INSPIRATIONS: When I Am Afraid

What fears creep into your heart most often?

Are you worried you might never get married? Or if you’re married, that your marriage may never get better? Are you afraid of failing at work or losing your job? Do you have fears about your health, what illness you might have or how you might die? Do you worry regularly about your children — their health, their relationships, their faith? When are you afraid?

What you fear most may be exactly where Satan is targeting you most. He preys on insecurity, anxiety, and distress. He pours the gasoline of lies on our fears — trying to persuade us that God is powerless, indifferent, or distant. Even King David, a man after God’s own heart, asks, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalms 13:1).

God is not powerless; his power is immeasurably great (Ephesians 1:19). God is not indifferent toward you; he cares for you as a Father for his child (1 Peter 5:7). And God is not distant; he is “near to all who call on him” (Psalm 145:18). But he can feel far away when we are afraid.

Sometimes God feels far from us in trials because we have put ourselves out of earshot from his word.

Every Reason to Fear
David wrote Psalm 56 when he was seized by the Philistines while running from Saul’s army. David thought he might find refuge there if the Philistines had forgotten who he was, but some servants of the king soon said, “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” (1 Samuel 21:11). So they seized him.

David, running for his life from one murderer with an army of soldiers, runs into the arms of another jealous and dangerous enemy. Those are his “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2) when he writes,

Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly. . . . All day long they injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil. They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps, as they have waited for my life. (Psalms 56:1–2, 5–6)

He lived each day wondering not just if he might die that day, but if today might be the day someone would kill him. Yet, more than once in this psalm, he says, “I shall not be afraid” (Psalm 56:4, 11). How can he say that when he is on the run and in captivity?

When I Am Afraid
David could face horrifying trials because he knew where to turn in horrifying trials.

When I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me? (Psalm 56:3–4)

He begins by saying, “When I am afraid . . . ” He acknowledges that the danger, the trial, the fear is real. He does not deny being afraid in Philistine confines. Or in hiding from Saul. “I am afraid,” he confesses.

But for not long. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. . . . in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.” I am afraid for the moment, but I know where to turn when I am afraid. And when I cast my fears on him, he casts away all my fears. “I shall not be afraid.”

Anytime you see someone move from “I am afraid” to “I shall not be afraid,” you should ask how. Knowing David overcame fear might mysteriously inspire someone who is afraid, but unless he tells us how, his story will not help us face our own fears.

How to Trust in God
What happened for David between “I am afraid” and “I shall not be afraid”? He put his trust in God. So, put your trust in God when you are afraid? Yes, but does David say more about what it looked like to trust in God in the caves, in captivity, running for his life?

When I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me? (Psalm 56:3–4)

When David put his trust in God, he put his trust, even his praise, in God’s word. He didn’t pray vague prayers of hope, but anchored his pain and longing and fear in specific promises of God. When I am afraid, I cling to you in your word. Instead of dwelling on the terrifying mountains in front of me, I set my mind on what you have said to those who love you. Suddenly, the threats no longer seem threatening because they’re being drowned out by a louder voice.

The Word on the Word
If you want to know what it looks like to treasure God’s word in the ups and downs of life, linger in Psalm 119. Nowhere else is Scripture exalted and celebrated like it is in Scripture’s longest chapter. Maybe most precious of all in those 176 verses, though, are when the psalmist talks about the power of God’s word to calm our fears and carry us through sorrow.

“My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!” (Psalms 119:28).
“I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word!” (Psalms 119:107).
“You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word” (Psalms 119:114).
“I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words” (Psalms 119:147).
“Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words” (Psalms 119:161).
Princes persecute me without cause — I suffer for no reason — but your words are still sweet to me. When I don’t know what to say because the trials are so heavy, I cannot get enough of your voice. My only hope for healing and strength and protection and help and deliverance is written in your book. My heart stands in awe of all that you say.

God Is for You
David almost repeats himself near the end of Psalm 56:

This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me? (Psalm 56:9–11)

What does it mean to trust in God? It means to trust what he says. And what does God say in his word? I am for you. And if God is for you, who can be against you (Romans 8:31)? What can man do to you?

When fears come — and they will come, even today — you know where to turn. You know the voice you need to hear, the voice that instills a peace that surpasses all understanding. And he says to you, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And because you are in him, and he lives in you, through faith, you have overcome the world (1 John 5:4–5).

You can say with David, “I shall not be afraid.”

Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating (2017). He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have a son and live in Minneapolis.

THE SUBJECT OF FAITH BY POJU OYEMADE

The greatest damage to the Christian faith may be a mindset that crept in where we now think “there exists a short-cut to reality.” This mindset is the cause of an upsurge of “miracle meetings” where people think without any real walk with God or fellowship with Him, we can show up at these meetings, get empowered and get results instantly circumventing every form of process.

There is a place for supernatural encounters with God and empowerment but it must be seen as a part of the process and not an end in itself. It is like a great outburst of rain that may make a farmer happy but he does know that a singular event in itself cannot bring the harvest. He must daily apply himself in the fields if he is to get results at the end of the day.

This mindset may have ruined the concept of discipleship, developing the customs of the Spirit of God through which Christian character is formed causing the grace of God to manifest itself in the habits of our life. It almost now sounds like the one who went through a process and applied himself diligently to put himself in a position where they are “qualified” doesn’t really understand “unmerited favour”

There was something in the Scripture I had wondered about for years. Jesus said all one required was faith as a grain of mustard seed to do the impossible yet at the same time, He reprimanded His disciples for their unbelief saying “o ye of little faith.” If all that was required to do the impossible was faith the size of a grain of mustard seed which was the smallest of all the seeds in Israel at that time, why then condemn our little faith?

First, the mustard seed faith which gets the impossible done.

Matthew 17:20 “And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”

Then the little faith which he reprimanded.

Matthew 14:31 “And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”

Matthew 8:26 “And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.”

It was Dr Creflo Dollar who showed certain things from the scriptures that further opened my eyes to this. The little faith doesn’t speak to the size but the length of time. It means you simply had a momentary outburst of faith which wasn’t sustained. It’s like a man who comes for a service, shouts and screams but by Tuesday morning when the “rubber meets the road” you wonder where all the shouts disappeared to.

The mustard seed faith speaks not to the size. Though it may seem small at the moment the person understands he has to plant that faith by speaking God’s words(revealed will) and then stay with it as a farmer stays with his seeds, watering and nurturing them to fruition. The seed will go through a process and through different seasons as it matures and manifests itself in getting the impossible done.

Somewhere we have allowed the lure of the instantaneous draw us away from true scriptural living into false enticements of short-cuts where we are enmeshed in a whirlwind of ever changing feelings drifting away from scriptural facts that form the basis of our faith.

VALENTINE SPECIAL: Your Last First Date

It was our first date. I wasn’t even completely sure she knew it was a date. We met at a wedding, and then talked on the phone once a week or so for a couple of months. I asked if I could take her out, and she conceded.

I bought a couple board games, chose a trendy new taco joint, and found a non-chain coffee shop to hang out in after lunch. Coffee said I’m interested and serious, but not desperate. Board games said I know how to laugh and have fun, but that I’m here to win. I don’t know what tacos said, but I like them.

It was a great date. The conversation was a sweet mixture of serious and silly, of storytelling and good follow-up questions, all of it filled with our shared love for Jesus. A few hours went by really fast. Feeling confident, I told her how I felt about her, and asked if she wanted to begin dating.

“I had a great time today, too. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you. I’ve really enjoyed our conversations, and the way you’ve pointed me to Jesus. . . .” Everything I wanted to hear. “You’re a nice human being . . .” Wait, what does that even mean? “. . . but when I think about a relationship, my heart is cold.”

Long, awkward, uncomfortable pause. “Cold?” “Yeah . . . cold.” “Like ice-cold, or lukewarm?” “Cold.”

What went so wrong? What should I have done differently? It all seemed so comfortable, so exciting, so right, so sure. But when the day was done, she was colder than a Dairy Queen, and I was just “a nice human being.” It had started to feel like this might finally be my last first date. Of course, I guess first dates had felt like that before. Either way, here I was back where I began. Roller-coaster rides like these were enough to make you want to give up on marriage.

Your Last First Date
What was your last first date like?

Did it go well, and lead to more? Or did you leave never wanting to go through that again — thinking, Maybe marriage isn’t worth all of the pain, confusion, and heartache we endure to have it?

“If we want to be married, it should be because we want more of God.” Tweet Share on Facebook
Many among the not-yet married need the reminder that marriage is spectacular and needed in our society, and that’s because it belongs to God. God may call you to a lifetime of satisfied and fruitful singleness, or your next first date may be the first step of decades of enjoying him with a husband or wife. If we want to be married (and are willing to make ourselves vulnerable again in dating), it should be because we want more of God.

Is Marriage Worth It?
When divorce rates remain high, and the surviving marriages around us seem broken, messy, and unhappy — and when plenty of other good things keep us busy — lots of young men and women in their twenties and thirties are giving up on marriage, or at least discounting it in their plans and dreams.

Some of you have tried dating and been burned — confusion, rejections, sexual failure, breakups, or whatever else plagues our relationships. Others are sons and daughters of divorce. You were ripped apart, and left in pieces to be traded back and forth. With all the pain, failure, and friction, it simply can’t be worth it, can it? I can be known and loved in other ways. Marriage isn’t necessary for my happiness or significance here on earth.

That last sentence is true and important. You do not have to be married to be happy. But are we overlooking some significant things about what marriage really is, and why, at least for many, it’s worth all the time, patience, and even heartache?

What Demons Say About Marriage
Two thousand years ago, people were already questioning whether marriage was worth it. The apostle Paul says, “Some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). What lies were they believing when they left the faith? What were the demons saying? They “forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:3).

“Compatibility may make for a good honeymoon, but only love for Jesus will keep a marriage healthy for a lifetime.” Tweet Share on Facebook
When we forget the goodness and beauty of marriage, we belittle something good and beautiful God is doing. Why? “For everything created by God” — including marriage — “is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). God made marriage, and he meant for us to enjoy it with thankful hearts. He calls it good, even today.

To say otherwise is to say something about him.

For centuries, marriage was a mystery, until God began unlocking its long-hidden meaning with the gospel. Paul quotes Moses, “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31). Then Paul says, “This mystery is profound” — it’s been hidden since God gave Eve to Adam — “and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). The mystery isn’t mysterious anymore. What makes marriage profoundly beautiful, meaningful, desirable, and powerful is that it acts out God’s love for us. We get to relive the greatest love story ever told.

The Beauty of the Best Marriages
What makes marriage worth having? The beauty and joy of Christian marriage is not compatibility. Compatibility may be the rare jewel we’re hunting for in all our dating relationships, but relationships and marriages don’t stand out, thrive, and last because the two of us make sense together. No, the beauty and joy of Christian marriage is Christ, shining in our joyful and unwavering commitment to each other, even when we’re less compatible and least deserving of each other’s love. Passion, infatuation, and compatibility may make for a good honeymoon, but only a mutual love for Jesus will keep a marriage healthy for a lifetime.

The best marriages will be the hardest to explain — not because you are so different (you might be), but because you’re still loving each other so patiently, sacrificially, and passionately after years of inconvenience, conflict, and giving up so much. How do they still love each other so much? Well, because we have been loved like that and more.

“You’re not standing together at the altar to say, ‘I really do love you,’ but to say, ‘I really will love you.’” Tweet Share on Facebook
Paul says, “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly . . . . God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6, 8). He didn’t die for us because he finally found the love of his life. We were not marriage material when he met us. No, he died to make us the love of his life, despite how little we deserved him. A love like his makes a marriage worth wanting, and it makes a marriage worth keeping.

What Are Wedding Vows?
“Wedding vows,” writes Tim Keller, “are not a declaration of present love, but a mutually binding promise of future love.” Marriage is mainly a love declared, not a love discovered.

Have you thought about your wedding day that way? The promises you will make before God, and before all your friends and family, have little to do with what you experienced and enjoyed in your dating relationship — and everything to do with the uncertain and uncontrollable months and years ahead.

You’re not standing there together before God, family, and friends to say, “I really do love you,” but to say instead, “I really will love you” — whatever it takes, however hard it gets, whatever happens, however much I want to leave. That kind of love will stand out in the world, and it will last long after many have given up and walked away.

The Big Goal in Dating
All our desires for dating should spring from a big vision of what marriage is and why it’s worth wanting. In all of your dating, keep your last first date in mind — your first date with your future spouse.

I definitely didn’t know it at the time, but mine was over trendy tacos, coffee, and board games. The Dairy Queen slowly warmed over the next few months. Two years later, she became my wife. In the meantime, we both had a big picture of what God designed marriage to be in front of us. We had no idea if we would get married, and we never assumed we would. In fact, we intentionally dated as if we were going to marry someone else, to keep us from idolizing each other or going too far too soon. But we knew the only thing worth dating for was a marriage — a lifelong, life-on-life love like Jesus’s love for us.

“Marriage is mainly a love declared, not a love discovered.” Tweet Share on Facebook
God’s idea of marriage is the only vision big enough, strong enough, and worth enough for all the risks we take in dating. Nothing else is worth all the risk we take when we begin to share our hearts with someone else. Nothing else will protect us from diving in too quickly or jumping ship when things get hard. Nothing else will stand out enough from the world around us to say something significant about Jesus.

If you want to date well, keep a big, sacred, breathtaking picture of marriage in front of you.

Pastors Need Friends Too

What makes a pastor persevere in ministry?

The Lilly Endowment invested $84 million over 10 years to study and support the practices that allow Christian pastors in America to sustain excellence over the years. They funded 63 projects across 25 different denominations and traditions. Each organization made a similar discovery: relationships with peers are the key factor to pastoral longevity.

I’ve worked with and provided pastoral care for pastors in various forms for the last seven years. For the last five I’ve helped nearly one hundred pastors develop the characteristics they need to stay happy and healthy in ministry. My results aren’t as scientific as the Lilly study, but I concur: Pastors need real, intimate, vulnerable friendships, if they are going to last in ministry.

Yet pastoral isolation is common. Sometimes it’s self-isolation, either out of a fear of being known or a fear of being hurt again by those he considers friends. More often, though, it’s a public isolation, caring for and befriending many, with very few friends to care for him. A pastor can seem like he’s known by many — he reveals a bit of himself each week to hundreds or thousands — while he’s really known by few. Revelations of himself during sermons are often like revelations over social media: Controlled vulnerability that keeps people at a distance either through over- or under-sharing.

It’s tough to blame them. Pastoral work can be dehumanizing. People know and appreciate you for the work you do — the sermons you preach, the care you give, the prayers you pray, the visionary leadership you provide — more than who you really are. Since you perform publicly every week, appreciation can be a fickle thing. Good counselors guard against dual relationships, knowing it’s nearly impossible and often unethical to have a personal friendship with a professional client. Pastors experience some of that reality as well.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that loneliness and isolation impact our spiritual health as well: “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:1). We weren’t meant to live in isolation; we — pastors included — need daily, meaningful affirmation from others if we are to be successful in fighting sin.

In Psalm 25:16, David asks God to be near him, for he is “lonely and afflicted.” David models the right response to feeling lonely: a longing for intimate relationships. That longing is not a sign of selfishness or weakness. It’s simply an acknowledgement that you are human. God never intended for any of us to live in isolation. God doesn’t live in isolation; there is perfect communion within the Trinity. Created in his image, we are made for relationships, with him and with others. That’s true of all of us, including pastors.

Made for Relationship

We — pastors included — were made for relationships, with God and with others.

Like anyone else, a pastor’s relationship with God must be primary. If a pastor doesn’t have a relationship with God that is continually growing in intimacy, he will demand more from his relationships with others than they are capable of giving him. Therefore, a pastor must constantly work to deepen the intimacy in his relationship with God.

The Bible, prayer, and the sacraments are the means God gave his people to grow closer to him (Acts 2:42). They are not only tools a pastor uses to do the work of ministry; they are also the God-given means to deepen the intimacy in his relationship with God.

But God didn’t create us to live only in relationship with him. He created us to also live in community with others. That larger community is found in the local church, which the pastor leads. And this leadership can often seem isolating; it’s really tough to be both a friend and a leader. This leaves the pastor with a relational need — a relational need that is too great for a wife to carry by herself.

A pastor needs his wife as his friend, but not his only friend. She often feels isolated and alone, carrying ministry secrets and her husband’s secret doubts and struggles, ones that are not disqualifying sins, but also are not things that should be shared indiscriminately.

A pastor also needs more than ministry partners or co-workers. They are helpful. They can provide companionship. But you can have a lot of co-workers and still be lonely. Friends don’t just partner on projects; they partner in life.

Friendship Takes Intentionality

I’ve found the people best suited to be a pastor’s friend are fellow pastors, most often those in a different church. It’s easy for pastors to look at other pastors and borrow the phrase C.S. Lewis says is at the start of every friendship: “You too?” Pastors are usually willing to take the next step of vulnerability with another pastor and continue, quoting Lewis, “I thought I was the only one.”

For a friendship to grow from there, it requires intentional effort.

To put in that effort, you must view friendship not as a luxury, but a necessity. When David writes, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1), he is both celebrating the gift of friendship and encouraging us to think back to Eden when everything — including friendship — was good, just as God designed it to be. The Psalm ends with “life forevermore,” encouraging us to think forward to eternity when everything will forever be as it should be (Psalm 133:3). Friendship isn’t a luxury; it’s a blessing God gives us now because he loves us. God is, as Lewis wrote, the one working behind the scenes to make our friendships happen and help them last.

Not only are friendships good for our health and longevity in ministry; they also are essential to our perseverance (Hebrews 3:12–13). It is wise to have friends (Proverbs 17:1727:9–1017). It is right to need friends. Paul, in the midst of an incredibly hard time, found real comfort when Titus arrived (2 Corinthians 7:6–7). At the end of his life, Paul lamented his loneliness and asked Timothy to come visit him before he died (2 Timothy 4:9–16). The greatest man who ever lived, Jesus Christ, experienced the gift of friendship with John. John was more than just a partner in ministry; he was the friend Jesus loved (John 13:23).

The intentional effort required for friendship can be described as making room in your life for others. It means you will make room in your schedule, budget, ministry goals, and family life for friendship. Friendship can’t be squeezed into an already tight schedule; it requires intentionality and it requires sacrifice.

Pastor, friendship will cost you time, money, and the opportunity for more ministry achievement. And it will require vulnerability, which means you probably will get hurt. Vulnerability can come as you admit your need for friendship: take a risk to give and receive the gift of friendship. It will be worth it. Blessing — for yourself, your family, and your people — is bound up in your friendships.

Avoiding Pride in a World of Selfie Sticks and Social Media Platforms

Well, the Bible says in the last days the world will be overrun by people who will be lovers of self. Perhaps it’s not a stretch to say that in the end, people will be lovers of selfies and selfie-sticks? But really, when do our social media project a corrupt self-love at work inside of us? That’s today’s question. “Hello, Pastor John, my name is Ed, a 22-year-old Filipino. I read in the Bible, ‘But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty, for people will be lovers of self’ (2 Timothy 3:1–2). Based on this passage, do you believe vlogs, selfies, and self-focused social media are a cultural sign of this self-love emerging in our culture? What warning would you sound to Christian smartphone users tempted in this self-promotive way?”

Yes and No

Let me answer with a double yes and no — two yeses and nos.

“God gave us a self, not so that we would have something to exalt in, but something to exalt with.”

First, yes. Vlogs, selfies, and self-focused social media are often (not always) an expression of the self-exaltation, self-preoccupation, and self-fascination of these last days. But no, these new technologies are not the emerging of such final experiences of sin. They’ve always been there. The new technologies are giving new ways to express old sins.

That’s my first yes and no: Yes, these are the manifestations of the end-times self-love, and no, they’re not just now emerging.

Here’s the second yes and no. Yes, these are the last days, and we should be looking keenly and expectantly and hopefully and joyfully for the coming of our precious, longed-for, all-satisfying Lord Jesus. But no, these are not yet the very last days. But they are very much like the last days that began two thousand years ago in the first century.

Beginning of the End

Now, let me try to explain. When Jesus came into the world as the long-expected Messiah, he declared the arrival of the kingdom of God, which the Old Testament anticipated as part of the last days.

“The judge is standing at the door. Be ready. Be alert. You’re going to be called to account.”

When Peter stood up on the day of Pentecost and tried to explain the extraordinary events of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, he said, “This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh’” (Acts 2:16–17). In other words, these events that you’re looking at right now (AD 33) are the fulfillment of promises made for the last days.

The last days were there in the first century right after Jesus had come. Take Hebrews 1:1–2, for example: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

The coming of Jesus is the beginning of the last days. First Peter 1:20 reads, “He [Christ] was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you.”

Two Thousand Years of Selfies

Ever since the time of Jesus, 2,000 years ago, we have been living in the last days, looking expectantly to Jesus, who stands at the door. We know this is the way that Paul was thinking even in the very text that Ed quoted about self-love.

Paul says, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Timothy 3:1). Then he says to Timothy, “Avoid such people” (2 Timothy 3:5). Whoa — I guess they’re here. They’re not just coming 2,000 years later.

In other words, Paul is talking about Timothy’s own situation. This kind of person comes in the last days. Now, Timothy is to avoid them because these are the last days, and the people are there.

You shouldn’t be surprised or swayed by them. Well, besides saying that the judge is at the door, we should be always alert and ready to give an account to the Lord Jesus when he comes. Ed asked me what I would say to people on vlogs. That’s what I want to say. The judge is standing at the door. Be ready. Be alert. You’re going to be called to account. That’s the first thing I’d say.

Longing for Happiness

Then here’s the last thing I’d say. God gave us a self, not so that we would have something to exalt in, but something to exalt with. He gave us a self, not to be the object of our joy, but the subject of joy. That is, not to be the focus of happiness in front of the mirror or the selfie, but the furnace of happiness in front of Jesus.

“Our desires are meant to lead us to God, in whose presence is fullness of joy.”

He gave us a self not as an instrument of self-worth, but as an instrument of worship. The self is and is meant to be a desire factory. The point of all those desires is that there is a joy outside ourselves that they point to.

Our self is an endless manufacture of desires for something beyond the self. This factory of desires is not the dream. This factory has a dream. It isn’t the dream. It is producing all these desires because, out there somewhere, there’s a dream.

They’re all meant to lead us outside ourselves — indeed, outside the world, because nothing in this world finally satisfies. The desires of the human self are meant to lead us to God, in whose presence is fullness of joy and at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore.

That’s what I’d say to the self-absorbed user of social media. The self was never meant to satisfy us. The self was never meant to find satisfaction in the perception or promotion of self. The self was made for God.

ARTICLES: Watch Where You Walk in 2018

The Christian life is not a sprint. It is a journey of ten million steps.

Day after day, and year after year, we put one foot in front of the other as we flee the wreckage of our sin and follow Jesus on the path of life. We step away from self-protection toward love, away from darkness toward light, away from foolishness toward wisdom. Step after step after step — ten million times.

“The Christian life is not a sprint. It is a journey of ten million steps.” Tweet Share on Facebook
But unless we stop every so often, and take a careful look backward and forward, our feet will gradually drift from God’s paths and stumble onto others. Like a hiker who never checks his compass, we’ll set out in the right direction and end up miles off the mark. Slowly, subtly, and perhaps imperceptibly, we’ll exit the narrow and hard path that leads to life and merge onto the wide and easy way to destruction (Matthew 7:13–14).

The new year is a time for course correction — a time for taking out the map, consulting the compass, and heeding Paul’s command to “look carefully . . . how you walk” (Ephesians 5:15).

In Ephesians, Paul commands his readers five times to “walk” — in good works, in a manner worthy of their calling, in love, in light, and in wisdom. As we consider three of Paul’s “walk” commands, take a look backward and forward: Where have you drifted off the path? What steps might you take this year, with God’s help, to follow Jesus down these hard but happy roads?

Walk in Love
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:2)

For Jesus, love meant nails through his hands and feet and a spear through his side. Love meant climbing onto a cross and offering himself up as a sacrifice. Love meant inconvenience and sorrow and an excruciating death. This is the love that breathed life into our dead lungs (Ephesians 2:4–5); the love that is broader, longer, higher, and deeper than the galaxies (Ephesians 3:18–19); the love that is washing every stain of sin from our souls (Ephesians 5:25–27); the love that God commands us to imitate — even if our strongest love is a whisper compared to his symphony.

“Jesus knows how to repay everything you lose on the path of love.” Tweet Share on Facebook
Therefore, walk in love — go low to lift others up. Spend your time with the lonely. Bend your body to bear burdens. Ransack your imagination to meet needs. Give your presence to the grieving. Fix your attention on the forgotten.

Such love will cost us, of course; we’ll have to relinquish handfuls of time and comfort and convenience. But in the end, Jesus knows how to repay everything you lose on the path of love, “Whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:8). Go low in love, and Christ himself will lift you up. Walk in love this year.

Walk in Light
At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light. (Ephesians 5:8)

When the light of Christ broke into your life and dispersed your constant midnight, he shone on you so that his light might make its home in you. The God of light made you a child of light — a little candle lit from the sun of Christ.

Therefore, walk in light — drive out the shadows from your soul. Train your tongue to heal others instead of cutting them up. Relish the deeper pleasure of purity instead of giving yourself over to sexual immorality. Grow in gratitude for all that God has given instead of stewing over all that he’s withheld. Ache for “all that is good and right and true” (Ephesians 5:9).

You can walk in these paths of light this year because you already are light in the Lord. The dark version of you died with Jesus at the cross, was laid with Jesus in the tomb — and will never rise again. Even if you feel like a smoldering wick right now, if you are in Christ, your destiny is to “shine like the sun in the kingdom of [your] Father” (Matthew 13:43). And that transformation will happen as you keep on stepping out of the shadows, repenting of the specific darkness that still grips you, confessing it to God and others, and shining the light of God’s word upon it. Walk in light this year.

Walk in Wisdom
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15–16)

Every path in this world cuts through our enemy’s backyard. We don’t yet walk in the safety of the new heavens and new earth; we walk in “the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4), an age where the devil stalks the earth with a quiver of burning arrows, his eyes keen for careless travelers (Ephesians 6:16). If we do not apply God’s wisdom to how we are walking in every area of life, the devil will be more than happy to chart the course for us.

“Grow in gratitude for all that God has given instead of stewing over all that he’s withheld.” Tweet Share on Facebook
Therefore, walk in wisdom — seize your days from the devil’s hand. Clutch onto every opportunity in your life, and turn it in a Godward direction. Make a plan for your marriage this year. Go to work on your parenting. Gauge the health of your friendships. In each of these areas of life (and every other), ask, In this part of my life, how can I live like Christ is precious, the gospel is powerful, the Spirit is inside me, and eternity is coming?

God has already broken the devil’s spell on you. He has already handed you a shield to extinguish his arrows and a sword to swing back (Ephesians 6:16–17). These days may be evil, but you don’t have to be — no part of your life has to be. With a lot of careful looking, and the Holy Spirit’s help, you can make the best use of these evil days. Walk in wisdom this year.

God’s City of Joy
One day soon, you will not need to look carefully to how you are walking. Perfect love will course through the veins of your resurrected body. The light of God’s righteousness will radiate from your every thought, word, and action. Unclouded wisdom will rest upon your immortal shoulders.

Until that day, 2018 is another year to “look carefully . . . how you walk” (Ephesians 5:15). Walk in love — go low to lift others up. Walk in light — drive the shadows from your soul. And walk in wisdom — seize your days from the devil’s hand. These are three roads that lead us to God’s city of joy, where our journey of ten million steps will finally end.

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