God’s Immutability Secures Ten Thousand Promises

God’s promises to his people are “precious and very great” (2 Peter 1:4). Some of his promises are explicit in Scripture, and some are implied, but all of them are vital to everyone who needs hope in the world.

What is God?

The Westminster Shorter Catechism gives an answer to this most important question.

What is God? 

God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. (WSC, Question and Answer 4)

It is God’s unchangeableness—the theological term for this is his immutability—that has recently struck me as being precious. Until recently, God’s immutability mostly stood out to me because it was so unlike me. In so many of his attributes, but especially in this one, I could see how different God was than any human. We change all the time—in our preferences, moods, philosophy, morality, and ethical behavior. But God does not change! The way he is now is the way he always has been and always will be.

While this is still a bit outsized for my brain, I’ve been learning how God’s immutability is even greater than I previously thought.

Is God Immutable?

Before we dig into this feast, perhaps we should set the table. Is God actually immutable? Just because a catechism claims something about God does not make it so.

There is excellent Scriptural support for this doctrine.

For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

These texts are all making slightly different points, and they should all be examined in context, but they all point to God’s immutability.

Additionally, there is a philosophical argument to make, one advanced by the ancient Greeks. Any change to God’s nature or character would imply some move from or into greater wholeness, goodness, or glory. But if God is perfect and complete, any such changes introduce a contradiction. Therefore, God cannot change. (I understand that I am oversimplifying. There are better sources than me to consult for a proper philosophical treatment.)

Implications of Immutability

If God is immutable, then this gives Christians some wonderful, implicit promises. For every aspect of God’s character and nature will exist in perfection forever.

God is holy and he will always be holy. God is sovereign and he will always be sovereign. God is faithful and he will always be faithful. God is patient and he will always be patient.

As I am growing to treasure God’s promises more, I’ve found his immutability to be a silver tray on which are served an abundance of promises. And all the promises of God find their “yes” in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20).

This God who is unchanging in his holiness and sovereignty and faithfulness and patience (and a thousand other qualities) is for me. The work of Jesus, planned out before time, is the evidence and the decisive act of this immutable God to rescue me.

God is merciful and he will always be merciful.

And that’s exactly the sort of sure promise we need.

Photo credit

The Christian Life is a Waiting Life

Promises, by definition, require waiting.

If I approach my friend and promise him a coffee tomorrow, my friend needs to wait. His confidence in receiving that promised coffee will draw from the strength of our friendship and his understanding of my trustworthiness.

On the other hand, if I walk up to my friend and hand him a coffee, there’s no waiting required. My friend might need to find cream and sugar, or to express gratitude, but he does not need to wait. The gift is in his hands.

Christianity rests on promises from God to his people. Therefore, waiting is an essential part of life for those who follow Jesus.

Many Words for Waiting

So many words that are foundational to the Christian life imply waiting: patience, endurance, steadfastness, hope, faith, and trust. I’m sure the list could go on.

Waiting for God has been a central part of relating to him since the early pages of the Bible. Consider the call of Abram.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1–3)

After his commands, all of God’s verbs to Abram are in the future tense. A bit later in the story, Abram learns that God’s promises to him extend way past his lifetime. That’s serious waiting!

Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Genesis 15:12–16)

But God’s call to wait extends far beyond Abraham. It is so central to a believer’s experience that we find it all over the Psalms.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God. (Psalm 62:5–7)

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities. (Psalm 130:5–8)

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul includes waiting in his short summary of the Christian calling.

For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:9–10)

Similarly, when Paul explains the way that God’s grace sanctifies God’s people, he writes that grace teaches us to wait.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11–13)

Once I started to think about waiting as a fundamental Christian task, I realized that it is everywhere. (See also: James 5:7 and 2 Peter 3:11–14.)

God is Patient

In learning to wait, we are becoming more like our patient God. We are more fully reflecting his image.

Notice all of the “waiting” words included in how God describes himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6–7)

As the perfect image of his father, Jesus also was (and is) patient.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2)

May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. (2 Thessalonians 3:5)

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15–16)

How to Wait

If our calling to wait is clear, it isn’t particularly easy. I don’t know many people who enjoy waiting or who would claim to be good at it!

That passage in Hebrews 12 (quoted above) provides great instruction on how to become more patient. We will be able to run the race with endurance by looking to Jesus, who undertook his task with endurance. Jesus serves not just as an example, but as the one who provides the power to change. Patience, after all, is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

One of the best ways we can grow in patience is to ponder what we are waiting for. We look forward to new heavens, a new earth, a new body, and an existence without the curse of sin. That is all glorious! And, best of all, we will be with God, face to face. God’s dwelling place will be with his people (Revelation 21:3).

Our ability to wait is strengthened by the magnitude of the glory for which we wait. I can stay in place far longer for peach pie than for a paper clip.

So as we meditate on heaven and on God himself, we strengthen our own weak, impatient hearts. We build up patience and endurance in the midst of hardship. And as we ponder God’s very precious promises, we grow our ability to do that most Christian of all things, to wait.

Post credit | Photo credit

Praying “God, Be With Us”

It is a recurring request at every prayer meeting I’ve attended. God, be with her. Lord, please be with him.

I internalized this prayer early in my Christian life and adopted it just like those around me. But as I grew in my experience and knowledge about God, I got bored with this prayer. I looked down on those who prayed this way. It sounded so generic and unimaginative. Can’t we do better? Can’t we ask God for deeper things than this? In my misguided pride, I thought those who prayed this way didn’t care enough to think of more specific ways to intercede for their friends.

Praying for God’s Presence

What I once considered ashes in my mouth has now become honey. I thought I could pray better, holier prayers, but now I realize there’s nothing more essential to our well-being. At our deepest, most elemental level, we desperately need God’s presence, because we need God himself.

We need God to be with us.

We were made in God’s image and designed to be with him—near him—forever. (This is the whole story of the Bible!) But as a result of rebellion, God drove Adam and Eve away from him, out of his presence. The story of redemption is the story of a journey back into the presence of God. We needed Jesus—Immanuel, God with us—to suffer and die in our place, that he might bring us to God.

God’s presence is the believer’s destiny (Revelation 21:3). It is our present reality. And it should be our longing and our comfort and our strength.

Lament and the Absence of God

Our longing for God’s presence is good and holy, and this helps us understand the raw outrage we see expressed in Scripture when God seems absent.

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:2)

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1–2)

If you were a friend of these poets, what would you have prayed for them? Lord, be with them! Lord, let them know your presence with them!

God Has Promised

Not only is this prayer in harmony with the teaching of the Bible, God has promised to do this very thing for us. When he says “I will never leave you or forsake you,” we can count on it (Hebrews 13:5).

You might be wondering why we should pray for something God has promised to do. That’s a good question! However, we could easily turn that question around. How could we possibly pray for anything that God has not promised? As we reach toward the Lord with one hand, we should cling to the Bible with the other, pointing. You have promised; make it happen!

My Greatest Need

I cringe now when I think how arrogantly I judged those dear saints years ago. I wish I could go back to them and ask them to pray that God would be with me! This is what I need most of all. More than health or wisdom, more than safety or provisions—I need God to be with me, as he’s promised.


Thanks for reading! If you’re interested, you can follow me on Twitter, subscribe to this blog by email (see the box on the upper right part of the page), or follow my blog’s RSS feed here.

Photo credit

Obeying the Good Law of Our Good God

Every house has its rules, and ours is no different.

For example, our children must brush their teeth twice a day. In earlier years, this rule prompted lots of tears and plenty of resentment. But as my kids have gotten older, they have (hopefully) started to understand our reasoning.

We don’t make our children brush their teeth just because we can. We enforce this rule because we love our children and want good things for them. We aim to teach them how to care for their bodies and how to love other people.

God the Law-giver

Many people think of God’s law as harsh, inflexible, and designed to eliminate all fun. In this understanding, God the law-giver is a cruel dictator and Jesus kindly delivers us from an outdated model of morality.

Perhaps the errors of this thinking are obvious. God is both holy and loving, he is both just and merciful; the nature and goals of the Father are not opposed to those of the Son.

Even when we correct that error, Christians often stumble in the ways we think about God’s commands. We tend to picture the law as a strait-jacket rather than an invitation to blessing.

Consider how James writes about the law.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22–25)

God’s law is not only perfect, it is “the law of liberty.” The law frees us, and those who obey will be blessed.

Blessing for Obedience

As part of our reorientation to the law, we must revisit the word “blessing.” God’s promises of blessing in the Old Testament are frequently linked to obedience (Deuteronomy 28:1–14). We commonly think of blessing as either simply God’s approval or as a reward God has arbitrarily tied to following certain laws.

Because God is the Creator as well as the Law-giver, he has constructed the world so that the consequences of obeying him are good for us. It’s not just that God approves of our obedient actions. Rather, it is objectively better for us to obey than to disobey.

God calls us to obey him because it is good for us to submit to the true, good ruler of the world. But in addition, what God commands is actually good for our bodies, minds, and souls. His blessing for obedience is found both in his fatherly smile as well as the natural and supernatural consequences of doing what is good for us.

The Passions of the Flesh

Let’s turn to an example. When we commit the sin of gluttony, we eat to excess in the way that a drunkard drinks alcohol to excess. We seek comfort and a blissful haze through food. Our appetite controls us instead of the other way around.

God commands us not to be gluttons (Proverbs 23:19–21). We are blessed when we obey this part of God’s law not because we are following one of his arbitrary commands. He has our good in mind! God’s blessing for us in resisting gluttony comes in greater health, a better relationship with the created order, a measure of dominion over our appetites, and finding ultimate satisfaction in God instead of food.

Consider this from the other direction. Disobedience is not only offensive to God, it is bad for us. Hear the apostle Peter.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (1 Peter 2:11)

God doesn’t want us to entertain the passions of the flesh because they wage war against our souls! He’s not trying to kill our joy, he wants us to truly live!

Our Good King

Why should we obey God? He is our king, and we should do what our king commands.

But let’s ask the next question: Why does our king command what he commands? Because he is a good king and wants what is good for us!

The way of obedience is the way of blessing, because that’s how God set up and governs the world. This doesn’t make obedience automatic or easy, but it does shine the spotlight on our hearts as the battlefield. Part of the reason we disobey is because we don’t trust that God wants what is best for us. We believe the old, old lie that we know better than God, that he is withholding what is good.

Friends, Jesus came for this reason! He was crushed for our disobedience and our lie-chasing. And in the new life he gives us, we are free and empowered to think and act in accordance with what is true. Because we are beloved children of God, we are being transformed into people whose hearts align with God’s good intentions for our lives.

Post credit | Picture credit

Justice and Injustice at the Cross

The crucifixion of Jesus raises a multitude of questions, even for those who have been following the Savior for years. Why did Jesus die? What did he do to deserve death? How could God the Father allow his Son to be treated so terribly?

There was a lot happening on both the earthly and cosmic planes outside of Jerusalem centuries ago. But, as the Christian faith is a historic faith, it’s good for us to grapple with these historic events.

In this article we’ll consider one facet of the crucifixion that is profound and fundamental to our faith. The crucifixion of Jesus was one of the greatest simultaneous displays of justice and injustice in history.

Injustice at the Cross

To limit the length of this article, we’ll confine our observations to the Gospel of Luke. This one book provides plenty of evidence that Jesus’s crucifixion was a terrible injustice.

The plot to arrest Jesus was Satanic in its origins and depended on conspiracy and betrayal (Luke 22:3–6). Once Jesus was arrested, he was mocked and beaten (Luke 22:63).

When the council of elders met, they produced no credible evidence to convict Jesus (Luke 22:66–70). In his subsequent trials, it was more of the same—Pilate said, “I find no guilt in this man” (Luke 23:4). When Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, again there was no guilt to be seen (Luke 23:15). Pilate declared Jesus’s innocence three times (Luke 23:41422) and summed up his findings this way: “Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him” (Luke 23:15).

Jesus’s innocence was obvious to many involved in the crucifixion, even to those with no prior allegiance to him. One of the thieves who was crucified with him knew Jesus had “done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41). And after Jesus died, the centurion said, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47) The brutal, public execution of an obviously innocent man is a grave injustice.

The corruption went still deeper. Since Pilate knew Jesus was innocent, he planned to release him (Luke 23:16). But the crowd’s cries for Pilate to release a criminal named Barabbas grew so insistent that Pilate relented (Luke 23:23). The result? Pilate abandoned his responsibility to a mob and released a murderer and insurrectionist instead of the innocent man Jesus.

We read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s execution with anger and tears. He was treated so unfairly and with such cruelty.

But there was much more happening at the cross.

Justice at the Cross

If the cross was the site of such gross injustice, why are Christians so focused on it? Why do so many wear the symbol as jewelry?

While the human actors in the crucifixion drama were guilty of injustice, God the Father was also at work. He was accomplishing a great work of pardon and forgiveness.

Because God is perfectly righteous and just, he must do what is good and just and right at all times. Obedience must be blessed and disobedience must be cursed. All debts must be paid. To use the legal metaphor, every transgression results in an enormous fine, and we all have empty bank accounts.

How will God curse our disobedience and still bring us to himself? God accomplished this through the work of Jesus as our substitute. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The sins of God’s people were put on Jesus at the cross, and, in the pattern of so many Old Testament sacrifices, Jesus offered himself. “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

This exchange—this transfer of our sin to Jesus—is perhaps seen most clearly in the prophecy of Isaiah.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4–6)

While the cross was a horrific example of human injustice, it was also a necessary work of God’s justice. He must not ignore sin, and he dealt with the sins of his people on the cross in his son. In this way, God was reconciling us to himself through Jesus Christ.

Even Better

We do not have time to fully explore the glory of the cross in this short article. We have touched on the deep mystery of how the crucifixion satisfied God’s justice and accomplished our forgiveness. The wonder of the gospel is that there’s even more!

When God credited our sin to Jesus, he also credited Jesus’s righteousness to us. Not only are our debts forgiven, but our bank accounts are overflowing. This topic is worthy of deep, sustained meditation (and certainly more explanation).

As a fitting way to close, let’s consider this beautiful summary from the Heidelberg Catechism (Q&A 56).

Q: What do you believe concerning the forgiveness of sins?
A: I believe that God,
because of Christ’s satisfaction,
will no more remember my sins,
nor my sinful nature,
against which I have to struggle all my life,
but will graciously grant me
the righteousness of Christ,
that I may never come into condemnation.

Post credit | Photo credit

Turning Thanks to Praise

Among the many elements of Christian worship, praise and thanksgiving are perhaps the most common. Though these aspects of worship are related, they are not the same.

Traditionally, praise has more to do with who God is—his character and his attributes. Thanksgiving concerns God’s actions in time, some of which we observe and experience. Because thanksgiving has more to do with our senses, many people (and churches) gravitate more to thanking God than praising him.

But the Scriptures point us to praise through thanksgiving. The actions of God reveal his character. We see this in the opening chapters of the book of Ezra.

The Book of Ezra

After the Israelites had been in exile in Babylon for several decades, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, the king of Persia (Ezra 1:1). Cyrus issued a decree sending Jewish people back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple of God that had been destroyed (Ezra 1:3–4). He sent back the tools and utensils which the Babylonians had taken from the original temple, and he made sure that this construction project was funded (Ezra 1:5–11).

The rebuilding begins in Ezra 3. The people built the altar of God first (Ezra 3:2) and immediately resumed burnt offerings, feasts, and sacrifices (Ezra 3:3–6). Of chief importance, the altar was built before the foundation of the temple had been laid.

Completing the foundation was a huge step forward and an occasion for praising the Lord (Ezra 3:10–13). The priests and Levites made music and everyone “sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord” (Ezra 3:11). The biblical author gives us a glimpse of their song.

For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel. (Ezra 3:11)

This was a significant worship time, so this quotation is likely just a summary of their song. But it is instructive.

God is Good

The people gathered to worship God “because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid” (Ezra 3:11). The occasion of worship was thanksgiving. Yet the Israelites used this moment of thanks to declare God’s goodness—not just the good things God had done, but the fact that he himself is good.

When we confess that God is good, we are not only declaring that he is upright, consistent, and free from every bit of evil. To say that God is good means that he is the very definition of what is good. He is so fundamental to the creation and to our notion of morality that we understand what is good by understanding him.

As always, the historical context is important. Israel had spent decades scattered in an unfriendly land, driven from the promised place they loved and, because they were unable to worship the Lord, they were in danger of losing their very identity as a people. These are the people who sang about the goodness of God!

His Steadfast Love

This song was not only about God’s character. The people also recognized his posture toward them.

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8). A version of this description of God shows up repeatedly in the Bible and it is a consistent confession of God’s people. God’s steadfast love is related to his mercy and grace, to the way he pledges himself to a people who are frequently disloyal.

When the Israelites sang this in Ezra 3:11, they confessed God’s mercy toward them. He relented of his anger; he made a way for them to return to Jerusalem; he provided this reconstruction of the temple. Though God had every right to wipe out the nation because of their rebellion, he preserved a remnant and stayed true to his word.

God’s steadfast love was set upon Israel—not because Israel earned his love, but because God is gracious.

His Love Toward Israel Forever

The last phrase in this worship summary is stunning. God’s people celebrated his love toward them forever.

In singing like this, the Israelites highlighted the promises of God and how deeply they shape our hearts and hopes. If God loved us now but his love tomorrow were uncertain, that would be of little comfort. But God has made promises to his people, and God does not break his promises.

If God’s steadfast love toward Israel endured forever, they could count on it. They could move into the future knowing that whatever happened around them, God’s love would endure. This brings a deep security to God’s people, both then and now.

Resolved in Christ

The returning exiles sang about the character of God, the grace of God, and the promises of God. These are excellent foundations for our worship too.

But consider how much deeper and clearer our song can be now that Christ has come! He has shown us the character of God in the flesh (Hebrews 1:3). God’s grace was demonstrated through the sacrificial work of Jesus (Hebrews 2:9). The many promises of God find their fulfillment in the Son of God, sent to rescue sinners (2 Corinthians 1:20).

So, let’s continue to thank God for all he is doing and all he has done. But let’s also spot God’s character in his actions—and praise him!

Post credit | Photo credit

Lament in the Background of Romans 8

I’m open to the accusation that, after spending two years thinking hard about lament, I see it where others do not. I may have turned into the man who is given a hammer and, suddenly, nails abound.

Yet there remains the possibility that we don’t spot lament at times because modern Christians are terribly out of practice. Lament was a regular part of worship for ancient Israel, and I suspect it was much more prevalent in the early Christian church than in present-day congregations. Especially in more affluent communities, lament can be seen as an unknown taste, an exotic flavor one might sample on a tour but which is out of place in the regular rhythms of Christian worship.

Let’s consider Romans, chapter 8, as a case study. We tend to think of this chapter for its memorable, soaring statements about the love of God. However, it might be better to see the end of Romans 8 as the last stage of lament, where Paul is working out what it means to hope in God in the midst of great suffering.

The Ingredients of Lament

I’m not claiming that Romans 8 is an example of lament. But the ingredients of lament are here, so Romans 8 is evidence that lament was a tool Paul used to process and reflect on sorrow in his life.

Turn to the Lord

The first ingredient of lament, as Mark Vroegop describes it, is to turn to the Lord. Again, Romans 8 is not a prayer, but it is sprinkled with both references to and explicit teaching about prayer.

  • The Spirit of adoption causes us to cry out to God, “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:15).
  • The Spirit also helps us pray, because we don’t know how to pray as we should. He “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” We can be sure that the Spirit prays according to the will of God for us (Romans 8:26–27).

Complain

A central part of lament is complaining to the Lord. Though this may make us uncomfortable, we have plentiful examples in the Bible to reassure and guide us. Paul mentions aspects of complaint in Romans 8.

  • The creation has been subjected to futility, it is in bondage to corruption (Romans 8:20–21). As God’s stewards, a corrupted creation is a source of frustration and grief.
  • The creation groans in the pains of childbirth; we also groan as we wait for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:22–23). The new bodies we long for—with freedom from the curse—have not yet arrived.

Though Paul mentions suffering as well (see Romans 8:35–37), these are perhaps the only verses which could be viewed as complaint in Romans 8.

Ask Boldly

Because this is not a prayer of lament but evidence of lament in Paul’s life, we don’t have any specific requests in this chapter. However, we do have Paul’s reminders that the Spirit (Romans 8:26–27) and the Son (Romans 8:34) intercede for us. This is great motivation to pray and should give us confidence when we do so. (Remember, not every lament includes all of the “ingredients” of lament.)

Trust in the Lord

It is this last element of lament which is so prevalent in this chapter, which is why I see this chapter, in part, as the fruit of Paul’s practice of lament. I won’t list all the numerous ways Paul exhorts us to trust and hope in the Lord here. But here is a selection.

  • Though we suffer, there is glory to be revealed to us. In fact, the suffering doesn’t even compare to the glory! (Romans 8:18)
  • There is hope built into the creation for freedom from bondage. We share this same hope for new creation bodies (Romans 8:20–25).
  • Though we may not understand it, we can trust God in prayer because the Father knows the mind of the Spirit who intercedes for us (Romans 8:27).
  • All things—especially this groan-inducing suffering—work together for good for God’s beloved children. This “good” includes being made into the image of Jesus and sharing in his glory! (Romans 8:28–30)
  • The final paragraphs of this chapter are eloquent and justifiably memorable—nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:31–39).

Lament for the Rest of Us

Few of us will come out of lament with this same Spirit-given swell of hope. But Romans 8 is another encouragement for us not to shy away from talking with God about the hard things in life.

We can take our pain and sadness and confusion to him. We don’t need to pretend to have the right words, posture, or attitude. God may seem distant, but he is with us to the very last drop of our sorrow.

Photo credit

Lament as an Evangelistic Tool

Lament is a healthy, normal, and helpful practice for our churches to embrace. God might even use it to draw in those who don’t yet believe.

No one would confuse lament for one of the 4 Spiritual Laws. And yet, lament seems like an especially useful way to connect with unbelievers in the modern world.

Some might protest that lament is not attractive to those outside the church, that a lamenting church might drive people away by focusing too much on sorrow. (I probably would have reacted the same way two years ago.) However, this objection misunderstands both lament and what God in Christ promises his followers.

For a person or church growing in this area, lament can be a useful evangelistic tool. In what follows I’ll defend this claim and explain how it might look within a friendly conversation.

Why Lament is Attractive

Lament is an honest reckoning with the sin and suffering in the world. There are no painted-on smiles or sugar-thin promises of the life you’ve always wanted. Lament is a raw grieving before the Lord and a hopeful turning to trust him in the middle of that grief.

Most people feel the deep pains of life but don’t have anywhere to take that pain. Some might vent to friends or talk with a therapist, but many keep their hurt inside. We humans aren’t very good at processing our sorrow.

Along with pain, our unbelieving friends and neighbors may feel great confusion. If they do not acknowledge a God who is sovereign, then who or what is behind their suffering? If they do not acknowledge a God who is loving, then how can they escape the pain?

It is refreshing to talk to people who are honest about the pain in the world and are working through it. Lamenters make no promises of happy endings and lay no claims to having all the answers. But Christians can (and should) hold out love and purpose and belonging. A healthy church is a family who helps, grieves, and suffers with those who hurt.

Even more importantly, a healthy church points to a Savior. Jesus not only suffers with us now, but he suffered for us in history. Ultimately, this is the strength of lament as an evangelistic tool—it can easily lead to a conversation about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We can lament now because of what he has accomplished for us and because we’re united to him.

Turning from Lament to Jesus

How might a Christian might invite others to consider Jesus based on their own experience of lament?

The first step is the most obvious. Start lamenting! Lament is not reserved for the big and ugly griefs of life. Everyone alive on planet Earth has reason to lament. (If you’re new to lament, check out some of my articles on the theme.)

Turning outward, engage people around you and pay attention as they talk. Listen to them. It usually takes only a few questions before you have a ready avenue (if they’re willing) to talk about a hardship, grief, or sadness.

In your subsequent conversations, talk about your own laments. Share how God has designed this as a way for his people to speak to him, even to complain to him, about their circumstances and feelings. Lead your friend to the cross, to the reason Jesus cried out in lament at his hour of greatest anguish. Lament only exists because of sin! There are numerous other on-ramps from lament to the gospel of Christ.

Communicating God’s Saving Love

Lament is not the only way we should pray, and it should not be our only topic of conversation. But God may use our practice of this holy conversation to show others that their pain is not wasted. He may use this to communicate his saving love to our neighbors.

Photo credit

The Nearness of God is Not Always Good News

A good portion of modern Christian praise songs emphasize nearness to God. They echo (or, sometimes, quote) Psalm 27:

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)

But we don’t often examine what we’re singing—I know I don’t. In particular, when we read the Bible, we find that in many places being close to God was the exact opposite of a good thing.

The Garden

The first two chapters of Genesis show how familiar Adam and Eve were with being close to God. God made Adam by breathing “into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen 2:7). It’s hard to get much closer than that! The Lord “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden” (Gen 2:15). He brought the beasts and birds to Adam to see if any would be a suitable partner (Gen 2:19). God even performed a delicate surgery on Adam to create Eve (Gen 2:21–22).

But after Adam and Eve fell into sin, everything changed. When Adam and Eve heard God approaching, they “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God” (Gen 3:8). They could no longer be exposed so close to the holy God. This is a jarring contrast to the life they lived up to this point.

While this is not the end of the story, a chasm opened at the Fall. God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden and stationed angels to guard the way back in (Gen 3:23–24). The message was as bright as the angels’ flaming swords: Closeness to God will no longer be easy or automatic.

Passover and Sinai

In many ways, the rest of the Bible is the story of a return to God’s presence. Before the situation is resolved, we see several indicators that God’s presence is not always welcoming.

The Passover was an epic occasion of death in Egypt. The firstborn of every house and every beast was killed in one night. The Israelites were spared if they put lamb’s blood on their doorposts.

I’ve always been struck by the Lord’s role in the slaughter. He says:

For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. (Ex 12:12)

God passed over his people, but God was also the one who struck down his enemies. Moses warned the elders of Israel that no one should go outside in the night “for the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians” (Ex 12:22–23). As God executed his judgment, he also provided a way for his people to escape.

When the Israelites arrived at Mt. Sinai, Moses went up the mountain to talk to God. With God at the top of the mountain, the people were not to get too close—anyone who touched the mountain would die (Ex 19:12). The mountain was “wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire” (Ex 19:18). The Israelites were convinced that they could not even hear from God or they would die (Ex 20:19).

God’s burning holiness was again on display here; getting close meant trouble. But there is another glimpse of redemption in this story. “The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (Ex 20:21). The people could not go close, but one person went near God for them as a substitute.

Sending Jesus Away

The impulse to stay away from a holy God is not limited to the Old Testament. One of Jesus’s closest friends, in fact, knew he should be far away from the Lord.

After he taught a crowd on the shore from Peter’s boat, Jesus told Peter to put down his nets for a catch. Peter protested, having just finished an unproductive night of fishing. When he relented, his nets nearly burst with fish (Luke 5:1–6).

Peter realized he had doubted Jesus. He fell down at Jesus’s feet and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Peter’s reaction to his sin wasn’t to seek forgiveness—it was to get away from Jesus. Before he followed Jesus as a disciple, Peter knew that his sin disqualified him from being in the company of this man of God.

Brought Near to God

We cannot get too close to fire without being burned, and (left to ourselves) we cannot get near God without suffering his judgment. We deserve this judgment, as we’ve broken his commandments again and again and again.

So why is it that worship songs can exult in being close to God?

It’s Jesus, of course! On our own, we’d have no hope. But we do not go to God on our own—Jesus takes us (1 Peter 3:18). We no longer have sin with us that God must judge, for he took care of that at the cross. And we are not just a blank slate—this wouldn’t be enough to get close to God. Because we have the righteousness of Jesus, because we are adopted as God’s children, we are joyfully welcomed into God’s presence. This is the work of our Savior, to deal with our guilt and to make us worthy of going close to God.


Thanks for reading! If you’re interested, you can follow me on Twitter, subscribe to this blog by email (see the box on the upper right part of the page), or follow my blog’s RSS feed here.

Post credit | Photo credit

Six Things Lament is Not

As I continue to ruminate on Biblical lament, I want to clarify and develop what this practice is and what it is not. Lament is new for many people, including me, and this short post is intended to clear up confusion and reduce unhelpful caricatures.

Lament is Not Unusual

Judging by the Biblical record, lament is a common type of prayer for God’s people. Roughly one third of the Psalms contain aspects of lament, there is an entire book called Lamentations, and laments show up in other places in Scripture. The Israelites lamented their harsh treatment in Egypt (Exodus 2:23–25), Hannah lamented her barrenness (1 Samuel 1:10, 15), and Jesus lamented the rebellion in Jerusalem (Luke 13:34–35). Significantly, Jesus himself lamented on the cross (Matthew 27:46).

The existence of lament Psalms and the book of Lamentations show us that lament was not reserved for occasional, tragic events. Lament is appropriate in those drastic times, but it was also part of the ongoing, regular worship of God’s people. As those living under the weight of the curse, these portions of Scripture give us words for our groaning (Romans 8:22–23).

Lament is Not Natural

It doesn’t take much for humans to grumble against the Lord. From small frustrations and disappointments to large tragedies and sorrows, our impulse is to find fault.

When we meet hardship, our natural state is grumbling. But it takes faith to lament. While grief may be the trigger for lament, its foundation is the goodness and sovereignty of God. Bringing our anguish and mourning to God wouldn’t make sense if he weren’t listening, caring, powerful, and similarly grieving at the broken state of the world.

Lament is Not Grumbling

Lament is a difficult practice for some Christians because they’ve been told from their earliest days not to complain. They should swallow their sadness and anger, put on a happy face, and be thankful.

But this betrays an important misunderstanding. Both grumbling and lament are examples of complaining—one is prohibited in the Bible and one is not.

Lament, properly understood, is not a rebellious raised fist. Lament is a complaint on the bent knees of faith.

Lament is Not Pessimistic

I sense that some people get tired of hearing about lament. We get it, lament is important. But must you focus so much on the bad stuff?

A fair question! I hope that in my personal relationships I am not overly mournful. However, it strikes me that lament is a very natural, honest response to living in a fallen world. Just as thanksgiving should be a regular occurrence for Christians, so should lament.

Lament is not pessimistic, because while it contains complaints it does not end there. The result of lament should be hopeful trust in the Lord. Those who think lament is wallowing in sadness have an incomplete understanding of the practice.

Lament is Not UnChristian

Lament is not only an ancient Jewish practice. Rightly understood, it is an explicitly Christian one.

In addition to godly complaint, lament involves bold requests and, ultimately, trusting the Lord. As Mark Vroegop explains, Christians know that God is good and that he keeps his promises—he is trustworthy. The crucified, resurrected, and exalted Jesus is the key to Christian lament, turning honest expressions of grief into worshipful trust.

Lament is Not Forever

Certain parts of our Christian experience will continue and even grow through eternity. Fellowship, thanksgiving, and singing fall in this category.

But lament will cease. We should learn and practice it now, but one day there will be no use for lament any more.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

There will be no more mourning or crying or pain. There will be no more curse because of sin. We will not feel the aches of loss and decay and desperation that are so much a part of our current lives. Be honest—it’s hard to imagine such an existence!

But this is the great end of lament. When we lament, what we long and pray and strive for is not just a resolution to the particular pain or grief we are feeling. Because of the great work of Jesus for us, in lament we stretch out for the end of all loss and brokenness.


Thanks for reading! If you’re interested, you can follow me on Twitter, subscribe to this blog by email (see the box on the upper right part of the page), or follow my blog’s RSS feed here.

Photo credit