Below is a guest post by Steve, a member of my church, who writes a terrific little thoughtful piece that will make you think and have a chuckle at the same time. Enjoy.
Recently my Mum passed away after a short illness. She was a generous soul. The whole experience has triggered a number of thoughts, including her lived example and images of soft serve ice cream.
It’s a metaphor.
Soft serve ice cream is hardly a food, certainly not one that is healthy or that we need but on occasion it is okay to have as a treat. In fact I believe it is very good to do so, and one day we won’t be able to treat our loved ones because they have gone; either passed on, or just away.
In some ways my two children are smarter and, in some cases, even wiser than me (they must have had a good upbringing). I’ve had a tough time at work recently, actually over the last couple of years, and one of my children has repeatedly said to me that I should retire. True enough it would be good for my mental health. The reality is that it would mean quitting my job without an alternative source of income, which is not an ideal situation. Financially I am in an okay spot, and working keeps me in a good spot. However, my intention is not to store up riches upon riches as an end to itself but rather to prudently save. With enough extra for soft serve ice cream once in a while, of course. Neither extreme is good for me spiritually. To ask a rhetorical question – Why does God bless us with gifts, talents and finances if not to give them away?
The words of Jesus in Matthew 6:19-20 are helpful for me in this.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
Are there certain lessons which we only truly learn through age and personal experience? Even though it ends up being an expensive way to learn. Probably.
Of the times that I could have treated my children but didn’t for fear of spoiling them (and there were not many of those) I wish that I could go back and treat them ten times over. Perhaps this is also an impact of COVID lockdowns.
We have all lost a lot, not the least of which is time, which is difficult to replace. I get the impression from reading the gospels that Jesus was always in the moment, blessing as the occasions presented and required.
If I could have time with my Mum back what would I want to do?
In my last post I described walking through Hebrews 11 like entering a corridor at the museum. Paintings hanging on the walls, dim light from the ceilings and windows, and statues and busts of important people lining each side. Next to each of their depictions sits a plaque with the little description we find in Hebrews 11, all beginning with “By faith…”
They are highlighted by the writer because they are people who provide an example of what living by faith means for those who come after. For us.
All of these people mentioned in Hebrews 11 are commended for the faith they had. They didn’t receive what was promised to them in this life, but they continued to live by faith because God had revealed to them something greater. A future together as his people, living under his right rule, in his perfectly created place.
In v39-40 we read,
“All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.” (CSB)
The writer reminds us that living by faith is for the long-haul. It’s no short, sharp, snap discipleship program. It’s a lifetime of living by faith. Throughout the chapter we read of those who in their lifetime suffered and did not acquire the fulfilment of the promises given to them by God. Yet, they endured in the faith, by faith, so that they would be made perfect at a later time. And that later time is when all of God’s people are gathered. When all of God’s people are together in the place he has set out for us.
All the saints, whether old or new, will be made perfect when all of God’s people are together. Whether that be the Old Testament saints, the Hebrews themselves, or whether that be us. There is a future hope of being together with God in perfection.
So as we walk this corridor of heroes of the faith we can be encouraged to live by faith ourselves. To be followers of Jesus for the marathon of life, not just the sprint of this season. With this in mind, here are six ways this passage encourages us to live by faith for the long-haul.
First, Hebrews 11 helps us when we are in times of doubt.
While doubt is not the opposite of faith, it certainly has an impact on our faith. Whether we are struggling to see God, doubting his goodness and faithfulness, or when we’re confused by what he is doing in our lives then we can lose sight of what he has promised. Hebrews 11, however, enables us to see that he is indeed faithful to his promises and that those who went before us held fast to Christ knowing there was something better in the future, something worth holding on to.
Second, Hebrews 11 helps us when we are struggling with sin.
We might feel plagued with sin. We might feel guilty. We might feel ashamed. We might be holding on to certain sins like a comfort blanket, always reasoning with ourselves that we will be able to battle with it and get over it at some point in the future. Instead, we can take confidence in knowing that Christ has that sin, has forgiven us for it, and is in the process of making us perfect in him. Therefore, we live by faith that he has taken the sins of the past, present, and future, and has dealt with them decisively for eternity.
Third, Hebrews 11 helps us when we wonder what we’re meant to be doing for God.
Those who were commended were people who lived by faith. They didn’t sit and wait around to be taken to a better place. They didn’t live in laziness, twiddling their thumbs wondering what they were to do. Instead, they trusted God in the ‘now’, obeying his commands and trusting his judgements. The future is in God’s hands and for us we are to trust and obey. Anyone remember that old hymn, “Trust and obey”?
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
This may involve choices we make about our lifestyle, or our career, or our relationships, or our spending habits, or our social media use, or our use of time, or our service, or our attitudes, or our behaviours. God, of course, doesn’t just deal with one aspect of life but the whole of life. Our response is to live by faith.
Fourth, Hebrews 11 helps us know we’re not alone.
Thank goodness we aren’t the centre of the world. We aren’t the centre of reality. God is. And we see through this list that we also need to put our life in perspective.
God is the one who is to be the centre of our worship, we aren’t.
God is to be the centre of our lives, we aren’t.
Yet, God is with us. We are not alone.
Further, we know that so so so many people have gone before us, treading out a path like a walking track in the bush. Someone else has done this and so can we. Someone else has walked the same path we’re on and lived by faith. So can we. These millions of believers before us can inspire and encourage us to live by faith.
Fifth, Hebrews 11 helps us to know we are being made perfect.
Those final two verses show us that we aren’t perfect and nor are the saints of the past. The aim isn’t perfection in this lifetime, the aim is to live by faith.
And so, we take encouragement that we are being made perfect through Christ, who uses our lives and our experiences to shape and mould us into more like him. This is also living by faith.
Sixth, Hebrews 11 helps us to know there is a better day.
I’m not sure what you’re going through right now but I suspect there’s something. Everyone is always dealing with something. With this being the case Hebrews 11 provides for us a hope. A future hope. A hope that one day things will be better, that one day we will be with God and it all will be made perfect. One day the acute pain of living now will be made into sustained enjoyment with God.
And perhaps this is the key.
For as we walk with God by faith we walk in the shadow of those gone before, encouraged and inspired by their faith.
Hebrews 11 is one of those chapters in the Bible that is packed with so much that it takes numerous readings to grasp its various teachings. It’s the chapter where the writer outlines all those significant biblical characters of the past, and describes briefly how they lived by faith, trusting and obeying God throughout their lifetime.
For me, stepping into Hebrews 11 is like walking into a museum. A museum with a long dimly lit corridor, with dark floorboards, and square-paned windows letting the light in. And as you walk down this corridor there are old paintings hanging on the walls. And along each side of the corridor there are white marble busts of significant leaders of history and important dignitaries sitting on top of pillars.
This is what I think of when I read Hebrews 11.
All these people from the Old Testament in painting or statue form, highlighting their status among the saints of the past. And with each of these saints we get a small glimpse into what they are commended for; what they have done to earn such a reputation to be written about hundreds of years after they have died.
To extend this museum illustration further, I can imagine that next to each painting or statue there sits a little plaque and as you wander down the corridor you can walk up to each of those plaque’s and read how they lived by faith. Next to each item there is a little inscription starting with “By faith…” and flowing into their individual commendation of how they lived by faith.
By faith Abel… By faith Enoch… By faith Noah… By faith Abraham… By faith Sarah…
And as we work our way through this chapter we come to an editor’s sidebar. Like one of those big signs at a museum that gives you a broader explanation of what’s going on, there in the middle of this corridor stands as sign with v13-16 on it.
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
These words describe how all these people we read of in Hebrews 11 died knowing there was something better for them. They lived on earth as exiles, as people who were in the world but not of it. While the land was plentiful and the descendants numerous God had promised something better. This earth and life was a prototype of something greater. They knew there was something more to come.
This is why the writer can say in v16, “…they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
And this resonates with the words of Revelation 21:1-5,
“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
We know we live in a world that is broken. People are broken, governments are broken, organisations are broken. This results in a world where bad stuff happens, stuff that is not fair for the individual and the collective.
But here in v13-16 we are told of the future hope we can have as believers.
As followers of Jesus we recognise the reality of a broken world. A world broken by sin but a world being prepared for restoration and renewal through the coming again of Jesus Christ. For through Christ there is the promise of forgiveness for our own sin and shame. Through Christ there is the promise of being able to live by faith in relationship with God. Through Christ there is the promise of the restoration of the world. Through Christ is the promise of life-everlasting in the renewed creation of God.
In the same way as the Old Testament saints live by faith for what is to come, so too we live in the world as people who know there is greater to come (despite how bad it may look at times) as God prepares us for the restoration of all things.
I’m a big fan of CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. I really enjoy reading the whole collection every so often, and at the end of the final book, The Last Battle, there is a depiction of heaven as the various characters and animals make their way to a renewed land. Lewis writes,
It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time there were somehow different — deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know.
The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if ever you get there you will know what I mean.
It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed, and then he cried:
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!” (p154-155)
A vivid piece of writing, but also a great reminder that we do indeed live, by faith, looking forward to the Holy City, a better country, a heavenly one.
The other day I was out for my daily bout of exercise, the intentional walk to get out of the house and get the body moving, and as I passed one particular person in the street I noticed how enthusiastic they were in saying ‘hello’. It may have been a very brief interaction but through the tone of voice and the hand-waving I could tell that they were keen for the interaction. And it reminded me of the need for connection, particularly in these days when you never quite know how people are really doing and what they need.
However, connection is so needed for all of us, whether we are extroverted or introverted. The modern meaning of connection has really diminished the way we think about interacting with others. You see, connection is what I do when I plug my phone into it’s charger, or when I have a Zoom meeting, or when I message someone on social media. Connection in modern parlance is often lowered to online interactions that make us feel like we’ve interacted with someone but really we’ve just liked a post as we scroll through our feed. So instead, what we really need is a significant interaction whereby we are able to express our joy at seeing and speaking with another. The joy evident in the person I was walking by was palpable as they waved, said a big ‘hello’, and slowed down a little to look me in the eye.
It feels like this is lacking right now.
The Bible doesn’t use the word connection for interacting with others, perhaps it would if it was written today. But it certainly makes clear that humankind is made for human interactions. Relationships are a key to humanity and its sense of well-being. Relationships are what the story of God highlights, whether it’s between people, between nations, or between humanity and God himself.
Right back in the Creation story, in Genesis 2:18, we hear God’s word about the situation Adam finds himself in, ‘Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him.”’ It was evident, even from the beginning, that humankind was made for relationships, for significant ‘connection’, if we wish to use that word. Adam tried to ‘connect’ with the animals but none of them were sufficient enough. Instead, it was another human being that filled the relational tank and provided the connection needed to function in a healthy way.
We can’t read the Creation narrative without mentioning the relationship with God either. This was obviously severed significantly at the Fall, but it is one that humanity continues to wrestle with and desire throughout the Old and New Testaments. If you are a believer in Jesus then you will realise that it is through him we are able to have that restored relationship back with God.
But connection with others, with people in our communities, our friends, family, and neighbours is something we’ve been created for. Part of being human is to connect relationally with others. And that’s part of why this moment is so tough for so many.
Perhaps one of the practical steps we could take to help others during this time is rather than try to avoid interactions with one-another, is to actually acknowledge the presence of others. Whether it’s a wave, a nod, an enthusiastic ‘hello’, a ‘great to see you’, or some other human response to acknowledge them. When I’m out on my walk it is now a regular occurrence to find those walking toward me to move over to the other side of the road. I know it’s so we can all stay distant from each other for health reasons, however it’s a pretty sad state of affairs if walking by each other is now something to avoid.
With lockdown continuing there provides for us an opportunity to show something different. To impact our community by doing some small things while out and about. In sharing a connective moment with others while out for exercise or at the shops we might be able to be people who shine light into the lives of others in this challenging time.
Deflated, sad, disappointed, upset, anxious, depressed even. These are the kinds of emotions people in Melbourne are experiencing, and plenty more as well. Up and down on the COVID rollercoaster we go as we are given little freedoms before locking down again as outbreaks of this disease are made known to the authorities. This way of living doesn’t do much good for one’s health and wellbeing. The perpetual unknown of when the next lockdown might be is doing a number on the ‘nerves’, to use the old vernacular.
I’m not sure about you but I’ve had all the feels. The frustration, the sadness, the anxiety, and the general I don’t give a stuff. I know I’m not the only one. In fact, I was speaking with six others on a Zoom chat the other day and five of them mentioned they were all dealing with mental health issues in some capacity. Anecdotally, this is a significant percentage.
However, as I plug away at doing the things I need to do, whether it’s family life or church life, I keep reminding myself that the Lord is the Lord of the lockdown. It sounds cliche, I know. But in these days where there is a general despondency across the whole community, and in spite of the hardship this puts so many people and families in, it is important to be reminded that there is God who is over this. He is still sovereign and true, and as we work through these lockdowns we can still have hope because he is Lord.
Perhaps this is just me trying to grasp onto the hope that is required right now!
Hope is of course not gone, particularly when you compare our situation to others across the world. I certainly live in a healthy place, and a wealthy place, and have everything I need. I am grateful for this. Compared to other parts of the world we are doing so well that even having the ability to be in lockdown shows we’re very much in a place of privilege. Yet, this doesn’t negate the feelings, emotions, and realities that a lockdown brings. It is hard, it is painful, and it is frustrating. But there is hope, not only because of the ability to lead a life here in Melbourne in the future but also because of the greater hope we have in our Lord.
I have been reading through the book of Genesis these past couple of weeks and in chapter 15 there is a key reminder of the promises God gives Abram. He has made a covenant with Abram, that he will be father to multitudes from his own seed. However, Abram continues to want confirmation of this promise and to be reminded of it again (It’d already been promised in chapter 12). We are often like Abram, needing to be reminded of what God has promised us. And in his promises through his scriptures he has told us that he is with us, that he is listening to us, that he is caring and compassionate to us, and that he is kind and gracious toward us.
This compassionate and caring God displays this to us through Jesus, and the commitment of love he has toward his people by the cross. For it is in the cross we find the reflection of God’s incredible compassion, care, kindness, and grace towards his creation. When we come to the Lord and are in a mess because the lockdown has been extended, or the numbers aren’t looking great, then we can know that he is still with us and still cares. His faithfulness and compassion are what we are to trust and hope in because that is what will sustain us to live lives worthy of his name, even in lockdown.
It is certainly difficult to go through this Psalm without recognising the call to praise. The beginning and the ending couch this Psalm in words to encourage praise.
Note how personal the writer King David is as he expresses himself.
“Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits” in v1-2.
And in v20-22,
“Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the Lord, my soul.”
This is something deeply personal, something coming deep from within here. It is like David is willing himself to praise.
There are times, aren’t there, when we have to will ourselves to do something. Whether it is chores around the house to trying to work through our emotions in a lockdown due to a global pandemic. Here David sounds like he is willing himself to praise. Like the marathon runner willing herself to get to the finish line so too David is willing himself to praise.
Often praise, encouragement and thanks don’t come easy. Often we can be so consumed with our own self and all the problems we have to deal with that we soon forget or fall out of habit of praise, of thankfulness, of gratitude. Here we get the sense of David, writing in reflection from years of experience, willing himself to praise God for who he is and what he has done.
For David realises all of what God has done. Not only for him personally, but also for the whole of humanity. He remembers God and all his deeds and dwells on the action of his compassionate God, which in turn draws him to praise.
As we close this three-part series on Psalm 103 I encourage you to remember, dwell, and praise God this week.
It has been a tough 12 months.
You may have taken the opportunity to sit with God and spend more time with him this year. But, in the conversations I’m having with people I suspect the majority have not. And so I wonder whether this might be a good time to spend some time with the Lord.
If you’re one who is in a habit of doing so, I encourage you to keep going.
But, if you’re one who hasn’t sat with God, opened his scriptures, read and thought of the things of God in a while then I encourage you to do so this week.
Take 30-60 minutes. Open a Psalm, maybe even this one. Write down a few things that strike you as you read it. Pray about what is on your heart. Express those fears and worries and anxieties to God. And dwell for a period of time, something we’re not used to, on your compassionate God who is slow to anger and abounding in love.
Because when you do, experience tells me that the Lord will meet you where you are at and will draw you toward praise just as David is here.
It will do your soul and your life much benefit.
This is the third of a three-part series on Psalm 103. The first post, ‘Remember The Lord’, can be found here. And the second, ‘Dwell on The Lord’, is here.
In recent months there have been numerousarticles suggesting more Australians have been thinking about aspects of faith and spirituality. COVID seems to have had an impact, not only in the way we think about health and operate as such, but also in matters of faith, priorities in life, and the dwelling on eternity. Something about this past year has driven people to think about these things!
On one hand this is great. This should be the case due to what the world has experienced this year–coming to terms with our lack of control, the limits on our own capacity, and the realities of living in a broken world. Further, the personal reactions we’ve had due to the circumstances we’ve been through have led many to question and reflect on life. This year has been a reminder that there are greater things going on in the world than you or me.
But on the other hand this has been such an exhausting year for many that the capacity to contemplate and dwell on aspects of faith, and dwell on the Lord and his goodness specifically, has diminished. The impetus, the motivation, the inclination to sit with God is hard at the best of times, but add in the fear, stress, worry of 2020 and we find ourselves hindered in doing so.
Here in Psalm 103 we find, I believe, a passage of scripture to dwell on as we enter somewhat of a new year. In the earlier verses of this psalm we are encouraged to remember the Lord, and we are given plenty of examples. But to take it a step further, we are also given scriptures here to dwell on.
You see, the writer David continues in v5-12 by dwelling on who God is and what he has done. In turn he helps us to dwell upon God, naming the character of God alongside the benefits of God.
There is the reminder of God’s work in bringing his people out of Egypt through Moses, which leads to statements of truth about God’s character. David speaks of God’s compassion and grace, his slowness in becoming angry, and his abounding love in v8. This verse, v8, is such a significant refrain in the whole of the OT.
It is referred to in Exodus 34:6; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; 145:8; Joel 2:13; and Jonah 4:2. If you ever want or need a short and succinct answer to the question of who God is, this is the answer, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”
This is God’s covenantal love; his marriage promise to his people encapsulated in one verse.
God’s commitment to his people of the Old Testament and his continued commitment to his people in the New Testament through Christ.
We are reminded here of the incarnation, God coming in the form of a man for the rescue of the world. God has such compassionate love for humanity that he came to be part of our lives. In physical terms this occurred through Jesus of the first century, in spiritual terms this comes to us today through his Spirit. And so when we place our faith in him, recognising our need for God and having that need met through faith in Christ, then we are receiving his compassionate love, his covenantal love, his promised love.
As we walk through 2021 may we dwell on this compassionate love of God knowing the truth of v9-12. Knowing he does not accuse us, he does not hold his anger toward us, he does not treat us as we deserve, he does not repay us for the sins we commit, and nor is he vengeful toward us.
9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; 10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Instead, the Lord’s love is as far as the east is from the west, displayed through our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the second of a three part series on Psalm 103. The first post, ‘Remember The Lord’, can be found here.
In Psalm 103 we come to a psalm of thanksgiving, perhaps better described as a hymn of gratitude, as the writer, King David, moves from heartfelt personal praise to inviting all of Israel and all of God’s people to remember the Lord, dwell on what he has done, and give him praise.
In v2 we read, “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits…”
I’m not sure about you but it’s very easy to forget things. I would’ve forgotten more of my life than remembered it. I’m sure you are the same.
I mean, we all like to think we’ve got good memories and can remember a lot, which of course our amazing brains can. But we’re also not all blessed, or perhaps cursed, with a photographic memory. And so we remember many things we’ve done, sights we’ve seen, and words we’ve listened to. But the reality is that we forget more than we remember. Which to me seems like one of the Lord’s graces toward us.
Who wants to remember those really embarrassing comments we’ve made to colleagues or others we don’t know so well? Who wants to remember that embarrassing experience we had in high school or going through those years of puberty? Who wants to remember the acute grief we experience when a loved one passes away? There is actually plenty in life that we don’t want to remember.
But, there is also the negative side to forgetting things. We find ourselves forgetting names, numbers, faces, people, dates and times. And as we get older this can have repercussions on our quality of life.
But David’s point in this Psalm is not a negative one, it’s a positive one. It’s the encouragement to remember what the Lord has done, to remember the benefits that come with knowing God. For there are plenty of benefits that the Lord has given us and when we remember these things we are led to praise and gratitude for them and for him.
This whole Psalm seems to list the benefits available to us, but in v1-6 we read specific benefits of:
The forgiveness of sin
The healing of disease
The redemption of life from pit
The crowning of love and compassion upon us
The satisfaction of our desires
The righteousness and justice of God
In the busyness of life it is easy to forget the benefits that come with being crowned a child of God. And these are incredible benefits! Even David, considered to be a ‘man after God’s own heart’(Acts 13:22) evidently needs to be reminded of these things.
And all these benefits we see fulfilled through our Lord Jesus. This baby Jesus we remember at Christmas, this God-child we read of through the Prophets and writings of scripture, this Son of God born to a teenager in a derelict town, is the one who fulfils all these benefits and provides us with all these benefits through his life and death on a cross.
And so who would want to forget these things?
We take photos to remember the experiences we’ve had and the places we’ve been to. When we look back on photos we’ve taken, our memories take us back to what we’ve done and experienced. We don’t want to forget that sunrise, or that waterfall, or that animal we got up close to. We don’t want to forget that party with friends, or that dinner with family, or that person we met. And so we take a photo as a keepsake, to help us remember.
This list here is a reminder for us, a keepsake, as is all of scripture, which helps us remember God for who he is and what he has done.
I am often tempted to eat more than I should. I like food, and it is a temptation for me. I have been around far too many special church morning teas where there are so many good things on offer that my eyes are bigger than my stomach. The same occurs when there are big family gatherings, or Christmas celebrations. And there’s always the story of over-indulging in dumplings from a few years ago. But there are consequences when I over indulge, either in weight increases or general after-effects on the body. It is a delight to my eyes, to my tastebuds, and to my stomach, but I need to watch myself.
Temptations arise within us and surround us all the time. Whether it is the use of our time, the things we have, the purchases we make, or the people we spend time with. We are tempted by the expert marketers who sell us products and services we apparently need. We are tempted by the lusts of our age. And I think it is fair to say that the greatest temptation for men and women today is pornography. The search for gratification through sex and sexuality is highly publicised, talked about freely, and openly available to anyone who wishes to pursue this. There are real temptations which lead to real issues in our lives, which affect our relationships with others and our own wellbeing.
In v13 of the Lord’s Prayer, which we have been exploring for a number of weeks now (see below for a list of posts), Jesus guides us to pray against being led into temptation.
It is important to realise this is the first half of a sentence which ends, ‘but deliver us from the evil one’. The entire idea in this verse is that we need God’s help in overcoming our own sinfulness and fallenness, we need his help in staying righteous and on the path of godliness. The evil one is seeking to lead us down the wrong path, a path of destruction and temptation. Therefore, to pray that we may not be led into temptation is highlighting how we need help in order to avoid falling into the evil one’s snares.
To avoid temptation is an act of wisdom and godliness. To place boundaries or rails in our life to make sure we are adhering to the ways of God is something that falls under the category of wisdom. Sure, there are plenty of situations that will be different for different people, and there are plenty of temptations that are different for different people. And many a time this has been used to a negative or legalistic effect (one can think of the so-called ‘Billy Graham Rule’ here). But recognising and being self-aware enough of these things in our lives is helpful for us. With this in mind, here are three ways we might go about helping ourselves with respect to temptation.
1. Understand what you are tempted by and when. Take time to reflect on what temptations to sin you are more prone to fall to. I believe all of us have different propensities for this. If we know that when we’re tired and up late with no one around that we’ll end up being tempted to flick onto porn then that’s a start. If we know that after a couple of drinks we will be more flirtatious with others then that’s good to know. If we know that when we’re bored we just pick up the phone and are tempted to start secretly putting money on the horses then recognise it. If we are going to a big party and know we might over-indulge in the food then recognise that. If we’re with certain people and we know we’re going to end up gossiping, then remember this when entering conversations with them.
Be reflective, be self-aware, and then be intentional.
2. Formulate a strategy on what you will do when temptation hits. To be plan-less against temptation will more than likely lead to you falling into temptation. It’s been my experience, I’m sure it’s yours too. It is frequently recommended that having a close friend you can talk with, call, or text about your temptation/s will help. They can pray for you not only in the moment, but also on an ongoing basis. Furthermore, they can be someone who asks you some hard questions about your lifestyle, decisions, and general discipleship. And that speaks to the larger issue, it’s an issue of discipleship.
A difficulty here is often the call or text to a friend to pray is often left too late or not at all. There does need to be a commitment to this. But by telling someone about our temptation, and what we’re walking into in the coming days or weeks, we can lessen the power of the temptation. Of course, pray about the situation you face. Avoid the situation if it is possible. Staying up late, tired, and bored never really leaves one in a good frame of mind. Even the excuse, ‘I need to wind down a bit’, is helpful only if the actions are helpful. Sometimes just going to bed is the best thing, even if our mind is racing.
The point is, what strategy are you putting into place? What actions are you committing yourself to? What habits are you trying to build?
3. Remember that it is what you do in the lead up to situations that will form the way you operate when temptation hits. You can’t rely on your own self-will when temptation hits. Saying, “She’ll be right mate” may be very Aussie of you but it’s a terrible plan for when temptation presents itself. However, in the days and weeks and months prior we are building up our own godliness, self-control, and patience by the actions we put in place.
Proverbs 7 warns against falling into temptations. In this case the point is centred on lust and sexual desire. In v25 the writer of Proverbs says, ‘Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths.’ And this is the case with temptation, we are not to let our hearts turn toward whatever the temptations are. Instead, we build up our capacity in being able to deal with this, not simply by putting in wise and understanding strategies and habits, but ultimately recognising that we need God’s help in doing so.
I’m currently reading through Dane Ortlund’s book, Gentle and Lowly, and chapter 4 talks about Christ’s ability to sympathise with us in our temptation. When we do fall into temptation we have a Saviour who knows what it is like to be tempted and who is still accessible even when we feel the shame of wrongdoing. Ortlund writes:
“The real scandal of Hebrews 4:15, though, is what we are told about why Jesus is so close and with his people in their pain. He has been “tempted” (or “tested,” as the word can also denote) “as we are”—not only that, but “in every respect” as we are. The reason that Jesus is in such close solidarity with us is that the difficult path we are on is not unique to us. He has journeyed on it himself. It is not only that Jesus can relieve us from our troubles, like a doctor prescribing medicine; it is also that, before any relief comes, he is with us in our troubles, like a doctor who has endured the same disease.”
This continues our series in the Lord’s Prayer. More posts in this series can be found at the following:
In her fascinating longform essay, ‘Letting Go’, Amy Westervelt writes about the study of forgiveness in academia. And much of it aligns with what Christians have known for many centuries – that it’s good for us but that it’s incredibly hard.
And in the continuation of our series on the Lord’s Prayer we come to one of the more challenging phrases in the prayer itself. After asking for forgiveness from God for our own individual debts, or sins, we now find ourselves stating to God that we are forgiving the debts of others.
There are no two ways around this. The gospel calls on us to trust in our own forgiveness through Christ on the cross. Colossians 1:13-14 remind us, “He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. In him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” But in turn, the gospel calls us to action; the forgiveness of others for their wrongdoing against us.
And so “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” has to be the hardest phrase of this prayer, the hardest action to put into practice.
Who can so easily forgive those who have wronged us?
Degrees of Forgiveness
In our world, like the justice system we operate by, we recognise there are degrees of wrongdoing and therefore find justification to argue for degrees of forgiveness to give. The person who calls us names in high school does not require the ‘same level’ of forgiveness as the spouse who commits adultery, or the sexual abuser of children, or the murderer? We would say, our humanity would say, that forgiveness for one over the other is dependent on the wrongdoing against us. Forgiveness may be easy or hard to give, but we often find ourselves doing so as long as justice has been metered out correctly.
This is not to conflate justice into forgiveness. The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t make allowance for various levels of wrongdoing, nor does it speak of justice here either. Rather, it is a direct call to forgive others and encapsulates all types of wrongdoing in the process. We are to extend forgiveness to everyone. And of course, this is always a process. For some the giving of forgiveness will take longer than others, it isn’t easy reaching a place in your heart to forgive someone who has wronged us. Certain things are quick to forgive, other things seem to linger.
Forgiving From The Heart
A particularly salient point this phrase brings up is the challenge of how quickly and how good we are at forgiveness. It sets forgiveness in the context of a spiritual practice, a spiritual discipline. Forgiveness is not something that means the person who wronged us gets away with everything they have done. No, there are still consequences for any wrongdoing. But whatever the case may be, forgiveness is an act of the heart.
And this is why following Jesus is often harder than first appears. For who forgives everybody who has wrong us from the heart? As Westervelt’s article affirms, forgiveness is a ‘change of heart’, a very apt definition in light of this prayer and what God has done for us. Yet so often the hurt and the pain has a long tail. Part of our nature is to hold onto hurts and wrongs and slights in a way that often leads to bitterness. And not only bitterness, but actual power. For when we hold onto the wrongdoing of others against us we give them power over us. They shape our thoughts and may even guide our actions. In the act of forgiveness we actually release the power others have over us because of their wrongdoing toward us.
Forgiveness is not easy, particularly if the wrong is significant or life altering. Yet, the good news is that we are able to be forgiven by God through Christ and as a result are shown the way of forgiveness.
This continues our series in the Lord’s Prayer. More posts can be found at the following: