One of my all-time favorite promises for God’s people is found in Romans 8:28:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
I wonder if anyone has ever showed you how God faithfully kept this same promise to His people throughout Scripture, in history. There are so many stories I could point to, but we’ll just look at one today in the book of Ruth. (And no, I’m not ultimately talking about the love story between Ruth and Boaz—this book is about so much more than that!)
Rewind to the Beginning
Before we dive into the book of Ruth together, let me fill you in with what has been happening in the books leading up to Ruth, because the Bible is one, cohesive story.
God had formed a great nation (see Genesis through Numbers). Check.
He had brought His people into His place, the Promised Land, just as He had promised (see the book of Joshua). Check.
But God’s people weren’t living under His rule. In fact, since Moses’ death and then Caleb’s death at the end of the book of Joshua, there was no great leader to lead God’s people.
Repeat a Dark, Vicious Cycle
And things went south quick. When we open the book of Judges—the book just before Ruth—we see a vicious cycle that keeps repeating itself:
God’s people turn away from Him and sin.
This makes God angry, so He gives them over to their enemies.
Once they’re good and miserable, God’s people cry out to God for help.
God sends them a deliverer, or a judge. (These “judges” didn’t wear black robes and hold gavels like we think of today. Back then, a judge was a warrior, a deliverer, a military leader.)
Once God’s people have been saved, they once again turn away from Him, and the whole cycle is repeated.
All in all, God raises up twelve judges—eleven men and one woman—to deliver His people during this time. But even many of these judges are shady characters (think Samson.) I like the way Starr Meade puts it in her survey of the Bible:
In all the stories we see that the judges were not able to unite all of Israel, or lead the people in keeping the covenant, or even faithfully keep it themselves. So all the stories remind us that God’s people need a greater deliverer than any we see in this book of great deliverers.
Feel the Desperate Need for a King
Israel needed a king. See, a king was meant to help God’s people keep God’s law. In fact, God had promised kings to Abram when He made a covenant with him:
“I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you” (Gen. 17:6, emphasis added).
But there was no king on the horizon. The author of Judges gives us clues as to this problem in Judges 17:6, 18:1, and 19:1:
In those days there was no king in Israel.
The book ends highlighting this problem, just in case we missed it:
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes (21:25).
Note Many Sinful Decisions
Enter the book of Ruth. It’s set during the dark time of the judges:
In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi (1:1–2).
God had warned that if His people didn’t keep His covenant, He would send famine and drought. But rather than repenting of his sin and trusting God for provision, Elimelech took off for Moab—the home of Israel’s arch enemy.
Keep reading: We will see God providentially use Elimelech’s sin for good.
As if that’s not enough sin, Elimelech’s two sons decide to marry Moabite women, which was another big no-no because the Moabites did not worship the one true God. But in spite of their sin, we will see God providentially use it for good.
After Elimelech and his two sons die in the land of Moab, Naomi decides she’ll just go back to Israel to starve. Her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth insists on going with her.
See How Ruth Is Not About the Marriage; It’s About the Kiddo!
Back in Israel, Ruth goes to work to provide for her mother-in-law. She gleans in Boaz’s field, who sacrifices his financial future to play the role of “kinsman redeemer,” just as God had commanded faithful Israelites to do.
After Boaz marries Ruth, they have a baby: little Obed. As soon as his birth is announced, we fast forward through his life to the day when he gives birth to a son, to “Jesse, the father of David” (4:17).
Did you catch that?!
Bernie Elliott, an elder at the local church I attend, points out, “This is like dynamite at the end of the book. God did it! God used famine, sinful decisions, and death. Through all that He still raised up what His people needed: God provided the king.”
Watch for the Sinless King
As we read on in 1 and 2 Samuel, we see that while David was a good king, he still sinned. We still need a better king—a sinless king. And this king is coming. God promises King David in 2 Samuel 7:12–13:
“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever (emphasis added).”
While some of this promise was partially fulfilled through David’s son Solomon, we know that this promise was ultimately pointing to King Jesus, because after about 400 years passed, there was no more king in Israel . . . and there hasn’t been since.
Rejoice at the Sinless King Provided
But check out the first verse of the New Testament:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham (emphasis added).
King Jesus was born . . . in order to die . . . for the sins of Elimelech and his sons and King David and all who would put their trust in Him. Nowhere do we see more clearly that no human evil can prevent God’s great purposes—He used the crucifixion of His Son to save a people for Himself.
If you have been saved by this King, God will do the same in your life, no matter what wrongs have been done by or to you. He will ensure that all the sinful, awful decisions and acts ultimately work together for good, accomplishing His grand designs. Of this you can be sure.
In 2003, a dream took root in Jennifer Smith’s heart. (Jennifer is a former inmate of eleven-and-a-half years and a current chaplain at McPherson Women’s Prison.) She envisioned a transition home where women released from prison could live for up to a year.
A Need Sparks a Dream
Rather than returning to a home of generational drug abuse and crime, women could live in this transition home with responsibility and accountability. They could learn how to live the Christian life on the “outside” of prison’s walls.
See, Jennifer knew well that the most common fear among inmates is that they will return to prison, because they don’t have accountability or a support system. (A female ex-felon has a 51 percent chance of re-offending and returning to prison.) Jennifer wanted to change that.
A Dream Gains Momentum
At the True Woman ’16 Conference, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth announced that Revive Our Hearts would give 10 percent of the conference offering to the Cornerstone Transition Home. This would help with the final $25,000 needed to get the home up and running.
What you might not have heard is the end result. Conference attendees gave almost $17,000 to this project. Then Revive Our Hearts leadership sent Cornerstone Transition Home a check for $25,000 to make up the difference.
A Dream Come True
On December 12, Jennifer’s dream became a reality. The Cornerstone Transition Home opened its doors to its first three women. Fourteen more acceptance letters have been issued to women awaiting parole plans, and over fifty applications are yet to be prayed over and responded to. They hope to fill all twenty-nine beds by summer, Lord willing.
Their prayer is to see a host of women build their lives on the solid rock—Jesus Christ, the Cornerstone—and then share Him with the world around them through their changed lives.
When I graduated from high school, someone slipped me a slim, purple book full of promises from God’s Word for the new graduate. What I didn’t understand when I placed that book in my college dorm room was that God’s Word isn’t just a big flip-and-locate-different-promises-to-claim-for-your-life sort of book. All of Scripture is one giant promise kept!
Here, let me show you what I mean.
All of Scripture is one giant promise kept!
Open your Bible to the first page, and it won’t take you long at all to find mankind’s rebellion against God. On the first and second pages, we see God creating all things. Mankind is the pinnacle of His creation, made in God’s image to reflect Him and reign over all He had made. But on only page three of my Bible, Adam and Eve rebel against God (Gen. 3:1–7), passing their sin nature on to all who would come after.
Catch That First, Cryptic Promise
The same day of their rebellion, God doles out their punishment, as He is holy and must judge all sin. But even as He hands out judgment, He also extends grace. We catch the first glimmer of God’s promise to send Jesus to undo the damage we’d done in Genesis 3:15. God says to the serpent:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
It sounds rather cryptic to our ears, so let me call in fellow writer Starr Meade to help explain:
Genesis 3:15 gives us the first promise of Christ in the Bible. Jesus Christ is the one who would be born of a woman and who would undo what the Serpent had done. It would cost Christ a great deal. He would have to take the judgment God’s people deserved for their sin by dying in their place. In this way, Satan would “bruise” Jesus’ “heel,” but Jesus would bruise the Serpent’s head by restoring God’s relationship with his people.
Turn a few more pages, and you’ll see God reaffirming and expanding on this promise to a man named Abram.
Hear God Reaffirm His Promise to an Old, Childless Man
In Genesis 17, among other things, God promises to:
Give Abram’s offspring land (think the Promised Land).
Make of Abram a great nation (think the nation of Israel).
Bless all the families of the earth through Abram (think through his descendant, Jesus).
All Scripture shows God keeping these promises in spite of great obstacles.
All Scripture shows God keeping these promises in spite of great obstacles. Take the second promise, for example. God promised to make Abram and his old, childless wife Sarah a great nation. At the time it sounded laughable, but when Abram was 100 years old, God miraculously gave this couple a son, Isaac. Slowly we see this family grow. Isaac gives birth to Jacob. Jacob has twelve sons. One of these boys is Joseph.
If you’re like me, you tend to read Joseph’s story as if it’s all about . . . Joseph. But this story is not ultimately about Joseph. Watch how God uses Joseph to fulfill His promise to Abram to make him into a great nation.
Watch and See
You can read Joseph’s fascinating story in Genesis 37–50. To recap, as his father’s favorite son, he is hated and abused by his brothers. They sell him into slavery and then breathe a deep sigh of relief. They’ll never have to see Joseph again, or so they think.
But years later, due to a harsh famine, these brothers travel all the way to Egypt for food and find themselves bowing before . . . Joseph. They don’t know it’s him at first (he’s grown up, he speaks Egyptian, he dresses Egyptian, he walks like an Egyptian, and he’s the second most powerful man in all the land of Egypt).
But after a couple dramatic interactions, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers:
“I am Joseph! Is my father still alive? . . . Come near to me, please. . . . I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. . . . God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors (45:3–7, emphasis added).
Did you catch that? If God had not providentially allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery and then rise to power, this little, incubating family would have been wiped out. God’s promise to Abram would have failed. But instead they are saved, and they continue to grow.
Observe This Little Family Grow into a Great Nation
Joseph’s family (Abram’s descendants) move to Egypt, survive the famine, and at the end of the book—while they are not yet a great nation—they’ve grown to nearly 100 people.
Turn the page (Exodus is just a continuation of the first book of the Bible), and what do you see?
The people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them (1:7).
In fact, by the time we turn to Numbers 1:46, we’re told there were over half a million males at this point. God did it! In spite of obstacle after obstacle, He made a great nation from one, lone man—a nation through which the whole world would be blessed . . . through Jesus. The New Testament begins this way:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham (Matt. 1:1, emphasis added).
God always keeps His promises. If you tracked with me this far, you saw how God was faithful to make of one man a little family, and then to make from this little family a great nation. He did this in spite of many obstacles, because nothing is too hard for God.
The next time you open your Bible, remember that the whole story is one giant promise kept. It was written so you might know and trust this God who makes promises and always keeps them.
This post from the archives has been freshly updated and expanded with my three main tips for those who want to write a book. Enjoy!
I often hear from aspiring writers asking for tips on how to make their dream of becoming a published author come true. Here are three steps I recommend for those whose eyes are set on a writing career.
Explore Your Motivation to Write
Why do you want to write? Why do you want to publish a book? Motivation matters—big time.
In 1 Samuel, we see the Israelites demanding the prophet Samuel to appoint them a king. There was nothing technically wrong with wanting a king (see Deuteronomy 17:14–20 for proof). The problem was why they wanted a king. Here it is, straight from their mouths:
“There shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Sam. 8:19–20, emphasis added).
God had a flawless record in fighting their battles for them, but they wanted a king who looked and acted like the kings of the nations around them. This was a direct rejection of God:
And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (v. 7, emphasis added).
God gave His people the king they wanted, but He warned them through Samuel that the day would come when they would cry out to God for relief from their king. On that day, God would not answer them (see vv. 10–18).
Motivation matters to God. And it should matter to us.
I’d encourage you to take some time to journal through these questions. Ask God to search your heart. Why do I want to become a well-known writer? Why do I want to publish a book? If you find less-than-lovely motives (or more like when you find less-than-lovely motives), confess them to God. Ask Him to cleanse you from sinful desires and to replace your ungodly motives with pure ones.
Write Like You Mean It
If you want to become a writer, you have to write. And write. And write. Dreaming won’t put words on the page.
If you’re anything like me, it’ll take you awhile to figure out what routine fits you. Try different options until you’ve figured out what works best in this season of life.
Are you an early riser . . . or could you be? Wake with the roosters, and write at a set time each morning.
Do you need a good amount of time to “get into the zone”? Maybe an extended Saturday date at Barnes & Noble would be just your thing. Consider inviting a friend along for accountability and an occasional laugh.
Warning: This will feel like work. Hard work. Because it is. This is why it’s important to know why you’re writing (back to that motivation thing). You’ll need a solid reason to sit down at your laptop again when others are out enjoying the sunshine with friends.
Don’t always choose writing over time with friends, though. You’ll need to read diversely and live well so you actually have deep thoughts to ponder, adventures to write about, questions to answer.
Once you’re into a rhythm of writing regularly, you might want to think about starting a blog (I recommend WordPress), so you can begin to grow an audience and so others can benefit from your words.
Once you’ve mastered the discipline of writing regularly, there’s one more thing to do.
Something Your Profs Won’t Tell You
Bestselling author Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth (author of nearly twenty books, with more than three million copies sold worldwide) never set out to become an author. She was approached by a publisher for her first book when she wasn’t well known. When I first heard that, I thought, Well, that worked for you, but then . . . you’reNancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. You’re special!
But then, miracle of miracles, it happened for me, too. Unbeknownst to me, a publisher had been reading my blog, and then they approached me about writing a book. Professors never even tell you that’s a possibility when you’re sitting in Writing 101! They spend all their time warning you that you’ll have to submit countless query letters and will receive scores of rejection letters.
There’s nothing wrong with sending query letters, but I think those writing profs would do well to also remind hopeful students that they live under God’s providence. While we were still unformed, God wrote in one of His books every day that was formed for us (Ps. 139:16). This same God opens doors no one can shut and shuts doors no one can open (Rev. 3:7).
Wait on God
One of the twelve “Cutting-Edge Commitments” of Life Action Ministries (the parent ministry of Revive Our Hearts where I’ve worked for the past eleven years) is faithfulness. They say it like this:
God has not called us to be “successful,” as the world measures success, but to be faithful. It is not our responsibility to promote ourselves or the outward, visible growth of our ministry. If we will take care of the “depth” of our lives, God will take care of the “breadth” of our ministry” (1 Cor. 3:12–14; 4:1–2).
So my counter-cultural advice to you would be rest. Wait. Stay close to Jesus. Be faithful with what God’s entrusted to you, even when it looks like no one is watching, when you don’t know how this could possibly be advancing your own dreams.
Regularly talk to God about your dreams. He will most likely ask you to die to them. But then, He is the resurrection and the life, and I’ve found He will often resurrect dead dreams when you least expect Him to.
How about you? What dream could you begin to work toward today?
As I share in this post to college grads, be patient if it doesn’t happen right away. Trust God and know that He doesn’t waste anything; He is still writing your story. True contentment is found in Him; not in a dream job.
Pursue your dream job (as long as you don’t have to sin to do your job), and trust God to open and close doors in His perfect, infinite wisdom.
Maybe you’ve clued in to the growing debate over assisted suicide, a debate about whether to allow patients the legal option to end their life. I predict we will hear more and more that assisted suicide is compassionate, that quality of life trumps sanctity of life every time. We say we want to end suffering . . . but at what cost?
A couple years ago a beautiful, young woman started a global conversation about “death with dignity” when she ended her life after she was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. I want to make sure her voice—and ultimately her choice to take her life—is not the only voice and choice you’re hearing about.
Would you allow me to introduce you to a few of my heroes who know what it is to suffer, to cling to God in trust, and to lead a purposeful, fulfilling life?
Meet Joni, A Quadriplegic
Joni Eareckson Tada became a quadriplegic at seventeen, during an unfortunate diving accident. As if that weren’t enough, she continually feels crippling pain and is a breast cancer survivor. Instead of wanting to end her life, though, she has led one of the most beautiful, surrendered, servant-hearted lives I have ever seen.
She has become an advocate for the disabled around the world—among other things—providing wheelchairs for those who otherwise would be confined to their beds.
Time and time again at the True Woman Conferences, Joni has spoken life into my soul. She has shared how God redeems our suffering, how our suffering is anything but insignificant, and how and why we should forgive those who have hurt us. She has also pointed to a deeper kind of healing and freedom than the healing and freedom of physical pain.
Just this month I emailed Joni about a work project. In her response, she included this personal update:
I’m always fascinated at the way God works in our lives. I’ve been in bed for the last five days healing a stubborn pressure sore, but oh, what a rich time of communion with Jesus! Hopefully, by tomorrow, I may be able to sit up. Prayers are always appreciated!
Now that is the kind of woman I long to become.
Meet Katie, A Chronic Neurological Lyme Patient
If it is sickness that brings me closer to Jesus, then it is a gift, and I am so thankful for it.
Katie Laitkep is a sweet, new friend. After ten years of pain and no answers, she was finally diagnosed with chronic neurological Lyme disease in 2010 and has been undergoing treatment ever since. In spite of symptoms continuing daily, she teaches hospitalized children and others unable to attend school in a traditional setting. She is a beautiful writer who blogs about the Lord’s perfect faithfulness in chronic pain.
“I will always long for health,” she says, “but if it is sickness that brings me closer to Jesus, then it is a gift, and I am so thankful for it.”
Meet Ian, A Survivor Left with a Brain Injury
I do not know Ian and Larissa personally, but their story has brought tears of wonder to my eyes. Ian and Larissa met at college in 2005 where they fell in love. In September of 2006, on his way to work to earn money for an engagement ring, Ian was involved in an accident that left him with a brain injury.
Four years later, they did marry, even though Ian could barely talk and couldn’t walk. After that came a book deal and lots of opportunities to share Jesus with the world. Watch their story here, and marvel at their selfless love for one another.
Meet Katherine, A Brain Stem Stroke Survivor
I’ve never met Jay and Katherine in person, but their story speaks volumes to me. Katherine, a former model and new mother, survived a massive brain stem stroke that nearly took her life. She spent forty days on life support, two years in brain rehab, and was left with a severely disabled body.
Watch any of her videos, though, and you will see that she is full of life and laughter. Her husband stayed with her through it all. They have two sons, and they’ve written a book together. And—in what she calls “upside-down kingdom irony”—Katherine just landed her biggest modeling job to date. Does that sound like a life lacking . . . quality?
Our Heroes and Our Teachers
All these “broken,” suffering people have pointed me—the supposed “healthy” and the “whole”—to the ultimate freedom and joy offered by Christ.
Please do not believe the lie that these people would be better off to end their suffering early and die.
Please do not believe the lie that these people would be better off to end their suffering early and die. They are fulfilling God’s purposes, bringing great glory to Him, just as this blind man did:
And his [Jesus’] disciples asked him,“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:2–3).
These are our heroes. These are our teachers. We need them. Please do not take them from us.
“Let him go. Move on, already,” your friends tell you. “Like, yesterday. You should be over him by now!” After all, it has been months. Years.
But still, he haunts your thoughts—dropping by frequently, oblivious to the fact that he’s not welcome—threatening to sabotage not only your past but your present. Like a shackle attached to your ankle, you drag this dead hope of a relationship with you wherever you go.
Meet Someone Else Who Couldn’t Stop Looking Back
You’re not the only one who can’t seem to stop looking back with longing. Over and over in the book of Numbers, God’s people, the Israelites, rebel against Him. They get hung up on their cravings, (“What I wouldn’t do right now for a leek!”) and wish for their past as slaves to Pharaoh. Here’s just one example of them looking wistfully over their shoulders:
Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (Num. 14:1–4).
“Let us go back to Egypt”?! The Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for 420 years. It had not been a vacation. There were bricks to be made and backs to be whipped and no relief in sight . . . until God intervened. He sent Moses to perform mighty acts and deliver His people from their hard labor and heavy burdens.
So Close . . .
He then began to lead them to the Promised Land, the land He had promised their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In this particular passage above, they were poised to enter the Promised Land. Twelve spies had been sent to spy it out, and ten came back with a fearful report:
“The land . . . is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height . . . and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers” (13:32–33).
Two of the twelve spies, however, reported:
“The land . . . is an exceedingly good land. . . . Do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them” (14:7–9).
Stop looking back, and instead believe that your God is good—and that all He does is good—and move on.
But instead of believing the two spies—and ultimately believing God—the people of Israel chose fear over faith. They cried out with longing for the “good ol’ days” in slavery.
As a result of their unbelief, God destined them to forty years of wandering in the wilderness (one year for each day the spies spied out the Promised Land), and ensured their fears would become reality:
“What you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in the wilderness . . . not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except [the two spies who gave the good report]. But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in” (14:28–31).
Let Him Go, and Move On
This is more than just a Bible story. Did you know that 1 Corinthians 10:11 tells us that these accounts were written for us, for our instruction? I know your circumstances are different, but like the Israelites, do you believe God made a mistake? That God held out on you? Do you believe life would be better if only this guy had pursued you?
Are you obeying God’s command to avoid idolatry (1 Cor. 10:7)? My guess is that if you’re still living under the shadow of this relationship that didn’t materialize, you have most likely idolized this guy. Please don’t confuse love for lust, covetousness, and idolatry.
Please don’t confuse love for lust, covetousness, and idolatry.
Repent of making the hope of this relationship your ultimate hope. Believe God and move forward under His leadership. He wants to bless you, if you will only trust His heart. He is drawing you away from the slavery of idolatry and covetousness and into the Promised Land of contentment as His treasured possession, living under His rule.
Stop looking back, and instead believe that your God is good—and that all He does is good—and move on. Move forward, and watch God bring you out into a broad, spacious place.
You don’t want to be jealous, but you are. You feel overlooked and underappreciated.
Someone else made the cut for the track team.
Your coworker got that promotion at Chipotle.
Your best friend just became class president.
You know these are good things, but still you feel overlooked and underappreciated. I can relate.
A Front-Row Seat
I felt overlooked and underappreciated recently. I was given a behind-the-scenes job that gave me a front-row seat to others being being called up on stage to share their wisdom with others. Inside, instead of celebrating their opportunity, I felt like someone was cruelly twisting a knife in my stomach.
“I can do a great job, too,” I muttered to myself. “I have just as much to offer.”
A couple days later, while sitting on a pew on a Sunday morning, I heard the pastor briefly allude to James 3:13–18. Verses 14 and 15 nailed me to the wall:
If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts . . . this is . . . demonic.
My Jealousy Is . . . Demonic?
Waaaaaaiiiiiiiiitttttttt . . . demonic?!
Yep. Turns out you don’t have to dabble in the occult to serve the devil’s interests; you simply have to be filled with bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. YIKES!
In James 3:13–18, James exposes true—and counterfeit—“wisdom.” There’s:
The “real-deal-wisdom” that comes from God and shows itself in humility, and,
This counterfeit “wisdom” that comes from Satan and shows itself in bitter jealousy and selfish ambition.
If we are truly wise—if we really do have lots to offer others—we will prove it through our “meekness,” our humility (v. 13). But if, instead, we are filled with bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, we prove that we are not nearly as wise as we think we are (vv. 14–15).
We want to walk the path of wisdom, right? We don’t want to dabble with the deeds of darkness, do we? So what can we do the next time we’re feeling overlooked and underappreciated?
The Next Time We Feel Overlooked
He—the Creator and King—willingly made Himself nothing and took on the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7). He—“very God of very God”—was despised and rejected by humanity (Isa. 53:3). He was made perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10). This, by the way, doesn’t mean He had to be perfected morally; it means His suffering made Him the perfect Savior for broken humanity.
As we remember Jesus, let’s cry out to Him for help to embrace His way of meekness.
As we remember Jesus, let’s cry out to Him for help to embrace His way of meekness. Repent with me of our bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. These are demonic; they bear no resemblance to our older Brother, Jesus. Instead, let’s embrace “the wisdom from above,” that’s “pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). When we do, we will sow “a harvest of righteousness” (v. 18)
How about you? Is your life marked by humility . . . or selfish ambition? Are you pursuing the way of wisdom . . . or the way of the demonic?
A Prayer for the Jealous in Heart
Jesus, You are my merciful, faithful High Priest. You sympathize with me in my weakness, because You too lived as a human being—but perfectly, as I have not. I want to pursue the way of wisdom, but I cannot do it on my own. Help me. As I surrender to Your Holy Spirit in me, transform me into Your beautiful, spittin’ image. I request this for Your glory, my joy, and the good of all those around me. Amen.
“Will I go to hell if I’m not a virgin?” a single girl asked me.
I wish I could scoff, “Of course not!” But the truth is, it all depends . . .
Hell: Our Default Destination
Let’s start with this basic understanding: Every person’s default destination is Hell. That’s because without exception:
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
While our culture ridicules the notion that sex is off-limits to everyone other than a man and a woman united in marriage, God says otherwise.
We all sin in countless ways, but let’s specifically address this girl’s question about choosing to have premarital sex.
While our culture ridicules the notion that sex is off-limits to everyone other than a man and a woman united in marriage, God says otherwise.
First Corinthians 6:13–20 explains:
The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her?
For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Choosing to have sex outside of marriage is sin, and all sin results in death—physical death and eternal death in hell (Rom. 6:23).
That’s because our God is stunningly more holy than we can imagine:
You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong (Hab. 1:13).
Believe me, I get how hard it is to swallow the fact that all of us deserve hell. To us, hell seems like “a divine overreaction.” But as author Randy Alcorn writes:
If we understood God’s nature and ours, we would be shocked not that some people could go to hell, but that any would be permitted into heaven. Unholy as we are, we are disqualified from saying that infinite holiness doesn’t demand everlasting punishment.
So the million dollar question is this. How can this girl who is no longer a virgin—and how can you and I—exchange our one-way ticket to hell . . . for heaven?
How to Exchange Our One-Way Ticket to Hell . . . for Heaven
We can’t on our own. But Someone has done it for us. Jesus chose to endure hell for you and me so we might have the option of entering the joys of heaven.
He [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).
Jesus chose to endure hell for you and me so we might have the option of entering the joys of heaven.
Because of our sin, you and I deserve hell. But Jesus has made a way for us, instead, to enjoy Him forever in heaven. In response to this girl who asked, “Will I go to heaven if I’m not a virgin?” I have to ask:
Have you accepted Jesus’ unbelievably heroic, extravagant gift?
Have you confessed and turned from your sins?
First John 1:9 promises that:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Hell will be full of those who have sinned sexually (and in other ways). Heaven will also be filled with people who formerly sinned sexually (and in other ways). What’s the difference? It has nothing to do with the sins you’ve committed, but with whether you have embraced the Sin-Slayer, Jesus Christ, your righteous Substitute . . . and turned from your sin as a result.
PS: I am indebted to Randy Alcorn for his insights on hell in chapters 3 and 4 of his bookHeaven.
Recently I heard from a girl who was struggling to remain pure. She had just started dating a guy long distance. After her first weekend visit, she wrote:
The physical temptation is so real. Even the smallest thing will set off a wildfire in my heart. . . . It’s a war I didn’t realize I would struggle with. I wish I had been more prepared to guard our hearts in the most heart-racing moments.
I can relate.
My Rule-Making Strategy
Before Trevor and I married, we also dated long distance. I’ll never forget my first visit to spend time with him over Christmas. Unlike this girl above, I did anticipate that it would be tough physically. So I set a couple rules for myself before boarding the plane:
No lying down horizontally.
No kissing on the lips.
And while I technically didn’t break either of those rules on that first visit, I found myself flirting at the very edges of those boundaries, like a hummingbird hovering near sweet nectar.
I kept “the letter of the law” while ignoring “the spirit of the law.” I observed my literal rules but not the intent behind the rules: purity, so I might see and enjoy God (Matt. 5:8).
Don’t just run from sexual immorality, though. Run to Christ.
It was soon blazingly obvious: Rules weren’t going to do the trick of keeping me pure. For example, if I had set a boundary, “I won’t be in a bedroom with him with the door closed,” my flesh would surely have countered, “Okay, I’ll go to the garage instead.”
Pastor and theologian Gerald Hiestand describes this well when he writes, “Every ‘objective’ boundary can be worked around by sin-inspired creativity.”
Colossians 2:20–23 also explains that boundaries and rules aren’t enough to keep us from doing wrong. On our own, they’re not capable of getting to the root issue—they don’t deal a deathblow to our ungodly passions and desires.
What, then, is to be done?
Your Dating Strategy
First, as 1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality.” Get your running shoes on and start sprinting like mad! Don’t just run from sexual immorality, though. Run to Christ.
Flee sexual immorality and fly to Christ, in whom every treasure is found.
Ask God to send His Spirit to help you see and despise your sin.
Be brutal with your sin. Don’t just exile it; cut its head off!
I’m not saying there is no place in dating for boundaries. But even if you do set rules, don’t rely on them alone to keep you pure. You aren’t strong enough to battle your ungodly passions in your own strength. Run to Christ. Only He is strong enough.
Be brutal with your sin. Don’t just exile it; cut its head off!
How about you? Have you set any rules or boundaries for yourself once you begin dating? If so, what will you do when your flesh doesn’t cooperate with your good intentions? Then what?
Every once in awhile, I meet someone whose life nearly takes my breath away with its beauty. My friend Debra Fehsenfeld is a passionate follower of Jesus, a wife and mother of four, a lover of all people, and a praying woman. (She’s cool, too!) I asked if she’d answer my questions about prayer, and here’s what she had to say.
If you had to describe prayer to a new Christian, what would you say?
It’s the gift we’ve been given to talk to God, to take action before God, and to participate with Him in all He’s doing in the world.
Talk to God: He’s listening. Ask Him questions, tell Him what you’re thinking about, what you care about, wonder before Him about what He cares about, marvel at what you are seeing around you, both good and bad—there are no limits to what you can talk to Him about.
Take action: We see things, hear things, wonder about things, believe things, understand things . . . but we don’t always know what we’re to do in response to all these things. Prayer is what we do.
Participate with Him: Through interacting with God and seeking His kingdom in all that we see, hear, wonder, believe, and understand, we actually enter into the incredible privilege of working with God to make all that is wrong right. (There’s no geographical, racial, religious boundary to hinder us in this work!)
What motivates you to pray?
Aside from the fact that I really do want to obey Jesus who has told us to pray (Luke 18:1, etc.), I think I’m motivated by two things: (1) an awareness of need, and (2) my experience of the perfectly divine ways in which God does things—experience with the God who alone is the perfect head of wisdom, the perfect heart of love, and the possessor of perfect almighty hands. I pray because I have great needs and so does the world around me. I pray because I believe God intends to do something about those needs, and I want to see Him do it and be part of what He does.
When and where do you pray?
The greatest amount of concentrated time praying I do is in the mornings and afternoons while I’m running on the treadmill, and especially while I’m biking (recumbent). Both pieces of equipment are in our basement, and there is usually very little distraction.
I do pray at other times and in any number of places, but these would certainly be less intentional times of prayer though no less real or meaningful; they are usually responsive prayers—immediate responding to immediate circumstances or thoughts.
But my when and where isn’t relevant in any useful sense for anyone but me because it’s different based on one’s context and season of life. The thing relevant for us all, I believe, is that there must be a regular time where we arrange our days (and lives) to be alone with the One we love and are seeking to learn from. We have the example of Jesus confirming the importance of such a time. If Jesus needed set times of solitude with the Father, I do as well.
When my husband, Del, and I go on a date, we have the opportunity to really catch up with each other and make a deeper heart-to-heart connection. We obviously connect and touch base throughout the day, but these set-aside times are about us connecting on a deeper level. Likewise, it’s vital for me to create a space of solitude in order to really engage at a deeper level with my Father.
I’m assuming you didn’t always pray like you do now. What increased your commitment to—and hunger for—prayer?
Hands down, I started really praying intentionally when I began to realize that my children were going to need to make their own choices in life one day. I cannot make faith come alive in them; I’m completely dependent on the heart-changing, love-infusing power of God’s Spirit.
Now I’m motivated by more than need. I eagerly anticipate those daily spaces of solitude with my Father. We are so together in these spaces of solitude. I lose track of time; I don’t want to leave. It’s so personal.
What do you think is the most important thing to understand about prayer?
The focus of prayer is not what you say or don’t, or how long you pray, or how you feel while you pray. Prayer is doing life with God; aware of Him always; interacting with and seeking Him in everything.
How much time do you spend talking to God; how much time do you spend listening?
Let me refer back to those dates with Del. Sometimes Del talks more. Sometimes I do. But that’s not the point. The purpose of the date is connection, leading us to restored and more complete oneness.
The point of prayer is exactly the same. The goal is connection to God, leading to oneness with God—where what He cares about is becoming what I care about, where the way He sees things begins infusing the way I see things, His altogether good impulses generating in me good impulses like His.
What is the greatest thing you’ve ever asked God for?
To be born again.
What is the greatest thing you’ve ever seen God do in response to your prayers?
The thing I’ve seen Him do now over and over and over again is the thing that still blows my mind. He engages with me, with all of us who are walking in life with Him! GOD, the Source and Sustainer of all life, wisdom, glory, authority, power, love, and good is content—no, more than content, He is full to the brim giddy to hang out with me all the time!
If He can bring dead things to life, if He can call into being things that never were heard of or in existence before, if He can be crazy with delight about hanging out with me every day and convince me that He wants to continue this forever—all of these things I’ve seen Him do in and for me and in and for others—I have no doubt whatsoever that there isn’t anything for Him that is too hard.
I’d love to hear from you. What motivates you to pray? And how is God changing the way you think about and interact with Him in prayer?