Join Me in #MakingMercyGreat

May I make a request of you?

Yesterday, our pastor wrapped up his series on contentment in the Christian life. (It is nothing short of excellent, so please listen if you have the time!) Of all the sermons and points he preached, I found myself continually going back to one application in particular: “the rhetoric of the Spirit.” It has already proven in these past three weeks to be an enormous grace during times of hardship, pain, and suffering.

Here is what Pastor Colin preached:

Make more of your joys than you do of your sorrows. Make more of your gains than you do of your losses. Do this in your thinking, in your speaking, and even in your praying, and you will grow in contentment. I’ve included praying here because of what Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). If you do this, “the peace of God… will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:7).

So bring your requests to God. But if your prayers are only a long list of requests, your praying will not bring you peace. All you are doing is filling your mind with problems in the presence of God. Don’t let your prayers become an exercise in worrying on your knees! Bring to mind the blessings of God in your life. Give thanks for all Christ has done for you and for all that you are in him. Bring your requests to God, with thanksgiving, and the peace of God will guard your heart and mind.

Luther has a wonderful comment about “the rhetoric of the Spirit.” (Rhetoric relates to speaking, and so “the rhetoric of the Spirit” is Luther’s way of describing how the Holy Spirit speaks.) “If a cross comes, to make the cross but little, but if there is a mercy, to make the mercy great.”¹

The Devil has a different way of speaking, “If there is a cross, the Devil makes it greater than it is, and so brings discontent. And if there is a mercy, it is the rhetoric of the devil to make the mercy less. ‘Aye, indeed,’ [the Devil] says, ‘the thing is a good thing, but what is it? It is no big deal.’”²

When you are listening to music, you have some choices as to how it will sound. You can turn up the treble or you can turn up the bass. The music is the same, but it will sound quite different depending on the settings that you choose.

Turn up the ‘mercies’ in the music of your life. The rhetoric of the Spirit magnifies your mercies! A person who is filled with the Holy Spirit makes more of their blessings than they make of their sorrows.

[1] Cited in Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, p. 155, Banner of Truth, 1964. [2] Ibid., p. 156.

Let’s Start Something

Brothers and sisters, can we start something here today? Can we resolve to make more of our joys than we do of our sorrows? I’m envisioning a wave of mercy-filled thanksgiving that proclaims the greatness of God’s mercy, so that our struggles, sufferings, and pains become smaller in comparison.

So many of you are suffering. So this is for you, and for the body of Christ as a whole. Do this in the privacy of prayer, or add it to your social media feeds. Make the crosses in your life but little, but if there is a mercy, make the mercy great!

Here’s mine to start:

A great mercy is going shopping at the big grocery store, and making it through without pain! #MakingMercyGreat

A few practical ideas:

1. Pray

Take Pastor Colin’s suggestion, and don’t let your prayers become an exercise in worrying on your knees! Make God’s mercies great, especially as you commune with God in prayer.

2. Post on Social Media (#MakingMercyGreat)

For the sake of being encouraged by each other’s mercies, let’s call it #MakingMercyGreat on social media. Any time you see God’s mercy and desire to “turn up the ‘mercies’ in the music of your life,” use the hashtag to tell us what you are thankful for!

3. Send Me an Email

really want to hear about how God’s mercies are making your crosses but little. Send me an email: (If I can use your “mercy” on this blog, let me know. I might put together an article with a bunch of them listed.)

Take one of these actions right now. Ready, set, go!

A Guide to Biblical New Year’s Resolutions

Confession: I used to roll my eyes at the thought of making New Year’s resolutions. After all, how many people actually keep them? I wondered. But when Pastor Colin preached a sermon a while back, called “Resolved! Life Commitments for a New Year,” it became clear to me that resolutions could not only be kept, they could be deeply biblical. 

Christians are saved by grace through faith, not by works so that no one can boast. But the Bible uses active imagery to describe the Christian life, as a race, a fight, a pursuit, a war, and training in godliness. We strive for spiritual growth because we’ve been freed through the blood of Jesus from striving for worldly, selfish gain. Therefore, resolutions, when grounded in Scripture, can be tools for our spiritual growth! Continue reading

Do Not Regard God’s Discipline Lightly

I’ve never met a person who said that discipline was pleasant. Parents battle their kid’s temper tantrums with heavy hearts and tears, athletes break their bodies in order to build strength and train for victory, and reckless drivers receive expensive tickets so the roads are kept safe.

Discipline is often painful in the moment, but its rewards are great. This is what the writer of Hebrews was expressing when he cited Proverbs 3:11-12:

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

   nor be weary when reproved by him.

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

   and chastises every son whom he receives. (Hebrews 12:5-6)

The Lord’s discipline is a means to our growth in holiness:

Continue reading

Four Keys to Living Faithfully in Exile

We have all known seasons of exile, in one form or another.

Perhaps you’ve found yourself stuck in a geographical location, and every circumstance — no matter how hard you’ve tried to escape — seemed to hold you there. Maybe you’ve seen all your hopes, dreams, and plans go terribly awry.

Perhaps you’ve endured a season (or multiple seasons) of pain and suffering, whether in your body or from outside afflictions. Or possibly your exile has come in the form of watching material and circumstantial blessings slip from your hands like sand carried away by the wind. Whatever the nature and intensity of your storm, seasons of exile are characteristically similar in several ways. They are grueling, unwelcome, confusing, and often test our faith.

Continue reading

From Slow of Heart to Burning Hearts

Seasons of spiritual dryness can be alarming, exhausting, even downright awful and heart-wrenching. I’ve had days, months even, when coming to the Word and spending time with the Father has felt like work, and I’ve struggled to feel his presence and love for me. I’ve wondered, God, where have you gone? I feels like you’ve hidden your face.

The seeming silence of God and the lack of obvious, joy-filled, abundant fruit springing forth from reading the Word are trials that most every believer experiences in their lifetime. It feels embarrassing to admit because we as humans like “having it all together”…or, at least, we like putting on the facade that we do.

But these seasons of dryness are worth talking about because we not only glean encouragement from hearing other people’s similar stories, we are pushed to remember what is true of God, his gospel, and his holy Word.

You Are Not Alone

In two very significant ways, those of us enduring dry spiritual seasons are not alone.

Firstly, many brothers and sisters of the faith have gone before us in this regard. And many are enduring the dryness alongside us right now.

Be comforted by David’s struggles in the Psalms:

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? (Psalm 13:1-2)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2)

Also consider Job, who felt God had deserted him and left him for dead; Joseph, who spent years in a jail cell, probably wondering when God’s purposes for him, as once revealed in his dreams, would come to pass; and the disciples, whose faces were sad and whose hopes were dashed after Jesus was crucified.

Believer, you are not alone in your discouragement! We are accompanied by a long list of Christians who yearned for the assurance that God was indeed present with them, especially during seasons of dryness and doubt. There is comfort in knowing that there is nothing new under the sun; just as God has been faithful to his Church throughout biblical history, so he will show his faithfulness to us. That is a promise.

Secondly, and more importantly, we are not alone because the very presence of Jesus is with us. How do we know that this is true? Where do we find assurance? At the cross. There, God turned his face away from his own Son, rejected him, and poured his judgment upon him – the judgment rightly deserved by you and me. Jesus experienced full and utter abandonment by God on the cross so that believers in Christ would never have to experience his wrath.

Jesus died a lonely death so that we would never have to be alone.

But Jesus did not stop there. Not only did he sacrifice his own blood for the forgiveness of our sins, transferring his perfect righteousness to our record, he then sent his promised Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts, confirming to us that we are indeed beloved, accepted children of the Most High God. The good deposit of our inheritance in heaven, the Spirit is our Counselor, Comforter, and Helper, who ministers to us the gospel-reality that we are never truly alone.

Burning Hearts

Knowing that we are not alone is well and good…but what do we do when we feel alone, when our Bible reading seems stale and our prayers lackluster? How do we practically put aside what we feel for what we know to be true?

We can learn from an account in Luke 24. Two of the disciples were traveling on the Road to Emmaus three days after Jesus had been crucified and laid in the tomb. Jesus appears to them, but they do not recognize him. He asks them about their conversation, and they sorrowfully recount the events of the crucifixion, how their hopes had been dashed when Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, died on the cross. Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb, and because the men could not see him anymore, their faith had faltered.

So Jesus calls them “foolish ones” who are “slow of heart,” and he helps to open their eyes to see him clearly once again. He does the same for us in three specific ways when we are struggling to trust that he is with us in dry and lonely seasons.

Jesus says, “Believe the gospel.”

It is all too easy to forget what we know to be true, even the very foundation of our faith, when we feel far from God. The events of daily life, our insecurities, our doubts, and our fears can keep us from fixing our eyes on Jesus; instead, we become distracted by what we are “doing wrong,” by our immediate circumstances, even by false beliefs about who we say Jesus is.

It is during these times that Jesus tells us to believe the gospel, just as he implores his disciples to remember the gospel-prophecies of the Scriptures:

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

Have you forgotten the gospel of grace, that Jesus took your punishment so that you would never be left alone? Do you need to remember that you are God’s beloved, chosen, and accepted child, with whom he is well pleased because of his Son? Are you fixing your eyes on Jesus, the author, perfecter, and object of your faith, or are you depending on your own efforts to draw near to God?

If this is you, as it is me, Jesus says, “Believe the gospel!”

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Jesus says, “Wait for me.”

The Bible’s command to “wait for the Lord” occurs over and over again, especially in the Psalms. This teaches us that there will be times when we feel that waiting is all we are doing! Waiting actively, as we choose to abide in Christ through Bible reading and prayer, but waiting nonetheless.

In Luke 24, the disciples’ eyes are opened to recognize Jesus only after he takes the bread, breaks it, and gives it to them to eat. Jesus is our Bread of Life, the Living Word, and we are nourished by him when we open the holy Scriptures to feed on his truth. Ultimately, it is Christ who feeds us with spiritual nourishment through the Bible, but we must choose to come to the table. It is Jesus who feeds us through his living, powerful, and active Word of truth, but we must choose to open the Bible and search its riches, expecting to hear from him.

There may be seasons when our time in the Bible seems dry and lifeless, but we can rest assured that our devotion to abiding in the word of Christ is indeed producing fruit within us, growing us into mature disciples, and teaching us increasingly more about the love of our Savior.

Jesus says, “Remember the faithfulness of God your Father.”

Keeping a record of God’s faithfulness toward us is a useful tool of encouragement for times when we feel distant from him. The next time you enter a season of dryness and you are wondering if God is present, think of biblical history and your own testimony, of all the times that God has revealed himself through his Son, his Word, and his Spirit.

After Jesus broke the bread and vanished from the disciples’ sight, they said,

“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:32-35)

Brothers and sisters, think often of the faithfulness of God, especially when you are tempted to believe that he has left you alone to fend for yourself. Think of how he has supplied for your soul through the pouring out of his Son’s own blood. Think of how he has sustained your soul through the provision of the Bible and the gift of his Spirit. Think of how he has specifically provided for your daily needs. Think of his promise to glorify you when he takes you home! Proclaim his faithfulness to your own heart, take courage, and tell others of his goodness.

Let us trust that Jesus is the one who transforms the slow of heart into hearts burning with passion for more of him. As David sings in Psalm 27:1,

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

[Post Credit: Unlocking the Bible]

How to Persevere When You Are Weary in Serving

Our family vacation could not have arrived at a better time.

I was feeling worn out, discouraged, and depleted from the daily grind. Day in and day out, each 24-hour period seemed packed to the brim with activities, work, and other commitments. There never seemed to be enough time in the day to see all the people I wanted to see, finish the housework I needed to finish, and give all the effort I wanted to give in serving the church.

Honestly, that last one was the kicker. I realized that I was becoming weary and exhausted from serving. While I felt certain that I was not attempting to do more than he had asked of me, the weariness had caught up with me and left me feeling inadequate and depleted.

This reminded me of the reality of human frailty. While God never slumbers nor sleeps, you and I often come face to face with our limitations, especially in the area of serving God’s people, be it visiting the elderly, playing music for church services, teaching the children in Sunday School, or carrying one another’s burdens through the ministry of prayer.

The twelve disciples came up against their own limitations in Mark chapter six, after they had spent considerable time casting out demons and healing the sick in Jesus’ name (12,13). The men were weary with serving and had “no leisure even to eat” from the ministry they continued to do (31).

At this point, word about Jesus was spreading, and the crowds followed him wherever he journeyed. Jesus had just encouraged the disciples to get away for some rest from their service; yet, another crowd “saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them” (33). I imagine the disciples were thinking, We’ve got nothing left in our tanks! How can we possibly minister to these people adequately?

Those of us who are also weary in serving and aware of our limitations can learn five helpful keys to our perseverance from the rest of this account, when Jesus feeds the five thousand:

Submit to the plans God has for you

We often become even more exhausted from trying to skirt around God’s plans for us, rather than submitting to them in faith. Discouragement and self-pity tend to surface within us when events don’t pan out the way we thought they would: the rehearsal runs late, people’s hearts are hardened to the ministry of the Word, the turnout for the prayer meeting is slim and disheartening.

The disciples had not planned on continuing to minister to the crowds; they had wanted to get away, rest, and recover. So when Jesus changed plans on them, they had a few choices: They could resist him completely and go off to rest, comply with frustration out of obligation, or submit willingly to the change of plans out of a deep trust in his good intentions for them.

Willing submission to God’s plan, even when it looks different than ours, actually produces the fruit of patience and peace within us. As a result, our service increasingly becomes the aroma of Christ, rather than reluctant, dead works that are of little benefit to anyone.

Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with love for people

As the crowds gathered around Jesus and the twelve, Mark tells us that “[Jesus] had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (34). When I am growing weary in my serving, one of the first things to fly out the window is love for other people, rendering the rest of my outward actions useless. It is especially difficult to lovingly serve those who do not show any appreciation or love in return.

But Jesus, the great Shepherd of the lost sheep, was not merely unappreciated, he was rejected by men. The same crowds he ministered to, healed, and taught were the ones who crucified him. Yet, despite all the hatred and violence towards him, Jesus loved his enemies to the end and forgave them, even while he hung upon the cross.

This same Jesus has given us his Holy Spirit, and we need only to ask the Spirit to pour the love of Christ into our hearts so that we can love even the most unappreciative and difficult of sinners. The gospel frees us to serve in love because it reminds us of how immensely we have been served by Christ.

Give all you have as an offering of worship, even if it seems meager

When Jesus asks the disciples to provide the crowds something to eat, they bring him five loaves of bread and two fish – not exactly an adequate meal for five thousand hungry people! Nonetheless, the disciples obeyed Jesus’ command to bring what they had for his service, even it seemed meager and insufficient.

When I’m growing exhausted and discouraged from serving, I am tempted to believe that passing the baton to someone more able is better than giving what little I have. One of my greatest struggles is singing, and I often want to hide and let a more talented singer take over for me. Perhaps you, too, have found yourself embarrassed or discouraged by your limitations in serving, and you’re equally tempted to pass the baton.

But Jesus teaches us through this account that our obedience despite our limitations is the platform by which he works wonders in and through us, while making his own name great. Jesus used the five loaves and two fish for his purposes, and he will just as surely use what little you bring him in obedience and faith.

Trust the ability of God to provide what you cannot

So what happened when the disciples gave Jesus the seemingly meager five loaves and two fish?

[Jesus] looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men (41-44).

Five loaves and two fish fed five thousand people? Did the disciples make that happen themselves? No, but Jesus took their obedient service and multiplied it, bearing significant fruit through an insignificant offering.

We may never see the fruit of our service – how many people trust Christ or grow in their spiritual maturity – but we can trust God’s ability to multiply our efforts for his glory in the lives of his people (and even in the lives of unbelievers). Our limitations serve to remind us that God does not need our service, but he delights to use us when we willingly, trustingly offer ourselves as living sacrifices. It is through the multiplication of our small, but sincere, offerings that God reveals his perfect power and strength and works among his people.

Notice that the people “all ate and were satisfied.” Ultimately, it is the Bread of Life, himself, who satisfies his people, not the greatness of our service. Our service points to our need for the greater Servant, and this should encourage us to continue giving of ourselves to see his glory put on display through our limitations.

Get away, seek Christ, and rest

Finally, it is important not to discount Jesus’ initial command for the disciples to go away by themselves and rest. Yes, Jesus had a different plan for the men that day, which purposed to put his power and authority on display. But even Jesus got away to rest and pray to the Father, and if the Son of God set that example for us, how much more do we need to rest and recharge?

It is only in resting in the Bread of Life, ourselves, that we will be fed by his Word and be satisfied. It is only when we think deeply about the gospel and receive the mercy and grace of God anew that we will be compelled and equipped to continue pouring ourselves out in service to others.

What outpouring of service is Jesus asking you to offer to him today?

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Five Reasons We Can Trust God in the Detours of Our Lives

As I drove to work the other morning, I couldn’t help but get frustrated at the road work happening in our neighborhood. Big, orange “Detour” signs regaled the road, signaling to drivers that they would need to take an alternative route. I turned right, onto a suburban street I did not recognize, hoping the detour would not make me late for work. My traveling, time-table, and safety was now in the hands of the construction workers who had mapped out the orange detour route, and I hoped that they had done their job successfully!

My initial frustration, however, soon turned to curiosity, as I found my car weaving its way through streets I had not known existed. When did that school get there? I questioned, as my car approached an elementary building bustling with parents dropping off their kids. This was the not the first time I had been re-routed very near to our home, being forced to discover the suburban treasures (nature included) hidden amongst the tree-lined streets.

It so happened that the construction workers did perform their jobs with excellence because I successfully made my way out of the detour and to work on time.

This is one very literal example of a life detour, but what about others we experience?

The unexpected loss of a child. Health that has made a turn for the worst. The sudden dismantling of a friendship. The unfortunate destruction of personal property after a violent storm. The crumbling of a particular set of plans that seemed so sure, so guaranteed.

Detours come in many different shapes and sizes, but all of them share one thing in common: We didn’t see them coming. They catch us off-guard, leaving us frustrated, confused, curious, even heart-broken. We question why things had to happen this way, at this time. The ultimate temptation is to become discouraged, even angry at God, as we experience our faith being rocked.

As I read in Exodus this morning, it became clear that the Israelites went through a similar experience during the time when God called them out from slavery in Egypt. I’m going to skip from verse to verse so you can grasp the full picture of the story:

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea… (Exodus 13:17-18)

And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night… (13:21)

“And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” And they did so… (14:4)

When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly… (14:10)

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent…” (14:13-14)

And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea… (14:22-23)

Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses… (14:30-31)

“You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode…” (15:13)

God took the Israelites on a detour of their own, as is made clear by the first passage: “God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near.” I wonder if the people were thinking, Where is God leading us? This route seems kind of roundabout…wouldn’t it be easier to go through Philistia? If they reacted in any way like I did on my drive to work, they were probably frustrated, confused, and even discouraged because the way did not seem clear.

From this account, we can glean five particular reasons to trust God in the detours of our lives:

1. The way God leads us may not make sense to us, but he has his reasons for each and every detour.

I absolutely love how the Bible records God’s thoughts about the detour he provided for the Israelites: “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” His people most certainly did not perceive his reasons, just as we often do not hear the mind of God as we move throughout our days (Isaiah 55:9). But rest assured, God, in his divine sovereignty and wisdom, has a reason for the detours he instates upon our lives. And because we know that God is good, we can therefore trust that his every reason for these detours is equally good.

2. Detours purpose to showcase God’s glory, both to our enemies and for the sake of our own faith.

When shifts in our plans occur, how quickly do we complain and grumble? For me, quickly. It doesn’t take long before I am confounded and unsure about the purpose of changed plans or unexpected suffering. But God makes it absolutely clear that he purposes to reveal his great power and glory through these detours. This illustration might seem a stretch, but consider the construction worker who strategically placed the orange “Detour” signs beside the roads: When I got back on my normal route, he was glorified in my mind as I thought, He did his job well!

How much more will we (and our Enemy) know our mighty God’s power when he is ultimately victorious at the coming of Christ? At the Day, we will proclaim, “Every detour was worth it!” and we will glorify our God in the ultimate sense when we worship him for eternity. For now, we can choose to extol his name in the midst of the detours of life because we know that his glory will be revealed, and we can also bear witness to a world without hope by trusting his ways and praising his wisdom.

3. When a detour feels threatening or confusing, we can trust that God is indeed safeguarding us.

Exodus 14 mentions twice that God erected walls of water around the Israelites, as they made their way through the Red Sea on dry ground. And when God repeats himself, we should pay attention because he is trying to tell us something of great importance! What do these walls of water mean, for them and for us?

They indicate that God’s presence and protection go with us, even while enduring seasons of detours. How can we know this to be true, especially when we feel left alone to fend for ourselves and God seems distant?

Answer: the cross of Christ. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, bore our sins upon himself at Calvary and, as a result, was justly rejected by the holy God, who turned his face away from his Son’s suffering. And all of this so that we would never know God’s rejection or abandonment; for when we trust Jesus’ work on the cross for our righteousness, we are identifying with him, and God clothes us in his perfection. When he looks at us, he sees Christ!

Because Jesus was rejected, we will never be. More than that, in this life we are promised the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit and the protection of Christ as our soul’s everlasting Advocate. God is indeed safeguarding his children, giving them his peace that surpasses understanding, nourishment of truth from his Word, and freedom from fear and doubt through the gospel.

4. Detours cause us to see God’s character more clearly.

Just as I discovered many previously unknown treasures on my driving detour — the school, trees, neighborhoods, and all — so God uses the detours of our lives to teach us about himself. How would we know that God is our Eternal Comfort, unless he places us in an uncomfortable position? How would we proclaim with praises that Christ is our Tender Shepherd unless he exposes us to threatening dangers and suffering? How would we extol our Righteous Judge unless he unveils through our exposing circumstances what the cross accomplished for our sake? Detours foster intimacy with Christ, making them all worth it.

5. God uses detours to make firm our hope and, ultimately, to plant us in the heavenly places with Christ.

The bright orange signs that led me on my detour were not in vain; they actually helped me to know the way through the construction. Through your present detour — be it sickness or pain or changed plans — God is molding you as clay in his intentional, compassionate hands to look more like his Son. Indeed, detours exercise our faith and test our hope.

For those who have put their trust in Jesus Christ, we will emerge from life’s detours as gold refined by fire. We will finally be home: “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.”

And in the ultimate sense, as believers are glorified with Christ in eternity, we will realize that life on earth was one big detour: a purposed adventure written by the Great Storyteller, for the intent of calling us to salvation and preparing us for paradise with the Author and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus, and the great God of our every detour and our forever eternity.

Anna: What It Looks Like to Be Devoted to Jesus

It’s been said that a person must spend 10,000 hours working on a particular skill before he or she is considered an “expert” in that skill. Think about this:

That’s 10,000 hours of playing the violin before the music world calls you an expert violinist.

That’s 10,000 hours of horseback riding before the equestrian society calls you an expert rider.

That’s 10,000 hours of creating recipes before the culinary world calls you an expert chef.

In any of these cases, we would say, “That person is devoted to what they do.”

I started figured skating around the age of five and continued until I had “passed” all the initial skill levels (a total of two or three years). The obvious next-step was to hire a private coach and pursue competitions. Only the hardcore, committed athletes would make the decision to give up a portion of their childhood in favor of spending hours upon hours at the ice rink, training with their coaches.

At that point, I decided that I simply was not devoted enough to figure skating to pursue it with blood, sweat, and tears.

Meet Anna

Anna, the prophetess from Luke 2:36-38, was a devoted woman. Devoted to what, or to whom exactly? Read along with me:

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Now, we need to back up in the story a little bit to get the full grasp of what Anna is saying and doing here. At this time in history, Jesus Christ — God in human flesh — has been born to Joseph and Mary. His earthly parents were Jewish, as were many people of that day, and the Jewish Law said that every male baby had to be dedicated to God through circumcision at the temple.

The temple was located in Jerusalem, and it was the place where God’s people would go to meet with him, offer up sacrifices for their sins, and be forgiven and cleansed. The temple symbolized Gods presence.

Nowadays, believers in Jesus Christ don’t go to a temple to meet with God because Jesus is the way we meet with God. He sacrificed himself on the cross, taking the punishment for all our sins, so that we could be forgiven and cleansed forever in God’s sight.

So Joseph and Mary have taken Jesus to the temple, and they are met by a man named Simeon, who was also a man deeply devoted to God. Simeon makes a proclamation about this divine baby saying, in effect, “This Jesus is the promised Savior of the world! He is the Christ!”

This is where Anna’s story begins.

There are three specific characteristics we can learn from Anna about what it looks like to be people devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ:

Godly people cling to Christ

Verse 37 says, “She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” Remember that the temple was where God’s people would go to meet with him and be cleansed from their sins. The temple was a picture of what Jesus would eventually become for his people: the way into the presence of God (John 14:6).

Anna was committed to worshiping the Lord! She did not leave the temple, which is another way of saying that she was committed to spending her life with knowing God and serving him.

Anna knew that her whole life was dependent on God: that he created her, that nothing within her was hidden from his searching gaze (not even sin), that he was her only hope of salvation from sin, and that a life of joy and peace was found only in him.

Anna’s thoughts and actions were focused on worshiping God. She was laser-focused on clinging to God for her salvation and not to worldly things, like her possessions, her marital status, her accomplishments, her relationships, or her social ranking.

We also can grow into godly people by asking Jesus to help us depend on him, day and night, for all we need and for our salvation. We can pray, “Help me, Jesus, to love you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength!” He delights to provide life and righteousness to those who seek his face.

Godly people are all ages

We can assume that Anna got married when she was very young, so she had many decades of living alone as a widow. But did Anna complain or grumble about her situation? No! She clung to the Lord from her early years until the time of our story, when she was a wise 84 years old!

Whether we are old or young, we can be godly people who depend on Jesus Christ for our hope and salvation, for godliness (devotion to Christ) has no age limits.

It is never too early or too late to spend our lives for Christ’s sake and his purposes. You can start depending on Jesus today, asking him to reveal his purposes, that you might walk in them for his glory. 

Godly people share their faith

Finally, we learn from Anna’s example that godly people are excited to share their faith with others. Godly people grasp that the gospel is called Good News for a reason: We don’t keep news to ourselves — we share it! When Anna learns that Jesus Christ has come into the world, she first thanks God and then she begins to “speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel.” 

There are people whom God has placed around you purposefully. Your friends, classmates, neighbors, co-workers, and family members are not in your life by accident. God reigns sovereign over all your relationships.

What is one way you can share the gospel of Jesus with them this week? May our thanksgiving to God for what he has done in sending his Son be like a bubbling fountain that overflows onto those who are missing out on the best news they could ever encounter and believe.

Only one Expert

We talked earlier about being experts, and you may be thinking, “Because Anna was a devoted woman who walked with God constantly, she must have been an expert in godliness!” If you’re anything like me, this can be temptation for discouragement: “Why aren’t I that godly?!”

But no one is an expert when it comes to devotion to Jesus Christ. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Even after you have put your faith in Jesus, you will still fall short. You will still struggle to follow God.

The good news is that he knows about your struggle, and he knows that you will never be perfectly devoted to Christ. And that is why God provided his Son, who was the only person who could be perfectly devoted to his Father and who was perfectly devoted, all the way to his death.

Jesus was the only expert in godliness, so that we would not have to be!

And when Jesus became sin for us on the cross, he was saying to his Father, “Punish me for all the times when your children were not devoted to you. Put all of their sins and failings on me, and in exchange, give them my perfect, spotless devotion. See them as your godly, pure, devoted children.”

Be encouraged: We can pursue godly lives because Jesus was godly on our behalf!

Let’s ask God for a desire to be devoted to him today. Let’s ask his help in becoming people who cling to Christ, who spend ourselves for the gospel in all seasons of life, who share our faith with others, and who ultimately trust in the grace of God when we fail, knowing that Christ is our righteousness!

With You

While sitting on a park bench in the Summer of 2009, I penned the lyrics to the song “With You,” which would be my first song written since the seventh grade (which was written for a school project). I had never considered myself a “songwriter,” but the lyrics came so swiftly, tumbling out of my head onto paper. This was a season filled with pressure from the world’s expectations and, simultaneously, one of increasingly overwhelming desires to be quiet and focused and saturated in the presence of the Lord.

While I see changes in myself and in my understanding of and love for Christ since that time, the words still ring true. I hope they encourage you today, especially if you’re in a season of busyness, dryness or pressure. May you always trust in God’s presence, which is unceasingly with you.

With You 

Why, when it seems so easy
Does my mind shut off?
My heart finds a roadblock to you

You say you desire to meet with me
In that quiet place of journey
In that place where it’s only us together

I feel your yearning
I hear you calling me softly to your side
But life remains, gets in the way
Another day, another day gone by
Without you

This is not what I want
Independence, busy rushing around
Oh, I know I need you now

Why, when the chaos surrounds me
And the world tempts my heart
Do I submit to its presence?

It does not define me
Nor does it bring the sense of satisfaction
That you provide so selflessly

Then I find you
I hear you calling me
To the place beyond the world

And I won’t deny, I won’t ever try
Won’t let another day go by
Without you

This is not what I want
Independence, busy rushing around
Oh, I know I need you now

My life is incomplete without running
Going straight to your arms
I need those moments with you

And how can the silence be so loud?
How can my heart be so proud
When you’re beside me
Urging me to my knees?

Oh, how you show your divinity
Open my eyes so I can see
How you love me


(Copyright 2009, Work in Progress by Kristen Wetherell)

Three Lessons I’ve Learned While on Mission in Hungary

I’m on mission for the gospel in Hungary. Yet I’ve spent all day in a room by myself, hoping to heal from the unexpected sickness that came upon me suddenly last night.
Today, while the rest of the team continued teaching English to eager Hungarian students; while the chapel filled my temporary bedroom with the sounds of singing; while gospel conversations happened and the Bible was read, I prayed and slept.Allow me to back up and give you some background.Unlocking the Bible, the ministry I work for during the week, is in the midst of translating some of Pastor Colin Smith’s resources into other languages, one of the first being “10 Keys for Unlocking the a Bible” in Hungarian. Last summer, a great number of Hungarian students received a copy of this book as a gift for completing two weeks of English camp in Budapest.

I had the blessed opportunity to see these books distributed among the students, and we have heard testimonies of how God is using this resource to help these students, both believers and unbelievers, understand the grand storyline of the Bible.

This past week, a group of us returned to Hungary to run another English gospel camp in the country town of Tapolca. The end of our week holds a wonderful reunion with those aforementioned students from Budapest, who received Colin’s book last summer.

It is because of the support and prayers of many that these translations are able to be printed and given to people internationally. And there are more to come! (We’ll shortly be establishing a new section on our website specifically for these translations.)

I’ve come to realize a few significant things about missions during these last twelve hours of seeing all of my own plans get redirected. Paul opens his letter to the Corinthians with these very lessons, which are helpful to us all, whether we are on mission in our backyard or in Hungary.

1) When on mission, lean into discomfort. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

Paul is referencing his persecutions in Asia, bodily hardship that came upon him during his missionary travels. None of the affliction was pleasant, but all of the affliction was purposeful. Paul is saying that when we realize that God is the source of our comfort, and not our bodily circumstances, we not only stand on a solid, trustworthy foundation of compassion, we are enabled by the Spirit to point others to Christ in their afflictions.

If you’re a Christian, there is never a time when you’re not on mission. Consider your neighbors, relatives, co-workers, or even the groups of people you are serving on technical “mission trips.” The afflictions God has ordained for your life are gifts of his grace to be leaned into, not complained about or devalued. In Christ, affliction may not be pleasant, but it has purpose. Lean into discomfort by leaning into the God of all comfort.

2) When on mission, realize the Lord is on mission within you. “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (vv. 8-10).

Amazing, that as Paul intended to go on mission for the gospel, he also was ministered to by the Spirit. He explains that in their many afflictions, they learned that God intended to deepen their dependence on him, making it clear that only he could be their steadfast hope.

Often it can feel like gospel “mission” is up to us: saying the right words at just the right time, or having enough energy to pour into people. I often slip into thinking that a person’s ability to hear the gospel and be changed depends on my own abilities and timing. But this could not be farther from the truth. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ–but always by the power of the Spirit and the right timing and will of God.

On gospel mission, we must remember that we are completely dependent on God at work within us. This is an especially needed reminder during moments of affliction and hardship. God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.

3) When on mission, plug into prayer. “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (v. 11).

Paul commends his readers to pray for him because he trusts that God works through the prayers of the saints. This is especially true when our desire is to see more people come to know Jesus Christ. God is teaching me today that, even though I can’t run around with the students or teach English or share the gospel, I can pray. And pray and pray some more.

Prayer is powerful. It is a means of expressing our dependence upon God and trusting him with all of our needs. Prayer is also a fount of thanksgiving and praise for all God has done. Prayer actually does something! I read once that if we are not praying, or asking others to pray, then we don’t actually believe that prayer works. That is convicting.

So where does God have you on mission? How might he be using your afflictions to comfort others and cause you to depend on him? And how will you use your mission field as a prompting to pray?

Be blessed as you go on mission wherever God has placed you, trusting him with the outcome.

[Post credit: Unlocking the Bible]