Lesser Known Saints: Onesiphorus

“You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me – may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day! – and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.” 2 Timothy 1:15-18

This is the third in my series of posts on lesser known saints, those mentioned in Paul’s letters who so often go overlooked. I wrote about Epaphroditus here and Epaphras here. Today I want to talk about Onesiphorus. While it may be difficult to pronounce or spell his name, it’s not hard to see how he lived up to its meaning. Onesiphorus means “bringing profit.”

2 Timothy is the last letter Paul wrote before he died. He’s writing from a prison cell in Rome. In the letter, he talks of several people by name who have deserted him, but Onesiphorus stands in stark contrast. Paul pronounces a blessing of mercy upon his friend who was determined to serve and refresh the one who had brought the gospel, the message of mercy, to him and his household in Ephesus.

What does it mean to refresh others? It means to give rest and to restore strength. Onesiphorus often refreshed Paul and wasn’t ashamed of his chains. Why would others be ashamed? Perhaps they saw Paul’s chains as a sign of weakness or were afraid of the risks Paul took in proclaiming the gospel. Whatever the reason, Onesiphorus didn’t care. He didn’t let the indignity of Paul’s situation deter him from serving him in a way that gave him rest. We’re not told specifically what this service was but whatever he did, it eased Paul’s burdens and made his struggle more bearable.

And do you notice his courage and commitment? Keep in mind that Onesiphorus had to travel from Ephesus to Rome. The trip itself would’ve been filled with potential peril. But then Paul says that when Onesiphorus arrived in Rome, he sought for him earnestly until he found him. What must it have been like to search earnestly for a prisoner in Rome? A Christian prisoner for that matter? I’m sure that task also involved great risk and difficulty. Onesiphorus showed an enormous amount of commitment in seeking out his friend who was condemned to die. In good times and in bad, he stuck with Paul.

This little passage is a great example of sacrificial gospel friendship. I pray that I can be that kind of friend to others and, in my own hour of need, that I will have such friends.

Groaning in Hope

One of the reasons why I love memorizing Scripture is that in reviewing a passage, God many times graciously reveals more truth. The Spirit gives more light. This morning I was on the treadmill reviewing Romans 8. This is a passage many Christians are familiar with. Allow me to share my reflections on Romans 8:19-27.

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”

Have you ever considered that the creation itself is longing for something? Of course, the creation isn’t a person. But in this passage the creation is waiting. The creation is longing with an eager anticipation. For what? For the revealing of the sons of God.

“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

The creation encompasses not just natural things – mountains, trees, oceans – but everything in creation. The natural state of things is brokenness and decay, chaos and disorder. The struggle we all face every day is to put things back in order again. Cars break, children disobey, earthquakes occur and wars break out. This passage is emphasizing the desire of the whole creation to be set free from its corruption. Sin didn’t just infect and pollute the human heart.

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

Do you know this? Do you know that throughout the entirety of human history the creation has been groaning like a woman in the pains of childbirth? What does that look like? Any woman knows that labor pains come in waves, they intensify and then dissipate. This is why it’s so important to know history. The graph of history isn’t linear, it’s more cyclical, with each cycle gaining intensity like a woman’s contractions.

“And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Just like the creation, we groan as well. No one denies this. We are all burdened with the troubles and sufferings of this world. But don’t miss this! This is what God showed me this morning and caused my face to light up as I ran on the treadmill. There is a glorious flip side to our groaning – we groan in hope! If this world was all we had to look forward to, we would be in a sad state, but focus on this – we have the firstfruits of the Spirit – and that causes us to wait eagerly for something glorious as we groan.

What are firstfruits? In an agrarian society, they are the first indication of a future harvest. We have the firstfruits of the Spirit, a down payment that guarantees a future reality and a future glory, a freedom from the corruption of sin that affects the creation and our earthly bodies.

Are we only focused on the groaning? Is our experience of the daily decay of this corrupt world the only thing we’re focusing on? Beloved, don’t let that be your experience. Remember the glorious flip side to our groaning. We groan in hope of future glory. This is what sets us apart from the unbelieving world. Let us be honest about the hardships but just as sure of the promised future glory.

But there’s more. The Holy Spirit himself helps 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.”

Are you only familiar with these verses in relation to prayer? This has been my experience too, but do you see how the broader context makes such a difference in our understanding? The key word is this – likewise. That connects these verses about the Holy Spirit to our groaning and waiting. We are weak, we are burdened and groaning. Sometimes we just don’t know what to pray. But the Holy Spirit comes alongside us! He intercedes for us. He groans with us. That is grace. And in that gracious intercession we can be confident, because he always intercedes for us according to the will of God.

We are all groaning, but as believers, we alone can groan in eager expectation of that future glory, confident that the Spirit himself is closer than we know, praying along with us and for us.

Lesser Known Saints: Epaphras

This is the second post in my series about lesser known believers mentioned in Paul’s epistles. Today I want to talk about Epaphras. He is not to be confused with Epaphroditus mentioned in Philippians. I wrote about him here. Epaphras is introduced in the following passages in Colossians:

“just as you learned it [the gospel] from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.” Colossians 1:7-8

“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.” Colossians 4:12-13

He then is mentioned at the end of Philemon:

“Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you…” Philemon 23

First, Paul calls Epaphras a faithful minister, a servant of Christ Jesus. The Greek word for minister is diakonos, from which we get our word deacon. In certain denominations, a deacon has come to mean something different than what it actually is. If you grew up in some Southern Baptist circles, the deacons were the decision makers, they were the ‘yes men’ surrounding the pastor. This is not the original meaning of the word. A deacon is a minister who serves. He cares for the needs of the church of God. Notice the object of Epaphras’ service – he is a faithful minister on their behalf, working hard for them. He isn’t working for his own sake. He does not desire power or a platform. His goal is to serve the needs of the saints. The first need they have is to be taught. Paul describes how Epaphras taught the Colossians the gospel. And this gospel Epaphras taught was bearing wonderful fruit in them. They truly understood the grace of God and their love and faith was evident to all. Epaphras had made that known to Paul and the others.

We also see that Epaphras shared in the risks of the gospel. In Philemon we learn that he is a fellow prisoner with Paul. Just as Paul risked his life in bringing the gospel to others, Epaphras is following Paul’s example and incurring the same risk. They both have the same goal, which Paul states in Colossians 1:28 – “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”

Epaphras worked for the good of others, teaching them and suffering on their behalf. But there’s even more to this man. At the end of Colossians we learn another characteristic of a faithful servant and minister of the gospel. Remember, Epaphras was in prison with Paul when this letter was written. So he is not with the saints he has been ministering to and serving. What does he do while absent from them? He continues to serve them by praying for them. Paul was a witness to and participant in these prayers and it’s plain that Epaphras learned how to pray from Paul. In this little verse, Colossians 4:12, we learn that the substance and strength of his prayers align perfectly with Paul’s. His aim in praying for the Colossians was that they would stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God, just like it says in Colossians 1:28. His prayers were full of the kind of Pauline language we see in the beginning of the letter:

“…that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father…” Colossians 1:9-12

The strength of his prayers also match Paul’s. Distance hasn’t cooled their fervor. He struggles in prayer on their behalf. The Greek word for struggle means to strive and toil, to contend as with an adversary, to compete so as to win a prize. In Colossians 2, Paul tells them how much he has struggled on their behalf, and on behalf of all he has not seen face to face. In Romans 15:30, he appeals to the saints to strive together with him in prayer on his behalf.

Paul regarded prayer as hard work and Epaphras has yoked himself with the great apostle and learned how to compete in prayer for the souls of the saints. I am convicted and encouraged when I ponder the example of Epaphras. What is the substance of our prayers for others? Do we struggle in prayer on their behalf? Do we even know our fellow saints well enough to be able to do this? Struggling and toiling on behalf of others in prayer presupposes a certain depth of relationship. How deep are our relationships?

These are questions certainly worth pondering as we look at the example of Epaphras. Like Epaphroditus, we see another co-laborer of Paul’s learning the ways of Christ at his side, and emulating his example. This is pure discipleship, working and praying side by side for the furthering of the gospel in the lives of others.

Lesser Known Saints: Epaphroditus

We are all familiar with the giants of the New Testament, the apostles like Paul, Peter, John and others. But what about the lesser known saints? You know the ones I’m talking about. These are the ones usually mentioned at the end of Paul’s letters, the parts of the letters we tend to gloss over, the parts we certainly don’t memorize. These are the ones whose names we struggle to pronounce. Who are they? I think we can learn a lot from them, even if our knowledge is limited. In these series of posts, I want to highlight a handful of these obscure believers.

In comparing the New Testament epistle writers, Paul takes much more time mentioning his friends and co-laborers, and in only a few words, much is communicated. These verses might not be pregnant with doctrine, but they are certainly pregnant with example. And example is important for us, as Paul says in Philippians 3:17-18:

“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.”

Let’s start with Epaphroditus. He gets a prominent mention in the middle of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

“I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.” Philippians 2:25-30

If we’re brutally honest, this may be a passage we skim over to get to the ‘good stuff’ in Philippians 3. But I think there’s a lot here and that’s why it’s included. Remember that all of it is God’s word and is profitable. (2 Timothy 3:16)

So what can we see right off the bat? First, Epaphroditus was a brother of Paul, not biologically of course, but spiritually. They are fellow believers and so brothers in the faith. He’s also a fellow worker in the gospel. But not just a worker, but a fellow soldier. The word soldier is only mentioned a few other times in the New Testament in reference to another person. In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he encourages his child in the faith to endure suffering as a good soldier of Christ. In Philemon, Paul mentions Archippus in his greeting as a fellow soldier. Paul mentions many as fellow workers but only a few as fellow soldiers. Does this have to do with suffering? Maybe so, and we learn more about how Epaphroditus has suffered in the remaining verses.

But before we can talk about the suffering of Epaphroditus, we need to figure out what he was doing in the work of the gospel. Remember the circumstances of Paul. He was in prison, in Rome, without a way to support himself. So he is dependent on other people and other churches to supply his needs. The church in Philippi has sent Epaphroditus to help. If you look at a Bible atlas, you can see the distance between Philippi and Rome. It wasn’t easy travel, even in the days of the Roman Empire and their extensive network of roads. So Epaphroditus is taking a great risk in bringing these gifts of the Philippian church to Paul.

Going back to verse 25 we learn that Paul is sending him back to the Philippians. He has fulfilled his mission, he has supplied Paul with the gifts the Philippians had sent. But look at verse 26. Here we learn more about the suffering Epaphroditus has endured. He has been ill, and very ill at that. But is he worried for his health? No! He is concerned because the Philippians were concerned about him. Here we learn of Epaphroditus’ great love for the body of believers to which he belongs. He has been longing for them.

Then in verse 28, Paul says he is eager to send Epaphroditus back to Philippi and instructs them to honor such men because he nearly died in his service to him, which was above all a service to Christ.

So in only six verses we learn a lot about this man. We learn that his identity is rooted in the gospel in two key ways. First, he is invested in gospel relationships. He is a part of the church, the family of faith. He is called a brother. He is dearly loved by Paul and by his fellow believers back in Philippi. It’s obvious that he has invested much time in building relationships. In reading a little between the lines, we can deduce that this man is a man of humility. He isn’t so much concerned about his own life, but about the worry his illness is causing his fellow brothers and sisters. His life is an example of obedience to Paul’s admonitions in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Second, he is invested in gospel work. He doesn’t just believe in the message of the gospel, he is invested in the mission, at the risk of his life. He knew of and maybe had witnessed Paul’s own example of suffering for Christ, (see Acts 16), and so was motivated to do the same. Someone needed to get these gifts from Philippi to Rome, and I can imagine Epaphroditus being the first to raise his hand.

If you look at the book of Philippians as a whole you can see why Paul chose to highlight the life of Epaphroditus. There had been doctrinal problems in the church, but also relational strife. We learn a little about that in the beginning of chapter 4. When you read the whole book in light of the relational strife going on, you see Paul pointing out several different examples for the Philippians to follow. He mentions himself in chapter 1 and how he is not bothered by others’ selfish motivations in preaching the gospel. In chapter 2 he exhorts them to be unified and humble and uses the Lord Jesus as a powerful example. But then he points out an example closer to home, their own brother Epaphroditus. This is the kind of man he wants them to keep their eyes on. Paul calls on the Philippians to imitate not just him but others like him. Like Epaphroditus.

Epaphroditus serves as a great example for us as well, an example we should seek to imitate. Are we invested in gospel relationships, the kind of relationships that are committed to growing in the knowledge of God and love for each other? Are we invested in gospel work? Are we willing to take risks and suffer for Christ?

Seek to imitate this lesser known saint, Epaphroditus, even if you struggle to pronounce his name. You also might want to open your eyes to those lesser known saints around you, those who might not have a prominent platform, but certainly have a powerful example. Seek to imitate them. Better yet, seek to live a life worthy of being imitated.

Waiting is God’s Tool

As we read through the story of Scripture it’s not long before we encounter someone who is called to wait. Abraham and Sarah had to wait 25 years for the promised Isaac to be born. The children of Israel waited hundreds of years to be redeemed from their bondage in Egypt. David had to wait for years until he became king, all the while eluding Saul’s wrath in the wilderness.

Waiting is all too familiar, and our default position as fallen human beings is to seek to avoid it. We come up with all kinds of ways to do things more efficiently. We want to avoid delay and discomfort. Any parent who’s taken their children on an extended road trip has heard the whining question from the backseat, “Are we there yet?”

As a result, we quantify waiting as a bad thing. And in the Christian life, we can come to a mistaken conclusion that it’s a punishment, or the result of not enough effort on our part. Something must have gone wrong because I didn’t receive things when I expected. Did I not pray enough? What about fasting? How many times have I had these questions as I pray again for that unsaved loved one?

“Why have I been waiting decades God? Have I done something wrong?”

Waiting is not a punishment though, just like receiving something immediately is not an indication of some kind of merit. Any responsible parent knows this from experience. So I think we need to recalibrate our thinking and look at how God sees waiting. What is he doing in the interim?

I believe waiting is a tool God uses to test us and to reveal the condition of our hearts. You see that when you examine the interim periods in the lives of those I mentioned above. Abraham was given a great promise but in the interim years, as he waited, his dependence on the Lord faltered and he went along with Sarah’s idea to produce an heir through Hagar. God used this waiting period to further reveal Abraham’s tendency to trust in himself and as a way for him to recalibrate his faith. Abraham may have faltered for a time but he turned his eyes back to God. He continued to grow strong in faith as he gave glory to God and the promised Isaac was born. (Romans 4:18-22)

What happened in the interim years between Joseph and Moses? (Exodus 1 and 2) We don’t know a lot but we do know that some had their faith refined through testing, like the Hebrew midwives. And many learned endurance through prayer as they continued to cry out to the Lord for deliverance. God used their waiting to intensify their longing and refine their faith.

What about David? He was anointed by Samuel as king but spent years in the wilderness evading the death threats of Saul. The Psalms give us evidence of what happened to David in the interim. His knowledge of God deepened. (Psalm 18:1-3) His longing for God increased. (Psalm 63) He also learned to lament as a way to process his feelings of despair and zeal for justice. (Psalm 7)

So even though waiting confuses us, discomforts us and makes us feel we’re on unstable footing, we see through the Scriptures that God uses this interim period, this waiting, as a tool.

We’ve all been in an interim period since Covid changed everything last year. Impatience overwhelms us as we face the omnipresent question: “How long?”

But be assured that God is using this interim period, as he always has, as a tool. He is testing and refining us, seeing how we will respond. Will we, like Abraham and Sarah, look to ourselves and our own strength? Will we, like the Hebrew midwives, cling tenaciously to our faith when it is tested and allow it to be refined? Will we endure in prayer? And will we, like David, allow this interim period to increase our knowledge of and longing for God? Maybe we need to learn how to lament.

Waiting isn’t dead space and it isn’t a punishment. It’s a tool in God’s gracious hand. He uses it to gently reveal what’s in us and to make us stronger.

How will we respond in the interim?

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

Waiting is a Holy Posture

Last month I talked about the difference between waiting for and waiting on. I explored Psalm 104 and the posture of those God has created. In this post I want to further explore this kind of posture.

Consider these passages:

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.” Psalm 130:5-6

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Psalm 27:14

“It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.'” Isaiah 25:9

“Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

“But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” Micah 7:7

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Romans 8:22-25

The first thing to notice in all these passages is the object of our waiting. It’s the Lord. This is why I call waiting a holy posture. The late R.C. Sproul defined holiness this way: “Whatever is holy carries a peculiar character. It has been separated from a common use.” The vessels used in the temple weren’t holy in and of themselves. They became holy as they were consecrated and set apart for use in worshiping the Lord. And just like those vessels, our waiting can transcend the common, it can go beyond the world’s definition. The world despises waiting. It actively seeks to avoid it. (Where do you think Amazon Prime came from? And the FastPass at Disney World?) But if we learn the Bible’s kind of waiting, a consecrated waiting whose object is the Lord, then our waiting is transformed into something completely different. It becomes holy.

What about the posture of those who wait? In Psalm 130, waiting is an eager seeking, like one who has been up all night straining his eyes for the first rosy inklings of sunrise. In Psalm 27, David seems to be preaching to himself in the midst of real physical danger. Instead of focusing on the need for physical strength to face his enemies, he exhorts himself to have the courage and strength of heart to wait on the Lord.

In Isaiah 25, the prophet speaks of a future time. His waiting is filled with a joyful and confident exultation that’s rooted in God’s promise of salvation. Fifteen chapters later he renews the theme. In Isaiah 40, he contrasts the short-lived vigor of youth with the steadfast endurance of those who wait for the Lord. Waiting produces perseverance.

In chapter 7 of Micah, the prophet decries the ungodliness around him and the worthlessness of putting confidence in any man. He then describes his waiting as an abrupt shift in his outlook. He will turn his face to the Lord and wait with dogged determination.

Then in Romans 8 we see a kind of waiting that even as it groans, it brims with eschatological certainty.

Waiting then is an active trust, a promise-fueled hope that looks forward. It’s a consecrated demeanor, a set apart attitude. It’s a sanctified disposition and a God-fearing frame of mind. Those who wait on the Lord lean in and look up, always desiring a better country. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

Waiting is a holy posture.

This kind of waiting, this holy posture that we can cultivate in our own hearts day by day as we meditate on his promises and abide in his grace, will not go unrewarded. In any and every situation we face, waiting for and waiting on the Lord can slowly transform our fear and anxiety into a settled confidence and an expectant hope that God is who he says he is and will continue to be faithful in everything he does.

“Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” Psalm 34:5

“Those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.” Isaiah 49:23

“Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame…” Psalm 25:3

Self Promotion

“I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.1 Corinthians 1:14-17

The Corinthian church had a problem. They actually had many problems; most churches do. But the first problem Paul addresses is about quarreling. The Corinthians were attaching themselves to certain leaders in the church, thinking that gave them some sort of significance, a kind of worldly cache. They were measuring their worth according to who baptized them. This led to strife and jealousy.

Paul doesn’t care about who baptized who. In verse 16, he admits he doesn’t know exactly who he baptized. He wasn’t counting. The most important evangelist in church history didn’t care to keep a record of who he baptized. That wasn’t his goal. Think about that.

Paul’s goal has nothing to do with numbers of followers or building a spiritual resume. His goal is the proclamation of the message – Jesus Christ and him crucified. (See 1 Corinthians 2:1-5) He takes pains to direct the Corinthians away from the worldly wisdom that’s been influencing them and causing jealousy and strife. In 1 Corinthians 3 he again rebukes them for attaching themselves to the men through whom they believed. Paul says, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” The wisdom they have been following, the sophisticated thinking of Corinth, is foolishness to God. Why boast in men when Christ has purchased all things for you?

In 2 Corinthians, Paul continues to struggle against the same problem. The Corinthians still wish to boast in the flesh and the church is in danger from false apostles who seek to denigrate him. He feels compelled to detail his spiritual resume and his sufferings for them in order to counteract the accusations of these false apostles. But in chapter 11 he implores them to bear with this kind of foolish talk.

How often are we dominated by the same worldly wisdom? We attach ourselves to popular teachers, preachers and ministries. We name drop our affiliations and make haste to add our ‘likes’ to whoever is trending. Why do we think attaching ourselves to a mere human means anything! Human beings are fallible. Paul emphasizes the message – Jesus Christ and him crucified. That message is infallible. Those who proclaim it are merely servants.

Self promotion is a dangerous business. But everywhere it is encouraged, especially social media. I feel the pressure myself, even as I seek to encourage and edify in my tiny little corner of the Internet. How do I gain more readers? How can I promote my content? What can that kind of thinking do to a soul?

Attention does not necessarily equal faithfulness. And more troubling, popularity doesn’t make holiness easier. In fact, it probably makes it harder. Holiness is about being set apart for God, living a life that pleases him. But in the drive to gain attention and popularity you can be drawn away from your first love and toward the ever elusive goal of pleasing man.

Obscurity has its temptations as well. If no one is paying attention, you may be tempted to change what you’re doing in order to make a mark. But with popularity or obscurity, the problem is still the same – we’re gauging success by worldly standards. Are we even supposed to measure these things?

Ponder Paul’s words again in 1 Corinthians 1:

“I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

Paul’s goal wasn’t to impress or to count numbers or to worry about optics. His goal was to preach Christ and him crucified. He left the rest up to God.

Waiting On

We all know what it means to wait for something. If we’re parents, we have a front row seat to our children’s frustration with it. Year after year, we hear the cries of impatience: “How long until my birthday?” and, “I can’t wait until Christmas!” and then, “When can I make my own decisions?”

This isn’t the kind of waiting I’m talking about. This is waiting for. The dictionary defines this kind of waiting. It means to remain inactive until something expected happens. But I want to talk about waiting on. This is not so easily defined, and is a kind of waiting that goes directly against the spirit of the age.

Psalm 104 speaks of this kind of waiting. But first, it lays an important foundation. The psalmist extols the greatness of God as the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Ponder these actions ascribed to God:

He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters…

He makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind…

He set the earth on its foundations…

The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place that you appointed for them. You set a boundary that they may not pass….

You water the mountains…

You cause the grass to grow…

The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted…

He made the moon to mark the seasons…

There go the ships, and Leviathan, whom you formed

After establishing the foundational truth of God as Creator and Sustainer, the psalmist goes on to describe the posture of the things God created and sustains.

These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground. Psalm 104:27-30

Do you see the difference between God and his creation? He gives everything. The creation receives. He is the Source. His creation looks to him. He is fullness, we need to be filled.

Psalm 104 reveals the foundational truth that rests beneath what this “waiting on” means. Andrew Murray, in his book Waiting on God, says it like this:

“It is God who gives all: let this faith enter deeply into our hearts. Before we fully understand all that is implied in our waiting upon God, and before we have even been able to cultivate the habit, let the truth enter our souls. Waiting on God, unceasing and entire dependence upon Him, is, in heaven and earth, the only true faith, the one unalterable and all-comprehensive expression for the true relationship to the ever-blessed One in whom we live.”

The spirit of this age is one of independent self-generation. We don’t need anyone or anything. We create our own reality. We define our own existence. We establish our own significance. But anyone who has lived on this earth for more than 2 seconds knows that’s a lie. But it’s the one we keep telling ourselves and believing. The toddler screams, “I can do it myself!” The teenager groans, “Stop telling me what to do!” And the adult preaches to herself, “I am enough!”

For most of 2020 I have been dealing with a foot injury. It has severely restricted my running plans. I thought I had put it behind me, but it flared back up recently. Now I can’t run at all without pain. It’s confusing and frustrating to say the least. Those who know me know I love to run. I have availed myself of almost every method of rehabilitation. What can I do? How can I fix it? I am waiting for healing to occur. But am I waiting on God? Have I forgotten the foundational truths of Psalm 104?

I can’t. I don’t have the ability or the authority to fix this. I am not in control. This has also been the lesson of 2020, if we’ve been wise enough to see it. We are not in control. We can’t fix it. We are helpless.

With all the mess that 2020 brought, and with my foot problem, I need to go back to the foundational truths that never change. I am the creature, he is the Creator. He is the Source. I am dependent on him and must look to him. I need grace to wait for, but more importantly, to wait on. This has been the truth all along, but I constantly forget.

A Story of Waiting

The Bible has four grand themes: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. God creates all things in the beginning. He declares everything good. And those whom he’s created in his image? They are very good. But soon his very good creatures, Adam and Eve, fall into sin. What was perfect and pure became polluted. Now there was fear. Now there was shame and blame. But God pursues and God responds. There are curses and grave consequences but also a glorious, yet veiled, promise.

Genesis 3:15 says this – “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Bound up in this promise is a great expectation. Eve’s name – which means the mother of all living – is imbued with that expectation and hope. There will be a coming deliverer, a seed of the woman, who will bring a future redemption. But where there’s expectation and hope, there’s also waiting. Genesis 3:15 is the beginning of this waiting for redemption. There were many who looked like potential deliverers but eventually fell short: Noah, Moses, David, Solomon. There were hundreds upon hundreds of years of waiting for the promised deliverer who would bring our redemption.

What we celebrate this week in Christmas is the answer to that waiting: The Incarnation. God kept his promise. He came. He sent his own Son, Immanuel, to redeem his people. He who knew no sin came to be the sin that had stained and wrecked the world, the sin that had condemned us. And he rose, confirming the victory over sin and death.

But still we wait. We aren’t waiting for redemption any longer but a restoration, a coming consummation. The story isn’t over yet. He will come again, to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Meanwhile, we can learn from those who waited in the past. They can teach us. For our waiting now mirrors their waiting in the past.

So we must learn to wait in this world as we wait for the next. We wait for the mundane like next year’s baseball season to start or for our child to be old enough to drive. We also wait for the more important things like an end to Covid-19 and the restrictions we’ve been living under. But let this worldly waiting prepare you for the eternal. Because this worldly waiting should train us in how to wait for the eternal things, for THE eternal thing. All our waiting here on earth, all our longing is an echo of a greater longing. A longing for an eternal consummation when all will be made right. When Christ will come again.

Lord, teach us to wait.

What I Do Know For Sure

What will I choose to focus on today? Will I allow my mind to bounce back and forth between the news and social media? I have a choice today, like I do every day, of what I will allow my mind to dwell on. Today, I will dwell on what I know for sure.

What I Do Know For Sure

God is sovereign over nations, over rulers, over all. I will dwell on these words spoken by Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan king whom God humbled:

“At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?'” Daniel 4:34-35

And these words of David:

“The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” Psalm 103:19

It is foolish to trust in man. I will take these words to heart:

“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” Psalm 146:3-4

“The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Proverbs 29:25

Life is fleeting and often seems futile. I will remind myself of these sobering truths:

“For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” Psalm 90:9-10

God’s purposes will stand. I will counsel my heart with this declaration:

“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.'” Isaiah 46:8-10

Now, if I stopped there I may be left a little depressed. Yes, God has all authority and his purposes will stand. And yes, I am a sinner and my life is but a blip in relation to eternity. So now let’s focus on the rest of the story, and the reasons I can rest.

God’s story is one of redemption. I will recall Zechariah’s prophecy about his son John who would prepare the way of the Savior:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:76-79

He has redeemed me and transferred me to another kingdom. I will rejoice in this truth:

“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:13-14

I have an identity that transcends any earthly kingdom. I will remember who I am, by God’s grace through faith (see Ephesians 2:1-10):

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9

I am called to reflect this identity to a watching world. Because of this transfer of citizenship, I am called to act accordingly:

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” 1 Peter 2:13-17

What will happen in the coming days? I don’t know. But these are the things I do know for sure. This is the truth I need to tether my heart to not just today, but every day.