In Suffering, God Isn’t (Simply) Teaching You a Lesson

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

Sufferers often ask, “What lesson is God trying to teach me through this hardship?” Their friends ask them, “What is God trying to teach you?”

Generally, these are helpful questions. Suffering is difficult and confusing, and at times it feels pointless, so it’s natural and healthy to look for lessons to learn. It’s also true that God graciously uses trials to produce sweet fruit in our lives (James 1:2–4), often using difficult circumstances to teach us some of life’s most valuable lessons. Praying, “Lord, teach and grow me through this trial,” is always useful for us and precious to God.

Yet, there is a danger in reducing suffering to “a lesson to learn”—in believing (or communicating to others) that God allowed our suffering merely to send us a corrective message. Here are five potential problems with this line of thinking.

1. It’s unbiblical.

Consider two famous biblical examples of suffering: Job and Jesus. The opening chapter of Job does not say, “Job was walking in disobedience to God, so God brought suffering to teach him a lesson.” Rather, it says Job was “blameless and upright” (1:1), and God allowed suffering (in part) to prove his genuineness (1:8–12). If Job’s suffering was initially brought about to teach someone a lesson, the student to be corrected wasn’t Job but Satan (1:6–12).

Jesus, meanwhile, experienced the greatest suffering in human history. Yet the purpose of Christ’s suffering wasn’t to teach him a lesson but to bring sinners to God (1 Pet. 3:18).

In God’s kindness, both Job and Jesus learned through their suffering (Job 42:1-6Heb. 5:8), but in neither case does the Bible reduce the purpose of suffering to a lesson for the sufferer.

2. It can unjustly condemn sufferers.

If we are too quick to ask, “What is God trying to teach you through this suffering?” we can (at times) place an unnecessary yoke on the back of the sufferer. It adds guilt if she hasn’t “figured out God’s lesson” yet, and it can imply that she’s at fault for her suffering:

  • “Maybe if you didn’t idolize being a mother, God wouldn’t have allowed your miscarriage.”
  • “Maybe if you didn’t idolize your career, God wouldn’t have allowed you to lose your job.”
  • “Maybe if you were a better Christian, God wouldn’t have to teach you lessons like these.”

The Bible teaches that all suffering is a result of sin (Rom. 5:12) but all suffering is not a consequence of personal sin (John 9:2–3). To blame someone’s suffering on his sin is often presumptuous, usually unhelpful, and almost always simplistic.

Asking loved ones what God is teaching them through their suffering can be profitable and encouraging. But let’s be careful not to fall into the trap of Job’s friends by communicating that the only reason they’re suffering is that God wanted to correct them for a certain sin. 

3. It teeters on the prosperity gospel.

You’ve heard the stories:

  • “I was struggling as a single Christian. But then I realized God was trying to teach me to be content in my singleness. Once I learned my lesson, God brought Jeff into my life! #truelove”
  • “I always lived paycheck to paycheck. But then I realized God was trying to teach me to tithe more and not idolize money. Once I learned my lesson, God blessed me with my dream job and more money than I ever imagined! #Ephesians3:20”

I praise God for the lessons these people learned. But, “I learned my lesson and then was blessed with stuff” isn’t how it works for all people—and it’s certainly never promised in Scripture.

Whether intentional or not, these stories can communicate a harmful message to hearers: “Have you considered that maybe the reason you are still suffering is that you haven’t learned your lesson yet?”

Trained by this subtle prosperity gospel, we can begin putting our hope in learning our lesson rather than looking to Jesus. We throw ourselves onto our own behavior to heal us rather than throwing ourselves onto the grace of God. The lesson rather than the Lord becomes our Savior.

4. It undermines our humanity.

Whenever approaching the topic of suffering, we must remember we’re naturally weak and limited, whereas God alone is infinite in his wisdom and understanding (Isa. 55:8–9). In this life, we simply won’t understand fully why God allows the hardships he allows. Suffering can’t be fully explained, nor can it be boxed up into a nice little lesson.

When we’re suffering, our job isn’t to figure it all out—that will always be an exercise in futility. The fact that you don’t know why God allowed a certain hardship doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong; it means you’re not God.

When we’re walking alongside someone who is suffering, our job isn’t to help her figure it all out. Our job is to be present with her, encourage her, and remind her of God’s presence and promises.

5. It can misrepresent God.

If we stray from God’s means of grace in our suffering, we can start to see God as a cruel father who abandons his child and says, “I’ll come back once you learn your lesson.” Nothing could be further from the testimony of Scripture.

God isn’t playing games with you, throwing you into a dungeon and seeing if you can crack the code to unlock his hidden lesson. He’s not holding his presence and goodness hostage until you learn your lesson.

Jesus doesn’t scoff at sufferers as they flail helplessly in a current of hurt, saying, “Get yourself together!” He, rather, enters into the current of our suffering and says, “Let me be a refuge for you.” As Dane Ortlund put it, “There’s no minimum bar you need to get over [or lesson you need to learn] to get to him. All you have to do, actually, is collapse in order to get into the heart of Christ.”

Christ isn’t looking down his nose at your suffering. He isn’t disappointed you haven’t figured everything out. He isn’t waiting for you to submit a report on the lessons you learned from your pain before he grants you his presence. He simply wants you to collapse into his loving arms.

We have a sympathetic Savior who walks with us, grieves with us, and redeems our suffering for good—often teaching us precious lessons through hardships. Let’s rejoice in these lessons while also remembering that God’s purposes in our suffering are far greater than a lesson—and that one day Christ will return to save us, heal us, and unburden our suffering fully and forever.

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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 “When to Give Advice and When to Listen” here.

Read “That Decompressing Exhale For Which Our Souls Long” here.

Read “Five Habits That Kill Contentment” here.

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

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.

Can I Do Anything With Completely Pure Motives?

“To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” —Titus 1:15

Much of what we do in life comes down to our motives. A person with a pure heart does all things—even difficult things—with the motive of glorifying God and loving others. A person with a defiled heart does all things—even seemingly good things—with selfish motives. True goodness, then, is not merely a matter of outward behavior, but inward disposition.

Often the primary difference between the two people contrasted in Titus 1:15 (the pure person and the defiled person) is not what they do, but why they do it. Both may wake up, go to work, interact with coworkers, come home, eat dinner, watch a TV show, and go to bed. Yet for one person, all these activities are pure, while for the other, none are pure. How can this be? More importantly, how can we know which person describes us?

Without faith it is impossible to please God

“To the pure, all things are pure” does not mean that some people never sin or that their sins don’t count. Rather, it means all the efforts and day-to-day activities of the pure-hearted are uniquely pleasing to God.1 The writer of Hebrews tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6; cf. Romans 8:7–8). Yet with faith, every act of obedience is not only acceptable to God, but actually becomes “an ingredient in the divine happiness,” to quote C. S. Lewis.

Because the pure-hearted person seeks to do everything to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 5:9)—even things as seemingly mundane as cooking, paying bills, and folding laundry—each moment of her life brims with eternal significance (Matthew 6:3–4; 1 Cor. 3:11–14; Colossians 3:23–24).

Indeed, the believer’s very life pleases God (Psalm 149:4). Sanctified perfectly by Christ’s blood, day-to-day activities such as eating, drinking, sleeping, working, walking, talking, playing, and breathing all glorify God and delight his heart, as this is what he created his children to do! Like an earthly father smiling watching his newborn sleep, eat, and breathe, God delights in the very lives of his children.2

But is anything I do truly pure?

I have wrestled with this question ever since I became a Christian. The more I perceive the extent of my sinfulness, the more I am convinced I cannot fully overthrow my sinful nature for even a second in this life. I simply cannot do anything without a stray molecule of selfishness or impurity tainting my volition. I relate deeply to Tim Keller’s words: “If you wait until your motives are pure and unselfish before you do something, you will wait forever.”

Here’s the good news: Jesus shed his blood not only for our evil acts, but also for our good (but not perfectly pure) acts, to make them pure and acceptable in God’s sight (Ephesians 5:25–27; Revelation 19:7–8). For the believer, every genuine effort to glorify God is purified by the blood of Christ and presented to God in splendor, truly pleasing to him, as if Christ himself had done it perfectly (cf. John 8:29; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:25–27). This includes our distracted prayers, imperfect obedience, partially selfish service, worship that could’ve been more affectionate, and mundane, everyday tasks.

God is not waiting for you to offer flawless service to him before he is pleased by you. If that were the case, none of us would be able to please God until heaven. God delights in each of his children now—even while they’re still riddled with sin (cf. Romans 5:6–8)—because the blood of Christ purifies their lives and works completely. Yet God doesn’t sanctify his children in order to love them; he sanctifies them because he loves them. God’s love comes before, even initiates, his purification.

We can (and should) pursue growth in holiness with confidence and hope, knowing that God intends to purify our hearts more and more as we walk with him (Titus 2:11–14), and obedience is the path to life (Proverbs 12:28). Yet we can also rest knowing all our acts of faith—though still riddled with imperfect motives—are acceptable and pleasing to God, even now, through the blood of Christ.

Freedom by the blood

As sinners, we are all by nature Person #2 in Titus 1:15 (the one with a defiled and unbelieving heart). Fortunately, Jesus is in the business of purifying hearts and cleansing consciences (Titus 2:11–14). He intends to remake us, right our desires, absolve our guilt, and lead us on paths of righteousness. Through Christ, we become pure in heart (Matthew 5:8; 1 John 3:3). This happens as we live in continual repentance and communion with Christ through the means of grace (Acts 2:42; 1 John 1:9).

So rejoice, believer, in both your repentance and obedience, knowing your entire being—body and soul—is fully submerged in the cleansing blood of Christ. Your evil works are forgiven by the blood, your good works are purified by the blood, and your entire life is sanctified by the blood. Your very existence is an ingredient in God’s happiness, and one day you will be presented to Christ in splendor, without spot or blemish (Ephesians 5:25–27; Revelation 19:7–8).

Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank you for the precious blood of Christ, which I need today and every day. Forgive me for my impure thoughts and motives. Sanctify my heart by your Word and Spirit. Help me to embody the purity, love, and obedience of Christ today, for your glory and the good of all. I love you, Lord. Amen.

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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 “That Decompressing Exhale For Which Our Souls Long” 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.

Footnotes

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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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 verse 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.

An Answer to Prayer Even Better than Clarity

Recently I told a friend that I would give my whole bank account for clarity. He said, “No you wouldn’t.” I said, “Yes I would.” He said, “No you wouldn’t.” I said, “Yes… I would.” He said, “You really want clarity, huh? Okay, I will pray for that for you.”

The next morning—less than 12 hours later—I woke up and continued listening to Aimee Joseph’s Demystifying Decision-Making. She said, “We far too easily demand clarity from our Creator when, instead of clarity, he would rather cultivate faith in us.”

I suppose God answered my prayer for clarity quicker than expected—only instead of giving me clarity of direction, he gave me clarity of priority. In this moment, I believe God was graciously reminding me that trust in God is infinitely more valuable than clarity on what to do. If God chose to increase my faith rather than give me clarity in this situation, that would be a treasure of far greater worth. (Let’s hope God doesn’t come for my bank account now that he’s cleared this up for me!)

Consider three ways that trust in God is more valuable than clarity on what to do.

1. Clarity might help us now; trust will help us for a lifetime.

In one sense, the difference between clarity and trust is similar to the difference between a painkiller and true healing. We often long for the narcotic of clarity because we long for a quick fix. Clarity takes us out of the uncomfortable—out of a place of dependence—and makes us feel back in control. But is that really what we need most?

If God gave us clarity, that may (or may not) help us with a particular decision, but it would never help us again. But if he gave us trust, that would help us for a lifetime (Psalm 125:1-2).

Those who trust the Lord don’t thrive because they always have clarity, but because they deem the one who holds the future worthy of their soul’s deepest rest. The security we long for doesn’t come from knowing the future, but from knowing and trusting God.

Don’t misunderstand: clarity in itself is not a bad thing. In fact, clarity is often the satisfying fruit of faith in action. But don’t miss the goodness of the seasons of life that feel unclear. Don’t rush past them. Don’t live in the future and miss the preciousness of what God is trying to teach you right now. Remember, if you can learn to trust God in this season, it will bear sweet fruit for the rest of your life (and for all eternity).

2. Clarity allows us to move on; trust allows God to move in.

One of the hardest parts of unclear seasons is the feeling of stuckness—like we can’t move forward in any areas of life until we get this area figured out. But let two things be clear.

First, if you do nothing in this season except deepen your trust in God, this will be one of the most productive seasons of your life (James 1:2-4). The product of clarity is a decision; the product of trust is a relationship. Which is more productive in the long run? I appreciate Ann Voskamp’s observation: “Too often we want clarity and God wants us to come closer.” Is it possible that God is allowing this season of waiting in your life to deepen your communion with him?

Second, God may be slowing you down in some areas of life, but he doesn’t want you to stop moving. Don’t sit on the sideline while you wait for clarity in this area. Ironically, God usually gives us clarity not while we are sitting on our hands and fixating on a decision, but while we are being the hands of Christ and focusing on his mission.

3. Clarity gives us something to run to; trust gives us someone to run to.

One of the most precious gems in Joseph’s book is a story she tells of her son after he made a poor decision. Whether you’re feeling uncertain about the past or the future, be encouraged by this today!

My nine-year-old son stood with his bicycle at the top of the steep hill in front of our house. His gaggle of neighborhood friends stood at the base of the hill where my husband and I were doing some gardening. Suddenly my son cried out from the top of the hill, “Hey guys, watch this!” My husband and I immediately looked up in alarm, as those are dangerous words coming from a young boy. Much to our surprise, our son’s next move was not to ride down the hill on the bike but to send the bike down the hill without a rider. Our eyes moved back and forth between the bike, which was picking up speed, and the new-to-us car toward which it was headed. Sure enough, the bike slammed into the side of the car as we watched in shock and horror. My son, recognizing what he had done and not even understanding himself why he had done it, began running down the hill. I fully expected him to run to his room in embarrassment, but he did something we did not expect. He ran directly into my husband’s arms, paying my husband one of the greatest compliments of his life. In a moment when fear of shame and consequences might have made him run from his father, he chose to run to his arms. He knew his father well enough to know that there would surely be consequences, but he also knew that his father loved him far more than he was disappointed with him. (Emphasis mine)

Here we see the all-surpassing value of trust. Trust not only helps us make decisions without being paralyzed by fear, but it also gives us someone to run to even when we make poor decisions. 

Interestingly, idolizing clarity can sometimes lead us to make wrong decisions. The presence of clarity is not always a stamp of God’s approval, nor does it guarantee good outcomes. But when we trust in God, we can be confident that no matter what the outcome is, we have a loving and sovereign Father who is always with us and ready to embrace us in his loving arms (Luke 15:20).

Rest in the arms of the Father

Our future is unknown, but God’s character and promises are not. Let’s rest knowing that our God is supremely trustworthy and that he will redeem all of our decisions for his glory and our good (Romans 8:28).

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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 “Which Memories Should I Dwell On?” 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.