A middle-aged man approached me after I led a workshop at his place of employment and asked this question: “I’ve been a Christian nearly my whole life, but I’m constantly disappointed in myself. Why is it that I always seem to keep doing the things I wish I didn’t do and never seem to do the things I know I should? Isn’t God getting tired of me?” Two men standing next to me also seemed eager to hear the response.
That’s a common struggle that even the apostle Paul experienced. “I do not understand what I do,” he said, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Rom. 7:15). But here’s some good news: We don’t have to stay in that trap of discouragement. To paraphrase Paul as he writes in Romans 8, the key is to stop focusing on the law and start focusing on Jesus. We can’t do anything about our sinfulness in our own strength. The answer is not “try harder to be good at keeping the rules.” Instead, we must focus on the One who shows us mercy and cooperate with the Spirit who changes us.
When we focus on the law, we are constantly reminded that we’ll never be good enough to deserve God’s grace. But when we focus on Jesus, we become more like Him.
One afternoon I was having a discussion with a friend I considered my spiritual mentor about misusing God’s name. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God,” says the third commandment (Ex. 20:7). We may think this only refers to attaching God’s name to a swear word or using His name flippantly or irreverently. But my mentor rarely missed an opportunity to teach me about real faith. He challenged me to think about other ways we profane God’s name.
When I reject the advice of others and say, “God told me to go this way,” I misuse His name if all I am doing is seeking approval for my own desires.
When I use Scripture out of context to try to support an idea I want to be true, I am using God’s name in vain.
When I teach, write, or speak from Scripture carelessly, I misuse His name.
Author John Piper offers this reflection on what it means to take God’s name in vain: “The idea is . . . ‘don’t empty the name.’ . . . Don’t empty God of His weight and glory.” We misuse His name, Piper says, when we “speak of God in a way that empties Him of His significance.”
My friend challenged me to honor God’s name and to pay closer attention to using His Word carefully and accurately. Anything less dishonors Him.
When we first moved into our present home, I enjoyed the beauty of the geese that nest nearby. I admired the way they cared for each other and the way they moved in straight lines in the water and in majestic V-formations in the air. It was also a joy to watch them raise their young.
Then summer came, and I discovered some less beautiful truths about my feathered friends. You see, geese love to eat grass, and they don’t really care if it ruins the look of the lawn. Worse, what they leave behind makes a stroll across the yard a messy adventure.
I think of these geese when I’m dealing with difficult people. Sometimes I wish I could simply shoo them out of my life. It’s then that God usually reminds me that there is beauty in even the most difficult person if we can get close enough to discover it, and the pain they’re giving out may be reflective of the pain they are feeling. The apostle Paul says in Romans, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (12:18). So I ask God to help me be patient with the “hard side” of others. This doesn’t always produce a happy outcome, but it is remarkable how often God redeems these relationships.
As we encounter difficult people, by God’s grace we can see and love them through His eyes.
I heard the saddest words today. Two believers in Christ were discussing an issue about which they had differing opinions. The older of the two seemed smug as he wielded Scripture like a weapon, chopping away at the things he saw as wrong in the other’s life. The younger man just seemed weary of the lecture, weary of the other person, and discouraged.
As the exchange drew to a close, the older man commented on the other’s apparent disinterest. “You used to be eager,” he started, and then abruptly quit. “I don’t know what it is you want.”
“You missed the chance to love me,” the young man said. “In all the time you’ve known me, what has seemed to matter most to you is pointing out what you think is wrong about me. What do I want? I want to see Jesus—in you and through you.”
Had this been said to me, I thought, I would have been devastated. In that moment I knew the Holy Spirit was telling me there had been people I had missed the chance to love. And I knew there were people who couldn’t see Jesus in me either.
The apostle Paul tells us that love must be the underlying motive in anything we do; in everything we do (1 Cor. 13:1-4). Let’s not miss the next chance to show love.
In January 1915, the ship Endurance was trapped and crushed in the ice off the coast of Antarctica. The group of polar explorers, led by Ernest Shackleton, survived and managed to reach Elephant Island in three small lifeboats. Trapped on this uninhabited island, far from normal shipping lanes, they had one hope. On April 24, 1916, 22 men watched as Shackleton and five comrades set out in a tiny lifeboat for South Georgia, an island 800 miles away. The odds seemed impossible, and if they failed, they would all certainly die. What joy, then, when more than four months later a boat appeared on the horizon with Shackleton on its bow shouting, “Are you all well?” And the call came back, “All safe! All well!”
What held those men together and kept them alive over those months? Faith and hope placed in one man. They believed that Shackleton would find a way to save them.
This human example of faith and hope echoes the faith of the heroes listed in Hebrews 11. Their faith in the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” kept them going through great difficulties and trials (Heb. 11:1 nkjv).
As we look out upon the horizon of our own problems, may we not despair. May we have hope through the certainty of our faith in the One Man—Jesus, our God and Savior.
Early in my work life I had a coworker who seemed to delight in using God’s name as a profanity. He mercilessly taunted Christians who were new to their faith or who tried to talk with him about Jesus. On the day I left that job to move to another community and a new place of employment, I remember thinking that this man would never become a follower of Jesus.
Two years later I visited my old workplace. He was still there, but never have I witnessed such a dramatic change in a person! This man, so antagonistic to faith, was now a walking, talking example of what it means to be a “new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). And now, more than 30 years later, he’s still telling others how Jesus “met him where he was—sin and all.”
It occurs to me that the early Christians must have seen something similar in Paul, their fiery persecutor—a riveting example of what it means to become a new creation (Acts 9:1-22). What great hope both of these lives are to those who think themselves beyond redemption!
Jesus sought Paul and my former coworker—and me. And He continues today to reach the “unreachable” and model for us just how we can reach people too.
Reporter Jacob Riis’s vivid descriptions of poverty in 19th-century New York City horrified a generally complacent public. His book How the Other Half Lives combined his writing with his own photographs to paint a picture so vivid that the public could not escape the certainty of poverty’s desperate existence. The third of fifteen children himself, Riis wrote so effectively because he had lived in that world of terrible despair.
Shortly after the release of his book, he received a card from a young man just beginning his political career. The note read simply, “I have read your book, and I have come to help. Theodore Roosevelt.” (This politician later became a US President.)
True faith responds to the needs of others, according to James (1:19-27). May our hearts be moved from inaction to action, from words alone to deeds that back them up. Compassionate action not only aids those mired in life’s difficulties, but it may also make them open to the greater message from our Savior who sees their need and can do so much more for them.
When I hear stories about young people who have been bullied, I notice there are always at least two levels of hurt. The first and most obvious comes from the mean-spirited nature of those actually doing the bullying. That’s terrible on its own. But there’s another, deeper hurt that may end up being even more damaging than the first: The silence of everyone else.
It hurts the one being bullied because they’re stunned that no one will help. That often makes bullies more brazen, leading them to intensify their meanness. Worse, it heightens the embarrassment, false shame, and loneliness of the victim. So it is imperative to speak up for others and speak out against the behavior (see Prov. 31:8a).
Jesus knows precisely what it feels like to be bullied and to be left to suffer completely alone. Without cause, He was arrested, beaten, and mocked (Luke 22:63-65). Matthew 26:56 says that “all the disciples forsook Him and fled.” Peter, one of His closest friends, even denied three times that he knew Him (Luke 22:61). While others may not understand fully, Jesus does.
When we see others being hurt, we can ask Him for the courage to speak up.
Francis Allen led me to Jesus, and now it was nearly time for Francis to meet Jesus face to face. I was at his home as it grew time for him to say goodbye. I wanted to say something memorable and meaningful.
For nearly an hour I stood by his bed. He laughed hard at the stories I told on myself. Then he got tired, we got serious, and he spent his energy rounding off some rough edges he still saw in my life. I listened, even as I tried to sort out how to say goodbye.
He stopped me before I got the chance. “You remember, Randy, what I’ve always told you. We have nothing to fear from the story of life because we know how it ends. I’m not afraid. You go do what I’ve taught you.” Those challenging words reminded me of what the apostle Paul said to the believers in Philippi: “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do” (Phil. 4:9).
Francis had the same twinkle in his eye this last day I saw him as he had the first day I met him. He had no fear in his heart.
So many of the words I write, stories I tell, and people I serve are touched by Francis. As we journey through life, may we remember those who have encouraged us spiritually.