Helping Youth Find Meaning, Identity, and Purpose | Influence Podcast

“Young people are experiencing record loneliness,” notes The State of Religion and Young People 2020, a report from Springtide Research Institute. “They have low levels of trust in most traditional institutions, and they are likely not responding to the efforts these institutions are making to connect with them. But they are — amid all these realities — seeking meaning, navigating questions of identity, and pursuing community.”

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to Dr. Josh Packard about Springtide’s report and its implications for the ministries of the local church. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Dr. Packard is executive director of Springtide Research Institute, whose mission is to listen to the distinct ways youth (ages 13–25) experience and express community, identity, and meaning. An accomplished researcher with an expertise in the sociology of religion and new forms of religious expression, he has been published widely in both academic and popular outlets. He earned his Ph.D. in sociology from Vanderbilt University.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from with permission.

7 Steps to Diversifying AG Leadership | Influence Podcast

According to Pew Research Center, the Assemblies of God is one of the most diverse Protestant denominations in the United States. AG statistics show that 56% of AG adherents are white and 44% ethnic minority. However, statistics also show that two-thirds of AG ministers are white.

The obvious question is how to diversify AG ministers so that our pastors better represent the diversity of our adherents. That’s the question I’m asking Dr. Darnell Williams in this episode of the Influence Podcast. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Dr. Williams is an ordained Assemblies of God minister; pastor of One Church in Lima, Ohio; vice president of the AG’s National Black Fellowship; and an executive presbyter of the AG’s General Council. Most recently, he is author of Wings to Rise: Blacks, Leadership, and the Assemblies of God.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from with permission.

Wings to Rise | Book Recommendation

The Assemblies of God (USA) is a racially and ethnically diverse denomination, 56% white and 44% minority. The diversity of its adherents is not matched by the diversity of its leadership, however, especially at the level of district leadership. Not yet, anyway. In this book, my friend Dr. Darnell Williams shares the fruit of his doctoral research with readers. To help the AG become a truly minority majority denomination, we need to develop a pipeline for minority leadership throughout the Fellowship. Reading Dr. Williams’ book is a good place to start.

Book Reviewed
Darnell K Williams, Sr., Wings to Rise: Blacks, Leadership, and the Assemblies of God (Self-published, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my recommendation, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Slough House | Book Review

Slough House is the seventh novel in Mick Herron’s series about a department of agents MI5 doesn’t want but can’t fire. It is also the darkest and best installment. You can read it as a stand-alone, but trust me, you’re better off starting with Slow Horses and working your way through the series in order. The payoff will be huge.

The action begins with an assassination. We don’t know who or where at first, but when two former denizens of Slough House also end up dead, we learn both who and where and more importantly why. And learning why means the rest of Slough House is in danger, too. The plot is a race for time to see who gets to whom first.

I have two criteria for judging suspense novels like this: It must be so interesting that I want to turn the page to find out what happens next, and it must not tax my willing suspension of disbelief. Slough House is a believable page-turner, a success on both counts.

Moreover, Herron has drawn brilliant characters. Diana Taverner, MI5’s First Desk, is a cutthroat office politician. Disgraced politician Peter Judd is an oleaginous Macchiavellian whose way forward politically is as the power behind the throne. Catherine Standish is a white-knuckle recovering alcoholic who lends compassion, sanity, and a measure of organization to Slough House.

Then there’s her boss, Jackson Lamb—a streetwise Cold Warrior who smokes, drinks, flatulates, and insults readily and steadily, but also is the last face you want to see (or will see, period) if you mess with his Joes. Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes, and John Le Carre had George Smiley. Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb is one for the ages.

And the ending. If you’re not saying, “Don’t die” as you turn the last page, you haven’t been paying attention.

Highly recommended.

Book Reviewed
Mick Herron, Slough House (New York: SoHo Press, 2021).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

What Is God’s Will for My Life? | Influence Magazine

What is God’s will for my life?

The question is an important, if not all-important one. If God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives, as that old evangelistic tract puts it, then we need to know what His plan is. We don’t want to miss out on the wonderfulness, after all.

And yet, some Christians experience anxiety when it comes to God’s will. This seems to arise from two sources: First, the belief that God’s will is hard to find. Second, the  belief that God’s will is easy to fall out of and difficult to get back into.

If God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives, however, I doubt anxiety is the emotion Christians are supposed to feel. In fact, I know it’s not.

Our anxiety arises from false beliefs. The first step toward relieving anxiety so we can do God’s will is to correct those beliefs. One passage that has helped me do that in my own life is Micah 6:6–8:

With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

We learn five things about God’s will from these verses: God’s will is (1) known, (2) not religious activity, (3) doing the right thing, (4) doing the right thing when wronged, and (5) sticking close to God.

Let’s look at each in turn

First and foremost, God’s will is known because God has made it known. As Micah 6:8 puts it, “He has shown you.” God’s will is not a riddle to be solved, then, but a revelation that already can be seen.

So, when people share with me their worries about finding God’s will, I ask them why. Inevitably, it involves making a difficult decision, and they believe God hasn’t revealed which way He leans, even after their long and earnest prayers. But this implies that God is coy, as if He has a preference but isn’t telling, even though He still expects obedience.

That’s just bad theology. If God wants you to do something, He tells you what it is. He reveals it in the Bible, which is “God-breathed and useful” so that we can be “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Or he gives a word of wisdom, knowledge, or prophecy (1 Corinthians 12:8, 10) to show you what He wants you to do.

If neither Scripture nor spiritual gifts reveal what God wants you to do in a specific situation, then perhaps what God wants is for you yourself to make a choice. I cannot help but wonder whether some people seek God’s will as a way to avoid the burden of responsible decision-making.

Not Religious Activity
So, God’s will is known. And based on Micah 6:6–7, we know that God’s will is not religious activity as an end in itself.

Notice Micah’s three rhetorical questions: (1) “Shall I come before [God] with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?”(2) “Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?” (3) “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

The sacrificial system was the preeminent form of religious activity in the Old Testament. It occurred at the Temple under the close supervision of priests and Levites. The three questions involve an escalation of sacrifice, culminating in child sacrifice —which the Bible actually condemns (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2, 4). When religious activity becomes an end in itself, it always becomes extreme.

But notice that the implied answer to all three questions is “No!” God’s will is not more sacrifice, not more religious activity.

Why? For two reasons: First, religious activity that doesn’t result in moral transformation is worthless. In Hosea 6:6, Micah’s contemporary says this on God’s behalf, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” Jesus says the same thing in Matthew 9:13.

Second, Christ has offered a once-for-all sacrifice for sins. Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” If Christ’s sacrifice accomplishes God’s plan, we don’t need to continue offering sacrifices, for that implies Christ hasn’t done His job.

In a lifetime of involvement with church, I’ve come across people who seem to think that they’ll experience the wonderfulness God has planned for them as long as they do all the religious things: read their Bible and pray daily, attend church weekly, tithe regularly, put a Jesus bumper sticker on their car, or whatever.

Such things can be useful as a means to an end, but they’re not the end themselves. And if they don’t result in “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), they’re worthless, and you might as well stop them.

So, God’s will is known, and it is not religious activity as an end in itself. What is it, then?

Doing the Right Thing
Micah 6:8 reveals God’s will, and the first item on the list is “act justly.”

Justice means more than not harming someone. You don’t have to do anything at all to not harm someone. That’s passivity, not justice.

I like this note on Amos 5:7 from the ESV Study Bible as an explanation of biblical justice:

Justice (Hb. mishpat) is much more than legal equity; it refers to the entire scope of God’s government of his world. Thus, to “do justice” involves, on the part of government, a fair and just use of power and proper functioning of a fair judicial system, especially to protect the weak from the strong. On the part of individuals, “justice” involves honest and fair business dealings and faithfulness to keep one’s word, as well as not taking advantage of the poor or those with less power or protection.

In other words, justice means being proactive, taking responsibility to do the right thing.

Years ago, I preached a sermon on helping the poor, and can I say — as a preacher — that I knocked it out of the park? I held people in rapt attention, I received good feedback from the audience, and everyone left talking about what I’d said.

And then a homeless twenty-something came up afterward and said he needed a place to stay. Now, although I lived in town, I was a guest preacher at that church. I had a birthday party to attend with my then girlfriend. And the church’s pastors had quickly left to go to the same party. It was just me, the youth, and the janitor who was waiting for us to leave so he could lock up.

It’s easy to preach the right thing, but harder to do it. God wants the doing more than the preaching, however. So, I took the homeless guy to the party (Go ahead, invite me to yours!), let him sleep on my couch that night, and put him on a bus home the next morning.

I didn’t have to pray about finding God’s will in that situation. I just had to do the right thing in front of me. That’s always God’s will.

Doing the Right Thing When Wronged

Next, Micah 6:8 says God’s will is, “love mercy.” More than justice, mercy pushes us close to the heart of God. In Hebrew, the word for mercy is hesed. Hesed gets translated many ways: “mercy,” “lovingkindness,” “steadfast love.”

Hesed is often used to describe God’s relationship to the righteous. But it is most powerful when it is used to describe his relationship with the unrighteous. Consider, for example, Psalm 51:1–2, David’s prayer after Nathan pointed out his adultery with Bathsheba:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love [hesed]; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

If God shows mercy to sinners, which means to us, shouldn’t we be merciful to people who wrong us?

Hesed is more than something we do, however. It is a personal attribute of God. One of the foundational theological texts of the Old Testament is Exodus 34:6–7:

The LORD passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.

We often get caught up on that last verse, describing God’s punishment to “the third and fourth generation.” It’s a hard verse, but our sins have consequences that outlive us. Notice the most important thing, however: God’s mercy extends to “thousands,” but His judgment stays in the one-digit figures. “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

If mercy is a personal attribute of God, it must be an attribute of God’s people, too. I think that’s why Micah says “lovemercy,” not “do mercy.” It’s not enough to have mercy on someone. We must want to have mercy on them as well. Like God, our being must be merciful.

Sticking Close to God
Finally, according to Micah 6:8, God’s will is “to walk humbly with your God.”

To me, Micah’s order of presentation — justice then mercy then humility — is intentional. It moves from outward expression to inward motivation, from effect to cause. In other words, you cannot “act justly” and “love mercy” unless you “walk humbly” with God.

Humility is a much-maligned virtue, both in biblical times and today. We live in a celebrity culture that is endlessly self-promoting. And if you’re endlessly self-promoting, you’ve got to have an incredibly high view of the self you’re promoting.

I think part of the reason for this is that we have a mistaken view of what humility is. Humility does not mean that you have a low view of yourself. It simply means that you have a higher view of God.

Specifically, it means that you approach God from the point of need. You need grace, you need guidance, you need help, you need healing, you need life, you need love. You need that wonderful plan for your life.

God has all these things. So walk with Him, humbly.

To “walk humbly” requires hearing from God and speaking with Him. That’s why private and public worship are so important. They put us in communion with God on a daily basis.

If you prioritize anything in your life, then, prioritize your relationship with God. It’s the wellspring of everything else you’ll do.

So what is God’s will? You know it. God has shown it. It’s not religious activity as an end in itself, but it is justice, mercy, and humility.

Do the right thing. Do the right thing when wronged. Stick close to God.

That’s what God requires of us all.

P.S. I wrote this article for It is posted here with permission.

The Creed of Abraham Lincoln in His Own Words | 2021 Edition

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s 212th birthday, in honor of which, according to the custom of my blog, I re-post this post about Lincoln’s religious beliefs, such as they were. Enjoy!


In 1920, William E. Barton published The Soul of Abraham Lincoln, a now classic study of the development of Lincoln’s faith. “Lincoln’s religious was an evolution,” Barton wrote, “both in its intellectual and spiritual qualities.”

Lincoln’s religious identity seems to have moved through three stages: (1) a Calvinist Baptist in childhood; (2) a skeptical, freethinker in young adulthood; and (3) and a not-altogether-orthodox Christian in mature adulthood.

“Too much of the effort to prove that Abraham Lincoln was a Christian,” Barton wrote, “has begun and ended in the effort to show that on certain theological opinions he cherished correct opinions.” Lincoln didn’t. For example, he evidently believe in evolution and universal salvation, and he had doubts about Christ’s virgin birth.

“Abraham Lincoln was not a theologian,” Barton went on to say, “and several of his theological opinions may have been incorrect; but there is good reason to believe that he was a true Christian.” By this, Barton meant that Lincoln had “a right attitude toward spiritual realities and practical duties.” (In my opinion, Lincoln was neither an infidel nor an orthodox Christian, but something in between.)

Barton concluded his study with “a series of short quotations [of Lincoln’s] from documents, letters, and addresses, certified authentic and touching directly upon points of Christian doctrine.” He organized these quotations into what he called “The Creed of Abraham Lincoln in His Own Words.”

In honor of Lincoln’s birthday—he was born on February 12, 1809—I’ve posted that creed below, adding footnotes that link individual phrases to their sources in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. This is the online version of Roy P. Bassler’s authoritative series of the same name.

The Creed of Abraham Lincoln in His Own Words[1]

I believe in God, the Almighty Ruler of Nations,[2] our great and good and merciful Maker,[3] our Father in Heaven, who notes the fall of a sparrow, and numbers the hairs of our heads.[4]

I believe in His eternal truth and justice.[5]

I recognize the sublime truth announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history that those nations only are blest whose God is the Lord.[6]

I believe that it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, and to invoke the influence of His Holy Spirit; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon.[7]

I believe that it is meet and right to recognize and confess the presence of the Almighty Father equally in our triumphs and in those sorrows[8] which we may justly fear are a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins to the needful end of our reformation.[9]

I believe that the Bible is the best gift which God has ever given to men. All the good from the Saviour of the world is communicated to us through this book.[10]

I believe the will of God prevails.[11] Without Him all human reliance is vain.[12] Without the assistance of that Divine Being, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail.[13]

Being a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father, I desire that all my works and acts may be according to His will; and that it may be so, I give thanks to the Almighty, and seek His aid.[14]

I have a solemn oath registered in heaven[15] to finish the work I am in,[16] in full view of my responsibility to my God,[17] with malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right as God gives me to see the right.[18] Commending those who love me to His care, as I hope in their prayers they will commend me,[19] I look through the help of God to a joyous meeting with many loved ones gone before.[20]

[1] William E. Barton, The Soul of Abraham Lincoln (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2005), 300. This book is a reprint of the 1920 first edition published by George H. Doran Co. Chapter XXIII is titled, “The Creed of Abraham Lincoln.”

[2] “First Inaugural Address—Final Text,” March 4, 1861.

[3] “To John D. Johnston,” January 12, 1851.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “First Inaugural Address.”

[6] “Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day,” March 30, 1863.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Proclamation of Thanksgiving,” July 15, 1863.

[9] “Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day.”

[10] “Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible,” September 7, 1864.

[11] “Meditation on the Divine Will,” [September 2, 1862?].

[12] “To the Friends of Union and Liberty,” May 9, 1864.

[13] “Farewell Address at Springfield, Illinois,” February 11, 1861.

[14] “Reply to Eliza P. Gurney,” October 26, 1862.

[15] “First Inaugural Address.”

[16] “Second Inaugural Address,” March 4, 1865.

[17] “Message to Congress,” March 6, 1862.

[18] “Second Inaugural Address.”

[19] “Farewell Address at Springfield, Illinois.”

[20] “To John D. Johnston.”

Advice for Couples Considering Divorce | Influence Podcast

Christians believe that marriage is God’s idea and that divorce is a usually bad idea. And yet, Christians — including Christian leaders — get divorced too. The question that needs to be answered is what married couples can do to cultivate a healthy future for their relationship.

That’s the question I’m talking about with Toni Nieuwhof in Episode 242 of the Influence Podcast. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Toni Nieuwhof is a family law mediator, former divorce attorney, co-host of the Smart Family Podcast, and author of Before You Split, published by WaterBrook. She is the wife of Carey Nieuwhof, an influential pastor, leadership author and podcaster, and international speaker. They live in Barrie, Ontario, Canada.

The Wisdom Pyramid | Book Review

“Our world has more and more information, but less and less wisdom,” writes Brett McCracken in The Wisdom Pyramid.

How much more information? Consider this: One billion gigabytes of data is called an exabyte. Prior to the Information Age, all the words humans had spoken since the dawn of time equaled five exabytes of data. In 2025, that amount of data will be produced every 15 minutes.

And you can access most of it on your smartphone.

The Information Age has considerable upsides, no doubt. McCracken notes three: The Internet gives us easy access to all this information, it offers us platforms to share our points of view, and through its rating algorithms, it is able to offer us the consensus view on a given topic.

On the downside, however, what McCracken calls “information gluttony” leaves users with multiple symptoms of dis-ease: anxiety, fragmentation, impotence in the face of multiple tragedies, decision paralysis, and confirmation bias. As McCracken put it, “the lure of infinite, godlike knowledge wreaks havoc.”

The downside isn’t just information gluttony, however. The Information Age also enflames our desires for “perpetual novelty” and “ ‘look within’ autonomy.” It discards the tried-and-true in favor of the new, with the assumption that newness necessarily entails improvement. Moreover, it exacerbates modernity’s skepticism of authority in favor of autonomy and authenticity. This can be seen in the terminological sleight of hand by which the truth has devolved to mytruth.

In short, McCracken puts it, the problem in the Information Age is that we consume “too much” information “too fast” and “too focused on [us].” Wisdom in such an age requires “discernment” of the sources of good information, “patience” in how we assess them, and “humility” before God.

So, how do we learn these virtues? According to McCracken, we need to rethink what and how much information we consume. In 1992, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued the Food Pyramid, which described the kinds and amounts of food healthy eaters should consume daily. McCracken uses the Food Pyramid as the visual inspiration for the Wisdom Pyramid.

At the base of the Wisdom Pyramid is Scripture, “God’s very words to us,” McCracken writes. “When we read the Bible, we are encountering God himself.” The next layer is the Church, understood as both the contemporary local church and Christian tradition across time. “At its best, the church takes us out of the uncertainty of the ephemeral and places us in the certainty of the eternal.” The third layer is nature, which McCracken calls “a prism and amplifier of God’s glory.”

Layer four is books, which are “vital in cultivating wisdom — not only for the truths they contain, but also for the way they help us think.” Beauty is the fifth layer. This refers to the experience of things both God and humanity have made. “Beauty shapes our hearts, orients our loves, quiets our minds, and stills our souls in a noisy and weary world. It’s a profoundly important part of any wisdom diet,” McCracken writes.

The final layer of the Wisdom Pyramid is where most of us spend too much time and mental effort: the Internet and social media. Given the excesses and temptations of the digital world, it is tempting simply to go offline. But like the humans who created them, the Internet and social media can be good or bad, depending on how we use them. McCracken encourages engagement: “Don’t leave these spaces to rot. Instead, find ways to heal, to redeem, to be light in the darkness.”

As a Christian magazine editor who spends a good deal of time reading, both in print and online, I found The Wisdom Pyramid to be both insightful and helpful. It is insightful about the cause of the malaise I personally feel everyday as I interact online. And it is helpful about how to sift so much (and so often contradictory) information for nuggets of wisdom. I enthusiastically recommend this book to Christian readers. Discussion questions at the end of each chapter make it a good candidate for conversations in book clubs, small groups, and even Sunday school classes.

Book Reviewed
Brett McCracken, The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. I wrote this review for It is posted here with permission.

The Confident Christian | Influence Magazine

Let’s start with two questions: On a scale from 1–10, how confident do you feel about your future? Why?

Your answer to the first question describes your current mood, but your answer to the second explains it.

For example, say you just flubbed a job interview. It makes all the difference in the world whether that interview was the first in a series or the last. You might be embarrassed about your performance today, but you can shake it off since you have more interviews tomorrow and the next. But what if there are no more interviews? Then you might be devastated.

Psalm 62 is a prayer of David about cultivating long-term confidence in the throes of short-term distress. To see how that happens, we need to consider one hope, two problems, and three divine attributes.

One Hope
The story is told of a Sunday school teacher who wanted to use squirrels as an example of people who prepare for the future. She told students to raise their hands when they knew what she was describing.

“I’m thinking of something that lives in trees and eats nuts,” she said.

No hands went up.

“It can be gray or brown, and it has a long, bushy tail.”

The kids looked at each other, but no one raised their hands.

“It chatters, and sometimes it flips its tail when it’s excited.”

The students remained quiet until one boy sheepishly raised his hand and said, “It sure sounds like a squirrel, but I guess the answer’s supposed to be Jesus.”

That story gently pokes fun at the repetitive obviousness of how we teach Bible and theology at church, asking questions to which the answer is obviously, “Jesus.”

But there’s a reason for repetitive obviousness. It’s effective at pushing truths deep into our minds. And anyway, the answer to life’s most important questions really is the Lord.

In other words, before we complexify, sophisticate, and nuance our theology, we need to be absolutely clear on the big-picture answer. And the biggest picture is God. Notice how David describes God in Psalm 62:1–2 and 5–8: “rest,” “salvation “rock,” “fortress,” “hope,” “honor,” “mighty rock,” “refuge.”

For David, these words were more than pat theological answers he learned in the Iron Age equivalent of Sunday school — i.e., “It sure sounds like a squirrel, but I guess the answer’s supposed to be Jesus.” David could describe God that way because hard-won experience had taught him theology.

Do you remember what David said to Saul before he fought Goliath? “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37).

David had been tired and needed rest. He’d been in danger and need salvation. He’d been on shifting ground and need a rock to stand upon. He’d been attacked and needed a fortress. He’d been desperate and needed hope, shamed and needed honor. He’d been a fugitive seeking refuge. And each time, he turned to God.

If your confidence about your future depends on your present circumstances, you’re on shifting sand because circumstances change. If your confidence about your future depends on God, however, you have a firm foundation because God doesn’t change who He is or what He desires for you.

Ultimately, then, our one hope for the future is God.

Two Problems
Now that we’ve simplified matters, let’s complexify them.

Our one hope is God, but as we hope in God, we experience two problems. They are experiential rather than intellectual in nature, affecting how we live, not just how we think. They are the problems of evil and futility.

The problem of evil is why bad things happen to good people. Even as David was praying, he was experiencing attack. Consider what he says in verse 3:

How long will you assault me?
Would all of you throw me down —
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?

The assault on David was political, physical and verbal. You can probably find something in David’s experience of opposition that applies to you as well. The point is not the particulars of the assault but the mere fact that such things happen to innocents.

The second problem is futility. Why, to borrow a phrase from Karl Marx, does all that is solid melt into air? Everyone dies, in other words, and no one’s work endures forever.

David talks about this problem in verse 9:

Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.

David uses the word hebel (“breath”) twice in this verse. It’s the same word in Ecclesiastes 1:2 that gets translated as “meaningless” (NIV) or “vanity” (KJV). The point is not that life has no philosophical purpose but that it’s transient and insubstantial. Like a breath.

In short, we all die.

These two problems show us why our confidence in the future cannot be based on the present. For one thing, our near-term might be awful. For another, our long-term is fatal.

These two problems, in other words, push us beyond our circumstances — the present, and what is imminent — toward Someone who is unchanging, eternal and transcendent.

Three Divine Attributes
So, we have one hope but two problems. The question is, how does our one hope solve our two problems? Verses 11–12 provide the answer:

One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
according to what they have done.”

What we see here are three divine attributes: power, love and justice.

If we are to have hope in the face of our problems, we must know that God has the power to solve them, to overcome the adversary and “establish the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17).

Power asks, “Can God do this?” And the answer is, “Yes.” Scripture’s many miracles, but especially Christ’s virginal conception, remind us that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37, ESV).

So, God can solve our problems. But does He want to? Ability doesn’t entail desire, after all. Perhaps God has the power to save us but doesn’t care for us one bit. In that case, He can but simply won’t.

It wasn’t difficult for ancient people to conceive of gods who were powerful but alternately apathetic and hostile to people. The whole point of idolatry was to house, clothe, feed and honor the gods so they would act kindly toward you. A homeless, naked, hungry, forgotten-about god was a ticked-off god who was going to smite you. You could buy its love, but you couldn’t count on it.

Into that world, the good news of a loving God strikes with the force of a revelation. The All-Powerful is all-good. This is an Old Testament thing (Exodus 34:6), as well as a New Testament thing (1 John 4:8). Indeed, it is a Jesus thing since His death is the assurance of God’s good intentions toward us:

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31–32)

God is powerful; He can save us. God is love; He wants to save us.

But there’s still one more divine attribute: justice. What if God has both power and love but He’s biased? What if He’s like the Little League coach who gives his son the best equipment, training and position in the lineup, as well as every other possible advantage, regardless of his son’s native ability or desire to play the game? What if God spoils His own kids but leaves the others to rot in the dugout?

If you want to have hope that God can deliver you from life’s problems, you need to know that God is powerful, loving and just, or there’s no hope.

  • If there’s no power, He cannot save us.
  • If there’s no love, He doesn’t want to save us.
  • If there’s no justice, He doesn’t love people equally; He provides atonement only for some but not all.

That’s not a god who inspires much confidence. In fact, that’s not our God. For our God “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, emphasis added).

Let’s end with the questions we started with: On a scale from 1–10, how confident do you feel about your future? Why?

I hope you see that what you believe about God (power, love, justice) as you experience distress in this life (evil, futility) gives you a basis for real confidence about your future. God is not just a proposition to believe but a Person in whom you can confidently place your hope.

P.S. I wrote this article for It appears here by permission.

Celebrating he National Black Fellowship of the Assemblies of God | Influence Podcast

February is Black History Month, and in this episode of the Influence Podcast, we’re celebrating the National Black Fellowship of the Assemblies of God, which just completed 40 years of service.

I’ll be talking with Bishop Walter Harvey about the history, growth, and mission of this vital network within the broader AG community. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Bishop Walter Harvey is president of the National Black Fellowship and pastor emeritus at Parklawn Assembly of God in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

P.S. I recorded this podcast for It is posted here with permission.


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