders’ wives will approach you with the aim to help, or get you connected with someone who can.)

-Unhealthy dynamics in the marriage in which both have sin that contributed to the unhealth of the marriage.

-Sexual struggles.

-Issues or dynamics in your marriage that you are emotionally confused or distressed about.

-Issues of physical or sexual abuse.

3 Questions

With all this in mind there are 3 Questions to ask oneself before sharing in a group setting:

  1.  Is my motive one of pride or showing off my marriage in order to glorify myself?
  2. If my marriage is going well, will my sharing be encouraging and helpful to those who are struggling, paving the way for them to struggle openly as opposed to setting up the illusion that the norm for marriages is one that lacks struggle or difficulties? (NOTE: understand that there IS a time and way to share victories and the blessings of marriage. My point is to be diligent to search your heart and motives, and to think through carefully how you share those things so that they will open the way for further more difficult sharing). Ephesians 4:29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.
  3. Is my motive one of anger or bitterness with the desire to tear down my husband or do I have a genuine desire to see my husband repent and be forgiven? Piggy back question: Do I have a genuine desire to see my OWN wrong in the marriage and repent and be forgiven? (NOTE: If you DO have anger because of real pain, share THAT fact instead of the sins of your husband. Share you are hurting and angry in your marriage and in need of healing and repentance. The details of that should probably be worked through in a one-on-one counselor setting. Those listening, keep in mind that there are always two sides to a story and do not jump to conclusions or try to discern fault. Just pray for healing and sanctification. Proverbs 18:17 The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.)

One Last Question

After going through this with your group I would encourage you to ask “what makes sharing transparently particularly difficult for you?” Sometimes just talking about how hard it can be to talk about hard things can break the ice and open the door for this to actually happen.

Scripture to Ponder

A few passages that were in mind as I wrote this piece, along with the verse’s dispersed throughout, are: Roman’s 12:3-15 and Colossians 3:12-17. These passages both speak of how the body is supposed to relate to one another and what we are to do for each other. May our small groups reflect and live out these passages.

Romans 12:3-15

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.

Colossians 3:12-17

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

What God Does For His People (Devotions From Jeremiah 24:4-7)

Jeremiah 24:4-7

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

After King Judah, the officials, and the craftsmen of Judah were exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzer, Jeremiah sees a vision of two baskets of figs. One basket full of good figs and one basket full of bad inedible figs. God explains this vision to Jeremiah: the good figs represent those exiles that God will set his favor on, and who he will return to the land, and the bad figs represent those exiles whom God will choose to destroy utterly.

As I read this passage I was brought to two places:

First, it briefly caused me to wrestle with and contemplate the idea that God chooses some and not others. This concept is all over the Old and New Testaments. It really is an inescapable concept that must be faced and it’s a concept that turns many away from God in anger, with a sense that he is unjust and unfair in his judgments and dealings with mankind. I don’t have time this morning to go into great detail here, but the place that I have landed that some will find simplistic, but that I have found for me to be the heart of the matter, is that first, God is God and I am not. And second, that my sin and the sins of all mankind, are much greater and more serious than any of us can comprehend intellectually, or feel emotionally. So if we had the capacity to see God as he is and grasp his purity and holiness, and then to see ourselves as standing before that holiness and purity, then we would get it. We would get that God’s glory is the rightful and final end to all his judgments and mercies and that none deserve mercy and all deserve judgement, and our mouths would be stopped before the Holy One. If we approached God and these questions of mercy and judgement with humility instead of pride, we would be undone at the idea that he has shown mercy to anyone, we would be incredibly grateful and baffled that he would grant that mercy to me, of all people the most undeserving of sinners, and we would cease to be incensed that he chooses to judge whom he chooses to judge. (See Romans 9:14-33) Much more could be said, but for now I will move on.

Second,  this Jeremiah passage causes me to move towards gratefulness and humility because of the mercies that God has shown me and his people. One of the most important parts to notice in this passage is that it is  basically a list of “I will’s.” GOD WILL and HAS done these things for his people! No room for boasting; not even a little bit. Below I have listed those I wills and have expounded on them using Scripture to highlight how God, through Christ, has fulfilled and will continue to fulfill those I will’s for his people today and in the future.

  1. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. 
  • God has regarded his people as good through Christ.

 II Cor. 5:21

For our sake he made him (Christ) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Romans 3:21-26  

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

2. I will set my eyes on them for good,

  • God has caused all things to work for the ultimate good of his people.

Romans 8:28-32

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

3. and I will bring them back to this land.

  • Through Christ we are inheritors with Abraham of the world!

Romans 4:13-18

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his    offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 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.”

Galatians 3:29

And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Ephesians 3:6

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

4. I will build them up, and not tear them down;I will plant them, and not pluck them up. 

  • God builds and sanctifies his church patiently and powerfully and does not tear down his own.

Matthew 16:16-18

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Colossians 2:16-19

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

Philippians 1:6

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.

I Thessalonians 5:23-24

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 

I Corinthians 3:5-9

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

5. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord,… for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

  • God gives his people a heart that knows him and returns to him

Hebrews 8:8,10

 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah,…

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts ,and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.

Hebrews 10:12-25

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds,

 “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

  Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. 

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,  and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 

John 10:11-16,26-28

 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd…. but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

6. and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

  • God makes us his and he becomes ours

I Peter 2:4-10

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,

and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,” and

 “A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

God has, is and, will always graciously choose his people, build his people, give his people hearts that follow him, sanctify his people, keep his people, fulfill his promises to his people, show goodness to his people, give his people an inheritance, and so much more. And he does it through Christ! Praise and glory be to our God.

A Plea for Christians to Stop Mocking Sin and Sinners

Over the past 4 or 5 years I have observed a number of memes, comments, and articles posted by Christians that make fun of and sarcastically mock gay, lesbian, and transgender people. These posts both sadden and concern me. Let me share 5 reason why I believe Christians should exercise greater discernment and carefulness in what they post, particularly concerning these topics.

1. So unbelievers will see our love, integrity, dignity, patience, and gentleness, and so God may perhaps use our life to grant them repentance, knowledge of truth, sanity, and salvation. I have never heard the testimony of someone who was won to Christ through the mocking of their sin. Maybe it exists somewhere, but I don’t think it’s the norm. People are won through the preaching and sharing of the truth with confidence, authority, and love.

II Timothy 2:24-26
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Colossians 4:5
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

2. Mocking sin, can cause those inside the church who are struggling with that sin, to not openly seek the help that they need for fear of a condescending response, rather than a gracious one that points them to Christ. While you may have never met a brother or sister in Christ who struggle with their gender identity or same-sex attraction, I promise you, they exist. Always ask yourself the question, “if another believer in my church were to read what I was posting, and they were struggling with this sin, would they feel that I would be a person who would be able to speak truth into their life in a gracious, loving, informed, and intelligent way, or would they instead be terrified that I might find out their struggle?” We are to communicate the truth in love for the purpose of spiritual growth, spiritual equipping, and building the body up in unity. The end goal of our speech or posting is to minister grace, not to shame or condescend.

Ephesians 4:14-16,29
 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love…
 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

 I Corinthians 13:1-7,13
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…

 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love

3. Mocking these sins makes the world’s message appear that much more attractive and clouds the churches gospel message. It may be helpful to understand that there is an incredible amount of shame that many who struggle with sins of same-sex attraction and gender confusion carry, even for unbelievers who haven’t felt the conviction of the Spirit. The message of the world and culture is a tempting one for those who struggle with SSA or gender dysphoria. The world says that their shame is a product of an unhealthy societal and religious message, needing to be thrown off, and that their sexuality and felt gender should be lived out with pride and openness. The churches message is that the shame we rightly feel for our sin was taken by Christ and in Him we will not be put to shame!

We are to help these individual see and deal with their shame through the light of what Scripture says about it, but adding to this shame and fear, through mocking, is the last thing a struggling or searching person needs from the church or from your Facebook page or twitter feed. Don’t let your comment, meme, or sarcastic article be the stumbling block that keeps the struggling silent, or the thing that pushes them towards the worlds message. Instead, be the voice of love, truth, compassion, and the speakers of the gospel that says, Christ takes our shame, Christ makes us new, Christ takes us in all our brokenness and loves us even when remnants of our brokenness remain, and Christ will one day forever, completely, and gloriously fix our brokenness. This is the message of hope and love that we should be speaking, as a church and as individuals who are part of that church. Most will still choose the world’s message, but let it be because they chose one message over the other, and not because we shamed them out of our churches into the arms of the world.

Romans 5:1-5
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Philippians 3:18-21
18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Ephesians 5:10-14
10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

Awake, O sleeper,
    and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Romans 9:33
33 as it is written,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Romans 10:11-13
11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

4. It is evidence of pride in the mocker and encourages pride in all others who join in the mocking.
We have nothing that we have not been graciously given by God. Our response when we see a world mad with insanity and sin should be humble gratitude driven by an understanding that the only reason we don’t think the same way the world does, is because of God’s grace. Let us with Paul humble ourselves and take on the attitude of dubbing ourselves the chiefest of sinners, understanding that we were not chosen due to any wisdom or strength or goodness in ourselves, acknowledge that we have nothing good in ourselves that we did not graciously receive from God, and make our boast and our posts more about Christ and what he has given us, and less about how the sin of others is so bad, funny, crazy, or ridiculous.

I Timothy 1:12-17
12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Corinthians 1:6-31
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.

I Corinthians 4:6-7
I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

5. The world already sees the conservative church as being an unloving and unhealthy place in general, but especially for LGBT person’s to be in. In many cases they are wrong and much of their perception is based on lies or just the unfortunate reality that they disagree with truth even when it is spoken in love. But I would plead with you, do not give them even one shred of real evidence that they may be right. Let’s not let them be even a little tiny bit correct in their accusations.

Titus 2:7-8
Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us

You may, at this point ask, “What about Elijah mocking the priests of Baal?” (I Kings 18)

There may be a time and place to mock sin. Elijah was a prophet of God; God used Elijah to speak directly for him. God is allowed to mock sin. He is God. He is allowed to do many things that we are not, because he is holy and sees all things. We are not holy; we do not see all things.

As New Testament believers, we are never commanded to have the general attitude of mocking those outside the church for any reason. I Peter 3:13-16 instructs believers to share their hope with gentleness and respect

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

Given this Scripture and so many others that I have already posted about how we are to act towards unbelievers and believers, I will rest my case.

So What SHOULD I Post?

My suggestion for those who feel they need to post anything about the topics of homosexuality, SSA, gender dysphoria, transgender issues, or any other sin outside this category, is to pick up a book, or read insightful articles that help you understand these topics from a biblical and counseling perspective. Take the time to learn about the sins you feel the need to mock and start posting helpful quotes about these issues. I guarantee you, those brothers and sisters struggling in your church will see those posts and breathe out a sigh of relief that there are people with whom they worship that are safe; people who care about understanding them and maybe, people who are equipped to help them with grace and a level of understanding and skill.

What About Political Posts?

These particular sins just so happen to be in the political spotlight at the moment. I understand and I see some of the baffling and disturbing directions and agendas that the far left is pushing. I understand the implication for this next generation being told to live out their felt sexuality and make insane decisions about their gender at extremely early ages. Kids are being exposed at a very early age to all sorts of sexual information and I have no doubt that the normalizing of homosexuality and transgenderism will have its affect on this next generation. I predict that we will be seeing more and more men, women, and teens in the church who have been affected by these issues and are in need of compassionate counsel.

I get the desire to expose the insanity and speak against the political agendas of the far left. With that being said, I simply suggest that if you find yourself with a zeal to argue against gay marriage on a political level, or speak out against the transgender or gay political agendas, I would urge you to remember that there are real people, with real stories, experiences, pain, insecurities, and lives that have been touched, in some way or another by this topic. Some of these people are in your church. If you want to post politically, I would encourage you to, as I stated above, take the time and do the work to understand the problem on more than just a political level. Read books that will deepen your understanding and compassion for the faces and people behind this political problem.

Additionally, remember that as a believer you first and foremost, represent Christ, and your first priority should not be the political state of our country, but should be the testimony of love, truth, and grace to those in your local church and communities. Ask yourself this question: if a struggling believer or searching unbeliever in my church were to browse my Facebook page, would they conclude that I truly care about them as people, or would they conclude that I view them as sexual or political problems?

Excerpts From “Depression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness” By Edward T. Welch

Post #1“No one can confidently diagnose a chemical imbalance because there is no way to really know. Even if there were a test for it (which there isn’t), the test couldn’t tell you if the imbalance caused the depression or resulted from it.
The problem with immediately opting for a medical explanation is that, once the decision is made, every other perspective seems superficial or irrelevant. Why, for example, would you bother considering other contributors when a pill might provide relief?….

It is only fair to add that you should be undecided about spiritual causes too. By this I mean that you can’t immediately say that there is one core sin that has caused your depression. Some people race toward this explanation; they hope that once they discover that sin, everything will change. Others run from this perspective; they think spiritual explanations are prehistoric and misguided. The truth is in the middle of these two poles. Sin can certainly be a cause of depression, but you must be careful about connecting the dots between the two. If you are being honest, you will always find sin in your life. Everyone does. That doesn’t mean that sin caused your depression.

No sin is necessarily connected with sorrow of heart, for Jesus Christ our Lord once said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.” There was no sin in Him, and consequently none in His deep depression.

The simple approach is to deal with your sin as it becomes apparent to you. Depression, of course, doesn’t exempt us from addressing these critical matters. Just don’t assume that your depression will vanish upon confession and knowing God’s forgiveness.

So depression does not necessarily have a spiritual cause if, by spiritual, we mean that it is caused by our own sin. But there is a broader meaning to the word “spiritual,” and, in this sense your depression is always and profoundly spiritual. Spiritual can refer to the very center of our being where our basic allegiances are worked out. Who is God? Do we trust him? Why is he allowing this to happen to me? How can I trust him when he seems so remote and unresponsive? These are spiritual questions that, in many ways, identify us as human beings”

(Ed Welch “Despression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness )

Post #2

With all the debate about the causes of depression, it is easy to miss the obvious: depression is painful. It is a form of suffering…If you are familiar with Scripture, you should sense a ray of light. Without Scripture’s insights, suffering is random and senseless. But Scripture is about suffering…You can be assured of this: God really does speak in our suffering, and we have good reason to believe that the words he says are good and powerful and enough to lighten our pain.

When depression is incorporated into the larger problem of human suffering, you will find that you already know much more about depression than you realize.

Turn Scripture’s gaze for example, to the question of what causes depression (suffering, trials). Its answers shun the simplistic and point to at least five possible causes.

-Other People: Beneath some depression you are likely to find a person who is reeling from the sins of other people.

-We, too, are a cause of suffering: Don’t be surprised if you find things within yourself–fears, anger, and selfish desires–lurking behind some depression….There are more subtle ways we can contribute to depression too…misguided beliefs…about God and ourselves…

-Our bodies: Since sin entered the world, our bodies gradually weaken and waste away. Disease, deterioration from old age, post-partum struggles, side effects of medication, and possible chemical imbalances are just a few of the physical causes relevant to depression…

-Satan is a fourth cause of human suffering: the book of Job is one of the few places in Scripture where his work is obviously on display. Satan lies to us, he can afflict us physically, and he generally seeks to persuade us that allegiances to the true God is not in our best interests…It is very difficult to discern Satan’s contributions to depression…Any prolonged suffering can become an occasion to question the goodness of God. As soon as that question comes, Satan sits down next to us and tries to confirm our suspicions.

-Finally God himself is a cause of suffering. “God sometimes puts his children to bed in the dark,” is the way an old preacher put it. WE say that God “allows” suffering and sometimes Scripture uses that language. But biblical authors were absolutely persuaded that God was the one, true, sovereign, Creator God. They could not imagine a world in which God was not enthroned. Nothing happens apart from his sovereign oversight, including our suffering.

“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts” (I Samuel 2:6-7)

“I [the Lord] form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7)

God is over all things, and nothing happens apart from his knowledge and will. By the time suffering or depression comes to our doorstep, God did it. To believe anything else is to opt for a universe that is random and out of control, without a guiding hand bringing all things to a purposeful and awe-inspiring conclusion.”

 

(Ed Welch “Despression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness )

Post #3

“Although Scripture reveals that there are multiple causes of suffering (others, ourselves, our bodies, Satan, and God) and that multiple causes can be at work at any one time, it is less forthcoming about diagnosing the precise causes of particular hardships…

The reason Scripture doesn’t give clear guidelines for assigning responsibility is that it is not essential for us to know precise causes. This is good news: you don’t have to know the exact cause of suffering in order to find hope and comfort. Job once again, is the model. Although we know that Satan caused Job’s suffering, Job did not have this insight. Even after his fortunes were restored he never knew why he suffered. Although he asked for an audience with God to plead his innocence, the only thing God revealed was that God is God and Job was not. Yet this more than satisfied all of Job’s “why” questions…

All suffering is intended to train us to fix our eyes on the true God. Therefore, depression, regardless of the causes, is a time to answer the deepest and most important of all questions: Whom will I trust? Whom will I worship?”

Ed Welch (Depression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness)

Post #4
Chapter about God
At its very root, life is about God. Whether you shake your fist at him, consider him so distant that his existence is irrelevant, or tremble before him because you feel that you are under his judgement, the reality is this: the basic questions of life and the fundamental issues of the human heart are about God. Life is about knowing him or avoiding him. It is about spiritual allegiances. Whom will you trust in the midst of pain? Whom will you worship?

Job’s intense suffering and great loss drove him immediately to a basic spiritual question. Now that suffering was a resident in his home, would he still trust and worship God?

His answer was unambiguous. When he lost all his children, “he fell to the ground in worship,” and made a shocking declaration: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21)…

As you consider God, expect to find fallacies in your thinking about yourself and God. In other words, although you may think that you know all you need to know about God–or all you want to know–you don’t. When in doubt, let humility be the order of the day. If you resist an offer to know God better, you are probably angry with God, in which case it is all the more reason to consider who he is. He invites angry people to come and be surprised…

Surprise #1 Jesus Shared In Our Sufferings

If you think God is far away and indifferent, here is the surprising revelation. From the foundation of the world, God knew your sufferings and declared that he himself would take human form and participate in them (which means that we, too, could share in his). This is not a distant, indifferent God.

In an African hospital, a pastor who had just witnessed another death was approached by a poor, elderly woman.

“You know,” she said, taking my [the pastor’s] arm, “through many losses of family and friends and through much sorrow, the Lord has taught me one thing. Jesus Christ did not come to take away our pain and suffering, but to share in it.”…

“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31)

“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” (Hebrews 2:10)…

The cross says that life will not be easy. If Jesus serves, we will serve. If Jesus suffers, we, too, will experience hardships. No servant is greater than the master. Yet things are not always the way they appear. Suffering is part of the path that leads to glory and beauty. “He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him” (ps. 126:6). Suffering has a purpose. It is changing us so that we look more and more like Jesus himself. “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” But that death is not the end of the story.

Ed Welch (Depression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness)

Post #5

Surprise #2: God is Good and Gracious

“It is hard to argue when we are reminded that Jesus shared in our sufferings and has compassion for those who suffer. It is easier to protest, however, when we hear the proposition that God is both good and generous. At this moment in your life, it would seem that goodness and generosity, especially from the all-powerful God, could only be demonstrated by a removal of the depression. If he takes it away, you are persuaded. If not, you remain a doubter.

But remember…“He who did not spare his own Son, but graciously gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32) The cross is the only evidence that can fully persuade you that God is, at all times, good and generous. There is no arguing with someone who is willing to make this ultimate sacrifice. If someone gives his only child for you, you can’t doubt that person’s love…

This is not a religious attempt to drum up some good feelings. It is harder to be surprised by the goodness and generosity of God when you feel so miserable. Of the Puritan Williams Cowper it was said,

“It is possible to be a child of God, without consciousness of the blessings, and to have a title to a crown, and yet feel to be immured in the depths of a dungeon.”

The goal is simply to remind you of the truth. Your job is simply to believe (John 6:29)”

(Ed Welch “Depression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness”)

Post #6
On crying out to the Lord

“If you are depressed, aspire to be a liturgical worshiper, If you wait until you feel motivated to worship, you might be waiting a long time…

Everything turns inward in depression. A beautiful flower momentarily catches your attention, but within seconds the focus bends back into your own misery. You see loved ones who are celebrating a recent blessing, but before you can synchronize your feelings with theirs, you have doubled back to your own personal emptiness. Like a boomerang that always returns, no matter how hard you try, you can’t get away from yourself.
Pain is like that. If any part of your body is injured, you can’t get away from the pain. You may have brief distractions, but then the throbbing breaks through your consciousness and dominates again…

Your decision is between calling out to the Lord or not. This is the choice that has confronted those in misery throughout history…“They do not cry out to me from their hearts but wail upon their beds” (Hosea 7:14). You can sit in silence or cry to the Lord. You can cry on your bed, or cry to the Lord. These are the two choices.
Now you can see why liturgical prayers might be very useful…The Psalms are God’s liturgy, prepared for you in advance.

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Ps. 13:1)

I am a worm and not a man. (Ps. 22:6)

My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly far away and be at rest–I would flee far away and stay in the desert. (Ps. 55:4-7)

I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. (Ps. 69:2-3)

My soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave…You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths….But I cry to you for help, O Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me? (Ps. 88:3,6,13-14)

Begin a search. Start with words and phrases that reflect your experience. If that seems too much, ask someone to read selected Psalms to you…

What these psalms do is straighten the trajectory of our lives. Using the words he gives us, God gently turns our hearts toward him. Instead of everything bending back into ourselves, we are able to look straight, outside of ourselves, and fix our eyes on Jesus (Heb. 12:2).
Keep this pattern in mind. It is the path of hope. The fact that all your thoughts turn back on yourself is oppressive. The self cannot carry the load. The way we were intended to function was to be able to look outward, toward God and other people…

Hope as your will find, is a skill that takes practice. There is no verse, pill, or possession that will make it magically appear. Reciting psalms that you have claimed as your own is part of that practice…

Say your liturgy at set times during the day. Get others to pray with you and for you.”

thetrinitymission.org

(Ed Welch “Depression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness”)

Post #7
Warfare

During times of suffering and difficulty, spiritual warfare is virtually guaranteed…

Think about the nature of depression. Life turned inward. You already have a sense that, for all practical purposes, God us not present. Add to that your relentless condemnation and pervasive self-criticism, which have persuaded you that God doesn’t love you. You couldn’t be a more obvious spiritual target if you painted a bull’s-eye on your chest…

Satan’s Strategies:

Lies: Progression of Believing Lies and Satan’s Attacks.

You are spiritually vulnerable —–>your emotions are so powerful that they skew your interpretations—–>Satan Attacks——>you swear allegiance to your most pessimistic interpretations no matter what others say.
There are no incantations, spinning heads, strange voices, or obvious satanic rituals here. It all seems very natural. But this is knock-down, drag-out spiritual warfare.

Lies about us: Satan’s lies are calculated and strategic. They are directed at the spiritual jugular–most important issues of life.
Do you believe that some things you have done are to bad to be forgiven?….Do you believe that it is impossible for the Holy Ghost to love you and even delight in you?…Do you believe that you have no reason to live?…Do you believe that these questions are unimportant?…
Waver on these questions and you will be experiencing the battle.

Lies don’t just impose themselves on our hearts. Instead, Satan’s lies come to us after the seeds already exist. He is the counselor who endorses the lies we already suspect are true. He is the false witness who is quick to confirm our false interpretation. This is why spiritual warfare seems so natural. We are not being taken against our wills. Rather than fight us where we have strong faith and certainty and lies will seem silly and obvious, Satan looks for faith that is weak in the hopes that we will meekly surrender. It begins when we harbor doubts. Satan, ever the opportunist, sees vulnerability and simply says, “Yes, what you believe is true.”

(Ed Welch, “Depression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness.)

Post #8
Warfare (cont.)

Lies about God:
If you look carefully at the lies you believe, you will notice that you are caught in a cross-fire. Yes, you are an intended casualty and the lies are self-condemning, but you are not the primary target of those lies. Instead, the volleys are aimed especially at the character of God. Their goal is to raise questions about God. Specifically, they question God’s love and power…

For example, “I am worthless” could be reinterpreted as, “God has not given me the success I desires; therefore, I don’t believe that he is good…

“I can’t go on” becomes “I don’t believe that God hears or is powerful enough to work through human weakness.”

Can you see it? Our suffering may come from many different places, but regardless of its origins, Satan ultimately is a player.

Lies that focus on temporal, not spiritual realities:
This popular deception is underway even before suffering begins. During the better times, Satan happily encourages us to see the goodness of God all around us.
“You have a strong marriage? Isn’t God good!”
“Your health is fine? Isn’t God good!”
“Your bills are paid, and there is some money in the bank? Isn’t God good!”
“Train your eye on these earthly blessings, and gauge God’s goodness by what you see because life will not always be an accumulation of good things. Then, when the hardships come, you will look out and have no evidence of God’s goodness.”

This is what Satan tried, albeit unsuccessfully, with Job. Job had all the best things in life, and Satan assumed that once they were gone, Job would turn his back on God. But Job trusted in God throughout, causing Satan to flee.

(Ed Welch “Depressions: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness”)

Post #9
Warfare: Our Counterattack

“Remember you have an enemy:
Follow the lead of wise people who begin each day by actually saying, “Today, I must be alert that I have an enemy.”…Assume that warfare rages:
We don’t know if Satan has a hand in your depression itself, but we do know that he will use the chronic nature of your pain as a venue to employ well-worn strategies….Remember that Satan will always attack the character of God….

Don’t think that your case is unique
This popular lie questions God’s care: all sufferers are tempted to believe that their suffering is unique. This lie immediately renders all counsel irrelevant because no one understands and no advice applies. The result is that the aloneness you already experience is now an established fact, and you are given ever more permission to despair…

Know Christ:
Satan’s energies zero in on one point: the truth about Jesus. If you are growing in an accurate knowledge of Jesus Christ, you are winning the battle…The knowledge of Christ is revealed most fully at the cross…The cross is evidence that Christ’s love is much more than good intentions or compassion without action, It shows us that Christ’s love was a holy love that surpasses our understanding. If we are angry that God allows depression in our lives, we should be reminded that his love is much more sophisticated than we know. Our anger shows that we are small children who think we know what is best…
Another reason it is so important to know Jesus is that one of the grand purposes of human existence is to look more and more like him…Jesus learned obedience through suffering, we will too…
The challenge for us is to think as God thinks. In other words, our present thinking must be turned upside-down. We once thought that suffering was to be avoided at all costs; now we must understand that the path to becoming more like Jesus goes through hardships, and it is much better than the path of brief and superficial comfort without Jesus. When we understand this grand purpose, we discover that suffering does not oppose love; it is a result of it (Heb. 12:8). We are under the mistaken impression that divine love cannot coexist without human pain. Such thinking is one of Satan’s most effective strategies. it must be attacked with the gospel of grace.

Humble yourself before the Lord:
When you are depressed, you feel like you can’t get any lower. But an appropriate and strengthening response to the love of Christ is humility. Humility is different from feeling low. It is lowering ourselves before God and accepting his sovereign will.
Humility says, “God owes me nothing.” “He is not my servant;I am his.” “God is God, and he has the right to do anything he wants.”…

When you have a growing knowledge of God, your natural response is humility. In the face of such a powerful spiritual response to the knowledge of Christ, Satan is powerless.”

(Ed Welch (Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness)

Post #10
Remember

 

“Scripture beseeches us to remember…For some people, repetition becomes a been-there-done-that, and they check out until there is something new. For the wise, however, remembering is essential to the human soul. It is part of that forsaken art of meditating. It is critical to the process of change and a prominent means of doing spiritual battle.

Here is a Psalm that can guide your remembering.

‘Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins. (Ps. 130)

Psalm 130 begin with sufferings that have pulled the psalmist into the vortex of death itself…

While teetering on the edge of the abyss, the psalmist has a choice: he can mourn his fretful condition, or he can cry out to the Lord. Of course, as both our voice and our guide, he leads us in crying out…

Deliverance comes, but…at first glance it seems like a lame rescue attempt. The Psalmist is given what appears to be a flimsy lifeline: His God is the one who forgives sins.

This one takes some reflection. We don’t have evidence that the psalmist’s sin caused his suffering. How is he going to take hope in the fact that he is forgiven?…

To appreciate the Psalm’s guidance on this, we have to believe that sin is a problem in our lives. In fact, to really be led by the psalm, we must realize that sin is our deepest problem, even deeper than our depression. Robert Fleming, a persecuted Scottish minister who lives from 1630-94, said, “In the worst of times, there is still more cause to complain of an evil heart than of an evil world.” In a culture where sin is not part of our normal public discourse, to adopt such a perspective will take some work.”

(Ed Welch, “Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness”)

Post # 11
Remember
Continued Discourse on Psalm 130

 

Do you believe that seeing sin in yourself is a good thing?…
When we see sin, it is evidence that God is close. It is the Holy Spirit who reveals sin (John 16:8). We don’t have the acumen for it. If you see it, have hope—the Holy Spirit is at work in your life. It is tangible evidence of God’s love.

Do you believe that sin is against God?…
…biblical law-breaking is much more personal. It is more like adultery than speeding…Only when the Holy Spirit shines his light on our hearts do we realize that sin is personal.

Do you believe that sin is found in imaginations, motives, thoughts, and deeds?…
It is there, at the level of the human heart, that you will find selfishness, pride…anger and lack of forgiveness, jealousy, complaining, grumbling, and thanklessness to the God who forgives…

Can you pinpoint, right now, a handful of sins?…
If you fail on this one, then psalm (130) is meaningless.
The psalmist knew that his sin problem was deeper and more critical than his suffering…He also knew…his God…did not keep a record of wrongs for all those who turned to him, Therefore, the psalmist stood in awe. He could not comprehend such love, but he was thankful for it…

HOPE
Love produces hope. If we, in our misery, are absolutely persuaded of God’s love, we will be confident that he will deliver us. Therefore, we hope in him. We can wait as long as it takes because we are sure that he hears us and loves us. He will come. HE will deliver…God’s love inspires both an eagerness to be with him and a confidence that he is true to his word…It is these two—eagerness and confidence—that combine to form hope…

The reality is that we are the watchmen on the last watch of the night. It is 4:30 am. We have seen the sunrise many times, and we are eager for it and confident it will come. What is the sunrise we are waiting for? In Psalm 130, the morning sun is a person. In that person are many benefits such as healing, deliverance, and love, but, make no mistake, it is a person. We wait for him more than for is gifts…

Be careful at this point that you aren’t discouraged by the psalmist. His enthusiasm is inspiring but difficult to match. If it isn’t quite contagious, don’t despair. To move from the depths to a confident hope takes practice. Consider this psalm a condensed version of a long learning process.

God has determined that many good things come through perseverance…So don’t expect hope to happen immediately. It would be like insisting that you play Mozart before your second piano lesson. Hope is both a gift from God and a skill he enables us to attain.

(Ed Welch, “Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness”)

Post #12
Purpose
“Too often we live on little scraps of meaning…a three percent raise, a new pair of shoes, a one-night-stand, an Internet relationship. We manage to eke out meaning and purpose from fumes. That is, of course until you submerge into depression. Then you notice that there is no larger story, and the stage collapses…

What seemed meaningful and real a few years ago has turned out to be a façade…

‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’ What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?
(Eccles. 1:2-3)…

The Teacher in the book of Ecclesiastes tries to save us time in our search for meaning and purpose. He tells us that he tried to make life about himself and it didn’t work. He tried learning, laughter, great projects, unbridled sexual pleasure, money, music, and children. None of them, when they were elevated to his life’s purpose, led to anything but despair. He could not find his purpose in the created world.

After briefly envying an ordinary life of honest toil, good friends, food, moderate drink, and doing right, he comes to his answer—his purpose.

‘Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Eccles. 12:13)…

Fearing God and keeping his commandments brings a certain simplicity to life. He is the Creator; we are the creatures. We belong to him. When he directs us, we follow. We come before him and say, “And how do you want me to live today?”…

We can easily remember the summary of God’s law: Love one another. What does that have to do with purpose and meaning? Every command is Scripture is a purpose statement. We are servants of the exalted king. When he speaks to us and tells us what to do, that becomes our purpose. Our purpose is to live for his purpose…

A wise older counselor, who had experienced depression himself, challenged other depressed people this way: “Fight the spiritual battles that accompany depression so that you can love other people.”

If you are familiar with Scripture, you will find the summary of Ecclesiastes in a number of different forms.

“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Mic. 6:8)

Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37-39)

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Gal 5:6)

The language varies: fear the Lord, trust him, love him, walk humbly with him, or believe in him. Then we express this commitment to the Lord by obeying his commandments, the summary of which is love. This is the true foundation for human life. Apart from it, life is meaningless.

(Ed Welch: Depression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness.)

 

Post #13
Persevere

“In Scripture, the word “surrender” links you directly to “persevere, be patient in trials.”…

As with so many commands of Scripture, “persevere” is more than something God says; it is something he does. It is one of the many aspects of his character. The reason it is of great worth is that it is one of the chief ways God has revealed himself to us. Scripture consistently points to God’s perseverance and forbearance with his people.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
(2 Pet. 3:9)

For I endure scorn for your sake, and shame covers my face. (Ps. 69:7)

May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. (2 Thess. 3:5)

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:2)…

How can I give you up? How can I hand you over? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger. For I am God, and not man—the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath. When the Lord roars like a lion, his children will return. (Hosea 11:8-10)

But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Tim. 1:16)

All teaching on perseverance, patience, and endurance find its source in the character of God. Just as we love because he is love, and he loved us before we knew him, so we persevere because he is perseverance and he has persevered with us throughout history…

Given this connection to the character of God, perseverance is not ordinary but glorious, Think about it for a moment. Let’s say you just heard a testimony from someone who said she had been depressed until God completely delivered her. She is, of course ecstatic. But could it be that she was putting her trust in being healed rather than in the God who loves, forgives, perseveres, and heals?

Now consider another woman who has experienced deep depression. Her testimony is that she believes God is good, whether depression leaves or returns. She has learned to persevere in troubles and find contentment in God in the midst of them. That is a glorious testimony.

Perseverance isn’t flashy. It doesn’t call attention to itself. It looks like putting one foot in front of another. But beneath the surface, where few can see the glory, is something very profound (Rev. 2:2,19). You are becoming more like God. God sees it, and he is pleased by it.

Perseverance is more than just making it through life until you die from natural causes. It is perseverance in faith and obedience. It is perseverance in our God-given purpose, even when life is very hard. Perseverance asks the question, “Today, how will I represent God? How will I trust him and follow him in obedience?” Then it asks for help from others, cried out to the Lord, and looks for an opportunity to love. It may seem feeble, but our confidence is in the God who is strong. The essence of persevering is trusting or obeying because of Jesus.”

(Ed Welch: Depression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness.)

Is My Husband Leading Me Spiritually?

When I first got married, I had a very particular idea of what spiritual leadership in a marriage looked like. I envisioned my husband and I having our separate personal quiet times each morning, frequent prayer times together, family devotions every night, and serving together in the youth group or some official ministry of the church. Soon after getting married I realized that my expectations of spiritual leadership were not going to be met. However, the truth is, my husband was and is a great spiritual leader and I have grown in Christ in significant ways as a result of his patient and humble leadership. Needless to say my perspective and beliefs on what spiritual leadership looks like in the home has shifted significantly and I would simply like to share some thoughts that have come out of my journey with this particular issue.

What’s wrong with the traditional picture of spiritual leadership?

What, you may ask, is wrong with the expectations of spiritual leadership that I had in my head at the beginning of my marriage? All of the things I mentioned are good things, not to be scorned, and they are legitimately a part of many husband’s spiritual leadership. However, I came to the realization that what was wrong with my conception of spiritual leadership was that those activities, as good as they may be, were not the heart of what spiritual leadership is. I realized that it is possible to not do many of the traditional spiritual leadership activities with ones family and still be leading them towards Christ and faith; which is spiritual life. Conversely, I realized that a husband can be doing all the traditionally “right” things a spiritual leader is supposed to do but still be spiritually dead and leading his family towards spiritual death. In the end I concluded that spiritual leadership is much more an attitude, an atmosphere, and a direction that one presses towards, rather than a set list of activities. There is a heart to spiritual leadership that fills the many different outward forms that spiritual leadership can take, but without the heart the forms themselves, are empty. (Matthew 23:25-28)

Four Marks

Having come to the above conclusions I started looking more at Michael’s heart than his specific actions, and as the years went by, I began to notice and develop an appreciation for how Michael was indeed leading me spiritually. Even though it didn’t take the forms I had originally expected I began to see more clearly Michael’s heart for Christ, faith, and the church and that those were the overall directions he was taking me.

These are 4 ways that Michael has led me over the years that I had at first overlooked but am now so very grateful for. I offer these as merely my thoughts and experience, but I am hopeful that as you read you can identify ways that your husband is leading you spiritually, that you may have overlooked in the past due to your own expectations of what spiritual leadership should look like.

  1. Pursuing Christ and Faith in His Spiritual Walk.

This is the foundation upon which the rest of spiritual leadership rests and therefore is a main part of what spiritual leadership looks like. If the general direction of your husband’s life is one of pursuit of Christ by faith, then be encouraged! He is heading in a direction that you and your children can and should follow him in. (I Cor. 3:10-15; Eph. 2:19-22; Eph. 5:22-33)

Before moving on I want to encourage you to not jump to the conclusion that your husband does not personally pursue God because he doesn’t have a daily morning quiet time as you do. This was the conclusion I almost came to, but then realized that what seeking Christ practically looked like in my life, was not what it looked like in my husband’s life. You might have long morning quiet times, he might have shorter more frequent times of reading Scripture that you may not always get to observe. You might have a long organized prayer list and a set time for prayer, he might pray on his way to work for whatever is on his heart and mind. You may write out application and meditation thoughts in a journal while his meditation on Scripture does not include journaling.

The Lord knocked me off this high horse of mine during a certain period in my life when my personal devotions and what they looked like changed drastically for me. During that time, I still pursued Christ and I still desired him and God was faithful to keep me close to himself, but what my practical devotional life looked like was much different than I ever would have thought it could look; my old self would have looked at me and judged. My point is, be humble and gracious, and allow for personal differences in this area.

  1. Leading in an attitude of humility through confession of areas of spiritual sin and weakness that the Spirit has brought conviction in.

Spiritual humility and open confession of sin is a cornerstone of Christian growth. If your husband shows an attitude of humility through being open with you, and when appropriate with your kids about his weaknesses and sin then he is leading you spiritually. In essence, when your husband does this, he is leading your family into a humility that leads to repentance. Follow him there. (II Cor. 7:9-11; James 5:16; I John 1:7-10)

  1. Showing interest in your spiritual walk and developing an atmosphere in your home of spiritual openness and regular genuine discussion about the things of God:

For my husband, this interest in my walk with God was expressed through conversations that were both planned and spontaneous and consisted of questions about what I was learning, how my devotions had been, how I may be discouraged spiritually etc. He regularly talks about the sermon’s we hear at church and shares with me how the Lord has been working in him, new things he is learning, questions or doubts he has and the spiritual discouragements he is experiencing. These conversations were not necessarily daily, but they were regular and common.

The point or goal of these conversations is not to have a huge spiritual break through every time. Many times, these conversations were simple and short and did not really lead anywhere particular, but I have come to see that in having these regular conversations he is working to develop an atmosphere of spiritual openness and comfortableness in speak about spiritual things, both positively and negatively. Another way of putting it would be that he is working to develop a way of life where speaking about our spiritual things is common and comfortable, even when what is being said consist of spiritual struggle, disappointment, disillusionment, doubt etc. and not just the positive spiritual growth or experiences we are having (since growth almost always grows out of spiritual struggle).

Working to develop this attitude and atmosphere in a home, I believe, will also naturally create a place where our children can feel free to speak about spiritual things as well; an atmosphere in which our children know and feel that their parents really care about their own personal walks with God and are often speaking openly and engagingly about those things. This is much more than just a household filled with right rules or set times for family devotions, or requirements to have a daily personal devotions, but a household in which the things of God and his work in our lives is often and naturally spoken of. (Deut. 6:4-9; I Thess. 5:14;Phil. 2:1-7)

For some husbands, having a regular family devotions serves as a springboard for developing this overall atmosphere. For others like Michael, they do this better in a more spontaneous conversational way. It took me some time to discern this but I am grateful I did not miss it altogether!

  1. Leading through being careful to bring his family to a church that is theologically sound and is faithful to teach the meat of God’s Word.

 Your husband might not be a natural theologian and teacher but if he has shown that he cares about leading his family to a theologically sound church that teaches the meat of God’s Word, then he is leading you spiritually in a very important way. Your husband cannot feed or lead your family all by himself and he was never meant too; thus the importance of finding a church that teaches the Bible. This might not feel like spiritual leadership to you because it feels like such a “given” but do not overlook or diminish this part of your husband’s leadership if he is indeed leading you in this way. (Hebrews 10:24-25; Titus 2:2-8; II Tim. 4:1-5)

Two Things to Consider:

I don’t know about you but I tend to be a naturally proud person especially when I find myself disappointed in another person’s behaviors towards me. It’s very easy to begin to think that somehow you are just naturally better than they are and that if you were they, you would act much more impressively. Knowing this tendency in myself, I want to encourage you before I begin this next section, to take a second or two to humble yourself before the Lord. I want to remind you that any level of spiritual maturity you may have is all due to God’s work in your life and not due to your natural spiritual awesomeness. God, for reasons based purely on his divine sovereignty and grace, chose to work in your life in ways he may not have chosen to work in many other lives around you. You did nothing to deserve this or earn this. Any obedience or steps towards God that you have taken was God’s initiation and work in your life without which; you would have rebelled and run from God. Don’t ever forget this glorious humbling truth. (Eph. 2:1-10; Eph. 1:4-6;Phil. 2:12-13; II Tim. 2:24-26; John 6:28-29, 43-44; John 15:16;19). This realization should lead you to get off any high horse you may be riding as you consider these next two possibilities.

Only God can take the heart of your husband and turn it towards himself. For this reason I want to encourage you to not put pressure on your husbands to perform any particular spiritual leadership activity, whatever those activities are to you. I think there is a place and time to share with your husband any particular desires you have for him and his spiritual leadership of you, but before you decide to speak to him about spiritual leadership in your marriage, take time to pray about and consider these two possibilities.

First, maybe your husband is leading spiritually, just not in the traditional way you think of spiritual leadership. Be willing to step outside your normal way of thinking, to consider something different. Look to the heart of your husband, and consider where he, as an individual, is heading. If his general direction is one that is towards Christ and the things of God, then there is something to follow and chances are, there are other ways he is leading you that you have not even noticed.

If this is the conclusion you come to then I am glad for you! Humbly thank God for the husband he has given you and for the ways he is succeeding in leading you spiritually and do not take this for granted. Thank your husband for the ways he is leading you, build him up in these areas, and let him know that he is doing a good job. If after doing these things you still feel that there are spiritual areas you would like to work on, or practical things that you desire to do with him, then I would encourage you to speak with him about those things. Be careful not to speak with a critical, why-haven’t-you-led-me-in-this-way tone, but rather in a conversational I-would-enjoy-this-what-do-you-think-about-trying-this-together? tone, and hold whatever it is you want with an open hand. I cannot tell you for sure how this conversation will go. If you feel your husband get defensive or discouraged in this conversation or if he expresses that those are things he is uncomfortable doing be willing to let it go and simply reiterate the ways in which he is doing well.

The second thing you must consider is the possibility that your husband is not at a place spiritually where acting out any amount of spiritual leadership “activities” will amount to the spiritual leadership you so deeply desire, leaving both you and your husband in an unhealthy place. If you get your husband to act these leadership activities out, without the heart of real spiritual leadership, it will simply be a hollow, legalistic, outward expression of his attempts to either please you, impress his spiritual leaders and fellow church mates, or deceive his own heart into thinking that he is spiritually mature and good with God because he is doing the things he is supposed to be doing.

If you find yourself coming to the conclusion that your husband is not in a spiritual place to lead your family at this time, then your desire for your husband to lead spiritually should be expressed primarily to God in the form of praying for your husband’s spiritual growth and not to your husband. Your husband cannot lead you to a place he is not going and you cannot make him go there. Rather in this case I would encourage you, dear sister, to

  • Cling by faith to God’s sovereignty and goodness
  • Accept where your husband is or is not spiritually
  • Humbly, and in an un-flaunting quiet manner, lead your children towards faith in Christ.
  • Pray that God would work in your husband’s life
  • Find for yourself a church with teaching that will lead you weekly to Christ and the things of God, with a leadership you can follow, and
  • Pray for wisdom and discernment on when to speak up to encourage your husband towards Christ and when to keep your peace.

The difficulty of being in this situation is not lost on me and I want you to know that God’s purposes are being worked out in your life and the glory waiting for you is beyond comprehension (Rom 8). Recall this to mind and be filled with hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,

“therefore I will hope in him.”

The Lord is good to those who wait for him

to the soul who seeks him. (Lam 3:21-26)

God is near and he knows your frame, he remembers that you are dust.  (Psalm 103:13-14) “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble and he knows them that trust in him” (Nahum 1:7) Keep your eyes on the glorious things above, on Christ, on his glory and his supremacy in all things (Col 1 and 3), and be encouraged; be strengthened.

Well, those are my thoughts. I would love to hear your thoughts, experiences, and how God has worked in your life in these areas of marriage. Feel free to comment in the comments below or on my facebook post!

Waiting On the Lord

The Scriptures, particularly the Psalms, are full of the command for God’s people to wait on the Lord. I was recently asked what I thought this statement meant and here are some of my thoughts on what it means to wait on, or for the Lord.

Waiting for His Promises

Waiting on the Lord primarily means waiting for the fulfillment of the Lord’s promises in this life and in the life to come. So much of the Christian life is waiting for what God has promised he would do in us as believers, and in the world when he returns. Here are a few passages that might help a believer understand what he should be waiting on the Lord for:

  • Romans 8:18-30
  • I Corinthians 15:50-58
  • Philippians 1:6
  • Philippians 3:12-4:1
  • I Thessalonians 4:13-18 (Word of warning- don’t get caught up in the details of how all of this will happen when Christ returns. The point is not in the details, the point is Jesus will come back victorious and his children will be with him and meet him and we as believers are to be encouraged in that hope we are eagerly waiting for)
  • I Thessalonians 5:23
  • Hebrews 11:13-16, 39, 12:1-11
  • I Peter 1:3-9
  • I Peter 1:12-16,19
  • I John 3:2-3
  • Jude 24
  • Revelation 21:1-7

I encourage you to read through these passages and look out for our future hope: God’s final redemption of his children and the finishing of our sanctification; seeing the awesome glory of God; being with Jesus; having these weak sinful bodies that struggle with the curse of sin be made new! I could go on. These are the things we are to wait on the Lord for, and as we keep our eyes fixed on these things, we are strengthened to continue to be faithful – not perfect – but faithfully striving to believe God and follow him. Those who wait on the Lord and his promises will not be disappointed in the end: God is good to them, they will not be put to shame, and the blessings go on and on.

Word of Warning

I think a harmful interpretation of this idea of waiting on the Lord is waiting for God to give us some temporal blessing that he has not promised us this side of heaven. If you wait on God for a spouse, or a career, or physical health or whatever, you may be disappointed and your faith be shaken, not because God did not keep his promise but because you were waiting for God to keep a promise he never made.

While I do think we are to trust God to bring into our lives whatever he has ordained for us whether that be marriage or singleness, health or sickness, riches or poverty etc. waiting on the Lord in Scripture has much more to do with taking strength and comfort in what we know of his character and what we know of his specific promises to us.

A Bit of “Practical” Advice

If you find yourself in a place of singleness desiring marriage, or a place of sickness desiring health, or a place of poverty desiring financial stability, (insert your situation here _________), for you, waiting on the Lord would look like actively using the resources he has given you to pursue those good things, all the while keeping your hope and heart, NOT fixed on your pursuits, but on God’s character and promises. Since God is good and sovereign, whatever the outcome of your pursuits whether failure or success you can know that it is God’s good doing and remain peaceful and content knowing that “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” and “many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” (Prov. 16:9, 19:21)