I was torn yesterday morning between believing, as I do, that throughout this last week the Spirit was guiding my preparations to preach from the letter of James, and, at the same time, desiring to say a word about the events of the last weekend within this nation – events centered in Charlottesville, VA – and what that says about our nation, and about other evils that have transpired throughout the world this last week, in places like North Korea, and what that says about this world.
And so, before turning to the letter of James, I briefly addressed these matters.
In our time together last Sunday morning, we spent quite a bit of time examining the book of Job and the book of Ecclesiastes – two of the books of wisdom found in the Old Testament. Not so much the proverbial wisdom of the book of Proverbs – meaning principles for wise living – but rather the contemplative wisdom that tries to respond to the brokenness of this world where things don’t go the way they should.
Tightly related to the contemplative wisdom of Job and Ecclesiastes are the songs of lament found throughout the Bible. Cries to God asking one of two questions: “Why, O Lord,” or, “How long, O Lord?”
Not, “Why have these things happened?” That’s not the question, for it’s evident why: the hearts of men and women are corrupt and full of evil (Gen 6:5) – the evil of pride and hate – hate for anyone who is different from yourself, thus exalting yourself in your own eyes.
Hate-filled pride – this is the root of racism, nationalism, and terrorism. The question is not, “Why have these things happened”, but, “Why, O Lord, have You allowed them to happen,” and, “How long, O Lord, will You allow this evil to continue?”
What answer do we find in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes, or the songs of lament? God does not explain Himself. He instead draws our attention to the ways that He has already proven His wisdom, goodness, and power in the things He has made, and in the works of redemption that He has performed. He asks us to humbly trust Him.
In the letter of James, God offers us wisdom, if we will ask for it in faith. If we are willing to lay aside our complaints against the way that He is ruling this world, He will grant us the wisdom to see His proven character and to trust Him for what we cannot see and do not understand.
It is right for us to lament and to ask ,“Why, O Lord,” and, “How long, O Lord”, granted that we do so in faith, humbly submitting to His purposes for this world and asking for the wisdom to trust Him. Let us do so now.
Father, we cry out to you, with hearts burdened by the brokenness and the evil that surround us.
We yearn to know things that we cannot know – to know why, and how long.
Lord, help us to hold fast to what we do know: We know of your wisdom, your goodness, and your power, for you have proven these in sending your Son to live, to suffer, and to die in our place, so that undeserving sinners such as us may be forgiven our sins – though we deserve death.
Lord, grant us the wisdom to see you so clearly that we are then empowered and inclined to trust you for what we cannot see.
We plead with you, Lord, that the most vile, proud, and hate-filled men and women of this world would cease from their reign of terror and would be given new hearts transformed by your love, as our hearts have been transformed by your love. We pray that you would glorify yourself in their salvation, as you have glorified yourself in our salvation, and that you would spare others from any further suffering at their hands.
Lord, help us to see the ways that we can confront hate-filled pride wherever it may be found, especially if it be found in us.
Lord, by your Spirit, help this family of faith to be a beacon of light in the darkness – a picture and foretaste of the diverse gathering of the saints in heaven where people from every race and culture and nation and language will worship before the throne and before the Lamb forever (Rev 7:9).
In and for the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior we pray, Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria,
As a pastor’s wife, I always have one eye open for devotional books that are easily accessible, theologically sound, and deeply encouraging to people fighting the battle that is the Christian life. I found such a one in this book by Michael Branch.
“True Stories” is a delightfully convicting treasury of devotionals, which draw on the author’s life experiences and the truths about God that he finds in them. I think this is Branch’s elegance as an author: He sees through the messiness of life, fixes his eyes on Jesus, and magnifies the Savior by masterfully preparing a banquet of words for the rest of us to feast on.
The book is structured as such: Each narrative is preceded by a Scripture verse. After using a surprisingly small number of words (for the conviction wrought) to point the reader to Jesus, the author then offers a small word of challenge or encouragement for the day, along with a brief statement that reveals a pertinent facet of the gospel. Each story is quick—I took my time and rarely spent more than two or three minutes on one. I think this makes “True Stories” an excellent accompaniment to one’s quiet time—or a great book to keep on hand for down time throughout the day.
In particular, I was most spiritually challenged by the sections entitled “True Freedom” and “Hurting, Hoping, Heaven”. These sections stayed with me the longest, perhaps due to their vulnerable nature and my own experience with suffering. They forced me to linger on the hard questions they ask. When you buy this book, anticipate being moved by these accounts.
If you are in the market for a solid, joyful, Gospel-centered devotional to enliven your daily walk with the Lord, this is the one.
Being an extremely decisive person, it is uncommon for me to go very long without forming an opinion about something–particularly a book. It bothers me loads when this happens. I realized today that, sometimes, worldviews are slightly varied such that I can’t fully reject what an author is saying, but I also can’t agree with everything the book says. That’s where I’ve landed with Still Waiting by Ann Swindell.
I googled Ann to learn a little more about her; she seems like a fabulous gal! I believe that she loves the Lord and His Word. I believe she wants to apply it to her life in the most honest way possible. She has struggled for decades with trichotillomania, which is “a mental disorder that involves recurrent, irresistible urges to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows or other areas of your body, despite trying to stop.” (Mayo Clinic). I can completely understand why she would seek deliverance from this issue, though the reasons are likely different from why I would seek to be rid, once and for all, of Lyme disease. Both circumstances offer their own set of life challenges.
But, out of the gate, I think we are coming from two different angles.
While I suspect the author would agree that God is the great (and only) Heart-Changer, the majority of the book focuses on her desire for two things: relief from the desire to pull (behavioral change) and physical healing. She mentions very early in the book that anxiety was the onset cause of her trichotillomania. Anxiety . . . a heart issue, not a physical issue. (One could argue that a predisposition to anxiety is genetic, which could be true; but I would counter by wondering, if one predisposed to anxiety were removed from the environment containing the pre-exisiting anxiety, would he still struggle with anxiety? Is it nature or nurture that brings anxiety bubbling to the surface?)
I waited and waited for the chapter that told about the author’s experience in repenting of this anxiety (with which she continues to struggle) and finding freedom to live within the freedom that comes from that (even if she still pulled). But it never came.
Please don’t read that I am judging her heart; that’s not my place. I don’t know her and can’t know what she is thinking and feeling, aside from what I just read. She probably has asked the Lord to relieve her anxiety. But since that one chapter (an important one, in my mind) is missing from this book, I can’t fathom giving it to someone who struggles with anxiety and has claimed it as her identity (e.g., “I just have an anxious personality.”). I wouldn’t feel right having someone come away from a book without being encouraged to address the root of the issue. In my experience, when I am anxious it is because I have stopped trusting the Lord for some reason or another. There is no permanent, medical solution for anxiety; but there is a God who is able and trustworthy, and Who commands us not to be anxious.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[g] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6)
Again, I think we’re just coming at this topic from different perspectives. With that issue out of the way, I can say that I did find valuable truths in these pages. It certainly encouraged my heart many times, with regard to waiting. (We’re doing a bunch of waiting these days!) I just can’t get super excited about this book.
So . . . I’m not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but I recommend reading it less as a self-help book (that’s not what it is), but with an eye for the truths about God that will encourage the soul.
Soli Deo gloria,