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

Known
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.

Conclusion
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 InfluenceMagazine.com. 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).

Conclusion
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.

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

A Simple Rule for a Complex World | Influence Magazine


When Jesus Christ was born, the most eminent rabbis in Judea were Hillel and Shammai. They approached Torah — Old Testament law — differently. Hillel typically interpreted Torah leniently, Shammai strictly. The Talmud records stories about the debates between the men.

One of the stories concerns a Gentile who desires to become a Jew. He approaches Shammai and says, “Convert me on condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot.” Shammai chases him away with a stick.

So the man approaches Hillel. Hillel converts him, then teaches him the entire Torah with this sentence: “That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation.”

Shammai and Hillel epitomize two ways of approaching ethics. Shammai complexifies matters. For him, the issues are difficult, so it is not easy to explain what we should do in any case. Hillel simplifies matters. He identifies the overarching principle that explains what we should do in every case.

Arguments can be made for either way. When you consider the range of ethical dilemmas we face today — abortion, climate change, racism, sexuality, etc. — you can see the appeal of Shammai’s point of view.

And yet, integrity requires that we take a consistent approach to resolving ethical dilemmas. This doesn’t mean denying the diversity of challenges we face. However, it does mean finding the overarching rule rather than multiplying new commandments, like Hillel did.

Or perhaps I should say, “Like Jesus did,” for He too approached ethics simply.

Jesus’ Simple Rule
We see Jesus’ simple rule in Matthew 22:34–40, where Jesus answers the question, “What is the greatest commandment in the law?”

Jesus responds, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (quoting Deuteronomy 6:5). This is our greatest spiritual duty. Then he says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (quoting Leviticus 19:18). This is our greatest moral duty. Together, these two duties constitute the Great Commandment.

In Jewish tradition, Torah contains 613 commandments, 365 negative and 248 positive. Love of God and love of neighbor are greatest because they are more important than other commandments. However, they are also greatest because they are explanatory of other commandments. This is what Jesus means when He says, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Two other passages in the New Testament give us criteria for knowing whether we actually love our neighbor. The first is Jesus’ Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

Notice, by the way, that Jesus’ Golden Rule is both like and unlike Hillel’s statement to the Gentile convert. They are alike because both align our behavior with what we expect of others. They differ because Hillel’s focus is negative (“do not do to another”), while Jesus’ focus is positive (“do to others”).

The second passage is Romans 13:10, which articulates what is known as the Harm Principle: “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Taken together, the Great Commandment, the Golden Rule, and the Harm Principle comprise Jesus’ simple rule for living in a complex world.

And His simple rule is obviously good. It is easy to state (“Love your neighbor as yourself”) and has clear criteria for knowing what love requires. It is positive (“Love,” “Do”) and proactive (“as you would have them do to you”). It is universal in scope (“in everything”), and it is fair in application, requiring a single rule for both you and them (“as yourself”). Finally, it is virtuous and beneficial, arising from love and seeking to help, not harm.

“Easy peasy lemon squeezy,” as my daughters say. Right? At the intellectual level, sure! Simple rules are easy to apply. But take a look around — or better yet, take a look within — and notice how often Jesus’ simple rule is disregarded and disobeyed. Why does this happen, and how do obey Jesus better?

What to Do Now
As I reflect on Scripture and my own struggles to follow Jesus’ simple rule, five action items come to mind:

1. Act reflectively, not reflexively. When I visit the doctor for my annual physical, he tests my tendon reflexes by tapping my knees with a small hammer. My foot kicks forward every time without my thinking about it, and that’s a good thing.

Sometimes our emotions are like that too: They respond without us thinking about them. That’s not always a good thing. What if your neighbor taps you with your anger mallet and you kick him right back? That’s reflexive … and bad.

We need a reflective response — that is, thoughtful, intentional —rather than a reflexive one. So, next time someone treats you badly in word or deed, stop, count to 10, and ask whether your response is how you would want to be treated, as well as whether it will harm the other person.

2. Act self-referentially, not selfishly or selflessly. Some people act selfishly, as if they’re the only person who matters. Other people act selflessly, as if everyone matters but themselves. Selfless people are the doormats selfish people wipe their feet on.

Jesus doesn’t want us to act selfishly or selflessly, however, as if we’re everything or nothing. Instead, He wants us to act self-referentially — to love others “as yourself.” Ephesians 5:28–29 offers a picture of what that this looks like in a marriage relationship: “He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body.”

This is how Jesus treats the Church, and how we should treat others.

3. Think long term, not short term. My youngest daughter lives fully in the present. She wants it all, and she wants its right now, especially if it’s candy. While she’s delightful 99% of the time, she throws epically undelightful fits when she doesn’t get her way.

I know too many adults who act like my daughter. If a child’s fit isn’t pretty, just imagine how ugly an adult fit is. In saying, “I want it all, and I want it now!” we make petulant children of ourselves, treat others like means to our ends, and harm them in the process.

“Love is patient,” Paul writes (1 Corinthians 13:4). So if you love others, remember to think long-term. As the old saw puts it, “Good things come to those who wait.”

4. Imitate and model. A great deal of learning is imitation. That’s why parents want their kids to have “good kids” for friends. That’s why parents shy away from spending too much time with other adults who aren’t good “role models.” So, if you want to love your neighbor as yourself, form relationships with people who do it well. “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ,” Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 11:1).

More than having a good role model, be a good role model. Nothing so straightens you out as knowing that others are watching what you do.

5. Ask the Holy Spirit for The previous action steps are basically self-help. They don’t necessarily assume a spiritual point of view. Instead, they assume we can fix a problem once we’ve identified it.

But what if we can’t? What if the cause of our failure goes deeper than ignorance? What if our problem is a defective heart? In other words, what if we don’t love others because we don’t want to or because we like to hurt them?

If our heart is defective, no amount of self-help will help. We need a heart surgeon. We need the Holy Spirit.

Ole Hallesby defines prayer as “asking Jesus into our heart.” We typically use that language to describe conversion. “Come to the altar and ask Jesus into your heart,” the preacher says at the end of a worship service. Hallesby recognized that because we have a heart problem, we need continually to ask Jesus into our hearts.

And here’s the good news: Jesus always answers that prayer! According to Paul, Jesus does that this way: “God’s lovehas been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

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Our times are complex. The moral problems we face are outnumbered only by the solutions proffered. But if Jesus is not only our Savior but also our Teacher, then one thing is needful: To love our neighbors as ourselves. May that simple rule guide us always!

P.S. I wrote this article for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here with permission.

What Christian Citizens Owe Government Leaders | Influence Magazine


This past Wednesday, Joseph R. Biden was inaugurated president of the United States of America. Despite our nation’s name, we are a divided people. Many Americans voted for Biden and support the public policies he pledged to enact. Many others didn’t and don’t. Christians of various denominational stripes can be found among both groups.

The inauguration of a new president during an era of intense division offers Christians an opportunity to reflect on what we owe our government leaders. When we agree with them, our obligation seems easy. But when we disagree — especially when we disagree hotly — our duty seems difficult. That is why, in the throes of changing politics, we must recur to God’s unchanging Word.

As we examine Scripture, we see four obligations God lays on Christian citizens regarding those we have elected — and He has established (Romans 13:1–2) — to lead.

Prayer
In 1 Timothy 2:1–7, the apostle Paul encourages believers to offer “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving” for “all people,” but especially for “kings and all those in authority.” The Roman emperor when Paul writes those words is probably Nero, a notoriously violent and corrupt man. Even so, the apostle urges believers to pray, petitioning God to meet Nero’s needs, interceding with God to forgive his sins, and thanking God when he gets things right.

The purpose of those prayers, according to Paul, is that Christians can live “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” In the Bible, peace is not just the absence of conflict. It is the experience of human flourishing that pervades when justice prevails. Christians contribute to human flourishing by living godly, holy lives.

There is a deeper purpose behind the purpose, however: “This is good,” Paul writes, “and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Have you heard the statement, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church”? This is a misquotation of the early Christian writer Tertullian. (What he actually wrote is, “The blood of Christians is seed.”) From this statement, many Christians have inferred that the Church grows best when persecuted worst.

That is not what Paul thought, however. For him, peace and quiet is the ground of evangelism, which is why he urged Christians to pray for the authorities, who were in the best position to establish the conditions of justice that led to peace.

And so, let us offer all kinds of prayers to God on behalf of our elected officials! May He grant them wisdom to know what is just and what results in peace throughout the community! And may Christians make the most of peace to share the gospel, which is the second thing Christian citizens owe elected leaders.

Gospel
The gospel is good news. Notice what Paul said about the gospel in 1 Timothy 2:4: God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Just as God wants believers to pray for all people, especially government leaders, so God desires to save all people, including government leaders. He has invited everyone you meet to spend eternity with Him.

This happens through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul quotes Joel 2:32 in Romans 10:13: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” To make sure everyone knows about God’s invitation, Paul reminds believers of their duty to share the gospel:

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14–15, referring to Isaiah 52:7).

Sometimes, we focus so narrowly on what politicians are doing, rightly or wrongly, that we forget where they are going, heaven or hell. If God desires to save all people through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, and if it is our privilege to share that good news with all, then we must also pray and work for the salvation of government leaders who do not believe, as well as for the spiritual renewal of government leaders who do.

Like Paul standing before King Agrippa, we must be willing to say, “Short time or long — I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:29).

Most of us will never meet the president of the United States or a federal senator or congressional representative. But we may know local government officials. Are we praying for them? Are we building relationships with them? Are we looking for opportunities to share the gospel with them or to strengthen their faith?

Obedience and Respect
In a republic or a democracy such as ours, the people elect their leaders. This is a very different situation politically than what Paul and other New Testament Christians faced. They lived under monarchies and had little say in who governed them.

Even so, Paul encouraged obedience: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1). Nero is likely Caesar when Paul writes these words, which implies that for Paul, even Nero’s reign was God ordained. If Paul urges obedience to corrupt government officials we did not choose, how much more should we obey government officials we did choose!

And yet, more than external obedience is required. Like Paul, Peter urged obedience to “human authority,” from the “emperor” to the “governors” below (1 Peter 2:13–17). It is possible to outwardly obey authority while inwardly disrespecting them, however. So Peter encourages Christians to live with integrity: “Show proper respect to everyone … honor the emperor.”

Obedience and respect toward human authorities are in short supply these days. And to be honest, those authorities have often earned the disobedience and disrespect people show them through incompetence, corruption and hypocrisy. Christians are not supposed to act like other citizens, however. As Peter points out, we are supposed to live “for the Lord’s sake,” and this entails both obedience to and respect for human authority. Only in this way will we live paradoxically as “free people,” not using our freedom as “a cover-up for evil.”

Accountability and Example
Christian obedience to government officials is not a limitless obligation, however. Jesus says, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17). This implies a distinction between what we owe government leaders and what we owe God.

And since God establishes government leaders (Romans 13:1), this further implies that our duties to God supersede our duties to government leaders. As Peter reminds the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29).

The distinction between divine and human authority and the subordination of the latter to the former are good things. They ground Christian politics in moral principle. They set limits on the reach of government. And they create room for civil society to use persuasion rather than compulsion to effect social change.

But they only work if we do our work as citizens. So, are we informed about public policy? Do we advocate for change where necessary? Do we vote in good government leaders and vote out bad ones?

Most importantly, as Christians, do we set a good example for our neighbors? Jesus says, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Peter says, “it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:15).

We should not expect a religiously diverse society to reflect Christian values unless or until we have shown them by our own example “the most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31), which is love.

In this new year, with a new presidential administration, let us renew our commitment to praying for our government officials, to sharing the gospel with them, to obeying the law and respecting the lawgivers, and to holding them accountable while giving them our good example! These are the basic duties of Christian citizenship.

P.S. This article is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Four People You Meet on Your Spiritual Journey | Influence Magazine


The older I get, the more I appreciate how important people are to my spiritual journey, and yours, too. Americans tend to think of spirituality as something we do by ourselves, but for Christians, the spiritual life is something we do with others. Only together do we form the body of Christ (Romans 12:5).

When Paul talked about Christ’s body, he emphasized both unity and diversity: “In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (Romans 12:5–6).

It’s not just that we play different roles, however. At different times in our lives, we have different relationships with people in the body of Christ. This is evident in Romans 16. As I read the list of people Paul asked the church to greet, I see four relationships in particular: patrons, peers, protégés and pains.

Patrons
Patrons are people who make our spiritual journeys possible. They open doors for us and provide for our needs. In Romans 16, Paul mentioned three such people in particular.

The first and most prominent is Phoebe (Romans 16:1–2). Paul wrote Romans from Corinth. Phoebe was a deacon at the church of Cenchreae, one of Corinth’s two port cities. It is likely that Paul mentioned her first because she carried the letter to Rome, read it to the Christians there, and answered their questions about it. If so, she was history’s first commentator on Romans.

In Greek, Paul described Phoebe as his prostatis, which translates as “benefactor” or “patron.” The ancient world contained what we call patron-client relationships. Wealthy, well-connected people (patrons) provided material help and protection to those beneath them in the social hierarchy (clients) in exchange for allegiance and service. Evidently, Phoebe served as a kind of patron for many in the church at Cenchreae, including Paul himself. This probably entailed funding her church’s benevolence programs, as well as Paul’s missionary journeys.

Paul also mentioned two other patrons: Rufus’ mother, “who has been a mother to me, too” (verse 13), and Gaius, “whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy” (verse 23).

Each of these relationships provided Paul something he needed: financial support (Phoebe); emotional warmth (Rufus’ mother); and a place to meet and eat (Gaius).

In one way or another, patrons make our spiritual journey possible. What we owe such people is gratitude.

Peers
Peers are people with whom we share the burdens of the spiritual journey. Paul name-checked nearly 40 individuals in Romans 16. He didn’t give much information about most of them, besides their names, but he used three terms that indicate his relationships with them were on an equal footing.

The first term is synergos, “co-worker,” which Paul used to describe Priscilla and Aquila (verse 3), Urbanus (verse 9), and Timothy (verse 21). He also named several individuals who worked hard for the churches in their spheres of influence: Mary (verse 6), Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis (verse 12). The work here is the ministry of the gospel in some form, though we shouldn’t necessarily infer all of these people held formal church offices.

What we owe such workers is a commitment to do things right and get things done. Work teams can only succeed to the extent that everyone puts in equal labor. In the local church, there’s plenty of work to spread around, and we all should work hard alongside one another.

The second and third terms have less to do with work than with the quality of our relationships. The first is agapetos, “dear friend” or “beloved,” which Paul used to describe Epenetus (verse 5), Ampliatus (verse 8), Stachys (verse 9), and Persis (verse 12). The second is adelphos, “brother” or “sister,” which Paul used to describe Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, and Hermas, among many others (verse 14).

Take a moment to notice something interesting about the names Paul mentioned, not only under the heading of peers, but throughout the Romans 16 list. Both Jews and Greeks made the list. Paul described both men and women as co-workers, friends, and siblings. And scholars indicate that some of the people on the list had names commonly given to slaves.

In the Church, our status “in Christ Jesus” (verse 3) makes us equal to one another — equal in hard work, friendship, and familial love — regardless of one’s sex, ethnic group, religious background, or socioeconomic status. As Paul puts it elsewhere, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Protégés
Protégés are people we help along the way. Paul named two in particular: Epenetus, “my dear friend” and “the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia” (verse 5), and Timothy, whom Paul described as his “co-worker” (21), but whom we know Paul elsewhere called “my son whom I love” (1 Corinthians 4:17).

We owe our protégés grace. In Paul’s writings, charis, which is the Greek word for grace, has two basic senses. The first is unmerited favor. This is the sense of charis in Romans 3:23–24: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” The second is spiritual power. This is the sense of charis in Romans 12:6: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”

Good patrons know their protégés will mess up on the spiritual journey. At those moments, the patrons will model God’s unmerited favor. They also know their protégés need to grow stronger in spiritual power. At times, protégés can benefit from a pep talk or constructive criticism spoken in love. Whatever the case, we owe our protégés grace in both senses of the term.

Pains
Finally, pains. These are people who make our journeys hard.

Some spiritual journeys are hard because non-Christians cause us pain. Paul hinted at this when he mentioned that Andronicus and Junia had been “in prison” with him (verse 7), and when he said Apelles “stood the test” (verse 10). These are the pains of persecution, and throughout the world, many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are experiencing them.

But the pains Paul mentioned in Romans 16:17–18 came from inside the church. I like to think of these people as church trolls. Like internet trolls, they use clever words and specious arguments to gain followers, divide churches, and exasperate cool-headed, warm-hearted Christians. As with internet trolls, the best thing you can do is ignore them.

This requires discernment, because sometimes our protégés act like trolls. (And sometimes we act like trolls!) We need the Spirit’s wisdom to know when to give grace and when to stop throwing pearls to pigs (Matthew 7:6).

___

I close with an observation and some questions.

The observation is that our relationships are not static. Everyone begins the spiritual journey as a protégé, but as we mature, we become peers and patrons. Unfortunately, sometimes we even become pains.

The question is this: Where are you in your relationships today? Who are your patrons, peers, protégés and pains? What are you giving each to enhance their spiritual journey?

May God bring the right people into your life this year so that you make good progress on your spiritual journey! And may you be the right person for someone else’s journey!

P.S. This article was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

“Your Crown the Year with Your Bounty”


The year 2020 will not be forgotten soon, but it also will not be missed. Although it has been a frustrating time, its frustrations have fostered greater faith in God, who loves and cares for His people. That increased faith is what will and should be remembered.

Reflecting on 2020 and preparing for 2021, I have focused on Psalm 65:11, which says, “You crown the year with your bounty.” Psalm 65 comes as a relief after the 14 laments that immediately precede it. “Have mercy on me, O God” (51:1) gives way to “Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion” (65:1). Repeated requests for God to “hear” or “listen” to prayer (54:2; 55:1; 61:1; 64:1) result in a confident, “You who answer prayer” (65:2).

David identifies three reasons to praise the prayer-answering God in this psalm:

First, forgiveness. “When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave us our transgressions” (verse 3). This verse captures the great truth of the gospel that though we are a sinful people, God is a forgiving God. He always answers the cry of genuine repentance.

Second, creation. David turns from the personal to the global when he speaks of God “who formed the mountains by your power” and “who stilled the roaring of the seas” (verses 5–7). These actions remind us that God created the world with stability and order. If we rest in God’s “awesome and righteous deeds” (verse 5), we can remain calm amidst “the turmoil of the nations” (verse 7).

Third, providence. “The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it” (verse 9). In the dry Judean hills from which David reigned, water was a miracle, its presence or absence the difference between life and death. These verses remind us God is life’s source. Because of Him, “The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain.” His provision is yet another reason to “shout for joy and sing” (verse 13).

Because of Psalm 65, my prayer for life and ministry in 2021, both yours and mine, is this: Almighty God of love, maywe grow in the grace of Your forgiveness, focus on Your steadiness in the midst of our chaos, and trust in ever-greater measure that You will provide for our needs. Amen!

In this way, we will end 2021 not with 2020’s exhausted, “We survived,” but with Psalm 65:11’s joyful, “You crown the year with your bounty.”

P.S. This is my editorial in the January-March 2021 issue of Influence magazine, an HTML version of which is available here. It is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with persmission.

A Better Way of Doing Apologetics | Influence Podcast


In 1 Peter 3:15, the apostle wrote: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” The Greek word the NIV translates as “answer” is apología, from which we get the word apologetics. Apologetics is that branch of Christian theology which offers reasonable answers to skeptical questions about the faith.

Apologetics is a necessary component of evangelism and discipleship, especially in an America that is becoming increasingly post-Christian. But apologetics is not always done well. Too often, it is perceived as a logic-chopping exercise  in answering abstract questions no one is asking by faith-defenders who are more concerned with winning arguments than people.

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m exploring a better way of doing apologetics with Joshua Chatraw. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Dr. Chatraw is executive director of the Center for Public Christianity at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, and author of numerous books on apologetics, including Apologetics at the Cross, The History of Apologetics, and most recently, Telling a Better Story. All these books are published by Zondervan.

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

P.P.S. I reviewed Chatraw’s book here: https://amzn.to/32ui5OK. If you like my review, please click “Helpful” on my review page.

Recommended Reading for Leaders | Influence Magazine


I recommended the following three books to church leaders in the May-June 2020 issue of Influence magazine. As always, if you like my recommendation, please click “Helpful” on the Amazon review pages for each book!

WHEN NARCISSISM COMES TO CHURCH
Chuck DeGroat (IVP)

“Narcissistic pastors are anxious and insecure shepherds who do not lead the sheep to still waters but into hurricane winds,” writes Christian psychologist Chuck DeGroat. In this book, DeGroat draws on his extensive counseling experience and academic research to illuminate narcissism in all its variety, demonstrate its negative effects on both church members and church systems, and outline a plan for healing its victims, including the narcissists themselves. The good news? The “radically humble, self-giving way” of Jesus Christ.

Link to Amazon

HOW TO MAKE BIG DECISIONS WISELY
Alan Ehler (Zondervan)

“Big decisions shape the course of life,” writes Alan Ehler. The question is how well you’re making those decisions. In this book, Ehler introduces Story Shaping, a four-step model useful for making personal and organizational decisions, as well as for resolving conflict. The four steps are: 1) read the backstory, 2) catch God’s story, 3) craft a new story, and 4) tell the new story. It is “a prayerful process integrating Scripture, theological reflection, and skills derived from decision science and neuroscience.”

Link to Amazon 

THE MOTIVE
Patrick Lencioni (Wiley)

In this book, Patrick Lencioni tells a fable about two CEOs, which identifies two motives for leadership. Reward-centered leadership believes that “being a leader is the reward for hard work; therefore, the experience of being a leader should be pleasant and enjoyable.” By contrast, responsibility-centered leadership believes that “being a leader is a responsibility; therefore, the experience of leading should be difficult and challenging.” Although written for business leaders, this book has multiple applications for pastors and other church leaders too.

Link to Amazon

Recommended Reading for Leaders | Influence Magazine


In each issue of Influence magazine, I identify three leadership books that I recommend for pastors and other church leaders. Here is my list for the January-February 2020 issue, which is crossposted from InfluenceMagazine.com. If you like my recommendation, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page, the short URL for which is listed after each recommendation.

MORE LESSONS FROM THE NONTPROFIT BOARDROOM
Dan Busby and John Pearson (ECFA Press)

Good governance is crucial to every organization, including the Church, and a healthy board is crucial to good governance. In this book from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, Dan Busby and John Pearson offer timely advice about how a board can govern with “effectiveness” and “excellence,” all the while addressing the “elephants” that complicate its work. The book concludes a chapter on NonprofitScore, a free online tool to help your board assess its health across six elements (ECFA.org/score).

Amazon: https://amzn.to/38ICP50.

THE EMOTIONALLY INTELLIGENT PASTOR
Jeannie Clarkson (Wesleyan Publishing House)

Jeannie Clarkson defines emotional intelligence as “the ability to (1) understand the ways people (including you) feel and react, and (2) use this knowledge to wisely avoid or smartly solve relational problems.” In The Emotionally Intelligent Pastor, she outlines the habits that will help you gain “insight” and “mastery” in both the “personal” and “relational” aspects of your life and ministry. The payoff? “Greater emotional intelligence leads to reduced stress and increased influence.” What pastor doesn’t want those things?

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2O75Wai.

THE LEADER’S GREATEST RETURN
John C. Maxwell (HarperCollins Leadership)

“There is nothing in this world that gives a greater [return on investment] to a leader than attracting, developing, and multiplying leaders,” writes John C. Maxwell. “It’s the key to success for any country, family, organization, or institution.” Though written with a broad readership in mind, The Leader’s Greatest Return holds obvious applications for Christian ministry. It outlines 10 steps you can begin taking today to invest in the people who will multiply the effectiveness of your ministry.

Amazon: https://amzn.to/315q4z5.

Why You Should Read Psalms and Proverbs Daily | Influence Magazine


Several years ago, I began reading the books of Psalms and Proverbs daily during my devotional time. By following a set schedule of readings, I have been able to read each book completely once a month. This daily immersion into the prayers and wisdom of Israel has been deeply rewarding.

Billy Graham followed a similar devotional routine, though his was not the inspiration for mine. “I used to read five psalms every day — that teaches me how to get along with God,” he wrote, explaining his routine. “Then I read a chapter of Proverbs every day and that teaches me how to get along with my fellow man.”

I quibble with Graham’s explanation a bit. Psalms talks about human relationships (e.g., Psalm 15), after all, and Proverbs about our relationship to God (e.g., Proverbs 1:7; 3:5–6). Graham’s explanation nonetheless remains a good way of explaining why reading Psalms and Proverbs daily is a good devotional practice. So, let’s look first at each in turn.

Psalms: Our Relationship With God
The first word of Psalms is blessed (1:1). The last word is hallelujah, translated as “Praise the Lord!” (150:6). To me, that lexical fact makes a profound point about the way God relates to us and the way we should relate to Him. Ever since Creation, God’s fundamental desire has been to bless humanity (Genesis 1:28). And as New Creation shows, everyone touched by God’s blessing responds instinctively and enthusiastically with praise (Revelation 19:6–8).

In this way, our theology and our spirituality mutually support and empower one another: The more God blesses, the more we delight to praise Him. The more we praise God, the more He delights to bless us.

And yet, in between Creation and New Creation, a lot of bad stuff happens. Given every blessing by God, Adam and Eve — and you and me, in their wake — chose to disobey God and seek their own ways. We have thought that by doing so, we would make for ourselves a better life, becoming “like God” as we took charge of our own lives (Genesis 3:5).

The serpent’s words were a lie then, and they continue to be a lie now. There are only two ways in life: God’s way and any other way. The first leads to life, the others to death. “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction” (Psalm 1:6).

What happens when we find ourselves in the way of destruction? Sometimes, we ourselves are the sinners, doing what is wrong. Other times, we are the sinned against, suffering because of the wrongdoing of the wicked. Between Psalm 1’s blessed and Psalm 150’s hallelujah, the Psalter teaches us the necessity of heartrending repentance and lament in addition to the joy of heartfelt praise.

David, one of Psalms’ most prolific authors, demonstrated how to do both. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions” (Psalm 51:1). David wrote that after he got caught committing adultery with Bathsheba and killing her husband, Uriah the Hittite, to cover up his offense. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” (Psalm 22:1). We are not sure what the particular occasion was for this lament, but I am sure we have all felt the same way. Even Jesus did, according to Matthew 27:46.

When we sin, we repent. When we’re sinned against, we lament. We can do both because we know that behind all the problems we create and experience in life is a God who desires to bless us, to restore us to relationship with Him. Our repenting and our lamenting are shot through with hope.

The Psalms’ hopefulness is more than wishful thinking, however. It’s more than a positive mental outlook, much more than a Pollyannaish optimism. It’s rooted in who God is and what He has done.

Think of it this way: Psalms is the most quoted book of the Old Testament in the New Testament. Quite often, these quotations draw out the connection between the Messiah the Psalms promised would appear and Jesus who has in fact appeared. He is that promised Messiah.

Consider Psalm 2: Jesus is the “anointed” (literally, messiah) of verses 1–2 (cf. Acts 4:25–27). He is the “son” of verse 7 (cf. Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5). He is the divinely appointed king of verses 8–9 who will inherit and rule the nations (cf. Revelation 2:26–27; 12:5; 19:15).

Or consider Psalm 110, the most quoted or alluded-to Psalm in the New Testament. Together with all Jews, Jesus believed that the Messiah would be a descendant of David. The common belief was that the Messiah, because a descendant of David, was inferior to him. But Jesus used verse 1 to show that the Messiah would in fact be David’s superior, his “lord” (cf. Matthew 22:42–46; Mark 12:35–37; Luke 20:41–44). The Early Church drew the obvious conclusion: Jesus is both “Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:35; cf. Hebrews 1:13).

When we see the connection between the Psalm’s messianic hope and Jesus, we see why Jesus quoted the lament of Psalm 22 from the Cross (Matthew 27:46). Jesus incarnated the innocent victim; He embodied to the fullest degree the victim who had been sinned against. No wonder He lamented so greatly! And yet, lament — the most common type of Psalm, whether individual or corporate — ends with hope because the lamenter trusts in the God who blesses.

“I will declare your name to my people,” the Psalmist exclaims; “in the assembly I will praise you” (Psalm 22:22). Why? Because God “has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help” (22:24). Because of this, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord” (22:27). Christ suffered in hope and experienced resurrection. Because of His death and resurrection, we have hope of redemption.

Do you see, then, why it is important to read the Psalms daily? They teach us God’s desire to bless. They teach us our need to repent when we sin and lament when we are sinned against. They show us that Jesus is Messiah, Lord, and Redeemer. And thus, they teach us to praise with hope. We have been blessed. Hallelujah!

Proverbs: Our Relationship With Others
What about Proverbs? How does a daily encounter with it change our lives? Billy Graham said that Proverbs “teaches me how to get along with my fellow man.” I think he is basically correct, though we need to remember that Proverbs itself articulates a Godward perspective: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). Our relationship to God is the foundation of our relationship to others because His wisdom shapes the way we live with our neighbors. At least, it should.

Notice, by the way, that Proverbs also articulates a two-ways perspective: God’s way and any other, the way of wisdom and the way of folly, the way of life and the way of death. Proverbs 8:35–36, which personifies wisdom as a woman, puts it this way: “For those who find me find life and receive favor from the Lord. But those who fail to find me harm themselves; all who hate me love death.”

So, wisdom leads to life. But what is wisdom? Is it book-learning? A graduate education? Proficiency in the relevant literature of a given topic? No.

Wisdom is less about knowing what than about knowing how, less theory than practice. We see this in Proverbs 1:1–7 by looking at the terms Solomon places in company with wisdom: terms like “understanding,” “insight,” “prudent behavior,” “doing what is just and fair,” “prudence,” “knowledge and discretion,” and “guidance,” among others. Wisdom is skillfulness at living, the ability to know what to do in a given situation, how to respond, when to initiate, whether to walk away.

This accounts for the paradoxical character of some of the individual proverbs. My favorite example of this is Proverbs 26:4–5: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” Wisdom is highly situational, these two verses are telling us.

Sometimes, you avoid correcting fools lest you get caught up in their insanity. This is good advice whenever you’re dealing with internet trolls. But sometimes, you need to step in and show fools the error of their way, as, for example, when I have to remind my 6-year-old daughter that, to paraphrase Jesus, “Man does not live on sugary candies and beverages alone.” You have to eat your veggies too.

And that example brings me to another characteristic of Proverbs. It is often expressly parental advice. “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 1:8). As the father of one son and two daughters, I resonate with these words because after 50 years of life, I have learned through hard-won experience what works in life and what does not. Like Solomon, I want to pass that wisdom along so that my kids make good choices knowingly.

Obviously, I want them to make good choices in every area of their lives, and Proverbs will help them do that. But one of the interesting things that stands out about Proverbs is how important finding a good wife is. (Proverbs was written to sons; with a few mental adjustments, you can easily make its advice relevant to daughters too.)

Notice, for example, how often Proverbs warns against adultery (e.g., Proverbs 5:1–23, 6:20–7:27). And notice how its last chapter praises the “wife of noble character” (Proverbs 31:10–31). Life is not always easy or fair, but a good spouse softens its hard edges and makes it not merely bearable, but enjoyable. As Proverbs 18:22 puts it, “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.”

Wisdom, Proverbs 31 seems to teach us, isn’t just about knowing how; it’s also about knowing who. A good life is demonstrated by good deeds done for the right reasons at the right time. But it is also demonstrated by the quality of the people you surround yourself with, especially in the intimacy of marriage and family.

Do you see, then, why it is a good idea to read Proverbs daily? In life, we need to make good choices about what to do, whom to befriend, whom to marry, because those choices shape the trajectory of our lives, for good or bad. We cannot make good choices without wisdom. And we cannot have wisdom without God. Reading Proverbs daily keeps that decision tree in the foremost of our minds.

Now What?
I hope I have convinced you to begin reading Psalms and Proverbs daily. Once you have decided to do so, the next question is practical: How do I do this? Here are some points to consider:

First, read the chapter of Proverbs that matches the day’s date: chapter 1 on the first day of the month, chapter 2 on the second, chapter 3 on the third, and so on. Proverbs has 31 chapters, and seven months of the year have 31 days, so your reading schedule those months is straightforward. In months that have 30 days, I read chapters 30–31 on the last day. In February, I read chapters 28–31 on the last day.

Second, reading Psalms is a bit more complicated than reading Proverbs because there are 150 Psalms. Billy Graham read five Psalms a day. The problem with his approach is that the individual Psalms are of uneven length. For example, if you follow Graham, you will read Psalms 116–120 on the 24th day of the month. That means you will read the Psalms’ shortest (117) and longest (119) chapters on the same day, and it will take a while.

In my experience, it’s better to read a few Psalms in the morning, just after you wake up, and few more in the evening, just before you fall asleep. The Book of Common Prayer divides the Psalms into roughly equal sections morning and evening. Depending on how fast you read, it will take 5–10 minutes in the morning and another 5–10 minutes in the evening to read all the Psalms and Proverbs each month. See the Daily Psalm Reading Schedule below.

Third, if you miss a reading or two, do not worry about making it up. Just move on to the next scheduled reading. Over the course of a year, you’ll be exposed to all the chapters of both books several times.

And finally, keep in mind that the purpose of reading Psalms and Proverbs is practical, not legalistic. The goal, in other words, is to grow in your relationships with God and others, not to check off a box on a spiritual to-do list.

May God bless you as you begin your daily journey through Psalms and Proverbs!

 

Appendix: Daily Psalm Reading Schedule

Day A.M. P.M.
1 1–5 6–8
2 9–11 12–14
3 15–17 18
4 19–21 22–23
5 24–26 27–29
6 30–31 32–34
7 35–36 37
8 38–40 41–43
9 44–46 47–49
10 50–52 53–55
11 56–58 59–61
12 62–64 65–67
13 68 69–70
14 71–72 73–74
15 75–77 78
16 79–81 82–85
17 86–88 89
18 90–92 93–94
19 95–97 98–101
20 102–103 104
21 105 106
22 107 108–109
23 110–113 114–115
24 116–118 119:1–32
25 119:33–72 119:73–104
26 119:105–144 119:145–176
27 120–125 126–131
28 132–135 136–138
29 139–141 142–143
30 144–146 147–150

 

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