Published every Monday
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.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27 NIV).
I’ve been thinking about this verse a lot lately in what seems like a daily increase of turmoil and divide in the world. Jesus very intentionally clarified that His peace was not the same as the world’s peace. The peace the world is currently striving for is empty. It’s a surface level peace. It’s probably better defined as tolerance or an absence of conflict. There is no true peace or resolution for the cause of the conflict or the sin at the heart of matters. The peace the Lord gives is life-saving and life-giving.
The word Jesus would have used in the original language here would have been Shalom. Shalom is a very universal word in the Hebrew language. It’s taken from the root word “shalam”, which means “to be safe in body, mind or estate”. It can be used as a greeting or farewell. In a more biblical sense it refers to a sense of inward wholeness or completeness, and we can only have that through reconciliation with God through Christ Jesus.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9). In the Jameson-Fausset-Brown Bible commentary it states, “But it was not till Christ "made peace by the blood of the cross" that God could manifest Himself as "the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant" (Heb 13:20)—could reveal Himself as "in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them," and hold Himself forth in the astonishing attitude of beseeching men to be "reconciled to Himself" (2Co 5:19, 20). When this reconciliation actually takes place, and one has "peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ"—even "the peace of God which passeth all understanding"—the peace-receivers become transformed into peace-diffusers. God is thus seen reflected in them; and by the family likeness these peacemakers are recognized as the children of God.”
Dear friends, don’t settle for peace as the world gives it. Take heart in the perfect peace that transcends all understanding that can only come from the Lord. Spend time in His presence. Spiritual synchronicity with the heart of God is only achieved by learning His heart well. To have peace, we must know Him, be reconciled to Him. To be a peacemaker, to bring the peace the Lord gives on earth as it is in Heaven, we must reflect Him, and we must have that inner Shalom ourselves.
AW Tozer said, “Where there is no peace in the heart, there will be no peace on earth.”
Psalm 59:16-17 says, “But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.” (ESV).
This Psalm was written by David when Saul sent men to watch his house in order to kill him. Previous verses in this Psalm are David’s heart crying out to the Lord for protection from his enemies and for the Lord to see him through the night. Then, in such a bold show of faith, he describes praising the Lord in the morning. His heart is assured that the Lord will carry him through this trial because he always has before. His past faithfulness demands our present trust.
What if we made singing praises to the Lord our first and foremost activity in the morning? The life-changing hope it would bring to our spirits would be immeasurable and the joy our worship brings to the heart of the Father is unfashionable. To remind ourselves of the Lord’s faithfulness and love in the morning before we began our day would set the tone for our entire day. To spend time in the presence of the Lord before we spent time in the presence of anyone or anything else would give us a kingdom mindset. And at night, especially those nights that we desperately cry out to the Lord to see us through them, with all the shaky yet bold faith we can muster, we can say confidently, “Tomorrow morning I will sing your praises and thank you for your protection, thank you for seeing me through this.”
I challenge you to make morning worship a daily priority in your life, even just this weekend, and see how just prioritizing His presence, prioritizing giving thanks and praise before your day even begins, sets your mind on things above and illuminates even further the glorious hope and victory we have in Christ during the darkest nights.
Billy Graham once said, “Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion - it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.”
Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Daily we need to take up our cross. Daily we need to die to self (1 Corinthians 15:31). Being a Christian is not a one-time sinner’s prayer. It’s not even simply going to church. A great tragedy in the church are the sleepers. The people who claim to be Christians, who claim to know the Lord and aren’t transformed by Him. They aren’t living for Him and aren’t surrendered to Him. I have gone through a period of time like this and I remember feeling so lost and unfulfilled. If that is you today, if you’ve fallen into a complacent space spiritually, let me offer you the hope that it is never too late. In the same vein, taking up your cross today isn’t a decision reliant on how you spent yesterday. Salvation is worked out daily and God’s grace and mercies are new every morning. It’s a daily decision to take up the cross. What does that mean? That means laying down our selfish desires, our lives, to follow Him. It’s a total surrender of our lives and our hearts to Him.
I would challenge you this week to pray each morning when you wake up and offer your day to the Lord and take up the cross in full surrender.
“Lord, I give you my day today. I place my plans in your hands. Guide all my steps. Help me to be Your hands and feet today. Break my heart for what breaks yours, and give me eyes to see what needs to be done in and for Your Kingdom today. Your will be done in each second of this day you have created and given me. Amen.”
If I had to select two words to describe this present age, it would be “information overload”. There is so much going on in the world that is heavy, heartbreaking, and horrendous. On top of that, our personal lives have not gotten easier to accommodate the current events. We are still struggling with financial worries, mental and physical health issues, family problems, etc. It’s a year we’ve been kicked while we are down. Paul knew what that felt like. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (ESV).
He wouldn’t have given this advice to the church in Philippi and subsequently the world, without practicing it himself. He sang praises from jail cells after having been beaten and tortured. The secret to finding the capacity to dwell on the good things in the midst of the bad, the secret to praising in the storm, is simply knowing that your God has already overcome it. You already have victory over it. Whether it be in this life or the next, no chains on this earth can hold you forever.
Your mind is trainable and teachable. The brain is yet another beautiful and amazing creation. Neural pathways are created by repetitive thoughts you think. When we meditate on the things of the Lord consistently, it creates pathways in our minds and our subconscious thought process will always return to that place. Likewise, when we consistently dwell on the things of the Lord, old pathways that used to be our main thought processes, negative pathways, lies from the enemy that we believed, they become less and less used until they are no longer a used neural pathway! Simply following the advice of Paul in Philippians 4:8 can bring about peace to our turmoil, and bring about restoration in our mind. Hallelujah!
I challenge you this week to create those new pathways. Meditate on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, and lovely. Study God’s word every day. Remind yourself in the midst of all of your storms that God is still in control, and He still has the victory! I am not saying we should ignore our problems or current events. We need to pray for all of these things and be informed, but we don’t have to allow anything to influence our hearts and minds, we don’t have to allow anything to steal the joy and hope and peace we have in Christ Jesus. While we don’t always get instantaneous miracles or healing, we do always get a portion of the victory immediately by maintaining our hope and peace in the midst of every storm because He has already overcome and He will get us through.