Greg Morse

Face Your Fear of Man

Christ calls us to look to his face, to hear his word, and to listen to his people to understand who we are in him. And as we hear what he speaks over us, mere human faces lose their hold on us. We speak truthfully and love freely because we, like Christ, are not receiving glory from men.
“Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your face?”
Cassius, one of the villains in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, is ambitious. He sees Julius Caesar ascending to power, and Cassius hates it. Yet he knows, like Scar in The Lion King, that if he wants to take down Caesar, he must gain powerful allies. Brutus, a noble war hero, is such a man.
Cassius slithers up to Brutus while Brutus is in some untold conflict with himself (perhaps fighting a similar concern with Caesar’s rise). Listen again to his question,
Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your face?” (1.2.51)
Cassius asks Brutus if he can see himself. In other words, Cassius asks if he can properly know himself — see Brutus as Brutus is — without the help of another.
No, Cassius,” Brutus responds, “for the eye sees not itself, but by reflection, by some other things.” (1.2.52–53)
As the eye cannot see its own face, Brutus responds, neither can he know himself alone. He must see his reflection by some mirror. Cassius, to recruit this needed Knight to checkmate the potential King, offers to be that mirror for Brutus. Flatteringly, he reflects a majestic Brutus. A regal Brutus. A Brutus that is as great, if not greater, than Caesar — a Brutus the people would wish was in charge.
Who Shows You Your Face?
Shakespeare gives us the perceptive question that I turn now to you.
Tell me, good reader, can you see your face?”
Who do you look at to see yourself? Whose opinion of you forms your identity? If you have been like me, perhaps you rely on many mirrors. Does this group think I am fun to be around? Does my wife find me desirable? Does this pastor or small group respect me? Do these people think I am smart, or those people, funny? Does this group like my writing; does he think I talk too much?
I see myself, if I am not careful, reflected in a carnival of mirrors. In this one, I’m short and chubby. In that one, I am tall and skinny. In this one, I have an inflated head. In that one, massive feet. In the one over there, I am “too Christian.” In this one here, I am just right — at least for the moment. We too often live from mirror to mirror, always looking into others’ faces to see our own. We live and move and have our being looking for certain people to approve of us.
Isn’t it a wonder, then, that there was one who walked among us who cared not for human mirrors, one of whom even his enemies had to admit, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you [do not look at the faces of men]” (Matthew 22:16)?
Nothing but the Truth
The Pharisees, in the spirit of Cassius, said this to manipulate Jesus. They meant to entangle him. They wanted him out of the way, so they held a meeting to discuss how to trap him in his words. This introduction, which flattered Jesus for not regarding faces, was bait.
For their plan to work, they needed him to continue to do what he had been doing: speak truthfully regardless of the consequences. He couldn’t back down now, or the web wouldn’t stick. They need him to answer; they think they’ve asked a question Jesus cannot answer without his harm. So they say in effect,
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Stuck Between the World and God

The Christian God is God, and he will not sit idly by within a pantheon of other gods and pleasures. He entertains no rivals. Friendship with the world is adultery and enmity against him (James 4:4). This text, and this reality, God used to shake me awake and bring me to Jesus. Dear reader, is your Jesus really God? If he is God — and the Jesus of the Bible is God — then follow him. 

Some texts mark you for life. As Jacob, you grapple with them, and though you come away with a blessing, you leave with a limp. You think differently. You pray differently. You love, speak, and act differently. Life as it was before can be no more.
Elijah’s question to the wavering people of Israel has been such a text for me. As a young college student, alone in my dorm room with a Bible I had just started reading, I came to it:
How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If Yahweh is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him. (1 Kings 18:21)
When I read it on my futon, it was as though I witnessed the scene unfold firsthand.
“Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” The wicked king addressed the prophet he had hunted like a deer in the forest. He sneered. Not often did the prey beckon the hunter or the fish, the fisherman. But here, weaponless and alone, the prophet emerged from his hiding place to challenge his pursuer, and all of his prophets, to a public showdown.
“I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals,” Elijah replied. “Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table” (1 Kings 18:18–19).
Ahab happily complied.
News spread quickly; the people of Israel clamored around to see the spectacle. I took my place among the masses. The excitement was palpable as prophets and their gods prepared for war. Baal’s king and his army of prophets stood in one corner; the Lord’s prophet approached alone, taking his position in the other.
Pierced Without a Weapon
Yet as the prophet advanced toward the mountain to face off with the hundreds of prophets, Elijah’s eyes of fire rested elsewhere. He gazed at us, drew near to us. The contestant walked over to the crowd, slowly looking us over, and lifted his voice for all to hear,
How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If Yahweh is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him. (1 Kings 18:21)
Weaponless, he shot the first arrow. Swordless, he cut me to the heart. Alone, I trembled to hear another speaking.
As I read those words, a lifetime of spiritual indecision flashed before my eyes. It took shape before me. The amphibious creature, offspring of a hearty worldliness and brittle religiosity, reared its head. It bore the horrible beauty of a demon. This angel of light had pleased and soothed my half-waking conscience for a lifetime, while remaining false enough to damn my soul.
This god I followed took no issue with the lukewarmness — the starts and stops, the ins and outs of what I took to be Christian devotion. None of my prophets interrupted me, nor protested when I went my own way. For over a decade, my god was compliant, polite, civil.
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Face Your Fear of Man: How Christ Delivers from Human Approval

“Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your face?”

Cassius, one of the villains in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, is ambitious. He sees Julius Caesar ascending to power, and Cassius hates it. Yet he knows, like Scar in The Lion King, that if he wants to take down Caesar, he must gain powerful allies. Brutus, a noble war hero, is such a man.

Cassius slithers up to Brutus while Brutus is in some untold conflict with himself (perhaps fighting a similar concern with Caesar’s rise). Listen again to his question,

“Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your face?” (1.2.51)

Cassius asks Brutus if he can see himself. In other words, Cassius asks if he can properly know himself — see Brutus as Brutus is — without the help of another.

“No, Cassius,” Brutus responds, “for the eye sees not itself, but by reflection, by some other things.” (1.2.52–53)

As the eye cannot see its own face, Brutus responds, neither can he know himself alone. He must see his reflection by some mirror. Cassius, to recruit this needed Knight to checkmate the potential King, offers to be that mirror for Brutus. Flatteringly, he reflects a majestic Brutus. A regal Brutus. A Brutus that is as great, if not greater, than Caesar — a Brutus the people would wish was in charge.

Who Shows You Your Face?

Shakespeare gives us the perceptive question that I turn now to you.

“Tell me, good reader, can you see your face?”

Who do you look at to see yourself? Whose opinion of you forms your identity? If you have been like me, perhaps you rely on many mirrors. Does this group think I am fun to be around? Does my wife find me desirable? Does this pastor or small group respect me? Do these people think I am smart, or those people, funny? Does this group like my writing; does he think I talk too much?

“Who do you look at to see yourself? Whose opinion of you forms your identity?”

I see myself, if I am not careful, reflected in a carnival of mirrors. In this one, I’m short and chubby. In that one, I am tall and skinny. In this one, I have an inflated head. In that one, massive feet. In the one over there, I am “too Christian.” In this one here, I am just right — at least for the moment. We too often live from mirror to mirror, always looking into others’ faces to see our own. We live and move and have our being looking for certain people to approve of us.

Isn’t it a wonder, then, that there was one who walked among us who cared not for human mirrors, one of whom even his enemies had to admit, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you [do not look at the faces of men]” (Matthew 22:16)?

Nothing but the Truth

The Pharisees, in the spirit of Cassius, said this to manipulate Jesus. They meant to entangle him. They wanted him out of the way, so they held a meeting to discuss how to trap him in his words. This introduction, which flattered Jesus for not regarding faces, was bait.

For their plan to work, they needed him to continue to do what he had been doing: speak truthfully regardless of the consequences. He couldn’t back down now, or the web wouldn’t stick. They need him to answer; they think they’ve asked a question Jesus cannot answer without his harm. So they say in effect,

Teacher, we know you’re true and speak God’s way truthfully and that you don’t fear any man. We know you will tell us exactly how it is — that you will speak plainly the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth — come what may.

They speak truly of Jesus falsely, yet they speak truthfully about him. Matthew Henry comments,

In his evangelical judgment, he did not know faces; that Lion of the tribe of Judah, turned not away for any (Proverbs 30:30), turned not a step from the truth, nor from his work, for fear of the most formidable. He reproved with equity (Isaiah 11:4), and never with partiality.

He did not shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God. He spoke the truth as it was. No faces swayed him; no appearances prejudiced him against the truth. He is the Truth.

Whether Friend or Foe

We come to more fully appreciate our Master’s impartiality when we consider the various groups to whom he delivered the undressed truth.

He spoke plainly to his enemies and to sinners. He saw the faces of the chief priests and Pharisees, the faces of tax collectors and prostitutes, the faces of large crowds, and taught directly the way of faith and the way of repentance. He “went there” with the woman at the well concerning her sordid relationship history. With the powerful scribes and Pharisees, he pronounced “Woe to you!”

What’s equally admirable (and at times more difficult) is that he lived without undue regard even toward the faces of his own family and friends, altering his message for none. At twelve years old, he caused his parents great distress by staying back in the temple three days, only to ask when found, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). He notes the disciples’ little faith, and then memorably confronts Peter, that great rock of an apostle, saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mark 8:33).

He did not receive his identity from men and thus he could perfectly love men with the truth. Uninhibited by the fear of man or the craving for endorsement, he did not campaign for human votes, but baffled crowds as one who spoke with authority, as one without need of their applause and support.

The King’s Face

So tell me, Christian, can you see your face?

Instead of looking around to see your reflection in faces around you, look to the beautiful face of God in the face of his only Son, Jesus Christ. His face gives freedom from the fear of man. If he approves, let all the world condemn.

“Jesus’s face gives freedom from the fear of man. If he approves, let all the world condemn.”

To illustrate how looking to this exalted face can extinguish the slavish fear of any other face on earth, consider in closing a story Michael Reeves recently gave at Ligonier about Hugh Latimer (1487–1555). Latimer, an English bishop, once preached before the frightful King Henry VIII, an easily provoked man with many wives and mistresses.

Spurgeon described the scene this way.

It was the custom of the Court preacher to present the king with something on his birthday, and Latimer presented Henry VIII. with a pocket-handkerchief with this text in the corner, “Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” [Hebrews 13:4]; a very suitable text for bluff Harry. And then he preached a sermon before his most gracious majesty against sins of lust, and he delivered himself with tremendous force, not forgetting or abridging the personal application.

The king, as you would expect, was not pleased. He told Latimer that he was to preach again the next Sunday and apologize to him publicly. Latimer thanked the king and left.

The following Sunday arrived, Latimer climbed the pulpit, and said these unforgettable words:

“Hugh Latimer [referring to himself in the third person], thou art this day to preach before the high and mighty prince Henry, King of Great Britain and France. If thou sayest one single word that displeases his Majesty he will take thy head off; therefore, mind what thou art at.”

But then said he, “Hugh Latimer, thou art this day to preach before the Lord God Almighty, who is able to cast both body and soul into hell, and so tell the king the truth outright.” (Godly Fear and Its Goodly Consequences, 237)

The most foreboding face among men looked menacingly upon Latimer and bid him mind his tongue. But Latimer gazed above the man, in whose nostrils was breath, and considered the face of Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth. He would not play small. He would not tamper with his Master’s message. He would not mind a merely human face, even the face of his earthly king, if that face bid him look away from the face of the King of heaven.

And while our moments may be (far) less dramatic and less threatening, we are still in need of such lion-hearted, Christ-exalting courage. Who cares what the world thinks? Faces do not show us ourselves; but Christ does. Christ calls us to look to his face, to hear his word, and to listen to his people to understand who we are in him. And as we hear what he speaks over us, mere human faces lose their hold on us. We speak truthfully and love freely because we, like Christ, are not receiving glory from men.

Stuck Between the World and God: How I Almost Died in Indecision

Some texts mark you for life. As Jacob, you grapple with them, and though you come away with a blessing, you leave with a limp. You think differently. You pray differently. You love, speak, and act differently. Life as it was before can be no more.

Elijah’s question to the wavering people of Israel has been such a text for me. As a young college student, alone in my dorm room with a Bible I had just started reading, I came to it:

How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If Yahweh is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him. (1 Kings 18:21)

When I read it on my futon, it was as though I witnessed the scene unfold firsthand.

“Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” The wicked king addressed the prophet he had hunted like a deer in the forest. He sneered. Not often did the prey beckon the hunter or the fish, the fisherman. But here, weaponless and alone, the prophet emerged from his hiding place to challenge his pursuer, and all of his prophets, to a public showdown.

“I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals,” Elijah replied. “Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table” (1 Kings 18:18–19).

Ahab happily complied.

News spread quickly; the people of Israel clamored around to see the spectacle. I took my place among the masses. The excitement was palpable as prophets and their gods prepared for war. Baal’s king and his army of prophets stood in one corner; the Lord’s prophet approached alone, taking his position in the other.

Pierced Without a Weapon

Yet as the prophet advanced toward the mountain to face off with the hundreds of prophets, Elijah’s eyes of fire rested elsewhere. He gazed at us, drew near to us. The contestant walked over to the crowd, slowly looking us over, and lifted his voice for all to hear,

How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If Yahweh is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him. (1 Kings 18:21)

Weaponless, he shot the first arrow. Swordless, he cut me to the heart. Alone, I trembled to hear another speaking.

As I read those words, a lifetime of spiritual indecision flashed before my eyes. It took shape before me. The amphibious creature, offspring of a hearty worldliness and brittle religiosity, reared its head. It bore the horrible beauty of a demon. This angel of light had pleased and soothed my half-waking conscience for a lifetime, while remaining false enough to damn my soul.

This god I followed took no issue with the lukewarmness — the starts and stops, the ins and outs of what I took to be Christian devotion. None of my prophets interrupted me, nor protested when I went my own way. For over a decade, my god was compliant, polite, civil. He did not ask for much, nor threaten me, nor ask me to do anything I did not already agree to. He sat in the corner of the world, just smiling at me, his beloved.

If He Be God

The prophet, however, served another God. A jealous God. One who would not endure the waffling another moment. And this prophet burned with his Master’s fire. Elijah decided that if he was walking headlong into his death, he would leave his half-hearted people with a simple question: How long, O faithless bird, will you go fluttering back and forth between two branches?

We, the people, were the only ones undecided before that mountain. The priests of Baal were decided, even to the point of shedding their blood. They cut themselves with swords to invoke an answer from Baal. King Ahab was also decided. He and his wicked wife Jezebel hunted down Yahweh’s prophets and feasted with Baal’s. Elijah was decided. He stood alone before a spiritual legion of darkness, sure that his God could swallow all these mighty minnows.

“A God, if he be God, must be totally followed. Any true God must be completely obeyed.”

At this, a nearly novel thought pressed against my mind: A God, if he be God, must be totally followed. Any true God must be completely obeyed. He demanded a decision. He must be the most important reality in one’s life. Then the amazing conclusion that I professed for years finally caught up with me: I believed God existed. An eternal being, an infinite Person, a supreme monarch.

Elijah looked me in the eyes and said, If the world or your flesh or you yourself be god — follow them. Eat, drink, for tomorrow you die. But if the God of Scripture is God, then reason, justice, and sanity itself cries aloud: If this Glorious, Mighty, and Beautiful God will have you, you must follow him — unreservedly, unquestionably, unhesitatingly.

How did I answer the prophet?

“And the people did not answer him a word” (1 Kings 18:21). I joined the crowds in solemn silence.

The most daring among us held their tongue. Tough guys didn’t protest. Not a chirp was heard before the mountain; all beaks were stopped. What could we say in our defense?

If Christ Be God

Before the sun beat upon the forsaken and bloodied prophets of Baal, before fire fell from heaven and gave the outmanned Elijah decisive victory, before the people rallied and slew the priests and Elijah ran for his life, the prophet’s question seared me: How long will you go on indecisive?

How many more days and months and years will pass while you still pretend to have made up your mind? “If Christ be God, follow him. If the world, follow it.”

Has Elijah’s question lost its edge? To others not refusing to associate with Jesus, yet simply adding him to a collection of other allegiances: “How long will you go on fluttering between two branches?” Between Christ and the love of money. Between Christ and this world. Between Christ and your favorite sin. Between Christ and your comfortable, uninterrupted life.

How long, professing Christian, will you too live halfhearted, half-bowed? How much longer will you persist with half-waking commitments to Christ? How long will you think to give him the loose change of your attention, the crumbled bills of your affections? “If Jesus is God, follow him; but if your girlfriend be god, your reputation be god, your earthly pleasures and career be god — then follow them.”

“I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5). “You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God)” (Exodus 34:13–14). One cannot play footsie with the consuming fire for long.

“One cannot play footsie with the consuming fire for long.”

The Christian God is God, and he will not sit idly by within a pantheon of other gods and pleasures. He entertains no rivals. Friendship with the world is adultery and enmity against him (James 4:4). This text, and this reality, God used to shake me awake and bring me to Jesus.

Dear reader, is your Jesus really God? If he is God — and the Jesus of the Bible is God — then follow him. I long for fire to fall again, pleading with Elijah, “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back” (1 Kings 18:37).

The Love in His Grief: How the Spirit Responds to Our Sin

You’ve done it again. Your conscience begins to stain. Here it is: that sin you vowed — you prayed — never to repeat. You feel the desperate urge to flee from yourself. You wonder, Does God feel the same?

You’ve read of that rocky ground that produces new life yet in the end falls away and dies (Matthew 13:20–21). You tremble at Demas, who, “in love with this present world,” deserted Paul to his apparent undoing (2 Timothy 4:10). You fear, after all your fighting, to finally fall prey to the sin at the door like Cain (Genesis 4:7). As Esau, do you wonder if you’ve sold your birthright so decisively that no power of tears can bring it back (Hebrews 12:17)? Was this your final chance? Will God leave you alone with your red stew?

Perhaps you wonder more specifically, Will he finally take his Spirit from me? You’ve already pled in David’s voice, “Cast me not away from your presence; and take not your Holy Spirit from me!” (Psalm 51:11). You wonder if you will end up being more Saul than David, for “the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul” (1 Samuel 16:14). What makes you any different from him? You know for certain that if the Lord’s Spirit leaves you, you will leave the Lord.

And so it gets your attention afresh when you happen upon Paul’s command to the church at Ephesus: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30). Do all sins grieve the Holy Spirit of God? And can you finally grieve him to provoke his leaving you for good?

How We Grieve the Spirit

How do we grieve the Spirit of God? Do all sins grieve his heart the same?

Does grieving the Spirit entail sins like “lying to him” and “testing him,” as with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:3)? Does it mean “provoking him” with unbelief, like the wilderness generation (Hebrews 3:7–11)? To “resist him,” like Stephen’s hearers (Acts 7:51)? Is grieving the Spirit the same as quenching him (1 Thessalonians 5:19)?

Instead of first considering that grieving the Spirit means poking at him with our own personal, more isolated sins of thought and deed, it is worthwhile, especially in our day, to realize that the context of this command is primarily corporate. How we frustrate the Spirit’s work to unite his people is in view more than how we sin in the chambers of our mind or alone in our room (though we may rightly imagine these also grieve the Spirit).

Symphony of Unity

Consider the communal emphasis preceding the command.

The Spirit has now unveiled the “mystery of Christ” through the holy prophets and apostles to God’s people: “The Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6). Christ’s blood has brought the far-off Gentiles near, leaving in the place of two people (two enemies) one new man (Ephesians 2:15).

To protect God’s magnum opus of diverse harmony, the church herself has a part to play: “Maintain the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). The Spirit unites us in one body, with one call, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Father (4:4–6). We must not aggravate that work by slander, bitterness, corrupting talk, anger, and lovelessness against one another (Ephesians 4:25–29). We grieve the Spirit, most immediately, when we publish nasty tweets against each other, willfully misunderstand and gratify anger, backbite and gossip, neither seek forgiveness nor extend it.

This oneness (or not) plays out before more watching eyes than those of an unbelieving world. The hidden plan of God went public “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10). We are placed on stage in a cosmic theater, before the eyes of the demonic forces and spiritual realms. The play is titled “The Manifold Wisdom of God,” and it stars one actress: the church. The theme of the play is God’s glory in the unity of his people.

How ugly, then, a shame for us, to refuse the union that the Spirit creates, that the blood of Christ purchased, that the Father planned before the foundation of the world. To sit on stage as devils and rogues, sneering as the church bites and devours one another. This, suffice it to say, grieves the Spirit.

Will He Ever Leave Us?

Can the Spirit be so grieved as to leave us? When Satan addresses us as Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed” (1 Samuel 4:21), is he right?

Individually, we can wonder, What of Saul or Samson, or those who “go on sinning” and so trample underfoot the Son of God, profane the blood of the covenant, and “outrage the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:29)?

Corporately, we can wonder, What of the unbelieving Jews that Paul alludes to in giving us the command? “They rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them” (Isaiah 63:10). Will the Spirit who convicts and encourages us today become an enemy because of our sin?

Paul assures us, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). This is Paul’s second mention of this glory. Consider the first:

In [Christ] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13–14)

“After so many provocations, you would leave you — but God the Holy Spirit will not.”

If you have been indwelt, renewed, sealed by the Spirit, he will never leave you, nor us as a people. After so many provocations, you would leave you — but God the Holy Spirit will not. He is given as our down payment in a way Old Testament saints (and Israel at large) did not receive him. The Spirit came upon individuals, anointing them for kingship and other great feats, but he did not indwell them as promised in the new covenant (Ezekiel 36:27).

The apostate may outrage the Spirit and choose his darling sins over Jesus, but this proves he did not truly have the Spirit — for the Spirit seals us, marking us as God’s for the day of redemption, the day of Christ’s return.

Love-Sweetened Grief

So we grieve the Spirit of God by our sin, specifically our sins against the devil-shaming, God’s-wisdom-exalting unity of the gospel. But this is not a grief unto desertion. As God’s people, the Spirit is our guarantee until Jesus returns.

“As God’s people, the Spirit is our guarantee until Jesus returns.”

Perhaps one more question is in order: Does the Spirit dwell in us as we might dwell in a broken down, dirty motel? Is he only ever grieved by our sin?

Charles Spurgeon beautifully reminds us of the flower’s scent contained in the very word grief:

There is something very touching in this admonition, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God.” It does not say, “Do not make him angry.” A more delicate and tender term is used — “Grieve him not.” . . . For grief is a sweet combination of anger and of love. It is anger, but all the gall is taken from it. Love sweetens the anger, and turns the edge of it, not against the person, but against the offense.

Don’t miss the point: the Spirit is a Person. The Spirit himself loves us (Romans 15:30). He inspires the word grief here to communicate this grand love, even in view of our sin. A disapproval that is wrapped in undying care. May we not grieve the love of the third person of the Trinity, who has sealed us irreversibly for the day of our Savior’s arrival.

Sympathy Without Distress

Our final joy and eternal well-being are certain. Jesus has no guesswork as to our fate. While far from unfeeling, he is not tossed by the waves, as we are this side of heaven. Jesus is the Shepherd of the sheep, the Groom of his bride, guiding us home through a world of distress to springs of living water, 

“Only remember me,” Joseph requested, “when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house” (Genesis 40:14). Though he sat in prison, Joseph had just interpreted the cupbearer’s dream favorably: he would be restored to his former height in three days. “Only remember me to Pharaoh,” Joseph asked.
In three days, the cupbearer was taken from the cell as foretold. It will only be a matter of time now, Joseph thought. Three more days passed. Five days. A week. “Two whole years” (Genesis 41:1). Nothing. Once ascended to his former place, “the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (Genesis 40:23).
When you think of the ascended Christ, do you imagine someone like this cupbearer? Has he who once descended into our pit and suffered for our sins — only to rise to a better life three days later — forgotten us?
Perhaps you expect his attention when he returns, but until then, he basks in the angel’s praises, grips the scepter firmly in hand, and with our prison far behind him, you suspect that you remain little upon his heart.
Sympathy of the Prince
William Gurnall (1616–1679) gives a moving illustration in reply:
Suppose a king’s son should get out of a besieged city, where he had left his wife and children, whom he loves as his own soul, and these all ready to die by sword or famine; if supply come not the sooner, could this prince, when arrived at his father’s house, please himself with the delights of the court, and forget the distress of his family? (The Christian in Complete Armor, 31)
Right now, Jesus thinks of me, he thinks of you, as this prince who has left his bride and children behind. He has not forgotten us, coronated as he is in glory, just as any good man could not for a moment forget his family shackled in sorrows in an evil land. If we who are sinful are moved at the distress of our loved ones, how could Christ, whose name is love, disregard the sufferings of his family still on earth?
If you’re tempted to feel forgotten, be reminded that right now Christ loves his bride with a love surpassing knowledge (Ephesians 3:19). His heart toward us from heaven deserves more thought than many of us give it. Consider first how un-cupbearer-like our ascended Christ is, and then why Christ does “please himself with the delights of the court” while still not forgetting “the distress of his family” — and why that is such good news for us.
He Has Not Forgotten
Jesus, our King, has departed into glory, leaving us here on earth. And unlike the prince in Gurnall’s illustration, Jesus prays we remain temporarily apart, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). But in order that we might not draw false conclusions, on the eve of his death Jesus also says in several ways, “I will not forget you.”
He assures them, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). He promises, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. . . . Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:18–19).
When sorrow fills their hearts at this news, he ensures that he means their good: “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). He guarantees, “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).
On the darkest night in history, Christ carries his people upon his heart in prayer to his Father: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). And this he prays for you and me as well: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20).
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What God Can Do in One Conversation: Recovering the Power of Personal Evangelism

Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28)

“You know,” Festus had said to the king, just one day prior, “I have this prisoner who the Jews are simply desperate to kill. Strange case, in my opinion. They came with the raucous of the gods, only to tell me the most idle of tales.”

“What tales?” asked King Agrippa.

“Apparently they want this man dead because he claims that some prophet died, a man named Jesus, and yet is now alive. Impossible to investigate such delusions. I am not sure what to say to Caesar.”

“May I examine the prisoner?”

“Of course, my King. We will make a spectacle of it tomorrow.”

The next day, as Agrippa sat enthroned in royal pomp and splendor with the mighty attending, he found Paul much smaller than expected. The royal hush washed over the assembly as the king motioned for Paul to give his defense.

“I consider myself fortunate,” began the prisoner, “that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently” (Acts 26:2–3).

Agrippa was ready to do just that.

He listened as Paul recalled growing up a Pharisee, hunting Christians, and meeting Jesus in a heavenly vision on the Damascus road. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Jesus was alive, Paul insisted. Furthermore, he said that Moses and the prophets spoke of this very thing and even foretold such things as salvation extending to the Gentiles (Acts 26:4–23).

“Paul, you are out of your mind,” Festus interrupted with a yell, “your great learning is driving you out of your mind” (Acts 26:24). To this Paul responds with something equally as shocking to the king’s sensibilities. And how Paul replies next, how he turns matters to the king directly, offers a balancing word to one of our evangelistic emphases today.

King in the Dock

“I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus,” Paul responds, “but I am speaking true and rational words.” And as if pointing to the throne, he continues, “For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe” (Acts 26:25–27).

Paul, on trial before the king, puts the king on trial before Christ.

Paul’s appeal is no vague word or bashful plea. He speaks plainly, courteously, boldly, and directly. He does not shoot over Agrippa’s head but lets the arrow fly at his heart. Before the watching eyes of everyone who is anyone in the region, Paul looks him in the eye, and says for all to hear, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

The arrow finds its mark. The king staggers. In wonder he asks, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28).

Whether Long or Short

I find great correction in this scene, summarized by Paul’s final response,

Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am — except for these chains. (Acts 26:29)

Organic, relational, “long” evangelism has its place. This form of evangelism tends to be especially useful with people woven into our lives. With those we will see again, we want them to witness our lives and open up to us that we might bring Christ to their specific hopes, sins, and sorrows. One brick at a time, one conversation at a time, because we have more time, so we think. “Whether short or long” he declared to Agrippa, “I wish that you would be a Christian.” He makes space for long.

But how many of us today have jettisoned the first half — the short-term, first-conversation evangelism that arrested the king? He did not expect that Paul would press the relevance of this news to his conscience and call for a response in their first conversation. “In such a short time,” he asked, “would you persuade me to be a Christian?” In such a short time, Paul would.

Not only did Paul have the spine to evangelize the king in front of all notable somebodies, but he turned to them, seeking to win everyone within the range of his voice to Christ. “I would that all of you be a Christian, just as I am,” he said turning to the spectators, “except, of course, for these chains.” He only had one shot. And so, with little regard to his own welfare, he broke down the fourth wall and addressed every man, woman, and child openly: “I would that all of you believed and were saved!”

Lies Short-Circuiting Evangelism

Do we do the same? Does it feel taboo to share the gospel at the bus stop, restaurant, basketball game, on the airplane? “Drive-by” evangelism, some have called it. Unnatural, ineffective, abrupt, and most likely offensive. That sort of thing is impolite and undemocratic, and if it must be done, surely it should be left to those especially gifted as evangelists, right?

When I am tempted to think this way, such resistance belies several wrong beliefs that are especially compelling in our day.

‘Jesus can’t save in one conversation.’

When I forget that the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16), I remain silent. Offering a word of true hope to a stranger can’t do anything but make me look foolish, so why bother?

But Paul remembered the power of the gospel.

“God, through his gospel, can and does save — sometimes over years of relationship and often in random, short conversations.”

One vibrating with divine life, quaking with expectation, muscular enough to capture and liberate even the chief of sinners. He was willing to persuade them, with a “loud voice” at his trial, and expected King Agrippa, the military tribunes, and “the prominent men of the city” to cast off their crowns and bow their knees before the King of glory (Acts 25:23). If Jehovah’s Witnesses, with their door-to-door evangelism, believe they have a message that can save in a moment — why not the actual witnesses of Jehovah?

‘Salvation is my work, not God’s.’

New birth is not fundamentally the offspring of a good relationship between a Christian and non-Christian. Our coffee conversations or basketball games or neighborly help has no power to raise anyone from the dead. Salvation is now and forever a sovereign act of our Almighty God. When Nicodemus hears Jesus explain this, he is perplexed and astounded (John 3:4). “You must be born again.”

No, Nicodemus, your positive assessment of me and my miracles is not enough — you must be born again.
Yes, your self-striving will not avail you of the kingdom. Correct, you can no more choose to be born again spiritually than you chose to be born physically.
You have as much control of the Spirit as you do the wind. And if you had read the Scriptures correctly, none of this should surprise you.

That night Jesus baffled Nicodemus, but it can encourage us in our evangelism. No matter how vulnerable, risky, awkward it feels, God, through his gospel, can and does save — sometimes over years of relationship and often in random, short conversations. Nicodemus’s life, for one, shows what one uncomfortable conversation can do (John 7:50–51; 19:38–40).

‘A personal relationship makes evangelism easier.’

In my experience, the less short-term mindset I have at the beginning, the harder long-term evangelism tends to be. If I refuse to tell someone from the get-go that I am a Christian, the harder it becomes to tell him later. It always feels odd to introduce something so massive about myself later on. It seems to betray that Jesus isn’t really that important to me.

“I know we have known each other for a while now, but did I ever mention what matters most to me? I believe a murdered Jewish carpenter — who was also God in the flesh and the fulfillment of God’s plan for the world — is now alive, enthroned in heaven, and will come back soon to judge the world in righteousness?”

“Gospel truth doesn’t only travel through well-established relationships, nor does it travel at all when not shared.”

Typically, the more upfront we are in the beginning (if possible, in the very first conversation), the easier it becomes to return to Jesus later on. And again, it is our privilege to share the hope that we have, and not our responsibility to convert the person by our conversational prowess. The saving work is God’s alone.

God, Give Me One

None of this is an assault on “relational” or “friendship” evangelism. The apostle himself, after all, would win King Agrippa in a short time or long. My point is that long-term evangelism must not be our only method, nor is it a reasonable excuse to neglect single-conversation evangelism. Despite the merits of the statements like, “Truth travels best through relationship,” I want to remind you, as I remind myself, that gospel truth doesn’t only travel through well-established relationships, nor does it travel at all when not shared.

I know of an elderly saint in my church who recently told me, “I have prayed every day for God to send me one person that day to tell about Jesus, and in fifty years he has not failed me once.” Paul modeled such bold, firm, polite, short and long evangelism. Let’s pray such prayers and not fail when it comes time to speak.

Sympathy Without Distress: The Exalted Compassion of Christ

“Only remember me,” Joseph requested, “when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house” (Genesis 40:14). Though he sat in prison, Joseph had just interpreted the cupbearer’s dream favorably: he would be restored to his former height in three days. “Only remember me to Pharaoh,” Joseph asked.

In three days, the cupbearer was taken from the cell as foretold. It will only be a matter of time now, Joseph thought. Three more days passed. Five days. A week. “Two whole years” (Genesis 41:1). Nothing. Once ascended to his former place, “the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (Genesis 40:23).

When you think of the ascended Christ, do you imagine someone like this cupbearer? Has he who once descended into our pit and suffered for our sins — only to rise to a better life three days later — forgotten us?

Perhaps you expect his attention when he returns, but until then, he basks in the angel’s praises, grips the scepter firmly in hand, and with our prison far behind him, you suspect that you remain little upon his heart.

Sympathy of the Prince

William Gurnall (1616–1679) gives a moving illustration in reply:

Suppose a king’s son should get out of a besieged city, where he had left his wife and children, whom he loves as his own soul, and these all ready to die by sword or famine; if supply come not the sooner, could this prince, when arrived at his father’s house, please himself with the delights of the court, and forget the distress of his family? (The Christian in Complete Armor, 31)

Right now, Jesus thinks of me, he thinks of you, as this prince who has left his bride and children behind. He has not forgotten us, coronated as he is in glory, just as any good man could not for a moment forget his family shackled in sorrows in an evil land. If we who are sinful are moved at the distress of our loved ones, how could Christ, whose name is love, disregard the sufferings of his family still on earth?

If you’re tempted to feel forgotten, be reminded that right now Christ loves his bride with a love surpassing knowledge (Ephesians 3:19). His heart toward us from heaven deserves more thought than many of us give it. Consider first how un-cupbearer-like our ascended Christ is, and then why Christ does “please himself with the delights of the court” while still not forgetting “the distress of his family” — and why that is such good news for us.

He Has Not Forgotten

Jesus, our King, has departed into glory, leaving us here on earth. And unlike the prince in Gurnall’s illustration, Jesus prays we remain temporarily apart, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). But in order that we might not draw false conclusions, on the eve of his death Jesus also says in several ways, “I will not forget you.”

He assures them, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). He promises, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. . . . Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:18–19).

When sorrow fills their hearts at this news, he ensures that he means their good: “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). He guarantees, “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).

On the darkest night in history, Christ carries his people upon his heart in prayer to his Father: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). And this he prays for you and me as well: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20).

“Surely Jesus will not forget his bride, the reward of his suffering and anguish.”

These words do not pour forth from a heavenly cupbearer. We can be certain that he who said, “as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9), and whose life was summarized in those expiring hours with the words, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1) — surely he will not forget his bride, the reward of his suffering and anguish. Nor in a real sense will he ever truly leave her (Matthew 28:20).

He Still Enjoys the Court

Suffice it to say that Jesus Christ will not, cannot, forget his beloved, even if his beloved is prone to forget that she is not forgotten. This is one problem.

But there is another: we can assume that Christ thinks only of us. The spirit of our age would have us picture a needy, codependent, lovesick Messiah. He is in heaven, not really paying attention to the glory there, doodling hearts on the margins of the cosmos with our name in the middle.

Such a spirit omits that Jesus also told his disciples, “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). We might be conditioned to believe that his world revolves around us, that he must be perpetually pained in heaven, unable to fully rejoice with his Father or receive praises or enjoy the delights of the court because we are not yet there.

When He Wrote to Her

Consider the love letter he sends from heaven to his hurting, left behind bride in Smyrna. She is a faithful local church (no censure or call to repentance appears in this letter). How does the compassionate Christ speak to his suffering church? To the angel of the church of Smyrna, he tells John, write,

The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death. (Revelation 2:8–11)

What comfort does he offer? He says that he is the first and the last, the one who died and came back to life. He says he knows their tribulation and their poverty (though they are rich). He tells them that he hears the slander of their enemies who have become a “synagogue of Satan.”

But notice too how he instructs them in their persecution: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer” — Satan’s throwing them into prison will test them, and end up serving greater purposes. Jesus tells them to be faithful unto death, and that he will be waiting on the other side with a crown of life. He tells them that they must conquer so as not to be hurt by the second death, the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14).

He gives to this church what appears to be a masculine comfort, that is, comfort that retains an exhortative tone given its vision of higher priorities (1 Thessalonians 2:11–12) — namely, the church’s eternal well-being.

Christ’s words here are not those of a nursing mother with her child (1 Thessalonians 2:7), though equally full of love. Jesus comforts this church, but not by telling her he cannot enjoy heaven and his Father while she remains oppressed and apart. He does not refuse to sit on the throne before she is seated safely in glory.

Moved, but Not Injured

Jesus cares deeply about us, but not too much — is that what I am trying to say? No. He cares more deeply about his bride than we know, and he is still our God who inhabits a heaven that is bigger than us. He loves us beyond knowledge, and he does not have absolute need of us. Part of the beauty of his love is how freely given, or unrequired, it is.

As our great high priest, Christ invites us to approach the throne of grace because he is able to sympathize with us (Hebrews 4:14–16). But he is not consumed by pity, nor does he feel with us so as to sustain injury. He owns our persecutions as the head of the body — “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me” (Acts 9:4) — yet not in such a way as to be freshly pierced.

Thomas Goodwin (1600–1680) describes it this way in The Heart of Christ:

These affections of pity and sympathy so stirred up by himself, though they. . . affect his bodily heart as they did here, yet they do not afflict and perturb him in the least, nor become a burden in a load unto his Spirit, so as to make him sorrowful or heavy, as in this life here his pity unto Lazarus made him, and as his distresses at last, that made him sorrowful unto death. (47)

“Jesus is provoked to help us; he draws near, moved by our hurt, while not being hurt himself.”

Jesus Christ, once a man of sorrows, has risen and ascended; he is not in heaven sunken that his bride is not yet there. Goodwin claims that the glorified Christ has “no tang of disquietment” or “afflicting affections,” though his “perfection does not destroy his affections.” He is provoked to help us; he draws near, moved in measure by our hurt, while not being hurt himself.

He Sees the Day

This is good news for us, for Christ loves his people without unbraiding all reality by loving them above his Father and his glory. The Son invites us into his eternal, Trinitarian love, without making us the primary focus of that eternal love. He loves us without making us God.

Our final joy and eternal well-being are certain. Jesus has no guesswork as to our fate. While far from unfeeling, he is not tossed by the waves, as we are this side of heaven.

Jesus is the Shepherd of the sheep, the Groom of his bride, guiding us home through a world of distress to springs of living water, promising to soon wipe away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 7:17; 21:4). While he tarries, he can and does enjoy “the delights of the court,” while not forgetting “the distress of his family.”

The Subtle Way to Waste Your Life: Confessions of a Sophisticated Sloth

If you were told you had five years to live, would you live more in those five years than in the decades you might have had left?

By “live” I cannot mean “lifespan,” or the question isn’t worth asking. I mean to live wide awake, live purposefully, live undistracted by empty pleasures. Could you imagine the quality of those five years becoming preferable? Could five years more alive to God, his world, and the faces around us outshine decades of business and bluster with little fullness?

Oh, to sail under the stars awake to life, feeling the breeze upon your face and hearing the music of waves crashing. How different from the dreary drift from one meal to the next, one episode to the next, one year to the next.

Do you feel the preciousness of time? Are you truly living? A hand hold with a spouse or a wait in line at the store can take on new significance when we consider it occurs within this shooting star we call “life.”

Good I Could Have Done

I perplex myself, then, to consider how many golden moments I let pass, wasted. Hours upon hours, gone without notice, lost without grief. So many silver coins squandered; exchanged for pebbles and bubbles.

While not leaving the good news behind — namely that this neglect will not have the last word, but his grace will — the healthy sting is still felt. And if we let it: still instructive. When I awake to the value of time, the sheer possibility held in any given span, I sigh at how many moments have fallen irretrievably between the cracks — and this sends me to God for more mercy and help to better steward the time I have left.

This is especially true when I consider time lost while at work — how much good that might have outlasted me has been forfeit by my laziness and inattention?

What hid this realization from me for so long is that I never thought of myself as slothful. I get things done. At times, I’ve worked very hard. No one would have looked at me and said I sleep too much, or that I neglected my studies, or that I put off difficult things indefinitely. But looking back, I have realized in my work life that I have lived too often as a sophisticated sloth. Here are a few characteristics.

1. Slow to Begin

The traditional sluggard does not begin tasks at all. We hear his voice crying out from his bed, “There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!” (Proverbs 22:13; 26:13). He would go to the work like the rest of us, he assures us, but for those killer cats.

He says they prevent him from traveling to work,

There is a lion stalking the square.Travel to work? — I couldn’t dare.I shall stay in and feast— Oh that irksome beast —This confinement is too much to bare!

He says they prevent him from going to church,

There is a lion purring the pews.Upon good men’s bones it chews.Surely none could find faultIn avoiding assault;I’ll wait till next week to hear the good news!

And while I do not make such foolish excuses, as a sophisticated sloth, I start my tasks, eventually. The lions roaring in the street do not indefinitely detain, but they do delay me. When I gaze ahead and see duties sloping uphill, I decide I need some stretching before the activity — maybe some social media, or checking email, or a quick snack. How many hours have I wasted “getting in the mood” to start something difficult?

2. Quick to Break

We are told the traditional sluggard “buries his hand in the dish and will not even bring it back to his mouth” (Proverbs 19:24). This image is his profile picture.

The sluggard started his task. His hand, as a crane maneuvering a construction site, lifts, steers sideways, and drops on the full bowl. Upon impact, some Cheese Puffs jump overboard. As we continue to watch him, anticipating the triumphant return, we wait, and we wait — and we wait. Gravity assisted him on the way down, but has now betrayed him. The way up proves too much for him.

He is again made to seem ridiculous. As activity swirls about him, he sits immobilized, his hand in a dish. His eyes are open, but in such a way as to be shut. His fingers plop into the dish and remain, reluctant to return at the half-hearted bidding of their master. He is alive, but not alive. A man, but not a man. John Foster gives him a sobering epitaph, “Here lies a person who has lost nothing by being buried; for he is just as good a man underground as he was above” (An Essay on the Improvement of Time, 189).

“The sloth is alive, but not alive. A man, but not a man.”

By God’s grace, I am not such a creature. My hand does return, just not right away. I have been quick to indulge breaks as a reward for doing what was only my duty to begin with. That’s good enough for now, I think, don’t want to overdo it. A harder working man could have completed the same task without interruptions in a fraction of the time. A harder working man might have accomplished another life’s work by simply redeeming the intervals.

3. Open to Interruptions

I have contributed my attention to the notable businesses that profit on the distracted. Every text message and Youtube video seems so much more interesting when I am in the middle of my labor. The path of each workday has offered me multiple rest stops.

The traditional sloth also knows the power of a minor detour from the path.

A little sleep, a little slumber,     a little folding of the hands to rest,and poverty will come upon you like a robber,     and want like an armed man. (Proverbs 24:33–34)

The thief of time today is a tiny man. He specializes in little. Just a little sleep, a little slumber — just a little surfing the Internet, a little text-message conversation, a little checking of Facebook or ESPN.

He sells distractions during the workday, and though he will take large checks if he must, he prefers coins and small bills — ten minutes, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes — you know, harmless folding-of-the-hands kind of costs.

I, as the sophisticated sloth, have started and stopped, started and stopped, as a teenager learning to drive a stick shift for the first time. And while the classic sloth may not wake until he is robbed of everything, I return home every day just missing a few dollars here and there. The total sum I cannot estimate.

4. Puts Off Harder Work

This is one the cleverest tricks of the sophisticated sloth: He works — to avoid doing harder work. He is the kid who sees dad coming and rushes to take out the trash so his brother is left to shovel instead. He chooses to work when he must — to spare himself more difficult work later.

The end result looks like the typical sloth:

I passed by the field of a sluggard,     by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns;     the ground was covered with nettles,     and its stone wall was broken down. (Proverbs 24:30–31)

But the text doesn’t tell us about the sophisticated sloth inside his house, pointing to his mostly clean dishes, washed clothes, and bed with a comforter folded over bundled sheets. Too often, I have done the easier work indoors and left the harder work unattempted.

Missing Servant

Time is far too precious to let it so subtly slip away. Those pressed up against the grave more rightly estimate its value; blessed are we if we can waken before we near closer to that slumber. Jesus seeks to help us awake to the stewardship of our lives in the parable of the talents.

To the hardworking servant who trusts his Master, believes him, loves him, and knows the privilege of his service and thus invests and turns his five talents into five more, his master says to him,

Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master. (Matthew 25:21)

The slothful servant, afraid of his Master and otherwise suspicious of his motives, buries his talent in the ground. He doesn’t lose it; but doesn’t improve it either. To this man, the Master says,

You wicked and slothful servant! . . . You ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. . . . [C]ast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. (Matthew 25:26–27, 30)

“Time is precious. Now is the time to live and work and love.”

I, however, have been describing the man who did not make the parable. He is the servant to whom the Master gives five talents, and yet brings back just two more instead of the full five. He could have brought more — but he wasted so much time on lesser things.

Whether we have five years left or fifty, life is a most terrible thing to waste. To other such servants, consider with me what glory lies ahead for the faithful Christian servant. “Well done, my good and faithful servant” — the eternal commendation. “I will set you over much” — the everlasting stewardship. “Enter into the joy of your Master” — the undying bliss of life with our God.

Might this not help us toward faithful living in total reliance upon our Savior?

Lord, Let Me Die: Mercy for Those Tired of Living

Over the years, I have talked with several Christians who have told me they wanted to die. They were of different ages and different ethnicities; they had different personalities and different reasons. But they each concluded that death was better for them now than life.

It took courage to bring into the open the secret thoughts of death. Many others could not relate. Most of humanity had only run from the dread that gained on them moment by moment. Few had felt the impulse to stop, turn, and welcome the beast as a friend.

Now these, again, were Christian men and women. They knew the horror of self-murder. They knew such a crime was not a romantic gesture between teenage lovers, but a heinous sin against the Author of life. When suicidal ruminations sought to guide them to another exit, even amid debilitating and cruel circumstances, they knew to resist Satan’s suggestions. By faith, they would continue, one foot in front of the other, until their all-wise Father brought them home. And a few had prayed for just that.

“If you have asked God to take your life, the first thing to realize is that you are not alone.”

If you have asked God to take your life, one of the first truths to realize is that you are not alone.

God has heard such petitions before. For different reasons, at different times, from different pits, men and women of God have prayed to be taken away. And the prayers we find in Scripture come not just from normal saints like us, but from the ones we would least expect to struggle with this life: leaders and heroes of God’s people.

Consider a few men of God, then, whose prayers the Holy Spirit captured to remind us we are not alone and, more importantly, to witness how our kind and gracious God deals with his own at their lowest.

Job: The Despairing Father

Oh that I might have my request, and that God would fulfill my hope, that it would please God to crush me, that he would let loose his hand and cut me off! (Job 6:8–9)

I wager that anguished prayers for death are the most common. They come in the winter of life, when even songbirds are too cold to sing.

Job, a righteous man without rival on earth (Job 1:8), now sits in the ashes, boils rising on his skin, surrounded by accusing friends, and plagued with a heart too heavy to carry. His shards of a prayer rise from the ruins of a former life: all his wealth gone, many of his servants slain, and what was more, all ten of his children buried beneath a house, collapsed by a great wind.

Job, staggering with grief, curses the day of his birth: “Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived’” (Job 3:3). He muses aloud, “Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave?” (Job 3:20–22). Death now glitters as a treasure, wafts as sweetness. He sees no reason to wait.

Perhaps you, like Job, know great loss. Perhaps you sit in the rubble, scorned by former days and missing loves. You can’t bear any more; you gaze ahead into an endless night. Hope has turned its back. Consider afresh that God has not.

“Continue believing. Continue trusting. This dark night is preparing for you an eternal weight of glory.”

The Lord denied Job’s request. He had more compassion to give, more mercy, more communion, more repentance, even more children waiting on the other side. Job couldn’t yet imagine how his life might turn out to glorify God’s grace, as James summarizes: “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11).

Some sufferers may not find comfort in the fairy-tale ending of Job, but his renewed fortunes foreshadow not even half of yours in Christ. Continue believing. Continue trusting. This dark night is preparing for you an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). Scars will do more than heal there.

Moses: The Weary Leader

If you will treat me like this, kill me at once. (Numbers 11:15)

This is the second prayer for death we overhear from Moses on his long journey with the people. The first comes in his intercession for them following the golden-calf rebellion (Exodus 32:32). Here, he prays for death as an overburdened, fed-up leader.

The rescued people of Israel, with sores still mending and Egypt still within view, complain “about their misfortunes.”

Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at. (Numbers 11:4–6)

Ingratitude has warped their minds. Their memories suggest that slavery included a seafood buffet; meanwhile, the free miracle bread had grown bitter and bland. Did Moses really expect them to settle for second chef?

The ingrates fix their eyes on Moses, mutinously mumbling about how much they missed Egypt. Moses looks up to God, and exclaims,

I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness. (Numbers 11:14–15)

Notice again God’s gracious answer. He does not kill Moses, but instead provides seventy elders to aid him in his work, giving these men some of his Spirit. And for added measure, God promises to feed Israel meat — so much meat that it will come out of their nostrils and they will begin to loathe it (Numbers 11:20).

If you weary under burdens too heavy for your feeble arms to carry, and could wish to die at times, see the God of Moses. Lean into him in prayer. Your compassionate Father will provide help to alleviate your load and hold up your arms to give victory.

Jonah: The Angry Messenger

Please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live. (Jonah 4:3)

The merciless prophet Jonah baffles many when they read the book bearing his name. He shows a calloused determination that Nineveh, capital city of Israel’s enemy the Assyrians, not receive mercy from God but rather destruction. He refuses to be an instrument of their salvation.

God had renewed him after sailing away from his calling. God had rescued him from drowning in the sea. God had given him refreshing shade as he waited outside the city to watch it burn. Yet Jonah still would not put away his hatred. When he realized no doom would descend,

It displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:1–3)

Few in the West today face the temptation to want a whole people destroyed. The Assyrians were a brutal people — brutal to Jonah’s people. But perhaps we often murder in our hearts those who have wronged us. While they live, our life rots. To this, the Lord responds, again, patiently and compassionately, giving us shade while we scorch, asking us as a long-suffering Father, “Do you do well to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4).

Most of the time, we do not do well. This prayer for death is foolish. Repentance is required. Go to your Father for help to extend that impossible forgiveness that you most freely received from him, that you might be able to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

Elijah: The Fearful Prophet

[Elijah] was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life. . . . And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19:3–4)

We can attest truly that here stands one with a like nature to ours (James 5:17). Notice that this moment follows Elijah’s finest hour. The prophet of God won the showdown with Ahab and the 450 prophets of Baal. God rains down fire in front of all Israel to show that a true prophet walks among them.

Or runs among them. After Jezebel hears that he had the 450 prophets of Baal killed, she vows to add Elijah to that number. “Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life” (1 Kings 19:3). The hunted prophet hides in the wilderness, sits under a tree, tries to sleep, and prays not to wake: “O Lord, take my life.”

Do you pray for death because you fear those living? Jesus tells us, “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do” (Luke 12:4). Beyond this, the story of Elijah invites us to survey our last year or our last week or our yesterday for reasons, often conspicuous, to continue entrusting ourselves to a faithful Creator while doing good.

God, again, deals compassionately with Elijah. He calls him to rise and eat, provides a fresh meal for him in the wilderness, and gives provision for the journey ahead (1 Kings 19:5–8). Notice also the smiling kindness of God to Elijah in that the prophet, though threatened with death and praying for death, never dies (2 Kings 2:11–12).

Paul: The Eager Apostle

My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1:23)

God’s predominant response to those men of God who prayed for death is fatherly compassion.

Whether you be Jonah-like and tempted to despise God’s mercy toward others, or you cry out under your burdens like Moses, or run for your life like Elijah, or yearn for relief like Job, consider your gracious God. He meets Job with himself and a new beginning, Moses with seventy men to help, Jonah with a plant for shade, Elijah with food and drink for the journey ahead.

And God himself, after all, through the finished work of his Son and the recreating work of his Spirit, turns death into an eager expectation for us, does he not? That enemy death must ferry us into that world for which we were remade.

The apostle Paul, though not praying for death, shows us a redeemed perspective on our last foe.

To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1:21–23)

We too can turn, face the monster in God’s perfect timing, and embrace it with a peace the world does not know. We too have a healthy longing to depart from this earth and be with Christ. We too have the Spirit, who inwardly groans as we await the consummation of our hope (Romans 8:23). We too pray, “Maranatha!” and long for this world’s last night because we long for this world’s new beginning.

We do not long to die for death’s sake, nor merely to escape our troubles, but we do ache for an unending life with Christ that lies on the other side of sleep, and which we can taste more and more, even now, through his word and Spirit.

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