Your Darkness Is Not Dark to Him 

Article by Jon Bloom, staff writer, desiringGod.org 

When my daughter Eliana was 6 years old, I wrote her a lullaby that included these words: 

You, Eliana, remind me each day
That God does answer the prayers that we pray.
And though the night falls and we cannot see,
He will bring light when the time’s right for you and me. 

These four lines are packed with profound meaning for me. I rarely can sing them without tears. They refer to an extended season of what Christians call spiritual darkness, or a dark night of the soul, or a faith crisis, which I experienced the year before Eliana was born. 

Since I told this story in some detail a number of years ago, I won’t recount it all here. I do, however, want to recount the moment God brought light into my night, because it was a transformational moment when I experienced the biblical truth David describes in Psalm 139: 

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
     and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
     the night is bright as the day,
     for darkness is as light with you. (Psalm 139:11–12

I say it was a transformational moment, not merely because light pierced my darkness, but because it drove home David’s poetic point: that just because “the light about [us] be night” and we, for various reasons, lose sight of God, it does not mean the Light is gone. In this moment, I experienced that God really is faithful to keep his promise to be with us when we walk through the valley of deep darkness (Psalm 23:4) — whether we perceive him or not. 

Though the Night Falls 

One spring day in 1997, for reasons too complex and distracting to describe now, God, who had been the Sun of my world since my youth, suddenly became eclipsed in the sky of my spiritual sight. I couldn’t perceive him at all. Existential darkness covered me; the light about me was night (Psalm 139:11). And my faith was in a full-fledged crisis. 

This terrifying experience was foreign to me. But as I desperately ransacked the Bible and books searching for answers, it quickly became clear that this experience wasn’t foreign to saints in Scripture. 

In one sense, this should have been clear to me prior to this crisis, given how often I had read the descriptions of dark nights like mine in the Psalms, Job, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and so on. But in another sense, it’s understandable why it wasn’t. When we haven’t personally experienced such disorienting blackouts (and the disturbing doubts that typically accompany them), it’s almost impossible to imagine what “darkness without any light” is really like (Lamentations 3:2). 

Now, I found myself walking through a “valley of deep darkness” (Psalm 23:4). I found myself praying with Heman the Ezrahite, “You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep” (Psalm 88:6). I found myself crying out with David in desperation, 

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

And I found myself wondering what incomprehensible darkness covered Jesus when he made this desperate cry. 

“God sometimes ordains dismayingly dark nights of the soul to descend on his children for redemptive purposes.” 

The Holy Spirit used my darkness to illuminate for me the Bible’s clear witness that, for various and deeply good reasons, God sometimes ordains dismaying dark nights of the soul to descend on his children for redemptive purposes. And God had provided these scriptural witnesses to help people like me “not be surprised at the fiery trial . . . as though something strange were happening” (1 Peter 4:12). Their experiences gave me a frame of reference as I sought to navigate my way in the dark. 

And We Cannot See 

Navigation, in fact, became a helpful metaphor to me during this time. To explain what I mean, let’s look at David’s description of spiritual darkness with more context: 

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
     Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
     If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
     and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
     and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
     and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
     the night is bright as the day,
     for darkness is as light with you. (Psalm 139:7–12

In beautiful poetry, David says that it doesn’t matter where he goes — whether to the dwelling of God or the dwelling of the dead, whether to the place where the sun rises or where it sets — God is there with him. And if we widen the lens to include Psalm 139:1–6, we’d hear David say God isn’t merely with him, but God fully knows him. God is acquainted with all of David’s ways, even his thoughts. When David is in such a dark place that God seems absent, God is fully present with him and fully cognizant of him. For there is no such thing as darkness to God. 

‘Various Trials’ Theological Seminary 

Why was David able to make such profound theological assertions? Because he received his theological education in the seminary of “various trials” (James 1:2), where his courses were “many dangers, toils, and snares” — and spiritual darkness. He practiced theology as if his life depended on it. 

So, when David exulted in God’s continual knowing and guiding presence, even when deep darkness descended, he wasn’t waxing poetic over some romantic ideal; he was speaking of a reality he had experienced. Hard-won experience had taught him to navigate life by trusting God’s reliable promises, not his unreliable perceptions and emotions — especially in the darkness. 

I remember when the thought “fly by the instruments” hit me while trying to figure out how to navigate my stormy darkness. When pilots fly planes into dense, dark clouds, they lose all points of perceptual reference. Their normally reliable perceptions suddenly can’t be trusted anymore, since they can feel like they’re flying horizontal and straight when they’re actually spiraling gradually toward the ground. Survival in this situation depends on trusting what the plane’s navigational instruments tell them over what their perceptions and emotions tell them. They must fly by the instruments. 

That’s what David learned in the realm of faith — and so must we. One of the hardest and most valuable lessons we learn during our stormy, cloudy, spiritual nights is to trust what the instruments of God’s promises tell us over what our perceptions and emotions tell us. Such seasons force us to exercise faith. Which is why so many faithful biblical saints learned to “walk by faith and not by sight” during seasons of great desperation (2 Corinthians 5:7). 

Why We Long for Light 

As necessary and valuable as it is for us to learn to trust God in the dark — that he’s with us and fully knows us when we cannot see — we still deeply and rightly desire to experience that truth. We long for God to “lighten [our] darkness” (Psalm 18:28) because “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). We long for light because we long for God. 

“We long for light because we long for God.” 

And so, on Saturday, August 23, 1997, while alone in the house, I threw myself on the living-room floor and pleaded with God (again) for light and deliverance. I prayed something very specific: “Lord, if you just somehow whisper to me that you’re still there, and I’m your son, and this whole dark season is something you’re allowing for your good purposes, I think I can endure anything. All I need is for you to whisper to me that I’m your son!” 

And God answered. He answered in such way that all the attempts my inner skeptic has made to explain it as something other than an answered prayer seem so improbable as to be incredible. (If you’d like to know specifically how, I describe it here; in short, God spoke not through an audible whisper but through a friend directing me, unaware, to a specific passage of Scripture.) And when God answered, he brought light into my night. In his light I again saw light (Psalm 36:9). 

Then, quite unexpectedly, one more aspect to this story occurred, which only made it harder to explain away. 

When the Time Is Right 

Several months after these events, my wife and I joyfully discovered we were expecting our second child. When we found out we were expecting a girl, we began searching for the right name. We ended up choosing Eliana, which in Hebrew means my God answers. We chose it as a memorial to that moment of answered prayer. 

Eliana was born on Saturday, August 22, 1998. The day after her birth, I got to thinking, “It was somewhere around this time last year that God answered my prayer.” So, I got out my journal and realized Eliana had been born exactly 365 days after that answered prayer, on the corresponding Saturday one year later. A shiver of awe passed through me, and grateful praise filled my mouth. 

God had been faithful, not only to his promise to cause “light [to] dawn in [my] darkness” (Psalm 112:4), but also to his promise to be fully and attentively present in my darkness, even when I couldn’t perceive him. And that’s why, even 25 years later, it brings me to tears almost every time I sing, 

You, Eliana, remind me each day
That God does answer the prayers that we pray.
And though the night falls and we cannot see,
He will bring light when the time’s right for you and me. 

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as teacher and cofounder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by SightThings Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife have five children and make their home in the Twin Cities. 

Daily Light – December 31, 2018

You Need Not Worry About Next Year

(article by Sam Allberry, Guest Contributor)

“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). 

Whenever I read those familiar words, I find myself asking myself, Do I know this? Do I live from it? The new year gives each of us an opportunity to test the anchor of our souls, especially inside the waves of fear and anxiety about the future.

“Becoming a Christian does not mean that we are now immune from awful things happening to us.”

It’s important to see that Paul says, “All things work together for good.” Not, “all things are good.” Becoming a Christian does not mean that we are now immune from awful things happening to us. That may be the teaching of some leaders in the world today, but you will not hear it from God himself in Scripture. We suffer the same illnesses, financial challenges, bereavements, work stresses, relational heartaches, accidents, and challenges as anyone else in this damaged world we live in. We suffer like anyone else. In some places in the world, we even suffer more because of our faith in Jesus. As we faithfully follow Christ, something awful may happen in the next twelve months.

Paul is not saying nothing bad will come our way in the Christian life; he is saying that God can take whatever comes and make it serve our good. He is not responsible for evil, but even evil and suffering cannot escape his perfect purposes for us.

All Things in 2019

This verse has been given to us because it is going to be exactly what we need to hear. Paul has already outlined the basic shape of the Christian life — sufferings now, glory to come (Romans 8:17) — a shape derived from the ministry of Christ himself. In a world full of painful waiting, this verse is an indispensable resource for us to take into this new year. We’re going to need to know that God is able to take everything that happens to us and use it for our ultimate good.

“All things” means everything that happens to us, including the very worst things that might happen. Even those things are not outside the scope of God’s loving purpose for our lives. In the Old Testament, Joseph could look back on the unspeakable evil his brothers did to him and say, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Worry tells us they meant it for evil — that it happened while God was distracted. Faith reassures us that God means it for good.

This “working all for good” is most clearly seen in the death of Jesus (Acts 4:27–28). It was the very worst thing ever to happen on earth. Yet through it God was able to bring about incalculable and eternal good.

The Good All Things Will Serve

“This next year will be one moment after another of God working things out for your ultimate good.”

So what does this mean in practice? However the last year has been for you, God could not have been more good to you than he has been. It may have been a very painful year for you (it was one of the hardest I’ve had). That may be so. But this is God’s word to us about this past year. It will be no less true of the year to come. This next year will be one moment after another of God working things out for your ultimate good.

Perhaps aware that it will be hard for some of us to believe, Paul shows how this truth is backed up by the verse that follows it: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29).

This is the good to which all things in your life are working — that you become like Jesus. We struggle with seeing the goodness of God because we struggle to understand what ultimate goodness looks like. Our view of what is good falls so far short of God’s. Verses like this remind us that God knows far, far more about what is ultimately best for us than we do. God is not working all things so that this life will be one of financial riches, good health, or popularity. God is working all things so that we will become more and more like his Son.

Nothing to Worry About

As Christians, we are those who love God and who have been called according to his purpose. It is not that we first loved God and, in response, he called us to be blessed by him; it is precisely the other way around. The call of God is how we have come to know him and are able to love him. Not perfectly, but truly. We have a new heart and affection for God. We do love him. However deep your sinful impulses go, a Spirit-given love for God is found deeper still. And this promise is for you: God is working all things for your good — for your conformity to his Son.

“However the last year has been for you, God could not have been more good to you than he has been.”

That is what God wants most for me. That is what I ought to want most for myself. Nothing in my life could be greater than this. There is not a single thing in all of creation, history, and reality that God will allow to get in the way of it.

Which must mean, there is not a single thing I need to worry about. If all things are being worked by God for my good, then God has ordered all things in my reality in the way I most need them to be. Worry on my part will only indicate that there are greater depths in my heart to which I need to apply this truth. I know what it means to struggle with anxiety. But if we are in Christ, we need not worry about next year. There is not one moment we need to fear. Every second of it, God will be working to make us more like Christ. What could be better than that?

(Sam Allberry is an apologist and writer for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and a consulting editor for The Gospel Coalition, and is based in Maidenhead, UK. He is the author of Is God Anti-Gay? He is also a founding editor of Living Out, a resource to help the church faithfully navigate issues of human sexuality.)

Daily Light – December 27, 2018

Three Christmas Presents 

(devotional by John Piper)

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. . . . My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 3:7–82:1–2)

Ponder this remarkable situation with me. If the Son of God came to help you stop sinning — to destroy the works of the devil — and if he also came to die so that, when you do sin, there is a propitiation, a removal of God’s wrath, then what does this imply for living your life?

Three things. And they are wonderful to have. I give them to you briefly as Christmas presents.

Gift #1. A Clear Purpose for Living

It implies that you have a clear purpose for living. Negatively, it is simply this: don’t sin — don’t do what dishonors God. “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1). “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

If you ask, “Can you give us that positively, instead of negatively?” the answer is: Yes, it’s all summed up in 1 John 3:23. It’s a great summary of what John’s whole letter requires. Notice the singular “commandment” — “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” These two things are so closely connected for John he calls them one commandment: believe Jesus and love others. That is your purpose. That is the sum of the Christian life. Trusting Jesus, loving people the way Jesus and his apostles taught us to love. Trust Jesus, love people. There’s the first gift: a purpose to live.

Gift #2. Hope That Our Failures Will Be Forgiven

The second implication of the twofold truth that Christ came to destroy our sinning and to forgive our sins is this: We make progress in overcoming our sin when we have hope that our failures will be forgiven. If you don’t have hope that God will forgive your failures, when you start fighting sin, you give up.

Many of you are pondering some changes in the new year, because you have fallen into sinful patterns and want out. You want some new patterns of eating. New patterns for entertainment. New patterns of giving. New patterns of relating to your spouse. New patterns of family devotions. New patterns of sleep and exercise. New patterns of courage in witness. But you are struggling, wondering whether it’s any use. Well, here’s your second Christmas present: Christ not only came to destroy the works of the devil — our sinning — he also came to be an advocate for us because of experiences of failure in our fight.

So, I plead with you, let the fact that failure will not have the last word give you the hope to fight. But beware! If you turn the grace of God into license, and say, “Well, if I can fail, and it doesn’t matter, then why bother fighting sin?” — if you say that, and mean it, and go on acting on it, you are probably not born again and should tremble.

But that is not where most of you are. Most of you want to fight sinful patterns in your life. And what God is saying to you is this: Let Christ’s covering of your failure give hope to fight. “I write this to you that you might not sin, but if you sin you have an advocate, Jesus Christ.”

Gift #3. Christ Will Help Us

Finally, the third implication of the double truth that Christ came to destroy our sinning and to forgive our sins is this: Christ will really help us in our fight. He really will help you. He is on your side. He didn’t come to destroy sin because sin is fun. He came to destroy sin because sin is fatal. It is a deceptive work of the devil, and it will destroy us if we don’t fight it. He came to help us, not hurt us.

So here’s your third Christmas present: Christ will help overcome sin in you. First John 4:4 says, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Jesus is alive, Jesus is almighty, Jesus lives in us by faith. And Jesus is for us, not against us. He will help you in your fight with sin in the new year. Trust him.

Daily Light – December 26, 2018

His Heart Is Broad as Heaven

Why God Delights to Forgive

(article by:  Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org)

All Christians believe that God forgives sins. But how many of us feel, deep down in our bones, that God delights to forgive?

When we consider God’s forgiveness, few of us imagine a bridegroom adorning his bride with jewels and rejoicing over her newfound beauty (Isaiah 62:5), a shepherd singing as he carries his lost sheep home (Luke 15:3–7), or a father running to us, robing us, and dancing till daybreak (Luke 15:20–24).

Images like these stretch the imaginations of sinners like us. They sit on the surface of our souls, while deep down, where roots sink into soil, we wonder if God is really that happy forgiving us. Our suspicions easily replace the Bridegroom’s pleasure with pursed lips, the Shepherd’s song with a lecture, and the Father’s robe with the elder brother’s hand-me-downs.

If we are going to feel and not just confess that God delights to forgive those who come to him through Jesus, we will need to grasp why he forgives.

1. Forgiveness reveals God’s heart.

For many of us, the god of our unredeemed imagination has a small and shriveled heart. If we asked this god to show us his glory, he might pass by and say, “The Lord, the Lord, a God stingy and tightfisted, quick to anger, and abounding in steadfast vengeance.” If this god forgives at all, he does so as a sovereign Scrooge, ever dangling our debts over our heads.

But this is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose heart is broad as the heavens, deep as the seas, kind as the morning sun. If we travel into the inner chambers of God’s heart, we will find the home of everything pleasant: mercy, grace, and enough forgiveness to cover the world twice over. He is “good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon him” (Psalm 86:5).

To be sure, God also feels righteous wrath toward those who refuse to repent. But love and wrath, forgiveness and vengeance, do not own equal acreage in God’s heart. When God proclaims his name, he leads with mercy and grace, not anger (Exodus 34:6). When he sends calamity on his stiff-necked people, he calls his judgment “strange” and “alien” (Isaiah 28:21). Even when he lands a fatal blow, he reminds us that “he does not afflict from his heart” (Lamentations 3:33). In the end, the wrath of God will stand as the black backdrop accenting the diamonds of his forgiving love (Romans 9:22–23).

The God we meet in Scripture does not hoard his forgiveness like a miser with his money. The storehouses of his heart are always open and stocked with all the grace a sinner will ever need. With God, there is forgiveness (Psalm 130:4) — and not out of reluctance or necessity, but out of the overflow of his broad heart.

2. Forgiveness fulfills God’s mission.

From the moment Adam and Eve left Eden, God has not been content to leave his people in exile, corrupt and condemned. He promised, again and again, that a day would come when the Son of God would leave his Father’s side, travel to rebel lands, and trade the praise of angels for the scorn of men.

And why? For forgiveness. Jesus “will save his people from their sins,” the angel tells Joseph (Matthew 1:21), and then Zechariah tells us how: “in the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:77). When Jesus began his public ministry, he set his face toward sinners (Mark 2:17), forgiving even the worst (Luke 7:47–48). He taught us to pray for forgiveness (Matthew 6:12), and, in his moment of greatest agony, he himself prayed for us: “Father, forgivethem” (Luke 23:34).

As the hour of his death approached, Jesus told his disciples the meaning of his broken body and spilled blood: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). He took on a back to bear our griefs, shoulders to carry our sorrows, hands to be pierced for our transgressions, and a body to be bruised for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:4–5). Then he hung there on the cross, pouring out the kindness of his forgiving heart from the wounds that we created.

Through forgiveness, Jesus fulfills God’s ancient mission. He plunders the domain of darkness while Satan watches, bound (Matthew 12:29), and fills his Father’s house with many sons and daughters (John 14:2Hebrews 2:10).

You do not need to persuade this Savior to forgive you. Forgiveness is why he came.

3. Forgiveness glorifies God’s Son.

On this side of Calvary, all forgiveness comes through the crucified Christ, who fulfilled every letter of God’s law, paid every cent of our debt, and swallowed up every drop of God’s wrath. Every forgiven sinner stands safe behind the scars of Jesus Christ. And therefore, forgiveness glorifies the name of Christ — it is “for his name’s sake” (1 John 2:12).

God’s forgiveness does not mainly emphasize our worth but Jesus’s. When God forgives, he writes the merits of Jesus on a banner across the sky. He leads us behind the Lamb of God in triumphal procession. He taps into the deepest passion of his heart, and fulfills the prayer of the psalmist: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1).

Because forgiveness glorifies Christ’s name, he does not forgive half-heartedly. He forgives gladly, zealously — with all of his heart and soul. John Piper writes, “Whenever I am most thirsty and desperate for help, I can encourage my soul not only with the truth that there is a merciful impulse in the heart of God, but also with the truth that the source and power of that impulse is the zeal of God to act for the glory of his own name” (The Pleasures of God, 233–34).

What makes God glad to forgive you? Not your merits, not your vows, and not your future potential, but rather the worth of the Lamb who was slain.

Fields of Forgiveness

Of course, God does not delight to forgive everybody. Millions in our day echo the last words of Heinrich Heine — “Of course God will forgive me; that’s his job” — while feeling no sorrow for sin, no hunger for holiness, no love for Christ. God does not delight to forgive people who take forgiveness for granted.

But when we ask for forgiveness beneath the bright banner of Jesus, from a heart that hates sin, and with a longing to be holy as God is holy, we place ourselves on the path of God’s delight. We become a stage for God to showcase the glories of his heart. We join God in his passion to bring many sons to glory. We display to saints and sinners, angels and demons, that Jesus Christ is a strong Savior.

When you come before God today in the moments after committing some sin, you do not need to stumble through the forests of guilt and self-reproach. Confess your sin, turn to Jesus, and run in the fields of his forgiveness.

Daily Light – December 25, 2018

A Christmas Carol For The Weak

(article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org)

It may be the strangest Christmas song ever crafted. Modern Christians rarely sing it, even though we often see its lyrics and hear them read aloud.

Its author was no secondhand source or distant observer but (more than) an eyewitness of what really transpired when God himself came into our world, was wrapped in swaddling cloths, and laid in a manger. In fact, it was the songwriter herself who birthed him, wrapped him, and laid him there. The author is Jesus’s own mother.

Mary’s Magnificent Song

For far too long, I deeply misunderstood Mary’s carol in Luke 1:46–55, as if it were just a personal journal from a young peasant girl. After all, I thought, Mary must have understood so little at this point in the story, right?

I am finally recognizing, however, that Luke did not intend Mary’s poetic words to be a mere aside. They are the high point of his first chapter. As the rest of his Gospel makes plain, Luke stewarded what tight space he had with great care, not as an unbiased reporter but an inspired spokesman for the risen Christ. And while Mary’s “Magnificat,” as the church has come to call it (based on its first word in Latin), may sound strange to us today compared to other more popular carols, her lyrics represent some of the most important Christmas lines ever penned. They also give us one of the most profound glimpses into the heart of God in all the Scriptures.

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
     For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
     and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
     from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
     he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
     and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
     and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
     in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
     to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46–55)

Why She Wrote the Song

The song has three distinct parts. Verses 46–47 declare what Mary is doing in the hymn: praising God. Then verses 48–49 explain why: because of what God has done for her. Finally, the bulk of her song, verses 49–55, marvels at the surprising glory of her God, significant not only to her at that first Christmas but to all his people, all the time.

That final section (verses 49–55), which is unusually God-centered (he is the subject of every verb), is the heart and essence of Mary’s hymn and is a remarkable celebration of God and his ways, so counter to our natural human expectations. Mary celebrates the kind of God he is — different than us, shattering our paradigms — as he shows his strength not by recruiting the strong but by rescuing the weak.

When Mary gives the reason for her praise (Luke 1:48–49), it is curiously general. This is emphatically not a personal journal entry, but a song designed for the people of God, in all places, for generations to come. And it is not just deeply insightful about what God was doing at that first Christmas, but it is a penetrating summary of the whole Bible.

God’s Surprising Glory

Here, as a skilled theologian — or simply as one well-steeped in the Scriptures (like Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2) — Mary holds up the heart of God’s holiness (“holy is his name,” Luke 1:49) — that he is, in himself, of an order altogether different and greater than his creatures — by showing how he consistently acts differently than our human instincts. His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor his ways our ways, but higher — as high as the heavens are above the earth (Isaiah 55:8–9). In God’s peculiar patterns, the older serves the younger (Genesis 25:23Romans 9:12). This God rallies to the weak, not the strong.

He chooses what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. He chooses what is weak in the world to shame the strong. He chooses what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not — like a forgotten town called Nazareth and an unwed maiden carrying a child conceived without a human father — to bring to nothing things that are (1 Corinthians 1:27–28). He humbles the strong and magnifies his strength by exalting the weak. Christmas turns the world upside down.

Has this not been our experience of this God and his world? Over and over again, just when we think we have figured him out with our infinitesimally small human minds, he shatters our assumptions and plans. He turns the world on its head. Mary’s own son will literally embody this peculiar glory of God. And for those of us with eyes to see, like Mary, it is marvelous, the very wisdom of God, worth celebrating in song and in a life of praise.

God Magnified in Our Rejoicing

But even before her celebration of God’s rescue of the weak, Mary begins with an insight not to overlook. Her opening lines not only celebrate that God magnifies his strength in the weaknesses of his people but also how. How is God magnified in us? Not through human pride and confidence, nor through human wealth and strength, but through the humble heart of rejoicing in him.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46–47)

This is a life-changing lyric if you catch it — not just at Christmas but for all of the Christian life. God is magnified in his weak people when we, like Mary, rejoice in him.

You might say, “But that’s not what the song says. It says ‘and’ — not ‘when’ or ‘by’ or ‘through.’” The question, then, is how does the magnifying relate to the rejoicing?

The answer is that our spirit rejoicing in God magnifies God. Surely, his magnification increases his people’s rejoicing, but here the issue for Mary is what her soul and spirit does related to God’s magnification. And God is shown to be magnificent in Mary as she rejoices in him — because we magnify, or glorify, or honor what or whom we enjoy. We see in Mary what John Piper has demonstrated time and again for decades: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. This is not a peripheral truth for Mary, or at Christmas, or any time of year, but it is endlessly relevant and will be so eternally for God’s people as we grow and expand and deepen and ripen in our enjoyment of this God.

What Christmas Sings About God

We would do well this Christmas, and any time of year, to listen carefully to Mary’s strange song — strange to humans attuned to the music of the world, but deeply thrilling to those who have been given an ear for the God who is, not the God of our imaginations.

Neither Mary’s song, nor Christmas itself, is a peripheral revelation of the true God. Christmas is a window into his very heart, who he is year round and forever. He does indeed look, with mercy, on those who own their humble estate, to exalt them. While he looks, with terrifying justice, on the prideful, to humble them. And for those of us who are weak and heavy laden, it is marvelous in our eyes, and music to our ears.

Daily Light – December 24, 2018

God’s Indescribable Gift

Christmas Eve, 2018

(devotional by John Piper)

If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:10–11)

How do we practically receive reconciliation and exult in God? We do it through Jesus Christ. Which means, at least, that we make the portrait of Jesus in the Bible — that is, the work and the words of Jesus portrayed in the New Testament — we make that portrait the essential content of our exultation over God. Exulting in God without the content of Christ does not honor Christ. And where Christ is not honored, God is not honored.

In 2 Corinthians 4:4–6, Paul describes conversion in two ways. In verse 4, he says it is seeing “the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” And in verse 6, he says it is seeing “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” In either case you see the point. We have Christ, the image of God, and we have God in the face of Christ.

To exult in God, we exult in what we see and know of God in the portrait of Jesus Christ. And this comes to its fullest experience when the love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, as Romans 5:5 says. And that sweet, Spirit-given experience of the love of God is mediated to us as we ponder the historical reality of verse 6, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”

So here’s the Christmas point. Not only did God purchase our reconciliation through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:10), and not only did God enable us to receive that reconciliation through the Lord Jesus Christ, but even now we exult in God himself, by the Spirit, through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:11).

Jesus purchased our reconciliation. Jesus enabled us to receive reconciliation and open the gift. And Jesus himself shines forth as himself the indescribable gift — God in the flesh — and stirs up all our exultation in God.

Look to Jesus this Christmas. Receive the reconciliation that he purchased. Don’t put the gift on the shelf unopened. And when you open it, remember God himself is the gift of reconciliation with God.

Exult in him. Experience him as your pleasure. Know him as your treasure.

Daily Light – December 21, 2018

Christmas Is for Freedom

(devotional by John Piper)

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14–15)

Jesus became man because what was needed was the death of a man who was more than man. The incarnation was God’s locking himself into death row.

Christ did not risk death. He chose death. He embraced it. That is precisely why he came: “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

No wonder Satan tried to turn Jesus from the cross — in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11) and in the mouth of Peter (Matthew 16:21–23)! The cross was Satan’s destruction. How did Jesus destroy him?

Hebrews 2:14 says that Satan has “the power of death.” That means Satan has the ability to make death fearful. “The power of death” is the power that holds men in bondage through fear of death. It is the power to keep men in sin so that death comes as a dreadful thing.

But Jesus stripped Satan of this power. He disarmed him. He molded a breastplate of righteousness for us that makes us immune to the devil’s condemnation. How did he do this?

By his death, Jesus wiped away all our sins. And a person without sin cannot be condemned by Satan. Forgiven, we are finally indestructible. Satan’s plan was to destroy God’s rule by condemning God’s followers in God’s own courtroom. But now, in Christ, there is no condemnation. Satan’s treason is aborted. His cosmic treachery is foiled. “His rage we can endure, for, lo, his doom is sure.” The cross has run him through. And he will gasp his last before long.

Christmas is for freedom. Freedom from the fear of death.

Jesus took our nature in Bethlehem, to die our death in Jerusalem — all that we might be fearless in our city today. Yes, fearless. Because if the biggest threat to my joy is gone, then why should I fret over the little ones? How can you say (really!), “Well, I’m not afraid to die but I’m afraid to lose my job”? No. No. Think!

If death (I said, death! — no pulse, cold, gone!) if death is no longer a fear, we’re free, really free. Free to take any risk under the sun for Christ and for love. No more enslavement to anxiety.

If the Son has set you free, you shall be free, indeed!

Daily Light – December 20, 2018

Pray for Calm This Christmas

(message excerpt from John Piper)

We are torn up in ourselves — with nobody else even around — by guilt and by untold diversities of anxieties and amorphous instabilities. Choose your word: bad feelings that have no reason for being there. We’re just torn up by these.

What do you do with them? You believe God’s promises, and here’s the sweet text. Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything.” The opposite of anxiety is peace, so have peace. Paul is telling us to enjoy peace. “But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

“Tell him just exactly how you feel. God knows.”

In other words, roll the anxieties. Give them to God. Tell him just exactly how you feel. God knows. You can’t pull the wool over God’s eyes. Just tell him how you have doubts, tell him how you have guilt, tell him how you have anxieties, tell him how crummy and non-Christian you feel and you roll it, roll it onto him, and then listen: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

You know what he’s saying there? He’s saying, “You’re under attack, friend.” What’s this “guard” business? Why would you need to be guarded by peace? Because you’ve got an enemy in here and out there, and he wants to destroy your peace at any cost, by any means, with any kind of unsettled feeling.

And you know why? All the rational things you can come up with confirm your loss of peace. “Of course, I shouldn’t have peace. Here are the ten reasons my reason can provide.” That’s why he says this peace is above all reason. There will be moments when your fear, your anxiety, your sense of guilt is totally rational and warranted as far as you can tell.

What will you do then? I remember Paul Tripp pointing out one time that we have to be aware of our inner lawyer coming to our defense too quickly. Well, we got another, namely, a prosecuting attorney. There are two lawyers in me. Oh, I’m good at defending myself — big time. The defense attorney kicks into action lots. But there’s another one. He goes into action first thing in the morning.

What do you do? With prayer and supplication and thanksgiving, you tell God, your friend — he’s not the issue here. He’s your friend, and you tell him what’s going on. And you ask him, and the peace of God comes. I’m 65 years old. This is not new to me, and it doesn’t get easier. Sorry about that. But after about 54 years of doing this, he’s faithful. I’m a Christian. I’m standing here as Exhibit A.

“God shows up in the morning, fighting for you, not against you.”

I’m loving this moment. I’m loving you. I’m loving the gospel. I’m loving Christmas. I’m loving Jesus. Why? He came — a thousand times he came. And he set up a guard around this so fickle head and heart of mine. It’s my only hope. Why are you going to be a Christian when you wake up tomorrow? Not because of you, but because God shows up in the morning, fighting for you, not against you.

So many guilts, so many worries, so many threats, so many confusions, so many uncertainties, and so much rational support they get from our brain. I am thankful for the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, and inexplicably I’m better.

So do that this Christmas: roll it tonight. Just roll it. Take all the stuff, and roll it. Get alone for a few minutes, and just roll it off of you on to him, and ask for that. Say, “God I’ve got relationships to deal with. I have to know some measure of peace, because I can’t walk into this without knowing I’m okay with you and with myself.”

Daily Light – December 19, 2018

The Christmas Model For Missions

(devotional by John Piper)

“As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”(John 17:18)

Christmas is a model for missions. Missions is a mirror of Christmas. As I, so you.

For example, danger. Christ came to his own and his own received him not. So you also. They plotted against him. So you. He had no permanent home. So you. They trumped up false charges against him. So you. They whipped and mocked him. So you. He died after three years of ministry. So you.

But there is a worse danger than any of these which Jesus escaped. So you!!

In the mid-16th century the missionary Francis Xavier (1506–1552), wrote to Father Perez of Malacca (today part of Malaysia) about the perils of his mission to China. He said,

The danger of all dangers would be to lose trust and confidence in the mercy of God. . . . To distrust him would be a far more terrible thing than any physical evil which all the enemies of God put together could inflict on us, for without God’s permission neither the devils nor their human ministers could hinder us in the slightest degree.

The greatest danger a missionary faces is not death but to distrust the mercy of God. If that danger is avoided, then all other dangers lose their sting.

In the end God makes every dagger a scepter in our hand. As J.W. Alexander says, “Each instant of present labor is to be graciously repaid with a million ages of glory.”

Christ escaped this danger — the danger of distrusting God. Therefore God has highly exalted him! As he, so you.

Remember this Advent that Christmas is a model for missions. As I, so you. And that mission means danger. And the greatest danger is distrusting God’s mercy. Succumb to this and all is lost. Conquer here and nothing can harm you for a million ages.

Daily Light – December 18, 2018

He Held The Stars In Place

(article by:  Bob Kauflin, Pastor, Louisville, KY)

No Christmas story will ever surpass the original.

Each December, we’re reintroduced to the classic movies: It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, The Polar Express, Elf, The Santa Clause, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, White Christmas. In the midst of our chaotic, frenzied, and confused world, they can be a welcome distraction. But they all fall so far short of the greatest story: God himself born as human to save us. As J.I. Packer puts it, “Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation.”

In a similar way, we might get a sentimental feeling when we hear “voices singing ‘Let’s be jolly!’” but nothing will comfort and encourage us more than singing about the Word-made-flesh. It’s a reality we will never fully plumb, not even in a million carols. Words fail us. The mystery is too great.

But it’s worth trying.

Unexpected Arrival

A few years ago, I co-wrote a song with my good friend, Jason Hansen, that attempted to remind us why “nothing in fiction is so fantastic” as the incarnation. We called it “God Made Low.”

Prophets promised long ago a King would come to bring us hope
And now a virgin bears a son, the time to save the world has come

“The infinite became an infant. The all-knowing One became a babbling baby.”

Even though few noticed his birth, Jesus didn’t appear without warning. His coming was foretold centuries before he came. He just wasn’t the king we expected. He entered our world through a virgin whose very body was fashioned by the baby she was about to deliver. Jesus came not as the king we would have thought — in splendor, glory, and triumph — but as a helpless babe, sustained and nourished by an exhausted teenage girl.

Just at the right time.

Hope Had Come

Humble shepherds run in haste to see the One the angels praised
In cattle stall they find a girl who holds the hope of all the world

The shepherds were understandably rattled by what they heard and saw the night Jesus was born — “sore afraid,” as the King James puts it (Luke 2:9 KJV). It would be the first and last time they’d see angels singing in the star-filled sky. But the glory of that sight would soon be surpassed by seeing the Son of God “wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).

In the midst of barn animals, the noxious filth of a stable, and a world unaware that hope had burst the bonds of our despair (Psalm 107:14), the Savior of the world had come.

More Than with Us

Emmanuel has come to us, the Christ is born, Hallelujah!
Our God made low to raise us up, Emmanuel has come to us

What did it mean for God to “come to us”? How far did he have to go? If you’ve ever traveled to a foreign country, you know what it’s like to encounter a new language, new landscapes, new customs, new money, and a new culture. You feel out of place. What must God’s Son have felt like?

“It’s a reality we will never fully plumb, not even in a million carols.”

The infinite became an infant. The all-knowing One became a babbling baby. As one song puts it, “The author climbed inside the page.” God came to us because we never would have come to him. We never could have come to him. But God didn’t just come to us. He became one of us. Jesus was not only Emmanuel, “God with us.” He was us.

God was made low. So he could raise us up to eternal life and infinite joys.

Sleeping and Sovereign

As he sleeps upon the hay he holds the moon and stars in place
Though born an infant, he remains the sovereign God of endless days

When Jesus became a baby, he lost nothing of his God-ness. He was truly God and truly man, in one person. Even as he slept soundly as human, he was holding the universe together as God (Colossians 1:17). It’s a source of unending wonder that the God who brought the universe into being clothed himself in our skin, or more precisely, added human nature to his deity.

God is great not merely because he is sovereign and exalted above his creation, but because in unspeakable humility, he became a part of it.

Every Promise Fulfilled 

For all our sins one day he’ll die to make us sons of God on high
Let every heart prepare him room, the promises have all come true

For centuries people have tried to remake Christmas into a charming children’s tale that inspires us to be kinder. More peaceful. More loving. As John Lennon put it, “War is over if you want it.” Christmas actually says the opposite. It confronts us with the brutal fact that we can never be kind, peaceful, and loving. We were given paradise and chose anarchy. War — both in our world and in our hearts — will never be over unless God acts.

And he did. In the early chapters of the Bible, God promised that the head of the serpent would be crushed by the future offspring of Eve (Genesis 3:15). He told a wandering Abraham that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:3). Later, he promised King David that the throne of his kingdom would be established forever (2 Samuel 7:16). And all this would come to pass because God’s suffering servant would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5).

“Even as he slept soundly, he was holding the universe together.”

These — and a thousand other promises — came true that first Christmas. And they assure us that God will keep every precious promise he’s given us in his word. He will save anyone who calls on the name of Jesus Christ (Romans 10:13). He will make sure, in his perfect time, that we look like his Son (Romans 8:291 John 3:2). He will cause all things in our lives to work together for good (Romans 8:28). And one day he will wipe away every tear from our eyes, death will be no more, and we will see his face (Revelation 21:422:4).

This Christmas, don’t let the world’s misunderstanding of Christmas keep you from seeing and treasuring the greatest of all realities: God has been made low to bring us up. Emmanuel has come to be with us. The promises have all come true.