Wait. Few words are less welcome.
Few, if any, take hearts raised high and drop them so hard. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). When we wait long for something precious, our hopes can rise and die a hundred times. Heartsickness becomes a constant companion.
Few experiences put our faith in the flames for so long. But few experiences have as much potential to change us for the better. As Paul Tripp writes, “Waiting is not about what you get at the end of the wait; it’s about what you become as you wait.” God stands ready to use the fire of waiting to mold our faith, melt away our dross, and bring us out on the other side refined.
If you find yourself in a season of prolonged and painful waiting, here are five prayers to give to God — five pleas that he would work in your waiting to draw you closer to Jesus.1. Strengthen me to wait patiently.
We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may . . . walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, . . . being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy. (Colossians 1:9–11)
Almost every area of modern life trains us in the art of impatience. Our culture and (social) media cultivate our taste for ease, comfort, and instant gratification. So when God tells us to wait far longer than we expected for marriage, children, a job, or some other dream, how do we avoid becoming like Israel’s wilderness wanderers, who “became impatient on the way” and “spoke against God” (Numbers 21:4–5)?
We need God to strengthen us with patience. Patience, as Paul’s prayer for the Colossians shows, is not the weakness of people who have no power to get what they want. Patience is the power to press on through difficulties, discouragements, and detours with a heart full of faith and a mouth full of praise.
Patience is the strength of Joseph, who spent the best years of his life in a dungeon, and came out saying, “God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Patience enables us to look at all our frustrations and detours, and say to God, “I don’t know what you’re doing, Father. I don’t want to be in this place. I never thought I’d be in this place. But you are wise and good, and I trust that you are working something wonderful. Strengthen me to wait patiently.”2. Awaken me to today.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)
Waiting can pressure us to live in two places at once. Our bodies are present in the here and now, but our hearts have long left this present moment, packed up their bags, and pitched their tent in the fantasy land of a future life. We continue to go through the necessary motions, but we expect today to bring very little worthwhile.
We need God to awaken us to today. Today, God’s mercies came up with the sunrise (Lamentations 3:22–23). Today, the heavens sing of his beauty (Psalm 19:1). Today, God rehearses the story of his love (Romans 5:8). Today, we have a cross to pick up (Luke 9:23). Today, we have people to listen to, serve, and forgive (Colossians 3:12–13). Today, we have good works to walk in (Ephesians 2:10).
No matter how mundane, and no matter how far off from the world of our dreams, today is the day that the Lord has made. It is a gift, even if a different gift than we expected. It is possible, even as we wait, to rejoice and be glad in today.3. Keep me from foolish shortcuts.
“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)
Our world abounds with foolish shortcuts — opportunities to leave the narrow way that leads to life for a path that soothes our flesh. Prolonged seasons of waiting merely make the shortcuts more obvious.
Scripture has its share of characters who decided they were done waiting. The wilderness generation, waiting for Moses to come down from Mount Sinai to deliver God’s word, decided they’d fashion some gods themselves (Exodus 32:1). King Saul, waiting for Samuel to come and offer an animal before battle, decided he’d play the priest himself (1 Samuel 13:8–10). The Israelites, waiting for God to deliver them from enemy armies, decided they’d buy Egypt’s help instead (Isaiah 30:15–16).
We have our own shortcuts: The single woman who lowers her standards instead of waiting for a worthy man. The believer who seeks a silver bullet to sanctification instead of patiently giving himself to the normal means of grace. Or any one of us who daydreams about a different life instead of thanking God for the one we have.
We need God to keep us from foolish shortcuts. We need God to tell us, as he told his people through Isaiah, that our salvation is in returning and rest, not speed and compromise. Our strength is in quietness and trust, not daydreams and fantasies.4. Make me want the future you have for me.
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
As we grow up, we can’t help but write a book in our minds of how our life story should read. We mark out the chapters, anticipating the time when we’ll begin a career, or get married, or start a family. But for many of us, every passing year tosses one more chapter into the flames.
We need God to help us want the future he has for us — the future he has written in his inscrutable wisdom. Seasons of waiting train us to relinquish our role as the author of our own story and take up our role as a character in God’s story.
As Christians, we know what our role is in God’s story: proclaim his excellencies (1 Peter 2:9). Sometimes, God calls us to proclaim his excellencies from places of fulfillment and plenty, where we live and speak to show that God, and not his gifts, is our great reward. And other times, God calls us to proclaim his excellencies from places of waiting and lack, where we live and speak to show that God, no matter what he withholds, is more than enough for us.
No matter how disappointing our own plotlines feel, we play our role as characters knowing that our Author has mastered the final twist. “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). The God who saved the world through a cross and an empty tomb knows how to take our failed stories and turn them into something beautiful. Our role is to trust him and glorify him, even when we can’t see the ending.5. Remind me of what I’m really waiting for.
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him.” (Isaiah 25:9)
In this world, we always wait for something: a spouse, a job, a child, a prodigal, release from depression, financial freedom. But for Christians, the tremors of something greater rumble beneath every one of these good gifts. We are waiting for something better than this world can give.
We are waiting for a new world, where righteousness bursts through air and sky (2 Peter 3:13). We are waiting for a new body, finally delivered from death and decay (Romans 8:23). We are waiting for a new power, when sin will lose its last hold on us (Galatians 5:5).
But most of all, we are waiting for our King, Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:10). One sight of his face will banish sadness forever. One note from his voice will swallow every disappointment in this life. One moment in his presence will cast all of our pain into the depths of the sea.
We need God to remind us of what we’re really waiting for. Underneath all our waiting in this world is a hope that cannot disappoint. One day soon, our King will come. And no one who waits for him will be put to shame (Psalm 25:3).
God promises hope to the downcast, fullness of life to the broken, and joy to the depressed. Here are five passages to turn to when darkness falls.
Have you ever feared that your faith might fail? Have you worried you might not be able to “hold out” or “hold on” in the long, arduous journey of the Christian life?
Robert Harkness (1880–1961) was a gifted Australian pianist who traveled the world in his twenties with the famous evangelist R.A. Torrey. One night, at an evangelistic rally in Canada, Harkness met a young man, recently converted, who feared he might not be able to “hold out.” Harkness longed for the young man, and countless others impacted by the revival meetings, to have confidence deep in their souls that their finishing the race, and keeping the faith, did not fall finally to themselves. He wanted this young man and others to know that God finishes what he starts.
Jude celebrates God’s keeping power in his beloved doxology: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24). It’s a truth the apostle Paul often rehearsed, as he did with the Philippians, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). And when he told the Thessalonians, “The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3). And when he testified of his own endurance, that the decisive cause of his pressing on was not his own reaching and pushing but “because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12).
Yes, Paul pressed on. He was diligent. He labored. He applied himself. He strained to endure and increasingly make Jesus his own. But he knew that all his striving and enduring was enabled decisively by the power of Christ, who had made him his own and would certainly hold him fast.Weakness, Sin, and Satan
The young convert in Canada was not wrong to doubt his own ability to “hold out” or “hold on.” Indeed, he should have doubted himself, as we also should doubt ourselves. But what the young man didn’t yet know deep in his soul was that his perseverance in the faith wasn’t simply left to him. When God truly has started the work, he will finish it (Philippians 1:6). If Jesus has made us his own, he will be faithful to keep us till the end (1 Thessalonians 5:24; Hebrews 10:23).
And not simply from our own sin and weakness and proneness to wander, but also from satanic attack. He will “guard you against the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3). Jesus prayed for his people the night before he died, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15) — and the Father never fails to answer this prayer for those who are truly his Son’s.God Will Do It
After the unsettling conversation with the Canadian convert, Harkness wondered how he might help other Christians celebrate the power of God’s sustaining hand in our perseverance and have this sweet truth bore deep into our souls. The answer was obvious for a musician like Harkness: a song. He mentioned the need in a letter to London hymnwriter (and friend of Charles Spurgeon) Ada Habershon (1861–1918) — the need for songs to encourage “definite assurance of success in the Christian life.” Inspired, she wrote seven. One she called “When I Fear My Faith Will Fail.” Harkness then wrote the original tune.
A century later, across the pond, an American worship pastor in Washington, D.C., Matt Merker, took out Habershon’s words, given to him by a congregant, during a trying season. He found fresh comfort and hope in the lyrics, put new music to the old hymn, and added a third verse. He shared the song with his wife and then senior pastor, Mark Dever, who thought the church should try singing it. “The church quickly owned the song and began singing it with joy (and really loud voices!),” Merker says. Word soon spread, and churches far and wide now sing Habershon’s old hymn with Merker’s new tune. Says Merker, “It reinvigorates us to know that God is in control and he will preserve us to the end.”He Delights to Keep His People
Not only is God able to keep his people, but he does so “with great joy” (Jude 24). Habershon’s hymn echoes the truth and beauty of Psalm 149:4, “The Lord takes pleasure in his people,” as she writes, “Those he saves are his delight / He will hold me fast.”
Not only will God keep his people, but he delights to do so. Not only does he hold us fast, but he does so with great joy. And there is no safer place to be in the universe than hidden with Jesus in the heart of God’s delight.
Desiring God partnered with Shane & Shane’s The Worship Initiative to write short meditations for more than one hundred popular worship songs and hymns. “He Will Hold Me Fast” appears on their album, Hymns, Vol. 1. You can download their recording of this hymn free of charge.
The delightful promises of Scripture are for those who love him — and no one else.
“This is who I am.”
In 1993, I grounded my coming-out narrative in this forthright declaration — and I meant it in every way. “I didn’t choose being gay,” I reasoned. “I’m born this way!”
I was wholly convinced my sexuality was the core of who I was — not simply what I desired or did. It felt like I finally had discovered my true self. My heart and friends affirmed this, as did the world around me. “This is who I am. I am gay.”
Sexual orientation seemed self-evidently true. But what truth did it reveal?
Should we simply accept sexual orientation as the way things are, as the only terminology to describe enduring and unchosen same-sex attractions? Or should we step back and critically assess this idea in light of God’s truth about who we are? Honestly, we cannot begin to understand human sexuality until we first start with “theological anthropology,” meaning what God thinks, and reveals, about who we are.Getting Reoriented
The modern concept of sexual orientation originates from the discipline of psychology, which is rooted in a secular understanding of anthropology that rejects original sin (for a critical assessment of “sexual orientation,” see Rosaria Butterfield, Openness Unhindered, 93–112). For example, the idea that same-sex sexual orientation is only a disability (that is, a natural consequence of the fall, like deafness), and not a moral consequence, is dangerously close to the ancient heresy called Pelagianism, a denial of original sin, condemned by the church in the fifth century. In today’s world of infinite shades of grey, sloppy ambiguity on biblical sexuality is essentially flirting with heresy.
The American Psychological Association provides this definition for sexual orientation:
Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions.
Gay neurologist Simon LeVay explains that sexual orientation is “the trait that predisposes us to experience sexual attraction” (Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why, 1). In an international human rights document, it is defined as a “capacity for profound emotional, affectional, and sexual attraction.” Elsewhere, the American Psychological Association describes these attractions as generally unchosen. Thus, sexual orientation conveys a capacity for unchosen and enduring sexual and romantic desires, and this predisposition has been relegated to a new category of personhood.
Unfortunately, we have pigeonholed ourselves into this secular and humanistic paradigm of defining selfhood through sexuality. We think there is no other option. However, when there’s a choice between a biblical framework and a secular one, should not Christians favor the biblical over the secular? And might God’s word provide us a better framework for understanding the capacity to experience unchosen and persistent sexual and romantic desires toward the same sex?
Yes, it does. That framework is called sin.Being Gay?
I am not saying that the capacity to have same-sex attractions or temptations is what theologians call “actual sin” (sinful thoughts, desires, words, and actions). However, the concepts of “original and indwelling sin” fit every description of a same-sex sexual orientation. Original sin is an unchosen condition, and indwelling sin is a persistent pattern of sinful desires or behaviors. Why try to reappropriate and redeem a term when a working biblical framework already exists?
Some today say that sexual and romantic attraction for people of the same sex is rooted in the image of God, not the fall — and that it’s therefore good or even sanctifiable. This stems from the misunderstanding that “being gay” includes appreciating same-sex beauty. However, if we broaden sexuality to include non-sexual and non-romantic appreciation for beauty, then everybody would be gay. That is as nonsensical as it is unhelpful.
However, if acting on same-sex sexual and romantic desire is sin, then there’s nothing neutral or sanctifiable about it. These desires stem from the fall, not the image of God. Sexual sin always involves a moral component. Same-sex attraction finds its genesis in original sin. And let’s be crystal clear: there’s nothing neutral or innocent about original sin.
With same-sex attractions, the problem is sin. But for Christians, our God has not left us without the answer.Whatever Way You Were Born
But aren’t people born gay? Listen to the media and pop culture, and it seems to be a fact science has unquestionably proven. However, of the numerous studies conducted to investigate the potential biological and environmental factors that may influence the development of same-sex attractions, nothing yet has been conclusive.
The American Psychiatric Association made this statement as recently as 2015: “Some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a person’s lifetime.” Scientists are far from discovering the factors that contribute to the development of sexual attractions, so it’s untenable and irresponsible to claim that the innateness of sexual attractions is a proven reality.
In spite of a lack of evidence, the belief persists that people are born gay and that makes it okay. Yet, for Christians, innateness doesn’t mean that something is permissible; being born a sinner doesn’t make sin right. We must point people to a far more important claim: Regardless of what was true or not true when you were born, Jesus says that you must be born again.
It doesn’t matter whether you think you were born an alcoholic; you must be born again. It doesn’t matter whether you think you were born a liar; you must be born again. It doesn’t matter whether you think you were born a porn addict; you must be born again. It doesn’t matter whether you think you were born with any other sexual sin struggle; you must be born again.Very Good News
When we are born again (through God’s word, 1 Peter 1:23, and by his Spirit, John 3:5–8), the old has gone and the new has come — we’re a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). We’re able to hate our sin without hating ourselves. Our sexuality is no longer who we are, but rather how we are. We put to death our old self so that Christ can live in us (Romans 8:13; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:5). The effect of sin is so pervasive, so complete, so radical, that complete rebirth must occur for anyone to enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3).
Whatever our sinful condition upon coming into the world, we need a total transformation — the kind that only our God and Creator has wonderfully made possible by grace through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:4–10). This isn’t a message just for the gay community, or only for those who experience same-sex attractions. This is a message for everybody: you must be born again. And he is the one, according to his great mercy, who causes us to be born again (1 Peter 1:3).
And this, dear friends, is very good news.
Receiving Jesus as our greatest joy unlocks right standing with God and right living with others.
Every one of us has the ability to resist God’s grace. But none of us can hold out against God once he sets his love upon us.
LeBron James is the most dominant player in the NBA today, and some argue he’s the best player ever. He’s earned the moniker “King James.” His dominance, however, doesn’t result from his elite, God-given athletic talent alone. He keeps his body in peak condition through an extremely disciplined and rigorous workout and diet regimen.
Nearly every day of every year, James subjects himself to grueling physical exercise and stringently-controlled nutrition and hydration routines. In fact, he spends $1.5 million a year continually subjecting himself to things the vast majority of us continually avoid. Why?
Because he prizes NBA championship trophies, a growing list of personal achievements, accolades, and records (already a mile long), and all the benefits that come with those trophies and success. King James exercises tremendous self-discipline and endures a great deal of unpleasantness for the sake of what gives him joy.
James knows the secret to self-discipline (consciously or unconsciously), a secret that applies to all of us: joy. The secret is not that each rigorous exercise of self-denial gives us joy. The secret lies in the prize — what we're willing to endure self-denial to have.Power in the Prize
In the Bible, this is not a secret. Paul knows exactly why Lebron James spends more than a million dollars on his body:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24–27)
Here’s the point: elite athletes don’t live disciplined lives because they think disciplined lives are virtuous. They aren’t stoics; they’re hedonists — pleasure-seekers. They live disciplined lives and endure all kinds of self-denial because they want the pleasures of the prize. They believe the pleasures of the “wreath” (or medals, trophies, rings, and records) are superior pleasures to the pleasures of self-indulgence.The Imperishable Prize
Notice that Paul doesn’t call their pursuit of reward wrong. Far from it. Paul shamelessly states that the pursuit of a reward also fuels his self-discipline and should fuel ours. The only difference — and it’s a big one — is that the reward he pursued was an “imperishable” wreath, which he describes here:
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:8)
Gaining Christ through the gospel — gaining all of God and all his promises to his cross-reconciled children for all eternity and losing all sin and all death and all hell and all their accompanying miseries — was the reward that gave Paul his laser-like focus and fueled his self-discipline.
The power for self-discipline does not come from admiring self-discipline. It does not come from wishing we were more self-disciplined. It does not come from making new resolves, plans and schedules for self-discipline (though these help when the fundamental motivation is right). It certainly does not come from loathing our lack of self-discipline and resolving (again) to do better — and this time we mean it. The power for self-discipline comes from the prize — whatever we really want, the reward we believe will yield us the greatest pleasure.Why Am I Not More Disciplined?
How many times have you made some resolve, let it fall by the wayside, and wondered why you’re not more disciplined? I’ve done it more times than I care to admit. What’s our problem?
Well, first let’s acknowledge that we’re complex beings and numerous factors can play into our capacities for self-discipline. Our genetics, conditioning, past trauma, various kinds of mental health struggles, and many other issues all affect us to differing degrees. And God understands how they affect each of us. He knows we don’t all have the same capacities for self-discipline and doesn’t hold us all to the same expectations. Jesus’s principle applies here: “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). So, we must be careful when assessing ourselves in comparison to others, and very careful and gracious when judging others.
But these factors don’t change the fundamental fuel that powers the capacities we do have for self-discipline and self-denial: the joy of a reward set before us (Hebrews 12:2).When Will Power Seems to Fail
We often chalk up our discipline failures to a lack of will power. We look at a LeBron James and think if we just had some of his iron will, we could stick with it. But will power is not our problem — at least not in the way we usually think. When we abort some resolve, it’s actually our will power that’s overriding it.
Our will always obeys our wants — our real wants, not our fantasy wants. And our real wants are based on our real beliefs, not our fantasy beliefs.
So, when we can’t sustain some new self-discipline regimen, it’s very likely that our resolve was based on a fantasy reward. What typically happens is we imagine what experiencing the benefits of attaining some goal might feel like — perhaps a fit body, or reading the Bible in a year, or some kind of career advancement, or the fruit of more intercessory prayer, or a financial savings goal, or a new boldness in evangelism. What we imagine appears desirable to us. We feel a burst of inspiration, so we make a resolve. We think (or want to think) our inspiration stems from a new conviction that the reward we imagine will make us happy.
But once we experience the unpleasantness of self-denial, the inspiration evaporates and the goal no longer seems worth it, so we give it up. What happened? We liked the imagination of the reward, but the reward itself wasn’t real enough to fuel our discipline — we didn't really believe in it. It was a fantasy. And when the fantasy was dispelled, we realized we wanted another reward more and our will followed.
It wasn’t a lack of will power; it was a lack of reward power.Eyes on the Prize
That’s why Paul said, “I do not run aimlessly” (1 Corinthians 9:26). Like LeBron James or the ancient Olympians, Paul “ran” with his eyes on the prize he really wanted — the prize he believed would yield him the most happiness.
That is the key to self-discipline: our real belief that the pleasures of a reward will be worth the denial of lesser pleasures. And that’s what nourishes the spiritual fruit of self-control in our lives (Galatians 5:23): wanting the rewards the Spirit offers us more than the rewards sin or the world offer us.
This is really good news to self-discipline stumblers like us! If we’re not pursuing the kingdom of God first (Matthew 6:33), if the surpassing worth of knowing Christ isn’t causing us to count all else as rubbish (Philippians 3:8), the Spirit’s remedy to our problem is not more white-knuckled, duty-motivated efforts to be more disciplined. Rather, the Spirit is inviting us into greater delight. He wants us to explore and examine the imperishable reward God longs to give us with all his heart and soul — to plead that the eyes of our heart will be enlightened to see it (Ephesians 1:17) — knowing that the more we seek to see, the more he’ll reveal and help us believe. And the more that happens, the more we’ll view self-discipline, not as a drudgery to be avoided, but as a means to the joy we really want.
When athletes lose motivation, their coaches and trainers exhort them to get their eyes on the prize. That’s Paul’s exhortation to us when he says, "So run that you may obtain it" (1 Corinthians 9:24). For sustained self-discipline for the glory of God is always fueled by intense desire for more joy in God.
R.C. Sproul went home to be with the Lord on December 14, 2017. Burk Parsons shares what it’s like to live and minister without him.
Back-to-school each fall brings a veritable spring of new relationships. New teachers and students. New classmates and their parents. New patterns and routines. New faces at church, and often new neighbors on the block. If we want to get to know someone new, one of the most telling, but simple questions to ask is, “What do you enjoy doing?” Our enjoyments give profound insights into who we are.
What kind of music you enjoy has something to say. As does what kind of restaurants and food. What hobbies and entertainments. Not only “What do you do for work?” but “Do you enjoy your job?” Or, “Do you enjoy your major?”
And even more revealing than what we enjoy is who. Who do you most enjoy spending time with? And who do you admire (up close or from afar)? “If you could have lunch with one living person on the planet today, who would it be?” We can make serious progress in getting to know a new face when we hear who and why.Worth of a Soul
More than 300 years ago, pastor and theologian Henry Scougal (1650–1678) lived a short life of just 28 years and wrote a short book, still in print today, called The Life of God in the Soul of Man. There he memorably claims, “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.” What and whom we love, according to Scougal — what and whom we enjoy — reveal the quality and character, “the worth and excellency,” of our souls. Enjoying classical literature communicates one degree of excellence; bottom-feeding on Netflix speaks to another.
Yet even the disparity between the highest and lowest things of earth as our soul’s object of love is quickly dwarfed by the God of heaven. If Scougal is right, then the worthiest and most excellent souls are those who most value the Person who is supremely valuable.Do You ‘Enjoy’ God?
One of the most liberating discoveries for me in those all-important, trajectory-shaping college years — maybe it was the single most important breakthrough — was finding that God is not just the appropriate object of the verbs believe, trust, fear, obey, and worship, but also he is the most fitting, most satisfying, most worthy object of the verb enjoy. Do you enjoy him? Not with the small enjoyment of chuckling at a clever commercial, but the large enjoyment of basking before an ocean. Not the thin enjoyment of humming along with a pop song, but the thick enjoyment of a great novel’s or symphony’s long-anticipated pinnacle. Not the shallow enjoyment of acquiring some new trinket, but the deep enjoyment of reconnecting with a longtime friend.
Not only does God invite us to believe him, trust him, fear him, obey him, and worship him, but to enjoy him: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). He satisfies the human soul (Psalm 63:5; 107:9), which he designed to find its true rest in him. Our soul’s thirst for refreshment we only find in him (Psalm 42:1–2). A deep soul hunger draws us to enjoy him. A deep soul thirst calls out to be quenched in him. As God’s own Son promised, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
The invitation to enjoy God is not icing. It is the cake of Christianity. If he is not enjoyed in real measure, then he is not truly believed, trusted, feared, obeyed, or worshiped. God is not seeking disinterested praise, but “worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). He isn’t enlisting dutiful soldiers, but those who will serve with gladness (Psalm 100:2). He is the kind of God, so rich and full, so free and secure, that he will not settle for human compulsion and going through the external motions. He calls, and effects, the willing and eager. He wants, and is worthy, to capture the heart. The trust he wins is not disinterested faith (as if that were really possible), but the kind of faith that enjoys him (2 Corinthians 1:24; Philippians 1:25; Hebrews 11:6).Learning to Fly
Learning that God wants, and is worthy, to be enjoyed can be liberating. But finding that enjoying God is necessary can be burdensome, because we know how sluggish our hearts can be. God knows this. He remembers our frame (Psalm 103:14), and his Son knows us and what is in us (John 2:24–25). Coming to enjoy God is a process. The discovery might come all at once in a moment, but the daily experience doesn’t happen overnight. In Christ, we all are in the process of being renewed and refined by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). He is transforming our enjoyments, from one degree of joy and glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18). He is sifting through our countless earthly enjoyments, redeeming many, and relegating others to refuse.
Each new day introduces a fresh occasion to hear his voice in the Scriptures, not mainly as marching orders, but as a meal to feed our souls. Not just for soul nutrition, but for enjoyment. God’s words become sweet to our taste (Psalm 119:103); his path (verse 35), his commandments (verse 47), his law (verses 70, 77, 174), our delight. We come to “rejoice at [his] word like one who finds great spoil” (verse 162), and in what he says we “delight as much as in all riches” (verse 14). Through his words, we receive his joy, and our joy becomes increasingly full (John 15:11).
Prayer begins to be a channel not just to ask God for things we would enjoy, but to enjoy him. In prayer, in response to what God says in his word, we commune with him, both asking for more of him and experiencing him in prayer as our greatest enjoyment. God himself is our exceeding joy (Psalm 43:4). We rejoice in him through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:11). In Christ, we come to God himself (1 Peter 3:18) and know him (John 17:3). We learn a day at a time that the heart of prayer is not getting things from God, but getting God.
Corporate worship, then, becomes the stunning opportunity to gather together, not just with fellow believers, but with fellow enjoyers of God. We lift our voices together and turn from “the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25) to the superior pleasures to be had in him. And even in the fires of suffering, it is rejoicing — enjoying God — that carries us through (Romans 5:3; 1 Peter 1:6, 8; James 1:2).One Who We Enjoy
Is enjoy a verb you’re learning to put with God? Is he the object of your love and enjoyment?
If he is, you will never come to the bottom of your joy, because he is not finite. He is inexhaustible. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33). The greatest enjoyments in the world are who enjoyments, not whats. And the most interesting, enjoyable person you can imagine in this age cannot hold a candle to the shining sun of enjoyment found in God. Not only are the depths of his mercy and grace already shown to us past finding out, but he has only begun to show us his glory. What little bit we’ve seen so far is almost as nothing compared to all he will lavish on us “in the coming ages” when he shows us “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).
Our souls were made for great worth and excellence — the kind that comes only from having God himself as our greatest enjoyment.
So many of us are anxious, tired, and defeated because we rely on our own willpower instead of being fueled by the promises of God.
No one ever plans to ruin his life. Nobody makes failure a goal, or a New Year’s resolution, or an integral part of his five-year plan. Kids don’t dream about growing up to be an alcoholic; students don’t go to class to learn how to be bankrupt; brides and grooms don’t go to the altar expecting their marriage to fail.
But ruined lives do happen — far too often. And they happen because of the choices we make. Many of our most influential choices take place when we are relatively young — old enough to be making important decisions, but young enough for those decisions to have disastrous consequences. In other words, these are choices of young adults.
How can we avoid making such mistakes? We can start by listening to God’s wisdom through King Solomon. Although Solomon faced major challenges later in his life because he stopped taking his own advice, he was one of the wisest men who ever lived, and God has preserved some of his best counsel in the book of Proverbs.
Below are seven ways you can ruin your life while still in your twenties — based on the opposite of Solomon’s counsel — along with a resolution for what to do instead.1. Do whatever you want.
This was the biggest lie I believed in my twenties. I thought I could do what I wanted and get away with it. I thought, I’m young, and I’m not hurting anyone. But I’ve since learned otherwise.
Right now, you are in the process of becoming what you will be one day. You are preparing either to be a great spouse, parent, employee, and friend, or to be the opposite of that. Everything you do now will lead you down one of those paths.
The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps. (Proverbs 14:15)
Resolution: Do what God would have you do.2. Live outside your means.
I live in the city that practically invented the term $30k millionaire. But when you spend more than you can afford, you still have to pay for it — plus interest. By living “the good life” now, you ensure you’ll be living the bad life of debt payments, downsizing, and financial worries in your future decades. Many people today are still paying for experiences that happened many years ago, long after the “instant gratification” has been forgotten.
The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. (Proverbs 22:7)
Resolution: Live below your means.3. Feed an addiction.
Whether it is alcohol, money, drugs, pornography, shopping, or another attraction, most people have an addiction of some kind. These addictions bring death: either literal death, or death to relationships, freedom, and joy.
How do addictions happen? You feed them. When you feed something, it grows. The more you feed an addiction, the stronger it grows, and the harder it is to stop. Wisdom is stopping now, not later. It only gets harder and harder after each “one last time.”
The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust. (Proverbs 11:6)
Resolution: Starve your addictions.4. Run with fools.
Fact: you are becoming, in some real sense, who you hang around. It’s been said you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. You do what they do (because you’re doing it together), you pick up on their ideas and beliefs, and you even learn their mannerisms and language.
So, if you hang around fools, you will become one. But if you hang around wise people, who are committed to following Christ and to making a difference with their lives, then you’ll become wise.
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20)
Resolution: Walk with the wise.5. Believe this life is all about you.
You are one of nearly 7.6 billion people alive currently, and though you are special, so is each of the other 7,600,000,000 people in the world — and the billions and billions who have come before but are now long dead and forgotten. You are not the star of this show. You have a cameo that very few people will see and that will be forgotten as soon as the screen changes.
People who become the biggest reality in their world are dysfunctional. They always end up either disappointed or delusional. And when they leave this life, their world disappears; they don’t actually leave any deep impact. If you want to be important and make a difference, live for God and serve others with your life. Jesus was our greatest example of this. He served us by willingly dying for our sins on the cross. The most powerful person who has ever lived used his power to serve (Mark 10:45; Philippians 2:5–8). And by dying, he rescued us from sin and bought the power we need to serve others with our life.
People who become the biggest reality in their world are dysfunctional. They always end up either disappointed or delusional. And when they leave this life, their world disappears; they don’t actually leave any deep impact. If you want to be important and make a difference, live for God.
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)
Resolution: Serve others with your life.6. Live for immediate gratification.
Almost nothing truly worthwhile comes quickly. It takes time and discipline to become an Olympic athlete (or to simply get in shape), to get a degree, to become a CPA, or to become a good husband or wife. And many of the things you truly want long term can be derailed by indulging yourself in the moment. Do you want an amazing marriage, or just one amazing night? Do you want to retire in 36 years, or drive a luxury car for the next 36 months? In each case, choosing the latter makes it more difficult (or impossible) to have the former.
Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it. (Proverbs 21:20)
Resolution: Hold out for God’s best.7. Avoid accountability.
We all have the tendency to screw up, or be blind to our own failings, or convince ourselves that we can change on our own, even though it’s never worked in the past. That’s why God created us to live in community with others: so we can encourage each other, point out blind spots, and have help in times of weakness.
Are you running to community and accountability, or running away from it? The reason people avoid accountability is that they don’t want to be corrected, even though that means they will continue to do what is ruining their life. If you really want to change, and really want to put God first every day, then do one simple thing as a first step: find Christ-centered community.
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1)
Resolution: Do not do any of this alone.Who You Become Tomorrow
People don’t resolve to ruin their lives. We hope to be great employees or business owners. We hope to be great moms, dads, husbands, or wives. We hope to be successful and contribute to society. We hope to be faithful in our walk with Jesus. But all faithful walks start with small faithful steps. Great mature adults are created through the faithfulness of young adults.
You are becoming something, and the resolutions you make and keep today will shape who you become tomorrow. Who do you want to be when you grow up? You will be that person much sooner than you think. What are you doing to become him today?
Pastors are not merely teachers or lecturers. They are shepherds to needy sheep. Burk Parsons describes the kind of sermons a shepherd should give.
You were not made for laziness. Many people struggle with sexual immorality because they sit around when they shouldn’t.
Stop telling gay people that if they come to Jesus, he will make them straight.
I know, I know, some of us Christians believe that we are only pointing our gay and lesbian friends to the miraculous. To the power of God to make all things and them new. Well-meaning believers, in an effort to encourage or cast vision to their same-sex attracted (SSA) friends or family, preach this gospel often. This gospel is not the good news of Jesus however, but another gospel. A gospel that I call “the heterosexual gospel.”
The heterosexual gospel is one that encourages SSA men and women to come to Jesus so that they can be straight, or it says that coming to Jesus ensures that they will be sexually attracted to the opposite sex. The ways in which this “gospel” is preached are much subtler than I’ve made it out to be. It usually sounds like, “I know you’re struggling with being gay. I can promise you, if you give your life to Jesus, he will completely deliver you from those desires because he loves you.” Or, “I know a guy that used to be gay and now he’s married. Jesus will do the same for you if you trust him.”How Not to Use My Story
People have often used my story to point others to what they believe should be the immediate fruit of their repentance. I was a lesbian who came to Jesus and eventually ended up married to a man, giving birth to two daughters. According to them, I am living happily ever after in a state of heterosexual bliss.
Clearly, my life as it is now may have its share of blessings, but it has been far from blissful. And even though God may have called me in particular to marriage, that doesn’t mean he’s called everyone to it in general. My marriage, with all of its difficulties and beauty, is glorious to God because it is a picture of God’s gospel (Ephesians 5:32). But it is not the ultimate glory. Christ is. That is what makes “the heterosexual gospel” so problematic. It tends to put more emphasis on marriage as the goal of the Christian life than on knowing Jesus.Exchanging One Idol for Another
When the gospel is presented as “Come to Jesus to be straight,” instead of “Come to Jesus to be made right with God,” we shouldn’t be surprised when people won’t come to Jesus at all. If he is not the aim of their repentance, then he will not be believed as the ultimate aim of their faith. They will only exchange one idol for another and believe themselves to be Christian because of it.
What the gay community needs to hear is not that God will make them straight, but that Christ can make them his. In this age, they may never be “straight” (for lack of better words), but they can be holy (1 Corinthians 1:30). We must remind others (and ourselves) that Christ is ultimately calling them to himself — to know Christ, love Christ, serve Christ, honor Christ, and exalt Christ forever. When he is the aim of their repentance, and the object of their faith, they are made right with God the Father, and given the power by the Holy Spirit to deny all sin — sexual and otherwise.
As I mentioned earlier, we don’t want people to merely exchange idols under the pretense of walking in faith. Someone trying to pursue heterosexuality and not Christ is just as far from a right standing with God as someone actively pursuing homosexuality. They have put their faith in a new “orientation” rather than in knowing the living God.New Creation, Old Temptations
How does the true gospel change temptation? The day after Jesus saved me, I felt like a new person and the same person all at the same time. I was still very much attracted to women (and in many ways, I still am). I’d visit churches expecting to be encouraged. Expecting to be reminded of the power of the gospel in light of my temptations, but instead, I’d hear the heresy that “deliverance” meant that I shouldn’t be experiencing those same temptations at all. That in my coming to Christ, I should be free from feeling like the old me.
But thank God for the Scriptures. In them, I read about Christ and how he was tempted in all respects but without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Imagine the revelry I experienced when I realized that God was tempted too. And how, if this was the case, I am to judge my position with God not by my temptations but rather by how I respond to my temptations (1 John 3:9).All Sinners, Gay or Straight
“The heterosexual gospel” creates room for much discouragement for those who are same-sex attracted in Christ. Primarily because it assumes that coming to Christ means you will be straight. If same-sex temptation is still found to be a present and consistent reality, the logical assumption will be that you are still the same person — a person that might not truly know God because you are still tempted by sin.
But looking to Christ, we know that’s far from the truth. Whether married or single, Christians who experience same-sex temptations are not less than Christian because they do. If anything, they may be the kind Jesus empathizes with more deeply. They are the folks who Christ summoned to come to his throne of grace for help in their time of need — which, for all of us, is every single day (Hebrews 4:16).
God has not come mainly to make same-sex attracted men and women completely straight, or to get them hitched. Christ has come to make us right with God. And in making us right with God, he is satisfying us in God. That news is good for a reason. For it proclaims to the world that Jesus has come so that all sinners, gay and straight, can be forgiven of their sins to love God and enjoy him forever.
God’s love chooses. His love creates. His love sent us Jesus. God loves his children, this we know, for the Bible tells us so.
You say you’ve tried everything.
You gave away your computer, unplugged your TV, had a total stranger put a lock on your phone. Maybe you’ve done well in stretches. You have four accountability partners, and multiple search engine filters, and yet, in your moments of madness, you find a way to circumvent all boundaries and plunge into sin. You don’t know why you do it. Afterward, you lament with Paul, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).
My question for you is simply this: Is porn really your problem?
It may seem strange to ask. How could this, your secret shame, this habit which makes you hate yourself, this offense which robs your happiness in the Lord and grieves the Holy Spirit — how could this, which you have tried unsuccessfully to shake, not be your problem?
A friend of mine stumbled upon the crucial distinction. “I know this may sound strange,” he confessed, “but I don’t think porn is really my issue.” How could he, someone who the delicious leash had been strangling for years, say it wasn’t his deepest concern?The Old Therapy
The moment he said it, I knew exactly what he meant. Porn was not his problem. What was? The many unaddressed sins feeding his impurity.
To be clear, porn is a problem, and a tragedy. In a society without the Internet, could Jesus have been much more explicit concerning the very heartbeat of the porn industry today?
“Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:28–30)
The war against lust costs arms and limbs. Embarrassment during your next men’s group isn’t mainly what’s at stake. Hell is at stake. And hell is a place that we should tear out eyes and cut off limbs to avoid. Porn, the crown jewel of twenty-first century lust, is always a problem.
But while porn is always a problem, the problem is not always porn.
Porn, for many, is a comfort sin, a type of therapy. Have a stressful day? Sit down and relax. Angry with your spouse or anxious about an upcoming test? Bring your concerns to the computer screen. Are you lonely? Sad? Bitter, bored, or busy? The door is always open. We bring our problems to porn, the cheap, deceptive therapist, ready to relieve the struggles of a long day.
When my friend wondered whether sexual sin was really his problem, he meant this. He used porn to medicate his pent-up bitterness towards those who wronged him, envy towards those who didn’t have his childhood, and loneliness he felt — even in the church. He made it his antidepressant, his treatment, his counselor. His deeper problem: the many sins he spent little-to-no time fighting, the respectable sins that his accountability group didn’t care much about.Goat Path of the Enemy
Our enemy knows this. For years, he has been using porn to distract us from the goat path.
Who could forget the last stand of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae? Outmanned, they held fast, warring for three days against King Xerxes and his army of 150,000 soldiers. They tore at their hunter as a cornered lion. Their last stand is legendary.
But these mighty warriors were defeated by a goat path. Not used for combat, it sat unassuming, merely a way for beasts of burden. Until Ephialtes, a native Greek, betrayed knowledge of this path to the enemy. The Persians attacked from behind. Now outflanked, the Spartan defeat was inevitable.
Satan has been using the goat path for many who battle sexual immorality. Too often we fall, not by lust attacking from the front, but by the respectable sin’s dagger from behind. We try to fight sexual sin head-on, but never turn to confront our pride, our greed, our gluttony. We focus on the loud sin of porn and don’t hear laziness creep up behind. Do we know what sins slay us before lust finishes us off?
Porn may not be your most threatening besetting sin.Rival Counselors
So what do we do?
Don’t give up on much of what we have been doing: attack the porn before us. When we engage the impure enemy we can see, we begin to notice what creeps silently behind. Only when we start saying no to the easy out are we forced to turn and deal with what hunts from the bushes.
When you say no to carnal thoughts, do angry sentiments towards your sister soon flood your mind? When you close your laptop, do you feel overwhelmed again by anxiety? When you get outside and go for a walk, do you see more clearly that you have really been exhausted from your frantic efforts to people-please? Porn use, for many, is the stench that covers a multitude of sins.
When we go to porn for therapy, we go to porn as a substitute savior. But any offer porn gives, Jesus can double it.
Do you go to porn after a long day at work when you are tired? Jesus beckons, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Are you vulnerable to impurity when you become anxious? The comforter of souls says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world [or pornography] gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
Are you unhappy? Depressed? Grieving? He beckons you to come and receive his joy: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
Do you go to explicit images to find life and satisfaction? Jesus exclusively states, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
Do you feel unloved? “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15:9).
Porn is a problem in every person’s life who indulges in it. But porn use may cover your real problems. Get accountability. Say no to lust when it knocks. Then begin to identify, and combat, what sins you might be attempting to avoid.
If Christ is not our supreme treasure, something else will gladly take his place. So how do we preserve our joy in God through the day?
When I tell people I’ve written a book about death, the most common response I receive is laughter.
I take no offense, though. Their laughter isn’t the cruel, mocking sort. We joke about death by instinct. It’s socially unacceptable, and therefore hilarious.
This response confirms one of the major reasons I wrote the book in the first place. Our society has placed a taboo over honest, straightforward talk about death. Perhaps without realizing it, many of us have accepted an unspoken agreement not to go there (even though we all go there).Porn and Zombies
One of the first writers to describe this taboo was a British sociologist named Geoffrey Gorer, writing back in the 1950s. In an essay called “The Pornography of Death,” Gorer suggested that death had become to the twentieth century what sex was to the nineteenth century. Even as the prominence of sex broadened — in conversation, in mainstream television, in what kids are allowed to see and know — death was pushed further out of sight and out of mind.
This taboo on death is something we impose on our culture, wittingly or not. But the taboo also imposes something on us that we ought to recognize and take seriously. Ignoring our mortality distorts our view of reality, and allows us to live as if death is someone else’s problem.
What the taboo does to us is the deeper insight of Gorer’s essay, and the reason for its provocative title. When you suppress honest talk about basic human experiences, interest in them doesn’t disappear; the interest itself is irrepressible. Instead, interest bubbles up in perverted forms. With sex, you get pornography. With death, you get zombie movies.Escaping Reality
If porn is the perverted form of monogamous, married sexuality, then death on screen is the perverted form of death in reality.
Think about it: the deaths shown in our most popular shows and movies are violent deaths. They often come to relatively young people who usually aren’t expecting to die. Characters aren’t dying of old age and natural decay. They’re dying because a psychopath, a mafia hitman, or a zombie killed them. You don’t watch these shows for insight into genuine human experience. You watch them to escape from genuine human experience.
Too often, where death shows up in popular culture, it belongs to a fantasy world. It’s newsworthy. It’s tragic. It’s psychopathic or maybe apocalyptic. But one way or another, death is exotic. It’s something that happens to someone else.
But death, of course, is not exotic. It’s as basic to fallen human experience as birth, eating, and sleeping. The great danger of our taboo on honest talk about death is that it enables self-deception. It feeds a distorted detachment from my own personal mortality.Savor Beneath the Sting
Contrast this detachment from death to the prayer of the psalmist in Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Behind this prayer is the consistent conviction of the Bible: to live well in the world as it is, we have to account for death with honesty. If we’re willing to push through the taboo on death, we’ll find wisdom on the other side.
But honesty about death can lead us to something far more precious even than wisdom. This honesty can lead us to Jesus, to a clearer view of his beauty and power, to a deeper awareness of his life-giving relevance to everything we face. We need to overcome our detachment from death so that we can enjoy a deeper attachment to Jesus.
There is a direct correlation between our sensitivity to death’s sting and our ability to savor Jesus’s promises to us.
The gap between the promises of the gospel we affirm and our experience of those promises in life — between what we know and what we know — is a timeless struggle. But what aggravates that gap can vary from culture to culture. In our time and place, where death is often banished from polite company, we will struggle to experience the beauty and power of Jesus because we’ve numbed ourselves to the problem he came to solve.Death’s Destroyer
In John 11, Jesus made resurrection a bedrock promise of the gospel. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26).
But what good is resurrection to those who are living like immortals? As Walter Wangerin writes,
If death is not a daily reality, then Christ’s triumph over death is neither daily nor real. Worship and proclamation and even faith itself take on a dream-like, unreal air, and Jesus is reduced to something like a long-term insurance policy, filed and forgotten — whereas he can be our necessary ally, an immediate, continuing friend, the Holy Destroyer of Death and the Devil, my own beautiful Savior. (Mourning into Dancing, 29–30)
There is a beautiful irony here, with the power to change your life: if we want to enjoy the precious relevance of Jesus in our day-to-day lives, we need to bring the truth about death into our day-to-day lives. Death-awareness is our path into the liberating, life-giving truth about Jesus.
When we’re honest about what death means for who we are, for what we hope to accomplish, for everything we love about life — when we’re driven to cry out with Paul, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” — we’re made ready to join with Paul in joyful relief, and to mean it deep down: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24–25).
Our greatest weapon against lust is joy in God. Our happiness in him gives us what we need to obtain lasting victory in the war for our souls.