When the Promises of God Are All You Have

Void Hall Abandoned Building Old Lost Places

There are signature moments in our lives, markers between before and after. A big move, the death of a loved one, a marriage, a divorce, the birth of a child, a terrible fire. Occasionally we realize, in the middle, that our world will be different on the other end. Sometimes this is wonderful, and sometimes it is tragic.

What Has Been Lost

In Lamentations 4, are reading the after of one such moment. A large part of lament is noting how much now is different than it was or should be. In this chapter-long prayer, the author calls out many unremarkable facets of life which are upside-down as a result of Jerusalem’s destruction at the hands of Babylon.

Gold is tarnished and holy stones are scattered (Lam 4:1). The remaining men, though “precious sons,” are regarded as no more than “earthen pots” (Lam 4:2). Infants and children are starving, with nursing mothers treating their children no better than wild jackals (Lam 4:3-4). Even those who were rich are living in refuse and dying (Lam 4:5).

Signs of Judgment

There is a clear reason everything has been overturned. Behind Babylon’s tactics is the wrath of God; it was his hot anger that kindled a fire in the city and consumed it (Lam 4:11).

Jerusalem is receiving a punishment worse than Sodom—shocking, since the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was the most notable destruction of cities in the Old Testament to that point. (This story is in Genesis 18–19.) The punishment is worse because it is drawn out; Sodom was destroyed in a moment, while the residents of Jerusalem are slowly dying of hunger (Lam 4:69). Jerusalem deserved a harsher punishment, in part, because they were God’s people with his word and his temple; the residents of Sodom had not known the Lord.

These verses reveal specific aspects of divine judgment, horrible as they are. The women of Jerusalem boiled and ate their young children—this was both an act of compassion on the babies and a desperate search for food. This was a curse foretold in Deut 28:53. We also read one reason for this judgment: the prophets and priests have sinned horribly in the city (Lam 4:13). The people cried “Unclean!” at them as they wandered through the streets (Lam 4:14-15). These religious leaders were banished from the city by God himself, scattered among the nations (Lam 4:15-16).

False Hopes

As the Lord brought judgment to Jerusalem, some of their false idols came to light.

Historically, the siege of Jerusalem was paused for a time when it was thought that Egypt would intervene. Judah had been hoping for rescue, but this hope never came; Egypt turned out to be “a nation which could not save” (Lam 4:17).

Judah had also been hoping in Zedekiah, their king when the city was attacked by Babylon. This is mentioned in Lam 4:20, where the king is referred to as “the Lord’s anointed.” The people thought he would protect them, that they could live “under his shadow,” but he, like so many others, was captured.

Waiting on the Judge

At the end of Lam 4:20, the writer is in a miserable state. With the fall of Jerusalem, so very much has been lost. God himself has been judging his people through the Babylonian army. The people are without prophets, without priests, without temple, and without food. And their hopes (in Egypt and in King Zedekiah) have come up empty. What is left?

Much remains! The writer falls back on the promises of God.

Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom,
you who dwell in the land of Uz;
but to you also the cup shall pass;
you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare.
The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter of Zion, is accomplished;
he will keep you in exile no longer;
but your iniquity, O daughter of Edom, he will punish;
he will uncover your sins. (Lam 4:21–22)

The author of Lamentations knows who God is and what he has promised. Even though they are part of his plan, those who brutalize God’s people will themselves be punished. The cup of judgment will pass from Israel to Edom (another nation in the area).

More hopefully, God’s wrath against his people is finite, and he will keep them “in exile no longer.” This is not some idle wish—this is a rock-solid promise of God. (See Jeremiah 31, among other places.) This fits squarely with God’s character and his love for his people (Lam 3:31–33).

God’s promises are a life raft, and with this particular promise, the call is to trust in the Lord and wait. This is not new! We have seen previously that waiting for the Lord is a large component of seeking him (Lam 3:25–26).

We May Have Sorrow, but We Always Have the Lord

Though a request is a common component of lament, there is no bold request in Lamentations 4. The author’s distress is severe and obvious; he is calling the Lord’s attention to his troubles and reminding himself (in the presence of the Lord) that God’s promises are true. God is trustworthy and we can—we must!—rely on what he says.

Of course, this is true for us too! In our distress or suffering, we must not rely on our health, our optimism, our bank account, our reputation, our friends, our safety, or any sort of harmony in our life. We can, however, look to the Lord and his promises!

In an upcoming article, I plan to write about a few of God’s promises that we can call to mind in times of anguish, pain, and discouragement. It may be a good exercise, until then, to search the Scriptures yourself and search out the promises of God which are yours in Jesus. These are precious.

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Those Who Are Forgiven Much, Love Much

Of all the devastating interactions in the Gospels between Jesus and the Pharisees, this one has to be near the top of the list:

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little. (Luke 7:47)

The Pharisee and the Sinful Woman

The context of that quote is Luke 7:36–50, a fairly familiar story. Briefly: Jesus is invited to dine at the home of a Pharisee, and as they are reclining at the table a “woman of the city” approaches Jesus, washing his feet with her tears and anointing them with expensive ointment. The Pharisee is horrified that Jesus would allow such a sinful woman to touch him.

Jesus knows the Pharisee’s scorn and tells him how the woman’s hospitality has exceeded his own (the Pharisee’s). Jesus tells a story about a moneylender cancelling two debts, one ten times as large as the other. Which debtor will love him more? The one with the larger debt.

Then Jesus speaks verse 47 (quoted above) to the Pharisee and turns to the woman and repeats, “Your sins are forgiven.” The implication for the Pharisee is clear to the reader—his sins are not forgiven.

But there is (to me) a natural question that flows out of the logic of this passage. If those who are forgiven much, love much, and if we want to grow in our love for God, should we also focus on how much we have been forgiven? If so, wouldn’t that involve dwelling on our sin?

Forgiveness and Forgetfulness

There’s an impulse among modern Christians to forget our sin after we know our forgiveness from God is secure. We know the mental and spiritual anguish that can be stoked by focusing on our failures. And we’ve heard the forgive and forget mantra enough that forgetting is an essential part of forgiving and being forgiven.

What is forgiveness between people? There’s a good illustration in Matthew 18:21–35, where Jesus again uses the analogy of a debt. When we forgive others, we absorb the debt caused by their sin against us so that they do not have to pay it. Among other things, this means that we will no longer hold that sin against them. We don’t need to pretend it didn’t happen, as there may be necessary consequences to sins, but we won’t extract any personal retribution. (I use the phrase “personal retribution” here in contrast to legal notions of justice that forgiveness does not erase.)

We can be sure that God acts this way toward us when he forgives us. He does not remind us of our sin nor use the memory of our past to harm us. (You may protest that Hebrews 8:12 says that God “…will remember their sins no more.” I think John Piper is correct when he reads that as God will not call to mind our sins in a punishing, vindictive way.)

We do have examples in Scripture, however, where Paul reminds fellow Christians of their sinful past. Here are two examples.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:9–11)

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph 2:11–13)

In both of these situations, Paul notes what these people once were. But he does not stop there. He also reminds them what is now true of them.

Recall Sin and Grace

Putting this together, it seems like we should recall what we were, but that we should also remember what we are. We are sinners, but we are washed and justified. We are loved and forgiven. We were without hope and without God, but now we have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Over time, we will grow in our understanding of how much we have been forgiven. We will see more of our sin, and we will see our current and former sin in greater, darker depth. This is part of developing and changing as a Christian.

How Much We’ve Been Forgiven

Returning to my question following the story of the Pharisee and the sinful woman, here’s the lesson. If we want to grow in our love for the Lord, we should focus on how much we’ve been forgiven.

This means recalling our sin, but never without also recalling God’s gracious forgiveness of that sin and our permanent standing with him as beloved children.

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Praying Without “That”

There is much we can learn from the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9–14. I recently noticed a difference between the two prayers that I cannot remember seeing before. Notice the way the Pharisee uses “that.”

Pharisee: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”
Tax collector: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

It seems there’s a difference between praying “I thank you that…” and praying “Thank you…” The same goes for prayers of praise, confession, or petition.

It’s much easier when praying with “that” to state what we intend to pray rather than to actually pray it. The word “that” can introduce an extra measure of distance or formality—even performance—to our prayers that should not be present.

Think about it—we (usually) don’t speak this way to each other. Aren’t you more likely to say “Jim, would you pass me the salt?” instead of “Jim, I ask that you pass me the salt”?

I’ve noticed “that” showing up in my prayers recently, and I’m now especially tuned in when praying with other people. I’ve heard it in my children’s prayers too, and I suspect they’ve picked it up from me.

Now, I’m not saying this is a terrible way to pray or that it should be avoided at all costs. After all, Jesus prayed this way on at least one occasion (Matt 11:25)!

My point is simply this: We should be aware of the words we’re using in prayer. Those words can shape us and our relationship with God. They can also reflect how we view this relationship. When we “pray that,” it is easier to create or imagine relational space between us and God.

God is our gracious, heavenly father, so he will hear and answer us. There is no perfect way to pray! I’m raising this issue merely as a way to remind myself (and possibly you) of the warmth and closeness we have when speaking with God.


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Banking on God’s Justice

What characteristic of God do you turn to for hope? Many people (with good reason) would mention his steadfast love. Others might point to his faithfulness or his sovereignty.

The author of Lamentations heads in a different direction. He banks on God’s justice.

God’s Justice and Control

We’ve already looked at the first half of Lamentations 3, so this article will focus on the second half of that chapter (Lamentations 3:34–66).

In verses 34–36 we read a list of things of which “the Lord does not approve.” Crushing prisoners, subverting lawsuits, and denying justice to people—God is utterly opposed to all of it.

One reason he can oppose these violations is that he is in control. No one can issue commands unless the Lord is behind it (verse 37). He brings both good and bad to those on earth (verse 38). Because he is just and sovereign, no one can claim ill treatment when they suffer punishment for their sins (verse 39).

Let Us Return to the Lord

We read something shocking in Lam 3:42: “We have transgressed and rebelled, and you have not forgiven.” We cannot bear to think of God not forgiving!

The order in this passage is crucial. The poet sees the surrounding destruction and devastation as evidence that God has not forgiven. This is the reason the people must return to the Lord! The author is NOT saying, we have returned and God has not forgiven. No—the abundant evidence of God’s anger is the reason the people must turn back to their Sovereign Lord. Because God has not forgiven, we must return!

God uses dramatic tactics to get through to his people. He pursues and kills them (verse 43). They cannot pray (verse 44). Their enemies taunt and destroy them (Lam 3:46–47). The people are panicking (verse 47). The author weeps uncontrollably because of the pitiful state of God’s people in Jerusalem (verses 48, 49, 51). The only relief from this sorrow will come when the Lord sees and takes notice of those who are broken-hearted (verse 50).

I’ve seen this truth in my life and I’ll bet you have too. We long for pleasant, peaceful times, but it is far too easy in those calm waters to forget God altogether. When the skies darken and the waves are high—then we realize we are not in charge, we are not self-sufficient. That shock brings us to our senses so that we soberly seek the Lord. In fact, that image of sobriety and inebriation is a little too accurate: prosperity and comfort often bring about a hedonistic stupor and a cloud of self-deception. This is why there are so many warnings about wealth in the Bible and why God uses suffering and sorrow to bring his people back to himself.

What does such a return to the Lord look like? It must include self-examination (verse 40) and confession of sin (verse 42). Genuine repentance occurs on the level of both affections and actions (“hearts and hands,” verse 41).

God Has Taken Up My Cause

The author of Lamentations writes more personally in verses 52–66. It seems he suffered much in his physical body (verses 52–54).

A wonderful story unfolds in this brief discourse! The author called on the name of the Lord (verse 55) and the Lord heard this cry (verse 56). God not only heard, but he came near and calmed the poet’s fears (verse 57). Let’s not rush past the kindness and mercy of God in this response—meeting this man in “the depths of the pit” and with just the reassurance he needed.

The author now uses God’s past response as fuel for future prayer. He knows God has taken up his cause (verse 58) and has seen all the violence of his enemies against him (verses 59–60). God has heard their taunts and their plots (verse 61). Because God is just, because he is in control, and because he has already come near, the author of Lamentations can ask the Lord to judge his cause (verse 59).

The poet has confidence that God will do exactly this, that he will repay his enemies (verse 64), curse them (verse 65), pursue them and destroy them (verse 66). God had been pursuing the Israelites (verse 43) in an effort to turn them back to himself. Now, according to his promise, God will pursue the enemies of Israel. The author hopes in the Lord because the Lord is, among other things, perfectly just.

Our Hope Also Lies in God’s Justice

Like the Israelites stuck in Jerusalem after the siege, our hope is tied to God’s justice. (It does not depend on his justice alone, but without God’s justice our hope crumbles.)

Christians believe that when Jesus died on the cross, he really took our sins upon himself. And because God is just, even though Jesus was perfect, those sins of ours demanded punishment. Our hope that we will not suffer judgment for our sins lies in the fact that God dealt with them—perfectly, finally—in Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross.

Additionally, when we grieve injustices in this world, we can still have hope. We can (and should) work for temporal justice for our neighbors near and far. And we can trust that God will deal with all sins according to his eternal justice.

God is kind. He is holy. He is patient and good and unchanging. He is also just, and his justice means that everything will be set right in the end. You can bank on that!

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God Seeing As a Theme in Lamentations

My small group has been studying the book of Lamentations for several months, and I’ve been enjoying it thoroughly. (How much my friends have liked it is another matter!)

I’ve noticed a theme throughout Lamentations—the relationship between suffering, judgment, and God seeing. This is particularly prominent in chapter 1 (I wrote about it here), but it appears in every chapter.

The aim of this post is to record all of the evidence, along with some minimal commentary. I don’t have an overarching conclusion to draw yet, though I may in the future. I welcome engagement in the comments.

When God Looks and Sees

We first encounter this theme in chapter 1.

O Lord, behold my affliction,
for the enemy has triumphed! (Lam 1:9)

Look, O Lord, and see,
for I am despised. (Lam 1:11)

Look, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my stomach churns;
my heart is wrung within me,
because I have been very rebellious. (Lam 1:20)

None of these verses or portions of verses should be read out of context, of course. But we can see that the author of Lamentations is desperate for God to notice his sorry state. Even though this distress is a direct result of sin (verse 20), that does not change this desire.

In chapter 2, the only occurrence of this theme is accusatory toward the Lord.

Look, O Lord, and see!
With whom have you dealt thus?
Should women eat the fruit of their womb,
the children of their tender care?
Should priest and prophet be killed
in the sanctuary of the Lord? (Lam 2:20)

This confrontational tone toward God is consistent with the rest of chapter 2. The cry here seems to be, Look what you have done, Lord! This shouldn’t be! This resonates with the usual beats of lament. Even though the Lord has brought on this suffering, the author wants God to take notice of the suffering state of the people.

In chapter 3, the references to God seeing are more positive.

My eyes will flow without ceasing,
without respite,
until the Lord from heaven
looks down and sees;
my eyes cause me grief
at the fate of all the daughters of my city. (Lam 3:49–51)

When the Lord looks and sees, this will bring some relief from grief and weeping.

You have taken up my cause, O Lord;
you have redeemed my life.
You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord;
judge my cause.
You have seen all their vengeance,
all their plots against me. (Lam 3:58–60)

Now it is because the Lord has seen what has happened that he can “judge my cause” (Lam 3:59).

You have heard their taunts, O Lord,
all their plots against me.
The lips and thoughts of my assailants
are against me all the day long.
Behold their sitting and their rising;
I am the object of their taunts.

God has heard the taunts of the enemies, now he is asked to see (“behold”) all of their actions (verse 63). This is part of the basis of the author’s confidence that God will “repay them” (Lam 3:64).

In chapter 4, the theme of looking shows up in its absence. When God looks away, this is evidence of judgment.

The Lord himself has scattered them;
he will regard them no more;
no honor was shown to the priests,
no favor to the elders. (Lam 4:16)

“Them” refers to the prophets and priests who were unclean because of their great disobedience (see Lam 4:13–15). God’s judgment comes in that he has scattered these leaders and will regard (translated “continue to look at” in the NASB) them no more.

The final appearance of this theme is at the very beginning of chapter 5.

Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us;
look, and see our disgrace! (Lam 5:1)

The passage goes on to detail all of the disgrace of the people. This is almost a return to the requests of Lamentations 1, except there is a more satisfying ending to this chapter. The poet lists the disgraces of the Israelites so that he can request restoration. “Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old.”

The people have sunk down low, and the author of Lamentations wants God to notice that fall so he can restore them all the way back. That restoration involves, notably, a return to God himself, but that topic will need to wait for another article.

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The Wisdom of God’s People

How do we measure the wisdom of a people?

The answers throughout history are clear. Among other things, we measure the wisdom of a nation by its decisions, its interaction with other nations, and the wisdom of its leaders.

How is the wisdom of a nation noticed in the Bible?

A Near God and a Righteous Law

In Deuteronomy 4, Moses is giving a preamble to his second telling of the law. He calls the people to listen to and keep God’s commands (verse 1). They must not add to or subtract from these commandments; this is necessary for their obedience (verse 2). And this law should be kept when they go into the land they are about to possess (verse 5).

Moses goes on to predict how the surrounding nations will react to Israel when they move into the land. When they observe the people keeping the law, they will see that “this great nation is a wise and understanding people” (verse 6).

Why is this? Moses gives two reasons.

  • “What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” (Deut 4:7)
  • “What great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (Deut 4:8)

God’s people will be seen as wise because God is so near and his laws are so righteous. These two points come together in the subsequent passage (Deut 4:9–14) where Moses recounts the giving of the law, when God brought the people close (see verses 10–11) at Mount Sinai.

Christ Our Wisdom

In the church, many think the way to wisdom is to impress. Gather the scholars and experts, open the doors, and good teaching will flow through the land.

But now, as always, the wisdom of God’s people is rooted in God himself. We know, after all, that Christ “became to us wisdom from God” (1 Cor 10:30).

If we want to be wise, we must look to the Word made flesh, who now lives in his people through his Spirit. Think of it: God has never been nearer to his people than he is right now.

If we want to be wise, we must also look to the Word of God. Jesus fulfilled the good, righteous law of God for us, and he now empowers us to obey. The law of God is anchored in love for God and love for our neighbors, so it is no surprise that our humble obedience will point our neighbors to the source of all wisdom.

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How to Find Hope When Hope Has Perished

The book of Lamentations is not dripping with hope. I suspect many avoid the book because it seems so dreary and somber.

But there is hope for God’s people in Lamentations.

My Hope is Gone

Chapter 3 in Lamentations takes a different turn than chapter 1 or chapter 2. God’s judgment earlier was corporate, focused on Israel as a people. In chapter 3, things get personal.

Instead of mourning the destruction of the city or the loss of the temple, now the writer cries out at God’s attacks on his person. God has broken his bones (verse 4), made him dwell in darkness (verse 6), given him heavy chains (verse 7), and even shut out his prayer (verse 8). God is like a lion or a bear hiding in wait for him (verse 10); the writer is a target for God’s arrows (verses 12, 13).

In the start of this chapter, we have an inversion of the way we usually think about God on the side of his people. This writer sees God’s hand against him (verse 3), and instead of protection and joy God has brought him bitterness and tribulation (verse 5). This sorrowful cry escalates until his soul is bereft of peace and he has forgotten what happiness is (verse 17). At the peak of the lament, the writer confesses that both his endurance and his hope have perished (verse 18). Bleak, indeed!

This may seem like an off-limits prayer. Earlier chapters were filled with complaints about the state of the people and city after God brought judgment. Here the writer trims away all of the decorations and strips it down to this crushing truth: God has done terrible things to me.

I Will Yet Hope

The wonderful, memorable verses from Lamentations 3 must be read against this harsh background. What does a person of God do when hope has perished?

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:21–24)

The key to our understanding and application of verses 22–24 is found in verse 21. How do we harvest hope from a hopeless situation? We don’t. We remind ourselves (“call to mind”) of what is true that we cannot see.

Lamentations shows us that hope does not come from a change of circumstances. Rather, it comes from what you know to be true despite the situation in front of you. In other words, you live through suffering by what you believe, not by what you see or feel. (Mark Vroegop, Dark Clouds Deep Mercy, page 110)

We look around and witness devastation, we feel God’s arrows pointing at our necks, but we know he is full of mercy. We know—from our own experiences walking with him and from countless episodes in the Bible—that God’s steadfast love never ceases. He is so, so faithful—great is his faithfulness!

How wonderful: God’s mercies are new every morning! This doesn’t mean that his mercies are different from one day to the next. Rather, his mercies are fresh every time the sun rises.

Right now is a good time to plan how you will call to mind what is needed. We store and practice and prepare now for the desperate times later. Reading and memorizing the Bible are more than appropriate disciplines here, but so is something like gathering stories of God’s faithfulness from your own life and the lives of others. Ask your friends to remind you how faithful and loving God is. Christian biographies can also be a good source of stories about God’s faithfulness.

Seeking the Lord in Hope

The first half of Lamentations 3 ends with instruction on how to seek the Lord in hope. The punch line here may not be what you’d like to see, but it is anchored in God’s character.

The author tells us, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him” (Lam 3:25). Among other things, this means that seeking the Lord may involve more than waiting, but it does not involve less. As much as it grates against our human impulses, we must wait on the Lord. This is a good practice for God’s people to learn even from their youth (verse 27).

Why can we wait? Why can we rebuke our flesh when it insists that things must happen right now? Soak in the beautiful answer found in Lam 3:31-33. God may cause grief to his people, but that is not what makes his heart beat (verse 33). He “will not cast off forever” (verse 31); “he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (verse 32).

With the author of Lamentations, we must return to the theme of God’s steadfast love. His steadfast love is the grounds for our hope; his Son Jesus has secured our hope.

While the author of Lamentations felt the judgment of God personally for his transgressions, Jesus felt the judgment of God personally for our transgressions. Jesus suffered, cried out, and waited on the Lord—all for us. He hoped that God would raise him from the dead to new life. And that same new life awaits those who follow this same suffering, steadfast, risen king. This is the real hope everyone needs.

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Prayerlessness Springs From Pride

Pride is a sneaky, pervasive, elemental sin.

Pride gives birth to many sins and obstructs many godly pursuits. In this article, we’ll consider the ways our pride disrupts our prayer life.

ACTS of Prayer

When we are proud, we feel we are enough. And when we feel we are enough, we don’t think we need God. I read the phrase “prayerlessness springs from pride” earlier this year in a fine Michael Reeves book, and it struck me as profoundly true.

In my early days as a Christian I learned the ACTS acronym to help me pray: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Pride interrupts each of these aspects of prayer.

Adoration

When we think too highly of ourselves, we tend not to think highly of others. With inflated perspectives on our abilities and importance, we don’t notice the skills or positions of others. And this includes the way we think of God.

When we are filled with pride, God’s perfections, his power, his goodness, and his immortality are far from our minds. Our self-exaltation crowds out the acknowledgment of God’s rightful place on the throne.

Confession

If we focus on our goodness and rightness, we are not as aware of God’s laws or our transgressions. As pride increases, conviction decreases, and we slide further down the road that sin paves.

We may mention—either in private prayer or during corporate worship—familiar, long-standing sins. But this is usually done out of habit, half-heartedly, not out of a sense of offending a holy God.

Thanksgiving

When we are consumed with our achievements and convinced of our worth and talent, we don’t think much about what we receive from the Lord.

If we see everything good in our lives as something earned—instead of as a gift—we won’t return much thanks to God.

Supplication

A proud person is not in touch with their poverty and powerlessness, so they are not aware of just how much they need from the Lord. Jesus commends prayer for daily bread, even for those with a full pantry.

We need the Lord’s sustaining grace in both the physical and spiritual realms. We need God’s loving, fatherly discipline; we need his wisdom; we need his protection. And yet, pride blinds us from these needs and blocks us from asking.

Fighting Through Pride to Pray

I’ve often attributed my prayerlessness to busyness. But saints through the years have seen that for the lie it is. Martin Luther famously said that he was so busy the following day he’d need to devote even more time (three hours!) to prayer.

I think Michael Reeves is right—our lack of prayer burbles up from the spring of a proud heart. This means that one of the ways we protect and cultivate a rich prayer life is to battle against our pride.

This article doesn’t have the space for a full strategy to war against pride, but here’s one tactic that has helped me: Read and memorize God-exalting parts of the Bible.

When we fall into pride we start to believe we are independent, that we can function just fine without God or anyone else. This is, of course, a flagrant and laughable lie. But it is a lie our flesh loves, so we need to read and absorb the truth. God is the only independent being in the universe, and we (along with all creation) are completely dependent on him. There are many good places in Scripture to turn for this help, but I find myself returning to Job 38–41.

Prayer as a Weather-vane

If your prayer life is evaporating, pride may be the reason. The specific ways we drift from God can serve as weather-vanes, pointing to the ill winds blowing through our hearts.

This may sound like an article full of bad news. Identifying sin is painful and embarrassing, and repenting of sin is terribly difficult. But if you are in Christ, there is always, always good news.

The fact that you are aware of this pride in your life is not a sign of God’s anger toward you. Just the opposite! It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Rom 2:4). If God shows you pride in your heart, it is a sign of his love for and commitment to you.

So don’t stay away from your Heavenly Father. Embrace your dependence on him, turn away from your pride, and pray.


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The Lord Has Become Like an Enemy

Most Christians don’t have a problem seeing God’s hand in the blessings of life. Give us a new job, a narrowly-avoided accident, or an energizing time with a friend and we’re eager to point to God as the giver.

It’s harder for us to see God bringing difficulty our way. How can we attribute bad circumstances to a good God?

The author of Lamentations did not have this modern problem. As he sits in the smoldering ruins of Jerusalem, he knows for a fact that God has done every bit of it.

So Much Devastation

The poet of Lamentations 2 looks around and sees his city destroyed. And though Babylon is directly responsible for the fires and the rubble, he knows this is God’s work.

God has “broken down” the defenses of the city (Lam 2:2) and “cut down” its might (Lam 2:3). He has “swallowed up all its palaces” and “laid in ruin its strongholds” (Lam 2:5).

Even the destruction of the temple can be traced back to the Lord. God “laid in ruin his meeting place” (Lam 2:6). He has “scorned his altar” and “disowned his sanctuary.” He delivered this holy building “into the hand of the enemy” and they “raised a clamor in the house of the Lord” (Lam 2:7).

Through this work, God was not removed. He was angry. In the first ten verses of this chapter alone, notice the words that describe God’s posture toward his people: anger, fury, burned, killed, without mercy.

At one point it must have seemed unthinkable for God to stand against his people like this. But now, “the Lord has become like an enemy” (Lam 2:5). The author does not take the easy road, writing that God allowed this or that tragedy. No, God “did not restrain his hand from destroying” (Lam 2:8).

This chapter contains some of the most vivid, forceful, specific language in the Bible about God’s judgment on Israel. If the prayer of Lamentations 1 could be summarized as Look at what has happened to us, then chapter 2 takes a harsh turn: Look what you have done to us!

Reasons for Judgment

We don’t have a detailed list of the sins of Israel in this short book. But chapter 2 offers a few details.

The prophets have failed the people. They have seen “false and deceptive visions.” They “have not exposed” the people’s iniquity, but have instead spoken “oracles that are false and misleading” (Lam 2:14).

In his response, God has not acted out of character or against his promise. “The Lord has done what he purposed; he has carried out his word which he commanded long ago” (Lam 2:17).

The Response to Judgment

This chapter is filled with weeping and lament. Here we have a profound example: We can mourn our circumstances to the Lord even when God is the one who brought about our mournful circumstances.

It is not wrong—in fact, it is deeply right—to cry out to the Lord in the midst of pain and tragedy that are the result of God’s judgment.

The repeated prayer in Lamentations 1 is a request for the Lord to see the poet. That is also the author’s main request in this chapter: “Look, O Lord, and see! With whom have you dealt thus?” (Lam 2:20)

But now the request to be noticed acknowledges God’s hand in the devastation. The end of this verse captures the layers of grief, surprise, and horror: “Should women eat the fruit of their womb, the children of their tender care? Should priest and prophet be killed in the sanctuary of the Lord?” (Lam 2:20)

While few of our hardships can be traced with certainty to our guilt, all suffering exists because of the fall of humanity into sin. This chapter helps us understand that crying out to God is good, even in the midst of judgment. How much more, therefore, is it good for us to lament when we are not necessarily directly to blame?

The Laments of Jesus

Because God is just, sin must be judged. And for every Christian, this is what Jesus accomplished. His sufferings were greater than those of the residents of fallen Jerusalem. His agony was deeper than we could imagine. In the unthinkable way that God became like an enemy to his people, God confronted Jesus as he was “made sin” in his final hours (2 Cor 5:21).

On the cross, our Lord lamented being forsaken by God (Matt 27:46). He could just as easily have cried, “With whom have you dealt thus?” (Lam 2:20)

Called to be Lamenting People

The white, western church is deeply uncomfortable with lament. Our calls to worship, our songs, our congregational prayers bear little resemblance to Lamentations. Though we often suffer, we have swallowed the lie that our lives and our words to God should be nothing but celebration.

But it is good to grieve over sin and its consequences. In this way we agree with God—our broken world needs redemption.

As we turn to God, let’s acknowledge him as the good, sovereign king who justly brings consequences for sin. When we feel that sorrow, and when our neighbors bend under that same weight, we can bring this anguish to God.

He will hear. He will see.


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The Winsome Christian

The word “winsome” is not in the Bible. Yet it’s worth pondering this old-fashioned concept as it relates to the witness of the modern-day church.

winsome life is attractive and inviting, exactly the sort of life every Christian should aim to lead.

Following the Friend of Sinners

Christians are called to take up their crosses and follow Jesus. So, by definition, a winsome Christian life is far from carefree or easy.

And yet, walking with Jesus should be attractive. If following him by faith is what we were created to do—if it is, in fact, the only way to true happiness—then taking those steps should resonate deep in our soul. And those looking on should sense and long for that same resonance.

Jesus himself was winsome. He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners when religious leaders of the day stood at a distance. Pharisees made their way to him covertly—they did not want to be seen talking to this rabbi, but they knew God was with him (John 3:1–2).

Though modern efforts to make Christianity attractive tend to downplay sin, Jesus’s winsomeness was not permissive in this same way. Jesus was more focused on bringing people into his kingdom than keeping them out. He was (and is) an inviting king.

Our lives will not be winsome in exactly the same way—Jesus pointed people to himself, after all, and we dare not point to ourselves. But as we walk closely with Jesus, our lives will share his inviting fragrance.

Ugly Christians

Sadly, many Christians today are anything but winsome. Instead, they are fearful, angry, and scolding. They delight in division. They have aligned their faith so thoroughly with a political party that they question the salvation of anyone who casts a dissenting vote.

In the minds of some, the appropriate response to a pluralistic culture is to view the church as a castle. Dig the moat, raise the drawbridge, and load the cannons. Every question is an attack, and the arrows are always flying.

It’s hard to imagine this always-suspicious, bared-teeth approach drawing many people to worship the Savior of the world.

Love with Integrity

The way of the world is to attract through power and possessions. A winsome Christian is attractive in an entirely different way.

She is generous and honest, joyful and compassionate. She is quick both to grant and to seek forgiveness. She is humble and hospitable, eager to listen. Her trust in the Lord is the strength of her spine, palpable and sure. Whether the waters of her life are smooth or stormy, she has a sure hope for the future.

She loves God with integrity, talking about him often. Her neighbors—not only the ones who agree with her—know she cares deeply and prays for them.

Winsomeness is Not the Goal

Winsomeness is not a set of activities but a posture. It comes naturally to those who seek Jesus by his Spirit.

If we focus on winsomeness, we will become performers, constantly wondering how we look to others. Diagnostic questions about winsomeness are best asked periodically, looking back over time, perhaps with a friend. A life that is not winsome points to other issues that should be unearthed.

Put differently, winsomeness is not the main goal, and we cannot even make it happen. Rather, winsomeness is the God-given fruit of faithfully seeking the Lord. When the fruit is missing, there is something wrong with the tree.

A Welcoming Heart

A winsome Christian pursues the Lord with thanksgiving, knowing that his welcoming heart will beat through all their interactions.

Now doesn’t that sound attractive?


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