The smallest tasks overwhelmed me. I could barely focus through the fog to take care of my children. My whole world had been rocked, but I still had to function. I still had to do the next thing. And I had to do it all while hiding the pain in my heart, because no one else knew that anything was wrong.
Sometimes our suffering is out in the open and our pain is no secret. A car wreck. The death of a friend or family member, spouse or child. A battle with cancer. A house fire. A divorce. We suffer greatly through these times, and everyone knows and sees how we respond. Our church family and other believers can encircle us with prayer and love, and lend us their strength to continue walking down the path.
Other times, and maybe even more often, our suffering is done in the secret places. Maybe someone hurt us deeply and they don’t even realize it. Maybe a wrong was done to us, but we choose not to make it public. Maybe it’s an unrealized dream that is breaking our hearts—infertility, another baby that died before we could even announce we were expecting, singleness when we long for marriage, another job or promotion that went to someone else. Maybe it’s a marriage that looks completely different at home than it does in public, a struggle with depression or anxiety, or even a private battle against our own sin.
Sometimes we suffer in silence unnecessarily. We are too embarrassed or ashamed or prideful to admit what’s really going on. We shudder to think about anyone finding out, afraid they’ll reject us if they know, so we refuse to tell the truth and instead put on a mask and pretend everything is fine. We rob ourselves of the comfort and strength that can come from sharing our pain in a safe place by hiding behind sinful pride, when we could be helped greatly from the humble vulnerability that says, “Everything is not ok, and I need you to pray for me.”
Sometimes, we must stay silent out of respect for someone else. When I was hurting privately, it was because it wasn’t just my story, and to share my pain would be to betray someone’s trust. Sometimes, we just aren’t far enough down the road to share. Maybe we can tell others later what was going on, but in the midst of the pain it is too private and personal. For whatever reason, there will be times when your heart is broken and you cannot let anyone see.
These times can be particularly excruciating in this Instagram world in which we live. On the surface, everyone is so happy. Everyone has it all together. Everything is perfectly arranged for the picture and the effect is beautiful. All we see is perfection, and all we feel is complete brokenness. It appears we are the only one struggling, the only one whose picture is distorted. The only one suffering.
Now, most of us know that no life is as perfect as it appears on social media. And this isn’t an article that’s going to tell you to spill everything in public, to be completely real and post equal parts ugly and beautiful.
Instead, I’d simply like to give you some solid truths to cling to when your life isn’t picture perfect and you have a sorrow that really can’t be publicized.
Isaiah 53 is a bedrock of hope for the suffering Christian, particularly one suffering in private.
This chapter is one of the most beautiful, agonizing descriptions of the suffering of Christ. We focus on the fact that He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our sin and that His suffering was because God laid our iniquities on Him, as well we should. But sometimes we miss the simple fact that He suffered, and what that means for our suffering. He was well acquainted with grief. He was a Man of Sorrows. And right after this description, nestled among all the descriptions of what He suffered for us, we read these words: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (53:4). Whatever else this may mean theologically, we can know that it at least means this: Jesus knows your suffering, and He understands it. And not only that, He carries it with you. No matter how great your pain, no matter what the source, even if it’s a result of your own sin, Jesus loves you with a compassion for your suffering in a way no one else can. When you feel like you cannot share your sufferings with anyone else, pour them out on Him. He is already well-acquainted with your grief, and is ready to comfort you and help you.
Sometimes it can be easy for us to see a purpose in our suffering.
Other times, it appears senseless. We know the verse that says that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom 8:28) but we cannot see any way that good could come from our pain. This is where the rubber of our faith meets the road of life. God has promised to work all things for our good. He has promised to redeem all pain and right all wrongs. He has promised that He has a plan for the world and a plan for us, and that nothing can thwart that plan. When we suffer and can make no sense of it, these are the promises to which we must cling and upon which we must stake all our hope. I can’t begin to suggest here what His purpose may be in your pain, I can just promise you there is one and point you to the cross, where your Savior demonstrated His love for you while you were still dead in your sin. Trust Him. Suffer with faith in Him. Preach His promises to yourself over and over, as often as necessary to help you trust and not despair. And suffer with the end in view—the glorious end of all suffering for all eternity.
When we are hurting badly, it is often a huge temptation to do anything we can to feel better, even if it’s all just pretense.
Don’t do this. Don’t mask the pain, don’t pretend everything is fine, and don’t drown it in temporary “fixes” that often leave you in more trouble than when you started. If it’s true that God has a purpose in your pain—and it is—then you will only fulfill His purpose by experiencing the suffering. Romans 5:3-5 gives us an overall view of God’s purpose in every pain:
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
We have a hope that will not put us to shame, because God’s promises are guaranteed to be true. In the midst of our deepest pain, when we cannot share it with anyone else, God promises that through the suffering He is producing a good work in us. He is conforming us to the image of His Son who suffered (Romans 8:29). For us to be like Jesus, we must suffer, but our suffering is never arbitrary. If we submit to the loving hands of our Father, even in the midst of our suffering, He will refine us as gold in the fire.
In a culture that publishes everything from what we had for dinner to who we voted for in the last election, it’s important to remember that it is okay to keep your pain private from the masses.
With social media being so prevalent in so many of our lives, it can begin to feel like we must keep our followers updated on what’s going on with us. However, the deepest suffering often brings the deepest growth, and this most often happens in the quiet, secret places. Instead of making your pain public, find one or two trusted believers that can help you walk through the fire. Find friends who will remind you of the truth in your darkest moments, hold your arms up when your strength is gone, cry with you, fight the battle with you, and lift you before the throne of God when you have no words to pray for yourself. This kind of sharing happens person to person, not over social media updates. Your pain does not always need to remain absolutely private, but neither does it need to be public often.
You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book? Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? I must perform my vows to You, O God; I will render thank offerings to You. For You have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. –Psalm 56:8-13
You might not see the light when your suffering is darkest, but God sees your tossing and your tears, and He is for you. You can trust Him. Though darkness be all around you, You need not be afraid because God has delivered your soul from death and your feet from falling. You can even render thank offerings to Him through the pain, because His promise is true. And even when no one else in this very public world knows your private pain or your victory over it, He sees. He sees, He cares, He helps. And you may walk before Him in the light of life that is abundant in spite of the pain.
From the cradle to the grave, the human experience is one of almost continual suffering. Therefore, it is indispensable that we correctly view suffering. Most of us suffer our suffering and don’t know how to use it for our good and God’s glory. We must have a view of suffering shaped by the Bible rather than a view shaped by personal feelings or, even worse, given to us by the world.
It may not have crossed your mind that the Bible presents a doctrine of suffering, but it does. The statements of Scripture on the topic, when examined separately and then correctly synthesized, produce a comprehensive teaching.
One text of Scripture stands out in this grand doctrine of suffering. It is Psalm 119:71, 75:
It is good for me that I have been afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes . . . I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are right, And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.
Not only is suffering a huge part of life but it is a great perplexity. Why must we suffer? But even more difficult—why must we suffer by the hand of a good God? We could feel more confident tackling the question why suffering by the hand of a bad devil. But David did not say suffering came to him by way of Satan, but by way of the Lord. In His faithfulness to us, God afflicts us. In other words, in His goodness to us, He makes us suffer.
How do we account that a holy, loving, compassionate, and good God can permit it? The problems this presents are many, and I do not pretend that we can understand all these questions and their complexities. However, I do believe that the Bible can bring clarity to these issues, which will help us to suffer well.
It is a random journaling of his grief after the death of his wife Joy, and in it he spoke of a good God afflicting His children.
The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably [relentlessly] he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.
Then Lewis asks—“But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us?” Lewis answers with a profound depth of wisdom.
Take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t.
Either way, we’re [in] for it.
Finally, Lewis asks an insightful question that demonstrates our own inconsistency when thinking or talking about the goodness of God,
What do people mean when they say, “I am not afraid of God because I know He is good?” Have they never even been to a dentist?
For most people, if it hurts it isn’t good. But the Bible differs with that opinion and shows that one of the most loving acts of God is the introduction of pain into the life of one of His children. But our attitude of entitlement stands in the way of receiving the good delivered to us by the errand boy of pain. The moment bad news comes to us, we immediately question God’s goodness, thinking we surely don’t deserve the ill because we have been good. In our minds, it’s all a matter of rewards and punishment. If I have been a faithful servant of God, then He owes me blessing; if I have performed less than I should or badly, then I deserve suffering. Thankfully, God is not on the quid pro quo system.
It is an evidential fact that although Christians are redeemed they are not yet perfected. Martin Luther, the German reformer, called the believer a simultaneous saint and sinner. I prefer to say that the Christian is a saint who still can sin and unfortunately does. Our depravity remains, although not totally. And it is this remaining corruption that suffering aims at removing, as the furnace removes the dross. The flames cause the impurities of the precious metal to rise to the surface and the gold or silversmith extracts it.
Wouldn’t that solve the problem and eliminate suffering altogether? Wouldn’t that be good? At least it would be easier than the kind of goodness David and C. S. Lewis is talking about.
Well, it might make our philosophical problem with suffering go away but, in the end, it would not help us. Help for us is not making us to have heaven but making us suitable for heaven. In the wisdom of God, it is better to put us through a process of conformity rather than instantaneous conformity to Christ. Certainly, God can do anything within the confines of His character. He could suddenly transform us. But even if He perfected His children in a moment, which He will at the resurrection, perfection in heaven does not mean there is no room for growth. Our perfection doesn’t mean we become deity. We will not know everything there is to know, nor will we be all-powerful. We will forever be depending upon the Almighty.
So the saint’s perfection in heaven will be for the most part—the removal of remaining corruption, both spiritual and physical, and the removal of the ability to sin. This perfection will not eliminate the need for development. Christians will continually be expanding, growing, maturing, and learning in heaven.
Therefore, before glorification, to help us grow in our love of Christ, we need to be better aware of how gracious our Lord is to us. The point of Jesus’ parable to Simon the Pharisee was that the more a person understands his or her sinfulness, the more he or she will love the person who forgave them of their sins. Simon was as evil as the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and poured out perfume on Jesus’ feet. The Pharisee just didn’t know it, but the woman knew how much sin was forgiven.
When converted, we think we are terrible sinners. But it isn’t until we have been walking with God for a while do we begin to see how terrible sin is and how deeply it runs through our natures. The more we learn of our utter weakness, the more dependent upon God and His amazing grace we become. In the end, we love more because of the process.
I get concerned when I hear professing believers quip that sometimes they wish they had lived more sinful lives before being saved so that they could appreciate God’s grace more.
Which do you think grieves the Father’s heart more, the sins of a rebel and outcast who hates the King or the rebellion of the King’s child?
“Well,” says one, “can’t God make us know all that the moment we are saved? Isn’t that the whole point of the conviction of sin that we underwent before being saved?” Yes, it is the point of conviction of sin, but to be made to understand and experience grace is not enough to make us absolutely dependent upon grace. When converted, we are saved by grace, but we’re far from living by grace alone.
Which would bring God more glory—saving a sinner and instantaneously perfecting the sinner that he or she will never sin again? Or saving a sinner and allowing him or her to still be able to sin, but with time, change them, so they do not want to sin and instead become more and more like Jesus?
If He saves sinners but leaves their corrupt flesh to remain, then they will, again and again, prove that they did not deserve salvation. The Lord will glorify His grace over and over again that He is a God that mercifully, kindly, tenderly, and patiently forbears with sinners until they enter into a state of perfection.
It is this struggle that reminds us of our sin and teaches our continual need for God’s grace. This is what brings immense glory to the Lord and proves to other sinners that they too could be recipients of such lovingkindness.
Therefore, we too can say with David that it is “good for me that I have been afflicted. . . and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.”
The hymn is a standing favorite and go-to for many in the midst of crisis and, according to 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, it was writer Horatio Spafford’s own agony that equipped him to minister so directly to others in theirs.
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.
Born in 1828 in Troy, New York, Spafford later settled in Chicago where he met and married his wife, Anna. In the late 1860s, Spafford was a prominent attorney who acquired substantial wealth through real estate investments along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
Those investments, however, turned to ash during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, resulting in significant financial loss for the Spaffords.
Two years later, the business and investments were reestablished and Spafford planned for his family a European holiday to coincide with their friend D. L. Moody’s speaking engagement in France. At the last minute, Spafford was detained on business so he sent his wife Anna and their four small daughters ahead to Paris aboard the French luxury liner S.S. Ville du Havre.
Around 2 a.m. on November 22, 1873, the steamship was hit by the iron-hulled Scottish sailing vessel Loch Earn. The Ville du Havre broke in two and sank within 12 minutes. Out of 283 passengers, 57 were saved.
According to reports, Anna Spafford was found unconscious and floating on a piece of debris. She was rescued taken by vessel to Cardiff, Wales, where she cabled Horatio in Chicago with the words, “Saved alone. What shall I do…”
On the voyage to meet Anna in Paris, Horatio was summoned to the Captain’s cabin, where he was told they were passing over the place where the Ville du Havre sank and his daughters drowned. It is said he returned to his cabin and there penned the words we now sing through the fires, floods, and victories of our own lives.
When peace like a river,
Attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot,
Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul
Out of unimaginable tragedy came the words that have become one of the most treasured and influential hymns of all time.
Turbulent waves of anguish and grief have been stilled with the peace-producing words of It Is Well With My Soul as the lyrics push the heart to rest in God’s sovereignty though “sorrows like sea billows roll.” Why is it so meaningful?
This song lifts our hearts to God’s flawless character and into confidence that the Judge of all the earth can do only right. The words remind us that we are no longer our own, we’ve been bought with an enormous price and we can trust our Master. God holds our lot and, because of who He is, His grace enables our hearts to sing “whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say it is well, it is well with my soul.”
“Whatever my lot.” Even if, like Spafford himself, that means being stripped of all we hold dear. To lose everything and still rejoice, think also of the Apostle Paul, going so far to say, “It is well with my soul,” is something that can only be explained by the Gospel.
It doesn’t make sense on the surface, and it is not our natural default setting, but your heart can sing the Gospel in agony and anguish. But how?
How could Spafford write and believe these words?
How can it be well with your soul when you lose three children to shipwreck?
How can it be well with your soul when you lose almost all your financial investments?
How can it be well with your soul when you lose all sense of normalcy in your life?
It can only be well with your soul in the moment of tragedy if your heart is locked on the One who is not only better than your circumstances but has divinely orchestrated them for your highest joy.
Though Satan should buffet,
Though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ has regarded
My helpless estate
And hath shed
His own blood for my soul
It can only be well with your soul in the middle of misery when your hope is found in the regard of Jesus Christ the Righteous. It is that “blessed assurance” which reorients our thoughts and focus and places at center the One who bore our sin and shame thereby enabling us to worship and suffer at the same time.
We suffer with an eternal perspective by remembering the Gospel. We bake our souls in the truth that says Christ has defeated every sin and has shed His own blood for our souls.
We suffer with an eternal perspective by looking to the day when all our pains will be dissolved into gain, all our sorrows will be diffused into eternal joy, all our agonies will be disintegrated into glory, and all our death will be decomposed into resurrection.
We suffer with an eternal perspective when we remember Jesus is the Man of Sorrows who once wore our grief like a garment and now sits at the right hand of the throne of God as our High Priest.
We suffer with an eternal perspective by anticipating when the faith shall be sight and acting on God’s promise to one day completely eradicate sin and all the pain that goes with it.
We suffer with an eternal perspective when we trust Him to sustain us to the end (of all our suffering [1 Corinthians 1:8]).
We suffer with an eternal perspective as we breathe in the blissful reality that Jesus took our sin not in part but the whole and nailed it to the cross, enabling us to praise Him with our whole hearts despite the circumstances around us.
We suffer with an eternal perspective by staking our hearts in the truth that He does all things well, therefore, it is well. And that hope stands firm though the winds and waves try to convince us otherwise.
We suffer with an eternal perspective by finding hope not in this world but in the One who reigns over it and has purchased our passage through it to eternal rest.
But, Lord, ’tis for Thee,
For Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel!
Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed rest of my soul!
It is well.
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Lord, I really want my own house. I want to make a home and get to know my neighbors and have get togethers to reach them with love and the Gospel. I want to have a library and a cute kitchen and slumber parties with my small group girls. I want my home to be a place where people are well loved, well fed, and well treasured. A place where people feel safe, accepted, welcomed, and warm. Where they receive cookies, gratitude, encouragement, love, and the Gospel. Where they can come to relax, to be quiet, to talk, to praise, to read, to cry, to laugh, to sing.
I want a home.
A home not just for me but for my girls,
Lord, in Your time, would You give me a home? A semi-nice one, not for luxury but so more people can squeeze in and be squeezed by Love?
According to Scripture, we do not have anything that hasn’t been given to us from the Lord, and from His Word we know His gifts were not intended to find their eternal home with us. It is clear we have received all we have in order to leverage all we have for the joy of all people and the worship of our Savior (1 Peter 4:10-11).
If our lives, lips, talents, and gifts are to be used for God’s honor, why should our living situation be any different?
How can we use our homes to make God famous? How can we strategically use our dorms, apartments, houses, and yards in such a way as to make God look as good as He is?
The goals of my (future) home are simple. I pray it will be a place of refuge for people to gather, celebrate, weep, struggle, pray, and feast on good food and the Gospel.
What are the goals of your home? Do they line up with the Gospel message? Are they in line with Jesus’ mission? How can we redeem the home from self-itis (selfishness, self-gratification, and all things “mine”) and instead glorify the One who has given us a spiritual and earthly home?
When we remember the Gospel, we see the truth in vibrant color: we are not our own, we have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). In light of that glorious reality, we now live to glorify the One who redeemed us from the curse of sin by employing every resource we have for His exaltation.
Our homes should be a refuge for our own souls but it doesn’t stop there. Because of the Gospel, we see this life is not about us. Therefore, counter-culturally, our homes are not just for us. Do you see your living space as an instrument entrusted to you by God for the purpose of loving Him and loving others?
Because Jesus has paid our debt, we now exist for His glory and the joy of everyone around us, so we are driven to unlock our hearts, doors, and lives to others, ready and eager to share with them the storehouses of God’s grace and kindness.
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. -1 Thessalonians 2:8
Do we extend the Gospel with our lips and lives?
“Be a pipeline not a puddle.”
“Be a fountain not a drain.”
Be a giver of God’s goodness not just a receiver.
Do not hoard the gifts of the Savior as if they were intended for you alone. If God is anything, He is a divine multi-tasker who has given us what we have to be a blessing for others.
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. -1 Timothy 6:17-19
Because I was bought with a price, what I once claimed as “mine” has been laid down before the King who saved me and therefore I am at His disposal to do with as He chooses (as are all my resources). The way my life and home are stewarded should reflect that.
Are we stingy with what we own or do we recognize the gift of the Gospel that reveals the way we have been undeservedly loved and, as a result, equipped to love others and live in the surplus of the Gospel?
Living to impress others is like walking into a prison cell, locking the door, and asking the guard to burn the keys. You’re enslaving yourself.
Love doesn’t seek to impress. Love lays itself bare and serves another, come what may. As Dustin Willis said in Life in Community,
The Gospel says the pressure is off. You’re freed to love people because there’s no need to impress them. You don’t have to give people Disney World every time you open the doors of your home. Give them you.
People don’t need to see the illusion of perfection. That includes the illusion of a perfect soul, personality, or home. You are not Chip and Joanna Gaines. You do not have to give your guests a Magnolia-worthy atmosphere. They don’t need your “perfect” aesthetics. They need Jesus.
No one benefits from seeing perfection unless they are seeing the perfection of Christ. In the Gospel, we have been freed from any lingering pressure to self-promote or appear better than we are. People need to see real, raw, honest faith that repents quickly and welcomes all into the lavish generosity of the Gospel.
Are you laboring with the people God has placed around you? Are you serving and inviting them to your table as a way to glorify the One who invited us to the greatest table of all time?
In a world of words that slice and dice, strive to represent the Word by creating a space where ours are used only to build up, heal, and edify.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. –Proverbs 18:21
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. –Ephesians 4:29
We serve a God who speaks and in whose words contain the power of eternal life. Do our words reflect and point to the Word made flesh?
Making much of the Lord and having open doors can happen regardless of the size of your apartment, dorm, or home. Upon examination, one may realize the one-two punch combo command to “show hospitality without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:8) and to “make disciples ‘as we go’” (Matthew 28:19) is not contingent on a luxurious environment.
Our home is a tool, not a trophy. –Jani Ortlund
Because of what Jesus has done for us, we are to reject any inclination toward selfishness and instead use our homes as catalysts for ministry, creating spaces for retreat and refuge for others to receive the Gospel demonstrated in real life.
It was surreal to think I was in the same area where one of the greatest Old Testament characters was and died. I’ve always wondered about that. Why did God seem so severe with Moses’ indiscretion?
I certainly don’t want to demur the Lord God or insinuate that He has some questions He needs to answer. God doesn’t give an account of Himself to anyone, much less me. But why was Moses not allowed to enter the promise he labored 40 years to achieve? It does make you pause when you think of his illustrious career as a deliverer. He was 80 years old when God called him to redeem the people of God from Egyptian bondage. Moses resisted God’s call as much as he could. He wanted nothing to do with the task. Repeatedly, the people challenged, contested, and rebelled against Moses personally. On a couple of occasions they would have stoned Moses, had not God intervened. Leading hundreds of thousands, if not a million or more, stubborn and unbelieving ex-slaves in a barren wasteland called ‘wilderness’ was not the dream job of any Hebrew man. Here was a person that withstood and brought to its knees one of the greatest civilizations of history. In one of Israel’s rebellions, God had told Moses that He would make a great nation from his descendants. But Moses argued against that privilege, and as a faithful mediator interceded for the deliverance of the people’s sins.
It wasn’t that Moses opposed doing what God told him, but in a moment of anger with the people’s unbelief and constant complaining, he forgot the method God had prescribed to fetch water out of the rock.
He was told to speak to the rock, but having done this once before, Moses did as he had done years earlier: he struck the rock. And even though Moses didn’t do it exactly as God prescribed, the Lord did not withhold the blessing. He still gave plenty of water to the nomadic nation as a gushing fountain poured out of the rock.
After all the sacrifice, hardship, and grief, Moses was not allowed into the land flowing with milk and honey. He had not obeyed the specific instruction and thus failed to glorify God before the people. All of this flooded my mind as I stood there that day on the summit of Nebo. Why not let old Moses into the land? Where was the hope of redemption for Moses? Who was there to intercede and mediate for his sin? There seems no deliverance for the great deliverer.
The lawgiver of Israel could not enjoy the thrill of entering the land, for this reason: Moses represented the Law, and by the Law, there is no hope of entering the promise of God’s rest. The Law could not grant access because the Law brings no one salvation, not even Moses. The Law cannot save; only by grace through faith are we delivered. Redemption is not the work of the Law; it is the work of grace.
For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. –John 1:17
The Bible says if you have kept all the commandments but one, you have violated the entire law. Moses simply did not do what God said and, therefore, he was guilty of breaking all the Law. “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Romans 3:20).
Redemption is by the blood of another, Jesus Christ. He is our Redeemer. But too many of us are not okay with leaving our reclamation totally to someone else. We want Jesus to save us from sin and self and the world. We want Him to rescue us from our problems—sickness, financial ruin, marital storms, rebellious children, stubborn parents, anxiety, and rejection by others. We cry for His help, but His help must come on our terms. Like Moses, we will seek the miracle from the rock, but we will do it our way. Whatever the dilemma we are in, we are not too eager to simply “trust Jesus.” We want Jesus’ power but our control. Yet, the key to redemption, whether the need is liberation from our sin or suffering, is simple faith in our Redeemer.
Once again, Jesus is our Redeemer, or to put it another way, Jesus is our redemption. It is He, and not we, that has done the work of our deliverance. It is not our faith that redeems us but Christ Jesus Himself that redeems His people. Not until we truly believe this can we enjoy the freedom that is ours.
There is only one Redeemer, and He needs no help from us.
What is the essence of redemption? Is it the forgiveness of sin, or is it the prospect of an eternity free of wrath and torment? Surely, both forgiveness and the escape of eternal punishment is involved in redemption; yet redemption exceeds these and takes us to the very heart of God and His presence with us.
If you were kidnapped and held for ransom, then the person who paid your ransom would be your redeemer. The payment would secure not only your freedom from your captors, but it would restore you to the presence of the redeemer. This is the heart of redemption—restoration to the relationships and residence you enjoyed before your abduction.
Sin ripped man away from relationship with holy God and the residence of His glorious presence. While forgiveness is hugely important, it is not the sum of redemption.
The Redeemer loved you and desired your presence with Him. But something held us in captivity and kept us reserved for everlasting judgment. That something was God Himself. His pure justice demanded our separation from Him. We stood barred from the life of God. His goodness, which ended up saving us, was the gatekeeper that turned us away as the cherubim’s flaming sword kept Adam and Eve from the garden.
Redeemer Jesus paid not a kidnapper’s ransom but a prison warden’s required payment to set us free and restore us to Himself. No one abducted us; we voluntary were co-conspirators in the vilest coup in human history. We willfully rejected our Creator and Father and renounced His sovereign goodness. To His justice, we were in debt. To His righteousness, we were marked as prisoners eternally incarcerated.
From the portals of Heaven’s throne room, the Son of God came, “born of a woman, born under the law.” He sought us and His pursuit is called the demonstration of love. Unlike the story of the prodigal son, we did not come to our senses and return to the Father. The real Elder Brother found us and carried us away and brought us to the very throne He left, where He robed us with His righteousness, sealed us with His Spirit, and seated us on His throne.
What was His currency? What would He give to ransom the elect bride? What medium of exchange would He use to satisfy Heaven’s integrity? It was “nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
For my cleansing this I see—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
For my pardon this my plea—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
His life’s blood was traded for our presence with Him, restored in communion and love. We are free to come to Him in full acceptance. We enjoy access to Him; it’s no longer barred or banned. Indeed friendship with Jesus is fellowship divine!
Only God’s grace in the person of our Lord Jesus could lead us out of our bondage and sever the flooded waters that kept us out. He has led us into the paradise of His spiritual presence and will soon bring us over into His physical reality. The redeemed restored to the Redeemer in the land of eternal milk and honey. Oh, what a Savior!
“Excitement for this new chapter filled with opportunities and fulfillment, and fear because this next chapter will last the next 40 years of their life,” he said. “There is a great trepidation of entering the ‘rat race.’”
Though both feelings are valid, Dennis said they must be guided, lest we end up falling into the same pitfalls as the rest of the world.
“Those are the two fallacies we must guard our hearts against lest work becomes either an idol or it becomes utterly toilsome,” Dennis said.
He gives two pieces of advice to do so.
“Fear that excitement and be guarded,” he said. “Be excited for the God-given joy to derive from work, but beware the danger of work becoming your life pursuit. An ambition for earthly greatness and finding self-worth in work has been the downfall of many Christians.”
“Work is frustrating and toilsome, there’s no sugar-coating that,” he said. “The flip side of the temptation to make work an idol is the temptation to think work is meaningless and should be avoided.”
Guard your heart from pursuing freedom from work.
Guide your fear into a realization that work is cursed not a curse.
Invited to a feast, a banquet of epic proportions, to celebrate the greatness of this God who redeemed us from our sin and separation from Him. The festivities have begun and the appetizers are being served so we can taste and see that the Master of Ceremonies is indeed as good as He claims, but we’re not yet to the main celebration.
No, the doors to this eternal marriage supper have yet to fling open and we haven’t been granted full entrance to the reception, but until then we’ve been issued a divine edict and a high privilege.
A few days later, His Spirit exploded on the scene and His followers were given power and authority to bring as many people as possible to the party that will (literally) end all parties.
Jesus enlisted us in this amazing mission, giving the command and the ability to carry it out. What could possibly keep us from joyfully obeying?
Well, as it turns out, lots of things.
When the Gospel is nothing more than a list of facts, we won’t see the need to participate in the mission. We might not even realize or remember the mission is for us.
Do we remember what we’ve been rescued from? Do we remember how Jesus came to us at our darkest and spoke light into our self-built cave of sin and shame?
Not remembering, not having our lives saturated in the truth that saved us, will hinder us from fulfilling Jesus’ command because the importance and urgency will be drowned out by our day-to-day routines.
When we don’t know the Gospel for ourselves and we forget what Jesus has done for us, there is little to no motivation to get into the messes of others in order to snatch them from the fire (Jude 23). But when we remember how Jesus laid aside His dignity and got into our miry pit to lift us out, it propels us to do the same for others so they can know the hope and rescue we’ve been given.
This life on life stuff is no joke.
Discipleship, as Jesus defined and demonstrated, takes work. It would be so much easier to do other things (or nothing) rather than invest in others for the long haul, but Jesus didn’t rescue us from the wrath of God to give us an easy life.
Running the race, fighting the fight of faith, waging war on sin, and pouring our lives into others are action verbs for a reason. When Christ saves us, He doesn’t call us to a passive existence but to an abundant life of activity where we forcefully discard self-gratification (including our inclinations to laziness) and intentionally pursue holiness.
Laziness sets in when we forget that extending party invitations is a joy and privilege, not a depressing duty from a harsh taskmaster. When we remember what the Gospel has done for us and called us to, we will be willing to lay aside our desire for ease and comfort and actively pursue Christ and others for His glory.
“What do you have to offer anyone?”
“You don’t know enough.”
“You’re not equipped for ‘ministry.’”
“If people spend time with you, they’ll see you’re not as holy as you claim to be.”
The lies rattle in our brains with compelling force. And you can be sure of this: Where two or more lies are gathered, fear is there in the midst of them.
Fear hinders disciple making because it’s an anesthetic, a potent tranquilizer that numbs us to our responsibilities and to the truth that God has called, equipped, and will continue to equip us to fulfill His mission.
But fear can also serve us because it exposes where our dependence is.
Fear arises when we imagine everything depends on us. –Elisabeth Elliot
When dependence is on what we can do not what God can do through a jar of clay yielded to Him, our hearts will be tossed to and fro by the turbulent fears. But when we remember the Lord is the One who chose us and has provided all things that pertain to life and godliness, which includes providing the grace necessary to make disciples who make disciples, confidence rises and action will be taken.
Do you believe that when God saved you, He gave you everything you needed for this situation? Your life will reveal what you believe.
The religious answer is “get baptized,” or “ask Jesus into your heart,” or “join the church,” or “keep the sacraments,” or “be good.” These are all forms of performance indicating a works-gospel.
Jesus actually answered the question different ways.
To the Pharisee who came to Him under the cover of darkness, Jesus said, “You must be born again.” The new birth is not something accomplished by the sinner but something given to him or her. The sinner is passive while God does the work of salvation.
To the rich young ruler, Jesus said to sell all that he owned, give the proceeds to the poor, and then tag along with Him. Surely this was something that the young man could do. Jesus called upon activity and not passivity. The question was, would he do it? Would he obey Jesus and give all of his wealth away? Sadly, he didn’t.
The answer is: becoming a Christian requires something to be done to you—“you must be born again,” but being a Christian requires you to do something—be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus said if you are to be a Christian, you must deny yourself, pick up a cross, and follow Him.
But what about Jesus’ answer to the young rich ruler? Did it negate the miracle of regeneration? No, in fact, it did just the opposite. It showed him his need for it. Apart from the new birth, we cannot keep the commandments of God. That was what Jesus was trying to show him. He could not save himself by his works because there was something fundamentally wrong with his heart that would not allow him to trust and obey Christ. Had he believed the Lord’s answer, he would have obeyed.
Thus, to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus, one must experience the gracious activity of God converting the heart, which is to turn it toward righteousness. But that is not the sum of salvation. After regeneration, the new convert can start being and doing what Christ demands. What does He demand? He demands discipleship.
Discipleship is the heartbeat of Jesus’ Christianity. It does not save the Christian, but it is for those whom God has saved. It is not an option. There is no Christian faith without some form of discipleship. For several decades, the churches in Europe and America have not required discipleship as a condition of being a Christian. No longer does Christianity demand discipleship, but we see people remaining in the church without any signs of progress in it. This is so remote from Jesus’ explanation of being His follower.
With the plethora of information on discipleship, you would think we would not need to discuss the definition. Yet, a great deal of confusion exists about the subject. I do believe we see much improvement with a new enthusiasm for discipleship by certain groups. These ministries are going a long way to make the necessary changes in our discipleship paradigms. But it has yet to gain steam and roll through most of conservative evangelicalism.
To understand the New Testament view of discipleship we need to know how discipleship was done in the first century, since this would have been the context of how Jesus defined it. In our Lord’s era, rabbinical discipleship meant more than academics. It was much more than having weekly Bible studies. A rabbi and his pupils would live together for as long as the rabbi deemed necessary. They would eat together, travel together, and study together. There were structured formal times of study, but for the most part, the discipleship process was very informal, and mostly came by the disciple observing the way the rabbi lived.
The relationship of the student to the teacher was so full of respect that the pupil would even walk behind the master. His entire life was in submission to the discipler. That is why the disciples often called Jesus “Master.” It was the title a disciple maker would receive from students and non-students alike.
Another way you could describe first-century discipleship is much like a father/son relationship. The teacher viewed his disciples as sons and he cared for them, provided for them (usually the education was at the rabbi’s expense), and praised or admonished them as a father would a son.
I had the privilege of meeting Jaquelle last year at a writer’s workshop at The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference and my soul immediately connected with hers. She is a light in this generation, full of humility-cloaked wisdom and grace, and a gentle but fierce warrior for the Gospel. Out of the overflow of God’s work in her life, she has written This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years (Crossway, 2017).
And it is a necessary gem for the church.
If you could potentially encounter a teen at some point in your life, you should read it. It’s that important. This is for teens, yes, but also for parents, teachers, and the entirety of the church.
As a youth leader, I’m grateful for Jaquelle’s beautiful heart and her desire to see this generation of teenagers changed and motivated by the only thing worth living and dying for. Within this book, she powerfully speaks truth as a peer, honors her parents who have modeled the Best Story in front of her, and drives readers toward the one thing that will give them eternal incentive to swim against the tides of the culture: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It really does change everything.
Sophie McDonald: Why is it important for teenagers to be involved in a local church? What’s their role and function?
Jaquelle Crowe: The Bible is pretty clear about calling every single Christian to be involved in a local church—and nowhere does it exclude teenage Christians. Teenagers have the same role in the local church as any other Christian—to be servant-members who worship, sacrifice, give, love, fellowship and are held accountable in the context of covenant community. How they actually function will look different because of their age, but it won’t change their fundamental role or position. The church doesn’t have an age limit.
SM: Life for a teenager is primarily a self-focused time (picking colleges, classes, friend groups, activities, etc.); how does the Gospel change that?
JC: Without the Gospel, everyone lives a purely self-focused life, dictated by our own selfish desires, dreams, and motivations. But the Gospel strips us of this idolatry and gives us an identity as submissive slaves to Jesus. For teenagers, He is Lord of our lives now, so in a radical act of counter-culturalism, we pick colleges, classes, friends, activities, and everything with the ultimate purpose of honoring God first and submitting our lives to His word.
SM: You say teenagers don’t have to rebel. Why? Expound on that.
JC: Culture expects teenagers to rebel. It’s become more than just a stereotype; it’s a pervasive assumption. But the Gospel calls teens to submit to Scripture’s expectations, not the world’s. The Gospel actually gives us a reason not to rebel—because we serve a faithful, peace-making God.
SM: How can teenagers join the greater Story and push back the darkness, or, as you say in the book, reject the status quo?
JC: Teenagers face overwhelming pressure and temptation to conform to culture. But the Gospel invites us to join this greater, bigger, happier Story by trusting in the redeeming work of Jesus. Living for this Story means we fight the temptation to be accepted by the world and all that it believes in and choose instead to stand for the truths of the Gospel.