The Four Loves

In The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis, he says that when he contemplated writing about love, he thought there were two types: Need-Love and Gift-Love. Need-love is that of a child for its parents, who meet its needs and comfort when frightened. Gift-love is that of a man who works hard for the well-being of his family. Lewis was going to propose that the latter is more like God because He gives and needs nothing. Need-love, however, seemed totally selfish and not deserving of the name “love.”

But, he reasoned, no one thinks a child is selfish for looking to its parents for comfort or an adult selfish for wanting the companionship of friends. And man’s love to God is almost totally Need-love.

It would be a bold and silly creature that came before its Creator with the boast ‘I’m no beggar. I love you disinterestedly.’ Those who come nearest to a Gift-love for God will next moment, even at the very same moment, be beating their breasts with the publican and laying their indigence before the only real Giver. And God will have it so. He addresses our Need-love: ‘Come unto me all ye that travail and are heavy-laden,’ or, in the Old Testament, ‘Open your mouth wide and I will fill it’ (pp. 3-4).

Lewis also differentiates between Need-pleasures and Appreciation-pleasures. One quote stood out to me here because I see this in online discussions all the time.

We must be careful never to adopt prematurely a moral or evaluating attitude. The human mind is generally far more eager to praise and dispraise than to describe and define. It wants to make every distinction a distinction of value; hence those fatal critics who can never point out the differing quality of two poets without putting them in an order of preference as if they were candidates for a prize (pp. 14-15).

Next he writes a chapter titled “Likings and Loves for the Sub-Human”—about love of nature, home, family, country. There’s much to contemplate here, but I’ll just share this one quote from this chapter: “All natural affections, including this, can become rivals to spiritual love: but they can also be preparatory imitations of it, training (so to speak) of the spiritual muscles which Grace may later put to a higher service” (p. 30).

Then Lewis determined that there were four loves and dedicated a chapter each to each one.

First is Affection, or storge in the Greek (“two syllables and the g is ‘hard,'” p. 41). He describes Affection as “a warm comfortableness . . . satisfaction in being together . . . the least discriminating of loves” (p. 41). Affection is “the humblest love. It gives itself no airs” (p. 43). Affection can be in combination with the other loves or not.

Next comes friendship. You’d think that would be part of Affection. But Affection can be felt for pets and even people we don’t like very much. If I understand it rightly, it’s not as deep as friendship.

This chapter contains Lewis’ famous quote, “The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one'” (p. 82).

“To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it” (pp. 72-73). This book was published in 1960 and its elements were first shared in a series of radio talks. I don’t know if Lewis would say the same today. However, I am sure he would emphasize even more in our day that “It has actually become necessary in our time to rebut the theory that every firm and serious friendship is really homosexual” (p. 76).

Those who cannot conceive Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend. The rest of us know that though we can have erotic love and friendship for the same person yet in some ways nothing is less like a Friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest (p. 77).

Friendship is also not just between two people, though it can be. A group of friends enhances the friendship of each with the other. “In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets” (p. 77).

Friendship also has its good and bad sides. There is a certain exclusiveness to friendship–we can’t be as close to everyone as we are with our closest friends. But that can turn to snobbishness or cliqueishness. It can also form an “us against the world” attitude where we close off criticisms or efforts to point out problems or disagreements. Friendship must “invoke the divine protection if it is to remain sweet” (p. 111).

The third love, Eros, is what Lewis calls romantic love. I’ve always heard the Greek word eros meant sexual, physical love, but Lewis call that Venus. People can experience Eros and Venus together or just one or the other.

Sexual desire, without Eros, wants it, the thing in itself; Eros wants the Beloved. The thing is a sensory pleasure; that is, an event occurring within one’s own body. . .

Now Eros makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman. In some mysterious but quite indisputable fashion the lover desires the Beloved herself, not the pleasure she can give (p. 120).

Eros, like Friendship, can have good and bad sides. Our fallen nature can corrupt any good thing.

The last of the four loves, according to Lewis, is Charity or agape in Biblical Greek. Lewis warns many times that our natural loves can act as rivals to the love of God. But he also warns that love of God does not erase or demean our naturals loves. Rather, His love infuses them to be what He created them to be.

Lewis gives an example from Augustine (which, in the providence of God, I just finished reading). Augustine had a dear friend, Nebridius, whose death plunged him into despair and desolation. “This is what comes, [Augustine] says, of giving one’s heart to anything but God” (p. 153). Therefore, he concludes we shouldn’t love other people so much. “If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away” (p. 153). Lewis responds:

Of course, this is excellent sense. . . I am a safety-first creature. Of all arguments against love none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as ‘Careful! This might lead you to suffering.’ To my nature, my temperament, yes. Not to my conscience. When I respond to that appeal I seem to myself to be a thousand miles away from Christ. If I am sure of anything I am sure that His teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preference for safe investments and limited liabilities. I doubt whether there is anything in me that pleases Him less (p. 153-154).

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken (p. 155).

The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness. It is like hiding the talent in a napkin and for much the same reason. . . Christ did not teach and suffer that we might become, even in the natural loves, more careful of our own happiness (p. 155).

We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it (pp. 155-156).

Lewis then goes on to a good discussion of what it means when God says He loved Jacob but hated Esau, or what God meant when He tells us we can’t be His disciples without hating mother, father, etc., which He tells us in other places to love. One helpful quote from this section:

To hate is to reject, to set one’s face against, to make no concession to, the Beloved when the Beloved utters, however sweetly and however pitiably, the suggestions of the Devil. A man, said Jesus, who tries to serve two masters, will ‘hate’ the one and ‘love’ the other. It is not, surely, mere feelings of aversion and liking that are here in question. He will adhere to, consent to, work for, the one and not for the other (p. 157).

But then we’re called to show this agape kind of love to others. And when we try, we quickly see it’s not in us naturally.

The invitation to turn our natural loves into Charity is never lacking. It is provided by those frictions and frustrations that meet us in all of them; unmistakable evidence that (natural) love is not going to be ‘enough’— . . . But in everyone, and of course in ourselves, there is that which requires forbearance, tolerance, forgiveness. The necessity of practising these virtues first sets us, forces us, upon the attempt to turn—more strictly, to let God turn—our love into Charity. These frets and rubs are beneficial (p. 173).

These can be raised with Him only if they have, in some degree and fashion, shared His death; if the natural element in them has submitted—year after year, or in some sudden agony—to transmutation (p. 174).

Even though this is an overly long review, I still feel I’ve only scratched the surface of the book. And even though I gleaned much from the book, I can already tell I’ll need to read it again some time.

I like to read whole chapters of this kind of fiction at a time so I can follow and hopefully retain the author’s thoughts all the way through. But with only six chapters in a 192-page book, the chapters are long. It wasn’t until the last chapter that I hit on the idea of taking it in much shorter bits and chewing on that for a while before moving on. I’ll have to try that through the whole book next time.

As always, Lewis has a way of stating and illustrating some things in a way to make them startlingly clear and convicting.

I’ll close with one last quote sharing the need for surrendering to God:

This pretence that we have anything of our own or could for one hour retain by our own strength any goodness that God may pour into us, has kept us from being happy. We have been like bathers who want to keep their feet—or one foot—or one toe—on the bottom, when to lose that foothold would be to surrender themselves to a glorious tumble in the surf. The consequences of parting with our last claim to intrinsic freedom, power, or worth, are real freedom, power, and worth, really ours just because God gives them and because we know them to be (in another sense) not ‘ours’ (pp. 167-168).

I’m counting this book for the Nonfiction Classic in the Back to the Classics Challenge.

My God, My Father

I grew up with a mental image of God as a somewhat stern, authoritarian father, looking down from heaven just waiting for me to mess up so He could zap me.

Some people think of God as a kindly and indulgent father, one who never says no, never scolds, slips them money, and always bails them out of trouble.

Some people view God’s fatherhood as that of a dear old man, well-meaning but hopelessly out of touch.

Some feel God is like a father who is capricious and impossible to please.

Others feel that God is a distant Father, either absent or uninvolved and uncaring.

But our Father God is not like any of those.

Our earthly fathers help inform our view of God for better or worse. A faulty father might imprint on our minds a skewed perception of God. A good father will give a positive but still shadowy picture of our heavenly Father.

But it’s good to learn of our Father for who He is.

He loved us enough, even when we were His enemies and totally uncaring about Him, to rescue us from our rebellion and darkness.

Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:12-14).

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

He makes us heirs with Christ:

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:15-17).

He keeps us secure.

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:28-30).

He wants us to come to Him with our needs.

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven . . . ” (Matthew 6:8-9).

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:6).

He provides for us.

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you (Luke 12:29-31).

He has compassion on us:

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. Psalm 103:13.

He cares enough for us to discipline us when we need it.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights (Proverbs 3: 11-12).

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:7-11).

He reassures us:

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32).

He shapes us, surrounding us with care and concern and interest like a potter bending over his creation:

But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand (Isaiah 64:6).

He gives good gifts and doesn’t change moods or character:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17).

He comforts us:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

He leads and guides us:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God (Romans 8:14).

He blesses us:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3).

He’s preparing a place for us to live with Him eternally.

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? (John 14:2).

There was a popular song years ago that said God is watching us from a distance. But no. He is close and personal, caring and concerned.

Is He your father? “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

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

Laudable Linkage

Here are a few of the good reads found this week:

First Love. “As I watched all of this unfold, I also watched what being around this young man did for the members of our church and me. There is something contagious about being around someone with that first love. There were several things I noticed in this man’s life that gave me pause to consider my own spiritual life.”

Why You Should Name and Even Feel Negative Emotions, HT to Challies. “I rarely dealt with or named my emotions—at least not the “negative” ones. They had to be killed, banished, ignored, and stuffed. I learned this from both Christian circles (like the counselor above) and my own fears. I didn’t want others to see my emotions. Negative emotions always equaled sin and weakness in my mind, a reason for people to look down their noses at me. So I tried to kill my negative feelings with kindness—or gratitude. But what if there’s goodness in every emotion—even in the ones we don’t like so much?”

When the Story Doesn’t Have a Happy Ending, HT to Challies. “The ‘successful’ missionaries always have lots of numbers. They fill their newsletters with compelling stories and photographs of large groups of believers. But nobody gives presentations about evangelistic events where no one showed up, or posts a picture of the local pastor who abused his daughter, or writes a newsletter about the exciting convert who just slowly disappears.”

Tyranny Follows Where Truth Fades, HT to Challies. “Having escaped the tyrannical regime of North Korea, where criticism of ‘Dear Leader’ can land you (and your family) in a concentration camp, she never anticipated the thought control she’d find at this elite American university.”

Speaking Truth in Marital Conflict, HT to Challies. “We know that when couples use words like alwaysnever, and only to describe each other’s behavior or to express a complaint, it will not help to resolve their conflict. These words exaggerate and overgeneralize in a way that provokes a spouse to defensiveness. Instead of considering and talking about their spouse’s concern, an accused spouse will be tempted to prove that they are not always guilty of this or that behavior.”

What “Leah’s Eyes Were Weak” Means—and What It Says About Bible Interpretation, HT to Challies. Admittedly, the state of Leah’s eyes doesn’t affect any major doctrine. Our opinions about what the statement about her eyes in Scripture means is not a hill to die on. But I appreciate the process Mark Ward takes us through when a passage of Scripture isn’t clear and even commentators disagree.

How Can I Be a Good Father When Mine Walked Out?

How Making an If/Then List Can help Your Mental Health, HT to Linda. “Recently, while going through the grief of a loss and all the emotional turmoil that can entail, I made myself an ‘if/then list.’ I thought through what helps—really helps—me in any given mood or symptom, and then made myself a list with easy, actionable steps to take if I found myself in any of those situations.”

This is as good a time as any for my occasional reminder that linking to a post does not mean full endorsement of everything about that site. If a friend’s link sends me to a site I’ve never visited before, and I consider sharing the post, I’ll look at the “about” section to have some idea where the person is coming from. I wouldn’t share something I have strong reservations about without some caveats, but obviously I don’t know everything about a site when I’ve just read one post there. And we often have some disagreements even with our dearest friends. We need to be discerning in all we read.

I watched a program last night in which what I would consider to be normal father-son love and support brought a couple of people to tears. I wondered if seeing such interaction was so rare in the world that it brought forth such an emotion. Maybe these folks didn’t have that fatherly support–or maybe they did, and the memory brought tears. At any rate, I very much agree with the statement below. Happy Father’s Day tomorrow to the dads out there. Keep up the good work. It’s vital.

Walking Through the Flames

When we were taking care of my mother-in-law in our home, our caregiver would stay with her on Sunday mornings while we went to church. I offered to trade off with my husband for Sunday evening services, but he always chose to stay home with her. I think he wanted to give me a break since I was with her so much while he was at work.

Jesse, our youngest son, was still home at that time. So he and I had about a twenty minute drive to church. I usually plugged my phone into the car speakers with the music on shuffle. Sometimes I turned the music down and we talked. Sometimes he’d fall asleep or play a game on one of his devices. Sometimes one or both of us would sing along softly.

But when “Walking Through the Flames” came on, we sang along together at full voice.

I’m not sure what about this song inspired our outburst. It’s based on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3 who would not bow down to the king’s idol, even when their lives were threatened. Their faith and their words have inspired believers for centuries:

“Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).

If you know the story, “Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury” (verse 19), ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than normal, and had the three Hebrew men tied up and thrown in.

The furnace was so hot, the men who threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in died. But the three Hebrew men, instead of immediately succumbing to flames, were walking around untied. And what was more, someone else was with them, and “the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (verse 25).

Nebuchadnezzar called them out and saw that they were not only unhurt, but they were not even singed. They didn’t even smell like smoke. Then “Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God'” (verse 28). He decreed that no one in the land could speak against the God of the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego without dire consequences. Although Nebuchadnezzar was not a believer yet, the next chapter in Daniel tells how he became one. No doubt this incident had a part in establishing his faith in the one true God.

In “Walking Through the Flames” (words are here), Jeanine Drylie retells the story in song and then applies it to us.

But when the hour of trial comes and fire is all around
We’ll find the place we’re walking on is really holy ground.

And praise be to God that the flames will set us free
And praise be to God, we shall gain the victory.

The version in my playlist is sung by Mac Lynch on a CD by the Wilds Christian Camp titled Praise the Everlasting King. Unfortunately, I can’t find that CD or that version of the song online anywhere. But here’s the song by the Northland Baptist Bible College:

I wrote a couple of posts based on truths from this passage of Scripture: “But If Not,” when our pastor was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and From “What If” to “Even If.”

These truths and this song will always minister to me. But my heart will also be warmed by the memory of singing this song along with my son in the car on Sunday evenings.

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

 

Are You a Big Z or an Ordinary N?

Imagine getting a Scrabble tray with the following letters:

JQZXKVW

Wow! All the highest-scoring letters! You’ll surely win this time!

Except there are a couple of problems.

First, there are no vowels. You’d only be able to play off vowels in your opponent’s words.

And most words are not made up of just the high-point letters. Usually you have to combine them with an ordinary D or T or N.

Too, I’ve often found that the words that use all the tiles and earn bonus points are most often made up of the more common letters.

Life is like that with people, too. The ones out front or with heavy responsibilities don’t operate alone. Stars have their publicists, make-up crew and stylists, agents, drivers. Executives have administrative assistants, mailroom workers, technicians. Presidents have cabinets, advisors, security details. Mills, factories, and manufacturers are mostly made up of everyday workers. Every company has those who keep the premises hygienic and pleasant by keeping it clean.

Have you noticed this principle in the Bible as well? Moses had Aaron and Hur. David had his mighty men. Elijah thought he was alone standing against the prophets of Baal, but God had 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to a false god. The obscure names among Jesus’ twelve closest followers were just as much disciples as Peter, James, and John.

Besides the Bible heroes we all know and love, lesser-known servants of God played key roles. A little servant girl told Naaman about the prophet in Israel who could heal him of leprosy. Unnamed prophets appear in only one scene, but deliver vital messages. “A certain man drew his bow at random” and killed King Ahab, one of Israel’s wickedest rulers. A woman only known as a Shunammite provided a respite for the prophet Elisha in his travels. A little boy gave his lunch of loaves and fishes to Jesus, who multiplied them to feed a multitude. “Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for” Jesus and the disciples “out of their means” alongside Mary Magdalene. Paul’s nephew brought news of an ambush planned against Paul, prompting his guards to beef up security.

Everyone has an important part to play in God’s kingdom, whether it’s a large or small part. If we envy another’s role, we forget they have their own set of problems and temptations. If we’re discontent with our role, we forget God sees and values it.

Have you ever had one tiny cog mess up a machine’s functions? A few wrong keystrokes in computer code can throw a whole program off. A little virus can wreak havoc in computers and bodies and communities. One person not doing their job right in the process of bringing a product to market can cause the end product to fail or even be unsafe. One customer service representative can make the difference in solving or causing problems, in our relief or frustrations with a company. One kind greeting at church can make a visitor feel welcome. One word of encouragement can change someone’s outlook.

The Bible uses the metaphor of the body to describe the church in 1 Corinthians 12:14-31. The body has a number of parts, but all are important. This passage has us imagine how ridiculous it would be if the whole body were an eye–how would it eat or walk or speak? Equally ridiculous is the thought of doing without one member or another. One part can’t say it doesn’t need another. Each part working together with the others helps the body function rightly, which aids all the parts. Ephesians 4:1-16 uses the same imagery, closing with, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” I’ve spoken of not thinking less of ourselves if we don’t have a big role to play, but Romans 12, also speaking of the church as a body, warns “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (verse 3). There is no room for pride or discouragement with God’s giftings. But “having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” for His honor and glory and for the good of the rest of the body (Romans 12:6). We can be content in the place He has us.

My grandfather used to say, “God must love common folk, He made so many of us.” Sometimes God pushes us out of our comfort zones, like Moses, Jonah, Gideon, Esther, and others. But most of us won’t be the mega-best-selling author, the speaker followed by the masses, the hero about whom epics are written. Yet we can glorify God in our homes, churches, cars, businesses, neighborhoods. In fact, back to our Scrabble analogy, if we’re an N or T or an I, we can be used more often and in more places than a Q.

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

Encouragement in the Fight Against Temptation

When we’ve been Christians for decades, it seems like we’d have less trouble with sin.

After all, we’ve had so many years to grow, so many times in the Word of God, prayer, church, Sunday School, good books. We know we won’t reach perfection in this life. But shouldn’t we be closer to it?

I have not found myself anywhere near sinless perfection. And I can get quite discouraged when a random thought of anger or envy flashes across my mind. I should know better. Why am I still thinking like that?

But the Bible tells us we will always have our sin nature. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17). In fact, fighting sin is a good sign because it means we have God’s Spirit in us Who opposes sin.

And in some ways, as we grow in the Lord, we’ll be more sensitive to sin issues. I used to get convicted about angry outbursts. Now I get convicted about angry thoughts.

I don’t spend too much time wondering whether particular temptations come from Satan or from my own sin nature. Sometimes one or the other is a bigger factor, sometimes they work together.

But several years ago, I went through a situation that helped my perspective. For some period of weeks, I felt assaulted by untrue thoughts about God. I felt these thoughts came from Satan because they felt like an attack, and I normally didn’t have a problem with that kind of thing. I was discouraged, upset, fearful of blaspheming or at least dishonoring God.

Finally I thought of a tactic. I don’t normally try to address Satan personally. I leave him for God to handle. But I said, to whoever might be listening, “You know what? When I am tempted with wrong thoughts of God, I’m going to immediately turn my thoughts to His praise. I’ll sing a hymn or read a psalm or think about God’s attributes. So any temptation to wrong thoughts about God is going to result in more praise to Him and of Him and more worship of Him.”

The “thought attacks” stopped soon thereafter.

Recently it occurred to me that I could do the same thing with other temptations. Instead of just getting discouraged or irritated that I still have to fight selfishness or pride or jealousy or whatever, I can see the temptation as a call to arms. I can put on His armor and use the sword of His Spirit, His Word. I can preach His truth to myself and shore up my defenses. I can store up His Word in my heart, that I might not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11). I can pray against temptation (Luke 22:40, Matthew 6:13, Matthew 26:41). I can endeavor more closely to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). I can rejoice that God’s throne is one where we can find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16). I have His encouragement 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). I can let God use this for good to strengthen me.

Though God offers grace, He doesn’t want us to take sin casually. Though God forgives us when we confess our sin to Him (1 John 1:9), He also tells us to “Look carefully then how you walk” (Ephesians 5:15), to put certain things away from us, to “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you” (Colossians 3:5). He warns us to “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

But “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14).

Temptation to sin isn’t sin, of course. Even Jesus was tempted.

But when I do succumb to temptation, one verse that especially means a lot to me is Micah 7:8: “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.” I love what Christina Rossetti said: “A fall is a signal not to lie wallowing, but to rise.” Instead of wallowing in discouragement over temptation, we can rise against it. And God can use even this to strengthen us, to encourage others, and to glorify Himself. So, once again, what Satan means for evil, God can turn around and use for good.

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

Laudable Linkage

Here are some good reads that ministered to me this week.

Submit Your Felt Reality to God, HT to Challies. “Reality is reality. It’s objective. It’s what’s actually happening. Felt reality is what’s happening from my vantage point. It’s reality framed by my own thoughts, assumptions, and emotions.” The author includes a look at David’s submitting his felt reality to God in the Psalms.

Talking to Our Souls. This goes along with the one above. “We don’t always have access to counselors and wise friends, of course. Sometimes, we have to counsel ourselves, using words we know to be true because they come from trusted sources. We can easily get into trouble, though, when we listen to ourselves instead of talking to ourselves.”

Loving Across the Ideological Fence, HT to Challies. “Society and the mainstream media tries so hard to pit everybody against one another. And they are successful for the most part. Christians must resist this. We must not cave into the cultural pressure of hating those who don’t see things the way we do. Again, we must love those on the other side.”

The Dead Seriousness of Careless Words. “Carelessness was on Jesus’ mind on a day when the religious authorities confronted him about his failure to keep their interpretation of the religious law. He remarked that their words were evil because their hearts were evil. ‘How can you speak good, when you are evil?’ he asked. ‘For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.’ And in that context he offered the most solemn of warnings. ‘I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.'”

It Rots the Bones, HT to Challies. “Many months ago, I received an email from a dear, faithful reader, asking for help. Her life was quickly unraveling, and in the midst of persistent heartache, she had fallen headlong into envy. Jealousy towards a woman in her church, whose life seemed quite perfect. This jealousy was destroying her, from the inside out. Envy is the thief of contentment, isn’t it? It reveals an idol tucked in the heart.”

Praying the Word: When You Feel Angry, HT to the Story Warren. “On the surface, prayer seems simple. It’s talking to God. But in practice, we may have a lot of questions. Am I doing this right? Is there a “right” way to do it? What am I supposed to say? Are there things I shouldn’t pray about? Or maybe we feel pretty comfortable with praying, but we struggle with getting bored or losing focus. Whatever our struggles with prayer, Scripture can be helpful.”

Is It Okay to Pray for a Husband? “For a long, long time, one thing that kept me back from praying specific prayers was wondering if I was asking for the wrong things. I wondered if what I was praying was really according to God’s will. I would pray generic prayers: ‘God, I have this decision coming up, and, uhhh . . . Your will be done.’ It was an uninvolved, nonpersonal prayer. In the pages of Scripture, when we look at Jesus’ prayers and the Psalms, we see that God invites us to come to Him with exactly what’s happening in our daily lives. He invites us to pray about the small things—to pray about the specifics.” I like her acronym for prayer.

When It Comes to Friendships, It’s OK to Be the Planner, HT to Linda. “When you like people, you extend invitations for specific times. If other people don’t do that, is it because they don’t like you as much? You might hold back, worried that you are misjudging things. But before you stop trying, understand this: It’s OK to be the planner. Your gift is logistics and coordination. Other people have different gifts. Appreciating that makes it possible to enjoy friendships more.”

VOX Outdoes Itself in Ignorance and Misogyny, HT to Challies. “Tragically, heretofore, society understood that babies coming into the world was so important that when women were going to have them, they really had to do that as the main thing for many years and couldn’t do anything else. Prevailing opinion thinks this was misogyny, that ‘staying home’ with babies and young children was a terrible thing to do, and not gracious and life giving, and also the glue that kept a lot of society together.”

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

Here’s the latest thought-provoking reads seen around the Web lately.

In Christ, We Have Direct Access to God, HT to Challies. “Is it inconsistent for the Bible to teach us that God ‘dwells in unapproachable light’ (1 Tim. 6:16), while at the same time exhort us to draw near to him? If God dwells in the white-hot light of his holiness, how can sinners like you and me ever hope to take even one baby step toward him? If God is so pure, so completely undefiled, so sharply separate from sin, how can we approach him? Indeed, it seems, he is unapproachable. Yet the author of Hebrews strongly encourages believers to not only approach God, but to do so with ‘full assurance.'”

Still, HT to Challies. This is beautifully written. “Is it true that the quiet valleys of this world harbour stillness like some treasure to be dug up? Quite possibly. But I’m not convinced that is what the ancient song-writer is calling us to. Rather, it strikes me that there is a tone of command here, a tone better heard if we had sat with the desperate disciples on a wind whipped lake, the night dread gripped their hearts.”

Keys to Knowing God’s Will for Your Life. “Of all the issues related to Christian living, few receive greater attention than knowing God’s will for our lives. Many believers, and especially younger ones, agonize over knowing what God means for them to do and how he means for them to live out their days. Many end up leaning toward a low-grade form of mysticism, longing to receive some kind of a sign from the skies or some kind of a word in their hearts.”

What Makes a “Strong Woman” Strong? HT to Challies. “‘Strong woman’ is a phrase heard often these days, and because I admire both words and women, I’ve been paying attention. It’s used in politics, on campuses, in the media, and even by little girls who know at a very early age to describe themselves as ‘strong.’ It’s made me think about what strong actually means—what is the implication when people say ‘strong woman’?”

We Don’t Need to Rescue Biblical Characters from Themselves, HT to Challies. “If we understand that the Bible is not a book of heroes to emulate, but sinners in the need of Jesus, our outlook changes a bit. We don’t need to rescue the biblical characters from themselves so we can emulate them, we can take comfort in the fact that even our very greatest heroes in the Bible were not perfectly faithful. They, as much as us, needed Jesus. The Biblical characters are not there principally as examples to us to emulate, but as examples to us of God’s grace.”

Two Letters and a Cute Dog Photo, HT to Challies. “My mind turns to the commute home and the evening ahead. Oh, that’s right: tonight is Bible study night. I was already feeling physically and mentally tired, and now I realise I’ve got to get home, do a quick turn around on dinner, then up and out in the cold to head to my home group. Or … I could stay home, get those nagging chores done, quickly watch the next episode of that Netflix series I’ve been enjoying, and get to bed at a time more in keeping with the level of fatigue I’m feeling. I’m sure my group and the leaders will understand. They always do. Here are five quick reasons to intentionally derail that train of thought and go to growth group.”

Not What I Expected, HT to Challies. “One of the most shocking television moments I ever witnessed was on L.A. Law in the 1980s. A character everyone loved to hate, Rosalind, stepped through her law office’s elevator doors mid-sentence and unexpectedly plummeted to her death. That’s kind of how I felt when I became a mom…like I was falling. I stepped forward and the floor wasn’t there. The drastic life change was so much harder than I expected, in ways I didn’t anticipate.”

Teach Us to Number Our Drives, That We May Gain the Hearts of Our Children, HT to Challies. “Even though I know this comes with the territory, I struggle to enjoy it. This season of spending lots of time together in the car is fleeting, and I need to take advantage of having a captive audience. But while I love my kids with all my heart, and I’d jump in front of an oncoming train for them, some days I don’t want to lay my life down to drive them across town.”

And a thought for the day:

Happy Saturday!

“At least I’m still good for something.”

When we first moved my mother-in-law over 2,000 miles to live in an assisted living facility near us, we would have her over for dinner sometimes, take her to my youngest son’s basketball games, and take her to church and other outings.

At one dinner, a favorite family story came up. Some years ago, my mother-in-law inadvertently said something inappropriate, using a term with double meaning of which she was unaware. Everyone laughed because they knew she hadn’t meant it in the way people would take it today. The incongruity of such a thing coming from her made it all the more funny.

As we told the story to our kids, who had either not heard it before or had forgotten it, we all laughed, even my mother-in-law.

After the laughter died down, though, she quietly said, “At least I’m still good for something.”

I don’t know if anyone else heard her say it or caught the significance. But her sentence went like an arrow to my heart. She wasn’t complaining or blaming anyone, but she didn’t feel useful any more.

When we first moved her into assisted living, my husband told her, “You’ll never have to cook to clean again.” That sounded pretty good after 70 or years of those activities.

Her only hobby was reading, and she delighted in being able to read all day to her heart’s content. She had always been a homebody, and just going to meals three times a day with a room full of other people taxed her. When aides would knock on her door to see if she wanted to go see the musicians, the magicians, the church choir, or whomever, she politely declined.

I don’t think she was discontent with her circumstances. But we all want to feel we’re of use in the world. There is a feeling of satisfaction and pleasure when we’ve accomplished something, but she didn’t have anything to accomplish any more.

In “The Grace to Be Diminished,” Win Couchman wrote of turning 80 and having to give up driving, changing from their usual place in the balcony at church to a place on the main floor where they didn’t have to fear falling, her husband’s hearing loss and short-term memory loss which caused him to be “silent and isolated at social functions.” But the “diminishment” that particularly touched my heart was when “one of the women who coordinates the potlucks called me and said with winsome authority, ‘Win, enough already. You have been involved with these evenings for about twenty years now, I think. You have done your bit. We want you and Bob to be at every one, but you are not to bring any more food, you hear?'”

Only then did I realize how the slowness with which I function now, and the accompanying late afternoon fatigue, was beginning to color my anticipation with some dread.

Gladly I responded, “Okay.” It’s awkward to walk into someone’s house on potluck Saturdays empty-handed just as another couple arrives loaded with goodies. In that moment, I silently look to God for the grace to be diminished.

Win and her husband, and I am sure my mother-in-law as well, graciously accepted the decline that comes with age, knowing that:

 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).

Yet I think we should be careful not to diminish them unnecessarily.

In Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Happens in the End, he writes of a woman who was responsible for her father’s care when he could no longer live alone. Yet her desire to keep him safe culminated in his living in a small room with nothing to do, “safe but empty of anything [he cared] about” (p. 109). 

What touched off this train of thought today was a section in Anthony Trollope’s The Last Chronicle of Barset, the sixth and last in his Chronicles of Barsetshire series. Mr. Harding was the main character in the first book, The Warden. Now, in the last book, he has become very old and increasingly feeble. He used to love to play the violincello, but can’t manage it any more. “He had encountered some failure in the performance of the slight clerical task allotted to him, and the dean had tenderly advised him to desist.” He loved going to the cathedral every day, to listen to the organ, read a theology book, or just walk around. But his feebleness caused his fearful housekeeper to write to his daughter, who came to encourage him that perhaps his days of walking alone to the cathedral might need to come to an end. He replied, “I do not like not going;—for who can say how often I may be able to go again? There is so little left, Susan,—so very little left.”

That line was heartbreaking—that there was so little left. Eventually Mr. Harding made peace with the fact that God had given him a good life and he had a better one to look forward to. He found the “grace to be diminished” and decline.

Another line in Gawande’s book says, “Making life meaningful in old age…requires more imagination and invention than making them merely safe does” (p. 137).

Hindsight is always so much clearer, of course, but I wish I had made my mother-in-law’s life more meaningful. When she was still able, I wish I had thought of small tasks she could do to help with meals. Cooking had been her love language of sorts. Though we thought we were honoring her by doing for her, perhaps she would have felt more useful with a way to contribute. I could have made a project of putting her photos in albums with her. I did ask about her early life—high school, how she met her husband, etc.–and even learned some things I hadn’t known before. But I wish I had done that more. Although our visiting almost every day and then bringing her home for her last years showed how much we regarded her, I wish I had often told her that we loved her and were happy to have the opportunity to care for her. Though she had intrinsic value as a being created in God’s image, we should have let her know more often that she was valued and important.

As I look ahead to growing older, a couple of passages especially comfort me. One is Isaiah 46:4: “even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”

Another is Psalm 92:12-15:

The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
to declare that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

During my mother-in-law’s last years, when she slept most of the time, I wondered what kind of fruit she was bearing in that state. A few came to mind. Her godly life—not perfect, but steadily walking with God and seeking to serve Him the best she could in her circumstances. Her uncomplaining patience. Her taking things with humor. Her willingness to “go with the flow.” Her testimony of peace and joy before her caregivers.

I wish these things had come to mind when she wondered what she was “good for.” I trust her Lord’s, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” assured her that He was able to use her in many ways. And I hope that these thoughts will remind me to let others know the ways God used them in my life.

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

Lamb of God

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:5-6

Years ago I heard a story about a guest preacher who was just getting ready to board his train after speaking at a church. A man hurried to him, saying he had been in the meeting and was anxious about his spiritual state. Could the preacher take time to talk to him?

The preacher’s train was the last of the night, and it was about to leave. All he had time to tell the man was to read Isaiah 53:6, and then to go in and the first “all” and come out at the last “all.”

The man was puzzled, but when he went home. he looked up Isaiah 53:6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” As the man read the passage several times, understanding dawned. He was a sheep gone astray, stubbornly following his own way. But Jesus took his iniquity. If he trusted in Jesus, he would be saved and forgiven.

I don’t know if this is a true story, but the point it makes is true.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous,
that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
see him dying on the tree!
‘Tis the Christ, by man rejected;
yes, my soul, ’tis he, ’tis he.
‘Tis the long-expected Prophet,
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
proofs I see sufficient of it:
’tis the true and faithful Word.

Tell me, as you hear him groaning,
was there ever grief like his,
friends through fear his cause disowning,
foes insulting his distress?
Many hands were raised to wound him,
none would intervene to save;
but the deepest stroke that pierced him
was the stroke that justice gave.

If you think of sin but lightly
nor suppose the evil great,
here you see its nature rightly,
here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
see who bears the awful load;
’tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.

Here we have a firm foundation,
here the refuge of the lost:
Christ, the Rock of our salvation,
is the name of which we boast;
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,
sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
who on him their hope have built.

Thomas Kelly, 1804

Isaiah 53:6

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