Marshall Segal

Don’t Miss the Marriage: Why the Justified Love Holiness

When I married, I had wanted to be married for a long time. For sure, I didn’t have to wait as long as many have (and are), but I waited far longer than I expected anyway — long enough to hurt.

That waiting, however, meant that when my wedding day did finally come, it rose all the brighter, stronger, and more vibrant than it would have otherwise, like a sunrise so beautiful it unsettles you. Even if I never saw another picture of that day, I would remember minute details — the squirmy 10-year-old on the aisle, the Scripture reader coming up a song too early, the longer-than-expected wait standing at the altar, her smile when she finally appeared. Even if, without warning, rain had drowned out the sun, soaked everyone in sight, and ruined all our decorations, it would have served only to make our happiness more memorable.

There’s no day quite like a wedding day, and there are few pleasures like those first hours of marriage — the first blissful, awkward steps of a lifelong dance together.

How tragic would it be, though, if our joy in marriage were limited to our memories of that one day? What if my wife and I spent all our years together looking at wedding pictures and retelling the stories of those first hours? What if we never walked beyond the beauties of the altar into the wild and thrilling gardens of actual married life? What if, after all our years waiting for marriage, we settled for a wedding?

As absurd as it may seem, I wonder how many of us have that kind of relationship with the cross.

Beyond the Altar

Some, it seems, love Jesus for forgiving their sins, for canceling their debt, for providing a perfect righteousness in their place — and then spend the rest of their lives rehearsing our justification, as if that were all that the cross could afford. Make no mistake, the cross is our altar — that central, crucial, and glorious event, that deathblow to Satan and all his armies, that blazing climax of history — but it is the altar, not the marriage.

“Without justification, we have no hope, no life, no future, but justification alone is not our life; it is our entry into life.”

Without justification, we have no hope, no life, no future, but justification alone is not our life; it is our entry into life, our gateway into so many more glories, our path into ever-widening fields of grace. And this side of heaven, some of the greatest treasures in those fields are the changes God works in us to make us more like him — the deep, startling, often slow process we call sanctification. “[Christ] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree,” 1 Peter 2:24 says, “that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” Do you relish the opportunity, in Christ, to live to righteousness — to be increasingly holy?

This holiness is not only possible and necessary — no one goes to heaven without it (Hebrews 12:14) — but this holiness also holds the highest and most durable pleasure. As J.C. Ryle writes, “Let us feel convinced, whatever others may say, that holiness is happiness. . . . As a general rule, in the long run of life, it will be found true that ‘sanctified’ people are the happiest people on earth. They have solid comforts which the world can neither give nor take away” (Holiness, 40).

High Cost of Access

Justification — the act by which God declares guilty sinners righteous — is an unfathomably precious and glorious reality.

“Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). The life and death of Christ made an impossibility a reality — those, like me, who should have drowned in divine wrath were instead baptized into oceans of mercy. Those, like me, who deserved every ounce of divine justice have been showered instead with unrelenting peace.

“Through him,” Paul goes on to say, “we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). Access. Many of us live in a world so inundated with access — access to information, access to resources, access to one another — we may have lost the gravity and wonder of a privilege like our access to God.

Despite how small and insignificant we are, and how often we have sinned against him, and how prone we are to take him for granted, God did not make war against us, but received the war to give us peace. He did not cast us into the lake of fire, but sent his Son into the flames so that he might welcome us into his family.

Tents Pitched at Calvary

The grandeur of the glory of this peace, this access, this justification cannot be overstated — unless we make it the only glory of the gospel, unless we never leave the altar. John Piper writes,

Jesus did not die so that we would pitch our tents on Calvary. He died to fill the world — this one and the new one — with his reflected holiness. . . . He died so that we would not be incinerated by the glory of God, but rather spend eternity reflecting it with joy. . . . The glory of justification serves the unending glories of sanctification. (“Justification Is the Gate, Not the Garden”)

Among the gospel glories we might begin to overlook, sanctification might be the most overlooked. Those who champion justification by grace alone, through faith alone — not by works — can understandably become skittish about any talk of works.

The apostle Paul, however, that greatest of all champions of justification, did not shy away from celebrating and pressing for real sanctification. The bright stars of justification and peace and access were not the only stars in his sky. He loved justification — the wedding, the altar, the declaration — but he also wanted to see and experience more of Christ. As he holds up the cross, he draws us, again and again, into the marriage.

Not Only That

“Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God. . . . Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character” (Romans 5:1–4). Not only that — that is the burden of this article. In the gospel, God gives not only forgiveness, but new character. Not only justification, but sanctification. Not only pardon, but transformation. Not only the altar, but the marriage. Don’t limit your joy in Jesus to the relieving of your guilt and shame.

We see these stars of justification and sanctification align again in Titus 3. “God saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy . . . so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5–7). No work we had done won God’s attention or intervention. He saved us through faith alone, by grace alone, according to his great mercy alone. In the very next verse, Paul writes, “I want you to insist on these things” — the justification of sinners by faith, not by works — “so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8). We were justified by faith alone, not by works, in order that we might devote ourselves to good works.

“Jesus died to redeem and to purify, to justify and to sanctify.”

Or, as he wrote just sentences earlier, “[Jesus Christ] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). He died to redeem and to purify, to justify and to sanctify. To celebrate justification, and not sanctification, is to celebrate half a gospel, half a cross, half a grace, and half a Christ. As much as any voice in history, Paul fought to preach and preserve justification by faith alone, but justification was not the destination. It was driving him somewhere. Paul was not content to rejoice only in the canceling of his sins, but longed to experience greater freedom from the power of his sins.

In fact, he prized his blood-bought, Spirit-empowered, grace-filled holiness so much that he could rejoice even in suffering. “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character.” He could rejoice in imprisonments, rejoice in beatings, rejoice in robberies, rejoice in hunger and need, rejoice even in betrayal, because he saw how adversity conformed him to Christ. He knew that when suffering is met with faith, the fire produces and refines a wealth of godliness.

Marriage Beautifies the Wedding

Not only, however, does justification lead us into the glories of sanctification; the glorious experience of sanctification also leads us further into the glories of justification. Notice how this sequence in Romans 5 ends: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3–4). Hope — in other words, a deeper and stronger assurance that we belong to Jesus and will spend eternity with him.

Christlikeness is a prize to be pursued and treasured, in part, because it strengthens our confidence in our justification. Every inch of progress in godliness is another testimony that God is real and that he really lives in you. Holiness not only flows from hope, but actually produces greater hope. Just as a good marriage, year by year, makes the wedding day more beautiful and meaningful.

So don’t forget the wedding, but don’t miss the marriage. Praise Christ every day for the fathomless gifts of forgiveness, of peace, of access — of full acceptance with a holy God because of Christ — but also plead to experience everything else he is and bought for you.

A Worthy Wife to Be

Ruth did what she could (even straining her capacity at times) to care for those God had given to her, even when the risks were great, even when her strength ran low, even when others would have understood if she stopped, because Ruth was a worthy woman.

She knew that typically the man would make the first move. She knew that what she was doing would appear at least suspicious, perhaps scandalous. She knew what other people might say. She knew just how much she might lose (after all she had already lost). And yet there Ruth lay, in the dark — vulnerable, hopeful, trusting, courageous — waiting quietly at the feet of a man who might wake up at any moment.
Even in a more egalitarian age, the strange and brave step Ruth took that night can make many of us uncomfortable:
When Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. (Ruth 3:7)
Such was Ruth’s way of asking Boaz to take her as his wife. But why did she ask like that? Wasn’t there another way? Couldn’t her mother-in-law have put out some feelers with Boaz’s servants?
Maybe. But God, in his wisdom, decided to join this man and this woman in this unusual way. And when we stop to look closer, the strangeness of the scene actually enhances the beauty of their love. This potentially embarrassing moment highlights what makes Boaz a worthy husband — and what makes Ruth a worthy wife.
Worthy Woman
As scandalous as it may seem for Ruth to lie down next to Boaz while he was sleeping, it seems that, in God’s eyes, she acted honorably and in purity. For all the beautiful glimpses we get of Ruth in these four chapters, she is called a “worthy woman” just once, and it’s right here, at this most vulnerable moment. Boaz, recognizing her in the dark and receiving her humble and submissive initiative, says to her,
Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. (Ruth 3:11)
Worthy when her husband died, worthy when her mother-in-law was left alone, worthy in a foreign land, worthy while working long days in the fields, worthy even here, in the darkness, on the threshing-room floor, waiting at the feet of the man she desired. A truly worthy woman is as worthy in secret as she is when others are watching — and Ruth was just such a woman.
So, what sets Ruth apart as a worthy wife-to-be — yes, in the eyes of Boaz, but all the more in the eyes of God?
Loyal Woman
The story of Ruth’s worthiness begins with her surprising loyalty.
Her mother-in-law, Naomi, had lost her husband as well as her two sons, including Ruth’s husband. Naomi saw how bleak their future had become and tried to convince her two daughters-in-law to go back to their families. In response, “Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her” (Ruth 1:14). When Ruth had great reasons to leave and save herself, she stayed and cared for her mother-in-law instead. Listen to the intensity of her loyalty:
Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you. (Ruth 1:16–17)
Ruth could have walked away, but faith and love had bound her to Naomi. Staying meant suffering. Staying meant sacrifice and risk. Staying could have even meant death — especially in a period when the judges in Israel, though charged to care for the widow, “did what was right in [their] own eyes” (Judges 17:6). But nothing would make Ruth leave now.
As news spread, her future husband was especially drawn to this loyalty in her: “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before” (Ruth 2:11).
Fearless Woman
Ruth could not have been loyal in these circumstances without also being courageous. You hear and feel her fearlessness in the vows she makes to Naomi:
Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you. (Ruth 1:17)
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Encouragement for Beginners: How to Strengthen a Soul in God

A scarcity of encouragement can become a crisis for any soul. Can you remember a time you really needed encouragement but didn’t receive it?

Encouragement often runs dry in our churches because we fail to prioritize and practice it, but some of us fail to encourage one another because we don’t really know what encouragement is. We assume encouragement is merely some word of comfort or affirmation — something to make us feel better about ourselves — when what our souls really need to hear is something that deepens our hope and confidence in God.

To encourage is to give courage — not simply to console or compliment someone (and certainly not to flatter, but to strengthen a heart for risk or adversity. Every Christian needs a steady stream of courage to endure suffering, to reject temptation, to sacrifice in love, to embrace discipline, to persevere in ministry, to trust and obey God.

And we will not survive long on the light and superficial inspiration that sells by the millions. We do not need hearts more filled with self; we need hearts regularly inflamed with God. We need soul-anchoring, heart-stirring, love-unleashing encouragement.

Church in Need of Encouragement

The church in Thessalonica seemed to suffer from a deficit of encouragement. Why else would the apostle Paul urge them, again and again, to encourage one another?

Encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:18)

Encourage one another and build one another up. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

“We do not need hearts more filled with self; we need hearts regularly inflamed with God.”

Why such a serious and repeated charge? Because the apostle had seen firsthand the troubles the Thessalonian church faced. The believers in Thessalonica were not, like so many in more affluent and comfortable places today, merely low on self-esteem. These were embattled men and women who were hated and threatened for their faith in Jesus.

When Paul and Silas preached the gospel there, many believed and joined the church (Acts 17:4), but a jealous mob rose to oppose them (Acts 17:5). Even when Paul and Silas left the persecution in Thessalonica behind and went on to Berea, the mob was so outraged that they followed them there, “agitating and stirring up the crowds” (Acts 17:13). And while Paul and Silas could leave town, the Thessalonian believers stayed and made their homes in the fire. They “received the word in much affliction,” 1 Thessalonians 1:6 says, and they would now have to hold fast in much affliction. Therefore, they needed real, meaningful, compelling encouragement.

Encouragement of a Father

As Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to encourage one another, he also gave them (and us) a godly example of encouragement to follow.

You know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:11–12)

Notice how he sets this kind of encouragement next to a complementary kind of love a few verses earlier: “We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). We were gentle among you like a mother, and we encouraged and charged you like a father. That picture gives encouragement a masculine strength, weight, and urgency that we don’t always associate with encouragement. Paul was both gentle like a mother and tough like a father, both understanding and pleading, both compassionate and assertive.

And how did he encourage them in this case? Not by saying, “Everything’s going to be alright,” but rather by charging them, “Walk in a manner worthy of God.” Encouragement sought to compel them out of spiritual sluggishness and complacency into a glad and disciplined faithfulness. How much of the encouragement we give and receive today sounds like that?

Facets of Encouragement

As we look more closely at the specific commands to encourage one another in 1 Thessalonians, we see more of the depth and complexity of real encouragement. Encouragement is not a simple reality or practice; it comes in various shapes and colors and tones, in each case aiming to stimulate the courage needed to walk in a manner worthy of God. Notice three major threads of encouragement in this letter alone.

Comfort the Sorrowful

Some in the Thessalonian church were despairing over those who had died. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “We do not want you to be uninformed about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” These younger believers grieved as the world did, as if the grave were the end, as if the dead would never live again. They feared, it seems, that those who died before Christ returned would never see him. This made their grief even more unbearable.

How does Paul encourage them? “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). In fact, “The dead in Christ will rise first,” he tells them. “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17). In Christ, those who have died will not remain dead. They will live, and be more alive than they ever were before, because they will finally live in the presence of the glorified Christ.

Then, in the next verse, “Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). Some are carrying a weight of sorrow or grief they cannot bear; therefore, encourage them. Strengthen their battered souls to endure heartache with hope. Remind them that all who have believed in the Lord Jesus will soon always be with him.

Awaken the Idle

Others in the Thessalonian church made the return of Christ an excuse for idleness in the meantime. If Christ is coming any time, why, they thought, would we keep working so hard? In a second letter to the church, the apostle says, “We hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11). A spiritual sleepiness had fallen on some, producing negligence and laziness.

How does Paul encourage them?

Let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober . . . having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:6–10)

While encouragement comes to console and strengthen those who are grieving, it strives to light a fire under sleepy souls. Strap on your breastplate. Put on your helmet. Arm yourselves for battle. Take action. Those who sleep through this war are destined for wrath. Those who will inherit the kingdom of God, however, stay awake, alert, and diligent.

Then, in the next verse, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Awaken and compel the idle. Receive the work God has given you to do, and do it with all your heart, as unto the Lord and not men (Colossians 3:23–24). Remind one another of all that’s at stake and of how serious the spiritual armies are that are lined up against us (Ephesians 6:12). “Take up the whole armor of God,” as Paul says in Ephesians 6:13, “that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

Fortify the Fainthearted

Other believers in Thessalonica were not sleepy in idleness, but had grown weary under the weight of life in a fallen world.

“We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). The word fainthearted appears only once in the New Testament, but it does appear several times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. For instance, Proverbs 18:14, “A man’s spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” Do you know someone who seems crushed in spirit? Has your heart felt weighed down by life?

How does God himself encourage the fainthearted? He does so twice through the prophet Isaiah, first in Isaiah 57:15. Notice the unusual kindness and compassion of God:

Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

“Who can fathom a God so mighty and yet so tender, so above and yet so near, so holy and yet so compassionate?”

Though God is high and lifted up, dwelling in the high, holy, and eternal heavens, he draws near to the fainthearted, to revive and strengthen us. Who can fathom a God so mighty and yet so tender, so above and yet so near, so holy and yet so compassionate?

Notice, however, how God encourages the fainthearted in Isaiah 35:4 with urgency and earnestness: “Say to those who have an anxious heart” — same word for fainthearted — “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Anything you have suffered, God will repay. However bleak life may become, he will surely deliver the redeemed and repay any evil committed against you.

Do you know someone suffering from sorrow or grief, someone leaking hope in the storms of loss? Do you know others who have grown idle or complacent, making excuses to avoid what God has called them to do? Do you know some who are suffocating under the burdens they bear, living just barely above water? If so, how might you strengthen their souls in Christ? How might God use you to stir their confidence in him?

Love Beyond Telling

As with so many of our favorite hymns, “The Love of God” was born in adversity. Frederick Lehman (1868–1953), who wrote the hymn with his daughter, had experienced the failure of his once-profitable business, which left him packing crates of oranges and lemons in Pasadena, California, to make ends meet. Again and again throughout history, deep and enduring trials seem to have a strange and beautiful way of swelling the waves of worship.

You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told. (Psalm 40:5)
As with so many of our favorite hymns, “The Love of God” was born in adversity. Frederick Lehman (1868–1953), who wrote the hymn with his daughter, had experienced the failure of his once-profitable business, which left him packing crates of oranges and lemons in Pasadena, California, to make ends meet. Again and again throughout history, deep and enduring trials seem to have a strange and beautiful way of swelling the waves of worship.
Perhaps the most memorable lines in the hymn, however, were not Lehman’s, but words someone had found scribbled on the walls of an insane asylum a couple hundred years earlier, words that had been passed along to Lehman and held profound meaning for him.
Could we with ink the ocean fill,And were the skies of parchment made;Were every tree on earth a quill,And every man a scribe by trade;To write the love of God aboveWould drain the ocean dry,Nor could the scroll contain the whole,Though stretched from sky to sky.
The lyrics, it turns out, were a translation of an old Aramaic poem (now almost a thousand years old). And while no one knows the name of the insane asylum patient, the circumstances of his suffering, or how he came across the poem, the lines sparkle with surprising clarity, hope, and, well, sanity. A kind of spiritual sanity that often eludes us.
More Than Can Be Told
That Lehman treasured the lyrics is hardly surprising. Living just a handful of miles from the Pacific Ocean, he would have known, with acute awareness, the roaring vastness of the sea, the tall and swaying elegance of palm trees, and the bursts and hues of California sunsets. Day by day, he held the brilliant orangeness of its oranges and smelled the lively tartness of its lemons. The ocean, the trees, the sky, the earth were enormous and familiar friends of his — and yet each so small next to the love he had come to know in Christ.
When Lehman looked at the sky, he saw a hint of something wider still.
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When God Became Heaven for Me

The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. (God Is the Gospel)

People often describe pivotal moments in their lives as “the day when God turned my world upside down.” Some experience, some conversation, some trial radically reshaped how they viewed themselves, their lives, their relationships, and the world around them. Well, in my sophomore year of college, God turned heaven upside down for me.

I grew up in a Christian home with loving Christian parents, and had been a Christian myself for a number of years at that point in college. I read the Bible and prayed most days. I was part of a faithful Bible-preaching church and was surrounded by mature and intentional Christian friends. I was even doing ministry among high school students, sharing the gospel and discipling them in the faith. And then, in a moment — in a sentence — God suddenly flooded the gospel with new meaning, new colors, new intensity and joy.

To draw me deeper into the gospel, though, God had to first confront me, but it was the sweetest kind of confrontation, the most satisfying kind of rebuke. The sentence tackled me where I sat and has never let me go.

Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. (God Is the Gospel, 47)

Question for Our Generation

The gospel is the way to get people to God. The gospel is the way to get me to God. It was the kind of rare epiphany that is both devasting and thrilling. Devastating, because you realize just how much you’ve had wrong until now. Thrilling, because you have stumbled into a land you’d never seen before, an ocean you’d never sailed before, a favorite meal you’d never tasted before.

God is not just the only way to heaven; he is what makes heaven worth wanting. He is the great meal. He is the wild and wondrous ocean. He is the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:44–46). John Piper presses home the surpassing gift of God himself with a haunting question:

The critical question for our generation — and for every generation — is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there? (God Is the Gospel, 15)

“God is not just the only way to heaven; he is what makes heaven worth wanting.”

Could you?

Could I? That was the question that turned heaven on its head for me. Could I be content in a heaven without Christ? And if not, if Christ really was what made heaven an eternity worth wanting, why wasn’t I doing more to know and enjoy him now on earth?

Who Is Heaven?

“The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God.” But what does God say? Does he talk about himself, the gospel, and heaven that way?

The apostle Paul knew that God was the greatest gift of the gospel. “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3:7–9). The real treasure, the one that surpasses all others, is to know him, to gain him, to have him.

Why did Christ die on the cross? The apostle Peter says, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). He suffered, bled, and died not just so that we might be forgiven and relieved of hell, but so that we might have God. The worst consequence of sin is not the fire, but the separation (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Hell will be agonizing and miserable for many reasons, but none more than being deprived of God himself. The damned will still experience the presence of God (Revelation 14:10), but it will be in horrifying wrath, rather than in grace and joy. They will never have God.

“The real treasure, the one that surpasses all others, is to know him, to gain him, to have him.”

The redeemed, however, sing, “I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4). “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11) — not only joys and pleasures beside him or around him, but above all, joy in him. He is the joy. He is the pleasure. His presence is paradise — and it would be so even if everything else we loved and wanted was taken away.

And, in Christ, we experience that presence in part even now. Yes, our remaining sin and the consequences of sin interfere with that experience, but when God is our joy, we taste real joy now. We savor pleasures in everyday life now, pleasures that will last forever. And so we pray prayers like Psalm 42: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” — not for deliverance, or forgiveness, or healing, or provision, or relief, or reconciliation, but for you — “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1–2). Not for the good and perfect gifts God gives, but for the far better gift that God is.

Heaven of the New Heavens

As we wait and long for heaven, many of us have clung to promises like Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” No more tears, no more death, no more mourning or crying or pain. We can hardly imagine the sweetness of these absences — a whole world without shadows.

Heaven, however, will not be defined by absences; paradise will be defined by an all-satisfying presence. When God becomes heaven for us, verse 3 rises and eclipses even the precious promises of verse 4:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. . . . And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”

What’s better than a world without sin, sorrow, and death? A world with God. Yes, he will wipe away our tears. Yes, he will heal our wounds and cure our diseases. Yes, he will finally do away with that awful enemy, death. But those blessings, while infinitely great, will be as puddles next to the ocean of having him and being his. A God capable of drying every tear under every eye will be our God. A God capable of curing every cancer will give himself to us — even us. A God capable of emptying graves and overthrowing death will live with us, and for us, forever.

Don’t let all that God can do for you blind you to all that he can be for you. Don’t spend so much time splashing in puddles that you never get to see the ocean. Don’t settle for any offer of heaven that doesn’t have him at the center.

Love Beyond Telling: The Surprising History of a Favorite Hymn

You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told. (Psalm 40:5)

As with so many of our favorite hymns, “The Love of God” was born in adversity. Frederick Lehman (1868–1953), who wrote the hymn with his daughter, had experienced the failure of his once-profitable business, which left him packing crates of oranges and lemons in Pasadena, California, to make ends meet. Again and again throughout history, deep and enduring trials seem to have a strange and beautiful way of swelling the waves of worship.

Perhaps the most memorable lines in the hymn, however, were not Lehman’s, but words someone had found scribbled on the walls of an insane asylum a couple hundred years earlier, words that had been passed along to Lehman and held profound meaning for him.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,And were the skies of parchment made;Were every tree on earth a quill,And every man a scribe by trade;To write the love of God aboveWould drain the ocean dry,Nor could the scroll contain the whole,Though stretched from sky to sky.

The lyrics, it turns out, were a translation of an old Aramaic poem (now almost a thousand years old). And while no one knows the name of the insane asylum patient, the circumstances of his suffering, or how he came across the poem, the lines sparkle with surprising clarity, hope, and, well, sanity. A kind of spiritual sanity that often eludes us.

More Than Can Be Told

That Lehman treasured the lyrics is hardly surprising. Living just a handful of miles from the Pacific Ocean, he would have known, with acute awareness, the roaring vastness of the sea, the tall and swaying elegance of palm trees, and the bursts and hues of California sunsets. Day by day, he held the brilliant orangeness of its oranges and smelled the lively tartness of its lemons. The ocean, the trees, the sky, the earth were enormous and familiar friends of his — and yet each so small next to the love he had come to know in Christ.

When Lehman looked at the sky, he saw a hint of something wider still. He sang, like David, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3–4). The sky above him awed him, and then humbled him. If God could stretch out heavens like these with his hands, why would he pierce those hands in love for me?

When Lehman looked out over the ocean, he heard a hint of something deeper still. “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). The ocean taught him of forgiveness, of a dark, far-off, forgotten place where God submerged our canceled sins. How could God possibly forget what we had said, and thought, and done? Well, he could bury them beneath the sea. And so he does.

“O Lord, how manifold are your works!” the psalmist sings. “In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great” (Psalm 104:24–25). The ocean is big, and crowded, and wild, and yet you, O Lord, are bigger still, and your love, wilder still. And while the ocean sang its choruses, the sand beneath his feet would occasionally interrupt: “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand” (Psalm 139:17–18).

“If God could stretch out heavens like these with his hands, why would he pierce those hands in love for me?”

When Lehman stared at the towering trees above him, he tasted a hint of something higher still. He surely could not count the trees that surrounded him, and their numberlessness reminded him of the unsearchable greatness of God. He may have read of math like this in the Psalms: “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told” (Psalm 40:5). More than can be told. Is there any better summary of the love of God?

Every Man a Scribe

Were we to fill that ocean with ink and stretch out scrolls to cover those skies, and were every tree, of every kind, a pen, and every one of us a scribe, we still could capture only hints and whispers of the boundless love of God. We would drain the ocean dry. And then still have so much more to say.

Let that never keep us from saying as much as we can. We ought to thank God for those, like Frederick Lehman, who help us taste and see and feel realities we will never fully grasp. We ought to thank God for the poor soul clinging to faith in that asylum. If he had not scrawled those words on that wall, from his embattled memory, would we have ever heard them? We ought to thank God for the pen that crafted those original lines, in Aramaic, so many years earlier. Who could have imagined just how far his words would float, like a letter in a bottle, and how many hearts they would brighten and strengthen over centuries?

And we ought to ask God for fresh words that might open worlds like these for others. How might we help others feel the love beyond expressing? If words fail us, we could start by writing the beloved lines where someone might someday see them.

Desiring God partnered with Shane & Shane’s The Worship Initiative to write short meditations for more than three hundred popular worship songs and hymns.

A Man Worthy of a Wife: Building the Rare Strength of Boaz

If you search Scripture for examples of godly marriage, you may be surprised just how rare they are. Even couples that shine in some respects — Jacob and Rachel, Abraham and Sarah, David and Abigail — often have glaring indiscretions or outright failures.

The Bible gives us plenty of teaching about marriage, but very few actual marriages to imitate. That makes a love like the one between Boaz and Ruth all the more beautiful. Of all the marriages in the Bible, is any more commendable than the brief glimpse we get of this righteous son of Judah and his Moabite bride?

When Boaz found his future bride lying at his feet in the dark of night on the threshing-room floor, he said, “Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman” (Ruth 3:11). Through her fierce loyalty, her undaunted courage, her Godward dependence, and her submissive initiative, Ruth had proven herself a worthy woman — worthy of respect and admiration, and worthy of a husband’s devotion.

As we wander through the worthiness of Ruth, however, we meet a man of equal worth, the kind of man a woman like her could trust and follow.

Dating Oak Trees

Now, in holding up Ruth and Boaz as a model bride and groom, it should be said that we only get five verses describing their actual married life together (Ruth 4:13–17). This brevity may, however, strangely accentuate the lessons from their love for today — for marriage, yes, but all the more for the pursuit of marriage in dating. We can assume a great deal about who Boaz and Ruth were in marriage because of what see of them before they were married.

Scripture holds up Boaz and Ruth as a man and woman worthy of a lifelong covenant, as the kind of people a godly person should want to marry. Their love reminds us of a vital and unpopular piece of wisdom: Who our significant others are before marriage will be, in significant measure, who they are in marriage. Many foolishly marry unworthy men or women, hoping the altar will somehow make them worthy; the wise know that vows alone cannot alter anyone’s character.

“Who our significant others are before marriage will be, in significant measure, who they are in marriage.”

Oak trees grow from acorns, not thorns. None of us is as worthy when we marry as we will be years into marriage, and some unworthy spouses will be wholly transformed by God after getting married. But generally speaking, an unworthy boyfriend will prove to be an unworthy husband, and an unworthy girlfriend, an unworthy wife. While God may sometimes miraculously raise an oak tree out of thorny ground, we should not wed ourselves to thorns, but wait for God to bring an acorn — a worthy man or a worthy woman, a Ruth or a Boaz.

So, for any woman in search of her acorn, what made Boaz a man worthy of a woman like Ruth?

A Truly Worthy Man

The first time we meet Boaz, we’re prepared for the kind of man he will show himself to be:

Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. (Ruth 2:1)

Before Ruth and Boaz even see each other, we are told that this man is a worthy man — a man worthy of trust and respect who will act honorably in any circumstance, care for those entrusted to him, and protect the vulnerable, rather than take advantage of his wealth or power for selfish and sinful gain or pleasure.

For a truly worthy man is as worthy in secret as he is when others are watching — and Boaz was just such a man.

A Protecting Man

The worthiness of Boaz begins with how he cares for Ruth, a vulnerable widow far from home, even when there was no benefit in it for him. When he meets her in the field, he says to her,

Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? (Ruth 2:8–9)

Having only just met her, he immediately took responsibility for her well-being. He made sure, as far as it depended on him, that no one would harm her. And he didn’t wait for something to happen in the field, but went to the men first and charged them not to touch her. Good men are vigilant enough to foresee what threatens those under their care, and they are courageous enough to do what they can to thwart those threats.

So, do the men you want to date or marry protect the women around them? Do you see them making proactive efforts to guard women, especially single women, from danger or harm? One way a man can demonstrate this worthiness in dating is by clearly expressing his interest and intentions (or lack thereof), instead of indulging in ambiguity and flirtation. Does he leave a trail of confused and wounded hearts behind him?

A Providing Man

This commitment in Boaz to protect is welded to a lifestyle of provision. Men who will protect and provide for a wife well in marriage are men who protect and provide for others outside of marriage.

“Now, listen, my daughter,” he says to Ruth, “do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. . . . And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn” (Ruth 2:8–9). He saw a hungry woman, and made sure she had something to eat. He saw a thirsty woman, and made sure she had plenty to drink. He did not (like so many men would) ignore the need before him, or assume someone else would take care of it, or make excuses about not having enough for himself, but gladly and quickly stepped in to provide.

Now, most single women are not gleaning a neighbor’s field for their next meal, so does that make this quality in Boaz irrelevant for today? Certainly not. Worthy men are providing men in any context, and they notice and anticipate the needs of their particular context. As you watch the men you might marry, do you see them overflowing — time, money, work, attention — into the needs around them? Or do they seem to do just enough to provide for themselves?

Is this the kind of man that will not only make enough money to put food on the table (which is important), but will also consistently, even if not perfectly, provide for you and your family through prayer, through listening, through effective planning and communication, through teaching and discipline in parenting, through opening God’s word with you? Is he the kind of man who provides gladly, from a renewed heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion?

A Kind Man

The care and protection Boaz showed Ruth were both expressions of unusual kindness. When Naomi hears how Boaz received Ruth gleaning in his fields, she says, “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” (Ruth 2:20).

“Good men are strong, courageous, and hard-working, but they are every bit as kind.”

And like today, his kindness stood in stark contrast with many of the men around him. People were not surprised when men were selfish, or harsh, or when they took advantage of women — why else would Boaz have to order his men not to touch her? But Boaz was not like those men. He was strong enough to provide, tough enough to protect, but also kind enough to care, to sacrifice, to love. Good men are strong, courageous, and hard-working, but they are every bit as kind.

“The Lord’s servant must be . . . kind to everyone,” Paul says (2 Timothy 2:24). They must be kind because God says so, yes, but also because they have been drawn under the waterfall of his kindness (Ephesians 2:7). Kindness is who men of God are, because they know where they would be without his kindness. Friends of ours wisely chose this verse for their wedding text: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Is the man you might marry capable, with God’s grace and help, of this kind of kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness? Has he been humbled and softened by the devastating kindness of God?

A Redeeming Man

The worthiness of Boaz, like the worthiness of any husband, is a worthiness of reflection. The glory of Boaz is a light reflected from the Son, the Christ who would one day redeem his bride.

When Ruth approached Boaz, she said, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9). At that time in Israel, a “kinsman-redeemer” was a relative who paid to redeem a family member from servitude or to buy back land that had been sold or forfeited because of poverty (see Leviticus 25:23, 47–49). Boaz was not the closest redeemer, but he was the closest one willing to marry the widow and perpetuate her husband’s line (Ruth 4:5–6).

And so Boaz declares, for all to hear, “Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife” (Ruth 4:10). He redeemed her from her grief and poverty as a picture of how Christ would eventually redeem sinners like us from a far worse fate. The worthy Boaz rose to fulfill the charge Paul would one day give every Christian husband:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25–27)

A Blessing Union

As is the case with any good marriage, the blessed union between Boaz and Ruth almost immediately spills over in blessing to others. First came their son, Obed: “So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son” (Ruth 4:13). We don’t hear much of Obed’s story, but I can only imagine the immense blessing of being raised by such a father and mother.

We do see, however, how their marriage blessed Ruth’s mother-in-law: “The women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age’” (Ruth 4:14–15). When Naomi arrived in Bethlehem, she said, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20). But through Ruth and Boaz, her mourning was turned to dancing. Death and despair had given way to new life and hope. What the Lord had taken, he had returned and far more through a healthy, overflowing marriage.

Most important of all, though, the fruit and blessing of their love would spread much farther and wider. “They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ruth 4:13–17) — and through David, we now know, the Christ. A redeemer fathered the Redeemer, whose wings would shelter the nations. Their union (eventually) produced the seed that would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). And while our faithful marriages will not bear another messiah, they can breed and spread the redemption, healing, and love our Redeemer bought for us.

So, as you pursue marriage, look for a spouse that will help you build a blessing marriage — a marriage so happy in God that it spills over to meet the needs of others.

A Worthy Wife to Be: Tracing the Rare Beauty of Ruth

She knew that typically the man would make the first move. She knew that what she was doing would appear at least suspicious, perhaps scandalous. She knew what other people might say. She knew just how much she might lose (after all she had already lost). And yet there Ruth lay, in the dark — vulnerable, hopeful, trusting, courageous — waiting quietly at the feet of a man who might wake up at any moment.

Even in a more egalitarian age, the strange and brave step Ruth took that night can make many of us uncomfortable:

When Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. (Ruth 3:7)

Such was Ruth’s way of asking Boaz to take her as his wife. But why did she ask like that? Wasn’t there another way? Couldn’t her mother-in-law have put out some feelers with Boaz’s servants?

Maybe. But God, in his wisdom, decided to join this man and this woman in this unusual way. And when we stop to look closer, the strangeness of the scene actually enhances the beauty of their love. This potentially embarrassing moment highlights what makes Boaz a worthy husband — and what makes Ruth a worthy wife.

Worthy Woman

As scandalous as it may seem for Ruth to lie down next to Boaz while he was sleeping, it seems that, in God’s eyes, she acted honorably and in purity. For all the beautiful glimpses we get of Ruth in these four chapters, she is called a “worthy woman” just once, and it’s right here, at this most vulnerable moment. Boaz, recognizing her in the dark and receiving her humble and submissive initiative, says to her,

Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. (Ruth 3:11)

“A truly worthy woman is as worthy in secret as she is when others are watching.”

Worthy when her husband died, worthy when her mother-in-law was left alone, worthy in a foreign land, worthy while working long days in the fields, worthy even here, in the darkness, on the threshing-room floor, waiting at the feet of the man she desired. A truly worthy woman is as worthy in secret as she is when others are watching — and Ruth was just such a woman.

So, what sets Ruth apart as a worthy wife-to-be — yes, in the eyes of Boaz, but all the more in the eyes of God?

Loyal Woman

The story of Ruth’s worthiness begins with her surprising loyalty.

Her mother-in-law, Naomi, had lost her husband as well as her two sons, including Ruth’s husband. Naomi saw how bleak their future had become and tried to convince her two daughters-in-law to go back to their families. In response, “Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her” (Ruth 1:14). When Ruth had great reasons to leave and save herself, she stayed and cared for her mother-in-law instead. Listen to the intensity of her loyalty:

Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you. (Ruth 1:16–17)

Ruth could have walked away, but faith and love had bound her to Naomi. Staying meant suffering. Staying meant sacrifice and risk. Staying could have even meant death — especially in a period when the judges in Israel, though charged to care for the widow, “did what was right in [their] own eyes” (Judges 17:6). But nothing would make Ruth leave now.

As news spread, her future husband was especially drawn to this loyalty in her: “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before” (Ruth 2:11).

Fearless Woman

Ruth could not have been loyal in these circumstances without also being courageous. You hear and feel her fearlessness in the vows she makes to Naomi:

Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you. (Ruth 1:17)

She was not naive about what they might suffer. Remember, she had already buried her husband and her brother-in-law (and likely had never even met her father-in-law). Death had become an intimate part of their family. She left with no guarantee that a widowed life in Israel would be any better than the trials they had known. And yet, when love met fear — real, serious, life-threatening fear — her love prevailed.

In this way, Ruth was a daughter of Sarah, that worthy wife before her, who hoped in God and clothed herself with the beauty of obedience. For, despite how fragile and daunting her life had become, Ruth “[did] good and [did] not fear anything that [was] frightening” (1 Peter 3:5–6) — because Sarah’s great God had become her God (Ruth 1:16). Women like Ruth are not easily deterred, because they have experienced a wise and sovereign love bigger than all they might fear.

Unwavering Woman

Ruth was not just fearless but determined, and her mother-in-law knew so. “When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more” (Ruth 1:18). Her love was a fierce, durable, stubborn love.

It’s not that Ruth wouldn’t hear and consider counsel (Ruth 2:22–23; 3:3–5), but she also wouldn’t retreat or give up easily. She kept loving when lesser women would have walked away. She kept working when lesser women would have quit. For instance, when she came to Boaz’s field, his servant reported, “She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest” (Ruth 2:7). Even the servants were surprised by this woman’s effort and endurance in the field.

Ruth did what she could (even straining her capacity at times) to care for those God had given to her, even when the risks were great, even when her strength ran low, even when others would have understood if she stopped, because Ruth was a worthy woman.

Godward Woman

Lastly, Ruth was a worthy woman because she was a Godward woman.

Though Ruth had been a foreigner, a Moabite by blood, she was now also a God-fearer by heart. “Your people shall be my people,” she said to Naomi, “and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). She sounds like the apostle Peter when Jesus asked if the disciples wanted to leave with the others: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi, and her fearlessness in leaving home, and her tireless determination, surely all blossomed from the garden of her newfound faith in God.

Faith tied Ruth to Naomi, and it also drew Boaz to Ruth. On the day he met her, he said,

All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me. . . . The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge! (Ruth 2:11–12)

“Do not be mistaken: worthy women are not proudly independent women.”

Yes, he admired how she cared for her mother-in-law, but he also saw how she had hidden herself in God, taking refuge under his wide and strong wings. She was not only a faithful woman, but a faith-filled woman. Do not be mistaken: worthy women are not proudly independent women. They know themselves to be needy, dependent, and vulnerable, and entrust themselves to the grace of God. They serve and sacrifice and risk with their eyes lifted above this earth to where their true hope lives.

When Boaz awoke and saw his future wife lying at his feet, he did not see the simple, fleeting beauty of a younger woman (though she was much younger); he saw the deeper, more complex, more durable beauty of a truly worthy wife.

Should She Move First?

What about single women today wondering if they should take a step toward their own Boaz? Should the man always act first, as the counsel so often goes? Was Ruth wrong to make the move and let her interest be known? Could she still be a model for women today who want to honor the man’s calling to take initiative? For my part, I believe Ruth is one wonderful example for single women today, and not just despite the unusual step she took, but even in it. I suspect some potential godly relationships may be prevented by an excessive fear that any initiative by women would undermine a man’s call to lead.

I do believe that God calls the man to bear a special burden of responsibility and take the greater initiative toward the woman. I believe the man should generally be the one risking rejection, protecting the woman by consistently putting himself forward in ways that require courage, great and small. I also believe that, should the couple marry, the man will uniquely bear the responsibility to lead, protect, provide, and shepherd her and their family — and I believe the tracks for that kind of healthy leadership are laid from (and even before) the first date. A godly woman should want a boyfriend, and eventually a husband, who consistently initiates and leads in their relationship.

Ruth, however, was in an unusual situation. Perhaps you are too. Boaz, being a worthy man (and a considerably older man, Ruth 3:10), might never have considered approaching Ruth. He also knew that he was not the next “redeemer” in line (Ruth 3:12), and so he may have not wanted to dishonor the other man by making the first move toward Ruth. Perhaps Ruth and Boaz never would have married if Ruth had not been willing to communicate her interest.

And as strange, even suggestive, as the scene may seem to us today, it very well may have been the most honorable way for Ruth to communicate that interest in her day. Even her bold step was discrete, and left the ultimate initiative in his hands, not hers. She found a way to communicate interest that upheld and encouraged his honor and leadership as a man.

So, yes, God calls men to take the initiative in Christian dating, but that doesn’t mean a godly woman never takes any steps of faith to communicate interest, especially in the context of a Christian community that can help her express that interest while shielding her from some of the pain of rejection. If there is a particular godly man you would like to pursue you, ask God if there are creative, humble, open-handed ways you might invite his initiative.

And as you do, it may not hurt, following that worthy example of Ruth, to ask an older woman in your life for counsel and help.

You Have Time to Sit with God

Have the cares of this world distracted you from sitting at the feet of Jesus? Have your fears left you feeling restless, insecure, unstable? The God of the universe is still speaking, right now, in his word. Hear his voice calling your name today, bidding you to come and enjoy the one necessary thing, the one satisfying thing, the one safe thing. You have time to sit with God.

When we stop to remember that God exists — that he created all that is from nothing; that he sustains everything we know, moment by moment, with just a word from his mouth; that he governs every government on earth; that he entered into his creation, taking on flesh, enduring weakness and temptation, suffering hostility to the point of death, even death on a cross, all to shower us with mercy, cleanse us of our sin, and secure our eternity with him in paradise — it is stunning, isn’t it, that we ignore and neglect him like we do.
Isn’t it amazing that God simply was before time began, and yet we sometimes struggle to find even ten minutes for him? Isn’t it perplexing, bordering on insanity, that we sometimes prefer distracting ourselves with our phones over taking advantage of our breathtaking access to his throne of grace in Christ? Isn’t it kind of unexplainable how we often live as if we do not have time to sit and enjoy God?
It is stunning, amazing, and perplexing, and yet so painfully familiar. Everyone who has followed Jesus knows what it is like to be distracted from following Jesus. That means we all, every one of us, can sympathize with anxious Martha.
Distracted by Fear
When Martha saw that Jesus had come to town, she welcomed him into the home where she and her sister lived (Luke 10:38). When Mary saw Jesus, she immediately sat down at his feet, and hung on his every word (Luke 10:39). “But Martha,” Luke tells us, “was distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:40).
To her credit, she was not distracted with little serving, but with much serving. And it’s hard for some of us to be too hard on her. She was hosting the Messiah — Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace — and she alone was preparing the food. Mary realized who Jesus was, and sat down to listen. Martha realized who Jesus was, and ran to do all she could for him.
The serving itself was not the problem — or at least not the main problem — especially given the social expectations for hospitality in her day. What, then, was the problem? Anxiety was consuming Martha. When she complained to Jesus that Mary was not helping her, he responded, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41). Her grumbling had opened wide a window into her heart. Love was not inspiring her to serve; anxiety was. Her turmoil was driven by misplaced fear. How often is this true of us?
And not just a fear, but many fears. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.” This wasn’t just about hospitality. Martha was distracted from Jesus because her mind was drowning in the cares of this world. And because she would not stop and listen to Jesus, she was forfeiting the calm she so desperately needed.
One Necessary Thing
Jesus knows how to still the raging waves of anxiety. Notice that he says her name not once, but twice: “Martha, Martha . . .” You can almost hear him slowing down the second time. He uses his voice, like a brake, to slowly quiet the turbulence in her heart. He knows how distracted she is, how wildly her mind is racing from one worry to another, and so he begins by helping her focus: “Martha, Martha . . .”
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You Have Time to Sit with God

When we stop to remember that God exists — that he created all that is from nothing; that he sustains everything we know, moment by moment, with just a word from his mouth; that he governs every government on earth; that he entered into his creation, taking on flesh, enduring weakness and temptation, suffering hostility to the point of death, even death on a cross, all to shower us with mercy, cleanse us of our sin, and secure our eternity with him in paradise — it is stunning, isn’t it, that we ignore and neglect him like we do.

Isn’t it amazing that God simply was before time began, and yet we sometimes struggle to find even ten minutes for him? Isn’t it perplexing, bordering on insanity, that we sometimes prefer distracting ourselves with our phones over taking advantage of our breathtaking access to his throne of grace in Christ? Isn’t it kind of unexplainable how we often live as if we do not have time to sit and enjoy God?

It is stunning, amazing, and perplexing, and yet so painfully familiar. Everyone who has followed Jesus knows what it is like to be distracted from following Jesus. That means we all, every one of us, can sympathize with anxious Martha.

Distracted by Fear

When Martha saw that Jesus had come to town, she welcomed him into the home where she and her sister lived (Luke 10:38). When Mary saw Jesus, she immediately sat down at his feet, and hung on his every word (Luke 10:39). “But Martha,” Luke tells us, “was distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:40).

To her credit, she was not distracted with little serving, but with much serving. And it’s hard for some of us to be too hard on her. She was hosting the Messiah — Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace — and she alone was preparing the food. Mary realized who Jesus was, and sat down to listen. Martha realized who Jesus was, and ran to do all she could for him.

The serving itself was not the problem — or at least not the main problem — especially given the social expectations for hospitality in her day. What, then, was the problem? Anxiety was consuming Martha. When she complained to Jesus that Mary was not helping her, he responded, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41). Her grumbling had opened wide a window into her heart. Love was not inspiring her to serve; anxiety was. Her turmoil was driven by misplaced fear. How often is this true of us?

And not just a fear, but many fears. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.” This wasn’t just about hospitality. Martha was distracted from Jesus because her mind was drowning in the cares of this world. And because she would not stop and listen to Jesus, she was forfeiting the calm she so desperately needed.

One Necessary Thing

Jesus knows how to still the raging waves of anxiety. Notice that he says her name not once, but twice: “Martha, Martha . . .” You can almost hear him slowing down the second time. He uses his voice, like a brake, to slowly quiet the turbulence in her heart. He knows how distracted she is, how wildly her mind is racing from one worry to another, and so he begins by helping her focus: “Martha, Martha . . .”

“You are anxious and troubled about many things,” he goes on to say, “but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41–42). In just two short sentences, he confronts her sinful anxiety — our sinful anxiety — with necessity, then felicity, and lastly security.

Necessity

“You are troubled about many things,” he says, “but one thing is necessary.” In other words, everything that feels so pressing, so critical, so overwhelming is ultimately unnecessary next to hearing and knowing Jesus. Her fears screamed the opposite: What will we serve him? What will he think about the food? How will this compare with other places he’s visited? Did the neighbors notice Jesus came to our house? Why isn’t Mary helping me? We don’t know what precise anxieties were harassing Martha, but we know they were many — and that each concern insisted it was essential and urgent. Only one thing, however, was truly necessary.

“Satan will try to make everything feel more urgent than sitting down to be with Jesus.”

Hundreds of years before Martha was born, King David had already learned this lesson: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). He said this while evildoers assailed him (verse 2), and armies encamped against him (verse 3), and lies and threats fell like arrows all around him (verse 12). In other words, he had every reason to fear, and yet even then, he knew the one thing he must do: seek the Lord.

Satan will try to make everything feel more urgent than sitting down to be with Jesus. But in the end, only one thing is truly necessary. And it’s not the hard conversation you’re dreading, or the pile of deadlines at work, or some distant drama on social media, or the exam you need to pass next week, or the debt you’re afraid you’ll never pay off. One thing is necessary — today, tomorrow, next Tuesday, and every day after — to know, obey, and enjoy Jesus.

Felicity

The necessity of this one pursuit, however, does not make it an unhappy pursuit. “One thing is necessary,” Jesus says. “Mary has chosen the good portion.” While it might seem like Mary had abandoned her responsibilities and left her sister out to dry, she actually had chosen wisely and lovingly.

For choosing the one necessary thing, Mary received the good portion. Necessary was no sacrifice for her; it was all gain. She was drinking from a well that would never run dry, feasting from an overflowing table, swimming in an ocean of hope and peace and joy. Because his presence was her portion, her portion was not just right, but good. Her sitting and listening said what the apostle Paul would one day say in Philippians 3:8: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

“One thing is necessary — today, tomorrow, next Tuesday, and every day after — to know, obey, and enjoy Jesus.”

Martha, meanwhile, was drinking from another well that day — one that left her even more thirsty. While the fountain of living water sat in her living room, she feverishly carved out cisterns for herself, “broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). That’s how the fear of man oppresses us: it begs and pleads for our attention, but is never satisfied. Fear breeds fear breeds fear. But the good fountain — the good portion — breeds peace and contentment, quenches our thirsts, satisfies our longings, and gives our souls rest. Necessity, for Mary and for us, is also felicity.

Security

Lastly, this necessary and happy pursuit is also profoundly safe. “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Not only has Mary chosen wisely, sitting at his feet to receive his words, but she has chosen happiness. And not just any happiness, but a full and abundant happiness that no person or circumstance could ever take from her. Is there any better word to a heart distracted by worry? The good I will give you, you will never, ever lose.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35, 37–39)

Have the cares of this world distracted you from sitting at the feet of Jesus? Have your fears left you feeling restless, insecure, unstable? The God of the universe is still speaking, right now, in his word. Hear his voice calling your name today, bidding you to come and enjoy the one necessary thing, the one satisfying thing, the one safe thing. You have time to sit with God.

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