Don’t sow thorns in your child’s heart.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17 ESV)

The temptations which ensnare little minds are subtle.  Toys seem so innocent.  Fieldtrips seem so educational.  Activities and lessons seem so helpful.

Fellow moms, we are called to do more than just avoid leading our children into sinful pursuits—we’re called to avoid leading our children into any pursuits, any passions, that aren’t in pursuit of God.

Think of what motivates your child.  What do they really enjoy?  What is their room filled with?  What puts a smile on their face?  What makes them throw a temper tantrum if you take it away?

In our house, multiple children love Minecraft.  It’s a very innocent, educational kind of game, and at first, I was like, yeah, go play.  But then it slowly became clear that it was—for our kids—too much of a struggle of addiction.  They were mean to their siblings, squabbling over whose turn it was on the tablet, neglecting their responsibilities, and gradually turning into negative, whiny little people.  We uninstalled Minecraft.

Another child loves to read.  And I love that characteristic of her.  It can be a very godly pastime.  But other times, the book gets its teeth in her and she starts whining about when she has to stop for a moment, or she starts obsessively talking about the plot to random people instead of engaging in more profitable conversation—it becomes a sinful distraction.  As much as it irks me to do so, sometimes we make her put away the books for a while and regain her focus on the outside world.

Ask hard questions.

There aren’t easy answers to the question of when a worldly thing has a hold on our children’s hearts. We can’t keep them away from the world. But we can think about what things motivate and excite them, and consider those things in light of these questions.

  • Is it a thing of earth or a thing of heaven?  We are commanded in Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”  Sometimes we have to deal with things of earth, but our minds should be occupied elsewhere—with heavenly things.  This, again, is true even for children.  Obsession with an earthly thing, theme, activity, etc., is incompatible with a mind on heavenly things.  Titus 2:12 commands us to “renounce worldly passions.” 1  John cautions us, “if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world… is not from the Father.”  Friends, the things of the world—ALL the things of the world—are wrong to love.  Dangerous to love.
  • Is it self-indulgent?  Self-indulgence is perhaps not one of the greatest sins that leaps to our modern minds, but 1 Timothy 5:6 says the self-indulgent person “is dead even while she lives.”  Dead.  Indulging ourselves is a sin, whether we be adults or children.
  • Is it something that makes the world seem like a friend?  Does it make a sinful lifestyle seem normal, appealing, or “safe”?  Does it make those whose lives are not dedicated to glorifying God seem like friends?  They aren’t.  James 4:4 reminds us that “friendship with the world is enmity with God.”
  • Is it pleasing the flesh?  1 John cautions again against three specific things: desires of the flesh, desires of the eyes, and pride in possessions.  Paul also talks about this tension in Romans between the things our flesh desires and the things of the Spirit within us.  Things that are just “fun” and pleasing to our human self are fleshly, not godly.  Colossians 3:5 says, “put to death therefore what is earthly in you.”  We have to teach our children also to put these things to death.
  • Is it part of our duties as soldiers in Christ?  2 Timothy 2:4 reminds us that “no soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”  Matthew 24:42 commands us to “keep watch, because you do not know the day on which your Lord will come,” and 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us to “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  Moms, the devil is trying to devour our children.  Neither of us has any time to do anything apart from glorify God.  This soldiering business is full-time.  We don’t go off and engage in civilian pursuits, much less get caught up in them.
  • Is it teaching them to love man’s glory?  Jesus cautioned against people who “loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:43).  Is the activity teaching them to earn man’s praise?  Is it teaching them to value a thing because other men praise it?  Does it teach them that only God’s opinion matters?

My son, beware…

Ecclesiastes is a great book about what pursuing worldliness looks like, and coming up empty.  Solomon concludes with this absolutely fantastic piece of advice:

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Ecclesiastes 12:11-12 ESV)

We need to catch that little phrase in the middle: beware of anything beyond these (the words of the one Shepherd).  There are too many books, too much study—if they aren’t from the Shepherd, they’re worthless.  Don’t study them.  Solomon makes it even punchier, “for God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).  We are going to be held to account for every single thing we do.  Every single minute.  And our children are going to be held to account for every single minute of how they spend their time.

Beware of the fun tablet games.  Beware of the good books.  Beware of the family-friendly television shows.  Beware of the ballet classes.  Beware of the Disney princesses.  Beware of the parties, the playgroups, the plays and performances.  Beware of the exciting vacations, the beach trips, the talking toys, the stuffed animals, the books, the favorite Netflix show, the beloved aunt.  Does it teach your child to love God?  Or does it teach them to love the world?  We have to keep coming back to this—about everything. Why are we doing this?  Why does my child think we’re doing this?  Why does my child enjoy it?  Is the enjoyment because the activity is heavenly, or fleshly?

I was reading a book a few weeks ago and it was talking about how to teach children to talk effectively and powerfully.  And one of the major points it made is to teach children to turn their conversations, their stories, their answers toward the subject of God.  To teach them to share freely and enthusiastically about what God has been teaching them, how He’s leading them, blessing them, whatever.  To teach them to actively be on the lookout for opportunities to bring this into every conversation they have.  That struck me really hard.  Even in our conversations around the dinner table—or when an inquiring relative asks them about their schoolwork—they can be either earthly-minded, or they can be heavenly-minded.  Worldliness has inundated even our conversations, and I want to take it back!  I don’t want my children to bounce into the room eager to tell me about their new toy or how much fun they had at such-and-such an activity, or how they are just dying to go to the thing that all their friends are doing.  I want to see their eyes light up over God, and His things alone.  I want Him to have a grip on their hearts, and everything else—I want to see that they know it’s all worthless and fading away.  My heart aches in fear for their souls when I see them excited about worldly things.

Why does it matter?

This may seem legalistic to you.  “Innocence of childhood” and “time to be a kid” and all that.  But, please, consider the parable of the sower.  You know the story, man goes out, sows some seed, some of it takes root, some of it grows, some of it withers… the seed is the Word, and our children’s hearts is the land.  Look at this part:

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
Matthew 13:22

Moms, this is terrifying.  We can preach the Gospel day in and day out to our children, we can live perfect examples before them, and yet—we can let in the thorns.  “The cares of the world.”  Moms, Jesus says this chokes the word.  You can sow the truth till the cows come home, but if the thorns of the world are growing in your little one’s heart—how much worse if you’re the one encouraging the love of a non-heavenly thing—then all the truth-speaking and Gospel-preaching in the world are going to prove unfruitful.

It’s so subtle, so innocent-seeming… and so utterly lethal.  Worldliness undermines our family worship, our Bible studies, our pleading with them over Scripture—it undermines everything.

Don’t let your children love the world and its pleasures and things.

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.”
Luke 21:34

SRR6WYMLLT

A Charge to Parents from 1671

I found this little book called “A Token for Children” referenced in Elizabeth Gill’s obituary penned by her father, John Gill.  It was apparently one of her favorite books alongside The Pilgrim’s Progress.  The book is itself worth reading, but I wanted to share the introduction in particular. I couldn’t find a clean copy online.  I’ve added some linebreaks and modernized the punctuation just slightly.

~ * ~

To all Parents, School-Masters, and School-Mistresses, or any that are concerned in the EDUCATION of Children.

Dear Friends, I Have often thought that Christ speaks to you, as Pharaoh’s daughter did to Moses’s mother, “Take this child, and nurse it for me.” Consider what a precious jewel is committed to your charge, what an advantage you have to shew your love to Christ, to stock the next generation with noble plants, and what a joyful Account you may make, if you be faithful: Remember, souls, Christ and grace cannot be overvalued.

I confess you have some disadvantages, but let that only excite your diligence; the salvation of souls, the commendation of your master, the greatness of your reward and everlasting glory, will pay for all. Remember the devil is at work hard, wicked ones are industrious, and a corrupt nature is a rugged, knotty piece to hew: But be not discouraged: I am almost as much afraid of your laziness and unfaithfulness, as any thing. Do but go to work in good earnest, and who knows but that rough stone may prove a pillar in the temple of God?

In the name of the living God, as you will answer it shortly at his bar, I command you to be faithful in instructing and catechizing your young ones; if you think I am too peremptory, I pray read the command from my master himself, Deut. vi. 7. Is not the duty clear? and dare you neglect so direct a command! Are the souls of your children of no value? Are you willing that they should be brands of hell? Are you indifferent whether they be damned or saved? Shall the devil run away with them without controul? Will not you use your utmost endeavour to deliver them from the wrath to come? You see that they are not subjects uncapable of the grace of God; whatever you think of them, Christ doth not slight them; they are not too little to die, they are not too little to go to hell, they are not too little to serve their great master, too little to go to heaven; For of such is the kingdom of God; and will not a possibility of their conversion and salvation, put you upon the greatest diligence to teach them? Or are Christ and heaven, and salvation, small things with you? if they be, then indeed I have done with you: but if they be not, I beseech you lay about you with all your might; the devil knows your time is going apace, it will shortly be too late.

O therefore what you do, do quickly, and do it I say, with all your might; O pray, pray, pray, and live holily before them, and take some time daily to speak a little to your children, one by one, about their miserable condition by nature; I knew a child that was converted by this sentence, from a godly school-mistress in the country, “Every mother’s child of you are by nature children of wrath.” Put your children upon learning their catechism, and the scriptures, and getting to pray and weep by themselves after Christ: take heed of their company; take heed of pardoning a lye; take heed of letting them mis-spend the sabbath; put them, I beseech you, upon imitatating these sweet children; let them read this book over an hundred times, and observe how they are effected, and ask them what they think of those children, and whether they would not be such? and follow what you do with earnest cries to God, and be in travel to see Christ formed in their souls.

I have prayed for you, I have oft prayed for your children and I love them dearly; and I have prayed over these papers, that God would strike in with them, and make them effectual to the good of their souls. Incourage your children to read this book, and lead them to improve it. What is presented, is faithfully taken from experienced, solid christians, some of them no way related to the children, who themselves were eye and ear witnesses of God’s works of wonder; or from my own knowledge, or from reverend godly ministers, and from persons that are of unspotted reputation, for holiness, integrity, and wisdom; and several passages are taken verbatim in writing from their dying lips. I may add many other excellent examples, if I have any encouragement in this piece, which the author had done, in the Second Part. That the young generation may be far more excellent than this, is the prayer of one that dearly loves little children.

JAMES JANEWAY.James_Janeway

Janeway was a nonconformist preacher so popular and so hated by the Church of England that they attempted to assassinate him twice.  He and his brothers (all duly ejected from the Church of England) all died very young from tuberculosis – James at 38.  This book was read not only in the Gill family, but often by the Spurgeons as well.

Justified and Forgiven.

As a justified man, I have not a sin against me in God’s book. If I were to turn over God’s eternal book, I should see every debt of mine receipted and cancelled.

-C.H. Spurgeon

We go to a liturgical church, which is mostly quite unfamiliar to me, but occasionally unexpectedly thought-provoking.  One particular Sunday morning some weeks ago, the Confession of Sin was very compatible with the thoughts already running through my head.   I don’t remember what confession it was—whether it was one from Scripture, or Calvin, or the BCP, or what—but I was really feeling it, and many of my recent failures began parading through my mind.  What a disappointment I must be to God.  So wretched.  I just keep right on sinning, day after day.  Being short with the children; impatient.  Wasting time.  Being “too tired” when I really could have pressed on.  Getting snippy with Seth over dinner.  Eating too much chocolate.

I prayed.  Oh, God, forgive me.

Then the pastor read the Assurance of Pardon, which that morning was from Psalm 103 (ESV):

The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.

That morning, sitting there in church, bouncing a baby on my knee—the Spirit worked and the words shattered straight to the heart of me.

Justified.

I realized that I’ve mostly thought about God saving me from my sins as a past-tense (at the cross) and a future-tense (letting me into heaven) kind of way. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul says (1 Corinthians 6:11).  And we are “justified by his grace [so that] we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7).  “Since therefore we have now been justified by his blood…” (Romans 5:9).  These verses, this sense of justification is what I’ve had catechized deep into my mind.

And, indeed, our justification is by Christ’s blood, and is eternal, and is something which comes with salvation.

But I was missing something—the present reality of God’s forgiveness.

One day as I was passing into the field, and that too with some dashes on my conscience, fearing lest yet all was not right, suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was a-doing, God could not say of me, he wants my righteousness, for that was just before him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself…
-John Bunyan

Paul writes in Romans 5:1 that because of our justification by faith, we have peace with God.  1 John 1:9 adds that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  1 John 2:1, “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”  Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Romans 8:39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Forgiven.

I knew those verses before that Sunday morning; I knew Psalm 103.  Yet sitting there, my sins fresh on my mind and the overwhelming guilt weighing so heavy on my shoulders—reading those amazing, precious words: “He does not deal with us according to our sins.”  I am sure I stopped breathing.  But the goodness kept on flowing.  “Nor repay us according to our iniquities.”  “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

The next line left me really gobsmacked: “as a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”  Oh, what metaphor I know!  How gracious of God to give us these little word pictures, to give us parenthood so we have an inkling of how He feels toward us.  So many times a day I am called to rebuke our children.  So many, many times that children sin.  So many times they hurt me, even, with angry words or even (on the part of the toddlers!) an angry thwack.

And yet it is completely unthinkable to suggest that I might stop loving them because of these things!  When they repent, I think I love them even more than I did before, not less—it is such a joy to see.  And when I see their continuing sorrow for what they did, I want to fix it, to make them feel better, to let them know that it’s forgiven and that they are still my very own dear little ones and that I am not angry.

“For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”  Just as a parent knows that their children are children, God knows our weakness.  Which is not an excuse, any more than “he’s just a kid!” is an excuse for childish behavior, but it is a comfort.  Ecclesiastes 7:20, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”  God knows my sin—my sin this very day!—and yet sent His Son to atone for it.  While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us! While we were dead in our trespasses and sins! And if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us.  Even as I was worried and weighed down by my sin that Sunday morning, God was faithfully forgiving and removing and washing it away, listening to me with loving ears, and somehow seeing not my sin, but His Son’s righteousness.

He does not deal with us according to our sins.

Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect?
God is the One who justifies.
Who is the one who condemns?
Christ Jesus is the One who died,
but even more, has been raised;
He also is at the right hand of God
and intercedes for us.
Romans 8:33-34 (HCSB)

Hannah: Articulate, Unwavering Faith.

One thing I’ve really benefited from in the past couple of years is looking at specific women in Scripture to see what kind of lessons I can glean from their lives.  I haven’t done this purposefully before now—I “just happened” across the Shunammite woman who helped Elisha and the woman from Abel who promised Joab Sheba’s head—but I want to spend some time looking long at the examples held before us (new category: women in the Bible).

The stunning example of Hannah fell in my lap this week as I studied the so-familiar tale once more for our church’s women’s Bible study.  Hannah’s story is the earliest Bible story I have recollection of as a child—I’m pretty sure we had one of those Christian versions of a Little Golden Book about her and the little robes she made for her son, and I must have read it often, because I can still see the illustrations in my mind.  Nevertheless, I am ashamed to admit that I thought a bit dubiously of Hannah. Why was she breaking her heart about this whole having a baby thing? She seemed like “a Martha” to me, with her mind set on the wrong things.

Well, six children, some years, and a study of Judges later, and Hannah has emerged from the shadows where I’d stupidly left her.

The woman from the hill country.

Hannah lived in an oppressively miserable situation.  Her story opens in the time of the judges—a profoundly horrible time in Israel’s history. So many unthinkable things were happening.  So much idolatry and godlessness.  So much cruelty, oppression, impulsiveness, and unfaithfulness.  The book of Judges ends on such a sour note, and it is there that 1 Samuel picks up the story.

Hannah’s personal situation is also oppressively miserable—first, her husband has another wife.  While provision for this is made in the Law (Exodus 21:10, Deuteronomy 21:15, etc.), God obviously didn’t make Adam two wives, and we’ve already seen this practice making trouble stretching from Abraham to Gideon (Judges 8:30, and the massive fratricide that follows in chapter 9).  Worse, her sister-wife is abusive.  1 Samuel 1:6-7 says that “her rival would taunt her severely just to provoke her… whenever she went up to the Lord’s house, her rival taunted her in this way.”  (We find out later in the chapter that Hannah’s faith is strong, making it even worse that she experiences these taunts in the middle of what was surely one of her favorite pastimes—visiting the Lord’s house to worship and pray.)  Further complicating the situation, her husband is apparently oblivious (v. 8) and makes the situation worse by showing her blatant favoritism (v. 5).  And this not even to say anything about the root of all the taunting and misery—that “the Lord had kept Hannah from conceiving” (v. 6).

Lastly, even what should have been a haven to her, the Lord’s house, is perverted because Eli’s “sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them” (1 Samuel 3:13)—these two men who we see right away in 1:3 were “the Lord’s priests” at Shiloh where Hannah could come to worship.

In short, Hannah’s world is all screwed up.  This isn’t a story about some baby-crazy fanatic.  This is a righteous woman who loves God stuck in the middle of a world that hates Him, with family that hates Him, and even priests who hated Him.

In the middle of all this, she finds herself “deeply hurt” (1 Samuel 1:10) and she pleads with God.  She is sad, weeping “with many tears,” afflicted (v. 11), broken-hearted (v. 15), anguished and grieved (v. 16), and despondent (v. 18).  But her response is not to lash out at her surroundings, to drink, to rail at God, to blame her husband, to return evil for evil… no, Hannah’s response is to pray.

Hannah’s vow.

One thing that’s very relevant is that any vow Hannah made was meaningless if her husband didn’t confirm it:

If a woman in her husband’s house has made a vow or put herself under an obligation with an oath, and her husband hears about it, says nothing to her, and does not prohibit her, all her vows are binding, and every obligation she put herself under is binding. But if her husband cancels them on the day he hears about it, nothing that came from her lips, whether her vows or her obligation, is binding. Her husband has canceled them, and the LORD will absolve her.  Her husband may confirm or cancel any vow or any sworn obligation to deny herself.
[Numbers 30:11-13]

This is important context because Hannah wasn’t being unsubmissive or making a promise she couldn’t keep.

Secondly, the vow itself (v. 11):

LORD of Hosts, if You will take notice of Your servant’s affliction, remember and not forget me, and give Your servant a son, I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and his hair will never be cut.

Her son is to be a Nazarite from birth.  Just like Samson in Judges 13.  The parallel Hannah is offering to God is exact.  Surely Hannah knew her recent history!  So—the text doesn’t say what all was going on in her head, but I think it’s a reasonable inference, at least a consideration, that a righteous woman in the midst of such sinfulness would find herself wishing for a Gideon, a Samson, a Barak, a Jephthah, to again rise up from the people of Israel.  Whether she wished specifically for her son to be that or not, that was what she was holding out to God—a son dedicated to the Lord from birth.  And that is what God ultimately delivered to her: not merely a son whom she could dedicate to outward temple service, but a son who was indeed the Lord’s, and who did go on to be a judge over Israel, and a tremendous influence for righteousness.

And Hannah believed.  Verse 18, her despondence is gone.

God answered, giving her Samuel, whose very name recognizes the circumstances of his conception and of his mother’s vow.  She tells her husband Elkanah of her vow, and he confirms it.  And so she takes Samuel to Eli, “though the boy was still young” (v. 24).  She needs no reminders and displays no hesitation.  Samuel is gone from her and dedicated to her Lord.

Hannah’s prayer.

1 Samuel 2 is where we really find out what makes Hannah tick.  We’ve already seen that she’s a woman devoted to worshipping God (1 Samuel 1:7, 1:10, 1:12, 1:16, 1:19, 1:24), but now we find out her theology.  And, wow, it turns out to be really deep.  A pastor could preach many sermons from Hannah’s little prayer!  A few of the things that really stood out to me:

  • She just gave up her son, but she’s rejoicing in the Lord (ch. 2 v. 1).
  • She’s not overcome by her enemies (how the magnitude of her suffering must have been to refer to them as “enemies” with no military context!) because she rejoices in God’s salvation (v. 1).
  • She’s got an amazing and exactly correct view of God and His sovereignty (v. 2-3, 5, 6, 7, 8) and the accompanying compulsion for us to be holy.
  • She knows truth strength is in God, not human strength, echoing David’s not-yet-written words in Psalm 18:29 (v. 4).
  • She knows happiness isn’t found in children but in the Lord (v. 5).
  • She knows the end of the righteous and the wicked (v. 9-10).
  • She anticipates Jesus Himself (v. 10).

So much there.  So much faith and so much understanding!  So much encouragement.

Then she left her only son and went home with empty arms but a joyful heart.  She proceeds to visit him once a year, with a little robe (v. 19), when they go up for the yearly sacrifice.

The end of the story.

Each year Eli prays that God may give her another child (v. 20), and God “pays attention,” v. 21, and Hannah has five more children.

The story quickly turns to Samuel and his life as it impacts Eli, Saul, David—and we never find out the end of Hannah’s story.  Did she keep meeting with him once a year?  Did she know and weep for her grandchildren who fell right back into the sin that surrounded her (1 Samuel 8:3)?  Were her other children faithful?  We don’t know.  Hannah doesn’t “make it” into the lineage of Christ or the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11.  She’s not mentioned by Jesus, any of the gospel writers, or in any of the epistles; all we know of her is contained right here in these two simple chapters.

Yet, what chapters and encouragement they are!  Hannah is a model of perseverance, faith, and sound theology even under great duress.  And God’s response to her pleas is a wonderful demonstration of His faithfulness and remembrance, blessing her far beyond what she asked of Him.

Always prepared to give an answer?

Today someone asked me how it is that I always seem to be so peaceful.

Someone whom I have no reason at all to believe is a Christian; someone whose relationship with me does not generally entail talking about religion or personal beliefs at all, in fact, whose relationship with me (i.e., “professional”) makes such conversation socially verboten.

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…
(1 Peter 3:15)

Needless to say, I was caught off-guard by her question.  I have a neat litany of excuses for my failure: the irregularity of the conversation, the exhaustion deluging my brain, my todo list burning a hole in my pocket, the rarity of my interaction with nonbelievers at all now (as a SAHM)… I was very much off-guard.  Secondly, the subtlety of the question threw me—”peaceful” didn’t immediately turn my brain to the Gospel.

I have lots of excuses.

The conversation was not a total flub, because for some odd reason, she kept pushing it and, surprisingly, turning it in ever more spiritual directions.  I felt like I’d stepped into the twilight zone and was off-balance and uncertain the entire time.  Looking back, I feel like the conversation was enough that God could use it, or that I could bring it back up again on the strength of the conversation, but I’m also really sorrowful at my own ineptitude and inattention and lack of focus.

“Always being prepared.”  I would have done better if she had asked me a direct question, like, “how do I go to heaven?” or “how does your faith help you remain calm?”  Or, “why is this theological confession better than that one?”  I could have done well with any of those questions, had my brain snapped into focus and put on the evangelism track.

But sadly, preparation doesn’t mean knowledge here.  It doesn’t mean ability to argue theological points.  Peter is talking in the context of suffering Christians in a hostile world, and what is the source of the “preparation” he names?  “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.”

My problem was that my brain was going a thousand places this morning, none of them focused directly on Christ.  I was totally being “a Martha.”  I’d thought plenty about theology this morning, but not much about its Author.  My fellow conversationalist actually asked me (if you’re a Yankee, you know how shocking this is) if I prayed in the mornings—and all I could think of was, well, I sure hadn’t THIS morning!  My answers were all over the place because my heart was all over the place.  God gives me peace when our son has facial palsy—a peace I have very much clung to in the past week and a half—but somehow, the lesser things, I act like I can strike out on my own.  I can bundle my kids up and out the door, carefully-organized schoolwork schedules in hand.  I can get everyone breakfast, everyone in shoes, raggle-taggle hair tamed, snacks packed… all in my own strength.

But I can’t.  This morning was absolutely shattering to my self-inflated spiritual ego.  It doesn’t matter how much Scripture I read or recite, how many theological terms I can rattle off, or how excellent of “Christian” parenting advice I can dole out when others ask me… if my very own heart is not filled up with honoring Christ, it’s all rubbish, to quote Paul.

It’s a quiet little sin to simply lose focus, to stop feeling thirsty for the refreshment of the Spirit, to stop depending on Him and glorifying His holiness and instead to fall into pride and self-focus, distraction, and worry.

Such a quiet little sin.  But such a lethal one.  I’ll never get this morning back.

(Written July 2015, forgot to post it.)

Do not be overcome by evil……

Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.
-Romans 12:21

Another verse to add to the “Julie always thought of this wrong” pile! 🙂

The context really lends itself to thinking the “evil” here means “evil people,” and surely that is one valid meaning, but… life has taught me there’s a lot more evil to overcome within myself than there are evil people waiting to persecute me!

It continually delights me how God uses children’s music to work in my heart, and this morning we were listening to Steve Green’s “Hide ‘Em in Your Heart” in the car, and this verse is one of the songs.  When it came on, my heart was heavy with thoughts of various conflicts going on, and my own tendency to react to such conflict sinfully—impatiently, unkindly—and our human tendencies to respond to disagreement with slander and bad-temperedness and selfishness.  (A musing itself inspired by an earlier track on our adventure this morning, Andrew Peterson’s “I Want to Say I’m Sorry.”)  How desperately real is the struggle to “be angry and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26), to “let your speech always be gracious” (Colossians 4:6); how true is it that “when there are many words, sin is unavoidable” (Proverbs 10:19)!

When that moment of conflict comes up, it is so very hard to beat back the instinctive reaction of my tongue.  James says (3:8), “no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”  And yet we must.  Proverbs 10:19 concludes, “but the prudent hold their tongues.”  Proverbs 17:27, “the one who has knowledge uses words with restraint.” James 1:19, “be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”  In that very first moment of a disagreement—how the temptation of evil is so near!  Especially when someone has done us evil, the temptation to retaliate is so strong and so hard to resist.  And yet such is evil; vengeance belongs to God, not to me.  There is never a justification for speaking even a little bit uncontrolled, or even a little bit selfishly, even a little bit vindictively.  With our tongues, surely sin is indeed “crouching at the door, and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7).

At the beginning of a disagreement, evil is lurking.  Lurking in my heart.  Vying for control of my tongue.  Trying to overcome me, to turn the conversation—even the relationship!—to evil.  But as David begs in Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!”  In that moment, we can restrain our tongues, we can overcome the evil of the encroaching conflict with good, with the fruit of the Spirit, with patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control.

Do not be overcome by evil—but overcome evil with good!

2 Timothy 1:7 for Expectant Mothers

2 Timothy 1:7, hcsb:

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.

No question at all that this verse is not talking about labor and pregnancy.  It’s talking about the Spirit, about faith, about not being ashamed of the Gospel.

And yet: our faith in Christ does inform and mold Christian childbirth.  This verse has meaning to anyone who is struggling with fear.

Our identity in Christ necessarily transforms our approach to birth.

God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness

Right out of the gate, here’s a thing to cling to: God didn’t make us fearful.  Fear is not a “natural” thing or a good thing—fear is the opposite of what we’re supposed to be.  Fear is not resting in God’s sovereignty.

Further, we’re commanded multiple times not to fear.  Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

We don’t fear because God strengthens, God helps, God upholds.  And God is mighty.

Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let you requests be made known to God.”

We don’t fear because we pray.

Psalm 56:3: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?”

We don’t fear because we trust.  We don’t fear because God has promises.

Joshua 1:9: “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

We don’t fear because God is with us, everywhere, always.

But one of power…

So we don’t have a spirit of fear—we have a Spirit of power.  This calls to mind the contrast of Romans 8:15: “you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”  We don’t have a spirit of fear, we have the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of power, the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit that brings us into union with our Father.

The Spirit teaches us (John 14:26), helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26), guides us into truth (John 16:12), gives us freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17), and causes us to abound in hope and peace (Romans 15:13).

We have been given the Spirit of power not the spirit of fear.  It is this Spirit who goes before us and with us into delivery rooms.  It is this Spirit who calms our minds and assures us that God is trustworthy, that God is mighty, that God will keep His word, that God is with us.  It is this Spirit who gives us endurance through hardship, who helps us resist the temptation to fear and sin in the middle of suffering.

…of love…

How do we love in labor?  The same Spirit of power is a Spirit of love, teaching us to love.

First of all, we can love God.  We can love by seeking His glory in our births, by praising Him—as 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances”—even contractions.  We can bear testimony of Him.  We can obey His commands.  We can testify that “the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Secondly, we can love our neighbors.  We can put others first even in the midst of great tribulation.  We can live according to the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  We can beat our bodies into submission so that we do not sin against those around us even in the most trying moments.

…and sound judgment.

I really love this part, it’s so encouraging.  God has not given us a spirit of fear, but… of sound judgment!  So much of birth is about decisions and terror and distraction and yet—we have a Spirit of sound judgment.  We have a great long book of Scripture with many, many principles that apply to birth.  We have Proverbs.  We have so many verses, truths to turn to, about suffering.  About endurance.  About rewards.  We have testimony that children are good.  We have this encouraging little testimony from Jesus: “Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world” (John 16:21).

We have countless comparisons of birth that experiencing it can help us understand better—creation is groaning as in childbirth (Romans 8:22) and we are groaning similarly waiting for the redemption of our bodies (v. 23)?  Now, we understand that groaning better, as we have groaned.  And we understand the joy that awaits.

We have Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”  We plan.  But God is sovereign and does the ultimate work, brings it all together, to the conclusion He chooses.

As Christian women facing the worst travail of most of our lives (and praise God for even that!), we rest in Him, and are encouraged and strengthened and have HOPE because our Spirit is not one of fear—our Spirit is the very Spirit of God, and He goes with us and upholds us and strengthens us and girds our minds—even in the midst of great physical horror.

I write this a day over-due with our own son, so I’m entirely talking to myself here. 🙂