My friend was telling me the saga of her teenage son’s illness. As a Down syndrome child, he had trouble enough with swallowing and digestion. But then he developed urgent issues that landed him in the hospital, and even after getting home, he could not eat solid food for almost two months. She and her son, both Christians, prayed together for mercy and healing, but it was a tough road to recovery. She described his first taste of normal food: a few potato chips. She told me that with each bite, he murmured, “So grateful. So grateful.”
What she hadn’t expected is that he continues to say the same with each bite, days later. “So grateful, so grateful.”
I carry a humbled admiration at a boy feeling such a sustained yet spontaneous gratitude for the simple blessing of healthy eating. What pleasure that must bring to God’s heart.
As I have studied the conclusion of I Thessalonians 5, I find this little volley of exhortations:
“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances.” As I have turned these over in my mind the last several weeks, I’ve sensed that they are almost the same command stated three ways. Finding things to rejoice over and thank God for constantly will require ceaseless prayer, not only for expression to God but to seek His voice and vision for the good in all circumstances. If we give thanks in all circumstances, we will rejoice. We will offer those thanks by praying as much as we rejoice. It all goes round in a wonderful wreath of heartfelt communion with the Lord…
We moved to our new house three years ago. It is a two-story house, a first for our family. Soon after we moved, our oldest son threw his brother’s teddy bear over the stair railing, hitting my favorite lamp below. It shattered into a million pieces. I remember lecturing my son on the foolishness of his choices (and mourning my lamp).
Searching for Wisdom
This same son turns 13 at the end of the year, and the stakes related to wisdom and foolishness are much higher now. I honestly wish I could use one of those Magic 8 Balls to help my son make wise decisions—and to make them myself! Should my son have a smart phone? Shake, shake. Should he be allowed to be on social media? Shake, shake. Is it reasonable for him to sleep until noon on Saturdays? Shake, shake, shake. However, we all know that wisdom doesn’t come from the simple shaking of a toy ball.
As we face increasingly more questions, I am convinced that seeking wisdom and training our children in wisdom are two of the most important things that parents can do. I know I am not the first one to be convinced of this—the entire book of Proverbs is about a father imploring his son to seek wisdom! “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her” (Proverbs 3:13-15). Wisdom is more important for our kids than excellent grades, athletic accomplishments, and good friends (man, I need to be reminded of this!) So how do we get wisdom as parents and then teach our children to do the same?
Source of Wisdom
1) We remember that godly wisdom is different from worldly wisdom.
Ruth Younts in “Get Wisdom” says “Wisdom helps you be more like Jesus in your actions, thoughts and attitudes, by loving God and loving your neighbor.” Godly wisdom has God as its purpose and center. My husband and I recently explained an unpopular decision we made to our son and discussed the difference between worldly wisdom and God’s wisdom. Godly wisdom is usually counter-cultural. It does not seek to please self or others. Proverbs 14:12 says “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death,” while 12:15 says “The way of a fool seems right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” Often, what is right or wise goes against what is popular or right in the eyes of the world. True wisdom looks to please God above all else. We have had multiple conversations with our children about how our desire to please the Lord with our lives may cause us to make decisions that are very different from those of their friends. Although these differences can be difficult for our kids, we are preparing them for a life of kingdom discipleship, looking at what God would have for them…
Anybody who knows me would call me a social butterfly. They might even joke that I go to church mainly for the coffee and fellowship. Well, they wouldn’t be far off. I so enjoy studying God’s word, singing rich worship songs, and hearing a gospel-centered sermon on Sunday morning. But I also enjoy gathering and talking with other believers, encouraging one another in the Lord. Isn’t that what draws most of us to a church—the people who welcome us and walk alongside us on the journey of faith?
Anything but Normal
Then came a pandemic, and as you know, things have changed drastically for churches and congregations across the country. COVID-19 hit, and we were left trying to figure out how to make Sundays normal when they are anything but normal.
When the pandemic first arrived, my church met virtually. It was novel and cool for the first couple of weeks, but before long the newness of the experience wore off. For the last few months, we have been worshipping together through a limited outdoor and indoor service. Most people wear masks and leave quickly. Between the wind, the heat, and tired kids, it is hard to stay present during the service. My mind wants to wander to my to-do list or to the problems in my life that I think I can solve (instead of listening to the sermon and hearing from the God who holds all things together). I struggled with these things before COVID, but they feel especially prevalent now.
Fellowship is the most difficult, because in order to hold services we must remain physically distant. Most people go home right away after the service. Conversation is hard. It is hard to know what to talk about except the “thing” that made fellowshipping hard in the first place. And no one actually wants to talk about the “thing” that is on our minds all the time. I am weary, and some Sundays I really don’t want to go. I would rather push against the hard than embrace it.
Encouragement When Church Feels Hard
The early church definitely knew something about hard. Between family divisions (Mark 10:29), disputes among church members (1 Cor. 6:5-6), and various forms of persecution and suffering(Acts 8:3, Heb.13:3), the believers of the early church definitely had reason to stop going. But this is exactly why Paul felt called and inspired by the Spirit to write and encourage the early churches in his letters….
As Christian women, it is quite natural that questions arise in our hearts and minds concerning our prayer life. Like the disciples, we want to ask Jesus “teach me to pray.” We wonder what “pray without ceasing” could look like, whether we are honoring God, and whether we should find some new method.
Jesus’ disciples were still learning how to pray; Jesus was patient in instructing them. This lets us know that our desire to learn more about prayer is healthy, and He delights to teach us as well. Today we will look at how abiding in Christ can help us find answers to these questions.
Two particular passages from the Gospel of John speak to our heart’s desire to learn more about prayer:
John 8:31-32 “So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed in Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
John 15:5-8 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather then, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”
We continue in His word.
As we continue, His word finds a place in us. We read, we muse upon His word, we remember it and believe it, and as Paul told the Thessalonians, His word works powerfully in us (see 1 Thessalonians 2:13). In us, in our inner self. This means we should notice the impact of abiding in His word in our thought life, in our desires, in our conscience. As we patiently continue, His truth sets us free from focusing too much on self. His truth will push out fears and doubts that would otherwise hold us back from prayer…
Over the course of two short days, four friends shared extra hard things with me. I wanted to help—I wanted to relieve their burden, share their trouble, or offer something that could ease their pain. But I was at a loss as to how to respond practically. The usual offering of, “Oh, I’ll pray,” felt trite, almost as if I was brushing off their hardship. I wanted a meaty offering, filling as a pot roast delivered straight to the front porch of my hurting friends’ souls. And moreover, I wanted God to show up tangibly—for him to show himself as the one who shopped for the roast, cooked it to perfection, and delivered it right to their doorstep—the Ultimate Provider for hurting souls.
I don’t rest easy in the spot of not knowing what to do, so I began to do what I often do, which is ask God how to pray. It wasn’t long before I found the Lord leading me to pray in the same way for all four friends—and that was to ask him for wisdom. The circumstances hardly seemed coincidental, and God’s leading made me curious—beyond the passages that are quick to spring to memory, where in Scripture are we told to pray for wisdom? Why does God want us to pray for it? And what does it do for us to ask for it?
The Where’s of Wisdom
James 1:5 is the likely first passage that comes to mind—the promise that God will give wisdom generously and without judgment to all who ask…
How many people have you heard say, “I just want 2020 to be over?” I’m sure you, like me, have heard several people say this at some point this year. Perhaps you have even said it yourself. But is this what we should be saying? There’s an instructive verse in Psalm 90 that speaks to this very sentiment, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). If there’s one thing you and I need, it’s wisdom, so I want to look briefly at Psalm 90.
Our Dwelling Place
Psalm 90 begins with a confession of faith rooted in trust, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Ps. 90:1-2). If anyone could speak of God as his dwelling place it would be Moses, on behalf of the nation of Israel. Long before the days of the temple where God would dwell in the midst of His people, the Lord took up residence by way of the tabernacle and the fire by night and cloud by day. Moses, who led the people out of 400 years of slavery in Egypt and 40 years in the wilderness, could speak of God as their dwelling place. He looked back through the corridors of time and recognized God had met with Abraham in a tent and Adam in the garden and proclaimed that from generation to generation the Lord had been faithful to His promise to dwell with His people. The same one who penned the account of creation in Genesis 1-2 penned the beginning of this psalm too, recognizing the first great act in the story of salvation. Indeed, Psalm 90 tells the big story of the Bible by taking us from creation, to the fall, to redemption, to consummation. If we are going to number our days wisely, we must live in light of this big story.
John tells us that Jesus came and tabernacled among us, revealing God’s grace and truth, which is the fulfillment of God’s promise to dwell among His people (John 1:14). Yet we still wait for the consummation of the promise when we will dwell with the everlasting God in the new heaven and new earth, praising Him for eternity. In the meantime, be encouraged. No matter what circumstances the Lord takes us through, He is our dwelling place…
When I was a child, there was a song titled “One of These Things is Not Like the Other.” It was sung as a kind of game to teach children to identify what makes things the same and what makes them different. Often there was a photo of three or four items and the child had to choose which one did not belong with the others.
This is true with the word “fear” in the Bible. God’s word talks about three kinds of fear, but one of them is unlike the others.
Fear in the Bible
For those familiar with the Bible, it is common knowledge that “do not fear” is a frequent command found throughout Scripture. This command is often found in the context of divine revelation, such as when God’s people were called to fight a battle or when a prophet warned of pending punishment for sin. This command was intended to comfort God’s people and to encourage them to trust in him. One such example is when Moses led God’s people through the Red Sea:
“And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever” (Exodus 14:13).
When the Bible says, “do not fear,” the word fear refers to terror or panic. There are two types of this fear in Scripture. The first kind is often called “natural fear.” It’s the kind of fear that comes naturally to humans in a post-fall world. We live in a world where there are natural disasters, pandemics, losses, violence, political upheavals, and more. We all know what it’s like to approach a dangerous situation and our heart starts pounding and our adrenaline spikes. We quickly move ourselves to a place of safety. Natural fear gets us to run out of a burning building or find safe shelter in a thunderstorm. Natural fear is something even our Savior felt as he faced the cross that was to come (see Luke 22:39-46).
The Bible also mentions another kind of fear and this is the kind of fear that rules over us. It governs our choices and directs our path…
“Was it my fault?”
Prenatal-care instructions draw a straight line from our bodies and decisions to the health of our babies. We’re told to avoid eating soft cheeses and drinking alcohol. We’re instructed not to exercise too rigorously and to stay hydrated. We’re counseled to take a daily prenatal vitamin with plenty of folic acid.
The burden of responsibility that accompanies motherhood starts long before a baby is born. So, when the death of a baby occurs within a mother’s body, this is the sort of question that haunts us as we mull over things we did or didn’t do, or feelings we did or didn’t have.
A Common Offer of Comfort
I remember so clearly my doctor placing his hand on mine, looking into my tear-filled eyes, and saying, “This is not your fault.” His intention was to offer comfort, but I remember wondering how he could say those words with such certainty when he knew so little about me, my past, or my actions during this pregnancy.
Just as my doctor couldn’t tell me the reason behind my miscarriage, I cannot possibly know the reason behind yours. Yet whether or not my doctor’s statement was true, the sentiment behind it was absolutely correct. There is no point in being consumed by guilt over your miscarriage.
Of greater comfort than these scripted words from a physician with limited knowledge are the words of Scripture—the word of the God who does know all things, who is in control of all things, and who actually has the authority to forgive and to offer full assurance of pardon.
Greater Comfort in God’s Sovereignty
David’s declaration in Psalm 139 v 16 tell us that God knows all the days of a baby’s life before he or she is even formed in the womb:
“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
I’m not a skilled gardener. I know little about plants, flowers, soil types, or gardening techniques. During the time of COVID confinement earlier this year, my kids and I planted a variety of seeds and have since harvested a sad handful of each type of vegetable. Just yesterday my son pulled a single red tomato from the plant, and we wondered if the other tiny green ones would ever become red. Because of my lack of horticultural knowledge or talent, I find great encouragement in the passages of Scripture that speak of God’s effectiveness and expertise as a gardener.
One such passage, the parable of the sower (found multiple places – Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8), is a familiar one to most of us. We relate to the images of God as the sower and of His Word, the seed, falling on different types of heart-soils. As a missionary, I occasionally think about this parable as I talk to a friend about Jesus and pray that the good news takes root in the soil of her heart. The image of soil can also be a helpful one when we speak of missions in a certain context, be it a city, a people-group, a country, or even a continent.
Just as one word cannot capture the spiritual landscape of the United States, no one adjective can describe the soil of Europe. Even within Western Europe, where I’ve lived for several years, many spiritual distinctions exist among different countries and cultures. In general, however, Europe is considered to be “post-Christendom.” Christianity has a rich history here, but Europe as a culture has moved beyond the Christian worldview into secular humanism. The spiritual soil possesses almost none of the cultural receptors to Christianity that one might find in many parts of America; Biblical Christianity and the God of the Bible are viewed at best as relics that some people still find useful and at worst as tools of oppression wielded throughout European history. Many Europeans have no concept of church other than the large building in the center of town that often attracts more tourists than worshippers…