God’s power flows to us through God’s promises. Make it a priority to have a stockpile of promises you can draw from every day.
On Thursday night, Peter said to the One he knew was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (Matthew 26:35). Then, in the wee hours of Friday morning, Peter said to a couple of servant girls he didn’t know at all, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 26:69–72).
What in the world happened to Peter that made him do exactly what he swore he would not do? Fear happened to Peter.
Then, just a few weeks later, Peter found himself in front of the Sanhedrin — the same Sanhedrin that had terrified him the night of Jesus’s trial — and instead of denials, out of his mouth came these words: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20).
What in the world happened to Peter that suddenly made him so bold? Faith happened to Peter.
Like Peter, we too are no match for the crippling fear that will seize us when faced with potential or real danger, if we only see things with the eyes of our flesh. In fact, we’ll tend to be easily intimidated by all sorts of things. But if by the power of the Holy Spirit, we see with the eyes of faith, we’ll see things as they really are and our fears will melt away.
That power, which freed Peter from fear and fueled his boldness, is available to every Christian. It is ours for the asking, and ours for the taking.Malfunctioning Mercy
Like everything God made, fear is very good when it functions according to its intended purpose. Fear is designed to keep us away from dangerous things. When fear moves us to avoid things that are truly dangerous, we experience just how merciful a gift it can be. God created fear to help keep us free. He meant it to protect us from all manner of real harm so we can remain as free as possible to live in the joy he intended.
But after the fall, like everything else God made for us, fear has been distorted by sin, and by the brokenness of our fallen bodies and minds. So, it frequently does not function the way God designed. Due to our fleshly pride and unbelief in what God promises us, we fear things that aren’t truly dangerous at all. We feel too much fear of things that are relatively small threats and too little fear over things that can cause us far greater harm (Luke 12:4–5). Our fears are disordered and disproportionate.
Disordered fear is what Peter experienced during Jesus’s trial. The Son of the living God, whose power he had personally observed and experienced — power that raised the dead (Mark 5:41) and even made demons subject to Peter (Luke 10:17) — was now in the custody of the Sanhedrin. Things had taken a perilous turn. All those strange things Jesus had been saying about suffering and dying at the hands of the rulers — the things Peter had told Jesus should never happen to him (Matthew 16:21–23) — looked like they were happening.Seeing Wrongly Leads to Fearing Wrongly
That was the root issue: how things looked. The things Jesus said would happen were indeed happening, but Peter’s mind was still set on the things of man, not God (Matthew 16:23). He was only seeing the human side of things, so it looked like everything was happening wrongly. This sucked the faith right out of him — and filled him with fear.
The same thing happened to the prophet Elisha’s servant. Do you remember the story? The king of Syria discovered Elisha was receiving words from the Lord about Syria’s military plans, and informing the king of Israel. So, the Syrian king took a big army and surrounded the city where Elisha was staying. In the morning, Elisha’s servant saw the troops and was terrified. So Elisha prayed, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see,” and suddenly the servant saw the mountains full of the host of heaven (2 Kings 6:17). When the servant only saw the human side of things, he was overcome by fear because he saw wrongly. But when, by the Spirit’s power, he saw rightly, his faith revived and his fear melted away.
So too, when Peter, by the Spirit’s power, saw rightly, his faith was revived and his fear melted away. He went from cowering in front of servant girls to boldly confronting the very leaders who had crucified Jesus (Acts 4:8–12).O Lord, Open Our Eyes!
Elisha prayed for his servant, and he saw the spiritual reality. Someone prayed for Peter, too: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32). Jesus prayed for Peter’s faith. The timing and purposes for Elisha’s and Jesus’s answered prayers were different. But the outcome was the same: the formerly fearful men became bold in faith.
Are we fearful? Do we find ourselves easily intimidated into silence or inaction or even outright denials? It is because we are seeing reality wrongly. We are blind to what God is actually doing. For if, by the Spirit, we see what God is doing in the spiritual realm, we would not stop speaking of what we have seen or heard.
This is available to us! That’s why God put these stories in the Bible. And it’s why he has surrounded us with the great cloud of Christian witnesses throughout history. Let’s ask God for freedom from unbelieving fear and a new boldness. Let’s lay hold of him until he grants our prayer. And let’s not just ask — let’s begin to confront our fears by stepping out in faith and obediently trusting his promises. The provision of boldness is often given to the one willing to act in obedience.
Father in heaven, whatever it takes, set us free from unbelieving fear by opening our eyes to reality. Do not allow us to remain silent or inactive. The freest people in the world are those who trust you most. We will not let you go until you bless us, because you are too glorious and souls are too precious for us to remain muted by fear. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
Instagram selfies, Facebook updates, and endless Snaps feed off our self-focus and self-exaltation. But the sins behind the technology are not new.
The Protestant church has a checkered history with Lent.
On the one hand, many of the earliest Protestants revolted against the forty-weekday stretch from Ash Wednesday to Easter. The Catholic Church had turned the pre-Easter season into a mandatory fast, promising spiritual merit to everyone who skipped some meals and avoided certain foods, including meat on Fridays. In response to such man-made religion, the Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli began one weekend with a sausage dinner. Since then, a host of Protestants have followed Zwingli and ditched the Lenten fast.
On the other hand, many modern Protestants have sought to reclaim the ancient practice of Lent by grounding it in the gospel. Recognizing that every church follows some calendar or set of seasonal rhythms, these Christians take advantage of the late winter to till the soil of their hearts. Like Advent, Lent becomes an opportunity to prepare room for Jesus in the overcrowded quarters of our souls.Tremors of His Rising
Whichever side you land on, consider the coming weeks as an opportunity to maximize your Easter gladness. You don’t need to call it “Lent.” You don’t even need to fast over and above your normal practice. You just need to devote yourself to a forty-day soul feast.
If we want to make the most of this annual opportunity, we’ll do more than just give something up. We’ll silence ourselves before the Sovereign who became a servant. We’ll fasten our eyes upon him as he teaches and heals and smiles and weeps — the only upright man in a world of cracked and curved impostors. We’ll stand in awe as we hear him plead in Gethsemane. We’ll marvel as he moves from the garden to the cross, silent as a sheep going to the slaughter. We’ll adore him as he lets the nails pierce his sinless skin until it is finished.
And then, we’ll put our ears to the ground and listen for the tremors of his rising.
If we do, we might just find ourselves erupting with a deeper joy as we join the universal shout: “He is risen!”Forty Days of Reasons
If you’d like to join us this year as we prepare our hearts to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, consider reading Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die between now and Easter Sunday. In fifty short chapters, John Piper asks the simple question, Why? Why did Jesus come to die? The Bible gives more than one answer. Piper ransacks the Scriptures and finds fifty. To move through the whole book, read one chapter a day beginning on Ash Wednesday (February 14), and then two chapters a day on Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. You can download a copy of the book free of charge.
If you are looking for other ways to prepare your heart for Easter during Lent, we have two more opportunities for you. You could download or purchase Desiring God’s Holy Week reader Your Sorrow Will Turn to Joy. We trace Jesus’s steps from his entrance to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to his exit from the tomb a week later. Along the way, see him flip the temple’s tables on Holy Monday, confound the scribes on Holy Tuesday, submit to betrayal on Spy Wednesday, comfort his disciples on Maundy Thursday, drink the cup on Good Friday, and free the captives on Holy Saturday.
Solid Joys is a daily devotional for the whole year. John Piper recently recorded all 365 devotions so that you can listen each day. Subscribe to the Solid Joys podcast or email digest to hear forty days of biblically saturated meditations on God’s glory and the Christian life.
Consider the days ahead as an opportunity — as one more path you might walk to focus your scattered attention, warm your heart’s affections, and meet the risen Jesus afresh.
What makes a pastor persevere in ministry?
The Lilly Endowment invested $84 million over 10 years to study and support the practices that allow Christian pastors in America to sustain excellence over the years. They funded 63 projects across 25 different denominations and traditions. Each organization made a similar discovery: relationships with peers are the key factor to pastoral longevity.
I’ve worked with and provided pastoral care for pastors in various forms for the last seven years. For the last five I’ve helped nearly one hundred pastors develop the characteristics they need to stay happy and healthy in ministry. My results aren’t as scientific as the Lilly study, but I concur: Pastors need real, intimate, vulnerable friendships, if they are going to last in ministry.
Yet pastoral isolation is common. Sometimes it’s self-isolation, either out of a fear of being known or a fear of being hurt again by those he considers friends. More often, though, it’s a public isolation, caring for and befriending many, with very few friends to care for him. A pastor can seem like he’s known by many — he reveals a bit of himself each week to hundreds or thousands — while he’s really known by few. Revelations of himself during sermons are often like revelations over social media: Controlled vulnerability that keeps people at a distance either through over- or under-sharing.
It’s tough to blame them. Pastoral work can be dehumanizing. People know and appreciate you for the work you do — the sermons you preach, the care you give, the prayers you pray, the visionary leadership you provide — more than who you really are. Since you perform publicly every week, appreciation can be a fickle thing. Good counselors guard against dual relationships, knowing it’s nearly impossible and often unethical to have a personal friendship with a professional client. Pastors experience some of that reality as well.
The author of Hebrews reminds us that loneliness and isolation impact our spiritual health as well: “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:1). We weren’t meant to live in isolation; we — pastors included — need daily, meaningful affirmation from others if we are to be successful in fighting sin.
In Psalm 25:16, David asks God to be near him, for he is “lonely and afflicted.” David models the right response to feeling lonely: a longing for intimate relationships. That longing is not a sign of selfishness or weakness. It’s simply an acknowledgement that you are human. God never intended for any of us to live in isolation. God doesn’t live in isolation; there is perfect communion within the Trinity. Created in his image, we are made for relationships, with him and with others. That’s true of all of us, including pastors.Made for Relationship
We — pastors included — were made for relationships, with God and with others.
Like anyone else, a pastor’s relationship with God must be primary. If a pastor doesn’t have a relationship with God that is continually growing in intimacy, he will demand more from his relationships with others than they are capable of giving him. Therefore, a pastor must constantly work to deepen the intimacy in his relationship with God.
The Bible, prayer, and the sacraments are the means God gave his people to grow closer to him (Acts 2:42). They are not only tools a pastor uses to do the work of ministry; they are also the God-given means to deepen the intimacy in his relationship with God.
But God didn’t create us to live only in relationship with him. He created us to also live in community with others. That larger community is found in the local church, which the pastor leads. And this leadership can often seem isolating; it’s really tough to be both a friend and a leader. This leaves the pastor with a relational need — a relational need that is too great for a wife to carry by herself.
A pastor needs his wife as his friend, but not his only friend. She often feels isolated and alone, carrying ministry secrets and her husband’s secret doubts and struggles, ones that are not disqualifying sins, but also are not things that should be shared indiscriminately.
A pastor also needs more than ministry partners or co-workers. They are helpful. They can provide companionship. But you can have a lot of co-workers and still be lonely. Friends don’t just partner on projects; they partner in life.Friendship Takes Intentionality
I’ve found the people best suited to be a pastor’s friend are fellow pastors, most often those in a different church. It’s easy for pastors to look at other pastors and borrow the phrase C.S. Lewis says is at the start of every friendship: “You too?” Pastors are usually willing to take the next step of vulnerability with another pastor and continue, quoting Lewis, “I thought I was the only one.”
For a friendship to grow from there, it requires intentional effort.
To put in that effort, you must view friendship not as a luxury, but a necessity. When David writes, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1), he is both celebrating the gift of friendship and encouraging us to think back to Eden when everything — including friendship — was good, just as God designed it to be. The Psalm ends with “life forevermore,” encouraging us to think forward to eternity when everything will forever be as it should be (Psalm 133:3). Friendship isn’t a luxury; it’s a blessing God gives us now because he loves us. God is, as Lewis wrote, the one working behind the scenes to make our friendships happen and help them last.
Not only are friendships good for our health and longevity in ministry; they also are essential to our perseverance (Hebrews 3:12–13). It is wise to have friends (Proverbs 17:17; 27:9–10, 17). It is right to need friends. Paul, in the midst of an incredibly hard time, found real comfort when Titus arrived (2 Corinthians 7:6–7). At the end of his life, Paul lamented his loneliness and asked Timothy to come visit him before he died (2 Timothy 4:9–16). The greatest man who ever lived, Jesus Christ, experienced the gift of friendship with John. John was more than just a partner in ministry; he was the friend Jesus loved (John 13:23).
The intentional effort required for friendship can be described as making room in your life for others. It means you will make room in your schedule, budget, ministry goals, and family life for friendship. Friendship can’t be squeezed into an already tight schedule; it requires intentionality and it requires sacrifice.
Pastor, friendship will cost you time, money, and the opportunity for more ministry achievement. And it will require vulnerability, which means you probably will get hurt. Vulnerability can come as you admit your need for friendship: take a risk to give and receive the gift of friendship. It will be worth it. Blessing — for yourself, your family, and your people — is bound up in your friendships.
The church is crowned with love, clothed in Christ’s righteousness, and perfumed with Trinitarian unity.
Christian preaching is not simply an exchange of information, but a channel through which the Holy Spirit works his miracles in both preacher and hearers.
If January is often a month of new beginnings, a New Year’s clean slate, which we greet with a this-year-is-going-to-be-different kind of optimism, then February is often a month of discouraging realism. We often find our inflated hopes for change have sprung a leak, and our feet are back on the difficult ground where we started.
The euphoria we felt when we made our resolutions once again didn’t carry us over the arduous terrain to the promised land of transformation.
We’re all familiar with that euphoric feeling. It’s the surge of optimism we experience when we see the gracious benefits we could enjoy if we were to achieve a certain goal. The euphoria inspires us to form a new resolve to pursue that goal. And if kept in its proper perspective, it’s very helpful. God designed us to experience that feeling to encourage us to undertake the struggle of pursuing a new and better direction.
But God did not design the euphoria to carry us through the struggle. He intended us to follow through with prayerful determination, planning, discipline, perseverance, accountability, and endurance. Euphoria is the foretaste of the future grace we desire. It helps launch us on the difficult journey to obtain it. But if we mistake the euphoria as being the same thing as a resolution, we should not be surprised when our “resolutions” seem to evaporate.Infatuation Isn’t Enough
Here are a few illustrations of what I mean:
To see the euphoria of a weight loss resolve, talk to someone who has just started a new diet program, or who has just lost 20 pounds in the last few months. But to know the real nature of the struggle and the benefits of weight loss, talk to someone who has kept off the weight for five years or more.
To see the euphoria of a Bible reading and prayer resolve, talk to someone who has just started a new plan, or has been keeping up with a plan for a few weeks now. But to know the real nature of the struggle and benefits of these spiritual disciplines, talk to someone who has persevered in them for many years.
To see the euphoria of romantic infatuation, talk to someone who has recently fallen in love. But to know the real nature of the struggle and benefits of romantic love, talk to someone who has faithfully loved the same person for decades, for better or for worse.
Now, in most cases, things like successful long-term weight loss, long-term exercise of spiritual disciplines, and long-term covenantal love begin with the excitement and hope of a new beginning. The eager enthusiasm is a good thing as far as it goes — as long as we remember it doesn’t go very far. No one who’s been on a real adventure very long is sustained by the adrenaline rush of initial excitement. Infatuation is not enough. It wasn’t meant to be. We need something more.God Wants More for Us Than We Do
We actually need a lot more. And the reason we need a lot more than excitement to keep us going is because the transformation we need most — the transformation God is aiming for — goes far deeper and involves far more than we typically understand or expect at first.
Let’s take weight loss for example. If we’re overweight, we think what we need is to lose the weight and then we’ll be happy. Therefore, what we think we need is to stick to a diet and exercise regimen. Seems simple.
We make an enthusiastic, optimistic start, and maybe even make some encouraging progress, only to discover reality isn’t nearly so simple. We discover all sorts of powerful appetites and habits and fears and past pain and temptations at work in us that we didn’t fully appreciate. Jesus captured the difficulty in these few words: “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).The Flesh Is Weak
The flesh is weak. That is the primary reason our resolves, especially worthy resolves, are so hard to keep. Like the disciples in their early days with Jesus, we are prone to underestimate the weakness of our flesh. And like the disciples, this is not only true regarding our fortitude, but also our motives. Unless the Lord disciplines us (Hebrews 12:3–11), we too tend to be more motivated in our resolves by a desire to be the greatest than a desire to truly serve others out of love for them (Luke 22:24).
God wants far more for us than we typically want for ourselves. Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63). In his school of discipleship, he is aiming at helping us learn to walk by the Spirit so we won’t gratify the sinful desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). For the Christian, God uses the futility (Romans 8:20), as well as our sufferings (2 Corinthians 4:17), as a means of producing a more profound transformation in us.
What God wants for us is faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2 Peter 1:5–7). And all these things are cultivated through the various difficult struggles of pursuing a resolve.How to Fulfill Every Good Resolve
We were never meant to fulfill our resolves on our own, because the transformation we need most requires a wisdom and power far beyond ours. Which is why Paul wrote,
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12)
Every resolve for kingdom good — which are the only kind we should pursue, whether it’s weight loss, spiritual disciplines, a potential marriage partner, or something else (Matthew 6:33) — and every work of faith requires the power and wisdom of God, because the outcomes God wants are bigger than we can produce.
God set it up this way so that we would experience the maximum, multilayered, fruit-producing joy from each outcome and his multifaceted glory would shine most brightly through us. If we understand this from the outset, we can receive as God’s gift the euphoric feeling we experience when we first resolve to undertake a work of faith. God grants it as a foretaste of future grace and to help us get started. But it is not a balloon to float us over the difficult road.
The real, substantial, faith-growing, love-expanding, endurance-training, joy-producing benefits are only realized through the hardship of pursuing our resolves. So do not lose heart in pursuing yours.
If you pluck out your right eye to fight lust, your left eye will pick up the slack. We need more than self-mutilation to fight this enemy.
Don’t expect more of God when you disobey what he says. You’ll only be close to him if you obey him.
What does the Bible teach about “the laying on of hands,” and how should this ancient ritual function, or not, in the church today?
Like anointing with oil, much confusion often surrounds these outward signs which the New Testament has very little (but something) to say.
Like fasting, the laying on of hands and anointing with oil go hand in hand with prayer. Because of the way God has made the world, and wired our own hearts, on certain special occasions we reach for something tangible, physical, and visible to complement, or serve as a sign of, what is happening invisibly and what we’re capturing with invisible words.
Before turning to what the New Testament teaches about the laying on of hands today, let’s first get our bearings by looking at how this practice arose, functioned, and developed in the story of God’s people.First-Covenant Foundations
Throughout the Bible, we find both positive and negative senses of “the laying on of hands,” as well as “general” (everyday) or “special” (ceremonial).
In the Old Testament, the general use is most often negative: to “lay hands” on someone is to inflict harm (Genesis 22:12; 37:22; Exodus 7:4; Nehemiah 13:21; Esther 2:21; 3:6; 6:2; 8:7), or in Leviticus 24:14 to visibly lay God’s curse on the person who will bear it. We also find a special use, especially in Leviticus (1:4; 3:2, 8, 13; 4:4, 15, 24, 29, 33; 16:21; also Exodus 29:10, 15, 19; Numbers 8:12), where the duly appointed priests “lay hands” on a sacrifice to ceremonially place God’s righteous curse on the animal, instead of on the sinful people. For instance, on the Day of Atonement, the climactic day of the Jewish year, the high priest
“shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:21)
This special (or ceremonial) laying on of hands is likely what Hebrews 6:1 refers to when mentioning six teachings, among others, in the first covenant (“the elementary doctrine of Christ”) that prepared God’s people for the new covenant: “repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:1–2).
While the majority of Old-Testament mentions involve priests and first-covenant ceremonies (passing the curse to the substitute), two texts in particular (both in Numbers) anticipate how “the laying on of hands” would come to be used in the church age (passing a blessing to a formally recognized leader). In Numbers 8:10, God’s people lay their hands on the priests to officially commission them as their representatives before God, and in Numbers 27:18, God instructs Moses to lay his hands on Joshua to commission him formally as the new leader of the nation.Jesus’s Hands and His Apostles
When we come to the Gospels and Acts, we find a noticeable shift in the typical use of “the laying on of hands.” A small sampling still conveys the general/negative sense (to harm or seize, related to the scribes and priests seeking to arrest Jesus, Luke 20:19; 21:12; 22:53), but now with the Son of God himself among us, we find a new positive use of the phrase, as Jesus lays his hands on people to bless and to heal.
Jesus’s most common practice in healing is touch, often described as “laying his hands on” the one to be healed (Matthew 9:18; Mark 5:23; 6:5; 7:32; 8:22–25; Luke 13:13). Jesus also “lays his hands” on the little children who come to him, to bless them (Matthew 19:13–15; Mark 10:16).
In Acts, once Jesus has ascended into heaven, his apostles (in effect) become his hands. Now they, like their Lord, heal with touch. Ananias “lays his hands” on Paul, three days after the Damascus road encounter, to restore his sight (Acts 9:12, 17). And Paul’s hands, in turn, become channels of extraordinary miracles (Acts 14:3; 19:11), including the laying of his hands on a sick man on Malta to heal him (Acts 28:8).
What’s new in the Gospels is Jesus’s healing through “the laying on of hands,” but what’s new in Acts is the giving and receiving of the Holy Spirit through “the laying on of hands.” As the gospel makes progress from Jerusalem and Judea, to Samaria, and then beyond, to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), God is pleased to use the apostles’ laying on of hands as a visible marker and means of the coming of the Spirit among new people and places — first in Samaria (Acts 8:17) and then beyond, in Ephesus (19:6).In the Church Today
Finally, in the New Testament Epistles, as we begin to see what is normative in the church today, we find two remaining uses from Acts which echo the two mentions above in Numbers (8:10 and 27:18), and set the course for Paul’s references in 1 and 2 Timothy.
In Acts 6:6, when the church has chosen seven men to serve as official assistants to the apostles, “These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.” Here again, as in Numbers, we find a kind of commissioning ceremony. The visible sign of the laying on of hands publicly marks the beginning of a new formal ministry for these seven, recognizing them before the people and asking for God’s blessing on their labors.
So also, when the church responds to the Spirit’s directive, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2), then “after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3). Like Acts 6:6, this is a formal commission performed in public, with the collective request for God’s blessing on it.Commission to Ministry
In 1 Timothy 4:14, Paul charges Timothy, his official delegate in Ephesus,
Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.
For our purposes here, the point is not precisely what gift Timothy received (though both the previous and following verses mention teaching), but how the elders commissioned him into his formal role. Timothy was sent off for this specific assignment with the public recognition of the recognized leaders — not only by their words, but through the visible, tangible, memorable laying on of their hands. This public ceremony may be what Paul refers to in 2 Timothy 1:6 when he mentions a gift of God in Timothy “through the laying on of my hands.”
The last key text, and perhaps most instructive, is also in 1 Timothy. Again Paul writes,
Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. (1 Timothy 5:22)
Now the subject is not Timothy’s own commissioning, but his part in commissioning others. The charge from Paul comes in a section about elders, honoring the good and disciplining the bad (1 Timothy 5:17–25). When leaders like Paul, Timothy, and others in the church formally lay their hands on someone for a particular new ministry calling, they put their seal of approval on the candidate and share, in some sense, in the fruitfulness and failures to come.
Laying on of hands, then, is the opposite of washing one’s hands like Pilate did. When the elders lay their hands on a candidate for ministry, they both commission him to a particular role of service and they commend him to those among whom he will serve.God Gives the Grace
With both the laying on of hands and anointing with oil, the elders come before God, in special circumstances, with a spirit of prayer and particular requests, but whereas anointing with oil asks for healing, the laying on of hands asks for blessing on forthcoming ministry. Anointing with oil in James 5:14 privately commends the sick to God for healing; the laying on of hands in 1 Timothy 5:22 publicly commends the candidate to the church for an official ministry. Anointing sets the sick apart and expresses the need for God’s special care. Laying on hands sets apart a qualified leader for specific ministry and signals fitness to bless others.
Laying on of hands, then — like anointing or fasting or other external rituals for the church — is not magic and does not, as some claim, automatically confer grace. Rather, it is a “means of grace,” and accompanies words of commendation and corporate prayer, for those who believe. Like baptism, the laying on of hands is a kind of inaugural sign and ceremony, an initiating rite — a way of making an invisible reality visible, public, and memorable, both for the candidate and for the congregation, and then through the candidate and congregation to the world.
It serves as a means of grace to the candidate in affirming God’s call through the church and in providing a tangible, physical moment to remember when ministry gets hard. It’s also a means of God’s grace to the commissioning leaders, who extend and expand their heart and work through a faithful candidate. And it’s a means of God’s grace to the congregation, and beyond, in clarifying who are the official leaders to whom they will seek to submit to (Hebrews 13:7, 17).
And in it all, the giver and blesser is God. He extends and expands the ministry of the leaders. He calls, sustains, and makes fruitful the ministry of the candidate. And he enriches, matures, and catalyzes the congregation to love and good works, to minister to each other, and beyond, served by the teaching, wisdom, and faithful leadership of the newly appointed elder, deacon, or missionary.
The New Testament teaches that Christians should confess their sins regularly — not only to God, but also to each other.
At some point, everyone struggles with doubt. But for every child of God, the Holy Spirit will sustain your faith when you need him most.
Some of the sweetest graces I have enjoyed tasted bitter before they were ever sweet to me.
Anyone who follows Jesus will experience “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2), but the bitter-then-sweet graces I have in mind are the times others confronted me when I was wandering into sin. I don’t remember all the specific conversations or circumstances, but I do remember each of the handful of people who have loved me enough to love me well in those moments.
Do you have friends like that? They’re hard to find. And we’re all sinfully prone to push them away, or keep them at arm’s distance, whenever we do find them. But we desperately need their love, however bitter it may feel at first. And we need to love others with the kind of humble courage and gentle boldness we receive from friends like them.
Because I’ve come to prize hard conversations that push me closer to Christ, I’ve learned to read the beginning of one of Paul’s letters a little more slowly.(Not) Grace to You
Paul opens his letter to the Galatians like he opens almost every other letter: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ . . . ” (Galatians 1:3). But what he says next sets Galatians apart from every other letter, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6).
In almost every letter, Paul begins by giving thanks to God for his readers:
- To the Romans: “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you . . . ” (Romans 1:8).
- To the Philippians: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you . . . ” (Philippians 1:3).
- Even to the Corinthians, with all of their problems: “I give thanks to my God always for you . . . ” (1 Corinthians 1:4).
But to the Galatians: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6). Not a joyful word of deep gratitude. No pleasantries or small talk, but a sudden, strong word of rebuke. The transition is jarring. “Grace to you” may seem to instantly flip to “No grace to you” — in only three verses.Wading Pools of Comfort
Is Paul speaking out of both sides of his mouth? Was he lying about grace, knowing full well he was about to charge into severe warning and bold confrontation? Did he really want the Galatians to experience grace?
If we don’t recognize love in the gravity and severity of Paul’s letter, we’ve settled for splashing in a wading pool of comfort when we could be learning to sail on the ocean of real grace. Paul raises the stakes, and changes his tone, in an effort to pry their eyes open to the miles of grace washing up on the shore at their feet. They have no idea they are drowning in the wading pool, and that true comfort lies with Christ out on the waves.
Like a lifeguard along the narrow path to life, Paul raises his voice hoping to save the ones he loves. He dives into their crisis to pull as many as he can to safety. True grace throws itself in front of hell for the wandering. That’s what loving rebuke is: a massive blinking road sign in front of never-ending danger.Not All Grace Feels Like Grace
Some of the most precious grace feels harsh in the moment. But it will not seem harsh when we rehearse the same scene in heaven. “Turn back from your sin, or you will go to hell!” will be some of the sweetest words we’ve ever heard. Hearing those words in eternity, we would trade a thousand compliments for one correction spoken in love.
When someone confronts you about something you said, or did, or didn’t do, or about some other potential area of weakness or failure in your life — and everything in you wants to ignore them, or argue with them, or make excuses — what if, instead, you stopped and searched their words for grace? What if you gave yourself space to ask if they are seeing something in you that you cannot see? What if you slowed down enough to hear and test what God might really be saying through this friend?
Correction may not look like grace, feel like grace, or sound like grace, but it may just prove to be some of the sweetest grace you’ve tasted.Deserting Grace
Don’t miss one more seed of grace in Paul’s strong rebuke:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6–7)
He writes with boldness and severity because he is watching people walk away from grace. He is not withdrawing or withholding grace; he’s calling wandering believers back to grace. They have “fallen away from grace,” (Galatians 5:4), and he’s trying to lift them back on their feet again. He even signs his letter of correction, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (Galatians 6:18).
If someone in your life is willing to say the hard thing to you in love, they are not robbing you of grace. They may be the only one courageous enough to offer you the real grace you need. They are stepping out in faith, often risking their own time and comfort, to bear your burdens and bring you back into the sweetness of the light — the sweetness of confession, repentance, reconciliation, and Christlikeness.
Ask God to give you eyes to see the beauty of grace in loving rebuke, and to prize friends who love you enough to say the hard thing. Then ask him to make you that kind of friend for someone else.
The New Testament teaches that Christians should confess their sins regularly — not only to God, but also to each other.
The enjoyment of God is the enjoyment of a Person — not just the enjoyment of a thing, or an idea, or a pattern of actions, or a mysterious force. The ultimate joy of God’s creatures is joy in a Person — joy in God.
This is exactly why Jesus died. The apostle Peter says, “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). To God. The Person. What makes eternal life desirable is not just that it lasts forever, but that it is knowing and enjoying an infinitely satisfying Person. And he is also a Person who, in his human nature, died so that he could be known and enjoyed.Enjoy the Person
But how do we come to know the Person? We come to know him by his actions, his ideas revealed in his word — things that he has made as pointers and foretastes of himself.
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). We know the love of the Person by the action of the Person. We know the power of the Person by the action of his creation of the universe (Romans 1:18–20). We know the wisdom of the Person by his purposeful providence in history (Romans 11:33–36). We know the justice and righteousness of the Person by the punishment of sin in the death of Jesus (Romans 3:24–26). We know the faithfulness of the Person by the keeping of his promises (2 Corinthians 1:20). We know the compassion and patience of the Person because we know Jesus Christ who said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
So as you meditate on the perfect work of your God, let Scripture compel you to enjoy the Person:
- Rejoice in the Lord always. (Philippians 4:4)
- Delight yourself in the Lord. (Psalm 37:4)
- Be glad in the Lord. (Psalm 32:11)
- In your presence there is fullness of joy. (Psalm 16:11)
- The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup. (Psalm 16:5)
- As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (Psalm 42:1–2)
- I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. (Psalm 143:6)
- We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Romans 5:11).
And the same is true with things and human experiences. God gives them to us to reveal more of his character, essence, and unsurpassed worth.
We know something of the sweetness of his friendship because we have tasted honey. We know something of his sustaining richness because we have eaten rich bread. We know something of the refreshment of his fellowship because we have drunk water when we are thirsty. We know something of the personal depths and exquisite intensity of person-to-person pleasure because we have felt sexual desire. We know something of the warmth of his affection because we remember being held securely by our mother. And we know something of his worth because we have coveted gold. Even our sins witness to his worth.
One of the best pointers and tastes of the experience of enjoying God as a Person is the enjoyment of the human persons we know, not just their gifts. So, when you have some quiet moments, think of the kindest person you know, the most loving person, the wisest person, the most patient person, the most intelligent person, the strongest person, the most tenderhearted person, the happiest person, the most peaceful person, the most optimistic person, the meekest person, the most courageous person, the most articulate person, the person with the best sense of humor, and the most generous person. Think about what it is like to enjoy these persons when their personalities are at their best.
Then combine all the good traits of all those persons into one person. And then increase those traits to perfection in quality, and to infinite beauty in how they are proportioned and exercised. And then let all the enjoyment of all those persons for all those personal excellencies, heightened to perfection, give you some hint of what it will be like to enjoy God fully. And then pray that the Holy Spirit would grant this miracle to happen.Delight Is Our Duty
The first and greatest commandment is that we love God. And the essence of loving God is that we delight in God — that we enjoy God, that we find God to be our all-satisfying treasure, our gold.
Loving God is not first working for God. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). He did not say, “Loving me is keeping my commandments.” He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Love is first. Commandment-keeping follows. Doing is fruit. Loving is root. This is why Jesus put the heart first in this highest duty: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” The heart is not the organ of performance. It is the organ of preference. It’s not the organ of doing for God. It’s the organ of delighting in God. Therefore, the great and first commandment is: Delight yourself in the Lord!
Joy in God is our first obligation and delighting in God is our highest duty. The second greatest commandment — to love people — is the overflow of the first (2 Corinthians 8:1–2). Joy in God is the essence of loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and joy in God is the wellspring of loving your neighbor as yourself.
God has made it plain to us that we exist to magnify his incomparable beauty and worth. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). But in order to glorify God from your heart, you must delight in him above all else. Joy is not optional. Delight is not peripheral. Satisfaction is not secondary. They are the root of all Christ-exalting love for people, and all Christ-exalting worship of God.
Enjoying God is our first and greatest duty.
John Piper recently preached to more than 30,000 college students at the Passion Conference in Atlanta. In that message, he expands on his answer here to the question “What is it like to enjoy God?” Click below to watch, read, or listen to the full message.
Many of us read that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God and think of millionaires. The rest of the world reads it and thinks of us.
Bible reading isn’t just a transfer of truths and propositions, but an encounter with the living God. Ask him to bless you every time you meet him.
If you have a mustard seed of faith and mountains aren’t moving, you may have the wrong kind of faith — or God may have a better plan.
His body didn’t work.
How long had he been known as “the paralytic”? How long had his legs not obeyed? How long would he be held a prisoner in his own bed?
But the word on the street was that the Messiah was coming. When the paralytic heard of it, he couldn’t help the impulse to do what he had been scared to do for some time: hope.
Story after story testified that Jesus could heal him. He could raise a cripple from his bed, he could resurrect fallen limbs — but would he? These legs? Forsaking caution, the paralytic enlisted his friends to carry him to his only hope.
The house was full. They couldn’t get through the door — but going home was not an option. They climbed to the roof, bore through the ceiling, and his friends lowered him down through the roof. Though many pressed in on the miracle-worker, Jesus, delighting in their faith, called out to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son . . . ”
As the Messiah began to speak, rain began to fall upon the desert; the sun was cresting the horizon; hope, his estranged friend, drew near again. Unknown to even his closest of friends, the years had worn on him. His spirit lay nearly as limp as his legs. But Jesus commanded him to take heart. He knew. In the crowded room, the Messiah himself called him “my son.” Certainly, the healing was about to come.
“Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). Then came the pause that felt like an eternity to a man with no use of his legs.
Imagine yourself standing there. You just made a way through a roof for your paralyzed friend to get to Jesus. As the Pharisees balk about his authority to forgive sins, you might wonder, “Does he not see him lying here on the bed? Does he not know our purpose for coming all of this way? Is he unable to heal? Would our friend not ‘take heart’ and feel more like ‘his son’ if Jesus healed his broken body as well as forgave his sins? What’s forgiveness when your legs don’t work?”
How often, in our own pain, have we been tempted to wonder the same thing?Why Does the Caged Bird Sing?
With chronic pain in our bodies, with disabilities and heartache in our homes, with death and violence in our world, with hobbled hopes and drooping spirits, we wonder why our Messiah does not heal us.
At times, despair grips our throats so tightly that we can only lift our voices loud enough to whimper, “Why, Lord?” Why arthritis, why cancer, why autism, why divorce, why this loss and that grief, why? Some of us have moments when we wonder, like Job, why we were even born. We long for death — but it does not come (Job 3:21).
But what if, for those beaten by the violent winds of this life, Jesus’s words to the paralytic were a warm bowl of soup for our weary souls? “Take heart, my sons and daughters; your sins are forgiven.”
The greatest need for the paralytic was not the revival of his limbs, but the renewal of his soul. And this restoration came not through the healing that was to follow, but through the knowledge that his sin was forgiven. Take heart, take courage, take joy in the fact that you, though formerly red like crimson, are now as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). He did not primarily need strengthened legs, but a strengthened heart — a heart that knew it had peace with God, a heart that heard God call him son. A heart we need today.
Jesus gave him something better than limb resurrection; he gave him soul rebirth. Even if he was to go home on that bed, trapped in the same prison of a body, Jesus’s words that his many sins had been forgiven, was reason enough to make the caged bird sing a thousand lifetimes.A Few More Tossings of the Sea
If you are a child of God, if the Spirit bears witness with your spirit that you are his (Romans 8:16), if he whispers to your soul that these words are yours, then how can you not rejoice? Although your life is hard, although sleep is your greatest companion, although expectations and dreams lie upon your side as spent limbs, your sins are forgiven. You have a higher reason to reclaim hope than that your circumstances change and suffering ceases: your name is written in heaven (Luke 10:20).
Jesus did go on to heal his legs. In so doing, he proved himself to be God and showed that healing in this life is not insignificant, nor are decades of pain and disability. But healing in this life is not ultimate. Our Messiah does not mend the bodies of all his children in this age — though he certainly will in the next. What he does do, however, is speak to each of his sheep, “Take heart, my beloved. Because of my work on the cross for you, your sins are forgiven, your crimes are forgotten, and your future glory will one day make all this suffering like a distant dream.”
Let God’s forgiveness — that which no money can buy, no good deeds can earn, and no suffering can steal — breathe heaven’s air into your lungs. Satan is robbed of his accusations against you. You have been adopted into Christ’s family. You are perfect in God’s eyes in union with his Son. Let this news bear you up on wings like eagles — though your health, happiness, and legs be anchored to the floor. Christ has given us more than new legs; he has given us a new heart, a new hope, and a new future — by giving himself, bloodied on a cross, for us. He shall not spare us anything for our ultimate good.
Remember, in the words of J.C. Ryle, “A few more years of watching and praying, a few more tossings on the sea of this world, a few more deaths and changes, a few more winters and summers, and all will be over. We shall have fought our last battle and shall need to fight no more.”
And then we shall be with him without paralyzed affections, minds, or bodies.
Now, as we lie on the floor, he whispers, “Take heart, my child; your sins are forgiven.” Yet soon enough we will hear, “Rise, my child, and enter into the joy of your Master.”