This month, I’ve had the gift of leading a class at my church about journeying through anxiety. Compiling this playlist has been a balm to my own anxious heart, reminding me to lift up my eyes and behold the Lord in His power and kindness. I pray that these songs lead you to seek refuge in our Good Shepherd, no matter what you’re facing today.
Whether we’re in ministry or not, we all experience relationships that are more challenging than satisfying (I’m not addressing abusive relationships here). In difficult relationships, it’s easy to feel frustrated or hurt, and persevering can be a struggle. Often, it’s evident in our interpretation and response how much we’re focused on ourselves and how difficult the relationship is for us. I found myself in such a mindset recently, and a friend reminded me that God calls us to a patient pursuit of people.
Whatever they are struggling with in their lives, we can engage with them and welcome them in. The gospel is put on full display when we move toward them with the love of the Father, rather than pulling away when we’re offended. Instead of focusing on our own dissatisfaction or disappointment in the relationship, God wants to align our hearts with His to grieve our friend’s sin and suffering, as He does. With a compassionate and tender heart, we seek to know and understand them, to encourage and speak truth in love.
Besides pursuing the relationship, we want to also pursue God in prayer on their behalf. When the focus shifts from the relationship being about our happiness and satisfaction, to being used to honor God and accomplish His purposes, we are led to walk in dependence on Him and to be long-suffering, as He is with us. Sometimes we can feel like the burden is on us to change our friend or fix their situation. We end up being driven by a desire to make ourselves feel better, to relieve the guilt or pressure we feel. But God is the only one who can open eyes and change hearts. And it is He who has the power to be a fully sufficient comfort and help in the midst of suffering. As we seek God in prayer for our friend, He can help us to patiently wait on His timing and rest in His ways, with our hope firmly set on Him.
This patient pursuit requires humility. In difficult relationships, two common pitfalls are withdrawing and giving up on the friendship, and crushing them as we seek control and try to grasp for the desired outcome to happen in our preferred timeframe. But a patient pursuit is more concerned with God’s glory and purposes than our own comfort or desires…it humbly remembers God’s own patience with us and seeks to be dependent on Him.
Let’s face it – we are chronically self-focused. Our gaze is usually turned inward, and we evaluate and engage everything through the lens of personal impact. In seasons of suffering or bouts of difficult emotion, our vision is narrowed even more. But in Christ, our mind and heart are being transformed, renewed in the image of our Creator. A big piece of that sanctification process is growing in developing and nurturing an eternal perspective, so that our affections and purposes come into line with God’s. We need our lives to be shaped by God’s promises.
Eternal perspective has become a pervasive theme in what God has been teaching me lately. And the more I learn and grow, the more clearly I see how having an eternal perspective shapes every aspect of our present living. Here are just a few examples of areas that are impacted:
- SUFFERING | We are given hope and comfort in the midst of suffering and grief. We are motivated to persevere and surrender.
- FOCUS | We lift up our eyes and take the focus off ourselves. It cultivates a heart of humility.
- SPIRITUAL GROWTH | We are motivated to know God more and walk with Him daily, and to put off sin and grow in sanctification.
- PURPOSE | Our priorities are reoriented to focus on God’s purposes. We recognize that life is a gift to be stewarded rather than a competition to gain all we can.
- WORK | It changes our perspective on work and ministry. Everything we do is fueled by the ministry of reconciliation that has been entrusted to us.
- FEAR | In the face of anxiety, we are led to trust God and rest in the peace that He gives. This life is fleeting, and the pain and hurt is temporary. God is bigger than the things we fear, and we stand in reverent awe before Him.
- IDENTITY | Our story is enveloped in God’s, and all glory goes to Him. He redefines and reframes our identity.
- RELATIONSHIPS | We are motivated to pursue reconciliation in our relationships. We let go of offenses more quickly and remember that relationships are for Him, not for us.
- LOVE | Our affections are loosed from earthly treasures, and our heart is fixed on our Father who has so abundantly loved us. We are devoted to Him above all else.
The Bible is unlike any other book. It’s not meant to be read passively or selectively. It is living and active – it teaches, convicts and changes us as we interact with it. We come to the Word to learn about God’s character, and to be progressively transformed into His image. So we need to learn what it looks like to engage actively with God’s Word, with a heart of surrender that seeks to know and respond to Him.
Instead of just skimming over the words on the page, take time to really sit in it and reflect. Ask questions, think about what it means, consider how it connects to the overarching story of redemption, identify what it teaches about who God is and how He works.
Invite the Lord to illuminate your heart and open your eyes through His Word. In what ways do your thoughts and desires fail to line up with what you’re reading in this passage? Seek to understand the root of your sin, not just the external action.
Whenever we see some aspect of God’s character in Scripture, our own sin and insufficiency will be evident. Recognizing our sin is a gift of God’s grace to us, and is part of how He is at work changing us. But it’s uncomfortable, so our natural tendency is often to ignore it and focus on things that seem more pleasant and encouraging. However, the only right response is to humbly confess to God our sin and desperate need for Him.
We know that the Bible says God is good and faithful and loving, but in the face of difficulty, it’s hard to remember and walk in those truths. One of the ways for truth to move from our head to our heart is through praise. Whatever you learn in Scripture about God and His work, respond by praising Him – awaken your heart to love and worship the Lord.
Be specific in praying that God will change your heart and mind. We are dependent on Him and need His help to learn to walk in His ways. For example, if you recognize pride in your heart, ask God to grow you in humility and show you where in your life you have been pursuing your own glory instead of His.
Identify particular ways that God is leading you to respond to His Word. Heart change may take time, but you can take steps forward in obedience as He teaches you through His Word.
That God would speak and reveal Himself to us is such amazing grace. May we cherish and engage with His Word, looking not just for information or help, but to know our Creator in relationship and be changed by Him.
Especially in our closest and most important relationships, conflict has the potential to become volatile and cause severe, lasting damage. But in Christ, our conflict has the potential to display the grace of God and actually strengthen the relationship. This redemptive fruit is not automatic, though. We must depend on God to help us approach conflict in a new way that is so opposite from the natural bent of our flesh. While navigating conflict in this new way is a complex matter, I would sum it up in two key strategies: love and listen.
LOVE | Be committed to unity. Love doesn’t keep score or manipulate. Try to approach conflict with a cooperative, rather than competitive, attitude. You’re on the same team; you’re sitting on the same side of the table. Let your communication be characterized by humility and selflessness. Love and honor each other as people created in God’s image and given value by Him.
LISTEN | Usually in conflict, you will find a clashing of perspectives and desires. Each person is coming at it from a different angle and is interpreting things according to their own interests and experiences. And each party views one particular aspect as the most important consideration or most pressing concern. So be grace-centered in your approach by seeking to understand each person’s point of view and interests. Rather than assuming you know how the other thinks and feels, ask clarifying questions with a desire to truly understand their heart. Then respond with empathy and compassion. Lay down arms, seek God, and work together to reach a wise solution that honors God above all.
Doing conflict from a place of love and grace is hard. We won’t always get it right; we will often hurt those we love. But we can cultivate a pattern of humble confession and merciful forgiveness, and keep moving forward together as we learn a redemptive way to walk through conflict.
* My perspective has been influenced by Ken Sande’s book Peacemaking for Families. I highly recommend it as a valuable resource for understanding communication and conflict in relationships.
Each of us are being shaped and guided by particular beliefs, desires, and allegiances that set our lives on a trajectory. Yet often we get so busy living life that we don’t take time to really consider how we are living and what we are pursuing. But God has a specific design for how we have been created to live before Him – walking in wisdom.
Proverbs 9:10 tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” So this wisdom life that God has called us to must be rooted in the fear of the Lord. Nothing else is a steady foundation, and no other posture is conducive to growing in true wisdom. What does it mean to fear the Lord? It’s a matter of the heart – our posture and allegiance – that flows from a right view of God as holy and exalted. Fear of the Lord looks like worship, surrender, obedience, trust and love.
The life of walking in wisdom embraces and is marked by humility. This means we trust that God’s ways are best, even when they are hard or don’t make sense. Humility is dependent on God, rather than being self-reliant. We look to His character, purposes and design as our source for discerning what is right and best. We also seek to have an accurate awareness of our weaknesses and temptations. As we learn to walk in humility, we receive correction and are willing to confess and repent in submission to our Good King.
Scripture teaches us the life-giving value of wisdom, and insists that it must be intentionally pursued. So what does that pursuit look like?
- Wisdom’s reach is extensive, so we should shine the light of Scripture into every area of our life.
- We can invite correction, input, and accountability from other believers.
- Wisdom grows as we take time to process and reflect on our experiences and the responses of our heart. If we stay in survival mode or fill our lives so full that we’re never still, there won’t be an opportunity for growth.
- We must remember that wisdom is not just about behavior and choices, but heart change and being shaped into the image of God. With this perspective, we can seek out the root and pray for God to change us as we follow Him.
Let us move forward in pursuit of the life God created us for, growing in wisdom as we follow Him in joyful, humble obedience.
As we walk through this broken world, the experience of suffering is inevitable. It may come from the sin of others, the consequences of our own sin, or simply the reality of living in a fallen world. Whatever the source, suffering invites us to respond and serves as an opportunity to walk intimately with our Savior, who is himself well-acquainted with suffering.
The Lord has been showing me lately that the path He’s given us to walk through our experiences of suffering is one of surrender. A heart of humility and surrender traverses suffering with eyes on Jesus – hope in his eternal purposes and presence, desperate dependence, and faithful obedience. This journey of surrender will vary with each unique circumstance, but there are some common ways that surrender is expressed in the midst of suffering:
- Trusting God’s sovereignty, especially in terms of timing and provision. We surrender our desired outcome.
- Receiving His comfort, which requires us to grieve before Him and choose to believe that He is our Good Father.
- Willingly entering into the hard places by resting in His presence there with us.
- Acknowledging and repenting of our own sin.
- Choosing to forgive those who have hurt us. We surrender our desire to defend ourselves and seek revenge, and respond with mercy instead.
- Allowing God to rewrite the story of our suffering and reorient our hearts toward Him.
Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning;
For I trust in You;
Teach me the way in which I should walk;
For to You I lift up my soul.
– Psalm 143:8, NASB
The mantra of the world is all about building confidence: “You are enough,” “You can do whatever you set your mind to,” “You can manifest your own destiny,” “You are worthy & entitled.” But this pursuit of self-confidence is like building a house on quicksand – it won’t be long-lasting or stand up under the weight of reality. It’s bound to crumble. But it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have any confidence at all. The problem with confidence is when it’s misdirected and built on the wrong foundation.
The gospel, as it always does, flips the world’s values on their head. God’s redemptive purposes give us a very different perspective. His Word teaches that we are weak and He is strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). We are vessels of clay, and the power comes from Him (2 Corinthians 4:7). Without God’s grace in Christ, we are rebellious and dead in sin, deserving only of judgment. We must abide in Christ, for apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:1-11). Our sufficiency is from God (2 Corinthians 3:4-6), and it is He who equips and enables us. Because God created and redeemed us, our lives belong to Him and we exist for His glory, not to build up our own kingdom (Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 3:1-4; Hebrews 12:28-29).
So then, if we are weak and dependent, what do we do with this idea of confidence? Does it mean that we must cower through life in shame and fear? Not even close!
As followers of Christ, our confidence has a different foundation than the world offers. Our confidence is rooted in the grace of God, the redemption and righteousness provided by Christ, and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to teach and change us. Most importantly, our confidence is marked by humility – knowing that we are sinners in need of a Savior and fragile vessels in need of a greater power. We recognize and surrender to the reality that our lives belong to God, and that He will accomplish His purposes in and through us. God’s forgiveness covers our shame, and His presence and strength calm our fear. Confidence does not have to be synonymous with arrogance. We can walk with God with boldness AND humble dependence.
Humility is an ongoing lesson that the Lord has been teaching me and cultivating in me for quite a while now. The root of our sin and rebellion is pride, and so it’s become clear to me that the life of discipleship is a journey of learning to walk with the Lord in humble dependence and submission.
Music is such a valuable tool in helping me to remember truth, so I’ve put together a playlist that speaks the truths I need to hear in this journey toward humility. These are songs of dependence, our weakness & need for Christ, the undeserved grace that God has poured out on us in the Gospel, and our right response of surrendering our self-will to pursue God.
Unshakable Pursuit: Chasing the God Who Chases Us is a new 30-day devotion book written by Grace Thornton. The book is centered on the story of Paul’s time in Athens from Acts 17, and includes Scripture readings and prayer points for each day.
I love Grace’s writing, and this book is no exception. It is engaging, convicting, gospel-centered, and grace-saturated. Unshakable Pursuit is a unique and valuable resource for anyone who wants to know God more intimately and be encouraged and challenged in their walk with Him. Here are a few of my favorite aspects of this book:
- Grace’s giftedness for storytelling connects God’s Word, activity, and promises to your daily life and experiences.
- It casts a vision for growth and discipleship, for knowing God’s character and how He works in your life, and for joining in the mission of making God and the gospel known around the world.
- The book zeroes in on one passage of Scripture, which allows you to consider it in more detail and understand its connection to God’s grand narrative of redemption.
- It teaches you to pray specifically for God’s purposes to be accomplished in your own heart and among the nations.
The gospel message runs like a thread throughout the entire book: God pursues us in His grace, so in turn we pursue Him in response to His love, and we pursue others so that they might also know the life and freedom that we have been given. It’s a great book to go back to regularly, and to share with friends.
Unshakable Pursuit just released on May 21, and can be purchased from New Hope Publishers or on Amazon (on June 18). You can connect with Grace on her blog, and be sure to check out her first book, I Don’t Wait Anymore.