To Fix or Not to Fix? When to Give Advice and When to Listen

Note: This article focuses on the value of listening and common mistakes when giving advice. In the next article, we will consider how to use our words to reflect Christ and speak life into others.

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Ask yourself if you can relate to the following scenario:

Your loved one tells you about her current struggle. Shortly after she starts talking, you realize you already know what she should do to help herself. So you wait (and wait and wait) for her to finish talking, replaying your advice in your mind to keep from forgetting it. You nod politely as she keeps talking, but your eagerness to speak swells inside you like a water balloon about to burst. After what feels like an eternity, she (finally!) stops talking, and you immediately blurt out your opinion. “Mission accomplished!” you think.

If you can relate to this story, you aren’t alone. In fact, if you can’t relate to this story (or some variation of it), you are likely in the minority. As Stephen Covey observed, “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand, but with the intent to reply.” The norm in our world is for people to talk at each other rather than to each other, to use conversation to voice one’s own opinion rather than to truly understand the other person.

This tendency becomes especially problematic when one interacts with a hurting loved one. We often refer to these people as “fixers”—those who seem more interested in offering their advice on how to correct a situation than truly hearing, understanding, and sympathizing with the person in pain. This “fixer” mentality can often be hurtful and counterproductive. Yet, never sharing our thoughts and advice also seems problematic. So, how do we know when to give advice and when to listen?

Quick to listen, slow to speak [advice]

Advice, itself, is a positive thing. Most of the time, when someone offers advice, it is because he wants good for the person to whom he’s talking. Why, then, is advice often hurtful? Who wouldn’t want direction on how to better herself or her situation?

Often the problem is not in the advice itself but in how or when it is delivered. Yes, some advice can be flat out bad. But what usually makes advice harmful is what precedes it—or better yet, what doesn’t precede it, namely listening and understanding. Advising without first listening is like driving a car without oil—it usually won’t work, and if it does, it will likely cause damage.

When walking alongside hurting loved ones, we should take the Apostle James’ words to heart: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…” Whether or not we give advice, our first priority should always be to listen and understand (not to “fix”). Consider four problems with a fix-first approach (i.e., prioritizing fixing over listening and understanding) and what makes a listen-first approach superior.

(1) The fix-first approach is often prideful—and foolish.

Whenever we offer advice before taking time to hear the other person, we communicate to her, “I am so wise that I don’t even need to listen to you to tell you what you need.” This sentiment not only drips with arrogance, but it’s also foolish. According to Proverbs 18:2, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Proverbs 18:13 repeats the refrain: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”

Ironically, it is not wisdom that emboldens someone to advise without first listening; it is a lack of wisdom. Those quick to speak are repeatedly called fools (cf. Proverbs 10:8; 10:19; 17:28). Fortunately, the opposite is also true. Those slow to speak are repeatedly called wise (cf. Proverbs 10:8; 10:19; 17:27–28; 19:20). Consider the inverse of Proverbs 18:2: “A wise person takes pleasure in understanding, not merely in expressing his opinion.”

Do you want to grow in wisdom and humility? The path is clear: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Learn to take pleasure in listening and understanding, not merely vocalizing your opinion. 1

(2) The fix-first approach often leads to misguided advice.

Have you ever had a doctor cut you off and give you his prescription before you even finished sharing your symptoms? Isn’t it frustrating? You can’t trust his advice since he failed to listen and gather all the information first.

But imagine if the doctor had defended himself by saying, “Well, I am just a fixer! I don’t have time to listen!” That would be preposterous, wouldn’t it? You might say to him, “Listening isn’t opposed to fixing [or healing]; it’s an essential part of it!”

The same reality applies to our advice to others. If we advise without first listening, we will likely give the wrong prescription—a dangerous endeavor. Meanwhile, when we take the time to listen and understand the other person, our counsel will be more informed and much more likely to lead to true healing. If our ultimate desire truly is the other person’s healing—not some ulterior motive—we will listen carefully before offering a prescription.

(3) The fix-first approach keeps others from feeling safe enough, heard enough, and loved enough to take our advice.

Even when fixers happen to give the right advice (a rare feat when listening is absent), those around them seldom use it. The adage is true: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Whenever we treat others as problems to fix rather than people to foster, we objectify them and usually leave them uninspired by our words. If you don’t listen well when someone speaks, you shouldn’t expect her to listen when you speak (let alone apply your advice). Meanwhile, whenever we prioritize listening and understanding—without judging or immediately correcting—we establish trust. 2

The moment after someone shares something vulnerable is one of the most crucial occasions for establishing trust and influence. If your immediate response to someone’s difficult situation is, “Maybe you should…” or, “Well, this is why I have been telling you to…”, she will feel like you’re treating her life like a check engine light. Meanwhile, responses like “Tell me more” or “I am so sorry; [insert follow-up question]” establish safety and trust. The more you listen and seek to understand, the more she will feel safe, heard, and loved—and the more receptive she will be to your feedback. You earn the right to speak into others’ lives by first listening well. 3

(4) The fix-first mentality misses a golden opportunity to reflect the heart of Christ.

If anyone had a green light to fix people without first listening, it was Jesus. Jesus knew all things (John 16:30)—including what was in the hearts of men and women (John 2:25)—so he technically didn’t need to ask any questions. Yet, question-asking was one of Jesus’s favorite forms of ministry; the gospels alone record Jesus asking over 300 questions! Why is that? Why would Jesus ask so many questions (and take the time to listen) if he already had all of the answers? Why wouldn’t he just step onto the scene and start fixing people?

Clearly, Jesus saw his life mission as more than fixing and the purpose of listening as more than information-gathering. He used listening and asking questions to persuade others (cf. Matthew 6:25–34), to draw them out, to communicate love, and to help people understand themselves (cf. Matthew 9:27–31; 16:13–20; Mark 9:14–29; John 5:1–9; 11:21–27). If you met Jesus today, how would the interaction go? He would take interest in your life. He would ask you questions. He would listen attentively. He would look you in the eye. He would smile. He would make you feel seen, heard, and loved.

Jesus is not an unfeeling dentist who only cares about getting the plaque out of your life. He is the Bridegroom who knows and loves you and who saves you to know and love him. Jesus died on the cross not merely to fix us, but to save us from sin to bring us to himself (1 Peter 3:18).

Love by listening 

Jesus majored in the ministry of listening, and one of the best ways we can communicate the heart and love of Christ is by listening well to those around us.

Of course, Jesus did much more than listen to us; he also took action to save us. Jesus is not only a hearer; he is also a healer, and he regularly used words to bring life and restoration. In the next article, we will consider how to use our words and advice to reflect Christ and speak life into others.

Yet while Jesus’s ministry is more than listening, let’s take a moment today to cherish the fact that it’s not less than that. Even if no one in your life seems to want to listen, Jesus does. Rejoice afresh today in your loving, listening Lord!

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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.

Watch or listen to “With Us in the Wilderness” (sermon) here.

Read “Four(teen) Ways to Improve Your Listening” here.

Read “Can I Do Anything With Completely Pure Motives?” here.

Read “Five Habits That Kill Contentment” here.

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

That Decompressing Exhale For Which Our Souls Long

Note: The intro to this article is adapted from a sermon I preached on October 30, 2022. You can watch or listen to that sermon here.

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In 2 Thessalonians 1:7, Paul describes the emotion that will flood the hearts of believers the moment Christ returns with his mighty angels.

Before reading the verse, consider this: If you were to pick one emotion to describe what you think believers will feel—what you will feel—the moment Christ returns, which emotion would you choose? Awe? Wonder? Amazement? Fear? Worship? Reverence? Joy? Thankfulness? Contentment? Satisfaction?

Undoubtedly, we will feel all those emotions and more when Christ returns. Yet, curiously, in this verse, Paul doesn’t choose any of those words to describe what believers will feel upon Christ’s appearing. Which emotion does he point to instead?

According to 2 Thessalonians 1:7, the feeling that will flood the hearts of believers the moment Christ returns is…

Relief.

The complete unburdening of a lifetime’s worth of stressors, sorrows, sicknesses, sins, and suffering in a single moment. That decompressing exhale our souls so desperately long for but never quite seem to manage in this life. That unthreatened assurance that everything is going to be okay which constantly evades our felt experience on this side of eternity.

Pure, unmixed, relief. This is the glorious and inseparable destiny of every Christ-follower—a destiny from which only time separates us now.

Why relief?

The surrounding context of this glorious promise of relief is—perhaps surprisingly—the judgment of God:

“This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels…” (2 Thessalonians 1:5-7)

Why will the judgment of God bring relief to believers? Consider three reasons.

1. The final judgment of God confirms that everything we ever did matters—that all our faithful suffering had a purpose and was worth it.

As Tim Keller put it, “[There are] two views of life: Either everything means something or nothing means anything. And what is it that distinguishes those two views? Judgment Day. Judgment Day is very good news. Judgment Day means you will not be forgotten.” 

The moment Christ returns, believers will instantly be flooded with the warming assurance that I am seen. I am known. I am loved. I am valued. My life mattered. My efforts mattered. And not just to anyone—to Christ himself!

We will marvel with joy and relief, knowing that all our sins have been paid for and that every moment of faithfulness is an eternal ingredient in the Divine happiness. We will sing with grateful hearts as we are enveloped with the glorious sensation that every act of obedience, every sacrifice, every painful trial we endured while trusting Jesus—it all had a purpose. And it was all worth it.

2. The final judgment of God inaugurates the righting of all wrongs and the immediate removal of all sin, stress, sorrow, sickness, and suffering.

The Narnian image of the earth greening upon Aslan’s return—everything dead coming to life and everything barren becoming fruitful—is a very appropriate picture of Christ’s return. As we sing, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. [Jesus] comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found” (Joy to the World, Isaac Watts, 1719).

This life-exploding, blessing-flooding, thistle-removing image of Narnia and Joy to the World is not a romanticized pipedream; it is a promise of God himself to all his children. Notice the myriad of images of life and flourishing that God gives us in Revelation 22:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. Also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” (Revelation 22:1-4)

Plain as daylight, God promises abundance of life and fullness of healing at Christ’s return (v. 2). No longer will there be anything accursed (v. 3). No more sin. No more sorrow. No more stress. No more sickness. No more suffering. The complete unburdening, unmixed joy, and perfect healing for which our souls yearn—it’s coming.

So sing it loud, clear, and confidently this Christmas season: Jesus is coming to make his blessings flow, ‘far as the curse is found. Christ’s coming as Judge is, in fact, the greatest news believers could ever dream of.

3. The final judgment of God initiates the unhindered presence of God.

There might not be five words of hope more beautiful in all of Scripture than the first five words of Revelation 22:4: They will see his face. This is, quite simply, the consummate fulfillment of every longing we’ve ever had. As Tim Keller explains,

“The face of God is the source of all love, beauty, and joy. … The reason that you get joy when you listen to a great piece of music is because it reminds you of the face of God. Music is created by God—it’s an image; it’s a mirror of that which is in his face. You feel joy when you put yourself into somebody’s arms, but the reason you feel joy is because you are loving someone in the image of God. The joy and the strength you get in a loving relationship, the joy and the beauty you get by looking at the ocean or hearing a great piece of music—it all comes from the presence [and face] of God.”

The return of Christ will initiate the fulfillment of every dream we’ve grasped at but have never been able to fully obtain. In that moment, we will realize that our longings were, all along, not random but custom-fitted for the very inheritance we will enjoy for all eternity. Not one longing will be left unsatisfied; all will find their fulfillment in the face of Christ. At last, we will say, “Ah, for this my soul has always longed!” Can you imagine the relief of this long-awaited fulfillment?

Rest in God’s promises 

Believer, you can take a deep breath today—even in the midst of your suffering—because God promises you this: I will give you the relief for which your soul longs. And this moment of relief will only flower into the incomparable joy of the unveiled presence of Christ—a pleasure that will satisfy us for all eternity (Psalm 16:11).

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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.

Watch or listen to “With Us in the Wilderness” (sermon) here.

Read “Do You Want to be Healed?” here.

Read “Five Habits That Kill Contentment” here.

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

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

Do You Want to be Healed?

In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis describes a man who carried the lizard of lust on his shoulder. The lizard tormented the man night and day, and the man could never seem to escape its tyranny. 

One day, God sent the Holy Spirit to rescue the man from his serpentine tormentor. In order to free the man, the Spirit would have to kill the lizard. The man—having become quite attached to the lizard—was hesitant at the thought of this operation, intuiting that the lizard’s death would require a kind of death to himself. 

Below is an excerpt from the interaction (the Holy Spirit is poetically described as an angel and the man as a ghost):

‘Would you like me to make him quiet?’ said the flaming Spirit—an angel, as I now understood.

‘Of course I would,’ said the Ghost.

Then I will kill him,’ said the Angel, taking a step forward.

Oh—ah—look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,’ said the Ghost, retreating.

‘Don’t you want him killed?’

‘You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.’

‘It’s the only way,’ said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the Lizard. ‘Shall I kill it?’

‘Well, that’s a further question. I’m quite open to consider it, but it’s a new point, isn’t it? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here—well, it’s so damned embarrassing.’

‘May I kill it?’

‘Well, there’s time to discuss that later.’

‘There is no time. May I kill it?’

‘Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please—really—don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.’

Don’t you want your sin killed?

The Apostle John records a similar interaction between Jesus and a sick man (see John 5:1-9). The man had been lame for 38 years before he met Jesus. Curiously, instead of immediately healing the man upon meeting him, Jesus first asks him an odd question:

“Do you want to be healed?” (v. 6)

On the surface, this question may seem offensive to us. We picture the man having the same thought as the lizard-tormented ghost in Lewis’s story—Of course I want to be healed! What kind of question is that?

Yet Jesus’s question isn’t quite as strange when we remember that his healings reflect spiritual realities—and that Jesus often asks us the same question as we lie paralyzed with indwelling sin:

Do you want to be healed? Do you want to be freed from this sin you are clinging to?

If we are honest with ourselves, our answer is often no. (Or, at best, a mix of yes and no.) That is, after all, why we continue to sin. Like the ghost in Lewis’s story, we are hesitant to let the Holy Spirit kill the slimy creature which oppresses us—afraid that such an operation would require a kind of death to ourselves.

Wanting to want what God wants

By asking us what we truly want, Jesus exposes the sickness that exists in our hearts. Fortunately, Jesus never exposes us to harm us. He exposes us to heal us. While Jesus isn’t surprised that sinners want to sin, he does grieve when he sees sin’s stranglehold—and he wants to free us from its crippling tyranny (see Romans 7:18-8:11; Revelation 1:5).

So, what can we do if our answer to Jesus’s question is no? What can we do if we—like the ghost in The Great Divorce—don’t fully want to be freed from the sin which oppresses us?

Here’s the good news: While you may not presently want what God wants, if you only want to want what God wants, the Holy Spirit can work with that. God has long been in the business of righting the desires of willing hearts.

Start by making this confession to God: “Lord, right now, it’s clear that my heart doesn’t fully want what you want. Forgive me for this. But I want to want what you want. Will you help me get there?”

That prayer—Lord, help me to want what you want—is one God loves to answer. Commit to praying this daily for a month. Ask him to show you steps you can take toward healing and commit to taking these steps. Then watch how God provides.

Trying to heal ourselves

The lame man’s response to Jesus’s question is noteworthy: “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up—and while I am going, another steps down before me” (v. 7).

In other words, the man says, “Of course I want to be healed—I have been trying to heal myself for 38 years. I’ve even looked to other people to save me. And it hasn’t worked.”

How often is this our response to Jesus? “I have been trying to heal myself for years. And it hasn’t worked.”

And guess what? That’s the point. We can’t heal ourselves. Sure, we may be able to crowbar our way to better behavior. But we can’t crowbar our way to true healing. True, lasting, heart-transforming healing comes through Jesus alone.

Our ultimate hope

This, of course, is not to say that our efforts don’t matter. God commands us to put to death what is earthly in us (Colossians 3:5-17). Beyond that, Jesus almost always uses ordinary means to meet us and heal us—consistent time in God’s word and prayer, regular fellowship and accountability from the body of Christ, an ongoing practice of communion, worship, and service, setting up roadblocks to sin, and yes, good ol’ self-discipline (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

The question is not whether or not we should work hard at sanctification. We should. The question is where our ultimate hope rests.

If we think the gospel is that when we sin, we just need to try harder, we are missing the whole point. Our highest goal in this life—and in sanctification itself—should not be sinning less, but knowing Jesus more (which will, invariably, lead to new obedience).

Which race are you running?

As you run the race of faith, what words are on the banner above the finish line? What are you sprinting toward? Is it “Be better”? “Try harder”? “Sin less”? None of these are the path to true freedom and healing.

The path to true freedom and healing is found beneath the banner which reads “Know Jesus” (cf. Hebrews 12:1-2, also see Philippians 3:7-11). Don’t put your ultimate hope in your own ability to do better. Put your ultimate hope in Jesus—run to him, and let him heal you.

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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 “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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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.

Three Powerful Quotes from “The Most Reluctant Convert” (C.S. Lewis)

Whether you’re a proud Lewis disciple or a casual, I would highly recommend seeing The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis. This film is littered with sparkling one-liners and statements worth meditating on for days. I found the following quotes to be particularly moving (all of which are quotes or paraphrases from Lewis’s writings):

The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation. (cf. Surprised by Joy, pp. 228-229)

I doubt whether anyone who has tasted [Joy] would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is. (cf. Surprised by Joy, pp. 17-18)

Either this man was and is the Son of God, or else he is a liar, a lunatic or a fraud … But all this patronizing nonsense about him being some great moral teacher, it’s not an option to us, nor was it intended to be. (cf. Mere Christianity, pp. 55-56)

You can check for availability for this film here.

You can learn more about this film here.

Check out another powerful C.S. Lewis quote—on finding your true identity—here.

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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.

C.S. Lewis on finding your “real self”

Here are C.S. Lewis’s final words in Mere Christianity:

But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away ‘blindly’ so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois. You can find more of his work at The Gospel Coalition.

Here are three powerful quotes from the latest C.S. Lewis film, The Most Reluctant Convert.