For the past five years, God has spoken repeatedly to my heart about what it means to grow in spiritual maturity. The Bible deals with the development of spiritual maturity and points out that we can and should take steps to grow. The problem is many of us have a different idea of spiritual maturity than what the Bible presents. It’s important to have the correct picture of who God is and who He is calling us to become.
When I began my evangelistic ministry nearly twenty years ago, preaching in churches across the nation, I had somehow gotten the wrong idea of what spiritual maturity looks like.
I had mistakenly confused spiritual maturity for an intense and aggressive pursuit of faith. There’s nothing wrong with fasting, prayer, and witnessing—those are great things—but there’s more to spiritual maturity than those disciplines. The Scriptures are clear that spiritual maturity concerns the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (see Galatians 5:22-23). We know we are growing in Christ when we are growing in our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, and self-control.
Love, joy, and peace don’t come naturally.
Love, joy, kindness, gentleness, and patience are not our natural bent.
We do not naturally want to be kind when we are frustrated by the political opinions of others that we read online.
We do not naturally want to be gentle when we feel people have the wrong opinions about the world.
We do not naturally want to be loving when people have hurt us.
We do not naturally want to be joyful when our world faces difficult times.
But God by His Spirit works this fruit in us, even when life’s circumstances doen’t make sense. The essence of the fruit of the Spirit releases an otherworldly fragrance that draws people to the truth of who we are in God.
God wants us to have both truth and love.
Truth and love are two of the great themes of the Bible, and I like to think of them as the two legs of the Christian—without them we won’t get very far.
God’s truth changes our lives. If we move away from the truth of God’s Word, we move away from the power to save. It’s like trying to watch TV with the power cord unplugged. Without God’s truth, there’s no power to change our lives.
Many Christians, though not all, understand they are to live by the truth. They receive God’s Word as the final authority for their lives by practice. They know that the truth of God’s Word is powerful.
But God’s Word also distinguishes our need for love as well as truth. The Bible tells us often to love, show compassion, walk in kindness and peace, and even to “Let allthat you do be done with love” (1 Corinthians 16:14, NKJV).
In order to grow in spiritual maturity and have a Christian walk that impacts others around us, we need to have both truth and love.
In fact, I’ve begun to see that it’s this otherworldly love God gives us that draws people to the truth.
Experiencing God’s love deep down helps us grow in our love.
We can grow in love by reading the Bible to get a clearer understanding of God’s love for us and for the whole world. We can also pray and ask God to fill our hearts with His love so we can know it more deeply. Romans 5:5 tells us about this: “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Many Christians know about God’s love, but they’ve yet to understand that it’s available to experience on a deeper level. This is sometimes referred to as the “eighteen-inch gap”—the distance from the head to the heart. In other words, it’s one thing to gain head knowledge by attending church or reading the Bible, but it’s another thing entirely to experience God’s love in a real way that affects our hearts.
Experiencing God and receiving His love in a deeper way changes everything in our lives. The more we truly experience the love of God in our own hearts, the more love we have to give to others around us—in our families, in our friendships, in our workplaces, and in our communities.
It will be our love that will draw people to the truth we have in Jesus. Then we can share with them His truth that has changed our lives and filled us with His love.
How many Christians have resisted the call of missions work because they couldn’t see past the cultural stereotypes of what a missionary is and does? Likewise, how many Christians have served as missionaries for years without even realizing that they were doing missionary work?
The stories of David Livingstone, Jim Elliot, and others like them loom large in Christian history. For better or worse, they have helped shape Christian thought about mission work. As a result, many people believe that missionaries necessarily live in a distant place and minister to people whose language and customs are foreign to them.
Certainly there are many missionaries who fit that description. However, the vast majority of mission work takes place much closer to home. Jesus Himself makes that clear. His final recorded words to His disciples, delivered just before He ascended to heaven, contain a strong local flavor.
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). He starts the trajectory of the disciples’ future ministry in Jerusalem, a place they were very familiar with. Their ministry ultimately would reach the four corners of the earth, but it also would meet the needs of the people closest to them.
Love Your Neighbor
In Matthew 22:34–40, a lawyer tries to test Jesus by asking, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus replies, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
You can’t get much more local than your neighbors. Jesus elevates local ministry to a place of supreme importance. He suggests that it’s inextricably tied to loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind.
Faith in Action
The New Testament writers expand on His message. The apostle John writes, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Local ministry is the Christian faith in action. It’s been said that no one cares what you know until they know that you care. That’s the essence of John’s words—as well as the essence of local ministry. When we sacrifice our time, energy, and resources to minister to the people around us, we speak volumes about the Lord we serve.
The apostle Peter ties local ministry to our spiritual gifts. “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). God didn’t create in us certain talents and abilities just to give us a spiritual identity. Instead, He has equipped us so that we can minister to others in service to Him. That ministry starts with the people nearest to us.
The apostle Paul points out that local ministry is exactly what we’re made for. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). God created us as we are—and placed us where we are—for a reason. The good works that we do in our community, the ones God has prepared us for, make a difference.
The Impact of Local Ministry
The words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah give us a sense of the impact our local ministry can have: “If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday” (Isaiah 58:10). For people who are struggling in darkness, that light can be life-changing because it means that someone sees them, someone recognizes their need, and someone cares enough to help them.
Isaiah’s fellow Old Testament prophet Micah summarizes the responsibilities of God’s people this way: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). We “do justly” by carrying out God’s good, righteous justice in our communities and ensuring that no one is overlooked or cast aside. We “love mercy” by sharing the compassion Christ has shown to us with all people, especially those who can do nothing for us. We “walk humbly” by humbling our wills to that of Christ so that He may freely use us to minister to the needs of those around us.
We fulfill the mandate of Micah 6:8 when we commit to missions work—on another continent or in our own backyard. When we pull back the layers of cultural stereotypes, we find that missionaries look very much like local volunteers, valued community members, and helpful neighbors.
Mission work was on Jesus’ mind as He bid farewell to His disciples. Mission work was the apostle Paul’s overwhelming passion and the only thing that kept him conflicted about the prospect of going to heaven as soon as possible. Mission work built the church as we know it today and helped Christianity survive the persecution of the Roman Empire.
The thread of mission work runs throughout Scripture. You can find prominent examples of it in the following passages.
Mission Work is an Opportunity
“Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me’” (Isaiah 6:8).
Mission work, at its core, is an opportunity. Specifically, it’s an opportunity for believers to play key roles in God’s plan. Mission work is a front-row seat to God’s life-changing power. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah certainly recognized the potential in being sent by God. His excited reply reveals his eagerness.
Isaiah also likely recognized the challenges and hardships of mission work. He knew that his message—that is, the message God gave him to deliver—would not be popular. He also likely knew of the human tendency to want to “kill the messenger.” Yet Isaiah was not deterred, because the one thing he understood better than anything else is that the blessings of serving God through mission work far outweigh the drawbacks.
The voice of the Lord calls to His people in a similar way today. The Holy Spirit makes us aware of opportunities to serve. Sometimes those opportunities are local; sometimes they’re anything but. Either way, He asks, on behalf of the heavenly Father, “Whom shall I send?” Those of us who have the courage, faith, and sense of adventure to say, “Here am I! Send me!” will discover what it means to be used by God in a powerful way.
Mission Workers are Spiritual First-Responders
“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned’” (Mark 16:15–16).
Jesus lays out for His followers the dire situation facing the unsaved. Their eternal lives hang in the balance. Believers who engage in mission work, then, may be compared to spiritual “first responders.” We run toward the crisis when others turn away or try to ignore it. We may not always be comfortable in the situations we face, but we refuse to back away from them.
A willingness to serve is the only thing the Lord requires of us. He doesn’t expect us to be experts in mission work, Christian ministry, or theology. The Holy Spirit will help us diagnose people’s spiritual needs so that we can figure out the best way to respond to them. If we “go into all the world”—or even into just our corner of it—He will go with us.
Mission Work Tells Others About Jesus
“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14).
The apostle Paul underscores the dilemma that many lost people face. They are unable to make an informed decision about Jesus because they know so little about Him. Many are unfamiliar with Scripture. What they do know about Jesus comes from second-hand sources, which are often tainted by cynicism, self-interest, and misinformation. Some people, who have been burned by Christian hypocrisy (or worse), put up defense mechanisms to protect themselves from further harm.
Still, the need remains. To paraphrase Paul’s second question, “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have heard misleading things?” That brings us to his third question. The word that tends to trip us up there is “preacher.” Few of us think of ourselves as preachers. Yet, from the context of the verse, it’s clear that Paul is simply referring to someone who is willing to talk to others about Jesus.
Our “talk” can take many different forms. The manner in which we live—the priorities we set, the way we treat others, the joy we express, the fellowship we enjoy with other believers, the concern we demonstrate for people in need—can speak volumes about the Lord we serve. And when people grow curious enough to question us about the way we live, we have the opportunity to follow the apostle Peter’s lead and “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks [us] a reason for the hope that is in [us]” (1 Peter 3:15). That’s how we can be involved in mission work anytime and anywhere.
Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer during His earthly ministry. He prayed for Himself (see John 17:1–5). He prayed for His disciples (see John 17:6–26). With His dying breath, He prayed for His enemies (see Luke 23:34).
The apostle Paul was a prayer warrior as well. In almost every one of his New Testament epistles, he talks about praying for the recipients of his letters. In 2 Timothy 1:3 he writes, “Without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, he instructs the Thessalonian believers to “pray without ceasing.”
From a certain perspective, then, the conclusion seems obvious. Neither Jesus nor Paul would have invested such time and energy in a pursuit that ultimately made no difference. So prayer must change things, somehow.
On the other hand, anyone who’s ever lost a loved one or struggled for years—despite continuous, fervent prayers—may question whether prayer changes anything at all. Perhaps the best way to reconcile these opposing positions is to say that prayer can change things in one of three ways.
Prayer Can Change Things in Bold, Dramatic Ways
In Matthew 17:20, Jesus says, “For assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” Occasionally, God gives us stark evidence of prayer’s extraordinary power. His demonstrations rarely, if ever, involve a displaced mountain. Instead, they involve everything from a sudden cancer remission to an unexpected job offer to a reconciliation that seemed impossible.
These answered prayers tend to have a polarizing effect. On the one hand, the people whose prayers are answered have something for which they can praise God for the rest of their lives. They have evidence on which to build their faith. Other people, whose prayers seemingly weren’t answered, may wonder why God refuses to work in such a dramatic way in their lives.
As time passes, even the people who did experience a dramatic answer to prayer may wonder why God doesn’t answer other requests in a similar manner. That may explain why such sudden, dramatic answers to prayer are relatively rare.
Prayer Can Change Things in Increments
Prayer can change things in gradual, sometimes imperceptible, ways. The apostle Paul, as we mentioned earlier, prayed for the believers in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, Thessalonica, and elsewhere. Based on certain passages in his letters, we can conclude that his prayers were answered. Yet the changes he prayed for in people’s lives didn’t happen overnight. They occurred as part of their spiritual growth.
Likewise, when you pray to become more like Christ, God doesn’t immediately imbue you with a dozen Christlike qualities. When you pray for patience, courage, or discipline, He doesn’t immediately gift you with the patience of Job, the courage of David, or the discipline of Daniel. Instead, He gives you opportunities to grow in a particular area. He allows you to face circumstances that call for patience, courage, or wisdom, and He guides you through them.
Sometimes we fall into the trap of praying for just enough from God to become independent of Him. We ask Him to answer our prayers fully and immediately so that we won’t have to turn to Him again. But that’s not what He wants for us.
Look at the way He answered the Israelites’ prayers for food in the wilderness in Exodus 16. He didn’t fill their tents with a year’s supply of manna. Instead, He sent a day’s worth for them to collect and enjoy. God’s desire is for His people to turn to Him daily for our provisions. So He often answers our prayers in ways that bring us back to Him day after day.
Prayer Can Change Us
This is the aspect of prayer that largely goes unexplored in our search for answered requests. When we pray, our ultimate aim is to align our will with God’s. The problem is, we often go about it by trying to bend His will to fit ours. When that doesn’t happen, we question the efficiency of prayer or accuse God of not caring for us.
However, if we stay faithful to Him and continue to pray, in time He will bend our will to fit His. He will work in and through us to change our hearts. He will open our eyes to His work. He will give us the wisdom to recognize the perfection of His plan. He will loosen our grip on our own expectations.
Look at Matthew 26:36–39 for context. After Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane for God to remove the cup of suffering from Him, He was ready to face what lay ahead. Yet God had not removed the cup of suffering from Him. The physical and spiritual agony of the crucifixion still awaited Him. Jesus’ prayer had not changed His circumstances, but it had changed His spirit.
The reason is that Jesus’ other request had been granted. After He prayed for the cup of suffering to be removed, He added these words: “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” His second, and primary, request was that God’s will would be accomplished through Him. And that’s exactly what was going to happen through His crucifixion.
That’s all the assurance Jesus needed for His spirit to be revived. His prayer created a change because His will was aligned with God’s.
James, in his epistle, says, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:17). His stark warning is spiritual food for thought. Yet it also raises this question: What does faith look like if it does have works? For the answer, we turn to three well-known Bible stories.
Faith with works looks like Abram leaving his comfort zone in Genesis 12
The Lord approached Abram with an offer that was equally unsettling (literally so) and tantalizing. Walk away from everything you’ve built for yourself, He instructed Abram. Step away—a long way—from the place where you feel safe and comfortable. Embark on a journey into an unfamiliar and hostile land toward a destination you know nothing about. Trust first in the fact that I can be depended upon to fulfill My promise. Trust second in the fact that I can protect you and provide for you along the way. Trust third in the fact that what I offer is better than what you have now.
Abram departed immediately. He didn’t know what lay ahead. He didn’t have all his questions answered. He may not have been entirely comfortable with what he was doing. But he sensed that God could be trusted, that God knew more than he did, and that God had something extraordinary in the works. That was all Abram needed to give up everything.
Faith with works looks like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego standing alone in Daniel 3
There was no gray area in King Nebuchadnezzar’s decree. He erected a giant gold image of himself. Anyone in his kingdom who did not bow down to it would be burned to death in a furnace. When the time came, everyone in the kingdom bowed down—except Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego.
Faced with the prospect of being thrown into a furnace, the trio delivered a stirring testimony to God’s power—and to the priorities that guided them. “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Daniel 3:16–18).
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego understood God’s power. They knew He was able to deliver them from Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace. What they didn’t know was His specific plan for them in that moment. So they added a caveat: “But if not.” And in those three words, we find the essence of faith.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego remained faithful to God, not because of what He would do for them in return, but because they trusted in His plan—no matter what it meant for them. They placed their complete faith in Him.
Faith with works looks like Peter stepping out of the boat in Matthew 14
Peter, like his fellow disciples, felt overwhelmed by his circumstances—until he was able to recognize Jesus in the midst of them. Suddenly, the darkness no longer intimidated him. The rough conditions no longer made him uneasy. The unknown no longer frightened him.
Peter stepped out of the boat because he saw no good reason not to. Peter wanted to be where Jesus was; Jesus was on the water. Nothing else mattered. By focusing his attention on the Lord, Peter was able to do something extraordinary. The moment he shifted his focus back to his circumstances, he became ordinary again. Faith gave him his courage and kept him buoyant.
The question we must ask ourselves is this: What does faith with works look like in our lives? Thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, it bears a strong resemblance to the faith at work in Abram, in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, and in Peter.
The Holy Spirit nudges us out of our comfort zone. He bolsters our adventurous spirit so that we can venture into places—physically and relationally—where we’re less than comfortable. He works through our unease to help us strengthen our faith and experience the joy of obedience. He makes the journeys we take by faith well worth our effort.
The Holy Spirit gives us the courage to stand firm when all eyes are on us. He gives us the voice to speak up when God’s Word is being questioned. He gives us the boldness to face the fire, even when there’s a risk of our getting burned. He gives us discernment to recognize God’s will in tense or unnerving situations. He also gives us the wisdom to understand that obeying His will, regardless of the consequences to us, is always our best course of action.
The Holy Spirit gives us the opportunity to step out in faith as the storms of life rage around us. He gives us the opportunity to imitate Christ in a way that draws people’s attention to Him. We may not have the opportunity to step out of a literal boat, but we can sacrifice something important to us for the sake of someone else. We can turn the other cheek when people mistreat us. We can do good things for our enemies. In other words, we can make a difference in people’s lives, as Jesus did.
“…Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1).
Luke doesn’t identify the disciple who approached Jesus with this request. We can assume, however, that he was motivated by more than simply a desire to keep up with John the Baptist’s disciples. The unnamed disciple, like the other eleven, likely saw the power of prayer in Jesus’ life. He saw the priority Jesus placed on prayer. He saw how prayer energized and sustained Him. And he wanted that same source of power, energy, and sustenance in his own life.
The disciple’s bold request was met with an even bolder answer. Jesus taught His followers a blueprint for prayer that resonates as powerfully today as it did two thousand years ago. Let’s look at four parts of the prayer the Lord taught His disciples to discover how we can pray like Jesus.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus establishes His priorities immediately in His prayer. He wants to do God’s will. Period. He emphasizes that point in John 6:38: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” Jesus sets the tone of His prayer early so that everything that follows will align with His primary purpose.
They’re not easy words to say and mean. Putting God’s will and His kingdom first means sacrificing our own wants and needs. In Jesus’ case, it eventually meant sacrificing something much more precious. Matthew 26:39 records another prayer of Jesus, this one in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before He’s arrested. Jesus knows that in a matter of hours, God will turn His full wrath on Him to punish Him for the sins of the world. He’s facing unimaginable agony.
In his prayer, Jesus asks God to remove His suffering—but only if it’s God’s will to do so. Jesus’ first priority is for God’s will to be done, even it means torture and death for Him. He doesn’t just pray the words; He lives them—and dies for them. If we make God’s will our first priority, we’ll discover what it means to be used in powerful ways by Him. We’ll also discover the enormous potential of prayer that Jesus tapped into.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
Jesus emphasizes the importance of daily dependence on God. He doesn’t ask for a week’s worth of blessings. He asks only for today, because He looks forward to tomorrow’s prayerful encounter with God. He craves daily interaction with His heavenly Father.
That’s how God prefers to work too. In Exodus 16, he sends a morning batch of manna for the Israelites to gather, prepare, and eat. The next morning, He sends another batch. God wants His people to rely on Him daily for our provisions. Not only does it keep us close to Him, but it helps us maintain a constant awareness of where our provisions come from.
Staying focused on the Lord’s blessings of today also keeps us from giving in to anxiety about the future. Jesus emphasizes this point in Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
This portion of the Lord’s Prayer is for our benefit. Jesus was sinless. He had nothing to ask forgiveness for. We, on the other hand, need forgiveness daily. So Jesus helps us understand that forgiveness is a two-part process. We receive forgiveness from God and offer forgiveness to others.
In that sense, it’s similar to the apostle John’s teaching in 1 John 4:11: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” We love others because God loved us first. He showed us the way. It would be hypocritical to hoard His love without sharing it with others. The same goes for His forgiveness. We forgive others because God has forgiven us. Forgiveness, then, becomes common ground between us and God. It brings us closer to Him.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
God always provides a means of delivery when His people face temptation. “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Jesus was no stranger to temptation. Before He started His public ministry, He embarked on a forty-day fast in the wilderness. Seeing that Jesus was physically weakened, the devil appeared to Him and tempted Him three times. Three times Jesus countered Satan’s temptations by quoting Scripture. The Word of God was His means of delivery from temptation. Satan was no match for it and had to leave in defeat.
That same means of delivery is available to us today. So our prayer should be for God to remind us of His Word when we face temptation.
Diagnoses of anxiety have risen sharply in recent years, but the problem is anything but a modern epidemic. In fact, anxiety is one of the very oldest of human afflictions. The first recorded cases can be traced to the moment Adam and Eve discovered that they were naked and exposed to God (see Genesis 3:10). Many of the best-known people in Scripture experienced bouts of anxiety. Perhaps that’s why God filled His Word with wisdom that speaks to our anxious spirits.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by circumstances or struggling with feelings of anxiety, spend some time in the following passages. You may find the comfort and assurance you need to ease your anxious spirit.
“For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).
No one knows more about the inner workings of your mind and emotions than God does. Spending quiet time with Him on a daily basis will go a long way toward easing an anxious mind.
“Therefore I say to you,do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?Which of you by worrying can add onecubit to hisstature?” (Matthew 6:25–27).
The source of your anxiety, whatever it is, matters dearly to God. You can leave it to Him. If you need evidence of that, look up and around you. God cares for the birds of the air—the robins, the hummingbirds, even the vultures. Humans have greater value to Him than birds do, so how much more will He pay attention to your needs?
Joshua 1: 5-6
“I will not leave you nor forsake you.Be strong and of good courage” (Joshua 1:5–6).
God doesn’t promise to shield us from situations that make us anxious. He doesn’t promise to make worrisome circumstances go away. Instead, He promises to accompany us through every anxiety-ridden situation we face. He gives us the courage, strength, and endurance we need to overcome our anxiety, one battle at a time.
“But I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation” (Psalm 13:5).
After crying out to God in anguish, David acknowledges the Lord’s power and plan. Follow his example and place your trust in God, even when anxious thoughts and worries cause you to feel less than trusting.
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Anxiety is a heavy burden to carry, so heavy that sometimes it takes all your emotional strength not to buckle under its weight. That can leave you weakened, unable to deal with other responsibilities. Instead of trying to shoulder the burden of anxiety alone, take up the Lord on His offer. Give Him everything that makes you apprehensive or worried. Exchange your heavy load for His rest and peace of mind.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7).
Prayer is the most effective weapon we have. No anxiety is too severe for God to handle. No worry is too insignificant for Him to care about. If something affects us or robs us of our joy, God wants us to share it with Him. He wants to counteract it with His peace.
1 Peter 5:7
“[Cast] all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
Anxiety is baggage. The more we struggle with it, the heavier it becomes. Trying to carry it alone is exhausting. We may be able to handle it for a while. We may even be able to convince others that we’re not overly exerting ourselves. Eventually, though, the effort will wear us out. Instead of exhausting our own limited strength, why don’t we give our anxieties to someone who can handle them? Not only is Jesus glad to accept them, but He knows exactly what to do with them.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
When you see people struggling with anxiety, take time to walk alongside them and provide comfort and peace during their volatile moments. Show them how to give their anxiety to God. Talk about your own experiences with giving your burdens to Him. Let them know that they aren’t alone.
Likewise, when you struggle with anxiety, let someone else help you bear your burdens. Turn to other believers with your struggle. Be open and honest about what you’re experiencing. Don’t hesitate to ask others for assistance. After all, we’re all part of the same body.
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How far can we go with verses like this one: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)? Does “all things” include tumors and tests and tempers and terminations? John would answer yes. John would tell you that God can turn any tragedy into a triumph, if only you will wait and watch.
Could there have been a greater tragedy for John than a dead Jesus? Three years earlier John had turned his back on his career and cast his lot with this Nazarene carpenter. Earlier in the week John had enjoyed a tickertape parade as Jesus and the disciples entered Jerusalem. Oh, how quickly things had turned! The people who had called Him king on Sunday called for His death the following Friday. These linens were a tangible reminder that his friend and his future were wrapped in cloth and sealed behind a rock.
John didn’t know on that Friday what you and I now know. He didn’t know that Friday’s tragedy would be Sunday’s triumph. John would later confess that he “did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead” (John 20:9).
That’s why what he did on Saturday is so important.
John Didn’t Leave
We don’t know anything about this day; we have no passage to read, no knowledge to share. All we know is this: When Sunday came, John was still present. When Mary Magdalene came looking for him, she found him.
Jesus was dead. The Master’s body was lifeless. John’s friend and future were buried. But John had not left. Why? Was he waiting for the resurrection? No. As far as he knew, the lips were forever silent and the hands forever still. He wasn’t expecting a Sunday surprise. Then why was he here?
You’d think he would have left. Who was to say that the men who crucified Christ wouldn’t come after him? The crowds were pleased with one crucifixion; the religious leaders might have called for more. Why didn’t John get out of town?
Perhaps the answer was pragmatic; perhaps he was taking care of Jesus’ mother. Or perhaps he didn’t have anywhere else to go. Could be he didn’t have any money or energy or direction . . . or all of the above.
Or maybe he lingered because he loved Jesus.
Jesus Was His Friend
To others, Jesus was a miracle worker. To others, Jesus was a master teacher. To others, Jesus was the hope of Israel. But to John, He was all of these and more. To John, Jesus was a friend.
You don’t abandon a friend—not even when that friend is dead. John stayed close to Jesus.
He had a habit of doing this. He was close to Jesus in the upper room. He was close to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was at the foot of the Cross at the crucifixion, and he was a quick walk from the tomb at the burial.
Did he understand Jesus? No.
Was he glad Jesus did what He did? No.
But did he leave Jesus? No.
What About You?
What about you? When you’re in John’s position, what do you do? When it’s Saturday in your life, how do you react? When you are somewhere between yesterday’s tragedy and tomorrow’s triumph, what do you do? Do you leave God—or do you linger near Him?
John chose to linger. And because he lingered on Saturday, he was around on Sunday to see the miracle. When life takes a negative turn, God can turn heartache (Ruth 1:21) into blessing (4:14–15).
Which takes us back to the question. Could God do something similar in your life? Could He take what today is a token of tragedy and turn it into a symbol of triumph? Do you feel like God’s abandoned you? Don’t give up! Pray that He will give you the patience to see the situation through, and thank Him in advance for what He is going to do.
Content in this post taken from The Lucado Encouraging Word Bible. The Lucado Encouraging Word Bible is designed to encourage believers along their journey with the Lord. Max Lucado’s warm, conversational style ensures that the marginal notes, short articles, and various study tools meet you where you are, providing encouragement and insight. This Bible will strengthen you as you follow the included reading plan and incorporate this Bible into your daily devotional life. The 30-day study guide will help you jumpstart this practice. This Bible will help you as a believer, and with Pastor Lucado’s gentle yet powerful notes, it’s a beautiful gift for your non-believing friends and family who could use some encouragement with Scripture.
Jeremiah 29:11—with its references to God’s plans, prosperity, protection from harm, peace, and a future filled with hope—is often offered as a spiritual “security blanket” to people who are struggling. The verse has inspired and comforted countless believers who interpret it to mean that if they endure their immediate circumstances, they will emerge victorious, triumphant, and celebrated in God’s ultimate plan of prosperity. They anticipate a moment when their suffering ends and their flourishing begins.
Israel in Exile
The context of the Old Testament passage, however, casts a different light on the verse. Here’s the situation. The people of Israel were in exile in Babylon. Their homeland had been conquered by the Babylonians, and they had been taken prisoners as punishment for their disobedience to God.
In exile, the Israelites were desperate for hope. And a false prophet named Hananiah was only too happy to take advantage of their desperation. Hananiah proclaimed that God would free the Israelites from captivity and return them to their homeland within two years, which was a lie. So the task fell to Jeremiah, the true prophet of God, to set matters straight.
God’s True Plan
Jeremiah exposes Hananiah’s lie, and in Jeremiah 29:11 he quotes God’s actual promise. The Lord did, in fact, have a plan for the Israelites—one that offered hope and a prospering future. But it wasn’t the plan that the Israelites envisioned. In fact, God’s plan was approximately 180 degrees from what the Israelites envisioned.
The details of God’s plan are tied to a set of instructions found four verses earlier. “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace” (Jeremiah 29:7). God linked the Israelites’ hope and future prosperity to the success and prosperity of Babylon.
Hope in Captivity
In order to realize the blessings of God’s promise, the Israelites had to pray for and work toward the prosperity of their enemies, the very people who had made them slaves! The hope and future God had in store for them did not include an immediate return to their homeland or the restoration of their freedom—the two things the Israelites wanted most. In fact, in verse 10, God announces that the Babylonian captivity would last for “seventy years.” The generation of Israelites to whom Jeremiah prophesied had no hope of ever seeing their homeland again.
What they had instead was hope in the midst of captivity—the unexpected hope that is revealed through spiritual growth, the hard-earned spiritual growth that occurs only through perseverance, the perseverance that is learned from enduring difficult circumstances with God’s help.
What is Our Hope?
So what do we take away from Jeremiah 29:11? First, if we put our trust in Christ, we can anticipate an ultimately glorious future—one spent in God’s presence for eternity. Second, God’s plans for His people in this world rarely involve helping us escape from our trials completely. He doesn’t make our suffering disappear. Instead, He helps us persevere through them. He helps us grow and mature in ways we wouldn’t otherwise grow and mature apart from tough times. He helps us find joy in the unlikeliest of circumstances. It’s the kind of joy that affects not just our lives but the lives of others as well. He prospers us in ways that expand our understanding of prosperity.
Hear more encouragement in The Lucado Encouraging Word Bible, available now!
Lucado Encouraging Word Bible is designed to encourage believers along their journey with the Lord. Max Lucado’s warm, conversational style ensures that the marginal notes, short articles, and various study tools meet you where you are, providing encouragement and insight. This Bible will strengthen you as you follow the included reading plan and incorporate this Bible into your daily devotional life.
Arrested development isn’t an option for followers of Christ. We have a sacred responsibility to mature continuously in our faith, to become more Christlike, to grow more attuned to God’s will. Maintaining a spiritual status quo does no one any good. The Lord urges us to dive deeply into Scripture so that we can become the disciples He intends us to be.
Here are four passages that will inspire you to grow in Christ or give you an accurate assessment of your spiritual maturity.
“Let no onedespise your youth, but be anexample to the believers in word, in conduct, in love,in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
Chronological age has little to do with spiritual maturity. Paul urges his young protégé Timothy to embrace the role of leadership that had presented itself. Instead of looking to others for guidance, Paul encourages Timothy to blaze his own spiritual trail, using what he had learned from the godly examples of his mother and grandmother, from the mentoring he received from Paul, from his understanding of Scripture, and from the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
That same opportunity is available to you, regardless of your age. The more you understand about what it means to be a disciple and live for Christ, the more powerfully you can influence other people’s lives. You can serve as an example to other believers in the things you say and don’t say, the way you conduct your personal and public business, the love you show to friends and enemies alike, the spirit of joy you allow to shine through you regardless of circumstances, the strength of your faith in Christ, and the priority you place on purity.
“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
One of the best ways to gauge your spiritual growth is to look at yourself from the perspective of people who dislike you. Can they see Christ in you? Can they spot the difference He’s made in your life? Can they get a sense of God’s love from the way you treat them? If the answer is no, it’s time to reassess your discipleship and figure out what is preventing the love of Christ from flowing freely through you to others.
“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3–4).
Spiritual growth sharpens your vision. It allows you to see the opportunities that are hidden in the tribulations, challenges, and suffering you face. Without that sharpened vision, you may be tempted to feel discouraged, frustrated, or even defeated by trying circumstances. In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul reveals the positive impact that tribulations can have if you approach them with the right spirit.
Every time you endure a tribulation by turning to God and His Word, not only do you grow spiritually, but you also build a deeper understanding of perseverance. Perseverance gives you confidence when facing your next tribulation. It also builds character within you. You start to think of yourself as someone who can withstand tribulation with God’s help. Once you establish a godly character, you can carry a sense of hope into any situation.
“For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9–10).
You’re not the only person who has a vested interest in your spiritual growth. Think of the person (or persons) who led you to Christ. Think of your family members and friends who pray for you every day, as Paul prayed for the Colossian believers. Think of the people in your church—your fellow members in the body of Christ—who need you to pull your weight as you accomplish God’s work together.
These people aren’t just rooting for your spiritual growth; they’re also drawing strength from it. They’re eyewitnesses to the Lord’s maturing work in you. They’re finding new reasons to praise and glorify God because of you. Those who are struggling may take hope and inspiration from your spiritual growth. The final takeaway, then, is that your spiritual growth is important for reasons that extend far beyond yourself.
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