Confident Contentment

Recently, I went through a major period of discontentment. There was a situation in my life that I found frustrating, and I wanted a change. I daydreamed about how much happier I thought I’d be in different circumstances. I prayed for guidance and direction, knowing that it could be God’s will for things to stay the same, but also believing that surely He was calling me to MORE. I was convinced that He would want to use my passions and talents in a different capacity, according to the plans that I had conjured up in my mind. 

But God had other things He wanted to teach me during those emotionally tumultuous months. I noticed that when I first got an idea for a new opportunity, I would be very excited about it for a week or two. Then as the novelty of the idea started to wear off, I’d think of potential problems, or realize that it might not actually be as fulfilling as I thought, and I’d move on to the next bright idea. I was allowing myself to be ruled by my emotions, which are untrustworthy and constantly shifting. No situation is always going to be perfect and exciting, even if it is one that maximizes the use of my gifts and abilities. 

The second thing I noticed is that my discontentment was largely coming from a place of pride. I was chasing notoriety and praise. I thought I had impressive things to offer the world and that it was unfair to not be recognized for them. Obviously, I love to write and study. I’m especially interested in the topics of theology, Christian living, and apologetics. I thought it was really a shame that I didn’t have a bigger online following, or that no one had “discovered” me yet to offer me a book deal or a position with some kind of apologetics ministry. 

That’s a hard thing to confess. It sounds horribly arrogant (probably because it IS horribly arrogant). But one by one, God removed the possibility of a new opportunity coming along. A number of ideas that I had actively pursued didn’t pan out. I had to admit that no apologetics ministry was going to hire me to speak or write without getting an expensive and time consuming apologetics degree. I saw comments on Instagram from other “regular” people (not even theologians or professional Bible teachers!) that were more eloquent, witty, and profound than anything I could’ve come up with. I consider myself to be fairly intelligent and well-read, but I saw posts on social media that were so intellectually and theologically complex, I couldn’t totally make sense of them. I regularly listen to two podcasts that function as Q&A’s (Mike Winger’s 20 Questions and Greg Koukl’s Stand to Reason), and it occurred to me that I usually didn’t know how to answer the questions at all, and certainly could not have answered even the ones I did know something about with as much clarity, logic, and wisdom as the podcast hosts did. 

I realized the truth: God is not obligated to give me any specific opportunity in life- even one in ministry. And He’s especially not obligated to give it to a person who thinks she deserves it just because she likes to read, write, and listen to theology podcasts. I’m not qualified for some of the things I was dreaming about, and right now I’m not called to them either. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever be called to something in that realm; but it does mean that I need to learn contentment in the present. If I cannot be faithful, content, and humble with the smaller responsibilities God’s given me, how could I ever expect anything more? 

When the bigger and better (in my mind) opportunities I was pursuing kept falling through, and the frustrating situation I wanted to escape unexpectedly became less exasperating, I reluctantly admitted to myself that God had answered my prayers for guidance. He was showing me where He wanted me. It wasn’t what I would have chosen, but knowing that God is good and sovereign gave me confidence to trust Him. In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus says, 

Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Google Images

Even imperfect, earthly parents desire to do what is beneficial for their children. God is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly loving towards His children. There are no deficiencies in His ability to do what is best for us, either in knowledge or power. Therefore, whatever situation we are in must be what is best for us at that time, according to His perfect love.

It’s easy for me to conclude that my situation must be better than the other options; it wasn’t all that bad to begin with, just frustrating and inconvenient at times. But what about when we are going through something incredibly difficult and painful? How could we say THAT experience must be better than the alternative? 

Sometimes the situation itself isn’t good. It’s no use trying to deny that our world is full of wickedness, evil, and pain. But our God is a God of redemption. Romans 8:28-32 says, 

And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 

The hardships and trials we go through in our lives are used by God to bring about the ultimate good for believers: being conformed to the image of Christ. James 1:2-4 testifies to this as well:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 

Of course James doesn’t mean we can attain perfection in this life, but that we are gradually perfected through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit as we learn obedience and reliance on God amidst life’s troubles, until they are forever removed when Christ returns. And no one can thwart God’s purpose of bringing good from evil. The ultimate example of this is the cross. The murder of the perfect Son of God was simultaneously the greatest evil that has ever occurred and the greatest good that was ever accomplished. If God did not even spare His Son in order to obtain our salvation, it is unthinkable that He would not do what is best for us in situations far less costly to Him. 

The passage in Romans 8 goes on to say that we are “more than conquerors through him who loved us.” For a long time, I didn’t understand what it meant to be “more than” a conqueror. How does it get better than winning? The answer is that through Christ, not only do we win in the end, but God turns our suffering into something that actually benefits us. God doesn’t just give us the victory over our trials; He uses the trials to our advantage as we are sanctified and conformed to the image of Christ!

All of the situations in our lives are either better than the alternatives (for reasons we may never know), used by God for our spiritual benefit, or both. They are for our good and His glory. 

Phylicia Masonheimer’s weekly email newsletter was a timely reflection on this topic. She quoted Psalm 16:5-8, which says,

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 

“Lines” here refers to boundary lines, which we tend to view in a negative way. A boundary is something that prevents us from going somewhere or doing something we want to do. But as Phylicia says, “The lines drawn around the psalmist are for his good, his protection, his blessing, and his joy… God is right here, right now, not just in the someday. He drew the boundary lines- and they are in pleasant places, even when we can’t see it yet… Embrace the boundary lines because they are drawn in love and kindness, because the limits that are given to keep [us] in also keep [us] close to the heart of God.” I also love the notes from my ESV study Bible on this passage- “[This psalm] promotes contentment with the arrangements of one’s life, seeing them as providentially ordered.” 

It is worth noting that all of the opportunities God has given me in the past two years were things I was not pursuing or expecting; in fact, some of them seemed to be nothing less than divine intervention, and I did absolutely nothing to bring them about. My job that “just so happened” to work perfectly with my schedule literally fell into my lap at the exact right time through a somewhat bizarre set of circumstances; after volunteering at my local pregnancy center in a less involved capacity for about a year and a half, I was unexpectedly asked to take on a role with more responsibility; through another set of completely unexpected circumstances, I was asked to speak at my church’s women’s retreat, which then led to an invitation to teach an upcoming Sunday School class; and I’ve had more opportunities and requests to be involved with the music at my church as other musicians have stepped down for various reasons.

And aren’t those things where the majority of the work is done anyway? Most people don’t write books, or have podcasts, or acquire thousands of online followers. Most people are working regular jobs, teaching small Sunday School classes at regular churches, and volunteering their time in regular local ministries. They’re raising families, managing homes, ministering in small, ordinary ways, faithfully serving God in their everyday lives. We should never underestimate the eternal value of those efforts. 

God doesn’t need my help or human “wisdom” to bring opportunities for service, ministry, and productivity into my life, and He certainly doesn’t need my sinful pride and discontentment. God wants us where we are for a reason. He is the one who puts us there, who doesn’t let us go outside the boundaries of His purposes for us. Maybe it’s because we’re not as gifted as we think we are. Maybe He knows we couldn’t handle the pressure or the temptation of pride that comes with more of a spotlight. Maybe He has something better planned for us even if it doesn’t seem that way. We must set the Lord always before us, remembering that He is our portion and our strength. True contentment is only found in Him. 

Psalm 16:11

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.

Saint Augustine

Knowledge is Power

In high school, I took the Myers-Briggs personality test. I couldn’t remember what my result was, but I did remember there were four different categories that make up a personality: introversion/extraversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. I recently took a free version of this test and, as expected, I scored higher on thinking than feeling. My assigned personality type was called “Logistician.” I wasn’t surprised by this, since I’ve known for a long time that I’m not an overly emotional person. Even the strong emotional responses that I do have are often driven by whether or not something seems logical to me.  

I have often been discouraged by this part of my personality. Although it can be very helpful to instinctively view things with logic and reason, being less emotional also makes it harder to connect relationally. I sometimes struggle to feel empathy or have strong emotional bonds with people. It impacts my faith, too. Over the years I have developed a passion for studying theology and apologetics, but not being an emotionally-minded person makes it a challenge to strongly feel love, thankfulness, awe, or really much of ANYTHING towards God, even though intellectually I know that He is deserving of those reactions. Sometimes I’ve wondered if maybe my faith isn’t “real.” Am I just a faker? Am I guilty of mentally accepting the Bible as true without allowing it to penetrate my heart and affect me inwardly? 

Several months ago I was listening to a sermon by Mike Winger on Romans 12. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Paul is saying that the way we undergo spiritual transformation is by changing the way that we think. Our thought process has a profound impact on who we are as believers. We are told to discern what is good and acceptable in God’s sight through testing. The word discern is defined as, “to perceive by the intellect; to distinguish mentally; recognize as distinct or different.” The word “testing” also has the connotation of using our intellect and knowledge to discover whether or not something aligns with God’s will as revealed to us in His Word. This clearly indicates that thinking plays an important role in our spiritual growth. 

If we are supposed to renew our minds and change the way we think, what exactly should we be thinking about? Paul answers that question too, in Philippians 4:8. It’s a well-known verse: “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” The best example that meets all of these qualifications, is, of course, Scripture. God changes us when we fill our minds with good things, especially His Word. 

R. C. Sproul discusses these ideas in his book, The Holiness of God. After quoting Romans 12:1-2, he states, “The key method Paul underscores as the means to the transformed life is by the ‘renewal of the mind.’ This means nothing more and nothing less than education. Disciplined education in the things of God. It calls for a mastery of the Word of God. We need to be people whose lives have changed because our minds have changed. True understanding comes by gaining a new understanding of God, ourselves, and the world. What we are after ultimately is to be conformed to the image of Christ… To be conformed to Jesus, we must first begin to think as Jesus did. We need the ‘mind of Christ’… That cannot happen without a mastery of His Word. The key to spiritual growth is in-depth Christian education that requires a serious level of sacrifice.” 

This mastery of God’s Word will help us discern truth from lies. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” In order to discern which arguments and opinions are wrong, first we have to know what’s right. A spiritual battle rages around us everyday, and we are part of it whether we realize it or not. The importance of having a solid knowledge of Scripture cannot be overstated as we are assaulted daily by deceptive, anti-biblical ideologies. 

Taking every thought captive can also prevent us from having an improper emotional response to Scripture taken out of context. Emotional responses can be good, but only if they are based on accurate biblical truth. Proper knowledge of Christ and sound doctrine must always come first, before we can have a truly appropriate emotional response to who God is and what He has done for us. By contrast, emotions without a strong biblical foundation can be dangerous. They can easily lead us down a path of deception. We should desire and pray for deeper emotional experiences, but not at the expense of accurate knowledge. We must lead with our minds and then respond with our hearts. 

Colossians 1:9-10 connects the knowledge of God and His will with living a life that is pleasing to the Lord and bearing fruit in every good work. Spiritual wisdom and understanding lead to a transformed life which enables us to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” There is a high value placed on “increasing in the knowledge of God.” And in Colossians 3:10, we are told to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” We are renewed, or transformed, as we learn to know God and become more like Him. Again, spiritual growth and transformation come as the result of growth in our knowledge of who God is. 

Jesus refers to the importance of loving God with our minds when He gives us the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The way that we love God with our minds involves studying His Word and increasing in our knowledge of Him, as well as using our reasoning abilities, and scientific and historical facts, to make sense of how the world around us reflects God’s creative power and working through history. A common thought in our culture today is that science and faith are mutually exclusive- you cannot hold religious beliefs and affirm science at the same time. But this is simply a misunderstanding of what science is meant to do. The purpose of science is to study the natural world. It is NOT the purpose of science to declare that the natural world is all there is. Supernatural events and philosophical concepts are beyond the scope of what science can tell us. 

What science and historical facts CAN do is reveal amazing realities that actually point to the existence of a Creator and the reliability of the Christian faith. In fact, there is abundant evidence for God’s creation of and interaction with the universe. The truth is that a Christian worldview goes hand-in-hand with science and history. If you are interested in reading about these topics further, I will recommend some resources at the end of this post. Virtually any good apologetics book will also contain at least some information on the interaction between science, history, and faith. Simply put, we can value scientific and historical facts and simultaneously hold a strong, evidence-based Christian faith. For those of us who function on a more intellectual level, this is good news. 

Knowing things about God has great value, but it also poses a danger. The Corinthian church was notorious for their arrogance. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8:1-2, “We know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.” Knowledge without love quickly turns into prideful arrogance that not only fails to benefit anyone, but actually causes offense and disgraces the name of Christ. And those who think they know everything are missing some of the most important and basic character traits that a Christian is supposed to possess- love and humility. 

A similar idea is expressed in the beginning of 1 Corinthians 13, the famous “love chapter.” Verses 1-2 say, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” The main purpose of spiritual gifts, including knowledge, is to encourage and build up the church in love. Our gifts and abilities should be used to benefit others, not as a source of pride or attention-seeking behavior. 

Those of us who are more intellectually-minded and have the gift of knowledge need to be careful to use these abilities for our own spiritual growth, and to humbly teach, instruct, and guide others. After all, any theological wisdom or knowledge that we have to share does not come from ourselves, but is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. 

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”
1 Corinthians 2:12-13  

Here is a list of scientists, historians, apologists, theologians, writers, and philosophers whose work I have benefited greatly from. Ask the hard questions- there are answers. 

Gary Habermas
Greg Koukl
Mike Winger
R.C. Sproul
Alisa Childers
Natasha Crain
Lee Strobel
John Lennox
William Lane Craig
Michael Guillen

Also, the website Got Questions is a great resource, with answers to hundreds of thousands of questions regarding the Bible and the Christian faith.

“Your Truth” is a Lie

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at my church’s women’s retreat. It came about very suddenly and unexpectedly due to the original speaker having a family emergency that was going to prevent her from being there. The topic was “Women Walking in Love,” and after a great time of discussion during one of the sessions at the retreat, I decided I wanted to further explore a concept in Ephesians 4:15- speaking the truth in love. Our culture has tragically redefined “love” to mean acceptance and approval of whatever choices people make, and many Christians have fallen right into this trap out of a desire to not offend or hurt others. 

Google images

Here’s a recent example of this that you may have heard of. In September 2022, Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, rented billboards in 6 states with abortion bans, encouraging women to travel to CA in order to get abortions. One of the ads said, “Need an abortion? California is ready to help.” At the bottom of the billboard, Mark 12:31 is quoted, which reads: “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.” 

Now, the funny thing about the word “these” is that it indicates plurality, and only one commandment is quoted. Could that be because there’s actually another commandment in this passage that wasn’t included on the billboard? Let’s start back at verse 28 for context: 

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Jesus asserts that the MOST important commandment is to love God wholeheartedly with every part of our being. The second commandment is to love others. We cannot truly or rightly fulfill the second commandment without the first, because our love for others flows out of our love for God. 

1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” What’s more, just 3 verses earlier in 1 John 4, we are told that “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” If God is love, and our ability to love comes from abiding in Him, then I think we’d better have an accurate definition of what love means according to God. 

1 Corinthians 13 is the famous “love chapter.” It’s often quoted at weddings, and while appropriate in that setting, it applies to every relationship. God’s definition of love is as follows: 

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

There are many things we could discuss based on these few verses, but I want to focus on just one: love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Truth and love are very intertwined in Scripture. In John 14:6, Jesus describes Himself as being the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus, being God Himself, is love… and He is also truth. You can’t have one without the other. 

I have heard it said that we live in a post-truth era. Statements like “live your truth” and “speak your truth” abound. The word “truth” is another one that has been redefined to refer to the subjective feelings and experiences of each person. Of course, no one is allowed to challenge “your” truth. Who are they to question who you are, how you identify, or the choices you’ve made? Who are they to tell you that you’re wrong? 

On their own, no human has the authority to tell any other human that they’re wrong. But as the creator and sustainer of the universe and everyone in it, God does. And God cares very much about truth. 

In Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, He says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Objective truth is found in God’s Word- the Bible. And at the center of the Bible is the gospel- the truth that we are all sinners, in rebellion against God, which separates us from Him; the truth that Jesus’ death and resurrection is our only hope of being reconciled to God and experiencing a glorious future; the truth that repentance and submission to God’s authority and lordship over our lives is the only way to freedom. 

It is loving to tell the truth according to God, because God’s truth is what sets us free from sin, gives us peace with Him, and secures eternal life in heaven. In John 8:31-32, Jesus says “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Here Jesus refers again to the fact that truth is found in God’s Word. We cannot know the truth or experience real freedom unless we remain consistently connected and committed to the Bible. Proclaiming this truth and rejecting the lies of the world are the most loving things we can do. 

The perfect example of someone displaying both truth and love is Jesus, of course. In John 1, Jesus is described as being “full of grace and truth.” Jesus exemplified grace. He healed the sick and crippled, cast demons out of the possessed, fed the hungry crowds, and welcomed the outcasts. He was immensely compassionate and loving, concerned about the physical and emotional wellbeing of those around him. 

But in the midst of all of that, Jesus never sacrificed truth. He regularly condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and heavy burdens they laid on the Jewish people. He didn’t ignore sin, but rather preached repentance. He spoke of future judgment and torment for those who continued in their rebellion against God. He was honest about the difficulties of the Christian life- being hated by the world, experiencing trouble, counting the cost and bearing our crosses to follow Him. 

As Kevin DeYoung points out in this excellent article, most of us tend to lean towards either grace or truth. Those who are more concerned with grace match today’s definition of love- welcoming, tolerant, affirming, and nice. They’re pleasant, easy-going, and inoffensive. The problem is that by elevating tolerance and acceptance above truth, they fail to stand up for what’s right. They can be cowardly. In fully accepting others for who they are, they never encourage them to become anything more. 

People who are more concerned with truth have strong convictions. They boldly stand up against evil, and aren’t afraid to be criticized for it. Their problem is that they can also be harsh, quick to judge, intimidating, unforgiving, and difficult to be around. The challenge is to be full of grace and full of truth at the same time. As DeYoung says, “Something is wrong if everyone hates you, and something is probably just as wrong if everyone loves you.” 

But even with a good balance of grace, many people will still become offended when you speak the truth. You can be as gentle and compassionate in your approach as possible, but it won’t always make a difference. The reason for this is because the truth of the gospel is offensive on its own to those who reject it. It’s hard to hear that we are guilty sinners who need to forsake our fleshly desires, die to ourselves, and submit to Christ’s authority, and some will never accept it. Even so, we must never back down from the truth. It may result in hate, insults, persecution, and loss of relationships, but we should expect no less. Jesus was the perfect combination of grace and truth and He was crucified.

When Paul exhorts the Ephesians to speak the truth in love, it is so that the body of believers can be mature and unified in Christ, and avoid being deceived by false doctrines. In Ephesians 6, the “belt of truth” is the first piece of the armor of God that is mentioned for us to use as we defend ourselves against demonic schemes of evil. Don’t believe the idea that it’s unloving to tell people about their sin. We shouldn’t be unnecessarily rude in pointing it out, but realize that a failure to share the gospel is a failure to love.

And although the gospel needs to be our core message, we shouldn’t stop there. Forsaking biblical truth results in actions and political policies that hurt, maim, and kill people. We need to be willing to loudly declare to Gavin Newsom and other pro-abortion advocates that abortion is the exact opposite of loving our neighbor- it kills a child and usually traumatizes a woman physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We need to boldly proclaim that transgender ideology permanently mutilates, chemically castrates, sterilizes, and traumatizes people, including children. There are so many foundational truths, going all the way back to Genesis 1 where God creates us male and female in His image, that are being twisted into deceptive, demonic philosophies. Love, according to God, does not celebrate, accept, or even tolerate evil. It rejoices with the truth- God’s truth. 

The Christian faith would not have survived its infancy if the disciples weren’t willing to stand up for what they knew to be true. Right after the resurrection, the Pharisees tried spreading a rumor that Jesus’ body had been stolen and that He hadn’t actually risen from the dead. But the disciples had seen the empty tomb, and they knew they hadn’t taken His body. And then Jesus physically appeared to them, as well as hundreds of others, leaving no doubt that He had risen. The truth of the resurrection- the foundation of our faith- was so significant that the disciples, and countless Christians since, have been willing to suffer persecution and martyrdom. The truth is worth much more than avoiding insults – the truth is worth dying for. 

“Peace if possible; truth at all costs.”
-Martin Luther

*Edit on 11/21/22* Shortly after I posted this, I listened to a podcast with Alisa Childers and Natasha Crain entitled “Case Study: What are the Common Values that Unite Progressive Christians?” It was posted on October 30, 2022. The concepts and flow of thought of the first half of the podcast are so similar to what I wrote here, that I wanted to clarify that I did not use any of their material to write this blog post. I found out later that even the title of my post is uncannily similar to Alisa Childers’ new book, “Live Your Truth and Other Lies.” I credit the Holy Spirit with revealing biblical truth to many believers, which would of course consist of the same ideas, as God never changes. But I wanted to clear up any misconception of plagiarism!

The Plan

In the past, I wasn’t all that interested in poetry. Certain kinds of poetry have very strict rules (syllables, meter, rhyming) and other kinds seem to have no rules at all. I’ve read poems that were very confusing and had no discernable message. 

But recently, I’ve read some truly moving and profound poems by Phylicia Masonheimer ( in her email newsletter and Instagram) and Laura Wifler (instagram), and I’ve decided that the no-rules type of poetry can be a pretty neat way to express emotion. Trying to rhyme in a specific pattern becomes limiting and stressful, but rhyming a few lines if it works out and not worrying about it when it doesn’t, is freeing. 

So I’d like to share a short poem I wrote awhile ago. I will preface it by saying, I am very grateful for all of God’s blessings and provision in my life. But I think everyone can relate to the feeling of life not going exactly the way you envisioned, for a wide variety of reasons. It’s actually a grieving process to realize that certain dreams or expectations you had for your life have not come to pass. Even though this is sort of a depressing subject, I hope the end is an encouragement to keep trusting in a sovereign God. (Scripture references in the second last stanza are from Proverbs 16:9 and Isaiah 55:8-9.) 

The Plan

I used to have a plan
For how my life would go. 

But one by one
The dominoes fell
Down a different path. 

Unexpected changes
Some big, some small
Till my life hardly looks like
The original plan at all. 

I can still see
What never came to be. 

On the outside looking in
Is where I stand
Watching others live
The life that I planned. 

I am reminded
Of what I never had, but somehow lost. 

The heart of man plans his way
But the Lord establishes his steps.
And His ways are higher
Than mine.

So I wait
And I pray
To the God
Who plans my way.

Glory Beyond Compare

When I was a teenager, I thought I knew pretty much everything there was to know about the Bible. I’d grown up in the church my whole life, attending services 3-4 times a week. I could answer any Sunday School question, and I was a formidable opponent in Bible drill games. I didn’t realize until I was older that the Bible is actually an inexhaustible treasure trove of wisdom and truth, with relevant applications to every stage of life. And sometimes, a verse that I have read dozens or even hundreds of times suddenly strikes me in a way that I have never considered. 

This recently happened with Romans 8:18. Romans is my favorite book of the Bible, and chapter 8 is probably my favorite chapter of the book. I even memorized Romans 6-8 several summers ago, so I recited Romans 8:18 many times as I worked on memorizing that chapter. 

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 

Every time I read this verse, I would think something along the lines of, “Well that’s neat. Sounds like heaven is going to be pretty awesome.” And then I moved on without another thought. But recently I was listening to a sermon by Mike Winger (whom I highly recommend), and he pointed out the significance of this verse.

What kinds of suffering was the Apostle Paul talking about when he wrote this? Well, Paul was no stranger to suffering. In 2 Corinthians 11 there is a section entitled “Paul’s Sufferings as an Apostle” in the ESV Bible. He was imprisoned many times, with countless beatings of various kinds, and often near death. Once he was stoned. He was shipwrecked three times, and spent an entire day and night adrift at sea. He went on many dangerous journeys, threatened by robbers, fellow Jews, Gentiles, and false teachers. He endured many sleepless nights, had no food or water, was exposed to the cold, and on top of all that, had the constant pressure of anxiety for the churches that he was ministering to. 

I think the reason why I never really took this verse seriously is because I have never suffered to that extent, or anywhere near it. Most of my “sufferings” have been almost laughably trivial compared to what Paul went through. Maybe you can relate. But Paul is not the only one who has suffered deeply. What other kinds of suffering do people endure in this world? I’m talking about the worst pain, both physical and emotional, that we can imagine. 

The death of a child or loved one. Disabilities. Chronic disease. Cancer. Bombings. 9/11. Wars. Starvation. Torture. Sex trafficking. Slavery. Persecution. Rape. Divorce. Abuse. Betrayal. The list could go on and on. 

This world is full of SERIOUS suffering. Paul experienced much of it. And he wrote, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (who knew all the suffering all of humanity would ever endure), that it doesn’t even compare to the future glory we will know in eternity with Christ. 

Think about that. Think about how incredibly, unfathomably glorious heaven must be if the horrendous pain and suffering of this world doesn’t even compare. No one will ever be sitting in heaven, thinking, “Man, this isn’t as great as I thought it would be. All those trials I went through on earth were really awful, and I tried to glorify God in the midst of them, but I’m just not sure it was worth it.” On the contrary- it won’t even be a question in your mind that the suffering WAS worth it. The glory of heaven will be so mind-blowing that it will far outweigh anything you may have experienced on earth- even the worst thing you can think of.

In 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, Paul writes something very similar:  

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 

Paul describes our current suffering as light and momentary. It doesn’t always feel light, does it? And it doesn’t feel momentary either. It feels like an unbearably heavy weight that will never end. Indeed, some suffering doesn’t end until death. But in comparison to eternity, our earthly lives are barely even a blip on the radar. In comparison to eternity, our suffering is truly brief. And the heavy weight of hardship is light compared to the weight of glory that is eternal. 

Even more than that, these afflictions are preparing us for glory. This means that our suffering has purpose and we will be rewarded for suffering well. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-11, Paul says that our afflictions give us opportunities to receive comfort from God, and as a result of these experiences, we will know how to comfort others who are also experiencing affliction. And he doesn’t hide the reality of suffering. At times, Paul and the others working with him “were so utterly burdened beyond [their] strength that [they] despaired of life itself.” They actually thought they might die (and maybe would have preferred death!) because of the intense suffering they were bearing. But, the purpose of such suffering was “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” God uses trials and hardships in our lives to show us that we are unable to adequately endure suffering on our own. We are prompted to call on Him for strength. It is in these times that His power is manifested most clearly in us, for His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). 

In Romans 8:35-39, Paul asks if tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword can separate us from the love of Christ. This list names some specifics, but is also general enough to encompass pretty much any hardship or suffering we can encounter in life. The answer? Not only can nothing in all of creation separate us from God’s love, but in all our sufferings, we are “more than conquerors.” 

What does it mean to be more than conquerors? It means that we can be victorious over suffering, sin, and Satan, and that one day we will be rewarded for standing firm. Here on Earth, we are never alone. God fights for us and with us. Trials of many kinds do not defeat us; they actually have a positive effect on the believer. We get to experience God’s strength, power, and miraculous provision. We get to draw closer to Him as we confess our own weaknesses and inability to deal with situations on our own. His love and presence will sustain us through anything we could possibly undergo. We are no longer slaves to sin, discouragement, or hopelessness, but are instead free to live righteously in relationship with God through faith in Christ, our Living Hope. And because of that faith, at His second coming we will experience ultimate victory as Satan, sin, and death are vanquished forever. We don’t just barely conquer sin and suffering- we overwhelmingly conquer by the infinite grace and power of God, and come out better for it on the other side.

It’s easy to focus on our current trials and pain because we can see and feel them. We can’t see or feel the glory of heaven. In fact, we can become so wrapped up in our suffering that we completely lose sight of this amazing promise from God’s Word that is meant to give us comfort and hope. We have something so much better to look forward to. When the hardships of this life are weighing heavily on your shoulders, remember- they have nothing on the weight of glory that will someday be yours for eternity.

Prayer- A Powerful Weapon

In my last post, we talked about the reality of spiritual warfare and how believers can fight back against Satan’s schemes. It sounds like a cliché Sunday School answer, but our main weapons in this battle are regularly reading the Bible and prayer (they become clichés for a reason!). Prayer is both an offensive and defensive weapon. We can pray for God’s protection against spiritual attack; we can also pray for God’s strength and deliverance when we’re being attacked. 

1 Peter 5:6-9 provides a striking description of Satan, as well as advice on what we need to do to resist him: 

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

It requires humility to acknowledge that we are dependent on God and can’t control our own lives. Before we can cast our anxieties on God, we have to admit that we need His help, and pride often keeps us from doing that. I like the way the ESV study notes put it: “Worry is a form of pride because it involves taking concerns upon oneself instead of entrusting them to God.” It’s very difficult to acknowledge our own powerlessness. God is mighty; we are not. And God often uses very anxiety-provoking situations in order to teach us that exact concept. We can either succumb to the anxiety, or we can rely on God’s strength to bring us through.

I think it’s significant that the same phrase “stand firm” is used both in this passage and the Ephesians 6 passage on spiritual warfare. Satan is our enemy and he wants to destroy us.  We need to be alert, watching for attacks, and this passage gives us two ways to help in that endeavor: don’t allow pride to prevent you from praying; and turn your anxieties into prayer, because God cares. A common way Satan attacks us is by convincing us that God doesn’t care- but that’s a lie from the Father of Lies, because we know God’s Word is truth!

Another lie Satan tells us is that we’re all alone in our struggles. We may think that no one else understands what we’re going through, or that no one else has as much trouble as we do in certain areas of life. This not only contributes to our anxiety, but it also causes us to become envious of others who seemingly have easier lives, discouraged about our hardships, and less likely to reach out to other believers in the Church who could help and pray for us. But Peter assures us that we are NOT alone. Suffering is being experienced by our fellow Christians all over the world. Believing that we are the only ones dealing with trials is another form of spiritual attack.

Philippians 4:4-9 has a very similar idea about replacing anxiety with prayer: 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

This passage doesn’t directly mention spiritual warfare. But I think it has major applications to that topic. God cares about every situation in our lives (He says do not be anxious about ANYTHING) and doesn’t want us to worry. Instead, we are told to pray and leave it in His hands. The result of entrusting our requests to God is that He gives us immense peace that the world can’t understand. It defies logic. This peace guards our hearts and minds. The word “guard” is interesting, and I think it conveys our need for protection. What do our hearts and minds need to be guarded from? Spiraling into further anxiety or fear? What about spiritual attack, which anxiety makes us more susceptible to as we try to handle situations on our own instead of trusting God? The peace God gives us as we entrust our lives to Him through prayer keeps us fixed on Christ, and protects us from being overcome by fear and worry, no matter what we are going through.

Paul doesn’t just tell us what not to do; he also tells us what we should do, giving us some hints of how to stay on the offensive against Satan. First, we are told to rejoice always. It’s hard to fall victim to spiritual attack when we are constantly looking for things to rejoice about. Similarly, we are told to pray with thanksgiving. Having a thankful heart is very often the antidote to many sinful behaviors and attitudes that would make us vulnerable to spiritual warfare as we indulge our own fears, selfishness, and discontent. Lastly, we are told to keep our minds focused on honorable, true, excellent things. If we are consistently filling our minds with things of this nature (primarily found in Scripture), there will be very little opportunity for Satan to overwhelm our minds with harmful thoughts and ideas. By living this way, we will experience God’s presence and peace. 

James gives us this instruction and promise in James 4:7: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” It sounds so simple, and in some ways it is, but it requires a lot of vigilance and discipline over our hearts and minds, which so easily stray away from God and towards the devil. Don’t make yourself an easy target in this battle by neglecting to read God’s Word and pray. Put on the whole armor of God each and every day. Be alert, stand firm, and resist the spiritual forces of evil that seek to harm us and render us ineffective for the kingdom of God.

The Battle

Spiritual warfare is an abstract concept that goes easily unnoticed and ignored in our culture. The Bible tells us about the reality of an invisible battle raging around us, but it’s difficult to imagine what might actually be happening, and how often (if at all) it really impacts our everyday lives. The closest some of us might get to even considering this topic is seeing previews for horror movies that dramatize and sensationalize demonic activity. 

But Ephesians 6:10-18 tells a different story. Paul does not speak about spiritual warfare as something that affects very few people, or something that we don’t really need to be concerned about unless we’re using Ouija boards and conducting seances. Read these words and try to absorb the gravity of what Paul is saying: 

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.

Photo from Google image search

I find this passage to be very striking. It emphasizes the reality of a battle that we can’t see and may not be able to identify practically. What are we supposed to do?

Several things jump out at me as I read this. The physical, flesh-and-blood people that we interact with everyday, the ones we can see and talk to, aren’t our enemies. Paul gives multiple descriptions of our true enemies- superhuman spiritual forces of evil, whom we have no hope of defeating on our own. I mean, “cosmic powers over this present darkness” sounds pretty intimidating, like something from a sci-fi book. But scripture tells us this is REAL.

How exactly does Satan attack us? What are these “flaming darts of the evil one” that we must be prepared for? I think spiritual attacks can be highly individualized, depending on each person’s weaknesses and struggles with particular sins. We know that Satan is the Father of Lies, and a great deceiver. He accuses us before God. He tempts us to sin. He wants to keep people in spiritual darkness. He disguises himself as an angel of light. He encourages and delights in all forms of evil, conflict, and oppression. Knowing all of this, I think we can conclude that spiritual attack is mostly a battle of the mind, heart, and soul. It could include things such as: giving us doubts about our salvation, God’s character, and our value in God’s eyes; misinterpreting or twisting the truth of Scripture; temptation to sin; minimizing the seriousness of sin to keep us from repenting; perpetuating spiritual apathy about God’s Word and our responsibilities as believers; introducing and exacerbating negative emotions and thoughts within our minds, including anxiety, fear, and anger; the persecution of Christians; distraction from truly important matters; deceiving people to believe bad things are good and good things are bad; and many more.

Suddenly, we start to see how spiritual warfare actually does impact us on a regular basis. It’s often sneaky and subtle, not big displays of demonic possession. That would be too obvious. Satan needs to fly under the radar in order to go undetected by most people. 

Of course, we must be careful not to let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction and blame everything solely on spiritual warfare. Negative or sinful thoughts, behaviors, and temptations are sometimes simply the products of our own sin nature, or a combination of our sin nature and spiritual attack. And we are ultimately responsible for our actions, no matter how much Satan tempts and deceives us. But it might be good to take a look at some of the ways in which we can open ourselves up to spiritual attack. 

In his book, Playing With Fire, author Billy Hallowell explores the topic of demons and spiritual warfare through a Christian lens. While I can’t say I agree with the opinions of everyone he interviewed for the book, it was a fascinating read (as long as you can read it with a lot of discernment). One of the questions he asked was, “What, if anything, can open up a person to being [demonically] oppressed or possessed?” Answers included the following: a specific act or mindset yielding problematic behavior that offers evil a place of power in one’s life (such as allowing anger or hatred to rule over you, giving the emotions permission to manifest and grow); unrepentant and perpetual sin; past traumatic experiences that haven’t been appropriately dealt with; being spiritually unguarded so that we are not filling our minds with God’s truth and allowing ourselves to be inundated with lies; and untreated mental illness which results in a skewed perspective of reality or severe emotional distress. All of these things, as well as others, may make us more vulnerable to spiritual attack. 

Fortunately, Scripture tells us how to stand against spiritual warfare. We need the whole armor of God in order to be well-equipped for this battle. Paul doesn’t just list one or two weapons… he gives us seven of them. This is a sobering thought. How many of us even think about spiritual warfare on a daily basis? I know I never used to think about it much at all. But here, we are urged to take this as seriously as possible. It needs to be at the forefront of our minds. When we let down our guard, we are vulnerable to attack. We need to stand firm, holding fast against Satan’s advances.

The weapons at our disposal include the truth, righteousness, the gospel, our faith, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer. The ESV study notes on this passage describe prayer as “the main weapon of spiritual warfare, the Christian’s most powerful resource.” Its significance cannot be overstated; Paul uses the word “all” four times in verse 18. We are to pray at all times, with all prayer and supplication, with all perseverance, for all the saints. We cannot fight this spiritual battle alone. We must rely on the Lord’s strength, which is done primarily through prayer.

Photo from Google image search

There are two other passages that I think relate to this concept. They both have to do with prayer, and, interestingly, anxiety. I will be writing a follow-up post to more thoroughly explore these verses. For now, I would encourage you to meditate on the passage from Ephesians 6 and think about what kinds of ways you might be affected by spiritual warfare, as well as what you can do to put on the whole armor of God and stand against the devil’s schemes.

Short Prayers Count

Prayer has always been difficult for me. For years, I struggled with feeling overwhelmed by everything in my life and in the world that I wanted to pray about. It seemed like too much. I didn’t even know where to start, so I usually just didn’t start at all. I thought that in order to pray effectively, in a way that was worthy of God’s attention, I should be dedicating hours to prayer everyday, and since I couldn’t do that, I didn’t pray much. Eventually I started using a list of things to pray about that a friend from church had created. It was a good list, and I thought it would help me stay on track, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was very legalistic about it, thinking I had to pray for each and every thing on the list, saying the same words about the same topics every time I prayed.

Little by little, over the past couple of years, I’ve begun to experience breakthroughs in the area of prayer. The same friend who created that list told me during one of our conversations that the point of the list was to give ideas for things to pray about on days when we want to pray but can’t think of topics. It’s a starting point, but it’s not the whole story. We should tell God what’s on our heart, praying about what the Holy Spirit brings to mind. It’s supposed to be an active conversation with a real Person, not a list that we woodenly run through so we can stop feeling guilty about not praying.

So I started praying from the heart. I knew I could no longer ignore important issues such as the salvation of my kids and loved ones, or my own need for strength and empowerment in parenting, just because the thought of praying was intimidating. There were also specific issues, unique to our family, that I wouldn’t find on a list and needed to bring before God. I still didn’t have hours to dedicate to prayer, but I would try to spend 10-20 minutes at a time praying about my kids, marriage, and parenting. I would pray while I was driving or cleaning, usually talking out loud whenever I could in order to keep my mind from wandering. 

This was definitely an improvement, but I still found myself bound to the idea of needing a good chunk of time to pray about each situation. I’d often repeat the same things over and over again- sometimes using the same words, sometimes just the same ideas expressed in different words. And because I felt the need to pray elaborately and laboriously over each issue, I didn’t really pray about anything other than my immediate family. I felt like my kids and marriage took priority and I didn’t have time for other things. In fact, even when I’d see people on social media requesting prayer for something, I’d almost never pray about it, because I thought, “I don’t have time for a 5-10 minute prayer right now.” (Of course, since I was on social media in the first place, clearly I did have time for more worthwhile pursuits, but that’s a different topic.) 

I truly believe all of this was the work of Satan to make me less effective in prayer. Scripture is clear that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The passage goes on to give us the details of how we can do this: “Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand firm…. Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:13, 18). 

I began to realize that prayer doesn’t have to be long and complicated. Prayer can even be one word: “Help.” This one-word prayer is no less valid than praying all day about a situation. We don’t even have to specify why we’re asking for help if we can’t at that moment. Psalm 139:2-4 says, “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” God knows what’s going on. He knows what we’re thinking. He wants us to express our dependence on Him, and to seek His strength and wisdom, but He doesn’t need us to explain the whole situation in order for our prayers to be effective.

One great example of both long and short prayers is in Nehemiah. Nehemiah was an Israelite living in captivity in Persia. He was in a fairly high position as cupbearer to the king. He had heard a report that the city of Jerusalem was in terrible condition, and he desired to return to the city to help rebuild it. He knew that getting permission from the king to do such a thing might be risky and dangerous, since the king had already commanded work on rebuilding the city to stop. So he prays extensively and elaborately for days, fasting, mourning, weeping, and asking that God would give him success and grant him mercy in the sight of the king (Nehemiah 1:4-11). 

The time came for Nehemiah to make his petition before the king: “Then the king said to me, ‘What are you requesting?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it” (Neh. 2:4-5). Take note of that little phrase between the king’s question and Nehemiah’s reply- he prayed to the God of heaven. This couldn’t have been a long prayer. The king was sitting right in front of him, waiting for an answer. This was a quick, silent prayer- probably only a few words, perhaps asking God for help or courage. God does give him favor in the sight of the king, and the king grants his request. 

Sometimes we are so distressed, or things in our lives are so complicated, that we don’t even know how to pray. God’s got us covered there too. Romans 8:26-27 tells us that the Holy Spirit intervenes: “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.” The Holy Spirit redeems even our weakest attempts at prayer by giving us the words to say, bringing Scripture to mind, comforting us, and interceding for us according to the will of God. 

Today I was reading in Amos, one of the minor prophets. Verse 13 of chapter 4 stood out to me: “For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought, who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth- the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!” In context, this verse is emphasizing God’s power and dominion to the people of Israel, who have abandoned their faith in Him and are headed for judgment. But it also reminded me of the fact that when we pray, we are talking to God- the Creator of the universe, the One who could tell us our own thoughts before we think them. Does it even make sense that our prayers would always have to be long and perfectly detailed? I don’t think so. If we had to pray for 3 hours about each situation to make sure God knows exactly what’s going on and what we think we need, He wouldn’t even be worth praying to. 

These days, I’m trying to pray about a lot more things. I still pray for longer periods of time when I can. But I also pray short prayers. A sentence here and there. One minute praying for that person, two minutes praying for that situation. Sometimes only a few silent words, like Nehemiah, in the middle of a tough parenting moment. I think this is what Paul means when he tells us to “pray without ceasing” in 1 Thessalonians 5. Be in prayer all day long, about anything and everything, whenever you need to for however long you need to. Long prayers are good. Short prayers are good. It can be elaborate and lengthy if we have the time and are moved to pray that way. But it can also be simple and short. It all counts!

Give Thanks in ALL Circumstances

If you’re like me, you may find yourself skimming over portions of Scripture without really thinking about what you’re reading. Sometimes a verse or passage becomes so familiar that it loses its significance in our minds, and we don’t deeply think about the practical application it has for us. 

For instance, take 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, a well-known and often-quoted passage: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 

When I read the words “give thanks in all circumstances,” it’s easy to reduce that to, “in general, be thankful more often than not.” Or, “give thanks even when it’s hard.” But neither of those sentiments accurately reflects what this verse says. 

God’s will for us is to rejoice always (not sometimes), pray without ceasing (everyday, all throughout the day), and give thanks in all circumstances.  

ALL CIRCUMSTANCES. Every single one. 

This thought is repeated many times in Scripture. Take a look at the following verses, emphasis added: 

Philippians 4:6- “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” 

Colossians 3:17- “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” 

Ephesians 5:18b-20- “…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

Hebrews 13:15- “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” 

Let the significance of this sink in. We’re commanded to give thanks for EVERYTHING, in ALL situations, CONTINUALLY praising God. This encompasses all the good things in life, but it also encompasses the bad things. Give thanks when your kids do nothing but fight, whine, and disobey all day. Give thanks when your plans are ruined. Give thanks when you lose your job. Give thanks in the midst of a difficult marriage or relationship. Give thanks when nothing in your life turned out the way you expected. Give thanks when you get a devastating diagnosis. Give thanks when your house burns down. Give thanks even if a child or spouse dies in that house fire. 


Being able to have this mindset requires a radical shift. First, we need to accurately recognize and appreciate God’s grace for what it is. Our very existence, the air we breathe, and the ability of our lungs to breathe that air is due to God’s creating and sustaining power. Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus “created the world… and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Colossians 1:17 tells us that “in him all things hold together.” 

Not only do we owe our existence to His grace, but every little thing we enjoy (or don’t enjoy, but should) is a gift from God as well. The warm sunlight. The sound of rain. The beauty of creation that becomes so familiar to us, we fail to notice it. The smile on a child’s face. The taste of your favorite food. The smell of a scented candle. A hug from a loved one. There are hundreds, even thousands, of little things each and every day that we take for granted and don’t acknowledge. 

These are all good gifts from our Father (James 1:17), who doesn’t owe us anything. We don’t deserve any of it. Our sense of entitlement, our expectations that we should have whatever we desire, and our resentment that we have to endure hardships, trials, discomfort, and inconvenience, all come from a heart of pride that is never content. The importance of thanking God for the simple things in life cannot be overstated; if we can’t see His grace in these, and if we aren’t in the habit of giving thanks already, it will be nearly impossible to give thanks when times get tough. 

Second, we need to reframe things that we’re used to thinking about negatively and look at them from a different perspective. This isn’t to say we should ignore or deny negative emotions, but we should not dwell on them. Acknowledge the feelings, pray for God’s strength, empowerment, and a better attitude, and then look for things to be thankful for. Instead of grumbling about going to work, thank God for His provision through your job. Instead of complaining about your kids, thank God for the blessing of children. Instead of being annoyed by your spouse, thank God for him or her. Instead of complaining about household chores, thank God that you have the physical ability to do the tasks. 

And what about the times when we can’t find anything to be thankful for? Crappy jobs, whining children, annoying spouses, and mundane household chores are everyday irritants that most of us deal with. But there are other levels of suffering that are so heartbreaking, painful, confusing, and agonizing that we cannot even begin to find a silver lining. 

This brings us to the third mindset shift. 

I recently did a study on the book of Habakkuk. When you first read this book, you probably won’t have a clue what’s going on. Don’t let that discourage you. Really dig in and use resources to help you understand, because it’s worth it. Habakkuk begins by asking God why He is allowing so many bad things to happen. The people of Judah are facing exile and complete destruction because of their rebellion against God, but God is using an even more wicked country to bring about this judgment on them. It doesn’t make sense. Habakkuk questions God’s sovereignty, goodness, and justice in a situation where evil seems to prevail and God seems far away. 

Throughout the book, Habakkuk comes to realize that God is still good, faithful, and just, and that He uses all things, even our suffering, to glorify Himself and sanctify His people. His ways are higher than ours. He sees and understands things we could not possibly comprehend. He will eventually punish and defeat evil, and the righteous will see His justice, although it will probably not happen when or how we expect it to. The challenge is to trust the character of God and find comfort in who He is instead of getting lost in the pain of our circumstances. Our hope is found in Him- everything and everyone else will fail us at some point, but the character of God is a firm foundation that never changes. 

We have a choice to become angry, bitter, and depressed about our lives, or to worship Him for who He is and what He is doing, even if we can’t understand it. And when we choose to focus on Him instead of our circumstances, our perspective shifts. That’s what happened with Habakkuk. The book ends with this beautiful passage: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Habakkuk is looking at the worst case scenario here. He’s describing a situation with no food and no money. He knows his country is about to undergo complete destruction. He knows there is a lot of suffering and death coming at the hands of the wicked Babylonians. In the beginning of the book, he is essentially asking God, “How could you let this happen?” But at the end, he is saying, “Even if this happens, I will still choose to worship you.” 

If your worst fears come true, you still have God. Sometimes, the only thing we can think of to be thankful for is the character and presence of God- and He is more than enough. Sometimes our thanks looks like praise. Not for our situation, but for the fact that we can trust Him to work all things together for good, even when it’s impossible for us to see how anything good could come from it. When there is no joy in our circumstances, there is joy in God. He is our strength. He is our source of joy. He is our eternal hope. He is always faithful. 

I love this quote from Laura Story in her book, When God Doesn’t Fix It: “Joy is in the Lord. Brokenness is in the world. As long as we’re alive, both will coexist on earth.” 

We must keep our eyes on the Lord. When we focus on our broken circumstances, we are likely to doubt and become angry, bitter, and ungrateful. Or, at the very least, to become burdened and anxious over the fact that things are falling apart and we have no real control or power to change anything. Satan wants us to be distracted by our circumstances. He wants to use anything possible to cast doubt on God’s goodness and sovereignty. In contrast, God wants to use each trial and situation in life to conform us to the image of Christ and increase our faith in Him. We need to use our opportunities wisely. We can choose humility and dependence on God. We can choose worship in the waiting. We can choose to give thanks in ALL circumstances. 

Two of my favorite things are books and music, so I wanted to include links to a few books and songs that address being thankful no matter what, and worshipping God regardless of your life situations. Hopefully these resources will help further your study and enrich your praise.

Even If- A Study of Habbakuk
When God Doesn’t Fix It by Laura Story
Faithful God- I Am They
Even Then- Micah Tyler
Even If- MercyMe
Great You Are- Jordan Smith
Good God Almighty- Crowder

Book Review- Take It To Heart


What do you feel when you hear or see the name of the last book of the Bible? Fear? Confusion? Hesitation to read or study it? Do you mostly ignore it because you think it’s only about the end times, doubting that it has any relevance to your daily life? Or do you try to decipher all the imagery and symbolism, attempting to connect current events with what seems to be taking place in John’s descriptions of the end times? 

In her new 30-day devotional for women, entitled “Take It To Heart,” Rachel Schmoyer guides us through the entire book of Revelation, pulling out simple truths from each passage to apply to our everyday lives. Each day includes a Scripture reading, key verse, devotion, prayer, and questions to reflect on and study further. This book is perfect for people who have never read or studied Revelation before. With each day’s devotion consisting only of three short pages, it is not intimidating or time consuming. It’s also perfect for those who have struggled with the practical application that Revelation has to offer us today. 

During this study, I realized that our focus is often on the wrong things when reading or discussing Revelation. We try to figure out what should be taken literally or figuratively. We try to predict when end-times events will take place. We speculate about who the Antichrist will be. We wonder if believers will be present for the tribulation, or if there will be a rapture of the Church before it starts.  

The speculation and questions can be endless, but just like every other book of the Bible, the real questions should be, What does Revelation teach us about God? What does God want us to learn about Himself, and how does this knowledge impact our lives and relationship with Him?

From the beginning of “Take It To Heart,” we are urged to focus on Jesus as the Light of the World (see Revelation 1 for an incredible description of Jesus). And throughout the rest of the book, Rachel keeps directing our gaze back to Christ, even as we read about the letters to the churches, riders on horses bringing judgment, angels blowing trumpets that initiate more judgment and death, the two witnesses, a woman and a dragon, two terrifying beasts, the mark of the beast, angels pouring out the bowl judgments, evil world powers personified as a prostitute, a final battle led by Satan, and the final Judgment Day. 

Whew! It’s no wonder we get distracted. There’s a LOT going on in Revelation. But in the midst of all this, Rachel guides us through some very important lessons. We learn to evaluate our own hearts according to the warnings and encouragements that Jesus gives to the seven churches. We are drawn to the beauty, glory, and majesty of God’s throne room in heaven. We rejoice as we remember that Jesus is worthy because of the blood he shed for us. We are shown that although the judgments sound chaotic and scary, they are never outside God’s sovereign plan. We see God’s active protection, provision, and peace for His people. We are comforted with the knowledge that God hears and responds to our prayers. We see the Holy Spirit’s empowering of believers as we witness for Him. We are encouraged by the fact that God notices all the little things we do that reflect our love and service for Him. We are called to patient endurance and faithfulness through persecution and trouble. We are reassured of Jesus’s presence as we prepare for our own spiritual battles. And, of course, we are given the amazing promise of the new heavens and the new earth, and the presence of God dwelling fully with us. 

Perhaps one of the most notable lessons for me was the reminder that we don’t need to know everything. As Rachel says on Day 16, “I trust God to tell us what we need to know. God, in His mercy, does not overwhelm us with too much.” 

There are a lot of mysteries left unsolved in Revelation. It’s good to study these things to the extent that we are able. But most of our time should be spent on what we DO know. The Bible doesn’t tell us who the Antichrist will be, but it does tell us who Christ is. It doesn’t tell us when Christ will return, but we know that He will, and we know what we need to be doing in the meantime- studying His Word, growing in our relationship with Him, and being faithful to share the truth with others. It doesn’t always tell us exactly what should be taken literally or figuratively, but it does direct our focus to the One who has all things under His control as part of His sovereign plan. 

“Take It To Heart” keeps us from the pointless (and sometimes harmful) speculation that so often consumes our discussions and thoughts about Revelation. And it provides a wonderful starting point for those who have avoided studying it before. No matter what opinions you hold, or what view you take on end-time events, this book will benefit you as you reflect on the truths Revelation gives us about who God is and how we should live as followers of Christ.