Tim Challies

Welcoming the Uncomfortable Work of God

Of all the pursuits that come with the Christian life, is any more constant, any more consuming, and any more difficult than the pursuit of humility? Surely nothing cuts harder against the grain of our natural, sinful humanity than to be humble before God and humble before our fellow man.

Yet God calls us to display humility. He warns that he opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. So how do we become humble? Or, to say it another way, how do we humble ourselves? Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it! Give me a course I can take, a list I can check off, a procedure I can follow, and I’ll keep at it until I’m properly humble! But as David Mathis points out in his new book Humbled: Welcoming the Uncomfortable Work of God, such an attitude is all wrong because it elevates us too much. “In contrast to this attitude, the humble-self theme in Scripture turns our human instincts and assumptions upside down. Yes, this is indeed a biblical directive. And at the same time, it’s not something we can just up and do. We cannot humble ourselves by our own bootstraps.” There is no simple plan to follow, no course to take, no step-by-step procedure. That’s because …

… we humans are not the drivers of our own humility. Our God designs the humbling way in which he forges the virtue of humility. He takes the initiative. He acts first. Our humility happens on his terms. He sees. He knows. He moves, with sovereign, omnipotent, meticulous care. He is intimately engaged with his created world and with each of his creatures. He is the one who humbles us with his mighty hand, and when his humbling hand descends and we’re cut to our knees or flat on the ground, then the question comes to us: Will you humble yourself and embrace God’s humbling hand, or will you try to fight back?
Will you receive his humbling providences, or attempt to explain them away?
Will you soften to him in humility, or harden with pride?
True self-humbling is not our initiative, but it does require our doing as we learn to welcome the uncomfortable work of God.

That uncomfortable work, and our response to it, is the theme of Mathis’s book. In its eight brief chapters he offers a study of the Bible’s humble-self language. Specifically, he follows the lead of the “humble-self” texts “for what we might discover not as much about humility in general, though that’s not unimportant, but specifically (and practically) about what it means to pursue humility, and especially to humble-self, when God is the one who initiates our humbling, not us.”
So he asks first “How do I humble myself?” and explains how God humbles us through our response to his Word and his work. He shows the importance of providence, Scripture, prayer, fasting, and local church fellowship in God’s working out of our humility. He explains how we can think less of ourselves and think of ourselves less. He shows how most ultimately, humility is the means through which we admit to ourselves, to others, and to God himself, “I am not God.” In that way, it is “a posture of soul and body and life that acknowledges and welcomes the godness of God and the humanness of self.”
All-in-all, Humbled is as helpful a book as you’ll find on the essential but oh-so-difficult task of becoming humble—of responding appropriately to God’s pursuit of our humility. I highly recommend it.

Buy from Amazon

A La Carte (October 22)

The Lord be with you and bless you today.

Westminster Books has a really good deal on a really neat set of books.
Remembering Don Lewis
“Dr. Donald Munro Lewis died Tuesday, October 19, 2021 in Vancouver, BC, of cardiac arrest. He was seventy-one. A beloved and respected historian, professor, mentor, friend, and parishioner, Don will be mourned and missed around the world. He was a wise and steadying presence from Vancouver to Cape Town.” Don was also the man who led my dad to the Lord (who in turn led my mom to the Lord).
Identity vs. personhood
This is a really good one from Janie Cheaney. “Anyone over 40 could have a lot of fun with 249 genders, but it’s no laughing matter for young people trying to figure out who they are in a confused and confusing world. The tragedy is, some may be so intent on crafting identities that they’ve let go of personhood.”
The Woke Non-Gospel at the Chappelle Netflix Protests
Rhys Laverty has some interesting analysis of a recent protest. Note that there is a really bad word that comes up in the article, but it is asterisked out. “I awoke this morning to a protest video. A friend had forwarded a video of yesterday’s demonstration outside Netflix’s head office in LA. Employees walked out, joined by plenty of others, to protest comedian Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix standup special.”
Sing When You’re Losing
“The gathered church sings. That’s what we do. It’s not the only thing we do, but it is what we do. … We sing to worship the Lord, we sing to bolster one another, we sing to ‘push back the dark’ by declaring the victory of Christ. But, occasionally, we struggle to sing. Especially I think we struggle to sing—or at least I struggle to sing—when it feels like we’re losing.”
Four Types of Men in Leadership
I appreciate Chopo’s thoughts on leadership here. Focusing specifically on leadership in the home and church, he highlights four kinds of men commonly found in the church and in our society.
What the Lord’s “Imminent” Return Means
This is a helpful look at what it means that the Lord’s return is “imminent.”
The Church Among the Deathworks
I’m committed to linking to pretty much everything Carl Trueman writes. “Hegel writes that the 1820s witnessed a rise in anxiety and despair because cultural symbols and institutions began to lose their meaning, plunging the world into a state of random flux. Of course, this is all the more true of our own world, where old symbols—national flags, national anthems, national narratives—have lost their shared meaning, and have thus also lost their authority. Which flag to fly—Stars and Stripes or Pride? Which anthem to sing—’Star Spangled Banner’ or ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’? Where to date America’s founding—1776 or 1619? These are now serious questions.”
Flashback: Young Christian: Give the Lord a Lot to Work With
The teens and twenties—these are years that can be put to very good use or that can be squandered. These are years that can form the firm foundation of a life well-lived or the unsteady foundation of a life tragically wasted.

Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us (leading us to faith and worship), we have to see it as something done by us (leading us to repentance). —John Stott

A La Carte (October 21)

Grace and peace to you on this fine day.

(Yesterday on the blog If Just One Person Returned)
Why I Quit Praying for God to “Use Me”
Alex Early: “I became a Christian at the age of 15 and knew I was called into vocational ministry within 90 days. So, one prayer that I picked up on by leaders around me and started praying myself was this—’God, please use me in this world for your glory and our joy.’ It sounds right and even biblical. Yet, to be quite honest, I didn’t pray that prayer from a heart that was content with God.”
The Prayer Stump
I appreciate this one. “My husband chiseled out what he calls a prayer stump from the trunk of a fallen tree. Its back behind our house where he is hidden from human eyes. It’s an uncomfortable seat, an earthly throne of sorts, where he brings our children and grandchildren to a much higher and greater Throne.”
5 Reasons We Don’t Pray
“None of us feel as though we have ‘arrived’ when it comes to prayerful communion with our heavenly Father—but few of us do the searching work of pondering why that is. Honestly, if we give it some thought, it is rather obvious why prayer is hard and why we struggle to do it. Here are five of the most significant reasons why we don’t pray…” You will probably identify with some of these.
Silence is Not Violence
“What if the world needs fewer words, not more? What if silence is not violence and extra words are nothing more than virtue signaling?” This is well worth thinking about.
More: What God Wants for You
“Our dreams are fiddling and fickle. They’re also small, like gains of dusty sand on a vast shore. No offense. I’m not trying to belittle you (or myself, for that matter). You may have some ‘respectable’ dreams in the world’s eyes, maybe even some respectable dreams in the eyes of the church. But they’re probably not good enough. God probably wants more for you.”
A Pandemic of Disunity
Randy Alcorn has some valuable thoughts about unity through the pandemic. “Believers’ love toward each other is the greatest proof that we truly follow Jesus. If we fail to live in loving oneness, the world — or to bring it closer to home, our family, and friends — will have less reason to believe the gospel.”
Flashback: Do You Set an Example in Your Conduct?
All the time, in every way, in all of life, God challenges you to be an example of godliness to other Christians.

People treat God’s sovereignty as a matter of controversy, but in Scripture it is a matter of worship. —J.I. Packer

If Just One Person Returned

Amelia Taylor had joined her son as he traveled to the great seaport of Liverpool. Hudson was about to make the long journey to a far-off mission field and she wanted to be with him to the final moment, to pray for him one last time, to see him depart for the great work God had called him to. He never forgot that day. His mother came aboard the ship with him, entered his cabin, and smoothed the little bunk. She sat with him for a time, sang a hymn, then knelt down and prayed. And just as they said their “amens,” the ship’s horn sounded and it was time for her to go ashore.

Hudson knew that, for his sake, his mother had restrained her emotions as much as she was able. But as they parted, as she went ashore, and as the ship pushed off from land, she could hold them back no more. As “the separation really commenced, never shall I forget the cry of anguish wrung from that mother’s heart,” he said later. “It went through me like a knife. I never knew so fully, until then, what ‘God so loved the world’ meant.”
As the ship pulled away from shore, as it turned toward the ocean, and as it began to fade into the distance, Amelia wondered whether she would ever see her son again, whether the ship that bore him away would ever return him to her side. She cried out in uncertainty, in sorrow, in anguish of heart.
We are all familiar with that kind of anguish, that kind of sorrow, that kind of uncertainty. We have all watched death carry off someone we love and known that the vessels that carry them away from the shores of this life will not bring them back. We have all wondered what has become of them, what they are doing, what they are experiencing. We have all wondered whether there is truly life beyond the grave, whether their feet have landed safe upon the shores of a distant land. We have all wondered whether there is life beyond that horizon, life beyond what our ears can hear, what our eyes can see, what our minds can perceive.
Many grasp for some kind of certainty, some kind of assurance. They long for just one person to come back, one person to make the return journey, one person to assure them that heaven is real, that God’s promises are true, that their loved ones are safe and well and whole.
But suppose one did return, one did claim to have entered those blessed gates and to have experienced heaven’s joys and to have fellowshipped with the saints and angels and to have seen the very face of Christ. We would have to accept heaven’s reality and existence on the basis of just one person, just one witness, just one frail and fallible human authority. That would be no assurance at all. That would be insufficient to sustain us through dark nights and deep griefs, insufficient to console us when sorrows like sea billows roll and threaten to pull us under.
God has not seen fit to provide us that kind of witness, that kind of assurance. No, he has seen fit to provide us a better witness, a better assurance. Instead of having us base our confidence on the word of friends or family members, he has us base our confidence on his infallible words. And why would we believe the word of a man if we will not believe the word of God himself? Why would we long to base our confidence on a created being if we will not believe the one who created us? Why would we prefer man to God, mortal to immortal, dust to glory?
In our anguish, in our sorrow, in our uncertainty, we have the word of God, the God who has declared the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, the God who promises, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” We have his sure and certain word that as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. We have his promise that through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” And each of us must ask: If we will not believe this, what will believe? If we will not believe him, who will we believe? What more could we ever want, ever hope for, ever need?
As our loved ones are pulled from our grasp, as they depart this world and fade from our sight, we have the greatest of all hope and the greatest of all assurance. We have the sure and steady word of the God who made us, the God who saved us, the God who raised his Son, the God who has promised that he has given us the ultimate victory through Jesus Christ. And when we have that word, we have all that we need.

A La Carte (October 20)

May the Lord bless and keep you today.

Yup, there are some Kindle deals today.
A Key Sign You are Maturing as a Preacher
“Over the years, I have learned to ask students a key question that can reveal a lot about how they are developing as a preacher. ‘What did you leave out?’” This is a great question for young preachers (and, also, for older preachers).
If Decisions Never Go Against You, Is Your Eldership Truly Plural?
It’s a valid question…
The Communication Between Preacher and Congregant
“Both the speaker and listener are communicating. In one-on-one conversations, we readily admit that communication is a two-way thing, but totally ignore this fact in Christian preaching.” David Qaoud explains.
A Leaf Surrendered
“The leaves arrest us with wonder; and then they fade and tremble, uncertain, before letting go of what once was, to accept what will be. The letting go is its own beauty as they lay themselves down to shelter and sustain the seeds not yet reaching for the light.” Andrea Sanborn draws a lesson from the leaves.
7 Traits of False Teachers
“There is no such thing as a pure church this side of heaven. You will never find it. The wheat and the tares grow together.” That being the case, we always need to be on guard against false teachers.
How Satan Undoes a Mom
“We Christians are still at war. Our wartime has gone on for thousands of years and will last until Christ comes to end it. The difference is that in this war — the spiritual war — the home is located in the heat of the battle, and we mothers are in combat roles.”
The Haunting Effects of Sin
We all learn this truth eventually. “Sin has a way of robbing us of peace and joy. It can weaken, embarrass, and grieve us years after the indiscretion. As the enemies of God hear about it, they begin to rejoice, mocking the God we love because of what we have done. If you are toying with sin or considering spurning God’s loving standards to feed your flesh, you might want to think twice because what you do could linger for years to come.”
Flashback: Gospel Weariness
Gospel weariness…is a weariness that rests on the promises of the gospel, that finds its hope in the God of the gospel. It does not wallow in despair but gazes with confidence to the future.

Ordinarily, when God puts it into our hearts to desire to do good to someone, we are the messengers he would send with the blessing. —J.R. Miller

A La Carte (October 19)

May the God of love and peace be with you today.

There are, as usual, a few Kindle deals for those who are interested.
(Yesterday on the blog: Extending the Borders and Enlarging the Territory)
Cultivating a Gracious Climate in Your Church
“A message of grace may attract people, but a culture of grace will keep them. What our churches need, not in exchange for a gospel message but as a witness to it, is a gospeled climate. But how do you get that? How do you develop in your church community a safe space to confess, be broken, be ‘not okay’? What are some ways to cultivate a climate of grace in your church?” Jared Wilson explains.
Skeleton Keys (Video)
This new video from The John 10:10 Project is a wee bit unusual, but still informative.
The Hard Blessing of Conjoined Twins
“Dwight and Stephanie Castle’s twin babies don’t sleep at the same time. When one is resting, the other is moving around, kicking and wiggling and babbling. The problem is, the girls are attached—from chest to belly button. The awake baby is constantly bumping her sleeping sister.” Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra reports.
Commercialising Church
“I won’t speculate what their problems may be, but this is a terrible idea. So terrible it surely only needs to be laughed at. What we offer we offer for free. Yes, we ask for people’s money, that’s how all churches exist and continue to run, but these are generous offerings in response to what they received from God.” This article explains why Facebook’s proposed options for churches may be a terrible idea.
Peace. Be Still.
Susan Lafferty explains the importance of the time Jesus said these words.
The Search For Answers And Two Responses When You Find Them
“We look not only for lost or misplaced items, we’re also looking for answers. Truths to address our feelings of emptiness, dissatisfaction, and hurt; the reasons for our pain and suffering, or the next step to take when we face a fork in the road. Trying to fit the pieces of our puzzle together, we look desperately to the world around us for solutions and try different methods of escape or resolution.”
Flashback: 5 Bad Substitutes for Discipline
In her book Parenting Against the Tide, Ann Benton lists five poor substitutes for disciplining our children—five poor substitutes that fail to address the heart.

You are sanctified by remembering and believing afresh that you are justified by what Jesus did on the cross for you. —David Powlison

What We’ll Discover about God in Heaven

This article is written by Andrew M. Davis and is sponsored by Baker Books. In his new book, The Glory Now Revealed, Andrew paints a dynamic, scripturally-based picture of heaven as a place where we continually discover new aspects of God’s glory displayed in his past works throughout the history of the world.

Who can fully appraise the treasures of God’s glory woven into even a single day of history? We all underestimate the value of those treasures! The Bible makes this amazing assertion about time: “With the Lord one day is as a thousand years” (2 Pet. 3:8). It is as though God sees every single second of history in extreme slow motion. The activity of any single day is utterly mindboggling: all over the world, human beings are speaking, acting, making choices, creating. And God is there, watching and recording everything.
But Scripture goes beyond a simple assertion of God’s presence and awareness. The doctrine of providence teaches that God is acting decisively through the greatest and smallest events to bring about his sovereign purposes. He controls the casting of a lot (Prov. 16:33) and the decisions of a king (21:1). He oversees the death of a sparrow (Matt. 10:29) and the birth of a mountain goat (Job 39:1). He chooses the time and circumstances of our birth as well as our death, numbering all the days in between (Ps. 139:16). He acts in ways that are incomprehensible to us, and his footsteps cannot be tracked (Rom. 11:33). The daily actions of God are immeasurable and worthy of praise: secretly restraining tyrants, directing the complex flow of international commerce, answering the prayers of a child, protecting persecuted house church leaders, convicting Christians of secret sin, orchestrating the initial meeting of a man and woman who will someday be married.
The sovereign salvation plan of God was crafted before the foundation of the world, bought at infinite cost by the blood of his Son, and applied by the Holy Spirit to individuals in every generation and in every corner of the world. Every day, that plan generates unique treasures . . . thousands of years of thousands of years.
But most details of that plan are hidden from human view, forgotten by succeeding generations, lost through the death of eyewitnesses, and buried under the rise and rubble of nations. God is temporarily deprived of the glory he deserves for both his mighty and minute deeds.
The vast majority of God’s glorious deeds in history have never been recorded in any book and never will be. They were performed in the obscure lives of people the world would consider unremarkable. These ranks of the redeemed received amazing grace poured on them, and their stories are well worth learning to the glory of God. Yet not only are those stories lost to posterity but the full dimensions of God’s activities in saving their souls were often veiled from them as well. They never fully realized how God orchestrated providential occurrences in space and time to bring them to faith in Christ and to help them grow in grace after that. But why should God be robbed of his glory by having those works hidden forever, lost in the dust of the past?
Increased heavenly understanding of earthly history will in turn increase our heavenly joy. This eternal education in history will be glorious! We will be so free from selfish concerns for our reputations that we will finally see God at the glorious center of it all—the Redeemer, Protector, Warrior, Ruler, Healer, Feeder, Author, Perfecter—in a word, the Savior worthy of all praise.

Extending the Borders and Enlarging the Territory

The Israelites had sojourned in the wilderness until the last of an entire rebellious generation had died and been buried. They had walked to the banks of the Jordan and had seen its waters part before them. They had crossed the river and entered the Promised Land. And now the true work and the true challenge would begin.

Though God had promised that this people would inherit this land, and though he had promised that it would be their possession, he did not intend to deliver it to them in its completed form. He did not intend to give them a land whose every field was forever cleared and tilled, whose every crop was forever ripe for harvest, whose every barn was forever full. Rather, he intended to give them a land whose climate was right, who soil was rich, whose nutrients were plentiful, and whose waters were pure. He intended to give them a land that would respond appropriately and provide bountifully to their hard labor.
And so as the people took possession of the land, as they displaced its inhabitants, they set to work. They claimed the fields that had already been broken and planted, but they also claimed new fields and prepared them for sowing and watering and reaping. Year by year they expanded their territory, season by season the portion of the land that would provide for its new people.
And in much the same way, we as Christians are given a great promise—that the God who has claimed us will reshape us. We are told that we are to be perfect even as God is perfect, told that we are to put every sin to death and come alive to every virtue, told that we are to become more and more like our Savior Jesus Christ. But as the Israelites had to labor to claim what was theirs, so too do we. As the Israelites had to take possession of what God had promised, so too do Christians.
And so we enter the new life united to our Savior by faith and indwelled by his Holy Spirit. We come to understand the great promise that we are to be joint heirs of his inheritance and that all that belongs to him is to be ours. And then we come to learn how to receive and how to use what he offers to us so we can extend the borders of our possession, enlarge our territory, always pressing back the chaos of depravity so divine graces can take root and grow and bring forth precious fruit. Even our ugliest faults, our most established habits, and our most coddled sins begin to waver and crumble. Bit by bit we conquer the old and come alive to the new. Day by day we take more and more of the vast possession that is ours in Christ. And always and ever we look with expectation to the day the battles will finally be over, the land will finally be fully conquered, and we shall reign forever with Him.

A La Carte (October 18)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

There are some good Kindle deals today, including a new biography about the Spurgeons.
(Yesterday on the blog: God’s Pop-Up Book)
Deadly children’s games
I expect you’ve been hearing about Netflix’s hit series Squid Game. This review from WORLD tells what it’s all about.
A Cultural Moment for Revival?
“While our culture continues to slip into chaotic depravity, more and more people are voicing their fears and frustrations. What will become of this country? What will become of the world? What challenges will our children face? The darkness seems to be overtaking the light.” But all is not lost.
God’s not “They:” Divine Pronouns Matter
John Stonestreet is clear that we should not mess with God’s pronouns. “God isn’t a force or an energy with no opinion of what we think about Him. God is a person, with specific characteristics. God is not a nebulous blob to be molded according to our wishes. God is infinite, but He is not indefinite.”
Planting Forests
This is a needed reminder that good things often take plenty of time. “Yes, it often took hundreds of years for the momentum to grow strong and wide enough for large-scale change. But should that mean we don’t make the attempt? Not at all.”
From “What if” to “Even If”
“Someone once said that if the thing we worry about doesn’t happen, we’ve wasted all that angst and energy and head space. And if it does happen, we’ve doubled the toll it would have taken by worrying about it beforehand. That helps me put aside worried questions and supposing. But something else helps me even more.”
Navigating the Preaching Rut
Here’s help for the preacher who feels like he’s in a rut. “Unfortunately, not all ruts are equal. Ruts on the farm can keep you from driving into a hole. But what about when you feel like you are in a rut when preaching?”
The Week Coleraine Stood Still
This is an inspiring account of the 1859 revival in the town of Coleraine, on the north coast of Ireland.
Flashback: Pastoring Is So Much More Than Preaching
A shepherd doesn’t only lead his sheep to pasture and water, but also watches them to guard them from all harm.

Consider how precious a soul must be, when both God and the devil are after it. —Charles Spurgeon

God’s Pop-Up Book

With a group of friends, I am reading Sinclair Ferguson’s Devoted To God, a book about holiness and the ways in which God instructs us to be holy even as he is holy. In this week’s reading I found a helpful illustration of the Old Testament rites and ceremonies and thought you might benefit from it as I did. Ferguson describes them as acting like pop-up picture books…

The Lord unfolded it at first through liturgical rites and ceremonies prescribed in the law given to and expounded by Moses. Think of these as being like the pop-up picture books we give to and read with small children. They learn not only from words but also from pictures. The appeal is made to their senses: they hear the words; but they can also see and touch what these words express. In the same way the Lord built physical ceremonies and objects into old covenant life, which the people could hear, see, touch, and even smell. They experienced a multi-media expression of their sin and of God’s grace and way of salvation. They also learned that they were to be separated from the world, different from others, and devoted exclusively to the Lord. Their lives had a distinct rhythm outwardly (they had a unique calendar), their daily existence was governed by personal and community laws that made them different from other nations. It was all meant to express the basic principle that the Lord had claimed them for himself. They were his. Therefore they were different from those who were not his. That was what being holy meant. The Lord had chosen them, redeemed them from Egypt, and claimed them for himself. Now in turn they were to reserve themselves exclusively for him. There was to be no unrequited love.
As the narrative of the Old Testament progressively unfolded, God explained what being devoted to him meant at a personal and moral level. This process reached something of a climax in the ministry of the prophet Isaiah, especially in the way he spoke about God as ‘the holy one of Israel’. In his own experience and prophetic ministry it became crystal clear that holiness was never intended to be merely a matter of keeping the Old Testament rituals, nor simply of outward obedience to the Ten Commandments. Holiness meant knowing God, the Holy One, and reflecting and expressing his character—having fellowship with him in such a way that, as his bride, his people became like their Husband, the One with whom they lived.

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