Desiring God

To Hurting Wives in Ministry: How God Works Through Heartache

“How do you keep going in ministry? Especially after so much hurt?” My friend, the wife of a pastor, sat on my couch with tear-filled eyes. As we sipped our tea, I asked God to help me offer some words of encouragement. As I write this now, I’m praying that way again, asking God to help me encourage you if you find yourself in pain over broken relationships in your church — and especially if you, like me, are married to a pastor.

To be called by Jesus into gospel ministry, to point broken people to our merciful and loving Savior, is an immense privilege. It’s a weighty, joyful role to support our husbands as they shepherd the flock the Holy Spirit has placed in their care (Acts 20:28). In the eternal sense, and often even now in this age, it’s among the most rewarding responsibilities we will carry. And at times, it can be heartbreaking.

For instance, a friend may turn on a pastor’s wife over a church disagreement, over whether the elders make this decision or that. That was the pain my friend was enduring, pain I knew all too well. After years of reaching out to new visitors and pouring herself into the people of her church, conflict was tearing apart relationships that were meaningful to my friend. Gossip and slander were making it worse. The very people she called friends were walking away without so much as a goodbye. I watched her pain roll down her cheeks in tears.

Encouragement for Heartache in Ministry

That kind of pain and heartache comes with any meaningful ministry, which means her question is a good one, an important one:

How do you keep going in ministry after so much hurt?

Thank God the Bible has many good answers. And while God doesn’t answer every specific question we might have, he reminds us that this kind of pain and loss is part of this age, and none of it will be in vain. God is doing more good (in us and in others) than we know, and at the end of the day, at the end of life, Jesus will be worth it.

1. Jesus understands your heartache.

When we struggle feeling betrayed by a friend or church member, we remember that Jesus endured the greatest betrayal. He knows the pain we’ve endured — and far more. The very disciple he was investing in handed him over to the authorities with a kiss. Even his most adamant supporter and friend denied knowing him three times. When Jesus asked his disciples to stay awake and join him in prayer the night before his crucifixion, they fell asleep. And then, of course, the very people he came to minister to were crying out to crucify him.

Jesus is the High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). When we too face rejection, we can rejoice, knowing that we are sharing in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13).

2. Heartache produces hope.

The heartbreaks and trials we face in our ministry are not for nothing. As John Piper writes, God is always doing ten thousand things (and more) that we can’t even see.

“The heartbreaks and trials we face in our ministry are not for nothing.”

One important thing God is doing through our hurts and broken relationships is teaching us to persevere. We keep reaching out, inviting others into our homes and initiating friendships, because our hope is in eternity. He is shaping our character and building our hope through suffering, as he pours his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:3–5). We endure being slandered or mistreated within the church, knowing that we can rejoice in our suffering. In this world we will have trouble, but we take heart because Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33). “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

3. Heartache will equip you to comfort others.

As my husband and I have walked through our own trials in our twenty years of ministry, God has been faithful to bring more seasoned pastors’ wives alongside me to encourage me with what they have learned. I’ve experienced firsthand the truth of 2 Corinthians 1:3–4:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Older pastors’ wives have been a listening ear, a source of gospel-filled hope and wisdom, pointing me to the truths of Scripture and praying for me. Those conversations have been like water to a parched soul.

If you’re in the midst of ministry hardships, ask God to provide a seasoned pastor’s wife to come alongside you. And look for the ways you can provide comfort to a woman who is not as far along the path as you are. One of the greatest joys in ministry is found in serving others who are hurting.

4. Keep doing good, even now.

One verse that has ministered to me countless times during dark seasons is 1 Peter 4:19: “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” These words are a precious reminder that the suffering we endure in ministry is part of God’s good plan for us. It is not a surprise to him, something unforeseen along our path of service. Instead, it’s often the very tool God uses to encourage us to lean into his grace.

As we entrust our souls to our Creator, we keep doing good. We get outside our own propensity to self-absorption and self-pity, and focus on meeting the needs of others. Instead of wallowing in lingering pain over what we’ve lost, we can ask God to help us see who else needs a friend, who needs a helping hand or a word of encouragement. We can ask the Lord to show us where we can use our gifts to joyfully meet the needs of others. As we lift our eyes off of ourselves, inevitably we will find more joy and peace through the only One who can truly satisfy.

5. The gospel shines brighter in heartache.

Our natural, sinful reaction when we’ve been wounded is to wallow in our pain or to seek revenge, but God calls us to something higher. Romans 12:14–21 exhorts us to bless those who persecute us — to not repay anyone evil for evil, but instead show radical love to our adversaries. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20–21). The grace of God enables us to move past our natural feelings to show tenacious love and grace to our offenders. These situations, although painful, are actually profound opportunities to show that we are Christ’s disciples (John 13:35).

“The grace of God enables us to move past our natural feelings to show tenacious love and grace to our offenders.”

As followers of Christ, we are reminded that love is patient and kind, not irritable or resentful, that “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7). When we are hurt by others, it’s easy to assume the worst of their motives. But Christlike love calls us to believe the best. Our love is to be long-suffering, to bear with the offenses of others. No matter how harsh of a disagreement, we are challenged to assume that our opponents felt compelled by their own different convictions (unless, of course, we have obvious evidence of their ill will).

An older pastor who walked through a painful church split shared this challenging perspective with my husband: “Despite all the heartache in our congregation, I believe those who created controversy and later left were trying to act in the best interest of the church.” What a gracious way to view the actions and words that caused such painful wounds.

And, in addition to assuming the best of others, we can also ask God to examine our own hearts (Psalm 139:23–24). How might we have contributed to the pain we’re experiencing? Have we harbored bitterness or resentment toward others? And if we discover any wrong in ourselves (and we often will!), we can rejoice that God freely forgives us and covers us by the blood of Christ.

6. Jesus is worth any heartache.

My heartbroken friend knew she had a choice to make: either guard herself from pain through withdrawal and isolation or trust God by continuing to love and invest in others. By God’s grace, she’s choosing the latter. The hardship she faced in church ministry propelled her to lean on Jesus for strength to keep going.

Jesus is worth any suffering that we endure on this earth. Our possessions, reputation, and earthly significance all pale in comparison to the treasure we have in him. Our pain in ministry either can leave us jaded and isolated from others, fearing the next hurt, or it can move us to trust Christ for the radical grace and love that only he can provide.

So, don’t give up. For the joy set before you (Hebrews 12:2), persevere through this “light momentary affliction” in love (2 Corinthians 4:17), in the strength that God supplies (1 Peter 4:11), for the eternal glory of God and for the eternal good of Christ’s church.

Let There Be Rest: Recovering Healthy Weekly Rhythms

In the beginning, God created rhythms. He spoke on day four,

Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years. (Genesis 1:14)

When Adam entered Eden two days later, he stepped into a dance of day and night, month and year, winter and spring and summer and fall. And then, between the rhythms of the day and the month, God added one more, a pattern taught not by the heavens but by his own example: the seven-day rhythm of the week (Genesis 2:1–3).

God could have made a rhythm-less world if he wanted — a world without days and weeks and months and years. But in his wisdom, days four and seven of creation serve day six; rhythms make the world a good habitation for finite humans, in need of rest and refreshment. As creatures of dust, we are creatures of rhythm.

“Which is why it’s so concerning,” Kevin DeYoung writes, “that our lives are getting more and more rhythm-less.” He represents many when he says,

We don’t have healthy routines. We can’t keep our feasting and fasting apart. Evening and morning have lost their feel. Sunday has lost its significance. Everything is blurred together. The faucet is a constant drip. (Crazy Busy, 94)

In other words, life today looks less like Eden, and more like Egypt.

Days in Egypt

By the time we reach Exodus 1, Genesis 1–2 is a lost world. We find no reference to weeks or months, seasons or years in Egypt — only to an endless sequence of workdays. Perhaps some Egyptians lived by routines of work and rest. But for Pharaoh’s slaves, Egypt was a world without rhythms.

Unlike the restful God of creation (Genesis 2:2–3), Pharaoh exhibits a single-minded madness for labor and production. When Israel grows mighty, he sets them to work (Exodus 1:11). When Moses tells him to let the people go, he makes their work harder (Exodus 5:4). And when Israel finally leaves Egypt, he pursues, wondering how he could have allowed them to leave their work (Exodus 14:5). To Pharaoh, a slave’s 80-year life was merely a sequence of 29,200 workdays, inconveniently disrupted by the need for sleep.

“As creatures of dust, we are creatures of rhythm.”

Though the modern West has no singular equivalent of Egypt’s restless king, the cultural air we breathe carries a pharaonic scent. Not only do average work hours in America exceed that of many other countries, but as DeYoung notes, the boundaries between work and rest have stretched and blurred. We no longer need to go to the office to make our bricks; we just need Wi-Fi. And even our “off time” regularly falls prey to what Andrew Lincoln calls “the hectic round of activities [showing] that leisure itself is caught on the treadmill of working and consuming” (From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, 404).

Such is the rhythm-less life, a life with no square on the calendar labeled “Rest.” And many need a fresh exodus.

‘You Shall Not Work’

As soon as God rescues Israel, rhythms return. The first mentions of month and year appear as God commands Israel to celebrate the exodus annually (Exodus 12:2–3). Soon after, we find the first reference to the Sabbath (Exodus 16:23), Israel’s weekly commemoration of creation and redemption (Exodus 20:11; Deuteronomy 5:15). The drumbeat of endless days gives way to the rhythm of the seasons.

Pharaoh knew only how to say, “You shall work,” but God knows how to say, “You shall not work.” Over a dozen times, he tells his redeemed people, “You shall not do any work” (or “any ordinary work”) — a command that applied not only to the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10), but also to Israel’s festivals (Leviticus 23:7–8, 21, 25, 31, 35–36). In this blessed shall not, God snatched something of Egypt out of the lives of his people, and put something of Eden in its place.

Today, of course, we no longer live under the old covenant and its cultic rhythms. Christians are not bound to observe Israel’s festivals — nor even to keep a literal Sabbath, which, along with the festivals, has found its fulfillment in Christ (Colossians 2:16–17). But the imperative to rest still reaches us today, indirectly if not directly.

The heavens above still sing their rhythmic song. We still walk as creatures of the dust. God’s 6-and-1 pattern still invites our imitation. And Jesus’s own routines of work and rest still model the fully human life (Mark 1:35; 6:30–32). “You shall not work,” though not a covenantal command, is still the wisdom of the saints.

Reclaiming Rhythm

So, how might we begin unlearning the rhythm-less ways of Pharaoh? How might we gather up our days into some sustainable pattern of work and rest? Though we would be wise to consider, at some point, seasonal or annual rhythms of rest (in the form of weekend retreats or weeklong vacations, for example), weekly rest is likely our best starting point.

“If nightly sleep places a period at the end of each day’s sentence, weekly rest adds a paragraph break.”

If nightly sleep places a period at the end of each day’s sentence, weekly rest adds a paragraph break: once a week, we slow down, catch our breath, and live in the white space of life’s page. We pause after the pattern of the world’s first week and remember that we were made for rhythms; we were made for work and rest.

Consider, then, a few modest first steps.

Set boundaries.

Rhythms of rest require boundaries. The best resters build a gate in time, the entrance of which reads, “No work allowed.” The boundary need not protect a strict 24-hour period (since, again, we are not under the fourth commandment). But unless we put a boundary around some period of time — Friday morning, Thursday afternoon and evening, sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday — rest will likely prove elusive.

Setting a boundary, of course, is far easier than keeping a boundary. As soon as we build a gate, something will start banging on it. Keeping the door closed calls for bold faith that God will provide for us once we set down the pen, close the computer, finish for the day. God told Israel to rest not only when work allowed for it, but even “in plowing time and in harvest” (Exodus 34:21). In other words, “Even in your busiest seasons, when your livelihood seems to depend on restless work, trust me and rest.”

To be sure, we would be wrong to set our boundaries so firmly that we close our ears to urgent needs. That kind of coldhearted boundary-keeping made Jesus angry (Mark 3:1–5). But exceptions to our boundaries should be just that: exceptions. If they become the rule, we may need to reevaluate our sense of what needs truly are urgent.

Refresh yourself.

As many quickly discover, however, a day off does not equal a day of rest. Just as some people return from a trip saying, “I need a vacation to recover from my vacation,” so we sometimes end a day off feeling like we need another. Maybe we packed the day with good but exhausting activities (sports practices, home projects, taxing social events), or maybe we entertained ourselves into oblivion. Either way, our “rest” has left us more restless than rested.

Again, God’s own pattern gives us our goal: “In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed” (Exodus 31:17). Following God into this kind of rest requires not only setting boundaries, but also filling those boundaries with genuinely refreshing activities — activities that send us back into our work replenished in mind, soul, and body, ready to spend and be spent for the good of others.

The kinds of refreshing activities available to us will vary according to life stage, of course. Rest for a husband and father will look different from rest for a single man — less reading and napping, perhaps, and more time with the kids outside. Even still, all of us would do well to consider (and discuss with family or roommates) what some refreshing rest might look like, taking all factors into account.

Perhaps some time alone refreshes us — or perhaps people time does. Maybe we benefit from reading poetry or taking a walk. Some will want to be more physically active; others less. Probably everyone could benefit from curbing digital technologies and finding what Albert Borgmann calls a “focal practice”: an activity that “has a commanding presence, engages your body and mind, and engages you with others” — playing music, fishing, handwriting a letter, cooking a meal.

And of course, one activity rests at the heart of the Christian’s refreshment: worship.

Worship your Redeemer.

Before God gave Israel the fourth commandment, he gave them the first: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2–3). The Sabbath rested on (1) the reminder of redemption and (2) the call to revere God above all. Which implies that, if Israel were really to rest — if they were really to find refreshment in the Sabbath, and not just a day off — they needed to worship their Redeemer.

“Ultimately, rest flows not from a weekly pause, but from a Person.”

Millennia later, Jesus would issue an invitation that follows a similar pattern: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Ultimately, rest flows not from a weekly pause, but from a Person. Unlike Pharaoh, he has no need for store cities and slave labor, for he owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). He looks not first for workers but for worshipers, and he calls us not to Egypt but to the Eden of Himself.

For good reason, then, many Christians seek to join their weekly day of rest with their weekly day of corporate worship. If we can do the same, wonderful. If not, we can at least find some special way to say with both our hearts and our lips, “Jesus, not Pharaoh, is Lord” — and then live it out by laying down our bricks.

Young Love in a Cruel Land: The Wife Who Sailed with Adoniram Judson

On February 18, 1812, Ann and Adoniram Judson (ages 21 and 22) boarded the Caravan in the New England port of Salem. They had been married for less than two weeks, and set sail for Asia, expecting not to see America again.

They arrived in Burma (now Myanmar) to commence pioneer gospel work in July of 1813 — having already endured a four-month sea journey, a painful separation from their sending body and colleagues (due to their conscientious decision to be baptized as believers), the death of Ann’s friend Harriet, and the stillbirth of Ann’s first child.

The next thirteen years would be punctuated by serious illness, lengthy separations, and continual harassment. Ann’s second child, Roger Williams, died at eight months. She was pregnant with her third child when Adoniram was taken into the notorious Death Prison in Ava in June 1824. They would not know freedom together until February 1826. During that time, both suffered immensely; Ann daily risked her own life to care for Adoniram. These privations resulted in her death, at age 36, in October 1826. Little Maria Eliza would die six months later.

So much suffering. So many tears.

Yet Ann’s determination to serve Christ shone, undimmed, to the end. What fueled her resolve? To answer that question, we have to go back to her profound conversion, which resulted in a passionate concern for God’s glory and a powerful certainty in God’s promises.

Profound Conversion

Ann Hasseltine was born in 1789, in Bradford, New England. Popular and sociable, she would confide in her diary that she was “one of the happiest creatures on earth” (Ann Judson, 20). Ann attended church each Sunday, but her life revolved around friends and parties.

When she was 15, a teacher arrived at Bradford Academy who urged his pupils that repentance was urgent. Many were convicted of sin, including Ann. But she lurched, for months, between fear of judgment and terror of what friends would say if she became “serious.” Ultimately, God drew her to himself. At age 16, she wrote,

A view of [God’s] purity and holiness filled my soul with wonder and admiration. I felt a disposition to commit myself unreservedly into his hands, and leave it with him to save me or cast me off, for I felt I could not be unhappy, while allowed the privilege of contemplating and loving so glorious a Being. . . .

I felt myself to be a poor lost sinner, destitute of everything to recommend myself to the divine favour. [I knew] that it had been the mere sovereign, restraining mercy of God, not my own goodness, which had kept me from committing the most flagrant crimes. This view of myself humbled me in the dust, melted me into sorrow and contrition for my sins, induced me to lay my soul at the feet of Christ, and plead his merits alone, as the ground of my acceptance. (24–25)

Ann joined the Congregational Church in Bradford in September 1806. Her parents and siblings were also converted and joined the church. This is a vignette of what was taking place throughout America — a movement we now refer to as the Second Great Awakening.

“Christ did not issue the Great Commission on the condition that health, comfort, and safety could be assured.”

One outworking of revival was increased concern for those unreached with the gospel. Previously, American Protestants had sent missionaries to the North American Indians, but not overseas. Now, some young Christians were convinced that Christ’s command to go to all nations applied to them too.

Following her conversion, Ann began teaching in a small school. She wanted the children in her charge to follow Christ, but in her prayers she ranged across the globe, praying for the conversion of all nations:

My chief happiness now consisted in contemplating the moral perfections of the glorious God. I longed to have all intelligent creatures love him. (27)

Passionate Concern

Ann now knew that she was here on this earth to serve God. At 18, after reading the journal of David Brainerd, she wrote in her own journal of her passion to pray for all nations, and of her willingness to go wherever Christ would choose.

A year after that, in June 1810, four young students met with the General Association of Congregational ministers in Bradford. They were volunteering to take the gospel to the unreached people of Asia. One of them was Adoniram Judson. The brilliant son of a Congregational minister, he had been converted after a period of rebellion. Like Ann, his conversion resulted in a passionate concern that all nations should praise God.

That day, the would-be missionaries were given lunch at the home of the Hasseltines. Unsurprisingly, Adoniram set his heart upon Ann. One month later, he wrote to her father,

I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life . . . to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? (37)

Mr. Hasseltine left the choice to Ann, who resolved to marry Adoniram and to leave all she knew for the unknown:

I rejoice, that I am in [God’s] hands — that he is everywhere present, and can protect me in one place as well as in another. He has my heart in his hands, and when I am called to face danger, to pass through scenes of terror and distress, he can inspire me with fortitude, and enable me to trust in him. Jesus is faithful; his promises are precious. (40)

At this time, sea journeys were hazardous. Letters took months, and some never arrived. There was no established mission network to which these pioneers could go. Nothing was guaranteed: safety, health, toleration — least of all success. Many thought the idea insane.

But Christ did not issue the Great Commission on the condition that health, comfort, and safety could be assured.

Shortly after arrival in Burma, Ann’s journal records her desire that all should honor God, her concern for the plight of people deprived of gospel light, and her conviction that it was a privilege to have been called to sacrifice comfort for the kingdom:

If it may please the dear Redeemer to make me instrumental of leading some of the females of Burma to a saving acquaintance with him, my great object would be accomplished, my highest desires gratified: I shall rejoice to have relinquished my comforts, my country, and my home. . . . When shall cruel, idolatrous, avaricious Burma know, that thou art the God of the whole earth, and alone deservest the homage and adoration of all creatures? Hasten it, Lord, in thine own time. (83–84)

Cruel and avaricious were not malicious terms. Burma’s penal system was indeed brutal, including public torture for minor offenses. And the country’s exorbitant taxation trapped the majority of the population in dire poverty. Ann’s passionate concern was warranted.

Powerful Certainty

The day-to-day routine of surviving in harsh and hostile circumstances, acquisition of a new language, hundreds of hours in discussion with inquirers — all was motivated by the conviction that God is sovereign, and his promises are sure. “We have nothing to expect from man, and everything from God . . . we are in the service of Him who governs the world” (55, 172).

Such confidence liberated Ann to see the long-term perspective. They were laying a foundation for future work:

We cannot expect to do much, in such a rough, uncultivated field; yet if we may be instrumental in removing some of the rubbish, and preparing the way for others, it will be a sufficient reward . . . when we recollect that Jesus has commanded his disciples to carry the gospel to the nations, and promised to be with them to the end of the world; that God has promised to give the nations to his Son for an inheritance, we are encouraged to make a beginning, though in the midst of discouragement, and leave it to him to grant success, in his own time and way. (73, 83)

She longed for Christ to be magnified and souls to be won in Burma — whether she saw the harvest or not.

Permanent Contribution

Ann’s life, albeit short, was hugely influential in the expansion of the missions movement in the nineteenth century. Ann and Adoniram established the first church in Burma. Ann was fully engaged in evangelism. She engaged in translation in both Burmese and Siamese (Thai), including a catechism. She started schools and stirred up support for female education among American women.

Ann died prematurely. Her valiant efforts to secure her husband’s survival in prison had shattered her own strength. He would minister in Burma for another 23 years, during which time a firm foundation for church life was laid (including his magnificent translation of the Bible).

In time, the epic drama of the Judson story inspired generations of Baptist missionaries. Ann’s writings were among the first at a popular level to stir up missionary interest among the Protestant population in America, and beyond. Her Memoir was printed soon after her death, and ran through many editions. She was the childhood heroine of Adoniram’s second and third wives.

In 1815, a 10-year-old American girl, Sarah Hall, wept when she heard of the death of Ann’s baby Roger, and she wrote a poem to mark the sad event. Little did she know that eighteen years later she would become the second Mrs. Judson!

“The epic drama of the Judson story inspired generations of Baptist missionaries.”

In 1828, a 12-year-old factory girl, Emily Chubbuck, was moved to tears by reading of the death of baby Maria. Eighteen years later, she would become the third Mrs. Judson! Emily said to a friend before meeting Adoniram, “I have felt, ever since I read the Memoir of Mrs Ann H. Judson when I was a small child, that I must become a missionary” (253).

Pray for Burma

Ann’s God-centered testimony inspired, and continues to inspire, many. It challenges the self-absorption of our comfort-obsessed culture. It spurs us on to plead with God for many to come to a living faith and a joyous determination to serve God whatever the cost.

It also reminds us of Burma (now Myanmar), where the military regime is brutalizing the population, including many Christians. We can pray that their testimony of eternal hope would win many to Christ, and that God would be honored in the nation Ann Judson so willingly served and departed from into glory.

Keep the Unity That Cost Everything: Ephesians 4:1–6, Part 11

Overcome Horror with Prayer: State of the Union for Abortion

Several months into a new executive administration, how might we describe the state of affairs when it comes to abortion in America?

Grievous would not be too strong a word. Distressing and outrageous also describe my response to the renewed efforts to enshrine abortion as health care, turn it into a super-spreader event worldwide, and purge dissenters working within the U.S. government who think it’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being. But though God can, without sin, “let loose . . . his burning anger, wrath, indignation, and distress” (Psalm 78:49), I cannot. So, what follows is a brief state of the union for abortion that should fuel our first and best response: prayer.

For thirty years, from Boston to Beijing, I’ve done my best to respond to the shedding of innocent blood with prayerful actions. I’ve now worked in seventeen countries where abortion is most concentrated, prayerfully training pastors in pro-life ethics and their churches in pregnancy crisis intervention. But I also set aside time every week to pray with others for the end of abortion.

Why? Because some evils are so profoundly demonic in their power structure that they will not be cast out without prayer. Child-killing is one of those evils. It’s not merely a failure to maintain the human rights of the defenseless (Psalm 82:3–4). Nor is it simply an exercise in personal autonomy. It’s unrealized demonic servitude. The psalmist says, “They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters . . . and the land was polluted with blood” (Psalm 106:37–38). Certainly we must do more than pray. But let us not delude ourselves about what we are truly up against.

Affordable ‘Health Care’

According to the White House Fact Sheet of June 30, 2021, “The Biden Administration is committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights in the U.S. and around the world. Everyone should have access to quality, affordable health care.”

“Affordable health care” is government-speak for “easy abortion.” Through executive memorandums and policy directives, Biden is removing the restrictions on U.S. and globalist organizations promoting abortion worldwide.

Biden has committed to “remove, as part of the President’s first budget, the Hyde Amendment restriction from government spending bills, reflecting the President’s support for expanding access to health care, including reproductive health care, through Medicaid and other federally-funded programs.”

The Hyde Amendment, implemented in 1980, has for forty years been the one point of conciliation between abortion advocates and pro-life taxpayers — that which is justified as a private choice, let’s agree, ought not to be paid for with public dollars.

Ending the Hyde Amendment forces all of us to pay for anyone’s abortion. It will not only lead to more abortion; it will further delegitimize dissent, religious liberty, and conscience clauses, along with emboldening the de-platforming and de-monetizing of those who dare to disagree.

Abortion by Mail

Besides removing abortion restrictions, this administration is increasing abortion funding. Domestically, its budget calls for a massive infusion of tax dollars into the Title X family planning, providing $340 million for Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry. Internationally, he proposes a 72 percent increase in funding, or $583.7 million for the United Nations Population Fund.

“‘Affordable health care’ is government-speak for ‘easy abortion.’”

The United Nations Population Fund euphemistically calls itself a “sexual and reproductive health agency.” What they are is a missions organization. Within their worldview, population is the sin problem. Poor countries like Uganda, Ghana, El Salvador, and Guatemala, which still legally protect their unborn children, are the mission field. Abortion, contraception, and sterilization is the plan of salvation.

Relaxing enforcement of safety protocols is the opposite of “health care for women.” Yet this spring, the Food and Drug Administration officially suspended enforcement of the in-person requirement for chemical abortion pills. Abortion by mail is now permitted. Multiple studies, including that of Dr. Donna Harrison, covering a twenty-year-long period, report that complications are four times more frequent in chemical abortions compared to surgical abortions. Adverse events include hemorrhage, infections, and trauma from a woman’s seeing her own unborn child expelled.

In April, the National Institutes of Health removed the restrictions imposed on research using fetal stem cells under the previous administration. In May, the International Society for Stem Cell Research ended its long-standing rule that limited experimentation on human embryos to the first fourteen days of creation. This makes human embryos akin to lab rats. As the Lozier Institute writes, “The removal of the 14-day limit shows their real goal: unlimited human experimentation, making human embryos into disposable laboratory supplies.” In June, Democratic lawmakers introduced the “Women’s Health Protection Act,” which, if passed and signed by the president, would nullify all state abortion regulations.

Some Light in the Darkness

At the same time, American citizens at the state level are rushing to the defense of the unborn. In the first five months of 2021, 48 U.S. state legislatures advanced approximately 489 pro-life bills. As of the end of May, 89 new pro-life bills from 26 states had been enacted. Some, like the Arkansas bill signed this spring, ban almost all abortions. Other states have banned abortion after twelve weeks gestation, sex-selective abortion, and abortion due to prenatal disability diagnosis.

At the local level, Lubbock, Texas, is now one of 36 cities that have outlawed abortion within their city limits and declared themselves a Sanctuary City for the Unborn. Their local Planned Parenthood was forced to stop aborting babies on June 1 when this local law went into effect.

Hanging over all of this, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) agreed this spring to take up the biggest abortion case in thirty years. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Court will answer “whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”

Judicial analyst Bruce Hausknecht writes,

The 1973 Roe decision, written by Justice Harry Blackmun, created artificial “trimester” rules for regulating abortion based on the concept of “viability,” the time at which a preborn baby was generally thought to be able to survive, with medical help, outside the womb. . . . Advances in medical technology have lowered the age of viability. By the time of the 1992 Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, for example, the age of viability had decreased from 28 weeks to around 23 to 24 weeks. Recently, a Wisconsin child celebrated his first birthday after a premature birth at 21 weeks, 2 days gestation.

What Can We Do?

How then should we respond to the new administration unleashing its power to promote mass child-killing at home and abroad? We pray that God would grant our president a spirit of repentance, as he did to us. And we pray God would restrain him and frustrate his plans.

“Some evils are so profoundly demonic in their power structure that they will not be cast out without prayer.”

I pray for our nation as a grieving patriot. I don’t put much stock in SCOTUS having the moral courage to follow the Constitution as written. As Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch wrote to the Court last month, “Nothing in constitutional text, structure, history, or tradition supports a right to abortion.” The stronghold of abortion is not in the text. It’s in the human heart and in the fear of man. That’s what drives me to pray.

In 1896, SCOTUS ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that racial discrimination laws were constitutional. It was a cowardly decision that played to the powerful forces within the culture of the time, not to the text of the constitution. It took 58 years for SCOTUS to find the courage in Brown v. Board of Education to say, “No more! The 14th amendment calls for equal protection of all persons.” I pray we can witness such a declaration in our time.

As the church, we must not be afraid to suffer the hostility that would come if we lived out our faith like the midwives of Egypt. To those dear sisters, suffering many injustices themselves, child-killing was the hill to die on. They “feared God” (Exodus 1:17) and so protected their babies from slaughter. When pressured by Pharoah himself, they still refused to conform (Exodus 1:18–19).

In return, God favored them (Exodus 1:20). Why? For rescuing the babies from slaughter? Not exactly. Rather, “because the midwives feared God, he gave them families” (Exodus 1:21). In other words, God rewarded their faith in him, which was expressed in their bold, pro-life actions.

God Never Runs Out

Audio Transcript

I really love today’s question: “Hello, Pastor John. My name is Alex and I live in Alabama. I was just thinking today about all the things that run out. Money runs out, food runs out, sex runs out, cars run out, time runs out, and people run out of time and die. But God never runs out. Can you elaborate on that subject? It seems like a reminder to not rely on things, but on the eternal God.”

I am so eager for this question. I’m so thankful that Alex simply threw open the door for me to talk about the inexhaustibility of God. Here are a couple of reasons why I’m so excited to talk about this.

Inexhaustible Fountain

One is that my introduction to Reformed theology fifty years ago was not mainly through secondary theological sources, but through texts of the Bible that elevated the self-sufficiency, the inexhaustibility, of God as high as it possibly could be elevated. In other words, what struck me is that the very Godness of God is that he is absolutely free, absolutely self-sufficient. He has no needs from outside himself, but is completely and eternally sufficient in himself, and not just sufficient but a Vesuvius of joy in the fellowship of the Trinity, so that he has absolutely no need of me whatsoever, but is so full that he is prone to overflow with a river of pleasures toward those who will have him as their supreme treasure. That picture of God years ago from the Bible was ravishing to me.

The second reason this is such a golden invitation to me is that just the day before yesterday, I received an email from a friend who has gone through years of very, very hard times. And he wanted to thank me, even though I was part of the hard times, for something from a message years ago. I’ll just quote what he sent me: “Grace is the overflow of God’s self-sufficiency. So, you can’t have grace if you don’t have an utterly, infinitely, gloriously self-satisfied, all-sufficient, overflowing God who does not need you at all.” That’s the picture of God that he was sustained by. That’s the meaning of grace that held him and kept him from making shipwreck of his faith. Grace is the overflow of the self-sufficiency of a God who doesn’t need him.

“God is on the lookout for anyone who is humble enough and weak enough to let him be strong for them.”

That’s what grace is: it’s the overflow from an inexhaustible fountain, which means that the only way we can relate to God so that he’s pleased and so that it glorifies him is not by hauling buckets of human labor up the mountain and pouring our supply into the pure, inexhaustible mountain spring of God, but rather by falling on our face exhausted, and putting our faith and our face in the water, and coming up and saying, “Ah, that’s so good. Thank you, God, for the overflow that you are for me.”

Giver of All

Now I’ve eaten up half my time telling you why I’m so excited to talk about this question. So, let’s consider, in the time that remains, just a few passages of Scripture that celebrate the fullness of God to the point where he doesn’t need us at all, and where it would be an offense to him if we tried to become his benefactors. For example, Acts 17:25: “[God is not] served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”

And that’s not just true of God the Father; it’s true of Christ as he comes into the world. Mark 10:45: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” We don’t serve him — he serves us, or we die.

Romans 11:34–36: “Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” Nobody — you can’t give God counsel. “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” Nobody — you can’t loan God anything to put him in your debt. Why? “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

Owner of the Earth

Or Psalm 50:10–15 — Spurgeon calls this “Robinson Crusoe’s text” because, if you read that novel, you realize Crusoe used these verses to get himself through.

Every beast of the forest is mine,     the cattle on a thousand hills. . . .If I were hungry, I would not tell you,     for the world and its fullness are mine.Do I eat the flesh of bulls     or drink the blood of goats?Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,     and perform your vows to the Most High,and call upon me in the day of trouble;     I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. (Psalm 50:10, 12–15)

That’s amazing. So, how do we glorify a God who has absolutely no needs and has all resources in himself? Answer: By not being his benefactors, but his supplicants. By calling on him for help. Then we get deliverance; he gets the glory. Or as the psalm says, “I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” “You get the deliverance; I get the glory.”

“The very Godness of God is that he is absolutely free, absolutely self-sufficient.”

This is what stunned me years ago: the bigger God gets, the more self-sufficient he becomes, and the less he needs me, then the more resourceful he can be for me, and the more riches of glory he has to pour out freely on me, and the more glorious he looks when we find our joy in him. What a God! That’s exactly the way God wants us to experience his absolute fullness and self-sufficiency. He wants us to experience it as the source of inexhaustible grace.

Helper of the Weary

Listen to the way Isaiah 40:28 makes the connection:

The Lord is the everlasting God,     the Creator of the ends of the earth.He does not faint or grow weary;     his understanding is unsearchable.

What’s the consequence of all that self-sufficiency?

He gives power to the faint,     and to him who has no might he increases strength. . . .     They shall mount up with wings like eagles;they shall run and not be weary;     they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:29, 31)

So, the inexhaustible hand of God is good news for the exhausted.

Sustainer of the Humble

I remember in those early days when I was first being amazed by this kind of self-sufficient, inexhaustible, overflowing God, two of my passages were 2 Chronicles 16:9 and Isaiah 64:4.

The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

In other words, he’s on the lookout — he is actually on the lookout — for anyone who is humble enough and weak enough to let him be strong for them.

From of old no one has heard     or perceived by the ear,no eye has seen a God besides you,     who acts for those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:4)

In other words, God’s uniqueness — nobody’s seen a God like this — is that in his overflowing fullness, he delights to work for us, rather than have us work for him. The giver gets the glory.

No Help Wanted

So, not surprisingly, this kind of absolutely self-sufficient, inexhaustible, overflowing God is where the gospel comes from, the gospel of our salvation. For those who have absolutely no way to save themselves, he says,

Come, everyone who thirsts,     come to the waters;and he who has no money,     come, buy and eat!Come, buy wine and milk     without money and without price. (Isaiah 55:1)

It’s like the machine shop that I jogged by for years until it closed recently. It had a permanent “Help Wanted” sign nailed to the wall on the side of the building. Every time I’d go by, almost, there was a big, permanent “Help Wanted” sign. But some days there was a big red diagonal line through the sign with a big No in the middle of it: “No Help Wanted.” And I used to leap for joy while I was jogging, saying, “That’s my God! That’s my gospel! No help wanted. No help needed. No help demanded. ‘I exist to be inexhaustible and to help those who will trust me. That’s my glory.’ That’s the glory of the gospel.”

So amen, Alex. Everything else runs out, like you said. But God never runs out. He will be giving and giving and giving to all eternity as we receive and receive and receive like little children with joy.

You Have Permission to Slow Down: Start the Day with the Voice of God

Permission to slow down — perhaps that’s what you’re aching for again. Maybe you tasted it for a few weeks, or even months, when the pandemic hit, as event after event was cancelled. But now, with vaccinations in arms, and the collective rush to return to life as “normal” (as much as that’s possible), you’re feeling the need again for life to move slower than the modern world seems to allow.

You’re not alone, and the phenomenon may be understandable, at least in good measure.

Age of Accelerations

According to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, we are living in “the age of accelerations.” Our world has become increasingly fast-paced through the exponential development of technology and accompanying factors. Now “the pace of technology and scientific change,” he writes, “outstrips the speed with which human beings and societies can usually adapt” (Thank You for Being Late, 39). Friedman claims that “we are living through one of the greatest inflection points in history” (3) — perhaps unequaled in the last 500 years.

We have come to “a fundamental turning point in history” (4), and perhaps you’ve felt the effects, as I have. To-do lists seem to grow faster than we have time for. We hurry in the morning. Hurry on the road. Hurry at work. Hurry between meetings, and in meetings, and over meals. Hurry to get dinner ready. Hurry to eat. Hurry to get the kids cleaned up, and out the door, and get back home, and get to bed. Then, hurry to do more on evenings and weekends than we realistically have time for. Then hurry to bed ourselves. Get too little sleep. And start it all over the next day.

Even more important than what constant hurry is doing to our work lives, family lives, relationships, and emotional health, is what it’s doing to our souls. The late Dallas Willard (1935–2013) sounded the alarm toward the end of his life: “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day.”

Find Your Balance First

The challenge of living in an increasingly fast-paced society, and finding measured ways to slow our lives down to a realistic human speed, will be addressed on many fronts. Whole books, like John Mark Comer’s Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, offer various ideas and strategies. But here I’d like to focus on just one, but one that may be as important, if not more so, than any other:

Begin the day at the pace of God’s word.

Whose Pace? Whose Voice?

In our “age of accelerations,” our lives are awash in words. Words on screens. Words in our ear buds. Words written in articles and ebooks. Words spoken on podcasts and radio. And the in-the-flesh words of family, roommates, neighbors, and coworkers. The question isn’t, Are there voices in your head? But rather whose voices are they — and which ones carry the day in shaping the desires and direction of our souls and lives?

“The Bible is God’s breathed-out Book, to be breathed in by us as we catch our breath for the day.”

When we begin the day with God’s voice in the Scriptures, we’re welcoming his Truth, his concepts, his mind and will and heart, to direct and shape our lives. We’re making an effort to see the world through God’s words, rather than God through the world’s. Apart from receiving God’s words in sufficient quantity, and with due priority, we will inevitably follow “the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2) and “be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2). In time, the world’s patterns and voice and pace will rule us.

So, one significant way to hold back the tides of the world’s pace is to start the day with the voice of God.

Move at the Pace of God’s Word

Coming first to God is critical, but so is the pace at which we move once we’ve come. Rushing in and out of our readings, at the speed of modern life, will do our souls far less good than learning to let the cadence of God’s words set our pace.

But how might we do that? How might we let God himself set the pace? Consider (1) the design of ancient books, and especially the Bible, (2) how we are to read them, and (3) what effect our reading can have on us.

Design of Ancient Texts

Unlike so many of our books today, and internet content, ancient texts were not written quickly, nor written to be read quickly. They were designed to be read slowly, enjoyed, reread, and meditated on. After all, they had to be copied by hand. So published words were precious. They were not meant to be read once, but over and over again. And the Christian Scriptures, of all texts, ancient and modern, reward rereading, and slow reading.

Moreover, these are God’s own words. Written through his inspired prophets and apostles, the biblical text is fundamentally different than any other mere human text and deserves from us a distinct approach — which means, at least, reading without rushing. The Bible is God’s breathed-out Book (2 Timothy 3:16), to be breathed in by us as we catch our breath for the day.

When we “slow down” and meditate, memorize, and study Scripture at an unhurried, even leisurely pace, we are not engaging with it in a foreign, unexpected way. God means for his word to be read slowly, meditated on, not speed-read.

Call to Comprehend — and Experience

Also, we will need to slow down, from our normal pace of reading the news and contemporary texts, so we might comprehend what the ancient writer, speaking for God, has to say. The Scriptures were written centuries, even millennia, before us — in places and times different than our own. And not only that, but the Bible is divine in its content. No biblical prophecy, Peter writes, “was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

Not only is the Bible itself designed to be engaged differently — more slowly and repeatedly — than our published words today, but also we, as humans and moderns, need a more careful, deliberate pace to be able to understand what the words mean — and to experience the truth. Bible reading, and particularly meditation, is to be emotionally responsive.

For this reason, speed-reading and Bible-reading are a mismatch. When we have questions (as we often do) about the meaning of a word or phrase or sentence in context, we don’t just keep going to finish the reading, check the box, and move on. Rather, we need margin to pause and ponder. We need to give ourselves time and space to ask the questions that keep us from understanding, and then seek answers.

Be Fed, Not Just Informed

Finally, another aspect of not just comprehending the text of Scripture, but also experiencing it, might be captured under the banner of Seek to be fed, not just informed.

In Meditation and Communion with God, Jack Davis waves the flag for “a more reflective and leisurely engagement with Scripture” in our day (20). According to Davis, the nature of modern life, and the “information overload” we have through television, smartphones, and endless new media “makes a slow, unhurried, and reflective reading of Scripture more vital than ever” (22).

Leisurely does not mean passive. Quality reading can be leisurely, and enjoyable, while at the same time being careful and active. In fact, the two belong together. An unhurried pace gives space for careful observation and rumination, while active reading demands a certain slowness.

Over time, as we come to know ourselves, we learn what kind of pace and approach is most conducive to feeding our souls, not just informing our minds — what pace helps us catch our emotional breath and find our spiritual balance for the day to come — how to gather a day’s portion of food for our souls. The mind often seems to work faster than the heart. A faster pace might stimulate the mind, while a slower pace gives room to satisfy the soul.

Push Back Against the Tide

Ask yourself, How hurried are my devotions? Do you prioritize a daily season (early morning proves best for most) for unhurried Bible meditation and prayer? And have you learned to move at the pace of the text, or do you feel the pressure to do your devotions at the pace of modern life?

“Ask yourself, How hurried are my devotions?”

In our world of speed and acceleration, what good will it do the Christian soul, and our love for others, as we learn to push back against the tides of this world, and its patterns of hurry, with a life-giving daybreak routine of catching our breath by breathing in the breath of God, and breathing out to him in prayer?

This may be one of the most countercultural things you can do: go to bed without a screen, get up early, grab a paper Bible, put your phone aside, and let the voice of God in the Scriptures fill your mind and heart at his pace, not the world’s.

God has given you permission to slow down.

Death Will Teach You What to Say Today

Some of the most significant conversations our family has had took place in a neuro ICU.

Last year, my brother received a cancer diagnosis that laid him in a bed we knew could be his last. I treasure the memory of him holding my hand and reminding me how much he loves me, telling me why he is proud of me, and encouraging me to continue loving God and people with my life. I remember my sister walking away from her own conversation with him in tears because of how much his words meant to her too.

Potentially terminal news, for all its unspeakable sorrow, has a way of prioritizing what we want to say most to those around us while we still have the chance. Some of us will be given time in life’s lingering twilight to relay these crucial messages. But some of us won’t. Death can suddenly snatch away, leaving no opportunity to choose our final words.

So, if today turned out to be our final day on earth, what would we not want left unsaid? If we had our own deathbed moments with those we love, holding their hands and looking into their eyes, what would we want to be sure they knew? And what’s stopping us from speaking those words today while we still have the time?

Affirm Your Love

Given that love is the sum of God’s commandments (Matthew 22:36–40), the greatest of all virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13), and the distinguishing mark of Jesus’s disciples (John 13:35), do the people we love most know how much we do? Do family members know our love for them is more than an obligatory love because they are related to us? Do friends, neighbors, coworkers, and church members know we don’t just appreciate and respect them but love them?

“Some of us will be given time in life’s lingering twilight to relay these crucial messages. But some of us won’t.”

Love isn’t merely a matter of words, of course. By grace, we demonstrate our love for others in deeds and not only in speech as we lay down our lives for their best interests (1 John 3:18; John 15:13; Philippians 2:4). In this way, we imitate God, who proved his love through Christ’s death on our behalf (Romans 5:8). But God has not been slow to communicate his love through the words of Scripture as well (Deuteronomy 7:7–8; Jeremiah 31:3; Malachi 1:2), and we can imitate him by likewise speaking our love — just as Paul often expressed love for fellow Christians and commanded them to do likewise (Romans 16:3–16; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; Philippians 1:8).

If God deemed it worthwhile to repeatedly declare his love for us, those around us may long to hear us speak our love for them too — and not only as a thoughtless instinct, but in deeply sincere moments, perhaps holding their hand, looking them in the eye, and assuring them of what they mean to us, as my brother did for me.

Voice Your Encouragement

God’s love is both broad enough to encompass the world and personal enough to enfold each person he created. He knit us together individually (Psalm 139:13). He sees us uniquely, having equipped each of his people with specific spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:11). He bends low to restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us (1 Peter 5:10), daily bearing us up (Psalm 68:19), affirming our purpose and value in his kingdom. And he has called us to encourage one another in return (Hebrews 10:25; 1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Have we commended the talents and contributions of those we love with such thoughtful, specific care? Do our mentors know we have applied the wisdom God imparted to us through them to set priorities and make decisions? Have we affirmed the spiritual gifts we perceive to be at work in our friends? Do our siblings realize we have looked to them as godly examples of obedience, humility, or perseverance? Have those we invest in heard us express confidence that God will bring to completion the good work he started in them (Philippians 1:6)?

Everyone we know, in all kinds of circumstances, encounters great troubles. Everyone we know could therefore stand to be encouraged with heartfelt affirmation — not only in a brief moment at the end of our lives, but all along the way. So if we have any words of encouragement for people, let’s speak them (Acts 13:15).

Give (or Request) Your Forgiveness

God works for good what the enemy means for evil, even in death (Genesis 50:20). He does so, in part, by using the brevity of life to expose the futility and triviality of long-held grudges. I have seen diagnoses and critical medical conditions compel people to extend or ask for forgiveness as they realize they should have done so years earlier. Learning from their regrets convicts me to avoid years of unnecessarily delayed reconciliation by extending or requesting that grace today too.

What wrongs have we committed against others for which we’ve never apologized? What guilt do we need to acknowledge for wounds we inflicted by careless words, corrupt motives, or selfish actions? And what healing might be ushered in by finally confessing these sins (James 5:16)?

Likewise, compared to all that God has forgiven us in Christ, and in light of our utter dependence on his mercy as we prepare to stand in judgment before his throne, what right do we have to withhold forgiveness (Colossians 3:13)? Even more severely, how might our own forgiveness be jeopardized by doing so (Matthew 6:15)? If love keeps no record of wrongs, we offer a great proof of love in our forgiveness (1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV).

Impart Important Lessons

Ecclesiastes concludes with the final teaching that our whole duty is to “fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13). Jesus’s Great Commission is especially significant as his final instruction on earth (Matthew 28:18–20). And I eagerly welcome summarizing conclusions of wisdom from those I esteem as they reflect on life lessons and experiences.

These instructions can be powerful in life’s final days, like a fictional character’s final advice in a climactic death scene. But I want these weighty words to be intentionally imparted (and displayed) all throughout my life too.

Do our unbelieving friends and family know that our greatest desires for their lives are God’s greatest desires for their lives? Have we encouraged them to begin with the fear of the Lord as their trusted source of wisdom, even as it contradicts the wisdom of the world? Have we humbly shared lessons learned from our mistakes in hopes that others avoid the same downfalls? Have our children heard (and seen) us prioritize heavenly treasures over temporary earthly rewards with such confidence and joy that they are compelled to do the same?

Thinking through the final advice we would give on our deathbeds may actually reveal the instruction those around us most need to hear and heed today.

Don’t Save It for Later

By God’s grace, my brother is currently doing well and continuing to recover and heal. Also by God’s grace, the timing and circumstances of his sickness allowed opportunities for those conversations throughout his process of treatments, surgeries, and recovery. But as God teaches me to number my days (Psalm 90:12), his wisdom regularly reminds me that my life will vanish as quickly as a vapor (James 4:14), and that I don’t know how much time I have left to speak. I don’t know how much time others have left to listen either.

“Each day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ let’s speak the words that matter most.”

It may be easy to lose sight of this when we are in the vibrancy of life, when those closest to us seem healthy, and when our road ahead seems to stretch as far as we can see. But every time I hear of a grave diagnosis, an unexpected accident, or a sudden loss, I remind myself that death promises no forewarning before making its claims. We are not guaranteed final bedside moments (or even tomorrow) to say what ought to be said.

So each day, as long as it is called “today,” let’s speak the words of love, encouragement, forgiveness, and instruction that matter most (Hebrews 3:13). Let’s not save them for our deathbed.

How Can I Make Daily Bible Reading Authentic?

Audio Transcript

Listeners to this podcast will know that John Piper preached through the entire book of Romans in 225 sermons. The series took him eight years and eight months to complete, spanning from the spring of 1998 to the end of 2006. All 225 of those rich messages are collected together and can be found online under the series title “The Greatest Letter Ever Written.” The series is also the most epic John Piper sermon series ever recorded. And I know many of you have listened to it all. And as you do, you’ll come across a bunch of little nuggets along the way, like this clip I want to play for you today, sent in by a listener to the podcast. In the following sermon, Pastor John gets into the topic of how we ensure that our daily Bible-reading discipline is authentic and not rote. The topic arose in the series in a sermon titled “Let Love Be Genuine,” on Romans 12:9, preached on November 21, 2004. Here’s Pastor John.

Let’s begin with some thoughts here now from Romans about how to read a text like this in a way that changes us deeply. There are thirteen exhortations in just verses 9–13.

Trouble in Quiet Time

Suppose you get up in the morning, and you set yourself like a good Christian to read your Bible before you head off to work. That’s a good idea. You should do that. So, you set yourself to read a few chapters. Let’s say Romans 12 is included. It may take you three minutes to read through Romans 12, which means that you give maybe fifteen seconds to these thirteen commandments or exhortations:

Let love be genuine.
Abhor what is evil.
Hold fast to what is good.
Love one another with brotherly affection.
Outdo one another in showing honor.
Do not be slothful in zeal.
Be fervent in spirit.
Serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope.
Be patient in tribulation.
Be constant in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the saints.
Seek to show hospitality.

That’s thirteen exhortations in five verses. You’ve read them in fifteen seconds. You close your Bible, pray, and go off to work. How many of them can you even remember? I mean, are you now fired up and totally engaged and renewed in all thirteen new areas of your life? Is that the effect of reading the Bible in the morning? It doesn’t work like that, does it?

So, what are we supposed to do? Because Paul didn’t write that just to tickle our ears. He didn’t just write those things for nothing to happen. He really means for all thirteen of those exhortations to become reality; and as we read them, to become more and more reality; and as we preach on them, to become more and more reality. They aren’t just there. So, we need help for what to do with the Bible, so that the Bible becomes powerful, changes us. This isn’t written for nothing.

Word and Spirit in Action

To get help, turn with me to Romans 15. I asked the apostle Paul, “Paul, have you got any help for us here on how to read chapter 12?” And Paul said, “Yes, it’s here in 15:15–16.”

On some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder . . .

Stop there. Just realize that the Bible, for veteran Christians, is mainly repeat. I will never read a new thing in the Bible. I’ve read the Bible dozens and dozens of times — every word of it, over and over again. I’ll never see a new word in the Bible. I pray that I will see new reality, new truth, new power, new implications. But the words — I’ve seen them all, over and over again.

Reminder — don’t ever begrudge a small group, a family devotion, a Bible reading, a sermon that is sheer reminder of what you already know, because God has things in those old familiar truths that you never saw yet and things to change in you that haven’t been changed yet. So, just be aware: the Bible is mainly reminder for all Christians, and that’s crucial for living the Christian life. Paul says,

I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God . . .

So, know that the Bible is a gracious gift. Paul was graced to write it for us. Don’t neglect it. Verse 16:

. . . to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

“The Gentiles” are most of us, and we’re now treated like a worship offering. That should remind you of Romans 12:1: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, . . . which is your spiritual [service of] worship.” We are being offered up by the apostle Paul as worship to God, as we’re transformed into the image of God’s Son.

Paul has written Romans so that you and I would become more acceptable. Does that word acceptable ring any bells from 12:2? “Be transformed . . . that you may discern . . . what is . . . acceptable.” Embrace the will of God as acceptable. And when you do that, this is happening: the offering of the Gentiles, spiritual worship. This is happening by the writing of Romans, so when you read it, this should be happening.

“Reading the Bible has zero effect on our lives apart from the Holy Spirit.”

Then comes the all-decisive phrase: “sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” You know and I know that reading the Bible has zero effect on our lives apart from the Holy Spirit. If, in fact, we try to do the Bible without the Holy Spirit, we become colossal legalists, touting our own moral resolve: “I can do this. Watch me.” Instead, what we need is the Holy Spirit.

Three Principles for Daily Bible Intake

So now I have drawn out of these verses three things that help me read Romans 12 life-changingly. I want to be changed by these messages. I want to be changed by verse 9: “Let love be without hypocrisy” (NASB). I want to be less hypocritical after I read that phrase. How can I do that? What will make the difference for a word, a little phrase, to suddenly have life-changing power to make me less hypocritical, more free and authentic and genuine and real in my love? And here are my three guidelines for how to read that.

1. Pray as you read.

Pray as you read, because if the Holy Spirit is the one who takes the Bible and applies it to us so that it really produces an alteration in our whole demeanor and our way of seeing God and our way of treating each other, then we should ask him. So, when you read, you pause and you say, “O Holy Spirit, come make this real in my life. Do whatever you have to do to make me humble, to make me authentic, to make me loving.” That’s the way you pray. It’s real risky.

Last night, just before we walked into the service, several of us just gathered around in the choir room downstairs downtown, where I preached this last night, and there were “mmhmms” and “amens” all around as I said, “Lord, whatever it takes — death, loss of job, cancer, whatever it takes — take away my hypocrisy. Whatever it takes in this church, whatever it takes, do it, because we want to be real. We want to be Christian. We want these words in Romans 12 to become reality. We don’t just want to speak words and have love be in word only and not in deed and not in heart.” So, pray. That’s number one: pray as you read the Bible. “Do this in my life.”

2. Look to Jesus.

Look away to Jesus as you read the Bible. As you read Romans 12:9 and you hear, “Let love be without dissimulation” (KJV) or “Let love be without hypocrisy” (NASB) — that’s a good literal translation. “Let love be genuine” — when you read that, say to yourself, “There’s no way I’m going to pull that off. I’m a born hypocrite. I love the praise of other people. I know I’m not perfect. I’m always putting up fronts. I want to be a loving person, authentic. I don’t want to play at love. Therefore, I look away from myself. I look away to Jesus. He was born and died to forgive all my hypocrisy. He modeled for me the perfectly transparent life. He has now taught me and given me a goal to aim at. And he is my satisfaction, my forgiver, my model, my treasure.”

When you look away to Jesus, the satisfaction that comes from him is the ground and root by which you become free from hypocrisy. So, that’s number two: look away in faith to Jesus, not to yourself.

3. Meditate on small portions.

Slow down and meditate on these words. I know this is tough because, on the one hand, you hear a message coming from this pulpit, “Read the Bible; read the whole Bible. Get your Discipleship Journal reading plan and read the Bible all the way through in one year.” Well, you’re on a lickety-split pace to get through the Bible, and here I am telling you now to slow down and meditate on the first half of verse 9 of chapter 12.

Now, what in the world are you supposed to do — read through the Bible or meditate on verse 9? What do you want me to do? And the answer is both. And I don’t know how. I just know I’ve got to read the Bible fast and I’ve got to read the Bible slow, because if you don’t read the Bible fast to get through it in a year or two, you can’t get the big picture; you can’t get the whole terrain.

Here’s the analogy. This analogy has been with me ever since the first jumbo jet was made. You can remember that. Most of that is in your lifetime, right? The first jumbo jet with a big hump on the front. How can they do that? A two-decker plane is unbelievable. I remember that. So, I picture this thing: it flies at about 560 miles an hour, and it flies really high, at about 37,000 to 38,000 feet. And I picture it flying over Florida and all these orange groves, and you look down and you could just almost see the whole of Florida. And there’s an orange grove. And you say, “Wow, that’s an amazing orange grove. Very nourishing. Really tastes good. Really gives me energy.” Wrong — it doesn’t. You’re just flying tens of thousands of feet overhead.

“You’ve got to slow down. You’ve got to meditate. You’ve got to ask, ‘What does it mean? How does it relate to my life?’”

And that’s the way we read the Bible: just flying way overhead. It’s good to see Florida. It really is. It’s valuable to see Florida in the Bible. But you have to land that thing in Orlando sometime. Don’t go to Disney World. Go to the orange grove, and just start walking through the orange grove. Here’s verse 9, the first half of the verse, and you pause under the tree and you pick that one and you look at it. That’s a beautiful thing: “Let love be genuine.” I wonder what that means. Would I love to be like that. I want to be like that. Holy Spirit, please kill the disease of hypocrisy in my life.

You’ve got to slow down. You’ve got to meditate. You’ve got to ask, “What does it mean? How does it relate to my life? How does it relate to the other parts of Scripture?” — and all the while praying, “Oh, make a difference, make a difference in my life.”

Keep Reading

So, those are my three guidelines, which I think are implied in Romans 15:15–16 — word in verse 15 (“I have written”), and Spirit in verse 16 (“sanctified by the Holy Spirit”). We read the Bible. We pray for the Spirit. We savor it. We linger over it. We look away to Jesus.

The reason looking away to Jesus is so crucial is because the Holy Spirit, according to John 16:14, is given to glorify Christ. So, if you read the Bible with a view to doing it in your own strength, the Holy Spirit will keep his distance from you. If you read the Bible looking away to Jesus and saying, “Jesus, I want you to be magnified; I want you to be displayed in the kind of loving person I become,” the Holy Spirit kicks in with power, because he’s there to magnify Jesus.

The Cracks in Our Debates: Lessons from Lewis on Disagreement

Lockdowns. Mask mandates. Vaccinations. For the last eighteen months, these subjects have been intensely discussed, debated, and argued about, both inside and outside of the church. Friendships have been strained, families have been divided, and churches have split over how we should respond to these and other COVID-related issues.

Like many of you, I spent many hours reading and discussing the various intersecting issues. In addition to the typical conversations with family, friends, and church members, these topics were frequently part of our discussions in a class I taught on political philosophy at Bethlehem College & Seminary.

Over and over, I was struck by how participants in these debates so often seemed to miss each other. They didn’t just disagree; they seemed to find their opponent’s position incomprehensible, like they were each speaking a foreign language. The frustration was palpable. Beneath the animated discussions seemed to run this sentiment: “Why can’t this person see what is so obvious to me?”

At one point last year, I was relistening to a collection of essays by C.S. Lewis. A particular essay jumped out as particularly relevant for the present moment. The essay is called “Why I Am Not a Pacifist.” In the essay, Lewis does eventually explain the reasoning behind his position. Before he does, however, he spends the first part of the essay explaining what moral reasoning is and how it works. In other words, he puts on a Moral Reasoning Clinic, one that I found to be accessible and clarifying — and one that may help us break through the various impasses in our friendships, families, and churches.

Elements of Reasoning

We can begin with the fact that we make judgments. We make judgments about what is right and wrong, and we make judgments about what is true and false. When we do the former, we are dealing with the Conscience. When we do the latter, we are dealing with Reason. In both cases, Conscience and Reason are shorthand ways of referring to “the whole man engaged in a particular subject.”

Lewis contends that both Reason and Conscience work the same way, and involve the following basic elements:

Perceived Facts: This is the raw material for our judgments, the data that we are reasoning about. This data is derived either directly from our experience or indirectly from the testimony of others.
Clear Intuitions. These are indisputable truths, either of logic or morality. We often call these intuitions “self-evident.” If A = B and B = C, then we just see (and can’t help seeing) that A = C. These are the sorts of things that no good or sane man ever denied.
Reasoning: This is the art or skill of arranging the facts so as to yield a clear series of intuitions while also producing a proof of the claim for which we are contending.

Given the difficulty of the third step (as well as the limitations imposed by our finitude), Lewis adds a fourth element for our consideration: Authority.

Many of the judgments we make are not based on our own extended acts of reasoning, but instead are based on the moral authority of others. Others have done the fact-finding and reasoning, and we accept their results because we believe them to be reliable. This is both unavoidable and, in general, a good thing. Not everyone has the leisure to work through the complexities of so many issues that we face, and no one has unlimited leisure to work through all complexities.

Argument Corrects Reasoning

In our moral debates, correction comes via argument. Argument may correct our facts; things that we believe to be facts may (in fact) not be facts. Or argument may correct our reasoning; we may have made an undue jump from one claim to another. Argument may also help us to make intuitions easier and conclusions more compelling. But, importantly, Lewis notes that you don’t correct intuitions via argument, because our intuitions are what we argue from, not what we argue to.

“Passions can corrupt our reasoning, whether intellectual or moral.”

This last point is crucial. Lewis insists that we must distinguish our inarguable intuitions from our debatable conclusions. Our intuitions are very basic, so basic that only lunatics and psychopaths can be said to lack them. The trouble is, as Lewis notes, that “people are constantly claiming this unarguable and unanswerable status for moral judgments which are not really intuitions at all but remote consequences or particular applications of them, eminently open to discussion since the consequences may be illogically drawn or the application falsely made” (69).

Intuition in Moderation

Lewis illustrates this problem by referencing temperance fanatics who claim to have an unanswerable intuition that all strong drink is forbidden.

In reality, such a person has no such thing. Instead, he has a real moral intuition about the goodness of bodily health and societal harmony. From that intuition, the person has reasoned to teetotalism via the bodily and social harm produced by drunkenness. He might also attempt to add the voice of biblical authority to his case. But the crucial element is that all of these latter steps are part of moral reasoning and therefore eminently debatable.

The feeling of the temperance fanatic that his conviction is really a universal and unarguable moral intuition is a false one, perhaps produced by early associations, arrogance, passions, or the like.

Four Steps to Reasoning

Lewis’s sketch of the process of intellectual and moral reasoning is clarifying and helpful as we engage in our own moral debates.

1. Beware of your passions.

First, Lewis alerts us to the danger of our passions. Passions can corrupt our reasoning, whether intellectual or moral. Fear, desire for money or social approval, anger, laziness — any and all of these may lead us to distort facts or deny arguments. We so easily make illogical leaps. Our desires can cloud our judgment so that we don’t clearly see the proper inferences. The apostle Paul describes this sort of thing at work in Romans 1, where he writes of men “who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). Our passions really are treacherous, and we must constantly be alert to the danger of motivated reasoning.

2. Pursue a proper confidence.

Despite this danger, Lewis’s outline demonstrates that we can have confidence about our reasoning, including our moral reasoning. While we may not have mathematical certainty about some moral and intellectual conclusions, we can arrive at a kind of moral certainty, or perhaps better, a kind of proper confidence in our conclusions.

Not only does Lewis hold up such confidence as attainable, but he also shows us how to attain it. Such moral confidence is to be gained by the strength of the four factors that make up our reasoning. If the facts are clear and little disputed, if the intuitions are unmistakably intuitions, if the reasoning that connects the intuitions to our conclusions is strong, and if respected moral authorities are in agreement, then we can have proper confidence in our judgment (and doubly so if we have little reason to suppose that our minds are being swayed by our passions).

On the other hand, if the facts are in dispute, if the intuition that we start from is not obvious to all good men, if the reasoning is weak, and if respected moral authorities are against us, then it is likely that we are mistaken (and doubly so if we discover that our conclusions flatter or fulfill some passion of our own). In either case, Lewis’s outline helps us to evaluate our own moral reasoning.

3. Test authority humbly and carefully.

Lewis’s sketch underscores the importance of authority. On the one hand, authority can act as a check on our passions. If we find ourselves out of step with great moral teachers and theologians from the past, it is worth pausing to explore the source of the divergence. Perhaps the sages erred; they are human, after all, and there is no one righteous, save for one. Conversely, humility demands that we consider whether our own reasoning is as airtight as we like to believe. For we too are human, and there is no one righteous, no, not one.

“Rather than repeating our conclusions with increasing shrillness, we can begin to engage in real persuasion.”

When authority has been corrupted, however, its effect is disastrous. Our consciences can be smothered by wicked custom, established by the ungodly and reinforced by both our passions and our respect for our ancestors. While we are never left without a moral witness — since God has written his law into our very nature — it is possible for that witness to become a whisper, drowned out by human traditions and the philosophies of men.

4. Discern the nature of debates.

Finally, perhaps the most helpful dimension of Lewis’s outline is the way that it helps us to clarify where our moral debates actually lie.

To return to our COVID-related issues — masks, vaccines, lockdowns — are we actually debating whether “love for neighbor” is morally obligatory (which would be a debate about an inarguable intuition)? Or are we debating whether masks are a successful mitigation strategy (which would be a debate about facts)? Or are we debating the trustworthiness and credibility of government officials and the medical establishment (which would be a debate about authority)? This last question is particularly potent in the age of social and mass media, in which many of our “facts” come prepackaged and wrapped in a ready-made narrative for our acceptance. In many cases, our debates about COVID were simply manifestations of deeper divisions over the credibility of certain authorities — whether government officials, news media, or church leaders.

Once we determine where the debate actually lies, we can then seek to unpack or simplify our reasoning in hopes of making the series of moral intuitions clearer to our opponents. We can grow in our own self-awareness by becoming mindful of the various passions that might distort our reasoning. We can also grow in our awareness of the sorts of passions that may be affecting our opponents, and thus find ways to confront and disarm them.

Rather than simply repeating our conclusions with increasing shrillness and volume, we can begin to engage in real persuasion, seeking God’s help in bringing together our moral intuitions, the facts on the ground, and the relevant authorities in hopes of coming to one mind.

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