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FS Sunday Sermon – The Way Out of “Burnout”

The Way Out of “Burnout”

By: Nancy Wilson

I’m sure most women know what I mean by the phrase burned out. Burnout is what happens to us when we take on too much, and we simply hit the wall. Those duties you once enjoyed have piled up way too high, and now you don’t feel like carrying them anymore. They are heavy. They are hard. They are too many. And you are tired. The duties themselves have not changed — you have.

The commitments and responsibilities are probably very good. Maybe you have been volunteering, teaching, homeschooling, counseling, hosting, helping, cooking, nursing, cleaning, organizing, car pooling, and then you are doing it all over again day after day. You can’t see an end in sight and you feel absolutely fried. Spent. Worn out. Drained. I want to throw you a rope and haul you in out of the water and back on board.

Address Your Sin

It is not a sin to be tired. In fact, it’s a good sign that we are working hard and not frittering our time away being idle. Fatigue is not sin, it is simply a symptom of our finitude. We are not made of iron. We are flesh and blood, and we run out of energy. We need a Sabbath, and we need it every single week. We should be working six days, sleeping soundly because we’ve been working hard, and then resting on the Lord’s Day so we can be refueled to start over again on Monday morning. This is God’s creation design, and it is good. Though this physical feeling of fatigue is not sin, it can, of course, be accompanied by sinful attitudes.

When we are tired, we can be tempted to think we didn’t get much accomplished. We may feel discouraged or trapped and worry that there is no one to help us or take over for us. We may think our work is all in vain because we’re going to have to do it all over again tomorrow. Or we might be disappointed because we didn’t finish everything on our list. And then there’s that friend who is vacationing in Hawaii. How does she get off so easily?

So by all means, deal with any sinful attitudes before trying to solve the issue of burnout. Self-pity never helps us or equips us when we have work to do, and it will not be our aid in dealing with this. But once we have set aside any sin by confessing it to God, let’s turn to consider the burnout itself. How did we get here in the first place?

Know When to Say “No”

We can divide our duties into two general categories: mandatory and voluntary. Mandatory duties are those bestowed on us directly by the hand of our good and gracious God. Childbearing and childrearing certainly fall in this category. If God has given you a quiver full of children, then you are called to do the good work of bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The work and worth of homemaking and home keeping, childbearing and childrearing are grievously underestimated by most of us. It is work (lots of it), and it is good work. But there are other kinds of work in this category as well. If you are called to work outside the home to provide for yourself or your family, this is also in the mandatory category. You can’t just decide it’s too hard and fail to show up for work.

A second category of duties and responsibilities I would call “it seemed like a good idea at the time.” Women often see a vacuum and move in to fill it before counting the cost of what it is going to take. Other times they feel manipulated, pressured, or guilted into volunteering to do something that is going to put other responsibilities at risk. You said you would host the Bible study at your home on Wednesday night, you raised your hand when the cry went out for volunteers to make three pies for the potluck, and you certainly didn’t look at the floor when they said they needed someone to organize the wedding reception. Not only that, but you volunteered to be a chaperone for the field trip. But now all these things have piled up on your calendar in rapid succession and have thrown you into a tailspin. Because now, not only do you need to prepare for the field trip, but you also must find someone to take the kids to their music lessons.

When it comes to the non-negotiable duties, these are the priority. If we are not handling them well, then we should not be taking on more duties to add to the pile. We want our homes running on all cylinders or our duties at work to be fulfilled before we look elsewhere for good things to do. “They made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept!” (Song of Solomon 1:6). Your own vineyard is your first priority.

You Are Not Irreplaceable

What about mercy ministry? The Good Samaritan didn’t exactly have the guy in the ditch written in his daily planner. Of course, we must be prepared to act instantly when confronted with drastic needs. But sometimes we go out beating the bushes, and there might be a person more equipped than you are to help. If you are busy administering first aid when there is a nurse standing behind you, then by all means, defer to her. Let her take over.

Consider the work of counseling. We should all be able to help with basic Bible knowledge to encourage one another. But if more is needed, there is nothing wrong with finding someone else who is more equipped to step in to help. Not every situation is an emergency. You may have to keep your conversation short. Or if you are too burdened to help anymore, you might pray for God’s replacement. A fresh replacement might be far more effective than you are. Remember, we are not irreplaceable.

Don’t Break Promises

But what if you don’t have any extra duties at all, yet you still feel burned out? In that case, it is time to sit down and run an inventory. Ask God to help you evaluate your situation clearly. What are your basic duties? What is keeping you from getting them done? Is it possible to get help? Can you organize your time better? Can you cut something out without shirking an important duty?

It’s also very important to keep your perspective. Remember that these deadlines and due dates will pass. My husband and I have called times like this “hunker down” times. We just hunker down and plow through. Sooner or later we will get through this tunnel and come out on the other side. When we have bigger commitments and responsibilities than we have strength, then this is a perfect time to call out to God for help.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:12–13)

Determine never to flake. That is being unloving to your neighbor. If you said you would make those stupid pies, you can’t bail out now and show up with a bag of chips. If you said you would help with the reception, you can’t be a no-show. We are Christians! We keep our promises. You may not call an hour before the field trip and say, “Sorry, something has come up, and it’s just not going to work.”

One of the ways we learn to be wise rather than hasty in our commitments is by sticking to them. If we stay up late making those pies, we will think twice before we over-commit again. And we will find out that it is not a sin to say no. It’s not a sin to let someone else volunteer. Someone wisely said, “The need is not the call.”

So ride this part out. Finish your commitments by the grace of God. Do not lose heart. Ask God for strength. And then don’t put anything extra on your calendar for a while. Take a breather and pray for spiritual refreshment.

FS Sunday Sermon – The Stories We Tell Ourselves

The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Questioning How We Frame Reality

By: Joe Rigney

Let’s talk about framing. Not framing as in home construction, but framing as in the way we perceive reality. Framing refers to how we see things. In particular, it refers to the fact that, as human beings, we don’t merely see things; we see things as. If you see a bear, you don’t just see a bear. You see the bear as dangerous. When you see a sunset, you don’t just see the sunset; you see the sunset as beautiful. That’s what I mean by framing. We see things as.

And not just sight, but our other senses as well. We hear the buzzing of a fly as annoying. We hear the laughter of a child as delightful. We smell the aroma of cookies as pleasant. We taste and see that honey is good. Framing, then, has to do with the immediate and snap judgments we make about reality and its relation to us.

Changing Lenses

Our framing is not static. The child’s laughter that is delightful at one moment is a nuisance when you’re trying to get work done. The laughter is the same; the framing — your snap judgment — is different.

Let’s take another step. We’re always framing, and it’s good that we are. It’s what keeps us alive. Our snap judgments lead to snap reactions. The framing bear-as-dangerous is why you jump in the car and drive away when you see one. The speed of our snap judgments engages our snap reactions almost automatically. In fact, we might say that our snap judgments and snap reactions are not in our immediate control (though, as we’ll see, they are shaped over time by our choices and experiences).

As humans — with souls and bodies, hearts and minds, intellects and wills — our snap judgments are often incredibly complex. They don’t merely involve simple and straightforward judgments about dangerous bears and delightful laughter. Behind our framing lies a complex web of imagination, memory, narrative-framing, embodied experience, and our present expectations, desires, and fears. In short, because we are human, why we see things as we do is a complicated question.

More than simply being human, our fallibility and sinfulness complicate our framing. Because we are fallible, our framing can be mistaken. We might mistake a garden hose for a snake and unnecessarily panic. And because we are sinful, our snap reactions following our snap judgments are not always good. Your spouse makes an observation; you make a snap judgment — comment-as-insult — and you react with your own insulting comment, and the situation escalates. You see the two places you could go wrong: Was your snap judgment correct? And was your snap reaction appropriate?

Our Chosen Stories

We can think of many other examples. Was that question from your coworker simply a request for information? Or was it a subtle shot at your ignorance? Your friends go out one night and don’t invite you. Did they simply forget or intentionally leave you out? Snap judgment, snap reaction.

And now we can see how our framing — and the snap reactions that flow from it — sets us on a path.

They didn’t invite me. They intentionally left me out. They don’t want to be around me. They’ve rejected me as their friend. I’ll show them.

With every judgment, we add a corresponding reaction, which together make the frame sturdier. Our experience and our choices, our memories and our imaginations, the stories we tell ourselves and the things that happen to us — all of these work together to shape and reshape our framing.

Notice How You Frame

What then should we do?

First, we ought to be curious about our own framing. I reacted because I made a snap judgment. Why did I make that judgment? And was that an appropriate reaction? Growing in self-awareness is crucial if we are to frame the world rightly. Our reactions are tied to our framing, and both often reveal subtle assumptions that we may not even be fully aware of. C.S. Lewis describes just this sort of dynamic in The Screwtape Letters.

Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied. The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient can be induced to make, the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered. (111)

Note the snap reactions: anger and ill-temper. Note that what produces them is a snap judgment: misfortune conceived as injury. That’s the framing: hardship as violation of a claim. What assumption is revealed by this snap judgment and snap reaction? Screwtape continues.

Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him. It is the unexpected visitor (when he looked forward to a quiet evening), or the friend’s talkative wife (turning up when he looked forward to a tête-à-tête with the friend), that throw him out of gear.

Now he is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on his courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption “My time is my own.” (111–12)

There is the assumption, the pattern, beneath the snap judgment — “My time is my own.” Curiosity about our reaction leads us to awareness of our judgment and the revealing of our (false) assumption. Thus, reframing our view of our time becomes essential in shaping us in a more humble and godly way.

Notice How Others Frame

Second, be curious about the framing of others. My spouse or child or friend reacted strongly because they made a snap judgment about me. Why did they do so? Does their snap judgment fit a real pattern I display? And rather than escalating the situation with my own snap reaction, how can I love them through it?

Again, Lewis describes how important such self-reflection is in our closest relationships. Listen to Screwtape’s strategy for provoking our snap judgments and snap reactions in our domestic lives.

When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that. Bring fully into the consciousness of your patient that particular lift of his mother’s eyebrows which he learned to dislike in the nursery, and let him think how much he dislikes it.

Let him assume that she knows how annoying it is and does it to annoy — if you know your job he will not notice the immense improbability of the assumption. And, of course, never let him suspect that he has tones and looks which similarly annoy her. As he cannot see or hear himself, this is easily managed. (13)

Again, note the way that our reactions and judgments reveal improbable assumptions. Our awareness of such facts allows us to be curious and compassionate toward our family and friends and, Lord willing, love them more wisely.

Be Transformed by Scripture

Third, mind the patterns that shape your framing. Paul says it clearly in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world.” In other words, don’t frame reality the way that the world frames reality. Its pattern is not to be our pattern. Instead, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This is why we read the Scriptures and seek God in prayer and worship with God’s people — so that our minds can be renewed and we frame reality the way God does.

Finally, marvel at the amazing reframing that God has worked in us in our view of Christ. At one time, our frame was darkened and blind. We saw Christ as a stumbling block and foolishness. Christ-as-ugly, Christ-as-dull, Christ-as-trivial — that was our frame.

But then, the God who said “Let light shine out of darkness” shone in our hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6). He called us from darkness to light and reframed Jesus for us. Now we see Christ as the power of God and the wisdom of God. Through the miracle of the new birth, we see Jesus differently. Christ-as-glorious. Jesus-as-worthy. This is the frame of frames, the pattern that transforms us from one degree of glory to another.

FS Sunday Sermon – When You Feel Unwanted and Unloved

When You Feel Unwanted and Unloved
By: Paul Bane
I know how you struggle when you feel unwanted and unloved. You have a nagging suspicion you will never be good enough to be loved. You feel isolated and separated from everyone, even me. You think of all the changes you made to fit in with your family and so-called friends in life. All you ever felt was their rejection in your heart.
You ponder why no one appreciates the effort you made, trying to keep your family together. You struggle to feel life is worth living and question your relationship with me. I want you to hear my word; you are not a failure. Whether you feel like it or not, I love you just as you are. You are my child.
Please give me your broken dreams and the anger you feel of not being accepted. In your pain, know I came into a broken world to reveal the Heavenly Father’s love for you. I want you to experience that nothing you do or have done can separate you from my love. All I ask of you is to open up your heart to me. That is all I want from you.
Don’t let your past hurts, and questionable relationships with others separate you from my love and forgiveness. Let my love transform your heart and attitude about life and give you renewed hope for the future. (The Power and Practice of Letting Go)
Remember, since the beginning of time, all I ever wanted is your heart. You have mine.
And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:18 NIV
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NIV

FS Sunday Sermon – We All Need A Pause Button In Life

We All Need A Pause Button In Life
By: Paul Bane
We all need a pause button in life. Our minds are always thinking and recording a movie script in our heads. There are bills to pay, with unexpected expenses that always show up at the wrong moment. The dialogue never stops, whether at home or work. There are loved ones to take care of with no one to help. The last thing we think about is hitting the pause button will help us regain our mental and spiritual health. We tell ourselves we don’t have the time to waste. There is no way we can stop the ride and get off and quiet our souls.
However, without a pause button, our lives spiral downward out of control. The scripture and experience teach us we need Sabbath breaks and rest. So, when life knocks the wind out of our sails, we can catch our breath. The pause button helps us take a moment to reflect and regain our bearings. Meditation and prayer help us gain an eternal perspective on what is happening around us. In the pause and stillness, our minds discover answers to our problems we could not see before.
The pause frees us to let the moment be what it is, no matter how hectic and out of control it feels. Take a deep breath and invite the Holy Spirit to comfort you. Make it your intention to focus your entire being on the resurrected Christ living within you. Let the presence of Christ refresh you each time you stop. Realize at the end of the pause; you start with a new beginning and the hope to take the next step forward in your life.
Use contemplative prayer or solitude whatever it takes to change the adverse scenery in your mind and replace it with the living word and the spirit of Christ. Sometimes even going for a walk can change your perspective and outlook on everything. I encourage you when you pause to focus on something to be thankful for and release your cares into the arms of Christ.
Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Genesis 2:3 NIV
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Mathew 11:28 NIV

FS Sunday Sermon – Don’t Let Anyone Hold You Hostage 2/20/2022

Don’t Let Anyone Hold You Hostage
By: Paul Bane

It is time in your life to move on and no longer be held hostage by those who are unwilling to apologize or reconcile with you. We want family or friends who have wronged or violated us to admit their actions. We want an apology for what they have done to us, but often there is a flat denial of committing any wrong against us. Sometimes reconciliation is impossible.

I encourage you to understand you can forgive someone and not receive an apology in return. I know you want justice, but forgiveness is for you and not dependent upon anyone’s reaction. I encourage you to understand the great divide between forgiveness and reconciliation. You can forgive, but it takes two to reconcile. You can be entirely willing to forgive someone, but if the other person is unwilling, reconciliation is impossible no matter what you do.

Forgiveness is your heart’s internal action and discipline, while reconciliation is an outward process where your relationship can be healed and restored. Reconciliation can only occur if the other person is willing to.

Jesus would speak to us; I urge you not to mull over and over in your head how wrongly others have behaved toward you. When you center your attention on their conduct, it becomes a self-inflicted injury. It is natural to want to validate and direct your anger toward the people who hurt you when they failed to take responsibility to love and nurture you as they should. However, it is essential not to let the feeling of resentment you may have toward them capture and hold your heart hostage.

Learn as tricky as it may be for you to accept that things are the way they are. They have never apologized until now and understand they probably never will without my love and grace.

Come and rest in the assurance I bore in my flesh, your doubts, and questions as I walked to the cross. My purpose was to identify with you to know that I understand the heartache you feel deep in your soul from the broken promises and unforgiving relationships in your life.

Also, remember on that walk to the cross, I didn’t count your sins or failures against you either. Likewise, forgive your loved ones, as I forgave you and also your enemies. Forgive them for not being God to you and meeting all your emotional and spiritual needs. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as I forgave you.

Grieve for what happened to you and what might have been in your life; forgive yourself and the other person, letting go of the resentment and blame. Then, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Here is the good news if you have done all you can to live at peace with them and continue to resist any responsibility for their actions, you can be at peace with me. You can live in the power of my forgiveness without the need for reconciliation, free from condemnation, bitterness, and anger. And most of all, you don’t need to let anyone hold you hostage any longer.

Scripture references:

Rom. 12:18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. NIV

Col. 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. NIV

FS Sunday Sermon – Lord, Deliver Me from Me

Lord Deliver Me from Me
A Daily Prayer Against Unbelief
By: Joe Rigney
Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. –Psalm 16:1
This verse has become the most common prayer that I pray. I pray it both for its simplicity and its profundity. The logic of the prayer is that of a child’s: “Save me for no other reason than that I’m in danger and I’ve run to you for help.” “Keep me because I seek safety and protection in you.” Not, “Keep me because of my past or future faithfulness.” Not, “Preserve me because I’m useful or because I’m worthy.” Just, “Preserve me, because I’m frightened and I’m here and my eyes are looking to you.”
The childlike spirit of the request is reflected in Thomas Ken’s “Evening Hymn.”
All praise to thee, my God, this night
For all the blessing of the light.
Keep me, O keep me, King of kings
Beneath thine own almighty wings.
But the prayers of a child are not necessarily childish prayers. Often there is a depth and weight to such prayers which make them fitting for Christians of all ages. Meditate with me on the depth of this simple prayer.
Preserve Me from What?
King David’s prayer implies perils we must seek refuge from. There are threats, dangers, hostile forces, challenges. And there are. In the world. In the church. In your life and mine.
The psalm does not specify the dangers. But we can imagine. The dangers could be external. Enemies who plot and scheme and set traps. Wicked men who lie in wait and pursue the innocent. Liars and slanderers who utter false things against us. Disease and sickness which lay us low. The loss of wealth or job or other forms of earthly security.
All of these (and more) could be in the mind of the psalmist. More importantly, the absence of specificity allows us to fill in the gap, to supply our own dangers and threats and challenges so that David’s prayer becomes our own.
Seeking Refuge
In the face of the danger (whatever dangers we face), the response is the same: we seek refuge in God. The notion of “taking refuge” is a common one in Scripture. It means to find shelter and protection and safety in something. When the scorching sun beats down on us, we take refuge in the shade of a tree. When the icy winds and snowstorms threaten, we take refuge in a warm house.
The image often connotes a pursuer (Psalm 7:2; 17:7). If a man accidentally kills another, for example, he flees to a city of refuge in order to be kept from the avenger of blood. Or the city of Zion, founded by Yahweh, is a refuge for the afflicted of his people (Isaiah 14:32). If someone shoots an arrow at us, we take refuge behind a shield.
A refuge belongs to a cluster of biblical terms that identify places of sanctuary and strength. Psalm 18 stacks such terms one after another. “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).
To seek refuge means to find the place where we can let down our guard, where we don’t have to be on high alert. To find refuge is to find rest, a place where we can sleep because someone strong and secure is keeping watch. Images give the term meaning. The child, fleeing from a bully, takes refuge at his older brother’s side. The chicks, hearing a loud noise, take refuge beneath the wings of their mother. The desperate family, pursued by soldiers, finds a hiding place in the Ten Boom house.
The prayer of Psalm 16:1 poses challenging questions to us. When we face dangers and threats, where do we turn? When our self-sufficiency is proved to be the lie that it is, where do we run? When we sense danger, we all seek refuge. But do we seek refuge in God? Do we run to him? Do we hide in him? Or do we run to earthly shelters, to worldly fortresses, to false idols?
Enemy Within
There are real external dangers in the world. And when we face them, we ought to seek refuge in God and cry to him to keep us.
I am daily sensible, though, that the greatest threat to my being kept and preserved is not external opposition, or persecution by non-Christians, or physical threats, or relational conflict among former friends and colleagues, or misrepresentations and slander. The greatest threat to my being kept is my own unbelief. Not things out there; something in here. Unbelief is the greatest threat and danger and challenge that I face. Which means when I pray, “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge,” I mean, “I take refuge in you from me.” My thoughts. My passions. My sinful desires. My doubts. My moods. My unbelief.
What’s more, I have found that frequently Psalm 16:1 is both a request and a fulfillment of the request. That is, God is answering the prayer, in part, in my praying of the prayer. He is keeping me in my prayer to be kept. The prayer itself interrupts the thoughts, passions, desires, doubts, and moods that were threatening my faith.
Rescue Me from Doubt
Consider how Psalm 16:1 interrupts doubts. There I am, living as a Christian, resting in and hoping in Christ. The risen Christ is a living assumption undergirding my life and actions, and his word and gospel frame reality for me.
Then doubts come crashing into that normal Christian life. Perhaps doubts about my eternal state. Or perhaps doubts about the reality of God and the truth of the gospel. The bedrock conviction of life feels shaken. Faith feels fragile, and I wonder whether I’ll be kept. In those moments, “the God question” can easily become all-consuming. Unbelief and skepticism become the default posture of the soul, and the mind revolves endlessly on itself, looking for a way out. In other words, I’m seeking refuge.
In those moments, Psalm 16:1 is both a prayer and a means of deliverance. The prayer reframes the doubts and the questions because Psalm 16:1 is both a description and an enactment. I don’t just ask him to keep me because I’ve sought refuge in him in the past. I am seeking refuge in God now, in the present, by asking him to keep me now, in the present.
In praying the psalm, I turn from thinking about God as an intellectual puzzle from a posture of unbelief. Instead, I am addressing God as a person from a posture of desperate and child-like faith. And that difference is crucial. God is not a puzzle to be solved, but a person to be sought.
Preserve Me, O God
Psalm 16:1 interrupts my doubts by awakening me to the reality that we never talk about God behind his back. Our thoughts and deeds, our desires and doubts, our questions and moods — all of these are conducted in his presence, before his face, at his right hand.
The prayer of Psalm 16:1 is a prayer of faith, since I am no longer attempting to reason about God in his absence but addressing him as Father in his presence. And through such awakenings and interruptions, God answers my prayer. He keeps me, because I seek refuge in him.
Yes, Psalm 16:1 is as profound as it is simple, as simple as it is profound. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. And therefore, I encourage you, in the face of dangers and enemies, anxieties and fears, doubt and unbelief, make Psalm 16:1 your prayer.
Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.

FS Sunday Sermon – Patience Will Be Painful

Patience Will Be Painful
How to Love the Hard-to-Love
By: Marshall Segal
Patience is a virtue we admire, and even aspire to, from afar. The closer it comes to us, however — the more it invades our schedule, our plans, our comfort — the more uncomfortable it becomes.
Patience exists only in a world of disruption, delays, and disappointment. It grows only on the battlefield. We cannot practice patience unless our circumstances call for it — and the circumstances that call for it are the kinds of circumstances we wouldn’t choose for ourselves. We would choose convenience, speed, efficiency, fulfillment. God often chooses circumstances that call for patience. And he never chooses wrongly.
Impatience grows out of our unwillingness to trust and submit to God’s timing for our lives. Impatience is a war for control. Patience, on the other hand, springs from different soil — from a humble embrace of what we do not know and cannot control, from a deep and abiding trust that God will follow through on all of his promises, from a heart that is profoundly happy to have him.
In other words, the deepest patience comes from a humble and hopeful joy in God above all else. That means that real patience is not only inconvenient, difficult, and wearying, but, humanly speaking, impossible. The kind of patience that honors God is so hard that we cannot practice it without help from God. It grows only where the Spirit lives (Galatians 5:22–23).
Many Shades of Patience
What might we say, then, practically speaking, about real patience in real life? Where could we look in Scripture to see some of the colors and texture of patience in action? One verse, in particular, humbles me and bursts with lessons for everyday patience:
We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
The ways we approach each group — the idle, the fainthearted, the weak — are different, but we’re called to patience with them all. Which means we’re likely going to experience temptation to be impatient with them all (and many more besides them). So what might patience look like in each case?
Help the Weak
The weak test our patience because they need more from us than most. Many of us have an impulse, at least in the moment, to step in when we see a weak person in need, whether that person is young, or old, or sick, or emotionally or spiritually vulnerable. But weakness, we all know from personal experience, rarely stays contained within a moment, which means the weak need more than in-the-moment help; they need for-the-long-haul help — and for-the-long-haul help requires patience.
Paul does not charge the church to admonish the weak, but to help them, and the word for help here can also mean to hold firm or be devoted. There’s a tenaciousness in this help, a clinging to the weak, even after months or years of inconvenience and sacrifice. Where does that kind of patience come from? From knowing that “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6) — in other words, he died for us. And that “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27) — in other words, he chose us.
Those who know how painfully and helplessly weak they are apart from God are more ready to endure the weaknesses of others. They don’t resent helping for the hundredth time, because they gladly trust and submit to God’s plans, including the weaknesses he has placed around them.
Encourage the Fainthearted
The fainthearted test our patience because they get more easily discouraged than most. Among the Thessalonians, some were beginning to wither while they grieved the loss of loved ones (1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11). Discouragement was drying up their spiritual strength and resolve — and so they needed more from others (who were also likely grieving).
The fainthearted lack the strength or stamina others have in relationships and ministry. They bring burdens they cannot carry by themselves. They often despair of their burdens, struggling to see how life will ever be more bearable. And we all already have our own burdens to bear, so regularly speaking grace into someone else’s emotional and spiritual needs can feel especially taxing over time. The ministry of encouragement often requires unusual endurance.
Those who keep walking with the fainthearted, even when the path is slow and winding, demonstrate the strength of a supernatural patience. They have discovered, first for themselves, and then through themselves for others, that
[God] gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:29–31)
Anyone who has experienced the gift of strength and renewal longs for other fainthearted people to experience the same. And how much sweeter when God strengthens and renews someone through us?
Every Christian experiences discouragement, which means every Christian needs a steady stream of courage to endure suffering, to reject temptation, to sacrifice in love, to embrace discipline, to persevere in ministry, to trust and obey God. And those streams run low or even dry in churches when we lack the patience needed to persevere in encouraging one another.
Rebuke the Idle
It’s not hard to see how the idle test our patience. In the case of the Thessalonians, it seems, some thought Jesus was returning imminently, and so they started shirking their work and leaving it to others (2 Thessalonians 2:1–2; 3:6).
The idle test our patience because they refuse to take responsibility and initiative. They could do more, help more, carry more, contribute in more significant ways, but they’re content to do just enough (or less), which means someone else has to do more. And when we are that someone, we understandably grow impatient.
But Paul doesn’t let the impatient off the hook, even with the idle. He does say admonish them — warn them, exhort them, wake them up — even if you have to withhold food for a time (2 Thessalonians 3:10–11) or remove them from fellowship (2 Thessalonians 3:6). Nevertheless, he says to do so with patience. Be patient with them all. What might that mean? We don’t usually associate hard words or painful consequences with patience.
First, we might ask, Why are we patient, even as we admonish the idle? We’re patient with sinners, in part, because we still are one. The idleness of others — or the greed of others, or the lust of others, or the anger of others, or the vanity of others — is never so evil that we cannot see something of their sin in ourselves. It takes very little imagination for us to see that, apart from an undeserved miracle, we would be them — and perhaps far worse.
Impatience with sinners betrays a small view of God’s mercy toward us. The same apostle that says we should rebuke the idle also says,
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15–16)
Even our rebukes should be seasoned with a humble awareness of our own sinfulness — of just how wicked we would be without the grace of God.
Knowing why we are patient, even with those we need to rebuke, how do we rebuke with patience? First, it probably needs to be said that good rebuke itself is an evidence of patience. It’s easy to give up on sinners. It’s easy to lash out and tear down someone who has sinned against us. Those who rebuke well — who aim to restore someone through honest and gentle confrontation and correction — demonstrate that they haven’t given up, and that they still have hope that God will grant conviction, forgiveness, reconciliation, and transformation.
Patience in rebuke, though, will also mean a willingness to wait for change. Sanctification can be painfully, sometimes excruciatingly, slow. We shouldn’t expect the slothful to become immediately diligent — or, for that matter, for the proud to become immediately humble, the angry to become immediately kind, the lustful to become immediately pure. We don’t overlook patterns of sin in those we love, or make excuses for their sin. We go to them, we warn them, we implore them, we even rebuke them sharply, if necessary — and we keep doing so — but we do so knowing, again firsthand, that change often comes slowly. We plant seeds knowing that they may need time to take hold, mature, and eventually blossom.
Patient God for Impatient People
We might welcome the opportunity to rebuke the lazy and negligent, but can we do so with patience? If we can’t, it’s likely because we haven’t meditated enough on the patience of God toward sinners like us — sinners like me.
When Moses pleaded to see God’s glory, what did God reveal about himself? “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’” (Exodus 34:6). He has every reason and right to get angry with us, and yet he’s slow to anger. He’s patient with us, 2 Peter 3:9 says, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” God never asks anyone to be patient who hasn’t already received the infinite riches of his patience.
That doesn’t mean patience isn’t hard. It is. Whether in traffic on the way to work, or in a season of significant transition or uncertainty, or beside the hospital bed of someone we love, patience can require uncomfortable sacrifice and surrender. In the Father’s patience, after all, he did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us. As it was at the cross, so it is with us. The painfulness of our patience serves its hidden but beautiful purpose: to call attention to the beauty and power of God’s love.

FS Sunday Sermon – Holy Distractions

Holy Distractions
When God Interrupts Our Productivity
By: Jon Bloom

The ever-growing body of literature on productivity overwhelmingly agrees with what we all know by experience: interruptions reduce our productivity. So naturally, most of the literature focuses on ways we can reduce our interruptions because they distract us from productive work.

And for good reason: many of our interruptions are distractions. But not all interruptions are distractions. Some interruptions are more important than our current productivity. The problem, however, is that we often struggle to recognize these important interruptions in the moment.

As Christians, the stakes rise when we consider that what may appear at first as a simple interruption is actually an unplanned assignment from our Lord. So, how can we discern the difference?

First, I should define what I mean by interruption, distraction, and unplanned assignment.

Interruption: An unplanned occurrence that urges you to shift your attention away from one of your responsibilities to something else.

Distraction: An unplanned occurrence that tempts you to shift your attention away from something of greater importance to something of lesser importance.

Unplanned assignment: An unplanned occurrence that calls you to shift your attention away from something you think is a good use of time as a servant of Christ to something Christ may consider a better use of the time.

Of course, God has not given us a formula we can apply to all situations. In fact, an interruption that’s an unplanned assignment on one day might be a distraction on another day. In other words, this is an issue of discernment. And discernment is learned by constant practice (Hebrews 5:14) as we are transformed in Christ by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2).

But the Bible does provide principles we can use in honing our discernment. Two stories provide needed help.

Apostolic Distraction

In Acts 6, a potentially explosive situation was developing in the new, rapidly growing church. “A complaint by the Hellenists [Jewish Christians from Greek-speaking nations] arose against the Hebrews [Jewish Christians native to Palestine] because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution” (Acts 6:1).

We’re not told why these vulnerable women were being neglected. But it’s clear the problem wasn’t being addressed, and frustration was spreading. The complaints carried strains of ethnic tension. As the past few years have reminded us all, such issues can quickly sour relationships, break trust, and sow suspicion. So, the situation was growing serious, and an appeal was made to the apostles to get involved.

This situation came as a potential interruption to the apostles’ work. Was it a distraction or an unplanned assignment?

After the apostles prayed and discussed this issue together, here’s what they discerned:

It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. (Acts 6:2–4)

The apostles discerned this was a distraction.

This example illustrates how much we need discernment. An interruption may initially appear (to us or others) as God’s unplanned assignment for us because the issue is important, and we might even bear responsibility to make sure it’s addressed. But it is still a distraction if our direct involvement is not more important than remaining focused on our primary callings. Christ has given this assignment to someone else.

Parabolic Assignment

In Luke 10, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, who, while traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, came upon a severely injured man lying in the road, a victim of robbers. This situation interrupted the Samaritan’s journey. Was it a distraction or an unplanned assignment?

Jesus’s story works as an example because all of his listeners knew it was based on real events. Jericho Road was notoriously dangerous because of robbers; real travelers came upon real injured people.

Here’s what the Samaritan man discerned:

He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” (Luke 10:34–35)

The Samaritan man discerned this was an unplanned assignment.

This example also illustrates how much we need discernment. An interruption may initially appear to us (or others) as a distraction. The issue may be important, but it doesn’t appear to be our responsibility. And it’s going to consume precious time, and perhaps other resources, and derail or delay our plans. But it’s an unplanned assignment since our direct (and costly) involvement is more important than remaining focused on our planned work.

Discernment Principles

What principles can we distill from these two scriptural examples to help us discern what might be a distraction or an unplanned assignment? Consider three.

1. Clarify your calling.

What has God objectively called you to focus on in this season of life? It’s important to recognize what season we’re in because our callings change over time. In a different season, it was right for the twelve disciples to serve tables (remember the feeding of the five thousand). But once Jesus ascended, he left his men as specially appointed apostles, as witnesses to his life and resurrection and as his mouthpiece as teachers. Clarifying your clear (not just aspirational) calling in any given season of life can help you discern what God wants you to prioritize.

2. Seek counsel.

When you struggle to discern whether you should resist or receive an interruption that doesn’t require immediate action, seek the advice of wise, spiritually discerning counselors. The apostles had each other. Who are your trusted counselors?

3. Ask yourself, “What does love compel?”

When the Samaritan man saw the wounded man in the road, I’m sure he would have had numerous reasons to just keep going. But for the sake of love, he took up this unplanned assignment. On the other hand, it was for the sake of love that the apostles resisted the distraction of getting personally involved in making sure the widows were fed. They discerned others could address this need, but others couldn’t give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word like they could.

Martial Art of Discernment

Most martial arts teach students how to respond in self-defense when attacked. No attack situation is ever the same, so students learn techniques that can be adapted for whatever a situation requires. And they grow in their skill by continually practicing in increasingly difficult situations.

Learning to distinguish unplanned assignments from distractions is like a martial art. No interruption situation is ever the same, so we must learn techniques we can adapt for whatever a situation requires. And our “powers of discernment [are] trained by constant practice” (Hebrews 5:14).

Rarely is it clear at first if an interruption is a distraction or an assignment. This ambiguity pushes us to pray, “What should I do, Lord?” It pushes us to embrace humility in seeking counsel from others. And it pushes us to test our hearts. Are we being governed by our love for God and neighbor or by our selfish desires? Do we see time, money, reputation, and productivity as stewardships we’ve received from our Lord to be used as seems best to him, or do we see these resources as “ours”?

Cultivate faith-filled responsiveness to God’s leading. Be willing to say no to a distraction that feels urgent to faithfully focus on your clear God-given task at hand. And be willing to say yes to an inconvenient, costly interruption to your plans to faithfully respond to a God-given, unplanned assignment.

And when in doubt, err on the choice that you discern requires you to extend the greatest love to another and exercise the greatest faith in God.

FS Sunday Sermon – Trials Prove True Joy 1-16-2022

Trials Prove True Joy
What Jesus Says About Happiness
By: Joe Rigney

Does Christian Hedonism help us understand the Bible? That is, does the emphasis on magnifying the worth of Jesus by delighting in him above all else help us to know “the secrets of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:11)? I believe it does, and Matthew 13 is a great example why.

Matthew 13 is the “parables” chapter of the Gospel. In it, Jesus gives seven public parables (to the crowds), three private explanations (to his disciples), and two surprising statements on the purpose of parables. And in the midst of all of that, he also gives us two startling lessons about joy in God. What is joy in God — and what is it not? And how do we distinguish between true and false joy?

What Parables Reveal and Hide

The seven parables are easily organized into four groups:

A parable about how we hear the word (the sower and the soils, Matthew 13:3–9)
Two parables about the mixture of good and bad in this age, and their separation at the end of the age (the weeds, Matthew 13:24–30; the net, Matthew 13:47–50)
Two parables about the slow but sure growth of the kingdom (mustard seed, Matthew 13:31–32; leaven, Matthew 13:33)
Two parables about the value and worth of the kingdom (treasure in a field, Matthew 13:44; pearl of great price, Matthew 13:45)
The purpose of these parables, Jesus says, is both to reveal and to hide. The parables divide Jesus’s audience. Some come to know the secrets of the kingdom (Matthew 13:11), but others do not. Some have eyes that see and ears that hear; others see, but do not see, and hear, but do not hear. That is, some truly understand what Jesus says, and some do not. For the latter, the parables are a form of judgment, a further deadening of already dull hearts (Matthew 13:15).

Thus, the key issue in this chapter is understanding. When we hear the parables, do we truly understand them? Or do our hearts remain hardened and dull? And as we try to understand them, what difference, if any, does Christian Hedonism make?

Same or Different Joy?

When a Christian Hedonist reads Matthew 13, he naturally notices the word joy. It appears twice, once in verse 20 and once in verse 44. These are two of six total uses of the word joy (Greek chara) in Matthew. So, does meditating on the place of joy in these particular parables reveal anything significant?

One use of the word joy is likely familiar. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). The message is clear: our joy over finding the supreme treasure leads us to gladly sell everything in order to have that treasure. What we are willing to joyfully sacrifice is the measure of our treasure — and, in this case, that was everything.

The other use of joy occurs in Matthew 13:20. Here Jesus is explaining the parable of the sower and the four soils. The first soil is the path, and the birds devour the seed before it takes root. The second soil is rocky ground; the seed is planted, but lacks deep roots, and thus withers beneath the scorching heat. The third soil has thorns, which choke the life of the plant. And the fourth soil is the good soil, which produces an abundance of grain.

Now, given how joy is used in verse 44, we might expect joy to be associated with the fourth fruitful soil. To receive the word with joy must mean that we’ll bear fruit for eternal life, right? But instead, we’re surprised to discover that it’s the second soil that “hears the word and immediately receives it with joy.” This joy, however, proves to be only a flash in the pan; the joyful receiver has no root in himself, and thus falls away when trials and persecution come.

This parable presents a different angle on joy. We learn that receiving the word with joy does not guarantee that God is pleased or glorified. In this case, the presence of joy proves not to be the measure of the treasure, but instead a shallow and fleeting mirage.

Two Different Joys

Picture two men. One man has sold all he has. The other has received the word.

These two men, based on these two parables, could not be more different. In the end, one will be commended; the other will be condemned. One will have joy everlasting; the other will find himself weeping and gnashing his teeth in the outer darkness. And yet at this moment in each story, their faces look identical. They are both radiant with joy — one as he receives the word, the other as he sells all he has.

Now a new Christian Hedonist might be puzzled. He expected the presence of joy to make all the difference. Receiving the word with joy and selling everything with joy belong together, don’t they? And yet Jesus distinguishes them in his parables. And so we must press in further and see more than we have yet seen to understand the secrets of the kingdom.

Joy We All Want

What should we learn from the juxtaposition of joy in these two parables?

The juxtaposition of joy reinforces that we are dealing with a mixed field. As in the parable of the weeds, the wheat and the tares grow up together until the harvest. Or again, with the parable of the net and the fish, the kingdom “gathers fish of every kind” (Matthew 13:47), both the good and the bad. But they are not sorted until the end of the age. And the presence of joy at any given moment in this age isn’t an infallible mark that one is wheat or a tare, a good fish or a bad.

Even though joy is found among the wheat and the tares, it is still possible to distinguish them. The parables about the slow but sure growth of the kingdom may help here. The joy that we’re after is joy like the mustard seed: it may start small, but it grows to be a large tree. It’s like the leaven in the dough that comes to pervade the entire loaf. Thus, in looking for joy, we are looking not merely for a snapshot; we are looking for a growing and increasingly pervasive sense of joy in the kingdom.

The Christian Hedonist also, however, notes that the key distinction between the joy of the Treasure-Seeker and the joy of the Second Soil is the response to trials and tribulations.

Trials Prove Our Joy

Trials reveal the quality of our joy. In looking for joy, we’re after a supreme joy in God that endures hardship and affliction.

The two parables of joy express the importance of trials explicitly; they simply locate the trial at different points. The Treasure-Seeker faces his trial at the outset. He finds the treasure and must decide whether to leave it buried in the field, or to sell all in order to buy the field, and with it, the treasure. And he passes the test. The loss of his possessions is nothing compared to the value he places on the treasure. The roots of his joy run deep, and thus he gladly lets goods and kindred go in order to gain it.

On the other hand, the Second Soil faces his trial after receiving the word with joy. The scorching heat tests the depth of his roots. His joy does not pervade the whole loaf. His is a shallow joy, and its superficiality becomes evident when trials and conflict come. He abandons the word of the kingdom in order to keep his goods and kindred.

Have You Understood?

After speaking his parables and giving his private explanations, Jesus asks his disciples, “Have you understood these things?” (Matthew 13:51). Today he asks us the same question. Have we understood the secrets of the kingdom? Seeing, have we truly seen? Hearing, have we truly heard?

Christian Hedonism, with its focus on the worth of Christ in the joy of his people, has helped. By focusing on the presence and juxtaposition of joy in these parables, we’ve seen more. We can bring out of our treasure what is new and what is old (Matthew 13:52).

We see that a snapshot of joy isn’t enough. A moment of joy, on its own, tells us very little. The wheat and the tares grow together, and their joy can sometimes look identical. And so we are looking for joy that endures. We are looking for joy that works its way into all of our lives and grows from seed to tree. We are especially looking for joy that keeps rejoicing even in the face of hardship, affliction, trials, and loss. The presence of joy is the measure of our treasure, and the quality of our joy is tested by suffering.

These are not merely academic questions. We can intellectually grasp the point of the parables and still lack true understanding. We can see the point and still miss the point.

The real test is not whether we’ve mentally grasped what Jesus said. The real test is how our hearts respond when we find the treasure in the field. The fundamental question is what happens when the scorching sun beats down on our faith. Does our joy die, or does it endure? Does it just endure, or does it grow?

Sunday Sermon – When Life Doesn’t Make Sense 1-9-2022

When Life Doesn’t Make Sense
By: Joshua Bremerman
What do we do when life just doesn’t make sense? Illness strikes. A job is lost. Friendships fade. Uncertainty looms. Whether the gray-haired saint facing cancer or the college student burdened by the pressures of the future, crisis and suffering have a way of shaking even the most confident Christian.
We may know that God is in control of all things at all times in all places, yet we often feel frustrated because we don’t understand what he is up to. So what do we do when life doesn’t make sense?
The Preacher in Ecclesiastes asked a similar question. Often, when someone mentions Ecclesiastes, we can think, “Whoa — he was a downer.” In reality, though, Ecclesiastes does not push the depressed over the edge, but rather gives the frustrated a foothold of joy in our puzzling world. The Preacher declares a simple message of hope for the struggling: enjoy life by fearing God even when you cannot understand his works and ways.
God Weaves All Things Together
When we do not understand why life is the way it is, the Preacher would have us be certain that God orchestrates all its changing seasons.
Everything has its time: “A time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2). The Preacher poetically introduces his subject by using birth and death to encapsulate all things in life. All things — the good, the bad, and the somewhere in between — occur according to an appointed time. In his words, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Who appoints this timing? The Preacher does not leave us wondering for long: “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
Just as beauty befits a lover (Song of Solomon 1:8152:10), so God works all things together in a fitting, beautiful way according to his will. He is the artist; all of life is his mosaic. He is the great weaver who threads all things together to form an exquisite tapestry. Perhaps we know what passage Paul meditated on as he wrote, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).
Mystery from Beginning to End
Yet even with confidence in the sovereign rule of God over all things at all times in all places, the Preacher recognizes his own inability to understand. He writes, “Also, [God] has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
In context, “eternity” parallels “what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Humanity has a God-given desire to comprehend “what God has done from the beginning to the end,” but God placed this desire in our hearts in such a way that we “cannot find out” what he has done. As Gregory of Nyssa (335–395) writes, “For all eternity he put in men’s hearts the fact that they might never discover what God has done from the beginning right to the end” (Homilies on Ecclesiastes, 79).
Naturally, as we arrive at the intersection of our finiteness and God’s infinity, we leave frustrated. The Preacher writes, “What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with” (Ecclesiastes 3:9–10). His question implies a negative answer: none. The worker has no gain from his toil.
What toil? In general, the activities noted in Ecclesiastes 3:2–8 constitute our toil through life, but Ecclesiastes 8:17 also reveals a specific piece of our struggle: “Then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out.” No matter how hard we try, we cannot make sense of God’s works and ways.
At the very least, we should consider reframing the original question. Instead of asking, “What do we do when life doesn’t make sense?” we might ask, “What do we do when life doesn’t make sense to us?” God works all things together according to his wisdom, but we do not have the capacity to understand all he does. God’s works and ways make sense — beautiful, wise, and fitting sense — just not always to us. Isaiah would not be surprised by this conclusion: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).
Fear Before Him
So what do we do when life doesn’t make sense to us?
The Preacher does not leave us alone to suffer in nihilistic resignation: “I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him” (Ecclesiastes 3:14).
God is not merely playing with his creation because he wants to have some fun at our expense. He has not created a world with no meaning, leaving humans to wander through life without hope of understanding. Instead, God designed us to desire infinite knowledge so that we would fear him.
To fear God means to remember who God is and to remember who we are in relationship (and outside of relationship) with him. We remind ourselves of God’s sovereign control of all things in life, humbly accepting our own inability to always understand his ways. At the same time, we can do so with joy because we know that God works all things together beautifully for our good.
Like Job in the face of great calamity, we ask, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). We look uncertainty and tragedy in the eye, as painful as it may be, and by his grace declare, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
Embrace the Life You Can See
We do not stop at fear, though. Rightly fearing God starts the process, but God wants more. The Preacher writes, “I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil — this is God’s gift to man” (Ecclesiastes 3:12–13). Don’t read the Preacher’s words as some sort of carpe diem motto that urges us to make the most of life while we can. Even when we cannot understand God’s work or ways, he wants us to enjoy life — every season of it — within the context of a holy fear.
In his book Things of Earth, Joe Rigney urges Christians to “embrace your creatureliness. Don’t seek to be God. Instead, embrace the glorious limitations and boundaries that God has placed on you as a character in his story” (234). Rigney’s exhortation hits at the core of Ecclesiastes 3: rightly fearing God and enjoying his world. To fear God rightly is to remember our humanity. When we can’t see around the dark corner of life yet to come, no matter how much we want to, we remember our humanity. We remember that God is God, and we are not. He controls all things at all times at all places, and he is good.
So, we ask God for the grace to embrace the life we can see — the life he has given to us — and to enjoy it fully. Breathe deeply the cool air of a fall morning as you walk the dog. Slowly sip hot chocolate with your children. Work hard at the temp job as you await a permanent position. Let your hand linger with your ailing loved one. Even when we do not understand God’s works and ways, we can delight in his good gifts to us. We can find a unique pleasure in our toil as we throw ourselves upon our rock, Jesus Christ, through the storms of life.
Jason DeRouchie ably summarizes the tension between finitude, infinity, frustration, and joy: “This is the goal of Ecclesiastes: that believers feeling the weight of the curse and the burden of life’s enigmas would turn their eyes toward God, resting in his purposes and delighting whenever possible in his beautiful, disfigured world” (“Shepherding Wind and One Wise Shepherd,” 15).
Do Good Like God
After inviting us to enjoy the life God has given, the Preacher adds one more dimension to our well-being: “There is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live” (Ecclesiastes 3:12). When we embrace our finiteness and enjoy God and his gifts to us, we ultimately live like God by doing good to others. We soak up the joy of the life he has given to us, and then we channel that joy to others.
So, what do we do when life doesn’t make sense to us? We face all things — the good, the bad, and the somewhere in between — with confidence because we know our God is weaving all things together for good, even when we cannot see past our current circumstances. We walk hand in hand with our Savior on the path of life, enjoying all his gifts, big and small. And then we do good to others by inviting them to do the same.