Hi everyone, Evan here. It’s hard to believe, but it’s been over 5 years since Brian came to me with the idea to launch #LiveFully. I was honored to help and it’s been fun watching #LiveFully grow. Since then, we’ve written hundreds of blog posts and Brian has done incredible work with the #LiveFully book and course.
I’m now excited to share something new that I’ve been working on. After writing more than 150 #LiveFully blog posts, I started thinking more about a unique perspective on the gospel I could provide. Several months of planning, research, trial and error, prayer, and more have led me to today. Earlier this week I did a soft launch of a new website called Embracing Exile, and you guys are some of the first to hear about it.
Now, why on earth would I name a website Embracing Exile? For the full story, you can read the About page. But here is the short answer: As Believers, we are part of the Kingdom of God. Despite this, we’re all living in a world that does not know God. Embracing Exile takes the principles of Jeremiah 29:5-7 and 1 Peter 2-3 and explains what Christian living should look like in a secular world in a thoughtful, occasionally humorous way.
There are three main categories of posts, and each one deals with how we live for God’s Kingdom in a specific area of life – the workplace, the community, and the family. As we often said around #LiveFully, life with God isn’t just about Sundays, life with God fills all.
So I hope you will visit Embracing Exile and consider subscribing. If you do subscribe, you’ll get a free ebook that I’ve spent the last few months writing. It’s called Lead Like an Exile: 15 Leadership Principles from the Book of Nehemiah. Each Principle includes a story from the book of Nehemiah and applies a leadership principle to our modern lives. Nehemiah wasn’t a prophet, priest, or king. He was a great leader with a vision, and he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem when no one thought it was possible. I’ve learned so much about leadership while writing this book, and if you read it, I’m sure you will become a better leader as well.
Once again, thanks for your support of #LiveFully over the years. I hope you will continue to support the #LiveFully movement! And of course, I hope you consider joining Embracing Exile. I’d love to stay in touch.
Last week we discussed 3 forgotten benefits of Sabbath rest. Today we’ll share several methods to help you actually enjoy Sabbath rest. This kind of rest is about more than just doing nothing, you need to be intentional in how you rest. Attention should be given, not only to your body, but also your heart, mind, and soul.
This is the Lord’s day. Start it right, by making it about Him. When He comes first, you will benefit the most. Sing his praises, read his Word, pray. Prepare your heart before going to church, and you’ll likely get more out of church as well. Psalms 92 is a cool passage to read, and written for the Sabbath.
Keep your activity non-vocational
Sabbath rest doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. Some activities are, indeed, quite restful and good for the soul. However, keep your Sabbath activities non-vocational. Your vocation is, essentially, what you do to for a living (work or study).
For instance, I love to go fly-fishing. While some would call it work, when I go fishing on Sunday afternoon it is remarkably restful. I enjoy the quiet time in God’s Creation (and love catching fish!) However, if I was a professional fisherman, then I probably shouldn’t go fishing on the Sabbath.
Work enough so you can rest
Exodus 20:8 says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” I think this is particularly important for student sand people with jobs that include homework (such as my wife, Morgan, who is a teacher). The temptation is to skip the homework until Sunday night, and then declare, “my ox is in a ditch and I need to work on the Sabbath!”
The problem here, however, is that you never fully rest. You get a bit of rest on Saturday, but it is also filled with worry and concern about the homework you’ll have to do the next day. Sunday comes around and you go to church, get a short Sabbath experience, and then have to do lots of work. You probably get to bed late because you underestimated how much time it would take, and then you’re tired on Monday to start the week!
This last semester, Morgan tried to be real intentional about getting all her schoolwork done on Saturday, and Sunday became a much better experience. She used to dread Sunday nights, but when she finished all her labor in six days, she was able to truly rest and enjoy the seventh day of the week. This also meant she was more charged for Monday!
Avoid Work Email
Our generation is more connected than ever before. While most people don’t go into work on their Sabbath, technology makes it very tempting to check work emails. I regularly fight this urge on Sabbath days because I want to get ahead or make sure nothing is wrong. But ultimately, the purpose of Sabbath is to remember that my life is in God’s hands. By choosing to not check work email, my actions are demonstrating that I actually believe God is in control.
Not only that, but a day of rest means I can show up on Monday and be fully charged. Numerous studies (two were mentioned last week) have shown that employees who take one day off work each week consistently achieve more.
Take a nap
Sabbath day naps are my favorite. They should be yours as well.
In Mark 3:4, Jesus asks a question that should have a rather obvious answer: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?”
Clearly, the correct answer is that we should do good and save lives. Granted, you should probably be doing good and saving lives every day of the week, but the Sabbath is a great time to pause, observe what is happening in your life, and ensure you are taking opportunities to love your neighbor as yourself.
Rest in Community
Sabbath doesn’t mean you have to go into the woods and be a hermit. God made us for relationship, and it is encouraging and refreshing to rest with others. Either way, going to church on Sunday isn’t just about attending. Engage with the family of God, be encouraged and appreciate what God is doing in the lives of others, and share what He is doing in your life.
Likewise, this is a special opportunity to spend time with your family. Do activities with them, have a game night, enjoy a devotional together.
Remember the Lord of the Sabbath
I’m sure a day at the beach would be very restful for you, but remember that Sabbath is also about resting your heart, mind, and soul. Those things require time with God. Furthermore, Matthew 12:8 declares that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. It’s his day, so you should probably spend time with him.
So make every effort to get to church, where you can hear wise people preach on his Word and you can sing His praises. Many people believe they don’t need church to have a healthy relationship with God, but as we discussed in our Justin Bieber post, as Christians we need the church.
You can also remember the Lord of the Sabbath by taking time in the afternoon to pray and listen or have a family devotion. Reflect on the good things He has done in your life. Think about him while you go fishing or bowling or dancing. Remember, it is the Lord’s day, not just the Lord’s morning!
Your turn: What is your favorite way to rest on the Sabbath?
If you want to #LiveFully, then rest must be part of your routine. American culture does not celebrate rest. If anything, we often shun it. But the Bible commands that we rest, and the reasons are largely for our benefit. Below, you’ll find 3 important benefits for taking a complete day to rest.
Once again, I’m borrowing content from a Tim Keller sermon. If you’d like to learn more about rest, I highly recommend you give it a listen.
Rest allows us to enjoy the work we’ve done
Genesis 2:1-3 says the following, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.“
God does not grow tired. He did not need a break. So why did He rest?
Firstly, He wanted to set a precedent for us. But also, I believe he wanted to take the time to enjoy the work he had done. After all, He just created the world! And in the text we see that He observed his creation and appreciated that it was “very good.”
We often move so fast in life that we never stop and reflect on what we’ve done. This can make our work feel meaningless and drain our lives of purpose. Instead, we should follow God’s example and actually rest, once per week, to think about and appreciate the things we’ve accomplished and learned.
Rest revives us and enables better work
More and more studies are demonstrating that humans without rest are actually less productive than those who rest well. A recent study from Stanford states, “employee output falls sharply after a 50-hour work-week, and falls off a cliff after 55 hours—so much so that someone who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours.”
Joel Gascoigne did an experiment where he worked 7 days per week, with specific periods of rest scattered through each day. The experiment failed, and his reasoning is important: “I feel like the 7-day work week failed because of lack of an extended period of renewal.”
The truth is, we need rest. It recharges our brains and our bodies so that we can focus and achieve more. We should find a little time to rest everyday, but our body and soul actually needs an extended period of rest where it can truly recharge.
Rest reminds us of who we are
The most difficult thing about rest is the voice in our heads that says, “you still have so much to do. If you don’t get it done, you could lose your job or appear like a failure or disappoint someone.”
Effective rest ignores this nagging voice, and replaces it with the truth of the Gospel. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Sabbath rest is an opportunity to remind ourselves of God’s truth. As we take the time to seek him out, through church and prayer and the Word, He speaks to our hearts and reminds us that we belong to Him. We are loved, we are valued, and nothing we can do will make Him love us more or less.
When we rest in that, we are able to return to work and focus on glorifying Him, instead of glorifying ourselves. We don’t have to worry about becoming a failure or disappointment, because we’ll know the Creator of the universe thinks we’re worth dying for!
Next week, we will explore what it actually means to rest.
Your turn: what benefits have you found in Sabbath rest?
For the last 75 years, a group of researchers at Harvard have studied a group of men to determine the secret to having a good life. A book was published to share the results of the study, but since most of you would rather watch a video than read an entire book, you can watch a Ted Talk summary below:
And, since some of you won’t want to watch a 12 minute video, I’ve also highlighted the key points:
Robert Waldinger, the 4th director of this study, summed of the results by saying this, “The clearest message that we get from this 75 year study is this: good relationships keep us happier and healthier.”
In other words, happiness wasn’t about being wealthy. Happiness wasn’t about being famous. Happiness didn’t come from working 70 hours per week. It wasn’t even about pancakes or queso dip!
But still, this couldn’t hurt my happiness, right?
Instead, happiness (and greater health) actually came from good relationships. Waldinger went on to identify three specific benefits that support their main message:
“Social connections are really good for us, and loneliness kills.”
“It’s not the number of friends you have, but the quality of those close relationships matter.”
“Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains.”
Good relationships actually improved people’s happiness, health, and brain power. Loneliness decreased those things.
But this isn’t about how many friends you have on Facebook. In fact, it has been said that even though we are the most connected generation, we are also the loneliest.
As many of you know, it can feel very lonely in a crowd. I remember going to summer camp as a kid one time, only to find my friends had to cancel. I knew no one, and despite being surrounded by hundreds of kids my age (who were all having a great time), I felt very lonely. If we’re disconnected from real-life relationships, then watching everyone have fun on social media can feel very similar to a permanent week of my summer camp.
The results of this study shouldn’t surprise us. Scripture has pointed us to the importance of relationships for thousands of years. Romans 13:9 says, “For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
This list could go on, but God consistently calls us to love others, because without love, we really have nothing.
There are a few applications I’d suggest in light of this study:
Focus on real-life relationships: I’m a fan of social media, but I know it can’t hold a candle to actually interacting with people in real life (or even on the phone). It may be easier to aimlessly scroll through a news feed, but if you want to live a happy life, then you must pursue real relationships. I’d take 5 strong, encouraging relationships over 500 facebook connections any day.
Keep relationships fresh: Waldinger actually suggests this in the Ted video; doing new and/or exciting things with loved ones will improve your relationship with them. Go on date nights, play sports, join a book club, worship together, and do whatever it is you can imagine to keep relationships growing.
Focus less on riches and fame: Many Americans are obsessed with these goals. We kill ourselves to get ahead, but this often hurts the most important relationships in our lives. Ted Turner, one of the most famous and successful people in the last 100 years, had this to say about the success he had. “I have been to the end of the rainbow, and there is no pot of gold.” In other words, success without relationships will leave you feeling hollow.
Prioritize the ultimate relationship in life: If relationships with people can increase your happiness, healthiness, and brain power, then imagine what a relationship with God can do. Not only that, when we love Him first, we will find our ability to love others will only increase. As 1 John 4:7-8 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.“
I’ve never really bought into the fear of old age that’s rampant in our culture today. I don’t exactly love the idea of a slower metabolism or bad knees, but I figured it is balanced with an increase in knowledge and wisdom.
If in20years.com is to be believed, I won’t go grey! But my face will become increasingly greasy and leathery.
But here’s the problem, that increase in knowledge and wisdom is not what I expected. There is this strange dichotomy, and I’m not sure how to handle it. For every one thing I learn, I seem to encounter one hundred new things that I don’t understand!
In a single day, even in a single minute, I can feel both a growing sense of confidence in my newfound abilities and an overwhelming despair at my lack of abilities. This happens to me in all spheres of life: knowledge of God, relationships, business, politics, hobbies, marriage, and the list goes on.
I remember a mentor of mine, Drew, once showed me a pinecone. He said, “you’re a smart guy, you understand things well. But you need to realize something, your understanding is limited to this pinecone. Someday you’ll realize that this pinecone is actually part of a tree, and that tree is part of a forest, and that forest is part of this whole earth.”
I’m just now starting to see what he meant, and it’s a little terrifying. The world used to have simple problems and simple solutions, but now they seem more complex than ever. There are billions of people on Earth, each with a heart that is more complex than I can imagine. As Jeremiah puts it, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
I’m 29 years old right now, to some that’s young and to others that is old, but supposing good health I’m about a third of the way through life (give or take a few years). If, at 29, I’ve grown this much aware of how small I am in this huge world, where will I stand when I’m 40? 64? 78?
Perhaps I’m getting too philosophical right now (it happens sometimes). But here are two thoughts that have given me comfort this morning:
2 Corinthians 12:9-10But [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Isaiah 40:28Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
Perhaps growing older isn’t such a bad thing. If an increase in knowledge means I will grow to understand my weakness more, then it will only drive me to God more, For His power is made perfect in my weakness.
There is a multitude of verses that discuss the vastness of God’s knowledge, grace, and mercy. As a kid, I used to think we might get bored in Heaven. But now that I am increasingly aware of the vastness of this universe, and the exponentially larger vastness of the God who made it all, I’m quite looking forward to eternity. God simply has so much to offer that we will never come close to boredom.
Your turn: Does anyone else ever experience this collision with their inadequacies?
My wife Morgan told me about a quote she once read as a teenager. Her dad made her read it when she lost the plot* because of a door ding on her car. She didn’t appreciate it at the time, but has since grown to really appreciate its truth:
“The longer I love, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church….a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.” – Charles R. Swindoll
There isn’t much to add to that really, I think the idea speaks for itself. I would, however, like to add this one little nugget.
I’ve always been amazed at the attitude of the apostles throughout the books of Acts. Acts 5:40-41 is where their impressive attitudes are first described: “they beat [the apostles] and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.“
I always read this and thought, “who does that?! Who rejoices when they get beaten?!” The apostles showed an attitude that is far beyond my abilities in such a situation.
And perhaps that is the key. In order to have an attitude that rejoices, even in times of challenge and darkness, we need God’s strength. I don’t have the ability, but God does. When I seek Him out, He changes my heart. And it is from this heart that our attitudes reach the surface.
We live in a broken world, but it still carries the echoes of Eden. You will experience disappointment, heartache, pain, and sorrow. You will also experience joy, success, friendship. As humans, our tendency is to look inward when both bad or good things happen. “How could this terrible thing happen to me?” or “It is so awesome that I am successful.”
Instead, in both the good times and the bad, we should turn our hearts to worship God. He is the Author of life, and developing an attitude of worship for Him will ensure we experience the most fulfilling life possible.
*Lost the Plot is a commonly used phrase in New Zealand that means “To cease to behave in a consistent and/or rational manner.”
Over the last year I’ve been taking an improv course. If you don’t know what improv is, then I suggest you watch this excellent example:
Essentially, an improvised performance is one you make up on the spot. There is no script! In order to be successful, I’ve had to learn a lot about effective storytelling. Perhaps the most helpful lesson has been the importance of good characters.
You simply cannot have good stories without good characters. They drive the story forward, their decisions and actions make things happen. They may find themselves in extraordinary circumstances, but the way characters handle those circumstances is what makes a story interesting.
Next time you watch a movie or read a novel or attend a play, pay attention to the characters. You will find that they act according to their nature. We expect Jim to prank Dwight, we expect Sam to help Frodo, we expect Mr. Darcy to pursue Elizabeth. We expect these things because they are true to the character, and yet, those expected actions often find ways to surprise us.
If you did not enjoy a story, I’d bet a primary reason was the lack of good characters. I have experienced this firsthand during improv performances. When I walk onto the stage and jump too quickly into a character that has nothing special or interesting, the scenes drag on and are torturous for myself and the audience. If, however, I spend a little more time developing an interesting character, then the story practically tells itself and is always engaging.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our lives are basically stories, and each one of us is a main character in our respective story. If you want your story to be interesting, then you must recognize the importance of actually being a good character.
Performing an Improv scene
At different times, life will send you challenges and conveniences, pain and joy, trials and blessings. In the book, How People Change, the authors describe how us humans often blame external factors for the way we behave. The reality, however, is that we respond to those external situations in a way that is true to our character.
For instance, I often blame the traffic when it causes me to erupt in anger and swearing. But the cause of that irate behavior is actually in my own heart, not on the road.
The key, then, to being a great character and living an excellent story is a changed heart. This cannot be done in our own power, but only through the work of the Gospel and Holy Spirit.
And so, if you truly want to live a story worth remembering, if you want to live fully, then it starts by spending time at the feet of Jesus. Allow God to work in your heart, to change you and make you more like Him. He is the great potter, the author of life, and His hands will ensure that your story is one worth telling.
Your turn: who is your favorite character in a famous story?
Now I need to make a couple of confessions. First, Morgan did not drag me to see the film. It was my suggestion. Yes I know it’s a princess movie. But I’m a bit of a film fanatic, I love Disney, and enjoy Director Kenneth Branagh‘s work. So sue me.
Secondly, I actually enjoyed it. Granted, Cinderella does more dress twirling than I thought necessary and it isn’t a perfect film, but it features the right amount of charm and Disney magic that can make even the most cynical people smile. Even better, I haven’t seen a movie with so much Gospel truth in a long time. I highly recommend you (and your kids) watch it.
While many moments stick out to me, I’m going to focus on just a few of them. Things might get a bit spoilery here, so consider reading this after watching the movie. That being said, most people know the Cinderella story and so the things below shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.
The film introduces us to a young girl, named Ella. Like many Disney films, she loses both her parents. She is then left with her cruel Stepmother and two Stepsisters. They change her name from Ella to “Cinderella” because of the ashes on her face from all the serving work they force her to do.
Img source: Rotten Tomatoes
Throughout the entire story, her stepmother feeds her this identity, “the ragged servant girl is what you are, and that is what you will always be.” It is no coincidence that her stepmother’s cat is named “Lucifer.”
This identity stays with Cinderella throughout the movie. She frequently questions whether or not a prince could actually love her because she has so little to offer.
“And I’m just a lizard”
The scene that resonated with me the most comes when Cinderella arrives at the ball. She says something to her coachman (who is actually a lizard transformed by the fairy godmother), that goes something like this:
“I’m scared Mr. Lizard, I’m just a girl, not a princess.”
Mr. Lizard responds, “And I am just a lizard, not a coachman. But we can enjoy it while it lasts.”
This exchange works for Ella, who embraces her new identity as a princess, even if it is for just a few hours.
As she walked up the stairs with a huge smile, I was struck by something. We are all just people, unworthy of the glories of God’s Kingdom because of our sin. Despite this, God chose to adopt us all as children, making us heirs in His Kingdom.
Img source: Rotten Tomatoes
But we are not limited to enjoying our new identity as royalty for a few hours. Because of Christ’s work we can enjoy and embrace our new identity for all eternity. Romans 8:14-18 describes it this way, ”
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.“
Take me as I am
When the clock strikes midnight, Ella runs for it. She is afraid that when the prince learns who she truly is, he will reject her. But this is not the case. Instead, the Prince searches the Kingdom to find the woman he loves.
When he finally does, she identifies herself as “Cinderella” She tells him, “I have nothing to offer you, no land or ruling advantage, no dowry or riches. Will you take me as I am?”
The prince is not deterred. He loves Cinderella for who she is and asks for her hand in marriage.
And this is how Christ accepts us. We are tempted to believe that we need to offer God something special before he will accept us. We think “If I were a bit more holy” or “if I do more good works” or “once I start going to church more” then God will accept us into His Kingdom.
But Jesus doesn’t ask us for good works or religious performance. He doesn’t require or money or our land. All he asks is for our heart. No matter where you are or what you’ve done, all you need to do is repent (turn towards Jesus) and believe (that Jesus loves you and can save you).
Happily Ever After
Almost all fairy tales end with the words, “And they lived happily ever after.”
If you’re a believer in Jesus, then those words are not just make believe. There is a Kingdom waiting for us all, and together we shall live with the King and truly know what it means to live happily ever after.
Your turn: Did you see Cinderella? What did you think? Is it ok for a grown adult man without a daughter to enjoy this movie?
I’ve had conversations with many non-believers that go something like this: “I just can’t believe in an all-powerful God with all the bad stuff happening in the world. Disease, murder, hunger; if He is real then why does God allow suffering?”
I would imagine that everyone has asked themselves this question at some point in their lives. Despite feeling incredibly inadequate to answer this question, I am going to attempt to do so in the best way I can. It’s not a simple answer, in fact, I think it requires several answers. The five answers below do not necessarily stand alone, but I believe they can work together to give us peace and understanding about the suffering in this world.
The Killing Fields in Phnom Penh – a site of tremendous pain and suffering
1) God created a world without suffering
Genesis 1:31 says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
God is powerful enough to create a perfect world without pain and suffering. But He also desired for His people to love Him, and love is a choice. If mankind had no choice to love or reject God, then we could not truly love Him. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve chose to reject God’s love and His way.
As a direct result of our rejection of God’s good ways, we inherited all the bad things. Some of these are a direct result of people’s actions: stealing, murder, and so on. But Genesis says the very ground is cursed because of our sin. Natural disasters, diseases, and death were not part of the original plan, but because of sin they are a regular occurrence.
2) Suffering reminds us that we need God
A couple years ago I met Laura Story, the singer/songwriter behind Blessings. Laura’s husband, Martin, had a terrible brain tumor. They were able to successfully remove the tumor, but unfortunately, there was some lasting damage. He lost his peripheral vision and has a memory deficit.
It was a very challenging event, and it presents new challenges every day. The song Laura wrote is a powerful exploration of the pain and trials in our life. One line that always sticks out to me is this: What if my greatest disappointments, Or the aching of this life, Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy.
CS Lewis once said, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” This, then, is one of the reasons we still have pain: it grabs our attention and reminds us that true satisfaction can only come from God.
This, then, is one of the reasons we still have suffering: it grabs our attention and reminds us that true satisfaction can only come from God.
3) Suffering works for our good
An entire book could be written about Romans 8:28-30. Most people are familiar with verse 28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” It is both frightening and encouraging to know that, for the Christian, all things work together for good.
But I’m not sure we always understand what “good” means. The good that God promises in our life isn’t a better job, attractive spouse, larger bank account, or awesome vacation. When bad things happen, I think our hope is far too often in a tangible gift from God. But God promises something better, and He does so in verses 29 and 30:
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.“
What is the good that God has called us to? To be conformed to the image of his Son, and like Jesus, to ultimately bring us into glory. That means God uses all things in our life, including the trials, pain, and suffering, to make us more like Jesus.
4) Jesus can identify with us in suffering
We often forget that God himself has experienced tremendous suffering. It can be easy to get angry with Him when He gets to enjoy Heaven and we have to suffer here. But Jesus took on flesh and experienced all the pain and suffering a human can imagine. He was sick, he lost loved ones, and his death was torturous.
A few verses in Hebrews 2 explains this rather vividly. Verse 9 says, “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Continuing in verse 14, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
I find it remarkably comforting to know that we have a God who knows exactly what I am going through. He himself has suffered, and He can offer help and comfort in ways we cannot even comprehend.
5) God will put an end to all suffering
This is the kicker. Without this point, I think I would still struggle to understand why a good God could allow so much suffering. People want to know, why doesn’t God fix everything? The answer is this: God will fix everything. He will bring justice to the people of the world who cause suffering, and He will put an end to all future suffering.
Revelation 21:3-5 says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
It was this hope that kept Paul going through his many trials. The guy was beaten, stoned, flogged, shipwrecked, snake bitten, and more. But despite all these suffering, he had this to say in Romans 8:13, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Like Paul, we must also cling to this hope. Our present suffering is a blip compared to the eternity we can enjoy with God. If you are experiencing suffering now, please understand that I have no intention of minimizing your pain. Suffering can be unbearable and long lasting, but ultimately, the glory God has planned for us is so vast that our present suffering is simply “not worth comparing.”
To #LiveFully does not mean you will never suffer. But rather, when you suffer, it means you will seek after the Lord and His peace. It means God will use your suffering to change you into His image. It means you will trust the God who identifies with our suffering. And it means we can hope in the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Your turn: How do you cope with suffering when it occurs in your life?
Ask the average 16-29 year old how they would describe Christians, and one of their first words would be “judgmental.” To say this bothers me is an understatement. Being judgmental is completely contrary to the very essence gospel, and yet Christians have acted in such a way that it is core to our modern identity.
First, let’s describe what people typically mean when they describe someone as judgmental. Essentially, if you are overly critical of everyone else, then you are being judgmental. This is especially true when you criticize others in order to look better yourself. A classic judgmental statement is something like, “I’m better than you because you ____________, but I ___________.
The Gospel Truth
But the Gospel has no room for this type of behavior. Christianity is unique in its message: “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10) and “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
That means it doesn’t matter if you’re Christian or Pagan, gay or straight, black or white, Western or Eastern, vegan or carnivore, sober or drunk, all of us have fallen short. None of us are good enough for God’s glory, we cannot meet His standard.
If this was the end of the story, it would be rather depressing. But it is not the end, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
We were not good enough, but Jesus is. He died in our place, and we can rest in his work to receive eternal life. Therefore, when God looks at those who believe, He no longer sees the things we’ve done, but rather the work Christ has done on our behalf. It is a marvelous thing, a beautiful gift, and the greatest act of love all time.
Understanding the Gospel
Which brings us to the problem of judgmentalism. If you look down on someone and believe you are better than them because you don’t drink, cuss, or steal, then you have failed to recognize two essential truths of the gospel:
1) You cannot earn your salvation (you’re not good enough)
2) Jesus loves you and earned 100% of your salvation for you
Judgmental behavior is rooted in our desperate need for righteousness. Deep down, we know we cannot measure up to God’s standards. Therefore, we do everything we can to earn His approval and look good. One way we attempt this is to criticize others so that we look better. The only problem is, judging others to make ourselves appear better only leads to self-righteousness.
The truth is, God won’t give you or me His approval based on our self-earned-righteousness. Comparing yourself to others won’t help your chances, in fact, it will hurt them. The only way to receive God’s favor is by depending on the work of Christ. When you do that, you will receive righteousness and salvation as free gifts. You don’t need to prove your value by judging others!
Responding to the Gospel
So instead of being judgmental, Christians should be the most compassionate and caring people in the world. We know we are sinners, but we also know that Jesus is the only thing that has changed us.
Instead of saying, “I’m better than you because _________,” we should be saying, “I get it! Life is hard and you want satisfaction and joy and peace. I’ve tried many of the things you’re trying, but I’m here to tell you, nothing will work as well as Jesus. I’ve experienced his love and his goodness, and there is nothing else like it in the world! He is far more satisfying than drink and sex and money and power. Won’t you let me introduce you to him?”
So let’s start breaking the stereotype. If you want the world to stop viewing Christians as judgmental and hateful, then it starts with you. Preach the gospel to yourself regularly, remind yourself of the truth constantly to avoid the trappings of self-righteousness.
Despite your inadequacies and failures, God loves you more than you can imagine. If you truly believe that, you can’t help but love others.