Author: Alison Orpurt

Jesus’ Call to Commitment

As the date for my wedding quickly approaches, I have been reflecting more than usual on the concept of commitment.  What does genuine commitment look like?  How do you prepare for it?  How do you make a new commitment while still honoring your other commitments, such as family, calling, and work?  Our lives consist of so many different commitments, so many “yeses” to good, significant things.  And I believe God intended us to have a variety of important relationships, roles, and callings.  But I am also acutely aware of my limitations, limitations that prevent me from being able to say “yes” to all that I want to be and do.   So as I make decisions about what to do and commit to do, what might Jesus have me reflect upon?

Thankfully, Luke records some important wisdom Jesus had to share about commitment.  In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus encounters three different people who are all faced with the decision to make a commitment to follow him as a disciple or not.  Assuming that most of you reading this have already made an initial commitment to follow Jesus, let’s think about this passage in terms of Jesus’ continued calling on our lives to serve him and know him more fully.  What do Jesus’ responses in these three encounters teach us?

First, Jesus teaches us to count the cost of commitment.

Verses 57-58 say, “As [Jesus and his disciples] were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’

“Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head'” (NIV throughout).

Even though this man was eager to follow him, Jesus wanted to warn him that the path of committed discipleship would not be easy.  Why? Because even Jesus as his master had no guarantee of comfort.  When we make our next step along the road of discipleship, in our enthusiasm, we must not forget to temper our expectations with the truth that just as Jesus experienced discomfort, so will we.  Jesus knows that if we make a commitment without counting the cost and acknowledging the difficulties, when those difficulties inevitably come, we are more likely to give up or grow bitter in our struggle.

Second, Jesus teaches us that our commitment to him must trump all our other commitments.

Verses 59-60 say, “He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’

“But he replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’

“Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.'”

In those days, a burial process and mourning period lasted an entire year.  Jesus chose to be direct with this man, for a decision to commit to him could not wait.  If he was to go back and bury his father, it would be after he committed to follow him.  Our commitment to Jesus must come first, so that all our other commitments, even those to our own flesh and blood, are made in light of our primary commitment to him.  This commitment is too important to compete on the same ground as all our other daily decisions.  Rather, it is meant to be the foundation for every other decision.

Moreover, the primacy of our commitment to Christ is demonstrated not just when we choose to accept Christ as Lord and Savior, but when we choose to keep our relationship with him as the primary force in our lives.  And when we are in communion with him, there is an organic, almost effortless way in which our other commitments are made and maintained.  The tug-of-war on our time and attention is diminished as we live out of our identity in Christ.

Third, Jesus teaches us that commitment requires attentiveness. 

Verses 61-62 say, “Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’

“Jesus replied, ‘No on who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.'”

What happens if you’re looking backwards with a hand to the plow?  You go off course.  Jesus is saying that our service to him is dependent on our attentiveness to the present moment (keeping the plow in the earth) and the end goal of transformation into Christ-likeness (keeping the plow on course to the end of the field).  If we allow our attention to be carried away by other things, then our commitment will be carried away as well.  Our heart follows where our mind pays attention.

More than any other, Jesus’ response to this person illustrates that commitment to Christ requires continued action and forward movement.  It’s not a one-time decision, but an overarching promise to continue to do in the future that which we are doing today.  Isn’t that what commitment is all about?

There Is Joy in the Waiting

Every year we come back again to Advent season–the anticipation of Christmas, the rush to buy presents, the seemingly innumerable gatherings and events, the tug on our heartstrings to give and serve the less fortunate.  If you are like me, every year you fear Christmas might be swallowed whole by materialism, sales goals, busyness, or holiday fluff that is lacking in theological depth.  I often wish that Christmas were not so closely tied to our nation’s economy and yearly calendar.

Yet there is value in a holiday (“holy day”) that comes the same time each year.  This time is set apart to remember the anticipation of Jesus’ first coming, the Advent of Immanuel (“God with us”) on earth.  So in the midst of our desires for stuff and the anxiety our holiday busyness incurs, where can we find the peace and joy that is supposed to be at the core of Christmas?  How can we foster a sense of holy anticipation for God’s presence with us?

There is little we can do to change the hustle and bustle surrounding us at this time of year.  It is thoroughly ingrained in our society at this point.  However, we can let it be a reminder that all of creation groans for the coming of Jesus Christ.  In our society’s continual want for more and more stuff lies a desire for the true God, the true fulfillment of their longings.  Even our own longings, whatever they may be, point to our deep need for fulfillment in Christ, a longing that won’t be completely met until his Second Coming, when all things will be made new.

Just as you may have taken time to give your friends and family a Christmas list of wants and needs, take a few moments to also make another list.  Bring before God your deepest longings and your feelings of neediness.  In what way can God already meet you in your need?  Accept and give thanks for his provision.  Now what longings must wait for heaven or Christ’s return?  Acknowledge the yearning and allow it to give you a sense of anticipation for eternity.  The value of anticipation is that it can nudge us to look upward towards God.  When we realize that we must wait for our longings to be met, then we stop searching for fulfillment in the world around us and look instead to God for the strength to endure the waiting.

Thankfully, the wait can sometimes be the best part.  Children love to see presents under the tree, knowing they will open them Christmas day.  Planning a vacation is often half the fun.  Counting down to graduation, a wedding, or the baby’s due date allows us to share our joyful anticipation with those around us.  And when we know that our expectations will be met, we have every reason to rejoice in the waiting.  Ephesians 1:14 says:

“The Spirit is God’s guarantee he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people.  He did this so we would praise and glorify him” (emphasis mine).

Think of the Holy Spirit in you as the gifts under the tree with your name on them, the guarantee that you will be surprised and blessed by joy in the near future.  The Spirit is our guarantee that we will live forever with Christ, that he will indeed come again to rescue us once and for all.

And unlike this life, when sometimes our expectations are let down, the Spirit is wholly reliable.  All that we expect and anticipate will be fulfilled beyond our imagination.  It will be better than we ever hoped.  When Christ comes again, it will be the best day ever, the best Christmas ever.  May you blessed this season as you enjoy the waiting.

So-Called Scarcity in God’s Abundant Universe

As Thanksgiving approaches, I can only reflect on how many blessings I’ve experienced this past year, and I am filled with gratitude, not just for those blessings, but for the pure joy of being able to feel thankful without effort.  And yes, this is a new situation for me.  But then, I am coming from a place of new blessings–a job promotion, a wonderful boyfriend I met last winter, a new and thriving small group, the opportunity to go to California for vacation as well as Tanzania for a mission trip, and countless other things.  Not every year has been as full as this one.  Sometimes I wonder if there is a way I can store up my feelings of gratitude to last me when times are tougher.  But even more than that, I want my whole attitude to change.  I want to give up my tight-gripped feelings of so-called scarcity and open my heart to all the abundance God has to offer us in this life and the life to come.

I know people often say that you learn and grow a lot when times are hard, and that’s true, but this year I have found myself wanting to learn and grow during the good times as well.  And one of the things I have discovered recently is that we really do serve a generous God who wants to bless us abundantly.  Sometimes the blessings seem few and far between, but I have realized that when you have the mindset that God wants to bless you and certainly will bless you, and when you recognize that there is no such thing as scarcity in God’s economy, then you can become mindful of all the abundance that God has to offer and is offering.

In her thought-provoking book Daring Greatly, shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown talks about our culture of “never enough.”  She writes, “Worry about scarcity is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress.  It happens when we’ve been through too much, and rather than coming together to heal (which requires vulnerability) we’re angry and scared and at each other’s throats.”  With this attitude, we approach our entire day as though we didn’t get enough sleep, there’s not enough time to do what we need to do, not enough money to buy what we need, and we feel as though we aren’t enough to measure up to all the demands put upon us.

Think about it.  How often do these thoughts run through your mind on a typical day?  I know for me, this is my usual way of operating, and frankly, I’m tired of it.  I’m tired of never feeling like I’m enough or I have enough.  I’m ready to feel grateful, alive, fully present, and as though God has filled my cup to overflowing, not just every once in a while, but every day of my life.  Because it’s true.  It’s so true.  The Bible says we were meant to experience God’s love in Christ as wider, longer, higher, and deeper than our own understanding, and that we can “be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Ephesians 3:18-19).  In light of these things, there’s no way we can continue to live with our culture’s attitude of “not enough.”

Paul tells us in Ephesians that it is the Spirit of God who gives us strength from his unlimited resources to trust in Christ and grow in God’s love in this way (3:16-17).  So when I feel like I don’t have “enough” faith or “enough” gratitude, I remind myself that the Spirit can provide me with those things.  And I believe he starts by renewing our minds, by changing how we think about God.  In order to reject scarcity and embrace abundance, we have to recognize God’s incredibly generous heart.  In the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30, a man going on a journey entrusts his property to three servants, and as I’m sure you remember, the first two servants doubled the investments their master gave them.  But the third servant made an excuse for not investing: “I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground” (vv. 24-25).

Is this true?  Is God really like a shrewd and greedy man who expects us to gather what isn’t his?  For example, does he expect us to create more hours in the day?  Should we give more money than we have?  Are we supposed to be superhuman?  No, of course not.  Those things are impossible for us, and we should not live in fear that God expects the impossible from us.  However, and here’s the point, God does expect us to fully invest all he has given us, not because we have control over the results, but because he is in control, and he wants to create abundance out of our participation in his generosity.  We have got to let go of our little, stingy, small-minded views of God and open our hearts to envision God in all of his awesome, abundant, loving, and generous glory.  All the world is his, “the cattle on a thousand hills,” and in God’s universe, scarcity is a non-issue.  May we always thank you, Jesus, for enabling us to share in all your wealth and glory, and may we reject our culture’s unfounded fear of scarcity.  Amen!

A Legacy of Love

Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly influencing others.  As humans, we are naturally wired to watch and learn from others, to follow, adore, and imitate our fellow human beings.  As Christians, we can all point to at least one person who played a key role in our decision to follow Christ.  There is no denying the fact that our relationships with other people have been the largest influence on the course of our lives.  Imagine what a position of power in which that places each of us.  Every person you relate to, and even the state of our world today and tomorrow, can and will be affected by you for good or for evil.

When I think about this, I am prompted to ask myself what I can do to insure that my overall impact is for the good of others and to the glory of God, as well as how I can maximize my positive influence to the greatest degree.  How can I be sure that what I build on God’s foundation in Jesus Christ proves to have value on the judgment day (see 1 Corinthians 3:10-13)?

As I reflect on this week’s story about Peter raising Dorcas back to life, I am struck by how simple her works of service were.  The text simply says that she did kind things for others and helped the poor.  To be more specific, we know that she made coats and other clothes for a room full of widows.  Yet her legacy was so strong that the believers sent for Peter to bring about a miracle, and God showed up in a powerful way by allowing her to be raised from death itself.  This was no eloquent preacher or even the head of large household who God chose to raise.  It was a kind and faithful, ordinary believer who used her gifts to help others.

Clearly, the key ingredient that made Dorcas’s legacy so special was love, Christlike, servant love, love that reached out to “the least of these.”  First Corinthians 13:3 says, “If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”

In order to build on God’s foundation with good works that will last, we must imitate Christ’s love for others.  God’s foundation is Jesus, so everything we build on that must have the same character of Jesus, who, in every moment of his life, perfectly incarnated the everlasting love of God.  That’s a lot to live up to, and yet, Dorcas did it, so simply and sincerely that everyone she served knew they were loved by her.  Thank God for such a simple example for simple folk like us.

Although loving others is not always easy, in my mind, it’s easier than trying to live up to our society’s expectations of power, popularity, prestige, and perfection.  I am comforted that God doesn’t ask me to be perfect at everything in order to influence others.  He has no requirements other than love in Jesus’ name.  When we love others as Jesus has loved us, we are fulfilling God’s requirement for works that will survive (and even shine more purely) after judgment day.

Perhaps you already think frequently about how you can better love others.  But this week, I encourage you to think beyond that to the ways in which God might influence others through your love.  Allow yourself to dream big dreams about the chain effects of your Christlike love.  The point is not to glorify yourself in these dreams, but to open your mind to the possibilities of love’s power.  After Dorcas was raised, it says that the news spread through the whole town and many believed in the Lord (v. 42).  In the same way, God can use you and me as a catalyst for change, most importantly, the change that takes place in a person’s heart when they acknowledge Christ as Lord.  What might that kind of influence look like through your life?  How might God multiply your simple acts of service?  When you find something that ignites your passion and allows you to fully demonstrate your love for others, then you have found the avenue for your influence.  May it be so for all of us.

A Meaningful Life

In my small group discussion this week, seeing 1 John 5 through the eyes of one of our members, I was struck afresh by these verses: “[God] has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life” (vv. 11-12, NLT).  The question came up, what is a meaningful life?  Aren’t there plenty of people around the world who are living good, fulfilling lives, even if they don’t profess to know Jesus?  My instinct was to give the quick, “right” answer, the Sunday school answer.  Of course their lives are empty.  Of course they couldn’t be happy or find meaning without Jesus.  But then, I do know people who seem quite content with their lives, who are good and kind.  Do they even know they are missing something?  And who am I to judge whether they are truly happy or not?

But then, this life that John was speaking of, it is life in a spiritual sense, life as it was meant to be, intimately connected with God, with nothing being able to separate someone from his love.  It is eternal life, life beyond the grave, yet it begins now as we live more abundantly with him.  And everyone, even happy, fulfilled people, have to face the fact they they will die someday.  Yet I am convinced that there is no satisfying answer to that dilemma other than Christ and the eternal life he has made possible for us to live with God.

But, like Pastor Tim, I want God to unpack what he really means in his Word when he talks about this “life.”  If I am to be part of WRCC’s mission to connect every life to Jesus, I feel I must ask these questions.  What makes life with Jesus unique?  What makes any other kind of “life” not really life at all?  As someone who has known Jesus my whole life, thanks to my wonderful family, I have no previous life to which I can compare my experiences.  Yet, like anyone else, I have faced my own difficulties, and I can testify to God’s faithfulness and comfort in the midst of those things, though sometimes I could only see his hand at work as I looked back on the situation.

As we point people to this life of connection with Jesus, I believe we must do so humbly and with great care.  Not everyone is seeking deeper fulfillment, at least not consciously, and not everyone senses their need for God.  Meanwhile, God will place others on our path, just as he did for me this week, who are clearly seeking and hungering for a deeper knowledge of God and an assurance of life to come, and it is a joy to point them to what we know to be true in Christ.  God is at work in both types of people, but our care for those people might take different forms right now.  One type might require a lifetime of friendship, another simply a moment of profound conversation in the supermarket.  Our responsibility is to be ready to point to Christ in whatever way will speak best to that person, wherever they may be on their spiritual journey.

I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 15:18, which says, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (NIV).  It is only because of our hope beyond this life that we have victory and fulfillment.  Here in America, some of us Christians live such rich and blessed lives that we forget where our true hope lies.  And if we offer people only our experience of wealth in this life, then we are only holding out an empty dream.  Instead, if we connect them to Jesus himself and they find relationship with him, then nothing can take his love away from them.

I know my post today has rambled around a bit, but I hope it has caused you too to think more deeply about what makes life meaningful, what it means to be connected to Christ, and the ways in which we can humbly and winsomely invite people into the life we know in Christ.  As WRCC seeks to connect every life to Jesus, may you find yourself connected to him in deeper ways, so that all may see his light in you.  God bless!

Inner Harmony = Pur(er) Speech

We are convoluted creatures–one moment brimming with hope and gladness, the next moment down in the dumps, another moment magnanimously gracious, and the next moment backbiting and petty.  Our tongues simply follow suit, giving praise and encouragement in one breath and dripping with sarcasm and negativity in the next.  We sense that just as a spring issuing both fresh and brackish water is wrong, so also it is not right for us to show such differing attitudes and words, yet what is the solution?  James teaches in 3:7-12 that the tongue simply manifests the division that already exists in our hearts.  The solution, I must deduce, is to find purity and wholeness, to be in harmony with the Spirit in our hearts, so that we might produce only the fruit of the Spirit, and no longer the fruit of our old sin nature.

So how does one find this inner harmony?  In my struggle to tame my tongue, here are the teachings I have personally found to be the most helpful.

1. Live from your center.

It is impossible to fake a pure heart, at least not for any significant length of time.  Likewise, the tongue can never be completely tamed.  Eventually, the facade will cave in and people will see you for who you really are, and usually your tongue is the first thing to give you away.  To live from your center is to live authentically, truthful about your struggles, doubts, and fears, and acknowledging the uglier feelings of anger, bitterness, loneliness, and the like.  Often, passing through these struggles, not skipping over them, is what builds the strength of character you are trying to project to the world.  It takes time and effort to develop your inner heart, which equates to time spent in solitude with God and in vulnerable conversation with a select few who will walk with you on your journey to finding your center in Christ.  If you want to tame your tongue, don’t waste your time constructing an external facade of perfection.  Rather, do the inner work necessary so that your heart is pliant, and the Spirit can change you from the inside out.

2. Follow your words with actions.

If we were required by some natural law to actually follow through on our words, there would be a lot less broadcasting of our opinions or acceptance of commitments.  So if you say something, be willing to back it up with action.  If you pray, be ready to be part of the answer.  And for goodness’ sake, (I’m talking mostly to myself here) if you make a commitment, follow through or at least confess when you realize you’ve overextended yourself.  Thankfully, I’ve discovered that even just a little follow-through can go a long way in the long run.  For instance, when I get fired up about something, like missions or learning to budget or taking better care of myself, my instinct as a natural-born perfectionist is to go all out and consider myself a failure if I don’t achieve my ultimate goal overnight.  However, I have learned that we all handle change much better through “baby steps.”  (I know, you’re probably imagining Bill Murray in What about Bob?).  But by taking baby steps in the right direction–donating to a short-term mission trip, listening to an audiobook about personal finance in the car, or doing yoga stretches for 20 minutes every other day–you affirm the words you have said and the goals you’ve made for yourself, and you teach your tongue to speak only what you can commit to in your deeds.  But as you act on your words, the witness of your words can then reach farther and farther.

3. Give others permission to test your words.

For me, this is the hardest of all.  How I hate to have my words questioned or my opinions criticized.  But just as a writer needs an editor, so does a speaker need an active listener who will push back and offer the teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training of Scriptural truth (2 Timothy 3:16).  Even if you don’t ask for this kind of accountability, God will provide people who will not take your words at face value, who won’t put up with your bad attitude or rudeness, or who will hold you to your promises.  When this inevitably happens, don’t jump to the defensive.  Maybe they aren’t being gracious, but there is probably a kernel of truth in their reaction, and you would do well to take it to heart.  Slow down and listen, really listen.  I hope you will find, as I have, that God speaks to us even through those who don’t know him.  And sometimes he teaches us gentleness through the harsh words of others.

4. Words begin in our thoughts.

I’ll close with this final lesson I’ve learned.  Nothing that we speak can be said without it having been thought first.  Sounds pretty obvious, right?  But how often do we allow lies and judgment to fester in our minds before they eventually spill over into our words?  Yet when we focus our thoughts on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), what spills over is more of the same.  May this be so for all of us as we learn to live in deeper harmony with Christ, so that, like springs of water, his pure living water flows from our words.

The Law That Sets You Free

At some point in our journey with Christ, we begin to ask ourselves, what is the standard by which we are called to live?  James offers an interesting perspective when he says, “So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free” (James 2:12).  It seems contradictory to say that the same law that judges you will also set you free, but that is the plain reading of the text.  In pondering James 2:10-13, I have come to believe that James is equating “the law that sets you free” with God’s law of love, by which God chose to have mercy on us (and thereby set us free from sin).  The law of love is the summation of the two greatest commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  When you fulfill these two commands, you are fulfilling God’s law, which perfectly expresses his loving nature.

But James is also keenly aware that even believers are tempted, fall into sin, and then look for ways to rationalize their behavior.  But in doing this, they can become resistant to God’s will.  For when you are a lawbreaker, you don’t look at the law as something that sets you free, but as something restrictive, guilt-inducing, or even unfair (to your particular circumstances, of course).  But for James, the law we have in Christ sets us free because instead of enslaving us to follow the letter of the law, and thereby having to nitpick ourselves and others to ensure we follow every jot and tittle, we are set free to fulfill the spirit of the law, the law of love, knowing that when we love and show mercy as God does, we are doing God’s will.  Moreover, James teaches the same thing Jesus taught, that we will be judged with the measure of mercy with which we judge others.

James is also clear that a sin is a sin is a sin.  If you break God’s “royal law” to “love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 8), then you are a lawbreaker, no ifs ands or buts.  Yet how often do we rationalize our ill treatment of others?  Sometimes we don’t even acknowledge that our actions bring pain or injustice into others’ lives.  We would rather live ignorant than conscience-stricken.  We choose to be deaf and blind, and in so doing we become wrapped up in our own little worlds, slaves to our own egos, not even aware of the freedom from self that comes from loving others fully and showing the mercy of God.

Perhaps we tend to rationalize those sins that are more natural to our personality, or we categorize certain sins as “not really bad” because our culture accepts or even condones them.  Whatever the case, James calls us to name our sin, accept that we were and are lawbreakers, and live our lives conscious that our deeds will be judged in the future.  Yes, we are saved in Christ and free from the law of the Israelites, but we are still held accountable to Christ’s law of love.

It is hard to admit that though I love others, doing my best to support friends and family and extend kindness to all around me, I have my own well-tread paths of unloving behavior.  I’d like to think they are personality quirks, but I am reminded today that that lack of love is a sin.  Yet how freeing it is to admit my failure and open myself to the Spirit’s leading me into new and better ways of living.  It makes me wonder who I could be without those “personality quirks.”  My unloving behaviors certainly don’t make me happy in the long run.  They create conflict and shame.  But learning God’s ways of love and mercy has always made me feel empowered and free, somehow more my true self.  So I ask you, how do you tend to be unloving?  What gives you that twinge of conscience, that moment when you know you should have treated another person differently?  God wants to set you free from your own selfish desires so that you can love like he does and be all he created you to be.  As one of my favorite praise songs puts it, I will end with this prayer: “teach me how to love like You have loved me.”  Lord, teach us all to love like you have loved us.

Desire: Is It Good or Bad?

In this week’s passage, James reminds us that “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (1:13).  Imagine being so pure and holy that no evil, no matter how well disguised or promising, could ever tempt you.  For now, however, we still have a sin nature that causes us to desire things that aren’t good for us.  James warns us, saying, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (vv. 14-15).  This is not to say that desire is always a bad thing, but we must be on our guard against any desire that might lead us into sin.  Evil desires are what he is talking about here.

One of the best ways to guard yourself against evil desires is to realize that you are not the best judge of what is right for you.  Accept your humanity.  Realize that just as Adam and Eve were fooled by Satan and tempted by their own desires to be god-like, so we too are fallible and vulnerable to attack from the inside (in the form of our sin nature) and the outside (either by Satan or the evil world we live in).

The one who does know what is best for you is God.  How strange, then, that James must warn us not to blame him for our temptations.  For though God does allow trials in our life to test us, he does not use evil to try and lure us into sin and ultimately death.  God always wants what is best for us.

Perhaps, then, the key to overcoming temptation is to believe God is who he says he is.  Many of us as children were eager to please our parents (I know I was), and a major impediment to doing wrong was simply the good desire, hopefully stronger than any bad desire, to make them proud and not to “get into trouble.”  Yet at some point over the years, we learned a couple of things: 1) our parents aren’t perfect, and 2) there are other people we might want to please even more.  This usually happens around the early teenage years, and it’s a perfectly natural part of establishing our independence.

But with our heavenly Father, things are different, for he is not only perfect, but he is also the one who will will meet our deepest desires.  For even though in this life, we continue to struggle with desires for things that are evil or harmful, in the end what we most long for can be fulfilled only in him.  I know what you’re thinking.  I’ve heard this over and over again.  We all have a God-shaped hole.  I want to want God.  So then why don’t I want God more than anything?

I too have had those thoughts, and I still do from time to time.  But I have also experienced the blessed desire to know God more than anything else.  And during those times, temptations have very little space on my radar.  But what to do during the times when other desires cry out so loudly?

In Philippians 4:8, Paul says, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  When we find things of value–true friendships, a simple way of life, solitude with God, meaningful ways to serve others–our minds become absorbed with the things of God, and our desires are caught up with eternal concerns.  The sin nature has much less room in our minds to tempt us, and the Spirit has free reign to guide our desires to what will fulfill them most.

Finally, take a few moments now to consider what desires in your life might be leading you towards sin.  Often the places in our life in which we find it hardest to trust God are the areas in which we are most vulnerable to temptation.  How might God be offering you another way to fulfillment and belonging in him?  What is he asking you to believe is true about himself?

Alison Orpurt

Trials + Faith = Perseverance

Most of the time we don’t know what we’re made of until we’re tested.  It’s true for the runner attempting a marathon, for the first-time parent raising a child, for the high school student taking the SATs, or for the cancer patient facing a long battle for health.  The same is true for our faith.  We don’t know how genuine and real it is until it’s tested by trials and suffering.

After introducing his letter, James immediately launches into a discussion of this issue.  He writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (NIV).  I love the Greek word used here for perseverence, hypomone, not just because it’s fun to say, but because it means more than just a passive waiting.  Rather, it indicates an active tenacity and stick-to-it-iveness.

There is a difference between someone who looks at trials of many kinds (i.e., big or small, physical, financial, or emotional, etc.) and sees them as things to be endured and someone who sees those same trials as opportunities to grow and attain a fullness of joy they have never experienced before.  Notice that James says to “consider” those trials as joy, not that they actually are joy.  It’s not going to feel good at the time, and it doesn’t mean that God delights in our suffering, but it is inevitable that trials will test our faith, and when our faith is genuine, its testing will produce the valuable character trait of perseverance.

Joy primarily comes after a trial, for it’s at that point that we can look back and see what we’re made of.  And when we know that our faith is real, don’t we feel more at peace when facing new trials?  For when we have persevered in one trial, even a little one, we are that much more sure we can persevere again.  I believe that to persevere in the hypomone sense is to face suffering with the intent to “get the most out of it.”  Since suffering is inevitable in this life, I want to respond in such a way that I become better rather than bitter.  We all know someone who is enduring incredible difficulties and yet has a cheerful disposition or a calm trust in God.  But we also know those who blow all of their little sufferings out of proportion, complaining about what one could call “first world” problems.

Regardless of the size or type of our trials, James doesn’t intend to downplay our sufferings.  But he does want to change our perspective.  I am intrigued at the way he says “you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”  He is confident that as believers, his brothers and sisters in Christ have all experienced growth in perseverance.  So, like an older and wiser sibling, he is reminding us of the perspective we need to keep in order to find joy on the other side of, and perhaps even in the midst of suffering.  We need to remember that we have survived and grown before, and we will do so in the future as we continue to trust in Christ.

Personally, I’m glad that James begins his “life apps” with an acknowledgment that we are engaged in trials and testings.  I need to be reminded of how far I have come in order to keep persevering in this process of becoming who God meant for me to be.  There are no pat answers to why we suffer in this life, but I agree with James that there is a process of testing and growth that we can see and rejoice in, and each trial that results in perseverance can strengthen our resolve to face the next one head-on.  May God grant us all the perseverance we need in our trials today, as well as a perspective of joy and peace as we trust in him.

Alison Orpurt

More Precious Than Rubies

Throughout history the roles of women have often been limited, even restrictive or demeaning.  But whenever I read Proverbs 31 I am reminded that God intended women to have great influence and to be able to exercise a broad variety of gifts and skills.  If an excellent wife is deemed more precious than rubies, this must be because her effect on her household is so powerful and greatly to be desired.  But the opposite is also true.  A foolish woman has a profoundly negative effect on her home.  Proverbs 14:1 says, “A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands.”  

What does this say about the role of women?  In the most general sense, I believe Proverbs teaches that women are designed to influence their sphere of relationships, whether in the home as a wife and mother, in the community to which they belong, or among their network of friends and coworkers.  Women are geared to build up relationships and foster the bonds between people.  But with that power, they also have the ability to tear down relationships and create division.  Does the foolish woman realize she is tearing down her home with her own hands?  Maybe she does; maybe she doesn’t.

However, for the woman who recognizes her capacity to influence her family and community, Proverbs 31 provides a whole alphabet of characteristics to strive towards, lest any man or woman treat a woman’s role too lightly. (In the Hebrew, this passage is an acrostic poem, with each verse beginning with a Hebrew letter.)  Allow me to point out a few that inspire me:

1. She can be trusted to always have what is best for others, especially her husband, in mind (vv. 11-12). Rather than looking out for only herself, the godly woman focuses on others and does what’s best for those around her, even if it requires sacrifice on her part.  Those who depend on her know her to be trustworthy and unselfish.

2. She is diligent and hard-working, providing for those in her care (vv. 13-15).  Rather than avoiding responsibility, she takes initiative and makes the most of her resources to bring benefit to others, especially those who look to her leadership.

3. She sets goals for herself, always seeking to improve her circumstances (vv. 16-19).  Rather than accepting her circumstances as they are, she invests what she has so that she can produce more fruit and become a stronger person.  The godly woman is no weakling!

4. She is generous to the needy, to her own household, and even to herself (vv. 20-22).  She may be frugal, but she isn’t stingy.  She shows compassion to the poor, yet doesn’t neglect her own family or her own needs.  She makes sure everyone is well taken care of in sunshine or rain.

5. Her good reputation brings honor to her family and credence to her words (vv. 23-27).  This is the kind of woman people want to do business with.  She is carefree because she fears the Lord.  When she speaks, she teaches others with her wisdom and kindness.

6. Her success is rooted not in charm or beauty, but the fact that she fears the Lord (aka wisdom) (vv. 24-31).  This woman is not praised for shallow or external traits, but because her whole household can testify to her wisdom and the blessings she brings to those around her.

Truly God has given women a position of great honor and strength, if we would only use our power for good, fearing the Lord rather than people.  And whether we are married or not, or whether we have children or not, every woman has been endowed with a unique ability to connect others, to build up her network of relationships, and to invest in the lives of those around her.  Women, whatever your past experience has been, don’t put limits on what God can do through you to bless others.  Men, take note of the precious value God has placed on women, and seek to know and learn from those women who fear the Lord.  They are indeed more precious than rubies.

Questions

1. What impact have godly women had on your life and how can you emulate them?

2. How does the Proverbs perspective on women compare with our culture’s messages about women?