Greg Morse

The Curse Under Our Breath

Paul describes the luminary life of trusting saints; a life that shines in a dark and thankless world (Romans 1:21). Blamelessness, innocence, proving ourselves to be children of God—all by a supernatural life of worship instead of bleating.

At first, it seems a little thing,A want unmet, a prayer unwinged.Voiceless, it interrogates the King,When sounded, Lucifer sings.
Grumbling.
If you do not stand at the gate armed with sword and spear, if you keep down the drawbridge and fail to post men on the watchtower, gurgles and grunts will occupy your heart. Self-love and unbelief have a fruitful marriage, multiplying little moans and murmurs as rabbits in the forest or as crabgrass in the front lawn.
What is in a grumble? The sound, unheard in heaven, is the heart shaking its head, rolling its eyes, cursing under its breath. It is the seemingly harmless exhale of several respectable sins—ingratitude, thanklessness, discontent. It’s a controlled rage, an itchy contempt, the muffled echo of Satan’s dismay. A broken tune. It can be voiced in a sigh or strangle a praise. It is the cough of a sick heart.
We overhear these pitiful pleas all over the New Testament. The volume turns up with the crowds and soon-to-be apostate disciples of John 6, and in episodes with the envious scribes and Pharisees. Yet New Testament authors often bend the ear backward to hear the mumblings of an ancient people. None better expose the horror of this muffled mutiny than ancient Israel.
The apostle Paul writes,
We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.(1 Corinthians 10:9–11)
God’s Spirit records Israel’s history in the wilderness to teach us about this too-easily-committed and too-easily-overlooked sin of grumbling.
Lessons from the Mumblers
If we had to venture a guess as to who the first grumblers mentioned in Scripture would be, could any man or angel have suspected it to be God’s own people, and that right after their wondrous redemption from Egypt?
Ten plagues have fallen on Pharoah’s defiance. His army and chariots now lie at the bottom of the sea, a calm settles upon the water’s surface—Israel is free. Uproar sounds in the heavens, and praise to God extends to earth. Music sheets are passed around beside the Red Sea, they begin,
I will sing to [Yahweh] for he has triumphed gloriously;the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.(Exodus 15:1)
Who could have guessed that these same tongues would rot into a chorus of murmurs by the end of the same chapter? Satan’s song intrudes. Lucifer’s lyrics, once sung, get stuck in their heads. Trial after trial—needing water, then food, then water again—leads to more and more muttering. Consider, then, just a few lessons from the all too familiar sounds of Exodus 15–16.
God deprives us to see what’s inside us.
God led Israel around the Philistines, in front of the Red Sea to bait Pharoah, and through the Red Sea, and now to the wilderness of Shur. Millions marched waterless. One day turned to two turned to three. Finally, in the distance, water. They bend down to drink—yuck. Dying of thirst, they spit out the sour beverage. They named the place “Marah,” meaning bitterness (Exodus 15:22–23). We finally find water and it is undrinkable? Is this where trusting the Lord gets you? For the first time in the Hebrew Bible we read, “And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’” (Exodus 15:24).
And then, as he did with the water, so God did with their stomachs: “he tested them” (verse 25). He “let them hunger” and led the people to depend upon him that whole forty years to see what was in their hearts (Deuteronomy 8:2–3). And he found Marah in his people—out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth sighs. When you find yourself kneeling by the bitter waters of God’s providence, what does God hear from you? Cries to your heavenly Father for help and mercy, or grunts against an unreliable god?
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How Not to Pray: Learning from Pharisees and Pagans

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name . . . (Matthew 6:9)

How many lips have formed these words since the Lord Jesus first taught them? How many languages have uttered them? How many different people, in how many different circumstances, have bowed their heads and hearts to pray as Jesus famously instructs?

The dying have prayed it. The uneducated have prayed it. The unbelieving and villainous have even prayed it. Children have prayed it. The great and wise have found room for it. Every continent on earth has heard it whispered. Tribes in remote villages and kings in tall palaces have bowed and repeated after the Jewish prophet from Nazareth. Has there been a prayer more prayed; have there been words more often spoken?

“For some of our wandering prayer lives, the best thing for us to learn is how not to pray.”

And yet, for as many as have repeated our Master’s teaching on how to pray, how many can repeat what words come directly before them — namely, the ones teaching us how not to pray? How many realize that our Lord’s instruction on prayer is both positive and negative — that it doesn’t simply stand alone but is given in contrast? For some of our wandering prayer lives, the best thing for us to learn is how not to pray like a Pharisee or a pagan.

Prayers of Pharisees

Do you love to be noticed and admired by others when you pray?

Jesus’s first how-not-to aims at the hypocrite, embodied in the Pharisee. When the Pharisee prayed, he wanted not so much to pray as to be seen praying. As a bird in mating season, he sang forth loud, preening look-at-me prayers.

“And when you pray,” Jesus begins, “you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others” (Matthew 6:5).

Such a man pours his best zeal and focus and interest into public prayers. He positions himself on street corners or within small groups. What may seem stirring and deeply spiritual to many does not impress the one above who knows their anxious thoughts: Are others looking? Are they impressed?

Jesus shows us an example of such a look-at-me pray-er, who cannot help exalting himself even without an audience.

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” (Luke 18:10–12)

In other words, “God, thank you that when you look at me — and when I look at me — we both behold such a pleasing sight! Unlike this man, loathsome to both Gentile and Jew alike, you have made me quite the spectacle. Twice per week my belly aches from fasting. My spice racks withhold not your due!” “Be merciful to me a sinner” lives miles from his mind in the distant town called Justified.

Do you pray to impress others? To build up a spiritual résumé? How is your life of secret prayer? Do you ever stand so tall or shine with such saintly luster as when you know others are watching? You must not be like them, Jesus teaches, for “they have received their reward.” Instead, “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:5–6).

Prayers of Pagans

Have you come to the end of your prayers and realized you can’t remember anything you just prayed? You spoke Christian-speak — observed the phrases of prayer, drew near to God with your mouth, and honored him with your lips while your heart was far from him. Prayer on autopilot.

“And when you pray,” Jesus teaches next, “do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7).

The pagans prayed empty mantras, stale platitudes, barren banalities. Prayer for pagans often proved little more than a formula — say these words so many times, and the gods will hear and reply. Just babble invocations in order to awaken your deity from his slumber, and he will eventually bless you. The priests of Baal modeled this in their showdown with Elijah, praying, “O Baal, answer us!” from morning until noon (1 Kings 18:26).

So too with us.

Although we do not pray to stones or wood or the sun, Jesus does not want his disciples praying true words to the true God falsely. Emptily. I don’t know about you, but mealtime prayers can be the first ones vampired of their lifeblood (what does it even mean to “bless this food to our bodies”?). Too many times, my mouth has moved, prayers were spoken — but not really from me. A pious ventriloquism.

Our Lord exposes a hidden insecurity underneath empty-phrased pagan prayers: “They think that they will be heard for their many words.” The pagans are uncertain about the divine heart toward them — so they appease or impress or update the unknowing and unconcerned gods. They try to get their attention, throwing dust at the heavens, desperately wishing for someone to answer.

Such an insecurity resonates with my say-more prayers. Am I really being heard? Prayer can seem less reliable than, say, a text message, which tells me it was delivered. Not so with prayer. I feel as though I pray carrier pigeons — as each flaps away, I hope some will arrive at the destination.

Praying empty phrases with many words, then, can turn into a probability proposition. The more pigeons, the greater the odds God receives the message. Third-times-a-charm mentality. But Jesus allays our rambling fears: “Do not be like them,” he instructs, “for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Before you approach your Father’s throne, he knows. He knows your needs — his eye has not turned from you. The pagans pray to the unknown god. We pray to a Father.

Prayer for Christians

Jesus introduces “Our Father who art in heaven” with “Pray then like this” (Matthew 6:9). Then connects the instruction on how not to pray with the how-to Lord’s Prayer.

I believe Jesus gives us this prayer, in part, to contrast with the how-not-to errors of the hypocrites and pagans. In his short prayer, Jesus gives us an alternative to the look-at-me prayer of the Pharisee and the say-more prayer of the pagan.

Against hypocrite prayers, he teaches us to pray,

Our Father in heaven,hallowed be your name.Your kingdom come,your will be done,     on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9–10)

Jesus teaches his disciples to pray that God in all his glory be seen, not us. Instead of our names being hallowed, our kingdoms coming, our righteousness being seen and praised and admired — or the various ways we ask for these — we want God’s to be imposed and cherished. This prayer, spoken from the heart and not just the mouth, transforms hypocrites to worshipers, deorbiting the heart from revolving around self to God. And when God’s fame is truly our heart’s desire, we will come to love secret prayer.

Against pagan prayers, Jesus adds,

Give us this day our daily bread,and forgive us our debts,     as we also have forgiven our debtors.And lead us not into temptation,     but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:11–13)

“When God’s fame is truly our heart’s desire, we will come to love secret prayer.”

Instead of waking a snoring deity, anxious to appease the god we do not truly know, we pray to a heavenly Father. And therefore, instead of seeking to impress or play probability games with the divine ear, we can pray simple, childlike, and even concise prayers to our Father (this prayer totals 57 words in Greek, 38 in Luke’s account), knowing that we have his ear through Jesus Christ. We ask him for the needs we already know he knows about. He is a Father, bidding his sons and daughters come close to tell him all the requests of their hearts.

One of the best ways to pray is to know how not to pray. Instead of praying self-exalting prayers that cry, Look at me! we pray in secret, and we pray for God’s glory to be loved and admired. Instead of praying empty-talk, babbling, insecure prayers, we pray about daily bread and forgiveness, knowing that he knows our needs and has forgiven us in Christ before we ask him.

The Curse Under Our Breath: What Grumbling Sounds Like to God

At first, it seems a little thing,A want unmet, a prayer unwinged.Voiceless, it interrogates the King,When sounded, Lucifer sings.

Grumbling.

If you do not stand at the gate armed with sword and spear, if you keep down the drawbridge and fail to post men on the watchtower, gurgles and grunts will occupy your heart. Self-love and unbelief have a fruitful marriage, multiplying little moans and murmurs as rabbits in the forest or as crabgrass in the front lawn.

What is in a grumble? The sound, unheard in heaven, is the heart shaking its head, rolling its eyes, cursing under its breath. It is the seemingly harmless exhale of several respectable sins — ingratitude, thanklessness, discontent. It’s a controlled rage, an itchy contempt, the muffled echo of Satan’s dismay. A broken tune. It can be voiced in a sigh or strangle a praise. It is the cough of a sick heart.

We overhear these pitiful pleas all over the New Testament. The volume turns up with the crowds and soon-to-be apostate disciples of John 6, and in episodes with the envious scribes and Pharisees. Yet New Testament authors often bend the ear backward to hear the mumblings of an ancient people. None better expose the horror of this muffled mutiny than ancient Israel.

The apostle Paul writes,

We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:9–11)

God’s Spirit records Israel’s history in the wilderness to teach us about this too-easily-committed and too-easily-overlooked sin of grumbling.

Lessons from the Mumblers

If we had to venture a guess as to who the first grumblers mentioned in Scripture would be, could any man or angel have suspected it to be God’s own people, and that right after their wondrous redemption from Egypt?

Ten plagues have fallen on Pharoah’s defiance. His army and chariots now lie at the bottom of the sea, a calm settles upon the water’s surface — Israel is free. Uproar sounds in the heavens, and praise to God extends to earth. Music sheets are passed around beside the Red Sea, they begin,

I will sing to [Yahweh] for he has triumphed gloriously;     the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. (Exodus 15:1)

Who could have guessed that these same tongues would rot into a chorus of murmurs by the end of the same chapter? Satan’s song intrudes. Lucifer’s lyrics, once sung, get stuck in their heads. Trial after trial — needing water, then food, then water again — leads to more and more muttering. Consider, then, just a few lessons from the all too familiar sounds of Exodus 15–16.

1. God deprives us to see what’s inside us.

God led Israel around the Philistines, in front of the Red Sea to bait Pharoah, and through the Red Sea, and now to the wilderness of Shur. Millions marched waterless. One day turned to two turned to three. Finally, in the distance, water. They bend down to drink — yuck. Dying of thirst, they spit out the sour beverage. They named the place “Marah,” meaning bitterness (Exodus 15:22–23). We finally find water and it is undrinkable? Is this where trusting the Lord gets you? For the first time in the Hebrew Bible we read, “And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’” (Exodus 15:24).

“When you find yourself kneeling by the bitter waters of God’s providence, what does God hear from you?”

And then, as he did with the water, so God did with their stomachs: “he tested them” (verse 25). He “let them hunger” and led the people to depend upon him that whole forty years to see what was in their hearts (Deuteronomy 8:2–3). And he found Marah in his people — out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth sighs. When you find yourself kneeling by the bitter waters of God’s providence, what does God hear from you? Cries to your heavenly Father for help and mercy, or grunts against an unreliable god?

2. Grumbling complains against God.

Grumbling would weaponize our circumstances against God if we let it. Yet, it doesn’t always feel like that, does it? I am complaining because my darling child pooped through her diaper, or because I’m late for work and now stuck in traffic — not because I dislike God. Hear Moses’s analysis of Israel’s grumbling,

“At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. For what are we, that you grumble against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him — what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.” (Exodus 16:6–8)

Moses speaks in capital letters: The arrows of your complaints fly at the Lord. So it is with us. He hears our creaturely objections, as protests against his throne, even when we do not lift our eyes to meet his. What is a boss or infertility or ruined plans or cancer that we gripe at them? God rules all with infinite wisdom and care. Against him, him only have we grumbled, and done what is evil in his sight.

3. Grumbling is severely short-sighted.

Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water. (Exodus 15:27)

The springless wilderness of Shur often leads to the plentiful land of Elim. Even in Shur, God responded graciously to his people’s huffing and puffing, turning the bitter water sweet. But before the relief arrived and the parched throats tasted sweet drink, how many kept trusting him?

This point climaxes at the arrival to Elim — and cuts me to the heart. How many times have I finally arrived at the place of twelve springs and lush palm trees — the place God was leading the whole time — with sharp regrets about my distrust? He blessed me, but despite me. I pouted the whole way.

“To my shame — and to the glory of his patience — our God is more gracious than we are grumbling.”

To my shame — and to the glory of his patience — our God is more gracious than we are grumbling. But this should make us hate the murmurs more. Our protests and complaints cannot see past our own noses. Often just around the corner is the respite of some smiling providence. Our God leads us out of Egypt to hold a feast to him in the wilderness (Exodus 5:1). Blessed is he who did not curse God under his breath in the meantime.

4. A grumbling heart distorts reality.

Would that we had died by the hand of Yahweh in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger. (Exodus 16:3)

The muttering heart thinks the worst of God and the best of its former suffering. God would be their provider and their healer (Exodus 15:26). Yet, meat pots and a full-service bakery in Egypt sprout in the malcontent’s mind. They would rather have died under the Lord’s plagues in Egypt than suffer want in this wandering wilderness. A month ago, they praised God for sinking his enemies under the sea like a stone; now they wished to be that stone.

When the way seems meandering and lost, when resources dry up, when circumstances seem too cruel to have a purpose, God is for his people, teaching us precious truths.

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8:3)

God’s great Israel, Jesus Christ, learned this lesson in his forty days in the wilderness, and he quotes it at the devil when tempted (Matthew 4:4). These seasons can teach us also to walk by faith, to nourish our souls with his word, to venture all upon his promises. And these lessons, should we learn them, become the defining moments of our lives and our proudest memories in heaven.

Satisfied and Shining

At first, it seems a little thing,A knee now bent, thanks to bring.When in need, it trusts a worthy King,When sounded, heaven rings.

Prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.

This is the Christian’s lot — not just starving grumbles alone, but feeding worship. God has delivered us through a greater exodus and manifested a higher love in his Son: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We are a people who now address one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs “with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

How startling then, for angels to hear us begin our day with songs to Jesus, only to end that same morning with snorts of irritation and resentment. Paul gives a glorious battle cry against it. Directly after the momentous charge to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you” (Philippians 2:13), listen to the first thing Paul would have us work out in the next verse.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life. . . . (Philippians 2:14–16)

Paul describes the luminary life of trusting saints; a life that shines in a dark and thankless world (Romans 1:21). Blamelessness, innocence, proving ourselves to be children of God — all by a supernatural life of worship instead of bleating.

Don’t you want to live that brightly to the glory of Christ, holding fast to his word, journeying toward the greater Elim just around the bend?

The Birth of Inconvenience: Parenthood in the Eyes of Demons

Globdrop,

I nearly forgot to respond to a slender detail you so quickly skipped past: “They are considering having children.” Are they now? Have you nothing more to say? No course of action to take? Do your eyes fail to see the Enemy’s movements in the dark?

Have you never considered what a disadvantage we demons endure to remain at a fixed multitude? Should our pits and shadows become spawns of reproduction, would this war have not long since been won? Would not our hoards stand without number, offspring more numerous than the stars, swarming as the locusts in Egypt? The Enemy saw well the threat. We would require that every demon spawn an army of himself; imagine our sheer density. But such powers the Enemy gifts to his little cottontails. A gift you must discourage at every turn.

You do not tempt, may I remind you, in that tiresome age that prized its children. Who saw their little vermin as “blessings from the Lord,” the solidifiers of a legacy, whose very existence signaled the exercising of dominion — a word you must keep from view. That Hebrew people troubled us to no end with their mocking genealogies, insisting that “children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” Arrows in the hand of a warrior they were to that people. Sharp to the patience of every demon made to watch them hatch and grow.

No, no, no, you tempt in an age with a different regard for their brood. Offspring remain forever second-best. What a delicious contempt exists in the word optional. Offspring are extracurricular — a mere lifestyle choice. Some have dogs, travel the world, or might throw themselves into collecting stamps; still others might, after giving up on better things, settle down and have children.

Incarceration and Interruption

This idea must hold utmost command of the male and female mind: children, at best, remain a backup plan. Tempt each according to their sex.

For the female, this shouldn’t be difficult. Our Gender Studies Department has done wonders exposing the truth of motherhood to this generation. A crib signals the female’s confinement; a swollen belly her inequality. How prejudiced of the Enemy, if you ask us, to create the female with the ability — nay, the imposed duty — to house the species in her body (with all the resulting wear and tear). What (ask her constantly) of her career? Her dreams? Her body? Her misfortune to have sex with greater consequences (stress that last word)?

For the male, we must stoke the idea that children distract from his life’s purpose, his attaining transcendence — instead of providing a means to it. Dominion, again, must be absent from his mind. Instead, remind him that children bother his career and limit his labor. As he builds to make a name for himself, do not let him imagine legacy through lineage. Make his first name more precious to him than his last.

Most men — and we even begin to make progress within the Enemy’s ranks — have a beautiful shortsightedness that would have shocked their forefathers. They prefer investing in themselves for themselves. A race of Hezekiahs, who don’t care much what happens to their offspring unborn, as long as it will be well with them.

Make sure to cast the spell. When they think of the little brats, let them see sleepless nights, the death of dreams, the sacrifice, the giving up of oneself — why bother? Why not buy a pet — man’s best, and much less demanding, friend? Entice them along these lines. Keep them thinking about themselves — not the extension of themselves. Go forth and . . . follow your own life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Discarded Image

Nephew, what do you see when you look at the yapping, flopping, drooling little creatures? If you see only food, you do not see as you ought. We hate their children, because we hate the Enemy himself and his image. Especially when that crude first birth gives way to a second. That sight of the Enemy in them grates our spirit. We would claw at his face, tear out his beard, mar him “beyond human semblance” all over again, if possible. But as it stands, he thinks to irritate us with little hims, running about in their poopy, needy course — potentially and horrifically to join his ranks and attain a much more accurate depiction.

These burping, crawling icons swarm our spirits, gnaw our patience, incite not just our appetite but our disgust. We hate their offspring (and them) with a complete hatred. Oh, that we could witness little ones drowning in the Nile again, or hear their pitiful yelps rise from Bethlehem. Of course, I downplay current successes; I do not mean to belittle our devilry — handing them the doctor’s forceps and judicial precedent. You cannot fault me for being, well, greedy.

Barren Household

All in all, Globdrop, sterilize him through his thoughts.

Show him and his wife the inconvenience of the leavened womb, how “the clump of cells” inside her threatens to clog careers and shave finances and constrict the home into a jail cell. Let them hear the midnight screams, the coming chaos — feel the cold death of lives formerly lived to themselves.

Cover the Enemy’s command to go forth and multiply; dull the unseemly spectacle of generating little souls; silence the little giggles, the pattering footsteps, the full-grown harvest. Cover his ears from that word dominion, and hers from glory. Snap their arrows. Break dreams of spawning little soldiers for the Enemy. Picture the disposable “it” as an interruption of better things; the double lines on the test signal downfall.

My mouth waters at scenes of my patients, now old and gray, who — neither through infertility nor miscarriage — sit diverting themselves in an empty house. They busily refused to have children, never knew birth pains for physical or spiritual sons and daughters, and now fill out crossword puzzles or scroll mindlessly through screens, bereft of memories and family photos. The best way to uproot a generational tree, nephew, is to prevent its planting.

Your begetting uncle,

Grimgod

The Starving Eyes of Man: Why We Ache to See Glory

The eyes of man were made for glory. His soul hungers for something worth seeing. This world is a war of spectacles.

Man is a watching creature, a born admirer, a natural worshiper. It is why he gazes at the stars, climbs to the top of mountains, explores underwater worlds, travels to new and untamed lands — he craves vistas. It explains why he pays good money to pack into sports arenas, stares for hours at television screens, pays homage to the flaming horizon, and sings with Adam at the naked frame of Eve — he was made to see wonders.

Human eyes have had an appetite from the beginning. Consider Eve’s fall: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes . . . she took of its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6). Eyes delighted; sin committed. The pattern holds with her and Adam’s children. When man exchanges the glory of God, he does so for images (Romans 1:23) — for that which intrigues the eye, something seen, a glory exchanged.

Ravenous, then, are the eyes of man. Like the belly, they hunger. Like the throat, they thirst. Like the feet, they wander, searching after something — anything — worth beholding. But in a world of images, he still hasn’t found what he is looking for. One wonder will be replaced by another and another. “Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man” (Proverbs 27:20).

But oh, how often humanity conceives its happiness backward. We think to achieve, to be somebody celebrated and revered — this fills the golden chalice with lasting happiness. But man is no dog to live for pats on the head. Just the opposite. Man is a creature who looks out the window through the rain, searching for something to enthrall him. To first see, not be seen; to chiefly admire, not be admired; to fix one’s gaze beyond earth’s horizons — this is the happiness so few ever find.

Back of Glory

Scripture testifies that some famished eyes looked above and found the true object of their desire.

Such ones climbed mountains to exclaim at the heavens, “Please show me your glory!” (Exodus 33:18). Such souls, when surrounded by danger and violence, wrote, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after . . . to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4). These eyes faced east and begged to see what would soothe their reason for being — in this world and the next. “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness,” sang David. “When I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (Psalm 17:15).

“Show me your glory! Satisfy me with your beauty! Show me your face — even beyond the grave — and it is well with me.”

But Old Testament saints, at best, viewed only the backside of divine glory. God tells Moses, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). The only glory that can satisfy man’s insatiable craving is the glory that would kill him to behold. So Moses hid in the cleft, seeing his back and hearing his name, but God’s face he did not see.

Face of Glory

Yet the story was not done. The glory that Moses could not see the face of, the beauty too fatal for fallen eyes, was born at Christmas. Wonder of wonders.

“The glory that Moses could not see the face of, the beauty too fatal for fallen eyes, was born at Christmas.”

To a little town named Bethlehem arrived the God no one had ever seen. The only God, who was eternally at the Father’s side — he has made him known (John 1:18). Christ — “the image of the invisible God,” the blinding light of God’s glory, “the exact imprint of his nature,” the very face of God’s beauty — became flesh and dwelt among us (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3; 2 Corinthians 4:4–6). “And we have seen his glory,” the astonished apostle writes, “glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Now, this all-Glorious One came down to us, as Moses came down from the mountain to Israel, veiled. His glory during his incarnation and humiliation was beheld not as much by sight as by faith. It stood as the marvel of angels that the thrice-holy one on the throne, possessor of all riches and glory, should grow up in the world of men “like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). The King veiled his majesty in human flesh, disguised his splendor, hid his name, and dwelled among the poor, diseased, and condemned.

But the eyes of faith came to see more than just a Jewish man. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!” Jesus exclaims after Peter identifies him as the Christ. “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).

Yet even his disciples were slow to see him. Philip requests of Jesus, “Show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” “Have I been with you so long,” Jesus replies, “and you still do not know me, Philip?” (John 14:8–9). Then, with weight enough to break the world’s back, he utters, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” When Philip heard the words and saw the works and beheld the Person born in Bethlehem, he should have seen the face of the one who dwells in “unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:16).

Seeing Heaven Himself

The sight of Jesus in all his glory alone can satisfy the eyes of men. Overhear Jesus’s prayer hours before the cross. He bends to ask that his disciples be given heaven’s crown jewel. What is that?

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)

“The sight of Jesus in all his glory alone can satisfy the eyes of men.”

Jesus wants his people to enjoy the sight their soul was made to see: the glory of God, shining forth in his glory, forever. He desires it — so much so that nails through the hands, the feet, the soul will not stop him from obtaining it. Here is the ultimate something worth seeing. Here is glory beyond hyperbole, said Thomas Watson.

Here is why redeemed beings have eyes: to see and savor Jesus Christ in his uncloaked glory. This is why we have mouths: to sing back to him praise unending. In his presence, faith will flee at that face whose intensity retires the sun: “The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23).

Sight That Makes Us Happy

The ache of men’s eyes sends them many places. The eyes of man rove the beauties of this world, restless. Only here, beholding Jesus — now by faith, soon by sight — do we find the beatific vision, the sight that makes eternally happy. Where are you looking, this Christmas, to satisfy your soul?

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8) — can you imagine anything better? In the closing chapter, we read, “They will see his face” (Revelation 22:4) — is there a better happily-ever-after? This is not the only joy heaven holds, but it is the best. His kingly countenance, concealed no longer, is heaven’s consummation for both unfallen angel and redeemed man.

“Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty” (Isaiah 33:17). We will not see him as he was in Bethlehem or in the streets of Jerusalem; we will see him as he is in royal beauty (1 John 3:2). There is a great deal of difference, Jeremiah Burroughs comments, “between seeing the King at an ordinary time, and seeing of him when he is in his Robes, with his Crown upon his head, and his Scepter in his hand, and set upon his Throne, with all his Nobles about him in all his glory” (Moses His Choice, with His Eye Fixed upon Heaven, 537).

And this sight of him transfigured will not merely satisfy but transform. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Burroughs again: “A deformed man may see a beautiful object, and that sight shall not make him like that beautiful object; but the sight of God shall make the soul glorious, as God is glorious” (581–82).

Seeing him as he is, we will join the seraphim in wonder, shouting holy! and worthy! until we threaten to burst with happiness. Available to us is the Face of glory, not the back; an eternal gaze at his beauty, not a passing glimpse. Now we may see in a mirror dimly, “but then face to face.” Now we know in part; then we shall know fully, even as we have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

This is the glory whispered at Christmas, sung at Easter, shouted in eternity — the glory profound enough to satiate our souls and make us happy forever.

The Secret Failure of Many Leaders

How tempting is this for Christian leaders today? You’ve given sermons or taught Sunday school or written articles in the past, and your Lord stood with you. You have made decisions for family, for your company, for your children, and God has blessed them. This time feels no different than then. So, without thinking much about it, you switch to autopilot, lean on your wisdom and strength, and grow more forgetful in prayer. Success is taken for granted, gratitude shrinks, presumption ascends.

They bought jeans already torn at the knees. The ambassadors from the great city left in haste to make peace with Joshua and his coming armies. But first, locals reported seeing them rummage through clothes at the local thrift store. Their pretend shabbiness served a vital purpose: survival.
Gibeon lay in the direct path of Joshua’s conquest. He, his men, and their God would be there within days. When the citizens of Gibeon heard what Israel’s God had done to Pharoah, to Jericho, and to Ai, they trembled. Though “greater than Ai,” they shuddered. Who could overcome a plague-punishing, wall-crumbling, city-engulfing Israel and her invisible God?
Their ragtag ambassadors — armed with worn-out sacks, patched sandals, tattered clothes, torn and mended wineskins, and “dry and crumbly” provisions (Joshua 9:4–5) — served as Gibeon’s salvation army. They intercepted Joshua at Gilgal saying in strained voice, “We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us” (Joshua 9:6). Would their lie be discovered?
“Who are you? And where do you come from?” Joshua replies.
They reiterate their deception and add more drama to their performance:
“Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold it is dry and crumbly.”
“These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst.”
“And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.” (Joshua 9:12–13)
Joshua looks at the bread, the wineskins, the sandals, the garments, and decides to make a covenant with them. The text interprets that decision for us: “So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord” (Joshua 9:14).
Failure of Good Leaders
Joshua, the son of Nun, was an excellent leader. If you were to write a book on leadership, you could hardly improve upon his example.
From the start, he had large sandals to fill. Moses, the sea-splitting shepherd, the mountain-climbing mediator, the law-providing prophet, now lay dead. Millions of eyes turned Joshua’s way — eyes of a people too given to squint in deadly disapproval. Would he be able to lead them into the Promised Land? Would they be led into the Promised Land?
In the face of vast armies, fortified cities, and fatal chariots, God’s commission to Joshua required force and bravery — which his very presence supplied, if Joshua would trust him. And Joshua did. He routinely risked life and limb venturing upon God’s word. In the end, he seizes and divides the Promised Land among God’s people.
Until now, just one potential blemish stood on his resumé: an early defeat at Ai. Although the rout might have besmeared Joshua, the punishment rightfully fell to covetous Achan. But now, in giving a forbidden covenant to Israel’s enemies, a caveat must be given concerning Joshua’s leadership. Seeing the ragtag group of ambassadors before him, he made the reasonable deduction that they must have traveled a far distance. He trusted what he saw.
He did not make that mistake when overlooking the land with the spies. He trembled not at giants. But here, he believed his eyes, went with his ears, depended on his cohort of rulers who all did the same — he did not ask counsel from the Lord. The matter seemed straightforward enough; they could handle it themselves. Here, Joshua commits the common fault of many successful leaders over time: He forgets to consult his God.
Boast of Businessmen
How tempting is this for Christian leaders today?
You’ve given sermons or taught Sunday school or written articles in the past, and your Lord stood with you.
Read More
Related Posts:

The Secret Failure of Many Leaders

They bought jeans already torn at the knees. The ambassadors from the great city left in haste to make peace with Joshua and his coming armies. But first, locals reported seeing them rummage through clothes at the local thrift store. Their pretend shabbiness served a vital purpose: survival.

Gibeon lay in the direct path of Joshua’s conquest. He, his men, and their God would be there within days. When the citizens of Gibeon heard what Israel’s God had done to Pharoah, to Jericho, and to Ai, they trembled. Though “greater than Ai,” they shuddered. Who could overcome a plague-punishing, wall-crumbling, city-engulfing Israel and her invisible God?

Their ragtag ambassadors — armed with worn-out sacks, patched sandals, tattered clothes, torn and mended wineskins, and “dry and crumbly” provisions (Joshua 9:4–5) — served as Gibeon’s salvation army. They intercepted Joshua at Gilgal saying in strained voice, “We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us” (Joshua 9:6). Would their lie be discovered?

“Who are you? And where do you come from?” Joshua replies.

They reiterate their deception and add more drama to their performance:

“Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold it is dry and crumbly.”

“These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst.”

“And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.” (Joshua 9:12–13)

Joshua looks at the bread, the wineskins, the sandals, the garments, and decides to make a covenant with them. The text interprets that decision for us: “So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord” (Joshua 9:14).

Failure of Good Leaders

Joshua, the son of Nun, was an excellent leader. If you were to write a book on leadership, you could hardly improve upon his example.

From the start, he had large sandals to fill. Moses, the sea-splitting shepherd, the mountain-climbing mediator, the law-providing prophet, now lay dead. Millions of eyes turned Joshua’s way — eyes of a people too given to squint in deadly disapproval. Would he be able to lead them into the Promised Land? Would they be led into the Promised Land?

In the face of vast armies, fortified cities, and fatal chariots, God’s commission to Joshua required force and bravery — which his very presence supplied, if Joshua would trust him. And Joshua did. He routinely risked life and limb venturing upon God’s word. In the end, he seizes and divides the Promised Land among God’s people.

Until now, just one potential blemish stood on his resumé: an early defeat at Ai. Although the rout might have besmeared Joshua, the punishment rightfully fell to covetous Achan. But now, in giving a forbidden covenant to Israel’s enemies, a caveat must be given concerning Joshua’s leadership. Seeing the ragtag group of ambassadors before him, he made the reasonable deduction that they must have traveled a far distance. He trusted what he saw.

“Joshua commits the fault of especially successful leaders over time: He forgets to consult his God.”

He did not make that mistake when overlooking the land with the spies. He trembled not at giants. But here, he believed his eyes, went with his ears, depended on his cohort of rulers who all did the same — he did not ask counsel from the Lord. The matter seemed straightforward enough; they could handle it themselves. Here, Joshua commits the common fault of many successful leaders over time: He forgets to consult his God.

Boast of Businessmen

How tempting is this for Christian leaders today?

You’ve given sermons or taught Sunday school or written articles in the past, and your Lord stood with you. You have made decisions for family, for your company, for your children, and God has blessed them. This time feels no different than then. So, without thinking much about it, you switch to autopilot, lean on your wisdom and strength, and grow more forgetful in prayer. Success is taken for granted, gratitude shrinks, presumption ascends.

I imagine something like this happened to the Christian businessmen in the first century. James confronts them this way,

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13–16)

I imagine these CEOs of the early church trusted their Lord at first. They did not presume success in financial endeavors, but humbly prayed, “Lord, give us this day our daily bread.” But assets began to pile. Their net worth took eagle’s wings. Steady profit seemed “the way of things,” the result of shrewd investment and hard work. Their mouths soon betrayed the evil boasting of their hearts about their future exploits. They beheld an elegantly dressed Gibeon of financial gain, and too forgot to consult their Lord and his will, as if theirs alone mattered.

As at Other Times

Oh how long this prayerless pride can grow undetected. Few sit down and decide not to consult Christ; none barricade the door to their prayer closets. They just become too busy; their felt-need no longer pushes them over the threshold. They begin to handle things on their own.

Charles Spurgeon knew the pull of prayerlessness — and how devastating pastoral prayerlessness could be to a congregation. He warns his seminary students,

When your soul becomes lean, your hearers, without knowing how or why, will find that your prayers in public have little savor for them; they will feel your barrenness, perhaps before you perceive it yourself. Your discourses will next betray your declension. You may utter as well-chosen words, and as fitly-ordered sentences, as aforetime; but there will be a perceptible loss of spiritual force. (Lectures to My Students)

Good Christian leaders, especially pastors, will tremble at this spiritual Samsonhood. After Delilah’s barbarous treachery, he awoke from his sleep saying to himself, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free” (Judges 16:20). Unbeknownst to him, he went forth alone.

How regrettable are those prayerless actions and petitionless seasons? We go out as before, expecting God to be with us as before, not knowing that he has withdrawn his aid, his blessing. Temptation overcomes us; we’re left with the dry and crumbly bread of our disobedience. God may let us take a few steps on our own and draw up this treaty or that. Before long, we’re barreling forth in own wisdom and energy to the injury of ourselves and others. God gives more grace, but as any pastor can testify, the cuts and bruises still hurt.

Eyes on You

Joshua and the elders of Israel trusted their eyes, forgetting to look to God in prayer for help with what their eyes could not see. Will we learn from them? Will we live and serve looking to our Father in even seemingly small matters?

Strong trials often slap us awake. Jehoshaphat, pressed by bloodthirsty enemies, couldn’t help but pray: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12). Extreme circumstances leave our strength in the dust, tuning the heart to pray. But how many of us pray like this over the repetitive, seemingly common tasks involved in Christian life and leadership? “Lord, our eyes are on you” — even though we have successfully preached and taught and prayed and led many times before.

Taller than Jehoshaphat stood Jesus. If anyone could judge with his eyes, if anyone could charge out as before, if anyone could say, “Next year I will go into such and such a town,” it was the God-man.

“Jesus’s gracious throne of help is as near as a single Godward thought, a bowed knee, a desperate glance.”

Yet follow the gaze of the Son in all its wonder and mystery: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). When Jesus chose disciples, or reclined at table, or answered the scribes, or taught in the synagogue, or went forth from a city, or stopped along the road — his eyes never left his Father. He acted from a rhythm of consciously consulting above. He inquired of his Father at every step — particularly the bloody ones that led up Golgotha’s hill. His was not simply the resolve of a moment but the willing trajectory of a lifetime: “Not my will, but yours, be done.”

Would you want life any other way than “looking to Jesus” in all matters, big and seemingly small? Will you not joyfully, speedily, constantly bring every request to him? In childlikeness, will we not rush in with every small request, even as an excuse to go to him? Jesus’s gracious throne of help is as near as a single Godward thought, a bowed knee, a desperate glance.

His death secured this grand privilege. Our King of love smiles, beckons us near to give communion and counsel. Godly leaders, go to him increasingly, happily, with every and all sizes of request.

Honor an Old Face: The Lost Art of Respecting Our Elders

Moses, in the classic movie The Ten Commandments (1956), goes down to oversee the work of the Hebrew slaves. He does not yet know that he too is Hebrew by birth; Egypt’s golden chalice rests comfortably in hand. He arrives after the taskmasters have seized Joshua (his future assistant and successor), who just rescued an old Hebrew woman nearly crushed under a large stone.

Deaf to pleas to spare the old woman, the taskmasters had refused to halt the workforce to free her. The woman couldn’t escape. So Joshua went down and struck an Egyptian overseer, halting the work immediately, sparing her life and forfeiting his own.

Moses, prince of Egypt, arrives at the behest of a Hebrew woman. Hearing what happened, he asks Joshua, “Do you know it is death to strike an Egyptian?”

“I know it,” he responds.

“Yet you struck him. Why?”

“To save the old woman.”

“What is she to you?”

“An old woman.”

Moses took less time to recover from the slap than I did. Because she is an old woman. I realized how much more Moses I was, than Joshua, in this exchange. Joshua had a clear moral category I lacked: that of saving an old woman simply because she is an endangered old woman. His heroism needed no further explanation or incentive. She did not need to be his mother, his aunt, or his queen. For Joshua to forfeit his own life for hers, all she needed to be was an old woman, desperate for help.

Inner Calculus

This exchange left a mark because I imagined my own inner calculus in the crisis:

Do what you can — chide the taskmasters for their insensitivity and murder; receive a lashing for it even — but don’t be so foolish as to lay down your own life for hers.

To do otherwise seemed bad math.

She already stood with one foot in the grave. Her best days of productivity, of house and community building, faded in the rearview. The way of women had ceased with her (Genesis 18:11). Weak and frail, she had mere days and months ahead of her; I gripped years and decades by the throat. Her sun was setting; I was rising. How could her remaining life outweigh mine?

And yet, in a flash of glory Joshua strikes the oppressors, venturing to substitute his life for hers.

Death of Honor

Do you know such calculations on a smaller scale? Are we today a people known for honoring our elderly with our time, resources, and attention? Or is it not the case that if a friend should proverbially walk an old lady across the street, we would instinctively ask, “Who is she to you?” The youthful, the innovative, the beautiful, the YouTube sensations, the celebrities and professional athletes receive our admiration. The enfeebled, the mostly spent, the hard of hearing and seeing and walking do not.

Is it not true that the elderly mostly live in the background of our attention, cast as the extra pecking away at an iPhone, trying to send a text? Youth are rarely taught to honor grandma and grandpa, let alone the aged in general.

The scene of this endangered old woman comes closer to God’s timeless expectations than our assumptions today. The real Moses would soon write a law that read, “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:32). A special respect and care were due to the elderly of Israel.

Why don’t we stand before the elderly man in our midst? Why so little honor paid to the weathered face of the old woman? Why so little fear of God? Of the many options, I contribute two that have discipled me to give less regard to the elderly than is fitting.

1. Information Age

Throughout time, the elderly have served as sages of the community. They have experienced and lived, lost and learned lessons lacking among the untested thoughts and ideals of youth.

So Job spoke, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days” (Job 12:12). So Elihu explained his deference in saying, “Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom” (Job 32:7). And so Paul exhorts that the older women are to “teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands” (Titus 2:3–5). Generally, the elderly ought not only to be the wisest among us, but also regarded as so.

But what is abuelo and abuela compared with all-wise Google? What can they tell me that a quick search can’t? Expertise on anything under the sun lies at my fingertips. What good is one old chief, viewing life from his narrow, dated lens, compared with a million sages with advanced degrees, anticipating the next trends and offering unsleeping counsel on anything I care to know?

Jesus taught that Christians who lose family for his sake receive back a hundredfold in the church. We seem to believe that those who lose wisdom from the elderly receive back a millionfold on the Internet.

2. Cosmetic Age

Our society does not like to look at death. Our funerals are short; our grieving brief. When the signs of the end begin, we cover it. We dye our hair. We get fake teeth. We iron wrinkles and use liposuction. We diet and make-up and teeth-whiten to preserve the appearance that we will live forever. While living, we embalm.

We all dread the infirmities old age brings. Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 12:1–8, captures the “evil days” of aging in poetic terms. These are days when one says, “I have no pleasure in them” (verse 1). Days when the sun and moon and stars darken, and you live under perpetual cloud (verse 2). Days when hands and arms shake violently, strong men hunch, and your grinders — your teeth — cease because they are few (verse 3). Days lived indoors with light sleeping and little hearing (verse 4). Days afraid of heights, days of graying hair and shriveled appetite (verse 5). Days when the golden bowl begins cracking, the silver chord begins fraying, and the body prepares to return to dust and the spirit to God (verse 6–7). Vanity of vanities, the Preacher concludes (verse 8).

And so what are we to do with these weathered boats with tattered masts sailing among us, these reminders of what the crash of time and sin is doing to us all? Honor them or ignore them? See glory in their worn faces or our own inevitable defeat? In the halls of honor, we do not keep dying flowers.

Testimonies and Silver Crowns

Our God would have us stand up before the gray head and honor the old face.

What can the aged teach us (a question already lacking humility)? Well, while any elderly person can speak of the scars and successes of human experience, the old saints in the church can tell you about a lifetime of God’s faithfulness, his kindness, his steadfast love.

Siri will not answer how good God has been to her. Google cannot testify that even to old age, God has carried him through countless trials (Isaiah 46:4). The wrinkled face of the saint with a wrinkled Bible is a treasure to all who love God and want to know him more. And the elderly saint, “full of sap and green,” has a testimony and wisdom that the young and beautiful and strong need to hear (Psalm 92:12–15). David wanted to age for this very purpose: “Even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come” (Psalms 71:18).

“Gray hair crowns an old and well-lived life, a life that should be celebrated, not ignored.”

And what of the challenges of growing frail? How do we commend that? The Bible also speaks of fullness of days as a splendor. “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair” (Proverbs 20:29). We see the glory, but not the splendor. And, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31). Gray hair crowns an old and well-lived life, one that should be celebrated, not overlooked.

We miss much of the wisdom and glory of old age when the elderly dwell apart. Ancient times did not have government-run nursing homes, social-security programs, or retirement centers. All three converged in one place: the household. With multigenerational living now mostly a thing of the past in the West, we pick and choose to see our elderly family or not, affording them little influence in our lives. And without multigenerational representation, we can miss it in the church as well.

Lost Message

Of course, some elderly people have not lived wisely or well. Yet, John Piper observes, “There are tokens of respect and demonstrations of honor that belong to older people, simply because they are older. God has granted them to live long, and you shall fear your God by honoring the men and women who have borne his image to old age.”

The fear of God presides over this honor. Piper again says of Psalm 71,

This text commands the younger ones among us not to stride presumptuously and carelessly into the presence of an older person as though we were crossing no gap — as though we and they were simply peers with no special respect and honor to be shown to them. “You shall rise up before the gray head; you shall show honor to face of an old person.” . . .

And the loss of these manners of respect from baby boomers and teenagers is directly related to their small view of God and the contemporary foreignness of the idea of the fear of God. If God has become a buddy, you can hardly expect people to stand when an old man enters the room.

“The old saints in the church can tell you about a lifetime of God’s faithfulness, his kindness, his steadfast love.”

Some elderly among us forfeit degrees of honor because of how they lived. Yet old age is still to be acknowledged. We take the customs of our culture and communicate to our elders, “You are venerable.”

Honor the Old Face

Technological advances, state-run nursing homes, the worship of innovation and progress, and Western individualism may make it seem unnatural to show special honor to the elderly. Society little incentivizes my generation to look to old heads for wisdom or show deference or respect. The old is passing away; the new has come.

But while we smirk at the old man struggling with his iPhone, or shake our head as the old woman drives 30 miles per hour under the speed limit, God calls for honor. While we size up the gray hair and wrinkled faces for what we think they contribute to the progress of society, God might have us stand when they enter the room.

Do you honor the gray head in your family, neighborhood, church? When the world observes how we behave among the elderly — especially the elderly in the church — and they wonder aloud, “What is she to you?”

In the fear of the Lord, reply, “An old woman.”

How to Care for a Pastor: Five Ways to Uplift Your Shepherds

Like a viper from the bushes, the Amalek attacked Israel. The shores had not yet washed clean of Pharoah’s army, nor had the people reached Sinai, before new enemies emerged: “Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim” (Exodus 17:8).

Desperate circumstance made soldiers of slaves. Moses, their commander and chief, instructed Joshua to gather men and march into battle. Moses would take a different route, fight on a different front: “Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand” (Exodus 17:9).

So it happened. “Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed” (Exodus 17:10–11). A strange way to win or lose a battle. The lives of men suspended in midair with Moses’s staff. Held high, Israel aggressed. As hands drooped, Amalek played havoc. The prophet learned that gravity is an unrelenting foe: “Moses’ hands grew weary” (Exodus 17:12).

Pastors too know such weariness — this burn of holding their arms up in intercession for God’s people. Almost tireless, see them upon the hill, day in day out, month in month out, year in year out. Seasons change, but there they are upon the peak. Sometimes it all seems useless. Sometimes it is thankless. The sunbeams of complaints beat upon the brow; the sorrows of their people wear on the spirit. Gravity, in ministry, is an unrelenting foe.

Years pass. Arms droop. Just a few years, and some pastors have dropped them altogether. Blessed then, is the pastor who has Aaron and Hur with him:

Moses’s hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword. (Exodus 17:12–13)

The proverb is here embodied: “Though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him — a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Blessed is the man who stands with brother elders at his side, but abundantly blessed is he who has a whole church holding up his arms.

How to Love Your Pastor

Before becoming one, I rarely asked, How do I best care for my pastors? How can I be a blessing to them, refresh them, uphold their arms? My pastors always seemed to have it together. I needed their help, it seemed, on a one-way street. But Scripture does not show it to be so. Drawing from John Owen’s short but excellent little book Duties of Christian Fellowship, consider a few ways a flock cares well for their shepherd.

1. Esteem Them

Some families find it easy to spend the car ride home from church doing little more than criticizing the pastor and his sermon. I stand convicted overhearing Charles Spurgeon,

Filled with the same spirit of contrariety, the men of this world still depreciate the ministers whom God sends them and profess that they would gladly listen if different preachers could be found. Nothing can please them, their cavils are dealt out with heedless universality. Cephas is too blunt, Apollos is too flowery, Paul is too argumentative, Timothy is too young, James is too severe, John is too gentle. (Eclectic Preachers)

How important, then, to have the primary description of a flock’s relationship to its pastors be one of esteem.

Overhear the apostle enjoin what many a humble pastor might blush to mention: “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13). Esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Does this describe you? Or for that to happen, does the pastor need to have generational giftings and fit your preferences?

2. Imitate Them

Consider one way the author of Hebrews calls us to esteem them: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7). Imitation is the sincerest form of esteem.

Are your pastors especially humble, careful with their words, fearless in adversity, tender to the wayward, deeply knowledgeable of the Scriptures, happy in Christ, constant in prayer, God-fearing fathers, husbands, leaders, evangelists? What in their lives of faith do you imitate in yours? Consider the outcome of their lives and imitate them. And tell them you are doing so.

John Owen calls Christians to cover their pastor’s weaknesses in love, recognizing that their teachers’ lives are “a means of grace from God provided as a relief for them when under temptation, and an encouragement to holiness, zeal, meekness and self-denial” (19). Are you neglecting this example for your faith — the pastors’ lives — whose feet, though made of clay, support a life above reproach? In a hero-less world, are your pastors a model you look to regularly?

3. Pray for Them

How much do you pray for your pastors?

If some spent as much time praying for their pastors as they did spotlighting their weaknesses, they might not have them anymore. The question stands, “Is it realized that any perceived weakness in the pastor’s ministry may be due to the prayerlessness of the church?” (Duties, 22).

Heaven will reveal how much a pastor was upheld by the prayers of his people (or not). You may be down on the field of battle with Joshua, but if you really care to uphold his arms upon the hill — pray for him. May your prayers be stones for him to sit upon.

It has been said of Spurgeon that when asked about his great success in ministry, he remarked simply, “My people pray for me.” And on another occasion, he brought visitors down to the “boiler room” of the church, the place that gave it power and heat. He opened the door, and the visitors beheld hundreds praying before the service started.

“Do you pray for your pastor to be kept by Jesus, to be upheld and satisfied in Jesus?”

Do you pray for your pastors to be kept by Jesus, to be upheld and satisfied in Jesus? And do you pray with your pastors, that souls be saved to Jesus and the church matured for Jesus?

4. Stand by Them

May it never be the anxious thought of your pastors’ minds: Where are they?

Paul was left to ask this question, sending the sad report to Timothy: “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!” (2 Timothy 4:16).

Do you leave your pastors to charge in alone? Owen remarks, “When a captain, advancing against danger, looks back expecting to see his soldiers with him but finds that they have run away, he is greatly betrayed and forced into an impossible position by his enemies” (28).

How different is it to have or be a church full of Onesiphoruses? Paul reports,

May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me — may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day! — and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus. (2 Timothy 1:16–18)

We can hear the gratitude spattering from Paul’s pen. Pastors are men who grow weary like the rest of us — even young pastors run and grow tired. They receive more opposition, criticism, and slander than the normal churchman. Beyond this, shepherds accept invitations into all the bitter things of the church — adulteries, betrayals, deaths, and divisions. Pastoring is a good and hard work. They stand and contest with demonic bears and lions for their sheep’s sake — will the church not stand with them?

How might you support your pastors, help them, encourage them, defend them? Resist the world’s consumer mindset and take responsibility to help nurture the flock — disciple, serve, volunteer. Remember, they equip you for the work of ministry and will be mightily encouraged to see you doing it (Ephesians 4:13).

5. Help Them Love You

A final way to care for your pastors is to help them care for your soul.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)

“Following your shepherd’s lead is to your own advantage. Happy pastors pastor better.”

A wise flock wants its shepherds to lead with joy. As they seek to shepherd you, follow their lead to Jesus, be ready to be persuaded by their teaching, submit to their guidance as far as Scripture allows. Do so readily, eagerly, thankfully that they might cheerfully discharge their eternal duty of caring for your immortal soul (for which they will give an account).

Following your shepherds’ lead is to your own advantage. Happy pastors pastor better. If a plurality of pastors is met with mostly antagonism, indifference, or distrust, the flock does them no favors to pastor as God would have them — “exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you” (1 Peter 5:2–3).

So esteem your pastors highly in the Lord, imitate them, pray for them, stand by them in trials, join them in the work of ministry, and be eager to submit to their direction. In so doing, you will sit them down upon the Rock, hold up their arms, and help them to serve your soul more of Jesus. And by God’s grace, you will defeat the Amaleks of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Persist in this, that we may all have a good report to give to the Master on that day — pastors for how they shepherded, and sheep for how they followed.

The Indispensable Lives of Ordinary Christians

If your circumstances were changed into the physical realm, you might depict it this way.

You sit in the waiting room of the hospital, mindful that your case is not urgent. Yours is no life-threatening illness, no shrieking pain or broken bone, no bloody show. People rush in with needs more dire than yours; you gladly concede your spot and move further and further down the list. You sit — a day, a week, a season — never a calm moment granting you admission.

Finally, your name is called. You walk to the reception desk, and the nurse asks why you’ve come. It then dawns on you that you’re not entirely sure. “Any trouble breathing?” No. “Any lingering headaches or soreness of throat?” No. “Any fever or trouble sleeping?” No. “Then what brings you in today?” Well, something like a slow disorientation, an inescapable fatigue — symptoms of living as a single sock left at the back of the drawer.

You feel useless, ungifted, unneeded — in life, and even in the church.

You listen to the preacher every Sunday, and you know he is being used of God. You see the young couples raising children in your local church; you pray for more of God’s fingerprint upon their lives. You intercede for missionaries risking life and limb in foreign lands, lost in the blinding light of the Great Commission. You realize you have never lived twenty miles from your hometown.

You serve the Lord Jesus, but you can’t escape feeling like a background character — cast as “baker #3” — in the unfolding story all around you. More prominent actors live. Compared to them, you merely exist. Maybe you feel it keenest around a friend or family member who eclipses you in Christ. “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother,” you remain. Every other puzzle piece seems to fit. If you went missing from the congregation, would any take notice? Are you just “singing and praying churchman #13”?

Unimpressive

You do not doubt that Christ has accepted you purely of grace apart from works — apart from your doings of the past, the present, or the future. But when cynicism descends, you still wonder how the church is better off with your inclusion. You’re unimpressive — okay, no problem. You know Paul reminds the church at Corinth that most were not wise in the world’s eyes, not powerful, not noble. Rather, there was a foolishness about them, a weakness and lowliness to win the world’s sneer. A church full of kids picked last at recess — to shame the strong and silence the boasting (1 Corinthians 1:26–29).

But you still wonder why you don’t feel more alive and useful. You are not the sluggard or his sophisticated brother, excusing himself from the committed life. Maybe the Master has cast you as the one-talent saint of lower ability, yet you still want to invest it the best you can — unlike the servant who buried his one talent and, in the end, lost it (Matthew 25:15–30). You want to invest all of you, however much that amounts to, even if you won’t be Adoniram Judson, George Whitefield, or Elisabeth Elliot. But on yawning days, you secretly fear that your ordinary life amounts to a wasted one.

So you sit in the waiting room. With great sins and desperate situations, you don’t want to take up the pastor’s or small group’s time droning on about the inarticulate sense of purposelessness. Thankfully, envy has not swallowed your joy toward the Hermione Grangers of Christ’s kingdom when you admit yourself to be more like Neville Longbottom. But you wonder, What’s the point?

Indispensable

Dear Christian, even timid, lackluster, unimpressive Neville plays his part, a vital part, in the end. And if you pass your days with a sigh and suspicion that even in Christ you don’t much matter, be comforted by one word: indispensable. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you,’” Paul writes to the church in Corinth.

On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:21–26)

“Hear him proclaim over your gifts, your service, your membership in the body, ‘indispensable.’”

They, like we, were tempted to value some spiritual abilities and service as vital to the church and others as insignificant. They learned this from the kingdom of men. Most kingdoms tout the rulers and the rich and the noble horsemen and the wise as the indispensable ones. The strong and the skilled move about the board as bishops and rooks and knights, while the rest of us move forward as pawns. Expendable. But the pawns, in Christ’s economy and kingdom, are essential. He turns them by grace into kings and queens, and teaches the rest to see with his eyes, so that all the members might care equally for one another.

Empowered

So, brother or sister in Christ, you may not be able to teach like him, or share your faith like her, or show hospitality quite like them, or pray like that, or shine as brightly with good works. You may feel like the baby toe of the gathered assembly. The eye of the body beholds hidden glories, the mouth proclaims Jesus with boldness, the fingers perform great acts of service — you feel as though you rest in your shoe and darkness. You feel sweaty, stuffy, unventilated. Yet if Christ’s Spirit dwells in you, hear him proclaim over your gifts, your service, your membership in the body, indispensable. One whom we simply cannot do without. The church of Christ needs you.

“Christ did not save you with an eye toward what he might get from you.”

And although countless ways exist for you to walk more faithfully to your calling and live more boldly for the common good of the church, remember that Christ did not save you with an eye toward what he might get from you. The good shepherd has no need of any from his flock. He did not peer into the future and decide whether you were worth the bother of the cross. He does not now look upon you with indifference or wait for you to earn your keep. Treasured saint, before he works in and through you for his own good pleasure, he forgives you, and clothes you, and calls you indispensable — a member of himself already. We put on our new lives and new works of service “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” (Colossians 3:12).

No one whom the Father has chosen before the foundation of the world, no one whom Christ has shed his precious blood for, no one filled by the Holy Spirit of God is dispensable or unnecessary to the body. As the Lord gives life, each is needed, each is necessary. So let that word indispensable wash over your insecurities and carry you upon its waves to greater love and works until we stand before our golden King to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

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