Desiring God

Is Venting the Same as Complaining?

Audio Transcript

Happy Friday, everyone. On the podcast, we’ve looked at grumbling, and we’ve looked at complaining — several times, actually. But what about venting? Or is venting just a nice word for complaining?

This question has been asked by several listeners recently. Here are two examples. One is from Allison: “Pastor John, hello! My friend and I have long discussed if there’s a difference between complaining and venting. Our desire is to be mindful of our heart’s reaction to tough situations. How do we as believers express frustrations to those closest to us, to bear one another’s burdens, without falling into ‘misery loves company’? Is there a difference between complaining and venting? Or are we kidding ourselves?”

And another listener, named Sina, writes this: “Dear Pastor John, thank you, and thank you Tony, for this podcast. It’s an incredible blessing in my life. My question is this. Is venting the same thing as grumbling? Philippians 2:14 commands us to ‘do all things without grumbling or disputing.’ Does this apply to venting as well? I’m in a stressful graduate school environment, and complaining is the norm among students. Over the years, I have distinguished between complaining versus venting. Complaining is sinful. Venting is sinless.

“Here’s the distinction I use, using a hypothetical scenario of a teacher who continually assigns overwhelming amounts of schoolwork. Complaining says, ‘I can’t believe this teacher is doing this to us. Doesn’t he (or she) understand we have lives outside of school? Anyone with a brain would know that.’ Venting, however, says, ‘This class is truly difficult. I knew graduate school would be difficult. But this amount of schoolwork makes it feel like I’m drowning. I don’t know if everyone feels like this, or if it’s just me.’ Can you validate or correct this distinction? I don’t want to encourage venting if it is in fact sinful. Thank you!”

A question like this cannot be answered without definitions. You can’t defend or condemn a word like complaining or venting until you know what the reality is that the word is referring to. When that’s clear, then you’re in a position to say, “That reality is good” or “That reality is bad, sinful.” Usually, what happens when you insist on definitions before you jump into a discussion or debate is that the very effort to define the terms turns out to settle the debate, because the definitions often contain the unspoken differences that were causing the debate in the first place. When you see the different realities clearly that the words were expressing, then you can make judgments about whether those realities are good or bad according to the Bible.

Pointing Fingers

Now, Sina comes close to giving me a definition of complaining and venting. She does it with two illustrations rather than two definitions. But if we work backward from her illustrations, we can arrive at definitions, at least partial definitions. So let’s try that.

What’s clear from her illustration of complaining is that it involves a put-down of someone else. It ends with “anyone with a brain would know that.” Okay. Got that. So complaining, in her definition, involves pointing the finger at a person with intent to blame, and probably in a demeaning way.

Venting, on the other hand, she illustrates with a lament about how hard things feel to her. She’s not sure how they may feel to others, so there’s no finger-pointing in her illustration of venting, no absolutizing of her feelings as though they were representative of everybody’s feelings. Venting, it seems she would say, is expressing your frustrations about a situation without necessarily accusing or blaming anybody else.

Now, she would like me to validate that distinction or not and give my opinion about whether such venting is sinful. My answer is, well, you can define your terms any way you wish as long as you make clear they are your definitions rather than claiming that they are Bible definitions or anybody else’s definitions. So given your definitions, Sina, yes, there is a real distinction: expressing heartfelt dissatisfaction with circumstances with blaming, or expressing heartfelt dissatisfaction with circumstances without blaming.

Holy Complaining, Sinful Venting

Now, is one of those sinful? The answer is that both might be sinful, and both might not be sinful. That’s the answer. It is possible for Christians to feel and express great dissatisfaction with harmful circumstances and, at the same time, draw attention to the guilty person who’s causing them, and not be sinning when they do that.

For example, Paul said to Titus, “There are . . . empty talkers and deceivers. . . . They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. . . . Rebuke them sharply” (Titus 1:10–11, 13). Clearly, Paul is not happy. He is not happy with these circumstances in Crete. He speaks negatively about it (call it what you will), expresses his dissatisfaction, and he identifies the guilty. And he tells Titus what to do about it. “Silence them. Rebuke them.” Now, Paul was not sinning when he spoke like that. He expressed dissatisfaction and he expressed blame, and it wasn’t sin.

On the other hand, it is possible to so-called “vent” and express dissatisfaction with your circumstances without pointing the finger at anybody and yet be sinning, because there are more ways to sin than by blaming other people for your problems. Paul said,

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)

“There are more ways to sin than by blaming other people for your problems.”

It may be sin to simmer with frustration over your circumstances without pointing any finger, because it’s a sign of underlying lack of faith in the goodness and wisdom of God, a sign that we have not yet learned the secret of contentment in the strength and fellowship of Christ, in spite of difficulty.

Deep, Settled Peace

Let me step back and see if I can say something more broadly and biblically that I hope will help us sort out how we should respond to hard circumstances — whatever you call it, complaining or venting. How should we respond to hard circumstances?

I think the most fundamental thing to say is that God is absolutely sovereign over all our circumstances. Ephesians 1:11: “[He] works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Therefore, our deepest response to our circumstances should be, “God, my good and loving and wise and strong Father, has dealt me this hand, this hard hand. These painful, difficult circumstances are ultimately from my Father’s wise, strong, sovereign providence — his hand. He has my best interests at heart. I bow my heart before him and say with Mary, ‘I am your servant. Do with me as you think best’” (see Luke 1:38). In that posture of faith, we should have a deep, settled peace beneath whatever else we may feel.

“These painful, difficult circumstances are ultimately from my Father’s wise, strong, sovereign providence — his hand.”

Now, with that foundation of unwavering faith in God’s sovereign care, so that we enjoy a profound, unshakable contentment of soul in God, we will be in a position to express a kind of holy dissatisfaction with different kinds of circumstances.

Dissatisfied Contentment

Now, I know that may sound paradoxical. “Whoa — you just said ‘deep, unshakable contentment,’ and now you’re saying ‘express dissatisfaction’?” Yes, I am. I would call it something like “dissatisfied contentment.” (I said to Noël last night when I was thinking about this, “That takes me back to 1977, when I was thinking about Christian Hedonism at the horizontal level, and I wrote an article for His magazine called ‘Dissatisfied Contentment.’” Wow. Such memories.)

For example, if we encounter sin, we should feel dissatisfied with it, both in ourselves and in other people. This may involve in others a quiet correction, like it says in Galatians 6:1: “Restore [a brother] in a spirit of gentleness.” Or it may involve a public rebuke, as in 1 Timothy 5:20, where you are to rebuke an elder openly for his continuing in sin.

Or if we encounter grief in ourselves or in others, we should feel sympathy, and our heart should go out of ourselves and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). Weeping is a kind of dissatisfaction; weeping is a kind of dissatisfaction with this pain. I defined compassion once as the weeping of joy impeded in the extension of itself to another. Compassion is the weeping of joy — by that, I mean that deep, settled contentment — impeded in the extension of itself to another. I was trying to come to terms with holy contentment in God’s sovereignty and holy dissatisfaction with the world the way it is. It is not inconsistent to have a deep, settled contentment of soul in the sovereign goodness of God, and at the same time be weeping because of circumstances that are painful.

One more illustration. What if we encounter injustice? We are to feel dissatisfaction with injustice, and even indignation, perhaps. We should express our disapproval and our desire to set things right as much as possible. Proverbs 31:9 says, “Open your mouth, judge righteously [that is, justly], defend the rights of the poor and the needy.”

Two Tests

The upshot is this from those illustrations: both complaining and venting, as Sina defined them, may or may not be sinful — both of them. The decisive question is this (maybe two questions): Is there a deep, settled faith in the all-wise, all-good providence of God that gives you an unshakable contentment in him beneath all dissatisfactions? Second, in expressing our dissatisfactions, are we speaking our dissatisfactions because of a hatred of sin (which is good), and a zeal for God’s glory, and a love for people? Or are we just wrapped up in ourselves?

Should We Get Married? How to Find Clarity in Dating

If I could go back and make myself read one article when I was 17, 18, or even 21, I think it might be this one. I would want to try to expand and reframe my naive ideas about dating, romance, and marriage. I would want to lay out a map for making wiser, more loving decisions about relationships. That’s how I think about this article: as a three-dimensional map for dating well.

But why would I choose this article for myself at that age? Well, for at least two big reasons. First, because nothing in my life and faith has been more confusing and spiritually hazardous than my pursuit of marriage was. My teenage years were a long string of relationships that were too serious for our age, went on too long, and therefore often ended badly and painfully. I hope that’s not your experience, but it was mine. And I’d love to save even of a few of you from the stupidity and heartache that plagued me (or lead those like me out of it).

The second reason is that I’ve been married for seven years, and I see it all — dating, romance, marriage — so much differently now. Eight years ago, I knew marriage a little like my 6-year-old knows Narnia. I knew a lot about marriage — from the Bible, from other books, from watching couples in my life — and I was enchanted by the idea of marriage. But I hadn’t stepped through the wardrobe yet. I hadn’t experienced the real thing. And the real thing is wilder, richer, and deeper than I imagined. If we could taste what covenant love is really like before we started dating, I believe we’d make far better decisions about when we date, whom we date, how we date, and when we marry.

I can’t give you that experience, but maybe something I say from the other side can help you see more than you have so far. If you desire to marry one day, I want you to experience the fullness of what God wants for and in a marriage. And to get there, we need wisdom from God. So consider this my letter from the forests of Narnia.

Dimensions of Healthy Clarity

As I look back on what I would have done differently in my journey to marriage, one of the main lessons I wish I had learned sooner would be to pursue clarity and postpone intimacy.

Now, I could say a lot more on the second half of that lesson (“postpone intimacy”) — and I have elsewhere — but here I want to press on the first half. What does it mean to pursue clarity in dating — and particularly as a Christian? What would clarity feel like if we found it? How do you know he (or she) is the one to marry? To answer those questions, I want to give you something of a three-dimensional map.

Most people today, even Christians, pursue clarity about dating by following their feelings. How do I feel about this person? Am I ready for this relationship to move forward? Do I want to marry this person? Those are good questions to ask. They’re just not the only questions. Wise people don’t dismiss their feelings, but they don’t wholly trust them either. They know we need more than feelings to make wise decisions and choices, and all the more so in dating relationships. They know there are at least two other dimensions to a healthy sense of clarity (think height, width, and depth): first, confirmation from our community. And then, often overlooked or at least taken for granted, the opportunity to actually pursue or marry a particular person. So we have three dimensions of healthy Christian clarity: desire, community, and opportunity.

Height: Clarity of Desire

First, consider clarity of desire. It’s good to want to be married. In fact, according to Scripture, the very desire itself is wisdom:

“He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22).
“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels” (Proverbs 31:10).

It’s good to look for a worthy spouse, and even better to find one. It’s good to want to be married. That doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of bad ways to pursue marriage (there are), or that the desire for marriage can’t be distorted and imbalanced (it can be). But God made most of us to want marriage.

Now, you don’t need to want marriage to follow Jesus. Some of the happiest, most godly people in the church never marry. The apostle Paul, for one, celebrated the goodness of lifelong singleness (1 Corinthians 7:7–8). But if you do want to be married, that desire isn’t something to hide or be ashamed of. God loves our longing to be married — to promise ourselves to one man or woman, to become one flesh, to bear and raise children if he wills.

Beyond that, we could say a lot about desire and feelings and attraction, but at its simplest, biblically speaking, we’re mainly looking for someone we can marry. We’re looking for someone with whom we can enjoy and live for Christ. Paul says to the widows in the church (and to all believers by extension), “You are free to be married to whom you wish, only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39). Marriage, for Christians, is never simply about sex, or companionship, or children, or life efficiencies. We want to marry in the Lord.

We want to take in God’s word together, pray together, go to church together, serve together. We want our marriages to consistently and beautifully tell people what Jesus has done for us. We want our marriages to make us more like Christ, slowly but surely changing us into someone new, someone holy. That means that when we look for someone we can marry, we’re not looking first for something physical or financial or convenient or fun (though we will weigh some of these factors). We’re looking for God in one another and in our future together.

So, the first dimension of clarity is our own desire. Do I want to date or marry this person? And if so, am I convinced that my desire pleases God — that he wants a relationship like this for me? If we’re unsure what God might think about that, he often reveals his will in the other two dimensions of clarity.

The second dimension of clarity we need in dating comes through community. Of the three, this is my greatest burden for young believers today.

Dating often isolates us from other Christians in our lives. The closer we get to a boyfriend or girlfriend, the more removed we can get from other important relationships. Satan loves this, and encourages it at every turn. To resist him, we need to fight the impulse to date off in a corner by ourselves, and instead draw our dating relationships into those other important relationships.

Again, Proverbs is filled with wisdom along these lines:

“Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15).
“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment” (Proverbs 18:1).

In other words, Lean hard on those who know you best, love you most, and are willing to tell you when you’re wrong. Through personal experience and counseling others, I have found that to be a golden rule in Christian dating, the rule that most often makes the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships.

“Lean hard on those who know you best, love you most, and are willing to tell you when you’re wrong.”

Only people who love Christ more than they love you will have the courage to lovingly tell you that you’re wrong in dating — wrong about a person, wrong about timing, wrong about whatever. Only they’ll be willing to say something hard, even when you’re so happily infatuated. Most peers will float along with you because they’re excited for you, but you’ll need a lot more than their excitement — you’ll have plenty of that yourself. You’ll need truth, and wisdom, and correction, and perspective. Lean hard on the people who know you best, love you most, and will tell you when you’re wrong.

Consider, then, three kinds of people who could be this kind of community for you in your pursuit of marriage (I’d even go as far as to say should be this kind of community for you). Which counselors would it be wise to involve in a meaningful way?

Church Family

First, avoid leaving your church family behind. We don’t usually think of our church family as part of our pursuit of marriage (maybe we even cringe at the idea), but as uncomfortable or inconvenient as it may sound, God gives the primary and final responsibility of our accountability to the local church (Matthew 18:15–20; Hebrews 13:17).

God means for the church to be the rough tread on the edge of the highway, making sure we stay awake and alert while driving in life, including in dating. If we don’t build our church families into our routines and our relationships, we’re likely to ride right off into a spiritual or relational ditch. The church, however, can surround a couple with structure, direction, and safety.

Now, this doesn’t mean you need to stand up during the announcements and give the whole church an update on your relationship or print a weekly update in the bulletin. But lean on fellow Christians, and especially some who are older and more mature than you. Let a few people you wouldn’t hang out with on the weekends into your thinking and decision-making in dating. Be accountable to a local church: plug in, get to know and be known by others, seek out people different from you, and draw them into what you’re thinking, wanting, and experiencing in dating. Don’t leave the church behind.

Mom and Dad

Second, lean into the love that made and raised you. “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). It’s so simple, and yet it can often be challenging, and all the more so in dating. In our day, it’s increasingly unexpected to involve your parents at all. It seems old-fashioned and unnecessary. Parents are typically a formality once we’ve already made our own decisions — unless, of course, we want to listen to God and pursue marriage more wisely. Wisdom says, “Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old. . . . Let your father and mother be glad; let her who bore you rejoice” (Proverbs 23:22, 25).

Maybe we don’t see eye to eye with our parents. Maybe our parents aren’t even believers. Maybe our parents are divorced and disagree with each other about what we should do. Maybe one or both aren’t even interested in being involved in our relationship. We can’t force our parents to care or cooperate, but we can honor them, and we can think of creative ways to encourage them to be involved and to solicit their input and advice along the way. Our parents may be flat-out wrong, but most parents don’t intentionally want to harm us or keep us from being happy. They have known and loved us longer than anyone else, and genuinely want what they think is best for us.

What if we loved our parents more intentionally and more joyfully when we disagreed with them? What would that say — to them, to our significant other, to the rest of our friends and family — about our faith in Jesus? Lean into the love that made and raised you.

Real Friends

The next line of defense in dating will be the friends who know us best — and who love us and Jesus enough to hold us accountable. We don’t just need friends. Everybody has friends. We need real friends — friends who know us well, who are regularly and actively involved in our relationship, and who love us enough to ask hard questions or tell us when we’re wrong.

Even after God rescues us from our sin, pulls us out of the pit, and puts his Spirit inside of us, we still battle remaining sin, and we’re outmatched on our own. We need friends in the fight to help us see where we’re wrong or weak. Don’t wait for a friend to come ask you how things are going. Seek those few friends out, and share openly with them. You might ask each other questions like these:

What do the two of you talk about? What’s a typical conversation like?
How far have you gone physically, where will you draw the line, and in what situations do you experience the most temptation?
What are you learning about him (or her)? Are you moving toward or away from clarity about marriage?
How has your relationship affected your spiritual health, including prayer life, Bible reading, involvement in the local church, and ministry to others?

Does anyone ask you questions like these? Who are the friends who will go there with you? If you don’t have them, do you know anyone who could potentially become that kind of friend? Do you know anyone who might need you to be that friend for them? If you want to date well, do what it takes to have some real friends.

Depth: Clarity of Opportunity

We have the clarity of desire, the clarity of community, and now, finally, the clarity of opportunity. Our hearts and our community are not enough to give us the clarity we need. Our hearts will speak (through our desires), our friends will speak (through good community), and then God will speak (through opportunity). Really, God speaks in all three ways, but sometimes he speaks clearest in this last way. In other words, he speaks through his providence. The relationship works out, or it doesn’t. Circumstances line up, or they don’t. Feelings and timelines match up, or they don’t.

“If God withholds something good from us, it’s not because he wants to harm us. Ever.”

Sometimes, God gives the clarity we need in dating simply by doing something outside of our control. You might fall in love with someone, and your friends and family may think it’s a great idea, and marriage still may not happen. Maybe she doesn’t reciprocate; she prefers just being friends. Maybe he ends up dating and marrying someone else. Maybe she moves away for school or work, and the distance proves too far. God makes his will clear by clarifying our own desires, but he makes his will clear in other ways too.

Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap” — or the text, or the call, or the bouquet of flowers — “but its every decision is from the Lord.” Does that sound cruel? Why would God give us a good desire for something (or for someone), and then not give it to us? One of the most important lessons to learn about following Jesus is that there are a thousand good answers to that question.

If God withholds something good from us, it’s not because he wants to harm us. Ever. “We know,” Paul says, “that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). No, God withholds good from his people when it’s not yet good enough — when he wants and has planned something better for us. So don’t assume that a good desire confirmed by good friends is good for you. Assume God knows what’s truly good for you.

As you pray and pursue marriage, trust God, in his all-knowing and unfailing love for you, to make his will for you clear in all three ways — desire, community, and opportunity.

Offense and Defense in Prayer for the Word: 2 Thessalonians 3:1–5, Part 1

What is Look at the Book?

You look at a Bible text on the screen. You listen to John Piper. You watch his pen “draw out” meaning. You see for yourself whether the meaning is really there. And (we pray!) all that God is for you in Christ explodes with faith, and joy, and love.

All Things New: When Our Long Night Will End

We live in a world where everything “new” soon becomes old. New cars scratch and rust. New shoes wear out. Fresh bread gets stale. Today’s smartphones are outdated in a few years. New toys are eventually relegated to donation boxes or trash bins. Consumers still clamor for the trending product and the newest model, recognizing that the latest item will soon lose its luster. We purchase insurance and extended warranties to protect our investments and guard against loss.

The Scriptures offer a sober assessment of our world and our lives east of Eden: moth and rust destroy, thieves steal, everything is subject to decay, we are dust and return to the dust (Genesis 3:19; Psalm 90:3; Ecclesiastes 3:20; Matthew 6:19; Romans 8:21). Yet according to God’s promise we also long for a new world “in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

At the culmination of the biblical canon, the prophet John sees “a new heaven and a new earth” and “new Jerusalem” and hears God Almighty say, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:1–5). These statements draw deeply from the well of Old Testament prophecies, such as Isaiah 43:18–19 and 65:17–19. Revelation does not explain in detail how the old heaven and earth give way to the new; instead, this prophecy focuses on the reality of the Creator God’s purposes to renew, restore, and rectify everything.

Note that God does not merely make new things to replace what is old, broken, and obsolete; he makes all things to be new. This promise of new creation transcends our current categories of temporary newness, revealing a new kind of newness that never wears out or breaks down. The Alpha and Omega makes all things to be new and stay ever new.

Woes That Will End

Consider several aspects of this coming new creation to strengthen your resolve to endure this world’s troubles as we long for “a better country — a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16).1

No More Trouble

The fourfold emphasis on what is “new” in Revelation 21:1–5 contrasts with the “first” or “former things,” which “have passed away” and shall be “no more.” These former troubles include death, mourning, crying, and pain (21:4), all universal realities for humanity after sin and death entered the world in Genesis 3. This fulfills Old Testament promises such as Isaiah 25:8: “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”

No More Curse

Further, no longer will there be “any curse” in the new creation (Revelation 22:3 NIV). This alludes to Zechariah 14:11 (CSB): “Never again will there be a curse of complete destruction. So Jerusalem will dwell in security.” Zechariah 14:9–12 stresses the safety of God’s people when the Lord is king over all the earth and strikes all his foes. Revelation 22 closely links the removal of the curse to believers’ restored access to the tree of life, which signifies eternal life in fellowship with God. The tree’s leaves provide “healing of the nations,” who will walk by the Lamb’s light and bring their splendor into the holy city (Revelation 21:24; 22:2; cf. Isaiah 60:3; Zechariah 14:16). There will be no curse in the new Jerusalem because God will fully reverse humanity’s plight since our plummet into sin.

No More Threats

Finally, the prophet highlights the absence of the sea and of night from the new creation (Revelation 21:1; 22:5). Unlike death, tears, and curse that are passing away, the sea and night are present in God’s original good creation (Genesis 1:5, 10). However, within the book of Revelation the sea is consistently linked with evil power and ungodliness. The devil temporarily exerts his great wrath on the earth and the sea, which together represent the first creation (Revelation 12:12). The blasphemous beast arises from the sea and receives the dragon’s power (Revelation 13:1–2; cf. Daniel 7:3).

“The absence of sea in the new creation signifies that God will finally remove every threat to his redeemed people.”

The sea is also associated with the dead (Revelation 20:13) and with the idolatrous trade of the wicked city, Babylon the Great, which emulates the commercial powerhouse Tyre in the Old Testament (Revelation 18:17, 19; cf. Ezekiel 26–27). John’s reference to the sea may also recall the exodus, when the Lord parted the waters to allow Israel to pass safely then hurled Egypt’s army into the sea (Exodus 14:22, 27). The absence of sea in the new creation signifies that God will finally remove every threat to his redeemed people.

No More Night

The Scriptures regularly associate “night” with darkness, lamentation, sin, and judgment. For example, God sends plagues of darkness against Egypt and the beast’s kingdom (Exodus 10:21–22; Revelation 16:10), and there is darkness throughout the land when Jesus is crucified (Mark 15:33). There is no night in John’s vision of the new creation because the dazzling glory of God and the Lamb will so illumine the New Jerusalem that no other lights will be necessary — including the sun (Revelation 21:23; 22:5; cf. Isaiah 60:19). Moreover, the city’s gates remain open as a picture of comprehensive safety and security since no enemies remain to threaten God’s people under cover of darkness (Revelation 21:25; Isaiah 60:11).

God with Us

Central to the hope of the new creation is God’s enduring presence with the saints. Throughout the Old Testament, God promises to dwell with Israel. For example:

I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. (Leviticus 26:11–12)

My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Ezekiel 37:27)

“Central to the hope of the new creation is God’s enduring presence with the saints.”

Revelation 21:3 announces the fulfillment of this promise: “Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God” (CSB). The phrase “his peoples” (plural) alters the customary reference to God’s singular “people,” perhaps reflecting the prophecy in Zechariah 2:11–12: “many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst.”

The point is that God will not simply dwell among one ethnic group but among those from all peoples who are purchased and purified by the blood of the Lamb to declare his praises forever (Revelation 5:9). God’s “dwelling place” (ESV) or “tabernacle” (NASB) is finally, fully, and forever in the midst of his covenant people.

Revelation 21:9–27 describes the glorious new Jerusalem as God’s redeemed people — the Bride of the Lamb — and as the everlasting temple-city, the place where God lives among his people. This vision fulfills Old Testament prophecies about the glory of redeemed Zion (Isaiah 60) and the end-time temple of God (Ezekiel 40–48).

In the new creation, God will dwell among his people forever (Revelation 21:3; 22:1–5). God and the Lamb will supply the saints with everlasting life and continuous light. Every threat and impediment to perfect fellowship between God and his people will be removed, and we will behold his face and worship him forever as priestly kings.

Preview of Coming Attractions

This vision of new creation satisfies our longings for final salvation from the effects of Adam’s sin, for a lasting home in the holy city, and for a God-glorifying vocation as priests and rulers. Revelation’s picture of the renewed world is truly captivating not because of its golden streets or jeweled walls but because we will have the “one thing” that believers have always longed for: to dwell in God’s glorious presence, gazing on his beauty and seeking him in his temple that will fill the new Jerusalem (Psalm 27:4).

As Andrew Peterson sings, “Do you feel the world is broken? . . . Do you feel the shadows deepen? . . . Do you wish that you could see it all made new?” Indeed, we do. Or as Isaac Watts sang, we long to see God’s “blessings flow far as the curse is found.”

We long to see God’s kingdom come and his will done on earth as in heaven (Matthew 6:10). We long for the redemption of our bodies and the renovation of our world (Romans 8:21–23). Revelation strengthens our weary hearts with God’s sure promise, “I am making all things new.” New and ever new, with no more sin or sorrow, death or decay.

God will surely make all things new, and he has already begun that new creation work in his people: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Creator has shined saving light in our hearts so that we might see his glory in the face of Christ, and we now have this treasure in clay jars (2 Corinthians 4:6–7). In other words, we have an advance on the glories of the new Eden in the midst of the present world that is passing away, a preview of coming attractions. The renovation of the hearts and lives of God’s people now anticipates the coming renewal and restoration of all things. Lord, hasten the day when our faith will be sight.

Christian Hedonism in Two Minutes

Audio Transcript

Happy Wednesday, and welcome back to the podcast. We talk a lot about this thing we call Christian Hedonism around here. So what is it? What’s the best, simplest, shortest definition of Christian Hedonism? Well, I have it for you today.

Back in 2006, Pastor John was asked to define Christian Hedonism in two minutes. And he delivered his response in one minute, forty seconds. Here’s what he said.

Christian Hedonism is the conviction that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. I won’t take the time to put all the textual foundation under that. I’ve done that in many places. But let me explain the implication. If God is made to look glorious by my being satisfied in him, then pursuing my satisfaction in him becomes essential to obedience and worship. And therefore, Christian Hedonism says, you must pursue your maximum joy. And that’s maximum in two senses: maximum in quality, maximum in quantity. In other words, I want fullness of joy, and I want joy forevermore (Psalm 16:11). And that’s only found in God.

So I have no hesitation saying that the Christian life is the pursuit of maximum joy in God, because my soul is satisfied and God is glorified. And those two things — God’s glory and my joy — are not at odds. And that’s the beauty of Christian Hedonism. God has sent Jesus Christ to die for my sins and to rise again, so that it’s possible for me now to have total and complete satisfaction in God forever. And when I pursue that, I’m showing that God is infinitely valuable, infinitely satisfying, so that he gets the glory and I get the joy.

Happy to Be She: My Glad Path to Complementarity

Complementarian is a strange word. I never heard my parents or my pastor use it as I was growing up. I can’t recall the first time I heard it — though it was likely sometime in the early 2000s, as a young married woman, sitting under the teaching of John Piper.

However, long before I heard the strange word, I had seen the concept. I saw it when my dad’s heart to be generous and hospitable was taken up by my mom and transposed into a welcoming home that operated like a bed-and-breakfast for family, friends, and strangers. I saw it when my dad would take the initiative to warm the car and pull it up to the curb, always hopping out to open the door for my mom — my fearless mom, who wielded chainsaws and rode young green horses, yet gladly welcomed this kindness from her husband. I saw it when my mom helped shoulder my dad’s call to be a physician, making the best of a constantly changing schedule. I saw it in my dad’s hard work and provision for us and in my mom’s labor in the home to turn that provision into something truly wonderful. And I saw it when my dad led us in prayer and gratitude to God for everything, especially God’s Son.

Woven Through All of God’s Word

Yet there was another place I’d seen complementarity: the Scriptures. From the opening pages — the genesis of Adam and Eve — to the final chapters revealing the marriage supper of the Lamb, this concept of part and counterpart; of the distinctiveness of man and woman (in Hebrew, ish and ishah); of the design and order of husband and wife, lord and lady, bridegroom and bride, was everywhere. From Sarah’s willingness to obey Abraham to Boaz’s noble protection of Ruth, the stories of Scripture show us both the beauty of complementarity and the consequences of rejecting God’s design for men and women — as when Adam submitted to Eve rather than to God in the garden.

“The husband is head, and the wife is glory — just as Christ is head, and the church is body.”

Even the gospel itself is intertwined with this foundational reality of creation: the husband is head, and the wife is glory — just as Christ is head, and the church is body (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22–33). The husband loves his wife, and the wife respects her husband — just as Christ lovingly sacrifices, and the church gladly submits and receives (Ephesians 5:22–33; Colossians 3:18–19). I had observed, too, how the Epistles reiterate the distinctions between men and women as they give separate and particular instructions for older women, younger women, older men, younger men, wives, husbands, and widows (Titus 2:1–6; 1 Timothy 2:8–15; 1 Peter 3:1–7).

By the time the strange word complementarian became part of my vocabulary, with its accompanying pushback against the idea that men and women are interchangeable, I didn’t need to be convinced it was true or scriptural. I’d seen it — both in print and in life.

Speed Bumps Along the Way

Of course, seeing a reality and living a reality are two different experiences. I could see the reality of complementarity. I could see the beauty of God’s intent for men and women. But stepping into that reality as a young woman and trying it on was more difficult. From the time I was little, the word equality was a good word. Especially as an American, I was proud to consider everyone equal. I’d heard that egalitarianism was simply that: equality between men and women. Who could be opposed to equality?

Thankfully, a complementarian position was able to account for both the equalities and the inequalities of men and women. To embrace the Bible’s teaching on men and women is to acknowledge an equality of value alongside physical and positional differences.

“What a gift to be a woman! What a gift to be endowed with a woman’s body and to have a woman’s mind and instincts!”

I found over time that, rather than bristling at this reality, there was great relief in stating the obvious. I came to acknowledge that treating men and women as the same was actually an affront to God — and at the same time, I became free to acknowledge that how he designed men and women was truly good and beautiful. Many women are indoctrinated by the world to believe that we will lose something essential in ourselves if we admit that we are physically weaker or inherently different than men. When we acknowledge that we don’t choose what we are but are created to be what we are — man or woman — the world teaches us to shudder and rebel, but God teaches us to say thank you for his good gift. What a gift to be a woman! What a gift to be endowed with a woman’s body and to have a woman’s mind and instincts!

Two Precious Tutors

Two books were especially helpful to me as I began to really practice the complementarity I saw in Scripture, both in my marriage and in how I conceived of myself as a Christian woman in the world. The first was Matthew Henry’s The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit, and the second was Jim Wilson’s How to Be Free from Bitterness. Neither book mentions complementarianism, neither is about the differences between men and women, and neither is written particularly for women. But both books helped me gain a frame of mind and heart and soul that served my submission to God and his ways — and helped me flourish as a result.

The books gave me a window into the inner workings of a heart that truly trusts and obeys God. And it just so happens that the kind of heart that trusts and obeys God is the same kind of heart that does not rebel against God-ordained relationships of authority and submission. Whether submitting to the elders of my church or the authorities who make our traffic laws or my own husband as he leads us on a new adventure, my frame of heart and mind must be wholly trusting God. I need a stability of soul born of meekness and a faith-filled heart that is free from bitterness.

Henry and Wilson fanned the flames of my happiness in day-to-day life as they helped me turn from sins of grasping, bitterness, and inward strife and replace them with simple gratitude, peace, and joy in Christ. I commend them to you. My happiness in complementarity was directly tied to my own sanctification and my willingness to bow my knee in submission to King Jesus, no matter what the world or anyone else thought.

To agree with God’s word that a wife ought to submit to her husband (Ephesians 5:22), or that woman is the glory of man and man is the glory of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3), or that God himself ordains who is a man and who is a woman — these positions won’t earn you accolades or applause in many circles. But agreeing with God — even more, loving what God has said and done — will bring you peace and hope and joy, both now and in the age to come. Complementarian is a strange word, but that’s alright. Christians have often been strange to the world.

How Paul Prays Eternal Comfort into Heart Comfort: 2 Thessalonians 2:13–17, Part 7

What is Look at the Book?

You look at a Bible text on the screen. You listen to John Piper. You watch his pen “draw out” meaning. You see for yourself whether the meaning is really there. And (we pray!) all that God is for you in Christ explodes with faith, and joy, and love.

My Son, Give Me Your Heart: The First Desire of Fruitful Parenting

My son, give me your heart,     and let your eyes observe my ways. (Proverbs 23:26)

This simple proverb is embedded in a series of exhortations and warnings about the dangers of prostitutes and drunkenness. Its simplicity masks its profundity. In thirteen words, it cuts to the heart of parenting and, when consistently embraced, orients everything else we do in raising our children.

The two exhortations together express the remarkable exchange that we’re after in our fathering and our mothering. As our children grow up in our homes, we want to receive something from them, and we want them to receive something from us. We want their hearts, and we want them to have our ways.

Heartbeat of Parenting

The biblical calling on parents is to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). There are many aspects to this calling. We teach and admonish. We establish rules and enforce them. We provide instruction and correction. We rebuke and train and equip our children for life. But if we are seeking to raise them “in the Lord,” then we must keep our eye on the ball. We are after their heart.

It’s easy to lose sight of this. It’s easy to give instruction and discipline because we want our child’s obedience, or because we want some peace and quiet, or because we have important work to do and the fussing, whining, quarreling, and provoking happening in the kitchen is an interruption.

Of course, correction is important. Fussing, whining, quarreling, and provoking are all sins to be addressed. We do want their obedience, and we’re responsible to God to instruct them and discipline them. A peaceful home is a blessing to everyone in it. But it is far too easy to address the sins and lose sight of what’s ultimate. It’s possible to lose sight of the fact that what we really want is obedience from the heart, peace and quiet from the heart. What we want is their heart.

“Is the heartbeat of your parenting, ‘My son, give me your heart’?”

This means that our instructions, admonitions, warnings, corrections, exhortations, and discipline must all flow from our desire to gain their hearts. Ask yourself: When you’re setting the rules, are you after their heart? When you instruct them in God’s laws, are you after their heart? When you enforce the rules, whether God’s laws or house rules, are you after their heart? When you say yes to their requests, are you after their heart? When you say no to their requests, are you after their heart?

In all that you do as a parent, is Solomon’s proverb present in your words, attitudes, and actions? Is the heartbeat of your parenting, “My son, give me your heart”?

Now, seeking their heart is only one side of the equation. The other side is what we hope to give to them. “Let your eyes observe my ways.” A better translation might be, “Let your eyes delight in my ways.” The word observe does not refer to mere disinterested attention. It shows up in passages like these:

The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. (Psalm 147:11)

The Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation. (Psalm 149:4)

The Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:12)

When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. (Proverbs 16:7)

The sense of the exhortation is this: “My son, look with delight upon the way I conduct myself. Gladly accept my way of life.” In other words, the call is not merely for the son to observe his father’s conduct, but to aspire to imitate it, to follow it, to make his father’s ways his own.

Our ways refer to our habitual conduct, the pattern of thoughts, words, attitudes, and actions that define us. In other words, this is our actual way of walking in the world. It’s not mainly about what we profess, but what we practice. Think of it as your standard operating procedure. This is what our children are exhorted to gladly observe, accept, and follow.

In this sense, the manner of our speech is as important as the content of our speech. It’s not just what we say and do, but how we say and do it. So consider your attitude, your demeanor, your tone of voice, and ask yourself some probing questions.

Do you give instruction with exasperation or with cheerfulness? Do you correct with patience or with frustration? If someone else were in the room when you exhort and discipline your children, would they describe your tone as harsh or firm? Biting or kind? Angry or gentle? What sort of “way” are you asking them to gladly imitate and own? One that abruptly reacts with sharp intensity, or one that wisely responds with sober-minded stability?

Giving Their Hearts to God

These two exhortations hang together. Our ways will be more delightful to them if we are gladly seeking their hearts. One of our fundamental callings is to be the smile of God to our children. That is the heartbeat of our ways. And in reflecting God’s smile, we are also seeking their hearts and calling them to observe, receive, accept, and own our ways.

“Ultimately, we want our children to give their hearts to God. Giving their hearts to us is practice.”

But not just our ways. Ultimately, we want our children to give their hearts to God. Giving their hearts to us is practice for this ultimate giving. They give their hearts to an earthly father (and mother) so that they can learn to give their hearts to their heavenly Father. Gladly observing and imitating our ways is a stepping stone to observing and imitating God’s ways.

But perhaps we can say even more. Jesus tells us that there is a way of receiving children in his name that is also a receiving of Jesus himself. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mark 9:37). The two acts of receiving — receiving children and receiving Jesus — become one, because the first is done in his name. When you receive children in Jesus’s name, what do you have in the end? You have the children, and you have Jesus.

Similarly, there is a way your children can give you their heart that becomes, over time, and by the grace of God, a giving of their heart to God. They give their heart to you, and, if you’re teaching them rightly, they give their heart to you in the name of Jesus. And when they do that, who has their heart in the end? You do, and he does.

How Does Childbirth Save Women?

Audio Transcript

Welcome back to this new week on the podcast, week number 530 for us. Amazing. Thanks for being a part of this podcast over the past decade, and thank you for praying for God to sustain us in this work.

Last Monday, we talked about the value and dignity of womanhood. It was a really important episode in a world blind to God’s glorious, intentional design for male and female creatures. That was APJ 1909. And we’ve celebrated the incredible glories of motherhood as well. On motherhood, I regularly recommend one episode from seven years ago that we recorded. I’ll never forget it. It’s titled “I Want Kids. My Husband Doesn’t.” It’s just a great, classic episode in the archive on the glories of motherhood. And as always, you’ll find our archive at There you can search for episodes 908 and 1909.

Speaking of the glories of motherhood, we have an international question today about 1 Timothy 2:15, an important text, a curious text, that we haven’t touched on in about four years now. We should. And we will because today’s question is from a listener to the podcast named Luba, who asks, “Pastor John, can you please comment on 1 Timothy 2:15? What are we as women supposed to be saved from in childbirth? And what does this mean for women who will never have children? This verse is highly discussed among us Christians inside of Russia. Thank you for your wisdom.”

In this context right here in 1 Timothy 2, Paul is making the case that spiritually qualified men should be the authoritative teachers — or you could say pastors or elders — in the church rather than women. Now, we’ve addressed that issue several times in Ask Pastor John. But this time, the issue is different.

Saved Through Childbearing?

Here’s the text at the end of verse 15, with a very puzzling sentence. I’ll read the whole two verses and then underline that last sentence that she’s asking about.

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. [Now, here’s the sentence:] Yet she will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Timothy 2:12–15)

So what is the meaning of verse 15? “Yet she will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

Who’s she? “She will be saved” refers to “the woman” (or Eve) in verse 14, but I think Paul means for us to generalize it — I think Luba is right to make that inference — because he shifts from the singular she to the plural they in the very next phrase. He says, “She will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith.” The natural way to take this they is “women in general.” So, I think she’s right to ask the question she’s asking the way she’s asking it.

So what does it mean that women in general “will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control”? What about women who never have children? How does the verse apply to them?

Some have suggested that “through childbearing” refers to the birth of Jesus. Since a woman bore the Savior, we could say that women are saved through that childbearing. But that’s unlikely because, among other reasons, the only other use of this Greek word childbearing is found in 1 Timothy 5:14, where it simply means ordinary childbearing among women in general. It says, “So I would have the younger widows marry and bear children” — childbearing. So I don’t think that’s what it refers to.

“In spite of childbearing being part of God’s curse on sin, women will be saved through it.”

What then does it mean that “she will be saved through childbearing”? Here, I’m happy to give credit to Henry Alford, a British scholar who died in 1871, who pointed me to a text in 1 Corinthians that I think holds the key to Paul’s meaning here.

‘In Spite of’ Childbearing

So the key question is, What does through mean when Paul says, “She will be saved” — women in general will be saved — “through childbearing”? I think what gets most of us off on the wrong foot is that we almost all jump to the conclusion that through means by means of: “She will be saved by means of childbearing.” Then we cast about for how that could be the case. There is another possibility for what through means, and that was the clue I saw in 1 Corinthians 3:15, where Paul uses this very word in a similar situation and it means something very different.

So here’s what Paul is talking about there. You remember he’s talking about the judgment according to our works — in particular, whether we’ve taught true things in the context of the church. He says there’s wood, there’s hay, there’s stubble, and if some of your works are wood, hay, and stubble, they’re going to be burned up at the judgment. And then he holds out hope that the person himself — even though the wood, hay, and stubble of his works gets burned up — might be saved even though he has not lived the life that he should have lived in any perfect way. He says it like this: “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15). So there’s that saved idea and through idea.

Now, what’s the meaning of through here, which is the same word used in 1 Timothy 2:15? It does not mean by means of — that is, “by means of fire.” He will be saved through fire in the sense that fire is threatening him and he comes through it safe. It means, virtually, “in spite of fire.” Even though he is under the threat of fire, yet he will be saved. He will come through it saved.

So my suggestion is that this is the way we should try to understand the word through in 1 Timothy 2:15 when Paul says, “She will be saved through childbearing.”

Overcoming the Curse

Now, how would that work? “She will be saved in spite of childbearing” sounds kind of odd, — or “through childbearing” the way a person comes through some threatening circumstance. Well, go back to Genesis 3 and remind yourself what happened after Adam and Eve sinned, which is the context here in 1 Timothy 2. What happened was that both of them were told that the curse of sin would fall on each of them in their respective, special role: Adam in his farming work, the sweat of his face, and Eve in her childbearing. So, Genesis 3:16 says, “To the woman God said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.’”

“The pain of childbearing, the misery of its long-term effects, often was a reminder of God’s displeasure over Eve’s sin.”

Now, let’s let that sink in for a minute. How that must have landed on women for centuries, especially before modern medicine — no hygiene, no spinal blocks, no episiotomies, no sutures, no Cesareans, no antibiotics, no pain killers, and often no recovery. Untold numbers of women died in childbirth, and countless more suffered the rest of their lives from wounds, tearing that prevented childbirth or any kind of normal sexual life. In other words, there were aspects of childbearing that felt like a curse from God because, in a sense, they were.

Often, that burden lasted a lifetime, not just in the moment of birth. How easy it would have been for women in Paul’s day, for example, or through the centuries, to despair and feel that God was against them. He’s just against them. He was their curser, not their savior. The pain of childbearing, the misery of its long-term effects, often was a reminder of God’s displeasure over Eve’s sin.

Now, I think that is what Paul is responding to. And his response was gospel hope. In other words, no to the curse. No, these pains of childbearing, even if they last a lifetime, are not God’s word, his final word, to women. God intends to save. They will be saved through the fiery trials of childbearing, through the apparent curse of childbearing. In spite of childbearing being part of God’s curse on sin, women will be saved through it.

By Faith in the Savior

Then Paul adds, “. . . if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control,” which simply means, I think, “if they’re Christians.” That’s the link with the Savior. She’s justified by faith, and then love and holiness and self-control are simply the fruit of faith that confirm that it’s real for men and women. She is a real Christian, and that’s how she will be saved, in spite of the painful reminders of the curse of God in childbearing through Eve’s disobedience.

So in answer to Luba’s question, “Well, what does this mean for women who have never had children or will have children?” it means this: though they may never have tasted the pain of childbearing in their own bodies, they still might feel a solidarity with all women under the curse of the pain of childbearing because of sin entering the world. So they can share in the same hope as women who have had children — namely, the hope that in spite of the pain women have to endure, in spite of that pain because of the fall, nevertheless, God is for them, not against them, and if they trust in Jesus Christ and walk in lives of holiness, they will be saved.

The Shadow We Cannot Shake: What to Do When Darkness Remains

Some spiritual darkness feels so woven into the fabric of our souls, so enmeshed in our personality and wiring, so deeply rooted and subtle, that escaping it can feel like trying to run from our own shadow. An ingrained and abiding lack of assurance, a distorted relationship with body image or food, the twisting temptations of unwanted desire — such darkness has a way of hounding at the heels.

Perhaps you feel, as I have, like “a man in a shipwreck who sees land and envies the happiness of all those who are there but thinks it is impossible for him to reach the shore,” as Henry Scougal once described the experience (The Life of God in the Soul of Man, 108). You see clearly enough what a life free from your darkness would look like, but every attempt to reach that happy shore has left you wave-tossed and battered upon the rocks. So you look wistfully from the deeps, still desiring deliverance, but no longer trying so hard. You settle into a life of treading water.

Some years ago, as this fatalistic spirit began to settle on me, I struck upon a piece of counsel that offered a mighty and needed shake. John Owen (1616–1683), addressing spiritual doubters in particular, writes,

Be not . . . heartless or slothful: up and be doing; attend with diligence to the word of grace; be fervent in prayer, assiduous in the use of all ordinances of the church; in one or other of them, at one time or other, thou wilt meet with Him whom thy soul loveth, and God through Him will speak peace unto thee. (Works of John Owen, 6:614)

“Up and be doing.” Certainly this is not the only counsel the spiritually stuck need to hear (nor is it the only counsel Owen offers). But in my own entrenched struggles, I have found great help from this gentle but firm hand on the shoulder, this kind but resolute look in the eye, this warm but weighty voice telling me I am no prisoner to my past or present and bidding me not to grow weary in seeking God.

‘Up and Be Doing’

Perhaps you read counsel like the above and sigh. “Read the Bible more? Pray more? Go to church more? I’ve already tried all that.” A similar sigh has passed through my own lips more than once. I’ve already asked, sought, and knocked, I’ve thought to myself, but it just hasn’t worked. Eventually, however, my mind drifts back to Scripture’s own examples of long and earnest seeking, and the words “I’ve already tried that” fall limply to the ground.

We could consider the Old Testament refrain to seek the Lord “with all your heart and all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29), or the prophets’ resolve, come what may, to “wait for the God of my salvation” (Micah 7:7), or the psalmists’ example of crying out “day and night before you,” even from the deepest, longest darkness (Psalm 88:1). But perhaps the Gospels offer the most powerful call to rise, lift up our heads, and seek God with fresh diligence.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you,” Jesus tells his disciples. Fewer words hold more promise for those seeking a deliverance as yet ungiven. Fewer too hold more challenge. For when Jesus illustrates the kind of asking, seeking, and knocking he has in mind, he offers the parable of the impudent friend, that noisy midnight knocker who wouldn’t leave without his loaves (Luke 11:5–9). Of the various charges that might be brought against my own prayer life, I fear impudence is rarely one of them.

Meanwhile, the Gospels give us living portraits of the same point: women who break through crowds to touch the hem of his garment (Mark 5:27–28), fathers half-beaten by unbelief who nevertheless carry their sons to Christ (Mark 9:24), mothers who persist in their petitions, undaunted by refusals, until they receive their request (Mark 7:24–30). Such desperate souls asked and sought and knocked — and asked and sought and knocked again — until the gift was given, the treasure found, the handle turned.

Compared to such as these, how much of my own seeking has happened from half a heart, from a split soul, with one foot stepping toward God and one dragging lazily behind?

Draw Near to God

To be sure, Jesus does sometimes surprise his struggling people and, quite apart from our diligent seeking, grant the deliverance we need. Our Christian lives began when he raised us, Lazarus-like, from the tomb — and sometimes, our Christian lives progress when he blesses us unsought, or sought only feebly.

But we have no warrant for presuming he will do so. The spiritual world, like the physical world, has its causes and effects, its means and ends, its principle that “whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Neither creation nor Scripture gives us a category for a sanctified sluggard, whose spiritual crop grows without diligent plowing and planting, weeding and watering. Our Spirit-dependent efforts cannot earn God’s blessing — only Christ can — but very often they are the divinely appointed means of experiencing his blessing.

Knowing that God uses our diligence as a means of deliverance, we might ask questions like these when darkness persists:

Am I actively killing every known sin, including those that seem unrelated to my main struggle, and by comparison small (Romans 8:13)?
Have my prayers for deliverance looked anything like that holy impudence that knocks and knocks again (Luke 11:8)?
Do I meditate upon God’s word day and night (Psalm 1:2) — and in particular, am I intimately acquainted with passages that address my struggle?
On Sundays, do I listen to sermons and take the Lord’s Supper expectantly, looking to my Lord “as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master” (Psalm 123:2)?
Have I kept pursuing Christian community, surrounding myself with Spirit-filled people rather than shrinking away into the shadows (Hebrews 10:24–25)?
Have I sought specific counsel from wise and trusted saints, inviting them to take a flashlight into the cellar of my soul?

Questions like these make me mindful of God’s mercy, which so often has met my half-hearted seeking with wholehearted kindness. He is a blessed and blessing God, always “ready to forgive” and give more than we ask (Nehemiah 9:17; Ephesians 3:20). Yet as I think about my own persistent struggles, these questions also remind me just how much territory remains to be explored in the promise of James 4:8: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

Seeking from the Depths

We should beware, at this point, of reducing the deepest struggles to a mere matter of trying harder. Nor would I wish to imply that all who have sought some deliverance unsuccessfully have simply not sought earnestly enough. Sometimes, the shore remains out of reach not because we haven’t swum hard enough, but because the sea is long. Jesus promises that those who seek will find; he does not promise they will find immediately. So, in reality, our seeking may last much longer, and our progress may advance much slower, than we hoped.

“Sometimes, the shore remains out of reach not because we haven’t swum hard enough, but because the sea is long.”

Spiritually speaking, we may feel somewhat like the woman with the twelve-year flow of blood, stuck in a place of undesired darkness despite our best efforts. Why did God let her sickness linger for twelve years instead of ten — or two? We don’t know. We do know, however, that in the fields of God’s kingdom, no seed of diligence, buried and watered with patient perseverance, remains fruitless forever (Galatians 6:9). God has never told his people, “Seek me in vain” (Isaiah 45:19). Nor does he show us the happy shore to merely tantalize us in the water. He shows it because it really can be ours — maybe not immediately or all at once, but really.

So, in the midst of long seeking, don’t lose heart. Your God sees you. His ways may soar high above your understanding, but they are never unwise or unkind (Isaiah 55:8–9). And if you go on seeking him, if every time you fall you rise up again and be doing, the sun will sooner drop from the sky than you be put to shame (Isaiah 49:23).

Our Hand on His Hem

Diligent seeking also holds its dangers, of course. And chief among them may be this: as we pray, and read, and gather with God’s people, and hear counsel, we may rely more on these means than on the One who made them. We may hang our hopes for deliverance not upon Christ, but upon all our efforts to seek him, like travelers too focused on the road to see their home.

Here again, a mind immersed in the Gospels may be our best guide. For in all our seeking, we are doing spiritually what so many Gospel characters did physically: getting as close to Jesus as we can, certain that he is our only hope.

“All our best efforts are only the hand on the hem of Christ’s garment, and all the blessing belongs to him.”

Our prayers may rise like Bartimaeus’s cry, but they are not the voice that bids us see. Our Bible reading may kneel us like the leper before Jesus, but it is not the touch that heals us. Our Sunday worship may stretch out an arm like the sick and anguished woman’s, but it is not the power flowing. All our best efforts are only the hand on the hem of Christ’s garment, and all the blessing belongs to him.

But oh, what blessing awaits those who do cry out and keep crying, kneel and keep kneeling, reach and keep reaching. In all our hardest wrestlings, we are not bound to the narrow fences of our own personality, our own power, our own past: we are bound to Christ himself. And in him, the long and desperate darkness can finally begin to lift, and the shipwrecked saint can finally draw near to shore, carried on the waves of his strength.

Scroll to top