Lord, Teach Me to Hunger

I can’t remember the last time I was hungry.

Not another-Oreo-would-hit-the-spot hungry. Not grab-a-granola-bar-mid-afternoon hungry. I mean honest, echoes-in-the-stomach hungry. I suspect I’m not alone.

I thank God for this. Many people around the world—and plenty in my own town—ache for food. God has (to this point) spared me this distress, and I’m grateful.

But I have often been a poor steward of God’s provision. I have used food to push hunger away, rejecting my body’s built-in notification system. In eating and snacking (and snacking and snacking), I have insulated myself against feeling my need.

The physical risks of this habit are obvious, but the danger runs deeper.

A Spiritual Problem

Notice the centrality of hunger and thirst in these three passages from the Bible.[1]

Matthew 5:6

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Psalm 42:1-2

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?

Psalm 63:1

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Hunger, thirst, pants, faints. The Bible uses the language of our bodies to describe a heart inclined toward God.

Can you hear the desperation in these words? “To hunger” doesn’t mean to want to eat very much. Hunger is the body’s testimony to the necessity of food.

Read those verses again. God is not a take-or-leave bedtime snack; he is our sustenance.

More Than Hunger

Analogies depend on a known reference. Jesus’s claim to be the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) is meaningless unless his audience was familiar with sheep. The Israelites knew about consuming fires (Deut. 4:24) because of their daily cooking and worship habits.

So if the Bible urges us to hunger for God, physical hunger should not be so rare in our lives. Bodily hunger brings the spiritual reality into the physical realm; it points us toward proper desires. But God uses more than hunger.

Grief, loneliness, waiting—these feelings and experiences of wanting and lacking are all a gift from God. They show us our lack of control and our need for help outside ourselves.

When we make it our goal—always unspoken—to avoid any trace of these feelings, we lose a powerful guide. We reject pictures and lessons from God designed to draw us to him.

Satisfied in Jesus

In the context of asserting his oneness with the Father (see John 6:30), Jesus made this remarkable statement.

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” — John 6:35

This is glorious—our spiritual hunger is temporary! God gives the longing and provides the fulfillment. Because of the work of Jesus, this ultimate satisfaction is for everyone who comes.

Implications for Today

In God, and because of Jesus, we will be completely satisfied. We have present-day glimpses of that satisfaction, but we await the fullness. What does that mean for today?

I’ve realized I need these feelings. Hunger, thirst, grief, loneliness—they remind me of my dependence and God’s thorough provision, both now and in the future. God supplies everything I require, from the smallest reassurance to my greatest need—God himself.

God brought me to this issue through food, so I’m starting with physical hunger. Over the past two months I have been snacking less and fasting more. Small steps, to be sure, but I hope God will use them to build within me a longing for him and the confidence that he will satisfy my deepest hunger pangs.

[1] There are many more passages like this. Here’s a small sample: Psalm 119:81, Rev 22:17, Psalm 107:8-9, Psalm 143:6, Psalm 84:1-2.

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Jesus, the Moka Pot, and Me

My wife loves coffee. When the mood strikes, she breaks out this little classic, the Moka pot.

It’s easy: tuck grounds and water into their assigned quarters, then draw out the good stuff on the stove. Add water or milk to taste.

This Italian friend delivers a tasty beverage and makes my wife happy. And yet, I hate the Moka pot.

I am aware this is not rational.

Whose Mess?

My main issue: the Moka pot is not dishwasher-safe. In our house, this means I scrub the bugger.

Now the Moka pot isn’t difficult to wash by hand. Some disassembly is required, but I can clean everything without much fuss. Two or three minutes, tops.

In my mind, however, this process takes hours of tortuous labor. So, far too often, I ignore the Moka pot. He awaits cleansing by the side of the pool, for he has no one to lower him into the waters.

But my sin goes beyond mere neglect—there’s a dangerous storm brewing in my heart. That’s not mine, it’s hers. Why should I have to wash it when she’s the one who dirtied it? Why should I have to clean up her mess?

This thinking is not just silly and selfish. It may just be blasphemous.

Telling Lies

Consider this well-known verse.

For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. (Eph 5:23)

Douglas Wilson has noted this is not a command but rather a statement of fact. And the comparison in this verse should drive Christian husbands to their knees.

Every marriage, everywhere in the world, is a picture of Christ and the church. Because of sin and rebellion, many of these pictures are slanderous lies concerning Christ. But a husband can never stop talking about Christ and the church. If he is obedient to God, he is preaching the truth; if he does not love his wife, he is speaking apostasy and lies—but he is always talking. If he deserts his wife, he is saying that this is the way Christ deserts His bride—a lie. If he is harsh with his wife and strikes her, he is saying that Christ is harsh with the church—another lie. If he sleeps with another woman, he is an adulterer, and a blasphemer as well. How could Christ love someone other than His own Bride? (Reforming Marriage, p.25)

He is always talking. Ouch. What am I saying about Christ as I leave the Moka pot dirty?

If I am unwilling to clean up my wife’s mess, I’m lying to the world about Christ’s love for the church. I’m saying that Jesus leaves the Church to wash herself, to fix her own problems.

What’s the Truth?

Praise God that this life-sermon I preach about Jesus is not true! Instead of neglecting the church and leaving her responsible for her own purity, Jesus cleansed the church “so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5:27) Further, since God took initiative in our salvation (Rom 5:8), my laziness and neglect toward my wife are not the last word.

In his mercy, God lifts my gaze from my lies to his truth. This is worth proclaiming and sharing far and wide!

If you’d like to discuss it, I know a beverage we can share.

Note: I still appreciate the Wilson quote used in this article, but I wouldn’t point people to his teaching now in the way I might have when I first wrote this.

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Why Most Productivity Advice Doesn’t Help

Turning to the internet for productivity advice might sound like searching for a nutritionist at KFC. But you can find wheat amid the cat-video chaff. Set smart goals. Use good tools. Make realistic to-do lists. And so on.

The Main Problem

Despite all the practical tips, I’ve been disappointed. Most articles, even from wise Christians, don’t address the biggest barrier to my productivity.

That would be me.

That’s right—I’m the biggest obstacle. Even when I’m in a good location with clear goals and a dynamite to-do list, the fact is that sometimes I don’t want to work. I’d much rather read, sleep, or sort my paperclips. Work is hard.

In my flesh, I’m a lazy man. I’m addicted to comfort, ease, and pleasure. No matter what the newest productivity book says, the main reason I don’t accomplish what I should is that I’m a sinner. My heart wants the wrong things.

God’s Standard

Work has been around since the beginning; it was God’s idea well before the fall of man (Gen 2:7–9, 15–17). And God has clear expectations.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Col 3:23–24)

For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (2 Thess 3:10–12)

To these commands we can add the numerous examples and warnings in Proverbs. There we see the terrible consequences of laziness and the rewards of hard work and planning. (See, for example, Proverbs 6:6–11; 10:4–5; 13:4.)

I wilt under these standards in God’s word. I see my sin in sharp contrast, and I know the way forward is confession and repentance. But what does repentance look like?

Hope for the Lazy

Once I confess my laziness, change isn’t as simple as telling myself to work hard. That’s just a restatement of the law. Knowing God’s standard is essential, but I also need a heart that wants good things, that pumps the right motivation clear down to my toes. The first step, then, is obvious: God, please change my heart!

In part, God transforms us as we understand and believe the truth. Because the gospel of Jesus Christ addresses and transforms all of life, this includes my work. So I return to these gospel principles.

God’s work covers mine. In Christ, God has done the most important work for me—work I could never do myself. He has atoned for my sins and kept the law perfectly to make me righteous. My motivation for work must flow down from this mountain spring.

I belong to God. He has created and redeemed me; I am his and I answer to him. My name is written beautifully in heaven, so I don’t have to scrawl it in the dust of earth. From God, my big-picture tasks are to do good to others and make his name known.

God approves of me. He loves me as his son. This must be my dominant feedback, above the most recent or loudest evaluation from my students, colleagues, deans, or any larger community.

I live for others. Because I have been freed and bought with a price, I can freely live for others. I have this charge from God and the Spirit-given ability to do it. As Matt Perman writes in What’s Best Next, “generosity is to be the guiding principle for our lives.” (p.87)

In other words, love should fuel my work. I must put aside ego, fear, and every selfish motivation. Because I am loved, I can work my tail off to love others. What does this mean?

…take the energy you have for meeting your own needs and use that as the measure of the energy you use in seeking the good of others. Desire and seek the good of others with the same passion, creativity, and perseverance as you seek your own. (What’s Best Next, p.88)

Battle On

I still fight an hourly campaign against laziness. But when God gives me victory, it’s usually because I glimpse my standing as a child of God by grace and my opportunity to do good to others. Then, when I am thinking clearly (i.e., believing truth) about my work, I can turn to advice about productivity with some profit.

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Pride in the Parking Lot

On a bright Saturday morning in the spring, I drove to the grocery story to pick up a few items. The day was full of promise.

We were enjoying a weekend visit from my wife’s parents. After gathering some supplies for the homestead, I planned to work for a few hours at the office and then enjoy the afternoon and evening with my family and in-laws.

When I tried to leave the grocery store parking lot, the car gave only a mild attempt at starting. It was as though I had tried to rouse the car after a late-night rager; it acknowledged my presence, turned over once, then retreated under the covers. We both knew it wasn’t getting out of bed any time soon.


While I waited for my wife and mother-in-law, I tried to start the car several more times. I’ve dealt with a dead car battery before, but these noises sounded different. With no particular automotive expertise, I decided there must be a problem with the starter, not the battery. When my mother-in-law suggested that we try to jump start the car, I brushed the idea aside, convinced my diagnosis was sound.

AAA assured me a tow truck would be there within the hour. That seemed reasonable. I read a book with the car windows down, enjoying the parking lot bouquet of carbon monoxide[1] and warming asphalt. Soon one hour turned into three. A tow truck driver finally arrived and I offered my expert opinion about the faulty starter. He proposed we try to jump the car anyway. Given his profession (not to mention his muscles and tattoos), this was no proposal—it was the plan. But I was sure this attempt would fail.

Immediately, powerfully, triumphantly, the car started. Like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber. I could not have been more wrong.

This kind driver obviously dealt with proud idiots of my caliber on a regular basis. He smiled, shook my hand, and instructed me to drive directly to the auto parts store. I replaced the battery and returned home five or six hours after departing.

Lessons About Pride

God has convicted me of pride before (and I’ve written about pride once or twice), but this was a technicolor example. Here are some lessons I hope to learn about noticing and combating pride.

  1. Be careful of insisting that you are right. — This boils down to the fundamental Biblical command that we should not think too highly of ourselves. This applies when we are experts in a field. It certainly applies when we are not.
  2. Be willing to listen to others. — Had I listened to my dear mother-in-law I would have saved a lot of time that Saturday. And who was I to scoff at the expertise of the tow truck driver? We cannot and will not listen to others unless we are humble, unless we believe that we need other people. (This is a good thing to believe, because God says it is true.) Hear ye the proverb: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).
  3. Beware the trap of the stubbornness of pride. — Pride seemes to brings with it a certain isolating stubbornness. As I sat in the parking lot, I was not only full of complaints but I was also strangely smug. There is a wicked satisfaction in being the only one in the world who is right, with all arrayed in splendor against you. In the grip of pride, I can actually enjoy this isolation. I head into a self-congratulatory cycle with my ears closed to outside voices.

We can combat pride by growing in humility, thinking accurately about ourselves and our God. I recommend a heaping dose of the Bible (just about anywhere will do, but Job 38–41 is a fine place to start) along with relationships with people who will be honest with you.

[1] I know this is odorless, just go with me.

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A Primer on Encouragement

After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. (Acts 20:1,2 ESV)

When studying this passage in Sunday school this spring, we had to address the question, “What is encouragement?” “Encouragement” is one of those Christian-y words that can bring a soft, Precious Moments haze to our thinking. We often use it as a replacement for “feeling good.” I was encouraged to know you were thinking about me when my father was in the hospital. But is that what this word really means?

What is Encouragement?

If we are to interpret Acts 20 correctly, we need to learn what “encourage/encouragement” means. Additionally, since we are charged with “encourag[ing] one another” as a Biblical imperative (1 Thess 5:11), this is not only a matter of interpretation, but obedience.

A quick Bible search will help. Frequently the words translated “encourage” are used in parallel with other words or phrases which mean “to strengthen” or “to build up.” This can be seen in 1 Thess 5:11, Deut 3:28, Acts 15:32, and 1 Cor 14:3. There is also a note on 1 Cor 8:10 in the ESV that indicates “fortified” or “built up” is an appropriate way to translate this word. We should further consider the meaning of the English word “encourage,” since translations from Hebrew and Greek take this definition into account: this dictionary suggests that “encourage” means “to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence,” “to stimulate by assistance,” or “to promote, advance, or foster.” “Embolden” and “hearten” are listed as synonyms for “encourage.”

How to Give Encouragement

How are you strengthened? How are you built up? It may give you a warm feeling to know that someone is thinking of you or missing you, but does that really strengthen you? Does that equip you for the challenges and tasks that lie ahead of you? How are you emboldened or heartened in your Christian walk?

Before offering some practical suggestions on encouragement, let me make one appeal. Encouragement is individual. Though there are some activities or approaches that apply broadly, the work of encouragement within a local church must be preceded by the work of getting to know your neighbor. While a preacher or leader can encourage a congregation from the front of the sanctuary, encouragement is more meaningful and effective on a smaller scale. If you know how your friend is wired and you are aware of his or her particular struggles, you will be much more effective in your encouragement.

With that said, here are four ways to encourage a brother or sister in Christ.

Speak Gospel Words

Often the most encouraging action is a loving reminder of the gospel. When we are lonely, dejected, or mourning, we need to be reminded of God’s faithful, unconditional love. When our lives seem overrun with disappointment and failure, sorrow and sadness, we need to hear again of our great savior, Jesus and his work on our behalf. We must be careful not to bring the gospel to our believing friends in a trite, little-orphan-Annie sort of way. (“The sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar!”) But if our speech is seasoned with salt and we are frequently conversing about the things of God, reminding a friend about what is true will be natural, loving, and encouraging. Remember, the enemy of our souls wants us to forget this great truth in favor of believing his lies. We will fight against Satan and the darkness within by speaking the truth in love to one another.


This is one of the ways I have felt the most genuine encouragement over the years. A friend who is praying for me is doing far more than merely thinking of me—he is lifting my concerns up before the God of the universe. And, in his mysterious way, this is how God carries out his plan. How emboldening it is to know that someone is asking the only one who has ultimate power to work on my behalf, pleading that his will be done!

Prayer by itself will encourage, because God really does hear, provide strength, and work. But telling a brother about your prayers for him can accomplish much within his heart.

Identify God’s Work

When you feel trapped in a stubborn sin pattern, you might despair of God’s grace. You might believe the lie that you are not growing, and maybe you’re not God’s child at all. Enter a friend. With a bit of distance from your struggle, he can remind you how much growth God has given you in the last year or six months. What an encouragement it is to know that God has not abandoned me over a long period of time, and that he is at work in me! And if God has been at work in me over the past year, and if his word says he is committed to me, why wouldn’t he continue to work in my life? In my experience, the more specific you can be here, the better.

Give Practical Help

In the way that an archer is emboldened to stand and fire his arrows if he does not also have to hoist his shield, so we can strengthen our friends for good works by shouldering some special or everyday burdens for them. By babysitting you may free a couple to strengthen their marriage on a date; by supplying a meal, you may give that sick mother another crucial hour to rest; by swooping in with a mop, broom, and sponge you may teach that single man some of the skills he needs to make his apartment more inviting for the members of his evangelistic Bible study group. Remember, encouraging is more than doing something nice—this is no mere muffin-delivery service. The goal behind an act of encouragement is to strengthen and build up.

Showing God to Others

In the end, encouragement is one way to image our God to a fellow Christian. We can speak to, work for, and hug our friends in a way that provides a small echo of the earth-shaking ways God has spoken to, worked for, and loved us.

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Truth and the Silver Screen

“The book was better.”

I loathe this saying. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but I think I have some good reasons. Book lovers are already squirming in their seats and readying their arguments. But hear me out. We can still be friends.

These are totally different forms of storytelling. Apples and oranges. Film combines too many mediums of communication to be compared to books. Pretty much all forms of art are encompassed in film, from photography and theater to music and dance. A good film will feed your eyes and ears information in ways and at speeds that a book never could. 

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a 90-minute film at 25 frames per second is 135,000,000 words, or reading the Bible (757,439 words) 178 times! Or reading the entire Bible once every 2 minutes! 

“I liked the book better.”

Or “The book was a better book than the movie was a movie.”

Either of these are fine. You’re allowed to like books more than movies. And there are a lot of bad movies out there. Both books and movies are trying to tell a story, and both can succeed or fail. And maybe that’s all people mean when they say the book was better. So I might be splitting hairs. Either way, I hope we can agree that films are different from books and therefore deserve their own conversation.

“Christian film” and Innocence

I’ve seen two main schools of thought when people try to define the category of “Christian film.” The first is whether it’s explicitly Christian, often determined by the explicit gospel doctrine in the film. For instance, some would say it’s not a “Christian film” unless the gospel is proclaimed. Christians debate this. I can go either way with the definition.

The second characteristic is how “clean” the film is. This is often the bigger conversation when selecting a film, and with good reason. Should Christians watch movies with sex scenes? Or swearing? What about drug use? Or violence? Or tragic themes? Or (fill in the blank)?

If you only watch “Christian” films then these questions are easier to answer. But the vast majority of films out there present more of a challenge. Most are a mixture of good and questionable content. How much questionable content can a film contain before it is “bad?” Conversely, does a simple lack of questionable content automatically make a film “good?”

I’m not going to answer these questions for you. Rather, I want to back up a bit and consider the more fundamental concept of innocence.

I’ve never done drugs. I am naïve to that experience. And while films are powerful, I’m not going to get a high from watching the wrong movie. But there are legitimate ways in which we as Christians may have our innocence threatened by a movie. Their power may be limited but they are powerful nonetheless. We must therefore be careful when selecting the culture we consume because innocence is quickly lost and often lost for good.

This is a familiar struggle for parents. Right now my kids are young and largely oblivious to foul language. That is going to change as they grow older, but I don’t want it to come before they are equipped to handle it, nor do I want it to come because of my negligence.

This is important because there are many well-made films out there that contain content with the potential to change our levels of innocence. We must be discerning in how we select films for ourselves and our families. It’s okay to not watch a film.

How should we watch?

But maybe you like watching films. Let’s assume we aren’t watching anything inappropriate. Now, how should Christians watch movies? 

Every film asks the viewer to suspend their disbelief in some way. The creators want us to set aside our skepticism and enter into the story. They tell us how their world works and we need to believe it if we want to enter in. It can be something easy, like forgetting that these are actors; or something hard, like acknowledging superpowers. The key here is that disbelief is suspended, not eliminated, as if you left it at the door or set it on the shelf for a time. We all enter back into our world at the end of the film and reinstate our disbelief.

Sometimes we want to escape our reality, turn off our brains, and get lost in the silver screen. Sometimes we want to feel something more deeply, be it humor, fear, triumph, loss, love, etc. Whatever your mood, I encourage you to start by looking for the value declarations and compare them to the truths of Scripture. Not everyone wants to be so critical of each and every film they watch but consuming films mindlessly is dangerous. Why? Because entering these worlds is always an intimate experience where we intentionally lower our guard.

Value declarations are statements of how the world works or should work. Sometimes they are insightful and profound. Other times they are shallow and misguided. We need to be careful that we don’t casually adopt poor values into our lives simply because we’ve seen them promoted in film. Watching movies with other Christians, or talking about films you’ve both seen, is one way to do this better.

I especially enjoy films that manage to hit on deeper biblical truths, such as the consequences of wrong action, the emptiness of success, or the beauty of sacrifice. Usually this is simply due to an honest portrayal of the human condition and the consequences of actions. Films can immerse us in real human experiences, offering brutally honest critiques. Unfortunately, apart from the gospel, most films fall short when they try to provide good solutions to these critiques. I leave those solutions to the Bible… okay so maybe that book is better.

A Few Recommendations

Here are some movies that have resonated with me over the years. 

1. North to Alaska (1960) – John Wayne, Capucine

A comedy out of time. Let’s talk about toxic masculinity, using privilege to stand up for others, no means no, and how we treat those with immoral reputations. This film contrasts with the “typical” John Wayne film in many ways but I suggest comparing the final chase scene with that of Donovan’s Reef (1963) or McLintock! (1963). 

Parent’s Guide – IMDB

2. The Fall (2006) – Lee Pace, Catinca Untaru

This film is confusing, and therefore many people don’t like it. But at its core it is a heartfelt story of a despairing man and a sweet child. The beautiful cinematography invites you to see the world through the imagination of a little girl while the themes of trust, manipulation, and suicide are tackled above her head. As a dad it made me cry.

Parent’s Guide – IMDB

3. The Thin Man (1934) – William Powell, Myrna Loy

This husband and wife duo stand out in this 1930s masterpiece. I’m always struck by how much fun these two have in a time when marriage was usually the butt of the joke. Solving murders, personal vices (alcohol), or former girlfriends—nothing can get between these two. The best part is that they made five sequels!

Parent’s Guide – IMDB

4. Surf’s Up (2007) – Shia LaBeouf, Zooey Deschanel

A kids movie on the heels of big blockbuster Happy Feet (2006). But this ripoff is so much better. Chasing your dreams, meeting your heroes, making friends, seeking fame, and what really matters are all questions this film asks. Stylishly told through a reality TV camera. Also the water is beautiful in that end scene!

Parent’s Guide – IMDB

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When Shall We Fold Socks?

I’m putting off laundry to write this. 

There’s always laundry. And dishes. And crumbs on the floor. I feel the constant pressure to do the next chore to keep the house in order. Then my child asks me to read a book. But, the laundry! 

This is when senior parents say, “Enjoy your children while you can! The laundry can wait.” 

It’s so well-meant. It usually comes from people who dearly love their own now-grown children and miss the sweetness of soft toddler snuggles, the warm feeling of a child pressed against you asking for one more chapter. They want to free young parents from the tyranny of maintaining Insta-perfect homes to enjoy their children. Read the book; the laundry can wait. 

Unfortunately, my laundry has already waited, and so have the dishes. If a young parent has expressed distress about the pressures of housekeeping and childcare, they have already let the dishes go. Eventually you’re out of sippy cups and clean underwear. 

Stress and overwhelm aren’t unique to parenthood, and neither is dismissive advice. We tell overworked friends, “Just leave work at work.” We tell lonely teens, “It’s just high school; you won’t care in a few years.” Unfortunately, being told “don’t worry” doesn’t solve our problems. 

Do Not Worry about Your Laundry

“Enjoy your children,” spoken to a parent who feels overburdened, or “Just leave it at work,” spoken to someone against a deadline, can feel like an added pressure. Not only must you meet your ordinary responsibilities, but you must also have a sense of peace or appreciation about it all!

And yet, Jesus taught his followers, “Do not worry”:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious 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?” (Matthew 6:25)

Although it’s phrased as a command, the tone of this section of the Sermon on the Mount is not a burden laid on a shoulder already heavy with anxiety. Instead, it’s a gracious release. We don’t need to worry about even our basic needs, because “your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matthew 6:32). We are God’s children, adopted in love, redeemed at the dear cost of his Son’s blood. If God provides for the lilies and the birds, we can be assured that he will also care for us, his beloved children.

God provides for his children in many ways. A primary way is through the church body, the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. When we see another member of the body struggling, it’s a call to action. 

When explaining the vital connection between faith and works, James highlights the importance of putting action behind our words. “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16). Jesus Christ is the ultimate display of this: He not only met many physical needs during his earthly ministry, but he also put aside his glory and laid down his life to meet our deepest spiritual need, atoning for our sins on the cross. Following his example and empowered by his Spirit, we are also to meet one another’s needs as we are able.

Telling young parents to enjoy their children, without also offering to help with the dishes, or telling a student to ignore hurtful remarks from classmates, without also helping them find a safe community, places the burden back on the suffering person. Instead, we are called to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). 

Please don’t hear me wrong. Telling people to enjoy their children and suggesting healthy work/life boundaries are not bad things to say. Tone and timing go a long way in making advice land well where it’s needed. All I’m saying is, if you’re about to tell a young parent to let the dishes go, maybe be prepared to pick up a dishrag. 

But Seriously, Do Not Worry about Your Laundry

But Jesus really did say, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” or “When shall we fold socks?” (Matthew 6:31). Okay I added that last one. 

So if you’re the parent putting off laundry, or the employee under deadline, or the kid dreading school tomorrow, how do you just … not worry about it? 

First, take comfort. Your heavenly father knows your needs, and he cares about you (Matthew 6:32). 

Second, check your motives. Jesus tells his followers to, instead of worrying, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Do you want to keep a clean house because you want to feel good about your own ability to do it all? (That’s my hand raised, it’s me.) Or do you want to keep a clean house because God has placed this home and this family in your care, and you want to serve them well? 

When our eyes are set on the kingdom of God, our measure of success changes. The cleanliness of the house takes second place to whether my kids see the gospel in me as I love and serve them—which includes providing a safe and comfortable home. Meeting the deadline takes a backseat to doing your best work, not for man but for God (Colossians 3:23). Getting treated badly at school will always feel awful, but it becomes an opportunity to model grace in a setting where people expect cruelty. 

Finally, use your resources. God has promised to provide for you! Now, God doesn’t always play by our rules. He may not provide a maid; or an extension; or a comedic series of harmless accidents that leave your bully hanging from the school flagpole by a wedgie, leading to a heartfelt reckoning where enemies become friends. 

God has provided a community in his church. All those people who told you to let the dishes go might just be willing to scrub a pot because they know from experience how precious it is to spend time with your kids! They’re only little for a little while, so I’m told.

Asking for help is hard, both logistically and in principle. We live far apart from one another, often siloed in our single-family homes. Our culture prizes independence and personal responsibility; we don’t dig around in other people’s private lives and problems, and we expect the same from others. That’s not God’s model for his body! 

Immediately before he laid down his own life for his bride, Jesus washed his disciples’ dirty feet and instructed them to serve others as he did. Asking for help gives others the opportunity to serve like Jesus.

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Gather With All Ages

Almost a decade ago, my wife and I moved to a new city. We visited several churches, decided on a large, solid one, and wanted to get involved in Sunday school. We chose a class from the provided list, asked directions in the church foyer from the Sunday school traffic cop (note: not her official title), and made our way to the classroom.

We opened the door to a class bursting with young married couples. Almost immediately, we began to field question after question about our children. We didn’t yet have children, but having been married for three years, we were adept at volleying back our answers. We were surprised, however, by the reaction when others heard we were childless; this news was (apparently) shocking and confusing. Finally, someone broke the news to us: this class was only for young married adults with children under a certain age. Childless couples didn’t belong here. “Perhaps you’d fit better in another class.”

We soon learned that this church had segmented their Sunday school offerings to the extreme. Please report to room 205 if you are young, single, born in the midwest, and have at least two older siblings. Maybe it wasn’t quite this bad, but the number of categories and subcategories on display was something to behold.

I understand the impulse for Christian groups to gather according to age and life situation. Especially when children are involved, it is comfortable and refreshing to compare notes, walk familiar paths, and share common experiences.

But this segmentation is not all good. We miss out when we only spend time with people of our age and exact life situation. Two sandcrabs can’t give each other any wisdom about life on the other side of the dunes.

The Benefits

Here are some of the benefits of gathering with people of all ages, life situations, and backgrounds.

A perspective outside your own

A diversity of perspectives is important not just for sharing wisdom and giving advice. With more backgrounds we get to hear varied testimonies of God’s faithfulness and love. God has a multitude of ways of bringing people to himself, rescuing them, comforting them, and providing for them, and we need to hear these stories. We guard against self-centeredness when we are reminded that our story is not the only one.

Young people learn from their elders

More mature believers have traveled roads that still lie ahead for the young. They have raised their children, faced job layoffs, suffered cancer, mourned for wayward sons, and walked through much other joy and adversity. There is a lucidity that comes from being closer to death than to birth—younger people need to hear that clarity and the accompanying warnings about the entrapments of the world. Younger generations need to know that some of their “important” activities, toys, and pursuits may in fact be evidence of “fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11, NASB).

Older people learn from the young

One glorious aspect of multigenerational gatherings is that helping and teaching is not just a one-way street. The Bible tells us that the “glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair” (Proverbs 20:29). Both directions in this verse are true and relevant for this discussion. This strength of young men is real and can be helpful to those of more advanced age. Young men can use their physical strength to help with practical tasks for their elders, but the young man’s energy and approach to life can have an invigorating effect as well. Have you ever spent time around a new believer? They practically exhale enthusiasm and joy for others to breathe. Similarly, when a younger believer is convicted of a sin or God gives them understanding about a key doctrine, what was assumed and lived for years by the older can be seen with newer eyes. This can help challenge long-standing patterns of sin or unbelief in more mature believers.

It’s easy to see how the older can give the wisdom of experience to the younger, but in a quickly-changing world, younger Christians can provide some wisdom to their elders too. Consider the cliché example of technology. Younger believers who have brought some discernment to their use of new technology can help their parents in the faith to do the same. But there may also be experiences—opportunities associated with travel, work, or family—that the young have had which have eluded the old.

Finally, in a multigenerational gathering, we as a church can affirm the value of every believer. As Christians age and they are able to do less physically, this is a small way to communicate just how precious and valuable every person is. And this is no mere show—if you gather with believers of all ages and talk openly with each other for a significant length of time, you will benefit from each other.

A Different Experience

My wife and I had a much different Sunday school experience when we were first married. We intentionally sought out a class with mostly 40- and 50-year-olds. This was one of the best decisions we made in that church. After the group reminded us about the booming Sunday school class for graduate students and hearing that, no, we were here on purpose, we began a wonderful season of sharing our lives.

Meeting with Christians of all ages is not a cure-all, and there is undeniable value in friendships and gatherings with people of similar age and experience. But we would all do well to make room in our lives for all of the people God has placed around us, regardless of age.

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God’s Work and Our Work, Hand in Hand

I love watching toddlers learning to walk. Once they’ve reached the stage of pulling themselves up on chairs and coffee tables, they’re ready for the big adventure. Some brave souls make a few solo attempts, but these wobbly steps often end in tears.

What comes next? A parent or grandparent steps in! You’ve seen this adorable dance—the adult, bent at the waist, the child between their feet; the toddler, reaching up to grasp the offered hands, ready to barrel out into the wide-open spaces.

This picture always brings to mind the way that our work and God’s work are joined together.

Opposition to Nehemiah’s Work

At his request, Nehemiah was sent from the Persian city of Susa back to Jerusalem so that he might rebuilt the city that lay in ruins (Neh 2:5). He quickly won the support of the people and directed an effort to rebuild the walls that encircled Jerusalem (Neh 2:9–3:32).

However, from his first days back in the holy city, Nehemiah faced opposition (Neh 2:10, 19). This hostility reached a breaking point in the fourth chapter of Nehemiah.

Praying and Working

We have much to learn from the way Nehemiah pointed the Israelites to their God and to their work in response to the resistance of the surrounding peoples.

Sanballat the Horonite heard about the Jewish work on the Jerusalem wall and he was “angry and greatly enraged” (Neh 4:1). He and Tobiah the Ammonite taunted and mocked the Israelites (Neh 4:2–3). Nehemiah responded by praying to God for his people (Neh 4:4–5); then everyone got to work and built the wall (Neh 4:6).

When Sanballat and Tobiah (and others) made a plan “to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it” (Neh 4:8), Nehemiah took the same approach. The people prayed and set a guard for protection (Neh 4:9).

Later, there were reports of a more specific threat, so Nehemiah stationed armed Israelites in strategic places near the wall (Neh 4:13). Nehemiah addressed the nobles and officials and people:

Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.

God frustrated the plans of these opponents, and thus the Israelites got back to work (Neh 4:15). Nehemiah organized an alert system for the workers—a trumpet would blow when an attack came, and the people would rally there. Nehemiah was confident of the Lord’s hand: “Our God will fight for us” (Neh 4:20).

Throughout this chapter, Nehemiah urges the people to work while reminding them of God’s work. He instructs them to look to the Lord and to look to their labor.

Hand in Hand

Without older hands for stability, a toddler would stagger and fall. But without the child’s desire to learn and move, the adult would just drag an unhappy, small person across the floor. The child’s and the adult’s work go together.

We may be tempted to work without looking to the Lord, but that is foolish. We cannot accomplish God’s work without him. But we must not swing to the other extreme either—praying without putting our hands to work is presumptuous and faithless. Most often, God works through our work.

Nehemiah 4 is a good reminder that God’s sovereignty and our responsibility are not opponents to be pitted against one another. They are friends, walking hand in hand, accomplishing God’s will.

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Thank You, God, for Failure

Thank you, God, for my failures. I do not like to fail, but I trust you use my failures for good in me.

In my failure, I realize how much I need help. So often I fail because I barrel into a task or project on my own. Thank you for reminding me of my limitations and for providing every droplet of assistance I need.

In my failure, I see my vulnerability and sin. I recognize my selfish choices, my blind spots, and the categories I didn’t even know existed. Thank you for pointing out my mistakes and for forgiving me as your child.

In my failure, I recognize the opportunity to grow. In my pride I often think I am wise and strong. Thank you for the chance to continue being human, to learn about your world and to gain abilities in it.

In my failure, I see the opportunity to identify with others who fail. Though I am prone to push other people away by boasting in my success, you are equipping me to help and talk with those who struggle. Thank you for your presence with me—and in me—that allows me to be a presence to others.

In my failure, I see an accurate picture of myself. No one fails at everything, but we hit the ground more often than the bullseye. Thank you for Jesus, who always hit the mark. Thank you for the gracious exchange of the gospel, in which he took my sin and gave me his righteousness. Thank you that every failure is a reminder of your patient mercy toward your children.

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