Have you ever heard something good that happened to a friend but rather than being excited and celebrating with her, you compare your success or want what she has? It seems pretty common, and unfortunately, it was my mindset this week. It is an ugly place to be. Not much love for a sister. Not much willingness to be for her. Not much thinking about anyone but myself.
Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Christian friendships should be marked by the fullness of life — climbing into the pit of despair with one another and delighting together when there is good news. These relationships are for-each-other relationships. When my sister hurts, I hurt. When she rejoices, my heart is gladdened. Christian friendships bear the beauty mark of other-centeredness, and this other-centeredness is always the result of finding an identity that isn’t in what you have, accomplish, or do.
It’s been a publicly bad year for pastors. It’s not only Ravi Zacharias and Hillsong New York pastor Carl Lentz, it’s regular, everyday ministers who are not doing well; caught up in spiritual abuse, dabbling in sin where they know they shouldn’t, and walking (or being asked to walk) away from ministry.
The hammering reports of the moral failure of public leaders are disheartening, but it’s even more disappointing when pastors and leaders in your own church suddenly resign. In the age of social justice, our first response is to try to remedy the situation by calling for punishment and removal. We want to know the pastor is sorry and repentant and the hurt people receive care. We want to feel like we have done the right thing in response to the pain that their sin has caused.
Though I cannot stress how important these actions of justice are, having watched a few churches reel and recover after their pastor’s sins were exposed, I wonder where the gospel fits into the moral failure of our pastors. Though forgiveness and reconciliation is a long and bumpy road that cannot be rushed, Jesus is the friend to sinners, the gracious king who draws near to us in our ugliest state. But it seems that when our spiritual leaders fail us, the church begins to act like Jesus is not a friend to sinful pastors.
Culturally, justice has never been in higher demand, but as Micah 6:8 teaches us, we are called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Doing justice is not enough in the kingdom of God; it must always be accompanied with mercy and humility. We must move beyond our culture’s focus on justice that punishes and toward a Godly justice that seeks to restore the broken-hearted.
Cultural vs Kingdom justice
Our culture responds to moral failure by canceling; mistakes are something from which we do not recover. Their ministry is over; that church is finished; their books are no longer being published. Justice always requires rectification—setting things right, but our culture almost exclusively associates justice with punishment. Punitive justice is swift, harsh and the easiest response, even when it is wrong. It is tidy to lock up a perpetrator or ask a pastor to resign, but it does nothing to heal the wounds of those perpetrated. While punishment is a necessary component of justice, it is not the whole picture of biblical justice. Setting right what has gone wrong in the kingdom of God goes beyond the execution of the law and endeavors the work of restoration: to repair what was broken.
Restorative justice is a kingdom-bringing justice. It does not merely punish but pursues and anticipates redemption and reconciliation. Where our culture cries for punishment, Christians must cry for restoration. Punitive justice leaves those who have been hurt wanting for something that is lacking; we must aim to restore the personhood of those wronged as well as the wrong-doer. In a new creation kingdom, the people of God live under new creation principles—life coming out of death, sins removed as far as the east is from the west, relationships reconciled, abundant and scandalous grace. We are messengers of the gospel and ministers of reconciliation in God’s new creation kingdom that forgives the murderer has mercy on the repentant. Our gospel, our Kingdom and King, cannot be so small that we settle for our culture’s punitive system and stop our pursuit of justice at punishment. As Micah directs us, our justice should be marked by a love of mercy and deep humility, not merely pursue justice that punishes.
The mercy of the gospel
In the gospel, we are given a vastly different set of resources in which we can expect sin, failure, brokenness, and also respond to it with more than a dismissal from service. What makes the church the church is not perfection, it is mercy: the willingness to pardon sin no matter how grievous or offensive. Our failures are the location for magnifying the beauty and strength of the gospel. Therefore, how Christians respond to moral failure reveals what gospel we truly believe: is it one of hope and mercy or is it one of shame and judgment?
Jonathan Edwards argues that “God has no pleasure in the destruction or calamity of persons or people. He had rather they should turn and continue in peace. He is well-pleased if they forsake their evil ways, that he may not have occasion to execute his wrath upon them. He is a God that delights in mercy, and judgment is his strange work.” But more often than not, mercy is not at the center of my heart. I want to know the pastor is sorry for what they have done, want them to prove their repentance, tell them the depths of their wrongs. While truth-telling and repentance are essential, I wonder at what point truth-telling becomes shaming, driving in an unnecessary knife. Our God is rich in mercy, and as his people, it is imperative that we cultivate hearts that are willing to move past punishment towards what our Savior cherishes most.
When a pastor disappointed their people, many people are caught with the realization that they have been expecting perfection from them. We want our pastors to be super-Christians living out the gospel in the fullest possible terms and giving us the hope and inspiration to do so too. But pastors are just people, which is why approaching their fatal flaws with humility is so important. We often begin to believe our leaders to be impenetrable to sin as if they have matured out of it. But we know that they have not. They are human beings, no different from you or me but tasked with the incredible challenge of leading other sinners. But our biblical and church history is full of these sinners who lead God’s people— sinners who are actually the saints of God, not because of their perfection but because of how they returned to the Lord after their failures.
David would have been finished in today’s culture, not celebrated as one of the great kings of Israel. Paul never would have been allowed to preach after murdering believers who went before him. The church has always been messy and sinful, but in the face of failure, God’s mercy and grace become more tangible, strange, and beautiful than ever. We see in Adam and Eve, our first failing leaders who were punished for their sin, the heart of God for fallen leaders; he sends them on with a covenant of grace, not a covenant of works that depended on their ongoing perfection. We too participate in a covenant of grace through Christ, and in it, we must be willing to embody a kingdom that is not only just, but merciful and compassionate and humble as well. If these promises throughout scripture stop in the name of pastoral failure, our faith is nothing, our gospel powerless, the risen Christ defeated.
The way through our disappointment with our leaders today is to practice the gospel—this is what it means to be a saint. Though that might sound simple or trite, our gospel is simple: to show grace to the sinner, to love the outcast, to care for the weak. Pastors are sinful people too, and they need grace. Grace is not saying, “it’s ok” or minimizing the wrong they committed. Justice is not dismissive of wrongs and pain. Grace says, you hurt me, but I forgive you. The gospel is big enough for you to not be perfect. In our disappointment, we can find comfort that though we are grieved and hurting, we do not lose hope. Our God is a god who bring beauty out of ashes.
Following Jesus when he calls us to different things
At some point, most of us have looked at someone else and thought, why does their life seem so much easier than mine? Whether they have more money or their kids are super-achievers or they love their job, we tend to glance side-to-side and wonder, why did God give them that and not give it to me? But underneath this seemingly innocuous question is the basic belief that God is supposed to give us all some measure of fairness; we all have our own blessings and struggles, but God should ultimately distribute suffering, success, happiness, and trials evenly.
My mom used to say, “Life isn’t fair,” but perhaps it is God who isn’t fair. God isn’t in the business of democracy, doling out equal portions of joy and suffering to his creation. He is always just—never letting evil overcome good, but when it comes to his children, He does not apportion us the same lots in life. And unless we address this tough reality, our expectations for God and how our life should look will continue to be marked by disappointment.
In the final chapter of John, Jesus calls Peter to found his Church and warns him that he will suffer the same fate as his savior: death by crucifixion. I think most of us would respond to Jesus in the same way that Peter did—he asks, but what about John? Is he going to be crucified too?! Why do I have to be crucified!? Peter’s immediate reaction to his master calling him to a life of ministry, sacrifice, and ultimately dying for the glory of God is to look at the guy next to him and ask about what God has planned for him.
Because we all have this tendency inside of us, we must hear what Jesus has to say about it. Jesus tells Peter,If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me (Jn 21:22).Jesus doesn’t entertain this kind of comparative thinking, but challenges Peter by telling him that it doesn’t matter what his plans are for John, whether he live until Christ’s second coming or not doesn’t change the call he has placed on Peter’s life—“You follow me.”
Just like Peter, God calls us to certain works and specific suffering. He allows exactly what we need for both our flourishing and refinement, whispering, “Follow me” as he permits enough friction to keep striving after him and enough comfort to delight in his perfect provision. We must learn from Peter and John how to stop questioning his will for our lives and embrace the lot he has given us for our good and his glory.
Following Jesus in our work; a call to cultivatewhat we have been given
Through Peter and John, we see how God assigns unique work within a larger calling. All humans have two callings; a primary calling and a secondary calling. Primary calling is the same for everyone: to glorify God and enjoy him forever (Westminster Catechism). But our secondary callings are unique and localized to our lives: it is the place that we live out our primary calling.
But God does not appoint us all to the same work, he gives us a lot, a patch of ground, and says this is where I want you to work. Cultivate your love for me and bring me glory through what you do here. In Psalm 16, David declares, “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” Your lot might be as a stay-at-home mom, a fitness instructor, or lawyer, but whatever it is, God calls us to work out our primary calling to glorify and enjoy him in the context of that everyday work, creatively pursuing him in what he has given us.
Both Peter and John were disciples, but the callings Jesus placed on their lives were different. Peter would preach sermons, establish churches, and travel through the Ancient Near East as a missionary to the Jews. John too would work in the local church, but from the cross, Jesus asked John to take care of his widowed mother since he would not be there to do it (Jn 19:27). John’s calling took him into exile and to continue in ministry while Peter and Paul were crucified.
Peter and John’s secondary callings were to work out how to love and glorify God in these places, grappling with how to glorify God when they were isolated in exile, sharing the gospel with people who didn’t want to hear it, when they were caring for an elderly widow. These men fought the same doubts as us wondering, why did God call me here, to this lot?
I find myself asking, why did God give me twins?Why did he call me to marry a pastor and be in ministry?Why did God call me to this life and not theirs? When I find myself thinking these things, I must remember Jesus’ words, what is their calling to you? You follow me! We need to stop asking why this lot and start asking how do I follow Jesus here, cultivating the lot he has given me for his glory?
Following Jesus in suffering; the call to submit
Every Christian is called to suffer as a fundamental part of following Jesus. If we love him, we start doing the kinds of things he did—like putting other’s needs ahead of our own, giving up our rights for them, bearing their burdens, and submitting willingly to the will of the Father that sometimes leads us into places we would rather not go.
But suffering is never a waste. Not only does suffering provide an opportunity to know our weakness and draw from the infinite well of God’s strength (2 Cor 12:10), suffering is the currency of our sanctification, refining us so we might grow in humility, patience, perseverance, and joy in spite of our circumstances. When God calls us to suffer, he is accomplishing his purposes of transforming us into the likeness of Christ.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mk 8:34). For Peter, following Jesus would literally lead him to the cross. Though we will likely never face crucifixion, our response to suffering is the same as Peter’s as we cry, unfair! We believe suffering is a hindrance in our lives to be avoided. And like Peter, when we compare the suffering in our lives to others, we walk ourselves into a place of anger and entitlement before the Lord; we don’t deserve to suffer. This kind of thinking, however, is unbiblical and unrealistic. Suffering is a friend, not a foe, and we must learn to submit to the suffering God has for us in the same way that Jesus did. This too is part of following him.
Jesus suffered the cross out of love for his Father and joy in knowing that his submission would glorify his Father. But more than that, he submitted to the suffering he was called to so that we too might follow him, submitting to his will for us. This is what Jesus calls Peter into—submitting to his will out of love. Peter had just told Jesus three times that he loved him. The only reason Peter would continue to follow Jesus after hearing of his fate is because he loved Jesus and believed that Jesus was worth dying for, that Jesus truly was Lord. And this is the exact same reason why we follow him today through our own suffering; because he is our suffering, good, faithful King, and we love him. And as we do God strengthens, confirms, and establishes us in our suffering (1 Pt 5:10), we experience the power of the resurrection (Phil 3:10), we are glorified with Christ (Rom 8:17), and we learn contentment in our weakness and dependence on Christ (2 Cor 12:10). When we submit to the suffering that God calls us to, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus who also submitted to the suffering that the father called him to out of love for the Father.
How we follow
Willingly. “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you” (Ps 32:9). When comparison, jealousy, or suffering arrive, we must choose to stay near Jesus. Unlike an untamed animal who requires restraints, submitting to Jesus means we choose to stay near him in all circumstances. With our eyes fixed on Him. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb 12:2). The best way to keep us from looking at others and growing angry with the Lord is to keep our eyes fixed on Him. He is our mark, our measure, our King, and the one whom we serve. Fix your eyes on him.
What is the best advice someone has given you lately? As a working mother of twins, I hear a lot of advice; take walks, make sure you have “me” time, get enough sleep, don’t forget to make time for your husband. While these are all good suggestions, I have found one activity to be the most important re-focuser, mood-booster, and practical tool in the midst of a wild, wild year: singing.
Scripture tells us again and again to sing; O come let us sing a joyful song to the Lord (Ps 95:1); address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart (Eph 5:19); But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning (Ps 59:16). God himself sings when he rejoices over us (Zeph 3:17), and as those who are made in his image, who are filled with his very breath of life, we too are made to sing, having our lungs filled with words of praise, supplication, and longing.
Singing is not just for Sunday mornings, it is a means of discipleship—a way we follow the Lord in our day-to-day lives by choosing to lift our voices in all circumstances to worship. Singing forms us as followers of Jesus, engaging our bodies, helping us process our emotions and experiences, and connecting us to our Heavenly Father who sings over us. Singing is one of the most powerful tools we have, let me show you why.
Singing literallychanges our bodies. Singing releases endorphins and oxytocin which make you feel relaxed and happier, lowers stress, and reduces anxiety and loneliness. It also changes your emotional and physical state as musical vibrations move through your body helping you to breathe more deeply and effectively. As the kids might say, singing is a body hack, but as Christians, we know that this is not by accident, it is by design. Our God quite literally hardwired us to be able to change our bodies and emotions through singing—through worship, so we might be comforted when we are in trouble.
So when the Psalmist says, O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done wonderful things (Ps 98:1), he is inviting us to bring our whole bodies into worship. By lifting our voices, we are changed, our breath united to the life-breathed Spirit that God has given us, our bodies engaged in attention to the God who knit us together, knows us, and speaks to us so that we might worship him with our whole beings.
Singing brings us out of ourselves. I was reading my girls one of their favorite books while they ate dinner. I was exhausted and annoyed at how much of their food was on their laps and the floor. I wasn’t in a great mood. But we came to a page of the book about which I had made up a silly melody and would sing every time I read it. This time I didn’t. I wasn’t in a singing kind of mood. But, of course, they shout, “sing it, Mommy!” Begrudgingly, I sang it; a few lines in a rhyming story about a farm. But I noticed something immediately: it’s hard to stay angry when you are singing.
In the middle of three conversion stories, Paul and Silas get thrown in prison. They were in stocks, very uncomfortable, and on top of that, wrongly imprisoned. And yet, we read that around midnight, they were praying and singing hymns to God and the other prisoners were listening (Acts 16:25). The saints that went before us turned to singing, but there is more to singing than heritage; singing is an embodied discipline, something we do on the way as we wait and walk with Jesus the reorients us towards his promises and provision.
When we think of singing as only a joyful response or something we do in congregational worship, we limit the gift God has given us. Paul and Silas show us how to sing and worship in all circumstances, not simply when we feel like it or are supposed to. Just like singing for my daughters changes my disposition to lean towards them in love, singing to the Lord when we are angry, confused or upset reorients our hearts and minds to make space for the Lord in our circumstances. Singing draws us out of our emotions so that we might situate ourselves in God’s story, remembering his promises and anticipating his faithfulness when we can’t see what he is doing.
Singing is a physical act of defiance that says, I can and choose to worship in any and every circumstance, not just when I feel like it.
Singing helps us process our emotions. Sometimes when I start singing, I start crying. It seems that singing has a unique way of allowing hidden emotions to surface and helping me bring them to the Lord. We often struggle to put into words how we feel, opting to feel nothing rather than be honest about how we are doing. But ignoring emotions is an attempt to remove ourselves from reality. When we deny our experience and the emotions they produce, we are effectively saying that God has nothing to say or do here. But God does not make us his children to remain emotionally distant from him; He wants us to come to him with our hurts and brokenness, trusting that he will comfort and encourage. Singing is one way we can do that.
As an embodied spiritual discipline, singing helps us connect our mental, emotional, and spiritual reality to our physical experience. We typically think of singing as a response to joy, but singing in despair, hopelessness, and sorrow has a long and valuable tradition we should remember. It’s no surprise that in the midst of oppression slaves turned to singing; acknowledging their pain and suffering while steadfastly hoping in a just God who was bigger than their circumstances. Likewise, the majority of the Psalter are not songs of joy, they are songs that express confusion, doubt, and lament. The songbook of the covenant people of God gives language to the full human experience— How long O Lord is the anguished refrain we hear again and again.
Singing is a tool for all of life; the small hopelessness of a child crying at 3 am and the large hopelessness of grief or depression. And singing in spite of how we feel actually changes us, unearths our emotions, engages our bodies, and tunes us to something that is beyond our present moment. This is how God made us—to sing to him, have our hearts softened and comforted, our anger quelled, and our hopes levied as we remember that even in our tough moments, he is with us, he is for us, and he sings over us in return.
Singing forms us. A few years ago on a retreat with college students, we spent time in small groups encouraging one another. What struck me most was how the students quoted song lyrics to one another more than they quoted scripture as a means of encouragement. While this opens the door to another conversation about why the songs we sing are important, these students spoke the things of God over one another as they had learned through singing.
Songs have a way of sticking with us in a way that other mediums don’t. We connect the melody and rhythm to words that have value and they become part of us, beating in our hearts and springing to mind unexpectedly, giving us language when we don’t know what to say or how to pray. No bride forgets her first dance song, no teen forgets the song that got them through a breakup; music stays inside of our bodies. But even more, songs that give language to our faith have the ability to shape our theology, the very things we think and believe about God and ourselves. As we sing these words, we speak into being the truths that God has spoken over us; we are loved, justified, forgiven, Spirit-filled children of God. Singing about our Good King is a way of testifying to ourselves the news of grace again and again.
So today, sing. Sing when your children frustrate you, when you are tired or disappointed, when you are delighted by something. But sing. Sing a new song to the Lord today knowing that as you do, he hears you, forms you, lifts your head, and sings over you in return.
After years of navigating a relationship that was hurtful and frustrating, my friend said, “I just wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt.” She had been hoping that their hurtful actions and words were not as they seemed; hoping that there were more love and grace than shown. In trying to understand how she had been hurt, a mentor said, “you had been giving them the benefit of the doubt, but you should have been giving them thebenefit of grace.” She should have addressed their actions, asked questions to know the truth, and moved towards them, towards understanding, reconciliation, and a deeper experience of God’s grace for both of them.
I always thought giving someone the benefit of the doubt was a kindness. Trusting other’s motives and expecting honesty in spite of words or actions that might indicate otherwise felt honorable. I thought I was playing the trusting and loyal friend, but for such a noble position to take, I found myself surprised by the fruit that this cultural idiom began to bear: sin ignored, others getting hurt, bitterness hardening my heart—all in the name of giving the benefit of the doubt. I thought I was being gracious, but I was acting in a self-protective way, not wanting to endure the discomfort of confrontation or move toward a friend in love. Believers do not extend the benefit of the doubt hoping that a brother or sister in Christ will turn out to be the best version of themselves, we confront one another to extend the benefit of grace.
Messengers of reconciliation
Grace is the currency of the gospel, and yet, there are mockeries of gospel grace that exist all around us. Be kind. You do you. Give them the benefit of the doubt. But none of these sayings do anything to move us towards another in the way that the grace of God compels us to. To extend the benefit of grace to another believer means rather than overlooking concerning behavior, comments, or situations with the assumption that your brother or sister in Christ probably didn’t mean what they said or did, we move towards them in the confidence of the gospel and with the promise of grace.
Reconciliation is what the Bible is all about—it tells the story of humans being made in God’s image to be in relationship with Him, sin entering the world and that relationship becoming estranged, and God’s promise to restore harmony with himself being fulfilled in Jesus, who reconciles humanity to God.
But we are not simply receivers of reconciliation, in Christ we become messengers of reconciliation, extending the benefit of the grace to those around us (2 Cor 5:19). Through the work of Christ, we have been reconciled to God—our sins are no longer held against us and we are counted friends of God. As reconciled ones we become reconcilers, bringing that which was separated back together. To be in Christ means that we participate in the fullness of His life and take up the mantle of His ministry so that his grace might extend to others through His Spirit (2 Cor 4:10, Eph 4:32). Jesus, the reconciler, who desired our holiness and righteousness so much that he died so we could have it, makes his appeal through us, inviting others into his abounding grace and propelling fellow believers onward in his upward call.
Dealing with sin and conflict is part of living in a not-yet-fully-restored world. But rather than shying away from confrontation, believers are ambassadors of the gospel, equipped with the resources and power we need to move towards others with grace. But we also have the responsibility to do so. Jesus tells us explicitly that if your brother has sinned against you, go to him and tell him his fault. Don’t talk about it with other people or let it fester, go to him in the confidence of the gospel and be reconciled to him (Matt 18:15-20). Though this should always be done in humility, it must be done.
When I worked in campus ministry, I watched friend groups slowly deteriorate over unnamed transgressions. Students would tell me that someone had hurt them, but they didn’t want to bring it up because they weren’t perfect either. They would often think they should “remove the plank from their own eye before attempting to remove the speck from a friend’s,” invoking it as a reason for not going to their sister in Christ to pursue reconciliation (Matt 7:1-5). But in that passage Jesus is teaching us about judgment—we should not be haughty, judgmental people when we pursue the holiness of our brother or sister. What Jesus desires is that both the speck in your eye and the plank in mine would be removed in humility so that we might see Him clearly, be restored to one another, and be a witness to our community of how the gospel empowers reconciliation.
But more often than not, we retreat into cultural norms extending the benefit of the doubt rather than moving towards one another in love. This not only divides us from our brothers and sisters but witnesses to a watching world that we are no different than them when it comes to how we handle conflict. Our individualistic culture calls for toleration, but we are not called to “tolerate” the sin of others, we are called to reconcile. We have experienced reconciliation in Christ, and we must be people who embody the beautiful gift of grace for others.
Me, You, and Jesus
David is renowned as one of the great Kings of Israel, a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14), but David’s life was interrupted and changed by his friend’s call to repent and receive the grace of God (2 Sam 12). After raping Bethsheba and having her husband killed, Nathan goes to David to confront him about his sin, demonstrating to us the power and necessity of extending the benefit of grace.
Firstly, God sent Nathan to David. This shows us that God chooses to use other believers in our lives to speak the truth in love, call out sin, and extend grace and forgiveness. As ambassadors of the gospel, we actually have the power to represent Christ to our brothers and sisters in Christ (Jas 5:16) and it is God’s will to use us (2 Cor 5:20). Moving toward one another with the gospel is what it means to be messengers of reconciliation.
But for much of the western church, this feels far too personal and much too exposing for our individualistic faith. We want “me and Jesus,” but God calls us to “you, me, and Jesus.” There is no going it alone in Christ. We are part of Christ’s body, and we have a responsibility to one another to call each other out in love and with the full hope and assurance of the gospel. When we are tempted to butt out and extend the benefit of the doubt, hoping that our sister will just “figure it out,” we are going against what God teaches us in his word. Abel actually was his brother’s keeper (Gen 4:9), we are commanded to restore our brothers and sisters in Christ with gentleness and humility (Gal 6:1-2), it is our calling to build up the body out of love and reverence for Christ (Eph 5). God uses us, his messengers of reconciliation, to join him in his supernatural work of leading his children to repentance. Let’s say yes to our calling and choose to address our concerns for our brother or sister rather than ignoring them.
After David sees and comprehends his sin, as a minister of reconciliation, Nathan immediately reminds him of past grace that God already showed him but also promises him present and future grace because David is part of the covenant family of God. Nathan reminds David of who he is; chosen by God, forgiven, and loved in spite of his sin. When we confront someone in grace, we do not call out sin for the purpose of guilt , we extend grace and challenge them to be who they already are in Christ—redeemed, holy saints who are empowered to walk in righteousness (Rom 6:16-18).
Finally, it is Nathan’s extending of grace that inspires Psalm 51, the most foundational and beautiful Psalm on repentance we have. In it, David earnestly repents for his sin, but he also leads Israel and every future believer in how to respond to sin saying that through his experience he will teach other transgressors God’s ways and sinners will return to him (Ps 51:13). David gives language to corporate confession, leading the people of God into repentance with the beautiful assurance of grace.
Imagine that Nathan had left David alone thinking, what I heard probably isn’t true, or at least it’s not the whole truth. David loves the Lord, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Nathan’s willingness to be a minister of reconciliation not only grew him in obedience to God but led David to repentance and a deeper understanding of God’s wonderful grace. This is the power of extending grace to one another. In Christ, we have the promises of the gospel, the power of the Spirit, and the assurance that God extends the benefit of grace to every single sin.
We live in a disenchanted world. We are pandemic worn, disillusioned with the government, and wary of good news. Disenchanted people have come to believe that our world is composed only of what we can see, and what we see will largely disappoint us. We have matured out of the idea that there is magic or mystery, no sparkle of hope that there is more to the world, to us, than meets the eye.
But if you’re a Christian, this reasoning is lacking. The world we read about in Scripture is in fact an enchanted world— a world of angels and demons, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego alive in the fiery furnace, prophets who foretell the future, God himself walking among men, raising people from the dead and weaving the most spectacular happy ending ever imagined. As my daughter’s favorite children’s book says, “The world is awake, it’s a wonderful place, alive with God’s power and glad with his grace.”
God’s world is an enchanted place; not only is there more to our surroundings, our earth, and our bodies than what we can simply see, our world is a place of delight and mystery. As Paul says, we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12). The whole of scripture testifies to a world beyond what is observable and filled with spiritual forces. It’s why some of the most famous modern Christian writers tell stories of Narnia, Middle earth, wizards, and magic rings—these tales more accurately describe our world than we tend to think. Our world is alive with beauty and wonder and he has made us to pay attention to him—to be enchanted by him—anticipating his next move with expectation and delight. To be enchanted with our God means we can’t look away from him, marveling at his light in the midst of the brokenness around us. Christians are an enchanted people, believers in much more than simply what we see, but could it be that we too have become disenchanted?
Disenchanted believers, disenchanted world
Are we really believers if we are disenchanted? To be a Christian who does not actively believe in a God who breaks the bounds of our scientific world, who speaks supernaturally to his people through his word and uses his Body, the Church, to reveal his grace today is to not be a Christian at all. And yet this is the position that many Christians find themselves today; disillusioned with the Church, disappointed with the voice of God, and settling into a faith that doesn’t ask or expect much from the one they claim as Savior.
In Christ, we are invited into relationship with the author of life. Christians should be enchanted with Jesus, delighted with his beauty, curious after his will for our lives, and hungering for his presence, but more often than not, we end up looking much like our non-believing neighbors and enchanted with other things. In a recent article regarding the misconduct of a famous Hillsong Church pastor, a non-Christian writer said, “It looks very much like [Christians] want to become like me.” Though this is a sad and very public example of Christians not looking like the one they worship, it raises the question: am I so enchanted with Jesus that I look different from my non-believing friends? And if Jesus has not captured my heart completely, what has?
Though our world is largely a disenchanted place, the hunger for enchantment remains. It’s why new age spirituality is popular today: crystals and tarot cards offer a gateway into the divine. James KA Smith talks about this hunger for enchantment in terms of transcendent consumption. We want a taste of the transcendent, the sacred and spiritual in the midst of our mundane reality. In his book, Desiring the Kingdom, he describes the spiritual liturgies that we create in activities like shopping. Transcendence is wired into our hearts, but apart from God we go looking for that enchantment elsewhere, and as we do so, we turn transcendence into something that we can consume, a commodity to be found or purchased.
We see the same hunger for enchantment in Athens when Paul addresses the Areopagus. After seeing an altar with the inscription “To the unknown god” he says,
Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything…“‘In him we live and move and have our being’. —Acts 17:22-28
Paul speaks to their desire for the divine saying, the transcendence you long for is found in Jesus, the one whom we were made to be enchanted by. “To the unknown god” still captures our society’s hunger today as we turn to objects and spiritual rituals hoping our consumption will give us a taste of the transcendent. But we are not made to look for transcendence through consumption, we are made to be consumed by the transcendence of Christ.
Enchantment, disenchantment, re-enchantment
One helpful lens of understanding our experience of the world is through the dialectic “orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.” We are oriented to the world as it is, then something coming along that causes us to feel disoriented. It might be going to college, having a baby, or the death of a loved one, but our lives are rattled and we find ourselves disoriented, unsure of who we are or our direction. Disorientation is something we must work through, slowly moving into reorientation, where we learn how to navigate the new circumstances that were once disorienting. This cycle repeats again and again throughout our entire lives.
But this cycle also helps make sense of enchantment and disenchantment. Perhaps the trials we encounter that drive us to disenchantment are a temporary place where the Lord invites us to become re-enchanted with him, uncovering deeper depths of his provision and grace when we need it most. Disenchantment, then, becomes a stepping stone toward re-enchantment. We don’t need to be afraid of disenchantment as a faith-ending experience, but rather learn to expect it as a natural rhythm of human life.
Today, if you find yourself feeling disenchanted, know that disenchantment doesn’t have to last forever, but can be a place of uncovering new dimensions of the heart of God and kingdom. Here are ways forward from disenchantment to re-enchantment:
Identify the root. Ask yourself when was the last time you were enchanted with the Lord? What circumstances (active or passive) changed in your life to bring you to your current disillusioned state? Are you frustrated that the Lord didn’t answer a prayer? Does scripture seem confusing, harsh, or unapproachable? Did something happen in your church that has made you question whether God is really at work? Do you wish there was more to your relationship with God? Identify how you got here.
Uncover the false narratives. Romans 12:2 says, Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. When we find ourselves disenchanted, it is easy to fall into non-gospel ways of thinking. We turn to things to make us feel better rather than seeking the Lord, feel hopeless, doubt God’s goodness, or think he doesn’t love us. Rather than simply drifting into these ways of thinking, Paul charges believers to not be conformed to the ways of the unbelieveing and disenchanted world around us.
Cultivate habits that help you abide in God’s story. Mike Cosper in his book Recapturing the Wonder says, “If we want to leave behind our disenchantment, we have to find ways to immerse ourselves in these stories. We have to counter the stories of our disenchanted world.” Especially when you feel disillusioned with the Lord or the church, talking to other believers and staying connected to community is essential. The church is God’s hands and feet in our lives today, so turning to other believers for encouragement and prayer is a great first step forward. Secondly, draw near. Scripture invites us to draw near to God (Heb 7:19) through his Word and prayer, asking for his presence to soften our hearts, assured that he draws near to us as we draw near to him (Jas 4:8).
It’s mid-January and social media is relentlessly reminding me that I am supposed to be on a new diet and fitness regime. Apparently, after a few months of treating our bodies like garbage cans, it’s time to clean up. Our culture has a body problem. More accurately, it has a worship problem. We worship bodies. It is why we spend so much time thinking about how we look, dieting, and exercising to recraft our bodies into the right kind of image. And as we do, we put faith in the promise that we can reach perfection. Our bodies can be healthier, more beautiful, more stylish; perfect bodies garner better dates and achieve the perfectly stylized Instagram feed. When our bodies are perfect, we will love ourselves more, and most importantly, others will love us more—adore us even.
As we pursue body perfection, we join other worshippers in procession to our chosen chapels where our transformation will occur. Be it Whole Foods or SoulCycle, Crossfit or Keto, we join a family of other believers on a journey to self-betterment. We are our own gods and our bodies shrines to our perfection and worth. So when we fail, gain weight, or simply don’t end up looking like our idealized version of ourselves, we are lost. Our object of hope has failed us, telling us to try harder and leaving us miserable. Our culture has created an entire religion around perfecting bodies, but this religion has nothing to do with the gospel.
The gospel is news, but it is also a story, and the decisions we make and actions we take reveal which stories we believe most. When we participate in the cultural story that our bodies are made to be worshipped, we start embodying that story, putting our hope in its promise of salvation and moving our bodies in accordance with its discipleship. But scripture teaches us that our bodies are of infinite worth not because of how they look or if others deem them beautiful, but because they bear the image of God (1:27), belong to Him as instruments for worship (Rom 12:1-2), and house the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). Our bodies are ground zero for God’s redemption in our lives, and the gospel teaches us that our hope in Christ frees us from our obsession with self to worship the one for whom our bodies were made to worship. Our bodies are very good and made for good works, but oftentimes, Christians find themselves in a different story. The cultural narratives that tell us what our bodies are for are robust but empty; scripture tells a better story.
Today, the question we shouldn’t be asking is how am I going to lose 10 pounds. The question we should be asking is what is my body for? Is it made for an endless pursuit of perfection? Is it made to be starved and run into submission so that it might finally have value? Is it made to be worshipped? Until we can answer what our bodies are for, we will never know what we are supposed to do with them.
A better story
The first time I heard someone teach about body image and the Bible was in 9th grade at a high school retreat. I remember the breakout session only because of the overwhelming emotion that I felt while I was listening: disappointment. Was there anything in the Bible that could stand against the mental, emotional and spiritual battle over our bodies? Does the gospel extend to my body—how I think about it and how I experience it today?
After a year or two of marriage, I was feeling down for some reason about my appearance. My husband had been a steady voice of truth regarding how I viewed my body, but in this conversation, I bitterly told him that it didn’t matter if he thought I was beautiful, I often did not. This is one of the stories our culture tells us, that our bodies only have value if we love ourselves; we can’t be loved until we learn how to love ourselves first. But this is not the story God tells us, and my husband challenged me with biblical truth. We are loved by God before we love ourselves and in spite of ourselves. He doesn’t love us because we deserve it, he loves us because we are his children.
Most of us live as if what God says about us is untrue, or at best unimportant. We might say his words matters, but our actions prove that we are living in a different narrative. Does it matter what God says about us? If it does, we have to allow that voice to penetrate our hearts and minds, fighting to believe that voice over others that tell us our value comes from our clothing size or how well we kept a diet.
But the story we believe about our bodies doesn’t just impact our own lives, it directly impacts the people around us. In Ephesians 5 Paul says that a husband and wife are one flesh and should treat one another’s bodies as if they were their own. So often we think of sin as between me and God, or perhaps me sinning against someone else. But the reality is that all sin impacts the body of Christ. According to scripture, when I hate my body, I hate my husband. God gives us other people to keep us accountable to his word so that we don’t allow ourselves to fall away from his truth.
But this isn’t a principle that only applies to married couples. Before marriage, I found myself learning to fight the cultural narrative about our bodies with my girlfriends in seminary. One of them would vehemently say, “That is NOT the gospel,” when one of us was bemoaning how unattractive we felt, that we had gained weight, or that we felt insecure not wearing makeup. We started fighting for one another with the truth, creating a culture in our friend group of relearning and abiding in God’s story for our bodies. This is why God has given us the church: to exhort one another when we are believing something less than a story of grace and redemption about our bodies. The church is, after all, called the body of Christ, we depend on one another like a hand depends on its fingers to teach one another the truth and uphold one another as we learn to believe it in our bones, not just our minds.
Our bodies do not belong to us.
One of the most prominent narratives about our bodies is that my body is my own. I do whatever is best for it, don’t tell me what to do or how to use it, I am in charge. The Christian faith could be boiled down to simply this: it’s not about me, it’s about God; my life is not about what I want, it’s about what God wants. If we are in Christ, all of us belongs to Jesus, not just our mind or our hearts, our bodies belong to God.
When I was pregnant with twins, I was very aware of how much my body would change. I feared the expected 50-70lbs weight gain that most mothers of twins endure, wondered how this new phase of life might impact the mental battles that I had gotten used to winning regarding how I thought about my body. I was surprised in my first trimester when I started feeling a new responsibility to take care of my body because it was home to two tiny humans as well. I didn’t stay out late with college students I worked with, I didn’t eat unhealthy food—I wanted them to thrive and their life was just as valuable as mine. For the first time, I physically understood that my body was not my own. Everything I did, I did with them in mind. My body was no longer just about me.
But if we are in Christ, Paul says, You are not your own, but you have been bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body (1 Cor 6:20). Although Paul is addressing the Corinthian church exhorting them to honor God with their bodies in terms of their sexuality, his reasoning extends beyond that. In Colossians, Paul touches on the same idea, that when we are united with Christ we participate in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension (2:9-15). All of our life becomes hidden in Christ. All of our actions must reflect our allegiance to him. How I use my body reflects my identity as one who is in communion and union with Jesus, and how I think about my body, the story I believe, will directly impact my actions. Just like my body belonged to my children more than it did to me while I was pregnant, in Christ, our bodies belong firstly to him to bring him glory.
A better object of worship
Jesus’ whole life was lived in this reality, his body belonged not just to him, but to his Father and to the people that his body would ransom. On the cross, he died not so that our lives could be about us, but so our lives could be about him. The good news of the gospel is that my life is no longer about me. And the same goes for my body. My life is not about how I look, how in shape I am, what I wear, or what I eat. My life is about God. The gospel draws our eyes off of ourselves and fixes them firmly on the only one worthy of the worship. Where our culture upholds physical beauty and fitness as perfection, we know better. Our bodies are not worthy of our worship, only Christ is.
It seems only fitting to end this year thinking about longing. Advent season is dedicated to intentional longing, cultivating disciplines that bend our hearts toward the longing we feel for the world to be made right rather than trying to ignore it. I have longed for many things this year, but as Christmas approaches, I find myself longing for family and longing for home.
For my two-year-old daughters, family and home are the center of their universe. This year has afforded us more family time than we ever imagined, but because of this I have been able to hear them articulate their beliefs about home again and again. We have a small room that serves as our work from home office, and my husband and I take turns working while the other watches the girls. Without fail, when my husband or I open the door to come out of the office the excitedly say, “Daddy’s home!” as if Daddy had been away for hours. The same goes for when I get up in the morning after Andrew has been up with them for an hour, “Mommy’s home!”, or when Andrew joins us at the park after we have been playing for a while, “Daddy’s home!” For them, home is not our house; home is where we are all together. It doesn’t matter if it is the park or the brewery where we ride scooters or just in our living room when someone has been in the bedroom. Home happens when the four of us are together.
But they also exist in their world creating family systems. When we see a woman and a child, they immediately say “Mommy! And baby!” While this might not seem unusual, they also designate parent-child relationships to people walking their dogs, “Doggie! And Daddy!” Anyone with a noticeable age-gap is designated the parent and child, any man and woman together are Daddy and Mommy. They make sense of the world by assigning family relationships, even more than that, they understand that family relationships create a baseline of identity. Family is central to who we are and they see that only a couple years into life.
For them, and for most of us, home and family will always be connected in ways we love and probably in some ways that are difficult. But this year, as we approach Christmas, a holiday season that exalts being home with family, these foundations of identity feel shaky. Even those who are able to be with some of their family members, probably have many others who will be particularly lonely and isolated after an already brutal year. But for the Christian, family and home extend beyond our earthly nuclear family and our home is not found in a place, but in a person.
Groaning for our eternal home
Our girls envision home as any place that they are. And theologically this isn’t untrue. As people in Christ, our home is not a place, a building or house, it is in Christ—wherever we are. But at the same time, here, wherever we are today, is not our forever home; we have an eternal home with Christ. Scripture teaches us that as we wait and live in a world that is marred by sin, we should both pray for the in-breaking kingdom of God to come, but we are also invited to simply groan. In Romans 8 Paul says,
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. -Romans 8:22-26
The year after I graduated from college, I moved in with a girl I didn’t know who quickly became a close friend. One Friday night we found ourselves lying in the hallway of our apartment crying because our life was so hard. It was, at the time, but remembering that night always makes me smile. I had no idea what the Lord was doing while I was groaning on the floor with Maggie. We were lonely and wondering how to navigate life post-grad, but the Lord was at work. Groaning sounds a bit pitiable, but sometimes words fail, and all we can do is sigh loudly. And scripture teaches us that this is okay, good even. Paul says that all of creation groans as if it were in the pains of childbirth. There is the hope and signs of new life coming, and yet our present experience is painful. All of creation has been groaning until now, so as we lament sin and suffering, we find ourselves in good company, groaning with the very fibers of creations, every saint that had come before us, longing for earth to be renewed. We are not told that we must simply be joyful or pretend to enjoy this hard time, we are invited to groan.
But more than that, the Spirit joins us in our groaning, a godly affirmation that it is ok to feel overwhelmed, distraught, sorrowful. When we don’t know how to pray or what to even ask for, God himself intercedes for us. God joins us in our pain, hearing our sighs and knowing our hearts and minds perfectly. In our groaning we have this promise; God meets us in our pain and prays for us, groaning with us in ways that we can’t even comprehend, bringing our requests to the Father who delights to provide for his children. He doesn’t leave us alone to fend for ourselves, he comes to commune with us, to dwell with us, to know our sorrow and suffering, and to promise in the pits of dispair that he will one day make all things new.
The family of God
Though my daughters already understand the centrality of family, they have yet to understand the power of the family of God. Almost two years ago, they were baptized at our church, adopted into a covenant family. Though they could not take vows, everyone else did; Andrew and I promised to raise them to know and experience the love of God, and our church family promised to support us, to teach and encourage them, and to become their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters in Christ. My daughters see family everywhere, but they do not yet understand the power of the family to which the belong.
Jesus, when told his mother and brothers were nearby, replied “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt 12:48-50). Jesus was telling us that the ones who believe in and follow Him are his brothers and sisters, co-heirs with Him and adopted sons and daughters of God. Nuclear family typically refers to parents and their children, the core of each family unit. But if we are in Christ, he becomes our nucleus, the center of our lives, the core of our beings, and the building block of our new family. But even more than that, we become members of his very body. He is our head, and all who believe in him are his body, all members of a single unit, closer even than our natural born family.
In this season of being far from parents and siblings who we might typically spend Christmas with, we must remember that our family is much larger than we think—we belong to the family of God. When Paul is imprisoned in Rome, he writes a letter to his friends of the Philippian church. In the first sentences he exclaims that he thanks God with joy every time he remembers them because of their partnership with him in the gospel. Everytime Paul thinks about his family in Christ, he is filled with joy. But Paul isn’t spending time with his church family each week, he is isolated, alone in a prison cell awaiting potential execution. And yet, he rejoices. His letter is all about rejoicing and contentment because of the fellowship he enjoys—fellowship with other believers and fellowship with Christ.
This year, if you find yourself missing family and home, remember Paul and press into the truths that your family in Christ rejoices in and remembers you, an important member of the body. You are not forgotten. Your home in Christ and your eternal home is in heaven, towards which we groan. This year, if you find yourself longing for family and longing for home, remember that the family of God is praying with you and for you, groaning with you as you groan, and that our God draws near to the broken-hearted, feels our pain with us, bears our burdens for us, and gives us the most important thing we can have in challenging times: his promise. This year, hold fast to the promises of God.
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Phil 4:11-13
What are you thankful for this year? We are entering a season in which our whole country will gather around the idea of giving thanks, but thankful hearts quickly fade as thankful Thursday turns to Black Friday. Thankfulness is recognizing the good in your life and being rightfully grateful for it. Health, a delicious meal, a day of rest, a job that pays the bills. While keeping the tradition may seem strained for many of us after a grueling year, perhaps we should take a step past thankfulness and ask ourselves, what is going to make me content in this holiday season?
Contentment is similar to thankfulness but says I need nothing added, I need nothing more, what I have and what I am is enough. I can be thankful for many things, but still find myself discontent; I want more. More date nights, more vacation, more clothing, more cookies. And this hunger for more is insatiable. We will even feel it as we sit around the dinner table discussing thankfulness while wondering if we might have one more piece of pie and filling out a Black Friday shopping list. Our natural disposition is to want more; our natural disposition is discontentment. We are never satisfied. Thankfulness and contentment share a corner, but they are very different things.
While thankfulness is a popular concept, our culture doesn’t celebrate contentment. Contentment can sound boring, unambitious even. Beyond the consumeristic impulse towards more, there is a whole movement around the idea that we deserve more or better in our lives. Don’t settle, always pursue more for yourself and your life. More is not only a consumeristic tool, it is a spiritual practice for the religion of self. Pursue more of everything that will make me better, whole, complete. Don’t you want more in your life? More is the foundation of our culture. And in this coming holiday season that can easily be about acquiring things, what could possibly make us content? There is so much we desire. From wanting to be with family that we cannot see due to Covid, to wishing we had nicer things or someone to share a New Years’ kiss with. How can believers pursue contentment in a season that more often produces discontentment?
Paul says he has learned in whatever situation, in every and any circumstance how to be content: I can do all things through him who strengthens me (13). While Paul doesn’t give us a nicely packaged guide to become contented people, it is Jesus who is the source. To understand what this means, we must walk with Paul and learn his heart. Now more than ever, we need to learn what Paul calls the secret to contentment.
Finding joy in people and relationships, not things
Throughout Philippians, Paul celebrates people. They are his pride and treasure. He rejoices in the Philippian church for their partnership with him in the gospel saying that he yearns for them all with the affection of Jesus (1:7-8). He boasts in Timothy and Epaphroditus because they are just as interested in others as they are in themselves (2:19-29). Though Epaphroditus had grown ill and almost died, he was most distressed to hear that the Philippian church was worried about him. He was equally interested in their welfare as his own. Paul loves these people and rejoices in seeing them thrive in their love for the gospel. Paul prizes people, not things, and it is the first key to his secret of contentment.
Holiday application: Make this season about other people. Imitate Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus by being just as interested in the lives of your family and friends as you are in yourself.
Placing our hope in the Gospel
When we are in a consumer mindset always pursuing more, our hope is in what we have. We begin to believe the subtle lie that if I have the right things, then I will be happy. Though this may seem insignificant, anytime we place our hope in something other than the gospel, we are crossing into idolatry— a discontented, hungry heart. But Paul shows us another way.
Paul is arrested and thrown in prison for preaching the gospel but says it is good to be there because he can preach the gospel and win more to Christ (1:12-14). He says that it does not matter if he lives or dies because to live means preaching Christ more and dying means he gets to be with Jesus (1:19-26). He says that though he was once regarded as an important thinker and teacher, he considers it to be worthless in comparison to knowing Jesus (3:4-11). Paul’s hope is not in his freedom or social status, it is exclusively in Jesus and his promises. In Colossians, another book Paul wrote, he says when Christ who is your life appears (3:14). Christ is Paul’s life. All of it. What an incredible thing.
Holiday application: Daily ask yourself where your hope is today. What are you trusting or hoping in that is not Jesus? Imitate Paul and actively choose to put your hope in Jesus today, not in things or circumstances.
The possessions we need
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content… I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Paul’s contentment is found in Jesus who strengthens him. Here are three possessions that every Christian needs.
Knowing Jesus. I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christand be found in him (3:8). Christians should pursue knowledge and intimacy with Christ before all else. Knowing Jesus is the source of all contentment and we must know his words, his character, and his voice.
Humility. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (2:3-4). When we are humble and consider others more significant than ourselves, we start to look like our servant King Jesus. Humility breeds contentment because we are no longer the most important person in the room. Chase after it.
Peace. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (4:4-7). As we lay aside anxiety, seek the Lord in prayer and practice thankfulness, the peace of God fills our hearts and minds. A peaceful heart that has stopped hungering after other things is a heart that is content.
Holiday application: Address your contentment equation. Fill in the blanks _____+______+______= contentment. Then reframe it to Paul’s equation. Joy in people + Hope in the gospel + Pursuing the things of Christ = contentment.
The Christian life is full of tension. But no concept must be held in tension more tightly than grace and works. The conversation I have more often than any other with other believers is, “YOU NEED TO SPEND TIME IN GOD’S WORD! But remember that you are saved by grace and having quiet time does not earn your salvation. But because God loves you so much, spend time in your Bible and get to know him!” There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love, but there is much we can do to get to know him better, to walk in His ways, and be transformed into his likeness. One of these ways is reading the Bible.
I’ve heard many reasons for not reading scripture—I don’t get much from reading the Bible, I don’t have time to read scripture, it’s boring. While these sentiments are common, we cannot let them go unchecked. The Bible is the primary way we get to know God, so if we are going to follow him well, knowing God’s word is critical for our spiritual growth and health. Though everyone has different reasons and difficulties with reading scripture, here are five reasons that I have personally found spending time in God’s word can be challenging, and how to work through them.
The Bible about God, not you. I always trend towards self-centeredness, so it is no surprise that when I open my Bible, I often want it to be about me. But the Bible is primarily about God, not a tool for my own self-discovery. Something that campus ministry taught me was the importance of other-centeredness. Though I could happily talk about myself in one-on-one meetings with students, I was there for them and to get to know their story. The same goes for our relationship with God. We are his creation and he has made us to know him.
The way forward: humility. When you open God’s word, focus on learning more about him, his character, what delights and angers him, and the way he has made us. Ask the Spirit to teach you about who you are in the context of your relationship with the one who made you and knows you.
Misplaced expectations. What do you expect when you open your Bible? An emotional experience? To hear an audible voice from heaven? That scripture will always speak perfectly to your circumstances? The most important thing I learned from pre-marital counseling was that expectations dictate relationships. We must identify our expectations of reading scripture and then determine if they are biblical expectations. It is not wrong to expect God to show up when you read the Bible, in fact, God promises that he will—that his spirit will give us understanding and insight into his word as we read it. But in order to remove disappointment or frustration from time in the word, we must identify what exactly we expect.
The way forward: expecting the Spirit to do what he promises. The Holy Spirit’s job is to bear witness to who Jesus is by teaching us his words, reminding us of what he did (Jn 14:26), and expanding our hearts to love him more (1 Jn 3:20). He also helps us see our sin, leads us to repentance (Jn 16:7-8), and sanctifies us to make us look more like Jesus (2 Cor 3:8). But what this looks like day to day is really simple things: a verse that comforts us, a story that challenges us, seeing something beautiful in the person of Jesus, a heart that repents of sin. These are the everyday works of God; we need to sharpen our vision to see them.
I haven’t addressed my psychology. If I’m honest, I often operate as if God is a little bit annoyed with me. He wishes I was less sinful, holier, more prayerful—he wants me to get my act together. I know that this is not what God thinks about me, but this lie seeps into how I approach God in my quiet time and changes my posture. I find myself edgy, trying to do more or be better, and quickly walking away from the gospel of grace that the Bible sings over me. If we allow our emotions to tell us what God thinks about us, we will hate spending time with him.
The way forward: believing the truth. Answer this question: what does God think about you? Does he like you? Our emotions are important and powerful, but we cannot give them the privilege of telling us who God is. We must rely on God’s own words for that, and he says that he delights in us (Ps 70:4), adopted us as his children (Gal 4:5), forgiven us (1 Jn 1:19), promises to show us grace every single day (Lam 3:22-23), and does not hold a grudge against us (Ps 103:12). We must choose to measure our emotions against the truth, and believe what God says about us.
I don’t feel like reading scripture. The question of authenticity is primary for our generation. If I don’t feel like doing something, I shouldn’t because it wouldn’t be authentic. But this is a short-sighted way of living life. If I only ever did what I felt like doing, I wouldn’t get up in the middle of the night to comfort a screaming child, I would probably lose my job because I don’t feel like working very often, and my wallet would be hurting because I don’t always feel like cooking dinner and would rather eat out. The reality is that much of life is comprised of doing things that we don’t always feel like doing, but we do them anyway because they are valuable, good for us, or make us better. If you are a Christian, your life belongs to God and we must do what he asks of us, whether we feel like it or not.
The way forward: showing up. Showing up before the Lord, reading his word, spending time in prayer even when we don’t feel like it sows the seeds of a big harvest. The biggest lesson I have learned about spending time with God is consistency. I won’t always have an amazing quiet time, but I have come to love my 30 minutes of time before Jesus. Showing up when it’s hard paves the way for enjoyment and delight in God’s word.
I’m in a hurry. The easiest reason to neglect time in scripture is because I am busy. But the reality is, I will always be busy, and if I wait to prioritize time in scripture for the day I am not busy, I will never start. In spite of busyness, everyone makes time for the things that they love. I love hiking and running and being outdoors and I will get up early, postpone lunch, and do anything I can to get that time outside. We prioritize and pursue the things we value. So the real question is, why don’t you value time in scripture? This is the much bigger question hiding underneath our claims of busyness and it is the question with which we must wrestle. If you find yourself not making space for God, his word, or prayer in your day, you need to ask yourself why.
The way forward: an honest look at your relationship with Jesus. Being honest with yourself and the Lord is essential and there are reasons for why you don’t make time for God in your day. We each need to identify what those reasons are. Maybe you find scripture confusing, or you are afraid that if you read the Bible you will hear things you don’t like. Whatever your reason might be, you need to identify it, bring it before the Lord, and ask him to help you work through it. We must learn to prioritize Christ in our lives because he is much better and more valuable than anything else we might put first.