When Spiritual Routines Get Boring

I watched, amused, as my husband prepared to go to work. He checked to make sure he had his wallet, keys, backpack, and water, then he kissed me goodbye.

But then he remembered something else he needed, or something else he needed to do, before he left. He’d run through his checklist again—keys, wallet, backpack, water, wife—and remember something else he needed to get. He went through this process three times, ending each time with kissing me goodbye.

I suppose I could have gotten upset that he forgot he had already kissed me goodbye several times, that kissing me was part of the routine. Or I could have reveled in getting four kisses instead of one.

But I was amused because I have similar routines.

Some routines arise to help us remember what’s vital. When I get out of the car, I stop to check for my phone, purse, glasses and keys, saying each one aloud. This routine grew out of having locked one or more of these items in the car in the past (all of them one time when one of my then-young children closed the car door before I was ready).

I also have a checklist before I leave the house to make sure I have those same items and have turned off the oven and burners (because I have accidentally left one on for hours, though thankfully not while I was gone) and have locked all the doors (because I have come home to a forgotten unlocked door).

Routines also help us get into the right mindset. Michael Phelps had an elaborate routine before races to prepare both his mind and body. A basketball player preparing for a free throw will usually dribble the ball a few times before aiming for the hoop.

Routines also save us time and brain power by not having to think through everyday decisions. We follow more or less the same schedule with eating breakfast, brushing teeth, showering, dressing. Routines can help us avoid distractions and give more time to creative thought.

But operating on automatic pilot gets us into trouble. I don’t know how many times I’ve missed a turn while driving because I was following my usual path instead of remembering I was going somewhere different that day. Or I’ve gotten to the end of my shower and forgotten if I washed my hair.

When I read articles about establishing a regular quiet time of Bible reading and prayer, I find many authors encourage setting up a routine. If we plan a quiet time at the same time and place with the same tools every day, soon it becomes regular and we don’t have to stop and think about whether, when, or where we’re going to have devotions.

Well and good.

But I’m sure you’ve had the same experience I have of running through your quiet time as a routine and then forgetting what you read five minutes later. Or looking at the same prayer list with a bit of dismay at praying for the same things over again.

I like to start my prayer time with what we call “the Lord’s prayer” and expand from there. But when I look at those same words every morning, sometimes I am in danger of running through them thoughtlessly.

How can we help our spiritual practices not to become so routine that we move through them on autopilot?

Remember who we are interacting with. Warren Wiersbe said in With the Word “The end result of all Bible study is worship.” He meant Bible study isn’t an end in itself: it should lead us to worship of the God in its pages. But it helps to start Bible reading with worship as well, to rejoice in the fact that the God of the universe wants to talk with and hear from me. The Bible says His thoughts are precious to us, highly valuable (Psalm 119:72). Stopping to think about who He is and what a treasure His Word is helps get me in the right mind set. Sometimes I do that with thought and prayer, other times by reading or quietly singing a hymn or reading a psalm or two.

Pray. Sometimes I just stop in the middle of what I am doing and ask God to clear the cobwebs and wake me up spiritually. Sometimes I’ll read through parts of Psalm 119, which is mostly prayer, like verse 24″ “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors,” or 25: “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” Verses 36-37 are good, too: “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.”

Change up the routine. It helps sometimes to change the order in which we do things or the translation or study method we’re using. Maybe go out on the patio or somewhere else in the house instead of our usual spot. I mentioned starting with the Lord’s prayer. But some years ago I made a list of other biblical prayers like Colossians 1:9-12 and Philippians 1:9-11, and I’ll use one of those instead.

Find study aids. If boredom comes from not understanding what we’re reading, a study Bible or simple commentary will help.

Examine our hearts. I think boredom in spiritual routines is often the result of familiarity or fatigue. But if we always feel bored when we read the Bible or pray, something deeper might be wrong. Maybe we’ve gotten our focus off the Lord or we’re harboring some sin. We need to ask Him to examine our hearts and show us anything that displeases Him. The Israelites were in worse trouble than they realized when they complained of weariness in the spiritual routines of their day.

Do it anyway. We shouldn’t let the feeling of boredom and routine stop us. Often, once we get going, we find something special in the day’s reading. One former pastor said one of his best times of prayer occurred when he started out confessing to the Lord that he didn’t feel like praying. Sometimes at the end of my quiet time, I’ve prayed, “God, you know I didn’t feel these things as fully as I have at other times. But you know I mean them.” Feelings help, but we do right whether feelings are there or not.

If over-familiarity with the Bible is a problem, these reasons to keep reading it might help.

God understands our human frailty. “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). He’s not looking for a stellar “performance” in our time with Him. He invites us to “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Do you have any other tips for alleviating boredom when reading the Bible or praying?

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

What Is God’s Highest Calling?

I winced when I heard my mentor-from-afar say that motherhood was the highest calling.

Thirty years ago, hearing such sentiments encouraged me that my decision to stay home to raise my children was a valuable one, contrary to the feminist teaching that stay-at-home moms were somehow lesser beings than career women. And I am sure that’s how this writer and speaker meant her statement.

But where does that sentiment leave women to whom God has not given husbands or children? I know from this speaker’s other writings and speeches that she did not regard single or childless women as any less called by God to serve Him. Maybe in her desire to encourage mothers swimming against the tide of societal pressure, she just didn’t realize how her statement about calling sounded.

I’ve also heard preachers say that being a minister of the gospel is the highest calling. I don’t think they meant it arrogantly. It surely is a privilege to be able to study God’s Word and minister to people with the bulk of your time and life.

But I don’t think the Bible calls motherhood or professional ministry or anything else the highest call of God (unless I’ve missed it. Please feel free to let me know if I have).

In the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, a man gave three of his servants differing amounts of money and told them to invest it while he was away. When he came back, he called his servants to give an account of what they did with what he gave them. The person with five talents and the one with three each invested their talents and doubled their money. They were each told, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” The main focus on the passage was on the one servant who didn’t invest anything, but hid his talent away. The master was highly displeased and that servant was punished.

But even though the second servant isn’t the focus, I note that he didn’t grumble, “Well, I could have made ten talents if I had been given five like this other guy. But I was only given three, so this was the best I could do.” No, he was commended for doing what he could with what he had been given.

Paul tells us we’re not wise to compare ourselves with others (2 Corinthians 10:12), yet we all too easily fall into that trap.

What is God’s highest calling? No one profession or ministry. God’s highest calling for each person is to surrender themselves to Him for whatever He asks. He has a place and purpose for each of us.

When we cared for my husband’s mother in our home, hospice sent a bath aide out twice a week. I can’t think of anyone who grew up saying, “I want to give old people baths when I grow up.” But our primary bath aide treated her job as the most important thing she could be doing at the moment. She was efficient, she was on time unless something hindered, she was cheerful. She didn’t gripe about unpleasant aspects of the work. She treated my mother-in-law with dignity and respect. It was like she brought sunshine in with her. But her light came from the Son she loved.

Philippians 2:14-16a tells us we “shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life.”

We can shine His light and make a difference no matter where we are or what God has called us to. Secretaries, executives, doctors, nurses, firefighters, custodians, nursing home residents, all have unique spheres of influence.

In my husband’s first professional job, his supervisor was from a religion where he had been told not to read the Bible. His boss would never have entered a Baptist church, except maybe for a funeral or wedding. So my husband’s only means to share Christ with him were through conversations and working side by side over several years.

Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Those good works are not meant to count for salvation: the previous two verses tell us our salvation is a gift of God, not a result of our works. But from that salvation, from our love and thankfulness, we spend our lives to serve Him. There are things He created us to do, and our highest calling is to do whatever He has put before us with grace.

Does shining our light for the Lord mean nonstop witnessing? No. But when we “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31), it shows in our lives.

We can shine for God whether we’re comforting a child with a skinned knee, drawing blood, answering a customer service call with a cheerful voice and efficient help, preaching a sermon, washing a patient’s hair, letting someone in our lane of traffic, or having the same conversation for the fifth time with an elderly loved one.

What matters is not the size of our service, but the One for Whom we do it and the love and grace He wants to show others through us.

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

Passive or Pursuing?

I’ve read Daily Light on the Daily Path nearly every day for about 30 years now. But I saw something in the reading for September 1 that I don’t remember noticing before.

The topic for September 1 morning reading was meekness. The first verse portion came from Galatians 5:22, which lists meekness as a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Years ago I read of a mother teaching her children that because the fruit of the Spirit was something that He grew in us, they could sit back and relax since there was nothing they could do to produce this fruit.

While I agreed that only the Holy Spirit could produce His fruit in us, something bothered me about a totally passive response.

Then on this first September morning, another phrase stood out to me from the day’s reading in 1 Timothy 6:11: “Follow after meekness.” Other versions say “pursue” instead of “follow after” and translate “meekness” as “gentleness.”

Here was a verse telling us to pursue, to follow after, something that’s part of the fruit of the Spirit. Pursuing doesn’t indicate a passive approach.

In context in 1 Timothy 6, Paul has warned Timothy about wrong doctrine and false teachers. The motivation for some of these false teachers was monetary gain. Paul encourages contentment and warns that the pursuit of money brings a snare. He warns “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (verse 10).

Then the word “but” provides a pivot: “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.”

Some of these characteristics are also part of the fruit of the Spirit (“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,” Galatians 5:22-23). They are given to us, yet we’re also told to pursue them.

I’m not generally good with plants. But I know only God can make something grow. Farming has been an act of faith for hundreds of years. Farmers till the ground, sow seed, water, fertilize, and weed. But they have no control over whether drought or storms or disease or insects affect their crops beyond their ability to care for them.

Many of us have had the experience of planting a new flower or vegetable according to instructions, eagerly awaiting the first green shoots, only to be disappointed when nothing happened.

But, though only God can make something grow, He doesn’t usually produce a bumper crop without requiring human input. He doesn’t need our input, but He requires it. Even in the garden of Eden, before sin brought weeds and thorns, man’s job was to “work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Sure, God places lovely wildflowers in overlooked corners and lush growth in uninhabited rain forests. But many things that seem to grow without effort are the wrong sorts of things–weeds and vines that choke out other growth.

We’re saved by grace through faith plus nothing (Ephesians 2:8-9). And our sanctification is from God as well.

But He wants our cooperation, our obedience.

Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary on Timothy, Be Faithful, sheds some light. A little later in 1 Timothy 6, verse 19, Paul says, “Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (KJV). Wiersbe comments, “‘That they may lay hold on eternal life’ (1 Tim. 6: 19) does not suggest that these people are not saved. ‘That they may lay hold on the life that is real’ would express it perfectly.” The ESV translates it closer to that meaning: “thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”

So that’s probably similar to what we’re dealing with concerning the fruit of the Spirit. God gives it: we don’t work it up in our own efforts. But in love and obedience, we lay hold of and pursue and cooperate with the Spirit’s working in our lives.

How do we pursue the qualities God wants us to have?

Intentionality. We don’t drift into holiness. “Pursue” indicates planning and purpose.

Turn away from wrong things. The command to pursue certain things followed the command to flee other things.

Pray. We can’t be or do what God wants us to in our own strength. We need to ask Him to fill us with His Spirit.

Read God’s Word. God speaks to us through His Word, giving us wisdom and knowledge. If we’re having trouble in a particular area, maybe we need to study and memorize verses in that area.

Behold Him. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says we’re changed to be more like our Savior when we behold Him. The Bible is not just a self-help book or a manual for overcoming our faults. The Word of God is the means by which we behold Him: we need to seek Him, not just formulas.

Yield to Him. John 14:26 says that the Holy Spirit will remind us of what God has taught us. When we’re angry and about to give way to our temper, and the Holy Spirit brings to mind a verse warning about the dangers of anger, we need to yield to Him. When we’re about to indulge in a third dessert, and God brings to mind verses about gluttony and self-control, we need to yield to Him. “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Romans 6:13).

So is the fruit of the Spirit something we passively receive?

Yes.

But if we’re not in God’s Word, growing in grace and knowledge of Him, yielding to Him as He convicts us in our daily walk, that fruit is not going to ripen and mature. We can’t do even those things without His enabling and help. But He wants us to actively pursue His will.

At least, that’s how I understand it after this study. What do you think?

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

What Can We Learn from Bible Genealogies?

If Leviticus doesn’t kill your Bible reading plans, Chronicles might.

When our church was going through 1 Chronicles, our Bible study leader said his children asked, “Do we have to read the genealogies?” He admitted he was thinking the same question.

The genealogical sections of the Bible are probably no one’s favorite part of Scripture. Our pastor has often said, “Every part of the Bible is inspired by God, but not every part is inspirational.” We’re probably not going to get warm fuzzies from those lists of unfamiliar names.

But because the genealogies are as inspired by God as every other part of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16), they have much to teach us.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t waste words. God’s works and thoughts are “more than can be numbered” (Psalm 40:5, NKJV). A former pastor used to say the Bible is divinely brief: of all the things God could have shared with us, He chose the particular words in the Bible. So everything in the Bible is there for a purpose.

Our pastor’s wife used to say of some of the “drier” passages of the Bible, “Keep digging until you find the golden nuggets.”

So what can the genealogies teach us?

God keeps records. Detailed records. Every person on those lists was someone known of God and loved by God. And He knows and cares about us as well.

Some genealogies act as bookends or transitions. For example, Genesis 36 wraps up Esau and his descendants before Jacob’s story switches focus to Joseph.

The Bible is history. Bible professor Dan Olinger said he was thrown for a loop when he learned that some theologians teach that the narratives of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, are fables. These teachers say we’re meant to learn lessons from OT stories like we do from Aesop’s fables, but the stories and people were made up. Dan struggled with this view until he realized that the genealogies ground the Biblical narratives in history. In fables, it doesn’t matter where the characters lived or came from or who their descendants were. But those details do matter in history.

God keeps His promises. Part of God’s covenant with Abraham was that in him, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). God repeated this promise to Jacob three times (Genesis 12:18; 26:4; 28:14). God had promised David that his throne would be established for ever. Paul says God “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:2-4). Matthew’s genealogy establishes Jesus’ human and royal lineage from Abraham through David. Jesus was the long-awaited fulfillment of God’s promises to His people through the ages.

Jesus loves sinners. Luke’s genealogy traces the line of Christ all the way back to Adam, establishing His humanity. Matthew mentions some people we might be surprised to see there.

All of the names shout that Jesus is not only the long-awaited King but that He is the King of grace! This entire family deserved to be rejected by God for notorious wickedness—for lying (Abraham), deceit (Jacob), immorality (David), double-mindedness (Solomon), arrogance (Rehoboam), unbelief (Ahaz), and idolatry which included child sacrifice (Manasseh). And this family had a history of disreputable women, who were “outsiders” for one reason or another. Tamar was the seductive Canaanite (v. 3), Rahab, the prostitute from Jericho (v. 5), Ruth, the Moabitess (v. 5), and Bathsheba, the adulteress (v. 6). You see, Jesus was born into a family that was notoriously deserving of judgment. But that means He’s not afraid to be associated with sinners, including immoral Gentiles—including me and you! (Joe Tyrpak, Gospel Meditations for Christmas, p. 11).

Thomas Overmiller writes:

If the genealogy of Jesus himself featured mothers with disgraced or shameful reputations, then why should you expect anything different? God does not weave people into his purposes and plans because they come from a pristine family background. He weaves people into his plan instead who have disgraceful backgrounds, the kind of disgrace that comes from our own sin and the kind that comes from the sin of others towards us. God delights to find sinners and save them. He delights to redeem us from the power of sin and from the pain of sinful things that other people have done to us. The grace of God shines through disgraced people (A Genealogy of Grace: Mothers of the King).

Genealogies encourage God’s people. I don’t think I realized before this trek through 1 Chronicles that it was written to the Israelites going back to their land after having been in exile in Babylon for 70 years. They needed to be reminded of their identity and encouraged that they were “still God’s people and retain their central place in God’s purposes for humanity” (Brian E. Kelly, ESV Study Bible, p. 705).

The Chronicler sought to address some urgent questions of his day concerning the identity of Israel. He wanted to instill fresh confidence in the people. The genealogies of Israel that begin the work (1 Chronicles 1–9) start by tracing the people’s ancestry back to Adam, a striking reminder that Israel was at the center of God’s purpose from the very beginning of creation. Although only a “remnant” and a provincial outpost in a great empire, Israel must remember that its security and destiny rest with Yahweh, “who rule[s] over all the kingdoms of the nations” and has given the land to Abraham’s descendants “forever” (2 Chron. 20:6-7) (Brian E. Kelly, ESV Study Bible, p. 701).

Genealogies remind us that life is short and death is sure until the Lord returns. I don’t remember the details or the source, but I heard about a girl who invited her unsaved dad to church. The pastor happened to be in a section of genealogies. The girl was discouraged, thinking this was the worst of all sermons for her dad to hear. But her dad became a believer. He said that hearing over and over that so-and-so lived, had children, and then died struck him. The repeated phrase “and he died” drummed itself into his mind, and he decided he needed to prepare for his own end.

Many of the Bible genealogies are “telescoped”: they don’t include every ancestor in a given line. This accounts for some discrepancies between lists. Each of the genealogies is there for a particular purpose, so the author will only include the names that are pertinent to his theme.

I hope you’re more encouraged about Biblical genealogies now. They still might not be the most exciting parts of the Bible, but they’re a rich and integral part.

Does anything in this list of what genealogies teach us resonate with you? Can you think of other purposes for genealogies in the Bible?

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

How Can We Make Our Souls Fire-Resistant?

A few years ago, we came home from having lunch at my son and daughter-in-law’s place to find a large burned patch in the grass to the left of our house as well as damage to a neighbor’s fence.

As we talked with neighbors, we learned that the neighbor behind us had been burning leaves earlier in the week. She thought she had the fire completely out and left a few days later to go out of town.

But underneath the ash, fire had been quietly smoldering for several days. Finally it erupted into flame and then spread over the dry grass. Thankfully neighbors saw it and called the fire department.

It was frightening to me that all this could happen in just a few hours while we were out. Perhaps the fire had already started before we even left, but we didn’t notice it since our driveway is on the other side of the house.

Since the photo above is a panorama shot, it’s a little distorted. Our fence line actually turns a corner rather than standing in a straight line all the way down. Still, you can see how the fire neatly went around the fence.

Another evidence of God’s protection is that just a few months earlier, we had a row of dead trees rather than a fence. Some of you may remember our ordeal of having 50 trees on our property line die off. We had to find someone to cut them down and haul them off, and then someone else when the first crew didn’t fulfill their obligations. Then my husband found some used fencing on Craig’s List and spent several evenings and Saturdays putting up the new-to-us fence.

But imagine what would have happened if that row of dead trees had been in the line of the fire. I shudder to think about the possibilities. I’m grateful for God’s mercy and timing.

I don’t know what brought this incident to mind recently—maybe the sight of a different neighbor burning something in his yard last week.

James 3:5 came to mind: “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” Just as an almost-put-out fire can blaze up and burn out of control, a small tongue can cause immeasurable damage.

Lust is another kind of fire. Job said that if he had been unfaithful to his wife, “that would be a heinous crime; that would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges; for that would be a fire that consumes as far as Abaddon, and it would burn to the root all my increase (Job 31:11-12). Proverbs asks, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished” (6:27-33).

Anger is not always bad in itself. God is angry at certain things. We should be angry at injustice, at mistreatment, and so on. But much anger arises from selfish reasons. Some of us have been on the receiving end of the quick flash fire of someone else’s anger. But a slowly smoldering undercurrent is no better. Psalm 37:8 says, “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”

Gossip can easily spread like wildfire. “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Proverbs 26:20-22).

Most sins are more easily dealt with when they’re small. If we let temptation linger without turning from it, if we fail to quench it completely, it can build up under the surface until it suddenly erupts and spreads.

But sometimes it seems we’re not only surrounded by temptation, but filled with it. We have an enemy of our souls who knows what our particular triggers are. And we have an old nature that fights against the new nature we received when we believed on the Lord Jesus as our Savior (Galatians 5:16-16). What hope do we have when the devil lures us and our own flesh betrays us?

I thought it was so unusual that the fire in our yard bypassed the vinyl fencing. I looked up whether vinyl was heat-resistant, and it is, according to this article. Vinyl fencing is hard to ignite, won’t spread easily if it does ignite, and can be easily put out.

How can we help our souls to be fire-resistant?

In describing the armor of God in Ephesians 6, Paul says, “ In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (verse 16). The word “extinguish” in the Greek means, according to the definitions at the bottom of this page, “extinguish, quench, suppress, thwart.” The shield of faith doesn’t just stop the fiery arrows of temptation from reaching us: it actually puts them out.

What kind of faith makes up this shield? The faith that acknowledges the one true God is righteous, kind, and good. The faith that believes His will and purposes are better than Satan’s lures or our desires. The faith that wants to please Him more than it wants to indulge self. The faith that believes and applies His Word. Proverbs 6:23-24a says, “For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life, to preserve you.” Jesus resisted Satan’s temptations with the Word of God (Matthew 4:1-11).

The Pulpit Commentary says of the shield of faith in Ephesians 6:16:

Withal taking up the shield of faith. The θυξεός was a large oblong shield covering a great part of the body, not the ἀσπίς, smaller and more round. Faith, in its widest sense, constitutes this shield – faith in God as our Father, in Christ as our Redeemer, in the Spirit as our Sanctifier and Strengthener – faith in all the promises, and especially such promises as we find in Revelations 2. and 3. “to him that overcometh” (comp. promise to Ephesus, Revelation 2:7) Wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. “Fiery darts” were weapons tipped with inflammable materials, firebrands, curiously constructed, adapted to set on fire. Metaphorically, considerations darted into the mind inflaming lust, pride, revenge, or ether evil feelings, emanations from the great tempter, the evil one. That such considerations sometimes start up suddenly in the mind, against the deliberate desire, sometimes even in the middle of holy exercises, is the painful experience of every Christian, and must make him thankful for the shield on which they are quenched. An act of faith on Christ, placing the soul consciously in his presence, recalling his atoning love and grace, and the promises of the Spirit, will extinguish these fiery temptations.

We can say with David:

For it is you who light my lamp;
the Lord my God lightens my darkness.
For by you I can run against a troop,
and by my God I can leap over a wall.
This God—his way is perfect;d
the word of the Lord proves true;
he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.

For who is God, but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?—
the God who equipped me with strength
and made my way blameless.

(Psalm 18:28-32)

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

Making Time to Read the Bible

Elisabeth Elliot is one of my favorite women, writers, missionaries, speakers, people in general. I’ve read almost all of her books. I received her newsletter for many years.

I was able to hear her speak in person twice. On one of those occasions, we had an opportunity to have her sign one of our books written by her. I had several of her books, but couldn’t quite work up the nerve to ask her to sign it. Then when my pastor heard I was going to hear her speak, he asked me to have her sign one of his books.

I stood in a long line waiting for my turn at just a few minutes with Elisabeth. And what did I say in those precious few moments?

“How do you find time to write so many books?”

Duh.

In her practical, no-nonsense way, she said, “You don’t find time. You make time.”

I’ve told this story here before, but it illustrates an important truth. We have so many things that can fill our time these days. We have to make time for what’s most important.

I’ve never seen a poll on this subject, but I would guess if we asked a large group of Christians why they don’t read the Bible, most of them would say lack of time. They know they need to, and they feel guilty for not reading Scripture regularly. But somehow the day is gone before they know it. They might read a verse or two or a short devotional before they go to bed, but their brains are too fried for much more.

But Jesus said spending time with Him is the one needful thing in our lives. So rather than waiting for time for Bible reading to magically open up, we need to make time in our schedules for it. We need to prioritize it.

Here are a few ideas for making time to read the Bible:

Pray about it. God says to ask Him for wisdom. One of the hardest times for me to make time for Bible reading was when my second child was born. With my first child, I could read while he napped. But when my second child napped, I now had a preschooler. I could tell I wasn’t getting spiritually nourished. I’d whimper to the Lord at the end of the day that I didn’t know when I could have set aside time for Bible reading that day.

He gave me the idea to ask Him at the beginning of the day to help me be alert to time to read. And He did. Normally I like more of a schedule routine, but I had to learn to grab what moments I could some days.

Don’t make too big a production of it. I think we often sabotage our devotional time because we feel we can’t have it unless we read so many minutes or chapters, consult a commentary or two, sing or read a hymn, draw something pretty in the margins of our Bible, journal for fifteen minutes afterward. Those are all great practices, and often we can employ several of them at certain seasons in life. But if we feel we haven’t actually had devotions unless we’ve done all that, no wonder we don’t get to it some days. The essential thing is to spend some amount of time in the Bible itself.

Have a plan. If we have to decide every day what part of the Bible we’re going to read from, that takes up valuable time. Early in my Christian life, I was urged to read the whole Bible through, and I think that grounded me more than anything else. I don’t do it in a year any more: that felt too rushed to me. There are multitudes of Bible reading plans available, from one year to two years to five years to a chronological reading. Don’t feel you have to read all of the planned reading for that day. But knowing where to go next makes it a lot easier to pick up and read rather than flipping through trying to find somewhere to start.

You might think that having a plan is stifling, and you’d rather read as the Spirit leads. The Bible was meant to be read in context. We get more from a particular book of the Bible when we read it in progression from start to finish. We wouldn’t read a letter from anyone else by reading the second paragraph on page two one day and the third paragraph on page one another day.

I can testify that God does speak to people through regular planned reading. I can’t tell you how many times my Bible reading for the day has been exactly what I needed. Of course, we can take a break in the plan if we feel a need to study some other part of the Bible at some point or have some kind of special need.

Know why. Any time I read about starting a new habit or making a major change, the writer will advise readers to know our “why.” When obstacles come up, when we’re tired, when it’s not convenient to do what we need to do, remembering why we do it can carry through when we don’t “feel” like it. I wrote last week about reasons I still read the Bible. I started a list years ago of reasons to read the Bible, and have been adding to it ever since until now I have over fourteen typed pages of reasons. But in a sense, I don’t need that list to keep me going. I’ve experienced the benefits of reading the Bible so much that I don’t want to go without it.

Lay other things aside. I confess that if I pick up a book or magazine or turn on the TV or open Facebook and then realize I haven’t read the Bible that day yet, I sometimes feel a little resentful at having to stop what I am doing. Even knowing all the benefits of reading the Bible, I feel that petty irritation at being interrupted and having to stop something I enjoy. But that only lasts for a moment. Once I do start reading, I’m glad I did.

Listen. Personally, I get more out of my Bible from reading rather than listening. But there are ways to hear the Bible being read if that’s the best option for others.

Plan for Bible reading after a natural break in the day. It can be hard to change gears in the middle of the afternoon to stop and read the Bible. It’s easier if we plan for it in conjunction with something else: after breakfast, after showering, after the kids go to school or take a nap, etc.

Keep the Bible handy. This is easy to do now with Bible apps for the phone. Years ago, my neighbor with three little stair-step girls kept her Bible open in the kitchen. That’s where she spent much of her time, and she could read a little while waiting for water to boil, etc.

Anything is better than nothing. For years I have been reading Daily Light on the Daily Path. It ‘s composed of just Scripture, usually on a particular topic for the day or in a progression of thought. I like to use it to begin my devotional time. But on Sundays, that’s all I read. Likewise, if I have an early medical appointment or obligation, or we’re traveling, that might be all I read for the day.

Normally I like having a good amount of open-ended time in the Word. But the days I truly only had time for a few verses, God gave me what I needed.

How about you? What tips have you found for making time to read the Bible?

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

Why Keep Reading the Bible?

Do you reread books?

Little Women is one I’ve read several times. As a child, I identified with Jo. Even though we’re different personalities, I could relate to getting into “scrapes” despite one’s best intentions, the angst of growing up and learning self-control, the desire to write. But in some ways, I felt more closely aligned with Beth, the shy, quiet sister.

In early married days, I could empathize with Meg, especially her kitchen disaster on the day her husband brought home unexpected company.

After I had children, I could see myself in Marmee.

I’ve read Mere Christianity three times, I think, and I still haven’t mined its depth. I get a little more from it each time. But I could probably benefit from rereading it once every few years.

I’ve read some of my favorite biographies three or four times: Isobel Kuhn, Amy Carmichael, Rosalind Goforth, Through Gates of Splendor, and others. Each time, I am inspired by people’s life stories.

I don’t think I’ve read any book more than five times, though.

Except the Bible.

Someone asked me recently why I keep reading the Bible. He suggested that since I have read it through several times over, I must be pretty familiar with it by now.

Some years ago, I posted 13 Reasons to Read the Bible. Since then, I’ve added to that list as I have found more reasons within God’s Word that encourage me to read it. In fact, I have about fourteen typed pages of reasons in a Word document. I am trying to wrestle them into one chapter for the book I am working on. But suffice it to say, the reasons I have for reading the Bible in the first place are also reasons to continue reading it. It provides light, joy, comfort, encouragement, encourages my faith, helps me fight sin, tells me more about God.

But for this post, rather than going into general reasons to read Scripture, I’m just going to list reasons to keep reading it once we’re fairly familiar with it.

There’s always more to learn. I’m sometimes surprised at things I seem to have overlooked in previous readings. For instance, Michele recently wrote about Paul’s admonition to “come together for the better.” How had I never noticed that phrase, “for the better” before?

I notice different things each time. As with Little Women or Mere Christianity, each time I read through the Bible, I build on previous readings and have weathered different life experiences to perceive things I didn’t before.

I need to keep eating. The Bible is often compared to food. Physically, if I didn’t eat, I might last for a while on the strength of what I have eaten in the past. But at some point I am going to weaken severely if I don’t take in new food. I need to keep partaking spiritually as well. Hebrews 5:12-15 and 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 talk about progressing from “milk” to “meat” spiritually as we mature.

I need to be reminded. God often told His people to remember what He had told them—and they all too often forgot. As the old song says, we’re “prone to wander.” Peter says in his writing “I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder” (2 Peter 3:1).

God says to meditate on His Word day and night in Psalm 1, Joshua 1, and many other places. To meditate on it—to keep turning it over in my mind—I need to keep reading it because (see above) I forget.

Anticipation. When we reread a favorite book or rewatch a favorite movie, we look forward to our favorite parts all over again, even though we know what’s coming.

Relationships thrive on communication. We are often told that Christianity is not just a list of rules, but it’s a relationship with God. “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). My husband and I have been married for 42 years. We know each other’s opinions on many things, and we know what the other will say in some circumstances. But we’re not bored with each other, and we haven’t run out of things to talk about. Similarly, I don’t get tired of hearing what my heavenly Father has to say.

Recalibration. My husband uses microscopes both in his work and as a hobby. Every now and then, his microscope has to be readjusted. It hasn’t gotten totally out of whack, but continued use, gravity, dust and other things affect its function. It has to be fine-tuned in order to work correctly. The same could be said for cars, pianos, guitars, and other things. As I wrestle with the flesh and am exposed to a range of ideas in the world, I need to fine-tune my thinking regularly and line it up with God’s.

The Bible meets my needs. The Bible says it gives enlightenment, joy, comfort, guidance, and so much more. I don’t know how many times I’ve been thinking or praying about something just before I open my Bible to read, and then I find the very thing I was thinking about in my scheduled reading for the day.

I need to be filled up in order to pour out. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If we compare the passage about being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly, we find many parallels. The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to enable us to minister to others.

God’s Word enables me to do His will. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3-4). I remember marveling the first time I “discovered” this verse. All things that pertain to life and godliness–through the knowledge of Him–by His great and precious promises.

I still need to change. I haven’t “arrived.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 says we’re changed to be more like Christ as we behold Him. “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.” I still need to behold Him every day. Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). I still need to hear truth to be sanctified. I still need to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

Reading the Bible is still necessary. In the famous Mary and Martha story, Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion [sitting at Jesus’ feet to hear and learn from Him], which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42). “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). Jesus said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God'” (Matthew 4:4).

God wants me to continue in it. Paul told Timothy: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14-17). I still need all those things the Bible is profitable for.

I need God’s Word to flourish. Psalm 1 says the person who meditates on God’s Word day and night is like a tree planted right by the water, a continual source of nourishment and refreshment. That tree “yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (verse 3). I want to be like that.

I love God’s Word. “I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes” Psalm 119:47-48).

I’ll admit, every day’s reading isn’t thrilling (I’m in Chronicles right now). But even though every “meal” in the Bible isn’t a Thanksgiving feast, it all nourishes me. Most days, God gives me something to take with me through the day.

If I do find myself feeling like I’m in a rut, reading from a different translation helps jolt me out of familiar wording. I had not used a study Bible until the last few years, and the notes and observations helped me glean more from a passage than I did on my own.

When I first started reading the Bible as a teenager, I felt it was my lifeline. I still do. I can’t imagine not reading it regularly any more, it has become so much a part of my life.

How about you? Do any of these reasons resonate with you? Do you have other reasons I didn’t mention?

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

Labels and Lenses

When I was in college, a story made the rounds about a student who asked a preacher who was a frequent chapel speaker to meet with him. The young man wanted permission to date the preacher’s daughter—not in the sense of taking her to lunch or a basketball game, but in the sense of pursuing a serious relationship.

As the student and the preacher sat down together, the preacher said, “Well, son, are you a Big B baptist?”

The young man responded, “Well, sir, I am a Big C Christian.”

The preacher was not amused.

I don’t know whether the guy got to date the girl or not.

That story may have been the campus version of an urban legend. But it stuck with me because I have known “Big B Baptists.” Some friends, associations, institutions were not only distinctively Baptist, but aggressively Baptist.

In one group discussion about doctrines that Christians could differ on, one man had a hard time placing mode of baptism in that category. All of us in the discussion felt that immersion was the best mode and most in line with Scriptural teaching, but we agreed this wasn’t a decision that would make us question a person’s salvation. We understood how people could believe in other modes, even though we didn’t agree with them. But this man struggled with that thought, though he finally conceded.

I’ve known people who were “Big R Reformed” Christians or “Big C Calvinists.” My first introduction to Calvinism was from college Bible majors who constantly wanted to debate election vs. free will. One was even asked to leave campus, not because of his beliefs, but because he was “sowing discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:19), constantly stirring up debates. I know some on Facebook like that now.

Of course, not all Reformed people are that way. But I’ve seen some that do not speak of the Christian community, but the Reformed community. They only buy books from Reformed publishers and only quote Reformed writers and preachers.

These defining labels aren’t limited to theological persuasions. I’ve unfollowed some sites that were “Big I Introvert” sites, even Christian ones. Reading about introversion has helped me understand the way I am made and the way I think and react. But some sites are so immersed in looking at life as an introvert that they can seem antisocial. I can lean that way, so I needed to stop feeding that tendency into my thoughts.

And, of course there are many other labels through which people define themselves and look at life. There are “Big R Republicans” and “Big S Sports fans” and “Big E Enneagram” experts (followed by numbers and wings). There are “Big M Moms” who can talk about nothing but motherhood, making single women feel left out of the conversation.

Labels aren’t bad in themselves. My husband’s father worked in a grocery store and was allowed to bring home cans which were missing labels. When Jim’s mom said she was making a surprise for dinner, she wasn’t kidding.

When my husband and I looked for a church to attend here, we wished that church websites would label themselves more distinctly. We put our preferences in our browser’s search bar and got hundreds of responses. The ones we looked into sounded almost the same, even down to their statement of faith and constitution. If they were trying to make themselves sound generic, they were going to disappoint some who came and found they held certain positions. They were also going to miss out on those who wanted to find churches that held particular positions.

So labels are helpful, even good and necessary. I use some of these labels myself.

But labels can lead to two problems.

One problem is looking at everything, especially Scripture, through the lens of our label instead of looking at our label through the lens of Scripture. I’ve known people who did not come to their positions from their reading of Scripture, but from books they read and sermons they listened to. Then they began trying to fit Scripture into their theological grid rather than adapting their theology to Scripture.

In one book I read about introversion in the church, the author said that the reason Jesus climbed into a boat once to speak to the crowd was because, as an introvert, He wanted to put some distance between Himself and the people. That would have been the author’s motivation in the same circumstances, and he projected his thinking onto Jesus’ actions (even though he later wrote that Jesus was the perfect balance of introvert and extrovert). I think that Jesus chose that venue rather because it was the best place for the crowd to see and hear Him.

The second problem is this: what label do we want to be known by first and foremost? When people see our names, do we want their first thought to be, “Oh, yeah, she’s an Enneagram 6” or “staunch Republican” or whatever?

Before people know my personality type or theological persuasion, they need to know that I love God and want them to know and love Him, too. Though I have several sub-labels, I want my biggest labels to be “Christian,” “Christ-follower,” “child of God.”

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1a).

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

Stricter Standards Do Not Always Equal Legalism

When I became a Christian at age 16 or 17, the pastor of the church I attended at that time taught that women should not wear pants. I had only been in church sporadically before this time, and I was also new to reading my Bible regularly and systematically. I had never heard this taught before.

Around this time, I saw an episode of The Big Valley in which the daughter wore pants, and it was A Really Big Deal in the community. I thought maybe modern society had just gotten away from the idea.

It wasn’t terribly hard to switch to wearing only dresses. The hardest part was trying to explain it to family members who thought it was odd.

Fast forward several years. In one of my college courses, the teacher happened to mention the verse that many people believe teaches that women shouldn’t wear pants, Deuteronomy 22:5: “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the Lord your God” (NKJV). She pointed out that both men and women wore robes in Bible times, so this was not talking about pants.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized my teacher was right. I believed that the Bible taught as a general principle that men should look like men and women like women. But that wasn’t necessarily defined by pants.

By that time, though, I had gotten used to wearing dresses and skirts. I had some pants for PE, for our childbirth classes (because I had to be on the floor for some of our exercises), and for the gym. But I felt comfortable in dresses as well as modest and feminine (though of course there are modest pants and immodest dresses, and femininity is not always manifested in dresses).

Fast forward another few decades. We were visiting Cade’s Cove on a late autumn day. It was incredibly cold, and I was tromping around foresty areas with bare calves. I thought, this is ridiculous. So I bought a couple of pairs of pants for such occasions.

Through all of this, I’ve been surprised to come across the sentiment that those who held to the belief that women shouldn’t wear pants were legalists. In most Christian circles, that’s almost the worst thing you can call someone.

But difference of interpretation that results in stricter standards and practices is not legalism.

At its most basic, legalism is the belief that I have to keep the OT law to be right with God. There’s also a sense in which trusting in rule-keeping to get or keep right with God is legalism.

Jesus’ death set us free from the law of Moses that people in the OT were under. Of course, the moral law carries over and is repeated in the NT (loving God first, not lying, stealing, killing, etc.). But the minutiae of the law given to Israel, which no one could keep anyway (Acts 13:38-39; 15:10-11), was kept perfectly by Christ in our stead. His laying down His life for us paid for all our failures. So we have a wonderful sense of freedom when we believe in Christ.

But this freedom doesn’t mean we can do whatever we feel like. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” (Galatians 5:13-15).

I used to think that, since all Christians are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit, we all ought to come out on the same page about various issues. But that’s not what the Bible says.

There are some fundamental Biblical issues for which there is no wiggle room: the Deity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith, etc. But Romans 14 has instructions for those who come to different conclusions about what the Bible teaches in those areas that aren’t fundamental to the Christian faith. (Though the passage is discussing weaker brethren, I think some of these overarching principles apply.)

In Romans 14, people came down exactly opposite in their convictions and practices on some matters. Paul told them that each should do whatever they do as unto the Lord (verse 6), not judging or condemning each other, (verses 3, 10,13), being fully persuaded in their own minds (verses 5, 22), remembering they’re accountable to the Lord (verse 12), not being contentious about it (verses 1, 17-19), not to “quarrel over opinions” (verse 1).

One of the issues in Romans 14 was eating meat—not just meat that had been offered to idols as was the case in other passages. “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables” (verse 2). Scripture actually sides with the meat-eaters in this case. God told Noah after the flood, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything” (Genesis 9:3). Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7:18-19). In Peter’s vision, he was told that all food was clean. Paul warned against those “who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:3-5). Some may choose not to eat meat for other reasons, but it was not unclean any more as far as OT law went. Even still, in Romans 14, Paul advised people not to judge or quarrel over eating meat.

So we need to avoid “accusing” someone of legalism if they don’t believe in women wearing pants, if they do believe in women wearing head coverings, if they don’t believe in Christians drinking alcohol, if they have a stricter understanding of the role of women in church, or any other area in which you feel you have freedom that they don’t feel. Freer standards do not always equal spiritual superiority. Stricter standards do not always indicate legalism or weakness. They may just mean that someone has a different understanding of Scripture than you do.

These principles don’t mean we can never discuss these issues with others. But we need to avoid a “set them straight” mentality. First we must be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath (James 1:19). We need to understand where the other person is coming from in their thinking. We need to assess whether the issue really even needs discussion. Is it really harming anyone? Is it something that will likely correct itself with time, growth, and maturity? Is it something we can agree to disagree about and move on? And if we feel that the other person actually is wrong in their interpretation and understanding, or they are operating from a feeling of conforming to a culture’s rules rather than the freedom of Scripture, we need to remember that “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach” (2 Timothy 2:24).

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

God Uses Flawed People

Recently I was praying for someone who had walked away from church and possibility Christianity. Humanly speaking, he had good reason. Christians aren’t always the best representatives of what they are supposed to believe.

A parachurch organization that reached out to teens in my public high school was an important influence in God’s drawing me to Himself. Years later, my understanding of Biblical doctrine led me to a place that I could no longer support them.

My husband and I had a discussion last week about an institution we had both been a part of. There were glaring problems in the policies as well as in the prevailing attitudes of individuals.

Yet my sense during my time there was not, “Ugh, this is such an awful place.” I was aware of some problems, and came to understand others later. Yet God used that place to ground me in my faith and draw me closer to Himself. How can that be?

How can it be that an organization or group of people can be used of God while so flawed?

As our church has studied through the first few books of the OT, we’ve seen that God’s people have never been a showcase of pristine saints. One man in another church we were in, when asked in Sunday School what he was learning from the OT narratives, said, “If God can use and have mercy on those rascals, there’s hope for me.”

Some of the Biblical people that God used in a major way failed spectacularly.

This doesn’t mean we set the bar low. Our goal is not to be like the lowest examples in the Bible of those who followed God. Our goal is to be like Christ. We’ll never reach that goal this side of heaven. But as we behold Him in His Word, we should be growing in grace more and more like Him.

And depending on Him, filled with His Spirit, we can show His grace and patience to those who fail and falter.

Yes, there are times to walk away from a particular person or church or institution that strayed far from what it should be and will not listen to counsel. But if we “cancel” everyone who doesn’t live and believe perfectly, we’ll have no one left.

When we stand before God some day, we’ll give an account of ourselves, not anyone else. Though others will have to give an account of their failures, we won’t be able to blame them for our own. God has promised His grace for every trial, His way of escape for every temptation, His strength in our weakness. If everyone we ever knew failed us, He never will. “And 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).

When people talk about forsaking institutional religion because it’s so flawed, I want to ask, “Have you ever read Corinthians?” Talk about a messed-up church. Yet neither God nor His apostle forsook it. They took time to correct and admonish. If the Corinthians had refused to hear and rebelled, that would have been a different story. But they took the apostle’s warnings to heart. They made some changes immediately, but I am sure their overall growth was probably a slow process.

Isn’t that the way for us as well? If we’re still growing in grace and the knowledge of the Lord, we should be farther along now than we were a few years ago. But we still mess up. We still stumble over besetting sins. On our worst days, we’re far from the shining testimony we should be.

This is not an excuse. We’re accountable when we offend someone or make them stumble. We need to walk circumspectly and confess our sins to God and those we sin against.

Yet we also don’t forsake God’s people as a whole because of their flaws. The church is Christ’s bride, our brothers and sisters in Him. We don’t excuse or ignore flaws. Sometimes confrontation is necessary. But we also look for the grace. Instead of writing someone off or retaliating when they fail, we pray for them and seek to point them in the right direction, remembering we’re part of the same family. We love and serve and encourage and forgive and forbear. Because He did that for us.

Peter denied Jesus. James and John jockeyed for position and wanted to call down fire from heaven on those who didn’t run in the same circles. They fell asleep instead of supporting Him, argued with Him, thought they knew better than Him. But Jesus kept working with them, and look at them a few years later. That transformation is what we long for and pray for, for ourselves and others. Thank God for His longsuffering and mercy and grace.

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 (Colossians 3:12-15).

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 (Hebrews 10:23-25).

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