Make me the man that you want me to be E’en if I do not want to be that man. Teach me to trust you when I cannot see The purpose in the details of your plan. Help me to hope when tempted to despair At circumstances greater than my strength, To trust that, in the darkness, you are there With love beyond all height, depth, width, and length. Show me myself, and make me truly know The greatness of my need and of your grace. Remind me you are with me as I go, And lead according to your path and pace. Lord, search me, try me, know me, make me new. Let all my life be lived in love of you.
Life is weird these days. Between a pandemic, multiple hurricanes, school, work, and the south Louisiana heat and humidity, there’s a lot going on. There’s always another responsibility, another danger, another factor to consider as I go throughout the day.
When life is busy, I tend to look for things to cut out. Some decisions are easy. Netflix and Xbox both take a backseat to homework or Bible study. Other decisions are more difficult, however. When is it wise to skip a workout? When should I stay up a bit later or wake up a bit earlier to get my work done? When is it best to take a break from the blog?
While I typically take some time off each year from posting new content to the blog, I try to maintain consistency in my schedule here whenever possible. Even if I don’t get the time I’d like to write and edit, to reread and refine a piece, I try to post consistently, and I wanted to share some of the reasons why today.
I write as an act of self-discipline. Writing helps me think. The act of writing words on paper or of typing words into a word document provides the opportunity to organize my thoughts. Writing serves to clarify ideas and to reveal truth. And while I receive these benefits when I write in my journal, I find that writing for the blog is different. Here, I’m trying to take an idea and trace it out to application, drawing lines from theory to practice. Knowing others will read these words adds a level of accountability I don’t always have in my journal. While I may be more vulnerable there, I feel more responsible here. I see consistency as part of that responsibility, as an aspect of that accountability to the reader.
I write as an act of self-expression. Much of what I write stems from the lessons I’m learning, from the emotions I’m feeling, from the joys and sorrows I’m experiencing. I’ve often thought that you can probably tell what I’m going through by looking closely at what I’m writing in a given season. I try to be vulnerable in my writing, sharing my fears and my hurts through poetry and prose. I don’t give you everything. My journals and notebooks contain more specific reflections and poems. You likely won’t see those. But I want to share, at least in some measure, the work I do, partly because I want you to see me and know me. But I also want to share because I’ve seen God use the things I write to serve others, and I want to be faithful to that form of ministry, which leads me to my third reason for writing.
I write in the hope that you’ll benefit from these words. While I want you to see me and know me, I don’t write simply because I want sympathy (though sometimes I do desire that). Rather, I write in the hope that you’ll see yourself in the words, that perhaps I can articulate on your behalf something hitherto unspoken or unexpressed. The writers who have moved me the most are those who gave voice to my soul when I felt lost and alone. I seem to remember Andrew Peterson getting at this idea in his book Adorning the Dark, and I’ve found the point rings true. As I’ve found myself in his writings and in the writings of others, I’ve been greatly helped, encouraged and challenged to press on through difficulties and to wait and hope in the goodness of God. I pray that my writings might be so used in your life and in the lives of others who happen across my words.
I don’t claim brilliance. I don’t seek fame. I know my faults. But I desire faithfulness and pursue it, often falteringly. And so I write. I write in the hope that I’ll understand a bit better after the writing. I write in the hope that you’ll see and know me a bit better after the reading. I write in the hope that you’ll see yourself in the words and will be moved to know and love God a bit better in the process. And I pray the Lord is pleased in it all.
Fasting seems like a great idea until you feel hungry.
I’ve tried to fast more regularly over the last year or so. Jesus seems to expect it of his followers (Matthew 6:16-18), and I’ve heard many speak of it as a key part of their spiritual journey. And yet, while I’ve always understood fasting to be a spiritual discipline, I’ve tended to see it as lesser in importance than other disciplines. If I don’t devote daily time to Bible reading and prayer, I feel off. If I miss a few days of journaling, I can sometimes detect a shift in my perspective. But fasting? Sometimes fasting doesn’t even cross my mind.
So I followed a buddy’s recommendation and tried to set a time each week to practice this discipline. I placed a reminder on my phone’s calendar so I wouldn’t forget, making a choice to form a habit. And initially, I felt great.
Then I would get hungry. Or I would be invited to grab lunch with someone. Or I’d be given food of some kind. Often, the first challenge to my resolve would result in me eating, in a break of the fast. The plan that seemed so simple in theory became increasingly difficult to fulfill in practice.
Ultimately, this is to be expected. Fasting is a clear denial of the self, a deliberate choice to abstain from food in order to seek the Lord, to lay your requests before him, to abide in Christ. When you fast, you embrace temporary discomfort to press into eternal comfort, experiencing the emptiness of your stomach as you open your hands before the Lord. It’s an act of faith, of hope, and of love. And such acts aren’t always comfortable, nor should we expect them to be. Self-denial, even in small measure, may be deeply felt.
But the discomfort of self-denial teaches us. When I see how quickly I break a fast to be filled with food, I realize how deeply I depend upon what is seen and felt and how little I depend upon him who is not so immediately perceived. My failures in fasting reveal my misplaced priorities. But they also provide opportunities for growth. When I see my weakness, I learn to pray for deeper dependence upon the Lord, deeper faith in his provision, deeper love for him. I learn to seek contentment in Christ rather than in my circumstances. I learn to wait on the Lord rather than seeking the speedy fulfilment of my desires.
I’m still not good at fasting, but I want to develop the habit. I want to see more clearly my dependence on the Lord and better understand his provision. I want to grow in faith and hope and love, denying myself a meal to be more deeply satisfied in the Maker. And I pray the Lord would sanctify me in the process.
I believe reading the Bible is important, but I don’t always devote the time to read it well. Granted, I’ve gotten better over the years, generally improving as I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work for me. But I still feel like I could be doing more.
Ideally, I spend some time in the early morning reading through a couple of chapters, underlining things that stand out and making notes. This helps me process what I’m reading, working it into my mind and heart. And while this is good, I sometimes abbreviate the process for time. I’ll just read one chapter, moving quickly through it without making any marks on the page. I’ll try to find a thought to keep chewing on as I go, but I’m often not really focused. I’m checking my Bible reading off of my daily to do list rather than truly seeking communion with the Lord of hosts.
Sometimes schedules can’t be helped. While the uncertainties of life and the irregularity of schedules make the prioritization of time with the Lord all the more important, these realities can also lead us to get creative with our approach to Scripture. I’ve found two approaches to be particularly helpful.
Scripture memory Some friends from college used to memorize Scripture while they worked out, reciting verses between reps. Seeing them internalize the Bible encouraged me to pursue Scripture memory more intentionally, something I hadn’t done consistently since high school. While I’m still not good at it, I’ve found that memorization is a profoundly meaningful discipline. No matter where I am, I can think through a memorized passage of Scripture, repeating it in my mind and chewing on its meaning and implications. The more you go over a passage, the more you see in the text. You’ll spot connections you hadn’t noticed before, find encouragement you didn’t realize you needed, and be challenged to trust in all circumstances. Memorization can be a daunting exercise, but it doesn’t have to be. Chances are you’ve already got some lines of Scripture committed to memory simply by way of repeatedly coming across them over the years. Pick a favorite passage and read over it often, working it into your mind and heart as you do.
Listening I’ve recently been enjoying the Dwell Bible app. Dwell collects passages of Scripture on various subjects into playlists of varying lengths, making it easy to spend some focused time on a specific biblical theme or story. It also offers listening plans for working through larger sections of Scripture. By allowing you to jump into any chapter in the Bible, Dwell makes consuming the Bible easy. I usually put a few playlists or passages on a queue to listen to as I fall asleep, allowing me to focus on the Bible at the end of the day. I tend to get more from physically reading the Bible than from listening to the Bible, but I’ve still found listening to be a tremendous help to my spiritual life.
The Lord is faithful to use his Word in our lives, whether we approach it through the physical page, the memorized passage, or the audible playlist. In each case, as we turn our attention to the Bible, we meet the truth and are changed. So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t seem to maintain the consistency you’d like in your devotional readings. Keep pursuing faithfulness, adjusting your schedule as you can to make time for what is of utmost importance. And don’t be afraid to incorporate some fresh ways of ingesting the Bible into your daily life.
God gave Moses specific instructions regarding sacrifices, priests, relationships, rest, and a number of other subjects, and his instructions are recorded in the book of Leviticus. As you read through the book, you begin to realize something: the Lord requires the best, not merely the comfortable or the convenient.
Take sacrifices, for example. Only specific types of animals are accepted, and acceptable animals often must be without blemish and of a certain age. The people couldn’t simply give God the wounded or small of the flock, the weak or the unwanted; they had to give their best. The same goes for the priesthood. The holiness of the role of priest seems to be illustrated in the high standards God set forth for those who could hold such a role. God’s servants couldn’t behave any way they chose; they were to be, in a way, the best of the people, the model of obedience and holiness.
God’s standards haven’t changed. He still requires the best of us. “You therefore must be perfect,” Jesus said, “as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). He wills our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3), and he remains “the LORD who sanctifies you” (Leviticus 22:32).
Such sanctification is not always convenient or comfortable. Paul chose his words well when he called us to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2). We heed the call to deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily, and follow him (Luke 9:23), a worthy yet difficult calling. Discipline and correction factor regularly into the process (Hebrews 12), as does grace for our failures (1 John 2:1-2). He refines us, molds us, and purifies us, and the process is often painful. He requires the fullness of our hearts, minds, and spirits. He requires the best of us.
It’s encouraging, then, to remember that God not only requires the best from us, but he also does what is best for us. He causes all things to work together for good, holding us in his unfailing love (Romans 8). He knows us intimately (Psalm 139), cares for us deeply (1 Peter 5:7), and gives wisdom for the journey (James 1:5-8). He doesn’t merely do what is convenient or comfortable in our lives. Indeed, his work may feel at times like a wound (consider Paul’s wrestling with the thorn in his flesh in 2 Corinthians 12). But because the Lord is good, we can trust him in all circumstances, all seasons, all stations of life. He will always do what is best. Indeed, he has already done what is best for us by giving us the perfect, spotless lamb to save us, meeting our greatest need and ensuring he will not fail us in our lesser needs (Romans 8, James 1).
So let us offer our best to the Lord, withholding nothing as we learn to love and serve him better. Let us understand that he is worthy of our best, worthy of our very lives. And let us rest in the truth that God loves us and will always do what is best, trusting that “no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.
Over the last number of months, I’ve met a strange combination of events that have produced a state of tension within my soul. On one hand, I’ve faced more disappointment, disillusionment, and discouragement than I can remember facing before in life. My plans and God’s plans for me did not agree, and I wrestled long and hard (and still do) to discern what faithfulness looks like for me at this time. The season has been uncomfortable, embarrassing, and isolating.
On the other hand, I’ve seen fruit from the steady plodding of previous months and years. I received a Master of Theology, marking roughly the mid point of my pursuit of a PhD. I passed the one-thousand mile mark on an app that keeps track of my running. I’ve finished reading books I set aside months ago. I’ve made progress on some new projects I’m excited about. I’ve been encouraged. The season has brought affirmation, support, and hope.
Seeing both types of experiences in the same season confuses me a bit. One moment, I feel like I can’t do anything right; the next moment, I’m affirmed in the work I’m doing. One day, I feel lost; the next day, I feel content and secure. I feel hopeless and hopeful, lost and found, faithless and faithful. I’m learning to rely on friends while worrying that I annoy them with my needs. I’m learning to boast in my weaknesses while wishing I could grow out of them. I feel a bit like a living paradox.
During this season, some biblical passages have come to life in fresh ways. The tension between suffering and steadfastness, between death and life, at play in 2 Corinthians 4 holds new meaning as I’m stretched by the trials and joys of this time. Hebrews 12 also challenges and comforts me as I see afresh how God is disciplining me, a painful process, to produce the fruit of righteousness, a pleasant result. I’m learning to hope in and rely upon the Lord, thinking often of him as my Shepherd (Psalm 23). I’m learning to long for the Lord, realizing in new ways my need of him (Psalm 63).
As I reflect on this season, I confess that I desire its end. I want to move past this present state, to learn the lesson and be done with the trials. I don’t enjoy living in the tension. But I recognize that lessons are learned through the testing of faith, that sanctification is accomplished through the long seasons of discipline. So I pray for faithfulness, for endurance, for hope that will not put me to shame. I pray for the Lord to accomplish his work in my life and for him to sustain me on the path he’s called me to walk. And I trust that he who began the work will not fail to complete it (Philippians 1:6).
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
I love the book of James. I’ve spent more time in this little book than I’ve spent in many other places in Scripture, and I’ve found that further study and meditation often leads to fresh discoveries within the text. Even after years of reading these same words, I keep finding new things. The discoveries aren’t always comforting, though.
Knowing God is growing you, refining
Faith in faithfulness, slowly aligning
Heart and head and habit with his beauty.
Deeming discipline a joyful duty.
Knowing too his work is far from finished,
That you are yet still must be diminished,
That the recognition of a reason
May not mark the closing of the season.
Each present heartache seems to be the worst.
Each test of faith feels fiercer than the last.
Unfounded fears lie shattered in the past,
Yet fear still strikes with strength as at the first.
You start to wonder if you might be cursed
To never have the faith of the steadfast.
You long for constancy but e’er contrast
Your faith with fear, fulfillment with more thirst.
Perhaps the moment’s pain does not intrude
Except to prove the possibility
Of suffering to serve a higher end.
The path of faithfulness does not preclude
The faltering and fallibility
But uses these to lead you to a friend.
Refining is taking place.
Desires, not weeds, just not yet in full bloom,
Push through the dry dirt only to be pruned
By the one gardener who never errs.
There is loss, but there is growth,
Strength from the stripping,
Life from death.
The breath I struggle to catch remains his,
For the work, the fruit, he desires.