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Hills Reveal Hearts

“You didn’t really think I’d make this easy on you, did you?”

In the two weeks leading up to my half-marathon, I kept imagining God speaking those words to me.

It all started three Saturdays before the race, as I was doing my 2nd training eleven mile run.  As I was pounding the sidewalk and enjoying a beautiful sunrise I started noticing pain in my left ankle. I knew that discomfort in an area often came and went as the miles went by, so I pressed on through the entire run.  Later that morning my ankle was still throbbing, and the pain worsened as the day went on.  I woke up the next morning hobbling and unable to take a single step without pain.  Worse yet, we were vacationing in Atlanta, and so over the next few days I had to walk miles on an injured ankle so that my family was able to enjoy the sights.

“Well, this is great!” I thought. “Two weeks before my race and barely able to walk!”  But I was undeterred: I went to see a physical therapist as soon as I got home, and with some stretching, iontopheresis, ibuprofen, and Voltaren gel I was back to a 3 mile run within a week.

“Ok, God, you gave me a little setback to teach me some humility, but I’m good now, right?”

Wrong. Tuesday before the race, I came down with a raging head cold which left me so zapped of energy that I knew if I kept trying to train I wouldn’t have any energy to run when it counted on Sunday.

More medicine, more waiting.  Now I’m running thirteen miles for the first time in my life, with inadequate conditioning, recovering from a bum ankle & a cold.

“Ok, I’ve got the message now, God.”

Apparently, I hadn’t, because I also got a race morning weather forecast of thunderstorms with wind gusts up to 30 miles per hour and small hail. (No, I am not making this up!)

Oh, and for the frosting on top, I misplaced my earbuds & run strap for my iPhone that I had planned to use for my run, and realized in my hotel room at 9pm the night before the race I had not packed any running shorts (PANIC!).

“What is going on here, God?”

Have you ever felt like saying that too?

Obstacles. Problems. Challenges. Hills. Every runner faces them, both before and during a race. They take many forms: physical, logistical, mental, & spiritual. Every single one of them has to be faced & conquered before you can cross the finish line.

The same is true of life. We all face hills. Some of them are small enough we don’t even break a sweat, while others look & feel like Mount Everest. But big or small, short or long, all of them need to be faced & climbed.

Why does a loving God put hills in our lives? Why can’t our race always be on level ground?

The Bible says that part of the answer is that the hills reveal our hearts. You see, God is always focused on our hearts, our souls, because that’s the real me & you, the part that’s eternal. God’s plan is to show us our hearts, so that we can clearly see their condition and adjust our lives accordingly.

So why do hills reveal hearts? Here’s a word picture from my own playbook as a physician: If I’m concerned about the state of my patient’s heart, what do I do? I order a stress test. Why? Because the best way to assess the health of a physical heart is to observe it on a hill (or a treadmill, as the case may be.) I can see weaknesses when that heart is running on a grade that I could never see while my patient is simply sitting in my office. In the same way, you can see things about your spiritual heart when it’s “climbing a hill” that you would never realize if your path was always easy & level.

The Bible uses another type of picture to help us understand part of God’s purposes in the “hills” of our lives, the picture of gold being tested by fire:

And I (God) will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’” (Zechariah 13:6)

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you 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)

In these passages the hills (trials) in our lives are compared to the ancient method of testing gold by fire. The quality of the gold could only be judged by seeing its response to extreme heat.

We can often fool others and even delude ourselves about the state of our hearts when times are good and everything’s going smooth, but let a big hill upset our well tailored plans, and just like the gold that needs refining we will be faced with the impurities of our own hearts: all of our fear, anxiety, anger, and selfish motives.

God wants us to see the state of our hearts through our trials, with the intent of us growing to be more like Christ. Are you climbing a hill in your life now? Then let God show you three things about your heart through your hill: its training, its trust, and its treasure.

First, look at how hills reveal training. Every time I run a race the story is the same: everyone starts out with gusto and excitement, but it doesn’t last. You see a runner who was clipping along just fine a few yards ago start sputtering & crashing once they encounter a steep hill. The runner becomes a walker, all because he didn’t adequately anticipate and train for the hills.

Jesus spoke of how one’s training, one’s preparation becomes obvious to all during the rough times:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

How a person’s life performs in a storm is determined by how they have trained their heart in the way of Jesus.

How is your heart performing in the storm, going up your hill? Does it reflect a rock solid foundation built on Christ? Jesus invites you to take an honest look at what your true foundation is by what your hill reveals.

The good news is that it’s never too late to change your training; that’s why God in His infinite love allows us to see our hearts. He gives us the opportunity to see so that we might turn to Christ and become a true follower, who diligently trains for that next hill they will face.

The second truth that hills reveal about our hearts is our trust. How do they do reveal trust? Simple: it’s easy to trust when everything’s going our way. The test of trust doesn’t come on the flat plains, but on the hills.

If I’m running a race and the way is flat and straight, I can easily say that I’m trusting that my path is true. Why would I even doubt? But if the hill is steep and my strength and my hope of reaching the top is failing, what then? Might I think that maybe I should look for a shortcut? A better route? A different course to run?

In the same way, it’s easy to say we trust God when our race course is flat. But when we take a hill, is our trust firm, or do we start looking around for a shortcut or a new course?

When our checkbook balance is plump, we don’t think of fudging on our taxes. But what about when we’ve lost our job and about to lose our house? When our spouse is Heaven’s gift, cheating doesn’t even cross our mind. But what about when we’ve endured years of marital conflict and disappointment, with no end in sight? How is our trust in God then?

When we hit the hill, and can’t see the top, when we don’t even know whether there is a top, what do we do? Does our heart still show trust in God?

There was one man who faced a hill steeper than any we will ever face: Job. He lost his money, lost his children, lost the respect of all his friends, and lost his health.

Why should he still trust God? Even his wife told him to curse God. But Job’s heart, though terribly hurt, despondent, and confused, still maintained an iron grip on God. In Job 13:15 Job famously states, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

Although none of us will be tried as Job, we all will face hills, and with each hill the choice: will I trust God, or will I look for another way?

As we fight the faith to continue to trust God on the hill, we can use the 3 R’s: Remember, Recite, & Reach Out. Remember all the hills that have come before, and how God has always proven Himself faithful. Recite God’s promises from Scripture. Reach out to faithful friends, sharing your struggles to trust God, and let them encourage and guide you.

The final truth that hills reveal is the treasure of our hearts. What’s the difference between the runner who struggles and strains and sweats up the hills and endures to the finish line, and the one who throws up his arms, quits, and walks away? The difference is what he truly treasures in his heart.

How much does he really want to cross that finish line? How much does he long to hold that medal in his hands, the one that can only be held by the one who doesn’t give up, but keeps going? Hills test treasure.

The Apostle Paul, awaiting Roman execution for his faith, wrote to his pupil Timothy about the treasure he was looking forward to, the treasure that kept him going throughout the long years and the hard hills of his race:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

When Paul faced his hills, when he was beaten, imprisoned, and abandoned, he kept one thing in His mind– how much he treasured Jesus:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)

How did Paul do this? How did he treasure Christ enough to actually want to suffer and die for Him? The key is that he had a new heart. None of us are born with a heart that can treasure Christ above all, and none of us can change our hearts to treasure Him like that either. But out of God’s great love for us, God can give us new hearts that can fully love & treasure & follow Him. God first foretold this to the prophet Ezekiel:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:26-28)

This is my great hope, and the hope of all true children of God. This is what makes Christianity different from all other religions & philosophies: that through Christ God grants to us a new heart that can love & treasure & follow Him.

Through God’s gift of a new heart, I know that, even though I may stumble and fall, there is no hill in my life that I cannot climb, for it is “no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Are you running up a hill today? Let that hill do its work in your life. Let it show you your training, what kind of house you’ve built on what kind of foundation, and see that Christ is the only sure foundation. Let it show you your trust, who or what you are looking toward for answers & direction, and see that Christ is the only One who is wholly trustworthy. Let it show you your treasure, what prize you are seeking in your heart, and strive evermore to let your only, always treasure be our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus.

Book Review: How People Change

It’s the unspoken elephant in the room: why aren’t professing Christians, by and large, any different than non-Christians? We often struggle and fail at the same sins, have the same divorce rates, and generally don’t stand out as being more kind or loving than devoted moral adherants of other religions— despite our theology that we have been “born again.” Ask many, including pastors, the question, and the reply often comes down to some variant of “they aren’t trying hard enough” or “they aren’t really saved after all.”

But the question behind the question is “So, how do people really change— how does a person who has become a child of God actually become radically more loving, more peaceful, more self-controlled, in a way that isn’t mere psychology and that can’t be explained or experienced by a non-Christian?”

Few people can give a robust, Biblical, detailed explanation to this fundamental question. Timothy Lane & Paul Tripp can, and do, in this wonderful book. They give us a truly Biblical & congruent theology of how people change, and show us a path to meaningful personal change in our own lives.

The first five chapters lay a foundation for what real Biblical life change is and isn’t– they talk about how easy it is to substitute external change like formalism and activism for true change of the heart. They lay out the crucial understanding of our marriage to Christ, and how God designed real change to take place in the context of community. There is a lot of rich thought provoking truth on every page of these foundation chapters.

Next, they move onto their central Biblical picture of how God has designed change: that of the tree. They explain chapter by chapter that the “heat” of living in a fallen world brings out fallen human responses of sin and evil “thorns.” But as we turn to the cross of Christ and His presence we gain the ability to bear beautiful fruit, new supernatural responses to the same “heat” that before would only produce thorns.

True “fruit” only comes from the nourishment that God provides, and we need to be able to recognize the thorns and the fallen nature behind them to be able to choose Christ instead. This book is a wonderful Biblical mirror to hold in front of your soul, to be able to see yourself, the good and the bad, and see the work of God within. Highly recommended.

Stop Hurting Yourself

I was counseling a patient last week who was having trouble with proper boundaries in his relationship with his girlfriend. He had a new job opportunity that he wanted to pursue, but his girlfriend thought it would take too much time away from her. “I really want to do this, but I don’t want to hurt her,” he confessed to me.

“YOU are not hurting her by making this choice,” I explained. “SHE is choosing to hurt herself.” I went on to explain that she had the power of choice, and she was making the choice not to support him, and to feel hurt. She could choose differently. She could choose to be happy for him, to be willing to be positive, to be willing to see what would happen, to be willing not to take it personally. All these were options open to her, and were her choice to make.

He could not choose for her, and he could not live his life trying only to figure out what would not hurt her. He had to make HIS best choices. Of course he needed to consider her feelings and the impact of his choices on her, but he still needed to take the responsibility for his choice, and she needed to take the responsibility for hers.

Afterwards, I started thinking not about the advice I gave him, but the advice that I would have given her. I would have said, “Look, I know you’re hurt, or disappointed, or frustrated with this situation, but how you react is STILL YOUR CHOICE. You can choose anger, or bitterness, or despair, or you can choose hope, or forgiveness, or perseverance instead. You are only hurting yourself by choosing a painful emotion.”

So, how about you? How are you hurting yourself with bitterness, or anger, or despair? Be honest. There are few people who don’t have some area in their heart where they are choosing to hurt themselves.

If you look, your heart will say, “But I can’t help but feel this pain— look at how painful this situation is.” But choice is always yours: Helen Keller could have chosen bitterness when she lost her sight and hearing, but she came to choose gratitude. Victor Frankl could have chosen despair in a Nazi concentration camp, but he chose hope instead. Thomas Edison could have chosen frustration the first 900 times he tried and failed to perfect the electric light bulb, but his dogged choice over and over again of persistence changed the world.

You have the same power of choice. You can choose to look at your life & look at your heart. You can choose to let go of emotions that only hurt you, and choose a better path.

“But I just can’t, I can’t let it go,” you feel your heart say. It really is a matter of the heart, isn’t it? That’s where God comes in: He is the One who knows our hearts better than we know them ourselves, and He is the only One who has the power to change our hearts. Even when we feel our heart can’t change, our hope can still be in God to change our hearts. In Ezekiel 36:26 God says,

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Has God given you a new heart through Jesus Christ? Then you have the power to choose the path of love & life. Have the courage to ask God for the wisdom and strength to choose that better path today.

What Scale Are You Using?


Every day, you use a scale.

No, not two metal bowls that you put items in, but rather a scale in your heart.

It’s the  scale that determines whether you are happy or sad, content or frustrated.

It’s the scale of what matters to you.

Think about it: How are you feeling, right now?  Are you happy?  Are you sad? What emotion do you have?

Ok, now consider this: why are you feeling this way?  If you’re happy, why are you happy now, and not sad?  Why are you frustrated, and not content?

It’s because that you’ve weighed your life in your scale of what matters, looked at the result, and said to yourself, “Ah, life is good, I am happy” or “Crap, life stinks, I feel bad.”

What’s Your Scale?

So the real question is: What scale are you using?  How are you determining whether life is good or life is bad?

This is a vitally important question.  The scale you are using will determine the life that you live, but often we live on “automatic pilot”— we  don’t consciously think about what scale we are using in the back of our minds, and so we careen from one emotion to the next without realizing what is causing us to feel happy or sad.

To make things even more complicated, we usually are switching back and forth between multiple scales.  We might start the day using the scale of success, how we are doing in our job or if we feel fulfilled in it.  We might look in the mirror & use the scale of our physical body, how fit or healthy or attractive we are.  We think about our last conversation and use our scale of relationships, how well we are liked or whether the people in our lives are meeting our needs.  We see a sporty car at a stop light & start using the scale of money and material possessions.  On & on it goes: we have so many different scales of what can make us happy to choose from.

But there’s actually the key: we have the ability to choose the scale. We aren’t locked in to using the scale we use now, or the scale that our parents or friends or the rest of society use.  We have the freedom to choose which scale we use each day.  Which brings us to the obvious question:  What scale should we choose?  What scale will bring us the greatest lasting joy?

A Scale Without Fail

Let’s look at the example of one person who was filled with joy & contentment no matter kind of day he was having: Saint Paul.  Some of his most famous words are in his letter to the Philippians:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (Philippians 4:11-12)

This letter is sometimes referred to as Paul’s “joy” letter, because there are a dozen references to joy and rejoicing in the letter, even though it was written while he was in a Roman prison.

So what was Paul’s secret to maintaining joy and contentment no matter what his circumstances?  Obviously he wasn’t using the scale of success or material possessions.  He couldn’t have even been using a scale of being free or having a full stomach.

To discover Paul’s scale of what mattered to him we just need to turn a few pages back to Chapter 3:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…

Paul had only one scale:  his union with Christ.  That’s all that he needed, and he consciously chose to abandon every other scale he had (“whatever gain I had, I counted as loss”).  He had a position of great social, academic, and political power, leading a lifestyle of privilege, and he gave it all up to “know Christ and the power of His resurrection.” (verse 10)

Why Christ?

Why did he do that?  Why did he bank all of his happiness on the one scale of union with Christ?  The simple explanation is that CHRIST WAS WORTH IT.  Life with Christ far outweighed any other possible joy in Paul’s life.  He was an example of the parable which Jesus taught in Matthew 13:44-6–

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Jesus said union with Him, life in the kingdom of heaven, is so precious that the person who realizes its worth will in joy be willing to give up everything else in his life to have it.

One Final Question

Which leaves us with one final question:  Do you put Christ in your scale?  Is He your hidden treasure?  Is He your pearl of great price, which you would gladly sell all your possessions to have?

If He is, then you have a foundation of joy that can never be shaken, for your union with Christ can never be broken.  As Paul wrote in Romans 8:35-39–

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If we are always focusing the scale of our heart on Christ, we can always feel content and joyful regardless of other circumstances.  May we pray daily for God to turn our hearts to be wholly focused on Him.

Book Review: The Wholehearted Marriage

Everyone would agree that marriage is a matter of the heart.

Then why do marriages grow stale and fail? Once again, it is a matter of the heart.

In their book The Wholehearted Marriage, counselors Greg Smalley & Shawn Stoever pound home this one simple point: you can’t improve a marriage relationship without focusing on the heart. All the conflict resolution, financial planning, dating tips, & sex guides in the world will not help a marriage unless you have “two hearts fully open and engaged.” Consequently, the book guides the reader through steps to “understand, unclog, & unleash” the heart in marriage.

In the first part of the book the authors deal with understanding the heart and its central role in life & relationships. Their basic principle that a closed heart will not be able to love and engage in a relationship is important, and I think many marriages fail for precisely this reason. We’ve all seen marriages where two people pledged themselves to each other & to God, and yet ended up turning away. The underlying reason often comes down to one person closing their heart to the other.

From understanding the heart the authors move on to unclogging the heart. There are chapters on helping to heal the wounded heart, helping to open up the fearful heart, and helping the exhausted heart to gain strength. Their view of the heart is similar to that of popular author John Eldredge and some other psychologists. I find their views and advice to often be helpful but also theologically shallow. There are some real problems with the heart, especially concerning the sin nature, which are not adequately covered in this view. Like Eldredge, they also make mention of the Spirit directly revealing specific information to us, which likewise wades into some murky waters.

The final division of the book becomes more practical, with chapters on caring and speaking to your mate’s heart, as well the importance of laughter and enjoyment in the context of a relationship. These chapters are a helpful read, but are fairly standard relationship booster material.

Overall, I think their one simple point remains the great strength of the book: there’s no point in working on any issue in a marriage until you start working on the heart first. We all would do well to keep the heart at the heart of every marriage.

Three Steps to Heal a Wounded Heart

broken heart by CarbonNYC via Flickr

We All Have Wounded Hearts—

Whenever two people are in contact, they will end up wounding each other.  That’s the inevitable result of imperfect people living in an imperfect world. Doesn’t matter how much they love each other or how careful, kind, & considerate they are; the time will come when pain will be inflicted.

Sometimes the wound is trivial; sometimes it is devastating.  The wound can be a one-time injury or it may be repeated daily, growing deeper & more painful over months & years.  It can come from the hand of a casual acquaintance or from the person who means the world to them.

Regardless of the source or the severity, what we all end up with are wounded hearts.  Whether it’s a little wound easily ignored, or one that feels like our whole chest has been ripped open, we know that it needs to be healed. 

The question is, how?  How do you heal a wounded heart?

What We Usually Try Doesn’t Work

We all try to do our best to answer that question for ourselves, but we usually don’t do such a hot job of healing our hearts.  Often, we end up just trying to stop the pain for a while and think that we are healing the wound.  So we use addictions, whether of food or drink or drugs or sex.  Or maybe we will try to plug up the hole with success or shopping or other “stuff.” Others will turn to anger or revenge to try and seal over the wound. None of these patches last, and all of them end up wounding the heart in even deeper ways.

But what does work?  What will bring true & lasting healing to a wounded heart?  I have found there needs to be three steps to fully close the wound and fully heal the heart.  They all need to be done, and they need to be done in order.  With these three steps, I can guarantee that any heart can be healed of even the deepest wound.

Simple, But Not Easy

The three steps are simple, but they are not easy.  If they were, then doubtless we wouldn’t be struggling so often with a wounded heart, would we?  Because it is not easy to heal a wounded heart, there are two prerequisites, two things that you must have before you can walk the path of healing:

The first thing we need is humility.  Without humility, you cannot take even the first step to healing a wounded heart. But as anyone whose heart has been wounded knows, humility is very hard to come by when you’ve been wronged and you’re hurting.  It’s the exact opposite of what our heart naturally seeks when wounded. 

“Why should I be humble?  I’m the one who was wronged, I’m the one who is hurting, I’m the one whose life is a mess!  Look at me!”  All of those reasons sound, well, reasonable, but unfortunately they’re all wrong.  No spiritual problem can be solved when the heart is gripped by pride.  That’s why Jesus started the Sermon on the Mount by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)  We must allow our heart to be humble, even in its woundedness, before healing can begin.

The second prerequisite for healing a wounded heart is Jesus. Honestly, you can read all the books, go to all the seminars, and meet with all the counselors you can find, but until you fall down at the feet of the Healer from Nazareth, your heart can never be whole.  Jesus Himself told us that his mission on earth was to heal the brokenhearted (Luke 4:18 NKJV).  Only the Spirit of Christ can give you the strength to follow the three steps.  You must be willing to go to Him & trust Him with your wounded heart.

First Step: Forgive

The first step to heal a wounded heart is to forgive.  Yes, it doesn’t sound fair.  But it is true.  Until your heart is filled with true, pure forgiveness, it will never heal.  Never.

I won’t pretend this is an easy step.  If the hurt is deep, it’s not easy at all.  But it’s necessary. You cannot make any progress at all in healing your heart until you forgive the hurt that has been done to you.  That’s why Jesus taught his disciples over & over the importance of forgiveness.  Whether He was in prayer (Matthew 6:12) or in parables (Matthew 18:21-35), Jesus focused on forgiveness.

If you think, “I just can’t forgive this…” then know that if you are a child of God you can forgive, for you can have the mind of Christ. He can help you forgive even the worst of sins against you.  He is our strength & our example, for He forgave those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34).  Pray for the Lord to grant you a heart of forgiveness.

Second Step: Accept

I wrote about the beauty of acceptance back in 2007.  In that article I outlined the three barriers we face in truly accepting one another:

  1. Lack of Intimacy
  2. Failed Expectations
  3. Hurt From Wrongs

We need forgiveness to get past all these barriers, but our hearts need to grow beyond forgiveness to heartfelt acceptance.  We can look to Jesus as our guide, for He was known for His acceptance of the rich and the poor, the saint & the sinner, the priest and the prostitute.  He accepted all who came to Him (John 6:37).

With the help of humility & the Spirit of Christ, accept the one who wounded you. When your heart can reach out to another’s heart, understand that they are human and flawed just as you are, and forgive their wrongs, then the healing balm of acceptance can further restore your heart.

Final Step: Love

Once we have forgiven and once we accept, then our hearts are free to love.  I know, part of you is saying, “Wait, I just want my wound healed, I just want to feel better, and now you’re telling me to love the person who caused this?”  Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

Our hearts were made to love, and they will never be whole until they wholly love.  Instinctively, we know this to be true.  Jesus taught that it was the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28-34), and He gave us the specific commandment to love one another (John 15:12).

How can we love someone who has wounded us & hurt us, who may even hate us?  Here again, Jesus is our example, for while we were still in rebellion against Him, He loved us enough to die for us (Romans 5:8).  And the Bible promises in Romans 5:5 that we are able to love because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  Truly, we are able to love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

A Final Thought

Forgive. Accept. Love.  The three steps of the path of healing, a path that can only be taken girded with humility, walking with Jesus.

Jesus can heal our hearts & free our hearts to forgive, to accept, & to love.  As God heals your heart’s wounds may you grow to embrace and rejoice in the following words from 1 John 4:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God….

God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another… if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us…

We love because He first loved us.

Four Quick & Easy Discouragement Busters

Ever have “one of those days”— one where you seemed hammered in every direction by things that seemed expressly designed to discourage you?

Sure, we all have had those days, where our spirits took a beating.

So, how do you respond when you get blindsided by discouraging thoughts and situations?

Well, you don’t need silly cliches. (Anyone remember “Don’t Worry, Be Happy“?)

You don’t need a 238 page doctoral dissertation on the causes of discouragement and how to overcome them.

But….. what would come in handy would be a few easy to remember truths that you can use to immediately shore up your battered spirit.  Something direct, to the point, to turn your mind away from what’s trying to seize control of your thoughts, and set yourself back on the road to both positive thoughts and actions.

So, the next time you are attacked by discouragement, just pull out these four quick and easy discouragement busters and turn yourself around!

#1 God Loves You

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1)

This is the most simple, yet most important discouragement buster in the universe– to focus your mind on the incredible fact of God’s love for you. I’ve written before that there is no greater reality in the universe than Christ & His love.  Every pain, hurt, nuisance, and discouragement fades away if we simply focus on God’s love.

As we focus on God’s love for us, our natural response is to respond in love to God. Telling God “I love you!” has tremendous power to lift your spirit out of discouragement.

#2 You Are God’s Poem

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
The Greek word for “workmanship” here is poiema. Yes, it’s the original word from where we get our English word poem.  As a child of God, you are His workmanship, His masterpiece, His poem of strength and beauty that He is crafting for eternity.

When we are discouraged, we think that things don’t matter, that we don’t matter, and we often stop taking care of ourselves and stop taking care of others.  We cease from the good works that God created us to walk in.  But the truth is that we do matter to God, that we are special in His sight, and that we can bask in the light of His love and care.  With this focus we can regain the strength to once again treat ourselves and others around us like the poiema of God.

#3 God Will Reward You for Your Faithfulness

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. (Matthew 10:42)

When we get discouraged, one thing that frequently happens is we lose hope and give up on doing good. We think, “What’s the use?” That’s why both Jesus and Paul remind us that no good work goes unrewarded. Even if it seems like we are getting nowhere, we can still be confident that God is seeing our acts of love, kindness, and courage, and that He will pay us in full.

When you get discouraged, keep trying, keep giving, keep loving, keep doing good, looking to God’s sure reward.

#4 Heaven Is Your Home

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:1-4)

No matter how bleak our situation, we can take heart that every letdown, every pain, hurt, illness, heartbreak, or even death, is only temporary. This world, with all its discouragement, truly is not our home. God will one day remove every imperfection that could ever cause us to be discouraged, and our joy with Him will be unbroken, forever.

God loves you; you are His poem; He will reward your faithfulness; Heaven is your home. Encourage your heart with these wonderful truths today.

Four Ways to Deal with Desire

I was out enjoying a beautiful fall day when I saw a red Audi convertible drive past me. Immediately the thought formed in my mind, “That is a beautiful car.”  Right on its tails came the next thought, “I would REALLY love to drive a car like that.” Then started a whole train of thoughts like, “Well, I am going to have to get a new car at some point.” “I would get a lot of enjoyment out of it.” “I’ve got the money.” Within the space of a few seconds, I had a focused desire for this car.

So, what do I do with this desire? How do I deal with it? For that matter, how do I deal with any desire? This is an important question, because all of us have desires— some trivial, others intense, some spur of the moment, others lasting for decades. To understand & deal with our desires wisely is a key to joy & peace, while to deal with them poorly or not at all is a road to chaos & suffering.

Four Ways to Deal with Desire

One way to deal with a desire is to ignore it. I think this is a common response of the heart that has been broken by hurt & past desires unmet, as well as the heart numbed by addictions or other soul destroyers. Unfortunately, this strategy often doesn’t work, for the heart is wired to desire. Simply trying to ignore our desires is like trying to ignore weeds— they will keep growing anyway.

Another way to deal with a desire is to reject it. Some would go so far as to say that desire is evil, and that no good can come from it. After all, the first use of the word desire in the Bible is referring to Eve’s sin, and even one of the four noble truths of Buddhism is that all suffering comes from desire.

Why not simply be done with desire and all its attendant problems?  Why not reject it all? Because even if you could eliminate suffering by eliminating desire, you would also eliminate satisfaction, joy, growth and all that makes life ultimately worth living.  There are multiple places where the Bible refers to God’s desires, so desire itself cannot be evil.

So, if desire is good, why not embrace it? Many self-help gurus would say if you want that Audi, then trust your heart, go for it, focus your intentions on it, attract it to you, and relish in it. As good as that sounds, a life lived embracing all desire ends in destruction. Any honest look at our hearts will tell us that we don’t always desire what is good for us, and that often we can be fooled as to how a desire fulfilled will actually effect our lives. The book of Ecclesiastes shows a man, King Solomon, who had perhaps greater opportunity than any other man to fulfill his desires, and yet struggled with the emptiness & pointlessness of his life.

What, then, are we to do with desire? What am I to do about my Audi? Do I ignore it, trying to keep it out of my mind? Do I reject it, along with my desire for anything else? Or do I embrace it, and head down to the car lot?

There is another path, a path of wisdom: to learn to discern desires. To discern means to recognize, comprehend, differentiate and perceive differences. In essence, to properly deal with a desire I must first discern, to recognize the nature of the desire. Once I know its nature, I will then know whether it is wise to embrace it or reject it.

Self-Focused vs. God-Focused

If we conclude that we need to learn to discern, then exactly how do we do it?  What is the process, the criteria, the classification scheme for wise or unwise desires?  The Bible actually has a lot to say about desire: the ESV translation has 150 references to it, and talks much about desire in both a positive and negative aspect.  The simplest way to apply Biblical wisdom to dealing with desire is to discern whether a desire is self-focused or God-focused.

A God-focused desire is just that: a desire with a focus on God. It can be focused on God Himself, like a desire to love Him, to serve Him, to know Him, or it can be focused on glorifying Him directly in worship, or it can be focused on glorifying Him through service.

A self-focused desire, likewise, needs little explanation: it is a desire with the focus on myself. Fulfilling that desire does not lead me to God, but away from Him. It does not lead my heart to focus on God, but on me.

The “Heart” of Discernment

Which leads us to the real core of discernment: the heart. For you see, the real test is not the actual content of the desire, but the position of the heart. A desire for the exact same thing could be God-focused in one heart, and yet be self-focused in another heart.

An example: two women have a fervent desire to sing a solo during a worship service. For one, the real core of her desire is for her talent to be recognized & appreciated, for people to see her for who she is, & to fulfill what she sees as her purpose in life. When this woman has her desire realized, she is full of satisfaction, but she is also full of herself, her vindication & pride. If her desire is frustrated, she will become depressed, frustrated, or bitter towards herself, others, or God.

The second woman has the same fervent desire, but with a different object: she wants to glorify God and bless people. She really isn’t thinking of herself at all. When this woman has her desire realized, she is full of joy & gratitude that God spoke through her, people were blessed, and God was glorified. She soaks in God’s love & pleasure. If her desire is frustrated, she is able to accept that God did what was best for Him— and isn’t that what her real desire, deep down, was for anyway? For God? Although it will be difficult, she will be able to agree with the ancient Job that she trusts God even though her heart hurts.

But What About my Audi?

So with these principles in mind, let’s return to my potential Audi.  If I examine my desire for this car, it is arising primarily out of a love for myself and my pleasure.  What’s worse, in order to obtain it I would have to violate deeper, God-centered desires to use my money to minister to my family and to God.  Conclusion: this is a desire to reject.  It will lead my heart and my life out of my path of walking with God.  I’m not going to be making a trip to an Audi showroom anytime soon.

Now notice this does not mean buying an Audi is a wrong desire for anyone.  If someone with more financial resources than I knows that his wife’s heart would overflow with joy with that car, and he has abundantly given of his time and money to ministry, and the purchase price will not be a financial burden to him, then it may not be a self-focused desire in his heart. 

One last example: my purchase last year of my beloved iPhone.  Was this a self-focused or God-focused desire?  This was honestly a tough call for me, which I thought & prayed for weeks before my purchase.  Although I knew I was going to get personal enjoyment from it, it was more important that it would serve a purpose, & I saw the amount of money was not going to interfere with any other ministry to my family or others.  And indeed, I’ve gotten a great deal of enjoyment from it, but I’ve been able to use it to connect with people, stay better organized, access the Bible and sermons whenever I want to, have pictures of my family to show off, and many other uses which all impact the Kingdom of God in a positive way.  So what might have been a self-focused desire for some truly has been God-focused for me.

We all have to deal with desire every day.  I hope these principles of dealing with desire help lead you to greater joy, peace & purpose as you walk with God today.

Walking with God Through Adversity: Seven Lessons from the Heart of Hannah

The book of 1 Samuel begins with the story of a remarkable woman of God named Hannah.  As I meditated on her life I marveled at her heart towards God.  This woman’s simple faith allowed her to walk with God through her deepest valley.  God placed her story in  Scripture as an example of how a follower of God walks with Him through adversity.  Here are seven lessons we can all learn from the heart of Hannah:

Lesson One: Acknowledge God’s Sovereignty

“the LORD had closed her womb.” (v.5)
The very first thing we learn about Hannah is that she knew ”the Lord had closed her womb.” It’s clear that she and her husband saw her infertility as being under God’s sovereign hand. Without any help from sophisticated theology textbooks or philosophy courses, they were able to see the obvious truth that the being who created the universe must also be the being who orders its every event. Acknowledging God’s control over all our life’s circumstances is the essential first step to a life of walking with Him.

Lesson Two: Affirm God’s Righteousness

Next, we can see that Hannah saw God as righteous.  Even in her deepest distress, she never accused God of being unloving or unjust. There is nothing in her prayers to suggest she cried out, “Why did you do this to me?” Her attitude parallels Job 1:22, where the Bible says that Job never “charged God with wrong.” If the first step of walking with God is to accept that He is in control, the second step must be to affirm Psalm 145:17 that, “the Lord is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.”

Lesson Three: Keep Following in God’s Ways

“So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord”  (v.7)
When confronted with deep soul pain, many people make the choice to walk away from God. Not Hannah. Year after year, she remained faithful to worship Him, even if it meant traveling to Shiloh with another woman who delighted in making her miserable. She could have feigned illness, or could have outright refused to go. Instead, she continued to obey God’s commands year after year after year, fully knowing how hard the road of obedience sometimes was. 

Lesson Four: Go to God With Your Pain

“She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.” (v.10)
Acknowledging God’s sovereignty and righteousness and remaining faithful to Him does not mean we have to stuff away our pain or pretend it doesn’t hurt. God is a loving Father and He both understands our pain and desires that we pour out our heart to Him. Hannah, David, even Jesus in the Garden freely poured out their pain to God.  He always received them, and He will always receive us.  We can freely pour out our heart to God.

Lesson Five: Ask God to Intervene

O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant…” (v. 11)
Trusting that God knows best does not mean we do not ask for our desires. God does not answer to Hannah, “Why are you asking me for a child?” For that matter, can you remember anytime God reprimanded anyone for asking Him for a good thing? No, that is not the way of a loving Father with His children. Part of walking with God is putting our requests before Him every day.

Lesson Six: Trust God With All Your Heart

I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life (v. 11)
Hannah’s vow here is not an example of mere crass bargaining with a deity. No, it is a mighty expression of her faith. Hannah declares to God that she knows that He can open her womb, and that she is more than happy to respond to His grace with her faith in dedicating this still future child to Him.

Lesson Seven:  Let Your Joy in God Transcend Your Own Desires

Lastly, Hannah’s song of joy in 1 Samuel 2 shows us that her joy in God transcended her own desire to keep her son by her side. There is no hint of regret or misgiving in dedicating her beloved son for the sake of the Kingdom.  She rejoices in God and sings:

My heart exults in the Lord;
my strength is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.

There is none holy like the Lord;
there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.

May we all strive to have a heart like Hannah that exults in the Lord everyday as we walk with Him.

The Knife and the Bandage

scalpel surgeon knife boilIt happens all the time.  A patient comes in hurting.  It started as just a little soreness, but it grew and grew, with more and more pus building up.  Now it has become a constant pain, hidden under the surface, bothering them 24/7.  It starts interfering with their life, and soon they find that they can’t do what they need to do or other things they would enjoy without misery.  Sometimes, out of nowhere, the pain will bring them to their knees.

Often, they want a medicine that will just dull the pain, or they are convinced that there’s a pill that can clear up all the pus.  But I always have to tell them that it has to be lanced, that the pus has to escape from the body.  It’s painful, but it’s necessary.  There is no other way but the knife. 

But I also warn them that once the wound has been opened and drained, they can’t keep digging around in it, or it will never fully heal.  They have to bandage it, and when they’re tempted to scratch, they need to just look down at the bandage and remind themselves that the pus is gone.

That’s just what has to be done with boils.  But that’s also a picture of what has to be done with wounds of the soul.  All of us get them— it might be something that happened decades ago or just last week, but it has slowly grown and become more and more painful.  The pressure of the poison of hurt forces its way into every part of life.  It starts interfering with our jobs, our relationships, our joys. Sometimes it brings us to our knees in pain.

The cure is not a pill, but plunging the knife in, opening up the wound, and letting the pus out.  It’s painful, very painful, and not easy. Sometimes it takes a flood of tears in the arms of a friend, sometimes it takes the agonized strokes of a pen in a journal, and sometimes it takes pouring your heart out to God in the wee hours of the morning.  Often it needs to be all three.  Ignore the wound, keep the pain bottled up, just take a pill to dull it, and it will only get worse.  If you aren’t honest with yourself and honest with God and let the pus out, your soul will never heal from the hurt.

But the flip side is just as important: once the pus has drained out, you can’t keep digging at the wound.  It’s time to let go and move on.  Put a bandage on your soul and say, “Yes, that’s where I let out the pain of that hurt.  That’s done.  I don’t need to return there again. God is healing me. I can go on.”