Daily Light – Nov 15, 2019

The Key to Our Victory over Sin

Taken from an Interview with John Piper

November 13th marked the birthday of Augustine. The church father was born on November 13, back in the year 354. He of course served as bishop of Hippo in North Africa. His story of conversion and spiritual awakening is laid out in a book under the title The Confessions, a classic memoir, enjoyed today in over a dozen available English translations. That book, and all of his books, have left a permanent impact on the Reformed tradition, and specifically on John Piper and this movement we call Christian Hedonism. When Augustine was in his seventies, he went toe-to-toe with a nemesis named Pelagius, a free-will theologian in Britain. Here’s the backstory, and why it matters today, from John Piper’s 1998 biographic message on Augustine.

My assumption is that too much Reformed thinking and preaching and worship in our day has not penetrated to the root of how grace actually triumphs through joy in believers’ lives. And therefore, our Reformed thinking and writing and preaching and worshiping is only half Augustinian and half biblical and half beautiful. It isn’t beautiful to people.

Everything Good a Gift

Pelagius was a British monk who lived in Rome. He was there when it was sacked. He had to leave. He taught that though grace may facilitate the achieving of righteousness, it is not necessary to that end. Grace is not necessary to making right choices. He did not believe in the doctrine of original sin, and he believed that human nature was, at its core, irreducibly good, and that we are able to do everything we are commanded to do. And therefore, Pelagius and Augustine were on a collision course, because when he read the Confessions, this sentence infuriated him: “Give me the grace, O Lord, to do as you command, and command me to do what you will. O Holy God, when your commands are obeyed, it is from you that we receive the power to obey them” (Confessions, 245).

“Grace is God’s giving us sovereign joy in God that triumphs over the joy of sin.”

Well, Pelagius went ballistic at this sentence because it was an assault on human goodness. It was an assault on the freedom of the will, in his judgment. It was, therefore, an assault on responsibility, and the whole moral fabric of the world would unravel if Augustine had his way in this assessment of his own conversion and experience with God. Well now, Augustine had not come to this conviction quickly — namely, that anything good he does is a gift from God. He had not arrived there quickly.

I walked into a bookstore at Hope College and saw the book by Augustine on the freedom of the will. I said, “Oh good, I’ve got to lecture on this in a year.” So I picked it up and started reading. I said, “Wow, what is this? I don’t want to lecture on this.” He wrote that book four years after his conversion and radically changed his mind from what that book says. So, be careful claiming what Augustine thinks about this or that.

Exchange Sin for Sovereign Joy

When he wrote his Confessions, he had settled the matter differently and deeply and unchangeably in his own mind. This paragraph that I’m about to read here, in my judgment, for me and my theology and my ministry and my life, is the most important paragraph I’ve ever read in Augustine.

During all those years, where was my free will? What was the hidden, secret place from which it was summoned in a moment, so that I might bend my neck to your easy yoke? . . . How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose! . . . You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and you took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure though not to the flesh and blood, you who outshine all light yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts, you who surpass all honor though not in the eyes of men who see all honor in themselves. . . . O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation. (Confessions, 181)

There’s a theology in that quote. It’s called Christian Hedonism. I call it Christian Hedonism. Nobody else calls it Christian Hedonism, and you don’t have to call it Christian Hedonism. But I hope you believe it. “You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy.” Now there’s the missing piece in contemporary Reformed preaching.

Augustine’s understanding of grace is this: Grace is God’s giving us sovereign joy in God that triumphs over the joy of sin. That’s grace in the thought of Augustine. Grace is God’s giving us a sovereign joy in God that triumphs over the joy in sin. In other words, God works deep in the human heart to transform the springs of joy so that we love God more than we love sex or anything else.

Joy Is the Essence of Love

Now here’s another problem with contemporary American Christianity: loving God in Augustine’s mind is never reduced to deeds of obedience or acts of willpower. How common that is in our day. “Love? It’s commanded, so it can’t be an emotion. Love is an act of will. Love is obedience for God.” Oh, how we need Augustine in our day. Here’s his definition of the love of God: “I call ‘charity’ the motion of the soul toward the enjoyment of God for his own sake, and the enjoyment of oneself and one’s neighbor for the sake of God” (On Christian Doctrine, 88). Joy is the essence of love. And for American Christianity, it’s a caboose. No wonder our Reformed thinking and preaching is unappealing. We don’t get grace.

“Grace is the giving of a sovereign joy that triumphs over all competitors.”

Grace is the giving of a sovereign joy that triumphs over all competitors. Loving God for Augustine is always conceived essentially as delighting in God above all things and in other things for the sake of God. “He loves thee too little, O God, who loves anything together with thee, which he loves not for thy sake” (quoted in Documents of the Christian Church, 54). That is a revolutionary sentence. I read that years ago, and it just blew me away.

I like my wife. I like my daughter, Talitha. I could idolize my family. My four boys are a treasure to me. And better that they die than that I love them more than God or love them for any reason but for God’s sake. That’s Augustinianism at its core. Now, Augustine analyzed his own motives down to the root. He saw this as a universal. “Every man, whatsoever his condition, desires to be happy. There is no man who does not desire this, and each one desires it with such earnestness and that he prefers it to all other things; whoever, in fact, desires other things, desires them for this end alone. And this desire, this delight, this longing for happiness, governs the will” (Augustine on Prayer, 228). This is not John Piper. This is Augustine.

God Gives Delight

Now, here’s the catch: the delight that the will always follows, we do not determine. And Pelagius smelled it and hated it. Here’s the quote from Augustine:

Who has it in his power to have such a motive present to his mind that his will shall be influenced to believe? Who can welcome in his mind something which does not give him delight? But who has it in his power to ensure that something will delight him will turn up? Or that he will take delight in what turns up? If those things delight us which serve our advancement towards God, that is due not to our own whim or industry or meritorious works, but to the inspiration of God and to the grace which he bestows. (Augustine: His Thought in Context, 203)

In other words, converting, saving grace is God’s giving delight in God, holiness, Christ, Scripture, the beauty of holiness and glory. Suddenly, you see and love and cherish and revel and long for them. Where’d that come from? Now, the will moves with it, but before that’s given, the will is going back to the Internet and the magazine and the concubine and the television and the family.

“God works deep in the human heart to transform the springs of joy so that we love God.”

Now picture this. Augustine is 72. You’re supposed to retire at 65. You don’t take on Pelagius at 70, which he did. And Paulinus his friend said, “Augustine, why? You’re an old man. Lay it down.” That’s my paraphrase. But here’s a direct quote from Augustine on why: “First and foremost because no subject [but grace] gives me greater pleasure. For what ought to be more attractive to us sick men than grace, grace by which we are healed; for us lazy men than grace, grace by which we are stirred up; for us men longing to act than grace, by which we are helped?” (Augustine of Hippo, 355).

Now, what makes that answer so compelling and so powerful is that the healing, stirring, helping, enabling grace — I call it future grace — is the giving of a compelling, triumphant joy. Grace governs life — even the life of a 70-year-old man — by giving a supreme joy in the supremacy of God and his glory and his sufficiency and his beauty and his treasure, which triumphs over all other things. And when you see a Pelagius coming along, undermining that grace and that gift, even at 70, you go to battle.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons.

Daily Light – Nov 14, 2019

All We Do Is Succeed

THE STORY OF JOHN BUNYAN’S ‘PILGRIM’S PROGRESS’

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org

On the morning of November 12, 1660, a young pastor entered a small meeting house in Lower Samsell, England, preparing to be arrested. He hadn’t noticed the men keeping guard outside the house, but he didn’t need to. A friend had warned him that they were coming. He came anyway. He had agreed to preach.

The constable broke in upon the meeting and began searching the faces until he found the one he came for: a tall man, wearing a reddish mustache and plain clothes, paused in the act of prayer. John Bunyan by name.

“Had I been minded to play the coward, I could have escaped,” Bunyan later remembered. But he had no mind for that now. He spoke what closing exhortation he could as the constable forced him from the house, a man with no weapon but his Bible.

Two months and several court proceedings later, Bunyan was taken from his church, his family, and his job to serve “one of the longest jail terms . . . by a dissenter in England” (On Reading Well, 182). For twelve years, he would sleep on a straw mat in a cold cell. For twelve years, he would wake up away from his wife and four young children. For twelve years, he would wait for release or, if not, exile or execution.

And in those twelve years, he began a book about a pilgrim named Christian — a book that would become, for over two centuries, the best-selling book written in the English language.

Tinker Turned Preacher

John Bunyan (1628–1688) was not the most likely Englishman to write The Pilgrim’s Progress, a book that would be translated into two hundred languages, that would capture the imaginations of children and scholars alike, and that would rank, in influence and popularity, just behind the King James Bible in the English-speaking world. “Bunyan is the first major English writer who was neither London-based nor university-educated,” writes Christopher Hill. Rather, “the army had been his school, and prison his university” (The Life, Books, and Influence of John Bunyan, 168).

“‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ bears the marks of John Bunyan’s confinement. Without the prison, we may not have the pilgrim.”

As Paul said of the Corinthians, so we might say of Bunyan: he had few advantages “according to worldly standards” (1 Corinthians 1:26). In his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, he confesses that his father’s house was “of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all the families in the land” (7). Thomas Bunyan was a tinker, a traveling mender of pots, pans, and other metal utensils. Thomas sent his son to school only briefly, where John learned to read and write. Later, after a stint in the army, he followed his father into the tinker trade.

Meanwhile, Bunyan recalls, “I had but few equals, especially considering my years, which were tender, being few, both for cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the name of God” (Grace Abounding, 8). Sometime in Bunyan’s early twenties, however, God laid his hand on the blasphemous tinker and began to press. For the first time, Bunyan felt the load of sin and guilt on his back, and despair nearly sunk him. He agonized over his soul for years before he was finally able to say, “Great sins do draw out great grace; and where guilt is most terrible and fierce, there the mercy of God in Christ, when showed to the soul, appears most high and mighty” (Grace Abounding, 97).

Bunyan soon carried this travail and triumph of grace into the pulpit of a Bedford church, where he heralded Christ so powerfully that congregations throughout Bedfordshire County began asking for the tinker turned preacher — including a small gathering of believers in Lower Samsell.

Trying Days for Dissenters

Not everyone in England responded warmly to Bunyan’s preaching, however. “He lived in more trying days than those in which our lot is fallen,” wrote John Newton a century later (“Preface to The Pilgrim’s Progress,” xxxix). Yes, these were trying days — at least for dissenting pastors like Bunyan, who refused to join the Church of England. Throughout the seventeenth century, dissenters were sometimes honored, sometimes ignored, and sometimes arrested by England’s authorities. Bunyan’s lot fell into the last of these.

Some dissenters did not exactly help the cause. A Puritan sect called the Fifth Monarchy Men, for example, took to arms in 1657 and 1661 in order to claim England’s crown for the (supposedly) soon-to-return Christ. Often, then, “the authorities did not seek to suppress Dissenters as heretics but as disturbers of law and order,” David Calhoun explains (Life, Books, and Influence, 28). Bunyan was no radical — simply a tinker who preached without an official license. Still, the Bedfordshire authorities thought it safer to silence him.

Once arrested, Bunyan was given an ultimatum: If he would agree to cease preaching and remain quiet in his calling as a tinker, he could return to his family at once. If he refused, imprisonment and potential exile awaited him. At one point in the proceedings (which lasted several weeks), Bunyan responded,

If any man can lay anything to my charge, either in doctrine or practice, in this particular, that can be proved error or heresy, I am willing to disown it, even in the very market place; but if it be truth, then to stand to it to the last drop of my blood. (Grace Abounding, 153)

Bunyan was then 32 years old. He would not be a free man again until age 44.

Bedford Jail

Despite Bunyan’s boldness before the magistrates, his decision was not an easy one. Most trying of all was his separation from Elizabeth, his wife, and their four young children, one of whom was blind. Years into his jail time, he would write, “The parting with my wife and poor children has oft been to me in this place as the pulling the flesh from my bones” (Grace Abounding, 122). He would make shoelaces over the next twelve years to help support them.

But Bunyan would not ultimately regret his decision. Though parted from the comfort of his family, he was not parted from the comfort of his Master. “Jesus Christ . . . was never more real and apparent than now,” the imprisoned Bunyan wrote. “Here I have seen him and felt him indeed” (Grace Abounding, 119).

“The best designs of the devil can only serve the progress of God’s pilgrims.”

With comfort in his soul, then, Bunyan gave himself to whatever ministry he could. He counseled visitors. He and other inmates preached to each other on Sundays. But most of all, Bunyan wrote. In jail, with his Bible and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs close at hand, he penned Grace Abounding. There also, as he was working on another book, an image of a path and a pilgrim flashed upon his mind. “And thus it was,” Bunyan wrote in a poem,

I, writing of the way
And race of saints, in this our gospel day,
Fell suddenly into an allegory,
About their journey, and the way to glory. (Pilgrim’s Progress, 3)

Thus began the book that would soon be read, not only in Bunyan’s Bedford, but in Sheffield, Birmingham, Manchester, London — and eventually far beyond. The Bedford magistrates sought to silence Bunyan in jail. In jail, Bunyan sounded a trumpet that reached the ears of all the West, and even the world.

Calvinism in Delightful Colors

The genius of Bunyan’s book, along with its immediate popularity, owes much to the writer’s sudden fall “into an allegory.” As an allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress operates on two levels. On one level, the book is a storehouse of Puritan theology — “the Westminster Confession of Faith with people in it,” as someone once said. On another level, however, it is an enthralling adventure story — a journey of life and death from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge would later write, “I could not have believed beforehand that Calvinism could be painted in such exquisitely delightful colors” (Life, Books, and Influence, 166).

Those who read Pilgrim’s Progress find theology coming to them in dungeons and caves, in sword fights and fairs, in honest friends and two-faced flatterers. Bunyan does not merely tell us we must renounce all for Christ’s sake; he shows us Christian fleeing his neighbors and family, fingers in his ears, crying, “Life! life! eternal life!” (Pilgrim’s Progress, 14). Bunyan does not simply instruct us about our spiritual conflict; he makes us stand in the Valley of Humiliation with a “foul fiend . . . hideous to behold” striding toward us (66). Bunyan does not just warn us of the subtlety of temptation; he gives us sore feet on a rocky path, and then reveals a smooth road “on the other side of the fence” (129) — more comfortable on the feet, but the straightest way to a giant named Despair.

The cast of characters in Pilgrim’s Progress reminds us that the path to the Celestial City is narrow — so narrow that only a few find it, while scores fall by the wayside. Here we meet Timorous, who flees backward at the sight of lions; Mr. Hold-the-world, who falls into Demas’s cave; Talkative, whose religion lives only in his tongue; Ignorance, who seeks entrance to the city by his own merits; and a host of others who, for one reason or another, do not endure to the end.

“In jail, John Bunyan sounded a trumpet that reached the ears of all the West, and even the world.”

And herein lies the drama of the story. Bunyan, a staunch believer in the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance, nevertheless refused to take that perseverance for granted. As long as we are on the path, we are “not yet out of the gun-shot of the devil” (101). Between here and our home, many enemies lie along the way. Nevertheless, let every pilgrim take courage: “you have all power in heaven and earth on your side” (101). If grace has brought us to the path, grace will guard our every step.

All We Do Is Succeed’

Within ten years of its publishing date in 1678, Pilgrim’s Progress had gone through eleven editions and made the Bedford tinker a national phenomenon. According to Calhoun, “Some three thousand people came to hear him one Sunday in London, and twelve hundred turned up for a weekday sermon during the winter” (Life, Books, and Influence, 38).

If the Bedford magistrates had allowed Bunyan to continue preaching, we would still remember him today as the author of several dozen books and as one of the many Puritan luminaries. But in all likelihood, he would not be read today in some two hundred languages besides his own. For Pilgrim’s Progress is a work of prison literature — and it bears the marks of Bunyan’s confinement. Without the prison, we would likely not have the pilgrim.

The story of Bunyan and his book, then, is yet one more illustration that God’s ways are high above our own (Isaiah 55:8–9), and that the best designs of the devil can only serve the progress of God’s pilgrims (Genesis 50:20). John Piper, reflecting on Bunyan’s imprisonment, says, “All we do is succeed — either painfully or pleasantly” (“The Chief Design of My Life”).

Yes, if we have lost our burden at the cross, and now find ourselves on the pilgrims’ path, all we do is succeed. We succeed whether we feast with the saints in Palace Beautiful or wrestle Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation. We succeed whether we fellowship with shepherds in the Delectable Mountains or lie bleeding in Vanity Fair. We succeed even when we walk straight into the last river, our feet reaching for the bottom as the water rises above our heads. For at the end of this path is a prince who “is such a lover of poor pilgrims, that the like is not to be found from the east to the west” (Pilgrim’s Progress, 61).

Among the company of that prince is one John Bunyan, a pilgrim who has now joined the cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). “Though he died, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4) — and urges the rest of us onward.

Scott Hubbard is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and an editor for desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – Nov 13, 2019

Read the Bible with Your Heart

Article by Jon Bloom, Staff Writer, desiringGod.org

We cannot truly read the Bible without patient and rigorous engagement of our minds. That’s probably obvious to us. But we will not have read it well, not as God intended us to read it, without eager, even relentless, engagement of our hearts. It requires more faith, effort, prayer, humility, vulnerability, and often time to read God’s word with our hearts, but that’s because the heart is precisely where God wants his word to land.

What does it mean to read the Bible with your heart? Before I explain, I’ll point to an example, because a good example is often a great explainer. And the example comes from the Bible itself.

With My Whole Heart

Psalm 119 is a (long) song of wholehearted love and desire for God. And if you read it with an engaged mind, you’ll hear the psalmist sing of how and why he received God’s word with a relentlessly, even desperately, engaged heart. It’s worth reading the whole psalm, but here are a few tastes:

“Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart” (Psalm 119:2).

“With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!” (Psalm 119:10).

“Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart” (Psalm 119:34).

“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).

“Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors” (Psalm 119:24).

“I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:47–48).

When we read Psalm 119, two truths are unmistakable: the word of God is for the heart of man, and the way to the heart is through the mind.

Treasure to Be Loved

In Luke 10:27, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5, where Moses says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Any time, however, the Gospels record Jesus quoting this text (see also Matthew 22:37Mark 12:30), Jesus adds the word mind, which Moses didn’t include. Perhaps this is because the Hebrew hearers of Moses’s day understood implicitly that affections included reason, while the Greco-influenced mixed crowds of Jesus’s day needed the clarification.

“We read the Bible with our minds to see the glory of God, and with our hearts to savor the glory of God.”

Whatever Jesus’s reason for adding “mind,” it is clear that both reason and affections are crucial to loving God. But there is a hierarchy. God wants our hearts, because, as Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). God is not merely an idea to be pondered, but a person to be loved — the supreme treasure to be supremely treasured.

God’s way to our affections (heart) is through our understanding (mind). So, when we read the Bible, we read it with our hearts engaged, because God’s word is primarily for our hearts.

Read to See Glory

As Christians, we rightly stress the importance of reading the Bible. In stressing this importance, however, we can easily fall into a subtle, deceptive misunderstanding of why it’s important. The subtle misunderstanding goes something like this: if we read the Bible regularly, God will be pleased with us, and therefore we can expect his blessing. As if the act of reading, rather than the purpose of reading, warrants God’s favor.

What’s deceptive about this is that it bears such a close resemblance to the truth. Regular, disciplined reading of the Bible is a means of great blessing from God. But not because performing the act of reading merits his favor. If we read the Bible this way, it’s not much different than the Muslim who practices the disciplines of the Five Pillars to merit Allah’s favor. This is apparently how many leaders in Jesus’s day approached the Scriptures. Listen to Jesus’s rebukes:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27–28).

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39–40)

“God is not merely an idea to be pondered, but a person to be loved.”

God is not interested in our Bible reading as some kind of ritual to perform as proof of our piety. He wants us to read the Bible so that we will see him! God wants us to see his glory, again and again.

The Bible is where the most important glories of the triune God shine brightest and clearest — especially the glory of Jesus Christ (John 1:14), who is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) and through whom comes “grace and truth” (John 1:17).

This makes the Bible itself shine with a peculiar glory, worth mining deeply because of the priceless wealth it contains. As John Piper says,

In all the details and particulars of what we find in the Bible — Old Testament and New — the aim of reading is always to see the worth and beauty of God. Notice that I say “in all the details and particulars.” There is no other way to see the glory. God’s greatness does not float over the Bible like a gas. It does not lurk in hidden places separate from the meaning of words and sentences. It is seen in and through the meaning of texts. (Reading the Bible Supernaturally, 96)

God’s glory is seen in and through the meaning of texts. That’s why we pray, “Make me understand the way of your precepts” (Psalm 119:27). Because understanding God’s word is the means of God’s word getting stored up in our hearts (Psalm 119:11).

Don’t Read Just to See

God wants our hearts in Bible reading, not just the attention of our minds. As important as seeing God’s glory is, it’s not enough. God wants us to see his glory so that we will savor his glory. And “if there is no true seeing of the glory of God, there can be no true savoring of the glory of God” (96). Charles Spurgeon said it this way:

Certainly, the benefit of reading must come to the soul by the way of the understanding. . . . The mind must have illumination before the affections can properly rise towards their divine object. . . . There must be knowledge of God before there can be love to God: there must be a knowledge of divine things, as they are revealed, before there can be an enjoyment of them. (100)

The “love to God” and “an enjoyment of divine things” are what God most wants us to experience as a result of reading our Bibles, and neither happens without knowledge. Knowledge is for the sake of love and joy.

“The word of God is for the heart of man. And the way to the heart of man is through the mind of man.”

When I said the word of God is for the heart of man, I meant it is for, to borrow from the hymn, the “joy of every longing heart.” Bible reading “in all the details and particulars” is frequently rigorous work. It can be quite difficult. At times it can even be disturbing. When we deal with the Bible, we’re dealing with the infinite and mysterious mind of God. His thoughts are not our thoughts; his ways not our ways (Isaiah 55:8–9). But ultimately, if we really understand why God has given us a Book, reading his word becomes a hedonistic pursuit. What we’re after is the pleasure our souls are designed to enjoy most: the savoring of God’s glory.

Read Until You See and Savor

Those who have known God best, and loved him most, have understood the crucial importance of savoring God deeply through seeing God clearly in his word.

George Müller, when reflecting on his remarkable, demanding life of prayerful dependence on God for the sake of the Bristol orphans, recalled an important moment early in his ministry: “I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord” (100). He was speaking about his daily, disciplined Bible reading and prayer each morning. This was his oasis of refreshment. Time in the word functioned like a ballast keeping his ship upright in a life of significant stress and at times turbulent storms. “Unless some unusual obstacle hindered him, he would not rise from his knees until sight had become savoring” (100).

George Müller read the Bible like the psalmist who wrote Psalm 119: with a rigorously engaged mind and a relentlessly engaged heart. And so must we. We read the Bible with our minds to see the glory of God, and with our hearts to savor the glory of God. We pass the Bible through our minds to store it in our hearts, because our hearts are with our treasure. And if possible, we don’t stop looking until our hearts are “happy in the Lord” — until we feel fresh joy in some aspect of who God is and what he has done for us in Christ.

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder 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 – Nov 12, 2019

I Was a Misunderstood Muslim

Common Misconceptions About Islam

Article by Afshin Ziafat, Pastor, Frisco TX

Christians are called to be witnesses of Christ to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). In our day, the ends of the earth are moving into our neighborhoods — at least for those of us in America and Europe. Muslims are emigrating to our cities in record numbers. Many of us don’t need to board a plane to take the gospel to the Muslim world. We only need to cross the street to our neighbor’s house.

Unfortunately, many Christians are apprehensive about engaging a relationship or even a conversation with Muslims. Some have a misperception that Muslims will not be friendly. Others are gripped with the fear of potentially offending Muslims by committing a cultural faux pas. Essentially, many are overcome by the fear of the unknown. I want to shed light on some common misconceptions that hinder Christians from reaching out to Muslims with the saving truth of Christ.

Misconceptions About Muslims

The most common misconception about Muslims is that they are all radical terrorists filled with hatred for the West — or at least they are headed in that direction. The thought is that all Muslims ultimately want to see our society destroyed and Islamic sharia law instituted throughout the land. Although there are movements of radical Islamic terrorists throughout the world, the vast majority of Muslims are among the more hospitable, gracious, and friendly people you will meet.

Underlying this misunderstanding is the erroneous thinking that the more devout one gets as a Muslim, the more radical one becomes. Some think that the end of Christian devotion is to sell your possessions and give it all to the poor, while the end of Muslim devotion is to become a jihadist.

“In our day, the ends of the earth are moving into our neighborhoods.”

Although there are terrorist organizations who have deceived their followers into believing this, the vast majority of Muslims fall into another category: the dutiful religious Muslim. The term Islam means “submission to Allah,” and Muslim means “one who submits to Allah.” Islam is primarily a works-based religion, and for most Muslims, to be devout is to give oneself wholly to follow the five pillars of faith and submit to Allah.

Misconceptions About Our Calling

Another misconception that we must acknowledge has to do with our calling and purpose as Christians. It might be better stated as a forgotten identity and mission. This came to light during the recent Syrian refugee crisis, when many American Christians primarily were thinking about border protection and safety instead of the opportunity for advancing the kingdom of God. This is not to say that safety and protection should not be on our minds at all. As a husband and father, I desire safety and peace in our country. But as an ambassador for Christ, I cannot let that desire squeeze out or nullify the greater desire to see people from all nations come to saving faith in Jesus.

In Acts 20:24, Paul states that his own life is not more valuable to him than the ministry God gave him to testify to the gospel of grace. For us today, engaging our Muslim neighbors in order to witness to the gospel is not even a matter of life and death. But it may mean sacrificing comfort. I fear that, too often, we don’t even want to get out of our comfort zones. I recently heard about a community where some were upset because an Islamic association wanted to build a cemetery in their town. Some were against the initiative because they felt it would lead to more Muslims moving to their community. Instead of celebrating an open door to engage Muslims with the gospel, they wanted to stop it.

The goal of Christians is not to preserve or extend our temporal comforts, or even our lives, at all costs. The goal of Christians should be instead to spend every day of our lives serving the mission of testifying to all nations.

Muslims’ Misconceptions

It is also important to note that Muslims have many misconceptions about Christianity. Most Muslims don’t understand our view of the Trinity, and wrongly assume that Christians worship three Gods. The sonship of Jesus is a stumbling block for them because many mistakenly take it to mean that God had sexual relations with Mary. Muslims also view Christianity primarily through the lens of Western society. In the Muslim world, Islam is woven into every fabric of society so that the religion’s value is reflected in the culture. Therefore, some Muslims have a hard time accepting the claims of Christ because they see the vices in our society and wrongly attribute them to Christianity.

It is important to dispel all these misunderstandings, but I want to highlight one misconception in particular that shows the importance of engaging your Muslim neighbor. Many Muslims think that the biblical doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is absurd. They view it as a cheap grace. They think Christianity essentially means saying a prayer to believe in Jesus, and then living however you want because you have been forgiven. They ask, “Then why would you live for God? Why would you do anything for God?” With that question, they admit that they believe the only reason someone would live for God is fear. The motive is to earn God’s favor, or else I’m going to go to hell. But what if there’s a better way?

“The goal of Christians is not to preserve or extend our comfort, or even our lives, at all costs.”

The Bible is clear that grace does not lead to freedom to sin, but rather to freedom to truly live for God (Romans 6:15–18). A true Christian will produce good works, but his good works will not be a means to earning salvation. Rather, they will be a product of his salvation — or better put, evidence of his salvation. The Scripture teaches in James that “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). Christians do not live for God out of fear of going to hell, because we understand that our place in heaven is already secured by the blood of Christ.

While We Were Yet Sinners

Now we can see why it is so important to engage, befriend, and love our Muslim neighbors. The greatest misconception in the Muslim mind relates to the unmerited and sacrificial love of the true God. In Islam, you earn God’s favor through a life of good works, submitting to the will of Allah. Islam teaches that there will be a day of judgment when Muslims will face a scale that weighs all their good deeds against their bad deeds. Whichever one outweighs the other will determine whether they go to heaven or hell. But Christianity teaches that God loved us and sent his Son to die for our sins while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8) and before we did anything good to deserve it (Ephesians 2:8–9).

This is the love that Muslims need to experience. And this is where you come in. We love Muslims by inviting them into our homes for dinner. We love Muslims by asking them how we can help them in getting assimilated to our community — for example, by helping them set up a bank account, sign up their kids for school, or whatever else it may be. Before a Muslim cares to know what you believe, he often wants to know that you care. When we love Muslims without seeking anything in return, especially when they expect us to ostracize them, we make Jesus visible to them and put the gospel on full display (1 John 4:7–12).

Once a Muslim

My family moved back to the States when I was 6 because of the unrest in Iran due to the revolution. Shortly after coming to America, the Iranian hostage crisis hit. A group of Americans were held hostage in Iran, and it was not easy for my family to live in Houston. Many people persecuted us because they knew my family was from Iran. I’m so thankful for one Christian lady who did not see my family as a threat, but as an opportunity to advance the gospel.

“Before a Muslim cares to know what you believe, he must know that you care.”

My Christian tutor loved me and met a real need in my life by teaching me the English language. She did this during a time when others threw bricks through the windows of our home or threatened to beat up my brother and me. Had any other American given me the New Testament, I would’ve thrown it away, because I didn’t trust many Americans then. But I’m thankful it came from the one who was showing me the love of Christ in her actions. Since it came from her, I held on to the New Testament that I would read years later and that would lead me to faith in Christ.

I am eternally blessed that I get to know Christ and be a part of making him known. There is no way I would be in this place if it were not for a second-grade tutor who was determined to invest in my life. I believe there are many more Muslims like me in your community. I pray that you will be obedient to Jesus as he calls you to invest in the life of a Muslim in your path for the sake of the gospel.

Afshin Ziafat (@afshinziafat) is lead pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas. His passion is to teach the word of God as the authority and guide for life, to preach Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Redeemer of mankind, and to proclaim the love of Christ as the greatest treasure and hope in life. He and his wife, Meredith, currently reside in Frisco with their three children.

Daily Light – Nov 11, 2019

Manage Your Household Well

THE TRAGEDY OF DISTRACTED DADS AND PASTORS

Taken from an article by David Mathis, Executive Editor,desiringGod.org

The gratuitously distracted, and often unexamined, lives of modern unmarried men can be concerning enough. Then the seriousness of the problem rises higher when we say, “I do.” And even more when we bring children into the world.

One of the greatest needs wives and children have — and all the more in our relentlessly distracting age — is dad’s counter cultural attentiveness. Perhaps human attention never has been more valuable. Today the largest corporations in the world no longer compete for oil, but for human attention. And when attention is short and scarce, one of the greatest emerging tragedies of this new era is distracted dads.

Managing Different Relationships

Typical households include wife and children (and sometimes others), as well as material possessions. Taking care of the inanimate stuff is the easiest aspect of managing. Caring well for people is the most challenging. However, managing the materials is important, and not to be neglected. Certain men gravitate toward or away from dealing adequately with the stuff, or from caring well for the people. We each have personal penchants to identify and necessary adjustments to make.

But leading a household is first and foremost about taking care of people.

For (and with) His Wife

The first and most important person in a man’s household is his wife — and he feels a unique tension (and privilege) in caring well for her. On the one hand, she is a member of the household and deserving of his greatest attention and care and emotional provision and investment. On the other hand, she is his co-manager. According to Paul, a Christian man is not the lone master of his domain. Married women also “manage their households” (1 Timothy 5:14).

Dad has an associate, “a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18), for whom he thinks and cares in fundamentally different ways than the children. A good manager treats his co-manager differently than the other workers under his leadership. God did not design Christian households to be mini-monarchies where the husband rules as king, with his wife as his subject. Rather, she is the queen, and together they “manage” the household, even as he carries a unique burden of leadership and owes his co-manager a special kind of care.

For the husband, being “head” in his home doesn’t center on his enjoying the greatest privileges, but on shouldering the greatest burdens. Being head means going ahead, in conflict, and being first to apologize. It means taking initiative when no one else wants to. It means treating his co-manager with unrelenting kindness, even when she’s less than kind. It means exercising true strength, by inconveniencing himself to secure her good, rather than serving himself by presuming on her. And, of course, it includes vigilance in being a “one-woman man” utterly committed in mind, heart, and body to his one wife.

For His Children

After his wife, and with her, a Christian man takes care of his children. In 1 Timothy 3:4, the phrase “with all dignity” modifies “keeping his children submissive.” There are dignified and undignified ways to raise submissive children.

Domineering and heavy-handedness are both undignified and ruled out by the nature of Christian management and care-taking. Even if abusive fathering remains hidden from the public eye for years, it will catch up with a man as his children become adults and realize what he was doing. God means for fathers to teach and train his children with dignity — in a respectable way, appropriately engendering respect from his children, and his wife, in how he treats them, even at their worst moments. Paul captures the heart of it in one stunning sentence: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

Not only are children different than a wife, but also children have their various stages. In partnership with their mother, dignified fathering will take that into account and adapt accordingly.

Who Cares for Dad?

Dads, God means for us to frequently come to the end of ourselves and learn what it means to lean on him and, in faith, keep moving. In the moments when we most soberingly feel the weight of being the buckstopper at home, or in the church, he wants us to know that we ourselves have a Father, and that he does not call us to pretend to be the hero in our own strength, but to ask for his help, lean on him, and roll our burdens onto his shoulders. Both pastor-elders and husband-fathers need the solace and blessing of 1 Peter 5:6–7:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Before and beneath God’s call that we care for our households, and for his church, is his care for us. Before he says to us as fathers and pastors, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37), he first is the Good Samaritan to us. He comes to us, binds our wounds, pours out his own precious oil and wine, picks us up off the ground, brings us to the inn, and takes care of us (Luke 10:34), at great cost to himself, and with a promise to return (Luke 10:35).

Rightly was it said about Jesus, “He has done all things well” (Mark 7:37). Surely such is the case with his household, and bride, the church. He has and does manage his household well, and that is our great comfort not just if, but when we feel inadequate, even in our best efforts, to manage our own households well.

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.

Daily Light – Nov 8, 2019

Satan’s Ten Strategies Against You

Article by John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

. . . that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Corinthians 2:11)

One of the most sobering facts about life is that all humans have a supernatural enemy whose aim is to use pain and pleasure to make us blind, stupid, and miserable — forever. The Bible calls him “the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world . . . the accuser” (Revelation 12:9–10), “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31), and “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

He is our “adversary [who] prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Yet, in the most appalling and unwitting bondage, the whole world willingly “follows the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). At his most successful, his subjects march obliviously to destruction, and take as many with them as they can.

The “good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18) that I wrote about under the title “Awake and at War” includes the daily resistance of this enemy (1 Peter 5:9James 4:7), the daily refusal to give him an opportunity (Ephesians 4:27), and the daily stand against his schemes (Ephesians 6:11).

Satan’s Leash — and Impending Doom

God is sovereign over Satan. The devil does not have a free hand in this world. He is on a leash, so that he can do no more than God permits. In effect, he must get permission — as in the case of Simon Peter, where Jesus discloses, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has asked to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31). And the case of Job: “The Lord said to Satan, “Behold, Job is in your hand; only spare his life” (Job 2:6).

So evidently God sees the ongoing role of Satan as essential for his purposes in the world, since, if God willed, Satan would be thrown into the lake of fire now, instead of at the end of the age. “The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and . . . will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). His complete defeat is coming and sure. But not yet.

Unwitting Servant of Our Sanctification

God intends that part of our preparation for heaven be a life of warfare with hell. He calls it a “good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18) and a “good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12). It is good, not because we might be killed (which we might! — Revelation 2:10), but because these fire-fights refine the gold of our faith (1 Peter 1:7), in life and death.

God is the great General in this warfare. He has given us the walkie-talkie of prayer to call for help: “Take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times” (Ephesians 6:17–18).

He sees behind enemy lines, and knows exactly the strategies that will be used against us. He has written them down in a wartime manual “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan.” The reason we will not be outwitted is that “we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11).

Primer on Satan’s Strategies

If you need a refresher for what those “designs” are, here is a summary. May God make you a mighty warrior! May he “train your hands for war and your fingers for battle” (Psalm 144:1).

1. Satan lies, and is the father of lies.

“When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). The first time Satan appears in the Bible in Genesis 3, the first words on his lips are suspicious of the truth (“Did God say, You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?”). And the second words on his lips were a subtle falsehood (“You will not die”). John says that Satan “has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him” (John 8:44). We are dealing with the essence of falsehood and deception.

2. He blinds the minds of unbelievers.

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). So he not only speaks what is false. He hides what is true. He keeps us from seeing the treasure of the gospel. He lets us see facts, even proofs, but not preciousness.

3. He masquerades in costumes of light and righteousness.

In 2 Corinthians 11:13–15, Paul says that some people are posing as apostles who are not. He explains like this: “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.”

In other words, Satan has servants who profess enough truth to join the church, and from inside teach what Paul calls “doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). Jesus says they will be like wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). Acts 20:30 says they will not spare the flock, but will draw people away to destruction. Without God’s gift of discernment (Philippians 1:9), our love will be suckered into stupidity.

4. Satan does signs and wonders.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:9, the last days are described like this: “The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power, and with signs and wonders of the lie.” That’s my awkward translation. Some translate it “with false signs and wonders.” But this makes the signs and wonders look unreal. In fact, some people do say that Satan can only fake miracles. I doubt it. And even if it’s true, his fake is going to be good enough to look real to almost everybody.

“God intends that part of our preparation for heaven be a life of warfare with hell.”

One reason I doubt that Satan can only fake his miracles is that in Matthew 24:24 Jesus describes the last days like this: “False Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” There is no hint that these “signs and wonders” will be tricks.

Let your confidence be grounded in something far deeper than any supposed inability of Satan to do signs and wonders. Even real signs and wonders in the service of anti-Christian assertions, prove nothing, even when they are done “in the name of Jesus.” “Lord, Lord, did we not do many mighty works in your name?” To which Jesus will reply, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:22–23). The problem was not that the signs and wonders weren’t real, but that they were in the service of sin.

5. Satan tempts people to sin.

This is what he did unsuccessfully to Jesus in the wilderness — he wanted him to abandon the path of suffering and obedience (Matthew 4:1–11). This is what he did successfully to Judas in the last hours of Jesus’s life (Luke 22:3–6). And in 2 Corinthians 11:3, Paul warns against this for all the believers: “I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

6. Satan plucks the word of God out of people’s hearts and chokes faith.

Jesus told the parable of the four soils in Mark 4:1–9. In it, the seed of the word of God is sown, and some falls on the path and birds quickly take it away. He explains in verse 15, “Satan immediately comes and takes away the word which was sown in them.” Satan snatches the word because he hates faith which the word produces (Romans 10:17).

Paul expresses his concern for the faith of the Thessalonians like this: “I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain” (1 Thessalonians 3:5). Paul knew that Satan’s design is to choke off the faith of people who have heard the word of God.

7. Satan causes some sickness and disease.

Jesus healed a woman once who was bent over and could not straighten herself. When some criticized him for doing that on the Sabbath, he said, “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16). Jesus saw Satan as the one who had caused this disease.

“God is sovereign over Satan. The devil has no free hand in this world. He is on a leash, and can do only what God permits.”

In Acts 10:38, Peter described Jesus as one who “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” In other words, the devil often oppresses people with illness. This too is one of his designs.

But don’t make the mistake of saying every sickness is the work of the devil. To be sure, even when a “thorn in the flesh” is God’s design for our sanctification, it also may be the “messenger of Satan” (2 Corinthians 12:7). But there are other instances in which the disease is solely attributed to God’s design without reference to Satan: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). Jesus feels no need to bring Satan in as the culprit in his own merciful designs.

8. Satan is a murderer.

Jesus said to those who were planning to kill him, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth” (John 8:44). John says, “Do not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother” (1 John 3:12). Jesus told the blameless church at Smyrna, “The devil is about to throw some of you into prison. . . . Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

To put it in a word, Satan is blood-thirsty. Christ came into the world that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Satan comes that he might destroy life wherever he can and in the end make it eternally miserable.

9. Satan fights against the plans of missionaries.

Paul tells of how his missionary plans were frustrated in 1 Thessalonians 2:17–18: “We endeavored the more eagerly, and with great desire, to see you face to face; because we wanted to come to you . . . but Satan hindered us.” Satan hates evangelism and discipleship, and he will throw every obstacle he can in the way of missionaries and people with a zeal for evangelism.

10. Satan accuses Christians before God.

Revelation 12:10 says, “I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.’” Satan’s defeat is sure. But his accusations haven’t ceased.

It is the same with us as it was with Job. Satan says to God about us, They don’t really love you; they love your benefits. “Stretch out your hand and touch all that [they have], and [they] will curse you to your face” (Job 1:11). Their faith isn’t real. Satan accuses us before God, as he did Job. But it is a glorious thing that followers of Jesus have an advocate who “always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

Satan Will Not Win

Those are some of Satan’s designs. The path to victory in this warfare is to hold fast to Christ who has already dealt the decisive blow.

1 John 3:8: “The Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil.”

Hebrews 2:14: “Christ took on human nature that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil.”

Colossians 2:15: “God disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him.” In other words, the decisive blow was struck at Calvary.

Mark 3:27: “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man.”

Revelation 20:10 says one day the warfare will be over: “The devil . . . [will be] thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone . . . and will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (See Matthew 8:2925:41)

Resist!

James says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you!” (James 4:7). How do we do that? Here is how they did it according to Revelation 12:11: “They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” They embraced the triumph of Christ by his blood. They spoke that truth in faith. They did not fear death. And they triumphed.

The New Testament highlights prayer as the pervasive accompaniment of every battle. “Take . . . the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:17–18).

“Do not be outwitted by Satan. God sees behind enemy lines and tells us all we need to know to not be ignorant of Satan’s designs.”

As the close of this age draws near, and Satan rages, Jesus calls us to wartime prayer: “Watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). Similarly, Peter makes an urgent call to end-time prayer: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7).

Even Jesus fought against the devil on our behalf with the weapon of prayer. He said to Peter in Luke 22:31–32, “Satan has asked to have you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” So Jesus illustrates for us the opposition of a specific satanic threat with prayer.

And, of course, Jesus instructed us to make prayer a daily weapon for protection in general: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). That is, deliver us from the successful temptation of the evil one. Do you confront the designs of the devil with the focused and determined power of prayer?

No Neutral Zone

The question is not whether you want to be in this war. Everyone is in it. Either we are defeated by the devil and thus following, like cattle to the slaughter, “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), or we are resisting — “resist him, firm in your faith!” (1 Peter 5:9).

There is no neutral zone. You either triumph “by the blood of the Lamb and the word of your testimony,” or you will be enslaved by Satan. Therefore, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3), and “wage the good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18). Pray without ceasing!

The Lord Jesus is no less a warrior today than in the days of old. So I urge you again: Come to him as willing soldiers of the Prince of Peace and learn to say, “He trains my hands for war” (Psalm 144:1).

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons.

Daily Light – Nov 7, 2019

I Don’t Believe in Christ  – – Why is Faith So Hard?

Taken from a transcript… John Piper in Holland

Just recently, Pastor John and Noël (his wife) traveled to Holland, France, and Germany. Earlier in the year, they traveled to South America. And earlier in the spring, they were in Ireland and Scotland. All those trips were ministry trips on behalf of Desiring God. Our ministry partners make these international trips possible. So thank you. Today I want to share with you one moment captured in Scotland, recorded at a conference hosted by our friends at 20schemes. In Scotland, a “scheme” is something like a housing project, a government-subsidized neighborhood that’s pretty rough, known for high crime and rampant drug use. More troubling, over half of Scotland’s schemes are gospel-less places. 20schemes is a ministry to change this by planting gospel-loving churches right into these areas of deprivation. While in Scotland, Pastor John sat down to field audience questions from one of those church planters, Andy Prime, who relayed to Pastor John the following question. Have a listen.

Someone says, “Hi, Pastor John. I’m someone who has been exposed to a lot of Christian talks and events in the last couple of years, but I am still struggling to put my faith in Christ. What advice could you give me?”

John Piper: Wow, I wish I knew you. I would really probe before I gave an answer. I would probe the word struggle. What is that? I want to help you so bad to get over that. Let me just say what comes to my mind.

Narrow Way, Light Load

Let me give you two texts, and then tell you why the word struggle is a little odd and yet understandable. In Matthew 7:14, Jesus said, “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Now, that would mean, well, of course you’re going to struggle. It’s hard. That’s what Jesus said. “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and few there be that find it.” He must’ve said that because he knew you’re trying to get through the door, right? And it’s hard. “I don’t even know how to do this. How do you get through the door? The gate is narrow, and it’s hard.” Okay, so that text gives me empathy with the word struggle.

“It’s not hard to come to Jesus. It’s not a struggle, except the struggle to rest.”

But four chapters later Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30). Those are both in the Bible: The way is hard and the gate is narrow. It’s an easy yolk and it’s a light burden. Both are true. That’s what we believe about this book. Both are true. What makes a little theologian out of everybody is trying to figure out how they’re both true.

Struggle to Rest

In my mind, here’s my best shot at how they can both be true: What could be easier than to stop working for God, to stop trying to prove anything as a means of salvation, and just rest in the work of Jesus that is so complete, so full, to cover all your sins, give you all the righteousness you need, and adopt you into the family without working? What could be easier than to say, “I give up. I fall down. I rest”?

I’ll tell you what could be easier: a proud working for God. We don’t like to become children. “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Who wants to be a little child? I want to be somebody. I want to look competent. One of your pastors walked in with a little two-week-old baby. The baby looked like a dot in his arm. And who wants to look like that baby? I want to look big and strong. Nobody’s going to praise that baby’s strength. Maybe that’s why it’s hard. Our ego makes it hard to come to Jesus. It’s not hard to come to Jesus. It’s not a struggle, except the struggle to rest.

That’s my answer to how those texts can be true. The one says to come and rest. It’s easy. It’s light. And the other one says it’s hard, and that’s because resting is hard for people with an ego. So, I’m being hard on you now. Maybe the struggle is rooted in “I want to reserve for myself some power, some ego, some praise, some worth, something instead of ‘I’m just done. I am done trying to prove anything.’” That’s what I’d say.

Illumined with Beauty

Andy Prime: I think we’ll end it there. We’re going to sing before we finish. Would you mind praying just to finish for the day?

John Piper: So Father, for the brother or sister who just asked that question, I’m sure they are not alone and that others, perhaps here and we know in our churches, do struggle. What does it mean? How can I do it? How can I lay down all the objections, lay down all the resistance that rises up in my heart, that doesn’t want to let certain things go?

And I just ask right now that the miracle would be wrought and that the eyes of the heart would be so illumined with the beauty of Christ and the sufficiency of Christ and the greatness of Christ and the power of Christ and the wisdom of Christ, that all resistance would fall. So strengthen the churches, Lord, of 20schemes. Thank you for this ministry. May every need be met for every church, and may the dreams be fulfilled for the twenty-plus church plants. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons.

Daily Light – Nov 6, 2019

Take Care How You Hear

How to Receive God’s Word

Article by Marshall Segal, Staff Writer, desiringGod.org

We fall out of Bible-reading habits a hundred ways, and all of them are deadly serious. Jesus warned us, with a story, about the perils we face.

When we hear the parable of the sower, are we quick to plant ourselves in the good soil? Do we stop to wonder whether we’re the plant without roots, or the one that dries up and withers, or the one choked out by thorns? Many of us assume we’re Peter, not the Pharisees, and certainly not Judas. We’re more prone to assume safety, security, and blessing for ourselves. For some, the parable of the sower might inspire relief and confidence, rather than healthy fear and vigilance. Thank God I wasn’t like the others.

“We fall out of Bible-reading habits a hundred ways, and all of them are deadly serious.”

But if the parable comforts us without awakening urgency and expectation, we have missed Jesus’s point. He ends by saying, when he’s alone with his disciples, “Take care then how you hear” (Luke 8:18). In other words, don’t assume you’re in good soil, but look carefully at how you receive the word of God. Relentlessly plead with God to water the seed he has given you, to send your roots ever deeper, and to protect you from the temptations and distractions around you. Plead with God to keep you.

With heaven and hell at stake, joy and misery in the balance, and obstacles before us and within us, we must take care how we hear the words of God.

What Are These Words?

Before we consider the kind of soil we should be, we need to know what kind of seed this is. The seed gets lost, as seeds often do, in the shuffle of Jesus’s parable. But the seed, not the soil, is the real story here. Nothing comes from any soil, no matter how fertile, if a seed is never planted. And this seed is unlike any the earth has ever received.

Jesus begins by saying, “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). The first test of the soil in our own hearts is how those seven simple words fall on us. Why would we ever bear fruit if we don’t treasure the seed — the very word of the one who spoke the galaxies into reality? Hearing God well in the spoken gospel and written Bible begins with the awareness that we are hearing — really hearing — God himself in his word (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

“All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Every word came from the infinite wisdom and imagination of God. Every sentence, paragraph, and book was conceived by the Author of life, the Alpha and Omega, the Lord of heaven and earth. Nothing in the Bible made it into our hands without first passing through his.

Humility: Defeating the Greatest Threat

What kind of soil, then, should we hope to be for such a seed as this? What will be our posture toward God when we open his word? Three ingredients, among others, will be humility, submission, and prayer.

Humility comes first. Pride poisons the soil in our hearts like nothing else. Busyness is not the greatest threat to daily Bible reading. Self-confidence is. None of us forgets to eat for days, because everything in us tells us we need food. What does it say about our hearts when we skip the food we need the most, sometimes for days or weeks at a time? One powerful way to ignite our time alone in God’s word is to confront and kill our remaining pride. We pray with king David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24).

“Busyness is not the greatest threat to daily Bible reading. Self-confidence is.”

The seed of God’s word loves to grow in the rich soil of humility. Our Lord says, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). The man whose delight is in the law of the Lord knows he does not deserve these words — he doesn’t deserve to have them, to understand them, or to delight in them. He knows well that the having, the understanding, the enjoying, even the obeying are each their own staggering gift of grace. He prays, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).

Submission: Welcoming God’s Authority

Humility, then, leads to glad submission to God’s authority. If the Bible truly is the word of a sovereign, holy, and just God, how we hear can bear frightening and wonderful consequences. These are not tips for living a better, more productive, more successful life. These are not merely suggestions for improving our spiritual health. These words are the wondrous promises and unmitigated commands of a God who will and must judge sin.

These words have authority, an increasingly unpopular word today, at least in our society. And God’s authoritative words demand from us an even more unpopular posture: submission. We don’t want anyone to have full, unqualified authority over us. We want to be able to “commit” with one foot safely outside the door, in case someone, even God, asks us to do anything we don’t want to do. The Bible, however, does not give us the option to be half in — to enjoy comfort while we sow to sin, to receive forgiveness and forgo holiness, to gain joy without suffering and sacrifice.

To ignore, neglect, minimize, or avoid the word of God is to ignore, neglect, minimize, or avoid God himself (Deuteronomy 18:19) — which is an offense greater even than theft, adultery, or murder. Disregarding what God has said is, in fact, the sin that ultimately makes every other sin so horribly wicked. To gladly submit to the Bible, however, is to gladly submit to God himself.

Prayer: Asking God for Help

Finally, then, humility and submission lead us, in prayer, to ask for God’s help. The longest chapter in the Bible is an extended, even uncomfortably long, prayer about the words of God. Psalm 119 sings,

I will meditate on your precepts
     and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
     I will not forget your word. (Psalm 119:15–16)

If we don’t know what to pray for when we read the Bible, this psalm gives us plenty of good places to start. To take care how you hear, consider seven ways you might pray, inspired by Psalm 119.

1. God, incline and enlarge my heart toward you.

Incline my heart to your testimonies. (Psalm 119:36)

I will run in the way of your commandments
     when you enlarge my heart! (Psalm 119:32)

2. Help me understand what I read.

Make me understand the way of your precepts,
     and I will meditate on your wondrous works. (Psalm 119:27)

Your hands have made and fashioned me;
     give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.
    (Psalm 119:73; see also Psalm 119:125144169)

3. Make me diligent to keep your words.

This blessing has fallen to me,
that I have kept your precepts. (Psalm 119:56)

Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
     who seek him with their whole heart. . . .
You have commanded your precepts
     to be kept diligently. (Psalm 119:24)

4. Pour your light on the path of my life.

Your word is a lamp to my feet
     and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)

The unfolding of your words gives light;
     it imparts understanding to the simple. (Psalm 119:130)

5. Strengthen me in sorrow.

My soul melts away for sorrow;
     strengthen me according to your word! (Psalm 119:28)

6. Shield me from every kind of distraction.

Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
     and give me life in your ways. (Psalm 119:37)

7. Keep your promises.

Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live,
     and let me not be put to shame in my hope! (Psalm 119:116)

Your promise is well tried,
     and your servant loves it. (Psalm 119:140)

Come Eagerly to the Word

Jesus says, “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). May God be pleased to increasingly make our souls into good soil for his word — in humility, in submission, and in prayer. He loves to give his people the faith-filled posture of the Bereans, who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

John Piper says, “Every day with meekness receive the word of God. That is, every day be in the Bible. Breathe the Bible. Don’t try to hold your breath from Monday to Wednesday. Breathe every day” (“Receive with Meekness the Implanted Word”). Breathe in the wonder of having the words of God, humble yourself and gladly submit before them, and pray for greater insight and delight. Take care how you hear, and live in the pages of the Bible.

Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have a son and live in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – Nov 5, 2019

Silhouette Photo of Tree

We Dare Not Ignore the Devil

Article by Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

A.W. Tozer once memorably said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Though I agree with C.S. Lewis’s response to this line of thinking — that “how God thinks of us is . . . infinitely more important” than how we think of him — Tozer’s point is still crucial: “We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God” (The Knowledge of the Holy, 1). How we think about God determines how we live.

Now, what comes into your mind when you think about Satan and his demons? Certainly, it is not the most important thing about you. And what God thinks about Satan and demons is infinitely more important than what we think of them. But what we think about the demonic realm is certainly not unimportant.

“We must be more willing to be considered fools than to cruelly leave people the victims of enslaving evil.”

What do we think of what God has to say about the existence and activity of devils in Scripture? How seriously do we take what he says — not just in creed but in deed? How much does a conscious awareness of spiritual warfare functionally factor into our daily life? How does it affect how we pray? How does it inform the ways we see our areas of chronic temptation, fears, family dynamics, church conflicts, physical and mental illnesses, inhibited gospel fruitfulness, geopolitical events? What kinds of strategic spiritual action do we take in response to these things?

These are important questions. Because how we think about satanic forces also determines in significant ways how we live.

Are We Ignorant of His Designs?

The New Testament authors wrote with a profound awareness of the cosmic war they were involved in. They determined to “not be outwitted by Satan; for [they were] not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11).

“The devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41) factored prominently in Jesus’s life, teaching, and miracles. From his temptation in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry (Matthew 4:1–11) to the events surrounding his crucifixion (John 13:27), Satan and his forces were an ever-present reality. Jesus taught that demons actively enslave people (Luke 13:16), actively seek to gain influence over religious leaders and institutions (John 8:44), and actively oppose and seek to undermine and corrupt gospel work (Luke 8:12). He also taught that Satan understands his massive influence in the world as his “kingdom” (Luke 11:17–18). When Jesus’s closest disciples described his miraculous ministry, they said, “he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38).

When Jesus commissioned his early apostolic leaders, he sent them into a world of unbelievers “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18). They understood that they — and all Christians — are involved in a war in which “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

“What comes into your mind when you think about Satan and his demons?”

And they repeatedly warned Christians to “be sober-minded [and] watchful” because “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). They did not want us to be ignorant of Satan’s designs.

The question we need to ask ourselves, especially we Christians in the West, is this: Are we ignorant of Satan’s designs?

Test Case

Here’s a test case. How did you emotionally respond to my earlier mention of “physical and mental illnesses” as possibly being caused or exacerbated by demonic beings? Did it provoke some level of cultural embarrassment because the idea sounds so unscientific, even superstitious? Or did it provoke some defensive anger because, especially when it comes to mental illness, you want to emphatically state that no one should assume the affliction is demonic?

Now, before any qualification, let’s take a moment to assess our emotional reactions. If we feel some embarrassment, why? If we feel some defensive anger, why? What’s fueling our responses? How much are they fueled by an accurate biblical understanding of demonic involvement, and how much are they fueled by our personal experiences and/or our culture’s naturalistic assumptions about everything?

It’s important that we query our responses and not accept them too easily. They might expose an unbiblical imbalance or blind spot. Every era has its spiritual blind spots, and demonic forces will, by all means, capitalize on them. The first century had its blind spots, and we have ours. We are naïve to think they don’t significantly affect us. That’s why the Holy Spirit inspired the New Testament writers to instruct Christians of all eras to be sober-minded and watchful, and not be ignorant of satanic schemes.

No, certainly not all physical and mental illness is caused or exacerbated by demonic beings. The Bible doesn’t teach this, nor have the vast majority of Christians throughout history believed this. This is why at Desiring God, along with many resources on spiritual warfare, we also have many resources on mental illness, disease, and disability.

Cost of Supernaturalism

But Western evangelicals in general are not in danger of an overapplication of demonization. We are far more in danger of under-application — of a functional, unbiblical naturalism. This is partly due to cultural blind-spot assumptions. But increasingly, it is also a result of the growing cultural cost of supernaturalism.

“Every era has its spiritual blind spots, and demonic forces will, by all means, capitalize on them.”

We live in post-Enlightenment cultures that consider the biblical, supernatural worldview to be a foolish religious hangover from the Dark Ages. The very idea of a demon-haunted world is ridiculed. But not only is it considered foolish; it is quickly being considered abusive to insinuate that a person might be afflicted by a demon. From a naturalistic perspective, such an assertion only heaps shame on someone already suffering — all because people like us aren’t willing to let go of an archaic worldview whose time is long past.

This packs an emotional punch, often landing on our spiritual solar plexus. Suddenly, the issue is binary: either demons exist and the denial of them (explicitly or functionally) is cruel, or demons don’t exist and the diagnosis of them is cruel. None of us wants to be cruel; we want to help, not harm, the afflicted. But one side of the binary is cruel. One might accurately call it demonic.

Stand Firm

For Western Christians, this means if we want to seriously engage in the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) and see many people “turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18), we must be willing to endure the cultural shaming (perhaps eventually worse) that will come from taking demons seriously. We must be more willing to be considered fools than cruelly leave people the victims of enslaving evil.

How we think about satanic forces, and how seriously we take God’s instruction to us about them, determines how we live. The more aligned we are with the Bible’s view of reality, the more faithfully we will follow Jesus, the more spiritually helpful we will be to people, and the more damage we will wreak on the domain of darkness. But we also will bear the reproach Jesus endured (Hebrews 13:13).

The Bible is a robustly supernatural book. The spiritual war between God and his angels and the devil and his angels, and human beings on both sides of the conflict, fills its pages from cover to cover. And here’s the way it instructs us to live:

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:10–13)

Let’s take this seriously. Let’s not leave people captives to demonic schemes. And let’s stand firm in the assault.

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder 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 – Nov 4, 2019

God Wrote a Book

THE WONDER OF HAVING HIS WORDS

Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

We actually have the words of God. This is almost too good to be true. And yet how often are we so accustomed to this reality — one of the greatest wonders in all the universe — that it barely moves us to handle the Bible with care (and awe), or at least to access his words with the frequency they deserve?

Familiarity can breed contempt, or at least neglect. While scarcity drives demand, abundance can lead to apathy. For many of us, we have multiple Bibles on our shelves, in multiple translations. We have copies on our computers and phones. We have access to the very words of God like never before — yet how often do we appreciate, and marvel at, the wonder of what we have?

Wonder of Having

One of the greatest facts in all of history is that God gave us a Book. He gave us a Book! He has spoken. He has revealed himself to us through prophets and apostles, and appointed that they write down his words and that they be preserved. We have his words! We can hear in our souls the very voice of God himself by his Spirit through his Book.

“No word of God is a dead word.”

Think of all God went to, and what patience, to make his self-revelation accessible to us here in the twenty-first century. Long ago, at many times, and in many ways, God spoke through the prophets (Hebrews 1:1). Then, in the fullness of time, he sent his own Son, his own self, in full humanity, as his revealed Word par excellence, in the person of Christ, represented to us by his authoritative, apostolic spokesmen in the new covenant.

For centuries, God’s word was copied by hand, and preserved with the utmost diligence and care. Then, for the last 500 years of the printing press, God’s word has gone far and wide like never before. Men and women gave their lives, upsetting the apple carts of man-made religion, to translate the words of God into the heart language of their people. And now, in the digital revolution, access to God’s own words has exploded exponentially again, and yet — and yet — in such abundance, do we marvel at what we have? And do we, as individuals and as churches, make the most of what infinite riches we have in such access to the Scriptures?

His Words, Our Great Reward

The psalmists were in awe of what they had. In particular, Psalms 19 and 119 pay tribute to the wonder of having God’s words. For instance:

The law of the Lord is perfect,
     reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
     making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
     rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
     enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
     enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
     and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
     even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
     and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
     in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7–11)

“We come to his word, like holy hedonists, stalking joy.”

God is honored when we approach his words as those that revive the soul and rejoice the heart, as those that are more to be desired than gold and sweeter than honey. The summary and culmination of Psalm 19’s unashamed tribute to God’s words is this: great reward. He means for us to experience his words as “my delight” (Psalm 1:2119:1624), as “the joy of my heart” (Psalm 119:111), as “the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16), as kindling for the fires of our joy.

Not only has God spoken in this Book we call the Bible, but he is speaking. Writing about Psalm 95 in particular (and applicable to all the Scriptures), Hebrews says “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). No word of God is a dead word. Even Hebrews — the New Testament letter plainest on the old covenant being “obsolete” in its demands upon new-covenant Christians (Hebrews 8:13) — professes that old-covenant revelation, while no longer binding, is indeed “living and active.” “Is not my word like fire,” God declares through Jeremiah, “and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29).

From cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation, God has captured for his church his objective, “external word” (as Luther called it) which he speaks (present tense) to his people through the subjective, internal power of his Spirit dwelling in us. We hear God’s voice in his word by his Spirit. And so, Hebrews exhorts us, “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking” (Hebrews 12:25).

Wonder of Handling

So then, how will we who marvel at having God’s living and active words not also fall to the floor in amazement that he invites us — even more, he insists — that we handle his word. It is no private message to Timothy, but to the whole church reading over his shoulder, when Paul writes,

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

The charge lands first on Timothy, as Paul’s delegate in Ephesus, and then on pastors (both then and today) who formally and publicly “handle the word” for the feeding and forming of the church. But the summons to rightly handle the word of truth (both in the gospel word and in the written Scriptures) is a mantle for the whole church to gladly bear.

In the midst of a world of destructive words, God calls his church to first receive (have) and then respond to (handle) his words. As human words of death fly around us from all sides — in the air, on the page, on our screens — he gives us his own life-giving words to steady our souls and the souls of others. As the world quarrels about words, “which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (2 Timothy 2:14) and coughs up “irreverent babble” that leads “people into more and more ungodliness” and spreads like gangrene (2 Timothy 2:16–17), God gives us an oasis in the gift of his words (2 Timothy 2:15). We receive them for free, but that doesn’t mean we take them lightly or expend little energy to handle them well.

Make Every Effort

God, through Paul, says “do your best” — literally, be zealous, be eager, make every effort — “to present yourself to God as one approved.” We orient Godward first and foremost in our handling of his word, then only secondarily to others. Which will make us “a worker who has no need to be ashamed.”

Being a worker requires work, labor, the exertion of effort, the expending of energy, the investment of time, the patience of lifelong learning. To do so without cutting corners (“unashamed”) or mishandling the task. And in particular, for building others up, not tearing others down. For showing others the feast, not showing ourselves to have been right.

“God gives us his own life-giving words to steady our souls and the souls of others.”

“Rightly handling” — guiding along a straight path — harkens to the vision Paul casts in 2 Corinthians of his own straightforwardness with God’s word. Paul was not coy about hard truths. He was not evasive. He was not a verbal gymnast, gyrating around humanly offensive divine oracles. Rather, he was frank, honest, candid, sincere. “We are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word,” he declares, “but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:17). He has more to say about such sincerity:

We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2)

Listening Like Hedonists

But rightly handling God’s word doesn’t just mean we’re convinced of its truthfulness and handle it as such. Rightly handling doesn’t only include rigorous careful analysis and forthright unapologetic candor. Rightly handling includes the psalmists’ intense spiritual sensibilities. To see in and through God’s words his “great reward,” and knowing him to be a rewarder of those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6).

In other words, we come to his word like holy hedonists, stalking joy. Worldly hedonists pursue the pleasures of sin; they don’t wait on them to arrive. And so do Christian Hedonists. We don’t wait around for holy pleasures. We don’t passively engage God himself through his own words. We stalk. We pursue. We read actively, and study, and meditate. When we are persuaded that God himself is indeed the greatest reward, is there any better avenue to pursue than his own words?

At Desiring God, we don’t aim or pretend to be unique. However flippantly or earnestly others handle God’s words, we mean to receive them with the utter seriousness and joyful awe they deserve — he deserves. God wrote a Book. And gave it to us. Let’s give ourselves to this wonder, and marvel that we get to handle his words.

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.