Thanksgiving is fast-approaching. Many families have a tradition where they go around the table listing what they’re thankful for. It has been an especially dark year and this year as Thanksgiving looms closer, it’s been on my heart that many people will feel they don’t have much, if anything, new to be thankful for. In these unprecedented times, there’s so many challenges that we never believed we’d be met with. You might never have imagined pastoring a church, shepherding a flock through a global pandemic, political division that causes rifts in families and church families and friends. I never imagined as a worship leader calling people to rejoice in the Lord that had especially heavy hearts that felt impossible to lift. You never thought you’d be trying to parent and lead your children and family through the same issues. Jesus warned us about so much of this in the book of Matthew but we never pictured ourselves as part of the story. You might be feeling frustrated, exhausted, overwhelmed, ill-equipped, and spread thin, but thankfulness probably doesn’t make your list right now.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Paul wrote this first letter to the newborn church in Thessalonia either a few weeks or months after establishing the church and then leaving after teaching on three Sabbaths. I love this book because not only is it a letter of encouragement in the faith that is irreplaceable to new Christians, it also serves to strengthen and encourage us when our hearts grow hard and our faith becomes weak.
There’s not a Christian in the world that has a straight-shot perfect journey through life. Faith isn’t a natural human response, it isn’t easy to believe especially during the hard times. No, faith is forged in fire. We stumble through the valley seasons and during our climb up the mountains to the peak seasons. I cannot tell you how many times I have spiritually taken my eyes off of Christ and started to sink. Faith is tested time and again. 1 Peter 1:6-7 says, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;”
So where does this leave us? The Bible tells us to rejoice, pray, and give thanks, at all times, even now in a valley season, even now when we are so tired. Even now, as leaders of your church and/or family, people are looking to you for guidance and wisdom. How do we carry out the command God has given us through Paul when the feeling isn’t there?
I think it helps to dissect this into three parts and also realize that you can’t do any one of these things without also doing the other two.
1. Rejoice Always
When Paul says, “rejoice” he is not talking about feelings. You don’t have to fake joy in the presence of the Lord, you would never be able to fool Him anyway - He knows your every thought and every desire and the depths of your heart. Here, I believe it ties directly in with John 15:9-11: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15 includes the well-known parable of the vine and branches (beginning with verse 1) and Jesus reminds us later in the chapter to abide in Him. Abide is an interesting choice of wording here. The Psalmists commonly used the word “dwell” which means “to live”. People commonly confuse “abide” with “rest”. Abide means to “endure without yielding” or “to bear patiently”. To endure something, or to suffer for it, or to bear it, that is the true nature of bearing the cross. It’s the perfect word to describe the effort it takes to sustain an active and strong faith in the face of the darkness of this world and a passionate and loyal love of God over anything else in this world.
Choosing Christ and abiding in Him takes endurance. It takes effort. But when we abide in Christ, He makes our joy complete. We cannot summon joy within ourselves. We cannot create true, lasting joy from anything on this earth. It comes from Him and Him alone. We can rejoice when we abide in Him because He is our joy.
2. Pray Without Ceasing
My favorite of the three commands, this goes hand in hand with abiding in Christ and enduring in the good fight. Again, you cannot have one of these three things without the other two. Praying without ceasing, being in constant conversation with the Lord keeps our eyes on Him. It keeps our mind and heart guarded, it keeps us on the path, it keeps our faith strong and our hope secure. Prayer is the priority. You simply cannot stay firm in the faith, especially in the valleys, without it. The world is attacking the priority of prayer these days by spewing lies about how it’s equivalent to doing nothing, but don’t let that discourage you and throw you off the course. It is the most we can do. It is the best we can do, because we are putting every situation into the hands of the Most High God who hung the planets and counted the stars and brought forth the universe with just the sound of His voice. There is nothing we can do in our own strength. Prayer gives us clarity, it strengthens us, it is a time God can point us in the right direction or lead us to an answer or action he wants us to take. Dear friend, don’t ever stop praying. There are no greater weapons against darkness than the sword of the spirit: the word of God, prayer, and praise. You are not ill-equipped in these times, you are equipped with all you need to get through the darkest of days. Pray.
3. Give Thanks in All Circumstances
There’s a reason this was listed after prayer. When Jesus taught us to pray, He didn’t begin the prayer with a list of needs, He didn’t begin the prayer with a list of complaints. He began His prayer with praise. “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.” Put in simpler terms, He said, “Heavenly Father, You are holy and I honor you.” He worshiped with a reverent and thankful heart before anything else. He placed praise ahead of His requests. At the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus took five loaves of bread and three fish and gave thanks for them even though it wasn’t enough and the disciples were telling Him to send everyone home because they were not expecting a miracle. The night of the last supper, Jesus, knowing full well what was to come and what the bread at the table symbolized, gave thanks for it, the symbol of what suffering was to come for Him, a suffering so brutal and intense that later in the garden of Gethsemane He would sweat blood while asking the Father to take the cup from Him if it was His will. If Jesus can give thanks in the face of darkness, when it looks like there’s not enough, so can we. We can give thanks even as far as in the face of death because Jesus won the victory over it.
Lastly, may I remind you dear reader, whether you lead a church, a small group or team, your family, I’m sure someone is looking to you in these times for hope, wisdom and guidance, but you cannot offer them hope on your own. Our job as leaders is not to give out hope and peace and comfort - that is God’s job and God’s job alone. In the Bible only Jesus offered hope. The apostles in the early church preached messages of pressing on and fighting the good fight of faith and most importantly, they pointed the early churches to Jesus. That was their job as leaders and that is our job now.
We cannot lift heavy hearts, but we can encourage people to take the last bit of strength they have when their faith feels weak to just lift their eyes to the hills to see the Lord, where our help comes from, where our hope comes from, where our joy comes from. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, abide in Him, endure, and fight the good fight, and in Him, we will find our hope.
A long-time Christian would answer questions like the following with a resolute YES:
“Is God all-powerful?”
“Is God working all things together for good?”
“Can God do miracles?”
As someone who grew up in the church, who has known Jesus so deeply and personally from a young age, I’ve learned that what we know and what we believe are very different things. We know all of the biblical examples of God’s power. We know of the creation of the world. We know of the flood, the mighty signs and wonders documented in Exodus and shown through the prophets. We know of the miracles Jesus performed during His ministry, ending with the most victorious and critical miracle of all - the Resurrection. We know God did those things, and often times there’s no question in our minds. If the above questions were rapid fire, we wouldn’t need even a second to think about it. But - when it comes to God being active in our lives, when it comes down to faith in Him for what we hope for, the solidity of our belief is significantly more fragile.
It’s so easy to believe in things that have happened. But each trial is different than another and in the vulnerable thick of our pain, the enemy tries to convince us that this thing; this illness, this financial struggle, this family problem, this depression or anxiety, this brokenness, THIS is the thing that is too far gone for God to intervene. The enemy so easily convinces us, whether we are conscious of it or not, that this is the thing God cannot fix. But, to quote CS Lewis, “Readers are advised to remember that the devil is a liar.”
Jesus Himself says in Matthew 19:26, “With God, all things are possible.” There is nothing beyond God’s ability to save, restore, and make use of in His kingdom.
In Matthew 9:27-30, two blind men were confronted with this directly as they pleaded for their healing. “As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”
When He had gone indoors, the blind men came to Him, and He asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”
“Yes, Lord,” they replied.
Then He touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you” and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” (NIV).
These men had just seen Jesus agree to resurrect a young girl from the dead and on the way, He’d healed the woman with the issue of blood. They knew, much like we do, that Jesus was powerful. But He stops and He asks them, “Do you believe I am able to do this?”
In Charles Spurgeon’s sermon #1355: “Our Lord’s Question to the Blind Men”, he writes: “But now I want to lay stress on another word of my text and I want you to lay stress on it, too. “Believe you that I am able to do this?” Now, it would have been of no use for these blind men to say, “We believe that You can raise the dead.” “No,” says Christ, “the matter at hand is the opening of your eyes. Believe you that I am able to do this?” They might have replied, “Good Master, we believe that You did staunch the woman’s issue when she touched Your garment.” “No,” says He, “that is not the question. Your eyes have now to be attended to. You need sight and the question about your faith is, believe you that I am able to do this?”
“Ah, some of you can believe for other people, but we must bring the question more fully home to you and say, “Believe you that Christ is able to save you--even you? Is He able to do this?” Possibly I address someone who has gone very far in sin. It may be, my friend, you have crowded a great deal of iniquity into a short space. You went in for a short life and a merry one, and according to your present prospects you are likely enough to have a short life, but the merriment is pretty nearly over with you already and as you look back upon your life, you reflect that never did a young man or a young woman throw life away more foolishly than you have done.
“Now then, do you desire to be saved? Can you say from your heart that you do? Answer me, then, this further question, Do you believe that Jesus Christ is able to do this, namely, to blot out all your sins, to renew your heart, and to save you tonight? “Oh, sir, I do believe He is able to forgive sin.” But believe you that He is able to forgive your sin? You, yourself are the case in hand. How holds your faith on that point? Let the cases of others alone just now and consider yourself. Believe you that He is able to do this? This—this sin of yours, this misspent life—is Jesus able to cope with this? On your answer to that question everything depends. It is an idle faith which dreams of believing in the Lord’s power over others, but then declares that it has no confidence in Him for itself. You must believe that He is able to do this—this which concerns you or you are for all practical purposes an unbeliever.
“I know I am speaking to a great many persons who never did go into the vices of the world. I thank God on your behalf that you have been kept in the ways of morality and sobriety and honesty. Yet I have known that some of you almost wish, or at least it has occurred to you that you might almost wish—that you had been great, open sinners, that you might be preached to as open sinners are, and that you might see a change in yourself equal to what you have seen in some of them, about whose conversion you can never doubt.
“Do not indulge in so unwise a wish, but listen while I put this question to you also. Your case is that of a moralist who has obeyed every outward duty, but has neglected his God—the case of a moralist who feels as if repentance were to him impossible, because he has been so long eaten up with self- righteousness that he knows not how to cut out the gangrene. The Lord Jesus Christ can as easily save you from your self-righteousness as He can save another from his guilty habits. Do you believe that He is able to do this? Come now, do you believe that He is able to meet this, your own peculiar case? Give me a “yes” or a “no” to this question.
“Alas,” cries one of you, “my heart is so hard.” Do you believe that He can soften it? Suppose it is as hard as granite—do you now believe that the Christ of God can turn it into wax in a moment? Suppose your heart is as fickle as the wind and waves of the sea—can you believe that He can make you stable- minded and settle you upon the Rock of Ages forever? If you believe in Him, He will do this for you, for according to your faith shall it be unto you. But I know the pinch lies here. Everybody tries to run away to the thought that he does believe in Christ’s power for others, but he trembles for himself. But I must hold each man to the point which concerns himself. I must buttonhole you and bring you to the real test. Jesus asks each one of you, “Believe you that I am able to do this?”
“Why,” says one, “it would be the most surprising thing that the Lord Jesus ever did if He were to save me tonight.” Do you believe that He can do it? Will you trust Him to do it now?
“But it will be such a strange thing, such a miracle!” The Lord Jesus works strange things, it is the way of Him. He was ever a miracle-worker. Can you believe Him able to do this for you, even this, which is now needed to save you?
“It is wonderful, the power which faith has—power over the Lord Jesus Himself. I have often experienced in my little way how confidence will master you. Have you not frequently been conquered by the trustfulness of a tiny child? The simple request was too full of trust to be refused. Have you ever been grasped by a blind man at a street crossing who has said to you, “Sir, would you take me across the road?” And then, perhaps, he has said somewhat cunningly, “I know by the tone of your voice that you are kind. I feel I can trust myself with you.” At such a time you have felt that you were in for it—you could not let him go.
“And when a soul says to Jesus, “I know You can save me, my Lord. I know You can, therefore in You do I trust,” why He cannot shake you off. He cannot wish to do so, for He has said, “Him that comes to me, I will in no wise cast out.” I sometimes tell a story to illustrate this. It is a simple tale enough, but it shows how faith wins everywhere. Many years ago my garden happened to be surrounded by a hedge, which looked green, but was a poor protection. A neighbor’s dog was very fond of visiting my garden and as he never improved my flowers, I never gave him a cordial welcome.
“Walking along quietly one evening, I saw him doing mischief. I threw a stick at him and advised him to go home, but how did the good creature reply to me? He turned round and wagged his tail, and in the merriest manner picked up my stick and brought it to me, and laid it at my feet. Did I strike him? No, I am not a monster. I should have been ashamed of myself if I had not patted him on the back and told him to come there whenever he liked. He and I were friends directly, because, you see, he trusted me and conquered me.
Now, simple as the story is, that is just the philosophy of a sinner’s faith in Christ. As the dog mastered the man by confiding in him, so a poor guilty sinner does, in effect, master the Lord Himself by trusting Him when he says, “Lord, I am a poor dog of a sinner and You might drive me away, but I believe You to be too good for that. I believe You can save me, and lo! I trust myself with You. Whether I am lost or saved, I trust myself with You.” Ah, dear heart, you will never be lost if you thus trust. He who trusts himself with Jesus has given the answer to the question, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” and there is nothing now left but for him to go his way and rejoice, for the Lord has opened his eyes and saved him.”
So, dear reader, I want you to take a moment, even right now, and think of that thing. The thing maybe you are too ashamed to pray for, or maybe it’s the thing that’s far too painful to talk about or impossible to talk about without crying. I want you to think of the thing that’s holding you back, the thing that’s the eye of your storm, the cause of your brokenness, the gnarl in your heart, that thing. Maybe it’s multiple things you’ve let pile up. Maybe it’s something you used to pray for all the time but never saw an answer so you gave up on it and God’s ability to fix it. Maybe you prayed skeptically, “Lord, it would be so great if THIS was taken from me, if this was healed” but you didn’t really believe it would happen, perhaps it was a prayer to “cover all of your bases” so to speak. Maybe it’s something that you have struggled with your entire life and have accepted it as “the way things are”. The Lord is asking you now, “Do you believe I can do THAT?” And all you need to say earnestly and honestly is, “Yes, Lord.”
Luke 24:13-35 tells the story of the road to Emmaus:
“Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus Himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing Him.
He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas,asked Him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” He asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed Him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified Him; but we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find His body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said He was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if He were going farther. But they urged Him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So He went in to stay with them.
When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, and He disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when He broke the bread.” (NIV).
It’s quite easy to put yourself in the shoes of Cleopas and his friend. The Scriptures tell us they were downcast. The two men referred to Jesus not as the Messiah, but as a prophet, and they referred to Him in the past tense as they described Him to Jesus. They’d lost all hope, they’d lost all faith, they couldn’t see what God was doing and they stopped believing He was who He said He was.
How many times have we become downcast and lost all hope? How many times have we missed seeing Jesus and forgotten his promises because we have no faith left? How many times have we been frustrated and depressed because we believe a lie the enemy tells us that maybe if God didn’t work things out exactly the way we had hoped and anticipated, He isn’t working at all and maybe, just maybe that means He isn’t who He says He is. I’m guilty of believing these lies and falling into the darkness, blinded to Him.
In the case of Cleopas and his friend, God kept them from seeing Jesus as who He was. I find this so confirming and interesting. Many times during His ministry, Jesus healed the blind. It was their faith that made them well and opened their eyes. Spiritually we need that same faith to open the eyes of our hearts so we can see Him today and see how He is working in our lives even when it’s not the way we expect.
Jesus referred to Himself as the Light of the World many times during His ministry. Without Him, we walk in darkness where we cannot see. It is our faith and hope in the Living God that invites Him into our lives to illuminate the path we are walking, to see Him at work in our lives.
Cleopas and his friend received spiritual sight in an intimate setting with Jesus, where He broke bread which is now a sacred, symbolic act of thanksgiving and remembrance to our Lord - Holy Communion. Despite their downcast spirits, their hopeless hearts, and being in the thick of a dark period of grieving as they mourned the death of Jesus, they invited Him in.
Dear friends, I encourage you today to invite Him in. Even if you are having a hard time believing, even if your faith and hope are gone and you are stumbling in the dark, invite Him in. Worship anyway. Take communion during your quiet time with Him while you read the Bible to remind yourself who He is, what He’s done and that He is victorious above all sin, darkness, disease, death, and the enemy. Remind your soul who He is and allow Him to illuminate all of the dark places in your circumstances, or into the dark circumstances of the world. With a looming election, a pandemic, and many other national and global events that seem to put more at stake than ever before in our broken world, remind your spirit that He is still working. It may not be the way you hope, or the way you expect. Your faith may be weak and your hope may be broken, but remind your soul. David pleaded with his soul many times in the Psalms, commanding it to believe, to worship, and to have faith. We can do that too, and we must. There is no other way to navigate our way through this journey we are on in life (one the road to Emmaus symbolized), but by the Light of the World.
I have recently had conversations with a few different people and they’ve all expressed to me that the healing process is an impatient one. They’ve let me know that they wish they could fast-forward to the part where they are whole and the best version of themselves. I empathize so greatly with that feeling it moves me to tears. There have been many trials in my life where I’ve clung tightly to that very thought. Then Jesus reminds me that He used metaphors like Gardener and Potter for the Father for a reason.
Healing is a process. Physical healing is normally the easiest to be patient for, excluding some cases, because although you might be held back by broken bones, illness or pain, you can typically see the progress with your own eyes. It’s rare that you regress. But spiritual and emotional healing, that’s where the impatience can grow. That’s where our faith is forged in fire.
A few years ago, during a very, very low valley season in my life, I was struggling with a lot of intense anxiety about certain things going on at the time and had long forgotten what peace felt like. Without going into too much detail, every day felt like I was imprisoned by fear. One night I cried out to the Father, I remember just being able to say under my breath, “I just don’t want this anymore. Please take this burden from me, I can’t live like this anymore.”
Once I’d surrendered to Him, once I’d moved my focus from my fear to Him, the healing began, and it was slow. Some days felt better, others it felt like I’d been climbing a mountain and doing SO great, and then I’d slip on a loose rock and go back to where I’d started. Sometimes the idea of a life where I didn’t daily have to fight past my fears and doubts and could just wake up happy and at peace seemed utterly impossible, and I’d forget that my hope was in God, the Maker of heaven and earth and I’d mourn for a version of myself I thought I’d never be able to achieve. Some days it felt like maybe those good days were an anomaly and He hadn’t heard my prayer at all.
But little by little, I began to realize that I was changing. Days that I stumbled didn’t seem so severe because my hope began to grow, and it occurred to me that He was replacing my fear and worry and sadness with joy and my faith in Him and His ability to remain victorious over fear, something He’d long since defeated, was becoming unshakable. I was being shaped and molded. My heart, cracked and gnarled by the world, was being repaired. I was being made fit for a life and a purpose and a Kingdom that I’d been created for.
I remember one day not long after I realized that, during my prayer time, that I just thanked God. “Lord, it’s such a joy to be healed by you. It’s such a lovely journey to walk with you, this healing another gift from you that I’ve done nothing to deserve.” What a personal God we serve, what a good, good Father we have. Healing is unique to each of us and then furthermore, to each of our ailments and situations. It’s something He spends time on in His great love. It’s another benefit we reap from the cross. It’s an honor to be made into a vessel holy, useful, and ready for every good work (2 Timothy 2:20-21).
Isaiah 64:8 says, “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (ESV). 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”
In the trials, in the thick of the healing, it will be difficult to remember these things. It will be difficult on the toughest days to keep the faith, to hold on to the hope we have in Christ, but I encourage you to try anyway. Even if you don’t feel it, even if you don’t quite believe it, even if it doesn’t feel like you’re in the middle of being healed, hold tight to what is true.
In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis writes, “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
I’ll never forget my first night as a mother. I sat in my hospital bed as my husband slept on the sterile plastic couch beneath the window of our fifth floor recovery room holding my daughter in my arms. I couldn’t bear the thought of parting with her to send her to the nursery for the night so I could sleep, much to my nurse’s dismay out of her concern for me. I insisted I’d be fine after not sleeping at all for the last 27 hours my labor lasted. I tried to lay her down in the bassinet, but she cried when I set her down, and I was so worried I wouldn’t hear her wake up if I fell asleep. So I sat up in bed and held her the entire night, sacrificing some much needed sleep so she could sleep through the night. It was my first night as a mother, and my first small taste of truly sacrificial love.
When the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13:4 that love does not envy, it’s taken directly from the tenth commandment (Exodus 20:17) - “You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” If envy fills up your heart, there is no room to love them, and there is no room for thankfulness for what the Lord has given you and who He has created you to uniquely be.
The Bible tells us that love does not boast and this is perhaps the most sacred of all the characteristics of a godly love - humility. It’s the characteristic of God’s love that allowed Him to give His Son for us. It’s the characteristic of God’s love that Jesus showed when he left His throne and all of His glory to become a servant. It’s the characteristic of God’s love He taught the disciples when He washed their feet, when He preached that the last would be first (Matthew 20:16), and when He hung on the cross, sacrificing Himself for us.
Envy and boasting go hand-in-hand as self-serving behaviors. Wanting what others have for yourself, and putting yourself above others in importance and deed is inherently selfish and true, godly love cannot exist where selfishness, envy and boast are prevalent. True love delights in the accomplishments of others, rejoices and thanks God with them for the blessings He has given them, and places others first in all circumstances. Placing others first, making sacrifices, is not a comfortable feeling. Godly love will stretch and mold your heart, but what a privilege to be molded by the Master Potter, and what a joy to both experience this kind of unconditional love from the Father and be able to show others the same kind of love.
Love is kind. It’s not simply acts of kindness, but most importantly, it’s kindness when kindness is not deserved. It’s kindness when kindness is the more difficult option. It’s true kindness when it’s not our natural response and it takes all of the self-control in the world to silence our pride and selfishness and care for others with no strings attached, no grudge held, and no record of wrongs kept. That is the standard of love we are held to because that is the standard of love we have been shown from the start by God.
The original Greek word for kindness that would have been used by Paul here would have been “Kresteuomai” or “Chresteuomai” meaning “to be kind, loving, merciful.” One of the many wonderful attributes of our Heavenly Father is that He is kind. He shows us kindness daily in His mercies that are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). He shows us kindness in forgiveness and keeps no record of our sin. He shows us kindness by loving us first. John 13:34 says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” He set the model of what real love was like and commanded us to love in the same way, with the same merciful kindness that He has shown us from the beginning of time.
True kindness is only natural when we start aligning our heart with God’s heart for the people around us. It’s been a useful tool for my heart to remember every person I encounter, even and especially those who hurt me, that Jesus died for them. They are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). They are a dearly loved child of the living God, bought with a price and being pursued and shaped and molded and most importantly, loved, daily by Him. It may not be a natural response of our flesh to be kind in circumstances where we have been wronged, but it’s the only holy response. True kindness of that nature, of turning the other cheek and responding in love, can only be obtained through the Spirit. There is a reason why it is a fruit of the Spirit. It is not something we can cultivate on our own.
Frederick Buechner once said, “If you want to be holy, be kind.” Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Ask today for the Holy Spirit to align your heart with His with love for the people you encounter.
Growing up, I was a very impatient child like most are. I remember my dad saying to me, “If you want more patience, you’re going to have to wait.” I think he said that with a tongue in cheek tone, but I don’t think he realized how deeply rooted in Scripture that joke was or how well it aged and taught me about the fruit of the Spirit I’ve struggled the most with having in my life.
There is great strength in patience. Patience is the ability to see beyond yourself and your feelings directly into the heart, intentions and desires of another. It’s setting aside any offense in your heart, any selfishness, any control, your own timeline and plans, and just...wait. Patience is great empathy and great love. In the Bible, patience and love are almost always very closely intertwined. You can’t have patience without love. It’s an understanding and kind expression of love. 1 Corinthians 13:4 says, “Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; it is not arrogant.” Ephesians 4:2 says, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.”
It’s so easy to become impatient with people, but we must not give into our flesh. Allowing ourselves to be impatient with others is not love because love is not selfish, and love is patient. If you’re praying for someone, keep praying and keep being patient and keep showing them the kind of love God called us to have for one another. Keep showing them the kind of love and patience God continually shows you.
God is love, and love is patient. God created us in His image, and He already is everything He called us to be. He is so patient. When we go through seasons of doubting Him or being angry with Him, He doesn’t forsake us, He waits for us. He waits for us to turn around and to return home. His faithfulness and patience with us is a gift we receive daily.
Ask yourself these questions today:
Psalm 119:114 says, “You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in Your word” (NIV).
This was a Psalm written by David. David, who we see over and over again choosing worship and praise even in his valleys. When his soul was weary, we see him turning time and again to prayer and his comfortable and vulnerable relationship with the Lord. He cried out, he worshipped passionately. He danced. He rejoiced. He wept. He was afraid. But he never lost hope because his hope was in the word. And he overcame ever obstacle placed in his way. This isn’t to say David is to be placed on a pedestal - he was a sinner like you and me. It’s Jesus who we’re striving to imitate. David’s life is an example of undying hope because he placed his hope in the word. Not in soldiers or kings and kingdoms or money or anything of this world - in the word. He knew that God could and would come through for him in every battle and He did.
I love the wording of this verse. We need to put our hope in the word. In John 1, Jesus is referenced to as the Word who became flesh. Our hope needs to be in His word. God talks about the reliability of His word repeatedly:
Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
James 1:22 “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
Isaiah 40:8 “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
Psalm 18:30 “As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; He shields all who take refuge in him.”
Matthew 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
Matthew 24:35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
Psalm 56:4 “In God, whose word I praise - in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”
Put your hope in the word, not the world. We see so many placing their hope in politicians, in organizations, in financial comfort, the list goes on. Nothing in this world is substantial or eternal. Nothing in this world can sustain hope and bring about peace. The hope the world offers us is always circumstantial and empty. If we place our hope and trust in the Lord, we are simultaneously looking to the hills. We are set free from worry and fear because our hope is in Christ who already has the victory. Our hope is in His word - a double-edged sword, a light for our path when things get dark, everlasting, and full of real comfort we so desperately seek elsewhere.
Ask yourself this weekend where you have placed your hope in the past and think of how that ended for you. Think about where you place your hope now. If it’s not in the word, where is your hope and why is that something you’re trusting in more than anything else at this time? What is holding you back from letting go of what you can see and feel and control and giving all to Jesus and placing your hope in Him? He will never let you down, He’s already secured your victory, and He’s waiting with open arms as both a comfort and a shield today.
I know my posts have been more like weekly instead of daily lately. I apologize for that. There have been a lot of unexpected valleys come up in recent weeks, and it really pushed me to a breaking point. It pushed me to that point. The kind of point I think of in passing when I’m in a peak season, “How could anyone question such a good and loving God?” Fast forward to last week, me, during prayer time, angrily asking Him why.
Deep into 2020, which has already proven to be a year that has shaken every foundation built upon sand, amid ongoing personal and family life issues, we experienced an inland hurricane in my little river town in Western Illinois which left us and almost every other home in my area without power for six days. Six days in the dark.
After a few days of trying to summon my last shreds of patience, after a few days of soothing scared children and cleaning up huge messes in the yard, and throwing away rotten food from the refrigerator, I remember just falling apart. God, why did you let this happen? The wind and waves know Your name. You could have stopped this. After the year and even just the past few months we have had, why? You could have stopped this.
And then He was silent. He was trusting me with His silence, something I’ve come to greet with great anticipation over doubt. Many times in my life He has trusted me with His silence. It pushes me to trust deeper, it pushes me to rely on Him over the answers I’m seeking, and it hurts. It can be deafening. Sometimes we, like little children, think if we don’t get what we want or think we need right now, we are not loved. We are not protected. Dear reader, don’t let God’s silence cause you to open a door in your heart to the enemy’s lies. Greet His silence as a treasure you have been entrusted with. Greet it with anticipation of a quiet, contemplative season where He is still so near while your heart is being prepared for His answer when it comes.
A few days after our power came back on, I was driving to the store to pick up some things to restock our refrigerator and God gently and ever-so-lovingly broke His silence and replied to my angry question: “You’re right, I could have stopped that storm. But I didn’t. I also could have taken My Son off of the cross, but I didn’t. For your good. If I permit something painful, good will come of it.”
And He reminded me of these two verses:
Isaiah 55:8 - "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.”
Romans 8:28 - “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Dear reader, I don’t know your story. I don’t know the trajectory this foundation-shaking year has placed your life on, but I do know without a shadow of a doubt that if God permits the painful, He has a purpose. I refuse to sugar-coat it because Jesus never did. In this world we WILL have trouble (John 16:33). But God has always been a God Who will stand in the fire with us (Daniel 3). He doesn’t forsake us during the painful seasons. Your pain, your anger, your frustration, your confusion - none of this pushes Him away. He is near to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18).
I’ve been focusing on steadfastness recently. The word “steadfast” appears 219 times in the Bible, and 132 of those times it is being used to directly describe one of the most beautiful characteristics of God.
Steadfastness is defined as firmly loyal, unchanging, unwavering, solid, steady and resolutely and dutifully firm. God never changes. He loves us loyally and never stops. Throughout the gospels we are charged multiple times by the apostles to “stand firm in the faith” and to be steadfast in our love for the Lord and in our loyalty to Him and through our work in the Kingdom. I think it’s such a common charge because we waver. Our loyalty and love are waves constantly crashing into the shores of this world and slinking back into the depths of His love, guilty and dirty, pulling the dirt and the sand with us.
Here we hit what I call the unfair exchange. God charges us to have the same characteristics as He does because we are sons and daughters, but we offer Him our sloppy, imperfect, minuscule, feeble attempts and in exchange we get His perfection. His perfectly unwavering and steadfast love. He knows ours won’t be perfect, He knows we are unfinished, but He still wants whatever our all is, whatever our 100% looks like. The reason the Widow’s offering meant so much to Jesus is because she gave her all. (Luke 21).
And despite our all not being much, or being tarnished or imperfect, it still touches the heart of the Father and He still gives us His perfect all in return. In fact, He gave us His part of the exchange first, while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). The unfair exchange. A wandering heart for His steadfast love. Our ashes for beauty. Our anxieties for His peace. Our offering for the riches of Heaven. Our everlasting life because of His suffering. The beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair. His steadfastness is another lovely example of His grace.