In many ways, I guess, we’ve always been in wartime.
Since Genesis 3, there have been extreme conflicts between people groups, nations, and terrorism throughout the world. The recent bombings in New York and New Jersey as well as the stabbings in Minneapolis have caused a fresh wave of uneasiness in many of us. The response to the current violence has ranged from hope to outrage, but there’s been no shortage of fear.
So what do we do? How do we respond to reality of terror as Christians?
There isn’t much that we can physically do unless we join the military or police force. We can, of course, arm ourselves with knowledge, work to push against the bigotry and fear of all Muslims, and share the gospel—those are things we ought to do. But, as Christians, we have the unique privilege and opportunity to also call upon the Lord. To engage in this battle spiritually. We may not be in the region where violence is occurring, though in this day and age we never really know when and where the violence will happen, but we can and should cry out to God in prayer and ask Him to rain down great mercy. We can intercede for those who are injured and ask for protection for those who are well. And so as we look at the conflicts around us and see just how limited we are, we can remember that God is bigger than any war and sudden danger. This should cause us to run and cling to Him in prayer.
Like the Psalmist in the midst of a fiery storm, we can cry out and pray that the Lord would cause this storm to cease and for God’s peace to reign in the hearts of those struggling with fear. If you’re struggling with anxiety and fear, be inspired by the Psalmist’s fervent prayer and cry to the Lord: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress” (Psalm 107:28). We must pray for the Lord to deliver those who are suffering that they would be brought out of their distress. God hears our prayers. We can be comforted in knowing that even now Jesus is interceding for His own. And, we can also pray for the salvation of those who do not know Christ.
But in and through it all, we can resist the temptation to be gripped fear.
So, while we pray for others, let’s also pray that the Lord would help us resist the temptation to be fearful. Isaiah records God’s declaration to us in the midst of our temptation to be afraid: “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” (41:10). God is our God. He is holy, set apart and yet, he is personal. This means that He will be with us and with all Christians throughout the world. If terror prevails for a time on this earth, the truth of His great care for us does not wane. He promises in the midst of fearful things to be our strength. He promises to help us and to hold on to us with His righteous right hand. We serve a faithful and loving God who will not desert us.
My prayer for us today is this: Lord, you are awesome and mighty. You are holy and good. You are the great I AM. You gave your son Jesus for us so we might approach your throne of grace. It is for this reason we come before you and ask for mercy for our communities and the world. Lord, would you unite us in Christ? Lord, would you teach us to love as you have commanded us to do? We cannot do this on our own, in our own strength. Lord, we need you to work mightily and pray that you would do so for the good of our nations and the world, and the glory of your name.
(I would also like to invite you to participate in the free, simulcast, Revive Our Heart’s prayer event Cry Out this Friday, 9/23. For more information visit: http://www.cryout16.com)
Over the past few years we have seen a number of pastors either fall into sin or burnout and then decide to call it quits. Now this isn’t new or even unique to the past few years, but perhaps because of social media and the internet in general we are more aware today of what’s going on in the church around our country and the world. And so with more news of pastors stepping away, it led me to really begin thinking about my own pastor and how I can care for him.
Our pastors need us and I often wonder if they are given the freedom to struggle and be weak. I wonder if we unknowingly demand perfection out of them that is simply unattainable. We look at those scriptures about having pastors with high moral character and I think we forget that they are also sinful humans. Our pastors are a part of this world and, therefore, need the same grace that we need. This need and acknowledgment doesn’t excuse pride, it doesn’t excuse unapproachability, and it doesn’t excuse sexual immorality, but it does beg the question: Too often, do we assume that they have it all together? When we fail to acknowledge and recognize weaknesses, do we actually leave them more vulnerable to temptations? Of course, I also wonder if part of the trouble is that sometimes pastors assume they can handle it all and don’t fully recognize their own weaknesses.
We’ve seen these lists of how to pray for your pastor before—for protection, humility, grace, etc. But I wonder, in light of the unique struggles pastors seem to endure and the consistent headlines of pastors leaving the ministry, if there are additional prayers we might add. These are the five prayers I will begin praying for my pastor and pastors everywhere.
- Pray for Weakness
Humility is one of those words that is difficult to describe. We can often project what actions we believe equate to humility, but that aren’t necessarily what God thinks. So, I would like to pray for a weak pastor in addition to a humble one. A pastor who knows he is not God and who knows his limitations, and knows of his need for others. I pray that my pastor knows he is weak and that his weakness is good. May our pastors’ boast be in the Lord as they understand their weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).
- Pray for good and true friends
I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve heard sermons preached about the importance of the local church and yet so many pastors seem to feel isolated and lonely. My prayer is that our pastors would be able to find the sweetness of dear friendships. And that the dear and true friend would be able to speak the truth in love, even when it’s hard. I pray this friend wouldn’t abandon the pastor in fear when the pastor’s pride swells up (Prov. 17:17; Prov. 18:24). I pray this friend is a good listener and knows when to be silent. And I pray this friend isn’t a gossiper.
- Pray they would know the Jesus they speak of
Have you heard the term “preach the gospel to yourself?” It’s something I pray my pastor and all pastors would do every day. Not just that they would study God’s word (though I certainly do pray for that), but that they’d rest in Jesus. I pray that they would know that the Jesus they speak of from the pulpit is the same Jesus that died for them and was raised and is now interceding for them. I pray that they would know that they do not have to have it all together and that the sin struggle they study and share with us about is the same sin struggle they too wrestle with. I pray they would know that Jesus sympathizes with their weaknesses and invites them, too, to His throne of grace (Heb. 4: 15). Run, pastors, to that throne of grace and receive mercy and help in your time of need—you will receive grace upon grace.
- Pray for character but also an embrace of their humanity
I’d venture to say pray less for your pastors’ moral character and more for an awareness of their humanity. Here’s why—I think we forget that although pastors are to be above reproach (1Tim. 3:2), I’ve never read in the Scriptures that a pastor is to replace Jesus. In other words, they are going to struggle. And, as I shared above, do we allow them to struggle? Do we expect perfect pastors or do we understand that moral character does not mean perfect character. Let’s pray that they are ever aware of their weakness, not so sin may increase and, therefore, grace increase all the more (Rom.6:1), but so that they are aware of their great need of a Savior every day and feel no need to pretend to have it all together. An acknowledgement of our sinfulness and the absolute dependence upon Jesus and His grace, I believe, equals freedom.
- Pray for his wife and family
I could, and perhaps I will one day, write an entire post of five ways we can pray for a pastor’s wife, but really many of the same struggles that pastors seem to have the wife has too. These women are carrying burdens, even if their husband is protecting them from the drama and various hard things, burdens are still present. My prayer for my pastor’s wife is that she too would embrace weakness, have deep friendships, know that the gospel applies to her, and have an awareness of her great need for grace. I also pray that she would be her husband’s best friend and vice versa. I pray that our pastors who are married would have strong and thriving marriages. And I pray that when they struggle, and they will, they’ll have someone to go to for counsel and encouragement.
I could go on and on here, listing five ways to pray is simply to help me stop writing! But I’d love to hear more from you. What are ways that you pray for your pastor? What might you add to this list?
While you think, would you also commit with me to spending time each week praying for your pastor? Let’s commit to pray for those who labor among us, to be strengthened by the Lord and encouraged in their
“When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul” (Psalm 94:19).
Recently, I had one of those days. You know, those days when you get up extra early to pack lunches for preschool and jump in the car only for it to break down on the way. One of those days when tempers flare and your kids fight all day long. One of those days when searching for someone to help, anyone on the planet, comes up empty because everyone on the planet is busy. You wonder, could all of that happen in one day? Well, yes, it can and it does. But does God care about those days?
I realize that these circumstances are merely inconveniences compared to big world issues. I realize that there are people who are starving, enduring horrific abuse, and battling terminal cancer. Still, our everyday trials aren’t insignificant to God. I believe He wants to help us learn through the seemingly small to show us His great love for us and our need for Him every single day; and also, so when the big trials hit—and they will—we are grounded in His Word, His love, and His character.
So, today you may have been grieved by various trials so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6–7).
And though they may seem like small trials, I believe God is preparing you and me so that when and if the fiery trial comes to test us we will not be surprised, rather we will rejoice insofar as we are sharing Christ’s sufferings (1 Peter 4:12–13). I take comfort in knowing that my high priest is able to sympathize with my weaknesses, and in every respect has been tempted as I have, yet without sin. And because of this, I can draw near to the throne of grace with confidence and receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:15–16). He doesn’t say only come when we think the trial is big enough, Jesus invites us to come in our time of need. Really, we ought to wake up running to Him as we are always in need of Him.
What trials have you experienced over the past week? Maybe you, too, had one of those days. God’s Word says trials will happen, but His grace is sufficient, He sympathizes and loves you dearly, and you and I can run to Him to receive comfort and mercy and grace in our time of need. Let us draw near today, tomorrow, and forevermore and receive His grace and great love.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9).
It’s an interesting thing—birthdays. In one sense, the day feels so incredibly special—mostly because of my family, friends, and the wonderful folks who remind me that I’m loved and cared for. That’s special! But then, it’s also just an ordinary day. For example, I began typing this post on my birthday. I was sitting at a coffee shop I frequent, typing on the computer I use every single day, and sitting among strangers who neither knew me nor would care much that it was my birthday. It’s a funny thing. Birthdays also have a way of making you reflect. Part of the cause of my reflection on my recent birthday is because I’m actually getting older. (And, hey—for all you who think I’m younger than I am, thank you! I am not a millennial, though I know many and I’m grateful for them! J ) So, I wanted to share a bit about what I’ve been reflecting on…
Over the past year, and most especially over the past summer, I’ve grown to care less about many things. I don’t care nearly as much as I did as a youngster about the opinions of others. When I first started a more public ministry, I was terrified about “getting it wrong”. I struggled greatly with the fear of man and just didn’t want to mess up.
There are a few things that I think have contributed to my change in this area. First and foremost, the grace of God! God has helped me to take my eyes off of myself and to take my eyes off of man and to place them on Jesus. Now I don’t do this perfectly (does that even need to be said!?), but I do realize that my lack of concern in this area is due to God and only God. I realize that I won’t always get it right. I trust the Lord to help lead and guide my words, I pray, I have accountability, but I no longer worry. I’m thankful for that.
I also think my growth and change has a lot to do with working with Dr. Russell Moore. His influence on me has helped me trust the Lord in the area of ministry. His desire to engage with people from various faith backgrounds, learn from all people, and serve where others might not has challenged and inspired me. I’m quite thankful for his example.
The result is that writing on my own site has been truly refreshing. I’ve enjoyed the freedom of thinking about what is most on my heart, on my mind, and engaging with old and new friends. And although I have a great deal of accountability in my writing (people I look to for advice and to check theological accuracy and usefulness) it’s been so freeing and fun! I have written time and time again about how I’ve loved this season of writing. I think, in part, it’s because I’m not overanalyzing—I care so much about what I’m writing and yet I don’t feel the weight of it all in the wrong places. In other words, I need to fear the Lord in what I write and say—not man and God is helping me to grow in this.
I think age plays a part in this as well. I’ve heard that as you get older, you just stop being so concerned about things that aren’t essential to life. I’ve experienced this to be true, especially over the past few months. Something clicked—really—and I just don’t care about things that used to worry me, things that don’t really matter. Aging is pretty wonderful as it relates to this area – the new aches in my body, not so great. 😉
Caring Much More
With this lack of concern about the many things that have weighed me down in the past, I’m finding myself now free to care about the things that matter most. Not that I didn’t care for these things before, but when you are overly concerned with worldly matters, the opinions of others, fitting in, being accepted, and following a line, it just kinda drowns out the glorious and wonderful stuff that’s right in front of you.
My work—I care so much about this. My work consists mainly of my job at the ERLC, writing, and speaking. I love what I get to do. It’s a joy and honor to be able to work as unto the Lord. God has done amazing things over the past few years, and especially over the past year or so. Over the past several years, I’ve grown to care deeply for the people I serve and the words I say, and I credit much of my love for my work to my dear friend, Erik Wolgemuth. What a joy to work, write, and dream up crazy ideas alongside this friend and brother in the Lord. I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed working with Chris Martin, a new friend who is teaching me how to blog and love it all over again! It’s just a joy!
Over the past few years, I’ve felt a new sense of love for the local church. Again, not that I didn’t have this love before; my family has always been incredibly committed to the church wherever we are. But lately, I understand the goodness in the local body. I think this could be in part due to my traveling more often and having a desire for a refuge. My small group has been that refuge, my church has been a place of refreshment. I’m thankful for that.
Deep friendships have been a place of renewed enjoyment for me. I am thankful for the few friends who are like family. I am thankful to be able to call them and cry and laugh and delight together in all that the Lord is doing. I’ve identified friends who I know will be life-long and I’ve made sure to devote time and energy to them. I care deeply for them. We don’t have a ton of time here on this earth and if I can love and serve them well, that would bring me great joy.
And last, but absolutely no way least, is my family. I think it can be easy to take family for granted when you’re a bit younger, at least I think I did. College was about adventure and fun for me, and not so much about my family. I’m sure grateful for my sisters and Mom in ways I don’t believe I was before. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to love my husband in new ways. I love Thern’s graciousness, attentiveness, eagerness to serve our family, and devotion to the Lord. I’m grateful for his friendship and tender care. I’m thankful for his Mum and Dad and that I truly am their daughter. And I love my children and love watching their little personalities and interests develop. I know that God has been kind to me with the gift of each one of them.
Sometimes not caring makes room for truly good things and expands our hearts to care much more about the most important things. That’s what the Lord has done in me. He’s helping me prioritize my cares. So, if this is what it’s like to get older, I’ll take it!
What about you? How have you changed and grown as you’ve gotten older? What do you find yourself caring more about?
We call it accountability. Beginning in 2001 I had the privilege each and every Friday afternoon to meet with two women for mutual encouragement and prayer. We did this for several years and remain good friends to this day. The reasons we started meeting were simple: we were young Christians wanting encouragement in our walk with God. We wanted to build a deeper, more meaningful friendship with a few women. And we were girls and loved any excuse to hang out and eat together.
It was a real friendship. The purpose of our meeting was simple but the benefits were endless and life-changing.
For Our Protection
We know that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. When I first became a Christian, I freely confessed my sin because I was acutely aware of God’s grace and forgiveness. I knew the depths of my heart and what it meant to be forgiven much. But then came knowledge, which coupled with strides in godliness, can lead to pride (1 Corinthians 8:1). As I grew in my understanding of God’s word, I began to subtly believe I should “know better” than to sin — as if the temptation to anger or envy were beyond me. Accountability was a good reminder that it was okay to be needy for God’s grace. It reminded me that I am a sinner and that, because of Jesus, God is faithful to forgive (1 John 1:8–10).
Consistent accountability has been a means of God’s protection in my life. To this day, though I’m further along in my walk than I was a decade ago, I do not believe I’m incapable of grievous sin (1 Corinthians 10:12). I am a new creation, and I have the Spirit’s power, but it’s no longer a surprise that when I want to do good, evil is close at hand (Romans 7:21). Understanding that we are all batting on the same team (all have sinned) means we can freely share with these close, trusted friends. Accountability allows us to confess patterns of temptation and in so doing we are restrained from actual transgression. It’s quite freeing to have good friends to share deeply with.
The point behind accountability isn’t just to share about sin and hear the hard words of rebuke. Though the wounds of a friend are a sign of their faithfulness, accountability should also be a time to build each other up and encourage each other toward God’s goodness and grace found in the cross of Christ. My friends and I reminded each other who we were in Christ: accepted completely, daughters of the Most High, and forgiven. We reminded each other that we knew Jesus, he was ours and we were his, and we could draw near to him and his throne of grace. In my experience, there were five characteristics that make accountability particularly life-giving:
- We expressed a genuine love for one another because God had transformed our friendship into sisterhood. We were devoted to one another (John 15:17;Romans 12:10).
- Each week we had a choice to extend grace or judgment. We could display the love and grace that God had already extended through the judgment of Jesus on the cross (Romans 14:13).
- Each of us had an opportunity to be honest, which we may not have accomplished had we not established the habit (Ephesians 4:25).
- There were times we would need to extend forgiveness. Honest friendship sometimes leads to hurting one another. Also as one person might go through a season of struggling with the same temptation we’d learn to bear with our friend (Romans 12:16; Colossians 3:13).
- We bore each other’s burdens in prayer (Galatians 6:2).
More of Jesus
Ultimately accountability can be a means in which God draws us, through the friendship and fellowship of others, to himself. Self-sufficiency says we don’t need anyone, but humility shouts for help from those God has placed in our lives. This habit of sharing and praying with others will inevitably teach us how to cast our cares on the only One who can fully bear their weight and who loves us with an unfailing love (1 Peter 5:7).
God graciously reminds us that apart from him we can do nothing. And one great means of that reminder are the brothers and sisters he puts in our lives.
(A version of this post appeared on desiringGod.org)