Much more needs to be said about applying the gospel, God’s sovereignty, the doctrine of sin, personal holiness, forgiveness, and reconciliation etc. to a conflict between Christians. For further study, I recommend starting with Charity and its Fruits by Jonathan Edwards.
I want to wrap up by touching on a few practical issues related to forgiveness: issues that are seldom addressed and yet are troublesome to our emotions.
Christians can be pretty fuzzy about forgiveness, which makes this point from John Piper particularly important:
“[F]orgiveness of an unrepentant person doesn’t look the same as forgiveness of a repentant person. In fact I am not sure that in the Bible the term forgiveness is ever applied to an unrepentant person. So there’s a sense in which full forgiveness is only possible in response to repentance.”
What do we do when there is no repentance to respond to? Or how do we respond when someone talks and acts as if they have not sinned against us? Do expressions of affection from someone who has betrayed us mean we should all go back to the way things were? In this post, I’m considering these questions in light of sins by another Christian such as slander, hostility, cheating, stealing, lying, or deceit.
Given our fuzziness on forgiveness, we need to press in and better understand what Scripture says about forgiveness and friendship, and also what it does not say.
If we are to live at peace with all men so far as it depends on us (Rom. 12:18), we have to understand exactly how far it depends on us. Our question must not be: What do other people expect from me?Rather, we must ask: What does God require of me?
Answering this question brings clarity. It helps us to move forward with a clear conscience, even if we are swimming against a current of expectations from others; and it clears up a lot of the confusion that follows in the wake of broken relationships.
1.Forgiveness doesn’t mean we must agree.
Nowhere does Scripture require us to agree in order to resolve a conflict with another Christian. We are to love them. We are to refrain from retaliation. We are to pray for them. But we are not required to agree with them.
In fact, we must not agree if agreeing means violating a biblical conviction. To hold your ground on a moral or ethical issue is not unkind, unforgiving, or stubborn, but right. It is not un-Christian, but uniquely Christian.
Even if well-meaning people encourage us to agree for the sake of unity, we must graciously resist that pressure when biblical issues are at stake.
Charles Spurgeon humorously put it this way: “I have known good men with whom I shall never be thoroughly at home until we meet in heaven: at least, we shall agree best on earth when they go their way and I go mine.”
2.Forgiveness doesn’t mean we must trust.
“You can actually look someone in the face and say: I forgive you, but I don’t trust you” insists John Piper. This is not rude or unforgiving. It is wise.
If a person has betrayed you and shown a disregard for the truth or for your reputation, you are not obligated to trust them again, even if they ask for your forgiveness.
Sometimes as Christians we experience false guilt on this point. When someone asks for our forgiveness or acts like nothing has happened, we may feel like we are withholding forgiveness by not trusting them again. One insightful pastor explains:
There is confusion between forgiveness and restoration….To explain: If a friend seriously betrays me, I am mandated as a Christian to forgive him if he asks for it. But I think I would be foolish to restore him to a position of trust. I often drew the analogy with babysitting—if someone babysat my kids but neglected them, I should forgive them if they repent; but it would be delinquent to let them babysit again.
It would be unwise to trust an individual who, through lying or slander, has violated our trust. We must be cautious and careful in how we relate to that person in the future.
If someone has betrayed our trust, they must re-earn it, proving over time the genuineness of their sorrow and the fruit of repentance in the form of godly character. This is possible, by the grace of God, and I have witnessed, as you may have as well, the sweet restoration of trust that can flow from repentance.
But a glossing over of the issue, a half-hearted apology, or an expectation of immediate restoration does not obligate us to trust someone, unless or until they have proven themselves trustworthy.
3.Forgiveness doesn’t mean we must remain close.
Sentimentality muddies the waters of forgiveness. A longing for “the way things were” is not a reliable guide for friendships. A close friendship in the past does not obligate us to remain close.
Friendship is a significant category in Scripture, and we must hold it in high regard. If we pretend that certain sins don’t have a devastating effect on a relationship, we deny what Scripture says about the meaning of friendship: trust, loyalty, honor, truthfulness, constancy, and sacrificial love.
True closeness is only possible under these conditions.
If someone betrays us but fails to acknowledge that sin or make restitution, then to relate to them as if nothing has happened would be to undermine the meaning of biblical friendship.
But if a person realizes their sin, asks your forgiveness, and proves their trustworthiness, your relationship may be restored; you may even be closer than ever before. However, we are under no biblical obligation to be close again. We have not fallen short of forgiveness or failed to honor God if we graciously go our separate ways.
It may be that we now find ourselves in a different place or situation than before. God, who brings good out of every trial, may have used this broken relationship to move us into new areas of service and caused new, godly, friendships to blossom.
We must recognize these as blessings from God and move forward to serve him in the new ways to which he has called us. God does not expect us to maintain the same level of closeness with every Christian for the rest of our lives.
4. Forgiveness does mean we trust God.
Finally, as we try to carefully pick our way through the rubble of a broken relationship, we must leave the remaining confusion and questions in the hands of our loving, heavenly Father. Take this wise counsel from Dr. Cotton Mather:
It may not be amiss for you to have two heaps: a heap of Unintelligibles, and a heap of Incurables. Every now and then you will meet with something or other that may pretty much distress your thoughts, but the shortest way with the vexations will be, to throw them into the heap they belong to, and be no more distressed about them.
You will meet with some unaccountable and incomprehensible things, particularly in the conduct of many people. Throw them into your heap of Unintelligibles; leave them there. Trouble your mind no further; hope the best or think no more about them.
You will meet with some [unpersuadable] people; no counsel, no reason will do anything upon the obstinates: Throw them into the heap of Incurables. Leave them there. And go on to do as well as you can, what you have to do. Let not the crooked things that can’t be made straight encumber you.
And remember, above all, that God is good and wise as he rules over every aspect of your situation. I leave you with these encouraging words from John Piper:
God is not just showing up after the trouble and cleaning it up. He is plotting the course and managing the troubles with far-reaching purposes for our good and for the glory of Jesus Christ.
“The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.” Ps. 37:39
“How do we raise our children in this world of beauty gone bad?” This question—in the appendix of Mom and Nicole’s book, True Beauty—is on the forefront of my mind these days as my three daughters are getting older. Two simple ideas have been guiding my approach of late.
First, I’ve been considering my own childhood experience. My mom—following the counsel and example of her own mom—was careful to minimize excessive focus on my appearance at a young age. It will come in its own in time, my grandma would tell her. No need to rush. In my case, I was so unconcerned about my personal appearance, that even when I had reached my mid-teens, “it” still hadn’t come.
My sisters (four and five years older than me) love to tell the story about how they finally went to my mom and asked if Janelle could maybe start brushing her hair occasionally. They had to appear in public with me after all. I’m happy to report that I now daily brush my hair and even wear make-up. “It” finally came! But looking back, I see how the lack of focus on my outward appearance when I was young was a means of protection in my life. I have found my struggle with worldly beauty standards to be minimal, and I know that is in part due to my mom’s wisdom in allowing me to be “young” and not hurrying my transition into adulthood.
Secondly, I was provoked by a conversation with a friend a couple years ago. After having four boys she became pregnant with a little girl. My friend was finally getting to design that girly-girl nursery and wanted to have a quote from True Beauty featured in her daughter’s room: “True beauty is to behold and reflect the beauty of God.” She wanted her daughter to grow up with a daily reminder of the true definition of beauty. Such a simple idea, yet the potential effect is immeasurable. I followed her example, hanging the same words on my daughters’ walls. My youngest can’t even read yet, but as soon as she can, I want thoughts of the Savior’s beauty to fill her mind each day.
Never has the world around us made it more difficult to raise daughters with a biblical understanding of beauty. But God has not called us to a hopeless task, and I encourage every mom (of girls and boys) to read True Beauty and spend careful time considering the appendix, “True Beauty and Our Children.”
“The beauty of grace that overwhelmed our own hearts through the gospel of Jesus Christ has lost none of its power. Our Savior can do for our children as he did for us. Grace makes true beauty irresistible. So we pray with hope in God to open the eyes of the hearts of our children to the dazzling beauty of Jesus Christ.” ~Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre
2017 at 6:47 am | by Nicole Whitacre
If you were to come to my house today, you would find, on the chalkboard in the kitchen, the Whitacre Word of the Week: “industrious” which means “diligent and hardworking.” It may seem like an odd word for the start of summer vacation, but it’s there for a reason. That’s because one of the lessons we are trying to teach our children is the value of hard work. As Ben Sasse puts it in his recent book, The Vanishing American Adult, we don’t just want our children to learn how to work hard, we want them to “embrace their identities as workers.”
Work is not something you do during the school year so that you can grow up to do it from 9-5 and then complain about it the rest of the time. Work is a gift and a calling from God (Gen 1:26–28). “Since God is the one who calls people to their work,” explains Leland Ryken, “the worker becomes a steward who serves God.” That’s how we want our children to think about themselves. Who are you? We are workers, we are stewards who serve God. We have been saved by God’s grace from sin and wrath to do good works (Eph 2:10).
Creating workers is a work in progress. But this summer, we have deliberately set out to do a few things toward that goal.
First, we want to teach our children that serving God starts small—in the home, in the local church, and in the community. So, we have taken our boys over to serve the widows in our church with yard work. We have asked our girls to take on various chores in the home to serve the family. We have plans to visit some of the elderly in our neighborhood.
Secondly, we are teaching each of our children to create something. This project was inspired by Sasse’s book where he points out that children these days often learn how to consume more than to produce. So the girls are learning how to sew and use a sewing machine and each will hopefully have something to show for it by the end of the summer. Our middle son is making a chicken coop—and it’s coming along nicely! And our oldest son is well on his way to completing a writing project he’s been tinkering with for a while.
We also deliberately purchased a house in a neighborhood where there’s lots of work to be done. Our yard is large and overgrown. There is lots of wood to chop, stumps to dig out, and about a million weeds to pull. Sure, our yard is great for backyard soccer games and catching fireflies, but we remind our children that it is a blessing and a responsibility. The creation mandate to “subdue the earth” applies to this little plot of earth that we are blessed to call ours.
One thing we’ve discovered is that certain children like certain kinds of work more than others. One of our boys really enjoys schoolwork, while the other loves to do manual labor—and “never the twain shall meet.” So, we challenge our son who enthusiastically serves with yard work to cheerfully learn his fractions and our son who loves to write and read, to get out there and work with his hands. I’m not sure if either of them will ever love the same kind of work, but I hope they will both learn to fight laziness in all its forms, and do all their work cheerfully as unto the Lord.
Do we sound like mean parents? It is summer after all! Isn’t this a time for kids to rest and relax? Please know that we are giving our children plenty of fun. We go to the pool and the library, play soccer, turn on the sprinkler, and make frequent stops for slushies. But we hope that our children will learn to appreciate rest and recreation even more because they have learned how to work. Our prayer is that the work they do this summer will seep into their very bones and will embed itself as part of their identity—so that whatever work God calls them to do, they will grow up to think of themselves as “stewards who serve God.”
2017 at 6:30 am | by Carolyn Mahaney
A mother with small children—I’ll call her Katie—sent me a question:
Recently a friend, an older woman in my life, has been urging me to “take care of myself” and not to “lose myself” in mothering. I know this is for a season—my children will not be little forever—and I know this is where the Lord has me. I have no desire to bring anything else onto my plate of being a wife and mom. Did you have people tell you similar things? If so, how did you respond to them?
I am happy to try and answer any question that you have, and honored that you would ask! Your question reveals the grace of God in your life in the form of humility and wisdom and I pray that you feel the Lord’s pleasure. Here are a few thoughts that came to mind when I read your text. I hope they prove helpful!
First, let me say that it is obvious that your friend loves you, cares for you, and wants the best for you—and that’s very meaningful. What a blessing to have a friend who is so affectionate and supportive. Although I don’t believe her advice reflects biblical wisdom, I don’t want that to take away from her heart for you, which I believe is sincere. I’m sure you know this even better than I do.
It is clear to me by your question that you already understand that you are in a season—one of the most intense seasons of your life! When I look back on my years as a mother, the seasons with small children and with teenagers were the two most exhausting—and rewarding—times in my life. When we understand the biblical principle that life is lived in seasons (and it’s obvious you do!), we know that this time won’t last forever. This intense season will come to an end and a new one will begin. This helps us to endure the tiredness—it won’t last forever! And it helps us to seize and enjoy the opportunities and rewards—for they won’t be here forever, either.
But to live this season of motherhood to the fullest will require “losing yourself.” It’s part of the bargain. So far from being something to regret, losing yourself is the ultimate goal of motherhood. It gets to the heart of what it means to serve Christ. Actually, the very worry your friend has for you—that you might “lose yourself—is actually something that is commended and encouraged in multiple places in Scripture. For example, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 10:40). When you’ve lost your life, you’ve truly found it. In biblical logic, when you lose you win. Now, this certainly flies in the face of popular advice such as your friend has received and is seeking (with the best of intentions) to pass on to you. You are a discerning woman and you detect the lie embedded in this potentially attractive advice. But we are all vulnerable, which is why I would encourage you to do a Bible study of your own to strengthen your conviction and to encourage you as you persevere. Studying Scripture always helped me in seasons of weariness or doubt in motherhood, when everyone else seemed to be absorbing feminist ideology and I would wonder if it was all worth it. I would go back to Scripture to strengthen my convictions. Here are just a few verses to get you started. You find it in every gospel and sometimes more than once (Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, 17:33, John 12:25). Paul also covers this in Philippians (2:4-7). One of my favorite verses is in Isaiah which describes God’s care for those who care for others (Isa. 58:10-11). Those are just a few places to get you started, and I pray that they will serve your soul.
Finally, one thing I want to add by way of qualification—by “losing yourself” I don’t mean that you shouldn’t try to take care of yourself. Obviously, Scripture does not talk about denying ourselves to the neglect of basic care of our bodies and souls. You need rest—as much as you can get right now—and you need refreshment for your soul. So while I would wholeheartedly encourage you to continue to “lose yourself” for the sake of your children, I would also encourage you not to neglect sufficient rest and refreshment so you can serve your family even more effectively. So maybe consider, What are one or two things I can make sure I put or keep in my life that help strengthen me spiritually, physically, and emotionally? Maybe you need regular times alone to read a good book that encourages your soul. Maybe you need to be sure you get regular times with your husband, without the children. These are not selfish strategies, but rather intentional times of refreshment to strengthen you for service.
Katie, let me close by encouraging you again. It is obvious by your text and by your life that you have set your course in a God-honoring direction. I believe the Lord is pleased by your humility, your sacrifice, and your care for your family. I am praying that God would strengthen you and give you much encouragement. If there is any other way I can serve you, it would be my joy and delight.
2017 at 7:23 am | by Carolyn Mahaney
Last month I finished homeschooling two of my granddaughters, who are moving on to new schools for third grade. As I like to do at the beginning of each change of season in my life, I took some time to prayerfully plan. What next? How can I best serve my daughters and my grandchildren this year? Inspired by two godly grandmothers, I decided to start with the two most important areas of all: Scripture and prayer.
Sometimes we overcomplicate this grandma thing. We fret over what our grandchildren think of us and how we can make them happy. We struggle to figure out how to navigate our role in a way that doesn’t cause tension with our children. We dote on our grandchildren, and then we worry that we will spoil them. But even though cultural expectations change through the years, the biblical ideals for a grandmother are fixed and clear. Besides being a godly example, we can do no better for our grandchildren then to pray for them, and, as we have the opportunity, encourage them to love God’s Word.
Grandma Lois, the maternal grandmother of Paul’s son in the faith, Timothy, taught Timothy the Holy Scriptures from when he was just a baby (2 Tim. 1:5; 2 Tim. 3:14, 15). Lois didn’t leave all the biblical teaching and training to her daughter, Eunice. She was actively involved in teaching her grandson the Scriptures. I want to imitate Grandma Lois and be an active part of teaching each of my twelve grandchildren to know and love the Word of God.
I asked myself: What is one simple way that I can teach my grandchildren the Scriptures this summer? I came up with an idea to encourage Scripture memory. I call it 10for$10. I made a list of memory verses and challenged each of my grandchildren—from ages 4 to 17 to memorize as many verses as they can. For the older children, I will give them ten dollars for every ten verses memorized. For the littlest ones, the goal is more manageable—4 for $4 and 6 for $6, depending on their age. To keep things affordable, the 10for$10challenge runs from June 1 to August 31.
My hope is that, by the end of the summer, each one of my grandchildren will have memorized many verses that they will store up in their hearts for years to come. Yes, it might cost me a little money, but I can think of no better investment than to encourage my grandchildren to treasure God’s Word. I believe and pray that as they work on memorizing Scripture, God’s Word will work in their hearts to draw them closer to His Son.
Grandmother Katie, my paternal grandmother, had an astonishing fifty-six grandchildren! Even more remarkable, she prayed for each one of us by name, each and every day, until she went home to be with the Lord. Now that I am a grandmother I try to follow her example. Granted, it is easier—I only have twelve grandchildren which doesn’t feel like very many in comparison to Katie! And while I do pray for each of them by name, lately, I began to feel as if my prayers had become too general. So I decided to create a prayer notebook where I can catalog specific prayer requests for my grandchildren and the answers to those prayers.
I can think of no better way to encourage my daughters than to pray for the salvation and spiritual growth of each one of their children. And I can think of no better way to encourage my grandchildren than to let them know that their grandma is carrying their burdens—praying for their anxieties and trials, for their tests and their jobs, for whatever concerns weigh heavy on them as they navigate this tricky road to adulthood.
I’ll never measure up to Grandma Lois or Grandma Katie, but I do want to follow their amazing examples. I pray that, if nothing else, my grandchildren will be able to say that their grandmother was a woman who taught them to love God’s Word and who prayed faithfully for them. It’s simple, maybe, but it’s also hard to think of a better legacy I can leave my grandchildren. I pray God will bless my feeble efforts as he did for Grandma Lois and Grandma Katie.
You know when you find something new, and you enjoy it so much that you want everybody else to know about it? Well, that’s happened to me. I recently received a book: A Spectacle of Glory by Joni Eareckson Tada and I want you all to know about it. It is a daily devotional book. You know the ones: a short reading for each calendar day. Somehow over the years, I have accumulated a bunch of these devotional books, but this particular one has become a favorite. I have been reading it every day at the end of my Bible study and prayer time. What a sweet addition to my devotions it has become!
Joni’s devotional book includes insight from one verse concluding with a short prayer for every day. Let me give you just one example to whet your appetite:
April 19/Psalm 107:27-28
Today’s Scripture reads, “They were at their wits’ end. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress.” The expression “at their wits’ end” has been around a long time and is still in use today. It’s that point in life where you run into a massive obstacle or paint yourself into an impossible corner and have no idea what to do. The psalmist, however, gives us a snapshot of people who cried out to the Lord a their wits’ end—and He brought them out! What has brought you to your wits’ end? A family situation? Financial trouble? A health scare? A rebellious child? Here’s the good news: We might come to our wits’ end, but God never does. We might be out of answers, but God has answers. The solution is simple: Cry out to the Lord.
How unspeakably wonderful, God, to remember that Your wisdom has no limit. There is no knot on earth so tangled that You can’t untie it. There is no situation in life too involved, too complicated, or too baffling for You. When I’ve exhausted my last option, when I finally arrive at my wits’ end, You are able to bring me out.
There are 364 more gems, just like this one! Joni writes like she is sitting across from you, sharing—with all her contagious enthusiasm—the hope and comfort she herself has received from God’s Word. We could all do with a “Daily Dose of Joni” in our lives, spurring us on in our love for the Savior! I hope you will pick this book up and add it to your summer devotions.
When my mom graduated from high school, she had a plan. She was going to Bible college. She resigned her job as a secretary for a Christian ministry, enrolled in school, and packed her bags. Then a few days before she was set to move, she met my dad. It was love at first sight.
Mom never made it to Bible college. She got her old job back and a few months later married my dad. On May 17 of this year, they celebrated forty-two years of marriage and they are more in love than ever. Needless to say, her life didn’t go as planned.
What are your plans after graduation? Whether you have a five and ten-year plan or feel in a fog about the next step, there’s something about life you need to understand:
Life is unpredictable, and that’s on the best days.
If there’s one thing you can be certain of, it is that this is an uncertain world. Your life won’t go as planned. Sometimes the unexpected is exciting—like when my mom met my dad—but it can also be discouraging and bewildering at times.
We find a mini-commencement speech of sorts on this topic in Ecclesiastes chapter eleven. It contains valuable wisdom for graduates and everyone considering their future plans. Four times in six verses we find some variation on the phrase “you do not know.” Basically, there is a whole lot you don’t know about your life.
“You know not what disaster may happen on earth…” (v. 2) Another terrorist bombing. Another tornado season. You do not know what disaster, near or far, may change the course of your future.
“You do not know the work of God who makes everything…” (v. 5) You cannot explain God’s providence in your life so far or predict what he may call you to do in the future.
“You do not know which [effort] will prosper…” (v. 6)The economy is unpredictable. People and trends are unpredictable. You cannot know for sure what path will lead to the most success.
Life will surprise you, and not always in a good way. It’s uncertain and unpredictable.
Not only that, the only thing we can predict in this uncertain world is that it will be hard: “So if a person lives many years…let him remember that the days of darkness will be many” (v. 8).
In other words, Graduating Class of 2017, you don’t know what will happen with your life; but there’s one thing you can know one thing for sure: you will have many bad days.
Hardly the inspiring message you were hoping for, I know. But Ecclesiastes doesn’t just give us the bad news, it tells us how to live well in an uncertain world. When we face up to the unsettling reality that life doesn’t go as planned, we learn from Ecclesiastes how to make new and better plans.
How do we make good decisions in uncertain times? Ecclesiastes gives us three ways.
1. Be an Entrepreneur
“In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good” (v. 6).
Young people often spend a lot of time worrying about their life. They hesitate to commit to one direction or another. They worry about finding the will of God. They flounder.
But Ecclesiastes would tell you that the surest way to succeed in an uncertain world is to get to work. Work as hard as you can at whatever work God has put right in front of you. And you never know, it just might work.
Instead of “thinking of may-be’s and might-have-beens…our business is to grapple with what actually is, and what lies within reach,” advises Derek Kidner. “Few great enterprises waited for ideal conditions; no more should we.”
Coming to grips with uncertainty frees us to take risks for Christ. These words from Phil Ryken make an outstanding mission statement:
“It may be true that, to paraphrase this passage, ‘you never know,’ but it is equally true that ‘you will never reap if you never sow.’ So work hard for the kingdom of God. Live boldly and creatively. Try something new! Be a spiritual entrepreneur. Even if you are not completely sure what will work, try everything you can to serve Christ in a world that desperately needs the gospel. Work hard from morning till night, making the most of your time by offering God a full day’s work. Then leave the results to him, knowing that he will use your work in whatever way he sees fit.”
Be a spiritual entrepreneur. Work hard from morning until night. Try everything to serve Christ in a world that desperately needs the gospel. In an uncertain world, this is the certain path to a useful life.
2. Give Your Life Away
“Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth” (v. 2).
Trying to control our lives or predict the future makes us stingy. We won’t spend time on a “hopeless case.” We won’t serve the ungrateful. We won’t stay in that small church. We won’t volunteer for children’s ministry or the cleaning crew. We won’t give our all to a boring job.
But the woman who understands life’s volatility gives generously, almost recklessly, of her time, her love, and her service to others. She seeks out the lowly and the outcast. She listens patiently to the troubled. She serves in secret, and has what Zach Eswine calls “the stamina to go unnoticed.” Because who knows what may happen tomorrow?
[T]ime and chance can overturn our finest plans. If that can be a paralyzing thought, it can also be a spur to action: for if there are risks in everything, it is better to fail in launching out than in hugging one’s resources to oneself. We already catch a breath of the New Testament blowing through the first two verses, a hint of our Lord’s favourite paradox that ‘he who loves his life loses it’, and that ‘the measure you give will be the measure you get’. ~Derek Kidner
Give of yourself to others and don’t count the cost. Lose your life. Lose it now and you won’t worry so much about losing it later. You won’t have a mid-life crisis or what I heard about the other day, a quarter life crisis (for real?). Don’t react to the uncertainty of life by hoarding your time and talents. You do not know what will happen tomorrow, so give your life away today.
3. Enjoy Today
“So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all” (v. 8).
If it’s true that you will have many dark days—and it is true—then Ecclesiastes tells you to rejoice today.
Sure, you may have troubles today. You may have fears about the future, trepidation about your new job, despair about difficult circumstances, frustration that you are not yet where you had hoped to be yet. But don’t let the specter of the dark days of the future rob you of the joy of today.
Enjoy this moment, the grace of graduation, for it is an astounding grace! Be grateful for the privilege of learning, revel in the godly relationships you have forged, laugh over the memories. Relish every moment of the graduation experience with gratitude in your heart to God.
We lose so many of the good moments of our lives trying to prevent the bad ones. When we know that they will come, no matter how hard we try to avoid them, we are free to give God thanks for the evidences of his grace today.
When we enjoy each day, one day at a time, we will look back and realize that we had a happy life. There may be many sorrows, and many dark days, but when we deliberately rejoice in God every day, we will find we are a happy person in the end.
A Stimulating Call
Life is unpredictable. My mom could not have guessed how her life would radically change one summer day in 1974. And neither can you know what tomorrow holds. So how do we respond to life’s unpredictability?
Derek Kidner drives the lesson home:
“The true response to uncertainty is redoubling of effort…It is a stimulating call, with no thought of faltering, yet no trace of bravado or irresponsibility. The very smallness of our knowledge and control, the very likelihood of hard times so frequently impressed on us throughout the book, become the reasons to bestir ourselves and show some spirit.”
Class of 2017: May you not falter or boast, but armed with the knowledge of how little you know, may you rise up, show some spirit, and make the most of your life for the glory of our risen Savior.
My grandma likes to tell about the time my dad, a little boy of five at the time, wandered away from the house and out onto a busy street. He most certainly would have been hit by a speeding motorist, had it not been for his dog. True to his herding instincts, this noble collie walked between the cars and my dad and kept my dad from straying into traffic until the police found him. My dad’s dog saved his life.
We might not think about it like this at first, but trouble and hardship are like Dad’s dog. They keep us from straying into the busy street of sin. We don’t always appreciate their life-saving presence in the moment. Trials feel to us like that collie might have felt to Dad: annoying at best, painful at worst. Trouble sticks so close, it shoves so hard. It keeps us from going where we want to go. At times, trials knock us to the ground. We long to be free from their troublesome presence.
But the Psalmist views his trials as a life-saver: “Before I was afflicted I went astray,” he confessed, “but now I keep your word” (Ps. 119:67). To hear the Psalmist tell it, he’s actually glad that he experienced affliction! Now no one—least of all the Psalmist—is saying that affliction is pleasant or we should enjoy pain or hardship. But in the mystery of God’s ways, we should see each and every trial as a blessing. Afflictions are divine herd-dogs, sent by our gracious heavenly Father to protect us and keep us from sin.
For one, trials protect us from pride. They keep us humble; they keep us needy and dependent on God. It’s hard to think too highly of yourself when you are brought low—and that’s a blessing. Affliction can also keep us from straying out into the shiny streets of worldliness. We realize something of our frailty and our mortality when we suffer. We get a glimpse of the emptiness of all this world has to offer, and so we don’t rush headlong into sinful pleasures. And trials, when we respond to them as gifts from God, can keep us from being callous others. We are more compassionate, more caring, more understanding because we know a little of what pain feels like. Each trial in our lives—big or small—protects us from sin and leads us back to God. And to joy.
Wait, did you say joy? We think of our trials as joy-takers, not joy-bringers. “Before I was afflicted I was happy, but now I am sad all the time” is how we put it. But there is a difference between trials being unpleasant—which they are—and trials robbing us of our joy. Our afflictions are sent by God to lead us joy. Listen to Joni Eareckson Tada, quadriplegic and in chronic pain since she was in a diving accident at age 17. “I’m grateful for my quadriplegia. It’s a bruising of a blessing. A gift wrapped in black. It’s the shadowy companion that walks with me daily, pulling and pushing me into the arms of my Savior. And that’s where the joy is.”
Trials not only keep us from sin, they push us back to the arms of our Savior. And that’s where the joy is. The Psalmist doesn’t just get back to the duty of God’s Word, now he delights to keep God’s Word. Now he has joy! One of the things we lose in our Stoic-slanted view of the Christian life is how to find joy. We think all the delight and happiness is out there, on the busy byways of sin. So we go wandering from home, we stray from Christ. And affliction, by the grace of God, brings us back. It keeps us safe. It leads us back to where the joy is.
So if you feel followed by that “shadowy companion” Affliction, if Trial is always nipping at your heels, if Trouble keeps shoving you to one side, give thanks for your “bruising of a blessing.” May your trouble, major or minor, push you into the arms of the Savior. May your affliction lead you back home—to joy.
2017 at 8:59 am | by Janelle Bradshaw
Summer was always my favorite season as a little girl, and I ran headlong into those glorious months free from school with all the energy I possessed. So now, as I come upon another summer as a mom with four children I’m equally excited. I’m also grateful for the example my mom set for me growing up. As with everything else in life, she approached our summers with great intentionality. Now don’t get me wrong—she provided many wonderful opportunities for fun and rest. I still remember our local pool which offered an hour of “free swim” every morning from 8-9 during the summer. Most days, my mom would drive us, and a carload of our friends, to swim in the ice cold waters of Upper County Pool. How we ever thought “freezing swim” was summer fun is a mystery to me, but Mom provided this and many other summer memories that I will always cherish.
But Mom also saw summer as a land of opportunity and refused to let us squander it. One specific memory I have is the afternoon of “quiet time” she required. After lunch from 1-3, we had to stay inside and spend at least an hour of that time reading. The other hour was to be spent in some other constructive pursuit such as art, music, cooking, sewing etc I still remember chafing against this rule, not exactly appreciating “quiet time,” as it interrupted my play time. Sorry about that Mom! But I was chatting with Nicole the other day about this very thing, and we were recounting all the good that came from that small requirement. Obviously, it instilled in us a love for reading but that was just the beginning. It also helped us to appreciate the value of structure and scheduling, of habit and discipline. It gave us focused time to cultivate our gifts and desires. Many of the things we love and pursue today such as art and writing were born in those hours of summer quiet. The benefit we have received helps us persevere in creating similar structures for our own children. So much value from such a small and simple practice.
And so, as school draws to a close, let’s ask: How can we be intentional this summer? Is there a skill that one of our children has been wanting to learn? Is there a particular character quality where we can creatively facilitate growth in our family? Maybe for you, this will be the “summer of kindness” for your kiddos, like it was for Nicole’s a couple years ago. Maybe you can create a structure for your kiddos to grow in reading, which happens to be my summer goal this year. This will look different for each of us, but just remember, a little bit of intentionality in these years has the power to effect not only your kids but even your future grandkids. That’s a summer to get excited about!