Four(teen) Ways to Improve Your Listening

“Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen [and] slow to speak…” —James 1:19, NIV

Nothing unburdens a hurting soul, delights a cheerful soul, or gives clarity to a muddled soul like a friend who listens with interest. As David Augsburger observed, “Being heard is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.” (I would also suggest that being heard is so close to being known that most people cannot tell the difference.)

We all long to be known and loved, and listening is custom-fit to accomplish both of these ends. When done correctly, listening can bring healing, refreshment, encouragement, transformation. In fact, I would argue that there is not a single conversational habit you could adopt that will have a greater impact on the people in your life than listening well. (The practice of giving specific encouragement is also near the top of the list.)

The problem is that many parents, counselors, teachers, and friends believe the best way to have an impact is to talk—to offer advice, share knowledge, or impress with words of wisdom. Most of the time, that’s not the case. As the adage goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” You earn the right to speak into one’s life through listening well. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “We should listen with the ears of God so that we may speak the word of God.”

Do you want to have an impact on those around you? Learn to listen well. Listening is a gift you can always give and a skill you can always improve. To that end, consider four(teen) ways to improve your listening.

1. Choose to listen.

I’d argue that 70% of the reason why people don’t listen well is that they don’t choose to, whereas 30% is because they don’t know how. In other words, the first step to listening well is a matter of intentionality. It’s a matter of conscious choice.

In every conversation, you have two options (with a wide spectrum in between): tune out or listen well. Often this is simply the choice between putting yourself first and putting the other person first. As Stephen Covey put it, “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Most people are more interested in what they have to say than what you have to say.

The reason being heard feels so much like being loved is because true listening is loving. It is caring rather than consuming, understanding rather than using, giving rather than taking. Not many habits reflect the gospel more powerfully than this.

2. Don’t assume you already know what the other person has to say.

Perhaps nothing kills active listening more than the assumption that “I already know this.” Worse, when we assume the other person has nothing interesting, new, or novel to offer, it can subtly fuel spiteful feelings toward him. To quote Bonhoeffer again, “There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person” (emphasis mine).

At best, the assumption that the other person has nothing new or interesting to offer is unhelpful. At worst, it will deteriorate a relationship. Meanwhile, if you approach interactions with the expectation that you will learn something new, you will not only listen better, discover more, and participate with greater enjoyment, but you will also honor the other person and reflect the love of Christ (our ultimate motivation to listen well). As my friend Caleb Collins put it, “Treat others like they have something valuable to say and you will likely both give and get something valuable in return.”

3. Become an expert at asking questions.

Asking questions and listening are a match made in heaven (literally). Jesus asked over 300 questions in the gospels alone—even though he “already knew what others had to say” infinitely more than we do! (See Psalm 139:4; John 2:24-25.) If question-asking and listening were merely about information gathering, Jesus wouldn’t have done it. Yet he majored in it. Why? Because question-asking is a uniquely powerful form of ministry.

Asking questions communicates that you value the other person (and what she has to say) in a way that talking simply cannot—regardless of how profound your words are. This is a priceless gift in a world full of people starving to be noticed and valued. If you ask good questions, people will encounter the attentive, loving, interested presence of Christ through you in a rare and transformative way.

If you struggle to know what questions to ask, remember that you always have FORKS in your toolbelt. (See this article for an explanation of this acronym and further tips on asking great questions.)

To counselors and friends of hurting loved ones

Asking questions is especially important when helping a hurting loved one. Asking questions shows the other person that you see her as a person to foster not a problem to fix. (It also helps you give much better counsel if and when you do speak.) Always aim to ask at least 3 questions before offering your input.

If you’re a counselor, I’d recommend something like a 10-to-1 ratio between asking questions and giving advice. Effective counseling is much more about understanding the other person (and helping him understand himself) than giving advice. People are more likely to change when you help them come to a conclusion than when you tell them what they should think. Advice (often) band-aids a wound; listening and asking questions work toward healing the wound.

4. Show interest.

If you want to make someone feel heard, listen. If you want to make someone feel loved, listen with interest. Consider ten ways to grow in this area:

  1. Look her in the eye. Maintaining eye contact communicates to the other person, “You are the most important thing to me right now.” Wandering eyes will always make the other person feel unheard (or not fully heard at best).
  1. Face her. As someone is talking, ask yourself, “Does my body language communicate that I am all-in on this conversation or that I’m more interested in something else?”
  1. Put down your phone. Not many things communicate disinterest (and disrespect) more than looking at your phone when someone is talking to you. Meanwhile, putting your phone away assures the other person that she has your undivided attention.
  1. Ask clarifying questions. Clarifying questions communicate your desire to understand and your interest in the conversation. Two of the best questions to ask are, “What did you mean by [insert one specific word or phrase they said]?” and “Are you saying that [insert what you think they’re saying in your own words]?” 
  1. Smile. Smiling shows that you enjoy the other person’s presence. You don’t need to smile for the entire interaction. But if you spend two hours with someone and you never smile, what does this communicate to the other person about your interest in them?
  1. Nod when she’s talking. Facial expressions and non-verbal affirmations show her that you understand and you’re actively listening.
  1. Write down important details. It can be easy to forget important parts of a dialogue (e.g., the names of her kids, the anniversary of her mom’s death, her prayer requests). Immediately after a conversation ends, make note of these things. Remembering sensitive details will go a long way in making someone feel heard and loved.
  1. Set aside time for undistracted listening. It is understandably difficult to listen well as you’re rushing out the door, about to take an important phone call, or falling asleep after a long day. Make listening easier by setting aside time when you can be engaged without distraction. If you’re unable to give someone your full attention, ask her, “Can we talk about this [insert a specific day and time]?” This communicates that you care about this person’s thoughts enough to make sure you can give them your full attention.
  1. Pray. Before you meet with someone (or before you get home from work to see your spouse), pray, “Help me to listen well.” This glorifies God, honors the other person, and puts your mind in the right place. And you better believe God is delighted to answer this prayer!
  1. Follow up. Every time you follow up with someone about something she said, you communicate that “I heard you, I care about you, and I want to hear more about you.” Often the sweet spot to follow up is within 24-72 hours.

Love by listening

You will have an opportunity to love someone today by listening well. Take advantage of this opportunity and lean into it as a gift from God. Not many things will convey the affection of Christ more powerfully than your intentional and interested attention.

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn)Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (Dawn and Steve Mornings—here and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen)ChurchLeaders.comThe Aquila ReportMonergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Read “Five Habits That Kill Contentment” here.

Read “Four Burdens Jesus Never Asked You to Carry” here.

Read “Three Ways to Glorify God in Worry and Anxiety” here.

Read “An Answer to Prayer Even Better Than Clarity” here.

Satan’s Two Favorite Lies (and Christ’s Victory)

Key verses:

“The devil was a murderer from the beginning… there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44, NIV)

Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:6, ESV)

Satan has been lying since the beginning of creation and he’s got very good at it. If you want evidence of his craftiness, consider this: Satan lures us every day with the same two lies (he has zero originality!)—and even though both sentiments have proven time and time again to be fraudulent and harmful to us, we are still tempted to believe them. 

As if that’s not striking enough, what if I told you that these two lies are contradictory to one another? Yes, within a matter of seconds, Satan often gets us to believe two polar opposite, completely contradictory notions. Here’s how it works:

Lie #1: Temptation (Satan downplays sin)

First, Satan—the Tempter—downplays sin. He tempts you with statements like, 

  • Do it (or believe it)! It’s not a big deal!
  • You deserve this!
  • This is what’s best for you!
  • This is what will make you happy!
  • No need to resist—God will forgive you anyway!

Then you sin. 

Immediately—without a moment’s hesitation—Satan reverses his course. You glance over the shoulder from which the Tempter once whispered promises of happiness and God’s awaiting grace, but now he’s gone. Suddenly you hear hissing from the opposite shoulder—words of guilt and shame. The Tempter is now the Accuser.

Lie #2: Accusation (Satan downplays God’s grace)

Next, Satan downplays God’s grace. He tempts you with statements like,

  • You did that?? That’s a huge deal!
  • Fool! How could you think you deserved that? Shame on you!
  • That was the worst thing you could’ve done!
  • You’ll never have joy again!
  • God will never forgive you!

Notice that the claims Satan makes in accusation are often in direct contradiction to those he speaks in temptation. Yet we believe him again. Somehow—just moments after being conned by Satan’s fraud—we are already biting into his next hook.

We are not ignorant of the devil’s schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11)

This is Satan’s game plan: He tempts us to do something or believe something and then he accuses us when we do. His vile service is a running subscription with no earthly expiration date; it may be hidden at times but it’s never dormant. Satan is always sowing seeds of temptation or accusation. Often both.

Of course, Satan doesn’t need us to sin today to bring harm. The Accuser loves to use our past mistakes and sins against us. Satan’s favorite words are, “Look what you’ve done!”—and he’s perfectly content pointing to regrets from years ago. As long as we are looking at what we’ve done—whether from 20 minutes ago or 20 years ago—we aren’t looking at what Christ has done for us. That’s a win in Satan’s book.

In one sense, Satan already has more than enough ammunition to accuse us for a lifetime. Sure, he will never stop tempting us to sin and doubt God’s promises. But as life goes on, Satan often makes accusation his primary method of attack. As Tim Keller put it, “Accusation is the main problem that we [face] from the forces of darkness, even more than temptation.”

Our defense when Satan tempts us to despair

Here’s the good news: While we are often weak and vulnerable to the lies of Satan, we have a strong Defender who fights for us—and his victory is sure. In fact, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:‬8; see also Hebrews 2:14-15). The same Christ who brings peace to us brings destruction to Satan (Romans 16:20)—this is central to his mission!

If you want a beautiful picture of Christ defending you in the midst of Satan’s accusations, read Zechariah 3. When Satan accuses us (v. 1), Jesus stands by us (v. 5), rebuking and silencing the devil’s accusations (v. 2). Through Christ, Satan is disarmed (Colossians 2:13-15), crushed (Genesis 3:15; Romans 16:20), overcome (1 John 4:4), conquered, thrown down, and defeated (Revelation 12:9-11).

Rejoice, Christian! In the presence of the slain Lamb of God, Satan’s accusations against you have no power (Zechariah 3:1-10; Colossians 1:22; Revelation 12:9-11). Does Satan charge you of sin? Jesus came to take away sin (1 John 3:5). Does Satan charge you of being a sinner? Jesus came to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Does Satan charge you of being weak? Ungodly? Sinful? Rebellious? These are the exact categories of people Jesus came to deliver (Romans 5:6-11). Does Satan charge you of weak faith? Weak faith in a strong Savior is saving faith (Mark 9:20-24). Does Satan charge you with wasting your life? Christ will redeem the years the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25-28) and will bend all things for your good (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). Does Satan call you worthless or unloved? God himself tells you otherwise (Isaiah 43:4; Colossians 3:12). Does Satan tell you God has left you? He is irrefutably wrong (Hebrews 13:5). Does Satan bring any charge against you? He will fail; no one will lift a finger against God’s people or separate them from his love (Romans 8:31-39). Yes, because of Christ we can confidently sing,

The Prince of Darkness grim,

We tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure,

For lo! His doom is sure.

One little word shall fell him.

At the word of Christ, the Accuser is instantly silenced. Through Christ, we are already free from sin’s penalty (Romans 8:1) and power (Romans 6:1-14), and one day we will be freed from its very presence (1 John 3:1-3; Colossians 1:22; Revelation 22:3). Rejoice in this glorious hope!

The ironic truth behind Satan’s lies

Satan’s accusations contain a glorious twist of irony: they are actually the first verse of every believer’s joyful song of redemption. Fortified by gospel hope, we don’t need to silence Satan’s charges of our sinfulness—we can actually join him in singing and remind him of the rest of the gospel refrain! (I provide two examples at the bottom of this page.) Thus when Satan accuses us, saying, “You are a sinner!” we can tell him we agree! As Martin Luther famously put it,

“When the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!’”

Victory in the blood of the Lamb

Believer, do not forget this: We conquer the Accuser not by trying harder or promising to do better next time, but by boldly claiming the blood of the Lamb (Hebrews 4:14-16; Revelation 12:11). To quote another precious hymn, “When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see Him there, who made an end to all my sin.” As long as we are looking at Jesus—the Truth himself—Satan’s lies have no power. Let’s rejoice afresh today in Christ’s victory!

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn), Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (Dawn and Steve Mornings—here and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen), ChurchLeaders.com, The Aquila Report, Monergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Read “Five Habits That Kill Contentment” here.

Read “Four Burdens Jesus Never Asked You to Carry” here.

Read “Three Ways to Glorify God in Worry and Anxiety” here.

Read “An Answer to Prayer Even Better Than Clarity” here.

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Satan’s accusations are the first verse of every believer’s song of redemption!

Consider parts of two church favorites, All I Have Is Christ and His Mercy Is More:

Key:

[RED: Satan and Saints sing together]

[BLUE: Saints sing alone]

All I Have Is Christ

I once was lost in darkest night

Yet thought I knew the way

The sin that promised joy and life

Had led me to the grave

I had no hope that You would own

A rebel to Your will

And if You had not loved me first

I would refuse You still

But as I ran my hell-bound race

Indifferent to the cost

You looked upon my helpless state

And led me to the cross

And I beheld God’s love displayed

You suffered in my place

You bore the wrath reserved for me

Now all I know is grace

His Mercy is More

What riches of kindness

He lavished on us

His blood was the payment

His life was the cost

We stood ‘neath a debt

We could never afford

Our sins they are many

His mercy is more

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Recommended resources:

Recommended songs:

Five Habits that Kill Contentment

One of the most precious (and curious) statements in all of Scripture is Paul’s words in Philippians 4:12: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”

It’s hard to read this without some degree of intrigue. Content? In any and every situation? And he wrote this while he was unmarried, imprisoned (unjustly), constantly persecuted, actively misrepresented with ill intent, and relentlessly tempted to live in regret for his grievous past? We rightly marvel at Paul’s statement. But one word in this famous verse is often overlooked—the third one. Did you notice it?

Paul says, “I have learned the secret of being content…”

This one word is enough to provide mountains of hope for every reader, reminding us that our past mistakes, present difficulties, and unknown futures do not consign us to a life of discontent. According to this verse, contentment is not something one naturally has (or doesn’t have); it’s something she learns. Yes, contentment is a rare jewel, but it is a rare jewel that any Christian can experience—especially if we rid our lives of known killers of contentment. Consider five “C’s” from the book of Philippians.

Contentment Killer #1: Comparing

Key verses:

Philippians 1:15-18: “Some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry … supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that … Christ is preached. And because of this, I rejoice.”

Likely the number one killer of contentment—and perhaps the most subtle—is comparison. This was true back in Paul’s day and it’s arguably even more the case today in our social media-driven culture. Before you even get out of bed in the morning, you can—with a few effortless scrolls—begin comparing your “boring” life to the best moments of others’ physical appearance, success, marriage, kids, experiences, career, and possessions. Nothing like a cold shot of inadequacy to go with your morning brew.

In one sense, the pressure to measure up has never been higher. Moms can’t just be moms anymore—you must now be a mom with a niche if you want to keep up with all the Instagram moms who are (seemingly) crushing it while also contributing to society. Artists can’t just be artists anymore—if you hope to ever be noticed, you better have a unique and growing platform from an early age. We used to be evaluated against those in our localized social circles (which was enough pressure by itself!). Now we are evaluated against the world’s most gifted YouTubers, funniest TikTokers, best-looking Instagrammers, most inspiring influencers, most eloquent bloggers, most romantic couples, most all-together moms, most creative artists, most successful entrepreneurs, most enviable homeowners, most intelligent pastors, most affluent businessmen and businesswomen. Good luck measuring up to that.

Beyond this, the expected age to “be something” has quickly and drastically plummeted. At a rate unknown to previous generations, middle schoolers and high schoolers are now walking into classrooms with “celebrity peers”—some with followings of hundreds of thousands or even millions. The pressure to create yourself—which in decades past intensified around the age that one had to declare a major in college—is now being placed on the shoulders of kids not even old enough to drive.

One of the net results of all of this is a widespread, suffocating flood of comparison—quickly turning companions into competition and wreaking havoc on our contentment.

How can we escape the trap of comparison?

How did Paul sidestep this contentment-killing “envy and rivalry” (1:15)? According to his letter to the Philippians, he did it by keeping the gospel (1:18)—and Christ himself (1:21)—at the center of his life. He renewed his mind daily in prayer and God’s Word (1:3-4; Romans 12:2; Colossians 3:16) and kept his focus on the mission and prize of Christ (1:21-26; 3:8-11; 3:13-14).

What was the fruit of Paul’s Christ-centered, gospel-driven mindset? It turned the successes of others into fuel for his joy instead of fuel for his jealousy (1:17-18). It multiplied his thankfulness (1:3), hope (1:20a), courage (1:20b), peace (4:7-9), praise (1:4; 1:18; 4:4), affection and love (1:8-9). It assured him that both life and death are gain for the Christian (1:21).

Keeping our minds fixed on the gospel of Christ—and on Christ himself—is the surest remedy to contentment-killing comparison (4:8-9; 4:12-13, especially v. 13).

Contentment Killer #2: Complaining

Key verses:

Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without grumbling or [complaining].” (cf. ESV, NKJV)

Philippians 4:6: “In every situation … with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

There is an important difference between grieving and grumbling. The Bible calls us to grieve. It forbids us to grumble. Both are responses to pain and expressions of dissatisfaction—but one can coincide with (and even produce) contentment, whereas the other destroys it. How can we tell the difference between grieving (healthy) and grumbling (unhealthy)?

Perhaps the quickest way to distinguish the two is with this simple test: Is my expression of hurt and dissatisfaction drawing me closer to God or pushing me away from him? Grief asks (honestly), “God, where are you in this?” Grumbling (functionally) declares, “God has left me,” or, “God is not good.” The grieving person acknowledges the felt gap between her present pain and her belief that God is good, present, and all-powerful. She asks God, “How can these two be reconciled?” Grumbling doesn’t even try to put the two together.

Another distinguishing mark between grumbling and grieving is where it leads. Grumbling culminates in despair (1 Corinthians 10:10); godly grief culminates in hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The grieving Christian rightly acknowledges that her pain is real and worthy of lament—but she also acknowledges that God will make things right, even if she can’t see how yet. And she longs deeply for this promised redemption (Philippians 1:23; Romans 8:20-24).

One of the biggest misconceptions about contentment is that true contentment is the absence of longing. The book of Philippians blows this idea out of the water. In the same letter that Paul says that he has learned the secret to being content in every situation (4:11-13), he also says that he longs to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (1:23). As my friend Andrew Micah wisely put it, “Contentment is not the absence of longing; it is trusting God in the midst of our longings and setting them in the context of his larger story.”

What can we do when we’ve fallen into the trap of chronic grumbling? Three of the surest remedies are daily repentance (Romans 2:4; 1 John 1:9); gratitude (4:6), and gazing at Christ and his promises (1:21; 3:8-14; 3:20-21). For more on the topic of grumbling, see chapter 9 of C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce.

Contentment Killer #3: Contorting (or crushing)

Key verses:

Philippians 3:18-20: “Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven—and we eagerly await a Savior from there: The Lord Jesus Christ…”

Contorting happens whenever we put pressure onto an object to be something that it wasn’t designed to be or do something it wasn’t designed to do. Every time we look to a gift of God (a creation) to do something that only God (the Creator) can do, it inevitably ruins the gift and kills our contentment.

We could just as easily refer to this contentment killer as “crushing.” Any time we squeeze onto a gift of God and say, “Be God for me! Save me!” It will always break the gift. It is akin to squeezing an ornament with the amount of pressure that only a baseball could withstand—it will always shatter. No created thing can withstand the pressure of being one’s savior.

Here’s the good news: While everything in this world shatters and breaks when we put pressure on it to be our savior, Jesus does not. You cannot possibly cling to Jesus too tightly or ask too much of him. Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus sustains the entire universe by his word—meaning he is strong enough to sustain you, save you, and carry the heaviest of your burdens.

Contentment Killer #4: Complacency (and perfectionism)

Key verses:

Philippians 3:12-14: “[Not] that I have already reached perfection, but I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

Someone once said to me, “I will never stop growing—I refuse to be content!” He went on to express his concern that contentment would hinder his growth. While I admired his desire to grow, he was confusing contentment with complacency—and there is a huge difference. Complacency involves stagnancy; contentment does not. (We might say that complacency is stagnancy without fulfillment, whereas contentment is fulfillment without stagnancy.)

When it comes to spiritual growth, we most often fall into one of two ditches: complacency or perfectionism. We either abuse the grace of God through complacency, or we distrust the grace of God through perfectionism. Both are equally dangerous. Complacency whispers to the Christian, “You’re good enough—why even try?” Perfectionism whispers to the Christian, “You’ll never be good enough—why even try?” Both ditches not only prevent us from growth but also destroy our contentment: Complacency strips us of the joy of sanctification (growing in Christ); perfectionism strips us of the joy of justification (being secure in Christ).

What can keep us from falling into these ditches? According to Philippians 3:12-14, we must press on in sanctification while simultaneously clinging on to the perfection of Jesus for our justification. We must never stop working to grow in practical righteousness (1:27; 2:12), but we must also never stop resting in Christ’s righteousness for our salvation (2:13; 3:9).

Contentment Killer #5: Conceit (and entitlement)

Key verses:

Philippians 2:3-11: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves … Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage—rather, he made himself nothing … [and] humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross!”

Similar to grumbling, entitlement is a surefire way to kill contentment. Contentment says, “I have more than I deserve.” Entitlement says, “I deserve more than I have.” You cannot possibly have an entitled heart while also having a contented heart—this is a contradiction in terms.

What relief is available to the person wrestling with entitlement? The Holy Spirit tells us in Philippians 2:3-11: Fix your gaze on the only person who actually deserved to be entitled—Jesus Christ! Jesus was with God—with every right and reason to hold on to the comforts and riches of heaven—but instead of using his riches to his own advantage, Jesus left his Father’s throne above and gave up his riches so that we through his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Whenever entitlement (or any other contentment killer) threatens to suffocate our spiritual life, Christ is our oxygen (4:13). So let’s breathe in the gospel today and keep our gazed fixed on our Savior—who humbled himself to the point of death, in order that we may have life.

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn), Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (Dawn and Steve Mornings—here and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen), ChurchLeaders.com, The Aquila Report, Monergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Read “Four Burdens Jesus Never Asked You to Carry” here.

Read “Three Ways to Glorify God in Worry and Anxiety” here.

Read “An Answer to Prayer Even Better Than Clarity” here.

Listen to “And Can It Be?” (Enfield) here.

Questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a reply in the box below.

Four Burdens Jesus Never Asked You to Carry

I once read a fictional story of a man who received an assignment from Jesus while traveling up a mountain. The story went something like this:

“How are you this morning?” Jesus asked.

“I’m fine, thank you,” Fred replied. “Is there anything I can do for you today?”

“Yes, there is,” Jesus said. “I have a wagon with three stones in it, and I need someone to pull it up the hill for me. Are you willing?”

“Of course; I’d love to do something for you! Those stones don’t look very heavy, and the wagon is in great shape. Where would you like me to take it?”

Jesus gave the man specific instructions, sketching a map in the dust at the side of the road. Cross the forest to get to the village; cross the village to get to the path; stay on the path until you reach the top.

So Fred set off cheerfully. The wagon pulled a bit behind him, but the burden was an easy one. He began to whistle as he walked quickly through the forest. The sun peeked through the trees and warmed his back. What a joy to be able to help the Lord, Fred thought, enjoying the beautiful day.

As Fred entered the village, he saw a man selling colored stones, slightly bigger than the ones Jesus gave him, and much more glamorous in his humble opinion. I’ll bet Jesus would want a few of these, too, he thought to himself. He found that only two of their size would fit in the wagon alongside the rocks Jesus gave him, so he purchased a couple and went on his way, proud of his own ambition to do even more than what Jesus had asked of him.

As he neared the end of the village—with the path in sight—he saw a signpost that read, “Freshly tumbled stones, two miles east! Rounder, smoother, and more polished than any you’ve ever seen!” It was off the path Jesus directed him to take, to be sure, but he could easily fit two more stones in his knapsack, maybe more—and Jesus would be so proud of him for carrying more than he asked! He could already picture the impressed look on Jesus’s face: “My, my, you’re even stronger than I realized!” Jesus would say.

As Fred went along, he collected more and more rocks—some from nearby towns, others from fellow travelers, still others from paths Jesus never asked him to go. He even purchased a new wagon—heavier, yes, but it gave him more space to fit his new rocks, and the tires looked to be more durable than the ones on Jesus’s wagon. Jesus doesn’t know how steep these hills can be, Fred thought.

With every mile Fred traveled, his load grew fuller and fuller, heavier and heavier. The wagon felt huge and awkward as it lumbered and swayed over the ruts in the road. No longer was Fred singing praises. Instead, resentment began to build inside, especially during the steeper parts of the journey. How could Jesus expect me to carry such a heavy load? he thought to himself.

Frustrated, he began to entertain thoughts of giving up and letting the wagon roll backward. About that time Jesus came to Fred’s side and asked him what was wrong.

“You gave me a job that is too hard for me,” Fred sobbed.

Jesus walked over to the wagon. “What is this that you’re carrying?” he asked with a tone of purer compassion than Fred had ever heard. One by one, Jesus unloaded the wagon, placing stones of various sizes and colors on his own back, until only the three stones he had given Fred were left in the wagon.

“I know you were trying to help,” Jesus said gently. “But when you are weighed down with all these cares, you will not have the strength to do what I have asked of you.”

Burdens Jesus never asked us to carry

As silly as this story may seem, there is a Fred in all of us. Every Christian has taken up burdens Jesus never asked her to carry—often with noble motives—and has had to learn to lay them back down. In fact, the Christian life could be described as a continual laying down of unnecessary burdens at Christ’s feet, daily seeking fresh mercy and relief in his soul-sustaining presence (Psalm 55:22; Matthew 11:28-30; 1 Peter 5:7).

Scripture highlights many heavy burdens that we will be tempted to carry in this life—burdens that Jesus wants to carry for us. Consider four:

(1) The burden of our sins.

Key verses:

“My iniquities have gone over my head; they are too heavy for me to carry.” (Psalm 38:4)

“Jesus personally carried our sins in his body on the cross. … By his wounds you are healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)

The burden of our sins—the guilt, shame, and regret, the feelings of inadequacy, bondage, hopelessness, and humiliation—often feels less like a few heavy rocks on our back and more like a mountain of boulders that we’ve been buried beneath. As the psalmist relatably illustrates, “My sins pile up so high I can’t see my way out” (Psalm 40:12). Not only are we unable to carry the burden of our sins, we can’t even lift a finger as we lie face down in the dirt beneath them. Sin is beyond heavy; it is crushing. 

This reality is what makes the name of Jesus so oxygenating for the soul of the believer. His name is the sound of deliverance; his burden-bearing arrival means our lungs can breathe again. As Dane Ortlund put it, “Not only can Jesus alone pull us out of the hole of sin; he alone desires to climb in and bear our burdens [for us].”

Jesus doesn’t pull us out of the avalanche of our sins and then leave us there to be buried again. Jesus was buried for us so that we—sheltered by his resurrection power and insurmountable love—never have to live beneath that oppressive weight again (Romans 6:4; 8:38-39; Galatians 2:20). Far from demanding masochism and salvaged guilt as penitence for our sin, Jesus welcomes us to live in ongoing repentance, daily breathing in the un-burdening freedom of his victory and God’s forgiveness (Colossians 2:13-15; 1 John 1:9; Heidelberg Catechism Q&A #1).

(2) The burden of saving, changing, or healing others.

Key verse:

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gives the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6)

Beyond attempts to atone for our own sins (i.e., the burden of saving ourselves), another common temptation is to take on the pressure of changing those around us (i.e., the burden of saving others). This, too, is a crushing weight. If we believe it is our job to save those around us, then we will constantly feel like we are failing both God and others every time people don’t change in the ways (or timing) we had hoped.

Yet time and time again in his Word, God welcomes us to offload the heavy burden of saving onto Christ, and to simply partake in the ministry of sowing. Over and over again throughout Scripture, Jesus says to us, “You be the sower, and let me be the Savior” (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6). He invites us to simply scatter the seed of the gospel and then to rest, trusting him to do the work (cf. Mark 4:26-29).

But what about carrying one another’s burdens?

Of course, part of the ministry of sowing is helping others carry their burdens. I once saw a cartoon of a woman lying in her sick bed, clearly overwhelmed. The sink overflowed with dirty dishes. A huge basket of clothes to be ironed sat nearby. Two dirty children were fighting in one corner; in the other corner a cat sat licking spilled milk. A cheery woman stood in the doorway, smiling and waving as she left for her weekly pedicure. She called out, “Well, Florence, if there is anything I can do to help, don’t hesitate to ask!”

Ignoring the needs of others is not what it means to be a sower—we are still called to carry one another’s burdens. But carrying someone’s burdens is not the same thing as taking them. Just three verses after the Holy Spirit tells us to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), he then tells us that we all must carry our own burdens (Galatians 6:5). In other words, Christians are called to support one another, but not to take responsibility for one another. The primary emphasis of the sowing imagery is not that the sower doesn’t put in effort, but that he doesn’t burden himself with the impossible task of causing growth in others. This he entrusts to God (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6).

If you are faithful to simply sow the seed of the gospel, you can be confident that God sees your efforts, he is pleased by them, and he will bear fruit through you—sometimes in ways you see immediately, often in ways you see over a long period of time, and perhaps usually in ways you won’t see fully until eternity. So continue to sow faithfully, expectantly, and restfully—trusting that God will bring blessing through it.

(3) The burden of perfectionism.

Key verse:

“Jesus answered, ‘My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.'” (Luke 10:41-‬42)

Our culture is obsessed with the pursuit of being “good enough.” Am I a good enough mother? Am I a good enough singer? Am I a good enough student? Am I a good enough friend? Am I a good enough pastor? Am I a good enough Christian?

This constant pressure drives many to take up the heavy backpack of perfectionism—endlessly clawing for acceptance and constantly worrying if we have done enough to earn and maintain the approval of God and others. Carrying this burden is not only exhausting, but it’s also futile—we are always climbing, yet never arriving.

Ironically, even if we could arrive at the status of “good enough,” we would actually be settling for something far less than what God intended for us. God doesn’t intend to make us good enough; he intends to make us good. At the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-10), Jesus won’t say to his Bride (the Church), “You are decent. Acceptable. Good enough.” Rather, he will say to us, “You are perfect. Without blemish. Stainless. Glorious. Beautiful” (cf. Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 3:12; also see Isaiah 43:4).

This glorious destiny will not come from us perfecting ourselves, but rather from throwing ourselves onto Christ to cleanse and beautify us (Ephesians 5:25-26). The fact that our salvation is received—not achieved—is at the very heart of the good news we proclaim (Isaiah 55:1-3).

For more on the topic of perfectionism and how to find freedom from the repressive burden of doing enough or being enough, check out Joanna Weaver’s fabulous book, “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World.” Another fine resource is Alistair Begg’s sermon on the dangers of a performance-driven Christian life.

(4) The burden of knowing the future. 

Key verse:

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:21-23; also see Isaiah 46:10; Luke 12:22-34)

Time and time again throughout Scripture, Jesus welcomes us to live for him today and to trust him to provide for us tomorrow. He frees us from asking, “What will happen tomorrow?” and calls us to simply ask, “What does faithfulness look like today? How can I love God and others today?”

Whether we are…

Jesus wants to help carry our burdens and give rest to our souls in ways nothing (and no one) else can (Matthew 11:28-30).

Your burden is what qualifies you to come!

Are you weighed down by burdens today? You don’t need to do more or be better in order to come to Jesus—he wants to meet you where you are. In the words of Dane Ortlund, “You don’t need to unburden or collect yourself and then come to Jesus. Your very burden is what qualifies you to come.”

So, as we sing, “Lay down your burdens; lay down your shame. All who are broken, lift up your face. Oh wanderer come home; you’re not too far. Lay down your hurt; lay down your heart, and come as you are.”

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn), Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (Dawn and Steve Mornings—here and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen), ChurchLeaders.com, The Aquila Report, Monergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Read “Three Ways to Glorify God in Worry and Anxiety” here.

Read “An Answer to Prayer Even Better Than Clarity” here.

Read “Christian, You Are Fully Known and Fully Loved” here.

Listen to “Come As You Are” (Crowder) here.

Questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a reply in the box below.

Three Ways to Glorify God in Worry and Anxiety

Note: This article is adapted from a lesson I taught at The Rock young adult ministry at New Covenant Bible Church in February of 2021. You can listen to the lesson here.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. All content and information on this website is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute or replace medical advice. Always consult a professional in the area of your particular needs and circumstances prior to making any decisions about your mental health. This article focuses on three (internal) ways we can glorify God in our worry and anxiety, but these by no means replace the benefits or necessity of seeking help from a trusted confidant or mental health professional. Beyond this, one of the primary ways God meets us, encourages us, heals us, and directs us is through the help of others (Proverbs 11:14; 13:10; 15:22; Galatians 6:2; Ephesians 4:15-16)—so it glorifies him when we seek help!

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Anxiety comes in all shapes and sizes. Some of our concerns are attached to legitimate threats; others are demons of our imagination. I appreciate Winston Churchill’s words: “When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”

Fortunately, God cares about all of our anxieties (1 Peter 5:7)—regardless of the source—and he beckons us to come to him in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). Beyond this, God also intends to use us despite our worries (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). You don’t need to be strong or have it all together in order to be used by God or to glorify him. In fact, God specializes in working in and through weak people. In the words of John Piper, “God loves to be at a disadvantage just before he wins.”

Far from benching you in your weakness, God intends to beautify you, reveal himself to you, bear fruit through you, and showcase his power through your weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). So, how can we glorify God in our worry and anxiety? Consider three steps as a starting point.

#1: Pray your feelings.

Key verse: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” (James 5:13).

Perhaps the most comforting aspect of James 5:13 is what it does not say. Notice that it does not say, “Is anyone among you suffering? Celebrate anyway! Is anyone among you worrying? Just pretend like you’re happy!” Instead, this verse acknowledges that worshiping God will look different on different days of our lives, as we go through different emotions.

God knows and honors the fact that we’re emotional creatures (Psalm 103:13-14), meaning he doesn’t demand (or expect) that our worship always look gleeful. This is great news. Can you imagine if God only accepted our worship when we were happy? God not only allows us to be real with our emotions—he encourages us to! So, when we feel cheerful, God says, “Sing! Enjoy your happiness! Worship me in your happiness.” When we’re suffering or sad, God says, “Come to me! Pray! Let me help carry your burdens. Worship me in your sadness.”

God is not afraid or ashamed of your emotions. He does not say, “First get rid of your worry, then come to me.” He says, “Come to me with your worry” (Matthew 11:28-30). God doesn’t ask you to be polished, only to be honest. He wants to meet you where you are and to help you walk through it (Psalm 23:4). So, in the words of the psalmist, “Pour out your heart before him! God is a refuge for us!” (Psalm 62:8).

#2: Inform your thoughts.

Key verse: “Take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

A few years ago, I heard a talk on the subject of sin. The speaker didn’t hold any punches. He said, “If you’re struggling with sin, just stop it! If you’re struggling with lust and pornography, just stop it! If you’re struggling with fear and anxiety, just stop it!” Then, at the end of his talk, he literally had everyone say it together: “When we are struggling with sin, what do we do? Just stop it!”

I cringed when I heard this—not because there is no truth in this approach, but because the Bible is not that simplistic! When we are worried and anxious, God does not say, “My child, Just stop it.” But he does say, “Take your thoughts captive.”

What exactly does it mean to take our thoughts captive? Consider the opposite of this statement—to be taken captive by our thoughts. This is when we allow our thoughts (and feelings) to control us or to be the ultimate authority on who God is, who we are, or the way the world is. Whenever we do this, we are extremely vulnerable to being deceived by the lies of worry.

It has been said that there are two primary lies at the root of worry: (1) God is not in control; (2) God is not good. Whenever we are taken captive by our thoughts, these lies are free to fester and grow. How can we uproot these toxic, deceitful narratives? We must inform our thoughts and feelings with God’s promises.

God’s Daily Mercies

There are many wonderful promises to cling to in our worry and anxiety (I provide 15 here), but one of the most important promises to dwell on is the promise of God’s daily mercies. Much of our worrying in life comes when we try to seize control of something today (or figure something out today) that will happen in the future. Yet time and time again throughout Scripture, God welcomes us to simply focus on what he’s put before us today and rest assured that he will take care of us tomorrow (cf. Exodus 16; Lamentations 3:23; Matthew 6:11; 6:34).

Corrie ten Boom gives a powerful illustration of this concept in her book The Hiding Place. When Corrie was six years old, she struggled with the idea that her dad could die at some point in her life. So one day, when he came home from work, she burst into tears and pleaded with him to assure her that he wouldn’t die. Here is the excerpt (lightly edited):

“I need you,” Corrie sobbed. “You can’t die. You can’t.”

Her father sat down beside her and said gently, “Corrie, when you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your train ticket?”

“Well,” she said, “just before we get on the train.” 

“Exactly,” he said. “And our wise Father in heaven knows when we are going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of him, Corrie. When the time comes that you need strength, you will look into your heart and find what you need just in time.”

God does not promise to give us today what we need for tomorrow—but he does promise to give us today what we need for today, and to give us tomorrow what we need for tomorrow. And when we rest in this promise—when we depend on God today and trust him to provide tomorrow—we combat the lies of worry and we glorify him.

#3: Remember your Savior.

Key verses:

Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

In all of our worries, we must remember (at least) two things. First, we have a Savior who cares deeply about all of our concerns (big or small), because he cares deeply about us (1 Peter 5:7). Second, as sinners, our most foundational need is actually not to get rid of our present worry, but to be made right with God—to have our sins paid for, our hearts changed, peace with God restored, and eternal life secured through Christ.

When anxiety hits, we don’t only need someone who can sympathize with us—we need someone who can actually save us! And the good news is that in the person of Christ, we have both. Jesus is not only a perfect sympathizer, he is also a glorious Savior who is coming back to make things right. As Jesus himself promised: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22; cf. Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 21:4).

Let’s rest today knowing that we have a Savior who both cares and saves, that he’s not finished yet, and that the best is still yet to come.

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn), Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (Dawn and Steve Mornings—here and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen), ChurchLeaders.com, The Aquila Report, Monergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Download “15 Precious Promises of God to Cling to Daily” here.

Read “An Answer to Prayer Even Better Than Clarity” here.

Read “Christian, You Are Fully Known and Fully Loved” here.

Questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a reply in the box below.

How to Give (and Receive) Repentance

Note: This article is also published on The Gospel Coalition.

Imagine you are on Family Feud, and Steve Harvey gives the following prompt:

“We asked 100 sinners, ‘Name one reason why you do not repent of your sin to one another.’ The top seven answers are on the board.” 

What do you think the most common responses would be? I’d offer these seven. 

We don’t repent because. . .  

  1. We’re completely blind to our sin, or we don’t think our sin is bad enough to warrant repentance.
  1. We don’t think the other person deserves our repentance. Maybe we think they sinned first, or they sinned more, or their sin caused our sin, so we refuse to repent until they do.
  1. We don’t think repenting will help anything. Sometimes we fear our repentance will fuel their pride, appear to ignore their fault, or lead to further conflict. So we stay silent.
  1. We are too proud. Repentance means admitting we were wrong—and that we need mercy—which requires Christlike humility. Sometimes we don’t want to stoop that low.
  1. We are too ashamed of our sin or too afraid of the consequences. Repentance also means giving up (the feeling of) control over our own reputation, and putting ourselves at the mercy of others. This takes vulnerability—something many people run from.
  1. We don’t want to change. Biblical repentance requires turning—changing our behavior—which can feel a bit like heart surgery. Many resist confessing their sin because they love it too much to give it up.
  1. We don’t know how to repent. Many people never had repentance clearly modeled in the home or taught in the church, leaving them unequipped to put it into action.

So why should we confess our sins to one another?

James 5:16 gives us a helpful starting point: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”

This verse gives us at least two motivations to confess our sins to one another:

  1. Because God commands us to.
  2. Because God commands us to for our healing.

Repentance is not a punishment God makes us pay after we sin; it’s medicine God uses to heal us from our sin’s ravaging effects. God uses our repentance to enliven us (Acts 11:18), refresh us (Acts 3:19–20), restore us (Luke 15:11–24), cleanse us (1 John 1:9), and enrich our fellowship with him and with one another (1 John 1:6–7). Repentance is not a curse to fear, but a gift to cherish.

How do I repent of my sin to someone?

Repentance can be hard, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. Below is a simple “1-2-3 model” of repentance: one statement, two omissions, three questions.

One statement:

“I am sorry that I [insert sin].”

We can call this naming the sin. James 5:16 says, “confess your sins to one another” Both the words “your” and “sins” are key here.

First, confess your sins. Repentance is not saying:

  • I’m sorry you were hurt.
  • I’m sorry you were offended.
  • I’m sorry you interpreted that the way you did.

Rather, repentance is saying,

  • I’m sorry I spoke harshly with you.
  • I’m sorry I was dishonest with you.
  • I’m sorry I was selfish in demanding my way.

Second, confess your sins. This means taking the offense out of the abstract (“I’m sorry I hurt you”) and getting specific about how you sinned against the other person. Specificity honors the other person, legitimizes her pain, helps both parties come to an agreement, and gives you something specific to work on in the future.

Two omissions:

  1. Finger-pointing: “I am sorry I [insert the sin], but you. . .”
  1. Self justification: “I am sorry I [insert the sin], but I wouldn’t have had to if. . .”

Finger-pointing and self-justification are two of the biggest roadblocks to healing and reconciliation. I once heard a pastor say, “In conflict, always own 100 percent of your 2 percent.” In other words, even if you were only two percent of the problem, own it. Not only does this honor God (our ultimate motivation), but often when we take full ownership of our sin, the other person will reciprocate and confess her sin, too.

Three questions:

  1. “Will you forgive me?”

Trying to forgive someone who hasn’t asked for your forgiveness is like trying to climb a mountain with a bag of rocks strapped to your back. It’s possible, but much harder, more painful, more tiring, and less enjoyable. Asking for forgiveness doesn’t remove the mountain the other person must climb to forgive you, but it can immediately remove a significant amount of weight off her back, which can be immensely freeing. This might be the one question your loved one has been longing to hear from you for days, months, or years.

  1. “Was there any other way that I hurt you in this situation?”

One of the most important aspects of confession is coming to an agreement about the sin committed, the pain caused, and the plan of action going forward. (The Greek word for confess in James 5:16 literally means “to agree.”) Without coming to an agreement, bitterness and distance will continue to thrive.

  1. “How can I love you better in the future?”

Beneath this question is the humble acknowledgement that, “Maybe I don’t know what you need. You tell me how I can love you better.” This question conveys love, facilitates needful communication, and provides a healthy foundation for healing and reconciliation. 

How do I receive repentance?

Because repentance is so rare, it can be difficult to know how to respond when someone actually does confess their sin to us. Consider three simple tips. (In cases of abuse, seek help from others to determine the best way forward.)

  1. Thank them for repenting and grant them forgiveness.
  1. Confess any way that you sinned in this matter. (It is possible that you have not sinned, in which case you shouldn’t make something up.)
  1. Communicate exactly how you were hurt and how you would feel loved in the future, so that they can work on changing.

We have a responsibility to communicate our needs to those closest to us. It’s not loving to sweep their sins under the rug or to tolerate their annoying habits without saying anything. This will only enable their behavior and feed bitterness in our hearts.

Cherish Repentance

Repentance is a gift of God that leads to life and healing (Acts 11:18; James 5:16). Let’s cherish it, cultivate it, and live in gratitude and dependence on God as we seek to model it in our lives.

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn), Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (Dawn and Steve Mornings—here and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen), ChurchLeaders.com, The Aquila Report, Monergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Read “An Answer to Prayer Even Better than Clarity” here.

Read “How to Starve Bitterness” here.

Read “Which Memories Should I Dwell On?” here.

How to Starve Bitterness

Note: This article is also published on The Gospel Coalition.

I once had a conversation with a friend who had been hurt by someone he loved. He told me he was doing everything in his power to not harbor bitterness toward this person. He then made a comment I have not forgotten years later: “I’ve heard it said that harboring bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. I’ve experienced this firsthand. The more I feed bitterness in my heart, the more it brings death to me.”

This is precisely how bitterness works. Bitterness is poison dipped in honey. It tastes sweet going down, then it proceeds to metastasize and kill us from the inside out. In this way, bitterness is the poster child for the deceitfulness of sin. Whenever we love something that brings death to us, the devil has us right where he wants us.

There’s a scene in C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra where the devil incarnate is tempting a woman to sin. After baiting her with lies, the devil says, “It is for this that I came here: that you may have Death in abundance.” Death is the devil’s favorite seed to sew. If we do not actively starve bitterness, it will bring death to us—and there are no exceptions to this rule.

How is bitterness fed?

In order to starve bitterness, we must first know what feeds it. Proverbs 17:9 gives us a helpful starting point:

“Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.”

Here we see the antithesis of forgiveness is something called “repeating a matter.” There are three primary ways we can repeat a matter—each of which feeds death-producing bitterness in our hearts.

1. We can repeat the matter to ourselves.

Repeating the matter to ourselves is when we replay the videotape of the other person’s offense over and over again in our minds. This is perhaps the most common feeder of bitterness and unforgiveness. Every time we replay someone’s sin in our minds, we water the seed of bitterness in our hearts—and it grows.

2. We can repeat the matter to the sinner.

Ken Sande (author of The Peacemaker) calls this gunnysacking. This is when we collect the other person’s sins in a figurative bag (gunny sack), and we carry that bag around with us wherever we go. Then, whenever we get into an argument with this person, we dump out their old sins and throw them back in their face.

Whether it’s through actively attacking this person (e.g., lashing out in anger) or through passive aggression (e.g., giving the cold shoulder), we have one goal: Don’t let them forget what they did.

3. We can repeat the matter to someone else.

The Bible calls this gossip. (The CSB actually translates Proverbs 17:9 as “Whoever gossips separates close friends…”) One thing to notice about gossip is that it harms four different parties:

Every time we repeat a matter in one of these three ways, we feed bitterness in our hearts—and this bitterness inevitably brings death to us and those around us.

Important caveats

Of course, there are certainly situations where we must lovingly and prayerfully confront the person who sinned against us and discuss their offense with them. (In fact, it is our duty to lovingly communicate how we’ve been hurt, so the person can take steps toward growth.) There are also situations where we should report an offense to the authorities, especially in criminal activity or abuse cases. There are also situations in which we should discuss sins committed against us with a counselor, therapist, or pastor. None of these things are what Proverbs 17:9 warns us about when it talks about “repeating a matter.”

Rather, this verse warns us of the danger of allowing bitterness and vengefulness to consume us, causing us to repeat the matter with the intent to harm the sinner or to justify our own sin. Whenever we do this, we give the devil a foothold to sew death-producing bitterness inside of us (Ephesians 4:26-32; Hebrews 12:14-15).

Before you read on, ask yourself: Which of these feeders of bitterness do I need to repent of? Which do I need to be on guard against in this season of my life?

So, how can we starve bitterness?

Ephesians 4:31-32 is helpful here: “Let all bitterness … be put away from you … Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

In order to starve our souls of one thing, we must feed our souls with something else. According to this passage, we “put away” bitterness in part by preoccupying ourselves with God’s love and forgiveness toward us. How does God love and forgive us? I love how J.I. Packer put it in Knowing God:

There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion Him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.

God’s love for us is so deep, strong, and committed, that he’s actually able to see the worst in us and yet still desire good for us. He is constantly pursuing us—even when we wander from him—eager to embrace us, kiss us, bless us, forgive us, and celebrate with us when we repent of our sin and return to him (Luke 15:20-32).

Rehearsing the gospel of God’s grace and love toward us is always the first step in starving bitterness and cultivating forgiveness toward others (1 John 4:19-21).

Remembering God’s promises

Beyond this, Christlike love and forgiveness are cultivated by keeping three promises of God on the forefront of our minds:

  1. God is grieved by the evil committed against you, and he will avenge you (Proverbs 20:22; 24:17-18, 29; Romans 12:19-21; 1 Peter 2:22-23).
  2. God is pleased by your desire to forgive, and he will reward you (Proverbs 25:21-22; Ephesians 6:8; Hebrews 11:6; James 1:12; 1 Peter 4:19).
  3. There is mercy waiting for every repentant sinner, including you in your imperfect forgiveness (Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9).

If we rest in these promises, our hearts will become fertile ground for the Holy Spirit to work. Remember this: bitterness is not something that you have or don’t have; it’s something that you cultivate—and the same is true for forgiveness (Luke 6:45).

Freedom through forgiveness

It has been said that to forgive is to set a prisoner free, and then to discover that the prisoner was you. May God work forgiveness in our hearts—as we are compelled by the gospel of Jesus Christ—for God’s glory, the good of others, and our own freedom and joy.

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn), Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (Dawn and Steve Mornings—here and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen), ChurchLeaders.com, The Aquila Report, Monergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Read “An Answer to Prayer Even Better than Clarity” here.

Read “Which Memories Should I Dwell On?” here.

Which Memories Should I Dwell On?

Note: This article is also published on The Gospel Coalition.

I am 29 years old. Several years ago I first spoke the words, “That happened a decade ago,” and it was the strangest sensation. Now I’m starting to reminisce on things that happened fifteen, even twenty years ago, and it’s flat out kooky.

Another development I’ve noticed in recent years is the influx of nostalgia. In high school and college I had fond memories, but not many were nostalgic. Now ten seconds of Secondhand Serenade reduces me to a puddle of reminiscent goo.

Memories have power, and what we dwell on will invariably shape our emotions, attitudes, and beliefs (Isaiah 26:3; Philippians 4:8). Because of their unique power, we must be intentional with how we use them. Thankfully, God’s Word gives us much direction on how we can channel our memories for good.

Voluntary or involuntary?

Memories are complex. Some memories flood our minds involuntarily and even against our will, such as those triggered by abuse or trauma. In these cases, much healing and help can come through the guidance of a therapist or another medical professional.

However, many of the memories we fixate on are voluntary, within our ability to control. In fact, God commands us to be intentional with our memories and even selective with what we choose to dwell on (e.g., Deuteronomy 6:12; 8:2; Isaiah 46:9; John 14:26; Acts 20:35; 1 Corinthians 11:24-26; Ephesians 2:11-13). Just as we are to take our thoughts captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), so too are we to take our memories captive.

How can we ensure that the memories we fixate on bring glory to God and life to ourselves and others? Consider five questions to help you determine whether dwelling on a particular memory is helpful.

1. Does dwelling on this memory deepen my gratitude?

Gratitude is the crown jewel of recollection, turning good memories into ongoing blessings (Proverbs 10:7). C.S. Lewis put it best in Out of the Silent Planet:

A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hmán, as if pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing.

God created memories to consummate the joy of praiseworthy moments and to lead us into grateful praise (Philippians 4:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). This gives us a quick test to determine whether dwelling on a particular memory is profitable: Does replaying this moment in your mind lead to gratitude for what you once had or discontentment for what you now have?

Interestingly, the tenth commandment (“Do not covet”) applies here. We tend to think of coveting as inordinately longing for something someone else has. But a more subtle form of coveting is inordinately longing for what we once had (or wish we once had). Both forms must be repented of—and both are best combatted with gratitude.

2. Does dwelling on this memory deepen my hope?

Remembrance is the linchpin of hope. Much of our disorientation in life is a product of forgetfulness—forgetfulness of who we are, who God is, what Christ did, how God views us, where we came from, or where we are going. Conversely, it is when our memories are most saturated with these realities that our hearts are most full.

Arguably the best way to combat inordinate longings for the past is to remember that our best moments in life are mere appetizers of what is to come. We don’t need to cling to an appetizer when the main course—of similar pleasure but greater fullness—is coming.

Often we think our longings are pointing backward when in reality they’re pointing forward. The ultimate fulfillment of our longings won’t come by going back to the past; they will come through God’s provisions in the future (Psalm 16:11). Rest in this hope!

3. Does dwelling on this memory deepen my commitment to truth?

George Ball observed, “Nostalgia is a seductive liar.” Often our memories play tricks on us, tempting us to believe that the past was better than it actually was. Solomon warns us of this danger in Ecclesiastes 7:10, “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.”

The ultimate danger of feeding nostalgia is not the immediate pain of longing for the past, but the damaging effect that it can have on our beliefs. Dwelling on skewed memories (whether exaggerated positively or negatively) can twist our view of God, others, and ourselves. We must catechize ourselves with God’s Word, not with our nostalgia. Memories will fail; God’s Word won’t (Matthew 24:35).

4. Does dwelling on this memory deepen my love for others?

Memory is gasoline without favoritism; it will fuel the fires of both bitterness and love, wherever we choose to pour it. Every time we dwell on someone’s past sin—replaying the memory of their offense again and again in our minds—we water the seed of bitterness in our hearts and it grows. This may feel good for a moment, but it always ends up harming us in the long run. It has been said that entertaining bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die, and this is certainly the case with dwelling on bitter memories.

Meanwhile, intentionally recalling the good in others (and God’s mercy and love toward us) is one of the best ways to stir up love and compassion in our hearts (Luke 6:35-36). Just as God loves us by not keeping our sin on the forefront of his mind, so we are called to love others by filling our minds with praiseworthy things (Philippians 4:8).

5. Does dwelling on this memory deepen my love for the Triune God?

Remembering is at the heart of our communion with God and our liturgy as the Church. Preaching, singing, and reading Scripture help us remember the words and promises of God (Psalm 119:11; Proverbs 7:1-3). Taking communion helps us remember the person and work of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11:24-26). Observing baptism helps us remember how we were brought from death to life by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 6:4; 8:11).

Ultimately, God gave us memory to aid our love for him, our appreciation for what he has done, and our anticipation of what is to come. Let’s be faithful to use our memories for these purposes—for God’s glory and our good.

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn)Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (Dawn and Steve Mornings—here and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen)ChurchLeaders.comThe Aquila Report, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Read “Overcoming Fear of the Future” here.

Read “Special Needs and the Goodness of Dependence” here.

Questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a reply in the box below.

Christian, You Are Fully Known And Fully Loved

There is perhaps nothing more desirable than to be fully known—completely seen and understood—and yet still loved. As Ed Welch put it, “To be truly known with nothing to hide … is life at its best.” 

Yet, while the prospect of being known brings excitement, it also instills fear. As Tim Keller put it, “To be known and not loved is our greatest fear.”

This paradox of emotions is what prompts us to be transparent up to a point but to stop short of full disclosure. We seek to share enough of ourselves to make us feel like we are loved and accepted for who we really are, but not enough to risk being rejected. Some walk this tight rope for decades. Yet, deep down, most of us sense that we were created for more.

To find clarity amid this paradox, we must understand where our desire comes from, where our fear comes from, and how the gospel speaks unrivaled hope into this clash of emotions.

Exploring Our Desire

While Scripture doesn’t tell us much about humanity before the fall, the Holy Spirit does give us two words to help us understand our sinless condition: naked and unashamed (Gen. 2:25). In other words, before sin, humans lived in the blissful freedom of being perfectly known and accepted by God and one another, without any fear or shame. Fully known, fully loved.

This glorious state is not only our origin; it’s also our destiny. One day we will know and be known fully, in a world of perfect love (John 17:3; 1 Cor. 13:12-13).

The first step in finding clarity amid our conflicting emotions is to recognize that our desire to be fully known is not sinful, but rather a healthy longing to relate to God and others in the way God intended. God himself desires to be known, and we were created in his image! Our longing is a God-given expression of our humanity.

Exploring Our Fear

After sin entered the world, our state of “naked and unashamed” was immediately replaced with a state of “hiding and afraid.” In the words of Adam, “I was afraid because I was naked. So, I hid” (Gen. 3:10). In the blink of an eye, the thought of being known morphed from a comfort to a threat. Tragically, this became the new normal.

At the heart of our fear of being known is a fear of rejection. And the most painful form of rejection is not being rejected for something we did, but for who we are. Notice that Adam does not say, “I was afraid because I ate the fruit.” He says, “I was afraid because I was naked.”

Adam’s sin plunged him into a deep sense of personal inadequacy and unworthiness. His sin created a separation between him and God and between him and Eve (Isaiah 59:2). He tried to repair this brokenness by covering up his shame, but it didn’t work. Even with his self-made covering, he still felt afraid (Gen. 3:8).

We’ve all felt this. Even in the moments that we think we’ve successfully hidden our flaws, we still don’t feel secure. In fact, hiding often amplifies our insecurity and anxiety (Proverbs 10:9). If hiding cannot give us the freedom we long for, what can?

The Gospel: “I know you and I still love you”

Perhaps there is no more comforting word in all of Scripture than the word “still” in Romans 5:6-8:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly … God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Notice the recipients of God’s love: weak, ungodly, sinners. Next, notice the timing of God’s love: God loves us while we are still weak, ungodly, sinners.

This passage corrects at least two common misconceptions about God’s love. First, it makes it clear that Christ’s death didn’t “persuade” the Father to love sinners. That is not the gospel. God does not love you because Jesus died for you; Jesus died for you because God loves you! Second, this passage reaffirms that God is not waiting until you “do better” to start loving you. His love doesn’t fluctuate with your always-changing performance. According to Romans 5:6-8, God loves you perfectly, even at your worst.

The beauty of the gospel is not that we are strong and sinless, but that God loves us and rescues us while we are still weak and sinful (which, in turn, motivates and empowers us to pursue new obedience). As A.W. Tozer put it:

Jesus Christ came not to condemn you but to save you—knowing your name, knowing all about you, knowing your weight right now, knowing your age, knowing what you do, knowing where you live, knowing what you ate for supper and what you will eat for breakfast, where you will sleep tonight, how much your clothing cost, who your parents were. He knows you individually as though there were not another person in the entire world. He died for you as certainly as if you had been the only lost one. He knows the worst about you and is the One who loves you the most.

God’s message for you is this: I know everything about you. I know you are weak. I know you are ungodly. I know you are sinful. But I still love you. No, not after you clean yourself up. Not after you are glorified. Now.

True freedom

True freedom comes not when we have successfully hidden; it comes when we realize that we have been found out, but are still accepted, through God’s gracious love and forgiveness. Through faith in Christ—and by living in continual, true repentance—despite our weaknesses and sins, we can once again enjoy the freedom of being fully known and fully loved.

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn)Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (Dawn and Steve Mornings—here and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen)ChurchLeaders.comThe Aquila Report, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Listen to “Fully Known, Fully Loved” here.

Read “Special Needs and the Goodness of Dependence” here.

Questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a reply in the box below.

Special Needs and the Goodness of Dependence

April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day and April is World Autism Month. Learn more about how you can participate here.

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Our culture is infatuated with the idea of independence.

Toddlers grumble “I don’t need your help!” while clearly needing their parents’ help. The preteen glows with excitement when he gets to ride his bike to his friend’s house by himself for the first time. The young CEO scoffs at the thought of delegating tasks that he can do himself.

From a young age we all begin to crave independence. The more independent you are the more successful you seem. Asking for help is seen as a sign of weakness, laziness, or even deficiency. But is that really true?

Unpacking Independence

We can describe independence as being free from outside control or not needing someone to complete a task. This, by itself, is a good skill that we should all seek to cultivate.

However, whenever we idolize independence to the point that dependence is seen as a bad thing, we have stepped too far—even into unbiblical territory.

We were never meant to do life or to fulfill our lives’ purposes on our own. In fact, we were actually created to be dependent. Contrary to popular belief, dependency is not a result of the fall. We know this because even before sin entered the world, God declared that “it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). Humans needed helpers before we ever even sinned.

Special Needs and the Goodness of Dependence

This is my seventh year in special education. Every year I teach, I learn something new about the beauty and wisdom of God’s design through those with special needs. My students are great teachers!

Recently, I have been learning about the goodness of dependence. I’ve noticed that many of the same principles of dependence that help my students in the classroom also help believers in our walk with Christ. Below are three principles for healthy dependence that extend beyond the classroom and into the Church.

Principle #1: Ask for Help

Special education teachers continually reinforce the importance of asking for help. Student needs are real, constant, and always changing. While we can’t expect students to know how to do everything, we can teach them how to react when they don’t. Come to me. Tell me what you need. Remember I’m here to help. These are all phrases we use to remind students that we care for them and that there is no shame in needing assistance.

As teachers, we really mean that. We are not aggravated when students ask for help; we are actually excited when they use their resources!

Our joy stems from two places. First, we remember our students’ frame (i.e., children who have special limitations), so we are never caught off guard when they need our assistance (cf. Ps. 103:14). Second, as teachers, we have the power to help, so we are eager to do so! Because we love our students—and because we have the ability to help them—it brings us joy when they come to us for aid (cf. Ps. 50:15).

Principle #2: Lean Into Structure

Special education students are highly dependent on structure. This structure may come in the form of behavioral expectations, environmental setup, a predictable daily schedule, and so forth.

Structure helps students manage expectations and remember what they’re looking for in different contexts. These systems are not meant to hold students back or to make their actions robotic, but to give them pathways to thrive. 

Without exception, it is within the context of structure that we’ve seen student creativity flow, emotional regulation occur, and communication flourish. When students embrace their dependency on structure it does not diminish their quality of life—it noticeably enriches it (cf. Ps. 19:7-11; John 10:10).

Principle #3: Remember the Reward

I’ve learned through the years that there’s a very important (and quite beautiful) distinction between a reward and a bribe. Bribing is giving someone an incentive for an action that only benefits the briber. Rewarding is giving someone an incentive for an action that may or may not benefit the giver, but always benefits the recipient.

The tasks we give in the classroom are designed to give students a more productive and fulfilling life. When a student completes her math assignment or practices reading, this benefits her.

Of course, my students—like all children—don’t always understand why these tasks are good for them (or how it will benefit them for decades to come). What often motivates them is not the task itself, but the reward they get when the task is completed. 

We don’t shame the students for this, nor are we disappointed that they are dependent on the reward. In fact, we frequently encourage students with statements like, “Remember what you’re working for” or “First math, then free choice.”

Not only are we happy to reward students once they complete their tasks, but we actually encourage them to use these rewards as motivations (cf. Matt. 6:1-4; Gal. 6:9; Col. 3:23-24; Heb. 11:6; Heb. 11:24-26). Whenever they do so, they demonstrate faith that we will provide what we’ve promised. This benefits the students and honors the teachers.

Christ: The Ultimate Model of Dependence

The ultimate reason why the dependence that we see in the classroom is so beautiful is because it mirrors Christ’s dependence.

Even though Jesus was perfect, he still made a habit of asking for help from God and those around him (Mark 3:13-19; Luke 5:16). He used structure to know God’s Word, to spend time with God, and to be around God’s people (Luke 4:16). And through it all he remembered the reward that he would receive (and share with all who believed in him) once his task was completed (Heb. 12:2).

Those with special needs have much to teach us, and they are not the only ones who benefit from dependence. Jesus himself thrived not by avoiding dependence, but by embracing it—and he calls us to do the same.

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Kassie McDowell is a teacher for Mid-Valley Special Education Cooperative. She holds a M.A. in special education from Aurora University and a B.S. in communication sciences and disorders from the University of Mississippi.

Joni and Friends is a ministry committed to bringing the Gospel and practical resources to people impacted by disability around the globe. Learn more about how to support this ministry here.

Learn more about autism and special needs here.

Read “How (Not) To Pray With A Hurting Loved One” here.

Questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you—leave a reply in the box below!