Since this blog is dedicated to "finishing well" it'd be fair to think I'm all about striving for rewards and finish lines. And I am. What does it matter if you start strong but finish poorly? However, there is value in doing good for goodness sake.
This post was written for a weight loss blog, so it's not as churchy as other posts but the message stands. Hope it encourages you. Let me know what you think!
Weight loss is easy—said no one, ever. It takes a plan, discipline and endurance. It takes a real commitment to future glory while eschewing immediate gratification. It’s tough and once achieved, it’s valuable. Even more so when it’s sustainable.
The desire to lose weight/make healthier food choices/fit into favorite jeans/look good on a beach/ reduce medication is as common as a Honda Odyssey in a school drop-off line—so why do so many people struggle to make better choices when they know it’ll get them where they long to be?
The answers are varied and nuanced but one thing I’ve seen—and it applies as much to weight loss goals as financial, relational or spiritual goals—is that most times, all people really want is the reward.
We seek to be debt free but make another Target run. We desire more connection with our spouse but choose not to be kind when we’re in a mood. We want to discern the voice of God but find Facebook more appealing than putting our faces in the Bible. We want healthy, fit bodies but have no desire to modify our food choices—forever and change the way we move—daily.
We want the reward—not the lifestyle.
Since that’s not working for most of us--let’s flip the script. Big life changes often originate with subtle shifts in our beliefs. Your circumstance doesn’t necessarily change but how you interpret your environment does—and that can make all the difference.
My encouragement: Seek the lifestyle—not the reward!
Don’t wish for a great marriage—aspire to be kind to your spouse daily. Don’t wait for a spiritual awakening—wake up and pray. If you need to save money it’s probably a good idea to miss (the) Target too. And when it comes to weight loss, resist the urge to allow three numbers to validate your existence. Instead pursue leafy greens and colorful produce that make you feel alive. Learn to cook great meals. Run so fast your heart feels like it’ll beat right out of your chest. Lift weights. Stand on your hands. Try a new workout.
It’s okay to feel.
To feel alive is at times to be unsure and awkward—especially when learning a new skill. The style of life you live is more enduring than the handful of days that goals are met and rewards are doled out. Love the lifestyle first.
Determine a plan and stick with it—not for any idealized reward but because it’s the right thing to do. Course correct when adjustments are needed. Hold yourself accountable—while be gracious.
We are what we love and when we live from this perspective, we see the reward isn’t an end in itself. Instead, it’s an external manifestation of an inward conviction. It’s an encourager to say, “Hey! We’re making progress. Keep at it!”
And when the reward doesn’t present as quickly as we hoped—we can be disappointed but not dissuaded. It wasn’t our main objective anyway.
Save your money.
Invest in relationships.
Take care of your body.
Replenish your soul.
What greater reward is there than a style of life that reflects this kind of light?
It’s not three numbers on the scale that prove your value (or lack thereof) but a life lived from a place of love—where you’re valuable and other people are too.
Of course, the irony is when you pursue a gracious, disciplined, healthful lifestyle—rewards are inevitable. We’re often told to ‘live in the moment’ but I’m encouraging to live for the season. The things of the earth take time.
Be patient and wait for what you want. It's the lifestyle that's the true reward.
“…whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:11
I wrestled with this. I can do nothing apart from you Lord—doesn’t that mean all I do is with strength you supply? In one sense all activity is sustained by the continuous power of Christ: from prayer to powerlifting, Bible study to bathroom scrubbing, work to home and back again.
So why the distinction?
Audible answers to life’s riddles aren’t the only or main way truth is revealed. God’s Word is the key to unlocking knowledge and understanding. Wisdom calls in the streets—her pitch inaudible to untrained hears. So give us truth! Eyes to see. Ears to hear. Hearts to love.
Because false strength can empower life. Counterfeit courage. Spurious spirituality. Make-believe beliefs.
So how can we know we’re in step with the Spirit and not just given to passion or sparkly ideas that aren’t validated by the Word of God?
Here’s eight observations about the supernatural strength God supplies.
The message is clear, while believers are empowered by the Spirit of God to do great things in love, the privilege of what we’ll accomplish, how we’ll do it and even how long we’ll be used in a certain capacity belongs to God alone. He certainly doesn’t need us—but oh how we need him!
His condescension—willingly lowering himself, is so good and so true. Our response can only be to love in return offering our lives as living sacrifices. We are limited, dependent, insecure, prone to arrogance and cowardice and still Christ joyfully transforms our broken pieces by his broken body into shalom or wholeness.
Serve with the strength God supplies so in all things God will be glorified through Christ, always.
All my bones shall say: ‘O LORD, who is like you, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him...’ Psalm 35:10
Curled up in a chair, sick, exhausted and overwhelmed, I chastised the Savior.
“The Darkness is too strong for me. It's winning. Where are you?” My tone was one of weak condemnation. I did my part—feeble though it may have been. But God—my champion, my rescuer seemingly vanished, leaving wounds seeping and gaps gaping.
This can’t be the way this ends. God—don’t you see? I’m falling through the cracks and am taking others with me.
I’ve listened to a thousand sermons. I’ve read my Bible cover to cover. I’ve read other people’s books who’ve read the Bible cover to cover. I’ve prayed. And cried. And waited.
Ever felt that way? Like you’ve done your part, but God hasn’t done his?
I wonder if the Bible legends had moments where they doubted God’s vision and proximity.
Daniel, drawing back, bracing for the first bone-crushing bite: “LORD—the lions are getting closer…”
Esther, sweat beading on her lip, voice trembling: “LORD, He doesn’t look happy to see me…”
Moses, feeling the collective pressure of a nation, pursued by slaughterers, standing before the sea: "Phenomenal works of deliverance…and now you’ve led us to a trap?”
For a story to great there must be conflict. Our hearts are similar. Take a faithful soul and lock her up with wild beasts, have her stand before a petulant judge, hem her in with impossible choices on both sides and watch the dross of the heart bubble up.
Fear. Doubt. Rage. Anguish. All of them at home in the heart—now set free by the key of affliction.
Darkness is real. And sometimes God allows it to get really close. Close enough for you to feel its death-grip and smell its stench. Close enough to despair that anything or anyone else could be closer.
Ahh…and here the key turns and another parasitical lie is disengaged from the heart: that darkness could ever win. Calvary lured darkness into a trap and blew it to smithereens with a light that burns brighter than 10,000 suns. For now, it lingers as a shadow content to latch itself on to gritty bits of sin and fear and anger that still plague the believer’s heart. But in Christ, we are more than conquerors. Not only will we overcome this scourge by the power of the Holy Spirit—but the shadow that sought our destruction will become our servant.
Here’s what Moses really said, standing at the banks of the Red Sea:
“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.” Exodus 14:13
Stand firm. For today God will work for you.
The sea split, and God’s people walked to safety. The bloodthirsty army charged in afterward—thinking this miracle was for them too. Alas, it wasn’t.
The king smiled at his queen and beckoned her in.
Bowing in submission to the Lord's Angel, the lions’ closed their mouths against hunger.
And me, curled up in a ball, spent my last bit of energy on three things. I repented of trusting my sight more than my Savior. I sent a desperate prayer plea to friends who could bear me in my weakness. And I read Romans 8.
And the words flew from page to heart. And the Word became more real than reality. Daniel’s lions’ mouths were shut by the power of the Spirit and my heart was opened to receive salvation.
Let me tell you where I was—indeed where I AM. In your weakness I am your helper. You don’t know how to pray the way you ought so the Spirit prays for you with groanings too deep for words. He intercedes for you according to my will. This power—this grace makes all things work together for good for you. Distress, danger and fear cannot separate you from me—even now Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of your faith sits at my right hand, pleading for you. That’s what I’ve been doing. That’s where I’ve been. (Romans 8:26-35)
I’m fragile. Short on courage and long on fear. I trust my senses too much and am prone to wander. But I have a savior who isn’t anything like me. He’s genuinely tender and astonishingly fierce. He’s a friend like no other—ripe with love and compassion, full of infinite wisdom and fortunately for me, abounding in forgiveness.
Peace returned to my trembling heart and when I looked around, I saw something new. The despair I thought would destroy me had only deceived me and once exposed, began to serve me.
How? It purged my heart of all kinds of poison. It softened me and made me kind. It removed some flesh (ouch!) and replaced it with indestructible faith. And love? Oh love!
For (now) I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor power, nor height or depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
The next time despair has you doubting God's faithfulness, his compassion, his ability to effect change--doubt your doubt. Not your savior.
You need it to please God. (Hebrews 11:6)
Without it the gospel will not profit you. (Hebrews 4:2)
If you don’t encourage it daily, it will atrophy. (Hebrews 3:13)
Yet you can’t fake it or make it up--as the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Matters of faith are extremely important. Faith is intentional and focused. Faith is neither blind nor purely emotional but a work of the Spirit that fuels righteousness.
The book of Hebrews was written to a brave and desperate people. Jewish believers had reneged on their centuries-old customs and religious traditions to put their faith in Christ. No more mandatory temple visits. No more animal sacrifices. They were ostracized and persecuted by traditional Jews and misunderstood by Gentiles. They were few in number. They were desperate. They needed to know if their faith in Jesus Christ was secure. Was he really Messiah? Had they truly secured the destiny of their souls? The anonymous Spirit-lead writer of the book of Hebrews wrote to give them confidence and peace.
People often say that God works in mysterious ways—but according to Hebrews Chapter 1, there is no mystery about Jesus Christ’s identity:
· He is God’s son
· Heir of all things
· Creator of the world
· Radiance of God the Father’s glory
· Exact representation of God the Father
· Upholder of all things by the power of His word
· Purifier of sins
· Better than angels
The same chapter tells readers who Jesus is not:
· He is not an angel
· He is not merely a good man
· He is not a fraud
As the true Mediator of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ fulfilled the Old Testament law which was strategically designed to point to his perfection and away from weak attempts at earned righteousness. The law was only a shadow of things to come. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins! (Hebrews 10:4)
Sin however, is a real problem for flesh that's under the curse of death. (Do you ever think of death as a curse? Like there was a time before the curse? And if only there was a redeemer to offer true love's kiss, or the shoe that fits...the curse could somehow be lifted?)
God breathed into us the breath of life and one day he will take it back. It's his after all. A lifetime of organic meals, healthy relationships and positive thinking isn’t enough to change the fact that the wages of sin is death. But the Heir of All Things, Jesus, does the unthinkable for the timid first Christians of old and the timid Christians of today—He becomes like us: flesh and blood.
He endures the cross--and sin's wretched mantle of abuse, perversion, rage, addiction, hatred, denial, indifference, greed, lust and everything ugly rendering our mortal enemy, Satan, who has the power of death, powerless, (2:14). Jesus calls those who he frees from slavery, “brethren” and “little children,”(2:14). Despite our failures he is not ashamed of us (2:11) and promises that as a merciful and faithful high priest he has completely made propitiation for the sins of the people (2:17). No one is more worthy of your faith, than Him. Because in at least one way, he is not like us. Jesus Christ is God.
The gospel (the good news that our redeemer has come to lift the curse) must be united with faith to equal profit. People put "faith" in all matter of things that are unfaithful and suffer. It is not faith itself that makes something worthy—it is the object of faith that intrinsically possesses or lacks value. Determining the value of the object of faith is of paramount importance because it will shape beliefs, ideas and even imagination. And for better or worse, there will be consequences. It’s precisely why those early Jewish believers were concerned and it’s why the book of Hebrews was written.
Saving faith initiates a spiritual transaction that shows up loud and clear in our lives.
The righteous in Christ need not "shrink back" as Hebrews 10:38 warns, but live out loud--by faith in the assurance and conviction that Christ will indeed preserve our souls. "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” (11:1).
Chapter 11 lists nineteen “By Faith” statements to illustrate what faith accomplishes in the world, after it has been unleashed in the heart of believer.
· By faith we accept God spoke creation into existence
· By faith Abel offered
· By faith Enoch was taken up and didn’t see death
· By faith Noah prepared
· By faith Abraham obeyed and lived as an alien in the place God sent him
· By faith Sarah received
· By faith Abraham offered up Isaac
· By faith Isaac and his son Jacob blessed their sons
· By faith Joseph made mention of the exodus
· By faith Moses was hidden
· By faith Moses refused to be called the son of the Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin.
· By faith Moses left Egypt and kept the Passover
· By faith the Israelites passed through the Red Sea
· By faith the walls of Jericho fell
· By faith Rahab the harlot, survived
By faith, kingdoms were conquered, acts of righteousness were performed, promises were obtained and the mouths of lions were shut. By faith others were tortured, experienced mocking and scourging or left imprisoned in chains. By faith, some received back their life while others were sawed in two, (11:33-39).
Faith in Christ will save your life and cost your life, but the reward of knowing the One who upholds the world by the power of his word is greater than all the treasure in the universe. Indeed all our wealth and knowledge and progress is but a bauble in the hand of the Almighty! So let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us and let us run with endurance to the finish line.
Faith in Christ is an anchor in the uncertainty of life's storms, a pair of wings to rise above them and when necessary, a multi-layer structural suit of Kevlar to tear directly through them, "therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need," (4:16).
The art of seeing—and being seen is something our culture prizes. We direct our gaze to that which we find desirable, delicious, arousing but also unbelievable and repulsive. We are the Looking People, always reading, watching, observing, comparing, searching for the best view.
We’re a people who seek to be seen also. Despite critical tendencies and the litany of body-image complaints—our gyms, malls and homes are mirrored not to develop our humility—but self-admiration. Oh, this isn’t to say we’re content with all we see—we are practiced complainers, but still we look.
We are not only preoccupied by our physical image but also our histories, our possessions, even the accomplishments of those close to us. Look what I have. Look what I’ve done. See who I know. See me.
And we should see.
And we need to be seen.
But even seeing needs interpretation because vision problems abound.
Do you wear glasses or contact lenses? Most eyesight issues are refractive in nature. The human eye is designed to bend light, imprinting images on the retina for the brain to decode. But if the eye is bad and unable to bend light—vision is blurry, darkened. Corrective lenses bend the light instead, so vision is focused, illuminated. The Word of God does this too.
In Genesis 16 we learn of Hagar and her need to be seen. I imagine her as a young and radiant Egyptian beauty--mostly because she was Sarai’s first choice for her husband’s progeny. Hagar is seen by Sarai. “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. Genesis 16:2
Note how Sarai demands Abram see her affliction, “Behold!” she cries. And Abram looks but his gaze goes beyond his wife to the slave girl. And like Eve—mother of all, Abram sees that Hagar is good and a delight to the eyes and he desired a child which it seemed only she could provide. And he listened to the voice of his wife and knew another woman.
Now Hagar is seen and known intimately by her master. And she conceives, feels special and does a little looking of her own. “And when (Hagar) saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt upon her mistress.” Genesis 16:4
Newly pregnant and enjoying fresh honor the slave girl attempts to invert the hierarchy by throwing shade on her older, barren mistress. Oh no, says Sarai and she makes the girl's life hellish. Scripture says Sarai dealt “harshly with her” and it was so bad Hagar ran to the wilderness to escape. She had been seen by man and it went badly, now Hagar just wanted to be invisible.
There’s at least three lessons here:
Graciously and maybe ironically, it is Abram’s God who finds the discarded woman. We learn in Genesis 16:7 “The angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur.”
Where have you come from Hagar and where are you going? She tells him. Return and submit to your mistress. You are pregnant with a son—call him Ishmael. He’ll be wild, but I have plans for him and you too.
The wonder is too great to contain. Yes, she’s told to return to Sarai and yes, her son will be handful, but God saw her, saw her and that takes precedence overall.
She called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing. Truly I have seen him who looks after me.” Genesis 16:13
El Roi. The God who sees.
More than a decade later Hagar is celebrating with her master and mistress at Ishmael’s brother’s weaning feast. It’s a happy and heady time. God has made a covenant with the Abrams and changed their names. They’ve sustained and added to their great wealth. And now, a baby son. Isaac. The child of promise. The son of the free woman. And in this celebratory season Hagar makes a crucial error. She laughs.
Infuriated—by what I imagine felt like an intrusion on her family’s moment—Sarah cannot bear to see the slave girl any longer. Cast her out, she demands. And like so many family get-togethers, the feast ends sorrowfully.
Abraham, brokenhearted yet obedient to his God and his wife, bids farewell to Hagar and his first-born son. Trusting El Roi really is the God who sees, he turns his back on his son and the boy’s mother and returns to camp.
Whatever future conflicts were birthed by the Abrams foolhardy plan to assist God (by sinning!) I am grateful that through this experience, Hagar gave us El Roi. Acknowledging God or “the name of God” (addressing the fullness of his attributes) is good and proper but calling him by specific names that correspond to precise attributes is ever so helpful in understanding God's heart toward us. In Genesis, facets of His holy character are progressively revealed.
He is ELOHIM the Creator, strong and mighty. Genesis 17:7
He is YAHWEH-JIREH, the LORD who provides. Genesis 22:14
He is EL ROI, the God who sees. Genesis 16:13
After Abraham's departure and a period of wandering, Hagar comes to the end of herself in the wilderness of Beersheba. Her beloved son isn’t in her womb this time and if she was unsure how to provide for him before, she’s at a loss now. After her meager supplies have been exhausted, the dutiful mom places her son in a shady spot and walks a bow-shot distance away--convinced his death is imminent. We learn that she lifted her voice and wept. Her son must have called to her--Mama what’s wrong? What have I done? What can I do? because God responded to the pleas of the child.
And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation. Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.” Genesis 21:17-19
The God of seeing helps Hagar see a well that was there all along. We know from her mother’s heart that though she was weary from thirst, hunger and anguish, her only hope was for her son. She feared she would see his death instead God allowed her to see how to sustain his life.
In the same way, the God of seeing enables us to see well. We have been seen by God—so we can see others. To find the emotional, physical, financial and spiritual wells that will bring refreshment to parched souls.
We seek to be seen and we ought to see the world--its beauty and depravity, but not merely with eyes that scan the surface, judging others on the basis of competencies and frailties. We need light to bend, penetrate the surface and reveal the subterranean needs of the soul.
We can take confidence that EL Roi is the God who sees us too--even if no one else does. And there's more! The prophet Zephaniah tells us that when Christ is in our midst, God rejoices over us with gladness and quiets us with his love. Zephaniah 3:17
We don't need to to constantly earn, prove or show our value because the psalmist tells us that greatness, like good eyesight, is a gift from the Gentle One.
You have given me the shield of your salvation and your right hand supported me and your gentleness made me great." Psalm 18:35
May we all be made great by the gentleness of our seeing God and seek to see each other well also.
A predictable routine is essential infrastructure in our family. An awareness of our weekly activities and responsibilities helps us plan, uphold obligations and maintain order in an environment that looms chaotic. Knowing that Wednesday is my night of folding a Mount Rainier-sized mound of clean laundry, I have peace Tuesday when baskets of so many jeans, leggings, shirts and socks threaten me. I see you. And I’ll deal with you tomorrow.
But what if our routine becomes god? When all submits to the patterns of personality and behavior and preference—and nothing and no thing can interfere with the schedule?
“The earth is the LORD’S and all it contains, the world and those who dwell in it.” Psalm 24:1
This includes time and how we choose to use it.
My time and all the schedules and preferences it holds ought to submit to creation’s author. Because really, it’s not a predictable routine that bears the weight of my family’s needs and desires, but Jesus Christ who upholds all things—even enormous piles of untended laundry—by the word of His power. (Hebrews 1:3)
If we stand any chance of accomplishing good works for the Kingdom, our minutes must submit to the One who has numbered our days--our nanoseconds, before we’ve even breathed our first. (Psalm 139:16)
And we must accomplish good works. Grace makes good works possible. Love makes good works inevitable.
Will you change your preferences for Love?
Yes…but there’s Church on Sunday, weekday gymnastics, school drop off and pickups (at four different schools). There’s youth group, and her birthday party this weekend. Yes…but the cello needs tuning and groceries don’t buy themselves and when’s the last time anyone vacuumed? And there’s a form somewhere—always forms that need signing and there’s a job also because none of this running about pays the bills. Yes…but it’s my time. And these are my preferences. And life only works this way.
I want to love with all my heart--no conditions or requirements--I just...can't.
Ahh, now we're getting somewhere. Beloved, if you know me, you know love, because I am love. I sent my son to you--live through him, for he's taken away your sin. I have loved you first--so you can love my world best. Rest in me--loving through you--and you will love well. 1 John 8-10
Nighttime finds me frail. My body pleads for rest. But it’s also when all the house lies quiet. Wrapped in darkness, a stone’s throw from midnight—desperate for a spoonful of uninterrupted time I move through the house seeking solitude. Time to think. Time to write.
No sooner do my fingers find the keyboard than a baby’s cry hits my ear like an air raid siren. I want to take cover—but I’m awake. I am the first responder.
Really? I get up before dawn to work on projects that mock me throughout the day—only for them to tease me still.
She is cold and wet and unsettled. Gently and quietly, I change her, snuggle her close, wrap her in the grace and love that binds me. Now she is warm, dry, secure. I hold her close. Just her and I—adrift in a moment that is sacred-beautiful.
A mama and a baby. Weeks ago—strangers. Neither of us seeking the other and yet finding one another still.
Awash in moonlight I offer thanks to the Lord. Even I can see that tonight, these hands of mine weren’t meant to write life-giving words but to hold life.
To behold life—this little bundle baby in my arms. Time is a gift to be received—not killed or wasted, but spent on what we love. And who doesn’t have time for love moments like this? I’m reminded of the Psalmist’s praise--I remember your name in the night, O Lord and another: At midnight I rise to praise you because of your righteous rules. Psalm 119: 55, 62
My routine—both in slumber and motion are life’s outlines, but if they don’t fill when the breath of the Sprit blows—I live imprisoned.
I am a free woman. I have no use for chains.
And so my deliverer comes to break the bonds I’ve forged. But the breaking hurts. Feels like loss. Yet since routine is not god—God is God, He gives what I’m really seeking and exposes the lie I’m believing.
Self-remembrance is how I try to preserve joy: my pursuits, plans, patterns. But the path to joy is more closely tied to self-forgetfulness. Losing myself is that which is fuller, always and more. I agree with Ann Voskamp, my endless desires can only be met in an endless God. And C.S. Lewis, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Another World. The upside-down Kingdom that is truly right-side up, where the last are first, the empty are full, the broken are made whole.
I do not always spend my time-gift wisely, but I trust in the love of the One who holds my days like petals in His eternal palm. He deserves immediate and steadfast obedience not the dawdling, reluctance I frequently offer yet even still Christ transforms my spray of weeds into a bouquet of flowers, fragrant. If divine love cannot change my life and reorder my preferences—what can? What will?
I have my answer. But now it’s a prayer.
Yes! Please. Let divine love interrupt me, change my life, re-order my steps. Replace my less and sometimes with more and always. Help me seek eternal beauty instead temporal trappings. Keep my path straight—no matter the cost. I will trust you with my days—
And my sleepless nights.
Sometimes when I pray—and long to fill the air with words rich and weighty, I lean on the Psalms. I pick one or a portion, personalize it and pray it aloud.
“Let a righteous man strike me—that is kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it, for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers.” (Psalm 141:5)
Few would call themselves perfect. “I’m only human!” is the perennial acknowledgment of our personal and collective lack of perfection and yet, often when criticism is leveled our defenses inflame--as though we were faultless.
Not King David. He pleaded with God to set a guard over his mouth, to keep his heart and hands from delighting in wickedness and should he slip, he prayed for intervention and correction.
David perceived an assault by the righteous on his inappropriate, misguided or sinful actions as God's kindness to him. He believed to be set apart—to be anointed with oil, was part and parcel with much-needed correction. Stop me Lord, before I ruin everything.
Despite being beloved of God, a warrior, musician and “ruddy and handsome,” (1 Samuel 17:42) David could also be a little stinker who needed to stand down. And he knew it.
Marvel at the humility of this king!
My daughters are competitive gymnasts and the Spirit has used their experiences to teach me much about the relationship of life and holiness.
An integral set of skills in any gymnast’s tumbling pass is the round off -back handspring. The round off allows the gymnast to transfer her forward momentum to either backward or vertical velocity so she has the speed and height to shoot up and back into a back handspring (or numerous other skills). It is both a fundamental and an advanced skill.
For three years my daughter had practiced transitions that would pay off with the much sought-after round off back handspring and when she finally got it, she was excited to show me. Of course, I was thrilled beyond words myself and waited breathlessly, iPhone recording in hand to capture this prolific moment.
She nodded at me from across the gym and then turned away, fixing her eyes on the track in front of her. A whirlwind of power and grace—she zipped through the air like she had been flying her entire life. It was a perfect moment. And I told her so.
“Mommy,” she said knowingly, “My arms were too far out, my legs weren’t straight, and my toes weren’t pointed. Plus, I went to too high and didn’t travel backward far enough.” Her eyes dazzled and she added “If you were my coach, I wouldn’t be a very good gymnast.”
Both my daughter and Israel’s ancient king knew something I hadn’t yet grasped in this context, namely the power of truth and the beauty of being shaped by it—as opposed to shaping truth into a form of our own creation…which isn’t truth at all.
Here’s the clincher: It is only a good thing to be schooled by the righteous if you want to improve. Otherwise their challenges will cause bitterness, resentment and inflamed defenses—because even though we’d never say we’re perfect, we tend to act like we are.
My daughter’s coach knew what the perfect execution of the skill looked like. He could also see where she fell short—and content with nothing less than perfection, challenged her to improve.
God the Father knows true perfection and unraveled the mystery…with a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger. Jesus Christ is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. He upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:3)
He is our perfection and our only hope.
My son put it this way: The King of Kings should have been born in the Castle of castles, laid in the Cradle of cradles but was instead placed in the Manger of mangers. The wonder of it all! Can you see why the angelic army burst into praise before the shepherds that glorious night? “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)
Believers stand firm on Christ’s imputed righteousness, submit to a lifetime of training and grow in sanctification. Nothing short of perfection comes into God’s presence, so like the woman in the crowd we grasp at the fringe of Christ’s garments, desperate for restoration and grace as power flows our way. Only then can we pray the Psalms of David:
O Lord, I call upon you; hasten to me!
Give ear to my voice when I call to you!
Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
and the lifting of my hands as the evening sacrifice! (Psalm 141:1-2)
My daughter competed valiantly and by the season’s end took her place on the podium, bowing to receive State’s first-place medal. She was a champion, not due to organic perfection--but a teachable heart that received correction as kindness.
During Christmastime many of us contemplate God’s condescension to us—the majesty and the mundane interwoven in a long and circuitous story of redemption. We aren’t perfect at Christmas or any other time of the year—though we long to be. Fear not for I have good news of great joy that's for everyone; Perfection has come to earth and we celebrate Him this season.
Sometimes when you pray—and long to fill the air with words rich and weighty, lean on the Psalms. The wisdom found within, never disappoints.
As a human being doing her best to survive on planet earth—I’m well acquainted with hardship. The news bleeds stories daily of loss and heartache and my circle of friends has been hit hard this year with unexpected deaths that have shattered hearts and devastated lives.
As a foster parent it’s even more apparent because the children we receive are from homes that have been nearly devoured by affliction. Problems so deep and pervasive they seem beyond repair.
And I would have despaired—but for the Psalmist’s gentle exhortation:
I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:13-14
I don’t know what it’ll look like but I pray to see the goodness of the Lord in my life. And I wait for it.
The psalmist blows softly at our flicker of faith, but Paul offers a bold promise—with a contingency.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
“All things Lord? Even this?” I ask.
“All things,” He answers. “Especially this.”
According to the Bible, loving God can transform every sorrow, no matter the depth, duration or causation…into something good. That is a staggering promise.
In All Things for Good, published in 1663, Thomas Watson brilliantly illustrates how the best and worst experiences benefit the soul of a Christian. Here are ten ways affliction serves the believer. The first eight are from Watson, the final two from me.
1. Afflictions to the godly are medicinal. We don’t say “The Lord gives, and the devil takes away”, but the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.* Whoever brings affliction to us—God sends it. (*Watson quoting Augustine). The psalmist said, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted” Psalm 119:71
Joseph’s abasement made way for his advancement. King Manasseh was more beholden to his chains than his crown. The crown made him proud, but the chains made him humble. (2 Chronicles 33:11-13)
2. Affliction teaches us what sin is. In the word preached, we hear what a dreadful thing sin is, that it is both defiling and damning and we fear it no more than a painted lion; therefore, God lets loose affliction, and then we feel (its bitterness). A sick-bed often teaches more than a sermon.
3. Affliction teaches us to know ourselves. In prosperity we are for the most part strangers to ourselves. God makes us to know affliction that we may better know ourselves. We see corruption in our hearts in the time of affliction, which we would not believe was there. In prosperity a man seems humble and thankful…but set this man on the fire of affliction and the impatience and unbelief of the heart boils up.
4. Affliction unites our heart. Often in prosperity our hearts are divided, cleaving partly to God and partly to the world. In this way, affliction rids us of idolatry.
5.Affliction conforms us to Christ. He wept, bled and was crowned with thorns. Why do expect to be crowned with roses?
6. Affliction destroys sin. Sin is like the tree that breeds the worm and affliction is like the worm that eats the tree. Affliction by degrees seems to work out the corruption of the heart. The rougher the file, the less rust.
7. Affliction loosens our hearts from the world. When you dig away the earth from the root of a tree, it is to loosen the tree from the earth; so God digs away our earthly comforts to loosen our hearts from the earth.
8. Afflictions make way for comfort. God sweetens outward pain with inward peace. “Your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” John 16:20
9. Affliction grants wisdom. It is a gift to learn from our mistakes. It is a greater gift to learn the first time the mistake is made.
10. Affliction grants compassion and insight. It is a dangerous thing to speak into another’s pain when you’ve not experienced a similar sorrow. Affliction can unite us to others with a giving and receiving of encouragement.
We needn’t seek affliction any more than we need to add sugar to a child’s diet--it will find us, but as Christians we needn’t fear it or crumble in despair under it.
The Apostle Paul give us more. Not only will all things work for good for those who love God, but God Himself will fight for us with His great love turning every hellish dart—tribulation, distress, famine, persecution, nakedness, peril and sword from deathblows to servants. For in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:37
There is at least one more way affliction is beneficial. Hebrews 13:14 reminds the believer that she is an exile, seeking a city that is to come. Affliction teaches us to put no hope in the might of the flesh or the power of earthly authority but in Christ alone who is coming again to make all things new.
Are you having fun yet?
It seems our culture—plump with prosperity and inebriated with excess can justify almost anything—if everyone’s having fun. Movie stars and athletes, project managers and Sunday school teachers tend to exalt fun as the chief end of labor.
I’ve done it too. Said it flippantly, casually about things that weren’t fun at all, both as an automatic response and to get people off my back.
You made your kids work all day raking leaves?
Yes—but we had a blast doing it!
You see what I mean? Fun makes everything okay.
But Christian, what if you’re not having fun. What if your pursuit of Christ has lead you down dark and dreary tunnels of suffering and affliction, loneliness and uncertainty?
Take heart, for these light momentary trials are working to prepare far more delight than you can even imagine. And by “light” and “momentary” I mean every trial—no matter the depth or duration for your entire life. *
The notion that to be chosen of God is to be #blessed with all the fun that prosperity brings is an American ideal—not a Biblical one.
Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone, is building his church not with clay formed into bricks for temples decorated with gold—but with people transformed by the Sprit whose bodies are temples—whose faith is more valuable than gold.
“…but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” Ephesians 2:19-22
Surely the recipients of such a promise would be giants among men. Victors. Fun-havers. The God of creation dwells with them, after all. But Peter will speak of a testing by fire that comes to the believer—burning out the dross of his heart. Fire that despite its earthly origin, is sent by Heaven.
Peter, one of the twelve, did not base his life or his epistles on the pursuit of fun, but the pursuit of Christ. He did this living under the threat of Roman persecution and a promise from Christ—not of earthly restitution but an unwanted, painful death—one that would result in much glory to God.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” John 21:18
Your path leads through fire Peter, like mine. Follow me.
And he did.
The fisherman became a fisher of men.
Thrice a denier of Christ, thrice an affirmer.
The disciple (student) became an apostle (messenger).
Shimon (to hear or be heard) became Petrus (rock).
Time moved forward, and the once young impetuous boy became a wise and sober man. Persecution was on the horizon. The scent death was in the air. Jesus had told him how he would suffer and now he would tell the emerging church. This was comfort—not cruelty because proof of faith—more valuable than gold emerges in the furnace of affliction. Even affliction works for good for those who love Christ.
So, Peter addresses his first epistle to the exiles scattered throughout the Roman provinces; and to modern believers who hold heavenly passports despite earthly addresses. You are a chosen people—chosen even to be rejected. Your hope is Christ. Your inheritance is incomprehensible! Suffering will come but glory will follow. I know of what I speak…because I know Him. He is worthy and He is able!
In AD 64 Rome sent Peter into the arms of his beloved savior, Lord and friend. Christian tradition says under the Emperor Nero’s authority, Peter was crucified on a cross. Unworthy to die in the manner of his Lord Peter asked that his cross be inverted. The Bible doesn’t confirm or deny this account and Peter would want it that way.
“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls off but the word of the LORD endures forever.” 1 Peter 1:24-25
The apostle quoting the prophet Isaiah with both pointing to the only living hope, the enduring one, Jesus Christ who willingly enters the furnace with us pouring out grace that sustains and restores.
Fun is a gift from God and we should receive moments of levity with joy—but it’s neither a benchmark of God’s pleasure nor a Christian guarantee. Storms are coming and may already be here so rejoice through seasons of bitter affliction knowing that proof of your faith is yielding a reward imperishable. The storm in all its nasty, gnawing fury shall soon pass and its wake will be littered only with the rubbish that was your hindrance. Follow the path to glory for the storm, the affliction, was sent to set you free.
Thomas Watson, the old Puritan, says it well:
“The vessel is first seasoned before wine is poured into it: the vessels of mercy are first seasoned with affliction, and then the wine of glory is poured in. Thus, we see afflictions are not prejudicial (harmful), but beneficial to the saints. We should not so much look at the evil of affliction, as the good; not so much at the dark side of the cloud, as the light. The worst that God does to His children is to whip them to heaven.” -from All Things for Good
*Scripture for this post was taken from 1 Peter 1:1-25
A narrative version of Elijah's adventures beginning in 1 Kings 17.
He waited expectantly—and with terror. He had fled from the East, running like a hunted criminal, taking shelter in the verdant land near the brook Cherith. Loneliness and grief coiled themselves around his heart threatening all he thought was true. He sought relief frequently by calling on the name of the One who was both his scourge and salvation.
“O Lord my God, what will happen to my people…to your people?” He had concerns about himself too though they were less pressing. Since boyhood, he had been following the unseen God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, learning to quiet his heart and wait on the still, small voice of the Spirit who spoke like the wind. Recently the whispers in the wind had grown to a roar, calling Elijah away from his settlement at Gilead, creating opportunities to exercise his gifts—and faith.
Elijah let his mind wander to Abram of Ur of the Chaldeans, who followed the calling of the same God; and Moses, the great deliverer, going before Pharaoh and demanding the release of the entire slave populace who built the legendary city—mortared with their blood. The stories his people told painted both as powerful leaders and men of extraordinary faith, but after surviving his recent encounter with the wicked heir of King Omri, he knew it was the power of YAHWEH on display. He trembled at the thought.
Now Ahab became king over Israel in the thirty-eighth year of Asa, King of Judah and Ahab, son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria for twenty-two years. Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him. (1 Kings 16:29)
Re-named by his Lord, Abraham became the father of a multitude of nations. Kings came from this prophesied lineage—even wicked ones. And of the exceedingly wicked, King Ahab was firstborn, doing more to provoke God than all his predecessors. It was to him that Elijah was to speak.
Israel’s twelve tribes had split into two kingdoms. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin formed the Southern Kingdom of Judah (the origin of the name“Jew”). They made Jerusalem their capital. The other ten tribes formed the Northern Kingdom of Israel, making Samaria their capital.
If Jerusalem was Judah’s holy city—King Ahab would make Samaria sacred too, though instead of YAHWEH, his kingdom would worship Baal and Jupiter the god of the Sidonians. Many submitted themselves to Ahab’s leadership—preferring the Canaanites deities. There was only one problem, however.
YAHWEH wanted his people back.
His back was turned so he didn’t see the swiftly-moving shadow begin to spread across the horizon, turning the cerulean sky black and wild with movement. But he heard them. He turned as the atmosphere exploded with the thunderous cacophony of beating wings and shrill cries. The smell of raw flesh filled the air and Elijah felt his stomach turn.
A conspiracy of ravens rose from the east, their sharp, black beaks loaded with pieces of food. The raven was a symbol of dubious fortune and Elijah shuddered at the sudden appearance of more than one hundred thick-necked birds. Their collective shadow temporarily blocked the light of the sun. Known as eaters of carrion and garbage and often associated with death—Elijah might’ve been surprised if he hadn’t been forewarned of their arrival—and the sustenance they would provide at God’s word.
“It shall be that you will drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.”
He had said it and now the beastly birds had arrived.
“O God, give me strength to receive your provision. Let me be content with your will for my life,” he prayed.
The birds began to drop their payload. Elijah’s outstretched arms at once formed a bridge over his head as he was pelted with so much meat and bread that he ran for shelter. He was no Moses--but God was still God and just as he fed the Israelites in the desert, God was feeding him. Moses had stood before Pharaoh—a foreign king, demanding freedom for all of Israel and he had stood before the proud King Ahab, a descendant of Abraham, and warned him of impending doom.
“As the LORD, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years—except by my word.” Elijah had closed the sky. And then he ran for his life.
He collected the meat and bread, separating them into baskets woven of reeds that his mother had given him before he fled. He had two smaller stone vessels for drawing water from the brook, a sleeping mat, a cloak of lamb’s wool for cooler weather and a crudely sewn pack of leather to bind it all in. The meager possessions of a prophet.
Unrolling his mat and drawing a cup of cool water from the pure depths of the Cherith, Elijah’s stomach growled as he sat to think…and pray. It had been days since he had eaten anything other than lentils and dried beans. He longed for the roasted goat and wild herbs his mother would prepare on special days. God had promised to provide—and he had kept his word, but raw animal flesh and bread from the mouths of filthy birds? He didn’t expect God’s blessed provision to look like this.
If he wasn’t already so hungry he would have left the blood-soaked basket for the young lions that prowled beyond the river. But he was—so he prayed, thanking his invisible God for this meal and asking how to prepare it.
A single word came from heaven.
*Check back for Part 2 (or read it first hand in 1 Kings).
"Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race set before you. "