Strengthening Others

If someone had said to me personally, or before our church congregation, “I want to strengthen you today,” I would have thought, “Well, thanks, but only God can do that.”

But during my last trek through Acts, I noticed several times the Bible said someone strengthened others. That gave me pause. How did they strengthen others? Why did the Bible phrase it that way instead of saying God strengthened them? I made a note to come back and look at those occurrences some time, and did that last week.

According to BibleStudyTools.com, the Greek word for “strengthen” in these passages means “to establish besides, strengthen more; to render more firm, confirm.” The KJV and a few other translations use “confirmed,” but most use “strengthened.” There are synonyms to this word all through the Bible, but this particular Greek word seems to be only in Acts. So for now I confined my study there.

In the first passage, Acts 14:19-23, men came from Antioch and Iconium and stoned Paul and left him for dead. But Paul got up, traveled to another city, and preached there. Then he returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch—the very places that men had come from to stone him—and began “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (v. 22).

You can imagine how the disciples might have been shaken. If this could happen to Paul, it could happen to them. These guys had who stoned Paul had traveled to another city to do so—what would they do to Christians in their own towns? But Paul encouraged them: Yes, we’ll face persecution. It’s part of the Christian life. But this is the true faith.

Matthew Henry says in his Commentary on the Whole Bible, Volume VI.—Acts to Revelation:

But is this the way to confirm the souls of the disciples and to engage them to continue in the faith? One would think it would rather shock them, and make them weary. No, as the matter is fairly stated and taken entire, it will help to confirm them, and fix them for Christ (p. 185).

Henry then goes on for several paragraphs bringing up other verses that talk about persecution being part of the Christian life and something even Christ experienced. 

The rest of the passage says they appointed elders in the churches, prayed, fasted, and “committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (v 23). No doubt these were an outworking of Paul’s encouragement.

In the second passage in Acts 15, some men were teaching newly-believing Gentiles that they had to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses (verses 1, 5). The apostles and elders met together to discuss the issue. “After there had been much debate,” Peter shared his experience of being taught by the Lord that God “made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” To put them under the OT law would be “placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear. But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” Paul and Barnabus followed with their experiences reaching Gentiles. The council confirmed that the Gentiles did not have to keep the OT ceremonial law and just asked them to observe a few things. They sent a letter with Paul, Barnabus, Judas, and Silas to the brethren in Antioch. “And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words” (verses 31-32).

Here the disciples were strengthened with truth and the rest that comes from grace. Instead of coming under a religion of works that they could never live up to, they could rejoice in the grace of God. One commentary here noted “Their work was the very reverse of those who had previously come from Judea ‘subverting the souls of the disciples (Acts 15:24).'”

The rest of the verses, Acts 15:40-41; 16:4-5; and 18:22-23, just mention that Paul, along with various companions, traveled place to place strengthening the disciples.

So from these passages, we can draw out these principles of how the apostles strengthened others:

Their presence. The elders in Jerusalem sent a letter, but they sent it with people to deliver personally, who then went on to strengthen them. Paul went back to several churches he started, watering the seed that was planted, encouraging them in person.

They shared truth and grace. God gives us strength through His Word. “Strengthen me according to your word” (Psalm 119:28b). The passage where Paul was persecuted presages Peter’s later epistle encouraging disciples not to be surprised at persecution, but to “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” The truth encouraged them. Then the Acts 15 passage brought them back to the foundation of grace rather than the added-on works of tradition.

They showed loving concern. Paul was so concerned for the disciples that he went back to the city of those who stoned him to encourage them. Though he was the one who had suffered, he wanted to strengthen them. Matthew Henry says of Acts 16:4-5, “that spirit of tenderness and condescension which appeared in these letters plainly showed that the apostles and elders were herein under the guidance of him who is love itself” (p. 203). What a contrast to the Pharisees, who protested at people being healed on the Sabbath in violation, not of God’s law, but their own, and who were so full of hate that they sought to have Jesus killed.

They were empathic. I love Peter’s empathy when he asks why they would put a heavy yoke on the new disciples that they had not been able to bear themselves.

Paul didn’t lessen the truth that persecution would come, but he encouraged them to bear it for Christ.

There is a sympathy that weakens and a sympathy that strengthens. One thing that stood out to me in Walter and Trudy Fremont’s book from many years ago, Formula for Family Unity, was this thought:

Parents should not take the grit out of their children’s lives by protecting them from every hardship, blow, or disappointment. Remember, adversity strengthens character. . . .

Children are resilient; they can take a lot if Mother doesn’t make them feel abused and neglected by an overly sympathetic attitude. Such a statement as, “Oh, honey, it’s so cold out there; I’m afraid you’ll freeze on your paper route,” produces a negative attitude in the mind of the child. Mother ought to say, “When you finish your paper route, I’ll have a cup of hot chocolate waiting and a good breakfast” (pp. 103-104)(2).

The mother’s second statement acknowledges the child’s difficulty and her sympathy, but in a way that braces him for what he has to face rather than leaving him wallowing in self-pity.

We can do the same as we interact with others. Sometimes we slap truth on like a band-aid without taking time to enter into another’s situation. No wonder what we say hits them the wrong way instead of ministering to them. Instead, Jesus was “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15, KJV). Since He “has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15b-16).

Why does Acts say the apostles strengthened others instead of saying God did or the Word of God did? Strength actually came from God and His Word, but He sent it through His messengers. God often works through people. How we need to be faithful messengers, loving, caring, personally interested, sharing truth and grace.

Matthew Henry sums it up perfectly:

[Paul] preached that to them which strengthened them, which confirmed their faith in Christ, their resolutions for Christ, their pious affections to him. Disciples need to be strengthened, for they are compassed about with infirmity; ministers must do what they can to strengthen them, to strengthen them all, by directing them to Christ, and bringing them to live upon him, whose strength is perfected in their weakness, and who is himself their strength and song (p. 240).

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Under His Shadow

It’s hot. I’ve run errands in a high temperature, humidity, and heat index. My car has air conditioning, but the seats are hot and the AC takes a few minutes to cool off. After several hot-then-cool transitions, I’m feeling a little nauseated.

When I get home, shoes come off, the AC is turned up, the ceiling fan is turned on. I get a cold drink, and I sit down to cool off and dry out. I may even have ice cream or a root beer float.

Not so many years ago, all those options weren’t available. We didn’t have central air conditioning in our house when I was a child. We didn’t even have a room unit. We attempted to take parent-mandated naps with windows open and an oscillating fan cooling off head or feet, but not both at the same time.

When my aunt bought a home with central air, I thought it was so luxurious to nap in the coolness of her room with dark blue curtains that shut out the sunlight.

In older times, and even now in some countries, refuge from the scorching heat is first sought in shade: under a tree, in the shadow of a building, anything that will put a barrier between people and the blazing sun.

Shadows can represent many things: the Bible uses the metaphor of shadows to illustrate the brevity of life or the nearness of death. But often Scripture speaks of shadows in reference to God. His shade provides:

Protection. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings (Psalm 17:8). David prayed this seeking refuge from enemies. We can pray it when weary of a world that opposes God or weary of our own fight against sin. Some of those seeking David’s life were a former friend and his own son. People will fail us: God never will.

Refuge. Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by (Psalm 57:1).

Provision. How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights (Psalm 36:7-8).

Joy. For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy (Psalm 63:7).

Shelter. He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2).

For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall (Isaiah 25:4).

Keeping and care. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore (Psalm 121:5-8).

Delight and sweetness. As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste (Song of Solomon 2:3).

Forgiveness and fruitfulness. The prophet Hosea pleads, “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him, ‘Take away all iniquity” (Hosea 14:1-2a). God promises that if they will do this, “I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. . . . They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine (Hosea 14:4-7b).

In the March 30 reading of Edges of His Ways, Amy Carmichael wrote, “If the Bible had been written in England, there would not have been nearly so many words about the comfort a shadow can be. But it was written in countries where the heat could be very great and where great open plains of burning sand make the shadow of a great rock something to be remembered.” She then shared her poem “I Follow Thee,” which captures the idea of shelter from heat as well as Israel’s flight from Egypt:

Shadow and coolness, Lord,
Art Thou to me;
Cloud of my soul, lead on,
I follow Thee.
What though the hot winds blow,
Fierce heat beats up below?
Fountains of water flow –
Praise, praise to Thee.

Clearness and glory, Lord,
Art Thou to me;
Light of my soul, lead on,
I follow Thee.
All through the moonless night,
Making its darkness bright,
Thou art my heavenly Light –
Praise, praise to Thee.

Shadow and shine art Thou,
Dear Lord, to me;
Pillar of cloud and fire,
I follow Thee.
What though the way be long,
In Thee my heart is strong,
Thou art my joy, my song –
Praise, praise to Thee.

Are you hot, weary, depleted, in need of shelter and refuge? Come under His shadow.

This is a beautiful piece based on the Song of Solomon passage, set to music by Elizabeth Poston: “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree”:

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Battling Anger, Frustration, and Impatience

You might not suspect it, but I have a short temper sometimes. I don’t yell. I grew up with yelling and didn’t want it in my home. But I tend to seethe silently, which is no better (and certainly isn’t healthier).

Of course, some anger is justified. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” But the next verse warns, “and give no opportunity to the devil.” There are a number of warnings in Proverbs and other Scriptures about the dangers of anger.

What trips me up most often are dumb little things. Like trying to get one coat hanger, which somehow makes others fall down. Or the easy-open package which doesn’t live up to its description. Or tossing a plastic bottle into the recycling bin only to have it bounce out and roll under the car.

When a flash of anger or frustration or impatience flares up, I pray for forgiveness and try to gain the right perspective.

I pray for patience. People say not to do that because, since “tribulation worketh patience” (Romans 5:3, KJV), you’re asking for more tribulation. But I am asking for grace to respond better when even these minor tribulations show up.

Lately I’ve wondered if there’s a way to head that flare-up off at the pass. “Good sense makes one slow to anger” (Proverbs 19:11). So I sat down one afternoon and sought some good sense “to be renewed in the spirit of [my] mind” (Ephesians 4:23).

We live in a fallen world. Stuff will go wrong. The computer will mess up just as I was finishing my work. Ants will find their way into my kitchen, despite having a whole big world outside to explore. Weeds will grow faster than plants. Ever since the fall of man in Genesis 3, life has been harder than it was before.

In my early adulthood, we didn’t have the plethora of personality profiles we do today. No one had heard of the Enneagram or Meyers-Briggs. All we had to go by were the four temperaments. Some Christian books on the subject were very helpful in understanding myself. But it was a preacher who shared in passing something that was a big eye-opener to me. He mentioned that melancholics (my personality type, but not meaning sad) liked things to be right. They’re often seen as critical (and can be), but that’s an outgrowth of wanting to fix what’s wrong.

But there’s no way I can personally set everything right, from hard-to-open packages to social justice. I can only do what’s before me to do. I ask God to set things right and pray for grace to deal with the everyday frustrations of life.

Who am I, that I should expect everything to go my way? I’m running late and get frustrated with red lights, as if the whole transportation system should rearrange itself for my benefit. I get angry at the driver who cut me off or took the parking space I was aiming for, as if I had a right to those spaces over him. A lot of my frustration boils down to selfishness.

Giving way in small things makes it easier to give way in big things. I used to think it wasn’t necessarily wrong to take anger out on an inanimate object when I was alone. It didn’t have feelings, and I wasn’t ruining my testimony. But letting myself “lose it” in those moments just makes it easier to keep responding the same way. As the old hymn says:

Yield not to temptation,
For yielding is sin;
Each vict’ry will help you,
Some other to win;
Fight valiantly onward,
Dark passions subdue;
Look ever to Jesus,
He will carry you through.

Ask the Savior to help you,
Comfort, strengthen and keep you;
He is willing to aid you,
He will carry you through.

H. R. Palmer

Impatience and frustration are not Christlike. “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6). “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2). Yes, Jesus got angry. But when He overthrew the money-changer’s table in the temple and cursed a fig tree, those incidents were not flash-in-the-pan exasperation or losses of temper. They were a demonstration of His authority and a small preview of the judgment to come. In His dealings with everyday people, He was meek and kind.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.(1 Peter 2:21-23)

The fruit of the Spirit. Last week I talked about not just “don’t-ing,” not just concentrating on what we’re not supposed to do, but pursuing what we are supposed to. For the past few weeks I have been asking God every morning to fill me with His Holy Spirit and work out His fruit in my life. Then I recite the fruit of the Spirit to myself: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. Keeping those things at the forefront of my mind will hopefully incline me more toward them than the flesh.

Meditating on God’s Word. In addition to the passage about the fruit of the Spirit and anger, verses like these melt my anger away:

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:30-32)

Anger and frustration are not worth the consequences, physically (high blood pressure, headaches, etc.), mentally (letting the next minutes be ruined by a sour attitude over some frustration) or spiritually.

Remember little things are just little things. Don’t let them foment into a bigger problem.

Take practical measures. Stop struggling with the package and just get the scissors. Leave the house with a cushion of time. Set reminders so I don’t forget things.

Let God use frustrating circumstances for good. Elisabeth Elliot wrote in Keep a Quiet Heart:

Everything about which we are tempted to complain may be the very instrument whereby the Potter intends to shape His clay into the image of His Son–a headache, an insult, a long line at the check-out, someone’s rudeness or failure to say thank you, misunderstanding, disappointment, interruption. As Amy Carmichael said, “See in it a chance to die,” meaning a chance to leave self behind and say YES to the will of God, to be “conformable unto His death.” Not a morbid martyr-complex but a peaceful and happy contentment in the assurance that goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives. Wouldn’t our children learn godliness if they saw the example of contentment instead of complaint? acceptance instead of rebellion? peace instead of frustration?

Elisabeth once quoted what George MacDonald said in What’s Mine is Mine: “Because a thing is unpleasant, it is folly to conclude it ought not to be. There are powers to be born, creations to be perfected, sinners to be redeemed, through the ministry of pain, to be born, perfected, redeemed, in no other way.”

A Chinese proverb says, ‘”A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.” 

Amy Carmichael once wrote:

The hardest thing is to keep cheerful (and loving) under little things that come from uncongenial surroundings, the very insignificance of which adds to their power to annoy, because they must be wrestled with, and overcome, as in the case of larger hurts. Some disagreeable habit in one to whom we may owe respect and duty, and which is a constant irritation or our sense of the fitness of things, may demand of us a greater moral force to keep the spirit serene than an absolute wrong committed against us. [Houghton, Frank. Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur. (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1983), 86-87]

I make my prayer Colossians 1:11 (KJV): “Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.” Not just patient and longsuffering, not just “grin and bear it,” but joyful!

What helps you to battle impatience, frustration, and anger?

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Don’t-ing or Doing?

In my early Christian life, a lot of teaching I heard seemed to emphasize what we as Christians don’t do. We don’t dress like that. We don’t listen to that kind of music. We don’t watch those programs. We don’t play those games. We don’t use that kind of language.

During part of this time I had a job in retail sales. I wanted to be a good testimony. I politely said no to invitations to places I didn’t feel comfortable going with my coworkers. I quietly absented myself from certain conversations. My style of dress was noticeably different from that of others. They knew I didn’t do a number of things. Some were even kindly protective of me, careful not to put me in situations where I might be uncomfortable. I couldn’t help but wonder, however, what these actions (or inactions) indicated to my coworkers and customers. They knew I was “religious.” But could they tell the difference between me and an adherent of any number of other religions? They saw my standards, but did they see my Jesus?

The Bible does have a lot to say about what we should not do. Freedom in Christ doesn’t mean we live any way we want to. God’s command for our holiness filters down into every part of our lives, and our love for Him does influence our choices of dress and entertainment. We need to understand what things are wrong. We need to realize we’re innately drawn towards wrong. Paul said, “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Romans 7:7). It’s important to remember the Bible’s warnings against sin. Some people fall off-balance by minimizing or even overlooking the “don’ts” in the name of love and positivity or an effort to be inoffensive.


But the Bible doesn’t stop with a list of “don’ts.” “So flee youthful passions,” 2 Timothy 2:22 says. But it goes on to say, “and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

Colossians 3:5-9 tells us to “ Put to death ” or “put away” “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry . . . anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another.”

But the passage doesn’t stop with “putting off.” “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (verses 9-10). The next verses enumerate what that new self we put on looks like:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And 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 dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (verses 12-17).

Ephesians 4:17-32 has similar instructions to “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (verses 22-24). We trade lying for truth (v. 25), stealing for honest work (v. 28), corrupt talk for edifying words (v. 29). We don’t let anger linger (v. 26), and we replace bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice with kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness “as God in Christ forgave you” (verses. 31-32).

We’re not aiming just for “positive thinking”: we’re seeking a balanced focus. “Putting on the new” not only keeps us balanced, but it actually helps us put off the old. We have known of preachers who have fallen into sexual sin after years of preaching against it. Surely a number of factors contributed to their fall, but one may have been an undue focus on the forbidden.

Erwin Lutzer shared a helpful illustration in How to Say No to a Stubborn Habit: if someone tells you not to think of the number eight—suddenly that’s all you can think about. The more you try not to think about it, the more it fills your mind. But if you start thinking of other numbers or working equations, you’re distracted from eight.

Likewise, if I try to diet by repeating to myself, “Don’t eat chocolate cake, Don’t eat chocolate cake, Don’t eat chocolate cake,” what is my mind filled with? Chocolate cake. I’m thinking about it so much, I am likely to give in and have some. But if I turn my thoughts toward other things I can eat, chocolate cake lessens it’s hold on me. Now I can focus on the positive, on what I can do rather than what I can’t.

Years ago I read in a forgotten older book about “chastity meetings.” The author didn’t elaborate, but evidently these meetings were held to help young people make a decision to pursue purity. His wise advice was, “Have your chastity meetings, but then go on to another subject.” If every single week these young people were warned about sexual sin and urged to avoid it, their thoughts would be filled with it just like mine would be with the chocolate cake I needed to avoid.

Concentrating on “doing” rather than just on “don’t-ing” not only helps us avoid sin and pursue good, but it presents a better testimony. If all we talk about is what we don’t do, we sound either curmudgeonly or self-righteous.

Pursuing the positive also creates joy in Christ rather than mourning what we can’t do.

But we don’t follow a list of impossible good works in order to gain favor or rack up points with God. We focus on these good traits not to become righteous but to demonstrate that God has changed us and made us righteous. The Ephesians passage mentioned above says the goal is to  “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (verse 13). It also says we effect these transformations by being “renewed in the spirit of [our] minds (v. 23) and because that’s the way we have learned Christ (verses. 20-21). Romans 12:2 tells us “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Colossians 3:10 tells us our “new self…is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

How do we renew our minds in the knowledge of Him? By beholding Him in His Word: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). As we see Him in His Word, we get to know Him better, and we become more like Him. As we pursue the pure and good and holy, the lesser things fall away.

(Revised from the archives)

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Remembering How God Has Led

I don’t know what triggered my trip down memory lane. I sat with my Daily Light open but unread, and began to pray for God to open my understanding and speak to my heart from His Word.

I thought back with wonder of the many different paths my life could have taken. Several events led to my salvation. What if one of them hadn’t happened?

There were different temptations, some of which I regret failing. I could have been done in by any of them.

My life could have followed any number of paths, not just theoretically, but due to influences at the time. I could have become an alcoholic. I had planned to get married right out of high school, not realizing I would be marrying the wrong person. I not only would have missed meeting my wonderful husband, but I would not have experienced all I learned both intellectually and spiritually at a Christian college.

I could have fallen for a television evangelist’s false doctrine (I actually called the number on the screen once). People are so vulnerable just before and after salvation, when their interest in the Lord is aroused but they have no discernment yet.

In 8th or 9th grade, we moved to a new town. The school I attended was the most cliquish place I had ever been. Well-defined groups didn’t allow for new members. My mom had to plead and almost push me out of the car at school in the mornings. I spent many lunch breaks walking around the grounds by myself in tears. Finally I became friends with another girl who was also, for some unknown reason, outside the school’s social circles. I discovered years later that it was the Lord’s mercy that kept me from getting involved with the popular crowd, as they were into a lot of unhealthy activities. What if I had gotten in with them? I probably would have gotten into some kind of trouble and possibly would have become proud and condescending.

Between my sophomore and junior year, my mother left my father and took my siblings and me to Houston. The break had been coming for years, but it still hurt when it finally happened. We moved from a very small town of less than 200 to the teeming metropolis of Houston. The culture shock was very real. In those days before the Internet, I had little contact with my friends from school. I had no opportunity to make new friends since school wouldn’t start for months yet. It was the loneliest time in my life. I remember lying on my bed clinging desperately to Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Looking back, I didn’t know fully what that verse meant. But I knew that, to the degree I knew how, I loved God, and I trusted Him to work things out for good. Though that was one of the lowest points in my life, it was also pivotal. It was through this move that God provided miraculously for me to go to a Christian school for two years, led me to a good church, helped me make sure of my salvation, and let me know about a Christian college.

Somehow God led me all the way.

My heart was tender thinking back over God’s working in my life. As I opened my Bible reading for the day, I came to Deuteronomy 8:2: “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness.” It’s amazing how God prepares me for what I am going to encounter in His Word. I thought my mental wanderings about my past were just daydreams and rabbit trails, but here He had led me to do just what the Scripture said.

Several times in Deuteronomy 8, Moses urged the Israelites to remember the Lord and not forget Him. Peter wanted “to stir you up by way of reminder” (2 Peter 1:13; 3:1). Jesus told the Ephesian church, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:4). As God called Israel, back to Himself, He said, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown” (Jeremiah 2:2).

This is what I most want my children, grandchildren, readers, and anyone with whom I have any influence to know, to remember: that Christianity is not just a culture, not just a set of doctrines, not just what we do and don’t do. It is the basis of all of those. But first of all it’s that personal relationship with the Lord.

Do you have that? Have there been times in your life you knew God was at work in you, drawing you to Himself? Do you have warm and tender moments where He met with you personally?

If you professed faith as a young child, you may not remember a definite “before” and “after” to your life of faith. But you can be grateful for God’s preventative work in your life and the scars and bad memories He kept you from. As you’ve walked with the Lord, I am sure you’ve found that the “big sins” are not always the dramatic ones that everyone sees. Inner wrestlings with pride and self-will are just as deadly. You’ve discovered that it takes as much of God’s grace to battle those as it does to defeat addiction. You’ve probably experienced times when God answered prayer or something in His Word met your need of the moment. It’s not the drama of one’s initial testimony that determines what kind of Christian life we have: it’s simple faith, not in our faith, but in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Nothing stirs up our love and gratitude towards the Lord like remembering how He saved us and led us. It’s a blessing to sometimes review the “Ebenezers,” those special times of help that we’ve experienced along the way. Then we can say along with the psalmist:

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
 when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
 for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
 My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.
Psalm 63:5-8

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

14 Reasons to Read the Old Testament

It’s safe to say most of us gravitate to the New Testament of the Bible. We enjoy the Old Testament stories, the practical wisdom of Proverbs, the emotional depth of the Psalms.

But Jesus fulfilled all the OT ceremonial law and the sacrificial requirements, so we’re not under obligation to practice those any more. And all that past history is . . .well. . . .past. The NT seems more practical.

So why bother to read the OT?

Well, there are several good reasons.

1. The whole Bible is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). One of our former pastors used to say the Bible is divinely brief. Think of all the things an eternal God knows and could tell us. He chose the particular words in the Bible for specific reasons.

2. The whole Bible is beneficial. 2 Timothy goes on to say all Scripture is “beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man or woman of God may be fully capable, equipped for every good work” (3:16b-17, NASB).

3. The OT provides examples for us. “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11, NASB). The context of these verses talks about various things OT Israel did wrong. Then the passage warns the reader, “Therefore let the one who thinks he stands watch out that he does not fall” (verse 12).

4. The OT helps us appreciate what we have in Christ. Our  church recently studied Leviticus.

The tabernacle and temple system emphasized the distance between us and God. Only the priests could enter and only with the right sacrifices conducted the right way. When Jesus died, the veil of the temple was supernaturally torn in two, indicating the way to God was now open.

Hebrews 10:19-20 tells us, “We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, through His flesh.” Because He made a way for us and is our high priest, we’re encouraged to

  • approach God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith
  • hold firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering
  • consider how to encourage one another in love and good deeds (verses 21-25).

5. The OT emphasizes holiness. A seminary professor taught a class on Leviticus. He asked his students to try to keep the regulations in Leviticus for a week and journal about the experience. One replied that the assignment had him evaluating everything in his life related to holiness all the time. The NT requires holiness, too. But we don’t often examine every area of our lives to see whether we measure up to God’s holy standards as they were required to in the OT. We’re free from the strictures of the OT ceremonial law, but we still need to submit our conscience and practice to God’s Holy Spirit.

6. The NT quotes or alludes to the OT over 880 times. The NT would not make sense without the OT foundation. [1]

7. Jesus quoted and believed in the Old Testament. Jesus told the Jews who opposed Him, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39, ESV). The Scriptures He referred to were the Old Testament writings. Many times He said, “Have you not read…?” and quoted something from the Old Testament, meaning that He expected them to know what it taught.

After His resurrection, when He walked along with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27, ESV).

8. The OT instructs us and gives us hope. Paul tells us in Romans 15:4: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” When we realize we are not that different from the complaining, disbelieving Israelites in the wilderness, we have hope that God will be faithful and longsuffering with us as He was with them. When we read of God helping His people through various trials and troubles in the Bible, we’re encouraged that He will take care of us as well.

9. The OT and NT tell us about the same God. Some have felt that the OT presents an angry, vengeful God while the NT shows us a merciful, loving God. But they are one and the same. God shows His grace and mercy and love to His people many times in the OT, even when they behaved the worst. And many places in the NT warn of God’s wrath against sin.

10. The Old Testament shows us our need and prepares us for the only One who can meet it. The laws and sacrificial system showed Israel the impossibility of keeping God’s law and the need for a Savior. The law was our “schoolmaster” to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24, KJV). The sinless lamb of the sacrifices points to the Lamb of God, the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. The OT sacrifices had to be repeated, but Jesus’s offering took care of our sins forever (Hebrews 10:14).

11. The Old Testament points to Christ, from the representation of the scapegoat, to the atonement, to Messianic prophecies. A former pastor, Dr. Mark Minnick, used to say that the Old Testament showed Israel’s need for a judge, a prophet, and a king. But even the best judges, prophets, and kings fell short. Jesus fulfills all those offices perfectly.

12. The Old Testament is part of our spiritual heritage. Romans 11:11-31 tells us we were grafted into the olive tree of the Jews.  The true Israel is by faith, not just lineage. Galatians 3:29 and Romans 9:6-8 say that those in Christ are children of Abraham:

Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham (Galatians 3:6-9, NKJV).

13. The Old and New Testaments form a whole, with each part of the same overarching story. L. E. Maxwell, cofounder and eventual president of the Prairie Bible Institute, said in his book Crowded to Christ, “The New Testament is enfolded in the Old, and the Old Testament is unfolded in the New.” [2]

14. There are treasures in the OT. If you skipped the OT, you’d miss some of the greatest treasures of the Bible, like these:

Zephaniah 3:17: The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

Isaiah 30:15a: For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

If the OT seemed dry or hard to understand in the past, a good study Bible helps. You can find a variety of sizes and types of commentaries and other study aids. This past year I have used Warren Wiersbe’s “Be” commentaries on different books of the Bible. They often show up on Kindle sales. They’re detailed enough to give insights, yet simple enough to understand.

If you’ve been avoiding the OT, I encourage you to read and study  it. You’ll find rich, meaningful treasure there.


[1] “O.T. Quotations Found in the N.T. – Study Resources.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 15 Jun, 2021. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/pnt/pnt08.cfm&gt;.

[2] L. E. Maxwell, Crowded to Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1950), p. 272.

Unless otherwise stated, all Bible verses are from the ESV.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

A Better Blade for Killing Sin

There’s one piece of chocolate cake on the counter.

I love chocolate cake. But I’ve already had something sweet today, and I want to save that last piece of cake for my husband. So I am resisting temptation.

There’s nothing inherently sinful about chocolate cake. But a lack of self-control is sinful. And chocolate cake tests my self-control.

If I start thinking about the cake, I’ll think about how good it tastes. Then I’ll think about maybe taking a sliver of it. Then half. And then I’ll think, “Well, it’s just this once. It’s not like I feast on chocolate cake every day.” I might even talk myself into eating the whole piece: my husband doesn’t know it’s there, so he isn’t expecting cake when he comes home.

Each thought is like laying kindling to the initial flame of temptation. Instead of feeding that flame, I need to stomp on it, douse it, dump sand on it.

That’s the kind of thing that comes to mind when someone talks about killing sin.

Romans 8:13 says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Colossians 3:5 says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you” and then names several wrong desires.

When something is killed, it’s . . . dead. Unresponsive. Not going to bother us any more.

But the problem is, wrong desires don’t stay dead. The next time chocolate cake is here, I’ll face the same temptation. So does that mean I didn’t “kill sin” in the first place?

Same with selfishness, probably my most besetting sin. Have you ever tried to kill selfishness in your life? It doesn’t stay dead. We might resist it one moment, but then it’s back soon.

So how can we kill it? I’ve supposed that the Bible means we kill sin in the moment. When I am tempted to sin, instead of entertaining the idea, I should look for ways to resist. God promises that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” 1 Corinthians 10:13). Too often I look for an excuse to indulge instead of the way of escape.

Instead of indulging the desire, I resist it–strangle it. Am unresponsive to it. It may come up again tomorrow. But for now, it’s slain.

Still, I wrestled with what it really meant to kill sin. Like the old slogan that promised Raid “kills bugs dead,” how could I kill sin dead?

A passage in Jen Wilkin’s book, Ten Words to Live By: Delighting In and Doing What God Commands, helped shed some light. The book is about the Ten Commandments, what they mean, how they apply today. In the seventh chapter on honoring marriage, Jen brings up Jesus’s command to cut off one’s eye or hand if those members cause us to sin, because “it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30). Jesus is obviously using hyperbole, exaggeration, to make a point.

Jen points out that even if we could cut off any body part that causes us to sin, we’d still have a problem in our hearts. Jesus made the same point when He said it’s not just committing adultery that’s a sin, but lusting. Jen goes on to say:

We need a better blade than any formed by human hands, one aimed at ridding our hearts of disordered desires.

Praise God, we have one. The blade that slays the beast is the word of God, made living and active by the Spirit of God, dividing thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). By the word of God we learn to delight our hearts in the Lord, and the outcome is that which the psalmist predicts: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4) (p. 106).

Then Jen shares what was for me a light-bulb moment:

As we confess and repent, God puts to death our disordered desires and gives us rightly ordered ones. And our eyes and hands and feet and lips and tongues and noses begin to serve at the pleasure of a heart that delights in him.

“If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light” (Matt. 6:22). The antidote to the lust of the eyes is not self-inflicted blindness, but seeing as God sees (pp. 106-107).

Being tempted is not sin. Jesus was tempted, yet never sinned. He resisted Satan with the Word of God. The more we know God’s Word, the better we’ll be able to resist sin.

But we put sin to death in our lives not just by resisting temptation in the moment, but by exposing ourselves to the blade of the Word of God, by delighting ourselves in the Lord and letting Him change our desires.

Killing sin doesn’t mean that I’ll never be tempted by a particular thing again or that all outward influences to sin will die. I wish. That won’t happen until heaven. But by God’s grace, I am supposed to kill sin in me. Sin lost its power over me at the cross. But I have to learn to live in newness of life—a process called sanctification, which won’t be complete until heaven. As I grow in the Lord, take in His Word, delight in Him, He changes my desires, and sin loses more power.

Scripture describes the Christian life as the source of such great joy that temptations lose their appeal. Like the feeling we have after Thanksgiving dinner, we should be so full of Christ that we don’t have room for sin!…Does obeying Christ mean saying no to sinful pleasures? Sure. However, saying no to sin in favor of Christ is like saying no to a scooter in favor of a sports car, or no to peanuts in favor of filet mignon. Life with Christ is a feast, not a famine (Chris Anderson, Gospel Meditations for Women).

One of Jen’s discussion questions at the end of this chapter says, “If you believe that the sharp blade of the Scriptures can put [sin] to death and reshape your desires, what regular practice of gazing on them do you follow?” (p. 110, emphases mine).

May we continually make time for God’s Word and grow in our love for Him.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

With Jesus in the Kitchen

I don’t consider myself the best of cooks even under normal circumstances. But making meals for others can be a special cause of tension. We want to share our best when we cook for others, whether we’ve invited them into our home or we’re taking a meal to share.

I’ve learned the hard way not to get too ambitious under those circumstances. Experiments often go wrong the first time. So I usually make something simple, tried and true.

Several months ago, before the pandemic, I was getting ready for our church potluck dinner. I don’t even remember what I was making. But it was something I had made before for church. It should have come together easily. Yet it wasn’t, for some reason.

As I scrambled around trying to decide whether to fix it (and how) or come up with Plan B, the verse about Jesus being tempted in all points like we are crossed my mind. Irritably, I thought, “When did He ever have to make a potluck dinner?”

Then I remembered the feeding of the 5,000.

And I was pulled up short.

It wasn’t a potluck dinner, but it was one of the biggest crowds ever served, especially by one man.

Of course, Jesus could take care of a meal for such a crowd in ways that we can’t. The whole point of this incident was to show His deity by way of His supernatural ability. Jesus brought this occurrence up later in conversations with the disciples to remind them: don’t worry about your needs. I will take care of you.

One thing I notice about Jesus’s ministry is that He was never frazzled or flustered. Yes, He was God. He knew how things would turn out. But He walked in faith, knowing that His Father would meet His needs.

I’ve always empathized with Martha, “cumbered about much serving” (Luke 10:38-42). Other translations say “distracted,” a couple say “busy.” But I love the feel of that old word, cumbered. Martha complained to Jesus that Mary, who was listening to Jesus, needed to come and help her. Instead, Jesus pointed out that Martha was “careful and troubled.” (Other translations say “worried and upset.” One says “bothered.”) He told Martha, “Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Obviously, listening to Jesus is more important than fussing over dinner. But I’ve often wondered—what should Martha have done about dinner, then? Wait until Jesus was done teaching? Probably. Have something simple and quick like peanut butter sandwiches (or the first-century Israeli equivalent)? Maybe. But above all else, just don’t worry about it. Many times Jesus told His disciples not to worry about what they were going to eat or drink.

Does this mean it’s wrong to prepare an elaborate meal? No. Some people are gifted that way. We can enjoy their gifts without feeling we have to match them. Sometimes even those of us who aren’t as talented in the kitchen like to try to do something fancy.

But the point is to do whatever we do with a peaceful heart. I learned a long time ago that my husband would much rather have a simple meal than one that stresses me out to prepare.

On a practical level, these things help me:

  • Do as much ahead of time as possible.
  • If one dish takes a lot of time or labor, make the other dishes simple or store-bought.
  • Enlist help, either from the family or guests. People often ask if they can bring anything. Take them up on their offer.
  • If possible, don’t plan time-consuming or new meals during weeks when you have a lot of other things going on.
  • Keep a few recipes or meal ideas on file that consistently turn out well for potlucks or company.
  • Keep a few key ingredients for quick meals on hand for unexpected company or for a “Plan B’ when things don’t go well.

Here are some principles I’ve gleaned over the years:

Watch out for pride. It’s not wrong to want to make food other people will like. But sometimes I notice a subtle pride entering even preparation for a church potluck, a desire for my dish to be noticed, praised, and above all else, eaten. For many years I did not want to bring something store-bought to a church fellowship, until I realized that stemmed from pride. If my kitchen stress stems from wanting to protect my reputation, my emphasis is in the wrong place.

Keep first things first. As Jesus said, Mary chose the better part by listening to Him. Jesus said in another place, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). There have been times when I was so exhausted and stressed getting ready for guests that I just didn’t have anything left when they finally came. My priorities were out of kilter.

Serve God from worship, not in place of worship. The first pastor we had after we were married, Jesse Boyd, used to say:

Worship without service is a hollow farce.
Service without worship is a hectic fervor.
But worship which issues in service is a holy force.

When I am filled with “hectic fervor,” I need to do a heart check.

Be prepared. In a passage about counting the cost of discipleship, Jesus speaks of a man planning to build a tower or a king planning to go to war (Luke 14:25-33). First they sit down, assess what they have, and make plans. Some of my most frustrating meal preparations have been when I didn’t plan well. I forgot a key ingredient or a step in the process or didn’t plan for the time needed for part of the process.

Trust His sufficiency. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Sometimes I shorten that to “all grace, all sufficiency, all things, all times.” In another area of domestic need, I have sometimes prayed over buttonholes or difficult parts of sewing. When we’re getting ready for company, I pray for efficiency and peace of heart as I prepare.

Remember the point of fellowship and hospitality. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17). Though providing food is important, the main purpose for a meal with others is to fellowship with them and minister to them, to meet their needs rather than show off my skills.

The last stanza of a poem “The Kitchen Prayer” expresses my heart and reminds me to do everything I do—even prepare meals for others—as unto Him.

Warm all the kitchen with Thy love
And light it with Thy peace;
Forgive me all my worrying,
And make all grumbling cease.
Thou who didst love to give men food,
In room or by the sea,
Accept this service that I do–
I do it unto Thee.

Klara C. Munkres

What are some of your tips for serving others?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

What Are You Looking For?

What are you looking for as you go through life?

Peace?

Love?

Justice?

A good time?

Happiness?

We might find those in some measure. Some of them are God’s good gifts. Some are a foretaste of heaven.

But none will be perfect. This world is fraught with strife, selfishness, conflict.

And such characteristics are not just out there. They’re in our hearts as well.

Whatever troubles or pleases us about this life, none of it will last. Peter says some day “the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10b).

If we’ve staked all our hopes and dreams on this earth, we’ll be in trouble.

Since this earth won’t last forever, what should we do? Peter goes on to say, “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless” (2 Peter 3:11-14, NKJV).

Others passages echo this truth:

For our conversation (citizenship) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself (Philippians 3:20-21, KJV).

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14, NKJV).

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation (Hebrews 9:27-28, KJV).

Other translations say “wait for” instead of “look for,” but the Greek definitions can be translated either way. We wait with expectation, with eagerness, looking for Him.

Only with Him will we find perfection. Only in heaven will there be no sin, no sorrow, no crying, no pain–none of the negative things that taint life here.

Is this just escapism from reality? No, it’s arriving at reality. We look forward to our true reality, our true home. C. S. Lewis called this life the Shadowlands. In The Last Battle, when the children and animals realize they’re in a new Narnia, the Unicorn says:

I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it til now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.

Aslan told the children, “The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

It was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page: now, at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Elisabeth Elliot has quoted George MacDonald as saying, “If you knew what God knows about death, you would clap your listless hands.” I remember reading somewhere that one reason God doesn’t tell us much about heaven is that we would look forward to it so much, we wouldn’t be able to get anything else done here.

I admit, there’s much I still enjoy and look forward to in this life. There’s much I’d like to do. One of the most important things I desire is to be a positive influence in my grandson’s life, and hopefully, at some point, in the lives of future grandchildren. God has given us a strong survival instinct. One preacher once said that one reason our bodies start falling apart as we get older is to ready us to let loose of them. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

I need the reminder that this life isn’t all there is. Imagine a rope stretched out east and west farther than we can follow, and let it represent eternity. The piece of the rope in front of us is taped off for a few inches. That taped part would represent the whole of life on earth for all time compared to eternity. Time is short. Eternity is long.

But before we look for Him to take us there, we have to look for Him here. Jeremiah 29:13 (ESV) says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” If you don’t have a saving relationship with Jesus, if you’re not sure of heaven, please read here.

We enjoy God’s blessing here. But we know this world isn’t all there is. Like Abraham, we “[look] forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).

Are you looking for Him?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Giving and Receiving God’s Word

I was surprised recently to read of someone offering their support and sympathy but promising not to share Bible verses.

My first thought was, “Isn’t the Bible our main source of comfort?” Human comfort helps, but it only goes so far.

I think I know what the person meant, though. Sometimes it’s easy to pat someone on the back, quote Romans 8:28, and go on our merry way. That’s like the spiritual version of what James says about physical needs: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16). We’re instructed to be quick to hear and slow to speak, to weep with those who weep, to suffer with others in the body of Christ who suffer. We’re to “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3). We need to enter in to someone else’s pain rather than just offer them a bandage.

We also need to discern whether others are ready to hear. God had Elijah eat and sleep before talking with him. Nathan told David a story before confronting him with his gross sin. Jesus once told the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”

Once one of my coworkers suffered a miscarriage. This young woman was not a Christian. She told our manager that she didn’t want anyone to say anything about her situation when she returned to work. But one of the other ladies, a Christian, made it a point to speak to her about her miscarriage on her first day back. I don’t know what was said or how it was received. But it seemed unwise not to give this woman the time she asked for.

Someone has said that Job’s friends did more for him when they sat in silence than when they began to advise him. Sometimes a sorrow is so deep or so new, we should just express sympathy and share our presence and support. Pat answers and cliches don’t help.

Sometimes, too, when the person we want to comfort is a mature Christian, we can’t tell them anything they don’t already know. They know how to seek the Scriptures and lay their hearts bare before the Lord. That doesn’t mean we should never say anything comforting to them from the Word, but we just need to be led by the Spirit and not by our need to “say something” or “fix” the situation.

We need wisdom, grace, discernment, and the Holy Spirit’s leading when we share God’s Word with people. Job’s friends were sure that Job was suffering because he sinned. Since God said Job had not sinned, all his friends’ counsel was misapplied. In fact, Job called them miserable comforters.

But I have known what is it, as I am sure you have, to have someone share “a word spoken in due season.” When my mother passed away, someone shared in a card the verse that shaped my prayers for that time: “Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant” (Psalm 119:76, KJV). Often someone has shared a verse or sometimes just a thought or principle from the Bible at just the right time for whatever I was dealing with at the moment. That’s the kind of comforter and encourager I want to be. That can only come from walking closely with the Lord and spending time in God’s Word so the Holy Spirit can bring to mind what He wants us to share.

On the other side of this coin, though, as one receiving comfort or instruction, aren’t there times we just don’t want to hear it? Sometimes that’s because it’s coming from someone who hasn’t taken the time to really listen and enter in to the situation. But sometimes it’s due to other causes.

Sometimes we don’t want to hear because of our flesh. When you’re reaching for your third donut, you don’t want to hear about self-control. When you want to lash out at someone, you don’t want to hear verses about forbearing and forgiving. I’ve often prayed that God would help me look for the way to escape temptation that He promised rather than looking for an excuse to indulge.

Sometimes we don’t want to give up our pain because we want the person who caused it to suffer. Sometimes we might even be mad at God for what He allowed.

Sometimes we might not want to hear truth because we’re feeling a little dull or distracted spiritually.

The times when we least want to hear God’s Word are the times we most need it. A verse I like to pray in those times is Psalm 119:36: “Incline my heart to your testimonies.”

The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to revive us.

  • Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).
  • “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life” (Psalm 119:50).
  • “I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.” (Psalm 119:93).

We’re still responsible for the truth we hear and read, even if the person sharing it isn’t doing so in the best way or time. Sometimes we just have to extend grace and ask God to minister to our hearts.

May God give us eager “ears to hear” His Word and make us gracious and sensitive encouragers.

. (I often link up with some of these bloggers)