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James 1:2-4 – Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Painful Tests and Trials
Several years ago, the men's study at our church studied James 1:1-12. We spent most of our time discussing our need to persevere during times of tests and trials, for this is a significant way in which God produces in us the character of Christ. It is one of God’s ordained means to help us grow into his “mature and complete” children.
Most of us readily acknowledge how hard, even painful, tests and trials are. We would certainly prefer not to have to experience them. That was the testimony of many of the men who shared a little of what they had been through, or were going through, in their lives.
Another Kind of Test and Trial
Shortly after that lesson I had a thought one evening as I was getting ready for bed. It occurred to me that perhaps not all of our tests and trials should be categorized as painful, though they may still be considered quite hard. The ESV Study Bible says that trials are “tests” that challenge our faith. They’re designed to create spiritual maturity in us. It goes on to say that as Jesus was tested in the wilderness, so too are his followers. We know God does not tempt us to sin. Temptation seeks to lead us into disobedience and sin. Tests are used to build us up in our faith. Could this be what James meant when he used the phrase, “trials of many kinds?” Could it be God sometimes tests us even through our really good and happy circumstances as well?
Suppose I had four healthy, happy, and full-of-life children. Furthermore, suppose these four children gave me great joy and nothing pleased me more than pouring my life into theirs – even sacrificially. But what if this true and right expression of love and commitment for my children went too far? What if this love for these four precious children actually began, slowly but ever so surely, to turn into idolatry? What if they became more important to me than God himself?
Such love and commitment would not be good at all. In fact, such love and commitment would become sin in my life. Why? Because I would, quite literally, be putting other gods before the one true God. Could it be that God tests us through such good and positive relationships, things, circumstances, and opportunities in our lives?
My Clear and Present Danger
My hypothetical description regarding my four children is not hypothetical at all. I have four such children and I treasure them. I have had to, on many occasions, ask God to help me not put my children before him. In my unguarded moments, I could essentially turn them into little idols.
The same could be true for all of us, whether we’re talking about our families, jobs, status, health, success, ingenuity, etc. Each of these could be little tests to determine whom we are worshipping, to see whom we love most?
The Reason for Trials
Why are we given trials? According to James it is to help us grow in our faith – to become more like Christ – to develop into mature and complete children of God, lacking nothing. But it’s awfully hard to become such faithfully devoted followers of Christ when we love other people or things more than we love him. It’s impossible to follow and serve God correctly when God’s not even in our top five priorities, much lesson number one.
It’s little wonder that Jesus declared we cannot serve two masters. It’s no wonder he said we must seek God and his righteousness first. It’s not hard to figure out why God’s first commandment to us was that we’re to put no other gods before Him. And it’s not surprising to understand why the Apostle John’s last verse of his first epistle reads thusly,
1 John 5:21 – Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
Because of our fallenness, we have a propensity to put other people, places, things, circumstances, opportunities, feelings, emotions, thoughts, attitudes, etc., ahead of God. And anything that is in God’s place is not merely neutral – it’s an idol - an idol of the heart.
Be On Guard
The really good things God graciously blesses us with could be listed under James' category of “trials of many kinds.” It’s true we don’t think of them as trials. It’s also true they are not necessarily painful to go through. But it’s equally true that these sorts of trials can be gruelingly difficult, even if we’re not aware we’re going through them, or perhaps, especially if we’re not aware of it.
Therefore, to increasingly mature in our faith and become more like Christ, we must realize God’s tests and trials can take many shapes and sizes. We must be vigilantly on guard. For it’s critically important for us to persevere through such tests and trials so that we “may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” And by God’s grace, I pray it will be so for you.
Gracious God, I give you thanks that you are good and holy and that you do not tempt us into sin. You are not the author of our sin, but righteousness. When you test us it is always to help us grow in our faith, not so we may stumble and fall. Tests and trials of various kinds are ways in which we may discover our shortcomings and weaknesses and, therefore, seek you – your wisdom, strength, and grace to persevere and grow. Please help me to endure the hard times I go through, so that by doing so you may be glorified and others may be blessed as they see you upholding me during those tough times. And yet Lord, let me also persevere in faithfulness during the good times in my life. Enable me by your Spirit to take note of your blessings in my life and give thanks to you for them without coming to love and desire them more than you. Thank you for the good gifts in my life O Lord, for they are from you. In Christ I pray. Amen.
CLICK HERE to listen to this week's devotional on the Walking Points Podcast, or listen to it on your favorite podcast platform. There's always extra content on the audio version that I pray will bless you.
Galatians 4:9 - But now that you know God–or rather are known by God–how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?
A Change of Address
When we lived in darkness – when we were of the world – it made perfect sense that we lived as the world lived. We were a part of its system. You might say it was the very air we breathed.
But when we were delivered from that bondage, ignorance, and darkness, we were made into something new. Paul described us as new creations. To paraphrase the Apostle elsewhere,
“When I was a worldling, I talked like a worldling, I thought like a worldling, I reasoned like a worldling. When I became a new creature in Christ, I put worldish ways behind me.”
It is therefore sad to observe how the Apostle had to address the Galatian believers and ask them why they were turning back to their old, dead ways.
It’s difficult to admit how shortsighted we can be on a daily basis. If we don’t keep Christ daily before us, pursuing him with all God’s grace and our might, we inevitably find ourselves drifting back to the world and its ways of thinking. And such worldish thinking will soon lead to worldish living. What’s so frightening about this process is that even as it happens, we don’t seem aware that we are becoming enslaved to those “weak and miserable principles” all over again.
Why Do We Do This?
The question is indicting: Why would we ever want to go back to such thinking and living once we have been freed from it? Why do we seem to prefer bondage to freedom at times? It’s almost comical how we, like the Israelites, begin romanticizing how great the leeks and onions were in Egypt and forget about the fact that we were slaves there. Why do we do this?
There are probably many good answers. No believer, I hope, truly thinks the world is preferable to the things of God. I don’t think being out of shape is preferable to being healthy. But one skipped workout at a time – over a period of undisciplined living – and a person will find himself struggling to walk up a flight of stairs. That was never the intention, but it was the consequence.
Similarly, a little disobedience and sloth here and there and one day a person will wake up terribly out of shape for the Kingdom. In truth, they will be downright unfit for it.
I’ve discovered in my own life that I tend to do the things I want to do. It’s no more complicated than that. I may dress it up in elaborate excuses and rationalizations, but at the end of the day that’s all they are. Can you relate to that?
Don’t Ignore God’s Means of Grace
Thankfully, those who are genuinely in Christ will not be able to return to their old ways without feeling the disciplinary rod of the Holy Spirit. God is not content to watch his children become remolded in the world’s image.
By God’s magnificent grace, the smoke detector goes off long before the fire blazes out of control. God awakens and disciplines those who are his own and gets them/us back on track again. But even here he does not “do” all the work for us. We can still choose to sleep in instead of pray and study. We can play instead of worship on Sunday mornings. Fill in the blank with those temptations that continue to call you back to your old life. We will have those choices ever before us.
But if you cry out to your loving Father for help, his grace will abound once more to rescue you from your chains. And if you rely on him daily and practice those things he promised will make you spiritually healthy, you may find you have to be rescued less often.
Loving Father, you have redeemed me and adopted me into your family. You desire that I imitate you in my daily life. But all too often I feel the pull of my old life, the lure of sinful desire. Those weak and miserable principles seemingly cast a spell on me. Show me how awful, ugly, and untrue they really are and how they will only entrap and enslave me to a horrible bondage. Please let me see how wicked they really are before I give myself to them. Enable me by your grace to grow in grace. Control me with your Spirit so that I will both desire to, and be able to, live fully for you. In the name of Christ, I pray. Amen.
John 4:50 - Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed.
If the Royal Official Could
The royal official did not first wait for a miracle before he believed. He did not wait for Jesus to first “prove himself” worthy of trust. He took Jesus at his word. He believed Jesus. Jesus told the man his dying son would live. That was all the official needed from the Lord. To be sure, Jesus did not owe the man such kindness, but he was pleased to bless him anyway. That is the definition of grace.
How I wish this verse described me more. To take that step of faith, without prior confirmation of the desired result, can be frightening. Yet I sometimes find myself still wanting that confirmation in advance. Sometimes the Lord is pleased to throw me a bone, despite my small faith. But he would rather have me remember the hundreds upon hundreds of ways he has already proved himself capable and faithful to me and my loved ones throughout my life.
A Work in Progress
And yet I am encouraged. Despite my shortcomings the Lord is still drawing me closer to himself and conforming me more and more to the image of his Son. Slowly (so very slowly) I am maturing in my faith. The trust I long for comes more often than when I first began my pilgrimage. Is that your story too? Can you relate to that?
How precious it is to believe, and then have the eyes to see the blessing and the hands to receive it. The royal official believed first, then experienced the miracle. This is not a presumptuous faith, holding God to promises he never made. It is a dependent faith, one that cries out to God, “My hope is in you and you alone O Lord”.
Prayer and Scripture must undergird our growth in Christ. Reading God’s Word, reminding ourselves daily of his goodness and greatness, and then praying and meditating upon it builds us up with encouragement and confidence for both present and future faith. And this is needed. With such confidence in God, many throughout Scripture were able to face impossible odds and come out victorious on the other side. The nature of our victories may vary, but we too may be confident when we take the Lord at his Word.
Trustworthy God, to whom else shall I turn? You alone have the words of eternal life. You alone are worthy of my hope. Forgive me for those times when I have not trusted you, when I have first turned to other places and people to meet my needs. Out of pure grace you have been faithful to me and my loved ones, time and time again. Your track record in my life is long and spotless. And yet, my faith in you can still be feeble and fleeting. Forgive me. Please give me greater confidence in you, a longer memory of your great work in my life, and help me to draw closer to you, that I might know you better and love you more. In Christ I pray. Amen.
Join us as we begin a series on why we ought to think Christianly and how to cultivate a Christian mind.
Psalm 19:7 – The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
God’s Treasure Trove
Psalm 19 is a treasure trove of wisdom for the person who is pursuing godliness. Like Psalm 119, words used throughout this psalm, such as law, statutes, precepts, commands, ordinances, fear, etc., describe the same thing, the revealed Word of God. This is not just any word, but a word revealed for the purpose of reviving our souls, making us wise, giving our hearts joy and our eyes light.
Furthermore, God reminds us in Psalm 19 that his Word endures forever, is perfect, trustworthy, radiant, pure, sure, and righteous.
God also teaches us in Psalm 19 that it is through his word that the godly person can discern his or her errors (cf. 119:9-11). James tells us in his epistle that God’s Word is like a mirror that reveals to us our true reflection.
How loving and merciful our God is to give us such light in a dark world. How gracious and compassionate he is to reveal himself to us with such clarity that we may reach out to him and know him, which is eternal life (John 17:3).
God’s Good Provision
For the purpose of this devotion, I want to focus on verse 7 of Psalm 19. In this verse we are humbled by our Lord’s goodness. His law (his Word) is perfect, just as he is in his very essence. Such knowledge of God and his perfect Word is overwhelming to us. And yet, it revives our soul. It gives life where there is none. It strengthens the soul that is weak. It rejuvenates the soul that is weary. O Lord, who are we that you are mindful of us? To God alone be the glory!
By the Word of God incarnate, and the Word of God inscripturated, (which bears witness to Christ), we may come to know God and learn how to love and follow him more faithfully in every sphere of our lives. The godly person must realize that without God’s Word, we are left wandering aimlessly and perilously in the world. We can expect no growth as men and women of God without the rich nutrients given in and through his Word (John 15). That is why it must dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16). There’s no meaningful growth without such scripture-saturation. That’s the revival of the soul I desire. How about you?
Take God’s Word for It
We can trust God’s Word. We need not doubt it as Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3. We are constantly being tempted to doubt what God has revealed to us. Such is the temptation from our adversary, and we are foolish to give in to it. Yet God has told us he has revealed himself to us in and through his Word – his character, works, love, commands, and promises. He encourages us to understand that the purpose of his self-disclosure is to make us wise. Wisdom, the Bible tells us, means “skill for living.” God wants us to skillfully grow in the likeness of Christ and faithfully live as godly people in this world.
In his book, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, Donald Whitney asks his readers if they are “being governed increasingly by the Word of God.” Well, how about it? Does that describe you? I want to encourage you pursue this “governance” more and more in your lives. Scripture is God’s gift to you. Let me know how I can help you in this pursuit.
The Primacy of Prayer and Scripture
Surely, for a life of growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, nothing can take the place of reading God’s Word and spending time in original, heartfelt prayer. Let me go on record as having said that right at the beginning. And I believe that with all my heart.
But following closely, at least for me, are the prayers, reflections, sermons, hymns, meditations, journals, and letters of saints who have walked oft and closely with the Lord… those who were saturated in his Word and who practiced his presence each day – all day – in every sphere of their lives. Such people minister to my soul in deep and profound ways.
Therefore, I unapologetically sponge off of others during my devotional time each morning and evening. This doesn’t mean I don’t read Scripture for myself. I do. And this doesn’t mean I don’t lift to the Lord my own prayers. I do that as well. But I have found that my Scripture-reading and prayer life is greatly blessed and enhanced by reading the God-centered, Scripture-directed thoughts, reflections, meditations, and prayers of others.
Launching Off Points
My prayer and thought-life are expanded well beyond my personal limitations when I read such devotional resources. In fact, I often find myself stopping in mid-sentence of someone else’s prayer, inspired by their words, so I may lift up my own prayer to the Lord. So too, sometimes when I read a verse or two of Scripture in a meditation, I can’t help but pause and pray that text back to God. Such is how the Holy Spirit uses these resources in my life.
It would be the height of arrogance, (not to mention foolishness), not to take advantage of other pilgrims of the Way – those wiser and godlier saints... that precious fellowship of the burning heart... those who have gone before us, as well as those who travel with us today. I have been immeasurably edified by the Holy Spirit through their written testimonies of God’s power and grace.
For example, if I hadn’t used other devotional resources this morning, I would have missed out on the following…
“…Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us do, that the Spirit of Wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
“…Jesus Christ said, ‘When thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what they right hand doeth.’ O God, grant that what I give may be given without self-congratulation, and without thought of praise or reward.”
“…Jesus Christ said, ‘What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’ O God, give me grace so to live this day that, whatever else I lose, I may not lose my soul.”
“…Every morning I vow to love thee more fervently, to serve thee more sincerely, to be more devoted in my life, to be wholly thine; Yet I soon stumble, backslide, and have to soon confess my weakness, misery and sin. But I bless thee that the finished work of Jesus needs no addition from my doings, that his oblation is sufficient satisfaction for my sins.”
Beyond My Own Self-Interests
These thoughts have lifted my soul and led me to think and pray about quite a few things I probably wouldn’t have otherwise thought and prayed about. Such resources help move me from the tunnel-vision of my own limited, self-centered short-sightedness. They help me stay away from an exclusively "laundry-list prayer life" (i.e., a superficial “give-me-this-and-give-me-that” prayer list).
The last thing I would mention is that using such resources keeps my devotional time fresh. Without such tools, my prayer life could quickly grow stale, rote, and lifeless. But in and through his Word and prayer, as well as these other resources, God draws me closer to himself and enables me to become more like the man God created, redeemed, and called me to be. And that’s worth everything.
On that note, I wrote a "prayer journal" of my own that you may find helpful to you in your own prayer life. You can learn more about it and purchase it by clicking here. You can also see a few examples of what you'll find in the prayer journal by clicking here.
Lastly, if you would like some examples of a few of the devotionals, prayer books, and other resources I have found helpful, please reach out and I would be happy to share some titles with you.
Peter Makes a Point
Five times in the first chapter of 2 Peter, we find a form of the word knowledge. Five times! That alone should at least grab our attention.
More than likely, Peter’s letter was a response to the “secret knowledge cults” and the Gnostic heresies of his day. For them, knowledge wasn’t available to all, but only to those who had “the inward spark” of divinity and who attended the secret and sacred initiation rites.
Knowledge for Christians, however, is public knowledge. Specifically, it is knowledge of God and his Son Jesus Christ, which is eternal life (John 17:3). It is in Christ that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (Col. 2:3). This is how we gain grace and peace. Peter writes,
Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2)
It is by God, through God, and for God that we are given everything we need for life and godliness. Our access to this comes through knowing him (v. 3). Peter encourages us to add knowledge to our faith (v. 5). Furthermore, he beckons us to seek godly qualities in increasing measure because they will keep us from being ineffective and unproductive in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But Not Just Any Knowledge
What all of this means is, knowledge matters. But not just any knowledge.
It is true Paul cautions us about knowledge which puffs us up with pride. But that’s only if we value knowledge as an end in itself. Instead, knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ gives us eternal life, grace and peace, and affects the way we live. In short, knowing God influences every sphere of life.
It is in and through the revealed Word of God that true, life-giving, life-transforming knowledge resides. Let us rejoice that our Lord has not left us alone to grope in the dark but has given us the light of knowledge – the light of his Word – which impacts every sphere of a godly person’s life. This is surely why Peter closes his letter with these words,
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)
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Listen, my son, and be wise, and set your heart on the right path: (Proverbs 23:19)
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.