Much More

One study tip that yields great results is to look for repeated words and phrases. Many times the authors of Scripture, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, repeat things for emphasis. But you won’t notice these repeated words or phrases unless you slow down in your Bible reading and read the passage over and over. Then when you find these repeated words and phrases you can stop and meditate, maybe even ask questions about why these words and phrases would be repeated. Let me share how this recently worked with me.

In the mornings before I get out of bed I usually review passages I’ve memorized and recently it was time to review Romans 5. One benefit of memorizing Scripture is it aids in using these study tips I just mentioned. And if you have a chapter of Scripture or maybe a whole Psalm in what I call ‘the back pocket of your mind’, it allows you to at any time and in any place slow down and pay greater attention to what’s in the text.

Much More

The phrase “much more” occurs four times in Romans 5. The first two appear in verses 9 and 10:

“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”

Paul’s style in his epistles is to use logical arguments. Here in verses 9 and 10 he is using an argument to give his readers assurance of their justification, solid confidence that the God they have placed their faith in for salvation will be completely for them until the end. Both of these verses are making a similar argument: since X, much more Y. John Piper says this is “heart-assuring logic” and adds: “If logic was ever set on fire, surely it is in these two verses.” The heart-assuring logic of Romans 5:9-10 is this: If God has done the hardest thing, you can be sure he will do everything else that’s necessary. God did the hardest thing by sending his Son to die while we were his enemies. If he did that, bringing us justification and reconciliation, surely, when he comes to judge the world in wrath at the end of the age, he will save us from that wrath into eternal life with Christ.

The second time these words are repeated is in verses 15-17:

“But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. for the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

Again in this passage, Paul is using similar logic: If X, much more Y. This time he’s comparing the consequences of Adam’s transgression with the results of Christ’s sacrificial death. It’s a given that because of Adam’s sin, people died and death reigned. But do you see here an increase in emphasis to the logical argument? Forgive the use of the words, but I can only think of the word ‘super-size’ to describe it. Here he is saying that there isn’t a one-to-one correspondence between the results of Adam’s sin and the results of Christ’s sacrificial death. It’s not one to one, it’s one to a million! Maybe we could call it the super-sized logic of gospel assurance! Yes, death reigned through the one man Adam, but much more will those who receive the abundance of grace reign in life through Jesus Christ.

The first passage was about giving assurance, but the second passage super sizes our assurance, causing us to wonder at our merciful and gracious God and how great our salvation really is.

Forgetting Love

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory, he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19

I’ve been praying Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 for myself lately. I pray it for others on a regular basis but for some reason I’ve never gotten into a habit of praying it for myself. I’m not sure why. But lately I’ve felt a great need to know the love of God, to really know it, not just know about it. And that’s what Paul is getting at I think.

I love to study and learn. I love to teach others about God. But does this acquiring of knowledge about God lead me to loving him and experiencing his love in return? Or have I forgotten about love in the midst of all my study? Some of us may shy away from talking about experience, as if experience is an enemy of sound doctrine. But I really think they’re friends. Doctrine without experience is dry and dead. Experience without doctrine is disorder and confusion. Good doctrine must inform our experience, and all our experience should be guided by sound doctrine. But if all my study of Scripture and doctrine doesn’t result in any experience of loving God and being loved by him, I’ve truly missed out.

For isn’t this the whole point of the story, the capital ‘S’ story of redemption? The story of redemption told in the Bible is a love story, a rescue mission in which God redeems his people and brings them back to himself. Why? Because he loves them! And he desires our love in return. I fail when I make Bible reading and Bible study a mere exercise in accumulating knowledge about God instead of knowledge of God. And that knowledge of God should ultimately lead me to a greater love for God. Paul proclaims deep truth in Ephesians 1 about God’s unconditional election of his chosen people and to study that takes much time and effort. But if at the end of your study, you’re only left with a great argument for predestination, you’ve missed the point! There are five more chapters in the book! And right in the middle is this powerful prayer. Notice what Paul doesn’t pray for. He doesn’t pray for the Ephesians to be able to defend the doctrine of unconditional election with their friends. No! He asks for God to give them the strength to comprehend what that doctrine points to – the astounding and incomprehensible love of God in Christ!

No amount of study is going to give us this kind of strength. The reason Paul prays this way, and the reason we need to as well is because our comprehension of the love of God is weak. Our understanding is stunted. It seems the love of God is so profound that we need the supernatural help of the Spirit to give us the strength to grasp its meaning.

So in your zeal to know God’s word, don’t forget love. Don’t forget the point of the Story and where we’re headed. We’re headed to a wedding feast. A wedding feast where we’re the beloved Bride and the Lamb of God is our groom.

I think I’ll be praying Paul’s prayer more often now.

Even the Darkness

If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. Psalm 139:11-12

There are times when I’ve wished for complete darkness. When I’ve been forced downstairs to the couch in search of sleep, I realize how bright the night is in my house. The glowing numerals of the oven clock and the piercing blue light emanating from the Internet router silently intrude. And what about the neighbor’s flood light that seems to be on 24/7, shining right into my back windows? Upstairs I’ve solved the problem with blackout curtains. At least in my bedroom I can eliminate almost all sources of light.

As a child I was afraid of the dark, afraid that something sinister lurked under my bed just waiting to grab the stray toe hanging off the edge. But as an adult there’s a different kind of darkness, not literal, but just as scary. It’s one no one seeks and can descend upon us at any time. An uninvited blackout that clouds our hearts and brings despair.

Sometimes this kind of darkness is our own doing. And sometimes it comes as a result of unexpected trials or sickness. When I was deep into chemotherapy, each day seemed like the same long slog. When I looked in the mirror I just saw utter exhaustion. All I could do was tell myself that maybe tomorrow I’d feel better. One night I dragged myself to my chair in the bedroom hoping to live stream a concert featuring an old college friend. I thought it would bring light and hope, but I didn’t even have the energy to try to log on.

It was in those moments where I saw no light and tricked myself into believing the next day would be better and brighter. Was it? Sometimes. But just as often it wasn’t. One day I received an unexpected message from an acquaintance who had battled cancer. He said it can very lonely. Indeed. This kind of darkness was very lonely.

It doesn’t matter how you find your way into darkness. You may be suffering with chronic pain. You may have succumbed to the same sin over and over and now realize you’ve backed yourself into a dark corner with no conceivable way out. You may just be under a heavy cloud of despair, unsure where it’s come from. Whatever it is, wherever it’s come from, you can take courage that God sees your situation from a different perspective. He sees through the darkness and he sees you. The lack of light in your situation doesn’t hinder God’s eyesight. It has no bearing whatsoever. Nothing is hidden from him. He can see right to the bottom of your circumstances and into the depths of your heart.

He also understands the loneliness and despair darkness can bring. How can I say that? Consider this: the God of Psalm 139, for whom nothing is dark, sent his only Son to the Cross to experience the ultimate darkness. In pouring out his wrath on Christ, the Father turned his face away. This kind of darkness is described in Psalm 88 and I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus had these words in mind as he experienced the loneliness of the crucifixion: “You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.” Psalm 88:18 The One whom John called “the true light” experienced the darkness of separation from his Father for our sakes, for our salvation.

We’re afraid of the darkness because of what we can’t see, because of how it makes us feel lost and lonely. But God is never blind and never lost. There is nothing blocking his vision. He knows exactly where we are and the path we’re taking. And Jesus experienced a greater darkness so we would forever live in his light. So remember and take heart that even in our greatest darkness, God sees us and God cares. It cannot hinder him and will never separate us from his love.

Trust him, even in the darkness.

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A Picture of Not Abiding

“Abide in me, and I in you…” John 15:4

The concept of abiding has always seemed hazy to me. I, like many others, like things to be laid out in steps. That way I’ll know if I’m progressing, if I’m moving toward the goal. But abiding is about a relationship and relationships aren’t like building Ikea furniture. Step by step directions and checklists won’t suffice because relationships are organic things. But still, how does one exactly do this thing called abiding? Is there a way to see if we’re swinging wide of the mark?

Sometimes when we don’t understand a word, we can gain insight by looking at its opposite. To abide means to remain in a place, so the opposite would be to depart that place. Jesus specifically commands his disciples to abide in him, so to not abide would mean to depart from Jesus. If we then think more deeply about the metaphor of the vine and the branch, we realize that to abide in Christ is to remain attached to our life source. To not abide in Christ would mean we’re seeking nourishment elsewhere. And when he elaborates in verse 7 by saying this: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will done for you,” we understand that a major part of our nourishment comes from immersing ourselves in the Word. So if we neglect the Word of God, there’s a good chance we’re not abiding. That’s a good start but I wanted more understanding.

The other day I was hiking on a local trail, meditating on this some more. I began to wonder whether there were any examples in the Bible of a person who didn’t abide. My mind went to Luke 15 and the parable of the prodigal son.

Most of us know this story and could retell it without much help. It’s a beautifully redemptive story of a young son who rejects his father and squanders his inheritance on immoral pursuits. Only when he’s left destitute, feeding pigs, does he come to his senses and return home. To his surprise and astonishment, his father has been looking out over the horizon for him this whole time and receives him back with lavish amounts of grace.

We rightly love that story, but what about the older son? Here is where I think we get a picture of what it might look like to not abide. See if you agree with me.

First, read these words again from Luke 15:

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

Remember that this is the climax of three separate parables in Luke 15. And why did Jesus tell these parables? We’re told the reason in Luke 15:2. The Pharisees were grumbling at the fact that Jesus was associating with tax collectors and sinners, the lowest of the low. Jesus responds by telling them three stories with the same redemptive theme – the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. It’s only at the end of the last parable, the last of these stories about something or someone being saved, that Jesus adds another character, and draws a comparison between this older son and the Pharisees. So what do we see and how might it paint a picture of not abiding?

The father has just made a fool of himself rejoicing over his lost son and proceeds to throw him an extravagant banquet. But where is the older son? Doesn’t he know the good news? No. He is in the fields. He’s in the wrong place. Shouldn’t he have been with his father, concerned over his younger brother, waiting and hoping for his return? His heart is in the wrong place too. He doesn’t share his father’s affections. Only someone who has hardened their heart would react in anger to the news of the return of their lost brother who was considered as good as dead.

We see more evidence of this hardness when the father comes out to his older son to entreat him to come to the banquet. Notice the merciful beseeching of the father! But it’s to no avail. His response to his father’s entreaties reveals a self-righteous heart and a grave misunderstanding of what a relationship with the father is all about. He thinks his works are deserving of merit, that his relationship with the father is a quid pro quo – he’s done a good job all this time, so why didn’t he earn a banquet? But his father shows him his error. His relationship to his father was always secure and everything the father has already belonged to him. It had always been about grace!

By finishing the story like this, Jesus reveals the true heart of the Pharisees and I believe gives us a picture of someone who had failed to abide. If the Pharisees had been abiding in God and had truly understood his Word, then they would have had the same affection for sinners as Jesus. But they were like the older son, unable to rejoice in the free offer of salvation to the most undeserving.

If the Pharisees had been abiding, they would have realized that their source of life and righteousness came from God, not their works. But like the older son, they thought their works made them deserving of the blessings and salvation of God, when all along, it was only ever about grace.

If the older brother is a good example of not abiding, we see that someone can look like they’re doing the right things, when all along there is no relationship. For the branch to continue in the vine and bear fruit, it must get its nourishment from the vine. It’s silly to think that a branch can produce fruit apart from drawing life from its source. But we do this all the time when we seek to find life in other things but Christ.

I think I have a much better understanding now of what it means to abide. Do you?

Glance Then Gaze

“So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16

My body has been through the proverbial wringer for almost a year now. It started in earnest back in November when I had a lumpectomy to remove what we thought were only two tumors. It turned out there were five plus cancer in the lymph nodes. What I and my doctors thought would be pretty straightforward got a lot more complex. Since then I’ve been through four months of chemotherapy and then two weeks ago a double mastectomy. In about five weeks I’ll start a course of radiation. Sometime next year I’ll have reconstructive surgery.

I never thought I was a vain person until I got breast cancer. And while I am doing very well and it looks like I will soon be cancer free, the body I’d always lived in as a woman has changed significantly. I’ve been a long distance runner for almost fifteen years and that exercise has kept me fit and able to eat pretty much anything I’ve wanted. But in 2022 there’s been very little exercise, no meeting up with friends before dawn to do an easy 6 miles, no ability to strength train, no marathon training plans. Chemotherapy made my hair fall out and not just on my head. As I looked in the mirror each day I was confronted with a face without eyebrows and eyelashes. It also threw me into early menopause and as a result the pounds started creeping up as I was weighed weekly before infusions.

As my body changed I finally realized how much I was examining and judging what I saw in the mirror, how often I weighed myself, and how I used those things to measure my own worth. Even during my battle with cancer, I couldn’t stop being hard on the person staring back at me. I had been blind to it for so long because it was easy to stay at a weight that was acceptable in my eyes. To look at me, you probably wouldn’t notice, but that doesn’t mean this sin of vanity didn’t grip as tight, asking me to serve the image I gazed at in the mirror or the number I saw on the scale.

God has helped me grow ever so slowly in contentment as I’ve waged this battle against vanity and the pride that goes along with it, but the thought of the double mastectomy tempted me to fear. It seems silly, but I wasn’t really fearing the surgery or the pain or even the cancer! I was more anxious and fearful about what my body would look like when it was over. How would I react when I looked down?

Before I was wheeled into the operating room, one of the pastors at our church and a dear friend came to pray with me and my husband. As he prayed I was struck by two words that he used: glance and gaze. He was praying for me to have an eternal perspective. But God used those words like a scalpel to my soul. Those two words – glance and gaze – have become a new tool in this fight against vanity and taking pride in how I look.

Glance at your body, but gaze into the face of Christ. Glance at your incisions as they heal but gaze at the scars in his hands and his side which brought an even greater and deeper healing. If we gaze intently at our bodies but only glance at Christ, we will be distracted by our many flaws and be left with disappointment. But if we gaze at Christ while only glancing at our bodies, we will be transfixed by his perfect love and never be put to shame.

As women we are so tempted to gaze intently at our bodies as they age, and some strive against time to make themselves look younger. But it’s a fruitless task, a losing battle. But gazing at the Lord and looking intently at his glory is no fruitless task. When we look wonderingly at his perfections we do change, just not in a way that can be seen in the mirror or measured on a scale. The mirror and scale only reflect and measure the shell that is our physical body, the part of us that will soon return to dust. But the very real part of us, the part that is eternal, is on the inside. The Bible calls it the inner man. And as we spend more time fixing our eyes on Christ, and on the things that are eternal, this inner man is renewed and gets stronger even as the outer shell that is our body wastes away.

Being His

“Know that the Lord, he is God. It is he who made us and we are his. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture.” Psalm 100:3

Many today speak the language of expressive individualism, though they don’t realize it. Phrases like ‘you do you’ and ‘follow your heart’ come from a philosophy that says the most important thing for you to do as a human being is to find your deepest self and then express that fully to the world. Many feel this is the epitome of freedom. But I beg to differ.

I believe real freedom is found in knowing who we are and whose we are. In Genesis 1, God creates the world and everything in it. The pinnacle of his creation is man. Men and women are unique in all creation because we are created in the image of God.

“So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.” Genesis 1:27

Only mankind was created in this way. Only men and women were created to have a personal relationship with their Creator. Only men and women were given the divine mandate to be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the earth. Trees are not made in God’s image and neither is your golden retriever. Only mankind was given this privilege. But the further we move away from God, the more we forget where we’ve come from and what our purpose is. No wonder many in our culture feel pressured to define themselves and find their own unique purpose.

But they’re looking in the wrong place.

Most look within themselves to find meaning and purpose, but if we are creatures, then we have a Creator, and it would make sense to look to him for the meaning and purpose we long for.

The Lord is God

Psalm 100:3 urges us to know something. To know that the Lord is God. Do we really need a reminder of this? Yes! If we see in our hearts and lives a consistent tendency to look inside ourselves or out in the world for meaning and purpose, then we have forgotten that the Lord is God. If you look closely in your Bible, the word Lord is in all caps – LORD. Only the Hebrew word Yahweh is written this way. Yahweh is the exclusive covenant name of the only true and self-existent God, the God who revealed himself to Moses as I AM. We are to grasp the truth of this with our whole being. The LORD is God. Only him. Not us and not anyone or anything else.

So how does that knowledge help us as we seek meaning and purpose? It gives us the starting point and it simplifies the issues. If the LORD is God then he alone sets the terms. If the LORD is God, then we should be paying attention to him. I encourage you to take some time to meditate on this truth – the LORD is God.

He Made Us

The next thing we learn from Psalm 100:3 is where we come from. He made us. We are not self-generated. Genesis 2:7 describes how God made Adam: “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Psalm 139 puts it beautifully saying, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” What is so special about these passages is how intimate the Lord is in his creation of human beings. He intentionally breathes life into us and deftly knits us together.

Those who create do so with forethought and purpose. They take care to design their creation to function perfectly and properly. Instead of aimlessly looking around or within yourself for purpose, look to your Creator and his Word. A tree and a golden retriever live most fully and freely when they live according to how they’ve been created. The same is true for us.

We are His

My daughter is an artist, and when she creates a piece of artwork, she signs it. Her signature on a painting means something. It means she’s the author and the owner. In the same way God, as our Creator, stamps us with his image, and declares his ownership. Psalm 100:3 says that we are his. We belong to him. Even those who’ve turned away from God, denying his existence, belong to him because at the end of the ages they will have to stand before him and give an account. But those who know God and are known by him not only have meaning and purpose, but they have joy and freedom knowing to whom they belong. And he is a good God. The one who created us takes care of us. Verse 3 says we are the sheep of his pasture. It’s not hard to go from there right to John 10 and Jesus’ words about being the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

Unlike the spirit of this age which says the only way to find freedom is to look within, I say look up. Look up to your Creator. Know him, wonder in the knowledge that he created you and if you place your faith in his Son, you belong to him. Knowing that we are his brings real meaning, real purpose, and true freedom.

Putting Off and Putting On

“But that is not the way you learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:20-24

This isn’t the only passage that speaks of our part in the sanctification process as a putting off and putting on. Colossians 3:9-14 says that those who are in Christ have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self which is slowly being renewed to be like our Creator. And Romans 13:14 parallels those passages by urging us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.

But why does Paul use language that remind us of clothing, words that make us think of putting off or putting on an outfit? I think it’s a helpful word picture considering our in between state as we live in this world and wait for the next. While we are in this flesh, there will always be tattered vestiges of our old selves, sins and habits that continue to cling to us. Rich Mullins sang, “It’s hard to be like Jesus,” and these exhortations from the New Testament underscore that fact. While we live here, on this earth, we are not what we once were, but we’re also not what we will be. God is slowly renewing us by the power of the Spirit, but we also cooperate in this process by actively putting off what belonged to our old man and putting on what belongs to the new. If you’ve been full of malice or anger or envy, put it off like you would a foul smelling shirt, and instead put on kindness, forbearance and love.

But this isn’t the only place in the Bible where we read about clothing. Way back in the garden, after the fateful deed, Adam and Eve sought in vain to clothe themselves. They thought fig leaves could cover up their sin. But God knew; he could see through that inferior attire. God also provided a better covering by making them garments of skins. He shed the blood of animals to provide for them better clothing, pointing forward to an even better covering – the blood of Christ.

Sometimes I can get discouraged as I seek to practice this putting off and putting on. Some of the habits of my old man just won’t stay off. Instead, they continue to cling awkwardly like that fabric softener sheet I’ve forgotten about. But it helps to remind myself that the old man and his clothing doesn’t define me, like a team jersey. It will soon fall off for good and someday I will be fully and gloriously clothed. Looking forward to that day, Isaiah described our future outfit:

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
    my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
Isaiah 61:10

Let’s persevere by the Holy Spirit’s power to keep putting off the old and putting on the new. For soon and very soon, we will be clothed forevermore with the bright and shining garments of salvation.

Prayer is Hard

I’ve been struggling in prayer lately. I’ve needed sleep and I haven’t been getting nearly as much as I would like. Chemotherapy forced me into early menopause and the resultant side effects, especially hot flashes, have conspired to rob me of the rest I so desperately want. I have prayed often for God to give me that gift of an unbroken eight hours’ sleep, only to feel somewhat betrayed as I lay in bed for hours waiting to fall asleep or wake up multiple times in the middle of the night with another hot flash. Others have prayed for me, and I’ve tried multiple sleep supplements, but it hasn’t gotten much better. As a result, I’ve been reluctant to ask for this request anymore. It seems that the answer right now is no.

So what do you do when your prayers seem to go unanswered? Prayers for good things. Not just for sleep during cancer treatment, but for things that are more important, like the salvation of loved ones and friends? How many of us have prayed for decades for people to be saved and seen little evidence of God working?

If I’m really honest, unanswered prayer makes me impatient, like someone who’s tempted to kick the vending machine when they don’t get what they paid for. Questions and doubts about God’s character and his intentions can pile up in the deep recesses of my spirit and make it really hard to bring these requests to the Lord, again and again and again. Why is prayer so hard sometimes?

Life is hard. This truth seems obvious when we look around and within, but I think we all want to deny it. We’re all tempted to create a safe space for ourselves in this world, a little temporary utopia where everything matches up completely with our desires, but when that gets shattered by lost jobs, broken cars and cancer, we’re jolted. We wake up every day expecting normalcy, not realizing that normal doesn’t exist in this world that’s been polluted by sin.

In this broken world, peace and sunshine are the exceptions, not the rule. We should take Jesus at his word – “In this world you will have trouble…” John 16:33 Trouble is the default and trouble affects all aspects of our lives – physically, relationally, and spiritually. Just because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean I’m immune to the trouble, both in my sleep and in my prayer life.

We have faulty understanding. Proverbs 3:5 would not warn us against leaning on our own understanding unless that was what we were so prone to do. We are so prone to operate out of what we think is right, what we think God should do. We need a constant reminder that our understanding is defective, narrow, and inaccurate. By contrast, Isaiah 40 teaches us that no one has known the mind of the Lord and his understanding is unsearchable. So when our prayers go unanswered, at least according to our understanding, we need to press pause and remember our limitations. We don’t know everything God knows and even if we’re certain that what we’re asking for is good for us in that moment (like sleep), we don’t understand how God may be working through these hard things now for a greater good later on. And not just for ourselves. Joseph, after being sold as a slave and spending years in prison, was able to tell his brothers at the end of Genesis that the evil they did to him, God used for good. But he only saw that after many years.

We don’t rely on the Spirit. One big lesson I’m learning about prayer right now is to rely on the Spirit, to pray in the Spirit. What does that mean? Charles Spurgeon said it means to pray with the Spirit’s power, guided by his desires. It’s to pray with fervency, perseverance, sincerity, love and faith. But most of all, to pray in the Spirit is to pray in humble dependence. A lot of people have prayer journals or lists of people to pray for. I also use something like that. But if we’re not careful those lists can just become another box to check and if we get through the list we feel good about ourselves. What if, before we even started praying, we acknowledged our weakness and inability to know how to pray properly? What if we asked humbly for the Spirit’s help in praying, for his power and wisdom as we bring that unsaved loved one before him again? What if, as I ask yet again for sleep, I also asked for the Spirit’s help to persevere and trust that God is still good, that he loves me as his beloved child, that he is not at all like a vending machine, and is still very much with me supplying everything I need even if I again wake multiple times in the night?

A couple weeks ago I was reflecting on Romans 8 and what impacted me was the reality that this world is groaning under the weight of sin, waiting to obtain freedom. And we groan along with it as we wait for our redemption to be complete. Groaning is normal. And it affects our prayer lives. But what’s amazing is what comes after that passage. In the groaning we have help. We have someone who groans along with us!

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

Prayer is hard, but we have help. We have a perfect high priest, the Lord Jesus, who ever lives to intercede for us, and we have a wonderful counselor and helper, the Holy Spirit, who mercifully groans along with us when we don’t know how to pray. And we can be confident that with this kind of help, all things will work together for our good. Indeed, after Jesus told his disciples about the troubles they would have in this world, he reassured them by saying, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

The Sweetness of Being in the Body of Christ

I’ve finally been able to go back to church after months of chemotherapy treatments kept me at home. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I went back a few weeks ago. Our church has done an amazing job since the pandemic of streaming the worship services online, and while I was definitely blessed to have that, there is a lot more to being in the body of Christ than watching a worship service every Sunday. Some of the most important things cannot be replicated through a screen. The two I’m thinking of are fellowship and the Lord’s Supper.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

The body of Christ is meant to be a ‘one another’ kind of gathering where we are called to love one another, encourage one another, forbear with one another, and forgive each other. You can’t do that through a screen. What was interesting to me during my time away from church was how awkward I felt going back. I had been living in an isolated way only for a short time, but that isolation had an effect on me. I was away from the body so I had lacked that ‘one another’ nourishment the body gives to all its members. A Christian isolated from the body of Christ starts to atrophy just like any body part that has its blood supply, its life, cut off.

I know that many have been praying for me throughout my cancer journey. I read the comments on Caring Bridge and have kept all the sweet cards I’ve received in the mail. But what has been far more impactful and life giving has been to see these prayer warriors in person and grasp their hands as they tell me again and again of their consistent prayers on my behalf. This past Sunday I just happened to sit in the same pew as a long time friend, a widow who used to babysit my children 20 years ago, a dear one who I know has been praying constantly for me. Getting a hug from her was like getting an instant infusion of encouragement and strength. I didn’t want to let go! The body of Christ, my local body of believers, is breathing life back into me by their words and handshakes and hugs.

The body of Christ also has rituals that help it remember together and reflect. Our church celebrated the Lord’s Supper a few times while I was confined to my home, and while they encouraged us to use crackers and juice in order to participate, I never felt properly prepared, and taking it on my own would have felt a bit empty segregated from the rest of the body. It was such a joy then to be able to take the Lord’s Supper this past Sunday, with my spiritual family, and be handed the elements by my friend who gave me that hug. Sitting with the whole body of Christ, singing with one another and then remembering together the sacrifice of our Lord was truly special and something I’m so happy to be experiencing again.

We truly are one body, and cannot function on our own. When you’ve been forced to be physically away from the body for a long period of time, coming back together is especially sweet. I pray I never take it for granted.