The Lost Art of Forbearance

“Forbearance” isn’t a word we hear much these days, but it’s a needed one. It shows up throughout KJV New Testament passages meaning endurance. But two passages in particular bring out this meaning more fully.

Ephesians 4:1-3 says “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Other translations say, instead of “forbearance”:

    • “bearing with one another in love” (several)
    • “making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love,” NLT
    • “showing tolerance for one another in love,” NASB
    • “patiently put up with each other and love each other,” CEB

A similar passage is in Colossians 3:12-15, with similar translations in other versions: Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.”

The Dictionary.com definition for “forbear” that most closely matches this context is “to be patient or self-controlled when subject to annoyance or provocation.

A former pastor’s definition matches most closely with the CEB: “good, old-fashioned putting up with each other.”

People don’t “put up with” much these days, do they? Or, I should say, do we? We want what we want, the way we want, and we want it now. Woe to the person who hinders any aspect of our getting what we want. Having multitudinous selections and the fastest cooking and delivery times in history have not made us more patient: we’re more impatient than ever. And if someone wrongs us in the slightest way or even makes a mistake that inconveniences, we feel obligated to let them have it and vent all over social media. And if someone holds a position we disagree with, well, then, they’re fair game for ridicule at the very least.

Granted, some things should not be tolerated: abuse, criminal activity, actions which hurt others all need to be dealt with. Wrongs need to be dealt with. Stands need to be taken.

But everyday faults and mistakes? Who doesn’t have those in abundance? How do we want others to treat us when we mess up?

Ephesians and Colossians pairs forbearance with:

  • humility (Where’d I get the idea everything is supposed to be my way?)
  • meekness
  • kindness
  • forgiveness: Colossians 3:13 gives the standard: “even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”
  • love
  • peace

Aren’t these the traits we long for in others’ interactions with us? Don’t we long for others to take time to hear and understand instead of just assuming, reacting, and blowing the situation out of proportion? Wouldn’t we rather someone talk to us privately when there’s been a misunderstanding instead of talking to everyone else? When we make a mistake, and we’re fearing the worst reaction, aren’t we blessed when someone says, “That’s all right — don’t worry about it. We all blow it sometimes.” Don’t we yearn for mercy and grace?

Then let’s take the initiative and exercise these traits toward each other.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29, ESV).

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Bruised Reeds Are We All

One of my children has a friend who, after graduating from a Christian college and working in Christian camps, went home, got involved with a guy who landed in prison, and ended up pregnant and unmarried. Her church was very supportive of her and helped her through her pregnancy and single motherhood. But within a couple of years, the same thing happened again, with the same guy. This time the church was kind to her children, but held themselves aloof from her. Their attitude seemed to be “To make one mistake is forgivable, but to repeat it — she must not have been very sincere in her repentance.”

Yet who among us hasn’t sinned at least twice in more than one category?

And while I’m tempted to quick judgment of these church people, I am convicted by by own tendency to hold grudges. I was thoroughly startled one day to realize that a grudge is just continual unforgiveness.

Jesus takes forgiveness seriously. He died to obtain it for us. The prayer He taught contains the line, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matthew 6:9-13). As we forgive our debtors. He goes on to say, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (verses 14-15). That’s a scary thought.

I used to have trouble with forgiveness when I felt the other person didn’t “deserve” it. But what finally changed my heart was the parable Jesus told in Matthew 18:21-35. Jesus had just talked about lost sheep and the process of church discipline. Then Peter asked, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” He probably thought that was pretty generous. Jesus said it’s more like but seventy times seven. Then He told a story about a man who owed a massive debt that he could not pay to a king. When the king made plans to sell the man, his family, and all he had, the man fell to his knees and begged the king for patience, promising he would pay everything he owed. The king took pity on him and forgave the debt completely.

But when the forgiven man left, he ran into someone who owed him a much smaller amount and demanded repayment. This debtor made the same plea the forgiven man had made the king. But instead of responding in kind, the forgiven man refused to forgive and sent his debtor to prison.

Word got back to the king about this man’s behavior. The king summoned him, rebuked him, and threw him in prison til his debt should be paid. Jesus concluded, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

I realized that I had been forgiven an immense debt when Jesus saved me. No one could sin against me to the extent I sinned against Him. So how could I hold a smaller transgression against anyone else when I had been forgiven so much? As C. S. Lewis said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” Yet I still have to remind myself of this often.

The beginning of Matthew 18 (as well as many other places in Scripture) shows that Jesus does not take sin lightly. It’s serious business, and forgiveness doesn’t mean just blowing it off like it doesn’t matter. We acknowledge that there has been a debt, an infraction, which caused pain. But, by God’s grace, we forgive it. We may not feel very forgiving, but forgiveness is not a feeling: it is a decision.

Forgiveness also doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t consequences. In the same passage, Jesus described how people should go about handling an unrepentant sin against them to the point of church discipline. In cases where abuse or other crimes have been committed, the perpetrator still needs to be arrested. There’s a difference between enabling and helping, and it’s not always easy to know the difference when someone is addicted to something. We can’t be naive, and we need to pray for wisdom. Forgiveness also may not mean that now you’re best buds with the other person. Some relationships are toxic. There may be any number of good reasons why the relationship should not be restored. However, that doesn’t mean that treat everyone that way for every infraction.

There are times to separate from someone who persists in wrong doctrine or wrongdoing, but that’s only if they professing Christians who are unrepentant and if everything else has been tried to bring them around. Even that extreme measure is done with the hope that they might return, like the man in 1 Corinthians 5 who repented by 2 Corinthians 2. First Paul had to admonish the Corinthians to deal with the sin in 1 Corinthians. But when the man did repent Paul had to encourage the Corinthians to “forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him” (2 Corinthians 2:7-8).

Sometimes someone with a besetting sin needs counsel rather than aloofness. In a book I recently read, a man kept falling into the same sin, even after he was saved. There was a difference afterward, in that now he loathed his sin, whereas before he didn’t care. But he still felt like he just had to try to “do better.” What he really needed was to learn how to depend on the Lord and not his own strength.

In another book I read this year, a fictional story based on a real one, the female protagonist also had trouble with with sexual relationships. Though she made steady progress in her faith, she had trouble overcoming in this one area. I wondered how many people would dislike the book or would have distanced themselves from her in real life instead of helping her. She reminded me very much of the woman at the well, who had five different husbands and a current live-in boyfriend. She came to draw water from the well alone, not at the time when all the other women in the village came. Was it because she felt ashamed? Or had she suffered their condescending looks and comments before and wanted to avoid them? Either way, Jesus made a special point to be there when she was and to tell her about the water of life available through the Messiah — Himself. A multitude believed through the testimony of one “fallen woman.”

We tend to look down on certain types of sin more than others. But what did Jesus say the greatest commandments are? To love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Doesn’t it follow that if these are the greatest commandments, disobeying them is the greatest sin? And don’t we fall short of them every day of our lives? How then can we look down on any other sinner?

I’ve wondered, in this social media era, about the widespread tendency towards Internet outrage at people. Careers, reputations, and even lives have been ruined because someone started a tangent on Twitter without knowing half what they were talking about, and it spread like wildfire. Or someone did do wrong, but instead of extending grace and hoping they learn from their mistake, we right them off forever. How is this treating others as we would want to be treated?

There is a beautiful passage in Isaiah foretelling the coming Savior. Isaiah had just foretold in Chapter 41 about Cyrus, a conqueror who “tramples kings underfoot; he makes them like dust with his sword, like driven stubble with his bow” and “shall trample on rulers as on mortar, as the potter treads clay (verses 2, 25). By contrast, the Savior:

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:1-3, ESV)

This passage is quoted again of Jesus in Matthew 12:15-21, ending with the line, “and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” He’s like the man in the parable he told who stood up for a fruitless fig tree and gave it another chance, working with it to help it bear fruit.

Henry F. Lyte draws on several passages of Scripture to form this stanza in his 1834 hymn, “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven“:

Fatherlike He tends and spares us;
Well our feeble frame He knows.
In His hands He gently bears us,
Rescues us from all our foes.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Widely as His mercy flows!

Instead of an atmosphere of haughtiness or superiority, let’s show the same welcome,  mercy, gentleness, and grace we have received.

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Studying the Parts to Understand the Whole

A few years ago I read an annotated version of The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. Sometimes I struggled with disrupting the flow of the story to read the notes. But the notes added so much to understanding the story, they were worth it in the long run.

I read recently an article where someone brought up this difference between reading for pleasure versus reading an annotated version of a story, stopping to read every footnote. This writer brought out the disruption of this type of reading. She pointed out that we don’t read regular books that way (unless we’re in school reading an assigned text), so we shouldn’t read the Bible that way.

There are times we should just read a particular passage as it is for pleasure, with no cross references or footnotes. But there are other times we should study it out in depth. It isn’t either Bible reading or Bible study. We need both.

Some people read and study in tandem. They’ll read one passage devotionally and study another, possibly to prepare for a group Bible study. Others will take turns: they’ll read one book of the Bible all the way through, then do a Bible study project on another book or topic, then read another book of the Bible through.

When I first started using a study Bible, I wasn’t sure I liked reading a verse or two and then stopping to read the footnotes sidebars, and charts. It did seem more halting and fragmented than just reading the passage. But the extra material did aid in understanding the passage.

Instead of reading a verse and it’s footnote one by one, sometimes I read a paragraph at a time, then look over the footnotes. Or, if there is a lot of footnote information for each verse, I’ll read each footnote after its verse, and then go back over the last few lines of text just to put it all together.

Then, beyond just the notes in a study Bible, there are commentaries, Bible study guides, and a whole slew of other Bible study materials with which to dig into a passage even further..

Let’s see if I can illustrate the benefit of study in another way. I was not exposed to classical music much as I was growing up. I remember one Girl Scout trip to a symphony, a couple of performances of Handel’s Messiah in school or church, our pastor playing excerpts of Mendelssohn’s Elijah oratorio in a high school assembly. I remember thinking the pieces were nice and enjoying a few of the songs more than others (especially “He, Watching Over Israel,” based on Psalm 121:4, from Elijah). But I didn’t get much more than that from the pieces.

Then I went to a Christian liberal arts university which wanted to teach us more than academics, so we were exposed to various kinds of classical music concerts, Shakespearean plays, etc. During my junior year, I asked a sophomore music major roommate to help me pick out some classical vinyl albums marked down to $3 at the bookstore that she thought I might enjoy. I grew a bit more in my appreciation of classical music.

But it wasn’t until my senior year in college, when I had a class called Music Appreciation, that I really began to understand and then love classical music. We went era by era, learning what kind of music was produced by which composers in each period. We learned something of the lives of major composers. We listened to and took apart some famous works. We learned to identify the different themes in each piece, note their development, and trace how they interacted with each other. We’d have tests where the professor would play a few seconds of a piece of music, and we’d have to identify it as the first theme of the second movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony (a melody which was later given words by one of his students and turned into the lovely song “Goin’ Home“). Some of the works we studied then are my favorite pieces today – New World, Hayden’s Surprise Symphony (and the fun story behind it), Smetana’s The Moldau, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture and others. Listening to them again is like rereading a favorite book, enjoying and anticipating the flow. I came to understand and enjoy the whole much more by studying the parts. In fact, I haven’t added any new classical music loves because I haven’t studied any pieces to the extent I did then.

It’s the same way with the Bible. As we study the individual parts of a biblical book, we learn what the details mean, how they fit within the book itself, how the book fits within the whole Bible. We trace the themes and see how they intertwine. We’ll know and get more from those passages in ways we don’t know those we’ve only given a cursory reading. And each time we read that book, we build on what we know and appreciate what we remember from previous studies. Study might seem tedious in the midst of it, but it’s worth it when you put it all together. C. S. Lewis contrasted the difference between meditating on a single verse devotionally vs. working through a longer passage: “Hammer your way through a continued argument, just as you would in a profane writer, and the heart will sometimes sing unbidden (from The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis).

Some days, even some seasons of life, like when young children are in the house, our Bible reading may be more like grabbing a quick protein bar instead of sitting down to a meal. There are many good reasons to read the Bible, and sometimes we’re greatly blessed from just reading a passage. While working on this post, I read Julia Bettencort’s great post about reading the Bible for pleasure. Some days our thoughts are already scattered, and focusing on and absorbing a single passage is more helpful than adding notes or references. But we also benefit from studying more in depth at times. Our study informs and enhances our general reading. It’s good to make time for both.

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While we wait

No one enjoys waiting. Even if we’d prefer to put off something we’re not looking forward to, at some point we just want to get it over with. Sometimes waiting enhances the enjoyment of whatever we’re waiting for until it finally comes — cookies baking, marriage, an anticipated outing. Some waits are particular nerve-wracking and even traumatic: a response from a job application or a medical test. Waiting can make us feel impatient, unsettled, and strained.

Wait can be an active as well as a passive verb. A waiter serves others actively. One of the best ways to deal with waiting is to get busy about something else. If we’re serving others or accomplishing some task, we’re not only using our time profitably, but we’re also distracting our thoughts from our wait.

A couple of weeks ago I was reading in 1 Peter and was arrested by verse 7 in chapter 3: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” I’m thankful that all my Christian life, I have been under teaching that emphasizes reading whole chapters and whole books of the Bible rather than isolated verses. I made a list that day of all the things Peter went on to tell people to do and think about until “the end of all things” actually comes. Then today, looking back through all of 1 Peter, I realized “the end of all things” hearkens back to the “living hope” we were born again to “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1:3-5).

Until that time, God has given us plenty to do – not just as a distraction, as busywork, but as that which must be done.

This isn’t a full exposition of 1 Peter, but here are some things I noticed we’re to do while we wait for that inheritance at the end of all things:

Remember:

Remember who you are in Christ if you are a believer: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (2:9).

Remember why you were called: “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (2:9-10). “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (2:5).

Remember your pilgrim status (1:17). 1 Peter 2:11 in the ESV calls us sojourners and exiles; the KJV says strangers and pilgrims.This world is not all there is. It’s not our final destination. We’re “just traveling through,” as the song says. We seek “a better country, that is, a heavenly one,” one God has prepared for them (Hebrews 11:16).

Adjust your thinking and actions:

Feed on God’s Word like babies take in milk (2:2-3). “The word of the Lord remains forever” though all else fails (1:24-25).

Endure tests and trials in a way that honors the Lord (1:6-9; 3:13-17; 4:1-2). He allows them to test and refine us or for other reasons. Remember how Christ suffered unjustly, without threatening, sinning, or reviling, “entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (2:19-25; 3:18). Don’t be surprised at suffering, but glorify God in it and rejoice. “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (4:12-19). Know that you are not alone: others are suffering, too (5:9).And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (5:10-11).

Be holy (1:14-16, 22; 3:10-12, 16-17; 4:3-5). Remember you were delivered from the “passions of your former ignorance” (1:14) and redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ (1:18-20, 23; 2:4-8). “Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (2:1). “As sojourners and exiles . . . abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (2:11-12).

Be sober minded and alert (1:13, 17; 4:7; 5:8). That doesn’t mean you can never laugh or rest. But the tenor of our lives isn’t that of goof-offs. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith” (5:8-9a).

Hope (1:13). “Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Biblical hope isn’t iffy: it’s a confident expectation.

Have a humble mind (3:8; 5:5-6).

Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (5:7).

Rejoice in the inheritance waiting for you (1:6). “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1:8).

Interact with others in these ways:

Love others above everything else, sincerely, earnestly, and continually, from a pure heart,  (1:22; 3:8-9; 4:8).

Submit to God-given authorities (2:13-18; 5:5) unless they tell you to violate the commands of God (Acts 4:18-20).

Honor each other in marriage, the wife submitting to her husband and working on “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” rather that giving undue attention to outward beauty, the husband honoring and protecting his wife (3:1-7).

Don’t retaliate. “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (3:9; 2:19-25).

Be ready to answer. “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (3:15).

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling (4:7).

Use the gifts God gave you (4:10-11) “to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace,” by His strength, for His glory. Especially shepherds (5:1-5)

“This is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it” (1 Peter 5:12b).

All of this instruction is given to believers in Christ. Others passages warn unbelievers not to be so caught up with life’s pleasures and problems that they neglect to think about their need of a Savior now and in eternity and urge them to believe on Christ while there is still time. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:18-21).

___

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When the lines aren’t clear

I’ve been trying to cut down on sweets, so I set a guideline that I’d only have them twice a week. I didn’t want to make it a hard and fast rule: I wanted to allow room for special occasions, unexpected gifts, etc. I had done this before with success and without incessant cravings until a family vacation threw me off course for a while. But while trying to get back on track this time, cravings were rampant.

One day last week I was planning to go grocery shopping and bring home Chick-Fil-A for lunch afterward.  My previous habit for that restaurant was to order one of their chocolate chip cookies, which would become warm and gooey from being placed on top of the sandwiches in the bag. I looked forward to that experience again . . . except for my nagging conscience. I was still within my two-sweet limit. But it was early enough in the week that having the second sweet now would make the rest of the week difficult. So the better part of wisdom would be to forego dessert this time. But my mind sought justification for indulging. “Eating a cookie isn’t a sin, after all. And this is a special occasion: it’s not like I go to Chick-Fil-A every day.”

For hours I justified myself but did not feel completely at ease. Finally something came up which caused me to put my grocery shopping off until later, sidestepping the problem. But the whole experience set off a cascade of thinking.

We’ve all known people with the attitude, “If you can’t show me chapter and verse why something is wrong, you can’t say it’s wrong.” And we’ve probably all thought that way at times. In sane moments we can set wise principles. In temptation or longing, we go beyond principle. We want a definite line in the sand, and we’ll even look for ways around that.

I’ve often wondered why God left some matters to conscience rather than spelling out His preferences. Exactly when does enjoying good food cross over into gluttony? What are the parameters of modesty? What constitutes “going too far” in a physical relationship before marriage? What is the defining line between acceptable and worldly music? What is and is not acceptable on the Lord’s Day?

Some of these and like matters allow for differences in stages of spiritual maturity. Maybe God left some things open for evaluation in order to give people room to grow. The more we grow in the Lord and in knowledge of His Word, the more we become like Him. Also, some standards change with the culture: no one imposes standards of modesty from the 1850s to the current day.

But I’ve often thought that these matters expose our hearts. What’s our basic motivation? Do we really want to please the Lord, or do we just want an excuse to do our own will? Can we follow the spirit of the law, or do we have to have the letter spelled out?

Or do we go to the opposite extreme of legalism? We don’t know where the lines are, so we draw our own. We set our standards high, feel self-righteous when we keep them, and then judge everyone who doesn’t measure up.

If God hasn’t spelled out specifics in some of these areas, and people on different sides of the issues still love God and want to please Him, then do these issues really matter? Well, yes they do. Romans 14 gives several guidelines. Do everything you do as unto the Lord (verses 5-8). We’ll give account to Him for all we do (verses 10-12). Don’t just follow what someone else does, but be fully convinced in your own mind (verses 5, 22-23). Don’t judge or despise someone who differs from you in these matters (verse 3). Don’t think just about yourself, but think also about the effect your actions might have on others (verses 14-21). Seek for what makes for peace and edifying (verse 19).

1 Corinthians helps as well:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial.
“I have the right to do anything”–but I will not be mastered by anything.
(6:12, NIV).
“I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive.
(10:23b, NASB).

The freedom we have in Christ is not freedom to do anything we want: it’s the freedom to seek His grace to yield to Him and reign ourselves in for love of Him and others.

One of our former pastors used to say that if we truly kept the two greatest commandments, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves, we wouldn’t need the specifics laid out. Those two principles would guide everything we do. Yet, because of our penchant for seeking loopholes and exceptions and our own way, we have to have things spelled out for us. Because we don’t keep the spirit of the law, we get the letter.

But how do we make decisions for those things that are not specifically spelled out? Is our heart’s desire ultimately to to see how close we can get to the line of sin without going over — or to please God, glorify Him, and love others?

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Grace and Truth

Recapture Your Wonder

Do you ever find yourself in a rut? Do you approach your quiet time in God’s Word with boredom rather than excitement? Do you find yourself taking God for granted sometimes?

I’ve experienced all of these to varying degrees. So last week while reading a post on dryness in ministry, one phrase caught my attention: “recapture your wonder.” The author referred to Jeremiah 2:19: “Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me.” But beyond the article’s scope of ministry, this applies to so much else in our lives.

Once when reading from a devotional book about the attributes of God, instead of responding in worship or praise or awe, I thought, “Yeah, I know all that already.” I was shocked by my own calloused attitude and jolted into immediately confessing it to God. I asked Him forgive me and quicken me. Then I went back though the verses, praising the Lord for each of the attributes I read there. Then I was thankful, full of praise, uplifted, inspired…and humbled.

What are some ways we can recapture that awe of God?

Praise. So often we think we have to compartmentalize our devotional time: read for so many minutes or so many chapters, and then pray according to a list of needs we have to get through. We get lost in the minutia and forget the greatness of our God. But we can pray as we read the Scriptures. We can praise God for whatever He teaches us from the Word that day as we read. We can look up passages that exalt God and soak in them for a while, like:

Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29:10-13, ESV)

Thanksgiving. Though thanksgiving and praise overlap a bit, I think of praise as exalting God for who he is and thanksgiving as thanking Him for what He does. Like the nine lepers who forgot to thank Jesus for healing them, we take our blessings and run off, forgetting to thank the One who gave them. All through the day when we experience unexpected blessing — an idea works out, someone is unusually kind, an accident is avoided — we can thank Him right in the moment. I’ve seen a meme going around that says, “Sometimes I just look up, smile, and say, ‘I know that was you, God!'”

Remember the relationship. Our time in God’s Word is not just about completing an exercise. It’s communication with the One who made us and loves us best. Even though we sometimes have multiple books and commentaries out while we study a passage, and it feels like homework, we can ask God to help us see Him in it all. We can leave space in our quiet time for thinking over the passage.

Remember our Ebenezers. Israelites in the OT set up a lot of stones as memorials to various events in their lives. In 1 Samuel 7:12, Samuel set up a stone to commemorate God’s deliverance of Israel from the Philistines. “Ebenezer” means “stone of help.” From this story comes the line in the hymn “Come Thou Fount” which says, “Here I raise mine Ebenezer — hither by Thy help I’m come.” A few years ago I wrote a list of my own “Ebeneezers,” times in my life when I knew God had done a specific work in helping or guiding or protecting me in some way. A few years later, I added to them. So often in the Bible, God rehearses His history with His people. It’s good for us to do the same.

All the way my Savior leads me;
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well,
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

~ Fanny Crosby

Remember our salvation. Although our testimony is part of our “Ebeneezers,” going back and recounting how God led us to Himself warms our hearts. “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug” (Isaiah 51:1, ESV). If God had not intervened, my life, not to mention my eternal destiny, would have been filled with sorrow.

Remember your first love. Though God commended the church in Ephesus for several things, He had against them that they had “left their first love.” Even though they were doing the right things, their hearts weren’t in it or they had the wrong focus. Other things had come between them.

Go out into nature. Looking at God’s creation — a beautiful sunset, sun rays piercing though dark clouds, ivory dogwood blossoms against a blue sky, the ocean — inspires awe of the greatness, creativity, artistry, and skill of the One who made them.

Sing. Though singing hymns and spiritual sings is something we can too easily do on automatic pilot, when we really think about what we’re singing, it touches our hearts. A former pastor used to say that we benefit from singing three ways: reading, hearing, and saying the words, providing a triple reinforcement. Sometimes just reading the words like a poem helps reawaken me to their meaning. There are some songs that are especially meaningful for me and are my go-to sings when I need reviving.

Pray. Though I use the ESV more and more, I love the KJV word “quicken,” meaning “to make alive” in some cases, in others, “to revive.” Other verses talk about reviving or turning us. A few:

“My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word” (Psalm 119:25, KJV).

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85:6, ESV).

Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old” (Lamentations 5:21, KJV).

“Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens” (Lamentations 3:40-41, KJV).

We can pray these Scriptures or use our own words, asking God to show us the problem and soften and revive our hearts.

Read the Bible. Though we’ve touched on this, I wanted to emphasize that it’s the Word of God that revives us. “Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction. I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me” (Psalm 119:92-93, KJV). When we’re feeling dry spiritually, we might be tempted to lay aside the Bible until we “feel” more into it. But that’s the time we need it the most. At these times I’m likely to set aside my planned reading for the day and read and pray through some psalms or some passages that have meant a lot to me.

God is so great, so vast, and so holy, yet He cares about every detail of our lives and tenderly draws us to Himself. Taking time to think about who He is and how He shows His love for us can reinspire our awe of Him.

What about you? how do you recapture your wonder of God and all He has done for you?

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Grace and Truth.
Links do not imply 100% endorsement of everything on others’ blogs)

Trusting or Grasping?

We know God has promised to meet our needs, so we pray about them. Then, because the needs are legitimate, we’ve prayed about them, and we have every right (or so we think) to expect them to be met, we push, pull, grasp, or demand instead of trusting.

One example in the Bible is Rebekah. God told her that the twins in her womb would become two nations, one would be stronger, and the older would serve the younger. Rebekah favored the younger, Jacob, perhaps because of this prediction, perhaps because her husband favored Esau, perhaps because Jacob’s more domestic personality meshed better with Rebekah’s – perhaps all of the above. But instead of waiting to see how God would work out His will, Rebekah manipulated and deceived in order to edge Jacob ahead of the game. Not only did Jacob follow her poor example, becoming a manipulator himself, but he had to flee Esau’s wrath, and Rebekah never saw her son again.

Or consider Sarah. God had promised that Abraham would have a son who would bless the nations. But years passed, and Abraham and Sarah had no child. So Sarah decided to help God out and persuaded Abraham to sleep with her handmaid, Hagar. The negative results of that action continues on today in the conflicts between the descendants of Abraham’s sons with Sarah and Hagar.

It’s not wrong to “put feet to our prayers” within God’s will. We trust God to meet our financial needs, and sometimes He does that miraculously, like Peter’s tax money in the fish’s mouth and the widow’s cruse of oil that didn’t run out. But most often He provides for our needs by providing work. When we ask God to meet someone else’s needs, He might lay it on our hearts to be part of the answer by helping them.

But manipulation comes in when we think God isn’t answering in the time or the way we feel best. Instead of waiting to be led by Him, we jump ahead with our own great ideas. Or we’re so afraid our needs won’t be met, we grasp them to ourselves like a football and run over or knock down any obstacles in our way.

Here’s an example. I function best with some time alone. I love the people in my life, and I love the happy chaos of time together. But I get easily over-stimulated and tense without some degree of quiet solitude. So I used to stake out my quiet time and then resent anyone who intruded into it or prevented it. Then I’d get all the more tense.Or I would ignore promptings to minister to others because I needed my solitude instead of trusting God to provide it another time.

When I sought time to write amidst a busy and unpredictable schedule, I’d get frustrated when no time seemed open and either whine or lash out inwardly against the circumstances in my life.

When I needed peace in an anxious moment, I grew frustrated that it wasn’t coming.

None of those scenarios demonstrates trust.  God promises to meet my needs, but that doesn’t mean I can be demanding or resentful if the answer doesn’t come in the way I expected. Trusting that He is going to supply my need doesn’t mean I grasp it with both hands and hang on with all my might.

Trusting means just that. I release my stipulations, my demands, and my ideas of the best ways everything should work out. I trust that He will meet my need or enable me to get by without it, as Paul did when he learned to be full or to be hungry, to be content in any situation.

Instead of staking out my quiet time and fending off everything and everyone, I can trust that God knew my needs and will provide for them in ways I can’t yet see.

If someone interrupts my quiet time, I can remind myself that it happened to Jesus, too. I can remember His admonition to seek first His kingdom, and all these other things will be added unto me. I can see interruptions as allowed by His hand. Did you realize that the woman with the issue of blood was an interruption? Jesus was on His way to heal the daughter of Jairus when He felt this woman’s touch of faith and confronted her. The Bible doesn’t say how Jairus felt about it, but I can imagine how I would feel in his place – especially when he received word that his ill daughter died. But Jesus continued on to Jairus’ house and raised his daughter. If Jairus was stewing and fretting, he didn’t need to.

When I realized this, I wish I could say it changed my view of interruptions forever. I still have to battle resentment and remind myself that God is sovereign over those as well as the bigger trials of life.

When my children were young, I’d get to the end of the day and lament that I hadn’t found a quiet moment to read the Bible. I began asking God at the beginning of the day to help me recognize those opportune moments. And He did.

Recently, for whatever reason, I was revved up and on edge, but the rest of the day was full, and I didn’t foresee an opportunity to just chill and relax. I bought it up to the Lord, and somehow He relaxed me and helped me to enjoy the rest of the evening without stress.

I am thankful Paul said he learned contentment whether in need or not. I haven’t aced the class yet, but I am learning. God knows my needs. I don’t have to grasp for His answer or manipulate circumstances or people in order to get it. I can rest in Him, trusting Him to meet them in the way and time He knows is best and will bring Him the most glory.

 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. 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. Philippians 4:5-7

Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall. Ruth 3:18a, KJV

Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.
Thou hast bid me gaze upon Thee,
And Thy beauty fills my soul,
For by Thy transforming power,
Thou hast made me whole.

O, how great Thy loving kindness,
Vaster, broader than the sea!
O, how marvelous Thy goodness,
Lavished all on me!
Yes, I rest in Thee, Belovèd,
Know what wealth of grace is Thine,
Know Thy certainty of promise,
And have made it mine.

Simply trusting Thee, Lord Jesus,
I behold Thee as Thou art,
And Thy love, so pure, so changeless,
Satisfies my heart;
Satisfies its deepest longings,
Meets, supplies its every need,
Compasseth me round with blessings:
Thine is love indeed!

Ever lift Thy face upon me
As I work and wait for Thee;
Resting ’neath Thy smile, Lord Jesus,
Earth’s dark shadows flee.
Brightness of my Father’s glory,
Sunshine of my Father’s face,
Keep me ever trusting, resting,
Fill me with Thy grace.

Refrain

Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.

~ Jean S. Pigott

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Grace and Truth)

The Essence of Prayer

So many posts and articles I see concerning prayer try to offer something new and exciting to the table. Sometimes it’s a particular form, ritual, or activity. One title said something like “5 Prayers to Unleash God’s Power in Your Life.” As if we have God on a leash!

I wonder if we’ve forgotten the essence of prayer. We’re told when we first become Christians that Christianity is not just a list of rules or a system of activities: it’s a relationship with God. But sometimes we can lose that focus and end up just doing things rotely. Remembering that we’re communicating with a Person can transform our viewpoint. The Bible uses different metaphors to picture the various aspects of our relationship with God: father/child, bride/bridegroom, shepherd/sheep, king/subject, master/servant, Savior/sinner, teacher/disciple.  Sometimes we approach God with those different aspects in mind. I most commonly think of prayer as just talking to our heavenly Father due to the prayer Jesus taught, the one we commonly call “The Lord’s Prayer.” We don’t search for different forms with which to talk to our earthly parents: why do we do so with God?

Well, prayer is a little different. For one, we can’t see God, so that feels a little awkward sometimes. And, for another, He is God, after all. That can be a little intimidating. And then, how can we have a conversation when we fall asleep mid-sentence or have to juggle massive prayer lists?

The best place to learn to pray is the Bible. We don’t have to restrict ourselves to just the words of Scripture, but they can form the basis of our approach to God. Jesus gave us a pattern for prayer in what is commonly called “the Lord’s prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13). The psalms give us multiple examples of someone pouring his heart out to God, even his not-so-nice feelings, reminding himself of truths about his God and straightening out his thinking. The epistles include marvelous examples of prayer. When we pray these Scriptures, we know we’re praying according to God’s will. We base our hope in God’s answer on what He has said. David said, “O LORD God, the word that thou hast spoken concerning thy servant, and concerning his house, establish it for ever, and do as thou hast said.” (2 Samuel  7:25, KJV). The psalmist of 119 said, ” Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope” (verse 49).

Other Bible passages provide wonderful examples of prayer that we can learn from. Nehemiah’s quick prayer before answering the king (Nehemiah 2:1-8) is one of my favorites, because I send up those quick requests for help or wisdom frequently. On the other end of the spectrum are all 176 verses of Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible. We have Daniel’s prayer, Habakkuk’s, Jesus’ prayer for His disciples in John 17, His agonized prayer in Gethsemane, Paul’s and Peter’s prayers for their readers in the epistles, and multitudes of others. I’ve copied various prayers from the Bible into the “Notes” section of my phone to have them quickly available. One of my favorites is from Colossians 1:9-12 (KJV):

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.

See how immensely different this prayer is from the kinds of prayer requests we usually share with each other? It’s certainly not wrong to pray for health needs and financial concerns and such, but we need the elements in this prayer so much more than any physical desire.

Sometimes we compartmentalize our quiet time with a certain amount of Bible reading, prayer, and maybe memorization. But we can pray while we’re reading the Scripture. When we come to a passage of praise, we can lift our hearts in praise to God right in that moment: we don’t have to make a note of it to remember later when we pray. It’s the same with a petition or intercession for others. When something we read in the Bible reminds us of a need in our lives or others’ we can stop and pray right then. I used to think something wasn’t “officially” prayed for unless I had mentioned it during my quiet time, but later I learned I could talk to God all day, mentioning requests and concerns as they arose.

The Bible says that the marriage relationship pictures that of Christ and the church. So let’s compare the two in the realm of communication. Husbands understand if a wife has a super-busy day or if she is tired. But if that happens all the time, and she is frantically running around taking care of children, housework, even outside ministries, and never has time to just sit down with him, he’s not going to feel loved and wanted. If she spends the time they do talk in losing focus, daydreaming, pondering what to put on her grocery list, he is not going to feel heard. If the only time she communicates with him is on the run while doing other things or when she needs him to do something, or if their only conversation is in the last few  minutes before sleep when they’re drifting off in mid-sentence, their relationship is going to suffer.

There is nothing wrong with those types of communication in themselves. We are to pray without ceasing, all through the day, even while doing other things, as I mentioned before. He wants us to come to Him with our needs, and ending the day talking with Him is lovely. But there needs to be some times of just pure focus on Him, on worship and learning from Him. Even though God doesn’t “need” us in the same sense a husband does, He wants to fellowship with us, and He knows we need to hear Him.

Because we’re easily distractible, sometimes it does help to have something to help us remember what we’re doing. Some use acronyms, like ACTS: adoration, confession of sin, thanksgiving, and supplication. Another is PRAY: pray, repent, ask, yield. Sometimes if I have a hard time keeping my thoughts together, I pray through the Lord’s prayer, stopping at each phrase to expand the thought in my own words. For instance: “‘Our Father, which art in heaven’…thank you for your omniscience. You know every care in my heart as well as the rest of the world. Thank You for Your power, Your Holiness, Your love,” and so on.

Elisabeth Elliot said of distractions:

Distractions can be useful. They provide constant reminders of our human weakness. We recognize in them how earthbound we are, and then how completely we must depend on the help of the Holy Spirit to pray in and through us. We are shown, by a thousand trivialities, how trivial are our concerns. The very effort to focus, even for a minute, on higher things, is foiled, and we see that prayer–the prerequisite for doing anything for God–cannot be done without Him. We are not, however, left to fend for ourselves.

The Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words, and God who knows everything in our hearts knows perfectly well what he means, and that the pleas of the saints expressed by the Spirit are according to the mind of God” (Romans 8:26-27 JB) (A Lamp For My Feet).

In another place, Elisabeth said:

When I stumble out of bed in the morning, put on a robe, and go into my study, words do not spring spontaneously to my lips–other than words like, “Lord, here I am again to talk to you. It’s cold. I’m not feeling terribly spiritual….” Who can go on and on like that morning after morning, and who can bear to listen to it day after day?

I need help in order to worship God. Nothing helps me more than the Psalms. Here we find human cries–of praise, adoration, anguish, complaint, petition. There is an immediacy, an authenticity, about those cries. They speak for me to God–that is, they say what I often want to say, but for which I cannot find words.

Surely the Holy Spirit preserved those Psalms in order that we might have paradigms of prayer and of our individual dealings with God. It is immensely comforting to find that even David, the great king, wailed about his loneliness, his enemies, his pains, his sorrows, and his fears. But then he turned from them to God in paeans of praise.

He found expression for praise far beyond my poor powers, so I use his and am lifted out of myself, up into heights of adoration, even though I’m still the same ordinary woman alone in the same little room. (From the chapter “Meeting God Alone” in On Asking God Why).

She went on to say that hymns were another source she used. They often combined prayer and praise

So sometimes we can use these boosts to our prayers as long as we remember that relationships are built on and maintained by communication, not just going through motions, not just repeating “vain repetitions” (Matthew 6:7, KJV), or “empty phrases” (ESV). God communicates with us through the Bible; we communicate with Him through prayer. May we always keep in mind that our time in prayer and the Word of God is communication with the One who loves us more than anyone else could and desires our fellowship and worship.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire)

 

Strong Women

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A friend and I were discussing the two half-sisters in The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Marian Halcombe is gracious, smart, strong, and capable, but ugly. Laura Fairlie is pretty and sweet, but somewhat weak and fragile. You can guess which one gets the guy.

That discussion led to thinking about other women in literature. Dora, the first love of David Copperfield, was pretty, sweet, and charming, but childish and totally inept as a household manager. She even told him to think of her as a “child wife.” After failed attempts to strengthen Dora, David had to just accept and love her as she was. But Agnes, his friend whom he later came to love after Dora’s death, was steady, capable, strong, and mature, and they could support and help each other. Lucie Manette from A Tale of Two Cities came up in the aforementioned discussion as a Victorian ideal of the weak damsel in distress, but I disagreed. I think she had to be very strong to take in a father who was mentally disabled after so many years locked up unjustly in the Bastille and and nurse him back to health. Then she traveled to France at the height of the French Revolution to find out what had happened to her husband when she feared he was in danger. Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility is another strong literary woman. She was steady, had to manage the household frugally even when the rest of the family complained, had to reign in her emotions to do the honorable thing, as opposed to her sister, Marianne, who gave free reign to her emotions and whims. Ma Ingalls is another: I honestly don’t know how she dealt with the sheer hard work of her life as well as the loneliness of being away from other people so much.

I am not a feminist by any means, but I do like to see a female protagonist who does have some umph to her, who adds more to the story than a pretty face.

Besides literary examples, we have a plethora of strong women in the Bible. How could Mary, the mother of Jesus, endure all she did without His strength? Other strong biblical woman are Jochebed, Moses’ mother, who defied Pharaoh to protect her son; Rahab, who took a great risk to hide the Hebrew spies because of her faith in their God; Deborah, a judge who went to battle; Hannah, in grief over her barrenness, yet knowing to whom to turn; Esther, who risked her life to intercede for her people before the king; Priscilla, who helped her husband in business and in discipling; Mary and Martha, strong in different ways; Joanna and the other women who ministered to Jesus’s needs, and so many more.

Being strong is not an unfeminine trait. In fact, Proverbs 31 says of the virtuous woman, “She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms,” and “Strength and honour are her clothing.”

She is strong in character: excellent, or virtuous in some versions (verse 10), trustworthy (verse 11), does her husband good (verse 12), kind and compassionate (verses 20, 26), characterized by honor (or dignity in some versions) (verse 25), praiseworthy (28-31).

She is strong in industriousness and initiative: She “works with willing hands” (verse 13), she gets up early to start work and serve others (verse 15) – she’s not still in bed late in the morning waiting on someone to serve her (except maybe on special occasions), she weaves and knows her products are good (verse 18-19), she works into the evening (verse 18), she makes nice clothing (verse 21-22, 24), she makes products to sell (verse 24), she looks well to the ways of her household and is not idle (verse 27).

She is strong physically (verses 17, 25): she plants (verse 16),

She is strong mentally and intellectually: she seeks good products and prices (verses 13, 14, 16), she plans ahead for bad weather (verse 21), she is wise (verse 26).

She is strong spiritually: she fears the Lord (verse 30).

We can sometimes get discouraged just thinking about this epitome of womanhood, but as I like to say, she didn’t do all of that in a single day. And I don’t think we have to take up weaving, plant a vineyard, or have a home business to become virtuous women. But taken as a whole, the tenor of her life is that of strength, industry, and honor. She is definitely not a “damsel in distress,” but she doesn’t need to assert her strength by challenging her husband or stepping into his role.

Admittedly we all experience times of weakness, tiredness, and weariness, and there are times we do need rescue. I’ve so appreciated the times my husband has come to my aid when I’ve gotten stuck or over my head in a project, behind in getting ready for company, overwhelmed with a ministry activity, etc. As a family we all pitch in and help wherever needed rather than standing back and saying, “That’s your responsibility, not mine.” There is nothing wrong with a husband helping and serving his wife: if he loves as Christ loves the church, Christ helps and serves us. But I did struggle in early marriage with wanting my husband to help me in every little thing and having to remember that I am supposed to be a help meet for him. We don’t depend on our husbands instead of the Lord, but we do depend on their God-given assets and strengths. Our husbands also need to depend on us to be able to stand strong in the Lord’s strength. And God enables us to minister to others and give of ourselves even when we feel depleted.

We don’t usually step up to the brink of adulthood or marriage strong in all the ways we need to be. Strength of character has to be developed just as physical strength does. When you first start exercising physically, the first thing you notice is how weak and out of shape you really are, but starting to exercise even in weakness is the first step to developing strength. Often God develops strength in us by putting us in situations where we are totally weak. I could not have endured my husband’s many travels without learning to lean on the Lord for strength, but I was pretty much a basket case at first. I can remember the dismay of realizing as a young mother that I couldn’t just take to my bed when I was sick when I had little ones to take care of. I was probably overly dependent on my husband at first, but had to learn how to make decisions and take care of things while he was at work and out of reach.

Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth were missionaries to China from1888-1936. She had written his biography, and then by request wrote Climbing, one of my all-time favorite books, about missionary life and furlough from her perspective. She writes not as a “super-Christian,” but rather as a woman “of like passions” as we are. She writes in one place:

It was while I had a large family of little children about me and mission work was pressing heavily upon me, while feeling burdened and that strength was insufficient, I sought to find in God’s Word whether there were any conditions to be fulfilled for the receiving of divine strength. The result of this study was a surprise and joy to me, and later a blessing and help to many to whom I passed it on, for every condition the weakest could fulfill!

Conditions of receiving strength

1. Weaknesses. II Cor. 12:9-10
2. No might. Isa. 40:29
3. Sitting still. Isa. 30:7
4. Waiting on God. Isa. 40:31
5. Quietness. Isa. 30:15
6. Confidence. Isa. 30:15
7. Joy in the Lord. Neh. 8:10
8. Poor. Isa. 25:4
9. Needy. Isa. 25:4
10 Dependence on Christ. Phil. 4:13

The key is in Hebrew 11:32-34: “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”

Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. 12:9-10).

The song “I Could Not Do Without Thee” by Francis Ridley Havergal says it well:

I could not do without Thee,
I cannot stand alone,
I have no strength or goodness,
No wisdom of my own;
But Thou, beloved Savior,
Art all in all to me,
And weakness will be power
If leaning hard on Thee.

May you “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Ephesians 6:10) today.

(Revised from the archives)

Update: I discovered this afternoon that Dr. Michelle Bengtson’s post, 10 Scriptures for When You Need Strength, shared even more from God’s Word to strengthen us.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Share a Link Wednesdays, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth, Booknificent)

Giving out of our poverty

We’ve probably all experienced this: someone needs time, attention, affection, ministry, or something else from us right when we feel we have nothing left, yet we don’t feel we can refuse.

I’m not talking about a people-pleaser who is drowning in obligations because she doesn’t want to disappoint anyone. We can’t say yes to everything. We all have legitimate limitations, some more than others due to physical conditions or other obligations.

But sometimes you’re a mom with three sick children, and you can’t stop giving them what they need. Or you’re looking for a few minutes of quiet respite after a busy day, when your poor husband, who is supposed to come first and has been sadly lacking in the attention department, needs you. Or you’ve been pouring into a work or ministry project, and the other person on the project falls ill or forgets or just doesn’t do their part. Or you’ve prayed about something someone requested of you, and you have every reason to say no, but you just can’t shake the feeling you’re supposed to say yes.

Recently when I was in one of these situations, God did give me grace to say yes and blessed my efforts. And as I thought over the whole situation, the Macedonians came to mind. What Macedonians? The ones in 2 Corinthians 8. Paul had been raising money to help the believers in Jerusalem. The Macedonians, though in “extreme poverty . . . overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (verse 2). They gave not only “according to their means,” but “beyond their means.” They didn’t have to be coerced; in fact, they were “begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” (verse 4). They gave with abundant joy (verse 2). And, perhaps the secret to it all, they “gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (verse 5).

Paul comes back to the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 9, pointing out that Christians are to give, “not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (verse 7). He reminds that “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (verse 6). He shares that “the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.” Their service not only helps meet others’ needs, but it brings glory and thanksgiving to God as they recognize that He’s the one who supplied through His saints. And Paul encourages that:

God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God (verses 8-11).

Though Paul is talking about financial giving, I have found the principles to apply in other types of giving as well. I think of the poor widow of Zarephath who was about to make the last meal for herself and her son and then prepare to die. Just at that point, the prophet asked her for food. She could have said, “Are you crazy?” But she did as the prophet asked, and “The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah” (1 Kings 17: 16). I remember a preacher sharing an experience when he got into a taxi after an exhausting stretch of traveling and preaching. He just wanted to enjoy the quiet and rest. But the driver wanted to chat, and the preacher was able to listen and then share truth from God’s Word. I think of the apostle Paul, who said at one point, “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” But, he said, “that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10).

There are times God wants us to say “No.” There are times when we need to step back, perhaps to let another lead the way, perhaps to rest and recuperate. But when God calls us to do something, even when we feel depleted, we can lean on Him for grace and provision to give to others.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Wise Woman Titus 2 Link-up, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)