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)

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!

A Song for Suffering Saints

Well, I have had terrible morning sickness and been a) behind on my reading, and b) not blogging it even when I am managing to read it!  What should have been finished in March is just now wrapping up, on that score.

But I wanted to turn back into an English major for a minute here and extol the virtues of what is rapidly becoming one of my favorite hymns: How Firm a Foundation.

As a good cradle Baptist ;), I grew up singing this hymn—to the point that I can recite the lyrics without struggle.  Apparently, however, I never really listened to them, and very mistakenly thought the hymn was about the usefulness of the Bible.  “How firm a foundation…is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!”  And I suppose I tuned out the rest of the verses, and failed to consider that Word here means Jesus, not the Bible, and the song is about comforting the suffering, not “yay, we believe the Bible.”

Anyway.  Enough about my inattentive errors.  Onto the song.

First fascinating thing: it was brought into the public eye by no less than John Rippon, the Particular Baptist pastor who succeeded John Gill, wrote the biography thereof, and was eventually followed along himself by Charles Spurgeon.  Rippon made up a very influential hymnal, known widely as “Rippon’s Selection,” which was used in combination with Isaac Watts’ hymnal in Particular Baptist churches until the late 19th century.

Considering what a popular hymn it  has become, it is curious that no one is quite sure who wrote “How Firm a Foundation.”  Possibly Rippon’s church’s worship director.  Rippon credited it merely as “K.”

I first really noticed the song last Wednesday, in the car, trying to drive and not throw up.  Tiny sufferings, even by my experience, and yet meaningful enough to drive the beauty and theology of the words home.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

What more can He say than to you He has said?  Such a gentle, encouraging rebuke to one struggling: God already assures us, flee to Him and be comforted!

Then it switches to God talking, words echoing Scripture.  “Fear not!”  And why do we not fear?  Is it because God will pluck us out of our trials?  No—“I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.”  He doesn’t remove us from our trials, he strengthens and upholds us through them.  Because God never gives us more than we can handle?  No, because God is omnipotent and can uphold us through  more than we can handle!

So by now the suffering hearer is wondering—so You promise to uphold me, and You can, but… why the trial?  Why the suffering?  And the hymnwriter addresses this, too—“when through the deep waters I call thee to go…” and even more, that He will “sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.”  Who is ordaining and leading the suffering?  The sovereign God!  And what is accomplished? That even this suffering will become holy to us.

But why?  The hymnwriter has even more biblical answers for the sufferer, and even more comfort, straight out of 1 Peter 1:7:

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

And Psalm 66:10-12:

For You, God, tested us;
You refined us as silver is refined.
You lured us into a trap;
You placed burdens on our backs.
You let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but You brought us out to abundance.

Or as the hymn-writer puts it, “the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume, and thy God to refine.”  The metaphor is in Scripture many more places than this.  And the comfort—“My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply.”  It’s enough!

Still the hymnwriter promises no removal from suffering, yet closes in the most resoundingly comforting stanza imaginable: “the soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose, I will not, I will not, desert to its foes!”  “Though all hell should endeavor to shake” it, God will “never, no never, no never forsake.”  Hebrews 13:5: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Genesis, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Isaiah—this hymn is so like Isaiah 43—

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.

The final comfort is the Word, that He will never leave us, that He is always sufficient, that no matter what the suffering, no matter how extreme, that it never hurts us—just our dross—but that it refines us, that it has purpose, for His glory, for our good, and that we will even learn to praise God for the suffering!

In short, this song is a great sermon, abounding with really useful, Christ-centered theology and an absolutely keen practical application.  I find myself humming it often now, and am thankful for the reminder of the biblical truths therein.

Grace to Nineveh

I am doing a terrible job of blogging my reading.  The biggest thing that struck me this week, though, was as I was reading through the book of Jonah: God is gracious.

The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah’s proclamation; and look–something greater than Jonah is here!

Matthew 12:41

Jonah is one of those stories many of us know from childhood.  Our four-year-old could probably give you the bare sketch; there’s a Veggie Tales of it, after all!  And yet as I read it this time, I found myself struck by many things I’d never really thought about before!  I love how the Spirit makes even old stories have fresh applications. 🙂

First: God sent a messenger to Nineveh rather than just annihilating them.

We are talking about a wicked people, so wicked that their wickedness was said to have “confronted” God (1:2).  God would have been just to have rained fire on them like on Sodom and Gomorrah, or any of the other many pagan kings.  And yet God—who knew they would repent—sent a messenger.

Second: Jonah’s disobedience indirectly led to the eternal salvation of the sailors in the boat.

Here, again, God could have picked an obedient prophet!  But Jonah disobeyed and tried running off to Tarshish.  When the seas grow stormy (another act of God!) the sailors demand of Jonah, who are you? What is your country?  And Jonah answers with a great little piece of evangelism: “I’m a Hebrew.  I worship Yahweh, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land.” (Jonah 1:9 hcsb)

So, they’re in the middle of the storm, and Jonah tells them there’s this God named Yahweh who made the sea.  Important piece of information, there, because in Jonah 1:14, these very same men—who apparently couldn’t even recognize an Israelite beforehand—are praying to Yahweh.  They are affirming His sovereignty, and appealing to Him for mercy.  Jonah 1:16 says they “feared the LORD” and they offered a sacrifice and made vows.

God used even Jonah’s disobedience to bring new sheep into His fold—Gentiles, no less!

Third: Jonah’s message was not one of hope.

Jonah 3:4 tells us the very bleak message Jonah gave Nineveh from God: “In 40 days Nineveh will be demolished!” Nothing about “unless you repent,” and in fact not even anything about “because you are so wicked.”  These people are so evil that their evilness has come up against God, and Jonah foretells their destruction.

Fourth: Despite this, the people repented.

The message was not one of hope, and they weren’t sure hope was in the offering (“Who knows? God may turn and relent,” they ponder in Jonah 3:9), and yet they saw their evil, named it as evil (Jonah 3:8), and stopped doing it!  Jonah 3:5 says every single man fasted and dressed in sackcloth, even the king.  They even made their animals fast.  They even fasted from water.  They repented, very thoroughly.

And God relented.  And these same Ninevites will rise up on the last day as witnesses for Him.

Fifth: Jonah knew there was hope.

This was the most significant thing to me.  It’s so easy for me to read the Old Testament and see that “smiting” God that athiests poke fun of—many, many wicked people are indeed punished, and often without a lot of extra chances, at least that we see.  And even here, Jonah’s message didn’t seem to offer an extra chance—and yet, Jonah, who was surely aware of Israel’s own history and the history of the way God had dealt with lawless people throughout it… Jonah says, “I knew You are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love, and One who relents from sending disaster!” (Jonah 4:2, hcsb)  He’s complaining, but that these words of God’s mercy come so quickly to his lips—that he is so confident that God is merciful that he fled to Tarshish from the beginning—this is so insightful and wonderful that someone sent to preach destruction to a city was still so sure that God relents from destruction!  He preaches a message of punishment while cradling in his heart (even if he wasn’t happy about it) the certainty that God is merciful.  His conviction of God’s mercy had to be so incredibly strong.

Sixth: God cared about Nineveh.

He compares Nineveh to the plant that grew over Jonah (Jonah 4:10), and asks Jonah, if you cared about this plant, even though you weren’t even the one who labored for it, how much more should I care for Nineveh (which was, of course, His own creation)?

This, again, is an amazing testimony of the mercy of God. “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” God asks in Ezekiel 18:23.  “Instead, don’t I take pleasure when he turns from his ways and lives?”  Nineveh is a beautiful illustration of this verse.  This incredibly wicked city—Jonah himself is revolted—and yet God “cares” (Jonah 4:11).  It tells us He even cares about their animals!  And so He sends a prophet, and rejoices over their repentance, and keeps them till the last day.

So much mercy and encouragement in this little book!