Popular Passage, New Perspective

I’ll try to keep this brief and to the point. Philippians 4:13 is one of the most well known passages in all of scripture: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

It is said by athletes after victories, people dedicating themselves to diets or fasting, even people getting back to the gym or working on resolutions. While those are all fine and well I found myself looking at this passage (and it’s prior two verses) very differently.

As some of you may know I’ve been in a pretty difficult season for the last couple of months for various reasons (which are touched on in two posts prior to this one Trembling… and A Hope That Overwhelms Grief), and I believe that as I am coming out of this season (praise God!), I see these two spectrums more clearly than ever before. Let’s take a brief look:

“I have learned in whatever situation (that) I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” ~ Philippians 4:11b-13 (ESV)

I have come to realize (for myself, and perhaps for you as well), that it takes both ends of the spectrum–lowly and abounding, plenty and hunger, abundance and need–to see this sort of true contentment Paul talks about.

Experiencing both ends of the spectrum have made me realize that in this world there is constant change and fluctuation, and sometimes these changes can be indescribably difficult, but we can echo with Paul that in the midst of these changes there is a True Stability, and that Stability is something so necessary and so ever-present for us. This Stability is the means by which we are strengthened and the reason we can praise God, even in the midst of the most seemingly unbearable situations.

Paul is revealing a truth all of us must realize today: This true stability and abiding presence that we long for–that sustains us in all of these seasons whether good or bad–is Jesus Christ Himself.

In Him and Him alone will you find this contentment “in any and every circumstance” and a “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

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Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions – #20

Resolved to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.

So if I’m honest, I have been putting this one off for a little while. This is one area that I know I should do better in, but simply don’t. I’ve developed bad habits of eating poorly and though I can point to benefits, I have never really been able to develop a strong discipline of eating well. The drinking aspect is really a non-issue for me; I don’t really consume alcohol or drink poorly (water tends to be a dominant fluid for me).

What comes to mind that really gives me pause about my inability to be disciplined is that the Bible definitely speaks to this. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 6:20, while contextually talking about sexual immorality, reminds me of this sort of disciplining of our bodies: “for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Just one verse prior to this one (in 1 Corinthians 6:19) Paul writes “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you…?”

In the Old Testament the temple has many connotations; most notably, for me, is that of it being a place of holiness and un-defilement, and a unique place of honor because of the presence of the Lord (2 Chronicles 5:7). Romans 8:9-11 outlines the truth that the same Holy Spirit that indwelled Jesus is within us, and this should give us cause for great rejoicing.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul said “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Essentially, he is calling out to the other Christians: “follow my example, as a leader and representative of discipline and worship; do as I do but only because I am pursuing Christ’s face.”

In a leadership context I heard Justin Anderson once speak on this. He said “your body matters–what you wear, your weight, your presentation of yourself–because your congregation follows you not just as a pastor but as a leader. They follow your lead. Your people have to be able to see themselves in you.” 

Ultimately, if we as leaders do not consider what our nonverbals (and even image) is communicating, we might be in danger of communicating that our bodies are not valuable to be tended to. Paul refers to us as athletes and soldiers–both of which have physical and mental disciplines–and I think that could be used in this context as well.

At the end of the day, this is not an area that I am thriving in, but I see the biblical warrant and I pray that these reminders help me reorient my choices. For me personally, I am reminded that many times I chose foods that will satisfy me temporarily but hurt me in the long run–they do not really have nutritional value but they may be appetizing in the here and now. Many times I regret the decision even while I’m still eating it! In the same way, God has called us to feast from the true source of nourishment–Himself. God calls us to be disciplined in our approaches and be mindful of our discipline, because it may likely reveal to us our posture of worship–do we “feast” on that which we know is damaging and will not satisfy, or do we “feast” on that while is abiding, true, and ultimately nourishing to our bodies and souls?

“Food for thought,” if you will. Hope some of this provides a different perspective.

A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer

As we look out at the church today, there is so much that encourages us and fills us with gratitude. There is renewed zeal among God’s people for the spread of God’s glory across the earth. Like never before we hear brothers and sisters in different circles and different streams of contemporary Christianity talking about the gospel and mission, about transforming cities and reaching unreached people groups. These conversations are essential, and we hope they will continue with even greater intensity and intentionality in the days ahead.

But sometimes what we are not hearing can be as illuminating as what we do hear. It reminds us of an exchange in an old Sherlock Holmes mystery, where Holmes refers to “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time” during a robbery. A fellow detective, confused at Holmes’s comment, responds that “the dog did nothing in the nighttime” — to which Holmes responds: “That was the curious incident.” Despite the proliferation of Christian publishing and Christian conferences, J. I. Packer’s observation of our own curious incident still rings true:

When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology — but rarely of their daily experience of God.

Modern Christian books and magazines contain much about Christian doctrine, Christian standards, problems of Christian conduct, techniques of Christian service — but little about the inner realities of fellowship with God.

Our sermons contain much sound doctrine — but little relating to the converse between the soul and the Saviour.

We do not spend much time, alone or together, in dwelling on the wonder of the fact that God and sinners have communion at all; no, we just take that for granted, and give our minds to other matters.

Thus we make it plain that communion with God is a small thing to us.

Think about it. Where are the passionate conversations today about communing with God through fasting and prayer? We seem to find it easier to talk much of plans and principles for proclaiming the gospel and planting churches, and to talk little of the power of God that is necessary for this gospel to be proclaimed and the church to be planted.

If we really want to be a part of seeing disciples made and churches multiplied throughout North America and to the ends of the earth, we would be wise to begin on our knees.

It is for this reason that we gladly commend the new edition of John Piper’s Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer. If you have read or heard anything from Piper, you know that he is rightly and biblically passionate about the spread of God’s glory. But at the same time, he is acutely and biblically aware of our need for God’s grace. He knows that apart from dependence on and desperation for God, we will not only miss the ultimate point of our mission, but we will also neglect the ultimate need of our souls.

We were made to feast on God. In the words of the psalmist, we were created to cry:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food. (Psalm 63:1–5)

We have read the sad statistics about the number of young people who turn away from the church once they are out of their parents’ home. We have heard people explain that they have “tried God” when they were young but that it didn’t work for them. But we have to wonder: did they “earnestly” seek him with their whole hearts? Did they cry out to him in fasting and prayer? Sometimes we “earnestly seek” after things from God rather than God himself. It is hard for us to imagine anyone leaving the presence of the living God — the maker and sustainer of heaven and earth — and looking for something better!

There is spiritual delight to be found in God that far supersedes the physical diet of this world, and fasting is the means by which we say to God, “More than our stomachs want food, our souls want you.” Once we “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8), the things of the world no longer appeal to us in the same way.

As Piper says in the opening pages of this book, “Beware of books on fasting.” This is not a book of legalism. It’s not a book of technique. It does not contain a twelve-step plan. At the end of the day, it’s a book more about our hearts than about our stomachs. Abstaining from food (or other things) for a period of time is not an end in itself but a means to cause us to learn about and increase our love for Christ. As Piper explains in this book, the Bible gives us many reasons to fast:

  • We fast because we’re hungry for God’s Word and God’s Spirit in our lives.
  • We fast because we long for God’s glory to resound in the church and God’s praise to resound among the nations.
  • We fast because we yearn for God’s Son to return and God’s kingdom to come.
  • Ultimately we fast simply because we want God more than we want anything this world has to offer us.

Few things are as frustrating as trying to convince our loved ones of the greatness and grandeur of God. We are jealous for our neighbors and our faith family and the nations to find satisfaction in God alone. As we recently reread the book you hold in your hands, we have tried to imagine what it would be like if our churches were filled with believers fasting regularly and biblically. What might God be pleased to do if his church rises up to say, “This much, O God, we want you!”? We encourage you to read this book, asking great things from God, “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think!” (Ephesians 3:20).


For a free pdf of the book, as well as options to purchase paperback or Kindle versions, see Desiring God’s updated resource page for a Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer.

This post is transcribed from DesiringGod.org with permission

Is God Committed to Your Happiness?

Is God committed to your happiness? Absolutely, and yet if you come to him to make you happy, you’re coming to a false god. If you say, ‘Well, I’m interested in this Christianity, and maybe I’ll come and bite on it if I can see it will help me reach my goals and make me happy.’ You’re not coming to God; you’re coming to a butler. Either God exists or he doesn’t exist. If he doesn’t exist you can’t come to him for happiness, right? But if he does exist, you have to realize you must come to him because he created you, and therefore, he owns you.

To not come to him and obey him would be an injustice. The only way to come to God rightly, the real God, is to come without conditions and to say, ‘Forget happiness. I owe you everything.’ There are only two ways to come to God. You can come to God on the basis of saying, ‘I owe you everything; you owe me nothing,’ or you can come on the basis of saying, ‘I’m going to come to you, but then you owe me a lot.’ The only way for you to know on what basis you have come is to see what happens in the bad seasons.

When things go wrong, do you get upset and say, ‘What good did it do me to come to church? What good did it do me to read the Bible?’ Do you know what that shows? You came to him on the basis of saying, ‘I will do this and this, as you owe me.’ In other words you’re saying, ‘My number one priority is happiness, and I’m using God as a way to get there’ as opposed to saying, ‘My number one priority is to serve God, and if happiness happens, great. To the degree it happens, great.’

Here is the irony: the less you’re concerned about your happiness and the more you’re concerned about him, the happier you get. This is not a trick. You can’t say, ‘Oh, great. I have it. I come to God, and I say this and this and this.’ You cannot bandy with the omnipotent and omniscient Lord of the universe. ‘Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.’ Happiness is a byproduct.

~Tim Keller

Pain, Sorrow, Grieving, and the Gospel

“[We do not] grieve as others do who have no hope.”  ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:13

Grief and sorrow are not wrong (see Acts 8:2 and John 11:35), but in our grief we must not exhibit hopelessness. There are plenty of Bible passages that point to the hope we have as Christians (cf. Job 11:18, 13:15; Psalm 33:22, 42:5; Prov. 23:18; Isaiah 8:17; Jeremiah 31:17; Lamentations 3:24; Romans 8:24; 1 Peter 1:3 just to name a few) and there’s something very real about this hope in our God (see Romans 5:5). It’s not just a concept to discuss but a reality to embrace.

But if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, that can sometimes be a truth that feels so far off and distant that it doesn’t feel real to us, right?

I find that term to be extremely relevant to me right now… “brutally honest.”

Without bearing the troubles of my soul for the world to see at the click of a button, let me just say that there is significant pain in my life right now–pain that brings me to my knees and confronts me with deep sorrow and heartache; pain that make me think of Romans 8:26 (out of context or not) when it talks about “groanings too deep for words”. All of us either have or will experience this sort of pain–a deep rooted, can’t shake it sort of pain.

So what do we do with it? How is this hope helpful now?

When looking at those words again–brutally honest–I think of the Psalms. Have you looked at them recently? I used to think they were just happy prayers of rejoicing, disconnected from the very real essence of the emotions that I feel when I am struggling with things deeper than my words could express.

But look again.

In Psalm 22, David is crying out “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.” (v.1-2)

We can relate to this, right? This sort of deep deep sorrow; a deep pain or impossible to describe struggle where we need God’s intervention; we need Him to step in. So what does David do about it? Does he call out for God to send down angels to take him out of his situation? Does he forsake God because He is seemingly absent in his pain and heartache? Let’s keep reading.

“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In You our fathers trusted; they trusted, and You delivered them. To You they cried and were rescued; in You they trusted and were not put to shame.” (v.3-5)

David reminded Himself of the trustworthiness of God; that God is always true to His character (Hebrews 13:8) and that when man cries out to God, they are rescued.

Now I will make one brief mention that this “rescue” is not always what we had in mind. God is not a genie in a bottle granting us the wishes we ask of Him, but we can trust that if we are going through something.. God has a reason for it. Before you write this off as just another “look at the bright side” blog, know that I have not made it to that rescue yet, but then again neither did David in Psalm 22. He was still experiencing that pain, that sorrow, that deep sense of grieving when he confessed the trustworthiness of God.

That is the hope we can have, and that–I believe–is something that 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (listed above) gets at. We grieve. We hurt. We have pain sometimes that just tears us apart, but even in that we have an abiding hope. We can look forward to a time that we are rescued, that it all will make sense. Sometimes this rescue and this hope doesn’t become a reality to some until death when they are united with Christ in Heaven, but please hear my plea:

Christian, there is hope.

I still don’t have all the answers. I still am angry with God for the pain I’m experiencing (I said we were being brutally honest, right?). I still don’t know why this is happening to me. I still wish I could do something to make this go away.

But even in the midst of all of this.. there is hope. And that is what I can cling to when everything else around me is shaking.

Take a second to read Hebrews 12:26-28; God sometimes shakes up things in our lives–relationships (ie friendships or a significant other), jobs, comforts, life plans–to establish unshakeable truths about Him in our lives; to make them real to us. To remind us that we look towards a Kingdom that cannot be shaken. That we strive, as Romans 8:19 says, with eager longing towards that day.

At the end of the day, we can have this (abiding) hope because Jesus Christ made a way for us to be reconciled to God. Jesus bore our shame, our guilt, and our suffering on the cross (1 Peter 2:24, Hebrews 12:2, Jeremiah 33:8). He is referred to as a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus is not unfamiliar with our pain and suffering, but well acquainted with it, and because of that, we can draw near to Him (Hebrews 4:15-16).

There is hope.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)

Tradecraft: Being “On Mission”

Why is it sometimes difficult for people on mission to relate to unbelievers? What are good ways to have meaningful conversations?

I think that those of us “on mission” have progressively more and more Christian friends and fewer and fewer non-christian friends. I know it’s easy for me to get into a “holy huddle” and tend to have the desire to reach the others, but don’t often branch out of that because I know it will be uncomfortable and unknown.

To be honest, I play it too safe and selfishly keep it to myself.

——

One way to relate and to have meaningful conversations is to:

1) LISTEN. Don’t just listen with the intent to reply, or to use their words against them to prove your apologetic. Listen out of genuine care for the person, and ask God to open your heart up to them.

2) BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. If you do not have a relationship with someone, little to no trust has been built, and the things you are saying will not hold as much weight. God uses our investment in peoples’ lives to cultivate Gospel Opportunities and chances to not only talk about the Gospel in meaningful ways, but to be living in step with the Christian faith and joyfully serving our brother/sister.

3) PRAY. There’s nothing we can do in our own power. I can modify someone’s behavior with fluent speech, but I cannot change a heart. We don’t need to be “made better,” we need to be “made alive,” and this is something only God can do. Being on mission forces us into a place of discomfort, vulnerability, and dependence on the Holy Spirit, but we can find great comfort in knowing that God has promised to be a firm foundation amidst a world in chaos and constant change (2 Tim 2:19), that in the midst of storms Jesus is our sovereign peace (Matt 8:23-27), and that the Word of God will NEVER return void (Isaiah 55:11).

I can take great comfort in Matthew 16:18: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

May we trust that God is doing abundantly more than all we can ask or think (Eph 3:20-21), and trust that it is not our eloquent speech or memorized facts that will draw people to Jesus, it’s the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ Himself.